Aug 31, 2011

Mourning Is Broken

This has been the summer of calamities.

A few weeks ago I was glued to the addictive TV-computer super-combo, following the London riots with a mix of fascination and revulsion. Like many, I was appalled by the random violence overtaking the city. It might be plus normale for English society, but to me it was horrifying. And yet, it was hard to turn off and turn away, at least in part because I lived in London a little over ten years ago. As well as being one of the world's great capital cities (I seem to have a penchant for living in them), it is also a personal favorite. Culture dominates every aspect of urban life there, from the markets and bars around Camden Town to the free museums and old-meets-new architecture, from casual pubs to high-end galleries - London, with its heady mix of history, high art, and street life, is a dazzling place.

I recently reflected on how much I felt at home in London when I lived there, and how it wasn't that much of stretch to ingratiate myself there socially and culturally. I wondered, because of Canada being a Commonwealth nation, if the British mindset had seeped in. I may still grit my teeth at the thought of having a Governor-General, and seeing the Queen on Canadian currency (perhaps a little more over the years), but there's something resoundingly vital about the connection , which made the events of mid-August even more upsetting. London will always be home on some level.

On the flip, monarchy-less side of that coin, charting the week that was in New York was a harrowing ordeal, perhaps because of its proximity to Toronto, and its proximity to my having lived there only a month ago. Like London, culture is everywhere in NYC, but it's done differently; no one's tied down by history (or violently kicking against it) so much as integrating it effortlessly into every day life. Old delis, noodle joints, and dive bars (coming down too quickly) are peppered with old, cracked photographs of celebrities, memories, streets, and faces. It isn't high art - you can't buy them. (By contrast, a fast-food joint in west part of Toronto has willfully-worn photos of recent events for sale along its walls for hundreds of dollars.)

You can't buy the kind of energy a place like New York has, though people have peddled that fantasy to the naive and wide-eyed now for centuries. You pay for the museums, it's true, but New Yorkers go on the free nights before grabbing takeaway and heading home. Culture is so much a part of everyday life there - graffiti-strewn walls, old/new architecture, free concerts, impromptu performances -so as to be taken for granted. It's taken for granted because it can be, because that's the strange, exhausting beauty of a Republic, and of what it stands for: if you don't like it, it doesn't matter, no one's mandating you to accept anything, go make something yourself and see if you can do better. Everyone else has.

This shrugging, casually f*ck-it attitude, combined with the fiery-eyed ethos of self-determination and truth-or-dare initiative, creates the perfect storm for me to create in. But I don't like to see the literal perfect storm floating over a place I love -or literal riots. This summer's series of challenges make me wonder what art -theater, dance, film, music, and visuals -will come out, is being conceived this very moment, has been shaped by calamity and chaos. I've been writing non-stop the last few weeks, which explains my lack of posting here. But, with plans afoot to expand, diversify, and cultivate, the calamity and chaos of the summer will, hopefully, lead gracefully into the orderly repose of fall. To quote a favorite song, Everything Must Change.

All photos taken from my Flickr photostream.

Aug 29, 2011

Calm

Weather terror has passed in the Big Apple.

It feels good to have that week over, though it did afford me some great opportunities to chat with some great people. One of those was John Coburn, a Toronto-based artist whose work is being exhibited on Wall Street September 1st through 15th. John did a series of sketches when 9/11 happened -and they're gorgeous. I can hardly believe it's been ten years. Oh my dear city, it's been through so much.

Look out for that feature soon.

Also, and this feels right to announce here, casually: I'm going back to audio interviews. Not through a radio station, but independently. In this age of social media interaction, of emails flying to and fro across the vast buzzy darkness of cyberspace, there's something awfully good about the human interaction of sitting in a room, with a live breathing, thinking person for half an hour, and having a real conversation. Would you tune in? Would you listen?

Fingers crossed. More soon.

Aug 13, 2011

Crashed

First, the obvious: I'm not accepting being away from New York. I vacillate between despair and hope with a dizzying rapidity. That doesn't mean I'm not taking pleasure in small things here: I'm riding my bike to a local job, and the sight of a cardinal-couple flitting around the greenry of a garden is quite lovely. Easy access to a BBQ, a terrace, and a posturpedic bed are excellent. But here is not New York. And I miss the stinky, hot, frustrating massive mess of it all. To say I'm sad I left behind my life there would be a gross understatement; I want late tequila nights and prosecco-filled afternoons and fragrant green-chili early evenings and blinding rooftop July 4ths and the busy buzzy ball-breaking brilliance of Times Square at 2am. Becoming accustomed to isolation and inertia ... is not an option.

It's taken me a while to get back to writing, but return I have, however haltingly. I've been ruminating all week on what to write about the London riots. It's one of my favorite cities, and indeed, was one I called home between 1999-2000. Russell Brand's intensely smart, well-written essay for the Guardian expressed a lot of important things, and Dave Bidini's similarly-insightful piece for the National Post has created new quadrants of thought in my exploration into the meaning of this whole affair on both personal and political levels. I"ll be posting a piece on the riots soon.

For now, musings on transportation, or more specifically, the Awfulness Of Buses And All They Represent. It was sad to wake up, refreshed and fuzzy-haired this Saturday morning, and to discover, amidst my deliciously unhealthy plateful of bacon and eggs, the truly tragic news of a crashed bus. According to Gothamist,
A Greyhound bus travelling from NYC to St. Louis overturned early this morning on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, injuring over two dozen people. One woman was briefly pinned underneath the bus, and at least 25 of the 29 passengers were injured; three of the injured were transported by air to nearby hospitals. According to Bill Capone, the Turnpike's director of communications,"The bus overturned and we don't know what caused it. According to the state police, no other vehicle was involved in the accident."
I will never, ever forget my bus ride down to New York. I'd taken it many times in the past, as a much younger woman, but hadn't done any long-haul travel on one until this past March. The trip through the dense, scary darkness of Upstate New York was made all the more frightening by lashing rain, strong winds, and, dauntingly, a bus driver who seemed to be trying out for the Grand Prix Monaco (or is that Montreal? Or Daytona, perhaps?). The whole "we-don't-know-what-caused-it"-dance doesn't fly after experiencing that kind of hair-rising ride. My heart was in my throat for much of the bumpy, noisy, rough overnight journey.

Amidst the terror, there were some fascinating observations to be made, especially around the people who chose to (/had to) use that mode of transport. The bus was filled with people of all ages, races, backgrounds, who busied themselves texting, reading, sorting through business cards, and making phone calls to loved ones, assuring them they'd "be there soon" and talking about their work days, an earlier job interview, asking after children, asking about neighbours and bills and entirely normal stuff. They struck me as hard-working, exhausted, and stuck in a system where economics forced them onto the cheapest route possible, safety be damned.

Is this is the price of a job in America 2011? I could help but think of that terrifying ride, with guts and nerves and blood churning in some sickening mix, as I read this morning's sad report. Was it just a sad, simple accident, or a darker sign of troubled times? Again, Gothamist reports that "The westbound bus had stopped in Philadelphia and was to stop again in Pittsburgh when it overturned just after 6 a.m" -so it like the ones I took, was an overnight bus, perhaps full of people looking for work, going to work, visiting relatives, returning home. The basic horribleness of the American economy was one of the reasons I returned to Canada; job-seeking is impossible in a place where people are willing (/encouraged) to work for free just to avoid unemployment prejudice. The litany of recent bus accidents (tourist ones included) makes me wonder if they're mere accidents or larger symbols of a changing America.

Struggle is an idea people think is noble -unless it happens to be you doing the struggling. Then it's gross, and f*ck you if you ask for all the checks and balances to be made in order for you to stay healthy and productive. As Jon Stewart so aptly put it Thursday night, "Here's the problem with entitlements: they're only entitlements when they benefit other people." Struggle is easy to label as "noble" and "brave" and "ballsy" when you're not the one doing it. And struggle doesn't change just because location might. America is changing, has changed, will continue to change -just like life itself. The wheels haven't come off, but I'd recommend careful driving. The road ahead is slippery. Sometimes slower is better.

Photo credits:
Greyhound photo (middle), QMI File Photo.
Top and bottom photos taken from my Flickr Photostream.

Aug 1, 2011

In The Darkness, Bind Them

One of the happiest memories of my time in New York City involves attending a taping of The Colbert Report last week.

Getting a ticket was sheer luck; attending was (and I know how corny this sounds) utter magic. The staff is fantastically helpful, the crew is genuinely friendly, and the host is utterly unpretentious. Mr. Colbert came out, all smiles, high-fived those of us lucky enough to be seated in the front row, and addressed a few audience questions. I kept putting my hand up, and just when I thought he might turn away (there was, after all, a show to tape), he turned to me. No, I wasn't nervous. i was curious.

Those who know me well understand the special place Lord of the Rings has in my heart. The popular film interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece was released just before I moved back from the U.K. in 2000, and it hit a deep nerve. Its theme of friendship, goodness, of carrying heavy burdens and resisting the urge to give in to ego and selfishness resonated then, and indeed, still does. Knowing Mr. Colbert is a big Ring-ling, I was curious to find out who his favorite character from the work is. He's spoken at length about it on various episodes of The Colbert Report (and apparently his dressing room is a Rings shrine), yet the character he most gravitates to had, up until last week, remained a mystery.

There was something utterly unique about connecting with someone so famous about something so ... utterly unto itself. Even with the popularity (and acclaim) of the films, those who love Lord Of The Rings feel like members of an exclusive bar where there are drinks like The Suffering Balrog and The Middle Earth Tripper, and we can rhythm off the ingredients and technique with healthy dollops of ease and delight.

The work's tangle of characters, histories, and storylines, combined with powerful mythological underpinnings and strange-but-familiar tone renders its appeal very specific and beloved. Many will have seen the films; few will have read the book(s); those of us who've done both still sometimes have to refer to charts detailing relationships and bloodlines and maps outlining key locations. Why go to all this trouble? Because it's a tale that touches the heart, while being hugely relateable: ordinary person doing something extraordinary -and failing, but for the grace of those who care and want the best. It's epic, it's intimate, it's timely and timeless, it asks a lot but returns even more.

And so it was, Mr. Colbert answered my question with much grace and reverence, which heightened when he (quickly) realized he was in the presence of a fellow fan. Little did I know there was a timely segment referencing Lord Of The Rings on that night's show.


Rings character Faramir said the following, when he was given the chance of owning the One Ring, and I think, intoday's climate of political adversity, international suffering, and religious hatred, it has a particular resonance:
I would not take this thing, if it lay by the highway. Not were Minas Tirith falling in ruin and I alone could save her, so, using the weapon of the Dark Lord for her good and my glory. No, I do not wish for such triumphs, Frodo, son of Drogo.
Thinking back to Stephen Colbert quoting these lines to me feels like a kind of lesson, and warning; when it would be most easy to give in to ego, to sadness, to self-pity and fantastical escapism... don't. It's not the right thing to do. It's more noble to go the hard (if honest) route. It's more authentic, too.

Thanks for the reminder, Stephen. Next time we'll have to talk about hobbits, orcs, elves and goblins. For now, I'm going to memorize those lines. Oh, and I want one of those figurines.