whitby wanderings

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“So where do you start when you want to start your life again?”

– Douglas Coupland, Hey Nostradamus! (2004)

the last scene of The Graduate

This is dizzying, this running away to England. The excitement! The anxiety! The rollercoaster of emotion!

Aviary Photo_130301718723210837As Husband said, it probably won’t feel like we actually live there until months from now when suddenly one moment we realize somewhere along the way we adopted a new routine. Our alarm clock will have a regular setting, our morning a usual commute. The newness will have worn off.

Aviary Photo_130301719021520017Until then, it will feel like a vacation. But a stressful one. Like some madcap mid-1980s National Lampoon’s movie where every step is fraught with adventure: everything goes wrong and the stakes have never been higher! Will we make it to Wally World? WILL WE?!

Aviary Photo_130301719522840724There’s always a lingering sensation: when the exhilaration fades what will remain? As scary as it seems when I let the overwhelming feeling in, the real answer is: “so much.”

the turning point

By virtue of waking up early to get everything out of our apartment, I am at work a whole fifty minutes early. The near-silence is astounding. I say “near” because a diligent few chatter on phones in the distance and the barista at the coffee stand is organizing her till. But the usual din of ringing phones, insolent queries, and idle gossip has yet to cycle in.

Aviary Photo_130301663784626827Patches of darkness cling to corners of the office: lights not yet turned on because there is not yet anyone to illuminate. It’s a strange feeling, something of a parallel and/or flip-side to leaving our home this morning and staring one last time at the blank walls and swept floors. From here I will spent one more day at this job: one more day of holding all this information in my mind. At 4.30 I will let it go.

From there we drive my rattling, old car (and its backseat of miscellaneous furniture and throw pillows) to my parents’ house. The adventure will have not begun yet (because that takes place next Thursday) but it will be limbo. Purgatory even. What else could it be? Husband and I will be awaiting a judgment to be handed down by… well, ourselves, really. Do we have what it takes to cash in and run away?

I guess we’ll find out.

“To be an artist — actually, to be a human being in these times — it’s all difficult. … What matters is to know what you want and pursue it.”

– Patti Smith

mad men is the story of an addict

Perhaps it is rather ironic that the AMC website uses cocktail recipes to market Mad Men, because, when viewed correctly, Mad Men is about the devastating effects of a life lived for alcohol.

Aviary Photo_130301726507582024But it’s subtle, as addiction often is at first. I never noticed it as much on the first viewing. The sheer normalisation of wanton alcohol consumption on Matthew Weiner’s Madison Avenue is what strikes you first. “I’d love to have a bar in my office,” you think. It seems so glamorous and Romantic. These are the kind of people who tip back half a bottle of Canadian Club then smash a glass in a fireplace and make love to Elizabeth Taylor.

But on the second viewing, it takes on a different colour. The fates of Freddy Rumsen and Duck Phillips (the former losing his job after drunkenly wetting his pants and the latter fallen so far from the wagon as to get kicked out of the Clios) are far less humorous when you watch it again. These are two men whose personal and professional lives were ruined by alcohol but are so carelessly brushed aside by those who can still conceal their disease.

The first time through on Mad Men, Roger Sterling is just a bon mot machine with a Gibson martini. That he seems to grow lonelier as he grows older is only a falsehood. Rewatching from the beginning, it is obvious immediately how lonely a man he is. I can’t believe I missed it the first time around. I blame the fact that there is simply so much going on in an episode of Mad Men. You need to see them all a few times to truly digest it.

Roger’s alcohol abuse is obvious. But because he’s a functioning alcoholic, he doesn’t consider himself an alcoholic. He has normalized his dependency:

You don’t know how to drink. Your whole generation, you drink for the wrong reasons. My generation, we drink because it’s good, because it feels better than unbuttoning your collar, because we deserve it. We drink because it’s what men do.

So that brings us to Don. There are so many directions to go, but I want to focus on this: the story of Mad Men is the story of an alcoholic.

The double-life of Don Draper versus Dick Whitman is only the beginning, even if the most metaphorical. The dual personalities of an addict are something anyone who has been around one can recognize. You don’t know which version you are going to get. Sometimes its both in varying shades of grey.

For the first three seasons, we see Don just coping. His alcoholism exists but he’s functioning. The fact that he has a “problem” is barely evident. But his marriage slowly cracks as the other side of him seeps him. Betty discovering Dick Whitman is the turning point. This is the point where the problem cannot be ignored.

After their divorce, Don starts to circle the drain. His co-workers become aware of his addiction. He abuses alcohol incessantly, indulging his weakness because he longer has a reason to keep himself in check. He hits what only seems like rock bottom in his “lost weekend” after the Clio Awards. The dual appearances of Duck Phillips (well and firmly bottomed-out) and Freddy Rumsen (sober and getting his life together) at this time show Don his two possible futures. The devil on one shoulder, angel on the other, if you will.

But recovery is not easy. It is a series of ups and downs, peaks and troughs. Dr. Faye Miller knows Don’s disease. She states explicitly that she is here to help him. Her presence in his life is a wonderful opportunity for rehabilitation. And he even seems capable of change. To her, he can admit his problem. He finally wants to change.

But sometimes the hard work that rehabilitation requires is just too much. Rather than hike that path, Don cheats. (He also literally cheats on Faye with Megan.) He tricks himself into believing that a fresh start with Megan will allow him to simply wipe the slate clean. But he is only replacing one addiction with another: alcohol with puppy love. As Tom and Lorenzo say, “He’s like a dry drunk, someone who’s overcompensating and over-emoting because they’re trying to ignore something.”

And this new addiction seems so harmless. At least at first. But before long, it’s affecting his work. Just like any other addiction. And when the lustre starts to fade, the old demons come back because they were never truly vanquished. When you’re at such a high peak when the fog clears, it’s terrifying to suddenly realize how steep the drop.

And he does drop.

It’s such a sad and familiar tale. How many tragic ends come after it seemed like an addict had finally turned the corner?

As we left Don at the end of Season Six, he was pouring out his booze and cleaning out his office. Will it stick this time? Addiction and recovery is not an arc usually done justice by film and television. It usually ends with the first trip to rehab, as if that is all it takes for a magic cure-all: checking in. But Don’s struggle has been much more accurate, and thus much more sinister. Sometimes it takes years to even accept that there is a problem at all. (Roger Sterling has yet to make it that far.)

And by then, you’re too far in the mess that it feels like its too late to be Dick Whitman again.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

– Joan Didion, The White Album 1979

ashleigh’s taco salad recipe – by request

This was originally requested by Amanda alone, but then I thought, “it is not my place to hold back genius from the larger world.” So here it is: on the internet.

ASHLEIGH’S TACO SALAD*

Makes 1 big, potluck-ready bowl. You can adjust these amounts as you see fit. I pretty much eyeball it every time.

1 lb lean or extra-lean ground beef
Head of iceberg lettuce, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 tomato, diced
3 green onions, sliced
2 cups cheddar cheese, grated
½ bag Nacho cheese-flavoured Doritos, broken into small pieces
½ bottle of Kraft Catalina™ dressing (or “California” if you’re me and bought the no-name brand)
Other taco-related ingredients as you might so desire, such as black olives. (This is your canvas; make it your masterpiece.)

Look, Amanda! Just ask and Google Images provides.
Look, Amanda! Just ask and Google Images provides.

Cook the ground beef in a pan and season with however much taco seasoning as your senses can allow, which—if you’re like me—is a lot. (The salad is best if you let the meat cool in the fridge, but you might only want to do that if you’re working with extra lean meat. Otherwise, a little part of you will die when you see the cold, hardened, taco-seasoned fat in the bottom of the container. Appetizing, I know.)

After that, you can follow the basic logic that this is, indeed, a tossed salad. Which means you just mix everything together in a bowl.

You will probably want to serve it right away otherwise the crunchiness of the Doritos is comprised faster than a Bond girl.

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*I feel like a bum taking credit for this. I didn’t make it up. But I don’t know who did, but I should at least get credit for bringing it to the masses.

new westminster wanderings

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a not-so-polite rant about the great gatsby

As I remember fondly from working at a bookstore, every time a movie adaptation of a book comes out (especially one starring a quote – heartthrob – endquote) it creates a certain rush of readers: people who only pick up books with movie posters for a cover.

No judgment. Really. Whatever gets you reading. I guess. Sure. Whatevs. Anyway.

It bothers me, however, when people miss the point. If the best you get from The Great Gatsby is “Daisy was such a bitch to him, ohmygod. But those parties! Squee!” then you better be a teenage girl because otherwise you are a giant waste of literacy.

"Can you believe this fuckery?"
“Can you believe this fuckery?”

Anyway.

The vitriol is thick with me this morning because I am tired and stressed and as I tried to distract myself with some light internet browsing, I wandered into critiques of $25,000 Gatsby-themed parties, comparisons of The Great Gatsby and Fight Club, and parallels drawn between Don Draper and Jay Gatsby and on and on.

Facebook venting to Husband over a lunchbreak has its limits, thus I have taken to the blogs.

I don’t disagree that Fight Club is a 1990s version of Gatsby, per se, but there’s an argument you can make for every work of American Literature since 1924 being an updated version of Gatsby somehow. It’s just so AMERICA in all the classic ways America is critiqued. Its themes are perennial; they are the problem with the American Dream at its very core.

Fitzgerald nailed it. It truly is a “perfect novel.”

Perhaps I just love Fitzgerald too much. He is one of those artists to whom I feel connected. Do you know the feeling? When first reading his work, I just got it. I felt the same with Joe Strummer and Laura Jane Grace and Joan Didion and Upton Sinclair and Edgar Wright and Steve McQueen (the artist/filmmaker, not Bullit, damn you). You feel like only you truly understand their work and no one else can possibly appreciate it like you can. Thus, you feel a sense of ownership and need to defend it from the unworthy.

It’s like watching someone drive an expensive car very badly. You can’t help but cringe and weep for humanity.