Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Department of Penury

so, we're building a new deck (the last one being so rotten that last year a roofer fell right through, with knock-on effects to our insurance rates), and it is somewhere between $$$$$ and $$$$$$. there's the need for a new structure. then there's the fact that we don't want composite, but real wood. as long as we're doing it, we may as well do it right, and make something that covers over a problem area in the yard. then, of course, we don't like the spindles you can buy off the rack at homo depot, and we prefer 6-inch decking to the narrower, commoner 2x4s, and we both like the modern look of stainless steel and glass. doing the deck also means taking care of that problem area at the north side of the house, and if the bobcat's going to be here digging concrete piles anyway, why not regrade? etc.

the whole thing is going to cost in the neighbourhood of $30K. we do not have $30K sitting around in ye olde bank account. (a quick peek suggests that we have $509.08.) but since shortage of money has never stopped us from spending, we have a plan. my mother rents the basement for her business, blue sky publishing. we plan to reproduce the following on glossy paper and send it to her in the mail:

Dear Blue Sky Publishing President,

We are making some exciting changes at Zengelwood! When you return to work, you will notice that we've replaced your virtual blue sky with The Real Thing!! That's right. For a limited time, see the sky from your underground workspace!

But that's not all! In the near term, we will be refurbishing the BSP entryway. Your corporate headquarters will be covered with premium Brazilian ipe supported by state-of-the-art concrete pilings. Because we spare no expense for you, our valued tenant, you will see stainless steel screws, fine-milled rim boards and custom glass railings.*

In celebration of your new improved workspace, and to thank you for your patience during this construction period, we would like to offer you, our valued tenant, one of the following options of your choice:
1) A one-time limited rent special of $1000/day for the month of May
2) A binding non-retirement agreement for 14 years.

Don't wait! Act now! Our agents are standing by to take your call. Remember: at Zengelwood, your livelihood is our life.

Heather Zwicker
Chief Financial Officer
Department of Penury

*You may in fact see some of these stainless steel screws down by your entryway. You may keep these as a souvenir of this exciting period in our growth.

we're open to other offers, too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Protest culture

i've been thinking about the culture of protest. things at the university are bad, and people are understandably scared and upset. the story that caught on mediawise is that various departments might lose their telephones. meanwhile, on the south side of edmonton, a woman walking home with her friends in the early hours of the morning was jumped by a pack of guys calling her "a dyke." police response was... lackadaisical, to say the least.

particularly in regard to the second of these issues, the response on facebook has been swift, supportive, and fierce. within 24 hours, a "community response project" garnered over 400 members even though the group's organizers had no clear plan. the facebook description reads: "A group dedicated to crafting a queer, systemic response to the recent assault against Shannon Barry (and others). We would like to organize, give us ideas! Posters? Protest? Let's think grassroots."

i didn't join, even though i love and respect the group's founders. i didn't join even when i saw friend after friend after friend after friend become a member. and i've been wondering why. it's a holdover from church, i think. call it commitment issues, but i have a hard time becoming a member of something that will demand unforeseeable things of me, and i'm particularly leery of protests.

i've done a fair number of protests in my time. i've demonstrated for abortion rights and i've defended abortion clinics. i marched against the first gulf war and the second gulf war; i protested the mid-90s provincial budget cuts more times than i can remember; and just last january i stood next to my dear friend in churchill square reading the names of the children bombed by israeli security forces. i was briefly imprisoned after the rodney king uprising. as street credit goes, i've got a little.

i have to confess that the notion of responding to the shannon barry beating with an old-fashioned protest left me feeling weary and disaffected. in fact, i found myself siding with the do-gooder white guys who urged people to take this up with the edmonton police service's LGBT liaisons. similarly, i have not written to lambaste my faculty association, or the dean, or the provost, or the president or the premier or the prime minister. instead, i keep trying to point out that when the province of alberta incents funding expensive professorships on soft dollars, institutions are left vulnerable to exactly this kind of financial crisis. we could see this coming for years. in other words, it's a complex problem that can only be solved by understanding the big picture of how universities are funded and administered today -- which in turn would require grasping a medium-sized picture of how units beyond the humanities are affected by this budget crunch -- which might produce the necessary (if not sufficient) conditions for solving this problem.

what i often suspect about protest culture is that people are not in fact interested in "solving the problem." historically, of course, taking over the streets has been hugely effective. see french revolution, see civil rights, see the troubles in northern ireland. even now, occasionally, marches can bring tears to my eyes: think of the battle in seattle, 1999, or the worldwide -- worldwide! -- protests against the US invasion of iraq in 2003. or if you like, just think of how ian mcewan uses that as a touchstone in his novel saturday.

but me, i'm all about solving the problem. this is terrific when the issue at hand is keeping a dissertating student on task, or getting a deck built, or giving advice on some interpersonal conflict, or building a better graduate program, or fixing a logical lapse in something i'm trying to write. i don't mind fighting because in some profound way it's not personal: i believe that we can think our way through both process and desiderata, so that investment in any given position is inconsequential next to arriving at a better (if not ideal) solution.

but "solving the problem" is not always what's called for. life doesn't work like the OCD challenge of keeping a clean inbox. as i've been reminded at several points in personal relationships (ahem), sometimes people just want to bitch about a bad day at work without transitioning into a brand new career, or register disappointment with their families without launching the entire unit into intensive psychotherapy. when professionals lose their telephones, they worry that their jobs will be next. unrealistic fear? probably. unreal? obviously not. on a political level, sometimes people just want to stand up and say, clearly, unequivocally, and quickly (i.e., without making this their life's work): this is unacceptable. society is wrong. you cannot do these things in my name.

sometimes the most interesting stuff takes place when you're that simple and honest. over on the shannon barry community response project, a critique of the way hate crimes legislation bolsters surveillance and incarceration is shaping up. folks are not taking to the street, they are taking to their heads and their hearts, and the results are really moving.

i'd like to become member 423 -- if they'll still have me.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

May 2

found on a telephone pole, good friday 2010:

i need to express myself to stay sane i'm shy this is where i live i don't see my history written on the body of this city sometimes i am so sad sometimes i am so lonely seeing something i've made, outside, in my neighborhood helps and so this is where i am making my home i have responsibility for this place this city needs more color this city needs more vibrancy this city needs more creativity this city needs more spontaneity, this city needs less bureaucracy i sometimes can't sleep at night my heart hurts i can't just leave the past behind i can never finish things but i create all the time and can't throw them out i have lots of doodles around my house i taught myself to draw and think i mostly suck but some people like it i have things to say that i don't want my name attached to i love seeing other people's creations i am inspired by other people's creations i am inspired by art galleries art galleries too often only show Art art galleries make me sad this city is too gray this city needs histories written on its walls this city is a place this place has histories these histories are neither simple nor just i don't know them well enough i want people to tell me theirs i want to learn this place is not easy i don't want to be sad i don't want this city to be so cold it will be fun to...are all artists people say "we are all artists" but don't often enough ask what that means there is a lot of amazing stuff being created by you and me all of the time i want to experience it there doesn't have to be a "middle man" i have staples i have tape i have thumb tacks i have flour and water i have ideas i have dreams i have a future i find inspiration in so many things i would probably find inspiration in you lots of people would probably find inspiration in you if you wanted to let everyone else know what this place, this life is like for you. if you wanted to share.


Friday, April 2, 2010

Miraculous things

i woke up at 645 this morning, my right arm lying peacefully next to me.

there are at least three miracles embedded in that sentence: first, no sling; second, no pain; and third, to wake up presumes that i slept -- which is the greatest miracle of all. nights over the last five weeks have been their own special hell. for the first couple nights, i slept in the spare room (if you could call it sleeping, those long hours of narcotic drift). on the third night, paranoid and borderline delusional with the combination of percocet, pain, and sleep deprivation, i came crying back into our bed. which was better, to the extent that it's a more comfortable mattress to lie on for hours at a time.

there is no way to sleep comfortably while you're wearing a sling, and you are required to wear it all night every night. next time you can't sleep, fold one arm across your midriff and imagine keeping it there for eight hours. the first thing you realize is that you can only lie in your back, although after a couple of weeks you figure out how to lie on your unoperated side, as long as you bolster the damaged arm. (the logistics of this are just as complicated as you might imagine.) as for sleeping on your tummy, or the other side, as for snuggling, or sex, or even reading comfortably in bed -- forget it, sister. even that 45° turn, from good side to back, is a major night endeavour.

i'm sure it doesn't help that i'm normally a good sleeper -- a great sleeper, in fact. it's a major blessing of this lifetime, worth the knock knees and the TMJ. i go to bed when i'm tired, i fall into a deep sleep within minutes, and i wake up wholly and completely seven or so hours later. i am that irritating person who says to the chronically insomniac, "have you tried chamomile tea?" they must feel about me the way i feel about people who suggest taking an aspirin for a five-star migraine. my standards for sleep are high, and i have come nowhere close to meeting them these last five weeks.

but enough about that: it doesn't bear reliving. i slept! without a sling! and woke up pain-free!! on this weekend of all weekends, the credulous days when people believe all manner of things -- that jesus is the son of god, that lamb's blood can protect you from the state's functionaries, that a four-day weekend is long enough to do all of the spring yard cleanup, that failing to land a SSHRC means something about you as an academic -- i am prepared to call this my own spring miracle, and i will add to the list of miraculous things pretty bras, pullover shirts, pulling up socks two-handed, a good haircut, retrieving my own glass of water and shaving my pits.