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Month: March, 2013

Discovery.

EhnmmMMmmMM….mmmMMpph.

I feel a cold, soft pencil-eraser pushing into my face. Then a facefull of wooly-undoubtably grey-fur. More fur. Purring. Purring? Who purrs before 7am?! The fur stops moving and I start to feel a tentative, rough lick and nuzzle on my forehead, ever so faintly, every so far away, my alarm.

Griz! Good morning Griz! For what more is there really to say? Being awoken by a 7.5 pound mass of fur – especially one so positively elated at the notion of me giving her just the tiniest bit of food – is not the worst thing I could think of. Not to mention that she has also learned intuitively to respond to my alarm clock by sitting on top of it to muffle to the sound, presenting me instead with her purring pretty face.

What a sweet heart.

I stumble into the kitchen, navigating the shadow-grey mass running figure-eights around my ankles like tires at a drill camp. I run the water, top up her kibble and fish, and fix myself a glass of lemon water. Breakfast is served. It’s crazy to think that three months ago there was no Griz, no morning water: nothing but a caffeine powered tardy sprint to the office.

I stand a few feet back from her voracious slurps and drink my own jar of water, letting my eyes adjust to the light, slowly planning the next half hour and my route to work. The rain on the skylight four feet above my head echoes like run-away dried beans down the bulk-food aisle. Spring rain is inevitable, but losing an hour of sleep,  and a rainfall warning? What a way to start a Tuesday.

Griz chartreux grey cat

Griz, Killoran Gordan, Dec 2012

My ride to work is short, but often unpleasant. A little over 3km it follows a major road and then a shipping route, not to mention that a bike accident a few blocks off my route had left another cyclist in critical condition the day before. It easily could have been me. As is rote for cycling accidents, the story was quickly flooded with notes and observations about bad bikers: helmetless, reckless yahoos that were obstructing the traffic-flow of good citizens. I am often rattled after reading this type of news, but I also know that if I give into my fear I’m libel to trade in my bike for the bus permanently. I strapped on my helmet, threw on my bright yellow jacket and headed out the door.

In honour of the time change, I decided to break my coffee-less Habit and grab one en route to work. Nostalgia flooded over me as I walked in the door. The café had flown under my radar entirely the first year I lived in town. It’s only two blocks beyond Chinatown, a stone’s throw from our house. I stumbled upon it blindly attending a poetry reading, astonished to find that I had been biking by it daily for months. Stumbling in this morning was like stumbling in for the first time, discovering a little self-contained universe right under my nose.

Unassuming, it’s filled with subtle dark wood, skylights and plants. A friendly, hip-yet-unpretentious staff and noteworthy coffee. The clientele consists of a healthy mix of construction workers (as they are open earliest of all the cafés), old men (who spend hours chatting in the lounge), a steady stream of postal workers (the post-office headquarters is next door), students (free wireless) and government workers (they’re everywhere). After my initial visit, I was completely hooked, joining the regulars. Having a welcoming, quiet space turned me around academically, powering me through my last semester and prompting a “thank you” in the Acknowledgements section of my final Masters project. The name of said café? Oh-so-approrpriately: Discovery.

photo discovery coffee

Discovery Coffee on Discovery st. (Al Champagne)

Coffee strapped in bike rack, it wasn’t until I arrived at work that I realized the news of the accident had subconsciously turned me into an exemplary cyclist: alert and awake, I had worn my lights and brightest clothing, over-emphasized all my turn signals, triple checked my blind spots and stood up extra-straight while I waited to make my left-hand turn in the intersection. An improvement.

A friend once told me that getting what you want out of life is simple; it comes in two steps. The first is recognizing that you want something, and the second is recognizing it when it comes to you.

May you also find unexpected changes to some of your old habits, a silver lining to these grey days and a rinsing away into spring.

Yeah write turns 100 this week! Er, 3! And 100 posts! Go yeah,write!

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Selecky’s Party

I

 

 

sat down to write this hours ago.

It is nearly spring here. No, it’s finally spring here. The east coast in me can’t quite believe it yet, but it’s beginning to snow white cherry blossoms and the light has that liberated full-spectrum gilt to it at last. Nowhere else is winter as long as the dreary grey coast.

I biked home fast after work. I stayed a full ten minutes later than I had intended, wrapping myself up too tightly in a PowerPoint presentation and lost sight of the time. 4:15 means GO! This light you looked at so longingly is yours now! I frantically flew out the door and tried a new route home, up a side street and down a hill so steep I thought I’d fly over my handlebars before curling sharply onto the bikepath. The wind is still crisp and winter-clean, but the angle of the sun is a promise that can’t be revoked, and coasting over the clackety-clack wooden footbridge I wanted to scream at every person I crossed: we made it! The winter is done.

In celebration of our newfound daylight I nipped out for coffees before the cafés all closed at 6. The original plan was to write, but we got caught up meandering lazily home, and it hardly seemed worth it to rush over for the slim twigh-lit last half hour. I got take away cups. Because it is a special day (Day of Sunlight), I permit myself to a latté instead of a regular coffee, and I made his a secret decaf. Since the good weather hit the Island this weekend we’ve kept all our windows open, well into the night, like the people who flap around in sandals and shorts before the snow has melted. To compensate we’re both bundled in blankets and heavy sweaters, and Griz is curled up tight against me with her paws clamped firmly over her nose, but the air is fresh and promising and we sleep the sweep sunburnt dreams we’ve missed since September.

The coffee is ice now, thick and rich, forgotten.

this cake is for the party sarah selecky cover

I’ve seen Sarah Selecky’s slick little paperback around. It’s cute. The red Giller sticker is a beacon to the Canadian-lit junkie in me, it turns my head like a pretty bike. Or maybe Tiffany’s blue is has gravitational pull over all women. I like the cover, the empty cracked plate, and the title: This Cake is for the PartyIt’s the kind of title you want to say out loud to yourself several times, and articulate every consonant, like the name Maggie.

I had picked up the book a few times at Munroe’s but always seemed to turn to passages where people were talking in weird accents (having read the book, I am not able to identify which passages I must have stumbled upon). Printed with a tightly bound spine, it’s a book that hurts your thumbs if you try to read it without cracking the binding. But it’s glossy and durable and I loved the typeface. Sarah Solecky was also the name of one of my best friend’s when I was five, which gave the whole book an eerie familiarity to begin with. Maybe that’s part of what put me off, and it never made it to the check-out pile. But then last week I read a great article in the Walrus (Gossip GirlFebruary 2013- you can read the article here). The article was light and funny, articulate and well-written, filled with the kind of insightful insecurities I look for in a novel. This Cake is for the Party: devoured 48 hours after purchase.

2012-06-05 20.05.17

That kind of light, last year, Vancouver

I’ve read more Canadian lit this year than any year before in my life. One of my favourites, Zsuszi Gartner, is actually thanked on the inside jacket. Canadian contemporary lit has a strange little niche unto itself. We’re more somber and sober than our US counterparts, more stark and lonely. Our stories seem to stand out stoically against urban tundra. They seep a strange sort of arctic mysticism… I gauge the overarching flavour and temperament of this group I so desperately want to join the way I suss out the lake temperature by dangling one toe off the dock.

Selecky’s book was originally published in 2010 and is comprised of ten short stories set all over Canada. She writes like someone who has been trained to draw using guide lines. Like those books that I would save up for from the Scholastic catalogue, where they would start with an oval egg, add a cross in the next panel to show you where the eyes would go, and then suddenly a completed portrait in the last pain (with no traced of the x-egg to be found). Like foundation drawing, Selecky starts with simple oval mannequins and stick figures, abruptly filling in the fingers on one hand, the crumbled grass under one foot, the soft hair on her left ear lobe, leaving the rest faceless, ubiquitous. She describes people like pressed flowers no fewer than three times, and speaks about smooth pebbles from a river or lake just as many.

float plane base victoria bc canada summer

Float plane base, Victoria, Summer 2012

This interspersal of wide broad strokes and tiny intricate details is extremely evocative: it’s uncomfortable. In tandem with the fact that her stories take place in a glut of familiar but obscure locations (e.g., Manitoulin Island),  the visceral details that Selecky adds somehow burrow under your skin. They impregnant your mind with small bubbles of memory that flow like a marble through your veins until they unexpectedly burst in vivid total recall of some forgotten memory.

Part of what resonated most was the music she mentions: Broken Social Scene, Miles Davis, Metric, Arlo Gutherie. I finally know every artist she mentioned. I’ve lived them. I’ve also sung along loudly to that album in my car. I always wonder if Americans have this proximity when they read fiction. If you lived in New York does the New Yorker resonate with you differently? Are all of these things more vivid to your life? If I were twenty years older would all the literature I’ve been reading smell this much more real, more colourful? We are released.

*       *       *

Pathetic fallacy continues, yesterday’s brief spot of sun blotted out by the relentless rain. But the tension is broken, the promise is there. Technicolour summer is about to arrive.

Welcome to the Real World. We made it.

Yeah RIGHT this week I’m back on yeahwrite 🙂 Check them out!

Daily drop cap by the lovely miss Jessica Hische!

Christie’s Garden II

Continued from Part 1vancouver studio condo main street

Hallway, Vancouver, 2012

Rules.

I read The Beggar’s Garden quickly, over 48 hours or so, and the one lingering thing that clung to me was the rules.

I went to a moxibustion workshop recently. Moxibustion is kind of like acupuncture  except instead of placing pins in energy meridians to activate and balance them, you use heat from a lit wand (a sharpie-sized stick of tightly packed “moxa” or mogwort). It was awesome. The class was partially hosted by a freeskool, on a pay-what-you-can basis, with my amazing teacher volunteering her time, as well as organizing and donating the supplies and the space. The turn out for the workshop was very small, a handful of people from the clinic and two freeskool hosts. Before we began the workshop one of the hosts informed me proudly, with no small condescension that they had “dropped out of school to pursue radical pedagogy” and that they “just couldn’t understand why more people aren’t into learning cool stuff for free.” I stared at them blankly for a moment and blinked, translating their words:  a reform of (radical) the theory of learning (pedagogy). (I hope that this irony of need to translate that is not lost on anyone).

As the workshop progressed I became more and more irate with the “radical pedagoges.” I fully appreciate that our education system is in dire straits, and filled with barriers and debt, however low barrier education opportunities (e.g., our pay-what-you-can workshop) are still not “free.” They are bracketed by contributions and exchanges that can be just as easily capitalized on at the expense of others. Cultural rules and norms still exist, in large part for our safety. Admittedly, some of these rules and practices can create barriers, but some of them exist to ensure the greatest good to the greatest number.

For example, being on time (or thereabouts) is not a convention designed to “keep people down in the system,” but to ensure that people don’t waste their life waiting around. Granted aspects of pedagogy may need to be challenged, but certain rules also arose out of good. Perhaps the most important thing is that it is understood, or at the very least it is acknowledged that rules exist, and that they are embedded as a part of how we communicate. On this level, you could consider grammar and spelling rules of language. Without them written expression would almost be entirely lost: you need to understand the rules in order to break them.

Culturally this happens often. In Mali for example, it is extremely bad form to chat with someone in the morning before they’ve had the chance to wash their eyes and rinse their mouth. People won’t even acknowledge you. You’ve got carte blanche until you’ve done your morning wake-up rinse. If you’re not the best morning person 100% of the time, this is an absolutely fantastic convention.  On the other hand, if you’ve got no idea what’s going on in the situation, everybody comes off as looking incredibly rude. Similarly in relationships this also happens, and surely the onslaught of Valentine’s day themed podcasts and news coverage didn’t help my meditation on the matter.

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Morning, Sélingué, 2004

Christie’s little snippets leave you feeling weightless, but have led you to overarching nagging themes you can not shake the rest of the day, like the introductory ambulance story and geriatric care.

I was chatting with a friend recently about recent trends in writing-which is so funny in and of itself, the idea that books are just as much in fashion as wedges or skinny jeans. He was going on about his haughty indifference to it all, the comings and goings of trends, before we digressed into dissecting them. He explained to me there are two great emergences: post-colonial literature (Coeteze, Pamuk, Shteynaart) and (ironically enough) redefining the “forgotten” white guy (à la David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen). I had never really thought about it that way before, but alot of contemporary literature does seem to fall neatly into these camps. What is interesting about Beggar’s Garden is that it almost seems to straddle both sides:

Emerging from the alley, he was met by a cold drift of exhaustion and decided to walk home. He started east. He and Anna lived in Strathcona, the oldest residential neighbourhood in the city, besieged in recent years by the young, progressive, and wealthy, who sought to live within bike-commuting distance of downtown and could stomach the neighbourhood’s proximity to the riotous and hellish, but strangely contained, slum of the Downtown Eastside…At first the city had been thrilling-as if their adventurousness, their willingness to scuttle the past, had been rewarded with their own earthly paradise, a temperate garden way out out on the golden fringe of everything, far distant form the entanglements of her family and the yawing absence of his. Yet as years ticked by, something about the city nagged at Sam’s prairie sensibilities. Its beauty now seemed to him almost obscene, as if to build a glimmering city of glass by the sea at the foot of an Olympian rack of mountains, was to invite calamity. …this doomed neighbourhood …had assumed a symbolic station in his mind, an unsightly eruption that the city somehow deserved and couldn’t conceal…a living monument to all unwanted things-and some parts of Sam hoped it would be there forever.

Vancouver feels a bit campy, that there aren’t enough people, that there is this feeling that the city is perpetually sitting at 20% capacity, with it’s resident’s rattling around and playing cosmopolitan dress-up. Toronto is the population of all of BC, and the population of Hamilton is nearly the size of  all the people living on Vancouver Island. When I think of it that way, suddenly the west coast feels very small. In all this mess of interwoven tales, Christie’s Garden seems to fall back into the tiny niche so many Vancouver books seem to fall into, the last frontier of colonialism: post-colonial lit. Vancouver, schiophrenically trying to work through all of these rules that don’t make sense, rules we’ve invented for the roles we are trying to play, in some new form of post-colonial Canadianism.

A great little read, if you can find it. Hats off to Christie.

Christie’s plea for Flowers I

I’m reading again.

You know those weeks and weeks and weeks when you’re stuck? After two months of drifting through a cloud of magazinesbad tv and crossword puzzles in efforts to coax my brain into allowing just one more acronym into permeating the blood-brain barrier, something finally clicked: critical mass was obtained, and I wanted to read again. It was late, dreary. I had no other choice: I bundled myself up and tumbled over to Value Village.

I know, I know. Value isn’t the most ethical place to shop; I do do my best to support our local bookstores and libraries (through the ridiculous late fees I somehow manage to accrue). For us, the thing about VV is that it is insanely convenient  It’s on our block, open until 9 and (although it’s a bit of a grab bag) they often tend to have a decent selection of second hand books. It’s always an interesting array: a smattering of Maeve Binchy novels sandwiched between three different editions of Nicco Ricci’s book and the lesser known titles of best-selling authors. You can always tell what was really hot three years ago by the volume of copies lining the stacks Tuesdays with Morrie and Eat Love Pray seem have been particularly pervasive.

Classics are always in abundance (the books you’ve always intended on reading) – you can afford to be picky on this front: never settle for anything but the nicest editions in the best shape, plenty of copies of Crime and Punishment to go around (you’re going to read it on your Kindle anyway). There is no order here, just sheer chaos, entropic rows upon rows Zadie Smith right next to Babara Kingsolver, Danielle Steele astride Doestoevesky. Your only choice is to descend into a cathartic-catatonic rhythmic state of the thrift store shuffle. Methodologically scanning over each shelf and each row, reading each title, grabbing anything that looks valuable, following the lady chronically restocking the shelves, repeat. Take breaks to skim through Fantasy/SciFi and Cooking to make sure you haven’t missed anything that could have been mis-shelved or hidden and forgotten.

Then, delicately held between copy #87 of Fall on your Knees and this dog-eared copy of Sophie’s World that has lived in the same shelf-spot since I moved to Victoria, there it was:

beggars garden michael christie vancouver book

The Beggar’s Garden.

Michael Christies’ The Beggar’s Garden is a another Vancouver book. A multi-narrative, Christie charts nine peripherally intersecting stories about different people living in the city, spanning it’s width and breadth. Despite being a book of well repute here on the coast, it’s still suffers the collateral of being Canadian: chronically hard to find, new or otherwise. Published in 2011, it was long-listed for the Giller and picked up the City of Vancouver’s book award.

The stories fit nicely into one another, like Timothy Taylor’s Stanley ParkThey contain everything you would anticipate from a Vancouver book, deftly demonstrating the poignancy, empathy and awareness of it’s author. As if articulating the faults of the city absolves us from sharing in it’s guilt. Somehow though, in part in his simplicity, in part for his complete absolution to leave the stories separate, to present them objectively, in with an almost mathematical degree of calculation.

In the first instalment, Christie finds us vulnerable and unaware pulling us with the deftness of a tablecloth disappearing from a place setting:

They sent the wrong paramedic, one I’d never met before. He had sideburns sculpted into hockey sticks and stunk of canola oil. He was in my doorway with the gulping eyes of a rodent and the shocker thing in a red nylon duffle over his shoulder. His partner was old and wheezed bedside him from the three flights of stairs. It had taken me a while to answer the door because I was on the toilet, unable to pee for nervousness.  When I stood, my hamstrings went pins and needles and I steadied myself on the towel bar while taking a minute to arrange my hair.

Everyone knows someone who is old. Everyone is afraid of turning into someone who is old; alone. It’s a story and a scenario that conjures up fear, resonates with familiarity, universality and empathy. Using this as a starting point, Christie is able to teleport us in through a ubiquitous portal into the Downtown Eastside (DTES).

It’s not for a few more chapters until he pulls out the typical Vancouver fare of addiction and juxtaposition:

The pavement is wet and reptilian…the air thick with evaporation. People are out tonight, like every night, hustling, smoking, chatting, shaking hands, screaming. Everybody is buying, selling or collecting things of a certain or possible value….

I was twenty-six when I started smoking crack. Crack. It sounds so ridiculous even when I say it now, so pornographic.

Skimming quickly over the backstory, with this quick nod to the grotesque,  he then turns this into one of the lightest, happiest chapters as we follow-him through a flawless high: airless and clean. His simple ways of writing give a bare-bones west-coast feel to the whole ordeal, letting the rough grain of the wood leave splinters. What I most liked about this book was that it most accurately mirrored life in Van. Each area of town remotely overlapping, sharing walls of a vacuous honeycomb, a hive keeping everyone contained and close but separate, the Hollowness that comes with all Vancouver books.

griz cat chartreux

Good morning Griz! February, 2013

Recently I was listening to “Leaving the Fold” (episode 258 of  TAL). A huge portion of the episode talks about Jerry Springer’s career as a politician. At one point one of the guests launched into a tirad about the idea that the element of surprise in context inversely proportional to your reception of the information; that you should wear your most conservative suit the day you present your most creative ideas. In this way, Christie is sneaky. His writing is simple, and precise, which robs and strengthens it, broaching complex ideas through unassuming avenues:

…today was the funeral. It was held outside the city, so Bernice took the bus. After three transfers she stepped from the vehicle’s hissing doors and asked a boy in a pristine white tracksuit lazing on a bicycle with gold-plated rims where the church was. He flicked his chin grimly at what looked like a mall at the centre of a monstrous parking lot, so vast it reminded her of the sweeping landscape paintings often donated to the store, the ones that never sold because, she figured, they amplified people’s loneliness.

Bernice went to the pencil-lead-coloured coffin and pulled from her purse a wooden caterpillar that wobbled when pulled by its string.  She set the toy beside her in the white satin interior. Karla had a ponytail-a style she’d never worn-and her face was puffy and spatulaed with makeup.

Christie has a way of presenting complex ideas with very simple language, springing them on you softly like buying a time share. He also does this by juxtaposing the stories, without explanation next to one another. Stories of who would most often be perceived as “the most desperate, marginalized” people are portrayed as quite happy, their detachment and highs and lows crowding out any semblance of the sadness of reality in their narratives. Next to this are some of the most quietly desperate stories, like the one about the dog and the yuppie living in a concrete shoebox apartment in the West End.

City’s are strange places indeed.


Continued in Part II