Monday, June 15, 2015

Go Gentle

I was probably four years old when my mother and I went to visit some relatives who used to live on the edges of Istanbul. It was a ranch of sorts with chickens, a large vegetable garden and a goat (more about the goat in another post).

We were sitting on the veranda when some neighbours ran through the yard in a panic telling us to hide from terrorist gunmen. We all ran into a small shed and shut the door. There were about eight of us cramped inside. I was in the front left of the shed with my mother trying to cover me into the corner and telling me to be as quiet as possible. One of the neighbours was quite shaken. She was praying and saying something about dying. Someone else told her to be completely silent if she didn't want to die. 

I remember feeling a sudden burst of fear and drawing in a quick breath to try and hold it. It became clear very soon that it wasn't going to be practical to hold my breath. My mother was stroking my hair and whispering something. We heard some people run by frantically and everyone seized up. 

I remember deciding that I had to do what I had to do to remain calm and suddenly seemed to have a mastery over my breath and nerves. I closed my eyes and entered what I now might consider to be a psychedelic state. I was peaceful and confident and felt like I was floating. The sounds around me started to present themselves in my mind as colours and moving shapes. This is my earliest memory of a synesthesia that I experience when concentrating on music. It often presents itself in a more pronounced way when I'm under the influence of a psychedelic. 

I was able to transform and manipulate the sounds around me into a swirling kaleidoscope. It gave me access to an infinite calm. I was, in retrospect, in a trance or perhaps a dissociative state. I had perhaps triggered a defensive survival mechanism in the face of what I perceived to be mortal danger. Some say that at the instant of death the human brain releases DMT, a very strong psychedelic. Maybe it's a last ditch effort of the body to save itself or at least go peacefully off this mortal coil and gentle into that good night. 

I wonder how this might also be related to my inclination to sleep when faced with a heightened emotional state. Is it an expression of the same instinct or is it something I learned to do that day? Maybe the trauma of that experience forever flavored the way I respond to and deal with my emotions which I've always thought of as things to be controlled lest they get you in trouble or maybe even killed. How much of my personal development (functional or dysfunctional) can be traced back to a single stressful event and how I was able to deal with it?

The shed door was finally opened and we saw soldiers with machine guns in front of us. There was a sense of relief as they told us that the situation had been resolved and I returned to this reality. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Perchance To Dream

When confronted with an upcoming difficult or important task I tend to experience a sudden need to sleep. It occurs to me instinctively that a quick nap will better prepare me for the challenge ahead. I wonder if this is how my ancestors reacted when they were about to head out for a long hunt or battle. Perhaps they fell asleep wherever they happened to be, knowing that they would need to remain alert and not knowing when they would be able to sleep again.

This proclivity seems to assert itself whenever challenges lay ahead. I don't have to hunt to feed my tribe or battle to protect them but I have been confronted by exams, public speaking engagements, or first dates before which I have a sudden need to sleep even when I've had plenty of rest and the taking of time for such repose would be highly inconvenient or damming. I'm much more likely to be late for an important rendezvous than a minor one so I have a long history of disappointing and seemingly disrespecting people who know me.

In grade eight I wrote several comedy sketches for the holiday school assembly before the break. The skits weren't particularly original as they were likely heavily influenced by SNL, Second City or the British comedy shows that I watched religiously on TV. The final day was to be just half a day of music and comedy. We stayed after school the day before to rehearse. Everyone was excited and sure that the morning performance was going to be a hit.

The next morning I found myself waking up not before eight as I usually did but at eleven. I had never been that late for school, unintentionally. My mother, not knowing about the day's performance, said she had great difficulty waking me and thought I must be ill so left me to sleep in.

I finally got to school just as the show was wrapping up. I was made to wait outside the gym and my teacher came out to see me. I was unable to explain what happened other than to say that I slept in and was very sorry. She scolded me by saying how I had disappointed her and my classmates. She naturally interpreted it as a sign of disrespect and uncaring. I was crushed. A classmate had taken my place in the skits and one consolation was that they were apparently a big success and a source for much laughter. 

It felt like I had missed my big break. Of course I imagined there would have been standing ovations and calls for "author, author" but even if it was received with slightly less enthusiasm I'm quite certain it would have encouraged me to continue with such things and perhaps I would not have lived with the longstanding regret of not pursuing a creative life. 

More recently this proclivity to sleep in the face of challenges has presented itself in different ways. In times of emotional distress, such as one might feel in the course of long difficult discussions during what turns out to be a breakup, my eyes begin to droop and I feel a need to shut down. It is naturally interpreted as a sign of disrespect and a lack of caring for the import of the situation. Ironically, it is likely just the opposite. Because I realize the importance of the situation I instinctively need rest so that I can continue more effectively in the challenge.

These are perhaps just the convenient rationalizations of a sociopath but some people are known to experience a narcoleptic response to heightened emotional states. It might be a dysfunction of my psyche warranting censure but it certainly feels more like an irresistible physical response bred in the bone of my ancestors.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kill The Wabbit!

The TV show Frasier and the filmmaker Atom Egoyan lead me to believe that tasteful and intelligent people are supposed to appreciate the art of opera. I always wondered if I was missing something because I just didn't get it. Like most of my generation much of my familiarity with opera comes from old Warner Brothers cartoons.

I've only been to see live opera a few times. On each of those occasions I happened to notice that Atom Egoyan the Canadian filmmaker was in attendance. I assume he must be at every high-brow cultural event in Toronto because I've also seen him at most of the live theatre shows I've been to. Given his creative output he's clearly a tasteful and intelligent man with whom I think I would have much in common. A love of opera wouldn't be one of those commonalities.

Last week I was invited to watch the opening night performance of Wagner's Die Walküre by The Canadian Opera Company. This iteration happened to be directed by that very same Atom Egoyan so I could not refuse the opportunity. I've seen many clips of opera on TV and I've often been impressed and moved but I've always had difficulty understanding how such an art form has survived and maintained such a level of respect. Is it an example of an emperor having no clothes? 

I went into the performance with an open and tolerant approach. I admit that I've always been known to value the intellectual over the emotional, Apollo over Dionysus, Spock over McCoy. With some effort of my own and through the influence of the women in my life I've made great strides in this regard. I no longer prejudicially consider the emotional to be a failing of the intellectual, a sort of desperate cognitive response to stimulus that cannot be encapsulated within a satisfying intellectual enframing. Having achieved such recent personal evolutions I've noticed that I now enjoy films that I used to consider maudlin and over the top (Carlito's Way popped for me on a recent re-viewing). Wagner seemed to be as overripe and sentimental as anything from Hollywood so I wondered if I might be able to see it now with fresh eyes.

We had excellent seats, a few rows behind the conductor's head, so I was able to see his flamboyant gesticulations and some of the movements of the musicians in the back row of the orchestra. The show started with the curtain down. I was immediately enthralled by the conductor's movements and quickly began to appreciate the music for what it was, a bold and aggressive sonic creation. I closed my eyes and let my synesthesia have its way, seeing the sounds represented by the colours and shapes that ran multi-dimensionally through my mind's eye. The music is pretty impressive. I get how people can find art in the music.

I opened my eyes to see that the curtain had risen and an unexpected set was in my view. An interesting array of beams, girders, and light standards running in jagged and jarring directions. This seemed apt for the music I was hearing. So far so good. Set design, lighting and direction can be sources of artful creation that enhance the music.

Then a few of the singers started belting out the impressive and expressive sounds that can surprisingly come from the modest primate body of a human. It's hard not to be moved by the masterful reflections of human emotions that ride on the waves of air as they move from the midsection of a diva to the ears, mind and body of the listener. So far so good. The singing can be home to art.

This opera is a product of mid-1800's Germany. It is temporally, culturally and linguistically foreign to me. It may as well be traditional Indonesian puppet theatre. I've come across some completely foreign cultural performances, whether they were from Asia or Africa or the Amazon, and I've freely given respect and admiration to such things for their tasteful or moving arrangement of sights and sounds. A Wagnerian opera was such a thing for me. I wasn't sure what they were doing or saying but I dug their talent and commitment. 

Here's where it takes a wrong turn. Opera performances have surtitles running above the stage so you can read the translations of what they are singing. Holy cow! That is some fucked up shit! The narrative contents are chock full of bizarre, misogynistic, incestuous nuttiness. One could perhaps chalk it up to cultural relativity given that it's even further alienated from my experience being based on old Norse mythology.

But it's more than that. One quickly realises that the heartfelt ecstatic singing coming from the diva is often just some dull expository dialogue. A good filmmaker like Egoyan knows how to show rather than tell. So-called high-brow culture is very good at that. This is often what keeps it from attaining mass appeal. Opera seems to be curiously opposite. Wagner's Die Walküre displays what may ungenerously be described as amateurish, on-the-nose storytelling that hits the viewer over the head with broad preposterous over-seriousness. It seems like the fruit of an over-excited 14 year-old virgin boy who spends far too much time playing myth-based role-playing games. The weakest part of the art is at the heart of this art. It's all beautifully composed and executed music, singing, direction and set design but it's all done in the service of a ridiculous and overwrought core of a narrative.

From what I can gather it would be best to watch and listen to a Wagner opera without paying any attention to what it's all about. Perhaps the tragedy of all of this is that Wagner didn't have a writing partner who could match his musical skills with his sorely lacking storytelling skills. I can put up with a lot of silliness and even ugliness in art if it is in the service of a profound message, idea or feeling. I admit it's very likely that I haven't put in enough effort to fully glean the valuable subtext of this work, but it shouldn't be this unnatural and distracting to do so. Perhaps Atom and I could have a drink and chat one day. I'm still hoping that I'm missing something. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Sweet Science

Boxing is a fascinating sport because it lives in a tension between being a primal contest of force and a highly elevated contest of technique and strategy. You can win by mastering either side of this tension but those who can master both have much in common with great artists.

I happened to tune into HBO Boxing this weekend. I didn't know anything about the scheduled bouts and started watching about a minute into the first round of the James Kirkland / Glen Tapia match. It was obviously a vicious fight, all about force and will. Both men absorbed as much punishment in the first few rounds as any boxer could expect in several fights. It brought the competition as close as possible to a fight to the death. One couldn't help but be affected by the fight, whether in disgust or admiration. 

The chatter in Kirkland's corner was especially revealing as his trainer Anne Wolf growled to him "you done took his nuts now you gotta take his heart", insisting that his opponent wanted to kill or humiliate him and that only destroying his opponent would win the day. That nearly became a self-fulfilling scenario because it seemed that both fighters were determined not to go down no matter how much punishment was to be absorbed. In situations like these boxers can and have died in the ring. It became clear that, unless outside forces intervened, these men would fight until one of them was unconscious or dead.

In a contest like this it ceases to be about boxing skills. Eventually it even ceases to be about strength and physical force. It becomes a contest of wills. After some back and forth Kirkland started getting the upper hand and was mercilessly beating Tapia against the ropes. The ring-side doctor had a look twice between rounds and declared that he was very close to calling the fight. They were allowed to continue. Eventually, and probably much later than was prudent, the referee intervened and stopped the fight. Just as he jumped in between the two fighters Kirkland continued with two final punches that actually seemed to knock Tapia out on his feet. He was held up by the referee to save him the embarrassment of being thrown unconscious to the canvas.

One couldn't help but be drawn in by the visceral drama of the fight even as it was accompanied by a tragic sadness and fear that someone might actually die unless the fight was stopped. In moments like this you get a glimpse of our indefatigable primitive selves. It's draining and exciting to watch such spectacles. At its heart boxing is a vicious competition to the death but it's contested within the bounds of a set of rules designed to leave in everything but the killing.

And just as I was coming to grips with what I had just experienced, the next bout swung everything back all the way to the other sweep of the pendulum. Guillermo Rigondeaux is a very experienced fighter out of Cuba. He is one of the most technically gifted boxers in the world but only turned professional recently after leaving Cuba for Miami. He has developed a style that makes it almost impossible for his opponents to hit him. His speed, strategy and anticipation allow him to cut in quickly, tag his opponents with a flurry of punches and then retreat before they know how to respond. His opponent Joseph Agbeko is known to be a very skilled fighter who throws a lot of punches in any given match. In this bout he was reduced to a confused mess of a fighter, unable to mount any offence. In some rounds he was unable to connect on any punches at all while many of the punches credited to him by the scorekeepers were charitable since they only barely touched Rigondeaux while lacking any force or harm.

It was a technical tour de force but what's really interesting is that many of the fans in the stands started filing out of the venue, considering the fight to be very boring. Most fans don't like this fighter nor his fights. There is little appreciation for his style and he cannot understand why that is, believing that it is a conspiracy and prejudice against Cuban fighters. The point of boxing is to hit your opponent while avoiding being hit and he does this as well as anyone has ever done. He's simply not appreciated for it by anyone other than a few hardcore boxing wonks.

Rigondeaux is unlikely to get very rich from professional boxing. The lesser technically talented Tapia, unless he's killed or maimed in the ring, is loved and may well go on to make a fortune by giving and receiving punishment. It's much easier to understand a beating than the chess match offered to fans by Rigondeaux.

There is a familiar diametrical opposition to the way viewers respond to various expressions of style in the arts. In the realms of music, painting, writing or film one finds similar disagreements about what is considered exciting and impressive; pop music vs jazz, Rockwell vs Rothko, Rowling vs Pynchon, Spielberg vs Kubrick. The opposition often tends to be between the emotional vs the intellectual. Pop/emotional styles are criticised for being too simple and primitive, while styles demonstrating advanced technique are criticised for being alienating and heartless.

Boxing as The Sweet Science reflects emotion in the sweetness and intellect in the science. It's inherently understood that greatness involves mastering both. A Nietzschean approach might be to discuss the interplay of The Dionysian and The Apollonian in the creative process. Creations that move us to strongly feel and simultaneously to think in challenging ways are often considered masterpieces. Muhammad Ali is a legendary hero and a Superman of the sport because of his mastery of both spirits. Artists of any medium who can demonstrate mastery of both sides of this coin can aspire to such heights.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Communism, Billy Jack, and OWS

I came accross this heavily discounted paperback about 20 years ago in a bookstore clearance bin. I was at the time a Philosophy student with a particular libertarian bent. The Berlin Wall had just been eroded by decades of Cold War, and Glasnost had melted away the USSR. It was clear to everyone in those days that Communism was dead for good, so buying The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels for $1.99 that day was perhaps a purchase made with an ironic flair and a nod to the quixotic.

I don't remember if I had actually read it previously to my recent perusal. With the fresh perspective of two decades of hindsight I went through it and was surprised at how relevant it still is and also how bold and fearless it was.

It was published in 1848 during an era of revolutions in Europe but it has much to say about our current year of revolutions within the Arab world and the Occupy Wall Street Movement. The Communist Manifesto is an unapologetic twisting of a knife into the ruling classes of the world. It is written with the confidence of someone who feels the force and motion of History behind him.

Growing up in the 70's and 80's I must have watched the film Billy Jack a dozen times. It's the story of peaceful namesake who is confronted with so much injustice and oppression that he takes matters into his own hands and beats the daylights out of the racist oppressive ruling class of a southern US county. One of the coolest scenes ever for an adolescent boy such as myself was the one in which Billy is squared off against the main bad guy in a face-to-face encounter. I was reminded of this scene while reading The Communist Manifesto. Billy and Marx both telegraph exactly what they're going to do, outline it precisely to the representative of their respective ruling class and go ahead and do it.

Postwar America fell heavily under the influence of an out-of-control and paranoid military-industrial-complex. The middle-class kids growing up in 60's rebelled and a revolutionary spirit took hold amongst them. Marx was for many a guiding inspiration for revolution. Their indignation was fanned by the oppression of minority races at home and the killing of foreigners half a world away at the hands of an imperialistic American military.

Today's OWS movement is similarly spurred, moved and represented largely by middle-class educated youth. They are reacting to a set of injustices that have resulted from the progression of a Capitalistic system that seems to have worked its way towards its own demise. Capitalism has had a long and successful run, creating vast wealth and prosperity for the world. But this wealth has become more and more concentrated in the hands of a few that now directly or indirectly control not only the money but the government that sets the regulations for the flow of that money and the media that tells everyone that this is the best that we could hope for.

I don't believe Capitalism is dead or needs to die. Free movements of money and goods seems clearly to be the most efficient way to create wealth and prosperity, but that doesn't mean that a completely unfettered system would therefore be even better. Everyone seemed to realize and recognize this not too long ago. Free enterprise was allowed, vast wealth was created and it was taxed at a substantial rate to create a more humane and tolerable common realm. The founding fathers who wrote the American constitution recognized that a concentration of power is not healthy for a society and wrote the rules to discourage it in the political realm. That concentration of power is equally degenerative in the realms of money and media. The concentration of money has been able to buy media power and ultimately political power by helping to design a political system that runs on the fuel of money that they provide to help elect leaders and write the legislation that perpetuates and grows the system in a manner that benefits the moneyed above all.

At a certain point this unchecked growth can eventually lead to a diagnoses of a cancer. Marx advocated that we kill the body and build a new one. I think we are definitely sick but let`s not lose our heads. OWS should be supported because it is probably the only way to circumvent the existing power of money, media and politics to get us talking about necessary change. Those who oppose such democratic discussion are not doing the body any good. It makes no sense to continue stacking the rules in favour of ever concentrated wealth when any smart billionaire will tell you that there`s no use running a business if your customers have no money or time to buy your goods.

This should of course only be the beginning of a discussion that will go on to ask tough questions about growth in general and what it means to be happy and prosperous now that we`ve discovered that these should not only be measured by money.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Rockem Sockem Robots, Capitalism and Drug Dealers

The goal of almost any successful business is to have loyal repeat customers. Some businesses like Starbucks or Crack Dealers have products that are conveniently habit forming. If you liked the coffee or crack you'll buy it again.

Not all products are so naturally addictive, so the seller must rely on satisfying the needs of the buyer with quality or reliability or customer service. If this is successfully done then the buyer doesn't fear buying something new from the same seller if they see it advertised. If you like the iPod you're much more likely to buy an iMac or iSlate.

While this inclination to repeat purchasing can be focused on a product like coffee or a company like Apple, a more far-reaching habit can be formed with buying in general. One sees a product advertised, buys the product, and if they're satisfied are more likely to buy the next product that is promoted to them. Satisfied customers for any product helps the next product that comes along.

As a kid I would get up early on Saturday mornings to watch the slate of cartoon programming and be bombarded with commercials for the irresistible Rock'em Socke'm Robots. The commercials made them appear to be remote controlled robots that fought each other until the loser's head popped off. I was mesmerized. The commercial was repeated to me hundreds of times and each time I became ever more convinced that I needed to have this product.

I finally received these virtual fighting gladiators as a birthday present and couldn't wait to open the box and set up the first match. It was probably 5 seconds after the package was opened that I realized that I had been had. The reality of the user experience was very far removed from how they appeared on TV. I learned a lesson that day that has stuck with me ever since. I developed a strong shell of skepticism that makes me almost impenetrable to advertising seduction.

Around the same time a friend of mine had ordered those sea monkeys from the comic book ad only to find months later that he had received a package of freeze-dried shrimp in the mail. Even the crack dealer knows not to kill his customer but those consumer experiences killed the consumer in me.

It's interesting to note that Rock'em Sock'em Robots were made by a company named Marx.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Big Takeover

I was going to write something about the economic meltdown but it's probably better if you just read this article by Matt Tabbi in the upcoming Rolling Stone Magazine.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Glass Houses

I live in an unusual house. It was originally one of the first Loblaws stores on a busy street in West Toronto Junction. It is unmistakably a retail storefront building. When I renovated it and turned it into my living space I wondered what to do with the front exposure. I toyed with the idea of leaving it uncovered and simply living my domestic life in full view. I was reminded of the 1921 novel "We" by the Russian Zamyatin. The world in which the protagonist D-503 lives is made mostly out of glass. People literally live in glass houses and everyone's daily activities are visible to anyone passing by.

I decided against such a bold move and constructed a wall inside the storefront to separate my private space from public view. During the past 4 years in which I've lived behind that wall I've been engaged in another kind of exposure. I started blogging, signed up for Facebook and began using Twitter along with over a dozen other social networking platforms that essentially reveal more and more about what I'm doing when, where, and with who. It allows anyone willing to sort through the content to be able to develop a pretty good sense of who I am and what I stand for. People who choose to participate in this Panopticon are tearing down walls and replacing them with windows. We are moving closer to what D-503 must have experienced in his world.

It should be noted that George Orwell didn't really hide the fact that his 1984 owed a great deal to Zamyatin's novel. In Orwell's dystopian world Winston Smith and all of its citizens are constantly monitored with a telescreen. This is a two-way communication device that allows for the mass distribution of information while also monitoring the activities of its viewers. Big Brother's omnipresent omniscience of everyone's activities is stifling and oppressive. Big Brother goes even further by trying through the activities of the Thought Police to monitor what each person is thinking. The irony in our world is that many of us are doing the job of the Thought Police by voluntarily posting everything about ourselves online.

Why are we so untroubled by so much exposure? It probably has to do with the general feeling that our governments are not so nefarious. Most people don't seem to think that our governments are evil or corrupt enough to use this information against us. In short there is a trusting relationship between the parties involved. You have probably noticed that when you share private information with a close friend, a stronger bond and trust will often result. This will work as long as your friend is not a psychopath, in which case they will simply file it away and use it against you in the future to manipulate and control you.

Big Brother is not as evil and psychopathic as the conspiracy theorists would have you believe but perhaps it should be the cause for some concern that all of this information that we cast out into cyberspace is permanently available if, or when, an evil and nefarious government does take control. Even with that realization I'm still not very concerned simply because as we increasingly replace the walls around us with glass we make increasing demands on our governments to do the same. As we develop a taste for transparency and it's transformative powers we insist that anyone or group that we elect to rule us will have to reciprocate the exposure. We are Little Brother and we insist that Big Brother also live in a glass house or we will simply refuse to support or elect them.

If you live your life afraid to express your inner fears and desires to your friends because you worry that you might not be able to trust them not to use it against you, then you might find yourself without any friends. By putting it all out there for everyone to see you'll find that others will feel more comfortable doing the same and eventually a more open and transparent situation will result; in your personal life as well as your politics. But this will only work if you demand the same from your friends and leaders.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Acertain Ratio

hard pillow soft sheets
awake for hours

listening to Eno songs
about airplanes and flowers

my mind
to pi(e)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


after the thaw
where once there was snow

what's yet to be born
and what's died below

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Memento Vivo

being is now

not is later

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Untitled 2.08.09

moving through rippled tunnels

linking meaning to words

through symbols

we transcend

this mortal


Saturday, February 07, 2009

long title for a short poem about the future of life on Earth

we'll be grateful

if the robots



*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Economics of Scarcity

with a surplus of joy

each crack can be filled

with squandered beauty

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Thursday, February 05, 2009


not what you say
but how you say it

I ask for metaphors
you give me maps

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Almost Free Gallery Space for Artists

I have a storefront on Dundas St. West Junction in Toronto that would be very well suited for an art space.

25 ft wide window exposure.
12 ft ceilings with abundant track lighting.
800 sq.ft. bare bones gallery
+ 2000 sq.ft unfinished basement
+ another 2000 sq. ft. finely finished space with up to 16 ft. ceilings for an opening party.

Here's what I suggest:

I would offer the space to an artist or collective of artists to use the space on a short term basis (nightly, weekly or monthly) to host art openings and/or to display their art for show or sale. I may ask only for works of art as payment in lieu of rent.

Let me know what you think and pass this on to whomever you think might be interested.

Still Looking

what you lost can't be found here

but this is where you search

because you think there's more light

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Unititled 2.3.09

I told you
before the ship went down

that I was
already drowning

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Untitled 2.2.09

I climb the pillars
and undo the heavenly hatch

let's pretend
it's not too late

to die young
and leave a beautiful corpse

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


i am a river

you are a pond

i wish

we were

an ocean

*Each day in February I will try to post a poem to take part in A Month of Poetry.

This Art is Shit

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I Miss My Dog

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Monday, January 12, 2009

Art and Mortality

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Filler Blog Posting

This is the end of my third full year of blogging. During 2006 and 2007 I averaged about 1 blog posting every 3 days. In 2008 I averaged a miserable 1 posting every 13 days. I can't promise I'll post any more frequently next year to this blog but my creative output should increase through some other projects that are underway for the new year.

I'm working with director Andy Keen to produce and write a basketball-related feature length documentary film called DUNK! You might be hearing more about this as the project progresses. It is now in production and slated for completion in early 2010.

Visual Art:
I've teamed up with long-time friend Robert Anthony to produce a regular web comic strip that doesn't yet have a name. You will see the first of them in January 2009 and probably on a weekly basis thereafter.

I plan on finishing one and possibly 2 novels during the next year. One novel is a sci-fi-psy-phi love story about a physicist while the other is written as a memoir/bio by a philosopher about his troubled childhood artist friend.

I've got nothing here besides a few Garage Band mixes that I've created on my iMac, but I would be willing to play drums with anyone who'd be interested in jamming.

Plus there's some talk of a podcast with a broadcaster friend of mine and also that screenplay that's been half finished for over 5 years.

If I blog one more filler posting before the year is over I could get my average up closer to once every 12 days.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Circling the Drain?

What if a billion people were suddenly removed from our Planet? I had a conversation recently at a family gathering in which it was suggested that this was our only hope if we were to avoid an upcoming environmental and economic collapse.

I'm not going to even consider the residual environmental effects of what would be a massively unbalancing event. Let's assume that one billion people in Asia (only because that's where it's most densely populated) were removed in a magical way without any radiation, toxicity, or similar side-effect. Because our global economy is so interconnected I would contend that such an occurrence would probably wipe out at least another billion people and probably more in other parts of the world. Think of how many industries rely on products, parts or services made in China, Japan and India. Most global industries would grind to a halt. Food production would be affected, trade routes would be disrupted and the resulting starvation and geopolitical chaos would likely sink the world into another dark age. It would probably take at least a generation to recover from such a radical depopulating of the Earth.

I've heard some others say that things are probably not as bad as it seems. Citing historical situations in which it seemed hopeless until things changed in ways that were not anticipated. They seem to have immense faith in our capacity for technological innovation and count on these kinds of developments to save us.

I believe that the solution to the upcoming environmental and economic crisis does not require us to radically and rapidly depopulate the Earth. Nor must it rely on future technological innovations to save us. It requires another kind of innovation to help us to make necessary decisions in a way that overcomes our paralysis. I feel strongly that we already have all of the technological tools necessary to avert the collapse and that we are already aware of what needs to be done. The problem is that we are stuck in a kind of Prisoner's Dilemma.

1. If we all fail to do the right thing then we all suffer economic and environmental collapse in the future.
2. If you do the right thing but others don't then you end up suffering the collapse in the future anyway, but worse, you have the added indignity of losing out economically to your competitors and being poor until the collapse arrives.
3. If we all act to do the right thing then the worst of the collapse could be avoided.

But nobody is inclined to be the first to voluntarily take the appropriate steps to avoid collapse because they can't rely on the others to do the same. This applies inter-personally as well as internationally. Why should I sacrifice or why should Canada sacrifice when others with whom we are competing won't do the same? This is why it becomes much like what's called a Mexican Stand-Off in gangster films. Imagine a scene in which several people have guns pointed at someone else in the room. If any one of them shoots their gun then it will likely trigger a cascade of bullets and all of them will probably die. If one of them does the right thing and lowers his gun then he risks being killed by the person pointing at him who may not act as honourably. So they're all frozen in indecision until someone takes the initiative to fire or somehow convince everyone to lower their guns simultaneously.

The social innovation required is to find a way in which we can all lower the gun at the same time. The Prisoner's Dilemma is only a dilemma because each prisoner is not allowed to consult the other and to act in concert. If they were allowed to collaborate and cooperate they would arrive at the best result for both of them. We can perhaps subvert the prisoner's dilemma by communicating to each other that we will simultaneously do the right thing in order to arrive at the best possible result for everyone. The innovation which is required is social innovation and effective cooperation. Perhaps our ever-expanding access to ubiquitous media could help us to achieve this.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Promise of Collective Intelligence

I've been involved with a group of thinkers called Overlap who annually organizes a conference of just 50 individuals. When we gather we like to sit in a large circle so that the lines of communication can be readily drawn between all participants. We believe this to be better than the more traditional "one-to-many" method of communication when someone stands at a podium and delivers to a listening crowd. At the end of each of our conferences some of us wonder whether we have accomplished anything beyond encouraging a sense of community through stimulating conversations. Most of us believe that even this is enough to consider our gatherings to be a success.

Even with the circular seating arrangement and openly democratic structure of discussions we inevitably find that there will often be an imbalance of input between various participants. The conversation is usually steered by a handful of the bolder participants. We just accept this to be an inevitable imperfection of human interaction. Beyond the circular seating arrangement I find it ironic that Overlap gatherings are very minimally designed given their attendance and organization by some very gifted designers.

Buckminster Fuller discovered that in order to build the most efficient structures he needed to mimic nature's design tendencies. Nature tends to organize matter in a way that optimally balances the tensions within structures. This is how he came upon the geodesic dome as an example of maximum strength made with minimal materials and surface area. Tensegrity is the name given to this optimal balancing of tensions.

I recently went to a talk at the Rotman School of Management. The speaker from Syntegrity Group was describing how their consultancy uses the structure of the icosahedron to help their clients reach goals and solve problems. They claim to be able to overcome the imbalances of human groups by mimicking the perfection of Platonic solids. They employ a system of collaboration that allows a complex web of stakeholders to work together in the most efficient way possible. They start with 30 people and identify the twelve most important questions or goals to address.

Each person is assigned one of the 30 line edges on the solid. There are 12 vertices where 5 people meet to address one of the twelve issues. Without getting too deep into the process the thinking is that mimicking the ideal way in which the lines are organized in an icosahedron will allow us to get closer to perfection when organizing how people can meet, talk and work out the issues at hand. It's interesting to note that many viruses occur naturally in the shape of an icosahedron as it is the most efficient way of organizing identical repeated proteins.

Naturally I wondered if we shouldn't apply the Syntegrity structure to our Overlap gatherings so that our collection of gifted participants could start to tackle real world problems but I couldn't help wondering if it could also be applied to personal therapy. What if I was to gather a group of 30 or so people from my life; family, friends, people I've dated, hated or worked with. Maybe we could finally find a purpose for my life.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


The presentations which came to be called Greek Tragedies often coincided with the sacrifice of a goat. There were recitations of goat songs, and the people of the chorus in the drama often dressed as half-man, half-goat satyrs. The word Tragedy comes from the Greek tragōidiā or "goat song". Remember this the next time you hear something described as "tragic".

P.S. Aristotle and Nietzsche had some interesting things to say about tragedy.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Democratic Capitalism

George W. Bush recently made a point of stressing that Democratic Capitalism is still "the best system ever developed". This, despite the fact that his administration has recently engaged in some economic activities that even his party members have called "socialist" or even "communist". I don't often agree with this President but I found myself nodding in agreement but also chuckling a little bit when I heard him make this pronouncement. It seemed like he didn't want anyone to think he was going all pinko on us, he just needed to pull some pinko tricks to save the banking system and stave off the worst financial calamity since the great depression of the 1930's.

Democratic Capitalism while clearly not perfect is a reasonable and efficient means to the end of maximizing happiness. What we've seen championed by the recent White House has definitely been Capitalism, but Democratic?... Not so much. As long as the Democratic side of that characterization is prioritized then Capitalism can be employed to arrive at some excellent results. What happens sometimes, as it has recently in the Western financial system is that we've forgotten that Capitalism is a means towards the ends of Democracy, not something that should be pursued at the cost of Democratic priorities.

Just because Capitalism is an efficient means of arriving at economic results doesn't mean that the most extreme version of laissez-faire Capitalism will therefore be the best possible road to success. Why do we create wealth in the first place? If you think it is only for the purpose of lining your own pockets at the expense of anyone else living on Earth now or in the future, then you might want the most open system of unregulated markets, especially if you already happen to be someone of wealth to begin with. If you think that wealth should be created so that you and as many of the people on your planet as possible could also live happily then you might accept that Capitalism is an efficient way to arrive at this goal. With this in mind you wont mind that the system is regulated and occasionally tweaked to ensure that we keep our priorities in focus. Trickle-down economics only works to a limited degree. After certain high levels of wealth have been attained the trickle mostly stops.

Capitalism went too far recently and the resulting pendulum swing may destroy wealth faster than it created it in the first place. Why can't we learn that fundamentalism of any kind is a dangerous and doomed mindset to embrace? The free market capitalists that were pushing for the deregulation of markets and the decommissioning of government are just as dangerously fundamentalist as the extremists who wish to destroy them. The key to surviving any crisis is to try to avoid whip-lashing in the opposite direction. Just because Capitalism is flawed and has caused this current turmoil doesn't mean that a hyper-controlling style of government is therefore better. Let's try to keep our heads, remember our priorities and move toward our New Capitalism to meet those needs.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Does This Image Make You Want To Rape?

I am a strong proponent of liberal expression even when it is somewhat offensive. At the same time I am sensitive to the issues surrounding the exploitation of women. American Apparel ads have served lately to cause a schism in liberal circles between those who would more value one consideration over the other.

When this ad appeared on a billboard in New York's lower east side someone eventually spray-painted it with the message "Gee, I wonder why women get raped?". I've seen the same ad on a billboard on Yonge Street in Toronto and I have to say that I didn't decide to rape anyone as a result of seeing it. Consider that this photo is a self-portrait taken by the Artist Kyung Chung. Her backside wrapped in tights is turned to the camera as she's slightly bent over. It is undoubtedly an erotically charged pose but I fail to see any exploitation. She is a strong women artist in a strongly sexual pose, completely in charge of the situation. There is no hint of compulsion within the narrative of the photo. The character is bent over suggestively and one of the reasons it is so alluring is that she is in charge of the situation and seems to be demanding the service of her imaginary lover. Chung's photo does not portray the female character to be vulnerable in any way in which she doesn't want to be.

People seem more sexually liberal in Europe where you're likely to see this kind of advertising but with even more nudity. In cultures where women are presented and represented in scant cladding we don't find them to be at higher risk of being sexually assaulted. I would argue exactly the opposite. Cultures wherein the revelation of skin is discouraged seem much more dangerous to women. If a women shows any flesh in Saudi Arabia she might be considered a slut and therefore much more likely to be raped than in Copenhagen where she can walk around (weather permitting) in next to nothing.

Someone is quoted in a newspaper article about Chung's photo saying "I don't think you need a PhD to recognize that ... [this] is nothing but an ad for - and I'll put this gently - anal intercourse," - What? First of all who would produce such an ad? Would it be presented by the AIAA (Anal Intercourse Association of America)? Secondly, why does penetration of one kind seem demeaning to her besides another kind. I think there are actually some people who enjoy such things and don't need to be forced to do it. Also she might want to note that that's not the the only kind of penetration possible in that position, but if your dirty mind causes you to leap to that scenario then you have to see that the model in the picture is demanding it not resisting it, so how does rape or a demeaning scenario even come into it?

What if instead of discouraging sexually suggestive ads we just didn't make such a big deal about them? Wouldn't women be safer in a society that viewed such images as commonplace? It seems to me that sexual repression is more likely to lead to desperate acts of violence against women than sexual liberation. I'm sure that the critics of these ads have nothing but the best of intentions to protect women from harm but that photo of Kyung Chung can also be seen simply as a beautiful and powerful image created by a beautiful and powerful women.

As a point for comparison the story being told in the D&G ad below seems to more clearly cross the line. The narrative within this vignette clearly suggests a gang rape scenario. Even though this ad is aimed at women and even though some women may have such fantasies I can see why it may be offensive.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

September 9, 2001

I was on a 23 hour bus ride from Rize Turkey to Istanbul on September 9 2001. My shiny new MP3 player was busted and the cassette Walkman I borrowed from a cousin was drained within the first hour after departure. I was seated at the very back and centre of the bus so I could see everyone's business in front of me.

The buses in Turkey have stewards working the aisles just like on airplanes and I was able to observe the hard work they put in. I wasn't sure if I would rather work with them instead of sitting for 23 hours. It was also interesting to realize that the entire trip was captained by the same driver who tried his best to exhale his cigarette smoke out of his driver's side window. He made an apologetic statement claiming that despite the smoking ban it was surely better for everyone's sake that he smoke to keep from falling asleep.

People started drifting off and after several hours of numbing boredom I was mercifully able to doze in and out for short stretches. The first few hours seemed like days and I fell into a surreal haze. The short naps made the trip seem even longer and during one of these I had one of those hyper real and frightening dreams. I was in a tall building in New York. We heard a tremendous noise and looked out the window as everything started shaking. While we wondered aloud if it was an earthquake the building directly across from us just crumbled before our eyes and disappeared to the street below.

I immediately knew what was about to happen and to our horror the walls around us started to cave in and everything went dark. I instantly knew that we weren't going to make it out of there alive. I heard a ringing bell and a very distant yet familiar bittersweet feeling started to come over me. As our building started to fall down I was transported back to recess break in my grade 4 schoolyard.

Children can play as hard as any adult can work and during some of those games we would become so entirely immersed that we would completely forget where we were, what time it was or that it would ever have to end. Only when the bell rang were we brought back to the reality that we had left completely behind. Only then were we reminded that it all had to end and only then did we experience that bittersweet feeling within which one simultaneously appreciates the value of the game just as the tragic realization of its ending sets in.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Stuff ist Angst

I've got this fantasy of selling everything I own and living a simpler and more meaningful life. The more I have the more stressed I seem to be. Owning more things just means more to maintain, more to worry about and more to feel guilty about owning.

This guy has taken on the project of limiting the things in his life to just 100 items. His goal is to arrive at that number by November 2008 and he has been blogging about his progress. He's gotten it down to 132 when I last checked. Many people have been inspired to follow suit and there's been some discussion online about what counts as a single thing. Does a pair of shoes count as two or one? Should you count each piece of your cutlery, socks, underwear etc? Some people are being more fundamentalist than others. One girl insists on counting her 20 pairs of shoes as a single item for her list.

Of course 100 is an arbitrary number. It may be an incredibly difficult count to attain but this type of exercise is a great way to force yourself to focus and prioritize what's important to you. It reminds me of the Dogma 95 restrictions for film making that were devised by Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Also, the endless variations of the "desert island question" that asks you to pick your 5 books or 5 albums or 5 movies that you couldn't live without.

All of these regimes are limited arbitrarily but all of them will force you to ask something of yourself; what do I really need and what is superfluous? Each of them will force you to be more efficient, more effective and more conscious of yourself, whether it's by reducing your environmental footprint, allowing you to make a leaner film or discovering and being able to express that which is truly important and inspiring to you.

I don't think it really matters if you're so strict or not. I'm guessing that whoever decides to limit their possessions to 100 things will gain the invaluable benefit of perspective no matter how they choose to do it. Simply counting the number of things you own will undoubtedly cause you to think about those things in a new light. Whether you pare them down to 100 or 200 things you will likely come to realize that you may not actually need to have so many material possessions.

I have some friends who are talking about establishing an award to be given to someone not for their creation of something great but for their removal of something not so great. We rarely reward such things. Rather, we have become obsessed with growth as the only indicator of prosperity. This leads our current form of capitalism to encourage unhealthy growth. We have become far removed from any paradigm of balance and have embraced what can aptly be described by the metaphor of cancer which is the best example of unhealthy and unchecked growth. It eventually eats away and kills the system within which it grows.