“Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness”

D moved to Kingston, On the same month I moved to London, On.  The second apartment he had there was right downtown on Princess Street, the tallest building in Kingston, a stack of early-70s brutalist boxes that steadfastly resists gentrification or modernization. It’s called Princess Towers. On the ground floor you can get poutine from a place named Bubba’s, and there are a half-dozen bars are on that block and the next.

Elrond College, before it was Princess Towers. No Elf-Lords in sight.

Inside, the apartments have been remodeled with the cheapest, ugliest fixtures available at Home Depot, made of that special particle board with white veneer, the kind that warps slowly and inevitably every time water drips from the faucet or the pipes. D’s front door had a two inch gap under it, through which he heard at night the flip-flopped pacing of Queen’s students who carried their fast-food packaging through the  fire door to the garbage slot.  The slamming doors—one out, one back usually after midnight—meant he knew their garbage-disposal habits, as he knew their pre-drinking habits and what time they got home on Sunday mornings. When we talked on the phone I could hear the metallic echo of slamming fire-doors all the way across the province.

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Report from a Battlefield: In Which I Unintentionally Offend a Stranger at Queenston Heights

Second Brock Memorial. First Centenary. 1912.

Last May D and I drove south to the Niagara frontier to see the Corpse Flower in bloom at the Niagara Floral Showcase and to visit Queenston Heights, because I’m working on a chapter about the battlefield.  The Corpse Flower gets its own post, though, as a kind of footnote.

Queenston Heights is a park that was once a battlefield.  You know it was a battlefield because there’s a very large monument to Sir Isaac Brock, the English General who led British and Canadian troops against the Americans in October 1812, and who died early in the battle.  The memorial tower rises aggressively on the Canadian side of the frontier, with Brock at the very top, pointing toward the American side of the river, as though the tower isn’t only to remind us of the general’s death, but to tell us where and how to look toward his American enemies.

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Footnote to the Queenston Heights Post: Corpse Flowers are Weird and Compelling. You Should Know This.

The Corpse Flower. I’m still not sure it’s just a plant, but that could be because it looks a bit like a one-legged triffid.

This is an aside, or a footnote to the post about Queenston Heights (and my ability to alienate strangers).  I’m including it because when I was writing that one up, I remembered seeing the Corpse Flower that day, too. Corpse Flowers bloom only rarely in greenhouses and gardens.  It is a strange paradigm for a flower, a massive (3m!), stinky lily that looks like a low-budget extraterrestrial from an early episode of Doctor Who.  It had already begun to sag when we saw it, and the enormous spadix (the thick, fleshy thing in the middle) was collapsing into the folds of the spathe (the leafy, petal-y thing that wraps around the thing in the middle).

The “Floral Showhouse” was full of people photographing the last blooming days of the Corpse Flower, but we got a good look at it.  I was happy to have seen the curiosity, which looked a bit alien and lonely among the more conventional flowers.

Report from a Coffee Shop: The Girl in Starbucks Just Wants You to be Proud of Her

I spend a lot of time working in libraries and coffee shops (which is where I meet my insect friends) because D and I share the World’s Tiniest Apartment and until last week, neither of us had an office. I like working in public, most of the time. There are good days, like today, when all the noise blends into a buzz, so I don’t distinguish talk from traffic from milk-foamers from espresso machines from Starbucks Greatest Hits (lately:  Joni Mitchell’s “California” which is a relief after “We Are Young” by fun. which was on repeat all last winter).  I get a lot done on those days.

Other times I’m not so lucky and my brain pingpongs around the room. I can’t stop myself from listening to what I hear, and often remembering it. Long stories. Arguments. Career planning. Personal injury. In-jokes. Hook-ups. Detailed accounts of really terrible relationships. At least one very very unsuccessful job interview, and a few good-sounding ones.

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Why I Love Vaudeville Theatres

The Orpheum Theatre. Vancouver. 1927.
The Orpheum Theatre. Vancouver. 1927.

I’m writing this post as a break from what I should be doing, which is either preparing my next lecture, or revising a chapter about commemoration on the Plains of Abraham. I’m feeling a bit worn out by both projects, so I hope it’ll cheer me up to write about something I like.

Not like, even. I love Vaudeville theatres.  I love them so much that I’ve written a novel about an imaginary theatre called the Temple, in an imaginary version of Vancouver. My inspiration for the Temple came from the Orpheum and Pantages in Vancouver and the Paramount in Seattle, the McPherson and the Royal in Victoria. There’s a touch of London’s Grand Theatre about it, too, and maybe a little of San Francisco’s Castro (though that one was always a movie palace).

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Camp X and Northrop Frye: Why This Blog is Called “Where is Here?”

Camp X from the air. 1943.

Last spring D and I made the trip out to Whitby, Ontario, for an early Doors Open Toronto event at Intrepid Park.  It was May, one of those days that aren’t cold really or warm, but blustery and dull, with a flat, pale sky, and quite a bit of mud.

There are no doors to open at Intrepid Park, because there’s nothing there but a concrete memorial, a few shell holes, and a grassy mound. It’s a nice park, with viewpoints from which you can look along the coast of Lake Ontario toward the downtown skyline, which looks delicate and almost translucent at that distance. Continue reading “Camp X and Northrop Frye: Why This Blog is Called “Where is Here?””

Lore

So it was my second and last go at tiff today. This time I saw Lore, a German/Australian film directed by Cate Shortland, based on a novel called The Dark Room by Rachel Seiffert.  It takes place in Germany in the spring and summer of 1945.  It’s about a family of five children, the eldest being the protagonist, Lore, whose father is an SS Officer directly involved in a death-camp.  As the allies consolidate their hold on Germany, both parents are arrested.  Left alone, the children travel from the Black Forest in the south to their grandmother’s house in the north.  Once again, I’m not really reviewing so much as… musing, so here’s a link to more useful information, and an interview with Shortland, on the AFI Blog.

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The Lebanese Rocket Society

So it was my first go at TIFF this afternoon. I saw The Lebanese Rocket Society, a documentary about Lebanon’s short-lived, and long-forgotten space program in the 1960s.  It was made by the artists and filmmakers Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige.

I wanted to see it as soon as I read the description, which included a lot of my favourite dissertation-relevant things.  It’s a work of commemoration, by and about two artists who want to return the Lebanese Rocket Society to public memory.  The Society operated between 1960 and 1966, so it’s about the Cold War, too, and a Middle East shadowed by American/Soviet tension, the continuing repercussions of decolonization and the Second World War. Kim Philby even turns up for a moment. Finally, it’s an alternative history of technology and innovation.  I mean, it’s about a bunch of kids who built a rocket! Just because they like rockets!

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PHD VI

As of this week I am no longer PHD V, but I think I’ll cling to the designation a little longer.  I had intended to finish my dissertation in year five.  I am not finished, but I’m not ready to accept the “VI” yet, either.

Sometimes it feels like I’ll never be finished.  Sometimes it feels like I’ve never not been working on a dissertation. Like, I’m pretty sure I’ve persisted in this state for centuries:  always anxious, probably procrastinating, never finished.

While contemplating the big tick-over from V to VI, I realized how much I identify with the guy in Eraserhead, the one stuck with the scary baby. Like him I am saddled with a creepy thing, one I brought into the world, and for which I am responsible. The thing just lies there, crying its creepy, inhuman cries, utterly helpless, making less sense every time you look at it.  I think it might be messing with me, too.

At some point, I must have thought it was a good idea to be Dr. Whereishere.  I just hope it ends better for me than it did for him.

I feel your pain, guy from Eraserhead.

You are Here.

I like to know where I am.  I grew up in a valley, on an island off the south coast of British Columbia.  I learned to find my way on what were once logging roads, pinched between Satellite Channel and Saanich Inlet to the northeast, and the hills and mountains of the Vancouver Island Ranges on the west, north and south.  Wherever you are in the Cowichan Valley you can find your way by looking up at mountains whose names you know:  Tzhouhalem or Provost, the Malahat, Mount Baker and the Olympics on the American mainland, Mount Newton on Saltspring Island, across the channel.  Vancouver was the same, with “mountains” always meaning “north” in my neighbourhood.

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