The Unswung Bat

Thursday, March 31, 2005
A Very Slow Crisis of Faith

A raindrop or two, unheralded and smacking wet tiny starbursts on skin, or on paper - teardrop pops - can be the small precursors of a flood, surging white and breaking. Sometimes. And what about when those overloaded drops begin to land thput! on the heavy ground, drip off of leaves and cedar fans to spatter on the soggy and tangled earth and stay there, not vanishing into the soil, not running off, only soaking more and more.

Will you realize the surface you stand on is only the top of a saturated aquifer, sopping earthy sponge, or not? What about each tree, barken column of water, each solemn blade of grass, rare clover, these tiny succulent leaves, olive-skinned on red stems, a reservoir so deep around you once you begin sounding it. Are you - is one - awash then, suddenly flooded, only by the acknowledgement of what one knows, the reality of a raindrop? Or a tear?

It started raining outside while I wrote this. In the ultramarine light of afterwards, calmly, the rock wall and concrete steps, edged with light, and the flake of sky I could see, looked very different.

Monday, March 28, 2005
In Medias Res!

There we are in the middle of the Mexican side of the Sonoran Desert. I prefer to call it by its other name, which is not a name but 5,000 square miles of silence. This would require much more paper, and an indefinite amount of time, compared to the thirteen letters, one measly space, and the glide of an eye it takes to pass it along this way. An indefinite amount of time was just what we were facing then but now I've got other things to do and am having none of it. Keep it in your head, that this neat little epithet doesn't convey the agony of knowing that cracked and bloodshot endless scorchbed. Neither you nor I can tell a rapist from a saint by their names. I'm not sure which the desert was. I'm also not sure whether the Mexicans call it Sonoran, or what. Around here they probably just say "El Desierto." Hell, 'round here they probably just say "over there." What the Hell are people doing here, anyway?

We'd come from the north, rearing at every pothole aboard a bad suspension that bounced the upholstery like a mattress, flush with the universal confidence derived only from a full tank of gasoline. It's a very good thing I can keep a level head in adverse circumstances, both for driving purposes and for what came later, which I'll go into as it comes up. Our primary route split the gnarled stem of Highway 15, dividing the desert cleanly into what lay on my left and what on her right. Sometime after San José we left off on some promising-looking corollary, bound east. It may have been the 2, but perhaps it's merely by my orderly subconscious processing that I even assign it a number. It might have been indicated by a blank green sign, or one so sunbleached and chalked over with dust as to be illegible to all but those who stopped to read it. Had we gone and brushed it off for a better look, even if we'd then continued along our unadvised way, at least our handprints would have remained to testify to our existence until the next wind picked up. Then maybe I could have relaxed a little while we were stuck there.

"You know I have no idea whether or not this will work, right?"

Her eyes were charming as she said that. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

- - - -

There is more, and I'll tack it here as it comes up, but now it is late in the sense that I am tired. It is not actually late, if the hours I keep normally are taken as a standard, but that schedule has tired me out such that I wanted to go to bed at 10:00, but found myself writing this story and accordingly am still up at half-eleven. Let's see if I can finish this thing.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

"Saying "color" in Canada is essentially a spelling mistake whether it's accepted in America or not, and I expect profs to know better."

It's most definitely NOT a spelling mistake. There is in fact no accepted standard Canadian spelling. The Canadian Press (CP) style that is fairly prevalent in technical writing (and under which, it's interesting to note, "geese" is not a word; rather, that crowd of brown-drabbled birds is a flock of Canada goose) contains an unpredictable mixture of American and British spellings, like:

British: -our words (honour, colour, endeavour), -re (centre, theatre) and cheque, grey, jewellery, pyjamas, storey and sulphur. And American: aluminum, artifact, jail, curb, program, specialty, tire, and carburetor. A Canadian would watch a television program, as in the United States, but would read the programme at a concert or theatrical performance. These conventions are generally theorized (without much surety) to have evolved by historical coincidence and circumstance, on a case-by-case basis without any overarching logic.

I'd say Canadian spelling is basically a very subtle creole and that's great. Honestly, that's how languages develop. If this kind of thing bugs you that much, then if you consider that 2/3 of the world's current English speakers are non-native, and that all sorts of English dialects are popping up and bending the language in various directions, this fact would probably, as we say down South, really stick in your craw. Another related point is that much of the supremacy of English among world languages is due to its wilingness to adapt and incorporate, as opposed to, say, French. English has about 500,000 words. The next-largest vocabulary is, I think, about 50,000. We can use any word we want. I don't know about Life Science kids, but we English students pretty much all think this is great.

And please, it's not like 'American,' 'British' and 'Canadian' English are different languages! Spellings should be standardized in journals and newspapers for ease of editing and copying, but these are the only benefits such rigid treatment accords. Some profs, including the teacher of my primatology class, require that their students use the American spellings (and here I might note that these differ depending on what dictionary one consults, much like the Canadian ones but to lesser extent. I mostly use Merriam-Webster because they kick a high quotient of ass), because the main journals of their fields are printed using these spellings. The world is very interconnected linguistically, and failing to recognize (in any sense of the word) the major spellings of a word outside of one's own geographic region is kind of silly.

I don't know why people can get so territorial about spellings specifically, but try googling it, and read some of the polemics people have posted, and then ask yourself - whether you be American, Canadian, or otherwise - why you can readily accept such a word as "google" as a verb but put up an honest-to-god fight against an arrangement of letters, slightly different from your own particular spelling, that has been used by millions of people for a very long time, nearby.

I don't really care what spelling someone uses, and in that I'm with most Canadian academic institutions and hosts of international conferences. I just wouldn't like it if someone started to get rhetorical with me about the spellings I use, (which are mostly American: that is how I learned to write), because writing is pretty much what I do and I don't want anyone else to be pushy about how I "should" do it, regardless of where I am, unless there is a valid reason concerning the specific task at hand, such as that I am writing for the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Which I did. And it was kinda cool, despite the fact that the research I had to do for it was so very boring. When the 1931-1940 phase of the project is published, you can read my entry on James Henry Fleming (born 1872, d. 1940, and by all accounts a rather bland chap of some ornithological significance), and reap the benefits of my academic endeavor.


Thursday, March 17, 2005
Try to Believe

On second thought, I've decided not to take as a tangible metaphor the refusal of a revolving-booth turnstile to allow me to pass, but its permission in, seconds after I left to walk to the other side of the station, of a friend.

What does the turnstile open into? The Heaven bus? What number is that? I tend to go around on foot alot anyway, I know the city from pointless wanderings down pointless streets.

But I've decided, on second thought, not to take it that way.

I'm walking amongst small frustrations of all the things I've failed as yet to become. Little pieces, margins, and the untended peripheries of my life, wanting a center that has shifted beyond their access. But there's something more in the picture and it's good.

A moment of that confused and cloudy knowing that can almost always only be clarified in writing passed over me, and I composed a poem. We will see.

Try sometime to go find the song "Try to Believe" by Danny Elfman. It's not the Danny Elfman you know. It's still raucous and to some extent unpurposed mayhem, but also some very different things. Now I'm the sort of person who doesn't trust any happy thing wrought by an individual over the age of three unless it also has somewhere in it a sadness mixed in - and I'm not cynical in that way. The opposite also holds very much true: things never are even close to being all bad. Well anyway, that's pretty much what I like about the song. It could have been another dismal ballad, but instead it acts differently and is this big, loud, dancing song. What I like about it is this person who feels so immensely unworthy, shrugs, and says, well, I don't care, I am going to try for grace. More or less plainly just like that. It's inevitably a little cheesy, of course, but a hell of a lot better than the trucksfull of "serious" songs that capture so much attention.

Anyway, this is really just a thought. The sound card on my computer is dead.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005
That Salty-Dry St. Georgian Wit

So, hello there my compañeros and compañeras. My it's been a red-letter day for me, if I'm not mistaken about the expression "red-letter" meaning "hellish and interminable."

It seems my various primatological studies have launched me on a research trip/flight of fancy to the whimsical - unless I'm wrong about "whimsical" meaning "shit-sty" - University of Toronto, Scarborough Campus. In case any of you are less than comfortably familiar with Scarborough - congratulations! It is one of the many organs constituting the fantastic beast that is Toronto and Environs. "Fantastic" means the same thing as "whimsical," right?

Now if Downtown Toronto is the nerve center, Scarborough is the vermiform appendix: sparsely developed, underused, and entirely peripheral, yet prone to unpleasant bloating and the accumulation of undesirable elements. Arguably, it's still nicer than the industrial kidneys of Hamilton, and it's way the hell better than whatever godforsaken freakishly tumorous vesicle is Peterborough, but neither of the above does well as an endorsement.

As if being in Scarborough weren't nasty enough, getting there is a whole other bag of worms. One bus driver rolled right past my stop, my efforts in pulling the chain and then yelling "Hey, I need to get off here," notwithstanding. What'd he say? "No time." The next two drivers into whose hands were entrusted the lives of passengers and fellow motorists, both scrutinized my newly bought metropass with the nearest bus-driver equivalent to a jeweler's loupe and a fine-toothed comb, as if inwardly aching to find something wrong with it. Though I'd been careful to fill out the pass exactly as required, the last of these drivers gave me a little warning pamphlet anyway, just to let me know that he could have confiscated my pass with impunity, so fast it would make my head spin, had I but filled in the wrong letters on top. (The TTC's motto: "We're pricks! Especially in the suburbs.") Hm, pricks in the suburbs, inappropriate? One of them actually drove off with a textbook of mine, though that was more my fault than anything else, so I left it out of the "we're pricks" block.

But I digress, Fair Reader. These were but my conveyances to and from the deliciously fabulous Joyplex of UTSC. They have banners up everywhere, there, that say something like "40 Great Years!" Their slogan could also be "40 Years Without Straight Roads or Snowplows!"

Actually, the no-plow thing isn't really an issue once one finds one's way into the main building, the entrance to which is camouflaged by massive construction - ah, at least I know it's still U of T at heart. See, the entire campus is more or less indoors. Also, it seems UTSC was envisioned as the physical answer to the philosophical question "What if you could fold up your university and walk away with it in your pocket?" It's tiny! It's like a . . . double-highschool. Cocky be you not, however, as its various chambers are connected by a maddening warren of tunnels that follows no pattern discernible to man or beast, but that's just because someone scrambled it all up. Once upon a time all the colored blocks of the mildly non-Euclidean building formed a cube of six solid-color sides of nine squares each, before the unbalancing comings and goings of students lead to a catastrophic Cascade De-Rubixing. I believe it's also possible to reconfigure the layout of the sprawling complex such that it transforms into Megatron, Lord of the Deceptacons, and wages merciless war on humans and Autobots alike.

Seriously though, I'm just trying to be humorous to induce myself to forget that I may have just lost a $160 textbook. Not only that, but I'd just checked it out of the library and it was the main reason for my trip in the first place.

Ah! The library. Well, finding the library couldn't be very hard, since as I said, the entire ironically named "campus" occupies approximately the same area and volume as St. George campus's Department of Asian Foot Medicine*. But that would be getting cocky, for remember I said as well that its bitelike size belies a complexity compared to which the courts of Byzantium are collectively Sesame Street. If you've ever seen The Yellow Submarine and you remember the part where the Beatles walk through a door in a hallway and enter an acid-induced, labyrinthine n-space, which gives way to a polka-dot jungle of no fixed perspective, that then leads back to the original hallway, I did a couple of those today.

Not on the back, but on one of the sides of my mind was the thought that I might run into Chris or Bettio and be able to ask them "hey, Chris or Bettio, where the hell'd they hide the library?" No dice.

Oh, there were maps a-plenty, and they were just as frustrating, and as useful, as those cans purporting to hold yummy mixed nuts, only to explode in seedless showers of snakes and glitter. There were "maps" everywhere, but aside from the woeful absence of the words "you are here," what these all had in common was the failure, almost spiteful, to acknowledge that the campus existed in more than two dimensions, and indeed more even than the traditionally preferred three. That the space of the campus was partitioned such that some areas were inaccessible from others, or the mere fact that the exterior walls contained anything other than undifferentiated open space painted a uniform color, were all considerations beyond the scope of these maplike wall-hangings.

I think the layout of the place was planned along the lines of: "let's have lots of windey hallways and staircases for no reason and odd angles at every corner and let's slap lotsa purely decorative maps all over the place I love maps it'll be Supergreat!" I suspect that the word "Supergreat" is even crayoned onto the original architectural plans.

The coolest part, bar none, was that once I actually found the library - not the entrance to it, but at least a sort of viewing gallery into it that, while offering no promise of access or egress, at least confirmed the existence of some sort of book repository - all the books on the nearest row of bookshelves were taped down onto the shelves! They even had a sign hanging off 'em saying "DO NOT MOVE!" Them's load-bearing books, it seems. Of course, the way that place is put together, I wouldn't become the least bit surprised if that sector of the library turned out to be spatially warped and required the extra mass of the textbooks to anchor it to this dimension of reality. I steered clear of there.

Having thus seen the library with mine own twain eyes, I thought I could find my way in by the simple dint of following the wall. Not so. Doing that led me first into a small sociology classroom where my sudden appearance and retreat perturbed none, then to a different classroom where, though I didn't enter and the door was wide open anyway, everyone stopped what they were doing to look at me. I tried not to break eye contact as I backed away. Finally, I discovered a sorry, threadbare breakroom where a giant red sign - almost the only "furnishing" the room had - warned "NO THEFT" and provided depressing reminders that: a) there are some people who would steal cafeteria chairs and garbage pails, and b) some of those people need to be told that stealing is against the rules. Alternatively, one could phrase b) as: "there are those who think that reminding people that stealing is against the rules is a deterrent to theft," but I guess I'm an optimist. Anyway, none of that is a dig against UTSC specifically, as Downtown has its fair share of that fun, too.

My wall-following shenanigans availing me nought, I turned to other tacks. At one point I found myself outside, on the grossly mistaken assumption that it might be easier to find the library from there. Little did I know at that juncture that the library itself was ensconced within a diabolical matrix of corridors and flickering stairwells, each level nearer the Library Prime straying further from the warm confines of sound geometric reasoning. Thank heaven I thought to eat a decent meal before leaving god-fearing Toronto and the space-time continuum.

No, from the outside of the complex, the only sights to be had were of an encroaching snowbank, a gray, howling sky, and a Chthonian ziggurat - I kid you not!

Actually, it wasn't so much a ziggurat as it was a half hearted attempt at one, beginning along the right lines and even possessing one central, jagged wedge that suggested the proper contour, but within a few steps of the base devolving into a disorganized pile of tall cement ingots, creating the overall impression of a pyramid that didn't try hard enough in highschool.

Okay, to the two friends I've got at UTSC: I'm just trashing your stupid school for jerks 'cause I had a really bad day and managed to get even more perplexed there than I ever have at my stupid school for jerks. Take all of this as my side of a story about how much better your day was than mine. Mind you, your school still makes no fucking sense, but everything is beautiful in its own way, except carnies. Small hands, you know.

So at the end of my story, after unravelling the riddle of the seventh veil and following a path determined by a complicated sequence of prime numbers, I found my way into the library and came away with my books, minus the one that stayed on the bus for the long ride. Here's hoping that one shows up at the Lost Items office at good ol' centrally-located Bay Station.

As far as I'm concerned, the moral of this story is that Scarborough campus, and much of the surrounding borough, now exist in a forbidden swath of the map where there be dragons. My sojourns there are over. It makes me wonder if the three U of T campuses are laid out to accord with the Divine Comedy. I'm pretty sure St. George isn't heaven. It can duke it out with UTSC for Purgatory status. Shouldn't be too tough, unless Scarborough gets its hands on sufficient Energon to unleash Megatron's terrible power.

Is Erindale campus a celestial clockwork of crystal spheres, each turning harmoniously in perpetual motion, filling the firmament with their heavenly music, each one closer than the last to that One Unchanging, All-Enduring Ever-Perfect Eternal Flame? I must find out . . . sometime.

Wow, that was long. What else has happened?

Well, our breadmaker tried to take its own life. Quite ingeniously, too. You see, the bread cycle includes a 20- or 30-minute long kneading phase during which the bread is spun around quickly and whacked by a little paddle inside the machine. Being the happy-go-lucky chaps we are, we rapidly grew accustomed to the rhythmic thunk-ka-thunk of this mechanic, little suspecting that, like a washing machine with an unbalanced load, our unstable little breadmaker was rocking back and forth, edging ever closer to the lip of doom.

With a terrible heave, it finally plunged off the countertop today. It's okay, though, it still works the same as always and we fixed it so that, if it wants to try that again it'll have to throw the microwave off first. And I think the microwave might just put up a fight.

Still, a suicidal breadmaker makes me wonder what other troubled appliances we own. Our VCR won't cooperate unless you stick a spoon into it. I don't know what that indicates.

So, this is kind of a pisser but kind of reassuring: the word count of this ramble is more than enough to satisfy the requirements of my essays, and the writing is generally of better quality, too. Yet I agonize over those on a rack of existential torture, while this I winged through in a couple hours, just passing the time.

Good? Bad? You decide. Either way, likely to be my last piece of leisurely writing in a while, as school is screaming for my attention like an infant with its foot chopped off.

Good night.

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