Saturday, December 25, 2010

GIVE


You needn't give me a gift. If December 25 is today, or February 14 is tomorrow, or my birthday is coming up on some day that you shouldn't know because I never tell anyone my birthday is coming up, you really needn't give me a gift because, truthfully, I likely won't be giving you a gift. The act of giving should happen on March 3 or July 22 or November 8 or Saturday or because the sun has risen or because you're very hungry or because that swallow swooped so gracefully. Giving should happen any time, all the time, and not only on assigned days. When I see people panicking on December 1 because posters at the mall remind them they have twenty-four days in which to check off all the names on their list, and they agonise over how much money they don't have to accomplish that task, I think of one word: Hegemony.

A packed mall is torture. A sidewalk crammed with shoppers is not fun. There is little sanctity in scrambling like a rat with twelve bags strung across the crook of your arm, shoving your Master Card back into your wallet for the tenth time this hour, clutching a list of To Whomevers merely because The Day is in three days. There is much benevolence in making a sock doll for your toddler cousin, making dumplings for your sweetheart, taking your grandfather to Seattle for his first time. Making a gift and giving the gift of experience require time and involvement. There is more consideration. You give not only a thing -- you give yourself.

Spontaneous giving is the antithesis of obligatory giving; we are celebrating a moment when we decide to buy the next round of Guinness. Why? Because we are friends, because we are out, because we enjoy each other's company. Such improvised goodwill can be far more heartfelt than buying your son Call of Duty: Black Ops simply because, well, he wouldn't shut up about it since September. Giving under duress is not an act of goodwill.

When I hear of someone angered by not receiving a birthday gift, or a man scoffing at how the shoes his girlfriend gave him are cheap, another word is exposed: Entitlement. Occasions and assigned days, especially those that get Hallmark's CEO aroused, have made us kowtow to mainstream pressure and expect the generosity of others, whether we deserve it or not. We have become brats.

The act of giving on certain days can be customary, entrenched in tradition, a fundamental aspect of a culture. In my late teens, when my nihilism was developing at the same rapid pace as my politics, I would refuse red envelopes given to me on Chinese New Year and December 25 and my birthday. My feeling was that I didn't do anything in particular to deserve the lucky money, nor should the giver feel obligated to share some of her savings for the sake of custom. My refusal was never successful because I could sense I was becoming insulting. Now, my counter-culture impulses have entered a healthy debate with a respect for established culture, and I accept the lucky money with genuine gratitude. Upholding some cultural values can be worth it, monetarily and otherwise.

I am a hypocrite. I do not expect any gifts from anyone ever, but I will give them on occasion. On occasion, meaning once in a while because I feel randomly inspired, and on occasion, meaning I would be a horrible uncle if I didn't give my nephew and niece a thing for that day in December. As an anti-gifter who gives gifts, my hypocrisy rests in two reasons: I don't want to feel guilty for not giving anything; I don't want my nephew and niece to feel alienated in coming years when they will inevitably have to discuss with their friends on December 26 what they got on December 25. I remember feeling inadequate in the 1980s when my friends' trees were hardly visible behind the cascade of giant wrapped boxes, while the scant packages under my anemic tree hardly required the mystery of wrapping because they were, invariably, year after year, merely Pot of Gold chocolates and dried scallops.

I will continue to indulge in hypocrisy by giving to my nephew and niece because when he unwrapped the cylindrical box to discover Tinker Toys and cheered, I enjoyed creating that moment of happiness (my niece is sixteen months old and likely greeted my gift of a plush panda cub with equal parts happiness and indifference). I understand how the act of giving -- whether mandated by the calendar or not -- can bring fulfillment to the giver. When for my 1996 birthday Sarah gave me what I deemed the greatest object-gift I had ever received -- a name belt buckle -- I grabbed my face with both palms in utter shockgratitude. So did she. I had never experienced a moment of exchange so equally and oppositely explosive; Sarah's approach to giving is Newtonian. She chides me for not celebrating (let alone not announcing) my birthday: "You're robbing us of the chance to celebrate you."

I have given myself a birthday party twice in my life. The most recent occasion was my 28th birthday, which I enjoyed sharing with friends and booze for the novelty of it being my champagne year. Aside from that relatively rare event, I would be happy to acknowledge my birthday privately and quietly year after year. It's not about secrets. It's not about hiding my age. It's about accomplishment. I enjoy being acknowledged/celebrated/smiled at only for something I've done. Otherwise, I'd be happy being invisible. Getting older by one year does not seem to me to be an accomplishment. All I had to do was stay alive, which can certainly be difficult for many -- including me -- but it's a relatively common event. My birthday is not an achievement. It is a default event. I don't feel a need to celebrate it. That being said, I love nothing more than drinking and celebrating the birthdays of others. Remember, I'm a hypocrite. Please continue to invite me.

If I were to hold my own birthday party and invite you, you would come for one of two reasons: You like me; you feel obligated. If you are the latter, I would rather you not come. The same goes for an invitation to a film or show of mine: Don't feel obligated to attend. I would love to have you there, but only if you are genuinely interested. That being said, I will still attend your event because I feel obligated (or because I am genuinely interested). I will absolve you of feeling obligated, but I myself am not able to escape obligation. I have a problem with guilt.

As many of my friends are artists, I am constantly tossing around in a vortex of internal conflict called Commitment. I often feel committed to attend an artist's event because that artist has attended mine. There are other words for this type of Commitment: Community. Support. Support your fellow artists because they support you. However, we all should understand that we can't attend all our fellow artists' events. We should be excused, and giving an excuse shouldn't be necessary. Colleagues regularly say to me, "I'm sorry I missed your show," and I say the same to them. Then I remind them that in these long careers of ours, we will surely have to miss some of each other's events, so let's just make a point to attend the next. I never make a person feel guilty for having missed my event. To guilt one into attending your own event is poor form. With guilt comes obligation. Obligation is synonymous with reluctance. Reluctance is the absence of sincerity. That is the word: Sincerity.

ME: Mom, Dad, I'm heading out now.
MOM: Are you going to your sister's?
ME: After I get some gifts...

It's December 24 and I have yet to get anything for my nephew and niece.

MOM: You don't have to get them anything.
ME: I've gotta get them something. I'm their uncle.
MOM: They don't need anything.
ME: I want to get them something. I'm gonna go to Commercial Drive to get--
DAD: You're supposed to already be at your sister's.
MOM: Now.
ME: I still gotta get some gifts for--
MOM: No you don't. There...
She wags her finger to a plastic bag on the kitchen shelf.

MOM: ...Your dad just picked them up the other day...
DAD: ...They're excercise books for writing Chinese...
MOM: A perfect gift.
DAD: A perfect gift.
MOM: You can give them to your nephew. We're going to give lucky money anyways, so you give him the books--
ME: No.
DAD: You give him the books.
ME: No.
MOM: You don't have to rush out to buy anything now.
DAD: It's two o' clock.
ME: No. I didn't--
MOM: The perfect gift.
ME: You got him the books, I didn't.
DAD: He doesn't have to know that.
MOM: He's five.
ME: But still, they're from you not me.
MOM: What difference does--? If you give them, they're from you.
DAD: You don't like the books?
ME: I love the books, but I didn't get them. If I give them, it's not real-- I didn't--
MOM: The books aren't real?
ME: ...I didn't-- Dad got-- It's not a real gift--
MOM: It's fake? How is it not a real gift?
ME: A real gift from me!
MOM: It's a perfect gift!
My left hand was clutched like talons an inch away from my chest.

ME: Mom, your heart isn't... doesn't work like mine. It's not... real. Real, real... how do you say?...
How do you say "sincere" in Cantonese?

ME: ...You know what I'm saying? Dad, you know what I'm saying! Real.
His brow was scrunched as he ate his noodles, annoyed.

DAD: Okay okay, don't give him the books!
MOM: Stupid!
ME: I'm gonna go get some gifts. See you tonight.

After all that, they still didn't say "sincere" in Cantonese.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

FLAT

After my beloved roommate Karen and before my beloved roommate Terri came this ad:

END OF AN ERA
November, 2006

Yes, it's true. After over four years of co-habitation with me, my roommate is moving out to live with her boyfriend. That means that I have a room available. Here are tons of details:

- Queen Street West, at Augusta
- spacious two-bedroom apartment
- two floors
- two bathrooms
- separate kitchen
- fully furnished
- you can move in soon or in January

WHY IS MY PLACE AWESOME?

- you can't beat the location. You really can't
- I live in the Fashion District (the city's term, not mine), so I'm surrounded by fabric stores, boutiques, and stuff like that. I'm also super close to Kensington Market, Chinatown, Little Italy, Portugal Village, and of course West Queen West and Parkdale
- I walk everywhere. Or bike, or occasionally public transit. This apartment is close to pretty much everything you need. Within a few blocks I can eat awesome brunch, shop for import records, enjoy fine tea, buy Digital Beta tapes, go see a play, buy Super 8 film, get Super 8 film processed, visit innumerable arts organisation offices, buy bok choy, buy a real Eames chair, browse antique books, repair my bicycle, visit Toronto's most progressive art galleries, go see an independent film or Hollywood gack, rent a 1927 Danish film, rent a 2004 Korean revenge film, eat cheap dinner, eat expensive dinner, check out the greatest bands, go drinking go drinking go drinking, dance dance dance, and stumble home... All within a few blocks
- 24-hour public transit outside my doorstep
- you can hail a cab within 15 seconds
- my big front windows overlook Queen Street, which is better than television
- I have a wonderful relationship with the landlord and we can do anything we want in the apartment. Imagine having a landlord who doesn't breathe down your neck. Go ahead and smoke, I don't care. Play super loud music... no one cares

RULES ETC.

- please be appreciative of art and culture
- NO TOP 40 MUSIC except in the privacy of your bedroom with headphones
- interesting music encouraged
- this apartment is happily analogue. I hope you don't have a home theatre system with widescreen HD television and fifteen speakers etc. Oh, I have high-speed internet!

RENT

$650 + utilities

People from outside of Toronto are welcome. Americans, too. If you're not familiar with Toronto, be assured that my neighbourhood is fun, convenient, safe, and quite desireable.

Contact me.

-- Norman

Thursday, November 4, 2010

AWAKE

I try not to have bright ideas late at night -- inspiration keeps me up until 6AM. I'm like a mogwai: no epiphanies after midnight, please.

Forty-seven minutes ago I stepped out on the balcony to breathe and think about anything. Anything besides this shiftless dull weight that I've allowed to oppress me during this two-month-long stasis/sabbatical/bender. The moist, chilled air hit me with an answer I wasn't yet ready to receive. An idea. A key. The conclusion to a script that I haven't touched in one year, a Draft One that has cowered on my shelf waiting for me to expand its life with a sibling, Draft Two. I've avoided writing this script because there were other scripts more urgent, shows needing to be shot, many many many beers requiring my attention. But now, from the balcony, I've got the answer. I want to write this new draft now.

Immediately.

But it is 4.48AM. Write some notes if you must. Get started tomorrow. Please sleep.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

GUN

Excerpt from an interview on September 18, 2010:


QUESTION:
Many people say that non-white actors are often the "first to go" in horror movies and/or always the "non-important" role in such films. Tell us how you think Hollywood views Asian actors, where you think Asians in Hollywood are going and what you think about your character in the film Resident Evil: Afterlife.


ANSWER:
My fundamental belief is that we need to stop complaining and create the roles ourselves. That’s the main reason I started writing and directing films and plays. I’ve written characters named Jorge, Davinder, Safina, Giancarla, Shiraz to suggest they be played by diverse actors. My play Pu-Erh offers three huge, complex roles to Asian actors who speak both English and Cantonese. My goal is to create opportunities for under-represented actors. Instead of crying out foul, we should become creators and create the change we want.

In terms of Asians in film and TV, it’s getting better. I’m noticing a lot more roles for Asians, and the roles are getting better. I’m happy to see prominent roles being played by Sandra Oh, Grace Park, Maggie Q, John Cho, Ken Watanabe… the list goes on… It’s getting better but there’s still work to be done. Our screens still don’t realistically reflect the Asian and visible-minority numbers. Look at many North American cities, especially multicultural cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver, etc. You stand on any street corner in these cities and you’ll see every race. Then look at what’s being represented in our movies and TV shows: an unrealistic ratio that is hardly diverse.

I appreciate the diversity in Resident Evil: Afterlife. The L.A. survivors are a myriad of races and authentic accents: a Korean, a Latino, an African-American, a Brit… Kim Yong never struck me as The Asian Guy. Paul (W.S. Anderson) never asked me for a bogus accent or for martial arts or anything stereotypical, and I appreciated that. Still, the issue of tokenism and stereotypes always comes up whether a movie, any movie, has few visible minorities or lots of them, and I can see how some people might be critical about Resident Evil: Afterlife’s diversity. I believe that one solution to stereotyping is to inject more humanity into the role. Stereotyping is merely shorthand to understand a character instantly, so to combat stereotyping, let’s make the character more complex, more nuanced, so that an audience has to spend more time considering the character rather than making instant judgement. That is how I approached Kim Yong: I gave him a journey. I start as an obedient lackey, then I make a decision on my own to not betray my fellow survivors, then I conquer my fears and decide to go down the tunnel. My journey with Kim Yong was to grow from timid submissive to being my own man, especially since my mentor, Bennett, has abandoned me. Kim Yong’s journey is one of maturing.

Paul did indeed write moments where Kim Yong was more forceful and commanding, and I created some moments myself. We shot moments where I kept guard (yes, with a big-ass machine gun) while Angel burned through the lock to the garage. We shot me discovering the disassembled engine and chastising Angel for not being able to put the engine back together. We shot me making the decision to defy Bennett, in the airplane, by refusing to betray my fellow survivors. We shot me performing my own stunt: Kim Yong versus the oncoming plane. Also, I do decide to go down the tunnel, albeit a split-second too late. But as is the case with almost every movie ever made, certain moments get cut out and we don’t see Kim Yong’s moments of bravery.

According to the script, it’s easy to pass off Kim Yong as simply “the scared guy”. So I tried to give as much depth to Kim Yong as possible in a small amount of space. His role among the group of survivors, and his role as a character in the movie, is simply human. Kim Yong is not a superhero. Kim Yong is a young man (only twenty) stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong world. I wanted him to be a sympathetic and empathetic character, a point of access for the audience. Sure, it would be cool to be a hero like everyone else, but that’s simply not Kim Yong’s character. Yeah, it would have been fun to mow down zombies with expert aim, but we’ve already got Alice, Claire, Chris, Luther doing that. Kim Yong’s role – my job – is to contrast the many bad-asses in the group, and I remained faithful to that dynamic. Kim Yong is hanging desperately to some kind of hope, hanging on to his father-figure Bennett. When Bennett betrays him, his already-destroyed world becomes a lot more destroyed. And that is why he doesn’t have a gun.

While shooting the scene where we are ambushed by a horde of zombies after Bennett has stolen the plane, we all contemplated why Kim Yong doesn’t have a gun. Milla (Jovovich) was the first to say, “Why doesn’t Norman have a gun?” And we all stood there for a moment, Paul’s arms akimbo, considering. I looked at the given circumstances: my friend Angel was just murdered right before my eyes by my father-figure; my father-figure has just betrayed me; we are being attacked by an enormous mob of zombies; and while everyone around me is firing guns -- and my arms are up to shield me from Ali (Larter)'s shells, which are pelting my face -- I’m forced to confess that the vehicle ain’t working and Angel’s dead (this got cut out). …All things considered, Kim Yong is fucking terrified. And justifiably so. So he doesn’t get a gun.

Resident Evil: Afterlife is full of bad-asses and heroes. Kim Yong doesn’t have to be a bad-ass. He adds a different dynamic. He is simply human. And I believe that a character with some depth and journey – a realistic human – is the antithesis of a stereotype.

Friday, July 23, 2010

GAGA

If I were Lady Gaga's manager, it would go down like this:

"Stefani, you need to be more queer friendly."
"But I already am," says Gaga.
"Good. Let's keep it up. After all, look at Madonna, Kylie, Liza, Bette--"
"Bette?"
"Bette Midler."
"Bette Midler?"
"You wanna sell ring tones or not?"

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

THESAURUS

For "complain", the Oxford thesaurus says kick up a fuss. I thought it said fuck up the ass.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BOOK

After standing in line for three hours breathing mall air, the boy finally got his prize. Clutching the iPad in his fifteen-year-old hands, he showed off to the news reporter: "I don't like to read books, so maybe this will make me read more."


I am sad.

Monday, May 31, 2010

BOOKS

My first August in Toronto was sticky. Two blocks out the door and my back was so slick with sweat that my shower from ten minutes ago had come undone. I lamented that each shirt was good for only one wearing before it became salted by my perspiration -- the laundry room was seventeen floors beneath me in the pits of my St. Jamestown housing monolith, a journey for this young man who was used to chucking dirty clothes into a broken hamper and hours later they would magically* return clean and alley-fresh from the clothesline. (*Mom did my laundry). In July my hair was blown cool by the Pacific; in August my flesh was humming from the muggy stank staid Great Lake. I had moved to the other side of the continent with nothing but the promise of adulthood and two hundred pounds of books.

I'm a bit of a book collector. Not obsessively obsessive, but obsessive enough to have held out for eight years until I finally located a Bantam paperback edition of The Catcher in the Rye that is maroon with yellow titles. I do not like the Little, Brown and Company edition that is white with a rainbow in the corner. I prefer buying Grove Press editions of plays because they were often designed by Roy Kuhlman and he is the greatest, don't argue. I refuse to buy used books that have previous owners' notes inscribed because I don't want my thoughts to be sullied by another's. If the pages are dog-eared or -- god forbid and condemn -- highlighted, there's no way I'm taking that blasphemed book home. I've wrapped my Stanislavsky books in white paper to protect the beautiful seagull logo on the covers. I was devastated when the move across five provinces yielded crushed corners on a few of my (many) Ingmar Bergman books. I now avoid going into bookstores for fear of exiting with five unexpected purchases and a fifty-dollar dent in my money clip. Going into a bookstore means see-you-later for three hours.

That August I had to go to the bookstore. My fingernails had never sweat so much before. I had never inhaled air so steaming and stagnant. I needed an answer, and who else could enlighten me more sagely than that store on Queen Street West, Abelard Books, home of texts previously cherished and antiquarian. The bookseller accented his side-parted silver hair and neat white beard with black-rimmed glasses. He tucked in his shirt and spoke softly. He was an expert.

"I don't have an air conditioner. I'm from the west coast. Will my books rot?" I asked as I wiped the stinging drips from my forehead.

He shut his tome and crinkled his pasty brow. "No. You don't have anything to worry about."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

PU-ERH

There is always tea. One porcelain pot with steeped leaves. One porcelain pot with water the temperature of the kitchen. One urn with boiled water that remains hot throughout the day. You mix portions of the three liquids to your liking. All day long, whenever you want, there is tea. The pots and urn are among the first things I notice when I return to East Vancouver. After the greying eyebrows of my dad at the baggage carousel, after the more and more condos along Victoria Drive, after the bounty of chayote sprawling in our driveway, after the scent of stir fried ginger embedded into our kitchen walls since 1985, I see a pot, a pot, and an urn. They say, “Welcome home. Drink.”

I drop off my duffle bag in my bedroom, a tiny space fit for a child and bursting with secrets and discoveries. I am a man now; I’m no longer used to sleeping in a single bed. I return to the kitchen and eat.

It’s always been hours-old leftovers in the past few years. I try to book flights that will take me home just before dinner, but there’s always a delay. So I end up at the table by myself while my dad unwraps the innumerable dishes and my mom heats up soup at the stove. The leftovers are the tastiest things I have ever eaten anywhere ever. Salted fish, black bean spare ribs, driveway chayote… In a few days my sisters would come home for the weekly family dinner. They both live a twenty-minute drive away, so it’s easy for them to come home every Monday. I come home every two or three seasons. For the food, of course.

Dinner with the family. Our kitchen table, a round Italian marble behemoth complete with lazy Susan, a gaudy stone symbol that my parents have “made it”, is now too small. I’ve acquired two brother-in-laws, an intelligent nephew, and a niece who can now sit up on her own. We are elbow to elbow and our place mats overlap. So does the conversation. Dad and Mom speak Cantonese and Mandarin. Donna speaks English and Cantonese. Cindy speaks English and limited Cantonese. Ken speaks English and Mandarin. Brad speaks English. I speak English and horrific Cantonese but I choose silence because my parents are quiet and outnumbered. English dominates our dinners and if my parents are not able to join the conversations, then I will join them. We eat quietly and let others do the talking.

There is tea after dinner. When I come home, when there are family dinners, we have to make more tea a few times a day. My parents are no longer used to making tea for so many – the kids have moved out, moved away. When we're all together we upset their new routine. So let’s boil some water. I’ve come home and I want tea with my family.


: Playwright's Notes from the premiere production of Pu-Erh

Saturday, April 24, 2010

LIU

"Oh. Hi boys!" It's Mr. Liu at the door. He's holding two pizzas.

Mr. Liu, the first to arrive and the last to leave. Gotta get to the boiler room early, heat up the school so the four hundred kids don't get frostbitten while jamming their lunch boxes into cubby holes. Gotta take out the big folding rolling tables at 11.34AM, set them up in the gym so the kids can eat their lunch at 12. He was more important than simply being our janitor, more valuable than being our custodian. Even his glorified title of "Engineer" couldn't match his worth, no. He occupied a privileged position between student and teacher. He could neither scold us nor grade us. He was sympathetic and reliable. Mr. Liu was our pal. He was our daily smile.
He never looked angry or perplexed. He was always grinning and cool, and our school worked because of him. Whenever we walked by his boiler room -- the door was always open -- we wanted to run inside, run away from spelling class, hang out with him. But the boiler room was creepy. It rumbled.
Mr. Liu was with us during all our years at Cunningham. Maybe he was 33, but to a 10-year-old he might as well be 53. It didn't matter -- Mr. Liu was timeless. We didn't know how long he'd been in this country, but not forever long. We could tell because of his accent. We knew he had at least two kids, one a baby the other a toddler. We knew this because his wife brought their kids to visit him one day. They're all Chinese. They stood outside the boiler room. His kids were too young to go to school but one day they would. They probably wouldn't go to our school because their dad works there, and going to school where your dad's the janitor is pretty damn right embarrassing.

And that's all we knew about Mr. Liu. ...Also, he stayed way after school to lock up the dozens of doors. And that's all we knew about Mr. Liu.

Now he's standing outside Fab's door cradling an extra-pepperoni and a Hawaiian. It's our Saturday 3PM pizza party and we're watching Johnny Be Good on Beta. We're watching our hero Anthony Michael Hall and some weird guy named Robert Downey Jr. getting college yuks around some strange-hot girl called Uma Thurman and we're hungry and we want pizza and
"Mr. Liu!"
"Mr. Liu!"
"What the hell are you doing here, Mr. Liu?" Fab shouldn't swear like that. His home is Catholic.
"Hi boys!" Mr. Liu's not wearing either of his two uniforms: blue stained coveralls; jeans and plaid shirt rolled up at the elbows. He's wearing a decidedly uncustodian windbreaker.
"Why are you here?" asks Nick.
"I was in neighbourhood," says Mr. Liu.
"Do you live around us?" I ask.
"No no no no no..."
"Then why are you here?"
"You boys order pizza, yes?" Mr. Liu says with an effortful grin.
"Why are you delivering pizza?" squeaks Fab. "Are you poor?"
Mr. Liu licks his lips. "Hahaha! I just helping out friend." He chuckles again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

CHECK

The most satisfying thing is crossing off a task from your oppressive checklist.

You agree with me.

Yes you do.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

OOF

This is fucking ridiculous. More and more I'm making sounds when I sit. It used to be "oof!". Now it's "uerghh..." with my hands on my lap as I bend at the waist.

This is age.

The first time I went "oof!" I was eighteen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

THERE

YUKI: Right?

DAVINDER: Mh.

YUKI: Mh-hm.

DAVINDER: Right.

YUKI: Yes.

DAVINDER: ...Oh.

YUKI: Wherever you're not, the girls are hotter.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

SPORT

I fucking love sports. My childhood was an active one involving hockey in the alley, biking to suburbs to visit comic shops, jumping under bridges to hang out with freight trains. Physical activity was our culture, my pals' and mine, as we curved our plastic hockey blades over the stove, ordered parts from Ohio so we could custom-build our BMXs, befriended hobos and heroin addicts as we shouted over the rumble of Burlington-Northerns. I was a Junior Canucks Fan Club member -- the pennant that I got signed by Trevor Linden at a Safeway was pinned above my bed next to a poster of Kirk McLean, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Andy Moog. I used to read stats everyday and I could tell you that Cam Neely weighed 185 and scored 51 goals in 1990-91. The climax of my sporting came around 1991 when I wrestled for gold, with a denouement in 1994 when I strolled Robson with my Pentax ME Super and shot hooligans during the Stanley Cup riot. I seriously thought Canucks woulda got it. Besides near-daily jaunts in the train yards and the odd single windmill when I wanted to be a b-boy pretty hardcore, my physical activity stopped. I was learning that I suck at sports and have no business being near balls or sweat.

I became a snob. For the next ten years, if it wasn't written by Mamet or sprayed with a New York fat cap or directed by Bergman or produced by DJ Premier or riffed by Sleater-Kinney or theremined by Stereolab, I ain't havin' it. Fuck sports.

Then I got stressed out in 2004. I dunno how serious it was but I didn't wanna leave my crib. Being around people made me feel uncomfortable and all of a sudden I'd get way too warm and I'd start focusing on my breathing way too much. I felt like passing out and fixated on the horror of passing out in public which made me want to pass out even more. Thanks to Dr. Internet I figured out I was attacked by anxiety and blah blah and who fucking cares, it's the past. The point is, the Olympics were on.

It was summer in Athens just like it was summer in my living room. While people were outside doing fun things like walking, standing, whatever outside, I was happily sitting in my teak-legged armchair watching Olympics and breathing properly. If I was gonna pass out, no one was gonna see. And I never did pass out. I never felt anxiety creeping its nails around my throat. How could I when the only thing that mattered in any given moment was how far that discus was thrown, how high she would leap. It didn't matter that my student loans were evaporating and my relationship was breaking the fuck up. All that matters is-- Look: That javelin went really far. Everything is so simple.

I was soothed.

Now it's 2010 and I'm too busy to give a fuck about anxiety. But I still get stressed. Don't you? Go watch some sports. That is the answer. Since 2004 I've learned to love sports again. I've watched hours hours hours hours of play-off hockey with Owen at a bar and Jamie in a yard and Morgan in a basement. I've watched every Olympics since 2004 obsessively, to the point of repeat broadcasts at 3AM. Me + Jamie + The Embassy + beer + pints + World Cup = 2006 the greatest, mothafucka. That year was mad stress for me too, 2006, and three things helped me through: homeboys, booze, sports. Listen, I have nothing to do with sports. Whether Brazil slays Argentina or Crosby scores or China wins gold, no matter how much I get caught up in it, it means nothing to my professional life. Sports mean nothing to my career. And that is why I watch sports. I'm not thinking about my next gig or the deadline on a draft or when I'm gonna direct a fucking film again. I'm not analysing mise-en-scene and editing and lighting and narrative and actors' beat changes, which I do with every frame of film and moment of staging that I watch, and watching film and theatre exhausts me... All that matters is-- Hey: He scored.

I learn more from athletes than I do artists. Luongo is one of the best goaltenders around but he still has bad games. It's okay, he'll get up and play again in two days. Kim Yu-na is poised and ready to skate, and the few seconds she is in tableau, underneath her fixed smile is a focus that we'd kill to have while waiting in the wings or waiting for action to be called. Elite athletes work their whole lives towards a singular goal, a single trophy; they require time and nurture and their triumph can only come after failures. Olympic athletes are the best and they compete amongst the best, perform at the best. Excellence requires discipline. If only artists were as serious about their craft as athletes are about their sport. Some are, yes.

I watch sports because athletes teach me what it means to be a champion. The simple and sincere joy of throwing that discus farthest is the result of one thing: hard work.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

SPORTS

Naw, I'm not traumatised from being picked 13th from a class of 26 kids when it was time to play Grade Five soccer. Sometimes I'd be picked 8th, sometimes 19th. Never 2nd or 3rd. I really don't give a fuck about my childhood of athletic mediocrity. But this whole choosing-teams thing is what led me towards wrestling and maybe hitting a tennis ball now and then: I'm not a team player when it comes to sports. I don't want to be responsible for my team losing in sports. My answer is to not play sports.

You know what's trauma? The kids who were picked after me. The pool dwindles and the candidates deteriorate from Biggest Jock to Semi-Potent to Flaccid n' Forgettable. Each kid that gets picked before you is another dagger in your self-esteem. As the pack of Unchosen and Unwanted thins out -- and you're still in that pack -- your anxiety quickly becomes desperation. Whenever I got picked, I never felt proud. I felt relieved.

Think about the remaining handful of rejects. Think about the final two. It becomes a competition about who doesn't suck absolutely the hardest. There's always a pause when it's the final two. The captains are judging carefully: Who sucks less, who blows hardest? They would rather not pick either of the Two Uselesses but they have to because this is elementary school and we teach fair play and all young students should participate in sports and be treated with equal respect and nurture. And so one kid is picked second-last, albeit begrudgingly. But PHEW! At least that kid wasn't picked absolutely last because the absolutely last kid will be picked by default, super-begrudgingly, and must super suck fat cocks in sports, obviously. I have a twenty-year-old memory of one captain rolling his eyes and complaining when he found himself stuck with the absolutely last kid who happened to be pale, bespectacled, and Malaysian. She was always always picked last last. She was very quiet in class. And that's why she was forced to take phys ed: Sports build confidence, you see.

Anyways, I'm not bitter or anything 'cause I was never picked absolutely last. But I've learned that sports fucking suck unless:

1. I am watching others play.
2. I am watching someone good play.
3. You are good at sports.

I ride my bicycle everywhere, I walk everywhere, I miss swimming. I think I'm pretty fit and I'm surprisingly agile at the age of no-longer-twenties. I'm spry. But no, I don't want to be on your team unless we're gonna make a film or put on a play.

The point of all this is, hey!, I've got a great fucking idea that you should start using 'cause it's fucking goods: When we have two teams, let's distinguish them as Team 1 vs. Team A.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

MICKEY

Mr. Guraliuk taught us in 1995 to spell "renaissance" to the tune of "Mickey Mouse". I still do.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

CARIBBEAN

The way to spell Caribbean is to think about a Carib bean.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

STRONG

"She's a strong actor."

That is an excellent compliment. When we call someone's ability strong, we are suggesting that we ourselves are equipped to assess -- we have knowledge in the matter and our comment is not naive: We are actors, we know acting, and we are qualified to say she is a strong actor. To call someone's ability strong suggests we are peers, that we have as much confidence in the person as we do in ourselves. No need for status games, let us be frank: You do some thing, I do the same thing as you, let us assess ourselves as equals... and I assess that you are strong. We have seen hundreds of performances -- or have painted dozens of canvasses, read hundreds of poems, played thousands of chords -- so we know how things fit in the broad context. To call someone's ability strong means we are exercising fair judgement. "Meryl Streep is the greatest actor ever!" Perhaps. Some might say Elizabeth Taylor. Some might say Eleonora Duse. Some might say the woman who acts in Burmese theatre and is known only in Rangoon. To say someone is the greatest is arguable. To say someone is strong is convincing. It is an opinion that lacks passion and emotion, that instead engages reason and consideration. To say someone is strong is to give them a sound, sturdy compliment that is fashioned from intellect, not blurted by the heart. In fact, it is not so much a compliment as it is a positive assessment. How bland, then:

"You gave a strong performance."

How middling. Perhaps. But no. To call someone strong does not take away from the compliment, but rather adds credence to the gesture, honesty to the intention. It is more sincere than "amazing".

"You were amazing!" someone tells you. And you reply, "Thank you," with downcast eyes to suggest modesty when in fact your eyes have turned inward with doubt to ask yourself, frightfully, "Was I really?"

But: "You were strong," someone tells you. And you can reply, "Thank you. I won't argue."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

ORGANISE

I returned from Vancouver two days ago and my guts are in knots. I'm overwhelmed by the amount of work I have and work-related news that isn't all favourable. Some sleep should help relax the nooses around my innards, but for an insomniac who is too stressed to snooze and whose jet lag has been complicated by a two-week bender of drinking with pals until 5.34AM at both Pacific and Eastern Standard Times, I am so dazed that I hardly know what's going on tomorrow. Or tonight. I don't even know when my next meal is. I wouldn't call it poor planning, this whole five-simultaneous-projects and unfavourable-news thing. Many of these events were unexpected, unplanable unplannable (whatever, it's not even a word). I'm horrible with unplanned events. Many friends -- wonderful hearts, all of them -- invite me to lunch with two hours notice... Ain't gonna happen. If someone asks me to commit to an event on the fly, my answer is always, "Let me check my book...".

My book. Some call theirs an organiser. Some call theirs an organizer. Some call theirs a Day Timer. I call mine "my book-organiser thing" or "my schedule". I don't have a proper name for it because it is many things. It is a diary of activity in pithy notations, volumes which I have collected since 1994. It is familiarity -- I only use Preference Collection, three-hole punched, ivory paper. It is aspiration -- I mark objectives for three days later to three years hence. It is documentation of penmanship -- from the tag-like scribbles of a fifteen-year-old to the tiny and meticulous printing of a man who has been alive in five decades. I was born in the '70s. It is an analogy of my attitude, as I evolved from exuberant teen who would schedule "No school today: CHILL!" to maturing adult who seeks Nordic austerity and simplicity: "Write Draft Three". It is a pillow whose brown faux-leather was regularly smeared by my cheek during innumerable university lectures, and was upgraded in 2001 to real leather and real black. When I was young, it could be brown. Now, it must be black. I refuse any colour. My book-organiser thing has grown with me; it used to feature a picture of Uma Thurman in the front vinyl pocket, and now it features a picture of... nothing. There is no picture. There is no vinyl pocket. It is serious.

It need not be said that I refuse to use a digital device of any kind to sort out my days. It need not be said that when travelling I protect my book with its own fabric satchel.

I guess I just said those.

The overwhelming. During this period of unexpected, unbearable busyness, I have only one friend to talk to: my book. We speak in writing. I tell it tasks and it replies, "Yes." I say Monday and it says, "No, look again. Tuesday." Currently my book is hardly touched because the year has just begun; I haven't scheduled anything and I just got back from fifteen days of drinking and I deserved that vacation and I have to write a draft of this play and a draft of that play and a draft of the other play and I'm attending auditions tonight and now I've got an audition tomorrow and I've gotta finish some designs and I must see every play in this festival starting now and what's up with the bad news about [something] and I can't sleep and didn't I just get off the plane? I told that to my book and it replied, "Tonight: Attend auditions. Buy soap, shaving cream, deodorant. Eat. Work on audition. Sleep. Tomorrow: Audition. Finish designs." My book patted my head and continued, "Begin draft January 11. Finish draft January 24. Begin other draft February 1. Finish other draft February 28. You'll be fine."

In our final year of film school, Adam and I were discussing the overwhelming. We remarked how for the next three months, every minute of our lives would be accounted for. Every minute of rewriting, every minute of storyboarding, every minute of dinner, every minute rinsing in the shower, every minute of crashing/sleeping had to be scheduled. During that year, as with every year, I survived only because I had my book. It makes things manageable, life bearable. It makes sense.

Tell a fetus:

You will come out feet first.
You will have nine fingers.
You will piss your pants during the field trip to the rodeo.
You will be humiliated about your hands and your acne.
You will be ugly.
You will consider surgery.
You will not start dating until you're twenty-six.
You will get a scholarship.
You will become comfortable about your hands.
Your acne will scar.
You will go to university in Europe.
You will go on your first date in Vienna when you're getting your Master's and you're twenty-six.
You will decide you don't love musical composition after all.
You will open a used bookstore in Montana.
You will meet someone in Jakarta.
You will marry her in Copenhagen.
You will have two daughters with your wife.
One daughter is ugly.
The other is selfish.
You will have an affair with a South Korean lesbian.
You will divorce your wife because she is religious
Among other things
And you thought it wouldn't be a problem at first but now...
And you had an affair.
You will return to Vienna and work as an usher at the opera house.
One daughter tells you she is homosexual.
The other hates you.
You will marry another woman ten years older than you.
She plays cello.
She will tell you to reconcile with your daughter
Not the lesbian because that was never a problem.
You will meet that daughter in Cairo.
She will forgive you
And embrace you with her nine fingers.
You will return to Vienna.
Your wife will tell you she has stopped procrastinating
And has visited the doctor
And has Alzheimer's.
You will watch her forget you.
You will place her in a home, against your wishes.
You want to take care of her
But you have prostate cancer.
She will die.
You will move to Kelowna
To be near your daughter and her wife and their son.
You will be sicker.
You will die with tubes up your nose
While listening to Wagner
Because your daughter forgot the Brahms.
Many of these events will be worse than expected.
Many of these events will be better than expected.

...and that fetus will be overwhelmed. But give that young thing an organiser or an organizer and it will be told: "Don't worry. You'll have eighty-three years to do all that. You won't have to start your Master's until you're twenty-four. You won't have to divorce until October. You won't have to reconcile until Friday. It's okay. You're all good."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

NASIR

I remember staying up to watch Arsenio. It was one of Snoop's earliest appearances, when his middle name was Doggy, last name Dogg. He was wearing a Toronto Maple Leafs sweater maybe. Yeah it was. It was blue. He was eighteen nineteen. Shy. Quiet. Doggystyle had yet to be dropped. Or maybe it had just dropped. I don't remember the details but I don't need to check my facts because the details don't matter, it's the memory as a whole that moves me. Yes, he was bashful. I probably taped that show too.

I remember watching Outbreak in the theatre and there's this guy. He's in the movie quite a bit but there's this one scene where he's operating. He's a doctor. There's an outbreak -- obviously -- and the patient's got it. The guy, the doctor, he's cutting flesh and slices into his own, through his glove and into his finger. Pause. Close-up on his eyes. He continues operating. Who the fuck is this guy, I gotta stay for the credits find out who this motherfucker is, it's a guy named Kevin Spacey.

I remember a photo in The Source. It's Tupac and someone else. I can't remember that someone else even though his name was in the caption: "Tupac and [someone] at [somewhere]. Photo credit: [another someone]." That someone was important enough to be chilling with Tupac all smiles and important enough to have that moment documented and be named in the rag, but I'm not talking about him. I'm not even talking about Tupac. I'm talking about that fucking pudgy dude in the background, a pedestrian who looked into the lens upon the instant of flash. I don't think his walking into the frame was an accident. 'Cause there's Tupac all smiles and behind him is pudgy dude scowling, maybe at Tupac, lurking around the rap show hoping someone will give him a listen. Hungry and anonymous. Soon we would know him by two names: Biggie Smalls and Notorious B.I.G..

I remember watching Boogie Nights in the theatre and there's this guy. He breathes through his mouth while lifting the porno boom and he's pudgy. The movie's not about him, not at all. But I could watch him grasp that mic, wheeze like a pug, be rotund and shove his tongue down Mark Wahlberg's mouth for hours. Here come the credits. Who is this fucking guy Philip Seymour Hoffman?

I remember a photo in The Source. This kid, he's reclining on his dingy bed in his sparse bedroom in his mother's apartment in Queensbridge. It's his apartment too, I guess, 'cause he was still living at home. I think. I don't remember the details. But I do remember everything looked poor. The kid was poor. He looked at once both humble and hopeful. He'd just dropped an album called Illmatic and his name's Nasir Jones, and now he's known as Nasty Nas and then, well...