Monday, October 29, 2007

Loose Dog

We watched a dog almost get hit by a car on Harbord Street. Somehow it made it to the other side of the road. We followed it and tried to read its tag but it ran from us, going south on Manning where we watched as it was almost hit by another car. That's two near-misses in as many minutes. Before this story is over we will have watched the dog get hit by a car.

A white dog with brown spots. Medium size with a red collar and shiny tag. Floppy ears. Nervous, non-threatening (though it growled at us on one approach). So what do you do when you see an animal in danger? Ever since I placidly watched a turtle get crushed by an SUV (complete with driver on cell phone) I decided I would always do my best to intervene.

Now it's hiding in the bushes of someone's front lawn and we're trying to befriend it using leftover yam rolls from Buddhas Vegetarian. We have better luck with pepperoni sticks from the corner store. The dog bolts again; this time into a backyard. It has cornered itself. There's no one at the house so we ask the people next door to Google what to do about a loose dog in Toronto. They give me the number for the Humane Society. It's 8:30pm on Saturday, they're closed but they have an emergency number for Animal Services. I call them. Unless the animal is injured or injuring us there's nothing they can do (*note: running recklessly across roads does not constitute a "public nuisance"). We call the police and press zero for other inquiries and police advice. There's nothing that can be done for a loose dog in this city.

Looks like we're in this for the long haul. With the help of more pepperoni sticks the dog becomes more comfortable. I propose its name is Millie but it doesn't agree. Calling out 'Darth Vader' gets a longer gaze. The neighbours on the other side appear. A husband and wife who jumped right out of Eastern Ontario, where people are better. They have a leash, a bowl of water, and dogfood. Slowly the dog is beginning to trust me. It eats pepperoni out of my hand but it won't let me touch it. That's okay, it has calmed down a lot, it's only a matter of t-

Then it bolts.

My partner in Dog Whispering slams the gate and the dog crashes into it. Now it's surrounded and panicking. My friend opens the gate -thinking he had shut it on the dog. It escapes. Now it's running north on Manning and trying to cross Harbord again. We follow. This time on Harbord Street the dog is not so lucky -the car connects and sends it down the road. The car drives away. Miraculously, the dog gets up and runs away. Sprints. At top speed. We're running after it still carrying the bowl with dogfood. I expect it to drop and die. It stops on a school lawn and I approach. It looks like the end of the-

It runs again, heading east, and then north, and then east. We are well behind. Last witness we saw it running east on Herrick close to Bathurst. We did a thorough search of the area and went home. Now that we know it's injured we don't know where Animal Services could find it. I suspect it's hidden on someone's lawn. In the bushes, healing or dying. Either way that dog is a long way from home.

We return the dogfood bowl. The husband tells us we're good people. We know that. We spent two hours trying to befriend a lost dog. We're the best of people. "You did your best" is for house league, there's less at stake. Good intentions a happy ending does not make. Part of me wished I had attacked the dog, grabbed it by the neck and tied it to a post.This person's picture of a "Britney Spaniel" reminds me of the dog. It's not quite a match. The dog we saw had floppier ears, more brown spots, a red collar, and looked more terrified of everything.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Intelligence, Knowledge, Wisdom

What are my smarts? As a teacher I encouraged my students to plot themselves on this triangle in order to visualize their intellectual strengths and weaknesses. I've plotted myself on this triangle. I offer these definitions:

Intelligence - Problem solving ability. Particularly for new problems -intelligent people are difficult to overwhelm.
Knowleldge - Information. Memorization of facts and the ability to call upon them at appropriate times and express them in articulate ways.
Wisdom - Experience. An understanding gained through exposure and routine. I forget that we are always practicing some skill.

My own rating.
I have plotted myself relatively far away from wisdom and a little closer to knowledge than intelligence.
I know some exceptional problem solvers (my father and youngest brother) and I'm within their shadow. But I certainly have been known to shine with my own solutions. I like to reset my mind and come at the problem in a simpler frame of mind.
I consider myself knowledgeable because other people tell me that I am. It probably dates back to memorizing answers for Trivial Pursuit the Millennium Edition (I found them so interesting, I kept researching them: olestra, the Iran-Contra scandal, geothermal energy, there's so much to know!). I realized that I only consider 'knowing' something if I can explain it to someone else. As a teacher I developed an above average grasp of Western history and philosophy which I am more than eager to share. This enthusiasm often translates as intimidation.
I have led students through Europe, been performing onstage since high school, and I consider myself an insightful judge of character. Yet, I don't see myself as very 'street smart'. I feel that disappointment that my textbook knowledge won't fix an engine.

I feel comfortable where I am. Part of me feels that wisdom is capitulation. I criticize so many things in this world that I don't want to catch myself practicing them. Another explanation for my positioning is that having a lot of historical knowledge makes my life experience seem paltry.

It's quite obvious to me that I have been influenced by Scott McCloud's wonderful perspective on art. In Understanding Comics, he pointed out that anything illustrated can be placed within a triangle that offers reality, iconic, and abstract as the corners.

Cameroon... Yaounde

When I was attending York University I was a commuter. On these fifty minute trips I grew tired of the radio. So I recorded the voices at the merriam-webster dictionary saying all of the countries and capitals of Africa (they have a feature where you can listen to the word that you looked up so you can pronounce it correctly). I made a tape of every African country being read, followed by a pause, and then its capital city. That's how I learned all of the countries and capitals of Africa. Somalia... Mogadishu.

Some years later I set out to record all of the countries and capitals of the world with my friends. We made a series of recordings. First we recorded all of the countries and capitals by region. Then, for more advanced practice, we read off the capital cities in alphabetical order so the listener would have to guess the country. Indonesia... Jakarta.

Recently, I rediscovered the mp3 files. It's a good resource and I like it. But it pales in comparison to the geography games offered on the Sheppard Software site. Chile... Santiago.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Furthest Fall: Candidate 2: Pu-Yi

Pu Yi (b. 1906) becomes the child Emperor of China at the age of two. He is the Last Emperor.

The Japanese back the Emperor in struggles with the Republic. Soviet forces capture him and the Communist Revolution in China occurs. The Emperor is turned over to Mao and the gang.

He spends ten years being 're-educated' and is released to be a gardener in the Beijing Botanical Gardens. He dies in 1966, a citizen.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Required Readings

On my last teaching trip we had the students write "Five Things to Know About Me" assignments. They were meant to mimic the style of readings that we provided about philosophers.

For instance, Five Things to Know About Karl Marx included his idea of the inevitable proletariat revolution, his materialistic understanding of history, Hegel's influence on his work, etc. They were short readings designed to give a straightforward introduction to their ideas and provide some basic context for their lives.

So the students were assigned to record their own philosophical conclusions and historical context. At the very least it's fun to write about yourself in third person. Additionally, we asked the students to make a list of "required readings". These are essentially a list of favourites that allow for further insight into their development. It doubled quite nicely as a list of recommendations.

I completed the assignment first, as an exemplar for the students. Now, with the help of my brother I was able to add an extensive list of my "required readings" in the sidebar. It's quite a neat tree menu provided by code he found at Yahoo's User Interface (YUI) Library. At the very least it's nice to point someone to the menu wants me to recommend something to them. I look forward to reviewing each one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Magical Realism

I'm finally reading The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was recommended to me from 'a reliable' years ago. I suspect I'll be doing my best to pass it on. The author's style is labeled 'magical realism' because fantastic things happen and are treated as ordinary. Such as the central character's impossibly long lifespan (he is the dictator of an unnamed Caribbean nation and his long life is a neat metaphor for tyrants on many levels; he is omnipresent, his power comes from his legend, no one can remember the nation without him, he will not die or fade away into history, and I'm sure there are many other parallels for students to write essays on). I'm surprised all of his work isn't being made into films.

I'm not a Garcia Marquez fan but I've always liked his nonfiction book, News of a Kidnapping, and found that it gave me some insight into how the real Colombia could inspire such surreal writing.

Reading his book often makes me think of my own life as an inescapable (albeit fun) cycle of recurring situations (since he loves to deal in stories that cross generations but carry the same themes). I would consider the Garcia Marquezesque themes of my life to be (I can think of at least three important examples for each):

-I fall in love with two people at once
-My family bails me out
-Having a lot of creative control in my work and allowing others to make my choices in my real life
-Being a surprisingly good judge of character
-Learning through teaching

What are the themes in your life?

Garcia Marquez also made a wonderful remark that inspired me as a writer. At seventeen he read Kafka's Metamorphisis (about an ordinary man who wakes up to find he's a giant cockroach). That book helped 'unlock' Garcia Marquez's imagination because it reminded him that fiction can be anything.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Furthest Fall: Candidate 1: Robespierre

Maximilien Robespierre, 'the Incorruptible', may be the finest name to come out of the French Revolution. He is my first candidate for History's Furthest Fall (theme music plays).

The Rise

In 1789 the French Revolution changed the political face of Europe. In France, a popular uprising, led by relatively young and wealthy professionals (lawyers like Robespierre) demanded a voice in politics. They drew support from the general discontent in the country -overtaxed peasants and dissatisfied aristocrats. They tried to compromise with their King and force him to sign a constitution to limit his powers. But King Louis the 16th dragged his feet and plotted against them.

Along came voices like Robespierre. He sat at the back of the newly formed Assembly. The King was virtually imprisoned as they debated his fate. Robespierre was to deliver some of the most fiery and uncompromising speeches.

"Louis must die, so that the country may live."

The vote was taken. 361 FOR 288 AGAINST with 72 voting for a delay of the issue. This was the new democracy. They chopped off the king's head. Then his children's heads. Then his wife's (Marie Antoinette). As you can imagine this did not go over well in Europe. Every monarch was pissed and a little frightened by what had happened in France. War began.

(picture: A terrifying Antoinette costume. Too soon?)

The King was dead but you can tell by the close vote that not everyone was on board with the decision. Radicals like Robespierre feared the threat of a counterrevolution to impose a new monarch in France. The Committee for Public Safety was formed and an era of the revolution known as 'the Terror' began. Heads rolled. Robespierre rode highest on the wave. It's difficult to gauge Maximilien's actual involvement with the Committee because other politicians would heap the blame on him -after his death. Yet it's easy to see, from his fiery speeches, that he felt violence was a necessary part of the revolution.

Terror is only justice prompt, severe and inflexible; it is then an emanation of virtue; it is less a distinct principle than a natural consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing wants of the country.

The Fall

Perhaps the turning point was when Robespierre turned on Georges Danton for being too moderate. Danton was also an exceptional speaker who had accepted violence as part of the revolution. But then he thought it had gone too far. Robespierre's influence was tied to the power held by the Committee. He branded Danton a counterrevolutionary. Heads rolled. (picture: Gerard Depardieu as Danton. Good looks will not save you.) Eventually the Assembly, now the National Convention, tired of the violence and of Robespierre's passionate speeches. They called for his arrest but he and his closest supporters escaped. As the government forces entered the Hotel de Ville Robespierre tried to kill himself. But the bullet only destroyed his jaw. He was captured, put in jail, and guillotined the next day. They had to pull the bandages off of his face so his head would fit into the hole. Several sources say he let out a long chilling scream that was cut off by the dropping blade.

During the seizure Robespierre was shot in the jaw, probabl
y in a botched suicide, and then led to the guillotine with bandages around his head. The bandages blocked his head from fitting into the execution machine, so they were ripped off. The head went into its stock. The blade was raised for its fall. Robespierre began to scream, a terrible, unforgettable cry that was to live in nightmares until it suddenly stopped.

-Andress, David. The Terror: The Merciless War for Freedom in Revolutionary France.

Maximilien Robespierre

The man who had called for the death of France's King is eventually killed by the very methods he had championed to purify the revolution.

When shit went down at the Hotel de Ville on 9 Thermidor (the 9th of some French Revolution month. They were even revolutionating their calendars.) some dude claimed that he heroically shot Robespierre in the face. The painter who crafted this blasterpiece clearly liked that version.

Not pictured here: Augustin Robespierre (brother).
When Max was arrested Aug said: "I am as guilty as him; I share his virtues, I want to share his fate. I ask also to be charged" Later, he tried to escape the shootout by jumping out of the window. He broke both of his legs and they guillotined him the next morning with his brother. There's no such thing as a peaceful revolution. I've always thought that Robespierre seems less crazy when I found out what they did to him.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Haunting of Matt Lemche

I'm quite proud of this little film. I finally put it on YouTube. It had a lil' festival run in Atlanta and Brooklyn and is now at IFC.com. We shot it in two days and edited it in one. My favourite story is that the famous 'plate scene' was completely redone at about 2:30am. Matt was editing the footage and we realized that the shot wasn't quite right. So, with the help of Kostas, we filmed it, captured it, and edited it into the film mere hours before Matt boarded a plane.
The film was completed for Stacy's wonderful Balderdash Festival and it was a perfect fit (the festival is about faking authenticity).

We had ideas for ghostly special effects but we weren't particularly in love with the film idea. For me, the project finally became interesting when we realized that we would use our own paltry understanding of science to rationalize any paranormal activity that we witnessed.

It's a three part video. Here's part two. It begins with the amazing plate scene.

I Hate Musicals

"I hate musicals. They're gaudy, mired in stereotypes and they have never inspired me to think. Nor do I connect with the desire to burst into passionate dance and song. I associate that urge with repressed female high school students whose only escape from cliche is to bury themselves past it."
-younger me, journal

I wrote that a long time ago. Well before I had seen Hedwig and the Angry Inch. That film rescued the entire genre for me. I felt that the story tapered off but the performance delivered by John Cameron Mitchell was enough to draw lines on the ground. I'm on this side. Join me.

I haven't wanted to dance so badly since Billy Elliot rocked out in front of his father (he defeats him in dance to stern face combat in the first three minutes of this clip). This is a picture of Hedwig wearing the second hottest wig in the film. Can you guess the hottest?

This is the best song in Hedwig, "Wig in a Box".

Within a week I found out about a video for House on A Planet, a musical that my friend wrote. I love Archive 4x48. And the ????? in the chorus is genius. It seems like musicals have invested a lot of effort into trying to win me over. I'm quite fond of the video game sound.

197x transverses time.

I suspect musicals will be around for you too. They seem like a long lasting form of entertainment. Songs are an easily recognized departure from reality. I remember a professor of mine explaining that when we sing we can only hold the vowel sounds. For instance when singing the word "because" we elongate the "beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeecause". We can't elongate the "beccccccccccccccccccccccccccccause". Perhaps they have perfected this voice technology in your day. A funny struggle to make words sound special.

Saturday, October 6, 2007


Screenplay draft finished and sent out to be judged.
I have chosen my next goal: I would like to be published by December. This means I will have to be finished writing a book in November.

Robert Heinlein is heralded as one of the top American science fiction writers. After reading some Heinlein I decided that I am much better. Thus, I am America's top science fiction writer. This often happens with me. When I write stand-up I listen to professional stand up comics and think 'wow, I am funnier' and when I watch films I conclude 'this is crap compared to what I could make'. Then I turn this arrogance into the energy to make my own stuff.

I still have a respect for the effort that goes into producing books, stand up, and movies but I almost always feel that I could have created something funnier, more interesting, and more memorable. So I read Neuromancer (William Gibson) and Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson) which are landmark novels in the Cyberpunk genre. I enjoyed Gibson's book because the depth at which the reader is plunged into the world. He certainly doesn't slow things down for exposition. I thought Snow Crash was mediocre but I connected to it because of my brother's enjoyment. Yet both books are not as good as mine.

I think the style of this piece will be a string of interesting ideas held together with a Hollywood heist movie plot. I don't really connect with the characters in sci fi (well, maybe Ender in Ender's Game because I wanted to be a precocious military prodigy). Kurt Vonnegut said something about making sure that your characters want something. -hilarious writing advice considering his characters were one dimensional vessels for his ideas. In my opinion, sci-fi is made great by it's memorable ideas. I've forgotten everything about Neuromancer except the amazing Dixie Flatline asking to be destroyed. A wonderful moment you can only find in fiction.

My story will explore identity in a world where you can routinely change your hair, clothes, skin colour, facial structure, and gender. The story follows an elite impostor (basically a thief who changes their appearance for each heist) who makes a lucrative living testing high end security systems. I've had to come up with a unisexual pronoun for my book (I'm using khee, kir, and kirs) to describe the people who change so much that their original gender is unclear.

Hope you're as excited as I am. It should be available for reading in mid-November. A realistic goal considering in the time you took reading this the extraordinarily prolific and deceased sci-fi author Isaac Asimov just wrote three books. All of them I consider to be crap.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


This post is specifically for you, Great Great Grandrelative. I imagine some entries will bore you but this one is directly for your interests -which are of course, what my interest would be if I could read my Great Great Grandrelative's journal. Enjoy my assumptions.

This post is abut the word 'fuck'. I used it in my last entry. It was dramatic but I don't know if you picked up on its weight. The word fuck is a taboo; it is widely recognized in my culture as inappropriate. Even when it is used in the proper context (anger) or as a joke or for academic discussion it is still considered crass and improper. Sometimes you can discuss the word fuck by saying 'the f word' and people will accept this watering down. Simply by writing it in this entry I have ensured that responsible parents will not let their children read it.

When I was young, the word was wrapped in mystery as I'm sure it was for the majority of kids. I knew it was bad and only for use by older people and I was completely unaware of its secret, adult meeting. The word suggests sexual intercourse (as in "she fucked him") and that's what makes it such a mysterious word for children. But the word also has very strong connotations of violence and aggression. It's often used when someone is angry (as in "I fucking hate you"). In this context it does not mean sexual intercourse. However when people say "fuck you" or "go fuck yourself" it is clear to me that it makes sadly connects sexual intercourse with violence, control, and anger.

Some people write it on a shirt because they know their not supposed to. It's an easy way to offend people and it's an easy way to express anger. We all understand that the word fuck represents an extreme. Because of this it can also be used in humour because, although in appropriate, it can be used flippantly to exaggerate simple things (as in "I fucking love eating ice cream").

I have heard various theories about the etymology of the world. Some people say it is an archaic legal acronym other people say it came from medieval slang. We love our stories.

You can use the word fuck with your friends and the worst thing that would happen is that they would know you as the person who swears. But if you use it at work or with strangers you will be seen as unprofessional, impolite, and angry. Maybe you want to be seen that way.

I have met someone who used the word fuck with such habit that they became numbed to its effects. They used it to place emphasis on everything. In this context I never took offense to the word. But I felt sad that their vernacular was going to drive other people away and they wouldn't understand why. I have another friend who completely refuses to say fuck or shit, or asshole at any time. Those are other words for another time.

This fashion company prints these shirts with the word fuck misspelled. Have they violated a taboo? Some people think yes some people think no. That's what makes it popular with young people.

Reality is Not an Accident

Is it okay to use the word 'mankind' instead of 'humankind'?
Is it okay to say 'that movie was gay' instead of 'that movie was bad'?

Of course it's okay; there's no law against it. You're just a f*ck*ng *d**t.

Boldly put. Didn't mean to alienate. I've learned to approach these topics with tact. Aggression creates counterstrikes and guilt can be avoided. I often turn the debate into an intellectual exercise that I call: it's no accident.

You can say 'gay' in a hostile context all you want. So long as you admit that our culture does not look upon homosexuality favourably and that's the reason it's used as a derogative remark. A word, our reality, is no accident. And your words, however small and temporary are tiny bricks in the future. You insignificant words contribute to the milieu.

Mankind was a word used when male philosophers were literally referring to men exclusively. It's from a time when they believed that only men had the capacity to make rational insights and choices. We can pretend that it is identical to the word 'humankind' but we cannot erase its roots.

Changing words does not change minds. Scolding someone for saying 'gay' might achieve results if they love or fear you. It's much more important to understand that your words build that world that you want so think about what you say.

Every time I start a blog I write about language quite early. Reality is not an accident is my new fun way of saying language is not neutral. Different words, same old-man vision.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I Finished My Script

I applied for money from the government to make my film. The chances are slim but the process helped me articulate the goals of the project. Without the application I hardly ever think about the phrase 'the goals of the project'. I asked for sixteen thousand dollars. I want to spend the money on equipment so that I can make other films in November. When I was at the copy place (I paid ten dollars for them to print one hundred and twenty pages. Usually I print at home but not when it's in such bulk -drains too much toner.)

Do they still have copy places? I wonder what the popular medium is in your day. Today I was daydreaming that there will be a rise of speech activated software and most people will gradually lose their ability to write. We trade dependency for efficiency with machines. Automated world.

There was a lady at the copy place who was printing out her application as well. October 1st seems to be a major deadline in the government-funded arts world.

I keep remembering scenes that are missing from the script. Really intense ones. I forgot to tell you that I cried while I wrote the first draft. I like feeling intense emotions from made up things. It seems silly and appropriate. It was late, I was fatigued. I cried when I wrote Del's line: 'Tell him we knew things were going to change and we didn't know what it was going to look like. Tell him I don't hate him. Tell him I love him."

I emailed the script to about thirty people when I finished the rewrite. Names keep popping into my head of talented people I would like to be involved. Then I went out all day and was hoping to come back to a flood of emails declaring me Viceroy of her Majesty's Amazing Script. It amuses me that when I work on a project so intensely that I assume it is the center of everyone else's world as well.