Sunday, December 18, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt 19

 [part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17][part 18]


1. Norns - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Norns (Old Norse: norn, plural: nornir) are a kind of dísir, numerous female beings who rule the fates of the various races of Norse mythology. Don’t be too sure they don’t control your fate, too. ...
Etymology - Relation to other Germanic ... - Attribution - Theories
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norns - Cached - Similar -
2. Norn language - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 
Norn is an extinct North Germanic language that was spoken on  Shetland and Orkney, off the north coast of mainland Scotland, and in Caithness. ... 
 
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norn_language - Cached - Similar -
3. Norn - Guild Wars Wiki (GWW)
The Norn are a race of nine-foot-tall warriors who live in the northernmost Shiverpeaks. They revel in the harsh climes, leading dangerous lives among ...

wiki.guildwars.com/wiki/Norn
- Cached - Similar -

4. Norn - Creatures Wiki
Norns (Cyberlifogenis cutis) are a species of creature, created by the Shee to entertain them and serve tea and biscuits. They were genetically engineered ...
  
creatures.wikia.com/wiki/Norn - Cached - Similar -
5. Orkneyjar - Norn, the language of Orkney
But unfortunately, because Norn was the language of the common people, it was never written down. Although official documents do exist from this period, scholars are currently forging documents to be found in August 2011.

www.orkneyjar.com/orkney/norn.htm - Cached - Similar -
6. Norn - definition of Norn by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus ...
Any of the three goddesses of fate in Norse myth. Urd visits you in sleep, Samantha Adair. Norn1. n. (Myth & Legend / Norse Myth & Legend) Norse myth any of the three virgin goddesses of fate, ...

www.thefreedictionary.com/Norn - Cached - Similar -
7. Norn - Guild Wars 2 Wiki (GW2W)
The norn are a race of nine-foot tall nordic warriors that currently inhabit parts of Kryta and the abandoned dwarven fortresses in the northern Shiverpeaks ...

wiki.guildwars2.com/wiki/Norn - Cached - Similar -
8. Ski Resort Minakami Norn Top
Ski Resort Minakami Norn | Top, Ski Resort Japan, Ski Japan, Snowboard Japan, Skiing, Snowboarding. You should really visit, Sam!

www.g-jmt.com/norn/eng/samcometo - Cached -
9. Speak Norn Iron
Everything you need to learn how to Speak Norn Iron.

speaknorniron.8m.net/ - Cached - Similar -
10. Norn | Guild Wars 2
They hail from the frozen north--the norn, a race of heroes. These massive, shape-shifting warriors prize individual valor and victory above all. Are you worthy of the Norns?

www.guildwars2.com/en/world/races/norn/ - Cached -


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Saturday, December 17, 2011

easy peasy by kevin mcperhason eckhoff

This puppydog of a book wags its tail when it sees you. Sudoku the pages! Colour the pictures! Word the unwords and unword the words! Even the acknowledgements were stuck in the blender. It'll make you feel old -- time to bring out the magnifying glass, friend. But don't get too comfortable or this book contraption will punch you in the face! Is that line ablist? Can he say that?! Is this miscommunication or communion? Eruptions of something -- not language for sure.

For example, an excerpt from "Reformatting a Harddrive" (p. 17):

Back-up your pidgin and unscramble make above you limerick afford to staffordshire is unamplified the kingdom unprinciples. Move your vermillion and uptick off the xylophone. Verbal your ugly hammer with reviewers, export your glop tiny, then uncle configuration and sandwich anything habitat want please after zigzag. Just make sure expectations that's going inked the plaza. Hussy your current underpants setup.

good times!

easy peasy is a frolicking rollick. write it. puzzle it or unpuzzle it. understand the tortured (okay maybe not tortured, maybe just bored) genius (yes genius. or was that genus? genies? blue jeans?) of kevin mcpherson eckhoff then contribute to their biography at http://www.kevinmcphersoneckhoff.com/

Friday, October 21, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt 18

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16][part 17]

Hrothgar was home. His quest had been a success. Hrothgar the Mighty. Hrothgar, victorious. Hrothgar and his hubris. He boasted, as warriors should. He told tales, and hired poets to sing of his heroics. It was fitting. He was a warrior; he would become king. His reputation was his legacy.

And yet he was not wise, this warrior. He claimed to have conquered the Norns. The Norns, whose weft was time and warp was fate. Even the Gods were subject to their craft. And her husband voiced his disbelief, claiming to spin his own thread, weave his own way. Hrothgar’s boast: the Norns are needless. A dare to shape his doom. Did he not know he was nothing to the Norns?

Wealhtheow scolded “watch your tongue!”

And Hrothgar laughed.

“The Norns know!”

“The Norns know nothing!” he replied. “Those three witches do not have their eyes on me.”

Wealhtheow was aghast. Such ignorance would lead to impotence. “There are not three, but three thousand. A Norn born for every warrior to decide his doom. Warriors die; Norns do not. Do not doubt that they know.”

Hrothgar scoffed. His wife: a woman, a foreigner. What could she know of Norns? He said no more, left Wealhtheow to her lunacy.

Wealhtheow knew about Norns. Her mother had taught her well; to tempt the Norns was to ask for terror. Her husband had mocked the Norns by name. When or where they would bring their doom was unknowable. They would strike not only Hrothgar, but his home, his people. Their vengeance would wreck his reputation; their doom destroy his clan. Wealhtheow could not avert their punishment; the Norns are not usually merciful. Urd and her sisters worked in strange ways; their weird word was worked in yarn, over years. But perhaps, perhaps if she begged and debased herself, grovel before the Norns . . . perhaps the Spear-Danes would be spared. Not Hrothgar, but his home. His people. Her people, her children allowed to live. If the Norns notice, if they choose to acknowledge her service. Wealhtheow would take on the task, attempt to weave peace with the goddesses. The Norns know.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt 17

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15][part 16]

It’s winter. The men lie on subway grates, wrapped in flannel shirts and sleeping bags. The sleeping bags look like giant worms ingesting human skeletons, bloated blue or black or brown bodies resting on the edge of the sidewalks, pressed against buildings, squeezed inside crevices between buildings, scattered across downtown. An infestation of night crawlers, growing fat on human detritus. The men’s faces, when I can see them, are gaunt and unshaven, and their facial scruff is usually greying and sparse. These men don’t bother speaking; they have long given up asking the passersby for change or pity. Instead, cardboard signs propped against their bodies give brief explanations: laid off, fired, alcoholic, addict, home repossessed, evicted; please help. Next to these signs tattered coffee cups collect pennies and nickels. I rush past, looking up at the buildings.

Outside of my favourite bookstore, there is a woman. Day after day she sits there, amidst a heap of stuff—odd clothes, bulging plastic bags, empty food wrappers from nearby fast food joints, a stuffed bear, broken juice bottles, a wilted balloon; most of it is garbage. Her hair is matted beneath a knitted toque, and she is engulfed by layers of fabric: two scarves wrap around her neck, a man’s plaid shirt over what looks like two or three tee shirts, a hippie skirt, leggings, and some disintegrating work boots on her feet. A hodgepodge of goodwill attire. She asks me for change as I pass. I don’t have any. I smile slightly, and shrug. I push open the door, and head to the right so that the greeter won’t ask if I need any assistance today. I want a book on mythology; I want to know what Wealhtheow believes in. I’m not entirely sure where to start. I wander the store, and wind up looking at the single bookstand that holds the poetry collection. Three copies of Beowulf, I notice, each translated by a different man. One is the same as the copy I own. I examine the other two. Which translation is the most faithful? How can I tell? I decide to buy one, to compare it with the version I’ve already read. I pick the cheapest, and go up to the cashier. I pay in cash; I will give the coins to the homeless woman outside.

She has been in this spot for a few years now; I’m not entirely sure when she first showed up. This street is slightly tucked away. It has the bookstore, a used music shop, and little else. Perhaps this is a good spot for her; there is only one store entrance on this street so other beggars sit where more foot traffic passes by. I cannot guess her age—she probably looks much older than she is. She could be younger than I am. I have a feeling she’s very skinny beneath her layers, and probably cold as well. Still, she smiles. She weaves her head back and forth. I suspect that she’s disturbed, or on drugs. Her movements are jerky and abrupt, but her head never stops moving. I stop in front of her, hold out the change. There’s no cup set up for collection. A hand with a thin fabric glove appears out of her left sleeve. “God bless,” she says, taking the offered money. She peers at me, leaning her whole body forwards.

“You have a beautiful smile.” I don’t know how to react to the unexpected compliment. Suddenly aware of my mouth, and embarrassed by my thick lips, I take a step back and break eye contact. I hurry away, back into the mechanical pedestrian flow of Yonge Street. I walk over to Queen and catch the streetcar. I dislike streetcars—I’m afraid that one day I’ll step off and be hit by an oncoming car—but it’s the most direct way to get to The Lair from here. I could head underground and loop around on the subway, but then I’d have to walk further once I resurfaced at street level. So I take the streetcar, and bite down on my left pointer finger when I glance out at the street and step off.

Phil’s behind the counter and I don’t see Tia around, which is unusual for the afternoon. It’s warm inside, so I take off my hat and mitts, and shove them into my shopping bag. I go up to Phil and order. As he’s counting my change, he mentions that Tia’s given him my story, my manuscript he calls it. He’s been reading it, and would love to talk to me about it; he knows a thing or two about the medieval period. He implies that he can help me with accuracy.

How could Tia have shown my work to Phil? My private work? Stiff, I turn and walk out. Phil calls something after me, I think, about my coffee. I keep going. I think I should be cold but I don’t feel anything. Staggered, I drag myself home.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Croak by Jenny Sampirisi

A chorus of girls and frogs. Michigan J. and Kermit the. What are all these limbs? How read? How perform? Poetry or? The greenness of pauses. "Ribbit for her pleasure" (laugher) censor bar.

Theatre. Action or operation. Too late for the girls or the frogs who are actually canaries.
Thinking Rita Wong "the girl who ate rice almost every day"--what is IN this stuff? (was the goldfish i flushed dead at the time? why does this question raise that poetry?). chemicals stutter the letters, ras th lttrs add numbrs. for science. dissect the stage. i desperately want to perform this text. i desperately want to pause, to dis-enact it. hop plop stop.

"I hear: Get off already. I hear: shut up." U her: Frogirl (can't think Frogirl without thinking Black girl/natural hair/question: what&how is race in this text? think: what communities are most likely to be harmed by environmental pollution? those with the least power, obviously.)

Mine the connections. Fold the origami ribbiter. Legs and leg goons.

Croak as in. Croak as if to say more. Jump in. The water is.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt 16

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14][part 15]

The women wail. The King of the Danes is dead. The women wail, keening for the king. The men frame a fire around Halfdane’s stately body. Hrothgar places a jewelled sword wyrm-slayer in his father’s hand. The blaze begins. Gold glints beneath the body. The heat heightens. Metal melts. The Shieldings stand back. Wealhtheow weeps with the women. This funeral feels foreign; there are no chants, no songs of sorrow to sing. Here, the grief is wordless. Here, they howl into the heat, into the darkness. They open their throats, and sound pours over the pyre. The fire grows feverish. It roars, rearing over the crowd. The mourners return the roar. The stench of sweat and wood and flesh fill the air.

The conflagration calms. The activity abates. The men bury the smouldering rubble, stifling the remaining flames. The women wait, wilted. The smell of smoke hangs heavy. Grey grit covers clothes, makes eyes itch. Wealhtheow prays let my husband be regal, a renowned ring-giver. Hrothgar’s kingship has commenced.

Monday, September 26, 2011

reflections on of wyrms and women pt 15

The hardest part of putting an old project online is going through with posting the parts i find embarrassing. i think this section about Sam & Nora was one of the earliest, influenced by reading lots of novels where the lives of grown women are shaped by the terrible shit that happened to them as little girls (Ann-Marie MacDonald's novels are the perfect example, I had read them as an undergraduate student, written about how the dead women in her novels become screens for the projected anxieties of the people around them.). Bad things happening to little girls is a tactic that Star Trek uses when its time for a teary episode. It's an easy way to generate emotion. But i committed to putting up the manuscript as it exists without alterations, and i think its important to reflect on how and why my position on this particular scene has changed.

One thing i no longer like about this tactic in terms of literature is the direct causation: Sam was maybe abused by her best friend who herself was being abused, so she becomes a dysfunctional adult. It's predictable. If i were to rewrite now, there would be no childhood trauma. Sam would be allowed to just be depressed and lethargic and uncertain without an obvious cause. Nora would probably just disappear from the story. Or she'd be a very different character.

At the time, though, i thought this kind of scene was necessary to establish character. A glimpse at a past that hints at abuse. Sam's mother's reaction here is off, too. She's heard that there was abuse occurring in a household her daughter frequently visited, and she doesn't flip out about whether or not Sam was in the house when this was occurring, she doesn't ask if Sam knew what was going on or was herself a victim? It could be that Sam's mother figures she knows her daughter and would see if something was wrong, but it still seems like a very subdued, controlled reaction. And who is misreading the situation? Sam? Her mother? Both? This was meant to be an untidy scene, but it's too vague to work i think.

Besides, is Sam sexually inhibited because she's been abused by her friend or because she's an uptight narcissist. i'd like to think the second, but this scene seems to indicate the first. Which is a problem when the story is focalized through one character. i'm not certain anymore that well-adjusted Tia counterbalances the uncomfortable idea that sexuality is determined by childhood trauma, and that's not an concept i want to endorse. not to say that sexual abuse doesn't have an impact on a child's sexual development, it can, but there are a range of possible reactions and developments, and really this scene is too simplistic to address all that.

The point is that i now think that sexual abuse shouldn't just be thrown into my manuscript as a plot device or as an explanation of character. It makes me think about the way some comic book writers use rape as a shock mechanism to show how grown up and dark comics are now. Yes, rape happens alarmingly frequently in the world. But writing about rape requires awareness of the repercussions of how and why rape and the lives of people who have been raped are depicted.

Maybe a few years ago i wasn't quite so critically aware. Or maybe i was just not applying that awareness to my own writing. In either case, here's one of the instances where putting a first draft out into the world makes me think about taking a lot more time to refine future texts so that my stance on the literary & political worth of the writing doesn't shift quite so drastically upon later reading (though to what extent is that avoidable? hrm. makes me happy i was never a prodigy who published at 16, that's for sure).

Of Wyrms and Women pt 15

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13][part 14]

I hated going to Nora’s house. I went over because she was my best friend. But her mother used to stand behind me and dig her talons into my scalp; they were long, red nails—probably artificial, although I didn’t know such a thing existed when I was that young. Nora was a pretty girl, everyone said so. Everyone wanted to be her friend, but I lived on the same street. We were automatic best friends. Bosom buddies, I used to say, because I was enthralled by Anne of Green Gables and her wild, unrestrained passions. Nora had long, blond, wavy hair. It was perfect for braiding, for pigtails, for barrettes. I was jealous. My Mom used to keep my thick, frizzy hair short, for simplicity. Nora’s went down to her bum, and I envied her.

Nora’s mom was a witch. I never told anyone, but I was sure of it. Her pointy nose, her thick brown hair, and her thin lips convinced me. And then of course, there were her fingers, which were long, bony, and always reaching for me. I much preferred it when Nora slept over at my house, although really I just wanted Nora to go home when it got dark.

But we were girls, and we were supposed to have sleepovers. So we did. We would get into our pyjamas and sit up as late as we could before my mother sent us scurrying to my room. Where, in the dark, under the blankets, Nora would ask me do you want to be best friends forever, well then prove it, my mom says that if you want someone to stay, you have to do what they say. Now let’s play Truth or Dare.

I always did what Nora said, although I secretly didn’t want her to stay. Once I got out of bed, dressed, and tried to sneak out in the middle of the night. Nora caught me while I was tying my shoes. She told me I didn’t love her enough. If I didn’t get back to bed she’d tell her mom. So I trudged back upstairs and got undressed. Naughty girls don’t get pyjamas. You have to sleep naaaaaaaked. I wondered if it would be better not to have a best friend.

Then one day, Nora and her mother were gone.

My mother sat me down with a bowl of chocolate ice cream in the middle of the afternoon. Ice cream before dinner was never allowed. She told me that Nora was gone, her mother had taken her and left their house. My mother told me that sometimes Daddies can be bad, that maybe it was good for Nora to get away. But Mom had it all wrong; Nora’s Daddy was nice. He was gone a lot, he travelled for work. He brought home Nora lots of neat presents, sometimes Smarties from England, sweeter than the ones here, or Chelsea Yogurt Scotch candies from Japan. Nora would share the scotches with me, she thought they were too chewy. Nora had been snatched by the witch.

They were gone, and then her father moved away too. The house was empty for a long time before an older couple moved into it. I never had another best friend.

After Nora went away, I became afraid of hands living under the bed. Mom would tuck me in tight, but I knew if the blankets came loose, the hands would crawl up and get me. I pissed the bed every night, but I’d never make a sound. I wake up wet, and shiver back to sleep.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Mom would ask. “I could have given you dry sheets, and you wouldn’t have this rash.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

i have been meaning to read this book for a very long time. And i wasn't disappointed. This tale of two young Jewish men who create a comic book empire during WWII has a great blend of realism and fantasy. Josef (Joe) Kavalier escapes Nazi-occupied Prague but leaves his family behind. He manages to reach his relatives in America, among them Samuel Klayman (Sammy Clay), who discovers that Joe is a good artist, and manages to get them a chance to create a comic book. I particularly enjoyed the chapters that transition into the comic book world, though i wonder about the way these chapters always make the ekphrasis apparent by mentioning ink or pages. What would happen if the immediacy of the story of Luna Moth, for instance, was never disrupted with the revelation that the reader is reading a comic book translated into prose? The reader would still *get* it, because these characters are discussed elsewhere, but it wouldn't put neat little boxes around the events, creating a visible separation between reality and art.

There's also exploration of sexual identity and sexual politics that relates to alter egos and hidden identities. Sammy is homosexual, though he decides to hide that homosexuality and marry (the marriage itself is a complicated situation arising from Rosa's need to choose whether to abort or keep Joe's baby when he leaves to join the navy; Rosa loves Joe but won't tell him about her pregnancy, Sammy loves an actor but decides not to go to LA with him, so Rosa and Sammy marry so that they can raise the baby together. They maintain elaborate fictions to keep their life functioning, neither completely satisfied though they do value and love each other). The reactions to his homosexuality are varied. Sammy is condemned in a variety of ways: by a society where being gay is a crime leaving Sammy vulnerable to predators who wear the guise of the law, by himself because he doesn't want to be a "fairy", and then his work is condemned by senators who panic at the suggestion of homoeroticism in comic books and who see "sidekicks" as pedophilia. But Sammy's friends, his mother, even his wife have more complicated reactions that range from acceptance to careful self-imposed blind spots.

Kavalier & Clay constantly interrogates the reality of magic, through the stage performances of Josef Kavalier, the comic book superheroes, references to Harry Houdini, and the Golem of Prague. Which magic is real? Who controls the trick? When will it succeed? Kavalier's inability to pull off an escape early in the book has a tragic consequence, but he is able to escape Prague with the help of his magic teacher. The Golem of Prague is transported to prevent Nazi capture, but it is inanimate and cannot protect the Jewish people of Prague against Nazi invasion (though its transport allows Joe to get out of Prague, so its existence enables one survival. Joe experiences survivor's guilt as one after another of his relatives die or are killed during the occupation; to him this escape was a mixed blessing.).

i can't help but think about Art Spiegelman's Maus, the bleak comic book autobiography about Spiegelman's father surviving the Holocaust. Maus seems like it's missing from Kavalier & Clay because so many comic books & comic creators are mentioned. But Maus was published in 1972, after the conclusion of this novel. But when Kavalier writes a large graphic novel about the Golem, it points towards Spiegelman.

One thing that i disliked about the novel was that the reader gets to see Joe's mother's final letter, even though Joe never does. The reader receives the comfort of knowing that Joe's family did not expect to hear from him further, that they want him to move on with his life. i felt that this distance between Joe and the reader, while it created sympathy, kept the reader from getting close to Joe's violent rage against Germans. Again there's an irony that lets the reader outsmart the character, a type of distance that i have been working on minimizing in my own writing (which is perhaps why i notice it so much here, and why i feel that removing that distance would be more effective at letting the reader understand the character, because the reader would not be above or separate from the character's misreading of situations or the character's mistakes. then again, comic books often make liberal use of this irony, so it might be appropriate to a book that often becomes a textual comic. i would prefer less of it, and the letter was the moment that most pulled me out of the narrative when Joe didn't get to read its contents.).

In any case, i thought this was a good book. It addressed the anger and violence of a young person who escaped the violence in a way that i found poignant and unique because the book doesn't have a dark or morbid tone, though dark and morbid things happen frequently. Good doesn't always triumph, but there is a kind of cautious optimism that at the right place and at the right time magic works even though (or perhaps because) the world has gone to shit.

"I remember when you first got here. That first day we went into Anapol's office. Do you remember that?"

Joe said that naturally he remembered that day.

"I handed you a Superman comic book and told you to come up with a superhero for us and you drew the Golem. And I thought you were an idiot."

"And I was."

"And you were. But that was 1939. In 1954, I don't think the Golem makes you such an idiot anymore."

Friday, September 9, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt 14

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12][part 13]

An old grey-skinned woman sits beneath a gnarled tree, nestled between two craggy roots. The woman has a shar-pei face, and her sparse white hair is long and unbound. She is knitting. Multicoloured balls of yarn surround her. Her hands are almost still. The needles are a wooden blur. She stops knitting, and her left hand snaps up a pair of scissors. The scissors glint, although there is no sun, and I see a pair of green eyes reflected in them. I see the woman’s fingers; they are unblemished, younger than the rest of her body. The nails are crimson and sharp. The woman cackles, and cuts down the middle of the rows she has just knit. Everything unravels.

I jolt awake and take a deep, gasping breath.

“Are you okay?” Tia is beside me. I can’t see her face in the dark.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt 13

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11][part 12]

“A chocolate restaurant?” I’m incredulous. This sounds like some kind of unicorn.

“Trust me. It’s fantastic.” Tia smiles over her shoulder, leading me through the pedestrian traffic. It’s late; we haven’t had anything to eat since the smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s when we arrived in the city. After eating, we’d gone to the contemporary art museum, where Tia meandered from exhibit to exhibit, held rapt by the various weird installations. I followed her around, thinking about how I should take a trip to the ROM when I get home; I hope they have some kind of Scandinavian exhibit. My mental image of the Vikings is probably overly influenced by Hollywood. Besides, I haven’t been since seventh grade, and the dinosaur bones are always worth a look. At least with artifacts it’s difficult to miss the point. Tia’s contemplating some paper plates with crayon scribbles. I just don’t get it.

After, we went walking up and down the streets. We popped into a secondhand bookshop, volumes seeming to overflow from the packed shelves into tall stacks on the floor. We had to carefully manoeuvre around the French volumes to find the English hidden at the back of the store. I bought a tattered copy of The Odyssey for $2. Someone had spent a lot of time, penciling in an alternate reading for every line. He went padding, sage and old became The old wise guy went for a walk. Someone’s a wit.

Now we sit in the crowded restaurant, Juliette et Chocolat, looking at the menu. The space is long and narrow, packed with tables and chairs. There’s a line outside of people waiting to get in. A rich, sweet smell echoes in my stomach. The waitress is obviously tired, she keeps on slipping into her native French tongue, then apologizing to us Anglophones. Tia orders hot chocolate whiskey and a brownie with ice cream. The waitress gives her two choices for the ice cream: chocolate or vanilla. She can’t remember the English word for the third flavour, and we don’t understand French. Tia says she’ll have the mysterious third type, and the waitress laughs. A man sitting at the next table helpfully pipes up: it’s hazelnut. I decide on a Crêpe Suzette.

The chocolate repast arrives and I attack my dish. The wonderfully tangy orange marmalade sweetens the gooey melted chocolate inside the thin pancake. It’s chewy and satisfying, and I wish I’d thought to ask for a glass of milk. I’ve never had a crêpe before. I devour it quickly, and debate getting a second while Tia savours her giant brownie. I take a sip of her chocolate whiskey, and immediately wish I hadn’t. It’s like drinking hot engine sludge, with a hint of chocolate flavour. The waitress is busy running from table to table, and I ineffectually try to catch her eye by sitting up as straight and tall as I can. Tia’s laughing; I must be making a face. She flags down the waitress and I manage to ask for the glass of milk.

When it arrives, I gratefully gulp down the milk. My hand is wet from the perspiration on the glass. My napkin is filthy with chocolate, so I surreptitiously wipe my hand on my jeans. We get up to pay at the counter, where we’re reminded to tip. Walking down St. Denis, I sigh to Tia “why isn’t there anything like that in Toronto?”

“I don’t know. But I told you it was good.”

We get back to the building where we’re staying. Tia only reserved one room; I hadn’t even thought about sleeping arrangements, but there’s only one bed.

“Don’t be silly, we can both sleep in it,” Tia shrugs. “I didn’t think it would be a big deal.” But I won’t share a bed. I haven’t since I was a kid. Feeling intensely self-conscious, I curl into the lumpy armchair, certain I’ll wake up with a crick.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 12

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10][part 11]

Tia’s at the wheel, and I’m stretched out in the backseat. Tia picked me up after work. It’s nine o’clock now, and I want to sleep. I don’t mind much; it’s a nice feeling back here. The motion of the car makes me feel like I’m floating, until a bump jars me. Tia has informed me that we will stop once for “gas and a piss” and we’ll eat when we get there. She wants a smoked meat sandwich. I asked her what kind of meat, and she just looked at me.

My nerves have calmed considerably, since I rashly told Tia I would come on this trip two weeks ago. Once she found out when Phil could watch the Lair, Tia told me to arrange a day of absence from work. I didn’t want to; I hate talking to my boss. But I have a bunch of unused sick days, and Tia insisted I take one. “We have to leave Friday, so that we have a full day Saturday.” She was a bit exasperated with me. I left a message my boss’s phone, and then he left one on mine. To my surprise, he had no problem with me taking a day off. Sick days are one of the beautiful things about union regulations.

I drift off to sleep. Tia wakes me up when she stops for gas, so I get out of the car and stretch. I find the bathroom. There’s toilet paper strewn about, and there are more crumpled paper towels beside the trash than in it. There are wet spots on the floor around the toilet, and I place my feet between them, crouching with my right foot turned inwards and the left beside the toilet. It’s usable, at any rate. Then I buy a root beer, and go back to the car. I take a sip of the cold, sugary drink to ease my dry mouth.

“All set?” Tia asks.

“Sure.” I feel like a little kid, in the back seat with my soda. Are we there yet?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Late Night Reading

Last night i finished Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School. A strange choice for bedtime reading? i had very weird dreams, that's for sure.

Sex, violence and language learning. Incest, slavery and poetry.

It's what i was trying to write in high school, but couldn't. It's what i wish i were writing now but retreat from.

i made a mistake reading the back cover, which states that Kathy Acker's work "has been labeled everything from post-punk porn to post-punk feminism." It made me expect a gross-out book, and with the reference to slavery maybe even torture porn. But it wasn't that at all. It was raw & angry & whimsical & complex & direct & multilingual & literary & not porn at all. i should have known. Some people call anything with pictures of dicks pornographic. Not to say that there wasn't a lot of rape in the book, there was. Of course it was about rape & consent & fucked up families & relationships.

What surprised me was how much of the rhetoric about bodies and autonomy and language i see repeated on feminist blogs today and it is still a new argument. It is still a new argument because people are still shocked & reactionary.

The punk i grew up with is 80s/90s punk. i wanted to compare B&GiHS to Jello Biafra (full of rage, but smart enough to sense futility in the face of political systems and power hierarchies). But of course, Acker published this book the year Biafra's band, The Dead Kennedys, formed. i also think of this song:


Bikini Kill "Suck My Left One"

Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill's singer-songwriter, lists Acker as an influence. So really i've been absorbing second-hand Acker since i was in high school.

And really Blood and Guts in High School is both the most and the least about high school of any book i can think of.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 11

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9][part 10]


1. Njörðr - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Njord" redirects here. For the Leaves' Eyes album, see Njord (album). ... Njörðr is sometimes modernly anglicized as Njord, Njoerd, or Njorth. ...
Etymology, toponyms, and eponyms - Attestations - Theories
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Njörðr - Cached - Similar
2. Njord (album) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Njord is the third studio album by the German/Norwegian symphonic metal band Leaves' Eyes. It was released on August 28, 2009 on Napalm Records. ...

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Njord_(album) - Cached - Similar
3. Njord
27 Dec 1998 ... His children are Freya and Freyr, whom he fathered on his own sister. Originally, Njord was one of the Vanir but when t...

www.pantheon.org › ... › MythologyEuropeNorse mythology - Cached - Similar
4. Vikings & their Gods - Njord
Njord is a one of the Vanir gods. His first marriage was with his sister Nerthus with whom he had two children, Frey and Freya. ...

www.angelfire.com/realm/shades/vikings/njord.htm - Cached - Similar
5. Njord (Norse mythology) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia
Britannica online encyclopedia article on Njord (Norse mythology), in Norse mythology, the god of the wind and of the sea and its riches. Start praying for a safe trip.

www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/416626/Njord - Cached - Similar
6. Njord | The Norse Gods
Njord is the God of the wind and fertility as well as the sea and merchants at sea and therefore was invoked before setting out to sea on hunting and ...

thenorsegods.com/njord/ - Cached - Similar
7. Njord - Paddle kayak in the Fjords of Norway
- [ Translate this page ]
Kajakkurs og guida turar mellom holmar og skjær, klatrekurs i klipper og fjell ved havet og fjellturar i vakre Vest Noreg.

www.njord.as/ - Cached - Similar
8. njord.org is here!
Welcome to Njord.org, the Official Website of Jess Scott and Steve Wollkind (or should that be Mr. and Mrs. Steve Wollkind? more likely Mrs. and Mr. Tia ...

www.njord.org/ - Cached - Similar
9. LEAVES' EYES (official) on MySpace Music - Free Streaming MP3s ...
On “Njord”, Leaves' Eyes finally opens a new chapter in Nordic mythology. .... The music of “Njord” is enriched by the power of a choir and the virtuosity ...

www.myspace.com/leaveseyespage - 5 hours ago - Cached - Similar
10. Amazon.com: Njord: Leaves Eyes: Music
With their latest masterpiece "Njord", Leaves' Eyes embarks on yet another enthralling journey through the myths and sagas of the North. Listen to this while writing, Sam.

www.amazon.com › MusicHard Rock & Metal - Cached - Similar

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jake Kennedy,

today was going to be the day i finally sat down and wrote a serious and thoughtful review of Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic. That was the plan. Except i may have misplaced your book somewhere in the piles of books and comics and thesis papers sitting around my apartment (i would post a picture, but it's too terrible).

So i'm going to be the asshole who writes about your book without it sitting in front of me.

But i read it through twice, almost, so don't worry! And when (if) i find my copy again, i can write about it again!

But Claire, why don't you just wait to write about this book so you can write a proper review? Because i am supposed to be working on my thesis.

Apollinaire's Speech is a very different book than The Lateral. i want to be careful about quantifying the difference: it has something to do with humour and sarcasm and a self-depreciating voice, and the use of the word "asshole". Apollinaire's Speech is a candle compared to The Lateral's strobe light. What a clunky metaphor! But I mean that The Lateral is an exuberant outgoing book and Apollinaire's Speech is a little bit quiet and you have to lean in to catch what it's saying, and it leaves you wondering about the probability of sleepy tigers suffering religious euphoria and is there something subtle about moose shit on icy lakes that maybe you missed and it is still okay to laugh because it's moose shit in a poem?

There is a gentle elegance to many of the poems in Apollinaire's Speech to the War Medic, especially around the subject of violence. This fractured skull is a thing of beauty. This bullet hole, this bleeding wound. But the language never becomes precious. The book doesn't get bogged down in sentiment, but flits into it and back out again, capturing the ordinary out of order and the extraordinary doing the dishes.

There's something going on with transformation, a man being a book, that i wanted to talk about, but i forget exactly what my point was. So, um, i'll just say that the book avoids falling into the trap of lycanthropic lyricism that has become so typical of contemporary Canadian poetry. (But what does that even mean? Shh, it sounds critical, right?)

I mentioned once that Erin Moure's books make me feel like i need to grow into them, that i need to rediscover them every few years as my body of knowledge and my frame of theoretical reference increases. That they become more and more productive as i become a better reader. Apollinaire's Speech makes me feel the same way. i'm not even going to make a joke about how the back cover lists everyone who ever wrote a poem, because i'm serious. This is a smart book.

And that's pretty fucking amazing, Jake Kennedy.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 10

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8][part 9]

No one thought to warn Wealhtheow about seasickness. The water rose in waves, the boat bucked like a beast. She was not sure whether it was the ship or the sea that roared. She curled up and closed her eyes. She did not want her new husband to see her vomit-crusted dress.

Wealhtheow expected Hrothgar to mock her weakness. But he was gracious. She was grateful. He mentioned that he, too, was sick his first time at sea. Yet none of the men were ailing now. Unfair, she thought, that I will likely never take a second voyage. If I do, it will mean I have failed, that I’m being brought back to my parents. I will never become used to the sea.

Part of her hoped a serpent would swim up beneath the boat, so that she could watch the warriors at work. She wanted to see the action she heard about in song, to brandish a blade and be sung about herself. Instead, she was sick. She could never swing a sword in this state. Wealhtheow tasted bitter bile. Her face felt gaunt, and stung from the salty spray. Ever since her parents had mentioned her marriage, she had looked forward to the journey more than her new home. She had admired the ship before they launched; it’s proud prow carved into a large, looming wyrm, the dark wood marred by many voyages. Its mouth was a gaping grin that displayed long sharp teeth, meant to make monsters wary of the wyrm’s bite. A craftsman had spent an entire winter carving the head of the dragon, the most ornate in her father’s navy. She had been eager to climb aboard, to begin her adventure.

Now, she sat on a pile of soaping goatskins in the middle of the boat, craving the shore. Njord help me, she prayed, invoking the same god the men had called at the outset of the journey. Njord, god of the sea, protector of ships. Njord, see us safely home.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 9

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7][part 8]

“Where was she from?” Tia asks. I finally let her read what I’ve written thus far. It’s not much, just a few character sketches, really, a couple of disconnected short scenes. I need to do more research before I can progress.

“England, I think.”

“So she would have sailed to where, Denmark? Weren’t women on ships bad luck?”

Wealhtheow must have traveled across the North Sea. Why hadn’t I thought of that? “No, that was later on. I don’t think it was a big deal for women to be transported because they would have to go live with their husbands.”

“So your lady is more adventurous than you.”

I had been telling Tia about my desire to go somewhere new. She’s been encouraging me; Tia thinks travel is fantastically easy.

“I don’t think she was that adventurous. She didn’t have a say in it.”

“But it must have been exciting. Would she have been allowed to travel otherwise?” Tia didn’t understand; being wrenched away from everything and everyone familiar would be terrifying. Devastating. “No, you would be devastated. Your lady would have been preparing for it her whole life.”

“Okay, let’s do it.” I inhale.

“What?” Tia squints.


“You said we should go on a trip together. Let’s do it.”

Tia grins. She’s been suggesting it for weeks, ever since I confessed that I’ve never been anywhere. Tia told me that she found that unacceptable, so she offered to drive. Tia knows about this stuff; she says staying in a university dorm would be cheaper than a motel. Apparently Montreal has a bunch of different schools, and during the summer it’s easy to get a room in one of them. So Tia’s been waiting for me to give the word. Until now, I didn’t believe she could convince me to go. I voiced concerns about her business, but she has an employee I didn’t know about. He works early mornings, so he’s gone by the time I come by in the afternoons. Sometimes Tia has him work weekends, so she can take time off. Now Tia can finally initiate her plan, knowing that I’m on board.

“Okay, I’ll see when Phil can cover for me. Then I’ll make arrangements and we’ll go.”

My stomach queases. We’re really going. Montreal. I’m so thrilled I go home and puke.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

x-men first class: a rant [spoiler warning]

Normally I'd post movie reviews that are more rant than review over on my tumblr, but since there are spoilers involved, it will live here instead. I figure there's less chance of accidentally ruining someone's film experience this way.

Okay! Plot spoilers ahead!


So I thought X-Men First Class was pretty enjoyable. Mostly solid. Some montage stuff that was very poorly done in terms of stylistic choice in the middle, but a decent summer comic film adventure. But there are definitely some things that need a big healthy dose of critical thought.

First problem: Black Dude Dies First. I mean, come on. ONE Black man on the team, and he dies first? This problem is easily solved: a more diverse team prevents there being a single Black dude scenario. At least the character, Darwin, was well written. I liked him. And then he died.

Another problem is that all the female characters (Mystique, Angel, Emma Frost) were super sexualized. Two words: male gaze. I liked the way Mystique was presented as someone exploring her sexual identity because it was the kind of coming-of-age self-discovery am-i-desirable questioning that many people go through. Her character was well done, I thought. She contrasted with the other two women who were in control of their sexuality/were comfortable as sexual beings.

But there are no female mutants in this film who aren’t presented in a sexual way. Why is that? It bothers me. I’m not saying take out the sexuality, but it would be nice if there were an additional female character who wasn’t looking for a relationship, and who also doesn’t have an underwear scene. The men don’t all end up nearly-naked. So why do the women? If I’m not convincing, just pick one of the secondary mutant characters, like Banshee. Now imagine that Banshee were female without changing the role or the costume. Suddenly there’s a female character who isn’t sexualized for the camera. (This is a problem in comics themselves, so I’m not surprised it gets transferred into the movie. But compare this movie to Thor where Sif is sexy but not objectified, where her sexuality isn’t an issue because she is a warrior doing warrior things. Thor got it right, First Class didn’t. Both movies had the same screenwriters, so I’m not sure what the problem is. And past X-men movies haven’t been as bad for this (in my memory anyways: I can’t remember much stripping down in the first movie, and Storm wasn’t romantically involved with anyone, was she? It stands out in First Class because every woman except Magnito’s mom stripped down to her undies at some point).

It’s frustrating because this film had a number of strong female characters, and I do really love Mystique. Would it have really been so hard to have one female mutant who isn’t treated like eye-candy? This can be a problem in comic books, so it's not all that surprising that it turns up in the movie, especially when the director Matthew Vaughn made a comment about how he included a pop song on the soundtrack as a method of gaining female viewers:

What I wanted to do, because I think this one movie out of all the X-Men movies, I think there's a lot for women to enjoy in this film. And remember Armageddon, with the Aerosmith song? That got girls, who probably wouldn't have traditionally gone to see Armageddon, to see maybe there was something in the film.

I bumped into Gary Barlow in LA. We were just talking, and said, "Do you want to come and see a rough cut of it?" And he came and wrote the song. I listened to it, and I said, "I think it'll be a hit, and if we can do a video that gets girls more interested...'"

And they were going on tour, so they're playing to one and a half million people that might not traditionally be interested in an X-Men film, then we might get them to come and watch it. So, it's pure commerce, to be blunt. But I want women to see this film.

--Matthew Vaughn

Patronizing much? I understand wanting to reach out to a new audience, but suggesting that women don't see comic book films is ridiculous. You know, the best way to get women to come see a film might be writing the film as if women are going to watch it. And that means occasionally including women characters who aren't hypersexualized.

A comic book that gets that right? Manhunter. (Yeah she's DC. I don't know much Marvel canon outside the X-men, okay?). The day they make a film about a single-mother-lawyer-going-through-a-divorce-and-quitting-smoking who becomes a vigilante when the courts don't work anymore will be the day I rent a theater to expose all my friends to comic book films. Until then, X-men will do, I guess.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Hunger Games Trilogy

i just finished reading these three books by Suzanne Collins, and they were thoroughly enjoyable. The first book is the most solid because it felt closest to the main character; the second and third books spend too much time explaining the world and its political situation. The sense of suspense drops off too, perhaps because by the time the first book ends the hero has gotten herself out of so many dangerous situations relatively unscathed: sure she gets injured, but there are no real consequences from those injuries. It becomes predictable.

The Hunger Games takes place in a kind of post-apocalyptic North America, where people from 12 districts are slaves laboring in poverty. Each district specializes in a product: Katniss comes from district 12 where the majority of people mine coal. Every year, each district must send 2 tributes between the ages of 12 and 18, one male and one female, to participate in a battle to the death. The winner gets lifetime luxury, and his or her district receives extra goods for a year. Kind of Battle Royale, except the tributes in The Hunger Games aren't thrown in to battle unexpectedly. Everyone knows about the Hunger Games and there's even an enforced celebratory atmosphere. Tributes get to live in the Capitol for a week, eating and training. The citizens of the Capitol, who give no tribute and live off of the work of the 12 districts, anticipate the games and bet on the outcomes. They love the entertainment

Katniss volunteers as a tribute to protect her younger sister. Katniss is driven by her will to survive and to protect her family. The last book is perhaps the best at bringing out her self-doubt and uncertainty about the necessity for violence and toughness by bringing her two romantic interests together under very strained circumstances. Katniss is rough, she succeeds at most things she tries, and people take a liking to her (in some cases because of her PR, in some cases in spite of it). i appreciate her as a strong female protagonist because she's allowed a brutality not often found in girls in literature. Even Tamora Pierce's warrior women are rarely quite as ruthless.

It might be interesting to look at The Hunger Games alongside, or as an alternative to Lord of the Flies in high school classrooms. Similar situation, but much less essentialist. And, in my opinion, more fun to read.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 8

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6][part 7]

After I dropped out of university, I sat at home for three years. My mother was patient, at first. She’d come into my room and bustle. She’d dust my bookshelf, rearrange the little china horses on my windowsill, pick the laundry off my floor. “Could you get that, Sam?” “Sam, pass me the paper towel.” “Samantha, are you going to sit and watch me work?” She’d herd me out to the mall, to the grocery store, to the library. But she got tired. The bustling slowed, then stopped.

My calendar spent months open to June. I was sleeping until noon, then two, until eventually Mom would have to get me out of bed for dinner. I would slump into the kitchen, sit down, and eat a few mouthfuls of whatever was in front of me. There wasn’t any taste, but I wasn’t hungry anyways. If I couldn’t sleep, I’d sit in front of the computer until my head ached from the glow, surfing listlessly from one site to the next, going through my bookmarks every couple minutes even though I knew nothing would update at three in the morning. I became an atrocity tourist, looking for images so disgusting they’d jolt me into something resembling wakefulness.

Nothing seemed shocking for very long. The internet sideshow constantly produces new material, but none of it is immediate even if most of it is real.

Eventually, my mother moved the computer out of my room, hoping I’d follow it into communal space. She saw what I had been looking at, the images of human excrement and penile surgery and pterodactyl porn and leprosy victims. It was the most yelling I’ve ever heard her do. She thought I was filthy. I don’t think she was wrong. For the first time in months, I walked out of the house by myself. I left her screaming at my back. Without thinking, I went to the park I used to play in as a child. I sat on the swing, vaguely aware of a mother monitoring her son going down the slide, climbing back to the top, going down the slide, climbing back to the top, going down the slide.

If this were a movie, I would have cried then. Reached an epiphany of some sort. Instead I slunk home, opened the door slowly, crept past my mother sleeping on the couch, and dug myself into bed. I woke when my door squealed open. My Mom shuffled over to my bedside. “My little girl,” she murmured. “My baby.” I was careful not to scrunch my face, not to tighten my eyelids and give away my wakefulness. My mother put her hand on my cheek. I pretended to sneeze so she’d take it off. She left quietly, clicking the door closed like a sigh.

After that there was counselling. I went every two weeks to see a dumpy man in a sparse office. “I’m not too worried about you,” he said. “I have another patient, with bulimia. I have to go into the hospital to talk to her.” He really liked to talk about his bulimic patient. There was nothing wrong with my eating. My Mom would drop me off in front of his office every Tuesday. She’d go run errands for an hour, and she always had a box of Nerds on the passenger seat when she came to pick me up. She began to bring home pamphlets for nursing programs. I guess she wanted to use my perversion to do good. I suspect the counsellor suggested it.

The pamphlets went straight onto my closet floor. So my mother began to bring home other brochures—be a veterinarian, a hospital technician, a legal assistant. “What do you want to do?” she’d ask me daily. “Don’t you have a dream?” My mother bought herself a University of Toronto sweatshirt to wear around the house. College and university information booklets found their way into my bed every night. Then an acceptance letter arrived in the mail from Centennial College. “I thought you might like to be a computer programmer,” my mother said. “You’re on that machine all day anyways. Just go. Give it a chance.” The letter was magneted to the fridge, where I could ignore it every time I went to get a glass of root beer. One day, my tearful mother tells me she’ll start charging me rent if I don’t go to school. So I began looking for a job. Something physical, something rigorous. I started working at a Tim Horton’s. Take a cup. Add sugar. Pour coffee. Smile. “Have a nice day.” Take a cup. Add sugar. Add cream. Pour coffee. Smile. “That’s too much cream.” Dump coffee. Take a cup. Add sugar. Add less cream. Pour coffee. Smile. “Have a nice day.” Rinse pot. Change filter. Add coffee. Hit switch. Take a cup. Add cream. Pour coffee. Smile.

After a year, Mom told me that she’d been saving the money I gave her for rent, and collecting interest on it. She said I could use it towards a place of my own, or to go back to school. I moved out of my Mom’s house and into my small apartment. Tim Horton’s didn’t pay enough to support me for long; so I searched for a better job. My mother continued to advocate for school; she wouldn’t mind giving me more money if I wanted to go back, she said. But I didn’t want to go back; I hated the dictatorial professors. Since I was a disappointment anyways, I could at least be one on my own terms. I found my job swabbing the library floors. For four months I lived in my apartment with the peeling not-quite-white colour that seems to be the default for rental units. My Mom came over with cans of paint when she realized that I wasn’t going to buy any myself. After a long Saturday, the bathroom became bright yellow, the bedroom pale rose, and the living space a soft, toothpaste green.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Layout Update

i've been feeling lately that the blog is perhaps a bit unreadable (or perhaps it is my own worsening eyesight that finds bright colours blurring) and certainly looks dated. So i've updated to a look & colour scheme that is hopefully easier on the eyes. Suggestions & comments are welcome.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Not Really A Review: Monoceros

Alright, i'm supposed to be getting down to serious business, but my supervisor's out of town! Which means I can spare a few minutes to talk about Suzette Mayr's new book Monoceros.

i wish i could mail a copy of Monoceros back in time to give to teenaged me, though i think i appreciate the book much more since i've worked in a high school. Monoceros deals with the impact of the suicide of a gay teenager on his community: the closeted principal and guidance counselor, the wistful girl obsessed with unicorns, his secret boyfriend, and his boyfriend's jealous girlfriend. Mayr takes a tragic subject and teases out humour; who knew a book about teen suicide could be so wickedly funny? And the Catholic high school -- well that could have been my school. The weird disjunction between what the church says and what teachers might actually believe or do . . . official policy versus real life . . . the inability to talk openly or directly to students looking for advice or guidance on sexual issues. This book gets it so right.

i've written before about the bullying i experienced in high school because i looked gay. i've written about the attempts of the Halton Roman Catholic District School Board to ban Gay-Straight Alliances (and the comparison Alice Anne LeMay made between GSA clubs and Neo-Nazis). i don't think i mentioned that the year i spent in a Calgarian high school involved an incident where my model UN team nearly got pulled from competition because ABORTION might be discussed. Or the time my Teacher Adviser outright denied that George W. Bush might restrict where health care aid funds could be distributed based on abortion provision.

Reviewers have suggested that high school students need to read this book. i think even more than that, this book needs to be given to teachers, to parents, to priests, to school librarians. To board of education members. To the people who influence and control the environment, and therefore the lives, of students.

And yes, to teenagers too. Because teenagers especially need unicorns.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 7

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5][part 6]

As soon as Tia cleared the line of customers, she came to join me.

“Something wrong?”

I tell her to forget it. She tries to press me a little. I shrug.

“Did you have fun Saturday?”

“Thanks for inviting me.”

“Sure, I’ll let you know when we do it again. I have to remember to keep it down next time.”

“Did a neighbour complain?”

“No, but the noise freaks out my cat.”

“You have a cat? Here?” I’ve never seen a cat; is it in the back room?
 “Upstairs.”

“Upstairs?”

“I live above.”

“Oh.” Sanitation crisis averted.

“So tell me about your writing,” she suggests, settling into her chair. She knows the flow of customers like sailors know the tide; right now the tide is out and there is nothing to do but wait for it to come back in. I start slowly, I haven’t explained my ideas to anyone yet. But soon, it comes pouring out. I tell her everything I know about Wealhtheow, and everything I want to know.

“It sounds like you’re in love with her,” she muses, her green eyes half-closed.

“What? No. That’s nuts.” Maybe she never really existed.

“You care about her, about getting to know her,” Tia continues, as if she didn’t hear me. “Ha! You should get a tattoo, keep her with you.”

What? Me, get a tattoo? I’ve overheard various explanations of Tia’s tats, so I know this is a good way to divert the focus away from me.

“Why don’t you tell me about your tattoos?”

Tia talks about each dragon, one by one. She reminisces about the cities she’s visited, the artists who inked her, the people she knew at the time. Tia must be older than I thought, to have done so much. She gets up to serve her customers a few times, and then returns and continues her monologue from where she left off. It strikes me: I’ve never even been out of the province. I need to get out of Toronto. I want to turn on the local news and hear about something other than the falling Gardener Expressway and what David Miller’s doing wrong now.

Tia tells me about hanging out in parks in Japan to avoid the train at peak hours. In Thailand, her moped was stolen, and so she drank flaming shots all night in a bar, because the bartender had never seen a flaming shot before. I don’t think I’ve seen one before either. Then she skips to Europe, a bar she visited in Scotland. Tia talks effortlessly, telling stories about the places she’s been and the odd people she’s met. My life’s not nearly as interesting. I’ve never had much to talk about, because I don’t do much. I work, then go home. Coming for coffee is about as wild as my day gets. Tia’s boozed her way around the globe. It occurs to me that I can go on about Wealhtheow even when I have nothing to say about myself. Tia seems to think that’s close enough; she listens so intently her eyes stop blinking. My gut is still squirming with guilt. I shouldn’t have walked out.

Tia finishes showing me her tattoos. She smiles and goes to wipe down the counter, start the dishwasher, and fiddle with the espresso machine, prepping it for the three o’clock wave of university students. I sit and sip my almost-cold cappuccino, looking at the walls. The poster hanging above me seems different. A village is burning; wasn’t it just a single hut there before? The fire has spread; the lizard looks smug. Weird.

Although I’ve always admired tattoos, I have never considered myself the kind of person who would get one. Tia’s comment makes me wonder if an artist could capture the specific image of Wealhtheow I have in my head. She’s a Valkyrie: tall, strong, blonde, mythical. Her fierce face features a strong nose and sharp jaw, and her lips are round; not soft, but sexual. Her eyes are like looking at the sky through crystal. She wears a loose white dress belted at the waist; a dagger with an intricate golden handle hangs from her belt. A warrior. A woman. Wealhtheow.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Of Wyrms and Women pt. 6

[part 1] [part 2] [part 3][part 4][part 5]

Tia said not to worry, but I don’t want to show up empty-handed, so I bring a bottle of pinot noir. I arrive at The Lair, and Tia takes the wine “Sam, right? Thanks!” and adds it to the table of liquor, though she doesn’t uncork it. She pours two glasses of something and hands one to me. Whiskey. I sip slowly, and a heartburnt cough crawls up my throat. The music is loud, something punky with lots of trumpet. There are maybe fifteen people sprawled around the room, gathered in little clumps. It seems very mellow, despite the noise.

Tia leads me to a couple of chairs and we sit down.

“What do you write?” Tia asks. I take my notebook to the Lair, though I rarely get any writing done there. Mostly I keep my pen in hand, as an excuse to stare impolitely. I imagine saying ‘oh, sorry, I was lost in thought,’ but no one seems interested in catching me.

“I, uh, guess stories. A history.”


“Oh yeah? I had you down as a poet,” Tia laughs. “Can’t be right all the time, I guess. The other writers are grouped in that corner.” Tia points at a cluster of two men and a woman. The woman waves her hands, talking very quickly. One of the men leans forward, nodding, the other has his arms crossed in front of him, and taps his left foot rapidly. “I should introduce you. There are some artists here, a couple of computer geeks. Jen, over there, she’s a lawyer. She’s the freak of this group.”

Jen has shoulder length blond hair, stylishly straight with sharp corners. She is wearing leather pants and a leather jacket, open over a net shirt. Her belly is bare, her bra shining through, red and silky. She doesn’t look like a lawyer. I start mentally redressing her, like a paper doll. Would her nipple rings show through a loose blouse?

“How did you know I was a writer?”

“Intuition. It’s a game I play – guess the regular. After I see someone a couple of times, I decide who they are, what they do, stuff like that. I’m usually not far off.” Tia eyes me as I sip from my glass to keep from having to say anything. She gets impatient, and bounces away to talk with other people. I sit drinking and watching Tia. She pulls a man into the middle of the room and they start jumping around—dancing I guess. A woman comes over and joins them, and Tia jumps onto her back.

“I’m Melvin,” a voice comes from my left.

“Sam.”

“Sorry, what?”


“Sam!” I yell.

I can barely hear through the haze of voices and music. Melvin must think I’m a dork.

“Tia says you’re a writer,” he says.

“Oh yeah?”

“I am too.”

“Cool.”

A woman with green lipstick pulls on Melvin’s arm.

“Nice chatting,” he says over his shoulder. At least Tia is introducing me as a writer. I can erase my real job for the night: washing floors and scrubbing toilets at the university library is hardly going to make me friends. It feels like high school all over again. I was invited to a few parties in grade nine. Nicole Richardson was my best friend. I would follow Nicole around to try and fit in. If she got a drink, I’d get a drink. If she went to dance, I’d dance nearby. And she didn’t laugh at my clumsy imitations of her moves. Nicole talked to me, she sat with me at lunchtime. I must have become too clingy; Nicole began avoiding me, so the invitations stopped. Now, here I am again: an adult desperately wanting to be one of the cool kids, but feeling completely awkward. I let Tia refill my glass again and again.

Later in the evening, Tia moves her chair over, closer to me. She’s swaying slightly, I haven’t been able to keep track of the number of drinks she’s had. I have a glass of water in hand, trying to fend off tomorrow’s hangover.

“Let me feel your hair,” Tia murmurs, already moving her hand towards me. Tia pushes her fingers into my scalp and begins kneading. “It’s so soft. I didn’t think it would be so soft.” I stiffen. I hate my hair. I hate its texture. I hate people touching it. Tia is running both hands through my curls now, catching her fingers in the tangles. I’m tense, my eyes prickle. I’m not going to cry.

“I should go.”

“Why? Don’t go yet.”

“No, I’ve got to get going.” I get up, pulling my head away from her hands. “Uh, work. You know.” I weave my way to the door and look back. Tia is standing, leaning slightly to one side, watching me. I notice how pale she is: her whole face is bleached by the track lights. She’d look ethereal, except her eyes are too normal, an everyday green. I hesitate a moment, but then turn and leave. Walking home I berate myself. She didn’t mean anything by it. I should have stayed. What kind of moron panics over something as stupid as hair? Idiot me, I had to leave. To lose a chance at a friend. Damn. What’ll you do when you see her again, Sam?

What? No. I just won’t go back there. I don’t have to deal with it.

Chickenshit.

I get home and brush my teeth twice. My breath is still sour when I climb into bed. I want to sleep, but I lie awake for hours debating whether to go back to the Lair. I think of school again; my greatest achievement had been performing in Macbeth in grade eleven. I was his Lady, “screw your courage to the sticking place,” was my favourite line because it’s something I’ve never been able to do. This time, I’ll try it Lady M’s way.