16. July 2006

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Mean Boy, by Lynn Coady

Mean Boy, by Lynn CoadyWith her third novel, Mean Boy, Lynn Coady takes several risks which leave the reader wondering: is this just another solidly crafted book? or might it qualify as something more substantial? My ambivalence on this point stems from the nature of the risks she takes. The first risk is the novel’s subject matter — poetry. Coady tells the story of a young man, Lawrence (Larry) Campbell, from rural Prince Edward Island working class roots, who aspires to be a poet and so crosses the Northumberland Strait to attend a small mainland university, drawn there by the Big Name Poet, Jim Arsenault. We sit in on poetry workshops and readings where students evaluate one another’s work, sometimes nasty, sometimes clueless, most often hungover. Is the poetry banal? Is it pretentious? Could it hold the kernel of an emerging talent? Who’s to say? How can anyone really be sure? Just as the students engage in back—stabbing and petty jealousies, so too their mentors. Rural Jim Arsenault bears a long-standing grudge against urban Derrick Schofield and this rivalry has worked its way into nasty reviews of one another’s work. Do the reviews contain any legitimate observations? Or do they merely reflect the clash of strong personalities? In the end, all this writing about writing acts as a tacit invitation for the reader to scrutinize Coady’s work in the same way. Is the novel banal? Is it pretentious? Could it hold the kernel of an emerging talent? At the very least, one must say of Coady that she has confidence when she openly invites such scrutiny.

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12. July 2006

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toronto outdoor art exhibition

David HynesA friend of ours, David Hynes, was showing his mixed media works (i.e. collages) in this year’s iteration of the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition down at Nathan Phillips Square. The show itself was a mixed bag, trying (a little bit unsuccessfully) to walk that narrow path between popular appeal and artistic integrity. There were scads of artisans displaying their neo-romantic pap that would be sure to tug at the heart strings – and purse strings – of the genteel folk from the burbs. But there was also a sizable gathering of artists who know what they’re doing. This popular/legitimate dichotomy is pretty much analogous to the comatose/wide awake dichotomy. Most of us, most of the time, are asleep to the more immediate ways our culture touches us; sadly, some are narcoleptic; but for most, we find ourselves periodically jolted from our slumbers so that we can participate for a time. I’m pleased to announce that, when we ran into David Hynes, he was wide awake. His collages are ample evidence of this. His collages look in two directions: they look backward with an obvious debt to their sources, but they look forward with strikingly surreal images that are fresh and have an immediacy that makes it easy to believe (mistakenly) that they have been digitally generated.

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5. July 2006

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Blogging for jesus and other lame ideas

I finally caved in and implemented a blogging package so that I can blog like the rest of the world. For two years now, I’ve been trying to do it my way. I started posting my rants on an old-fashioned html site. I did this, in part because I didn’t have MySQL on my old host, and in part because I just wanted to maintain absolute control over the look and feel of the site. Theoblog_2.0 was a conversion to flash because I was getting bored of the static pages and wanted things to look a little more dynamic. The problem with flash is that search engines can’t index content embedded in shockwave files, so nobody was visiting my blog. There are workarounds to the indexing problem, but these are the same workarounds that porn sites use, and so the search engines tend to ignore the workarounds too. The world was getting to be a lonely place, so I ditched the flash project and started looking at PHP/MySQL blogging systems, and settled on Serendipity, which released its 1.0 version just three weeks ago. At the same time, I have gotten serious about getting listed on blogging directories, and improving my ranking on search engines. So here it is: Theoblog_3.0. I have joined the rest of the world but, as is the case for all compromises of this sort, I have given up a measure of control. Finally, readers can post comments. But I give to readers some control over the direction of the threads that may unravel from my initial entries. Finally, I can post via a browser, which gives me greater flexibility about where I am when I make my posts. But that flexibility comes at a cost – Serendipity (like Movable Type and Typepad) imposes limitations on page layout.

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4. July 2006

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A model for dialogue with the religious right

I have agreed to serve as webmaster for the westhill.net website. It’s funny how what began as curiosity soon turned to commitment. I wanted to see for myself what all the fuss was about with Gretta Vosper and Progressive Christianity. There had been an “exposé” in the United Church Observer, and then a flurry of letters to the editor from people telling her to get the hell out of the church. So last summer I went to her church to see for myself if she was as corrupting an influence as some would have us believe. I would just be an observer, I told myself. But they needed a/v help and there I was. Now, I find myself attending every week, doing the sound board thing, doing the powerpoint thing, capturing it all on video, uploading the video to westhill.net, podcasting the meditations, now the webmaster gig, and this Sunday I was lay leader. Things have gotten way beyond being just an observer.

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27. June 2006

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Fearless – Toronto’s Pride Parade 2006

Sunday June 25th, 2006. The culmination of pride week (Fearless) in Toronto was the parade. I heard there were a million people at the parade. In fact, there were a million and one. I decided to go at the last minute, but didn’t have a ticket, so I crashed the party.

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16. June 2006

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Not All Violins, ed. Charlotte Caron

Not All Violins, ed. Charlotte CaronNot All Violins, ed. Charlotte Caron (Toronto: United Church Publishing House, 1997)

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16. June 2006

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The Tent, by Margaret Atwood

Tent, by Margaret AtwoodI despise Margaret Atwood. Living as I do in Toronto, such a statement may come off sounding like blasphemy. How can you say such a thing? ask the pious onlookers. It is precisely because I am from Toronto that I despise her.

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10. June 2006

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Dixie Chicks and terrorists in toronto

At first, I thought this was going to be two separate rants, one about the Dixie Chicks selling out in Toronto and another about the recent arrest of 17 suspected terrorists here in Toronto, but, in an odd way, the two events are connected.

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6. June 2006

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Convergence, but my cell phone still sucks

Before Christmas, Rogers was advertising 6 months free on a 2 year family plan. With 2 teenagers who are getting harder and harder to keep track of, maybe it was time to join the 21st century and equip the whole family with cell phones. Well the initial 6 months of “free” service has passed and so it’s time to assess this wonderful deal we got. The bottom line: it sucks — Rogers and Motorola have teamed up in what appears to be an attempt by each to underperform the other. Let’s go step by step through the features of our package.

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4. June 2006

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Membership has its privileges

My daughter is thirteen and Sunday June 4th is the date set for her confirmation. Traditionally, confirmation is a rite of passage, a transition from youth into a full and adult participation in the life of a church community. A cultural anthropologist would have a field day trying to describe all the ties that exist between the rite of confirmation and the coming-of-age celebration which can be found in virtually every primitive culture. The minister, like the shaman or the witch doctor, takes the young people apart for the dispensation of secret knowledge, and empowered by these secrets, the young people undertake an ordeal which proves their readiness to assume their new role. Football teams do it. Frat houses do it. Why not churches?

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23. May 2006

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The impulse to collect things is inherently sexual

Andrew Jackson postage stampWhen I was a kid, my parents bought me a stamp album, one of those albums of the world with pictures of all the stamps from every country, countries listed in alphabetical order, stamps arranged in chronological order. I tried my best to finish the album, but I was a few stamps short. I didn’t realize that the album included photos of the earliest stamps issued in Great Britain and the United States, stamps with only one or two known specimens in the world, stamps worth millions of dollars. I just assumed that if I looked hard enough, I’d one day find them all.

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17. May 2006

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Luck be a lady tonight

Gambling seems to be everywhere. There are state-sponsored lotteries, charitable lotteries for hospitals, scratch-and-wins, casinos, charity casinos, casinos on reservation lands, sports pools, horse races, raffles as school and sports fund-raisers, bingo halls, office pools, on and on. So widespread is the practice that we have ceased even to consider that it has an ethical dimension. And those churches and social organizations which do have something to say about gambling are largely undermined or ignored by their own membership. For example, the United Church of Canada has articulated a comprehensive policy regarding gambling and has framed its concerns in terms of social justice issues. And yet most of us who claim an affiliation with the UCC either are unaware that such a policy exists, or we look the other way. We keep buying our lottery tickets and rationalizing it by saying: “What could be the harm? It’s only a few dollars here and there.” For my part, there have been times when I have bought lottery tickets. Who hasn’t? And there are times when I’ve agreed to chip in a few dollars for a pool — not wanting to dampen what is, after all, just a social activity. I even have relatives who have run a horse in the Kentucky Derby, so who am I to rant about gambling? And yet … and yet …

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14. May 2006

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Journaling

A Pen and a Path by Sarah StocktonAbout 12 years ago, someone suggested that I keep a journal. Since then, and in widely different contexts, several others have made the same recommendation. At first, I didn’t know where to begin. A blank page can be daunting. Should I fill it — like a daytimer — with the trivial details of my day-to-day living? Or should I gush with the intimate cares of my heart? Or should I give abstract consideration to political and philosophical matters? Journaling is not a guy thing. When my daughter was first learning to read, several different people bought her diaries — the kind with a lock and key — but no one thought to give one to my son. Generally, it doesn’t occur to us to cultivate in boys the art of setting things down in writing.

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2. May 2006

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She could see from my face that I was fucking high

on sunday, my daughter (the lovely girl doing her trampoline thing in the picture) had her first confirmation class. the minister, to his credit, asked the kids to bring along a song — whatever they happened to be listening to — so that he could get a feel for where they are in their lives. so my daughter asked if i could burn “you’re beautiful” to a cd for her. i’ve heard the song on the radio; maybe you have too. james blunt sings about love and heartache and sounds like one of those sensitive guys — you know the ones — the guys all the girls fawn over — the guys parents would love their daughters to go out with. then i listened to the song. wait a second. did i just hear the word “fuck?” i looked up the lyrics and discovered that there is a radio (i.e. sanitized) cover & a cd cover. i pointed this out to my daughter and she confessed that she doesn’t really listen to the lyrics, but just likes the feel of the song and hadn’t really noticed before. ok, i said; i just wanted to be sure she knew. so she took her song with the word “fuck” to church.

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10. April 2006

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What does an author think

There are 11 more days until my last paper is due, and then I’ll have put to bed another year of studies. I’ve just completed a smaller paper for another course and thought I would post it here even though I haven’t handed it in yet. Why post it? Two reasons come to mind.

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