Saturday, October 21, 2006

Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog's "In The Edges" is playing as I type this. It's a mini-documentary on the gang of musicans Herzog assembled to improvise on the soundtrack of his movie, "Grizzly Man", over a period of two days. It's wonderful, this language of music, translated over interviews and footage. Timothy Treadwell's playful self-portraits are re-interpreted under Herzog's direction just by a single semitone change. Observing the musicians too is fascinating: Using only Herzog's adjectives as guides, they somehow produce these raw, yet emotionally sophisticated, pieces with no prior practice and composition time.

I think the act of improvisation occurs just above our self-regulating capabilities. We string together words and thoughts on a daily lark; it is a creative process that allows for that to happen. Obviously ignoring conscious artistic decisions, pick up any novel and there will probably exist no duplicate sentences in it.

The thing I find so impressive about musical improvisation specifically is that the simple mechanisms of the instrument are so entirely understood by the player that it appears like a secondary, transient vessel in which to formally congeal ideas. I envy that. When I studied classical piano, I never rose to the point where I felt an affinity with it. There was limited self-expression except for the rare finger flourishes I'd add to a Debussy or Peterson. I suppose writing is my transient vessel, the thing I access when my body feels too constrained.

There isn't much competence in picking up a pen though.

***

MArt threw a party at his place last night. About a 100 people showed up, drinking into the A.M., writing on every available surface with highlighters. Their messages glowed under the black light with topics ranging from fucking to screwing in Spanish and French. I didn't join him, watching instead the last of the UP Series by Michael Apted at home. I'm not one for large gatherings, enjoying rather the intimacy of being with one or two people at a time. This would come as a surprise to people who've come to be acquainted with me as a conversational whore.

It's not that I talk a lot. It's that I can't stop once I start. The punchlines roll off my tongue as guests egg me on to continue: mocking, flirting, entertaining. There is a bit of a power trip when, in that room, I am allowed to I push back the line of accepted decorum without being pushed back. And then I am drained, feeling wasted for the rest of the night. After two hours of flagellation, self and otherwise, I fall into a silent victory (the kind that makes you look morose) and speak only to those who approach me. MArt usually senses these mood discrepancies, from centre stage to wallflower, and tends to me. He is good at diffusing the awkwardness of my abrupt departures with an excuse to leave too.

I love the spotlight, but only for a moment, deriving no satisfaction in being the monkey for long. It is the spectator, not the show, that holds the mercy of the occasion.

***

So Techbiana interviewed me for a radio assignment for class, her professor recommended it to the CBC, and it's now been picked up for broadcast! Super excited!

It's a dream of mine to work for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation as a foreign correspondent one day. This might sound out of character of me to say (and it might also be propaganda doing its job), but I do feel fairly patriotic. Born in Beijing, raised in Canada, this country has been good to me and to my family and I want to contribute something back in the future. I think my stint in Beijing this summer made me really proud to be a Canadian, helping me fully realize that the amalgamation of confused identities Canada sees itself as is exactly the kind of culture I want to live in. I mean, c'mon! We're geographically sparse, internationally connected, and peacefully at odds with America: it's Switzerland without the Saudis!

I have the potential to work in Hong Kong next year, but without a doubt, I want my opportunities to eventually lead me back home -- and the inevitable shameless corporate plug -- at the CBC.

So if anyone wants to put me to work there ...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Untitled (Pretentious Art Students)

It appears whatever amount of sympathy I had for the guy who got mugged the other night faded the moment I threw a telephone at him. To be fair, I showed self-restraint: I had first looked at the empty beer bottles, but vouched for the phone knowing the chord would prevent it from causing real damage (though Techbiana was on the line at the time in another room).

You know you're embarrassing yourself when people at a get-together start moving to the other side of the room, interrupting on occasion with awkward jokes, then leaving entirely. I let my extreme distaste for alcohol and casual shindigs (among other things) get in the way of ...

Fuck that. He completely deserved it, that alcoholic. I thought it was common sense than when something bad happens to you, you take precautions. Sure, "muggings" are random and you can't entirely prevent it from happening, but you can do things to lower the risk. And walking down an unlit street at night while completely hammered, to me, appears to be a risk. "So you're saying everyone who walks home drunk gets mugged?" No! "Why would you let it change you? You shouldn't have to live in fear." I didn't say that, but I think it's alright to be aware of your surroundings from now on. "So, you're saying we should all be paranoid." No! Goddamnit! I was being ganged up by six people and I felt incredibly defensive.

I apologized to the muggee for my behaviour: "I'm sorry, don't take it personally ..." Which provoked him to say, in turn: "I know, I know. You're so loud. [...] It's just that I argue sensibly."

Rawr! Hulk! Crush! Now!! Patronizing asshole.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Back from hiatus

My uncle's dead. He died a couple of days ago, only a week or two after he was re-diagnosed with cancer. My dad's in Beijing right now with the rest of my extended Mandarin family. No news from him yet. I IM'd my cousin to ask him how he was feeling (in absence of a more intimate form of communication). He didn't say much. It took me over an hour to piece together the Chinese characters I needed to give him my condolences over email. I later realized, had it not been for the back button, that my message arrived in his inbox as groups of question marks: ??? ????? ??. He eventually received it in the intended format.

I told him I was sorry for his loss. That words cannot describe the feelings we're all dealing with. I asked him to tell his other dying parent how much I miss her, how much I love her, and how much I regret not telling her more often this summer. She's my favourite aunt and I became distraught the evening I was told, wiping my nose on MArt's shirt as he held me 'til my eyes grew swollen.

Shotgun Toter's dad was told by his doctor that she hoped to see him in "weeks, months, a year." Shotgun later told me that the "a year" wasn't lost to everyone in the room. Her cousin dropped dead only a few days ago (she was morbidly obese): "She was the daughter of the only sibling my dad still stayed in touch with."

Another friend, also a roommate of MArt's, is dealing with his father's impending death (measured in hours and days) when the cancer unexpectedly spread to his brain, leaving him conscious but with symptoms similar to Alzheimer's.

A friend and classmate was mugged at knife point last night when he decided to wander home drunk from MArt's place.

My mom might be dealing with an ulcer. (She didn't go into detail except that she bought a bunch of meds.) My dad has gallstones.

And MArt's dad is taking me -- us -- out to dinner when he comes up in a few weeks.


MArt and I have become quite ... serious. How it came to be, I don't really know. He recently deleted his entire computer porn stash. All 30 GBs of it. To make room for "legitimate" movies, he says. This obviously illustrates that he meant business. He's crazy to be with me, to be sure. Always patiently waiting for me to share my life with him. Not that I don't. It's just that, as Cat observed, I tend to do a lot of things alone. "The most out of anyone I know," she added. "Sometimes," MArt complained during a recent argument, "there's '[MArt] and Lily's world' and there's 'Lily's world.'" (The latter, he implied, an impenetrable entity.)

The other night, he came to my place, buzzed from too much beer and a blackout-inducing amount of red wine. We argued about something I said to someone about him -- in essence, my gossiping. It was the first time I've ever seen him genuinely frustrated with me. "Stop putting me on the defensive!" I yelled. "Girls talk. We forget what we talk about. If you surmised that it was me who told her, then it must be me. What's the big deal? I'm sorry!" Never having been a screamer, he instead retreated to the couch a few feet away, continuing to vent. After another couple of minutes of hearing him bitch, I turned around, put my iron down, unplugged it, and said, "It's over, [MArt]," and locked myself in the bathroom. Through the wall, I could hear him talking to me, but I stayed silent. Then I heard him getting up to walk somewhere:

"I'm going to iron your dress now," he said, aggressively.

"Don't touch my dress!"

"I'm going to do it!"

"Don't touch my dress!"

Seconds later:

"Where do you want me to hang it?"

"Put my dress down! I don't care, on the floor!"

"I'm not going to put something I just ironed on the floor!"

I sat back down on the toilet just as I heard a rap, tap, tap against the doorknob. It continued. I told him to get away from the door.

"Open the door, Lily," he said.

"No."

"Open the door. Please, Lily."

"No."

The tapping continued, so I begrudgingly opened it.

There was MArt, in only his boxer-briefs, with a bobby-pin in his hand trying to pick the lock while the red triangle on his bicep from the hot iron he had earlier placed on his arm to "prove" that he wasn't "drunk" began to peel and blister.

He apologized (and again the following morning). MArt carried me to the bed and played with my hair from above. "Stop looking at me like that," he said.

"Like what?"

"Stop looking at me."

"Why?"

*Sniff, sniff, blink*

I had made him damn near cry at the thought of losing me, turning this tough guy into mashed potatoes.

He's right though. I don't hold our relationship as sacred as he does. Or I didn't use to. I am always, as he says, first and foremost thinking about myself before I do the relationship: what benefits "us" comes after what I deem to be beneficial or convenient to me. My mother has taught me that men -- specifically, whomever you happen to be with -- comes second. Family might eventually replace yourself as your top priority, but don't count on a man to give you what you want. And don't let a man be the only thing you want.

MArt understands my indoctrination. He says it's the reason he's fine with making concessions: he knows I'm really trying to adjust. It's hard-as-hell work though. But that's why they call it amore, baby.