march 13

“And finally they curse the sea which has put on the earth such evil and harsh children.”– Girolamo Benzoni, Historia del Mondo Nuovo, 1565.

Saw a talk Mary Nyquist gave where she talked about going back to when the idea of the West was just a huge body of water.

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notes january 27 – 31

on loop

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notes january 17 – 26

It’s a bit like emigrating that way: the choice to leave rarely feels free, but choices we make about inhabiting new landscapes (or changed bodies) demand an imagination.

Or, since sex is the subject here, what about how our society’s scientific community has treated female dyspareunia — the severe physical pain some women experience during sex — vs. erectile dysfunction (which, while lamentable, is not painful)? PubMed has 393 clinical trials studying dyspareunia. Vaginismus? 10. Vulvodynia? 43. Erectile dysfunction? 1,954.

“He gave you what some people call a husband stitch,” Sanford recalled the midwife telling her. “I couldn’t connect in my mind why it would be called that. My midwife said, ‘They think that some men find it more pleasurable,’” she recalled. “My husband has been worried about me and fearful of hurting me. He would never have asked for this.”

Another nothing week. Sick, lethargic. Bouts of intense cold outside, followed the next day by tepid weather. Going between 20 degrees in a couple of days I can only think of as an illness, we have sick weather. Especially when no clear pattern emerges.

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notes january 13-14

I spend the whole weekend watching Bette Davis movies, outside of a very arduous walk to get eggs, milk and tea. I live on the other side of the tracks from where I almost always need to go, and with the weather the bridge is too exposed to hard winds. I’ve lost too many winter pieces without replacing them properly, I’m not able to bundle up enough. Not enough socks to make my rain boots winter ones.

Anyways, on to Bette Davis.

In The Letter how often her character is in the foreground, but out of focus (usually in scenes of confrontation). How she’s seen but never clearly, how the men around her don’t know who they’re dealing with. Her rival, the widow, does, and she too can’t be seen properly, seen in shadows and through curtains, described as having “a face like a mask,” Gale Sondergaard in yellow face (if the Other has a face like a mask we can never see them as human). Another example of a movie where the colonizer is bad, but can’t be bothered to treat any race that isn’t white as full human beings. A waste, Mrs. Hammond (her whole history erased, absorbed into her husband’s name!) could have been amazing in another’s hands. These two women are equals, detail oriented and opaque, two spiders.

In The Old Maid how we never see the weddings, just people getting ready, and crowds watching the event. Charlotte, the titular Old Maid, can’t be part of this world, so the audience isn’t either. Miriam Hopkins ends up playing sunny to the point of breaking in both this and Old Acquaintance, while Davis is preternaturally wise and then hard and brittle. You see a lot with Bette Davis’ eyes.

Now, Voyager!!! A makeover move, a movie about the power of eyebrows and maternity. The overburdened Charlotte has a breakdown and is able to enter into the world. She has to break to break free, not becoming a new person, but being able to be the person she always was. This is a change, but not so much that she can’t recognize who she once was in her lover’s daughter. Her only fate was to be what her mother wanted, but here is able to become her own kind of mother. Her refrain of what she wants, her own home, her own man, her own family. Oddly reminiscent of Woolf’s line, but here Charlotte is still an author, without writing. Healing from the bad mother to become a good one! Getting to have her man and her family, but also maintaining her freedom. So much more power in substitute mother than second wife. You break free of your own cycle of violence by creating a new world where there isn’t one.

There’s a lot of intergenerational drama in these movies (Old Maid and Old Acquaintance especially), switching of roles and love interests, which I suppose must happen when you’re depicting a whole life with only a few key characters. And “acting” is playing the same person at every stage of their life, drawing a clear line from point A to point B.

Also, eating hot dogs with Claude Rains on the floor.

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notes january 06 – 16

Literary history and the present are dark with silences: the years-long silences of acknowledged greats; the ceasing to publish after one work appears; the hidden silences; the never coming to book form at all.

I’ve already gotten out of the habit, though some days my brain is on fire and some days it isn’t. Most days it isn’t. On February first I’ll have had a year of writing every day in a diary (though I’ve missed a day here and there, I think it adds up to two weeks) but those are entries I never read, never look back on, and always have the sneaking suspicion that I’m repeating myself. Anxious and depressed mornings, days where nothing’s accomplished.

(I’m writing at work) — Marina Tsvetaeva, Earthly Signs

I don’t want to serve in the Red Army. I can’t serve in the Red Army. The first presupposes: “I could, but I don’t want to!” The second: “I would like to, but I can’t.” What is more important: the inability to carry out a murder, or to not want to carry out murders? In inability-lies our whole nature, in not wanting—our conscious will. If what you value most in essence is will—”I don’t want” is the strongest, of course. If what you value is the entire essence—of course it’s: I cannot. — Marina Tsvetaeva, Earthly Signs.

I have another notebook (well, a lot of notebooks) where I try to write stream of consciously, and since they’re usually related to projects I’m working on, I’ve been typing them up. My handwriting is atrocious so I’m constantly trying to figure out what I was trying to say, and usually just settle on ??? But how easy it is to tell my bad days from worst days to good days. And how often they end up just being longer diary entries. I always end up saying a lot more than I mean to.

I write by moonlight (black shadows from the pencil and my hands). — Marina Tsvetaeva, Earthly Signs.

Adam could just love the sun; for murder, Cain needed Abel. — Marina Tsvetaeva, Earthly Signs.

The typing up is useful though, mostly because I lost the writing I’d had on my computer when three crashed in a row and I accidentally deleted most of it from my external hardrive (still not sure how I managed that). Not the end of the world though, they were half finished drafts that became a burden more than anything else, and I still have the meat that I wanted.

Of all temptation he offers me, I would single out the three most important: the temptation of weakness, the temptation of impassivity — and the temptation of what is Other. — Marina Tsvetaeva, Earthly Signs.

Because, if not for love-why bother to meet? For other things there are books. — Marina Tsvetaeva, Earthly Signs.

When I was at my grandmother’s this week, eating the chocolate brittle her absentee relatives had given her, and in between writing responses to her Christmas cards as she dozed, I finished Tsvetaeva’s Earthly Signs. I had thought, and therefore wanted, it to be something else, but I think that’s mostly wanting her to have had a better life and a better career. I can’t be unhappy with half-finished works, notes and diaries, since more often than not that’s all we can produce. I wanted more of a diary, I suppose, but who keeps good diaries? Who keeps good diaries worth reading?

One morning I woke up and the light in my apartment was beautiful.

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notes january 01 – 05

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Woke up New Years Day in a panic about my indecision regarding motherhood, which in turn spiraled into a crisis about my life up to this point (and the ramifications for the rest of my life). How brutal it is that life is so long, that our lives can be over but we still have to be alive for 50 more years. I’d decided a few days before that my first film for 2018 would be Wanda, the first film being a kind of omen for the rest of the year. So of course I transition from my crisis to a film about a woman who abandons her children, or rather, abandons the only path she’d been given, and floats along others, each offering as little as the first. You see her husband before you realize who he is, but he’s burdened with so many children, spilling out of the car, being ushered in and out of the courtroom. These children can’t be contained, but have to be taken care of. And then Wanda walks in, alone, her children barely noticing she’s there. I imagine a different movie (most movies) where they hold on to her, pleading. But their indifference is mutual, like the baby when we’re first introduced to Wanda — both parties would rather the other be elsewhere.

I picked up Mrs Caliban as a Christmas gift for myself while shopping. I haven’t read it since undergrad, and when The Shape of Water played during TIFF I would describe it as “very similar plot, but she fucks the monster” until someone told that they do, in fact, fuck in the movie. I’m not sure why either are so revolutionary, there’s always something between the monster and its prisoner,  somewhere in that chasm between sexual tension and sexual threat. I’m not a big rereader, not because of some principle, more along the lines of too many new things to read, but this might be a good year to revisit my favourites, and see if they should still hold that title. So far up: Ice, Malina, Cassandra, Bear.

Part of the motivation for these notes is that I’m approaching a year without a tumblr. I do miss it, I don’t get the visual stimulation (and discovery) I need elsewhere, but I spent so much time getting annoyed when on it I needed a break, which ended up being a sever . However, when the end of the year came I realized I hadn’t been able to keep track of things, and that tumblr had been that function for me. Books and films are easy, a notebook and a website for both, but articles, videos, songs, etc… Couldn’t keep them together. So that’s what this is for, keeping on top of things. This week I want to remember Andrea Long Chu’s On Liking Women.

The other motivation is Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, which ended up being the book I brought with me from 2017 to 2018. The initial plan for the end of 2017 involved 44 hours in a car for a round trip from Toronto to Daytona Beach. I got 14 hours done on the way there, but we ended up finding cheap flights back, so I got the physical book out from the library (Juliet Stevenson’s voice still with me as I read the rest). I finished it with the help of a 90 minute transit ride to my grandmother’s, and then her dozing for the day. It was a book I’d been meaning to read for years, but it’s length deterred me (length always deters me), and 44 hours in a car seemed like the perfect time to conquer the beast. I was surprised at how funny it was, but the kind of funny that comes from watching people all the time. A kind of wry cruelty. At the same time, as someone who has multiple notebooks for different purposes (and this project is just another one, really) it felt like a book I should have read long ago, and a comfort too. Maybe all this nonsense is work, but not in the way I think it is.

“Then I remembered that when I read my notebooks I didn’t recognize myself. Something strange happens when one writes about oneself. That is, one’s self direct, not one’s self projected. The result is cold, pitiless, judging. Or if not judging, then there’s no life in it – yes, that’s it, it’s lifeless.” — Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.


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Films Seen in 2016

Favourites (in no particular order):

The Blue Bird (Maurice Tourneur, 1918)
Eyes of Fire (Avery Crounse, 1983)
Women of Ryazan (Olga Preobrazhenskaya & Ivan Pravov, 1927)
Trance (Teresa Villaverde, 2006)
Crush (Alison Maclean, 1992)
The Travellers (Bahram Beizai, 1991)
Pomegranate and Cane (Saeed Ebrahimifar, 1988)
Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, 2016)
The Fury (Brian DePalma, 1978)
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (Alanis Obomsawin, 1993)
Eyes of Laura Mars (Irvin Kershner, 1978)
The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)
Garlic Is As Good As Ten Mothers (Les Blank, 1980)
Secret Beyond the Door (Fritz Lang, 1947)
Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, 1944)
A Brighter Summer’s Day (Edward Yang, 1991)
Los Olvidados (Luis Bunuel, 1950)
Venus Delta (Antoinette Zwirchmayr, 2016)
Creek (Ana Mendieta, 1974)
Elle (Paul Verhoeven, 2016)
Little Women (Gillian Armstrong, 1994)
The Love Witch (Anna Biller, 2016)
Lemonade (Beyonce Knowles Carter, 2016)

& the rest

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