Thursday, January 1, 2009

Starting a New Year Almost Too Well

Every blog on the internet is probably talking about year end lists and recollections and highlights and other summative activities. And I suppose I will too, seeing as how I'm here and I'm not that tired. Waking up at two in the afternoon will do it. So here are a selection of things I've done, seen, observed, began, finished, and whatever else you can say to describe 2008 for me.

As we began . . .
This is what I like to call an upswing year. After 2007, it could not have gotten much worse, barring utter catastrophe such as the death of close friends or a meteor striking the city and destroying it instead of giving me marginally badass superpowers. 2007 saw my first genuine professional crisis since deciding to be a university-based philosopher, with my MA thesis examination metaphorically akin to receiving severe shrapnel wounds. That year was bookended by the catastrophic shattering of two of my closest friendships, first KB and then RH. Things only began to look up on New Year's Eve, which I thought would be my last New Year's Eve in St John's. I spent it partying with one of my nearest and dearest, Chris. Arse that he can be at times, he's had my back at moments when no one else was willing, and stood up for me when no one else would and I deserved it least. He helped me end 2007 optimistically, and by the end of that year, optimism was practically a miracle.

Best Professional Deliverance: McMaster's Acceptance Call
On my way out of a Dance Party of Newfoundland sketch show, I turned my phone back on and immediately got a call from my mother. McMaster philosophy called my house while I was in the theatre with good news. I got home and called back to hear Elisabeth Gedge the department head congratulate me for my acceptance and give me a run-down of their funding package.

Since moving to Hamilton for the program, I have found an apartment perfect for me with low cost, in an excellent downtown neighbourhood, near everything that's important for my daily life: grocery store, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, the liquor store, and good neighbours. My friends Johnny and Allyson have both started at McMaster sociology, and I got them apartments in the same building as me. My supervisor, Barry Allen, is ideal for what I want to write, how I want to approach the project, and how I work. The people at my department support experimentation in writing style, outsized personalities, and professional ambition, all of which define me and my work. Right now, I'm ahead of the game on thesis planning, was one of the few grad students who needed no extensions on any course work, connect well with the undergraduates I teach, and have one publication and two conference presentations pending approval.

Most Awesome Energizer: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, and Fucked Up
Since I don't work at a newspaper anymore, I don't have access to a pile of new music. However, some of what I've heard on youtube and sought out has treated me well. Probably the best new music I've discovered was a Toronto punk band called Fucked Up. Rarely has sound been so visceral than when it's coming out of speakers playing their second record, The Chemistry of Common Life. Being a punk band, one would gravitate to their being rage experts. But their lyrics revolve around all sorts of existential dread and elevation, all the possibility of human emotion distilled into rock and blasted at you. They take you apart and put you back together molecule by molecule.

As for Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, they wrote a work of classical music that drags me to places only Beethoven (among the classical genre) has done before. It's the perfect complement to a damn-near perfect film. More on that below.

Best Ethical Treatise: The Dark Knight
Since I don't work at a newspaper or a radio station anymore, I don't have access to free movies. But The Dark Knight completely redefined what I thought a pop movie could do. No studio head would ever be crazy enough to sink this much money into a film that embodies pure terror and forces it into the audience's gut. But The Dark Knight did, and actually made enough money to buy most of Africa. I saw it five times during its theatrical run, will buy the dvd, and probably see it during the re-release later this month.

The Dark Knight revolves around problems that I think are at the heart of ethics: What will you do in the face of horror so great it seemed impossible? It presents the intensity of every element of life under threat, and asks if it's possible to build the strength within yourself to hold on to your ideals when all that you love most and all that you've worked for is about to crumble. That the answer can be a credible, powerful, fully knowledgeable Yes makes this film all the greater.

Most Unexpected Re-Awakening of Political Ideals: Barack Obama
Speaking of saying Yes, this man is the new President of the United States. For a long time, I've been a cynic who reduced politics to fearmongering, corruption, a dreary pragmatism, and avoidance of violence. Then this guy wins an election by appealing to all the positive potentials of humanity, and is set to govern along those principles. Pragmatism is not dreary, but an inclusive merging and negotiation of formerly competing interests in the face of common problems. Corruption can be fought by enacting that ideal of a fraternal community in your words and deeds every day in your life. Almost everyone I know predicts his assassination, but I expect him to live into the 2050s. He's shown that we can better the world by demanding that the world be better and acting on that demand. My cynicism will never die as long as I can laugh at my enemies, but my pessimism has been strangled. I did it myself.

Most Accurate Picture of My Inner Life: Spaced
This was the best dvd purchase of my life, even more than my Doctor Who collection. The show has a story structure and headspace that displays almost precisely how I think: flying in a hundred directions at once, but all together making perfect sense. And a soul that just wants to be loved, and to love in return. And it's the funniest show in the world.

Sign of Future Film Stardom: Justin Madol
Justin is a friend from my Muse days who's directing a zombie movie in St John's. I ran into him on New Year's Eve when we were each at parties across the street from each other. We talked, drunkenly, for a while about our plans for the future. He talked about the film, and wanting to establish himself as a director. I talked about my novel, which is unfinished, but now almost three hundred pages and good enough at least to publish. He said that I should write something to adapt to film for him to make, and one of the ideas in my vault could work very well as a film. Undesirables is a plan for a novella about people trying to live quiet lives, but are resentfully excluded from it. One case is a Muslim immigrant suspected of terror ties, and the other case is a former sex offender. There might be a homosexual there too, but I'm not sure yet. It could make for a good low-budget drama. Call me when I finish the PhD, JM. Won't be long.

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