Enigmatic Memes: Bathroom Grafitti I Have Known

Bathroom wall graffiti gives a glimpse of the way people think: it is drect, anonymous and comes with little sense of responsibility, similar to how most people’s backyards tell us how the homeowner truly lives.

Bathroom wall scribbles hardly qualify as art or creative writing, but I can think of some that is more creative than others.

Back in 1985, when I was a first-year student at the Emily Carr College of Art, the men’s room in the Foundation Department had some enigmatic and interesting graffiti. Above one of the urinals, written in tiny letters in the grout between the tiles, were three words, a little zen riddle which puzzled me in the back of my mind. Weeks later, for some reason I can’t recall, me and a few classmates were standing in the hallway at lunch hour, discussing bathroom grafitti. Shaun Hayes-Holgate only had to say the words “Toast or Pockets?” and we all knew what he meant, and exactly where we all, er, stood.

Gossip also went ’round about a long exchange between a student and one of our instructors, which apparently became fairly heated, to the point of using very blunt expletives. The instructor in question was known for writing copious notes on sheets of paper on his classroom walls using a brush pen, which gave his writing a distinctive calligraphic style. Apparently, the instructor’s brush pen was equally effective on drywall and may have given him away. So much for an author’s anonymity.

By comparison, I found the bathroom grafitti at UBC rather disappointing. In the men’s room in the Student Union Building at Western Canada’s largest, most prestigious University, I half expected some sort of first-year philosophy course scrawled across the tiles. Instead, it was the same sort of racist, homophobic ranting and cartoon genitalia that you’d find on the walls of any high school. So much for higher education. (My wife, defending her Alma Mater, declared that these were just first-year students.)

Today, 25 years later, Emily Carr seems to have kept some of its off-beat, enigmatic flavour, but overall, I find that my old school seems so much more mainstreamed and packaged than it was back in my day. Certainly, the quality of bathroom discourse seems to have degraded. Maybe students and teachers have their meaningful exchanges in Twitter and Facebook nowadays. All I know is that today, over the toilet in the Emily Carr Foundation men’s room was scribbled “Kelsey Grammar, bitches!” to which someone had replied “Hell yeah!”

Perhaps devolution is real, or perhaps I expect too much from post-secondary education.

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On Research: How did it ever get done before the Internet?

How the hell did writers ever do research in the days before the Internet? A lot of cultural and technological development took place to get us where we are today.

I’m not exactly a digital native – I remember the days before Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. I remember the days before the web, and email. I remember using a 2400 baud modem to log into local Bulletin Board Systems located on private desktop PCs all over town, just to stay abreast of local chatter.

Back in high school, I remember that we were taught how to use the card catalogue to look up books by their call numbers. It seemed to take a long time and a lot of searching to find one or two 20 year-old books, and then, more searching in each volume to find the information you were looking for in the first place. I just cannot imagine how much time and effort a writer would have to take in order to do research for a book, back in the days before the Internet.

The difference in time and effort spent on research today is like the difference between walking somewhere and teleporting there.

Finding Informed Opinions

When I need to make requests of various experts, but I don’t know to whom I should make my queries, I can just bleat a tweet out into the twitterverse, or send a few quick emails. Within 24 hours (maybe just an hour or three) I will have at least a couple of useful leads. Answers.com and other “Ask an Expert” sites are all over the web too. People will bid to answer your esoteric questions for relatively cheap rates. And, there are also a boatload of free message boards where amateur experts, aficionados and historians share information on a multitude of topics. No phone calls, letter writing or travel required.

Consult that Encyclopedia Britannica

When I’m looking for third-party researched data on general topics – like the kind of information I’d look for in an encyclopedia – I just go to Wikipedia, and if necessary, corroborate the information with other online sources.

Go There and Research Stuff in Person

Thanks to Google, Bing and others, I can get street-level and bird’s eye views of many places on the planet. This can go a long way towards informing any descriptions that I’d want to add to a story.

Of course, no street photography can give you the sounds, smells, temperature and tactile impressions that come from live human experience. By the time we manage to virtualize those sensations, we’ll be in the era of virtual travel, and reading textual descriptions will be largely irrelevant.

How Will Narrative Change?

At the point in our future where virtual environments become predominant, I think that narrative – the “story” – will be something that you as the reader/participant construct in your mind as you experience the writer’s virtual world. In that scenario, the writer will be a facilitator – a guide – and you will be the one creating your own narrative as you take your own steps through the story.

This is similar in evolution to how the hyperlink changed the idea of informational linking between books. Back in the pre-Internet days, a footnote in one book would refer to a passage in a different book, and to experience that second book, you’d have to go find it and read it. Hyperlinks transport your mind from the body of one book to the body of the next book with nothing more than a mouse click.

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From Rockstars to Sleuths: Has 3D Game Storytelling Matured?

Have gaming and interactive storytelling finally matured to a new level? This is the impression I’m left with after reading reviews and watching clips from Rockstar/Team Bondi’s impressive new game, “L.A. Noire”.

Granted, I’m no gamer. Hell, I’m practically a neophyte. In the last year, I’ve probably spent more time playing Bejewelled and Angry Birds on my Palm Pre than I have playing any 3D first-person shooter on any platform in the past ten years. Remember Doom, Jedi Knight? I played those a fair bit, back in the nineties. I also spent hours exploring Second Life. That’s about as immersed as I ever got. Good times, but a bit meager compared to active gamers, but that’s pretty much my gamer cred.

Convergence of Pulp Fiction, Cinema and Gaming

Seeing a game that looks like a cross between an animated Raymond Chandler novel and the movie L.A. Confidential really piqued my curiosity. I think that the nature of the content – the hard-boiled detective genre and the quality of presentation – is what has drawn my attention to L.A. Noire. I love social realist authors like John Steinbeck and I’ve been reading classic hard-boiled detective fiction for years too.

From golden-age masters like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and cold-war veterans like Ian Fleming, John D. McDonald, and John LeCarre, through to modern crime writers like Elmore Leonard and Ian Rankin – the crime fiction genre is still alive and well in the written word. TV has, of course, made it even more prevalent. Is there anyone in the western world who hasn’t watched an episode of “Law and Order” on TV by now? I doubt it.

I’m probably the new audience that the game creators were hoping to attract, along with the folks who already play 3D games. I think that L.A. Noire is definitely a “crossover” game – an attempt to draw readers and cinema-goers into gaming. From a marketing perspective, the ads I’ve seen for L.A. Noire definitely emphasize the action-adventure aspect, showing lots of gun-play and violence, obviously aimed at existing gamers who are still at the core of its potential market.

However, the “How-to” videos I’ve seen of L.A. Noire remind me of the behind-the-scenes extras you’d get on a special edition DVD of your favourite movie. Here, production values, innovation and name-brand performers are all promoted and explained, which adds a new level of credibility. Overall, L.A. Noire and its marketing and promotion seem to have a very strong cinematic feel.

A More Mature Approach?

If 3D gaming were a coin with GTA on one side, Noire could be the other side, opposite in goals and attitude. In Noire, you play a cop fighting corruption and lawlessness, instead of embracing it as in GTA. The major emphasis of Noire seems to be on strategy, deduction, and observation, and not just action, although it still has a good deal of that. The soundtrack is different too, made up of period jazz and swing music that probably wouldn’t appeal to many younger gamers. Overall, it feels like this is a gaming experience that was designed as a cinematic period piece, for a more patient, mature audience.

From the promo clips and walk-throughs that I’ve seen so far, there also seems to be a higher-level of artistic maturity and (IMHO) name-brand performance involved in L.A. Noire than in previous Rockstar games, like GTA. (Set me straight if I’m wrong about that, GTA players. You know better than me.)

The creators of L.A. Noire say that the ability to use your emotional intelligence is a major factor in succeeding in this game. Because of the effectiveness with which characters in L.A. Noire portray realistic facial expressions and body motion, you can actually decide if a character is lying to you or is telling the truth based upon their facial ticks, dodgy eyes, or body language.

Aren’t these all emotional intelligence and empathetic skills? I remember reading about how the military would use 3D gaming platforms to develop combat training scenarios for young soldiers? Are sensitivity, social skills and good judgement now the skills that gamers will require to win? Can games now help a gamer develop those skills? I find that possibility totally fascinating.

Similar to how comic books shrugged off their childish associations from the 1940s to evolve into complex, challenging graphic novels written for a college crowd, 3D gaming may be evolving closer to cinema. At least in the case of  L.A. Noire, 3D gaming seems to be growing up.

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On Reading: Raymond Chandler, a Biography

It seems like the last few times I’ve read certain authors, their names have become prefixed with “Uncle” in my mind. Is that weird? Well, maybe. It’s human though.

I guess I want to identify with, or feel connected to good storytellers.

When I read Einstein’s book on Relativity, his voice was so distinctively heard in my head, that it felt as if I were sitting on Uncle’s lap, with his voice speaking in my ear. It may have started there, I’m not sure.

Next were the memoirs of Groucho Marx, whose anecdotes, observations and humour seemed warmly self-deprecating. It wasn’t long before he became my “Uncle Groucho”. Likewise with his brother Harpo, whose long, detailed autobiography seemed to put me right into his early life in New York, and later, into the middle of his loving, idiosyncratic years as a devoted family man in California.

I think it’s the first-person narrative of an autobiography that makes it work so well. The “you” is replaced with an “I”, which we all have inside us, and which resonates one-to-one with similar “I”s.

That’s why pulp fiction author Raymond Chandler got under my skin more than, say, Ian Fleming. Like an autobiography, Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe novels are written in the first-person, so they each sound like Marlowe’s autobiography (although really, they are Chandler’s).

Raymond Chandler was highly intelligent, a keen observer of people and human nature, and also a major, chronic alcoholic who came to a sad and lonely end. He’s triumphant and tragic, all together.

So, he’d probably be a colourful “Uncle” who could spin tall tales and be witty as hell, but also could as easily fall down drunk into the tree and ruin a Christmas morning.

Been there.

Welcome to the family “Uncle Raymond”.

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The Monument for East Vancouver

Ken Lum’s public art piece, “Monument for East Vancouver” transforms an ad-hoc symbol of regional pride (or defiance, membership or territorial claim) into a new landmark on the city’s skyline.

This piece is controversial… Some people love it, and some people hate it.

Ken Lum’s public art piece, “Monument for East Vancouver” transforms an ad-hoc symbol of regional pride (or defiance, membership or territorial claim) into a new landmark on the city’s skyline.

This piece is controversial… Some people love it, and some people hate it.

There are many opinions and interpretations of where the East Van cross came from, and what it means…

http://www.straight.com/article-281162/vancouver/what-heck-east-van-cross

http://vancouverisawesome.com/2010/01/12/east-van-cross/

I have gradually grown to love this piece. It stands at the corner of Clark Drive and Great Northern Way, facing downtown Vancouver like a ginormous middle finger, as if to say “Take that, rest of the city! We’re East Van!”

Like it or not, it’s definitely a symbol.

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On Writing: John Steinbeck, the Grapes of Wrath, and my Dad’s Stories.

My Dad was born in 1921, and as a young kid, knowing that he grew up during the Great Depression had always fascinated me. During the Great Depression, times were tough for Dad’s family, I’m sure, but I would learn in Social Studies class that other families had it much worse during that time, particularly farmers, and especially in the United States. That is the setting of Steinbeck’s major novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”.

Of Mice and Men, Grapes, and my Dad…

Back in high school English class, we read “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck. At the time, I remember thinking how old the book seemed, in terms of the language the characters used, and also how much the character Lenny’s mental slowness frustrated me.

I think that in my young mind, I was invested enough in the story to feel empathy and frustration at the behaviour of the characters, but back then, I couldn’t really evaluate the story or the writing – I just reacted to what I experienced in the book.

I’ve read “Of Mice and Men” again a couple of times over the past three decades, most recently a year or two ago. As I did, I began to enjoy Steinbeck’s voice, style and depictions very much indeed. So I decided to finally crack open “The Grapes of Wrath”.

My Dad and the Great Depression

My Dad was born in 1921, and as a young kid, knowing that he grew up during the Great Depression had always fascinated me. I used to ask my Dad what it was like for him, growing up in Prince Rupert back in those days. He’d tell me stories, like the times when he and his brothers would go down to the docks and ask the fishermen to give them their leftover fish heads. Dad said that his Mum would cut the cheeks out of the fish heads and make the family a nice fish soup.

I’d ask him if his family were poor, and he’d say no, but they weren’t rich either. His Dad worked for the Prince Rupert Telephone Company, most often splicing cable, up on a telephone pole, soldering cable with a little blow torch. Times being what they were, he shared his job with another man, working different shifts. In a house with five kids (Dad, his three bothers, and one sister), and with their Father working only part-time, I’m sure the Love family of Prince Rupert had to tighten their belts a bit. Still, there were still lots of trees for the local Mills, and still lots of fish in the sea, even if the economy had gone to crap. Everyone in the Love family worked, kids and all. Dad always impressed upon me the importance of working for a living, and the value of a dollar.

The Grapes of Wrath

During the Great Depression, times were tough for Dad’s family, I’m sure, but I would learn in Social Studies class that other families had it much worse during that time, particularly farmers, and especially in the United States.

That is the setting of Steinbeck’s major novel, “The Grapes of Wrath”. The Joad family, Oklahoma sharecroppers for generations, are wiped out when the “dustbowl” (drought) wipes out their crops, and they become too far in debt to the bank. Their little farm, along with many others in their area, are taken over by the bank, and turned into industrial farmland. So, the whole clan (Grandparents, Parents, and brothers and sisters ranging from preteen to adult) head West with all their possessions strapped onto the back of a jury-rigged truck.

Along the many thousands of miles journey west to California, they enounter cold, heat, starvation, death, violence, kindness, cooperation, prejudice and eventually, some forms of redemption.

If you’ve seen the movie by John Ford, you’ve got a little taste of the story, but only a little. The novel is so much more than the movie. Steinbeck takes you into the hearts and minds of each of the family members in turn, over the course of a journey that must have only been a few months chronologically, but experientially was much more difficult than the miles traveled and the days spent.

Here are a few of the significant themes from this incredible novel:

  • The Mother is the provider of life, the supporter, nourisher and guide; the centre of everything. The sheer amount of work and responsibility that Ma takes on daily impressed me throughout the story. To a lesser but still significant  degree, Rose of Sharon represents the mother, being pregnant and on the edge of bringing new life into the clan.
  • Rose of Sharon and her Grandparents also represent the frailty – and sometimes the futility – of survival.
  • Tom Joad is the angry young man, fighting against injustice, and suffering because of how his fighting spirit and moral outrage places him potentially at odds with the capitalist farm owners.
  • Pa Joad and his brother represent the impotence and powerlessness of the old male generation – still able-bodied, but wracked with guilt or turoil from many challenges, and with their family authority essentially tossed aside and taken over by others. This represents how the former sharecroppers had their authority or rights taken over by larger interests.
  • Communism (or Socialism) vs. Capitalism.

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Visual artist Sonny Assu fuses native symbols with pop culture

Visual artist Sonny Assu fuses native symbols with pop culture, and reminds us that native culture isn’t dead, or dying, or just about preserving the past: it’s alive and interacting with us every day.

Visual artist Sonny Assu fuses native symbols with pop culture, and reminds us that native culture isn’t dead, or dying, or just about preserving the past: it’s alive and interacting with us every day.

Intelligent, beautifully-crafted messages…

http://sonnyassu.com/work.html

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Life: Connecting the dots between my Parents and Groucho…

This post from my personal blog connects the dots between my folks and Mr. Groucho Marx, who’s image and sayings were part of my parent’s vocabulary, and now, my own.

The human mind is amazing in its ability to associate, relate and synthesize.

I’m going through a “Groucho phase”, reading about Groucho’s life, and watching Marx Brothers movies on DVD.

While that’s going on, two significant dates from my personal life have come and gone: the anniversary of my late Mother’s birth, and Father’s Day, a natural time to think about my late Dad. I missed them both this year.

Anyway, this post from my personal blog connects the dots between my folks and Mr. Groucho Marx, who’s image and sayings were part of my parent’s vocabulary, and now, my own.

Mum’s Birthday, 2010: Connecting the dots between my Parents and Groucho…

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Real ink on paper? Where’s it going?

In my life, I wonder if ink on paper is slipping away from me, just a little bit. There’s something reassuring about a newspaper: you know what it is, it’s size and shape and depth are self-evident.

Yet, I now receive much more info each day on my Pre than I could ever read (or need to, for that matter). Online news text has replaced the newspaper for me. I have never subscribed to one of the local dailies, and rarely pick one up. I think that eventually, I’m going to do most of my reading on my handheld.

Podcasts (mostly the CBC) and MP3 music files have started to replace my radio. It seems like more motorists listen to the radio than others, these days. (I’m just guessing…)

The “convergence” that people have referred to in mass media is the tri-fold convergence of broadcast, print and computer technologies. At leat, that’s what I learmed back in Media Class, back in 1988. Like Vannevar Bush’s idea of a “Universal Machine”, computers and digital tech have co-opted, transformed and consumed the roles of older analog media. Digital is a medium for media, or a medium about other media. A meta-media?

Now, is the “convergence” truly occurring between my mind and the Internet? It seems like that digital immediacy that I’ve become used to in the past 5 years is the kinds of convenience that’s most likely to change my perception of the world around me.

http://www.cs.sfu.ca/CC/365/mark/material/notes/Chap1/VBushArticle/vbush-all.html

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