Archive for the ‘unlikely versions of reality’ Category


Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Listing: tipping sideways and slipping beneath the waves. It’s not for everyone. But then, neither is the act of making a list and checking it twice. Listing, like delegating, is the art of assertiveness, attention to detail and steady hands–even as it calls for compromise, trust, and acceptance of our loss of control. Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself.

I’ve gone through life not really minding being told what to do. To be precise, I am a person who aims to please. Erving Goffman identified “other-directed” and “inner-directed” modes of behaviour. I know which one I am. At least, I used to think so.

I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house in my late adolescence. Lots of my cousins did too. My grandmother ran a tight ship. I have only fond memories of her yellow legal pad, laid out on the breakfast table every Saturday, filled with the morning’s chores. Here was the list of things that had to be done before one set out for an afternoon’s entertainment. How satisfying it was then to stroke the chores out one-by-one, putting my initials beside the finished job as the day progressed. If only everyone who would tell me what to do could make such an orderly list of instructions. Bosses and mothers and lovers and others: I want to say, “I want to please you, can you just tell me what that would take?”

It’s fun to act. In plays, I mean. A play is no more than a list–a list of actions to be carried out on the stage, a list of lines to be spoken. Directing? Not for me. And as for writing the script, well, I’ve tried. The problem is plot: the actions I list don’t grab people. Acting is fun. Writing is hard. And that’s it in a nutshell: list-makers are a breed apart.

Almost all disciplines call for list-making. Think about it. Architects lay out lists every time they design something. The design is not the thing, it’s only the instructions for the thing to be built. The demands of architecture are myriad. Designing takes dedication and fortitude and assertiveness. Like other kinds of list-making, it also demands compromise and ego-lessness and letting go.

Like architects, poets make lists. Lists are the pith of poetry. They name the events, the stuff of life. Making a list is laying out a path, not describing the path taken. Fiction writing is easier than poetry, although equally hard to do well, because the poem at the heart of every story is fleshed out, generously curved, meandered through at leisure. In prose the list is disguised, but it better be there or there’s no story.

What about teaching? That old saw, “those who can, do…” slags teachers with the notion that teachers are incapable. Many others have rebutted the put-down but there’s a kernel of truth to it. The “doing” of teaching is teaching. I teach design. That’s easy for me. Designing, that’s hard. What do teachers do? The good ones are list-makers. They lay out the day’s work for their students and check off the homework as it’s handed in. Teachers run the classroom. Their act is to direct.

Still, at the end of the day teachers get their marching orders from their directors and deans, and lots of teachers get lazy and teach the same “list” over and over again. Or, if they inherit another teacher’s course outline, teachers become actors in a script written by someone else. I like teaching for the same reason I like acting: it’s a performance, within guidelines: the list is the script. The list is a course outline. As a teacher, I try to rise above the outline–all the more when I am the writer of it.

But most of us listen to others rather than our own hearts. Is it that we are not “disciplined?” We may call it listening to our heads, but our heads are so stuffed with what we read in the paper, or what someone we respect says to us, or what we think will impress someone else, or what we “ought” to do (because it’s the right thing, or because it’s “common sense”) that the list we listen to is often someone else’s, not our own. Our head is our super-ego, it’s not who we really are. Our heart is who we really are. Most of us really need to try hard to hear what our hearts are saying.

Most of us go through life not heeding our hearts. And that’s okay, too, most of the time. Most of the time, as Bob Dylan famously said, “I never think of her at all.” Most of the time, we can motor along on auto-pilot, meeting someone else’s requirements. Following someone else’s orders. Eating the food someone thinks we’ll like, rather than the stuff we really want for ourselves. If only we could be bothered to think about it.

But I’m beginning to think a time must come when I make my own list. It’s scary because I’ve done it so rarely. I’m afraid to get it wrong. Getting it wrong is going to hurt. There’s no delete button on the kind of list I’m talking about. The list predicts your future.

But I’m going to try, because making a list is really about writing your own story. I’m actually the only one who can do that. My heart (I hear it even above the roar in my brain) tells me so.

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).

Toronto covers up after cyclist death on “Blood” Street

Friday, September 4th, 2009

There’s a mystery wrapped up in these pictures:

Cadmus photos

Chapter 1: An innocent fireplug on Bloor Street in Toronto gets a paint job. “Nothing to see here, sir. Move along.”

Darcy Allan Sheppard, RIP

Darcy Allan Sheppard, RIP

Chapter 2: A roadside memorial for a slain cyclist, Darcy Allan Sheppard. Photographed during the aftermath of a cyclist’s memorial this past Wednesday that saw a thousand observers take over the intersection of Bloor and University at the centre of Toronto, where Sheppard was killed in traffic on Monday night.

Fresh paint over fresh blood on Bloor Street

Fresh paint over fresh blood on Bloor Street

Chapter 3: Sheppard was killed after being scraped from the side of the speeding car he’d been holding on to, reportedly battered against a tree, a fireplug and a mailbox, and then run over by the back wheels of the car itself. Former Attorney General Michael Bryant was the driver. Navigator was the PR company that Bryant contacted from jail in the aftermath of being arrested and charged. Invest Toronto was the City of Toronto agency Bryant was hired to run (at $300k per year) by his fellow Harvard alumnus Mayor David Miller after quitting public office. The city sure acted fast to have the fireplug repainted. Wonder who ordered it?

“War on Cars” proclaimed over: we won already. We need something new to do with our time

Friday, December 12th, 2008

Back to the topic of the day, the so-called “car-czar” to be appointed to take over the Little Three in the U.S.

(Oh–Did we mention we’re lazy?)

Too lazy to rewrite what we’ve posted elsewhere. Instead, here it is, thanks to the magick of “control-V.”

Allderblob | Thursday, December 11, 2008, 6:35 pm

Yeah, war on this, war on that… pretty effective stuff. What we need is a new tactic. What about “Peace?” Let’s have Peace on cars. With Peace on cars, there’d be consensus on one thing: cars haven’t met the expectations we’ve placed on them. Cars, we forgive you. Now we can move on. With Peace on Cars we’d plow suburbia back into forests and farmlands, bring national train service (and public transit in cities) up to the Bulgarian standard (for starters), build liveable, walkable, bikable communities, and create jobs in sectors (like building the new trains and infrastructure to support them) that doesn’t wreak the same havoc that the international automobile project did throughout the last century. Clearly it’s in this last category that the new nationalized automobile companies will find their due. Good luck!

“Bring trains up to Bulgarian standards–” We like that line a lot. [So does your pal Kunstler. –ed.]

The foam-flecked chin of David Frum shines from the pages of Francis Wilkinson’s Week Daily

Friday, September 5th, 2008

In a sickening turn of events, David Frum, who can best be described as “Sarah Palin without lipstick,”

Down, I tells ya

Down, I tells ya

has found a new home at the Daily Week.

Frum is well known as the fellow who wrote The Song that Made the Young Men Die, but he will be better known by readers of the ALLDERBLOB as the man whose recent bicycle repair here in Southern Ontario included an unexpected “Homeland Security fee” of $1,000.

And The Week, as our readers will know, is an upstart British publication with a focus on U.S. news and events, set to challenge the hegemony of car advertisers Time, Newsweek and Scholastic Upfront all at once. It publishes both a weekly print edition and a daily online edition, and strives for a balanced mix of opinion from the far right and (at least what passes for it in the U.S.) the far left. We like reading the Week. For the past month or so, a link to it has appeared on our pages under the heading “Research Dept” (for the time being it gives the lie to the notion that car advertising is necessary to keep an online magazine afloat).

But citing the far right is one thing. Allowing further air-time for that would-be American patriot (he’s Canajun, eh?) David Frum is truly a sickening turn of events.

Why? Perhaps a digression is in order.

The executive editor of the Week is our colleague [a-heem! –ed.] Francis Wilkinson, a writer whose career we have followed with interest since his days as a busboy at the Golden Inn in Avalon, N.J. His internship in the 1980s with Alexander Cockburn at the Nation was an inevitable next step. Wilkinson resurfaced (for us) in the early 1990s when we started seeing his name on the masthead at Rolling Stone magazine, where he was National Affairs Editor. He subsequently worked as a consultant for Democratic political candidates at the firm Doak, Carrier, O’Donnell, Wilkinson (famous for its lost battle to preserve California Governor Gray Davis against the Arnold Schwarzenegger juggarnaut in 2003, and its winning fight to elect Antonio Villaraigosa mayor of Los Angeles in 2005). Then, even as ALLDERBLOB day was proclaimed here in Toronto, Wilkinson parlayed his strengths and experiences into a new position. He was proclaimed “blob editur” [please fix spelling before publication –ed.] at that little-known ALLDERBLOB competitor, the Huffington Post. In short order he was writing opinion pieces at the Guardian Online as well as chronicling the U.S. presidential race on the pages of the New York Times and Car Advertiser. Around July 2008 however all this opinion writing came to a jarring halt.

Silence from the charmed pen of F. Wilkinson.

What next, the world asked.

The answer was not long in coming: as announced at the Wall Street Journal and Car Advertiser in August, Wilkinson had the new job as executive editor at the Week.

Here at the ALLDERBLOB, we have in the past made sporadic and obscure reference to Mr. Wilkinson and his work. Most recently, we pointedly compared David Frum and Mr. Wilkinson on the fame-o-meter, and found Wilkinson wanting.

But now, likely in direct response to our provocative comparison, Wilkinson has hitched his wagon to Frum’s star. Suddenly the words DAVID FRUM (and no, sadly, the capitals are not our invention) have appeared on the Week’s online content. We can only warn Mr. Wilkinson of his folly. We cannot take responsibility for the imminent fall from grace the appointment of Sr. Frum portends for our old pal Frank.

Frank, drop Frum. Drop him now; drop him without hesitation. Frum’s rancid ink will not only soil your pages. It will darken your soul. Stay with Frum and you will one day soon be writing alone, in the darkness of your living room, with your loved ones quiet and asleep and unaware. Stay with Frum and at best a future blobbing will be your fate.

Mike Strobel hollers for a ban on car advertisements

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

You will all know Mike Strobel, columnist and former editor-in-chief of the Toronto Sun and Car Advertiser. Elsewhere, he has been called “among the five best reasons” for reading that newspaper. We still vaguely remember the column he wrote about Critical Mass, the monthly celebration of all things “bicycle.” It was the summer of 2004 or so. Back then, he was on his first CM ride and he loved it. He wasn’t pleased about getting a traffic ticket though (don’t ask; he was missing a reflector or something).

Today he wrote another column on bicycles, called “Start lining up for a lane.” In it he complains about the new bikelanes on Eastern Avenue. Apparently since the Dundas bikelanes were painted (back in 2003) he’s been a regular driver along Eastern. But Eastern’s no good for him anymore and he’s wondering where he’s welcome in his mobile global warmer. He’s feeling vexed, boxed in, discriminated against because he needs four fat wheels, not two skinny ones.

We feel for the guy, we really do. He had some good points in his piece, although he did not search very far for the true reason for the installation of bikelanes along Eastern. He thinks it has something to do with making life easier for cyclists. In fact, it will only make life more difficult, at least in the short run. It will turn more west-bound cars onto Leslie to get onto Lakeshore blvd. We imagine a car-count there (on Leslie) done post-Eastern Ave. bikelanes will negate any chance Leslie once had for a bikelane. And that’s a pity. It will turn more east-bound cars up Broadview to get to Dundas. Riding Dundas of late has been heavy with bad air as the rear ends of Strobel-mobiles fart into the evening breezes.

But back to Strobel’s column. The remarkable thing about it was he really nailed the connection between car advertising and car dependence. In a few sweet sentences he stated the ALLDERBLOB’s raison d’ettre:

3. Ban Car Ads. Worked on smokers, eh? Especially with all those PSAs showing blackened lungs.

Car advertising makes us lust for Cadillacs and Volvos as we once lusted for Craven A’s and Viscounts.

Tear down those billboards that make us lustful all along the Gardiner Expressway.

Put up big pictures of pollution-blackened lungs instead.

Sadly, as Vic of the International Bicycle Conspiracy has observed, it’s likely he was being sarcastic.

Guy Giorno uses reference in ALLDERBLOB as springboard to top job

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a regular follower of all things Allderblobdingnagian, has selected one of our more frequent correspondents, Guy Giorno, as his new chief of staff. Just a couple blobs
one of these blobs is not like the other

In our “research” into the story, we came across this strange insinuation from the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser: “…Giorno is also friends with Environment Minister John Baird…” Elsewhere, the Star is careful to note that Mr. Giorno, the former “choir boy,” is now married with a child. So whatever “insinuation” they were making, it’s clearly not that Guy Giorno is a closeted homosexual. So what is the insinuation?

Could it be that the ravages inflicted on Ontario by Giorno, Baird, Harris, et al, in the hilarious “least common sense revolution,” may now be enjoyed by the entire country as Giorno joins “environment minister” Baird at Harper’s hip?

Giorno failed to support Harper in his leadership bid for the Conservative party, so Harper is taking a big risk now. On the other hand, against an anaemic opposition who can’t seem to form two coherent sentences on why a carbon tax might be a long-term benefit to the country, even this new troika of Harper, Giorno and Beard will probably manage to maintain its weak Frum-like control of Parliament.

Fatherly Instructions

Monday, February 18th, 2008


Begin the morning by saying to yourself, I shall meet with the busy-body, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious, unsocial. They are this way by reason of their ignorance of what is good and evil. But I who have seen the nature of good: that it is beautiful; and of bad: that it is ugly; and the nature of they who do wrong: that it is akin to me, not only of the same blood or seed, but that it participates in the same intelligence and the same portion of the divinity. I can neither be injured by any of them, for no one can fix on me what is ugly, nor can I be angry with my kin, nor hate them. For we are made for co-operation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth [like opposite pedals of a bicycle –ed.]. To act against one another then is contrary to nature; and it is acting against one another to be vexed and to turn away.

Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations”

Valentine’s day thoughts, on a bicycle

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

As the days march toward the one associated with hearts and roses, chocolate and lingerie, crowded candle-lit bistros and tearful break-ups, we at the ALLDERBLOB find ourselves pondering the meaning of bicycles.

Marie-Henri Beyle, better known as Stendhal, wrote a treatise on the subject which we frequently turn to in our mind: On Bicycle. In it he breaks down in a rational manner the various phases of bicycle love:

1. Admiration – one marvels at the qualities of the bicycle.
2. Acknowledgement – one acknowledges the pleasantness of having noticed the bicycle.
3. Hope – one envisions gaining the the bicycle.
4. Delight – one delights in overrating the beauty and merit of the bicycle whose love one hopes to win.

Does the bicycle reciprocate? It matters less, perhaps, than one imagines. After all, the bicycle is never as perfect as one’s imagined version of it. Better that the bicycle remain aloof, ultimately, that it remain slightly beyond reach. For this reason, bicycle stores, bicycle magazines, and bicycle shows were created.

Stendhal, writing in the early 19th century, could not fully appreciate the role the bicycle offers for society today. But another writer, the most-calm Ivan Illich, lived long enough to understand the bicycle as a “tool for conviviality.” Illich, of course, is famous as the inventor of the “Critical Mass” bike ride [please check for accuracy before publication –ed.], in which thousands of bicycle riders, impatient for St. Valentine’s day, gather on the last friday of the month in cities all over the world in order to ride and chat together in amiable groups. Their activity is a testament to the social nature of the bicycle and its lovers.

This social nature of love of bicycles needs examination. For unlike other, more typical models of love among humans, the bicycle lends itself most readily as a saddle for socialization. In this, cycling to work or to get the groceries, or simply cycling to the local cafe for a spot of sunshine and a fleeting “hello” with one’s confreres, the bicycle rider seeks and revels in the company of other cyclists, and therefore differs from her distant cousin the motorist. Needless to say, the motorist does not relish being near other cars or vehicles. The person in a car has hammered up a wall of steel and glass around herself, and from within it she would prefer to remain aloof and secure. Automobile manufacturers have all kinds of psychologists working on the question, and it’s not for no reason they invented and advertise the SUV, which capitalizes on this ludicrous desire to be in a “fortress”.

What would a bicycle designed along these lines look like? Perhaps the confusion and social zone of the critical mass photo copyright Darren Stehr is itself a form of “bicycle castle,” but perhaps there’s a more concrete example of the phenomenon.

The artist Eric Staller pondered this question [please verify before publication –ed.] and the result was the well known “ConferenceBike.”
This is very good. Please spell ConferenceBike like this. and see my attachment. Eric Staller This contraption, which rivals in size a small SUV, seats seven riders, all facing each other in a circle and all pedaling for the good of the community. We can imagine the streets of a carfree city filled with these human-powered vehicles, and we can imagine the happy laughter and the sound of violin music that would constantly fill the air. Or is it love that’s in the air? (click for quicktime movie of Staller’s conference bike.)

Luck with Google, unlucky in love

Monday, December 31st, 2007

It’s New Year’s Eve. Most of you will be at home about now, patting your well-filled stomachs and mumbling into your cups, “Huh? Wozzat? All-Der-who, now?” If this adequately sums up your sorry existence, [and you know it does–ed.], you may wish to read on as our research department delves into matters beyond your ken… namely, what’s been “lucky” for Allder-Googlers in 2007?

Our top ten for 2007, in no particular order, would be the following:

1. Blob, not blog a perennial favourite

Why a BLOB?
It started with the Marx brothers, who famously asked “Why a Duck?”
The Blob calls for similar logic.
It’s BLOB, not blog

2. Jacob Richler Whatever happened to… dept.

JACOB: Me go be write, jus lik you, dada!
MORDECAI: Heh, heh.
JACOB: Me go be besh write in whole wurl!Jacob Richler and the hooded gaze

3. Case Ootes There are 20 voters in Governor’s bridge who are kicking themselves whenever they hear his name

We urge Mr. Ootes to take charge of advertising at GM or Ford as a post-retirement career. If anyone can put them out of their misery, it’s the advertising genius Case Ootes.Case Ootes: the more you know, the worse it gets

4. Jack Lakey The Toronto Star and Car Advertiser’s baddest of the bad

But Lakey’s been too busy ripping up people’s dreams to do anything really useful like that. Let’s call him what he is: not a fixer, but a smasher. meanwhile, inside the Winnebago…but which one’s Jack Lakey?

5. The day formerly known as St Patrick’s Will the ALLDERBLOB one day be known for driving car advertisers from the land?

On this, the day formerly known as St. Patrick’s Day, folks all over the world gather together to celebrate and plan for a world without automobile advertising.
Many of them remain sober.
which side are you on?

6. “campbell ewaldyou may not know who they are, but someone does. Someone’s looking to fix their wagon. Someone’s pushing these bow-tied boys from Detroit up the charts. Look for them around no. 170 UPDATE: three months have passed and we’re gaining ground: look for us at number ninety now! out of 82,000 possible hits. And the first that’s not P.R. bumf about the company. Who cares? Not us. We’re just the patsy.

They’ve made ads for G.M. since 1914, and it’s only now that the corporation’s star is fading. In contrast, it’s taken them just a couple years to put U.S. President Bush’s name on toilet paper the world over.You thought we were joking?

7. Actually, as for the rest, we exaggerate. Guess we really aren’t that lucky after all.

Why say anything at all? You have nothing to say.

Until next year, amigos.