My first exposure to Leonard Cohen was his video for “Closing Time.” As a preteen just starting to listen to rock music, I couldn’t fully understand why MuchMusic was sticking this video of an old man with a lukewarm voice in between my beloved videos by grunge bands. I chocked it up to Canadian content quotas. And then Kurt Cobain mentioned him in a song. There was something else about this figure I couldn’t begin to guess at.
When I started learning more about Canadian literature and poetry, Cohen still seemed apart somehow – his words were simple and true and accessible and painted with desperation and passion and unapologetic eroticism, different from other lines struggling over similes for national identity. As a poet and lyricist, Cohen was a creature borne of love and beauty and then orphaned; his inability to reconnect with those ideals drove his work.
A few years ago he described his role as a writer given the status he’d achieved, and any writer questioning themselves should keep it in mind:
“I always had the notion that I had a tiny garden to cultivate. I never thought I was really one of the big guys. My work – the work that was in front of me – was just to cultivate this tiny corner of the field that I thought I knew something about, which was something to do with self-investigation without self-indulgence. I never liked the latter too much as a mode. Pure confession I never felt was really interesting, but confession filtered through a tradition of skill and hard work is interesting to me. So that was my tiny corner, and I just started writing about the things that I thought I knew about, or that I wanted to find out about.”
I’ll miss Cohen’s spirit, which has been around in one way or another my entire life until today. It’s part of the sun and earth and drink and smoke now. He lives on in the closer look, that feeling that pulls at us to witness the flower opening. Now that I’m older, there’s more in those lyrics, more in that image of that man crooning crookedly and softly about love and sex and faith and dirty bars. It was there all along, and I’m still trying to figure out the mystery of it.
Tend your tiny garden.
My first graduate paper in eight years is in the can – I handed in my essay on Ladies of the Mob today. I had to take out one of my arguments to bring it down to the required length, but it was probably my weakest material in the essay, so I didn’t mind. In perfect form, I worked on it until the last possible moment, making sure everything was correctly formatted. It’s the first paper I’ve ever written in Chicago style, and although I’ve edited a ton of Chicago papers, putting one together myself proved painstaking. Just a lesson to format as I go, a lesson I learned in my time as an undergrad but forgot in the intervening years. In class we talked a bit about sound and watched the 1931 version of Frankenstein, which I’d never seen.
I’ve found myself copping to forgetting a lot of things lately. Certain topics will come up in class, but I won’t launch in to an argument because it’s been years since I was last given a forum to talk passionately about those topics. Something I’d forgotten about school is the comfy quilt it wraps you in, the way it convinces you that these things you find interesting have a merit that needs defending. It can be hard to find that merit outside academia. The structure and requirements of an academic program are in place to breed ideas, and ideas keep me passionate. They keep my pilot light lit.
Samantha and I had dinner with Ren and Mel tonight. We were originally aiming for Barque Smokehouse on Roncesvalles, but they were booked solid, so we drove over to Electric Mud on Queen. Toronto has an endless supply of restaurants. Eating at every one has already proved impossible. The food was barbecue fare, and we had a good time on the patio. Ren and Mel are moving out of their place soon. I’d like to see it one more time before they take off. It’s meant a lot to me at different points over the last decade or so.
Amazing how many things seem to be ending, and starting, and coming back around, all at once.
The busyness continues. I handed in my splicing assignment today, and I think it was as good as it was going to get, so we’ll see. We’re being fed a lot of information in Film Materials and Processes about film stock, and as hard as I’m concentrating on it, it’s hard to link it to something more concrete. It’s all just words and descriptions and fuzzy photocopied diagrams and hardly any film in front of us to exemplify it or detailed case studies to learn from. Hopefully things will get easier as we get further into the assignments.
There are other things going on, but I’m too focused on dealing with them in real life to put them into any kind of words here quite yet. I always mean to write something more substantial, but the days are long. I’m going to bed tired every night, thankfully.
I finally missed a blogging day, but for good reason: last night was Nuit Blanche. Samantha and I met up with Craig and Cat at Ronnie’s in Kensington Market for a beer, then headed down Augusta. We saw some musicians playing in the street, renditions of “School’s Out” and “Spirit in the Sky.” We made our may down Spadina, passing a jug band (sans jug), and popped into 401 Richmond to check out their exhibits – linen jellyfish, bathroom graffiti written by women, live sandwich making. I got to play a theremin. We walked along Queen over to City Hall to see the giant glowing ball in Nathan Phillips Square. There was a band called Mothertongue playing on the roof of Condom Shack, “Let it Be” style. Craig and I ate hot dogs. We finally found the “Literature vs. Traffic” exhibit we’d been looking for, a stretch of concrete littered with open books that had small lights attached inside. We walked along and picked up books to take home with us and then called it a night.
Work has been busy, but I’ve been mowing through it. I tried to head to campus today to work on my splicing, but couldn’t get into the lab. I’m going to try again tomorrow. I worked on my “Ladies of the Mob” essay and now have about half of the first draft written. I could really use an extra weekend for some breathing room, but I should have everything done that needs doing. Last week of classes before Reading Week.
Tonight Samantha and I had pizza and ate ice cream and watched the season premiere of Saturday Night Live.
Robarts today for research. I went to Media Commons and checked out “It” starring Clara Bow at one of their video stations, another blast from graduate school past. They have nicer setups in there now. It felt good to hunker down at a desk and watch a film. Also watched a Courtney Love-narrated documentary on the actress, whose story is agonizingly sad.
Went by EJ Pratt to finish up a piece of work I’d forgotten about and then headed over to the grad lab to splice. Things there were busy, so I’ll go back at some point this weekend. Samantha and I watched the new Netflix documentary about Amanda Knox and then joined Patrick and Mariel at the Piston for Shindig and danced and sweated. A fun night.
And so ends September. One month down.
I woke up at 4 am, couldn’t get back to sleep, so got out of bed and worked until about 6:30, when my body finally said it was ready to try again. Whatever way I can create the hours to get things done, I guess.
I had a summary of a reading prepared for History of Film, but we didn’t get to it. Instead, we spent the class leafing through hundred-year-old issues of Photoplay, and Alicia posted a bunch of information about the Packard Campus for Audio-Visual Conservation in Virginia, which is essentially Vahalla for film conservationists. Restoration, preservation, exhibition, and more – everything under one roof. You know how Disney talks about putting its films “back in the vault”? The Packard Campus is the literal vault for Disney negatives, and the vault itself looks more like an underground bunker than some fabled candyland. Every so often the Packard Campus holds a weekend where a bunch of people show up and look at unknown silent films and try to identify them and where they came from. I will go someday. We capped the class with a viewing of Tod Browning’s “The Unknown,” the first feature film we’ve watched in a class so far, and a completely bizarre one featuring some tremendous acting from Lon Chaney.
After having lunch with Samantha, I grabbed a latte at the Holiday Inn Starbucks next door (my first time there) and went back to the grad lab to splice some film, including bits with the cement splicer. Still have a bit more work to do, but it’s coming along. I have a couple of projects to finish this weekend, but I’m feeling good about them, excited even.
Samantha and I had dinner and watched wrestling. We’ve decided to head up to Ottawa for a night and then Kingston for another night around Thanksgiving. Should make for a fun little road trip and a nice break from the city.
Got up early this morning and worked through to class time. In Early Film and its Preservation, we talked a lot about Méliès and the problems with designating “original” films. We also did something I’ve never done in a class before: a shot-by-shot analysis of a film (Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon). We played the film, talked over it, paused it at moments we wanted to take a closer look at. I swear if I could find a way to do that kind of thing once a week for the rest of my life, I’d be happy. We also took a look at Méliès’s “Cinderella” and “The Kingdom of the Fairies,” the latter of which is especially gorgeous (the sets!). Laos talked a bit about internship plans and Marta brought up Deluxe, a company I’ve had my eye on.
I’m doing well in the class thus far, based on two returned summaries. After class I had my afternoon latte (I’ve started having those lately – I’m mostly made of coffee now, to be frank) and walked over to EJ Pratt Library to work. Picked up some dinner on the way home and watched some wrestling with Samantha.