featurinG

Karen Solie
Billie Livingston
Fred Stenson
Rodney Jones
Jennifer Cockrall-King
Jessica Johnson
Tim Lilburn
Jonathan Garfnkel
SPRING 2012
JUST A GAME?
Stories That Connect
Taliban
Child
Soldiers
Turning Lives
Around
Going
Brazilian
Hair Today,
Gone Tomorrow
The Tantric
Marshes
New fction from
Giller winner
Linden McIntyre
Timothy Taylor on Sport and Faith
LITERARY ARTS
AT T¦¦ ¦AN¦¦ ´¦NT¦¦
DIRECTOR, STEVEN ROSS SMITH
MOUNTAIN AND
WILDERNESS WRITING
August 14 - October 15, 2012
(off-site manuscript development)
October 26 - November 16, 2012
(on-site residency)
Faculty: Tony Whittome, Marni Jackson
Delve into a writing project that focuses
on adventure, history, or the environment
with individual consultations, discussions,
and access to Banff Mountain Book
Festival activities.
WRITING WITH STYLE
FALL PROGRAM
September 9-15, 2012
Program director: Elizabeth Philips
Faculty: David Carpenter,
Janet McNaughton, David O’Meara,
Dianne Warren
If you are seeking an intensive week of
writing and opportunity to work with an
established writer in your genre of writing,
this workshop is for you.
¦O¦ MO¦¦ ¦N¦O¦MAT¦ON
1.800.565.9989
arts_info@banffcentre.ca
www.banffcentre.ca/writing
WIRED WRITING STUDIO
October 1-13, 2012
(on-site residency)
October 31, 2012 - March 30, 2013
(online residency)
Program director: Fred Stenson
Faculty: Peter Behrens, Don Domanski,
Charlotte Gill, Jessica Grant, Barbara Klar
Immerse yourself in a creative community
of artists, then return home for 20-weeks
of mentorship through online consultations,
discussion forums, and posted readings.
A¦¦¦` ¦` !UN¦ !:, 20!2 ¦O¦
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I S S u E 4

S P R I N G 2 0 1 2
THE GAMES WE PLAY
Ya Gotta Believe
Why do we care about sports?
ON THE RECORD
Theatre of War
A Canadian playwright in violence-rocked
Pakistan attempts to remain calm.
IN PROFILE
The Populist
Hart Hanson thought he’d end up teaching college
on Vancouver Island. He was wrong.
Timothy Taylor
Jonathan Garfnkel 32
40
22
FEATuRES
The Tantric Marshes
An excerpt from the new novel Why Men Lie.
Linden McIntyre 50
FICTION
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion,
and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.
– E. M. FORSTER, HOWARDS END
Curtis Gillespie
B
y
r
o
n

D
a
u
n
c
e
y
LITERARY ARTS
AT THE BANFF CENTRE
DIRECTOR, STEVEN ROSS SMITH
MOUNTAIN AND
WILDERNESS WRITING
August 14 - October 15, 2012
(off-site manuscript development)
October 26 - November 16, 2012
(on-site residency)
Faculty: Tony Whittome, Marni Jackson
Delve into a writing project that focuses
on adventure, history, or the environment
with individual consultations, discussions,
and access to Banff Mountain Book
Festival activities.
WRITING WITH STYLE
FALL PROGRAM
September 9-15, 2012
Program director: Elizabeth Philips
Faculty: David Carpenter,
Janet McNaughton, David O’Meara,
Dianne Warren
If you are seeking an intensive week of
writing and opportunity to work with an
established writer in your genre of writing,
this workshop is for you.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
1.800.565.9989
arts_info@banffcentre.ca
www.banffcentre.ca/writing
WIRED WRITING STUDIO
October 1-13, 2012
(on-site residency)
October 31, 2012 - March 30, 2013
(online residency)
Program director: Fred Stenson
Faculty: Peter Behrens, Don Domanski,
Charlotte Gill, Jessica Grant, Barbara Klar
Immerse yourself in a creative community
of artists, then return home for 20-weeks
of mentorship through online consultations,
discussion forums, and posted readings.
APPLY BY JUNE 15, 2012 FOR:
000EB4.BanffCentre_FP.indd 1 3/19/12 5:29:24 PM 18b-2-5-spring2012.indd 3 4/4/12 4:25:33 PM
Billie Livingston
Richard Haigh
07
10
span
Fred Stenson 12
Lynn Coady 16
Jessica Johnson 18
No Ideas But In Things
A Jack Chambers retrospective.
Kicked Off Your Pant Leg
Abandon Hip!
Occupy Your Assets
A locavore investment strategy.
Taking Her All In
The long reach of Pauline Kael.
Jennifer Cockrall-King 61
sOUnDInGs
59
Daniel Baird 57
My Father’s Bridge to Timbuktu
Oh, the places you’ll go.
Madeleine Thien 66
BRIDGEs
EI GHTEEn BRI DGEs SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEEnBRI DGEs. COM
Sea Hitler Skank
A funny thing happened on the way to Rochester.
Bards of the Bench
The verdict on judges who fancy their way with words.
The New Karoo
What a remote book festival says about the new South Africa.
Publish Then Perish
The sorry state of the digital age author.
The Hairs About Our Secrets
Tearing a strip off Brazilian-style beauty norms.
Scott Messenger
Turtle Mountain
Calvatica
Strays
Rothko via Muncie, Indiana
Tim Lilburn
pOETRY
Rodney Jones
Karen Solie
Jen Hadfeld
13
43
47
30
Can

Icons: The Beaver
Can

Icons: The Beaver
Solo Show: Room 65
Clive Holden 35
45
65
MIsCEllanY
Fetal Position Cameron Chesney 39
COMIC sTRIp
63 Paul Matwychuk
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David Janzen
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WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012
In our back page essay this month, the
peripatetic Madeleine Thien remembers
a bridge from her childhood that led
exactly nowhere, but represented, to her,
impossible distances and endless pos-
sibilities. This issue of Eighteen Bridges
is all about writers peering beyond their
national borders and experiencing the
thrills, pleasures and apprehensions
inherent in striking out into foreign terri-
tory. A playwright travels to Pakistan and
tries to keep his head while interviewing
three locals who have defantly made
themselves at home with terror. A would-
be Canadian novelist wakes up one day
to fnd himself the hottest property in
American television. A Vancouver writer
hits the Boston bar district on Super Bowl
Sunday. A nice Toronto girl embarks
upon a hair-raising firtation with Brazil-
ian beauty culture south of her own
personal comfort zone.
More than ever, the interests of
Canadians are the interests of the
world—we feel this particularly keenly
here in Edmonton, sitting, as we do, so
close to the oil sands. The internet, too,
is still a relatively new frontier, redraw-
ing traditional boundaries, both cultural
and economic, and bringing the various
solitudes together with unprecedented
intimacy and immediacy. It’s an exciting
time for the curious, for explorers like our
readers and writers. Our mantra—the
words of that passionate traveller E.M.
Forster: “Only connect!”—has never had
more resonance.
The Editors
I S S u E 4

S P R I N G 2 0 1 2
EDITORS’ NOTE
Frontiers
EDITOR
Curtis Gillespie
SENIOR EDITOR
Lynn Coady
CONSULTING EDITOR
Paul Wilson
VISUAL ARTS EDITOR
Sean Caulfeld
GUEST POETRY EDITOR
Karen Solie
DEPT. OF FACTUALITY
Head: Craille Maguire Gillies
Body: Nicole Leung,
Antonia McGuire, Jay Smith,
Olivia Smithies, Kim Tannas
ASSISTANT EDITOR
Connie Howard
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS
Deborah Campbell
Marcello Di Cintio
Craille Maguire Gillies
Lisa Gregoire
Bruce Grierson
Alex Hutchinson
Marni Jackson
Lisa Moore
Timothy Taylor
Chris Turner
CONSULTING PUBLISHERS
Joyce Byrne
Ruth Kelly
ART DIRECTOR
Kim Larson
GRAPHIC DESIGNER
Andrew Forbes
wEBSITE
Gunnar Blodgett & Duncan Kinney
UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA LIAISON
Marie Carriere
BUSINESS MANAGER
Erin Berney
Eighteen Bridges is a not-for-proft magazine
published through the Canadian Literature
Centre at the University of Alberta.
The production and design of Eighteen Bridges,
along with publishing consultation, was
provided by Venture Publishing Inc.
Subscriptions are one year for $25.95 plus GST.
Please visit www.eighteenbridges.com
ISSN 1927-9868
A THANK YOU: EB4 could not have happened without the contributions of many people
and organizations, and we owe them a great debt of thanks – Ruth Kelly, Joyce Byrne,
Lesley Cormack, Kim Larson, Craille Maguire Gillies, Cathy Condon, Kathleen Leclair,
Stephen Leclair, Timothy Caulfeld, Todd Anderson, Carl Amrhein, Catherine Swindle-
hurst, Marie Carriere, Erin Berney, Blaine Kulak, John Mahon, the Edmonton Arts
Council, Stephen Mandel, Patricia Misutka, Ryan Barber, Paul Pearson, and Eric and
Elexis Schloss. * put FSC LOGO HERE
18b-2-5-spring2012.indd 5 4/2/12 1:44:58 PM
EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
CONTRIBUTORS
KaReN SOlIe is the author of the poetry collections Short Haul
Engine, Modern and Normal, and, most recently, Pigeon.
lyNN COady is a novelist and senior editor of Eighteen Bridges.
Her most recent book is The Antagonist, published in 2011 and
nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
ROdNey JONeS is a Pulitzer Prize fnalist and winner of a
National Book Critics Circle Award. His latest collection of
poetry is Imaginary Logic.
TIm lIlBURN’S latest book of poetry is Assiniboia.
JeN HadfIeld is half-English, half-Canadian. She lives in
Shetland. Nigh-No-Place, the second of her two collections
published by Bloodaxe, won the T.S.Eliot Prize in 2008. She
is currently the Creative Futures Reader-in-Residence with
the Shetland Library. She blogs intermittently at rogueseeds.
blogspot.com
fRed STeNSON is the author of a trilogy of historical novels:
The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo. The Trade was a
fnalist for the Giller Prize in 2000, and The Great Karoo was a
fnalist in 2008 for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
He directs the Wired Writing Studio at The Banff Centre and
writes a regular column for Alberta Views Magazine.
RICHaRd HaIGH is a professor at Osgoode Hall law school.
He researches and writes in the area of constitutional law.
daNIel BaIRd is a Toronto based writer on art, culture, and
ideas. His last piece for Eighteen Bridges was “Have A Little
Faith” in the Spring, 2011 issue.
CURTIS GIlleSPIe is the editor of Eighteen Bridges. His next
book, Almost There: The Family Vacation, Then and Now, will
be published in May 2012.
pg 7 pg 32
A few of our contributors…
JONaTHaN GaRfINKel is the
author of a book of poetry, Glass
Psalms, and the plays House of
Many Tongues and The Trials of
John Demjanjuk: A Holocaust
Cabaret. He also wrote a
memoir, Ambivalence: Crossing
the Israel/Palestine Divide. The
play he describes researching
in his story “Theatre of War”
will premiere at Alberta Theatre
Projects in Winter 2013.
BIllIe lIVINGSTON is a fction
writer living in Vancouver. Her
recent book, Greedy Little
Eyes was a Globe and Mail
Best Book and winner of the
Danuta Gleed Award. Her new
novel, One Good Hustle, will be
published July 2012.
pg 18
JeSSICa JOHNSON is a former
fashion editor of The Globe
and Mail and the former
books editor of Saturday Night
magazine. She has written
about style and culture for The
Walrus, Lucky, and The Wall
Street Journal.
And the rest of them…
CameRON CHeSNey is a cartoonist, illustrator, actor, playwright,
and cheerful retail employee from Edmonton. His graphic novel,
Daphne, will be serialized in Perfect Elixir.
PaUl maTwyCHUK lives in Edmonton, where he works as the
general manager of NeWest Press. He is also a writer, actor,
playwright, and puzzle constructor, as well as the resident
pop-culture columnist for the CBC Radio program EDMONTON
AM. His weekly podcast, TRASH, ART, AND THE MOVIES, is
available for free through iTunes and Stitcher.
JeNNIfeR COCKRall-KING is a writer from Edmonton who
travelled Cuba, Europe, Canada and the US for her book Food
and the City: urban agriculture and the new food revolution.
SCOTT meSSeNGeR lives in Edmonton, where he’s a full-time
writer and communications specialist, and part-time musician.
ClIVe HOldeN is best known for two multi-disciplinary art
projects: Trains of Winnipeg (2001 to 2006), and the on-going U
Suite (2006 to 2020). Born and raised on Vancouver Island, he
splits his time between there and Toronto.
TImOTHy TaylOR is a Vancouver-based novelist and journalist.
His frst novel Stanley Park was nominated for the Giller Prize, the
Writers Trust Fiction Prize, as well as both the Vancouver and
BC Book Prizes. His latest novel, The Blue Light Project, has
recently been nominated for the CBC Bookie Award.
madeleINe THIeN is the author of three books of fction, including
her most recent novel, Dogs at the Perimeter, published by Granta
Books this year and translated into eight languages. She is a previous
winner of the City of Vancouver Book Award, the Amazon.ca First
Novel Award, and the Ovid Festival Prize, awarded each year to an
international writer of promise.
pg 50
lINdeN maCINTyRe grew up
in Cape Breton and lives in
Toronto where he works for CBC
Television. Why Men Lie is his
third novel. He also published
a memoir, Causeway: A Pas-
sage from Innocence, and
co-authored a non-fction title,
Who Killed Ty Conn.
18b-6-21-spring2012.indd 6 4/2/12 1:46:33 PM
SPAN
Reporting back
WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012
bbie Hoffman, social activist and
professional shit-disturber of the
nineteen-sixties once said, “The first
duty of a revolutionary is to get away with
it.” Since my godmother, Karen, is mani-
festly a child of the Sixties, I’ve decided to
blame Hoffman for her recent stealth ex-
ercise in social agitation—though Karen
says it all began with her Catholic school
nuns and their emphasis on civil rights
and justice. I support those goals. The
problem is that my godmother is unruly
and prone to obsession.
Prior to her current fixation, she at
least had a couple of altruistic projects
from which to choose. There was the
neighbor whose grip on reality was so
fragile that she quit her job because
she thought that colleagues were try-
ing to poison her through the offce air
conditioner. Karen went to the woman’s
apart ment every few days beari ng
groceries and sympathy only to be
deployed as a back- up sni f fer for a
phantom gas leak. Not only did Karen
pay the unemployed woman’s rent, but
she also agreed to pay for an inspector
to verify that the apartment was free of
toxic gases. Competing with the neigh-
bour was my godmother’s recently
adopted Afghan hound, an incessant
barker and biter of unfamiliar butts. Many
a visit to Karen’s house was hijacked by
back-to-back episodes of Dog Whisperer.
Eventually, with the help of Cesar Millan
and the judicious use of pharmaceuticals,
the dog settled down into something hairy
but manageable. The needy neighbour,
on the other hand, was uninterested in a
“pack leader” or pharmaceuticals—but
soon moved out of town.
Like nature, Karen abhors a vacuum.
Her humanitarian impulse moved on
to a project with former school chums
at Simon Fraser University who were at
work on an anthology of essays about
little known atrocities of the twentieth
century. When the group began hunt-
ing for a publisher, both Canadian and
American editors repeatedly singled out
one sticking point: an essay on the dis-
placement of the Palestinian population
from the new state of Israel. As a result,
Karen’s spotlight landed squarely on
what seemed to be the forbidden issue.
Obsession kicked in. Suddenly, no dinner
was complete without the word Nakba.
“The Nakba!” Karen repeated into my
blank face. “In 1948, 700,000 Palestinians
fled or were expelled from their homes.
Today, the Israelis have blockaded the
Palestinian territory of Gaza including
its seaport, making it the largest outdoor
prison in the world!”
Soon, whether drinking morning cof-
fee or talking over dinner, all roads led
to Gaza. Mention of air travel, for instance,
would lead to America’s interest in an
Israeli airport security model, which
would bring us to the inevitable: “Imagine
if you were Palestinian.”
Must I? Again?
I have gamely attempted to bring
up other atrocities: famine in Somalia,
child soldiers in Uganda, or the forgotten
people in Canada’s poorest postal code,
Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. But,
much like her Afghan hound with a
stranger’s tush in his teeth, Karen will
not let go of Gaza. I suppose I should have
seen this coming forty years ago.
IN 1970, wheN I wAS fouR yeARS old, my
mother moved us into her boyfriend
Michael’s house on Fourth Avenue in
Vancouver. Michael had a plate in his
head. The Korean War, my mother said,
had messed him up—he couldn’t help his
outbursts, the fact that he bellowed all
his words. It all came to a head the night
that Bruce, Mom’s former beau, showed
up looking for her, and Michael chopped
off the man’s fnger with a butcher knife.
I can still see the blood on the linoleum
foor and remember my desperate wish
not to be there in that kitchen, but with
the hippie girls who lived next door.
Twenty years older than I, those hip-
pie girls, Karen and Marilyn, watched
from their window, and saw the blood
that led down our front steps and onto the
sidewalk. They saw the ambulance at the
curb, and my mother and I loaded into the
back of a squad car. They had witnessed
Mom’s black eyes, her split lips—but this
SeA hITleR SKANK
A
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particular episode brought dark possibility
to a whole new level.
Karen and Marilyn became my con-
stant companions. They introduced me
to tie-dye sessions and the beauty of the
poncho; to protest music and the impor-
tance of smuggling draft dodgers into
Canada; “Get up, stand up: don’t give up
the fght!” and “All we are saying is give
peace a chance.”
At home with Michael, things got bad
enough that my mother fnally wised up.
One day while he was out, she packed
our bags. Without a word to anyone we
hopped a plane to Toronto and never saw
Michael again—or Karen and Marilyn.
Until 2000, that is, the year I published a
novel called Going Down Swinging.
In a bookstore in Vancouver, thirty
years after losing contact, that title leapt
out and grabbed hold of Karen. Days lat-
er, I came home to a phone message: “Hi,
my name is Karen. I knew you when you
were a very little girl. My friend Marilyn
used to call you Billie Badoodle…”
The frst time we spoke, she told me
about baths we all took together—the
only way that she and Marilyn could
check me for bruises. “And I need to tell
you about your puppy,” she said.
Puppy?
“You called her Mrs. O’Malley From
Down the Alley. We heard Mike kicking
her one night. We were scared he might
kill her. So, we lured her to our side of the
fence, and then took her to our friend’s
farm. We were afraid of how bad it might
get over there so we planned to kid-
nap you, too. But then…we decided we
couldn’t play God.”
Living just a couple of miles from my
Vancouver apartment, Karen and I have
since become inseparable. Marilyn is
now in Oregon and we cross the border to
be with one another whenever we can. In
2008, before I married my husband, Tim,
I was baptized Catholic. Karen suggested
I be baptized at her house and hold our
wedding reception in the backyard.
Mari lyn drove up to j oi n us. In
Karen’s living room, as the three of us
held hands through the baptism ritual,
memories of their long-haired Sixties
determination to rescue Mrs. O’Malley
and me rippled through my chest. Thirty
years later and we had picked up right
where we’d left off. I was lightheaded
with adoration and it was hard to keep the
tears in my head as Karen and Marilyn
became my godmothers.
Cut to 2011. GodmotheR KaReN, afteR yeaRS
of selling real estate, had retired and
returned to her activist roots with a
vengeance. Each morning she and her
husband, John, scanned the Internet
for stories t hat i nvol ved Israel or
Palestinians. They attended meetings
and marched in protests. Around the
house were stacks of leafets and big yel-
low signs mounted on sticks: “Stop the
Occupation of Gaza” or “Free Gaza Now!”
They boycotted Israeli products, and
planned fund-raisers for the Canadian
Boat to Gaza, a group assembled with
the intention of breaching Israel’s naval
blockade.
When the Boat to Gaza group reached
its financial goal of approximately three
hundred and fifty thousand dollars, the
committee purchased a ship and christened
it Tahrir, Arabic for “liberation” (as in Tahrir
Square, epicentre of the Arab Spring).
As Karen and John made plans to
travel to an undisclosed location in the
Mediterranean for several weeks to
join supporters of the international flo-
tilla, headlines of the past year flashed
through my mind. On May 31, 2010, nine
people in a fotilla of six boats were killed
when Israeli Defense Forces commandos
boarded a Turkish boat in international
waters off the coast of Gaza. Turkish
forensic teams later identified nearly
250 bullet holes in the body of the ship.
I wanted a promise from her. “You’re
not going on that boat, though. Right?”
Participation on board the Tahrir,
she said, was reserved for high profile
advocates. “I’m not famous enough,” she
assured me.
Because Tim and I were about to
give up our apartment, Karen invited us
to housesit and take care of the Afghan
ass-biter. It was shortly after we moved in
that the boat committee asked her to sail
to Gaza. John would stay on land to act as
a communications offcer.
“You said you wouldn’t!” I hollered,
bug-eyed with exasperation.
“Don’t worry, Binky,” she said. “The
IDF doesn’t beat up women.”
“Says you!”
Karen spent the next month being
trained in “non-violent resistance.” The
afternoon she left for Greece, I reminded
her, “You don’t have to go on the boat.”
I had a powerful urge to grab her by the
lapels and shout, “Who is this going to
beneft? Why can’t you give the money to
The Red Cross?”
In July 2011, the Freedom Waves to
Gaza Flotilla—ten ships, carrying hun-
dreds of pro-Palestinian activists from
several countries—was docked in various
ports in Greece. Israel referred to the group
as “The Provocation Flotilla.” Two ships
eventually withdrew, alleging the Israelis
had sabotaged their vessels. Greece,
meanwhile, in the midst of an economic
meltdown, bowed to external pressures
and prohibited members of the fotilla from
sailing. The Tahrir attempted to make a
run for international waters and was swift-
ly overtaken by the Greek coast guard
who turned the ship back to port. I re-
ceived a mass email from Karen that read:
“Just know this—that 8 nautical miles we
travelled on our boat were the best 8 any
of us have ever travelled! Yes, we know the
difference between determination and
obstinacy. It appears Israel has crossed
from obstinacy to obduracy. In Greek
drama, this is known as a tragic flaw. In
solidarity, Karen.”
Marilyn phoned. “Did you read that?”
“Yes,” I said. “Sounds like 1968 and
she just stormed the Columbia library.”
The Flotilla disbanded, vowing to try
again. Karen and John returned home,
tanned and vivacious, burbling with tales
of Greek adventure. Maybe, I thought,
it’s out of their systems now.
In the fall, Karen announced a trip to
Rochester, New York, her hometown. John
had business associates there and Karen
would visit with family. But flight details
seemed murky. Suddenly, the two of them
began spending a great deal of time mur-
muring behind closed doors. It occurred to
me that perhaps Tim and I had outstayed
our welcome, so I let her know that we
would look for a new apartment. “I’m afraid
we’re getting a little underfoot,” I said.
“No!” Karen exclaimed. “You’re not!
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WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012
I mean I know I can’t keep you forever,
but November and December are shitty
months to move. January, too.”
Days after they left for Rochester, I re-
ceived a mass email from John. “As I write
from Göcek, Turkey, Karen is aboard the
Tahrir, now headed toward Gaza and be-
ing tracked by the Israeli Navy.”
I pounded out a note to Karen. “Liar!”
“A funny thing happened on the way
to Rochester,” she wrote from the ship.
“I’m sorry. We were sworn to secrecy.”
As instructed, I watched the online
news. About seventy kilometres off the
coast, still in international waters, the
Israeli navy intercepted the Canadian
vessel as well as its Irish sister ship.
According to Israeli news, the arrest was
peaceful. Activists on board maintained
that they were hit with water cannons,
which caused a collision between the two
vessels. Nearly two-dozen armed com-
mandos boarded the Tahrir. Once the
boats had been towed to the Israeli Port
of Ashdod, some passengers refused
to disembark, and were subsequently
kicked and dragged off. The group was
then photographed, fngerprinted, and
interrogated. They would be released for
deportation only if each signed a state-
ment declaring that he or she had entered
Israel voluntarily and in an illegal man-
ner. Since the statement was in Hebrew,
none of them could read the actual text.
Several declined to sign.
Meanwhile, the publ ic relations
war raged through the blogosphere.
Palestinian supporters condemned the
arrests as an act of piracy. Pro-Israel
bloggers referred to the Tahrir as The
Sea Hitler and its passengers as “ditch
pigs” and “leftard bozos.” Several sites
featured photos of Karen and dubbed her
“Sea Hitler Skank.”
“Although faded,” one commenter la-
mented, “this woman is rather beautiful,
and quite good at talking to the camera.
Does she strike you as a failed actress?”
Though she had f lown from Van-
couver, another poster answered, “I ran
into her at the Sea Hitler Send- Off at
Toronto’s airport, the camera was very
kind.” Yet another commenter said he’d
come across Karen in Kingston, Ontario.
Like Elvis, she was everywhere.
Eventually, Karen received a deporta-
tion agreement written in English. After
crossing out several clauses and rewrit-
ing others, she signed with a fictitious
name and, then, through a consul, got
word to John who bought her a ticket to
meet him in Turkey.
The following day she contacted me
through Skype from a hotel in Istanbul.
Sitting on her bed with John, she told
me how the Israelis had searched and
re-searched her luggage, and how she
had watched as a male guard picked up
her panties and sniffed them.
“You’re coughing,” I said. “You look
like hell.”
“I’ve got a cold,” she explained. “We
were wet from the water cannons. There
was frost on the ground outside the jail
and they left the cell windows open.”
Guards, she said, ordered all prisoners to
their feet for a head count every couple
of hours, so there was little sleep to be
had. Because the lights were often left on
twenty-four hours a day, Karen and her
cellmates protested one night by bang-
ing spoons on the metal door. A guard
stormed into the cell wielding her ring of
keys in their faces. They were animals,
the guard screamed, not even human.
When the group pointed to the list of
prisoners’ rights posted on the wall, she
informed them that since they were not
Israeli, they had no rights. ‘“We make the
rules’,” Karen quoted. ‘“You do not get
anything I do not give you, see?’ ”
The prison’s rules would change
constantly, she said. “Like with food—
they would wheel it into the cell on a cart.
We were allowed to serve ourselves the
frst day. They gave us a couple of loaves
of stale bread and a can of tuna dumped
on an old aluminum TV dinner tray.” The
next meal, the guard barked at them,
“You do not take. I give you food.” The
following day, Karen was told to pass her
plate to her cellmate who would get food
for each of them. She told them to keep
their food, and refused further meals.
When she asked a guard for drinking
water, she was handed a used plastic wa-
ter bottle, and told to rinse it. “Constant
mind games. They said I could make a
call when I got there and then wouldn’t
let me use the phone for two days.”
As she neared the end of her story,
Karen described the man who sat next to
her on the fight back to Turkey, an Israeli
who had emigrated from New York. “He
didn’t know much about Gaza. He said he
wasn’t very political.”
I was sympathetic, but frustrated and
looking for a target. “Bullshit! Moving
from New York to Israel is political.”
“Whoa! Keep talking like that and
you’ll be on the next fotilla to Gaza.”
I responded with the worlds of the old
beat poet, Gary Snyder: “The most radi-
cal thing you can do is stay home!”
KaReN RetuRNed beaRING GIftS of coNtRItIoN:
a Turkish carpetbag and a pair of harem
pants from the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
She was elated and verging on manic
her first day home, running errands
and dashing several kilometres on
foot. When the adrenaline wore off, she
crashed into a heap and it took weeks
to recover from what turned out to be a
respiratory infection. My anger dissolved
to guilt. I brewed hot water with chunks of
peeled ginger and lemon, and stirred in
dollops of honey. I brought her laptop to her
room, showed her how to get into my Netfix
account and download movies in bed.
When she was back on her feet, she
seemed to slip into a kind of sadness.
“What’s wrong with me?” she wondered
out loud. “I feel sort of depressed and I
have no right to be. What happened to
me was nothing compared to what they
face in Gaza.”
I could hear the echo of her long ago self:
the girl who taught me to tie-dye, the girl
who saved Mrs. O’Malley. “It’s just that…
we raised all that money and then we lost
the boat to the Israelis. And, what changed?
Every time I read the news, it’s worse.”
I wished I could think of the right
thing to say, the nurturing thing—the
thing that Karen would say.
If I understand it correctly, in chaos
theory, the butterfy effect is the sensitive
dependence on initial conditions; where a
small change at one place in a nonlinear
system can result in large differences
to a later state. Yesterday I googled the
words “Volunteer,” “Vancouver,” and
“Homeless.” In solidarity.
– Billie Livingston
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urely, many of us have played the
old parlour game of “who would you
rather have over for dinner” with literary
fgures: Virginia Woolf or Jane Austen?
Charles Dickens or Ernest Hemingway?
William Butler Yates or Bob Dylan?
Michael Ondaatje or Ian Binnie?!
Wait a minute. Ian who?
Unless you are a Canadian lawyer,
you can be forgiven for not knowing
that Ian Binnie is a former judge of our
Supreme Court, who sat from 1998 to
2011. So, while I’m guessing the more
common response would be Michael
Ondaatje, I ask you not to be too hasty
to decide. Some judges, given their love
of language and literature, can surprise.
A passion for words can make judges
appear more humane and accessible,
and, yes, even interesting. Most people,
unfortunately, are not familiar with their
literary abilities, which means that they
aren’t aware that some judges may be
worth having over for dinner. The best
might even give Ondaatje a run for his
money as the preeminent Canadian
literary dinner companion.
Our lack of knowledge about judicial
traits is generally a good thing. Judges are
supposed to be fair-minded, intelligent
and, of course, honest; at the same time,
they should be a little aloof, above the fray.
We might even want to appoint those who
are somewhat boring, dry, uncool and
humourless, because these are character
traits that allow them (or that are thought
to allow them) to appear both impartial
yet engaged, in the same way a chartered
accountant might conduct an orchestra.
But judges, at least those at the appeal
levels of our courts, are really just very
specialized essay writers. What they do
for a living is listen to arguments, then
write lengthy decisions about what the
legal answer should be. If all they had
to do was announce a winner and loser
in a case, they could simply do what all
parents do when deciding whether a
teenager’s clothes are appropriate. (Flip
a coin?) In fact, appellate judges spend a
lot of time thinking about how to justify
their decisions. Then they spend even
more time crafting the answer, based on
reasons, into an essay.
For some judges, these essays aren’t
just dry, legalistic decisions. These rare
judges pen opinions that are stories; they
employ well-crafted turns of phrase; their
decisions contain gems related to popular
culture; in some cases, they are actually
laugh-out-loud funny. The judges who
do this, do it to remain grounded, to use
literature as a way to “sell” a legal story,
to show some humanity, and to make
themselves seem less lofty.
Take the idea of judge as storyteller.
In the Anglo- Canadian legal world, a
universally admired literary judge is Lord
Denning, former Master of the Rolls in the
United Kingdom. His style is unmatched.
The first paragraph of his judgments
usually tells us everything we need to
know—setting, character and confict are
established, as he narrates a brief, human-
istic story, and signals where he thinks
justice will lie. In the case of Lloyds Bank
v. Bundy, in which an unsophisticated
gentleman farmer is out-maneuvered by
the big, mean bank, Lord Denning begins:
“Broadchalke is one of the most pleasing
villages in England. Old Herbert Bundy
was a farmer there. His home was at Yew
Tree Farm. It went back for 300 years. His
family had been there for generations.
It was his only asset. But he did a very
foolish thing. He mortgaged it to the bank.
Up to the very hilt.”
Or consider the case of Hinz v. Berry,
famous for establishing the concept that
one family member can obtain damages
for the shock of witnessing a tragedy
befalling others in the family. Denning
has the reader in thrall after just a few
lines: “It happened on 19 April 1964.
It was bluebell time in Kent. Mr and
Mrs Hinz, the plaintiff, had been mar-
ried some ten years, and they had four
children, all aged nine and under. The
youngest was one.… On this day they
drove out in a Bedford Dormobile van
from Tonbridge to Canvey Island. They
took all the children with them. As they
were coming back they turned into a
lay-by at Thurnham to have a picnic tea.
Mr Hinz was at the back of the Dormobile
making the tea. The plaintiff had taken
Stephanie, her third child, aged three,
across the road to pick bluebells on the
opposite side. There came along a Jaguar
car out of control driven by Mr Berry, the
defendant. A tyre had burst. The Jaguar
rushed into this lay-by and crashed into
Mr Hinz and the children. Mr Hinz was
frightfully injured and died a little later.
Nearly all the children were hurt. Blood
was streaming from their heads. The
plaintiff, hearing the crash, turned round
and saw this disaster. She ran across the
road and did all she could. Her husband
was beyond recall, but the children
recovered.” The only surprise is that a
Hollywood agent never had the foresight
to contact Lord Denning.
CaNadIaN judGeS aRe GeNeRally moRe
circumspect, yet they, too, occasionally
loosen up the tabs on their judicial robes.
Justice Binnie is one of those who loves an
elegant turn of phrase, as evidenced by
his words regarding a lawsuit involving
Danier Leathers, where “the warm days
of spring are not a blessing for everyone,
it seems. As temperatures rise, the sales
of leather clothing can lag…” In another
instance, he deftly overturns a lower level
judicial colleague: “the sentencing judge
commented that ‘hard cases make bad law
and this is a hard case’,” Binnie tells us,
relying on an oft-quoted legal syllogism,
which in this case led the sentencing judge
to agonize over what form of sentence
to assign to the accused. In overturning
the lower court judge’s ultimate decision,
Binnie’s gentle rebuke, elegantly, but
almost inexorably, followed: “[i]n my view,
with respect, it also made bad law. I would
allow the appeal.”
Another is Justice Morris Fish, also
of the Supreme Court. He explores the
BaRdS oF THe BeNCH
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earth and the heavens through his love of
language. The “seeds of this dispute were
sown in a thick layer of manure spread by
the appellant on a strip of his land,” he
writes in one case, while in another, he
notes that “in any constitutional climate,
the administration of justice thrives on
exposure to light and withers under a
cloud of secrecy.”
Some of the more literary American
judges, perhaps refecting their national
character, can be tough and in-your-
face. In one instance, invigorated with
the approach taken by the plaintiff ’s
lawyers seeki ng to approve a class
action before the Christmas recess,
Judge Buchmeyer decided to f lex his
literary muscle. “The acronym for the
Army and Air Force Exchange Service—
AAFES—rhymes, albeit very poorly and
Ogden-Nashedly, with the words “gave
us” (or, more correctly, “gafe us”)”, he
begins. Recognizing that the plaintiffs
felt frustrated by the delays of the “hard-
worki ng but overburdened Court ,”
Buchmeyer relates next how a balloon-
toting messenger was sent to his court
to seek information in song (to the tune
of Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow).
“Oh the case is Shafer v. AAFES/We
recall the trial you gave us/Do you re-
member, yes or no?/Let us know/Let us
know/Let us know.” Buchmeyer responds
as Oscar Wilde might have. Relying on two
precedent cases, the first from the U.S.
Supreme Court called Falcon and the sec-
ond from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals
titled Vuyanich, the remainder of his judg-
ment is written as a poem, titled “The
Falcon” in homage to Edgar Allen Poe’s
“The Raven.” The frst few lines read:
Once upon a backlog dreary, while I
wrote on, weak and weary,
Opinions in class actions fled long ago,
in days of yore,
While I pondered, nearly napping, sud-
denly there came a tapping,
As of someone gently rapping, rapping
at my chambers door.
“ ’ Ti s some l awyer,” I mut tered,
“TRO’ing at my chambers door —
Only this and nothing more.”
Then he partially turns the screws,
but lets them off at the end:
Ghastly grim and ancient Falcon
wandering from the Vuyanich shore —
Tell me whether the Fifth, the Circuit,
will approve class actions, do outpour.
And, quoth the Falcon, “Nevermore.”
Tell me truly, tell me truly, I implore
Are there—are there no class actions?—
tell me — tell me, I implore!
Quoth the Falcon, “Nevermore.”
Except in Shafer v. AAFES, and you
should probably let them know.
WhIle judIcIal PoetRy IS about aS commoN
as a talking falcon, judges do frequently
rely on popular music lyrics. As might
be predicted, Bob Dylan probably wins
out as the most often quoted songwriter.
What does the rule on expert testimony
have to do with Dylan? Well, the favoured
lyric for many judges is “you don’t need a
weatherman to know which way the wind
blows.” This captures the legal notion per-
fectly: lawyers shouldn’t mess around
and play games by subpoenaing an ex-
pert when the point they are seeking to
establish is obvious. Dylan’s allusion be-
comes the basis for an evidentiary rule.
Finally, there are the judges who
play law for laughs. In this respect, one
of my favourite judgments is from Texas,
where the judge offered a caustic rebut-
tal to a big city lawyer complaining about
the parochial conditions in Galveston:
“Defendant argues that flight travel is
available bet ween Houston and San
Antonio, but is not available between
Gal veston and San Antonio, agai n
because of the absence of a commercial
airport. Alas, this Court’s kingdom for a
commercial airport! The Court is unper-
suaded by this argument because it is not
this Court’s concern how the parties get
here, whether it be by plane, train, auto-
mobile, horseback, foot, or on the back of
a huge Texas jackrabbit, as long as they
are here at the proper date and time.” In
a withering aside, the same judge notes
that he expects the Defendant will be
“pleased to know that regular limousine
service is available from Hobby Airport,
even to the steps of this humble court-
house, which has got lights, indoor plum-
min’, ‘lectric doors, and all sorts of new
stuff, almost like them big courthouses
back East.”
Or take the Canadian example arising
from a rather nasty family dispute in-
volving a cuckolded man named Larry,
his ex-wife Catherine and her new lover
Sam. Justice Joseph Quinn sounds a little
like American Idol’s Simon Callow in full
fight: “Larry, who regularly drives by the
residence of Sam and Catherine, ‘often
shoots the fnger’ at Sam and, on about
three occasions has yelled ‘Jackass, loser.’
A fnger is worth a thousand words and,
therefore, is particularly useful should
one have a vocabulary of less than a thou-
sand words.”
the juRy IS StIll out oN What theSe lIteRaRy
efforts mean for justice. We might cherish
judges who tell stories, who speak to the
people, who employ humour, and who
make pithy observations and witty quips.
But at the same time, a judge’s job is to
decide legal disputes; any pretensions
to literary stardom should be set aside if
they interfere or obscure a correct deci-
sion. Nevertheless, a judgment is, in the
end, a form of literature, and depends on
many of the same rhetorical devices and
narrative techniques other writers employ.
At the pinnacle, developing our very own
Canadian Lord Denning would, I believe,
help humanize the judicial system.
But I’d settle for less—maybe for a
judge to venture away from nasty sarcasm
in a family dispute, while still painting a
vivid picture of failed promises. Imagine
if she wrote a line or two cobbled together
from Dylan: “the sad- eyed lady of the
lowlands, didn’t take long to realize
her mistake, since her husband always
had one hand tied to a tightrope walker
while the other was in his pants.” I’d have
that judge over for dinner, unless it was
between her and Dylan.
– Richard Haigh
a judgment is a form of literature.
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t began with a phone call. Peter Baker,
a Canadian veterinarian with a small
ani mals pract ice i n Johannesburg,
South Africa, wanted me to come to
Bookbedonnerd III, a literary festival in the
Great Karoo Desert village of Richmond.
Peter’s partner in the festival, Darryl
David, had located my novel The Great
Karoo (about western Canadians fight-
ing in the Boer War) online. I assumed
this meant he liked the book, but in fact
it was so thoroughly unavailable in South
Africa, neither Peter nor Darryl had physi-
cally seen it. It was a Governor General’s
Award for Fiction finalist in 2008, and
named for their desert: good enough.
Would I come?
While organizing the expedition,
I was called upon—by my family and
my potential funders—to explain how
attending a book festival in a largely unin-
habited desert on the far side of the planet
was going to enhance my career. They
wanted something more substantial than
my book’s title and the desert having the
same name, and I was able to satisfy most
concerns with the attendance numbers
of the frst two Bookbedonnerds (and in
the end it did result in my book becoming
available in South Africa). But another
set of questions had sprouted in my own
mind: Why was I so determined to go?
Why did so many South Africans drive
hundreds of kilometres to attend a desert
festival? For that matter, why had Peter
and Darryl created such a logistically
demanding event? It’s hard enough to get
people to cross their own city, let alone a
large country, to attend a book festival.
When I boarded the jet for Johannes-
burg, I was still foggy on several points.
Even the meaning of Bookbedonnerd
wasn’t clear. Book was book, but the
Internet was having problems with bedon-
nerd. The only place I could fnd it was in
a glossary for Athol Fugard plays, where it
was translated as “beaten into the ground.”
Books beaten into the ground. Was this
defnitive? Promising? Worrying?
On the far side of the world, Peter
Baker’s son William picked me up at
the Johannesburg airport in the family
“buckee” (pick-up), and we sped south
into the prairie that comprises most of
the fourteen hundred kilometres sepa-
rating Johannesburg and Cape Town.
The Great Karoo Desert is a four hun-
dred thousand square kilometre patch
in the middle of that expanse. My novel was
about western Canadians who came here
in 1900 to fight for the British against
Dutch South Af rican farmers. The
Canadian cowboys left home in winter,
arrived in African summer, and probably
felt lucky until they entered the blast fur-
nace of the Karoo and realized there was
nothing there for horse or man to eat or
drink. After seven hours of driving, Will
and I also entered the Karoo, and, in the
failing light, I saw a Canadian fag fying
from a rocky hilltop. “Dad put that up to
welcome you.”
Everyone calls Peter Baker ‘Baker’,
i ncludi ng his wi fe. The moment I
stepped out of the buckee on main-
street Richmond, Baker lifted me off
the ground. A ready grin in a pliant face,
wild eyes: a likeable human being. Next
I met his wife Beth: ft and pretty, with a
lovely British-South African drawl. No
antiseptic air-kissing here; she gave me
a proper buss. Then I was in their res-
taurant’s back lounge, and the youngest
Baker, Rob, was introducing me to South
African beer at twelve rand (two dollars)
a bottle. A convivial blur ensued.
What morning revealed next day was
a well-treed dorp with curlicue gables
and fretwork verandas in the old Dutch
style. Richmond has its fair share of razor
wire, iron bars and serious guard dogs,
but it struck me as much less security ob-
sessed than most South African towns.
This was my second trip, the frst being a
novel-research journey in 2005.
By the time I took my first walk in
the village, I knew the story of how the
Bakers and Richmond had become
united. When their daughter went to
Stellenbosch University, Beth and Peter
drove down regularly to visit, breaking
the trip in Richmond at an old Karoo cou-
ple’s B&B. Richmond had a problem; it
was dying. Houses had become so cheap
that people were tearing them down for
the rare yellowwood.
The Bakers bought one place, then
more, and more, until they had a sig-
nifcant stake in Richmond. When Peter
met Darryl David, who was interested
in launching a Booktown in the Great
Karoo, the two partnered. The Booktown
movement started in 1961, with Hay-On-
Wye, in Wales, near the England border.
At the time Peter and Darryl met, there
were Booktowns on every continent
except Africa. The challenge was clear.
Darryl (South Africa’s only Indian pro-
fessor of Afrikaans) would concentrate
his considerable diplomatic skills on
wooing the Booktown organization,
while Peter made sure Richmond had
enough bookstores to qualify. Richmond
made the grade: Africa’s frst Booktown.
The Bookbedonnerd Festival followed.
The heaRT of The feSTIval IS a hIGh-ceIlINGed
former library on Main Street. As I
entered, Darryl was making a welcome
speech about why he’d entitled this year’s
festival, “The Coolie Odyssey.” He wanted
The NeW KaRoo
I
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to focus on Indian writing in South Africa,
and the title was to suggest the racism
East Indians had endured. There was a
mild argument among the Indian writers
present, most of whom felt ‘Coolie’ was a
term best left on history’s ash heap.
At that stage, I got nervous. My frst
presentation was later that morning, and
I wondered how a Canadian novel about
a 110-year-old British-Afrikaaner war
would go over. Was the Boer War some-
thing else the new South Africa would be
happier leaving behind? When my turn
came, I started reading a scene set in
the Great Karoo. As I was rolling along, I
checked my watch and realized my time
was running out. I had pre-timed the
reading, but hadn’t allowed for Peter’s
generous introduction. Now I was on the
verge of going over, not the kind of frst
impression I cared to make. I was foun-
dering in search of a way to stop when an
elderly man walked by me and out of the
building. Seconds later, the whole audi-
ence jumped up and gasped. They could
see the old fellow through the window,
and he’d suddenly collapsed.
Peter and Will Baker raced out and
went to work. Peter took his pulse; Will
administered CPR. A nervous stretch
later, the man revived. The family gath-
ered around Peter for an explanation.
In his blunt style, he said, “You died.
William got you going again.”
After the dust of this had, literally,
settled, a few people said they were sorry
my reading had been cut short. I kept my
mouth shut. Basically I’d been rescued,
albeit shockingly.
That night, at Bakers’ Supper Club,
while the festival-goers were living it up, a
couple of men from the adjacent African
town entered and sat at the bar for a beer.
The Baker boys greeted them warmly but
the men seemed ill at ease. They had come
for a reason beyond a drink, and, when I was
introduced as a writer from Canada, they
decided I would suit their purpose, which,
it turned out, was to make a socio-political
point. After small talk, the spokesman of the
two said he thought the festival was good for
the town but wasn’t it ironic that, just over
there—and here he pointed toward his vil-
lage—“Most of the children cannot read.”
FRom the momeNt oF aRRIval, I had beeN
looking for some overarching principle
that held the festival together. Darryl’s
theme, “The Coolie Odyssey,” suggested
a racial harmony agenda, and, to my
innocent Canadian ears, that meant a
focus on the old racial strifes and how the
country could heal from them. Several
festival presenters and guests were well
suited to speak to that subject, especially
Ahmed Kathrada, who had spent eighteen
years jailed at Robben Island with Nelson
Mandela. Also on hand was Denis Beckett,
the man who’d run the anti-Apartheid
magazine Frontline in Johannesburg
through the bloody nineteen-eighties.
Beckett’s magazine lambasted hypocrisy
in all directions and offended most every-
one, but he was never shut down. Also
present was Frontline contributor Rian
Malan, an international journalist whose
book, My Traitor’s Heart, had laid bare his
nation’s (and his own) contradictions with
rare and harsh candour.
Near the end of the second day, Chris
Nicholson gave a talk about his new
book Papwa Sewgolum: From Pariah to
Legend. As I sat down to listen, I had only
tURtle moUNtaIN
A Stranger, Dionysos, early morning,
lower reaches of the mountain, speaks
The frst time I worked through here
--see how little I knew– frst gorge
West of the Livingstone Range, I was calling
Into badger holes, poking sticks down the throats
For Irish monks.
Pitted, pine snow a vinegary bulge against wet rock
At 5,000 feet, burnt trees to the top,
Turtle Mountain, from Lost Creek Fire, sun
A fngernail scrape in bachelor kettle aluminum,
And through it, the mountain’s pig neck and back
Appeared to move.
Now rain bloom bear-sways up
The blade of the north hump.
Dendrites – they lived in trees, another crew
Rode bulls.
Each would light candles below the tilting night of soil.
Sheep came down from the snowline.
The mountain, half of it fell away, 1903,
Seventy killed in the valley,
Northeast face, a diamond mark sickening between its horns.
The women stayed back
On the Pike Lake acreages, living out of converted grain bins,
Herding a common drawer of knives.
I came through here, Blackfoot country,
And took it up, the bad-angled company of dead people,
My ear slipped in and took the teat
In the bedroom of glaciers, it was looking for the Angel, the Twin.
–Tim Lilburn
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just learned that Mr. Nicholson was the
judge who had heard the Jacob Zuma
corruption trial. A key moment in the
trial was when Judge Nicholson had al-
lowed possible political manipulation of
the evidence against Zuma to be argued
by the defence. That led to acquittal and
removed the final obstacle to Zuma’s
presidency.
If there was a person on the hot-seat of
current South African politics, it was Chris
Nicholson, but he wasn’t in Richmond to
talk about Zuma, nor did anyone try to force
him. His Sewgolum biography is the true
story of an Indian South African golfer. Self-
taught, he had an awkward reverse grip
that caused people to dismiss him, even
after he began to dominate coloured tour-
naments. He was excluded from national
tournaments under the rules of Apartheid,
and that was his fate until an entrepreneur,
Graham Wolf, (the inventor of Oil of Olay)
took up his cause. Under Wolf’s patron-
age, Papwa Sewgolum went on to win two
major tournaments in Holland and to defeat
Afrikaans hero Gary Player in a national
championship.
Probabl y it was t hrough Chris
Nicholson that I started to tumble to the
deeper, truer meaning of the Richmond
festival. If it was about the big issues
of South Africa, then it was doing so
on an equal footing with regional and
personal causes. Side by side with Ahmed
Kathrada’s recounting his ordeal in prison
and his role in the first African National
Congress (ANC) government, there
were presentations about Karoo archi-
tecture, the endangered African wild
dog, Afrikaans poetry. South Africa has
been talking (and fighting) about its big
issues of race and poverty for decades, but
Bookbedonnerd represents something the
nation has been less able to do until now,
which is to talk and joke about all manner of
things, great and small, and to do so in the
absence of aggression and fear.
The fellow in the bar with his com-
ment about i l l iteracy i n his vi l lage
was also right. The festival would lack
something until the people of the African
village could read its books and otherwise
fully participate and mutually enjoy. But
perhaps that is to be the festival’s future,
not its present.
Saturday was the festival’s last day.
When I took part in a panel on my novel
that morning, there was a pleasant sur-
prise in the audience: Geoff White, a
friend from university days in Calgary.
Geoff, a former journalist, now works
with the Canadian High Commission
in Pretoria. We had communicated by
email, but his visit to the festival was
unexpected.
Later that day, Geoff was called into
diplomatic action. During one of the
fnal sessions, Ahmed Kathrada aired a
serious gripe against Canada. Of all the
countries he had visited as a touring
author, only Canada had impeded his
entry. Invited for a book tour in 2006,
he was told by the Canadian High
Commission he needed police clearance
to get a temporary visa. Later, the High
Commission compounded the problem by
saying there would be an exception made
for him. Kathrada told them to do him no
favours. As long as formerly imprisoned
South African freedom fighters needed
police clearance to enter Canada, he would
prefer not to go there.
The minute the session ended, Geoff
went forward to conciliate. It was a dramat-
ic moment and a reminder that Canada’s
light has dimmed in recent years. The
Harper government that impeded Mr.
Kathrada in 2006 still harbours MP Rob
Anders, the man who once called Nelson
Mandela a communist and a terrorist.
IN the fall of 2011, wheN BookBedoNNeRd
time rolled round, I was at home in
Cochrane, Alberta, and full of longing.
Though it made no sense, I wanted to be
back in Richmond, taking up a post at the
Dinner Club bar, soaking up the high-
rollicking fun. Instead, I wrote Denis
Beckett to get his perspective on the fes-
tival to help me write about it. He wrote
back immediately and said that, for him,
the key meaning of Bookbedonnerd
is that it rescued a Karoo village from
death by yellowwood hunters, and that it
was “all from books.” While the big cit-
ies of South Africa were having diffculty
supporting independent bookstores,
Richmond, a dusty dorp in the Great
Karoo, was sustaining a village full of
them.
I think I got the message. For decades,
South Africa was a place where things
like Karoo villages often died, from fear
and insecurity. A revived Karoo village is
like a fock of a critically endangered birds
found bathing in a pond. In Richmond,
book people from Johannesburg and Cape
Town can gather with the folks of the Karoo
and talk avidly about things that would have
gotten them killed in the nineteen-eighties,
and, in so doing, help fashion the new South
Africa. For Denis Beckett, this has been ac-
complished by “beautiful lunacy.” A South
African Indian teaching university-level
Afrikaans and a Canadian veterinarian get
together and rescue a desert dorp through
the currency of books—what could be
more beautifully lunatic than that?
Such things matter, because the situ-
ation there changes every day. Even as I
was fnishing this piece, interesting news
came from South Africa. Irwin Cotler, a
Canadian Liberal Member of Parliament
(and former Justice Minister in the Martin
Government), had been to South Africa
and had met with the country’s foreign min-
ister, Ebrahim Ebrahim. Mr. Ebrahim was
another ANC freedom fghter long impris-
oned on Robben Island, and he and Cotler
discussed the “criminal record” rule that
was impeding South Africa’s former free-
dom fghters from visiting Canada. Cotler
vowed to go home and launch a private
member’s bill to change this rule, and, frst
thing back, he had a press conference in
which he announced this intention. There
are early signs the Harper Government
might be willing to back the change.
As a postscript, I now know what
Bookbedonnerd means. According to
the Afrikaans language scholar Darryl
David, bedonnerd means “crazy about.”
Bookbedonnerd means “crazy about
books.” David did admit, however, that
there is another connotation of bedonnerd,
which is “fucked up.” Asked how this has
affected things, he said it has caused him
“a lot of uphill.”
– Fred Stenson
Bookbedonnerd has been accomplished by beautiful lunacy.
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s I write this, CBC radio host Jian
Ghomeshi is on Twitter tweeting
(crowing?) about the success of Canada
Reads 2012. For the first time in the eleven-
year history of the Survivor-esque best-
book competition, every one of the five
books under discussion ended up on The
Globe and Mail top ten list of Canadian
best-sellers. This is all the more remark-
able when you factor in that Canada Reads
focused the competition exclusively on
non-fiction this year, a genre that, in this
country at least, in terms of the glitzier
prizes shimmering across our publishing
landscape, is often outshone by fiction.
TERRY FALLIS, WHO WON THE COMPETITION
in 2011 for his novel The Best Laid Plans,
affirmed on his blog that Canada Reads
“sells more books in this country than
anything else, except the Scotiabank
Giller Prize,” so the CBC’s decision to
work with non-fiction writers this year
was greeted, by those writers and their
publishers, with jubilation. At last, the tre-
mendous hoard of PR wealth represented
by these two prizes would be shared be-
tween writers of fiction and non-fiction
alike. And make no mistake, neither the
word “tremendous” nor “hoard” amounts
to much of an exaggeration. Terry Fallis
goes on to describe the effect that win-
ning Canada Reads had on the fortunes
of his book and, subsequently, his pub-
lishing future. “Sales immediately shot
through the roof, as The Best Laid Plans
surged to the top of the charts of Ama-
zon, Chapters, Indigo and Kobo. It sat
on The Globe and Mail bestseller list for
more than six months…I signed with
McClelland & Stewart for a third novel,
which incidentally, I’ve just finished…
invitations to speak and read at libraries,
book clubs and literary festivals flooded
my inbox and are still coming in.”
The trickling noise you may be hearing
in the background even now—kind of like
a burbling stream—is the sound of thou-
sands of Canadian writers’ jaws simultane-
ously going slack and spilling forth drool.
This is perhaps not so pleasant an im-
age to a reader. That is, if you like to imag-
ine authors as men and women of dignity
and gravitas, focused only on their art and,
as Keats put it, “the truth of the imagina-
tion.” Similarly, it’s not so nice if you are an
author yourself and have always wanted
to think of yourself in that Keatsian way.
The ‘above-it-all’ writer has always been
an ideal, of course, and something of a
ridiculous and unfair one, especially in
these recessionary times, the assumption
being that any writer worth his salt can
(and somehow should) exist in some pure
elevated ether, high above the ground-
lings of commerce. Would that it were so.
ALREADY IN THIS ESSAY I HAVE MENTIONED
Twitter, CBC Radio, The Globe and Mail,
and quoted from an author’s blog which
references Amazon and Kobo. I will soon
have a few things to say about Facebook.
The ratio of references made to “traditional
media” versus what’s now called “new me-
dia” is indicative of something important—
something the CBC was figuring out right
around the time they instituted a major
change to the Canada Reads competition
(that being 2011, the year Fallis won).
That decision was to get listeners directly
involved in the competition itself through
social media.
A CBC producer working on the com-
petition that year told me the decision was
made for a number of reasons, “all dealing
with increasing audience engagement.”
Although Canada Reads is a one-week
show on the radio, she explained, “months
of research and content goes into the web-
site; yet the number of site visitors didn’t
reflect the amount of work that was going
into the site. We all agreed that social me-
dia could have an important part to play in
generating conversation in that sense.”
BEFORE IT TURNED SOCIAL MEDIA TO AUDIENCE
engagement purposes, Canada Reads
was a fairly popular radio program that
involved five panelists—authors, actors,
politicians, athletes, public figures—each
championing a Canadian novel supposedly
close to their hearts. Goodness knows
even this format attracted its share of
detractors. Some people were troubled
by the explicit modeling of the competi-
tion on the American television show
Survivor—books being “voted off the
island,” as it were. It can be difficult for
writers, as well as the most passion-
ate book lovers—that is, people who sit
around thinking critically about literature
all the livelong-day—to listen to radio
panelists dismiss a book for having, say,
“unlikable characters” or a “slow pace.”
It’s not that these qualities don’t make an
honest difference to a reader’s experience,
it’s just that people who agonize for hours
about the placement of a comma cannot
stand to hear about such things.
Then again, so what? Canada Reads
was guilty of not pleasing all of the people
all of the time, but it certainly pleased a
lot of them, particularly the writers and
publishers lucky enough to have their
books anointed by the five panelists.
And CBC was pleasing them, it should be
noted, during a time when other ‘tradition-
al’ media outlets were mostly abandoning
the conversation about Canadian books
(leaving most of the labour to those who
were willing to do it for love—bloggers).
Take television, for example. Where
once there were nationally broadcast pro-
grams eager to feature authors as guests—
Dini Petty, Vicki Gabereau, Midday, Hot
Type—as of 2005 or so there was…well, a
whistling void. 2008 was a bad year in gen-
eral, of course, but it was a particularly bad
year for print media. In desperation, The
Globe and Mail revamped itself, and a casual-
ty of that desperation, surprising no one, was
its stand-alone Saturday book section. At the
same time, the Toronto Star halved its book
coverage from four pages to two. Meanwhile,
the Postmedia Network, having shored up
ownership of most other Canadian newspa-
pers of note, would often run a single review
or profile of a given author in everything
from the Victoria Times-Columnist to the
Ottawa Citizen. That is, one journalist, rep-
resenting one opinion, would write a single
review, which appeared in multiple
venues across the country.
THE FALLOUT FROM THESE VARIOUS ECONOMIC
forces must now be acknowledged.
Certainly it’s not news to anyone that
print media has been undergoing a seis-
mic shift over the past decade. Some-
times it feels as if a rampaging giant has
gathered up all the remaining scraps of
PUBLISH THEN PERISH
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print culture and fung them up into the
stratosphere. Those of us with a stake
in the outcome have spent the last few
years in a holding pattern, gazing upward,
mouths open, wondering when the pieces
will fall back to earth and where on
earth they’ll land. A very funny satirical
essay by Ellis Weiner appeared in The
New Yorker in October 2009, purporting
to be an email to an author from a publish-
ing intern named Gineen. Gineen began
by announcing she had been brought in
“to replace the publicity department here
at Propensity Books.” Ha ha ha! sobbed
writers and publishers, desolately for-
warding the link to one another, posting
it along with a wry remark or two on their
Facebook pages. It was so funny because
it was true—so true it wasn’t even funny.
Publicity departments were not only
being slashed, but entire publishing houses
were joining independent bookstores in
the graves that had been dug out for them
courtesy of the superstore retail model,
as represented by Chapters and Borders.
For writers who believed they had enjoyed
solid, affectionate relationships with their
publishers, the 2009 fall out was so severe
that if you were not Stephanie Meyers, or
at the very least touting yourself as the
next Stephanie Meyers, you really couldn’t
expect to have your calls returned.
The New Yorker’s satirical “email”
went on to skewer the new normal in
publishing—specifcally the offoading
of much of the traditional work of pub-
lishers onto any remaining authors lucky
enough to land a book deal (tellingly, the
book under discussion is titled Clancy the
Doofus Beagle: A Love Story). More often
than not, that work was expected to take
place in the exciting (inexpensive), new
(baffing) world of the web 2.0.
“Do you blog?” asks Gineen. “It would
be great if you could post at least 600
words every day until further notice…
Don’t worry if you think you’re not on
Facebook,” she continues, “because you
actually are. Jason enrolled you when you
signed the contract last year.”
Finally, after instructing the hapless
author to “spray-feed your URL in niblets
open-face to the skein” and “tabskim your
readers’ comments” via “Twitter, Chitt-
chaTT or Nit-Pickr,” the intern asks the
author to make sure, “When you reply to
comments, try to post at least one photo per
hour of you doing everyday tasks around
the house, such as answering comments
and posting photos.”
In short, the essay provides a satiri-
cal snapshot (or should I say screengrab)
of the terror encircling those whose fates
were enmeshed in the world of publishing
in 2009 and the extent to which that terror
was tied up with the rapidly transforming
world of digital media.
Because things have been so bad in
publishing for so long, it’s hard to talk
about the digitally-driven changes hap-
pening now without sounding as if you are
bemoaning them, or blaming the internet
itself for the bad. But it seems to me that the
fabric of publishing in North America and
the UK has been fraying and threadbare
for quite some time, mostly thanks to the
above-mentioned superstore model that
took over in the early aughts—a corporate
strategy that had nothing whatsoever to do
with the web. That digital culture would
steal in to patch those holes, or replace
entire patches in the quilt anew, surely
amounts to an inevitability.
Now we cIRcle back to late 2010 wheN the
CBC announced its new twist to the
Canada Reads competition. In honour of
the contest’s 10th anniversary, Canada
Reads decided to compile a long-list of “40
essential Canadian novels of the decade”
from which the fnal fve would be taken,
and, this was the kicker, those forty books
would be “chosen by you,” CBC listeners
and devotees of the show.
Except everyone realized more or less
immediately that you didn’t have to be a
CBC listener or a fan of Canada Reads, or
even someone who likes to read very much,
to go the CBC website and cast a vote, an
anonymous vote. Writers took to the in-
ternet and launched campaigns for their
books—some playful, jokey and self-dep-
recating, others abject and desperate and a
little hard to watch. Yet the initiative was a
PR masterstroke and a stroke of signifcant
good fortune for Canadian publishing—not
only had the CBC launched a galvanizing,
wildly popular showcase for Canadian fc-
tion, they’d come up with a way to garner
attention for, not a mere fve books this time,
but forty. What’s more, writers could now ef-
fect the very outcome of the competition.
So what if they were driven complete-
ly out of their gourds in the process?
To understand the immense pres-
sure this new format placed on Canadian
writers, one needs to understand the
elusiveness of what we call literary ‘suc-
cess’ in this culture. First of all, literary
success looks nothing like what we would
consider success in any other industry.
It involves neither significant amounts
of money nor widespread recognition.
It guarantees no future in particular.
Canadian publishing is so small—our tribe
of readers being devout yet demographical-
ly humble—that the only real benchmark
of success when it comes to being a writer
in Canada is the simple act of getting one’s
book published. What in any other industry
would constitute the frst rung on the lad-
der, is, for most writers, alpha and omega.
Anything that comes after that—high-pro-
fle reviews, award nominations, a second
book deal—is gravy.
The problem is that, for many, the
gravy never gets passed to their end of the
table. This has always been the case for
some writers—often those publishing
with smaller houses, who accordingly
command smaller PR budgets—but over
the past decade, as radio and television
shed one book-friendly program after
another and newspapers shed page after
page of books coverage, the playing feld
has become smaller and smaller. Until
fnally, as of late 2010, it had been winnowed
down to the two single pinpoints identifed
above by Terry Fallis: the Scotiabank Giller
Prize and Canada Reads.
So with Canada Reads seeking forty
“essential books of the decade,” writers
were faced with an unprecedented
opportunity. Moribund careers could
be revived. Flagging sales revitalized. A
novel that fell fat six years ago—either
because Atwood, Ondaatje and Munro all
had books out that year or because one’s
publicist turned out to be a secret drink-
er—could be magically repackaged and
re-presented for the public’s delectation.
Canada Reads 2011 offered every writer
in Canada a second chance—another
chance to stake out a corner of the rapidly
disappearing PR landscape.
But first they had to get on that top
forty list. And for that, they needed the
votes. They took to Facebook. They took
to Twitter. They took to YouTube. They
ransacked their email contacts list. “It’s
writer- ducking season again,” sighed
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journalist Shannon Rupp in an article
published in The Tyee entitled: “Why Call
it Canada Reads? Should be: Authors
Beg.” Yet nobody who understood any-
thing about a writer’s reality in Canada
could blame them for it.
Meanwhile, the CBC enjoyed levels of
“audience engagement” the likes of which
no one had ever seen. Here we should pause
for a moment of genuine appreciation at what
the CBC has accomplished via this competi-
tion. Suddenly, radio listeners—the most
combative of old-media footsoldiers—will-
ingly and decisively followed their beloved
CBC online. It seems to me the Mothercorp
stands head and shoulders above other tra-
ditional outlets in terms of how successfully
it has integrated with and adapted to the
rapid advances in digital culture (example:
two days ago I downloaded their music app,
today I wonder how I ever lived without it). In
early 2011, Canada Reads was taking place
as much on the web as it was on the radio—
more, really—their website abuzz with
commenters, a streaming video broadcast
of the debate available on CBC.ca complete
with a live-stream audience commentary
matching the discussion beat for beat. Not to
mention a frantic hoard of writers doing the
CBC’s PR work for it in ensuring that every
last person in their social network became
aware of the competition.
And now it’s 2012 and CBC Radio is
coming off its most successful Canada
Reads to date. It also happens to have been
its most controversial, a result of one of the
judges taking the ruthless, reality TV pedi-
gree of the program perhaps a bit too much
to heart. Dispensing with the Canadian kid
gloves, she forwent a discussion of the non-
fction books themselves in favour of person-
al attacks on the authors. One writer, having
penned a memoir about her revolutionary
activities under the Pinochet regime, was
called a “bloody terrorist.” The other,
another memoirist recalling her teenage
arrest and imprisonment in Iran, was accused
of simply making her story up. It made for
something of a scandal, to be sure. Many lis-
teners were outraged. The Twitterverse was
abuzz. Facebook discussion threads were
long and heated. “Audience engagement”
was no doubt at a premium.
What’s tricky for those ink-stained
anachronisms among us to grasp as we at-
tempt to negotiate the passage from news-
print and radio waves to the happy land of
zeros and ones, is how social media obliges
each of us—from fourteen-year-old Face-
bookers to top executives at Google—to
pretend we’re all just friends at one big online
party. The bigger the corporation, the more
useful it is to stamp the social media smiley-
face on practices like, for example, Face-
book’s harvesting of its users’ personal data
or Jeff Bezos’ recent attempts to ‘eliminate
the middleman’ (that being bookstores and
publishing houses) for the supposed beneft
of up and coming new authors and penny-
pinching readers. Sure, most of us at the par-
ty have business cards tucked away in our
purses, but no one wants to be caught dead
overtly plying their trade. That’s so old
media. So we link, we ‘like’, we RT—we hold
contests on our sites, inviting ever one to
play along. And everybody does play along.
Those who don’t are swiftly left behind.
– Lynn Coady
he frst time I went for a bikini wax,
I had no idea what I was getting
into. Friends with standing appointments
and a landmark episode of Sex and the
City had prepared me for pain, but—now
in my thirties and having survived the
various types of pain a feminine life can
bring, short of childbirth—I thought I’d
be able to handle it.
What happened next is mostly a blur.
I was led, by a gentle woman about my
age, into a salon where Toronto’s afflu-
ent husbands ritually send their wives for
Queen-For-a-Day retreats. If you’re going
to entrust your private parts to a hot-wax-
bearing stranger, so I thought, you want to
know you’re in good hands. (And whatev-
er differentiated a discount wax joint from
a top-drawer one, I didn’t want to know.)
It still amazes me to think that,
in spite of having worked as a fashion
editor for a national newspaper, I didn’t
know exactly what I was in for. The semi-
otics of bikini waxing are tossed around
in women’s magazines, but rarely de-
fined. In a time when everyone seems
to have at least a functional understand-
ing of how Viagra works, regardless of
age or gender, ignorance and euphe-
mism abound when it comes to intimate
depilation. Gee Beauty, a go-to salon
for Toronto socialites, offers a link on its
website that leads to a page (“Down
Below”) with abstract filigree whorls
and curlicues representing options
called “Upper Management”, “Houdini”,
and “GIG” (the airport code for Rio de
Janiero).
This spa of record proposed a Tra-
ditional bikini wax ($37), a French wax
($57), and a full Brazilian ($88). I went
with the French partly because I have
long trusted that country’s approach to
fashion and food and assumed this might
represent some universal quality of good-
ness (French toast, French braid). In
other words, I had chosen the pubic
equivalent of a pair of Louboutins or a
bottle of Veuve Clicquot.
Reader! I am a wiser, worldl ier
woman now.
In a treatment room, I lay covered
from thigh to armpit by a towel. The frst
cue that we had left behind any pretense
to bodily inhibition was the lack of a “pri-
vacy thong.” In most spas, this item will
be offered where nudity arises, even as a
token. Apparently I had checked my mod-
esty, and who knows what else, at the door.
The aesthetician lifted the towel, assessed
my pubic area with a professional’s dispas-
sionate interest, and went to work.
With quick, practiced movements,
she took fabric strips, pressed them
down onto the wax she had applied to my
thighs and front, and tore them off. Re-
calling the home leg waxing efforts of my
teens, it wasn’t bad at frst. But she had to
crook open my legs to continue, and I felt
suddenly bad without quite knowing for
whom, or what I had done.
When you grow up in a country like
Canada, chances are the only people
who see your pudenda are your lover and
your gynecologist. If you are a nice girl,
your own mother may not even have seen
your “private parts” since you were in pre-
school. Certainly, you haven’t fashed your
BFF in some college bar. I wasn’t sure
THE HAIRS ABOUT
OUR SECRETS
T
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what was more disturbing, the eye-water-
ing rips of the waxing strips or the sure
way the aesthetician knew to lay fat her
palm against my genitalia to minimize the
pull. I had no precedent for an experience
so equally intimate and clinical by nature.
When she began to wax my actual
vulva, I realized that life as I knew it,
which generally consists of a pleasant
triangle between a job, an apartment,
and Whole Foods, was revealing another
universe. I thought of the network of de-
signer shops outside and its professionally
blow-dried shoppers who drink Prosecco
in the afternoon. As if I had been granted
X-ray vision, I could now see what most
of them must do, too. Below the enviable
perfection of the surface, there was some-
thing so undignifed about this ritual that
it seemed to discredit its own worth. I won-
dered what drove them to it.
At a certain point the aesthetician
asked, “Do you want me to do the back?”
I didn’t know what might remain to be
done, but I recognized another euphe-
mism when I heard one. “Just do what-
ever you normally do,” I said. “Give me
what most people get.” It was clear at that
point that this might be my life’s one bikini
wax—it made sense to go the whole hog.
Counter to the era of blog-infuenced
and confessional journalism we live in,
I don’t want to describe what happened
next. But the emotions of it mirrored the
testimonials of those who have been ab-
ducted by aliens—violated, disoriented,
a sense of time loss. Afterwards, in the
lounge area, the soft burble of a water
fountain and the atmospheric lighting
seemed unduly harsh. My arms and legs
shook as if I had delivered a speech.
As a waiting attendant handed me a cup
of soothing tea, I spotted an actress friend.
Alex was reclining in a spa robe, waiting for
a massage. “What did you get?” she asked.
I told her that I had just been for my
frst bikini wax. She winced.
“I had that once,” she said. “I thought,
if someone’s going to do that to my ass-
hole, they should be paying me.”
The obvIouS queSTIoN IS, Why? hoW caN a
painful, cumbersome and expensive prac-
tice be so much better than a hairy vagina?
Waxing has repercussions that may last for
weeks—repercussions that, more than any
other argument against it, call into question
its sexiness. As the bikini wax grows in,
ingrown hairs require frequent, decisive
frst aid. I was astonished to discover after
my frst wax that the mechanics of urina-
tion, something I can’t remember having
thought about, had changed; it was impos-
sible to go to the bathroom without making
a mess. Some of the wax can linger from
the procedure, causing the buttocks to
adhere to each other. If you fart (and I was
surprised to discover how much I fart;
perhaps they’d previously gone unno-
ticed) it sounded like a couple of wooden
boards clapping together. In attempt-
ing to become as sexy as possible, I had
become appalling to myself.
The history of hair removal is not a
straight line. Many of us think of the nine-
teen-seventies as a kind of Golden Age in
pubic hair, as typifed by the au naturel
illustrations in The Joy of Sex. It would
be logical to assume that it’s all gone
downhill from there, at least in square
footage—f irst f rom a bit of shaving
in the nineteen-eighties to the full Bra-
zilian wax, as it became known after
it was imported to New York City by sev-
en Brazilian sisters, and which has since
become the porn industry’s new normal.
But at different times in history and
across cultures, attitudes about hairiness
have waxed, so to speak, and waned. In an
eighteenth-century text, the critic John
Dryden wrote disparagingly of “that ef-
feminate Custom now used in Italy, and es-
pecially by Harlots, of smoothing their Bel-
lies, and taking off the Hairs which grow
about their Secrets.” The ‘natural’ look of
the nineteen-seventies—as with men’s
beards, which are also seeing a resurgence
in these heritage-oriented times—may
have been a trend (a reaction, perhaps, to
the relatively groomed and plasticized ide-
als of the generation before). Let’s not forget
the spirit with which post-WWII women,
endowed with shorter skirts and the
availabil it y of mass- market nylons,
practically to a woman, began to shave
their legs.
The current cultural climate of wax-
ing is something of a war. A few years ago,
the state of New Jersey proposed banning
Brazilian waxing to discourage infections
brought on by unlicensed practitioners.
Last fall, The Atlantic published a long essay,
“The New Full-Frontal: Has Pubic Hair in
America Gone Extinct?” Noting the normal-
ization of waxing among college-aged wom-
en, it speculated that waxing may refect the
infuence of pornographic images on a gen-
eration raised with laptops and WiFi.
In Canada, Perla Porto is a legend in
bikini waxing, recognized as much for
her painless technique as for her bed-
side manner. She was referred to me by
a number of people.
“We are trying to change” the image
of waxing, said Porto, a petite, stylish
young woman who still remembers her
frst Canadian client as having asked her
to please “not touch my vagina too much.”
It struck Porto as contradiction in terms:
wanting an end without the means.
“In Brazil, it’s so normal for us to go
for waxing,” said Porto. She thinks part
of the reason is a difference in attitude
about touch. “I’m going back in a few
weeks to visit. My mother and my sisters
will be waiting for me hairy.”
Six years since that frst reticent patron,
Porto now has twenty-seven hundred cli-
ents and sees an average of twenty women
a day. Her oldest client is seventy-two and
her youngest client is twelve. She pointed
out that waxing has a different profile in
her home country, land of tiny bikinis and
water sports, and is associated with hy-
giene. She studied three years to become
an aesthetician; courses included history,
anatomy and how to identify sexually
transmitted diseases. By her defnition,
an aesthetician’s role falls somewhere
between that of a hairdresser and a public
health nurse.
Porto’s work suggests t hat t he
sexualization of waxing is relatively sub-
jective; in her country, the practice is more
akin to what leg shaving is here—basic
everyday grooming. “We are hairy girls,”
she told me. “In Brazil, we don’t look at if
a woman is fat or has a good body, but we
always look at if the woman is hairy.”
I put to her the “what’s happening to
our daughters?” concern raised in The
Atlantic and forever lurking, I think,
in the background. To a certain kind
of feminist, the removal of pubic hair is
misogynist and, in the case of a full Bra-
zilian, flatly unacceptable. At worst, it
signals the infantilizing of the womanly
body—at the very least, the pornifcation
of the bourgeois bedroom. “You are not
a little girl, and you won’t feel like a little
girl,” Porto replied, fatly.
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20 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
ONe Of the mOSt PeRPlexING thINGS abOut
waxing is the ubiquity of the “landing
strip,” a feature of my own wax, and vis-
ibly on parade, in various states of re-
growth, at the gym. Why do so many of
us think that a vertical, domino-shaped
patch of hair resembling nothing that
came from nature is superior to none?
Is it an abstract reminder that one could
grow hair? That we are still “women,”
whatever in a hairy context that might
mean? Or is it a fear to bare all, in a
literal sense—not letting your hair down
too much? What, in essence, does pubic
hair mean?
“I think it ’s a photographed aes-
thetic,” Leanne Shapton, a visual artist
in New York City, told me. “It’s not a real
aesthetic.” Shapton runs her own pub-
lishing company, J&L, and the assess-
ment makes sense—repeated viewing
overwrites the specifcs of an image with
its context. Just as Wile E. Coyote’s latest
ACME kit symbolizes schadenfreude, so
the French bikini wax stands for sexy, in our
culture, without having to be anything.
In the midst of my own first wax,
there was a brass light fxture on the ceil-
ing in which I could see my refection—a
woman going through a transformation.
The ripping apart, all the things that fol-
lowed—the ingrown hairs, the feeling of
being a plucked chicken—seemed like
a small price to pay for validation as an
indisputable sexual being. At the time,
I was in a relationship that had f loun-
dered, and I thought that if I became a
sexier woman—maybe a woman unlike
the woman I was—it might help. I don’t
know why it translated into that form of
expression; waxing was in the air. In the
discovery that some of my friends had
done it and always done it, I wondered if
I had missed out on some essential as-
pect of female grooming. A form of pubic
pressure takes hold. It was a surprise to
discover that the wax improved nothing
so much as my idea of myself, and that’s
what made me go back for a couple of
years after.
When I asked friends why they did,
or didn’t, wax, what emerged was not
so much a pubic mosaic of 2012 (waxed,
shaven, or as the women’s website xojane.
com recently dubbed it, “’70s Bush”),
but how hard it is for everyone to dis-
cuss how hers got to where it is. The
people I thought would be most forth-
coming—women who have waxed for
years—spoke of convenience, cleanli-
ness. Meanwhile, the people who do it
aren’t necessarily the people you’d think.
I discovered that my friend with the four-
inch Manolo heels never shaves, but
my friend the hockey player routinely
denudes. Regardless of her pubic situa-
tion, I think everyone feels a bit judged:
judged for having an opinion, judged for
having acted (or not acted) on it. Who
knew? In this country, what turns us on
might genuinely be one of the last taboos.
Matt Pollack recently made a documen-
tary about his relationship to pornography
called Run Run, It’s Him. It’s a chronicle of
his years spent (secretly) watching porn
for hours a day and the corollary sense of
shame not only about the time that passed
but what it said about him. I asked him to
comment, not about the morality of bikini
waxing so much as for a critical opinion,
having seen so many naked women, about
what the attraction is.
Pollack thinks there’s some merit
to The Atlantic hypothesis about the
co-dependence of porn and waxing (sim-
ply to make it easier to see genitalia), and
its normalizing effect on people’s pubic
expectations. But the more poignant ap-
peal of waxing comes from the real world.
He called it the “psychological intent”:
unlike flm’s pliant and enthusiastic part-
ners, real-world women are “like sexual
gatekeepers,” he said.
“I have to jump through hoops and
make witty conversation to get to that
point. But the fact that she took the time
and went to the ef fort and spent the
money—that’s the turn- on.” In other
words, a woman’s bikini wax is an mes-
sage to her lover that he’s worth the pain.
Like many men I spoke to, Pollack
said he is just grateful for what he can get.
“I’ve only really seen, like, ten vaginas,”
he told me. “When someone decides to
let you see that at all, it’s like, so shock-
ing, or a miracle.”
ONe Of the fOuNdatIONal mythS Of claSSIc
feminist theory is that from a patriarchal
viewpoint, the female body is threaten-
ingly out of control: puzzlingly in tune
with the phases of the moon; an emitter
of blood; a site for casual pleasure but
also (just as truthfully, almost sneakily)
of babies. Waxing illuminates just how
much this vessel is an enigma to women
ourselves. Like the choice to eat with a
knife and fork, or buy a gym membership
to sculpt the body with exercise, waxing
takes something that could be left free-
form in hand, applying form and control.
Another symbol of mankind’s triumph
over nature, even if the triumph is feet-
ing at best. As with lawn care, it’s a fght
against weeds and ingrown hairs, trims
and re-growth; “success” being an ideal-
ized condition rather than an absolute
place.
My own relationship with waxing is
less troubled than it was—demystifed,
waxing seems less about symbolism
than about whimsy. It strikes me that in
order to be truly liberated it needs to not
matter either way: to care about the pres-
ence or absence of pubic hair is to sug-
gest that there is a right way to groom.
Increasingly, a Brazilian wax strikes
me as a pubic cliché, a trend to leave to
the Kardashians and the Ugg-wearing,
text-messaging demographic. In the last
season of Entourage, a bellwether show
about celebrity cool, a real-life porn star,
Sasha Grey, playing the main character’s
girlfriend, walked nude (and, by certain
standards, insuffciently ‘kempt’) across
the screen. “That’s what a grown wom-
an looks like,” she tweeted to a wave of
‘anti-bush’ protestors. “I’m happy to con-
tribute to making it OK again :). All ‘fash-
ions’ have their cycles!” In the context, it
seemed avant-garde.
Grey positions herself as a thinking
woman’s porn star—reading philoso-
phy between takes, commenting on US
politics. In a sea of Brazilians, having old-
fashioned pubic hair might be a way to
distinguish oneself; classy, even. In that
light, I went back to the same question I’d
been asking since the beginning. Why
do we think it looks attractive to have no
pubic hair? I asked Perla Porto.
“Oh, I don’t think it looks good,” she
said. “It’s not beautiful. I think it feels
good.” In a swirl of opinions about wax-
ing’s signifcance (visual and otherwise),
sensuality was the one thing nobody had
mentioned. Desire, and the desire to im-
prove desire—that’s something men and
women alike have always been willing to
suffer for.
– Jessica Johnson
Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture
Now in its sixth year, this annual lecture has featured some of Canada’s most talented authors, including
Annabel Lyon, Eden Robinson, Dany Laferrière, Wayne Johnston and Joseph Boyden.
This year’s lecture:
Introduction by Ted Bishop. A reception & book signing will follow the lecture.
All are welcome to attend this free event. No RSVP required.
The Canadian Literature Centre/Centre de littérature canadienne presents...
Credit: Lisa Sakulensky
by
Lawrence Hill
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm
Timms Centre for the Arts
87th Ave. & 112th St.
Edmonton, AB
The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins Canada, 2007), Lawrence Hill’s most recent and wildly successful novel, was inspired by a
little known historical document of the same name. A former reporter with The Globe and Mail and The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill has
also written several non-fiction pieces, including The Deserter's Tale: the Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in
Iraq (2007, co-written with Joshua Key). His award-winning writing has captured the attention of readers around the world,
and his bestselling memoir, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada (2001), continues to influence the discussion
on racial identity in Canada today. His other novels are Some Great Thing (1992) and Any Known Blood (1997).
For more information, please visit our website, at:
www.arts.ualberta.ca/clc/ For more information, please visit our website, at:
www.arts.ualberta.ca/clc/
000EB4.CLC_FP.indd 1 3/28/12 8:56:18 AM 18b-6-21-spring2012.indd 20 4/2/12 2:03:05 PM
Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture Henry Kreisel Memorial Lecture
Now in its sixth year, this annual lecture has featured some of Canada’s most talented authors, including
Annabel Lyon, Eden Robinson, Dany Laferrière, Wayne Johnston and Joseph Boyden.
This year’s lecture:
Introduction by Ted Bishop. A reception & book signing will follow the lecture.
All are welcome to attend this free event. No RSVP required.
The Canadian Literature Centre/Centre de littérature canadienne presents...
Credit: Lisa Sakulensky
by
Lawrence Hill
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm
Timms Centre for the Arts
87th Ave. & 112th St.
Edmonton, AB
The Book of Negroes (HarperCollins Canada, 2007), Lawrence Hill’s most recent and wildly successful novel, was inspired by a
little known historical document of the same name. A former reporter with The Globe and Mail and The Winnipeg Free Press, Hill has
also written several non-fiction pieces, including The Deserter's Tale: the Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away from the War in
Iraq (2007, co-written with Joshua Key). His award-winning writing has captured the attention of readers around the world,
and his bestselling memoir, Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada (2001), continues to influence the discussion
on racial identity in Canada today. His other novels are Some Great Thing (1992) and Any Known Blood (1997).
For more information, please visit our website, at:
www.arts.ualberta.ca/clc/ For more information, please visit our website, at:
www.arts.ualberta.ca/clc/
000EB4.CLC_FP.indd 1 3/28/12 8:56:18 AM 18b-6-21-spring2012.indd 21 4/2/12 2:09:35 PM
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18b-22-31-spring2012.indd 22 4/2/12 2:14:12 PM
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BelIeve
Ya Gotta
Why do we care about sports?
By T i moT hy Tay l or
DavID BRookS wRote a SPoRtS-RelateD
column in The New York Times in Feb-
ruary of this year. I took special note
of it because I was thinking a lot about
sports at the time. In fact, days before
the Brooks piece was published, I’d
been in Boston watching the Super Bowl
with rabid New England Patriots fans. I
was watching them watch the game, in
effect. Brooks happened to be writing
about basketball, NBA star Jeremy Lin
specifically. But he would have been
wide of the mark no matter what sport
he was talking about. “Jeremy Lin,” he
wrote, “is anomalous in all sorts of ways.
He’s a Harvard grad in the N.B.A., an
Asian-American man in professional
sports. But we shouldn’t neglect the big-
gest anomaly. He’s a religious person in
professional sports.”
THE GAMES WE PLAY
18b-22-31-spring2012.indd 23 4/2/12 2:14:34 PM
24 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
Si nce rel igious pro athletes are
literally everywhere—the NFL playoffs
themselves had for a time been domi-
nated by coverage of the Denver Broncos
quarterback Tim Tebow (since traded to
the New York Jets), whose take-a-knee
moments of prayer had spawned their
own epi- phenomenon referred to as
“Tebowing”—Brooks got dog piled on-
line for being a pencil-necked geek who
obviously didn’t understand anything
about pro sports. Deadspin blogger Tom
Scocca replied to Brooks with a post
headlined: “David Brooks has written the
dumbest Jeremy Lin column so far.”
But what my visit to Boston had prov-
en to me was that Brooks’ bigger error
was his central thesis, which came a little
further down the column. “The moral
ethos of sports,” Brooks wrote, “is in ten-
sion with the moral ethos of faith.”
I had to sit back after I read that, be-
cause I found myself wondering if Brooks
had ever spent time with real hardcore
fans. He certainly couldn’t have done what
I had just done, sitting with those Pats fans
in the blue and fickering light of The Four’s
bar in the Gardens area of North End Bos-
ton, all of our faces upturned to the hang-
ing monitors above the bar as they meted
out the information we craved about the
very immediate future. What will happen?
Brooks couldn’t possibly have spent any
quality fan time in The Four’s—or in any
of the other sports bars scattered through
the area: McGann’s Irish Pub, Boston Beer
Works, Hurricane O’Reilly’s—because if
he had he would have seen that sports in
fact reveals and arouses something deeply
and innately religious in fans, something
that has nothing to do with the world’s of-
ficial religions, with Tebowing, or with
thanking your preferred saviour after hit-
ting a three-pointer to win. In The Four’s,
what was reflected in all those upturned
faces was something small “r” religious in
structure, something crystallized in what
is asked of fans and what they get back for
their allegiance, hunkered over burgers
and beers in sports bars and living rooms
across the world. All holding their breath.
Of course, sports bloggers might well
take offense with this idea, too. But I’m
convicted, ladies and gentlemen. I went
to The Four’s, and I believe.
BoStoN waSN’t my fIRSt whIff of thIS Idea.
It had been simmering for at least a
decade, during which time I’d written
dozens of magazine pieces about sports,
from boxing to football (soccer, that is)
to auto-racing. In fact, the very frst time
I sensed something inherently religious
in sport was in October 2000. I was at the
Mohegan Sun casino, in Uncasville, Con-
necticut, watching a fght: heavyweights
Kirk Johnson and Oleg Maskaev. John-
son was a gentle-voiced and mild-man-
nered fghter from North Preston, Nova
Scotia. I’d spent a little time with him
over a couple of days, in sidebar conver-
sations between the ritual waypoints that
precede a prize fght: the press conference,
the weigh-in, the pregame routines, the
hand taping, the silent moments before
the fighter’s names are called when, if
you watch closely, you’ll see the combat-
ant retire to an inner place where he is
more truly alone than perhaps anyone
who has not been a prizefghter will ever
understand.
Johnson was a riddle in pro boxing at
the time. At 6’ 2 ½” and 232 pounds, with
enormous shoulders and long muscular
arms, he was remarkably fast, able to
combine punches in furries more like a
lightweight than a heavy. Yet something
lingered over his reputation, a sense
of “reluctance,” in the words of ring an-
nouncer Jim Lampley just prior to the
bell. When I button-holed famed boxing
analyst Larry Merchant before the fght,
he told me, “Johnson just seems like the
perennially promising heavyweight. But
people are waiting to see him beat a real,
signifcantly ranked opponent.”
Oleg Maskaev fit the bill. Johnson
had a couple of pounds on him and a few
inches of reach. Maskaev’s numbers
weren’t legendary either at twenty wins
and two losses, with ffteen knockouts to
his credit. But the Russian born fghter,
living in West Sacramento, had fought
better opposition than Johnson. More
importantly, he seemed to be improving.
Less than a year before, he’d fought the
31-1 Hasim Rahman (a man who’d once
KO’d Lennox Lewis). In the eighth round
of his fight against Rahman, Maskaev,
behind on the score cards, knocked
Rahman clean out of the ring, through
the ropes, where he crashed onto the
ringside press tables in a pile of papers
and computer monitors and scattering
journalists.
Maskaev was proven tough, in other
words. And he looked tough, with mus-
cles like plates of armor and a head like
an artillery shell. Merchant didn’t have
anything bad to say about Johnson, but
he spoke of Maskaev in graver tones.
The thirty-five year HBO veteran told
me, “Maskaev is exciting. And I took one
look at that jaw and thought: here’s a guy
you cannot knock out.”
Of course, boxing is supposed to be
ffty percent mental. Cus D’Amato, who
trained Mike Tyson in the early years
when he was unstoppable, famously said:
“In the last analysis, mind triumphs over
matter, and the will to win is more crucial
than the skill to win.”
In other words, Johnson could win if
he desired it enough. But when I talked
to him after the weigh-in, that seemed
like an open question. He told me he was
nervous. More than that, he was scared.
“Oh yeah,” he said. “It goes up and down
to the fight. Sometimes I just want to
throw myself off a bridge.” He’d been
praying twenty hours a day, from the time
he got up until he went to bed. And when
it came to strategy, Johnson merely shook
his head and said, “Well I can’t slug with
him. No way I’m going to knock him out.”
We went through the tape up. I watched
that strange and intimate action between
Johnson and his trainer Curtis Cokes, both
men staring fxedly at the hands that might
or might not do the job. And when Johnson
knelt in the corner of his enclosure to pray
one last time, a thin sheet hanging for this
fnal privacy, I felt real anxiety. I liked the
man for his honesty, his kind demeanor, for
the way he pulled a younger family mem-
ber close for a few words, those taped fght-
er’s hands so huge and ungainly as they
shaped themselves for the hug. I was wor-
ried for Johnson’s family, who were there
in large numbers. But I was more worried
for Johnson.
Out into the thunder of the event
itself, into the glittering shards of light,
the strobe of cameras, the hail of noise
and cries, boos and cheers, a maelstrom,
a dervish, a tornado of senses. The frst
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WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 25
three rounds I stared so intensely from my
seat at the press tables that I wasn’t sure I
was even taking any of it in, although the
story itself was plainly unfolding: Johnson
was losing. Maskaev was stalking and
closing, out-jabbing Johnson, snapping
his head back with chopping right hands.
When Johnson returned to his corner
between the third and forth rounds, Cokes
scolded him: “I need a little more work out
of you!” To which the bewildered-looking
fghter responded like a chastened school-
boy: “Okay.”
Out they came for the fourth and the
sense was strong that the fnal punch was
on its way. And it came quickly: short and
sharp and brutal. Only it wasn’t a right
hand in the end, but a left. And it wasn’t
thrown by Maskaev, but by Johnson,
ffteen seconds into the fourth round—a
two-three combination, an overhand
right then an upwards carving left hook
that Johnson landed with laser precision
to the tip of Maskaev’s massive jaw. But
I doubt a single person present actually
experienced it as a technical accomplish-
ment. It was an event made instead of dif-
ferent stuff than training or mechanics,
physical strength or mental calculation.
It was something Johnson had created,
forging it with brute will power out of lit-
erally nothing.
Bang-bang. The bulletproof Russian
was down. He bounced up quickly, furi-
ous. He was still Oleg Maskaev, after all.
But Kirk Johnson had become someone
else. And that person stepped in and
fnished Maskaev, backing him up to the
ropes, swarming him. Maskaev undone:
unconscious first, then blown through
the ring ropes, just like his victim Hasim
Rahman those short months before.
Maskaev crashed down through the
collapsing press tables, papers flying,
computer monitors toppling, only saved
from hitting the concrete f loor by a
photographer who caught Maskaev and
held him, the Russian’s head cradled
almost tenderly in his arms.
Johnson stood in the ring with his
arms raised, haloed in light, transfgured,
transformed.
What oN eaRth had We juSt SeeN? tRaNSfoR-
mation. Something not quite of this earth,
but visited upon it: something previously
impossible made possible.
That interpretation is plausible or
absurd, depending on your world view.
Cus D’Amato, who clearly believed in
the potency of the human will to bend
the future to its purposes—more spe-
cifically, the potentially lethal human
agency embodied by the young Mike
Tyson—would probably give you a differ-
ent answer in this regard than American
philosopher Alex Rosenberg, whose new
book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, is
surprisingly germane to the discussion
of what exactly is being experienced in
watching sports and what it means to
identify yourself as a sports fan. Rosen-
berg’s book isn’t only the latest title in a
growing canon of new atheist writing,
it’s the culmination of that canon, in that
he blows past the hedging of previous
atheist tracts and states the matter
plainly: the universe is completely and
unapologetically material. Everything
is matter, fermions and bosons specifi-
cally, and every event preceding or fol-
lowing us is explained and governed by
the inviolable laws of physics in a way
that is both causally closed and causally
complete. Rosenberg’s universe, in other
words, is wholly deterministic. Reality is
nothing more or less than physics at work
in all its glory. And physics just is. As a
predetermined set of phenomena, past
and present, none of what any of us are
doing, or anything we experience, has
any purpose or meaning. And given that,
can there be free will or individual agency?
“Not a chance!” writes Rosenberg.
Sports fans, religious or otherwise,
might sense a di f f icult y in the bril -
liantly closed circle of this world view.
Is it coherent? It is indeed. Rational?
Supremely, I’d say. Does it, however,
accommodate any of the fundamental
particles of fan experience? Here we
might have some problems. In a de-
terminist universe, it ’s not only free
will that is a fanciful illusion. So too is
desire, inspiration, even anxiety at the
possibility of a bad outcome. Each of
these is mere fancy in a world where
matters are predetermined. Indeed, why
talk at all of what is “possible” and “impos-
sible” when the future is set? We are the
billiard balls and the big bang was the
break. What is possible this nanosecond is
merely what was made possible the nano-
second before. Every particle, and so ul-
timately every planet and every person,
moves in lockstep along this causal chain.
There’s no swerving from the path much
less any chance of creating new possibili-
ties that didn’t exist previously. To argue
otherwise, to believe that the future can in
any way be affected by our conscious choic-
es in the moment, is an essentially religious
habit of mind, as Rosenberg takes pains
to point out. It’s a world view dependent
on nonmaterial particles, those which can-
not be found in the physical realm, a crucial
one of which, familiar to sports fans, would
be hope.
Not all high-profle atheists measure
up to this rigorous materialist standard,
it has to be said. Christopher Hitchens
clung to the idea of personal moral -
ity, if not absolute then relative. He even
argued for the “moral necessit y” of
atheism. Hitchens was passionate in his
views, another state of mind familiar
to sports fans. But that he would think
one set of ideas is better than any other,
and that he would be gripped with the
conviction that minds could be changed
through persuasion, reveals a lingering
faith in agency, reason and the possi-
bility of change. Hitchens was never a
pure enough atheist to understand what
Rosenberg exhorts us to understand:
that passion is pointless, that hope is a
waste of time, that morality and sacred
codes are a fction, and that there are no
moments beyond.
johnson stood in the ring with his arms raised,
haloed in light, transfgured, transformed.
18b-22-31-spring2012.indd 25 4/2/12 2:15:16 PM
26 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
I waSN’t alwayS a SPoRtS faN. I Recall
speaking up once when a junior high
gym teacher berated our class for not
signing up for intramural sports teams. I
said: “Well, you know, not all kids are into
sports. Some of us are more into academ-
ics.” That teacher carried a grudge that
lasted the rest of my middle school years.
“I’m going to give some team news now,”
he’d say, glowering at me. “Feel free not
to listen if you’re more into academics.”
Nevertheless, arriving at Queen’s
business school some ten years later, I
suddenly discovered sports. The New
York Giants, no less, who play out of
Rutherford, New Jersey. They had a blue
collar reputation, and a blood and guts
approach to the game. They were de-
fined at the time by a linebacker named
Lawrence Taylor, 6’ 3” and 245 pounds,
who anchored a defense known as the Big
Blue Wrecking Crew. Taylor was known for
a cocaine problem and a frightening game-
day intensity that allowed him to shred
through offensive linemen en route to tear-
ing the opposing quarterback’s head off.
Queen’s B-school circa 1986 didn’t
have much of a Lawrence Taylor vibe. It
was the era of button-downs and power
ties, ribbon suspenders and tassel loafers.
And of course business students, especially
fnance students, were supposed to be too
busy for sports anyway. But something
had happened to me, arriving at Queen’s.
I’d realized I didn’t want to be there. And I
was acting out my disaffection. I was skip-
ping classes, reading more fiction than
finance. I was living way north of Prin-
cess Avenue (Kingston code for “wrong
side of the tracks”), a detail about which
I grew lopsidedly proud as time went by.
And that pride illustrates the relative
game I was playing. Somehow out of step
with the culture of B-school, I was opting
to defne myself contra B-school. But by
revealing a keen interest in what other
students thought about me, either way,
the contrarian strategy was no different
than being a copycat.
The decision to suddenly start car-
ing about sports, I now understand,
came about in exactly the same way.
Only i n sports there was an added
catalyst: a new roommate. Like me,
he was a B-school student just slightly
out of step. But unlike me, at least in
my mind, he carried this off with great
élan. Against the pretensions of the era,
he advanced an everyman persona on
all fronts. He wasn’t going into finance
(despite being a near-savant in math). He
wanted a job in sales. He liked Creedence
Clearwater Revival, dive bars, bourbon,
and poker, which (believe it or not) was
seriously infra dig in the mid-eighties. He
was also, crucially, an NFL fan.
The truth doesn’t always flatter on
the topic of desire. To think that we catch
our interest in sports like we might a com-
mon virus seems somehow demeaning.
But it’s quintessentially human. And here
we’re in debt to the thinking of French
philosopher and historian Rene Girard, a
retired Stanford professor (now one of the
forty “immortals” who make up the elite
L’ Académie francaise), who argues that
all non-instinctual desire is mimetic, or
triangular. There is a subject (ourselves)
and an object. But there is also a model,
whose own interest in the object is what
ignites the f lame of our desire. In his
seminal book Deceit, Desire and the Novel,
Girard lays out how all the great novelists
seem to have understood this dynamic:
Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Proust,
Dostoevsky. None of those writers wrote
much about sports, as far as I’m aware.
But the same principles apply.
My roommate liked the Chicago
Bears, as I recall, whose awe-inspiring
team had stomped their way to winning
Super Bowl XX the year before. But in
the ’85/’86 season, the New York Giants
were the story. And what a season they
had. Taylor was sacking everything in
sight. Tight end Mark Bavaro was prov-
ing himself to be the toughest man on the
planet, at one point playing half a game
with a broken jaw. I remember a game
late in the season when Bavaro caught
a pass from quarterback Phil Sims, then
dragged seven San Francisco defenders
down the field twenty yards, including
future Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott.
How could any of these events have
mattered to me? My thirteen-year-old
self would have said they simply didn’t.
My twenty-three-year- old self, I now
realize, had started to see the benefts of
allowing yourself to care. By submitting
to mimetic effects—specifcally, my ab-
sorption into a communion of likeminded
fans, bonded by these arbitrary cares—I
had freed myself from the straight jacket
of determinism that must otherwise
have rationally prevailed. The sports
fan embraces irrationality. I wouldn’t
have phrased it that way at the time, but
I think even then I understood I was at a
moment in my life when I was singularly
disinclined to be rational.
aS I waS mImetIcally abSoRbed INto that
society of fans, I was assimilated into an
essentially religious habit of mind that
does not accept that passion is pointless,
that hope is a waste of time, that sacred
codes are a fction and that there are no
moments beyond. Fans screaming in
their living rooms all over North America
were not accepting a determined future.
They were living instead in a universe
shaped by non-material particles that,
while undetectable in even the Large
Hadron Collider, nevertheless respond-
ed to the force of human will. Events
on those distant gridirons did indeed
matter to me, they had meaning, but
only because the guy who’d been raised
a sports atheist had become a believer
and had in the process, unconsciously
or otherwise, accepted the utility of
hope. And so I gathered weekly with
fellow members of that society, ritually
restating each Sunday morning of the
season that we did indeed believe. I gath-
ered with others around that fickering
fame of theoretical hope—Will Simms
complete the pass? Will Bavaro score a
the ritual itself fails as it become a transaction.
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touchdown?—and so was wordlessly
reassured that broader hopes in my life
might have some grounding. Specifcally,
that business school might not be the end
of my story.
French sociologist Emile Durkeim
wrote: “There can be no society which
does not feel the need of upholding and
reaf f irming at regular intervals the
collective sentiments and collective ideas
which makes its unity and its personality.
Now this moral remaking cannot be
achieved except by the means of reunions,
assemblies and meetings where the
individuals, being closely united to one
another, reaffrm in common their com-
mon sentiments.”
He was talking about the religious
impulse. But I read that now and find
mysel f t hi nki ng about a series of
Sundays in 1986, all leading up to one
really big game.
Of cOuRSe, SuPeR BOwl XXI waS a GReat
game: we won! We, because I’d absorbed
the Giants’ desire to win and it was now
my own. I was one of them. And what
drama. We trailed the Denver Broncos
10-9 at the half but came storming back.
There was a fake punt and a quarter-
back sneak. There were touchdowns for
Bavaro, Joe Morris, Ottis Anderson and
Phil McConkey. Simms came through
big time, throwing for thirty second
half points and completing eighty-eight
percent of his passes (a Super Bowl
record that stands to this day). I distinctly
remember the feeling af terwards: it
was as if order had been restored. As
if in the frenzy of the contest there had
lingered (all season and in that final
game) a profound threat of the future
going wrong. With John Elway’s Broncos
vanquished—players literally lying on the
turf, like union soldiers on the slopes of
Bunker Hill—it felt both deliciously good
and incredibly right. All Giants fans would
have been joined in that moment.
Years later, Bill Parcells described
the locker room feeling of that win in sac-
ramental terms: “It’s like a blood transfer.
You get theirs and they get yours.” The
metaphor is intense, but perfectly apt.
Sports are indeed a matter of the blood,
but in two distinct ways. There’s the
blood of the fans and the team, mingled
through identifcation. Then there’s the
blood of the opponent, which must frst
be spilled before the mingling can deliver
its communal beneft.
Girard is helpful here again as he
points us towards an anthropological
truth: that in virtually every ancient cul-
ture of which we’re aware, communities
maintained internal harmony through
the use of sacrificial rituals. Turning
on one victim united everyone else and
therefore served to keep the peace. Of
course, we cringe to think about that
today because we understand scapegoats
to have been innocent of any real crime.
Sacrifice offends our modern sense of
individual freedom and equality, and con-
cern for victims has arguably become the
single moral certainty of our day.
But if we can’t use sacrifice and we
don’t replace it with something, how
will the blood of the community be min-
gled? How will we keep the peace? How
will chaos be prevented? Girard argues
that chaos isn’t being prevented, or not
very well. History is getting more violent
and conflicts more intractable around
the world, in part because the efficacy
of those archaic sacri f icial rit uals
has been destroyed. Girard doesn’t want
to re-invoke them. But others have cer-
tainly considered it. Hobbes, Nietzsche
and Machiavelli each worried in their
own way that the modernizing mind,
while unleashing a sense of individual
equality and freedom, also rendered
ancient peace-keeping mechanisms
( l i ke sacri f ice) i nef fect i ve. These
thinkers believed that modern concern
for victims was the legacy of Judeo-
Christian narratives, something Girard
agrees with. But unlike Girard, they
also harboured ideas for a man-made
solution to the problem of this inheri-
tance. Hobbes’ absolutist monarchy,
Nietzsche’s assertive superman, and
Machiavelli’s bid to return to paganism
shared a common root in this regard:
they were bids to restrain the evolv-
ing modern mind, to keep its chaotic
ideas about individual f reedom and
equality somehow in check, in order
that the communit y might be more
accepting of the rituals required to bind it.
That concept—the restraint of some-
thing modern in us which carries the
seeds of chaos—has a name in mythol-
ogy: the katechon. The Egyptian god
Horus was called katechon drakonta, the
binder of the dragon, an image that also
shows up in the Old and New Testament
of the Christian Bible. A katechon is,
in essence, a mechanism that deploys
episodic violence to contain the chaos
that might result if ritual were lost entirely.
A katechon, in this analysis, replaces
sacrifice. The Spanish Inquisition was
a katechon, as Dostoevsky discloses in
The Grand Inquisitor, showing a church
turned aside from a (politically anarchic)
Christian message of individual freedom
and equality, embracing instead a real-
politik of manipulation and control. The
Roman Empire, Charles the Great, the
twenty-first century War on Terror…
each of these have had a katechonic
function, cathartic violence deployed (in
cycles of increasing rapidity and seeming
pointlessness) with the idea that peace
might somehow be restored despite our
modern tendency to turn aside from the
rituals that previously sustained it.
This returns us to Bill Parcells’ blood
transfer, which can’t complete itself with-
out the spilled blood of the enemy. It will
seem blasphemous to many to suggest
that sports offers a secularized katechon
to fans, serving up some kind of Sacrifce
3.0., but I think it does. We vilify the
enemy in sports, something outsid-
ers often observe as they watch fans
watchi ng the act ion. Chelsea fans
scream abuse at Wayne Rooney just
as MMA fans will know the feeling of
hating a man who is in the process of
pounding your favourite fighter’s face
into a bloody pulp. That hate is not meta-
phoric. It’s real in the moment. It’s real and,
more to the point, it’s permissible.
As Humber Col lege phi losophy
professor and Girard scholar Kent Enns
pointed out to me in an email: “Sports is
one of the few domains where it is under-
stood as intrinsically good to triumph over
opponents/rivals…One need only imag-
ine a (literary) author proclaiming himself
to be ‘the best’ to glimpse the fip side of
a culture that is simultaneously skeptical
of excellence and (over-)achieving and
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28 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
which views the embrace of victims as one
of the defning features of its morality.”
We still need our sacrifces, in other
words, but we need them subtle. And in
that, we reveal the surviving religious im-
pulse. Girard writes: “Play has a religious
origin, to be sure, insofar as it reproduces
certain aspects of the sacrificial crisis.
The arbitrary nature of the prize makes
it clear that the contest has no other
objective than itself, but this contest is
regulated in such a manner that, in prin-
ciple at least, it can never degenerate into
a brutal fght to the fnish.”
That sense of peace I felt after the Gi-
ants win in 1986 wasn’t permanent. My
life hasn’t been, since then, governed
by a sense of confict resolved, balance
restored, my actions and devotions
aligned in perfection and perpetuity with
a central purpose or community. But it
was for a moment, perhaps even a day.
Life was perfectly stable for as long as the
sacrifcial spell of the event lasted, until
the rightness of my (our) victory was
dispelled and made arbitrary again by
the return of the world and my modern
sense of self, free to desire, to envy, to
dispute and escalate, to will myself into
my own individually chosen chaos.
The RITual dePeNdS oN SecReT codeS. aNd
codes are always cracked. The Grand
Inquisitor event ual ly lost his grip.
Hobbes’ absolutist power was deployed
in variations all over the world. But it’s
a hard sell, lately, without brutal force,
cracking in places we never thought it
would, crowds of socially-networked free
individuals marching through the world’s
Tahrir Squares, a sense of justice and con-
cern for victims fowering and spreading
like Moon Vine and Morning Glory.
Sports, insofar as they depend on be-
lief, will face oddly similar pressures. Not
from the new atheists, or at least I doubt
it. The determinist universe challenges
our fascination, mocking human agency,
aspiration and hope. But it’s so technical
a construct—and quantum physics is
adequately understood by exactly how
many of us?—that sports fans will contin-
ue to live as if human will and autonomy
do exist, no matter what the brightest
and largest pulsing brains among us try
to sell in books billed with all due humil-
ity as our “Guides to Reality.”
For some sports, instead, it will be
that concern for victims that threatens
the ritual. Brain scans will tell us that
football and hockey players and boxers
(and potentially MMA fghters) are dy-
ing from brain damage later in life, and
I think most fans will immediately agree
that the ritual is not as important as the
individual. Legislation will change these
sports. Meanwhile, all sports will con-
tinue to be decoded and de-ritualized by
commerce. I almost hate to write that,
so easily is it mistaken for the agenda of
Naomi Klein, Kalle Lasn and Occupy.
Corporations are not the guilty parties
here, in my analysis. We’re all far more
culpable than a Voltarian reading of
consumerism allows. We all partake,
through our own mimetic desires, and in
doing so, we hold out our wrists for the
cuffs those nasty corporations would snap
into place. The more crucial undoing of
sports by this means will be de-sacraliza-
tion. If sports were ever sacred, ever able
to mingle our blood with others, those
powers will be undone by our uncanny
current-day ability to turn any locus of
human attention into a marketplace. You
can’t have money lenders in temples.
They tend to dissipate the sense of deeper
meaning, of joined purpose, that ineffable
(and religious) air of common spirit.
Phil Simms sensed that when pre-
sented with the new Disney campaign in
1987. He declined at frst, remembering
his resistance later: “That was messing
with the football gods, the karma of the
game.” But when the Giants won, the cam-
eras were waiting. Simms said the words,
his pretend-enthusiasm already fagging:
“I’m going to Disney World!”
Everybody knew he wasn’t, which
was no problem at all for Disney. But it
was for sports fans, as the game was de-
sacralized one increment further. Don’t
blame Phil Simms. The world was mov-
ing around him. Go to a hockey game
now and you can hardly see the ice sur-
face for the thicket of sales messages. I
remember interviewing Chelsea football
fans in a pub off Kings Road in London in
2005. They lamented the passage of the
game from tribal to commercial (I was
evidence of the commercial, we all under-
stood—a Chelsea fan from half a world
away). At the same time, one fellow noted,
“… in the old days the stands were full of
garbage and piss.” Plus, they could all
agree, being bought by a Russian oligarch
(no deep West London family connections
there) was about to give them the frst title
they’d seen in ffty years.
What was unsaid, of course, is that
the spectator endlessly lambasted from
all sides with player salaries and trading
prices, team payrolls and television view-
ership statistics, cannot help but come
to interpret the game in easier and more
material terms than previously. The blood
transfers and moments beyond quietly
fade. The ritual itself fails as it becomes a
transaction. And when the community un-
derstands itself to be merely a customer, the
jarring outcome may still produce intensely
mimetic effects, but these won’t be positive.
The blood will not be mingled. And in those
moments we might well expect to see more
generalized violence going forward, to see
seemingly inexplicable bursts of all against
all. Mailboxes through department store
windows. Police cars burning outside the
Vancouver Post Offce.
In 2003, I went to Memphis to see
Tonya Harding’s frst professional fght.
She stepped into the ring with Samantha
“Booker” Browning, top fght on an un-
dercard opening for Mike Tyson’s last
win. A cheap transaction, that one. No
ritual in it. But, in a way, I was glad to be
there, to have the bookend experience
to the one I’d had in the Mohegan Sun
casino three years prior. There were no
believers in the Memphis Pyramid. We
hardly blinked when Harding got her ass
handed to her by the gal from Mantachie,
Mississippi, who looked like she could
handle herself well enough in fights
that didn’t involve rings and gloves. Af-
terwards, Harding stood in the hallway
talking to the smirking members of the
press corps, and her thin lips trembled
with rage and indignation. She never
believed the story would turn out any
differently. Transformation had never
crossed her mind or ours.
I visited with my ex-roomie from
Queen’s that same trip to Memphis.
He’d landed in the South, as I suspect he
18b-22-31-spring2012.indd 28 4/4/12 4:27:12 PM
always wanted. He was perfecting a good
ol’ boy routine and a mean technique for
slow cooked brisket. We reminisced a
bit, not overly. But we did touch on Super
Bowl XXI. My ex-roomie remembered
an interesting detail. He recalled how af-
ter Mark Bavaro’s touchdown, the tight
end touched his knee to the end zone
in a moment of prayer. The memory did
not please my ex-roommate who said: “I
never liked him after that.”
My admiration remains undimmed,
however, as I think of that knee touch as
something that all fans do internally any-
way, whether they turn their face skyward
to a god whose name we’ve heard or to
some trace element left in the universe that
still grips us, those non-material particles.
After B-school, I fell out with the
NFL and the New York Giants. I missed
entirely that the Giants won Super Bowl
XLII in 2008 in a thriller that crushed
Patriots fans, whose team would have
finished the season an unprecedented
19-0 if they’d won the trophy. The game
revolved around what surely would have
been a “moment beyond” for those watch-
ing live at the time: the so-called Helmet
Catch by reserve wide receiver David
Tyree. Down 14-10 with just over a min-
ute remaining, quarterback Eli Manning
slipped three tackles before spotting
Tyree up the middle. The pass was high,
but Tyree climbed up and snagged it with
one hand, pressing the ball to his helmet
as he crashed to the turf. The drive was
alive and New York went on to win 17-14
in what was considered an upset.
But this past season, I started watch-
ing football again like a lot of other non-
active fans, because an overtly religious
Tim Tebow grabbed the headlines for
awhile. Tebow took Mark Bavaro’s quiet
moment to a whole new media-saturated
level, irritating some, thrilling others. To
me, he merely served as a reminder of
what I think still struggles to be the heart
of these games, despite safety concerns
and the impingement of the commercial
explanation: that act of the human will
against what reason tells us the universe
is supposed to allow. That we matter. I
also noted, of course, that Tebow was a
Bronco, that long ago foe whose defeat
had once seemed so righteous and prop-
er and personal.
The playoffs un-folded. Super Bowl
XLVI rose on the horizon. The feld win-
nowed out to two teams: the New York
Giants and the New England Patriots.
Once upon a time there would have been
no question where to go watch with the
hardcore, on-the-ground fans. But by
2012, I hadn’t been a New York Giants fan
in twenty-fve years.
So I went to Boston, where the fans
pack in around the Gardens on Pats
game days, into bars like McGann’s Irish
Pub, Boston Beer Works and Hurricane
O’Reilly’s. I went to The Four’s, once
rated Best Sports Bar in America by
Sports Illustrated, where the history of
Boston professional sports hangs on the
walls and ceilings. Photographs and row-
ing shells, and jerseys of course, those
talismans of careers gone by: Larry
Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale,
Cam Neely. Before the game there was
University of Alberta Bookstore
Students’ Union Building
780.492.4215 / 888.933.9133
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780.492.1495
The BookCellar
HUB Mall
780.492.4464
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8627 - 91er Rue
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lo
c
a
t
io
n
t
p
r
i
c
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t
s
e
l
e
c
t
i
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n
000EB4.UofABookstore_1-2H.indd 1 3/27/12 4:21:42 PM
18b-22-31-spring2012.indd 29 4/2/12 2:16:31 PM
30 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
impressive craziness in the streets,
a Celtics game just out and the most
watched game in American televi-
sion history about to begin. The
police were putting up barricades
already that would gate and corral
us after the game, down designated
streets and away from any area
where a large crowd could gather.
I took a seat at The Four’s bar,
ordered a burger and beer. I wait-
ed for the mimetic effects as they
might unfold within me. Would I
become a Pats fan, energized by the
excitement of the fans around me?
Or would something in my psyche
recall 1986 and channel the require-
ments of that long ago moment?
Neither, as it turned out. Instead,
it ended up being the strangest sport-
ing event I think I’ve ever watched.
I was not particularly vested. I was
not bonded mimetically either to
the desires of those around me
or those three hundred and sixty
kilometres to the south. But I was
more alive to the force of human
will than I’d ever been, released in a
way by not being mesmerized my-
self. I could feel the will more purely
somehow, for my own hopes not
being aroused, my own blood not
overly mingled.
You probably know the out-
come, so I won’t dwell on recount-
ing it. Only this: as the fourth quar-
ter began, the Patriots ahead 17-15,
there was in The Four’s a palpable
fear. Quarterback Tom Brady, who will
surely go down as one of the great quar-
terbacks in NFL history, had been here
before, leading the Giants in the fourth
quarter in Super Bowl XLII. The ques-
tion hung in the air, in each face turned
upwards, refecting that fickering blue
light of the monitors: will history be over-
turned, or has some rigid pattern in his-
tory just now been detected? The room
pulsed with the collective will for the fu-
ture to be different this time than it was
those four years prior. But it wasn’t to be.
A turnover, a punt, another punt. And Eli
Manning had the ball in his seemingly fa-
vourite position: deep in his own half with
time running out.
The Giants won. I felt the moment
for them, remembered the feelings I would
have felt. But I didn’t cheer. I walked out
with the defeated instead, into the cold
Boston air. Back across the North End to
the Fairmont Battery Wharf where there
was a Super Bowl party winding down,
women in pearls and men in corporate
casual, quietly considering how the future
had eluded them. This time.
Manning was giving his interviews,
telling people he was off to Disney, as I
sat down to a lobster roll at Aragosta. The
bartender said, “Yeah, we’re on suicide
watch about now.”
I walked down Hanover Street later,
taking the air. I heard voices all round
me, strangled and angry. Someone
yelled, an inarticulate garble of rage.
Someone else. And then someone else.
It was real, the air alive with genuine an-
guish. The voices were joined in the mo-
ment.
An hour later, the air had turned.
Quiet descended. Peace and restoration.
I thought of Kirk Johnson in the glittering
halo of ring lights, transformed. Boston,
in its loss, was transfgured, too. Super
Bowl XLVI had passed. The new season
had already opened ahead with its new
potential for passion, for the mystery of
its embedded codes, for hope. There was
hope in the smoky Boston air. New hope,
from nothing. EB
CALVATICA
I.
(The pursed turf blowing bubbles.)
(A broken string of freshwater pearls
or molars impacted in a grassy gum.)
(Firm, the
female smell on
your fngers)
,
(edible, packed with
cool, white roe;
the fried fesh
a savoury foam).
(It roosts on its byssus
of fne, mycelial hair,
and scans the rare vapour-trails
and glimmers in the dark–
ening, and ripens
in its socket.)
II.
Full of foul mycenean air it squats and rocks in its stoor of blinding business.
Sheep assay it with their yellow teeth, a gassy sump of moolah.
More faux pas than supernova, its gob gapes, a puckered sphincter,
a blackened blowhole, toxic stoma.
A toff forever brewing buboes, it slips its anchor, and bowls across the clifftop,
rifting out its spores.
–Jen Hadfeld
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increase the profle and involvement of the arts in all aspects of
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edmonton arts council
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supporting and promoting
edmonton’s arts community
The Edmonton Arts Council is a not-for-proft society and
charitable organization that supports and promotes the arts
community in Edmonton. The EAC provides grants to Edmonton
festivals, arts organizations and individual projects, administers
public art projects, and initiates projects and partnerships that
increase the profle and involvement of the arts in all aspects of
community life.
edmonton arts council
Prince of Wales Armoury, 2nd Floor,
10440 108 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta, T5H 3Z9
780.424.2787 | info@edmontonarts.ca
edmontonarts.ca
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TheaTRe
of
WaR
A playwright in violence-rocked Pakistan
attempts to remain calm
By Jonathan Garfinkel
fRIday NIGhT, The LevI’S SToRe, h-MaRkeT, LahoRe, PakISTaN.
I’d tried on fve pairs of jeans already. Why I needed fve pairs of jeans I
wasn’t exactly sure. But the Levi’s Signature Editions were eight bucks a
pair and they seemed to ft pretty well. They were also taking my mind off
things. I’d been having panic attacks ever since the blast in Karachi. Two
days before, a one-tonne bomb went off in the downtown area, killing thirty-
fve people.
“Were you terrifed?” I asked Samiya Mumtaz, a Pakistani actress I’d
been working with the past week. She had immediately become a good
friend and a gauge of all things dangerous.
“Not at all,” she said. She had landed in Karachi thirty minutes after the
blast. “What was there to be afraid of? I missed it completely. The police
were everywhere.”
She could tell that I was more afraid than she was, and I was twelve hundred
kilometres away, safe in Lahore. Only later did Samiya mention that her
hotel was directly across the street from the attack. She’d discovered this
when she arrived at the Pearl Continental and the manager offered her an
upgrade to a junior suite.
“But what about the room I reserved?” she said.
“Your room,” said the manager, “no longer exists.”
ON THE RECORD
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“That’s two bombs in ten days, Chris,”
I said to Christopher Morris—theatre
director, actor and playwright—remind-
ing him of the mosque attack north of
Peshawar near Swat.
Chris wrapped his woolen shawl
around his face. He’s Irish-Canadian but
looked Pashtun with the thick red beard
he’d grown for the trip. He said, “Don’t
worry, we’ll avoid the mosques.” We were
taking all precautions.
“Whatever happens, I don’t want to be
tortured,” I said. I had decided a bombing
was okay, a kidnapping wasn’t.
Chris listened patiently.
“What the hell are we trying to under-
stand?” I said. “That evil exists? That a few
fundamentalist crazies want to kill people
so they can live happily in the land of sev-
enty virgins? Where’s the news in that?”
It was November 2010. In the year I
traveled through Pakistan on a tourist
visa, over five hundred bombs rocked
the country, killing more than fifteen
hundred people. Only a year before I
arrived, the Pakistani Taliban occupied
the Swat Valley. Daily drone attacks by
the US army were landing in Waziristan.
The porous Afghan-Pakistan border let in
god-knows-who, the ISI—the Pakistani
CIA—was funding you-know-who, and
Osama bin Laden was living comfortably
in his Abbottabad compound, smoking
shisha and watching porn, if we’re to be-
lieve the reports.
I’d come to Pakistan with Chris to
write a play about the way the “War on
Terror” was affecting families of the
military, namely, the Pakistan Army, the
Afghan National Army and the Taliban.
We’d already spent a month in Petawawa,
Ontario, doing similar interviews with
Canadian military wives. Pakistan was a
totally different world, and a different set
of circumstances. Chris and I were seek-
ing out families of the Taliban. I wasn’t
prepared. Hell, I was afraid to just walk
down the street.
I was dying for a drink, but of course
there aren’t any bars in Pakistan. If we
wanted to drink booze, we’d have to get
a license, something we were entitled
to, thanks to our non-Muslim identities.
Somehow it just didn’t seem worth the
bother. Instead I smoked a Gold Leaf
cigarette. On the front of the package a
government warning showed a vivid and
grotesque cancer of the lips—a jaundiced
lip blossoming into tumour. It was discon-
certing but also reassuring. To die of can-
cer. How utterly and terribly normal.
We drove past a mosque. Past rows of
tak-a-tak, brain masala, prepared at the
side of the road, with the chop-chop of
men and their sharp knives. The sounds
and smells of Lahore are confusing, sinis-
ter and delicious. I reminded myself that
I wanted to be here: the opportunity to
see the Pakistan not in the headlines, the
Pakistan not-of-the-imagination, was one
I didn’t want to pass up.
The problem with Pakistan, I decided,
wasn’t that there were bombs going off
everywhere. It was the randomness of the
blasts, the unexpectedness of the kidnap-
pings that got me.
“Ninety-nine percent of this country
is open, beautiful and warm,” Daniel Lak,
a former BBC correspondent said to me.
But what about the crazy one percent?
How do you get them out of your head?
How do normal Pakistanis live with the
random violence?
The rickshaw driver pulled up out-
side a shopping plaza. We were to wait for
a friend of a friend. I had no idea what he
looked like, but he wanted to introduce us
to a Pakistani icon: Tariq Amin. A group
of men gathered around a blazing trash-
can and glared at Chris and I. Who were
they with? What did they want? Did they
want to welcome us or kill us?
TaRIq amIN waS a welcome SIGhT. he waS
with two other men, late thirties, decked
out for a Saturday night. We were upstairs
in a Mexican restaurant called “Maya.” At
the door we were greeted by a Pakistani
man in a cowboy hat, tight blue jeans and
a bandana around his neck. There was no
one else in the restaurant, no tequila, no
crooning mariachi, but plenty of salsa and
tostadas and enchiladas. There were even
fake cacti and Santa Fe art and Mexican
desert scenes. And there was Tariq Amin.
“Give me a night with your hair,” he
said to me, “and I’ll make you beautiful.”
Tariq Amin—known throughout the
country simply as Tariq—is forty-some-
thing, famboyant, and totally outrageous.
He lives and dies for fashion. Though
married with two kids, he is rumoured
to be gay—not an unusual dichotomy in
Pakistan. Tariq is a celebrated hairdress-
er, and was in Lahore to conduct auditions
for Islamabad Fashion Week 2011.
“They need to be tall, slim and young,”
said Tariq, explaining the criteria. “We
get so many who come in, fve foot eight,
fve foot nine, and I’m like, ‘Honey, I can
make you look fabulous, but I can’t make
you six foot one’.” Tariq lit up a cigarette.
From what I could gather, Tariq was
Pakistan’s number one fashion icon. But
he was clearly more than a fashion con-
noisseur—he was the guru of all things
beautiful. I noted his silver hooped ear-
rings, his black and white Prada button-
down, and his black eyebrows that a Time
magazine reporter once described as
“two hissing cats.”
Tariq first gained renown thanks to
the hair salon he opened in Islamabad (he
had originally trained in hotel manage-
ment in Boca Raton, but when he returned
to Pakistan he learned that he stood
to make more cutting hair than work-
ing in a hotel). His salons are famous all
over Pakistan, and amongst foreigners.
At a hundred bucks a pop, Tariq coiffs
thecrème de la crème of the country. So-
and-so of ABC news claimed she couldn’t
wait to get back to Pakistan so Tariq could
“spend some time with my hair.” Even
though he’s a fashion icon and celebrity—
appearing in some of the hippest and
more controversial videos of the contem-
porary Pakistan music scene, including
scenes of bondage and fogging—Tariq
still cuts hair every day, from 10 to 6, in
his Islamabad salon.
“It’s what I’m passionate about,” he
said. “Cutting hair isn’t just about a hair
cut. It’s about making people feel good
about themselves. I love to make people
feel good.”
We ordered a round of nachos and
sodas. I asked him about the bomb in
Karachi, and he looked at me like I’d just
ruined the party. “So there was a bomb
in Karachi,” he said. “So what? Let’s talk
about things that are positive. Fashion
is positive. Hair is positive. It’s a require-
ment, the way you require a dentist or
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someone to fx your eyes. People need to
look good.”
I could tell my line of questioning was
making everyone uneasy. Fortunately
Chris changed the subject.
“Do you know any good parties in
Lahore?” he asked.
Tariq took the bait. “Honey, there are
five thousand parties happening right
now in this city. You tell me what you
want, we get it.” He explained the party
network, which took place mostly in
people’s houses. It involved anything and
everything. “Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll
baby. Whatever you want, you can get it
right here in Lahore.” He is the Mullah of
Partying, the Maestro of Good Times.
Tariq told us stories from life in the fash-
ion industry; drug-addled gatherings full of
people partying the night before Ramadan,
trying to cram in as much coke and booze
before the fasting began. In his telling, I
could see that he thrived on the contradic-
tions of his country, and the contradictions
in himself. I wasn’t quite as comfortable.
“But what about the extremists?” I
asked. “Aren’t there threats against you?”
I’d heard rumours of a fatwa on his head.
He was annoyed by my questions.
“I’m trying to be positive and think
about the bigger picture and not the
repercussions of a small minority group.
If people want to kill me, let them kill me.
Tariq Amin can’t be a hypocrite.” He lit up
a cigarette and stroked his goatee. “He
can only make you beautiful.”
The next morning Chris and I packed
up for Islamabad. On our way to the bus
we stopped at Hotel One; auditions for
Islamabad Fashion Week. Outside the
hotel, the military checked our bags for
possible explosives—Eid was approaching
and security was particularly intense. Inside,
a poster by the front door read, “Tariq Amin
wants you for Islamabad Fashion Week.” A
dozen or so twenty-something men in chic
designs, all by local designers, waited their
turn to be called. Tariq and two other fashion
experts sat at a panel, á la American Idol,
waiting for the men to strut their stuff.
Tariq barked out orders: “Strut,
strut!” “Show me your six-pack!” “That’s
it, honey, you’re beautiful!”
I asked one of the models what makes
Tariq special.
“He understands what it takes,” said
the eighteen-year-old, looking nervously
at his shoes.
“And what does it take?” I asked.
“To be tall, to be thin,” said the young
man. “And to have a sense of inner faith.”
ChRIS aNd I weRe waItING foR a RICkShaw by
Mall Road when a stranger grabbed my
arm.
“Please,” said the stranger. I realized
he was missing an arm. His breath smelled
like spoiled meat. “Tell the world we’re not
all crazy terrorists. We don’t want to blow
everything up. Tell the West we want to live.”
There were no tourists, no terrorists,
at least not beside us. But there were
condemnations coming in on the news:
Pakistan Harbouring Evil. Pakistan Not
Doing its Job. Drone Attack Kills Fourteen
in Waziristan. A rickshaw picked us up
and we sped forward into another world.
“waR makeS PeoPle CloSeR to God.”
Esther, Sampson and Sharon Sar-
mas were gathered in their living room
beneath a wall of photographs depicting
Esther’s husband, Major Rauf Sarmas,
killed in the line of fre by a Taliban RPG
in Waziristan in 2007. Major Sarmas
the beaVeR
The Canadian beaver is famous for its mighty dams, its once-coveted fur, and its fat,
paddle-shaped tail (used to signal danger by slapping the surface of the water).
The beaver is Canada’s offcial national animal. Its pelts were once a form of currency,
and their trade drove the early exploration of the country. The animal’s hard work,
strength, peacefulness, and fortitude in a cold climate are often associated with the
Canadian people. The beaver is also compared to the iconic Canadian lumberjack.
Beavers build their dams across streams and in lakes. The animal’s lodge is located
in the resulting pond, its entrance is underwater but inside it’s warm and dry above
the water line. The largest known beaver dam, located in northern Alberta, is visible
from space.
Once near-extinct in North America, beaver populations have rebounded and they
now compete with humans for habitat. At the same time, beaver dams have become
highly valued as part of a cost-effective strategy to maintain healthy river systems
and watersheds, thereby providing incalculable benefts to fshing, lumber, and other
natural resource-based industries.
A Canadian Senator recently launched a campaign to oust the industrious rodent
from its seat of national honour and replace it with the polar bear. She complained
that some beavers had been a nuisance at her cottage. Greenpeace expressed
skepticism.
And The Beaver, one of Canada’s oldest magazines, re-christened itself Canada’s
History in 2010. The publishers were concerned because the word had become
slang for female genitalia, and their emails were being blocked by spam flters.
– Clive Holden
CAN
.
ICONS
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was the frst Christian “Shaheed” (mar-
tyr) in the Pakistani army. He had been
unarmed, helping his fallen mates into
ambulances, when the RPG fell. A large
piece of shrapnel hit him in the back and
the head; he died of a brain hemorrhage.
The room was crammed with photos
of the Major. In each photograph he was
wearing his military uniform. He had a
thick black moustache, closely shaved
face, handsome dark hair and ferce eyes.
A small plaque on the coffee table read,
“Eighty-three died for the love of Pakistan.”
In another corner, a sticker: “Jesus Protects
this House.” A letter from the army, in both
English and Urdu, praised the Major and
his devotion to Allah—after all, he was a
Shaheed, even if he was also Pentecostal.
“I go to school not knowing if I’ll come
home alive,” said the daughter Sharon,
talking about the violence that had pene-
trated the once peaceful Lahore. “That’s
just the way it is. One gets used to these
things.” Sharon was seventeen, serious,
and had plans to be a dentist. She spoke
evenly, without af fect: you expected
sorrow but instead you got a smile and a
plate of gingerbread cookies. “Would you
like some more chai?”
“It was God’s will,” said Esther,
mother and widow, talking about Major
Sarmas’ death. “My husband saved sixty
people. He was told by headquarters,
leave your post, run and save your life. But
he said, ‘I will not leave my men. I will not
abandon them’.” When Esther smiled it
was like make-up, a new face. “Jesus took
my husband at the moment he was sup-
posed to be taken. I am lucky my husband
died in this way.”
Esther recounted the story of how
her husband was killed. She showed no
signs of remorse, sadness or fear. The
children were particularly level-headed
and well- adjusted. The moment was
bizarre and fascinating: a life insulated
from fear through faith.
A few days previously Chris and I had
traveled to a small village south of Lahore
to listen to the stories of women who’d
lost husbands or sons in battle. The last
image of that trip was a ninety-two-year-old
grandmother weeping by the shrine of her
grandson, smearing the dirt of the grave on
her wrinkled face. The Sarmas’ response
was completely different, and something
I wasn’t altogether comfortable with. But
who was I to say how people should
respond to a loved one’s violent death?
Does it matter how we fnd solace? Maybe
the rules are different in a war zone.
Sampson, the eldest, said, “The main
point is my father was the first person in
Pakistan history to be a Christian martyr.”
“Jesus Christ died for the whole of
humanity,” said Esther, smiling again.
“My husband died for his country. It was
a martyrdom, big sacrifce. My husband
knew he was going to die. He prepared us
for it. Every time he left he said, ‘I might
not come back.’ God took my husband’s
life. It was his wish to die.”
We ate buns and biscuits, drank milky
tea. The morning sun warmed the room.
“All sickness is a result of sin,” Esther
told me. “If you cast away your sins, then
you will be healed.” I’d told her I couldn’t
eat her sugar cookies because I’m
diabetic. So all I needed to do was believe
in Jesus to save thousands of dollars in
medical expenses?
My f riend Samiya Mumt az, the
actress, asked Esther, “Aren’t you angry
with those who killed your husband?”
Esther said, “I’m not angry at any-
one. My husband wanted to die for his
country.”
“What about Musharraf ?” asked
Chris. In 2007, before then-President
Pervez Musharraf had offcially decided
Waziristan was in big trouble, he’d sent
soldiers like Major Sarmas to the front
lines without ammunition.
“How can I blame Musharraf?” said
Esther. “It was God’s will.”
“But surely someone made a decision
to send him to the front lines,” I said, tak-
ing my chances on a cookie.
Nobody said anything. Uncomfort-
able looks were exchanged. Finally
Sharon spoke up.
“One day we were interviewed on
Pakistan national radio. The announcer
gave a summary of my father’s life. It
turns out my father had volunteered to
go to Waziristan. We didn’t know. His tour
of duty had ended but he asked to stay on.”
Esther said, “He wanted to be a hero.
He loved the army. Maybe more than his
family.”
Sampson told us a recurring dream: he
shoots the shit out of the enemy and their
bullets never hit him. In his dreams he is
strong, immortal, huge. In reality he’s been
an expert marksman since the age of nine.
“Who is the enemy in your dreams?” I
asked, half-expecting him to say it was the
men who killed his father. But he didn’t. He
said, “Anyone who attacks my country.”
Samspon confessed that he wanted
to follow in his father’s footsteps and join
the infantry.
“I want to be a warrior,” he said. “I
want to defend my country.”
His mother shifted in her seat.
When we asked Esther how she felt
about her son following in his father’s
footsteps, she shrugged her shoulders.
She was resigned to it. “If it’s God’s will,
then he will fght.”
Samiya, a mother of two, was incredu-
lous. “Really? You’d let him fght?”
“I cannot stop him.”
“Of course you can,” said Samiya.
“You’re his mother.”
“If God wants him to fight, he will
fght.”
Sampson leaned forward. “The point is
we cannot stop these people from killing. We
must fght back. I must defend my country.”
“War is unavoidable,” said Esther.
Like Samiya, I had trouble believing
Est her would let her son j oi n t he
army, or that she wouldn’t at least be
tormented with worry. I imagined her
alone in bed, unable to sleep at night, her
son traversing the same dangerous border
regions as her late husband. How could she
endure it? And why endure it at all when she
could say, Enough. Or could she? Maybe
Esther was right. Maybe war is unavoid-
able. We only have to give it some kind of
meaning; otherwise we’ll go crazy.
Esther admitted she didn’t like that
her husband had joined the army. Twen-
ty years ago she asked him to quit so
they could move to America. But Major
Sarmas didn’t want to. And now Esther
was forced to return to the same refrain:
He died for his country. He died for Jesus. He
was a hero. Maybe she’d said it so many
times she had finally come around to
believing it. Sharon, the soon-to-be den-
tist, brought out more cookies.
Later, Sampson pulled out his tablas
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and played a song. He sang it in Urdu, over
and over again. Esther explained that her
husband wrote this psalm and would sing
it for hours at a time on his harmonium,
or with no accompaniment, only the wind,
as his fellow soldiers recounted him do-
ing for three hours straight the evening
before he died. I asked Esther if it wasn’t
incredibly hard when the Major died.
“My relatives and me were crying. I
cried because I missed him being with
me. But my children were very strong,
they did not cry. My son was saying, ‘Why
do you cry? We don’t cry.’ So I stopped.”
Sampson continued to sing:
Jesus will watch over me
Jesus will take care of me
He will hold me when I fall….
EF—A ChIld’S NARRAtIvE:
It was decided to train EF as a suicide
bomber. He was reluctant. EF received
detailed training. This training lasted
approximately one month, following which
he was taken to the location where he was
supposed to execute this task.
He reached the location a day before the
act was to be carried out. EF was equipped
with a gun in his right pocket and a hand
grenade in his left. The jacket was to be
blown up by him—apparently this time
there was no remote control, which is
usually with the “handler.” His colleague
dropped him off at the mosque. EF stated
that he was fearful at the time. EF stated
that he was willing to execute this until a
night before the act, when he had a night-
mare: if he were to carry out this mission he
would burn in the fres of hell.
The next day he felt very nervous upon
reaching the mosque. EF stated that he
went into the mosque and noticed the guard
was staring at him. EF watched the guard
leave. EF stated that he was unable to either
shoot the guard or any other person who
approached. The instructions were to throw
the grenade to the left. When people rush to
the opposite side of the grenade blast, then he
could throw himself in that crowd and blow
himself up.
Standing at the entrance to the mosque,
EF was plagued with more doubts. He
did not feel it was right to execute so many
people, and wondered about the teaching
that he would go to heaven and receive
beautiful virgins. EF was transfxed on that
spot, no doubt looking strange.
During this time, the guard had already
alerted the local police who came and ar-
rested him. People who had gathered at the
mosque for prayer started to beat up EF. In
the scrum, EF remembers feeling ashamed
and embarrassed. He states that he did not
feel the need for revenge. He felt he deserved
to be reprimanded for considering carrying
out this act.
At Sabaoon, EF has adjusted very well
and participated in his academic and voca-
tional curriculum with zeal. He feels that he
is in heaven now. Next year EF will be sent
to a boarding college.
EF is seventeen years old.
dR. FERIhA PERAChA mAy bE SmAll ANd
delicate, but she’s a forceful presence. Her
eyes blinked rapidly as she fired through
various child narratives like EF’s, all of them
interviews compiled by her and her mental
health team. “This boy is amazing,” Dr.
Peracha said, pointing to her computer. “He
was trained to put on a suicide bomb jacket
and walk in front of a militant, so if he were
in danger he’d blow himself up. The army
brought him in. Do you see the way he uses
red in everything? Look at that house!”
Chris, Samiya and I were in Dr.
Peracha’s house in Lahore, looking
at paintings created by the boys from
Sabaoon school. The paintings were stun-
ning, disturbing and heart-breaking. They
were part of the children’s art therapy.
“You have to understand,” Dr. Pera-
cha said. “This is not a religious issue. It
is about wanting a better life. Paradise.
Who can blame them? They come from
such poor families.”
Dr. Peracha is a psychologist on
a dangerous, one- of- a-kind mission:
she runs the Sabaoon school in Swat.
Sabaoon was created by the Pakistan
National Army following the takeover of
Swat Valley from the Taliban in 2009. The
idea was to rehabilitate boys between the
ages of ten and eighteen who had been ab-
ducted by the Taliban (families were given
the choice—hand over your sons or one
hundred thousand rupees, an amount no
one had). The majority of the children at
Sabaoon were suicide bombers who were
either captured or surrendered before
blowing themselves up.
The school started when the army
apprehended a number of child militants.
A general in command at that time,
known to Dr. Peracha from the relief
work during the earthquake in Kashmir,
requested that Dr. Peracha interview
and profle the frst twelve child militants
they’d apprehended from the camps of
the Taliban.
“For me it was something I could not
say no to,” she said. “I was curious and it
was also something that bothered me a
lot: how can children get involved in mili-
tancy? Of course I was afraid to do this,
too. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
“Wasn’t it dangerous?” I asked.
“Of course it was dangerous,” she
said, recalling the frst time she met the
kids. “Throughout the journey, I kept
thinking, they’re militants! But as soon
as I met them they were just children.
They were so vulnerable.”
She showed us photographs of bunk
beds tucked in with baby blue sheets,
paintings by the students as part of their
art therapy, and the beautiful surround-
ings of the school.
Student art from Sabaoon School, Pakistan
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“I take them into the mountains and
show them how beautiful their country is.
I try to teach them that this is their para-
dise, that paradise isn’t somewhere they
go to when they die.”
It’s a major point for Dr. Peracha and
a core part of the rehabilitation therapy at
Sabaoon school: a humanistic teaching
of Islam.
“The kids, they come here, and
they don’t understand anything about
the religion. So I teach them what jihad
means—the inner struggle, not some
war with America. I say to them, math is
your jihad. Family is your jihad. It doesn’t
mean you kill people. Nowhere in the
Koran does it say that.”
It was hard to take this all in: a modern,
humanist Islam taught by a woman to
former Taliban child suicide bombers?
“Of course, these boys have such
terrible male role models,” she said.
“They need someone like me. I’m like a
mother to them.”
I couldn’t help but notice Dr. Peracha
shaking when she talked. Hers is a
dangerous job and it was no wonder she
was on edge. Dr. Mohammad Farooq
Khan, a Muslim scholar, psychiatrist and
philanthropoist, as well as former vice-
chancellor of the Swat Islamic University
in Mingora, used to teach at Sabaoon. In
the summer of 2010 he was shot to death
in his offce by Pakistani Taliban. A well-
known and highly respected voice of
the moderates, Dr. Farooq Khan wrote
articles and books that denounced sui-
cide bombing as well as the Taliban. Dr.
Peracha’s family was rightfully con-
cerned for her safety.
But, she told us, she can’t stop with
her mission. She feels an incredible obli-
gation to the children. By the time I’d met
her in 2010, several dozen children had
already come and gone through the
school (and since the time of our initial
i nt er vi ew, cl ose t o t wo hundred
boys have attended Sabaoon; in May
2012 the school will be transferring
to a smaller venue with the remain-
ing child militants of the Swat area).
And while the therapy was intense,
involving a re-learning of the tenets of
Islam, as well as sports and art therapy,
the larger problem has been how to
reintegrate the children back into their
communit ies. Once they expel the
vi ol ence—i f i ndeed t hey can do
that—then what? How do the children
not get sucked back into the hands of
the mi l it ants? How can one school
reform a region, a country, compel it
to leave violence behind? The rings
under Dr. Peracha’s eyes said it all. If
the militants didn’t get her, the stress
would.
Dr. Peracha got up from her desk
and paced the room. She was revved up,
adamant t hat we underst and t he
violence was not a compulsion of religion.
“It’s about going to heaven, a desire for
a better life,” she said. “Because they’re
so poor, they’re of low socio-economic
strata, and they are told if they blow
themselves up they’ ll go to paradise.
That’s why these kids do this. For the
children it’s nothing at all about Islam.
You kill someone and then you go to
heaven. The real problem is there’s just
nowhere for them to go.”
She argued that the entire situation
would be different if there were jobs for
the kids. “Make Swat like Bangladesh,”
she implored. “Give us a free market,
build some factories, put in some indus-
try, give these people something to live
for, something to do.”
Listening to Dr Peracha, it seemed
hers was the only sane course of action—
there was no option but to tackle the
violence at its root; starting with the chil-
dren.
“We’re connected to Swat, all of us,”
she said. “These children are the next
generation, the ones who will or will
not become terrorists. We need to affect
that fate.”
Dr. Peracha showed us one boy’s
canvas, which stretched the length of
the room: black footprints were the ones
that led the child into the school and his
coloured footprints the ones with which
he hoped to use in leaving. Another
boy painted a house without doors or
windows. Many of them painted snakes,
phallic symbols, Dr. Peracha suggested,
though to me it seemed more the shadow,
the sinister, the venom trapped in their
veins. The most enduring image was how
the boys painted the backgrounds. At
frst, it appeared to be black rain. Upon
closer inspection, it was clear that it was a
rain of mortar.
Samiya of fered to massage Dr.
Peracha’s shoulders. When the doctor
let Samiya touch her, we all breathed, I
think, for the frst time.
LahoRe, the oLd CIty. SatuRday NIGht. IN a
teahouse by the ornate seventeenth-
century Badshahi mosque, Samiya,
Chris and I talked about how to help Dr.
Peracha. Belief, despite the consequences,
or with the hope of better consequences;
I supposed this ki nd of thi nki ng is
infectious in this part of the world. It’s
only a question of which idea, which
conviction, you latch onto.
Two men in the corner of the tea-
house, I noticed, in shalwar kameez,
were watching us, smoking. One of them
chatted incessantly. The other sneered.
Back in the car, Samiya drove us
through the city streets. Suddenly she
gunned it and we were careening, going
faster and faster.
“Those men,” she said, matter of factly.
“They’re following us. They think I’m a
prostitute.”
I twisted around in my seat. It was the
two men from the teahouse. They were
metres behind us in a white sedan, weav-
ing in and out of traffic. I tried to gauge
their expressions through the windshield.
Were they laughing or screaming?
I had a sudden memory from ear-
lier that day when we met with an artist
who paints prostitutes of the red light
district. He said he’d been receiving death
threats lately from the extremists. Then
he confessed: he had produced a painting
so dangerous no one could ever see it.
“Why paint it then?” I asked.
“Because I had to,” he said. And the
way he said it, I could see: painting, sur-
vival, belief—it’s as natural as breathing.
Samiya coolly navigated our way
through the city streets. She sped up,
blowing through a traf f ic l ight and
veering abruptly onto an onramp. Soon
enough, we’d left the ogling men behind,
though by then I wasn’t quite sure where
we were or how we were going to reach
our destination. eB
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FETAL POSITION

By cameron chesney
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40 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
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How did a guy who wanted to teach
college on Vancouver Island end up a giant
of American television?
By C urt i s Gi l l e s pi e
HART
HANSON
I n p r o f I l e
ON THe SeT
Of Bones.
photo: Dan Sackheim
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42 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
The fIfTy oR So buIldINGS oN The SPRawlING
Fox Studio lot in Beverly Hills, California,
take three primary shapes: the sleek glass
and steel of the executive offices in the
southeast corner, the giant airport hangar-
like sound stages in the middle, and the
low-slung two-storey apartment-style pro-
duction offces along the west edge of the
lot. Strolling through this environment is
an exercise in compulsory humility. Were
you to ever feel insecure about how much
money you make, how good-looking you
are, or how much clout you have, you would
be well-advised to meander elsewhere.
Funky and purposeful technical people
criss-cross the avenues and grassy areas.
Tall executives in gorgeous shoes and
designer labels strut about exhibiting their
minxy locks, toned fesh and fawless teeth
(as do their female counterparts). Creative-
looking types—writers probably, though
they could also be gardeners—loll around
dressed in carefully rumpled clothing.
Phalanxes of studly, stubbly assistants
wear designer jeans and tight T-shirts.
Even the aging Ecuadorean waiter at the
cafeteria exudes the class and rectitude of
a Spanish James Mason. We haven’t even
come to the stars. Being gifted the sight
of Sofa Vergara, in heels and a tight skirt,
mounting the short staircase to the Modern
Family sound stage is to abruptly have one’s
inner Neanderthal made fesh. Your fesh.
Amidst this live catwalk of the rich,
hip, and gorgeous, there is one person
who appears oblivious to it all. He isn’t gor-
geous, doesn’t signal wealth and can’t be
bothered to even learn what passes for hip.
He is neither tall nor short. He wears plain
glasses that are frequently askew. It is pos-
sible he’s modestly hiding rippling abs
under a wrinkled and baggy T-shirt—a
T-shirt that looks suspiciously like the one
he wore the day before—but the available
physical evidence suggests otherwise.
And Temperance “Bones” Brennan, the
main character of the popular Fox show
Bones, wouldn’t need to deploy even the
most basic of her forensic skills to con-
clude that the man either cuts his own hair
or pays someone else to create the effect.
Yet when this same man stops to
chat, people stop to listen. When this man
approaches the cafeteria door, the maitre’d
does not direct him to the change room
to don a busboy’s uniform, but instead
sweeps the door open and greets him
obsequiously. When this man steps into
the kitchen of the production offce, people
do not presume that he is delivering fruit
and pastries, but instead try to secure
even a second’s conversation.
Why do they do these things?
The obvious answer would be because
this man is Hart Hanson, one of television’s
most influential and successful creative
minds, the Canadian creator of the long-
running TV hit, Bones (a comedic crime
procedural about a brainy female forensic
anthropologist and an all-action male FBI
agent), and its popular spinoff, The Finder
(a frothy crimedy about a decorated but
lovably damaged Iraq war veteran who can
fnd anything anywhere). But the real rea-
son people do these things, the reason why
people appear to be drawn to Hanson and
treat him more like a friend than a power
player, more one of the guys than the guy,
might just be because there are days, many
days, when Hanson still can’t quite believe
it himself. He laughs often and uniquely,
a laugh so infectious it should come with
an antidote, and he’s just as likely to stop
and talk for ten minutes to the guy who
really is delivering the fruit and pastries as
he is to the network executive wanting to
discuss a sixty-fve million dollar season
order. People pay attention to Hart Hanson
because he’s a powerful show runner, but
people fuss over him because he himself
can’t understand what the fuss is all about,
although if you follow the entertainment
news, you will know that due to recent
events there almost wasn’t a Hart Hanson
to fuss over at all.
On January 3, at approximately nine
a.m., the ffty-four-year-old Hanson was
riding his motorcycle south along the
Pacifc Coast Highway between his home
in Malibu and the Fox lot. He was in the
fast lane, heading inland onto Highway
10 doing sixty miles an hour, when the
pickup truck he was following suddenly
jammed on its brakes and swerved wildly
to the right to avert a car stopped on the
left side of the freeway. Hanson had no
escape path. The bike went under the car
and he went over it, cartwheeling down
the pavement like a gymnast on acid. He
dislocated both hips and a shoulder, and
broke his left ankle. Labelling it a close
call is akin to observing that Charlie
Sheen likes the occasional night out;
Hanson knows it was a brush with death.
Though he is not the brooding, philo-
sophical type, Hanson enjoys those rare
moments when he gets some downtime to
think or write or read; he got a lot of those
moments sitting in the hospital recovering.
As he did so, many in the world of popular
entertainment were wondering a few things
about Hanson and his creative arc. First,
how long will the incredibly popular Bones
run (it was recently renewed for an eighth
season), and, more to the point, how long
might Hanson choose to remain at its helm?
Second, how successful could the Bones
spinoff, The Finder, ultimately become? (As
recently as early April, no decision had been
made on renewing it for a second season.)
Third, and perhaps most importantly,
there is the question of what Hanson—
who is certainly one of the most successful
Canadians in the history of television; to
date Fox has supplied him with nearly
half a billion dollars to create his shows—
might do next, regardless. Yes, he might
keep doing Bones. Sure, he could keep
doing The Finder. He could even, and might
even, do both while also developing new
network shows. Or, more tantalizingly,
he could turn all or part of his creativity
towards the darker, edgier world of cable,
a move he acknowledges would satisfy
part of his storytelling brain.
“Hart happens to be on network now,”
his good friend, the SCTV alum Dave
Thomas told me one bright morning in
late January, as we sat outside at a Malibu
coffee shop. “But Hart is an artist. He’ll be
on cable one day. The most exciting part
of watching him as a friend is wondering
what he’s going to do next.”
I asked Hanson, the next day, if he
cared to share his thoughts about his
future. “I’m a network asset,” he told me.
“The network owns whatever I produce
right now, so it’s kind of a non-issue.”
When, I asked, did this state—his
personal “overall” deal at Twentieth Cen-
tury Fox, that is—expire?
“I don’t necessarily think of it that
way,” he replied. “Partially because I really
like the actors I’m working with. We’ve
created these shows together.” He sat
back in his chair. “But since you’re asking,
my deal is up in June.”
haRT haNSoN’S offIce, IN buIldING 1 oN The
far northwest corner of the Fox lot, is a
spacious, low-slung room with brown
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carpet, a large desk, and some punched-
up couches and chairs. Hanson can
usually be found behind his desk,
strumming his fingers either on the
desk top or lightly over one of the many
guitars he keeps behind his desk, as
he chats with, primarily, one or all of
three people: his executive assistant,
Nick Larsen; his manager of creative
affairs, Josh Levy; or Stephen Nathan,
the executive producer and head writer
of Bones, and Hanson’s longtime friend
and collaborator.
If any of these three are in Han-
son’s offce, particularly Nathan (who
owns an air of wearied experience
so profound you sense that even the
appearance of the Devil before him
would elicit nothing but a shrug and a
“meh”), business may ensue, but it will
be preceded, interrupted, and post-
scripted by stories, jokes, anecdotes,
gossip, and expletive-laden debriefngs
of disparate events. In one such meeting
between Nathan and Hanson, ostensibly
to talk about how to overcome a plot
glitch in one of the final Bones epi-
sodes of the season, Nathan (a show-
biz vet who launched his career by
originating the role of Jesus in the
musical Godspell off-Broadway in 1971),
first offered up donuts baked by his
chef daughter, and then launched into
the protracted, highly physical telling of a
joke he’d heard from Carl Reiner the night
before, about two elderly Jewish gentlemen
sitting on a park bench, one of whom keeps
trying mightily, and failing, time after time
after time, to simply get up, all of which
caused Hanson no end of merriment. The
punch line (“What’s the rush?”) was funny,
but wasn’t nearly as funny as Nathan’s per-
formance of the joke. Upon the conclusion of
the joke, the two discussed an episode plot
point for approximately fourteen seconds
before Nathan stood up, a radical action
that seemed to spark in Hanson a note of
tender concern for his friend.
“…Is this a paj ama bot tom day,
Stephen?” Hanson turned to me to ex-
plain. “On tough writing days, when he’s
just got to knuckle down and break a sto-
ry, Stephen has been known to put on his
pajama bottoms. It’s the only way he can
work sometimes.”
Nathan shrugged. “It’s not at that
point yet.”
“That’s a relief,” said Hanson.
Nathan departed. Later that day, I
came across him in Building 1—he still
had his pants on.
It RemaINS uNdeteRmINed If GyPSy blood
courses through the Hanson line, but it
would hardly come as a surprise to find
it so. Given the famed impermanence of
the Los Angeles lifestyle, it’s surprising
to learn that his time in L.A. has by some
considerable measure been the most
stable period of Hanson’s life, at least in
terms of physical movement. Hanson was
born in 1957, just outside San Francisco, to
a Canadian mother (who passed away two
years ago) and an American father. They
were about to return to Victoria, British
Columbia, but decided to wait a few days,
given Hanson’s imminent arrival.
Hanson’s father worked as a travelling
salesman most of his life, and the family
(Hanson is the oldest of five children)
moved frequently, living in Victoria,
Vancouver, Kamloops, Cal gar y,
Winnipeg, and Toronto. The family his-
tory is equally all over the map, and
it’s no accident Hanson grew up to be
a storyteller. His father, for instance,
was such a fine track athlete in his
day that Hanson’s grandmother used
to claim her son’s high school had
once won the state track champion-
ship, even though her son, Hanson’s
father, was the only person on the
team. Hanson assumed this was
family hyperbole until many years later
when he happened to see some old
newspaper clippings from the Potlatch,
Idaho daily, which noted that Hanson
pére had indeed won every single event
at the state championships. “Except
the relay,” deadpanned Hanson in the
retelling.
Hanson’s mother also had a sense
of the fantastic about her. The frst time
she visited him after his move to L.A.,
she was standing on the Fox lot with
him, taking it all in, marvelling out loud
at the magic and strangeness of it all.
“Well, mom,” said Hanson, “what do
you think?”
“I guess everybody has to try this
once,” she said. “I did it when I was
here in L.A. working as a chorus girl
dancer.”
“You WHAT?!”
She looked back at him, all 4’11’’ of her
utterly nonplussed. “Sure, I was a dancer,
a chorus girl, and I lived in Wittier, and I
always took the bus up here to this studio
and the other studios.”
“Those are just a few of the stories
about my family that I thought couldn’t
be true,” said Hanson, as we spoke on his
sunny patio high above Malibu beach.
“Only thing was, they were.”
PoSt-PRoductIoN SuIte 12 at the SoNy lot
calls to mind the sort of movie theatre a
wealthy cinephile might place in the base-
ment of his or her mansion; a large screen
runs the show in loops up front, much as
an ordinary cinema might, but at each of
the room’s three tiers are banks of com-
puters and screens and keyboards and
motherboards, each manned by a sound
expert of some variety. It is the job of the
seven people in the room to ensure there
are no glitches in the show and that the
music and sound effects match onscreen
StRayS
Dogs of the world, anonymous
wanderers, moral conundrums,
I fnd them by the road,
scavenging milk cartons
thrown from the bus:
feist pups galled with mange,
old hounds, blind and lame,
at the end of their utility.
Such I once whispered secrets to
and begged to keep
and was commanded
to lead into the woods
to execute and bury.
And my father was not a bad man.
And Saint John Perse wrote,
“I had a horse. Who was he?”
Do animals have souls?
My favorite channels
the spirit of Veronica Franco.
Veronica Franco or Marie Duplessis.
She is orange, small, and elegant,
a golden-lab beagle mix—
I do not know why she comes to me.
I do not feed her and she is not my dog.
– Rodney Jones
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events. “I’m in awe every day of every one
of these people,” Hanson told me later. “Of
everyone. The stars, the directors, the
technicians. Not a day goes by where I’m
not in a meeting or sitting in some room
and it hits me that I’m the least intelligent
guy in the room.”
Dan Sackheim, the director of the
episode, sat munching grapes while
offering suggestions and self-mocking
criticisms. After each run-through of an
act in the show, the technicians would
stop and solicit feedback. A sample:
Sackheim: “Hart? What about you,
anything from that segment?”
Hanson: “Yeah, at 18:15, that moment
where Walter unlocks his underground
vault. When he unlocks it and pulls it up,
there needs to be a different sound. It’s
too light. Too…I don’t know what I mean.
What do I mean?” Here Hanson looked
to Sackheim and various technicians in
turn. “There’s a sound. I can’t describe
it. It should be more a clicky sound, like
clangy tumblers turning in a giant safe or
something. That sound. You know that
sound? Anybody know what I’m talking
about? I don’t even know what I’m talking
about! Somebody, help me. Please. The
longer you let me keep talking, the more
I’m going to prove I shouldn’t be running
this show!”
Technician: “I think I know what you
mean.” Knobs were twirled, buttons were
pushed, and in under a minute the loop
was replayed; this time the vault door,
which sat like a manhole cover on a road,
unlocked and was lifted to the sound of
crisply metallic spring-loaded sequential
unlocking noises. It was a radically differ-
ent sound to the previous one, and gave
opening the vault a deeper and somehow
more playfully mysterious overtone.
Hanson: “Magical!” To Sackheim:
“How come you didn’t suggest that? Why
do we keep you around here anyway?”
Sackheim, laconically munching
another grape: “I’ve often wondered that
myself.”
Hanson: “We keep you here so that
somebody smart can run the show when
they fre me.”
Sackheim: “That’d be a mixed bless-
ing.”
Hanson: “You’re my hero.”
Sackheim: “I accept that.”
The next day, I spoke with Bruce
Margolis, the executive in charge of
production at Twentieth Century Fox.
Margolis puts Hanson “in the same
league, on the same pedestal,” as How-
ard Gordon, the famous show runner of
24, who is currently receiving accolades
for his new conspiracy drama, Homeland.
“I give Hart sixty million dollars a year
and he’s never let me down.”
I asked Margolis to account for Han-
son’s apparent popularity amongst the
dizzyingly diverse strata of people he
necessarily has to interact with whilst
extracting maximum performance from
them all. “Easy,” said Margolis. “He’s
successful. He’s effcient. He’s accessible.
He holds a point of view. He’s a model show
runner. There isn’t anything to not like.”
“He’s a normal guy,” Emily Deschanel,
the co-star of Bones, told me the next
day, when I spoke with her in her trailer
between scenes. “He drives around in a
car with no doors! He’s still the same guy
as when I met him seven years ago when I
auditioned for Bones. I’ve seen new layers
of him unfold, but his success has not
changed him at all to the core. He’s kind of
goofy. The guy is just real, and in this town
that’s very, very rare.”
The trouble with the picture being
created by these friends, collabora-
tors, executives and stars, of course, is
that it can’t be complete, since it would
be humanly impossible for anyone to
achieve so much while alienating so few.
Where, I wondered, as I criss-crossed the
Hollywood landscape researching Hanson,
was the coke, the hookers, the double-
crossings, the spurned starlets, the fnan-
cial malfeasance, the backstabbing, the
alcoholism? Anything? An OxyContin
addiction? A weakness for the ponies? A
diet low in fbre? Anyone? Anything??
“I heard he kicked a squirrel once,”
Emily Deschanel told me, her voice low-
ering a shade. “But I didn’t actually see
it.” Confirming this with Hanson in lieu
of alerting the SPCA, he told me that he
was merely testing the hypothesis he’d
understood growing up in Ontario — and
which he shared with Stephen Nathan as
they walked on the lot outside the squirrel-
friendly Building 1— that it was impossible
to kick a squirrel due to their lighting-
quick reflexes. The hypothesis failed at
the test stage; shoe met squirrel. “Either
the theory is a complete falsehood,”
Hanson told me, “or California squirrels
aren’t as spry as Ontario squirrels.” The
squirrel in question appeared to suffer no
lasting damage; upon landing, it resumed
the chestnut hunt it had been carrying out
on the other side of the lawn.
I finally asked Hanson himself how
he’d managed to achieve his current sta-
tus without making any enemies, or, even
more incredibly, while managing to have
people actually seem to like him. Surely
it couldn’t be legitimate? Where was his
dark side?
“I have one,” he fnally confded, as we
sat in his offce near the end of a long day
on set. “I swear a lot at people, especially
the suits. A lot.”
Anger management issues, I wrote in
my notebook.
“The only thing is, I wait till I’m alone
in the car. Then I really let loose at people.
It’s even better when it’s just me inside my
bike helmet. Then it’s like it really is inside
my own head.”
Of course, there is always the conspir-
atorial brand of black humour he shares
with Stephen Nathan; together, they
bleed off a lot of the pressure that would
otherwise get sprayed over other people.
During the third season of Bones, Hanson
was i n Nat han’s of f ice when t hey
happened to take a call from an executive
Hanson declined to name. Hanson put
the executive on speaker phone as they
tried to decipher what the suit was saying;
something to do with the tone of a show.
“The point is,” said Hanson, “Stephen and
I were making faces, shaking our heads,
doing everything we could to not swear
or laugh, so that we could, you know, keep
our jobs.”
Near the end of the conversation, the
suit made a suggestion Hanson strenu-
ously objected to, but which hierarchy
and diplomacy compelled him to respond
to with: “Okay…that’s an interesting
suggestion…I guess we could always
consider that.” However, as he’d uttered
these words, he’d stood up, extracted
his penis from his trousers and begun
to whap it against the phone, against the
cradled handset, against the number
buttons. Nathan did all he could to contain
his laughter until the call ended a few
seconds later, at which point he and
Hanson laughed so hard their stomachs
hurt and tears formed. But then, as if
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governed by a switch, Nathan stopped
laughing, his face suddenly an ashen
mask. He stopped laughing because he
remembered they were seated in his
offce. And that that was his phone.
By the tIme haNSoN waS Ready to atteNd
university, he was hearing the call of
Vancouver Island. He enrolled at the
University of Victoria, where one would
think the logical thing for him to study
would have been literature or the perform-
ing arts or perhaps Roma history. Which
was why he chose physics and calculus.
“Yeah, that didn’t work out too well,”
he told me.
Over the next few years, Hanson
managed to complete a bachelor of arts at
the University of Toronto, while his wife,
Brigitte, pursued biochemistry (though
she would eventually attend and gradu-
ate from art school). He worked part-time
at the Christie’s biscuit factory and ended
up giving up on his dream of becoming
a rock musician due, ostensibly, to an
unfortunate incident with a fondue fork
which caused paralysis in two fingers.
“Luckiest break of my life,” said Hanson.
“I wasn’t that good.”
Hanson began to pursue his passion
for writing, though he had no idea what
direction that passion was leading him in
(after graduating he did technical writing
for his father-in-law, among other clients,
as well as columns for the Toronto Sun
on such diverse subjects as Toronto bars
and a cycling trip across Canada). “Those
were actually really great times,” he said.
“We didn’t have kids,” added his wife
Brigitte. “We thought we were rich!”
“We had an apartment,” said Hanson.
“I had a gig writing about bars. It’s prob-
ably the richest we’ve ever been.”
But the key step had already been
taken; Hanson had had the fre of writing
ignited in him while in the final year of
undergrad. He’d been scribbling away at
some short stories and had a nascent idea
for a novel. Then one day he saw that there
was a reading later that night on campus
(held, believe it or not, at a U of T arts
think-tank called Hart House), by the es-
teemed Canadian novelist Jack Hodgins,
whose work Hanson knew and loved. That
was when everything changed.
Jack Hodgins (who has won nearly
every literary prize worth winning in
Canada and who has produced exception-
al writing for close to five decades now)
was, in 1981, probably the kind of fgure
Hanson imagined, or hoped, he might
someday become: a recognized novel-
ist producing works of lasting literary
value. Hanson attended the reading, and
joined the party at a local pub after the
reading. Hanson approached Hodgins
at one point, carrying a copy of Hodgins’
CanLit classic Spit Delaney’s Island, and
announced himself a fan. “I’d been teach-
ing for quite a while by then,” Hodgins—a
famously generous editor—told me in a
recent email, “and I knew an enthusiast
when I saw one. He fnally confessed to me
that he wanted to write fction.”
Hodgins offered to read some of Han-
son’s work, and Hanson later sent Hodgins
a short story. “I recognized true promise
in what I was reading,” said Hodgins. “I
gave him some feedback and eventually
invited him to consider attending a
workshop I was scheduled to teach in
Saskatchewan.” Hanson applied, got in,
and spent two weeks in Hodgins’ fction
workshop, an experience that helped give
him enough writing time, and confdence,
to apply to the graduate writing program
at the University of British Columbia,
to which he was accepted. Hanson also
set to work on a novel that he eventually
finished, a novel, says Hodgins, “that a
major Canadian publisher took a long
time admiring and considering” before
eventually turning down.
the BeaVeR
The DHC-2 Beaver bush plane is often credited with opening up the Canadian
North. It was manufactured by de Havilland Canada in Downsview, Ontario,
between 1947 and 1967, yet it remains a common sight throughout the
country due to its rare abilities. It’s easily recognized by its very loud “Wasp Jr”
engine.
Beavers have been called the workhorses of the North. Still used as air taxis
between small communities and hunting and fshing lodges, they’re also
used to ship heavy freight, and were even designed to carry external loads
(such as canoes or household furniture strapped to the outside).
At the end of World War II, de Havilland Canada decided to design a rugged
plane suited to the extremes of the North. They asked bush pilots across the
country what they needed and the answer was lots of power, combined with
STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) performance and a design that could
be ftted with skis or foats. Other suggestions included doors wide enough
to accommodate forty-fve gallon drums, located on both sides to facilitate
loading no matter how the pilot tied up to a dock.
All de Havilland Canada aircraft were named after animals at the time; after
some debate, it was decided the new bush plane was much like the hard-
working beaver.
Hollywood’s Harrison Ford fies his own Beaver and sings its praises.
– Clive Holden
CAN
.
ICONS
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Still, a corner had been turned; Hanson
has always held Hodgins in great esteem,
and he honoured Hodgins, in his own
winking way, so many years later, by
naming T. J. Thyne’s character in Bones
Dr. Jack Hodgins…and by giving the
character fantastic private wealth, three
doctorates and boyish good looks. The
feeling is mutual; when Hodgins was
appointed to the Order of Canada in 2010,
he invited Hanson to join him in Ottawa
for the ceremony.
While at UBC, however, Hanson was
taking a variety of courses. One of these
was screenwriting, taught by Jake Zilber.
Hanson had never really given much
thought to the idea of writing for televi-
sion or flm, but he enjoyed the class with
his friend, Scot Morison, the respected
Edmonton television and film writer.
Zilber, through his connections to the
Canadian television industry, offered an
internship every summer, and Hanson
told me that Zilber offered the internship
to Morison, but that Morison had already
accepted a summer job writing for a
magazine back in Alberta. Hanson was
Zilber’s second choice (“Because Scot
was the really talented one in the class,”
Hanson told me), and he said yes.
“Honestly,” said Hanson. “I had no
interest in becoming a screen writer until
then. It was that internship that allowed
me to meet Brian McKeown, the guy who
ran The Beachcombers. When Brigitte got
pregnant and we needed some money, I just
started faxing story ideas to Brian. I got to
write an episode of The Beachcombers, and
then he hired me as a story editor.”
That was in 1989. By 1992, he was
writing episodes of The Road to Avonlea,
by 1994 he was writing for North of 60, and
by 1995, he’d developed Traders, a show
that ran for eighty-three episodes from
1996-2000, and which attracted the atten-
tion of Hollywood agent Matt Solo.
“I called him up out of the blue in
1998,” said Solo, his mouth creasing
into a wry smile as we sat in his eighth
f loor of f ice at t he Wi l l iam Morris
Endeavor offces on Wilshire Boulevard
(WME is the template agency for the popu-
lar HBO comedy Entourage). “And he never
returned my calls. Ever.”
Perplexed, Solo (whom Hanson calls
He Who Works Alone) continued to try
to reach Hanson, with no success. “I
couldn’t fgure it out,” Solo told me. “I was
working with David Shore”—of House
fame—“at the time, and he’d taken over
running this show called Traders because
Hart was sick.” (Hanson was off work for
many months due to a kidney infection.)
“I always wanted to meet the guy who’d
created Traders, but I’d call him and he’d
never answer any phone calls. I finally
ended up going to Toronto for a flm shoot,
so we met, somewhere really ridiculous,
like a Red Lobster or something.”
Solo (who, with his untidy hair and
disheveled dress, looks more like an
overworked legal aid lawyer than a killer
Hollywood agent) was impressed that
Hanson put on no airs and expected no
favours. “He just agreed to pick up sticks
and come, but the thing was that no one
in L.A. had ever heard of him. Everything
he’d done in Canada counted for nothing.
You almost have to start over. And so I had
to ask him, this guy who’d created shows
and won awards, to write a spec script to
show people in L.A. what he could do. He
didn’t complain. He just did it.”
Solo invited Hanson to stay at his
house when he came down to L.A. for
their frst set of meetings with the network
suits. The only thing Hanson brought with
him was a spec script. It was his take on
Ally McBeal. “To this day,” Solo told me,
“it remains one of the funniest things
I’ve ever read. It was just fantastic, really
absurd and really funny, and yet the guy
who wrote it was sleeping on the couch at
my old house. As soon as I sent the script
out, people were crying laughing, and he
got a job almost instantly.”
Hanson set to work as a writer on shows
like David Kelley’s Snoops and a show run
by Rob Thomas called Cupid, establishing
himself as versatile, reliable and easy to
work with. The Cupid experience was
invaluable, Hanson told me, because, due
to a falling out between Thomas and the
two show runners, Thomas ended up as
the last man standing…except for Hanson,
who happened to be standing there, too.
“Suddenly, Rob is the show runner, and
he makes me the co-executive producer.
Overnight, I’m sitting in on meetings with
studio bigshots, and I’ve only been in L.A.
for a few months. I learned so much those
first six months. Even though the show
only lasted fourteen episodes, at the end of
it I was a co-executive producer!”
Which led to higher profle gigs with
shows such as Joan of Arcadia and Judg-
ing Amy. Another project, which ended
up not getting made, led to him meeting
the producer Barry Josephson, known
for getting movies like Men in Black and
Enchanted made, but also for being linked
to the Heidi Fleiss prostitution scandal
in the mid-nineties. Hanson, being an
equal opportunity kind of guy, was happy
to meet Josephson, who gave Hanson a
documentary on a forensic thriller writer
named Kathy Reichs. Hanson took it
home and watched it and said to himself,
“Okay, there’s a show there.”
This speaks to a rather common mis-
conception about Bones, which is that the
show is based on Reichs’ books; it is not. It’s
based purely on Hanson’s interpretation
of the work and life of a forensic anthro-
pologist according to what he saw in that
documentary. He read the books later,
of course, and adopted many of the char-
acters. But early on, Hanson expressed
a fear to Josephson that would recur as a
problem after the frst year of production,
namely that the studio, Twentieth Century
Fox, and the network, Fox Television,
would want to make it into a CSI-style
forensic show, rather than the relation-
ship-based crime comedy Hanson envi-
sioned. Josephson endorsed Hanson’s
approach, and so did the studio, more
or less. Dana Walden and Gary New-
man, high-ranking studio executives,
were at that first pitch meeting, along
with the head of network development,
Jennifer Nicholson Salke, and as a unit they
listened to Hanson hum and haw and
twitch and fdget.
“You have to understand,” Hanson told
me of that meeting. “I’m the world’s worst
pitcher. These people laughed at me.
They looked at each other. I kept talking,
not even sure what I was saying. They
interrupted me and said, ‘Umm, Hart, is it
going to be…an hour long show?’ Yeah,
yeah, I said, right…an hour. Sure, it’ll be an
hour. ‘And can you say something about,
you know, the tone, maybe?’ Right, the
tone, right, yeah, well, it’ll be, well, like me,
like my personality. They looked at each
other. ‘Okay, can you perhaps quantify
that in some way?’ Well, you know, it’ll have
some humour, some pathos, some bathos.
But I’m not doing a CSI show. That’s not
me. I’m not your guy on that kind of show.”
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The three studio executives assured
Hanson they supported his vision, as did,
initially, the network executives. They
ordered thirteen episodes, the show went
into production and that’s when the prob-
lems began.
“It became clear very early,” Han-
son told me, “that despite everything,
they really did want a CSI-style show. I
just kept telling people, ‘I’m not going to
do it’. Honestly, I thought I was going to
lose my job a few times.” The pressure to
change the show was coming from every
corner, but Hanson closed his ears and
kept working. “I kept saying I wanted it
to be about the characters, and people in
suits kept saying things like, ‘You haven’t
earned it yet with these characters. It has
to be more plot-driven’.”
The network kept moving the show,
which premiered September 13, 2005,
all over the timetable map, which wasn’t
helping, but the fourth episode, in which a
bear was opened up to fnd it had ingested
most of a human arm, proved popular
with the audience. Also, the network
found that no matter where they moved
the show—Monday night , Tuesday
night—there were always seven or eight
million people who managed to find it.
The show was resonating with viewers,
surprising the network, surprising the
studio, surprising even Hanson some-
what, given the fact that it was not being
given preferential or even stable time
slots. Then, perhaps due to the positive
reviews of an episode just before Christ-
mas, the show made a quantum leap.
Just over seven million people watched
Episode 9 of Bones in Season One. Nearly
eleven and a half million people watched
Episode 10. The day those numbers came
in, the pressure started to ease.
“I think it was Preston who frst came to
me and said, ‘You know, there’s something
about this show. No matter what happens
to it, you just can’t kill it’.’”
Hanson is referring here to Preston
Beckman, the Fox Network Executive
Vice President of Strategic Program
Planning and Research who is one-third
of the three-person team that decides
what gets made and where it goes on
the schedule. I met Beckman in the soft
glass and brushed steel of Building 101
on the southeast corner of the Fox lot. I
asked him what it is that has made Bones
and Hanson so successful, and he noted
first that network success is usually
defned by ad sales, whereas cable defnes
success through critical reviews and sub-
scribers. “Still,” he continued. “What’s
notable about Bones is how shockingly
consistent the ratings have been over the
years. But it’s a smart, funny, fun show
that leaves you feeling good and good
about yourself. You don’t fnish an episode
feeling like you want to kill yourself.”
As for Hanson, he said, “I think there’s
a modesty there, a bit of a twinkle in his
eye, that maybe he doesn’t take it all too
seriously, although he’s very passionate
about what he does, of course. I get the
feeling that he probably hasn’t changed
all that much from when he started. And
I think he can distinguish between what
he does for a living and what his personal
tastes might be. He understands what his
job is, and who he is appealing to.”
Executives like Preston Beckman and
Bruce Margolis applaud Hanson’s work,
but there is still the view held by some that
his shows are the pack animals of network
television doing the heavy lifting of bring-
ing in the numbers so that the sexier,
edgier work can be done by more high-
profle Emmy-bait. Hanson’s friend Dave
Thomas sees it that way. “I don’t think
Hart’s shows are treated with the respect
they’re due by the network,” he told me.
“Hart’s shows are the bread and butter of
television, and they wear their learning
and humour lightly, whereas something
like Terra Nova is a failed experiment in
network indulgence. Shows like Terra
ROTHKO VIA MUNCIE, INDIANA
The 1980s. Beginning of the long decade, the century’s
late works. Snow on the grid, feld bisected
by a late model John Deere’s progress in low gear
with a front-end load of straw bales. Its operator’s daughter
dons her brace, thinks her scoliosis the devil’s work
on her, a not-good-enough Christian. Her mother talks
scripture on the phone in the kitchen and the kitchen
smells of coffee and it smells of dog. Christmas lights
strung along the eaves of bungalows, vehicles moored
to bungalows by their block heater cords. Rumours
of drunkenness and corruption sunk the Democrat’s bid
for mayor: For we favour the simple expression of the complex
thought. The large shape’s impact of the unequivocal. Flat
forms that destroy illusion, reveal truth. Now the union’s eye
has twilight in it, and the city dump will stay where it is.
Evening falls, or rises, or emanates from the fgures.
The SportsPlex and Model Aviation Museum, the Muncie
Mall and both quadrangles of Ball State University
shed their associations, perform an unknown adventure
in unknown space. Halogens illuminate an anecdote
of the spirit. You won’t see his face around here again.
The violet quarry hosts a greater darkness further in,
the White River sleeps in its cabin of pack ice.
Among the graduating class an abstract feeling develops,
an inclination to symbolism born of the fatal car wreck on
New Year’s, a spike in requests for Bob Seger
to the call-ins from a quasi-religious experience of limitless
immensity. To achieve this clarity is inevitably
to be misunderstood. Their lives take on the dimensions
of the felds, the city, its facades and its plan, whose happiness
will be their own. Rent, food budget, sweaters
indoors. Basketball, basketball, and a second marriage.
– Karen Solie
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Nova hit you over the head with a baseball
bat, but people respond to Hart’s shows
because they’re good, smart, and, most
importantly, don’t insult me by overstating
everything. I’m telling you, Hart couldn’t
write stupid if his life depended on it.”
The makING of eveN a SINGle ePISode of
a network TV show is a logistical night-
mare; any given set at any given moment is
crawling with dozens of extras, directors,
assistant directors, directors of photog-
raphy, assistant directors of photogra-
phy, makeup artists, producers, assistant
producers, executive producers, carpen-
ters, electricians, lighting crew, sound
crew, prop masters, caterers, agents, per-
sonal assistants, and even occasionally
one or two of the stars. And all of these
people have opinions and egos. Someone
needs to be there to make the trains run
on time while also steering the creative
vision. That’s the show runner. He or
she has to be a cross between Stalin and
Mother Teresa.
But Hart Hanson on set appears to
be neither. He looks and acts like a sound
technician, like some guy hanging around
waiting for someone to tell him what to do
and when to do it. This would be okay,
except that he’s the guy who is supposed
to tell everyone else what to do. Walking
from the Bones set back to Hanson’s offce
one day, I asked him what it was like to be
in charge of shows that tens of millions
of people watch every week, whether he
felt that conferred any particular status or
power. He shook his head vigorously.
“Absolutely not,” he said. He took a
hand off one of the crutches he was using
to support his broken ankle and waved it
around the Fox lot to indicate the entire
operation. “What I do, what we do, these
are passing entertainments. My show,
it just glances off people. Someone who
writes a great novel—take a novel by Jack
Hodgins—that is a piece of work that
might literally change someone’s life. A
great novel is part of someone’s mental
furniture forever. Maybe he sells ten thou-
sand copies of a book, I don’t know, but
every single one of those people is going
to remember that book, and probably be
changed by it. Millions of people might
watch my shows but an hour later they
can’t remember what it was about. What
I do…it just glances off people.”
Hanson’s modesty in this regard
may simply reflect the tension he feels
between what he’s doing (entertaining
millions), and what he might think he
ought to be doing but isn’t (creating lasting
works of art). “I’ve heard Hart imply
that he considers what he does to be
somehow ‘inferior’ to writing great nov-
els,” Jack Hodgins told me. “But I think
he says that only because of the short
life-span of a show in series television.”
Assigning cultural value can be a bit of a
mug’s game anyway, as Hanson’s friend
Dave Thomas noted when I spoke with
him in Malibu: “I remember talking with
Marty Short about this sort of thing one
time, and he was agonizing about whether
he should take this part or take that
part, and I said to him, ‘Marty, Jesus, in
the Year 2500 all show business will be
remembered in one paragraph with a
picture of John Wayne. It doesn’t fucking
matter’.”
Maybe not in the Year 2500, and
maybe not even in the greater or even the
smaller scheme of things, but it might
matter to Hart Hanson, if only because
at every crossroads in his career, when
faced with a choice—leaving the sciences
in university, moving to UBC to study
writing, taking the internship with Jake
Zilber, making the no-safety-net move to
L.A.—he’s taken the bold step. And then,
when he was fnally given the opportunity
he’d waited so long to realize, the kind
of opportunity that so few get and that
so many in the entertainment business
would not just sell but would subdivide
their first-born to get—namely, being
given sixty million dollars by a major net-
work to create your own show—only to
have the network turn around and almost
demand that you change the entire tone
and thrust of the show, Hanson simply said
no. “I’m just not that guy,” he told them.
Hanson’s next step may, again, be
the bold one, but the trick is going to be
figuring out precisely what the bold step
is; sometimes the hardest thing to do is
to remain in the right place. In Stardust
Memories, Woody Allen, via his alter ego
Sandy Bates, meets a group of Martians,
and he asks them what he should do with
his life and talent, the implication being
that comedy, flm, art, all of it, is pointless
in the face of human tragedy. “Shouldn’t I
stop making movies and do something that
counts, like…like helping blind people or
becoming a missionary or something?”
“You want to do manki nd a real
service?” says the spokesalien. “Tell
funnier jokes.”
Hart Hanson tells funny jokes. He tells
them to a mass audience. He might carry on
with Bones and The Finder, he might move
to cable, he might even quit and go fnd a
publisher for the novel he wrote thirty-two
years ago. But whatever he does, we should
ignore him when says his work glances off
us. He Who Works Alone seconded this
notion. “There’s every chance that Hart
could alternate between the kind of work
we’re aware of and the kind of work that
will surprise people. I wouldn’t be shocked
to see him go in a complicated character
direction in the future, even though he
loves the work he’s doing now.”
“What’s going to happen in Hart’s
career,” said his friend Dave Thomas, “is
that people he worked with will tell people,
I worked with Hart Hanson. Because the
next thing he does is going to be better,
and the thing he does after that is going to
be better still. And people are just going to
be hoping some of it rubbed off on them.”
One eveni ng, af ter a shoot for
The Finder, set in a church where the
lead character Walter and his brother
infiltrate an AA meeting to help them
f ind their long-lost mother, I asked
Hanson if he truly wants to do something
different, something darker or with more
complicated characters, or if he’s happy and
content making people laugh and giving
them an hour’s entertainment once a week.
“What I know I’m good at, is that
I can work fast,” he said. “Which is a
good thing in network television. But
I’d love to f ind out what would hap-
pen if I didn’t have to work fast. On
cable, to do fewer episodes, to have the
luxury of having all your scripts done
before you even start shooting a season,
wow, I wonder what that would be like?
On network, a season is just a track you’re
sprinting on and there’s a train closing on
you. All the time, and faster and faster to-
wards the end of the season. I guess I’d
be a bit worried about cable. I mean, what
if I found out all I had going for me was
that I was fast?” Hanson paused, thought
about it for a minute. “But still, it’d be nice
to work without hearing that train coming
at you all the time.” eB
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CANADIAN MAGAZINES MAKE YOUR INTERESTS MORE INTERESTING. From
Women’s issues to Travel, all written from a refreshingly Canadian viewpoint you won't find
anywhere else. Just look for the Genuine Canadian Magazine icon at your favourite news-
stand, or visit magazinescanada.ca to find what interests you.
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CANADIAN MAGAZINES MAKE YOUR INTERESTS MORE INTERESTING. From
Women’s issues to Travel, all written from a refreshingly Canadian viewpoint you won't find
anywhere else. Just look for the Genuine Canadian Magazine icon at your favourite news-
stand, or visit magazinescanada.ca to find what interests you.
000EB.MagsCan_FP.indd 1 4/27/11 1:43:34 PM 18b-40-49-spring2012.indd 49 4/2/12 3:10:35 PM
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he knew that she was late, and her anxiety increased as she
read the notice on the window of the pub: “Closing early.
Christmas Eve. Have a wonderful holiday!” It was December
24, 1998, and that morning JC had called and asked her to
meet him for a drink at Dora’s at fve.
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She knew Christmas Eve would be quiet
at the university, so she’d gone to the of-
fce to confront a backlog of administra-
tive paperwork, then lost track of time.
JC was waiting at the bar, the pint in
front of him half finished. She placed a
hand on the back of his neck, and when
he turned, kissed him quickly on the
cheek. “Sorry I’m late.”
“No urgency,” he said. Then he ordered
each of them a double single malt.
“Doubles?”
“We’re celebrating. Isn’t it close to
our frst anniversary?”
“How so?”
“We missed it, actually. It was on
the nineteenth, one whole year since our
encounter on the subway platform.”
“I think more of the encounter Easter
Sunday,” she said.
“Well, yes. But I still remember that
first time. The innocence, maybe?” He
grinned. “I’m probably more sentimental
than you are. Something clicked on the
subway platform.”
“True,” she said.
As they sipped their drinks, they
turned to generalities. He asked her
about Cassie. And she told him her
daughter was up north with the new man
in her life, meeting family. They planned
to stay in Sudbury until after New Year’s.
“Sounds serious,” he said. “Who’s the
guy?”
“His name is Ray.”
More than that she didn’t know. He
frowned.
Her daughter was, like him, a jour-
nalist, and they had hit it off the moment
Effie introduced them. In fact, Cassie
was unsubtle in her hints that her mother
and JC should live together. Maybe more.
Ef f ie would just smile and swat the
notion down, suggesting that Cassie should
focus more on her own love life. They were
like that, mother and daughter, having
grown up together, as Cassie liked to say.

At DoRA’S JC wAS RelAxeD, A PleASANt
change, she thought. For weeks he’d
been on edge whenever the subject of
work came up, obviously troubled by the
story he’d been working on since early
summer, the case of a condemned man
awaiting execution in a Texas prison.
“When will it be on?”
“Last week,” he said.
“Sorry. I haven’t been following the
news,” Effe said.
“You aren’t missing much,” he said.
“Remind me. I know he got in the way
of our summer and that he’s been haunt-
ing you all fall.”
“He writes to me, quite an intelligent
guy. Sam Williams. From Alberta, origi-
nally. Was in on a gruesome murder in
east Texas, years back.”
“But you don’t think he did it.”
He shrugged.
“It’s coming back to me,” she said.
“But he writes to you?”
“We stay in touch.”
“Is that advisable?” she asked.
“He doesn’t have anybody,” he said.
“He’s needy, but he’s hardly any burden
where he is. Plus, I’m quite convinced
that he got shafted by the system.”
“Aren’t you setting yourself up for
grief?”
He laughed. “Me? Grief?”
“He’s going to die. We’re talking
about Texas.”
“It isn’t quite that simple,” JC said.
“But let’s not worry about Sam.”
She studied her drink. “What is it
about him, then?” she asked at last. “Why
would you stay in touch?”
He shrugged. “It’s nothing, really.” He
smiled at her. “What about tomorrow?”
“Ah yes,” she said, returning to the
safety of her glass. “Tomorrow. Christmas
Day.”
They left Dora’s just after seven and
decided to walk to his place on Walden
Avenue. The night was cold, with a pene-
trating dampness. Across the Don Valley
to the west, the city loomed, glittering and
silent as if abandoned for the holiday. They
walked hand in hand, shoulders touching.
The sky was dull with amber streaks.
“Christmas should be in the country,”
she said. “I miss stars and snow.”
“Maybe someday.”
She was looking at him, waiting for
elaboration, but he kept walking, staring
at the ground. So they didn’t see the
young man approaching, didn’t notice
the aggressive, shambling gait. The blow
caught her by surprise, the shoulder
slamming into her shoulder as the stranger
hurried by. She knew it was deliberate, or
at least an act of boorish carelessness.
“Asshole!” she called out.
It was only when the stranger stopped
and turned to face them, fury blazing
from his hoodie, that she felt afraid. JC
moved between them.
“Sorry, brother,” he said softly. And
there was something in his tone, the way
he’d turned and placed himself between
them, both hands now raised, with palms
turned outward. “Let’s all just keep on
having a nice Christmas.”
The young man wavered. “Fuck you,
man,” he said, but he turned quickly and
strutted away, shoulders lurching in his
haste.
“Well done,” she said.
JC shrugged. “Who knows what’s
going on in that poor bugger’s life.”
Just inside the door, the f loor was
littered with envelopes, mostly Christ-
mas cards. He scooped them up and
dropped them in a large bowl, which was
already full of keys and change. A cat trot-
ted down the stairs, meowing urgently.
“You aren’t going to open them?” she
asked.
“Another time,” he said. “They make
me feel guilty. I never sent any.”
He squatted to receive his greeting
from the cat.
“Who do you get them from?” she
asked, poking through the envelopes.
they didn’t see the young man approaching,
didn’t notice the aggressive, shambling gait.
the blow caught her by surprise.
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“Here’s one from the States.”
“That’ll be from Sam,” he said, and
stood.
Then he was kissing her. And she
nestled into the embrace and kissed him
back, with a sudden yearning that dis-
pelled all of her anxieties.
“I think I’ll stay awhile,” she said,
shrugging off her coat.
“I was hoping you’d say that.”
“Something just came over me.”
“What’ll you have?” he asked.
“I’ve had enough to drink for now. I’ll
make some tea.”
“Make it a one-bagger,” he said. “I’m
going to indulge myself some more.”
They were settled at the kitchen table,
she sipping an herbal tea, he savouring
a small puddle of old whisky, when the
phone rang.
“Let it ring,” she said.
“I’d better get it.” He reached for
the receiver, said “Hello,” listened for a
moment. “When did you blow in?”
She knew immediately from his tone
who was on the line. She waved a hand
to get his attention, mouthed, “Don’t tell
him I’m here.”
“We’re having Christmas dinner here
tomorrow,” he said. “Why don’t you come?
It’ll just be me, Effie and Duncan.” He
winked at her. “Noooo. Don’t be foolish.
They’ll be thrilled to see you. That’s all
water under the bridge.”
He laughed. “I can guarantee it,” he
said. “You’ll be perfectly safe here.”
Then, after a long pause, “Well, bring
her with you. I have a massive turkey. Is it
anyone we know?”
Another pause. “I see. You’re a hard
man to get ahead of.”
He looked at Effie. “Well, actually
this isn’t a good time. I’m going to have
a nap, then go to midnight Mass. Maybe
we could meet up there.”
Another wink at Effe. “Understood.
We’ l l see you tomorrow. Cal l when
you’re ready to come over. I’ll give you the
directions then.”
He put the phone down, drained the
last of his drink, then stood and poured
another. “He’s got a new girlfriend,” he
said. “A student.”
“A mature student, I assume.”
“Oh, I doubt that. I doubt that very
much.”
Early Christmas morning Effe went
home to change, wrap the gifts and pre-
pare mentally for a long and complex day.
The city seemed empty. There was a bit-
ter chill. She flagged a solitary cab on
Broadview, and the silent driver made
her nervous with furtive eye contact in
the rear-view mirror. She thought about
how much simpler life might be if she and
JC just lived together. But she quickly
felt the stirring of anxiety that always
came when she contemplated any loss
of independence. She’d lived with three
men, had grown with each of them but
had also paid a psychic price that made
cohabitation something she wasn’t eager
to repeat.
At home she sorted through her mail.
A clutch of fyers promising unprecedented
bargains on Boxing Day, a Christmas
card from her life insurance company
and another with her name and address
written in a hand she recognized imme-
diately—John Gillis’s.
She sat slowly, with her coat still on,
and opened it. It was a simple, rustic scene:
a small, snowbound house by an untracked
country lane, wisps of smoke rising from
a chimney, a festive wreath hanging on
the door. Inside the card, the simplest of
messages: “Seasons Greetings.” And
below it, handwritten: “Sincerely, J.G.”
She felt a fash of grief, and in its wake,
confusion. In the twenty- eight years
since she’d abandoned him he’d never
written. Not once. No letter of recrimi-
nation. No questions. All the practical
inquiries involved in ending their mar-
riage came from lawyers. There had
been no acknowledgement of birthdays.
When her father died, there was no
sympathy, but that was understandable,
given what he knew about their history.
For a long time she found comfort in
John’s resolute indifference. It seemed
to be a silent confirmation of what she
wanted to believe: he never really cared
for her; she had been a temporary refuge
in a storm of personal disintegration,
grasped the way a drowning man would
grab at f lotsam. His father had killed
himself and he had needed her, but only
for a while. But isn’t that the way with all
relationships? They’re really only for a
while. The story of her life.
This seasonal greeting was excep-
tional. She slipped the card back in its
envelope and stood. Enough.
The afTeRNooN of ChRISTmaS Day They
worked together in JC’s tiny kitchen, both
wearing aprons. There was music play-
ing. Candles fickered. By three o’clock
the bird was stuffed and in the oven.
Sitting with a drink, she was surprised
when, after what seemed like a long
silence, JC proclaimed, “My problem is
that I was always basically in favour of the
death penalty.”
“Did you say death penalty?”
“Sorry,” he said. “I was thinking about
poor Sam. Where he is on Christmas Day,
that it could be his last Christmas.”
The phone rang and he stood.
“That’ll be himself, looking for direc-
tions.”
The DooRbell STaRTleD heR eveN ThouGh
she’d been bracing for the gong. She stole
a glance at her refection in the window of
the microwave. She smoothed her skirt
but then rebuked herself for caring what
the bastard thought, remembered all the
treachery and settled down to what she
believed was a level of calm objectivity.
Sextus looked, for lack of a better
adjective, happy. She’d seen him briefy
in Cape Breton in the summer looking
haggard and needy, probably from guilt.
She’d kept her distance. Now she told
his father had killed himself and he had needed
her but only for a while. but isn’t that the way with
all relationships? They’re really only for a while.
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him he looked fit, that he’d obviously
been taking care of himself for a change.
He revealed that he’d taken up jogging.
She suppressed a bitter comment,
turning to the young woman who was
with him.
“I’m Effe.”
“Sorry,” Sextus said. “I’m slow with
the introductions. Susan Fougere. This is
the famous Dr. MacAskill-Gillis I’ve been
telling you about.”
A jolt of anger. Smile. Extend the
hand. Susan seemed to be no more than
twenty-two years old. Pretty face, nice
fgure, cleavage likely all the way up to
just below her creamy throat.
“Welcome,” Effe said. “We’re thrilled
that you could come.” Savoured the “we.”
Susan smiled as Sextus turned to
struggle out of his coat. When he turned
back, Effe asked, “And how is our John?”
Sextus frowned. “To tell the truth, I
haven’t seen him lately. Saw him at the
mall about three weeks ago. He was in
the distance, but I didn’t think he looked
well. Skinnier than usual. Face kind of
sunken. He’s fanatic about the running,
John.”
“You didn’t talk to him?”
“I lost sight of him. I called later, but
there was no answer. I tried to get in touch
before I left to come here, but again . . . no
answer. You know the way he is.”
“I had a Christmas card,” she said.
He twitched with surprise. “No shit?”
Susan’s eyes flicked back and forth
between them in perplexed curiosity.
“I’m sure you’ve met his cousin John,”
Effe said to her. “My other ex-husband.”
“I’m afraid I haven’t,” Susan said.
“But I’ve heard about him.”
Effe couldn’t discern from her tone
just how much she might have heard.
The wily Sextus had likely been creative
with the details of their peculiar history
and all the intermingling that might have
been off-putting to one of tender years
and limited experience.
Then JC was asking for instructions
regarding drinks.
DuNcaN aRRIveD DuRING the SecoND RouND,
accepted a Scotch and insisted that he
wasn’t hungry. He’d spent the day work-
ing at a homeless shelter, had handed out
479 plates of turkey and felt like he had
sampled some from every plate.
Effe put Sextus beside Susan, Dun-
can directly across. She and JC, at either
end of the table, kept busy with the carv-
ing and the serving, he liberally pouring
wine. Duncan accepted a small plate of
vegetables so as not to seem unsociable
but insisted that he couldn’t stomach
another bite of turkey. He managed
to extract from Susan that she was a
journalism student at Ryerson; Sextus
volunteered that he’d met her at a weekly
paper in Cape Breton. He was an occasional
contributor. He encouraged her to raise her
sights, consider journalism school. She had
a gift. She was clearly fattered.
“I became a kind of mentor,” Sextus
said.
There’s another word for that, Effie
thought as she exchanged a discreet
smile with JC.
Susan had grown up near the cause-
way and was looking forward to moving
back home. She found the city edgy in a
good way, but she missed her friends. Ef-
fe, now up and standing by the stove, saw
Sextus squeeze her thigh.
Then Sextus asked JC if he was work-
ing on any interesting stories.
“The odd one,” said JC.
Duncan wondered out loud if he’d had
any news from Texas.
“We’ve been corresponding,” JC said.
Effe was surprised. “You know about
this Texas stuff?”
Duncan and JC exchanged what
seemed like nervous glances.
“I flled him in on some of the basics,”
JC said. “Old Sam is pretty religious. I
thought maybe Duncan could drop a line
some time.”
“Who are we talking about?” Sextus
asked.
“Nobody you’d know,” said Duncan,
coldly. He turned to JC. “This petition you
were mentioning. It’s quite likely that the
Vatican will take a position. It wouldn’t be
the frst time. I’ve spoken to the offce of
the nuncio.”
JC was nodding.
“Is this about that Canadian guy on
death row in the States?” Susan asked.
“The guy they’re going to execute?”
“JC’s in the media,” Duncan said.
“He’s done stories on that case. I did a
little research on canon law, about the
death penalty.”
“I’ve been following it,” said Susan.
“But what’s your involvement with canon
law?”
“Duncan here is a sky pilot,” Sextus
said, smiling.
“A what?”
“A priest,” Sextus said. “From back
home, as a matter of fact.”
“Oh,” said Susan.
Duncan suddenly seemed uncomfort-
able. “So where are you from, exactly?” he
asked.
“Havre Boucher,” Susan replied.
JC inquired about the drinks. Did
anybody want a refll?
“So you’d have been in Father Allan’s
parish,” Duncan said.
“Well,” said Susan. “We actually left
the church. Because of him. I don’t know
the whole story, though. I think there was
something about my younger brother.”
She blushed. “They say that Father Allan
was . . . different.”
“I’d be surprised if he wasn’t one of
yours,” Sextus said to Duncan.
Duncan fashed a warning glance his
way, but Sextus didn’t notice.
“Duncan was the guy who put a stop
to all that shit. Weren’t you, Duncan?
He was the guy the bishop would send
out—”
“Dessert’s ready,” Effe announced.
afteR DINNeR they maDe Small talk about
home. Safe gossip, old stories that were
mostly funny. Effe realized that she was
drinking too much wine too quickly. She
calculated that she’d consumed three
stiff Scotches before the wine. Fuck it,
she thought. It was one way to cope, not to
care about the reefs and shoals so near the
surface of every subject that came up.
JC proposed a toast: “To the second-
last Christmas of the millennium.”
They all murmured excitement at the
vastness of the thought.
“Here’s lookin’ at 1999,” he said. “A
last great year.”
“Speak for yourself,” said Sextus.
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“Every year is a great year.”
“You know what I mean,” JC said.
“Nooo,” everybody said in chorus.
“We don’t know what you mean!”
“ Whatever,” he said. And t hey
clinked glasses merrily.
“So how long do you plan to be
around?” Effe asked Sextus.
“Who knows,” he said. “I’m playing it
by ear. We should get together for a coffee,
or a drink. Catch up.”
Right, she thought. As if. But she said,
“Absolutely. Give me a call. I assume you
still have my offce number.”
“Know it off by heart,” said Sextus.
“Have you been talking to our daughter
lately?”
Sextus looked at her, pointedly, it
seemed. “Ahhh, the darling daughter.
On the phone, before I left. She said she
was going to be away. Probably just saying
that so she could avoid me.”
Susan caught his hand, squeezed it
loyally and said, “I doubt that.”
“She’s away but back a week tomorrow,”
Effe said. “Did she mention anything about
the new guy in her life? This Ray?”
Sextus looked surprised. “Not a boo.
Who is he?”
“Haven’t met him yet. But it seems
serious.”
“Well, there’s another reason to stick
around,” he said. He was clasping Susan’s
hand in his.
Effe’s head was buzzing. Thoughts
and words were scrambling to be heard,
but she knew it would be prudent to keep
most of them inside. JC was overgenerous
with his booze, she noted. She’d speak to
him. Hospitality isn’t entirely about how
shit-faced everybody gets.
She smiled at “shit-faced,” a word her
students liked to use. Her father would
say “pissed to the gills,” and that too was
apt. She was just about to offer coffee
when, in the babble of words and laughter
at the table, she heard a word that sounded
like “fdelity.”
“Fidelity,” she said. “Now there’s a
topic I could write a book about.”
There was a sudden silence, but she
didn’t really care. Everyone was piss-gill-
shit-faced. “I have one basic rule about
fdelity,” she added merrily. “JC can sleep
with anyone he wants to as long as she’s
older than I am.”
She was the only one who laughed. She
turned toward the kitchen counter, lined
up the coffee mugs, turned again. Saw four
round, blank faces staring at her.
“One rule only, that’s all,” she repeated.
“Older than me . . . she has to be. That’s the
bottom line.”
“Well, that kind of narrows it down,”
Sextus said.
Susan giggled.
The room was suddenly and over-
whelmingly hot.
“Excuse me,” Effe said.
IN the bathRoom She StudIed heR face IN the
mirror but saw a stranger looking back.
Older woman, well turned out but plain.
Face pale, hair needing care. Maybe I
should cut it, she thought. She squinted
and the image became sharper. Maybe I
need glasses. Then she told herself, Stop
fretting about your looks. Think of aging
as maturing, growing wiser. What did
Daddy used to say? No point getting older
if it doesn’t make you smarter. But still she
wondered. With an extended fnger, she
stretched the skin below an eye. What
else did Daddy say?
Overwhelmed, she dove toward the
toilet.
She RINSed heR face, ReStoRed heR lIPStIck,
then went to sit for a while on the edge of
JC’s bed, head light but stomach feeling
better. Loud laughter came from down-
stairs.
She sighed and stood. Her head spun,
then stabilized.
In the darkened hallway near the top
of the stairs, she saw Sextus standing,
hands in pockets, a concerned look on
his face. When she tried to brush by, he
blocked her with a suddenly extended
arm.
“Please,” he said. Then placed his fore-
head on her shoulder. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“About what, exactly?” she replied.
“Everything,” he said. “Tonight. Last
year. 1977. My screw-ups, one and all.”
Then he was facing her, hands grip-
ping her shoulders. She just stared
at him. At that moment her entire life
seemed to occupy one clear, sharp quad-
rant of her brain, like a Mozart compo-
sition, one of Einstein’s theories. Fully
formed and ready for articulation.
“I just wish I could explain,” he said.
“There was nothing—”
“Move, please,” she said.
He dropped hi s ar ms and she
brushed by him and walked downstairs
steadily, suddenly dead sober.
The next day being Boxing Day, she
spent the night.
~~~
The battering wind seemed to scream, fat-
tening the high brown grass in the marsh of
Tantramar—the tantric marshes, Sextus
called them, laughing wickedly; the wind
pushed their small car onward and away
from yesterday and toward tomorrow,
a force as reassuring as the grass they’d
smoked in a service station toilet back in
sober Amherst, dispelling fear and purging
all misgivings. She was singing farewell to
Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast, with the
brown marsh grass undulating all around
them and the sky dipping and swirling and
clouds racing headlong with them toward
an unseen fnish line, the future. Laughter
throbbed in her veins, the fear and anger
falling far behind; faster, faster, through the
Isthmus of Chignecto. “Isthmus be love,” she
screamed, and wrapped her arms around
his head so he could hardly see to drive, and
the Chignecto wind now hurried them on,
now tried to turn them back, as if it knew
the future. eb
“Please,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.”
“about what, exactly?” she replied.
“everything,” he said. “tonight. last year. 1977.”
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SOUNDINGS
Taking the measure
hen I was entering my teen years in the lower middle-
class doldrums of Los Angeles, California, I was
embittered by what I imagined was the misfortune of grow-
ing up in a place that was brutally ugly and devoid of either
history or culture. Never mind that I was fifteen minutes
from the Pacific Ocean and not all that much farther from
wooded canyons and mountains and desert, my immediate
surroundings were nearly identical ranch-style houses hastily
assembled over razed orange and avocado groves, super-
markets, gas stations, fast food restaurants, strip malls, and
vast parking lots. The monumental concrete freeway onramps
at least promised the possibility of escape at very high speeds.
The most interesting thing we could think of doing on Saturday
nights was sit in the grade school playground drinking Bacardi
151 straight and wondering whether we could sneak into the
nearby Pussycat Theater, where Deep Throat played for my
entire childhood.
During those years, I spent endless hours reading the
biographies of artists and writers who lived in beautiful places
I thought more conducive to creativity than the one I had
arbitrarily inherited: Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse in
Paris, John Keats and Percy B. Shelley in Rome, Willem de
Kooning and Mark Rothko in New York. The romance of those
places, those lives, cast a spell over me, and helped me endure
isolated years in a world I found desolate. What I didn’t under-
stand then is that art and vision don’t really spring from the
beauty and glamour of Paris, or Rome, or New York, or from
contemplating the masterpieces in the Louvre or the Galerie
Borghese or the Metropolitan Museum, but rather from
engaging with what is outside one’s window or front door,
wherever that may be, and that the world of childhood creates
not just memories but categories of mind from which one can-
not really escape. Travel is a diversion, perhaps an important
one. But I think one would be just as well off, as Thoreau would
have it in his essay “On Walking,” sauntering around one’s
own neighborhood with eyes wide open. From that point of
view, strip malls and gothic cathedrals are aesthetic equals.
WheN the tWeNty-tWO-year-OlD Jack chamberS (a SUrvey Of
whose work, Jack Chambers: Light, Spirit, Time, Place and
Life, is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario through May
13), headed for Europe in 1953, he undoubtedly imagined he
was leaving behind his drab London, Ontario, past. Chambers
famously dropped in unannounced at Picasso’s villa in Vallauris
in the south of France, asking the master where he should go and
study art. Not surprisingly, Picasso told him to go to Barcelona;
Chambers ended up at the Escuelo de Bellas Artes de San Fer-
nando in Madrid. He didn’t return to London until his mother fell
gravely ill in 1961, and even then he didn’t expect to stay.
The sojourns of North American artists to Europe have
more often than not resulted in pale imitations of the European
fashions of the moment, whether that was impressionism or
cubism or surrealism, and one can see the results on the walls
of the less distinguished corridors of places like the Art Gallery
of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, and even the Metro-
politan Museum of New York; these are works whose idiom and
style feels disconnected from anything like lived experience.
Though an immensely gifted draughtsman, the work Cham-
bers created in Spain—infuenced by fgures whose paintings
he would have seen in the Prado in Madrid, like El Greco, Jusepe
de Ribera, and Francisco de Zubaran—seems ill-suited to his
temperament, and not a little juvenile. In “Man and Dog” (1959),
for instance, a huge, muscular man rendered in ferce blacks
and grays, sits with his head in his giant hands, menaced on
one side by a ravenous dog, and the nearly abstract “Surrealist
Composition” (1960) is haunted by a skull faintly glimmering
through the dark glazes in the painting’s upper right hand
corner. These are allegorical works bursting with spiritual
torment and longing (Chambers converted to Catholicism
while in Spain), but it is the spiritual torment and longing of
seventeenth-century Spain, not that of a southwestern Ontario
boy in 1960. While art may be universal, individual works need
to be true to the experience of a time and a place; art is a way of
speaking, and real conversations are live and in person.
Chambers’ work of the early nineteen-sixties shifted
abruptly from the chiaroscuro athleticism of his years in Spain
to a kind of hallucinatory domestic realism gravitating around
his Spanish wife, the beautiful Olga Sanchez Bustos, and their
young children. In the stunning ink on paper drawing “Olga
and Mary Visiting” (1964), the two women are on a couch,
Olga nervously perched on the edge of her seat sipping tea,
Mary leaning back, legs crossed. Rather than using dramatic
contrasts, Chambers deploys a pointillist style familiar from
W
No Ideas but in things
ART
// By DANIEL BAIRD
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Georges Seurat’s charcoal drawings, suffusing the scene with
a subtle, swarming, eerily radiant light. In the closely related
oil on wood painting “Olga Visiting Mrs. V” (1964), Olga is
feeding an infant in her arms, while the elderly Mrs. V. sits
on a chair behind her. The whole painting, frame included,
is slathered with a sickly, rumpled yellow glaze. While the
virtuoso light effects of “Olga and Mary Visiting” make the
drawing both distant and ecstatic, its theme not family but
light, the yellow coating in “Olga Visiting Mrs. V.” bathes the
painting in anxiety.
Jack chambeRS’ maJoR bReakthRouGh aS a PaINteR came wIth
the advent of what he called “perceptual realism.” Inspired by
the writings of the French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-
Ponty, “perceptual realism” is not about the photographic
depiction of the world, but rather about the instantaneous
impact of the world on the perceiver; it is more akin to revelation
and experience than to any superfcial conception of reality.
The iconic “401 Toward London No. 1” (1968-1969) is a luminous
panorama. A wedge of dark green wood sits in the middle
ground of the canvas, with the nearly empty highway extend-
ing out to a low-slung horizon. The painting is dominated by
a cathedral sky, pale and swept by white clouds. “Victoria
Hospital” (1969-1970), the hospital where Chambers died of
leukemia in 1978, is a study in winter grays, the foreground
dirty snow and a single leafess tree, the hospital spooky and
crepuscular, the cloud-grey sky bleak. In both of these paint-
ings, the f lat landscape is dwarfed by the soaring—and
menacing—sky.
Chambers’ domestic scenes of the late nineteen-sixties
and early nineteen-seventies are intense, anxiously imper-
sonal, and radiant. In “Sunday Morning No. 2” (1968-1970),
for instance, his two sons sit watching television, a teddy bear
on the otherwise conspicuously clean and empty foor. Still
in their bathrobes, the boys sit uneasily on their chairs, while
thin, winter light foods in through the window behind them.
And in the famously unfnished “Lunch” (1969), Chambers’
family enacts a kind of last supper, with the artist himself at
the head of the table, his two sons gazing uneasily toward
the viewer. Like “Sunday Morning No. 2,” the painting is
dominated by a window onto a winter scene, the sky the same
expectant blue. In both of these paintings, the family seems
incidental to the cold sky and the light in a way we’re meant
to understand spiritually; these are works charged with the
anticipation, and dread, of a messianic arrival.
Chambers is torn between an instinctive attraction to the
consuming absolute and the reality of a life actually lived, a
life of highways and hospitals and Sunday mornings. Part of
the power of works like “Victoria Hospital” and “Lunch” is
their gut-wrenching ambivalence: while celebrating the city
of his birth and family life, he also repudiates them, reminding
us—ruthlessly—that they and we pale before the indifferent
eternity of time and light and sky. Chambers is an artist
intensely uncomfortable inside his own existence; it’s easy to
see why he wanted to run away to Spain.
In his 1967 flm “R-34”, Chambers’ tribute to his friend and
fellow London, Ontario, artist Greg Curnoe, one fnds Curnoe
hunched over in his congested studio, exacto knife in hand,
making collages. Chambers and Curnoe were in most ways
opposites: Curnoe was hugely influenced by neo-Dada and
conceptual art, Chambers was an ardent classicist; Curnoe
was obsessed with the details of time and place, Chambers
embraced the immediate as a way of pursuing transcendence;
Curnoe’s “View of Victoria Hospital, First Series” (1968) consists
of descriptions of Victoria Hospital as seen from his studio
window, Chambers’ “Victoria Hospital” is a gloomy gothic
landscape painting with a huge, cloud-flled sky. But what both
Curnoe and Chambers grasped in different ways was that sub-
stantial art arises from location and memory and community,
and not directly from larger philosophical orpolitical ideas.
Following the contemporary art world, one would get
the impression that art is a global conversation circulating
between cosmopolitan capitals like Berlin, Paris, London,
New York, and maybe Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver,
big-ticket events like documenta in Kassel, Germany and the
Venice Biennale, and supplemented by the endless opportu-
nities for access and conversation provided by the internet.
While this idea can evoke utopian feelings (everyone, after
all, wants to be part of the “global conversation”), it’s worth
keeping in mind that this is an illusion. If art and thought are
rooted in deep, lived experience, then there is no such thing
as the global art world (except perhaps in the economic sense)
or global conversations; there is only an engagement with
the things and people that immediately surround us. This
isn’t provincialism, either: the provincial implies limitations
created by ignorance, whereas engagement with that which
surrounds us is really about the primacy of actual experience,
of actual conversation, of real communities. It’s always better
to contemplate a mediocre landscape painting that one can
actually stand in front of than a reproduced masterpiece; it is
always better to think about gloomy hospitals one has spent
one’s life around than soaring cathedrals one has visited for
a few hours; it is always better to talk about life and art with
hangers-on in the local pub or coffee shop than with great
philosophers and artists in town for the evening. To be
involved with one’s actual world is to be involved in one’s own
life and the ideas, images, and words that live there, and to
take them seriously. “No ideas but in things” said William
Carlos Williams.
He was right, at least with regard to art and literature:
when we make art or write about things we aren’t connected
to by real experience and history, we quickly slip into empty
fantasy. Jack Chambers was an artist with as high and tragic a
spiritual ambition as Ribera and Zubaran, but he had to come
home to London, Ontario, to pursue it. eb
these are works charged with the anticipation,
and dread, of a messianic arrival
J
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18b-56-58-spring2012.indd 58 4/2/12 3:16:23 PM
Dear Tragically Hip,
I wish I didn’t feel the need to write to you, but since learn-
ing the news, I can’t let it go. It’s not Alan Cross’s fault; he was
just doing his job. It’s not Paul Langlois’ either. I’m not sure
why musicians open up to Cross so easily (maybe the last name
invites confession?), but Paul certainly did in that January
2011, in an interview on exploremusic.com. There to talk
about his debut solo record, your rhythm guitarist was soon
pressed for news about the future of the Hip. The band was
back at work, he eagerly reported. He praised recent jams as
“fresh” and “new,” the overall mood “great.”
Did I detect surprise in his voice? Maybe. This didn’t
help either: “Let’s get better,” he said. “Let’s make a really
killer record.” As if everyone in the band had recognized the
undertones of strain in We are the Same from 2009. Nevertheless,
Paul claimed things were going well enough to release a new
album in a year, your thirteenth studio effort. That means it could
happen any day now, if it hasn’t by the time this reaches you.
I’m writing to say I won’t be there for you this time. I can’t
risk more disappointment. I wish I could accept the new you,
good or otherwise, but my memories of what you were keep
me from being fully present with you now. It’s hard. For so
long, you were my band. You were Canada’s band.
Maybe we should be able to get through this. We managed
to overcome a rocky start, after all. When a friend introduced
us in 1989, we were all just kids, and all still fguring ourselves
out. You were wobbling out of your barroom rock phase with
Up to Here, your frst full-length album, testing us with quirky
poetics and a song about an Ontario prison escapee, a track
that announced your intentions to produce unabashedly
Canadian content and forfeit American success. It wasn’t love
at frst listen, but it felt like you’d reached under the table and
laid a tentative hand on mine, and I didn’t pull away.
I was tempted: I knew I’d have to share you with so many.
Sure enough, the national love affair was consummated
in 1992 with Fully Completely, a record in which you gave
yourself to us whole-heartedly. You sang for iconic Hugh
MacLennan, for wrongfully convicted David Milgaard, for
legendary Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Bill Barilko. The
rest of the world could have gone silent. You were shocking
and enigmatic, breaking out of the chrysalis of corporate
CanRock and unfolding wings capable of great heights and
grace, but, it would turn out, as fragile as those of a butterfy.
That was just the beginning. Remember August 1, 1993?
I saw you from across a stadium field in Edmonton, the
midday sky dark, the wind unseasonably cool. While
Kicked Off Your Pant Leg
MUSI C
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// By SCOTT MESSENGER
18b-59-60-spring2012.indd 59 4/2/12 3:17:00 PM
grinding through the vestigial New Orleans is Sinking, your
best-known single to this day, you broke hard with the past.
The song paused for Gord Sinclair to shift into the brood-
ing opening bass line of Nautical Disaster, a haunting track
that set the tone for 1994’s Day for Night. “I was in a lifeboat
designed for ten and ten only,” you sang. “The selection was
quick, the crew was picked in order, and those left in the water
got kicked off our pantleg, and we headed for home.” It felt like
a shared epiphany then; it saddens me a little now. I’d never
have dreamt I’d be one of those left behind.
Sorry. I’m getting maudlin. But Day for Night, moody and
wondrous and strange, bound me to you in a way the other re-
cords didn’t. It compelled me to defend you to critics who said
you’d lost your edge. They didn’t get you. I liked what you’d
become. Loved it, in fact. You were smart, serious, poignant,
risky. Trouble at the Henhouse proved it in 1996, comfortably
balancing rock and art without straining to combine them.
Creativity was exploration to you then, and, yes, perhaps it
steered somewhat inward, but for me it grew more exciting
with every track, peaking in 2000 with Music @ Work, one of
your most experimental and brilliant albums—a fact possibly
borne out by its fractional sales compared to Fully Completely,
now diamond certifed with more than one million copies sold.
Your old lovers, attracted by the grit and swagger of earlier
records, were backing off like they hoped this phase would
break like a fever and return you to your old self, easy and
uncomplicated.
Over time, I think it got to you, making you dissatisfed
with yourself. You’d tried something on, but then treated your
admirers as a mirror and fretted over the refection. So you
went to those frst records for guidance, trying to once again
inhabit the old self you thought we all wanted. Not all of us
did. It felt like you no longer trusted us with your art, that you
decided to withhold it. It felt like you just gave up on us. You
remember, Gordie? That was when you started out with Coke
Machine Glow, the frst of three solo records—new recepta-
cles for the eccentricities that had once enriched the Hip.
When we hooked up again in 2004, I had trouble recog-
nizing the band. You’d regressed. In Between Evolution was
simple, and abrasive, and absent of challenge, as if you pre-
ferred to update my memories of you rather than supply me
with new ones. By 2009, it was over. With We are the Same
you gave up on me, whether I deserved it or not. I suppose
the album showed glimpses of what we once shared, like the
lovely opener Morning Mirror, with its distant, country twang.
The Last Recluse has that hint of discovery we always loved in
you, that way you had of making us feel, all over again, like you
were just then opening up to us. These might be the album’s
best songs, but they are also the saddest, which is worrying—
they spark more nostalgia than excitement. The rest of the
record broke my heart, showing disregard, contempt even, for
the reinvention that once was second nature for you. Jaunty
Coffee Girl is radio-friendly and expendable. Other tracks are
marred by bloated, dated guitar solos. Currency and innova-
tion feel faked, like on The Depression Suite, a nine-minute
stumble through a jumble of loosely related movements, and
which is oddly acquiescent. “And I’m thinking, just in pass-
ing,” you sing, “what if this song does nothing?”
Whether or not this letter means much to you, i suspect you
saw it coming. In 2005, you were inducted into the Canadian
Hall of Fame. This honour may have come at a low point for us,
but I was still happy for you because it recognized what you
gave us, not what you became. You knew it, too. “We fnd our-
selves in the curious position of having to compete with our
own past,” guitarist Rob Baker said at the time. “If we would
have known that, we would have made the frst seven albums
really shitty.”
The past can do that; it can keep us from enjoying the
present, even from looking forward to the future. Sometimes,
though, it’s the other way around; the present obstructs our
view of some cherished past. Sometimes even the future
threatens it. I know that sounds strange, but I think that’s us.
I don’t want a new record. All I want from you now are memo-
ries. The problem is, Rob’s right: those memories are only
going to compete with what’s still to come. That doesn’t seem
fair to you. You’ve got your own direction. It’s pointed away
from me now, but it’s still a direction. Younger, I may have had
the resilience to follow, but not now.
I’ll be okay on my own, f lipping through old albums.
There’s joy there for me still. One favourite in particular prom-
ises to help me through this. Like you did with Fully Complete-
ly, on 1998’s Phantom Power you encouraged Canada to love
itself as much as it did you. Sure, you sang of small-town On-
tario and mythologized hockey. But what really stays with me
is the way you sang of spring, framing it in the oppressiveness
of a hard Manitoba winter in a song called Thompson Girl:
She says springtime’s coming
Wait til you see
It poking through
With them shoots of beauty
It’s the end of rent-a-movie weather
It’s time to end this siege together
With that, you made it a season to unify a northern nation
with its relief and release, its gifts of renewal and freedom,
its visions of verdant futures. No one else could have made it
sound like you did, and I don’t believe anyone will again. Not
even you. Not anymore. eB
it felt like you no longer trusted
us with your art.
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18b-59-60-spring2012.indd 60 4/2/12 3:18:09 PM
know shockingly little about money, especially where it
goes once it leaves my fingertips. And each spring, my
anxiety spikes with tax time, RRSP deadlines and the like.
I am overwhelmed by the amount that I do not understand. I
suspect I’m a lot like the majority of people, so ignorant and
embarrassed about my fnancial illiteracy that, every year,
I hand over my meagre savings to a financial advisor with
a computer and a necktie. I utter vague instructions of not
to “lose too much of it, if possible.” He puts my money into
mysterious things called the stock market, mutual funds and
RRSPs. I end up owning very small pieces of very large com-
panies that I know nothing about. It’s called investing. We’re
told that is the right thing to do with our money.
But then I think about my friends, Mary Ellen and An-
dreas Grueneberg, of Greens, Eggs and Ham, a busy, produc-
tive market gardening and mixed-farming business. They’ve
been in business for thirteen years. They grow beautiful
heritage veggies like baby squash, purple carrots, mustard
greens, sorrel, kale, mizuna, potatoes of all colours, and other
unusual vegetables on their four hectare mixed farm near
Leduc, Alberta. They also raise duck, geese, turkey, Cornish
game hen and guinea fowl. They have a line of charcuterie that
includes duck prosciutto and they are known for their fresh
duck eggs, sought out by cooks, bakers and those with aller-
gies to chicken eggs.
Mary Ellen, Andreas, and their daughter Ariana, who
manages the farm, are smart and tireless. But their business
has been constrained to the same sales levels for the past
decade. They sell about two hundred and twenty thousand
dollars per year, but if they could get their hands on some capital
to invest back into more focks of duck, more seeds, and some
labour, they fgure they could build to one million in sales. Mary
Ellen tells me that they leave fve to ten thousand dollars worth
of vegtables in the ground every year just because seasonal
labour rarely sticks around after the September long weekend.
The catch is that banks and other lending institutions
don’t lend to artisan farmers and market gardeners, no mat-
ter how successful. “Because we’re not commodity farmers,
we’re seen as ‘not-viable’,” says Mary Ellen. So instead, the
Gruenebergs have decided to appeal to their customers and
community for loans. They figure that they can pay a six
percent annual return (half in food as it comes out of the
ground, half in cash at the end of the year.) They want to fnd
locals to invest directly with their sustainable farm that feeds
the local community. They’re done with the banks, so they’ve
borrowed a page from Woody Tasch, the founder of the Slow
Money movement in the United States and author of Inquiries
into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and
Fertility Mattered.
Fed up with lack of access to capital through banks, all
sorts of small and medium businesses, not just farms, are go-
ing back to the models of co-ops and community-funded in-
vesting. Ask your grandparents. It used to be the norm: local
investment in local businesses and ideas that bring return on
investment into the local community. Dollars spent locally con-
tinue to circulate in that community, creating cash fow for local
businesses. The 2012 translation? Occupy your assets.
I knew that Mary Ellen and Andreas would be presenting
their Slow Money idea at the Local Money Summit in Edmonton,
which was being organized by a twenty-nine-year-old writer
aspiring to get elected to his credit union’s board of directors.
I decided it was time to take my fnancial education seriously,
so I shuffed down to the basement of the downtown library
that evening.
I
consumpt i on
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Occupy Your Assets
// By jennifer cockrall-king
18b-61-62-spring2012.indd 61 4/2/12 3:35:43 PM
Maybe because the exaMples were real and the stories were
being told by the people themselves, I learned more in one
evening than I had from all the fnancial books I’ve ever read,
combined. Dan Ohler and Jeff Senger spoke about an idea
bearing eye-popping returns on investment and tasty meat
products in the small hamlet of Sangudo, Alberta, about an
hour’s drive northwest of Edmonton. Ohler and Senger are
members of the Sangudo Opportunity Development Co-op
(SODC), a multi-project community-based microfnancial co-
op investment society. The SODC originally set out to fund
arts programs in the hamlet, but it quickly turned its attention
to fnancing business startups; the banks make it diffcult for
anyone in the community to borrow because projects were
going to be deemed too small or risky, or both.
Senger, armed with fnancial and business experience
(as well as with his neighbour Kevin Meier, who had retail
meat-cutting qualifcations and a wildly optimistic belief in
their little community), decided to bid on Sangudo Custom
Meat Packers, a business that had been unable to fnd a buyer
after almost four years on the block. Senger and Meier felt
strongly that their shrinking hamlet of three hundred and
sixty four residents couldn’t take losing another business.
They appealed to the banks for a loan, but were turned down,
as expected. They recrafted their pitch for the SODC, and
within ten minutes had garnered support for a deal in which
the SODC would buy the land and the building, and Senger
and Meier would upgrade the facilities and run the business,
while paying rent and royalties on gross sales. Because the
investors in the co-op were shareholders, they supported the
business and encouraged their family and friends to do so
as well.
Today, in its second year of operation, Sangudo Custom
Meat Packers is thriving as a business, with seven full-time
employees and seven part-timers when work allows. Over the
last twelve months, it averaged thirteen percent gross returns
back to the SODC. Senger and Meier are on track to buy the
land and building by next year, returning the original invest-
ment capital back to the SODC for more entrepreneurs to
access.
I also learned at the Local Money Summit that giving, not
just investing, is getting a rethink. Nadine Riopel, a former
professional charitable fundraiser and now a consultant, made
a compelling case that smart philanthropy and charity should
consider moving closer to home. Riopel proposed that we
consider donations within our own community because we
generally understand the issues better and can judge for our-
selves whether our dollars are making a difference. “There are
very few examples of people in one part of the world solving the
problems in another part of the world,” said Riopel. She noted
that in the professional fundraising world, the term for long-
distance well-intentioned but uninformed givers is “Whites in
Shining Armour.” And it’s passé.
And fnally Mark Anielski, author of The Economics of Hap-
piness: Building Genuine Wealth, a former senior economic
advisor for the Government of Alberta, and now an adjunct
professor at the University of Alberta’s School of Business, cut
to the heart of the really big questions we should be asking
ourselves. What’s an economy for? And how is it that our main
progress indicators as a society, such as gross domestic prod-
uct, don’t actually measure societal well-being and happiness?
When we invest our money in traditional banks, that capital
fies out to speculative markets on Bay Street and Wall Street,
generally to fnance Fortune 500 companies and multinational
corporations. We end up investing in insurance companies,
defense contractors, or big box retailers that enable our
overconsumption of cheap, disposable consumer goods. We
unwittingly fuel an economy shown time and again to decrease
our overall happiness as GDPs rise, when we could fnance the
next season of delicious purple carrots, heritage salad greens
and duck charcuterie.
Anielski fnally called out the absurdity of the assumption
we’ve all bought into, that a rising GDP tide foats all boats.
One of his central questions at the Local Money Summit was
“How come I can’t buy a local GIC?” He’s done a back-of-a-nap-
kin calculation about the amount of money invested annually
and believes that there is one and a half billion dollars invested
in RRSPs in the Edmonton area every year. “Why can’t part
of that be local?” he asked. “At fve percent of that total, there
would be seventy fve million into the local economy.”
I called Mary Ellen up a few weeks after the summit to see
how they were doing. She was buoyant. They already had eleven
(and now have thirteen) out of the required ffteen investors
required to start growing Greens, Eggs and Ham beyond
current sales. They were even working on a framework to help
pair local investors with other local farmers. It seems to be
getting some traction.
So maybe I’m not the only one on a fnancial education jour-
ney. Already there has been a grassroots movement of people
pulling their business from traditional banks and moving
them to the more community-minded co-op credit unions.
(November 5, 2011 was “Bank Transfer Day.” Remember?)
Perhaps I’m just part of an increasing awareness that every
dollar that fies out of our pockets actually goes somewhere.
And if I paid just a bit more attention to where those dollars
were going, I could be a small agent of change in our commu-
nity. For now, I’ll start by asking my local banker why I can’t
buy a local GIC. And letting him know that I might have to go
elsewhere if I can’t. eb
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we unwittingly fuel an economy shown
to decrease our happiness when we could
be fnancing the next season of heritage
salad greens and duck charcuterie.
18b-61-62-spring2012.indd 62 4/2/12 3:36:10 PM
’m writing these words on February 11, the same date that sto-
ried flm critic Pauline Kael published her fnal column for The
New Yorker in 1991. Hobbled by illness and, worse, uninspired by
the crop of movies coming out of Hollywood—her fnal column
was devoted to brief takes on Awakenings, L.A. Story, and the
Julia Roberts thriller Sleeping With the Enemy, a far cry from the
nineteen-seventies landmarks like Nashville and Last Tango in
Paris and Mean Streets that used to inspire two-thousand- word tor-
rents of jazzy praise—Kael couldn’t be faulted for calling it a day.
There were occasional transmissions from Kael’s home in
Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in the years that followed,
most notably a Q&A that appeared in a special 1994 movie-
themed issue of The New Yorker, and an informal “fnal interview”
with jazz critic Francis Davis published in 2002 in a slim volume
called Afterglow. But that was nothing like the deluge of fresh
Kaeliana that has been released during the last four months. In
addition to The Age of Movies, an anthology of her best writing,
published by the Library of America, Kael fans have two more
books to feast on: Brian Kellow’s Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark,
the frst major Kael biography; and Lucking Out, James Wolcott’s
lively evocation of his youth in nineteen-seventies New York,
in which the future Vanity Fair culture critic devotes a long,
affectionate chapter to his friendship with Kael.
Taken together, these books provide the most rounded pic-
ture of Kael’s personality away from the movie theatre that’s
ever come to light. In her introduction to her career-retrospec-
tive anthology For Keeps, Kael famously wrote, “I’m frequently
asked why I don’t write my memoirs. I think I have.” But Kael’s
reviews constitute a very circumspect memoir. Such details of
her private life as the romance with the gay poet and flmmaker
James Broughton that produced her daughter Gina, or her
intimate, borderline-unprofessional friendships with tough-
guy directors such as James Toback and Sam Peckinpah, or
her failed stint in the late-seventies as a creative consultant for
Paramount Pictures went understandably unexplored in her
writing. However, they get a full airing from Kellow.
When we frst meet Kael in Kellow’s book, she’s the preco-
cious daughter of a Jewish chicken rancher in Petaluma, Califor-
nia, with vague ambitions towards a career in the arts, perhaps as
a playwright, perhaps as some kind of literary critic. It’s easy to
forget that Kael didn’t land her job at The New Yorker until she was
nearly ffty, and she spends the frst hundred pages of Kellow’s
book knocking around the bohemian scene in San Francisco and
New York, often sponging off her older sisters while trying to put
together a livelihood managing movie theatres and submitting
articles to low- or non-paying flm journals.
By contrast, when she pops up in Lucking Out, arriving
late to a press screening of Bob Fosse’s Lenny and immedi-
ately sucking up all the oxygen in the room, she is already a
legend, basking in her fame and infuence, her reward after
all those long years of professional frustration. (Indeed, the
articles Kael wrote before The New Yorker hired her were
peppered with resentful takedowns of the opinions of the New
York literary establishment. When editor William Shawn
demanded, upon taking her on, that she quit using the pages of
his magazine to throw eggs at her fellow critics, it was suppos-
edly the only stylistic concession he ever won from her in all their
years of working together.) In Wolcott’s account, Kael comes
across as one part mentor and one part pal, not just the tough-
but-inspirational teacher but also the delinquent classmate with
whom you share private wisecracks while huddling together at
the back of the school bus, smoking shoplifted cigarettes.
I
Taking Her All In
// By paul matwychuk
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Kael didn’t appear in my own life until the mid-eighties.
I was fifteen and slowly working my way through the two
shelves’ worth of flm books stocked at my local library; Kael
was the woman whose face stared out from the cover of Taking
It All In with the level, serenely intelligent gaze of a Tolkien
elf. I can’t remember if I borrowed it because I connected with
her picture, or because it was the most recent book of hers
and therefore contained reviews of movies I’d actually seen,
like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I added it to the pile of
books I brought with me during my family’s annual two-week
sojourn in northern Ontario cottage country. Maybe it was
the setting, but I particularly relished Kael’s skewering of On
Golden Pond, a flm that had been a particular favourite of my
mother’s, but which Kael found cloyingly manipulative. I read
and reread her review’s most merciless lines (“The movie is
like a striptease without nudity—it’s a death tease”), delighted
to feel every bit as sharp and wised-up as she was.
The feeling didn’t last long. About a hundred pages later
came Kael’s triple-decker review of Gandhi, Tootsie, and Sophie’s
Choice, all of which had opened within a couple of weeks of each
other, just in time for the 1983 awards season. Her opening salvo
remains a pomposity-puncturing classic: “Leaving the theatre
where I saw Gandhi, I felt the way the British must have when
they left India: exhausted and relieved.” Gandhi won the Oscar
that year for Best Picture, but the world has since come around to
Kael’s opinion that it’s a respectfully made bore, and rare indeed
is the person in 2012 who voluntarily sits down in front of the
Blu-Ray player to watch it. Sophie’s Choice, however (and espe-
cially Meryl Streep’s performance), remain sacred cows to this
day, and Kael’s dismissal of the film as “an infuriatingly bad
movie” and her assessment of Streep as an overly self-conscious,
“neck-up” actress incapable of physically inhabiting a role, are
startlingly contrarian even today. The reviews scandalized me.
These were the kinds of films teachers showed us in class as
examples of “important” moviemaking, often literally so. One
afternoon, our drama teacher showed us Sophie’s Choice, and the
entire class made quite the show of sitting silently in our seats
throughout the closing credits, all the better to impress upon him
how shattering we had found the whole experience.
If there was one thing Kael hated more than the sentimen-
tality of On Golden Pond, it was the reverence that so many
supposedly intelligent people felt obligated to pay towards
dreary exercises like Gandhi and Sophie’s Choice. For Kael,
true artistry was to be found in movies like Tootsie, which she
put in the same category as Bringing Up Baby and Pat and
Mike and Bombshell with Jean Harlow, “flms that were factory
products and commercial as all hell but took off into a sphere
of their own... that continue to give so much pleasure that they
have a special glamour.” Kael often praised her favourite mov-
ies for their “nose-thumbing” qualities. Perhaps my favourite
sentence in all of Kael’s work is from her essay “Trash, Art, and the
Movies” where she observes, “An actor’s scowl, a small sub-
versive gesture, a dirty remark that someone tosses off with a
mock-innocent face, and the world makes a little bit of sense.”
Yet, for all her vaunted infuence, surprisingly few of the
flms Kael endorsed most passionately have ascended into the
canon: the New York première of Last Tango in Paris did not,
as she hoped, become the cinematic equivalent of the night Le
Sacre de Printemps was performed; Robert Altman’s Nashville
did not become the through-the-roof box-offce smasheroo
that she predicted; and Brian de Palma’s Vietnam drama
Casualties of War, the last flm she really campaigned for in
print, is now virtually forgotten.
But if Kael’s writing didn’t necessarily change the way
that people reacted to specifc movies, it did affect how people
reacted to movies in general. Her jazzy, idiomatic voice; her
allergy to even the smallest trace of stuffy academic jargon; her
unapologetic appreciation for low-down comedy, trashy thrillers,
operatic melodramas, and ripely sensual actresses (“Oooee,”
she whooped upon seeing Anjelica Huston in Gardens of Stone,
“she’s a harlot, she’s a princess!”); her willingness to speculate
upon the inner lives of actors and directors as refected in the
images they projected onscreen; the relentless forward ener-
gy of those long, long paragraphs... it is an intoxicating brew.
When Kael writes a line like, “I don’t trust critics who say they
care only for the highest and the best; it’s an inhuman posi-
tion, and I don’t believe them,” you want to sigh with relief and
gratitude to have a person in such a position of critical authority
give you permission to enjoy a little bit of trash once in a while.
But then, just as quickly, she yanks back on your leash with a
reminder that this permissiveness doesn’t extend to The Sound
of Music or Dances With Wolves. (Hey, there’s trash, and then
there’s crap.)
I found Kael’s tastes bewildering during that initial
reading of Taking It All In, but she expressed them with such
confdence and verve that I was wholly seduced. I inhaled the
book, little realizing how completely her voice would ventrilo-
quize through mine when I began trying my hand at criticism
not long after. To this day, my writing remains shot through
with Kaelisms—quick asides shoved into the middle of
sentences with em-dashes or tucked between parentheses and
paper-clipped to the ends of paragraphs. I can’t stop addressing
my reader as “you” the way Kael liked to do.
Kael was famous for nurturing a close circle of young movie-
critic protégés, so-called “Paulettes” like David Edelstein and
Elvis Mitchell, whose prose style and aesthetic tastes so closely
mirrored Kael’s that one often had to wonder if agreeing with
Kael was a condition of their friendship. In truth, though, Kael’s
voice was so persuasive that you didn’t need to be a Paulette to
fnd yourself thinking and writing about movies the way she did.
As Salon flm editor Andrew O’Hehir recently wrote, “When I
was a younger critic and someone accused me of writing like
After an operation, Kael heard the
surgical team talking about Matthew
Modine. “He’s never any good,”
she whispered.
64 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
18b-63-65-spring2012.indd 64 4/4/12 4:31:14 PM
Kael, I was enraged and responded that I’d never read her,
which was almost literally true. When I did read her, I had to
admit the guy had a point: I had absorbed some elements of her
style and outlook without realizing it, as if through osmosis,
because they were so ubiquitous in flm criticism.”
Back in the day, your Paulette membership card was seen
as an easy pathway to a career as a movie critic, but Kellow
and Wolcott’s accounts of life with Kael make it clear just how
hard it was to stay on the great woman’s good side. There
are numerous stories in these pages of Kael breaking off
contact with onetime colleagues for failing to follow her career
advice, or disassociating herself from friends for expressing
unacceptable opinions about certain movies. Wolcott quotes
the ex-girlfriend of a critic friend as saying, “I think Pauline
cooled on me after I told her I didn’t like Yentl. In retrospect,
that was the Beginning of the End.”
Talk about inhuman positions! Once, after an operation
to relieve a congested carotid artery, Kael heard the surgi-
cal team talking about Matthew Modine. Still groggy from
anesthesia, Kael still felt compelled to chime in: “He’s never
any good,” she whispered. Another time, during a conver-
sation with Kael, the writer Craig Seligman mentioned the
challenges of becoming an editor. “It never ceases to amaze
me,” he said, “how many people who call themselves writers
actually can’t write.” To which Kael replied, “Yes—they say
things like ‘It never ceases to amaze me’.”
Kael died in 2001, just as the era of online flm criticism
was taking off, and it... er... never ceases to amaze me how
Sol o Show: Room 65
DAVID JANZEN
WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 65
David Janzen was born in Toronto in 1959 and has lived in Alberta for most of his life. Having trained at the Alberta College of Art in
Calgary, he now resides in Edmonton. Although his work fows out of the landscape tradition, his visual vocabulary is deeply infuenced
by the industrial growth (and its detritus) he’s witnessed during Alberta’s boom and bust cycles. His paintings, with their unfinching
gaze, employ natural history as a scenic foil for visual descriptions of recent human activity.
Lumber PiLe, 2011
no truly towering Kael-like figure has yet emerged among
internet movie writers—even though the internet is probably
the only medium nowadays where a flm critic might get the
freedom and the unlimited space that The New Yorker be-
stowed upon Kael. Critics like Some Came Running blogger
Glenn Kenny and the New York Press’ Armond White have
some of Kael’s combative, argumentative spirit, but they
don’t have Kael’s ability to challenge the reader while keeping
her common touch—White’s tastes, especially, are so per-
versely, alienatingly contrarian that his reviews often seem
like pieces of performance art. Bloggers like Dennis Cozza-
lio (Sergio Leone and the Infeld Fly Rule), Sheila O’Malley
(The Sheila Variations), and Kim Morgan (Sunset Gun)
write about flm with a witty, iconoclastic joy that Kael would
have heartily approved of, but, without the imprimatur of a
publication like The New Yorker, their reviews and essays have
but a fraction of the reach and infuence Kael enjoyed at her
peak.
In his own tribute to Kael, Cozzalio himself speculated
how Kael might have fared in the rough-and-tumble world of
the internet. “Maybe she wouldn’t have survived as well in an
online world,” he writes, “where her every argument would be
subject to round upon round of contrary opinion.” That’s what
makes paging through The Age of Movies such a bittersweet
experience: I’m not sure that the movies have gotten worse
since Kael stopped writing, but I defnitely think that audi-
ences have. Who reads a movie review anymore expecting to
have their minds provoked, let alone changed? EB
PanoPticon, 2005
18b-63-65-spring2012.indd 65 4/2/12 3:37:19 PM
or a time, when I was very young, my father drove my
sister and I to school. We lived in East Vancouver, and
at a certain left turn, my father would wave his hand toward
the windshield, shake his index finger at a small, rising
hill and say, “Never cross that bridge. That bridge leads to
Timbuktu.”
“What is Tim buck two?” I asked.
“It’s Timbuktu,” he said.
My father, emperor of the joke-recyclers, always pro-
nounced these words whenever we came to this dangerous
intersection: “East Hastings and Clark Drive. Timbuktu!”
he would say, as if we were hapless tourists. “I hope we don’t
cross it by accident!”
I held on, fearful I would be sucked in without my real-
izing; the bridge would dislodge itself and mutter away like a
powerboat, detaching me from Vancouver, familiarity, family,
and food.
Timbuktu, I later realized, was used by my father in the
same way that French settlers once imagined China: the far
side of the Island of Montreal, in other words, Lachine. The
point where an intrepid explorer might trip off the edge of
the world and fnd himself surrounded by silk, eunuchs and
dynamite. A dreamer named Robert de La Salle attempted to
map a passage to China through the rivers of the Canadian
north, and he and his band of inland wanderers were nick-
named les chinois. Timbuktu, a city in Mali, was as mysterious
as the Borneo my father, himself, came from, and maybe the
Timbuktu of his daily punchline was in fact the exit ramp from
North America, a ship that would carry one home, and maybe
the joke was on us, imagining there was a way back from the
other end of the world.
I never even walked on the same side of the street as my
father’s bridge to Timbuktu. I approached it as one would
approach the edge of a roof, lightened by the irrational feeling
that if I stepped too close, I might be all too pleased to step
right over, as if the sky itself exerted a magnetic force. In fact,
the bridge wasn’t a bridge, it was only an elevated road that led
cars down into the labyrinth of the Vancouver docks. Still, my
father would signal far in advance, and then turn, both hands
gripping the wheel, as if the old Buick might have ideas of its
own, as if every object jumps toward freedom and the open sea
if given half the chance.
In 2006, a British survey found that sixty-six percent of
young people believed that Timbuktu did not exist, that it was
a myth, hoax, or poetic turn of phrase; an outlandish idea.
“For some people,” said the Malian musician Ali Farka Touré,
“when you say ‘Timbuktu’ it is like the end . . . but that is not
true. I am from Timbuktu, and I can tell you that we are right
at the heart of the world.”
Despite having traveled, many times, to distant shores,
I have never crossed my father’s bridge. Maybe the familiar
road is the most diffcult to traverse: the mythical, outlandish,
true place that exists right here. Maybe the other side of the
world is a place that, rather than being a fyover that bypasses
the noise of life, is the road we pass everyday and elaborate
with our fears, projections and fantasies. If only we drove
straight, and stopped ourselves from turning away, we would
reach it. EB
F
My Father’s Bridge to Timbuktu // By MADELEINE THIEN
BRIDGES
66 EI GHTEEN BRI DGES SPRING 2012 WWW. EI GHTEENBRI DGES. COM
2
info ccrooks@ualberta.ca
oRDERS 1-877-864-8477
www.uap.ualber ta.ca
Imagining Ancient Women
AnnAbel lyon
CurtIs GIllespIe, IntroduCtIon
Henry Kreisel Memorial lecture series
68 pages - 510.95 paper
Copublished with the Canadian literature Centre /
Centre de littérature canadienne
978–0–88864–629–3
Intersecting sets
A poet looks at science
AlICe MAjor
296 pages - 529.95 paper
978–0–88864–595–1
Canadlan Fclk ^rt tc 1950
joHn A. FleMInG & MICHAel roWAn
jAMes A. CHAMbers, pHotoGrApHer
A daring and beautifully articulated re-examination
of Canada’s material heritage with 425 eye-catching images.
520 pages - 425 oclcur phctcgraphs- 545.00 paper
Copublished with Canadian Museum of Civilization
978–0–88864–556–2
Wells
jennA butler
robert Kroetsch series
80 pages - 519.95 paper
978–0–88864–606–4
susAn MCCAslIn’s
Demeter Goes Skydiving
shortlisted for the
2012 bC book prizes
KAtH MACleAn
shortlisted for the
2012 robert Kroetsch
Award for Innovative
poetry
And introducing the
robert Kroetsch series
of creative work from
the university of Alberta
press.
dear Hermes...
MICHelle sMItH
robert Kroetsch series
88 pages - 519.95 paper
978–0–88864–597–5
Continuations 2
douGlAs bArbour &
sHeIlA e. MurpHy
robert Kroetsch series
152 pages - 519.95 paper
978–0–88864–596–8
Learn to avoid the
pitfalls of creating
historical fction
characters from
Annabel Lyon’s
captivating lecture.
This Canadian
Prairie poet’s debut
collection is framed
by imaginative
travelogues addressed
to Greek gods.
Through poetry,
Jenna Butler
pieces together the
life of a cherished
grandmother lost
to Alzheimer’s.
Two seasoned
poets pulse jazz-like
variations back and
forth via email,
from Arizona to
Alberta.
Part memoir,
part ars poetica,
Scottish-Canadian
poet Alice Major
discusses Science
with characteristic
gleaming
perspicacity.
Canadian Literature from
000EB4.UofAPress_FP.indd 1 3/15/12 11:56:03 AM 18b-66-68-spring2012.indd 66 4/2/12 3:37:58 PM
2
info ccrooks@ualberta.ca
oRDERS 1-877-864-8477
www.uap.ualber ta.ca
Imagining Ancient Women
AnnAbel lyon
CurtIs GIllespIe, IntroduCtIon
Henry Kreisel Memorial lecture series
68 pages - 510.95 paper
Copublished with the Canadian literature Centre /
Centre de littérature canadienne
978–0–88864–629–3
Intersecting sets
A poet looks at science
AlICe MAjor
296 pages - 529.95 paper
978–0–88864–595–1
Canadlan Fclk ^rt tc 1950
joHn A. FleMInG & MICHAel roWAn
jAMes A. CHAMbers, pHotoGrApHer
A daring and beautifully articulated re-examination
of Canada’s material heritage with 425 eye-catching images.
520 pages - 425 oclcur phctcgraphs- 545.00 paper
Copublished with Canadian Museum of Civilization
978–0–88864–556–2
Wells
jennA butler
robert Kroetsch series
80 pages - 519.95 paper
978–0–88864–606–4
susAn MCCAslIn’s
Demeter Goes Skydiving
shortlisted for the
2012 bC book prizes
KAtH MACleAn
shortlisted for the
2012 robert Kroetsch
Award for Innovative
poetry
And introducing the
robert Kroetsch series
of creative work from
the university of Alberta
press.
dear Hermes...
MICHelle sMItH
robert Kroetsch series
88 pages - 519.95 paper
978–0–88864–597–5
Continuations 2
douGlAs bArbour &
sHeIlA e. MurpHy
robert Kroetsch series
152 pages - 519.95 paper
978–0–88864–596–8
Learn to avoid the
pitfalls of creating
historical fction
characters from
Annabel Lyon’s
captivating lecture.
This Canadian
Prairie poet’s debut
collection is framed
by imaginative
travelogues addressed
to Greek gods.
Through poetry,
Jenna Butler
pieces together the
life of a cherished
grandmother lost
to Alzheimer’s.
Two seasoned
poets pulse jazz-like
variations back and
forth via email,
from Arizona to
Alberta.
Part memoir,
part ars poetica,
Scottish-Canadian
poet Alice Major
discusses Science
with characteristic
gleaming
perspicacity.
Canadian Literature from
000EB4.UofAPress_FP.indd 1 3/15/12 11:56:03 AM 18b-66-68-spring2012.indd 67 4/2/12 3:38:16 PM
She is a thing of beauty.
stellaartois.com
Must be legal drinking age. TM/MC InBev NV/SA.
000EB4.StellaLabatts_FP.indd 1 3/14/12 12:51:05 PM 18b-66-68-spring2012.indd 68 4/2/12 3:38:47 PM

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