Monday, January 26, 2009


Come in, grab some blankets. I might have to get some more wood to keep the blaze really going because it's so damn cold out. I've been inside for fifteen minutes and my feet are still cold. I've got some veggies, some hard boilled eggs, and some dip to enjoy, tuck in.

I sat playing chess with my Uncle Brian one day. We were talking and I was telling him stories. He kept chuckling so I asked him 'What's so funny?' 'You sound like your grandfather. He knew everyone's story. Told it the best. You have the gift. You can help people.' We finished the game, I sac'd my queen to lull him into a false sense of security, and as he pressed an attack, I checkmated him with my rooks. 'Help people how Uncle Brian?' He leaned back and shook his head. 'You come back, we'll talk.'

We kept meeting for chess every now and then. Talking about stories, and the family. A boyfriend of one of my aunts who was a Sioux medicine man told my Uncle one day that there was another family, jealous of ours, and they had cursed us. Dad was the target, but also managed to keep the curse from the rest of us with his sacrifice. Dunno how much I believe in the last part, but I can believe the curse. Despite my family being written about glowingly still by many Indian writers, we have all fallen by the wayside, wastes of what was once a glorious line of leaders.

He looked at me and said 'I told you wrong. You can't help no one.' I was puzzled and said so. He replied, 'Best you can do is tell your stories Rich. If people get it, then good. They'll help themselves. If not, then they need to find their soul and retake themselves.' It's taken me a long time to completely puzzle out what that meant but I think I understand it.

I talk a lot. I tell stories. I entertain and enliven, but I have a message. And it comes through. I live as an example and do what I can for those that will take the message forward.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A critique in two parts.

Come in, that warm spat we had is disappearing, and the snow is once again brittle crystals that slash through the air like the cold through our clothing. Lucky for all of us, I always keep the fire going and the blankets piled deep. I like the cold, it's easy to warm up in cold weather, it's hard to cool down in hot weather.

So in my poetry class, we read Elizabeth Alexander's poem "Praise Song for the Day" which is also being refered to as Barrack Obama's inauguration poem. And let's just say I didn't like it. So I wrote a review of it which I sent to my professor, as I thought we needed to do that for an assignment. Instead I got it wrong, we didn't, and I did the assignment wrong, we were supposed to just analyze the structure and imagery. Well first my critique.

This poem, written and read for the inauguration of President Barrack Obama, is a weak attempt at bringing to focus the nature of the struggle of African-Americans throughout the history of the United States of America. The point is the culmination of the civil rights struggle by shining a hopeful tone to the struggles of the past as the USA has elected its first black President. Throughout it Alexander uses images that flow back and forth, using language that could best be described as conciliatory, taking a happy stance on the “day.” The author starts by setting the scene; the general hubbub of a new President taking Office is hectic and filled with many different events that might take the attention of the audience. The solid mass of it is put forth as “thorns” and this imagery might be the strongest the poet uses. Next she moves to the people, black people who still mostly subsist in the bottom of the socio-economic scale, doing the menial, yet essential, jobs that have built and formed the country that all enjoy. Alexander fills these with the images she most likely grew up with, placing the role of the black people firmly within the hidden history of the USA. This action leads to the civil rights struggle, as she asks the same questions as before, those the dreamers and poets before her would have asked, “I know there’s something better down the road.” After this the song devolves into strange calls to different religions, to the marks of the struggle, and to a question that was best said by the Beatles: “All we need is love.” And from here the poet gives us the last semi-triumphant line of walking forward into a new day. While the imagery is nice, it seems like Alexander attempted to keep the scale of the poem down so as to not overshadow the event or the other noise. The poet effectively silences herself within her own extraneous noise, rather than putting any real feeling or power into her words. It comes across as weak, and only half-hearted.

So she said 'Very well written, but not what I asked for.' So I started to think about the imagery the poet used, and compared it with the new president. It is conciliatory. Not quite apologetic, but it has a quiet even tone that is very similar to the man himself. It calls forth the images of the stuggle of blacks but gently, almost half-heartedly, again like the man himself, as he is only half black. So I ruminated on these ideas and thought about the new president and the circumstances of his election.

First off, what skills does Barrack Obama bring to the table as the President of the most influential country in the world? Well we know he's GREAT at writing and giving speaches. He's a lawyer, he's been a community activist, and he's been a junior senator for the state of Illinois. Involved deeply in the politics of Chicago, and holds many great ideas about what should be done. And while all of those things sound great, he really does lack experience, and he's incredibly young.

He is very even tempered and has had to remind the press folks that just because he doesn't react visibly doesn't mean he doesn't have a strong stance, he's just mild mannered. So how does someone like this not only get elected as president of the USA, but also holds the highest approval rating of anyone going into office (A whopping 80%) and has created such visible and joyous hope in the people he is going to lead.

Well let's look first at this simple truth. The Democrats could have run a retarded monkey that constantly mastubated and still won the election. After eight years of war, economic disasters, and a president who appears to share some genes with the aforementioned monkey the American people would've voted for anyone who wasn't a republican.

Not only that but they built this fabulous media image for Barrack. The young senator from Illinois, uncorruptable, standing for all that is good and right, a culmination of the civil rights movement, comparisons to ole' Honest Abe. I mean WOW who ever came up with that bit of scripting really took advantage of everything available to craft a fabulous image.

But that's all just window dressing. It really isn't that hard to convince people of things as long as you get a great PR group going. So now they have to prove what they've sold. And that's the tough part. I'm of the mind that it's time to do what I've always been taught to do, hope for the best but plan for the worst.

Will Barrack be the man who changes the way the US works? Or will he land like the poem by Alexander, soft and ill timed, contrived and weak. Here's hoping for the best, but I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Danger (to me) of Ulysses

Come in out of the wind and snow, enjoy the fire. There's some carrots and apples for those that wish to nibble. My mind is meandering, and I think it's nice. Of course it has motivation.

I'm reading Ulysses by James Joyce, for my class that is an author study of said author. While some (Cenobyte) might decry the novel I'm rather enjoying it. Perhaps I'm criminally insane. Probably not a bad judgement.

Anyways, the danger I've found is that because the author has so brilliantly caught the stream of thought of his characters I find my own mind wandering as I read. Sure the words are still being read and the eyes are moving down the page but my mind is off doing its own thing. So I gotta back up and start over a bit further up and start re-reading things. This isn't bad though, like I said, I'm really enjoying the novel.

Now if I could just find a way to be as discussed as Joyce is and we're all set. :)

Monday, January 12, 2009

And it all adds up to what?

Sorry you haven't been invited by the fire for a bit. And I do apologize for how fierce the shadows have been. There is no food either to share today for I brought none, not thinking that anyone else might appreciate a bite. I wasn't feeling hungry. No go ahead, sit. I know my hospitality isn't what it should be but you're still always welcome.

I have not felt myself as of late. Dark rumblings in my mind and soul have taken the place of more gentle and peacable thoughts. I have been distant and short in turns with those around me. I am very much a being of unease.

I very much get the impression that I am tolerated but not welcome from those that I wish to be around. Even when I do those things to attempt to please or appease others it seems to blow up in my face. And this isn't even getting into the mess that's been made of my banking. I'm not even going to get into that.

I feel strangely disconnected from the events around me, in fact even as I write I'm not entirely sure it's something that even matters. There is a thin mist that seems to be clouding over my senses, and it's leaving everything dull. Dark is fine, but dull... I don't know.

I suppose there is many words, a lot of things that could be said, in regard to how I feel. But it goes beyond just what I feel, it's what I see, it's the filter through which the world is coming into me. And I feel no real urge to place it back before others. That in itself is strange as I love to reanalyze and rethink those things I read and see.

I read this back and it feels so much like a complaint but it's not. It is really just a status update. If I appear short or removed, I apologize. If I don't respond, it is not you, it is me, and don't take it personally.

But I do love the company. So thanks.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Best of the Finals

Come in and grab a stump. Not my head though, despite its shape. The fire has a nice low simmer, I've got some perogies made, and of course some left over soup. Don't worry I'll be making some more in a bit, probably duck. Mmmmm. So enjoy the food and lend an eye and ear. I wrote one of my finals in a complete fever. The question was 'How is the family portrayed in Canadian literature, use three examples' etc etc. There was some more about comparisons to other nations and such but the question set me off and I had a completely brilliant moment of clear writing. I asked for a copy of it cuz I really liked it. Here it is.

Canada is one big dysfunctional family. We are the product of three significant cultures: English, French, and First Nations. We have a Queen who is the head of our country but is really no more significant than the picture we see on various coins and bills. We have a deluded and patchwork national identity that conveniently ignores its own mandates of multiculturalism by attempting to disallow anything but the most homogenized representations of the 'other.' Is it then any wonder that the three major novels studied focus on the concepts of family and its influence on the outcome of the individual. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz shows us the assimilation and subjugation of the Jewish culture by highlighting how it has altered one family through three generations. The Diviners gives us one woman's memories and events as she puzzles out the significance and breadth of her own family and how this has changed her. And while Findley's novel shares almost nothing in common with the marker posts of most Canadian literature (ie. the land, lack of identity, inferiority complex when compared with our contemporaries) it is still, at it's heart, the tale of one severely dysfunctional family that rips itself apart under the strain of trying to be a segregated family. This is truly Canadian.

Richler presents us with three generations of businessmen in one family and how they change. The grandfather brings his skills of a cobbler here to Canada and starts a business. He is not very successful in a monetary sense yet he holds the respect of all the community. Next comes Benjy, very successful as a factory owner, but caught in the trap of assimilation, giving up his religion and fashioning an image that will place him apart from the rest of the Jewish community. The last is Duddy, struggling the whole way with these two previous examples yet attempting to be his own man. He manages his success, owning the land he wants, still retaining his family connections, and earns the respect of his neighbourhood. Yet the cost is the shame that he cheated his way there, selling things that while not directly connected to his roots were still important to members of his family. His grandfather is also ashamed of Duddy's behaviour and afraid to leave the life he has subjected himself to.

These three steps could be applied to Canadian history. A young nation who negotiates its freedom as does the Grandfather with the dominant society, from England. Here we then see the white washing of Canadian history, the errecting of the settler myth, and the homogenization of any culture not English. Finally a recognition of standing on our own, yet at what cost? We hold the shame of many atrocities against our own original citizens, and have tamed the wilderness, as Duddy bought his own, to find it now spoiled and less attractive.

In The Diviners we see a very close examination of identity and what forms it. From Morag's first story of Morag Gunn, the wife of Piper Gun, we are introduced to the multilayer function that families, communities and a constructed myth play a role in the development of the individual.

That Morag eventually finds her adopted father's stories were nothing but that, stories made up to entertain a child, she still recognizes that this first influence of storytelling was one of the most significant events that shaped her chosen life, and a sense of who she is.

In the Tonnerres we see a family legacy that is passed down, appropriated, and given back. The culture of the First Nations is highlighted as the resilience and adaptation is brought to the forefront. Two very significant events help to show these concepts.

The passing on of songs from Skinner to Pique help to highlight the shared heritage and strength of the oral tradition. Skinner writes honest songs about the tragic events of his life and passes these things down to Pique as a part of the family history. This is the essence of the oral tradition of First Nations and gives Pique access to the family she eventually discovers back in Manitoba.

The trading of the knife and pin between Morag and Skinner is highly symbolic. It is a direct testament to the view of First Nation culture by the dominant Anglo culture. The image of the 'noble savage' has been used and misrepresented in 400 years of both governmental and commercial appropriation. It has only been within the last 40 years that First Nations have finally been able to attempt to revive and reclaim their culture. Lawrence would have been watching the significant events of the 60's and 70's unfold and been able to see this process clearly, and then represented it here with this highly poignant scene.

That Morag is able to piece together both the real and fictional parts of her personal myth and construct, or divine, who she is shows the importance of all aspects of history in shaping both an individuals identity and a national identity. I would go so far as to say that Lawrence, intentionally or not, has constructed a map with The Diviners that could be used to reconcile and redefine Canada's national identity.

Findley's novel strays significantly from any of these issues in a concrete way yet his novel could be seen as quintessentially Canadian for these exact reasons. That he leaves such ambiguity in the possible interpretations is a significant part of any identity construction. We as individuals are essentially making it up as we go along, and Findley's round about way of portraying the ideals of family and their influence reinforces the ideal itself.

The Noyes family is as split and dysfunctional as the two syllables of their name implies. That Noah takes a complete step in setting down rules to separate the lower and upper orders further illustrates this. This is no different than the politics of the past 30 years, factionalized, partisan, and now including literal separatists!

Findley stays away from any concrete or identifiable 'trademarks' of Canadian literature but this is in fact on purpose as Not Wanted on the Voyage is not a novel based in any solid foundation or addressing directly any real ideal, it is instead a plea for change. It is a heartfelt, yet idealistic, shout to the general populace to effect positive and lasting change. To imagine and incorporate the ideals of others that will improve the lives of all.

The three novels could very much be placed in a series as an action plan. First is Richler, showing us that the family that is Canada is losing its integrity and soul. Next is Lawrence, who gives us the map on how we as a nation can begin to pull ourselves together and leave behind the ill suited identities thrust upon us, and reforge ourselves as a cohesive whole. Finally is Findley, who gives us the force to change. He is the youngest sibling of the family but he points to us all and says: "Look! If these two can write these books, if they can imagine the situations, and make constructive change on paper, then why aren't we ALL doing it ourselves to make the country, and the world, a better place?!" Uncommon to each other in subject and style, but wholly Canadian, these three books take a look at the smaller unit of the family, showcase the significance, and show us all what the Canadian national family could be.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Day two: Giddiness

I don't mind the cold, it's why I keep the fire going, so you can all come in and keep warm. I've found extra hides and blankets too. And of course, the soup is going to be on the side, getting better and better.

Second day of classes back for what should be the quick second half of my first degree. Yes in case I haven't explained I want about eight of them. No I don't want to be a career student. There's a method to my madness.

My schedule is wonky. Three classes MWF, and one class TTh, with a lab every second tuesday. But it's that tues-thur class that has me giddy. It's an author study on James Joyce.

We're covering Potrait of an Artist as a Young Man (Which I just finished reading) and Ulysses (I'm on the intro and trying to assimilate the densely packed information in that. BTW, Artist ROCKED!! That was an awesome book and I'm so looking forward to Ulysses that I feel like jumping up and down in one spot while squeeling out 'EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!'

Yeah, I'm a nerd.