Spring? not in Saskatchewan

I’m sure T.S Eliot wasn’t talking about the weather when he said, in his enigmatic opening line of “The Wasteland,” “April is the cruelest month.” Or maybe he was. I’m not sure what spring looks like to the rest of North America right now, but here in Regina, Saskatchewan, it looks like perdition — April is indeed cruel.

Two days ago I was staring out my kitchen window, watching the snow recede, marveling at the prospects of warm weather – skateboards, bicycles, outdoor soccer, not hating life every time I go outside. Then, just when things start to, you know, heat up, spring pulls up her pants and dumps (this on) me.

Spring, you are still so beautiful, and I still want you, but why do you tease me so?

Music: Death Cab For Cutie – You Are A Tourist

I don’t mind washing the dishes, but I find it much more enjoyable to listen to some tunes while I’m swashing my hands in tiny pool of grease and food-bits. I’m not sure why, but I decided to throw on Death Cab’s 2008 release Narrow Stairs, an album which I’ve never really give much of a chance.

I turned it on, and I turned it on loud. Every few minutes I could hear the volume shrinking — my girlfriend wasn’t enjoying my music selection. And I knew why. Narrow Stairs isn’t that great. To be sure, you can listen to the album, maybe even enjoy it on some levels, but, when you consider it in the context of Death Cab’s earlier works, their major label debut is definitely a step down (forgive the pun). The album feels immature.

On may 31 Death Cab will release Codes and Keys, their forthcoming release on the Atlantic record label, and I’m getting pretty excited about it. They’ve released the video for their song “You Are A Tourist,” which runs just under 5 and a half minutes. The video is a one take live shot, complete with glowing hearts, kaleidoscopic light-effects, and refreshingly tasteful aerial shots of dancing women. Both the video and the song deserve repeat listening and viewing. I know that I’ll be humming the melody to “You Are A Tourist” as I eagerly await spring / summer travel. You might too.

Poetry: Billy Collins’ “Forgetfulness”

(For those who are are not so interested in poetry, there is a very cool video which accompanies the poem below. You won’t be disappointed).

Today, The Writer’s Almanac featured American poet (Laureante 2001-2003) Billy Collin’s “Forgetfulness.” As the title suggests, the poem deals with memory. Memory is, indeed, a fleeting thing. It’s rather frightening if you stop to consider the things which we (as people and a culture) forget. In Canada, for instance, the mistreatment of aboriginals is a history that is often overlaid with blanket terms like “diversity” and “multiculturalism.” At times there is something at stake in our forgetfulness.

Sometimes we forget things because it just doesn’t fit in with who we want to be, with who we see ourselves as. Surely, at some point in our lives, we’ve all said “I’m not that person,” or, “I would never do that.” Such utterances occur when our actions are incongruous with the narratives which we construct our lives to be. No, none of us are alcoholics, a-holes, liars, cheaters, mess-makers, vase-breakers, notch-makers (okay, I’ll stop), until, of course, we are. In such cases, we have two options: brush our action off as outliers, or, reconstruct the narratives of our lives. The former is much easier.

I digress, Collins’ poem has little to do with the willful amnesia of our pasts. The poem deals with involuntary memory loss, which, as we age, becomes increasingly evident. I’m not sure which is more frightening, willful or involuntary forgetfulness.

Cursing, blaming other people, even the cat, tearing sheets off the bed and throwing clothes in all directions, I searched for my pen (that one with just the right ease and flow) – the order of my world was corrupted by memory. It wasn’t where I put it.

I used to laugh at my parents when such moments would (increasingly) occur. Now, I pale as they happen to me.

This seems to be what Collins is getting at:

Billy Collins – Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

As promised above, I’ve included a beautiful animated video that accompanies a reading of Collins’ poem. Animator Julian Grey did a wonderful job.

This Week In Cute: Slow Loris With a Tiny Umbrella

Is there anything cuter than these slow moving gooey-eyed fur-balls? Hardly. Add a cocktail umbrella to the mix and, well, if your heart doesn’t swell there’s a good chance you don’t have a soul.

19 seconds into the video you’ll notice how the slow loris uses the umbrella for shade, and decides to catch some well needed Zs. The slow loris is nocturnal, so, the umbrella is most likely a welcome shield against the bright fluorescent lights of the — discount electronics store?

As cute as this video is, I can’t help but notice the strange setting of the video. According to Wikipedia, the slow loris is an endangered species who “are hunted for their large eyes, which are prized for local traditional medicine. They are also turned into a wine said to alleviate pain.”

Hold up. These little cuties are turned into wine? (Animals can be turned to wine? whaaaaat??). People harvest these little guys’ eyes? Okay, granted, people are using them for medicinal purposes, so maybe I shouldn’t be so quick to judge, but, they’re endangered. So maybe people could lay off and buy some Tylenol-3s or morphine so the Slow Loris population can replenish.

On a lighter note, when we consider the fact that this Slow Loris is in some sort of a store, I doubt he’ll be turned into wine. After all, his cute umbrella-wielding shenanigans only help his cause. But, even if he is involved in the illegal pet trade, which, on the surface, might seem more humane—as sick patients won’t be guzzling a Slow Loris Chianti—the slow loris breeding pool is shrinking. While this little guy might live a long, happy, and even safe life, there is a near 100% guarantee that he will not reproduce.

Okay, I kind of wish that I hadn’t found out about slow loris wine and the illegal pet trade, because it puts a sad note on an otherwise cute video. But maybe, if more people know about the plight of the loris, their situation might improve. This site has some conservation information.

This week in cute got kind of sad. I’ll close it off with a classic: Slow Loris Loves Getting Tickled

Epistle to my first friend in Japan, February 15, 2003

Elle, have I ever told you how I came to find you?

The streets smelled of overcooked eggs, and people wouldn’t look me in the eyes.  My hotel chambers, with the sterility and lifelessness of a dentist’s office, offered little comfort against the backdrop of an indifferent city. I was, however, grateful to have a view of a small Japanese man atop a neighbouring rise, who would pummel his rugs with a bamboo stick. Dust eddies were my transient joy.

It had only been a week and a half since I left Paris, where everything was lighter with wanton expressions; then, “je t’envie” became “je t’aime,” and her parting words, caught between closing metro doors, changed everything.  I knew that it would be impossible to reciprocate Emily’s words while maintaining my Parisian lifestyle in Tokyo.  Drugs and alcohol – memory suppressants – were out; I feared what I might forget. We were too far apart.  Besides, Elle, I was looking for a reason to get away from those destructive inclinations, so why not do so for Emily and I?

Despite what many people think, modeling is difficult.  Aside from the long days, where it is not unusual to start at five in the morning and finish at eight in the evening, it is very lonely.  Time does not often afford the opportunity to develop meaningful relationships, so alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs become the glue that holds the ephemeral bonds that exist among us.  In order to uphold this new commitment with Emily, I had to abandon that life.  I didn’t have a single friend.

Aside from my toilet, with a heated seat and oscillating bidet, my room was lonesome and cheerless.  I went to the streets.  Paradoxically, it’s lonelier lost in a whirl of people than an empty room; this is especially true when portly Japanese men with wet-slicked hair offered me flyers, trying to sell Japanese girls who were younger than my sister.  In the bustling centre of my district, Shibuya, I weaved through a dense fabric of people in motion.  Though the shop was abuzz with people, the magnetic pull of floral scents brought me to you, Elle, with your iridescent crimson blossoms.

The Japanese have a language for flowers, and Elle, you signify ‘great taste’. Both my decision to live a pure life and my eye for beauty had been affirmed through you, a dahlia.  You were a beautiful, platonic friend.  Emily, in Paris, was one ocean, nine thousand kilometres, and 300 yen per minute away. I could talk to you.  You brought new life to my hotel-apartment and inspired me to liven it further with photographs, drawings, and other personal mementos.  Soon, as you know, I made a new friend, Enel, from Estonia.  Remember, Elle? How you sat between Enel and I as we ate spaghetti with that terrible sauce that came from a shiny metallic sac.  Your aroma coupled with our conversation filled the room with an incurable need to be among the living.

I soon succumbed to my social desires and, somewhat against my will, went to a cavernous party that flogged exquisite Mexican fare.  Soon my revels reached Ropponghi – a district that is infamous for its nightlife.  I threw the crumbly white pills the bouncer handed me on the scummy floor, and within minutes of entering The Lex, Laura entered my world.  Her tattooed freckles – I now recognize as spores of caution – were a charming addition to her English grace.  She was an actress and ex-wife to a former Coronation Street star, the “handsome one,” she said with pride. (Please, don’t be jealous, Elle, I only want to explain).  How could I refuse her colourful life?   I was re-entering the old European world that I thought I left behind.

As I cultivated my relationship with Laura, I neglected my love for Emily, my friendship with Enel, and you, Elle; you and all the others withered in Laura’s shade.  Unable to give myself to Laura, because I wasn’t so shrewd as to completely disregard my commitment with Emily, that relationship, too, failed.   Did I kill you or did I let you die?  In either case, you’re gone and I’m wracked with regret.  It has been seven years now and I don’t talk to Emily, Enel, or Laura anymore, but I can always count on you Elle.  You’ve always been the best listener.  How you managed to grow with such luminous colours amidst the grey steel, pavement, and sallow people still astounds me. You’ve taught me to do the same.

Yesterday I had a facebook. Today, I have a blog.


Last light, 2:16 am, my screen illuminates my fingers — dark rods, alien in the blue-black glow. “You can contact me by e-mail or phone.” I’m sick. I’m done with the voyeurism, the illusory self, the politics.

Though I must confess, I love facebook, which is precisely why I had to leave.

It’s strange how quickly love can turn to repulsion.  I found myself, with each login, growing more furious. I despised the social network for turning my friends into people I hate.  But I don’t hate my friends; I hate their online simulacras. Jennifer X > Michelle X: “Yeah, let’s meet up for drinks Thirstday.” This, for me, was the catalyst.  At what point do we share personal messages between two people with hundreds?–when we want an ostentatious social life that reflects the celebrity culture that our western world has become.  People’s facebook walls are now forums to flex their social muscles to the world – err, to their friends. Put simply, I do not need to, nor do I wish to, read about issues that concern no more than two people in my “news feed.”  I am aware that I can block posts by certain people, yet, most all posts are moving in this brash direction.

It’s not just ‘them’ that is the problem – it’s me. I connected with people on facebook, but my connections were self-serving. To be sure, my close friends will always remain close, regardless of a wall or a tag. But the people who I needed to be connecting with had simply become objects of my voyeurism.  When I wanted to connect with someone I would peer into their life: browse their albums, read their wall, check out their info, and, very seldom, communicate.  In this sense, the gaps created from lost connections are filled with a façade that was prompted both by me and for me – not a mutual desire to share our lives.  After spending hours with my girlfriend exploring our pasts through photos, we laughed over the stories that accompanied the photos, we learned from one another, and, simply, grew closer together. I saw what I had been missing.  I want to sit down and connect with people. I want to hear the stories that accompany the photographs in their albums. I don’t want to seek; I want to be shown.

I’ve been without facebook for a day and, already, my life is better. I’m genuinely excited to learn about peoples’ lives and stories from the people, and not a wall or feed. I had more than enough time to tend to my beer and winemaking.  My homework is, well, I’ve done more homework than I otherwise would have, and I’ve written a blog entry. I didn’t do these things solely because I left facebook, but, moreover, because I feel good about leaving facebook.

I am not anti-facebook.  While facebook works for many, it no longer does for me. Certain features, like events, will be missed, but, to steal the words of a spurned lover who deleted their dumpee: “I need my virtual space.”

Feel free to share your thoughts on facebook. How does it improve or limit your life?