If I had any idea who Tucker Carlson was…

I’d probably be ashamed to admit it.



As I was lounging on my balcony this evening, listlessly picking at the plate of shoestring potatoes I’d prepared for myself, and watching the rainy wind plaster shredded pieces of tissue and pages from NOW Magazine covered with pictures of naked women and empty Cheetos bags onto the plexiglass, three passenger pigeons appeared out of nowhere, their feet stuck out in the “landing” position.

What a sight for sore eyes! I’ll tell ya!

Curly, Larry and Moe were carrying little suitcases covered with stickers saying things like “Warszawa” and “Achtung!” and “Italia: Con sprezzatura!” and once they touched down on the balcony railings they began cooing and rustling their feathers and beating on the little suitcases with their beaks, making a noise like distant tom-toms.

I took this to mean, incorrectly as it turns out, that the suitcases were filled with important, time-sensitive information. For me? Fat chance! More likely more letters from Hell, no return address, Can’t wait to see you again, not very long now! So excited!! Sincerely, Mom and Dad!

The wind feels very cold on my naked body and I pour a shot of vodka into the Baccarat tumbler, gulp it down and feel the warmth spread outward from my gut. I relax a little. The tumbler is sturdy, with a pleasing heft, and I hold it up, admiring the crystal’s clarity. It’s like holding the solidified air of new planet.

My feathered phantoms had been attracted no doubt by the moonlight glinting off the bespoke ice cubes from Greenland, hand-cut from the single remaining glacier, that I’d just had flown in on Porter, one seat for each cube. Nobody’s perfect and if I’m going to nourish every last dehydrated cell of my once luscious body with the purest water on earth, I’m sure as little blue buttons gonna fuck spiteful hell out of the environment as I do so. Those ice cubes are suddenly yawning big, as are the giant birds which are now advancing on me, beaks opening and closing, opening and closing…


… which is when I awoke with a little scream,

usually the sign that I’ve drifted off during the first act of “Siegfried,” but a quick assessment of my surroundings assured me I was merely at my desk, face down on my computer keyboard. Business as usual!

I’d nodded off while trying to figure out what a boycott of Tucker Carlson might mean. Do you get that, too? Shall I assume Tucker Carlson is an accounting firm? A small, boutique grocery store?

Serves me right, reading Michael Ondaatje and listening to Beethoven string quartets and talking about “watching TV” like white trash. If I did my homework and kept up with the Joneses I’d be able to respond with a well-placed “Whateverrrrr!???!?” to pop-culture references, instead of having everyone I meet squint at me when I ask a question, then back away while calling an ambulance.

But apparently people take exception to this Tucker Carlson double-named entity, and are very, very serious about wanting advertisers to stop validating said entity by associating their advertising with this manufacturer of power drills or purveyor of lavender-scented eye cream.

A brief phone call to Emma, whom I call my virtual assistant because she’s somewhere else and gives assistance which is virtually useless nine times out of ten, informs me that Tucker Carlson is an unpleasant person somewhere specializing in unpleasant concepts relating to white people being people and other colors of people being less than people. Thanks Emma! Are all Young Girls these days named after nineteenth-century English housemaids? You are totally woke, or at least you will be when I test-call you at four AM!

So, Tucker Carlson is a person, or, more accurately, a pundit! Now, I ask you. Why would a corporation spend endless hours getting their ad agency to perfect their brand creative—then air it during Tucker Carlson?

Why would they do that? Having spent ten long years working in ad agencies, I can tell you why, with confidence.

It’s the numbers, stupid.

I don’t really think you’re stupid. It’s just the trope, OK? Work with me, here.

It’s not that the corporations or the media buyer are clueless, or that they want to sully their good name or toss the work of dozens of talented people down the toilet. But corporations, and by extension their ad agencies, are in the business of selling stuff, mostly stuff that people don’t need, in as large quantities (model 1) or, if moronic luxury is the order of the day, at as high prices (model 2) as possible.

To accomplish this, they need you to believe that their breakfast cereal is not just another mass-produced box of corn kernels puffed up, pressed through rollers and sweetened with more corn, and delivering such low levels of nutrition that most of the actual food value comes from the milk you pour on it.

No, that’s not what their breakfast cereal really is. Their breakfast cereal is really a bowlful of togetherness and familial love and community and the silvery laughter of mischievous yet ultimately still adorable children.

They need you to believe this so completely that they begin to believe it themselves. This, then, is the birth of “the brand.”

No one knows what works, because what worked last time doesn’t seem to work the second time, and though everyone buys the nonsense that marketing is becoming more and more “scientific”, in their hearts they know that marketing and branding are more like dowsing for water or using a ouija board, where the miracle of one coincidence that gives the illusion that you knew what you were doing erases the memory of the three thousand flops that prove you don’t.

It’s not like there’s a “target audience,” a “niche,” so that you might reasonably work out that your perfectly aligned customer does not watch Tucker Carlson, thus sparing you a moral dilemma. Please! Save the cant for your MBA presentation, buckaroo. In my example, but you could make up your own, anyone with a mouth, a couple of teeth and a stomach that can retain a bowl of cereal is a potential customer.

Therefore they need to find the biggest gatherings of the most pairs of eyes, and what has the most pairs of eyes? Huge sports events, tawdry reality shows and low-life self-styled “pundits” spouting the opinions their audience wants to hear, i.e. white supremacy, anti-intellectualism and the undesirability of rapists and murderers from shithole countries, which is the new, of-the-minute locution for what my generation with its quaint, old-school manners called “immigrants.”

It’s not like Acme Cereals Corporation had a board meeting where they said, “Let’s get Korn Krunchies in the six PM slot, next to a video of some brown kids being thrown in jail!” No, there was far less thinking involved. They said, “Get us the most eyeballs on the most screens for our $500,000.” Potato, potato, pronounced differently.

Corporations are not evil, just psychotic. Let’s split the diff and say “amoral.” Eyeballs are eyeballs. How can the most eyeballs get the most Korn Krunchies into the most kids’ stomachs? Tucker Carlson is one answer.

(Now, seriously, the idea that anyone would believe that the puffed corn that leaches nutrients from your body is a bowlful of happiness is clearly preposterous. It would take a brain-vacuum to actually suck the intelligence out of viewers and fill them with despair, so that any positive action became impossible and people simply did what they were told to do, like zombies.

Well, three hundred thwacks on my cracked fontanel if they haven’t invented one — it’s called Tucker Carlson!)

This is why I don’t jump for joy when, say, Toronto-Dominion Bank sponsors Pride Month in Toronto. I’m sure they believe their heart is in it. But I didn’t vote for T-D Bank, and they have no mandate to look after my interests. As long as supporting rights for trans persons provides an off-the-rack halo and a ready supply of new customers to exploit, T-D Bank will be right behind you with the can of Brasso and a rainbow-colored J-Cloth. When the day comes that all of us queers are in jail being tortured, they’ll just move on and sponsor something else.

Individually, employees and art directors and brand managers are humans, sometimes intelligent ones, and they care. Collectively, they’d advertise on the Pol Pot Breakfast Hourif it were the most eyeballs on screens. They have little choice and less will to do otherwise.

That’s why we are always organizing boycotts and waggings of fingers and cluckings of tongues. But corporations aren’t on our or anyone’s side, and it’s silly to believe that they’re suddenly going to develop ethics, or even good taste—which I define as having every right to do something, then not doing it. Go ahead and switch to Wheat Whippies (because, surprise: they own that as well)!

Tucker Carlson, and forgive me for being obvious but it’s what I do best, isn’t a “show.” It’s not Ibsen. It’s just another product, most of whose value comes from the milk you pour on it.

In fact, it could very well be that Korn Krunchies is the show and it’s selling Tucker! You know what, that just occurred to me.

But a half-hearted boycott of a third-rate political commentator will do little to improve the world. Protest does not look like an email, or even a petition; at least, not just a petition.

Protest happens when people have reached tipping point, when you are blind with outrage, when you simply can’t sit at home and pretend everything’s all right, and you are driven to take to the streets. Real protest has a specific gravity and momentum and explodes with constructive anger that has been denied for too long (but not violence). You will know it when you feel it. Protest is not a smack on the wrist written by someone else for an issue you don’t really feel all that pumped about.

There’s only one thing that will work and I dare you to try it out.

Turn off the fucking TV, log out of YouTube, stop watching Tucker Carlson, stop buying Korn Krunchies, get out of the house and help someone worse off than you.

Do this every day. Then gradually, we can come together, all of us, and ask: how can we as a society muster the courage to do this, full time? How can we ensure that no one falls through the cracks, ever again?

Tucker Carlson! You’re funny! People—real thinking, feeling people—don’t watch that kind of shit. Now, honestly. Do I need to tell you this? Let’s try a little harder and then I can be proud to be your friend, and you can be proud you’re mine.

Buddhist teachers sometimes ask a pointed question: What will you do with your precious life? This question administers a jolt of low-grade panic and lights a fire with our to-do list. One more day of my life has just passed by. How did I spend my time? What’s the choice? Watch Tucker? Or help someone?

If you loathe Tucker Carlson’s message about immigrants, don’t focus on his fear mongering and racism. Find a way to advocate for immigrants.Work to improve and fix the immigration system (and don’t confuse those seeking to immigrate with those seeking asylum—these are two very different issues). Be clever. Listen to, or better yet, tell, immigrants’ stories. Counter lies with facts.

Even a boycott of Tucker Carlson by advertisers is more attention that he merits. Tell the station how offensive you find his message.

Then put your attention where it will do the most good: on the poor, the marginalized and the maligned.

💔

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SCANDAL!? Nothing we can’t handle!

The SNC-Lavalin ruckus isn’t really about SNC-Lavalin—it’s about Justin.

Gather around, boys and girls, as once again I pull my granddad pants up into my armpits and hook my Walter Brennan thumbs behind my suspenders. I’ve just awakened from my forty-eight hour afternoon nap, which is why I’m so annoyingly perky, and though the time is long past when it was even remotely relevant for me to explain What The Tommy Douglas was going on with this Canadian SNC-Lavalin scandal doodad, I need you to listen up and at least pretend to care.

As blessèd Saint Judy was wont to growl:“ATTENTION WILL BE PAID!” Now, could someone help me up off my knees?

I never promised you relevance, Murgatroyd McGraw. I promised you Marlboro breath so toxic it could singe your eyebrows, yellow teeth caked with butter tart filling, mysterious, noisome stains on my gusset and slyly humorous, flippant commentary in place of measured, in-depth analysis.

Measured in-depth analysis? How perfectly common!

So, while I clear my smoker’s throat, the better to hoark another oyster onto my signed, framed portrait of Stephen Harper—some pleasures never pall— it’s time for a Canadian Fireside Chat about politics, optics, and which one of the following options you find most attractive:

Progressive Conservatives: More guzzling of fossil fuels, privatized health care, blatant white supremacy, rolled-back reproductive rights for women, no seat at the U.N. Security Council and compulsory church attendance in calico habits modeled after “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Who?;

Liberals: Badly-needed carbon tax that will actually put money IN the pockets of taxpayers, a stab at equality, properly-funded universal healthcare, business as usual and a pretty—and pretty ineffectual—prime minister, but who, when you look at him, at least doesn’t make you feel like stabbing yourself in the eyes with remorse because you voted your country into a no-turning-back state of oligarchic theocracy run by climate-change-denying cretins; OR

New Democratic Party: You’re kidding, right? Though Jagmeet Singh, the national party leader, is right up there, for me, anyway, in the woody-popping hierarchy, what with that dashing, dark, handsome sub-continental vibe and the liquid music of his accent, which is to me as a moist, patchouli-scented tongue probing my hairy, crusted inner ear.

Though, pace Jagmeet, Sikhs can be a little homophobic, as proof of which I will share that the last time a Sikh guy popped round for a blow-job, he said something kind of, well, insensitive to me as he was doing up his trousers. He cast an incredulous look down his nose at me, and said,

“Why do you like men?”

Betsy DeVos Theranos! This is a tough one! Don’t forget your ‘Smores, eh?


There was once a time in Canada, a long-ago, simpler era when squawking blue jays landed on your outstretched index finger and friendly, efficient beavers in Harris Tweed vests valet-parked your car at the Royal York, when we were content with, even proud of, our de facto one-party system.

Every other year or so you could vote Progressive Conservative (PC) instead of Liberal, just so you wouldn’t die of boredom, and without afterwards having to blush and laugh nervously while explaining that you’d recently been thrown from your thoroughbred at Woodbine Racetrack and weren’t expected to recover full brain function for at least a few months.

There was no shame in voting for the party of John Diefenbaker, or even of Brian Mulroney. Diefenbaker, for example, in 1957, appointed the first female member of Cabinet, Secretary of State Ellen Fairclough, who is remembered for eliminating racial discrimination in Canada’s immigration policy.

Yes, the PC’s were for equality and advancing the role of women in public service. Kim Campbell, Justice Minister and Attorney General under Mulroney, passed important gun control legislation.

And here’s a quote from Brian M:

“I think the government has to reposition environment on top of their national and international priorities.”

Provincially, we had exemplary conservative leaders in John Robarts and Bill Davis (who appointed Margaret Birch as the first female Cabinet member in the Ontario Legislature in 1972).

Empowered women! Gun control! Prioritizing the environment! Are we through the looking-glass yet, did we nibble the wrong side of the giant mushroom, are we mad as hatters? These were “conservative” men and women with some bold ideas (and some dubious ones such as NAFTA), but they were, on the whole, advocates of fiscal conservatism. Whatever their private beliefs might be, they understood that as public servants they were in office to work for the benefit of all Canadians.

That government had a role to play in the lives of voters, that government could and should be a good custodian of the environment, that government should protect and recognize the worth of all its citizens—these were not “radicalized extreme-left socialist agendas.” They were givens.

Only when the execrable slime-bag Mike Harris took power—on the rebound from Bob Rae and the NDP— in 1995 did the conservative shredding of the social contract begin in Ontario. This of course was nothing but the same old conservative playbill, turbocharged and disguised as a “Common Sense Revolution.”

When populists and demagogues start making like Uri Geller with English, co-opting concepts like “common sense,” “revolution,” “freedom,” “democratic” and “people,” and bending them into new, sinister shapes, you know it’s time to pack your weekender from Frank & Oak with rolls of bandages and a big bottle of aspirin, in case your future includes an extended stay in the basement of the Presidential Palace, where they don’t even bother to soundproof the interrogation rooms; and whatever you do, don’t forget your Roget’s so you can look up the exact opposite of whatever they’re promising to deliver.

Mike’s “Common Sense Revolution” involved a typical, explicitly anti-labour, anti-social safety net stance (get those queens off welfare!), gerrymandering by way of the amalgamation of the City of Toronto and its suburbs into a “megacity,” the downloading of once-provincial costs to municipalities, and pedaling the snake oil of “deficit reduction” and privatization: all of this based on the premise that government itself is the problem, and therefore the correct and only model for government is that of a department store holding a fire sale.

Example: Ontario had built and was managing a toll highway, the 407, the world’s first with no toll booths and automatic, electronic billing. This public project was based on the startlingly novel concept that greedy, entitled car drivers should actually pay for the infrastructure that they require and should also compensate for guzzling black gold, with the tolls collected contributing much-needed (deficit!) revenue that would support health care and other social services. This one was a no-brainer, and would surely be Ontario’s golden goose for many decades.

But Harris, following his personal mantra of “if it ain’t broke, break it, then declare it needs privatizing,” sold the highway’s operations to a business consortium in the late 1990’s for $3 billion to “reduce the deficit.” Now, twenty years later, none other than SNC-Lavalin is selling ten percent of its share in the toll highway for $3.25 billion.

Nice business acumen, Mike.

Other highlights of his term in office include the Walkerton tragedy, in which a couple of buffoons in charge of the well water supply to a small town failed to chlorinate the water, make accurate reports, undergo yearly mandatory training, or indeed to do anything except help themselves to a cold brew from the fridge at the Public Utilities Commission and try to cover their tracks.

Although the Ministry of the Environment had repeatedly ordered the managers and staff to follow the correct, current testing protocols and procedures, no one had ever followed up to see if this had actually happened (it hadn’t). Water testing had been privatized, and it can’t be denied that government was smaller as a result.

So was the population of Walkerton, down by a count of six unfortunate victims of E. coli-contaminated water and thousands of others who had suffered life-threatening illness as a result of ignorance and bad management.

But at least we balanced the budget.


Fast forward to the current Trumpocene era in which ugly fossilized dinosaurs come to life and co-exist with humans, in which the Leader of the PC’s openly consorts and proudly gets photographed with white supremacist “media personalities,” and in which one high-profile conservative recently suggested that angry truckers should “run over every remaining Liberal” with their eighteen-wheelers.

Andrew Scheer, our pudgy-faced choirboy of the “christian” right, makes no apology about hanging out for the odd photo opp with his bosom buddy, nasty piece of Cruella De Vil knock-off Faith Goldy, who thinks we all agree that if everyone in the country were like her, we’d be on the right track.

R O T friggin’ F L! Oh, Faith, how truly you exemplify your name, which is, by the way, suspiciously Jew-y for a Nazi. Are you sure you’ll survive that middle-of-the-night knock on the door, once your Fourth Reich is safely installed and humming away? Sieg Heil, baby, or, as I sometimes like to express it, go fuck yourself.

Getting back to our “scandal:”

Justin may have called the Attorney General a few times before having his morning de-caf, and he may have insisted more than once, as it’s his duty to do so, that there was an alternative to going hard-line and prosecuting SNC-Lavalin, whose execs had been overly fond of bribing their way to lucrative Middle East contracts—a practice one might argue is almost de rigueur in that part of the world.

If you need clarification, to prosecute would without question involve banning SNC-Lavalin from any further government contracts, as well as guaranteeing the loss of ninety-thousand jobs in Québec just before a federal election.

There was an alternative path: A remediation agreement, involving hefty fines but saving the ninety thousand jobs, a rather sensible-sounding approach made possible by recent legislation that had been fully endorsed by the PC’s. In this scenario, there was scope for judicial discretion and prosecution was not inevitable. Remediation would provide transparency, plus a quite painful slap on the financial wrist, and avoid dragging innocent bystanders into the process.

Our erstwhile attorney general and justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould,
handicapped by the thinnest skin ever sported by a member of Cabinet or, for that matter, a lawyer, and who had obviously been promoted well above her ability to cope, was having none of it.

Justice must be done! Her blind insistence on scorched earth resembled a “work to rule,” in which employees follow the company handbook with every policy enforced to the letter, thereby causing the whole operation to grind to a halt via proliferating red tape.

Why was Wilson-Raybould so rattled when the PM, along with other members of the boys’ club, advocated vigorously for remediation, and why did she dig in her heels? The more Justin and other cool heads tried to persuade, the more stubbornly she pushed back.

Trudeau’s lobbying has been spun as “undue pressure,” obstruction of justice, a sneaky attempt to let criminals off the hook, or to pay off business cronies, but all these descriptions are quite false. His lobbying was neither inappropriate nor shady.

Did Trudeau attempt to influence the attorney general’s decision? Of course he did, because this is exactly what is expected in our adversarial legal system. Every day, in every court, lawyers attempt to influence: They advocate vigorously, even aggressively, for the solutions that they feel best serve the public interest. This is not sleaze or scandal or interference; this is how our legal system works.

Wilson-Raybould’s trump card, and her most gasp-inducing error of judgment, was to produce, like a cheesey Las Vegas illusionist producing a white rabbit from her top hat, a recording of a phone conversation she’d had with the PM—a recording she had made secretly, without Trudeau’s knowledge or consent— and every nuance of whose content was now parsed and analyzed in the press ad nauseum.

Seriously, friends.

Such cloak-and-daggerism is not the meat and potatoes of the highest levels of Canadian government. This is high-school drama, the sort of subterfuge the nerdy, overly-sensitive President of the Debating Society deploys on the mean boys in the motorcycle jackets who tease her about her acne.

I’ve explained and analyzed much more than I intended, and now I must tell you that, fascinating as it has been to untangle all of this, what I’ve actually shown you is that there is nothing to show.

There is no scandal or wrongdoing to be found, and no one is seriously claiming there is. This whole affair was a cynical, calculated exercise in throwing mud and seeing how much would stick. Progressive Conservatives and their official mouthpiece, the Globe & Mail, were more than willing to leverage public ignorance of our government and our legal system and to misrepresent both the substance and context of events.

Let’s see what we have: A Native MP, a woman, being hounded by the “feminist” PM; “punitive” demotions and Cabinet shuffles; sudden resignations, corporate criminals going scott free; secret recordings! Perfect ingredients for the perfect spin, a narrative that could create enough doubt to cast the prime minister as a sneak and a bully, and make Canadians question his judgment and even his legitimacy.

The ultimate goal? Bring down Justin Trudeau at any cost.


Is SNC-Lavalin a great, big, heavy-duty Glad bag full of sleaze? Sure, but no more so than any other corporation doing what capitalism does best, i.e., feed itself. Is Justin Trudeau an entitled, opaque, overgrown brat who expected business as usual with the boys in the backroom and who doesn’t understand how his apparent belief that he is not obliged to justify any action, or tell the whole truth, ever, reveals him as shifty and arrogant? It would seem that way.

Were any laws broken? No. Did anything happen that was even out of line? Apart from maybe Nancy Drew and the Case of the Secret Phone Call, not even close.

This was a scandal-free scandal, a big helping of Nothing-Poutine, yet the Progressive Conservatives made a meal of it, bulking up the thinnest material with insinuation and indignation. More insidiously, they caught the attention of the white male demographic that despises Trudeau; despises him for being his father’s son; despises his patrician upbringing and gentility; despises what they see as his “girliness,” his drama teaching days, his avowed feminism, never acknowledging that he grew up breathing politics as the son of Pierre, our most flamboyant and also most intellectually rigorous statesman, the man who held this country together with his bare hands when it threatened to disintegrate and would not let go until it was out of danger.

The trolls and the disgruntled slingers of mud forget Justin’s long years of political dues-paying and his resounding success in 2015; and they are apoplectic at Trudeau’s inclusiveness, his generosity, his uncanny ability to unite Canadians, to embody our pride, to build and articulate our identity and our collective vision for this brave, fragile confederation, this country that is barely more than a wish, a dream, an idea of a country.

Trudeau inspires; white male conservatives, fuming with hard-hatted rage at their diminishing hold on power, carp and threaten and bury their heads in the tar sands and call, shamefully, for a return to “European values.”

They are full of that odious, passionate intensity; the very worst, as always, dragging down the very best.

I am Washing the Kitchen Floor…

… and I’m sad about Glenda.

Alice, Glenda x 2, Kate.

I AM SCANTILY CLAD AND ON MY HANDS and knees in the middle of the night, but on this particular occasion, curiously, there’s no one else here saying, “Hey, pig, fancy a toot of this?” or, less encouraging, “You were a lot thinner in your pictures!”

(Just between you, me and the ghosts of lives past, I truly hope this alone-in-the-night fucktard-ery doesn’t become, frankly, a “thing.”)

I’m known for my high standards, which I outsource to everyone else so I can be disappointed more easily; but I’ve decided it’s time to start on-boarding Muggins McMe with this grown-up whatsis agenda I keep hearing about.

I am going to, as they say, own this.

That’s why, at around 2 AM, I’m on all fours, wearing nothing but a baby blue bath towel and accessorized with a simple, large yet tasteful bucket of scalding hot water and Pine-Sol, would you excuse me for a sec?—

Hi mom! Are you listening? They have Pine-Sol in flavors now! And I’m so glad you died because that means I didn’t have to! —

As I was saying: A bucket of scalding hot water and Pine-Sol, plus, from The Busy Bee— my local convenience store—the cheapest available sponge, which has about as much relation to a once-living creature from a coral reef as does a politician compare to the dimply, cooing ingenuousness of their two-year-old former self, before they learned to hide the peas by stuffing them up their nostrils then deny they ever got served peas.

And I’m rubbing and scrubbing my kitchen floor, an unlovely checkerboard of once-white tiles flecked with black, in a dogged, circular motion. I suppose the tiles were meant to suggest Carrara marble to people who’ve never seen it, but as they were left unsealed this has allowed them to soak up every splotch of ketchup, every dollop of pesto or splash of coffee, every dribble from my bursting bladder relieved in the sink, damn the fine china, I’ve got anti-bacterial Palmolive. My kitchen floor is a grimy, garbage-y sixteen-year palimpsest of condiment spills, pretentious dinner parties and avoidable crises.

Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.


Percy Bysshe Shelley

I’m thinking as I scrub of my favorite Kate Bush song, “Mrs. Bartolozzi,” treating as it does of a forlorn housekeeper wiping up mud from boots and dutifully, wearily, scrubbing the floor “until it sparkled…” Although my adoration of Ms. Bush only grows year by year, it is usually despite, not because of, her poetry, which I usually find too reminiscent of a cliché teenaged girl’s lyrical diary (“It was just so beautiful, it was just so beautiful, it was just—so —beautiful!” are the words which nearly cause me to run screaming from the room and ruin the second half of “Aerial” for me) but this song is different.

This song is full of pregnant pauses, this song has a perfect and serene depiction of the washing machine, washing machine and its soothing mechanical splishy-sploshing as it gets “the dirty shirty clean;” the aching emotions—loneliness, sorrow, above all, yearning—of its ritornello transport you to every moment you’ve ever spent doing work you detest, every moment when you wished your life away.

This song is not really about the never-ending drudgery of daily life, that unending cycle of banal routines that I endlessly chafe at. It is about the ripple, the dazzle, the shimmer; the unveiled reality that suddenly manifests and evokes our gasp of recognition.

Mrs. Bartolozzi has a laundry epiphany.

“I watched them go 'round and 'round
My blouse wrapping itself in your trousers
Oh the waves are going out
My skirt floating up around my waist
As I wade out into the surf...”


— Kate Bush, "Mrs. Bartolozzi", from Aerial (2005)

And a shirt on the washing line, waving in the breeze, becomes the arms of—who is it? Lover, husband, son? “And it looks—so alive…”

Kate Bush understands that a strangled cry at a phantom on the washing line, or a guttural growl of Wow, are necessary colors in the singer’s spectrum. And it’s just—so—beautiful.


ALICE MUNRO, ONE OF THE TWO OR THREE greatest writers of short fiction now living, is Canadian. She won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, and I imagine she must have an awards room, the way Imelda Marcos had a separate building for her shoes, so many has she received.  So you could say, without much fear of contradiction, that Alice Munro is no slouch in the writing department.

The other day I asked someone if he liked her stories, and he said, “Who’s Alice Munro?”

Who’s Alice Munro…

If this were Japan, Alice Munro would be like Mount Fuji, or the person who invented life-sized sex dolls, or the one remaining Buddhist monk who can explain how to dye silk using vegetables according to a one-thousand-year-old method.

She would be made a “Living Treasure” and would be revered “by young and old alike”. Every Canadian would be proud of Alice Munro; we would have read all of her stories, voluntarily, and stage adaptations would be common. We’d attend the premieres of these plays, and afterwards go to a coffee shop and argue about how faithful it was to the original.

We’d wear Alice Munro T-shirts while gardening, and we would understand how Munro has recorded a uniquely Canadian angle on life that is as subtle as Chekhov, also as funny (because in this fantasy we also don’t say, “who’s Chekhov?”).

On the day the Nobel Prize was announced, a national celebration would have occurred. Children would have been given the day out of school; window washers and bankers and kids on skateboards and those down on their luck, and everyone’s wife and boss, if they had these, would have had a holiday, too.  

Alice Munro would have been the centerpiece of a grand parade, with her own float, a parade heading from Christie Pits, all along Bloor Street then down Yonge and ending up in Nathan Phillips Square; little girls dressed in white would have accompanied her, throwing flowers at the spectators as she passed by.

She would sit on her special throne on the float, wearing bright-colored slacks, Spectator pumps and a plain white blouse with a big bow in the front. Her silver hair would be beautifully layered. She would look genuinely pretty, with a touch of coral lipstick her only make-up.

She would look like the first generation of women who called themselves “liberated,” which they were only in comparison to their mothers, the first generation to dare to wear pants to work, where they worked mainly if they wanted to, or even to make a point, but not always because they had to.

She would smile rather shyly and wave at the crowd with sincere affection and you would sense she might want to cry from overwhelming emotion, but would not indulge herself; you would understand that she is a writer and would be observing the occasion a little more than she would be participating.

You would sense that she was deeply honored and aware of her responsibility to her fans, but also thinking, “I’ll be glad when this is over and I can go home and take off these damn shoes.”

That evening, outside New City Hall and after the fireworks display, she reads her latest story, broadcast nation-wide. The audience listens in enthralled silence; children are told, “You’ll remember this when you grow up!”  At the end of the story, grandfathers wipe the tears from their eyes; women weep openly.

Then, a great roar of appreciation and hats in the air:  Our greatest living writer!

When she appeared in public in her kimono we would rush up to her giggling and prostrate ourselves, and she would laugh and say, “Who do you think you are? Arise!” And when she passed on, which could be tomorrow, because she’s really old now, we would go into mourning nationally and cry uncontrollably, like the traumatized Parisians watching Notre-Dame’s spire collapse in flames, and we’d be given time off work to deal with our collective grief.

But this is Toronto, where we say, “The Arts generate a lot of money! That’s why they’re important!”  in a really chirpy voice, while everyone rolls their eyes then checks the latest stock prices.


GLENDA JACKSON IS ANOTHER cast member in the ongoing sixty-four-part epic, vast, eclectic cultural survey and revamped Mickey Mouse Club that is my life; another name that evokes blank stares from Young People whenever I try to explain who she is and what she did, what she is still doing, why they should care even though they won’t, and how she underpins my favorite movie: Ken Russell’s masterpiece,“Women in Love.”

(Of course, there are far too many concepts here to absorb, at least for a Young Person’s mind unused to absorbing more than one fact at a time, and especially facts that do not have immediate application for getting someone to cook dinner for you and/or that involve anything that happened more than six months ago. This pile-on might approach trauma-inducing levels if you’ve mentioned that you “own this movie on DVD.”

(The panic in their faces is heartbreaking, which you will notice if you’re lucky enough to catch them during the daily ten-second window during which they look up from their device and blink.)

Women in Love may well be the only movie that’s actually greater than the book on which it’s based, or, alright, then, if you must, as great as.

Glenda Jackson’s presence is elemental in that movie; her voice like the chalumeau register of a clarinet, measured, honeyed, even as she torments Oliver Reed (as Gerald Crich, a wealthy mine owner who’s besotted with her); torments him to his eventual suicide under a brilliant, comfortless winter sun. She is the quintessential femme fatale but translated into Anglo-Saxon terms, rejecting her hapless male, despising his servitude yet refusing to leave until his destruction is complete.

I remember most vividly from that movie a picnic scene on the Crich estate, where, suddenly threatened by a herd of terrifying-looking bulls she chases them off with a transcendent, improvised dance that is a celebration of female mystery and power. When Gerald rushes up to save her, he’s already irrelevant; she’s drunk with that victory: “How are they your cattle,” she says, with palpable contempt; “Did you swallow them?”

As she half swoons in a kind of spent, solipsistic afterglow she gives his face a swift, unexpected little smack with the back of her hand, and the gesture is all the more demeaning for its lack of forethought. It’s the way you’d brush away an annoying insect, without any energetic investment or sense of struggle.

That film, from 1970, Russell’s greatest, presents Jackson in her youth; last week, I called up the New York Times online to read about her celebrated turn as King Lear (she’s returned to acting in her eighties, after twenty years in the British House of Commons as Labour MP for Hampstead and Highgate) and I experienced the shock of seeing her for the first time as an elderly woman.

Glenda Jackson looks like a sock puppet that’s been left out in the rain, then dried on a radiator. Her unconventional but undeniable beauty, equal parts dewy English rose and bovine sensuality, has contracted, no doubt in part to her smoking habit, into a loose, sagging face that’s an accretion of wrinkles.

With most people you can trace how they’ve traveled from there to here, still unearth the familiar face, but Glenda Jackson is unrecognizable in a way that defies all my attempts to connect my youthful memory of her and how age has since worked her over.

Her face is a desert scored by cracks and fissures, something Edward Burtynsky might photograph as a warning to us all; her face is an apple that you’ve stuck in the fridge and forgotten, retrieving it a year later to find it brown and withered, and from that face she peers at us with an expression that is part amazement, part defiance.

I’d give anything to see her turn on Broadway as Lear, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid of her voice, the least maternal and comforting sound ever to issue from a woman’s body. I’m afraid of what she has told me about how the most beautiful can turn monstrous and alien under the pressure of time.

I am sad about Glenda Jackson, and you will not need your psychology degree to understand that that is another, less blatantly self-interested way of saying I’m sad for myself, about getting old.

You looked a lot thinner in your pictures.

That’s why I continue scrubbing the floor, in a dogged, circular motion, with my sponge dipped in near-scalding water and lavender-scented Pine-Sol. I will persist at this chore that I previously despised, and I will get this done.

When my snarkier friends criticize my housekeeping standards, I’ve usually responded with this:

“When I’m on my deathbed, I won’t be thinking,I’m glad I washed the dishes.

“I’ll be thinking, I’m glad I wrote a book, took beautiful pictures, helped a few people when I could, said kind words when I could have said unkind ones.

David who? I’m hedging my bets, here. I’ll have to get famous before anyone can fail to recognize me, and in the meantime I’m determined the kitchen floor will be clean and sparkling, ready for that unspecified day fast approaching when I’m not around to defend myself.

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