Saturday, April 14, 2007

On the Verge

On the Verge

I’m on the verge of cancelling my cable television—at least for a “summer hiatus” and not solely out of spite for the fact that Coronation Street has been usurped for the hockey playoffs.

What exactly is a verge? Something like a curb? But we use it as if it means an edge. So, my Webster’s says, a verge is: a rod, wand, or stick carried at the beginning of a procession. Nope. The edge, brink, or margin of something. OK. The line, border, boundary enclosing something, especially something inside the circle. OK.

This week on cable television CNN the big American story is “Shock Jock Don Imus Fired for Shocking Words”. A shock jock is by definition a disc jockey who tries to be edgy, to push the boundaries. But rather than pushing the boundaries of thought, they seem to make a virtue out of pushing the boundaries of taste. Like the attention-seeking neediness of an adolescent class clown, these guys (all right, there are a couple of gals in there too, like Dr. Laura and Ann Coulter), these commentators see which powerless person or group they can insult today and how much that will increase their ratings with their listeners. Imus, about whom I would never have heard if he hadn’t been a guest on Larry King, insulted a women’s basketball team with comments, ripped from hip-hop lyrics, that were racist, sexist, ageist, and elitist. (He was laughing at their skin colour, their tattoos, their hair, their looks, and their assumed sexual availability). The media debate is about where the line is and did he cross it. About whether the line shifts depending on which race you belong to. About the unintended effects upon the victims of the so-called jokes--“These girls didn’t need this stress at exam time when they should be celebrating a great basketball year”. About being a good person but doing a bad thing (Imus’ defense). About being fired from two networks, CBS & MSNBC, for doing what he has been hired and paid to do for years. (Imus was fired after the protest from Black American media people prompted advertisers to pull out, not because of any ethical guideline or verge of decency or human dignity he crossed.) Finally, the media debate is about corporations making billions of dollars selling the same words to white teens buying hip-hop music.

This is such an American story, reflecting adolescent attitudes and focussing on celebrity and personality rather than on anything important. The shock jock phenomenon puts “freedom of speech” above all other American freedoms. In Canada, our values and our laws are different. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms (celebrating twenty-five years this week) guarantees freedom of opinion and freedom of expression but it also guarantees equality and the protection of human dignity. It stresses that tolerance defines a multi-cultural country. In the same way the Charter makes it illegal for any one group to pass a law which would take away the human rights of another group, so too we expect that no individual, no matter how much he or she wags about ‘free speech’, would be allowed to disparage the human dignity of another individual or group (with one exception, if it is said in parliament). We expect people to be tolerant and respectful. We expect that, if a person is prejudiced and the prejudice leads them to discriminate against others, they will not be allowed to do so while holding public positions of authority. We do not encourage the public expression of intolerance and prejudice (perhaps Don Cherry is an exception); we do not seek out or encourage the public expression of unprocessed anger (with the exception of those television stations which specialize in sticking microphones in the faces of grieving victims). We have laws against hateful speech.

Laws of libel and slander are similar in both countries; lawsuits are only successful if it can be proven that the ‘free speaker’ INTENDED to cause harm. Intending to cause harm is not the same as intending to grab media attention to increase your ratings and to bring in more advertising dollars by seeming outrageously ‘free’. Does free speech mean freedom without responsibility to others? Does it mean the freedom to pursue the almighty dollar no matter who gets hurt? Does it mean the freedom to perpetuate the worst of the way we used to be--hierarchical, patriarchal, sexist, ageist, and “other”-phobic? Not in Canada, please. I can exercise the freedom to change channels or to sever the cable completely.

Webster lists seven noun definitions for verge, covering everything from watch-making and roofing to feudal law. And the verb to verge means to lean towards, to be in transition, to approach. And a verger is the person who carries the verge. The word arrived into English through Old French from the Latin for twig, virga. So this is the best reason of all for cancelling cable. All those untended virgas all over my lot, and all the sprightly dandelion greens hiding beneath them. And the glorious spring smell. Here in BC they call it the balm of Gilead, which is a fancy name for the smell of cottonwoods in spring, when they exude resin. It is so beautiful, it feels as if I’m on the verge of bursting with too much pure pleasure.

Friday, April 6, 2007


JUNQUE—Creating a So-called Life

Good Friday, and I'm going to a friend's for supper. Yesterday was cheque day, so I permitted myself to cruise the secondhand stores again. This is a bit of discipline for me; I have no money, but years of habit mean I still crave “retail therapy” for fun and profit. So I limit my cravings to the secondhand (junque, thrift) stores and garage sales. It is a throwback to “hunting and gathering”, I am sure. If I had more productive hobbies, it would be something like gardening—growing flowers, producing vegetables. The lack of topsoil and the rocky creek bed that is my lot is my excuse. The last time I visited Winnipeg, my best friend Karen and I hit every junque store in the city. It was a great day. Even though we live 3000 kilometres apart, we still stay connected. The time she visited me here, last spring break, was one of the highlights of my life.

Junquing (as is antiquing) is also a form of treasure hunting, and today was a good day. At New2You I found a paperback book that is the script for FARGO, one of my favourite movies, because of the humour and the characters and the twisted plot and, to be truthful, the incredibly beautiful snow and blizzard scenes. Minnesota and North Dakota are just American versions of southern Manitoba; even the accents are similar. I feel so at home in Fargo (the movie). It has a great introduction about story-telling by Ethan, one of the Coen brothers. It is not easy to find scripts. The only other one I have is PULP FICTION, another of my favourite movies, which has absolutely nothing to do with Manitoba. Anyway, I bought the script and an elegant looking mug in my new great-room colours, for a quarter.

Then I went to the art gallery to check out the collages again. I spoke to the artist-on-duty, a wonderful painter from Agassiz, who said that she often works on ideas in her head for three to ten years before the actual painting on canvas emerges. This was reassuring, as I have only 22 days left before the collage workshop. These are the ideas I am mulling so far: a personalized version of the Breakthrough engraving; something about the 200th anniversary of Simon Fraser’s shooting the river; and maybe an introvert/extrovert triptych. If I do some prep, maybe I can make more than one at the workshop. New Idea: maybe I could work my two article themes into a collage—Lions in Vancouver, Who Shot Rambo? I’d really need a colour printer to do that effectively. I have already gathered my gold flakes, old collages (placemats/book covers, canisters), illustrated poems--Bridal Falls, stickers. The Breakthrough engraving would make a good pattern. I've found a Gary Snyder quote that fits it. “I go to meet that blundering, clumsy, beautiful, shy world of poetic, archetypal, wild intuition that’s not going to come out into the broad daylight of the rational mind but wants to peek in.” (from a poetry calendar my friend Carol gave me). I must remember my visuals files and other stickers.

After the art gallery, I walked to the community services thrift store. The volunteer clerk was the woman who had the first garage sale of the season (where I grabbed her coffee cup and spilled coffee all over the table). Neither of us mentioned this detail, but I did ask her whether the square plates had sold. She said there were still some there; pause; so I asked “And are you having another garage sale?” to which she said, “Yes, in May” so I said “I’ll watch for the announcement.” I need to see them in good light and to pick ones that will look good on top of my Solitude pattern (Mikasa) dishes—white with a black and platinum ring. I love dishes even though I rarely entertain any more. It has to do with being a Hestia woman. ( see Jean Bolen, Goddesses in Every Woman).

Tenth anniversary of the Art Gallery; so crowded I had to leave. But not before I had checked out the Backroom, the Collage Display. I remember On Grandma’s Back Step with kids, house wall, and birch logs woodpile. A globe with I Am A Rock, No Man Is an Island, & Marshall McLuhan quotes. Mount Hope computer enhanced series with close-ups and day/night views. A Tower. Boxes. A corrugated cardboard exercise painted silver and a brown one “free to a good home”, both very pleasing. A “garden” of giant abstract flowers (made of round shrimp trays, I hear). A clothesline collage. Some photos re-done in paper—waves and beaches. And a yellowed collage newsprint behind a red filter. And a collage definition of Collage which I wish I had copied down. Now I’m totally confused. Too many choices. I won’t know what to choose to do, at the gallery’s collage workshop which I registered for for April 28.

This morning I braved the horrendous traffic (two highways closed; spring break weekend) to go to the FIRST garage sale (GS) of the season, on Skylark. I had to look up where the street was (but that’s partly why I love garage saleing, learning the streets, and inexpensive entertainment). I have a $2 limit, unless some special circumstances make an object irresistible for me. I never go for the start time (too crowded, too much rushing of tables and fighting for bargains). It was a good one (GS), with a lot of variety and even some new stuff. I bought a new sheet that hadn’t been unfolded for $1.50; black and white looking gray with red surprises, which I will use for re-decorating. I’ve been trying to switch the great-room colours from forest green to blacks, grays, and taupes, with scarlet surprises. I also bought a small black ceramic vase, for the colour, and as part of my vase collection which is still mostly in boxes. The embarrassing part was when I grabbed this large pottery coffee mug (on my list, grande size) and spilled hot coffee all over the table display, because it was the owner’s morning coffee, and not for sale. The second embarrassment was when I was leaving there was this horrible smell and steam wafting off my car hood so I popped it and looked but could see nothing out of the ordinary. (What did I expect to see I’m not sure? But there were no flames, or bubbling oil puddles, etc.) A guy was walking to his car and I saw him twitch his nose so I asked him: Can you smell that? Is it my car? He was polite and helpful and said, I can smell it and it’s not your car, as it was here before you got here; I can’t figure out where it’s coming from. But that was all the info I needed. As long as I’m not going to explode, or burst into flames. . . I waved and smiled as I made a Uie and headed back to the crowded highway and Exit 170.

It’s a good day on television too, as March 17 seems to be more and more an Irish, American, and Canadian celebration day. Bravo Channel 43 has an all-Ireland film day. Early in the morning it was something called The Last September? about the Black & Tans and British occupying army around WWI. Then Dancing at Lughnasa with Meryl Streep; I’ve seen it before and some famous writer wrote it, but I’m still not clear about the story. Women’s tough lives in papist-1937 Ireland, pagan rites, madness, irresponsible men. Then it was Far and Away with Tom and Nicole; I didn’t realize it was so much set in Ireland, in the 1890s, and their running away to Boston where patterns repeat themselves. Way too much boxing and wrestling for my taste. I only remember seeing the land rush scene before, so I guess that’s why I didn’t think it was set elsewhere. Lots of famous faces (Clint, Colm) but characters seem a bit cartoonish. I guess that is true to the American stereotype-Irish. The ones (Irish movies) I would like to see again are Ryan’s Daughter (Robert Mitchum, Julie Christie), The Commitments, and Darby O’Gill and the Little People, because I can’t remember the story (but still love Sean Connery). I’d like to see for the first time the Liam Neilson political bio, was it called Michael Collins? And I loved the one In the Name of the Father, with Daniel Day Lewis, about the wrongly convicted / falsely imprisoned, but there wasn’t a lot set outside England. The prison scene of the fire memorial is fantastic.


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