Sunday, July 27, 2014

This life is bittersweet. . . again

Now all of the planes have landed
The soldiers are in their beds

Smoke rises from their clothing
And sweet dreams through their heads

Truth faced leaves a strange taste
When joy and sadness meet

A country rain on a city street
This life is bittersweet

The boy with the bloated belly
Hears today's truck arrive

He puts down his baby sister
And makes his way outside

Truth faced leaves a strange taste
When joy and sadness meet
A country rain on a city street
This life is bittersweet

Everyone's a novelist
And everyone can sing
But no one talks when the TV's on...

The lightning flashed, and the thunder rolled
Dark clouds filled the sky

A country rain on a city street
This life is bittersweet 

Moxy Fruvous

Post-blog notes. Once again I lost an entire post, with all my thoughts about my favorite '90s pop/folk group, Moxy Fruvous, gone forever. (Barenaked Ladies were a close second, with their anti-rockstar geekster appeal predating The Big Bang Theory by 20 years.) I'm trying to piece it together now, but it's traumatic. What I was going to say was, I never expected to hear this song again. Every so often I'd check YouTube to see if someone had posted it, and though King of Spain and the cutesie My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors ("spilled some dressing on Doris Lessing, these writer types are a scream") were all over the place, this one wasn't. It has a smoky, dust-rising, melancholy Gulf War feeling to it, along with two of the greatest non-Dylan lines in pop music: 

Everyone's a novelist, and everyone can sing
But no one talks when the TV's on

Once again, this predates the cult of narcissism, the American Idol and easy one-click authorhood by twenty years or more. And yet, unlike the Ladies, these boys gradually drifted into obscurity. But that one song, somehow redolent of Jim Morrison's melancholy bleakscape, smolders on.

(And oh. When I went looking for Google images to illustrate this post, most of them were from my blog. From my post. On this. On this song, a while back, two years maybe, or three. So I just pirated my own work. I don't care who pirates mine. I remember when it was a real issue "using" a photo, then Pinterest came along and everybody was stealing everything from everyone. I've used TinEye Reverse Image a lot, trying to find the provenance of certain photos, but all I ever find are different sizes and what web sites it has appeared on. I would hate to be a photographer now. By the way, what possible use is Pinterest? It seems almost as useless as LinkedIn.)

When dry of inspiration, think of a panda

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lots of cool alien shit

I go weird at night, well, sort of. I stay up too late, which I never used to do when I was younger and went to bed at 9:30 or 10:00. I do my straight blogging in the morning, and my way weird blogging late at night (or is it very early in the morning?)  Something in my head went "sproinggggg" a few years ago, and now everything is upside-down. But that was then, when things were normal. Now I have the Aliens.

Hey, I liked The X Files as much as anyone, though I don't think any of it exactly convinced me. But then came YouTube, and plenty weird shit. Most of these things look like animatronics, puppets, or just somebody's idea of a joke. But that big-headed one, you've gotta wonder. The long gangly body with the long fingers. I want to call Whitley Streiber and say, "Whitley, come home. We believe you now. All is forgiven."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Should we be more like the States?

Over the past several weeks, I have been trying to sort out what I saw in New York City, especially in The Cloisters, the brilliant collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art's Medieval Collection. I have come to the conclusion that even though none of the museum's collections was American (how could it be?), it was genius of them to recognize genius in
others. This is a key cultural failing of Canadians (sorry to say but it is true). Until we learn to recognize genius in others we will not be capable of recognizing genius in ourselves and our own works and we will remain a second rate culture dominated by cliques and second rate conversation among those who are merely self-serving. It is time we took that conversation to a
different level. Rather than just patting ourselves on the back, we should ask why we are patting ourselves on the back. Rather than just saying that our poetry is good because it has been promoted and discussed in trade journals, we should be asking ourselves why something is good, what made it good, and how it could be better. We aren't pushing our brains enough and because of that we're casually accepting things merely because they appear on bookstore shelves or because they've been reviewed in publishing journals. That isn't culture. That's just marketing and we need to recognize the 


Those brave words were posted on Facebook by one Bruce Meyer, a much-published poet who has his ear to the ground on all matters cultural (and NOT just Canadian culture, folks!). I always pay a lot of attention to what he writes, because he comes out and says things the rest of us tiptoe around while we keep our mouths safely bandaided shut.

I don't think this is a screed against CanLit or anything else Canadian, except perhaps its insularity and near-desperate attempt to prove to itself that, yes, in spite of all the evidence, it DOES have a thriving arts community not dependent on constant handouts to survive.

OK then, what if it's true (which it is, largely) and artists DO need government funds and/or constant scrambling on social media in order to go on? The problem is, someone has to name the problem first or it continues to worsen through denial. I've been re-reading the brilliant works of Margaret Laurence, and what I see is work that speaks for itself, with a quality of greatness that does not exist any more. I don't know how much schmoozing writers needed to do then. Maybe a lot. But I don't think it was the main event. Laurence, after all, was widely quoted as saying, "Don't be a writer in this country unless you absolutely have to." (And that was in the 1960s, an era when Jack McClelland took manuscripts home in his briefcase to personally read in bed.) In The Diviners, Laurence's most autobiographical novel, Morag is portrayed as a "successful"published author barely scraping by while she raises her daughter on a pauper's income.

Canada has always suffered from chronic low self-esteem in every area. It's no secret why. We live next to this giant, the elephant that at any moment might roll over and crush the mouse. We have approximately one-tenth the population of the U. S. spread over a much wider geographical area, consisting of concentrated blobs of population punctuating vast stretches of nothing. We are a much younger country, nearly a century younger, so that we have had a century less time to establish ourselves beside this heaving, seething superpower. Until fifty years ago, we didn't even have our own flag.

Our history has also been vastly different, dull by some standards. Robertson Davies was once quoted as saying, "Historically, a Canadian is an American who rejected the revolution." No rocket's red glare, no bombs bursting in air, just an endless "we stand on guard, we stand on guard".  I do not know one single individual who owns a gun, and in my entire lifetime have only known two (an antiques collector and a cop). I doubt if this would be the norm in the States. You do not see articles published in magazines here telling you (quite seriously, like a fire drill) "what to do if someone has a gun to your head". We have no "right to bear arms" in our constitution. We don't "pledge allegiance", an idea which to the Canadian mind seems very strange.

Am I claiming that as a nation we are morally or perhaps ideologically superior? Sometimes I wish I could say that. On the other side of our peaceable ways seems to be a woeful mediocrity. We can never keep up. I'm a Canadian and I love my country. But art is being drowned in the mad scramble for commerce, to "win", to sell copies, to be "a success". If you aren't, you feel a particular kind of miserable guilt and woe, not to mention an isolation no one should have to feel. You're not "in", you're "out", and the solution is to work even more feverishly to gain admission, to crash the gates. And yet if you say any of this out loud, you're anti-patriotic, hate Canada, hate the arts and just don't understand how it really works. Any time I've tried to write about this, I've been "corrected", shown the ropes, or told, "well, none of that applies to ME, I'm doing just fine" (so, by definition, I must be a loser).

Am I saying we should be "more like the States" (a sentiment which is always both praised and reviled)? No, I am saying we should be more like ourselves. Celebrating only the tiny tip of the vast pyramid which is the arts community in Canada is not going to do it. Imitating the States is not going to do it, because we are not the States.  I am not knocking Americans; my husband has travelled extensively all over the United States
and insists that the vast majority of people he met were warm and welcoming, perhaps a damn sight more warm and welcoming than the average chilly Canadian. Dissing Americans across the board annoys him no end.

I wonder how to transcend all these useless stereotypes, to begin to listen and respond to those powerful inner voices that drive us to create. It can be argued that art has always been elitist, that only the strong survive, etc. But it's a circular argument. An elitist system won't admit any new members, becomes smug and stagnant, and thus even more elitist. Those who need to create are shoved out into the margins, the badlands of existence. Then it's "oh, well, you know what artists are like, they're a crazy lot." The suicide rate among poets is staggering, but also part of the stereotype of crazy writers who for some reason can't cope.

And yet, and yet. I do wonder how many magnificent artists are out there, or HAVE been out there, who refused to play the game and thus remained in total obscurity, unknown to any of us.

It's my blog, and I'll lament if I want to/need to. If I can't, things are even worse than I thought. So often, when I try to express a thought or feeling that comes from a deep part of me, I am clapped down (especially on Facebook, and especially by Canadian authors!). I had an example of this the other day that made my head reel: why must we fire on each other like that? Why the unspoken, unacknowledged status wars, which if you talk about them at all seem to get a reaction of, "Oh, you're not promoting your work vigorously enough"? The unquestioned assumption is that you're clamoring for a higher spot on the totem pole we all clutch for fear of sliding down on top of those unfortunate underlings. If you're not winning the unacknowledged, futile war for ascendency, you're just not playing the game right.

I am saying the game needs to be chucked out altogether. Can't be done? Nothing can be done if it's never ventured or dared.

I can do nothing at this point but quote an old, old song by Joni Mitchell. I am not entirely sure of the message. It has echoes of the Civil War, but below and beneath that, it may be speaking of the uneasy relationship we have with the giant that constantly threatens to erase our identity. But spare a thought for this: they never set out to "erase" anything. They are simply being, huge and turbulent, while we cringe and continually wonder who we are.

And so once again
My dear Johnny my dear friend
And so once again you are fightin' us all
And when I ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say I have turned
Like the enemies you've earned
But I can remember
All the good things you are
And so I ask you please
Can I help you find the peace and the star
Oh, my friend
What time is this
To trade the handshake for the fist

And so once again
Oh, America my friend
And so once again
You are fighting us all
And when we ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say we have turned
Like the enemies you've earned
But we can remember
All the good things you are
And so we ask you please
Can we help you find the peace and the star
Oh my friend
We have all come
To fear the beating of your drum

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I don't even KNOW this guy!

This is a fictionalized, but NOT wholly-imagined Facebook conversation I saw today:

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: You wouldn't believe what just happened to me. AGAIN. Someone tried to "friend" me on Facebook, someone I didn't even know! He looked like some cheap salesman for something, self-promoting all over the place, don't know why he thought he had the right to try that, especially since he probably hasn't even read my seventh bestselling novel, my erotic masterpiece, CHILLED: Blue Balls in the Yukon,  now available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, Kandle, Kundle, and everywhere fine electronic transmissions are sold.

Ronald J. Rottenburger: Oh, yeah, Ken baby, I hear you, I hear you! I know just what you mean. They do that to me all the time. Maybe they just see my astronomical total of friends, all those thousands, you know, and get so intimidated, they try to friend me up to steal some of my glory. (Snort)

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: Excuse me. Were you saying something? Never mind. This sort of thing happens to certain authors, because certain authors exist in a special stratum of intelligence to which no one else can aspire. This is especially true if they are in their seventeenth week on the New York Times Bestseller List, and even more true if their seventh novel is an erotic masterpiece titled CHILLED: Blue Balls in the Yukon. I can't believe the presumption of these people thinking they can aspire to being my social and/or literary equal. 

Ronald J. Rottenburger: Ken, Ken. Relax! WE love you, baby. WE know you feel traumatized by all those hundreds and thousands of people trying to friend you every day, people you don't even know, but take heart, Kennie boy. Think of it this way. You're just one of those guys who knows everybody.

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: I beg your pardon, whoever you are. Just what is meant by "everybody"? Have you forgotten my staggering powers of discernment? I don't know "everybody", nor would I wish to know "everybody",  though Poppy Dollartree and I have more than a nodding acquaintance.

Ronald J. Rottenburger:  Ken. Ken. Listen to me! I'm not trying to come between you and Poppy.

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: Yes you are, you lousy little interloper! It's people like you I have to "unfriend" all the time. Ronald J. Rottenburger, you are not worth my time.

Poppy Dollartree: Squeallll! Kennieeeeeeee, hi, it's Poppy! Let's cozy up and crack a bottle of ice-cold Wild Turkey.

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: Poppy! My God, I haven't seen you since the SSWA meeting yesterday afternoon!

Poppy Dollartree: Yes, that's right. Smug and Sociopathic Writers Association, like they say. Of course that's just a joke! Smart and Sexy is more like it. Nothing like those long meetings in the conference room - a conference of two! But back to the issue at hand. I am constantly being propositioned on Facebook by men I don't even know.

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: Tell it, girl.

Ronald J. Rottenburger: Hey, guys, I've figured out what to do about this!

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: Can I delete that? No? Then let's just carry on, shall we? Poppy, baby, are you up for playing a part in the movie adaptation of my erotic masterpiece,FURBURGERS: Crimes of Passion in the Beaver Trade?  You'd look swell in one of those great big politically-incorrect coats.

Ronald R. Rottenburger: Hey, guys. . .

Poppy Dollartree: Ooooooh! A movie star! I can see myself on the red carpet with a glass of that classy champagne.

Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke: Yes, and it wouldn't be any goddamn Wild Turkey either.

( I have to tell you that this selfsame self-important fictionalized Canadian-famous author later delivered a nasty crack at me for no good reason. Someone had posted a dreadful article called What to Do if you have a Gun to your Head. With a sickening sinking feeling, I realized it wasn't a joke - it was actual, step-by-step instructions, like a fire drill.. I posted a comment about how heartsick this made me feel and about how I wasn't sure I even wanted to live in a world that had degenerated to that level of madness. Kenneth R. Beaverbrooke responded, "well, hey, Margaret, why don't you take a clonazepam?" When I deleted my part of the conversation he made a bunch more snarky comments, so I told him I had been under the delusion that I was no longer in junior high with people sniggering at me and hurting me for sport. But no: this sort of casual mean-spiritedness is alive and well and living on Facebook! I still don't know why he felt the desire to throw that little ball of carbolic acid at me - perhaps it was just to brighten his day. And the ironic thing about it all is, HE DOESN'T EVEN KNOW ME!)

Monday, July 21, 2014

A radical transformation

Most of these Facebook-posted YouTube things give me the pip, but this struck me as the real thing. It's realistic about the time, dedication and effort it takes to attain real transformation. I'm reminded once again of a favorite quote:

Sixteen seconds of Harold Lloyd

Friday, July 18, 2014

Facebook assumptions: sappy, not happy

You know what just happened?  I lost a whole post. I lost a whole post I worked on for at least an hour and a half. So what happened? Was I going too fast? People think I go too fast, that in fact I work at light speed, and when very angry, I do. It's like rocket fuel in the veins.

It started with the last post about unsolicited advice on Facebook. Something was triggered, I guess, and I was off. It was those sappy little "things", like the truncated thing above - I realized that though I see them every damn day, I don't even know the name of them or where they come from. They circulate around and around and around the waters of Facebook like pond scum.

I think it's the smug assumptions behind these things, these announcements of how you are supposed to feel about close kin, that enrages me. EVERYBODY has a wonderful sister, don't they? Kind of like that White Christmas sister act, where the body types of the two women are so radically different that there could not be a genetic link even 100 generations ago.

And oh God, mothers! Here is what my mother was really like, and never mind what my memories tell me. A duck would have made a better mother than mine was. Mother ducks are extremely loyal and protective, would fight to the death to protect their young. My mother may have been somewhat aware that I existed in the house. Maybe she was just waiting it out.

I very much doubt if this quote is by Kubler-Ross, whose theories have been so distorted and overpopularized as to be unrecognizable. (For example, she NEVER wrote about "stages of grief". Those stages described the process of actually dying.) But it doesn't matter. The same quote can be attributed to Einstein, Freud, Mark Twain (a current favorite, for some reason, maybe cuzzada cool moustache), Emily Dickinson, or even JANICE Dickinson, and no one notices, cares, or even wants to know. Though that doesn't stop them from hitting the "Share" button.

I won't even get into the lame misspellings, misplaced commas and quotation marks, and other awkward, careless useage you see in about 80% of these things. This kind of "loose, relaxed" approach to grammar (with "it's" and "its" constantly being reversed, and the verb "to lie" misused, even in news broadcasts, so that "the victim was laying in the road") is trickling down, or up, saturating the culture, to the point that it eventually worms its way into the dictionary and becomes "correct". Language, after all, must be fluid! It must change with the times. It's future lies in being dymanic. Don't let it just lay there.

And oh, this: probably written by some teenage girl, obviously equipped to guide and correct my behaviour and attitudes. This is a sort of Ten Commandments of emotional reaction, a what-not-to-wear of little things like promising, replying and deciding. So let's look at the inverse of this negative life-directive: promise when you're unhappy, reply when you're not angry, and decide when you're not sad (happy?).

I won't comment here. These weren't in my original draft, my polished draft, my GOOD draft, the draft that just fucking disappeared for no reason at all, because Blogger always automatically saves everything. Like I said, I just slapped them up here because I just have to win this, have to win over the forces that would screw up my whole day. But I remember some sort of choice quote on Nazi Germany, now gone forever.

I used to think humans were herd animals, but now I realize they are more like flock animals, with one aberrant member being pecked to death by the forces of conventional mediocrity. Except that in some ways, birds are superior. I mentioned mother ducks. And I forget the rest of this post, so I just have to stop now. And now I know what those "things" are - I think. They're called status quotes (because they're quotes that go on your status updates) or picture quotes (because they have pictures and quotes on them). They're things you sort of "put up", like you'd slap up a poster in the olden days. Except that these are standards, nay, imperatives for how we are supposed to feel, how we are meant to look at life. The average chimpanzee would have a steadier moral compass, but all that doesn't seem to matter any more.