Dawn McSweeney has been writing for years: short stories, poetry, even some journalistic pieces for this very site. Now, she has finished and published her first novel, The Hills We Climb By Accident.
“The story lent itself to the length of a novel,” McSweeney said in a phone interview, “I started writing it with the hopes that it would be a book, but I’ve done that before and they don’t always get there. This one did.”
McSweeney did try self-publishing once before, back in the early 2000s, which meant actually paying for paper and doing it yourself. She finds that now there is much more opportunity for authors to get their work our there, but, of course, there are limitations.
“There’s no support, there’s no net, there’s no person who is the expert who is guiding this whole ship, it’s kind of like ‘here are some words, I hope they stick’,” she observed, while also noting that her daughter’s friend got her book as an Amazon recommendation, so “maybe there is a fair shot to be had.”
Location may have played a part in that recommendation as McSweeney’s book is set in Montreal, which, as she puts it “not enough” are. This choice was, in part, because it’s what she knows, but also due to some of the unique aspects of life in our city.
“People tell me that in other places they don’t use parks the way that we do. We treat a park like a beach and lay out in a way that in other cities maybe they don’t,” the Montreal born and raised author observed, noting that “the things we take for granted and just process every day are actually flavourful experiences that are site-specific.”
McSweeney grew up thinking that if you set your story in Canada, it will be considered just a Canadian story, without the prospect of getting traction internationally. However, she now feels that a Montreal story is different.
“We’re OG hipster in that way,” she observes, “we have that caché of a very small space that we have injected so much personality into.”
Family relations also play a big part in her story, too. And one planned plot point was unexpectedly mirrored in McSweeney’s own life as she was completing the book.
“I didn’t plan for that to happen,” McSweeney observed, “and it was strange to be writing about that concurrently.”
The Mountains We Climb By Accident follows its central character Talia from the present day, to a few years prior, to her childhood, then back to a few years ago, then back to the present, then to her teenage years and so on. It reads like several short stories woven together thematically rather than chronologically.
McSweeney says she chose this structure to better emulate how a person actually thinks:
“We are just a collection of our disjointed experiences,” she explained, “they are all each a chapter and are all each a separate narrative. You can remember something from your childhood so poignantly and then completely forget a conversation you had last week. One becomes the afterthought and one becomes the centerpiece memory. Sometimes I struggle to write something in a straight line because that’s not how it feels when I experience it.”
You can experience this unique narrative structure and a story based in Montreal right now.
St. Laurent Boulevard is set to lose a jewel of a bookshop as rising rents force a beloved bookseller into early retirement after 25 years.
On October 26th workers from 1-800-GOT-JUNK carried armfuls of books to the back of a dump truck. Inside Librairie T. Westcott, hidden behind stacks teetering on the verge of collapse, Terry Westcott sat behind the cash and sold books like it was a regular day.
The customers seemed more or less unaware that the bookstore he had run for so many years was being taken apart piece by piece behind him. For his part, Terry seemed to be playing along with the facade.
“Do you have a copy of Old Man and the Sea?” a woman asked. Terry smiled and pointed to a shelf a short distance away. “If we have any Hemingway it’s in the Literature section. But I don’t think we do at this time.”
“Oh well, I had to ask,” replied the woman and headed for the Literature shelf, dodging a worker clearing out books as she passed.
Outside, it started raining. The worker dutifully dumped his armload onto the growing pile of soggy books. “Don’t worry, it’s going in the recycling, not the dump,” the worker offered, as if trying to downplay some sense of personal culpability.
During a pause in the dramatic scene that was unfolding, I got a chance to ask Terry about his bookstore, why it was closing and his fondest memories of the place. Soft-spoken to the point of a whisper, he graciously obliged.
“My lease ended September of last year in 2016. Then in June the landlord came and told me that he had advertised the store for rent online and he’d received an offer of $4500 a month. There’s no way I can maintain a used bookshop at $4500 a month.”
Terry told me he would stay open as long as possible, until he was locked out. Some books would be donated, some would be sold, but most were headed for the dump truck.
“Yeah, it’s all going into the recycling. Around 20 000 books, altogether. It’s ridiculous.”
The inability to meet exorbitant rental fees is a familiar story along St. Laurent Boulevard. Every block of The Main contains at least one or two shuttered businesses. While Quebec has excellent rent control legislation in residential zones, small businesses like Terry Westcott’s survive at the whim of landlords, who can increase their rents to whatever price they can get from new tenants.
The loss of Librairie T. Westcott is a blow. A small store, Terry made use of every square foot. Organized by subject, piles of books reached close to the ceiling in places and navigating the aisles was sometimes a challenge. Whether Terry planned it this way or not, it had the effect of making each ‘find’ more gratifying, especially if you did it without causing a bookvalanche.
This is not to say things were disorganized. Once I laid down a number of heavy books I’d wanted to buy and when I came back for them five minutes later discovered that Terry had silently placed them all back in the their respective sections.
“A bookstore is a community, not just a business.” Terry said. Apart from hundreds of customers drawn in off the street, dozens of dedicated regulars came through his shop each month. “I read a sociological study that if a bookstore’s in the area, the crime rate drops by 30%. Somebody told me that Paris protects their bookshops [from rent increases]. I don’t know if it’s true or not.”
When asked about his fondest memories, he tells me it’s the community that he helped foster that he’ll miss the most: “People that are still book buyers and have a passion for books.”
He’ll also miss his two devoted regulars: “I had two little cats in the store and they’re a very fond memory. One died at 19, the other at 18.”
Their names? Emma (after Jane Austen) and Eliot (after T.S.). “The veterinarians could never get his name right, spelling it ‘Elliott’ like Pierre Elliott Trudeau.”
I ask him what he’ll do after he retires.
“Well, I’m 74 but I don’t want to retire. I’m still healthy and mentally active, I was hoping to continue. So I have no plans in particular. Maybe I’ll watch golf on television, read the newspaper. Maybe I’ll take in another cat, an older one. They have their lives to live too.”
At the time of writing, hundreds of books have been trucked away. The entire back wall is now bare in preparation for renovations by the new tenant.
But one thing is certain— as long as he can manage to keep his doors open, Terry and Librairie T. Westcott will continue to enrich the community he helped foster for the last quarter century.
* While it’s still open, T. Westcott Books is located at 4065 boul. St-Laurent
Currently one of the hardest things to do as a writer is cover the explosion of nepotism, treason, espionage, bigotry, misogyny, greed, and comical idiocy that makes up the 45th presidency of the United States. Nothing so pointedly demonstrates this difficulty than Allan J. Lichtman’s book The Case for Impeachment.
Allan J. Lichtman is a legend.
A distinguished professor of history at American University in Washington DC, he has successfully predicted the outcome of eight US presidential elections. In November 2016 he predicted that the Orange Con-Man would win the election, and that he would be impeached. It is therefore no surprise that Lichtman and his publishers worked to get this book out before any such proceedings could take place.
After a couple of introductory chapters explaining impeachment rules, Lichtman, chapter by chapter, launches into a full scale indictment of the Orange Buffoon.
It’s a good book, but it’s incomplete. It’s incomplete because it could have used the notion of impeachment to make a broader point about the state of American politics, but didn’t, and it’s incomplete because that Entitled Orange Bully damns himself too quickly for most writers to follow.
The book is focused and because of that, it’s an easy read. In each chapter Lichtman talks about Cheeto-Head’s conduct before and after taking office, ties it to a legal issue or an aspect of the President’s character, and then argues it as grounds for impeachment.
Before we get into the indictments in The Case for Impeachment, we need to talk about impeachment itself.
What is Impeachment?
Impeachment does not guarantee a removal from public office. It does not fire the president. What it does is act as a formal charge of misconduct that can be brought against the president, the vice-president, and all civil officers in the United States. The power to impeach is vested in the US Congress, consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, though only the Senate has power to remove an official from public office following an impeachment.
The process works like this: any member of either house in Congress can draw up articles of impeachment aka charges against said public official. The House can approve or reject article(s) of impeachment, usually following an investigation, by a simple majority vote. If the House votes in favor of impeachment, the accused is impeached.
The case is then brought before the Senate which holds a sort of trial. Each side can present witnesses and the president is allowed to use his own lawyer if he wants. If the one facing impeachment is the president, the case is presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, currently Justice John Roberts, who has had clashes with the current president before.
Once the trial is heard, the case goes to the Senate, which acts as a sort of jury. It takes a two thirds majority in the Senate consisting of sixty-seven votes to remove an official. If convicted, the president would be removed from office and lose any privileges and immunities he had in office, and the vice-president would take over.
In the nineties, the House voted in favor of impeaching Bill Clinton, but because he was popular at the time, his opponents failed to get the sixty-seven votes needed to remove him, thus allowing Clinton to finish up his term.
Grounds for Impeachment
According to the US Constitution, the president can be removed from office “for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” According to Lichtman, this has historically been given broad interpretation allowing for impeachment due to conduct before or after taking office. Lichtman also contends that a conviction for any of the aforementioned acts is not pre-requisite, just the fact that the president did them. That said, there is also the Emoluments clause in the Constitution that says that:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”
An emolument is a salary, fee, or profit, and the notion of emoluments is especially relevant given the mounting evidence that the Orange Administration and the Russians colluded with one another.
Lichtman’s indictments of Nacho-Face are numerous.
He talks about the president’s war on women, mentioning sexual harassment charges and disgusting entitled behavior. Unfortunately, his chapter on the subject does not go far enough. He refrains from mentioning accusations that the president sexually assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl while at a party of now convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, a friend of the president who prided himself on procuring underage girls for rich men. It does not address the Orange Bully’s remark that women who get abortions should be punished.
Lichtman also talks about the president’s disgraceful business practices, pointing out that for a man claiming to be for getting jobs for working Americans, his track record suggests a preference for employing illegal immigrants because they’re more easily exploitable. He mentions the man’s denial of climate change, but perhaps unwisely implies that the Syrian refugee crisis was largely due to it, when we can all agree that drought does not make evil leaders do what Assad has done.
In an extensive chapter devoted to Russia, the author describes how deeply entangled the president’s businesses are with forces in Eastern Europe. He also devotes chapters to the Orange administration gross disregard for the Constitution, the law, and basic human decency.
One of the best things about this book is that it is fundamentally an American work. There are little to no comparisons with other countries or leaders and refrains from references to international history.
This perhaps is a mistake.
The Orange Administration is doing what stereotypical Republicans have dreamed of: an America where the poor look to people of colour and immigrants as the source of their misfortunes, allowing the upper one percent to hold onto their wealth by cutting their own taxes, effectively destroying American healthcare, education, employment, and infrastructure.
History has taught us that people eventually catch on to who is really hurting them, and as the French Revolution teaches us, a reluctance of the wealthy to help the poor leads to catastrophic civil unrest. If the White House isn’t careful, they may one day be faced with an angry mob and a guillotine.
In February of 1990, Barack Obama was the first black person elected to head the Harvard Law Review. The presidency of the Review is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.
It’s therefore fitting that in his final days as the first black person to hold the highest office in the United States, Barack Obama has gone back to his roots by publishing a piece in the Harvard Law Review. His essay is called The President’s Role in Advancing Criminal Justice Reform and was published on January 5, 2017.
The article is many things. It’s well written and it’s footnoted so you never have any doubts as to where Obama is getting his facts from or whether he’s making them up. It puts faith in you as a reader because there’s never a word wasted. On the other hand it also requires you to do some visual acrobatics because his sources are cited within the text, requiring you to skip over the citations to read the rest of what he’s saying.
His piece is also a little self-aggrandizing, but unlike the incoming president, all the things Obama says are substantiated by facts. He highlights his tackling of racial profiling as a legislator in Illinois and all sources indicate that he did just that.
In 1999 he proposed a bill against racial profiling after hearing that police were pulling over drivers simply for being black. When the bill failed, he revised and reintroduced it over and over again until it passed in 2003, making a point of publicly saying that “race and ethnicity is not an indicator of criminal activity.”
He also mentioned pushing for the videotaping of police interrogations as a requirement for interrogations and confessions in all capital cases. A measure he helped to pass in Illinois.
As President, he used his power of clemency to pardon or reduce the sentences of 231 people, many of whom had been punished for minor, non-violent drug crimes under tough anti-drug laws. The impact of this gesture is huge, for unlike other pardons, presidential ones wipe away the legal consequences of previous criminal convictions.
Obama hints at his frustrations battling a Republican Congress determined to undermine him during his presidency. Though he successfully passed the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010 which eliminated mandatory minimum sentences for simple possession of crack cocaine thus reducing excessive punishments imposed on people of colour, he had no such luck with the Smarter Sentencing Act.
The Smarter Sentencing Act was a bipartisan – meaning supported by both Democrats and Republicans – bill that would have reduced mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent drug offenses from twenty years to ten, and given judges greater discretion regarding whether or not to impose said sentences.
Despite support across party lines, many Republicans were skeptical of the bill and it never made it to the floor of Congress. The same happened with the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, a law that would have reduced more mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and offered credits to prisoners who participate in rehabilitation programs. The Republicans tabled that one to death in November 2015.
Despite Obama’s frustrations with Congress in his attempts to pass progressive criminal justice reform, he constantly highlights his respect and faith in the American people and the rule of law.
In a none-too-subtle warning to the incoming president, Obama writes that the President “does not and should not decide who or what to investigate or prosecute.” He praises red states like Georgia, Texas and Alabama for reducing sentences and investing the money saved on incarceration in other public safety programs that help those affected by mental illness and substance abuse, many of whom had previously ended up in jail.
At the same time Obama highlights all the problems with the American Justice System: the systemic racism, overly harsh penalties for non-violent offenses, the excessive use of solitary confinement, and the economic problems caused by the US’ excessive use of incarceration. He points out that the US incarcerates 25% of its population and that the cost of maintaining so many prisons and the people within it is both “unnecessary and unsustainable.”
Though Democrats are widely accused of being fiscally irresponsible, it’s Republicans that always seem to be pushing for harsher penalties that increase the American prison population, thus straining state and national budgets regardless of whether or not it makes people safer. Obama quotes Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates who pointed out in November 2016 that every dollar spent on excessive sentences is “a dollar we don’t have for investigating emerging threats, from hackers to home grown terrorists,” a point that is especially relevant amidst widespread acknowledgement that the Russian government hacked the election to get an orange bigot into office.
Obama’s article reflects his awareness of the higher standard he was constantly being held to. In America people still seem to expect women and visible and sexual minorities and younger people to perform worse than middle aged white men at the same jobs, no matter how despicable and lazy individuals of the latter are.
Though the United States has less unemployment, a decreased federal prison population, and more people with health care due to Obama’s efforts, entitled rich white men are still questioning whether or not he was a good president. Obama clearly knows that he had to be beyond reproach during his time in office and while he did not achieve all he had promised – Guantanamo Bay has yet to be closed, for example – as a president he came pretty close despite all obstacles.
Regardless of what Barack Obama did or did not achieve, the one thing to take from his article is a warning that all the good that he did in his attempt to do right by the American people is in danger of being undone when a racist misogynist Russian puppet takes office on January 20, 2017.
Jacq the Stripper, aka Jacqueline Frances, is an insatiable female force of nature. She is a true “Jacq” of all trades: writer, stripper, illustrator, comedian, and inspiration to us all.
In her highly anticipated new show and book The Beaver Show she reveals a more intimate side of being a stripper. In the book she lets us in, deep, and tells us about her tour from Australia to New York. Now with the help from her friends, fans, and former lovers’ Kickstarter support, she is coming back on tour to her favorite place in the world, Montreal!
I was lucky enough to ask her a few questions. As a burlesque dancer myself it was interesting to hear her perspectives and comments about girl power and body positivity. She does what she wants and takes inspiration from some of my favorites.
Go see her show and support beauty and bawdy artistic freedom, you will regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t. I’ll be the guy sitting in the corner jacking off. See you there! Splash zone in the corner. 😉
Here are a few excerpts from her incredible book The Beaver Show that you just have to buy and have her sign for you:
“I dance. Naked. For large (and occasionally insultingly modest) sums of money.”
It all started five years ago in Sydney, Australia when she was just 23: “I still wanted to be a traveler, just not a poor one anymore. So I shaved my legs and bush, showed up to the first Google search result that came up for ‘gentlemen’s club Sydney,’ got naked for this old fat guy named Jim and, to my surprise, I liked it. A lot.”
Stripping is about feeling powerful, sexy, and endlessly curious about how far a dude’s kinks will go (‘show me your armpits’) and how much he is willing to pay for them ($1200).
And the money’s sexy.
The Beaver Show Tour is coming to the area (Did you just cum in your pants when you read that? Are you even wearing any pants?)
January 20 2016 8pm An Evening with Jacq the Stripper @ Chez Serge, Montreal $20 for the book (incl. free cover) or $5 cover
January 22 2016 The Riff @ Le Nouveau Theatre Ste. Catherine, Montreal $7
January 24 2016 9:30pm Crimson Wave Comedy @ The Comedy Bar, Toronto $5
January 26 2016 7pm An Evening with Jacq the Stripper @ The Side Door Barrie, ON $10 advance / $15 door
January 27 2016 @ The Beaver Toronto ON
1) So you are just a writer that strips right (sarcasm all day there)? When did you decide to write a book? How long did the process take?
I’ve always been a writer, and when I started stripping I couldn’t NOT write about it. My first day ever was over five years ago, so I guess you could say that’s when I started writing it. After a torturous year or so of trying to nab an agent, I published it in October 2015.
2) What was your initial response to David Bowie’s passing? How has he influenced your art?
It was a very sad morning when I found out. In my first year at McGill, one of my teachers told us to choose an ‘artifact that symbolizes modernity.’ Most people chose things like ticketing machines or nylon stockings… I chose the persona of Ziggy Stardust and went on to write a 25-page paper on him. I got the paper back and my professor was like, “This is a stretch for what I assigned… but clearly you are very passionate about David Bowie. B+”
He did whatever the fuck he wanted and man did he ever commit to it. I knew he got dressed every single day not giving a fuck about what other people thought of him. His talent and his image were inseparable and it was clear that he enjoyed that. He’s a legend in my heart and in all the manifestations of my creativity.
3) Congrats on meeting your Kickstarter goal! Have you ever seen the Amanda Palmer “Art of Asking” TED Talk? Have you ever thought of doing your own TED Talk? What would you title it? I’d so watch it! You are an inspiring lady.
Thank you! I guess my stand-up is a little preachy and story-telling-y, so maybe I’m already a TED talk in the making… albeit a raunchy one. I haven’t seen Amanda Palmer’s but I’ll be checking that out very soon! What’s their policy on profanity? I have yet to eradicate swearing from my set. It’s just too important.
4) I respect that you are a touring artist and strive to do that more with my own burlesque show. Do you have any advice? How did you get your tour off the ground? Is it hard to be married and touring? Do you have any pets at home? I often think I need a tour bus that is cat friendly because I couldn’t leave my lil fur babies.
No pets no babies low rent and the most encouraging, grounded wife in the world is how I can even fathom going on this tour. Kickstarter certainly helped make it all happen, which really just means I have a community of people who believe in me. I would not be able to do it without the support of my friends, family, and randoms on the internet who are stoked about my mission to humanize sex work and spread the gospel of happy sluts. The tour is only just beginning so I can’t speak to its challenges yet. BUT THERE WILL BE PLENTY, I ASSURE YOU.
5) You are performing in Montreal this week. Tell me about your show? Does it vary based on the night?
The Beaver Show book tour is a different show every night. I like to invite local brains and talent to collaborate, as I don’t think I’m at the one-woman-show point in my life yet. I have my stand-up act, but that’s only part of it. In Toronto, for example, we’re having Victoria Lean, a brilliant filmmaker, host while I tell jokes and riff from the book (I hate reading aloud – I think it’s boring) followed by a Q&A with musician Leah Fay from July Talk.
6) Montreal is my favorite city in the world! What is your favorite Montreal adventure story?
It is my favourite city in the world, too! I spent five incredibly formative years there and I don’t even know where to begin because my whole life there was an adventure. I mean let’s just talk for a minute about how cheap the rent was: I had a two bedroom apartment all to my damn self for $600 a month. It was above GoGo lounge, so it was loud as fuck but I didn’t care because I never slept. I painted on my walls and ate $2 chow mein with peanut butter sauce on it when I was hungry… Oprah should have really interviewed me about living my Best Life.
7) Do you have any comments about censorship? Male nipples vs female nipples on social media? Have you experienced censorship firsthand?
BOOBS FEED BABIES. Start censoring male nipples, please. They’re not as pretty AND they are LITERALLY useless as fuck.
8) Do you consider yourself a feminist? What would you like a young girl to take from your show?
I AM A RAGING FEMINIST. I will shout it from the rooftops.
My show is 18+ because I talk about very adult issues. But I know that young girls are going to see it anyway, and to them I will tell them “It’s your body and don’t let anyone shame you for it. Do what feels right and always take a minute to make sure you’re doing what you want and not what you think you should be doing.”
9)Who is your biggest artistic influence? I also see that you just performed in Baltimore and your book is sold at Atomic Books. How has John Waters affected you and your work?
Oh my god John Waters is one of my heroes. I’d like to make movies as delightfully crass as his one day. He revels in bad taste and doesn’t have a pretentious bone in his body. He is so curious and has lived a life where he’s done whatever he wants, whether it’s film, books, stand-up comedy or hitchhiking across America. Whenever I get discouraged about pursuing my dreams, I remember that he made Pink Flamingos with $10 000. He inspires me so say whatever the fuck I want without worrying about the approval of elitist tastemakers. The more people won’t let you in to their club, the harder you’ll try to build your own.
10) I’m a big fan of your illustrations! Did you go to art school? If so how do you think it prepared you for your current path?
I was in an art program in grade 9, but that was eons ago… I just started doodling to illustrate what was being said to me at work. Now I treat my art like a new platform for my storytelling, plus it’s so goddamn therapeutic. Seriously if you can’t afford therapy, buy a sketchbook. And if the thought of drawing stresses you out, buy a colouring book. You will feel better.
11) Any other tid bits you would like people to know about you? Where are you from? Like long walks on the beach? What’s your sign? Ect….
I’m Canadian, from Ontario although I claimed Montreal for a while. Now I’m just an expat. I only say I’m from New York when I’m trying to book venues (it works).
I’m an Aquarius, I love blue cheese, swimming and giving close friends shitty makeovers.
￼Buy my book! It’s called The Beaver Show, and you can get it on Amazon. Or go to your local independent bookstores and beg them to stock my book. If you have time to do that I would be eternally grateful.
* Featured image by Andy Boyle
* An Evening with Jacq the Stripper @ Chez Serge, 5301 Boul St-Laurent, Wednesday January 20th, 8pm, $20 for the book (incl. free cover) or $5 cover
* The Riff @ Le Nouveau Theatre Ste. Catherine, 264 Rue Sainte-Catherine E, Friday, January 22nd, $7
I first picked up Adeena Karasick’s book of poetry (one of her nine books), Dysemia Sleaze, back in 2006. I picked it without even knowing what the book was about or who it was written by.
I liked the title, though. I knew I was reading something next level. It was like mathematics in words and symbols. It all made some intuitive sense before I could actually make sense of it.
Almost a decade later, in the quest for knowledge of self and existential liberation from Babylon, while working on a farm in BC, I sought the opportunity to build with the Kabbalist, mystic, scholar, international poet and multi-media artist.
I had just read her her latest book titled This Poem. I wanted to learn some science from her about language, technology and the Kabbala. As I anticipated, Karasick dropped that knowledge.
Jesse Chase: You’re a feminist poet so I want to ask: does language have the ability to combat patriarchy? And would you make a distinction between feminism and a radical feminism?
Adeena Karasick: This Poem (Talonbooks, 2012) is a deeply ironic, self reflexive mash up re-inscribing subjectivity as a kind of contemporary archive of cultural fragments: updates, analysis, aggregates, contradictory trends, threads, webbed networks of information, the language of the ‘ordinary” and the otherness of daily carnage.
The self becomes a kind of euphoric recycling of information (shards, sparks) and thus speaks to how we are continually reinvented through recontextualization, collision, juxtapositions of defamiliarity as we process and re-process information.
Is this radically feminist? Perhaps in the way radical poetics is, in the tradition of the avant-garde foregrounding fragmented identities, irony, skepticism, a sense of self as other or outsider, a distrust of the literal, and belief in a tradition that questions rather than answers — As per “radical” i think its useful to think about it as a radical number, which is both rational and irrational, relational. And if radical comes from the Latin radicalis “of roots” I am committed to a writing where roots are re-routed, detour and “dangle”…
I’m particularly interested in ways language can both express and alter meaning; how we use language, masage its affect, shapes the way we think, breathe, behave. Thus, most of my project engages language in a way that undermines, questions or problematizes any kind of patriarchal premise – that there is a message, that can be clearly communicated, transmitted, that there is some truth outside of language, structures of logic, borders, orders, laws, flaws, codes— rather my work opens up a space that celebrates slippage, ellipses; all that is unsaid through veiling and unveiling, a multiplicitous heterogeny of ever-increasing otherness.
So yes, a highly feminist act – of intervention, disruption dissent where the discourse is all rapturously fractured and fraught with fission, elision. Not marked by censoring but by sensors, a re-sensed sensorium of incendiary sonorities.
What you say in ‘memewars’ of “read backwards or forwards, it re-interprets itself in an infinite process of self-replicating metastability through a virally multiplicitous linguistic praxis…Mem…signifies a hermeneutic process through its name.” Can we abstractly play ‘deconstruct the name’ as a sort of activity? Infinitely re-interpreting itself ‘through its name’. Do you care to riff off this? Is it a thought provoking device or activity? Like the Kabbala?
Whether you call it Kabbalistically-infused semiotic analyses or deconstructive investigations, meaning is always hiding in the words themselves. So, I don’t know if it’s a device per se, a methodology, a hermeneutic practice, but I can say that I spend an inordinate amount of my life recombining the alphabet, wearing it as a series of labyrinthian veils, inhabiting it as an ideological emporium of self replicating metastability that houses all potential meaning.
As evidenced per se with the 231 cycles of meaning in the Sefer Yetzirah:
Everything is connectable, dissectible, detectable. So, yes through the work, there is nothing I love better than the explosive jouissance of simultaneous reference whether it be cycling through dictionary definitions of words etymologies, phonetics, graphic resonances, social, political and cultural traces cycling through webs of knowledge structures, naming and renaming through synonymy, ignonymy homonymy, hymnonomy, anonymy…
Take my 1994 title Meme wars. Mem (or mayim, (water), referencing all that flows, is the 13th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, appears in the middle. Kabbalistically read, (joined with the first and last letters of the alphabet), Alef Mem Tav, spells out truth:
Mem shows how truth is always constructed in process. And moreover as the center of the alphabet, it highlights how it’s always found in the middle of language; en medias. And if the medium is the message, Mem stands in for the Law of the excluded middle, that center is always a myth, is a process of dissent, and speaks to ever-shifting perspectives.
Another linguistic echo comes through the French word, mêm(e). Meme is the self same. The same and the same is always other. This referencing a meme as a unit of culture energy virally replicating itself in and through language.
Though I must say, in 1994, when I wrote Meme wars, in no way did we know what the explosion of the internet meme as we now know it would be. All to say, that even the word itself (in whatever language) inscribes how we can never fully replicate anything but infinitely interpretive and re-generative. Re-invented. Made new. In a complex of simulacric echolalia.
Do you think the Kabbalistic logic of ‘creative misreading’ effectively challenges the ‘frame’ in a way that can be applied to a “new art” — a(e)s(th)et(ic)?
Well, like in Derridean deconstruction, which is not so much an anarchic free play of signification but questions the foundations of thinking praxis, reading from specific lenses, perspectives, codes, acknowledging we are never separate from them, Kabbalistic hermeneutics isn’t exactly “creative misreading”, as there is a system of reading called PARDES (paradise) where one spirals through the literal, metaphorical, analogic and secret/hidden layers of interpretation. Cycles through syntactic axis, gates of entry and resistance.
Does it offer a frame that can be applied to art? Absolutely. Endless analysis, interpretation begets further interpretation, re-visitation provokes different readings, spurring new understandings of the wor(l)d. For Kabbalists, Creation was enacted through the letters. The Midrash describes God “looking into the Torah to Create the World,” and with every reading, we re-enact this process of creation or re-framation as the case may be.
And as such, it becomes a highly political act as it combats any reductive settling into an overarching unsubstantiated mode of reading, and instead points to ways we may enter into a fluid space of ever-generative explosive meaning, acknowledging the ideological codes and lenses from which we are actively interpreting from, however slippery and elusive and shifting they may be. And perhaps this is where aesthetics / ethics elide —
Would you have any suggestions as to how we could redefine what’s generally not considered technological, i.e. logic and language, and invent an activity that would itself be the redefining exercise, like the Kabbalah for example. Something that techno-poetically redistributes aesthetic values and disrupts technopoly. In other words, do you think we can use the seemingly negative attributes of a ‘technopoly’ to our advantage? And if so, how?
For me, language is a technology and at bottom is a prime mover in the re-distributes of aesthetic values. But, with that said, digital media allows me certain other freedoms and axis of entry. Unbound, it foregrounds the materiality of language in a virtual arena of eroticism, a freedom of acoustic and image and visual fragmentation bifurcation foregrounding the slipperiness of meaning.
Increasingly I am playing within this field — whether it’s the construction of videopoems (lingual Ladies, I got a Crush on Osama or incorporating filmic projections in my recent Salome project (where in collaboration with Abigail Child, mashed up the 1921 Charles Bryant film with my text overlaid), or my recent obsession, pechakuchas:
Incorporating voice and text and image and animation, gifs and sound poetry, is an analytical meditation on the relationship between technology and spirituality in contemporary media; highlighting how the mystical and the machine are not oppositional, but that “all media are extensions of man that cause deep and lasting changes and transform our environment” (McLuhan) and opens not a physical vs. metaphysical, but ‘pataphysical space reminding us how language and thereby all knowledge is spectral, virtual, simulacric. Technopolis. A virtual city to live in.
As I headed to the book launch of vegan chef Maria Amore last week, my mind wandered back to a day in high school health class. During the class we were shown a video which graphically detailed all the destructive ways smoking ravaged your body. Being the mature, thoughtful teenager that I was, after watching the video I of course promptly went outside and lit up a cigarette. Being told how bad it was for me only made me crave the thing more.
After discussing veganism and trying out some treats from Cooking with Amore, I wondered if I would experience a similar feeling of rebelliousness? Would I leave the book launch and crave a hamburger afterwards? Living on my own, the cost of food is usually the deciding factor of what goes into my shopping cart. Like many others I’m sure, the life of the animal and its journey to the grocery store is honestly something I’ve never given much thought to.
I’m sure my outlook on food consumption would be very different of course if, like Amore, I was faced with a serious illness. Amore’s first career was in law. And with the long hours and intense pressure that came with being a corporate lawyer, Amore had no time to think about food preparation and nutrition. Because of this, Amore says, eventually her body succumbed to exhaustion.
“With the medical doctors at a loss as to how to help me, I decided to take matters into my own hands and started learning about nutrition,” Amore writes in the preface to her cookbook. While studying nutrition, Amore was horrified to learn about the truths behind factory farming and made the decision to become vegan. Combining her new belief system with her love of cooking, Amore knew she’d found her true calling as a vegan chef.
Amore became so adept at promoting her new profession online (including writing an FTB food column for two years) that she was recently offered an exciting new career opportunity.
“I was approached by investors who’d seen my Facebook page and asked if I’d like to run a vegan bistro in Mexico,” Amore told me during the book launch, grinning widely, “living in a tropical climate has always been something that’s interested me, so it wasn’t a hard decision. And because of the bistro, I’m thrilled to be able to donate all proceeds from the cookbook to the SPCA animal shelter.”
Amore left Montreal last Friday, and Bistro CasAmore will open later this year in Mexico.
Leaving the book launch I did not end up going for a hamburger, but instead thought about trying out some of Amore’s recipes like vegan shepherd’s pie, Portobello burgers and curried chickpeas with couscous. Unlike my teenage self, I am finally beginning to understand the importance of a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
I did finally quit smoking two years ago but I fully admit I still have a long way to go before I can truly say I lead a healthy lifestyle. Moderating my meat intake and combining it with more vegetarian and vegan options seems like a pretty great start.
Here is a recent interview Amore did with Global Montreal promoting her book:
When I was about fifteen years old, I borrowed my mother’s credit card to order a product that I’d seen frequently advertised on television. It was the Time Life five CD collection of the great masterworks of classical music. And I devoured it. It consumed my life for months, this world of music I was only perfunctorily aware of before that I now immersed myself in. It shaped the course my musical tastes would take, and, I daresay, helped shape who I became.
To my family and friends, this sudden obsession with classical music no doubt came out of an apparent left field. But to me, though maybe then I couldn’t pinpoint exactly why, it made perfect sense. Because at that time in my life, and for years before, what was I filling my time between school and boyhood monkeyshines with? Well, the gritty, pulsing underworld of Metroid; the sprawling epic grandeur of Zelda and Final Fantasy; and, of course, the foot-tapping capers of those Mario Twins (especially that delightful undersea waltz).
I came of age in the era of the SNES, and was a child of the NES era. The lush musical woodland of my adult years was sprouted from the 8-bit seeds buried deep in my brain early on. These melodic bleeps and bloops were what led me to more sophisticated musical art. But, in his book, Maestro Mario, author and musician Andrew Schartmann argues that these digital ditties were not simply stepping-stones to bigger and better things in contemporary art and culture, but valid–and important–works of art in their own right.
He makes the case with the conviction and confidence of one with a great deal of knowledge about both music and video games; and whether you’ve ever sat around a smoky basement couch having your mind blown that the Moon level theme from Duck Tales is as good as anything you’ll hear in a concert hall, or the thought of video game music being anything more than trivial background noise has never crossed your mind, Schartmann will have you convinced that there’s a lot more going on behind these tunes than first meets the ear.
He takes us from the glitzy beginnings of video entertainment sounds in casinos, to the breakthroughs in the severely limited environments of Pong and Space Invaders, and through the Renaissance of Nintendo’s and third party developers’ output for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It’s a far more exciting journey than one might expect, and he makes it easy and compelling no matter your level of knowledge of either music or video games. Example figures abound, and it makes for an even more informative read if you take the time to seek out the musical examples that help illustrate the author’s point (having YouTube open makes this remarkably easy to achieve).
The technical aspect of what makes these machines produce the sounds that they do is covered succinctly and with enough simplicity that it could easily be understood by even those among us who think Nintendos are magic boxes what I can make the pitchers move in. And, along with the more minute details of how and why, the importance of these sounds in our culture is put into context.
It’s a book for lovers of music, lovers of video games and their history, and lovers of video game music past and present, and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in any combination of those. For me, it helped achieve a better understanding of music I love, reminded me of a few gems I’d long forgotten about hearing or playing, and gave me a little more perspective on why it felt so natural for a teenage boy to suddenly buy a Time Life box set of music he saw on television.
I read The See twice, and both times it took me several unsuccessful attempts to read it all the way through in one go. It might seem easy when you hold the book in your hand and browse quickly, as the written section are few and far between and artwork inhabits most of the pages; however the reality of carefully understanding it as a work of literature and art becomes a clearly harsh uncompromising task.
The passages are immaculately written in an almost childlike simplicity, which is the more difficult to swallow when you start to partially comprehend what the subject is about, and the subject cannot be put to simple terms. You cannot understand it all, and you and I could talk about it nonstop and still fail at reaching an agreement.
The beauty of this book, like the artwork in it, is that it is all up for interpretation and analysis, and what ultimately strikes you is as personal as your deepest, darkest memory. The book conjures up emotions, secrets, recollections that you might have locked away in those rooms of your mind and long since thrown away the keys.
That is precisely what we do. We protect ourselves. We lock away bad memories and horrifying happenings. Because otherwise we would not be able to function in a “normal” socially acceptable way. If you and I had the option of releasing our inhibitions and for one minute dredge up all our memories, the result would be screaming, crying, suicidal, messed up specimens that would be, on any other day, locked up in a mental institute.
No matter how hard we try, however, we cannot rid ourselves from these memories, because even though they might be repressed unconsciously, they will resurface and sooner or later we will have to deal with them consciously. Yet, all is not lost here, because along the way we develop certain skills and the mental knowhow to be able to come to terms with our past, even though it will upset and mentally scar us for the rest of our days.
All that has been said is of course conditional and comes into play uniquely for each individual. How I deal with my psychological problems is not and will not be the same as the way you or others deal with theirs.
What this book does in describing a very disturbing turn of events that ultimately causes destruction of an individual, is force you to face your own demons. You close your eyes; you scream mutely; you clench and grind your teeth; you shudder and curse; you “bitterly regret and pour forth bitter tears, but cannot wash those grievous lines away.”
The story is close to my own heart as I’ve had some personal experience with psychological issues and abuse, however I do believe that the events described and elegantly put to words here are universal and have a common connection with everyone in human terms.
A few weeks later than expected, I finally got my hands on a much anticipated short story collection Serial Villain by local writer Sherwin Tija. It took a little longer since the book caught the attention of my editor, who got sucked into the dark, sexy, and mysterious world of the illustrated tales crafted by Tija and so, free from its captor, I quickly devoured the book in a day. The book launched last week at The Mainline Theatre, where Sherwin often hosts quirky events like The Strip Spelling Bee, Crowd Karaoke, and Spring Slow dances with his company Chat Perdu Productions.
Serial Villain is a small brick of a book playing with the (delicious) tropes of genres like film noir, spy tales, and police stories to name a few. In these pages, there are villains galore, at every turn it seems, in the shadows, in the mirror, and even in the past.
There is a blatant and unapologetic eroticism in these tales that packs a punch, literally in some cases. Toying with morality, desire, and the notorious plot twist, Tija crafts a literary experience that can be likened to that of watching a series of films located in a city; films that have you blushing and looking over your shoulder hoping no one sees what you are reading out of context, especially in the case of “The Trouble with Hitler”, one of my favorites of the tome.
Along with “The Trouble with Hitler”, some highlights include “The Nethers”, which delves in the otherworldly and would make for a kick ass television show. Then there is, “At Night All Cats are Grey”, which twists and turns with the unexpectedness of when villain meets villain and finally, “For Love or Money”, which considering my recent Archer marathon and recent James Bond education from friends over at The Cineclub: The Film Society, happened to be just the right spy treat replete with delightful references.
First in the Cinder Block Books series, Serial Villain is just what the doctor ordered to get your heart racing and your paranoia thriving.
Literature is an endless permutation of themes. But, what happens when you mix zombies with Biblical stories? Stant Litore created the Zombie Bible, an ongoing re-imagination of our cultural heritage with an important twist–more zombies, more horror and managing to be relevant to our day-to-day life. I’ve been reading The Zombie Bible ever since its first volume was released in 2011. Despite being irreligious, its religious tones and themes didn’t put me off. The book doesn’t seek to preach and convert. Rather, it relates to the struggles of humanity against the swarms of the hungry dead.
The latest book, Strangers in the Land, follows the story of the prophetess Devora the Old. She sees what God wants her to see, and she finds herself called north. The zombies have returned, and the People are in danger. What was interesting about Devora was how well her inner strength was displayed. As a woman in 1190 BC, prophetic visions or not, she had to fight to be heard and recognized in a society where only men could hold power. There’s a constant aura of personal danger that permeates the story. Not only from the zombies, but from the men who are supposed to protect and travel with her. Every gesture and comment can be read with the subtext of imminent violence. Devora’s calm determination and sense of duty set her apart from the other characters, but her response to things that test her faith and perceptions are what really serve to humanize her. While you might find yourself rolling your eyes at her anti-heathen outbursts and almost unfeeling adherence to the covenant, Devora seems like a woman you could meet at the story, or on the job.
The setting of ancient Israel was so well done that it was like I stepped through a time machine. The worldbuilding was painstakingly done–the landscape, down to the tents and the trees was authentic and beautifully described. The city of Walls, the camps, the zombies and the shared history merges together to create descriptive quality seldom seen outside of literary fiction. Nothing is held back or censored. The beauty of the land is coupled with the terrible destruction brought by the undead to form a chilling representation of what the past would have looked like with zombies.
In the end, The Zombie Bible is about people–our ancestors’ struggle with the undead. Strangers in the Land is no exception, but Litore does an excellent job of writing a heroine fighting for life and justice in a terrifying and unjust world. Even if you’ll never read The Bible, give The Zombie Bible a try.
B-movies are the best movies. Tired of being disappointed by Hollywood’s cliched offerings, I’ve been seeking refuge in the depths of cheesy goodness for a while. Watching a b-movie is like falling down the tunnel to Wonderland. Here are my picks for the most enjoyable form of masochism that exists today:
Spoiler: there are no trolls in Troll 2. Yes, I feel cheated. Instead, there are the most poorly done goblins imaginable.
Troll 2 is what happens when you let a contestant from Death Race 2000 run over your story idea and careen into your production staff. There has been a documentary made about how objectively horrible this movie is.
I couldn’t look away. I do not know of a descriptor that is worse than atrocious, and it applies in equal measure to: the special effects, the acting, the script, the storytelling, the hair (1990 bad perm power!). If you decide to watch this movie, make sure you hit pause every time you roll your eyes or laugh out loud. What is idiotic now fuels something even stupider a bit down the line.
Feast is a relatively new monster horror film. IMDB thinks it’s also a comedy, and I do agree that there’s a comedic element to the film. However, I doubt it was intentional.
A group of people are trapped in a bar as monsters attack. These monsters are big, weird furry nymphomaniacs who eat people. The special effects are passable, but the technology available in 2005 by far eclipses anything available in previous decades. It’s still a guy with a scary glove punching through windows and exaggerated forced screaming from the cast, but it’s prettier.
I was first introduced to Death Race 2000 by my brother. I have yet to thank him for the joy this movie has brought me. Featuring the best of cheap 1970s special effects, a young Sylvester Stallone, and a whole lot of 70s hair, this movie blends car racing with a dystopian science fiction universe.
If you’re a gamer, it’s like Carmageddon, but with a plot. The movie makes no sense, but in the charming b-movie way that makes perfect sense. It’s not objectively horrible, in the way that the above are, but it is very special. Let’s just say that.