Stuff to keep me warm.

I’ve been really good about winter this year. I haven’t really minded the snowstorms – they usually happened on Sundays and I felt cozy sitting at home – writing, cooking, baking – relieved that I wasn’t out on the streets. I even went skiing once. But now, February 29th, the temperature a frigid -15 degrees celcius and I am officially cranky. I mean, come on, enough with it already! The upside is that I’ve been writing a lot this winter, and I’m wondering if it will keep up when spring comes. It’s easy to settle in with my laptop and a warm beverage on a cold night, but it will be a different story when it’s 25 degrees and there’s a bottle of white wine in the fridge.

Anyway, word-wise, I went to two readings this past week. On Tuesday many people crammed into the delightful Drawn and Quarterly store on Bernard to watch a bearded Adrian Tomine give a slideshow presentation about his work, mostly his last graphic novel “Shortcomings”. It was interesting to see the progression of sketches to final graphic novel, and Adrian gave a thorough discussion of the process. He also addressed the “unpolitical” issue that has kind of plagued him his whole career. People expect a visible minority to tackle their otherness in their work, and given that Adrian never has really talked about being Japanese the way say, Sandra Cisneros discusses being Mexican, there have been people who criticize him for what they see as avoidance or internalized racism. It was interesting, and something I’ve definitely thought about myself with my own work. He stands firm in his position that he writes about what he wants to write about, that he’s interested in human behaviour and the small moments between people, and that to do otherwise would be forced. Anyway, his work totally resonates with people, so obviously he’s not doing anything wrong. And like he said, it’s great that people are actually paying attention to comics as valid social commentary, something that wouldn’t have been considered 20 years ago. The funny thing is that you can still sense how self-conscious he is about his work, especially his earlier stuff. It’s endearing.

Last night was the Atwater Poetry Project featuring Elizabeth Bachinsky and Carmine Starnino. Elizabeth was my favourite; she is such a great reader – charming and seductive and funny.

And some zine news!
“Cement, Flour, Saints” will soon be distro’d by the amazing Ms. Hipp’s My My distro. Also exciting, for those of you that have read the zine, an amended, edited version of the first section (“cement”) is going to be published in an upcoming anthology by the Montreal based small press, Invisible Publishing. I’ll post more details about the anthology when I know, but yay.

And I don’t think I mentioned it earlier, but there’s other book activity going on in our house – Andrew and his friend Michael will have a book published by Furnace Press about Buffalo’s grain elevators in September. Details are here: is a wonderful, erudite writer and you know how I feel about Andrew’s photos, so I’m obviously excited to see the end product.

Irrational behaviour

I was in the business program in university and although my concentration was on accounting, I essentially minored in economics, a field I desperately wanted to be really awesome at. I probably studied harder for my economics classes than I did accounting, and despite all the studying, I was only ever average at it. Eventually I realized it was because I was treating economics as a proxy for the English lit classes my practical (and scaredy cat) self had opted out of. I zoned out at the charts and equations and instead daydreamed about the metaphors of economics. Micro vs. macro. The concept of quantifying utility. Efficient markets. We touched on the economics or love and marriage in one class and I think I flipped out a little. I loved this stuff, the language of it, the concept of mapping all of our messy, human traits onto a grid. Anyway, I graduated and most of my real economics education evaporated away, leaving me with the superficial poetry of its nomenclature rather than the weight of real knowledge. But I was reminded of my interest in economics this morning reading this article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker that talks about “behavioural economics”. The concluding paragraph summarized the flaw with projecting human behaviour onto economic theory:

If there is any consolation to take from behavioral economics—and this impulse itself probably counts as irrational—it is that irrationality is not always altogether a bad thing. What we most value in other people, after all, has little to do with the values of economics. (Who wants a friend or a lover who is too precise a calculator?) Some of the same experiments that demonstrate people’s weak-mindedness also reveal, to use a quaint term, their humanity. One study that Ariely relates explored people’s willingness to perform a task for different levels of compensation. Subjects were willing to help out—moving a couch, performing a tedious exercise on a computer—when they were offered a reasonable wage. When they were offered less, they were less likely to make an effort, but when they were asked to contribute their labor for nothing they started trying again. People, it turns out, want to be generous and they want to retain their dignity—even when it doesn’t really make sense.

Three verities

The fun thing about living with a photographer is that I get access to books that I wouldn’t think about buying/borrowing myself – big, beautiful coffeetable books, certain art theory and criticism, etc. I was reading some essays in Robert Adams’ Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values and was particularly intrigued by an essay called “Truth and Landscape”, which tackles the question of what makes a landscape photography different from say, regular documentary reportage. It was timely because we had just come home from an afternoon spent poking around the little galleries at 372 Ste Catherine, and I had especially enjoyed the landscape photos of Lawrence Beck. I’ve also been recently thinking about Andrew’s photos, the types of landscapes he prefers, trying to contextualize them, I guess, explore different ways of understanding or appreciating them.

Lawrence Beck

Andrew Emond

The truth is that I’ve generally been the kind of person who likes photos “with people in them”, who can’t always sit still long enough to drink up the hugeness and the detail offered by a landscape photo. But this is starting to change now that I’ve actually started paying closer attention. I was also recently flipping through my Virginia Woolf books (yes, I flip a lot through my books, especially when I’m sitting at my desk trying to write. I figure it’s better than e-stalking via Facebook). I came across that section of To The Lighthouse that is simply a description of the passage of time. And then there are those big chunks of The Waves which are pure written landscapes.

Anyway, this is all to say that when I was reading that Adams essay, I came across this really elegant description he gives of landscape photography, and realized that it applied just as easily to writing and stuff I’d been thinking about, that it helped me string together my meandering thoughts on landscape photography with naturey writing descriptions. And it was kind of satisfying.

Landscape pictures can offer us, I think, three verities – geography, autobiography, and metaphor. Geography is, if taken alone, sometimes boring, autobiography is frequently trivial, and metaphor can be dubious. But taken together, as in the best work of people like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, the three kinds of information strengthen each other and reinforce what we all work to keep intact – an affection for life.


Saturday morning snowstorm writing tip

How can the poem and the stink and the grating noise – the quality of light, the tone, the habit and the dream – be set down alive? When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will on to a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book – to open the page and to let the stories crawl in by themselves.

(Cannery Row, John Steinbeck)