Sunday, May 31, 2015

Photography in Toronto

I do feel like I let a couple of things slip away from me, mostly due to being pretty busy in May.  However, it is just as true that one cannot follow everything, particularly in a city like Toronto.  I do a pretty good job of following the theatre scene and the orchestral classical concerts, as well as whatever is on at the AGO.  It turns out that there is a really active chamber music scene in Toronto, which I only occasionally tap into, and I have not explored private art galleries at all (this is something I did sporadically in Chicago).  In part, I find neither the Star nor Now does a particularly good job of covering art galleries, though the Star is just a bit better.  Nonetheless, they usually put out a small blurb on a show right around the time it is closing.

Well, I wasn't much better, giving people only a day or two notice on the photography show at MOCCA, which closed today.  It was actually two shows -- a series of classic black and white photos from masters such as Paul Strand and Man Ray on loan from the National Gallery and contemporary digital photographs.  I definitely preferred the older photos, though there were a few interesting textures in the newer pieces.  MOCCA also has some site-specific photos by Korean artist Jihyun Jung where he paints a room red in a building that is slated to be torn down.  MOCCA seems intent on leaving these photos in place until the building they are in is torn down.

I had a chance to talk a bit with one of the key curators and they do have a new location for MOCCA, but it isn't going to be revealed for a while.  They do have one more blow-out exhibit by Dean Baldwin that will take place over the summer.  I'll have to make sure I make it out there in time.  I didn't get to MOCCA enough to feel nostalgic about its relocation, but I will say that I thought all the exhibits I saw over this past year made me think at least a little bit, with my favourite being the Douglas Coupland exhibit (or rather half of it).

Anyway, it turns out that Scotiabank is sponsoring all this photography around town.  They had this thick catalog that was free and had quite a number of photos from MOCCA and other major exhibitions.  I saw that the Ryerson Image Centre had three related shows, though the two that I want to see are continuing through June 28, so I'll catch them later in June.  It just wasn't worth trying to make the trip over there for one show that only looked marginally interesting to me.

In general, the main photography exhibits did close today (or even yesterday).  Had I gone through the catalog before getting on the streetcar, I might have gone a couple blocks further west to the Gladstone Hotel.  I didn't do that, but I did go to the Bau-Xi Gallery and obviously Bau-Xi Photo Gallery.  Even though these galleries are just across from the AGO (and open on Sundays!), I hadn't wandered in previously.  I probably will do so on a more frequent basis.  Anyway, the main reason I went was to see Chris Shepherd's Underground exhibit, which are photos of the Toronto and Montreal subways.  Shepherd keeps up a blog, which he updates with moderate frequency.  It turns out that this is actually his third exhibit on the general theme of underground stations at Bau-Xi Gallery (all of them can be accessed here).  While the original prints are a bit out of my price range, it turns out he is going to be heading off to London to do more photos of the Underground there.  If these eventually all end up in a monograph, I might pick it up.  Not sure that I have a favourite, but I did find it a bit amusing that he has immortalized the Pape subway station.

They told me I could go downstairs, and I was really a bit astonished to learn that the gallery also represents Michael Wolf, with whom I am familiar through his Transparent City series based in Chicago (which I actually saw in Chicago in a different gallery) and his work in Hong Kong.  His latest project is photographing the rooftops of Paris, which are neat though a bit repetitive.  Not sure I would pick up a monograph on that or not.  However, I really like this print (though it is even more out of my price range).  Well, maybe if I hit the lottery some day.

Let me close by going over the photography exhibits that seem of interest and that are continuing over into June.  As I already mentioned, Ryerson's shows run through June 28.  I believe the Lorenzo Vitturi exhibit at Contact Gallery runs through June 27.  There is an exhibit on Yto Barrada that is split between Prefix Institute and A Space Gallery (both at 401 Richmond W) that run through mid July.  There is an exhibit on Chih-Chien Wang at the Art Gallery of Mississauga through June 21 (the one I am most likely not to be able to make, though one never knows).  Finally, not open yet, but opening in July at AGO is an exhibit called Camera Atomica, which is all about the nuclear age.  That looks pretty interesting, and I'll be sure to check it out.  So while I did miss a few worthy exhibits, there is still quite a bit to check out in the next few weeks.

End of May updates

Sneaking one last post in under the wire for May (I could write more Sunday evening, but think I'll be too busy).

Generally the move to the new place is going well, but I'm having real trouble getting a contractor to come out and take a look at some minor things that need fixing.  I think I'll end up with someone more responsive.  And I may need an electrician, and that may be a completely different company.  I'm also very unhappy that the Behr paint is sometimes peeling right off the wall when I painted too much on the tape.  I don't think I'll get Behr again in the future.  So I do have a bit of further cleaning up to do, mostly in my daughter's room (so I had to make a couple of trips to Home Depot for various supplies).

But otherwise things are on track.  Most of the basement is packed up.  I should get the last CD rack emptied out and the CDs boxed up tonight.  I had hoped I could downsize to 1 filing cabinet, but I still have about 6 drawers of random papers, which is more like 1.5 cabinets.  Still, I may just keep one and give one away and leave the rest in banker boxes to force me to really sort through this stuff and scan what I need and recycle the rest.  (At one point in my life I had 3 file cabinets that were almost totally full!)  While it may just be pushing it too much, I am getting nervous about having so much stuff over at the new place while we are not there, so I think I'll move up moving day to June 21.  Also, I think we'll have slightly less competition to get movers on that day compared to the 26th or 27th.

Now in order to make this work, I have to basically empty out the boxes in the living room and get this stuff on the shelves in the back office, even though it hasn't been braced (in the basement).  I'll just have to start with the lighter stuff tomorrow.  That will also allow me to bring back a bunch of empty boxes for the art books upstairs.  I also have to move a lot of stuff into the basement just to ensure there is room to move the furniture in.  Still, I don't have all the much going on in June (event-wise at least), so I think it will be ok.  We'll have about a month to get settled in the new place before the wife and kids decamp to Chicago for a while.

I've seen quite a bit of theatre and some great concerts lately.  Friday I saw Yo Yo Ma play Elgar's Cello Concerto, and then the TSO did Holst's The Planets.  I thought it was good, but my problem with The Planets is that sections 5 through 7 are way more restrained and eerie than the earlier movements, and I really was struggling to stay awake.  I probably heard most of it.  I've seen Ma more frequently doing his Silk Road concerts, so it was nice to see him doing one of the masterworks of the cello repertoire.

The weekend before that, I took my son to the concert where TorQ and the Toy Piano Composers were collaborating.  He was definitely the youngest there, and it was definitely not a children's concert (though they have done one of these in the past).  I truly thought they would be playing a toy piano at some point (like this) and was a bit disappointed that the name is just a gimmick.  Anyway, they premiered 6 new compositions, of which my son and I liked 3 or 3.5.  We both agreed that our favourite was "Runaway" by Daniel Morphy, who is actually a TorQ member as well.  They are slowly putting up videos from their various shows, and if this piece gets posted, I will link to it.  I know both groups have some exciting things coming up next season, so I'll make sure to add those to my longer-term cultural activities page.

That same weekend, I made a last minute decision to see a concert at Koerner Hall where the first half was Don Byron with the Gryphon Trio, which was quite nice, and the second was the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM), which I thought was very boring and not well done at all.  I doubt whether I will ever go see ECM again.  I was glad to overhear in the Tim Horton's (a pit stop before heading home) that some of the other young music students had a similar reaction.

I'm going to hold off posting about the trip to the Emily Carr exhibit with the kids for a separate post, but it's certainly worth checking out if one is already at the AGO.

I saw some incredible theatre in May, with the Video Cabaret shows focused on Trudeau being the highlights, but I also liked the Bollywood-infused As You Like It and the two George F. Walker plays focused on urban education (and its pitfalls).  I wasn't crazy about Robert LePage's Needles and Opium, as it was almost all spectacle and not a very compelling story.  Though as pure spectacle, it was pretty good.  I didn't realize that one of the more interesting scenes was directly inspired by an actual photo shoot of Jean Cocteau as Hindu god or something.  Not sure whether that makes me more or less impressed with LePage's vision.  The staging was well-done, though there were only two pairs of arms, not three.

I'm still sort of mulling over the Macbeth that I just saw this evening.  The beginning felt a little rushed and some of the initial steps seemed missing for Macbeth to be quite so susceptible to his wife's bloody plot.  But it settled in pretty well after that.  I guess I would have been a bit more drawn into the play had they done a bit less doubling of parts and had even one or two actors over 25 to play the older roles like King Duncan and Northumberland.  It did feel a bit like a theatre school production where the overarching concept plays a bit too prominent a role.  But it was still entertaining.  Now if the theatre just hadn't been so sweltering!  I can't even imagine how hot it must have been for the cast to do all that jumping around and sword fighting.

On the reading side, it has sort of been the reverse where I just haven't liked too much that I have read recently (not even the book I am reading now -- The Burn) with the exception of Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai.  I have to be honest that I am running out of steam.  If I decide I really need to wrote more about these books, I'll circle back around later.  Ciao.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Toronto events on short notice

I am gathering up quite a few longer term events for a post in the very near future, but I thought I had better share two things that come to an end this weekend, so get in while you can, if you can.  I've generally been doing a good job of getting to the strong Toronto offerings and seeing most of what is worth seeing (though I decided against Liver at Storefront just a while back and am generally not second-guessing that decision too much).  As I mentioned just a while back, there is a lot of Shakespeare on view this summer (and I just learned that Driftwood is coming through town with their bus tour of Hamlet--and this time around they are going to be at Withrow Park, so I think I probably will go to that, since it is literally just down the street from our new place, even though I am seeing Hamlet at Stratford).

Anyway, I haven't heard much about the Othello, but I am going to Macbeth, and it just got a rave review here, so the streak continues.*  Even better, they somehow have compressed the text, so the whole thing is 90 minutes.  That could be quite interesting.  It is playing on the Alumnae Theatre stage, and I believe there are only three shows left -- matinees Sat. and Sunday and an evening show on Sat., which is the one I am attending.  So act now (or wait 'til next season when another company does their take on the Scottish play).

I was also looking into art galleries.  I've been doing well getting out to AGO, and have my eye on some free dates at ROM, but I kind of let MOCCA fall off my radar.  Well, there are a couple of  interesting photography shows that close this weekend.  It will be tricky for me to make it, but perhaps I can swing by Sunday afternoon.  (I guess it depends if I am as productive moving and doing stuff at the new house as I expect to be tomorrow.  Then I can tell myself I deserve a "break," especially if it ends up with me putting in an hour or two at work, which is what usually happens when I head downtown on the weekend.)

So sorry for the short notice, and I'll try to get to this post up listing things that I think are worthy, so there is a bit more advance warning.

* There have been a few so-so plays, but mostly I've been at good to very good productions.  I can think of only two plays that I outright hated -- Tartuffe and All Our Happy Days Are Stupid.  While Toronto still lags Chicago just a bit, it is miles ahead of so many other places in terms of theatrical offerings.  I truly could go to one or two different productions each week.  It's quite amazing, and perhaps I'll even get somewhat integrated into the community and have some of my work produced, though I need to get serious about these rewrites...

Thursday, May 28, 2015

More Canadian History

While there are several other things I ought to post on, I think I'll just report back on Trudeau and Levesque, which I saw last night at Soulpepper.  This is the continuation of Trudeau and the FLQ, which I reported on here.  It really was quite incredible, though perhaps not quite as dramatic as the first one.  You certainly got the impression that Trudeau was tired of the never-ending drama with Quebec separatists* and growing disillusioned over the perceived fickleness of the public, troublesome reporters, politics in general and perhaps most of all with his marriage.  He is more short-tempered in general, though still able to rise to the occasion of being charming when necessary.

Given some of the clever callbacks (the Quebec cop with a nervous tick that sort of mirrored that of Paul, a leader of the FLQ, as well as Trudeau back in his canoe (with Chrétien this time) about to shoot the rapids), it really does make sense to see the plays in order.  It also helped that I had just read a short piece on the Rolling Stones coming to Toronto secretly to record a live album at El Mocambo.**  Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and if anything Hollingsworth played down some of the more salacious details of Margaret Trudeau's trial separation from Pierre.  (The portrayal of the Stones' gig is a highlight of the evening.)

There is no question that one should avoid this play-cycle if one is a Trudeau-hater or someone with a deep affinity for the conservatives.  Joe Clark, in particular, comes across as a ridiculous buffoon, perhaps the worst of any politician that Hollingsworth chronicled, though as I noted, I haven't seen his Mulroney play.  Ideally, Video Cabaret will do that one and The Cold War next season, though the Cold War sounds a bit flimsier plot-wise than these other ones.  One does have to have a serious interest in history and find constitutional negotiations at least somewhat intriguing, at least the backdoor aspects of it all.  So perhaps these are plays that work best for the people that actually liked all the discussion of trade wars in the Star Wars prequels.

Personally, I am sorry that I missed out on living in Canada under Trudeau.  His concerns for Canada as a whole and his intellectualism really strike a chord in me.  That symbolizes what made Canada a particularly enlightened country during the 70s and early 80s.  While the Chrétien years don't really measure up in the same way (and Chrétien was not an intellectual at all), at heart Chrétien shared most of Trudeau's convictions.  At the same time, these plays do show Trudeau's steely resolve and reliance on a somewhat out-of-control RCMP.  He may have been better than the alternatives, but he was still a politician.  I occasionally see flashes of the father in Justin, though I truly fear he and Mulcair will split the anti-Harper vote yet again.  Hopefully, I am wrong.

Misgivings about the future of Canada aside, I learned a great deal about the recent past by seeing these two Trudeau-centered pieces (and was inspired to order a two volume biography of Trudeau).  I do think these two plays together are most likely the highlight of Hollingsworth's history cycle, and I would urge Torontonians to check them out.  I think there are roughly three weeks left to go.  I know that they are recording these pieces, and perhaps some day Video Cabaret will actually put the shows for sale on DVD.  Seeing them live is always going to be better, but I would definitely take the opportunity to get these performances on DVD, as they were so strong.
* The PQ leadership is really raked over the coals here, though Parizeau's instincts seem sound when he says that the sovereignty question isn't a question but a novel (no idea if he said this in reality).  Still, the PQ come across better than Joe Clark.  Given that Parizeau has just passed away (6/1/2015), it is worth mentioning that Hollingsworth did sort of blur history perhaps a bit unfairly in putting the infamous "money and the ethnic vote" in Parizeau's mouth at the end of the 1980 campaign and not the 1995 one, though Hollingsworth may simply be indicating that Parizeau's views didn't shift too much on who was to blame when the No side prevailed.
** Actually there are good pieces in the Star here and the National Post here (one of the only pieces I have found worth reading in this paper).  The El Mocambo was thisclose to closing down when an entrepreneur swooped in to save it.  I have walked past it several times, but never gone in.  I haven't decided whether I will try to see a show there or not after they are done with the remodeling.  I think it's heyday was long over even in the early 90s whereas Lee's Palace was basically still going strong in the 90s and only now is feeling long in the tooth. However, if the right band comes through, I'll try to make it over to El Mo. 

Despite Canada clearly being on the wrong track at the national level, it is important to remind myself that it is actually far more federal than the United States, with the provinces having far more control over one's day-to-day life than the states do relative to D.C. in the U.S. 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Reaching one's limits

In general, I've noticed a real slowdown in my body, specifically about how quickly I recover when I do too much and am not sleeping enough.  I used to have what seemed like unlimited energy, though of course I do know that one of the consequences was a particularly dark and pessimistic outlook on life.  Still, I managed to keep up with school and/or work, as well as late night binge-reading or emailing (something I was extremely caught up in during the late 90s and early 2000s).  I very rarely got caught out as being unprepared.  Maybe I would have learned my lesson better had I been caught once or twice...

I can occasionally still summon up that kind of energy, but pay for it the next day.  There are so many times this year that have I come home, help get the kids in bed, and then sit on the couch, planning on reading and waking up 3 or 4 hours later.  I guess I am learning to conserve energy to some extent, trying to be more efficient and simply giving up on things (like running over to the library) that really can wait.  Still, the new house can't wait as much, so I do find myself in a sustained state of exhaustion.  However, my daughter's room looks quite nice, with only a few spots I'll have to try to lift some paint (including one spot on the floor) and one area around the window where the tape lifted off the new paint.  It isn't quite a professional-looking job, but it isn't bad.  The downstairs study area looks even better, though it is very, very blue.

Anyway, I got all the books off the 4 main bookcases (and into boxes),* though I gave up with the overflow bookcase and just stacked them in piles near the computer.  That can wait now.  I had a co-worker come meet me at the U-Haul rental centre, and we got a 10 foot truck and drove it back.  It took a while, but we got the 4 main bookcases into the U-Haul and then the bookcase in my son's room (that one seems to have suffered the most in the move).  We got them into place in the new house, though it looks like I have to shorten up the curtain rod, as it sticks into the area for the top shelf of books.  I can't start putting books away just yet, since I need to see if the downstairs area needs a bit more shoring up.  Second, I want a sense of just how damp the room will get, since it may make me rearrange books and not put my favorites right near the door.  Finally, I need to have them shimmed up a bit and anchored to the wall (and this goes especially for the bookcase in my son's room).  But maybe by next week.  In the meantime, there are several loads of boxes that can be moved over and a few more things to pack up here in the basement.  Nonetheless, the worst is clearly over.  As my wife says, at this point, movers could take care of the rest -- it's just a matter of how much we would be paying them. Still, I like to deal with the books myself, and I've done a pretty good job to date, maybe even gotten a week ahead of schedule.

However, after wrestling the bookcases into the new house, my co-worker and I agreed it was just too stressful dealing with the U-Haul -- and the fact that I would have to parallel park it -- and the fact it was getting late, so I dropped him off at the subway and returned the truck without making a second trip.  Five years ago, and certainly 10, I would have pushed through with another load today.  In fact, I would have moved all the bookcases without any help (I was able to load one onto the truck by myself), but those days are gone.  I guess I shouldn't lament too much, though growing old is no fun.  At any rate, I'll almost certainly take 2 loads over tomorrow, so there is no point in going completely over the top in any one day.  I think I should see if I can get any rest tonight, as I'll need it tomorrow.

* It does seem so weird to not even have the bookcases downstairs.  All of a sudden there is this huge blank wall.  It is a bit disconcerting to know that it may be weeks before I have the books back in place (delays with the contractor and just needing time to sort and unpack the boxes at the new place).  I did pull a short stack of books that I want to read in the meantime (mostly on days that I am not biking to work), but I am sure there will come a point where I want to grab a book and realize it is not available.  I'll just have to push (but stay within my somewhat reduced limits) to minimize the time until things are back to normal. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Trudeau and the rewriting of history

Two years back I saw a very amusing show at the Vancouver Fringe.  It was just titled Pump Trolley Comedy presents The History of Canada.  And over the course of 60-70 minutes they distilled all kinds of amusing facts about Canada and its political leaders.  While played for laughs, I did learn a fair bit.  Anyway, they covered a great deal of history, and I think they even snuck in a contemporary reference to the Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield.  Though as you might imagine, they have to compress things to the point where entire decades might only get a 2-minute sketch or vignette.

Michael Hollingsworth's epic 21-part play cycle The History of the Village of the Small Huts takes a very different approach, with each play usually covering 5-8 years, though it is certainly similar in that he has reframed and perhaps even rewritten history to highlight certain events and to elevate particular politicians and their political philosophies.  To date, he stopped with Brian Mulroney and the impact of the tag team of Thatcher and Reagan on Canada.  While it might be too depressing, I would be interested to see if he eventually writes new plays to cover Chrétien and then Harper.  There is no question the period of time in Canadian history I am most interested in is the Trudeau era, so I am definitely in luck that Video Cabaret is doing both plays that cover his rise to Prime Minister (Trudeau and the FLQ) and then his attempts to defuse Quebec separatism (Trudeau and Levesque).  I definitely made the right call in watching them in chronological order (I see the second play next week).  Again, I'd say I learned a fair bit, even if some of the so-called history was a bit fictionalized or dramatized (naturally).*  If Video Cabaret does put on the Mulroney play next season, I'll definitely go.

There is no question that Hollingsworth was a big fan of Trudeau, putting him in a favorable light at almost all times, even making him seem a bit tormented by having to more or less declare martial law in Montreal to deal with the separatists (What would Caesar do, he asks himself).  I do wonder if in this version, they cut a line on reforming the Senate while Trudeau is canoeing and pondering the intricacies of Constitutional reform.  It might have been seen as too topical.  While you can imagine Hollingsworth drawing a caricature of Harper as everything that Trudeau hated, Trudeau did find himself willing to suspend civil rights when the chips were down (and it seems to only take a couple of people killed then as now to cause politicians to lose their heads).  While I was extremely disappointed with Justin Trudeau supporting Bill C-51 (despite saying he would amend it if he came into power later -- and even letting the Liberal Senators try to amend it or vote it down in a futile attempt to slow the bill), this stance isn't all that far from his father's, at least according to what Hollingsworth represents as having gone down in the late 60s.  I think the truth is that governments are simply unwilling to concede anything in the name of security, for the simple reason that so many voters care far more about security than civil rights, which is a sad state of affairs.

At any rate, the actor playing Trudeau is great, and I also thought the revolutionary Maurice was a particularly effective role.  I would highly recommend this play, which has been held over another week.  I will even recommend (sight unseen) the sequel, Trudeau and Levesque.

What I don't care for is the theatre space itself.  It got extremely hot, and the seats were very cramped.  I kept bumping legs with neighbours on both sides.  I'll suffer through this one more time next week, but I know it will be an uncomfortable experience.  I guess every now and then I do some suffering in the name of art, and this will be no exception.

* For that matter, there is almost no discussion of import about events in the west (which obviously would have to change if Hollingsworth did tackle Harper some day) or in the Maritimes after the first batch of plays.  That is a fair criticism raised by this reviewer.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Taking a bit of a breather

Yes, I did push myself too hard over the weekend, particularly on Monday (a holiday up here in Ontario).  I did not ride my bike to work, even though it was quite nice in the morning.  In a way that worked out well, since it got very cold and overcast in the late afternoon.  I kind of struggled through the day, only finding out at the end of the day that I had made a serious mistake in data processing and 3 hours or so of work will have to be redone.  That was kind of the last straw, and I left work early. (I also had to pick up some dry cleaning, but mostly it was just feeling totally out of sorts that made me bail.) 

I'm having some trouble getting in touch with this contractor, and now it looks like the best day is Thurs, but that may not work out for him.  I feel like I am in limbo -- half here and half in the new place.  I think that's why I am pushing so hard to get into the new place.  However, given the things that have to come together (especially if a contractor gets involved), it kind of makes sense to take it slow.  We were leaning towards June 21, but I have to be in Niagara for most of June 20, and it won't be fair to leave everything up to my wife if there are things that just aren't ready.  So now we are looking at June 27.  We have to decide very soon though, as that date may be a popular one.  If we do delay things one more week, I can go off and do another play here and there (or even Sing-for-Your-Supper if they get back on track and hold it in June) and not feel totally guilty about it.

After getting home I kind of crashed, though I did manage to finish up Lerner's 10:04, which I found quite boring.  I really don't find writers writing about writing (in a novel at least) to be compelling (I don't think I've run across a narrator more full of himself and his enormous book advance in years).  Furthermore, the poems that Lerner snuck into the novel were quite terrible.  If they are anything like his actual poetry, then I am not at all interested in reading any more of his work (he's supposedly a poet first and then a novelist).  In my (limited) experience, if you put poetry into a novel, you basically can only do it for laughs.  I then napped until it was time to help get the kids to bed.

I'm probably just going to pack another couple of boxes down here.  I still have to figure out if I am going to try to get a friend or co-worker to help me get the bookcases over to the new place on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning -- or if I will attempt it myself.  I have moved them on my own before, but I could use a bit of help (it's that getting older that just kills you).  Assuming I manage to rent a U-Haul, I'll probably make one more trip with a bunch of boxes, and then will mostly focus on getting the books more or less back on the shelves, in order to clear up space for when the movers come through.  I'll be spending quite a bit of time at the new place, so it's good I've gotten a radio at least.  It does seem as though the bedroom will only need one coat of paint, which is terrific.  It's looking like Thurs. will be the night I try to paint the back room, and that will probably be one coat with one spot that may need a touch up.  So that's going pretty well at least.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Progress report - the move

My son had the idea of coming up with progress bars for the move.

That's probably not such a bad idea.  I'm pretty bushed right now, but later in the week I'll come back around and fix these up, like I did with the progress through Proust bars.

Painting the new house
(The second room is taped up, and if we decide we only need a single coat in my daughter's room, then it is more like 2/3 done)

Downstairs packing
(Roughly 70%, which is way better than when I started tonight (closer to 15%) but it does feel like a missed opportunity.*)

Packing the rest of the rooms

Sorting at the new house
(Though I have put the futon together in case I need to crash over there, which is always a good thing).

The dilemma is that I am clearly not going to benefit as much from renting the car for 4 hours today, but so be it.  I'm going to take a short nap and try to get a few more boxes done.  The bad news is that if I get too exhausted from the packing, I won't be able to actually lift the boxes out of the basement and into the car.  Let alone come back later in the evening and get more of the painting done!  I obviously am just pushing too hard and need to ease up at least a little bit.  I have to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if the movers do end up moving things that I "should" have moved myself.

* I managed to get a lot done today, though I need to head back over and paint.  If I had been a bit more organized, I probably could have squeezed in one more trip back and forth, but I think I did a good job and should not be so hard on myself.  The key thing is that I can definitely clear off the bookcases and then get a truck to get them over to the new place.  Ideally that would be next weekend, but I may want to hold off until this contractor takes a look at the foundation for the back room.  It's an addition to the house and may not be quite as firmed up as the rest of the house, so I definitely need to investigate further.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Against sterile art

I was going to write something else, but I have been thinking about this for a while.  I've just recently started Ben Lerner's 10:04 and also recently finished Tom McCarthy's Satin Island.  Both of these are critical darlings, basically written for an elite crowd that follows the New York Times notable book lists.  And both are written out of a kind of boredom with the traditional novel.  Lerner actually goes so far to say that conventional novels are little more than awkward sitcoms without the strengths that TV has to offer.  I understand that many literary figures do get bored with conventional novels, but most of the moves to replace this with something else fall pretty flat -- either into kind of pointless artistic exercises, or postmodern approaches that draw the reader's attention to the artifice of the novel (as if that hadn't already been done to death*), or novels that sort of fuse fiction and non-fiction in somewhat novel ways (I think David Foster Wallace did this to some degree and certainly Satin Island is marked by this last approach).  But character and plot are usually sidelined in these efforts.  I was actually going to write about how much of a cipher the main character of Satin Island was, but I see I've been beaten to the punch in this Guardian review.  I may still post on cipher-like characters in literature, though it doesn't feel quite so pressing.

I will say, however, that personally I find this move towards the highest, most refined art that leaves behind all this mundane preoccupation with character and plot to be totally misguided and ultimately an artistic dead end.  Personally, I found Satin Island to be sterile and boring, and 10:04 (so far) only slightly better.**  At least, the narrator of 10:04 has a richer internal monologue!  If authors have so much thinly-veiled contempt for readers, why do they even bother to publish anything?  Why not just conceive of a brilliant story and lock it away in one's head (or in a time capsule) and not worry about its reception by the unwashed.  That would be a far nobler stand than putting something out there and then expecting money in return from readers that are clearly beneath you.

Clearly I have no truck with this stance.  I actually find it far more annoying among avant garde musicians, particularly those involved in free jazz.  Though it is often the music fans that are far more unpleasant and strident about how only free jazz musicians are the rightful heirs of postbop.  I basically have completely tuned them out (free jazz musicians and their supporters) and want music that isn't unpleasant to listen to.

Well, I've gone on this tangent before (the second half of this post for instance), but I think these two novels together are the clearest expression of this tendency in modern literature.  I'm having some trouble remembering the most recent contemporary novel that I have enjoyed.  There are a few written by post-colonial authors, though they very rarely indulge in postmodernism or declare the death of the novel the way that white male authors do.  It's not like there aren't many authors out there who write fairly mainstream novels, but I am kind of blanking on them at the moment.  I haven't read Jane Urquhart's latest (The Night Stages), but that strikes me as the kind of novel I am looking for -- an interesting plot, well-rounded characters, and some narrative closure.  I don't really have time for artsy novelists who want to deny their readers these things, which I guess means I do side with the philistines.  Though maybe it just means that instead of truly being high-brow in all my artistic tastes (for instance, I don't like opera at all), I am upper middle-brow.

In any case, that's really all I have to say on the topic at the moment.  I need to crash now, since it will be a very busy day tomorrow.

* The deeper I get into 10:04, the more it reminds me of Gentleman Death by Graeme Gibson, though it's a comparison that doesn't do 10:04 any favours, as I didn't like Gentleman Death either.  I guess my larger point is that this postmodernist shifting of frames and undermining faith in the narrator is old hat.

** Actually, in retrospect I found that, while I didn't like either novel, Satin Island had more insights about modern corporate life that had more staying power than 10:04, which is eminently forgettable.

I guess I should add that I don't hate all experimental theatre, but I don't like plays that keep undermining plot or grounded characters simply to be clever and postmodern.  If there is an actual point involved, then breaking some of the rules is acceptable.  Probably the single most interesting play I saw in Chicago in 2009 was Strauss at Midnight by Theater Oobleck.  It is almost impossible to explain this play, but it was fascinating.  I guess I am ultimately more open to experimental theatre than avant garde literature, though both can be pretty dreary in the wrong hands.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Feeling the burn (moving)

I have a long way to go, but I have been biking roughly twice a week to work and occasionally on weekends.  I've gotten to the point where I can make the trip in just under 25 minutes (even going up the hill on Carlaw) and I might be able to shave that down a bit more as I get a bit more into shape, though 25 minutes is not bad at all and much better than transit on average.  I suspect my commuting by bike will go up to 3 times/week fairly soon, and perhaps hit 4 times/week over the summer.  On the other hand, I have basically stopped the swimming due to all the packing and moving I've been doing.  I guess that's ok.  It's a different kind of exercise certainly.

I still feel extremely fortunate to have found a house in the neighbourhood we wanted -- and not have gotten burned in a bidding war.  It just seemed too easy, given all the horror stories out there.  But now that I am starting to feel the move in the body, it feels less like a dream...

I've basically gotten it so that I can make two trips in 1.5 hours, though that is a bit stressful, so I prefer to rent the car for 2 hours.  Today, I had done the biking and a lot of walking to get my son to a dentist appointment and back, so I drowsed off and then found out I had missed 30 minutes of my car rental appointment!  I still had 90 minutes, but I was moving some large futon pieces.  I guess it must have been the extra adrenalin but I still made it and came back for a second load and got the car back in time.  I have moved close to 35 boxes so far, plus the futon pieces and all the stuff for painting.  Not bad for exactly one week since closing (and only 6 days since actually picking up the keys).

This weekend I will focus primarily on getting the painting done, though I imagine I may drop off another load or two, especially on Monday (which is a holiday even for me).  I think I will be done or all but done with the books (well the downstairs books) and most of the CDs in about two weeks, and can then decide if I want to rent a truck to move the bookcases or not.  After that, I'll evaluate where we are in terms of everything else, and we'll arrange for movers to come in and get the furniture.  I am sure there will be some snags, but I'm feeling better about this than I was last week at any rate.  Still, I can feel the difference in preparing for another move at 45 that I just didn't feel at 35.  It is pretty wearing on the body.  This really has to be the last move before I just downsize completely (and try to go almost completely digital).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Experiencing Omaha

Somewhat to my surprise, I was in Omaha for 2 and a half days a short while back.  I just have to say Omaha was never on my radar as a place I planned to visit.  Nonetheless, I tried to make the most of it.  I found that there is an art museum there: the Joslyn.  Even better, they had a special exhibit running on American Modernism, which featured a number of paintings on loan from the Brooklyn Museum of Art, which is one of the great art museums in America.  So I rearranged my schedule a bit to make sure I had time to make a visit.

One nice aspect of Omaha, not dissimilar to Regina or Saskatoon, is that the airport is a very short ride from the city center.  I think it was a 15 minute trip.  I did find the architecture in Omaha kind of awful -- either completely bland or a concrete brutalism left over from the 70s.  The streets were really wide and not terribly suitable for pedestrians and certainly not cyclists.  On the walk over to the museum, I saw multiple statues of pioneer wagons, cowboys and buffalo (so many buffalo!).  However, these were not treated ironically, and it was all a bit much. 

Despite the wide streets, there was a bit of a traffic jam.  It turned out that the cause of the problem was people coming in for a matinee of Mama Mia!  Overall, my first impressions left me with a sense that Omaha was incredibly square and not a place I would ever feel at home.

The art museum was a welcome change, not least because there was an ironic statue of a pioneer wagon in the sculpture garden.

Admission to the museum was free with a very reasonable surcharge for the special exhibit.  I knew a few of the pieces from the Brooklyn Museum reasonably well, particularly the O'Keeffe and the Stuart Davis, but quite a few seemed new to me and might well not be things that come out of storage all that often.  All the more reason to take a second and third look at the paintings, which I did.  I don't have any pictures of the special exhibit, but here is a Dale Chihuly piece they have hanging near the gift shop.

Even this museum had a bit too much Western art for my taste, but they did have a few nice pieces here and there.

Veronese, Venus at Her Toilette, 1580s

Claude Monet, The Meadow, 1879

Jackson Pollock, Galaxy, 1947

However, there was one major flaw and that is that inside the special exhibit they pointed visitors to a gallery with more American modernism of the 1950s and 60s, such as another Stuart Davis painting.  However, this was closed for re-installation of various paintings throughout the entire last month of the special exhibit.  Unbelievably shoddy planning.  And this is almost certainly the set of galleries that I would have liked the most at the Joslyn, so that was very disappointing indeed.  The likelihood of me going back is very small.

Anyway, this is what I missed out on, among other things.

Stuart Davis, American Painting, 1932-51

George Segal, Times Square at Night, 1970

The Segal is particularly bitter pill to swallow, as the one in Montreal is also in storage and I think even the one in the Albright-Knox was not on view.  I'm having a bit of trouble remembering the last Segal sculpture I've seen in person.  Might it be the bed sculpture in the Art Institute of Chicago?  I see that there is an impressive installation in the National Gallery of Canada, which I may visit this summer, but certainly there is no guarantee it is on view at all.  It is a complete unknown if the AGO will put The Butcher Shop back on display (I vaguely remember seeing it back in the 90s) since they seem to be completely downplaying their (US) modern art collection in favor of fairly bland European art by mostly second-rate artists.  I know I've never seen Segal's Execution which is owned by the Vancouver Art Gallery, but this is supposedly going on display in the fall, so who knows if I will get out there for work.

At any rate, I really am disappointed in their poor planning, and it kind of did spoil the visit.

Another thing that was a huge disappointment, though one that would take more effort to rectify, is how lame it is that they have this park behind the Convention Center along the Missouri River but there is no easy way to access it.  You literally have to walk roughly a mile out of the way to go under the highway (elevated at this point) to connect up with the park.  Truly appalling planning.  Once you are in the park it is fine, and there is even a pedestrian bridge over to Council Bluffs, Iowa, but getting there is a real problem.  It was just one more missed opportunity for Omaha.  That pretty much covers the trip.  I'll be surprised if I make it back, but I suppose never say never.  I never expected to make it out to Salt Lake City either, but I was there in 2005.  You just never know.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Regretting one's career path (in fiction)

I have to say I am not enjoying Maugham's Of Human Bondage.  It is very hard for me understand why it is often considered one of the top 100 books of the 20th Century, aside from the fact that there are lots of people who like watching car crashes -- but only if it is sufficiently high-minded (i.e. they wouldn't be caught dead watching reality TV but they'll read books like Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina or Of Human Bondage).  I really don't like Philip Carey as a character.  He is portrayed as a thoroughly unpleasant young man, who goes out of his way to snub his uncle and generally only hangs out with people he can look down on.  Maugham seems to justify everything because Carey lost both parents as a child and has a physical handicap as well (a clubfoot).  The only section of the book that was bearable (so far) was when he was off in Paris trying to become an artist.  Now he is back in London, doing a fairly poor job of studying to be a doctor.  And he falls hard for a waitress, essentially only because she snubs him, thus instantly becoming forbidden fruit.  I know the heart wants what it wants, and I have to admit that there were times in my youth where I preferred the "unapproachable" women the best.  After all, isn't that the primary reason Dante fell so hard for Beatrice?  He never got close enough to get to know her as a person and see some wrinkles and spots, which would force him (or allow him, depending on one's take) to take her off the pedestal.

So some small credit must be given to Paul for at least speaking to Mildred, the waitress, even though he is acting pretty stupidly in falling for a woman solely because he wants what he can't have.  I think that's still further than Dante ever got, though he certainly put a lot of words into Beatrice's mouth when it came time to write The Divine Comedy.  On a side note, this waitress-customer dynamic is somewhat reminiscent of Gabrielle Roy's The Tin Flute, though that was a case where both the waitress and customer got entangled and played a bit hard to get at different times, though in the end it was the waitress (Florentine) who fell harder for the customer (Jean), which is the reverse of Of Human Bondage

However, as I learned in my 20s, it gets really boring reading about anyone who doesn't have enough self-respect to be treated well.  A mature person doesn't even fall for someone or something just because it is out of reach, and that is a hard standard to live up to.  But most of us can at least manage to have that smidgen of self respect where we would have broken things off after only one or two of the truly terrible scenes that Mildred creates where she tells Paul just how little she thinks of him.  Obviously that would have meant a short book, and Paul is an extremely weak character who keeps crawling back to her.  You really want to shake him and say how hard would it be to find another restaurant and another waitress to ask out.  There are so many other fish in the sea.

It is really hard to fathom how Maugham is going to keep this going for another 300+ pages.  I find it tedious and not at all compelling, and indeed this is exactly why I disliked Vargas Llosa's The Bad Girl. (In fact, I dislike it even more now, seeing how it is close to a carbon copy of Of Human Bondage.)  I am kind of dreading these last 300+ pages actually, and would not finish the book except I am going to be seeing a play at Soulpepper based on the book in a few weeks.  Though if this book ends the way I think it will, I should probably skip it (the play) and try to get my money back.  I do have to wonder if they are basing the play a bit more on the movie, which I have to assume is a bit better balanced (I haven't seen it).  In the book, Maugham gives a disinterested person (like the reader) absolutely no reason to even want Philip to succeed in wooing Mildred -- she's common, fairly stupid, sickly, a liar and basically an all-around unpleasant young woman.  Of course, I don't like Philip either, so maybe they are meant for each other, just to keep the dating pool clear for nicer people.  (In this sense, it is similar to Taylor's A Game of Hide and Seek, where I didn't like either of the romantic leads, though Of Human Bondage is 2.5 times as long!)  In the movie, Mildred is played by Bette Davis, so at least one can imagine why there are some obsessive longings on Philip's part.  However, they seem to have tweaked the plot and have him give up his art career due to her, whereas in the novel it was already over by the time he met her.  That may have been the only truly difficult or even semi-noble thing he did in his life -- agree to give up the career of an artist when it became clear he didn't have what it would take to be a great artist.  He is told this (his lack of skill) by an art teacher who actually admits that he wishes he found out when he was younger that he didn't have the raw talent to become great.

I'm having some trouble thinking of comparable cases in literature where a young person gets career advice and then takes it.  (Or even ditches a career and switches to something else unprompted -- Don DeLillo's Americana sort of falls into this category, but not completely.*)  I think part of the problem is that the first 200+ years of the novel, they are written for (and often by) the leisured, monied classes who didn't have to work.  That changes with the Victorian novel, where Dickens and Trollope write about various professions.  I suppose in the States there was never as much of a leisured class to begin with, and Mark Twain in particular knew just how much money meant.  Still, you have books written by Edith Wharton that barely acknowledge that money (and the obtaining of money) is something to be worried about.  However, this is well-balanced by Theodore Dreiser and Sinclair Lewis and even John O'Hara to an extent.

I can certainly think of cases where an individual is placed in a job they don't like very much.  There are numerous examples of that in American and European literature to say nothing of Russian literature.  There are also examples of people striving to do well or reasonably well at work, even though they have temperaments (artistic or otherwise) that make this a struggle.  I'm thinking of Bazarov in Fathers and Sons for one, but quite a few of the figures in Dos Passos's USA Trilogy are not well-suited for the work they do.

I'm sure I can come up with more after I think about it, though I am blanking on this early career advice angle.  Part of the problem is that professional writers just often know so little about the world of work that it isn't that convincing, and they focus far more on emotional truths and affairs of the heart and not so much on office politics.  This seems even more true of playwrights, with Arthur Miller being an honorable exception and Mamet a partial exception.  Well, if I can think of some other good examples I will list them later, and feel free to add some in the comments.

* I'm struggling to remember the details, but the main character throws away a career as a television executive but to become a film-maker, which is still in the same general category of arts production, even though his economic status is far more vulnerable.  In the same way, in Steven Shirrell's The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break, the minotaur is going to go from working in a diner to being his own boss at a hot dog stand.  Not exactly a radical career change, even though there is some uncertainty (and potentially some personal growth) involved.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Toronto Comic Arts Festival

I guess I just hadn't been paying that much attention, but the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) is in town this weekend.  There is still plenty to do today (Sunday), so check it out if so inspired (some details here).  I actually had seen a few tie-ins like the cover of NOW and a few comic pages in the National Post (which doesn't appear to otherwise run any comics), but I hadn't given it much thought.

However, I was visiting the Pixie Trix Comics* page, and they said that not only would they be staffing a booth, but that TCAF was completely free to enter.  So while Saturday was a busy though productive day, I decided to run down to the Metro Toronto reference library and check it out.  (I had really wanted to go to High Park and check out the cherry blossoms, but the weather really didn't cooperate -- it rained early and scared off my wife and then (while very humid) it didn't rain the rest of the day, so we could have gone after all.  Rats!  On the other hand, I probably wouldn't have had time to get to TCAF if we had also done the High Park trip.  I guess there is always next year (when we won't be packing to move!) to try to go out there to see the cherry blossoms.)

As it happens, my business cards were ready, so I grabbed them on the way to the subway.  I think they came out well, though if I was going to redo them, I'd make my name 2 font sizes bigger to stand out just a bit more.  Still, I will be able to pass these out at SFYS on Monday (I think I'll go even if my piece isn't included), particularly if I run into two of the actors that read my Straying South piece.

I made it over to the Toronto Reference Library and it was a complete zoo.  I don't think I've ever seen it that busy (and I imagine it probably did put some folks there to do actual research into a real tizzy).  Here is the staircase between the two floors that were hosting TCAF.

It was impossible to find anything without one of the venue maps, and even then it wasn't easy (as few booths actually had numbers on them!).  Pixie Trix is at booth 271, which is in the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon on the 2nd floor.

I did get a chance to meet Gisele and Dave in person.  I could even have met Shouri, who flew in quite a distance to be there.  But she was talking with someone else and signing, and I guess I felt shy.  I had no idea that none of them live in Montreal any longer...

While I didn't really need much at the booth, since I got everything through Kickstarter, I did buy some cards and got a cute bookmark as well.  I'm glad I came out, though it was jam packed in the library.

I was pretty good about not spending a ton of money at TCAF, though it would have been easy to do.

On the way out, I took one last look around and happened to see Dakota McFadzean's work at a booth.  It took me a minute to realize that this was the cartoonist who had just started Murray Geister, which I blogged about here. Dakota was actually at the booth, so we chatted just a bit, and then he mentioned he had seen the post, which I thought was a bit odd (as this blog still is a bit under the radar), but he admitted he had been Googling himself and my post popped up.  I gave him one of the new cards, and he thought it was amusing that I called myself an urbanologist.  We talked about that briefly.  It turns out that he actually lives in Toronto and hasn't been in Saskatchewan for ages.  Can't say I blame him. 

I think I even saw one of the folks from the writing group (the one that was telling the other writer just how much competition there is now in the realm of comics).  I'm sort of sorry I didn't have a chance to say hello, but maybe I will end up going another time and getting to know him a bit better.  I think I need to be done or almost done with the move before I can go back.

So that was my excursion for the day.  After I got back, I did rent a ZipCar and got 8 boxes moved over (and met even more of the neighbours).  It was more of a symbolic than a substantive move, but one has to start somewhere.

* Though I am a regular reader, I have been really hesitant to link to any of these web-comics as most of them are borderline inappropriate for work and Menage a 3 is completely NSFW!  Probably the safest of the bunch is Sandra on the Rocks, though even this would be better read at home...

8th Candian Challenge - 18th Review - Traverse

I came across this recent book of poetry completely by accident.  I was exploring the Toronto Poetry Map, which is a web application hosted by the Toronto Public Library.  It is quite neat: the city is laid out with various dots representing how many poems have been written in various locations throughout the city.  Not too surprisingly, most of the poems they have in their database are from Old Toronto, though there are a few spread throughout the city.  There is also an address to nominate other poems with a Toronto connection.  I didn't see too many specific to Riverdale or Leslieville, though there were a few.  Apparently, according to one poem, there had once been streetcar service up Withrow Avenue.  Who knew?

At any rate, several of the dots were linked back to Traverse by George Elliott Clarke, who happens to be Toronto's Poet Laureate.  Since the library naturally had quite a few copies of Traverse, I borrowed one.  Traverse has an interesting back history.  In 2005, Clarke decided to write an autobiography in poetic form as he was turning 45.  He wrote out the whole thing in one day (41 blank verse sonnets).  Quite a few were published here and there, and then he added 9 more sonnets in 2013 and published the whole thing as Traverse.

I have to admit to considerable jealousy, since I was going to do something similar in sestina format as I was turning 40 and here I am, just turned 45, and I think I have only partially written two -- and still don't have any I am ready to share with the wider world.  I can make plenty of excuses, but clearly I could have done it if I had pushed everything else off my plate.  At any rate, I figured if Clarke could write these poems in a day, I could read them in a day, which I did.

I don't really know how to review the poems, aside from noting that for an autobiography it seems awfully shallow.  We find out who Clarke dated and slept with, we find out quite a bit about various jobs he had, particularly when he showed up complacent white folks to get a plum position, and we hear about him moving back and forth across Canada and occasionally to the States.  He also works references to various cultural touchstones into the poems, name-dropping The Band, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and even Hall and Oates. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of interiority to these poems, or times when Clarke is really telling us something interesting about his thoughts or feelings.  Or maybe I am just missing it.  There are moments when he talks about white-on-black violence and a quiet or not-so-quiet Black pride.  But not much of interest (to me) beyond that.  Almost nothing (that I can recall) about what he was doing or thinking as he wrote the poems that made a name for himself and allowed him to become a professor at Duke and now at UToronto.

Of the poems, my favourite by far is Stanza VIII:
Didn't I freeze, perambulating frozen,
     peninsular Halifax,
North End to South End to North,
As intoxicated as Lear, I staggered raggedly,
      taking blows of rain and snow,
or slaps of rain and snow and tears,
      stinging my black face breathless.
Fog and snow and rain and tears....
      Store windows spit neon to bleach me white.

I also like Stanza XXIV, which reminds me just a bit of my own journey across Canada, which is finally finding its way into my work:
I bade us execute what we could prosecute,
      negotiating railway mix-ups,
classroom metaphysics, missed-bus fiascoes,
      my "Long March" hitch-hiking to Vancouver --
      slogging kilometers that were upteen miles long,
snapping pics, thumbing rides, praying, writing,
      hungry, wolfing wild blackberries,
swatting mosquitoes, getting shat on by gulls,
      then kiting from Vancouver straight to her bed in Québec.

If more of the poems had been along these lines, I would have considered it a masterpiece or near masterpiece, but the vast majority just read as Clarke bragging about this thing or that thing that he had done.  I realize this is basically a celebratory autobiography (and one written for a certain kind of performance where modesty doesn't really have a role to play), but I found it quite boring honestly.  While Clarke in person may be a completely different from how he has portrayed himself in Traverse, I would have no interest in meeting anyone so interested in trumpeting all his accomplishments.  I can't honestly say whether my disdain for the content of the later stanzas caused me to sort of disregard them, or I simply didn't find the language as compelling as some of the earlier stanzas.  Nonetheless, for the most part I found myself unmoved by and disengaged from Traverse, with a few exceptions as already noted.

Edit to add: And yet, on reflection, he actually reminds me just a bit of this math teacher that I worked with for a couple of years in Newark.  He generally also talked up his accomplishments, but in person it was a bit easier to take (than if I had read them all in one place, as in Traverse).  He might well have said that the broader culture places so little emphasis on Blacks achieving anything, other than as entertainers and athletes, that it is basically necessary to blow one's own horn.  I can understand this perspective, but it still doesn't mean that I respond well to it, particularly when there is the distancing effect from reading all these accomplishments.  The WASP way is to engage in (false) modesty or the humblebrag, both of which I have practiced from time to time.  It kind of stresses me out that I am in an industry where you have to be at the very top of the food chain before you can afford to feign modesty about your accomplishments.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Calling cards

While calling cards themselves are not a "thing" anymore, I've decided that if I am going to be serious about my writing and promoting my work (which I suppose includes the blog), I need personalized business cards.

I thought very seriously about a super plain card that just read Scrivener.

(Yes, obviously it would have needed an email address or phone number at minimum.)

But so few people would have gotten the reference.  And more to the point, a scrivener was more of a copyist and certainly not a creative writer.  Though much of the technical writing (and seemingly near endless re-editing) I do comes closer to this type of writing.

So in the end, I went with a super busy card that ties together the three latest cities I lived in (left to right) Chicago, Vancouver (or Richmond if one wants to be really technical) and Toronto.

It should look very much like this but may be a bit fuzzier.  Unfortunately, I won't know if the email and blog address will look ok until it is actually printed.  The bigger issue is that it is way off-centred and doesn't look professional.  So what exactly is the point here. (The real lesson is not to try to throw all these things together at the last minute, but I generally don't have the time I would like to make a proper job of things.  I'm always trying to see if I can cheat time a bit, and it often does come back around and bite me.)

So I probably would have gone with this, which does look slightly more professional, but so much of the top gets cut off.  And if I push the text down, then even more of it gets lost in the windows of the Kluczynski Federal Building.  So back to the drawing board, for hopefully the last time.

I guess it might look like this, which isn't too bad (though it's still very busy).

I am now torn because I either have to pay too much for one day service or wait 5-7 business days, which kind of defeats the purpose, since they won't be ready to take to Sing-for-Your-Supper, which is this Monday (even though I still don't know that my piece will be selected!).  What I really do need to do if I go this route -- and I am having some second and third thoughts about it -- is to change the header of the blog to tie into the card.  I started working on that, but ran out of time.  While this week I should not be quite as bogged down with work, I will begin painting and moving things into the new house.  We did manage to close and have the keys and everything.  So turning a new page here in Toronto.  Exciting.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shakespeare in Toronto

Even leaving aside the Stratford season coming up (and I'll be seeing quite a bit of Shakespeare, including Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew and Love's Labour's Lost), there is a lot of Shakespeare to be seen.

I'm just back from the Bollywood-infused version of Much Ado About Nothing at Tarragon.  I did enjoy it, though I agree completely with the Mooney review that they tried just a bit too hard to remind us that the play was set in Brampton and also Benedict was a fairly minor player in the play, relative to many productions.  But I would still recommend it, and it runs through May.

In the washroom, there were posters for upcoming productions around town for Othello and Macbeth.  So assuming one saw Lear last year at Stratford, one could basically get in all the major tragedies in one calendar year (sort of a Shakespeare Grand Slam).  Now I don't actually care for Othello; I think it relies far too much on coincidence and absolutely nobody revealing what they know in time to avert tragedy, so I will pass on that.  I may go see Macbeth, particularly as I wasn't all that impressed with the version from Bard on the Beach two years ago (basically one of the few productions I thought was a bit of a misfire).  It's also playing at the Alumnae Theatre space, which isn't that far from my house, now that it is biking weather.  However, I am still seeing a lot of theatre and need to scale back in order to actually make this move happen (we close on Thurs!).  For those reasons, I decided not to see Liver at the Storefront, despite the rave review in the Star.

What I will be seeing, however, is Julius Caesar and The Comedy of Errors in High Park this summer.  The main question is whether I should take my son to see Comedy of Errors.  As far as I can tell, they do not have any matinees, and it would be fairly late for him.  I guess I will decide closer to the time.

I'm sure there are several others that I have missed, but there is certainly quite a bit on offer for those who can't get enough of the Bard.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Short term (May-June) theatre scene

I've been scanning ahead, and I have to admit that next season doesn't look all that thrilling pretty much anywhere.  I don't think I'll be able to piece together a subscription at Tarragon or Soulpepper when I am interested in only one or two plays at each place.  Classical music may end up being a better draw.  Of course I have my own writing to focus on, as well as doing more exploration of the independent theatre scene (and ultimately these two may end up overlapping).  I will say that, whatever may have been the case in the past, the Toronto Star now has started covering indy theatre with some regularity, including this cover (of the arts section) story on RedOne Collective at the Storefront Theatre and Coal Mine Theatre (apparently right at Pape and Danforth).  I'm a bit pleased that I actually have found my way to the Storefront before it became so well known, though I truly had no idea there was a theatre at Pape and Danforth.  Their current offering (Strindberg's Creditors) doesn't thrill me, so I'll probably wait until next year to see what they are up to.  It does seem that Red Sandcastle is maybe just not rising to the same level of competence, but it's worth keeping an eye on them as well.

Anyway, we are back from the George F. Walker double bill.  It was pretty intense, but basically a fairly standard Walker play -- people acting kind of strange under intense stress, all the people in the play hustling to some degree or other, some very implausible events and some very dark moments, ultimately resolving in a perhaps upbeat ending.  (Maybe this isn't entirely true of Problem Child...)  I don't really have the interest in going through these plays in detail, but I agree with the NOW and Star review, which both seem to indicate that the second play on the bill (The Bigger Issue) is a bit stronger (and weirder) than the first one.  It was generally a bit less "shouty," which I appreciated.  I also thought the speech by the principal who dreads having to go back into the trenches and teach (if everything goes south) was very real.  I still remember dreading teaching when I was just out of college, and I have a lot of sympathy for teachers (though rarely teacher union representatives).  There were clearly a few teachers in the audience, and hopefully word of mouth will bring out more before the plays close in about two weeks' time.

I am off to see Needles and Opium tomorrow at Canadian Stage, and I think it is about jazz musicians, refracted through Robert LePage's sensibility.  Not entirely sure what it will be like, but it should be pretty entertaining (I hope).*

There is a play at the Storefront (Liver) where the ad campaign has me really turned off, even a bit sickened, and I had no intention of going, though the Star is giving it a rave review.  I'll have to think long and hard about going, since I think there is only one more week to go.

I am looking forward to the Bollywood version of Much Ado About Nothing.  And in June, I'll go see Soulpepper's remount of Of Human Bondage, which was supposed to be pretty good.  There are two plays in the meantime at Soulpepper that I am skipping.  I never was that crazy about Bedroom Farce by Ayckbourn, which I saw in Chicago.  I also saw Sarah Ruhl's Eurydice in Chicago, and while I wouldn't mind seeing it again, I just don't have the funds.  I guess I would go if I received review tickets (hint, hint).  (The same thing is even more true of The Alchemist at Stratford.  I'd love to see it, though I'd love to see it even more if it gets transferred to Toronto, as I already have two overnight visits to Stratford this summer.  Definitely a record for me.)

I think that covers all the main things I am looking into until the summer, when the action shifts to Stratford and Shaw.  Not much point in belabouring how I am underwhelmed by future seasons, but I'll list a few things I am likely to try to see next season and beyond in a future post.

* It was good but LePage places a much higher value on spectacle than on plot.  I thought The Far Side of the Moon had more plot and even character development.  I guess it didn't help that there was a guy behind me that loudly protested that part of the script was left in French and we had to read the translation in projected subtitles.  I really wish he hadn't been in the audience, as he harshed my mellow.  LePage has reworked this a bit, making the abandoned lover a bit older (and thus more vulnerable.)  As far as I can tell, the script (either in the original or this reworking) has not been published in either English or French.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Inherited books follow-up

I guess the first post kind of sank like a stone, but I have a bit of a follow-up today.

This may not even be an issue in another 20 years, but there are still a lot of people (like me) lugging around books that have some sentimental value, particularly those that have some connection to their parents.  In my case, I have a couple from my father that he either wrote or co-edited, and those I can't imagine parting with.  I had a few more sociology books from him, but I think I have gradually given those away, aside perhaps one by Robert Merton.

With my mother, the feelings are more tangled, obviously because she passed away when I was reasonably young.  There are books that simply have a connection to her (mostly art books) because we discussed them or I even loaned them out to her at one point, but they didn't belong to her.  Then there is the Georgia O'Keeffe catalog, which did belong to her, and I will hang onto for life.

I am slowly closing in on Matricide, which is one of the last fiction books that I recall taking from the estate.  I found that I didn't care for a few of the other ones I took, but kind of hope I like this one.  If I wasn't expecting to lose most of my evenings between now and June to getting the new house ready, including doing some painting, and moving, I would think that I would get to Matricide by mid June, but think early August is more likely.  I'll report back whenever I do get to it.

Somehow when I wrote the previous post, I had forgotten that I did have a small set of Penguin paperbacks from her (actually they belonged jointly to my parents but ended up with her and my mother did tend to go for the slightly more literary authors).  They are all from a series Penguin published in the late 70s/early 80s called Writers from the Other Europe, i.e. Eastern Europe (under Communist rule).*  In addition to Milan Kundera's Laughable Loves, highlights include Danilo Kis's A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Borowski's This Way for the Gas, and Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles as well as his Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.  (These were the ones that usually ended up in box sets.)  A presumably complete list is here.  I've hung onto 4 of the books from this series, and as they are very thin, will probably hang onto them indefinitely.  What I haven't done, however, is been very diligent in actually reading them, and I have just recently worked most of them into my master reading list.  I suspect that a few of them will end up being quite worthy books that I will consider passing on to my children, assuming they do graduate to the "hard stuff," i.e. the books that end up republished by NYRB and other high end imprints.  I guess it is too early to tell on either front.  I am glad, nonetheless, that I have a few more books that my mother hung onto, though I dearly wish I had had the opportunity to find out if they were actually books that meant anything to her.

* Interestingly, Penguin fairly recently started a new set of Central European Classics.  While I am familiar with 3 or 4 of the authors on the list, I've only read one so far (Capek's War with the Newts), though Von Rezzori's The Snows of Yesteryear is sort of implicitly on my master reading list.  Anyway, the list doesn't seem to be maintained at the Penguin website (so the series may not be as active as one might hope), but an annotated list can be found here.  While I would mostly likely enjoy all these books, I don't feel obligated to add them to the reading list at the moment.