Monday, May 30, 2005

The uncarved block

I toil most weekdays at horrendously practical things. "Trace that wire," the boss shouts; "lift that pail!", "hammer that tile", "clean up this mess", and so on into the interminable hours as thoughts swirl in my head, many of them about death and whether I'll be doing this all my life. For the first time in my life, I've felt the pang of class-consciousness. Even though I've been bred to be a modern Mandarin like most of my peers, appearances point to other things. I could believably pretend that I don't speak English, or at the very least that I don't know "all dem big words". Anyway, the only thing that maintains my connection to the relative sanity of the life I've chosen is my writing. So a week-long writer's block could not have come at a worse time.

I could not apply the usual solutions: getting drunk and falling off of statues, cooing at the pigeons in the park, climbing church scaffolds and making up modern mythologies based on our canopy of seven (plus or minus two) night sky stars visible in dear old Toronto, lying down on sidewalks recalling the strains of a music video from the dim past (Radiohead - Just.mpeg), attempting ot have visions or talking into the night, then talking to the creaking wheels of the subway cars, doing pull-ups on the handrails, staggering in playgrounds, belting out sordid modern albums to the empty street, walking down the middle of the same street with my whiskey-soaked cerebellum, stealing bar sandwich-signs, discussing the girls of our youth who took no vows and believed in nothing, &c., &c. It seems to me there might not be an evening this summer where I won't have to "take it easy". That is, stopping before crazy, at merely happy, stopping before imaginative at merely regurgitating, stopping before adventurous, at merely sleepy.

But we all deal with writer's block, some people for a lifetime, some for weeks or years. I guess it's my endless fear that there is nothing original, novel or interesting in my association cortex.

Filipino Proverb: "Aanhin mo ang palasyo, kung ang nakatira ay kuwago? Mabuti pa ang bahay kubo, ang nakatira ay tao.
(What good is a palace if it's inhabited by owls. Better a straw hut inhabited by humans.)"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

1968 (Part III)

Ken's second dream of the afternoon was remarkable only for its length. This time as his eyes unfocused behind his eyelids he performed his sure-fire method for destroying trains of thought. He recalled the sound of the ceramic drills which used to keep him up most nights when he was a small boy living in Nanking. That is easily the worst sound known to humankind: he remembered how for long hours in the evenings his mother and he and his grandfather and grandmother would wander around their one small room aimlessly until the shift stopped sometime around 2 a.m. The workmen had some astronomical quota to fulfill apparently. As he thought of this, focusing mainly on the sound and not the pathos, he shuddered inwardly, at some level below awareness, and he tumbled into a dreamless sleep.

Many hours later, he was startled awake by a loud banging at his door. He recoiled and blinked quckly to shake the sleep crud out. Had they come for him? What had he done wrong? He knew it did not really matter. But why would they come for him? Who was he? Just a foreigner. And why had he not heard their slogans from blocks away? He glanced out the window at his narrow street: nothing, just the usual bustle of bicyclists, men in overalls and women lying in the parkette three deep. The red-bandannaed youth provocateur was in her usual spot at the corner, distributing her literature somewhat lackadaisically The pipes from the distillery a block away spewed their waste gases languidly. It was all wrong. He stilled his trembling hands by leaning against his table. This was the time he wished he had found more wisdom in his life. His mother was an educated woman, his grandfather had told him. She had read many great books in her time. But she was always busy; in his mind, his mother never read. He began to tear up, weak from self-pity. What strange things he was thinking about! He decided to do the courageous thing once in his life. He would not cowert. He would just walk out there and let them do what they will. He only wished he belived in God. But that's how these thing go. He opened the door with what he thought must have lookedl ike a grand, solemn gesture. And then he stopped short of his final flourish, suddenly confused again.

It was not a mob. It was one woman. He vaguely recognized her; she might be a neighbour of his. She was dressed in factory overalls and a bandana. Not pretty: her face was rutted and sunken and was probably coated in some residual machine oil. He asked who she was. She was his neighbour, as he suspected. What did she want? She explained it to him in her halting, accented speech (she must have been a recent migrant):

"... they put me on double shifts without asking me. I tried to protest. Who will care for my child? The foreman just avoided me and ignored my question. Oh, he is a cruel man. But that's enough of that. Everyone has complaints, right? Anyway, when S-- told me about your... um... situation, I thought this is the perfect solution." (This next part sounded rehearsed to Ken. He realized later that the woman must have been very self-conscious of her accent.) "Would you like company while you... um... hide here? You can watch my little girl. I'll give you some money for it, of course, and I'll help out. I'll replace what she eats, and maybe I'll add a little more. so, how about it?"

He didn't know why, but he agreed readily.

"Good. You start now. I'm late for my shift."

Ten seconds later, the woman was gone and a little girl--she looked to be about eight--was standing in front of Ken's couch-bed, trying to take up as little space as possible and staring at the ground with a blank expression. Our protagonist was at a loss for action. And now he suddenly felt self-conscious about his space.


Tomorrow: something on the first nations genocide.

First Nations Proverb: "listen or your tongue will keep you deaf."

Monday, May 23, 2005


I miss everybody. I miss my corpulent friends who are travelling the world and feeding street urchins indisciminately. I miss the rocker chicks partying into the sweaty halo in the sky atop a ferris wheel. I miss the strongmen who have already fled to head up heroin smuggling rings in Albania. I miss my friend who is sweating and suffocating under a mountain of dead-tree documents in some anonymous office block. I miss the steamrollers in the streets with their drivers distracted by the blaring seduction of MIX 99.9 FM, followed by a parade of snack trucks. I miss the grandfather tree of my front lawn. I miss the discoveries of new narrative styles. I miss the wiskey from the shot glasses of burnt-out air traffic controllers. I miss my years of courtship with self-important angst (which involved dog-eared books, slipping hygiene, cramped basements, sketches on high school desks, the first holy drunkennesses, tanked-up clatter of modern music, seven contradictory philosophies under one political umbrella, upside-down flags, etc.). I miss the diplomats' daughters in their slighly outlandish clothes. I miss lung-conscious thespians' images distorted and discoloured through the convex filter of a beer pitcher. I miss long pointless bike rides, where water towers were significant and church congregations were meaningful assemblages of shades. I miss the rage on the streets, the repetitive, invocative djembe circles protesting the naked and endless War. I miss godly instructors. I miss being able to delude myself efficiently. I miss running down playground slide alleys and making long monologues out of them. I miss being thankful to the giants of the past.

But that is just one side of the fork. On the other is everything I have taken with me and retained. So let there be no songs of mourning.

Consider: "good artists borrow, great artists steal.”

3 a.m. two days ago

Another odyssey in the dead of night. Actually, it was more of a worn-out walk until my feet ached because I wanted to save on bus fare. As I reached the top of my street, I sat down at a memorial for a man who was killed there a few years ago. (It is an inordinately tragic story that was made all the more public by the fact that it was a hate crime. He was stabbed in the back by a skinhead while he was changing his son's car tires. The only provocation was his Orthodox Jewish outfit.) Anyway, I sat there and tried to commune with his spirit. Of course, I cannot. I have no magical powers or extra senses. (I have more than five, but so does everyone.) Flowers were piled on cinderblocks; the moon was almost full; the occassional car drifted by. What were they doing? Where were they going at 3 a.m.? The only two answers my curiously altered thought processes could pull up were: i) they were flying to long-lost loves on no sleep and seven cups of coffee, ii) they were picking someone up from the airport. Then the sprinklers came on and the watery haze drifted over and I had to leave. I wanted to buy a falafel, but the falafel place had been closed since sundown for the Sabbath.

Consider: "as a solid rock cannot be shaken by the wind, so the spiritually mature person is unmoved by blame and praise."

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


SCENE: bar. Commenting on jukebox selections.

M.: She's playing three songs in a row from the same band. How shameful!
ME: That's pretty bad. But to us, it would be shameful to play three songs from the same genre.

That more-or-less accurate paraphrase will set the tone for this entry. The theme is transience. It has become painful to me to realize that we construct our society around this. It is the base ingredient in the caultron, the predominant enzyme in the soup. Other things are just thrown in as seasoning: the carrot of modern economic theory, the saffron of the entertainment industry, &c., &c. Transience seeps into our literatures: we rush madly into originality. We construct our elaborate pastiches with objects so obscure only the academy will move to hand down plaudits. But it's not just (or predominantly) art that feels the gadfly's bite. The inspiration for this post came as I drove past an endless chain-link fence and arrived at an intersection. U-haul trucks driven by transients in polo shirts were carting furniture and flickering televisions. The factories were disgorging their workforce into a residantial diaspora. A cargo train was speeding away from the entanglements of its past life. So I take license to exaggerate! So what? I've never lived in one place for more than three years. I have no cultural roots. I once went to a church with my grandmother, but I've been to more synagogues. But what is it all? It's amulets; it's epicycles. Folk remedies to pervasive maladies. My own war (the balkans, on-and off, 1991-1999) is as real to me as the war of the Austrian succession (1740-1748). Children jump in puddles to disturb the surface. From that, they are compelled to drive the paving machinery that knocks down their cottages. Renovations are preludes to selling the house. (A grandiose and expensive equivalent of wiping the toilet seat for the last time.) I cannot dwell on any one idea for long becuase the overarching drive does not allow me to. Inside our urban centres we are mixed like little soup seasoning and our cars drive huge races down a maliciously straight hippodrome. The radio sometimes cuts out as we drive along, disturbed by a copse of high-voltage teleconductor wires and we have to make conversation. The same sight can signify many different things depending on what "tune" is blaring out of the staticky speakers. Yesterday, it made the pink apartment building a hopeful arcology and a glimpse of heaven. Today it was a pretty piece of fruit rotting just under the surface. It's hard to work up passion when you age five years every day of the workweek and have to sleep off the flab and wrinkles during the weekend. It's hard to be a generalist today, when every specialist is wielding a mallet, just give them the chance. Well, maybe after the oil crash...

Consider: "...that, according to some ephermeral internet source, quotes are the second-lowest form of wit, just above puns."

Sunday, May 15, 2005


(For when complete sentences just won't do.)

Saw Napoleon Dynamite yesterday. In shower this morning performed close reading of ending scene with tetherball & two kids. Tetherball being thrown around tracing mad arabesques in the sky, whizzing thru air & rocking by proxy endless porch-chairs of the grandfathers of Idaho. Wide arcs, crazy parabolas, improbable speed compounded with kicking, slapping, touching, caressing. All soiled humanity gathered there for the feast of the cherubim; mad angels holding beer bottles. (Ginsberg, 1967, park in San Francisco, holy orgasmic OM for a long drawn-out moment. Hope of all meat mankind embodied in colour & dreams & mad ramblings. Bums become seraphim.) All viewers of film fell down in surprise at the ending high-five: fell off the couches & writhed on the floor in supernatural ecstasy as the light came in thru the living-room windowsills. Stepped out for a dissociative fugue in the rain.

Consider: "Bandar kya jaane adrak ka swaad? (What does a monkey know of the taste of ginger?)"

Three statements

Last night as I walked down the street, I suddenly came face-to-face with the skunk whose aroma had been permeating the neighbourhood. The two of us stood motionless, presumably sizing each other up. Then I turned and walked sideways away from the creature, and he quickly reciprocated. We passed each other without incident. The whole busines left me fulfulled and re-rnerized briefly.

I was shocked when I heard the hypothesis that the brain and the mind are one and the same called "shocking". There is a very simple proof of this hypothesis: anyone who has ever taken a mind-altering drug. We know a great deal about how various drugs work. They happen to mimic the shapes of certain metabolites and cause various blockages or enhancements of acivity. If the drug acts on the nervous system, the mind tends to get altered. It's just like throwing a large hunk of metal into a nineteenth-century factory machine. One would expect it to stop or hiccup violently. Luckily for us, minor alterations in the activity of our beautiful machine mind only cause slightly altered means of perceiving, processing and/or behaving.

Neon lights in heavy fog--the way they reflect and diffuse, threading their way through suspended droplets in the air--are phenomenologically equivalent to angels.

Consider: "it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


I'm tired and a little angry, so if nobody minds, I have a harangue saved up. If it drags just skip to the quote.

Scene: The little Goth girl sits there and bemoans how "nothing matters", how "it's all meaningless", and how we can never find said meaning etc. I have had enough of her shit. I turn to the audience and speak:

"First, what the fuck is a statement like "it's all meaningless" supposed to indicate? It's always struck me as stringing together abstract concepts into a gramatically coherent sentence. It is abuse of the system that originally evolved to allow you to say "pass that rock", or "you will not have my meat". Second, how in fuck's name is it possible to think that? Granted, in a sense, (and I hate qualifying rants) that is true. Your life or death are comparatively meaningless from the vantage of the solar system, or the biosphere, from the point of view of nations or corporations, institutions and social networks you are unaffiliated with. But that is most assuredly not your vantage point, dear. Your vantage is you! And all the fucking meaning and lack thereof proceeds from some firing neurons in your skull. To you and those touched by you (me, for instance) there is meaning associated with you. From me. From you. From others. All your pains and all your hatreds and all your looks and your approval and/or disapproval attaches meaning. It's what we do as humans. Non-animate things do not do that. They have no need of this subjective barometer. It is not your place to insist on objective menaing. Our deal is intersubjective. And with that big word I'll leave it at that."

"(What meaning means is something best left to the recursive mathematicians, certainly not vapid French pop-philosophers. They are either shit-bags, or so profound I have no idea what they are saying. It matters not.)"

"I think I'll provide an analogy, then explain it. Hopefully it will be obvious what I mean. When I was young I did not have a computer. I got along fine. Then I got a computer. All was well. Then the computer boke down. I wept bitter curdled tears. This is a perfect demonstration of the Hedonic Treadmill Effect, one of those wonderfully applicable psychological theories. Anyway, I think our little Goth gitl is depressed and meaning-deprived because someone once told her of an invisible superhero that could observe the universe at all times. She thought that from that vantage point she was meaningless. (She was.) And even though she knows better than to kneel before the stone temple of the invisible superhero, the idea of that supreme vantage point still ingers. And she cannot go back. She can unlearn about the supreme vantage point no more than I can just scrap my computer and leave, whistling into the night. If we want slightly better-adjusted people, we should never have raised their expectations with caressing supernatural lies. They spend their entire lives beooding disappointingly on their losses of immortality. But they never fucking had it! They were never meaningful in that grand scale, but some in every leat their respective genies out of their respective bottles. It's not so much a recomendaion as a gripe."


Consider: "O Rose, thou art sick! / The invisible worm / That flies in the night / In the howling storm, // Has found out thy bed / Of crimson joy: / And his dark secret love / Does thy life destroy."

Friday, May 06, 2005

1968 (Part II)

"Ken did what he had often done under problematic circumstances. He decided to sprawl out on the couch and hope for sleep to come, and maybe as his brain clicked and whirred in novel directions the solution to his problem would come through. Except this wasn't a problem like the mountain of the Calculus back at the Institute, which for all its mind-numbing and humbling complexity was well-defined and possible to solve. No, this current "situation", or whatever, was more amorphous, and this dread seemed to reach back to something very fundamental in him."

"A shallow sleep came. Images flitted and collided under his eyelids. He had had a few false starts, interrupted by a bead of sweat somehow ending up in his nose and interrupting his breathing, but as always he managed to settle into a stable pattern. Eventually the image fragments and word fragments began to coalesce. And what emerged was, predictably a landscape of the laboratory at the institute. She is walking through the door, carrying a laundry basket full of dangerous and highly volatile chemicals. She takes the tops off the containers and begins to synthesize. She must work quickly, or the poison concentration in the air will reach unbearable proportions. The pressure does not faze her; it probably speeds her work. Ken is working the stopwatch. Activity bustles all around him. How many more people are working with open-air poisons? But this batch absolutely needs to be prepared. She calls out to him; she cannot finish quickly enough. He rushes over and soon they are both mixing, heating, distilling, running through the complicated procedure as quickly as human hands will allow. They finish twenty minutes later and they make a beeline for the door. The supervisor shouts that they must return in five minutes. Once outside, they cough and sputter. He holds her still as he applies the irrigation bottle to her eyes. This would be a good time to..."

"He woke with a start and in pain. It was neither a sharp pain nor the dull, stomachache-type pain, but rather something like the memory of great pain. (You see, gentle reader, when Ken was young his mother would wake him up in the middle of the night and check under the sheets for what was a very normal occurrence to young boys. Finding his erections, she would yell at him mercilessly. She had said many things that Ken no longer remembered, but the point of all her (verbal and sometimes physical) harangues was that he must become master of his desire and not let it rule over him and blindly push him in dangerous, sad direction. She had said that we must not give in to those primal urges, that that would lower us to the level of mere animals, red in tooth and claw. Her lectures and beatings became internalized, to the point that Ken could never maintain eraction for more than a moment before he was overwhelmed with pain. Was this all in his head? It didn't matter.) He breathed deep to regain his composure. He got up, walked a few paces, wiped the sweat from his face and eventually settled back on the couch. This time he would be careful not to think of that. As the years passed, he had, of course, developed strategies for actually managing to sleep. He would make sure his dreams never dwelled on any one idea for too long, becuase that idea would inevitably link up with her. She was behind everything at the moment. He hoped it would pass."

"He set himself down to sleep again..."

To be continued?

Consider: " is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them. "

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

A healthy view of history

Words cannot express the curious mix of emotions I feel at this. I guess it's murder-nostaligia, a yearning for the old days of bread lines, summary executions, blaring patriotic anthems, statues, summary executions, shuffling peasantry, summary executions, and so on. As I said, words cannot express.

There is only one thing to do in a situation such as this: sleep, or rot one's brain until it's calm.

Consider: "...but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

Monday, May 02, 2005


(Warning: random musing below.)

I don't get lost like I used to get lost. A new place activates the "exciting and unpredictable" response, rather than he "fear" response. But there other ways to be lost: inside one's head, or inside the electronic extensions of one's head. A few days ago out of sheer boredom, I reorganized my bookmarks, and it has caused me to feel adrift. It's not that I can't find what I'm looking for. I reorganized the system to be more efficient. but what I've lost is a feeling of effortlessness, the feeling of logging on and thinking of a common place out there in the world and being there. I guess it's a matter of time before I learn to associate the new menus and mouse movements with specific constellations of expectations, but its temporary loss has left me a little more listless than usual. It was as if I lost access to some commonly used part of my brain. This is only odd if we think of the self as having some simply defined boundaries, however. Who will say that my favourite webpages are not part of me? Who can claim that this very phrase is not in its way me? Just as the words that we speak are a window for others to look through, so are written things, so are little electronic vibrations on silicon chips somewhere. Thay are not just gateways into self, they are self. Okay, that's enough of that. It's not like it's important.

Next time: something on artificial intelligence, because this mandering paragraph has primed it.

Consider: "Macintosh: we might not get everything right, but at least we knew the century was going to end."