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Listening to Verdun this morning, there are three distinct sources of sound. The nearest is my clock ticking beside my bed. Immediately outside are water droplets falling onto the balcony. It has been raining. Further away is the sound of a dog barking. I first noticed him about ten minutes ago. He emits a sad woof about every fifteen seconds. I imagine him in somebody’s yard. A melancholy dog getting wetter and wetter.
There was a drive of wind that flung the rain hard against the window… just for a moment. And now, again. I wish that this apartment had a hearth, and in it, a fire. It is one of those days when a blazing fire would seem so idyllic.
I am not writing this on a computer. I am writing it by hand for transcription later. The absence of the computer’s whirring sound makes every other sound purer. It is far more relaxing.
I miss writing by hand. Computer work always seems too purposeful. There is a goal in mind. Sometimes, I despise the tyranny of goals. This is why I crave holidays. They are so cleansing for the mind. It really is good to be bored sometimes, to be aimless, to think of nothing, to slow down to absolute stillness. To not act upon the world, but to let it act upon us.
And this was written on a computer.
One of the most frustrating things about the consumer age is the tendency of the providers of goods and services to say they are meeting our wants and needs. Microsoft relentlessly updates its software in an apparent drive to make everything easier for us. But in my opinion, they are failing.
I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but Microsoft Word stopped getting any better around 2003. Every subsequent version has merely gotten worse. Microsoft is not responding to my personal wants and needs. It is thwarting them.
I have been working on translating a text. In one paragraph, I have the French. In the next, I have the English. However, I want to keep the punctuation consistent with English norms, since this is going to be, when it’s finished, an English-language article. But MS Word does not respect this wish. Every time I start writing things in French, it switches its language preference to French (Canada). This means quotation marks also get switched to French style. I do not WANT this! I want everything in English style. I want the language to be English — for the entire thing! But MS Word is just not cooperating. About 20 times I have had to override its impulses and switch the language back to English.
I could provide so many more examples of the awful impracticality of MS Word’s latest incarnation, but I will stop there. They are rather banal examples. The bigger picture is more worrying. The tension in modern-day capitalism appears to be between what WE actually want and need — as human beings — and what the oligarchy claims we need. The oligarchy will forever find things we don’t really need in order to sell products at a profit. The political problem is — as Heath and Potter argue in “The Rebel Sell” –who determines which of our needs/wants is genuine?
Yesterday my room-mate was beaten up in Verdun, our neighbourhood. He is Chinese. He was stopped by four young thugs who yelled at him in French. He did not understand them. They spit in his face. He got mad and yelled something. In return, they punched him repeatedly. I asked my room-mate had anything like this happened before. He said yes. Twice, and also in Montreal. In both incidents, it was again Francophones who taunted him and called him a chink.
The racist rhetoric that engulfed the reasonable accommodation debate, and the bigotry that underpins the so-called reporting in the Journal de Montreal, in my opinion, have made such attacks more likely. I think it is time to stop pandering to racist Quebec nationalists. Let’s call a spade a spade. They see a culture under threat. I see a culture refusing to adapt.
Ever since returning to Montreal about three weeks ago, I have experienced various symptoms that feel like bronchitis (which I’ve had several times before). But never have I actually deteriorated into full-blown bronchitis. Some days are worse than others. I experience a slight burning sensation in my lungs. My lungs feel heavy. If I push myself too hard when I exercise at the gym, I get shortness of breath. I have far less stamina for exercise than usual. I went to the doctor and she listened to my lungs but found nothing obviously wrong. But she did advise me to knock off the exercise. So I did, for five days. But when I returned to exercise, after another few days, all the symptoms were back.
Yesterday, instead of the gym, I walked in the neighbourhood of Notre Dame de Grace, otherwise known as NDG. I started at Vendome and followed Cote St. Antoine, westwards. I admired St. Augustine church. As I walked, rather than taking photographs, I tried to pay acute attention to my body. I tried to ascertain how my lungs were feeling. At the expressway Decarie, was that an added tinge of pain I felt? Or was it just my imagination? I eventually ended up at Concordia’s outlying campus, Loyola. The sky was bright and blue. If my girlfriend arrives to weather like this, how can she possibly not fall in love with the city?
I have decided that if my body will not respect my wishes, I will treat it with the same contempt. I returned to the gym today and pushed myself. Tomorrow I will do likewise. Take that, body! Fuck you and your ridiculous symptoms.
I have been reading about film-making lately because I am currently scripting a documentary. Every art medium seems to have its associated language, and in film, much of the language seems geometric. They speak of angles, degrees, proximity and distance. For example, no two consecutive camera angles should be less than 30 degrees apart, otherwise their proximity gives the impression that the filmed object “jumped” within the same frame.
I have come to this kind of language rather late, and I don’t know whether I would ever learn it sufficiently to be, say, a film-maker. But it gives me even more respect for those people who DO understand it, and operate in it successfully.
I am fully immersed in several different media during this semester: sound, film and — as always — writing. Oh, and let me not forget photography. It is so illuminating to think of the interplay between all of them. When I think about film, for example, I have another tool with which to approach scenes in my own writing. In revising a critical scene in my novel, I started thinking of “cuts.” I have a scene which cuts from the present to the past. Sometimes, one sentence belongs in the past and the very next one belongs in the present. In film, this is easier to do. In writing, it is very difficult, and I am not sure if I have succeeded or not. I’ll see what my editor has to say on that one! But regardless of my success or failure, I am so glad to be exposed to so many media that expand and inform my own work.
A career in artistic creation truly is infinite in potential. There is no limit to what you can learn and to what you can try out.
At Concordia University, enviro-friendly appliances have been installed. But I wonder how environmentally friendly they really are. Sometimes, if you are sitting on the toilet, it self-flushes four or five times in the space of a couple of minutes. Surely that is wasteful of water? Also, almost every time I simply walk past the hand dryer, it switches itself on, even though I’m not using it. Surely that’s a waste of electricity?
Meanwhile, the shuttle bus sits on rue Sherbrooke for fifteen minutes, doors open to let in the cold, and keeps the engine running. Surely that’s a waste of gas?
I have finished my book. After judicious editing and a proofread, it will be on its way… somewhere. Lord knows what will happen to it.
I don’t have kids, but sometimes I think about how I’d raise them if I did. One thing I think is important is to let kids experience moments of utter boredom. They need to learn how to be politely bored. To listen without fidgeting or being rude. They also need to learn how to endure activities that they do not enjoy.
Some kids have grown up to become students and have clearly not learned these lessons. They are a pain in the ass sometimes. Students who surf the Internet while lectures and presentations are in progress, you know who you are!
I have about 1,500 words to write today. When they are done, so too will the latest draft of my book.
I am re-writing a scene that has already been written twice before. This time, I hope to nail it. I am, in fact, very much looking forward to doing this, but I procrastinate over starting because, well… I get a bit sad about finishing big projects. Maybe it is like watching a child you raised finally go out into the world. You have to say goodbye.
In working on this novel, I think I have returned to the understanding of stories that I had when I was about five years old. I have rediscovered what is important:
By excitement, I mean to say that whenever I look at some random page of my book, I want to find something that is interesting or intriguing. I don’t want to find throw-away lines, or merely functional lines. Every sentence, in and of itself, should be exciting. It should have an electric charge to it. Sometimes, I like to run grammar/spellchecks, not just for the obvious reasons, but because MS Word isolates the sentence in question and presents it to you in bold. It forces you to look at the sentence out of context. Sometimes, when taken out of context, you realize that a given sentence is kinda silly. Or boring.
Excitement is inherently important to any storyteller. When I was young, I liked to watch Buck Rogers. My earliest stories were about my hero and all the evil baddies that he took on and defeated. A little later, I became obsessed with the Hardy Boys. These books are exemplars of structural efficiency and drive. Each chapter ends with a cliffhanger. The initial incident is always revealed at exactly the right time. The characters are consistent. Lovable Chet and his jalopy can always be counted on to give the Hardy Boys a ride somewhere, and to deliver some comic relief!
And that brings me neatly to humour. I don’t know if there are too many humans alive who do not like to laugh. So in revising Blind Spot, I was aware that if I increased the number of laughs, I would increase its appeal. Children are the most open to unrestrained laughter. I am glad that as I got older, I learned to laugh more, even if my own particular laughter is rather girlish and embarrassing.
Things are also very important. When you are a child, you are in love with your “things” and the exciting stuff they can do. I liked my stuffed animals, my lego, my microscope. Each thing had an inherent excitement to it. Especially my bicycle! The world is your oyster when you have a bicycle. How quickly you can get from place to place. When I was about seven, I threw this kid’s boomerang incorrectly and it never came back. He was a nasty, violent kid and so, in order to avenge himself, he took a stick to my bicycle and smashed it. It was a traumatizing experience.
People never grow out of loving things. Even the most virulent anti-consumer enjoys things. They might, for example, love their potted plants. Things root every human in a recognizable reality.
Therefore, whenever I notice that my prose is getting murky and sort of unfocussed, I simply start naming things. If you start naming things such as, cat on the bed, you have immediately given the reader a picture. The characters of any story are naturally going to be surrounded by things all the time — unless, of course, they have been placed in solitary confinement in Guantanamo Bay. So it makes sense that writing should include the abstract equivalent of actual things… Nouns.
And lots of nouns.
Now I am going to get back to writing.
I can’t help but like Barack Obama. When I first heard his incendiary performance at the 2004 Democratic convention, like everyone else who heard that eloquent and powerful speech, I was blown away. I thought, this man should be president.
Conversely, I feel that Hillary Clinton should not be president. Celebrities (and make no mistake, she has been a public figure so long that this is how we should consider her) often live in such a rarefied atmosphere that they lose a great deal of their humanity. I think this sums up what’s happened to Clinton. Apparently, when her campaign was dealt the blow of losing the Iowa primary, she had some sort of epiphany. She had to “find her own voice.” Now she claims to have found it. She repeats this message ad nauseum. This, clearly, is the ridiculous strategy of someone who believes the public is easily fooled. It is the act of somebody trying to impersonate a human being. Hillary Clinton belongs to one of the most powerful and well-oiled political machines in the entire history of politics. Such people do not embark on campaigns to “find themselves.” There is very little that’s real about this woman. I wish the potential “first female president” could have been a real person, but alas no.
Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al obviously lost their humanity decades ago, but for slightly different reasons. At some point in their lives, they decided that power and profit should come before everything else. This is why all three of them find it perfectly acceptable to perpetrate human suffering on a massive scale for the sake of lining their own pockets. If you don’t want to take my word for this, just read Naomi Klein’s extraordinarily thorough and well-researched The Shock Doctrine.
It is sad that American politics overshadow our own so often… but right now, it is hard to see how it could be any other way. The stakes get higher with every defeat of the left. I will concede that this 2008 presidential is a biggie… and reassert my conviction that Obama is the only person who can take on the Republican machine and deliver real change.
Here in Canada, we also desperately need change. We’ve got an evil leader of our own. He’s called Stephen Harper. This is a man so utterly out of touch with humanity that he required the help of consultants to teach him how to smile. Have you seen Stephen Harper on TV lately? He’s got a great smile!
Remember, that is a textbook smile. He practiced that. He practiced for days and days and days. Amazing how much an image-makeover can change one’s fortunes! But some of us are not fooled…
I am almost finished the final draft of my book. At this time in writing long works, I always get a bit scared that a bus will plough into me, turning me into strawberry jam. It is not a nice thought. I would hate to die without having the finished work get into somebody else’s hands.
The most recent draft of the book was emailed to my Yahoo account and currently sits in a file called Blind Spot. This is as close to the final version as currently exists. There is a note to myself in chapter 32 to rewrite the remainder of the chapter. If I did not get around to that, chapter 27 from the previous draft would suffice.
A draft also exists on my USB key, called — appropriate enough — “Blind Spot.”
All that said, I do intend to stay alive and finish things off! Probably this weekend!
A couple of days ago, I received a bill from Alberta Healthcare. It was for $88, covering two months of health care premiums.
Healthcare premiums were introduced by the Conservative government many years ago to supposedly help cover the cost of health care. Since their introduction, however, the Alberta government has racked up billion-dollar surpluses year after year thanks primarily to oil and gas revenue. This makes many people wonder why the government continues to collect premiums.
I was initially very angry to receive a bill for premiums. I have not been a resident of Alberta since last August. All my medical services are currently provided by the province of Quebec (which, like most provinces, does NOT charges premiums). But then I recalled that prior to obtaining coverage in Quebec, I was still in theory covered by Alberta for the months of September and October. But then I thought, hey, I won’t have to pay these premiums — I’m a student. They don’t make students pay for premiums!
So today, I called Alberta healthcare (at my own expense — no 1-800 number is provided for those out of the province). I said that I would send in proof of my student status and get the premiums waived. Not so fast! I was told that being a student does NOT exempt me from paying premiums. “Everyone pays the premiums,” said the woman, as if this was the most logical and fair system ever. “Everyone pays the same amount.”
She did say I could apply for a subsidy. All right then, tell me about this subsidy, I asked. Well, if you earned under $16,000 in 2006, you are eligible for a subsidy for health care premiums charged in 2007.
But it’s 2008, I retorted. You have sent me a bill that is due NOW, and NOW happens to be when I am a student and near-penniless.
The woman did not give a damn about that. I said the system was outrageous, that NO ONE should have to pay premiums, then said “Thank you, Alberta!” and hung up.
Now I have to mail in the $88, which I have noticed will again come at my expense (the government is too miserly to cover postage).
Hopefully, this will be the last money I ever pay to that gang of fat cats a.ka. the Alberta Government. I have never seen a government that manages to do so little with so much. I am not about to list (again!) all my grievances at those bastards. Let’s just call this the thousandth final straw in my own history with the province. To my way of thinking, making everyone pay the same amount for premiums is not fair — it is the very opposite of fair. To a CEO of Syncrude, $44/month is like lint from his pocket. You don’t notice its absence. But to the hundreds and thousands of people who struggle to get by every day, $44 is an unreasonable burden. Especially when we’ve already paid our taxes. Especially when the government does not even spend HEALTH CARE premiums on HEALTH CARE, but rather, collects it in the general revenue fund. Especially when you see that oil companies have exploited the tar sands for years while paying the lowest rate of royalties of almost any jurisdiction in the entire world. Let’s tax the rich a bit more shall we and maybe spare the poor?
With that rant off my chest, I am going to go on a walk to the Place des Arts. Montreal has a new coating of pristine snow, the sky is perfect blue, and everything is beautiful. I am sure I will be feeling happier in approximately three minutes.
Up to a million migrants have gathered in Libya, from where they will attempt to sail across the Mediterranean for Europe and, ultimately, the UK. New estimates reveal that there are two million migrants massed in the North African country and that half of them plan to sail to the European mainland and travel on to Britain in the hope of building a new life. The Guardian. January 13, 2008. Full article.
It is a sad truth that being born in, say, Stirling, Scotland (my birthplace) gives you an enormous and completely unfair advantage over someone born in, say, Kigali, Rwanda. After all the apparent attempts to help developing nations, masses of poor people still want to flee their homelands for the developed nations of the west.
I am reading American Vertigo, by Bernard-Henri Levy. In his de Tocquevillian enterprise, among many other places, he goes to the United States/Mexico frontier. Every year, there are numerous deaths and casualties as Mexicans try to cross from the south to the north in search of a better life.
The movement of capital long ago transcended national boundaries, and to give an example, large fruit companies like Del Monte and Dole think nothing of amassing huge wealth and then violating the tax laws of their countries of origin. That’s because they are big and powerful enough to find large off-shore tax havens and because governments generally are too scared to prosecute (or even regulate) the rich.
In this light, it seems a gross injustice to prohibit people from going to whatever place capitalism has created the most prosperity. Indeed, I have heard it argued that open migration is self-evidently fair and humane, so much so that governments must work doubly hard legally and in terms of propaganda in order to criminalize it.
Unlike the millions of people who are prepared to put their lives at risk in journeying from Africa to the UK (and the millions of Mexican counterparts who eye America with similar desperate hope), I enjoy the right of UK citizenship. I did not work for this.
I currently enjoy Canadian citizen as well as UK citizenship — something I only barely worked for. For $200 and about 2 hours of study for a multiple choice exam, that new formal piece of paper is now mine. Of course, the real hard work had been carried out years earlier by my parents.
It goes without saying that these events have made me one of the most fortunate of all people in the world. And yet, it was all by accident. Why did I enjoy all these privileges, and not somebody else?