Ink Master, Season 1

I’ve seen clips of later seasons and found them mesmerizing. So with lockdown wearing on me one day and looking for a short, easy lunch-break something to watch, I clicked “play” for season one.

It seems clear to me that no one filming this show knew if it was going to amount to anything or not, and there’s clearly some confusion about the basis for the competition: is it a pure skill test or is there also a social element to the game. The result is a very distanced, mercenary sensibility: the artists are here to win 100,000$ and never quite check into the show itself. They disagree with the judges at every moment, grant them zero credibility, and more or less think they (the judges) can go fuck themselves.

What I was surprised by is how macho the world of tattooing is. These people are aggressively cool, touchy as hell, and ready to fight. Very chill, very understanding people had done my few pieces, and I had automatically assumed most other tattooists were like that as well. So I was genuinely caught off guard by the general vibe of the world.

Cross Post: Criterion’s Pride Schedule

New post at Speaks at Home.

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Criterion has published their June schedule, which includes a series of queer films for Pride Month that actually has me pretty excited. It’s a great list of things with plenty I haven’t seen.
There’s a lot there, but the ones that interest me are:

  • Double Feature: The Red Tree (Paul Rowley) and A Special Day (Paul Rowley)
  • A series of Cheryl Dunye’s works
  • Parting Glances
  • But I’m a Cheerleader (Jamie Babbit)
  • The “Queersighted: Turn the Gaze Around” curation materials
  • Another Country (Marek Kanievska)
  • Tarnation (Jonathan Caouette)
  • Olivia (Jacqueline Audry)

Still, despite all that goodness, the entry on the schedule that has me counting days is the “Three by Araki” series, which includes Totally F***ed Up, a film I’ve seen multiple times but only on crap VHS or on YouTube. I LOVE this film and the idea of seeing a clean Criterion-quality version of it’s camcorder scrappiness has me losing my shit.

And also, obviously,

(yes, yes, yes,)

My Own Private Idaho.

Cross Post: Errands Under Lockdown

New post at Speaks at Home.

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My last post, once I saw it online, startled me with how little it captured the experience of running the errands I spoke about during the COVID pandemic rather than normal times.
Quebec was still under lockdown when I went out, even if the plan for reopening is now under way. The Beav and I have been strict about following the orders: we’ve gone out for groceries, bought as much as we could when we did, and stayed home otherwise. And this since March 13th. It turns out though that bike shops and hardware stores are, along with grocery stores, “essential services.”

So my day started with me standing outside the bike shops wearing a mask, my bike in a rack and my explaining to a worker who was two metres away, what I thought needed to be done on the bike and him telling me he’d call if something else came up as they worked. They’d call in a week to let me know when to pick it up. I never set foot in the store.

At the grocery store, I stood in line, spaced two metres apart waiting for one of the fifty people inside to leave so the next person in line could go into the foyer, wash their hands at the sink, take a cleaned cart and go inside to shop. Arrows on the floor tell you which direction you can walk up the aisles in order to minimize the chance of getting too close to someone. When it was time to check out, there was another line: I stood on my circle waiting for the circle in front of me to clear off, then moved up. When I was at the front of the line, I waited until an employee sent me to a cashier who was empty and had finished cleaning their station from the last customer.

At the hardware store, it was just like at the grocery store, only harder to manage because how do you follow the arrows when you can’t know which plants you’re going to get until you’ve seen all that they have on offer?

These three errands took me nearly four hours.

Cross Post: This Year’s Garden

A new post at Speaks at Home.

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Early Wednesday, May 20, I got up and dropped off my bike at the shop to be serviced for the summer. Afterwards, I made our grocery run and then stopped by Rona to buy the basics for the garden. I hadn’t planned on planting everything that day and certainly didn’t plan on putting everything in all in one go. But once I had the seedlings, I didn’t see any reason to wait.

Five hours later, I was done, exhausted and watering. (And the next day, I could barely move I was so sore from all the squatting and standing and squatting and standing.)

So that I have some notes for later, this is this year’s garden.

Tomatoes

Big Beef

The same variety I’ve planted the past few summers. Thirty plants are arranged in four rows in the space behind the potatoes. I over planted in case I lost plants again this year but also because I’m thinking about canning rather than freezing the tomatoes we don’t eat.

We ate the last of the the frozen tomatoes from last year around the same time that I planted the garden.

Asparagus

  • Jersey Giant
  • Mary Washington

Planted in four short rows arranged in an L-shape behind the rhubarb.

Potatoes

  • Warba (early)
  • Kennebec (mid-season)
  • Russian Blue (late)

Planted in two rows along the long south side of the garden. The early season are planted in both rows close to the road. The mid-season are planted in the middle. The late season are planted at the west end of the rows.

Garlic

Planted in two short rows along the west side of the garden running from the rhubarb to the front.

A Solitary Eggplant

It’s not hot enough long enough to really grow eggplant here, but we love eggplant and managed to get eight off of one plant last year. I lost the ticket identifying the variety but this plant — if it bears anything — will bear a long skinny fruit with some write mottling on the skin when ripe. I planted it in the corner where the potatoes meet the garlic.

Cross Post: Embarrassed

New post at Speaks at Home.

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Yesterday I was going through some old posts on my blog for the first time in ages and what I realized reading was how clearly nervous I was about what I was writing. Posting to the open web was new to me, and once what I was doing had sunk in (it took awhile), I became very very self-conscious about what I was watching, about what I was reading, and about what I revealed by sharing my thoughts about these things honestly.

Reading now and knowing what I actually think and feel about what I logged, I can see how often I hedged or struck a knowing or ironic pose, how often I took cheap shots at disreputable works I enjoyed, and in dozens of other ways struck just to the side of truthfulness.

Years ago in a class, Eric Savoy, drawing on remarks by Henry James, defined “embarrassment” as the position of having said too much yet without having managed to say what you meant. My nervous logs — and not all of them are — are embarrassed in exactly this sense. They reveal passions without sharing love.

Abbott on Humane Scholarship

You should aspire to something better than the mere political use of the past or of the Other. Human scholarship aims to understand another world on its own terms and by that understanding to improve its own world. …We should see the subject of our research as a particular example of its own way of being human — good or bad, sightly or unsightly, politically correct or devastatingly evil.

Andrew Abbott, Digital Paper: A Manual for Research and Writing with Library and Internet Materials

J. A. Martin, Photographe

Set in the late 18th century in Quebec, a wife finds people to care for her children and sets out with her husband as he makes his yearly rounds to take portraits of local people. The wife loves her husband, desires him physically, and feels lost and alone in the daily work of housekeeping and childcare. The film records their rediscovery of their love for each other after fifteen years of marriage. 

This film, shot almost exclusively under overcast skies, is quiet and sombre. People rarely speak and most seem to live miserably. But the protagonist insists on forging some kind of happiness with the man she still loves and Monique Mercure finds genuine depth of feeling by inventing a strong personality that plays against crushing external constraints. 

The movie ends with the couple glad to be back home and surprised by how beautiful this ordinary place they had grown to resent looks. In the final shot, the two embrace in bed, and immediately the baby begins to cry from another room. They decide to ignore it in order to stay with each other, agreeing that it will fall to sleep soon.

Of note: over the course of a long sequence involving three different locations and at least a day of story time, the film shows miscarriage as it happens. We see it’s onset and development without knowing what it is, and then watch the mother suffer through the fausse couche. The sequence ends with the father taking the handful of remains, which have been wrapped up by his wife in some old cloth, and walking off with a shovel to bury them. Ironically, this miscarriage is the first sign we have confirming that the couple are now having sex.

Fall 2020

The announcement has been made and the decision now official: classes at my college will be online in the Fall. Figuring out how to make that work has now become a summer project.

Star Trek: Discovery

I lost track of the Star Trek series early on in Voyager. So aside from the three film reboots, I’ve been a bit disconnected. Recently though, I decided to give Discovery a try, and as I started the first episode, my hopes soared. Without a doubt, the opening credits and theme are the best to appear since the original series and The Next Generation. “This show,” I thought, “has figured out how to update the right way.” 

Unfortunately, our contemporary moment is quite ugly, and I’m not sure Roddenberry’s show survives the contact.

An Ethical Objection

I’ve only seen the first season at this point, but Discovery is, in important ways, not Star Trek. Not really. Instead, it’s like a half-bizarro Star Trek. The characters wear recognizable uniforms, the ships are discs with wings, and the Federation, Klingons and Vulcans are all there. But the utopian ethos that defined the earlier series is absent.

In Discovery, every room is dark enough to be gloomy, paranoia is normalized and horror elements abound in the cinematography and montage. Torture and violence are foregrounded and often sexualized. The emotional range of the narrative is also extremely constrained. People here are angry, afraid, desperate, resentful and confrontational. Thinking back, I can’t remember any character feeling a single moment of joy or happiness. This emotional constraint is signalled by the capacities of the show’s empath: no Betazoid, he can only sense fear and danger. Given the narrative, that’s enough. (Full disclosure: he’s also the character I find the most sympathetic.)

More troubling, however, are the many ways that the earlier series’ utopian commitments to non-violence and co-existence are absent. Phasers here are never set to stun. Violence and aggression are continually presented (by Vulcans no less!) as the best and most logical path toward peace. And all of this seems to be kind of okay because, in another dimension, things are even worse and because, in the end, the Discovery’s crew don’t act as bad as those really really bad guys. Go Federation! 

As a kid I aspired to become Nemoy’s Spock, and as a young adult, I (along with so many other nerdy boys) saw Stewart’s Picard as a role model. This show feels like a repudiation of their peaceful convictions.

Geeky Nitpicking

On a less fundamental level, there were Trek-fan things that bothered me too. Science has always been “science” in Star Trek, but Discovery jumps squarely into the realm of magic, eliminating basic spatial and temporal limits fundamental to good storytelling. Basically anything can happen here at any time and problems are problems only until someone activates a teleporter or releases blue glowing spores. Is this bad writing or a symptom of the shift from physical to biological science?

Speaking of bad writing, I also found the dialogue to be surprisingly weak. To cite only one example from the pilot, the Vulcan trained (and top of her class) first officer is on a space walk near a binary star and speaks about what she sees. Apparently thinking she’s on a home-reno show, she reports that “the only word to describe it is ‘wow.'” To which I can only say:

And yet, hope…

Despite all of this, I find it hard to say the show’s terrible. I’m not sure I liked it, but it’s well made and coherent within the bounds it sets for itself, and I’m definitely going to watch the later seasons.

My problem with it is that it more or less rejects the socialist, cooperative utopia of Roddenberry’s Star Trek, a legacy it evokes to lay claim to my attention and which, therefore, sets the horizon for my expectations and judgments. Watching the show from within that field, I can’t ignore how far the series has fallen from the original’s admirable hopes for our future.

My own hope for the future of the show is that there will be a course correction, that the whole spore drive business will go away and that this “Federation” will rediscover the value of cooperation, of ethical inquiry and of peaceful contact (and coexistence) with the unknown.

Because I want to love Star Trek.

New Normal

Talking about a “new normal” a few weeks ago felt like hysteria, but it seems pretty clear that many of the changes in daily life brought on by the COVID pandemic will be with us for the rest of the year.

The most obvious example is the rumblings about online courses in the Fall. Nothing’s been announced officially yet, but a few days ago I accepted that I should begin thinking about what classes given entirely online would look like. The difference between a course that finishes online and one offered there exclusively is like the difference between a whale and a fish: many of their similarities are only apparent and fall away when you pay closer attention. I’ve only just started and already I’m reconsidering things I took to be fundamental.

So with the promise of months of social distancing to come and plenty of work to do along the way, I’m grateful to be out of the city far enough to be able to sit outside watching the river or to take walks around the fields. I’m locked down but not confined, and I’m close enough to the natural world to see the muskrat swimming along the banks of the river or the mourning doves nesting under a corner of the roof or the squirrel braving the road to get at the stand of trees beyond the pavement.

It helps to see these creatures moving along at a familiar rhythm in a world that they take to be largely unchanged.

True Detective

My brother loved the first season of True Detective. My sister-in-law loved it too. So did my mother. It stars Woody, and both his and the show’s reviews were pretty great. So I gave in and watched it.

Why did I hesitate at all? Because crime fiction gives me nightmares. Few things do, but crime fiction does. Almost always.

Still, I watched, and the first season of this show is absolutely great television: beautifully shot, tightly written, well acted, and everything felt purposeful and controlled. I genuinely loved it.

And then the nightmares set it. They were bad, started immediately, and kept me from sleeping for days. They also set off my sleepwalking (alas, it’s a thing I do) which meant the Beav wasn’t sleeping either. It was miserable.

Things only went back to normal when, after a few days of rain, the skies cleared and the wind warmed up enough to feel like the beginnings of spring rather than the remnants of winter. I worked in the garden, I ate by the river and then I lounged in the grass under the sun. In short, I spent the day outside reminding myself of all that is right in the world. And that night, finally, I slept.

So are the rest of the seasons of this show as good as the first?

Maybe. But I promise you that I will never know.