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This is a very serious blog.

Month: June, 2012

Devouring Timothy Taylor’s Park

Y ou know those books that go down like a good glass of wine?

Timothy Taylor’s Stanley Park would fall into this category.  After a barrage of intense reads, it was exactly what the doctor prescribed.

This book was the perfect little amuse bouche to the rich, intense writing of Dr. Maté.  Set in contemporary times, Taylor captures the story of Jeremy Papier, the son of an eccentric anthropologist. He struggles through the process of opening his own restaurant in “cross-town;” one that would serve hyper local “rubber boot” haute cuisine. The concept came to him after working in France after completing culinary school.  He worked 6 out of 7 nights at a Brasserie in a small town just outside of Dijon.  During one evening stroll, he came across the restaurant: open, and PACKED. Packed with local farmers and other workers out in their finest: Sundays were the only evening they were able to go out to eat, and so, Sunday evenings they were served, and served nothing but the best!  Jeremy’s X-town restaurant does well, but the initial costs quickly escape him. The rest of the novel traces corporate culture and examines different food relationships.  The story is framed by the elusive father, Professor Papier, who has been living in Stanley Park for an undisclosed length of time conducting experiential research and living off the land.

I’ve got to admit, I was initially reading this book as a decompression segue from the intensity of previous books. Taylor’s work is easy to access, rich and free flowing the reader slips and slides through his loving descriptions of haute cuisine, wrapped as lovingly as phyllo pastry in the sights and sounds of downtown Vancouver. The restaurant is set in cross-town, which I can only assume is the nether regions of downtown, the clash between the DTES, touristy Gas town and hip and expensive Rail town. The beat is familiar, Taylor navigates it well:

The neighbourhood offered a shifting multicultural client base that nobody could consciously target. Film school kids in the mid-morning. (It was a financial necessity to open for the coffee trade.) Business lunches for the kind of businesses that embraced neighbourhoods in the earliest stages of gentrification: architects, designers, software developers. After work they had a bike-courier scene. And in the evening, a tantalizing trickle of those foodies and reviewers adventurous enough to dine out deep on the downtown east sie, pushing up against the Hastings Street heroin trade. It was a colourful , kaleidoscopic place. Very Crosstown, very X-town.

It serves as the perfect bookend to In the Realm; it was comfortable, it pulled me out of Dr. Maté’s world, scoping out to me, bringing me back into the X-town world that I knew, that I belong and belong to.

When I first read this book (as with a nice glass of wine), I wasn’t really anticipating much more than that. Hunger, maybe some musings over the importance to eat local and a few tips about underground cuisine for my next trip across the Strait. I devoured this book in less than 48 hours (doubtlessly facilitated by my illness and need to escape building renovations). Surprisingly, rather than walking away refreshed, hungover and empty, I ended up coming away with two little sweet musings of social commentary.

The first is straightforward, it spoke to me on the level of identity. Food has always been deeply linked with who we are. Look at the French, the way food is the culture. Food is crucial to our survival, it is the thing that keeps us alive. How we chose to eat the food that literally becomes us impacts on who we are and dictates the daily unfolding of how our lives taste. In Canada, especially in recently colonized Vancouver, the city is new; “contemporary traditions” are still eking out their own place. In a city so new, so speculative with a bloody history so recently etched on an enigmatic past. There are people pushing their way into the city from every corner of the world, pushing out what was there for so long. At one point, Taylor describes the cuisine of his kitchen for an interview.

We’re beyond international. Beyond globalized. We aren’t the restaurant of all places—Europe and Africa, Asia and the Americas. This is not fusion. We are the restaurant of no place.We belong to no soil, to no cuisine, to no people, to no culinary mortality. We belong only to those who can reach us and understand us and afford us. …Complete with the echoes of sorrow for what has been lost in the process, left behind or forgotten. A revolution without memory…It’s personal, the personal part of your involvement with the food. Your memories. Taste and remember yourself.

This is exactly how I feel about Vancouver. It’s the place of no place and every place. It’s the place of rehashing the past, of wondering what every other city holds. It’s expensive. It’s beautiful. In turn, it demands money and beauty. The city’s lack of identity, rather than it’s identity itself, is a topic of constant conversation. In this long narrative about the food of X-town and his father, Taylor (perhaps unwittingly) effectively navigates the meaning of Vancouver’s identity beyond any other manifesto I’ve read to date. That the city is, what we stole from history, and how we chose to live with it (quote adopted from Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible).  

One thing I’ve always grappled with in Canadiana, from Who has seen the wind to Colony of Unrequited Dreams, is the central role that geography tends to play in Canadian literature. It’s something undeniably true of life in Canada, but by the same token, something we are constantly trying to deviate away from, rebellious adolescents making their own way in the world. Taylor navigates this conflict successfully in the novel. He describes this central idea, of people eking out a new community with a mishmash of random bits of culture they’ve stolen and trekked to the west coast. He lured me in: finally, a core Canadian dialogue I identify with. Then, sneakily he backdrops this elaborate story, filled with characters and food against what eventually becomes the foreground, the centrepiece and eventually the title of this book: Stanley Park itself

Taylor further’s these ideas by reflecting heavily on his culinary roots in France, roots that are both deeply important to who he is, but at the same time enigmatic and difficult for him to relate to. Pieces of history he carries around, knowing they are important but at the same time not really understanding how they fit into his current life. These are sentiments that are shared by many Canadians, drunken, youthful, soul-searching pilgrimages to Europe, returning with bits they’ve stolen from the Old Country, trying to fit them into crowded Canadian apartments, ill-fitting but somehow necessary to our understanding of who we are, what we are trying to break from and to become.

Five minutes from my house in Ucluelet, BC, 2010.

For everywhere I have ever lived, geography becomes deeply linked to identity. The geographical features become why you live there, these features take on personality and bring you into relationships. Subversively, these become the lasting relationships that keep you in a place. For close to three years, I lived in Ucluelet, a small town of about 1500, on the rugged, remote West Coast of Vancouver Island. A peninsula 100km from Port Alberni (the nearest major town) spanning a marathon-coastline of over 25 km of sandy beaches and the balance in rocky, inaccessible coastline from Ucluelet to Tofino. The first year I lived there, I had no phone, no computer, no car. I biked an hour each way to work along a highway, and made friends by stopping by houses and meeting people on the beach. I relished the solitude. The hours I spent at work, staring at the ocean is what brought me back. The beaches and the ocean take on their own relationship with each person that lives there. Whether it’s through a surfboard, the waves they’ve ridden, the thrashings they’ve weathered, or it’s through long, solitary beach walks or hours in a boat. It’s humbling. The centuries of man vs. nature (with man often losing) has left it’s imprints on the coastline.

Each day you live through on the coast is like a little gift, a permission that the Pacific has offered up to you, like a little pebble. The Silence. The drone of the fog buoy, out by the lighthouse. The constant barking sea lions. The omnipresent fog.

West Coast Vancouver Island, BC, 2009.

The third year I moved back I almost revelled as my devotedly tended garden failed miserably. Temperatures consistently dropped below 10 degrees Celsius every night well into August, the fog often didn’t burn off all day. I was rewarded in September with my largest pea pod yielding a single, fully formed pea, and my largest lettuce head consisting of a pair of leaves roughly the size of my thumb. Conventional modes of North American living did not belong here. People begin to cling together against the chill. But always, the individual relationships against the Ocean remain.

Siwash sea stack, November, 2011.

Stanley Park subtly manages to navigate this Canadiana dilemma by giving the Park constant cryptic hommage through Professor Papier. Using the Professor as a father figure: parents are always tied to our past, putting him in the Park, it forces Jeremy to regularly assess his relationship with the Park, and forces the reader to assess how the Park then impacts Jeremy’s life, and in turn the restaurant (our classic perception of what a city is). Stanley Park has always been a magical place. A round little wart of an island off the downtown, Siwash sea stack, a stunning, spiritual place that has had significance to the people who have lived in the area predating “Vancouver” makes appearances in the novel. Taylor successfully manages to integrate these places of immemorial significance into a contemporary hip setting. This is something that few manifestos about Vancouver accomplish. This international-nowhere land party of people rapidly gobbling up the city area has been there for barely two-hundred years, the forest and geography of the city are ancient, and their voices and stories, inescapable are louder and will continue to colour our existence as long as we continue to try to share their space.

What I initially interpreted as a light tasty read, became a vindicating manifesto of what Vancouver is growing into. Taylor’s Stanley Park is a gentle introduction to anyone seeking to integrate themselves into the city from the outside. At times clumsy, the gentle writing tells a balanced tale that goes down as a rich, indulgent meal. Overzealous and at times unmeasured, it cannot be faulted for lack of love or poetry. I look forward to Taylor’s next book.

The Guinness Bridge, November 2011.

 

The pretty drop cap at the beginning of this post is from Jessica Hische‘s rad daily drop cap project that you can access here!

All other blurry photos in this post have been taken during the past year by me, using my 3GS (a promise: I will include new camera photos this week!)

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Realm of dreams….(Part Two)

(Continued from Part One…)

What I wasn’t expecting about In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts was how effectively he breaks down the barriers that exist between the reader and the residents he is writing about. Dr. Maté is an accomplished physician, author and renown speaker. He has a family and lives in a comfortable home away from the DTES. I’m guessing it’s likely in the tree-lined streets of the west side of the city, quiet in the evenings, filled with affluent families, dogs on walks to the beach, and the odd baby stroller.

Dr. Maté’s book is well referenced, he provides over twenty pages of end-notes to supplement and bolster his arguments. The book is sprinkled with references to classical music and literature. But what is sneaky about the book, is that of course, the average reader, soldiering through 400 dense pages of largely scientific and academic writing will identify here and there with the people interviewed and contributing, but realistically, these same people are far more likely to identify with Dr. Maté himself. I was able to quickly locate the music he refers to, I’ve read many of the authors and thinkers he refers to—I was lulled into identifying with him. His relentless unabashed oversharing of his personal experiences and home life allow you to think of Dr. Maté as an actual person. This is helped along as many of the clients participating in the work also see him as such—they talk back to him, challenge him and manipulate him, in part (I’m guessing) because after a system has failed them so completely, what would the use be in continuing to participate in the staunch hierarchies that exist to protect it. The book’s greatest case study, is in fact, Dr. Maté himself.

Where this tactic become particularly effective is that as Dr. Maté switches to explaining the symptoms and causes of addiction, he uses himself as an example to illustrate the principles. At first, the links and parallels seem tenuous, but by the end of the work (it is impossible to feel as though this is a short book—it’s a veritable tome!), it works. That is why this book is so effective, and imperative to read for change makers, anyone really. It is why this book becomes accessible:

My addiction, though I call it that, wears dainty white gloves compared to theirs. I’ve also had far more opportunity to make free choices in my life, and I still do. But if the differences between my behaviours and the self-annihilating life patterns of my clients are obvious, the similarities are illuminating—and humbling. I have come to see addiction not as a discrete, solid entity—a case of “Either you got it or you don’t got it”–but as a subtle and extensive continuum. Its central, defining qualities are active in all addicts, from the honoured workaholic at the apex of society to the impoverished and criminalized crack fiend who haunts Skid Row. Somewhere along that continuum I locate myself.

Dr. Maté’s quirky illustration of himself as a learned, compassionate man that suffers from addictions, forces the readers to attempt to assess their own lives and social moralities. Ultimately, as illustrated in Chapter 33 “A Word to Friends, Families and Colleagues”–you can’t sort out other people’s shit unless you are able to objectively try to sort out your own, or at the very least, realize that you (and everyone else) has work to do. This is the deeply humbling and universal message of this book, that there is a need for compassion and a holistic approach to dealing with all social issues, not only is this the most effective way, but also the most efficient because the impacts are on so many levels: support systems in all aspects of life. Holistic approaches are more complicated than the current systems in place, but the problems arising out of the current “silver bullet” solutions are so much more costly and complicated.

Recently I was privileged enough to have the good fortune of reading a report on the experiences of transexuals in the medical community. Specifically looking at access to PAP smears for female-to-male transitioning persons. An incredible presentation of this report is available here (I will be adding a youtube link in the near future, pending permission of the presenter :). Before this report, I had never given this type of experience much thought, it’s a blind spot—a matter of privilege that I would have never pondered PAP access for non-female persons. I hesitate to extrapolate on the issues brought up in the piece for fear of diluting them too much, however it touches upon several key tenets that are equally applicable to the addiction community, and other groups facing prejudice. That was the second major impact I took away from this book: the double edged sword of the medical system. It is a gateway window, through which so many other services can be accessed, but also a window through which so many other services can be severed.

Those involved in the medical community are tirelessly working jobs in which they often see hundreds (if not thousands) of patients a year. However, for those being served by the medical community, it may be one of the only interactions they have with “the System,” or worse, it might contribute to conditioned responses to the System. For example, someone who is overweight and plagued by health concerns may be told every time they see care that they need to lose weight, leading them to neglect seeking care for unrelated or other preventable issues. In my own case, my high-stress levels led me to avoid seeking proper care until I developed a condition that will take several years of medication to cure. Integration of services and providing safe, sound access can promote harm reduction, as well as form relationships and in-roads into communities that will contribute to long-term healing and increased access for service delivery.

Finally, this book echoed my previous post about childhood and Lullabies for little Criminals, what we take for granted and what is out of our control—but by the same token how it takes a village to raise a child, and how we must continue to focus our efforts on not only the early years, but on supporting family units, young mothers and fathers, and the bonds and friendships that contribute to community. Dr. Maté paints the DTES not only as a place plagued with “third world levels of HIV, AIDS and life expectancies” but also a place that people can come to for an acceptance and community they would be unable to find by and large anywhere else in Canada, let alone the world.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with the emotional capacity and time to process the complex issues it delves into. Although I don’t agree 100% with every argument Dr. Maté brings forward, ultimately I couldn’t agree more with his demands to demonstrate “curious compassion” and constant questioning: from the systems that suspend us to the actions that hold us in it’s grasp, inviting us to a lifelong work of constant redevelopment.

I would also love to recommend this post from Radical Public Health for anyone looking for another opinion on the book!

Lullabies from Heather O’Neil

So as I muddled along through MAUS and In the Realm... I began explaining to my book compatriots that I was coming to the realization that I had become a sad book person—and further to that, not only was I reading sad books, but my shelves were filled with them. And after filling 20 feet with new-to-me books, I wasn’t about to purchase any new ones…let alone to to the library!

And so, my dear friend and fellow book lover contacted me a few days later “Oh I got books,” they said “you want funny books? You want books—I’ll bring you over a couple next time I see you.” We lured them to our apartment with vegetarian lasagna and heaps of local salad, and lo and behold, not one, but four books emerged from her bag. “I know you said you wanted funny…but…!” Our friend is in the process of breaking into the publishing industry here in town, and is the unrivaled  lover of Canadian literature among my friends. Every single book that emerged from her bag was Canadian. She provided short biographies of the authors and synopsis of each as she stacked them on the floor. “This one. Heather O’Neil, have you read Heather O’Neil? Have you listened to her on This American Life? No? She’s from Montréal, you’re going to love this book, it’s a little weird…what did you just finish reading? A Year in the Merde, non? You can totally handle this…most well written book ever. Okay, and then you have to read…” (she pulled another from her bag; I continued to dress the salad as he watched the whole process, he seemed somewhat charmed that the two of us were both so passionate about books: what crazy ladies!

The first novel I was instructed to read (Lullabies for Little Criminals) was the 2007 winner of the CBC Canada Reads competition, and had half-been on my radar for awhile. The bright green cover featured a stencilled illustration of a young girl skipping. “It’s a little intense,” my friend prefaced, “it’s the story of a girl raised by an addict—she’s twelve, it’s not that depressing…just a little weird. So well written.” She attempted to quell the look of hesitation and panic that was clearly beginning to emote over my face. Light reading, I had approached her under the pretence of elevating my current glut of addictions and Holocaust literature…but her reviews were glowing, and I have nothing but trust in her recommendations—I started in on the novels immediately.

Lullabies for Little Criminals is narrated by the terrifyingly quiet, steady voice of Baby, a twelve year old girl. Her mother died when she was a few weeks old, and her father has been addicted to heroin most of the life that Baby can remember. The story is set over the course of about a year, the cadence of the book so appropriate—time stretches out and fills in space as one would expect time would do for a twelve year old. Weeks seem like eons. Parents are small gods, regardless of what they do to you. You are resoundingly struck by how quickly Baby has had to grow up. That almost post-modern aspect of the style of writing, the stepping outside yourself to address the situation à la Eggers, is incredibly tragic and omnipotent. She writes in short, simple sentences, knitting together powerful, poignant images, and developing her character. I’ve extracted a longer passage here to best give the feel of the book:

Early the next morning there was a knock at the door. It was a postman with a registered letter addressed to my dad. Jules was still fast asleep so I signed for it and opened it up in the kitchen. It said that we were behind in the rent and if we didn’t do something to rectify the situation they’d take action to have us evicted.

I looked around and realized I would be glad never to come back to this place. What unsettled me was that Jules hadn’t been paying the rent. I hadn’t even realized this. Jules always tried to pay the rent. It was only when things were really bad that he couldn’t. That we were actually getting evicted must have meant that things were at their worst. I had been so busy with destroying my own life that I hadn’t realized he was doing the same with his.

I should have noticed the signs that he was heading for the street. He didn’t eat anymore. He smoked all the butts in the ashtray in order to get one last puff out of them. He spent practically the whole night in the bathtub. He started collecting things that had no apparent value. He brought home a ceramic teddy bear with balloons; he washed it and put it in the kitchen sink and put it on the coffee table in the living room. As I looked at it now, it was so ugly it broke my heart.

I realized that he’d been sad. When he was depressed, he acted as if he were deaf, as if he couldn’t hear what was around him. He distanced himself from the world. He started to have the habit some homeless people have, of standing still. You see only the beautiful things when you stand still. You only see the things you don’t ordinarily notice. The birds are the prettiest things, I imagine.

Telling the story in this way, as a twelve year old girl, moreover a daughter, so she’s filled with extra love, this really non-judgemental portrait is painted of her father, and of his ailments. It’s so honest and cold because it is not clinical, but rather filled with acceptance. Even though Jules, her dad, is part of one of the most bedraggled, judged castes in societies, he is still her dad, and she loves him, and tries exhaustingly to understand him, but at the same time has learned through experience that he is also beyond understanding:

Tiger balm was the perfect cure for all ailments that were hard to believe in, that you couldn’t see the doctor about. Since he always smelled like tiger balm now, one could only assume that he was trying to treat some very deep wound.

This book provided me with a very human, different was of understanding addiction.  In the Realm is always nuanced with this clinical bourgeois narrative.  Although Dr. Maté attempts to draw parallels between his own childhood dramas and those of the residents of the DTES, he falls short.  The rich vocabulary he has at his disposal, the way he refers to his own addiction (compulsive classical CD acquisition) is this giant white tiger in the room. Addiction or not, there are deep societal prejudices that dictate that referring to the London Symphony Philharmonic’s 1987 recording of Mozart’s Four Concertos for French Horn is staunchly less gauche than referring to that wicked drug trip you had when you thought all the walls were made of soap.

This is why I keep reading books like this-partially to have a better understanding of addiction itself, but also partially to understand how a multifaceted issue can present itself so differently through different lenses and roles in society–and consequently have such profoundly different (albeit often subtle) effects.  This book also became a different, crippling way to understand childhood.

(c/o the lovely miss Tara Williamson)

On a totally different level, this book different was a new way of seeing Montréal. Montréal was the first city I visited “on my own” (i.e., with my best friend), when I was in highschool. It was the first time and place I ever snuck into a bar to drink, the first time riding the Metro, wandering the streets of St. Laurent and St. Catherine. A gritty city of change and a little bit of magic. Of potential, and reality. The first night I was ever in Montréal, within HOURS I saw my host (15 years old) getting groped by a random homeless man in a McDonald’s. At the same time, it was a city filled with more wealth and beauty and coldness but also potential than I had ever seen. I moved back a few years ago for the winter. The area of town where I lived was filled with tall, beautiful houses, with spiral fire escapes and patisseries on every corner. The neighbourhood across the street was a Hasidic Jewish community, and very family oriented. I associated Fridays with little girls dressed in pink snowsuits being pushed around by men in dark woollen coats with fur top hats. But Montréal has always held something more. Biking through the largely empty quiet streets of St.Henri at night, biking home along Christophe-Colomb or trying to find food near the bus station, getting lost getting to the south plateau, getting out to PI-X, this is where the edges of the Montréal O’Neil talks about pushes out. Working to deliver food in the South East end, where everything smells of cigarette smoke, and the small, modest little two storey factory houses are packed full of people. The people downtown, the Mission. The way the sky looks in the winter.

(Tara Williamson also has a great paintings series of St. Henri)

I have no idea why the sky looks so fundamentally different in every city I have ever lived in. In every place. It’s so strange, but whenever I move, the sky is the first thing I notice, and the thing I notice most. The way light, and mood is reflected against the air and skyline. The way the air smells, the viscosity of it against your skin. Montréal is cold, and grey, but there is a depth to the monotone that I have not seen in other cities, a cold chill that is invigorating and optimistic and also so all-encompassing it is nausating. There is a power. There is hope and passion. Bits of this emerge, understated in O’Neil’s book.

I don’t know why I was upset about not being an adult. It was right around the corner. Becoming a child again is what is impossible. That’s what you have legitimate reason to be upset over. Childhood is the most valuable thing that’s taken away from you in life, if you think about it.

Finally, this book resonated with me because of what I’ve been going through physically, the obsessive focus on fertility that people are constantly projecting on women my age. What my friends are going through, as new, young parents. The differences our lives have taken, that continue to multiple, and create our children into profoundly different human beings. It all starts out so slight. We are all in the same high school, even the same university. One friend, acts on her tendency towards books, her proficiency in academia and spirals off into sabbaticals and houses where every surface will be covered with books. Into jammed little sessional apartments and a child raised in sunny, grassy university campuses raised around wine and cheese and olives, and parents staying up late working and composing music. Another friend acts on her love of women and children, and becomes a midwife. Her child is being raised by her and her partner and surrounded by other women, will be raised in an open environment of large, passionate discussions, open sexuality and empowered by the female sex. These things, that all seemed like such small little rumples when we were younger, are being magnified intensely by the lives our children are destined to lead. These differences in childhood will make fundamentally different people, bound together only by imagination. In the afterward, and interview with O’Neil captures her in saying:

A lot of children grow up in poverty with flawed parents but their inner world is still as inherently filled with wonder and innocence as children who are kept away from the city’s underbelly. In fact, they might have more of a need for this type of imagination as a defense mechanism.

That is why this novel is great-not because it is a truthful first hand account of childhood immersed in addiction, but rather that children are these super resilient, lovely, amazing little things that keep kids going. My friend summed it up perfectly during a rapid exchange of texts:

“It’s not THAT sad – she’s so… seeemingly unaffected by it, you know? Like you’re probably sadder than she is, which I think is kind of a strange message of the book.”

Ultimately, this book is about the resilience and fragility of childhood. It’s about imagination, and part of the sadness I felt during the novel, was that this imagination that protects children is so inherit and biological that it stiches across all castes and classes.  At one point, O’Neil describes looking at snails with a classmate, with a tender shared intimacy that appears nowhere else in the novel.

This book evokes a mourning for lost childhood and an increased trust in it’s strength. It’s a lullaby for little criminals everywhere.

Famished Ghosts (Part One)

The last eighty pages of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts have taken me three weeks to finish.

I stumbled through the first few chapters.  Dr. Gabor Maté, a physician from Vancouver’s DownTown East Side (DTES) wrote the book in what I interpret to be four main overtures.  The first section of the book is devoted  to bringing the readers up to speed on the narratives and geography.  The second provides an overview of what is addiction (biologically, psychologically, in society), which gradually morphs into “how people got to that place” (physically, personally and societally) and then resoundingly (thankfully) the book closes with a section looking at redemption and healing.

This book is by no means easy to read.

I lived in Vancouver for a good portion of 2008.  I had just completed my undergraduate program in Halifax, and thought that the perfect bookend to my program was to roadtrip cross-country with a friend, to start my new life on “the other ocean.” I had spent the five years since leaving home bouncing around, unsettled and adventuring, and rather than go travelling after my program, I wanted nothing more than to set down some roots and spend some time exploring one (English speaking!) place for once.  So away we went.

Unfortunately, graduating at the culminating (bottom apex? what’s the reverse of an apex) of the recession does not set one up well for starting a new career. Especially not one in the city with the second highest living costs internationally.  Vancouver, somewhat sheltered by the Coastal mountains and the approaching 2010 Olympics continued barrelling along, developing in spite of the gloomy global economic outlooks. I spent the first few months after I arrived diligently applying for work between 10-4 every day at an air conditioned library downtown, sending out my CV into the void of cyberspace, and the rest of the days biking around town and out to the beaches and reading copious amounts of books. Within a few short weeks my money began to dry up, and as I realized the analyst and government positions I had been applying for wouldn’t be calling me back anytime soon, I dropped my expectations slightly, and took on three jobs (two coffee shops and mountain equipment co-op) and a volunteer position at Free Geek.  I also switched apartments, and went from living in the “up and coming” mount pleasant area, to a one and a half storey, house in the grittier and significantly cheaper east hastings/commercial area-with eight additional room mates.

(Wicked photography skills in this post thanks to Tara Williamson!).

This area has changed significantly since I lived there; the house was repossessed and flipped after about two years.  The entire neighbourhood has changed significantly-the new house no longer has bars on the windows, and I’m sure they don’t have stoop sitters or quite the same amount of prostitution in the alleys. Although Hungry Ghosts is set in the DTES a few blocks away from where we were living, there are many aspects of the community that I was still able to closely identify with, for example, the strong sense of community, and the odd sense of security.  Biking or walking home late at night people generally allowed you to mind your own business, so long as you let them mind yours.  I regularly would bike through the epicenter of the DTES, and should the lights catch me in front of the Carnegie Centre (at Main St.), I would suddenly be enveloped in the cacophonous laughter, colours and sickly sweet smoke of the intersection.  People hawking wares on the sidewalks, people lining the streets so thick it looked like the markets I went to in Mali.  Shouting, mingling, bartering; the traffic slowed down to the pace of Bamako, where traffic lights suddenly becomes a suggestion, and common sense becomes your safest bet to sound passage through to the other humdrum dreary side.

I always loved biking down Hastings.  I found it exhilarating.  Travelled west to east: the sleek modern condos giving way to tall, cold, office buildings, morphing into more and more historical and battered down architecture and more and more people: Hastings and Main, and then quieter and poorer and sadder and emptier, gave way to an industrial zone (around Clark) and finally home: where we belonged.

(View from our porch, looking west, towards the DTES, c/o Tara Williamson she has some great paintings from then too).

Regardless of whether or not the reader of Hungry Ghosts has visited the DTES, Dr. Maté does an excellent job of describing the neighbourhood.  Post 2010 Olympics, I can vouch for the huge changes the neighbourhood has seen since then, that Dr. Maté foreshadows in his book–some of the once packed downtown streets are now nearly empty; new, young businesses have increased tourism and private security to the neighbourhoods, more housing is now offered, people have also been pushed east as rents creep up.  But to this outsider, his 2007 snapshot of the city seems accurate. Dr. Maté writes with a clarity and clinical precision that is almost romantic. He goes on to describe where he works (the Portland Hotel Society), a housing facility that now manages several projects in the DTES.

The cement hallways and the elevator at the Portland Hotel are washed clean frequently, sometimes several times a day.  Punctured by needle marks, some residents have chronic draining wounds.  Blood also seeps from blows and cuts inflicted by their fellow addicts or from pits patients have scratched in their skin during fits of cocaine-induced paranoia.  One man picks at himself incessantly to get rid of imaginary insects.

This is how the book begins, with nearly the first 100 pages devoted to shocking the reader into a loose portrait of understanding of the DTES. He is able to evoke us into a place of compassion, where a community emerges out of systemic failure. Dr. Maté brings out our empathy without demanding it; the outpouring of compassion these first chapters extract is almost involuntary and exhausting. Through a series of short case studies he puts faces to the issues of the DTES. This I expected. People who have read this book before me have described it as labourous, reading a chapter at a time, putting it down often because of their tears. Chapter four, entitled “You wouldn’t believe my life story” is accurately more devastating than any fiction I have ever read. His writing style and the humanity of the stories are addictive, catalyzing an empathy out of the reader that is almost grotesque: how can our social system fail so many people so completely? It is difficult to believe.

This post is continued here.

A month in the merde…

So it’s finally the weekend.

I have felt like I’ve been setting my mind to alot of heavy subjects and heavy books the past few weeks…voraciously reading. After finishing MAUS I couldn’t even bear to make it through the last 60 pages of In the Realm…no. I need(ed) something light, funny and breezy to take the relaxing part of my mind for a bit of a stroll, and allow the rest of my subconscious to push along processing the rest. And so, I turned to my bookshelf.

My partner and I recently moved into a studio downtown. It’s fairly big (900 sq ft), open, with lots of light. Despite the fact we were initially drawn to it’s emptiness, we have made short work at creating a functional, fairly organized and full home.  “My” bookshelf, is actually nothing more than a section of the wall.  A thoughtfully placed ledge, about a paperback wide runs around the main section of our studio.  It’s conveniently placed at about the same height as a desk, and slightly higher than a couch or armchair.  In our bed-area it serves as a bedside nook for glasses, lights, cups of water, however the rest of the space it’s our stand in for pictures and books. I started with a handful, but after the yearly legendary booksale, where I shamelessly admit, *after* discovering they accepted debit purchased no fewer than 23 books and now line the wall quite healthily.

I am slowly working my way through the collection. The booksale was trying.  Evrey time I’m at a booksale, like a really good booksale, where they actually * have*  dozens and dozens of nice copies of books I would actually consider buying, I have to exercise extreme amounts of self-restraint just to suppress my urges to repurchase all of my major tombs to have on my bookshelf and to foist off on friends.  I own no fewer than four copies of the unbearable lightness of being (three English, one French), three copies of The World is Flat (one hardcover) and another three of Crime and Punishment. Not having a copy of No Logo on my current shelf creates a certain level of anxiety for me, and the fact I haven’t a single Michael Ondaatje book is another matter of pain.  Nonetheless…we soldier on.  (Bookshelves as time-sensitive polaroids? who are you *right no*? what can we see? where is the rest of you? how well do you know who you want to become?

A psycho-analysis of this shelf would find an equal divide between fact and fiction, and a depressingly small number of upbeat novels. (Far too many revolve around the economy and tech sector development). Which at long last brings me to today’s book: A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke.

Merde caught my eye at the booksale for it’s canary yellow cover and cheesy typeface.  Typical French folio design, published by Penguin, and an über animated map of a beret-wearing France on the cover. I *had* to smile (how the French would hate that! Smiling!!).  The book was in good condition, and seemed to scream “beach book” so I stuck it under my arm.  Trapped between The End of Poverty and Tin Drum twenty minutes later, there I was at a POS machine, and the book was mine.

The tag-line on the front reads, in the form of a disclaimer:

There are lots of French people who are not at all hypocritical, inefficient, treacherous, intolerant, adulterous or incredibly sexy…They just didn’t make it into my book.

I laughed.

This is actually one of the first books I have read in a long while that has made me laugh out loud.

Yesterday I picked it up partially because I have been reflecting alot on Europe (i.e., Holocaust/First/Second World Wars and France) and also on the idea of home, and culture.  I perhaps should elaborate on that a little further and mention that war and France is particularly deeply entwined in my mind because I used to work at a war Memorial site there for almost a year.

I have always had a bit of an unusual reverence (and distain…appropriately? ) for France.

My hometown neighbourhood was a stone’s throw from the city’s University.  I was in French Immersion.  Easily 1/3 of my friend’s parent(s) were professors at said university, and consequently, once every four years it was common that they would pack up their houses and ship off to some exotic location abroad.  I’m not sure exactly how, but a large number would head to Provence, where in the Southern French sun they would bask their children (i.e., my pals) in olives, wine with lunch and lavender.  I would receive strangely postmarked letters written on thin airmail paper and cutesy postcards that looked like they may have been lifted from a strip mall in the 80s…Upon their return my friends would now twitter away in unstilted European French (often less accented than our teachers), write strangely loopy cursive, and sigh, excessively with rolled eyes about how they missed the food and they are losing their French and the culture here… and on and on.  Needless to say, my early impressions from my ten and eleven year old counterparts was that it was a magical place, that may brainwash those who enter.  Once inside the change was irreversable.

My second major encounter with the French came while I was living in Mali.  Foreigners in the country in 2004 were few and far between (I was there with a group of about 14 Canadians, and we represented about 14% of all Canadians in the country).  On the rare occasions where I would leave town (two foundation shades darker, dirtier and 30 pounds lighter than I arrived) we would travel by djbouti (overstuffed van), I’d wear flip flops and stumble along in Bambarra.  But the French…the misfortunate instances where we crossed paths I was treated as the only other civilized person in the area, often treated to long rants about how awful the country was (despite normally being in the presence of other francophone Malians, who often spoke better French than I) and normally covered in elaborate jewellery, expensive clothes and fancy cars. It was the kind of opulence that is easy to hate in any circumstance, but physically nauseating when you live in a place where basic needs are challenging. I swore up down and backwards during my trip that I had zero to no desire to visit a country populated with such arrogance.

Cut to 2007.

And cut this post! Bonne nuit à tous!

 

Brighter Whiter Tiger

In French they talk a lot about courage. It is a sweet thought. I don’t know if this is specific to France, or it happens in Québec too…”bonne courage” or “les jours où je n’ai pas assez de courage” or “t’es courageuse” – it is one of those instances where I feel the French succeeds in capturing a deeper level of understanding that get’s lost in English. There *are* days when I do not have enough courage, and there are days when I want to wish for it for others. Courage seems to have a different meaning than bravery. It seems to come from within, in a different way. To be brave is to be proud in a certain way, to do something consciously, for yourself. Knight’s are brave, you are brave to getting a tatoo, but courage…courage seems to come from within the subconscious and has an element of selflessness and energy to it. Effort.

Today I was quiet. It rained and was chilly the way it only gets on the coast. I went for a long run in the morning (he went to work at 7am!) and then busied myself being domestic. I baked cookies and pretty decent pasta for lunch, met a friend for tea. I have some type of roast root vegetable salad in progress in the oven.(Update: It’s delicious.) For the first time in the past decade I have actually been organized enough to sign up for a CSA box, and despite the late start this season, our produce started flowing on Sunday. IT TASTES SO MUCH BETTER!!! I just keep thinking of the old peach ads where they show two peaches shaking (as if in a truck) side by side, and one stops, healthy and juicy after 50km; the other continues shaking for the rest of the commercial (to stimulate 2000km or something like that) and turns into a shrivelled bruised mess.

And so with that, I must take a break from MAUS. Between the rain and listening to an episode of TAL on Dos Erres I can’t read anything more about destruction and devastation. And so instead, behold! The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

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I’ve conveniently photographed my copy of this on a map, just to get all y’all situated. The story takes place in India-the small village of Laxmangarh, Delhi and Bangalore. I tore through this one over the long weekend, in ferry line-ups and an island camping trip in downtime-it was hilarious.

Don’t waste your time and money on those American books. They are so yesterday.

I am tomorrow.

The thing I most liked about this book was that it made some pretty profound observations, and it was also funny. Like, funny to the extent that I actually laughed out loud. That hasn’t happened in ages.

The narrator, Balram, explains the current situation of India: whereas before there were men in different caste systems based on skin colour, now there are only men with big bellies and men with small bellies. This is how everything is now divided: either you are rich, or you aren’t. The son of a rickshaw driver, who didn’t even have a name until he went to school, cheerfully recounts his climb from a tea servant to a chauffeur to a successful entrepreneur, by means of a serious of letters he authors to “Mr. Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the Freedom-loving Nation of China.” These letters are all authored in the first person, in a jovial tone, during the wee hours of the evening ‘neath the light of a chandelier:

When you have heard my story…you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtuerdl and develeoped in the glorious twenty-first century of man….

There’s no one else in this 150-square-foot office of mine. Just me and a chandelier above me, although the chandelier has a personality of its own. It’s a huge thing, full of small diamond-shaped glass pieces, just like the ones they used to show in the films of the 1970s. Though it’s cool enough at night in Banglore, I’ve put a midget fan-five cobwebby blades-right above the chandelier. See, when it turns, the small blades chop up the chandelier’s light and fling it across the room. Just like the strobe light at the best discos in Bangalore.

This is the only 150-square-food space in Bangalore with its own chandelier! but it’s still a a hole in the wall, and I sit here the whole night.

I’ve been tearing through alot of business-y books for my Masters research (ah yes, my thesis…I should get back to that…), and what really struck me about this one was the fact that in addition to being WAY more poignant that a lot of other books I’ve been reading; the three main “lessons” are effectively the same…

Taking control of your own destiny. The choice to become an entrepreneur, the need to take risks, find innovative solutions and seize opportunities when they arrive to make things happen. It’s pretty ridiculous how he illustrates this in the book.he basically *decides* he’s going to be rich: then does it.

The importance of listening. Being a people person is really important. Like way more important than hard work (still important), smarts (less important) or training (least important). Balram claws his way up the social ranks mainly through overheard conversations…but…conversations with the *right* (i.e. powerful and influential people) whom he already has a connection. Work. That. Pond.

Sacrifice and solitude. India has a lot of people in it. We’re talking about a billion. Yet Balram picks and choses who he hangs with. Even if it means a gross cockroach infested room away from the pack. He knows that his time is valuable, and without spending it wisely, he’ll fail. Further to that, Balram is in it to win it, mainly for himself, and himself alone. (Mainly).

Failure. It happens.

Perhaps what I find more interesting about this book than the back-breaking load of American books I’ve read on similar topics is that in White Tiger failure is way more of a non-event. Failure happens all the time. And as someone from the sweets making class, he really has nowhere to go but up. In alot of American books the idea of failure is really dwelled on.

The other two particularly interesting things I found about this book (perhaps mainly in it’s contemporary nature) were the changing take on family and politics.

Family. It happened. At the risk of a horrendous generalization, supported only by the half-dozen or so Indian books I’ve read, family has played a pretty substantial role culturally in India for centuries. This novel looks at the changing nature of family in India, and I think nicely extrapolates itself to N America. Ending with a more “successful” satellite family, with changed values and mobility. Yet, more alone.

Realistic political commentary. Finally the last, refreshing thing I took away from this book was it’s interpretation of international politics. It is a collection of letters from India to China. Descriptions of the boom are everywhere, exploding condo and road growth, coal consumption, industrialization. So many of the other books I’ve read skim over this subject. They seem to revert back to navel gazing, building American-centred businesses on American markets-which strikes me as archaic. As if thats what made the writers of those books successful in the past, so thats what they encourage others to do. And at the root of all of this was optimism and hope. Who better to tell this story than an Indian entrepreneur?

When you have heard my story…you will know everything there is to know about how entrepreneurship is born, nurtuerdl and develeoped in the glorious twenty-first century of man.

The century, more specifically of the yellow and the brown man.

You and me.

Great book. Wicked first novel. Thanks Mr. Adiga.

The Haus of Maus

Today is another one of those brilliantly sunny days: cool, clear and a little breezy. We went for a long walk, and I think I gave myself a bit of a burn on the way back. I thought I would backdate the first few of these posts, by re-capping what I’ve been reading, but I started a new book last night, Art Spiegelman’s MAUS: A Survivor’s Tale and I’m so thoroughly engrossed I couldn’t help but resist.

MAUS has a pretty comprehensive Wikipedia post-the abbreviated version is that it is a retelling of the creator’s father’s experience (Vladek Spiegelman) and survival of the Holocaust, through to it’s lasting impressions that are transmuted to his son and family.  The defining feature of the novel is that (in addition to it being a comic) it is entirely told using animals. Mice, in the true spirit of the Third Reich, are chosen to represent the Jews.

A quick word about comics:

I have been intending on delving into a “graphic novel” for years. One of my housemates wrote her undergrad thesis drawing heavily from Persepolis in 2008, and since 2001 another one of my favourite friends and authors has been averaging one or two a day.  Yet for whatever reason or another, I have never made it through. Never even purchased one.  I have been trying to reason this out over the past several weeks.  A growing percentage of my friends and discussions are now comic-related. A picture is worth a thousand words right? So a novel, plus 400-500 pictures must be…? I adored Archie novels as a kid, but I feel like the connection is a little tenuous…The main issues I think I’ve had to work through are…

       1. Format.

I love leafing through a magazine as much as anyone else. Throw in a half-decent Americano and some leisure time, or even just get me a captive moment (read: airplane) and I’m as happy as a clam. Nice glossy pictures, information, plot lines…But the second I have to transport the issue farther than Terminal 3 to seat 23F and it is demolished. Crumpled into something unfit for much else beyond kindling or packaging breakables up from the store. Comics in this way scare me. Anything that people collect and keep in individual plastic envelopes and look over with tweezers indicate that I would probably fail at consuming the medium.

        2. “Getting into” comics is like getting into music

Where to start? I’ve been reading books for almost the entirety of my waking life. I have read dozens of bad books, life changing books, hundreds of mediocre ones. I *can* to some extent, judge a book by it’s cover (or at least the dust jacket and first three chapters).  Comics…!? I never watched Saturday morning cartoons. Pop culture, broadly, has not been kind to the area, and for some reason, there seem to be some stigmas surrounding comics and women in North America (though I must say, I *did* read quite a lot of TinTin as a seven year old).

3. Learning how to read

I just finished working as an analyst. I am in the process of finishing a Masters degree. I have easily average 1000 hours of reading a year for the past decade (or two…). I have trained myself to skim through, read quickly, look for key points and pertinent details, follow-up questions and points of discord.  In the past few weeks I have tried to relax, retrain my brain to slow down. To enjoy the ride. To run over words and poetic turns of phrases like water over stones, rather than a piece of sand paper.  Comics not only involve reading slowly and creating a flow of dialogue, playing with timing of the story, but also looking. Understanding what the pictures are telling you. It cuts to the very chase of “show don’t tell.” Understanding how to follow this takes some time. It’s like only listening to radio programs for years and then watching a movie. Suddenly there are characters interacting, scenery, and actions to absorb, points of diction and expression to envision, different panels to time. This takes awhile to get the hang of and a lucid, limber, energetic brain.

        4. Geting ahold of them

Until recently, you couldn’t just walk into anywhere and pick-up a comic. That’s the irony of the whole thing. What started as the most accessible medium, (more about this soon!), has turned into a bit of a niche market.  To boot, comic readers are down XXXX since XXXXX. Now, although Chapters and some of the larger local bookstores have started carrying “graphic novels” I still feel that some of the elite collector mentality clings to section.  It is an unknown realm, a bit overwhelming and difficult to navigate. If I wander into that section by accident, surely someone will sniff me out.  Kind of like going to that cool indie music store in highschool…you could never know enough bands or albums to fit the part.

But now they are here!! Solutions to all my woes!!

Issues are bound: behold the heartier hardcover “graphic novel.” It can take just as much flak as my batter copy of Anna K.

MAUS (and a whole genre of comics actually) is a historical retelling of an era I am interested in. A place to start!

I have time. (Alot of it).  I’ve also just spent a full month rehabituating my brain to do fun things, like process art, create complex non-policy-related sentences, cook real food and detox from caffeine.

I now live with an excellent collection of comics (and a personal curator and creator). Not too mention MAUS is easy to find, and my local comic shop is owned by a total sweetheart who puts non-intimidating little signs and jokes everywhere.

Phew.

I’m fast approaching my word count of death (not to mention encroaching on pumpkin-time). MAUS part two, stay tuned.

Go visit your local comic shop and give yourself some brain gymnastics! Your right hemisphere will say thank you 🙂

Poached Hippos, Kerouac and Burroughs

And so, perhaps appropriately, perhaps not… we begin with the Beat of the Beats…

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One of the things I have always loved about visiting other people’s houses are the bookshelves. I have a bit of a perverted fascination with them (don’t worry friends, the paranoia over what others may think of our literary choices is well-warranted!).  Why I “own” books has changed considerably over the years, but increasingly my level of attachment to them has diminished to almost nil. Instead I find they provide conversation fodder and party favours for those who come to supper-a way of continuing conversations and fostering off favourite authors to new friends…(the result often being a bit of a picked-over shelf of books I haven’t read yet, or aren’t worth lending-but at the moment I’m feeling stocked up!).

Last week after dining at a friends I was sent home with a collection of three novels.  The first one I have devoured is this guy. In short, it’s an unpublished Kerouac/Burroughs novel, written in 1945 and only recently published for the masses. Originally I assumed it would be a light breezy summer read, filled with typical clear, concise, detailed passages, describing minute daily details in plain language, interspersed with gems like:

I went into the bathroom.  The June sun was all over the room and when I turned on the cold jet it was like diving into a shady pond back in Pennslvania on a summer afternoon.

 It’s a story about a few friends and a murder-you don’t know who or when, and it’s loosely based on truth.  However (like other Beats I’ve read), the lingering after thoughts have certainly gotten under my skin. One of these, in part stems from:

Phillip had some philosophical idea he had evidently been developing in the course of the evening and now I was going to hear about it. He said, “I’ve figured out a whole philosophy on the idea of waste as evil and creation as good. So long as you are creating something it is good. The only sin is waste of your potentialities.”

It’s about the war, insomuch as it’s not about the war in the slightest. It’s about America in 1945. It’s about being unemployed, with everything and nothing to do. It’s about the bubble of NYC about sex and drinking and being young. I’ve been thinking a lot about the wars recently. As the Baby Boomers encroach on their sunsetting years and the policy problems embedded in that (health care, real estate costs, pensions) raise their ugly heads, I am increasingly viewing that whole generation as one last souvenir from the turmoil. A product of a massive disaster.  It’s crazy that sixty years later, so many of the problems we are facing today are so deeply entrenched in what happened in the fallout of the Wars.

A This American Life aficionado, lately I’ve been tearing through their archives, trying to use this time I have to add depth to my understanding about some major policy issues at stake.  Recently I listened to their episodes on healthcare (391 and 392)-the second episode of which spoke in depth about the insurance industry.  Massive worker shortages, caused by the men injured and away in the War, combined with huge increased demands for resources and products, in turn created a worker’s market of employment.   Industrialization (to a large extent a product of the war), required factory workers (which now encompassed a lot of women). Solution? Ladies have your children (hello Baby Boom!) and consumerism as we know it. Construction industries boomed, home ownership sky rocketed, our thirst for oil increased. Hello suburbia, goodbye environment (let alone to discuss the fallout of the actual fighting).

More and more of the beginnings of these problems (I feel) can be traced back to the euphoria and endless potential that drips from the Beats works.  The optimism and possibilities that stem from this era,`-perhaps the best time– in the twentieth century,” (Anatole Broyard, from When Kafka Was the Rage) are intoxicating: everyone was so happy to be alive.

(Photo c/o the lovely miss Jessa, most of the book was read here and you can read about what she was reading here.)

Years ago, back when the mill still had money and was running training sessions, my dad came home from work one day, energized and bright from a “Change Management” seminar.  He explained, as if he had had an epiphany that there are fundamental underlying differences in values for each generation.  Different motivations, he continued, different incentives that should be offered for each generational strata for worker.  This was probably in the late 90s, maybe even pre dot-com bust…I was beginning to get it, but not really.  Our generation, he explained, is motivated by money, by retirement…but you guys (he wagged his finger around the dinner table at us, his three daughters), will be more like the Boomers, your grandparents.  It’s going to be different for you guys. He continued, chomping away on dinner (likely some type of potato).  Here my memory fades out, but that idea has stuck with me. That my generation, the iGeneration (or Gen Why), not the millenials, but safely out of the Xers, we are going to have more in common with my grandparents.  More and more I am beginning to see this.

The polarity , the class breakdown…what we are seeing now is not unprecedented, but the banking crisis is actually mirrors many of the circumstances pertinent to the late 20s.  The current debt to GDP ratio in the States is not at a huge peak, but rather at the other end of an arc stemming back to the 1929. Facing a pretty abysmal job market, retooling of budgets to account and cushion pensions and the straining healthcare system, iGen is coming up against alot of things that my grandparents would have seen. Save for, (we can only hope not) another major war.

That being said: I love my grandparents and the life they built, not out of much but out of experiences-ice rinks and camping trips.  And I only wonder (if 1929 is to 2012…then 1939…) what is 2022 going to look like? We can only hope for the best. Like the beats, we should soak up as much life as possible in the present.

On a final note, this last quote resonated with me about writing, social change, and life in general…

“Go somewhere with him now. I’m afraid there would be a reaction and I wouldn’t accomplish anything.”

I went over the fireplace and banged my hand on the mantlepiece.

“So you want to wait. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow-waiting till you’re dead. Do you know what I think? I think this whole Phillip complex is like the Christian heaven, an illusion born of a need, floating around in some nebulous misty Platonic nowhere, always just around the corner like prosperity, but never here and now.  You’re afraid to go away with him, you’re afraid to put it to a test because you know it won’t work.”

No more waiting.

~kmh

Emails from Powerful Strangers

A few hours after writing my post (In the Realm of Hungry Masters Students..), I happened to get a great email from a Powerful Stranger. He was writing to explain that over the past few months he has been keeping a blog, in secret, and we could find the first twelve posts here.  Almost all of them followed a simple template, which I will cross-post (pending his permission!) in the near future.

I was delighted to receive his email.  Not only is he a great friend, he has been a truly inspiring one, one that catalyzes creativity, action and discussion.  In one of his first posts he talks about the virtues of Powerful Strangers, and truthfully, this is who he is to me (albeit one who has become a friend!).  His blog is great, and I couldn’t recommend it more.  I am excited to be following it in the coming months.

As if the last part of puzzle coming together was this article, that was posted by Forbes earlier today. In short, it was loosely about how great business leaders read fiction, because fiction is the best way to understand people. I’d like to extrapolate this thought and say that fiction is the best way to understand ideas themselves. People, and the books (art) they produce are only the conduit. Without a forum and a medium to riff on these ideas, to document and meditate a little, I’m a little worried that they might be lost-as much as I enjoy the waves washing over me, I want to snap a few polaroids on this journey too. I’m going to try to include some quotes as well.

So thank you to all my Powerful Strangers out there! I look forward to reading all your books, blogs and comments.

In the Realm of Hungry Masters students

So if nothing else, I thought I would start writing about the books I’m reading.

I am now establishing myself in a new town, after a long (sadly uneventful) first month and hiatus from doing anything moderately productive (other than look for work and turn an empty studio into a fully functioning apartment for two!). Consequently, I have been reading. Alot.

 

It has been incredible to climb back into reading.  Once upon a time I was a VORACIOUS reader. Like we are talking over lunch hour, during recess, staying up too late  reading by the scant light of the bathroom…you get the idea.  Over the past 10-11 years, my reading has been reduced to fits and starts. My writing (as is sadly all-too-obvious by this blog) has fallen into rusty disrepair. Let’s say ill-repair.  School, extra-curriculars, socializing and work took over. Leaving Vancouver was a messy, rushed hodge-podge of cleaning grout with toothbrushes and over estimating the amount of stuff I could carry with me on the ferry. Despite a terrible sleep on my hardwood floor (my bed left weeks earlier) somehow, I stumbled onto the ferry, where I checked four of my five (enormous) bags and indulgingly checked myself in to the $13 a crossing salad bar and dessert buffet. It. was. incredible.

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It was quiet. It was beautiful (dusk on a ferry crossing through the gulf islands is never less than spectacular). It was empty (3pm crossing…who knew?). Best of all: a started a book.

A real book. 

Not one for school. Or related to work. Not even tangentially! Not to improve my Spanish or my French, or to cross another title off on my bucket list of classics. A book. For me to read. Out of Interest. The kind of interest you have because you are a Person, and not a specialist.

I’ve been intending on reading this book for four years, I bought it at Pulp Fiction on Main one of the last days I wrote in this blog, actually.  It’s written by a Vancouver author, Dr. Gabor Maté, and is by no means “light”- it provides an overview in life and issues of the DTES. But still, it was a book and I was back on reading.

My new thought with this blog is that I am going to try to post more regularly-if for nothing else-on what I’m reading. The next few posts might be a little strange because I will probably recap what I’ve covered the past month, but I’m excited to start documenting and discussing this…till tomorrow!