Friday, January 30, 2009

Terrible Twos

"In the United States the average home has grown from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,434 square feet in 2005. It's a trend seen across the Western world...I think it is more than coincidence that over that same period, North American scores on an international survey of happiness have dropped and the amount of time we spend with our children has decreased."
--Michael Ungar, Ph.D.

Terrible Twos

Beaver has a case of the Terrible Twos.

"Mine," he says, jamming his toy explorers,
two-footed into the arctic snow.

Beaver’s scientists are on a mission:
to solve the ownership issue,
prove the north pole is
tectonically connected to his home
on native land, as the old song goes.

"When all this melts I’ll own
whatever’s left of it!" Beaver proclaims.
"My peer-reviewed journals will prove it."

All well and good,
until Bear comes out to play.

Bear’s in that same phase,
also staking claims,
learning his power,
unaware of repercussions
or limits.
But he’s so much bigger.
Adults expect more from Bear.

"Mine," Bear says, jamming flag-poles,
single-speared into everything,
even underwater.

Bear’s toy soldiers are on a mission:
to get there first, like Sputnik,
to defend what so obviously
belongs to him,
like the old Soviet republics.

"When all this melts I’ll own
whatever’s left of it!" Bear proclaims.
"All my flags will prove it."

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Friday, January 23, 2009


"The inventor of their heaven empties into it all the nations of the earth, in one common jumble. All are on an equality absolute, no one of them ranking another; they have to be "brothers"; they have to mix together, pray together, harp together, hosannah together - whites, n*****rs, Jews, everybody - there's no distinction. Here in the earth all nations hate each other, and every one of them hates the Jew. Yet evey pious person adores that heaven and wants to get into it. He really does. And when he is in a holy rapture he thinks that if he were only there he would take all the populace to his heart, and hug, and hug, and hug!"
--Mark Twain on delusion

"The law of nature, as quite plainly expressed in its construction, is this: There shall be no limit put upon your intercourse with the other sex sexually, at any time of life. The law of God, as quite plainly expressed in man's construction, is this: During your entire life you shall be under inflexible limits and restrictions, sexually...Now if you or any other really intelligent person were arranging the fairnesses and justices between man and woman, you would give the man a one-fiftieth interest in one woman, and the woman a harem."
--Mark Twain on human sexuality

Here are 15 books I loved reading in 2008, with my favourite 6 in bold:

1. Leaf Storm and Other Stories, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez - incredible prose and imagery, bountiful imagination.

2. A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson - a science textbook for laypeople full of the history of discovery, and all the unsung geniuses who had the glory snatched from them by future generations finally ready for their work.

3. Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins - very imaginative, unusual, bubbling stacatto prose of the spiritual adventure of inanimate objects and brain-dead people.

4. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Housseini - very simply written, all about the story, and the people of Afghanistan.

5. A Language Older Than Words, by Derrick Jensen - it rambles over a lot of ground, but stays true to its viscious, though heavily provoked, attack on our culture.

6. Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison - crazy, crazy journey into the dark heart of the racial majority's prejudices, and a man of the racialized minority struggling to be seen for what he is.

7. Civilization and Its Part in My Downfall, by Paul Quarrington - hilarious story of a movie stuntman.

8. We Were Not the Savages, by Daniel Paul - important re-telling of Nova Scotia history by a descendant of the 'losers', the ones we tried to assimilate and/or annihilate.

9. The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas and All Other Labour Companions, by Penny Simkin - highly recommended to anyone who knows anyone who will be giving birth soon. Practical, balanced, by far the best of several books I read on the subject.

10. Ramblin' Man: the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, by Ed Cray - Not just the story of a man, but of a movement, a time in history, a country.

11. The Shock Doctrine: the Rise of Disaster Capitalism, by Naomi Klein - Only read this because I was interviewing her for an article. Read in one mind-bending weekend. It's a brilliant theory, brilliantly argued, that brings together many strands we already know.

12. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann - Archeology and anthropology have come a long way, and what we thought was history is new again. This book shows why.

13. Cibou, by Susan Young de Biagi - Great story by a Nova Scotian writer of worlds, and worldviews, colliding with calamitous results. Simply but powerfully told.

14. Grimus, by Salman Rushdie - Magic realism at its best; Rushdie just piles on layers of imagery until your mind is high as a kite and ready to dream.

15. Down to the Dirt, by Joel Thomas Hynes - Gritty story of a young man's fascinating and disturbing, all too realistic, self-destruction.


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

9 Movies I Enjoyed This Year

"Our chief - in his ceaseless care for his people - lived in a humble wikuom and ate the simplest food. This Stewart, who cared nothing for his men, was given the very best food and lodging."
--Mouse, in the novel Cibou, by Susan Young De Biagi

Best 9 movies I saw last year:

1. Homicide: Life on the Streets, Seasons 1-7 + made-for-tv movie: Technically not a movie but probably the best cop show ever - a lot of the people involved went on to make The Wire which I hear is even better.

2. Adaptation: Charlie Kaufman is just so brilliant for the layers of dramatic irony, the stories within the stories, and the pathetic insecure writer as character. One of my favourite movies.

3. On the Waterfront: Classic Hollywood Brando union story. "I coulda been somebody...Instead of a bum, which is what I am."

4. Instinct: In which white man learns from silverback gorillas, goes to the loony bin, teaches young black man what he learned. When I put it that way, it sounds terrible doesn't it? But it's a surprisingly good adaptation of Ishmael, considering that book (as much as I loved it) had almost no plot to work with. They did a great job getting the basic idea across and creating their own plot.

5. The Dark Knight: Some have called it over-rated, over-hyped. I disagree. Ledger was freaky and engrossing; the high-flying Chinese cityscapes gave me vertigo, I was on the edge of my seat through the whole thing.

6. Whale Rider: Beautiful magic-realist tale of a Maori girl-chief.

7. Inner Strength: All it is, is shots of six different couples giving birth at different times, but all in a Dutch birth centre. Almost no dialogue other than moaning and screaming and crying. It is absolutely beautiful.

8. The Man Without a Past: Stoic Finnish skid row bums playing funk music for the salvation army. It doesn't get much better.

9. The Battle of Algiers: Incredible realism, unblinking look at both the French and Algerian atrocities of war. Has a documentary feel but isn't a documentary. Gripping stuff.


Friday, January 09, 2009

11 Albums

Here are 11 albums I picked up this year that I really think you should hear. Especially the 5 that I put in bold:

1. Juno Soundtrack: Fun movie and equally fun soundtrack highlighted by Kimya Dawson.

2. Melissa Maclellan - Thumbelina's One-Night Stand: This Toronto singer-songwriter opened for Blue Rodeo (after Cuff the Duke got caught in a snowstorm) and stole the show with an incredible sultry-strong voice and great songwriting chops. And she's married to Luke Doucet.

3. Danny Michel - Feather, Fur & Fin: Danny Michell, the little known songster from Kitchener-Waterloo, delivers again and again and again. This is one of his best.

4. Justin Rutledge - Man Descending: This kid continues to impress with his poetic sensibilities and pretty pretty voice.

5. David Myles - Things Have Changed: Originally from New Brunswick, now a Haligonian, his music has a folky jazzy bluesy old-school vibe. Another great songwriter telling stories about how he learned to live.

6. Martin Sexton - Seeds: He is best experienced live (he paid is dues selling tens of thousands of self-made cd's as a Boston busker), but Sexton's incredible vocal range, gorgeous energy, and his ability to exhale complex music like carbon dioxide, make his recorded work well worth the investment.

7. Country & Western: This is a 10-disc compilation of old-time American country circa 1929-1951, talking Jimmie Rodgers, Gene Autry, Jack Guthrie, the Carters, that kinda thing. It was a time and an era and a feel. It's nostalgia on disc and I love it.

8. Kathleen Edwards - Asking for Flowers: There's a strong streak of punk in Canada's new queen of alt-country (make room Neko Case). Her songs are gritty and real, her voice is powerful and true.

9. Bob Dylan - Tell Tale Signs (Bootleg Series Volume 8): These songs are so good it's hard to believe they were the ones that didn't make the cut on the original discs. Some of these songs I like a lot more than what was originally released. The man's talent just falls off him.

10. Buffy St. Marie - Running for the Drum: Amazing that you can go decades without releasing an album and then come out with something this good. It's really got it all: political songs, love songs, songs of the reservation and home, Canada and America; blues, old time rock-and-roll, hip-hop sampling. When I saw her live this summer she talked about how she got labelled as a folk singer back in the 60s and started writing 'traditional' Irish-style folk diddies to please the masses. You can see with this album just how much she was holding back.

11. Old Man Luekecke - Notes From the Banjo Underground: Somehow I forgot to include this in my original list, even though this is an absolutely fabulous album! It's a few years old now and I don't have his new one yet, but his songwriting is this strange Mark Twainish folk philosophy that is pure genius, all accompanied by gorgeous banjo pickin. Now one of my very favourite albums.


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