Monday, December 15, 2014

mike mason | miles

It all began the Christmas that Ben was nine. He put a little too much tape on his brother’s present.

“What did you do to this thing?” Miles complained. “Encase it in concrete? Here—you take it.”

With a flick of the wrist Miles winged the present straight at Ben, crashing it against the wall behind him.

“Boys, boys!” yelled mom. “It’s Christmas.”

But it was no use. Miles and Ben were already rolling around on the floor in a lethal embrace, and their Christmas present that year was getting sent to their rooms.

The next Christmas, Miles hadn’t forgotten about the over-wrapped present. He swaddled Ben’s gift in as much packing tape as he could get his hands on—making it look like a solid mass of congealed glue. Ben had to take it to the basement and saw it open.

After that, the Christmas present thing became a kind of game. Ben put Myles’ next present inside a wooden box and screwed it shut, then tied the whole thing with pretty ribbons of barbed wire.

The following Christmas, Miles led Ben to the kitchen, pointed at the freezer, and told him to open it.

“You’re giving me food?” said Ben.

Inside was a huge block of ice. In the middle of the block, far away and blurry, was what looked like a small scrap of red Christmas paper.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” said Ben

“It’s up to you,” said Miles. “Put it in a glass of pop maybe? Or toss it in the back yard and wait till spring.”

For the next few Christmases, it was all about the wrappings. Each year they became more ingenious, more impenetrable.

One year Ben really did encase Miles’s gift in concrete.

The year after that, Miles welded his inside a metal box and buried it in the back yard, where Ben had to locate it with a metal detector.

Another year, when the town re-paved the road in front of their house, Miles had to bribe a friend in the public works department to cut through the new pavement.

But the next year, Miles got the better of Ben, sinking his present in a lake; forcing him to cut a hole in the ice, and use his cousin’s diving gear to retrieve it. And so, on it went.

Miles was Ben’s adopted brother. As the years passed, the two communicat less and Miles began hanging out with a different crowd. His behavior got wilder, and wilder. At eighteen he was finally sent to prison for ten years after wounding a police officer. That was the end of strangely wrapped Christmas presents. From now on Miles himself was the hidden gift, wrapped behind steel bars. Ben visited him a few times but there was little to say and no getting to him.

At age twenty-one, Ben became a Christian and began to pray for Miles. Prayer, he figured, was better than a hack saw or any Global Positioning System. But though he prayed with great faith, nothing seemed to happen.

Several years later, while visiting Miles in prison, Ben mentioned that their parents were moving.

“What? Selling the house?” Miles looked startled. After a long pause, he said, “Well, I might as well tell you then. You know the big oak tree in the backyard? Take a metal detector and sniff around about six feet up. Inside the trunk you’ll find a surprise. But I don’t know how you’ll get it out without cutting the tree down.”

When Ben finally retrieved the present, he was awed. It was a beautiful Rolex watch, engraved with his initials entwined in a cross. Miles had never given him anything so personal. The more Ben thought about it, the more he wanted to give something as meaningful in return.

Around that time their dad, an aeronautical engineer, happened to land some work on the Canadarm for the International Space Station. Ben was able to pull some strings, and that Christmas he proudly announced to Miles that his present was in orbit around the earth. Miles was impressed. As a kid he’d been interested in space and dreamed of being an astronaut. Ben desperately wanted to reveal what the gift was, but of course that would have broken the rules of the game.

The following year Miles was released on probation, and one of the first things he did was to contact Robert Thirsk, a Canadian astronaut. One night around two a.m. the phone rang.

“I gotta hand it to you, Ben. You almost got the better of me this time. But that star sapphire ring you gave me—it’s real pretty.” After a pause, Miles added, “Thanks.”

And so another year passed, another Christmas rolled around, and Myles re-offended and was sent back to prison. Ben went to visit him for the prison Christmas party. As they chatted, Miles tapped Ben on the shoulder.

“By the way, maybe you’ve heard about the new mission to Mars next year? Well, your Christmas present will be going along.”

“Mars?” Ben said in astonishment.

“Yeah. After orbiting Mars it’s going on to some of the other planets, and eventually it will leave the solar system.”

With that Miles started laughing, laughing so deep and long that there was no more talking to him.

Ben never did find out what was on that spacecraft to Mars. But every time he looks at his Rolex watch, he wonders: That cross engraved on the back—was it just for him, or did it mean something to Miles too? Another insoluble mystery.

Some gifts, Ben figures, have to wait for eternity.


from 21 candles

rory holland | dark, then light

I am not getting used to it being dark in the afternoon. The light is giving up too soon. It’s ceding territory like it doesn’t care. Night is too insistent and day isn’t up for the fight. A couple more weeks of this until the tide turns.

This is the way things end every year, with a belief that it can only get better. It will get light again. There is a new beginning on offer. Advent. Hope. Waiting.

I am wondering if all the lights and energy around the pending holiday distract from the opportunity to let the dark be dark, and the quiet be quiet. Might all the noise blur the true contrast of now and then.

I’ve wrestled with Christmas over the years. I think much of it comes from having expectations rather than anticipation. I have already decided, with the help of the standard narrative, what it should be like and feel like. I have set the bar, and am most disappointed when it doesn’t come close to reaching it, which it rarely, if ever, has.

I already know the end of the story. There is a Solstice, the night does finally give up. There is Christmas. There is a New Year. I don’t have to dictate terms – they are there already. Rather than decide anything I can just let it happen. I don’t want to get ahead of myself. One day, as short as it is, at a time. Before taking on and embracing anything new, there is the letting go and resolving what is already here. The night time has its reasons.

The light is coming, in due time, just not yet.


Tuesday, September 02, 2014

ron reed | the great canadian poem


Ashes Are Butterfly Bones Made Of Light And Dust:
God's Bones in their Wings
for Peter Norman

His bones are light,
(radiant, bone-barred):
Even the smallest bone 
in his inner ear, the bone chapel—
bone etchings,
bone song,
bone dance,
bone dream,
bone silence.

Old momma teach me nerve ends
made of juniper and bone,
bear bones and feathers,
bread and not bone;
the bone broker.

Here is a bone resembling a word;
milk tooth bane bone
seed-bone and hammer.

When the bone fragments arc to earth
the bone's song will be pulled,
descending to my ankle-bones.
The wind picks up the dust from the ashes,
the white of bone;
your bone, Morgan's bones, lean and boneless,
the jazz-loosened loose bone thing he is.

We will have only bones to hold;
the bone ash of
a red herring-bone skirt clasped with a bone button
buried among femurs and knuckle bones
where the bones 
of the child are hid.

The stone’s praise
for the sparrow’s ankle bone
rising like a frozen flood
of stone bone birds on the wing singing.

I'm chilled clean through to the bone.


by Ron Reed
with Margaret Avison, Leonard Cohen, Joy Kagawa, Lorna Crozier, Lorne Daniel, Daniela Elza, Moira MacDougall, Michael McAloran, Cassidy McFadzean, Kath MacLean, Jill Battson, Joe Blades, Louise Halfe, Ben Ladouceur, Dennis Lee, Christine Murray, Carol Shillibeer, Anne Simpson, Elizabeth Zetlin, and Robert W. Service

*

What the critics are saying;

"Cuts to the bone and then into the bone, to find the marrow." Turtle Island Native Network

"Most of all it’s felt experience, what’s close to the bone – feelings, emotions, combined with a sense of craft." Cyril Dabydeen

"The poem does not hang straggled and bone-whitened like rags in the bleaching sun. His engagement is with a burned and ruined corpse left out to dry and fossilize with its rag-remnant of torn flesh and chilled bone, an empty jaw-bone, a leaving from a physical life. Here is a victory-song for life pushing up through human-remains, detritus, stink and bone." Bone Orchard Poetry

Sunday, May 11, 2014

may 11, 1926 | tolkien + lewis meet



Eighty-eight years ago today, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met.

The English Faculty meeting began at 4:00, May 11, 1926 at Merton College, Oxford. The previous year, Tolkien had been appointed Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, and Lewis had been elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College. 

It was heady stuff; a proposal to co-ordinate lecture schedules with tutorials, the need for lessons in pronunciation and beginners' outlines of literature. Lewis wrote in his journal that "Tolkien managed to get the discussion round to the proposed English Preliminary examination."

The two men spoke after the meeting. "He is a smooth, pale, fluent little chap – can't read Spenser [Lewis' favourite author] because of the forms.... Thinks all literature is written for the amusement of men between thirty and forty.... No harm in him: only needs a smack or two."

Before long, Lewis was attending "The Coalbiters," a weekly study group Tolkien had initiated earlier in the year to read aloud from Icelandic sagas and myths in the original languages – something of a precursor to the Inklings, I suppose. A year later Lewis wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves, "We have so far read the Younger Edda and the Volsung Saga: next term we shall read the Laxdale Saga. You will be able to imagine what a delight this is to me, and how, even in turning over the pages of my Icelandic Dictionary, the mere name of god or giant catching my eye will sometimes throw me back fifteen years into a wild dream of northern skies and Valkyrie music." This experience of "northernness" was at the centre of Lewis' spiritual longing – the "joy" in his spiritual autobiography "Surprised By Joy" – which flowered into faith between 1929 and 1931, Tolkien playing a critical role.

Tolkien's passion for Nordic myth fueled a mostly secret project, the creation of complete histories, languages and geographies of the world which eventually became the setting of his Middle Earth stories. The summer of 1926 – within months of meeting Lewis – is the earliest possible occasion on which Tolkien may have scrawled the words "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" on the back of a student examination paper, though it is more likely to have been two or three years later. By November 1929 the two men were meeting together regularly, talking well past midnight about "the gods and giants of Asgard."  On December 6, 1929, Lewis read Tolkien's "Lay of Leithien," the essential story of The Silmarillion – perhaps the first Middle Earth story Tolkien shared. 

In February 1933, Lewis read the mostly complete first draft of The Hobbit, and it is likely that The Inklings were begun in the fall of that year. By December, Lewis's brother Warnie writes in his journal that he sees less and less of his brother every day because of the friendship with Tolkien.

Because Tolkien's journals are not readily available to scholars, we don't know that date of the following entry, but likely soon after the famous Addison's Walk conversation of September 19, 1931. "Friendship with Lewis compensates for much, and besides giving constant pleasure and comfort has done me much good from the contact with a man at once honest, brave, intellectual - a scholar, a poet, and a philosopher - and a lover, at least after a long pilgrimage, of Our Lord."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

robert farrar capon | apostate from the religions of health


"Isn’t it true that the eating habits of most Americans are killing them?”

My answer is no. People die because the human race is mortal. What they eat may cause them to die sooner (much sooner if they eat strychnine; less soon, perhaps – barring plane crashes – if they eat Hollandaise sauce). But in any case, some time before they reach the age of 120, they will die; and no religion of eating, however perfectly obeyed, will make the slightest difference in that.

Therefore, the last secret of the cult of nutrition – the mystery to be guarded at all costs – is that the implicit promise of immortality (which is the principal selling point of the whole religion) is bunk. The idol in the innermost sanctum doesn’t just have no clothes on; it is even there. But the faithful must scrupulously avoid facing that fact. The one question they must never ask is whether indefinitely on a diet of tofu and organically grown green leaves–without even salt to perk it up, or wine to wash it down, or a nice smoke to top it off–even vaguely resembles living as the human race in its earthly wisdom has defined it.

That, you see, is the big question. And on that, I am one hundred percent apostate from all the religions of health. I am simply tired of uplift, whether at the table, in the armchair, or anywhere else. I am sick of all the pious types who gasp when they watch salt a dish on the stove or put butter and cream in mashed potatoes, or leave a respectable amount of fat on my pork chops when I smother them with onions. I am mortally insulted by snide signs thanking me for not smoking. And I flatly refuse to believe that well-being is in any way furthered by ill-living.

Oh, I know. You want me to qualify all that. You want me to write a paragraph on moderation – or at least a sentence that makes a bow to religion of health – by calling the things I enjoy my “vices.” Or by referring to my smoke-shrouded end of the dinner table as “the sinner’s corner.” But I won’t. A moderate life to me, is about as exciting as a moderate love affair, or a moderate marriage, or a moderate banana split. I want a terrific life. So you write the paragraph yourself, and let me get on with my immoderate pursuit of happiness.

The net result of the religions of food is non-cooking, non-dining, and non-living.


from 
Health, Money and Love (and Why We Don’t Enjoy Them) 
by Robert Farrar Capon

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

richard klein | eating like a frenchman



Richard Klein first started coming to Paris as a teenager from a small town in Pennsylvania, and has essentially constructed an entire life around the feeling that he got in Paris. He went on to become a scholar and a professor in the Romance Studies Department at Cornell University, author of several books, Eat Fat and Cigarettes Are Sublime, which are deeply suffused with a sensibility that is partly just un-American, or anyway, semi-Parisian, a sensibility that is all about the small pleasures of everyday life.



Richard Klein: "You know, the French have a much more uncomplicated and much less guilty relationship to their body, beginning with eating, not only the way they eat, but the pleasure that they take in eating. I mean, the American notion that food is medicine, for example, is totally repulsive to the French. And yet, increasingly in America, that's all you hear. I mean, people eat only as a function of what they think is good for them. And nobody in France would eat strictly as a function of what was good for them."



 from This American Life 165: Americans In Paris

Thursday, February 06, 2014

photos | measure for measure out-takes

The Honest Fishmongers' production at Pacific Theatre features tons of scenes in gorgeous low light, and candle light - which means the photo shoot yielded many pictures that aren't much use for the usual promotional purposes. But I quite like a lot of the discards, so I'll post some of my favourite "not ready for prime time" images from the show. 












Saturday, January 11, 2014