Tuesday, January 12, 2010


"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


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


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...