Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Speedy, 2010

Waste My Time, Please

GUY: Hey there.

CJB: Hi!

GUY: These books of yours.

CJB: Uh-huh?

GUY: They're for sale?

CJB: Yup. Every one.

GUY: Huh. [Leaves]
Remember Descent -- it's teabonific!

New William Gibson short story, "Dougal Discarnate," in Douglas & Macintyre spec-fic anthology Darwin's Bastards, set in Kitsilano & vaguely reminiscent of Tim Powers' better efforts. WG's recent novels don't do that much for me, but his all-too-infrequent shorts and essays continue to exert a lasting hold, with their concision, lyrical pessimism, and perfect pitch. I always smile when I see that tall, stooped, totally unmistakable silhouette peering in through the shop's big front windows at books on pirates, or military insignia, or weird-ass otaku-grade Japanese plastic toys.

From "Dougal":

"Another time, a sunny spring day at the top of 4th, the sunlight changed in a long smooth blink, and he saw deep snow, filthy with the soot of coal-burning furnaces and fireplaces. A mostly residential avenue, lawns where the stores are now, the white frame houses darkened with that same smoke, and an electric tram ascending the hill, like something out of some shabbier, more realistic version of Disneyland.

Then blink again, everything reversing."
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Via dru, browsing yesterday's Fountain:

Poor Folk Love Their Cellphones!

"In his speech, [Bruce] Sterling seemed to affect Nietzschean disdain for regular people. If the goal was to provoke, it worked. To a crowd that typically prefers onward-and-upward news about technology, Sterling’s was a sadistically successful rhetorical strategy. 'Poor folk love their cellphones!' had the ring of one of those haughty but unforgettable expressions of condescension, like the Middle Eastern gem 'The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.'

'Connectivity is poverty' was how a friend of mine summarized Sterling’s bold theme. Only the poor — defined broadly as those without better options — are obsessed with their connections. Anyone with a strong soul or a fat wallet turns his ringer off for good and cultivates private gardens that keep the hectic Web far away. The man of leisure, Sterling suggested, savors solitude, or intimacy with friends, presumably surrounded by books and film and paintings and wine and vinyl — original things that stay where they are and cannot be copied and corrupted and shot around the globe with a few clicks of a keyboard."

Lee Bacchus on The Art of Hoarding

"'As though with eyes drained of tears, they stare out silently out of his sentences,' Adorno said of Beckett.

The hoarders, too, stare silently out through the crevices amid their horrible creations, confined by the very 'freedom' and 'control' they compulsively sought through collection, consumption and accumulation. But alternatively, their hoards help bridge (or dam) the vast chasm between a fragile psyche and an overbearing society. Their 'chaos' is the illusion of an order that re-connects them: photographs and clothing to lost loved ones or the past itself; commodities to a promise of happiness perpetually broken. Even the filth — the dust, mold, cobwebs and in one case the skeletal remains of a litter of kittens — is a testament to deep-seated and futile desire (like that of Miss Havisham’s petrified monument to her tragically interrupted wedding in Dickens’s Great Expectations) to stop the inexorable flow of time in its tracks."
Monday, March 29, 2010

Zoo Magnolia, 2010

Not many magnolia pictures have worked out so far this year. This is one of the better ones.

Fountain, 2010

This picture's other subject is taking a break from panhandling to check his email. This is the second time I've been surprised by technology's reach down the economic ladder in America's larger cities. In January, in Los Angeles, I stopped at a Starbucks on the way back from making Sleeper and, not really paying attention to where I was going, almost stepped on a guy cozied up to a lamppost and ringed by a sandbag fortress of junk-filled boxes and bags. His big broken hands were making complex pecking gestures that puzzled me, until I realized that he was using the coffeehouse's free Wi-Fi to surf the net on his iPhone. Scenes like these are a valuable corrective to the prevailing notion that people below one's own rung on the economic ladder just can't "get with the times."

(For the record, I don't own a cell phone, iPhone, or personal communications device of any kind, and can barely work the camera app on L.'s old pink Blackberry)
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Here’s what I find about compromise:
Don’t do it if it hurts inside, 'cause either way you’re screwed.
Eventually you’ll find you may as well feel good; you may as well

Have some pride.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Monday, March 22, 2010

Truly awesome: the very drunk guy in the red Canadian hockey jersey at last night's Indigo Girls show, marvelling at all the single laaaaaaadies.

Q: What were you doing at the show, CJB?

A: "I am large, I contain multitudes."
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

To the mechanic through the pink spring dawn, CHECK ENGINE light bright on the dashboard, quintessential 1977 rock-steady washing-machine beat on the speakers.

"Self-esteem, self-control, imagination, creativity, curiosity, appreciation of diversity, cooperation, tolerance for waiting, and persistence."

(Qualities written down by Fred Rogers, which he hoped his new television program might encourage)
Tuesday, March 16, 2010


From Jamie Tolagson:

"Sympathetic to your experience at Toys 'r Us the other night. I guess we were just lucky to have been born at a time when it was still possible to be bored as a child? (boredom as a catalyst for fascination, creative thought, individual endeavour?) Those giant, empty expanses of aimless time don't seem to exist for kids anymore. Their schedules are full up with (primarily electronic) stimulation.

My first store-bought toy was a Luke Skywalker action figure, acquired for me by my mother on a trip to the mainland. Up till that point I'd had wooden cars and trucks, a handmade sword and a bicycle ( I was around 5). I hadn't even seen Star Wars (although my mom assured me it was all the rage in Vancouver). I took the funny looking thing over to my friend's house and we examined it at length. It had a strange yellow tube that slid in and out of its arm (was it a robot?) but it had a human body. At the end of the tube there was an even smaller tube, a tiny nib that looked extremely fragile. This was weird, and we didn't like it. The nib was the first to go, and after that Luke was in for a rough ride. We took my friend's toy cars and smashed them into him at high speeds, then decided to see how he would hold up to our bikes. After being run over about twenty times he snapped at the waist. Near the end of the day we pulled his head off and stashed it in a tree. I don't know why. Of course when I finally saw Star Wars a few weeks later, I cried over what I'd unwittingly done to Luke, and immediately began dutifully amassing a sizable collection of Star Wars toys with which to live precariously inside George Lucas' universe. Too bad. I like to think back to that pre-Star Wars me, covered in blackberry scratches and tree sap, gleefully introducing Kenner's Luke Skywalker to the soggy tactility of the Pacific Northwest."


Scrim, 2010

Foundation, 2010

Stray, 2010
Monday, March 15, 2010
Kids' book rewrite soundtrack: O'Jays, The Backstabbers; Bee Gees, You Stepped Into My Life; Marvin Gaye, Trouble Man; Spinners, Could It Be I'm Falling in Love; Chic, I Want Your Love (Extended 12" mix); Wales Wallace, We're Not Happy; Burt Bacharach, Greatest Hits. & etc.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Today's swaggering soundtrack: T. Rex, Hot Love

Kindred spirit Larry David's excellent Curb Your Enthusiasm

"Because several—sometimes many—different takes are shot for every scene, there are thousands upon thousands of feet of videotape, every inch of which must be reviewed in the editing room. (For economic reasons, the show is shot on Digital Betacam and converted by computer into a format that looks like film.) Editing an episode of Curb is an excruciatingly subtle process, in which decisions about narrative are made frame by frame—each frame representing one-thirtieth of a second of actual airtime. 'If it were up to me, I’d spend two to three days editing an episode, then move on,' [director] Robert Weide says. 'But Larry’s a deconstructionist—he has to look at every frame.'"
Saturday, March 13, 2010

I needed to buy a toy pony. So off along Broadway I walked through mixed sunlight, rain showers, and cherry blossom snow, to Corporate Toy Store. In retrospect this was a bad idea. I should have walked straight up Main to the Granville Island Toy Company, where I later found a hand painted, made-in-Europe, anatomically correct pony for $10. But I was laboring under the misapprehension (which I despise when applied to my own industry) that Big = Massive Selection & Cheap. So past the Mr. Tube Steak cart blocking the front door and into the store I went.

Dust everywhere on the floor. Foam chips, packing-carton remnants, and little bits of broken-off pallet, as if a winter tide had just retreated down the aisle past the Star Wars Lego sets and Dora the Explorer.

Big bins of sad-looking stuffed toys with the day's current deliveries -- shrink-wrapped skids and broken boxes of toys -- shoved up against them, so that in order to reach a stuffed bunny I had to turn sideways and grope between the skids and the wall, grabbing blindly with my hands.

A sad and cheaply made penguin thrown on the floor, dust and cardboard adhered to his limp velour wings.

Two aisles of pink. Ridiculous dolls with cotton candy colored hair and enormous eyes.

"Grooming sets." "Feeding sets."

Lots of poorly made animatronic things that take batteries and speak. Bewildered parents picking up creatures that wriggle and writhe and enunciate a few fixed tinny phrases. Canned laughter.

Stuffed animals that only "come alive" once you log onto a website and input the secret alphanumeric code on the tag stapled onto their foot, which you then have to feed and "tend."

Walls of brands. The entrepreneur in me suspects that Toys 'r Us makes money selling shelf space to toy manufacturers, and not by providing anything resembling even basic customer service. In fact, during the whole half hour I was there, I didn't witness a single floor employee interacting with a customer. What I did observe was employees angrily stuffing toys onto the shelves without speaking, or quickly walking through the aisles, avoiding all semblance of eye contact.

No sign of anything I loved in childhood. No Tinkertoys, no basic Lego blocks, no Tonka trucks or Mouse Trap Game or cartoonish stuffed animals, cartoonish in the sense of being simple, largely undefined, like Charlie Brown, and therefore susceptible to the personality of their owner coming to inhabit them and so bringing them to life.

Deeply disturbed at capital's alternately hyperspecialized and cargo-cult approach to cultivating young minds, I walked out onto Broadway, down a side alley, and cried. Grieving, I suppose, for the PBS-Upper West Side approach of my childhood, the Sesame Street-Harriet The Spy-Owl Magazine approach of treating young minds as sophisticated, pliant, and culturally valuable, and therefore supplying, or trying to supply, complexity and quality, even in the context of a basic economic transaction.
Friday, March 12, 2010

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Pallas's Cats
Thursday, March 11, 2010

Last night's fractious question period: "I wish Serge was here." (The villagers' naïve wish-fufillment fantasy of reanimating Saint George to take out the huge scaly fire-breathing lizard strolling into town). The Department of Art History's unhappy recognition that it no longer calls the shots; that 2010 isn't 1983; and that no one is waiting for the academy's -- or the local regional art gallery's -- approval to do anything at all.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Anyone not at the UBC Fine Arts Department this evening just missed the best lecture on Vancouver art and aesthetics delivered in the last decade. Thanks, Robert.
Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Peter Schjeldahl knows the score:

"Koons is famous for a public persona of relentlessly smiley, Amway-salesman unctuousness. But Skin Fruit makes clear to me that his deepest passion is anger, provoked by situations over which he has no control. The object of that anger, like the proverbial aim of standup comedians, is to 'kill.' Koons’s recourse to an air of collegiality and aesthetic assault is dictated by a distinct vulnerability in his position. His career and the plutocratic culture that it has adorned represent an epoch-making collusion of mega-collectors and leading artists, which has overridden the former gatekeeping roles of critics and curators and sidelined the traditional gallerists who work with artists on a long-term basis of mutual loyalty. With numbing regularity, newly hot artists have abandoned such nurture for gaudy, precarious deals with corporate-style dealers like Larry Gagosian, Pace-Wildenstein, and David Zwirner. In the boom era, buzz about the opportunistic exhibitions of such dealers and the latest sales figures from art fairs and auction houses were what passed for critical discourse. The situation mesmerized newcomers, by flashing promises of ascension to the starry feeding trough. Now that such promises can no longer be made, the posturing of Skin Fruit—roughly, noblesse oblige, laced with a left-libertarian raciness—cannot long deflect the mounting potency of class resentment. People are going to notice that the defensive elements, in this particular scrimmage of sensibilities, are members of the putatively vanguard aristocracy of wealth and social clout. The future of art, and the corresponding character of cultured society, seem bound to be determined by some smart, talented, as yet unidentified parties among the howling sansculottes."

(Image found, but I wish I'd made it)
Sunday, March 07, 2010

David Thomson on Red Riding (via Pete)

"[T]he torrential voice that begins as the sound of barbed talk among the books’ characters, but that ends up as the music or wind blowing through its shattered terrain. . . ."

"We have found ourselves in a culture of TV series and elaborate DVDs where some 'lost' movies are unpeeled before our eyes. And the eyes do have it. When The Sopranos ended, it was not with an emphatic story point, a wow! (like Tony being an FBI plant or a papal delegate), but a delicacy of mise-en-scène that had to be seen over and over again. Of course, that doesn’t apply to all TV, and it never will, but there are series that are works of visual conjuring just as some old movies now enter a Borgesian library of variants. Their pursuit tends to be meditative, solitary, and unnerving. It resembles reading."

(Those last three sentences viz. certain pictures that appear here intermittently)

ACT (Aesthetically Claimed Thing): Karen Dalton, In A Station. One of the most beautiful songs I know.

Once upon a time leaves me empty
Tomorrow never comes
I could sing the sound of your laughter
Still I don't know your name
Must be some way to repay you
Out of all the good you gave
If a rumor should delay you
Love seems so little to save
Saturday, March 06, 2010


L.'s Note to Captain Fuzzypants

"Some days, you are 'good cat.' Some days you are 'BAD CAT!' Just so you know, today was a 'bad cat' day due to the following: your 'escape' by falling through the windowscreen; your second escape up the tree; licking four of the twelve homemade banana chocolate muffins when my back was turned; falling into the toilet and hiding in the dishwasher until it turned on. Yeesh."

(Culprit visible at far left. Photo credit: "Flash" Helps)
Wednesday, March 03, 2010
Productive and useful day full of sunshine, interesting customers, amusing & competent staff. First of 250 boxes of remainder books through the door. Mos Def on the stereo.

Numerous updates to the shop blog in the last few days
. A slightly more buttoned-down tone than here, public face of the store, etc., but still a pretty good representation of my thriving business, the best poorly paid job I've ever had.

While I'm scarce here, let me recommend (or re-recommend)

Mosses From An Old Manse

Isola Di Rifiuti

Splinter In Your Eye

& Ambiente Hotel

for your reading pleasure.

I'm not really down with most of what passes for "writing" and "photography" on the internets, but all of the above have my lasting attention and admiration. No small feat.
Away for a few days. In the pipeline: new photographs (magnolia season!); final edit of apparently neverending children's book; various PFB-related projects. Back soon.
Monday, March 01, 2010

But a book and a photograph just aren't the same

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