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Hi everyone!

For those of you who wondered about what was happening – or more appropriately, not happening – on the 25th, this should bring you up to speed.

The 25th – this past Tuesday – was meant to be the release date for my new web, film and literature review site, The Parrington Review. The process of getting that website up and running has been what’s kept this blog from being active for the past two weeks, and promises to continue to slow things down for almost another week yet.

My new projected release date is Tuesday, October 2nd. I was offered a major technical upgrade free of charge by my ever big-hearted uncle Doug Bowker, so of course I took him up on it; unfortunately, getting my hands on the new stuff and implementing it has created a bit of a delay. My apologies!

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I won’t say too much about it here, but when things do get underway, I’ll be very excited to share the work of several talented and innovative web writers and developers with you. Over on LinkedIn, I’ve developed something I call the Featured Five – from the many free web reviews I perform there, every so often I select five to be spotlighted on The Parrington Review.

Those five will be featured on a regular basis when the new site comes out. The best of the independent web awaits!

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We’re also going to be having a look at a handful of films from the past few years, and a number of older gems as well. This is all stuff I loved. Here are just a few:

Blue Valentine – Inception – Avatar – District 9 – Sherlock Holmes

No Country for Old Men  Aliens  Taxi Driver – Lost Highway

Dr. Strangelove – Blade Runner (of course!) – Natural Born Killers

Unforgiven – Jacob’s Ladder – The Princess Bride – The Godfather

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There is the odd film I despise enough to write about, as well. Sorry to those devotees who find the following offensive:

The Expendables – Watchmen – Gran Torino – Synechdoche, New York

Aliens vs Predator: Requiem Timecop – Highlander – Poison Ivy

Pet Sematary – Close Encounters of the Third Kind

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Many films fall somewhere in between, naturally enough – and many such will be given their due! See if you can find your own favorite among these:

Limitless – The Hangover – 127 Hours – Machete – True Grit – 9

Inglourious Basterds – WALL-E Naked Lunch – Jurassic Park

Boys Don’t Cry – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Trainspotting

Escape from New York 12 Monkeys – Wild At Heart – Rush

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We’re literate, too, over on The Parrington Review. I’ll be covering a number of my own favorite reads:

The Waste Land and Other Poems – The Doors of Perception

One Hundred Years of Solitude – A Fan’s Notes Watership Down

The Beautiful and Damned – The Once and Future King

The Writings of St. Paul The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer Crash

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I hope you’ve found something on the list that appeals – there’s a lot more than this, too. As always, I’m open to hearing any sort of suggestion you want to throw at me. The Parrington Review is for you, after all, as much as I’m going to be having a blast producing it.

Cross your fingers for me as I continue to dabble in the dark arts of web development! I’ll try faithfully to keep you posted.


Blood

I was raised in a tradition that placed a high value on blood, so perhaps it is no surprise that I have come to revere Faulkner the way I do. As a child I sang and heard stories about the blood of Jesus Christ; as a young man I was washed in the blood of the Lamb, that which was spilt by God’s only Son and said to bring life to those who would stoop by the banks of that inexhaustible flow.

Faulkner’s entire work can be said to be about blood: that which separates the races, that which flows into the ground and stakes out a land as its own. Blood also enacts a chemical bond that connects family across the generations; it represents and gives substance to the link each one of us has to the past. It is blood that ties us irrevocably to the sins and victories of our forebears, and to the fortunes of our living kin. Above all, blood is a spiritual connection: even when, biologically, we become disconnected, blood readmits us into communion with one another.

Faulkner was a high school dropout. He was a white boy raised by a black woman in the Deep South, and he was brought up in a constant flow of old stories about war and race and the struggle between the sexes. He was a D student in English, but a major player in the Southern Renaissance of literature. His attention to cadence and diction became larger than life. He was a dedicated perpetrator of the stream of consciousness narrative style.

It was through that last approach that I first found the man. The first Faulkner novel I ever read was The Sound and the Fury– an Oprah’s Pick edition, to my dismay. Sorry, Oprah fans- it just seemed so unlikely a winner to me. But I had heard Faulkner mentioned in connection with other great names of the twentieth century, and just had to give it a venture.

I was floored, from the first page to the last. Four narrative voices take turns in expressing their own perspectives, and each is entirely distinct. The first quarter is narrated by Benjy, eldest son in the Compson family, severely mentally disabled. In modern terms, he is a non-functional autistic. The narration here is impressionistic and emotional, dependent on immediate sense perception and a distorted or minimal understanding of events.

The second quarter is presented to us by the youngest Compson brother, Quentin. This narrator is deeply idealistic, and becomes equally despondent as he watches the fragmentation of his family unit, and in particular the disintegration of his sister’s moral and emotional wellbeing. Severe depression leads to the narrator’s suicide at the end of his section.

Third on our lineup is Jason, middle brother of the Compson family. His cynicism and pragmatic approach make this quarter the easiest to read- but also the most horrifying, for me. It mostly consists of Jason’s ongoing quest to make a dollar, and to control his household.

The last quarter is led by Dilsey, high priestess- so to speak- of the black family servants. Her role as matriarch over her small community also makes her chief caregiver to the Compsons; her perspective is high and wide. Divided from the white folk she serves by the color of her skin, she is even so the one individual who does the most to care for them through their final days as a family, administrating their wellbeing in spite of their self-obliteration.

Keep in mind that the sections overlap. Each character’s perspective builds on the limited scope of the previous. The result is rich, full and very powerful. Can you see why I was so impressed? What I was reading was the story of a home shattering outward, a family with a great Southern history that had finally come to an inglorious end. What I was reading was so layered, so textured; each new quarter brought home a new level of understanding in the tragedy of a doomed bloodline. And, strangely, it was the woman whose blood separated her furthest from the story- it was this woman who was able to provide the most balanced and sympathetic account.

Quite different, but equally important in its own respect to my experience of Faulkner was his Go Down, Moses. Composed of seven novellas, or short stories, it conveys a moving portrait of a collection of racially diverse family units over the course of a hundred years- especially focusing, as is typical with Faulkner, on one white family: the McCaslins.

The Old People- one of the short stories- deals very directly with the title subject of this post. Isaac McCaslin, child of the Southern woods, is initiated into the hunt by the son of a native chief. While accompanying his predecessors and elders on his first real hunting trip, Isaac kills a buck; Sam, the chief’s son, anoints him with its blood.

A second buck- a grandfather among the deer- is spotted by a member of the hunting party, and the group disperses in order to locate and kill it. Isaac finds himself alone with the beast and his mentor, Sam; he does not shoot it.

There follows one of the most powerful- and dense- monologues I have ever read. I’d like to share a portion of it here:

Think of all that has happened here, on this earth. All that blood hot and strong for living, pleasuring, that has soaked back into it. For grieving and suffering too, of course, but still getting something out of it for all that, getting a lot out of it, because after all you don’t have to continue to bear what you believe is suffering; you can always choose to stop that, put an end to that. And even suffering and grieving is better than nothing; there is only one thing worse than not being alive, and that’s shame. But you can’t be alive forever, and you always wear out life long before you have exhausted the possibilities of living.

The blood of the hunted falls to earth and becomes part of it. The blood rises up in life again, and is once again subject to the hunt. Leaves fall and decompose; their decay becomes part of the living forest, and once again the leaves fall. Just as flora and fauna follow on themselves in this seemingly eternal exchange of energy, so man passes on his blood, his traditions, his values- and the passage continues down through time. Isaac’s bloody anointment pulls the paradigm tightly into focus.

In The Bear, we experience the brutal demise of a bear whose power is adequate not only to preserve him against traps and bullets, but to bring death to the dog that finally brings him down- and the very legend of the bear seems to be enough to bring about the demise of the man who trained that dog. The struggle in which all this takes place is climactic and, of course, bloody.

Isaac, who was involved in the hunt for Old Ben, renounces his claim on the family plantation. He finds himself burdened with guilt over what he calls the curse of God’s Earth: man’s efforts to own the land itself, his presumption is trying to own men of a different color than himself, and both the spiritual and physical destruction of what was the South. Returning to the site of the hunt for Old Ben, Isaac finds that it has become a venue for logging.

These two stories stand very tall, for me, among anything else Faulkner has written. The seeping, engulfing tide of which he writes- and his contempt of resistance to it- fill me with a sense of fear and splendor. Blood is inescapable in Faulkner, and irresistible in our world: good or bad, we are bound together as a species, as a lineage, as a great story.

When I was living in Okotoks, Alberta, on the ranch with my boss Jim, I learned of an idiosyncrasy he had. Jim loved to hunt with a crossbow. He would go out among the underbrush on his land and stalk the elk that populated those low, close hills; he would move as silently as he could, gaining ground and finding a thrill in proximity. But Jim never cocked his weapon, nor did he ever fire it; Jim never intended to kill or maim. For Jim, there was no blood.

I do not hunt. But for me, there is blood; there will always be blood (yes, I liked the movie, too). Faulkner is my literary hero, because he recognises this fundamental element in existence, and because he expresses it so eloquently. I’m going to include links, now, to a few of the novels I’ve read of his- who knows, you might come to love him too.

As I Lay Dying. A strange, convoluted narrative- compelling characters and vivid, sluggish prose. A lot of flesh and blood in proportionately little movement. A mini Odyssey; a tiny and demented Grapes of Wrath.

Light in August. Beautiful, hazy prose- horrible and somehow very real lives wrapped in layers of Southern perception. The Southern mind and the meaning of blood explored and molded as deftly as could ever be accomplished with words only- injections of deep and nearly imperceptible humor delineate the characters in their small, saturated existences.

Pylon. Best feature is its narrative approach to the passing of time- weaker is the dialogue, not the dark and fragrant stuff of other Faulkner. A compelling presentation of an interesting time in history.

Sanctuary & Requiem for a Nun. Dark, evocative passages from Sanctuary stand in contrast wit the sometimes awkward playwriting of Requiem. Long and winding pathways- flavored slowly, carefully with Faulkner’s typical attention to everything living and not living.


Fifth Business

This post may be the most intense and essentially personal thing I have written yet. What I want to do today is explore the impact of a particular book- Fifth Business– on the course of my life. To some of you this will come as no surprise; to others, it may be a bit of a shock. Robertson Davies’ first novel in the Deptford Trilogy radically altered my outlook, paving the way to lifestyle changes that have remained with me to the present. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a fan, not an expert. No, sir. What I have to say is rooted in my own experience- we’re not looking for universal truths here, even if we find some.

Do you remember when I mentioned that Davies was my favorite Canadian author? I found him in the jaws of high school education about six years ago. A good and very engaging woman, Ms. Beverley Haun, was teaching that class. Cam was there with me and would probably attest to the intensity with which I discovered Davies, under Beverley’s direction.

Fifth Business is a theatrical term; it indicates a character in a play who exists mainly to interact with the leading roles- a spectator who also carries a secret. He simply rides parallel to the sequence of action, ready to spill his guts with the secret dormant within him, ready to radically alter the plot at the drop of a dime. No one acknowledges his significance until his one vital act, and even then he is swiftly passed by as the protagonists and antagonists struggle to cope with the change.

All throughout my childhood and young adulthood I fantasised about that radical action, and found myself relegated to a sort of psychological spectator’s sideline as I waited to make my mark. Scene after scene rolled out before me, and in each one I strove to observe- and to intervene only when the moment was right. Sometimes I felt as though I missed my cue, and sometimes I felt entirely satisfied. Most of all, though, I watched- like I used to in the tree on my parents’ front lawn- and tried to understand. I wanted to know secrets so desperately, secrets that would give me the power to transform my own perspective, if nothing else- the key to my social context, the shadow-self of a friend, the hidden dynamic in language that would unlock communication.

You can see, dear reader, from whence my fascination with this book might have stemmed. The main character- a fifth business himself- is one of any number of personalities in the book that explore fundamental divisions in psychology. C. G. Jung’s Self and Shadow self are present everywhere, exploring the possibility that deep within us, hidden from ourselves, is an opposite personal dynamic. Some of our actions and opinions are said to be guided by this Shadow self; the suppressed aspects of our personalities exert themselves through our unconscious, and also in our dreams. I imagine that if you put a little consideration into this, you will find some real truth to it. I certainly did.

At the time I picked up this book and proceeded through its pages, I was deeply involved in a Christian lifestyle- an avid churchgoer and leader in my own right. A further thematic element in Fifth Business- the juxtaposition of spirituality with the material world- troubled me. As I explored the ideas of Self and Shadow, of spirit and body, of male and female, I came into contact with the concept that finally led me astray: the Persona.

The Persona can be roughly equated to a mask. This is the aspect of our psyche that we gradually build up in order to shield our Ego- a mediator between our sense of Self and the vast potentialities that exist around us. This is our defining construction, the device we use to protect ourselves from things that don’t jive or fit with how we view ourselves. This is how we present to the world.

I began to wonder just what had gone into the development of my own Persona. How did I view myself consciously- and was I fact in protecting myself from a Shadow that slavered on the other side of the door? In the Christian paradigm, I had been taught that the Shadow was only my sinful self, my old and unredeemed self. Now I began to wonder if it was, in fact, simply another side to my whole psyche. The sense that there was here in this book a whole new way of understanding life and my place in it began to eat away at me. I could articulate questions, where before I had only blind thirst.

Unfortunately for the stability of the life I led at that time, the questions found terrifyingly few answers. It’s no surprise, looking back- these were searching concerns, and not passing worries that could be reduced to simple terms. One of my heroes, the previously mentioned C. G. Jung, spent his life investigating these mysteries- and this brilliant pioneer admitted loudly that he had not nearly found the end of the shroud.

Today I am still exploring. I value my Christian heritage, but I am no longer constrained by its interpretations- my mind speeds across the wide dark waters of human thought and tradition, seeking new wonders and taking joy in the limitless expanse.

You may not have a book like this, a book that changed everything for you. I don’t think that’s especially important- everyone has their own path toward realising themselves. I do hope, though, that you’re enjoying this strange and difficult world as much as I am.

Until next time, folks!


House of Words

After graduating high school, as you know, I went West. I attended the University of Toronto after that experience, and then went West again. But a number of you will know me specifically from the next portion of my life: Chapters Peterborough.

I’d been looking for work for a few months when I received a callback from Chapters. My morale was at an all-time low, and I really had no inkling that this new possibility would pan out. I remember arriving in my parents’ car, literally trembling with apprehension- can you imagine that? I have some of Dad’s working blood in me, I guess, and was feeling pretty deprived and discouraged by then.

In any case, I went in and sat down with Barb. Now here’s a funny thing about Chapters- we all know that bosses are a real drag, am I right? They exist to ruin the fun and drag our feelings over the coals. This was a general belief I was happy to go along with, anyways, until I began to get a sense of how this new job was going to shape up. Barb was compassionate in my time of misery, and for that I never forgot to thank her on a regular basis. She saw through the deer in the headlights and saw a capable employee, and, possibly, a good sort of guy.

So I got my second interview. This time it was with Tom, a man whose love of the Beatles was equalled only by his apparently equal love for humanity in general. Either that, or he made an awful good show of pretending. I was given a psych evaluation- the first time I’d done anything like that for a job. The results indicated that while I was certainly a borderline sociopath, I was also a very promising salesperson. So that was that.

Tom always wore a set of keys on his belt. They jingled like a cheerful but businesslike elf wherever he went, and I always had time to put down whatever book I was reading before he came around the corner. I loved that about the job, by the way- yes, Tom, of course, but also the books. Selling books means a good working knowledge of them is valuable indeed. I read constantly in any case, but never had I felt so externally motivated to pursue my interest.

In this workplace I enjoyed working with customers as I never have anywhere else. I took full advantage of my specific preferences to push the product in a way that made sense to me. I had some customers who would come back month after month, seeking me out to follow up on the last computer help book I’d recommended, or to get a new set of recommendations. On a less honorable note, I loved to mess with the poor unwitting fools coming in for an easy book report read. “It’s a pretty simple read,” I would say as I handed them Crime and Punishment. “Don’t be fooled by its size. It’s about growing up and dealing with guilt.”

I worked mostly in Fiction, and also sometimes in Kids- where my future wife was queen. I did Magazines for a while, and tried my hand at Receiving. There wasn’t one area I didn’t enjoy in its own capacity. I was always trying to improve and expand, bringing in my own personal material resources to guarantee the best result. I applied Arnold’s action-oriented ideology every day, although I regret that I may have stepped on a few brittle toes in the process.

Bookselling is a rewarding and slightly frightening business. Rewarding, because you get to play a vital role in the heart the North American tradition of literacy. Frightening, because you see just what people like to read. I mean, there’s as much trash on a given shelf as there is worthy print- but it’s the grime that a scary number of people prefer. Who am I to judge?- obviously- but I’d be surprised if very many people would adamantly disagree with me on this point.

Books will be around for a while. I know there’s a lot of hype surrounding e-readers- and I don’t mind. I’m all about technological innovation. But as far as collectible items, as far as aesthetics, as far as tradition, books have a staying power we shouldn’t underestimate.

As you well know, and as I alluded, this was also the place from which my new and current romance blossomed. More on that another time, naturally! In the meantime, though, here are some of the highlights of what I read while or soon after being employed at the House of Words–

Sartoris, Faulkner. Beautiful ironies, dusky romances, tender portraits of men and women laden with the futile motivations common to mankind.

The Once and Future King, White. An experience in altered perspective. As the characters grow up, so does the content and presentation. From innocence to a more textured- and darker- tone, it all comes crashing to a terribly modern, but not devastating, point.

Chronopolis, Ballard. A fine cross-section of a very distinctive body of work. Ballard’s fascinations with time and evolution are mine also- and his imaginative explorations of these and lesser themes are far reaching and colorful.

The Devils of Loudun, Huxley. Massive breadth, satisfying depth, and a staggering collection of historical, psychological and philosophical adjuncts. Huxley makes the most of his impressive ability with language and sense of placement.

Man and His Symbols, Jung. Several contributors worked closely in conjunction with one another, a great situation for dealing with material of this density. Each is an expert in the field, each from a differing angle, and each with personal ties of some nature. Lots of personality.

The Beautiful and Damned, Fitzgerald. A creature totally distinct from Gatsby. Crippling satire in almost cartoon color, but do I detect a stronger note of emotional autobiography? Razor-fine line between realism and romance.


Growing Up

[This post I dedicate to Tom, who reminds me of childhood- and to his dad, Jim, who I quietly idolised.]

When I was maybe seven, even eight, I used to climb up into the trees on my front lawn and watch people walk by. Middle aged women would jog by in pairs and I would try to hear their breathless conversation. Old men would whistle while they walked past, on their way down the street to get the mail from our community mailbox. I especially liked Don, who was always hollering hello at someone in a way that could make them jump out of their pants if they weren’t expecting it. Other kids went by, too, but I was so absorbed in my game that I wouldn’t call out. I was a ninja, or a spy, or an Indian scout. Really, though, I just liked to watch.

I was born in Ottawa in December of 1988. Back there my folks attended a little church where they called me The Judge. The grey-haired set liked to pinch my little cheeks and give me sweets, cracking up when I just solemnly stared back. It might be a stretch, but it seems to me that even from that time I was lost in my own world, an observer in a world of participators. I suspect I enjoyed those candies all the same.

We moved to Peterborough when I was two- just me and my parents at the time. Eventually I would wind up with a sister, then a brother: Julianne and Michael. One of my earliest memories is the terrific fear I carried through childhood of the bathtub drain. I couldn’t bear to stay in the tub when the plug was pulled; a persistent vision of swarms of lobsters or crayfish coming up out of that black sucking hole troubled me to my soul.

Dad brought Lego into my life sometime in that dark stage, conquering the crayfish with the sweet distraction of construction. He had saved a quantity of the precious bricks from a time that predated the dial-up connection. I can’t express just how many hours I sank into those and the others that gradually expanded my collection. It’s a habit that has remained with me to the present, where I can and do share the same passion with my boys. Kieran became a solid convert just months after I met him nearly three years ago, and Emery is of late going down the same way. I couldn’t be more pleased; the Lego calls to its own with little need for encouragement.

I spent as much time outdoors as I did in back then. I miss that. There was, and is, a small woods down the street from my folks’ place. When I was eight, though, it was not a small woods. At that time it was still enormous, a deep and dangerous mystery that only the kids dared explore. Some of my older peers went there and left their parents’ bottles and butts. My friends liked better to see how far we could get into the swampy areas before turning chicken. I had heard very often- and this was like some legend of a holy grail- that there was a couch somewhere on the far side of the forest. I doubted, sometimes, if there was another side. I did reach it once, though, years after I started my excursions. Who was it that was with me on the big day? I can’t remember anymore. We didn’t find a couch, but we did emerge in the back field of someone’s farm. I guess that’s what it was, anyways.

My dad had a real time of it trying to get me to ride a bike. I’m experiencing the same thing now with Kieran, and am thankful that I was as stubborn and apprehensive: it grants me a measure of patience. I understand. I was dead certain that I’d fall off and tear up my limbs- the awful thing is, I was totally right! Dad finally forced the subject and took me on that final afternoon of thrills and torments. I was drunk with the new sensation, and showed off my new ability to anyone who would watch thereafter. Many trees hold little scars of which I was the perpetrator, but they have nothing to complain about next to me (not me in the link!).

What did I read back then? The Hardy Boys, mostly, I guess. They were always exclaiming over something, maybe Chet’s souped-up jalopy, or Biff’s washboard abs. Joe and Frank’s mom was always nearby with a pie. Their dad was always working a big case that they absolutely had to stay away from, and which they inevitably solved themselves. I loved them from the first motorcycle chase to the last kidnapping. I was also into Brian Jacques– talking mice who lived in an abbey, strangely enough, and badgers with axes twice their size, always coming head to head with the nasty stoats and weasels. It definitely gave me an early impression of the moral character of British woodland animals.

I didn’t always go in for the tame world of books, by the way. Video games played a major part of my formation of hobbies. I used to call Nathan, my pal directly across the street, just about every day the moment I came off the bus and got my backpack off. His telephone number is engraved indelibly on my mind. Then it was Red Alert, and Metal Gear Solid, and the many other cryptic things that yong boys do on a television screen. When I wanted to go in for a real bad boy sort of activity, it was down to Andrew’s to play Mortal Kombat. Remember the controversy? You used to get to pop your enemy’s head right off, spine and everything. Sometimes they would fall on the spikes below. That was hard stuff. Sorry, Mom and Dad, but you had to find out sometime.

When I was maybe eight, maybe nine, I went up to my parents’ room one day and opened the box where they kept money for babysitters. I took out a loonie- was the toonie even around yet?- and brought it outside. I actually buried it under the soil in my tree fort, then dug it back up. Then I brought it in and showed Mom. I raved about how lucky I was to have found a dollar in the ground. Looking back, I don’t see how she could have believed this. She probably didn’t. But she let me get away with it, and I’m grateful still.

I have lot more buried back there in the tree forts and the parks and my friends’ basements. There’s more to the present than the past, of course, but it seemed suitable for me to give you a window into that old world of mine. I hope, once again, that you got a kick out of this. Feel free to share your own kid stories if you get the urge. Until next time–!


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