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I now live in Villeray. My apartment on Berri is only about five blocks south of the Metropolitaine, which takes me out of town. This morning my commute was only 30 minutes. This evening, the ride home was a little longer, but still very manageable. I walked from my apartment all the way through Mile End, the Plateau, to downtown. Lovely.
My apartment is full of windows and very bright. I must buy curtains and hang them up. That is this week’s project. Among the ten other projects.
What is it like being away from the one you love? Well, it’s like hell sometimes. The part that has surprised me the most about a year’s separation from my girlfriend is that the experience has become harder, not easier. The first few months seemed like a breeze. I think the excitement of being in Montreal took the edge off my loneliness. And meeting so many new people, and taking part in so many new projects… it helped take my mind of it all. But increasingly, especially on these hot, summer days, I want nothing more than to share the delight of every day life with someone special. It also works a real number on the old self esteem, being alone. I had forgotten until recently how much I need someone else to affirm who I am.
The number one kick in the pants to someone in my situation? Other couples. There they are, holding hands in the park, laughing on the Metro, kissing one another at the side of the road. Horrible people tormenting me! Woe betide them all!
Long distance relationships are not to be undertaken lightly. Thank God the distance will be reduced to zero in three weeks.
Tonight I’ve got to pack up my belongings and get ready for my move. There’s an awful empty feeling about having your life in boxes; your old place is just memories, the new place is too new to be a home.
Whine, whine, whine, eh? What a crybaby I am today! I should shut the hell up!
Despite being up shit-creek financially, I went shopping today. I need furniture for my new apartment. I got a kitchen table, coffee table, and dresser for $170, including delivery. The appointed day for delivery is next Saturday. I also went up to Parc-Ex to see a futon. It looked a good deal to me for $60. Sold! Then another happy circumstance prevailed when I was in another furniture store on Notre Dame and got talking to the manager. He is selling his own queen-sized bed and for a good price too. If it all checks out, this means I can have a bed for me as well as a bed for my living room slash guest bedroom.
To pull all this off, I’m going to have to do some clever juggling from credit line to credit line. I am not a good money manager, make no mistake. The only thing I can really be proud of is that I’ve managed to weather unemployment, moving city, returning to school, and traveling, all without ever actually running out of cash entirely. I’ve never had to grovel at the familial table for some scraps. Maybe my luck is going to run out this summer, I dunno. All I know is that sometimes it makes me very anxious indeed.
Anyway, change of subject. Money sucks donkey’s balls!
This week, I successfully wrote a minimum of 1,000 words every day — from Saturday through to Thursday. It was a personal challenge to myself to try and create six new stories, and I guess I pulled it off. I can’t say all of the stories are good, but some of them might become good eventually. I prematurely fired off a couple of them, and as I should have expected, the reviews were not emphatically positive!
I keep having to remind myself: you cannot write a good first draft. You just cannot. Maybe some people can, but I cannot. I need at least a week to go away and forget about a story entirely, then come back to it, and at that point, I can gauge whether the idea has merit or not.
All right, now I’m going to post what I’ve been meaning to post for a while.
Writing for the Web
“…the web is actually changing all our reading habits. Short, concise web text, well laid out, has an impact we don’t get over. When we go back to print on paper, we’re too impatient to put up with long sentences and long paragraphs.”
“I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages.”
Is Google Making Us Stupid? Atlantic
Forgive me if my blog is about to go all serious, but I’m been increasingly fascinated by writing on the web recently. Is it true that the web might be shrinking our attention spans?
Attention span is a key issue for the web. Another one – and I haven’t coined a good term for this (suggestions are welcome) – is the web’s effect on “what you’re looking for.”
What you’re looking for
Surfing the web is like grazing… people are forever searching for something, trying to find the tastiest morsels. Some morsels are good – an informative news article, for example. But in grazing, we’ll often get sidetracked – and that is not always so good. For example, you’ll be looking at your favourite news site, reading about Obama, when suddenly you notice a link to hot new pictures of a celebrity baby. Click!
But getting sidetracked is also half the fun – and the point – of the web. You might get sidetracked to something trashy, or you might find get sidetracked to something edifying. In either case, the reader has a huge amount of control in where she chooses to focus her attention.
This is not the case with many traditional media – especially the longer forms such as the film or the novel. Yes, we could choose to start a book at page 236, skip to the end, flip back to the beginning – but everyone knows that is not the point of the experience. The point of traditional media is that we surrender control to an outsider – typically, a narrator. The narrator takes us on a journey.
Powerful and successful storytellers achieve an effect in the reader that the reader would not be able to create on her own. They move the reader through a succession of events, told in a particular order, to reach a conclusion that is satisfying. There is an inherent logic and rationality to how the narrative is constructed.
My own belief is that the best narratives are so well told as to be almost scientifically persuasive. They have an air of inevitability about them. The reader feels that the components of the story fit so well together that they could not be told in any other way.
Susan Sontag said in her final book that narrative is not like anything else; it is the best way for humans to build a moral universe and convey meaning on life. By choosing what is or isn’t important in telling a story, an author makes the same argument about life. If there is no such thing as narrative – no such thing as making choices, inclusion and exclusion, focus, purpose – then there is no morality.
After all, the very concept of morality, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition, is based on choice. To eat or not to eat the apple? Once endowed with such powers of decision-making, humankind is liberated to either sin or be virtuous.
Without narrative – in other words, in the world of much of the Internet – moments do not crystallize into decisions. It’s no longer to eat or not eat the apple, it’s, oh look – there’s a banana, oh wait, there’s a plum, hold on, I think that peach over there looks tasty. It’s an amoral mess, in other words.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
And then, suddenly, the anxiety melts away. It doesn’t take much. Today I was getting pretty worried about money — the shortage thereof — and then I had a phone conversation with Bell Mobility that worked me into a little fit. I hate it when I call about charges that I’m sure are unfair and unwarranted, and then they explain exactly why your phone bill is so exorbitant, and you have to pay it anyway. I hate it! Anyway, just at the moment that my head is swirling with angry thoughts, I walk into Parc Jacques-Cartier and there is a band playing beautiful Latin music, people are gathered around, relaxed and happy, and I get the feeling like I’m on a summer holiday. A holiday in my own city. And then I bump into a friend — a native Quebecoise — and even more worries slip away as I relax into the feeling of community and companionship.
Later this week, or more likely the weekend, I’m planning on doing a post or two on web writing, something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. So the conversation is likely going to turn pretty serious. But not morbid. More and more, I think about the weird world of keywords and tags, and how they can end up influencing what we write, until there’s a risk that we simply use words as a kind of product. Like the way I could mention Stephen Harper in this post, and then mention Stephen Harper again, and then top it off by mentioning Stephen Harper for a third time, and I’ll likely end up caught in the net of those trawling for blogs that mention Stephen Harper. I know this, because it’s happened already!
Clever bloggers know how to send their blog shooting up Google rankings with expert allusions to hot button issues, such as 9-11, and Britney Spears. This Guardian column about it is a great read. But that’s not to say that Google is easily fooled. Oh no. Its acute algorithmic brain knows if you are trying to play dirty tricks. It can gauge the quality of the material you have to write about, say, Stephen Harper. Nevertheless, you know we’re living in a qualitatively different world when there are “spiders” crawling about structure of your prose; when a strong writer could languish in obscurity on the web simply for not understanding Search Engine Optimization!
Anyway, I’ll say something less boring about that, Saturday or Sunday.
I have to write a short story about pylons now. It’s the fourth in a series of five that I have vowed to start this week. It was inspired by my drive to work this morning when I was sitting in traffic surrounded by the large orange and white pylons that mark off construction zones.
Montreal is full of them right now.
If you ask me, it’s a mafia racket. Construction projects seems to take twice as long here as they would anywhere else. And when they’re finished, the jobs are still lousy! Look at the crumbling highways! Look at the Olympic stadium! Consider the cracks in the Metro station last summer! If something heavy and concrete lands on my head, I am going to be even more irritated than I was earlier today.
That really is something to worry about.
I am uneasy, and what makes it worse, I can’t figure out exactly what I should be uneasy about. It is possible that I am simply suffering the effects of excess wine with dinner last night. It is possible that I am suffering because I followed this excess with an over-generous serving of strong, black coffee this morning. Or maybe this unease has a genuine cause, as yet unknown to me. When I tried to call the guy who is transferring his lease in Villeray to me, his number was not in service. When I tried to call the landlord, whose name I don’t actually know, I had to leave a message. So I have entertained worries that maybe I fell prey to some kind of scam. But then I can’t figure out what exactly the scam would be.
Or maybe I’m just suffering the anxiety of influence. I was reading more of Peri Rossi’s Museum of Useless Efforts this morning. Then I started doing some writing of my own. Lo and behold, it turned out in a style that seemed to be emulating Peri Rossi. Only occasionally does a prose writer impress me so much that I want to write just like him or her – and that is what has happened with this writer. But I mustn’t deviate into an attempted replica of her style. No! I’ve got my own style, don’t I?
I really value books like Rossi’s that draw me out of my comfort zone. For too long, I’ve considered authors like Saul Bellow or Phillip Roth exemplars of what modern writing should be about, but that’s narrowminded. It’s important to be dragged out of the North American tradition. Peri Rossi has almost nothing in common with any N. American authors I’m familiar with. Her landscapes, while familiar for the depiction of rocks, leaves, beaches, etc., have none of the particularity of mainstream authors. There are no place names or other identifiers. The stories thus seem universal. They are also often surreal, in that impossible things are happening. In The Rope, the narrator is someone who inexplicably lives his whole life up on a suspended rope in a room.
It’s liberating to read someone whose thought processes are so different from my own. It liberates me to think in a different way. Although I’m not happy with the story I started writing in Rossi’s shadow, I’m very excited about the plot. It strikes me as something that before this week, I would have been unable to concoct on my own. Now, thanks to Rossi, my mind has been subtly rewired. Neurons are able to fire and transmit messages in an altered way — they are capable of new things.
My story, once I get around to writing it, is going to be called, “The Temporary Closure of the Airport.”
It might have the potential to elicit in the reader a sense of unease.
It is a sensible idea to always have at least a little bit of money kicking around. How much is enough? Well, I’d say at least five dollars is a good start. How much is too much? I’d say anything over $200,000 a year is getting excessive. There should probably be a law against taking home any more money than that. Where are you going to find room for it all? If I became prime minister, I would impose a maximum salary of $200,000 per year. Anything above that would have to go to worthy causes.
Yesterday I found out I will be earning a little more money. So as you can see, I have money on my mind. After work, I went home and found a cheque from the govenment for $50. This unexpected bonus made me quite happy, so I went out to a cafe with Teena and Denis. There I proceeded to drink two and a bit glasses of sangria, and ate a wholesome dessert. I ordered the Anna Nicole Split, but there was no Anna Nicole left, apparently, on account of a shortage of the required fruit (bananas). So I had to settle for a James Brown. That’s OK, the James Brown was almost as good as Anna Nicole would have been
See the marvellous things money can procure.
By the way, I am ashamed of Stephen Harper today. It’s not for the first (or the last time) either. Harper thinks it’s A-OK to leave accused Canadian terrorist Khadr languishing in Gitmo indefinitely, despite ample evidence that the kid is being treated abominably. I think Harper is doing this in order to try and prove to everyone, especially macho Albertans, how manly he is. Well, Steve-O, I’m not fooled! I don’t think you’re manly in the slightest. Only the biggest coward believes in bullying people who are defenceless. I don’t care if they committed a crime or not.
I know my opinion is not going to change Stephen Harper’s ideas about anything, but I do feel better getting that off my chest.
When you gather a large group of friends together on a summer Montreal night, expect drinks and hilarity to follow. This seems to happen at least every week — often several times a week. I must monitor myself to ensure I do not become an alcoholic.
However, it’s hard to say no to drinks. As Teena’s friend Andrea pointed out, it’s nice when you happen to be wandering along, bump into Person X, and say, “We’re going to such-and-such, would you like to join us?” and invariably, Person X will say yes. I like how open people are to socializing.
Meanwhile, I attempt to keep writing, because you need more hobbies in life than simply drinking, especially when you feel forlorn sometimes because you miss your girlfriend. I successfully steered my thoughts away from loneliness several times this week, writing a new story, which I called, “Stalking Ex-Girlfriends.” I think it’s one revision away from being one of my more successful stories.
I also submitted a piece to Maisonneuve magazine called, “Montreal Heat Reminds me of a Fat Childhood,” which is a story about the summer around the time I was fifteen, when I stayed at my aunt’s in France, and went cycling every day in the midday heat, determined to shed my extra pounds.
I’ve also drafted about eight M.o.M’s, some of which will come out the next while. I plan to start archiving them on this site. I like making things accessible through archives.
I do not, however, like Obama’s stance on gun control. What happened to his principles?
Another thing I don’t like is Canada’s laggardly behviour on climate change. We are the worst of the G8 for increasing emissions since signing Kyoto. I blame Alberta and Stephen Harper. Bunch of greedygutsses!
You cannot eat money. Or oil.
Sadly, because I work in St. Eustache, I create more than my fair share of emissions. It’s a 37 kilometre drive each way. Insanity! Sometimes the traffic is so bad that I want to have Road Rage and kick the other motorists’ heads in. But I don’t. Like them, I just sit there sullenly and patiently, waiting my goddam turn, like a tool. It would be far better to walk or take the metro to work every day, but there we go…
Someone once asked me, why don’t you move to St. Eustache?
Ha! That person clearly doesn’t know St. Eustache very well. Except for my job, there is little of interest in St. Eustache. It reminds me of all the worst parts of Edmonton.
I cannot wait to get a cat. When I move to my new place, I plan to have a feline companion. I don’t know what to call him or her. If anyone has any suggestions, drop me an email. Maybe I’ll be pretentious and name him or her after a famous poet. Byron! Keats! Ezra Pound!
I don’t know why I’m writing such a long post. I haven’t organized my thoughts into a persuasive and compelling narrative of any kind. You could call this automatic writing.
My most successful Karaoke experience of all time was my rendition of Honky Tonk Women. Yesterday I thought of repeating it. But I didn’t. Very few songs fall within my range. I wish I could sing like Jack White of the White Stripes. That guy can belt out a song like nobody’s business. I also like the singers for Wolf Parade. Actually, I like everything about Wolf Parade. How proud I am of this Canadian talent. They live here. Maybe I will bump into them one day. I would not behave like a sycophant, because I don’t roll like that, but I would maybe congratulate them on the success of At Mount Zoomer.
If anybody cares about music at all, purchase At Mount Zoomer. Take note, I said purchase, not download. All you downloaders out there are vermin! You are like rats hitching a ride on a slave ship, taking the food out of starving people’s mouths. That is unless you only download rich bands that deserve to get screwed over, such as U2, who I now hate. Save Africa? How about saving the world from your infernal music, you tools!
I’ve now used tool as a derogatory term twice in this post. Let’s see if I can use it for a last and time time.
Karl Rove. He is a total tool!
No actually, that’s not correct. He’s not a blundering-around-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing kind of tool. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Being one of the most perversely evil men on the planet, and attempting to avoid justice, that’s what he’s doing. I once heard somebody speculate that he has a very small willy.
I can’t think of any more tools right now. I can think of lots of evil vermin, but not tools. How strange. You would’ve thought idiocy was more widespread than evil. But maybe modern education has curtailed idiocy.
If you can suggest a total tool to me, I will write a story about that tool.
Hot sunny weekend, and so a road-trip to the mountains seemed like a must. Five of us in my trusty Golf, one and a half hours on the road, and then the lush green Laurentians, somebody went skinny-dipping in a lake, there were ice creams, burst of energy at the end of the day which propelled to the top of an out-of-season ski hill.
Then back to Montreal, or more specifically, the terrasse of the Croissanterie in Outremont, and refreshing sangria. Oh how I love you sangria.
And in about three weeks: a NEW apartment! My digs are on rue Berri in the beautiful neighbourhood of Villeray, in north Montreal, just a few gear-shifts away from the TransCanada out of town. In my apartment I have a bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, a bathroom, two shared balconies, and a sort of study area. Very spacious… and for $585, you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal anywhere in North America.
Indeed, the only place you would find a deal like that would be Montreal.
I was walking along Sainte Catherine this morning missing my girlfriend terribly . Five more weeks… I keep having to tell myself it’s just five more weeks. I ache for her. The anticipation is almost overwhelming. To share this beautiful summer and beautiful city with her — it might be more than my little brain can handle! Happiness overload!