25 May 2010

Book excerpt


Move in closer, and listen.
...and this is how you plant a tree, ladies and gents. This is it. No more, no less. Anyone who says differently is totally full of shit, y'hear me? And, uh, may the pox be on them and their whole house. A POX, I say!!! No, no, ha ha I don't mean that. A pox on nobody. But anyway, hi dee do you little heathens, this is where you become tree planters, like it or not. I'd tell you to take off your rain gear and gaiters and plant all day in your goddamn undies if I could, but that's Hank's joke. So I won't tell you that. But yeah man... this is where you become tree planters, like it or not.
The dog stops sniffing the ground and rocks and everyone's boots for just a moment, raises his shaggy grey head and looks up at the man who is talking. Their eyes meet.
Oh, oh uh, ahem, ahem, this is my friend Wolf Boy, the man says, and I believe he's some sort of dog or something, yeah? And, uh, Wolf Boy, these here are some rookies. They're not ready for the big stuff yet, so you go easy on them, kay?
The dog looks carefully around the group, sniffs the air once or twice, looks them over again a bit more slowly, sniffs again and then goes back to investigating the ground.
I, the man says, am known to some as Feral Danger Macduff, and this, you poor miserable bastards, is where the shit goes down and so, yeah, yeah, man... buck up, I guess, 'cuz it ain't gonna be easy.
He plants a tree quickly, then plants another, too fast for anyone to understand much of anything. You got it?, he says. That's it. That's how you plant a tree. No more, no less...
Now let's have a dogs-eye view, a look at the faces here in this small huddled group.
NAMES!, Feral shouts. Names! Are we in civilized company still, or have we so quickly descended to the level of mere beasts? No offense, Wolf Boy, he says, turning sideways to the dog, who looks up at him. But which is it?, he continues. Civilized, or beasts? Have we so quickly eaten that bitter root which taketh all reason prisoner? Goddamn it people. Fuck! Are we civilized or are we beasts?
Uh, we're civilized?, someone says. A few nervous giggles go around.
Feral heaves a long sigh, rolls his eyes heavenward, asking some invisible listener how he got stuck with these dullards. Anyway, he repeats, anyway, I ask you for your names.
He points at a girl. Minh, she says, curtsying with an imaginary skirt. A guy. Keith, he says, but I'm not...
Aha! Keith's not a rookie!, Feral says. He was here last year, eh? He's a vet now. Good, good. Minh and Keith. Keith and Minh. More, more.
And other names get named. One by one. Adam, says Adam, our man from the first scene. Lyn, says Lyn, though her full name was really Evelyn, but we'll get to all that soon enough. She looked Italian or Egyptian or something, hard to place it really, but she was Metis actually, which we'll also get to soon too. Dark hair, dark eyes, not tall, not short.
Hank, one of them says, a tall skinny dude with short messy hair. It was his joke, you'll remember, about rookies not being allowed to wear their gaiters and rain-suits, that Feral didn't tell earlier.
Hallo hallo Mr. Hank, Feral says. Now listen rookies, he whispers, leaning in, Mr. Hank here thinks he's a bit of a highballer, a bit of a... uh, sargeant at arms, eh Hank? 'zat right?
'sright, says Hank, and gives a careless, off the forehead salute, laughing good-naturedly. Most of them are rookies, so they all nod, impressed and amused, too.
Anyway, Hank says to the group, pointing with his thumb, anyway, Mr. Feral here has been known to plant a few trees in his day. But what's weird about this statement is that Hank makes the rabbit ears with his fingers as he says the word Feral, as if quoting it or, like, calling it into question or something.
'Sright 'sright, Feral says. Me too, me too. Planted lots of trees me buckos, lots of 'em.
More names. Susie--a Polish-p(l)easant Saskatchewan farm girl. Round rosy cheeks. Blond hair. Blue eyes.
Scott--dark hair and pale eyes, five feet ten inches or so. Thin, but athletic and strong-looking.
Magda, says Magda. And she's fucking hot. Feral doesn't say that. No one says it in fact, but I'm telling you about it all the same. She's hot. Feral nods to her and says Salut, mon coeur. Enchante.
Salut, she answers, laughing. Moi'ssi. Their eyes hold for just that tiniest second, y'know? That tiniest second that conveys so much more. A half-smile passes between them. She lowers her eyes.
And then Marcus, says Marcus.
Now, uh, Marcus here, Feral says, turning away from Magda and back to the group, is more rightly known as Christian Marcus, in order to distinguish him from the other and decidedly non-Christian Marcus who will not be joining us on the voyage this year due to certain, uh, irregularities in his performance shall we say. But our man here, our Marcus, Feral says, leaning in as if he's sharing a secret, he's another highballer. Big time. He leans back outward, adds: He also highballs in spirit, which is just as important in my books. More important, in fact. This guy's a fucking champion.
Marcus just smiles broadly, nods. Smiles, nods, smiles and nods all around.
A pause. People are waiting now, waiting for something.
Okay, so... I'll try to remember all your names, Feral continues. I'll try. Wait. Wait... Okay. Got 'em. MinhKeithAdamLynHankSusieScottMagdaMarcus. The Nine. Got 'em.
The Nine, he had called them, and so just like that and quite all of a sudden on this first morning together in the bush, they were declared to be a weird little fellowship group. A band. A troop. A gaggle of grey-wandering pilgrims all grey-weary fleshed with the wear-down of city that was worn down upon all their faces, the grey wear-down gown of the city worn down upon them all like a fleece of old coat in the rain.

24 May 2010

Eulogy #2: To the Faculty

I've been asked to say some words regarding D and his passing.

I'll begin by simply stating that this a major, a major loss for the international research community, for our university, our faculty, our discipline, and for our research unit.

To me, and for others here today, this also represents the loss of a mentor, and of a dear friend.

And that's it, that's as far as my words go, because I actually have the luxury of using D's words.

I have this luxury because I spent two long morning sessions with D, one session two days before his death, and another a week prior.

And we discussed this very event.

What did he want said on his behalf? What did he want you, as a faculty, to know about him, and about ourselves?

In regards to D himself, he wanted you to know that aside from the battles, and some of them acrimonious, he wanted you to know that he respected you.

And not that he respected your ideas, your work, or your discipline, but that he respected you as a human being.

Few people know that D fought tirelessly to have this faculty formally recognized as a place of diversity, specifically in terms of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered issues. Yet he wanted this respect for diversity to extend to everyone and to everything.

D knew that he was a marginal character, and that's what gave him the strength to so steadfastly push for change.

In him, we had that old adage that someone is often more appreciated far from their home, than they are at home.

D was nothing short of a giant in dental research, and while many of us knew this, he was not loved and appreciated as he should have been.

Although he would not admit to it, I'd argue that this wounded him deeply; why else would he have wanted me to speak of it?

Very few of us could say that we influenced our own disciplines the way he did. Very few of us can claim to have authored the innumerable articles, book chapters, conference symposia, and have received the level of funding and achievements that D did.

In short, he wanted you to take a close look around and to understand that this is your academic family. It was his academic family. You must appreciate each other, and like any family, it must be made to work. It must be made to work because the fruits of that labour are arguably sweeter than most.

And it must be made to work not just for us, but for our students, those that we teach, those that adopt our habits, and carry them forward locally, nationally, and internationally.

And that brought D to his last point.

What did he want you to know about yourselves, ourselves, about this family?

First, he wanted me to tell the basic scientists that you must make your research relevant to the clinic, as far as it is possible, and you must look beyond novel drug targets.

And if your work is to advance knowledge for its own sake, even though the application of this knowledge is yet to be discovered, then you should state it as such, and be confident in this, there is beauty here.

In terms of application, he felt that much needed to be done in order to bridge the gap between the basic, clinical, and population-based sciences. He felt strongly that all of us need to engage each other more fully; and even if it is just at our weekly seminars meeting!

Thus, in terms of the future, D felt that translational researchers should be strongly and actively recruited to this faculty.

He then followed with the clinical sciences. As many of you know, D worked tirelessly over the last two years to demarcate a difference between a clinical masters, and a research based masters.

Apart from conforming to new administrative rules, he wanted this change because he felt that the clinical sciences needed to work harder at guaranteeing a broader vision of quality for their research, from its relevance to its supervision.

While D felt that he had many shortcomings here as well, and while he still had much to do as an associate dean in this regard, he finished his career understanding that guaranteeing the quality of our student's research is the truest and most generous gift we can give them.

Ultimately, in that last morning when he and I talked about his life, about what he wanted said, I feel that he was trying to help us define how and in what form we should train clinicians and scientists.

Noting that this was a 'peculiar passion' to develop at the end of his life, it was nonetheless a passion that he has asked us to continue with an excellence of purpose and commitment.

I will now ask you to stand and observe a brief moment of silence for D.

Thank you.

23 May 2010

Il y a les gens qui ont des vraies problèmes

C'est affreux
les mots que tu disent

ce soir

C'est affreux
de voir que
t'est assis dans cet meme chaise

empêche les pensées
et bienfaisante

Souvient-tu toujours

Dans ce monde
il y a les gens qui sont
il y a les gens qui ont des
vraies problèmes

Laissons nous
faire l'amour
ce soir
et je te jure

Tout les mal-faites
vont se devenir

demain matin


PHOTO CREDIT: C-Dog, from "The Dead Show" at Label Gallery, which was, I believe, in October, 2003. Seven YEARS AGO!!! I'm wearing a witches' hat and look kind of angry, but actually I'm having a really fun time. All/lots of us performed music that night (C-dog, JC, Andrina, José, me) , which was a sort of birth/re-birth of the Label as a music jam space and a space of magical incantations, and then Righteous Ike finished off the night at 3 in the morning.


So, in looking over random posts from AlfA blog this morning (holy nostalgia!!!), I came across a post where C-Dog's brother Luis asked in the comments how my book was going.

"Good," I said. "Only a few more long days and then I start talking to publishers."

That was in February 2007.

I DID actually send the book out out at that point, received 13 rejections, and went back to the drawing board, even going so far as to move to a foreign country called Quebec in order to have all the time and space to finish it.

And NOW... NOW I think it's really actually finished. This weekend, I've been going through the 250 or so printed pages on which I've made detailed, line-by-line notes in pen, and am using those notes to do final revisions on my aging computer.

As some of you know, I got a job as managing editor of Concordia's literary publication, which is called Matrix Magazine. Everyone involved with the magazine assures me it's a much easier way to get a book published (through meeting writers, agents, editors, etc) than simply sending stuff out blindly in the mail like I did before.

I was telling Anita the other day that it's so STRANGE to suddenly be meeting and interacting with writers again. For so many years, I've been involved in a big, awesome, bustling, productive community of artists, musicians, and thinkers (that would be you people), but have known almost zero "writers" in the sense of people who have made it a vocation. It's really interesting to be meeting these people and seeing a different side of the art-y world again, even as I'm forever nostalgic for the old.

Excerpt from the book to follow later today...

16 May 2010

ritual and narrative

a discussion between the Sociologist Richard Sennett and the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (14.05.2010, London)*

The rituals and narratives of everyday life are changing in an era of condensed time. Time is increasingly measured in fragments and is shaping absence.

How do you restore punctuated time, where rest and reflection (on self and society) are valued?

How do you foster social behaviours that create sustainability (individually, collectively, as policy)?

Is there possibility in cultural reformation, as opposed to revolution or renaissance?

Could the practice of faith, craft and music restore broken bonds, alleviate suffering and balance our relationship with time?

* which sounds like the start of a terrible joke: so a sociologist and an archbishop walk into the room . . .

13 May 2010


I will first say that this has been a significant loss for the international research community, for our university, our faculty, and for our academic discipline and research unit.

To me, and to others here today, this also represents the loss of a mentor, and of a dear friend.

I met D in 2003, when I came to Toronto to explore the possibility of doing a PhD. In recent times, I've found out that my entry into this program was not without its challenges, and it was D that gave me the backing, and the break, that has essentially defined the robustness, and the quality of my life today.

There are only four other people that I can say this about in my life, they are my mother, my father, a previous Dean at my alma mater, and D.

When I met D, he was the great Professor, author of some of the most cogent and scholarly work on health care policy that has been produced since the 1980s. And it's important to say that his main focus wasn't even policy. Policy was to some extent an afterthought, and even here, he contributed much. I specifically appreciated his idea that in policy, we spend far too much time describing a problem, and far too little time actually trying to fix it.

And funnily enough, this was one of D's greatest gifts to me. To steadfastly analyze life's challenges, while trying not to abscond from the terrible nature of what those challenges may actually be.

In this sense, since I've known D, he's led a tenuous and frenetic life. He struggled with many things human. But he did not hide from them, and he looked straight into the fire.

I also feel that D had three levels of friendship.

Those that he's known the longest, those that he knew since this tenuous and frenetic part of his life began, and those that he knew academically. I'd argue that all of these sets of people defined a series of deeply meaningful relationships for D.

The first tell me of a man with a great joy for life, for its meaning, for its abundance. The second tell me of a man who was engaged in a great struggle with his emotions, with his decisions. The third tell me of a man that regardless of all of this, maintained a level of proficiency, respect, and professionalism, that it effectively defined a gifted intellect and administrator.

D gave me economic support when I had none.

D gave me academic support, while always respecting my ideas, at times when my arrogance and ego would not let me see the truth that lay two feet in front of me.

D gave me the freedom to explore my ideas, the freedom to make my own mistakes, and the freedom to enjoy my own victories.

Lastly, D gave me the keys to his academic enterprise, and I hope that I can do him justice.

In the end, and for some reason I feel this is very important for people to hear:

I can say without reservation that for the last three weeks of his life, D had a clarity of vision, and a sense of responsibility over his own life, that I think he did find the sense of peace and understanding that he had been searching for since the time we met.

I love you Professor.

10 May 2010

To one of my prized students

To you, who at your tender age are trying to convince me that 'governments must exit health care', that 'competition, the free market, and trade between rational men' is the only way to move forward, and that 'asking health care providers to charge lower rates in social programs is tantamount to slavery and violence', I say this:

Have you ever wondered about the philosophy, sociology, anthropology, and dare I say it, the economics, of violence? Interesting to consider that many have argued your position to be a form of “structural violence”, and this is not a moral statement, it is an anthropological and sociological one. Some have argued that “policies” are simply the rules of engagement.

Positive or negative rights: Where do you stand?

06 May 2010

Rivers are Nice

Aren't we fortunate in Winnipeg to be living by 2 mighty rivers? I've been a fan of the Red my whole life, lived close to it my whole life. Being back in Winnipeg, I am once again next to it and it feels so good. The slow hum of its current drawing me near... I can't help it.
I went to sit by the Red the other day and brought my guitar. I've been venturing into solo shows lately and it scares the shit out of me everytime, but I think forcing myself through the difficult first steps will be worth it as I know i'd enjoy a side project that I can manage alone. So there, I jammed, with the mallards and geese, the moving waters and the clear blue sky.
These are the moments I live for. nature. water. flow. life. peace.

ok. that's all.

carry on.

04 May 2010

let's call it rule no. 4

to covet
for public display
and private consumption
a collection of many or of few
but each with a history
known primarily to you

of this magnitude
should not be left
to chance
or the internet

delicate consideration
of quirks you can live with
(character, you know)
and wounds
(fatal from the start)

the anticipation of the start
the stolen moments of ‘just one more’
but then

shortly, this one too
finds its place
amongst the treasured
the tried, and tried again
or the forgotten
but all part of the journey for that perfect one

this time
surely to be found
in that teetering stack
of books
beside my bed.