Saturday, 2 January 2010

Freezing That Frame: Memories of 2009

It seems hard to believe that another year has passed. I spent most of it working, moving from Point A to Point B, but incredible things still managed to sneak their way into my life, often without my noticing.

You may have noticed the title: it's a lyric from the Tori Amos song "Gold Dust", a masterpiece that manages to be beautifully oblique and sharply relevant at the same time. I find music is so often linked to memory, so it's fitting that this recollection is guided by music.

Here we go.


The first thing that comes to mind is the Carol Shields Festival of Voices in late spring, which I found out about quite by accident and came away from it feeling truly alive. A three-day event where writers flew in from all over the country to discuss Carol Shields' work -- although that really wasn't the point, the point was appreciating words and the power they have.

I remember chatting with Andrew Davidson and Jane Urquhart and feeling slightly starstruck. I remember a poetry panel where I became convinced that poetry is somehow a dying form of literature, but only regarded as such by poets themselves, who all seemed interested in talking mostly about their own work and not about Shields. Chief among them was Chandra Mayor, ruthless in pink.

I remember attending the dedication of the Carol Shields Labyrinth and watching the Shoestring Theatre Company perform selected scenes from her play Departures and Arrivals -- a play I later saw in a high school theatre, and read about as having also occurred at a local university. I met an actor, Duncan McGregor, that had played the pilot in the Shoestring production quite by accident in line at the Neil Gaiman signing in December.

Neil Gaiman. An author I had been familiar with through Tori Amos' work (where she references him occasionally with lyrics like "Seems I keep getting this story twisted/So where's Neil when you need him?" An apt question; the man makes the extraordinary seem perfectly ordinary, as if every person beside you on a plane just happened to be a Norse god. I found this out while reading American Gods, and am still reading that book, diving into it every so often and emerging, delighted, at what I discover.)

I met a few people on planes this year. There was a man with a British accent on the flight from Munich to Toronto (or was it from Toronto to Frankfurt? Frankfurt to Toronto? Was the plane even in Germany?) in March who talked endlessly about how he'd had the chance to see Salman Rushdie speak. Rushdie ended up in Winnipeg much later, in colder months, where he kept on calling Canada 'the United States'. I didn't go, but everything ends up in Winnipeg anyways, drawn by the magnetic power of the Forks, and I'm confident he'll end up here again, one way or another. Everything ends (up) here.

That's what Guy Maddin's brilliant film My Winnipeg says, and doesn't say: it's such a collage of memory and myth, fact and fiction, that I'm not sure it says anything at all. It just is. My Winnipeg ended up later as Roger Ebert's 10th best film of the entire decade. I went to a free lecture by Maddin at the University of Manitoba's St. John's College, saw a short film I've been trying to hunt down ever since (it's called "Tango" and won an Academy Award), ate some suspiciously decadent desserts, and had a poster signed. I wish I had taken a picture.

I wish I had been more adept with a camera in Italy, as I somehow managed to delete all of my pictures from that magical two-week trip and was left with a journal filled with many memories and song lyrics. I remember watching CNN and sending emails to my parents, who were in London at the same time as the economic summit, to check if they hadn't been swarmed by protesters. I remember watching MTV and seeing a Britney Spears video for a song that should have long since been forgotten. I remember singing along -- as Carmen Electra walked in a field wearing a not-quite-traditional wedding dress, heavily dubbed in Italian -- in a high-pitched voice, to "I Will Always Love You".

Whitney Houston made a comeback. I got the distinct sense it would be a flop. I don't know if I was right.

Much music came my way this year -- I cringed at Katy Perry and Owl City, was slowly won over by Lady GaGa, and still can't understand the hype for MGMT and Bat for Lashes (who seems to be popular only because people seem to have forgotten Kate Bush). Rolling Stone slowly gained irrelevancy as I learned they had given U2 and Bruce Springsteen albums I found aimless and plodding "classic" status almost immediately. Also, they got into politics, which seemed pointless.

I discovered PopMatters. I agreed, and disagreed, with Roger Ebert. I started a blog.

I became firmly convinced Meryl Streep could be playing a Dumpster and still be fantastic. I watched films I hadn't seen since 2006 -- a critical year in my life this decade, when my world expanded drastically -- and saw them with new eyes. But back to 2009.

I got a cat, and it was the victim of fate's cruel hand almost a month or two later in late August . Goodbye, Ebert. I went the same weekend to West Hawk Lake with a group where we found ourselves lost, and had to climb up cliffs to get back.

I climbed up my own cliffs when I left a job that was wrong for me, even if I was trying to convince myself it wasn't. Looking elusively for that bookstore job, which will be much more difficult with the 100 people that used to work for McNallys Polo Park now in the job market again after it closed.

That same store was where I met Morley Walker back in 2008, who I might never have met if I hadn't been late because I thought the Andrew Davidson signing was at Grant Park. I met him again at the Festival of Voices, at a party I attended quite by accident.

I made contacts and didn't follow up on them. I made contacts and did.

I volunteered at Folklorama and found myself in a strange position, explaining about a culture I wasn't a part of to people that assumed I was.

I ate a lot of good food.

I had a birthday.

I saw Pink Martini in concert, who I missed the year before, and Meaghan Smith, months before she made it big. Or was that last year?

This year I definitely saw Leonard Cohen, who stunned me with his three-hour set, and didn't see Sarah Slean or Danny Michel, who was recording a live album.

I saw a lot of really good theatre, including The Blonde, The Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead, which I recommend anyone seeing if it comes to your hometown.

I saw Madama Butterfly and was mesmerized. I saw Il Trovatore and wasn't.

Meaghan Smith released her long-awaited debut. It still didn't beat seeing her live, which was stunning. She also opened for Chantal Kreviazuk, who I became a huge fan of again after somehow convincing myself she was "just okay" in the three years between 2006's Ghost Stories and 2009's Plain Jane.

(I didn't see that concert. There were a lot of concerts I didn't see.)

I saw 500 Days of Summer and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the former of which a lot of people loved, and the latter a lot of people didn't. I didn't see Synedoche, New York, which is Roger Ebert's best film of the decade (his best film of the Nineties was Hoop Dreams), which flopped at the box office but could be a sleeper hit on DVD.

A box office hit was Year One, which most people came away from with the intense feeling that they were owed their money back -- or a public apology by all involved, at the very least. It was the only film I saw in 2009 that I actually hated -- I don't see a lot of films, so not sure if that counts for anything, but I'm putting it out there regardless.

I can say with confidence that In Rainbows by Radiohead could have been much better without the first two tracks, that honey mustard is delicious, and that Gunn's Bakery has the best poppyseed strudel in the city. I can say that Kanye West is a jerk, that Taylor Swift isn't bad, and you may be hearing big things about another country starlet named Mallary Hope.

I can say I haven't warmed up yet to Grizzly Bear, that I saw a bald eagle, and that a city seen from the top of a hill on a clear blue day can be one of the most awe-inspiring sights. I can say I may be running on too long, that I've gone into mundane trivia, that this list should really be ending.

I can say that President Obama was elected, that lipsynching is perfectly acceptable under certain circumstances, and that life is wonderful.

It was a busy year.

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