Crafting Love

“In the first days of his bondage he had turned to the gentle churchly faith endeared to him by the naïve trust of his fathers, for thence stretched mystic avenues which seemed to promise escape from life. Only on closer view did he mark the starved fancy and beauty, the stale and prosy triteness, and the owlish gravity and grotesque claims of solid truth which reigned boresomely and overwhelmingly among most of its professors; or feel to the full the awkwardness with which it sought to keep alive as literal fact the outgrown fears and guesses of a primal race confronting the unknown. It wearied Carter to see how solemnly people tried to make earthly reality out of old myths which every step of their boasted science confuted, and this misplaced seriousness killed the attachment he might have kept for the ancient creeds had they been content to offer sonorous rites and emotional outlets in their true guise of eternal fantasy.

But when he came to study those who had thrown off the old myths, he found them even more ugly than those who had not. They did not know that beauty lies in harmony, and that loveliness of life has no standard amidst an aimless cosmos save only its harmony with the dreams and the feelings which have gone before and blindly moulded our little spheres out of the rest of chaos. They did not see that good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole value lies their linkage to what chance made our fathers think and feel, and whose finer details are different for every race and culture. Instead, they are either denied these things altogether or transferred them to the crude, vague instincts which they shared with the beasts and peasants; so that their lives were dragged malodourously out in pain, ugliness and disproportion, yet filled with a ludicrous pride at having escaped from something more unsound than that which still held them. They had traded the false gods of fear and blind piety for those of license and anarchy.

Carter did not taste deeply of these modern freedoms; for their cheapness and squalor sickened a spirit loving beauty alone, while his reason rebelled at the flimsy logic with which their champions tried to gild brute impulse with a sacredness stripped from the idols they had discarded. He saw that most of them, in common with their cast-off preistcraft, could not escape from the delusion that life has a meaning apart from that which men dream into it; and could not lay aside the crude notion of ethics and obligations beyond those of beauty, even when all Nature shrieked of its unconsciousness and impersonal unmorality in the light of their scientific discoveries. Warped and bigoted with preconceived illusions of justice, freedom, and consistency, they cast off the old lore and the old ways with the old beliefs; nor ever stopped to think that that lore and those ways were the sole makers of their present thoughts and judgments, and the sole guides and standards in a meaningless universe without fixed aims or stable points of reference. Having lost these artificial settings, their lives grow void of direction and dramatic interest; till at length they strove to drown their ennui in bustle and pretended usefulness, noise and excitement, barbaric display and animal sensation. When these things palled, disappointed, or grew nauseous through revulsion, they cultivated irony and bitterness, and found fault with the social order. Never could they realize that their brute foundations were as shifting and contradictory as the gods of their elders, and the satisfaction of one moment is the bane of the next. Calm, lasting beauty comes only in dreams, and this solace the world had thrown away when in its worship of the real it threw away the secrets of childhood and innocence.”

From ‘The Silver Key’, by Howard Philips Lovecraft. 1926

Please note the date of composition.


I’ve been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately. I’m not totally sure why. I did read Stephen King’s latest, Revival, recently, and the novel certainly evoked some Lovecraftian reflections, so that might have something to do with it. I was also fighting a brutal virus of some kind- and when I’m feeling ill and generally down-in-the-dumps, my literary tastes tend toward the gothic for some reason.

I purchased Lovecraft’s collected works for my Kobo for something like $3.00. Canadian dollars. That’s a whole lot o’ lit for not a lot of money. As I’ve been working my way through the collection, a bunch of things have been jumping out at me- like rats from the walls of an antediluvian castle.

First off, the guy LOVED to use and reuse particular turns of phrase and descriptive terminology that is hard to find outside of his work. While I’ve read him before, I have never in-taken so much back-to-back-to-back, as it were, so the repetition is heightened more than it would be if I was taking the stuff in pieces- or according to a logical ordering- which this collection (at least how it appears on my e-Reader) is lacking. If all the Cthulhu stuff and all the Dream Cycle stuff were together as their cohesive-ish wholes, then the recurrence of themes and wordplay may be less jarring. Hard to know. He was a writer of his time- so the somewhat formal and pointedly archaic language is to be expected (as is the racism and classism- although I’d avoided a great deal of the worst of that in past readings).

Nonetheless, I’ve always been interested in the guy- as much for what he influenced as for his creations themselves. The Cthulhu Mythos is pretty damn brilliant when it comes down to it, with its incorporation of mythological themes and responses to the tensions between the realities of scientific and technological advances, and ‘tradition’ and religion.

From the Wikipedia:

Lovecraft himself adopted the stance of atheism early in his life. In 1932 he wrote in a letter to Robert E. Howard: “All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hairsplitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist”.

He got it. I’ll say it again, atheism ain’t some new, dangerous social phenomenon. Old as the hills, it is. Or at least as old as the gods.

Lovecraft was a weird little dude, in many ways. But his influence is undisputed in certain literary circles. Neil Gaimon loves him (and I love Neil Gaimon). As does the aforementioned Mr. King. I have to admit that revisiting his stories has been eye-opening.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had recurring dreams that feature the odd angles and geometry that Lovecraft uses to describe the architecture of the mysterious and forbidden cities of the ancients. So many of these dreams take place in parts of Toronto (the town closest to my heart) but with subtle differences that lend a sinister aura to the dreamscapes.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out for a ramble and come across a building that seems somehow off in real life- since I’m used to seeing it in dreams with its structure somehow altered.

Arguably, the guy has crept into my psyche through the myriad stories his writings influenced and which I read/heard without knowing that they were Lovecraftian in origin. He’s created archetypes that we don’t even acknowledge as being as archetypal as they are.

I have something of a similar relationship with some of Ray Bradbury’s tales. His October Country and Dark Carnival resonate heavily with my childhood memories and, well, things I like. Oddly, perhaps, since I haven’t spent much (any) time in the Midwest of the US.  I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was in Grade 6. It was fall (it might have been October), and the atmosphere of the novel suited the melancholy of the season and set the standard for my love of macabre carnivals (like the ones found in Carnivale and, recently, the Freak Show of the most recent iteration of American Horror Story).

Through Bradbury’s autumnal settings and investigations of the mélange of good and evil found in each of us- and the awareness that self-centered desires are the basis for human malice and unhappiness- his stories teach us that supernatural forces (evil coming from outside- from something that is other than human) are most easily defeated by the most human of tools. Things like sincerity of heart. Things like love. Because those non-human influences are easily dissipated when faced with human strength of character and conviction.

Reminds me of a song…

When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city,
To see a marching band,
He said, Son, when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned,

Sometimes I get the feeling,
She’s watching over me,
And other times I feel like I should go,
And through it all, the rise and fall,
The bodies in the streets,
And when you’re gone we want you all to know,

We’ll carry on, we’ll carry on,
And though you’re dead and gone, believe me,
Your memory will carry on, we’ll carry on,
And in my heart, I can’t contain it,
The anthem won’t explain it,

And while that sends you reeling,
From decimated dreams,
Your misery and hate will kill us all,
So paint it black and take it back,
Let’s shout out loud and clear,
Defiant to the end we hear the call

Many of Bradbury’s tales were published by Arkham House- founded to preserve, in hardcover, Lovecraft’s voluminous fiction.

Like Lovecraft, Bradbury’s imagination influenced those same later writers. Neil’s latest short story collection contains a poetic homage to Ray that highlights his importance to the weird  genre of literature. Something Wicked also greatly impacted the story behind my favourite of his novels -one I used more than once in courses I taught over the years- American Gods.

Ordinary people fighting the influence of supernatural beings- frequently, the gods themselves. Recurrence of theme…

I used Gaimon’s wonderful novel as an illustration of the ways in which we, as humans, make up gods as originators and jurists- and how these creations need us. Without our worship and acknowledgement they fade, or die, or are forced to take jobs as taxi drivers and prostitutes (or, as did my very faves, run a funeral parlour in Cairo, Illinois- not all that far from Bradbury’s native Waukegan, Illinois).

The first time I used American Gods in a classroom setting was for a course called Religion, Illusion and Reality- a survey course describing how we create and study religions. The novel offers a vivid illustration of the fundamental need the gods have for us, their creators, and how they fade as newer gods- those of media, technology and, even, celebrity take focus and worship away from them and cause them to disappear into obscure uselessness.

I love this theme. And it runs through all this weird fiction. Those things to which we stop paying attention draw back into the abyss of imagination where they were created- but remain dormant yet dangerous, waiting for the opportunity to influence the credulous among us and regain their power over those seeking to gratify the self above all. It is there that the weird gods find their acolytes.

This worldview hearkens back to that whole order vs. chaos dichotomy I’ve talked about before. Back to the beginnings- to our creative origins as we developed written language and began to institutionalize our attempts at explaining the unexplainable.

Rather than looking to the knowledge we’ve gained, we’re allowing the long-buried Cthulu-types to reassert their hold over our intelligence and call to us from the sunken depths or distant stars to which they had been banished by the light of humanity.

Prompted by a recent post by my friend Audrey, I’ve picked up some of Algernon Blackwood’s short fictions as well. Lord Dunsany is next. Perhaps by delving into these writers who recognize the dangers posed by those gods (and religions) we create, I’ll gain some perspective on why we are letting ourselves be drawn irretrievably back into the dark ages of credulity and superstition.

Creepy stories about weird gods are fantastic for fireside tale-telling, or while curled up in a blanket with a dram of something warming while the unseasonably cold winds from the Great Lake seep through the glass of a modern condominium building (that will be the remainder of my evening, I think).

They don’t belong in our schools or our places of work. Or in our governments and the policies they institute- on behalf of all of us.

If we’re going to insist upon such a return to darkness in our daily lives and overarching culture, why not go all the way?

Or 2015- for those of us here in Canada…

Pots and Kettles

‘Kay- I’m more than a little swamped at the mo’- between the thank you cards and starting the new job and all. But I’ve been looking back over some of my earlier (earliest) posts (dating from before I realized that all posts should have a musical interlude or two) that had to do with this whole conceptualization/personification of evil as an external force.

This one was one of the things that had me hitting the books anew- searching for origins of this propensity we have to blame all the bad stuff on ‘something’ outside of ourselves. So, since time is at something of a premium for me right now, here’s a bit of a revisit of the subject of the tension between the idea of a ‘god of goodness’ and the way in which the character(s) is/are actually described in the stories.

People are as good- or as bad- as we grow them to be.  We need to be addressing that rather than looking for outside sources to blame.


“Evil, they said, was brought into the world by the rebel angels.  Oh really?  God sees and foresees all, and he didn’t know the rebel angels were going to rebel?  Why did he create them if he knew they were going to rebel?  That’s like somebody making car tires that he knows will blow out after two kilometers.  He’d be a prick.  But no, he went ahead and created them, and afterward he was happy as a clam, look how clever I am, I can even make angels… Then he waited for them to rebel (no doubt drooling in anticipation of their first false step) and then hurled them down into hell.  If that’s the case he’s a monster.”

Umberto Eco- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (pg. 349)

No one writes like Umberto Eco.  His language- even as translated from Italian- is beautiful beyond belief.  He seems to see…

View original post 1,372 more words

Stories with Stuart

Here in Canada we have a wonderful, and distinctively Canadian, thing called the CBC.  Sure, other countries have public radio/television, and they certainly do tell the stories of their nations in myriad ways, but our CBC radio programming holds a very special place in my heart and mind.  (The television programming is also good, but I admit I spend more time with the radio shows than the tv, generally speaking).

Our current federal government is attempting to dismantle this national treasure a little bit at a time.  But the producers and presenters of our unique (though often very different, regionally speaking) way(s) of looking at our country and the world continue charging forward- and looking back- telling our stories and creating little pieces of wonder as they keep on keeping on.

One of these incredible people is Stuart McLean.  His Vinyl Café stories have been a fixture on CBC radio for close on 20 years.  His variety show highlights Canadian singer-songwriters- artists whose work might otherwise not get a whole lot of airtime- and intermingles music, humour and an almost nostalgic sense of Canada and its people- in all our often-messy glory.

Stuart is a rarity these days.  He’s a born storyteller- his distinctive voice and presence make you feel like you’re sharing a drink with a close friend.  Who just happens to have a never ending supply of amazing tales to recount.  Tales about characters that have grown in familiarity to the extent that they become like members of the family.  Relatives that you are pleased you only have to visit a few times a year, perhaps, but continuing sources of hilarity and well-learned life-lessons.

At the heart of the show is Stuart’s primary literary comic foil- Dave, the owner of an independent record store in Toronto, and the trouble he seems endlessly able to attract.  In abundance.

Dave and his family- his long-suffering wife, Morley, children Sam and Stephanie- along with an incredible cast of neighbours and friends, find themselves in some pretty far out situations.  But no matter the extremity of the circumstance, those of us familiar with Dave and his antics easily, and willingly, suspend our disbelief in our awareness that ‘it’s just Dave.  Of course such things can happen to him.’

Every year the great folks behind the Vinyl Café take their Christmas show on the road and make a stop here at home.  A visit with Stuart and his compatriots has become an annual holiday event for me and some of my peeps.  Friday night they rolled into the Sony Centre and, as usual, had us rolling in the aisles.  My face still hurts from all the laughing.

Audience participation is encouraged, and the way that Stuart feeds off the energy of his audience helps guide the shape of his shows.  He allowed as how they were genuinely happy to be home after 24 days of taking the show across the country (and down into a few select towns in the States)- a sentiment he reinforced when a part of his first story- the part about kindergarden children tumbling off of the stage during the school holiday pageant- brought down the house- anticipatorily.  Apparently that part of the tale was met with shocked silence in more PC towns like Vancouver.

Toronto has a slightly more irreverent sense of humour, it would seem (we must.  Look at our mayor.  HE made it into the show, too.  Not in a flattering light- go figure).  We love the old favourites, but one of the best things about attending the Christmas shows live and in person is hearing the new stories, freshly minted, and Stuart gave us two on Friday.

But we also revisited ‘Morley’s Christmas Concert’ and the discombobulated, but completely intact, tumbling children who were left in the dark when Dave’s sound system took out the school’s power grid.  And after Intermission, Stuart had a sit down with us, and together we remembered the highlights from all our favourite holiday stories.  ‘Dave Cooks the Turkey’, of course.  And ‘Dave on the Roof’– about the perils of the Canadian winter and the ways in which our slightly defiantly perverse instincts can get the best of us.  Despite the fact we know better (DO NOT stick your tongue on anything metal- especially while up on the roof repairing the tv antenna.  Really.  Just don’t.)

The musical guests this year were a wonderful trio of ladies called The Good Lovelies, whose harmonies and hauntingly beautiful rendition of Sara Bareilles’ Winter Song very much reflected the quiet and the melancholy of the snow that had covered the city that day.  Yet we were warm, inside, and with friends, so the plaintiveness of the song could be felt at a remove rather than with its full, sad immediacy.

A night with Vinyl Café is always enjoyable on many levels, but one of the things that makes me most appreciate our annual visits is the fact that so many children are present to participate.  In this day and age.  With all the visual and technological interfaces available to them, the fact that there are children who can still appreciate the wonder and the value of a storyteller, coming to them over the radio (or via a podcast), without anything flashing or shaping their images of the characters or the settings other than Stuart’s description alone.

Every year I applaud those parents who have raised children that can be engaged by the sound of his voice, recounting the most recent adventures of a bunch of crazy Canadians (or flashing back to earlier stories), as they use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks- and people the stories with their own variations and appearances.

Storytelling of this sort is both communal and very personal.  I know what Dave and his family look like to me.  They’ve changed- grown older- as I’ve gotten to know them over the years of listening to their life- often in kitchens, as dinner preparations where underway.  Would I recognize them, if I passed them on the street?  About that, I’m not sure.  But I’d know them by their actions- both the silly antics and the wonderful, well-meaning heart that lies at the centre of all their interactions with their friends, family and neighbours.

They have taught me lessons.  They have made me laugh.  And tear up from time to time, too.  Stuart has made them fully realized.

He ended our evening by returning to the stage with his long-time touring musical director, John Sheard.  Together they sang a song. that John wrote, about the holidays- and what they would really like for Christmas.  This wonderful, wonderful tune contained references to Harper’s prorogation of Parliament, the Senate debacle, Rob Ford, Don Cherry, the federal government’s actions re. the CBC… Straight minutes of nothing other but laughter.  Canadian laugher.  FOR us, BY us.  We were still laughing as we headed out into the cold of Front Street.

I have a whole bunch of podcasts of the show to catch up with.  Somehow there aren’t enough hours in the day to do/read/watch/listen to everything that needs to be done/watched/read/listened to- especially at this time of year.  But the next hour I have free (or make the time to have free), I will decide to just sit, and listen, and fully experience Stuart’s incredible gift with story- its creation and its delivery.  The holidays ARE supposed to be about time spent with friends, after all.

Please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Stuart McLean.  I trust you will get along famously.

‘We might still have a way to go’

December.  Already.  How did that happen?

It seems that the New Year arrives more and more quickly with each one that passes.  I swear, it feels like it was August just two weeks ago.  And I am brutally behind in just about everything I turn my hand to these days.

I did manage to complete my personal NaNoWriMo challenge.  Finished with 52 768 words as of November 30, 2013.  I didn’t actually participate in any of the local events or conversations or communal support- really I just used their word counter as a way of marking progress.  I discovered that I can, in fact, get that much written in a month (I actually wrote more than those 50-some-thousand words, given the fact that I did manage some posts here at colemining as well), even if the final 30-day count has not necessarily brought me that much closer to completion of the project.  There is still a lot of story to be told, and the organization, editing and substantial re-writes is the next hurdle to overcome, but the characters are beginning to develop nicely, and the story progression is reasonably mapped, so progress was made.

It’s nice to know that I can still set a goal which can be met, even while keeping up with the rest of my responsibilities.  So yay for me.  A side effect of all that productivity is that I can step back for a bit, and I do have to say I’m glad that I can take a bit of a break from that particular outlet to give me some time to view it with fresh eyes.

As we rush headlong into the holiday season I am realizing, as is usually the case, that for the next few weeks there will not be enough hours in the day.  Feeling pulled in all these different directions was making me more than a little irritable over the weekend (despite having attended an incredible American Thanksgiving dinner in friends’ new and wonderful home on Saturday- great food, fantastic company- good times indeed).

This irritability was not helped AT ALL by the fact that city was locked in gridlock- were you foolish enough to attempt to drive anywhere- while the TTC seemed to be operating on some arcane schedule that required initiation into some sort of transportation cabal if you actually wanted to know when a streetcar might actually arrive- and not randomly change route numbers or short turn to nowhere on the whim of some Grand Poobah of the Red Rocket.  And don’t get me started on the road closures to accommodate the Buffalo Bills being in town…


‘Grouchy Cole’ is not my favourite character manifestation.

Starting the work week- with deadlines looming and conflict in the workplace- hasn’t helped to dissipate the negative vibes, so I’ve had to look for some external sources of inspiration to get me back on track and looking forward with anticipation rather than anxiety.


This guy.

I picked up the book over a week ago (after first learning of its existence months ago) and, under normal circumstances, would have had it long devoured by this point.  It’s representative of my two very favourite things, after all- music and story (and storytellers).

Shamefully it has taken me this long to write about Ray’s wonderful memoir- using his tours of the US as the core and starting point for his story.  In his lyrical style (everything the guy writes sounds like his music- conversational yet clever, and as if there is a subtle background riff that has been familiar forever supporting his thoughts and emotions as they ring off of the page), he tells the story of life on the road- through the early lean years with the Kinks, and, more recently, as he attempted to rediscover/remake himself in his own image as a solo artist.

First off, I have to say that apparently I was sleeping in 2004, since I had no idea at all that he had been shot.  Believe me, if I had heard a news report that someone raised a gun at Ray Davies in New Orleans, I would have recalled it in the way that those who remember JFK’s assassination can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing.

He looms that largely in my life.

And this book has just reinforced that presence.  Seriously.  It was hard to keep reading because there was just so much inspiration being thrown at me on each and every single page.  I was itching to take that inspiration on board and get back to work.

Although they were part of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, the Kinks have never held the same place in the North American popular imagination of those days as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  There are reasons for this- some of which Ray discusses over the course of Americana– but I think he nails it quite concisely remarking that, as a lyricist, in those early years he was unwilling to play at being anything other than himself- a working class lad from suburban London, who never lost his accent or stopped singing about things that resonated with him, personally.  Regardless of how inexplicable such things might be to an American audience.  The Kinks remained true to their roots, and, especially in their early years, their songs were very reflective of their native environment.

Still, as a child, Ray romanticized the US, based in impressions gleaned from Hollywood and music that spoke of roots and depth of connection to places that were foreign in every manner of speaking from his own life experience.  As their following grew, and again after the break-up of the Kinks, he sought out those roots in an effort to figure out the next directions his creativity might take.

Shifting between recollections of the early tours- painfully recalling the loneliness and boredom of time on the road- and moving forward, in his personal and professional lives, Ray offers insights into his creative process that are at once illuminating and daunting.  Here is a guy with no formal musical training- beyond the fact that he has been playing and writing songs since he was a teenager- who has created a catalogue of some of the most memorable characters and stories in popular music.

He tells the stories of the nascence of songs like this one:

It talks about the tension- ever-present since the band began- between Ray and his little bro’, Dave, and the decision to keep the band together despite the sometimes seeming irrelevance of rock ‘n’ roll.  He created the character of ‘Dan the fan’ to illustrate the impact that music has, even against the backdrop of the time- and the death of Elvis Presley (which came the day after the insomnia that saw the seeds of the song first-formed).  It is a personal and cultural marker of time and place.  We’ve had the song for decades, but to someone like me- for whom story and its creation is an endless source of fascination and wonder- reading about how the song came to be is a new gift to be savoured.

The Shuffle Daemon hasn’t been shuffling anything other than Kinks and/or Ray Davies tunes as I wend my way through his written words.  As Ray revisited his process and the events that spoke to the process, I listened to the songs that resulted, rediscovering old favourites, or hearing those that didn’t top my personal pops in a new light which added a level of appreciation.

This one retains relevance to a prescient degree:

I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead

The news was so bad that I fell out of bed

There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike

Got to be a superman to survive

Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills

I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive…

I’d really like to change the world

And save it from the mess it’s in…

Ray writes so well and so prolifically, it is hard to imagine that he has experienced writers’ block of any kind.  But he has.  And since this is the bane of the existence of any and all those who dare to self-describe as creative-types, knowing that the feeling affects a master of his caliber helps us mere mortals feel a little reassured…

‘In a creatively non-productive phase, my body almost mirrors my emotional state and I can become uncoordinated and risk to myself and others as I bump into tables and walk into closing doors.  When it gets like this I forget which side of the Atlantic I am on.  I invariably trip up on the pavement, drive on the wrong side of the road, and generally become a danger to anyone who happens to be walking near me.  I become a cause for concern among all those who care for me… Sometimes the inspiration gene kicks in early in the morning like a randy rooster crowing a new beat.  That’s the time when it’s important to start writing.  When the dum-dum explodes it is usually accompanied in my head by the ‘William Tell’ overture, that tells me I have to write- which I do at maniacal speed, stopping only in response to exhaustion or physical pain.  A period of nonproductivity, on the other hand, can sometimes necessitate a jug of coffee before I can even put on my dressing gown and get out of bed.  That’s the creative curse.’  (pg. 150-151)

Destroyer is, in many ways- in my opinion anyway- the ultimate Kinks song.  Combining the instantly recognizable riff from All Day and All of the Night and the reappearance of that inimitable character, Lola, it’s about self-destruction as a result of self-involvement.

Silly boy you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure you self-destroyer..

Self-destroyer, wreck your health
Destroy friends, destroy yourself
The time device of self-destruction
Light the fuse and start eruption

Over the past week and a bit, as I’ve worked to complete a self-imposed exercise in productivity- one that leaves me filled with vacillating analyses ranging between ‘that’s pretty good’ and ‘oh man, does THAT ever suck rocks’- Ray has provided some illumination and even a kick in the pants or two and helped to draw me back into focus.  And helped me regain some of the optimism that is generally second nature, but which has been missing in action over the last while.

He remains a work in progress- one who is still (at almost 70 years of age) producing works filled with inspiration and enduring characters.  He went searching for himself in an America that was partly an amalgam of the pictures in his head, and found out a whole lot about himself in the process.  Americana seems to have provided him with some perspective- and it has provided me with endless moments of delight.  That I will certainly revisit over and over- the way I need to keep listening to his music.

As he notes in the epilogue: ‘Songs are like friends who comfort you so you don’t feel alone.  Believe in them hard enough and they come true.’ (pg. 296).

With that bit of wisdom, I can’t help but agree- wholeheartedly- and look forward, with hope, for a day when I can believe in my own creations enough that they, in turn, become realized enough that they might just one day befriend someone the way his music and lyrics have been constant companions to me for years and years (and years…).

I could go on (how did this creep up to almost 2000 words?!?  Although many of them are Ray’s…), but will instead recommend that you check out the book for yourself.  Spending time with old friends is always good- especially at this time of year.

Cheers, Ray.

Character, referenced

I’ve been thinking about that word a lot lately.  Partly because I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (32000+ words on the go), so character development is something on which I’m pretty keenly focused as I attempt to unfold the story from the recesses of my imagination.

Creating someone believable out of nothing is always an interesting endeavour.  I like to think that I have always been a writer.  Even as a child my imagination allowed for the creation of friends and scenarios- for my own amusement and that of others (ask my sibs sometime about the entity known as ‘Baby YumYum’- as space alien who accompanied us on family vacations).  They all had back stories and hometowns, histories and very specific likes and dislikes.  I remember it being fairly simple to come up with one character or another, pretty much at the drop of a hat.

As I’ve been an avid devourer of books since I learned how to read, the characters of favourite novels (and periods of history) tend to stay with me, and they sometimes take on a life of their own.  Strong characters become friends- to be cheered on as they reach goals or mourned as they pass on, and remembered as though they were real in moments of passing fancy.  Any number of times I’ve had to catch myself thinking about someone- missing them or thinking about how much they might enjoy a particular event- only to realize that I’m in fact recalling a character rather than a ‘real’ person.

Strong fictional character can become fully realized to those who love them.  When I first read Anne Rice- way back in the Dark Ages before Lestat started looking like Tom Cruise (shudder.  BOWIE- okay, maybe Sting- should have been Lestat…)– I often caught myself having conversations with her characters- particularly Marius- that vampiric remnant from the height of the Roman Empire- since his worldview and personality were companionably comparable to my own.

Somewhere along the line of my heavily invested reading, I sort of started believing that the characters I loved existed out there somewhere- waiting, perhaps, to be met in unlikely circumstances.  I mentioned, when talking about the wonderful exhibit at the AGO celebrating the amazement that David Bowie has brought into our collective existence, that I once wrote a stream-of-consciousness piece in which the narrator carried on an ongoing dialogue with the spirit of Ziggy Stardust.

I talk to characters like that all the time.

Flip side of this?  If the GREAT characters can get out there into the world, then so can the ones who aren’t so nice.  As a consequence of this little peculiarity of belief, I can’t not finish a book- even if it’s terrible (IMHO)- because leaving it unfinished maximizes the possibility that the horrible characters WILL make it into our world (this belief unfortunately meant I had to read the first Twilight novel in its entirety.  That’s a couple hours of my life I’ll never get back.  I didn’t speak to the person who gave it to me for at least a couple of days after, as revenge).

I mentioned this little eccentricity to a book loving, like-minded friend of mine.  Her response was to stand in line at the Ottawa Public Library for hours in order to get me a autographed copy of Timothy Findley’s Headhunter.  Here, from the talented pen of one of Canada’s literary treasures, was a story that included my own pathology.  The characters of Heart of Darkness escaped into a dystopian version of Toronto.

In addition to being a wonderful read that I revisit over and over (and which holds pride of place on my bookshelf), it was proof that I’m not (completely) crazy.

This love of character and story is one of the many reasons why I so love– and emphasize the importance of- myth.  Characters that were envisioned millennia (or centuries, or decades, or weeks) ago STILL capture our imaginations and are part of our common communications.

We constantly recall and revisit and remake these figures from our past stories- guys like Gilgamesh, or the patriarchs and other happening dudes of the OT (Melchizedek is my personal fave exemplar of the Super-Priest- and there’s a movie about Noah and his Ark coming out in the Spring), Jesus, the Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed… our mythologies are filled with amazing characters who continue to resonate with us- through the stories about their words, actions or the things they left behind them.

But that may also be why I’m struggling a bit (okay, a lot) getting these characters of mine fleshed out and onto the page.  I have a longlonglong history of hero worship to reconcile as I attempt to give life to my own fictional people.

(Another ‘waiting in line for an autograph’ story?  Since I was just talking about her… Anne Rice at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa after Servant of the Bones was released.  By the time I got to her- and had my PICTURE taken with her- I was so overwhelmed with the memories of the characters she had given me I was pretty much a blithering idiot.  Did manage to stammer something about missing Ramses and looking forward to the continuation of the story of The Mummy, to which I’m sure she said something courteous and respectful- she’s a truly lovely person- before I stumbled away)

And add to that the fact that recent events here at home (you might have heard something about what’s going on by now.  Assuming you don’t live on Mars) have had me thinking more about the development of moral character than fictional character development.


According to the Wikipedia:

“Moral character or character is an evaluation of a particular individual’s stable moral qualities. The concept of character can imply a variety of attributes including the existence or lack of virtues such as empathy, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits. Moral character primarily refers to the assemblage of qualities that distinguish one individual from another — although on a cultural level, the set of moral behaviors to which a social group adheres can be said to unite and define it culturally as distinct from others.”

The word comes from Greek, with an original meaning pertaining to a mark of some kind which is impressed on a coin.  There is a sense of indelibility about the word.  True character cannot be erased or washed away.

Character, as a quality, is at the heart of discussions of ethics and morality- things that form the core of most of the religions and philosophical systems we find across the world.  Morality is also defined by our cultures and the mores of our secular societies.

Caricature comes from a Latin word that means ‘to load’.  A picture that is a caricature is ‘loaded’- with either simplified or exaggerated characteristics.  They are rarely complimentary, and often used in political editorial commentary.

We’ve seen a lot of that up here lately.

“Maybe I’m too nice.”  He actually said that in an interview during his press jag today.  He was trying to answer a question about why he was hanging about with known criminals and writing them letters of reference.

Although some citizens of his Nation remain steadfast- distinct as it is from the rest of the us- the society seems to have crumbled somewhat over the past few days.

The television show has been cancelled- apparently ‘production costs’ are too high for the small television station to handle.  The locks at city hall have been changed.  And now federal Conservative leaders are telling him he should step aside.

Still, he continues to ignore the tide of opinion while remaining a caricature and refusing to demonstrate an iota of the moral character to which he lays claim.  Like Kurtz, in Findley’s novel as in Joseph Conrad’s original novella and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, his delusions of grandeur have damaged the city and those around him.  So it’s past time for us to close the book and walk away.  Stop feeding his narcissism and his inability to look beyond his own ego as he continues to believe his own press releases (or those that his brother creates for him).

Whether he is a created political character or a sad caricature of what can happen when a life of privilege is not tempered with education, experience or any attempt at critical analysis, I’m writing him off, once and for all.

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can beat them, just for one day
We can be Heroes, just for one day

And you, you can be mean
And I, I’ll drink all the time
‘Cause we’re lovers, and that is a fact
Yes we’re lovers, and that is that

Though nothing, will keep us together
We could steal time,
just for one day
We can be Heroes, for ever and ever
What d’you say?

I, I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim
Though nothing,
nothing will keep us together
We can beat them, for ever and ever
Oh we can be Heroes,
just for one day

I, I will be king
And you, you will be queen
Though nothing will drive them away
We can be Heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day

I, I can remember (I remember)
Standing, by the wall (by the wall)
And the guns shot above our heads
(over our heads)
And we kissed,
as though nothing could fall
(nothing could fall)
And the shame was on the other side
Oh we can beat them, for ever and ever
Then we could be Heroes,
just for one day

We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
We can be Heroes
Just for one day
We can be Heroes

We’re nothing, and nothing will help us
Maybe we’re lying,
then you better not stay
But we could be safer,
just for one day

Bowie placed the title of the song in quotation marks since the subjects of the song are only ironically “heroes”.  In their own minds and only for that limited time period.

Time’s up, Rob.

‘The Denton Affair’

Still reeling from the loss of Lou, I had planned on jumping back into the blogging swing of things in earnest with a hard-hitting rant about the continuation of the Senate nonsense (still looking for a response from the PMO that sounds remotely authentic) or the ongoing battles at City Hall (now that I am using the TTC every single morning rather than just occasionally I have even more of a vested interest, and Mayor McCheese is already talking about his re-election campaignShudder), or actually writing something about mythology or religion or something like that but…

‘Tis the season.

First television viewing of Rocky Horror the other night.  I own the DVD (and the VHS) version(s), of course, but I just can’t not watch it when it comes on the telly- which it does frequently at this time of year (it’s not unlike Ghostbusters I and II, in that respect- I also own both of those, yet tend to watch them if I happen to run across them while channel surfing).

I love the film.  I missed the heyday of midnight participatory showings (although I did sneak in one night manymany moons ago with a friend when it was playing at the Roxy here in town- was quite an eye-opening experience, for a neophyte), but I have loveloveloved everything about it since I first experienced it at a birthday party decades ago.  The enduring songs are a big part of that (I wrote about The Time Warp a little while ago), but as I’ve matured and learned some stuff about some stuff, its value as a retelling of an archetypal myth has resonated and increased my appreciation of the genius of Richard O’Brien.  The connections to his love of classic (B-) movies and old Hollywood are obvious, but there a whole lot of mythological thinking going on there too…

(Hey wait.  This post IS going to be about mythology!  Yay, me!)

Many years ago, while I was completely caught up in the preparation for my comps, the annual RHPS-fest caught my eye and became a welcome source of procrastination well-deserved break.  Since I was in that altered state that tends to overtake me when I’m veryvery focused on something, I noticed something for the first time.

Frank is the demiurge.

The movie is riddled with gnostic mythology.  RIDDLED I tell you!  Everything about the story fused with the stuff I was working on and, like an illegitimate act of creation in the pleroma, brought one of the staples of popular culture together with my fave mythological system.  BAM.  Realization.  Richard O’Brien is even more a genius than I previously acknowledged.

I have yet to find anything that suggests he has any background in gnostic mythology (or Jungian psychology- Jung loved the dualists), just like I’ve never found proof that he was specifically influenced by that crazy B-Movie Spider Baby, but the language and the themes are so VERYVERY gnostic, I can’t get over it.  So much so, I used the film to finish the term when I got to teach a class on gnosticism a few years back.

How had I missed it before?

Gnostic mythology (very generally speaking- since there are LOTS of varietals of dualistic beliefs in the literature of antiquity- and those gnostic imaginings that came after) holds that there is a singular, unknown and unknowable deity out there somewhere- Bythos or the Abyss- which is the source of all things.  From him (yes, the originating principle was male) emanated a series of heavenly beings- the archons/aeons- who came forth in pairings of male and female and existed with the awareness of the Unknowable First Principle.  One of the archons- Sophia/Wisdom, usually- so loved and missed the FP that she sought to ‘know’ him, independently of her rightly-ordered partner.  As a result of this lapse the demiurge came into being.

This singularity (often named Ialdabaoth) sought, in his turn, to make an attempt at creation- outside of the proper order of the pleroma and the plan of the FP.  The result was the material universe/world and humanity.  The demiurge is variously seen as either stupid/incompetent or downright evil, depending on the source mythology.  Since the material is outside of the original plan, it is BAD.  Old Bythos felt sorry for those of us now trapped in materiality, so he allowed for a little piece of himself to be implanted in each of us who has the misfortune to be born into this realm of the physical.

This spark allows for the potential of knowledge/remembrance of the FP and the awareness of the negativity of our current lot in life, and through this gnosis we can eventually seek a return/reconnection/reunion with Bythos, at which time all will be good and properly ordered again.  From the gnostic perspective, we are to spend the entirety of our earthly lives seeking this reunion through learning and understanding the nature of the world and the pleroma beyond.

Some of the gnostics of the early centuries CE ran afoul of the more ‘orthodox’ (for lack of a better term- there really wasn’t much consensus of belief at the time) Christians, since the demiurge was associated with the creator god of the OT- who made humanity and was considered a pretty good fellow (mass extinctions and the like notwithstanding), so gnostic claims of idiocy and/or badness didn’t go over all that well.  Stuff like that led to them being labeled ‘heretics’ and having to bury their stories in jars in the desert (which was a very good thing for those of us who are interested in their worldview) in order to keep out of trouble.

I love my gnostics.  They were the focus of my academic life for, what seems like, eons.  They are representative of the reality of syncretism in the formation of belief systems, and the Christian gnostics were pivotal in the formation of the early Church.  Without them acting as an antithesis, the early Church Fathers wouldn’t have had to work so hard and so fast to codify just what WOULD make up the doctrine and dogma of the developing institution.  Plus they’re fun- and some of them liked to party waaaaaay more than those self-righteous martyrs and the like.


With that thumbnail sketch in mind…

Dr. Frankenfurter, a transvestite, bisexual alien, goes against the properly ordered universe and creates- in seven days– a man.  He IS Ialdabaoth.  Through his hubris, and acting outside of any kind of correct, archonic pairing, he finds the spark that allows for the creation of life.

There are harbingers from the get-go.  Brad and Janet (a male/female archonic pairing) see the light, in the distance, and seek its sanctuary and aid.  But, as Riff sings, it is a false light- of a false god- and really the dreams and darkness associated with Morpheus rather than the sun and light of the true, unknowable First Principle.

The servants are hostile and suspicious of the new creation, and plot against the demiurge while practicing small acts of insubordination- to Frank’s intense frustration.

Even Eddie/Meat Loaf talks about the suspicious influence of the false creator:

It don’t seem the same since cosmic light
Came into my life, I thought I was divine…

(How can you NOT dance to that song?!)

After Eddie’s untimely death, the rest of the group participates in a ritually-cannibalistic dinner.  During the Floorshow, Frank waxes melancholic about his longing to return home- back to the source (Transsexual Transylvania, in this case), especially since the whole creation thing hasn’t gone exactly as planned.  As other mythological creator gods have discovered, creatures with free will seldom follow the desires or mapped out plans of their creator.

Riff Raff and Magenta (properly, gnostically, paired as male/female/brother/sister) restore the order of the pleroma (as the archons ‘Christ’ and ‘Church’ are called upon to do in some gnostic Christian myths) by returning Frank- and his creature- to nothingness.

Like other artistic creations that use the language and themes of myth (Frankenstein and stuff about Prometheus comes to mind), The Rocky Horror Picture Show presents cultural constructs in a way that exposes their short-comings while playing with elements that are tangibly familiar.  Whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, we somehow know the story- and know that it isn’t going to favour the one who messes with the proper way of doing things.  Not because of the alternative lifestyles/sexuality/gender roles that it demonstrates and celebrates (which were, at the time, pretty out there for the mainstream culture), but because Frank’s act of creation goes against the mandated order of things.

Riff and Magenta, for example, have a relationship that (seemingly) violates at least one major taboo, yet they come out of the situation ahead of the game- and they are allowed to return to their longed-for source- because they were instrumental in restoring the proper order.  They may have committed all kinds of other crimes to do so, but the means is seen as justifying the end.

This is something else our stories tend to do- they support the status quo (or doctrinal/dogmatic rules/laws/commandments) at whatever cost.  Even when they are tarted up (in a good way, in this example) as a musically delicious romp stomp all over cultural mores and ‘traditional’ values.

Something to keep in mind.  Especially when our government(s) seem hell-bent on continually doing (or suborning) things that are faaaaaar scarier and potentially dangerous than most Hallowe’en haunts.

We can’t escape it.  Myth is all around us.  And it isn’t always used for/by the forces of good.

Happy Hallowe’en, boys and girls.  Keep safe out there.  The veil is thinning and the creatures of myth are trying to return to our world…


‘Looking for Satellite(s) of Love’

Getting back to writing after a hiatus- brief though it may have been- should be easy.  Ideas and things to write about just keep popping into my head (sometimes they pop out again pretty quickly- a function of sleep deprivation, but these things happen) so there is SO much to draw from.  I have even more just-started drafts in the dashboard than I did a few weeks ago, and I’m feeling a little bit like I’ve come down with a case of the distractions.

Which isn’t good.

Not on the eve of NaNoWriMo (I’m going to attempt to divide my focus and get some work done on the fiction, in addition to keeping up with my peeps here at the WordPress.  Might be overly-ambitious, but never know ’til you try and all that) and not when I have a newly-minted-and-purchased novel by one of my fave mystery authors (Elizabeth George, if you’re curious) which is just perfectly timed for curling up away from the Autumn chill with a cup of tea and just getting lost with Lynley and Barbara for a bit.

So.  Where to start?

Amid all the chaos of the move, it was a FABULOUS period of music/reminiscing, this week just past.  There was the reunion with Simple Minds last Tuesday, and then on Saturday one of my best buds took me to see David Bowie Is at the AGO.  Phenomenal.

In the way that everything seems to be connected (that synchronicity thing again), after wandering through the wonder-and-constant-innovation-that-is-Bowie all afternoon Saturday, I caught Iggy Pop on the radio (I rarely listen to the radio these days- too much commercial crap IMHO) not once, but twice.

While taking a breather from the packing/unpacking I started a post lauding all that Mr. Jones has contributed to the world- ripples (and sometimes tsunamis) of influence that have shaped our (popular) culture as we know it.  The characters, the costumes, the bending and breaking of rules of identity/gender/art… the beautifully curated exhibit really brought home just how important the Thin White Duke remains.

And man, can the guy write songs.

Once upon a time a veryveryvery long time ago, I wrote a stream of consciousness piece called ‘Talking to Ziggy’, about a protagonist who is in constant contact with the spirit of Ziggy Stardust.  It was about what happens to a fictional character who becomes fully realized and then left to fade as newer characters take priority.  Might have to try to find that…  In any case, Bowie has been an everywhere influence in my life.  It was wonderful to reconnect with him in my hometown art gallery.

But my loving chat about Bowie- and the characters that have become parts of our contemporary mythology- will have to wait for another time, because Sunday night another one of those connections showed up, and this one broke my heart a little…

Lou Reed.

Two days later, I’m still kind of at a loss for words.  He’s always been part of the fabric of the background soundtrack of my life.  Not necessarily the song that opens the film or plays as the credits are rolling on a particular period of my life, but a voice that is continually popping up here and there when the action is about angst, or disillusionment, or visiting NYC… and his underlying influence reaches even further into the music that constantly surrounds me.

Simple Minds did a cover version of Street Hassle (Waltzing Matilda/Slipaway) on Sparkle in the Rain.

Emily Haines, from our local wonder of a band, Metric, had some incredible things to say about the man and his influence on her own music.

He contributed his distinctive voice to Little Stevie’s movement against apartheid in South Africa.

He was a poet/novelist all his life- his writing was set to music rather than bound up as ink and paper.  His words remain at once timeless in way that is seldom seen any longer and pictures of specific periods in history that inform about experiences and mores and the evolving technologies that changed the way we perceive and appreciate art and music.

Lou Reed and David Bowie overlap so often it’s almost ridiculous.  Andy Warhol.  All the co-productions/cross-productions/collaborations over the years.  Bowie was London to Lou’s NYC.  They were all about experimentation and pushing the boundaries of discourse.

The three dudes in the pic up there ^^^ have always been interconnected in my brain (admittedly, in part, because of Velvet Goldmine, but I digress…)

Iggy’s Lust for Life (written and produced by Bowie) is like Lou’s Walk on the Wild Side.  Story songs about people- living on the edge and doing the best they can while dealing with demons and changes and societal conflicts.

Bowie’s Looking for Satellites (from Earthling– his first self-produced album since Diamond Dogs in 1974) is like Satellite of Lovefrom Lou’s Transformer album.  Bowie produced and provided the background vocals.

Neil Gaiman, with his wonderful way with words sums things up in a way that completely resonates with my own feelings (as is so often the case):

“His songs were the soundtrack to my life: a quavering New York voice with little range singing songs of alienation and despair, with flashes of impossible hope and of those tiny, perfect days and nights we want to last for ever, important because they are so finite and so few; songs filled with people, some named, some anonymous, who strut and stagger and flit and shimmy and hitch-hike into the limelight and out again.

It was all about stories. The songs implied more than they told: they made me want to know more, to imagine, to tell those stories myself. Some of the stories were impossible to unpack, others, like The Gift, were classically constructed short stories. Each of the albums had a personality. Each of the stories had a narrative voice: often detached, numb, without judgment.”

If there were ever two exemplars of the point that I am constantly trying to make here at colemining about the importance of story and the many ways it impacts all aspects of our lives, as human beings with card-carrying memberships in communities, David Bowie and Lou Reed are the winners and still champions.

In the fog/fugue state of packing, I squirrelled away all my CD sets into storage- including Bowie’s Sound + Vision, and my boxed set retrospective of pretty much everything Lou Reed has ever done.  Right now I’m wishing I’d labelled the boxes better so I’d have some kind of idea where they might have ended up.  Will have to settle for the YouTube and those songs in the iTunes library/on the Shuffle Daemon to take me through this newest period of reflection and remembrance.

Travel safe, Mr. Reed.  Somehow I thought you’d always be here.

I’m out of words right now, and ‘thank you’ seems overwhelmingly inadequate, but I’ll say it anyway.

Oh, it’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you

Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on.

Your procrastination station…

It’s Saturday (always a good thing) and I’m a right mess (not such a good thing).  I seem to have reached an impasse.  It’s an impasse of my own making to be sure, but one that is messing up the day’s schedule in a big way.

It started last night.  The existential angst and attempts to overcome said existential angst over the course of the week wiped me out emotionally and physically.  Enough so that I took an unplanned nap on the couch.  For two and a half hours.  When I woke up- at 1 in the AM- I had no idea what day it was or how long I’d been asleep.  It was that kind of nap.  Felt like I’d slept for days/weeks/years.

All good- since I obviously needed the snooze- but making like Rip Van Winkle (Washington Irving has popped up on the radar a couple of times lately) so early meant that sleep- never a sure thing for me anyway- wasn’t about to make a return visit anytime soon.

I half-heartedly filled some boxes and sorted through some more papers (the shredder will be busy- I really have to cut down on the paper consumption.  I really do like and appreciate trees.  Not that you’d know it what with the amount of recycling that’s been leaving the house lately) but really didn’t accomplish much to speak of.

The claustrophobia and chaos-induced anxiety is starting to build as the number of boxes increases.  I’ve made good headway– well over halfway done with a couple of weeks to go- but today I hit the wall.

Partly because I’m running on fumes and coffee, sure.  But, being honest, it’s mainly because, when my reserves get low, I tap into my Master’s degree in procrastination.  It’s really not tooting my horn to insist that I’m veryvery good at it.  Procrastinating, I mean.

You would think that as the number of things to pack decreases it would be easier to figure out where to start.  Nope.

I managed to get some flattened pieces of cardboard made into actual boxes (which, since they haven’t been filled with anything, have become playgrounds for my feline roommates), some research done for a freelance article I’m working on and… well.  Nothing else really.  Not enough to put any kind of dent in the to-do list.  Which is growing longer by the day.

The enthusiasm lagged early in the day.  I took a walk down to the local Tim Hortons for a doughnut (not for the coffee.  NEVER for the coffee.  Unlike most of the rest of my fellow-citizens, I find their coffee undrinkable except in the most desperate of circumstances.  And I have good coffee in my house.  But the doughnuts are worth the walk when one is jonesin’ for something to rein in the sweet tooth) thinking the sugar rush from a Canadian Maple might get the motor running.

It’s like a Boston cream but with maple flavoured icing.  Mmmm.

Haven’t gone back to the packing.  But I do have a touch of a sugar-induced headache.

(I just Googled ‘doughnut’ to find out something about the etymology of the word- my procrastination knows no bounds today- and found THIS on the Wikipedia: The earliest known recorded usage of the term dates to an 1808 short story describing a spread of “fire-cakes and dough-nuts.” WASHINGTON IRVING’S  (emphasis most DEFINITELY mine) reference to “doughnuts” in 1809 in his History of New York is more commonly cited as the first written recording of the term. Irving described “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or olykoeks.”These “nuts” of fried dough might now be called doughnut holes. Doughnut is the more traditional spelling, and still dominates outside the US.  At present, doughnut and the shortened form donut are both pervasive in American English.”  AGAIN with the Washington Irving!)

Anyhoo.  Weird coinkidinks (or examples of synchronicity) aside…

The television is also seemingly conspiring to ensure that I get nothing of substance accomplished.  There’s a free preview going on right now of one of those channels that plays shows from back in the day.  All of these are shows that I’ve seen before, of course.  But somehow checking in with Archie and Edith, Jack, Janet and Chrissy, Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia, Klinger, Radar, Hawkeye and BJ, and etc. has become more of a priority than packing or being otherwise productive.

And the day ticks on by…

It really is astounding, just how time is fleeting… (‘Hey Riff- show us your mother!’)

In addition to being one of the key tunes from the brilliant and cutting edge cult classic Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, a time warp is ‘a hypothetical discontinuity or distortion occurring in the flow of time that would move events from one time period to another or suspend the passage of time.’

(Richard O’Brien’s 1975 film of his musical stage play (first presented in 1973) is a loving tribute to horror films and B movies (there are direct echoes of the awesomely bad 1964 Lon Chaney, Jr. film, Spider Baby, for example).  The film plays with the concepts of space and time- and nostalgia for the heyday of films and fashion.  It has become a source of nostalgia itself- between the midnight showings in old-timey theatres (those that remain in this age of multiplexes) and stage revivals- there’s one going on here in town right now- it remains an enduring piece of cinematic wonder.  And relative innocence, even if the subject matter was somewhat risqué when it first appeared.

While I’ve never seen an interview in which he admits to it, Richard O’Brien HAS to have had some exposure to either gnostic mythology or Jungian uses of gnostic and dualistic archetypes and mythemes.  I’ve actually used the film in classes as an illustration of gnostic language as used in popular culture.  Frank is certainly a demiurge, seeking to out-create the ineffable originator of the universe… This derailment of the train of thought- further evidence of today’s masterful procrastination- has gone on long enough but brings to light a topic that might require some revisiting.  Perhaps in a Hallowe’en post?)

Getting back on track… time is something we often take for granted- and I am frequently guilty of squandering it when I can least afford to do so.  Suspending the passage of time- while not currently possible (as far as I know, anyway) is an attractive potentiality.

The movement of events from one time period to another is a popular device used in storytelling- to illustrate differences in mores and highlight developments in technology and the like.  For example, Sleepy Hollow, that new tv show I’ve mentioned a time or two, uses the time warp- to bring Ichabod into the 21st century, and to allow him to communicate with his wife and draw upon the information she has about the Horseman.

We would love to think we have some control over time, but short of actually using our time effectively rather than making excuses and finding other things that will eat into the time we have, there really isn’t anything we can do to in any way affect its passage.

But as the sun goes down on Toronto this evening, the city will make a good fist of playing with the way we generally structure time.

Once a year, Nuit Blanche lights up the town.  Office buildings, museums, hidden subway stations, gardens and usually busy streetscapes play host to art and light installations from sunset to sunrise.  People who wouldn’t normally venture out for late nights can be found down darkened alleys watching tennis games, or ducking the searchlights of helicopters flying low over courtyards between buildings in the financial heart of the core.

‘Night’ is remade, and experiences that are generally confined to regular business hours are let out of their framework as the dark becomes the background for people to come together.  Children are allowed up loooong past normal bedtimes, night owls are in their element, and morning people set their alarms even earlier to catch the last few hours of the displays before the sun comes up.

If I’m going to procrastinate, Nuit Blanche is a pretty good place to do so.  It’s kind of like a time warp.  Once a year the distortion of the normal flow of events transforms our downtown and reinforces the reality that time is a construct.  A necessary construct but one that we can play with and seem to suspend for a little while.

Best get moving so I can join my fellow Torontonians as we head out into the night and ‘do the Time Warp again.’

Happy Birthday Jim

Jim Henson would have been 77 yesterday.

As I was getting ready to leave the house this morning, I had CBC NewsWorld on in the background, per usual, and for some reason (I missed the lead up) the weather dude, Jay Scotland, was talking about this particular gem from the Sesame Street archives:

I had to look for it immediately.  For some reason, I can remember laughing until I was in pain as the spider chased Kermit.  I think it was the ‘heeeeey Frog’ that did it.  Too freaking funny.  Looking back at it now, you really have to love the hippie/70s sentiments coming through in the granola that Little Miss Muffet prefers over the curds and whey and the waterbed in lieu of the tuffet (which is a type of ottoman/pouffe/stool that one sits upon).

Jay claims that Kermit, as the Roving Reporter, was his first push toward the world of broadcasting.

I can believe it.  Sesame Street (and, in a different way, The Muppet Show) provided first steps in education, community building and entertainment- all at the same time- for generations of children.  Beginning in 1969, Jim’s Muppets helped the Children’s Television Workshop provide the early building blocks of learning by employing an innovative use of tv.  Attempting to positively use the ‘addictive qualities of television’ the CTW (now Sesame Workshop) helped young children in the States and Canada prepare for school.  It is now broadcast in over 120 countries.

Focused on holding the attention of children, so that they can actually absorb the education on offer, CTW quickly realized how pivotal Jim and his Muppeteers were in the overall execution of their objectives.  Arguably, Sesame Street set the paradigm for all children’s programming.  It has certainly earned its place in popular culture.  The Muppets have been everywhere.

If there was no Jim Henson, there would be no ‘best joke ever,’ as told by Pepe and Seymour on Muppets Tonight.

I still hear ‘hell if I know’ (or, more properly, ‘Eleph-Ino’) in Pepe’s voice whenever it happens to be uttered in my general vicinity.

This song- with both Muppets voiced by Jim- fits right in with my current attitudes (although not as applied to romantic involvements).

(I DO hope that something better comes along.  Veryvery much.  I’m doing my damnedest to make that happen.)

I loved The Muppet Movie in general, but Steve Martin’s role as the disgruntled waiter remains a classic within the Classic film.  So many wonderful- and wonderfully cheesy- cameos in the movie, and those subsequent.

Rowlf, Rowlf the Dog was the first of Jim’s Muppets to appear regularly on network television.  His dry delivery and sense of humour, combined with his love of the piano and unflappability in the face of the usual Muppet-y chaos that surrounded him was always inspirational to me.  He was my Muppet alter ego.  As much as I love Kermit- and many of the others (Pepe remains a favourite, and how can you not love Animal?)- Rowlf has always been my go-to Muppet.

Rowlf with Jim and Frank Oz- literally his ‘right-paw man.’

I’m finding it hard to stick to my Humanistic outlook on life at the moment (as you might have gathered).  There have been too many examples lately of the opposite of goodness in people- internationally, here at home and in my personal environment (although there is one particular exception to that seeming recent rule.  I’ll have to write something about that guy soon).

In any case, Jim’s birthday yesterday- and Jay’s remembrance of Kermit as the Roving Reporter this morning- reminded me just how much of an impact he had on my life.  I distinctly remember where I was when I heard that he had died (he mightn’t have been John Lennon or JFK, but he was THAT big a deal, as far as I was concerned).  The memorial tributes- often featuring sad Muppets- broke my heart more than a little.

Years ago, the Ontario Science Centre (where I was a ‘junior member’ and participant in the OSCOTT Club- ‘Ontario Science Centre on Tuesdays and Thursdays’) hosted a touring exhibit called ‘The Art of the Muppets’.  I still have a postcard from my visit to see some of my faves live and in person (as it were).

I have no negative memories of Jim Henson yet he and his creations pervade my existence in a very real way.  To paraphrase a friend of mine  (who was talking about Davy Jones’ death.  You can find the original quote here), Jim did nothing to make his fans sad.  Ever.  Except die suddenly and rather inexplicably.  But he did make myriad people happy.  Still does, since his creations endure thrive and continue to entertain and enlighten new generations.

He was certainly a great educational facilitator but he was also an incredible storyteller and teacher in his own right.  His Muppets have presented old stories in new ways, taught life lessons as they explored their own origins and concepts of family and continue Jim’s legacy to instill in us the reality that we are all the same.  Humans, monsters, animals (and Animals), birds (and Birds).   And that even inanimate objects- like food and furniture- might have stories to tell and lessons to impart.

Makes me think that Kermit/Jim (and Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher) might have had it right. Perhaps we will find that rainbow connection.

Some day.

If we channel our inner Muppets (‘calling Rowlf, Rowlf the Dog’) and keep listening to the voices of the Monsters, Frogs, Dogs, Grouches, Aloysius (who knew Snuffy had a first name?) Snuffleupaguses and other storytellers among us to figure it out.

Storytellers like Jim Henson.

P.S. Didn’t I just say the Muppets were everywhere?  This morning (Thursday) I caught the time-shifted Jimmy Fallon show (not sleeping again, me) and the cast of Sesame Street joined him to sing their theme song.  To celebrate the start of their 44th season.  44th.  Go Muppets Go!

Farewell, Seamus. Seamus fare well.

I have to admit.  With a very few exceptions, I’m not a huge fan of poetry.  By that I mean I don’t read a whole lot of it on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate coolcats like the Romantics- Blake, Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats- but I honestly think that I’m almost more interested in their histories than in their poetry (man, they lived some crazy lives!)

Ages ago I memorized both the Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan – I do that, memorize stuff somewhat randomly*- but again, the whole story behind Coleridge, and the interruption of the composition of the latter poem is so rich, the poetry is almost- for me at least- secondary to the history behind the poetry.

(*Like all good Canadians I memorized Robert W. Service’s ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’ (what?  All Canadians don’t do that?  I thought it was a requirement for passport renewal?) and still use it as one of my meditative prompts.  When my brain is running too fast, I have a whole selection of poems and songs I run through my head to calm myself down. ‘There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold…’ has saved my sanity more than once.  Johnny Cash recorded a spoken verse version of the poem.. It’s awesome- look for it.)

These days I tend to only engage with poetry set to music- those great lyrics and lyricists some of which/whom I’ve referenced here at colemining repeatedly.  I love my songsmiths- and the ability they have to turn catchy phrases and match them with corresponding chords.  Wish I could do that.

But there are some poets I retain a close relationship with (i.e guys I still pull off the shelf and read from time to time) and, interestingly, they all hail from the Emerald Isle.

I spoke about my love for William Butler Yeats here, how his mix of mythological themes and legendary traditions with elements of history can alternately chill the blood and warm the cockles of the heart.

A number of years ago- while taking Irish language and Celtic studies Undergraduate courses, my (fantastic) prof exposed me to the poetry of Cathal Ó Searcaigh, largely because he writes in Irish and reading him would help with my language learning.  It did.  But more than that, it helped me to understand the language- since Irish is imbued with poetry and music in its very foundations.

Cathal, from the Gaeltacht in County Donegal (a place close to my heart) did a reading at a Writer’s Fest one year (interestingly, it was on the same night as Wade Davis.  I spoke about that here) and listening to him read- and speak- in his quietly lyrical voice, was a pretty powerful experience.

And then there is Seamus.

Poet, Playwright, Translator, Professor, Nobel Laureate.  Like Yeats- to whom he was often compared- he is a born storyteller and used historical and mythological themes and images to describe and illuminate the vagaries of the contemporary world.

How can you look at this picture and not regret never having had the opportunity to have shared a drink with the man?

The Burial at Thebes, his 2004 play based on Sophocles’ Antigone critiques G.W. Bush’s administration and foreign policies.  Seamus equated W. with Creon, who vacilated between preaching about upholding the will of the gods and the importance of family and ignoring these things in favour of the furtherance of his own political expediency.

His body of work is vast and comprehensive, and in light of his recent passing, has been examined and discussed far more impressively than I can possibly accomplish in a short post of remembrance and reverence.  But I had to say something about him.

And about Station Island.

His 1984 collection of poems is all about discovery- of self-identity, spirituality and vocation.  He uses the geography, mythology, history and religions of Ireland, imbued as it is with controversy and tension, to describe his own internal and realized pilgrimages to figure things out.

St. Patrick’s Purgatory, on Station Island, dates from the 5th century and in legendary tradition is the entrance to Hell.  When Patrick, despairing of his would- be converts’ commitment to his message without substantiated proof, prayed to his god, he was shown the entrance as a means to demonstrate the existence of heaven, hell and purgatory.

The third section of the collection is called ‘Sweeney Redivivus’ evoking the story of Buile Shuibhne– ‘Mad Sweeney’, the legendary Irish king who is cursed by St. Ronan for his temper and opposition to the establishment of a Christian Church in his lands.

Station Island is an epic collection, with far more going on in its great depths than I can begin to encompass.  But for me it is a very personal work.  It came into my life in a period when I was trying to sort things out.  Career direction, personal relationships, you know- LIFE.  And somehow it seems to keep popping up whenever I need it to help me revisit those very same things.

It happened again this week, this time as a result of the saddest of circumstances- its author’s passing, at the age of 74.

Yesterday, the National Press described him, and his poetry, in this way:

“He left behind a half-century’s body of work that sought to capture the essence of his experience: the sour smells and barren beauty of Irish landscapes, the haunting loss of loved ones and of memory itself, and the tormented soul of his native Northern Ireland.

As one of the world’s premier classicists, he translated and interpreted ancient works of Athens and Rome for modern eyes and ears. A bear of a man with a signature mop of untamed silvery hair, he gave other writers and fans time, attention, advice – and left a legacy of one-on-one, life-changing moments encouraged by his self-deprecating, common-man touch.”

The Globe and Mail (via the New York Times) had this to say:

“Mr. Heaney’s poetry had a primeval, epiphanic quality and was often suffused with references to ancient myths – Celtic, of course, but also those of ancient Greece. His style, linguistically pyrotechnic, was at the same time conspicuously lacking in the obscurity that can attend poetic pyrotechnics.

At its best, his work had both a meditative lyricism and an airy velocity. His lines might carry a boggy melancholy, but they also, as often as not, communicated the wild onrushing joy of being alive.”

To me, he epitomizes the way that we learn, share and adapt the stories that come before us, using them to help make sense of our lives and experiences.  He was one of my many tutors, helping to show me the power and the value of myth and history and how understanding of these things should inform our present and future.

With beauty and wit and compassion.  Myth, history and life.

He will be missed, sorely.  But he has left us with volumes of wisdom to help us carry on figuring things out.

Fare well indeed, Seamus.  And thank you.