Friday, February 15, 2019

Promissory notice

Works are a little gummed-up. I'll get on it and hopefully get something up early next week.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

“Dave who?”

There's a New Yorker article that got me scanning our bookshelves. I was wondering what might be the most recent “It” novel in my possession that reached #1 on the NYT bestseller list. Near as I can tell, it's probably Jennifer Egan's A Visit From The Goon Squad.
Next to other au courant titles, including Neuromancer and Cheever's shorts.
Cretinous characters behaving cretinously, sweeping themes of innocence lost, youth vampirically feasted upon and betrayed — “Time's a goon, right?” — all of it steeped in rock 'n' roll. Good book. It came out in hardcover in 2011. I have the paperback, likely purchased the following year, when I was 47. Five or six years ago, in other words.

Back to the New Yorker story, a.k.a., the latest episode of “I'm not just getting older — I am getting OLD.”

This was the first I'd heard of NYT bestselling “It” novelist Dan Mallory.

In my 40s I could have told you his name and the title of his book, and probably summed up the plot in a way that didn't give up the game. In my 30s I would have made a point of checking out the book, and following up the who's who list of literati surrounding him. In my 20s I would have read the book and recited what was known about the author — because I made it my business to know about all the authors who made it to the NYT bestseller list.

But I am in my 50s.

Yesterday I read Ian Park's terrific expose of this young writer's bizarre cons, carried off with evident personal charm. The piece resonated with me — deeply, in fact — and yet one day after I finished it I still could not tell you the name of this guy. I might have settled on the title of his book — something about a woman . . . on a train? In a window? In a window on a train? A woman watching a train through a window?

Dan Mallory. There you go.

I think much of what grabbed me about Park's depiction of Mallory were characteristics I recognized in myself, when I was young and hungry and spending what little discretionary income I had playing SASE Roulette. It is perhaps difficult for me to judge from this distance of years, but I believe there was a vulnerable point in my mid-20s where I would have said and done just about anything to get into the authorial spotlight.

Writing and “being an author” are concerns that quickly conflate, for young fellas in their 20s. We settle on someone who's made a big splash, then puzzle over how best to emulate without aping. Bukowski was popular with some of my chums. Mallory's star to steer by appears to be — eep! — Patricia Highsmith's fictional psychopath Ripley.

In my case I was preoccupied with Robert Zimmerman's antics in his early 20s. I had the good fortune of a) not liking myself in that mode, and b) being surrounded by friends who called me out on it. Those are friends you keep — close.

Today there is an entire “call-out culture,” and nobody is your friend. I doubt a new Bob Dylan would get very far in the present environment — at this point it is difficult to discern what we as culture-hungry consumers gain and lose by such developments.

I'll admit I'm quietly hoping Don Maloney recovers. I may even make a point of buying his next book, just to encourage the poor guy.

Friday, February 01, 2019

I miss the magazine rack

Expanding on this sentiment would be akin to this lament.
All I will add is that with the digitization of all things magaziney, we have arrived at an aesthetic moment when ALL publications look alike — for digital reasons (naturally).

Reconsider my two purchases from last year.
The evident contrast — Dark vs. Light; grim, ersatz Satanist vs. hammy, committed Catholic — relies on an identical layout: large solitary figure set against solid backdrop and minimal type. As for the interior content, the trained focus on genre distinction (“Extreme” music/culture vs. Pop) is equally superficial; the political-ideological acumen of the two magazines is wholly identical.

And that is perhaps the apocalypse of the digital revolution — a reduction of aesthetic and intellectual content to the simplest consumable unit.

But never mind: check out Spencer McDonald's fabulous photo of a Seattle magazine stand.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Whither the Magazine Rack?

The airport magazine rack used to be a thing of glory — not quite so glorious as the one in the city bus depot, perhaps, but still mightily impressive. Tier upon tier of selection, including exotic European variants of popular Yankee glossies.
In this most recent return to the Canadian prairies I was struck by what an emaciated shadow of itself the airport magazine rack had become. The Relay shops at Toronto Pearson International, for example, all had the exact same selection regardless of whether they were single-staffed booths in the hall to the gate or larger, multi-staffed venues located in the various hubs.
“Hundreds” of mastheads have been pared down to a few dozen. And once-popular variants like the British editions of Men's Health, GQ or Esquire are nowhere to be seen.

I was struck, but not surprised. My own magazine habits have altered radically. Ten years ago it wasn't uncommon of me to lay down money for a dozen titles in a given month. Today, a quick glance at the living room coffee table reveals the two most recent magazines purchased are . . . Revolver (June/July 2018) and Rolling Stone (September 2018). Both publications committed to a massive redesign, tooling up into a bizarre “prestige” format — super-high-quality paper, larger format, photo-heavy, etc.
We can now add the January 2019 issue of Harper's Magazine. “Donald Trump is a Good President”? Alrighty then — persuade me, Michel.

More anon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"'Man' is obviously a problematic term"

Wup -- looks like David Cayley's been posting again. Note to self. Illich is someone I'm keen to revisit.

Friday, January 18, 2019

RIP, Lois Reimer (nee Peters)

On Tuesday evening, January 15, 2019, Lois Reimer (nee Peters) breathed her last and joined her beloved Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whom she served faithfully and honestly for over 80 years.

Joined in grief and celebration are Travis Reimer, Lois’ husband of 57 years, sons Darrell and Trent, daughter Ruth, daughter-in-law Beth Jost Reimer, and granddaughters Madeleine and Lucille. Lois is survived by brother Wes, and sisters Blondina Matheson and Gwen Froese, and remembered fondly by her Reimer in-laws and nieces and nephews, as well as friends of every conceivable acquaintance.

Lois was first-born May 23, 1938, in Bill and Adila Peters’ family farm-house, near Langham, SK. When her father responded to the call to ministry, the family moved many times to a wide variety of prairie locations. In the main, Lois characterized these relocations as grievously disruptive of her interior life. She consequently developed a lifelong love of reading and music, as well as a profound empathy for the stranger in her midst. Piano playing was her constant solace  after every move her father sought out and put her in touch with the most qualified piano teacher in the community. She quickly became an accomplished player, but was given less to public performances than to private, therapeutic expression.

Lois Peters married Travis Reimer August 15, 1961, in Steinbach, where they first met some years earlier. It was a unique partnership that began with her accompanying, on piano, his euphonium performances in church. The partnership became increasingly unique and colourful as their years together beneath God’s grace accrued  and productive, including three children who may have at times taken the example of their mother’s self-assurance and impulsive contrarianism a bit too close to heart. Subsequent church families from whom Lois benefited, and vice versa, include Steinbach EMB, Winnipeg’s Westwood Community Church, San Jose’s Lincoln Glen Community Church, Portage Avenue MB and Fort Garry MB.

Lois’s dislike of plain walls  plain anything  was visceral. All of creation was filigreed and swept through with inexhaustible beauty  to respond to this universe of delights and terrors with a determined plainness was to spit in the Creator’s face. Lois’ walls were covered with artwork  reproductions, photos, paintings, carvings, letters, you name it — and her shelves, cupboards and drawers spilled over with plenty besides. Nothing made her happier than the aesthetic offerings of her children and grandchildren, nephews, nieces  anyone who knew and loved her.

Lois’ faith was consciously informed by the faith of her ancestors, and the global faith conversation of the written word. The conversation was frequently heated, and Lois’ truest expression of it was often impassioned and discomfiting. In this she had occasional regrets, but held to a deeper belief that family, with its existential lifeblood of conflict and imperfect reconciliation and yearning for better, was the nearest model we had of humanity’s relationship to its Creator.

In her final years Lois endured rapidly advancing osteoporosis and unimaginable pain. Through it all she managed the pain and the condition in a way that allowed her near continual access to loved ones, demonstrating humility and gratitude beyond measure.

“When I’m in life’s final moments,
I will not be left alone,
For your loving wings will guard me,
I, your child, will be at home.”

In loving memory,

Lois’ family

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

In the salad days of my university education (mid-80s) I would decompress from the mid-term/end-term paper/examination boot-camp by reading schmutz. Dashiell Hammett was a recent discovery, but often I just reached for the nearest Louis L'Amour novel — or, if I was pressed for time, I'd re-watch the first five minutes of Silverado.

More often than that, though, I retreated to comic books.

It was the Dour Renaissance — thank you, Frank Millerwhich I was certainly digging at the time. But there was a single omnibus from 1971 that stood out as my go-to source of escapism. From one of the 'Peg's seedier comic book stores I'd picked up a used, super-cheap, extra-large edition of Spider-Man's “Six-Arm Saga.”
Stan Lee takes credit for the storyline, a claim that's probably not too far removed from the truth — it's goofy enough to be the sort of whimsy that occurred to him between his second cup of coffee and his morning walk to the office.

Following a run of misfortunes, Peter Parker decides he's done being Spider-Man. He retreats to the lab and pours chemicals from one test-tube to the next, until he finally arrives at — the formula that will cure him of his spider-powers! Throwing caution to the wind, Peter gulps it down, takes an impromptu nap, and. . .
The story that follows is an adroit balance of knowing camp and soap-opera melodrama. You can't take seriously a Spider-Man who suddenly grows two extra pairs of (very muscular) arms out of his rib-cage — especially not when he quips about becoming Kafka's punchline.

But then he climbs out his window and swings off to find a scientist who can help him tweak the formula to meet its proper function, and . . . he flies out of control because the extra weight of his (very muscular) arms throws him off his stride.

These little details matter.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse gets all the little details — and there are sooo many little details — exactly right. And it walks the fine line of batty cartoon caper/serious coming-of-age drama perfectly. When I left the theatre with my youngest, our first impulse was to dive into the many ways this film highlights just how woefully the Disney-Marvel universe has painted itself into a tiny, joyless corner.

I might yet get into that. But for now I'm just grateful to have this film resurrect the cartoon goofiness and emotional earnestness that only Stan Lee could bring to the bedrooms of alienated shut-ins and deadline-frazzled university students alike.
"You know, this story could really use another pair of arms..."

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Rattling in my brain-pan...

In the belly of the beast.
All I will say about this holiday season is: thank God for hospital WiFi (we are all fine, thank you). Some links that have me cogitating:
  • “I was dumbstruck. I left praising Christ, and thanking God for this enemy” — the priest of Abu Ghraib.
  • “My biggest revelations from 2018 came from an indie video game” — Unlike classic platformers that drag you through levels to rescue the kidnapped princess or to foil a supervillain, Celeste’s motives are purely internal
  • “If we have souls, we should be worried about them” — a review of Mark Edmundson’s Self & Soul: A Defense of Ideals. I waited seven years for it; turns out Edmundson’s was the book that most bugged me this past year, a singularly high/low watermark, depending.
More anon, I hope.
"Make me a real, live girl."

Monday, December 24, 2018

2018: The Year in Delight

2018 will not be a year I readily associate with “delight.”
The view from here.
News of Anthony's death was the equivalent of dropping an anchor through the floor of my little fishing boat. Other matters of concern followed, and I am agreeable to yacking about it person to person — drop me a line if you like. But we all know the deal: there are years when regaining balance requires focus on every single step. 2018 has been that sort of a year for a lot of people, I think.

Nevertheless 2018 was frequently delightful.

I reconnected with a beloved friend this summer — watching Dan Baird & Co. roll up their sleeves and get the job done was a happy bonus. The setlist from that night helps me with same.

My two favourite books this year were Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 by Ryan H. Walsh, and Julian Barnes' The Only Story.

Walsh's book received a lot of love from a wide variety of readers, and for very good reason. Walsh doesn't just evoke a particular scene — Boston in '68 is pretty peculiar, alright, but it's peculiar in ways that should seem familiar to anyone who watched the '60s gestate and take root in any city in North America. Next to Dream Time by Geoffrey O'Brien, Astral Weeks is the single best portrait of the '60s I have read.

Barnes' book didn't seem to get much coverage, but I loved it. I cannot improve on or in any way reinform Michael Czobit's lovely review of it, over here.

Musically, there were some new releases that caught me by the ears. Kate Dunton's TrioKAIT2 is pleasant; similarly, John Scofield's Combo 66. I have a lot of love for Automata I and II by Between The Buried & Me. Steven Wilson's Home Invasion rescued me — the live version of “The Raven That Refused To Sing” is especially moving, I think.

But most of 2018 was devoted to rediscovering old music. I was grateful for the 50th anniversary spit-and-polish of The Band's Music From Big Pink. But the stuff I queued up most frequently was by John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, The Three Kings of Blues, Savoy Brown, etc.

First of all, it's music that seems to suit this particular moment for me. Secondly, I'm trying to pick up as many stylistic flourishes as I can, to bring my own playing up a notch — which my wife and kids assure me has indeed improved noticeably (no word from the neighbours yet, but that's probably a good thing).

I owe it all to this guy, and the guy who introduced me to him. Justin Sandercoe and his online tutorials have been the single most uplifting element to my existence this year — my heartfelt thanks and appreciation go out to him.

And to you as well, for reading and even interacting with what I've got here. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and God bless in 2019.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Newsflash: Wealthy Mennonites Throw Their Weight Around!

This time in South America — Paraguay, in fact.

Graeme Wood, on behalf of the Weekly Standard, seems bemused that Mennonites can wear ink, play electric guitar in church, race cars professionally and develop somewhat unsavoury reputations during their only-recently-acquired leisure time. In Paraguay, of all places!

Quaint Manitoba is also treated with an off-hand smirk — “There's a motto the Manitoba Tourism Council won't be promoting anytime soon: 'Mennonites come here to clean up their act.' O-ho-ho — please, my sides.

Even a (relatively) robust periodical like the Weekly Standard has a limited budget for fact-finding journalism, I realize. Here, for free, is some of the low-down Wood missed. One reason a former Supknust Schürtzenjäager like Rees-Koa Penner can clean up his act in Manitoba is the Mennonites in Manitoba acquired affluence and influence — and all the vices that attend this condition — several decades before their brethren in Paraguay.
Next: the snows of Manitoba!
We've jumped into the political fray, swung local, provincial and national policy via the usual capitalist levers — and through these and other behaviours we have spread for ourselves a wide smear of notoriety as a result. So it would be fair to suggest Manitoba Mennonites have also acquired some experience in “cleaning up” and returning to first principles a decade or two ahead of the Chaco Mennonites as well.

Wood's reportage of Chaco shenanigans strikes me as fairly lite stuff when contrasted with, say, Mexican Mennonite collusion with the Juarez Cartel. But I am nevertheless grateful for his piece. He's got me meditating on my own history with Paraguayan Mennonites (more later, perhaps), and on the history I was not aware of until I read Alfred Neufeld's outstanding account of the Mennonite Experience in ParaguayPart 1 over here and Part 2 over here. Read Neufeld. That is all.

h/t: thx, pdb!