Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An overflowing and enthralling excerpt of Rawi Hage

There is something enthralling about Rawi Hage's De Niro's Game. He has such a descriptive, blunt and raw style. Sentences bubble over. Below, two sentences.

I lay on the bed and tried to sleep through the sound of the omnipresent engine, a sound that was loud but muffled like underwater signals from a clanking factory buried under seven layers of seas. I imagined a factory with armies of slave monkeys packing tuna in metal cans, and sticking on labels with esoteric languages, and arranging the cans in waterproof musical boxes screeching diabolic symphonies, and shipping them on the backs of seahorses to underwater villages filled with drowned soldiers, kidnapped maids, invading barbarians, treasure hunters and a princess who had been enslaved in a sealed bottle by a jinn with a single earring, and who was now waiting for a fisher to solve the riddle and take her back to her lost palace, where she would rejoin the caliphate in a garden of jasmine and amber, and stroll through the arches of Baghdad before the invading armies burned her favourite books and destroyed thousands of tales.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

My Vacation From The Internet

Some spilled thoughts after my vacation from the Internet.

Early Thursday morning, I left for Vancouver/Whistler for a short family vacation. Along with leaving Montreal, I also decided that I would relinquish the Internet while I was out West. No gmail, no facebook, no googlereader, no nothing.

Over the course of my Internet-free 6 days, I sometimes felt an urge to check my email but I refrained. I felt relaxed, connecting with friends, old and new, and chilling out with my family. It felt good to be Internet-free.

Upon my return, I had 71 messages in my inbox (mostly crap) and over 1000 stories in my GoogleReader inbox (most of which I deleted). There was a need to catch up, but there was also a desire to hold on to that freedom I had found. What was I really connected to?

Often, I feel like being too connected to the Internet, feeling as if there is something to check at every second -- whether someone's facebook status or a breaking newsstory or gossip hot off the press -- breeds an artificial sense of connectedness and completely false insecurities. There needs to be a middle ground.

The moral of the story? Moderation is key. Spend less time in front of the screen. Check your email twice a day, not twice a minute. And instead of connecting across the net, actually connect with those around you, in the wide wonderful world.

Friday, May 15, 2009

For Walter

Today my family and I are at Whistler for the dedication of the Cheakamus River Bridge to my late grandfather, Walter Zebrowski. Here is the unabridged text to my speech.

Soon after my grandfather died, I changed my name. Before his death in 1996, I had been Stefan Rubin (although legally I had always been Stefan Zebrowski-Rubin). With his passing, I felt it was time to finally take my full legal name and honour my heritage, even if it meant plummeting to the end of the alphabet.

When I think of my grandfather, I remember all the words others have used to describe him: a Polish man of humble roots, a valiant WWII soldier, a Canadian immigrant, an egg farmer in British Columbia. And while he never lost his thick Polish accent, these things are not at the core of my personal memories of Walter. When I think of my grandfather, Whistler is inextricably linked with his memory.

Every year, we would come to Whistler, ski and visit Walter at his cabin on Cavendish Way. I remember a slightly imposing figure but a gentle soul. And a stubborn man, a true Polish trait that continues to run in the family. But above all he was a man who loved Whistler, his second home.

In our basement hang two frames. One, from 1975, written in elegant script recounts the dedication of a lake, Lake Eva, in honour of Walter’s daughter, my mother. The other, a black and white photograph, shows a man standing on top of a mountain, proudly posed with one arm on top of a fridge. In delicate handwriting, Walter has written: 1970 little Sproatt mountain, elevation 6650 feet, TV Rebroadcasting Station. Here he has captured his accomplishment - in a very modest way - adding little to the name of a sizeable peak and housing his TV rebroadcasting station in a refrigerator.

Regardless, you can see his pride. And I have always associated my grandfather with this proud accomplished outdoorsman and pioneering entrepreneur. Whistler was Walter’s home, he was excited to be a part of shaping the community and found his way of making meaningful contributions. While we in the family know a part of Walter will always be here, since his ashes are spread atop Sproatt mountain; today, we make a meaningful public dedication in his memory, so that a part of him will always be remembered at Whistler, his beloved home.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Made of This

Today ended a three-part series done by Nick Coleman, former Arts Editor for the UK newspaper, The Independent, written for The Economist's blog, More Intelligent Life (Read Part I, Part II, and Part III.) Our earliest memory shapes who we are today was basically the premise of the interviews.

So I reflected a bit on my own earliest memories and came up with a few...

My first dream was static. It was a closeup of a ladybug. While I don't remember how many dots it had, I remember its large size and unmoving nature. I was immersed in observation.

I remember this candy store on St. Laurent called LUX. You entered through a revolving door. It was an upscale and classy treat.

As a kid me, my brother and the two neighbours next door would set up a lemonade stand on the weekends when it was hot. One rainy day, for some reason, I was committed to selling lemonade. And I set up the stand and everything. Of course, there was no business for the committed child under the umbrella.

One afternoon, I was over at the neighbour's house in their backyard. I don't know why but I decided to eat grass. My mother scolded me severely (I must have had grass stains on my pants). I made up some excuse but, really, I was pretending to be a cow.

Arrived on Nantucket, all four of us in the family got in a car and drove to find our house for our vacation. I remember getting lost - as per usual - when we drove to our new home. It was a trademark of our vacations, getting lost on the first day.

As a child I read a lot and read lots of books about the Titanic and the Holocaust. I remember cherishing an old copy of Walter Lord's A Night to Remember.

In kindergarten, at one lunchtime, I threw out my sandwich because I was done. Somehow I was discovered and told not to be wasteful and finish my sandwich.

I remember watching Peter Pan but eating dinner simultaneously. It was a treat to eat in the TV room - since we were always forbidden to eat upstairs.

In what must have been grade 2, I was chosen as a child gifted in math and spent time playing fun logic games in this strange attic-like room located up a flight of stairs.

I'm not really sure which of these memories is the earliest, but they are all moments that, if I think just for a bit, float up to the surface.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Anne Michaels (cont'd)

Anne Michaels continues to write echoes of my life.
Below I've created poetic quotation cutout of her poem Sublimation.

"Your actions have taught me what it is to love -
that it's holding back, as well as holding.


It [was] ... you
who convinced me
that nothing can be unravelled to its core,
that truth is a field, a cage, a cloud of sound.


How else to reconcile you
with my family;
our knowledge of each other
an invisible hypotenuse"