Residue

In the end, all you have are memories.

I say this as someone who has lived in Toronto since 1995. I’ve seen many changes: the mainlining of Queen West into a retail stripmall, the slow existential irreverence of Church Street/Boystown, the awkward moral reclamation of Yonge Street by the city, the evolution (and perverse deflation) of Ossington Avenue, the current “yuppy tension” in Kensington Market. To name just a few.

One thing you learn in Toronto (and perhaps most large urban centres) is that it was always cooler before you got there. It was always more fun. There was more leniency. Less rules. This is bullshit, of course, but it makes the people who were around back then feel important.

You live somewhere long enough and, whether you expect to be in this role or not, you end up being the person who points out what used to be at certain addresses: clothing stores, book stores, record shops, dance clubs, their lovely fucked-up people, long gone (and missed).

We go through life somewhat arrogantly or narcissistically thinking it’s all being recorded – it is the modern age, after all. But it’s not. The only thing recording it is your head. Your eyes. Your nose, your brain. When it’s all been taken-over, torn-down, or burnt to the ground by corrupt real estate developers, you – yes, you and your memories – are the only record of that thing having existed.

If there is something we share, I suppose it is that we all become storytellers after a while.

 

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Moronity

One sometimes discovers that a word like “moronity” exists, not because your gifted intuition plucked it from the ether and nimbly inserted it into a witty essay, but rather because you felt compelled to use it, whether or not it existed, to describe your actions within the context of a bloody stupid mistake you made.

 

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Connectedness, Social Media, and Syntheticism

If there’s something to be said about going on a vacation – whether that means renting a car and driving two hours away from your town, or buying a plane ticket and flying six hours away from your country – it’s that it provides something crucial: distance. Physical (and, one should hope, subsequently mental) distance.

When I go away I take that idea of “distance” seriously. I don’t check Facebook, I don’t check Twitter. I don’t even check voicemail (unless it looks important). My only transgression is occasionally checking newspaper headlines to make sure that the world isn’t on the brink of collapse (which it often seems to be).

Upon returning, I find myself staring at my computer (or, more often, my BlackBerry) and wondering: what’s the point? Sure, I’ll go back to checking email, scheduling things, occasionally making sure the world isn’t on the brink of collapse, but re-entering the world of social media is another question. A daunting one, to be honest. I respect social media, yet, against its purpose, I often find it paradoxically alienating.

It started with Facebook, which began as a unique way to stay in touch with friends without relying upon email – a communal sandbox with multimedia extensions. With time (and popularity) came the inevitable mediocrity of a lot of people (along with the watering-down of “friend”-ship) without a lot of ideas posting a lot of crap that I found myself more often than not skipping. Continue reading

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Health & Illness

There has been a lot of work done over the last few years to bring to the foreground how mental health and well-being affects everyone, from every quadrant of society, regardless of their geography, culture, race, or class. And I say, as both an emerging mental health professional and citizen: bravo.

There is, however, something which bothers me in the midst of this accelerated (but otherwise welcome) media awareness campaign. It is the habitually casual use of the term “mental illness”, rather than “mental health”. There is more than a semantic difference between the two.

“Illness” is a medicalized notion. It correlates to somatic cause and effect: the patient’s body is sick, so the patient must take x to get better. When you have an illness, you take drugs to get better. Illness implies sickness, which implies the prescription of medicine. “Health” is a generalized notion, which may incorporate the taking of medication but certainly also encompasses needs which do not strictly apply to treatment via medication.

When we lump such disparate problems as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, cigarette addiction, and behavioural/emotional anxiety under a catch-all phrase, that term should not imply that everything which falls under its domain be medicalized or seen as a medical problem.

If you fear that you may have a problem which is affecting the quality of your life, slapping the word “illness” on it is needlessly stigmatizing. Illness = something is wrong. And when “illness” comes after “mental”, it can then seem to someone that they are wrong or somehow broken. In other words, the constant use of “mental illness” as a generalized term for discussion actually perpetuates a needless (and ironic) branding upon those who are affected.

Quite frankly, to use “mental health” is to say that someone who feels that something is affecting the quality of their life is not ill. They may not feel well, but they still have agency. It’s well-documented that what may appear to some as “symptoms” of behavioural or emotional disorders are in actuality subconscious attempts by the person affected to become healthy. We can facilitate this quite easily by not stigmatizing the language around mental health with terms that needlessly cast an onerous light on the problem.

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Ask The Zombies in July, or, How Are The Dutch Going To Do at Euro 2012?

In less than two weeks, various qualifying teams from throughout Europe are going to get together in Poland and Ukraine for Euro 2012. It’s like the World Cup, but without most of the World. Still, some of soccer’s (which I will call football going forward) greatest stars will be competing for glory.

Now, about the Dutch. Yes, the country is called (provoking visions of clouds and grey veils) the Netherlands or, more quaintly (insert visions of tulips and blonde farm wives in wooden shoes), Holland. But, whether you are a fan or an opponent, they are often referred to as “the Dutch”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dutch met Spain in the World Cup finals in 2010. It should have been the seminal moment of my football-loving/Dutch-cheering life, but (see here for more) I was turned-off by their strategy, which – with the exception of some honest-to-God deserved victories against mortal foes such as Brazil – seemed kind of cynical.

There’s winning and then there’s winning. The Dutch, since the early 70s, have always emphasized beautiful football: flowing, sexy, unpredictable, and effective. Unfortunately, since World Cup 98, that effectiveness came into question as a combination of generational talent turnover (Ruud van Nistelrooy was not exactly Dennis Bergkamp) and some daft coaching decisions (chief in my mind, Louis van Gaal’s decision to squander a two-goal lead against Portugal in the WC 2002 qualifiers) created an existential crisis. Beautiful football wasn’t getting results.

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Narratives & Messages

We live in an atmosphere concentrated with media: we are drenched so deep that we don’t often realize how integral it has become in our lives. In my fiction, which can be speculative and sometimes nodding to “the future”, I don’t mention this much. I was wondering if, by not speaking to this (awesome/scary) fact of life, I was missing out on saying something substantial about our lives; then again, a writer with the intent to say “something substantial about our lives” is often asking for more than they can deliver to begin with. Perhaps I intentionally avoid the subject. Perhaps I want, fictionally, to portray a world where the reader can escape our media fishbowl, not content to stare into our monitors and smartphones – into any one of the many shining screens around us. *

 (*This is not to say that, as someone who writes stories to be read, I am exempt from any of what I go on to describe.)

As Madge the manicurist in the Palmolive commercials used to say: “You’re soaking in it.” And we are.

My concern, as far as this post goes, is not the number of screens surrounding us, nor is it the gross subsidization of our environment by advertising (vis à vis self-interested parties). Content is king, after all. And, unlike ads and the proliferation of screens, I feel we don’t look at content very closely.

We are essentially surrounded by narratives.

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On Self-Censorship As A Canadian Preoccupation

There are always going to be thin-skinned readers, but writers who self-censor for fear of offending said readers suck more. #canada

This was going to be a missive sent over Twitter. Then I thought, what if someone replies to me, calling me out? What if someone says:

@m_cahill Care to name names, or are you AFRAID OF OFFENDING SOMEONE? #jerk

Allow me to elaborate (and do it in an environment I can totally control without distorting my message due to a 140-character limit).

Two articles in the last week were sources of outrage among certain parts of the online world, particularly on Twitter, where it’s particularly easy to express outrage*. The first was Ian Brown’s essay on men gazing at women in the Globe & Mail. It elicited a lot of criticism, from feminists who were offended by the objectification of women to people who simply construed Brown’s perspective as creepy in a Lolita sorta way.

My partner and I began talking about some of the anger we saw in our respective Internet social circles. I felt a lot of it was overblown. Predictable, actually (sadly). And yet I agreed with Ingrid, who reminded me that there is something to be said about “the gaze” which women historically have been on the other end of. In other words, it was a complex issue. All said, something I found admirable in Brown’s piece (and his writing in general**) was his forthrightness. Unlike so many writers there was no effort made to allay the concerns of the entire reading public that he wasn’t trying to offend anyone.

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The Ides of March

Basement: mostly done.

We pushed ourselves hard to get everything (doors, baseboards, furniture) cut/fitted/assembled. The result is beautiful. The space is marvellous. I could not have asked for a more comfortable working environment.

Novel: revised, but sifting through new notes.

I spent two months grinding through a very large, complex recommendation on my novel – that it be written in 1st-person rather than 3rd-person. A tall order. And yet, I went through with it because it made perfect sense. The narrative style I was using was such an intimate sounding 3rd-person that switching to 1st-person felt more natural – the fact that I was using 1st-person for the follow-up novel I was already working on also helped.

The new notes only regard the first part of the book – not a huge deal, and yet I will admit that I’m tired of going back to this beast. I tell myself: if it makes it better, if it improves my understanding of storytelling, if it’s still my book in the end – then it is worth it.

Film job: crazy.

Dealing with battlefields in Los Angeles, Toronto, and Seoul, it’s not hard to imagine that I’m getting emails 24-hours a day. Most of the people I’m working with are professionals who are dedicated to making this project a success. Some of the people are, for various reasons, driving me crazy. That’s pretty much par for the course.

Psychotherapy practice: saw first client.

Therapist-client confidentiality notwithstanding, I am happy to finally be getting my practice off the ground. It is a new beginning and it feels great in all the right places.

 

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The Dread of Zombies

Everyone is waiting for the zombie genre (in books, television, and particularly film) to whither away like a desiccated corpse. I argue that it’s here to stay – that, in fact, it has stronger legs (ugh) than most other genres of the macabre.

The dread of zombies imagined – the tiredness some of us feel with each iteration (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Walking Dead, Zombieland) – is understandable. Less understandable than with vampires, but understandable still. There are too many zombie and zombie-like (for the record, 28 Weeks Later is not, strictly-speaking, a zombie film, yet it more or less qualifies itself by virtue of many shared) themes in books, shows, and movies these days. But I would argue that it’s because – due to our increased connectedness to each other via the Internet and social media – we are exposed to real life zombies. Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. And the exposure stands to increase.

A shitload of people voted for a complete ass to be the mayor of Toronto. A shit. Load. Mind you, not many who lived downtown did. Still, it was a rout. People like me – people who prize intelligent discourse over pot shots, people who would prefer to be ruled by someone with an informed conscience rather than a bullet-list of to-dos – were incredulous. It didn’t even matter what quadrant of the political spectrum Rob Ford occupied: he was the last person any reasonably well-informed person would have wanted. And yet he won in spades.

Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. The dread of zombies.

Who voted for him? Who can say that they “understand” him? Are they too not also zombies by virtue of his succession to the throne of city council? Faceless, nameless, godless, conscience-less hordes hefted Mr. Ford to office, and we stand here still – a year later – asking ourselves just what the hell happened, watching the circus of political buffoonery before our eyes.

Lest this become a solely personal treatise, isn’t this the same for everyone? Aren’t we witnessing “zombie activity” in other guises: large groups of seemingly nameless, faceless, godless, conscience-less hordes blindly enabling things we fundamentally disagree with but are powerless to dispell? For me it’s the rise of Rob Ford, for others it could be the Occupy movement. For others still, it could be the revolution in Tahrir Square. The massive, faceless but powerful other. The faceless, godless, conscience-less hordes…with agency.

Thematic zombies. Metaphorical zombies. The dread of zombies.

No, it is not going away. Make popcorn.

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Chaos Cinema

I posted this for my Humber College students on their blog. I posted this on Facebook and Twitter. As such, I should probably post it here.

If you are a film lover who feels increasingly unable to understand or orientate yourself watching action movies made in the last decade, I implore you to watch this video essay about what the author calls chaos cinema.

Bad Boys 2It describes quite succinctly what has frustrated me as a film viewer: action sequences (or entire films) are becoming little more than jagged-edged stimulation devices and not the shared experiences that they should be (see: chase scene in Batman: The Dark Knight)

Essential viewing.

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