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radiantfracture

August 2017

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I found a meme I like. It's just an equation on a plain background:


YOUR FIRST NAME
+ YOUR LAST
NAME = YOUR
NAZI-FIGHTING
NAME


A friend posted it from the author Amy Stewart's Facebook page. I like the meme because it worked on me exactly the way it was supposed to work – my eye skimmed over it (ah, one of those name memes), stopped on “Nazi-fighting”, then went back to scan the first line and register the joke.

I like, too, the implication of adequacy here – no need to take on another identity or a new name. Your name is enough as it is. You're already ready.

And look at the cleverness of that line break: "+ YOUR LAST / NAME" – expecting some quirky interpolation of randomness (possibly designed to help hack password recovery questions) – last food eaten, last book read – we find instead just what we already possess.

(The text was probably just centred in a box of fixed size, but that doesn't make me wrong. It just makes me an English major.)

Silliness aside, I like the simplicity of this call to arms.

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This makes sense, of course, when you consider that arrowroot is just a starch, like cornstarch, but I had not considered that. This property makes the batter difficult to cut and to transport from surface to tray. It is, however, soothing to watch the cut batter flow together again. Repairs are rapid and flawless. All sins are forgiven.

Notes
  • I averaged several online recipes and then cut the amounts to 1/3 to match the amount of arrowroot I had, so my proportions may be a bit off. [ETA: 1 c arrowroot flour; 1/3 c maple syrup; 1/3 c almond/coconut milk; 1 tsp melted butter; 1/3 egg yolk]
  • My end result is a bit chewy in the middle and therefore not quite arrowroot-biscuit-like.
  • The edges are fairly close to proper crunchiness.
  • The top of each cookie is a bit powdery.
  • I suspect I could have had these in the oven for longer, possibly at a lower temperature. [ETA: I started with 10 min at 325 F.]
  • Visually the cookies resemble very flat meringues more than anything.

When I reported the batter properties, a friend suggested that I fill the cookies with fruit to make Fig Non-Newtons. I might have to do that just to say I've done that.

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Tags:
In progress / housekeeping

Early in July, I was most of a week at my parents' house, ostensibly to help out my mom post-surgery. Ultimately, the visit became more of a family party.

During the visit, I read half of Zarqa Nawaz’s Laughing all the Way to the Mosque, but I left the book there. I'll probably finish it when I visit in August for the Writer's Festival. Nawaz spoke (hilariously) at last year's festival.

Conversely, I forgot Christopher Milne's The Enchanted Places at home, so although I listed it as a June book, I really finished it in July.

Unsurprisingly, I did not make as much progress with work- and review-related reading in July as I'd hoped. I am reading two books for review, one of which is also useful for prep. So far, that one is fantastic: Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures, edited by Deanna Reader and Linda M. Morra.

Part 1: Alphabetical Listing

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet, Book Two. I'm still really enjoying this series. It's like an essay on power in the form of a comic book. My favorite character is probably the conflicted academic radical of a previous generation (natch). He has a smaller role in this volume, but an interesting confrontation with the anti-monarchists and himself.

Coates is setting up a stimulating resistance between the story he's telling and the story-world as it existed before his own series. The central character as originally conceived is defined (narratively, archetypally) by being a king. The story's sympathies (while complex) are clearly on the side of rebellion. Will T'Challa be destroyed by the paradox? We shall see.

Like the first trade paperback, this collection included reprints of earlier Black Panther stories – I am not well-'versed enough to identify authors, artists, and styles, but I enjoyed the slightly scraggly 70s/80s art.

Han Kang. The Vegetarian. Now, this was a book. A book book. A work of strange and agonizing quiet. In three acts, a woman's transformation, seen three different ways, by three different external viewers, all who know her well and also not at all.

Not precisely spoilers but sort of spoilers )

Hanff, Helene. 84, Charing Cross Road. I re-read this little book of letters between book-buyer and bookseller, and then I listened to various audiobook incarnations as I washed the dishes, and it was all just lovely. This is another comfort read, of course. I can't read this book without thinking furiously at Hanff's younger self: Go to England! Just go! JUST GO. Every time.

Hayes, Bill. Insomniac City. I'd been waiting for this to come in at the library for some time. As I've noted elsewhere, this is a memoir by Bill Hayes, Oliver Sacks' partner. Hayes is an attentive diarist, attuned to small details and interactions. He seems like a remarkable person in himself – profoundly giving to his partners. Nothing really happens in the memoir, except lots of dinners, walks, talks with strangers in New York, drinking red wine right from the bottle, and smoking pot. The picture of Sacks -- brilliant, infinitely curious, delighted by every discovery, from kissing to chemistry -- is endearing. Though Insomniac City is not all about Sacks. A reader who had never heard of him could read this book as a gentle memoir of New York. I am a latent fan of Sacks' books (that is, I loved them once but haven't picked them up in a few years), and I mourned his death in 2015, so this visit with him was sweet.

Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry. This was an enjoyable essay that made a fair point — we expect poetry to live up to the abstract ideal of itself as a kind of trigger for ecstatic/transcendent aesthetic experience, and we resent the inevitable failure of any actual poem to become The Poem. Readers of Leaving the Atocha Station will find this a familiar theme.

I would have liked this essay better as part of a collection. As a standalone monograph, it was enjoyable but not quite substantial enough.

Also – maybe I'm projecting plenitude into the past, as (I think) Lacan would insist, but I'm pretty sure I've had many at least momentarily transcendent experiences of poetry (and other art, and music, and ritual, and nature, and sex, and so forth). Lerner seems to regard this as a myth (or at least he likes to take that pose).

This kind of romantic expectation/analysis obviously does not really include poetry like L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E. poetry, which aims to disrupt/resist the ideal of the lyric and beautiful and expressive poem. However, I am always reading that poetry all wrong anyway, since disruption can also create ecstasy/catharsis. I, too, pretty much read all poetry for ecstatic experience, and maybe – as Helene Hanff's friend said of London – if you look for it, you find it.

Taylor, Elizabeth. A Wreath of Roses. I liked this for its accuracy about the transformations of friendship that happen over time and changed circumstances, and for the simple domestic tyrannies and complicities, and for the atmosphere. The ending I almost liked. It is certainly unnerving. It reminded me of a Muriel Spark, but not quite as ruthless and therefore not quite as successful.

My favourite Taylors are probably still Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont and A View of the Harbour, but she’s just so reliable. Her prose and her attention are like no one else's – unflashy, yet devastating.

Part 2: Women Suffering Hilariously

Ephron, Nora. Heartburn.

Loos, Anita. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes.

I'm going to put these three books together. )

There was TV in there, too, and I also watched the Monroe / Russell film of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, which was disappointing, though I'm sure someone has written a clever article about the differences between the tightly regulated sexuality of the film (Monroe's Lorelai never really strays from her fiancé) and the anarchic self-interest of the novel.

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Smoke report

Aug. 2nd, 2017 06:28 pm
radiantfracture: and i know which way the wind is blowing (barometer)
A bright orange sun this morning, so damped down by the smoke that I could look directly at it without pain and without printing dazzled shapes on my eye. The shadows are blue-green -- the whole world seems luridly and childishly painted in orange and turquoise.

I can't imagine what it's like where the fires are. Well, I can go look at pictures. That would help me imagine. (Goes and looks at pictures.) Jesus.

We're hundreds of kilometers away, but I can taste ash today, and the air is syrupy, yet full of prickly heat. S. said "I feel like I'm walking in the location of an indoor heated pool," and I suggested it was like wading through warm custard. I'll amend. Warm custard full of pins. I had plans to go to yoga and the community market, but this clammy needling heat defeats me.

I'm told (by [personal profile] minim_calibre, for one) that the smoke has drifted as far as Seattle.

This is -- you know -- really something.

Here's A CBC article with this cheerful subhead: "Kamloops, B.C., saw an air quality health risk rating of 18 — on a scale that normally stops at 10." But (the article continues) it was worse in Williams Lake, where it got up to 36/10 a couple of weeks ago.

(We're going to need a bigger scale.)

The air quality is sitting at a paltry 6 here, so I had better stop being so dramatic.

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For weeks now I've been thinking I smelled smoke.

Since no one else seemed to notice it, I've been wondering if the smell was some sort of guilt-induced hallucination, a reminder to pay more attention to the wildfires.

I say guilt because the worst burns are in an area I know well, but have lived far away from for decades. I have lately thought much more about American politics than about great tracts of my own province being on fire, until it struck me that this, a fire in my home landscape, ought to be something that affected me; that this indifference or numbness was not a strength but a failing. I started to try to make myself think about it, and somewhere in there I began to smell smoke.

We were promised a heat wave. Instead, today the sky filled up with a deep haze -- not the dull surface of overcast, but a translucent zone, illuminated but empty, with no visible other side of blue.

This morning, as I sat at the counter with my cold coffee, I could put my hand into the patterning of orangey light and strong shadow that dropped from the window -- as I might put my fingers into a pool to see the shadows at play. I've seen this light before, I thought. Once when the sun turned red at midday, and I was spooked and entranced; and two years ago, when the wildfires were burning up-island.

(I looked up the name for the patterns of light in water and found that they are called caustics, meaning burning.)

Two years ago last month it was Pride, and the wildfires -- on the island, but not close to us -- turned the sky a dingy orange for days. It became oppressive, like the atmosphere of an alien planet. The Pride march was big and noisy, but everything felt stifled by the sky.

You may have heard that the fires are huge this year. The biggest fires are in the Interior, on the mainland, in an area called the Cariboo (not to be confused with caribou), just south of Prince George, the city where I grew up.

The full population of Williams Lake, a city of about 11,000 people three hours south of Prince George, had to be evacuated, and thousands of other people in the area.

The other day on a ramble in the park, I ran into an old university friend and some pals of his. One of the friends had been working up in Prince George. He said that most of the evacuees ended up there. It's a bigger city, and its usual population sits at about 74,000, so that's a population increase of about 15%.

The park was matted with dry golden grasses as usual for July, and looked like perfect tinder. They walked on and I sat on my rocky outcrop to sketch the trees.

There have been air quality warnings as far south as Vancouver, but none here so far that I know of. Until today, if you lived here and had no news access, you wouldn't have known anything about a fire, except for that maybe-smell maybe-hallucination.

Today the air feels dry and scratchy. The sky is not tinted, as it was in the year when the fires were closer, but the light that falls has a sunset quality. It's as though it's a different time on the ground than it is in the sky -- one o'clock of a grey afternoon up there, and late on a sunny summer evening down here, only it's evening all day long. The shadows are strong, and the dyed light turns them bright blue, like watery inkstains.

That other year I brought some articles about the wildfires and forest management into class for discussion (though I made rather a ratty job of it, I'm afraid.) This year there hasn't really been an opportunity to respond that way.

The first seventeen years of my life were given form in a place that by now has changed a great deal, what with beetle invasions and fires. My family doesn't live there any more, and any remaining friends there I've lost touch with. It isn't home, yet it's never quite not home, simply because it was the first place. This season is like a fire at the beginning of the world, or that's how I think it should feel: like a burning-out of my memory. Maybe that's the smell of smoke.

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Good day:

Today I received a package from [Bookseller] which I believe was in fulfillment of the order indicated above.

However, when I opened the envelope, it turned out to contain, not Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson, but A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin.

This is a wonderful novel, but not the book I ordered. Unless someone else ordered it for me as a gift?

Haunts of the Black Masseur is (by reputation -- I haven't read it) one of those books that is a kind of sport, a genre unto itself: an art historian's surreal history of swimming. A Wizard of Earthsea is, of course, a terrific young adult fantasy novel in the young-wizard-goes-to-school genre, though it's also more than that -- an exploration of what magic might be, of connection to land, of failure and redemption. I know because I own the compact illustrated Puffin edition (1980) and therefore have no immediate need for this second copy.

If this was a case of mistaken identities, I feel a bit sad for the perplexed young person who ordered LeGuin and got my Sprawson. (Then again, maybe it will be a revelation.)

Can you clear up this confusion? Apart from being the wrong book, the order is otherwise entirely satisfactory.

Thank you,

R. Fracture



Note: This letter has been slightly expanded for my own amusement.
Tags:
Wednesday after work LB and I hiked in to the lake. We took a more strenuous route than usual, over rough ground, but nothing requiring high endurance -- or so I would have thought. The moment I got home, however, I lay down on the couch and did not rise until night.

The last few days have been like days of recovery from illness -- not soreness or fatigue so much as a sort of muzzy-headedness I dislike much more than pain.

Therefore, I have not done much writing or reading.

I did manage to read Insomniac City, Bill Hayes' memoir of his relationship with Oliver Sacks. It's a lovely, gentle book, a kind of idyll of daily life in New York -- lots of drinking wine on rooftops and talking to strangers in the park. Hayes invokes the sensory detail of their life together with the attention you'd expect of someone who could properly appreciate Oliver Sacks.

I'd read Hayes' description of a piece of music -- Beethoven's Op. 133, say (The Great Big Fugue) -- then cue it up on YouTube and listen -- or look up a meal they ate or an artist Hayes admired. In this way, the book became a delightful multi-sensory experience.

Reading or writing for work and other projects, though, did not seem to be on.

When writing is too difficult, I draw. One of my comfort activities is attempting loose copies of the exquisitely strange radial creatures from Haeckel's Art Forms in Nature. Listening to Beethoven' bright, angular notes, I thought -- why not try to draw this as well?1

Under the cut are a few creatures drawn out of the music, though they are not perfect synaesthetic renderings of these pieces or anything -- more a fusion of what I was looking at, what I was hearing, and what I could actually draw.


Musical Drawings )

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1. I do see a little colour to music, but it's a very limited palette, shading from blue-white through golden brown to dark brown, and probably has more to do with the colour of the piano whereon I failed to learn to play music as a child, rather than any intricacy of brain connections.
Yesterday I learnt, through observation, that it is better not to paraglide when the wind is blowing away from the sea.

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Saturday was a bright, fine, windy day. All down the long hill of Moss Street, from the art gallery to the ocean, artists had set up display stalls. On the lawns behind and the driveways between, entrepreneurial children set up lemonade stands while their parents sold pottery. This is the Moss Street Paint-in, almost certainly the best-attended event of the local calendar.

There are a few elements I always look forward to -- artists whose work I've been following for decades, a vintage garage sale halfway down the hill -- but you must be prepared for dense (if friendly) crowds and a certain uniformity, or at least consistency, of subject and technique. (When I first attended, this meant oversized portraits of flowers in watercolour; now it often means glint-eyed ravens in encaustic.)

Yesterday, once I'd braved the art gauntlet, I sat down on the grass at Clover Point and, diffusely inspired, tried to sketch, but the flat lines of clifftop, sea, horizon, did not yield much to my lazy pencil.

Below me, nearer the cliffs, a paraglider was busying himself folding and unfolding billows of red and white fabric, so I tried to sketch him instead. For a long time I couldn't tell if he was packing up or setting out.

Finally he harnessed himself and hopped briskly up into the air. Immediately, the wind lifted him and set him down deeper into the grass, rather than swinging him out over the sea. Think of how you might move a small child or a kitten away from danger.

I thought, hmm, that doesn't seem right, but I suppose he knows what he's doing.

Soon I no longer supposed this. The next hop took him higher, but also directly out over the traffic on Dallas Road. This traffic was not insubstantial, but at least it was sightseeing-slow. A double-decker tour bus braked for him, and he went out of my sight for a moment. When the bus pulled away, I could see his chute woven into the telephone wires.

It occurred to me that I ought to go and see if he was all right.

He seemed to be. He was standing, unharnessed, talking with surprising ease to one of the traffic officers from the Paint-in.

I sat down on the fence to observe the chute extrication. A fire engine arrived, and then an ambulance. After long consultation, someone went into the back of the truck and meticulously set out two orange traffic cones. After this came a long lacuna, and eventually I left, so I can't say how it all turned out.

Anyway, here is a small pictorial tribute both to a day of public art and to the perverse human urge towards flight:



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Twice now I’ve been to Finishing Class at a terrific little workspace called Good, started up by a wonderful arts organizer and her partner, who recently moved back to town.

Finishing Class is a monthly event wherein you show up to sit down at a long hand-made table with other people who want to Finish Something. Once greetings are given and tea is made, together you each set to work on your Something, and try to get it or some stage or draft or piece of it Finished by the end of two hours (but this is not strictly enforced).

At the end of Finishing Class, you get a gold star. At the break, you get a home-baked treat made by the proprietor herself. Last time it was a perfect brownie. This time it was a maple butter tart.

Even though the process is more than half a game, the focus and the title and the deadline function, underground in the mind, to make you want to Finish your Something.

Last time I had no idea what I was going to work on, and felt a bit nervous about that, and then my brain very kindly offered me the use of a short story idea. Without the class I don't think I'd have written it at all. Last time, I drafted the story to the end, and tonight I second-drafted it and patched the ending together a bit. And by posting it here, I finish my Finishing for tonight.

I like that it arrived, I'm glad that it stayed, but I don't know what it amounts to. Not that it has to amount to anything. It was a happy thing just to make it.

Anyway, here it is.

The New Sea )

Cheers.

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Oh, and we have a new government! The Liberals lost the non-confidence vote, so the Lieutenant Governor has asked the NDP (with the support of the Greens) to form the government.

A positive change from business as usual. I hardly know how to account for it.

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This was a busy month at work, without much time for pleasure reading. The rest of the summer is less officially busy, but contains plenty of requirement for self-motivation in the direction of reading things and also understanding them.

I've got two academic reviews to write. Both books tie directly into my courses for the fall, so this also counts as prep. And there is much prep. My reading may of necessity become less haphazard in July and August, or at least that is the plan, so I've enjoyed letting it take hazard for June.


Re-Reading

Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book (1972), because it is a sure pleasure. I had remembered the simplicity of the prose and a few of the incidents — the water tank, the rich man’s house — but I had forgotten its complexity, or else not registered its intricacy fully in that first reading.

What strikes me this time is the celebration of the grandmother's perspective — her intuition about how to be with and of the land. There's an obvious connection to the North American ecological and Indigenous writing that I've read.


Books of the Moment

George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo (2017). I liked this, though not the ending, which seemed interminable and unnecessary. However, my reading was rushed because I was about to get on a helicopter, so I can't say I gave it the ideal level of contemplative attention.


Quietly Uncanny British Novels

This is the genre closest to my slowly thumping heart: ordinary events told with such clarity and intensity that they seem irreal. Two more Barbara Comyns — The Skin Chairs (1985) and Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's (1982). I think Comyns has joined Penelope Fitzgerald and the Other Elizabeth Taylor among my favorite novelists. I liked both of these novels better than The Vet's Daughter, and maybe Woolworth's best because it is about Bohemian Life in the 1930s.


Nonfiction

Ben Blatt's Nabokov's Favorite Word is Mauve (2016). This is data-driven literary criticism/journalism. I believe it is a collection of pieces from Slate.com. It reads like that: a series of short statistical studies of various literary works and genres.

Blatt's conclusions are generally thoughtful and generous. I wanted a bit more critical complexity on both the literary and the data side -- for example, he analyzes the use of -ly adverbs and finds that, indeed, prose broadly considered as having higher quality does use fewer such adverbs. However, I don't recall his drilling down on the precise use that is most often objected to — describing how people say things. It seems to me there's a distinct literary difference between over-description of speech attitudes and modifying action in general — but maybe I speak inaccurately.

Blatt uses a lot of fanfiction for his analysis, which I liked — as a paraliterary genre, it often doesn't get that kind of attention, and yet it's an enormous galactic body of collective imaginings. He also scrupulously points out interesting exceptions to the rules, even the -ly one, which leaves room for hope.

Some of the pieces I found illuminating, and some dull. I'd recommend reading the bits of this that look interesting to you and skipping out the ones that don't.

I think of myself as a reader of Serious Nonfiction, or maybe a Serious Reader of nonfiction, but GoodReads tells me otherwise: this was my first nonfiction book of the year.

The Enchanted Places (1974). This is Christopher Milne's account of his childhood and youth as A.A. Milne's son and as the inspiration for the Winnie-the-Pooh books. I'm just finishing it. It's very English. Quiet, melancholy, celebratory of the countryside.

I like it. I knew some of it contents as literary rumour before reading it. And once I saw a Fringe play in which Christopher Robin goes off to the War and betrays Pooh to the Germans. "Das ist Ihr Schwein?" they keep shouting at him.


Speculations

Anansi Boys. (2006) I think that ends my Neil Gaiman revisit. I liked the mythworld in the novel very much. I found the main storyline rather flat. It also has some problems with the narrative's portrayal of consent, which I suppose can be explained by a) its having been written before the latest iteration of that conversation, and b) its being about gods, who aren't very good on that sort of thing where mortals are concerned.

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1. North

Waking at 5:30, just on that borderline between "much too early" and "interestingly early," I put books and vests into my backpack, and carrying in one hand a small green paper bucket of strawberries (a little aged but still edible), I went out to seek my fortune.

I peered into a couple of Little Libraries and left a few books here and there, happily disburdening myshelf. Then I walked up to H.'s to drop off the vests and the strawberries, since she leaves for work around 8.

Then, because I was in a good mood, I climbed the hill to the Secret Park, where the scattered playground equipment stands hip-deep in wild grasses.

From there, up even higher to the aquarium store. It was not open, but I like to visit the salt-water tank in the window. At first, you think you see some dark rocks and a few bright fish flickering between them. Then you realize that everything you thought was still is moving, and everything in the tank is alive. Every surface is really a living skin. Everything is twisting, very gently, in the artificial current -- leaning, opening, retreating, closing. All sorts of eyeless mouth-riddled life.

There were some new crabs, white as delicate living bones of the inner ear, and something like a crayfish with a bright stripe and shocking white antennae typing out rapid messages on the rocks.

If I'd had my notebook and provisions, I'd've set off into the world, but I didn't and I was hungry, so I went home and checked on the no-confidence vote (no result until this evening).

I knew H. wanted strawberries because we ran into each other last night at the neighborhood market; she was hoping for berries but found none, and I knew I wouldn't eat all of mine before I left to visit the fam (today or tomorrow -- tomorrow, as it rolled out).

I know that writing "I can't eat all of these strawberries" makes sense only grammatically, but I can't help it. I cannot account for myself. I will not try.

It's a fine feeling to have done so much before nine o'clock in the morning, though I never can sustain such motion over a full day.

2. East

For the day's second walk, the Walk Proper, after much map-checking and bus-aligning, I simply followed one of my usual routes, more or less due east towards the sea.

(I mean, it's the sea in all directions, obviously, though north would take you a while. It's more that the only thing of note to the east is the sea -- north is tracts of suburb and farmland and tech park (and sea), south is gardens and castles (and sea), and west is downtown-and-sea. So -- east to the sea and the white sand.)

The beach was very crowded for mid-day on a Thursday, but then normal people are probably on vacation. I bought a cherry popsicle, which broke as I walked, thereby requiring some nearly obscene acts of consumption.

Then I lay down under a tree and dozed to podcasts of clever conversations until the shade moved, and the sun, clapping me full on the face, ordered me to rise and walk again.

To the library to return a shamefully unread volume of poetry, and then home. I washed all the dishes and put away all the clothes, so the house won't run wild in my absence.

I've spent a number of the sunnier days over the last few weeks inside, working -- and perfectly all right with that -- feeling even a bit mole-ish, a bit dim-underwater-denizen-ish, a bit relieved to have a reason not to go out -- but I had full use of the sun today.

3. South

This is only an errand -- to get a bus pass for me and bus tickets for LB, but the day is so fine that every errand risks translation into some almost ethereal, light-soaked realm -- you might, at any moment, suddenly and helplessly transubstantiate into your radiant plasmatic true form.

It's pretty out, is what I'm saying.

I ought to have a fourth walk west to round out the compass, but I may simply end up returning to center.


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ETA: Oh, also it is moving season, and the curbs are piled with treasure. I found four brown IKEA bowls and three semi-matching IKEA plates on the way to H's. This is a great boon from the universe, as I would very much like to have simpler dishes, but I have no funds to replace my existing set, which I bought while in a post-divorce fugue.

EATA:

4. West

And then LB roused S. and I to drive West, towards the sunset (and the cruise ships) for a last night walk, so in the end the compass is complete.
I gave my students a midnight deadline for their online exam, and then extended it to one a.m. because I was worried that so few of them had submitted it.

Now I'm sitting up in case someone sends me a desperate last-minute email.

Or else I'm sitting up waiting for the latest podcast episode of Twin Peaks Rewatch to drop (it's by the inimitable Idle Thumbs reviewers, from whom I would listen to discourse about anything at all, and indeed often do, because they discourse so well.)

Or else I'm sitting up waiting for my antiquated old MacBook to copy over some music files (it is so old it can't properly cast my music unto the cloud.)

Or else I'm just sitting up.

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It's a stunning Sunday evening: the blue-violet sky is still hours from sunset; in the sunlight white paint is burning like tungsten; and insistent birdsong corkscrews through the still air.

I'm preparing for work tomorrow -- marking, musing, making things up -- and waiting for Episode Six of Twin Peaks to drop. I'm intrigued by "I know where she drinks."

So far, the show is sort of an anthology of experimental film-making techniques. I feel like I'm in a brilliant seminar about the possibilities of visual and sonic form. It has such scope, depth, and weirdness --

[Looks up a bunch of measures of intensity]

-- It rises to the top of the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. The watts per m2 shatter glass. All the candelas are lit and blazing.

Stuff like that.

However -- I'm really unhappy about and disappointed in the way the returning series has dealt so far with the female characters and their physical being. spoiler )

I'm hoping for a payoff in the end, but I hoped for that with True Detective, too, and spoiler. )

Ok, why not -- True Detective.

I felt like with True Detective I finally understood the difference between direction and writing.

The cinematography, the sound design, the actors' chemistry -- amazing.

Yet I think if I had the script in front of me as bare text, it would read weak.

Apart from Rust's arias, which I loved, (I was all like "finally someone on TV who speaks the truth!") the dialogue isn't actually very good -- instead, it's illuminated by the way the words are performed and articulated.

Further, the plot is full of loose threads, and the show raises, then forgets about, all kinds of essential ethical questions, yet the whole always looks and feels like something full of meaning and revelation.

Season 2 -- same writer/showrunner, different directors -- utter pants.

Resolution: Fukunaga, not Pizzolatto, made Season 1 a work of art -- which I think it is, though deeply flawed, and in some of the same ways Season 3 of Twin Peaks seems to be.

Now. I'm just going to walk down to the store for marking/viewing snacks.

My first walk today was a loop down a beat-up minor artery flowing by irregular ways to the sea, then along the ocean and back inland to commit some mundane errands.

The solstice will be here -- then past -- before I can prepare any ceremony worthy of it (and anyway it might be cloudy), so I'll celebrate today. Hurray.

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(no subject)

Jun. 8th, 2017 08:23 am
radiantfracture: (Default)
Hullo Britain. Good luck. Please vote if it's possible.

I love this, which I see many folks pointing to (and adding to) today.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates -- Black Panther #1

I thought this was really well-written: morally intricate and self-critical about its own backstory, without collapsing into postmodern cliche. I enjoyed it. I hadn't really followed the character previously, so I can't compare him to previous incarnations.

Barbara Comyns -- Sisters by a River, The Vet's Daughter

I'd like to read more Comyns. She turns over a deep weirdness you want to dig further into, but she's also a little forbidding -- to keep with the gardening metaphor, there's something stony about her writing. I don't see loving her books, but I definitely appreciate them.

Sisters by a River does a clever thing with the voice which I won't spoil here, except to say that it's quiet and tragic. I don't think I've seen an author do something so specifically narratively interesting with the character's diction. River is Comyns' first novel, and the structure has problems -- the story just sort of wanders off until it's out of sight -- but you can see an original mind at work. I'd quite like to read Our Spoons Came from Woolworth's next.

Jane Gardham -- The Hollow Land, Bilgewater, Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat

(A Long Way from Verona was technically April.) Gardham is very good on Being at School in various incarnations. Old Filth might be the best of these books in being about old age rather than youth, and thereby being both wryer and more sobering, but I found that novel less warm than the other books. Filth is the only masculine protagonist -- I don't know whether that's a factor or not, as my sample size is too small.

The Man in the Wooden Hat is the same story as Old Filth, told from the wife's perspective. The warmth was there, but not quite the same depth, and for whatever reason the device of repeating the same scenes (I think verbatim) from Old Filth didn't work for me. They did not feel newly illuminated: just repeated.

Gardham was a pleasure to discover -- not quite the revelation I had with Penelope Fitzgerald or Elizabeth Taylor, but good company.

Gardham has some distinctive structural habits -- the story proper is often contained in a brief framing device. Old Filth, for example, is bracketed with brief faux playscripts of characters discussing the dozing Filth within his earshot.

Oh, I liked what Gardham did with time in The Hollow Land -- it was unexpected, and, though the details are not quite right, plausible.

(I'm not being mysterious to be annoying -- I'm just too tired to write a proper spoilery review.)

G. Willow Wilson -- Ms. Marvel #1 & 2

As comics, these were less my thing than Black Panther, being goofier in tone and especially in visual style, but I liked the stuff about millennials responding to being unvalued.

Other bits

The Prose Edda had to go back -- who, I would like to know, had an urgent need to consult Snorri Sturluson? I wish they told you where your books were going when they got recalled.

Better news: Lincoln in the Bardo came in. I've heard some people say the novel's structure is brilliant and experimental, and some that it's "like a party trick" (Lissa Evans) -- a form put on for show, without being integral to the story.

It's early to say, but I think I may come out somewhere in the middle on the question. Which is to say -- so far I like it.

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You may remember that the province I live in had an election two weeks ago, but we didn't know if anyone had actually been elected or not because a) close races and b) massive pile of absentee votes.

The final counts and recounts happened, and the seat distribution is the same: Liberals 43, NDP 41, Green 3. No majority of seats, no government.

Today, the best possible thing (from my perspective) was announced: the Greens will support the NDP, giving a combined total of 44 seats. (It's not technically a coalition, apparently, but a "Confidence and Supply Agreement".)

Since this better represents the preferences of a majority of the voters, my sense of fairness is satisfied as well as my personal glee.

Various things can happen at this point. I know because I asked my proximate political wonk for a telladonna1.

[ETA: I had two different points confused, so this is an amended list. Thanks to [personal profile] redbird for the query.]

1. The premier resigns and the Lieutenant Governor asks the NDP (+ Greens) to form the government.
2. The premier doesn't resign, the legislature takes a confidence vote, and she's, I guess, removed. The Lieutenant-Governor asks the NDP (+ Greens) to form the government.
3. The premier does resign, but the LG for whatever reason decides another election is the better choice. (My consultant says this would be unprecedented, though.)

Obvs. I'd like #1, though I'd take the high drama of the no confidence vote. (Well, you know, high drama in Canadian terms.)

[ETA (June 6): Sounds like it will be #2!]

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1. Awesome @westwingweekly reference
Here's the poem. You may recognize the camas.

[Eta: Still tinkering]



No Ideas But in Things


i.
 
The landlord’s son ranged this
Thicket of bonsai
Around my front door.
 
The kid had two concussions
In six months of hockey.
They had to pull him out.
 
Now he's taken up acting,
Played the Boy in Waiting for Godot.
The bonsai grow as they like.
 
One's a pine, long needles.
Don’t know the species.
Maybe it's spruce.
 
Nine inches high, gap-toothed
As an ancient goalie
Tiny shudder of percussion when it storms
 
Dots and dashes
Of needle and leaf
Mark out a path in negative space.
 
One day they'll clear it all away
Or I'll move, and I won't remember
He played hockey, the drums, or the Boy.

Not even important
To me, these
 
Awkward little figures
I trip over in the dark.

 
ii.
 
Wild roses and buttercups
Arise again in the park.

I crouch down to let him read the smells
On the stone, awkward monument
At knee height
 
Press my fingers hard
Against intaglio letters                      
Welting forms in reverse

iii.

DOOTS ECNO HCIHW NOPU

He expresses a pungent opinion


iv.
 
The field of blue camas nods, nods.
Our provincial election took place on Tuesday. Well, I say it took place, but the absentee and special votes won't actually be counted for two weeks. There are something like 175,000 of these votes (of about 3.2 million), and some of the races came down to tiny margins -- in one riding on this fine Island, the candidate won by 9 votes (or did she?).

So the election is still in fact taking place, and it's impossible to know the outcome, which is a strange state of affairs.

There are three parties of note in this election: the Liberals, who used to be considered centrist, but are now on the right; the NDP, who are left; and the Greens.

The Liberals came to power sixteen years ago, and that was a moment of revelation for my young radical self. "The parties are all basically the same capitalist powermongers," my rhetoric went, "and it doesn't really matter which one is in power." The advent of the Liberals was the way I found out what you already know, that it matters a hell of a lot, materially, on the ground, in real people's lives, who is in power.

If it isn't obvious, I vote as far left as I feel I can do and still have some chance of bringing a left party to power.

On Tuesday night, at my suggestion, LB, S, and I convened to watch the numbers. (Superstition might have told us not to, given the results of the American election and the number of leftover tacos.)

At first, it looked grimly like a clear Liberal win. Yet as the counts increased, weird things began to happen. Ridings flipped and then flipped again. The Greens began to take more seats. The NDP pulled ahead in ridings they had to win in order to shift power.

LB was on the phone to her mom for part of the time, teasing her about the Green win in that riding.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Greens split left votes away from the NDP. However, S. took a different position throughout. Like C.J. when she said Bartlet's approval rating would go up, he held the position that vote loss from the Liberals to the Greens would reduce the Liberal lead. That seems to have been at least partly true.

Right up until the "end" (really a cliffhanger before a hiatus), ridings kept flipping, and for two brief beautiful moments the screens showed an NDP lead.

"So this is a tie. This election is a tie." I said at one point. This ended up being not quite true.

There are 87 seats in the legislature, and right now the count looks like this:

Liberals 43
NDP      41
Greens    3

-- a hung parliament, technically, though it's being called a Liberal minority government.

And now we wait.

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It is a morning like wearing an upturned iron pot that drips condensation directly into your mind. The Beautiful Shed refuses to be warmed or comforted. There's nothing for it but to make a book-buying post with minor material culture notes.

The local newspaper's book sale happened last weekend. You will be delighted to know that the sale is usually held in the curling rink. Cheap rent, big space, authentic cultural aura.

The sale is one of the iconic events on the city calendar, with the Moss Street Paint-In (local artists line the titular way with booths and demonstrations) and the Symphony Splash (the symphony plays on a barge in the harbour, culminating in the 1812 Overture with real cannon fire from the nearby naval base).

I have to be careful, faced with the rows and rows of heaped books, with more stacked in boxes beneath the tables, or I get trapped in discovery anxiety -- you know: must look at everything so as to miss nothing. Instead, I try to surrender to serendipity. I try.

There are themes in every sale, and one can't help but speculate -- who moved? Cleaned house? Split up? Got together? Who died (peacefully, after a brief illness)? Who grew suddenly tired of old preferences and began anew? -- all to create this momentary pattern. This year there seemed to be a lot of A.S. Byatt, which is admittedly not a very dramatic finding.

I spent more money (and concomitant time) than I intended, for they had two levels of paperback pricing: pocketbook and large-format. However, the prices are still fantastically cheap, so I escaped at the cost of a pricey brunch. My only quibble was finding out afterwards that I'd paid $2.00 for a Dover Thrift Edition of Bartleby that cost only $1.50 new. (It's all in a good cause.)

The 2017 Haul

  • Annharte. Being on the Moon. (1990) Annharte, an Anishinabe poet, is one of the poets in the anthology I used in teaching Indigenous Literatures and Oratures. I don't know her work well, so this presented an opportunity to deepen my knowledge. Signed by the author!

  • Byatt, A.S. The Game and The Shadow of the Sun. (1967, 1983) (1964, 1991) -- honor the pattern. Also, they were about British academics. (Goodreads is not so sure about my choices.) Sun is one of those nice solid Vintage editions that came out I think with/because of Possession. Game is orange-spine-era Penguin.

  • Clarke, Lindsay. The Chymical Wedding. (1989) I had no prior knowledge of this book's existence, but John Fowles claims to have liked it, and Michael Wood said "the very craziness or the Hermetic Quest is turned into a sane metaphor, representing a glimpse of how symbolic the world actually is, how much it is made in our image, littered with fragments of our dreams," and I thought "Yeah, all right." (Goodreads is fairly positive.)

  • Eliot, T.S. The Sacred Wood. (1960). As booksales are for the cheap acquisition of classics, and as it is fun to read old criticism. A dramatic University Paperback with vermilion woodcut trees on age-stained ecru air.

  • Erdrich, Louise. Love Medicine. (1984, 2001). To remedy my lack of having read Erdrich. When opened at random, full of beauty.

  • Lathers, Marie. The Aesthetics of Artifice: Villiers's L'eve future. I'm actually not that interested in artifice-for-its-own-sake -- more in self-creation and inhabitation -- but I picked this up and read from the Foreword (by John Anzalone, a person of whom I know nothing): "Defiantly unconventional, despite his deep-seated traditionalism, Auguste de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam produced a body of writing so uncomfortable for canonically determined hierarchies that for a time it seemed in danger of disappearing altogether." This is a convergence of an author, a forewordist, and a subject I have no knowledge of whatever, but sometimes these convergences produce beautiful inkblooms in the mind, where mystery must be filled in by supposition.

  • Le Sueur, Meridel. The Girl. (1982) Seems to have been damaged in a fire: a river of smoke runs up the gutter of the dedication page. (Goodreads cautiously approves.)

  • McEwan, Ian. The Cement Garden. (1978, 1980) I'm not a particular fan of McEwan, and I don't know his oeuvre that well -- I found Sweet Tooth a little disappointing -- but I liked the film of this book a lot when I saw it in my hazily distant past. A nice old weird-looking Picador edition.

  • Melville, Herman. Bartleby and Benito Cereno. I really just wanted to have actually read "Bartleby," rather than nodding and chuckling knowingly whenever someone says "I would prefer not to."

  • Meredith, Richard C. We All Died at Breakaway Station. (1969). One of two purchases from the SF table. Here's a sample from the back cover copy: "these brutally injured officers had been restored to temporary, artificial life ... because no intact man or woman could be spared from the main conflict" (to take a hospital ship back to Earth). Um, yes please.

  • Merril, Judith (ed). Judith Merril's England Swings SF. (1968) -- for this, I broke my rule about no dilapidated/stained/smelly books. It was dusty, and someone had spilled an alarming substance on its first few pages at some point in the 1970s, but it is an intoxicatingly self-delighted artifact of New Wave SF. (Only 12 ratings and one review on Goodreads! A true Find.)

  • Tonks, Rosemary. Bedouin of the London Evening. (2014) Bloodaxe Books. Poems and an interview with Tonks in the back. I believe I first read of Tonks' poetry and this collection only a few months ago in the TLS, so this was fortuity manifest and was obeyed. (Her name always makes me think benignly of the Harry Potter character.)

  • White, T.H. The Book of Merlyn: The Unpublished Conclusion to The Once and Future King. (1988) There were actually two copies of this -- one in a random fiction pile, and one with SFF. This scholarly edition (U of Texas P) is an unbeautiful but intriguing artifact in a bright vermilion cover. (Vermilion again!) Prologue by Sylvia Townsend Warner (!!)

  • Yeats, W.B. The Poems of W.B. Yeats. (1966) A nice little hardcover, just a hand high, green, smelling of horse-glue. Probably the best artifact here for material culture. The owner's signature on the flyleaf in black ink has imprinted its mirror image in yellow on the inside front cover: M (E? G?) Y (F? J?) Williamson, in an upright but emphatic hand. A Macmillan (Canadian) edition. I wanted a proper Yeats -- my last one is a Dover all marked up from class.



There are more important things to be said, but they cannot be copied from the copyright page of an aged book, so they will have to wait.

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