William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

18. september enters


Last night there was a heck of a rain storm and the power bumped at least three times. (It was good to be using a laptop. I suppose it would have been even better to be reading a book.)

At Andy's we watched Rise of the Guardians: Meh. The animation and the little jokes are good, but the story is a pain – anything based on the supposed virtue of kids believing things that aren't is a hard pill for me to swallow. Do kids really need myths? The writers went out of their way to avoid addressing the issue. The secularization of the icons borders on the farcical – the Man in the Moon stands in for God. At least C. S. Lewis didn't try to hide his Christian allegory. Not a movie I'd proactively show kids, if I were helping them pick something out. I was on countdown for most of the last hour. 5.5

(I see now it's loosely based on a book series, of which I knew nothing about. Still, the above is how I felt.)

The power went out this afternoon. Grampy noticed that I'd left the toaster plugged in. He didn't complain about it – he unplugged it, and then he told me it reminded him of when he was in his early teens and hearing about all kinds of house fires, often electrical, often from toasters.

In those days electricity was considered expensive. People often had oil lamps in addition to electrical ones. He got to talking about the Depression in general: His parents' household was one of the only ones in their part of North Sydney (Peppett Street) not on “relief” (as he put it). They worked hard doing odd things: his father would go to Cape North for chickens. He'd sell them for 50 cents – you could have them alive, or you could get them plucked and ready to cook. His mother made fudge for the co-operative.

Grampy related a typical conversation he'd hear:


“Yes, Clifford?”

“I made 24 cents today!”

Nanny's family was on “relief” - for their part, when there was a snowfall, they would clear enough of the street for a horse and carriage to pass through, and then they'd get a dollar's worth of groceries.

Grampy then told me which picture on the mantlepiece was his father's – I'd seen the picture many times, but I'd never really realized that I was looking at a great-grandparent. I never grew up with any great-grandparents: I was introduced to either my mother's mother's mother or my mother's father's mother when I was a baby, but I don't remember her.

Now my mother has despaired in the past that she'll never be a biological grandmother, and she may yet prove herself right, but in the bigger picture grandparent and great-grandparentships are springing up all around me now. My stepfather's parents have been great-grandparents for quite a while, my father's mother is about to become one (my cousin on PEI is expecting) and of course Aunt Pearl and Uncle Neil got to be great-grandparents. Not much is happening on my mother's side of the family, though.

When I was a kid, I was lucky to have all four grandparents alive and relatively healthy for so long. My father's father (Grampa) passed away in 2001 (I was 19), and my mother's mother (Nanny) left this year (2013, I was 31). Now my mother's father (Grampy) is 92 and my father's mother (Grandma) is 96. We're lucky to have them, too.

The power's back on and I'm watching the US Open. This is the first year I've ever really gotten into it. I just heard that Marion Bartoli, winner of Ladies' Singles at Wimbledon, retired. I'm shocked. I liked her attitude and would have liked to see more of her. (Missed my chance, I guess. I'm only just now starting to follow tennis.) Though if you're only going to win one tennis major, Wimbledon's the one, I think, though I guess a French Open might have been more special for her since she's French.

Not that anybody reading this would care, but those enormous Polo logos on the clothing of all the crew at the US Open have got to go. They're printed way too large to be tasteful. I like that Wimbledon is mostly about promoting themselves. :-)

ESPN loves Lenny Kravitz. Could some zillionaire buy exclusive rights to Lenny Kravitz'cover of American Woman so I'd never have to hear it again? I'm not interested in Kravitz' musical treatment of his issues with his Republican ex-girlfriend.

Today I finished reading Island, Alistair MacLeod's massive, authoritative collection. With sixteen stories over 431 pages, it's not light reading. It's very rich. The stories are so dense (especially the later ones) that you find yourself flipping backwards to double-check that you're following things appropriately or to refer to the original sequence that is often repeated, especially in the later stories.

Let's talk nuts and bolts. Alistair MacLeod is the literary voice of Scottish-Canadian Cape Breton, though his corpus is relatively small – one excellent novel, preceded by a handful of short stories. His vivid writing is among the finest in the English language, which he uses to put us in the shoes of our Gaelic-speaking ancestors. His relative mainstream obscurity is more of a reflection of the relative obscurity of this region than it is on his writing. He actually sort of is our Ernest Hemingway.

There are two near-novellas in this collection: Vision (1986, 48 pages) and Island (1988, 44 pages). Vision is the stronger of the two, using a framed narrative with a frame that has its own twists and turns. (You might need to make a chart.) I'd say it's a real piece of work, a part of the collection I truly enjoyed. Island is the only story with a female protagonist, and it takes too many indulgences in making its point. Well, at least he tried, but you'd expect the title story of a collection to be the strongest. (Perhaps they should have called the collection 16 Ways to Die in Old-Time Cape Breton) The earlier stories in the collection are, in my opinion, the better ones – fresher, concise, more novel, more provocative, more lasting – but I'm glad I got through the entire thing. (I wished that The Vastness of the Dark (1971, 33 pages) were longer – it ends in Springhill yet it promised a cross-Canada road trip. It could have kicked off the Great Canadian Novel, one that I would have read.)

Still, many of the stories are dark enough that I wouldn't choose to read them again. I often found myself on a countdown of dread as the remaining pages dwindled, on my way to an ending I knew I wasn't going to relish and feared would haunt me. And if it's not that, it's sombre ambiguity. A bit of whimsy and humour would have made this collection less effortful to absorb. Maybe that's why MacLeod is normally published in such bits and pieces as these.

I'm glad of the opportunity to absorb a bit of what it was like to live off the land on Cape Breton: The fishing, the coal mines, the farming. I think we've lost something in that most of us don't have to do those things anymore. MacLeod is one of the few people who knows both the old ways and the new ways. Many of the earlier stories are about just this clash, and how quickly everything irrevocably changes.

It's hard for me to pick a favourite story from the collection. Most of them have a particular poignant moment that I cannot dismiss. I guess I'll say it's The Boat (1968, 25 pages), the story that opens the collection. It's among the most lively, it's not overlong, and you can get the spirit of all of the stories through it. The others are variations on the same theme. They're good, but one or two are enough to get the idea. The rest is just exploring the implications in different ways. After a while, it becomes work. 8


(I assembled my thoughts in front of the TV...)

Watching Hewitt play today is inspiring. (He went on to lose a hard-fought 5-setter to Youzhny.) I wonder if poor Raonic was around to see it. I mean, 39 aces and he lost to Gasquet! If you took Hewitt's tennis smarts, net play, and sheer grit and hooked them into Raonic's serve, power, and reach, you'd have someone who might threaten to get a calendar grand slam.

Hewitt's match featured a 46 shot break point in the 3rd set. I mean, that is patience. Unfortunately, he couldn't consolidate the break, but he did get that set. It was great to see him, a “grizzled old vet” at the ripe old age of... 32. In tennis, that's enough to make the dude Tom Watson.

Anyway, the only person left in men's singles for me to root for is Andy Murray. In doubles I've been rooting for the Bryan brothers of course, and even when they were facing Nestor and Pospisil, but then only because the calendar grand slam is potentially an achievement that we won't see again in men's or women's singles or doubles.

* * *

Here's what I put together:

As I've said, we're getting Internet in a few days. This is going to mean changing my approach to things. I've been stagnant for what seems like days now, perhaps waiting for the change that will change everything. (Not to mention it's also been raining frequently, often coming down in sheets.) Andy is even wondering if I'm depressed. I guess I have been, but not clinically or anything. I just get into periods where I don't see the point of doing things, so I don't, and I get a bit withdrawn.

Now I'm making lists of Needs, Goals, and Wants (oh, and a To-Do). I'm trying to keep them as realistic as possible, though perhaps with a touch of audaciousness. One I'll share with you – I want to complete all the pure math content of Khan Academy. If I can do that, maybe I can try intermediate calculus again, or perhaps linear algebra (also again), perhaps even online somehow? Or is going back to school (to any degree) just a way to avoid confronting reality?

I got the highest marks across all programs at my campus of NSCC this year. Did that make me the greatest fraud? The greatest manipulator of the system? The most effective complainer? (No, I'll have to take a back seat on that one. Just trust me on this.)

Anyway, the list is on the back of my handmade calendar page for September. At the end of the month I'll copy it onto the back of October's – if I haven't gotten a new planner by then. It's also up to me to program my life more aggressively now that summer is winding down and, with that, the village, visits from relatives, and events generally (unless you're still in grade school or you're a senior citizen, in which case there's tons of stuff).

Blog entries will probably dry up, but who knows?

I had a transformative weekend. I won't play it all back for you – there are enough things that I can't say that there wouldn't be a lot left. The comedic high-water mark was when I had my eyes closed on the couch, drowsily picturing something intense. I was sitting next to someone who'd lost her ring.

“Are you falling asleep?”
“No, I'm just visualizing something.” (I was, but I ought to have known I was also falling asleep.)
“See if you can visualize a ring.”

Now to go through my scattered notes and see what's 1) salvageably sound and also 2) printable. It's an agonizing process. A lot of it I'd only share if I knew we were all going to die tomorrow.

The important thing is to believe in yourself. You must believe in yourself (or something) or you'll never have peace. (I suspect also that you should believe in yourself at least for the sake of others who believe in you.) But you might not keep the same beliefs forever. Find something that feels right and is important to you. JMS believed he could produce his Babylon 5 telenovel. (Now such sweeping narratives are commonplace, especially on premium services like HBO. He was just way ahead of his time.) That he stuck to his belief and delivered the result is what “Faith Manages” means.

It's hard to find peace in an era of pluralism where all questions are open and change is de rigeur. You'll just have to work that much harder to find that atomic something. Or minimize the distractions and seriously, really think. Specific advice on this would be condescending but also potentially meaningless to your own situation.

To a great extent, I think love manifests itself as a willingness to believe in somebody. I don't mean whether or not you believe someone's words at any given moment, though. Just believing in that person in general. I asked two of my female Facebook friends who are into philosophy to some extent what they thought love was, and I got great answers that will take me a week to process. I think this is going to be something that's a bit difficult to pigeonhole into a convenient sound byte.

Have you ever actually found the sound of your shoes on gravel fascinating? A friend was on his smartphone and I was pretending I was interested in the gravel so intensely that I actually became interested.

I won't say 'never', but I'll say to try to avoid being passive-aggressive – it really pisses people off, and it does nothing to build respect. Please, don't say things like, “It's okay. I'll just walk the two miles in the rain,” unless you actually want to walk two miles in the rain, and then you need to make sure you won't be interpreted as resorting to P-A bullshit.

To that dude at the dance who I might run into at the next dance (though I'm going to try to steer clear of him, and his friends, because he took offense to my being around them too), you know what, you're right, I am weird. And it's possible that somebody will love me because I'm weird. I think they'd have to. I'm smart enough, I'm just not inclined to slavishly adhere to the norms which you seem to accept like a zombie and use as a weapon.

People's perception of attitude is that it can enable and aim free will. I think we can evaluate attitude to some extent that isn't completely nonsensical, but I don't think we should censure or blame people for what we find. I even think the notion of punitive responsibility is just a cherished illusion that helps us cope. (Still, “if you break somebody's something, fix it” is very tempting to extend to “if they won't fix that person's thing, make them”.)

I think I've trained myself to avoid emotional transactions with others. (Perhaps it is a common pitfall for autistic-types?) If I don't see the person, they're not there. I really have to force myself to open up and be visible, and let people see that I'm letting myself be visible (and not resisting).

Some people keep track of these transactions... and some do so explicitly! I should have guessed! For sure, I have quite a number of outstanding debts.

A friend said that a lot of smart people won't befriend those who wallow in BS. It rang very true with me. I've alienated people I ought not to have. Perhaps they will like you if you don't and on top of that are somehow interesting. A tall order. Anyway, they're not really being snobs.

He also said that if you feel ugly, you act badly (towards yourself). On that note, I think it's vital that you have an accepting attitude of your body – and you have to show it to people. My high school “strategy” of walking hunched-over to hide my front was totally self-destructive. The same body I was made to feel ashamed of, someone may have loved.

I really don't believe people choose their lives. I'd give my right arm to know how it really works. And as I struggled to write that line on paper, I realized that I press way to hard when I write (or type, for that matter).

I believe people are into caring about other people as a roundabout way of expressing their own genes. I'm okay with that.

I've been a remarkably poor judge of character my whole life. It's a wonder I'm still in one piece.

* * *

Watched My Awkward Sexual Adventure at Andy's. It's an amusing watch. Light fare. The protagonist at the beginning is almost too much of a dork to be believable, the story relies on incredible coincidences, and there are some things spoken that just aren't true or are norm-worshipping. The novelty of there being a Canadian sex comedy is worth a point or two. 7
Tags: sherbrooke 2013

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