Sunday, December 31, 2017

Concerts in 2017

I won't attempt to list all the concerts I went to, particularly the classical ones.  I'm sure I could probably reconstruct it, but it seems too much of a bother.  (I also don't think I wrote a year-end round-up of concerts for 2016, which would have included one of the final Hip shows and Sarah McLachlan at the Toronto Jazz Fest. Also, Steve Reich at 80 was a once-in-a-lifetime event.)

Relatively early in the year, I saw the Kronos Quartet in March, though they were only on for part of the show, as I mentioned here.

April I saw Dengue Fever opening for Tinariwen!  This was a great show, despite the somewhat uncomfortable seating at Massey Hall.  This is quite likely the last time I will be there before it is shut down for reconstruction, though I suppose I might be tempted to come out if an amazing act turns up.

At the end of April, I saw Amici doing Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time.  I actually saw them play the same piece (one of my favourites) back in 1994!  How time flies...

I actually saw two performances of Carmina Burana.  I somewhat preferred the local version (in a church right on Danforth) that used a reduced score for percussion quartet, two pianos and a few string instruments, at least in part because I sat closer and also because I took my son, who was totally blown away.  It didn't hurt that the percussion quartet was TorQ, who did some of their own pieces in the first half of the show.  The full orchestral version, by the TSO, in June was also good, but not as much of a special event.

In September, we saw Depeche Mode at the ACC, which was a good show, though I do wish they had played a bit more off of Playing the Angel.

I also saw Lowest of the Low at the Danforth Music Hall.  This was the CD release party for Do the Right Now, so they played a lot of songs off that album, including my favourite track: "Powerlines."

In October, we went back to the Danforth Music Hall and saw the Psychedelic Furs.  This was a fun show, where they definitely played all the hits.  We had a good time and felt almost twenty (well late twenties) again.

In Nov. I saw Arcade Fire at the ACC.  This was a great show, and it really made me appreciate the last album, Everything Now, much more.*  I was fairly disturbed by the too-friendly woman standing next to me (and yes we had to stand the entire concert because everyone in our section was standing) who kept talking to me and occasionally trying to get me to dance and was generally not very respectful of my personal space (such as it was).

The day before U.S. Thanksgiving, I went and saw 54-40 (for the first time ever) at the Horseshoe Tavern (also my first time there).  It was a great show, though it did take the lead singer a bit of time to really get going.  My biggest regret was that my neighbours and I had tried to coordinate but ultimately went on different nights...

Then just a few nights ago I went and saw The Lowest of the Low again, but at the Horseshoe this time.  It almost didn't happen.  I kind of dithered around for a while, then when I went to buy tickets, the show was sold out!  On the day of the concert, I was looking up something about the band and I saw that someone on Twitter was trying to sell a ticket.  It took a bit of back and forth, and I didn't pick up the ticket until the very last minute, but I managed to get in -- and get a seat at one of the tables towards the back.

It was another excellent show.  No one has posted the set list yet, but hopefully they will.  They didn't play as many songs off Do the Right Now.  Of course, they did play "Powerlines." There's a small chance that they played "Gerona Train" again.  But then the other songs were not the ones they played at Danforth Music Hall.  I know they played "The Hard Way" and I'm pretty sure "Minuteman" and just possibly "Sister Jude."  I don't think they played "Something to Believe In" or "California Gothic," which is too bad, as those are good songs, but perhaps just a bit too "soft" for a rocking show.  Off of Hallucigenia they played "City Full of Cowards," "Black Monday" and probably "Eating the Rich" and "Beer, Graffiti Walls."  They didn't play "Gamble," which they played back in September.  From Sordid Fiction, they played "The Last Recidivist" and possibly "Giulietta The Just."  Somewhat surprisingly, they didn't play "The Kids Are All Wrong."  I guess they just haven't integrated this into their live shows.  Of course, most people were there to hear songs off of Shakespeare My Butt, and the band didn't disappoint: "Salesmen, Cheats and Liars," "Bleed a Little While Tonight," "Under the Carlaw Bridge," "Henry Needs a New Pair of Shoes" (first time I heard Carlaw Bridge or this one live -- and it was certainly cold enough to justify it) and then the final song of the encore was "Rosy and Grey."  There are a few that they probably played, but I am just not enough of a fan to know the songs instantly while they were playing them.  So they probably played "For the Hand of Magdelena" or "The Taming of Carolyn," but I don't think they played both.  They probably played "Just About 'The Only' Blues" and maybe another song or two.  I do hope someone puts up a solid set-list before too long.**  Anyway, I've heard two quite good shows, with one basically ringing out 2017, and that may be sufficient for me, though never say never.

Sadly, one can't do or see everything.  I generally had been following TorQ but there was a long stretch where they hadn't updated their concert schedule, so I missed a CD release concert back in Nov. (the day before the 54-40 concert, so I might not have gone anyway) and apparently, they are doing a New Year's Eve concert, probably starting right about now!  While that would have been incredibly cool, it is up in Richmond Hill and the odds of me going to that are 0%.  I do see they have a few shows that I might be able to make in 2018, so I'll try to pencil those in, along with the other interesting concerts that should make 2018 a worthy successor to 2017.

Happy New Year!!!

* Edit (1/1/2018) I keep forgetting to post this photo.  We ran across this logo painted in a lot on Danforth, not far from Greenwood.  It certainly looks like part of a guerilla marketing campaign for Arcade Fire's Everything Now, but there wasn't any indication of how to follow up to buy the band's merchandise.  Also, this was pretty far from the ACC, so again I don't really get it.

** Setlist posted here.  I do have a few quibbles.  I simply do not remember California Gothic, but maybe they played a different arrangement that didn't start with three-part harmony.  Doesn't really matter.  A fine show, and I'm glad I made it.

11th Canadian Challenge - 13th review - After Class

Since I read the two plays in this volume (After Class by George F. Walker) a while back (while waiting for the furnace repair guy in fact), I probably should write up the review before the year ends.  This probably isn't the fastest I've gotten to 13 (for the Canadian Challenge), but it is right up there.  I was fortunate enough to see both of the plays in this book (Parents Night and The Bigger Issue) back in 2015 at Theatre Passe Muraille, but the scripts weren't published until 2017.  Reading the scripts brought back much of the craziness that went on on stage.  Not all George F. Walker plays involve outsized events and crazed interactions between characters (notably the Bobby and Tina plays, particularly the third one, are more restrained), but most of them do.  It is somewhat difficult to capture this on the page; also the charisma of the actors can sometimes make the horrible things they do or say (or say they will do) marginally more palatable. That said, it isn't often that new George Walker plays are staged outside of Toronto* and Vancouver, so reading them is probably the more realistic option for many.

Walker seems to tackle certain issues in cycles, and he seems to be working through two different sets of issues right now: the state of urban education and the plight of the mentally ill now that the State has deeply cut resources for mental health (not that he ever had great things to say about the previous system).  Parents Night and The Bigger Issue are both about urban education, essentially focusing on how teachers are being forced to deal with many issues affecting their students that are beyond their individual capability of dealing with (let alone "solving") and, truly, beyond the institutional capability of the school system as a whole.  Walker has promised that these two plays are the start of a larger cycle about urban education, but it isn't clear just how many plays this will ultimately entail (and indeed he probably doesn't know at the moment).

There are a few pressing issues that are not addressed at all: increasing violence against teachers (fortunately still extremely rare but not as unthinkable as it once was), students on drugs, students with language barriers and the increase of distractions in the classroom (cell phones but also laptops where they are allowed).  What Walker does tackle at some level is a general erosion of respect towards teachers (perhaps this should always be earned rather than granted as a matter of course, but it is very difficult to teach if the teacher is not considered an authority figure), the sometimes malign influence of parents on children's well-being and their interest/ability to learn, students with behavioural issues that cause major disruptions in the classroom, and the frustrating edicts** that come down from higher up that interfere with teachers' preferred modes of instruction and interaction with children.  Interestingly, Walker notes in the introduction that his wife is a teacher, so presumably he has synthesized and distilled years of her stories from the front, but then put the Walker spin on things.  In a sense, it is a bit surprising he hasn't tackle urban education sooner, perhaps largely because many of the lower-class characters he was writing about dropped out of school early on, with only Tina finding the strength to continue her education (as a teenager with a baby no less!).  It is also possible that Walker is somewhat expanding the range of characters he writes about, so he writes more scenes of middle and upper middle class characters interacting with lower class characters.  In turn, this may have made the school system more interesting as at some (but by no means all) urban schools there is more class mixing than one would see in other venues.  Indeed, in Parents Night one father asks the elementary teacher whether the other parent (marked in his mind as poor) lives in the school catchment area, since he doesn't feel she and her child belong at this school.

One interesting decision is that Walker decided to focus on the interactions between teachers and parents (and one principal) rather than showing a classroom scene or even putting any children on stage.  That's probably just as well, as we don't need too many more "To Sir with Love"-type scripts, and it also allows him much more range in the children that he is discussing (actual third graders and seventh graders in particular would be difficult to incorporate into these works).  At the same time, most of the issues he wants to dig into will be one step removed.  In other words, the teachers can talk about the problems they are seeing in the classroom, but the audience doesn't get to see them enacted (and thus can't really make their own assessment of what is really wrong and must rely on the teachers' accounts).  That said, Walker really goes to town and shows that these parents (and the home environment more broadly) are really messing with the students.  I'm not sure one really goes to a Walker play for the plot per se, as it is more about the reactions of slightly or very unhinged characters all bouncing off each other as things escalate.  Sometimes it feels like he is trying to keep as many plates spinning in the air as he can, and the question is how will it end: in a mad crash or in a softer landing.  In some ways, The Chance felt like an undeserved happy ending.  I kind of feel the same way about The Bigger Issue, but I didn't have as many problems with Parents Night.  I often wonder if, despite himself, Walker doesn't sometimes engage in magical thinking that someone in charge can just put things right if they want to, whereas people in positions of modest authority actually operate under significant constraints and it is much harder to make exceptions and bend the rules than outsiders expect.  Or perhaps he does realize this (even if his characters don't), but he just thinks it is a more satisfying (or personally amusing) way to end a play.  All that is to say if you read on, there will be SPOILERS related to the plots of these two plays.


Parents Night (and I think it really ought to be Parents' Night) opens with a young teacher dealing with a father who is quite demanding in terms of asking why his son isn't doing better and then quickly devolves into him spilling his guts to the teacher about his wife having left him.  As she loses sympathy over the course of the encounter, the teacher is more and more honest about his son needing extra attention, as well as needing to tone down the arrogant, hectoring tone he seems to have picked up from the father.  Then we meet a young woman who believes that the teacher is treating her daughter as if she is stupid.  The teacher tries to defend herself and points out that the girl is coming to school with a ton of make-up and is actually scaring the other students.  Her background story is definitely sadder (it is an aunt who is doing most of the make-up and she still has a drug-addicted partner in the picture).  The dynamics are fairly interesting: for a while the parents gang up on the teacher, she sometimes turns the tables on them (as they are both clearly inadequate parents and she is at the end of her rope due to a death in the family and is willing to say things that would/should get her fired), then the two parents have their own interactions.  For me this was marginally more believable of the two plays.  Also, there may be some hope for the children, who are still young enough to turn things around, that is if their parents ever wise up...

The Bigger Issue is interesting in the way it subverts expectations, but is ultimately an implausible play.  There is a young teacher (in fact even younger than the first teacher) who has injured a boy while trying to prevent him from attacking another student.  This is one of those nightmare scenarios that teachers dread, as it is in fact quite plausible.  Still, one of the number one rules is don't touch students, as so many bad things can come from breaking this rule.  Shortly, the mother turns up and starts demanding various things, including why the teacher hasn't been fired or suspended.  As the teacher struggles to regain her composure in the face of a very angry parent, she hands over a folder of threatening messages that the student has sent, and the tables suddenly turn, as it becomes quite clear that the student is pretty disturbed (and the parents have in fact refused to let him be diagnosed).  This would itself be a pretty interesting, if disturbing play, maybe something akin to Shanley's Doubt.  Walker goes in a completely different direction, however.  The husband shows up and before long the entire story unravels.  It turns out that the wife's professional demeanor is just a front to try to get respect from the authorities.  The couple is living with this boy (who isn't actually their child) in a squat without electricity, while the husband (who basically has no skills at all but wants to be an author!) is a security guard at a warehouse full of "hot" goods.  This is sort of ridiculous, but it gets even odder when the teacher and the principal agree to try to find a way to salvage the situation, which includes forging education records for the boy and bringing the couple to live and work in the school complex.  Talk about magical thinking!  It is interesting to see Walker try to write his way out of the corner he painted himself into, but this is definitely not one of his better plays.

It was still worth watching the plays, though I did think Parents Night was the better of the two (several but not all critics agreed with me).  It is true, however, that I have quite a bit of residual sympathy for urban teachers, having been one myself for two years, and that may predispose me to be more receptive to plays about how hard it is working in urban schools, though in fact I had very little interaction with my students' parents (which is a problem of a different sort).  In any event, I'll certainly try to see the rest of the plays in the cycle whenever they turn up.

* Even here in Toronto we're still waiting on The Crowd to turn up here after its premiere in Vancouver, along with quite a number of new plays Walker has written but not had staged.  It was definitely easier back in the day where everything he wrote was produced at Factory Theatre.

** One thing that seems ridiculous in Parents Night but is true in many school districts (and broadly true in Toronto, though I found my children's teachers willing to write comments) is that teachers are not allowed to write their own comments on report cards, but must choose from pre-approved messages from the Board, apparently mixing and matching to come up with something that is broadly appropriate for the child in question (so long as it is positive, of course!).

I have to admit this is an interesting fact of life at Earl Grey middle school where most of the elementary feeder schools are middle class (with mostly white or Asian children) and one feeder school sends mostly disadvantaged children of colour (and a large percentage are Muslim as well).  As one might imagine, there are tensions over any number of issues, including my serious annoyance that the principal decided to set up gender-segregated gym and swimming classes, which feels very un-Canadian to me.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Cold Spell

As almost everyone in North America knows, it has been really frigid in the Upper Midwest and Canada this year.  I know other places in Canada like Calgary and Edmonton and Ottawa are colder, but it is darn cold in Toronto.  It hit -22 C a few days ago.  Today I guess it got up to -7 C.  When I went out to get groceries it was probably colder than that, but it did seem to warm up a bit.

I really, really didn't want to go out again, and I had pretty much given up on going to the gym.  However, the grocery store was missing a few things I needed, so I reluctantly went back out to the mall, which has a different grocery store, and I decided to go to the gym after all.  On the whole, I'm glad I did, though I don't think I can get above two visits a week if this cold don't break.

Tomorrow it is supposed to be -15 C, and I'm not going out for any reason, other than to crack the door and pick up the paper!  I might go out just a bit on Monday, but I don't think anywhere I want to go will be open anyway.  It then gets back up to -6 C or so for a few days, but Thurs. and Friday will be -15 C or even worse.  I think I will make the pitch that we should be able to work from home on those days.

There really isn't much left for me to do tonight other than bundle up and read (and work on my Fringe script!), though I may get a bit more done on the quilt if I am feeling inspired.  It's coming along well, though a bit more slowly than I had hoped, mostly because I do have to rotate many squares after all.

Stay warm, everybody!

Great Opportunity (Toronto Fringe)

I've been waiting to hear back from the short play festival, and I haven't heard anything, which is probably not good news.  If I haven't heard by mid-Jan., then I will assume my piece wasn't accepted.  However, in a way I heard even more exciting news (which I wasn't expecting at all): my project has been provisionally accepted by the Toronto Fringe!  I have to go ahead and pay my fees and secure the permits to use the school (though the principal of Danforth said that would not be difficult).  Then I will be in the Fringe!  It has to be said there is a lot of luck involved in getting into the Fringe (the main stages are all by lottery!) but for me this year it was all about the hustle (hustling harder than others anyway) and not just settling for the first No I heard.  It is true that I often don't push quite hard enough when I want something.  My literary career could have been quite different had I not been discouraged so easily in the past.

Having learned my lesson from the past, I will go forward with this project, even if the lead actor flakes out on me and I have to recruit a whole new cast.  It's too good of a chance to squander, though I know in the end I'll lose money.  I'll put down the fee a bit later in the weekend, and then spend the rest of the weekend on the script.  Next week I'll see what I can do about recruiting the younger members of the cast and then try to nail down the two older actors who play teachers.  Unless something truly catastrophic happens, I'll be in the Fringe.  So cool.  Honestly, I'm still a little bit in shock.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Best reads of 2017

I'd say that 2017 was a welcome return to form compared to the somewhat disappointing reading adventures of 2016.  Perhaps this is because I spent a bit more time on the classics, though curiously enough the books that rose to the very top of the list were short story collections (or quite short novels).  I did sort of expect to wrap up Trollope's The Way We Live Now (though I suspect it would have still been just outside the top 5); however, it is a massive book and will spill over somewhat into 2018, just as Vanity Fair did last year.

In any event, the top 5 books from 2017 were:
Carr A Month in the Country
Gide The Vatican Cellars aka Lafcadio's Adventures
Margaret Atwood Moral Disorder and Other Stories
Lahiri Unaccompanied Earth
R.K. Narayan Malgudi Days

The best book reread was a tie between
MacLennan The Watch That Ends the Night
Findley Not Wanted on the Voyage

Honorable mention
William M. Thackeray Vanity Fair
Steven Sherrill The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time (it's likely this would have made the top 5, except the ending is a total cheat -- as abrupt as The Sopranos)
David Bezmozgis Natasha and Other Stories (title story quite astonishing)
Rick Moody Hotels of North America
Isherwood A Single Man
Morley Callaghan The Many Colored Coat
Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky
Chigozie Obioma The Fishermen (felt a bit like Greek tragedy set in Nigeria)
Richler The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz/The Street (The Street was a bit better)

And a dead heat between two collections of stories set in Vancouver:
W. P. Kinsella Russian Dolls: Stories from the Breathing Castle
Nancy Lee Dead Girls

Probably the biggest disappointment of the year was Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis; rather than being the promised "rollicking adventure," it was a collection of dull, puerile antics by a woebegone lecturer at a minor university (or even technical college, I can't recall), who, at the end, gets a completely undeserved break to serve as a wealthy artist's personal secretary (though I wouldn't mind seeing the follow up of how he managed to screw that up...).  I did like Bradbury's The History Man better (than Lucky Jim certainly), though it almost read better as anthropology field notes of the 70s than as a novel.  How times have changed.  I was definitely hoping that the main character would suffer a much deserved fall from grace, as he was a thorough moral blackguard.  However, due to his exploitation of the mores of those sexually enlightened times, he was able to escape his predicament and turn the tables on his accuser.  Today of course, he would be terminated with prejudice.  I did find the ending to be too unsatisfying to place it in the honorable mention category.  I'm expecting to finally read some of David Lodge's academia-based novels, and I suspect I'll like them better than either of these offerings.

While the build-up wasn't nearly as big, there are quite a few reviewers praising Gerard Reve's The Evenings.  They do note that it is mostly a novel about tedium.  I think I could have lived with that, but what I can't stomach is an imbecilic narrator (Frits) going on and on about how he's dreading talking to so and so, and then the actual dialog is pretty mundane, and he'll think something like: "Well that's that then; not such a disaster.  Only one more hour to go before bed time."  There is plenty of the Dutch bluntness on display, particularly when Frits razzes his brother and a few other acquaintances for starting to go bald.  Charming...  Pretty much the entire novel is like that, and I would have to say it is a waste of time reading it.  It was probably the second biggest disappointment of the year.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve - New Traditions

This morning I was able to get the holiday card finished.  I think I have gotten more efficient.  I was done with it in 20 minutes or so of editing.  And I spent another half hour deciding whom to send it to (maybe 40 recipients in the end, not counting people at my current workplace).  I'm kind of surprised more people don't send around these cards, especially the electronic versions.  This seems to be a tradition that is fading fast, since people mostly just seem to put up holiday snaps on Facebook or worse Instagram.  Or perhaps I am still sending e-cards but am not central enough in other people's lives to get their cards.  That is a distinct possibility, but given that it is such a low effort to keep people on the distribution list, I don't mind.  It's nice feeling a bit of a connection to the various people I worked with or knew in the past.

Since the grocery stores were open until 6, I did run over and grab some spaghetti and more tea.  In a sense, that is also a bit of a tradition (the last minute shopping, though for food not presents).*

Our next door neighbours had a party and we went for a short time, before dinner actually.  That was a new tradition for them, and I hope it continues next year (especially since it means no work for us).  It was especially great to see most of the neighbours and wish them a Merry Christmas.  I've heard that they used to do caroling on the block, but that seems to have stopped.  The Easter egg hunt is still pretty big, as is Halloween of course, and, at the end of summer/early autumn, we do a big street party.  That's a fair bit of tradition to live up to...

This year, my daughter wanted to read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.  That's a minor break with tradition, but I let her, since she felt kind of strongly about it.  However, she no longer believes in Santa (already discussed last year), and we didn't bother setting out cookies and milk this year, though I suspect I'll have another cookie shortly, despite my vows of eating better.  (Again, just too much temptation at the moment.)  The kids are finally up in bed, and I think it is safe to wrap the rest of the presents.  They agreed not to wake us up too early tomorrow, and we'll see how that goes.

Best wishes for the holiday season no matter your traditions, and best wishes for a happy and prosperous 2018!

* Then I went to the gym after all, since it was only open until 5 and not at all on Christmas or Boxing Day.  I'm not going as much as I did before I got sick and not quite as much as I had hoped, but I think I'm still averaging twice a week.  I will see what I can do to get back to 3 times a week and maybe do more exercise at home.  What's particularly frustrating is that as the body ages, it just is harder to maintain.  The level of effort I've expended so far has barely made a dent, but in my youth I would already have slimmed down.  Anyway, I am getting more and more serious about losing weight, slowly cutting out things that are bad and not eating as many snacks at work.  But my will power is definitely stretched thin, especially during the holiday season.  Giving up Diet Coke (and pop more generally) remains a bit of a struggle, but I don't sense any real back-sliding.  I cut my workout about 5 minutes short, partly because I was hungry (I had skipped lunch) and tired, but also because the book I was reading on the bike (Reve's The Evenings is so incredibly tedious (I don't think I'm going to be able to finish it)).

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Tale of Two Malls

It was an interesting and productive (but long) day.

We got a reasonably early start and put the tree up today.  This is definitely the latest it has ever gone up.  That took just a bit over an hour, including bringing the ornament boxes up and taking them back down to the basement.  The kids do the vast majority of the decorating which is fine by me.  It looks pretty nice, all things considered.

Then I finally brought the bikes in and the cushions for the deck furniture.  They had been largely covered, but it was definitely past time to bring them indoors for the season.  I'm still trying to get rid of a filing cabinet, which is just taking up a lot of space in the downstairs storage area.  I really need to just put it on Kajiji or something, but I haven't found the time.  The extra printer I have will probably just get taken back to Staples for their electronic recycling program.

I had to shovel the snow again.  It is almost certainly going to be a white Christmas.  I don't think the snow really stuck around this early last year, but I might be wrong.  It actually looks like next week is going to be brutally cold, so I am a little unhappy about having to actually go into work to cover for essentially everybody else.

At any rate, I wanted to get over to the mall.  While I was basically done with the presents, I had a gift card from Toys R Us.  This store just closed down in the UK, and it is basically on its last legs in Canada (and not much better off in the States).  I figured if I was ever going to use this card, it had better be this year.  Anyway, the Toys R Us in Gerrard Square closed roughly a year ago, and the closest one was at the Dufferin Mall, pretty much half the city away.  So I set out, despite the snow.

Some of the buses weren't so bad, but the one from Dufferin Station to the Dufferin Mall was terribly packed.  I should have just walked it.  It was packed in that mall, particularly in the Toys R Us.  I looked around for a while.  I decided against any more board games, as we just don't play that many games as a family.  I found a couple of scientific things, though that meant spending more than the value of the gift card.  They asked if I wanted the extended warranty.  Aside from the fact that these warranties are a total rip-off, particularly as the value of the item wasn't that high to begin with, I didn't want to bring up the fact that their store would probably be liquidated by the time I ever needed the warranty protection.

I then headed north up to another mall at Dufferin and Dupont.  Despite the fact that it is only slightly further away from the Dufferin TTC stop, the northern mall (I guess it is called Galleria Mall) was basically empty.  The parking lot was maybe half full, but I suspect most people were at the grocery store, since they certainly weren't in the other stores.  There wasn't a single child lining up for a photo with Santa, which seemed really sad.  It is definitely a strange mall that isn't particularly thriving.

I was there to get some additional material from Fabricland.  (In fact, it appears there are developers that are looking to raze the mall, which would probably mean Fabricland has to move yet again, as they were in the basement of Honest Ed's before it closed and left them homeless.  Maybe this time they'll move east.*)  In the end I got this maple leaf pattern for the inner border.  I suspect I'll end up wasting a fair bit, but maybe I can do something with the leftover scraps.

I also went to Dollarama and got some stocking stuffers, so I am officially done with shopping now.  I've gone ahead and wrapped just over half of the presents, so I won't have to try to get everything done on Christmas Eve.

I perhaps should add that I finally figured out the problem with the directional fabric.  It isn't turned 90 degrees.  It is the bottom half which really is a mirror image of the top, so the squares are actually 180 degrees off.  Ideally one would sew the strips in the reverse order, and it's too bad that the directions didn't mention this.  Unfortunately, I didn't quite catch this, until I had sewed the third batch (of four).  So I will have a lot of ripping and resewing to do, particularly with the penguin fabric, where both sides need to be redone.  That's frustrating and will definitely slow me down.  But perhaps the worst is when I was finishing off a bunch of stub cuts and somehow the cutting guide got reversed, which meant that I cut one strip at 4.5 inches instead of 4.  That could be fixed for that strip, but there was absolutely no room for error while cutting, so the last stub cut is actually 3.75 inches, which just isn't enough.  To make matters worse, two of the fabric squares that were spoiled are from the fabric where I have the least leftover material.  I probably still have enough to make 5 or 6 additional squares (instead of 4 or 5), but I am still quite annoyed at myself.  I'll just have to be extra cautious next time I am cutting out the fabric.  Nevertheless, I should end up with half the top done by Boxing Day.  Now I need to get some rest...

* I don't think this move paid off, as it is usually almost completely empty in Fabricland now, whereas it was always crowded before, even before the final days of Honest Ed's when the whole place became a bit of a zoo. It would be great for me (if perhaps too tempting...) if it moved to Gerrard Square, but I don't think there is an empty space large enough unless the Bed and Bath type store on the 2nd floor goes out of business.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Best Theatre of 2017

There are about 10 days to go, but I am not scheduled to see any theatre in Dec. (and I don't plan on going to Common Boots' outdoor show -- not interested in being cold after that stretch of 72 hours or so without heat).  Thus, I might as well go forward with my personal faves from 2017.  It definitely went in cycles with Feb/March, July and Sept./Oct. being the best theatre months (for me).  I probably am getting pickier or something, as I am not subscribing as much to companies.  I also noticed that there are more theatre events that I declined to list below, as they didn't make the cut (and nothing at all from Nov. or Dec., which is definitely a first for me, though I saw some good concerts in those months).  I probably am starting to value my time a bit differently (and perhaps am still hoping to move more into the role of a content producer and a bit less of a pure consumer).  At any rate, there are quite a few enticing entries in Feb./March 2018, so at least next year is starting off strong.

As always, there was much I enjoyed in Toronto and occasionally elsewhere.

Sequence -- Tarragon

Twelfth Night -- Shakespeare Bash'd
John by Annie Baker -- The Company Theatre (wasn't thrilled by the ending/destination but the journey was interesting)
As You Like It -- George Brown
My Night With Reg -- Studio 180/Mirvish (first 2 scenes quite good, but the third fell flat)
A Streetcar Named Desire -- Plain Stage @ The Box (solid, intimate production)

Stupid F**king Bird -- The Bird Collective
7 Stories by Morris Panych -- Hart House
Proof -- Theatre UnBlocked/Red Sandcastle
Three Sisters -- Wolf Manor

A Flea in Her Ear -- George Brown (quite funny though too much reliance on slapstick violence in 2nd act)
The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood -- George Brown

Midsummer -- Tarragon
For colored girls -- Soulpepper
The Best Dad in the World and other Sad Characters -- Red Sandcastle

Office Hours -- East Side Players (funny but very uneven acting)
Saint Joan by G.B Shaw -- Shaw Festival

Confederation & Riel & Scandal & Rebellion -- Video Cabaret (fantastic as always)
Billy Bishop Goes to War -- Soulpepper
The School for Scandal -- Stratford
The Changling -- Stratford
Twelfth Night -- Shakespeare in High Park
Adult Entertainment -- Triple Bypass/TO Fringe
Hogtown -- Hogtown Collective

Reality Theatre -- Summerworks
The School for Lies by Moliere/Ives -- Artistic Home (Chicago)
Midsummer's Night's Dream -- Theatre in the Ruff

Waiting for Godot  -- Soulpepper (decent production but only the 3rd best I've seen)
The Aliens by Annie Baker -- Coal Mine (excellent)
Title and Deed by Will Eno (Nightfall Theatrics @ Tarragon)

The Fish Eyes Trilogy -- Factory Theatre
Hedwig and the Angry Inch -- Hart House (amazing -- and I almost skipped this!)
The Catch by George Walker -- Leroy St. Theatre (fun but an unconvincing ending)



Late Dec. catch up

Now that things are basically back to normal at home (with the furnace fixed), I can take stock of where I am on a few projects.

I am basically on track with the quilt to be finished in early Jan. and then drop it off with the long-arm quilter.  I have put a quarter of the top together (or at least before any extensions to the top and sides).  In general it is coming together quite well -- much faster than the first one -- though the top edge is a little ragged, and I'll have to try to straighten it out a bit.

I'm starting to think about the border and wondering if perhaps it will be too dark (or at least too different from the rest, so I'll think about that a bit more in the next few weeks.  Perhaps I will end up making another trip to the fabric store.

In terms of reading, I'm quite behind from where I expected to be.  I had thought I would be 500 or 600 pages into Trollope's The Way We Live Now, but I am only about 150 pages in!  I'll definitely finish it, though it will take a bit of a push to get it done before 2018.  And I may not actually get through Reve's The Evenings in time either, though that isn't quite a serious if I miss the deadline.  (Actually, in neither case does it really matter if I miss the deadline.)  I did decide recently that I am not interested in seeing The Shape of Water after all (one of the trailers kind of turned me off), so I'll use the time saved to catch up on these novels.

I'm still waiting to hear back on one of the theatre festivals, but I am starting to have my doubts that my piece was chosen.  On the other hand, there is still a chance that my site-specific piece will be accepted by the Fringe (hope to hear by next week).  In preparation for that, I really need to finalize the script (I had a few more ideas after meeting the principal of Danforth), since I promised to share the script a bit more widely next week.  If it does get accepted, then I have a lot of work to do in terms of getting permits, recruiting actors and, ideally, a director, but I think it would be worth it overall.  I also have in mind a short piece about an older man (a bit of a crotchety technophobe) who somehow gets turned onto Youtube and K-Pop videos in particular.  Again, just a short sketch, but I might be able to pound that out and get it to SFYS for the Jan. show (presumably on Jan 8).  I think after these two pieces, I probably ought to finish Straying South, particularly as I have handwritten out much of the final scene, and it would be horrible to lose that.

Beyond that, there are some other posts and reviews I want to write, but nothing too terribly urgent.  All the Xmas shopping is done, though we haven't produced that holiday card, in part because we didn't put up the tree last weekend.  But we'll do that tonight or this weekend, and I guess we'll be back on top of things.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Heat On

It was getting to be a regular comedy of errors over here, though I wasn't laughing much.  I had to call a few times to make sure that I actually was getting a technician over (after the part was delivered all on its own in the morning), so that we didn't go one more night without heat.  I was definitely getting more than a little cranky and short with anyone who called on the phone (particularly if they were trying to sell me anything that wasn't furnace-related).  Then we got the furnace guy back, and it didn't take him that long after all that anguish.  But then the water heater guy showed up 10 minutes later and they kind of got in each other's way a bit.  At any rate, the nightmare is over.  At least I hope so.  I keep listening to see if I hear any unusual sounds from the furnace, though I think for the moment it can all be related to needing to run for close to an hour straight just to bring the temperature back to normal.

I may have mentioned before that I went three winters (not three days) in Newark, NJ essentially without any heat.  I was living in what were essentially leftover cold water flat tenements, though they did have hot water (and indoor plumbing).  It was a weird place, where tenants had to buy their own refrigerators (I kid you not).  I remember hanging a fair number of clothes on a clothes line between the buildings, but I also had to walk to the laundromat.  So did I only partially dry them and bring them back to dry outside (in the summer at least)?  I can't imagine walking back with a bag of wet clothes, but perhaps I did.

But back to the heat or rather lack of it.  In one case, I was offered some rickety-looking space heaters, but I decided not to risk it.  In the other apartment I rented, there was some gas heater thing in the kitchen, but I couldn't really figure out how to use it, and it wouldn't have blown the hot air into the rooms I worked and slept in anyway.  I certainly can't imagine doing that today, so I have gotten much softer in my middle age.  I did quasi-hibernate a lot, getting under the covers with my cat and reading when it was too cold to type, which was most of the time over the winter.  It's definitely not something I have any intention of repeating.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

No Heat!

I'll keep this short and sweet.  I thought this repair to the furnace would be simple: unsticking some hose that is tied to the high pressure valve.  However, the entire control board needs to be replaced, and this is a two-stage system.  Apparently they don't have as many of these parts in stock, so the part has to be ordered and won't be ready until Monday!  The technician asked if the afternoon was fine, and I have to say I looked at him like he was crazy, and I said, really the morning would be better.  So we will be three nights without heat.  (And needless to say, as the water heater is all tied into this together, we don't have hot water either.)  We do have a gas fireplace which is running (to be honest I don't know how to turn it off when this is all over, but that is the least of my worries) plus a space heater and the heating company left a couple of small room heaters. 

But I'm pretty unhappy (understandably, I think given the circumstances).  Of course it could be worse, since we still have electricity and (cold) running water and the gas fireplace.  Still, I think I'll have to find a few places to go out of the house tomorrow, perhaps the gym again (I went after all) or even work.  I could take the kids to work, and we could hang out for a few hours, so I'll see if they want to do that in the morning.

The Best Laid Plans

This was my second day off, and it definitely did not go according to plan.  The morning wasn't so bad.  I sewed a few more strips together, and by the end of the day I had 3 more ready.*  But I had to run out to pick up some groceries, and somehow things just never recovered.

I did send off one email related to the Fringe, since, incredibly enough, my project is still in the running for a site-specific slot.  More on that next week as things develop.  However, in the early afternoon my wife noticed that the water heater had stopped working.  I tried to follow the step-by-step instructions but nothing was working.  We called about repairs, but the earliest slot was Sat. morning.

They had asked me if the furnace was working, and I said yes, since I had remembered it being on a while back. So I went and looked, and in fact the temperature was dropping steadily.  I went down and looked through the manual and there was something about high pressure switches being stuck closed.  Then I got the run around, since apparently it was installed by a precursor to Enbridge that doesn't exist anymore.  Enbridge no longer is in the furnace repair game, so you're on your own.  I looked at the internet, but most of the solutions seemed kind of complicated.  In desperation, I tripped the circuit breaker a couple of times, and, amazingly, that worked.  I still wasn't able to get the water heater going, however.  I also figured that we ought to have someone look at the furnace, but at least it wouldn't be an emergency service call.

That accomplished, I went off to the library to pick up a book and to put in an interlibrary loan request.  I had to walk the entire way, which kind of pissed me off.  Then after dealing with the librarians, I waited for the bus back.  Since the buses were still so impacted by the poor road conditions, there was a ton of bus bunching and they were all late.  I was so squeezed on the bus going back, but I wasn't willing to walk it either.  So I was pretty grumpy, particularly as I needed to shovel again when I finally got home.  I have a feeling it's going to be a long winter.

I did make some cookies, and they taste ok, though they don't look right.  They spread out far too much, which may be due to the baking powder being too old.  So that was alright, though I was still pretty stressed about the day as a whole.  I guess my main regret is that I have really fallen behind on my reading, and also that I am not going to the gym, and I probably won't so long as I have to take boots on and off and crunch around in the snow.  I actually don't mind a colder winter if the sidewalks and roads are clear, but that doesn't look like it will be the case this year.

Anyway, I woke up about an hour ago and realized that the house was quite cold, and the furnace had failed again.  I tried the trick with the breaker, but it didn't work.  So it is another four hours or so until morning when I can call the HVAC guys, since this is clearly a problem that I can't fix.  I'll probably just go bundle up and try to sleep to conserve heat.  So unhappy right now.

* Even the sewing machine is starting to act up.  The thread keeps getting completely tangled underneath the cloth.  I switched to a different bobbin, which helped a bit, but basically I can't reverse stitch on the beginnings of jobs, as there is too much excess thread, only at the end.  It probably doesn't matter too much for these short pieces being sewn into strips, but I'll probably want to do something different for the longer stitching where I really do need to anchor the top.  Anyway, something else I don't really want to have to deal with right at the moment.

Friday, December 15, 2017

11th Canadian Challenge - 12th review - Dead Girls

Dead Girls is Nancy Lee's first book, published in 2002.  It is a collection of stories, which are interlinked through the chilling detail that an average man, a dentist actually, has killed well over a dozen young women and buried them in his backyard.  The stories appear to be largely set in the late 1990s in Vancouver.  The Age is her more recent novel, set in Vancouver but in 1984, so basically pre-gentrification.  The stories here revolve almost entirely around misfits and outcasts, with two explicitly following young prostitutes, one who presumably ended up in the backyard and one who avoided that fate (and there is a third story about a homeless woman who actually has an encounter with the dentist but who wisely turns down his offer of a ride in his car to "check out her teeth" among other things).  Given this focus, most of the stories are set in and around the Downtown East Side, which has changed the least, despite Vancouver's explosive transformation into a very expensive world city.  The DTES is pretty much the same today as it was in the late 1990s as it was in the 1980s.  In that sense, Dead Girls feels just as relevant today as it was 15 years ago.  Before I get too deep into the review, I'll just note that Dead Girls worked for me much better than The Age, though there was one story "Rollie and Adele" that I found too implausible.  Many of the stories were sad, and there are a couple that I wouldn't reread because they were too painful (cut too close), but on the whole I thought this was an interesting collection.

One thing stands out right away is that this is not a collection focused around the immigrant experience.  Actually let me take that back, the thing that comes across very quickly is that there is a lot of sex in these stories, generally bad, desperate sex and/or inappropriate sex in virtually every story.*  In some cases, this is "underage" sex, and I couldn't but help but think about the Larry Clark/Harmony Korine film Kids with all the drugs and sex.  That movie and these stories sort of blur together in my head, and I read the stories as if all these misadventures were happening to white kids, unless it was otherwise specified in the text.  (For instance, the sisters in "Sisters" are half-Native.)  That said, the race or ethnicity of virtually all of the characters is left blank, so the reader can impose his or her mental picture on them.  It is certainly possible that the unnamed female narrator of "Associated Press" is Asian, but the pieces can still fit together if she was white.  The only story that felt like it was about immigrants to Canada was "Sally, in Parts" where the dying father is a strict disciplinarian and the mother seems somewhat browbeaten.  This still doesn't mean that the family is Asian, however.

From this point on, I'll have to go a bit deeper into some of the stories, and that may involve SPOILERS, so be warned.


One writing trick that Lee employs is to reverse events, particularly with regards to the serial-killing dentist, Dr. Coombs.  In the first story in the collection, "Associated Press," not only have the police taken the dentist into custody, but the unnamed narrator has been put on the jury that will try the case (with many, many gruesome photos of the crime scene), but that at the last minute, he pleads guilty, and the story goes off a different tangent.  In "East," two angry young women end up driving in a van to the prison to yell at the walls and to taunt the dentist, as if he could hear them or care much about what people thought of him.  But after this, the stories move back in time.  Adele from "Rollie and Adele" remembers Coombs trying to pick her up.  And Nita in "Sisters" is working the streets of Vancouver before Coombs's arrest and, by the end of the story, has vanished without a trace, probably ending up in the infamous backyard.

What is a bit eerie about these stories is that at least some of them were written before Robert Pickton was arrested in early 2002 and the bodies of many women were found in the backyard.  It is at least feasible that Nancy Lee was more clued in than the average person to the disappearance of prostitutes from the DTES and came up with the idea of writing about a serial killer, though making him a much more respectable man who lived in Vancouver itself (not on a pig farm in Port Coquitlam), and then perhaps adding the details about the burial in the backyard (to some of the stories) after the gruesome details began turning up in the papers.  If in fact, she had this all in mind from the beginning, even before the story broke, then that is really creepy.

"Valentines" is definitely the story with the closest kinship to Kids.  The story features teenagers, between 14 and 15, who in a sense are too eager to grow up and do grown up things, namely have sex and abuse a wide variety of substances.  They are hanging out at one kid's home, while his parents are away on an extended trip.  They get up to nothing good, though, in the end, the other boy doesn't actually stage a break-in (for the insurance money) but he does engage in some petty theft during the visit.  It was well-written but depressing.

The next story "Dead Girls" is actually heart-breaking, as a couple is trying to cope with their daughter, who has run away from home.  To support her drug habit, she sells her body.  She almost never checks in with her parents, who naturally assume the worst when the bodies are found in Dr. Coombs's backyard.  The mother more or less shuts down, going into early mourning and withdrawing from society.  However, they are not contacted by the police, who have a list of names of the victims, though of course in most cases Coombs would not have known these girls' and women's real names.  The mother stalks out the last known locations where her daughter was seen, and eventually believes that she catches sight of her having sex with a john.  It isn't entirely clear if this is the case, but she is able to sort of restart her life, though still living with the pain of a child who has gone completely off the rails.  While Carol Shields's Unless didn't involve street prostitution, there was still plenty of parental pain going on, and it is tough going reading this, while at the same time thinking, that could possibly be me some day, given that some children make bad choices regardless of what they were taught or how much they were loved.  It's hard to imaging re-reading this, as it was fairly painful.  "Sisters" with the one sister who was groomed into prostitution and the other one who resisted temptation is also a tough read, but "Dead Girls" is specifically from the point of view of the parents, so it does hit closer to home.

"East" may be the most interesting story of the bunch with two women, driving manically through Vancouver, trying to escape bad relationships.  It's sort of interesting how the motivating force sort of switches between Jemma and Annie.  At some point along the way, Annie just wants to go home, but Jemma keeps driving.  There is just a hint of Thelma and Louise in this story.

The one story I didn't particularly care for was "Rollie and Adele," though I did like the shout-out to the Fraser bus (#8),** which I did take home on occasion, especially if I was starting from Science World.  The first time through the story, I read the "After" section as if Rollie had fallen so hard for Adele, a homeless woman he brought into his life, that he ultimately took to drugs and lost everything, then they were happy together, living in some kind of a squat or skid row housing.  After I read the entire story, I went back to the beginning, and it most likely is not that catastrophic.  He has fallen in love, but it doesn't necessarily follow that he got turned onto drugs (and it is not actually clear if Adele is a user or not) and, indeed, it seems that he still has his tattoo shop, so things are probably going all right for him, or rather the two of them.  Anyway, there were a number of improbable aspects to this story, starting with most tattoo parlors have several inkers working there.  Even in the case of a sole proprietorship, he would still be likely to rent out the equipment to another artist while he wasn't working.  Number two, at the heart of sounding like a total heartless bastard, contrary to some of those ads that say we are all one paycheck away from being homeless, most long-term homeless who are on the streets, either have mental/behavioural challenges or have drug addiction issues.  So it is more than a little implausible that Adele is brought into the tattoo parlor and doesn't steal anything or start shooting up in the back room, and, in fact, becomes helpful to Rollie, arranging appointments and sweeping up around the shop.  While it is certainly not uncommon for men to experience "white knight syndrome," and I have had flashes of it from time to time, hence this poem, it is unusual for the man then to completely reject all advances from the woman he saved.  Sure the first couple of nights, he doesn't want to pressure his damsel into sex, but if she keeps pressing, as Adele does, then it would simply be rude to refuse.  The heart of the problem seems to be that Rollie has limited self-respect and no belief that he would be attractive to women, particularly a woman as beautiful as Adele.  He has put her on a very high pedestal, despite how they met.  Adele starts to despair, as she is sure Rollie will get tired of keeping her around the shop if they don't become a couple.  I would say in general, this already strains credibility.  Rollie has had his shop downtown for a while (unstated but probably on Cordova or Powell in the DTES) and most of the female clients are young prostitutes.  It would not at all be unlikely for them to offer something in trade for their tats, even if he didn't take them up on the offer, so it's just hard to imagine someone who had survived in this environment to be so precious about a homeless woman and not think he was good enough for her.  Be that as it may, if we accept this, he eventually effectively pushes her away and tells a regular customer he should date Adele.  In short order, he comes back to the shop to find the customer and Adele screwing in the tattoo chair.  As horrified as he is, Rollie really sees her as she is, sagging skin and missing some back teeth.  He goes away unnoticed and returns later as if nothing had happened.  There is then a gap in the narrative, so we loop back around to "Later," where Rollie has overcome his reluctance to sleep with Adele and they are now a couple, at minimum common law, but perhaps actually married.  It all worked out beautifully after all, like a kinky O. Henry story. The exact line is "He tells himself there are many unlikely roads to happiness."  Needless to say, this was too outside the range of normal standards of behaviour for me to swallow the story, even though I generally like happy stories, particularly if they have a somewhat ironic twist.

On the whole, this is a collection worth checking out, particularly if you have fond memories of the somewhat seedier side of Vancouver, before it got all shiny and expensive (and overrun with too many people with more money than you...).  Just be aware that there is quite a bit of heartbreak lurking in these pages.  I'm not aware of what Lee has been working on lately, but it should be worth checking out whenever it lands.

* I don't know enough about Nancy Lee to determine how close she was to these characters.  Did she hang out with street kids growing up in Vancouver?  Did she live a bit (or a lot) on the wild side?  Or is she using her imagination to enter the lives of these characters?  While I haven't read it yet, Evelyn Lau's Fresh Girls and Other Stories also is focused on youth gone "wrong," in this case the focus is on teenaged prostitutes living on the street and doing drugs (with the causal chain a bit unclear in terms of what came first).  However, Lau actually lived this life for quite some time, before managing to literally write her way out of it.

** Though a minor point of correction is that on the Fraser bus, you hit Kingsway and then Broadway, whereas Lee has it the other way around.  I suppose it is possible the route was different when she was growing up.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

New Quilt Progress, pt. 1

The quilt is starting to shape up nicely.  I pieced together 3 of the full strips.

Then I actually sewed them together.  I decided I would sew from the center of the quilt out.  Indeed, I have almost perfect alignment on the corners of the bottom three or four rows (which are destined to be at the center), but then there are squares that are a bit too long and the pattern slips just a bit.  I'll probably need to use the border to cover up some of the flaws on the edges, but on the whole it still looks nice and the pattern is starting to emerge.

I should be able to get quite a bit done next week, as I have several days off.  Of course, I have slipped in my reading (currently Trollope's massive epic The Way We Live Now), so I'll have to balance my priorities a bit.

Old Poem: Stop

It's been quite a while since I posted any of the poems from my self-published chapbook (from 1992!).  However, in getting ready to review Nancy Lee's Dead Girls, I wanted to refer back to this poem, but thought that it would be too awkward to stick this poem in the middle of a review.  The link will become fairly apparent.

This was probably written in early 1992.  I was still making the adjustment from growing up in the suburbs of Michigan and going to university in a college town (Ann Arbor) to living (and teaching high school!), in Newark, NJ.  In a way, it was a pretty huge culture shock, as my "knowledge" of urban America mostly informed by the movies. While I was living and teaching in a part of Newark that was still largely white, mostly second generation Portuguese actually with a sprinkling of Italians, Poles and Brazilians, I did spend considerable time in downtown Newark (and the Library/Museum complex not far from the Rutgers-Newark campus).  Once I crossed under the train tracks until I hit Rutgers, I would usually be the only white person on the street.  It was an eye-opening experience to be sure.  This incident, only slightly embellished, occurred as I was taking the bus back one night from a poetry reading not far from Rutgers.  While this poem is certainly somewhat inspired by Audre Lorde's "To My Daughter the Junkie on a Train," the narrator here has mixed motives, to say the least.


In all likelihood,
this is it.
the bus is coming;
it is the bus you want.
a quick step up
you avoid the driver's impatient look.
you sit
and watch the other passengers file on.
a woman gets on
a junkie
a beautiful junkie
at least you think she is a junkie:
her hands shake as she searches for her pockets
her shirt sticks to her skin
her face is tight
her eyes stare past the bus windows
she is certainly not here on this bus
you look closely at her
you get up to pay her fare
you know that this will cost you everything.
it is too late.
you exhale as she is put off the bus.
the bus starts up,
putting a stop to this particular, peculiar fantasy. 


I woke up early today and decided to see if I could see any meteors from the Geminid meteor shower.  My track record to date for watching celestial phenomenon has not been great so far, at least from Toronto, which has massive light pollution and often is overcast.  And indeed, when I went outside, there were clouds everywhere, though curiously enough, I did see a patch of sky to the north.

Frustrated, I turned to the internet and was reminded that I should try to book my tickets to Yayoi Kusama's upcoming Infinity Mirrors exhibit at the AGO.  This is going to be one of the hottest tickets of the spring, and already there are no advance members' tickets left for the entire month of March.  There was limited availabilty from mid-April onwards, and late May wasn't too bad.  However, it is pretty clear if you want to go, you should sign up as a member, and if you are willing to go in the middle of the day, then tickets are much easier to come by.  I ended up booking a spot for myself and my son in mid May, and then one follow-up trip for myself in late May.  Reading through the exhibit rules, it sounds like it could be a kind of frustrating experience where only 4 people at a time can enter 6 rooms and then only for 20-30 seconds.  The wait time for each room is estimated at 20 minutes.  (We took a sneak peak at the exhibition catalogue, and I certainly hope there are other things to look at rather than just the 6 rooms!)  I think it is a good thing that it will mostly be members getting tickets and that Canadians are, on average, a bit more polite than Americans, since this could be a fairly stressful experience.  I do worry that the hype will overshadow the art; in fact, I think it is inevitable that it will.

After I booked my tickets, I did take a look outside and the clouds had more or less lifted, so I went outside.  I was wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me, showing me little light streaks that could be meteors.  Finally, I saw one meteor go shooting by, which was pretty cool.  It's the only one I can recall seeing.  Perhaps if there hadn't been so much snow out on the porch, I would have waited to see one or two more before going in.  Still, it hadn't been quite as amazing as I had been told, with a meteor every minute or so lighting up the sky.  I decided to watch from inside the house for a bit and saw two short squibs and then one more meteor with a longer path.  It is a case of blink, and you'll miss it, but at least I can say that I did see a few this time around.  Now if I can just arrange to be somewhere north of here the next time that the Aurora Borealis flares up...

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Missing Day Off

It's getting close to year's end, and, for some of us, that means checking to see if all our vacation is rolling over or if we are going to lose days.  In my case, I had two personal days that I had to use, plus about three days of excess vacation and lieu time that won't roll over.  So that meant I had to take a few days off without really having a plan on how to use them.

Monday was my first day off.  However, because two deadlines to submit abstracts crept up on me, and I only got a moderate amount done on them over the weekend, that meant I really was working yesterday, but on my own dime.  I'm not happy about it when that happens.  However, I did manage to get the abstracts in on time.

I did a little bit of reading and a bit more sewing, but I didn't go to the movies.  And I certainly didn't laze around, as I had hoped.  Then today I had to wake up early to shovel snow!  I'm hoping that Friday I can succeed a bit more in actually relaxing.

Anyway, I now have 100 of the squares for the quilt cut out, and 30% of them are sewn in with another 60% sewn on one side only.  Again, this was the trade-off of having to do less unstitching to get the loops to line up properly.  It's going relatively fast, but it is too early to predict when it will actually be finished.  I should have some of the full strips pieced together and then sewn together lengthwise tomorrow, and then the pattern will really start emerging.  Exciting.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Japanese texiles at the Textile Museum

I had put off this trip for a few weekends, but I decided I really needed to go soon, since my free pass from the library was expiring soon.  So, after breakfast, my son and I set off for the Textile Museum.  (The downside of procrastination was that it was fairly cold out today.)  It had been a while since my last visit, and I forgot which cross street it was on, but eventually I found it.

The more impressive exhibit is the one on Japanese textiles (mostly kimonos in fact).  This exhibit runs about another month.  Not all my photos turned out that well, but these give a bit of a flavour of the exhibit.

Detail of the dragon cloth

It was a brief, but nice visit.  I did pick up one ornament in the gift shop.  (Oddly enough it is made of metal, not fabric...)

We went over to the AGO, which was fairly empty.  We did a very quick pass through the Del Toro exhibit, then saw some of the other galleries.  I was surprised to see that they finally changed the hall off of the main entrance.  It mostly has prints by Bonnard and Toulouse-Lautrec now, which are interesting, but some of my favourite paintings now seem to be in storage.  I'm glad that they finally have put one smaller room to better use (than the frankly terrible two modern paintings it hosted), though I wonder if perhaps they could have mixed it up a bit more (rather than devoting the entire room to Canadian painters, given that Canadians so dominate the 2nd floor).  We didn't stay too long, but it was still a good visit.  I saw that they did have the Janvier catalog at the gift shop for $40 (and I'd get a 10% members' discount), though that is still a bit more than I want to pay, so I'll keep my eyes out at BMV in another couple of months.

Back home we finally put up the outside Xmas lights.  I was thinking perhaps of putting up the indoor tree, but I think I ought to wait until everyone has gotten over their colds and there aren't as many germs going around the house, so perhaps this Friday (fingers crossed).  I got a bit of work done, but still more to do.  And I did sew together the first three strips of the quilt.

While there is a lot of work left to do on this, I think it may come together a bit faster than the first one, since it does have some areas you can save some time.  Anyway, I'll see how I am feeling about it in another week or two...

Friday, December 8, 2017

New Quilt Project

I'm running probably 2-3 weeks late, but I finally got serious about the second quilt.  This one is going to be for my son.  Fortunately, he will be more understanding if the quilt is not actually delivered on time.  There is a very small chance I will have the top layer completed by Xmas, but then it takes 2-3 weeks for the long-arm quilting to be completed (and maybe even longer, given that many people are trying to complete quilts by the holidays).  But even a January delivery will be fine with him.

I decided that I wanted to do a Trip Around the World quilt.  Inspired by this post, I had a fairly good idea of how to proceed.  However, a different post warned me that if you have directional fabric, then you end up ripping and resewing a lot of squares (as they end up at a 90 degree angle when you sew the strips lengthwise and then rotate).  So I will just cut out that fabric into squares.  While it does mean extra sewing and some extra cutting, I will have to do far less ripping in the second stage of quilt construction.

I went through the fabrics I had available and decided on these 10.  I've cut out the strips, but still need to turn the directional fabrics (4 of them!) into individual squares.  Also, I have not cut out any of the border material (which will be a bit more autumnal, not quite as Christmas-y), but obviously I need to see how big the final quilt size ends up before I cut out any borders.*

Then I used a photo editor to simulate what a Trip Around the World would look like.  This is very raw, but still gives a decent sense of how it should turn out.  (If there isn't actually an app that does this, there should be, and I may work with my son to rig something up.)

The important thing is that there do appear to be enough offsetting light and dark fabrics.  I have a slight preference for putting the yellow deer on blue fabric in the center of the quilt, so I think I will organize it that way.  I am leaning towards swapping the penguin and the blue mitten/hat fabric, though that might entail slightly more work in the short-term, but I think the contrast would be better.  Perhaps I will mock that up tonight just to be sure.

While I am always excited when these projects come together, there is definitely a sense of "what I am I getting myself into?" that sets in a few weeks into a project.  However, I was able to keep pushing through with the previous one and that turned out well.

Edit (12/9): I've put together one more version of what this quilt might look like, and I think I will go with this pattern.

Also, as I was laying out the strips, it actually looks like the strips are not rotated 90 degrees, so that I could just cut them all at once.  Given some of the issues with getting different fabrics to line up (the red dog fabric doesn't even seem to be 40 inches wide), I think I will just line up 3 at a time to sew together length-wise and then do the stub cuts.  This will mean a bit more cutting, but more control.  And definitely less ripping out of any stitching.  My goal is to actually get a few of these strips sewn together this weekend just to see how it goes.

* It looks like these quilts are usually made with 17 strips across and 21 down.  That works out to 357 squares, which is a bit of a waste, since 10 fabrics leaves you with 400 squares.  I'm fairly likely to extend it lengthwise, and 17 x 23 is 391 squares.  Depending on how it looks, I might actually attempt 19 x 23.  This takes 437 squares, generally 4 squares more of each fabric.  I've checked, and I have enough left over of all of the fabrics, though in some cases just barely.  Anyway, I'll lay it out as 17 x 23 first before extending it.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Retreat into fiction

There's a lot on my mind these days, but generally it is too political and too angry to want to post on it.  On top of everything else, I might change my mind (which does happen on rare occasions) and I'd regret having it out there.

There have definitely been times when I have been so frustrated by work or a general overall unhappiness about life that I go on long reading jags, pretty much shutting out the rest of the world.  This was particularly the case when I was teaching in Newark.  So much of what I read back then all blurred together, and I don't even remember much of it, which is a shame.  (And apparently 2008-2010, I was in the dumps a lot as well.)  Even posting a line or two about a book helps me set my thoughts in some kind of order.  I'd say that right now, my happiness at work is increasing to some degree but the awfulness of watching what is going on south of here is a real grind.  Still, I'm so glad to be out of it.  I can watch from a distance, but, more importantly, I can tune it all out, since I am only indirectly impacted at the moment by the Cheeto-in-Chief (until he starts a war with North Korea of course).

There are a few more detailed posts I still expect to make (on Isherwood's A Single Man and on Narayan's work), but why don't I go ahead and put down some mini-reports on my reading.  I'll go back a few months a least.

Charlotte Bronte -- Jane Eyre: This was one of the real gaps in my reading.  (When in university I was assigned Wuthering Heights instead.  I'm glad for my 19-year-old self as Jane Eyre is about twice as long.)  The first part of the novel was fairly interesting, but I definitely lost interest when Jane fell so deeply in love with Rochester, who certainly didn't seem such a catch, even before the fire.  I'm glad to finally have read it, but it was a bit of a let-down for me.

I then read Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.  This was just a bit too experimental for me.  I am not entirely sure I would have even understood it was about Rochester and his first wife if this hadn't been pointed out by others.  I didn't feel it added to my understanding of the situation nor did it work (for me) as a feminist reworking of the Jane Eyre story.  I prefer Rhys's more straight-forward semi-autobiographical accounts of her days in relative poverty in Europe (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, etc.).

Right after I got through those novels, I reread Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.  Someone on Goodreads wrote it was about two terrible (or at least deeply selfish) people doing terrible things to each other and then to their offspring.  That sounds about right.  It basically is a Gothic romance, full of deep (and terrible?) emotions.  The novel affected me more as a young adult.  As a more jaded adult, I mostly was thinking how this corner of England seemed like the Ozarks where people didn't seem to realize that there was society down the road and that one didn't have to marry one's neighbors, i.e. there were more options in this wider world.  Even Jane Eyre includes much more travel -- and visitors from elsewhere coming through.  I hadn't remembered that the narrator was quite such a bumbling twit nor that he seemed to want to make a play for the young widow, though fortunately he stepped aside to allow for the nascent romance to blossom and for the presumably happy ending to arrive.

I reread Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and then finally read Pride and Prejudice.  While it may be somewhat heretical, I definitely preferred Sense and Sensibility, in large part because I preferred the secondary characters.*  Emily Bennet's younger sisters are a bunch of annoying simpletons.  Also, for a man who didn't care much for his wife, Mr. Bennet sure had a lot of children, though I suppose they were desperately trying for a male heir.  I generally found the difficulties that the Bennet sisters faced in getting married were more contrived (and thus more easily overcome) than the situation in Sense and Sensibility.

William Trevor -- Nights at the Alexandra.  This is a novella rather than a true novel.  I found it quite unsatisfying, as it basically seemed to be an older man reflecting back on his teen-aged crush on a young married woman, who moved to his village with her German husband.  The strong implication is that his impossible love for her stunted his emotional growth and he never managed to find anyone else in his life who measured up, and thus remained a bachelor all his days.  I'm not saying this never happens, but I found it a fairly shallow story and of no particular interest.

I may end up writing more on Isherwood later, but A Single Man offers up an interesting comparison.  Here the focus is on a "single" man, George (and the novel could be summarized as A Single Day in the Life of a Single Man).  However, the man is involuntarily single.  He was in a long-term homosexual relationship, long before this was accepted by broader society and indeed at a time (1964) when gay sex was illegal in Canada and virtually all U.S. states, including California, where the novel was set.  But he isn't single because his partner left him but rather he died suddenly.  While the narrator seems somewhat emotionally stunted, it could largely be because he is still in emotional shock.  We don't really get a sense of how much he was at his ease while in the relationship, but it seems to have been a happy one.  On the other hand, much is made of the fact that George is an outsider, a British immigrant to California (with all the reserve that implies).  It is interesting to compare the fairly buttoned-down George to the let-it-all-hang-out  Tommy/Wilhelm from Bellow's Seize the Day. To be fair, there was a point (in the past) when George broke down in the company of his friend Charlotte, over the death of his lover, but now George keeps these emotions in check. However, given the rivers of booze that flow through this novel (indicating perhaps Mad Men wasn't so far off the mark) and poor George's liver, there is a bit of suspense over what exactly will come out of his mouth while he is drunk. The novel is actually quite radical in how it describes an older male lusting (privately) after a fair number of younger men he runs across.

Chigozie Obioma -- The Fishermen.  This had a lot of the trappings of a Greek myth, specifically Oedipus Rex, but set in Nigeria, where a prophecy spoken by a madman sets off a series of tragic events for the four elder boys.  I was also reminded a fair bit of The Brothers Karamazov, though in this case, the brothers do not turn on their father, who is only a middling tyrant.

Emmanuel Bove -- A Singular Man. Too long for what it is, sort of a nothing burger. It's about a man, dependent on others for charity most of his life, who marries far above his station, but the happy couple never gets their share of the family fortune. While he is "singular" in that he doesn't really rail against fate or go around begging for help (like the self-indulgent Tommy from Seize the Day), he also does little in the way of work. For instance, he seems to give up a job in advertising without any kind of a back-up plan. I'm kind of allergic to Bove's characters and their way of thinking. (I really detested the main character of A Man Who Knows; here I am more indifferent.) I probably ought to just stop reading Bove.

Another odd novel about a dissolute character who doesn't really want to work is English, August: An Indian Story by Upamanyu Chatterjee. The main character is a young man who has won a position with IAS, but seems to want to do nothing but laze around all day smoking weed and occasionally reading Marcus Aurelius. There is a lot here about the absurdities of trying to govern India through a civil service that is thoroughly corrupt, but it is still a novel centered on a callow young man, and the narrative/plot doesn't do much to challenge his self-centered view.

I was going to write on a few other novels I have read lately, but I think this is enough for now.  It is late, and I have other things to do.

* That said, Pride and Prejudice has one of the best opening lines I've come across: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."