Onward and upward!

I’m revamping this site – so if you are searching for me and you found me, please hold on. All posts right now are very old and need… work.

 

Thanks for your patience!

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The Blues

I have got the blues.

The realization comes to me as I pay the bus fare – I forgot to buy a TTC pass in time.

Nothing can cheer me. I feel like I could ask for so much more than soul, music and friends but I know it’s wrong and maybe this is where my melancholy stems. I am listless, limply allowing the terrible bus driver to jolt me to and fro. My music is playing as the background to my thoughts which seem empty and redundant. I don’t even smile when I realize that my mood matches the rain and wind outside – pathetic fallacy my ass.

I am allowing the fabricated stressor of the outside to affect me internally. School, money, family, boys, things I want, things I don’t have. My sadness is selfish and knowing this only serves to anger me. I don’t know which direction my life will take me, and I am someone who likes to have a plan. At least I know that I am going eastbound on Steeles.

So, now, while I contemplate how to cheer myself up – this is a personal battle between myself and I – I sit still while the world whisks by. The buzz of conversation, the smell of the rain, the rattling of the bus, the dirty moisture that having too many people together creates. I feel like I am what is rotten on the 60 bus – all I need to do is avenge my happiness. Or maybe get drunk.

My trip is long. I have time to mope. Maybe simply expressing my depression to the world in the form of the sourest face I can make will make me feel better. It might shame me into smiling at least.

I need comfort, but I am agitated and refuse to be pandered to. No one seems to understand that I just want to be grumpy. Being grumpy might just be the cure. Ha – or maybe I should just get over myself. There are people in worse situations than me who are probably laughing right now.

The bus goes out of service. I am somewhere I haven’t been before. And all I want to do is leave because I’m getting soaked. The busload of people huddles under the bus shelter. I thought the bus smelled. The next bus rolls up in a few minutes and we all make the mad two meter dash.

On the way I step on a worm. All my weight pressures its middle and can feel its insides squish beneath my toes until the pressure is so great it bursts at one end. Either end. It doesn’t really matter to a worm, does it? Worms are kind of androgynous. Whatever. It doesn’t matter to that worm anymore anyways.

I wonder if I got stepped on would I pop like that. Would all my gory insides splatter on the sidewalk of life? Leaving something that people have to hop over, disgusted, trying to place the blame – gangs, city, community service labourers, drunks, the homeless – who left this mess and who’s gonna clean it up?

I sigh and settle into my seat once more. Oh well.

 

 

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A Genre Debate

Children’s literature is a much-debated genre of literature. Genre are “carefully distinguished, and writers were expected to follow the rules prescribed for them” (Cuddon 342). While defining children’s literature, it is important to remember that genre is something imposed upon literature by society. Society, which includes critics, publishers, scholars, authors, and readers, categorize books according to certain genre criteria. It is this criterion that changes from author to author; an as example – what makes Isaac Watts’ Devine Songs more children’s literature than religious lessons? According to the 20th century literary critic John Townsend and his conditions, these poems would not be considered children’s literature but merely a pre-history. However, M.O. Grenby has included Watts’ works in his collection because it was written for children and is appropriate for them. Townsend’s definition of children’s literature requires that the text be published post 1744 and is “a book specially written to give pleasure to children” (Townsend 17).  Grenby, however, has a much wider definition, which includes both Townsend’s selected and excluded pieces. This essay will argue that children’s literature includes all books written for children, whether amusing or educational, regardless of publishing date and disregarding what children might have read, enjoyed or learned from. Using Isaac Watts’ Devine Songs as examples, Townsend’s definition of children’s literature will be contested with and while Grenby’s broad definition will be challenged it will also be proven the more correct of the two.

First: what is the definition of children’s literature? To define children’s literature one must first decide on a definition of the ‘child’, as Townsend said,” before there could be children’s books, there had to be children” (Townsend 17).  There have been several turning points for the social construct of the ‘child’, from born with original sin, cheap labourers, to wise and morally uncorrupted beings that are clod to God. Townsend believes that true children’s literature did not emerge until 1744 – the year that Newbury published his Little Pretty Pocket Book designed for instruction with delight. For Townsend, Isaac Watts’ Devine Songs were simply too early to be proper children’ literature, having been published in 1715. Still, Watts’ works were recognized by Townsend as “a softening of the old harsh Puritanism”, which highlights Townsend’s further requirement for children’s literature to be delightful and entertaining (Townsend 24). M.O. Grenby deviates from Townsend in this regard ignoring date of publication and recognizing that “there were clearly books written for children before this sudden burst of activity” (Grenby 2). There are texts included in the Hockliffe collection, such as Aesop’s Fables and John Bunyan’s A Pilgrims Process, which though not intended for children were read and enjoyed by them. The Hockliffe collection also includes texts such as The New England Primer and other educational or religious works, which Townsend negated as “instruction, not entertainment” (Townsend 24). Between Townsend and Grenby it seems the difference is a definition of the child. Townsend believes a child would not have enjoyed the puritan ‘harshness’, while Grenby realizes that children read what was available from textbook to fairy tale.

Historically there have always been ‘children’ and with society these children and their perceived identity has changed. Whether that identity is small adult, or a separate entity in need of care and education, regardless of historical contect a book written for children is children’s literature. Townsend’s dates and criterion are narrow, if a book is intended for a child audience then it is children’s literature. Grenby should be challenged because the Hockliffe collection includes works such as The Pilgrims Progress, which was not written for children, but read and enjoyed by them. Regardless of who reads a book, that book should maintain its genre. A Pilgrims Process should not be included in Grenby’s collection because, while children did read it, it was not intended for them. To argue with Townsend Isaac Watts’ Devine Songs should be included for the same reason, it was written for children. Townsend unjustly sets out to change what was written as children’s literature before 1744 into a pre-history on the basis that children could not have found delight in these works. However it is equally improper for children to amalgamate everything they read into the children’s literature genre as Grenby is inclined to do.

Now to tackle the previously posed question: what makes Isaac Watts’ Devine Songs children’s literature? For John Townsend, as stated before, these hymns were published in 1715, too early for children’s literature. Still, Townsend recognized that the Songs were unlike other Puritan works and written with the delight and imagination of a child in mind. Watts fulfills Grenby’s criteria for children’s literature. It is gentle, educational and entertaining, intended for and read by children. Watts’ clearly sets out to address children as his title Devine Songs for the Use of Children begins by indicating his intended audience and genre. The poetry found within is simple and sweet – setting a firm but lulling tone, the rhyme scheme easy and permanent throughout each poem. Watts writes in rhyme, often using animals as characters engaging a child’s imagination while also instructing the child in proper social conduct.  In Against Idleness and Mischief for example a little ‘buzzing bee’ is used to demonstrate utility and value (Watts 92). Watts predates Newbury, stylizing his poetry to combine education with delight, engaging the child’s imagination and intellect. He uses simple words and amusing imagery, for instance Against Pride in Clothes presents a female voice lamenting her poor garments with the sudden realization that “The tulip and the butterfly/Appear in gayer coats than I/ Let me be drest fine as I will/ Flies, worms, and flowers, exceed me still” (Watts 93). The rhyme here ‘a b a b’ is constant and the words are easy and gentle. It consoles the child with natural imagery encourages the realization that God will be pleased no matter what she wears, as long as she is honourable and virtuous. Aside from its publication date, Watts’ texts remain focussed on religious and social lessons, and so are not recognized as children’s literature to Townsend. The Songs were written for and address children, present the use of imagination, imagery and utility, so they fit into Grenby’s definitions and mine.

What I am mainly concerned with is a critic’s tendency to pick and choose what historical children would have enjoyed or read. When reading Townsend it becomes plain that he suggests ‘enjoyable’ literature – instruction with delight – is really children’s literature. He claims that “books produced specially for children until the end of the seventeenth centure were nearly all schoolbooks or books of manners or morals… as Puritan influence grew the stress fell more heavily on religion and morals” (Townsend 20). Watts and his contemporaries would not have been enjoyable for Townsend’s ‘child’; they are merely a precursor to children’s literature. Grenby, for whom it is so important that these educational and ‘pre-historical’ texts, such as Watts’ be included, argues “indeed fiction makes up less that 30% of the pre-1840 holdings of the Hockliffe Collection” (Grenby 5). Grenby insists that educational works like the New England Primer and Puritan texts such as Isaac Watts’ Devine Songs were “clearly a central part of early children’ literature [and] have been largely ignored by scholars” such as Townsend (Grenby 5). While Grenby agrees with my definition here by including texts written for children regardless of content, he also includes texts read by children, amalgamating these works into his children’s literature definition. I agree that children should be able to read whatever material instructs and delights them, but that does not transform every piece that children enjoy into children’s literature.

Grenby’s definition of children’s literature is more appropriate than Townsend’s who, though he intends to please children, is not a child and therefore could not know what pleased children in any historical era but that of his own childhood. Discarding texts created for and read by children before 1744 as mere pre-history is not acceptable because it discards legitimate literature written for children. Setting a firm date for the beginning of children’s literature depends on one’s definition of the child – and there have always been children even if they are different from our current construction of childhood. The child and society have changed throughout history and has the literature for children. Grenby understands this and included everything written for children and more. It is this more that I have disputed. This cross-genre reading, while it may challenge a genre, does not change it. Genre is not restricting; a child can read outside of children’s literature and be informed, delighted and excited just as an adule can peruse and enjoy children’s literature.

Works Cited

Cuddon, J. A., comp. Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. 4th ed. London: Penguin, 1998. Print.

Grenby, M.O. “The Hockliffe Project: Introductory Essay.” The Hockliffe Project (13 June, 2001). <http://www.cts.dmu.ac.uk/AnaServer?hockliffe+0+start.anv&gt;

John R. Townsend. “The Beginnings” from Written for Children: An outline of English-Language Children’s Literature, Horn Book, 1974: 17 – 26.

Watts, Isaac. Ed. Patricia Demers. From Instruction to Delight. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2008. 88-97. Print.

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Heads-up!

I remember the base school, O’Kelly, a large red-brick building, with too many windows displaying current student artwork. On the grounds there is a large plastic construct with monkey bars, slides, crawling tubes, a helm and a crow’s nest. Scattered around the yard are horses on springs, a climbing dome, a spinning wheel, a few sets of swings and teeter-totters. It is the largest, most wonderful schoolyard that I have ever known. The only amusement that I keep my distance from is the teeter-totter, the big metal monstrous playthings with their peeling orange or yellow paint and loud screeching noises. I always hated them; kids being kids, they always find a way to make things scary – they invent the ‘cherry bump’.

You teeter-totter away, laughing, enjoying the pressure and release of rising and the free-falling sensation of descent – a ‘cherry bump’ ruins all of this and all of a sudden while you are up your playfellow jumps off the grounded side, leaving you to fall to the ground and BUMP. It hurt. It wasn’t fun. I don’t know why kids did it. I would only go on these orange and yellow monstrosities if coaxed on by a friend. For me, the phobia-sealing moment was when Katrina, my pretty friend with red curly hair, hazel eyes and beautiful white skin, convinced me to play with her brother. He was two years younger, had hazelnut brown hair and wore a blue windbreaker. I hadn’t been on the teeter-totter in a very long time. Holding onto the yellow metal for dear life, we started. Beginning the momentum lulls me into a sense of security as SWOOSH, I go up and see the playground from a new height, then SWOOSH, I get that feeling in my stomach and everything inside of me pulls up – my hair flies around me and my feet make touchdown. Faster now we are working to keep up speed, and the cool autumn breeze is welcomed on my flushed cheeks. SWOOSH, I’m smiling, enjoying the sensational journey up and down, SWOOSH, I am up, up, still up… it’s taking Jim too long to finish his totter. He isn’t there; I am teetering alone and in mid-air. My smile fades. I lose control and as I finally begin to fall, I know. I scream – that breathless scream that doesn’t make enough noise but wastes air. I flounder, flap, flail just try to stay safe and keep away from the inevitable bump. Finally I crumple to the ground. I don’t land on my seat like a proper ‘cherry-bumper’ I land beside it on my side. I am windless and mud-spattered in silent tears of surprise. Everything is ringing; I can’t hear the laughing, the whine of the swing-sets, or the squeal of kindergarteners sliding. Jim stands guiltily looking down at me.

 

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Picture Walker

** Hey all – it’s been a while. So I have joined a creative writing forum and they hold bi-weekly short story contests. This weeks theme was ‘Step into a picture’ – instead of opting for a literal translation of the theme I went for this – lemme know what you think.**

The first thing he had noticed about the room was the dead fish. Floating pathetically upside down in the murky water, Detective Garret had never been fond of fish – poor thing hadn’t stood a chance. The place was spartan, white walls, pieces of IKEA furniture spattered around the apartment. The whole place consisted of three rooms, and the picture Garret was looking at had been taken facing the living space. A ceiling fan that cast a yellow hue over everything made it all slightly more dingy. The kitchen was jammed into the far right hand corner; it was slightly dirty – from a mixture of disuse and indolence. A kettle sat on the stove a quarter full of water. Rotten milk, a half a dozen eggs or so, packets of jam from diners and a half empty bottle of No-Name mustard sat in the fridge. A cactus was on the windowsill above the sink, where the dish soap bottle was missing its cap and on its side. On the opposite wall a man’s denim jacket and a camouflage green JanSport backpack had been tossed over the arm of a black futon. The fish tank sat on a microwave stand, sans microwave, next to the slightly ajar balcony door. On the wooden coffee table sat a three day old newspaper turned to the crossword and a rocks glass that had smelled sickly sweet. The pen lay on the parquet floor. The lab reports said it was rum and coke and the saliva had been identified as belonging to a Bernard Clanahan – A.K.A. the deceased. In the photograph Garret could make out the slight indent in the futon where Clanahan had sat not four hours before his body had been found ten stories below on the sidewalk.

The trouble with this case was that it was just too damned easy. The evidence was all there but that was exactly what detective Russ Garret didn’t trust. Never trust an orgy of evidence. It is seductive but erroneous. Garret was sitting in One-Eyed Jacks, a local watering-hole three doors down from his high-rise condo. He had three pictures laid out in front of him and the facts of the case swirling around in his brain. Something was eating away at the back of his mind, he was angry at himself for not getting it. He clenched his teeth in silent rage, took a deep breath, a swig and brushed his hand through his hair. Okay, he thought, let’s relax. Consciously overcoming tip-of-the-mind syndrome was doublethink… or was it cognitive dissonance? He just had to relax and do what he did best – detect. But detect what?

Bernard Clanahan had jumped to his death. He had drunk almost a half litre of rum, opened the balcony door and leapt over the ledge. No one saw him leap, there were three people who saw him land. You can imagine how witness interrogation had gone. So what was it? The crossword was three days old. Why? The goldfish was dead but Clanahan had only been dead for four hours…something just didn’t add up. These two items were merely circumstantial, it easily could have been that Clanahan had picked up a paper at a coffee shop or on the transit three days earlier and was still working on the crossword, which got him so upset that he threw himself to his death. Perhaps Clanahan had a habit of buying a single goldfish and allowing it to slowly starve to death. Something was just fishy about the whole thing. Hah.

Then there was what Clanahan was wearing. Slacks, a dress shirt and a tie – didn’t exactly match the denim jacket and camo bag, and Clanahan had lived alone.

“C’mon Garret!” the detective muttered aloud. The bartender, Hank, came over in response to what he thought had been a call for round three.

“You look stressed tonight.” It wasn’t a question. Hank didn’t invite conversation easily.  “Can I pour another for you?”

Garret nodded and Hank refilled his glass, a little more than a shot. The detective sank back into the picture. Clanahan was murdered and the who and why were in these pictures. Besides the picture of the living space of the apartment, there was a picture of the coffee table where the crossword and glass sat, and a picture of the balcony from inside the apartment. Detecting a crime was like forgetting something important, just retrace the steps. Garret closed his eyes tightly, then opened them and focussed on the crossword.

10 across: Subtle “over here!”

“Psst,” Garret said out loud in his mind. He looked up from the crossword and straight into the kitchen. The kettle was on, but there was no tea. He took a sip of his rum and coke but he wasn’t enjoying the taste, he was worried, he was nervous – why? The ceiling fan whirred overhead, the tassels clinking against the bulbs. He looked back down at the crossword and over to the pen that lay on the floor. How had it gotten there? He looked over to the fish tank, the fish was floating upside down – poor thing, it never stood a chance. Then he looked at the door to the balcony. It was slightly ajar.

Garret switched to the third picture and stepped in. He walked towards the door, past the fish, Garret’s reflection looking back at him. He opened the door a little more and stepped out onto the balcony. It was a little four by four concrete slab with protective railing. It was windy that night. He turned around and began to shut the balcony door when he was startled to see, through the glass door, Clanahan sitting at the futon, pen in hand bent over the crossword.

“Psst!” Garret whispered, hinting at the answer to 10 across. Clanahan looked up into the kitchen where the kettle was now whistling. The fan was still clinking. He put the pen down on the table and stood up. When he turned to the balcony the two men locked eyes. The wind blew past Garret and whistled through the door, rolling the pen off the paper and onto the parquet floor. It fell so slowly hitting its tip, its end, its tip, its end and finally settling on a resting place about two feet from the coffee table.

Garret pulled away from the picture and took a deep breath. He swallowed the rest of his rum and coke, grabbed his JanSport camouflage bag and pulled out two twenties from his denim jacket. “G’night Hank.”

“See ya tomorrow Bern.”

 

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The Cat’s Meow

A co-worker told this story to me and I was laughing uproariously. I thought you readers might enjoy it.

Zeus vs. Jimmy

Malu e Malibu

I liked Jimmy – nobody else did. Not my friends, parents, roommates, and not Zeus. Zeus was a four year old Siamese with attitude and I belonged to him. Jimmy was a tall, broad, blond German with a gangster name and the leather jacket to match. When Jimmy would come over Zeus got rather grumpy and hid away, but when Jimmy stayed the night Zeus would get angry and jealous he expressed himself by yowling – loudly. If you have ever heard a Siamese yowl you know what I mean. Jimmy hated this but his way of dealing with Zeus was not traditional. Jimmy would hunt down Zeus and hold him under the cold shower for about ten minutes and then explain a loud German accented voice: “Every time you do that, I do this!”

The ferocity with which Jimmy had treated Zeus had stunned me and before I could intervene the whole ordeal had been done. Zeus was furious, his pride had been dampened and while he didn’t yowl again while Jimmy was in the apartment it was clear that vengeance was on the horizon – the Siamese was only biding his time.

The next time Jimmy came over was about a week later and Zeus was quiet and out of the way the entire evening and no where to be found the next morning. I didn’t think much of it, I thought that Zeus had learned his lesson and would just disappear when Jimmy was around. But no, oh no – the next morning when Jimmy was getting dressed to go we found that Zeus had left little presents in his very cool black cowboy boots (which had spurs). Then all of a sudden there was Zeus, just sitting on the window ledge, watching us, quietly – I could feel the smirk. Zeus evaded a furious Jimmy that day by wedging himself into a heat duct in the ceiling.

Jimmy spent the night again the next month – when his ego and his boots had cooled down a little. Zeus became a wallflower, not a hair in sight. I felt like there was going to be trouble so we stored Jimmy’s boots upside down on a rack and made sure everything was closed away. The next morning Zeus was sitting on the windowsill – watching. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face, but what had he done this time? Jimmy was getting dressed to go once again and when he opened the foyer closet he let out a roar. I came running only to find him holding his leather jacket whose inside lining had been torn to shreds. Zeus had forced his way into the accordion-doored closet and climbed up and down the inside of Jimmy’s jacket several times. Jimmy was furious – Zeus was illustrious.

****

I really think this just goes to show the intelligence and pride of a cat. I used to have another cat who was similarly vengeful. She would leave tacks in the shoes of anyone who crossed her and hair bows or soft things in the shoes of those who were on good terms with her. Cats are funny creatures but one this is for sure – do not hold them against their will under a cold shower, it’s cruel and it just invites vengeance.

 

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stop milking a dead cow

** Hey hey – a cliche story, I guess, lol and the trouble with writers block – and what we think of instead.**

Hugo Walricht sat in his swivelly office chair in his den. It was coldly lit with fluorescent lights because Hugo had glasses and he didn’t want to make his eyesight even worse. He was sitting in front of his computer, a blank document radiated out at him from the screen. Hugo wasn’t fat, but he was portly. He wasn’t bald but his hair was thinning. His beard wasn’t full but it was flecked with grey. His clear glass coffee mug was ringed with brown and half empty with milky brown liquid forming a greasy cold layer on top. The cursor cursed at him, blinking ‘yes’ ‘no’ ‘yes’ ‘no’ at him waiting for him to type something fabulous. But what could he type that would be fabulous? What could he say that hadn’t already been said?

What had Hugo to say that you’d want to know!

He spun around and slammed his head down on the desk. This was ridiculous. He was hungry, but not really, he was tired but not really. Focus… focus, just think – be creative. ‘Tada,’ he thought sarcastically to himself. He grabbed his glass mug and before taking a swig he stopped. He always drank out of this clear glass mug, he had got it for Christmas one year, it had been filled with chocolates. He never stirred his coffee, he would just watch it. Hugo liked to watch the coffee settle, the milk mix, the sugar dissolve. There were always four distinct bands with sharp transitions between them, going from milkiest at the bottom to least milky at the top. This sort of natural mundane phenomenon could only be observed in a transparent container. Hugo liked observing the bands disappear over time as the temperature homogenized throughout. He liked observing the coffee form rings as he slowly drank it.

Does the striation have something to do with the curvature of the mug? What could possibly maintain the sharp boundaries between the different layers? “Adding cold milk to hot coffee, of course,” thought Hugo – out loud. His voice broke the stillness of the room, the coldness of the light. He blinked and saw long, skinny neon railroad tracks on his eyelids blinking, cursing.

One might expect, his mind went on, the milk to sink to the bottom and form a layer. Why, however, is his coffee forming not two, but four layers. Perhaps the whole effect had nothing to do with temperature. Hugo had seen bar shots like White Russians served as separated drinks, with Kahlua on the bottom, cream in the middle, and vodka on top – all of them cold and perhaps even shaken. The difference, the phenomenal was in physical density.

In order to get those four layers, all he had to do would be to produce four zones of turbulent mixing as he ‘glugged’ in the milk. The cold, dense milk going down the middle of the glass, generating four roughly donut shaped circulating cells of coffee; then when the milk hits the bottom of the glass, it would reflect off the bottom and come back up on the sides. Most of it would be sucked in by the bottom cell, like a large sinking ship, but some would continue up the sides and so on through four cells. If he poured the milk in really slowly, would it make just 2 bands? And if he left the coffee to sit for a long time without drinking it, would the milk equally distribute throughout and have no bands? Could the milk be undergoing some kind of phased separation?

The milk solids could be getting de-natured by the heat of the coffee and are settling out into their own layers. Or perhaps the homogenized milk is somehow getting dehomogenized and a higher-fat layer is floating over the lower-fat layer – which would explain the grease skin that always formed when the coffee cooled… Either way the coffee was consuming and breaking down the milk. The milk was being forced to merge with the coffee…

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