Oh Me Oh My

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Magus

As I was searching for an exam I wrote in my second year Communications course I stumbled across an essay I wrote in Grade 12. (exactly 6 years ago today; strange, no) It was for a teacher who I both deeply admired and who I was also afraid of. He was well-known for being a hard marker so getting an 'A' on one of his assignments was quite the ego-boost. For our final ISU he provided the class with a list of books from which to choose one. He then approached me and suggested I read John Fowles' The Magus. It was not on the list and it ran almost 700 pages. I was proud he had confidence in my ability to take on such a huge text (in both ideas and size) so I agreed.

Needless to say the book kicked my ass. Not only did I have to read like 70 pages a night to have it done on time but I had pages upon pages of notes and I still felt overwhelmed. There were such complex ideas of personal identity and sexual politics. It was like a combination of Eyes Wise Shut and an episode of Twin Peaks. When it came time for me to write my essay I choked. I couldn’t write anything worth reading and was genuinely considering not doing it, and just taking the failing grade. I was that overwhelmed. My teacher eventually convinced me to write what I could and I produced a paper that was short of the page count and most definitely not my best work.

When the semester ended he gave everyone an overall evaluation on the essay as well as a kind of final word. In mine he included the following:

I’m writing to inform you that you are not in fact the Magus, nor are you the second coming. You are merely a confused individual poised on the edge of the great escape into higher level academics, and eventually personal, social and individual freedom. It’ll take a while to get there but I know you’ll have a good time when you do. As for your essay—yes of course I expected more of you, but then to have actually finished reading the text and made notes on it was a stellar performance on its own. Your analysis was excellent and I was glad to see you rescue some of your talents through this piece of writing. I know it’s not as great as it could have been but I celebrate your analysis and ability to comprehend such a mammothly complex text.

...We are bred to wear masks and to hold these up to maintain face. I believe that you’ve tapped into some of that understanding and hope you continue to do so along the great journey. Just please don’t convert your life into waiting for the sugar refill at Tim Horton’s. You do have more to offer life and yourself than that. Aim beyond the library my friend! Good luck in the years to come—they will be gruellingly difficult for yourself and should offer you the best learning experience of your life. Don’t squander it.

P.S. I would like a copy of this paper please.

The 17 year-old me re-read this dozens of times. I assumed by telling me that I was not the Magus or the second coming he was telling me I was arrogant. When I approached him about this he told me I had gotten it wrong—that wasn’t what he meant. It was odd since The Magus is all about godgames and exercising power and seeing the future, and I felt like his words were doing that to me. Did he know something I didn’t? It’s 6 years later and his response on that paper is still the one I remember most. Essays I have written have been called everything from brilliantly crafted to shoddily thrown together and yet they faded from memory pretty much after I got them back, but this one is always in my head.

Have the last few years been gruellingly difficult? Have I squandered that time? Do I challenge myself at all anymore? There is nothing like the words from someone you admire. The slightest compliment makes you feel so good about yourself, but the criticisms dig their way in as well-- creeping up whenever you feel self-doubt.

Can I borrow your sugar?

Friday, January 20, 2006

They're Better Than Bad, They're Good! (1)

Blogs (including mine) tend to be a place to vent, gripe and otherwise find fault with something. So in a K-os copied joyful rebellion, the following is the first of I hope many lists of 10 things that remind me life can be grand:

1) Driving by the Mr. Christie factory when they are baking and your entire car smells like fresh baked something delicious.

2) Drunken confessions of love. When the fellas get toasted and are inspired to tell their buddies that they are the wind beneath their wings. It may take a half dozen beers and a few shots, but it's nice when the sentiment surfaces. I love you man!

3) Musical Soundtracks. I'm pretty sure they comprise half of what I listen to and for good reason. Like Bjork says in Dancer in the Dark (before the movie makes you cry): "nothing bad ever happens in musicals. Actors can talk their lines fine, but something about hearing someone sing makes it that much more personal...god I'm gay.

4) Car Trips. After driving for hours you may think it's hell but something about driving with your friends brings out the memories: whether it is getting lost, conversations in the car, pit-stop stories or the things you notice driving around North America that prove that though we are similar, we are not all the same: McCrab Salad in Boston--yuck!

5) Porn with plot. Sometimes hot, always hilarious.

6) Cornbread. Ain't nothin' wrong with that.

7) The Cocoon Effect: When you wake up and realize your blankets have formed a pod around you, or you're tightly tucked in and the weight of the comforter is so very nice. It's so warm and you don't have to be anywhere right now.

8) Legal or practically legal mind-altering substances. Whether ye be liquid, leaf or night-time sniffly sneezy relief, it's great to be buzzed. Liquid courage, smoke made wings, strange imaginary friend who lives in my walls, I love you alls. The occasional stroll down the street where everything is funny and you are not afraid.

9) TV on DVD. It may be a huge waste of money since I only watch things once, but you just can't beat commercial free viewing-a-thons.

10) Chocolate. Healer, friend, confidante, caffeine provider... lover?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Reach for the Stars, Keep Your Feet on the Ground

I remember writing a paper about Macbeth in grade 11. I went on and on about Macbeth’s fatal flaw being his ambition: it clouds his judgment, makes him reckless, and when his wife dies he is too embroiled in his madness to care; but is ambition really that bad? Sure killing Duncan was ill-advised but is Thane of Glamis ever enough, when the opportunity to be King is just a slit throat away? I guess what I am trying to ask is where is the line drawn between healthy desire for advancement and the foolish pursuit for something more?

To bring it to a more everyday level, I present the celebrity interview: They were small-town boys and girls. They played football. They acted in school plays. They hung out in the food court with their friends, but they had a dream and they were driven to realize it . They were going to be singers, athletes, models, actors, and regardless of the obstacles the faced they would get there sooner or later. Then they look earnestly at the camera and tell the little girls and boys out there that they should never stop dreaming—that they too could have it all.

This reminds me of my grade 9 English teacher Ms. Tousignant. She told us everyday that we could be anything we wanted to be, as long as we really truly wanted it. At first I found her zest refreshing. I truly believed if you wanted something so bad you couldn’t handle it, you could find a way to make it your own. But over the years Ms. Tousignant’s view seemed a bit more rose-coloured to me, and she went from being the optimistic eccentric to the daydreamer who wore large wrestlemania type belts over baggy sweaters.

Avril Lavigne played church functions and crappy western music until she was discovered. Jessica Simpson finally recorded an album after years of trying with a record label that folded right before it was supposed to come out. It was years before she broke through again. Ashton Kutcher was a good old country boy, whose charm and good looks took him around the world modelling and acting. How many times have you heard of a model being discovered while she was just shopping at her local mall in Nowheresville, USA? Or the factory worker who quit and lived on food stamps pursuing her dream of writing professionally, emerging from her years of sacrifice as an award winning novelist or editor-in-chief of some big magazine. These people and thousands like them had a dream, and they worked for it until it was theirs.

Sure many of them would still be nothing without the aid of their freakishly involved parents/managers, but how then do we explain the J.K. Rowlings and Helen Gurley Browns of the world: overcoming massive obstacles to become phenomenal successes. In a world where we are encouraged to settle and have a fallback and be happy with what we have, why do some continue to crawl to the top, while others set up shop in their proverbial ruts? Is it luck? Vision? Confidence? Courage?

Which voice do you listen to? The one that says go for the gold—the toothy celebrity telling you that you can do it—the English teacher who is dressed for a 1985 costume party? Or is it the one that says the job you have now is paying the bills; it may not be a fantasy land but it’s not awful. The one that tells you it’s a pipe dream, the competition is too fierce, you’re just not talented enough. Where is the line between realism and pessimism? No one wants to lug cement, clean toilets or input data for the rest of their lives, but if someone didn’t do it, things would fall apart. Is it fair to say that the road to success is paved by those who have settled in some regard?

Maybe settling is wise. Isn’t settling just a kind of negotiation with life? I’ll work this less-than-fabulous job because it pays okay and it’s close to home and my family. I’ll work at this company even though it’s not ideal because the time is flexible and has a great benefits package. Settling is such an ugly word. No one likes to think they settle for things but we do everyday: Most people do not have a dream job or dream partner. We don’t all live in, drive or buy all the things we’d like, but we settle because other things balance us out.

I think ambition is great. If you have a dream then by all means go after it. But if you don’t really have any lofty fantasies of selling out concert halls or directing movies or managing a multi-national company then that’s okay too. Do what makes you happy now. I think it is all about balancing sacrifice and risk with your current state of being. But what do I know?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Bang Bang (Slit, Snap, Cut, Laugh) You're Dead

After watching trailers and reading reviews for “Wolf Creek” and “Hostel” I am officially never going to see a horror movie again. I get freaked out by 80’s cheese horror (Slumber Party Massacre 2 anyone) and can’t sleep for days after a 90’s slasher flick (I took down the Christmas tree from my room and moved it because one of the ornaments looked like the Scream mask.). So it is no surprise that the new breed of horror film that isn’t so much stab and kill as it is maim and torture physically and mentally has me shitting myself. This is why I have created a list of the 5 things to avoid after seeing a modern horror movie in order to maintain your sanity:

Whispering Children
Never a good thing. If they are wearing long garments or their hair is kinda covering their face, definitely keep your guard up. If they are not looking at you and are not responding when you call to them, DO NOT approach them, as this will result in the biting-off of your face. General avoidance of children at large is probably your best bet. Throwing hot soup at your 7 year old cousin during Christmas dinner, and running away because she quietly asked you for a napkin, will definitely be seen as a social faux-pas.

Non-Main Roads
If you are heading somewhere and there is a shortcut through a rural area, fuck-it. Take the long way through high traffic areas over the backwoods side road every time. If you have stupidly decided to take one of these routes anyway and you get lost or your car breaks down, call CAA. DO NOT venture off on your own and most definitely DO NOT ask any locals for help, as doing so is pretty much ensuring your cannibalization, slash rape and torture at the hands of a hillbilly, slash future as a wax statue.

People with Tools or Instruments (of the non-musical variety)
Doctors are not to be trusted. Same goes for cable guys, mechanics, and especially dentists. On the surface it may seem like they need their instruments to do their jobs, but keep an eye out for certain key things: unexplainable blood on your phone guy’s pliers for instance. As with whispering children the rule of general avoidance is best. It is better to push your appointment with Dr. Aburto for a month down the road, than losing your shit during a routine cleaning at the sight of his plaque scraper resulting in your flailing wildly until accidentally kicking his hygienist in the boob. I have recently learned from my friend Heather who is in dental school that they deal frequently with cadavers—enough said.

I know it is a tall order to say “Never look in a mirror” so I’ll be more practical and advise that once you have looked in the mirror, don’t break your gaze with it except to blink, and even that should be done quickly. Opening a mirrored medicine cabinet to get something is definitely a precursor to closing the cabinet and seeing someone in the mirror who wasn’t there before. This person will not be a friend and will more than likely have ghostly kill-you powers. When washing your face it is advisable that you don’t bend over to splash on the water as this provides ample time for a masked figure to sneak up on you; something that will only become dangerous once you’ve spotted the shadowy reflection in the mirror. You’ll never be attacked as long as you stay focussed.

TIP: When washing you face simply use a damp cloth and blot around the eyes, apply soap in the same manner and use the same cloth to gently wipe away. But be vigilant. Trying to get your eyelids wet is a recipe for disaster.

Sexy Teens in Their Twenties
Do you know any 26 year olds in high school? Do these anomalies of time have rockin’ bodies? If you’re nodding yes to this description take my advice and stay away. This is especially pertinent if they invite you along on a road trip or camping, and is compounded if it is spring break or graduation. If you find yourself in the situation where you suddenly discover your group of supposed teen friends is actually pushing 30, remain calm. DO NOT have frisky forest sex or play some sort of raunchy truth or dare. Stay in your tent as a group fully clothed and wait until daylight. The rules that apply to non-main roads apply here as well.

So let’s re-cap: As long as you avoid kids, side streets, medical or technical professionals, reflective surfaces, and anyone who has ever starred on a show for the WB, you should be okay…until the next time you go to the movies.