Out with the Old… in with the New School Year

editorial

For many students, the first day of school is kind of like their New Year’s Eve (though likely a little less drunk). You make grand resolutions to actually use your complimentary agenda, hole-punch your handouts and put them in your binder right away, start working on your assignments the day of, etc. etc. In elementary school, you showed up for the first day back after summer vacation—maybe wearing new clothes or sneakers—you walked into the classroom wishing that everyone would notice the re-invented you that the sunshine, summer camp, and two months off magically created. 

One of my favourite teenage angst idioms is when people complain, “people are staring, and judging me.” This is a favourite of mine for a few reasons. First off, these people are right: everyone is judging you–but not necessarily for the reasons you’d think. I’ll admit that I’m a starer. In my defense, I’m also a writer and photographer, so by nature I’m an eavesdropper (or, to put it more delicately, a people watcher). Whenever I ride the bus, I have a book in my knapsack, with good intentions to read it, but instead I observe the passengers around me. I envy the years when I was a little kid, and I could unabashedly stare at the people, learning and absorbing the ways of the world. Now when I stare at people longer than socially acceptable, they don’t smile, or wave, or make silly faces; they usually just flash me dirty looks, or in most cases, do that long blink people do when they can feel you looking at them but don’t want to confront the situation. 

However, one thing I’ve learned in my many-year career of being a student is that when you’re new on the first day and trying to meet people, the best thing you can remember is that people are always a lot less cool than you think they are. Or at least, the more you get to know someone, the less intimidating they become.

During my prep for back to school this summer, I sat down one morning, to clean my MacBook desktop. As with everything in my physical life, I’m also a file hoarder on my computer—more specifically, my desktop. Along with labeling things “Today,” having a messy, unorganized desktop is probably one of the worst habits to have as a student. Anyway, as I was trying to organize everything in sub-folders, I accidentally deleted a bunch of stuff I thought I made a duplicate folder for, and I lost a lot of files. After the initial panic, and trying to keep my cool in the coffee shop, I started scanning through the important files I didn’t delete, and realized that I may have saved myself hours of looking through stuff I didn’t need to backup on a harddrive, anyway.

Ever since I was little, I’ve been a hoarder. I hate throwing things out. Recently, as part of becoming a grown-up, I’ve realized with some anxiety that even with all my hoarded stuff, I still have no idea how to make my space look like “home” to me. I’ve lived in the same apartment for about three years now, and so far “home” looks like an agglomeration of past roommates, which is okay. Before school began, I started a project that turned my hoarding problem into “art.” I’m not usually a crafty person, but I’m currently working on a piece where I take old bus tickets, receipts, old notes etc., and paste it all as a collage on canvas.

One of the worst things for a hoarder-personality, is being raised by a parent who prays to the art of maintenance. Being careful with your tools is one thing, but some of the best advice I’ve received was from a classmate when I was in photo-j college, who reiterated that the camera is a tool, not an accessory, and if you’re going to use it every day—it’s going to take some abuse. I also grew up with the habit of keeping my all books in mint condition (probably out of fear from librarians lecturing us in elementary about taking care of our loans). But when you buy a tool for school with your own money, or your own student loan—you own it. Don’t be afraid to abuse your tools. I’ve recently picked up a friend’s habit of turning down the corners of pages in books, where you like line or a phrase; and the gratification of easily finding your favourite passages is well worth the wear and tear.

Much like being a freshman at university, I think this editorial has been of the under-focused, overwhelmed, disoriented type. Oh well. I hope this week you all break your resolutions (then find the ones that actually matter to you), talk to all the people who terrify you, and most importantly, use all your books enough that there’s ripped pages and coffee stains, ruining the potential resale value. 


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Movie Review: Boyhood

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Contributor Spencer Wilson dives into the highest rated film of the year–one that took 12 years to make.

It’s easy to hear about this film and think it will come off as a gimmick: a film following a boy from ages six to 18 which uses the same cast to depict the process of aging. Thankfully, the reality is that Boyhood is a remarkable experience to witness on film.

Watching actors grow up on screen isn’t a new concept to film, the most historical example being François Truffaut’s films about the character Antione Doinel (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), which began with The 400 Blows in 1959 and continued with films in 1962, ‘68, ‘70, and ‘79. There’s also the Harry Potter series, which director Richard Linklater makes reference to early in the film when the kids are being read the Philosopher’s Stone before bed, and again when they are older and going to an opening night release of the Half-Blood Prince. Those familiar with Linklater’s earlier works will know he is no stranger to depicting the evolution of people on-screen with his Before trilogy, but what sets it apart from any of the previously mentioned is that we get to witness the entire process presented as a complete narrative in two hours and 40 minutes.

Annually, for 12 years, Linklater assembled the cast and shot a 15 minute short film over the course of three days. He edited the footage each time they shot and then pieced each part of the film together. This included the music, which he carefully used to punctuate the years as they passed, and it brings you along for the ride.

it is hard to believe how many years have passed by the time it’s over

The story progresses in a linear format, beginning with the boy, Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), at age six in primary school, and then ending with him at college as a freshman at age 18. Alongside him we get to see his older sister, Samantha (played by Linklater’s daughter, Lorelei), grow up as well, but the focus is always on Mason and his personal perspective. At the beginning of the movie, we find out that Mason’s parents are divorced and the kids mainly live with their mother (Patricia Arquette) and visit with their father (Ethan Hawke) on weekends. Their mother moves frequently throughout the film as she tries to find affordable living while also trying to complete her master’s degree to teach psychology. Meanwhile, their father works as a musician and tries to remain a meaningful presence in their lives by giving them as much life advice as possible when they’re together.

The changes in Mason are very subtle. Linklater does an excellent job of not drawing attention to Mason’s aging process with obvious cuts between showing his face one year and then the next, or showing 12 different birthday scenes—it flows seamlessly from one event to the other. In fact, the film is so excellently paced that it is hard to believe how many years have passed by the time it’s over. The choice of events feel natural, as if the film is showing Mason’s own memory of which events mattered to him.

Transformation of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) in Boyhood. Courtesy of dreamsandvisions.squarespace.com

Transformation of Mason (Ellar Coltrane) in Boyhood. Courtesy of dreamsandvisions.squarespace.com

Therefore, you won’t see predictable scenes that you might expect to see in a movie about a boy growing up and going to college, like a high school graduation. In an interview, Linklater spoke of his own graduation, saying “it was boring, and I was an extra in a big event, and there was nothing personal about it. But I do remember being in a car with my buddy Danny, and he had a drink, and we were kind of farting around afterwards.” The film then becomes this combination of Linklater’s growing up, and Coltrane’s own contributions to the character. The idea works perfectly, because we are left with many small, character-building moments in between periods of furious drama. Sometimes they are very small and quiet, like Mason finding the skeleton of a dead bird when he is six; sometimes they are very startling and dramatic, like when his alcoholic stepfather goes on a drunken rampage; and many times he’ll be given stereotypical male lessons on things like catching a football and shooting a gun.

As a character, Mason isn’t perfect. He starts off as a daydreamer who always forgets to hand in his homework. He’s always looking out windows and we’re given a sense of his disconnection with the world beginning at a young age. As he gets older, his procrastination with school continues as he makes time for video games, friends, and, later on, photography. He begins engaging in the usual rebellious teenage activities of getting drunk, smoking pot, and staying out all night. Throughout his life he sees adults, specifically his parents, struggling to find their own meanings in life, and it seems to perpetuate Mason’s own dissatisfaction with what the world has offered him so far.

As a character, Mason isn’t perfect.

Linklater has always been good at capturing people and ideas from a certain generation within his films, and Boyhood is no different. Mason comes across as a representation of the current generation of youth, which is amazing considering he manages to accurately depict the stages of Mason’s growth in an organic way. The strength within this, is, the film doesn’t feel like it’s celebrating youth or condemning them for being irresponsible in any way—it simply shows the events of a boy growing up. When combined with great writing and acting, it almost feels like a documentary.

The actors are fantastically convincing. Arquette perfectly portrays the stress of raising the children alone, with Hawke trying to act cool and spout life philosophy like he does in some of Linklater’s other films (Before trilogy, Waking Life). But the kids stand out the most. Coltrane and Lorelei are naturally talented and play their characters very well despite having to basically grow up with them. This is aided by a screenplay that constantly evolved with the characters to make all their conversations feel real. Mason has many moments of awkward conversation and mumbled begrudgery that makes him sound like a real character.

Overall, Linklater does a great job keeping everything understated. The moments and their conversations feel real; the directing is linear, but not too linear to be unimaginative; and the overall construction is brilliant. When the film is over, it feels disorienting to have experienced so much in one film, and yet feels like it wasn’t crammed together. It’s a very contemplative film and a perfect representation of human memory. Do not miss this extremely unique cinematic experience.


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Book Review: Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals

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Contributor Philip Gordon dissects Patricia Lockwood’s second book of blunt poetry. 

“sext: im poetry. im dead and im inside u at all times”

Anyone who suckles even semi-regularly from the content-delivery teat of the internet should be fully aware of who Patricia Lockwood is—even if you’re not one of her 45k Twitter followers, chances are you caught a glimpse of Lockwood’s poetry when her poem “Rape Joke” went viral in July of 2013. There’s a good reason Lockwood has been hailed as Poet Laureate of the Internet—the prose poem that shot her to fame is a powerful mix of personal and political (at least as far as gender’s role in society is concerned), and her tweets regularly blur a surrealist poetic bent together with conversational language and contemporary attention to trend-savvy topics.

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals is Lockwood’s second full length collection (her first, Balloon Pop Outlaw Black, was released in 2012). Besides “Rape Joke”, and another poem in a similar style, “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics”, the rest of the poems in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals are delivered primarily in the same style/voice. Lockwood seems uncomfortable with stanza breaks on a larger scale, so each poem is rendered as a stream-of-consciousness word block with occasional enjambment and indentation for emphasis. The line breaks seem more arbitrary than anything, which might make one wonder if the majority of pieces in this collection wouldn’t have benefited from paragraph, prose-poem style arrangement. For a poet who works primarily in 140 character bites these days, Lockwood’s poems are surprisingly indivisible, and there doesn’t seem to be much effort to focus on brevity or extractable snippets; the poems are complete only in-and-of themselves, functioning purely as devices to deliver the conceit of their metaphor in a single dose.   

[...]a thinly-veiled critique on the pornography industry (and maybe the act of desire in the first place?)

Cover via Penguin Books

Cover via Penguin Books

Metaphor is an important topic in this collection. Aside from the titular gender-pronounification of the notion of country and belonging, almost every poem in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals seems to aim head-on at becoming a pure exercise in metonymic pontification—it almost feels like Lockwood is completing a contemporary tribute to the metaphysical poets with the extent to which each poem carries the conceit of its metaphor. Poems like “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer” are a thinly-veiled critique on the pornography industry (and maybe the act of desire in the first place?) “The Feeling of Needing a Pen” takes the urge to create, and drives it like a nail into a board covered in analogous descriptions: “…like a urine but even more gold / …that spot on a dog that causes its leg to kick.” “The Descent of the Dunk” details the tribulations of a young girl growing up to the resounding slam of a ball through a hoop, wrapping up the conquest of women’s rights and identity as a woman into a neat, sports-themed package, and delivering it with a mimicking impact right at the moment of triumph.

It’s important to note that Lockwood, as evidenced by her most famous poem, is a cut-from-the-cloth feminist. Gender identity drips from her poetry, and imbues much of it with an innate power. In “The Father and Mother of American Tit-Pics,” Lockwood swaps the genders of two of America’s most notable poets, Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, then barrages the reader with fantasies about their various gender-identifying features, tits, beards, etc. The pieces of anatomy at times serve as stand-ins for conceits like poetic ability, public acclaim, and other, more elusive subjects. As Lockwood reminds us in the middle of the poem, “What I am TRYING to say is that metaphors are dangerous!” By that logic, perhaps this book is a bomb of metonymy, and we’re meant to let it explode in our hands, one piece at a time.

Truth be told, the litany of metaphysical imaginings seemed a little bit grating by the mid-way point of the book. I was occasionally unable to connect the subject to the poem’s title and rambling description, and even when I could, I often felt the meditation about different ways of obliquely describing a single entity to be a little lacking. When Lockwood tweets, she regularly uses a raw, surreal, contemporary voice that only seemed to peek out in little bits throughout the poems in Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. I wanted more of her brash, “gonna tweet whatever don’t give a fuck” attitude in these poems, where instead I got a page and a half of diatribes that feel as though they’d be more at home in an MFA workshop environment than being yelled by Lockwood, three inches away from my digital face. This might be purely a matter of preference, but there is the temptation to identify Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals as something of a bait-and-switch.

There’s certainly nothing objectionable about the poems in this collection—the only thing to take offense to might be the contrast between the relatively serious content of the poems contrasted with Lockwood’s bizarre humour style, which emerges occasionally in titles like “Search ‘Lizard Vagina’ and You Shall Find.” It feels like a missed opportunity when this absurdism is lacking in a concrete way from the poems proper. Even when it surfaces, it seems more to be alienating for its own sake, rather than delivering any kind of message or impact. If every poem ruminated on naked selfies and perplexing sexual politics, the collection as a whole might have felt more cohesive, linked by a thread of theme and meaning, rather than approach. Having “Rape Joke” finally in print elevates the collection to a powerful place entirely on its own, but the jarring, confrontational delivery in that poem is rarely picked up elsewhere. Even when Lockwood isn’t afraid to use raw, un-poetic language (“Careful not to tip over with those huge jugs Walt!”), it feels either forced or poorly utilized. Lockwood’s more traditional poetry could most likely benefit from a fresh injection of her internet sensibilities, and probably still manage to please both the traditional crowd and the less literary. Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, in its current form, seems to pull its punches a bit too much for its own good.

This isn’t an indictment of the entire collection; there are certainly worthwhile moments woven throughout, and Lockwood’s language is riveting even when she isn’t swearing or discussing reptilian genitals. In “The Hatfields and McCoys”, Lockwood describes the hereditary line of conflict and ancestry: “…as if / they’d been written in Early Times Whiskey / and the match of my sight had been flicked / and was racing now along them, and racing / like a line to their houses.” The metaphysical parallels and similes jump out like this often enough to keep the collection interesting, but they don’t entirely account for the lack of power the poems themselves seem fitted with in comparison to what Lockwood is capable of in other places and mediums.

Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals, in its current form, seems to pull its punches a bit too much for its own good.

We have, ultimately, a collection of serviceable poetry rattling around in, perhaps, a too conventional cage. We have hopes that when Lockwood delivers her next piece of work, it will be packed with the bombs of captive accusation and agony that makes her strongest shouting in the form of poetry worth reading, rather than just peppered here and there with tastes of sharpness, which ultimately leaves the reader wanting more.


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Cafe Review: Blenz

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Contributor Shaleeta Harper reviews local cafe, Blenz. 

Students are pretty well known drug addicts.  Many of us can’t get through those 8 am classes without clutching a cup of caffeine. My addiction is minor compared to some of my peers, but it’s still typical to find me doing my homework in a coffee shop, the goods a few steps away at most. In a city with a university, we have quite a few local haunts, all with their own highlights, and it can be hard to know which one to visit. This year I’m dedicated to trying all of them—new ones and old favourites—and giving you the skinny on where you should hunker down  during midterms and finals, or just sit and people watch.

Students are pretty well known drug addicts

First up: Blenz. It’s pretty far from campus but I, like many young people in Nanaimo, work at Woodgrove Centre. They offer good discounts for mall staff, bonus number one in my books. At my work, we are constantly taking turns doing coffee shop runs. My co-worker Jayson Wall, who can be found with a Blenz Americano in hand most days, says, “The espresso brownie is a beanhead’s wet dream.” Obviously, he’s a fan.

My drink of choice is the mocha, or a matcha. Blenz makes an incredible mocha, with real Belgian chocolate, and give you a choice of dark, milk, or white.

Dark chocolate mocha (with whip) and an espresso brownie.

Dark chocolate mocha (with whip) and an espresso brownie.

One day I picked up a large, dark chocolate mocha (with whip), and an espresso brownie.  The mocha was perfectly bitter, and not too sweet. Anyone who loves dark chocolate should know what I mean. It’s quite a dense drink, so I’ll be ordering it with a cup of water in the future, but it’s like it should be: practically a dessert. It’s not very strong, so if you like your drinks dancing, you may want to order an extra shot of espresso.

The brownie was, as another co-worker mentioned, like a ganache. It wasn’t dense like a traditional brownie, but thick soft chocolate with a mild kick of espresso. Definitely a once-in-a-while treat.

I went back later for a vegetable samosa and real coffee at lunch. The samosa was an interesting twist on traditional coffee shop fare— excellent for a savoury snack, with a kick of spice—and sizeable enough to work as a small lunch. The coffee tasted pure and clean. I’m not usually a straight coffee drinker but I’m glad I gave it a shot. I enjoyed it black at first, then added a bucket of cream and sugar.

The prices were moderately high—a large coffee and a muffin are about $4.50—but being in a large shopping centre, that isn’t surprising. They also bake all the goods in-shop, so they are very fresh.

The coffee shop is a bit cramped, but the seats spill out into a large section in the mall. The décor is modern, with local metalwork art gracing the walls. They offer customers free Wi-Fi and comfortable seating, but the machines are quite loud in the small shop itself, which can make it hard to focus. They stay open later than most cafés in Nanaimo—matching the mall hours—but they also open later in the morning.

My thoughts? This is a great coffee shop to go to for a weekend off, or a relaxing people watching adventure with friends. It could even be a place to write if you enjoy background bustle, but it’s not perfect for a long study session when you need quiet.

 


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Seven Things You Didn’t Know You Wanted to Know About the Porpoise

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Abbotsford (CUP)— Dessa Bayrock of The Cascade answers: What is a Porpoise?

Courtesy of Anthony Biondi

Courtesy of Anthony Biondi

The quick answer: porpoises are adorable. The longer answer: porpoises belong to the cetacean family, which includes whales and dolphins. If you’re trying to picture a porpoise in your mind, think of a broader, stouter dolphin without the “melon” lump dolphins and whales have on their heads. 

Porpoises also take less kindly to living in captivity, and aren’t as easily trained as their dolphin cousins—think of porpoises as the indifferent cats of the cetacean family. Are they cute? Yes. Will they do what you say? It depends on how much fish you’re willing to dish out. 

    Porpoises: the underdogs of the ocean

Porpoises are often beaten up or killed by dolphins or seals. As the smallest cetaceans, they’re often picked on by their larger family members. Scientists suspect that dolphins might see porpoises as competitors for food supplies—since both dolphins and porpoises feast on just about any fish they can get their jaws on, including herring, pollock, and squid. 

    Your local porpoise

The Vancouver Aquarium currently has two porpoises, Jack and Daisy, who are actually the only two harbour porpoises in captivity in North America. They were both rescued as young porpoises, and although they don’t have impressive leaps or dives like their aquarium neighbours, you can catch an informational show at their tank every afternoon. 

    Porpoise en français?

The name “porpoise” hails not from French, but from the Old French: porcus for “pig” and piscis for “fish”. That’s right—“porpoise” figuratively means “pig fish.”

Speaking of names, porpoises are also called “mereswine,” although nobody but their mothers call them that. 

    The porpoise has nothing to do with potatoes… we think

You’re forgiven for thinking tubercles have anything to do with tubers (or, for that matter, tuberculosis), but the fact of the matter is scientists are at a loss when it comes to figuring out just what, exactly, tubercles are for. Tubercles are one of the defining features of the porpoise—they’re tiny bumps along the dorsal ridge on porpoises’ backs. One theory states that the tubercles are the equivalent of anti-slip mats, designed to help adult porpoises carry calves. Another (more likely) theory says that each tubercle might actually mark a bundle of nerve endings, serving as extra sensitive areas. 

    Porpoises are really fast

If you’ve ever been on a whale-watching trip, you know cetaceans are surprisingly quick in the water. Whales can hit speeds around 40 km/h in prime conditions (read as: shallow water and imminent danger). Dolphins really hit their stride by leaping out of the water to reduce drag, and get an extra boost of acceleration, but even then they only have a maximum speed of around 25 km/h. Porpoises, on the other hand, can reach a top speed of 55 km/h without breaking a sweat. How? No one’s quite sure. 

    Fossil porpoise has an underbite

This spring, palaeontologists found fossils of an ancient porpoise—with a giant chin. While modern porpoises have chins of only a few centimetres, this fossil porpoise—dubbed Semirostrum ceruttii, or the skimming porpoise—has a chin a whopping 85 cm long. Researchers also found sensory nerves in the bone—meaning the porpoise probably used its giant jaw as a sixth sense, possibly making up for poor eyesight by feeling the ocean floor.


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