Saturday, October 29, 2011

I Think I'll Go As a Dysfunctional Childhood ...

Hallowe'en is nearly upon us. For me it's perfectly fitting that the holiday season begins with a fright-based event, because as near as I can tell, from now till New Year's Day western civilization takes collective leave of its senses and I get more and more bewildered/annoyed by it every year.

Lest you think I'm just some ordinary run-of-the-mill Grinch, I should explain that I grew up without holidays (my parents' religion forbade them). And I'm an oldest child. And we were poor. So there I am in the weird three-way overlap of this particular Venn diagram where the collective effect has been to put me out-of-step with the forces behind every holiday from here till Christmas.

I *try* to like them. I mean, who can't get on board with a little cutting loose (Hallowe'en), a little giving and receiving (Christmas) and whatever it is we're supposed to feel on Remembrance Day (every person I ask has a different answer to this one). I suppose I'll continue to struggle with how to fit into these events as life goes on, but over the years I've pretty much come to terms with being baseline out-of-sorts till January 1st.

Each holiday affects me slightly differently, depending on what's expected of the participants.

Hallowe'en, for example, encourages people to misbehave, to let their inner goblins out, and (depending on your age), also to a) take candy from strangers, b) scare the crap out of your friends, c) get drunk while you think you're *actually* superman (or the devil, or giant dice, or whatever you've decided to be for the night). The thing is, I'm all for creativity and intellectually I understand the need for ritual, rule-breaking and not being yourself from time to time. But the oldest child in me just wants to look deeply into everyone's eyes as they go out the door, hold them firmly by the shoulders and say something like: "You be careful out there." In my head I'm also adding: " ... and I'll just stay home with the lights off till the night is over."

What I actually *do* at Hallowe'en is volunteer at the little railway, where for 3 hours we give miniature train rides to over 1000 (mostly little) people in (hopefully) warm, waterproof costumes. My job consists of hanging out in the clubhouse with all the other *ladies* handing out free cookies and desperately needed hot chocolate as the trains unload their very cold and/or waterlogged passengers. So it's not like I'm hiding at home - I am out there! Confronting my fears! But also, like the good sensible oldest child I am, I am staying warm and dry and looking deeply into their eyes while I hand them their hot chocolate and thinking: See? That wasn't so bad, was it?.

So, in the spirit of Hallowe'en and dyfunctional childhoods everywhere, the lovely cartoon above is by
Lynda Barry AKA the Near-Sighted Monkey, who has taught me in the most wonderful way, that it's possible to have your heart broken and healed at the same time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed ...

"The future is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed." William Gibson (apparently) said this in an interview in 1993, although he prefaced it by saying that he'd said it often before, and I'll take his word on that. In any case, I think I can attest to the truth of it, in fact, I think I can quite comfortably state that I don't think the future was ever evenly distributed. Even after 25 years of living in the city, I still think the movies I see advertised on TV won't be available in my "local theatre" for at least 3 months (as was the case in my childhood in the remote wilds of BC). Not that I go to the theatre (cinema? movies?) anymore ... I just wait the "usual" 3 months till they're on TV, and I can enjoy the same advertised films from the comfort of my own sofa, with cheaper popcorn, and (thanks to modern technology) I'm also able to pause the film if the phone rings, or some other interruption occurs.

I was thinking about this today because I was suffering from some kind of ennui (which is not my usual state ~ must be the rain) and I chose to fight back using all the modern technology I have at my disposal. Granted, most of this "modern technology" was actually the net ... but never look a gift horse in the mouth (and I'm pretty sure people don't do that anymore).

Anywho ... here's what happened ... I began with the latest edition of Radiolab ... and if you haven't made Radiolab one of your usual webstops, I highly recommend it. Their latest offering "Loops" lived up to my expectations, and while I listened I sat by the computer sticking photographs together for an art deadline this weekend. Dum de dum ... listen, listen, stick, stick ... see ... feeling better already ... and then I suddenly stopped, and listened more closely ... the young woman being interviewed was relating the story of when her mother had Transient Global Amnesia (a usually brief state of mind when you completely forget your immediate past and remain unable to form any new memories for the duration of the attack). I'd actually read (and clipped out) a fascinating case of TGA while we were in England this year, so I was aware of the condition, but what stopped me in my tracks was when the young woman said, "... on the youtube video we made of it, you can see ...". Wait, what!? OK, so pause Radiolab and go search youtube, where yes ... there they are, in the hospital room, telling her mother over and over, Yes, it's Tuesday, yes, it's past your birthday, yes, you were there, yes, this is creepy, and then repeating the whole conversation again every 90 seconds or so. When I'm done watching this, I go back to Radiolab and re-hear the audio of the youtube video again, only this time with the woman's face clearly in my head (which I wouldn't have had if I hadn't seen the video) ... talk about looping.

And then later ... listening to The Enright Files on CBC, an interview with Nick Mount, an English professor at the University of Toronto on the state of academic integrity (i.e. cheating) in universities. I was really enjoying their conversation, and thought some of Nick's answers were among the clearest, most sensible statements about higher education that I'd heard in awhile (not that I spend a lot of my time on such subjects, but still ...). Anyway, at some point in the conversation, Michael casually asks about the role of "entertainment" in teaching, particularly in delivering English lectures to large classes (if I heard right, the class size was somewhere around 500. Really? OMG). Nick says that a certain amount of theatre is involved ... that he remembers his own attention span at that age as being something like 15 minutes, and he tries to keep them engaged in his topic by occasionally introducing something that reconnects with their brains. Michael flatteringly follows with something like ... "I remember seeing a youtube video of a lecture you gave on comics as being quite entertaining." Again, I'm diving for the search button and trying to guess what youtube search terms to use and yep, there it is ... a 55 minute lecture on comics. Well, hot dawg.

So after Michael and Nick finish up, I scoot on over to youtube for another hour of more listening, as well as looking, for Nick Mount's youtube lecture on graphic novels (many of them Canadian!) is filled with examples from the books in question. Of course, as I listened I kept on sticking those photos together ... classic multitasking in the modern age.

This all kind of reminds me of the first time I realized that William Gibson's future had indeed arrived where I was ... a few years ago I'd been rereading Kurt Vonnegut (Wampeters, Foma and Granfalloons, if you're wondering), an author whose work generates so many ideas while I read that I inevitably wind up reaching for a pen to start writing myself (always a good sign in any writer!), and I wondered what I could find of his work online ... what I found had so many layers of future impossible that I think even Kurt himself would have been amused ... I found a youtube video of a second life interview, where Kurt is interviewed by John Hockenberry of The Infinite Mind, a now-defunct (it seems) NPR radio show. Mind you, none of the people (not Kurt, not John, and certainly not any of the audience were actually together in any way. So if that isn't the future coming to call, I don't know what is.