The More It Changes…

Well, well, well! Look who’s turning 10!

10th Anniversary

Ten years ago tonight, after a few months’ hesitation, I turned off the TV, went to my office, downloaded and installed Moveable Type, and started blogging. I didn’t even have a name for my blog when I started the installation, so I guess even the monicker aMMusing is turning 10 tonight. But one thing’s for sure: I didn’t think this blog would still exist 10 years later.

Me: Hi. My name is Maurice and I’m a reluctant blogger.

Chorus: Hi Maurice!

Those were my opening lines on December 17, 2002. Indeed, I had reluctantly decided to become a participant in a phenomenon that had started a few years back in the U.S. but that hadn’t really caught on yet in Canada, let alone in Halifax where I was living at the time. However, as someone who has always enjoyed writing, I knew that blogging would be a natural fit for me, but then, as now, I also worried about whether or not it was such a good idea to post what essentially amounts to an online diary within such a public space. Plus, I wondered if I would run out of things to say or if anyone would actually be interested in what I wanted to say.

Like many new bloggers at the time I started enthusiastically, posting daily and sometimes several times daily. Then, after a few months, I would skip a day or two; eventually, over the decade, I would abandon my blog for months, leading me and others to wonder if aMMusing had come to its “natural end.” But, for whatever reason, I simply could never bring myself to definitely throw in the towel. I simply couldn’t, even though other online phenomena like social networking sites had widely replaced the blogosphere and even though the unique ambiance that existed within the blogosphere disintegrated when marketers decided that companies, not people, should “have a blog.” It was like how the magic in a special neighbourhood disappears once the merchants’ association breaks down and allows Mickey D to open an outlet on the best corner of said neighbourhood.

When I look at what I wrote in aMMusing in the last decade, I marvel at all that has happened and all that has changed. But, at the same time, I find slightly disturbing not just what hasn’t changed but also what themes, ideas and regrets recurred through the decade and even before then. It’s enough to make me wonder if I’m just a hopeless creature of habit or a stubborn soul who keeps refusing to learn his karmic lessons.

Last night I spent several hours rereading some of my postings. I’ve written nearly 1,300 in 10 years, so it would take a long time to read them all …not that I would really want to do that. However, I’m glad they’re all there. A handful has become so trivial that I’m not sure anymore what the posting is about, but most still have some resonance.

I was glad to find the postings leading to and following my father’s passing. Unbelievably, it’ll be nine years already next March since he left us. It was a watermark event to be sure, but my exact thoughts and feelings of the moment would be lost today had I not written them down. Indeed, the memories today would be vague if it weren’t for those records.

But aside from such pivotal events, I’m struck by how often I’ve expressed sentiments of inertia — of wanting to change or lose a habit, for instance, and finding that it’s essentially still there, just like it was in 2002. A decade ago, I struggled just as I do now with my tendency not to want to socialize but feeling that I’m missing out on something. And certainly not due to lack of trying, but I’m still single and, perhaps, even more likely to remain that way — not because I’m feeling that NowEx has burnt me, but because I’m coming to realize that perhaps I don’t have the temperament or the personality to be otherwise.

On the other hand, when I look back at a decade of aMMusing, not all is as bleak. In fact, had it been all bleak, I probably would have abandonned it long ago! On the contrary, for the most part, aMMusing has been a source of pleasure and fun. It has allowed me to get to know some people I otherwise would probably never have met. It has allowed me to vent, to “think out loud,” and to tell little stories about an ordinary guy’s life. It has even helped me make decisions, like finally getting off my duff and moving to Montréal.

So to that — because of the overwhelming good — I say “Cheers to aMMusing!” And who knows: Perhaps I’ll be posting a similar entry on December 17, 2022…

Corrie Coming Out

Coronation Street--Kirsty and TyroneAnyone who knows me in person already knows that I’m a fan of Coronation Street, but I don’t think I’ve ever “come out” about it at aMMusing. BeeGoddessM got me started more than half a decade ago, but then I dropped out for about two years around the time I moved to Montréal. But now I’m back and I so hate missing a day that I organize my weekdays around watching it at 6:30 pm or midnight.

For the longest time, the episodes in Canada were about 10 months behind the U.K. However, since last September, CBC has been airing two episodes per evening so, starting this September, we’ll be in sync with the Brits. The only downside is that I’ll miss my daily one-hour fix of Corrie when it reverts to a half-hour.

The storylines have been particularly compelling in the past year. However, as of last night in particular, the one about “Psycho” Kirsty abusing her fiancé Tyrone has struck a chord in me. I wish it didn’t.

No, NowEx never physically assaulted me as Kirsty is given to doing on Tyrone. However — and I know it’s only acting on a TV soap — but the scene where Tyrone reluctantly confides to Tina about Kirsty? Yup! It hit me. The fear in Tyrone’s face and his suggesting that he was somehow at fault for provoking her? Oh yeah… That’s what I call the “walking on eggshells” phase. You don’t truly believe you’re at fault unless you factor in that you’re in fact trying to cover your real fault of not having seen it coming (or refusing to see it coming) until it’s too late.

I find it intriguing how something as trivial as a TV show can dredge up such muck. Unlike before the divorce, it doesn’t drag me down. But I thought that the divorce was going to be the equivalent of sealing all that muck into an air-tight bin. Obviously not. And that reminds me of lyrics in a song by Michael Franks: “If the heart ever heals / Does the scar always show?”

I’m afraid it does always show. It doesn’t hurt anymore. It doesn’t even drag you down. But the scar is a reminder that never goes away.

As such, there are unexpected consequences. One the one hand, the hair on my neck still rise whenever I hear Spanish spoken; on the other, there’s a part of me that would like to go back to studying Spanish at the YMCA. I would like that for a few reasons: first, it would be a structured activity to get me out of the house; second, learning another language is an excellent mental exercise as we get older; third, learning another language is the opposite of insularity, and finally, it’s such a shame to piss away all the effort and money I’ve invested into learning the bit I’ve learned but, sadly, mostly forgotten. For the last three years, my reaction to hearing Spanish has been to tune it out in order not to start fuming inside; I would like to just get over that hump.

Also interesting to me is how my divorce has brought my mom to divulge some family dirty secrets that are eerily similar to my own experience. She’d dropped a few hints here and there in the past, but she was never as specific as she has been recently. I don’t think she confided these things in a “You’re not alone” spirit, but I think she had a “Ah ha” moment when I made the comparison.

Back to Corrie, though: Yes, the storylines are often way over the top, and that everyone in a tiny neighbourhood like Weatherfield could be so interlinked is the least believable of all, not to mention that far too many murders and crazy deaths have occurred over the years. However, there’s a real effort on the part of the writers and the actors to tackle real and occasionally taboo social issues — sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much.

I’d say the current Kirsty/Tyrone storyline is one of the successful ones. On-screen Kirsty may seem over the top to some, but not to me. And how scary is that, huh?

Guilty But Repentant

Tatiana LondonoIn a post back in January, I compared two reality shows whose basic premise is buying real estate. When I wrote that post, I found a lot of negative comments about Sandra Rinomato, host of HGTV’s Property Virgins, but not as much about Tatiana Londono of The Property Shop, also a show on HGTV. That surprised me a little because Londono is pretty loud and brash and I thought that would have earned her a lot of haters.

In fact, the only dirt I could find about her is that she was to appear this spring before Québec’s self-regulatory real-estate body (that is, the Organisme d’Autoréglementation du courtage immobilier du Québec, or OACIQ) but there were few details on what the disciplinary hearing was about. I don’t know what reminded me of her today but, after much digging, I finally found out why she appeared, what the charges were, and what was the outcome of the hearing.

This article explains it all: she “has taken responsibility for the actions of her former assistant — a broker who falsified a client’s signature on contracts to sell two Westmount apartments in 2008 and 2009,” the article’s lead paragraph explains.

The former assistant is never named but I recall one episode where she had a falling out with someone who worked with her and whom she considered one of her best friends, so I wonder if she’s the assistant in question. I also wonder if this disciplinary tangle has turned off HGTV (or Londono herself) from creating another season of The Property Shop. One can still view past seasons of the show on, but there’s no indication if the show will be coming back (unless I didn’t look properly).

I decided since writing my original post that I find her quite annoying and I can understand why many can’t stand watching her show. However, perhaps this fact, along with the way Montréal is portrayed, is what makes the show entertaining for me. If anything, Londono is textbook “reality TV” material…

“And Oh, I Wrote a Book, Too”

Writing at keyboardOne day when I first started coming regularly to Montréal from Halifax — maybe in 2000 or 2001 — a bespectacled goateed man a few years older than me came up to me at the computer I was renting at the Presse-Café in the Village. He bent down at eye level with me, and delivered without a hint of irony what to this day remains the corniest come-on line of my life.

“Are you always this gorgeous or do you take a break once in a while?”

I’m even embarrassed to type that line, as much for having been its recipient (and admitting to it!) as for Arme who delivered it. But that over-the-top flourish is central to this story I’m about to tell you.

I would see Arme out and about in the Village each time I would come to Montréal in the subsequent years and I would always speak to him, if only to say hello, for he really is a nice guy despite his penchant for hyperbole. But one of the last times I saw him about a year before I moved to Montréal, I overheard a very small part of the conservation he was having with someone else and I got the impression that his work situation had taken an unexpected turn for the worse. That time, not wanting to interrupt the conversation he was having, I merely said hello to him and went on my way.

When I moved to Montréal three years ago I never saw him around, so I assumed that he had moved elsewhere. That was until one warm evening early this summer, just days or weeks after the main drag through the Village was closed off to car traffic: I noticed him sitting by himself on the terrace as I was entering the Second Cup at the corner of Rue Panet, so I joined him and we caught up on our news of the last few years.

Quite some time into our conversation, he dropped the line I’ve had several other people drop on me before: “And I also published a book last year.” I have to admit that my heart always drops a little whenever I hear someone say that but invariably I respond enthusiastically and ask about it. He briefly outlined it as an unusual love story set in Montréal featuring a Lebanese immigrant (“Oh, just like him,” I thought), a Québec architect, and an assorted crew of people whose lives unexpectedly came together. He also talked about the difficulty he had in getting his novel published and the harsh criticism one of his distant acquaintances levelled towards it. “But you should read it,” he added — a line I expected to come at any moment just as one always expects the proverbial other shoe to drop.

About a month later, after seeing him a few times at the same spot in the Village, I had a crisp new $20 bill on me and he had a copy of his book in his backpack. For this post, I’m choosing not to reveal the book’s title nor Arme’s real name. I’m feeling a bit guilty about not doing so because that might help him sell another copy or two but, if search engines were to lead him to this post, he might not like what I have to say about his novel.

As is my habit, however, I would like to start with what’s good about his book.

Many years ago, someone gave me a book as a gift, a murder mystery in French set in Ottawa. Twice I tried to read it and each time I wasn’t able to go beyond the first 60 or 70 pages. One of the numerous things that drove me crazy was the author’s choice of adjectives to describe the protagonist, such as referring to him repeatedly as “the Franco-Ontarian sleuth.” I found such word choice heavy-handed and unimaginative, as there could have been many other ways of showing the protagonist’s regional identity rather than constantly telling the reader what it was.

Thankfully, Arme’s narrative is not like that, so, as a consequence, I read through his novel very quickly, picking it up every chance I got until I reached the end. I did so despite being turned off by the book’s astonishingly cliché title and the rather immodest and inappriopriate author’s bio. I did so despite repeatedly finding the coincidences of how the characters met to be overwrought, unlikely, or, yes, over-the-top in several instances. And I did so despite the editor in me getting annoyed with not only incorrect grammar and syntax in some spots, but also some troublesome lack of transition and problems with continuity, not to mention bad translations of some French words or expressions — all things a dispassionate content and copy editor could have flagged as requiring adjustment before submitting the manuscript for consideration.

When I was a young adult, I had this crazy notion in my mind of writing a novel. I was still living in Moncton at the time. I even started writing it — longhand, no less — and I was setting it in Halifax. But I quickly dropped the project, for I came to realize my shortcomings in writing fiction. Indeed, I realized that, on the one hand, developing a distinctive narrative voice and, on the other hand, giving the characters a distinctive voice of their own was not only a monumental task but also a talent I did not have. I admit that wasn’t how I articulated my self-critique at that time; I just knew that it “wasn’t good” and that it “didn’t sound authentic.”

Think of the acclaim Wally Lamb received for She’s Come Undone: that a man could give such a believable voice to the female protagonist is nothing short of a master coup. Also think of good novels you have read, when you would wish you could slap a character for thinking or behaving in a particular way, all the while remembering to cut the character some slack because, unlike the narrator or the reader, that character doesn’t have the full picture of everything that’s happening or what the true thoughts and motivations of the other characters are.

To his credit, Arme manages very well at crafting a complex plot. However, where he comes short is in giving his characters a sufficiently distinct voice that would give them more depth. Sadly, if not in content then certainly in sound, the characters’ inner voice is similar, at times to the point of interchangeability. Sometimes I even thought that all the male characters sound like mini Armes, which is a similar thought I had about my aborted attempt at writing a novel, in that I noticed that the characters sounded like what I wished I sounded.

The other difficulty I have with his novel — and this is a major difficulty — is the way it lacks irony while playing into the greatest gay man’s cliché of them all, namely that, deep down, all guys are gay if only they would get to meet the right guy. It’s the reversal of parents’ anguished cry upon a son’s announcement that he is gay: “Maybe it’s just a phase. Maybe you just haven’t met the right girl yet.” Indeed, the novel begins with only one fully “out” gay character and one who is repressing his coming out until he cannot resist the beautiful gaze of the fully out character’s rivetting blue eyes. All the other main male characters, safe perhaps two or three, start off in the novel being straight and end up becoming involved in a same-sex relationship — all long-term except for one guy who sufferred a fatal heart attack upon being outed by his wife holding photographic evidence of her husband’s recent foray on Team Gay while on a business trip in Vegas with a Lebanese assistant who turns the head of all females and males, irrespective of sexual orientation, who happen to set eyes on him.

Enough said.

In the past while, I have been telling you about how I discovered my extreme inability to deal with confrontation; imagine, therefore, my great discomfort in seeing Arme now, who would like me to express my impressions of his novel. I realize that I mustn’t view this chat as a confrontation, yet I admit that I’ve been going out of my way to avoid both this talk and Arme. Indeed, while keeping in mind that I’m patently incapable of lying, I will just have to find the words so that they come off as I intend them, namely as constructive criticism, for I do think there’s potential for him to become a better author and I recognize that I, myself, could not have managed to do so well the parts that he did do well.

Everybody Remembers

Early Nine-Eleven MemorialThese days the media is, of course, wall-to-wall coverage of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorists attacks on the United States, and it is said that everyone who was alive that day and old enough to understand what was happening remembers exactly where they were when they learned the news. For many, it was intensely personal and tragic, but for the vast majority of people, it was a scene of unspeakable horror being played out live on their TV screen.

Everybody seems to remember that the morning of September 11, 2001, was a beautiful late-summer day on the east coast of North America, including in Halifax where I was living at the time. Ironically, had the attacks not happened on that day, probably few if anyone today would remember this otherwise trivial fact. It would have been just another ordinary day.

In fact, I distinctly remember the mild summer-like evening that was September 10, 2001, in Halifax. I went out to enjoy it and I distinctly remember thinking to myself that, the next day, I had to get back to work. I was working mostly as a freelancer at the time — I had finished teaching my last class of “Text-Based Media” at Mount Saint Vincent University a few weeks before — but because I had kept a connection with the academic world, September remained for me, mentally, the beginning of a new year. But in 2001, because summer had extended beyond Labour Day, I had procrastinated at working hard on my then-new brandchild: my TexStyleM web content management system.

The previous July, I had joined Hosting Matters, the web hosting company I still use to this day. My ritual at the time was to get up, make some coffee, and sit at the computer to read HM’s message board, which at the time was not only a technical help line but a virtual social community as well. As soon as I signed on, I noticed new strings with titles like “World Trade Center” as well as one, posted by HM owner Annette, warning of possible disruptions in service due to the day’s unfolding events. I read and read and it all seemed incomprehensible: possibly thousands and thousands dead, planes crashing into buildings…

I pounced out of my chair in my office and ran to the living room to turn on the TV. The first images I saw were of a building in smoke — the Pentagon, the announcer said. It was about 11:30 am in Halifax, therefore 10:30 am in Washington and New York. As I remained seated on the edge of the couch, trying to comprehend the images I was seeing, I thought to myself, “This must be what it felt like when news crossed the Atlantic that Germany had invaded Poland and that Britain and Canada were declaring war.” But in those early moments, it was still unclear in my mind against which country war was going to be declared.

And that’s just it: In 2001, most of us still thought of war as a matter among nation states. But on this first official year of the 21st century emerged the idea that modern wars were no longer going to be that way anymore. The definition of opponents and factions had become more abstract.

By the time I tuned into what was happening, the second twin tower in New York City had fallen already, but planes were still being grounded and it wasn’t known if more attacks were coming. News then came that dozens of planes that were crossing the Atlantic were being diverted not only to Gander, Newfoundland, but Halifax as well. The city where I lived was becoming one of many focal points of the unfolding events.

Obviously, my resolve to “get back to work” was shattered for many days following September 11, 2001. Like many others, I could not peel myself away from the TV screen. I would occasionally leaf through the photos of my one and only trip to New York City in February 1995, and in a few shots appeared those two towers that were no longer — towers I had only seen but never entered, and never would. And I would recall the hightened security that early evening I happened to go to the mostly deserted financial district, as it was the two-year anniversary of the 1993 Trade Center bombing. All I kept thinking is how “ordinary” were all those who had died so brutally in those towers. That day, as any other, they did the most mundane thing: they reported to work to earn their living. But hours later, they went from being “ordinary” to one of thousands of names on a long list now infamous in history.

A few days later, I drove to Moncton as my father had been hospitalized and his birthday was on the 16th. This was the time when doctors finally figured out that his pain was due to having lapsed into depression — the time when a man who would never show his emotions would cry at the drop of a hat. So, knowing this, before going to the hospital with Mom, who confided that she, too, could not stop watching the images coming out of New York and Washington, I asked her how he was reacting to the news of these events. But it turns out that he was so sedated that, although he understood what was happening, he was curiously detached from it all. His own life was fadding; two-and-a-half years later, he would be gone. I don’t recall talking much about the events of 9-11.

I remember as well how, in the first days and weeks that followed this seminal event, the United States had the sympathy of the world, for while many understood that American foreign policy was at the root of the attacks, few believed these attacks could be justified. As much as I hated the thought, I knew that there had to be a response to these attacks and I even agreed with the notion that Canada be alongside the U.S. in this response. Sadly, however, in the months and years that followed, those heading the government of the U.S. at the time themselves hijacked the events to seek avenge on Iraq, a nation that wasn’t involved in 9-11 but “conveniently” happened to be in the neighbourhood.

Ten years later we ask ourselves how the world has changed, and the answer seems to be that everything has become more polarized, not only internationally but also within nations — even in Canada, argues Chantal Hébert. That may not have been the intentions behind the 9-11 attacks, but sadly that seems to have been the consquence.