Christie’s Garden II
Hallway, Vancouver, 2012
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.
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.