Thursday, August 30, 2007

Absolute Write Blogchain #10

We interrupt your usual lackadaisical one post a week with a blog chain! There are many desriptions of a blog chain, but it's basically a blatant attempt to bring new readers to your blog by writing about meandering topic. I'll be riffing off of Midnight Muse's post about salmon, I think. And smoking.

Oh, and produce!

I think it has to be a mark of adulthood to be excited about produce.

When I was a kid, and we'd go for some vacation to yet another boring landmark (with not a single arcade in sight) about some misguided explorer who had died along the way to a destination (where I'm sure he was expecting opium and cheap women, but who the plaques invariably cast as a starry eyed dreamer, bent on discovering the world for road-side diners and the more boring parts of textbooks). We'd inevitably find some long lost fruit stand. Abandoned except for a weather worn sign and a disaffected youth who oozed small-town teen resentment.

My dad would stop our full sized van (you remember the ones, they had the gas economy of a small tank and was made only slightly less uncool by dreams that it could be, with a paint job, some mags, and maybe a wicked red spoiler, look just like the van from the A-Team. They weren't 'crossovers', they gave no impression that they could do the Drakar rally or that they could handle the power if you dropped a hemi in it and tried to take down the local punks in an old school drag race. They were family-mobiles.) and get out excitedly. He and my mom would get bags and bags of cherries and apples and peaches and other things that were quite obviously not candy-bars.

They weren't even fruit roll-ups.

The rest of the trip would be them going through the produce, munching away, and always, always, trying to offer us fruit. As if it was some sort of treat! It must have been the trail fever, making them think they could pull a fast one like. What was next? Offering us asparagus instead of fries? A hot bath instead of a dip at the beach (also known as a near death experience with the coastal undertows)?

Vacation was clearly when the regimens of Healthy Eating were supposed to be loosened if not cast aside all together. Things should be deep fried, processed, re-processsed, post-processed, sugared, candied, and in other ways made to be only slightly less dangerous than injecting lard directly into the heart. Everyone knows that, especially children. It's something that must be written into our DNA : When vacation comes, you can eat anything and everything. Particularly those things that usually take a fair amount of wheedling to get otherwise. (It's my opinion that road-side attractions could save a lot of money on packaging and advertising if they just sold candied lard. It might be a bit of a tough sell at first, but I think the honesty would be refreshing.)

So it was quite alarming when my wife and I went for a road-trip to Alberta. Which, to anyone not from Canada, means absolutely zilch, what's important to note is that we had to go through many small towns filled with angst-affected youth manning all manner of fruits stands. And I'll be pickled if we didn't stop at some of them, hurry out of air-conditioned oasis and excitedly collect all manner of fruits. I think it was somewhere near my sixth cherry when I realized that unless I found a deep fryer to throw this fruit in post-haste, I'd lose all connection to my childhood.

Unfortunately I was interrupted when I had to dodge a full-sized van that, with a paint job and a wicked spoiler, would be a dead ringer for the A-Team van.


The next blogger in this chain will be TBFKA Taosbound, who will have the unenviable task of making sense of this and writing something that, unlike this post, will have to resemble English.

blog@cathsmith.com

My Midnight Muse

periodically.org

(The Blog Formerly Known as) Taosbound

Virtual Wordsmith

The Death Wizard Chronicles

Food History

Kappa No He

A piece in the puzzle

Sound Off Blog

Virginia Lee: I Ain't Dead Yet!


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Smack Upside the Head from Reality

I'm sending out one of my short stories to try and get it published. It's a rabid field. Filled with thousands, millions of frantic typists like myself who think, because they have memorized Home Row, they are worthy to be paid for stuff they just make up between reruns of Star Trek.

Sometimes I am under the deluded impression that I am special among the countless rank and file, that perhaps I can string together words just slightly better than the next bloke who can never spell 'weird' correctly and always smells of cheap cheese.

This delusion, of course, comes from friends, family, and yes, even strangers. I'll pass a piece I'm working on to a family/friend, they'll read, it, and think (or only say out loud) that it is indeed, the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe even the best thing since sliced pizza (which is when I know they are lying, some fibs are just too big).

I'll even submit it to any sundry number of online critique forums, where, admittedly, they don't exactly gush over it. But they don't quash it like the rubbish it quite rightly is. But when you are counting on that very same person you are critiquing to critique your 5000 word short story about a semi-sentient bat who has an affair with the farmer's daughter before ridding the world of the Robotical Demonoid Dragon King Ur'zahkoonaga, you tend to go a bit easy.

This is all a very round about way of saying that one can never, ever be sure if the fiction one writes is any good. Never. Or at least, I've not gotten to the point where I can tell. Which is a cruel trick of the gods, in my opinion. It's like being a painter, making your creation in the dark, and then sending it out sight unseen hoping that it's in fact, a painting of a gazelle on the serengetti and not a feeble attempt at erotic plush velvet art featuring My Little Pony and the only boy in the Strawberry Shortcake universe.

What makes this even more aggravating is that one isn't sure if the stuff you are sweating and grinding out is actually terrible, or just terrible for that one editor who has sent you a form letter with a neatly printed personal note at the bottom to 'Please, please stop sending me fiction, my eyes can only bleed so much until I'll need yet another transfusion'.

Is the piece crap? Or is that editor's taste just not yours? Is it any good? Or do you need to go through the requisite mountains of rejections? At what point does one just blindly believe in (what always sounds magnificently pompous) "the work"?

It's a balance between pig-headed faith in yourself and a sensitivity to the objective quality of your writing. One has to constantly shovel (yes, I do realize the image that brings up, its not entirely inappropriate) your work out there, blindly, hoping that at some point, some near sighted editor lets it slip by and you no longer have to wonder. As much.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Whispering Pitter Patter of Rain Upon the Forest's Living Leaves...


Er, not so much.

We live in a semi-forest. It's a bit of a greenbelt that has a singular purpose: to conceal a veritable warren of townhouse complexes, constructed when sustainability and community-centered eco-dense living were, like, totally in man (as well as hashish, Fighting the Man, and mushrooms of the magical variety).

It's pleasant to gaze at the forest, the paradise of nature at your doorstep. A deer and her fawn frolicking among the salmonberry, dew still clinging to their chestnut coats. Tall, majestic trees, giving the first hints of autumns approach. Perhaps a robin, bringing breakfast to her hungry chicks, wrinkled necks craning to the cooing of their mother.

Nature is nothing if not a delicate interplay of life and death, biomass being recycled, created, life in all its forms struggling to fruition, for survival, against all odds. It's also a great place to find out how many things find you simply delectable. If it doesn't bite you, sting you, or give you an embarassing rash, it doesn't belong in nature.

Living in a forest reminds you of just how miserable our ancestors had it.

But we forget this. We have posters of great big (cougar concealing) trees and (mosquito infested) lakes posted up in our cubicles. We forget the life our ancestors lived on the raggedy edge, meting out a subsistence living in which one could either die from a warring tribe, a carnivorous mammal who nobody had bothered to name yet (everyone was a naturalist back then, I'd imagine, and things were either "oh good, eat!", or "oh shit, run!"), or from say, an appendicitis.

Yet there are days when I realize how good I have it in my slowly rotting wood and drywalled box. This morning, at approximately Bloody Early O'Clock, I was reminded that I do in fact, live in a rain forest -- even if we don't call it such -- and sometimes it gets monsoons. The rain fell in, not buckets, no, that would imply there was some space between the falling droplets, it was more like a fire-hose God had turned on us riotous mortals, while giving serious thought to Releasing the Hounds.

In the city, it was almost pleasant. There were enough large acoustically deadening buildings to reduce the rain to a soothing pitter patter. In the forest, every single leaf is a Blaupunkt stereo, and I am the crotchety Eastern European neighbour who is just trying to make some pirogies in peace, damnit, why do you have to blare your music that sounds oddly like Niagara has been diverted to my backyard with the volume turned to eleven?!

It was knee weakening loud.

It brought images of old tribal gods being raised from the pagan dead to crash through the trees, and swallow me whole, their unspeakable hunger not unquenched, only reawakened to darker pursuits (yes, I've been reading some Neil Gaiman, why?)

One can absolutely understand why tribes believed in all sorts of deities linked to the weather. In that brief moment, as I stood in my carport, wielding my frightened umbrella , I kinda sorta didn't want to step out into the rain. And not just because I wouldn't be able to hear a semi-truck if it was two feet away.

It was the forest.

That them forest isn't all gummy bears and dewdrops. For a brief moment, I gave nature the deference, and yes, the fear, it so rightly deserves.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bocce Newsletter Column


Names have been changed to protect the privacy and whatever. For best effect, please read the following the most poshest British accent you can muster. Possible a voice that could do colour commentary for both the British Open and Wimbledon.







On a dreary day that washed the verve from our great city, lovers of sport held their breath. Before the day was over, blood would be shed, tears wept, and not a small part of Canadian history would be made; for on that downtrodden, rain-spattered August 10th, four warriors of athletic endeavour would clash on the field of sport. It was the 2nd round of Enrolment Services and Student Development & Services staff Bocce Tournament, and the game, was on.

That day, fighting for their tournament lives, were bocce veterans Stan Smith and Mary Jones versus upstarts and virtual unknowns Sam Emery (representing the UK) and Larry Spielman. While Smith was known to be still nursing a blown rotator cuff from the 06' All Euro Cup, Jones had improved significantly, placing in the money in several satellite tournaments and very well in early heat qualifiers. All eyes were on Smith, however, as Vegas odds put him at 10-1 odds of him bolting at the last minute. In addition to his tragic rotator injury, there are rumours of doping with 'Cappuccino', a highly addictive neurochemically unbalancing enhancer. He had been skittish of late, ducking all scheduled interviews with the press corps. Jones, ever the consumate professional, refused to entertain speculation that her long time bocce compatriot was anything but top fighting shape.

Their virtual unknown opponents were last minute wild cards whose pedigrees were far suspect, particularly when put up to the uncompromising light of the venerable Smith-Jones. Emery had cut his teeth in the no-holds barred bocce fields of Essex and had spent a number of years terrorizing the North Vancouver Bocce Clubs with his aggressive style, decidedly British puns, and a ruthless eye for measuring pallino distances. Spielman was far worse. Many speculated that his purported early years in the novice bocce fields of Maple Ridge were exaggerations at best, and more likely outright fabrications. He, like Smith, was haunted by accusations of addiction to 'Diet Coke', a drug that, while related to Jones's 'Cappuccino', was used only by less savoury players.

The thousands strong audience were in for a suprise as the golden pair of Jones and Smith was broken, Smith was absent from the field. Initial responses from his PR firm alluded to him having the flu, which was starkly retracted with a more broad statment regarding conflicting engagements. Jones had to hold the field against the two brazen players who, in this commentors opinion, were not fit to mow the lawn.

In a show of dazzingly athleticism, Jones took the early lead, beating out the rag-tag duo to the score of 2-0. The audience surged behind her early lead, and as if to put the last nails in the short bocce career of Emery-Spielman, Smith mounted the field. The game was all but over. Spielman, showing his uncultured and, dare I say, barbaric misunderstanding of the chivalrous sport of bocce, was heard to call the pallino 'that white ball thinger'. Emery looked lost, and stumbled across the field, his throws lacking that early promise of talent, however unrefined it may have been.

To the surprise of many, and to the chagrin of bocce lovers everywhere, the Emery-Spielman duo plowed ahead, showing their unlikely skill in the distasteful 'short game'. Leading at one point 12-6.

Jones and Smith buckled down, dug deep, and found the champion duo that so dazzled the world in the 2003 India-Asia Finals during the fabled 'Uproar In Bangalore'. Smith, coming out of what many saw as a caffeinenated stupour, strategized with Jones to play the more honourable -and as a happy circumstance, their opponent's weakness- 'long game' . They clawed their way back, kicking the Emery-Spielman duo for every rung they dared ascend. It was a grueling battle, where the bocce balls were often measured in tenths of a millimetre. Natural obstacles featured well in this match, notably where the Emery-Spielman team benefited from an unlikely series of lucky bounces, while the more talented, and far more deserving Jones-Smith suffered set back after setback through no fault of their own.

In the end, the poorer team caught too many lucky breaks and sent the real champions, Jones-Smith, back to the training fields of BC. It was sad and upsetting day for bocce purist everywhere, a day not soon forgotten by this commentator.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Costco

I'm sure I've talked about Costco before. That megalithic testament to bulk shopping and warehouse chic. A company that single handedly brought wooden pallets and forklifts into the public eye (after languishing in storerooms and the Goldfinger's mini-base). But just in case I haven't, what about it eh?

It's not like, say, Walmart; people don't have strong opinions of Costco. Either you need to buy a three years supply of almonds, or you don't.

But before Walmart --blight-upon-small-towns-- gained the ire of well-meaning progressive types, Costco might have been a small blip. It ostensibly would have raised the hackles of well-paid professionals at their twice monthly cocktail parties and benefit silent auctions. It's a blight on the landscape, many would have said, it pulls people away from independent groceries and shopping centers : the supposed heart of any community. It's impersonal, corporate. It would have had had many of the same criticisms that Walmart has now. Minus the really really evil ones.

Although, as an armchair city-planner and would-be dictator of the world, I'm not sure the things Costco has taken from us are all that important. Important to me, that is. Maybe I'm the sort who doesn't feel a compulsion to socialise with Old Man Cooper who has owned the grocery by the roadside diner for coming on thirty ought years, and damned if he still is trying to sell rutabagas (50% off). I don't find a small collection of locally owned shops to be preferable to a hangar of goods with it's own gravitational orbit.

Shopping is not a social experience for me.

Hell, if I had my choice, I'd get my comestibles and toiletries sent to me via a complex yet aesthetically pleasing series of pneumatic tubes. Someone name Fourier would man the tubes. He'd have a PhD in Steam Works Arcanum or some cool shit like that. My food would come in heavily riveted containers with my initials embossed in faint blue lettering. Yes, maybe I've thought about this a lot. Or maybe I'm just trying to drive home the idea that shopping need not be social.

Besides, Costco, for all it rips from the hearts of small towns, gives us something that's been lacking in this permissive and lax society: dedication. Real, earnest dedication. No hemming and hawing and "Oh I better phone Ethel, she'll know what to do, she always knows what to do" and checking tea leaves with tarot cards and a small portable weegie board for good measure. No. None of that nonsense.

Costco asks, nay, DEMANDS dedication. Because when you buy that 18 pack of Irish Spring, you better be DAMN sure and dedicated to using Irish Spring for however long it takes a normal person to go through 18 bars of Irish Spring. And who cares how it desiccates every pore of your body and leaves you a lifeless shell, crying out for the blessed touch of a French moisturizer that may have aloe and possibly vera. Who cares that your dry skin has become so flakey that your boss has sent you to get checked for leprosy three times.

This is Costco, this is how Costco rolls. You better know what you like. And you better like it, alot. You better be the damn editor of the local newsletter that covers that product. You better have been invited to the production plant where they make said item and filled out many and multifarious questionnaires. The CEO of that company better have you on his personal Christmas card list. Because you'll be buying enough to supply a small island nation, or a one of those crazy families that are always on TLC with 23 or something children and the mom has a look of bliss that, without a fraction of a doubt, is driven purely by barbituates whose high concentration is non-lethal only to King Kong or a mother who has given birth to 23 or something children.

At Costco, you don't buy reasonably amounts of food. You buy goddamn blocks. Blocks, bricks, cubes. Large, heavy, shrink wrapped shapes that could easily be used to construct a makeshift house or a scale model of the Great Wall of China.

And it takes a dogged determination to finish those things. Dedication to using every last bar of that goddamn shipment of Irish Soap. Because you are a Costco Shopper. And you revel in knowing that you will indeed be eating Captain Tasty's Fish Stix for 4 straight fricking months.

Which is all why, I think, Costco no longer takes the heat that Walmart so rightfully enjoys now. Costco is sacrifice. Costco is dedication. Oh, and Costco doesn't do that whole 'exploit their workers' and 'take life insurance out on them so that the company can profit from their death' thing either.