Mark your calendars

September 21, 2006

We all have bedtime routines – the order of activities that, night after night, signal to our minds that sleep is imminent. I always wash my face before brushing my teeth, and the socks are always the last to come off before I crawl under the covers. But before all of that I check my email. I rarely respond to anything that may have shown up, yet still pad down the hall to see, and spend a few minutes with the last of my wine, a final cigarette, and (most often) the Weather Network (or, if I’m feeling masochistic, my bank statement). It’s become such a force of habit that I can’t remember not doing it, although I know that this part of my pattern is relatively recent – I wasn’t nearly as conscious of email until moving here two years ago. Not that I was computer illiterate, but before Montreal my bedtime habit consisted of curling up with a book for half an hour. It saddens me that I’ve given that up in favour of my computer, I have so little time to read for pleasure as it is, and I find myself getting sketchy if I go too long without some fiction in my life. Some of this compulsion is professional – it’s hard to distinguish between Flaneur-at-home and Flaneur-the-teacher after this long. Most of it, though, has to do with the inevitable repeated separations of the student life, uprooting myself every few years to move to a new city, a new degree, a new set of friends. The more I do this, however, the less I care to. I love the friends I’ve made and the friendships I’ve maintained; at the risk of sounding callous I’d rather have them than new ones. I like to go to bed with the full knowledge of their day and the sense that regardless of distance they’re still the closest.

Life imitates life

September 14, 2006

Coming on the heels of my last musings about teen series season finales, a shooting at Dawson College. Spoilers ensue. The season two finale of Veronica Mars had a highschool boy confess to orchestrating the deaths of a busload of his peers and then throws himself off the roof of a building, after brandishing a gun at three of his friends. The previously referenced BTVS finale was initially postponed due to its scenes of violence in hallowed halls (not the first time for the series, which also had to push back “Earshot,” for similar reasons). Most obviously, Gus Van Sant’s Elephant. What these texts have in common is a relatively uncompromising look at a cultural microcosm in which social divisions – economic, sexual, gender – are powerfully experienced. I make these references not to diminish the reality or impact of the shooting at Dawson, but because our fictional treatments (and treatments of such fictions) is revealing. Television scholar John Ellis argues in Seeing Things: Television in the Age of Uncertainty that one of television’s most important social functions is how its thematic consistencies across formats and genres to work through our most pressing tensions and anxieties: “Working through is a constant process of making and remaking meanings, and of exploring possibilities. It is an important process in an age that threatens to make us witness to too muich information without providing us with enough explanation . . . It renders familiar, integrates and provides a place for the difficult material that it brings to our witness” (79). The media is an enormous machine for processing trauma, with a vast store of images and narratives for situating and resituating such events as we try to make them make sense. Because, trite but true, some motivations we’ll never really know and can only make educated guesses that hopefully, this time, please, will go beyond shallow scapegoating (videogames made them do it!) Elephant makes powerfully, heartstoppingly clear the deeply systemic factors – school culture and its attendant forms of appropriate identities – absent from news reports. Words like “rampage” and “terrorize” paint a resonant picture of monstrous deviance that is hard to argue against without running the risk of seeming insensitive to the real physical and emotional damage of these events. What happened at Dawson is awful, I’m not even trying to suggest otherwise, but these familiar scripts don’t give us the chance to learn from this. So many young men being so desperately unhappy should cue us in to the possibility that something bigger is wrong.

Other people’s endings

September 9, 2006

Highschool graduation episodes of teen tv shows make me tear up. This is a sharp contrast to real life, in which I hated highschool and shudder at the thought of returning. First it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s season three finale, and then Dawson’s Creek. Now it’s the end of Veronica Mars’ second season (I’m a little behind, I know, but I’ve only recently returned to cable tv after a long stint in popular culture purgatory). BTVS and Veronica Mars especially purport to be critical of highschool’s highly stratified and emotionally degrading social culture yet their graduations both played out the same tired dream of “outcasts” (inasmuch as petite blonde white middle class girls can be outcasts) finally revered and applauded by their peers (cue swelling music). The lucrative mythology of highschool years as glory years is somehow enticing, and I must admit to missing some of the conveniences of home: how it was always more effective to ignore my mother in person, or the luxury of in-house laundry. I dream of the day when I have my own washer and dryer, especially after Friday morning’s slapstick affair of me and the local laundromaster combining our powers to untangle a pair of my panties from the washing machine’s inner workings. There’s nothing quite like seeing a portly middle-aged man waving your favourite thong around in triumph to make you reconsider the elasticity of your appliance budget.

School’s in!

September 7, 2006

The first week of school is always a mess – meetings, chance encounters and the obligatory “my summer vacation” anecdotes, dodging undergrads as they stop en mass mid-sidewalk. It always makes me feel like I’ve gone soft over the summer, for now accomplishing more than two tasks in a day wipes me out. I need to rebuild my social stamina and coffee tolerance. It smells like fall, dusk descends more quickly, I have readings on my list of things to do… school’s definitely back. All intimations of complaint aside, campus’ air of enthusiasm is infectious. It’s far too easy when I’m staring at a stack of books and a computer screen day after day to forget why I’m here, why I’m doing this. The fame of a bestselling dissertation-turned-book? Maybe that’s a tiny and naively optimistic part of it, but those picturesque and deeply connotative ivy covered buildings make me remember how much I believe in and love encouraging students to pay critical attention to the popular culture that surrounds us (experience the magic for yourself later this month). There’s nothing quite like teaching, especially at McGill. Perhaps this too is the ivy speaking, but there’s a qualitative difference between the undergrads here and ones I’ve taught elsewhere that makes walking into a classroom a challenge – the rush at realizing just how sharp they are, the exhilaration of being constantly on your intellectual toes, the way they can make you revisit the way you’ve presented something. Bring it on, semester. Just let me grab a coffee first…


September 1, 2006

When I looked at the calendar this afternoon I noticed that somehow the summer has ended. I panicked. So much stuff left unfinished (well, mostly just the dissertation proposal), but there was something I could still cross off the list. Which means I finally saw Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. So much swashbuckling action and fun CGI! And a reminder that both Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom are welcome any time (they can eat all the crackers they want in my bed). This is not to diminish the appeal of the boy I brought with me, who has the added benefit of being real and who occasionally expresses interest in puffy shirts (jokingly, but a girl can dream). So now the fall can officially start, and good thing too, since I have my first of what will no doubt be an eight-month marathon of meetings Tuesday morning. I managed to catch the last metro back, and saw something neat – a little tunnel trolley carting things around on the tracks. It had never occurred to me that they could be used for transporting things other than people, and I had an unsettling frisson not unlike the sensation of being in the mall when all the stores are closing, rattling their giant chainlink doors shut and plunging the mannequins into darkness. It reminded me of two stories: Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and Jenny Colgan’s “The Wrong Train” in the Tart Noir anthology. I’m either going to finally buy a metro pass, or start grabbing transfers on my way in as proof that I’m where I’m supposed to be. Such paranoia is an unavoidable consequence of reading speculative fiction, but can you imagine how dull I’d be if I never let my imagination run away from me?