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.