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One thing that continually surprises me is just how nasty people can be sometimes. My poor girlfriend has had to endure a roommate who is vindictive and downright mean. This roommate is 50 years old, and yet has resorted to behaving like a spoilt child. The news today is that this ridiculous woman changed the locks on the doors, leaving my girlfriend locked out of her home. Now, I understand that they’ve had their disagreements, but locking someone out of their home is just mean. Moreover, my girlfriend is moving out this very weekend. Why wouldn’t somebody, no matter how angry they might be, just let the move take place with no fuss or bother and leave it at that? How much easier that would be than having to involve the police, which is what my girlfriend has now been forced to resort to.
It’s things like this that explain why I am prone to such dark and cynical moods sometimes. This is one of the ways I feel that I have become a different person from, say, my parents. I tell them stories about my own experience and that of others, testimony to the sheer selfishness and stupidity that lurks everywhere, and they are amazed! I tell them how many people suffer work in environments that are quagmires of deceit and frustrated ambitions, where talent is stifled and mediocrity rewarded. They often just don’t get it.
I don’t think either of them ever had a roommate who without any justification suddenly locked them out of their own home. And I’m glad for them! But let’s not fool ourselves: the world is literally teaming with petty, small-minded — in a word — BAD people.
There is still, after millenia of attempted explanations, no answer to the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Sometimes, I think many events in life are attributable just to pure, blind luck. Sure, you have to nudge luck your way with the requisite effort, but luck has her own way. She cannot be confined and controlled.
On a happier note, my own luck seems to be improving! I might have some very good news to report in about 10 days. Or, if things don’t go my way, I might have some bad news to report! I am neverthless happy to have suddenly been put in a position where there was at least an opportunity to have good news. It is a sign — if I needed one — that coming to Montreal might have been the best decision in recent years.
Tonight I’m giving something new a go. I am going to keep a live blog on the debate in Ohio at the Cleveland State University between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom who are vying to be president of a fairly well known country in North America called USA!
Brian Williams of MSNBC who looks like he is made from plastic is giving the usual introduction and thanking everyone for making this great night happen. Apparently, there are very few rules to this debate. Although if Hillary Clinton spits any venom at her adversary, I am sure she’ll be ruled out of order!
OK, let me pay attention to what’s going on here for a bit.
9:06pm. (ET) Clinton has had to be on the defensive from the word go, being forced to explain her aggressive stance toward Obama and in particular, the appearence of a photo of Obama in Somali traditional dress on the Drudge Report. This gives Obama the chance to nod his head and look sombre and… well… more presidential than his adversary.
9:11pm. Well, technology is botching my first live blog! This MSNBC streaming broadcast is spluttering along worse than my 1988 Dodge Aries before I was forced to sell it to a dump.
What can I tell you about the debate, therefore? Well, this is getting testy, folks! From as far as I can tell, Clinton is attacking Obama for having a lousy healthcare plan. Obama, meanwhile, is attacking Clinton for getting negative in her campaigning. But what will either candidate do as president to stop lousy MSNBC streaming live video, huh?
Now Clinton is sounding indignant, saying something about why would Obama insure children but not the parents — the breadwinners? Good point. I don’t know why either candidate doesn’t acknowledge Canada’s superiority in this particular issue! I would like to hear them say, “Let’s just do it the way they do it up north!”
9:17pm Maybe lousy MSNBC has its advantages. It just froze a facial expression on Clinton’s face that was pure gold. She wanted to spit venom at Obama, no doubt about it. In fact, I think she would have liked to eat his face clean off his neck!
9:20pm. Boy, now Clinton is attacking the format of the debate itself. She is “finding it curious” that she always has to answer the first question. If I were her political strategist, I would be sticking pins in my eyes right now. That was not smart politics, even if the accusation had merit, which I am not in a position to say, seeings how this is only the second debate I’ve watched!
9:23pm. This debate has become so garbled that I am not only unable to fully report what is going on, I am also contemplating a move to another live-blogging venue, i.e. from Teena’s place to Ed’s place because Ed has a big fancy tellyvision. Huzzah for Ed!
I did manage to gather that they’re talking about free trade. The moderator is asking a question that name dropped Canada and Mexico! Canada… that’s us! Will Clinton opt out of NAFTA if better terms for America aren’t negotiated? Clinton seems to be hedging on that question. Boy, from my totally cloudy vantage point here, she sure is getting all the hard questions. Was NAFTA good for America? Clinton is arguing that NAFTA was advantageous to some parts of USA and not for others. Hmmm. Maybe the same could be said about free market capitalism in general, eh? Winners and losers!
Labour and environmental standards must be toughened up, says Clinton. Foreign companies must not be allowed to sue the USA for protecting its workers. I wonder what this means for the softwood lumber issue, wherein the USE is consistently ruled out of order for slapping tariffs on Canadian lumber. Is Clinton contemplating renegotiating NAFTA so that USA just gets eternal immunity on these issues?
Free trade when it works for us, and when it doesn’t, boo sucks to free trade. That’s what I’m hearing.
9:34 pm. This debate is a downer, man! What happened to the upbeat tone of the debate of several weeks ago? Gloomy gloomy gloomy. Is the USA headed for a recession or something? I get the clear impression that it is. Neither candidate has smiled or offered “hope” in 30 minutes, and you can’t blame MSNBC for that.
9:36 pm. “The most important foreign policy decision in a generation.” According to Barack Obama, that’s the IRAQ WAR! Yes, and Bush bungled it. And one must assume that he means that Clinton bungled it, too. Bunch of bunglers! “It’s a question of judgement.” I agree, Obama. Or may I call you Barack?
9:39 pm. According to Clinton, this fella Barack Obama said he would bomb Pakistan. Good grief… What a rush being able to bandy about the BOMB word like that, and be able to consider following through with the threat if made president. Scary, scary. “Who’s making the decision to drive the bus into the ditch?” asks Obama, wanting to return the subject to Clinton’s lousy decision to wage war on Iraq. Good point. That bombing Pakistan issue was getting scary. Pakistan has nuclear bombs, man.
9:42. pm. So what’s the exit strategy for Iraq? Obama is first to answer this one. If Iraq doesn’t want us there, then we shouldn’t be there, that’s what Obama says.
9:49 pm. I have a headache. I have had the same headache now for over two days, as faithful readers will no doubt know. I wonder if the next president of the USA will be able to find a cure for the common headache. Tylenol and Ibuprofen just aren’t cutting it right now.
Anyway, back to the debate. They’re taking a commercial break. Maybe during the break they’ll fix whatever crappy server is serving up this slow-as-molasses streaming bowl of crapola.
My breaktime reflections? Basically, the world is going to hell in handbasket. I’m not sure why either candidate would want to be the one taking all the blame for it a year from now. But if either of them gets the job, at least let’s have a nice guy like Obama. Hillary Clinton is scary! I think we’re seeing the slow unraveling of someone who expects power to be served to her on a plate every morning. Now what is she going to do? She’s toast!
BREAKTIME OVER! BACK TO THE DEBATE.
Teena just called her friends in USA. They are not watching the debate. Wow. That makes three people up in Canada, none of us going to vote, watching the debate for no apparent reason but our own entertainment.
9:55 pm. Obama is now speaking about the special interests that are dominating Washington. Who are those special interests? Why do they get such special treatment? If I got treated as specially as a special interest, maybe I wouldn’t be over $20,000 in debt and have a headache right now. Yeah, Obama is totally right on this one. Bush and Cheney have NOT being going out to bat for the average American. They’ve been out batting for their corporate fat piggy friends!
9:59 pm. MSNBC is playing a clip where Obama called Hillary Clinton the “co-president” during the Clinton years. In other news, ED CRACKED THE CODE! He found a new site that is streaming this debate without all the annoying spluttering bits! Hoorah! Now your faithful correspondent can report on stuff even more faithfully!
Obama now says that he does not begrudge Hillary her experience during the 1990s. He says she cannot claim credit for the good things that happened and at the same time deny responsibility for the bad things that happened.
10:04 pm. My blog ate the last paragraph I wrote. Technology bites our proverbial ass again! I’m not going to rewrite that paragraph. It was good though. Believe me. Clinton is now getting grilled for not releasing publicly her tax return something or another. This sounds like a very tough question indeed! Oh boy. Stay tuned for the response.
10:09 pm. Clinton is sounding evasive on this one. “I’ve hardly had time to sleep,” she just said. I don’t know if that cuts it as an excuse. If I don’t get time to sleep, I’m still expected to turn in my homework at school. You better believe it. “We’ll move as expeditiously as possible,” she says. “As soon as possible.” This is all sounding like waffling.
10:10 pm. Now it’s time for Obama’s tough question. Does he accept the support of Louis Farrakhan, head of Nation of Islam, who called Judaism a “gutter religion.” Obama is handling this better than Clinton handled her toughie, no doubt about it. He said that I can’t stop someone saying that “I’m a good guy,” but that he finds Farrakhan’s comments unacceptable.
More questions about Judaism. Obama calls himself a “stalwart ally of Israel.”
10:14 pm. Now Clinton is trying to outdo Obama on the love for Israel. Clinton is saying she not only denounces Israel hatread but also rejects it. Semantics! Obama makes a joke that makes Clinton looks like a lamo and people applaud.
Clinton is not only toast. She is burned toast.
WELL, THAT’S ABOUT IT, FOLKS!
There were technically another 15 minutes of debate, but this blogsite had a meltdown and our faithful blogger (me) could no longer serve the blogreadership the way he would have wished. Why does technology crash during historic moments? Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed struggling to write it. In the 26 minutes that elapsed since the end of the debate, the MSNBC consensus was that Obama won and Clinton lost. And I agree. Expect the eventual nomination to follow the same trend. Obama is now as unstoppable as an express train, as momentuous as a big bang, as volcanic as lava!
He’s the next president of the USA, that’s my prediction! Good night.
If I could be as detached from my own behaviour as I am from the characters in one of my stories, I could intervene and stop myself in behaving in ways that go against my own best interests. I could say, “Making mountains out of molehills is this individual’s primary deficiency. Eliminate the self-imposed stress, and this person should feel better.” Then I might run into a happier future, which would be perfectly lit by an orange sun, low on the horizon.
I went to bed last night with a headache. Then I woke up this morning with a headache. I have had the same headache on and off almost all day.
I worry that I was a headache to my girlfriend while she was here. My stress might have spread to her. Then I realize that worrying about this retroactively is not making anything better. I worry that I worry too much. I need to find a way to stop.
One blessed relief: a long chat with one of my bestest buddies, who lives now on the West Coast. What a consolation in life to have a bestest buddy. In this point in life (we met when we were 16) we are more like brothers. As we talked, I walked from downtown to McGill to the east of the mountain and then back. My headache diminished greatly. The sun and fresh air helped. I love the outside. I love urban walks! I could not have had such a nice walk-and-talk without a cellular telephone. Despite their capacity to be a source of evil when used on the bus, cellular telephones are definitely a boon sometimes.
This evening, at an hour when most good students would probably be working on homework, I plan to continue storyboarding my photoroman, Captain Mylander the Space Cadet. The blessing of living in a fictional world is being able to worry about people who are not me.
This is probably why many people have children.
But what will the world be like in 30 years? Almost totally uninhabitable? Sometimes I fear that it might be! I worry about bringing a child into this world.
In any event, at this point, such matters are not worth contemplating. Now is not the time to procreate. Now simply is the time to… create.
I’m not just blue because my girlfriend left town. It’s the tail end of winter, the time when energy ebbs to its lowest point, and yet the workload snowballs to its most overwhelming proportions.
In Montreal today it is hovering close to zero, the snow is melting, the sky is perfect blue, and coming back from the airport an hour ago, I saw the mountain and the green dome of Oratoire St. Joseph and my heart did not soar like it used to. I just thought to myself: yes, this is home. Yes, this is beautiful. Of course it’s beautiful. It’s home!
I think that might be a tautology.
I wonder if there is time to take an hour off to simply walk and enjoy the last few hours of daylight. A mental health break of sorts before tackling the second half of the semester.
A week ago, I sent my manuscript, Blind Spot, to two editors in New York. That means that the long, long process of tinkering and second guessing is over. And the long period of not thinking about it begins. Because you cannot think about these things… Thinking helps nothing. What will happen will happen.
Is that another tautology?
Was surprised to see that a Liberal candidate in the Alberta provincial election had her sign defaced with a racial slur. That’s not cool.
For the first time in many, many months, I just ate a meal in front of the computer. Why did I do that? So silly! I am trying to kid myself that simply having the computer on all the time will be an incentive to get me to do the mountain of work ahead of me.
It is remarkable the extent to which we define ourselves by our work. If I accomplish something, I start to feel happier. Like at the end of a major project, or after a productive day in the office. One of my roommates, the one who was beat up the other day by Francophones, recently found a job in Montreal. His vibe has changed noticeably. He is happier! He is now actually working with Francophones, so maybe this will help undo his previously horribly negative encounter. I hope so.
I’ve got a lot to do before my girlfriend arrives. There is no excuse for me goofing off. I must get back to work!
I visited the doctor a second time last Tuesday. He had looked at the X-ray of my lungs. Nothing appeared to be wrong with them. This means that the original diagnosis of pleurisy still holds. I do not have pneumonia or bronchitis or some other nasty lung ailment. Nope. I’ve got the weird disease that nobody’s heard of. The doctor said to continue my 10 day prescription of anti-inflammatories, after which, I should be able to slowly resume normal activities.
I attempted to resume normal activities two days later — the very last day of my medication. I did some light stretching and sit-ups in the gym. I went again over the weekend, pushing myself no harder. I did absolutely no jogging or biking. And yet, here I am – five weeks into the onset of this ailment — and it is still not going away.
There is not much to be said about that without lapsing into whining self pity. I must remark nevertheless on the incredible link between mind and body… If my body were healthy right now, I would feel like a million bucks. I have numerous reasons to be optistic; school work proceeds at pace but with some success, my manuscript will be out the door by the weekend, and my girlfriend arrives Saturday.
But in all this, I am frequently beset with feelings of complete despair. I can’t figure out why, a year after quitting smoking, after a year of taking better care of myself than ever before, that suddenly I become sicker for longer than ever in my entire life.
Is this irony?
Whatever it is, it feels totally unjust.
Because it will cheer me up, I am going to think of plucky Captain Mylander, the hero of a new story I am working on. Because this is a photoroman adventure, we can actually see Captain Mylander in the flesh… or rather, in the plastic:
Today has been a good day. I bumped into a professor of mine on the bus. She agreed to oversee a summer project of mine. I am going to travel around Quebec collecting stories about the photoroman. What is the photoroman? It is a combination of text and photos to tell a story. Photoromans were very popular in the French and Italian-speaking world during the 1960s and 1970s.
My project will require me to get better at Pro Tools, not to mention microphone use and interview technique. Finally, I will have to learn to successfully make an installation somewhere here in Montreal. Somewhere that can be a showcase for photoromans and the archived oral memories of those that loved them (and love them still).
When I learn to use a tool — even if it’s only a humble carjack — I feel more useful. Research and journalism have their associated tools, and maybe I can justifiably use the word “tools” even if those tools are wielded in laughably soft hands like mine.
I know a lot of people who can do things that are useful. You know, the kinds of things that require skills. I know a furniture maker, several teachers, drug addictions counsellors, mechanics, a potter… A childhood friend of mine grew up to be a vet.
But me? I can barely do anything useful at all. I am not the kind of friend you call on if you need to install hardwood flooring (although I’ve stumbled around entertaining others who are doing so, and maybe that helped). I cannot fix a car, although I can change a tire and jumpstart the engine when it won’t go on a winter day. Many years ago, I fixed a toilet. I amazed myself.
But my skills end there. The closest I have come to being useful is in the kitchen. Sometimes I can cook a meal that is appetizing enough. But I would never qualify to work in a restaurant.
I cannot even grow food! I have never planted a vegetable garden. If I were out of the big city, I’d be totally screwed!
I find it very troublesome how very useless I am. In less than five months, I will desperately need a job. I’ve plied my trade in language heretofore, and now find myself in a city where the language of business happens to be one that I write at about a Grade 6 level. Moreover, language is incredibly subjective. Even in English, I receive mediocre marks for my writing all the time. If I spend literally dozens of hours on something, I can usually achieve an A. But generally, nothing comes easy with writing.
Problematically, the going rate for spending dozens of hours on writing a feature-length article is somewhere around $50 to $400. The economics of this strike me as impossible.
As you can tell, I don’t know my Roman numerals. What I do know is that feeling I get when I am seeing something for the hundredth time. Have I lived in Montreal for a hundred days yet? I think I have. And what continues to strike me is that on every single one of those days, when I pick up a French newspaper, there is an article about the language wars. I know I’ve mentioned this in my blog before, but I’ll say it again, because I don’t think many people outside of Quebec realize it. Language is THE issue here. It is the one issue that never, ever goes away. It is the one issue that does not look like it will ever go away.
Here is today’s episode, culled from the Metro, a newspaper read by thousands of commuters on … the Metro!
“Cinq minsteres francisent leur message d’accueil.”
In this article, we discover that last year, nine provincial ministers were aggressively hounded by language militants who were outraged by the answering messages at the ministers’ offices. The messages said, “For service in English, press 9.” The language militants demanded that this sentence be played at the very end of the message rather than the beginning. The leader of the Mouvement Montreal francais, Mario Beaulieu, is quoted as saying that these phone messages are “the tip of the iceberg.” It gives the false impression that Quebec is a bilingual state.
Five ministers have since bowed to pressure from the militants to put the English sentence at the end of their phone messages.
That was not the only article today about language. Oh no! There is an article about Pauline Marois, who, among other things, promises a complete cleaning out of the Quebec Office for the French Language, who are not being vigiliant or assertive enough in the defence of Quebec’s mother tongue.
I really do support the protection of the French language. Believe me, I do. I am in Montreal because it is French. In my opinion, I am just the sort of migrant who should be welcome here. I speak French, and I would love to speak it even better, I deliberately chose to live with a Francophone room-mate in a Francophone neighbourhood so that I could immerse myself in the culture and learn it to the best of my ability.
But “protection” should not be the frame through which we see a language and culture. The heavy hand of the state cannot, by itself, ensure that Quebec prospers as a French jurisdiction.
People must WANT to live here. What Quebec needs is to become so embarrasingly successful and prosperous and culturally rich, that people are LINING UP to come here and learn French in order to become part of the boom. I’m not arguing that Quebec become an Alberta. It’s not strictly in economic terms that Quebec will win the hearts and minds of immigrants. Quebec already offers a lifestyle that in certain qualitative respects is so superior to that of Alberta that all it would take is a bit more prosperity and economic dynamism, and things could get rolling. They could! No? Am I dreaming?
I want to see this province thrive and preserve French with a spirit of optimism and forwards thinking. Not through some knee-jerk and bigoted defence of the past. Whatever the past is.
The fact is, unlike the days of old, the Quebecois are not an oppressed people. They truly are not! It’s time to lose that victim mentality. They are “masters” chez-eux. Now they have the power, are they going to use it in the spirit of inclusion, generosity, and welcoming?
Let’s not even use the words accommodation and tolerance, which are themselves part of the ugly language wars. Immigrants are not people to be accommodated or tolerated by the people of Quebec. They are the people of Quebec.
The pleurisy deserves its own blog. I had a very very light workout at the gym today. I did not tax my lungs at all. I stretched a bit and tried to wear off the rust of sitting in front of the computer so much. I think I’m getting better. I’m almost sure I’m getting better.
Several years ago, I experienced a prolonged period of misfortune. I was unemployed, I was trying but failing to win the heart of a woman, I contracted a nasty skin condition, I went to Vancouver to find work but failed, I was running out of money, and eventually I had to move in to my parents’ house. I turned 30 whilst living in their guest bedroom. Around that time, a friend got married. I went to his wedding and afterwards, the reception. I will never forget that day. I don’t think I’ve ever felt like such shit since.
Weddings are a time when everyone wants to celebrate their life. What are you supposed to do when you have nothing to celebrate? I wanted to be happy for the couple. Indeed, I am happy for the couple. They will shortly welcome their first child into the world. But at the wedding reception, where I met people that I had not seen in several years, I felt like shit. Everyone was doing so well in life, and I was not doing well at all.
“What are you doing these days?”
That was the most common question at the wedding.
“I’m unemployed,” I would say, trying to smile.
My interlocutor would try to smile also. It would be the kind of smile that only makes things worse. We don’t handle bad news very well in our culture. Being unemployed is rather embarrassing, especially in Edmonton, where jobs are supposedly plentiful. One couple I talked to had recently landed lucrative jobs in Switzerland and were going to be moving within weeks. The excitement on their faces! Their hopes and dreams!
“And you? What are you up to these days?”
That question again!
“Well, you know… I’m not going to Switzerland. I’m staying right here in Edmonton, looking for a job!”
Later that day, I went to a poetry reading. The poetry was almost uniformly pretentious and annoying. Oh God, I needed a bad poetry reading like I needed a hole in the head. As I talked to my friends, I felt my feelings of anger welling up. I found myself complaining about the poetry, about what bullshit it was. I was furious that somebody could stand up and literally make gibberish sounds — I am not making this up — utter pure noise garbage (I believe the genre is called sound poetry) and expect applause afterwards… And actually receive applause afterwards.
What was worse than the poetry was my own self-loathing. I don’t want to be consumed with dislike of something. I don’t want to waste time hating something.
The wedding reception and the poetry reading are inextricably linked in my mind. They are part of the same story that I tell myself. In both places, I felt like a loser. At the wedding, I was a loser because I could not project an image of success. At the poetry reading, again I could not project an image of success — albeit, success of a very different kind.
Talking to a prof earlier today, I realized that I had expressed better than ever what I disliked about Alberta (and Edmonton, its capital city). It’s the reverence of sucess. It’s the struggle for life — the honouring of winners and the general contempt for losers.
What is problematic for me is that I crave success. My biggest fear in life is failure.
And yet another contradiction: I am aware that I learn far more from failure than from success.
Looking back on that time of unemployment and frustration, I also can acknowledge that this is when I grew a lot as a person. In a certain respect, I toughened up. But in another respect, I learned to become more vulnerable.
And that woman whose heart I tried to win? She is my girlfriend today. In one week, she will be here in Montreal for a visit.
We need to be resilient, and we can only learn to be so when times are tough. I am happy now that I have had opportunities to feel like shit.
Currently, I am having to build a bit of psychological resilience to my illness — to pleurisy. Just yesterday, I was convinced I must be almost fully healed. Today I am not so sure. I want to cave in to frustration and anger at all of this. I hate illness! I hate the failure of my own body. I am often consumed with guilt and hatred at myself that my body won’t do what I want it to do. I find it hard to just accept this.
But that is what I must do. And I must remember how many billions of people have it far, far worse than me. Contemplating one’s own misfortunes can only take you so far. I can still think, still write, still navigate my way through a prosperous, peaceful and beautiful city. And I must appreciate that and think less about the few things that I can’t do.