Archive for March, 2010

The Architects are Here

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Michael Winter may yet be sued by the Ontario Association of Architects or the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada or some other group who claims as proprietary the use of the word “architect.” After all, the title of his novel The Architects are Here could confuse the public, who might think, upon reading his book, that what architects do is kill their brothers.

In fact, generally this is not the case.

Architects in most of North America have a “titles act” of one kind or another, not to mention a “practice act.” The former limits those who are permitted to call themselves architects to individuals who have achieved specific criteria; the latter limits those who would say they are practicing architecture to those who have been qualified as architects. The limitation of these strictures has always been the question of what’s reasonable–thus a carpenter or real estate agent will be sued if they claim the title unlawfully, but the profession of computer systems “architecture” has usurped the word so thoroughly that most of the time a classified ad for an architect these days will turn out to have no use for for those of us who’ve taken and passed the NCARB exams.

In fact the “architects” of the title of Winter’s book come from a book by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, known as Suetonius. In a Robert Graves translation of the work, called The Twelve Caesars, the phrase “the architects are here” serves as the code to indicate the assassins are in place:

Otho excused himself to the emperor, saying he had to view a house that was for sale; then slipped out of the Palace by a back door and hurried to the rendez-vous.

Or as Winter puts it, “The architects are here. It was a phrase that summed up his experience with his brother, that bad times were lurking.”

We just read Winter’s novel, and felt deeply unsettled by it. Is the story a memoir? It concerns a writer from Newfoundland named Gabriel English whose previous work was about an American artist who settled for a time on the island. Surely this writer is Winter himself, a Newfoundlander whose previous novel, The Big Why, concerned the American artist Rockwell Kent (Kent, born in Tarrytown New York, famously settled for a time in Brigus Newfoundland. He also studied architecture at Columbia University).

Rockwell Kent

Rockwell Kent

Previous works by Winter that centre on the same main character are billed as “fictional memoirs.” Nice work, if you can get it:

Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Ah yes, the catch-all: “or are used fictitiously.” We like it. We like it a lot.

So many things in this novel resonate after our first reading, and draw us back. It could be the first novel in a while (since Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces in fact) that we might be tempted to re-read. We like Winter’s notion of “Wyoming,” a term that seems to relate to his “Big Why” novel, but which in any case is a play on the dreamy questioning of the protagonist: his tendency to ask “Why,” and exclaim “Oh” on reaching a conclusion. We do a lot of Wyoming ourselves (only, being from Montana, we hesitate to call it that).

We’ve been thinking a lot about architecture lately, which no doubt explains our urge to read Winter’s book. After all, we are the architects. The architects, in fact, are here. We have a license from the state of New York, a license achieved after a hell of a lot of pain and hard work, which in the province of Ontario has no meaning or value at all. The situation is simple, according to the Ontario Association registrar: the individual who signed the interjurisdictional agreement between New York and Ontario (as well as with most other signatory jurisdictions across North America) was discovered, about a year and a half ago, to have no signing authority. All agreements were rendered null and void, and no cross-border recognition exists from that time to this.

Who pays? Us, that’s who. Which only makes sense, right?

And please do not ask us about our brother.

We might as well be writers, for all the good our license does us.

If only we could write as well as Winter. That’s the rub.

Our own little “Wyoming:” how did Winter get so good? Was it his copy editor, Shaun Oakey, who must be credited? After all, it’s Shaun who, at Winter’s insistence, left the apostrophes off so many words. To Shaun then we give our praise: Shaun, you did a good job. We only found one typo in the whole book, on page 149: you allow “hapse” when we feel sure you mean “hasp” (Hackapik, in the same sentence, is correctly spelled).

Swallowed by the A-void: March 17 comes and goes

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Sometimes we at the ALLDERBLOB wish we’d chosen a less-well-entrenched holiday to try to displace than St Patrick’s. It’s one thing to be “bigger than Jesus” (like the Beatles on Dec. 25 1966), it’s quite another to drive out the Saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland on March 17.

Fact is, after several years at the ol’ blobbing machine [trans: “typewriter” –ed.] we’d be hard-pressed to say we’re any closer to our goal.

Doubt us? Have you seen streets in your city closed for the ALLDERBLOB parade? Have bars in your neighbourhood substituted “Alldergrog” for green beer on March 17? Have the coattail-riding hacks (A.K.A. any writer with a parent already established in the industry, by our definition) been driven out of town, like the snakes they are?

No? Well, then.

Fact is, in the face of such utter failure, it’s been hard to keep it up, here at the ol’ blob.

Yes, you heard correctly: the ALLDERBLOB has trouble keeping it up.

Most of you at this point will be tut-tutting and scratching your head and muttering sympathetically about “medical solutions” and “not giving up” and so forth. And yes, we hear you. Fact is, the message box here at the ol’ blob brims with your offers daily: offers for the purchase of Vagina, of Callous, of Leave-it-to, as well as other, more “natural” solutions to our soft-hardedness (we get other messages, too, of course–invitations to purchase drugs like Prosaic and Scenics for example. No one could say the ALLDERBLOB is not a hub of the “new social media.”). But to all of these offers we have been firm: the answer is “no.”

Fact is, we really don’t care anymore. But what’s worse, we don’t care that we don’t care. It really doesn’t bother us that we can’t keep it up at the ol’ blob. Who can keep it up, for Crissakes? Crazy Biker Chick? ARC? Afterbirth of the Cool? No, no and no. Nobody keeps it up anymore. Not like the old days (except that Cranks guy. He’s still pumping it out. How’s he do that? We don’t know).

Oh, we remember the old days. We remember them well. We remember the sunny mornings at the Only Cafe, the cool breezes, the smell of damp and rotting leaves on the walk through Phinn Park. We remember how the traffic lights all stayed green for us, before. We remember writing our name in fresh concrete and thinking that something, at least, would be forever.

The real world, in real time

The real world, in real time

So what happened?

What changed?

Answer? It’s complicated.

For starters, there’s the void. Yes, people died. Surprised? Not us. People have always died, thank god (“Make way for Ducklings,” and all that (and R.I.P. Robert McCloskey)).

So not death, but some other void: the “A-void.” We call it the a-void so alphabetically, it comes first–but it’s first in other ways too. It’s the first questions we won’t answer. Heck, we won’t even pose these particular questions. That’s the first thing we won’t do. The a-void is first on any list of questions anyone wouldn’t want posed. But not only that, but harder, and stranger still, the a-void yawns before any writing project, here at the ALLDERBLOB these days, swallowing all good intentions, if not good ideas, before they can even be voiced.

It’s because of the a-void we can’t keep it up so great around here. The a-void swallows clarity of purpose, and principled stances, and drive, but it’s worse than that. The a-void eats language. Who can speak with any precision in the face of the a-void? Some might say the “a” stands for apathy, but who cares?

We care. We really do. It sucks to care as much as we do, because it just makes the a-void yawn wider, and with greater sullenness. We may have to change the name of the ol’ blob to THE SULLEN YAWN. And we may just do that, if things don’t come around ’round here.

So. The ALLDERBLOB’s another year older. And another year dumber. Our silence measures the victory of the a-void, but we haven’t given up. Not yet anyway.

How to fight back? The best we can muster for now is a list. The following sets into stone and mortar [pixels, to be precise –ed.] our tasks for the year to come (i.e. ALLDERBLOB 5):

1. DESTROY THE REPUTATION OF J.D. SALINGER (this should not be hard, thankfully)
2. APOLOGIZE TO JACK LAKEY (for chrissakes, the guy doesn’t even own a car. Who are we to judge?)
3. SHARE COFFEE AND A FEW LAUGHS OVER “OLD TIMES” WITH CASE OOTES (20 votes? 20 votes is a lot. When did we ever get 20 votes?)
4. APOLOGIZE PROPERLY TO JACOB RICHLER’S NO.1 FAN, “USAgirl” (she likes him, she really likes him. Who are we to judge?)
5. DETERMINE WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE. FIND A PUBLISHER FOR OUR MANUSCRIPT, NOTES TOWARD A LAST NOVEL BY JOHN KENNEDY TOOLE AS EDITED BY WALKER PERCY (help settle the question once and for all: was Toole the “tool” of Percy?) (and, find a buyer for our autographed copy of A Confederacy of Dunces)
6. RE-ESTABLISH CONTACT WITH OUR ARCH-NEMESIS (who for the time being must remain nameless) (you know who you are!) (care to drop a line?)
7. GET A TWO-YEAR-OLD TO START TALKING MORE (you know who you are!)
8. GET A 16-YEAR-OLD TO START TALKING MORE (do you know who you are?)
9. TURN 51, FOR CHRISSAKES (with dignity).

Nine’s good. Not perfect, perhaps. Not a dozen, certainly. But good. Thrice three, as they say. Two cubed plus one. Salinger wrote nine stories; we have nine points. It won’t be long before Salinger’s reputation’s destroyed, at this rate. Won’t be long before the a-void’s vanquished. We’re off to a good start.