Saturday, September 22, 2018

Summer Slide 

The view from the Leslie Spit, aka Tommy Thomson Park

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.


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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Monday, August 27, 2018

Dr. Stephen Hawking has some questions while aboard the Millennium Falcon 

Stephen Hawking demonstrating what gravity looks like when there isn't any. Image via Le Devoir

I'm sure we all remember Dr. Stephen Hawking's various appearances before a live audience or on programs such as the Simpsons, but do you remember his Star Wars cameo?

Hans Solo:
Welcome aboard Doc!

Stephen Hawking:
Thank you, Mr. Solo or should I call you Captain, or Han or…

Hans Solo:
This is the fastest ship in the galaxy you know, made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs.

Stephen Hawking:
Oh? How fast was that?

Hans Solo:
Fast enough for you, old man!

Stephen Hawking:
But a parsec is a unit of distance, not time…

Hans Solo:

Stephen Hawking:
Well, that's confusing? Tell me, can you explain to me how gravity is achieved on this vessel?

Hans Solo:
Empire cruisers! Hang on, this might get rough!

Empire cruisers open fire on the Falcon, which sustains a direct hit.

Stephen Hawking:
But wait? If "blasters" (whatever they are), are striking this craft why aren't we pushed away from the point of impact? Come to think of it, why aren't the Empire's cruisers also pushed away in the opposite direction. That is to say the conservation of…

Hans Solo:
The shields can't take much more of this!

Stephen Hawking:
Yes - about the “shields”…

Hans Solo:
Punch it, Chewie!

Stephen Hawking:
Wait? Are we moving at the speed of light?

Hans Solo:
Hyperdrive, baby! We'll be home soon enough.

Stephen Hawking:
How is this possible? Look, back at the cantina, how were so many species able to breathe the same atmosphere? How can so many life-supporting planets be so close to each other? And planets of such different sizes that apparently have the same climate planet-wide not to mention they seem to have roughly the same gravity?

Hans Solo:
You ask a lotta questions, Doc!

Stephen Hawking:
How are there heavier-than-air craft that can defy gravity without wings or without the necessary thrust to create lift yet can enter and exit the atmosphere easily? And how, in a place without schools do so many people know how to build and maintain bi-pedal androids with significant artificial intelligence? Or why would shooting the keypad of a locked door open it? That would be like unlocking a front door by shooting the door bell.

Hans Solo:
Look, Doc, I don’t have time for this.

Stephen Hawking:
Does this entire galaxy run on suspension of disbelief?

Cue theme music, then use every conceivable screen wipe effect at once.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Design is a Verb 

Amik, designed for the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, George Huel, Yvon Laroche, Pierre-Yves Pelletier and Guy St-Arnaud.

Seeing the documentary Design Canada opened a bit of an old wound for me. One where I remembered that time in frustration I acted like a bit of a jerk. The film highlights the quality of graphic design work, primarily in the "international" or "Swiss" style. It showcases roughly a decade of Canadian design from the early 60s to the late 70s. Primarily the time just before Expo 67 and the time just after the 76 Montreal Olympics. This was a tremendously optimistic era for Canadians and several important symbols for Canada and Canadians came to life. In 1960 the Canadian National railway were convinced of needing an entire brand identity system and not just a logo. From those efforts came Allan Fleming's classic CN logo. Only a few years later a committee was struck to determine a new original flag design for Canada based on the maple leaf. By some miracle, a committee of politicians and bureaucrats actually choose a great design, which was later carefully crafted and fine tuned by a small design team.

These two designs seemed to be the beginning of a genuine emergence of talented designers making great work in Canada. Well, to be fair, talented European men who had come to Canada and worked from Toronto and Montreal. In most respects, this wave of talented immigrants and the work they did is the story of Canada. We are nothing if not a community of communities. In fact, I would stop there when describing any kind of Canadian Character or … ugh, I hate this expression but here goes, "Canadian Identity". Therein lies the salt in my old wound.
“…did these symbols, in fact, design Canada?”
When I studied design, almost the entire staff consisted off immigrant Canadians from places such as the UK, the Netherlands and Poland. It was great and really eye-opening for a Newfoundlander to meet and learn from these fine fellows. Except, it grew very tiring to hear of the golden age of Canadian Design (and in particular of the federal agency Design Canada - never mentioned in the film of the same name) as having come and gone. Yup. It was over. Oh those halcyon days were so fine and never to be repeated. Rather than imbue their students with the confidence to create from their own world view, they instilled a cynicism that took a generation of young Canadian designers to shed. I also grew very tired of having the Canadian Identity explained to me by these guys. There certainly is a truism that "newcomers" have a unique view of their adopted land and that is immensely valuable. Yet the view they had was one of the two solitudes of Protestant Ontario vs Catholic Quebec or even more succinctly put, TO vs MTL. The view of the teaching staff - even the Canadian born ones - was so incredibly myopic, they had no idea of the insult they gave every time they extolled the Canadian virtues embodied in maple syrup and Muskoka chairs. So, as a young man I routinely struck back. One thing I said then, to a particularly disagreeable Anglo-Canadian was that I was tired of "having a bunch of old European guys lecture me on what the Canadian Identity was". That came out wrong - I may have even been more forcibly insulting and said "old foreigners" - which was shamefully more xenophobic than ever intended. If a 20-year-old woke bi-racial woman asked "Why should a bunch of old white European men tell me what my identity is?" it would go viral today. That certainly wasn't the case then and in truth, I wasn't offended by "foreigners", but by Ontarian and Quebecois identities being offered as some kind of ethnic simulacrum of "Canadian Identity". What I really meant was I was fed up with "mainlanders" telling a Newfoundlander that to be Canadian was to drink beer while eating maple soaked bacon sitting on a rock in Northern Ontario, listening to Neil Young. Or as Brent Butt put it, the all-Canadian story is that of a Moose who wants to play in the NHL but his father wants him to take over the canoe factory. People in places like Newfoundland, Quebec, the Yukon or New Brunswick never really have to ask "what is the Canadian Identity?" because they know that is a telling question fielded largely in by Southern Ontarian media concerns.

Parks Canada,c. 1970 Roderick Huggins.

This attitude was distilled in a line from the documentary, "…did Canadians design these symbols or did these symbols, in fact, design Canada?" Okay, dear designer, climb down from thine lofty perch for a moment. Was the period from Expo to the Olympics a golden one? Undoubtably. Were these designers working at the highest level, creating some of the best graphic design anywhere in the world? Yes. Did those symbols create our identity as a nation? Not so fast, friend. I would agree that era, particularly after WWII, Canada was an optimistic, progressive, forward looking, history-unshackling place of nation builders with growing self-confidence. That socio-economic moment combined with a generation of designers who, as another designer in the film states, were essentially "Swissed" or worked in a very disciplined "International Style" led to that moment. To me, the fact that the CBC accepted a great modern icon or that the government commissioned and chose a really great icon for introducing the metric system was a reflection of a country that was forward looking and bold. The design activity of the time reflected our confidence and our imagined place in the world which in general is what we can say of most media, visual art, or literature created during any historical period. Compared to recent updates of the Ontario Trillium icon, the CBC logo or even the Parks Canada icon, which reflect a contemporary fad of "re-branding" and creating symbols designed to avoid offence, the graphic design of the 60s and 70s was bolder, more adventurous and more disciplined. When we see contemporary designs that look like they fell off of a clip art truck that reflects a lack of desire to pay someone the time to come up with something better or that the decision makers of those corporations lack the knowledge or resolve to make better decisions. If we are in some kind of current design doldrums (and who says we are) it may be more due to the abundance of branding firms doing so much work simply to justify their existence. Whatever the case, can we just stop calling what happens in Toronto and Montreal, our "Canadian Identity" because it never was, never should be and never will be.

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