Playing Chicken


My grandparents’ house in Ladner, BC, sometime before we moved to 100 Mile House, the tiny BC-interior town in which i grew up. I must have been four years old. There was some kind of dinner party going on, which meant that i got shuffled off into my grandparents’ bedroom early. This was cool, though, because my mom and grandma wheeled in the TV (yes, TVs had wheels once upon a time; yes, i’m that old) and set it up so i could watch myself to sleep. I remember seeing a bit of something that i think was Land of the Giants — a plane crashed, people in it, a giant picking the plane up and rolling it from side to side. (A quick check of Wikipedia says that the year fits, 1968.) Then a movie came on. Some historical or fantasy thing, a medieval city, a market square, people in tunics and bad Prince Valiant haircuts. Maybe it was Prince Valiant (1954 says Wikipedia) for all i know.

Here’s what i remember. There was a scene in the aforementioned market square where one group of guys smashed into another group of guys and a fight broke out. Swords and clubs were unleashed, horses were panicking, farmers’ stalls were smashed, including a large rack of cages holding chickens. I remember one chicken who, as if completely unconcerned with all the chaos transpiring around him, stood completely calm on the top of his cage as the Hollywood imbroglio spiraled around him. He wasn’t tied down or anything, as i remember him walking at his own sedate pace, pecking, clucking, doing chicken stuff. He just didn’t seem to worry too much about the fight, seeing as how it didn’t concern him. At four years old, i thought that was pretty cool.

My grandmother came in right about then to see if i was asleep, and i remember pointing to the melee just now wrapping up on the screen and excitedly telling her at great, great length about the chicken that had stood there and must have been scared but hadn’t even run away. I remember her smiling in a way that, looking back on it now, meant that she had no idea what i was on about. However, i remember seeing her smile then and thinking that this demonstration of bravery was a special thing that only she and i and the chicken would ever understand.


These Freaky Things

Out of commission for much of this week (meaning i have time and energy only for work and not work plus the obligatory amount of pissing around wasting time i like to do on top of that). A sinus thing i had a few weeks back has turned into an ear thing,  apparently. It’s not an infection yet,  but in the interest of keeping it so,  i’ve been doctor-ordered to start doing nasal lavage. Nasal lavage is the process of filling your head (or at least the hollow bits of it connected to your nose) with water, all the while continuing to somehow breathe. As i did nasal lavage for the very first time, it occurred to me that  though it’s not the freakiest thing i’ve ever experienced, the sensation of intentionally filling my head with water is definitely in the top ten.

I mentioned this to someone and he asked me what else is on that particular top ten list. So i had to think about it.

Here are the other nine most freaky things i’ve ever experienced.

My vasectomy is definitely number one, because it’s a local anesthetic, so you’re conscious.

The first orgasm i had after the vasectomy is number two.

Number three would be getting broadsided off my motorcycle by a green Volkswagen Scirocco the Thursday before the Easter weekend of 1989, and being completely conscious and one hundred percent aware as i felt my leg break; felt myself go up and over the hood; felt myself hanging in midair for long enough that i could think about the fact that if i was in midair, i was going to have to come down at some point; feeling myself come down helmet-first into the windshield; feeling myself bounce off the windshield; then finally hitting the ground.

Number four: When Caitlin (younger daughter) was born by C-section, the sight of watching the doctor put one knee up on the operating table as he was pulling her out so that he could get extra leverage.

Number five was the one time i was weight training while at university and overdid it, pushing myself to some weird point of oxygen deprivation where i remained conscious and felt fine, but had my vision go strange so that everything for, like, the next 10 minutes was rendered wholly in shades of purple and yellow.

Numbers six and seven would be the two times (both at 10 or 12 years old) that i’ve had a real, actual precognitive flash of something that i hadn’t known was going to happen, and which then happened only moments later. Not some vague “Oh, this just happened and i’m sure i felt kind of weird before like it was going to happen” wishful-thinking inversion. An actual flash of the future, detailing things that i couldn’t have predicted because i had no reason to believe they were going to occur.

Number eight is the time in high school that the spirit of death came to me in the form of a dog seeking refuge from a thunderstorm.

Number nine is the time in about third grade that i stopped my bike on the edge of a dusty under-construction cul-de-sac up the street from our house, no one around, no houses, no dogs, no birds, nothing. And i looked up at the sky and for the very first time i became aware of the size of the world, and of its shape as it sloped away beneath my feet.

Number ten is the time i almost died stuck fast and face down in wet cement when i was four years old, having snuck with a group of friends into the freshly-poured basement of the house being built down the street from us, and when my dad subsequently saved my life.

It’s funny how close that last one came to being the only item on the list. All things being equal, i guess being around to think about the freaky things in life is worth something.


En Garde

One of the disadvantages of having fled the city (Vancouver; when you live in Canada, you can just say “the city” because we really only have one of them per province) is that the friends i left behind constantly taunt me with the cool things they get to do that i don’t. 

I took fencing for, like, three months at university before being forced to the sidelines with an appendicitis attack, but i confess that i found the sport less interesting than i thought i would. Running around like a crazed fiend with a rapier, on the other hand, would be something i could totally get behind. For the time being, however, i'll probably just have to look forward to axe-fighting off the bear that keeps wandering through our neighborhood.


Love and Hate

A question posed by my friend François:

A person made a great piece of art and you loved it, but the creator puts it down, saying it's crap. Would that influence your view of it?

Depends on the creator's frame of mind and why he says it. Pete Townshend has written off much of the Who's canon at various points in time, but he also invariably comes back years later to say "Actually, i guess it wasn't so bad". One of my favorite straight-up rock bands is the Cult, who used to have a habit of launching each new album by announcing that they really hated their last album and were never playing anything from it again. Plenty of writers have works that they publicly decry, especially screenwriters, who are more prone than most to having their work messed with.

I think that when artists reject their own work, it often comes down to the fact that an artist is the only one who knows what the work was supposed to look, sound, or read like. Every piece of art has its Platonic ideal — the perfection toward which the artist strives, and only the artist can assess the finished work in that context. However, because you and i as viewers/readers/listeners don’t have access to that ideal, our sense of the worth of the art is necessarily different from the artist’s sense.

Which is to say, the work an artist sees in his head is always a 10, but the work the artist creates might be perceived by him or her as a 6, or a 2. The artist rejects it because it's not a 10, but the work that you or i see might be an 8 or 9, which  makes it more than worthwhile.

On the other hand, a creator might reject something for the opposite reason. He knows and accepts that he created a 5, but because of his reputation or extraneous circumstances, everybody else in the world calls it a 10, and the inverse gulf between ideal and  reality becomes a point of aggravation or embarrassment. The modern composer John Cage was arguably most famous for his piece 4’33”, which consists of nothing but 4 minutes, 33 seconds of silence. When the piece is performed, a pianist sits there for the entire length of time counting off rest beats, which is all the score consists of. Over the many years since it was written, many people have lauded 4’33” as a work of artistic genius, an appreciation that Cage was happy to accept. However, shortly after he died in 1992, i remembering reading an article in which he was said to have repudiated the work as not being music at all, but rather just a piece of clever intellectual claptrap.

I don’t remember where i read the piece in question, so i’m not going to say that the statement is categorically true. However, i’m compelled to say that i agree with it. I’ve always liked Cage’s philosophy regarding music, but to my mind, there’s a difference between saying “This work has a compelling philosophy behind it” and “This work is interesting and worthwhile as a work”. I think that works rejected by the artists who create them typically fall into the category of works where this divide of philosophy and finished piece is simply too wide to be sustained.