Archive for October, 2015

I love English Bay



Watching sports!

In honour of the World Series … a video from back in the day.

My “shadow CV”

Steinway Upright

Regarding Devoney Looser’s ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ article “Me and My Shadow CV: What would my vita look like if it recorded not just the success of my professional life but also the many, many rejections?” my friend Jonathan Mayhew writes,

Nobody cares about your list of rejections and failures. When I first saw the title of this essay I thought it would be about something much more interesting: the parts of the scholarly formation that seem less scholarly but that somehow affect one’s writing: my study of jazz and percussion, my obsession with prosody: all the things I never wrote about but that are essential to who I am: for my friends, it could be their work as zen masters, or being in a band: the translations someone has worked on but not published.

The point the article is trying to make is that we see a cv loaded with stuff but don’t see the rejections and failures that everyone experiences. The longer the cv, the longer the shadow cv too, because someone more active will also have more opportunity not to get grants they apply for. Everyone knows this, so it’s supposed to be great for younger people to see that these successful people have also failed. I get the point, but it is a stupid article because it is not the one I would have written with this title. (Sorry.)

My shadow CV would certainly include a long section on hitchhiking, an obsession of mine for several years during which I learned how to talk with many different kinds of people. (When I graduated from SUNY/Buffalo no one – friend, family, or foe – believed me when I told them, with the exception of my then-future, now-former wife, because I seemed to have spent more time on the road than on campus – or in New York state, for that matter.)

Also on my shadow CV would be my study of the piano (thank you, Mom and Dad, for the lessons and for the summer music camps). I feel my devotion to that instrument pouring into my palms as I type this. After I broke the pinky of my right hand in a stupid fight when I was in eleventh grade – it was poorly reset – my repertoire and record collection for several years thereafter focused almost exclusively on jazz. (I named my son after Miles Davis.) Now I play all kinds of things – this week it’s Arvo Pärt, some old hymns, always some Bach, and some easy & winsome pieces by a fellow named Charles Koechlin.

A third section would have to describe my study of radical politics and conspiracy theories, to which I was introduced, as most of us are, I would guess, in our young university years. It became an interest, and then a hobby, while I was on the road riding shotgun and listening to drivers talk about UFOs, the Illuminati, the CIA, JFK, Jonestown, and lizard people, and those secret and super-powerful, super-rich cabals controlled by Mormon or Catholic or Jewish magnates (or by the British Royal family!). When the drivers got tired of talking, we’d listen to the radio and learn even more. I went from hobbyist to serious amateur while putting together my book on the New Age movement. My correspondence with people in far out religious movements tended to be very vivid, to say the least, and I treasure it to this day. I never became a believer in the conspiracies, or in the religions, alas – not that I ever wanted to – though I do prefer the grand verbal edifices they produce to fictions like novels, and by a wide margin. (My favourite “researcher” is Dave Emory.)


Popular phone


On Commercial Drive a block away from the SkyTrain station.

Taking on ‘Peops’


One of my favourite books from the early 2000’s was “Peops: Portraits and Stories of People” by the artist and author Fly. This morning I had the experience, not unusual for me, of realizing the book was no longer in my library but likely in the hands or bookcase of a friend somewhere. So I searched around and was cheered to find the book available on eBay as well as on Amazon.

On the latter site I found a take-down of “Peops” (by a J W L) that was so lively and specific that I want to quote some of it here, because it brought a morning smile to my face, notwithstanding my own contrasting view:

I used to look at this book while I was staffing at an Anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia. PEOPs is a bunch of portraits of activists, punk rockers, crusties, and artists in the LES from NYC circa 2000. Each portrait is accompanied by little stories about the person on the page. Although this book is popular amongst those scenes, I really don’t think too highly of it.

#1 The artwork is terrible. Fly’s comics in the anarcho-punk newspaper Slug and Lettuce are good. She has great cartooning skills. PEOPs however, is a book of bad portraits that show her to be an artistic one trick pony. Fly’s attempts at realistic looking portraits look like something that came out of a 6th grade art class. I remember being 11 and using a smudging stick for the first time and thinking “Wow, this looks so much more realistic… It’s like magic!” Look ma, I’m an artist! … Could you imagine this woman walking around New York with a sketch pad, telling people she’s an artist, then showing them these awful drawings? Only in a place as pretentious as the Lower East Side could this happen.

#2 I’ve met bunch of the people featured in this book and I can only say a small handful of them are decent people. Other than those few, this book is a glorification of incompetant, crusty-punk screw-ups who can’t get their lives together. The majority of people featured in this book are wingnuts, losers, and dirtbags. The rest are high maintenance whiners or rich kids slumming around NYC and acting like they’re something special because they’re from the big city. The stories featured, are not that interesting. …

Generations from now this can be used as historical documentation of the types of clowns that were involved in punk rock, the anarchist scene, and the squatter movement in NYC around the turn of the millennium. …

Fly will retire a rich woman in a penthouse on the Lower East Side filled with shirtless, crusty-punk, man-servants who smell like a mixture of stale cigarettes, malt liquor, and dog feces. …

On top is one of Fly’s portraits (linked to the artist’s website) provided for your own estimation and (I do hope) gladness.



Part of my mindfulness practice these days is paying attention to acts that make me happy.

I have found that for this flâneur, looking straight up while walking around fills his sensorium with delight and gratitude.

(The picture above and the others in the new batch – click on the pic – were taken on Burnaby Street in Vancouver, a few blocks from English Bay.)

Liberal Party Iconography


A good buddy from the United States writes:

Glad you folks had another measured election (by which I mean: it didn’t last years, not that it didn’t stray into weird dog-whistle territory) and despite my revulsion at dynasties in democracies, you elected a new team. I do think, however, that the Liberals might want to stay away from Kim Jong-Il-style graphics, eh?

He appended the photo above.

Getty Images has a host of other election-night photos

Langley scene


That old tree fell down a couple of years ago. Ubi sunt.

What luck might dawn

Two posts from basil.CA’s eighth year:

20 Jan. 09: You don’t have to be trusting, or have a warm heart, to be kind.  I am colder, and farther away from you, than Neptune.

27 Dec. 09: Twenty-seven years ago today I was a groom. Shortly thereafter I understood that I could predict the future no better than I could read the past, and that my intelligence was narrow and intermittent. Eventually I stopped thinking of myself as a “smart guy.” My chief value and purpose became work. I work very hard and I work every day, to see what luck might dawn.

Thus ends our little review.

Tempi cambi.


Two posts from basil.CA’s seventh year:

15 Jan. 08: When it comes to fostering moral and humane conduct, courtesy is superior to compassion. It certainly springs from a deeper well.

10 May 08:  Can a person be vain about his or her own goodness and still be truly good? I have wondered about this for years. I think the answer is yes. [I did not tend to like such people very much, though. Still don’t, a pity.- Oct. 18, ’15]

Feedback gratefully received

A post from basil.CA’s sixth year:

21 Nov. 07: Years ago, when I was just starting in Vancouver, I got a job doing Investor Relations for a public company. My job was to draft news releases, presentations, brochures, and the like, and present them to management and staff. One staff member always tore them to pieces: “What about THAT, and THIS, etc. And you forgot THAT, etc.” I did my best to address all these concerns and maintain a professional demeanor.

After awhile my main client, the company President, evidently guessed that this regular show was beginning to make my smiling responses seem a tad bit “forced.” He turned to my colleague during one of these meetings and noted, “Where were you when the page was BLANK?” While this remark later became my unofficial job description on basil.CA — “Essentially what I do is stop pages from being blank” — it silenced my colleague thereafter, sometimes to the detriment of the company’s IR activities.

Feedback must always be gratefully received.


A post from basil.CA’s fifth year:

23 June 06: My world is narrow by choice. I don’t have interests so much as devotions, and very few of them. What might *appear* as interests are either accommodations to the world, necessary personal maintenance, or goof-ups.

Luck and grace

A post from basil.CA’s fourth year:

6 Oct. 05: I have happily made it to a point in my life where I can dine out pretty much whenever, if not also always wherever, I want. But free food is still my favourite food, whether it tastes like luck or like grace.

She’s still in diapers!

A post from basil.CA’s third year:

27 February 04: On Tuesdays and Fridays I have a long commute from the West End of Vancouver to the pastoral town of Langley, where I teach university part-time.  I pick up my first bus at 5:42AM, switch to the Skytrain downtown, then zip off to Langley from the Surrey Station in a bus that’s getting less and less quiet. With the sun rising earlier, I’m enjoying the trip more, listening in to conversations. Tuesday:

“My son said ‘motherfucker’ yesterday.  He’s three years old!  Monique told me I should put hot sauce on his tongue every time he swears.”

“Won’t work,” said a cherubic toughie whose lips held an unlit cigarette for the entire trip.  “I tried it once, and the next day I came into the kitchen and my little girl was drinking hot sauce from the fucking bottle. It’s beyond hope.  Last week we’re in the car and we hear a siren, and she goes, ‘Shit!  Cops!’  She’s still in diapers!”

We Stand on Guard for Thee

A post from basil.CA’s second year:

11 February 03:  Canadians have a socialist sense of entitlement but a capitalist expectation of accomplishment. Alas.

Judging the reader by the reader’s reading

A post from basil.CA’s first year:

17 May 02:  I run into educated people who, if they don’t necessarily judge a book by its cover, do something even more stupid:  judge a person by the books he or she reads.  Last year, for instance, I loaned a feminist friend Christina Hoff Somers’ Who Stole Feminism? How Women Have Betrayed Women, thinking, “Hey, she’d probably want to sharpen her positions by reading this controversial book.” Whoops! I hear she’s still out there on Vancouver’s hipper streets slandering me as a priapic blight. 

Recently  I calculated that I have spent about 95,000 hours of my life reading, or almost eleven years — mostly polemical nonfiction of some kind.  The amount of time I’ve spent reading material that I’ve agreed with:  Maybe a year, probably less. The amount of time I’ve enjoyed myself reading:  pretty much always, even those many months in early adulthood reading people like Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh or Rudolph Steiner (fifty or sixty books apiece) (I had friends who were believers, and I determined that reading works by their heros would help prolong our conversations); lately I’ve devoted myself to studying the history of Palestinian and Israeli propaganda — what’s to agree with there, when certainty itself is the blight?

For the last ten years, publications put out by the International Communist League have always been lying around on one of my reading tables. My favourites:  The Sparticist and Women and Revolution, which I often used in my “Bill of Rights” classes at Stanford University.  Each article ends with a call for international socialist revolution guided by the principles of Leon Trotsky; what I call “placard rhetoric” is positioned everywhere:  A recent piece entitled “Down with the Anti-Immigrant Witchhunt” concludes:  “Mobilize Multiracial Union Power in a Mass Labor-Centered Protest! Defend Immigrants, Blacks, Labor Targeted by anti-Terrorist Laws!” 

These obsolescent stylistic devices aside, there are a lot of great political pointers even for those with no Marxist sympathies at all.  These Trotskyites helped me win more than one debate. I once torpedoed a dear buddy during a conversation about the Dalai Lama, seeing how far I could go as temporary Sparticist, arguing that China was liberating Tibet from the shackles of a theocratic society that had exploited and even enslaved women.  As the afternoon wore on, I expanded my onslaught, supporting every decision made by the Central Committee of the Communist Party over the past twenty years.  This bit of contention between us was artificial, true, but we went at it with great energy and seriousness. Against a finer mind,  I won that argument.  My buddy told me awhile ago that he hasn’t engaged in adversarial political discussion since, though I have indeed tried to bait him.

Canadian Thanksgiving

It has been a beautiful day meeting up with friends I have loved for many years. I am thankful and lucky.

Happy vibes to everyone!

On Poetry


My friend Jonathan Mayhew has been on a tear of late, publishing a series of manifestos on poetry in his wonderful blog, Stupid Motivational Tricks. Some snippets (but read the whole thing):

Manifesto (1)

Nobody knows what poetry is for. I think it is for something of great importance; that it is not trivial. …      It follows that the reading of poetry is a spiritual exercise. For me, what poetry is about is the experience of awe. I only really care about poetry, or music, or art, that offers this sense of wonder about being alive in the first place. If you’ve never felt this reading a poem then you need to read someone else’s blog and leave me alone. …     There are poets who write poems, and have a decent, acceptable, style, but don’t seem connected at all to anything related to the awesomeness of poetry. There are critics who make nice arguments about which poetry belongs in which category. I have done that myself. A lot of this has nothing to do with poetry and can be safely ignored.

Another Manifesto (2)

There is a puzzling dichotomy in twentieth century poetics. Let us call it the division between aesthetics and the anti-aesthetic. It manifests itself in the debate between art itself (on the one hand) and socio-political uses of art. …     Both sides of the debate are actually in complete agreement with each other, deploying the exact same dichotomy without questioning it. …     So the puzzle is that this dichotomy would have not been comprehensible 100 years earlier. If you asked Shelley about this, he would not have understood what you meant. Or Milton or Spenser. The terms were not yet in opposition; the debate was not framed in that way in the least.

Manifesto 3

Reading poetry is a ruminative activity. Instead of being absorbed for hours in the reading of a continuous narrative, you read very short texts over and over again and then think about them for a long time. To read (really read) vast quantities of poetry is guaranteed to make you somewhat insane, since it invites solitary rumination. …     I am now the only poetry specialist in my department, so the effects of isolation are even greater.

Composition (Manifesto 4)

If you are a scholar of poetry, then you know how to pay close attention to every word and every space. You have, then, a certain prose responsibility to poetry. You must write well and accurately. You don’t have to be a poet, but pretty close. Everything I regret in my own work is the result of failure to live up to this ideal.

Manifesto 5 (viva voce)

Research is attested to in writing. Yet teaching is quintessentially oral. The living presence of the voice is what matters. …    I found myself yesterday in the engineering building, a third of a mile from my office, about to teach a class but without a copy of the novel we were reading. I still did fine, even referring to specific words and passages. Essentially I was teaching naked, though clothed in suit and tie. …You should be able to teach *viva voce*. If you need specific formats for information, such as tables of statistics, in your field, that’s fine. In poetry we depend on the written text too, and typographical details of the text can be extremely significant. But you shouldn’t have to look at notes to be able to teach something that you know well.

cross-posted from NoContest.CA

Shared Accommodations




In the mini-park on Bute near Robson

Get yours while supplies last …


Engineering Communication: A Practical Guide to Workplace Communication for Engineers (2nd ed.), by David Ingre and yours truly.