Thursday, November 27, 2008
We're going to plan a gala / For those who have no future / Because they are just creatures / Of the Arts
Oh my pudding,
It’s been a strange week. Strange in a lot of ways, but I think I’m going to focus on the theatrical ones for now. It being Thursday, the week’s not technically over, but I think it just reached its climax (prove me wrong, remaining Intro to Shakespeare performers), so I’m gonna entry it up already.
I could also just make it a week by pretending that weeks begin on Friday. If I’d been brought up a good Quaker kid who referred to Sunday as “First Day” so there could be no mistaking it, I’d know better — but I was the child of the run-away-from-Reagan child, raised in the savage sugar bush of Eastern Ontario, where even our calendars are anarchists, beginning and ending their weekly units whenever it damn well pleases them.
That’s a lie, but whatever. A lot of things I tell people about my homeland sound like lies. The legendary mid-winter kangaroo sighting. The colours which people who’ve swum in the Tay River have turned. Drilling holes in trees to extract their precious life fluid and boiling it down to a viscous liquid sweetener. (You probably do believe that last one, but I met a guy in Montreal this summer who was entirely convinced that I must have been pulling his leg when I described the syrup-making process. I never realized how ridiculous it sounds until I was trying to explain it to somebody who didn’t believe me.)
Where was I? Oh yeah. Pretending this week started with last Friday. This makes sense, if this s going to be an entry where I talk primarily about theatrical affairs, because on Friday I had an audition. It was for a student-directed production of Sarah Kane’s Crave. In my pre-audition research on the play, one of the first things I stumbled across was this review, from which I extract the following two sentences:
“Ms. Kane killed herself last year in a mental hospital at age 28. Her first ever New York production…leaves little doubt why.”
Now, shortly thereafter I came across this touching article entitled 'Suicide art? She's better than that' — which was written by a friend and fellow playwright, and therefore merits being taken with slightly more grains of salt than the other. Nonetheless, it had become apparent to me that this was unquestionably dark stuff I was being asked if I might like to try out for an opportunity to deal with. Apparently this sounded like jolly good times to me, so I scribbled my name on the list on the call board, and showed up at my claimed time on Friday afternoon with my monologue memorised and ready to perform in a cozy little office that I didn’t even know existed. (The theatre was full of sets for another show or some such thing, and Hesler Hall, the other main rehearsal area in the building, was occupied by auditions for another student-directed show.)
Emily, the student assessing my merits as an actor, was really friendly and responsive in the audition — something I’ve noticed is more-or-less the norm here, which I find a pleasant change from some theatre groups I’ve worked with where they seem to really enjoy making auditioners as uncomfortable and unsure of themselves as humanly possible. Following my monologue, Emily gave me a brief rundown of each character’s motivations, and had me do cold readings for both of the play’s female characters. They were sort of peculiar readings, as the script doesn’t actually have monologues per se (with one notable exception), so Emily had chosen a selection of individual lines from each character, and requested that we try to make them sound as though they belonged together. It was a really interesting challenge, and I felt pretty good about the whole thing.
I had to wait until Tuesday to find out the results of that whole business, so YOU DO TOO. Only in your case, Tuesday=later on in this entry. That’s not so hard, is it now?
That night I had a loooooong telephone conversation with my mother. It was much-needed. I had forgotten how much of my life used to get sorted out between the two of us on sleepy morning car rides into work/school. I had a lot of pent-up anxiety about the potential disparity between my two primary career goals: teacher and playwright. What if what I write is seen as unsuitable for a teacher? What if the person I become when I get very involved in my writing is a horrible teacher? What if I end up deciding not to teach and I end up a scrawny starving artist cliché and die miserable and alone? Et cetera. I can’t say that one telephone call home totally resolved all of these issues for me forevermore, but a mother’s wisdom is valuable stuff. Some examples from this particular call (paraphrased, as this was a week ago now, and none of these were written anywhere outside of my brainmachine, which is rather crowded this time of year):
#1 - “You don’t make a good first impression. None of us do. First impressions are not this family’s strong point.”
#2 - “Oh, you won’t starve. Remember, if worse comes to worse, we own this house and we can plant more gardens.”
#3 - “I think you just need to think about this play.” (In response to my neurotic explosion of my worries about one particular script I’m working on now into an issue the size of WHAT I AM SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THE REST OF MY LIFE AND WHETHER OR NOT I AM A TERRIBLE PERSON IF I DO/DON’T DO IT.)
So yeah. “This play.” I’m working on it. I had set down this script for quite some time — in fact, semi-despaired of finishing it, which would have been lametastic, considering how much time and energy and love and motions-which-will-no-doubt-lead-to-repetitive-strain-injury-sooner-or-later I’ve put into it over the past two years — but found myself wading into it again recently, albeit in that really wimpy first-swim-of-the-summer kind of way where you dip your toes in and act astonished that the water is in fact wet, and consider yourself accomplished when you get in up to your knees, while at the same time remembering fondly what it was like last summer when you were exceedingly brave and dove in froglike without even considering the details of the situation.
My, that certainly was a long sentence. I don’t think my grade six teacher realised that when he accused me of run-ons, I was going to start trying to master the punctuation to make them legitimate, rather than simply chopping them into nice bite-sized chunks with a couple of periods. Although. I’ve. Nothing. Against. Periods.
Er, right — the script. I’m a bit worried about ending it, on the grounds that I’m terrible at endings generally, and my characters are all up to some mischief they seem reluctant to explain to me. I’ve been working a very strange (there’s that word again) scene for what feels like ages now in which they constantly hold back from saying what I thought I’d been setting them up for the whole time, and then suddenly burst forth with something ridiculous that I definitely did not prepare for. My confusion is multiplied by the fact that this scene is actually three different scenes happening simultaneously, with a lot of overlapping dialogue/action. This is a new level of complexity for me as a writer, and I’m not in any way confident that the way I’m plotting this out on the page is going to make for good, or even vaguely comprehensible theatre with real voices and bodies. Which brings me to another thing I’ve been having cute little wee tiny mini fun-sized anxiety attacks throughout the day about…
I’ve brought up the possibility with a couple of friends who are silly enough to occasionally express encouragement for my scandalous escapades with the written word of perhaps some night gathering a group of willing victims together to…(swallow hard now)…read…the script…out loud…maybe? This idea both excites and terrifies me. I think the ‘terrifies’ would be a smaller factor if I were talking about a one-act two-hander, but no. Silly me had to go and write a full-length beast with eight friggin’ characters (assuming I don’t resort to Deus Ex Machina and throw a couple of gods in there to get the bloody thing over with). Eight seems like an unfathomable number of people to expose this script to just yet — not to mention the staggering unlikelihood of finding an evening when eight people who would be willing to do me such a tremendous favour might be available, the schedules of Mount Allison students being what they are.
My goodness, we’re still on Friday night, aren’t we? Well, fast forward through the weekend. I already mentioned the snow and the vegan muffins. Everything else was homework or script-work. Or lollygagging about on Facebook/twitter, but that goes without saying, right?
Monday afternoon I went to what was, in theory, the penultimate rehearsal of the Shakespeare in the Schools project for this year. I’ve been working with a group of high school students and my fellow Mounties on a fifteen-minute version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream every non-holiday Monday since mid-October. The idea of Shakespeare in the Schools is that the kids (sometimes elementary, sometimes secondary), with guidance from us, get to decide how they want to present one of William Shakespeare’s works that we, the university students, have been assigned at some point in our Intro to Shakespeare course (although participation in the program is also open to Mt. A. students not enrolled in said course who just want to do it because it’s awesome). This year, our small but mighty crop of high school participants decided to stick mainly with fragments of Shakespeare’s original poetry to tell the story — but with some Fresh-Prince-theme-song-style narration to tie it all together. This project is, for those students enrolled in Intro Shakespeare, an alternative to a more straightforward performance exercise with other class members. SitS is obviously a much bigger time commitment for those that choose it (not to mention a bit of a walk), but we knew that going into it, and it’s more than delightful enough to pay for itself. Besides, I personally couldn’t say no to it after Dr. Bamford began our first class of the semester by showing a documentary in which middle school children performed Othello on the Globe Theatre stage with a giant strawberry-patterned parachute. Yeah, if you want to capture my heart, kids and theatre are a winning combination. I also like kittens, brown paper bags, and candy flowers on sticks. Er, you’re not trying to capture my heart, are you? That could get awkward. I need it to live, see.
Oy. So. Some time Tuesday, I wander into the lobby of Windsor Theatre, investigate the call board situation and discover that…
I didn’t get into Crave.
I was kind of sulky and immature about it in my brain at the time, because I just wanted to feel loved and blah blah blah, but I’m actually a pretty big fan of just coming to watch shows, and I’m looking forward to watching this one in February. If I’m not too outrageously busy, maybe I will even say yes when I’m inevitably asked to do some kind of techy job I can’t even pronounce on this and/or some other show next semester. That may or may not be an idle threat. Tech work is like the extremely gorgeous and intimidating femme fatale of my theatre experience. I want her, and I have gotten vaguely close to her in the past, but I have usually fainted directly afterwards, and I can’t, if I’m being honest, see how that could be a good basis on which to form a lasting relationship.
Wednesday was not a theatrical day. Nothing theatrical happened on Wednesday anywhere. Unless you are a member of Tintamarre, in which case your grande spectacle Argument opened, and everybody who went realized that they have always loved you, because it was that good.
I’m not a member of Tintamarre, but a lot of them happen to be very dear to me, so I grabbed a handful of change and biked on over to the Windsor Theatre once again to take in the traditional Thursday night Pay What You Can performance.
Tintamarre is sort of a difficult project to do justice to in any way other than plunking you down in a time and place where you can watch a performance — or join the cast/crew, if you’re really brave. I’ve yet to graduate to the latter level of commitment to the beautiful, crazy, collaborative dream, but so far as I have gathered, what happens is this: anybody who’s interested in being involved gets together at the beginning of the semester with an idea — as simple as a couple of lines from Dr. Fancy (the French/Drama professor who leads this madness), and they begin to craft a story and a script in both official languages. Songs are written, super-exciting sets and costumes are fabricated, and before you know it, you’re wearing a lumpy silver body suit, melodically imploring a room full of people to tell you why they don’t like Thor, and punning (not to mention swearing) in a language you only vaguely remembered how to say “cup of tea” in a few short months ago.
Argument is the third Tintamarre production I’ve seen thus far, and I’m fairly certain it was also the longest (a factor I suspect will change when the script is shorn down for the school tour in April). It may also be my favourite to date. The really blatant attacks on the current (sigh) Prime Minister through a character known as “Stephen Artstalker” certainly didn’t hurt my appreciation for it.
My goodness it’s late. Shouldn’t you be in bed, pudding? Shouldn’t I? Yes. Yes I should.
Bonne chance with whatever you’re doing right now. Feel free to email me if you want to know more about something you think I might be able to help you with, Mount-Allison-wise: elcameron (at) mta (dot) ca.
Plus de Vie*,
*You’d tell me if this was an inaccurate translation of “More Life,” wouldn’t you**? I’m looking at you, future Tintamarrrien.ne.s
**Our dear friend President Gaypants informs me that "Plus de Vie" in fact translates roughly to "No More Life" (at least if you're Acadian)...but I don't have an alternative up my sleeve. HM!
Saturday, November 22, 2008
My goodness! I leave this blog alone for a week and all of a sudden there’s a seasonal transition to be talked about.
Maybe “transition” isn’t quite the right word. Transition implies something gradual—something for which one can be prepared. That may well be an accurate description for winter as you’ve come to know it in wherever-the-heck-you-are-from-if-you-are-from-somewhere-with-winter-at-all, but we don’t mess around with those little, teasing autumn snows that look pretty in the air but melt as they hit the pavement and don’t really interrupt the grand scheme of things in the slightest here in the shire. Oh no, not us. We jump headlong into epic, undeniable, event-cancelling, library-closing snows.
As the season began to take over earlier in the week, I was a big grumpypants about it because I didn’t want to cease my daily shared experience with ma bicyclette just yet, but this morning I woke up and made (as they were retroactively dubbed by somebody I’m about to mention) “Go Go Gadget Vegan Muffins”, put some of them in a handy dandy Tupperware container, and trudged off through the snow to meet my friend Eric (the somebody you were waiting for me to mention) in his room at Hunton House, where we spent several hours eating muffins, talking about things that are TOO SECRET FOR BLOGGING (gasp, whatever could she mean?! ...use your imaginations, dudes and ladies), and recording things on garage band featuring his room-mate’s sparkly blue ukulele. Er, mostly Eric did the playing/recording...but I looked up chord charts and accidentally contributed the possible title Metronomes Are For Chumps.
So yeah. Winter and me are cool now. I think winter kind of works on the same principles as a baby. It makes everything so much more difficult and the things it likes to do make no sense whatsoever, but it’s friggin’ cute and it transmits contact cuteness to everybody who touches it, or sees it through a proective glass sheild. Examples noted on my journeys to and from Hunton this morning:
· A girl telling another girl about something ridiculous involving her brother and a wall of snow from when they were little kids.
· A girl saying to her friend, “I’ve lost my mittens / you naughty kittens / and you shall have no pie”.
· A faux-orgy in snowsuits on the football field.
Okay. Speaking of sudden non-transitions to completely different topics, somewhere in the midst of writing my most challenging paper of the semester, this came out:
I shirked house initiation when I was a frosh. I usually feel sort of weird about intentional group bonding activities in general: pep rallies; trust exercises; supposedly empowering retreat assignments that inadvertently end up just underlining the crushing, insurmountable loneliness of the high school student...these things are not really my bag — not least because they usually seem to be scheduled for just shortly after I experience a more organic bond-forming moment with some or all members of the group in question. Doing something artificially devised to make me feel close to the same people tends to feel at best silly, and at worst like it reverses the whole process so I have to start all over again. Thus, having consulted with the dons and a few of my particular house friends to make sure it wouldn’t be too big a slight to any of them, I hid away in my room with my radio and my notebook while my housemates got covered in condiments and oatmeal and tested on the anatomy of the average goat (Bennett’s mascot, don’cha know). The whole affair lasted maybe twenty minutes, and when my recently made friends had been given their congratulatory blue plastic beer steins and the opportunity to shower, we reunited and moved on to our premeditated evening activities (which to the best of my recollection involved slight inebriation of one kind or another and that movie with the stop motion gorilla and everybody’s favourite screaming Canadian). It’s entirely possible there was some kind of magic I missed out on by not participating in ye olde ritual humiliation, but I think I felt about as at home in my residence as somebody as socially inept as me could be expected to feel — in fact, quite a bit more so than I expected from the outset.
I will say that I am in some ways jealous of people who are able to accept these things at face value and grasp their intended qualities instead of getting wrapped up in their own minute little feelings about everything that happens to them moment-to-moment and coming up with a really depressing interpretation of the situation, but hey—I’m a compulsive-writer-turned-English-major, so did I ever really have a chance at joyful under-analysis? I’m thinking not. I mean sure, I’ve tried to let myself get away with it before, but I always end up feeling grumpy and incomplete and dashing off into a corner somewhere under the hood of my sweater to produce some questionable prosetry (read: that which is not good enough at being poetry or prose to legitimately qualify as either) about my inability to function like a regular human being. All in all, it seems a better move to just not get involved at the beginning, and write on a subject I’ve exhausted a little less thoroughly.
I mention this right now, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a paper, because it has suddenly come to my attention that I’m being initiated: not into my current domestic situation (which is shared with a charming young woman who I’m pleased to report is as much of a nerd as I am), but into my chosen academic discipline.
I suppose I should have seen this coming when, on the first day of my Lit. Periods to 1800 course, I was bade welcome to “English Boot Camp”, but I took that to be a light-hearted jibe about having to be in class at an obscenely early hour and respond to surprise quizzes before the caffeine had kicked in. Here in the middle of a puddle of open books, incomprehensible notes, and used teacups however, I’m beginning to believe it’s a little more apt an analogy than that. I don’t think I’m allowed to explain it in any more detail than that to anybody who hasn’t been through it yet (i.e.- the assumed readership of this blog), but trust me...it’s one of the most excellent feelings you’ll ever have on not enough sleep and way too much caffeine.
Oh, and in case you ever wanted to know what fancy university scholars sound like when they’re distracting themselves with MSN conversations...
emmet says: you know what's weird?
Eric says: what?
emmet says: being a writer who's been dead for years and years and years and having people write great big books about what you were probaby getting at.
Eric says: that is a bit odd....
emmet says: i mean, if you're alive it's probably weird if somebody writes something about something you wrote and interprets it in way you're not necessariy aligned/comfortable with...but then you can just be like "um dudes no", but if you're dead you can't say nohin', so it's like EVERYBODY'S RIGHT.
or at least that what's i'm going to tell myself so i don't feel like a big jerky jerk for trying to definitively make up my mind in one night about what chaucer was tryna say about women-folk.
Eric says: but I mean, there has to be a set sort of idea that people have, I mean people aren't that stupid i guess
emmet says: it's just odd because there are certain points that everybody hits and pretty much agrees upon, and then there are these radically different interpretations of what those points actually meeeeeaaaan. and the dude is uber-dead, which is most unhelpful of him. anyhow. back to essay.
That’s me in all my unedited, non-capitalised, typotastic glory, chillens.
At 8:32 on the night before the paper is due, I am suddenly stricken with an irrational fear that I am mistaken not only in my thesis, but somehow in the subject of my research altogether. A good 25% of my mind is paralysed with the conviction that I must have remembered incorrectly which text’s name I drew, or that I somehow failed to read the right thing in the first place. The better part of my brain assures me that I took most careful note of it at the time, and that it’s pretty unlikely for a second-year English major to read The General Prologue off of a piece of paper that actually says Sir Gawain or Beowulf or something, but I do this around this time with pretty much every major assignment ever. You know, the point at which I’ve officially put a whole lot of work into it and am entirely unprepared to turn around and change anything major about it. The thing is that I can never quite calm myself down about it entirely, because the whole oops-wrong-topic thing actually did happen to me on an assignment in grade 10 English. It was a really major assignment, and I ended up failing the course. (So yeah — if there’s some kind of myth out there that you only get into Mount Allison if you were an impeccable student in high school: BUSTED.)
Weird. I actually hadn’t put it together until just now, but yeah — since then I have at least one moment like this in every significant project, in which I am convinced I’m going to find out I’m OBSCENELY WRONG about what to do as soon as I walk into the classroom all set to hand it in. It’s probably a good sign, really. Means I’ve got something I feel is in some way valuable provided I am writing about the right thing, right? Right?
Hilarious retroactive addendum to this anecdote: when I arrived in class to turn in this paper (having completed it, I kid you not, less than twenty minutes before leaving the house), I was told to partner up with a particular fellow student. I wasn’t sure what the partnering was about, but I was pleased with the person I’d been partnered with on account of she’s really smart and friendly—but then she plunked herself next to me and asked, “So, I guess you did The Wife’s Lament too?” A vast desire to bash my head into the desk until one or the other was reduced to some form of pulp ensued…but was promptly assuaged when Dr. Rogers explained that, as a reward for none of us sending her any stupid questions by email at the last minute, we were all being given the opportunity to have our papers proofread by a peer chosen for complementary skills, not identical paper topics, take their suggestions home with us, and submit the edited versions on Thursday morning. I don’t know if it’s possible or likely for somebody to pee their pants with relief, but I’m pretty sure I almost did (although that may have had something to do with the massive quantities of tea I’d consumed throughout the night).
That brings us to Thursday, which brings me to an important Catalyst event that evening: the annualTransgender Day of Remembrance vigil.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day set aside to commemorate people whose lives have been truncated violently by other people who somewhere got the fucked up idea that people who don’t fit the standard male-female gender/sex dichotomy are not entitled to the same basic respect for their corporeal persons as those who jive easily with the system. We had intended to hold this vigil outside the library, as we did last year, but due to the aforementioned weather issues, we switched locations and gathered inside the chapel instead. Names of this year’s fallen and a few representative body shapes were chalked on the stone floor at the front of the chapel; candles were lit; Katie spoke very movingly on the importance of remembering these people whose deaths are too often overlooked in the media; Reverend Perkin led us in prayer; the list was passed and read aloud by the community, a moment of silence was observed, more candles lit; folks were thanked for showing their support, and copious embraces and handshakes were exchanged among friends and strangers as we began to disperse.
Katie and I were then drawn aside by a representative of the Argosy who wanted to interview us as Catalyst Executive members (President and Activism Chair respectively) on our reasons for organizing the event, and what we hoped people would come away from it with. These weren’t very difficult questions to answer (essentially: a. people are being murdered and that’s not okay by us, and b. we need to be putting more energy into loving and caring for each other, and less into setting up rigid, unrealistic, unfun social structures that leave out so many valuable, beautiful, fallible, loving, real people), but it is in some ways strange to suddenly be one of the people to whom people automatically turn for the official story on these things. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t considered that being Activism Chair would involve so much media interaction (sure it’s small scale, but everything is here) when I put my name forward for the position in September. It’s not necessarily a good thing or a bad thing — just something that’s surprised me. I’m pretty sure I’ve managed not to say anything too stupid in a public capacity so far (knock on particle board).
Oy, this has been a long entry. You want some kind of shiny reward at the end for your faithful display of literacy in reading this, don’t you? Fine.
^ Nothing to do with Mount Allison (she lives way over on the opposite coast, and one nation to the south), but I spent a good chunk of this afternoon learning to play this song, as the little lady who wrote it was nice enough to send me the chords to her original material. Her name is Molly and her birthday is tomorrow.
Oh! Before we part, the hobo demonstration I mentioned last post made front page of the Argosy, pudding. Er, the picture in the actual print version is much more exciting, in that it’s big. I’m not in either of them, because photos were taken at 1:30 whilst I was in class. A point is made in that article that the hobo aspect of the protest may have been somewhat offensive. This is…not entirely untrue. That said, I think the linking of hobos and education kinda strikes a chord for me. I may or may not elaborate on this later. Now it is most definitely time for this entry to be over.
Friday, November 14, 2008
(I’ve decided I really do like that as a collective term for all of you. I think it’s going to stick. I like how many different images I can make out of the term. Are you people made out of pudding? Am I addressing these entries to a literal bowl of pudding that represents the body of individuals who might potentially like to go to Mount Allison some day? Are there great symbolic implications? Am I just being an affectionate goof? THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS.)
Anyhow. This here is an entry about some of the things I mentioned were coming up in future entries when I wrote my first entry. I’m going to be surprising by not telling you how many parts there will be or what they will consist of, but mark my words, there will be parts. Oh yeah, baby.
The Burning Hell!
Struts Gallery (one of several fine art-showing establishments in the shire) was host to a truly rockin’ band known as The Burning Hell on Wednesday night.
The Burning Hell are named after a religious tract, and they feature such handsome instruments as ukulele, banjolele, cello, violin, glockenspiel, and our old friend electric guitar. They come from Peterborough, but I get the sense they’ve got a bit of a towncrush on Sackvilleshire, as they were here just this summer as well, and they played two covers of local bands in their set last night: a Shotgun Jimmie song and a Construction/Destruction song—the latter with guest vocalists from the original band. It was a great show, and I danced in wellington boots for the very first time ever (at least within memory). If you have never danced in your wellies before, I’d like to officially state that I wholeheartedly endorse it, especially if it’s a Burning Hell concert that you’re trying to choose footwear for. The boots and the band complemented each other’s marchiness very well, I found. If I had been wearing sneakers or bare feet (my usual dancing attire), I think the marching would have felt silly, but in wellies I was filled with a sense of joyous certainty that marching was just the very thing to do as the basis for a dance to TBH. In fact, go grab yer boots right now and you can practice at home.
I like that they have a lot of songs about death and a lot about birth/gestation. Those are important times, and I like hearing songs about them! It’s really fun dancing like a corpse and like a fetus. Are you doing it right now? In your rain boots? I hope so! If not, I’m sorry, but you might just not be cool enough to come to Mt. A.
Hobo jungle in front of the library!
Yesterday there was a protest initiated by the SAC (Students Administrative Council) and also attended by a fistful or two of non-SAC-affiliated students (comme moi). The idea of the protest was to make a case for the notion of putting a cap on student debt. In order to illustrate the point, we dressed up as classic dirty-thirties-style hobos. I of course brought my mandolin out to join the cause, as well as a washboard, some spoons, and a couple of egg shakers so we could get a nice hobo jam band going, but by far the best prop involved in the whole affair was a real live oil drum fire. This was also quite practical, for although it was nice and sunny out at 10:00 AM when the demonstration began, it got quite chilly as the day went on, and at 6:00 PM when it was time to clean up, we had a handy way to eliminate the cardboard boxes we’d built temporary hobo-shelter-type structures out of. (Did you know that corrugated cardboard is kind of like red hot rippled potato chips as it burns? If not, I have just offered you a little nugget from my amazing hands-on learning experience here at Mt. A. But um, don’t eat red hot cardboard. Potato chips aren’t very healthy, but at least they don’t give you third degree burns on the inside of your face. Actually, I’m not sure exactly what degree the burns would be from putting burny cardboard chips in your mouth, but I’m thinking that’s one of those pieces of information I am totally okay with not learning.)
It was nice to have an excuse to pull out some of the hobo songs I’ve loved since I was a kid (remind me to explain how much more I love Woody Guthrie’s East Texas Red now that I’ve studied Sir Gawain and the Green Knight sometime...or just Google both of them and love for yourself), but even better was the kind of open discussion forum that it became. One of the things we talked about for a while was the Allisonian obsession with the Maclean’s ratings. I guess it’s fairly natural for the administration of the school to fixate on and not criticize a rating system that consistently gives our institution such high marks, but I’m not administration, so I can say whatever I want about it. Muahaha.
The general consensus we reached around the fire was that the idea of ranking universities from “best” to “worst” was sort of fundamentally flawed. I can say with reasonable confidence that Mount Allison combines a lot of factors that make it a really good school for me, but it would be ridiculous to say that those factors make it THE BEST SCHOOL FOR EVERYBODY. People are different, and therefore thrive in different environments. Personally, I know I couldn’t deal with a big school in a big city; I have an affinity for a lot of the way things are in the maritimes; I have a family connection to Mt. A. that makes stumbling upon bits of history I’m walking over every day a really special feeling; I want to study theatre from a primarily literature-based perspective...and lots of other things I’m sure I have/will cover in other blog posts. For me, the things about Mount Allison that suit me are worth sticking around for even when the kind of cruddy things (ej- high tuition fees, lack of tempeh in the grocery stores...) make my experience here a tad less awesome. So yeah, Maclean’s likes Mount Allison, and so do I. That doesn’t mean that the things Maclean’s and I like about it are necessarily at all relevant to how good a school it would be for you. Just something to think about as you’re looking at the messages from/about Mount Allison and other schools you’re looking into right now, I guess. The official ranking a school gets on some list is worth absolutely nothing if it’s not a good fit for you, you know?
Now back to your regularly scheduled propaganda!
The Bitch Complex!
A few weeks ago, quite out of the blue, I was asked by my Women’s Studies professor if I’d be interested in co-facilitating a lunch hour discussion session entitled “The Bitch Complex”.
This kind of thing tends to happen a lot at Mount Allison, in my experience. I highly recommend practicing the art of politely declining invitations to take on enticing jobs you simply don’t have time for in advance of your arrival in the shire—because believe me, you will receive them in abundance, especially if you get involved at Windsor Theatre. I was asked to be both Master Carpenter and Sound Tech on a show that played there recently, in spite of the fact that I have no skills or experience in any way relevant to either of those jobs. If you said “yes” to everything at Mount Allison, you’d burn out and die pretty quickly—but it’s also pretty neat to jump into a job you’re not entirely sure you’re ready for every once in a while. Trial by fire and whatnot.
So I said yes to my Women’s Studies prof, and today was the first PACWI (President’s Advisory Council on Women’s Issues) Brown Bag session. My co-facilitator, Toni Roberts (who has some crazy number of degrees in seemingly incongruous subject areas under his belt—very Mt.A.) was well-prepared with a series of power-point slides to frame the discussion, which served to make both of us less anxious about covering the important areas we wanted to cover, which would have been easy to do given the broad applicability of the topic at hand. Perhaps not unpredictably, one chapter of our discussion that fuelled a lot of impassioned response was the Sarah Palin problem. Herein was the biggest highlight of the hour for me. Not because I find Sarah Palin and her supporters and detractors to be chock full of interesting dilemmas for feminist-minded individuals to ponder (although I sure do!), but more importantly because Toni used the acronym “MILF” on his slide about her, and several of the attendant professors were unfamiliar with the term, so I got to say “Mother I’d Like to Fuck” crisply and clearly for all to hear.
Also, there were cookies. All in all, it went well , and left me feeling relatively capable and glad that I’m at a school where this kind of frank, intelligent discussion between students and professors is a big part of my experience. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens often enough to reassure me that I probably am smart enough to be here on some level, even if this whole “transformative process” that is postsecondary education sometimes leaves me feeling like I must have about the same IQ as the moss which grows on sloths if they stay lazy for long enough (which they usually do).
My flat-mate was a sweetheart and made perogies for dinner, and later tonight I’m going to dance my face off!
Wow, that’s kind of cool, we’ve come full circle-ish, what with the dancing and all. Tonight’s danciful adventure will be experienced to the tunes of the undoubtedly great Guy Davis trio, courtesy of the Tantramar Blues Society. I love TBS for the following reasons:
b) Multi-generational dance floors are infinitely more interesting than those composed entirely of youngsters. Grown-ups FTW!
c) The price of admission to the shows is only $6 if you flash ’em your student ID at the door—this is exactly half the regular ticket price.
The only noticeable drawback for me is that the Blues Society events mostly happen at George’s Fabulous Roadhouse, which is a grand old place, but not an all-ages venue. I’m lucky (read: academically retarded) enough that I was already of age by the time I came here, but I still consider this a pretty sucks thing on two levels:
a) A biggish number of my friends (including my darlin’ flat-mate) are still underage, so they can’t come, and that’s way lame.
b) Multi-generational dance floors are even more awesome when the generations include little kids, who everybody knows are naturally amazing dancers because they haven’t learned how to be boring yet.
However, I think it is clear that the pros outweigh the cons, and once a year there’s a free blues show under a tent on Bridge Street, which is just all pros and then some.
Awright. Signing off now. I’ll throw another video in here, to compensate for the lack of pictures in this entry:
This is Amelia Curran, who was one of the opening acts for Jenn Grant when she played the Super Amazing Top Secret Old Sackville Music Hall (a place I will definitely have to post more about some day, with pictures!). I’m not gonna lie, I swooned a bit when she played this song. I’m a big Swoony McSwoon-Pants.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
(I’ve decided to refer to the readers of my blog collectively as “pudding”. Maybe just for today, maybe indefinitely. You’ll simply have to stay tuned to find out!)
Second part: Remembrance Day observances at Mt.A.
Whee, there’s a lot to sum up here, and I’m sure I’ll miss a lot of stuff, but I’ll try and pick out some highlights.
I’m actually going to begin before the start of the school year. One of the things it’s easy to stop noticing sometimes when we get wrapped up in our bubble of studenthood is that New Brunswick is friggin’ gorgeous. It was really nice to have my family visiting the area with me as I moved back at the end of the summer, because it meant going out and appreciating said gorgeousness in a more conscious way. One evening we ended up on a beach in Shediac (just a little ways down the road), and my dad managed to capture the sunset quite impressively on his little green cell phone.
The silhouettes there are me and my brother. I feel almost embarrassed about how much this resembles a tourist shop postcard, but damn. Gorgeous, no?
This year we inadvertently ended up at the front of the parade, as we arrived and discovered that people were needed to carry the maritime provincial flags, and there were just enough of us to do the job. Now we’re famous! Or something.
Anyhow. With such a large and enthusiastic group, we were able to really expand our Coming Out Day activities this year. In fact, we didn’t just have a day, we had a whole coming out week, beginning on October 14th, as students returned from their Thanksgiving adventures. There was a screening of the clever Canadian coming out comedy (if you think I can fit more c-words into that phrase, let me know) Mambo Italiano, following which we went around campus and chalked a selection of queer-positive quotations on the sidewalks, and a huge Kinsey Scale in front of the Student Centre.
The following evening, we had our Positive Space event. Positive Space is something we put together a few times a year, and it’s proved quite popular. Essentially, it’s an open invitation to members of the community to come and learn a bit about queer issues. Attendees get a basic primer in terminology and concepts such as heterosexual privilege, tips on how to support somebody who is coming out, personal stories from members of Catalyst who volunteer to be brave and share their experiences, an opportunity to ask questions about Catalyst/queer issues generally, and they leave with a pretty little rainbow flying A sticker with the words “positive space” on it that they can display to show others that they are a queer ally. (You’ll see the stickers in lots of different places around campus if you visit or attend Mt.A. I’m typing this up on a laptop with the symbol proudly stuck over the computer company logo, and across the room, there’s another one on my mandolin case. So if you want to come out to my mandolin, you know it’ll be a total sweetheart about it.)
To finish off our week, we held an event known as “Live Homosexual Acts”, which I like to think of as kind of the guerrilla version of Positive Space. We set up a table outside the library with some Hot Gay Chocolate (which is much like regular hot chocolate, only less hetero-normative), and invited people to come learn a little bit about the history of queer rights in Canada (October is gay history month, don’cha know), and hear some poetry/monologues by queer authors and about queer issues. It got really exciting when a guy from CHMA showed up and started interviewing us, and recorded some of our readings for the campus radio station (which is currently essentially on hiatus, but I’ll be ranting about that in a future entry, no doubt). Then some students from the commerce society came by with a survey meant to gauge our enthusiasm for a campus sausage stand, and we fulfilled stereotypes by responding, “But I’m a vegetarian...” in droves. So I guess it’s true...tofu makes you gay. Or alternatively, maybe being gay makes you crave tofu? Whatever. I still love this button:
All right now; I’m gonna go ahead and jump forward a bit. Not that nothing exciting happened between October 17th and last Thursday, but honestly, his post is already pretty epic-sized. That means if you’ve made it this far, you are the elite! You may reward yourself with a cookie if you like. I’ll be waiting right here for you when you get back.
Back now? Did you bring one for me? No? You suck. Kidding, kidding; I’ll get over it some day. In the meantime: why last Thursday was fun!
Actually, every Thursday is pretty fun in Sackville...almost too fun, you might say. Last year, I was a big fan of the film society nights at the Vogue Cinema. I’ve only been to one of those this year (The Edge of Heaven, which I highly recommend, by the by). In fact, many of the movies have appealed to me, but I am being wooed by another lover. This lover lives just across the street from the Vogue, and it is known as the Bridge Street Cafe Open Mic Night. Technically, the two are not mutually exclusive, as the movie is usually done not too long after 9:00, and the Open Mic goes until 10:00, but on the one occasion I tried to two-time them, it was bad news bears. Maybe you’re more awesome than I am, but I couldn’t transition so easily from movie-watching mode to playing-music-in-front-of-people mode, and the result was a lot of really embarrassing mistakes. So mostly, Open Mic on its own has been my standard Thursday night activity. There’s a nice regular crowd mainly of older musicians that I really like hanging out with. I grew up going to jam sessions with my dad, and spent last summer singing with his band, so it’s pretty nice to have stumbled upon a community of real grown-up music makers here in Sackville that don’t mind my hanging around.
This Thursday, however, was a little bit different. This time around, Open Mic night was hosted by B.O.D.I.E.S., and there was a special focus on music and readings that dealt with violence awareness. I played two songs. The first was this:
As I said to the audience at the cafe that night, “This song is about relationship violence, but you’re allowed to laugh, because it has a werewolf in it.” Then I asked them if they would sing along on the chorus, and they promised me they would, and then they really did! I’ve always been too shy to try to elicit that level of audience participation before, but it was pretty thrilling, so I think I’ll definitely be doing it more in future. Following that song, I played one I had never shared with anyone before, a fact that only really occurred to me as I was introducing it. It seemed appropriate for the evening in question, though, as it was something I wrote in high school in response to being harassed by strangers when I would walk through the park hand-in-hand with a female friend or sweetheart (something that I’m pleased to say I have not experienced since coming to Mount Allison—the harassment, that is; I’ve held plenty of girl-hands here). I got really flustered and messed up the lyrics at one point while playing, and I don’t really think the song is good enough to become part of my regular performance repertoire, but I’m glad I took the opportunity to play it for such a supportive crowd, nonetheless. I felt so much fondness for the Mt.A. community that night, overall. It was just a really warm and fuzzy feeling I got—but at the same time, not the kind of feeling you get from just ignoring the fact that there are problems that need to be confronted. It was a warm fuzzy feeling of knowing I was one in a room full of people who were into actually confronting said problems, rather than passively putting up with the bullshit. Good times.
Okay, moving on to...
Remembrance Day has always been a kind of iffy holiday for me. I can appreciate that it is definitely (at least usually) more oriented towards peace rather than the glorification of war, but I still find that some of the patriotism/militarism connected with the day makes the semi-Quaker hippy child inside of me just a tad uncomfortable.
That said, there is at least one part of the observance of Remembrance Day that I find very moving: the moment of silence. National anthems and military insignia may not be very Quaker-kosher, but silence sure is. Anyone who’s met me knows that I have a sometimes aggravating tendency to scurry to fill up the blanks in conversation, and as my flat-mate can attest, I’m not very good at functioning without my constant soundtrack—but I do value silence, particularly when it’s shared with others.
Last year, I was in my pyjamas, reading a book in bed at about 5 minutes to 11 when a boy from down the hall knocked on my residence room door and asked if I’d like to join a group of people meeting in his room to observe the moment of silence. I had actually somewhat forgotten the reason why wasn’t required to be in class that day, but being reminded, I cast off my covers, followed the boy back to his room, and stood in the door-frame while his room-mate clicked “play” on a laptop screen, causing “The Last Post” to be broadcast through tinny computer speakers. Then silence. It wasn’t a very formal affair (I was not the only one wearing the clothes I’d slept in), but it was very poignant.
This year, Remembrance Day would probably have slipped by me entirely, but last night I received a call from my friend Katie (a.k.a. President Gaypants), asking her if I would accompany her to the ceremony on campus this morning. I agreed, and although I might have preferred to sleep a little longer when my alarm clock squawked at me this morning (I was dream-skiing with Michelle Obama and suddenly becoming aware that she had a remarkable number of classy, discreet facial piercings that had somehow completely escaped media attention throughout her partner’s campaign), I hauled myself out of bed and put on the most suitable clothes my ramshackle wardrobe could provide (hoping nobody would notice the occasional paint stain), hopped on my bike and pedalled off to met Katie at her house.
It was a good move. The first part of the ceremony was at Convocation Hall: prayers, readings, addresses, wreaths, and lots of people in uniform. Following that, the group split. The majority (including all the people in uniform) proceeded downtown, while Katie and I and a handful of others went to the Student Centre to observe a special ceremony specifically in honour of those Mount Allison students lost in battle, dating from the South African War to the Korean War—with the majority of the names falling under the First and Second World War. Then the Last Post, played by a trumpeter standing on the stairs between the two atriums. I realised something I’d never had occasion to be aware of before, which is that our new Student Centre has incredible acoustics. It seems like an odd thing to be true of a building not particularly designed for musical events (mostly we go there to check mail, buy textbooks, and create more work for the various good kind people who have offices there), but I hope today isn’t the last time I get to hear it put to such good use. I might be tempted to sing out loud as I lollop down those stairs to check my mail from now on.
Anyhow. The silence.
I think one of the really powerful things about silence is that it opens up a space in which we all become very aware of our own bodies. I don’t know about you, but when I’m asked to be silent, the first thing that happens is I have to swallow. It’s not a very noisy action, not a terribly disruptive one, but in the face of silence it becomes a noticeable one, at least to the person doing it. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing, particularly not when the silence in question is meant to commemorate the sacrifice of those killed in warfare—the sacrifice of their bodies under violent, horrific circumstances.
A few weeks ago, I took myself out on a movie date to see Passendaele, Paul Gross’ much-anticipated great Canadian war epic. I definitely wouldn’t give the film a perfect review (there were several aspects of it that made me pretty uncomfortable, and not in a directorial intent kind of way) but one thing I do think it dealt with very effectively was the bodily experience of trench warfare—both among those soldiers who came home and those whose bodies never left the battlefield. Watching the terrible abuses of the human form in that film, I found I couldn’t just dissociate, dismiss it as a fictional representation fabricated out of corn syrup and camera tricks and sit easily in my chair watching it happen. I became very wrapped up not just in the fact that historically, such things did happen, and do happen to the bodies of others, but also in the sacredness of the body, which is what makes those facts so appalling.
Love your body. Take care of it. Don’t let anybody else tell you what to do with it. It’s yours. Remember that, please.
I’m gonna let Buffy Sainte-Marie play us out here with a song a beloved old hippy teacher sang to our theatre class one sleepy 11/11 morning.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
This is my first post! How cool is that?
Strangely, this post is not coming to you from the Mount Allison Campus, or indeed anywhere in Sackville, or even the province of New Brunswick. As it happens, I'm in the foggylovely city of Halifax tonight, blogging from the floor of my friend Audrey's spacious bedroom. It's an exciting room to be in because a) I love my friend, and b) she is an art student, so her living space is full of projects in various states of completion, and I never know when she's secretly drawing me. This appeals to my sense of vanity. The fact that she is paring down her comic book/zine collection and is therefore eager to send a bunch of them home with me appeals to my sense of wanting more comics and zines. So basically, I'm pretty happy right now.
Audrey is happy too, because she's in my blog now.
I guess now all we have to do is make you happy. Hum. How about you go here? It usually does the trick for me. You should leave her enthusiastic fan comments so she'll feel more inclined to post all the ones she has drawn but not posted.
Awright now. The reason I'm in Halifax at the moment is because the good kind folks who are in charge of when I have to go to class and when there isn't any class to go to at Mt.A. decided to give us a big fat long weekend from the 8th to the 11th of November. I'm heading back to the shire tomorrow so I can get through some of the mountains of work this weekend is designed to help me catch up on, but it's been real nice to run away for a wee bit and have slumber parties with somebody I've been a fan of slumber parties with since we were of standard slumber partying age.
Halifax is in fact rapidly filling up with people from my hometown in Ontario, drawn eastward for schooling like me. We ran into one of them at the farmer's market this morning in front of the pizza stall from which we purchased our breakfast. Walking home later, we passed a girl I recognised from Mt.A (probably home for the weekend). It was an interesting sort of cross-section of the various places I feel tied to in one way or another. I think I get less surprised at these sorts of chance encounters than I used to. In a way, I feel like going to university far(ish) from home in a town not entirely dissimilar to my home town has blurred my sense of who belongs where. I kind of like it now, but it was a bit of a difficult adjustment in first year. I remember being in line at the post office last winter behind two women who were talking about their grown-up children who lived in Kingston (which happens to be a place I've lived in myself, and not too far down the road from where I was born). I got kind of homesick, thinking how that conversation would have fit in just as well in the Perth post office, and thinking about the fact that Perth was a 24 hour journey hence. But now I'm a big tough second-year kid, and I just think it's funny when I get locations mixed up like that. For example, there's a girl who works at the Cackling Goose (Sackvilleshire's lovely little health food/pretty stuff from India shop) who I swear to god is the same person as somebody who dates one of my brother's friends back home, except that that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Audrey has two books documenting Princess Elizabeth's wedding day and coronation, respectively. She cannot bear to part with them. I understand why she would feel compelled to collect such things, and I don't know why. I guess that is just the kind of people we are.
Anyhow. I'm looking forward to some pretty neat-o things upon my return, and no doubt they will be the subject of near-future blog posts. Here are the teasers:
-Hobo jungle in front of the Library!
-A lunchtime chat about "The Bitch Complex".
-Researching and writing papers until my face falls off. (No seriously. This will be fun times. I'm hoping. It can be. When I'm feeling clever. Then it breaks my mind and I feel defeated and depressed and utterly hopeless for a while, and I start talking about how I would prefer to go work in a cannery, making cans. Then I realise what I was getting at all along and I finish the paper and I feel like a superhero of learning. At least, that's the ideal.)
So yeah. That's my first post. I hope you're digging it so far.