Thursday, November 01, 2018

An Algorithm That Made Me See Myself For Who I Truly Am 

KH-DSC_0198
Koerner Hall, Toronto

“Welcome to Koerner Hall”, said a casually dressed man, who seemed so comfortable on the stage that the audience hardly noticed him.
“Welcome Welcome,” nudging the crowd to settle and focus, “Tonight we welcome you to the third concert in our current series and to enjoy returning Torontonian, Chilly Gonzales.” A shower of appreciative applause. “We remind you to please turn off your phones and mobile devices, to disconnect from the outside world for a few hours and lose yourself in the music.”

I almost cried.

This felt like the first vacation I’ve had in over eighteen months.

I don't want to bore you with a "woe is me" list of how busy I am because everyone is busy. Everyone has their own stuff.

I don't want to whine about how much time I spend looking at screens. I could just look away, couldn't I?

I don't want to "humble-brag" about how volunteering for non-profit advocacy organizations takes up all my free time (#humblebrag).
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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Seen in… September 


Emma Stone as Billie Jean King. Image via The Movie DB.

Between work, volunteering, house repair, dental visits, sketching and reading I’m not sure how I saw anything much in September. I completely missed the film festival and attempts to recreate one in my own home fell flat. In fact, two shows I'm writing about here are ones I saw ages ago and forgot to add (Battle of the Sexes and Mr. Robot) so clearly I’ve been not only too busy to watch stuff but also to busy to write about it. Lately it seems I start these posts with "I'm so busy I can't believe I watched anything" which sounds like some kind of woeful, pathetic brag, which it definitely is not. That said, I'm going to rededicate myself to watching some real quality stuff, right after I finish this Marvel series I want to catch up on.

Battle of the Sexes
A fictionalized account of the actual event of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs. Emma Stone plays Billie Jean King while Steve Carrell plays the ex-pro and aging hustling, self-promotional Bobby Riggs. This is a rare thing. A bio-pic set around a real event that doesn’t suck. The context of both King and Riggs is vital to the story. Billie Jean King, who was the number one female tennis player at the time was part of a women’s tour that was fighting both for survival and equal pay at a time when women were burning bras and protesting societal misogyny. Bobby Riggs was a retired tennis pro and serial promoter who also had a gambling addiction which had led to the demise of his marriage. Riggs saw a moment and proposed a match between himself and King to determine whether a female player in her athletic prime could defeat a male player, even one well past his prime (Riggs was 50-ish at the time). It should be noted that not too long ago former pro John McEnroe, 59, has claimed that he thought he could still beat Serena Williams. The difference is that McEnroe was probably serious whereas Riggs depicted himself as a lazy, vitamin swallowing, middle-aged chauvinist pig (going so far as to pose for photos with a young pig). That he wasn’t vilified for such showmanship, was a testament to the times and the charm of Bobby Riggs. What no one knew however was that Billie Jean King was struggling with her own marriage at the same time. The stress of life on the road had put distance between King and her husband while she was discovering her homosexuality with an affair with Marilyn Barnett, a local stylist she had met on the tour. Barnett is played by the amazing English actor Andrea Riseborough who by some unknown alchemy has the ability to portray women of immense sexiness or incredible dowdiness merely by how she wears her hair or by how she carries herself. The scene between Riseborough and Stone when they first meet is unbelievably erotic despite it being a simple moment in a barber’s chair at a salon.

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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Summer Slide 


Warming stripes illustrating the changes in Toronto's annual average temperatures from 1841 to 2017. (Climate Lab Book) Image via CTV

As I looked up alone at summer’s last moon, our celestial satellite glared at me saying, “Where were you? I waited for you.” Another summer has slipped through my fingers. This is becoming so common to me that I've dubbed it the Summer Slide. Not the fun, water based backyard kind either. The kind that passes by with a whooshing sound. The Summer Slide is a slippery slope.

I tried to make summer something to remember. I tried to make it last. During lunch breaks, I ate take-out meals on a bench looking out over the lake. Some days I’d sit beneath a man made stand of birch trees whose leaves flickered and sparkled in a sumptuous breeze. For me, watching and listening to birch trees is mesmerizing. The wind through the leaves is reminiscent of a waterfall. That's if there was any wind. All summer Toronto felt airless and stagnant. To escape the heat I took to the water either by kayak or by bike, riding out to the Leslie Spit or by swimming in an open air pool. Still, the pace of the summer eluded me.

The heat definitely got the best of me. Whether it’s barometric pressure (scientists say it isn’t) or temperature fluctuations (scientists don’t really know) the heat seemed to triggered time altering headaches. While the humidity brought on allergies and congestion of unknown origin. The combination of heat and humidity ignited my skin which was covered in tiny hot blisters that were itchy as hell or what I imagine hell to be: itchy and hot. One particular weekend, I pulled a large pillow to the kitchen and I laid down on the cold floor and alternated between reading and napping. The tile floor of my basement kitchen is the coolest place in the house. Even still, it was too hot. I laid there rotting. I was like cooked meat resting and plated on the ceramic tile. Countless heat warnings warped and distorted every free moment (well, someone is counting. Sixteen heat warnings so far - we broke records for extended periods of overnight temperatures that never dropped. The last four years have seen extended heat warnings in September. The heat was relentless and slow and not just in Toronto. Forest fires that burned unabated, cloaked B.C. in smoke. Smothering humidity which might normally be balanced out by raucous summer rain storms lingered on and on. This year, when the rain did come it was in massive spurts and eruptions that when finished still didn’t break the humidity. The heat was such that when you felt the spit of rain from pregnantly dark clouds, you prayed you'd get caught in a downpour. When it didn’t happen, you felt cheated.

What will I remember from this summer? Ants crawling on sidewalk puddles of melted ice cream, fruit flies floating in a glass of beer, putrid lake water clouded by effluent from overflowing sewers. After a particularly short shocking storm, I watched from my office on the 28th floor, as the harbour filled with billows of brown spewing into the once blue, then green water. Most of all, I’ll remember how little I did. How little I moved. How I actively sought out stillness. I’ll remember the nothingness of it. The extended hours at work that led to nothing. The hours lying in the rumble of the air conditioner, unable to sleep. The days fighting to stay awake after a sleepless night. The money I burned on renovations. The money I drank trying to rehydrate. The money I ate at restaurants because cooking at home bordered on insanity. The errands I ran while sweating so much my shirts were constantly damp. The refreshing swim obliterated the second I left the water. The days wasted experiencing near psychedelic migraines. I drifted out on a tide of a sea of nothing on only a raft of despair, and you know what they say, nothing will come of nothing. Guess what? Nothing did.

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

It's All In Your Head 




I have one of those headaches. The kind where you can’t see out of one eye. The kind that radiates, hums and ripples across your scalp. The kind that’s a sort of sucking pressure as if a balloon in your skull is being inflated every time you breathe, pushing everything else to one side. I feel it in my sinus like after an anaesthetist's tube has just been removed. I can feel it behind my eyes, inside my ears, cleaving my head like a magician’s tricky piece of sheet metal that would be otherwise cutting a female assistant in two. I can feel it in my teeth that ache to the roots. Maybe this is why I never detect a cavity anymore - it just feels like a headache’s periphery.

The shape of the pain is known only to me and it is eviscerating. It has squeezed my cranium like a thin-walled soda can caved in by the slightest of touches, buckling in and out. Closing my eyes stings as badly as opening them. Weirdly, the only time I don’t feel it is when I’m thinking about it which has become my only therapy. That only makes me think about everything else about it. Like the feeling of how close my throat is to the contents of my stomach. My stomach is collapsed by an unknown hunger and feels like a foreign object inside me. I can sense its metallic bile seeping up. Don’t disturb it or it might just spill out of my mouth. My limbs are hollow reeds.

So here I am, hiding out in a room with the blinds drawn and fan on full, lying as still as possible and hoping the headache will give up and move on and invade someone else for awhile. At least I still have hope.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Seen in… August 


"Life is a cabaret, old chum" is a sort of 1930s way of saying "All the world's a stage…" image from The Movie DB.

I always think of August as the dog days of summer when you've had it up to here with the sweltering heat and humidity but are also afraid summer is passing you by. That is a little what this collection of movies reflects. A couple of these movies were merely escapes to a nearby air conditioned theatre while others were seen entirely on a laptop in the coolness of my basement. They are also pretty much hit and miss and a bit of a ragtag collection of what was on offer. Make of it what you will.


I'm not really sure how many agents IMF employ because these are the only ones you ever see. Image from The Movie DB.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout
This series of impossibly punctuated film titles continues. Ethan Hunt, played by the ageless Tom Cruise, and the rest of the gang are back fighting an international terrorist, an angry Scot who was a former IMF agent. You know, if you read about about Tom Cruise or you’re reminded of something cheesy he did you might write him off as more celebrity, less actor, but give credit where credit is due. No one inhabits these insanely entertaining action packed roles like Cruise does. The incredulity of the stunts and convoluted plot machinations only add to the fun. Oddly, I think this film's plot where the team of super-spies have to retrieve some stolen plutonium intended for use in a sophisticated nuclear device but are thwarted by enemies within their own government is more credible than most action films, but having Ethan Hunt et al survive a motorcycle crash, several car crashes, a sky diving mishap and a helicopter crash (has anyone ever survived a helicopter crash?) goes above and beyond imagination. I suppose a movie where the hero begins the film in a fender bender, then spends the next 90 minutes in a neck brace complaining of back pain, nerve pain, vertigo, nausea, blurry vision, mood swings and migraines wouldn’t be much of an action film would it?

Glow Season 2
The Glamorous Ladies of Wrestling keep on keeping on. There was one icky moment but I guess that’s the point. Many ladies have had to endure many awkward advances and “icky” moments to just keep doing the thing they love. The sisterhood of the flying glittery leotards of these female wrestling performers feels real and the personal scenes where these women learn more about themselves and each other is pretty good drama and comedy. The series also does not shy away from the fact that while men's wrestling was seen as family fun fit for Saturday morning TV, female wrestling was largely sexualized and fetishized by creepily devout male fans pushing the airtime to late night. It’s also a hoot re-living the 80s through the screen which does feel like more calculated Netflix marketing than necessary. You can almost hear the marketing team yell, “Make it more 80s!!” But for once in my life, I’m in a targeted demographic so screw it. You can almost smell the hair spray.
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