Friday, June 30, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 36th Review - The Lamp at Noon

I am choosing to close out the challenge with Sinclair Ross's The Lamp at Noon and Other Stories.  I basically started off the challenge with Ross (As for Me and My House was the second book I reviewed last July).  While I admired, and to some extent enjoyed, that novel, I didn't come back to this collection because it was by Ross, but because it was particularly short (just about 120 pages plus a solid, though spoilery, Afterward by Margaret Laurence).  Thus, I was fairly sure I could read it in the allotted time.  To match that aspect of the book, I'll try to keep this review short and to the point.

Some SPOILERS ahead

Basically all the stories are short and have a fairly solid ending (something missing in many of the stories from Gallant's The Moslem Wife).  In many cases, the ending is tragic (a crop is completely lost due to the weather, a man freezes to death, a baby dies due to an unrelenting dust storm, fire wipes out an entire stable-full of horses), giving the story an air of finality.  In one case, the ending was quite comic.  There is quite a nice twist at the end of "The Outlaw."  This one didn't do a lot for me at first, as it seemed predictable (young boy rides horse he is not ready to ride -- disaster ensues). In fact, the boy is thrown from the horse into a snowbank, but he doesn't die (he just gets mild frostbite on his ears).  While he is scolded by his parents, actually they are secretly proud of him for finally taking the necessary steps towards manhood.  I recall Faulkner sometimes used a similar device and probably countless other authors who wrote coming-of-age stories.

One feature of almost all these stories is the isolation of the small farm families and their separation from each other (often living more than a mile away from the nearest neighbour).  In at least one case, this isolation and the constant toil has driven a man mad.  But really it is the vastness of nature on the Prairies and how the weather could easily wipe out crops, snuffing out the average farmer's hopes, that is the real subject of Ross's tales.  In almost all the stories, the wives are not content to lead these limited lives, particularly since the reward is so uncertain.*  A few rebel, though none particularly successfully.  In one case, it is the young son who brings home a musician (who plays a mean cornet) rather than a useful field hand to help with the crops, but the musician only lasts half a day before he has to be driven back to town.  Still, that moment of beauty, hearing the cornet at night, will sustain the boy for a long time, and perhaps lead him to try to find a way to escape farm life.  Certainly as an outsider, I can't understand how one would be so driven to work the land, particularly after the many years of poor crops that form the backdrop of most of Ross's stories.  Had I been born into a farming community, I expect I would have ultimately found a way to escape into town, just like Violet from Munro's "A Queer Streak" from The Progress of Love.  It's enough for me to experience this life vicariously.  On the whole, I thought The Lamp at Noon was a really solid, if short, collection, giving quite a bit of insight into life on the Prairies.

* I was in a bit of a rush to get this review posted yesterday.  I should have linked to this video of "Ain't It Hell" by Skye Wallace, which is about a woman who ends up in an unhappy marriage as a farmer's wife out on the Prairies.

The Pleasures of Summer Camp

I generally have good memories of summer camp, though there were a few bad moments mixed in.  We were fortunate that there was a large nature preserve not far outside out of town, and that's basically where I went to organized camp.  One year I did a week of day camp focused on pioneer life and one year it was swamp explorers.  On top of all this, I was in Cub Scouts and then Boy Scouts, so I did a lot of camping on weekends and generally went away with the troop for a week at a time.  There are some away camps here, but they seem a little more involved, and we aren't quite ready to send our son away on one of them (but maybe next year).

Anyway, Toronto does have a lot of themed day camps, though I would say that they lean towards arts and theatre/music or technology and much less on just being out and about with nature.  That said, Harbourfront does have canoeing camp and even a camp focused on learning to sail.  I don't think my kids have quite as much interest in nature as I did as a kid, though I'll check in again next summer and see what appeals to them.

I came dangerously close to not getting them into any camp at all, but in the end I signed my son up for two weeks at Harbourfront (he took the last slot in fact) and my daughter for one week at the Design Exchange.  What I didn't quite think through is that both of these are relatively close to my workplace, which means I will be responsible to get them to and from camp, which means a solid 3 weeks I can't do any biking at all!  Not ideal.  I guess it is even more important that I go to the gym to make up for all the missing exercise.  Actually I should look into buying a transit pass for July, which I certainly hadn't planned on doing.  If they enjoy themselves (and avoid being quite so bored at home -- or at least so vocal about being bored!), then it will have been worth it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 35th Review - The Moslem Wife

The short stories in this collection, Mavis Gallant's The Moslem Wife and Other Stories, were actually selected by Mordecai Richler, a fellow Montrealer and an admirer of Gallant.  He particularly admired how she stuck to her guns in leaving Montreal for Paris and almost never looking back.  Indeed, most of her stories are set in Europe (often though not always involving at least one Canadian or American reflecting the situation "back home").  That said, she occasionally wrote stories set in Montreal or Toronto, and a few of those turn up in this collection.  Richler's choices seem representative of her work, and 7 of 11 appear in Gallant's hefty Selected Short Stories (where Gallant did the selecting).  Perhaps Richler did err a bit in including one too many stories with a Canadian collection (such as "My Heart is Broken" set in a logging camp in northern Quebec).

On a side note, virtually every story Gallant ever wrote was published in The New Yorker (I think she probably even surpassed Alice Munro).  At one point, I had the New Yorker collection on DVD, which sort of makes it redundant to have any Gallant collections in a physical format.  I still have it, but it no longer works properly with Windows 8, and I haven't had the time to really dig into this and fix it.

If I had to sum up the European stories in a single phrase it would be Gallant investigates the malaise that has settled over post-war Europe.  Most of her characters are scrimping and scrounging and grifting ("When We Were Nearly Young") and some are out-and-out tax cheats (Henri Grippes from "Grippes and Poche").  Very few people find quite what they are looking for on the Continent (unlike many Henry James characters).  In some cases, this seems to be because they would be discontented in any situation where they have to buckle down and work (in particular the Fraziers from "The Ice Wagon Going Down the Street" seem to want to coast on their reputation, which would be hard enough if they were from old European stock, but in fact they are Canadians and no one is really impressed by them).  In other cases, the various European conflicts end up dividing families (such as the couple in "The Moslem Wife") and disrupting life.

What is somewhat notable is that few of these stories have conventional endings or anything approaching an epiphany.  "When We Were Nearly Young" and "My Heart is Broken" are the most conventional in their endings, but most of the others seem to be slices out of a longer life (or a longer novel at any rate).  "The Moslem Wife" in particular didn't seem to justify its length (at 44 pages by far the longest story in the collection).

Probably the bleakest story is "The Latehomecomer" which is about a young German soldier who was captured during WWII, and through some mixed up paperwork, ends up staying in France long after all the other prisoners are exchanged.  His mother had thought him dead, and his stepfather only grudgingly makes a place for him.  Likewise, German society really has no interest in dealing with the human reminders of WWII.  The atmosphere of the story is comparable to Joseph Roth's Rebellion, though we expect that the young soldier will ultimately have a somewhat better time of things.  This is a fairly successful story, despite the bleak tone.

Gallant has a sly wit on display in at least some of the stories.  My favorite example is when a landlord decides to leave hints than a tenant will have to move on in "Overhead in a Balloon."  He pretends to analyze the tenant's dreams (this is a bit of a running gag in the story) and he writes: "Dream of badger taking man hostage means a change of residence, for which the dreamer should be prepared."

There is also a fairly amusing cat and mouse game between an author, Henri Grippes, and a tax auditor in "Grippes and Poche."  I would say this is my favourite story in the collection, and I was quite intrigued to learn that there are 3 more stories about Henri Grippes in Gallant's Selected Stories.  So I can look forward to getting around to those one of these days.  As far as The Moslem Wife goes, it seems to be a decent introduction to Gallant's short stories, at least as far as I can tell.  If you find her style compelling and her chosen milieu (post-war Europe) of interest, she has 10 or so other short story collections to delve into, as well as two novels (recently reprinted by NYRB Classics). 

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Late June updates

I mentioned already that I scaled back my ambitions to a staged reading of my short plays sometime in September.  I sort of dreaded getting in touch with the theatre manager to cancel my tentative booking, but he didn't seem too fussed.  Now that that is over, I feel a bit better.  I've managed to sign up 3 actors (I need 6) and I have a solid lead on another.  Actually I have someone else considering signing on, depending on her schedule in August, so I may not need that many more actors.  I might not even need anyone professional working the sound/light booth, but we'll see about that.  So this weekend, I want to take some time to actually work on the pieces, the way I said that I would.

I did try several times, but in the end the scalped tickets for U2 never came down into a reasonable range, so I passed on seeing them.  That's probably all right, since I was out for so long on Sat.  In the meantime, we have picked up tickets for Depeche Mode and the Psychedelic Furs.  I may well enjoy the Furs show more, since it is in a small venue (Danforth Music Hall).  And I finally am going to catch the Lowest of the Low.  I missed a few of their previous reunion shows.  They are one of the Toronto-based bands I really liked from the 90s that I never managed to see, so I am looking forward to that.  Plus there is the Toronto Jazz Fest coming up, but I haven't booked anything so far.*  I'm definitely hoping to see Barenaked Ladies at Nathan Phillips Square this Friday, but the weather does not look like it will cooperate.

I managed to squeeze in two bike rides to work this week, but it was a challenge.  The weather has not cooperated at all, raining almost every day.  We may finally get a break next week.  I was particularly bummed that, for some reason, the Regents Park Aquatic Centre wasn't open for lane swimming this evening, as I had planned to go.  However, I have been doing fairly well going to the gym that opened up in Gerrard Square.  It's in good condition, and the place isn't too crowded, but it isn't completely empty and spooky either.  I am fairly sure I will be able to make it 2-3 times/week, and we'll see how I feel in a few more weeks and if there is any noticeable improvement to my physique.  Anyway, at $10/month, I only have to go 2 or 3 times per month to feel it is a good investment, and I think this time around, I'll be able to stick with it.

I'll be heading off to Stratford soon to catch School for Scandal and The Changeling.  Interestingly, School for Scandal has been getting good reviews, but The Changeling's have been middling, though Slotkin's review is quite positive.  Interestingly, she is the only critic who has been negative about this new version of Euripides' The Bacchae.  I was really trying to squeeze it in (mostly to see Mac Fyfe as Dionysus), but I have to say I find her the most persuasive on why the director has made a dreadful hash of things.  That said, in the unlikely event they do a transfer to Toronto, I will catch this production, but I am not going to knock myself out trying to get back to Stratford a second time this summer.  Then on the remaining weekends in July, I have some Fringe shows to catch (and I am leaning towards going to a burlesque version of Lysistrata) and then Soulpepper on the other days.  I will be super busy, but I am looking forward to all these shows.  And that doesn't even include the Bard on the Bus tour (Othello this year) or Shakespeare in High Park (though I would only go if my son really wants to see Twelfth Night).

If there is any time left over, I'll look into canoeing the Humber again with the kids, taking them to the blue whale exhibit at ROM and somehow squeezing in a trip to Ottawa.  And quilting of course.  Something tells me this won't exactly be a restful summer...


* I guess I should have paid more attention, but I have been so extremely swamped at work.  There were only two ticketed events of interest (to me) -- Bill Frisell (though this conflicted with my neighbour's band and their concert at Lee's Palace) and Jack DeJohnette w/ John Scofield, which is tomorrow night.  It turns out the DeJohnette show is sold out, which is a shame.  There is a free concert by the Claudia Quintet on Saturday at 7 that I will definitely try to make (and ideally take my son) and then potentially a few free concerts on Sunday up around Yorkville, so I'll see if any of those might work out.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 34th Review - Not Wanted on the Voyage

I remember talking about Timothy Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage with a Canadian friend, and she said that it had been assigned reading in her high school.  Now I didn't probe and check whether it was the standard assigned text or just been on a long list of alternative readings.  Nonetheless, I thought that was somewhat shocking and fairly daring to promote this to high schoolers (and something that would not happen in the U.S., as the book is extremely critical of organized religion and is fairly preoccupied with feminist theory).  After all, there are still occasional protests by parents in Ontario saying that the sex ed curriculum goes too far and is too accepting of homosexuality and transgender identification.  Also, there is a fairly graphic molestation scene in the book that would definitely qualify as statutory rape.  It is certainly not presented as a positive, but its inclusion in the book is troubling nonetheless.


Before I get too deep into this review, I should note that Findley's novel was actually turned into a musical by the team of Neil Bartram and Brian Hill.  It had a special development at Northwestern University in 2010 (some info here) and then a couple of years later it was at the Goodspeed Musicals' 2012 New Works Festival, but it completely vanished after that.  I think that's a shame.  I thought it was an amazing musical (I saw it at Northwestern), but I can see it having trouble reaching a mass audience, precisely because it is so thoroughly inverts and subverts the story of Noah and the Flood.  I think it could probably succeed in a handful of liberal cities, but probably not on Broadway, given current Broadway economics.  While I don't really expect it to ever turn up again, I would certainly go if the opportunity arose.

It is pretty difficult to SPOIL the story of the Flood, as it is fairly well know.  However, Findley definitely alters or reinterprets the events related in the Bible and he adds quite a few characters not mentioned in Genesis.  I'm going to jump around and cover events from the middle and end of the novel, so a SPOILER warning is probably appropriate after all.

SPOILERS

The reader learns fairly early on that there is trouble at the Noyes household.  Japeth, the middle son, is moody because his child bride, Emma, won't have marital relations with him (this is an on-going issue/conflict even after the Ark is launched).  His skin has also been stained blue permanently, though this is not the root cause of Emma's refusal.  Mrs. Noyes is much put upon, though she manages to get through her days in a bit of an alcoholic daze (though this does come to an end after the Ark is launched).  She also lavishes attention upon her elderly half-blind cat, Mottyl (who is effectively the narrator for long stretches of the book).  Noah, and indeed Yaweh when he makes a personal appearance, is portrayed as a petulant, fairly tyrannous patriarch.  And perhaps here Findley does not actually depart that much from the text...

Anyway, Yaweh is impressed by a two-bit conjuring trick where Noah makes a penny in a bottle disappear by covering it with water, which is where Yaweh gets inspiration for the Flood.  What's a little off is that Yaweh insists that his two ancient cats accompany Noah on the Ark (it is strongly suggested that Yaweh decides to die -- and not resurrect himself -- after he sets the Flood in motion), but if the very pregnant Mottyl hadn't been snuck aboard the Ark, then cats would have died out as a species.  (As a total aside, it boggles my mind that there are still people who believe every word of the Bible is literal truth. I have no idea how they square the fact that people could only have emerged from incest over and over and over again (how many sisters did Cain have anyway?), to say nothing of the inbreeding that would have eventually killed off all the animals on the Ark.*)

One other major twist Findley adds is that Lucifer disguises himself as a 7-foot tall woman (named Lucy!) and marries Ham, the youngest son, so that he can escape the Flood.  Findley doesn't seem to be following the path laid down by Milton, i.e. Lucifer is in charge of Hell and only visits Earth from time to time.  In this version, after his rebellion, he landed on Earth for good.  His powers are much more limited, and he isn't Evil incarnate, just someone who instinctively sides with the underdog and rebels against authority.  (Actually, Lucifer seems pretty similar to Satan in the Book of Job.)

MORE SPOILERS

Perhaps not surprisingly, Mrs. Noyes, Lucy, Ham and Emma all rebel in one way or another from Noah's authority and end up locked up below decks.  Most of the novel is told from the perspective of people or animals low on the totem poll and oppressed in one way or another.  This is probably the most significant way that Findley's departs from Genesis.  The first rebellion fails, but a second rebellion partly succeeds, though ultimately it leads to an uneasy detente between the various factions.  By this point, the rain has stopped falling, but land has not been discovered, even though a number of doves have been set off to look for land.  Mrs. Noyes realizes that she doesn't think she can take another 100+ years of being oppressed by Noah.  The novel ends with her praying for rain.  I had forgotten just how downbeat the ending actually is.

I've compressed a lot, but I wanted to focus on the main themes of the novel.  This is definitely not a novel for anyone who wants to avoid an outright attack on Christianity specifically and patriarchy more generally.  But it is a very imaginative retelling of the Flood story with a number of memorable characters, particularly Mottyl, and I do recommend it to readers who like being challenged in their assumptions (or just those that want to give Biblical patriarchs a good kicking).

* Findley actually pokes a bit of fun at those who have no understanding of genetics by indicating that Noah carries a recessive gene that sometimes results in his offspring being born as apes or chimpanzees, sort of a reverse evolution, though Noah practices social Darwinism by killing off these offspring so they have no chance to reproduce.
Neil Bartram and Brian Hill
Neil Bartram and Brian Hill

More quilt updates (pt. 3)

The quilt is coming along fairly nicely.  I was able to integrate a few foxes and polar bears into the design. 

You can see the before (rows 4-6 here):


And then the after (rows 5-7 here):


I actually swapped the pink and yellow crosses, then made some other substitutions with the new fabrics (seen below).
 

I finished sewing the fourth row last night and cut out almost all the material for the 7th row.  The current plan is to stitch the rows together when I get the first six pieced together, which should be over the long weekend.  That would be just over a third of the top done, and I'll have a much better idea just how hard this will be but also how nice it all looks together.  After that, I'll just decide on whether to put on a border and how thick it should be.  A lot of work, but starting to feel worth it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Starting late and running long

This was more of an issue Sat. but affected me to some degree on Sunday as well.  I had a meeting at 10 in the morning but I was running a bit late.  I saw from the Transit app that the bus was about 8 minutes away so I started walking up the hill.  I ended up waiting at the next stop, and the bus eventually turned up.  I was somewhat engrossed in starting on a new book (Mavis Gallant's The Moslem Wife) and I actually missed my stop (no one else got off at Danforth, which is kind of odd, and I had forgotten about walking up one stop). 

I decided to run back to the library, which in the end was a good choice, since I was able to drop off a very large and heavy book.  Also, in the book sale cart there was a very nice copy of Szabo's The Door (NYRB Classics) for $1.  I was worried about missing my appointment, but I think I got there right on time.  I was there to hear some feedback from one of the other writers in Toronto Cold Reads.  She basically thought some scenes should be compressed or combined, and also didn't think a couple of the characters stood out.  I thought most of her criticisms were good, though she really didn't get the point of The Pitch, and I may not make quite as radical changes to that as she suggested.  Anyway, her main advice was that I was rushing too fast into doing a full production and that I should settle for table reads and perhaps a staged reading.  This was not easy to take (and at least part of my interest is to get production experience for other projects), but perhaps it is the wisest course.  I'm going to talk to a few other actors and get their views, but I am leaning in that direction.  (If nothing else, it will cost much less and will actually require less time in rehearsals, so there is that to be said for it.)

I then set off for Fabricland, since they were having a sale.  I found the right kind of elastic, so I should be able to finish my son's pajamas this week.  I bought a few Christmas prints to supplement the left-overs from my daughter's quilt, plus bought some interesting patterns that could be used as borders or for a quilt with more of a fall feel.  This is what they look like after washing.


As a side note, I showed them to my daughter later on and she got a bit jealous, even though her quilt will be done long before any of the other ones, so I agreed to rework the pattern a bit and add in a few pluses of foxes and polar bears.  Fortunately, I hadn't gotten completely done with the cutting and sewing.  As of today, I have cut nearly all the pieces for the first six rows and sewn 3 and a bit of the 4th row.  My current plan is to get the first 6 rows assembled and then start sewing them length-wise.  I should be able to get to that by Canada Day.  I'm excited but a bit nervous at this undertaking.

I waited quite a while for a Dufferin bus to come by (that I could actually get on), but I finally made it to Dufferin and Queen.  I was planning on looking up a few of the galleries in the Scotiabank Photography event, but 1) most events had closed a few weeks back and 2) the map was appallingly bad.  I got so frustrated the third or fourth time that a gallery wasn't even on the right side of the street (and Gallery 401 was about 10 km out of place on the map!) that I chucked it in the garbage.  I ended up seeing a small gallery in Parkdale and then Gallery 401 and that was about it.


I did like the exhibits in Gallery 401 (and thought briefly about buying a painting with the money I "saved" by not spending it on producing theatre or buying U2 tickets from scalpers).  Then I grabbed lunch and went to see Guardians of the Galaxy #2.  It was pretty good, though not quite as good as the first in my view.  But it ran so long (and all the ads up front didn't help).  I was expecting to get done by 5:30, but I didn't get out and to the subway until 6:25! 

At this point, I wanted to get to a TCR writers' event, but it started at 7.  That meant I had to go directly there, rather than dropping stuff off at home.  I made it just a bit after 7, but they decided to hold off even longer, hoping that more women would show up to read the parts.  They didn't actually get going until 7:30.  Because I had so much stuff with me, I had to go home before heading back out to Lee's Palace, so I had to split at 8:30.  That was unfortunate.

Anyway, I hustled and made it to Lee's Palace just after 10.  The band I had come to see (Fujahtive) hadn't taken the stage.  As it turns out my neighbour is in the band, and quite a few people from the block turned up (10 or so).  They played from 10:30 to midnight, and I left after that, even though there was one more reggae band playing after them.

I didn't sleep in that long on Sunday, perhaps because I had a very disturbing dream that I worked in an office that basically looked like a concrete parking garage with all these weird angles.  I was complaining about the rain (and the fact that some homeless person was camping out in the cubicle next to mine) but really the problem was going to be getting through the winter.  I was definitely off my game, making all these mistakes in a presentation to the region-wide boss and I remember thinking that I was going to have to make another career/location move.  A lot of anxieties competing with each other in that dream...

I dawdled just a bit and got caught in the rain on the way home with the groceries, but it wasn't all that bad.  Eventually the rain cleared up, and I even managed to mow.

What was even better from a morale perspective is that I went to the Planet Fitness that just opened up in the mall.  While I visited gyms in Vancouver, I basically only ever went to swim.  I don't think I have gone regularly to a gym since the YMCA in Chicago.  It's definitely been too long.  I tried to take it easy, since there is nothing more discouraging than straining one's muscles when getting started.  But it felt good to be working out on the machines.  If only this place had a swimming pool or whirlpool it would be perfect.  I'll just have to make it over to the Regents Park Aquatic Centre more often.  It actually takes a lot of organization to start going to the gym, but I now have workout attire, new shoes, a new lock and even a new soap dish (since the showers are a bit spartan).  I really don't have any more excuses, and I will make a strong effort to go 2-3 times/week, especially since it has been raining so much this June.  Last week I only managed to ride my bike to work once, and this week doesn't look much better.  There is no point imagining I will ever be thin again (my lifestyle and genes are no help), but I can at least improve my cardio condition and lose some of the extra weight.  That is within my reach.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Confessions

I find that confessions, particularly public ones (i.e. not from a person directly to his/her spiritual ideal and/or made through a priestly intermediary), have a strange performative aspect to them.  You are confessing to an audience, so things quickly become unclear.  How much is genuine looking for forgiveness and how much is to salve one's conscience (or even to "embiggen" oneself) in a relatively painfree way?  It's the same sort of thing with the humblebrag, which operates on two levels.  Currently, most advice columnists are saying that confessions that will hurt another person should be avoided, though of course there is a large grey area (with others saying that without a confession some people cannot change their ways).  In my view, confession without genuine contrition is fairly pointless.

I'm thinking about this, as I have just finished St. Augustine's Confessions, and I'm about to start Rousseau's.  I obviously haven't read them, but many people seem to think Rousseau's confessions are kind of pointless, since he basically seems to be bragging about what he has done and that his confessions are just further feeding his ego.  Augustine's confessions are a bit different, where he seems to be offering them up and saying effectively, look at my example and avoid my sins, but even if you falter, you can still be saved...  Not that there isn't still quite a bit of egotism going on throughout Augustine's Confessions.  I did find it fairly tough slogging with one of the high points being the famous line "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet." 

What is not as publicized as well is that the confessions proper stop at chapter 10 and then he spends the last three going over the first chapter of Genesis tackling such issues as what did God do before he made the heavens and the earth.  I suppose this was very much on his mind, since it was puzzles like this that made it hard to convert skeptics, such as those trained in Greek philosophy.  I wasn't that interested in chapter 11 and chapter 13 was pretty unbearable, but chapter 12 was surprisingly interesting as he got into a discussion of the nature of time and wondered whether time was constant and eternal.  For instance, if a day is measured by the movements of celestial bodies and then the bodies are sped up, then does the unit of time change or not?  While Augustine ended in the wrong place (Einstein has shown that indeed the perception of time is relative to one's frame of reference), it was still a deep question.  I think it is a shame that a man with such an inquisitive mind should have ended his days pushing a dogma that ultimately discouraged reason and promoted faith in its place.

I don't feel like completely unburdening my conscience, though I can confess I treated my brother badly growing up, at least part of the time.  We fought quite a bit, at least until I hit high school.  I think more than anything I was very tightly wound up and he was an easy target for aggression.  I also regret that during high school I learned saxophone (his instrument) and mastered it quickly, causing him to give up the instrument.  In this particular case, I wasn't trying to show him up, but I really needed to learn saxophone to be part of the high school jazz band.

In general, I had boundary issues and wanted my friends' toys (pre-high school) and sometimes (often) didn't respect proper limits.  It's possible that I didn't really change my ways until after university.  I sometimes still cringe when thinking about things I did growing up.

I have gotten slightly better over the years, but while younger I needed everyone to know just how hard I was working.  I also usually wanted to be the smartest person in the room, though it was ok if I was the only one who knew it.  (I suppose I might as well admit that I don't really care about prizes or work certificates if I don't have any respect for the people giving the awards.  I only really want recognition from people I consider my intellectual peers.)  Now that I am older I usually try to deflect rather than going on and on about something I am interested in and/or am doing but seems designed to make me look smarter than everybody else.  That said, I still let it drop at work that I was reading Darwin and Freud.

Probably the worst academic thing I ever did was to run a survey but not return the results to the people who had gathered the data for me.  Basically, life overwhelmed me.  We had our second baby and decided to move back from England to Chicago; I just couldn't find the time to process the data and get it back.  Even up to a year later, I could have swallowed my pride and apologized for the unreasonable delay and gotten back to them.  And I just couldn't face up to it and get it done.  But this ended up being a self-inflicted wound, since now (10 years on) I don't have the right to do anything with the data, even though it could have resulted in an interesting paper or two.  After this move, I did somewhat drag my feet on wrapping up the documentation on a work project, which cost my former company some money, so I regret that as well.  On the whole, I was much better about picking times to leave companies so that I didn't leave them in the lurch.  Also I didn't finish up two book reviews for academic journals nor did I return the books, though this was a lesser issue, and I no longer feel as much regret as I once did.  There are plenty of other projects I never finished, but none of them was an actual obligation that I shirked or failed to deliver.

These days I certainly feel uncharitable towards people who don't share my core values and political beliefs and sometimes I do wish them ill.  However, I don't actually feel contrite about it (at least at the moment), so I don't see any prospect for changing any time soon. 

That's as deep as I am willing to go.  No more confessions for at least another week.  On to Rousseau...

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Quiltsville II

I didn't go far from home on Sunday (partly because the weather forecast was for huge thunderstorms that never arrived).  I did a bit of reading and straightening up, and then spent the rest of the time on the quilt.

I stitched row #2 (short-ways).  It generally takes a bit less than an hour.  The first two laid out look like this.


This is definitely going to be a massive quilt (and I actually scaled it down just a bit!).  I haven't quite decided when to start sewing the rows together.  Maybe when I have five or six of the rows ready.  I'll definitely need to iron the seams first though.  I'm just trying to visualize how I'm actually going to sew this.  Probably adding one at a time and then sort of rolling up the rest is the best approach.

Towards the end of the day, I did the cutting for rows 3 and 4 and even a bit of row 5.   Starting to look pretty good!


I should have enough material for all the squares I need for this quilt, but the material probably won't stretch to another quilt.  So maybe I'll end up back at Fabricland after all (or the fabric store in Stratford, since I have an hour or two between the shows on my visit in mid July).

But one thing at a time.  My goal is to have the top all sewn by the end of summer, and I'd say I am on track for that.

On the Shaw bus and back

I thought I would report on the Shaw shuttle bus in its inaugural season.  While I have been trying to spread the word, it is definitely a bit of an insiders' secret.  The bus was not quite half full.  Interestingly, one of the actors from Dracula was on the bus Instagramming it.  He came over and took my photo and asked some questions, but I think he was having a lot of trouble either logging in or with a weak connection, since several of the photos and videos had to be taken twice.  In the end, my photo didn't get loaded, so my moment in the glare of social media was avoided.

I was really glad not to have to drive, but they played the soundtrack to Me and My Girl on the way in (eventually dropping the volume a bit) and then a video covering the entire season.*  This made it very hard to focus on reading, so next time I will have to bring my iPod.  I don't think Shaw quite gets that we don't want to be overloaded with Shaw stuff on the bus, we just want to get to the Festival.  That is my main complaint about the bus.

I was there to see Shaw's Saint Joan.  I thought the staging was stark and interesting.  I was kind of surprised at how little attention was paid to Joan's success on the field of war.  We basically see her gearing up to raise the siege of Orléans and then we see the aftermath after she is captured (at Compiègne about a year later).  Shaw's decision is interesting and not wholly successful in my mind.  The political intrigue that ends the first act is too long.  Also, the Inquisition scene also dragged quite a bit.  I thought the dream sequence that ended the play was reasonably successful, particularly when Joan threatens to resurrect herself and all her admirers suggest it better that she stay in Heaven.  There are not too many playwrights who are quite so political (or as "talky") as Shaw, though I suppose Kushner is a direct descendant of Shaw, though Kushner is a bit better at exploring the emotional side of things.  To some extent, the machinations of the Church reminded me a bit of Brecht's Galileo, though that is actually a more interesting play since you see Galileo recant under pressure to save his skin.  Joan is actually a very one-note character, and while she is spunky, I actually was fairly bored by her.

But of course, I don't take religion seriously at all, other than the fact that others take it so seriously that it often imposes itself on my life.  To sort of complement Saint Joan, I was reading St. Augustine's Confessions on the bus ride.  I hoped to get a bit further, but in the end I only made it halfway through.  While there are a few interesting moments, in general it was too much (sort of like if John Donne had given up the poetry and spent all his time blogging...).  I find it tragic that an intelligent man ends up throwing away his critical facilities and goes in for the line that this omniscient being is so beyond reason or providing any kind of proof, that one must just have faith in it (completely leaving aside the issue of why God needs all this acknowledgement from his creations**).  In general, Augustine's discussion of his struggles over the the issue of the presence of evil in the world are so general and vague that I don't see how anyone would be convinced by them.  For some reason, he takes nearly the last 100 pages to discuss Genesis, so I suppose that at least will be more detailed.  It is a little hard for me to swallow that this is actually a masterpiece of world literature, since there is so little of interest for anyone who is not Christian.  But I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't actually read it.  Soon I can cross it off my list and donate it to someone who will appreciate it more.

Back to this Shaw season, there are two plays (1979 and the musical Me and My Girl) that I would consider if they transferred to Toronto, but I am not willing to make the trek back, even with the bus.  I really don't like Niagara-on-the-Lake.  I find it tacky and completely overrun with tourists.  Stratford is just so much nicer, and I always enjoy my time there.  I'll just have to see what next season at the Shaw has to offer.  I'd probably go see Man and Superman, but in general there are not that many plays by Shaw that I am dying to see.


* While in general, the AD seems like a fairly reasonable person, he says that the Shaw festival audience is the best in the world.    What a crazy thing to say, and how hard it will be to live down if he ever applies to work at Stratford...  Anyway, I thought I would relate that the woman next to me spent the entire first act knitting!  While it wasn't actually loud, it was still very distracting and incredibly rude.  Fortunately, there were quite a few empty seats in the balcony and I was able to move over.

** In particular, the God of the Old Testament is incredibly thin-skinned and insecure like a schoolyard bully.  And what he gets up to in the Book of Job is so unreasonable that I can't understand how anyone who took it seriously would remain a Christian.  I'm glad that Ursula Le Guin, at least, agrees with me.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dreaming of Brando

This was another one of those over-stuffed dreams where I was off in a hotel in another city, probably Montreal.  It only became obvious a bit later on why I was there, which was as the producer of a play (or at least evening entertainment).  It was one of those things where everything only came together at the last minute -- so (according to movie plot logic) it would either be an amazing triumph against all odds or a disaster.  It was looking like a looming disaster.

The director only turned up on the day before.  He was keeping it a secret who the lead actor was!  Due to the lateness, there was going to be one rehearsal combined with the dress rehearsal.  I was trying not to get too nervous over this, but obviously, this seemed like a bad idea.  I don't think we even had enough copies of the script, though we had a few printed in book form, which was only moderately helpful.  Marlon Brando was name-checked in the script, which I somehow knew.

I was sitting at a table in the hotel dining room and realized that the man at the next table over was Marlon Brando, and he was the secret actor.  What a coup!  But he hadn't rehearsed either, so I went over and tried to get him to read the book version of the script.  Marlon was toward the end of the mid-point of his career, so he had shaggy white hair, but hadn't completely blimped out, like he did at the end.  He looked basically like this, but slightly older and with wilder hair.


I decided to move on and hang out in a different part of the lobby where there was a large toy structure.  While some children were playing with it, there was also an older German? professor-type, explaining something about its aesthetic merits.  I realized that I really ought to be putting on Ibsen's A Doll's House, rather than whatever play we were going to attempt that evening.  As I was leaving the hotel and walking down the fancy staircase, it came to me that the actors would probably expect me to pay for their hotel stay (this wasn't explicit in their contract, however) because of their likely humiliation on stage.  It struck me that this would end up being quite an expensive adventure.

There are two anxieties very present in this dream (not even properly pushed into the subconscious realm).  First, I am obviously stressing a bit over what will unfold in November, even though I have quite a bit of time to prepare.  Still, unless I start locking in a few more actors, I am going to worry.  But I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be a good time, with funny scripts that aren't supposed to be taken all that seriously.  On those terms, it should work out reasonably well.

The other is a second-hand anxiety, fortunately.  We have been extremely pressed at work, and in fact four of us stayed until 8:30 last night.  I was the first of the group to leave, and I realized it was going to start raining, which hadn't really been in the forecast.  In the past, I have almost made it to the bridge by the time it starts raining, but I was definitely further behind and only made it to Shuter when the first drops started falling.  However, instead of being a bit of a shower, ramping up, it just poured and there was even lightning.  I was definitely not happy, but there really were no good rest stops along the way nor was I close enough to the TTC to just ride the rest of the way.  So I was thoroughly unhappy when I came home and obviously didn't do any shopping.

Anyway, due to all this pressure, one of my co-workers hasn't really prepared for a conference where he is due to present on Sunday.  Or rather it is a joint presentation, and he will largely hand over the mike to others.  But he somehow forgot to register for the conference, so he is just going to have to show up and see if he can get into his panel.  The registration fee was kind of shocking, so I feel badly for him, but can't imagine letting myself fall into that situation.  Of course, maybe I will have to eat my words as the various expenses pile up for my theatrical experience.  Still going in with my eyes open and trying to be prepared for these eventualities should help me avoid some of the things that happened in the dream.

Friday, June 16, 2017

First steps to Quiltsville

So I am well underway on making a quilt top for the very first time.

Not surprisingly, at least for stitching together the individual rows, it takes much longer to cut all the cloth and arrange the pieces than to actually sew the seams.  Here are the first two rows.  This is going to be quite a large quilt in the end, and my daughter wants a purple border as well, though I don't know right now if I actually will have sufficient material based on what I bought (before Fabricland moved to a different location).


I'm still playing a bit with the machine settings.  It's close but not quite right, so I'll fiddle around a bit more tomorrow.  Anyway, I have sewn together the top row and it didn't take all that long.  It's pretty well squared up, so I'll just have to continue to pay attention while cutting the fabric.


Since the instructions are just a bit vague in terms of pressing the seams before joining the rows together, I am a bit worried about that.  It may help that most of the time a seam in one row will actually join up to the middle of a cross in the other row, so maybe it won't bunch up too much.  I think I'll assemble 3 or 4 individual rows before attempting to join them up length-wise.

Anyway, there are 15 more rows of material left to cut out (before deciding on the border).  I'll certainly need to get more white thread before this is all over.  If I plug away at it, I think I can be done with the top by the end of summer and then investigate the options for bundling it up for someone else to do the joining and long-arm sewing.  I won't know for a while, but I think I will have enough material for a second, perhaps slightly smaller, Xmas quilt for my son, but this one will be a Trip Around the World, which requires simpler and fewer cuts, at least when getting it started. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sewing jag

It has been so hot these past few days that it has been difficult to sleep.  And I think my daughter may have actually had heat stroke this morning, so it looks like the next time it gets this hot, we'll have to turn on the AC.

Anyway, I spent a fair bit of time in the basement, trying to cool down, and I started to use the time to cut out the pieces for the Christmas quilt I promised my daughter.  She liked the Plus pattern the best, but unfortunately for me it involves a huge amount of cutting.  More than any of the other patterns I am considering, which take advantage of clever recycling of material so the actually cutting is relatively minimal.  It's taking me some time to get used to the cutting board and squaring up the material, but it's getting easier as I get used to it.  Also, as there is less material left on the bolt, so to speak, with each cut, it gets somewhat simpler.


I have most of the pieces cut for the first two rows and should finish that up tomorrow night.  I'll press the pieces flat (all of these quilts involve a fair bit of pressing the seams, and I assume I'll get the hang of it before too long).  And then see how it goes to sew the first two rows.  Then only 15 more rows to go!

I thought I was going a bit mad, as I couldn't find this reddish pattern with dogs on it.  After much searching, I realized that I had washed it and hung it to dry.  I had really wanted to make some pajamas with it and then only after would I cut the necessary squares.

I followed a fairly simple pattern off of the internet, but the problem is that my son is just a bit too big, so there wasn't enough material in the seat area.  I'm sure if I had really thought it through, I could have staggered the pattern to get enough material, but I tried to sort of cheat on the material and cut it very close indeed.  That meant that I got a bit lost in the pattern and sewed too far up the inseam.  Then I had to rip the seams out, but I think I got a bit lazy and stopped too short.  Nonetheless, the pajamas actually look pretty decent, but I don't think they will actually fit him.  (And trying to rip the seams a second time is basically impossible.)


But he is fairly skinny, so I'll have him try them on anyway, before I worry about hemming or adding elastic.  I suspect this is the last time I will try to make him clothing, but I might make some clothes for my daughter now and again.

Amazingly, they do fit since he has almost no butt (oh to be that young and thin...), so I'll see if I can get red or black elastic for the top and then hem the bottoms.  It shouldn't take more than another hour or so to knock these off.

Monday, June 12, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 33nd Review - The Stone Carvers

Jane Urquhart's novel about WWI and the Vimy Memorial was a massive best seller back in 2001-2.  It appears it was long-listed for the Man Booker Award and a finalist for the Governor General's Award, but it didn't win either.  It's always hard to know why certain books win awards, but it may have been a few episodes that really strain credulity in The Stone Carvers that prevented it from finishing "in the money," as it were.

The novel opens with sort of an omniscient view where several generations' worth of stories are telescoped.  We find out that a German priest ends up being sent to Canada where he befriends a man who knows how to carve statues for his church.  This carver is the spinster Klara's grandfather.  I found this opening a bit annoying, partly because it felt like the technique had been lifted from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and partly because the author threw in occasional asides to prove how clever she was.

I persevered, however, and the story did get a bit more engaging, as it stopped jumping around and focused on Klara.  The reader learns that Klara's brother, Tilman, would run away from home so often and for so long, that finally their parents chain him up in the shed.  After he escapes, he leaves their lives forever.  Klara loses her first love to WWI (he somewhat foolishly enlists, hoping to learn how to fly aeroplanes for the army).  At one point she learned to carve from her grandfather (even though he had really wanted to teach Tilman), but she eventually hangs up her chisels and focuses on being the tailor for the village.  So she has a life that seems fairly cramped and mostly marked by loss. 

But wait, there's more.  However, at this point, I have to break out the SPOILERS warning.

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

The point of view switches over to Tilman who survived after running away and learned the tricks of the road from a variety of hoboes.  Eventually he pairs up with an older Italian man, who eventually returns home to Hamilton.  Tilman is welcomed into the family.  Things finally seem to be looking up, but then the an economic recession hits.  When the army comes recruiting, he and the Italian's man's son enlist and get sent off to France.  Tilman survives, grievously wounded, and makes his way back to his home village, where he reunites with Klara.

As Klara has never gotten over her lost love, she decides it makes perfect sense for them to go back to France and work on the Vimy Memorial.  I was not really aware of this, but it seems pretty astonishing.  Nonetheless, I'm fairly unlikely to ever see it in person.


The plot gets a bit unrealistic and even melodramatic at this point in order for Klara to first, get hired (disguised as a man) and then later have a sort of Indian summer romance with one of the carvers on the monument.  Tilman falls into an even more unlikely relationship.  I was a little annoyed when I thought Urquhart had misled the reader early on (to hide the fact that the novel has a happy ending), though I suppose it is possible to square the first and last parts of the novel.  Some other reviewer talked about the perverseness of giving a novel about WWI a happy ending of sorts, though I suppose life does go on and must go on, even in the aftermath of a massive war.  For me, The Stone Carvers didn't quite live up to the hype, though I'm not sorry that I finally got around to reading it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Green Thumb Weekend

It was a nice weekend, if a bit on the hot side.

I took my son to the AGO to check out the O'Keeffe exhibit.  He liked it, though I wouldn't say he was blown away by it.  We did see where they had moved* the big Moore piece to the Grange Park behind the museum.  I am a bit miffed that basically the entire Grange Park is off limits. They really need to reopen it soon.


Then I found out there was another problem with my bike, so I wasn't getting it back on Sat.  That was unfortunate, and it basically reordered my whole Sunday.  Sat. evening was spent at TCR Writers' Group, and I'm still processing what I heard there.

It was obvious even in the morning that Sunday was going to be a hot day.  So I got my daughter to help weed and clean up the front before I went and did the groceries.

The flowers that get rain are doing well, but the ones closer to the house (which is more sheltered from the rain) aren't coming up.


In general, the yard looks pretty good.  I'm glad most of the plants are perennials that I don't have to think too much about.  Two of the plants I bought last year are fine, but the lavender all died off (due to the drought conditions last year).


Anyway, my daughter really wanted to go see this open house, sort of in the neighbourhood, so I took her around 1:30.  Then we went to the mall and I signed up for the gym that opens there in another week or so, and we also bought a lavender plant for another box in the front.  Actually it is supposed to rain a fair bit this week, so maybe it will take root and do better than the ones from last year.  I also tried to fix up the fence a bit.  We should have done a bit more work in the back, but we were kind of exhausted by that point.  (I should also mention that the pollen seems particularly high and my allergies, though minor, are flaring up.)

In the evening, I decided to go see The Lavender Railroad, which is sort of a SF play where homosexuality has been outlawed across the globe and is punishable by death!  There are two conversations (really more like cat and mouse games) about whether the Lavender Railroad will rescue the individuals from their fates.  It was pretty repetitive, and I can't help but think the script could have used a good dose of tough love, like I got last night.**  I was a little annoyed that the author wasn't there, since I had considered casting him in a part of my night of shorts (and thus wanted to talk to him), but the more I think about it, the more I think I might as well just cut that piece, as I don't think it works all that well.  What I ought to do is dig up the tape recording where it was read in Chicago and just digitize this.  I guess it was apropos that I was rereading PKD's The Man in the High Castle on the streetcar there and back, since this also was basically an alternative future story.


*I don't think anyone know what is going on the side where the Moore used to be, though I guess it will be something taller.  I hope it isn't one of the Caro pieces they were featuring inside, as those are pretty ugly.

** At the same time, it takes a lot of moxy and nerve to get anything produced nowadays, and I have to respect that.  I would say that I am a bit of a dilettante in that I get a bit discouraged when I hear that first no.  So far I am going further than I have before and plan to follow through.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Missing scene

This is basically a continuation of this post on how the writing is coming along.  The short answer is fairly slowly, since I continue to insist on working on multiple projects at the same time.

I have decided to move forward with the evening of shorts for Nov., though I am still a bit in limbo since most of the actors want to take most of June to decide.  (I only have one actor who has completely committed and another who is close to signing on.  In the end I'll need 6!)  And I can't do much else, including setting up the Artists Collective Agreement until I know who is actually in the case.  Nonetheless, tonight I am going to reread The Quest? and decide if I want to proceed with it.  It basically only existed as a response/parody to Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, and I have yet to encounter anyone who even is aware of this play!  But if I am going to put it in the line-up, then I should go see The Lavender Railroad tomorrow (at 8 pm on Sunday!) since I would recruit the author to read the long monologue that kicks off the piece.  (I actually was planning on going to see someone's play last Tuesday (also to support them and increase the odds of them participating), but then a bunch of things boiled over on the homefront, and I just couldn't swing it.)  At any rate, I think I'll put down the deposit today, so no one else can steal my dates out from under me.

I did get quite a bit done on the first act of Corporate Codes of Conduct and it feels like it is ready to be workshopped, but the second act requires substantial rethinking, not just tinkering around the edges.  I haven't been in the right frame of mind for that.

Since I really wanted to bring something to the Toronto Cold Reads Writers' Group tonight (they probably have one slot available), I went with slightly lower hanging fruit, and turned to a script I had completed while in Vancouver.  It is called Dharma Donuts.

(I can't recall if I was at all aware of Tracy Letts's Superior Donuts at that point, but I think I had my idea first (I mean before I heard of Superior Donuts).  I think the creative process was something like this: I returned from England and wanted to write a bit of a tribute to a very capable co-worker, but I didn't want to write another play about technical professionals.  I set it in a donut shop, since one of my high school students (in a previous life as a teacher) basically was in charge of her family's bakery for long stretches of time.  I also was able to go into the local Dunkin Donuts and soak in the atmosphere, even though I was not setting the play in a chain donut shop.  I knew I wanted the play set around Newark, NJ, and did do a fact finding trip to northern NJ at some point during the writing of the first act.*  I managed to get the first act finished in Chicago but kind of stalled after that.  After I moved to Vancouver, I actually enrolled in a play-writing class at Langara with the intention of using the class to force myself to really get this play completed.  And I did make steady progress on the play, getting a first draft finished.  I found myself drawing on the experiences of someone I knew from grad school.  She had basically fallen in love with someone through Skype, somewhat interestingly she had dated outside her ethnic group but got a bit more conservative with age and married within her ethnic group and religion.  At any rate, this is a completely different plot than Superior Donuts, but I still haven't gotten around to seeing that play...)

What I think is interesting about the play is that it focuses mostly on the interactions of women at work, though romantic relationships with men are a recurring theme.  The main character, Parvati, does sort of let herself go further than she had imagined, dating a white man for a while, but finds herself falling for her second cousin.  I know some people find this too conservative an ending, and it is a challenge promoting this as a liberating choice, though I think I showed that the white guy would not have been a particularly good fit for her in the end.  I kind of wanted a play where there are white actors but they end up being kind of marginal.  In fact, there is a customer who sort of serves as a Greek chorus (I probably need to find just a bit more for him to do**), but the focus really is on the interactions of the various Indian women and one Puerto Rican woman.

From a previous partial read through, I heard there isn't enough conflict when Parvati gives the guy the brush-off, though he does come back and amplify the conflict later on, including a scuffle with the other regular customer.  To prepare for the upcoming reading, I reformatted the play and cut almost a page at the end which seemed to be too extraneous.

I just recalled (a minute ago) some additional jokey language I had wanted to put in the play.  The white would-be boyfriend is always a bit obnoxious but always manages to bring it back in a bit in the end.  (To some extent I was being manipulative in not having the audience be sure if they wanted this to be a meet-cute play or not.)  He says something about how he has become a master a figuring out Asian ethnic identity, and he dares Parvati to guess what he is.  She says He is Portuguese.  He says that is not all, and Isabel says he is half-Portugeuse, half-Jerkish.  I think this can probably get squeezed in.

Anyway, I think the biggest dilemma is that there just isn't enough lead up to Parvati falling for her second cousin.  It all happens off-stage.  So I wrote out another scene where she Skypes him.  I think ideally this would be at the shop after closing, but then the cousin would have to be video projected or something, so not ideal.  But I cannot find the text.

Let me repeat that, I have no hard copy or electronic trace of this scene, though I know I wrote it out.  I searched all the hard drives and it doesn't exist anywhere, which may mean it was on the laptop that died and backed up on the external hard drive that died!  Pretty upsetting.  There is a chance I wrote most of it out by hand, and I do plan to go through the notebooks again.  I decided maybe I should get a second opinion (tonight or in the near future) and then I'll decide what to do about the second act and whether to rewrite that scene from scratch.

Nonetheless, in general, this is in slightly better shape than I remembered (though possibly shorter than I had remembered), so maybe I should just spend another week or two trying to clean it up, and then I can focus on Corporate Codes of Conduct and after that Straying South.


* Actually, the trip was made primarily to watch John Logan's Red plus a day spent in NYC museums, but I did spend the next day wandering around Newark and then met up with a friend to drive through Jersey City, where the play is actually set.  The photos do a good job of establishing the setting, so I may as well post them here.

Newark City Hall (with golden dome)

Newark Public Library

Newark Museum

George Segal, Man in Toll Booth, 1978 @ Newark Museum

Rutgers-Newark campus

The next batch are from Jersey City proper.






The last one is Tops Diner in Harrison.  It would be cool to squeeze it into the play somehow, but may just be too topical.


** At one point there was a second backroom worker who got cut and consolidated into one and two more regular customers, but this just diluted the focus.  Even after the cast cuts, there are still 8 actors, which is way too many (based on modern theatre economics).  I now remember that I might have sent it off to this theatre for one of their competitions, but they didn't want more than 5 actors.

Edit to add: It was an interesting session.  We read half of a feature film script.  It was dramatic though in my mind totally implausible.  I think it reminded me the most of Ricochet, where you have this antagonist who has sort of godlike powers (or the Anonymous character who is in V for Vendetta).  Also I thought a lot of the internal logic needed to be tightened up.  But there was certainly promise.

They had time to read the first act of my Dharma Donuts script.  It's clear that not only does there need to be a lot of tightening, but the conflict does need to be elevated.  The lead critic said you need to imagine that everyone needs something and they expect to get it, and then the conflict arises when they don't.  One of the more interesting things was that as I was trying to explain the conflicts, I said that the main character wanted out of the donut shop.  This sort of just slipped out as I was discussing the plot, but it feels right.  Of course, the entire point of the second and third act is that she performs this amazing balancing act to neutralize conflict and to accept an arranged marriage and that she can hardly stand to be away from the donut shop.  But that is such a boring story.  I've written it out and memorialized my friends as it were, but now I need to do something interesting with the story and that means she wants to be gone.  I'd say that probably means everything in Act II and Act III has to be discarded and Act I will get cut and reshaped significantly.  They basically insisted I bring it back in this revised format, and I will try, though it will take a long time to get my head around this -- and then find the time to do it.

What I guess I knew was coming, though it didn't come until quite late in the evening, was the question of cultural appropriation and why should I write this play.  I was surprised at what a hard line this one guy took, saying that it could never be read at Toronto Cold Reads as long as all the main characters were Indian (as if that really is my main motivator).  I would have thought that more people would have stuck up for the right to explore other cultures without boundaries, but perhaps that is the Canadian "niceness" of shying away from controversies (and basically only seeing one side of the appropriation debate).  In many ways that significantly complicates my cutting, since I don't want the white male to be the protagonist.  I already wrote that play (though based on tonight's comments, I still need a way to elevate or change up the conflict in each of the scenes of Corporate Codes, since it does play too much as variations on a theme).  I think I will deal with the cutting first and then the ethnicity issue later.  (Thank goodness I didn't share Lester's Last Testament with them!)

It was definitely a fairly humbling experience, but it was true that even as I heard the play read out, it seemed to meander and the last scene really dragged.  So a bit of tough love was definitely in order.

Edit (6/11): After sleeping on it some more, I had a few more thoughts.  #1) I workshopped the first act with a writer of Indian descent.  She didn't have any problem with the appropriation issue, but I think she ended up quite disappointed that a strong character took such a traditional path.  She (and indeed most artists) would prefer someone who does want "out" of a traditional setting.  Which leads me to point #2) if I want to leave the story more or less alone then I need to write it as a short novel, which can have more interior decisions and wanting to remain calm but in control is a legitimate aspiration (whereas it doesn't work on stage).  Finally, #3) assuming I accept the assignment to majorly rewrite and restructure the play, then I don't need the missing scene.  I'll either have completely written out Pramod or his motives will be completely different.  So in that sense, last night was particularly useful.

Friday, June 9, 2017

The Belly of the Whale

I couldn't resist this nod to the New Wave song by Burning Sensations (old-school video here).  I'm almost certain that I did not hear this on the radio at the time, but I came around to liking it from hearing it on a few compilations that focused on the early days of New Wave.  I don't recall the video, but I may have seen it once or twice.  By the time we had MTV on a regular basis, they would have moved onto other artists.

Anyway, I have been busy sewing.  I made a special figure that spells out RTP (sort of an in-joke at my work).  I'm fairly proud that I thought through how to sketch this out and put it together without any mistakes.  Basically, you have to do it in mirror-writing, since the entire thing has to be turned inside out.  Here it is right after the cutting.  (I also added some black lines to make it clearer that the letters were separate.


It was sort of a close thing, since what I had not taken into account was that to fully reverse the letters, the 'P' had to be pushed through the crossbar of the 'T'!  One thing that I have to get better at is just leaving myself enough room to work.


This came out reasonably well, but it was too small, particularly when trying to stuff the bottoms of the letters.  Even giving myself another half inch for all the "legs" would have helped a lot.  Well, next time...

I do find animals to be much easier to guess how they will turn out.  I have made a stuffed whale for a co-worker's daughter.  It was fairly simple, though perhaps I should have sewed the smile by hand rather having the machine do it.  As it happens, one side is considerably happier than the other side.


Here it is in its final form.


I did debate putting on a spout or even making a black dot on the top for the blow hole, but I am not really going for realism here...

In terms of remaining projects, I think I will make a fish or another whale for another friend's daughter.  I will make one elephant from a dress shirt sleeve (well, pair of sleeves).  If it comes out well, I might make a second one from the second shirt I cut up.

Then I will probably attempt to make pajamas for the kids (there may be a bit of a learning curve there trying to deal with the elastic waistbands).  And finally I will start cutting up material for these quilts.  So quite a few projects, though I would say they are generally something I can do in a day or two, so that I can see the progress.  The quilt is such a big undertaking that it will take a lot longer to feel I am making any headway.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

10th Canadian Challenge - 32nd Review - The Soul of All Great Designs

I keep thinking this book is titled The Soul of All Great Desires.  At any rate, this short novel by Neil Bissoondath does involve desire, both sublimated and acted upon.  There are a number of steamy scenes throughout.


To cut to the chase, I found this novel fairly disappointing.  I found its construction too calculated.  Bissoondath has come up with two characters who have strong reasons to keep secrets.  One has built up an interior design company by pretending to be homosexual (more on that later).  The other is the only child of Indian immigrants, who have brought their notions of caste and a horror of their daughter marrying a non-Indian to wherever they actually live.

While I generally thought the woman "Sue" had a plausible back story, I had a bit more trouble believing the interior decorator's story.  Not to feed into stereotypes too much, but I think his original client would have eventually leaked the story that he wasn't gay.  More to the point, to have been in that business for 10+ years and to not have slept with anyone!?  People would definitely talk and start to wonder.  

(Actually, I found one of the more annoying aspects of the novel to be that Bissoondath seems to set the action in a totally generic city, though it is definitely not Vancouver or Seattle.  It is probably a Canadian city, but he talks about smog at one point, plus the difficulty of finding a downtown apartment due to the rent control system.  Toronto doesn't have any meaningful rent control, though that seems to be about to change.  Also the decorator seems to have gotten his start in the mid 90s or even late 80s (even the time frame is vague though there is one sentence that places the action after 9/11), and the gay community would have been far more organized in Toronto by then.  (There is some discussion of how everyone was just waiting for a gay interior decorator to come to town!)  Lambton seems to be a real place in southwest Ontario.  So it is possible that the city is Sarnia or London (unlikely that the father would have driven much further than that every weekend just to sell sandwiches and pop out of a van), but it seems pretty inconceivable that the downtown rents ever would have been particularly high in either of those places.)

Anyway, these two characters have a chance encounter, and, despite knowing the risks, begin a relationship that quickly gets hot and heavy.  It works quite well as long as both of them agree to sneak around.  But then one of them decides that the ground rules need to change, and things get out of hand.  Frankly, I thought the ending was a bit predictable.  Also, I'm finding myself picking more and more holes into the story a few days after reading it, which is always a sign that I wasn't really moved by the characters or the setting.  At least it was short...

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Star is Born

Not quite as exciting as cosmology or even celebritology, but I managed to get a stuffed animal (or rather a stuffed star) done in a few hours this morning.  I mostly wanted to see if the sewing machine was still running prior to taking off to the repair shop.  While the pattern ended up being a bit wasteful, and perhaps I should have made it a fish or a small whale, I had kind of set my mind on a star for my co-worker's daughter.  I'm not really sure if I would say it is a star or a starfish (obviously starfish don't have faces, as my daughter pointed out...).

Here are some of the steps along the way.  (I had planned on using embroidery thread but found it was completely unsuitable for the needles I had and this material, so I just doubled up on standard thread.)



The moment of truth

Ta-da!

Just add stuffing.

I think it came out pretty well all things considered.

Anyway, I ran over to the sewing machine store, and the man there said that since the tension was fine, there was no point in my spending the money to open the machine up, especially since over-oiling the machine won't do any good.  He suggested I just keep using it until it seizes up again.  So that was kind of anti-climatic and maybe a waste of time, but I can say he's honest (and I can carry on with these various projects).  I bought some additional needles for the machine, since I didn't have any spare ones, and I guess I will at least change needles before I start in on these quilts (or rather quilt tops).

Since I still had the ZipCar, I came back to the Home Depot at Gerrard Square and picked up some cinder blocks.  The goal is to block off this area under the deck where the raccoons had torn off part of this lattice work.  It won't stop them from reaching the garbage from the other direction, but this plus the chicken wire around the lower part of the deck plus not leaving food scraps out is meant to move them along to someone else's back yard.  I think they are still lurking around and we certainly still have squirrels, but I don't think they are camping out under the deck they way they used to.  Fingers crossed anyway.