Saturday, 27 October 2007

what's in my wall?

Ten minutes while coffee perks. Once again I am up at an ungodly hour ... odd phrase that, as though God always manages to sleep in late. I can see Him waking up around noon with a leisurely yawn. Yeah, unless I get my eight hours I'm a rag, He says. Then He snaps His fingers and coffee and donuts pour from the sky. In truth this is a pretty darn Godly hour. You feel close to the unseen presence in the middle of the quiet and restful dark. You're up, and you know God is up. Not too many others. If you need spiritual relief, the line is shorter at this time of day. (May sound a bit dodgy to compare God to a bathroom, but I'm sure He's heard worse. )
Only, darn it all, my own quiet is being invaded right now. Doesn't take much to ruin quiet, does it? Quiet is a crisp white suit, and the world is a football crowd holding beer and hot dogs. Quiet is a balloon in an iron maiden, a green lawn in October, a souffle in an earthquake, a ... well, you get the idea.
My own quiet is being broken by what I figure is an animal in my wall. Somewhere to the left of me -- about three arms' lengths away -- a small and furtive skritching and skratching is going on. It could be a gnome working away at a wood carving, I suppose, but common sense says different. I picture claws and teeth scraping away at plaster. I leap from my desk to pound on the wall, and the skritching stops ... for about a minute. Then it picks up again. Animals (or gnomes) have no attention span. I pound again, and go downstairs for coffee.
I'm back ... and so is the noise. Drat. Now let me summon together my manifold powers of concentration. Can I block the skritching and get to work? Can I focus only on the flickering pixels in front of me? Deep breath, find the zen, get in the zone, and ...
Drat again. Well, I'm off travelling again in an hour or so. BC this time -- see some old friends and meet some new ones. I may try a blog from away, but if I don't get round to it you can expect me back about a week from now. I know, I know -- I just got back. What kind of weekend fair weather blogger am I? you ask, and of course you're right. Mea culpa. Look, I promise that this is the last time I go anywhere until May.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

foggy days ...

And I'm back, in about the same mood as I left, though with clear memories of a wonderful city. What with one thing and another it has been well over a decade since I was in London. I wandered around for four days with my eyes ears mouth and skin wide open, soaking up the place. I could offer some bad and embarrassing word painting, or some almost thoughtful social demographic type comments, but the first thing that comes to mind is: expensive. Holy crap is it expensive. I wasn't even paying for that much, and it was expensive. Dinner for four was more than my month's rent, a short tube ride as much as a New York taxi, and the belt I did not buy as a souvenir for Imo (in their way, my girls are ideal kids -- tell you exactly what they want) cost about 200.00. No, it was not made of gold or signed by the Dalai Lama (you know, his clothing line would be a seller. Really good socks, you know? or, Pants you'll want to be reborn in or something. I wonder if he's exploiting his popularity enough). It was the same belt I can buy in downtown Toronto for 25.00. And will. So if you see Imo in a new belt, don't tell her where it comes from. Enough about money -- such a vulgar topic. I'd like to do the sun glinting off the cornices of the Georgian buildings, the gap-toothed smile of the stockbroker walking down Park Lane, expansive in his pinstripes, and the view of Father Thames all silver in the sunlight ... but like I say I get embarrassed by that stuff. So let me tell you about what I missed.
I missed the shock of diesel exhaust. London used to smell different. Now it smells the same as everywhere else. (We've caught up to it.) I missed the grime (actually not so much missed as noticed -- the tourist part of the city looks like it has had a facelift. Clearly a good thing, but there was something endearing about buildings which all used to look like they'd been smoked like kippers). And I missed the English accents. Service trades -- retail, hotel, restaurant -- are staffed by eastern Europeans. Again, this is not criticism, but rather a middle-aged hearkening back to a simpler kindlier time.
My favorite memory was the Tate Modern -- not the art so much as the whole experience of the place: a major gallery in a reconditioned power plant, filled -- packed -- with tourists and locals. I have never been in a gallery that full. I loved listening to the family discussions in front of Rothko, Hepworth, Pollock, Freud, or whomever, mom or dad pointing out various interesting aspects of the artist's craft to scarily interested tots (in my day I'd have been picking my nose in an ecstasy of boredom). I loved the quarreling teens and the stately older couples, pausing, shuffling forward. I wondered why they were all here when they could be playing football or hanging at the mall, and then it struck me. What do you do when everything costs so much? You go to the art gallery, which is free.
My sons didn't say what they wanted me to bring back. Not ideal children from the gift-giving point of view. They get flags and like it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

negative positives

A friend is getting over the flu, feeling crappy but way better than before, and it occurred to me, from our conversation yesterday, that sickness -- painful if not serious -- is another example of the value of the negative in human happiness. Think of the best feeling you can have. That first sip of a cold beer. Relaxing in a hot bath. Hearing your kid say how much he loves you. These are great moments. Take it up a notch, and think about the first real kiss of a love you never thought you'd have. Or, maybe even further, that moment of ... well, yes. That's a great moment too (even if you burst into tears afterwards and can't be consoled. What? You don't? I mean, of course you don't). Anyway, my point is that even these special moments pale when compared to the moment in the course of a painful illness (flu, say) when you suddenly realise that your stomach and head don't hurt any more, and you are actually getting better.
That watershed moment of recovery -- of freedom from pain -- is stronger than just about anything else because the jump betwen good and bad is a bigger one. Think of your feelings as a number line. On that number line of feeling getting over the flu means going from negative 20 to zero, and that is a bigger jump than from zero to plus five (hot bath) or plus ten (first sip of coffee, though that might be me) or plus fifteen (before you start weeping, and plunge back to negative ten).

There. Don't you feel convinced, now that I've explained things in numerical terms?
So what's the happiest word in the English language? I thought a lot (well, a bit. Well for a minute or two) about this, and came up with LOVE or BABY or HOME or WINNER or HOLIDAY or FOREVER (sounds like a good list -- am I missing any?) but someone famous and funny (Woody Allen? Had to be some older and death-obsessed guy) says that the word is BENIGN.
Ain't that a kick.
I'm off for a few days now, travelling again. I might get to an internet cafe and I might not, so have fun without me. Be good to each other.

the jones you know

The cider is gone. My fridge is empty. I'm clean. Yeah, feeling pretty good about it. I've been weaning myself gradually, and by the time I got to the bottom of the last jug, last night, I was ready to kiss the addiction good-bye. The apple was off my back.
Now that I look back on the crazy month-long adventure, I see that it was not so much an addiction as an infatuation. There's a teary needy high-school quality about the whole affair (even the choice of word gives me away) that reminds me of the way I felt about a girl named Valerie in ninth grade. Ah, Valerie. Her hair was long and straight. She wore horn rims, and loafers with tassels. Her voice floats like whipped cream on the hot chocolate of my memory. I think her dad was a minister or something, and ... she was in love with someone else. George, his name was. I used to plan out ways to kill him. (Kidding, kidding. Actually, he was a nice guy. I think he's in insurance now.)
So like I say this cider thing is behind me now. I'm back on coffee, where I belong. Speaking of which, doesn't that guy in the picture scare you? I think there's a real creepy quality about him. Nowadays we drink coffee in coffee shops, before going to work. Back in the 50s you drank coffee at home before killing your wife. (Gee, there's a lot of violence to explain away in my brackets today. I must be going through something. Let me check ... no red circle on the calendar. I dunno what it is.)
F12 for me now. See you guys tomorrow.

Monday, 15 October 2007

hip hop hopeful

And I am back from Calgary and other points west, with bags under my eyes and an unshaven chin. Primping at this time would be a bad idea. You primp when there's something to primp about. Me approaching the mirror at this point would be like approaching my parents with a report card full of Fs. No need to brag.
I had fun in Calgary -- which may explain the eye-bags. Met a bunch of fans, signed books, posters, shoes, arms and foreheads, and hung out with other authors, some of whom I had actually heard of. I will not drop names, because that would be uncool, but these guys were huge. Awards and accolades dripped off them like sweat in a steambath. As a kids writer, I was not expected to keep up with their conversation, but I did get in a couple of zingers. I know you are, but what am I? I said at one Booker Prize winner. Showed him.
One of my favorite moments was a late late late dance lesson with a hip-hop artist from Australia (that's him in the picture, a very cool cat indeed), a festival organizer, and two very young women. I have never had a better audience. They laughed every time I moved.
They sold out of my books at one of the readings, which led me to consider how hard it is to please an author. I was angry and unhappy that they had sold out, because that meant that there were some people who would have bought them, but didn't. But I would also have been unhappy if they hadn't sold out, because then there'd be people out there who didn't want to buy my book. If I walk into a bookstore tomorrow and see a plentiful supply of my books, I'll be sad because no one is buying. If there are few of my books, I'll be sad because no one is stocking them. How weird is that? I am setting myself up for disappointment. I'm like a farmer who bemoans both rainy and dry spells for ruining the crop, but is also unhappy in perfect weather because a plentiful harvest means low prices.
Well, that's it for today. I am off to bust some moves.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

primp and go

I only have a few minutes before my plane, so I thought I would take this opportunity to avoid my zombies and say farewell to you all until the weekend. I'm off to Calgary for Wordfest where I'll be delivering breathtakingly brilliant presentations in pin-dropping silence to packed auditoria ... or something like that. I like the green rooms they provide for the presenters, with snacks and drinks and a mirror (so important -- unless I get a last-minute primp I can't go on). Makes me feel like a rock star.
I thought I had way more time, but just got a call from my publicist who said: you do know that your plane leaves at 2:00, don't you? I laughed with considerable charm and calm. Of course I do, I said. That's why I'm out the door right now ... so I'll say goodbye.
And I hung up the phone and threw all my clean clothes in a suitcase and grabbed the car keys and cell phone and was about to dash out the door when I remembered my commitment to you, my blog readers. So as the minutes tick down I will remind you all to drive safely and floss daily and hug your children. And be enthusiastic. One of my favorite minutes this long weekend was my daughter Thea deciding to harvest it up, as she put it, and setting the table with fall-patterned paper plates and napkins. With a pitcher of Shirley Temples and a platter of turkey and yams and stuffing, my place has never looked more festive. Later on we were all watching a horror movie, and Thea got so enthusiastic she had to hide behind a pillow.
Shoot! That's all for now. There's just time for one more primp on my way out.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

pretty sure I don't mean Pocahontas

I stared around the table at my family, busy with their groaning plates (usually it's the table that groans, but we've already had the table, and anyway, plates were not meant to carry this weight of turkey and stuffing) while the candles flickered, sharing their soft beams with the corners of the room. Imo was laughing at a joke she had made that none of us had caught, Thea was saying Oh My God did you see something or other, Ed, eyes like headlights, was trying to juggle a small piece of hot roast inside his mouth. Sam raised his glass and in a loud carrying voice called, God bless us ... and paused, and I realized that he had no appropriate Thanksgiving toast. Where are Hollywood and Madison Avenue when you need them?
It's even more tricky, being Canadian. Americans do Thanksgiving better than we do, taking four days and showing a hundred football games, and remembering Miles Standish and Pocahontas, and eating pelicans and coloured corn and planting trees and welcoming snowbirds and raising and lowering the flag and all those other things they do so well. But even they don't have a toast, do they?
Our Thanksgiving takes place in the middle of First Nations' Summer (I can't see that name catching on. Late Surprising Summer might work. Or we could call it, Unseasonably Warm For October: UWFO for short) and is a special time of year for me personally. Not because of my native heritage or because I love pumpkin pie. Not even because of the gathered family, though it is nice to see them together around the table, yelling. (In fact I got kind of misty last night, helped perhaps by an UWFO cocktail or two.) Thanksgiving marked my entry, at the age of nine, into organized religion. I was brought up a strict atheist, so the inside of a church, with its smell of dust and wood and incense, was exotic and faintly naughty. It was a Wednesday in UWFO, many years ago, and my friend Tom led me past the altar and down the winding steps to the choir room. We sang hymns of thanksgiving for an hour -- and then the choir master gave me a dollar and said there'd be more after service on Sunday. And I realized what I had been missing, staying at home to watch cartoons. I had been missing easy money. I was an Anglican choirboy for a couple of years -- yes, with that red cassock and white surplice and silly ruffle, thank Someone there are no pictures -- and, though I never really caught on to the theology, I cherish fond memories of harvest time. Come, ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home ... A bit long for a toast, but if I had been sober, last night, I might have lifted my glass.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

various losers

In Discourse V, Descartes came up with the idea of machines that looked and moved like human beings. He called them automata. They seemed human, but could only give ritual verbal responses to stimuli, and could not think creatively. Interesting, hey? Talented guy, Descartes. You probably thought he was only known for Cartesian dualism, but he turns out to be the father of the zombie as well. Yes, many of the classical philosophers seem to have dabbled in genre horror. You should read Liebniz on crypt keepers, and Kant on the Boogie Man. Powerful stuff.
I've been thinking about zombies for a few days now, and come across a bunch of real good ideas. I don't know what to do with them, how or if they will fit into my story, so I chuck them into the stewpot I keep simmering on the back burner of my brain. In a few weeks the flavours will all come together, and I will be able to start serving up. Ladle it onto a bed of rice or pasta, maybe add some garnish.
Speaking of bad guys, my son and I had an interesting discussion in the car the other night, distinguishing the different levels and types of loser. Bullies, nerds, and bad kids are terms I recognized from my own day (bad was my mom's term, and Ed uses it too. Mostly having to do with meanness or breaking the law), and the characters seem to be the same. We agreed that just about any kind of loser could be redeemed by a sense of humour. (One of my friends from grade school seemed headed for a career in petty crime or vice, but he could always make me laugh. I never brought him home, because I knew that Mom would not approve. I figure he's either in jail now, or Hollywood. When I told Ed about him, he laughed, and said he had a friend like that too.) We also agreed on the worst and lowest form of loser: the douche. I am using the term technically here, to indicate the untrustworthy, uncool, unintelligent, unamusing blowhard -- the sort of person who would have the tattoo I must apologize for including in this post (one of the most tasteless things I have ever seen, so I felt I should share it). Douches are unclean -- not necessarily in a physical hygiene kind of way, but there's something approaching moral unhealth in them. He mentioned a boy I knew very casually.
Really? I said. He's a douche, eh?
Ed nodded his head vigorously. Oh yeah. No one can stand him.
I had two thoughts here. First was, If everyone thinks you're a douche, you probably are one. The judgement of the village is almost always correct. My second thought was, of course, Poor little douche.
Ever thought of saying Hi to the guy? I asked Ed. He can't help being a douche. Almost certainly his parents are douches too. Think of him like a zombie -- it's not his fault he's like that.
Ed's eyes gleamed. I wish he was a zombie. Then it'd be all right to take him down.

Monday, 1 October 2007

the lady or the tiger?

Now listen -- this post about zombies is not so I have an excuse for putting up a picture of Milla Jovovich. Not at all. She is germane to my point today. Which is sympathy. How -- this is my plot problem -- do I find a way to humanize the zombies? I mean, they are gruesome and unintelligent and mildy risible -- and this makes them hard to like. The whole success of zombie video games is that you, the player, get to act out all your adolescent destructive fantasies. It's easier to fight an enemy who is dehumanised (many acts of wartime brutality are, at least in part, a way of dehumanising) and zombies, being pre-dehumanized, are the perfect enemy. Like orcs, only more satisfying to kill because they remind you more closely of your awful boss or your bratty sister.
And supposing I manage to re-humanize the zombies -- what then is the point of the book? Yes, I have a theme: we are all created beings, with life (sort of) and wants and aspirations. But I don't think my theme is a seller. I mean, no teenage boy is going to waste his sighs on a leaking, faceless, gibbering, piece of meat when he can stare at Milla Jovovich and sympathize about her. Yes, I said sympathize.
So do I give up on zombie sympathy? Do I have to put Milla or one of her ilk in the story? Maybe -- here's an idea -- maybe I can turn Milla into a zombie. Then the boy has a real dilemma in his hands. (Did I say in? I meant on.) Typically, the choice is between the door with the lady behind it, and the one with the tiger. But what if tiger and lady are the same?