Sunday, February 23, 2014

February Round-Up

The last week of Feb. is here.  Somewhat surprisingly, it snowed basically all day here in Vancouver, though it never got particularly cold.  However, by the evening the snow was sticking rather than melting.  We had thought pretty seriously about going to Seattle, but in the end have pushed it off until next weekend.  While that probably still won't be great weather-wise, I expect the driving conditions will be a bit better.

There has been considerable progress on the immigration front with our updated visas mailed to us.  So it will be legal for me to start at the new job on March 3.  (At least a few folks at my current job wanted me to keep working for them for another few weeks.)  We also were asked to send off for a UK Police Certificate, which we have done, and then were told to schedule the physicals.  Those all took place on Friday, and I think they went ok, though there is a small chance we'll have to bring our daughter back for another go-around.  Fingers deeply crossed that that doesn't happen.  Sadly, I continue my string of having problems giving blood.  It really doesn't take much (in this case a student who started having some problems finding the vein) and I get ready to faint.  This happened the last time around as well, as I described in this post.  So I pretty much will have to have blood taken lying down from now on, and I think my blood donation days are in the past.  It does suck, but I guess it isn't the biggest problem in the world.

I was more annoyed that the weather just hasn't cooperated, so I couldn't test the bike ride to 29th Station using the new path I mapped out.  I am going to hope for the best that I can attempt this Tuesday.  But I always knew that this was going to be more of a March-April activity anyway (and there won't even be that many opportunities to do the bike riding in March, as I will be on the go from the 2nd or 3rd week).

I am finding it frustrating that there are some interesting movies on, but it is just too hard to schedule around my life.  I keep having things come up that force me to scrap my plans to see Her, and now The Great Beauty is playing at the Park for a week or so.  These are things that I would have done B.C. (before children) and probably can start doing again after they are in high school and can more or less fend for themselves.  I mean I do still go to theatre (and went today as a matter of fact), but I tend to think of that as an event that cannot be time-shifted whereas movies can be and thus always drop in my order of priorities.  I may possibly go next week to a free screening of Google and the World Brain (incidentally I am wrapping up a post on Google and art, which makes it particularly serendipitous), but probably I will pass, as I have so much left to do in my last week of work.

My cough has largely (but not entirely) gone away, which was good before having to go into the physical.  I was able to go swimming last week, for the first time all month.  I read Lee Siegel's Love in a Dead Language, and decided it was ok, but not as clever as it thought it was.  It was so indebted to John Barth's work, though I did sort of find the footnotes disagreeing with the main text amusing.  This occurred in Barney's Version as well, though not to such an extent.

Quite a few books turned up at the library when I wasn't expecting them.  I had pretty much written off Wajdi Mouawad's Heavens/Ciels, but it finally arrived.  It's a very, very different play from Scorched.  Maybe that is for the best.  I haven't had a chance to see Forests, but I can see it sort of aiming for the really intense cliff-hangers of Scorched and not quite reaching them.  Heavens has more of 24 vibe, which might be hard to pull off in live theatre (it probably would function better as a movie), but at least it is different.  It looks like I missed Tarragon Theatre (in Toronto) doing Forests a couple of years ago, and I doubt they will remount it (though I guess you never know).  I certainly wasn't around to see them do Scorched or the remount, though I saw a great version at Silk Road in Chicago.  Tarragon is not doing Heavens this year or in its next season (though I may still subscribe -- I saw 4 plays of interest in their 2014-15 season), but if anyone tackles it in Toronto, it likely to be them.  I'll write more about Mouawad later, though I would expect to get around to this in March or April.

I managed to borrow the Museum of Anthropology's catalogue of their Safar exhibit.  This was an ok but not great exhibit.  I was particularly pleased that I won free tickets to the event, and I took my children.  Two weeks ago, I went back to see an exhibit on Mexican art, and this was a considerably better from a strictly artistic perspective.  Oddly enough, they have privately printed the catalogue, so you can't pick it up on Amazon.  As it turns out, the Burnaby Library has ordered a copy, and better still it looks like they will let it circulate, so I put that on hold as well.

This week, there is almost no art on display at the Vancouver Art Gallery.  Just one floor of Emily Carr paintings, though they are some of the best that they own.  They dropped the admission price just a bit and are giving out free posters.  We dropped by after the physical, and the kids enjoyed it more than I thought.  (My daughter hadn't been too enthusiastic about the Carr books on the shelves here.)  Next week, there will be a Lawren Harris exhibit, and that is something I am looking forward to.*

I did manage to catch Michel Tremblay's For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again.  I saw this today at the York Theatre, which is an outpost of the Cultch on Commercial Drive (considerably easier to reach by transit!).  They have done a nice job with the renovation and restoration, though the lobby is definitely too small (a typical problem of theatres) and the bathrooms seem much, much too small. The production was part of the Talking Stick Festival.  I guess the hook was that it was performed in English translation (fortunately for me) but by First Nations actors.  Now there is an indication in the play that Tremblay's mother was from Saskatchewan and part-Cree.  I suppose this is in the script and they didn't just add it to make it more topical, though I'll probably try to check a bit later.  It was a character sketch with Tremblay putting his mother on stage to show how she was simultaneously a loving mother and a gossipy neighbour and generally a bit of a pain-in-the-rear.  I totally understand the impulse, and have occasionally written about my mother here, though she wasn't nearly so dramatic or melodramatic that she would make a good character in a play.

There's still a fair bit to say, but far more work to do tonight, so I think I should wrap up this post now.

* When I did see it, I enjoyed it but was really surprised that the second half of the show documented Harris's move to more of an abstract approach, which is not part of the overall "story" of the Group of Seven and thus is basically not discussed in Canadian art history books.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Future Theatre

I'll just use this page to remind myself of theatre productions that I would like to see, even if some are a bit unlikely and involve too much travel.  I'm mostly looking ahead to productions in Toronto, as well as potential side trips to Chicago.  At the moment, I am not listing anything from the Stratford or Shaw Festivals, though I do intend to start going regularly to those and eventually involving the whole family as the kids get older.  Many but not all productions on this list have been culled from the Dramatists Play Service website.

March-April 2014 Vancouver, BC - UBC - Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi (I'll probably go see this next month.)
April 2014 Berkeley, CA - Shotgun Players - Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia (3 plays in one day!) (I probably will arrange to see this.)
June 2014 Vancouver, BC - Bard on the Beach (This year I intend to see A Midsummer's Nights Dream and The Tempest.  I'm still deciding if my son will join me for one or both performances.)
June-July 2014 Vancouver, BC - Spider Webb Productions - Sharr White The Other Place (I'm not sure about this play.  It got good reviews in New York, but seems to require a particularly strong actress.  In any event, this production may never get off the ground.)
July 2014 Vancouver, BC - Pacific Theatre - Rajiv Joseph - Gruesome Playground Injuries (This supposedly opens July 2.  It might be worth pushing back the move a few days into July in order to catch the previews.  Not sure.  It depends a lot on mover availability (which might be better if it isn't June 30) and what is finally decided about the place we are renting and the place we will be renting.)
Aug-Sept 2014 Toronto - Soulpepper Theatre - Arthur Miller's The Crucible (Not a play that I want to see too many times, but Soulpepper has a pretty good reputation and might shake it up.)
Oct. 2014 Chicago - DePaul - Nilo Cruz Anna in the Tropics (A pretty interesting play, though one I saw at Victory Gardens.  I don't think I would make a special trip to see it, but if I happened to be in Chicago...)
Oct-Nov. 2014 Chicago - St. Sebastian Players - Wendy Wasserstein The Sisters Rosensweig
Nov-Dec. 2014 Chicago - Eclipse Theatre - Lynn Nottage Mud, River, Stone (I like Eclipse's work a lot, but this is the only play from their Nottage season that interests me at all, and I still wouldn't make a special trip to see it, though we might be in Chicago around that time.)
Jan-Feb 2015 Chicago - American Blues Theatre - Steven Dietz Yankee Tavern    (I keep missing this play, and it turns out there was an early production in Milwaukee that I found out about right after it closed.  If only this opened a bit earlier, we could combine it with a visit over the winter holidays.)
Feb-March 2015 Toronto - Company Theatre - Annie Baker The Aliens
Feb-March 2015 Toronto - East Side Players - Andrew Bovell Speaking in Tongues (This might actually be a play that would interest my wife.)
Feb-March 2015 Brooklyn - Brooklyn Academy of Music - O'Neill's The Iceman Cometh (Tickets to this are going to be next to impossible to get (Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy are reprising their roles from the Goodman production).  My connections in Brooklyn are thin, so I don't think this one will happen.  But never say never.  (Tickets go on sale in the fall...)  I'm not that interested in going to see it at Broadway prices, assuming that it does transfer there.)

I guess in a year, I can check back in and see how many I actually attended (6-7 is my guess right now, though counting Coast of Utopia as a single event).

Of course, a fair number of plays are announced late and the truly off-Loop productions are often by brand-new authors that don't have representation through DPS, so there should be several plays that get added to the list in the fall after we are established in Toronto and I start scanning the scene there.  It will be difficult not to get too distracted by what's going on in Chicago, but I expect I will be staying pretty busy at work, and that will certainly help...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Drugs in literature

I had originally titled this post "Drugs in art," but decided that I would have to have spent too much time explaining why I didn't really want to discuss music written/performed/enjoyed under the influence of drugs -- and the same thing with certain movies (Apocalypse Now, The Wall).  While a number of the great Abstract Expressionist painters were raging alcoholics, it is less clear how many of them were addicted to other types of drugs.

Just restricting the topic of drugs to writers should still be more than enough for this blog post.

The original impetus was reading Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil.  I'm not going to mince words -- this ending up being pretty disappointing, a totally disjointed novel that kept introducing and dropping characters.  The plot, such as it is, starts (in the mid 1970s?) with a customer of a modernized opium den who introduces a fairly renowned poet to opium (the poet claims that he is only interested in alcohol).  They have a few of those "deep" conversations that most people stop having after moving out of a college dorm.  I think a novel along these lines would have been ok.*  However, then we spent quite a bit of time going into the back story of the opium den, including the eunuch who prepares the best pipes and how s/he learned her technique from a Chinese man.  Then we spend quite a bit of time following the Chinese man and go back through his backstory all the way to the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  Then things shift to the actual owner of the opium den and his struggles in a relatively low-level drug war.  Finally, we return to the original opium smoker character returning to his old stomping grounds, finding that the crack epidemic of the late 80s has reached India as well and has pushed aside all the "classy" opium dens.  If it hadn't jumped around so much and had settled on a  small number of characters, then I would have liked it a lot more.

What is somewhat interesting is how few modern writers tackle opium addition.  Now opium in its purest form is not generally seen that much in the U.S. or Canada, but opiates more generally are certainly abused.  This group contains morphine, codeine and a bit further removed down the chemical chain, oxycodone (or OxyContin).  Now Jim Carroll in The Basketball Diaries talks about being on a wide variety of uppers and downers, and I'm pretty sure that his list included codeine, but I'll come back to Carroll shortly.

More generally, you need to go back to an earlier era when opium was quite legal (and often sold in liquid form as laudanum) to see it popping up in literature.  Of the major poets of the Romantic Era, Coleridge was by far the biggest laudanum addict, though I assume Byron and Keats dabbled a little.  But no one wrote as extensively about (to say nothing of writing under the influence of) opium as Thomas De Quincey, whose Confessions of an English Opium-Eater caused quite the scandal in 1821 when it first came out.

Now I have had a copy of this book since roughly 1996.  I picked it up in a used bookstore in Detroit (or more likely Ferndale, MI).  The reason I remember the general circumstances is that my mother had failed a drug test for a job she had applied for because of her "addiction" to opiates.  After racking her brains, she decided this must have been because she had a poppy seed muffin most mornings.  Apparently, the drug test was overly sensitive.  The prospective employer refused to let her submit a different test including hair sampling from a more reputable lab.  So this was definitely a low point in her life, and I thought that picking up the book would have just been rubbing it in, but I bought it anyway, trying to be a bit subtle about the transaction. 

So now nearly 20 years later, I finally read it, directly after Narcopolis.  The truth is I think I should have read it back then, when I was more under the sway of English literature (and still thought I would become an English professor).  The first half is kind of boring where De Quincey writes about his early adulthood and explains that this period of living rough in Wales (because he couldn't get his hands on his inheritance) led to troubles with his digestive system, which in turn induced him to turn to opium for purely medical reasons.  Like most addicts, he doth protest too much, though there are some interesting passages here and there.  The second half of the book is actually quite dry where he tries to come up with a typology of the pleasures and pains of opium.  I didn't find this interesting at all nor his attempts to describe some of his opium-influenced dreams.  Apparently, at the time the dreams were considered the most interesting part of book, but they certainly pale in comparison to some of dreams/visions recounted by Jim Carroll, to say nothing of William Burroughs.

Jim Carroll's The Basketball Diaries is perhaps the most interesting story I've ever read of a guy who could have had a successful career (as a basketball star) but threw it away, not just due to drugs, but because his love of the downtown art scene and Beat poets led him to adopt the pose of an outlaw poet.  I can't recall if Carroll talks about being influenced by William Burroughs, but he is clearly in debt to Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  What is a bit different is that these are essentially true memoirs shaped into a fairly conventional morality play.  Carroll does not shrink away from describing the lows of being a drug addict, including just the tedium (mixed with a bit of terror) in trying to score drugs before the withdrawal symptoms kick in.  (Lou Reed's Waiting for My Man is also pretty good on this score.)  One of the more amusing/pathetic scenes in the book is when he (and some other members of his basketball team) takes downers instead of uppers right before a game and they get totally blown out.  It just doesn't strike Carroll as remotely odd that drugs were completely pervasive in his school, but then again, he grew up in New York City (and I had a friend who grew up in NYC 15 years later who had a pretty casual attitude towards drugs).**  No question I could have gotten into drugs had I wanted to, even in my suburban surroundings, but they weren't so in-your-face as Carroll (and my friend) recounts.  Lanford Wilson often did set his plays in this same free-for-all setting, particularly Balm in Gilead and The Hot L Baltimore.  It is fair to say that there is a bit of the same feel of a morality play here as well with drug deals often ending in death

While cocaine was the drug of choice for most of the Brat Pack (Jay McInerney's Bright Lights, Big City, Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York, and Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero), there is a similar pattern of trying to have it all, and really fucking up because the drugs always end up kicking your ass.  (At least that's how I read these late 80s novels.)

In that sense, I think William Burroughs the most radical author who writes extensively about drugs, since he doesn't write stories that (necessarily) end up with the main character brought down by drugs.  People's lives may be difficult and tragic, but it isn't just because of drug use or abuse.  Again, this is just my reading of his work and life.  And for that matter Arthur Conan Doyle definitely seemed to think that Sherlock Holmes' occasional cocaine usage was actually a help to his investigations, but he was writing in a very different time when drugs were hardly as demonized as they are today.

At any rate, I could certainly go on with many other examples, but this covers the main ones on my mind.  I do know about a few science-fiction novels where mood altering drugs have a more positive or at least less demonized role, but that is pretty far afield from where I started.  Furthermore, I have not touched on drugs that were medically prescribed, like the ones to calm a housewife deeply afraid of death in DeLillo's White Noise or the ones to force Alex to behave and drop his droog-like ways in Burgess's A Clockwork Orange.

The biggest gap is surely not saying anything about ganja.  I think there are two inter-related reasons.  First, there are no novels that I can remember where marijuana use leads to tragic death or even the loss of a job (though I assume there must be at least a few in the later category) and when it pops up it is usually 1) played for laughs or 2) not really a big thing, i.e. a character smokes a joint or two but this doesn't define them as a drug-user.  Second, because it is not made into such a big thing by the author, I don't find marijuana usage a particularly memorable part of any novel.  I mean there must have been joints smoked in On the Road and certainly S.R.O., but I would have to go back through to find these references, which I don't really care to do.  I am fairly sure that ganja is played for laughs in John Nichols' The Nirvana Blues, and it definitely plays a small role in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, where each new boarder at 28 Barbary Lane gets a hand-rolled joint from the landlady Anna Madrigal.

Still if you would like to point out any of my egregious omissions, feel free to do so in the comments.

* Actually, S.R.O. by Robert Deane Pharr is more along these lines with a fairly complex character in the form of a white drug user hanging out in Harlem and sort of spouting off quasi-profound statements about life.  Nearly everyone in the run-down S.R.O. is abusing one drug or another, though the narrator is basically an occasional wino and doesn't seem to do any harder drugs.

** One of the most moving (and saddest) poems by Audre Lorde addresses the many children of New York who have fallen prey to drugs: 
"To My Daughter The Junkie On A Train"

Coming home on the subway from a PTA meeting
a long-legged girl with a horse in her brain
slumps down beside me
begging to be ridden asleep
for the price of a midnight train
up and down across the aisle
women avert their eyes
as the other mothers who became useless
curse their children who became junk.

(The entire piece can be found in Lorde's Chosen Poems or Collected Poems.)

Breathing bad

It may be hard to believe, but I have never actually watched Breaking Bad, though I've heard great things about it.  Maybe some day, though I have so many other movies and TV series to work my way through.  I just always drop watching such things lower than reading or even writing in my priority list.  I'm still only 25% of the way through Ikiru, and that's a film I really do want to watch again, particularly before my stint at my current job (which is a government gig) is up.

Nonetheless, I thought I would mark the fact that I have just about gotten over my cough.  The fact that I rode my bike a little today (though not as much as I wanted -- darn you Vancouver rain!) helped break up the stuff in my lungs.  Long showers and cough medicine also played a role, and a bit more rest than usual.

I've generally always had problems with my lungs, which is most likely due to being a premature baby in the early 1970s when medical technology wasn't nearly as advanced.  I couldn't come home right away.  I also caught pneumonia when I turned one or two, which was also pretty dicey.  I've actually had pneumonia diagnosed 3 times, and probably I didn't find out about it once or twice when I actually did have it.

I had terrible asthma as a child, and recall a few times I simply could not catch my breath.  It is terrifying.  Once was at Scout camp where they insisted on locking up my medicine.  (I think/hope that they no longer keep kids' inhalers away from them, but some folks continue to foolishly follow foolish regulations.)

Oddly enough, I took up jogging in high school and that actually seemed to strengthen my lungs a bit to the point where I rarely have trouble breathing -- until I get sick when it all shuts down.  In grad school there would be months I couldn't shake a cough.  But this only happened every few years.  I have gotten better about going to see a doctor if the cough just can't be beat in a few weeks.

I don't jog anymore, but I should be biking fairly regularly again and I also have been swimming a bit more.  This all seems to help. I still tend to take breathing easily for granted once the cough has passed.  I think it is just too worrisome to dwell on it, so I repress the trouble I have had in the past (and may have in the future).  The truth is it probably will be some lung problems that do me in, but hopefully not for many more years.  I'm debating doing a bit more of this (writing what I consider an Autoblography), but for now I'd probably stop short around year 30.  Too much after that that I wouldn't want my kids to read...

To bring this back around to art, I'm sure there are a least a few plays/movies about children struggling with asthma, as it has become such an issue in the African American community.  However, I cannot think of one off hand, and am not really in the mood to Google.*  However, I do remember catching an interesting play by Naomi Wallace called The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East, though in fact she added a fourth episode for Eclipse Theatre's 2011 production in Chicago.  The one that is of most interest was about a female Israeli soldier who had cystic fibrosis (I believe) and had just undergone a complete lung transplant.  An Arab man turns up and tries to convince her that her lungs are actually those of his son (rather than another Israeli, as she was told).  It definitely has some spooky moments as the soldier seems to lose control over her breathing and only can regain her breath when the Arab intervenes.  An interesting fable to be sure.

* Well, I did just do a quick check, and it looks like for white kids with asthma, they are generally mocked in movies.  I just vaguely remember from Malcolm in the Middle, the Black friend in the wheelchair who also had asthma, though there may also have been another friend with an inhaler.

I had thought that August Wilson tackled asthma in one of his plays, but that doesn't appear to be the case.  Spike Lee does touch on growing asthma rates in inner city neighborhoods in Red Hook Summer, though this is a movie that has sort of disappeared under the radar.  I certainly haven't seen it, though maybe I will try to look it up this summer.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review of Zorgamazoo

Robert Paul Weston is a bit of an oddity, at least in terms of classifications.  He was born in England, though was raised in Ontario.  He also received an MFA from UBC, then promptly decamped back for England.  As far as I can tell, he did write much (most?) of Zorgamazoo while at UBC, so I shall count this book for the Canadian Challenge, but not any of his subsequent books (4 so far).

I'd say the book comes across as a fusion of Edward Gorey (a bit forgotten nowadays), particularly in the quasi-gothic ink illustrations throughout the book, and a bit of Lemony Snicket in the plotting.  There might even be a bit of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere in the mix.

The single most notable thing about the book is that it is written entirely in rhymed couplets.  For the most part, the reader just jumps into the story and it is noticeable but not completely distracting.  There are some moments where the rhymes get so outrageous that they recall some from Byron's Don Juan.  But this is part of the fun.  Another aspect that occasionally draws attention to itself is the typography and design.  Occasionally the words get smaller and spiral inwards, or they get twisted around.  A few words are scribbled like graffiti and other words are in an Olde English font.

The story is a fairly basic quest.  Katrina Katrell needs to escape from her truly terrible governess, and she is saved by the bumbling Zorgle, Morty.  (Zorgles are something like talking bears but with horns on their heads.)  Katrina is a rash adventurer-type, whereas Morty is risk-averse, though he is the one tasked with finding the missing Zorgles of Zorgamazoo.  As much as he wants to decline this quest, he decides he needs to at least try, to make his old man happy (his father was a famous adventurer).  Needless to say, the two form a pair that are greater than the sum of their parts.

The story zips along pretty quickly.  It valorizes having a good imagination and being true to one's friends.  All quite acceptable in children's lit.  It even has a lesson that may be a bit too subtle, in that sometimes one can use a bit of jujitsu on an adversary and convert them so that your interests are aligned.  Other enemies are just bad through and through, and they can be squashed (like the aunts in James and the Giant Peach).  Obviously, knowing the difference is important.  Saying too much more would probably spoil the fun. 

This book is aimed at children from roughly 8-12, but older children might be entertained.  However, it is more likely that teens would just not find the book cool enough for their taste, and they might have to wait until adulthood until they might find is acceptable to read and enjoy it for the cleverness that imbues this book.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Philosophy and literature

What a huge topic!  I am only going to be nibbling on a tiny corner of it, namely authors who were deeply concerned with and influenced by philosophers.  I should also say that I will immediately discount all the Boomer and Gen X authors influenced by Ayn Rand and her Objectivism (if you really want to grant her self-centered and selfish libertarianism the status of a school of thought).  It could be argued that a slightly more interesting batch of novelists were the descendants of Nietzsche or rather are influenced by any number of bad interpretations of Nietzsche (I'm looking at you, Jay McInerney).

I suppose there are good and bad aspects of being overly influenced by philosophy.  An author may want to tap into something larger than just the doings of certain characters that "strut and fret" across the stage.  However, being bound too deeply to ideas that are of one's time can date a work so quickly, particularly if one gets roped in with a philosophy that ends up on the outs.  It's kind of interesting how Thoreau and Emerson and Whitman and perhaps to a lesser extent Emily Dickinson and Nathaniel Hawthorne are all tied together with Transcendentalism.  It's hard to imagine a philosophy that has less sway in contemporary America than Transcendentalism.  Indeed, few people would read these authors to understand what is going on today, though many people do read them (often in a cluster) to understand what was going on in New England in America's youth.  Melville is clearly another writer who went deep, drawing on a number of philosophers.  I am convinced that Melville's Pierre is a direct response to Kierkegaard, but I have never had the time to write down all my thoughts on the subject.  Maybe some day it will at least be the basis of a blog post.

I've hung onto a number of books of philosophy from university, though I don't have an actual plan on how to get through them.  This is clearly a weakness of the TBR pile, and maybe I will open it up to more non-fiction and philosophy in, say, 2015.  I'm heading into that time of life when it is time to reflect more on the meaning of life (what little there is or may be).  I'm probably more likely to read those early philosophers who tended to be better writers (Plato, Bacon, Montaigne, Rousseau) than the group that followed from Hegel and tended to be crap writers (Kant and Heidegger and Wittgenstein). 

For me, two of the more interesting/deep novelists of the late 20th Century are Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo.  Both sort of tackle the issue of meaning in an era late capitalism, though they don't frame it quite that explicitly.  I'm not sure either really namechecks specific philosophers (I certainly can't recall off-hand), but their books often strike me as not dissimilar from Montaigne or Rousseau where deeper meaning is extracted from everyday life.  And of course, death.  DeLillo's White Noise is actually quite profound in showing how people can go a little crazy when they think too much about death, particularly their own.  I do plan on rereading this novel by the end of the year in a critical edition that does frame it against these big questions.

Anyway, let me turn to the original impetus for this post.  I just learned that NYRB is publishing an updated translation of Montaigne's Essays, with the John Florio translation at its base.  This (the Florio translation) would have been the version that Shakespeare read (assuming that he wasn't actually a super-literate nobleman who read it in French).  As I discussed a bit when talking about going back to find which version of the Bible that Shakespeare used, it can be really interesting to see what the Great Authors of the past had access to, especially in cases where the translations were a bit flawed.  As it happens, I have a fairly complete version of Montaigne's Essays (of which I've only read a few).  This version seems a bit more complete (about 75 pages longer) and has a bit of a hook in that Stephen Greenblatt goes into some detail on how and where Shakespeare borrowed from and/or argued against Montaigne.  It definitely sounds like something up my alley.  So that's really all I have for today, and I apologize for not going a bit deeper.  Maybe another time...

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Fed up with early Feb.

You know when you're just having one of those days...

This is the fourth or even fifth day of a really painful, persistent cough and I am about to lose it.

Stuff that would bother me a little is setting me off like crazy.

And it is everything today:
  • The annoying guy from work manages to load more work onto me, even when I am working from home
  • The insufferable bores from the one bulletin board I still belong to are so sure they are right, even dismissing people's personal experience
  • Clicking on one too many shoddy click-bait articles over at Slate
  • But mostly I'm just sick of being sick.

Now I have just enough perspective to not fire off an email I will later regret, or to flounce off the bulletin board, or who knows what else.  But it is hard keeping calm, in these stressful times, even when healthy.

I have found I am getting less and less out of the bulletin board scene, so I think I will temporarily block it from my browser, as well as Slate.  If I change my mind, I can always come back.  I did so once before, which was a lot more mature than giving up my account there.  I also have a lot of users there on ignore (and I think the place would function a lot better if more posters ignored those posters of a trollish persuasion).  When I do rejoin, I am definitely going to ignore one more user who is this weird control-freak, hall monitor type always going on about whether a CD release is legit in the E.U. under PD laws or not and then scolding Americans who happen to get their hands on an import.  I've totally had it with him.

I've heard that Firefox or Chrome have some feature where you can actually block people in comment threads, which sounds like something right up my alley, though to be honest, avoiding comment threads in the first place is an even better strategy.  I basically only read them on Slate, and, as I said, I've decided to take a break from Slate for a while as well.*

I am relieved that I was looking at the wrong calendar page, and I don't have a concert to go to tonight.  In retrospect, I think going out Sat. was probably a mistake, and I might well have been better today, even had I pushed off going until Monday.  But I don't have 20/20 foresight, and it was worth it to me at the time.

I will give maybe 50% at work today (and report the rest as sick time), and try to actually get a bit rested.  I have one concert to see next week, and I should have recovered by then.  I was sort of tempted to see Measure for Measure this Sat. (sadly no Sunday matinees), but I am not buying a ticket until I know for sure I have beaten this cough.  It's closing night, so it might sell out before I am certain, but then it just wasn't meant to be. 

* Oddly enough it is more straight-forward to block specific sites in the standard release of IE than in Firefox.  However, it looks like LeechBlock is close enough to what I want.  I'll give it a trial.

Children's museums, Canada-specific

My daughter asked kind of out of the blue whether Toronto had a children's museum.  Vancouver doesn't have one, though its Science World skewed very young in my opinion and basically is the de facto children's museum.  Seattle has one near the Space Needle, though I honestly don't know how good it is.  I said we might make it there on our visit in a few weeks, assuming we stay overnight.

Well, it turns out that Toronto had a children's museum but not for very long (basically 1997-2003 -- and primarily at the site of the shuttered observatory next to the ROM).  It has been homeless for quite some time, but now has glommed onto the legacy of Marshall McLuhan and come up with the Children's Own Media Museum.  Part of me kind of wants to throw up in my mouth a bit, since kids already play obsessively with new technology, particularly phones, tablets and even laptops.  I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of money for them to spend a whole afternoon doing more of that.  And part of me thinks it is just a cynical ploy to cash in, and apparently not even that successful of a ploy, given how poorly they did with their last Indiegogo campaign.  Yet they think they will come up with a space in downtown Toronto by early 2014.  It is true that some of the things they had the kids experimenting with, while a mobile lab over the past few years, do look a bit cool and are more on the technology side of things (not purely communications) like a 3-D printer display.  And fair or not, I've heard that the Ontario Science Centre is looking pretty shabby and outdated (and it certainly skews younger than it used to) and is pretty far out from the urban core.  So this might be a much more convenient outing, if it does manage to open in 2014 or so.

Now there are some other, perhaps better, options in the near future, i.e. while the kids would even want to go to a children's museum.  London, ONT has a pretty good one, and we might make that part of a visit to Stratford some day.  More than likely that would be 2015, as if I do go to Stratford it would just be a quick solo trip this summer.  And then if we visit Ottawa/Gatineau, which we most likely will do, there is one on the Quebec side of the river.

Of course, I do intend to take the kids to ROM and we'll probably do a lot of art enrichment at AGO, but it is kind of weird that there is currently no dedicated children's museum in Toronto at the moment.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Sick again, 2014 edition

It's been a rough weekend up here in Vancouver.  My wife and son have had a perpetual cough for close to a week.  I finally succumbed on Friday.  I guess the combination of being around sick people at work, home and on long transit rides was finally too much.  I'm fortunate in that I don't get sick too often, but I'm pretty miserable when I do get sick.  It is a small mercy that the kids can now mostly fend for themselves when the adults get sick, and we don't have them signed up for anything where we have to drive them all over town.

Anyway, one of the VSO concerts I was really looking forward to was on Sat., so I basically napped all day and drugged myself up and grabbed a handful of cough drops.  Since the program was repeated on Monday, I probably would have just rescheduled, but I was to meet a friend from work and his girlfriend.  I had convinced them to go and given them my "buddy" tickets.  We met up for Thai beforehand.  It really was fairly mediocre, so I shan't be going there again.  I was particularly discouraged at how long the noodles were (with no knives provided).

I made it through the opening piece - Brahms' Academic Overture with no major problems.  Then they did Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto.  It was quite brilliantly played, but I have to say it seems particularly cruel to pick a piece like that -- with absolutely no breaks between movements -- for the height of cold/flu season.  I found myself in the final movement just wishing for it to end, so I could cough.  I came so close.  I ended up doing a half-cough, half-sneeze about 2-3 minutes from the end.  Anyway, it was beautiful, though I would have enjoyed it more had I not been so sick.  I have noticed that, even when I am feeling well, I find the Orpheum fairly dry and cough-inducing.  I wonder if they actually have a dehumidifier working up on stage to counteract the impact of Vancouver's climate on the woodwinds. (I usually sit in the first few rows.)

An awful lot of people cleared out at the intermission, but I was actually there primarily to see the Shostakovich symphony at the end (number 9).  Otherwise I would have gone home as well.  I found The Smile of Maud Lewis by Korndorf to be really trite serialism, which didn't fit at all with the rest of the program.  I would have been a lot happier had it ended after about 5 minutes.  I noticed a fair bit of coughing, as some others in the audience seemed to not think it worth the effort to keep it in.  Not everyone disliked the piece, however, and my colleague's girlfriend seemed quite taken with it.  I thought they did a very nice job with the Shostakovich.  I did have one coughing jag in the middle, which was unfortunate, but I think all in all, I made it through without disturbing my fellow concert-goers too much.  It is quite hard to focus on the music when you are also trying to keep it together.  It's happened to me before, but this is the worst time I've had in a couple of years.  There was one free concert in Chicago (also a Shostakovich symphony) where I really couldn't stop coughing, and had I been a bit closer to the aisle, I would have left.  And I would have left irregardless had it been a full-priced concert.  I still feel badly about that.  That was a strange outing, as I can't remember feeling particularly sick, heading into that concert, but maybe I have just suppressed that to alleviate a bit of the guilt.  This time around I knew there would be some issues, but the plans had already been made.  Anyway, not surprisingly, TransLink bus service let me down again pretty badly at the end of the evening, and I ended up waiting for the 49 in the cold for 25 minutes.  In general, going the other direction and catching the Fraser bus is better, but the supposed construction has screwed me over to many times to trust that either.

So I tried to sleep/nap a lot on Sunday to recover.  I guess it must have been a slow news day as the overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman totally dominated the news for what seemed like hours.  It is certainly sad and somewhat unexpected, but I just thought it was too much, and I went back to bed.  I slept through the first half of the Superbowl (as apparently the Denver offense did as well).  I thought Bruno Mars did a pretty good halftime show, though I thought the Red Hot Chili Peppers should have been allowed to play at least 2 songs!  I read a bit more and tried, for the most part, to take it easy.

I'm actually not feeling too bad at the moment, though the cough hasn't vanished.  If I can get VPN to work, I will probably work from home, but it was really being quite quirky and the system upgrade they did last week has not helped, so I may end up schlepping myself out to New West after all.


I'm not quite sure why I starting thinking of scams, though I suppose they are tangentially related to double-dealing and dishonesty more generally.

There are a few classic literary "scams" where the narrator is scamming the reader.  Of all the unreliable or semi-dishonest narrators, I think my favorite is the one from Ford Maddox Ford's The Good Soldier.  That is such a good novel.  I will definitely have to read that again one day.  Personally I wasn't nearly as taken by the dishonest narrator of Martin Amis' Success, though it was somewhat curious to have to (mentally) go back through half the chapters and take them in a totally different light.  I think where I had some problem with this convention (of the unreliable narrator) is that this was all interior monologue, and one would have to be so unbelievable deluded to lie to oneself to that extent about one's job and social life.  I mean really, why would anyone go to that much trouble?

Certainly some novels go into great detail about scams (where the reader is in on the caper).  I think the most extensive is probably Les Liaisons dangereuses.  On the whole, my feeling is that scams and capers work just a bit better on the screen (The Sting, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Trading Places) where the fast pace of cinema (compared to reading a novel) can overcome the inevitable plot holes.  

Still, it can be interesting reading about small cons in novels (when they don't overwhelm the main narrative).  I think I did like Molly Keane's Conversation Piece a bit more because the father was just a bit of a scoundrel who managed to keep putting one over on his relatives. I'm sure I can come up with a few other examples, but I'm blanking at the moment.

I've only been scammed a few times, but every one still rankles, since there is such an abuse of trust involved.  I guess one may not even count as a scam, but I am still out $20 with no prospects of getting it back.  I was at a gallery in the Downtown East Side and they were publishing a small book of transit photos.  Well, I kept coming back to pick up the book, and it was just never ready.  And of they never called as promised.  The last time I went by, the gallery had closed with a sign directing people to some on-line site.  I will try one last time to go through the particulars to either get my cash back or the printed book, but I am not holding my breath.

The other is more genuinely upsetting.  It was late at night in Chicago, and a Black woman came by and pounded on my door.  She claimed to be from the floor below and that she needed taxi fare to get to her job or something.  She had some elaborate set of explanations, including a phone number I could call.  I kept pushing her away and she finally said something like you don't believe me do you.  Playing up the Black-white thing and so forth.  It is very hard to look someone in the eye and say you think they are lying to you.  Particularly inside an apartment complex when you are supposedly neighbors.  It isn't nearly so hard in the open square.  Anyway, at the end of the encounter, I was only out $20, but it still is upsetting that people will willingly erode trust in others for such a short term gain.  It is what is so odious and noxious about common criminals.  They are willing to smash other people sense of security for what is generally a small gain.  I do loath such people.  I generally don't think they can be rehabilitated, so in this arena, I tend to favor the harsher sentences found in the States rather than the quite light sentences for property crimes that are found in Canada and the U.K.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Landing point

I really don't know when this happened, but across all my browsers, it is now counting my visits as page views.  I think the problem is the intersection of how cookies are stored and some change that Blogger has made, since this all worked perfectly fine a few months ago. 

This is particularly annoying as I often do go back and make edits, especially in the first couple of days after I put up a new post.  I guess I will continue to do so, but as a bit of a sop to getting accurate counts, I will always come to this post first and subtract views of this page automatically.  If I really cared that much, I could go with Google Stats, but it is all pretty irrelevant, as I am not attempting to monetize this blog.

So I guess of the 13K+ views, maybe 12K are not my views and I should discount the future views by 10-15%.  I have noticed that a very large number of the "real" views are only places like vampirestats that don't represent actual readers.  But I'll try not to let that discourage me too much.  I have 4 or 5 posts that I want to get to in Feb. and then I'll largely be caught up.