Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Love Letter to Me

Today has been a bad day.  For the last year I have been on a personal and professional roller coaster and I don't know when it is going to let up.  But there is some hope on the horizon, because today I figured out some things. I have been handling my boyfriend's absence in a way that I didn't think was entirely possible.  In our relationship, I haven't made too many mistakes if I do say so myself, except that I accepted a secondary role.  Due to my professional woes, I have put myself on the back burner and chosen to support him and his career fully.  Though I miss him terribly, my life has gone on regardless, I have laughed and been happy without him. Our separation has given me the opportunity to think about how I've conducted myself in my relationship that I wouldn't otherwise have gotten.  

Being the significant other of a person in the military was never part of my life plan, and I don't think that I would have made an exception for anyone less worthy.  It is not how he treats me that I am reflecting on, but rather how I have been so hard on myself.  With every professional setback I beat myself up, and cause unnecessary harm.  I am a great person who is talented, strong, and fun.  These things need to be at the forefront of my mind while the world inevitably beats me up.  Along with other military girlfriends and wives, I've developed a lot of resilience, and must learn to have more faith in my ability to bounce back after facing a little bit of adversity.  Obstacles are what I'm used to, and tearing them down is what I do best.

I am not sure where along the way I forgot all of the points I made in my last paragraph. Being Lindsey Bevan has never been an easy endeavor, but nobody does it as well as I do. I find myself gaining in confidence every time I solve a new problem and regardless of my boyfriend's whereabouts in the world I will be okay.  Though I love him and every moment that we spend together, my every happiness is not dependent on his presence and approval.  The fact that he will allow me the freedom to follow my own professional destiny, and pursue my personal ambitions, shows how much he respects me.  I hope that I can do him proud, but more importantly I want to build my own self-confidence and re-learn how to be more of an individual.  And learn how to drive.              

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Culture Days: More State-Sponsored Fun

As I was listening to the CBC Radio the other day, I found out that this week we are celebrating Culture Days in Canada.  There are free cultural events happening from coast to coast in praise of all things Canadiana.  What I find ironic is that it is our Conservative government who created this state-mandated revelry.  On a number of occasions the Conservative government have been very antagonistic to the arts community by reducing funding and making smug comments about those who receive government grants.  I think that if Canadian culture is to survive, there needs to be more of a movement within households and communities to support the arts, because for the foreseeable future the federal government is only going to give token gestures and meaningless lip-service.

Now that my spirited political views have been aired, I think that I will take some time to reflect on the Canadian arts scene.  Granted, I am by no means an insider in the local arts community, and I probably represent the average Jill Six-Pack in terms of my expertise, I do have an opinion.  With the amount of talent in Canada, I feel that I can support Canadian artists of all descriptions without that nagging sense of obligation.  Though musicians and television productions do owe a lot of their success to the rules regulating Canadian content, many artists and shows manage to find success within other markets. I think that people underestimate the level of talent we possess simply because they don't know who is Canadian and who is American.  And by "they" I am referring to Americans. It is almost devious how our accents sometimes sound identical to those of our southern neighbours and we manage to blend in without exposure.  Take note Arizona politicians.  

I have digressed from the topic of Canadian culture with yet another political reference. With this blog entry I planned on praising the merits of our writers, musicians, and artists, but I don't think that this is really all that necessary.  I don't need a government-mandated pseudo holiday or Entertainment Tonight Canada to reflect upon the amount of talent that my country has produced.  The area where I feel that I can do better is my support (or lack thereof) for local culture.  I should take in local theatre productions more often than once every five years, attend film festivals and squint at paintings whenever an interesting art exhibit comes to town.  At the very least, I think I should put in an appearance at the arena more often. These are the type of institutions that we need to get behind.  I highly doubt the Vancouver Canucks are much affected by those who jump on and off their bandwagon with the alacrity of a gymnast, but theatre troupes, aspiring musicians and small-market teams will die without our collective support. 

These inaugural Culture Days have caused me to make this resolution in favour of my local arts community, to reflect on my behaviour as a Canadian.  Being patriotic is slightly more complicated than getting festive on Canada Day, it means being a positive ambassador for your country as a whole and within your community.  Generally, I think that I do a good job  in this role, but there is definitely room for improvement. However, I do drink local beer, so at least that can be said for me.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I do believe that I sometimes get sucked in by a good title and that certainly was the case with The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.  Originally I had heard about the book when a reporter from CBC Radio interviewed the author, and the title managed to stick in my mind until a recent trip to the library.  Another confession that I need to make is that in addition to my tendencies to gravitate towards books with appealing titles, I am prejudiced against small books.  This is silly I know, and there are plenty of classics which don't pass the two hundred page milestone, but there is a certain tactile pleasure in holding a large book.  Freudians may classify me how they will, I generally read books that are over three hundred pages, so this book was a slim number for me.  More of a novella really.

Now that all of those dramatic, mind-blowing confessions are out of the way, let me tell you about the book itself.  At the beginning of the book the main character, Changez meets an American in a cafe in Lahore, Pakistan.  Throughout the rest of the book, Changez recounts his life in America before and after the September 11th terrorist attacks to the stranger.  He begins the book as a Princeton graduate who is recruited by the prestigious financial firm, Underwood Samson and is on his way up the New York corporate ladder.  At the same time, he develops feelings for the troubled writer, Erica, who is his invitation to the city's social scene.  While they sashay from event to event, Changez becomes more and more drawn to her, even as she reveals secrets from her past which should give him some pause.  

The story takes a turn when a terrorist attack which occurs in India is attributed to a Pakistani group.  This brings the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan to a head , and causes Changez's priorities to shift.  Around the same time, the attacks of 9/11 occurred and his adopted country becomes further embroiled in the affairs of the Middle East.  As the jingoistic fervour reaches its fever pitch, Changez finds himself an outsider, despite his hard work and Ivy League pedigree.  Slowly, as tensions increase in his home country, he questions his place in post-9/11 America.  It is no surprise that Changez chooses to return to his homeland (there is a bigger surprise than that), but rather the long decision-making process is more dramatic.  

As a story of the American Dream gone wrong, this small book is quite an interesting ride.  A Muslim man living and working in Manhattan during one of the most dramatic times in American history, Changez provides a unique point of view.  He presents himself as a modern Scheherazade, weaving a compelling story over the course of one night and thus the author creates an intensely readable narrative.  Once I got into the book, the pages just flew by.  I did have a bit of a hard time connecting with Changez, and felt frustrated with his unabated fascination with Erica, who clearly did not return his affection.  This disconnect does not diminish how well-written this book is and how important it is to reflect upon the events which immediately followed the September 11th terrorist attacks. The book is also slim, so even if you hate the book, at least you know that your misery will not last long.  Now that is a ringing endorsement.  

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Anticipation and Trepidation: Books On the Big Screen

Whenever a book that I have read is adapted for the big screen, I always look upon the event with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.  Currently the movie Atonement is setting untouched on my shelf because I haven't been able to muster up the courage to watch it.  It is in no way a reflection on the quality of the film; in fact I heard from a friend of mine that it is a sweeping war drama and perfectly worth my time.  The main reason why I have not watched it is that I really enjoyed the novel that it is based upon and don't want to taint my positive feelings with the doubt brought about by an inferior movie.  

Sadly, there are plenty of poor adaptations and I don't think that the trend is going away anytime soon.  Due to the recession, studios are going to produce movies which have a built-in audience so as to better justify the expenditure. Though I can't speak to the quality of the book or the movie, Eat, Pray, Love is a good example of this phenomenon. The fact that millions of people purchased the book and its sequel, pretty much guaranteed that the movie would gross a lot of box office revenue.  There are other books on the literary scene that also command enough of a following to merit film production.  Good adaptations of literary works like Jane Eyre, Lolita or Anna Karenina will always have a big audience because many people have read and loved them over the years.  If one were to compare the sales of modern bestsellers to the yearly sales of the classics of literature, books like The Lovely Bones would be left in the dust.  Therefore there will always be a spate of adaptations some of them good, and a lot of them not so good.

Just because I have this venue to vent my feelings, I am going to take advantage of this opportunity and point out some of the worst offenders.  Granted, I am limited by the fact that I tend to avoid film adaptations, but I will still make a few accusations.  The Beach by Alex Garland is one of my favourite novels and it is the perfect Generation X thriller. When the movie came out I was unimpressed to say the least.  Firstly, they changed the nationality of the main character when Leonardo DiCaprio is totally capable of faking some semblance of a British accent.  Secondly, and more shockingly, the writer(s) completely changed the ending in order to make it more palatable to its audience.  At this time, DiCaprio was considered a huge heartthrob amongst teens and the ending of the book is dramatic enough to merit an "R" rating if translated properly to the screen.  This would have prevented a large portion of the target teenage audience from seeing the movie.  In my opinion, this is the main reason why they totally altered the ending beyond recognition.        

Another offender is The Other Boleyn Girl.  As someone who has read the book by Philippa Gregory and a lot of other books about the Tudors, I was pretty blown away by the amount of inaccuracies.  Natalie Portman's performance in the role of Anne Boleyn is great, but I was unable to enjoy it because I was too busy focusing on the factual liberties the writers took.  Firstly, it bugs me when writers change facts that don't need to be altered in order to service the plot.  The movie contends that Anne is the firstborn daughter, when in fact Mary is the eldest and this stuck in my craw.  What was the point of changing their birth order?  It just serves to undermine whatever historic credibility the filmmakers had.  Secondly, there is a very disturbing scene between Anne and Henry VIII which characterizes him as an abuser, when in fact Anne had a lot of power within their relationship.  Despite the way their marriage ended, Henry treated Anne with respect and went out of his way to accommodate her demands.  Immediately after seeing this movie, my friend Alysia stood outside the movie theatre and listed all of the historical and literary inaccuracies.  That does not make for a good viewing experience, but, as I indicated earlier, I relish every opportunity to vent.  

If you know of any good film adaptations feel free to suggest them to me.  Maybe I will gather the courage to take Atonement off the shelf, but if it doesn't work out, you will be hearing about it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Poetry of the Doomed

When I begin reading books I often have stylistic expectations and this is even more true in the case of novels written by poets.  Often if a poet tries their hand at writing a full-length novel or when a short-story writer makes same transition, I view the move with a certain amount of trepidation.  I'm all for writers expanding their horizons by experimenting in different genres, but the results are often mixed.  Margaret Atwood is one of the best success stories in terms of authors who has produced great work within multiple genres and I would argue that Victoria author Patrick Lane is another.  

Though he is best known for his poetry, his recent memoir There Is a Season, has been both a critical and commercial success and remains one of the books I most regret that I haven't gotten around to reading.  The book that I did read is Lane's first foray into fiction, his novel Red Dog, Red Dog.  What most attracted me to this book is the fact that it is set in the interior of British Columbia and its tone reflects the grit of that part of Western Canada.  This is not the genteel, more British than the British hippie haven that I inhabit, but rather the more earthy, rough and tumble Wild West.  The story focuses on the Stark family, the narrator being the deceased sister of the protagonist, Alice.  Alice tells the tale of the emotional Tom Stark during one pivotal week in the life of the family using language which I would never associate with the psyche of an infant girl.  This gritty tone is presumably because the narrator has adopted the jaded tone of the people of this small town and the Starks in particular. With the exception of Marilyn, Tom's girlfriend, the town seems composed of troubled souls addicted to drugs and hopelessly doomed to change their fate.  

Eddie Stark is the embodiment of the tragic dysfunction amongst the people of the community.  Though it seems everyone has their share of personal demons, no character is fated for a tragic end quite the way Eddie is.  He has that classic doomed rebel air about him and his charisma attracts people to him.  A power which he uses to manipulate those around him including his mother and Tom.  Inevitably he pulls Tom into his schemes and relies on his brother to get him out of the scrapes that a drug-addicted criminal often get into.  Tom's conflict between his loyalty to his brother and his own moral compass is the most compelling aspect of the novel and it kept me on the edge of my seat for most of the story.  

The dilemma that Lane creates for Tom is not the only impressive aspect of the novel.  A criticism which people often make of poets who write novels is the language they employ. Sometimes poets (and novelists too) get carried away with creating indelible word pictures to the detriment of character development and plot.  I felt that Lane balanced the language, plot and character development remarkably.  His gritty tone is consistent throughout the novel and is perfectly in keeping with the setting of a despairing, dusty farming town.  Through the memories related by the narrator, a realistic, vivid picture of the main and minor characters is painted and I found myself caring a lot about the fate of these flawed individuals.  I have been reading a lot of great, quality books lately, but Red Dog, Red Dog is definitely the one that I would most heartily recommend and it makes me proud to see an author from my hometown able to so successfully straddle the novelist/poet divide.    

Friday, September 3, 2010

Books Bring Us Together

My sister Jessica has come to town and has helped shape my reading list for the next year or so.  She is unequivocally my best resource when it comes to books and always gives me the straight goods.  Over the years she has pointed me in the right direction time and again and I really value her input.  Like most people, I don't have much patience for crap, especially when there are so many quality books out there just begging for my attention. Jessica is the literary equivalent of that crusty guy at the record store who is just that much cooler than you and knows all.  

I am not sure that my sister will enjoy that comparison, but it fits nonetheless.  Today we had one of our long book chats as we went on a caffeinated book bender and bantered back and forth about the books we'd been reading.  When I was in university I always swore in a shortsighted way that I would never date another English major because I wanted to avoid the inevitable literary debates that would ensue.  One of many regrettable statements of my early twenties.  What I have come to realize is the value of the company of readers.  I am not being snobby and insinuating that I exclusively enjoy the being around people who read the literary classics, that's not the case.  I think that I like people who are curious about the world around them and like to read newspaper articles, blogs, magazines, books, or poetry.  It's so much easier to make conversation and build a rapport with people who have developed opinions about issues and reading allows a person to take in the information that is required for critical thinking.  

Reading also helps to reinforce bonds that already exist.  Whenever I've read a good book or article, I like to share it with someone I love so that it's a collective experience.  That and I can't keep my mouth shut.  My recommendations have had mixed results, but luckily my sister and my boyfriend both tell me gently when my picks don't pan out.  Which is fortunately a rare occasion.  When my sister comes over to my apartment, the first thing she usually does is go through my collection and pick out any books she would like to borrow and I am happy to lend them to her.  For whatever reason, I always get a kick out of seeing my boyfriend's books on the shelf mixed with mine.  It's the perfect metaphor for our relationship, a fusion of our diverse tastes and interests, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  

For the heck of it I've added a link to a YouTube video by Henry Rollins.  It perfectly sums up why readers make the best dates.