Monday, November 14, 2011

Nan 1

Nan loved to news around and to gossip, but it drove Pop. He'd be poisoned with her if she got to talkin when he could hear.

He'd say "Ellen! Don't be talkin!"

And Nan'd come back with "Whist! I'm not talkin, I'm only sayin!"

Nan had an abrupt way. If you were on the phone and she got tired of you, she'd cut in. "Well I must let you go, now." And she'd hang up before you could say anything else.

(I never witnessed any of this. It's hearsay from my parents. Nan and Pop have been dead for a long time.)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home sickness

I have been too long from home. I walk the grid of this city but I can't be here fully, not in my mind. Streets shouldn't move in straight lines. I'm determined not to be at home here.

There are no hills. There are no vantage points. I am always within something, when I'm here.

I moved away from home, but home continually moves away from me. One day I'll get off the plane and the place won't recognize me. I dread this. On the day that happens, I will no longer be an ex-patriot. I will be an orphan.

Friday, August 5, 2011


Gone to ground with the primates. The secret of being must be around here somewhere. If you look hard.

Caveat: there's no guarantee such a secret exists. And primate is a created category with no reality beyond what you grant it.

But yes, you have gone to ground somewhere and it is always wise to scrutinize your surroundings.

Even roadside diners and suburban homes have secret knowledge. Even fluorescent lights and thin beige carpet that gives off a chemical smell (a smell you have no name for) will reward scrutiny.

Why say 'even'? The fabric of reality doesn't play favourites.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Map of the World

Tomorrow, the map of my world receives a far-flung addition. I'm going to Portland OR.

My world has a hub (Newfoundland's Avalon peninsula). It has a couple of regional nodes where I've lived, spent significant time, had significant experiences (Waterford Ireland and Harlow UK, Toronto and London Ontario). I've seen much of the country between. My world's borders are the cardinal points of extremity I've visited: most easterly, most westerly, that kind of thing.

Today, the western border of my world is a farm 20 minutes' drive outside of London, ON. Tomorrow, my western horizon will be blown wide open.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Meeting writers

A strange feeling comes to me when I'm introduced to authors whose writing I love. I know one aspect of their mind so well already. I've spent hours reading their work, with their words filling my head, carrying me along the drift of a narrative. I surrender myself when I read, give myself over.

But the book is a collection of artfully arranged thoughts, trapped in the formaldehyde of print. A specimen I later examine. The writer is a person, responsive, secret. Some switch is flipped. It's at once a reduction and an intensification of intimacy, and I become awkward.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Newfoundland Space

Ecology versus Development in Witless Bay (The Telegram).

I've often thought that traditional outport Newfoundland ideas of space are at odds with legal and commercial definitions of property that originate elsewhere. In Newfoundland, how space can be used and who can use it doesn't follow the atomistic individualism of post-World War II North America. That said, the "old way" also holds that a man can build a house wherever he wants, if the land's unclaimed and not in use. 'Zoning' a space to protect it from development is just as alien an idea as the modern suburban housing development.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

glass floor

I apologize for the lack of posts. Blogger was in read-only.

I'm fond of the CN Tower, but it's strange. It's a retro-futurist artefact. It's what people forty years ago thought the future would be like. It emits mind control rays.

I've been a student in Toronto for some time and haven't visited. I went up on a family trip when I was seven. I vaguely remember the view, the mist from Niagara Falls in the distance. I'd like to go again and stand on the glass floor. I think I'd be fine, but I won't be sure until I do it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The universe observing itself

Since I was old enough to understand how the human body works, I've been amazed by it. The transmission of nervous signals from brain to muscle, telling a hand how to play a piano, translating the player's cognition into physical movement, her or his understanding of the notes that need to be played and how the hand can go about playing them. A feedback loop of alterations in the physical universe and thought directing and responding to those changes.

People who say science robs the universe of mystery and wonder are wrong. The more I learn, the more awe I feel.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sympathy is the dangerous necessity

"That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps ours frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity." - George Eliot

This quote both renews my sensitivity and forgives my lack of it.

Monday, May 9, 2011


Garbage, a band lead by self-proclaimed supervixen Shirley Manson, was key to the development of my sexuality as a teen. I'm wondering how similar slinky/damaged/dark sexualities might exist in today's popular music.

Pop has always been about sex, but much of it in the 90's represented a coy, normative sexuality. Now, much of pop's sexuality is quite explicit and raw, striking an alternative pose.

Conversely, I can think of no music more blandly asexual than the mainstream rock of the previous five years. Where would a song like this come from, today? Could it come from anywhere?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

to read oneself

A story has returned from an unsuccessful sally into the world. For months, it only existed, for me, in memory. Physically, the story went somewhere and is now returned. Intellectually, the opposite has occurred.

It's not to be a stranger reading the story fresh. I recognize the words as my own. I've been thinking about the story and these characters for months.

I find a section that's thin, though I remember it as richly drawn. I realize I didn't take the story where it needed to go. I chickened out in the hardest scene. I imposed an ending. These truths come clear.

Friday, May 6, 2011

yet another dichotomy

Guess culture versus Ask culture seems to have originated from an Ask Metafilter comment, but it has since received the blessing of the mainstream media, so I suppose it's a 'real thing.' I think it's an interesting way of thinking about the assumptions that underlie our daily interactions.

I immediately identified myself primarily as a 'Guesser,' and I wanted to make some small intelligent comment about it. But all my brain can does is find silly ways to valorize 'Guess culture.' Like: "it makes a person a better literary scholar, because you're looking for nuance and paying attention to underlying assumptions."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What one once knew how to do

When I was 18 I did my 9th grade in piano from the Royal Conservatory. I didn't go for Grade 10 but I learned some pieces for it. I was as good at piano as I wanted to be.

10 years later, my fingers feel slow and stupid. I can plow through Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, but I do it by force, not finesse.

It'd come back if I practised. I don't have time. I sit at the piano occasionally like I've woken from a wonderful dream and am trying to fall back asleep, hoping it'll continue, knowing it won't.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

thoughts in preparation for a story

A married woman with several children goes alone to South America with a Christian group. She stays there for years and sends postcards home. The group is fundamentalist. Her family doesn't share those beliefs. The postcards are ridiculous but she is probably not aware of it.

Why did she join this group? What made her leave? Did she try to convert her husband or children before leaving? I imagine she slipped away without letting them know. I imagine her son's faith being killed entirely. Her mother dumped him for Jesus: that could make a person hate Jesus with unswerving fidelity.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The eve of something

I was 18 when it happened. Almost a dozen of us crowded into a residence room. We saw the towers falling live on this cheap TV set.

That night the residence's atmosphere was strange. Charged. Some took a ghoulish relish (we were so young). Not in the deaths that'd happened, but in the soon-to-comes. "It's world war three!" Eyes shining.

And now tonight I see people crow about a blood vendetta fulfilled.

bin Laden wasn't the Borg Queen. The things that create terrorists (poverty, oppression, etc) are still at large in the world. We have a head on a pike.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Newfoundland Store

Riding transit to Port Credit for a wedding. I read Alistair MacLeod. Stories of small towns in Cape Breton. Socio-economic gravity wells. The obligation a young generation has to the dozen that came before it. A crushing weight. A man is killed while fishing. Another man is injured while mining.

We found a Newfoundland-Britain import store in Port Credit. I was astounded and then excited. However, it was terribly disappointing. There was a box of square milk lunch, a bottle of purity syrup, and some partridgeberry-apple jam. It is like NFLD sent me a signal, but a weak and meaningless one.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Today I invigilated a final exam. Invigilating appeals to me. I get to be solicitous while simultaneously embodying low-level surveillance and rule enforcement. Also if you have a fellow invigilator you can take little breaks from time to time. I read some Alistair MacLeod--Island.

The downside of invigilating exams is that you have to correct those exams in the days that follow. My backpack is full to bursting with them. So strange. There's 47 exams, each the culmination of 8 months of work. 31 years and 4 months of learning, and I have 4 days to grade it all.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Baby wants his coffee just so

Flew from New York to Toronto. Thunderstorms delayed us at the airport. It rained with such violence. I thought rain had a terminal velocity. Does it usually fall slow?

The coffee brought to me inflight was sugary. It was supposed to be black, bitter. I didn't drink it. I tried to get a new cup but I wasn't assertive enough. The whole minor incident put me in such a foul mood. I was completely unhappy to see Toronto. It is distressing to contain such infantile feelings and impulses, especially when their origin is just a cup of coffee gone wrong.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I saw Tennessee Williams' bum

I saw the Morgan Library's exhibition of notable diaries. Tennessee Williams's is there (under glass). Something about it entreated me, this diary, open to a single page. Be kind to Tennessee Williams, it said. Somehow.

Down in the gift shop they had the diary reproduced in full for purchase, with photos added. I read a dozen pages from the early 1940s.

There was a photo of him naked on a bed, face down. He held himself up on his forearms. I can only describe his backside as "friendly-looking." The back of his head, the way he held it, suggested meaning.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fugitive Pieces

Picked up Anne Michaels' novel Fugitive Pieces at The Strand in Manhattan ("18 miles of books!") and started reading it in a coffeeshop in Soho.

That was a very privileged sentence fragment.

I'm 130 pages into it. I'm quitting for the day because sunburn has given me headache and weakness, but the desire to keep going is almost strong enough to overrule. This is my first Anne Michaels Experience. I see why she's a Big Deal. The book is beautiful and complex. I got choked up on the train back to Queens because of it.

36 hours left in NYC.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Taking your ideas clothes-shopping, basically

I just read yet another "A Writer's Rules For Writing" piece. Heartily sick of that sort of thing. So here's mine, naturally:

1.) Have ideas. Think about them. Read some things related to them.

1A.) Optional: map your ideas with an outline, a word-web, disorganized scribbles.

2.) Put words in order. Let sit. This is key.

3.) Think about the ideas more. Do not read your draft. Be generous. Get excited.

4.) Read your draft. Make changes, additions, deletions. Be mean ("it's nice but is it necessary?").

5.) GOTO 3.

6.) Show your work. Consider the advice you get. Revise as you see fit.

7.) Decide what to do.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Explaining Canadian Literature to an American

Telling non-academics about life as an academic is productive but awkward (these qualities pal around a lot). Telling an American non-academic about being a scholar of Canadian literature is doubly so.

He didn't know Canada had a literature. "Oh yes!" Is it like Canadian Content regulations for the music on our radio? I hemmed with Joni Mitchell and hawed with Margaret Atwood. "No! Maybe! Yes? I'm no Canadian patriot!" As if mutual understanding required that info-nugget to be in play.

Anyway. Do you know Girl Talk? Everyone should. It is necessary, if you like music. Here's some nice trans-national Girl Talk.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jesus's lost weekend

Tomorrow is my first ever Protestant Easter. Boyfriend's family.

As a child I thought Easter Saturday was strange. Whoever explained the Easter Weekend death/rebirth thing to me didn't stress that it was a historical event commemorated symbolically. I thought Jesus died for real every year, and that Easter Saturday was a day when God just wasn't around somehow.

I've never experienced Catholic Easter. My immediate family didn't observe much, and Easter week was a school holiday. My little town was so intensely Catholic, I have to remind myself that I know all kinds of Catholic things that I've rarely experienced.

Friday, April 22, 2011

New York City

I am currently sitting in a room in Queens. We're off to Manhattan soon. This is my third time in New York City. It is very odd to sense, settling on me, the tiny beginnings of a familiarity for the place. It seems like New York should never become familiar, it should always be exhilarating. It is still pleasing and invigorating to be here, but the pure wonder of it already begins to lessen.

I suppose you would die of too much wonder, if it wasn't quickly tempered by familiarity, and people do have to live here, amongst my expectations.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Suffering for your mind

One of the songs on Kate Bush's debut album is a kinda naive (hey, she was 18) but appealing take on the quest for knowledge, learning, and self-improvement. At one of several climaxes littered throughout the song, Kate enthuses of her learning: "it's almost killing me / but what a lovely feeling!"

I used to identify, but the deeper I get into a PhD the more I think it might be unwise to have a "no pain no gain" attitude to academia. Some intellectual disorder and uncertainty is healthy, but writing a paper shouldn't feel like dying, it really shouldn't.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Travel Writing

Today I was in a bookstore's travel section. I browsed books about places I've already been, not places I want to go – not Scandinavia or Argentina, but Ireland, where I lived for 8 months.

The longer I spent in a place the stronger the impulse to read about it. I always, always look for books on Newfoundland, or the Newfoundland section of books on Canada.

I guess I want to judge the depictions, to see if they got it "right." Usually they get something wrong. Or maybe I want to check my impressions and memories against someone else's.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Now it's time for some poetry

I won't post poetry often, but it'll happen from time to time.

This place bleeds through itself.

Neighbourhoods blur,
turn cities into cities,
and we're somewhere other
than where we were,
like the earth is a magician
and we are its dove,
in two places at once,
tucked in the sleeve of the land,
waiting to be produced

—unlike the islands I've known.
The us-them shorelines
look like tyranny,
feel like freedom.
Islands are magicians

that won't do sleight of hand,
that won't saw you in half
then make you whole.

islands are more into voodoo,
pinpricks and curses.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Son Lux: 'At War with Walls and Mazes' and 'We Are Rising'

I have some trouble categorizing the music Son Lux makes. Cyborg lovesongs? I quite like his first album, At War with Walls and Mazes. It combines warm acoustic instruments with electronic blip-bloops. It cuts sounds up, mutates, stutters them. It has this chant-thing happening, too. Chant aesthetic? Lyrics are repeated for effect in a ghostly, fragile voice. There are leitmotif recurring throughout, but the arrangements and the textures are interesting and varied. It's lonely yet compelling. Some good.

His second album, We Are Rising, is coming out in a couple of weeks. You can and should stream it on NPR.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Come, Thou Tortoise

I’m gonna write a paper on Jessica Grant`s Come, Thou Tortoise. I’m gonna do that by May 28. I told some nice people I’d present it then. So I’m nervous that it’s yet unwritten.

I can’t wait to start. I think Come, Thou Tortoise is a rare book. I loved reading it. It’s doing something new and important. It makes a claim for Newfoundland’s difference, but it decouples it from cultural/historical essentialism. Grant’s Newfoundland is a queer space that’s accessible to any weary weirdo soul who needs it.

It’s also goddamn funny and heartbreaking. As I said, a rare book.