Saturday, April 29, 2006

Boring Babooska

As I mentioned in my last post, I'm seeing some films in the Hot Docs documentary film festival here in Toronto and today was my first film. What a disappointment! It was called Babooska and according to the description, was about the lives of members of a touring circus family. Since I'm working on a fictional character who performs some circus-like stunts, this was a definite pick for me. It wasn't a historical film or anything, it was a contmeporary Italian family doing this now, or recently. Unfortunately while rich in dramatic potential and power, it failed to deliver anything remotely interesting. The film's description said that the family's daily life is "far from the excitement and adventure that we, as children, imagined circus life to be. But it is these qualities that make Babooska so fascinating and profound. There is a quiet drama at play." Well it was far too quiet for me, and frustrating to see several potential dramatic angles completely ignored, and in favour of what? Yes, yet another scene of Babooska or her fire-eating mother setting out or putting away their trailer's shelves full of tacky knick-knacks. Riveting. Setting out the cacaphony of trinkets, putting away the cacaphony of trinkets. Over and over.

I'm all for behind-the-scenes investigative film-making, but watching them eat pasta and set up the tents offered very little insight into anything. The film promised to explore the family's feelings of isolation and alienation, but it really did not whatsoever. The most interesting moment for potential story was when, during a performance in some Italian village, Babooska's boyfriend Michele said "The skunk has escaped!" Now that has potential for dramatic action! How did the skunk escape? Where did it go? Did it spray an audience member? Did they get the skunk back? Sadly, none of this was followed up nor mentioned again.

Not only was the film flat and lazy, Babooska was not even the most interesting family member to focus on. We learned that she loves small dogs, and her little sister, and that she performs what looked to be a pretty pedestrian "hula hop" (sic) routine, but that's it. What about the quiet tattooed fire-eating mom? How did she injure her arm? What's the deal with the blustery loud clown father? Or the sexy younger pierced shaved-head sister? Or Babby's beligerent fight-picking boyfriend? They would have made better subjects, but Babooska was considered the pretty one, so they went for her. Yawn.

There were no insights into how the troupe perceived themselves or their lifestyle, and almost no footage of any of their onstage performances. One of the two directors was there to answer questions afterward, but I split. I was certainly not the only one.

Hopefully tomorrow's film, Wordplay, about competitive crossword puzzle fanatics, will be better. It probably won't be as good as the awesome Spellbound but I hope it tries.


BEING BORING by The Pet Shop Boys

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Indie press in film, indie press on tables

Over the past few years, I've grown to love watching documentaries, and this year I treated myself to a Hot Docs festival pass, so I'll be seeing about ten films over the next couple weeks. Meanwhile, I've been watching a lot of documentaries at home lately, from the public library's collection of melodramatic A&E serial killer episodes, to a fascinating film on Newsworld about a women's prison in Ecuador called Pack, Strap, Swallow. I also saw a doc about the popularity of Bingo, which was rather depressing and superficial; it could have delved much deeper into the sociological phenomenon of this strange social and gambling addicition.

Last night was Horns and Halos, about Soft Skull's publication of J. H. Hatfield's book The Fortunate Son about George W. Bush. I didn't know too much about this contraversy, and this extensive film was by turns riveting, heartbreaking and inspiring. The film wasn't interested in investigating whether or not George W. was or was not busted for coke possession in 1972, but explored the processes and crises of publishing this book, and its impact on writer Jim Hatfield and publisher Sander Hicks. Writer Hatfield had a fascinating life before The Fortunate Son's republication, and things certainly intensified after. For me, the footage shot in the Soft Skull basement offices was most inspiring, as a small press publishing afficianado. Anyone have a contraversial manuscript to send me? Just don't fudge your sources, okay? You can get this film from the library, and I highly recommend it, both for political intrigue and for publishing insights.

Speaking of the small press, the eleventh issue of dig. is coming along really well, and I'm looking forward to getting it out there. The Toronto Small Press Book Press Fair is coming up on June 3, 2006, and I'll have copies available there. Unfortunatley I'm not sure I'll be able to host a typical launch party for the issue. It's been almost impossible to get a venue on a night that isn't competing with other literary endeavors or bands, as well as a date that all involved are available, and so on. I know from experience that attendance to such events dramatically declines in the summer, and I refuse to risk an under-attended launch party by pushing it later into the summer. I've learned that the hard way... However, I'm investigating some creative alternatives to a physical launch instead. Regardless, the issue itself is full of solid, compelling poetry and fiction and you will love it.

The week prior to the press fair, on Saturday, May 27, I'll be participating in the second-ever Crafternoon Tea sale and fundraiser. I had a table for my soap and for dig. at the first Crafternoon Tea in November, 2005 and did really well. People loved the soap, I had a great time and met lots of creative and kind people, and even sold a couple of copies of dig.! I'm really looking forward to doing this again on Saturday, May 27 in the Beaches. There are all sorts of cool DIY goods at affordable prices, and proceeds from the door and from the food go to a good cause, The Scarborough Women's Centre.

REBELLION (LIES) by Arcade Fire


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Appropriation of Voice

On Monday night I saw Soulpepper's production of David Mamet's play "American Buffalo." This dark comedy (or was it a drama? I don't really know, but they played it for laughs - chuckles of apprehension and discomfort) is about three Chicago gangster guys with a lot of schemes, a lot of conflict, and a lot of swearing. I interpreted it as an exploration of trust, honesty, and loyalty in friendship; perhaps a twist on the proverbial notion of "honour among thieves". The script also dealt with the frailty and the absurdity of human relationships, and illustrated how easily and rapidly our interpersonal dynamics can go awry. I think that is a testament to the tightness of Mamet's language, and how distilled and intense the dialogue is. He was also subtly examining the concept of intuition, and essentially what happens when it is ignored or unrealized.

As I was waiting afterward for the King streetcar, thinking about the show and visualizing the stage, I understood that the set and lighting perfectly reflected the feelings of claustrophobia and chaos depicted in the characters and in the plot. Not generally considering myself a visual person, I don't always think about sets and lighting, but what seemed like a jumbled mess of junk store clutter in a dark shop was strikingly apt for the events involving Don, Bobby and Teach. That's why I like going to theatre and movies alone; you can extend that silence, that intensity, that contemplation a little longer when you don't have anyone to talk to, which sometimes allows you to gain a little more insight.

I liked this production much more than Soulpepper's last production, Panych's rewriting of Gogol's "Government Inspector." While very well acted, this adaptation struck me as goofy, irritating, and over the top; plus when I went to see it, I had somehow forgotten that I don't like farce!


On Tuesday night I went out to the Lexiconjury reading series where my pal Sandra Alland gave a stellar and evocative reading, as she is wont to do! She read along with John Lavery and Stephen Collis. The latter was unfamiliar to me, but I read with Lavery in Montreal last year, and his writing intrigued me then, but I had not since read any of his stuff, despite intentions otherwise. In Montreal, he'd read a piece from "You, Kwaznievski, You Piss Me Off" which was written in a female voice, essentially about a miscarriage. The style and linguistic play and point of view were so bizarre and inventive that, unlike the bevy of enraged female undergrads in the bar's bathroom during intermission, I did not react to the "appropriation of voice." As I'd said to him afterward last year, the way it was written was so fresh and creative and just plain weird that for me it transcended any appropriation and gender issues. Ironically for me, he read that same piece in Toronto the other night, again eliciting shocked reactions. This time I bought the book, and look forward to reading the entire collection of stories, with the passage I heard in context. I'm curious how the segment I heard will fit into the rest of the book.
Appropriation of voice. It's a tricky one, isn't it? I mean, I went to York U in the '90s! Probably the most intensely politically correct time and place on the planet! You know how sometimes when you learn a new word, suddenly you immediately hear it five times that same day? Apparently that is not coincidence, nor aliens bugging your brain, it is merely that you are more attuned and susceptible to noticing that word, since it's fresh in your mind. Similarly, I was contemplating voice appropriation, particularly those who have conventionally held the balance of power over those who have not, like a Forest Hill white guy writing as a black southern slave, men writing as women, etc. etc., is it okay when it's done well, but wrong when it's crappy writing, is pure creative liberty always acceptable no matter who you are or what your experience is, or, in my preference, is assuming points of view other than your own laudable when you write it with authenticity and respect? My point is that tonight I attended Marnie Woodrow's "Story Talk" about moving beyond autobiography in fiction at This Ain't the Rosedale Library, and she commented at one point that worries about appropriation of voice should have stayed back in the '90s when they were such a hot topic.

But ultimately I believe it's a fine line - I'm not going to pretend that I know what it's like to be an Arabic and Muslim man in the U.S. right now, for example, and I'm not trying to create characters who do. However, I wouldn't let being a white gal from small town Ontario town stop me from writing characters from other contexts. I will just make damn sure I know what the hell I'm talking about, and I'll do it well!

Another thing we talked about tonight in Marnie's class was ethics and stealing stuff from other people's lives for our writing. I won't get into too much detail since you should just take her classes, because she's a good teacher and funny and smart and insightful, but I wish I'd considered these issues a little more when I was younger. While I felt entirely justified in examining issues and stories that I believed were important and needed to be told in my first book of poetry, I realize now that I could have been a little more considerate about my almost-cavalier retelling of other people's experiences. Yes, poetry is often more autobiographical than fiction, and yes, I stand by my poems and their intentions, and yes, the themes and issues in that book are relevant and needed to be written, but I do regret some of the discomfort and even hurt that my stealing of stories has caused. At that time, I didn't consider the impact on others, and ironically, that probably made the poems better, untouched by self-consciousness or guilt, concerned only with writing the best poem I could write, about topics that need to be addressed.

I guess that's age for you. No regrets, but thoughts like "could I have acheived the same thing differently?"

There are other things I wanted to write about in here tonight, but I think they'll have to wait until next time. I'm nervous about a lunch meeting tomorrow, and it's after 2 a.m. at this point. More on other stuff later, depending on how it goes!

Listen to:
ANIMALS by the Talking Heads


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

She Shoots, She Scores! (plus, religious plagiarism)

Tonight was our final in the Bill Bolton Women's Hockey League, and we won! If Bolton were the Olympics, we'd be flaunting the bronze. But it's not, it's the Annex, so we got free beer and pizza. Personally, I'd rather that than some mantel object I'd just have to dust... And I ain't one to turn down free beer. Yeehaw!

At my co-ed game on Friday night, I had a rare tantrum in the change room, immaturely throwing elbow pads about, out of frustration and self-doubt. Well, it happens. I had a shitty week, full of disappointment and frustration unrelated to hockey, and my multitude of missed passes just exacerbated my angst. Tonight, I feel vindicated. I managed to score the go-ahead goal in our second period - Sarah shot it to Georgina, who made the most perfect pass to me, and since I beat the opposition's defense to the net, no one was in my way, and I was able to make a composed hard shot right between the goalie's feet. Yeah!! In true wannabe-NHL fashion, I skated, arms raised, on one foot, back toward the bench in glee. Fortunately this time, I did not fall down. (pure joy, once again)

I wanted to post some photos, but that function of Blogger does not seem to be working tonight, so you'll just have to wait. Stop, I can hear your sobs from here!

In writing news, I've settled on some structural decisions for the novel, which makes me happy. More strangely, however, I've uncovered a teenage plagiarist of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Now that shit is fucked up!

I've been doing some research into the lyrics of a couple of the Jehovah's Witnesses' songs (they don't call them hymns, much like they don't call their building a "church"; it's a "Kingdom Hall") and I'm very happy because I finally found the lyrics to "We Must Watch How We Walk". I've got a few of the JW texts like "The Truth that Leads to Eternal Life" and "Your Youth - Getting the Best Out of It" - which contains such gems as "masturbation can lead to homosexuality" and "...marriage is not just about being a bride. It also means being a housekeeper, a cook, and a clothes-washer..." Yes, I'm serious, and yes, these texts are still studied by millions today.

But I don't have any of those old 1966 purple songbooks, and I've been looking on Ebay for a while, given that the title of my novel-in-progress is based on one of their songs. But on Friday I found the lyrics to that particular song on the internet, though in a highly unlikely place.

It was on a New Zealand website for writing by teenagers - for original writing. Original writing. As soon as I read the kid's "poem" (merci, Google), I remembered the song, the melody, and all the lyrics. After all, I had to sing it a lot as a kid! But I couldn't believe that someone known only as "Anonymous; American; Age 19" had passed this evangelical propaganda off as his poem! Why? It's not even remotely well-written! I'm surprised the moderator published my comment (in the name of my main character, as she is more outraged than me) that cites the song's original life as a dogmatic ditty about preaching to and spying on your neighbours! (I only mentioned the songbook's title and year of publication on their website; I saved my opinion for this blog).

Strange world, no? (and without even commenting on the recent discovery of the bodies of eight murdered biker Bandidos...)


Song is
We Must Watch How We Walk - Anonymous

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Pure Joy, for a change

I've just come home from The Flaming Lips show at the Phoenix, and I’m glad I bought my ticket in advance, albeit on Ebay. Competition for last minute entry was fierce. A nice guy with friends behind me in line bought his ticket outside, in the cold, after waiting and begging for hours. He got his from a sobbing girl from Tokyo, who was turned away at the door for being under nineteen years of age. She said they were her favourite band. She charged him $70 - what she said she’d paid. Just before that, he nearly bought a ticket from a father-daughter pair, the daughter being another devastated, crying underager.

Onstage, Wayne Coyne was conciliatory, aware that many Torontonians had been shut out of the sold-out show. Between songs he kept promising to come back soon, and often, and in a bigger venue. And he really seemed to mean it, I mean, he seemed humble and empathetic.

And oh, was it a great show! There is still confetti falling from my hair onto my keyboard… They played a variety of songs, from the hits like “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” and “She Don’t Use Jelly” to a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the lovely mortality ballad "Do You Realize?" Always theatrical, they used giant balloons, projectile streamers, a megaphone, a kid’s toy thingamajig that played cow and duck sounds (viciously altered & amplified, of course), and were flagged by a chorus of Santas on stage left (representing Christianity) and a duelling flock of aliens (representing Scientology) on stage right. When the battle ensued, I couldn’t vie for either, though the aliens were tempting, and to my relief, the saucy drummer won instead. Whew!

The great thing about going to shows alone, and being rather not-tall in stature, is that I can worm my way to the front fairly easily. This time, my only complaint is that I was then amongst the tech-kids who were busy filming and taking photos with their various shiny, digital toys. I tried not to jostle them toooo much with my real-time enthusiasm!

Though they didn’t play “Fight Test”, which was disappointing, they closed the encores with a crazy cover of Sabbath’s “War Pigs”, played against a video collage of George W. and assorted Bush administration footage. Point well-taken, Wayne, and great job.

The constant, genuine grins on the bands’ mugs made the evening even better. What a celebration of creativity, and undisguised love for what they were doing.

If I only I saw that much actual joy in the literary world. But we’re all too busy being so fucking depressed, aren’t we?

Speaking of which, the Griffin shortlist will be announced in a few short hours. I doubt that me and my two little bulldozers will be dancing, but that’s okay, we’re pretty tired out after all the fun tonight.

FIGHT TEST by the Flaming Lips


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hypocrisy and Hyperbole, or What Pissed Me Off This Weekend

So Morrissey has cancelled his Canadian concert tour in protest of the cause-du-jour, the seal hunt. Not only is this a ridiculous move which hurts only his fans, but he humiliates himself further by comparing the seal hunt to the Holocaust. I’m almost embarrassed to own my Smiths cds. While I don’t necessarily think that bashing in the skulls of animals is a terrific undertaking, I understand that this is a complex issue that is not just about cruelty to animals; it’s about indigenous peoples’ right to livelihood and custom, it’s about government regulation, it’s about poverty and employment, and maybe even about Canadian sovereignty. Morrissey goes on to make the hyperbolic statement that Canada is, next to China, the cruellest nation in the world. Hmmm. Isn’t his country helping the U.S. occupy Iraq? So killing humans is better than killing seals? What if we gave the seals guns? Would it be okay then?

Viva Hate, Meat Is Murder, and pass me the steak sauce.

I think Morrissey pissed me off even more than the insulting simplicity, implausibility, and obviousness of the emotionally manipulative movie Crash, which I endured on Saturday. Ouch, I still have bruises from being repeatedly hit over the head!

Later this week I want to take in some hopefully-better cultural CanCon, namely the play Earshot at Tarragon Theatre, by Morris Panych and starring Randy Hughson. Did anyone reading this see Earshot? Hopefully they don’t cancel the run to support those poor little seals…awwww. They're way cuter than those Iraqis, right Morrissey?

In weirdness more local, a man died in a fire in the bathroom of a Tim Horton's near Yorkville today. Allegedly, he'd been about to bomb the place, and the flash fire was accidental. Did his actions have anything to do with the coffee chain? Protesting the company's going public? Or was it a more arbitrary choice of location? What is going on?!

A scary weekend indeed.

Tough to choose a song for this post. I guess it will, pun intended, have to be