Friday, May 03, 2024

I'm Obmutescent 

I don’t have words to describe the spectacular event of the eclipse we recently witnessed. There are so many ways of describing the eeriness of the light quality, the sheer awe of seeing the corona and diamond ring effect, and the humbling realization of the wondrous dance of the cosmos but nothing that encapsulates the joy, wonder, and humility one feels at that precise moment. Now that Grammarly has replaced my Strunk & White The Elements of Style I find I struggle even more to find the right words. As robust as the English language is, we've never really had any rules for inventing new words, which might explain why English is so eccentric and weird. We mash existing words together in portmanteaus such as breakfast and lunch to make "brunch", or we borrow from the French to have words such as bureaucracy or entrepreneur. We even look to both the Danes and the French to describe that cozy warm feeling of hygge or àpres-ski and even though we may think of Germans as being unpoetic, we love terms like schadenfreude when we find ourselves enjoying the downfall of others. It seems particularly in English that we'd rather write essays, poems, novels or op-ed columns about things that are really common experiences like the ones we have when we travel. Perhaps we should take a page from the books of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) or Douglas Adams and invent words as needed.

Like a word for the high expectation of going to a museum paired with the despair after finding it has been closed for renovations.
Proposal: Acropoly - from the Acropolis in Athens, a site of ruins.

Or a word for the joy and satisfaction when you finally find a nice restaurant followed by the lull of waiting for your order to arrive.
Proposal: Mealacuna, from "meal" + "lacuna" (an unfilled space from the Latin, "lacus" or lake.).

I think I need a word for the difference between my happiness at going to my dream bookshop only to realize that everyone else thinks it’s just a very regular bookshop.
Proposal: Bibliomojo - like library vibes, you might claim to others who look bored, "You're jamming bibliomojo, man."

There definitely should be a word for the anxiety of catching the one bus that will take you somewhere you have to be but once you are on board, you're entirely unsure if it’s going in the right direction.
Proposal: Autoxiety - autobus anxiety portmanteau, applicable to any automotive travel. Usage: "This on-ramp is giving me major autoxiety!"

A word for the butt-clenching refusal to use the onsite toilets at a music festival.
Proposal: porta-not.
Usage: "This $50 Coachella burger isn't agreeing with my stomach right now."
Friend: "The porta-potties are just over there."
Me: "Port-not."
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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Positively Languid 

Before Peloton.
“C’mon people! Let’s go! Let’s do this! You got this!”
- insanely inspired Peloton coach
Am I the only person who finds those Peloton ads actually make me less likely to subscribe to the service? Part of adulthood might mean doing boring things like work or paying and filing taxes but it also means I’m not a child being scolded by teachers, librarians or life coaches. Is there something from my upbringing or childhood that means I would rather push a bullying fitness coach off their stationary bike than put up with their relentless, vociferous positivity?

Why am I so put off by cheerleading? It is annoying but that seems like a universal truth rather than a personal insult. I suppose it’s my own skepticism that makes such an approach seem entirely performative and thus, wholly disingenuous. Am I too cynical to be cheered on by someone paid to cheer me on? I used to wonder about myself, “Am I a pessimist?”, but I don’t think so. I used to say I’m a realist but I think that’s something pessimistic people say to not sound so negative. Rather, I think I am an optimistic person but perhaps I fall on the dark side of optimism. What is the dark side of optimism? Is it like the dark side of the moon, always in shadow and cold beyond imagination? Or is it just the cautious, chill, relaxed view that warns you to not get your hopes up in case everything goes badly?
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Saturday, April 13, 2024

The Dissolution of Dreams 

The Piranesian rec room of my dreams.

I've never been someone for whom sleep comes easily, though I'm not an insomniac either. Once I get to sleep, I'm fine. My natural rhythm, discovered years ago at university, is to fall asleep somewhere between 1 AM and 2 AM and wake around 8:30 - 9 AM. I imagine I get about 6 to 6-1/2 hours of sleep and I know that more than 8 hours of sleep can lead directly to a headache. A bit less sleep leaves me feeling drugged by the afternoon and the only cure is a nap. Too much sleep can lead to a migraine. The only reason I can see this being called "unhealthy" is because it doesn't fit within societal norms.

The other night, I was uncomfortable due to back pain, so I took an over-the-counter muscle relaxant that I know also happens to make me drowsy so I usually wait until bedtime to assess whether I'll take it or not. As I usually wake up with an alarm, I don't often remember my dreams. I think in general, you tend to remember dreams if you awaken either during or just after you were in REM sleep, so you're more susceptible to remembering dreams when you wake up naturally. For me, it's typical to remember my dreams on Saturdays or Sundays when I sleep in.

On this particular night, I had a weirdly detailed dream of staying at a friend's house and finding a doorway that led down to an immense underground concourse full of stairways, landings, rooms, and levels that were open to a very high glass ceiling. Imagine a space similar to a shopping mall that is open and looks down to lower levels. There were many spaces, all in some 1970s style of concrete and rust-coloured carpeting that were full of people doing various things like playing foosball or ping-pong, relaxing with a drink, watching TV or with older people gathered together doing crafts or even one "room" of older women grooming their enormous cats. I eventually found my way back up to my friend's house and when he asked where I'd been I asked him about this enormous (and surprisingly bright) Piranesian space. He answered matter of factly that all the homes in the neighbourhood shared this communal basement, like a big shared rec room and that I was just seeing his neighbours who all live nearby.
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Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Seen in March 

The Last Repair Shop

I'm not sure why this list isn't longer. It's not like I haven't been watching a lot of stuff, but it is true I haven't finished a lot of stuff. I'll make that my goal this month - finish what I start.

The Last Repair Shop
The Oscar winner live-action short documentary is a film that introduces us to the people who work in an LA school board’s instrument repair shop. We meet not just the technicians who tend to these instruments but also the students who wouldn’t be able to afford the very instruments they are learning to play. From woodwinds, pianos, strings, and brass these musical instruments have life breathed into them by technicians and musicians alike. As a result of the film's success, a very successful funding campaign has raised enough money to keep the program running and possibly expand it. It is in the darkest of times that we find we need the arts most of all, not just as an expression from the artist but to give voice to what we all may be feeling.

Pete Holmes: I'm Not For Everybody
Solid stand-up special from reliable comedian Pete Holmes.

Anatomy of a Fall
With several nominations and awards this French, German and English language film about the death of an intellectual’s husband will have you wondering to the very end and beyond, did she or didn’t she? It also features one of the better performances by a dog seen in recent years.

A young boy experiencing war and loss.

The Boy and the Heron
Another typical Miyazaki animated film. In other words, a brilliant and beautiful masterpiece. It's certainly worthy of the Oscar it won this year. Miyazaki is 83 and had already previously "retired" so there are many who believe this is his last film. Among his best-known films, his stories focus on a young child isolated from their family such as in My Neighbour Tortoro, Ponyo or Spirited Away. The Boy and the Heron focuses on a 12-year-old boy, Mahito, in wartime Japan, who lost his mother in a fire at a hospital during a bombing. His father has remarried and moved the family to the countryside. Apparently, traditionally in Japan in the past, it would be normal for a widower to remarry his unmarried sister-in-law and that's the case here where Mahito's aunt becomes his stepmother. Mahito struggles to fit in at school and injures himself to avoid going back. It turns out, that Mahito's aunt is also having difficulty in her new role too, and one day goes missing while a heron tells Mahito that his mother is still alive. This leads the boy and the heron to team up on a journey that begins in an abandoned manor. The entire odyssey can be seen either as an adventure or a period of self-discovery in which Mahito comes to terms with the loss of his mother, his busy and distant father, and his relationship with his stepmother.

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Thursday, March 28, 2024


An unbiased interpretation of hurkle-durkle.

Hurkle-durkle. No, not the first draught of the lyrics of Helter Skelter, but a word, of Scottish origin, to describe lounging in bed when one should be up and about. Apparently, some time ago this word became a meme on social media that I clearly overlooked while busy experiencing reality in real life. I realize to those of you with children or more than one job, that the idea of lounging about is not only remote but perhaps even angering. Merely thinking that someone else has such leisure may be triggering for you. I assure you, to those of us without children, that having such time is a luxury that is never unappreciated.

It was on a recent Sunday when I hurkle-durkled my way to idly watch online videos, read inconsequential articles and flip lazily through a book or two. How was it that time, essentially poorly spent, was such a luxury? Just as scarcity creates value, abundance depreciates it. If you have too much free time, it's boring. Only when you're busy do you find the gaps with nothing planned, nothing scheduled, without errands or chores to do, that time feels as luxurious as high thread count cotton. Leisure like this can feel like a pause in a meal when you enjoy the scent of wine in your mouth, or chocolate melting on your tongue.

So it was that I enjoyed the nothingness. I could've easily manufactured some busyness. Laundry could've been laundered, dust could've been swept, bills could've been paid, e-mail read or written, groceries procured, but all of it took a backseat to this most important of tasks. The task of not doing any tasks. The absence of tasks.

I'm reminded of reading about a book, Voyage Around My Room, written by Xavier de Maistre while under house arrest, in which the author describes his room as if part of a travelogue. Within the boredom of his confinement, he discovers an appreciation for the smallest details of life. Sure, some may call it a "stay-cation" but I like to think of it more as a vacation from myself. A holiday from my everyday. It was like I was on an all-expenses paid trip where my bed was the cruise liner.

It should come as no surprise, a fair amount of guilt had to be ignored if I were to truly enjoy this decadence. It seems this kind of guilt is built into a society that despite our many advances believes that your time is better spent by working, regardless of what the work is. This is true in religious communities, capitalist countries, socialist countries and, despite the stated goal of setting the worker free, communist countries. Even in the laziest of modern occupations, the "influencer" is a job where people who found success are quitting as the demand for content has led to a kind of creator burnout. This demand on us to busy ourselves seems to me, to be the single biggest factor in suppressing creativity. Though let's be honest, there is much creative work made while in the middle of a grinding schedule. In fact, there are plenty of people who will say they were at their peak creativity while at the same time, at their peak productivity. Many people, be they entrepreneurs or artists had their best ideas while they were also at their most prolific. Yet that just isn’t sustainable. I’m in this life for the long haul. I’m not aiming to be the flame that burns twice as bright for half the time. I want my creative life to simmer on the back burner, always bubbling at the ready, always warm to the touch. If a little hurkle-durkle helps maintain a frothy fermentation, then so be it.

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Sunday, March 24, 2024

Seen in February 

Peak Cher in Moonstruck with Nicholas Cage.

With the passing of Norman Jewison it seemed appropriate to seek out his better known films. We saw Moonstruck and unfortunately didn't get much further. Lately, I've noticed how many services I pay for but don't use so in the next month or so, I'm going to focus on the "use it or lose it" philosophy of streaming services. Until decision day, I'll probably see how I can spread my time across these catalogues. Will it be like peanut butter, spread to the edge, or a dollop of ketchup on top of your fries? Only time will tell.

With the passing of Norman Jewison, we thought it would be appropriate to watch one of his most popular films, and as it is from 1987, it’s also peak-Cher. I have to wonder if this film introduced a wider audience to many of the Italian-American stereotypes that today would be considered such clichés that you would have to avoid them. Let’s give the filmmakers a pass on that front. Cher plays Loretta, a woman who has fallen in love with her fiancé’s estranged brother, Ronny (Nicholas Cage) while discovering her father (Vincent Gardenia) is cheating on her mother (Olympia Dukakis). This is a reliable rom-com set in fairytale New York but my real problem with the story is the motivations of each character seem slim to nonexistent. Loretta’s fiancé (Danny Aiello) proposes just before leaving for Italy to be with his dying mother. Loretta has agreed to the proposal despite not loving him because he’s a good guy or something. When she goes to meet the estranged brother she immediately upsets him only to decide to soothe him by making him a steak and before the entree is finished they’ve both fallen for each other. Likewise, when Loretta’s mother suspects her husband is cheating, the matter is resolved before the pancakes are cold. While I appreciate that this is more fable than fact (lovers affected by a full moon etc.) I find it hard to believe this was the Academy’s pick for best screenplay. The dialogue is so perfunctory at times it feels like a first draft. No wonder Hollywood fears AI bots will take their jobs.

The Pigeon Tunnel
Apple TV+
This documentary from the formidable filmmaker Errol Morris is an interview with famed spy novelist John le Carré (presumably his last interview before he died in 2020). Le Carré was the pen name of David Cornwell, who not only wrote acclaimed espionage fiction but famously worked for British intelligence in his youth and spent time in Berlin when it was the hot spot of the Cold War. We discover in this film that his ability to write about spying, and the betrayal and lies that accompany it, came not only from his time in the service but also from his own life as his father was a prolific con man who moved on from one scheme to the next, leaving shattered lives in his wake. I found it a fascinating insight into how a writer can tell his own story through the lives of others and, like a spy in the shadows, hide in plain sight.

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