Friday, 31 December 2010

7 Quick Takes (70)

1. Last weekend I watched some movies with the fam: Casino Royale, Blood Diamond, The Bucket List, and parts of PS I Love You. I don't think I have anything to say about any of them right now.
(I am sure other stuff happened. We likely went for a walk outside; I went to church; I read The Girl Who Played With Fire; I probably read Castle Waiting Vol. 2 if I hadn't done that earlier.)

2. On Monday we went to Edmonton. That afternoon and night we went to Whyte Street and to the West Edmonton Mall. At the West Ed my brother bought and had fitted a suit, I bought The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittester and The Problem of Pain by C S Lewis, and my mother got painting supplies. My father, brother, and I then went to the gun range. I don't think I have ever fired a real gun before. It was fun but I know that the other two enjoyed it far more than I did. We tried three different revolvers. I wasn't terribly good.

3. On Tuesday we went to the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Royal Alberta Museum. As always the RAM was interesting; in particular I enjoyed the temporary exhibit of nature photography. The AGA was also interesting, though I understand far less about it. I liked some of the Symbolists; I liked some of the Canadian landscape painters; I did not care for Matisse; I quite liked Burtynsky, but then I already knew that. His Bengladesh shipbreaking series is wonderful. That evening we returned to the Mall, where we discovered that the new Harry Potter was sold out. So Nick and I went to the nerd store and then I got a cinnamon bun and went to Chapter's and then, finally, we went to see The Tourist. It was enjoyable enough but I have problems with it. I can't tell you the problems without spoiling the film, though, so I'll desist.

4. On Wednesday we returned to Fort McMurray. I wrote a letter on the way. When we returned we took some ridiculous pictures as a family.

5. Thursday morning my brother caught a plane back to school.

6. For much of yesterday and today I worked on my Asian Canadian paper. I am almost done.

7. It's New Year's Eve or some such thing. You know, I like the idea of seasonal cycles. I've never understood New Year's, though. It seems like a silly thing to celebrate, the turn of an arbitrary demarkation. Such are we funny creatures, that one bit of time should seem different from another bit of time just because we have collectively decided to put a marker between them.

Please go see the host of this fine carnival, one Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary.

Friday, 24 December 2010

7 Quick Takes (69)

1. It's Christmas Eve, so Merry Christmas!
Jen won't be hosting 7 Quick Takes this week, but for reason you'll soon know today is still OK for me to do this. I haven't been on for a week, either, so perhaps it's about time I let you know what's been happening.

2. I finally finished and turned in my paper. I'm not very pleased with it, but I suppose it's passable. That took far more work and stress than anticipated. I still have a paper left to do over the break, which is less than pleasing.

3. On Monday I went to visit a friend in Richmond. We ate at a Malaysian place in the Aberdeen Centre. I also managed to get myself headed in the wrong direction on the way home; I only noticed my error when I saw a mountain in the wrong place.

4. On Tuesday I caught a flight from YVR. There's a Bill Reid sculpture there which is nationally famous by way of being printed on the back of the $20 bill. I got some photos of that. That evening I arrived in Fort McMurray, as did my brother.

5. On Wednesday we celebrated Christmas. My Dad works Christmas Day so we just pick a day when we're all together to celebrate Christmas. After all, the 25 of December probably isn't the actual anniverary of Christ's birth, so we generally figure one arbitrarily chosen day is as good as another arbitrarily chosen day as far as present-distribution goes. I'll still be headed to church tonight, but we've done the gift-giving already.

6. Also on Wednesday my brother and I had to go to the dentist's. At the dentist's I was told I needed to get a filling, for which I went in again on Thursday. The check-up, x-ray, and cleaning took more time than the filling did. It was a quick and easy process. The only downside is that there's now this strange stuff in my back molar to which I will need to adjust. Believe it or not, this is the first filling I've ever had. I don't like being unfamiliar with the inside of my own mouth.

7. My mother gave my brother Avatar for Christmas, so we watched in yesterday. I'd never seen it before. I was fairly impressed, but I hear it has nothing on being seen in 3D. I might post about it; I might not. We shall see.
I also received Castle Waiting from the brother and read it yesterday. More discussion on it later. (I received many other books, too, but I haven't finished them yet.)

8. On Tuesday I visited former employers. Sometime this weekend we intend to go walking and/or tobaganning. We also plan to visit Edmonton. However, you shall hear next Friday whether this plans come to fruition.

That is all. Merry Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

No 7 Quick Takes This Week

I am busy with papers and grading and things. Also, I am performing penance for my general inability to not go crazy from grading and then spending too long in the archives of QC. So tomorrow I am going to try a new tactic (study in the English Graduate Reading Room) and if my productivity is as good as I'd like it to be, I won't be on Blogger at all tomorrow.

Regular posting will return at some point or another... but half of you are also students/teachers and in the same boat as I am, so you shouldn't be reading this anyway.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Photosynthesis Like Colour

I'm in the midst of writing (and grading) finals, so I haven't a lot of free time to spend posting. One of those finals, the one that is currently stressing me, is about Thomson's The Seasons and Erasmus Darwin's Loves of the Plants. This means that I am writing about nature and botanical literature. In the spirit of that, I thought I would type out a passage from Wade Davis' One River, in which talking botany becomes something like aesthetic mysticism. I will warn you that there's a swear (gasp) in it, as well as something that reads, when out of context, like pantheistic psychedalia near the end, but otherwise it's quite fascinating:

As the afternoon wore on, the conversation turned to botany and in particular a new book that made a great fuss about house plants responding to music and human voices. For Tim the very idea was ridiculous.
"Why would a plant give a shit about Mozart?" I remember him saying. "And even if it did, why should that impress us? I mean, they can eat light. Isn't that enough?"
He went on to speak of photosynthesis the way an artist might describe color. He said that at dusk the process is reversed and that plants actually emit small amounts of light. He referred to sap as the green blood of plants, explaining that chlorophyll is structurally almost the same as the pigment of our blood, only the iron in hemoglobin is replaced by magnesium in plants. He spoke of the way plants grow, a seed of grass producing sixty miles of root hairs in a day, six thousand miles over the course of a season; a field of hay exhaling five hundred tons of water into the air each day; a flower pushing its blossom through three inches of pavement; a single catkin of a birch tree producing five million grains of pollen; a tree living for four thousand years. Unlike every other botanist I had known, he was not obsessed with classification. For him Latin names were like koans or lines of verse. He remembered them effortlessly, taking particular delight in their origins. "When you say the names of the plants," he said at one point, "you say the names of the gods."

Photograph © 2010 Christian H

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Fantasy Genre: Magic, Maps, and Mystery

"In mysteries what we know, and our realization of what we do not know, proceed together; the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder."
-Huston Smith, The World's Religions.

I have a number of thoughts about the fantasy genre which I intend to explore here. (I should instead be using this time to read and think about The Loves of the Plants and The Seasons.) In this post, I will be thinking about fantasy and mystery.

Dr. Richard Beck at Experimental Theology has written a post about Harry Potter, Twilight, and modern horror and fantasy movies. Beck locates a new trend in fantasy which emphasizes the biological over the metaphysical or magical. As always you should read the whole post because any summary will by necessity fail, but the gist is that the titular examples do not so much use metaphysical versions of wizardry or vampires as their forerunners would have, but instead are interested in biology. Vampirism is less a curse than a disease; magic seems genetic and the problems of Harry's world seem racial and racist in nature, following the pseudo-scientific rhetoric we are used to in Nazism and anti-abolitionist literature. Of course, these two books are not the only ones doing this; Beck uses them as emblems of a growing trend.

I agree with Beck that this biologism is a trend, as I'd been charting (and at that time participating in) it since high school. However, I think that Harry Potty has a slight redemption to it, which is this: magic is never explained in the text. We as readers are made aware that there is a foundation to it. Hermione insists that learning the theory will help Harry improve his skill as a wizard, but we never know what that theory is. This missing piece of the picture explains how wizardry can be a skill learned and improved through practice. Otherwise it would seem awfully silly that someone could be no good at flicking their wrist and repeating pseudo-Latin. So long as you were born with magical ability, you should be able to figure out Wingardium Leviosa in minutes.

This missing foundation is not enough to rescue it from the biologism than Beck sees in it, but that's neither here nor there. It's still a perfectly good series. What interests me is how frustrated some people I know get about not knowing how magic operates. "I already suspended disbelief once," they say. "I don't want to have to do it again and again." This should not be surprising: Wikipedia offers extensive explanation of how magic in fantasy can operate. It seems natural that people who like fantasy should want to know how the magic works. People are curious, and people are increasingly interested in understanding how things work. Why should magic in fiction be any different?

To me the answer to that is simple: it would cease to be magic. If we understood magic, it would be physics; the manipulation of it would be a sufficiently advanced technology. Magic is not reducable to a sufficiently advanced technology, or at least it isn't in fiction if we happen to know how it works. That which is magical (numinous is a worth-while word to think about in this case) is to some extent or another inexplicable. I should note that this doesn't need to tax our suspension of disbelief. Most of us don't understand how airplanes stay in the air or how we get oxygen though our lungs or how the postal system works, but we go with it anyeway. There is no reason that we can't put questions of understanding aside when deciding whether or not to suspend our disbelief in fiction. (Besides, it's good for us.)

Does this mean we are wrong to want to understand? No, I do not think so. Curiousity is a good thing by most accounts. What isn't such a good thing is getting angry and putting the book down when our curiousity is not always satisfied. For one thing, it's a very childish attitude. If you are curious about a friend's private life and get indignant when they won't tell you about it, you are failing at friendship because you are failing to respect their privacy. For another thing, you would miss a lot of good fiction. And for a final thing, you will miss the pleasure of mystery.

When I read a fantasy novel that I love, I want to know more. I have scoured the Internet for details about marshwiggles, for instance. There isn't much information to be had. I loved to read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings: there is a section on the presumed origin of trolls and the troll language, and there is a section on how it came to be that Gandalf took the dwarves to Bilbo Baggins' door. There is a brief mention about why the dwarves were mainly absent from the book, and that explanation was that they were busy fighting against Sauron's goblins and dragons in the north. That's right. There's an entire military campaign, in which the villians have dragons, going on off-stage during The Lord of the Rings. This roused my curiosity. I wanted to know more.

And yet I realized that this is happened before. Once I know all that I want to know, I am not satisfied. I am disappointed. The fantasy world cannot ever live up to what I would imagine it to be. Fantasy books often have maps, so if you have one handy go and look at the map. Do you know what is going on everywhere on that map? Are there any blank spaces? I don't mean gaps in the image; I mean place names which never appear in the novel, mountains which are never described, islands which remain dark and haunted. Are there these blank spaces? I want to go to those spaces, to fill them in, but as soon as you do go there the interest in them is gone. It is only when the blank spaces remain blank that they remain interesting.

([EDIT: Reading this paranthetical again I realize that I am making too broad a gesture and too bold an assertion for my current ignorance. I won't change it but I will add that I realize there is a complex discourse about the African continent. The trick is that I don't see how I can conscientiously avoid mentioning that this sort of "mysterious geography" has had direct reprecussions on real history, and those have not been universally good. There are problems when you apply literary stuff directly to the real world.] This is directly related to colonialism: it is only because the Dark Continent is Dark that it is of interest. If you feel like you have penetrated it, that you know it, then it becomes uninteresting. And it is only when you realize that Africa is not a homogenous nation of homogenous peoples but rather a section of the world which, like every section of the world, will constantly elude complete understanding that it again becomes interesting--and worthy of respect. Of course it had always been both, but so long as we thought we knew it, we could not know that.)

I don't require that all fantasy maintains the balance between giving enough details to evoke a greater picture and never giving enough to satisfy our curiosity. I am, however, disconcerted by those who do expect complete explanations of magic in all fantasy series, since this would destroy one of the best things the fantasy genre has to offer: a mysterious cosmogeny (versus a rigourously explained cosmogeny in hard sci-fi). This is the pleasant tension, that we do want to know more about these favourite worlds but that to satisfy that desire would in the end fail to please us. It is only when we are required to wonder that it is wonderful; it is only when we can desire more than we can have that that desire is endless.

(I also think that learning to live with not understanding while maintaining the desire to understand is a habit necessary to good character, but that argument perhaps belongs elsewhere.)

7 Quick Takes (68)

1. On Saturday I took part in a symposium for my Asian Canadian Studies class. It was a joint symposium with students from our class and from a University of Simon Fraser class similar to ours. We had it at the Harbour Centre in four panels. It was surprisingly professional and there were apparently people from the actual feild present. That could have been intimidating. It was a bit odd, giving a paper on a topic in a field of which I am not a part. It was also odd because my paper was in many ways a religious studies-literary analysis cross over, which makes things difficult because I cannot gauge how the other participants will understand the terminology I am using. This came out especially when one student came to me afterwards suggesting I use the word "spirituality" instead of "religion" in some of the instances in my paper. This seemed to be a silly distinction to me; I fully recognize that some people prefer one term over the other, but in the sort of RELS circles at Queen's of which I was minorly a part, that seems like a bizarre and arbitrary distinction. Anyway, it was great if a little intimidating, I had fun, and I learned a lot. Afterwards we went out for drinks and a great time was had by all.
(This may be excessive detail about the symposium, I realize; I feel like I should explain what it looked like for whatever non-academic readers I may have. It was also the first time I took part in a symposium, so it may be appropriate to explain it here.)

2. At church there was a Christmas bazaar, at which I bought some jams from a fellow named John. These jams were as follows: blackberry pineapple; rhubarb; tayberry. So far I have sampled the first, and it is wonderful.

3. On Tuesday I went to the English Graduate Department Masquerade Party. It was enjoyable. Beforehand (Monday) a friend and I went to Dressew to buy masks and I went to get a white shirt. It turned out that my white shirt may have been a little too big, which is a shame. Most of us had a lot of fun, though. (I feel like this entry should be bigger, but unless you know the people who went I don't suppose there'd be any reason for it to be that long.)

4. Oh, also on Tuesday I had an interview about diversity issues in TAing. That was productive, insofar as it got me thinking more about lesson planning for students of assorted diversities. I must try to apply some of these ideas to future classes.

5. On Wednesday I had a hours-long run-around in the assorted Chapters downtown. It's a long story, which I won't tell here, but I must say that the Chapters staff I encountered were very friendly and helpful, and that I don't think I shall ever be distressed about spending time in bookstores. This is also significant because all of this going downtown has made me far more comfortable with both the downtown space itself and the transit system.

6. On Thursday I invigilated two three-hour exams back-to-back. That was exhaustingly tedious, but fairly good for getting work done. Afterwards some of the other TAs and I went for sushi and talked about literature and literary studies. Go figure.

7. Today I had class, which is unusual because classes ought to be over by now. Completely unrelated to this, I also really like this:

Please go see more of this genre at Jennifer Fulwiler's blog!

Friday, 3 December 2010

7 Quick Takes (67)

1. Light rain and overcast. (You can tell it's been a slow week when...)

2. Advent service was held in the basement so that we could have an Advent garden instead of a sermon. It was pretty, I suppose, though I wasn't sure what to make of its theological importance.

3. It was the last week of classes. I planned my last discussion for the term. That being said, I do have a make-up class next week and a symposium tomorrow.

4. While I'm talking about the symposium, I should say that the paper I'm delivering is almost twice the maximum length. Great. I have so much introduction that that will be all that I can deliver...

5. I saw some raccoons yesterday. I don't know why I find that altogether too interesting; I have seen some in the city before now. I got some blurry photos this time. I suppose that's why I bother mentioning it.

6. I went to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I. I might blog about it at some point, but then again I might not. I want to see Red Riding Hood, though. This I have decided.

7. I'm exhausted and I have a lot of work left to do. I'm going to have to call it quits early and get on that work.

Remember to go to Jennifer Fulwiler's blog; she's the host of this carnival.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

I Intend to Post Soon

Hey, all.

I intend to write awesome posts soon. I really do. Things are busy over here, however, and blog posts are not a priority. It will have to wait. In a few weeks I might be able to manage a few interesting posts. I have a bunch of possible topics lined up.

I'll see you when I see you (or "you'll read me when you read me," but that doesn't have quite the same ring to it).

Christian H

Friday, 26 November 2010

Happy American Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to those south of the border.

7 Quick Takes (66)

1. After writing my 7 Quick Takes last week, I heard a knock on my door. I opened it to my housemate who wanted to go slack-lining. So out we went to the park, where he taught us (a friend of his and I) how to sword-fight and where we did some slack-lining. It was a deal of fun, and his friend apparently comes from near Fort McMurray. She grew up in Edmonton, but had family in Lac La Biche. It was a good night, but my feet ended up being pretty cold after the slack-lining. I am also better at sword-fighting after even one session. To the right is a photograph of me falling from the line that night. I did land on my feet, which tend to get pretty filthy when slack-lining.
It started snowing that night.

2. Snow and photography. An unseasonable amount for British Columbia. There is good news: winter photography is as excellent as spring, summer, and autumn photography. It can be especially interesting in British Columbia, with snow on lush ferns and palm trees. I am glad that I got some decent shots of totem poles with snow on them. As a result, I started worrying (again) of cultural appropriation and my own commission of it. This to an extent made it impossible for me to uncritically enjoy putting up photos of the totem poles. But I am still going to put some on here, I think. You can decide whether there is anything problematic with the practice of taking and distributing images of cultural artifacts in museum spaces. (It's also easy to read this as some sort of attempt at using these artifacts as Canadian national symbols, especially when snow-clad. I won't pretend that I don't think of snow in patriotic terms.)

3. On Saturday, after spending some time working, I went to a dance recital/ competition in which a friend was participating. Some other friends were going to accompany me, but one backed out for reasons I can't recall and the other, at the last minute, messaged that she was too sick. I went alone, therefore, to cheer for three. Given my general lack of physical coordination and my general ignorance of dance, it was a bit awkward. Most of the audience was composed of dancers. Nonetheless I enjoyed watching; skill is always fascinating to see.

3. On Wednesday I attended the last seminar of my Asian Canadian Studies course. In it we were to read a chapter of Judith Butler, this one on mourning and politics. Butler asks who we are able/allowed to mourn, and what it means to theorize mourning. It's really a good article. She problematizes the word "we" in her own ways (as well as problematizing "I"), but that got me thinking (and talking in class) about the inherent ambiguity of that pronoun. In speech, "we" can mean [I + you], [I + they], or [I + you + they]; regardless, a person who uses "we" in speech necessarily claims to be speaking on behalf (or at least to be speaking about the condition of) not just themselves but also another person. In writing there are other possiblities, including [I + I]. You'll see the [I + I] formulation when two or more co-author a text without indicating who wrote which portion. Then one imagines the voice of the text being their shared voice or something even more ambiguous. (If you watch the documentary on them, you'll learn that the Hensel twins use pronouns and third-person nouns in interesting ways when Instant Messaging.)
It seemed appropriate that in the last seminar of this course, in which we are often compelled to destabalize things we had previously been taking for granted, we ended the day with the destabalization of basic pronouns. We've broken so much down that we can't even describe "our" own action.

4. For the class for which I am a TA, we read Coetzee's The Life & Times of Michael K. I rather enjoyed that book, but I find it hard to access. Like lots of good books, it seems easy at first, perhaps because of the clean, clear prose. One of the most fascinating things about this book is that it is set in South Africa, and yet Coetzee never makes clear a) when it takes place (Apartheid? post-Apartheid? near future?) or b) what the protagonist's race is.

5. In the context of my research for my Asian-Canadian paper, I encountered the interesting idea of the American civil religion. Wikipedia has a brief and insufficeint description of it. The Wikipedia article (and perhaps the original coiner of the term) seems to imply that American civil religion is somehow an outgrowth of or intrisically related to Christianity, especially Protestantism. This is not always true. The article in which I discovered this idea (Jane Naomi Iwamura, "Critical Faith: Japanese Americans and the Birth of a New Civil Religion." Immigration and Religion in America. Ed. Richard Alba, Albert J. Raboteau, and Josh Dewind. New York: New York UP, 2009. Print.) has a good description:

"Civil religion," according to Bellah (1975: 3) is "that religious dimension found . . . in the life of every people, through which it interprets its historical experience in the light of transcendet reality." For many in United States, this "transcedent reality" is shaped by both the Christian tradition and Roman republicanism, which, in turn, lends meaning and justification to the principles of "democracy," "freedom," and "equality" before the law. Americans affirm their faith in these principles and to the nation through a shared set of "beliefs, symbols, and rituals" (e.g., the Bill of
Rights, the Lincoln Memorial, the inauguration of the president). Civil religious institutions are historical creations, yet they need no justification. For instance, the Constitution "does not call upon any source of sacredness higher than itself and its makers." Ultimately, civil religion has an integrative function and binds the individual citizen psychically and spiritually to her fellow Americans and to the nation-state (Albanese, 1992; Wuthnow, 1998b).

For some time I have struggled to understand the peculiar sort of patriotism and nationalism that certain American citizens hold; the idea of civil religion helped me come to some sort of terms with it. I have no problem with patriotism, but I do have a problem with American exceptionalism. The unquestioning appeal by many Americans to Constitutional documents, the founding fathers' intentions, and whether something is "American" or "unAmerican" (as if either is a remotely useful or definable adjective) has also baffled me for some time. Now I think I have a better grasp on the sort of sociological forces that undergird these phenomenon, but I still don't feel like I have a real grasp on the way this tendency is left unquestioned. Are there any American readers willing to explain the invocation of these ideas (Constitution, founding fathers, "American" v. "unAmerican") to me?
(Please note that I am aware that some Canadians are equally guilty of using strange adjectives, like "unCanadian," without a decent explanation of what they mean. It just seems more prevalent, and it seems to hold more rhetorical weight, in the United States than it does here.)

6. Among other wastes of my time, I have been laughing a lot this week over at Reasoning With Vampires. (Anyone else think blog titles should be italicized?) I don't always agree with her comma vendetta, as in fictional prose the use of commas is justified if you are creating rhythm. One needn't always be as minimalist as a newspaper in fiction. In general, though, I think what this woman is doing is fascinating. She takes fierce grammatical, stylistic, and content editing and turns it into visual art. Paradoxically, I now want to read at least one of the Twilight books. It's sort of a detective-work thing. If the books are as bad as people say they are, and if they are as bad as Reasoing With Vampires repeatedly demonstrates that they are, then what I wonder is why they have the popularity that they do. They must supply some need or desire that their readers are not getting elsewhere (as distinguished from "cannot get elsewhere"). What is that need or desire?
And how can I harness it?

7. Below is the Grooveshark playlist I listened to while writing this post and trawling Facebook. It is akin to what I've been listening to all week and is not akin to what I would normally listen to (with the exception of Bear McCreary).

"Jacob's Ladder," Rush
"The Trees," Rush
"The Spirit of Radio," Rush
"You Really Got Me," Van Halen
"Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love," Van Halen
"The Call," Regina Spektor
"Love Affair," same
"On the Radio," same
"Lady," same
"Oedipus," same (really like this one)
"Us," same
"Eet," same (stuck in my head)
"Samson," same
"Fidelity," same
"Evelyn Evelyn," Evelyn Evelyn (stuck in my head)
"You Only Want Me 'Cause You Want My Sister," Evelyn Evelyn
"Love Will Tear Us Apart," Evelyn Evelyn
"Hurt," Johnny Cash
"I Hung My Head," Johnny Cash
"O Verona," Craig Armstrong
"Gaeta's Lament," Bear McCreary
"The Shape of Things to Come," Bear McCreary
"All Along the Watchtower," Bear McCreary
"Kara Remembers," same
"A Good Lighter," same
"Kara's Coordinates," same
"Admiral and Commander," same
"Baltar Panics" same

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

What Do These Folks Have in Common?

According to Wikipedia, all of the following individuals have something in common. Do you know what that common trait is?

In not-really-alphabetical order:

Isaac Asimov
David Bowie
Gerard Butler
Marie Antoinette
Susan B Anthony
Muhammad Ali
Jim Carrey
John Coltrane
Richard Feynman
Kathy Griffin
Anthony Hopkins
Elton John
Samuel L Jackson
Franz Kafka
Kim Kardashian
Stephen King
Ann Landers
Abraham Lincoln
Jennifer Lopez
H P Lovecraft
Ewan McGregor
Friedrich Nietzsche
Gary Oldman
Natalie Portman
Christina Ricci
Anne Rice
Mitt Romney
George Bernard Shaw
Sarah Silverman
Gene Simmons
Taylor Swift
Teller (of Pen and Teller)
Pierre Trudeau
Shania Twain
Mae West
Bruce Willis
Malcolm X

Friday, 19 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (65)

1. A housemate and I went for $3 breakfast on Saturday. As it turned out, there was an enormous line-up, so we had Vietnamese instead, which wasn't $3. And by the time we got back it was already late in the afternoon, and since it was pouring we did not go slack-lining.

2. I wasted a lot of time this week. I feel pretty bad about it (I spent most of that wasted time watching Legend of the Seeker), but it does mean that I realized I need to work even harder at discipline. Limiting blog and Facebook access isn't sufficient. New work habits are necessary. The difficulty is that I have no "workplace" at which I can be very motivated. When I am at school, I spend "too much" time socializing... which is the only not-working time consumer I do not want to cut back on.

3. Joseph Addison's Cato is pretty good. To you American readers, you should be(come) familiar with this play; a lot of your Americana quotations are actually historical figures quoting this play. For instance, Nathan Hale's "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" is a rephrasing of a line from Cato, which was very popular in the States during that time.

4. I just found out that I got into a course I had been hoping to get into. Yay! I will be studying Renaissance (or Early Modern, if you think Renaissance is politically incorrect) again! Exclamation point!

5. Rain.

6. As in did last week, I went to Coffee Hour. It was good, in that I spoke to people I don't normally 'hang' with.

7. We did play-acting in the Pedagogy Workshop this week. I don't know how well people responded; it got oddly symbolic pretty quickly, though fascinatingly so for me. I volunteered partway through, as was inevitable. I wound up playing a particular emotional facet of a character (what did I say about symbolism?), in which I was on the floor in a fetal position shutting everything down. It's bad improv, but I was asked to play this very focused facet of the character. Odd... but fascinating, to have multiple facets of a character on the stage at one time.

And that's it for me. As usual, head on over to Jennifer Fulwiler's blog for more 7 Quick Takes.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (64)

1. I spent most of the weekend sick and grading papers and procrastinating. As a result of stupendous amounts of time lost, I instituted new rules: no Facebook or blogs (with the exception of investigating comments to make sure they're not inappropriate) or webcomics on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Saturdays, and I'm only allowed Wednesdays if I've already completed my lesson plan for the next day.

2. I spent Remembrance Day not-very-reminiscently. I did manage to get a new poppy and not lose it (thanks for the tip, Jon), but I didn't manage to wake up in time to get to the 11:00 service on campus, and I couldn't find the whole ceremony on TV. So there you go. I was going to do a whole post on memento mori, but since I didn't really have any related experiences over the All Saints-Remembrance Day span, I don't have much material for a post.

3. I watched Jonah Hex somewhere in there. I wouldn't, if I were you. It's not great. I thought it would at least be fun, but I guess not.

4. I have a lot of work coming up; I need to write an abstract for a paper on Asian-Canadian syncretisms. I have the pleasure/honour/joy/nightmare of having chosen a topic with a poverty of pre-existing scholarship. I also have about a month until another paper is due, so I mustn't waste much time.

5. I discovered Regina Spektor this week. By no means does she produce the sort of music I would choose to listen to on a regular basis, but I am broadening my listening habits a little tiny bit and I must say that I enjoy the songs I have heard her sing so far. Jon, do you have any opinions on this matter?

6. I also discovered a delightfully campy fantasy series called The Legend of the Seeker. I have no intentions of picking this up as a show I will watch regularly, but I looked it up on YouTube in relation to its complicated non-canon/subtextual love triangle. (The original article I read about it was excited specifically by the subtextual/forbidden female-female relationship more than the secondary male-female relationship.) Melissa, one of my "core" friends here, is fascinated by dynamics in love triangles in literature, so I was looking into it "for" her, but I thought it was pretty interesting in its own right.
See, this is what happens when certain types of people become English grads. Utter camp becomes fascinating as an analytical object. Now I'm busy thinking about canon and subtext. Can there be a canon subtext, or is all subtext necessarily extra-canonical?

7. On Friday I went to Coffee Hour, the English grad social. It's the first time I'd been; I keep meaning to go, but either I'm busy, dragged into helping homeless people (that happened once), or exhausted, and so never go. This week I did! There I had tea, and baklava, and talked with Michael and, more so, Melissa, and so really didn't get to know anyone else any better anyway. We got cliquey fast, it seems.
That's why I didn't get 7 Quick Takes done on time.

You could go visit Jen Fulwiler, host of this carnival, if you care to.

Saturday, 13 November 2010



I apparently had a social life today, so the regularly scheduled 7 Quick Takes will not be published. I am also giving up Blogger except for Fridays, Sundays, and sometimes Wednesdays, so you won't hear from me until Sunday. Sorry!

Saturday, 6 November 2010



This is where bloggers gather on the first Saturday of each month to share their latest and greatest blog posts. This weekend we are sharing our favorite post from October 2010!
Well, actually, this isn't where all that happens. All that happens at Elizabeth Esther's blog. Go on over to participate.
This month I want to showcase this post about a man with schizophrenia I just happened to meet, and the non-lessons I drew from that encounter. However, if you're interested in church-related stuff (and, if you're here from Elizabeth's general direction, you probably are), then you may also be interested in the time my church played Disney songs for hymns.
It's been a busy month for me. I can't wait to see what it's produced for you.
(I look forward to this thing all month long. I am such a loser!)

Friday, 5 November 2010

7 Quick Takes (63)

1. I finally got sick. I was wondering how long it would take. I've missed some classes on-and-off all week. I also went back to bed this morning and got up again three hours later. As a result, I don't really think I have a ton of (interesting) news for you, folks.

2. Due to the terrible state my backpack was in (and I'd only had it a few months), I went to the mall to buy a new one. I did get a new one, but that's less interesting maybe than the trip to the mall. What odd places malls are, but they work. For me, at least. I lose track of time in there. That's unusual because I don't go into any of the stores. (In which case I guess we can't say they work perfectly because I don't buy anything.) I was disappointed in the mall, though; they had no bookstores!

3. What the mall did have were poppy-vendors. I can't recall which org was distributing them. So I got a poppy and put it on and then lost it within a day, as always. This is an on-going thing for me; get poppy, lose poppy, get another poppy, lose poppy, panic on Remembrance Day, find another poppy, manage to keep poppy until 11 o'clock ceremony, have poppy easily visible for a few months in my room before I realize there's no point in keeping it.

4. On Hallowe'en I volunteered at church. It was fun. We were selling soup and cider and hot dogs; a lot of the staff were dressed up, and we played Hallowe'en music, beginning, of course, with "The Monster Mash." I went home early to Skype the folks, but felt tired and queasy. I thought it was from frying onions (I cannot stand the smell or taste of onions), but in retrospect I was likely getting ill.

5. Someone introduced me to PhD Comics. Like I needed a new webcomic to lose hours on.

6. Oh. Wait. Happy Guy Fawkes Day! I had forgotten about that until now. I won't have time to locate and watch V for Vendetta, however, as...

7. I have a stack of papers yet to mark, so I'll get on that, I suppose.

This blog carnival is hosted by Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary. Make sure you check it out.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Saving Babies

If you are looking for your Good Deed of the Month Opportunity, please allow me to suggest this: It primarily involves purchasing cookware, the proceeds of which go towards helping a child battle cancer.

If you are not looking for your Good Deed of the Month Opportunity, please ignore this message.

Friday, 29 October 2010

7 Quick Takes (62)

1. I watched some movies last weekend: Splice and Eve and the Fire Horse.
Splice is a Canadian bio-horror movie about a pair of sceintists who make designer organisms for a living. They decide at one point to (illegally) experiment with human DNA and create a human-hybrid named Dren. As Dren grows up, maturing in ways completely unexpected, she becomes harder and harder to keep a secret . . . and harder and harder to manage.
It's a pretty good movie, especially considering that it's Canadian-made; it's creepy, and builds suspense without much violence or gore for most of the movie. But about two-thirds of the way through the movie it gets disturbing, fast. Let's just say that the characters who made Dren have some issues themselves. And let's just say that inter-species sex will always be uncomfortable at best. (And I just got myself some weird visitors from Google again.)

Eve and the Fire Horse is also Canadian-made, about two girls, Eve and Karena, who live with their parents in Vancouver in the 1960s. Their parents have immigrated from China, and Eve (the protagonist) and Karena live in a hodge-podge world of "Chinese superstition" (what an awful name for that religious tradition, by the way), Confucianism, Buddhism, and poorly-understood Catholicism. It's in the style of Big Fish in some ways, with flights of imagination unfolding before your eyes. I suppose you would call it magic realism? Anyway, it deals with racism, family dynamics, guilt and grief, and spiritual life. I might write a proper review of it some day.

2. At church, they played Disney songs for hymns. If this interests you, I wrote out the service at this post.

3. I discovered Gerard Manley Hopkins this week. Some of his poetry was assigned in the class I am a TA for. Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Jesuit priest, and his sonnets are beautiful, rich, and complex; they require a good dictionary, and are worth it. I encourage you to take a look at them.

"The Starlight Night"

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves'-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flame!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare! --
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.

Buy then! bid then! -- What? -- Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow-sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

4. I also discovered Erasmus Darwin's The Loves of the Plants. Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) was the grandfather of Charles Darwin and a celebrated botanist. His The Loves of the Plants is a poetic re-writing of Linnaeus' famous work in the reproduction of plants. Linnaeus analogized stamens and pistols as men and women having romantic liaisons, and Darwin followed suit in Loves. What Darwin did differently, however, was place agency on the female characters rather than do as Linnaeus did and put agency in the male characters. This work would be very very fruitful for gender studies on a number of levels, but one of the more immediately interesting is that female polyamory shows up time and time again:

Two brother swains, of COLLIN'S gentle name,
The same their features, and their forms the same,
With rival love for fair COLLINIA sigh,
Knit the dark brow, and roll the unsteady eye.
With sweet concern the pitying beauty mourns,
And sooths with smiles the jealous pair by turns.


With vain desires the pensive ALCEA burns,
And, like sad ELOISA, loves and mourns.
The freckled IRIS owns a fiercer flame,
And three unjealous husbands wed the dame.

An interesting formal note is that Darwin's footnotes, which explain the botany behind the poem, take up more space on the page then the poem itself.

5. I did a lot of picture-taking today, and I am exhausted from the walking. I really wanted to get the autumn colours in the Nitobe Gardens and on Wreck Beach. (Will upload shortly.)

For more 7 Quick Takes, visit the host of the carnival, Jen Fulwiler at Conversion Diary.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Disney Hymns

This post was written on 24 Oct 2010, though it will not be published until later in the week.

[Note: I am frustrated with how the video embedding turned out, but I can't seem to fix it.]

Today the church I recently began attending gave an interesting service: all of the hymns were Disney songs. The first hymn that we sang in church this morning was "Colours of the Wind," from Pocahontas. Before we started, the priest told us that as mother she felt a lot of the Disney sungs "hit [her] in the gut" as she watched the movies with her children, even if "they aren't in [her] language." So she asked us to notice whether we thought the hymns were appropriate. If they spoke to us, why? If they did not speak to us, then this is an opportunity to ask why they didn't, and what it is that we expect of hymns. Either way, as she said, "it's a win-win."

"Colours of the Wind" struck me immediately as more animistic than orthodoxy might allow; however, many traditional hymns in fact give the natural world the same attributes, where the mountains praise God. If traditional hymns use this personifying language, then "Colours of the Wind" could be included in our liturgy. (And also, may I say, what ideologically loaded flirting that is.)

The second hymn, in the midst of the Scripture readings, was "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins. It seemed to be an appropriate bridge between the first hymn and the following hymn. While this was not the first time I'd heard the song before, I certainly did not remember it. It is quite beautiful.

The third hymn, located before the Gospel reading, was "God Help the Outcasts" from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Originally, they were going to use "The Bells of Notre Dame", but the choir had difficulty with that song. I thought this a shame; once I said that the opening to the The Lion King was perhaps the most impressive animated opening, and he said that actually that honour belongs to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. If you watch it, you will see why. It's very impressive. But back to the Outcasts.

"God Help the Outcast" was a better choice for the service than "The Bells", though, as the Gospel reading was Luke 18:9-14. This passage describes a proud man who thanks God for not being a sinner, and a sinner who begs for mercy. I think, if you listen to the song and read the passage, you'll see a connection. In particular, given the sorts of struggles the church and the world are going through today, this is an appropriate selection. Then again, in every historical moment there has been division within Christianity over those who excluded, between those who wish to continue excluding and those who locate Christ among the excluded... That tension will recur endlessly in a religion which worships a God of the Outcast.

The first of the Offertory Songs was "Circle of Life" from The Lion King.

I knew this one fairly well, having learned to play it on the piano once upon a time. I love this song, but it seemed less obvious to me what it had to do with God. It does, of course, have to do with the mystery of the world and the enormity of its structure. It has to do with cosmic harmony, with the organization of the universe at large. I suppose that is a fairly religious thing. It taps into what those faded and overly prettified pictures of flowers and forests and waterfalls are trying to say, and does it in a way that doesn't make jaded me groan. If not explicitly religious in content, it contains some of the vibrant awe that is a part of religion.

The second Offertory Song was "Be Our Guest" from The Beauty and the Beast. This was very appropriate: it introduced Communion, where we are guests at God's table. The unrestrained joy of this song is perhaps not what we are used to, though I have attended Communion services which emphasized joy, not solemnity. The culinary references, and the candlestick character, seem especially related to Communion.

I should note that the version we sang was somewhat shortened, excluding a lot of the song which referenced the movie's narrative. Oh, and after the curse is broken, what does everyone eat on? The cutlery and crockery have become humans again. And the furniture, too...

Somewhere in there (I'm not sure because it's not in the bulletin) we sang "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan.

This one has interesting lyrics to it; I'm sure it's not supposed to be read religiously, but when placed in the context of a church service that reading leaps out of the words. As is often observed, religious poetry and romantic poetry are often interchangeable.

The Closing Hymn was "A Whole New World" from Aladdin. Do I need to explicate this one? Perhaps it's not obvious to a non-Christian what this would have to do with Christianity. There is a trope common in Christianity that the world looks differently--literally, is new--when you convert or have a religious epiphany.

So. What do you think of the service? You must imagine this taking place in a somewhat liturgically conservative Anglican church. I have two interesting observations: 1) Context matters so much in interpretation; 2) There are many ways we can go about making church services more welcoming to newcomers, given just a little creativity on our part.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Villian's Fall

In working on a forth-coming post, I noticed something: a disproportionate number of Disney villains fall to their deaths. Sometimes the fall itself isn't what kills them; sometimes they are stabbed and then plummet as they die (ie. Maleficent), while sometimes what kills them is the sudden stop (the villian in Tarzan--artfully done, by the way). (Well, OK, technically the sudden stop is ALWAYS what kills a person in a long fall...) Scar and Hades both go for a tumble and then get attacked by their own minions.

A second theme, played well by Jafar and Ursula, is to be defeated by your own hubris.

I thought about this and my conclusion is the obvious one: even while the heroes defeat the villian, they get to keep their hands clean of the villian's demise. In fact, they even get to try and save the villian sometimes, but the villian's own treachery or fury prevents them from being able to do so.


(Of course, Disney villians aren't the only ones who have to place "Fall Hazard" on their Workplace Safety Assessment forms. Villians in George Lucas movies seem prone to this fate as well. Consider Boba Fett, Palpatine, Mola Ram from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Dr Elsa Schneider from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade... even Luke Skywalker took a tumble that one time, and he's a good guy.)

"I Want To Know Why People Don't Know Who I Am"

I promised to write this post a while back, and I am now fulfilling that promise.

I was sitting in the Student Union Building, eating a peach and doing readings for a class about Asian Canadian Studies. The SUB wasn't empty, but it was nearly so. A few tables down from me was a group of older middle aged women, and a young man approached them. I didn't hear their exchange exactly, but I did hear one of the women say, "We're trying to have a conversation, here." He said something to the effect that that's what he wanted, too, but they rebuffed him anyway.

He came over to me, sat across from me.

"Hi," he said.

"Hello," I said. "How are you?" I continued looking down at my readings. What did he want?

"Alright," he said. He paused, and I waited.

"I'm trying to figure out why people don't know who I am."

Who are you, a B-list celebrity? I wondered. In truth, I was uncomfortable. I didn't know who he was, but I didn't want to insult him because I did not recognize him. He was young, around my age. It was hard to tell whether he was older than me or younger than me. He wore a hoodie, dressed in the nondescript layers I associate with the homeless or the out-of-luck. He hadn't shaved for a few days.

"How do you mean?"

"I feel like people don't know who I am when they see me. I think people know who you are when they see you."

I put my readings down. "Who do you think I am?"

"I think when people see you, they think you're intelligent. That you know what you're doing, that you're confident. What are you studying, law or philosophy?"

That day I was clean-shaven; I wore new(ish) blue jeans and a dark-blue collared button-up shirt with verticle stripes. I had a pocketwatch in my pocket, for Pete's sake, with the chain hanging out in a loop like I was some sort of dapper gentleman. Next to me I had a backpack; I had had my feet up on the edge of the filthy table when he arrived. I supposed I did look as he described, but on another day--say, two days from then, when I hadn't shaved yet--I might look more like he did, though not nearly as world-weary or perpetually out-of-place.

"I'm studying English," I said.

"That's like philosophy," and we talked a bit about what I did in English.

"Do you think," he asked, "that there's more to you than people see?"

Oh boy, you have no idea, I thought, but of course the things people don't see are the things I don't want them to see and I couldn't say that. "I hope so," I answered instead. "I think most people have something... deeper... that others don't see, or see right away."

It was a lame answer, but it would have to do.

"Who do you think you are?" I asked. "What is it that people don't see?"

It took a while for him to answer coherently; it was like he was gathering his thoughts aloud, though perhaps it wasn't that he was speaking unclearly but that I didn't know what to listen for. Eventually, he said, "I guess I have what you'd call schizophrenia."

"How does that manifest for you?" I asked. If I recalled anything about abnormal psych from first-year (and I remember a lot of it), it was that schizophrenia can be a diagnostic grab-bag. If you have a number of unique and life-altering psychiatric symptoms, you are often shoved into the "schizophrenia" category. Someone telling you that they're schizophrenic implies that they have delusions or hallucinations, but the details of those experiences can change dramatically from individual to individual. How they interpret those experience also changes.

Again he explained, and again it took a while for us to figure out this whole communication-of-ideas thing. "When you scratch your nose, I think I did that. When you cough, I wonder what I did wrong to make you cough."

"Wait. Tell me if I got this right. When other people do things, you feel somehow... I don't know..." The word that hung in my mind was "guilty," but I didn't want to put the shame of that word onto him.

"--responsible," he said. "And I don't feel responsible for my own actions."

Something clicked for me. "So you internalize external events? Is that right?"

"Yes. [pause] I've never met anyone who understood that so quickly before."

"I've taken psychology courses, and I research similar things on my own time. I've heard of it before."

He seemed interested. "That's good. You study psychology."

"I did take a psychology course, years ago," I corrected.

We talked some more about the way people think, and so forth. I mentioned my interest in reading blogs and watching YouTube channels not just about but by people with DID. I had no idea whether this guy had Internet access on a regular basis--from what he said about the pidgeon wandering under his chair (apparently he often let it outside, but it always came back in), he may very well have lived in the SUB--but I wasn't going to speak "down" to him or make any unfounded assumptions if I could help it.

Sometime later he said, "I sometimes have what you'd call mystical visions. I feel connected to world, you know? Connected to a higher power. I think everyone feels that some times in their lives."

(In case you're curious, that could be due to unusually synchronized activity between the tempororparietal lobes in the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Unusually decreased activity in this area results in a loss of the sense of self; overly synchronized activity results in a confusion between self and non-self. This happens during meditation sometimes, and during psylocibin trips. Perhaps it also happens in folks with schizophrenia.)

"It's interesting that you'd say that," I said. "I've always... I've studied mysticism in school, you know, and I've always wanted something like that. To see... more... but--are you familiar with Buddhism?"

He nodded-shrugged.

"Have you heard of monkey-mind?"

He shook his head. "No, but I'd like to hear more about it."

"It's a Buddhist term for the sort of consciousness that just races. Confused thoughts, one after another. It's like a monkey running around in your head, grabbing things at random. Buddhists say most people spend their lives having monkey-mind. Meditation is the opposite of monkey-mind." As I spoke, I realized that this description might have different connotations for a person with schizophrenia, but I went on. "I have always had monkey-mind. I have never... not had monkey-mind. But I would like to have a mystical vision one day."

"You're still young," he said.

Soon after that he stood up to leave. Something in his eyes showed me he had already wandered off mentally, that he had had the conversation he wanted. When he stood, I put out my hand. "My name's Christian. What's yours?"

"John." He shook my hand.

"It was nice to meet you, John."

"You too," he said, and wandered off. I wished he had stayed; I had almost finished my peach, and after my peach came the cookies, and I was prepared to offer him two (of the four). But he seemed rather intent on leaving.

I watched him as he left, and I watched the few people around him react to him. They ignored him entirely, adjusted their stride to move around him, but as far as their faces went he might not have existed. It reminded me of Neverwhere, if you've read it.

He walked with his hands out from his body at a 30 degree angle, his fingers splayed and twitching a little.


I couldn't do my readings.

The conversation I had had with John unsettled me. I wanted to rush through the SUB, find him, ask him so many questions. These readings didn't matter. School didn't matter. My problems were nothing compared to his. My experiences were dry, void, without meaning. His life and his problems thrummed with potency. But I didn't want to intrude. I saw in his eyes that when he left me, he left me. He had had his conversation. My pursuit would be seflishness.

I packed up my stuff and left the SUB. I wandered campus, finding my way to the Rose Garden in a light Vancouver rain. I climbed up onto the cement edging of the central flowerbed and paced it, thinking in a fury. How could I justify studying English? How could I explain my experience with John to my classmates, to the faculty? Did any of the faculty leave their Ivory Tower? One of my professors had once said, ventriloquising the 'common people', "What's going on up in that Ivory Tower? What do they do up there?" What do we do up here, I thought.

It took me forty-five minutes. In that time I established that my Asian Canadian Studies course had practical applications; we discussed issues of justice, policy, identity. My Eighteenth Century course... less so. But I was learning skills that I could apply elsewhere. I would be a professor who taught the students of tomorrow; I would be an author who provided enlightenment to the masses. Or not. But my responsibility was to make this education work. And I would champion volunteerism in academia. Get us out of the Ivory Tower for a while, working with things that more immediately mattered. And I knew how fleeting this crisis of mine would be...

I still hope to meet John again in the SUB. Maybe I would get a chance to introduce him to some of my new friends. Maybe he would recognize me as someone who listened to him...

My life hasn't changed since I spoke to him, but in that conversation, I realize looking back... in that conversation I saw a vague sillhouette of something... more...

I wish I had a moral for you, here. A nice take-home message, packaged in a quotable, gnomic little phrase. Preferably with assonance or metre or parallelism or internal rhyme. I don't, though. You will have to supply your own.
I also said I'd link Leah's post on sin once I wrote this; at the time, I thought this post was going to take a different shape, one more related to her post. Something along the lines of the following: "It turns out that all he wanted was a conversation. He didn't need money; he needed someone who would take him and his experiences seriously. That is free to give, but it seems so costly... etc. so forth and sentamentality." But that's not how I wanted to write this in the end, because I DON'T know what he wanted or needed, and I still don't know what it cost me or gained me.

Friday, 22 October 2010

7 Quick Takes (61) - Deluxe Edition


1. Two Saturdays ago the housemate and I went slack-lining in the pouring rain. It was one of the first Vancouver downpours I'd been in since arriving here. Not that it was pouring when we started, but it certainly worked its way up into a heavy rainstorm. We had to give it up because the line was very slick and water was streaming into my eyes. Everything was wet; it wasn't until the next day before my shoes and backpack were dry.

2. Two Sundays ago I started attending a new church. It's little, Anglican, and people mainly by elderly people. What sold me on it was the sermon, which referenced Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. I was also informed that an up-coming service would have Disney songs instead of hymns. Further, they do not seem to be on the conservative side of the Anglican controversy, which is important to me. For instance, that is specifically why I am not attending St. John Shaughnessy.

3. I was grading papers for a long time last week, among many other things. That ate up a lot of time, and as such I do not have as many interesting things to tell you... but those I have are rather interesting.

4. I received a verbal death threat last Thursday. I was walking down an alley near where I live; "alley" is not really the right word, though. "Lane" is better. It's between residential properties in a high-end neighbourhood. "Alley" makes me think dark and narrow and urban. This was not those things.
It was about 3:00 in the afternoon. I had just got off the bus, and was headed home. Suddenly a man calls out to me, asking me why I had been looking in his van. I said I hadn't been; until that moment, I had noticed that there was a van. He said I had, that he had seen me. I said, no, I am going home from the bus stop. He didn't believe me, but did wonder back into his backyard when I denied it sharply enough. I continued walking away (maybe after muttering some words I don't normally use). A quarter of a block later I hear someone holler, "Hey!" I turn, and there are now four guys. The largest (in girth, but he looked pretty capable) asked what I thought I was doing. "Going home," I said. He said, "You look in the van and you're dead!" Then he and one of the other guys started walking toward me.
I started walking away, while taking my cell phone out of my backpack. I dialled 9-1 and held my finger over the 1, ready to call the police with just a moment's notice. I continued looking over my shoulder to check their progress towards me, and to let them see that I had my cell out.
Upon exiting the lane, crossing a side street, and entering my own back lane, I could no longer see them and they could not see me (due to the angles). Thus when I went in through the back of the property I live in, they could not see me and so they don't know where I live. I called the police then, but there was nothing they could do.

I don't go to the bus stop that way any more. I don't know what was in the van, and I don't want to know.

5. I invigilated an exam on Friday. It took one hour; I was paid $50. During that time I did readings while the students wrote. That was the best-paid hour I have ever worked.


6. Last Saturday a housemate and I went slack-lining, and I took about 6 steps. Since it was a shorter line, that meant that I almost completed a line. I also broke through a personal "wall" at the third step, which I never managed to complete.

7. It is autumn here. The leaves are turning and falling; it's beautiful on a sunny day, but today was rainy and overcast.

9. Today I visited the newly-opened Beaty Museumof Biodiversity. It is quite neat. I might write a post about it.

10. Can one write a take about friendship? How does one write meaningfully about friends? I am making some, and I am strengthening friendships. I am also getting somewhat more familiar with second-year MAs I do not know very well because I have lunches in the Grad Lounge sometimes. But there are two people here who I am starting to know rather well; they are quite different from each other, but we three have special Wednesday-afternoon time due to overlapping office hours. One of them is an atheist guy from a Catholic background; the other is a girl from a Salvation Army background who is exploring the Anglican Church. We have begun to be able to predict what one another would be interested in and have started to create a language of references to past shared events (generally conversations). How does one quantify this to describe it? I don't know. Of course, I am getting to know more and more people comfortably, but these two seem to be stand-bys, though I really only ever see the female one Wednesday and Thursday.

The 7 Quick Takes carnival is hosted by Jen Fulwiler.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Poetry from the MoA

I am going to do something I will likely regret. Due to my continued absense from this blog, resulting in equal parts from overwork and procrastination, I feel the need to post something, even if it's not great. As such, I am going to present some shoddy poetry I wrote at the Museum of Anthropology. I thought it would be cool to go to the MOA and sit down in front of artifacts and just write free verse poetry on the objects I saw. And on this forum I am going to treat you to the poor poetry I wrote.

The Lion and the Owl (in the Koerner Ceramic Gallery of the MOA)
15 Oct 2010

Gold and baroque
--as baroque as a piped waltz--
the lion holds his shield and helm
which blends into his unruly chest
On the red shield is his little twin
rampant and roaring as silently as his larger self
Ornate golden lion, your glazed stare
plumbs the empty space before you

Smooth, blue, yellow, and white
--as plump as a jar--
the owl too looks wide-eyed into
the air, shining with the tinny chords
He comes to the lions shoulders,
his wings by his side hold no shield
His own flat plumes will do for his colours

Hamsalagamł (bumblebee masks) at the MOA
15 Oct 2010

Eight faces, eight dwarf cherub faces
their yellow seive-noses high between their eyes
cheeks sink down
and there is a man, a boy-man
looking at you across the room from an armchair
trying to see you with his poet's pen
seeing only your empty faces
But are your faces empty?
What history would those eyes dream
which looked through yours?
What do your eyes dance?

On Bill Reid's Haida Bear in the MOA
15 Oct 2010

the bear looks on
the canoe down whose length he stares is more polished than him,
worn with the grease of hands
but it is painted in the same colours, its prow the same red as his tongue
the man he sees through the arches is traced with the same black veins,
but these veins contain yellow and white,
unlike the bear's
the double serpent on the arch is the same weathered wood as the bear's long claws but they do not see that
the bear, from his corner, looks on

In the shadow on the chairs in the MOA
15 Oct 2010

there is a hummingbird
with a long beak
and folded wings still as wood
and it sits on a disc held by
seven stiff men who hold
their hands palms out against their many faces
--some faces shorn off--
and their small doll-feet hang suspended
above the eagle's cracked face
with a fissure running deeper than the frowns it cuts
past the pale end-less beak
over its chest and down its leg
into the claws that
clutch a disc sitting on
the heads of twelve men with unreadable expressive faces
and naked formless bodies and
who in their turn stand on
the head of a creature, human-like,
with no nose but a knotty hole
and the fault running through her eye
(she holds a child, damaged
in her sibilant asymmetrical arms)
and her knees turn together and that
crack still runs between them right down
to her crooked feet and vague toes
which hold the weight of them all.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


I am busy grading papers. I will not be posting 7 Quick Takes or anything else until life calms down again.

Christian H

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

"False Synecdoche"

In my discussion group I am going to do a close reading of the following poem with my students. The poem, like the readings every week, was assigned by the professor; we TAs merely teach what she decides. Of tomorrow's readings, I found this poem the most interesting, or at least the most interesting given the time restraints of 50 minutes for the close reading. I suppose I should give you all a language-alert. Anyway, without further ado, here is...

"Mary Magdalene's Left Foot"

I saw the picture in Newsweek or Time
and couldn't believe who was back in the news.
But there it sat, encased in antique gold
and pedestrian prose, apart from the rest
of her imaginably lush lost body,
which it recalls with false synecdoche.

The news is littered with the bodies of women
--whores, some--who have returned to minerals,
a pile of iron and zinc and calcium
that wouldn't even fill a shoe. We glimpse
of Mary Magdalene a golden whore
that never ached for flesh or grew hair coarse
enough to scrub mud from a traveler's foot.

But gold is meretricious flattery
for the whore who washed Christ's feet with tears,
who rubbed sweet oil into his sores, then kissed
each suppurating wound that swelled his flesh,
knowing that it was God's clear flesh beneath
its human dying. And that is more than you and I
will ever know of where we place our lips.

Andrew Hudgins, Saints and Strangers (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985)


So, I wonder, what think you?

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

...while I try to think of today as something other than a commemoration of horrific colonial violence.

Friday, 8 October 2010

7 Quick Takes (60)

1. The weekend was very busy, as I was writing a paper. I spent almost the entire weekend working on the paper, procrastinating, and berating myself for procrastinating.

2. I also had a fascinating conversation on Sunday with a complete stranger which I promise I will recount sometime. Just not right now.

3. On Tuesday I forgot to bring the book that the lecture was on (A Midsummer Night's Dream). So I went to the library before class and got a copy out. Which turned out to be a commentary on the text, and not the actual text itself. I also forgot to bring a good pen, and was forced to use one that clots all the time and seeps through the page. This was embarassing, as I'm the TA.

4. I presented the paper I wrote over the weekend on Wednesday. The class opened with the professor going around the room asking each student to discuss their reaction to the readers. During this exercise I discovered, based on what the other students were saying, that I had done the wrong reading (for one of the four articles). And, of course, written my paper on the wrong thing. So I had half an hour of fretting in silence, followed by the pleasure of admitting, in front of the class, that I'd screwed up. Fortunately the prof seemed OK with it, and other people said I had a good paper.

5. On Thursday I had another pedagogy workshop. It was very helpful, and I learned new ways to mark papers. On which note, I have a pile of papers to mark.

6. I watched Magnum Force the night before last. (Sorry for the chronology confusion.) I haven't much to say about it; I'm not quite sure why I'm including this Take.

7. Have you read Tristram Shandy? I haven't read much of it yet, but what I have read is fascinating. I will warn you that if you have no interest in literature as literature, this book will likely not appeal to you in the slightest. If you are interested in literature as a formal experiment, then it will interest you a great deal.

Conversion Diary hosts this meme.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

A Promise Post

Today I had one of those experiences. You know, one of those entirely unexpected conversations with a stranger that throws you off balance for at least an hour afterwards? One of those conversations that changes things. Maybe not forever but, hell, there's no reason it couldn't be forever, either.

The thing is, I have a paper due on Wednesday and the forces of the universe have aligned such that I need to be strict about time management, so I can't actually tell you about this conversation at the moment. Thus I am making this promise post, as a way of committing myself to writing about it once I have the chance.

Saturday, 2 October 2010



The Saturday Evening Blog Post is a monthly blog carnival in which participants showcase their most favourite post from the last month. (This month I made a mistake and posted one from October. This was largely due to the fact that I didn't have any decent ones from September.) This carnival is hosted by Elizabeth Esther, so please head over that way to see more.

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