Tuesday, January 31, 2006

And now for something a little lighter

Because my last few posts were perhaps a little overly erudite (hence one response from my Dad: "I need a translator to even understand your blog! Me--a baby boomer--has trouble grasping the concepts of you genXers!" ) . . . I decided to relieve you, the faithful readers (or "absorbers," as my good friend David put it) of my "electronic journal." I'm so incredibly sick of the word bl-g, by the way. Which is what my last post began as a response to, before it plummeted into the depths of media criticism.

Because I am also addicted to this site called the the Daily Mumps, which I discovered through Mark's Magnificent Page, I figured I've try my hand at some sarcasm. But maybe sarcasm isn't really effective if you pre-empt it like that. Oh well. Too late now. So, following in the witty style of the creator of that website, I've put together some captions for pictures I had just kickin' around. Enjoy!

After decades of bitter and rancorous sibling rivalry, Jennifer and Matthew--although it took every last inch of their self-restraint--decided to share the last piece of sushi. It was a brave, though last-ditch attempt, at familial peace.

With the recent demise of their father's entrepreneurial ventures, the kids thought they should start pulling their weight around the house. The new tv series Falcon Beach may not have been their idea of good art, but it was a fine place to carve out a lucrative acting career.

High on the treacherous Himalayan peaks, they had found the last surviving member of the long-extinct animal family. Now the only task that remained was transporting it back to camp where they could begin re-populating Earth with its former feathered creatures. It would be no small task, but they owed it to the world.

After getting over the initial loss of life on planet Earth, Jen and Mark embraced the possibilities of their new cube on Mars. Now the only trick was getting all that Ikea stuff to fit...

No really darlin', everythin's faaahne, I know exactly where the cows are...uh huh...now jes' pass me the whuskey dee-ar, come on, just hand it on over...

While the blissful, newly-engaged couple smiled for the camera, the hot air balloon attendant prepared himself for the worst.

Thhhhhhhhhhhhhat's all folks!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Msg. in a bttl." : from Shorthand to Quicksand

In all my recent thinking about technology's pathetic aesthetics (ha ha), I come across this article by Simon Dimenco. I like his call-it-like-it-is analysis of my (relatively new) discovery of "journaling in the commons;" aka: blogging. Thanks to everyone who has emailed me and let me know in person that they have enjoyed my blog: You know who you are!

Here is an excerpt from the essay:

"And it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing -- writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder. It’s just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same."

This makes sense to me. Media is simply the way we house our experience. We bring life to our ideas through words, that is how language functions, by defining the realm of sharing. Words enjoy the great priviledge of holding our ideas, of storing, as if in antique iron clasped jam-jars, the colourful and rich and fermenting conconctions of the years. So then does it matter how it is shared? This is something I think about a lot. How is the content of our speech affected through the different ways we choose to convey it? Which is of greater value: the message in a bottle, yellowed with sun and seawater, or the "cu2nite" I scan on my phone while shopping for potluck goodies? The above quote seems to suggest that the two are equal; at the very least it hints at the neutrality of media. It doesn't matter then how one goes about disseminating information, whether at the public square, as did Jesus and the Apostle Paul, or via this new "virtual" commons, as does Gordon Atkinson. It seems to say that the meat of the message is not in the vehicle used to bring it to life (the medium). It seems to say that technology in the form of publishing programs and software is only the great beast we ride into victory, neither to hasten nor impede.

Then again, sometimes I agree with Marshall McLuhan, that the medium IS the message itself, not just its temporary skin. Sometimes the manner in which I receive information, or love, or friendship, or counsel, actually matters. Go figure. I could learn that over the counter sipping tea with my roommate, or I could learn it from Oprah. Maybe it doesn't matter. Then again, maybe it does. But I'm not the only one asking these questions, am I?

I don't have the answers to this dilemma, hence the continued posting. I have this love-hate relationship with technology: long-sensitized to the innovations of the past (which were at the time of their introduction, equally jarring), but resisting those of the future. It's hypocrisy. If I can accept knives and bowls and pen, then I can accept iPods and Blackberries. Moreover, advancements in electronic media have made many things possible in my life: they have allowed me to maintain friendships, cultivate new ones, and discover things that I never would have otherwise come across. There are flip-sides to these perks however, dark sides if you will: have my real friendships of yesterday faded into false pursuit? Have we built simulations of communities to somehow combat our isolation from one another? Have we grown so bored with the journey of seeking that we've become ravenous for more and more and more? What has happened to the notion of too much information?

It's easy to say "it's not the tools themselves it's how you use them." But I often wonder if that's too optimistic a position, given our depravity. How have we used guns and steel? Not for any coffeetables I've seen. But the only alternative is rather pessimistic, that we are clay in the hands of our own creations. I don't know which I prefer. Even as I write this, I can see my own naivete glaring back at me like this lifeless computer screen. I wonder how this would've come out different in my little beat-up journal . . .

This post was my Frankenstein. Ahhhhhhhhhhh, he's chasing me down!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I'm going Hunting

I wonder, was Gutenberg hated by traditionalists like some neo-luddites loathe the guys at Google? The media we consume is changing, in micro movements and in great bounds. I'm not sure how these changes are changing us, but I'm confident that they are to some degree.

I turn from my computer screen to a book, and its dry and slippery pages are suddenly and inexplicably pure betweeen my fingers. This thing in my hands was once a voice across the fire, maybe a soft hand on my head as I courted sleep. The light of the screen accosts my eyes. The barrage of information is laid out before me: stripped naked, and we've barely met. I did not work for this. I did not earn this. I did not find this. Yet here it is: what does it ask of me? Why am I so numb?

In a recent Details interview, Bjork (the Islandic recording artist) declared that she found nothing so "organic" an experience than sitting in the woods compsing music on her laptop. I admired her ability to synthesize the natural and the invention. The idea of the machine as powerless but for our touch, is liberating.

Still, for some reason it is only when I read or hear information that I feel I have truly gleaned it. Cultivated and shucked like corn for a feast. Pulled like bright carrots from the dark earth. When the Internet is my guide, I feel as though I have only absorbed such knowledge. Passivity, caught, as if in a deluge, chased by an encroaching tide, hunted. Am I one of the last children of books? Am I pushing against the gales of electronic media, or being refreshed by the foretastes of freedom it carries?

"If travel is searching / and home what's been found / I'm not stopping / I'm going hunting / I'm the hunter / I'll bring back the goods / but i don't know when." -Bjork-

Friday, January 20, 2006

I remember a time

Why my mouth so dry
when outside the world so drenched with falling dew,
the sky has stolen something?
Lifted it off my tongue--
Giving back to the grieving earth.

From where does this sunlight in my body come
when that ball of fire beyond my reach,
warms the another distant part of the world?
Pouring through me, mis-matched to time--
Undercurrent of my bones.

I remember a time when I looked out of these eyes, when they were windows to the world, draped with lace and flowers and so unaware of themselves. Lately it seems they’ve become like little doors, tunnels to inner catacombs. Doors with heavy brass bolts and cryptic symbols etched into dense aged oak. Clandestine and alluring. Lately it seems as if I’ve been looking at my eyes, rather than through them—like I’ve gained a second set that stare and stare and stare right back: the meta-gaze. The gaze at a gaze. Socrates said “the unexamined life in not worth living:” an adage that juts out from the hats I wear like a peacock feather. A justification of what I call self analysis and others in my life have called over analysis. Maybe we could just call it knowing.

I remember a time when days and years and people just spilled out before me, like some kind of undeserved boon. A time when I didn’t both with the word “this year will…” when the calendar turned, too busy banging pots and pans with my brothers in the front yard. A glorious, purposeless activity that way just noise for noises’ sake: L’art pour l’art; art for art’s sake, that benchmark intellectual movement of the 19th Century.

I remember a time when questions were my soil, growing wild and ravenous blooms of scepticism. They’re still there I think, those deep forests, those dry deserts, only growing smaller and harder to reach. How do I get there--is it the yellow ring or the green? Yes, those questions are quieter now.

I remember a time when I didn’t think about age. Is it possible that as we accumulate years and experience, freckles and scars, that we actually move closer to truth? Is it possible that death will reunify us with our Creator and we will find ourselves created once again? Life would then be less like a line or an arrow, and more like a course; moving us closer to the moment of true birth. The more I think about it, the more I realize that death is a farce. Much more a beginning than an end. If we could only see beyond this (achingly beautiful) cardboard world.

Do I remember a time when there was no Time at all?

(Please see Scott Mutter's "Church Aisle" photo montage in a larger format.)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Arching towards Bethlehem

Mood: Dreamy
Listening to: Say Yes! to Michigan--Sufjan Stevens

For those of you who aren't familiar with WB Yeats, my title is a referance to his famous poem, The Second Coming." What is it about the closing lines that stick with me: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?" Only a handful of poets can manage such epic resonance, echoing like a gong for decades or centuries after pen hits paper. Yeats shows us a God who is so large, such a massive collection of beauty, truth and goodness that the moment of incarnation is like the rolling-up of a carpet, the collapsing of an easel, the huncing-down of a great giant. This is no distant and insatiable deity, this is one who, at the moment of Christ, spreads his arms wide and draws them in, curves his back like a cat, and collapses into an impossible smallness. A changeable God--poured into the feeding trough of farm animals--like some cosmic game of hide-and-seek.

So why "Arching?" Being a Sagittarius on the Astrological charts, I thought it a fitting Yeatsian play. Not that I'm about to be incarnated or anything, but I fancy the image of aiming towards re-creation, purposefully and skillfully. Life is not one birth but many. And because I orient myself around that little cradle, tucked away in some negligible corner of the world, births have become a guiding trope for me.

Almost everyone knows where they fall under the stars, whether they place a lot of significance in it or only a few skeptical grains. Every morning at the coffee shop we read our hororscopes to each other. I've always positionned myself at the edge of these types of things, not sure where exactly to stand, not sure precisely what to think. The zodiac, after all, usually made its way into the "be careful of" lists of my youth--along with ouiji boards and fortune-tellers. It was always a tamer one though; perhaps its roots in Greek mythology lent it some kind of credibility. I've always liked my sign: adventurous, creative, philosophical, ardent, jovial, frivolous. I have nothing against looking upward to seek understanding. I have nothing against looking for patterns to existence. I also have nothing against those far-off firey orbs having something more to say to us than "gosh aren't they pretty," or providing a backdrop for first kisses and pacts of friendship. The randomness that sometimes topples my sense of well-being is countered by the idea that above me there might be a wild order and symmetry. That on the day of my birth there might have been a Centaur shooting his arrow across the canopy above me; shooting his small arrows towards perpetual re-birth.

We could probably find something true about ourselves in every astrological sign. When you're looking hard enough for yourself, you're more apt to find pieces everywhere. The other day one of our regulars, waiting patiently as I timed his espresso shot out to a perfect 25 seconds, asked me when my birthday was. From the numbers I gave him, he formulated a quick map of my life: my strengths and weaknesses, how others see me, what types of work I would be well-suited to. I may have raised my eyebrows briefly, sending him off into his day well-caffeinated and conversationally stimulated, but I didn't pay much heed to his theories. What is the merit in these things? How much stock should we put in them? I do believe some people are gifted in seeing beyond the scratched surface of reality, and I did find something strangely comforting in his words. Is it merely that our exchange went beyond that of normal acquaintances, that there was a rickety bridge built across the vast canyon that separates two human personalities?

Life is chasing the little clues written on yellowing papers, scattered throughout the world: tucked in mountain crevasses, floating on oceans, twirling in desert winds. Clues to find and cherish, to read and share, to question and to doubt. I'm not one to live blindly by any book; I'm one to live with eyes wide open.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Gadget legs and empty stomachs

Listening to: Where Cedar Nouns and Adverbs Walk--the Most Serene Republic
Mood: Excitedly Undefined

Books smile at me from various corners of my apartment. I just finished one--Moon Palace by Paul Auster and was consistently pleased. It was one of those books that you keep looking at, even when you've finished it. One of those packages of pages and words that will sit beside you on the couch and lure you back to it. One of those literary treasures that you flip through with nostalgia after reading, hoping that the words might lift off the page and pull you towards them once again.

“I was buoyant in my solitude.” Just like that, such a simple line, and such a host of associations. A tiny ship on an expanse of water: pure freedom and fearful unfetteredness, together in an single image. I too have felt this buoyancy. Stepping on planes, reaching a decision, starting something new. Rainer Maria Rilke, one of my favorite poets, says that it is a tremendous violence to begin anything. I would have thought it a birth, but even in birth there is blood, there is agony, there are cries. Beginings are great, loud cries in the smooth quiet of daily life. Wherever we are in life, in age, circumstance, or locale, beginnings present themselves, begging us for the courage to fight them. What shall we become if we cease to create?

The seagulls are ecstatic outside my window. If only it was for the sea, and not for dismal dumpster treasures. Now crows have joined them, perched on the telephone wires, black chess pieces to their white. Will they all fight together, or pick sides, sharing a piece of break amongst their own kind? I can't see their battleground; from my position on the couch I can only see the sky.

I think I live with one foot in every place I love. But God knows I only have two. Go-go gadget legs...

If God is telling me anything at all these days I'd think it would be to write. There are times when the character of our thought can tell us more than existence itself. Those recurring images, dreams, coincidences, and descriptive digressions. The world pours itself through my pen, performs the daily ritual of turning itself to ink, performing the alchemy of adverbs. But every writer knows that inspiration always comes when there's no magical pen in sight. When you're cutting a grapefruit on the counter and your mind is multiplying thoughts, attaching and attaching like all those little pockets of sticky, sour joice that make up the yellow globe in your hand. "Just focus on the grapefruit," I say, as if reciting a chant. The tasks of a day are just tunnels into another realm, where words and ideas swing back and forth on translucent tree trunks. I like the fruits I have to work for. Pomegranates. Mangoes. Grapefruits. Never with the "Here I am!" of apples, or the conveniency of grapes. Inside their flesh a thousand little mysteries.

I have been attending this bi-weekly event called Gathering with a friend. Aside from the fear of organized transparency that could plague any less-public newcomer, these evenings have been life-giving for me. The theme of our discussion last time I attended was "mindful consumption," a topic that revolved around food, but spanned into other areas of life as well. One woman spoke about a group excercise she'd participated in once, regarding an orange. They were to explain its textures and attributes for over an hour, slowly engaging all the senses around this single object of nourishment. The image was beautiful; she said it forever changed the way she eats oranges. For the past two days my roomate and I set out on a bit of a cleanse, attempting a whole week of eating only cabbage soup and various other vegetal bounties. Our organized effort towards not only a healthy new year, but a crash course in self-discipline. I wanted to remind myself to eat slowly and deliberately, to watch my body and mind respond to a different energy intake. At the end of the second day,in a state of tottering haziness, we decided it was no longer healthy. (Sometimes I can be so all or nothing.) Those two days of light-headed, internal purity taught me the difference between hunger and desire, among other things. Namely, that Gandhi I am not. When your transportation is located in the strength of your legs, fruits and vegetables don't really go the distance. Moderation may be a higher virtue than extremism. Mission: aborted.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Getting our bearings

Last night I was reminded of one of the truest reasons for friendship: the importance of staying connected to the people who know us so well that they can spot even the most minute changes in our being. True friends are not merely ours to adore, and to adore us in return; they are those people in our lives who are granted the rare and joyful priviledge of calling us back to ourselves, over and over and over again.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

From snow to salty sea

A New Year. It always seems arbitrary to me, that nothing will change from the 31st to the 1st. Numbers on these expanses of time we call "days." Still I can't shake the feeling of promise that hit me as I toasted my glass of champagne.

After work today I biked the seawall, a 2-and-a-half-hour excursion around Vancouver's salt-soaked edges. Everytime I do this, I wonder why I don't do it more than I do. We all have these thoughts: why don't I spend more time alone? why don't I see that friend more often? why don't I read more poetry outloud? why don't I do those things I know bring me life but too often forget? I guess there's only so much time.

Christmas in Winnipeg was a full of friends and family, a smoky little cabin in the woods, late nights on snowy streets, the Nutcracker, and Wolseley watering holes. Perhaps the gem in it all was an unexpected connection with someone from my distant past. It is good to be back here though, surrounded by space and possibility. I forgot how beautiful this city is, and while I am tired of some things about it, I am not yet tired of exploring it.

Tonight as the sun set over English Bay it left a pink wake across the cloudy sky. The water was mercury-coloured, shimmering to sleep. On one of the beaches a man was sitting on a piece of driftwood with his bike next to him. Both were merely black outlines, detail hidden in the fading twilight, leaving only the shape of companionship in solitude; man and machine, wheels and a pulsing heart, a picture of perfect competence and subtle strength.