Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For the Safety of All!

Well, it seems that the Occupy protests are "wrapping up" now, by which I mean that people who imagined the possibility of a participatory, deliberative and caring society, are being forcibly disabused of that notion, mostly by state force.

This way, they can go back to being part of a society that, after the massive police occupation that was the Toronto G20, went and voted the embodiment of that occupation into power as Mayor.

This image to me, from Occupy Wall Street, really encapsulates similar attitudes here in Toronto, as well as the pure joy a lot of people I know seemed to get from hearing that the protesters last year at the G20 were being kettled, beaten and arrested:

I mean, there you have it, an enraged cop, fist clenched, and a cowering protester. Rejoice my friends, you can rest easy now, knowing that small parks that you never spent any time in have now been forcibly liberated for the safety of all! You can just see the look on his face, his righteous anger in helping ensure that you don't have to think about why they don't have a clear, succinct message, or television ads explaining things to you.

I cannot recall if I've said it on this blog before, but Canadians, with the exception of Quebecois, are a colonial people, who have little appetite for the kind of democracy that the Occupy movement signified, one that expected something of its citizens, an active engagement in the world and how it is run.

I mean, this is a province that overwhelmingly rejected a more proportional form of government in favour of our useless first part the post system. I was a civil servant at the time, and remember speaking with other bureaucrats, people who worked in government everyday, who were going to vote against it because it seemed like it was going to be "too complicated" for them. It's not just that they didn't understand it, it's that they couldn't be bothered to even try to understand it, like it was wasting their time. Democracy, that is.

I can only hope that this might change one day, but today, of all days, does not seem like that one day.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

One Day

One day, not only will I write again, in the way I imagine I used to write, but I will also want to write again.

That day is not today, but it feels much closer. There's no special reason for this, nor any special event. Just the desire to write again, no longer deep in the ground, but just beneath the surface.

This space, which has gone from arts, to philosophy, to German, and lately, uh, to Rob Ford, has been nothing but a good thing for me, and I see no reason why it should stop, unless the people at blogger decide that I should begin to pay large sums of money for the privilege.

So although the posting is sparse, the end is nowhere year. This space is no longer a project with an end date.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Shifting Priorities

For some reason, I was thinking about the whole thing that happened back in the 1960's, when the Americans put a bunch of men on the moon and the Soviets did other cool stuff like that.

As a child, I grew up thinking that by the time I was an adult, we would be able to travel to the moon. I mean, at the rate things were going, back in the 1970's, this seemed plausible.

So why is it that we live in a society where my cell phone has more computing power than Apollo 11, but we can not only no longer afford to put people in space, but we can't even really pay for schools and roads anymore, mainly because people would prefer to own their own mini bar fridges.

I say this because, as far as I can tell, even super wealthy western nations back in the 1960's were still, relatively speaking, quite a lot poorer than those same societies today. Except now there's no money for anything ever.

Am I the only person who thinks that this makes no sense at all? The expression "if they could put a man on the moon" meant that the technological achievement of the moon missions was so mind-blowingly amazing that it implied that we could pretty much do anything.

Now it sounds like something some right-wing gasbag would use as an example of government wasteful spending.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Too Soon?

This is pretty damn "meta", but this piece by Brian Leiter on how the mouth breathing part of the Internet went nuts over Paul Krugman's September 11th post is so funny and trenchant that I feel the need to share it.

I worry though. By posting something here that says there's something funny about September 11th in some opaque, obscure way, am I violating some rule about how September 11 must be thought about? Only time and trolls will tell.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Live with Two Sales Taxes or Die

This story could be seen as sour grapes on the part of the BC Liberals after the referendum rejection of the HST, but it's not like they were hiding the fact that it would cost billions of dollars to go back to having, uh, two separate sales taxes. (By the way, I would love it if someone could explain to me the anger surrounding the HST in BC! Thanks!) But anyway, bravo to those British Columbians who decided those billions of tax dollars were worth it, just to stick it to a government that, uh, they pay taxes to...(sorry, it's really hard to not sound patronizing here, and it's the Internet, so it sounds even worse)

But hey, it's not like we here in Toronto are any better. Last year, many Torontonians were really, really pissed off about the fact that we don't pay our garbage collectors minimum wage, so to punish them(selves), we elected Rob Ford. How's that working out for us now? About the same as BC owing the federal government $2 billion for nothing.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Rob Ford's War on the Poor - Part I

Here's a particularly disgusting bit of news from the City of Toronto website. While looking at the site to see when I could register my son for swimming lessons, I found this.

The long and short of it is that if you are in an area specifically marked as poor, you will be charged more for services. Rob Ford cut taxes on home and car owners so that poor people could pay more to exercise at a community centre.

With the whole dustup between the Ford brothers and Margaret Atwood, I was (unsurprisingly for me) seeing Ford as continuing an assault on education and the social ideal of a well-educated population. But a friend of mine pointed something out that gave me pause - Rob Ford's real target is the poor.

That this is a class issue is something that Canadians are especially reluctant to talk about. The attacks on public transit, the tax cuts he has made and the user fee increases are all in one direction, all these things are calculated to reverse any progressivity in our society in favour of a pay what you can because you can kind of attitude.

Part of the problem with this is that most people in the centre or the left, also kind of hate the poor, or at least have drunk enough of the neo-con koolaid to believe that poor people are there through some fault of their own, just like being born in an upper-middle class household with access to education and services had nothing to do with one's success.

But maybe we need to just start calling a spade a spade and start asking Rob Ford and his cadre why they hate poor people so much and why they want to punish them so that people who own property don't have to pay more taxes?

Monday, August 01, 2011

Hooray.

Reading about the various levels of the US government reaching a deal to avert the destruction of the global financial markets at the expense of, it seems, everyone who lives in the US except for the very wealthy, the "celebrations" that people are talking about remind me of the people who voted NDP and celebrated their rise to official opposition....in a majority conservative government.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

This is really Remarkable

This hits rather close to home, except that I, at the same age, made a decision to stick around, despite how much I felt it was the wrong thing to do, even if my decision to stay was grounded in all the right reasons.

But his overall sense about the fact that you don't need people policing you when the office culture does a remarkable job of policing itself, to its own intellectual and public detriment, was something I spent a lot of time watching and railing against.

It is no small irony that the thing I am probably most proud of, from the perspective of my former career, is the same thing that did me in. People, especially those in a media-like atmosphere, love to talk about change, but when confronted with something that is truly outside their scope, something where they cannot control the middlebrow message that sounds good (to both their bosses as well as the public) but literally means nothing, innovation gets thrown out the window and is replaced with fear.

Getting out of an environment where people change their minds completely because someone above them told them to change it has been, to say the least, very good for me. That being said, years of being in that environment have taken their toll on my own thinking about the world and my own goals and desires.

This isn't to say that I wish that, at 24, I hadn't decided to try my hand at the civil service, but rather that, at 37, I can still accomplish all those things I had wanted to back then, perhaps even more successfully, given the benefit of hindsight and experience. But the attitudes that surrounded me for years have had an insidious way of stifling my own thoughts for a long time now, and maybe beginning to talk about it will be a way to move past that.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lucian Freud has Died

I wish that I had his drive, or more specifically, his personality, although I so clearly and obviously do not. You can read about him, and read into that as you wish.

There's an excellent documentary on him called unsurprisingly, "Portraits", which is also unsurprisingly (or maybe surprisingly, due to all the painterly nudity?) on Youtube:

Monday, July 18, 2011

Two Things

1. Am I the only person who finds it slightly strange that the movie currently breaking box office records is based on a book that (nearly) everyone has already read and knows the ending? Something something media/brand/etc....but only now is the official Harry Potter saga over!

2. On a completely different note, I found the difficulty rating of "moderately easy" for ehow's page on how to "learn 18th Century Counterpoint" pretty damn optimistic, especially given it recomends you go to college. Also - why a picture of Beethoven on a site about Bach? This used to really piss me off, but now I can only just laugh at this kind of stuff.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

There you Have It

Toronto has a Mayor who believes that labour costs should be about 20 per cent of the budget, and not 80 as it currently stands...

How is that even possible? And can you even begin to ask people who believe in Ford to understand how utterly ridiculous that sounds, especially coming from someone who has been on City council? You know, he just mumbles something about "gravy" despite his own consultants telling him that he is completely out to lunch.

I mean, even the right wing's preferred method of shifting tax dollars from the public sector to private companies by "contracting out" services only shifts labour away - is that what he meant? I'm trying to be charitable because what he said is so moronic, so ridiculous, that you have to believe he misspoke. Except I suspect he didn't.

Seeing Rob Ford in action reminds me of Bob Pullman's character in Ruthless People:

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This Sounds About Right

About Berlin, from the Morning News in 2009.
Link
It's really true about kids - unike in Toronto, where if I take my son to a bar, people look at me like I must be a drunk and also a bad father, kids are just part of the scene here in Berlin. It's nice, because no one cares. The idea of a bar with a playground would likely spark outrage in Canada - here, it means that all ages can do something they enjoy at the same time! Outrageous!

In Toronto, we spend a lot of time praising our tolerance of other cultures, but it seems forced compared to Berlin, and especially when one has to, uh, tolerate someone complain about all the awful things everyone else does in Toronto to make their lives miserable (Yes, I am aware that this post itself constitutes something in that vein...however).

Here in Berlin, people really do just tolerate. This doesn't imply that they like you, indeed it's probably the opposite, but instead they simply do not care provided you don't either.

This means a lot of things - like restaurant/bar service here can often be, uh, slow by Canadian standards, but then you realise that they aren't being rude, rather they assume that if you need something, you'll ask them. Leaving you alone is part of the game.

Oh, and for those childless people in Toronto who hate kids in restaurants, but who own dogs and treat them like children? Hey, you too are accomodated - you can bring your pet into pretty much any restaurant in the city!

There's very little space for the neurotic whining that I feel is very common in Toronto, and alas, something I have probably done far more than I would care to admit....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Here We Go

The Conservative government is cutting arts funding as well as funding to the CBC.

I mean, this is year one, right? Five more years? When you have a "Heritage" Minister who says that government can't be the "only source of funding for arts organizations", you have a Minister whose head is completely up his ass.

Since when in Canada did the government pay for anything but a tiny fraction of the arts, unless of course it's to build large arts buildings in downtown Toronto which then go half empty for years because that same government doesn't want to actually fund the institutions themselves? And Flaherty's ridiculous comments about the fact that arts organizations shouldn't count on regular funding is cut from the same cloth - where the hell do these guys think we are, the 1970's?

I know this is just part of the rhetoric, the same rhetoric that got Rob Ford elected mayor to stop the gravy train, and whose half million dollar consultants managed to find a grand 15 million out of a 1 bilion dollar budget to cut, something should be clear - the game is won, the fat is gone, whatever fat there may have been, and yet my fellow Canadians continue to labour under the delusion that it's not they, who refuse to pay taxes, but the government who is somehow wasting money that simply isn't there.

I'm currently in a country that thinks arts and culture is a public good - I bought a yearly pass here that allows me to go to every state museum in Berlin for about $30 Canadian, and kids under 18 are free. And you know what's really crazy about that? It actually turns these "elitist" institutions into places where the public is welcome.

But I live in a country who has embraced, more than the UK ever did, the ridiculous notion that there is no such thing as society - the sad thing is that in Canada, they might actually just succeed in making that happen.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A Footnote to the Royal Tour

The difference, from across the pond, between Canadian and American coverage, one smirks at the fact that the American media basically treats the Canadian tour as though they were in some part of America, which they do not name, until they suddenly arrive in California, and things make sense again.

Americans simply do not appear to know what to do with the fact that they visited Canada first...by the way, my anti-american and anti-british comments in my previous post were tongue in cheek, in case anyone thought otherwise.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Why I Cannot Bring Myself to Wear Flannel

The funny thing about being in Germany is that everyone treats me, a Canadian, as something rather special, even exotic.

As a Canadian, this is a profoundly unsettling experience. Maybe it's the constant taunting of drunken beer-bottle smashing Brits or navel-gazing imperialist Americans, but Canadians are more used to being respected diplomatically (well, at least until the current administration), while being snickered at culturally.

Anyway, it turns out that the Germans really think we're something special. I jokingly suggested that I should have worn a lumberjack shirt and a toque, and people thought that this would actually be a really great thing to see - a real Canadian, wearing real Canadian clothes. Also, I suggested I should have an axe - this they loved even more.

I suppose this is true - although I, like most Canadians, live in the thrall of urbanity, most of us cling to the quaint if not completely ridiculous notion that we, by virtue of being in a country with a lot of land, are somehow tied to the land in some mysterious way, even though we all pretty much are completely useless at looking after it in any meaningful way that might actually allow it to be there in oh say, 100 years. We aren't the least bit tied to the land except as consumers, and to be honest, the mythology itself is completely destructive and fraught with contradictions, but that's where we're at.

Anyway, a propos, this is my long preface to an fantastic essay at N+1 about flannel shirts. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The War on Whatever isn't a Car

I have refrained, for the most part, from commenting on local politics, be they civic, provincial or federal, in part because my early experience as a blogger was in a political way, and I found most of these conversations to be time-consuming and pointless.

There were other reasons, mainly that I was in a job that prevented me from speaking about a lot of these things, and even though I'm out of that job, old habits die hard, and maybe I enjoy the troll-free (and I suppose, comment-free) solitude of this blog's current state.

That all being said, I would like to note to all the eternally red-faced members of "Ford Nation", the erstwhile, yet strangely anonymous supporters of our current right-wing millionaire mayor Rob Ford, that insofar as you are happy that the war on the car is over, you must be delighted to see that the war on any other mode of transportation is fully on.

I guess my own opinion on this matter is this - basically, if there are 60 people in a streetcar, and one person in a car, I believe that the car should have as difficult a time as possible to get to wherever they need to go in downtown Toronto. Rob Ford believes the opposite - he really does seem to think that if you got rid of all the streetcars and other things that get in the way of that lone driver, that magically the roads will clear up.

Except, obviously, the opposite will happen. More (unless gas prices keep rising) people will simply take their cars, and so instead of 60 people in a streetcar, you'll have 60 people in cars.
Here's some simple math for the citizens of Ford Nation - you think a single streetcar is a pain in the ass to get around as you gulp down your double double on the way to your soul-sucking job? How about 60 more cars on the road? That's like what, the length of 30 streetcars? Does this make any sense?

Now I'm sorry if this sounds patronizing, but I can't help it, it's just that this seems so obvious to me - if you take people out of public transit they still have to get to work, and they are left with two options - they either move closer to work or they drive. My guess is that many will, for lots of good reasons, choose the latter.

And what is really strange about this is that, as much as people dislike the TTC, what with all the crazy people and the jostling for a seat and the general rudeness, driving into downtown is a terrible, soul-sucking experience.

But such is the paradoxical world that we live in that, instead of many Torontonians looking at this and saying "how do we make this better for everyone", no, instead they decide that the best route is to pull everyone down with them.

All those angry, alienated people who voted for Ford, and his vaunted "respect" for taxpayers (not citizens of course), must have all peed their pants with joy finding out that, instead of using our precious, no sacred tax dollars on paying the people who pick up our garbage a good wage and good benefits, we are instead going to give our sacred tax money to the private sector, so they can turn those decently paid garbage workers into members of Ford Nation, that is, angry and alienated.

Then they too can direct their anger at their fellow workers and not at the people who actually profit off of them. All so that we don't have to worry about naughty labour getting all uppity and going on strike.

When it turns out that whatever company we give this money to ends up shafting its workers, or asking for more money, and it all winds up costing more (as it always does), Rob Ford, like his brethren, will just shrug his shoulders and remind people about how it somehow saved tax dollars, even if what saving dollars meant was really sacrificing the people who clean up your mess, day in, day out.

But our city has decided that these people aren't worth it, and so we have sold them off, just as we will now dismantle what little progress was made toward making downtown as uncomfortable for motorists as possible, because this would have meant the many were being served at the expense of the few, and not as it now stands, which is the other way around.

Monday, May 02, 2011

An Open Question

So in the bizarro world of Canadian politics, does Osama bin Laden's death mean that the Conservatives will get more seats today?

My guess is yes, or at least people will discuss it as a factor. You heard it here fist!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ha!

From a Star article:

“Those here who remember the Liberal-NDP arrangement in the 1970s, remember how it took a generation to dig ourselves back out,” Harper said, referring to the minority government from 1972-74 led by then Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau with the support of David Lewis's New Democrats."

This is amazing to me. Here's a guy who was found in contempt of Parliament, and who has plunged Canada into 1970's-style defecits for uh, similar reasons, and he's asking people to remember 40 years ago how bad things were.

Except they weren't.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strange

I said to someone a few days ago that what was happening in this federal election was starting to look a lot like Bob Rae's election in 1990.

It seems that this might actually be the case. I don't really know what to say except that nothing makes any sense! But maybe I should also say sorry for accusing Canadians of hating democracy, because their annoyance with politics seems to be turning into a desire to elect the one person who has been fairly positive during the campaign.

The question is whether or not Canadians actually know what the NDP stand for beyond "positivity". My guess is that, like Bob Rae in 1990, things could get very negative very quickly. But there's still a week left!

Friday, April 22, 2011

An Easter Tradition

For 10 years now...really wonderful stuff.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Canadians hate Democracy

At least that's how this reads to me. I mean, we have here a populace deeply frustrated and annoyed by elections. The fact that people have to go and spend 15 minutes voting seems to be such a terrible, difficult act, that they are prepared to reward the Conservatives for being in contempt of Parliament.

Ironically, it seems that their contempt reflects the contempt of enough Canadians to justify their re-election.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Ich bin nur durch die Welt gerannt

I was reading the last act of Faust II today (again), and I think I finally get it. I mean, kind of. There is so much here that really got to me this time, maybe because I'm a year older today. And I feel little need to editorialize here, I will let Goethe again speak for himself.

After so many lines where it seems that Faust is this remote figure, whose motivations often seem strange, he says the following near the end, before he dies:

I have run through the world, grabbed at
My lusts and dragged them by the hair
And left them lying when I wanted more,
And what I escaped I let them go.
All I have done is lust and do
And want again and so stormed through
My life with power; at first mightily great
But wisely now, now I deliberate.
I know the round earth well enough
And what's beyond, the view of it's blocked off.
The man's a fool who ogles over there
And dreams his kind inhabit the upper air.
Let him stand still and look around him here,
This world speaks to the man who stands four-square.
Why wander off into eternity?
He makes the things he knows his property.
So let him journey through his earthly day;
However haunted, still go on his way,
Onwards, to happiness and torment,
And never satisfied by any moment.

(From the 2009 Penguin translation of Faust II by David Constantine)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Resolutions

I made a whole bunch of New Year's resolutions this year.

One of the good reasons for making more than one is that you have more chances to actually succeed, which motivates doing more of them. Sounds counterintuitive, but it's true.

So far, I've only kept one of my resolutions, which was to quit my job. Yeah, I know that doesn't really sound like a resolution, but it was.

However, a lot of the other resolutions where the kinds of resolutions that are more things that I can look back at the end of this year and say, OK, I actually did that stuff. And for those, about half of them are well on their way to completion.

The rest, well...some of them were "if this happens then I can do this" resolutions. Does that make sense? Like if I had kept my job there would be some resolutions that would be flat out impossible? They are contingent on other things.

So yes, I am patting myself on the back a little, but ever mindful that something horrible could happen tomorrow that will throw them all off.

Actually, something horrible has happened. But I don't think I will blog about that for a while.

But at least I am blogging, right? Right? Hello?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Alain de Botton on Pessimism

Here's a very nice talk by Alain de Botton on Pessimism.



I have to admit, I run sort of hot and cold around the writings of Alain de Botton. I really enjoyed his "breakout" book, How Proust Can Change Your Life, although I haven't read it in over a decade, but some of his more recent work has disappointed me.

I know one of the criticisms that's levelled against him, that he's a dilettante, seems apt, but I think it's a bit unfair - we don't stop reading Montaigne because he was ridiculously wealthy and powerful, do we? And OK, so maybe Alain de Botton isn't Montaigne, but he's not Pol Pot either. Maybe I just find certain types of intellectual posturing kind of ridiculous. And to give credit where credit is due, this is a great talk on, uh, pessimism.

About that. Pessimism. As I noted in a previous entry, I myself have recently embraced pessimism. There are a few reasons for this - my long time strategy of hoping for the best and being constantly disappointed hasn't really worked very well for me, especially when it comes to people (including myself). Moreover, for a number of reasons, about 2 years ago now I became a fully functioning nihilist. Indeed, optimism seems to be the royal road to nihlism.

And like many "recovering" people, I've spent a lot of time around nihilists over the past few years, and now that I'm no longer there, I find them really difficult to be around.

Now what's the difference between a pessimist and a nihilist you ask? Well, for me it's basically that pessimists look at the glass half empty so as to better see the sublime, while nihilists think the world lacks sublimity and so are prepared to throw the glass onto the floor when it's dirty.

Now these might sound like the same thing - Nietzsche's pessimism is often confused with nihilism, but if he were a nihilist, he simply wouldn't bother writing. (So maybe that's why I stopped writing a lot...) Same with Kafka, I think.

But they're not. Pessimism is a strategy while nihilism is a worldview. When I was really more of an optimistic cynic, I tended to lump them together. But spending a lot of time wondering just how much worse my life could be, in order to see how delightful it really is, tends to put the nihilists in my life into great relief.

You begin to see your friendships with these people in a very different light. Where you one saw their opposition as a kind of helpful corrective to an overly optimistic, even naive, sensibility, you see it now as an incessant production of bile, a cancer of the soul.

Perhaps this is my own narcissism of small differences, but I have had some recent conversations with people I would label as nihilists, and they aren't pretty. I mean, the world. To them.

One tries to reason with them, but the problem with nihilism is that, as a world view, it's a much tougher nut to crack, because this is the world to them. To them, my pessimism looks like I am lying to myself. But I'm not - I'm imagining the world as being much worse than it actually is.

I know this all sounds rather strange, but Alain de Botton does a nice job of explaining why pretending to be happy all the time is a bad thing - hey, that's another thing - most nihilists I know, are often also people who try to look really happy. But then you scratch that surface...

It's tough, because one wishes they could help them, but they are seemingly happier in their misery, and spreading that misery, than finding peace. They would generally prefer the destruction of everything, which validates their own view, than an approach that imagines the worst in order to see a better possibility.

Sorry, but as a recovering nihilist, this is just so obvious to me now. I just hope that my friends aren't nihilists now in part because of me, because I can be very persuasive. Just not on this blog.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Old Time Blogging

Hey, here are some links of things I have read lately and either enjoyed or didn't - which ones are which I leave as an exercise to the reader.

A fantastic piece on the NFL lockout (yes, I know, sports!) by Stephen Squibb at N+1. People balk at the idea of rich football players being unionized, but when you look at what they're up against, oh and the whole dying really young thing, I can tell you it's a lot easier to see their plight than that of a bunch of plutocrats.

Given I live in a city where our current mayor wants to "privatise" garbage collection, because a large number of my fellow Torontonians believe the people who pick up our garbage don't deserve a good wage and our thanks. Instead, they would prefer some guy make a lot more money so our garbage collectors don't, and on top of that, they can't bargain collectively. I'm sure people here in Toronto looked at what was going on in Wisconsin and thought how we are somehow better off, but privatizing everything is simply eliminating collective bargaining through the back door. Anyway...

And here's a piece from the Awl about someone who doesn't own a cell phone. I kind of admire her, but part of the fun in reading this one is actually also reading the comments. People sure do like their cell phones. Or not.

As someone who dropped Facebook six months ago, I have had a lot of similar conversations. At the end of the day, all the arguments about adopting or not adopting technology wind up having a lot to do with what kind of a distinction we want to make between our "public" and "private" lives. So if this is at all of any interest to you, I would urge you to read philosopher Thomas Nagel's Concealment and Exposure. He does a nice job of trying to point out some of the problems with letting it all hang out.

Now you might accuse me of "letting it all hang out" lately, but you need to ask yourself, do you really think I would get that personal on a blog no one reads? Or maybe you've just found me baffling lately.

If it's any consolation, I kind of feel the same way.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Strolling

Although winter began quite late, it has basically been cold and miserable here in Toronto since January of this year. It's getting nicer out, so today I decided I would take my son out for a walk.

Here's the thing - although he's six, I still put him in a stroller. I don't always do this, only when I know we're walking quite a long way. And the stroller I have is huge, so he remains comfortable in it.

That being said, people look at my son and I quite strangely - after all, he is six. I, like many others, kind of felt that this is something he would "grow out of". But then, this is because I live in a world where driving is the norm.

The reality is that I walk everywhere - I don't own a car. No one thinks twice about strapping a 6-year old into a car to drive three blocks to a store, and yet putting the same child in a stroller when you're walking 5k seems like coddling.

But I wonder about my own thoughts around this, and how they are shaped by my own paranoia about "raising" a child, and the very idea of child development, and we see how certain things, like putting a kid in a stroller, seem awkward, but driving a child the same distance seems perfectly normal, and one begins to see how arbitrary this process is.

This post is even a kind of parental defense of the abnormal, or an apology for not driving.

Isn't that also kind of odd?

Monday, March 14, 2011

On Running and Running Away

M,

I haven't been writing as much, partly because I've been busy, but also because writing can be, well, difficult.

Did I ever tell you that I took up running again a few years ago? It was part of a personal renaissance, or so it seemed, but which looks, in hindsight, more like a second adolescence. I used to run as a kid, and in running again it seemed as though I took on a lot of the qualities I had back in the day. Like hubris - I felt indestructible. And then I hurt myself and it was all over.

A friend once confessed a dark secret to me and then, later that day, fell down a set of stairs. They always linked their falling with a kind of karmic retribution for having hurt me with her truth.

I dismissed this attitude from my friend. And yet there is a part of me that wonders if maybe the injury that keeps me from running anymore was due to a terrible secret of my own which I have kept to this day, the result of something which happened right before the injury.

And, of course, I was keeping it from the same friend. I mean, our friend, M.

So then it's quid pro quo, right? The last time I ran this friend watched me cross the finish line, with tears in her eyes, and at the time I thought they were tears of pride and of celebration, but now, I see them as tears of sadness, of something that had already been lost then, lost in that secret, a secret she didn't know, but which she understood enough to feel that all was lost.

It was just a matter of time and although I believed that we had all the time in the world, it turned out we had already run out of time. The reality is that this secret had doomed us long before she herself ran away.

M, you know I am being cryptic for a reason - I am always cryptic!

But can you answer one question (I've never asked you a question before!) - did she ever tell you our secret?

I honestly don't know if she did, but I know that, when you read this, you will either know exactly what I am talking about, or you will read this and wonder if I am trying to tell you something the only way I can, which is right here, because there is no other way for you and I to talk, or to have this conversation any other way.

But know this - if you know our secret, then I am glad that you were able to begin with an honesty that eluded us, and if you don't, then maybe you should ask her what that secret might be.

But if you know the secret, you will also know why our friendship is in tatters and it is not simply because I am a bitter old fool. Indeed, maybe know ing our secret is why you and I correspond like this.

It is all too easy to dehumanize our opponents, and our correspondence, if nothing else, shows a desire from both of us to strive toward some kind of understanding. And for that I am grateful, because understanding eludes me nearly everywhere else. Whether you like it or not, this correspondence demonstrates that we mean something to each other.

I mean something to you.

But then I know it is difficult for you to ask her what this secret might be, because it would reveal our secret, M, namely this correspondence. And of course the greatest irony is that I will never know anyway because you will both keep it all a secret! What strange richness there is to life!

But M, honestly, I can't really help you anymore, I can't help you find what you are looking for, even though I know you are looking to me for some kind of guidance. But you will not find your answers here.

Instead, you need to ask yourself why people run, and what they ran toward, and if they might not just begin to run again. Are they just injured, and have found themselves a healer? But then, we only go to the doctor when we are sick, right? So are they still running away, or are they actually running to you?

I don't know the answers any more than you do. Perhaps the problem is that she has maybe set me up as someone who should have those answers, because I kept so much of her. Supposedly.

Do you wonder why we have had this correspondence at all, M? I know why I have, but I do wonder what motivates you - if it's fear, loneliness, even hatred. Perhaps it's just curiosity, but if I know our friend, I suspect it's likely also anxiety. Just please don't let it be jealousy.

M, I am happy to continue to tell you stories, to talk, but if you are looking for answers, you will not find what you are looking for here. Maybe you know, deep down, that you will not find it from me, only from her. I have tried to provide some manner of understanding to you these past few months, but at the end of the day, if you are looking to me for understanding, you are in a much darker place than perhaps you want to be.

Or look at it this way - in a month, suddenly none of this will matter. Hopefully, I won't matter anymore. Perhaps this correspondence is just a feature of the distance between all of us - I have honestly tried to bridge that gap, but you know how unsuccessful that was. And you probably want to believe it to be entirely my fault, but then, we have this ongoing correspondence, so perhaps you know all too well there is another side to all of this.

But you will not find what motivates her by getting a sense of what motivates me, because there's a good chance I've been making everything up the whole time. If she's told you anything about me, it would be that I'm good at telling stories that aren't true.

But at the end of the day, you must know this - if she remains a secret to you, she is a complete enigma to me now.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Some helpful advice on academic networking

Holy Smokes! I'm actually posting on my blog as though there's a blogosphere and it's like 2006 again!

Here's a really nice post from the Tenured Radical on networking in academia. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Happy Belated Women's Day

Had I actually been at a computer yesterday I would have said it then!

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Hermann und Dorothea

Perhaps is it just this particular time in my life, but I am becoming increasingly aligned with Goethe's vision of the ideal woman - I have done no reasearch on this, but there is a thread, from Werther to the end of Faust II, of a particular kind of femininity that is so appealing, so powerful, that his uptake of the Romantic idea of salvation through a woman actually begins to take on the character of plausibility.

Now I know in saying this that I open myself to charges of sexism, and perhaps I will disawaow these comments at some point. But today, I just want to enjoy my new favourite work by Goethe, Hermann und Dorothea.

In what is basically a simple love story set in the aftermath of the French Revolution (yes, it does sound silly when you put it that way), Goethe does something magical. Don't want to say much more, when it's better to let Goethe speak for himself:

Da versetzte der Pfarrer, mit Blicken die Sitzende pruefend:
Dass sie den Juengling entzueckt, fuerwahr, es ist mir kein Wunder;
Denn sie haelt vor dem Blick des erfahrenen Mannes die Probe.
Gluecklich, wem doch Mutter Natur die rechte Gestalt gab!
Denn sie empfiehlst ihn stets, und nirgends ist er ein Fremdling.
Jeder nahet sich gern, und jeder moechte verweilen,
Wenn die Gefaelligkeit nur sich zu der Gestalt noch gesellet.
Ich versichr' euch, es ist dem Juengling ein Maedchen gefunden,
Das ihm die kuenftigen Tage des Lebens herrlich erheitert,
Treu mit weiblicher Kraft durch alle Zeiten ihm beisteht.
So ein vollkommener Koerper gewiss verwahrt auch die Seele
Rein, und die ruestige Jugend verspricht ein glueckliches Alter.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Faust I

My life is really taken up with Faust right now - I mean Goethe's of course, if one can say that Goethe's Faust is Goethe's, and not say everyone, but...

There's a lot to say, and I suspect I will say more here, but I just wanted to share some of my favourite moments - after all, a scholarly paper is no place for that, so why not a blog entry.

Am I crazy to think that Gretchen is just unbelievably likeable? I mean, is it just because I'm a man, or is her combination of simple honesty with a kind of humanity in the understanding of her own failings what makes her so compelling?

Nowhere else do we get this than in the scene from Part I entitled Am Brunnen. It's Gretchen and another girl gossiping about a yet another girl who finds herself pregnant out of wedlock, and the horrible social consequences of the pregnancy - the scene comes right after Gretchen's own affair with Faust.

The other girl leaves, and Gretchen says:

Wie konnt' ich sonst so tapfer schmälen,
Wenn tät ein armes Mägdlein fehlen!
wie konnt' ich über andrer Sünden
Nicht Worte g'nug der Zunge finden!
Wie schien mir's schwarz, und schwärzt's noch gar,
Mir's immer doch nicht schwarz g'nug war,
Und segnet' mich und tat so groß,
Und bin nu selbst der Sünde bloß!
Doch - alles was dazu mich trieb,
Gott! war so gut! ach war so lieb!


I think it's the "doch" that really gets me here...if only we were all so capable of this kind of introspection...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Karate Lessons

Like most six year old boys, my son loves to play fight. As I've discussed before (perhaps too often), he loves Star Wars, and, as he has rather cogently noted, "Star Wars is all about fighting" (this wasn't a good thing for him, by the way). But it occurred to myself and his mom that his interest in the Jedi Code and his interest in punching might lead to an interest in martial arts.

When the idea of taking some kind of martial art came up, he was initially very excited to do it. However, for whatever reason, we never got around to signing him up for anything until this past January, and when he went, he refused to do it. And I don't mean refused, he really kind of lost it.

As someone who did karate as a kid, I was genuinely perplexed - his fear was that people would punch him, even though he knew that the entire point of learning a martial art isn't to fight, but to learn how not to fight. Some of the instructors could certainly be intimidating, but you quickly learned that their demeanour wasn't based on aggression but on discipline.

But all he could see was the downside of the situation, and I can't help but think about why - by his own interests, this should be something he wants to do, but in practice...not so much.

Is there a point to this? Kind of - I think it shows how much of a role time plays in introducing these kinds of disciplines to someone, especially children - if he had started when he was 4, it would have probably been OK, but he has enough self-awareness now to see what's going on in there and see nothing but danger.

And maybe he will take it up in a few years. I think something a lot of us do, with kids, and with ourselves, is take life's interests as somehow permanently pre-formed, and perhaps what a 6 year old can't do, an 8 year old would be very much into.

Our lives are dynamic and not static, and maybe the one thing I learned in dragging a screaming child to karate lessons that he never actually set foot in is that there is always hope, there is always a chance that next time, he would set foot into the class, and that would be all the more wonderful thing to see because it was a struggle for him.

In a world where so many people live unhappily in their comfortable lives, the struggle to learn karate, or another language, reminds us that it is life's challenges, and not the latest handbag, that make people who they are, for better or for worse.

That being said, do I intend to drag my son to karate until he finally goes? Well, that's another story...I think instead I'll give it some time, and try again in a year.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ego Flos Campi

M,

There is a personal irony in the fact that this work, by Clemens non Papa, is something I listen to nearly every day, in a recording by Stile Antico - the sound is so warm and beautiful, and they take it so slowly, revealing a density to the work that eludes the faster performances.

But that's not ironic, is it? Wait, it will come. But I needed to get the beauty of the performance out of the way. At some point, I had decided that I would make this a motet for my wedding, by which I mean of course, some hypothetical wedding, and not one that is actually happening, although I must admit that one rarely thinks about wedding plans unless there was someone with whom they could imagine (or dare I say, fantasize) walking down that aisle, and taking their soft, delicate hand into yours and slipping a ring onto her finger as, oh, something like this unfolds in the background.

Having been married, and having had a choir sing at my first wedding, I was reluctant to do this again. But then I heard this piece, and I decided I would be OK with a choir, singing this work, very slowly, perhaps not as part of a service, but as a musical gift to my then-future-past wife.

Do you know where the words for this piece come from? The Song of Songs, the Bible's liminal space. This piece is like a soundtrack to a wedding that will never happen, or at least, I won't be there. But I can really only talk about this because I'm OK with it - my silence, and you know this, is more often a sign of pain than of joy. And you can rest assured that, as of right now, M, I have never been happier. Honestly.

Oh right, the irony. The words "Ego Flos Campi" means something like I am the flower of the field. Heidenröslein.

I can see your face now - The work that sings of the wedding that will never be recites the very moment when the possibility of that wedding died, auf der Heiden.

It puts a smile on one's face, doesn't it? How did I not know this until today?

Life constantly amazes!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On Conducting

At some point in my life, I wanted to be a conductor.

For myself, one of the more difficult things about wanting to be a conductor was enduring the constant question of what a conductor actually did on stage. I was always kind of lousy describing it, because it's really one of those things that you have to experience, either as a performer or as a conductor, to understand.

At this stage, I would probably say that the role of the conductor is to negotiate some kind of coherent performance between the musicians before them. However, there's a great article in The Morning News right now that does a much better job than I, in part because instead of describing it, the author actually stands in front of an orchestra and conducts it. Moreover, he's an amateur, with the blessings that this status can bestow, like an open mind.

It's a wonderful read, in part because the author, unlike many of the people who asked me that question back in the day, is prepared to consider the possibility that the conductor actually does something. That's a refreshing change!

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Snow Day

In defence of my fellow Torontonians, who, this morning, seemed to have completely overreacted to today's snow storm, I would encourage people to take a look and see what this storm did in the US - we appeared to have gotten lucky!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The MLA Convention

A nice piece on this year's Modern Languages Association Convention at the Awl.

It is with some relief that there's a good chance that by the time I'm on the academic job market (it seems so far away), interviews will be conducted online instead of in a hotel room. I think that's progress, but having never had an interview in a hotel room, I can't really say much more than that!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy New Year!

To all my readers, old and new, all the best for this year!

I can assure you that one of my New Year's resolutions was not "to blog more". So I will probably be blogging more! Counterintuitive!

As always there will be no promises, except that I will probably get a bit less solipsistic than I was this fall as the year wears on. Probably.

That being said, for a January, I'm feeling rather upbeat, especially given I have just passed, and I'm coming up on, a number of rather unfortunate milestones (millstones would perhaps be more appropriate, ones I carry willingly, but still). I feel like I should be sadder or more messed up right now. But I'm not. Which is probably why I can type this.