12 February 2016

we try not to talk about uncle jack at family reunions

in case you've ever wondered, i use all lowercase letters because i find the effect more aesthetically pleasing. there's an evenness to the text that looks better than the jagged chaos caused when you start including capitals.

and if you think about it, capitalization is completely arbitrary. each language has slightly different rules for what gets capitalized and what doesn't. german insists that you capitalize every single noun. dutch used to, but realised that this was a pain and a half and got rid of it. if you ever wonder why some people think german is an ugly language, it has nothing to do with how it sounds and everything to do with the fact that it looks like it's about to poke you in the eye with its many harsh capitals.

i would also have argued that capitals don't really serve any purpose. if i say something about 'venice', is there really anyone who's going to run to the dictionary because they assume it's some word they've never seen before? no, they'll more than likely realise that i'm talking about the city. and if you want to say that it would become confusing when you were dealing with proper names that also mean something different when used as a 'regular' word, allow me to remind you that we've been using 'lead' for centuries and the language has survived. [i might also point out that 'buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo' is a grammatically correct sentence and even if you insert the capitals, there are still different meanings in the uncapitalized words.]

for all their capital letters, germans don't distinguish between saying "i eat" and "i am eating". polish doesn't even have definite and indefinite articles [the/ a]. because germans and poles are clever enough to be able to figure things out from context.

but then the poor gentleman tasked with editing the stuff i write for heathen harvest [where i do use capitals] posted this on my facebook wall this morning:


ok, maybe in this one specific instance, it might help to have access to capital letters.

or maybe, given that my family have done some pretty unsettling things, maybe i'm just happy to leave things ambiguous.

i'm still going to continue with using all lowercase letters here on more like space. but i probably won't be discussing horses. or uncle jack. let's just leave him alone. 

10 February 2016

a story of unintended unintentions

i figure i might as well share this, since it's been a while without sharing a new piece of fiction here. this isn't exactly new, but it's new-ish, which is close enough for me. it's something that i didn't intend to write, but something that just came out one time when i started typing. most of the time when i do that, i end up with some sort of strange fragment that doesn't go anywhere but which may end up being folded into a larger entity at a later date, like adding the filling to a layer cake. 

it wasn't until afterward that i realised what i wrote so unintentionally is a story about someone who gets famous for something he didn't intend to write. i didn't intend for that to happen. 

this one is tentatively named "the icon", but i'm not completely sold on that. and i feel like if i give it a permanent name, it should be something that comes to me by accident, something i never intended to be a title. that's really the only way to go with this, right? 

once again, please remember that i don't publish finished things here, so there are probably mistakes and all that crap, etc...

*

All I ever wanted was to sit in a bar and make snide remarks about everyone I saw. I wanted to be a wit, to scribble down acid phrases that burned through the paper and into readers’ minds, but I wanted to do it from the comfort of a bar stool. Not a coming of age or a reflection of days past. Not treasured, human characters to whom the masses could relate. I never wanted to be acceptable in junior high schools. I wanted people to twist their faces away with each bitter, cutting phrase and then turn back, unable to imagine what could possibly come next.

How did this happen to me? I take my place at the bar and order a gin and tonic from the bartender who smiles at me with her doe’s eyes, the bartender I’d try to fuck if I thought she’d be anything but repulsed by the wiry and watery-eyed old man who mutters his orders and nods when she brings them. She probably thinks I’m unfriendly. She probably thinks that I don’t notice her. But she might be curious about me if she knew who I am. She might ask those same dull questions all university students ask me. So I don’t talk to her, because I don’t want our perfect relationship ruined.

Every year, a few news organisations contact me for my views on something. Mostly I turn them down, or I turn up hungover and irascible and angry and they wonder why they called me in the first place.

“But he’s a Canadian icon,” a producer will whisper. “He’s eccentric, but consider who he is!”

No, bitch, who I am is the asshole being difficult in your studio. The person you’re talking about is some fiction, the same as the only book of mine you’ve read.

I sometimes pick out something from the jukebox at this place, something rowdy and angry, done by young men or mannish young women with spit and vitriol to spare. I pick things that have curse words, as clear as the speakers can make them. I hope that people know it’s me choosing those songs. I want them to see what the man who eased their passing from childhood to young adulthood has always been.

“He’s really slid,” one bright-eyed young woman said mournfully to her companion (not knowing that I could hear, of course).

No, dear, I never slid. When I was banging out the words you held in your heart, I was thinking of banging sweet young things, trying to get in the pants of the departmental secretary at Bernard & Sons manufacturing. I got fired for how little I worked, and because the secretary eventually started talking to people about how persistent I was being. I got fired and left with the book that would make me famous, something I never thought I’d write.

It’s Alasdair’s fault. He bet me I could write something nice if I tried. He thought I had it in me. Something sweet about a boy becoming an adult in the grand old days, the fifties and sixties when everything was simple. And he was right, the bastard. I wrote it for him, only man I ever loved, wrote it to prove him wrong and I failed miserably. And having seen it, having sat in our favourite watering hole and read this milksop missive in a single night, he looked up over his rimless spectacles and said, “Well Isaac, you have to send this to your agent now.”

He bought the goddamned postage, stood over me until he saw the manuscript go into the mailbox and clapped my shoulder as we walked away.

“Just you wait,” he said. “Just you wait and see.”

I honestly thought it was terrible. I meant for it to be terrible. I meant for it to be saccharine and simple and boring and it was years before Alasdair told me what had really happened: enough of me had seeped through, enough of my shadow had been cast over what I’d written, to taint the sweetness just a little, to give the silver cloud a grey lining. That was what he’d meant when he said that I could write something adorable. He meant that even trying, I couldn’t help but be who I was- who I am- and that that would make the end product too memorable to pass up.

He never begrudged me any success. He’d never wanted to be successful himself. He was happy to be the crusty old professor, writing impenetrable stuff for half a dozen academics and me. I’d scratch out something crazy, misanthropic, drug-addled and he’d nod, tell me the rawness and the rage was becoming and then remind me that no one would agree to publish it. Always right, that son of a bitch.

I shared every penny I earned from my embarrassing success with him until his heart and liver finally gave out. When the Parkinson’s got too bad for him to teach, when the drugs started carving up his brilliant mind, I paid his rent. I fed him and took him out to the pub and watched his eyes, ever glassier, flitting around the room and had the only unadulterated pleasure of my life when he would smile a little in recognition.

I wished him dead for the trick he’d played, of course, and the truth is I was killing him by letting him mix whiskey and pills, but it was a death I knew he wanted. I kept the Parkinson’s from getting him. He died in his sleep with a smile on his face, like his last dreams were beautiful things that he chose never to leave. Bastard. I’m still here, suffering success and waiting for madness to take over.

I still love you and miss you every day, old man. When I eye the bartender, I imagine we’re thinking our dirty thoughts together and chuckling in that throaty, diabolical way we developed that acknowledged we were on the same wavelength and that we might as well laugh, because nothing would ever come of those thoughts anyway, so why shouldn’t we feel entitled to think them. (And his female students, even when they were stung all over with the fever of political correctness, loved him, gave him glowing reviews, praised his sensitivity and open-mindedness, because they could see through his cantankerous exterior to what he was inside. The bile was always mine. He was the hero.)

I drink to his health and then laugh to myself about it- drinking to the health of someone who’s dead. Now that is something I should put in a story. That is something that I could get behind. Last words of a false god.

08 February 2016

mental health mondays :: schizopanacea?

last week, while i was stuffing my face with pierogi [monday night has seemingly become pierogi night at our house] and watching electoral returns, i had not one but several people call my attention to one of the 'trending' pieces of news on facebook: major new research had been published that pointed to a new theory as to the cause of schizophrenia.

clearly, that's pretty exciting, because schizophrenia is like the shit cadillac of mental disorders. it's the one most likely to land you in a hospital or in prison. it's the one most likely to wreak havoc with your life. and it's the one that's hardest to treat, because all we've learned about it over decades of studying is that we know nothing about it. in fact, it wasn't so long ago that we posted a piece here on mental health mondays that looked at numerous possible explanations for what schizophrenia is and how it develops. what emerged in the last ten days is just one more of those theories, which is not to deride it, but to state the truth: being new might be exciting, but that doesn't guarantee that it's a breakthrough. determining that takes time.

you can read the research for yourself right here, in the magazine in which it was originally published. since it's in a scientific journal, much of the writing is technical, but it boils down to the fact that our own brains may be unwittingly responsible for making us schizophrenic. one of the many, many hobbies that your brain has is gardening. it prunes itself of synapses that it isn't using so that everything stays nice and orderly. as we pass from adolescence into adulthood, it engages in quite a substantial trim and the research that was just released indicates that it may end up eradicating certain synapses that it needs to protect itself from malfunctioning. afterwards, things get unbalanced and signalling starts to go awry, which we experience as the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

in its favour, this new theory has a number of positives:


  • it's scientific. that may sound ridiculously obvious, but you'd be surprised how many theories about disease we continue to entertain with no scientific background.
  • it's huge. there were 64,000 people from 22 countries involved in this study, half of whom were schizophrenic. the chances of the findings being anomalous are minimal. 
  • part of it is well-established. we've known for years that schizophrenics have a reduced number of synapses in the brain, but the link between this observation and the condition was unclear. 
  • the "pruning" of synapses does roughly coordinate with the most common age for the onset of schizophrenia, implying a possible causal link [but not proving it]
  • the pruning function appears to be unique to humans, which might explain why we're the only animals who develop schizophrenia


the bad news is that now we have to do more research. and most of that research won't be in order to build on what's just been released, but to repeat it. that's because the single thing that separates good from bad science is that, when you use the same conditions, you can produce the same results. so even if this science is golden, it will probably be many years before we find a drug that will address the concern. until that time, we're likely stuck with more or less what we have now: drugs that address the symptoms but not the disease. [which means technically that we treat schizophrenia in the exact same manner that we treat a head cold.]

i feel like i'm the bearer of bad tidings here, but i'd prefer to be thought of as the great manager of expectations. this research is a big deal, but it's principally important to the work of other researchers, at least for the time being. if we want to see results that stem from this work, we need to make sure that governments and private corporations are funding further research along these lines. that's the tricky bit. 

07 February 2016

success is fleeting

i hope that you all enjoyed our little sojourn in iowa and its ethanol-producing corn fields, folks, because now, we're moving on to harder stuff: the granite state. having duked it out late into the night [well, on one side, at least], candidates vying for the two plum presidential nominations for this fall's election have shaken off their wounds [theoretically] and regrouped in order to fight again on tuesday.

compared to the iowa caucus, the new hampshire primary looks like a much more settled affair. there is a very clear frontrunner for both parties and we can expect that both of those men will be giving victory speeches relatively early tuesday night. not saying that things can't change, just saying they'd have to change a lot.

as you've been able to tell, i've been paying closer attention to the republican side of things than the democratic side. that's not indicative of who i'm supporting [as if that weren't obvious enough] or because the democratic race isn't interesting [it is, but almost more for what it points to in the future of the democratic party and in america than for what it is going to accomplish in this election cycle]. the thing is, the republican race is hilarious and there are all sorts of places you can go for serious political commentary. [occasionally you can come here, but i'm much more prone to embracing the hilarity.]

coming out of iowa, national republican frontrunner donald trump had to choke down a hefty slice of humble pie, having been bested at the polls by a man who he insists isn't even american. [nice try, donald, but you elected it, you bought it. we are not accepting any returns north of the 49th parallel.] but the real story going into last night's in-between-the-voting debate was that marco rubio had not only surged into third place, but had nearly overtaken trump in second. the momentum was all his to lose. and boy, did he lose it. [sorry. should've given a spoiler alert.]

here's my [alphabetical] take on last night's proceedings ::

jeb! bush :: so close, jeb! so close. you finally landed a genuine hit against your bête noire trump, nailing him for trying to use the legal provision of 'eminent domain' [basically 'we're the government and we need you land now, kthxbye'] to try to evict an elderly woman from her home so that he could secure the land to build a parking lot for his atlantic city casino. for a party always leery of government overreach, it was a savvy shot to take. however, when he went back to his taunting ways, you fluffed what should have been your best line- "how tough do you have to be to evict an old lady?"- leaving the media to fill in the blank you left when you jumped ship mid-sentence. then you fell back into old patterns, getting mauled by the donald by seeming oblivious to the fact that much of the work on the keystone pipeline was to be done by private industry. seriously, how could you not know that? is it possible that w is the smarter brother??

ben carson :: you distinguished yourself from the beginning by not seeming to recognise your own name. once you did meander onto the stage, you joked that you hoped that the other candidates would continue to mention you, so that you were able to get more time on the mic. then i think you fell through a hole in the floor. true, you were momentarily visible when you went head to head with ted cruz about his campaign's attempt to convince voters that you had dropped out of the race. commentators afterward said you looked very angry, but i would more describe it as looking 'more or less awake'. i guess that's what passes for passion with you. also, you mentioned that one of your volunteers in iowa died, so now i'm worried you're getting stabby again.

chris christie :: dayum. you killed it. and by 'it', i mean marco rubio's momentum. you ate that guy for breakfast [not literally]. you were the tough-as-nails, practical christie that everyone vaguely remembers being excited about four years ago. unfortunately, for all that you had a strong performance, i think that the reaction of most voters was likely "he's right, these washington senate types aren't great- who else can we vote for?" consider it a cruel kick in the arse from fate: this was your strongest moment, and it likely benefitted people who aren't you.

ted cruz :: a lot of pundits said you got beaten up at the last debate, but i disagree. i thought you were targeted a lot, but i didn't think most of the salvos landed and apparently the iowa voters agreed with me. last night, however, it felt like you were off your game. it wasn't that you were terrible, it's just that you seemed even less interested in what was being said than i was. and by about ninety minutes in, i was checking premier league stats. i'm not sure what you were doing, but it was pretty clear that you know that new hampshire is not for you and that you've moved on.

john kasich :: don't tell anyone, but i think you might have emerged as the unlikely winner of the debate. with christie pounding the crap out of rubio for you, you had the opportunity to lay back a little and talk make the same points that he was- that you have experience making decisions with real consequences, not just drafting legislation- without having to look like a bully. christie even complimented you, which is something that none of us have witnessed. for months, you've been the one sitting on the sidelines rolling your eyes and screaming "the emperor has no clothes!" while people worshiped at the altar of trump. i think that it may finally be dawning on people that you're a pretty electable chap. well played, sir.

carly fiorina :: oh, wait. you weren't invited. small mercies.

marco rubio :: dude. what the actual fuck?!? as you did your speech on the night of the iowa caucus, i was pretty convinced that i was looking at the eventual nominee for the republican party. by the end of last night's debate, i wasn't even sure i was looking at a candidate. there have been rumblings that you're too slick, too stiff, too stuck on talking points to cut it in a real fight and when chris christie decided to needle you on that, you responded by going into full robotic meltdown mode. i'm pretty sure even christie thought you might be pulling his leg at one point, because no thinking person could possibly have collapsed so quickly and so spectacularly. but collapse you did and while pundits might debate who won the debate last night, no one is debating who lost.

donald trump :: well welcome back, son. absent from the last debate because you were scared of megyn kelly and having had your knuckles rapped by iowan voters, it was a slightly diminished donald that we saw on display last night. you got a massive round of boos for mocking jeb! bush, but you managed to turn that around fairly effectively by telling the television audience that those in the amphitheatre were big donors and special interests. i don't have any hard facts to back me up on this, but i feel like that might have been more effective than people realised. you generally sound out of your depth on policy issues and in the discussion on healthcare, i think people finally clued in that what you're proposing sounds a bit socialist-y, but you benefited greatly from the fact that discussions often turned on questions of finance and economics. i don't think you actually know much more about that than you do about anything, but you know more than your opponents and it showed. you did well, you fascist orange fuck.

so what happens now? well, if the polls are to be believed, donald trump wins new hampshire on tuesday. john kasich was in third going into this debate and was already nipping at rubio's heels for second, so i suspect that he's going to do well. rubio has forty-eight hours to convince voters he's not a complete nincompoop and no one knows how that's going to turn out.

on the democratic side, this will be bernie's great stand, but really, it's a state he's expected to win and it doesn't really carry the excitement that coming within a hair's breadth of victory in iowa did. the biggest issue for the sanders campaign at the moment is to figure out why their message is lost on black and latino voters, because it absolutely is. i'm not sure that hillary clinton's campaign is even facing obstacles right now. i can't imagine that they're going to cry about losing new hampshire and they're miles ahead in south carolina, which is where one really expects to see momentum start to shift in her favour. at this point, she can afford to kick back and watch people on the internet argue about the extent to which criticism of her is driven by sexism.

if you follow me on twitter, then you can expect my usual stream of consciousness textual diarrhea on tuesday. if you don't follow me on twitter, your life is probably better for it.

until then, let me just say... ech. i'm not saying anything. i'm having too much fun watching these people and pretending like there's no chance in hell they could end up running the world's largest economy and military. 

04 February 2016

making faces :: the super mega big big monster awesome colour pop post

colour pop may be all over the internet, but they're still a fairly new company and since this year, i've decided to spend more time exploring less covered brands, i figured it was time to see what all the fuss is about. i'm always a little hesitant to embrace new brands, not because i'm not curious, but because there's always that risk of disappointment and being left with the sensation that my limited [yes, it is limited] makeup budget could have been better spent on things from brands i've already grown to love. however, there's a lot less of that risk with colour pop, whose prices are so low, you'll think they've gone crazy. not only are they cheaper than any prestige brands or even the lower-priced brands at sephora, they're cheaper than most drugstore products. add to that the fact that they're american and still spell their name correctly [with a "u"] and you've created a scenario where i just have to give it a whirl.

in fact, i've given it a couple of whirls at this point, trying out their new twist-up eyeliners, their lippie stix lipstick, and their much-discussed super shock eye shadows and cheek products. as you might have guessed from that list, this is going to be an image-heavy post, so if you're outside and chewing through your data plan right now, you might want to pause and come back when you have access to wifi. i'll wait for you, don't worry.

this is a brand that's about youthful fun, splashy colour and newness. they've already become known for their innovative and highly pigmented formulas and their frequent new collections, including collaborations with bloggers, makeup artists and youtube beauty stars [or some combination of those things!]. you might think that that would make them an awkward fit for women of a certain age, or those who prefer a more subdued look to their makeup, but there's definitely something here for everyone.

i'll start off with the only disappointing products i bought, which were the crème gel liners. i don't have a lot of coloured liners, so i jumped at the opportunity to order three of these in lighter colours- that's that sense of adventure that kicks in when you find an interesting-looking product that's cheap enough to outweigh the risk of disappointment. here's what i got:

exit :: a matte snow white, which is incredibly useful for brightening the lower water line and making eyes look larger and clearer. the consistency was nicely creamy and it applied well, although it had a tendency to get a little over-eager and sneak outside the water lines if i wasn't careful. the lasting time was very good, which is surprising on me. normally nothing survives my water lines.

prance :: a lovely cornflower blue that i'd hoped would be purple enough to contrast against the yellowy blue-grey of my eyes. unfortunately, it doesn't really suit me, but what's more frustrating is that the colour payoff isn't great. it took a lot of passes to build the colour up to anything close to what it looked like in the tube, and it was a little uneven. it lasted pretty well, but because it was uneven to begin with, it looked a little patchy.

zulu :: a gorgeous light aqua/ turquoise that performed the best of the bunch. i was surprised at how much i liked this colour on me, because i felt it was the riskiest of the bunch, but it really brightens my eyes and, being a lively sort of colour, adds a subtle touch of fun and frivolity to any look. it'll be perfect for summer, when bold colours look great but you don't necessarily want the heaviness of pigmented products. this one also applied best of all and lasted incredibly well.

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