Patron of the Arts

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Patron of the Arts

Just before I moved to Montreal I spent a couple months picking apples in Mont Saint-Hilaire, an off-island suburb. I don’t recommend apple picking - the fruit is heavy and the money is bad. After the ease of the cherry season in the Okanagon the work was altogether demoralizing. On a rainy day in September when work was called off, a few of us decided to drive into Montreal to see what was going on with Journées de la culture. Just outside of Place des arts there were many tents set up with small presentations organized by the various art companies, OSM, Les grands ballets, Opéra de Montréal, etc. Heading inside the Esplanade I came across the programs box, where they set out the pamphlets for the season’s offerings. Soon after I finally moved east, I would visit this box every spring to collect the pamphlets for the next season, wonder at the beautiful printing and binding of the Grands ballets brochure, look over the strange and glossy pictures of Danse Danse, decide which operas I would love to see. Despite the many deals for patrons under 30, all of the performances were somewhat outside my budget for the first couple of years. Finally a friend’s mother brought us to a production of Handel’s Messiah and for the first time I was able to experience the wonder of Maison Symphonique, the hall that I had heard so much about. It remains my favourite venue; it’s beauty and acoustics are unparalleled, a masterpiece of form and function. 

While I was raised on artists like The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and Genesis, classical music was also a staple in our household. We weren’t a particularly sophisticated family and I don’t think I ever took in many performances of the Calgary Philharmonic (I did sleep with one of the viola players once, but that’s another story). Still, I was brought up with a layman’s appreciation of music and literature. I was spellbound the first time my father played Holst’s The Planets - I can still remember the way “Mars, the Bringer of War” sent shivers down my spine, and it was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons that made me fall hopelessly in love with the violin. While watching Moonstruck with my mother I wondered at the music from La Bohème and was directed to a best of Puccini CD we happened to own. It was this year that I was able to attend the Opera de Montreal production with Adelaide Finch, completing my lifelong dream of seeing it in person. 

This year is looking like it’s going to be AMAZING and I was struck with an idea - As much as I enjoy seeing shows on my own, it would be wonderful to have some company. So, would you like to join me? For the specific shows that I have listed below, I will waive my social donation. There’s a slight catch, of course, the seats to the shows must be within the specific areas of the auditoriums that I have outlined. More social time maybe be added before or after the performances but my rates will apply to all time not spent taking in the performance. So let's get classy and take in some high art! 


The shows

Images from dansedanse.ca , grandsballets.com , and operademontreal.com respectively.

Theatres and preferred seating

 

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Persephone Returns

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Persephone Returns

I love the trees in spring
Shy spindly arms
Offer green couplet promises,
Tentatively.

When I was a child, I used to track the advance of spring by the amount of hours I could read by the light after I was supposed to be in bed. My clandestine reading in winter was accomplished by hiding under my covers with whatever flashlight or penlight I could sneak into my room and I would have to take breaks from the stuffiness to come up for air. Spring brought fresh air, nature sounds, freedom. Long summer nights are intricately woven into my childhood memories.

Now I watch sunlight creep in through my bedroom window earlier and earlier every morning. At 5 am, the neighbourhood is an amphitheatre of birds, taking advantage of the human-less streets to conduct the last important pieces of business. The crips rays draw me from my bed - rising becomes easier and I feel anticipation for the day ahead. My body feels lighter when I wake now, stirred by warm light and fragrant mornings. Even on the rainy days, the smell is different, promising. The grey skies intensify the green leaves outside of my window, reminding me that water is growth, energy, peace. This is the time of year that offers infinite potential. The scarred logs, pulled down by ice storms and desiccated by snow and frost, become blanketed in moss, grass and small flowers. Outside, an orchestra of spring flowers rises and falls, each section giving way to the next. Crocuses, tulip trees, apple blossoms, then lilacs, irises and asiatic lilies, peonies. 

I head to street level, once again becoming a flâneuse. Instead of rushing, I meander through the streets of Montreal now, becoming reacquainted with architecture and and residents alike. I remember what my fellow urbanites look like, I am reminded of their movements and mannerisms. I observe, sometimes unnoticed, sometimes engaging, and I linger in the sun in spontaneous conversation. Canadians are like solar panels: once the sun comes out, our faces turn upward, our shoulders un-hunch. We turn to the beams, storing them for later. We shed our parkas and our hesitancy, opening up once again to friends and strangers. Spring is Québec’s apology for winter.

promises.jpg

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The Art of Vacation

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The Art of Vacation

It has likely been since I entered the work force (sometime around age 15) that I began dreaming about what an entire month free of school and work would look like. Some of us may think back to the halcyon days of our early youth when summer break actually meant a break - when we were finally out of school but also too young to get a summer job. But those days were likely filled with aimless exploration and merriment - those with no concept of responsibility cannot be burdened by it. Time moved slower for us then without the milestones of pressing commitments and important engagements. When I first started planning my little dream, I was fully aware that I could not take a total vacation from responsibility, worrying, or planning for and thinking about my work. I had to save enough money, not only to cover the expenses that a month long vacation would incur, but also to cover the standard monthly expenses of back home - rent, hydro, etc. Even while I could take my website down, I still intended to maintain an internet presence on social media as well as consider new business strategies for the spring/summer season, plan tour dates, write copy. For those of you who are self-employed, you know that work is not something one can simply leave behind. Still, I had found myself in a truly unique position - I am self employed, I have finished my schooling for the time being, I could save enough money up to make this dream a reality, and I had an amazing traveling companion who I had pre-determined synergy with. Thus, I made it happen.

So how did it proceed? Well, I’m a perfectionist. I felt that self-care was something that could be attacked with planning, exercise and productivity. I packed a large number of books that I’ve been meaning to begin, old journals to hopefully stimulate and inspire my writing, and my yoga mat and my workout clothes to cater to the improvement of my corporeal form. I found a yoga studio and a gym near our residence and mapped out where all the amenities were in relation to where we were staying. I developed a list of mental goals for my time (mostly) away from it all. And I was successful at achieving all of these things, for about the first week. Addy and I marched to the gym every morning, managed yoga classes five out of seven days. In the afternoons I hit the beach and worked on my tan, finished books that I had meant to finish for years, even got a few attempts at writing out of the way. And then I caught some sort of fever.

I was laid up for about five days, it was a lingering fever that would lift and fill me with hope, just before it descended again, incapacitating me. Then it was followed with about three days of nausea, probably brought on because I hadn’t been able to eat very much in the days prior. I approached health tentatively and slowly. By the time I had emerged from the fog, I had fallen from my strict regime for self improvement, having spent my feverish days only able to re-watch episodes of Rick and Morty. As unfortunate the setback was I realize the immense fortune I had in falling ill near so accomplished and attentive a caretaker as Addy. I don’t think any human being outside of my mother has cared for me so diligently during an illness.

But in the days following my recovery, I began to feel a bit depressed. It became clear I would not arrive back in Montreal with all of my lofty goals for self improvement met. I had quit going to the gym and yoga, I had not read as many books as planned. I had not written an impressive amount of blog posts for my client facing blog, all ready to be published. I could not do a yogic handstand on command. I had a killer tan though, and a lot of time to think about how I wanted things to proceed when I returned home, what tours I wanted to plan, how I wanted my work/life balance to look. Most of all, I had a lot of time to think about myself. Introspection is not something we often have time for and neither is it always the most pleasant activity, even when it takes place against a beautiful background. In The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton writes about his trip to a tropical destination: “I was to discover an unexpected continuity between the melancholic self I had been at home and the person I was to be on [vacation], a continuity quite at odds with the radical discontinuity in the landscape and climate, where the very air seemed to be made of a different and sweeter substance.“ A drastic change of scenery is not enough to make us happy. We remove ourself from our homes and usual landscapes thinking that these are the things that fill us with discontent and melancholy. But when faced with restlessness and unease in a tropical paradise, it is unsettling to realize that perhaps the answer to our unhappiness lays within. De Botton writes, “if we are surprised by the power of one sulk to destroy the beneficial effects of an entire hotel, it is because we misunderstand what holds up our moods, we are sad at home and blame the weather and the ugliness of the buildings, but on the tropical island we learn… that the state of dwellings can never on their own underwrite our joy nor condemn us to misery.”

My illness had thwarted one attempt to visit the ruins of Tulum and Chichen Itza. By then the inertia had settled in and I had little impetus to travel outside the comfortable world of our apartment, hammock, and fantastic food trucks. I do feel a small amount of guilt in admitting that I’m not particularly drawn to viewing ruins. Specific kinds of temples peak my interest, like the ones I saw in Thailand and the ones I hope to visit in Japan. Libraries of the old and antiquated variety are some of my favourite things to look at. Art galleries and museums can also pull me in depending on their content and collections. For whatever reason, ruins fail to inspire my imagination. Like de Botton, I felt “a combination of self-disgust at the the contrast between my own indolence and what I imagined to be the eagerness of more normal visitors.” I knew that upon returning I would lack any stories of adventure and tangible discovery. It is a bit embarrassing to return home from vacation metaphorically empty handed. To turn to de Botton again, “anything I learnt would have to be justified by private benefit rather than by the interest of others. My discoveries would have to enliven me: they would have in some way to prove ‘life-enhancing.’” And so it was life enhancing. I did not return a bronzed Adonis, nor did I have any silly pictures of me posing in front of the ruins of long dead cultures, only a lingering addiction to chiles rellenos de queso. When asked what I did on my vacation, I tell people that I thought about myself a lot; I discovered new parts of my identity and different characteristics previously unknown to me. All in all, it was a good vacation. To the outsider it probably seems boring but to press the point, who and what are vacations really for? 

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The Quiet Things

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The Quiet Things

Where do you find comfort? Is it in the faces of your family, the walls of your home, the folds of a soft a blanket? What does comfort look like, feel like? What is it for and how should we use it? When sadness, desperation, and fear sink into our daily lives and routines, are there ways to ease the effects, mitigate the damage? 

I think the general consensus is that 2016 has been a hard year for everyone. Within a day I lost both my paternal grandfather and David Bowie - I’m a little ashamed to admit that they both had equal weight in shaping the person that I am today. Still, I think it is only right to acknowledge the way that pop culture influences us. Alan Rickman, Prince, and other figures of varying degrees of importance to different people were added to the list with frightening frequency. Then there were events that shook specific communities, some of which I am either personally or laterally a part of, events like the Pulse shooting and then the Oakland fire. Over the summer, border agents began enforcing an archaic and unnecessary law with prejudice, targeting my friends and colleagues. Now, many Canadian companions are prevented from travelling to and through the US for fear of being caught and banned. The policy effectively makes us, as individuals, illegal, and punishes us for our work, for having the courage to show our faces, and for standing up to a society that shames and disavows our right to agency over our bodies and our lives.

And finally, at the beginning of December, my outlook transformed from “maybe things will be better next year,” to “how worse will things get in the next four years?” Fear is a horrible thing, especially a fear that cannot be narrowed down and addressed. Living under general fear, something many of us do, takes its toll. We must be afraid because of who we are, what we do, because we do not fit into the boxes that assure us state-mandated safety. How should we deal with this fear? Do we take action, do we fight, do we make every day a battle? I guess I already know the answer to this but what I don’t know is how to stand tall when it is cold and dark, when the flowers have gone and I am tired. Sometimes, when I am frustrated to the point of inaction, I listen to angry music - I have a play list for just this purpose. It helps me refocus my emotions, inspires me to act rather than succumb. When I am sad and scared, I re-watch and re-read my favourite fiction. I like the certainty of knowing what is coming, what will happen, but also picking out the small details that I have missed, that transform my understanding of the work. Small sentences are underlined in most of my books, and comments are written in the margins. They point to the words that impressed me, inspired me. I relish my favourite passages the same way I think back on my favourite memories, reliving them. It’s a nice respite, diving into something that you know the outcome of. Comfort is nothing to be ashamed of. It is not retreating, it is not surrendering - It is a tool like any other.

A few weeks ago I bought an origami kit. It contains some pretty patterned paper and a small instruction book for a few basic folds. I’ve only perfected the crane so far and have made a few failed attempts at a butterfly and a carp. I’m hoping to move onto flowers soon, maybe some lilies. I’ve been telling myself I would take up origami for awhile now, it seemed an obvious choice of hobby considering my compulsive habit of folding paper. Previous to this I made fortune tellers, airplanes and little cups, but I wanted to up my game. The prints on washi paper have a similar effect on me as flowers do. They make me feel calm, at ease, remind me of the tiny, quiet wonders in life. I used to be an avid knitter, and I think it’s probably time I revisited that passion too. I think I love it for the same reason that I’m enjoying origami. If I can only concentrate and focus, I am rewarded with an object that is even more beautiful than the sum of its parts. The outcome is not guaranteed, and there are times when I fail more often than I succeed. The small successes make it worth it though. As the snow falls and the darkness prevails, I am resting and reserving energy, I am teaching myself the importance of perseverance and resilience. I am preparing to be source of support for my friends and loved ones and a tool of change. In the mean time, I fill my bookshelves with little paper cranes.

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This Must Be The Place

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This Must Be The Place

Home, is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
Guess I must be having fun

I’ve written about home before, maybe not here. I’ve certainly written about nostalgia and for a long time home was only something I could think about in the past tense. Home was that place I used to live, that town I left behind, the loved one I am no longer in touch with. Home was the way I looked when I had short hair, or maybe it was before the tattoos, before those mountain biking accident scars, before the chipped tooth. Home was before I was able to feel sadness, longing, or loss. Home was before I started running. 

I think I originally planned this tour because I wanted to find myself - I usually travel for that reason. I find that when I’m out of my element, away from my bed and belongings I get a better perspective of my life. It’s like that saying, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” It was also important that I head back to the place I’ve been running from for so long, it felt necessary that I face up to my past. What is the self without an origin story? I’ve been running from Alberta long before I finally moved to Montreal and it had been a full two years since I had actually set foot in the place. I’m the kind of person who always feels vaguely uncomfortable no matter where I am and I wondered if I've placed too much of the blame on my birth place. So I planned a big tour, a lesson in self-reliance and hopefully an opportunity for self discovery. Perhaps feeling homesick is the perfect mind-frame for exploring the idea of home. 

I’m just an animal looking for a home
and share the same space for a minute or two

Home is a geographical landscape, a weather pattern, specific smells, a particular style of architecture. I missed the prairies, the wide open space and limitless skies. Growing up, they sort of annoyed me, made me feel small and insignificant. At the time I much preferred grey skies and rain because it felt like there was cap over the world, the glass of a snow globe that kept the world measured and contained. It rains now in Alberta but precipitation was in short supply during my childhood. Yet, as I started my wandering, I realized that the forests of Northern BC made me claustrophobic and the scrub of the Okanogan made me miss the rolling plains. The little green bumps, Mont Royal and Mont-Saint-Hilaire, make me wistful for the sublime blue jagged edges of the Rockies that peak the distance. And as much as I love flowers, the rhododendrons in the Vancouver suburbs strike me as slightly gaudy and comical next to the pragmatism of prairie flowers.

But home is also the character of the city. When I’m gone, I miss the garbage in the streets of Montreal, the graffiti, the broken sidewalks. I miss the deciduous trees that line the streets, the brick buildings, the old architecture, the public parks that people actually make use of. The uniformity of the suburbs still perturbs me, the wide empty streets with no one in them fills me with a familiar sense of emptiness. 

The thing about visiting a place that used to be home is familiarity but the strangeness brought on by extended absence. It feels like locational Capgras Syndrome: I recognize this place, that river, those houses, but I don’t feel the emotional recognition that used to be there. And coming back to find gentrification gripping my favourite neighbourhoods or the change caused by previous floods, the venues I used to love filled with strange faces, it’s alarming. My childhood room no longer has my things, my furniture, or my clothing.

Do you ever really feel at home after you leave your childhood home? Afterwards it’s just an ongoing process of making new places homes, however transient. Your hotel room that you have only slept in for three nights is now momentarily home. The restaurant bar you keep going to becomes familiar, the suitcase with all of your belongings becomes the only constant in your life. How many of these little homes have I made? Hotels, motels, friend’s couches, tents, vans. And then there are the places I will likely never see again, if only for the reason I have no need, the relationships and connections have dried up. Those places sit in my chest and just behind the eyes, flashes of those places like still images in a slideshow, hints of the way they smell, the people who used to live there playing back over-exposed like old home movies. In that way, home is likely that place you’ll never get back to - Those places are preserved and purified by my memory. They will never be tainted by my returning, my mis-remembering will never be corrected, I will never have to see the alterations first hand. 

I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you or you find me?
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view

Home is other people and I guess this works on the macro and micro level. On a large scale, it's the culture of a place, the different types of people who live there that give a place character. I find that I now have to adjust the sound of people speaking English when I leave and I've always listened for accents that aren’t midwestern. Even the West Coast approach to fashion is very different to that of the East. It strikes me as curious, this new awareness. I felt like an extra out of Oliver Twist that first winter I lived in Montreal, with my torn skirts, uneven short hair, no money for a new back pack or fashionable winter boots. Now I head back and I’m struck by how overdressed I feel - was it really necessary to wear matching shoes and a purse? Is this scarf too much? As much as I admire the Southern British Columbian dedication to health and self improvement, I miss all the people in Hochelaga smoking and taking sips from sneaky beers. 

But I also went back to see my friends - friends from all the different steps of my life, who knew the younger versions of me. They call me by different names, we share different sub-cultures and jokes. All of us seem slightly bewildered that we moved away from our home towns, or in some cases, that they moved back. Adulthood is creeping up on us and it’s a bittersweet exercise comparing our present situations with all the plans we talked about when our friendships were young. I feel myself slip back into old patterns, back into the person I was when I first knew them, on some level in an effort to better connect with them, on the other, because they expect that version of me and I can’t seem to avoid living up to it. This can be the most disorienting thing about home - the test of how much you have actually changed and grown. Have I really moved beyond those old bad habits or that youthful pettiness? Is home where the more ideal version of yourself lives, the one who grew up and got better? Can we pick up and leave behind our old mistakes, perhaps make a new home on brighter foundations?

And then there are the times when you meet people who feel like home - family members, friends, lovers. It is beautiful to find a home in another human being. Your personalities fit together, your interests align, maybe you even share an almost psychic connection and find yourselves ordering the same food, thinking the same thing. Now this place that seemed so strange is made better - your parents still live in that childhood home and you feel an old safeness once back in their company. Your travel partner is there when this new location seems too hostile, too different. Your friends and lovers are back home, waiting for you, reminding you why you must return eventually.

Home, is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there

I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone entirely comfortable in their own skin - I’ve always assumed those who claimed to be were hiding something, or at least lying to me and themselves. Maybe they exist and my skepticism is unwarranted, who knows. I know that I have probably not been comfortable ever since I could make sense of what skin was and how it delineated me from others. I have met people who I envied because they seemed like they were at least close. They appeared to me to be capable and ready for any situation, what I thought to be the ultimate tool against fear and uncertainty. Or maybe this self-possessedness came from a total disinterest in how others thought of them. I guess I’m working on that one. 

A cab driver in Seattle asked me why I had gotten so many tattoos and stretched my ears, he seemed to think I had disfigured an otherwise attractive body. I’m used to this response and I don’t get it as often as I do admiration for all my body art. I won’t go into the ins and outs of owning a “female” body in this contemporary moment, being bombarded by advertisements, unrealistic beauty standards etc., etc., etc. I’m likely preaching to the choir so I won’t waste your time. So why did I start getting tattooed? It makes my body feel like mine. No matter how I’m feeling about my appearance, my hair, my skin, on any given day,- I can look in the mirror and feel proud of the work I chose, saved up for, helped design. When I look at those tattoos, I remember that I’m home. 

Quotes from "This Must Be The Place" by the Talking Heads

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Winter Reflections

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Winter Reflections

"A sad tale's best for winter - I have one of sprites and goblins"

A Winter's Tale

Just before I left for the U.S., I visited the Colours of Jazz exhibit at the MBAM, apparently the first exhibition ever to feature the Beaver Hall Group. The portraits were especially lovely, but it was the winter landscapes drew my eye. Most were set in the countryside or city, an aesthetic which differs greatly from the Group of Seven, who  concentrated on the wild and untouched Canadian landscape. One of the plaques commented on this, explaining that Quebecois painters' work often emphasized “the long and continuous history of Quebecois habitation of rural landscapes, an important symbol of the survival of French-Canadian culture and values.” What resonates with me, from both perspectives, is the way snow is presented. It strikes me as quintessentially Canadian to sit and ponder the beauty of paintings of snow. I love when the snow banks reflect yellow, orange and blue, a strange mix of warm and cool colours, a testament the pure quality of light. I adore the paintings of cloudy days, the world a uniform grey, the land almost indistinguishable from the horizon, and bare trees like lacework on the hazy background. I remember an elementary school art class where our teacher explained that white is not a naturally occurring colour, that the pureness of snow is always hinted at by the colours it reflects.

Before someone turned the switch on winter, I felt robbed by the temperate climate and green lawns - I don’t think I was alone in this sentiment and I don’t think I’m the only one who felt a little hypocritical or ungrateful for thinking it. Complaining about long cold winters is what we do best and we were momentarily cheated out of it. But perhaps it’s not just that. The winter has a pristine and distinct beauty that flowers or warm beaches lack. As a child, I remember stepping out of school and being blinded by the over-exposure of the bright Alberta sun reflecting off the ice and snow. I remember how on cloudy nights, the world would maintain an eerie glow, as if the lights were on a dimmer and turned low. I remember working in Northern B.C., where roads turned to ice and one could see wolves and moose moving through the lattice of trees, unable to blend into the sparse background.

It’s not just the chill beauty of the winter that strikes me. It’s how warm everything becomes in comparison - A heated apartment after a long wait for the bus, the glow of a fireplace, or even sitting near the heater as the furnace starts to kick in. The sun setting early and the long nights offset the street lights beautifully, the world turns an eerie yellow as they reflect off the snow. What does a crackling fire signify without the snowstorm outside, the gales of wind whistling through bare trees and loose shingles?

I would suggest that the winter is a necessary opposition to spring and summer. I am a creature that hibernates, or at least I entire into a state of torpor. Most of my activity, my decision making, my adventuring happens in the warmer seasons. After this flurry of action, I dig into the snowy months and ruminate on my decisions, consider their consequences, and dream of my plans for future follow-through. Of course not all of my decisions throughout a year are right or easy. After all the leaves fell from the trees and before the cold came, I made a very important, very difficult choice. It doesn’t really matter what it is, but it was the right thing to do. I’m sure that years from now the pain and conflict it incited will have faded and melted with all the winters in between, but now as I lie in bed and consider what next year will bring, the wound is very fresh. I’m not from the school of constant and consistent positive thinking. I believe that loss, melancholy, and grief are important to acknowledge and experience, if only for a little while. So now sadness sits at my door with the snow drifts and I take time to consider the shape, depth, and colour of it. I will hold it, digest it, and by the spring I will have moved beyond it. Like cold and warmth, I believe sadness and joy define each other. Perhaps there is no pure happiness, it is the contrast of other emotions that punctuates it and defines it.

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Decay and Rebirth: Mourning for the Ephemeral

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Decay and Rebirth: Mourning for the Ephemeral

The summer has finally come to an end. The train heads along through I town I once visited, in what seems like another lifetime. It must have only been a year or two but things have changed and moved so quickly. The first reds have started making their way down the deciduous trees, adding their colour to the last of the wildflowers. I think it’s common in these days of easy travel to yearn for exotic destinations and extensive travel but this landscape is still strange to me. Green fields are broken up by shrubs and tree windbreaks. Brick houses can occasionally be seen in the little towns we pass by. There are streams and hills, occasionally we skirt a lake, and I feel like the littlest hobo in the sun-faded scenery. Recently a friend posted pictures from their trip to Iowa and I was unexpectedly struck with homesickness for the prairies. There was a time when I hated driving by the canola fields and cattle, flat canvases punctuated by hay bales and mountains on the horizon. Enough time, little as it is, has passed that I can now begin to feel wistful, for rather than annoyed by, my home province.

I have finally passed a full summer in Montreal. It went by fast, wild, and busy. I can’t believe it’s over and I’m heartbroken to see it go. I have an unfortunate love for ephemeral things, flowers being the most obvious among them but also spring, autumn colours, intimate connections, and youth. I decided to finish this fast-paced season with a final challenge, my first tour. Of course, it wasn’t enough that I just take a bus to Toronto or Ottawa, and I still don’t miss Alberta or British Columbia enough yet to head that far west. My meeting and befriending the unstoppable Addy Finch seemed like a good reason to head to the US and join her for a trip to Chicago. Now it’s over and on this train home I write and mourn, adding the adventures and the discovery of a new and deep friendship, to the list of events that have taken place this brief summer. This week I will return to class, anchored again by some greater commitment other than my own whims. It’s hard not to feel claustrophobic shouldering these old expectations again.

I’ll confess to not seeing much of Chicago. It was a successful visit in terms of meeting new and wonderful people but this did not leave much time for sight seeing. If anything, my next visit to Chicago will be soon, if only that I may see all of the museums and sites that I missed. Chicago Institute of Art, I will visit you and I will visit you multiple times, that is a promise. Dreihaus Museum, you’re not forgotten either.

Not only do I have some site seeing in Chicago left to do, I did not nearly plan enough time for Detroit, a city for which I have always had a deep sense of curiousity. My brief time there only served to stoke this curiousity. Metro Detroit is an immediately arresting place, there is a lot there to grab the imagination and this is partially due to the diverse historical architecture. Coming from a young city, I’m always taken in by anything that looks like it was built before the 60’s. Detroit has amazing Art Deco skyscrapers, neo-classical edifices, Gothic Revival churches, post-modern contemporary buildings, all squished together in little clusters of anachronism. We drove by the Joe Louis fist as Addy recounted the history of Detroit and its fall, part historian, part tour guide, part expert insider. She took me to King’s Books where I was immediately swept up by the old and sometimes forgotten tomes of knowledge, made obsolete by time itself. We then headed to the Heidelburg Project, an artistic statement on blighted neighbourhoods. Strangely, the instalments elicited both feelings of melancholy and quiet optimism.

Heidelberg exhibit
Heidelberg exhibit

I wonder how many ghosts live in the abandon buildings that can be found throughout downtown. The empty structures sit, leering at you with broken windows and burnt out roofs, cognizant of the fact that they once used to be handsome, cutting edge, assured of long, profitable and inhabited futures. They are abandoned dreams and forgotten hope, left behind by time and memory. Who built them and what plans had they laid alongside those foundations? I found in Detroit a fascination that matched my expectations of the place. The old buildings of Detroit embody my fear and anxiety for the passage of time and my ill-fated love for impermanent things: everything dies. And even as these things die and decay, new things come along, another movement in the ebb and flow of life. Detroit has worked to heal itself and new dreams and communities have been forged out of the old. Nothing will bring the dreams of the original people and buildings back but new ones will be founded and perhaps founder in their turn. All I know is that I miss Addy, and I’ll have to go back soon.

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Sincerity, Complexity, and a Videogame Called "The Wolf Among Us"

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Sincerity, Complexity, and a Videogame Called "The Wolf Among Us"

So, Amelie recently lent me a videogame. I wasn’t allowed to play videogames growing up and expressed my hesitation to her about my abilities. “I grew up without the necessary eye/hand coordination,” I explained. “I’m not going to be able to get through it.” She waved away my concerns. “It’s a decision driven narrative, you just have to make choices to keep the game going!” The Wolf Among Us is based on the Vertigo series Fables, one of my all-time favourite comic books. It had been a long time since I had reread them, but still I felt emotionally attached to the concept and characters so I took a risk. I then played the game nonstop for two days and I was enthralled. A year ago now, I took a class called “Videogames as Literature.” While I thought it would be about analyzing the plots of videogames, it turned out to be a crash course in game theory. Although my difficulties playing videogames were certainly a handicap, I’m a sucker for theory. One of the most interesting elements we covered, for me at least, was procedural rhetoric. The term was developed by Ian Bogost, author of the book Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. He defines it as “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions, rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures.” He also defines it as, “the art of using processes persuasively.” Gonzalo Frasco, while using the term ‘simulation rhetoric,’ adds the dimension of ideology, asserting that game designers and authors use the laws and rules of games to convey ideology. Thus, by adhering to the rules and structures of a game, you may be taught specific skills, or even given insight into processes and situations you wouldn’t have considered before. One example of this was a game (the name escapes me) used to teach new teachers how to navigate the complexities of work place politics and childhood education. While you were given options to deal with situations, it is made clear through the game that there are no perfect options and that the job would always include decisions that would have some negative consequences one way or the other. The power of this kind of persuasion is that it helps to simulate an experience for you, rather than simply relaying a description of that experience via images, sounds or words. I found Wolf to be an example of this.

Fables is a series about a community of fairy tales, chased out of their homelands and living in secrecy in New York community called Fabletown. The deputy Mayor is Snow White and the Sheriff is Bigby Wolf, that is, and anthropomorphized version of the Big Bad Wolf. In order to keep this tenuous community together, amnesty was granted to all fables for any crimes committed before fleeing their homelands. Thus, Bluebeard has been forgiven for killing his wives and Bigby has been forgiven for blowing down porcine domiciles, eating up Little Red Riding Hood and her grandmother, and every other act of violence he committed in the familiar tales we know and love. Despite this amnesty, and despite faithfully serving as FableTown’s sheriff for centuries, he remains a subject of suspicion and fear. While the main objective of the game is to find a serial killer who has been murdering fables, there is an unspoken understanding that you must also work to gain the trust and respect of the fables and the admiration or Snow White - or not.

What fascinates me is that every decision offers you multiple options of things to say and do - however different they may be, the reactions are all true to Bigby. There were times where I knew exactly what *I* would do, but those actions were not offered because those would not be actions that Bigby would take. The decisions we make also affect how the plot proceeds. Within these confines, we come to understand the isolation and frustration that Bigby feels, trapped with the dislike of his peers yet struggling to do what he feels is right — this is procedural rhetoric. I found myself thinking of my life as I played the game. It also doesn't help that this is how I look inside my head:

I was once told by a client that I live a complicated life. It was a bit patronizing and I would amend that statement to say that I live a complex life. Everyone goes through life with multiple identities out of necessity, some of us more than others. We must be different with our employers, our parents, our friends. Lies occasionally keep things moving on an even keel and truths cannot be disclosed to everyone. When I entered into this world, I necessarily chose a name to protect my identity but also to create a self who could meet and connect with people in the ways that I do. Because this is not the name I have on my birth certificate, people assume that they are not meeting the ‘real’ me. I am often asked my 'real name,' perhaps because in this line of work it represents for clients a further symbol of intimacy and vulnerability. I find this attachment to birth names curious to say the least. I live in communities where most of us have taken new names, chosen the names that best represent us. The name that my parents gave to the shapeless red lump that I came out of the womb as has no bearing on the person I am today. The names I give myself, ‘Delilah Sansregret’ included, hold so much more meaning and insight into the person I am now. Every different kind of person I am in day to day life is the real me - I am incapable of being a fake me. However, I must navigate a complex world and this results in a complex life. Still, I don’t think I would want to live a simple life, even if I had the option.

Just like Bigby, I have various choices of action in the situations I encounter. While all those options are true to me, the individual decision will impact the way people view me, sometimes giving them the impression that that “IS” the way I am. I feel that this is a short-sighted way to treat anyone and I certainly do my best to avoid such a pitfall. So remember friends, whether you've come to see me before, or you plan to see me in the future, don't doubt my sincerity or genuineness.

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Sublimity and the Senses Pt. 1

Luce Irigaray tells us that we live (and love) in an ocularcentric society and Jacques Derrida asserts our reliance on logocentricism, that is to say, the primacy of speech over writing(let’s talk about phallogocentrism another time). Grammatology, then, is my realm of expertise, it is writing that I privilege most of all. I am a student and lover of literature — I spend the better part of my time reading, that is, looking at systems of signs and meticulously digesting their meaning. I ask myself, “What is the purpose of this metaphor or the value of this allegory?” Long after I have finished reading, I consider these ideas as I commute to work or walk down the street. I continue to ask, “How did those words or that poem make me feel?” Sometimes though, I am struck by my senses in such a way that I need not intellectually process their hidden meanings or settle on their exact importance to me. I speak of the responses to stimuli that bypass our intellectual processes, that circumvent our brain and mainline right into our nerve endings. A hug from a friend, the first bite of tiramisu, the deep notes of a cello reverberating through metro tunnels, a painting that immediately grips us on first sight. While it seems somewhat antithetical to do so, I realize that I should take some time discussing these things at length, given the highly sensuous and sensory based nature of my work and interests. Because it seems like a very large project, let me first deal with hearing today: When there is a violin or cello player in the metro, I am compelled to take out my headphones and stand enchanted for a while, no matter how late I am. I have always been a fool for stringed instruments and arrangements. Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was the first classical music I heard growing up and now going to the opera or the orchestra is, to me, a religious experience. For those who have never been to the Maison Symphonique de Montréal, I must assure you, there is no choice but to be swept away. The acoustics are heavenly, every musician is both heard independently and as a part of the greater whole; it is an experience that words fail to grasp entirely. For those of you who know me, I take care in choosing and customizing the music for my encounters. I alter the collections, customize them, tailor them to ensure that the songs flow seamlessly into one another, compliment each other, and work to put me and my partner into the best frame of mind possible. I am always searching for new music, looking for the best works to include.

At the beginning of the Jazz Festival, I went to see Beirut play a free show. It was packed solid and being that I’m not great with crowds, I only managed to stay about 45 minutes and barely enjoyed the music. But a friend had suggested them to me a long time ago, so I went online to find their discography and pick an album to dive into. I selected The Flying Club Cup, mostly because of it’s French chanson influences. The night I finally had time to give it a listen, it had been raining and I had just been reunited with my prized umbrella (more on that for another post). As I walked home through the lovely flowering alleyways of my neighbourhood, I was completely bewitched by the music. Brass instruments, an accordion, and Zach Condon’s haunting voice took me over. I felt the music as a warm burst in my chest. Like electric shots it moved from there into my fingertips, over my breasts, across my stomach and down my thighs. I could not think, I could not care what the few people in the dark thought of me. With my long umbrella I directed an invisible orchestra. I spun over the puddles, moving my head to the melody. I also nearly got hit by a car because I wasn’t paying attention, but that’s a bit embarrassing so we won’t dwell on that. I think the most amazing thing about that moment was that I didn’t think about it. I didn’t try to process or describe the situation to myself, I didn’t dissect the lyrics to try and divine their meaning. For a brief and golden moment, I was just a girl on a rain drenched street, overtaken by the beauty of a song.

These moments are incredibly important to me. It’s not that they are so rare, I feel that I have become quite adept at living in the moment and appreciating the small yet powerful joys of life. Freshly blooming flowers, decadent cake, vibrant paintings, all of these things have the power to stop me in my tracks. But to go a little while without thinking or worrying, to have a few sublime moments beyond language, outside of human-crafted systems of signs and symbols, it is like a brief respite from captivity. When beauty or passion overtake us, when the senses outstrip language, those are the instances when we transcend low mortality and become briefly in tune with something greater than ourselves. I know that there are many philosophers who might disagree with me. Many of them spend their time reasoning human existence, the human condition, fencing in experience with epistemology. But I believe that there are many artists, musicians, and even authors, who might find something in common with what I describe. I hope you too have experienced a few of these moments for yourself and know the sublimity I speak of.

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The Nexus of Language and the Erotic

While I’ve been attempting to fulfil my Summer Reading Bingo Goal, I fear I may have run a bit off track. That is unless I can try and fit Virginia Woolf and Luce Irigaray into some of these categories? A confession: Up until this point I’ve only read Woolf’s essays, usually as a way of backing up my own literary criticism. She was a genius essayist and her wit is at times unparalleled. A Room of One’s Own has always comforted me with its winding style and vindicated me with its concise arguments. I once laughed out loud in class as I read her description of how she had to wrestle with and then murder the Angel of the Hearth in order to become a confident author (Victorian literary jokes just kill me). Then last summer I watched The Hours. I was staying with a friend in Vancouver and feeling a bit low so I began to search her alphabetically organized collection of DVDs for Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Instead I skipped it over and decided to give Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Meryl Streep try. In hindsight, this was not the best decision; while I was in need of a light hearted musical romp, I got Woolf’s persisting mental illness and Clarissa Vaughan's AIDS stricken friend instead. I cried like a baby afterwards but carried away with me the resolution to read Woolf’s fiction.

The logical choice (and the option most likely to fill a bingo category) is Mrs. Galloway but I already had a partially finished copy of The Waves handy. It’s always satisfying to finish a book you started ages ago, right? Things have been proceeding quickly, though I can’t help but mark and underline all the words that I love as well as the words that I must look up. Woolf packs an impressive lexicon and I realize part of her appeal for me is her use of my favourite words, like ‘incandescent,’ ‘luminous,’ and ‘ephemeral.’

I don’t know how much time other people spend thinking about the words of their mother tongue. Certainly, I have come across many French words and names that I love: Île d’Or sounds like the most beautiful place in the world, and papillon has a music to it. I have other favourite words, some of which I forget about until they come up again in my reading. They have the power to comfort and soothe me. My favourites, not including the ones used by Woolf:

  • Diaphanous
  • Bless
  • Whisper
  • Melody
  • Benefice
  • Transcend
  • Effervescent

It isn’t even that these words have especially beautiful meanings or refer to pleasant things. It’s just that something in the arrangement of consonants and vowels, the rhythm or sibilance they produce, have a calming effect. Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially eccentric, I ask a friend or acquaintance to come up with their favourite words. It often surprises people a bit, but still they usually have a list buried somewhere in their subconscious, even if they’ve never given voice to it. Usually though, it is the words that bother or annoy people that come to their lips easiest. Mine include the following:

  • Treat
  • Chat
  • Glut
  • Frack

Perhaps it’s a strange way pass time, but I put a lot of stock in the power of words and I’m sure a few of you out there do too. The ability to communicate fantasies, needs, and dreams, to convey affection, even the soft monosyllables whispered or moaned during the height of passion; this is the nexus of language and the erotic. See, there I go turning a post about Virginia Woolf into something about sex — I don’t think she would disapprove though.

So what are your favourite words? What kind of language calms or excites you? I’m always interested in how other people feel about these things.

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Girls in Sundresses

Given my current lifestyle, I’ve become especially fond of lingerie. Not to say that I didn’t like the idea of lingerie before, I guess now I just feel a little more justified in purchasing it. However sexy I feel in lingerie though, there is something else that I find more erotic. When I was 14 years old and a young Catholic school girl (yes, actually), a close friend of mine received a bag full of handmedowns from an older girl. We tore into the garbage bag and rifled through, making piles of the things that we wanted. I pulled out a few Christian magazines, a pair of pants that were far too long for me and a sundress. The sundress was a halter-neck style with a sweetheart neckline and lace-up bodice in a faded yellow flower print. I could barely fill the thing out; it would be a few years still before I could even justify wearing a bra. That all didn’t matter though, the dress spoke to me. Perhaps it was my budding sexuality, my young pubescent imagination, who knows, I just had to have this dress. My friend also had an eye for it but was too big and tall, so the dress became mine. I couldn’t even wear the thing out for another few years until finally my breasts blossomed at 17. Even then, I was too shy to wear the damn thing. I had yet to learn about strapless bras and even if I had had access to one, my strict Catholic high school's dress codes prohibited bare shoulders and exposed décolletages. It was finally at 21 that I wore the old girl out, but by then it was too late. The dress, already faded when I first claimed it, looked too old and outdated. A girlfriend of mine mocked me for looking like trailer trash in the poor worn out thing. Still, the dress spoke to something in me.

I continue to look for a similar dress and in the summer I go into department stores, thrift stores and high-end dress shops looking out for a soft cotton sundress with an innocent and understated floral print. The dress still haunts my fantasies - I see myself bent over and my back arched, the skirt tossed carelessly over my hips and thighs. In these dreams, I wear no bra, only a pair of crisp white cotton panties. I ended up donating the dress to some charity or another, though I wish I hadn’t. But the memory of an innocent cotton dress and young sexual awakening always sits in the back of my mind. I love summer dresses, they speak to me in ways that lingerie fails to. One day I will find the right one and another fantasy will finally be fulfilled.

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Always a Dreamer

It was in my dreams
That I felt your caress.
Your hard calloused hands
Slope down my back.
The ghosts of your kisses
Collect at my neck.

For the sake of this vision I slept in three hours,
But it wasn't enough so I took The dream into the shower.
Hot water rolled and streamed over my breasts,
But in my mind it was the warmth of your chest.
This hazy plot, the respite of your body,
Lingers on and on, resistant to coffee.

The days are long, The work is tedious.
I forget my keys, I forget my wallet,
Small details are sacrificed For delights immediate.

Productivity gives way to glazed over eyes,
Taken over by the dull ache between my thighs.

I follow minute and second hands throughout the day- Drowsing along till I return to my bed;
The memories of you - All stored in my head.

You've made a sleep walker of me,
My waking life is numb and boring.
I doze and dream 'till we meet again
Restless, tossing and dreading the morning.

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Big Plans, Big Dreams

Since moving to Montreal, I’ve developed a new tradition. Montreal is a cultural capital (if not THE cultural capital of Canada) and it has an unparalleled arts scene. So, at the close of every winter I walk through Place des Arts, go to the catalogue box and pick up the new programs for the coming season. I love the design of Opéra de Montréal but the program for Les Grands Ballet is always breath taking. Even if you never saw a show you could collect these little lovelies (which I sort of already do). In the last season I was able to make it the Opéra de Montréal’s Gala and production of Samson and Delilah (of course a favourite of mine). The Gala cemented my burgeoning love for Puccini, so now I’m ecstatic that next season will include a production of Madame Butterfly!

I’ve never had the pleasure of taking in any of the productions of Danse! Danse! but they are hosting an unorthodox interpretation of Swan Lake, by the South African choreographer Dada Masilo, playing in January. It seems too unique to miss! It will be awhile before September though and there are so many festivals tucked in to one Montreal summer. I'll do my best to get to the most interesting ones... Any suggestions?

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Culture!

Since moving to Montreal, I’ve developed a new tradition. Montreal is a cultural capital (if not THE cultural capital of Canada) and it has an unparalleled arts scene. So, at the close of winter, I walk through Place des Arts, go to the catalogue box and pick up the new programs for the coming season. I love the design of Opéra de Montréal but the program for Les Grands Ballet is always breath taking. Even if you never saw a show you could collect these little lovelies (which I sort of already do). In the last season I was able to make it the Opéra de Montréal’s Gala and production of Samson and Delilah (of course a favourite of mine). The Gala cemented my burgeoning love for Puccini, so of course I’m ecstatic that next season will include a production of Madame Butterfly!

I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing any of the productions of Danse! Danse! but they are hosting a really interesting interpretation of Swan Lake by the South African choreographer Dada Masilo. I will definitely be taking that in this year. What's on your list of must sees? I'm alway open to suggestions.

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Summer Reading

For the first time in a long time, I’m in a city for the spring and summer. Being naturally inclined to urban living and also a die-hard flower child, it’s hard for me to express just how excited I am about this. I envision Sunday bike rides to the Tam-Tams, hot afternoons and cold beers on terraces, sunny days passed in parks and cafés considering the finer things in life. Other than warm weather, beautiful blooms, and open air festivals, summer especially reminds me of reading! With the slog of school and homework done for another season, it is time to turn to that neglected Goodreads list, those dusty books on the shelf, a forgotten Kindle, the neglected library card. As it is always feast or famine with me, I’m almost paralyzed by the possibilities; should I be decadent and start with some contemporary fiction or studious and add another canonical classic to my list? Maybe I will seek to improve myself with some sort guide to a new skill, or I will educate myself with something a little more academic, like a sociological study. In order to beat this bounty inspired paralysis, I’m going to try something new: I’ve been working my way through older episodes of a Book-centred podcast, “Books on the Nightstand.” They created a generator to pump out summer reading Bingo cards and the instructions are quite straightforward: read a book that meets the criteria on one of the squares and work your way to a Bingo! The episode is over a year old and so the generator no longer works, but luckily for me there is one bingo card left on the site and multiple others available on the interwebs, so I’m going to give it a try. Of course the book I am currently reading meets none of the criteria, (No Great Mischief by Allister Macleod) but perhaps that’s just more incentive for me to finish quickly!

Just in case any of you were interested in what other books I am planning on reading (or hoping to own), take a gander at my Amazon wishlist. There are few better ways to get into a bookworm’s heart (and her pants) than a good piece of literature.

Challenge Accepted

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