Thursday, December 30, 2010

These Days...

In its latest iteration, the purpose of this blog was to offer me a place to write semi-creatively.  My academic life doesn't often offer that chance, of course.  I like the space to develop a less than rigorous thought, a space for musings rather than theories, and, seemingly, a place to be a sentimental ass.
These days, I've had the occasion to write even more creatively. Sometimes this writing takes the form of the limerick, the most reviled of poems. But it has also taken the form of quick and dirty short fiction, composed on demand, and on the fly. I'll spare you the details, but there is very little time for editing or even forethought in this particular type of writing.  It is closer to story telling than story writing.
This appeals to me greatly.
I was, the first time I tried this, quite pleased with the result, and furthermore, pleasantly surprised by well I seemed to do it. Subsequent attempts seem to bear out these impressions. I thought about it for some time, wondering if I had discovered a new ability (like my seeming ability to sew and quilt, also discovered, or rather, re-discovered, this holiday season).
I have decided that no, it is not a new ability at all. As a younger man, I often played role-playing games, specifically the venerable Dungeons & Dragons, and an integral part of such a game is the ability to create and flesh out narratives on the fly, and often in response to changing, sometimes random, variables.  It is in this crucible that I forged the ability to weave a tale on short notice.
I think maybe it has something to do with having found my muse, as well.
I argued with someone last night that the countless (nearly endless) hours I had spent were not, as my interlocutor suggested, wasted. I did not trot out this particular example in my defense, raising some vague point about creativity instead. I was not deeply engaged in the argument, and my opponent was a difficult person to argue with in any case.
Now, however, sitting, with time to really contemplate, I realize that the time was not wasted, that my ability to weave a story quickly is a real skill, and that it seemingly brings some small amount of joy to some people. This may be a small thing, but it pleases me to no end.

Monday, December 27, 2010

"And there will come a time, you'll see..."

Ah, Christmas. As I was telling my sister today, my favorite of all holidays. She didn't believe me, of course. She thought I was being sarcastic, as I have a tendency to be.  She is a fan of Thanksgiving, as well.  Personally, I can pass on Thanksgiving.  But Christmas? The finest of all seasons.  Deck the halls, and all that.
This Christmas was, however, a bit small.  In recent years, my uncle has joined us for Christmas, and, occasionally, so had one of my mother's cousins.  In addition, of course, there was also my recent ex.  None of the above joined us this year, and so, Christmas lacked a certain sense of people.
This is not to say that Christmas was in any way bad. It most assuredly was not.  It was, in fact, rather nice. I would not pass up this time with my family for anything in the world. However, with only the three of us, it seemed... well, quiet, I suppose.
I am fond of saying that if all you can say about your life is that it is quiet, then you are not in such a bad place overall.  Unquietness can be unpleasant at times.  Drama, and all that.
Balance, I suppose, is the key.
The lack of some people, clearly, was more profound, more pointed, than others. No offense to my uncle or cousin, of course. There are instances, in any given day, but more so now, during the holidays, when one is flooded with memories of those absent. Someone who is in similar situation has begun to describe these pointed moments as twinges, which I quite like as a term to describe the fleeting moments of sharp, sometimes painful memory.  I've full on adopted the term, expanding it even, to include twinge-y (in all fairness, she may have coined this one as well), and twinginess (almost certainly mine).
These moments pass, and they are not all bad. Some have that wonderful bittersweet quality of summer romances, and some are downright pleasant. Of these latter, most revolve around my father, gone these last 6 years, but still very much present.  While these memories certainly constitute twinges, as I recognize that he is not here to share this Christmas with us, I am nevertheless comforted by the memories of him. In particular, the shared memories, and the stories, that pass between my mother, my sister and I, as well as his family, many of whom live here, in the land of his birth.
I spend a better part of the day yesterday shooting skeet (or something very much like skeet, anyway), a pastime my father was very fond of, and that he taught me.  I like to think that he would have been happy for me to do so.  I didn't shoot well, but I enjoyed myself, and that is something he taught me as well.  Twinge-y, yes. Sharp, poignant, yes. Sad? Not so much, Gentle Reader. Not so much.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

My Uncle, who unfortunately can't join us this Christmas, called tonight, and in the course of our conversation, asked me what I had done today.
I replied, quite truthfully, that I had slept in, and then spent the rest of the day making meat pies (tourtière for the Québécois/es out there).
I ate the pies.  Well, part of one of them, anyway.
All told, this is not a particularly bad way to spend a day. I, at least, enjoyed it.
Today is the first time I have ever made tourtière, despite repeated threats to do so in the past.  In addition, I attempted to recreate a meat pie of my youth, made by a friend of the family who has since passed away.  I grew up on Joan's meat pies, and while I love the ones we now buy from my Aunt, I have never forgotten the moist shredded meat and potatoes that filled the pies of my younger days.
Today, I set out to make Joan's meat pie, and, by all accounts, succeeded.  It was like tasting the long passed days of Christmas as a child.  It was a wonderful moment indeed.
In a conversation with my Grandmother yesterday, she described the act of baking bread as magic.  I too have often considered cooking to be a magical act, and I was joyed to hear the matriarch of a family of 13, presumably having cooked more than any one person should every want to cook, describe it so.  To have recaptured a part of my past, in the form of a long lost food, makes the act even more powerful.  I made the dough for the pie crusts from scratch, another first for me.  There is something about flour and it's attendant ingredients that highlight the strange processes that occur in cooking (the magic, for lack of better terms).  It changes so dramatically, depending on what is added (butter, water) or applied (pressure, heat).  To handle dough, to work it, to transform it, especially when making bread, that quintessential foodstuff, staple of the West, is a profound experience.
In addition to my culinary exploits, I also had the pleasure of attending the Christmas Eve service at the local Church.  It was a lovely event, and one of the readings struck me.  In a responsive prayer, the lay reader exhorted us to "approach Christmas with the joy of a child".
Having rediscovered the taste of the meat pies of my childhood, and having revealed in the magic of cooking those pies, I feel like I have, in fact, approached this Christmas Eve with the joy of a child.
And that is a beautiful thing.
Merry Christmas, Gentle Reader.  The Best wishes for you and yours this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Into the West...

My return to children's literature continues with The Chronicles of Narnia, that theologically inspired opus of C. S. Lewis.  Last week, reading it quietly as I passed the time in the company of a friend, I was struck by the following line:
"If you have been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness" -C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Theologian or not, the man can write. No doubt about it.
This kind of stillness is not unknown to me.  I felt it some years ago, the morning my father died, the house no longer wracked by his ragged breath, and devoid of the kind souls who had been clustered around us for days in support, who had left us to grieve in silence.  It is a particular quietness, and I remember it well.
Yesterday, as I sat at his grave, contemplating the year that is soon to be no more, I was reminded of that particular quietness.  The cemetery where he is buried is small, and well away from things. It was deserted, and quite still. I felt that sort of quietness again, and somehow, for the first time in what seems a long while, it made me comfortable.
The land of my ancestors is currently being torn by storms, and the pounding of the surf is incessant.  Le Fleuve, often so calm and inviting, is stripping the shores away, reshaping the land.  There is a sense of menace and power that is at odds with the overall peacefulness of the otherwise pastoral setting. It leaves me on edge, a reminder that death walks here too, no matter how comfortable I might feel in the stillness. Very much like someone I know, someone who possesses a certain wild energy, and whose energy sets me on edge the same way the storm does now.  Like the storm, their energy reminds me of that tenuous divide between the quick and the dead. And it reminds me of which side of that line I inhabit. And that is a welcome reminder.
Still, the beauty of this place is profound, storm or no storm. A walk in the woods this morning, with the brilliant green moss only just covered in a layer of snow (no cross country skiing yet, dear reader), left me near speechless.  The barren fields and leafless trees surrounding the cemetery offer their own brand of beauty, as does, of course, Le Fleuve, the mighty St. Laurent. I am lucky, I think, to sit here, in the house my father built and died in, and be able to contemplate the beauty of the land he was born into, and the beauty of life in general.  Lucky indeed, dear reader.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Close the door in case you stay"

Recently, in a series of discussions focusing on why I like Christmas (and I do so like Christmas), several things became clear:
I am a sentimental Jackass
The Academic year lends itself to the Christmas Break being special
The Holiday Season can be a bit unreal, outside of time, and powerful
A few words on these observations.  One of the reasons I like Christmas so much is the lights. Really, you may ask, the lights? Sentimental, yes. But I can't help it.  It is a profoundly dark part of the year where I hail from, and the extra lights everywhere, on lamp posts, houses, balconies, storefronts, my apartment, trees, squirrels, ladies of the night, etc., etc., ad nauseum... It makes the world seem softer, somehow, warmer, more welcoming. Blankets of fresh snow help as well, muffling the harsh sounds of the city, the flakes obscuring vision, blurring edges, forming unseen shapes and swirls. Obviously, my love of the yuletide is geographically situated. My one Christmas in Florida was a profoundly unsettling experience.
I'm also a fan of the constructedness of the the holiday, a la coke-ad Santa and the all that Norman Rockwell happy horseshit. I love it. I know what it is, but I buy into whole hog, willingly. I'm wearing a Santa hat right now. Alone, in my apartment, with a Santa hat on. I think it helps that largely, I get on well with my family, and to go home for the holiday (only a few more days to go before I leave) is no burden, but rather a joy. I understand why some people might not like Christmas, and I don't hold it against them, but I do so enjoy it.
As an academic, my schedule makes Christmas more meaningful as well, as it constitutes not simply a division of the year, a holiday among holidays, as it must be for 9-to-5ers and other employed types.  The semester, in academia, ends in December, and a new one begins in January.  The cycle stops and starts afresh.  It is not simply a break in undifferentiated time, but rather a null space between two distinct periods. The holidays, for me, are in a real way outside of normal time. And that makes them a powerful time indeed.
Which brings me to the third point.  The holidays have some inherent magic, some build up, and release of, potential energy, of power.  Like Carnivale, or Mardi Gras, they represent a time when things can happen, strange and exciting things, with little or no repercussion on the real day to day life that falls outside the holiday season. Part of this is tied up in the academic cycle. Surrounded by profs and students, I am acutely aware of the heightened sense of energy on campus this time of year.  There is potential in that energy. Part of it is the frantic rush of holiday shopping, when Ville-Marie sings with the
sounds of commerce. Either way, there is magic in the air, and I love it.
I'll be home soon, for Christmas, amongst family and friends. It won't be a perfect Christmas, and I suspect there will be a few rough patches. But it will be Christmas, and a few days later, the new year. And we can all begin again, anew.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

"Of Making Many Books There is no End..."

...and much study is a weariness of the flesh.
It has been a profoundly long semester. My first course was fantastic, at least from my point of view. I'm not sure if my students would agree, although I suspect some of them might. But it took an awful lot of energy, and I am weary. A bone-deep kind of weary, one that sneaks up on me in the afternoon, a thief stalking a thief.
But this is at an end now. In celebration, last night, out with one of the boys. Today, a book buying binge. Tomorrow, a feast (also to celebrate the birthday of a food loving friend; the proverbial two birds, I suppose).
What, gentle reader do you suppose I bought today? For me, and only me, I purchased the following:

Steak, by Mark Schatzker
The Emperor of All Maladies, by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Room, by Emma Donoghue
Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman (suggested by a book loving friend)

I purchased some gifts for other, in the form of books, as it is Christmas season, but I suppose I shan't post the specifics in a public forum, fearing to ruin the surprise.
And the menu, you ask? For the celebratory feast? Thus:

Hors D'Oeuvres - Danish Crispy Pork Cracklings
Entree - Detroit-style Sliders
Main - Classic Standing Rib Roast, Yorkshire Pudding, Red Wine Pan Gravy, Roast Potatoes w/ Parsnip and Leek, and Sauteed Greens.
Bread - Sullivan St. Bakery's No-Knead Bread (whole wheat).
Dessert - Torta Tres Leches (I'm not making this one. It is being brought by my guest).

Should be good. I may very well slip into some kind of food coma, true, but there is always a price to pay for the good things in life.
It has been, gentle reader, a very long semester indeed. But, by Friday night, when my final grades are submitted, Christmas Break will have begun, and all will be well with the world...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

"Take me home, country roads"

"All through this conversation his voice was growing slower and richer. More like the country voice he must have had as a boy and less like the sharp, quick voice of a cockney" - The Magician's Nephew, C. S. Lewis.
This, apparently, has happened to me lately. At least, under certain circumstances.  Someone pointed it out to me some weeks ago, and I was happy to see it in print this morning.  Perhaps, like the new King of Narnia (the voice in the above quote), I am affected by some magic, sometimes, some sort of wild power.
Nevertheless, it is fitting that my voice returns sometimes to that of the country boy. For I am, at the heart of it, just that. In fact, I was recently asked, "So, where are you from, exactly, with the sea, and the forest and the mountains?". I had, apparently, been rather hyperbolic in my stories about my youth, about my origins.
Although, the truth is not far off. I did grow up in the mountains (the appalachians, granted), and by the sea (le Fleuve, but the water is salty where I live).  The forest, well, it was more pastoral than primeval, but it was a sort of woods, a forest, and it had trees.  There are deer there, and rabbit, partridges and foxes, so it might as well be a forest, really.
And it is to this pastoral wonderland that I shall return, for the Christmas Break, in all my boonie-rat glory (since a someone recently took umbrage at my self-description of "red-neck", I'll try boonie-rat on for size. I like rats, so it is sorta apropos. They might not agree).  Winter is a wonderful time in Metis, where I hail from, so long as one doesn't mind crushing isolation.  And snow.  Armed, however, with second-hand cross country skis and borrowed boots, I intend to conquer the backwoods, snow and all.  And the presence of family, and the magic of Christmas, should offset the isolation.
Baked goods, and with any luck, a Christmas goose. Hot cocoa by the wood stove. Family dinners, Christmas Eve in the country Church (United, or Presbyterian, but who am I to complain).
Ah, the country. The mountains, the sea, the forest. I really am from there, and I am awfully glad when I get the chance to go back.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Ain't it good to be alive?"

I was reminded, lately, by a very good friend indeed, of a pearl of wisdom that I once cast before the swine.  He reported that I once said, "The greatest thing about life is that even when it sucks, it's so good".  Last night, for reasons I'll leave unexplained here, I needed to hear this, having forgotten that I said it in the first place, and lately, having forgotten its essential truth. I fear The Rolling Stones would agree.
This post has been a long time coming. Originally, it was to be a martial post, all blood and war, sturm und  drang.  It was inspired by a quote I had read on the verge of sleep the night before, "He swore this terrible oath: 'Hook or me this time'".  Hook or me, this time.  I muttered that terrible oath, with some vague substitution for the name Hook, to myself, and sleep overtook me. The simplicity, the brutality of the quote appealed to me, the flat out declaration of total war. 
I had decided to declare my intent to fight, or to die trying. I would answer the enemy as Governor-General Frontenac had answered the English request to surrender in 1690: "Non, je n'ai point de réponse à faire à votre général que par la bouche de mes canons et de mes fusils".  It was to be a warning, a declaration to the world that war was upon it, that the horsemen had ridden, and to make ready, and to tremble.
Alas, I realized, not necessarily on my own, that my terrible oath, my sworn duty to press the enemy, to hound at ever turn and to seize every opportunity, would cause far more damage than I was willing to inflict on the world, and on myself.  War is not a pretty thing, and euphemisms of collateral damage and acceptable casualties aside, I cannot bring myself to believe that all is in fact fair in love and war. One must always consider the consequences of one's actions. Lately, taking solace in the notion that in humankind's two greatest endeavours, no quarter is asked nor given, I have done things that, in retrospect, I am not overly proud of. Having lost the moral high ground, I find my defensive position to be ever more untenable. The enemy, faults aside, has become the better man (may have been from the beginning, truth be told) and that weighs heavily on my heart. Collectively, perhaps, at the heart of it, we are not animals, and maybe, just maybe, I shouldn't act like one.
To some, this would appear to be a surrender. Have I given up, gentle reader? Have I acknowledged that I have lost?  I'm not convince that that is true. Maybe I'm changing the game. Like the early Christian before me, maybe I'm subverting the drama of the arena, making my surrender more powerful than the perceived victory of the Roman could ever be. Maybe, in turning the other cheek, in throwing in the towel, I can reclaim some of that high ground, and I can rest more easily. To lose is not always to be defeated, and to surrender is not alway to quit. Knowing that life, as much as it might occasionally suck, really is pretty good, sorta helps, too.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dead Letters

"Bartleby, the Scrivener", that oh so famous work by Herman Melville, of the White Whale fame (that book is a good read; the fame is deserved, I suppose) ends will a rumination on letters that will never get read.  I have always liked this idea, of writing words no one will read.  Google suggests to me that these words, here at least, will get read, however (Hello, Denmark!). And so, today, this morning, I wrote words elsewhere, in the snow. At least, I wrote letters, standing in for words, perhaps with a shape or two.
I was tantalized by the idea of the impermanence of it all. Writing in snow, doomed to melt.  It's a public place, really, so someone might read my msg. No matter, it isn't addressed to the public.  This is not all, however. Sometime later, on the squash court (with a small lead, and looking to win), I was momentarily overtaken by the enormity of a moment in history, on that self same squash court, where I had failed to secure untold future happiness for myself. In my defence, I had no idea at the time that my decisions would come back and haunt me. I simply made the choice, a small one at the time, according to what I though was right. An innocent (seemingly so) question asked, and an innocent (really innocent, I had no idea) answer given. I was doomed, it would appear, at a later date, to magnify this mistake by maintaining what I thought was a proper silence, at a time when I was also distracted by affairs of my own. Again, I had no idea my future happiness (my god what happiness it could have been! I quake to think of it, nerves a-jangle, heart racing),  hung in the balance, else I would have spoke. Alas, clarity in hindsight is a difficult burden to bear.
So, there I was, on the squash court, with my small lead, looking to win, when the full extent of what I had done (by failing to do) hit me.  I reeled. I felt faint, nauseous, and I lost all sense of focus or drive.  Soon, I sat at a 5 point deficit, my opponent serving for game point.
How did I fare, gentle reader? I gathered my wits, and I accepted the the sheer stupidity of my innocent answers, and my innocent silences. I decided to fight, not to lose. I gathered my wits and my resolve, and I came back, flawlessly, to win, 5 points straight, no errors, for a 15-14 game, to me. A glorious victory, and the best thing to happen to me in days (It has been a decidedly long week).
What, we might inquire, has this to do with writing in the snow? Easy. I realized that innocent answers and silences have served me no good (ruined me, truth be told), and I questioned the wisdom of impermanent writing. A sharpie, purchased hastily, fixed that.  Permanence, for msgs., for me, thank you.  It is there, my msg., in black ink. Someday, it might fade, or some well meaning city employee will remove it with a harsh chemical bath, I suppose. But it is not large, and they might miss it.  The weather will have at it, true. After, everything is impermanent. But sharpie ink has staying power, so I've cast my lot in with it, for the time being. And a good thing, too, as the sun (glorious sun, shining to celebrate the smashing of my opponent on the court, I presume) had begun to melt my original msg. in the snow.
I have realized another thing, thanks to my stunning victory and humbled opponent.  That the grey world of loss and death that has recently been mine is also impermanent. I could stay in it, but to be honest, I would prefer not to.  There is a very interesting life ahead of me (some might claim it to be an awfully big adventure indeed), and I suppose I ought to do my best to live it.
My return to children's lit., begun with The Hobbit, bolstered by Peter and Wendy, some 100 years old next year (I cannot thank you enough for that, really; it is wonderful, and I mean to cherish it all the years of my life), and continued today in what can only be describe as an Odyssey of book buying (a copy of Peter Pan for myself, The complete Narnia stories, and a book of science fiction strangely, but somehow fittingly, titled Her Pilgrim Soul) has taught me that innocence cannot be maintained, but that life, after all, goes on.
Perhaps, like Max, it is time to realize that the make believe world (for him the Wild Things, for me the past and memories) is less important than the real (for him, his family, for me, the present moment, and forward). Still, I would appreciate the company, should someone care to join me in the upcoming big adventure.  I no longer fear the abyss, and you are more than welcome to come along.
Still, all things considered, I may, upon returning home, allow myself a moment to grieve on the shores of the sea, and remember those I have lost. I said to someone I might, and I owe them that. And more. But I can give them that, at least.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Beast With the Wide Mouth...

It snowed today, this morning. Snow marks, for me, the true beginning of winter. The end, at last, of autumn, that liminal season of dying (although I was taken to task today, for suggesting the liminality of autumn). With the year finally dead, with winter here, I feel relieved. I am one step closer to that joy of joys, spring. I was told by someone today that they would not miss 2010, and I concur. It is a year that has past its prime, a year that deserves the long cold sleep of death, of winter.
Drawn this afternoon, as always, to my dear Ville-Marie, I thought it fitting, as my heart was overwhelmed, to seek a place of comfort, even if that comfort would be cold. I went, as I do in these moments, to that greystone wall that figures so prominently in my mind these days, that cold monument to memory constructed largely in my own mind.  When I visit that wall, I usually sit, occasionally with a slice of pizza, and I think, of all that has past, and sometimes of what may yet come. Of late, I think of one thing more than others. I think of loss, sitting on that wall, and I remember. But I could not sit today, on my wall.  There was a layer of snow atop the wall, even and perfect, and I could not find the heart to disturb it.
Autumn this year has been marked heavily by loss. I have spent long hours, thinking, obsessed with death, obsessed with loss and the nature of memories. Even the need to write, best expressed here (and least well expressed in my academic life) is founded in large measure on my obsession with the memories of the dead, and of those no longer part of my life; my memories of losses, new and old.
Death has been very much present, stalking me in the streets of Ville-Marie.  I hear the lonely call of crows, looking up to see them grimly silhouetted against the morning sun, flying away to some terrible, imagined destination.
I recognize now, after long contemplation, the role of memory in my own approach to death, to loss. It is the memory of the dead, the gone, that constitutes their continued presence in my life. It is the memories of the dead that make them meaningful, that allow me access to them. It is because I can remember my father that I do not have to mourn so heavily his passing. I can uphold a relationship with him, in my memories, and in the shared memories of others. I can tell stories of him, and the pain of his loss is lessened.  And there are others whom have died or whom I have lost for whom I can do the same.
Luckily, the past is mutable, as are memories. Some losses are more painful than others, some more fresh. Remembering is not enough, it is too soon, and simply reminds me that I will share no new memories with those now missing. But, I can weave a narrative of memories, I can remake the past. A narrative that is less painful, one that tells a story of sharing meaningful words, of books, perhaps, and of nights and mornings. Happy memories. And even though the pain of loss is fresh, I can round off the sharpest corners.
I visit that greystone wall, alone with the snow and the crows, and the ghosts of Ville-Marie, and in my mind, I piece together little bits of story, snippets of narrative, true or not, to lay softly over the pain of my losses, until I can accept the story I weave. Until that pain becomes bearable. Until I can remember those I have lost without wanting to forget.

Friday, November 19, 2010

To every thing there is a season...

Winter is upon us, and the wind bites.  Gone is the liminal Autumn. Ogilvy's Christmas window is up, and soon there will be snow. The death of the year has arrived.
I had a chance, recently, in the early hours of the morning, to revisit McGill College, and see, from the same vantage, the vista of my favourite Ville-Marie moment.  Like the revisititation of all memory, it was marred by reality.  The trees of the street were lit in red, not the stately white of my younger days, and it was not snowing.
Memory is an interesting thing these days.  I am ever reminded of memory's malleability.  Even now, as I sit, I craft memory into narrative, shaping, changing, moulding. I create memory.  I can look back at memories, reimagine the import, or the meaning hidden there.  On this, the cusp of a new winter, I remember...
I have been thinking lately, about the intersection of memory, place and time. What is the memory of time? or of place?  I remember places that no longer are.  I remember a city that has changed. Things have happened here, but they are not now here, and are not now.  When and where were they?  We spent several hours discussing this in a course I took last semester, in the context of history, but I'm pretty certain we didn't answer it then, either.
Downtown geography, for me, is haunted by the ghosts of the past.  The empty lot at Cathcart and University, once The Dublin, site of monumental debauchery. The corner of Ste Cat's at Phillip Square, where a girl saved me from being struck by a car, crying at the closeness of my mortality in that moment, herself killed some years later by a car.
Alone at the front of the Eaton Center, or asleep in the Palace Theatre. DeMaisonneuve, with a girl on my arm, looking over my shoulder. Standing in the afternoon sun in the early, glorious days of spring.  The terrace on Crescent, Cafe Republique, and the Raspberry spitting. All memories.
Memories have layers. There is a greystone wall in Ville-Marie, guarding the edge of a parking lot.  A sad patch of grass grows there, and weeds.  I have memories of it for two reasons, largely unconnected.  I deliberately placed one layer there, to keep it safe. The second layer accrued more normally, but the wall keeps that layer safe, as well.  I like it on that wall, and I go there often.
But memories are shared too.  And I can't tell you much about that wall, because it belongs to someone else too.  I don't know they would want me to share those memories.
There is a time for every purpose.  I will, for a time, sit on that greystone wall, and remember...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

7 Swords

I have been spending a substancial amount of time down town this autumn season.  Truth be told, I have always spent a substancial amount of time in the city's core, but it seem to me to be more pertinent now, somehow.  As the weather turns, and the crisp turns to cold, and the sun hangs low in the gaps between the buildings, I know that winter is upon us all.  Walking along Ste. Catherine's, it is hard, this time of year, not to feel like a thief, slipping in and out of the crowds, alone despite the masses, waiting with the crows for the death of the year...
Some of my fondest memories of of downtown, my dearly beloved Ville-Marie, are of Christmas, with the mad energy of the commercial hum, the lights in the streets, and the vast Christmas tree in PVM, like a beacon at the end of McGill College, itself all lit up against the darkest part of the year...
I saw it once, during one of those winter snowfalls that drives everyone into safer, warmer places than the street, and the sound dies in the softness of the fallen snow.  Looking down McGill College, seemingly alone in the world aside from her, in the silence, it was beautiful, in that sublime, ineffable way I imagine mystical experiences to be.  I don't suppose I'll ever forget that.
The tree is up now, in the pre-advent advent of mid-November.  Last I checked, McGill College does not yet have her lights, but I am sure they will come.  Christmas, and it's lights and pagan traditions of yearly rebirth, will replace the Autumn mortuary edge that has predominated my downtown for weeks now.
I've revived, in my own attempt to light up the dark, a scarf that my sister knit for me many years ago.  It is bright, and long, colourful, and whimsical.  It is unique, hand made from a made up pattern, and even now, many years later, seems to radiate some of the warmth and kindness I know my sister felt as she knit it.  In it, I feel a tiny bit safer against the fall of the year, against the cold, and the dark.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Having the key to the Abyss...

I stood, quite recently, staring entranced into the inky, seemingly endless abyss that is the bottom of my cast iron frying pan.  The pan is a family heirloom, having belonged at one time to my mother's mother, Granny Adams (may she rest in peace).  To stare into its bottom, as the oil heats, is to stare into a blackness that seems complete, total, and final.  All the light in the world seems to die in the bottom of that pan, and the soul of the cook (in this case played convincingly by my own poor soul, such as it is) is faced, like the soul of the stargazer staring into the cosmos, or the mystic staring into the face of God, with the seeming infinitude of existence.  Faced with the endless, soul consuming blackness at the bottom of my grandmother's pan, I, like others before me, begin to think...
Is cooking a creative act?  I spoke recently (over lunch, a a very nice little Vietnamese place) about the creative process, with a friend, I claiming that while she has her various arts, I have only cooking (as writing academically does not seem to fulfil the same needs, although it could, I suppose, if I framed it properly).  In the hierarchy of the arts, I placed cooking below her music and drawing.
In the early fall of the year, another friend spent a rather long time, and a not insignificant amount of energy, to convince me (she preached, I fear, to the choir) of the creative-ness of her cooking, and how, in her life, it was the sole source of creative outlet.  She, of course, was right, and I wholeheartedly agreed with her at the time.  Why then, today, did I denigrate cooking?
Who can say.  To cook is to intimately interact with the very elements of life.  To make, and to consume (or, height of all heights, to feed another; be still my heart) food is a fundamentally human moment.  One connects not only with the ingredients (which through some process of magic change from the one thing to the other in the process; could be physics and chemistry, but magic too, I suppose), but one connects with one's self as well.  And the other!  Well, it is a powerful thing indeed to feed the other.  To nourish one's self is one thing, to nourish the other is something else altogether.
I am blessed in that a good number of people see fit to feed me, unsolicited. These people, whether they know it or not, share something with me, something profound.
I've stopped using soap to clean my cast iron pan, in part because I know (rationally) that it is bad for the finish, and I will lose flavour.  But, and this is an important but, it is also in part because I am afraid to wash away the blackness, the window into emptiness that reminds me, as I lose my cook's soul in it, what it is I am about to do when I add the onions to the hot fat.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

When I was a child...

In his first letter to the Corinthians (exciting city, Corinth, or so I hear. Vegas of the ancient world), Paul writes "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things".
Try as I might, I have not put away childish things.
More specifically, I am full on engaged in an attempt to relive my younger days, in what must be a 1/3 life crisis (my quarter life crisis involved a studded belt.  Those were good days).
In addition to pretending not to need to sleep (a favorite these days; I nodded off earlier drafting the first part of this post) and downloading 15 year old videogames that I played when I was younger (and playing the again, I might add) I've taken to mixing tapes.
Not that I was a great tape mixer when I was a boy. No. Nor do I currently actually use tapes.  Lucille and iTunes do a more than adequate job.
When I was younger, much younger, in high school (final year, valedictorian, yearbook editor, all around playboy), my friend Jeffrey mixed the ultimate mix tape.  I say with no word of a lie that this mix tape was simply the BEST MIXED TAPE EVER!
Did I need all caps there? Maybe not. Exclamation point? Totally unnecessary (It almost always is, ladies. Remember that next time you txt someone, ok?).  But I do stand behind the awe inspiring (and I mean Rudolf Otto kinda awe here, fear and all) greatness of this mixed tape.
Mix tapes are more that just the music on them, greater than the sum of their parts. The playlists I put together this summer weren't really mix tapes til they were burned unto cd, the music etch for all time into the physical medium of plastic.
So to with Jeff mother of all mixes.  He made me a copy, hoping, I am sure, to save my very soul by exposing it to the divine power of the mix tape.  I don't remember the original, but my copy was on a Lazer audiocassette, 75 mins.  Don't recognize the brand? No one does, except a few chinese kids who work in a tape factory in the '90s.  10 for a dollar at the dollar store (which was new at the time, and cause for very great excitement indeed).  By the time he got it to me, 3 of the 4 corners were already gone, and most of the magnetic strip was unrolled.
Sound quality? On the dollar store cassette? Maybe the hiss and the buzz of cheap tapes made the experience better. Maybe the flatness of it all made it more real, more authentic, more mixed.  I don't know.
We lost those tapes.  Jeff tried again, a year or so later, but he changed the mix. He'd grown, learned new things, wanted different music.  It was good, but it wasn't the same.  I was younger than he, not ready for the change, for the new.
Maybe he and I can remember the playlist. Maybe he and I can reconstruct the order, the songs.  I'll burn it on the cheapest cd I can find, and God willing, I will not put away childish things.  Not yet, anyway.