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Because I’m no longer at university, I finally get to read for pleasure again. Yesterday I picked up Harper’s magazine and devoured almost the whole thing in one night. The financial system in the United States is falling apart; the basic tenets of capitalism — that infinite greed and growth are good — are now reaching their limit. Those two subjects made fascinating reading. This morning I finished reading a short story called “The Next Big Thing” by Steven Millhauser. To anyone who loves the short story, buy or borrow a copy of Harper’s and read this one. It’s about a company called The Next Big Thing that slowly but surely takes control over almost all aspects of the lives of citizens of a small town. One can read it as allegory. The town is never named and the events unfold in a creepy, almost sci-fi manner.
Reading, in turn, inspires writing. I’ve been mulling over some ideas as I walked about town today. I might work on something today. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’ve been getting ideas for projects just the second school ends. I think by temperament I need the stability — even rigidity — of a job, in order to seek the reprieve of fiction in my free time.
And here is one of the saddest true stories I’ve read in recent memory. I read things like this and I conclude, folks, we’re doomed. Our species, as we’ve known it, is doomed.
With honour killings still going on, motivated by centuries-old myths that are mostly unsubstantiated, what hope do we have of turning our efforts to avoiding environmental armageddon? About no hope, that’s what I’m starting to think. When it come time for me to draw my pension, if pensions still exist by then, I think most of the world will be in a state of perpetual chaos. It’s going to be nasty and brutish indeed. It’s not only the freakish and devastating weather patterns that will take some getting used to, it will be the effect of scarcity on human behaviour. Given how much of human energy is currently spent on waging futile wars, think how much worse it will be when mass migrations occur, and people are fighting because their lives are at stake. The US Navy will be stationed on the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico, gunning down boats of hungry refugees. Airports will start to resemble parts ot Baghdad — giant, security fortresses. Europe will be in the eye of the storm because of its relative proximity to some of the poorest places on the planet.
The remarkable thing is, even in places like the Montreal region, where prosperity and rationality supposedly hold sway, people are still making choices that will help secure their own doom. Buying houses in suburbs, for example. And developers and city planners egg on this kind of behviour. Look at any new development outside of the Montreal core. Huge, sprawling, ugly, car intensive catastrophe — that’s what you will find. Take an expressway at 5pm on any weekday. You will be in a sea of oozing traffic. Even though gas is over a dollar thirty a litre, these developments continue — in Montreal, Edmonton, Calgary — in fact, in pretty much every city in the continent. I fear that for now, I have not helped things too much, because while I live in the core, I work outside of it. Sigh.
I heard David Suzuki say the other say that while things look pretty bleak, we must remain hopeful and do our best. I agree. However, it would be nice if our leaders would try their best too. Sadly, in Canada, our prime minister along with the premier of Alberta are going to do their utmost to make sure that this country’s environment is going to continue to inexorably slide into collapse. The tar sands are one of the biggest crimes against the planet ever conceived. Even some oil sands companies have stated publicly that a slowdown is called for, but there’s no chance Ed Stelmach will do the right thing. About two weeks ago, he announced new tax breaks for Big Oil so as to encourage yet more investment. We’re talking companies like Exxon, Shell, and BP profiting to the tune of a billion dollars in unclaimed taxes over the next five years. This, despite the fact that these same companies are currently the most profitable in the world. Exxon along made $21 billion in sheer profit last year. Some companies are so rich that in one case, a single executive was handed a severance package of $400 million.
$400 million to one man.
The wool is being pulled over the eyes of humanity. Not even in the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV, who lived big at the Chateau de Versailles while the peasant ate moldy bread — not even then did humanity find itself so intolerably inegalitarian as it is now. To put it simply, we’re fucked. I mainly believe in living in hope because it makes waiting for the end of days more pleasant.
Today my eye hurt almost all day. It filled with tears sometimes, and also became quite bloodshot. Of course, because the eye system is somehow connected to the nasal system (see Dr. Immasmartbiotype for more details) this also meant I became snivelly and snotty. Nevertheless, my boss still talked to me — sometimes in close proximity, which means he can’t help but have noticed. I wondered if people in the office thought I was a cry baby. On the drive home, which took one hour and twenty three minutes (thank you rush hour traffic!) my eye continued to hurt, and I was leaking tears everywhere. Upon my return to my abode, I took out my contact lenses. This ammeliorated things somewhat.
After dinner, I walked along the Lachine Canal (I am addicted to this canal) and then along rue Notre Dame, finally veering north up rue Guy and to downtown and to this computer lab, where I sit typing this. During the walk, the weather turned from light and partly cloudly, to dusk and rainy, to night-time and windy. Huge maple leaves, the residue of last year, swirled around, as did bits of airborne garbage. I saw a couple of flashes of lightning, but I heard no thunder. The lights in all the quiet apartment buildings were yellow and cosy; people were sitting at the dinner table, or watching TV, or on their computers. Very few people were outside. Small wonder, with the gusts intense enough to turn my umbrella inside out.
All this as exciting and beautiful as it was, my eye still kinda hurts.
Spent a lot of time in my car today, from east to west and south to north, taking in almost all of Montreal’s expressways: TransCanada (40), Decarie (15), Chomeday (13), as well as the long, long boulevard Henri Bourassa. Many expressways are elevated, winding this way and that, and sometimes you feel as though you’re in the middle of a giant, multidimensional maze. The city is sprawling, bathing in sun, shimmering and glittering and emitting new summer smells. And the Canadiens play tonight, so horns are honking and hooligans are hollering outside. It was a big day for me: the first day of my job. It changes so much, experiencing a city this way. Suddenly Montreal feels like the greater metropolitan area of over four million that it truly is, as opposed to the cosy little student town it felt like in winter. I’m not overwhelmed, but life is lurching rapidly into a different gear, that’s for sure. It was odd to sit in snarled traffic for close to an hour, take a break at home, then jump onto the Metro. It felt like two different cities.
Of course, not every day will be quite as car intensive as this one. I had to leave work at 2pm to go get a mechanical inspection done so that I can complete Quebec vehicle registration. In future, Monday-Friday will follow a simple routine. Drive to work, work, leave work, exercise somewhere in St Eustache (to avoid the worst of rush hour) then drive home.
I am slightly dreading July and August when I’ll have to add more student work to this schedule. Oh well.
Who is Franklin W. Dixon? He is the “author” of the Hardy Boys books. FW Dixon is in fact the name given to a committee that penned these adventure classics targeted to male readers aged 10 to 14. I am reading one right now. It is called “The Clue of the Screech Owl” or something like that. Frank and Joe Hardy just went on a camping trip, but being amateur detectives (and sons of the world famous super-detective, Fenton Hardy) they had to mix some sleuthing into their holiday plans. Along with Chet Morton, who typically loves nothing more than sleep and food, they are on the trail of Captain Maguire, who disappeared from his cabin in the middle of the forested mountains. Where could he be? The Hardy Boys have found Maguire’s diary, in which he has made notes about obligations to see various breeds of dogs. Or are these notes about dogs that have gone missing? There are rumours that children and dogs have fallen under the hex of a witch who deceased about 200 hundred years ago in these same woods.
What will happen? It is midnight, and Chet, Joe and Frank just heard a loud scream in the dark. They have gone to investigate.
In other news, I ponder why Canada’s provinces put up barriers to moving from one place to another. Why have separate health care systems in each jurisdiction? Why separate car license plates? Why must I go get my almost-new car inspected (this, mere days after getting it checked out in Edmonton)? These bureaucratic sillinesses don’t seem to have anything to do with protecting the various cultural strengths of each province. They just cost your average joe like me time, money and patience.
Today I bolted a new plate onto my car. It said, “Quebec. Je me souviens.”
And then I wonder, especially as I drift about town, how long exactly does Montreal enjoy the cover of shady leaves in the trees, versus how long do we stare at the scratchy branches clawing at the sky? Is the ratio about 50/50? Let’s see… As of today, April 19, there are still no leaves on the trees. Not that I’m complaining, of course. But if we were to be optimistic and say that there WILL be green and growing things in, say, two weeks, that means we will enjoy green and growing things for most of May, June, July, August, and September. Then it will all turn yellow, wilt, and die in October. So by my count, that makes five months of greenery and growingness. That is under 50 per cent.
Not that I’m complaining. I am more happy and relaxed now than I’ve been since Christmas… Perhaps since last September, even. God it’s glorious when it comes: sun and warmth. Maybe it would be better to live in Mexico where they enjoy sun and warmth more than us. But maybe not. Maybe I’m now hardwired to follow the rhythm of five months of summer and seven months of cold and snow. Maybe, in a place like Montreal, five months of summer is not so bad. We’ve saved up all our joie de vivre. Now it’s time to spend it like there’s no such thing as bankruptcy.
I have been away for a while — both from this blog and from this city. I was in Edmonton, mostly just lazing around, eating, drinking, and spending time with friends, family and my wonderful girlfriend. It was a very happy holiday. The only time I lifted a finger in any kind of exertion was to pack some belongings into my trusty VW Golf so I could drive the 3,600 kms across Canada back to my home. Montreal!
Today it is plus 20 and sunny, sunny, sunny. I awoke feeling a bit bloated and ungainly this morning (no surprise, I guess, when eating, drinking, and then sitting in a car for 40 hours comprises the sum total of your activities since Sunday) but once I started walking from Verdun, along the Lachine Canal and through Saint Henri and eventually to downtown, I started to feel a hell of a lot better, and I was reminded that no place is like Montreal — and I mean, no place at all. In the Square Sir Georges-Etienne Cartier, I felt I almost had to pinch myself. This is my city? This is my city?
This is my city!
Just in case things weren’t going well enough, when finally I returned to the Internet, I found an email in my inbox. It announced that I was a semi-finalist in the Summery Literary Seminars short fiction contest, and as such, would get a tuition waiver on a prestigious workshop either in St. Petersburg, Russia, or Nairobi, Kenya. I wrote to express my delight at this, but also had to be honest about my difficult schedule. How I could ever liberate time and money to go to either Russia or Kenya is totally beyond me. Something pretty major would have to happen between now and then for that to happen. Like win the lotto, so that I don’t even need a job. But wait, I don’t play the lotto! Well, maybe somebody else can win the lotto, and then remember me, and give me the equivalent of a year’s salary. Yeah, that would work!
But none of that matters when my thoughts return to what I left behind in Edmonton. It isn’t easy saying goodbye to the one you love. I hope this time the goodbye was only for two or three months, and that then, we will be reunited forever. I am never so happy as when I am with my girlfriend. She rocks my world. She rocks my world more than St. Petersburg and Kenya combined.
Regular readers might assume that I no longer suffer from that strange disease known as pleurisy. Wrong! Pleurisy has returned in the last week along with its myriad physical offerings that it lays at my door in a strange sort of tribute: these include shortness of breath and burning sensations in my chest. Joy. I have had to curtail my activities at the gym. Again. I have made modifications to my diet to accommodate the fact that I am exercising less. Again. Normally I’d like to be the type to eat big and live big. But I find myself a puny mouse compared to the man I was circa December 2007, before all this started.
Go to the doctor? That does sound like a very sensible idea… except that I’ve tried it five times already in under three months. I even had to go to the doctor for a medical exam prior to starting work at my job. I’ve given blood and urine tests. So I’m about tuckered out with the prodding and poking and cross-examination of my body. Unless I think death is imminent, I think I’ll just deal with this on my own.
One exercise still open to me is… walking! I like to walk. I’ve been in Griffintown and Old Montreal quite a lot recently and I’m thinking of a drift through Littly Italy today. These jaunts provide consolation.
Pleurisy has been in my life so long now that I consider it one of the regular torments of my physical and emotional life. I am sure that everyone has their own equivalents. You recognize negative thoughts or feelings or pains… You think to yourself, “Here we go again!” Then you try equip yourself as best you can to deal with them.
Really, though, my lot in life is so good. On my last job interview up in St Eustache, I drove up feeling a bit anxious and sorry for myself. My health then, as it is now, was neither good nor bad. It was just dissatisfyingly mediocre. As I drove into the industrial quarter where my now-employer is situated, I passed a sign warning people of the dangers of driving drunk. Looking out at me from the sign was a woman with her face horribly burned.
Of course, as Anne Frank said in her diary (I’m paraphrasing here) it is not always a consolation to know that there is someone whose lot is worse than your own. But sometimes it does pay to remember it.
(As a fulltime student, that is).
In exactly one week, I will no longer be a fulltime student. I will be returning to Edmonton to spend some time with my family and my girlfriend before getting into my long-neglected Volkswagen Golf to return to Montreal and start my new job, April 21. I will be finishing my communications program in dribs and drabs here and there, attempting to fit it around fulltime work. The last of these dribs and drabs will dribble on into summer of 2009.
How was it going back to school at 32, after a six year hiatus?
I kind of enjoyed it. That’s the truth. I especially enjoyed meeting new people. One thing I did not enjoy, and this was particularly troublesome in the most recent semester, was the subjectivity of the grading process. I really don’t like working for grades. There seems something rather childish and nearly shameful about it, and I don’t like the idea of being in competition with other people. If I had entered a more conventional MA program, maybe it would not have been like this, but in the murky realm of graduate diploma studies, every project I completed required a mark of A through C. Yes, I did receive a C. And it made me mad! And slightly obsessional after the fact.
I concluded that I prefer to work on creative projects in my own time, looking to impress nobody but myself. At least, that’s the way I prefer to approach first drafts of my various efforts. Handing stuff in to a prof and then getting a grade taints this process. I am really looking forward to re-establishing the work dynamic I had going in Edmonton. Office-man by day, creator of alternate worlds by night!
Concordia certainly has some serious flaws with its communications program and I’d like to discuss them more at some point. Maybe I cannot do it here. It might be inappropriate and even defamatory. I would like to spend some time collecting opinions about the graduate program one day and bringing these to the attention of the powers that be.
My advice: if you are a prospective student looking to take communications at Concordia, make sure you have a clear plan of what you want to learn and maybe even research the profs you’d like to learn from. There are some great profs at the university who have oodles of knowledge and experience to share. But you better be a self-motivator, because the program itself will not give you much guidance or support.
It might be rather nauseating if I now segway to Concordia’s most obvious selling point (Hint: it starts with the letters M-O-N). Yes, that would be its location. Have I yakked on enough about how much I like Montreal? Probably. But for a program like communications, the importance of the location can’t be overstated. Montreal has some clear advantages for people who want to get out and about to admire photography and other visual arts, meet artists, get involved with filmmaking, and that sort of thing. There is also a lot of multimedia whatnot going on here — technical stuff that I can’t fully comprehend enough to discuss at length here… If you can do cascading style sheets or design a game user interface or something like that, you can probably find some kind of gainful employment in Montreal.
It makes me a little sad now to be leaving student life. But, you know, it’s like when you turn eighteen and you have to move out of the house… Wait, nobody does that anymore. Find a better analogy. OK, it’s like when you are up in an airplane and you have a beautiful view of the whole world laid out like a checkerboard below you, and you want to stay and admire it all, but you know eventually you will have to land and get on with life. Yes, maybe it’s a bit like that.