mirage, some thoughts from a Victorian gentleman

Walking home yesterday I found a pile of books and magazines on the sidewalk. Old Architectural Digests and paperback thrillers mostly, but also one really weird-neat thing. As far as I can tell it's a self-published journal written by one James Charles Simpton, about whom the internet tells me absolutely nothing. The book runs from 1860 to 1874, sometimes entries happen daily (or almost) and sometimes, mainly near the end, there are huge gaps (hello June 1872 to January 1874).

He never mentions working but seems to have money that he spends mainly on religious icons and statuary, illegal pornography, and food. A lot of it is vague and I sometimes wish he had more specific things to say. About this Elizabeth Morris woman specifically, rather than just writing more shit poetry about her ashen face and blood red cheeks. Woo woo, racy!

It's neat mostly because it's there, a person from a different era complaining about stuff (train was late, winter turnips are the worst, etc.), and I guess in that way we can draw some blog parallels.

HOWEVER, there are parts where he does more thinking, his take on religion being a good example. To Mr. Simpton Christianity is number one and Catholicism number one within Christianity, although at the same time he considers defending a specific religion as the "one true" anything to be beyond practicality. He likes Catholicism best and everyone else is free to dance beneath a full moon at their leisure. Fair enough I say, a reasoned personal argument on his faith and the belief structure he takes most solace from. BUT THEN he footnotes a few suggested changes to the traditional Latin mass; everything looks largely the same - church, robes, incense, chanting and whatnot - but instead of everyone listening passively, the service is more like an elaborate orgy pantomime (fair enough) with only very brief and seemingly unsatisfying sexual contact. What's the point of that bud?

I don't know if he ever figured out what is obviously a complex relationship with his faith, but in the book's final entry, and the apparent end to his diarist career, he expresses some very specific feelings about the economy (SPOILER ALERT: he isn't super positive). I've typed out Simpton's thoughts around what he saw emerging from the thick smog of a nascent industrial London. I'll let his words stand alone, and leave it to you to decide how exactly one goes about having dreams like the one he describes near the end!


January 23rd, 1874

On St. Helen's day past I was the proud recipient of C. Dickens' book The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit but have only just now finished reading it. Rather, re-reading it, as it passed before me two decades previous. Reading this time I was struck by a shockingly clever, but inevitably hopeless, scandalous ruse executed by one of the characters, a Montague Tigg. The purpose behind the plan is to become exceedingly wealthy and to explain it I will generalize away from the book's particular example. To become rich in this fashion one must first establish a club or a fund where members are offered returns from some ephemeral, and often unspecified, investment, preferably one that sounds very exciting but is also very difficult to confirm as an actual thing. Investing in an imagined gold mine on an obscure and far off island is an ideal example. The gold mine does not exist and therefore any profits used to demonstrate the project's viability must come from somewhere else, namely an ever greater number of new investors.

The system seems to work and can provide handsome profits for those looking to make withdrawals so long as new gullible entrants can be found to contribute their monies. If no one new can be found, or the new wealth does not match withdrawals, the entire scheme fails. It should also be noted that whatever group or individual initiated the scheme is most likely taking their pound of flesh the whole time as well. Oh wealth!

The whole thing is of course highly corrupt and morally bankrupt, but hardly a new idea. As preposterous as it might sound, a similar system was used to prop-up the mighty Roman Empire long after it should have died, succumbing to its over-reach, resource depletion and a Sybaritic lifestyle amongst its ruling class. In the Roman case, however, the noble offer of citizenship was extended rather than the crass gleam of gold. Of course with the advantages citizenship provided around taxation, access to markets and mobility a promise of increased wealth was implicit in the offer. Oh wealth! Its promise is enough to encourage obeyance and render barbarian and Imperial interests as one.

It is revealing that an Empire grown too big, unable to sustain its borders and economic networks, thought growing those selfsame networks and borders, increasing its population and bureaucratic apparatus, would solve its problems. People are blinded by greed, and in this situation those in charge ignored that the behemoth they sat upon had long ago ceased its rattling and wheezing death throes. Unable to grasp reality they tried to grow through a difficult spell, but their system only worked so long as their were more people willing to join. Once conquest became too difficult, or the newly conquered recognized it was an animated corpse they had been subsumed by, there was no interest in contributing sweat and gold to imperial coffers. Citizenship means nothing when the nation supposedly granting it relevance is but a miasmatic fog.

People realized they were better offer pillaging the Empire rather than joining it, and in that respect they were doing what the emperors, senators and equestrians had been doing for centuries. One group used swords and flame, while the other used laws, bureaucracy and tax collectors.

Given the eventual results, the leaders of Empire might have been better to share their wealth,
but they were blinded, not by greed as some might suggest, but by the fear that in sharing what they had amassed they might lose their vaunted status and moneys. Living a life of opulence and excess disguises what life for the lower strata of society is really like. It provides ample opportunity to misapprehend the life of work and getting-by led by many, creating instead a terrifying imagined reality where life is dirt cake and urine for wine. Although centuries before Malthus these people must have grasped what he put to paper, namely that there is only so much to be shared and if you get more then certainly I must expect less.

I write at length about the Roman Empire because it is highly illustrative of humanity's abilities at self-deception and delusion, particularly when greed has taken hold. A man stands in the market collecting gold and silver from his fellows and as a wall behind him begins to crumble he does not move to safety, so focused is he on money, only perhaps commenting on the strange clouds that have appeared to make his counting more difficult.

I wonder if we can ever learn from our history and build a better future. Today the actions of those who rally and struggle for the rights of workers, demanding equitable distribution of wealth, might present some promise. But even now I look at this nascent movement and have my doubts. As leaders come to the fore won't they inevitably demand a greater share of what is produced so they can insure the system, under their bold leadership, will continue to function smoothly? Are there truly pure people in the world who are immune to wealth, or more realistically the comforts and satisfactions that wealth can so readily provide?

In my idle more than once I have dreamt future nations into being where many peoples led themselves into communal, cooperative perfection. Even in my dreams though, as the nation strove to greater wealth those who had once led as equals became more thoroughly entrenched and controlling of political, military and economic spheres. From outward appearances it seemed they had learnt from the past and were willing to share their nation's riches with all their fellows, but in the end it was a mirage. The mirage wavered but broke as people multiplied and resources dwindled, it could no longer hide the few who held true wealth and power. To stave off the inevitable, instead of citizenship money appeared, shuffled and created from thin air. Just as good as the old money, better, they said, but newer and there's more of it. Apparent benevolence and distributive largess told people they had a chance for their own wealth, a home, but the gift was instead a final frenzied orgy of distraction. Accumulation for those who could grasp the strongest, knew what they were seeking and what held true value.

To bait with a home is a dangerous ploy for in the home one finds a wattle-and-daub, brick or wood womb of a person's dreams. To snatch it away destroys a man leaving him worse than if he'd been homeless his whole life, the lost home becoming a tomb where hope and your future lie dead and only the screams of nightmares dance. And so the dream ends, a nation of people no longer willing to sign on to the moneymaking schemes put forth by their leaders, ready to turn their energies, as we saw with Rome, to more destructive ends.

Thankfully I am a light sleeper and have never seen to the end.

I don't know if Mr. Dickens imagined such darkness when he was writing his pretty little book, but one's mind can wander on these rainswept nights and dreams can leave a man fearful for humanity's future.

Oh wealth!


St Petersburg

Ever been to Russia? I haven't, but with the power of the internet I can pretend.

WARNING! Do not use this map for navigation purposes. The scale is all wonky and I forgot a bridge!


Grandma is a matchmaker

I'm experimenting in faster writing, with less editing time. Hopefully the result remains clear. Enjoy!


Grandma is a matchmaker.

One day we, me and my brother Leonard, were playing in our garden. We have a big garden and there are always big fat slugs crawling over the lettuce leaves. Mama gives us pennies when we catch slugs, then we take the pennies to the store on the corner for candy, or sometimes use all our pennies together and share an ice cream from the man who sells strawberry or chocolate from a big ice box on the back of his bike.

We hadn't found any slugs that day. My brother was lying on the little grass hill on the edge of the vegetable patch staring at the clouds and he told me that Grandma was a matchmaker. When he said it I thought he meant she made matches, like the ones I'm allowed to use to light the old stove at our cottage when we need to burn all those mini-cereal boxes we only ever eat there. The ones with white tips on red that smear across the black iron, strike anywhere matches. Leonard lit one on his zipper once.

As a matchmaker I picture her sitting at a large wooden desk, from the back. She has a bright light shining on her. On the desk to her right is an enormous pile of neatly stacked wooden sticks and she pinches one in her fingers, bringing it to a tiny red and white match cap that she pinches from an equally large pile to her left. Time after time. And if I imagine her face she has one of those one eyed glasses pinched in her right eye, and there's a magnifying glass so when she brings the stick and match-head together the pieces are easy to see and her hands are not just too big but look fat and ungainly. But they still make the same small connection, again and again. It's like she's a jeweler at work, except she's working from the wrong end of the periodic table.

The periodic table is where all the world's elements are listed with all their specific details, and some of them, depending on what they look like and stuff, people pay a lot of money for. It's a bit confusing because there are a lot of numbers but I like science and my brother tells me about it and lets me look at his books from class.

That's wrong though. Leonard told me she's a matchmaker because she knows who should get married. He figures in a few years grandma will probably tell him he's meant to marry Janet, some girl he goes to school with. He also says my old babysitter Joyce just got married to Lester Jenkins just because grandma said she should. They barely knew each other and I heard Joyce say once that she liked a boy named Tom, but they're married now anyway.

It's really confusing because I thought when people were in love, that's when they got married. I asked grandma and she asked me if I make my shoes and I laughed and laughed. I don't know how to do that. Then she asked me if I cut my hair. I do that sometimes, but Mama says I look silly when I do it and I think she's right so the barber does it. Grandma explained it like this:

You probably think you know your own hair better than anyone else because you're around it all the time, but other people see it more than you do. You need a mirror to see what it's doing, but others have a different perspective and can look at it in a different way than you. A barber cuts hair all day long, everyday. He sees all sorts of stuff and gets a good idea of what looks good. If the barber sees a fat headed child with red freckles and pudgy cheeks that squish his eyes closed he knows that boy's curly hair needs to be cut a certain way, and when a skinny older man whose hair his half grey and thinning in the middle sits down the barber knows that man needs something else to look his best. People might think they know what they like, and maybe who they want to marry, but they don't see love enough. They only truly think about love when they love and people can only love so many times in a life. Certainly not enough to be an expert. I think about love all the time. I know how certain kinds of love work for some people but different people need different love. And sometimes people might think they need love but what they really need is someone with a good job, or a person who loses their keys constantly, a husband with a short fuse but likes to go dancing on Saturday night, or a wife who cries horribly when she thinks the meatloaf is burned although each week it inevitably turns out more delicious than the one before. It's my job to know what people want and need, even if they don't.

What Grandma said makes sense I think. Mama and Dad are funny. Sometimes they yell or argue, but they always like to hug afterwards and give big kisses to each other. I thought everyone had parents that acted that way, but they do not. My friend Cal's parents never shout but I've seen them stare really mad. Their eyes can be mean. I guess that's what Grandma means. Mama and Dad like to yell, and like it when someone yells back. If Dad had married Cal's mom by accident they wouldn't be happy. He'd be yelling but she'd just be quiet and cross and staring at him and then no one would be happy.


humanist philosophy

Inspired by Dan Beirne's fine fan fiction (and here) on Said the Gramophone I've been working on this for a few days. Had to get it out before the election.

Apologies if the format is wonky, it looks way better in pdf format.

                               Humanist Philosophy
                                  Camel Attack
              Sainted Strings of a Harp: an unauthorized biography

          The cinder block walls are painted yellow and mostly bare.
Beside the door there is one large bulletin board that
overflows with paper; fire procedures, upcoming socials and
garage sale notices jostle for space. Another section of
wall is covered in children’s art; smears of colour,
abstract dogs and dozens of traced hands cut out and
decorated. The only window in the room is at ceiling level
and it is night outside. There is a table set up with mugs,
coffee and two plates of sad biscuits.

In the middle of the space chairs form a rough semi-circle.
Some are empty while others are filled by eight men and two
women. The people are from fat to thin but tend to be
gathered at the poles. They seem weary, sick, depressed or
all three; defeated by life and the world. One man, PRESTON,
sits in the group, pale like the others but with eyes that
are bright and alert. His head bobbles precariously on a
long skinny neck with a pronounced Adam’s apple bulge. He
wears a blue suit that should be smaller and needs pressing.
In front of the chairs, watched by the gathered sunken and
darkly-ringed eyes, two men stand:

TED is the only person with colour in his face, thanks
largely to a rancid orange tanning cream he has applied
religiously for the past 3 years. He glows, exuding support
and kindness looking towards STEPHEN.

STEPHEN looks nervous wearing an unflattering sweater and
blazer combo. His brown hair is thick and wavy but poorly
cut. STEPHEN’s blue eyes move between the ground and TED
until on a nod from TED he speaks:

My name is Steve and I am afraid of

Hello Steve.
Would you like to share a ghost
story with the group Stephen?
Yes. Thank you.
TED takes a seat in the semi-circle of chairs. 
  I’ve only ever seen one ghost, and,
well, I haven’t been the same
since. It happened in 1984 when I
was still a student, at the
University of Calgary...am I meant
to say that?
It’s alright Stephen, tell us
whatever you’re comfortable
Well, I was working on an economics
paper in the library late at night.
Paranormal activity had never been
a thing for me, and the library is
a new building, so I wasn’t even
thinking...I was just worried about
my deadline.
Some of those in the chairs are nodding their understanding.
  I remember looking up from my books
and being surprised because
suddenly there was no one there. It
was well after midnight and I
suppose everyone had gone home, but
I hadn’t noticed them leave. I
didn’t even see a librarian at the
circulation desk. I felt very
STEPHEN stops for a moment, closing his eyes and breathing
deeply to compose himself. The meeting congregants shift
uneasily in their chairs. Even TED’s orange skin greys
I knew it was against library
rules, but I had a ham sandwich and
thermos of coffee hidden in my book
Knowing snickers and quiet laughs.
(stares coldly at the
gathering before him)
  It was a thermos of coffee.
(looks at the ground and
regains his composure)
I decided to eat my sandwich and
drink some coffee. I was flagging.
No one was around. I didn’t even
try to hide what I was doing.
  I had finished half my sandwich, it
was a ham sandwich, did I mention
  Yes. Go on Stephen. Take your time. 
  So I had just eaten it and had some
coffee when I heard a noise behind
me. I turned and there was
a...a...I still don’t know what to
call it. It was an orb of light
floating in space. A ghost.
       CUT TO:    
STEPHEN sits turned in his chair. On the table, to his back,
sprawl a mess of books, a half-eaten sandwich and a thermos.
He looks the same, perhaps slightly younger and is wearing a
button-up shirt. He is staring incredulous and frightened at
an apparition. His words describe the scene.
  I stared, I don’t know how long,
and it didn’t do anything, really.
Just moved back and forth in front
of the humanist philosophy section.
(long beat as 1986 STEPHEN can
be heard struggling with his
emotions, 1984 STEPHEN is
frozen in fear and confusion
and the orb continues to do
nothing except slowly change
colours red, orange, green and
       CUT BACK:
Oh God! It didn’t DO ANYTHING! But
that’s why it was so terrifying.
Just a glowing ball, something you
could never quite come to grips
with or focus on, indeterminate and
ominous, like it could turn into
anything at any moment. The best
thing I can say is it held
potential. A horrible potential
that was vaguely threatening. Am I
making myself CLEAR? There was the
possibility of looming DISASTER!
   (his voice is increasingly
ragged, tears build in his
eyes, and his face quakes. He
has lost his cool)
Then it was gone...and a librarian
said they were closing...and I
shouldn’t be eating or...drinking
in the library.
STEPHEN breaks down and collapses with a whimper. TED has
anticipated the fall and is already standing to catch him.
TED’s orange seems to strengthen as he guides STEPHEN to a
chair. The shot stays on STEPHEN who is quietly crying.
Someone hands him a mug of coffee and a biscuit.
My name is Preston and I am afraid
of ghosts.
  Hello Preston. 
When I was 15 I went camping with
my family in Tennessee. On that
trip I lost my virginity to the
ghost of a Confederate general’s
STEPHEN sadly bites into his cookie and wipes his nose with
the back of his hand.
     THE END 



When Jonathan talks to you he formulates a plan of attack. He generates rules for a game and the game provides the structure for a conversation. Jonathan does this because he likes boundaries and the sense of control they provide. The structure is not obtrusive though, and often puts all parties at ease whether they recognize the rules or not. For example:

the interview is a very simple form for a conversation to take. As you would imagine it involves Jonathan asking questions, with the answers he receives leading to the next question. Alternatively, questions needn't connect one to the next, instead being asked from a preconceived pool; what do you do for a living? do you have hobbies? etc. This conversation format is well paired with:

tell me more which ensures a conversation has linearity in its evolution. This conversation can also be called and then. Most simple for this format would be Jonathan prompting a day-in-the-life talk where waking leads to breakfast leads to ping pong leads to emails leads to some sort of macaroni lunch, and so on. Helpfully, if a tell me more conversation should move to an unsustainable tangent, returning to the main narrative is simple and avoids most awkward pauses. Tell me more and interview are both about extracting information rather than providing and will at times appear very similar, but:

all about me is the exact opposite. As the name suggests Jonathan uses this technique to talk about himself and his accomplishments, real or fictitious. He uses it in two distinct but related situations; meek, when trying to impress those whose accomplishments and bearing intimidate him; strong, when trying to impress those who he feels superior to in some way. Meek is employed with the other parties in mind, an attempt to prove to them Jonathan's right to be at the table. What other people say is vital to which anecdote or comment Jonathan says next. Strong, however, is dismissive of the other parties and is often delivered via an overwhelming staccato incorporating what the other person says only so far as it lets Jonathan tell another story from his life. In the most extreme situations strong becomes little more than a glorified stand-up routine. From one extreme to another:

the passive conversation needs minimal or no input from Jonathan. He need only be in proximity to others having a conversation so he can appear to be participating, even if he never speaks. Although this conversation seems simple it cannot be executed with complete strangers or Jonathan appears to be a weird creep. The too stoned variation facilitates a passive conversation where Jonathan wants to provide explanation for his silent observation. In this case Jonathan simply informs the people he's very high and content to just listen, relieving them of any obligation to incorporate him and providing the social credibility of drug use in the process.

Go with the flow is not one of Jonathan's conversation types. He finds its free-form nature terrifying and doomed to failure. While trying to maintain an unstructured conversation Jonathan tries to anticipate pitfalls, distracting himself from what's at hand and eventually generating too much self-fulfilling white noise to continue.


eyes closed

As a child, usually on the way home from school, Dennis would walk for as long as possible with his eyes closed. It was a self imposed terror where each step meant one fewer until he tripped, hit a tree or stumbled into traffic. As he walked the tension from counting down to an unknown endpoint would ratchet ever higher, his leg muscles would tighten and each step pulled itself closer than the one before. When his nerve failed, usually within twenty paces from starting, he would open his eyes disappointed, still distant from any danger. Dennis' favourite subjects at school were art and recess, but a bodily understanding of probability and calculus was evident.

As an adult Dennis found himself blocks away from his last memory, looking up from his phone's screen, his thumb numb from the cold task of texting. His eyes had been open the whole time, just not looking or remembering past his hand while he'd navigated tracks of darkened sidewalks, avoiding people and poles, to get where he was. After a brief nap, beer, weed, vodka and Ritalin his steps were fluid and careless. For the time-being Dennis was unworried moving forward, whether he looked where he was going or not. He knew the thrum of dread that normally sat gently on his life could easily be resumed tomorrow, from whatever point he'd left off.


7 poems - 7 days - Day 7 REDUX

Remember when I wrote poems? That was fun.

Well my pal Meghan H. (a published poet I'll have you know) was kind enough to go over a few of my bon mots and give me some feedback. She did this a long time ago and I am finally getting to it now. I feel the tying of loose ends is part of my growing up process that today also included finding a dentist!

BUT enough of me being smug about my teeth. Here's a second attempt with a new title. Original here. No promises on when others might get another look.


Growing up not Catholic
is the biggest tragedy of my life
I'm not Jewish either
another damnable attack
Lacking the benefits of a Classical education
all I had was a periodic United Church
bereft of pageantry and
rife with white bread sandwiches
There were stories there
and they trace back the same
but I forget, if I ever listened.

So now I write poetry and can't find the archetype
the creation myth
or patchwork of wonder
No raven or turtle to guide me
No shorthand for history
King David's just some king
so are Henry and George and Louis and
Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

Science can't help
with its stories told from a lab
book of hard truths and fact
A space clean, fluoresced and sharp
whose lights shine too self
confident and important
Words that might be explaining the universe
but fucked if I understand.

So I stare at the brightly lit and obvious
An opiate's stories
chanting electric prayer into the living
Burn and hide to dim the light
and the obvious becomes less and more
an archetype.
What I have is pro wrestling
and last I checked
the Pope's not holding the belt.


projects of others

Here are some things friends have done/are doing.

The After School Club series has its first episode up. Get on the train now while it's still in the station.

Equally exciting Do Whatever! has its first three episodes up. That link takes you to episode one, but make sure you watch all three, especially the third one. It's my favourite.

And finally, if you're reading this today...March 3rd! you should come out to the Feint Of Hart show tonight. Penultimate! (that means second to last).

10pm in Hart House and it's free. But things start to fill up around 9 so get there early and often.


sticker collecting

Sticker collecting.

Dismissed as a child's obsession for too long, this noble pursuit needs to be acknowledged for what it truly is: a pastime for the wise, an obsession for the erudite, and a vital cog in contemporary international travel and commerce.

Stickers are undoubtedly a valuable and unique teaching tool for the younger set. Buying an album and methodically filling it with hockey players, ponies or dangerous sea creatures helps to grow one's body of knowledge and develops tangible skills. What better way for a child to learn about perseverance than methodically buying just one more pack as the rabid narwhal sticker continues to elude? And nothing heightens fine motor skills like the intense pressure found in evenly placing each image inside lines. I would even posit that scratch n' sniff root beer or popcorn stickers are a child's first chance to learn some of the inevitable sadness and desperation of life. The first scratch n' sniff is so good they keep coming back, hoping to recapture the same sensuous experience. No matter how deeply they sniff, or how raw their fingers are rubbed it's never the same, and they learn important lessons about addiction, impermanence and death.

To leave sticky picture papers behind for the youth is a fool's strategy, as stickers' lessons and benefits extend into the adult world. Most obviously stickers are vital cogs of commerce, providing easy access to price per product ratios at the shop, for instance. Whether on car or cake mix a sticker needs only to be lengthened or shortened to hold the requisite information. Or, in another context, how many times might I have eaten spoiled animal flesh if a sticker hadn't been there to direct me away from risky meat?

Wonderful stuff though it can be.

Today, some of the world's fancier stickers facilitate international travel. Imagine the confusion if we didn't have a system of visas, beautifully crafted of stencils, inks and holograms, to stick into our passports. People could be anywhere! The government wouldn't know and that just wouldn't do. It's all so helpful, and I might humbly suggest, underused. Visas and official passes should be extended down the ladder, as it were, away from international borders into provincial, or even county or neighbourhood divisions. Imagine the graphic and societal possibilities that arise when people are forced to collect stickers just to leave home. Wonderful!

Truly, I had never fully considered the benefits of stickers until a minor incident at the airport brought it all into focus.

Do you have any fruits and vegetables? said the kind bearded American, sitting behind his desk in a Canadian airport.
I do, an apple and some orange slices, I said. Being as honest and forthright as I knew how and unaware that my entry into American legal space was already happening.
Does your apple have a sticker on it?
It didn't and with a red mark on my card I was sent to see his mustachioed co-worker further along the line. This guy was a real prick, but rightly so. I didn't know that without a sticker saying my apple was American it posed a significant security threat to a country I wouldn't be entering for a few hours and only after a plane had carried me the 200 km necessary. And the dangers posed by citrus? Not even a sticker would allow my cut and bagged orange past this devoted guardian's desk.

So stickers, obviously, can't solve every problem, but with a proper collection strategy one can at least avoid losing an apple and being unnecessarily threatened with thousands of dollars in fines and a 3 month jail term because you aren't up to date on produce restrictions or aware of how impinged your nation's sovereignty has already become.