Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why I Still (and will ALWAYS) Hate Michael Leigh

Ponczka and I finally watched the last season of Breaking Bad. I am hugely relieved, because for the last month it's been pretty difficult remaining in ignorance about how the show concludes. I'm grateful for all the radio and television stations, and the print and internet media, that gave spoiler alerts when information was about to be divulged. There were a number of times when I had to dash to lower a volume, or stop reading an article part way in, due to fear of having it all spoiled for me.

Somehow, we made it through, and got to watch that brilliant television show right through to the end, while never knowing what was coming next.

The degree to which wonderful story arcs are ruined by so much spoiler information flying about remains a pet peeve of mine. So often, my anticipation of a film is ruined by watching a trailer in which the entire arc of the story is laid out. So, as a rule, I avoid trailers of films I want to see, and I never read the blurbs on book covers once I've decided to read the book. My failing memory often serves me in this respect. So that, by the time I finally got around to reading Life of Pi, for example, I had totally forgotten what I'd heard about it, so that I had the great privilege of learning the identity of Mr. Richard Parker only at the moment that the author, Yann Martel, reveals it to his readers. And when I attend the Toronto Film Festival every year, I'm able to take in films with virtually no sense of expectation, having only skimmed information about the filmmakers ahead of time.

Which brings me to Michael Leigh. He is probably the main reason I have such a sensitivity about spoilers. Michael was a classmate of mine in elementary and junior high in New York. He was a very decent kid, in every way. He was my friend. I have no idea what he's been up to these last forty something years, but I hope and trust that he's done well. And yet, I hold a grudge against Michael Leigh that I will never let go. Because Michael spoiled one of the greatest movie surprises of all time!

You see, one Saturday afternoon, Michael and I went to our local movie house to see the original Planet of the Apes. I was very excited about seeing it. All of us early teenaged guys were. And I was really enjoying it, all the way through. It was exciting, thought-provoking, even funny. And toward the end, it was building up to a nice, thrilling conclusion.

Which is when Michael Leigh leaned over, nudged me, and whispered...
"This must be where they see the Statue of Liberty."
I think I'd have suffocated him by stuffing my empty popcorn bag down his throat if I hadn't been in shock. As it was, I was so distracted by outrage that the end of the film washed over me like a dim, faded rerun. And so, Michael Leigh remains for me the symbol of book and film ending spoilage!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Rage, Reason, Remedy, Remorse

I lost it.

Just a couple of hours ago, I lost it over a very trivial, verbal exchange of insults with a stranger. Surprised myself. I’m generally very calm and contained. Some folks who know me react with disbelief when I speak to them of losing it.

On those occasions when I do lose it, is has to do with a build up of tensions, of frustrations. So one factor in today’s explosion is a series of small disappointments (mostly with myself) around things not progressing, not getting things done. Another factor is that I haven’t been meditating regularly these last two weeks, and increasingly I see how meditation grounds me in a very powerful way.

A third factor has something to do with why I haven’t blogged lately (and blogging is another very grounding activity). I sometimes write about my clients or situations they find themselves in. There’s always a concern about maintaining confidentiality, so I customarily change all identifying details, so that even if the subject were to read the piece, they’d be unlikely to recognize themselves.

For the last month or so, a young couple I’m working with has been in the middle of an absolutely infuriating and emotionally debilitating situation that has them feeling powerless and vulnerable. The circumstances are unique, so there’s no way to write about them without identifying them. And changing the details would obscure the essence of their problem. I’m considering speaking to them about the matter, exploring whether they’d be interested in having their situation aired. That could bring attention to their plight, but all things considered, would it be helpful attention?

So I’ve not blogged, in part, because... well, how weighty is the final season of “Breaking Bad” in light of the burdens of real life?

A rhetorical question, that. In fact, such fictional metaphors for life’s struggles can be incredibly powerful. I’m just nearing the end of Margaret Atwood’s “Oryx and Crake”. I find it a brilliantly nightmarish speculation about where “we” are headed. And I attended a talk by author Lois Lowry last night, to hear her speak about how her books have grown out of the myriad circumstances of her life – big and small, the aches and the gifts. And how healing and freeing and illuminating such transmutations can be.

I may have strayed off topic. Not sure. This all connects somehow. One final strand of conscious connection, between my own angry flare up an hour ago, and the painful circumstances of my young couple:

Sometimes, not only can I understand the emotional buildup that generates the acts of outrage and violence that populate the media (not condone them, but understand), sometimes I’m amazed that the outburst of rage does not happen. Perhaps I can say this much: What do you do when your child has been taken from you, and the workings of the law and of civil institutions conspire to keep you from holding your child in your arms, while all you have done is yearned and loved?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Nuit Blanche, Toronto 2013

It's so amazing to walk through your city at 3:00am, to walk dozens of blocks winding all through the downtown, business district, entertainment district, main retail streets, and find thousands of your fellow citizens in the streets, observing and interacting with abstract art.

"Garden Tower in Toronto" by Tadashi Kawamata

Nuit Blance, which is french for White Night, is a sunset to sunrise event. I went out at midnight and meandered until almost four, when the crowds had finally thinned. I didn't cover very much territory, despite walking those hours. I stayed in the core, but Nuit Blanche Installations were spread far and wide throughout the city, covering many kilometers. This link contains a map and info about the event:

I LOVED the art this year, which hasn't always been the case. Maybe it was that I went out with no knowledge of what was out there, did no pre-planning. I just walked and wandered and took it all in.

"Mariner 9" by  Richardson

One of my favorite pieces was an interactive poetry exhibit from the organization Diaspora Dialogues and titled "Lexicon". It was designed by Camellia Koo as a series of stations running down the main aisle of the Metropolitan Church. At each stop was hung a word or phrase, and all comers were invited to write spontaneous poems relating to them, then to tack them up with other offerings. It was fun and interesting seeing what others had written. I wrote three.

The place that flavors my air, creams my coffee, rubs my skin.

the open window, with dark space on the other side.

Walking. The scene always changing.
Something pulsing, popping.
Blinking, rediscovering
Getting dirty feet.

Another favorite was "Music Box", by John Dickson

It was a Great, Fun night! Nuit Blanche started in Paris in 2003. Ponczka and I experienced it the following year, when by pure chance we chose the right week to vacation there. It was magical, and we were so glad when it came to Toronto just a couple of years later. It now takes place in about 15 other cities as well and will surely continue to spread. It makes for such a beautiful and communal and unique way to experience the places we live.       

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Memory Bytes

Strangest thing
As we were navigating the border into New York state last weekend, I had a memory of having gone to an area around Niagara, in search of an address. I recalled that it had something to do with my application for a Nexus Pass, and I felt that Ponczka had been along, and that she’d been equipped with maps.
Ponczka could remember no such thing, and said so. “Why were we looking for this place?” she kept asking. And all I could do was repeat that it had something to do with the border. But neither of us could recall any event that was border related that led us to anywhere than the border itself. Aside from occasionally being redirected by a border guard to go into the station for “further investigation” for something like having “foreign food” (that’s another story!) border crossings were pretty routine. They didn’t involve driving up and down a road alongside a business park searching for an address.
This memory of mine made no sense. I had clear visual images of this very specific place, of looking for the address and finally finding it. I could recall details, like an underpass, patches of grass on a broken sidewalk, and street signs. But I had no memory at all of entering the place, or of what took place there. And I recalled clearly that all this took place during the day, despite that almost all of our border crossings take place after dark!
Finally, it came to me. A couple of weeks ago, I scheduled my interview to obtain a Nexus pass. And because I wasn’t familiar with the location, I went on Google maps to find it and to plan my trip. I employed the little green man avatar to get a street level view. And that was my memory.
My interview is weeks away. I’ve yet to visit the place in the flesh. But via my computer, I have actual, visual memories of this place, and of having negotiated this environment, clicking my way back and forth at will, swivelling the view, panning in and out. I even had a vague sense of purpose in being there. All in all, this was enough that it settled in my memory as an actual bodily experience. I even attached my constant travel companion Ponczka to the memory – though abstractly; I didn’t actually place her in these images, or put the maps in her hands.
How surprising, these adjustments of memory. None of this should surprise me. I’ve kept journals since age twenty, and they’ve given me many lessons in the creative power of memory. How many times have I had a clear, multiple sense memory of something that my journal has corrected. I might, for instance, remember being with Joan at a movie in September in New York. But my notes will tell me that I last say Joan in August in Boston, and the movie in New York was with Leslie. Often, there’s a kind of compacting that happens. Story lines, people, sequences get merged, much as a film adaptation will treat a massive novel. I learned long ago not to believe just because someone insists in all sincerity, “But I was there! I saw it with my own eyes”.
This Google memory is a new one for me. But I bet it’s not unusual. It’s surely something that will become increasingly common. Soon, we’ll all have memories of places we’ve never been, accomplishments we’ve never attempted, and, bitter-sweetly, of “beautiful lovers we never got the chance to kiss”. (Joni Mitchell)