Monday, May 3, 2010

My Winnipeg


Not sure what it is about this Spring that makes me all sentimental. It’s only been within the last week or so, really – and I usually reserve my unbridled nostalgia for the fall, and much closer to Christmas approaching. But hey – what can you do?

Maybe it has something to do with other milestones I see around me. Looking at the black and white photo that I have on my window-sill here in Korea, I see four handsome lads from back-home – well, three handsome lads and one guy who looks a lot like the drummer from Coldplay. Two of these gentlemen live in Korea. Two of these gentlemen are married and now fathers. Two are not married, without child, and in many ways much more child-like. These two were really just lucky to get out of PP ’06.

One just finished his four year Sheridan College animation program and will surely soon be appearing in the credits of video games and movies all over the world. I’m proud of this cat. Certainly one of the most stand-up guys I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. It’s amazing to think that this goal of his began four years ago, and in that time, he also found the time to get married and become a father.

Another is about to become a father for a second time. I was here in Korea for the first one and am looking forward to being an Uncle Davey to number 2. In a world where not a lot of people are deserving of children, it’s reassuring to know that some who are get to be parents.

Two of these people are also proud (astronomically humble is more like it) to release their first EP. The Band is called Days Adrift, and I can’t help but wonder of that refers to the days lost - spent playing X-Box hockey in the basement of the Cedarbrae house, drunk on bricks of Dr. Pepper from Safeway and our own mastery of either side of the Portland Whackos. Whatever the motivation might be, the result is something to be proud of. This is an EP created by two talented and creative friends, over the internet, in tiny rooms while a baby slept. I’m excited for what comes next.

Which brings me to winter, though I know it should be summer. The humidity is rising these days and I find myself getting off the morning bus-ride with sweat all over my face. One day soon I will give up on wearing a jacket to school and just admit what’s happening.

But I’m thinking of winter. I prefer it. Not more than a week ago, it was damn cold here in Seoul – at least according to everyone else. For me – a guy who usually feels the cold, I was just fine – I was the only one in the school voluntarily in short sleeves. Many students asked me if I was cold and I could answer in honest surprise that I wasn’t. Huh.

I wonder if I’m just heating up on the inside for some reason. Perhaps it's the Canadian in me finally shining through - it'll have to get to minus 20 before I put on a coat. I’ve been thinking a lot lately – mostly because I’ve had a lot of time to do so. School has kept me busy, but not too much so. There’s been exams and review classes that afford me more free time at school than I would actually like – I find myself wanting to do something productive, but spinning my wheels in search of that exactly that is.

I got a guitar as a birthday gift from a special someone this past January and I haven’t been able to learn too much on it, though I do love picking it up and going over what I know. People tell me that the best way to learn is simply to build a repertoire of favourites through guitar tabs on the internet. For the uninitiated, such as myself, that stuff is hard to read. But with the right song, you can overcome with motivation.

So it started last night when I hit shuffle on the old itunes. Every now and then, a little gem will pop-up and smack me right in the heart. This time, it was “One Great City” by the Weakerthans – a Canadian band that might remind you of the Odds or Barenaked Ladies at their best. This one song though is unquestionably great. It’s one of those ones many people likely wish they had written. I heard it through a Vinyl Café podcast last year and it quickly made its way into my rotation at the time.

The song’s about Winnipeg – the writer being from there – and how it’s such a love/hate thing – mostly hate maybe, but love, too. Anyway, I listened to the song for the first time about a month before my parents came to visit me in Korea last year, and for this Canadian living abroad, it made me homesick for the first time in a long time. I played it for mom and dad when they got here and I think it might have struck a chord with them, too.



I came across it again last night, and let’s just say stuff snowballed. I found the guitar tabs, couldn’t read them, found a site that explained how to read them, tried the song, got frustrated, went to sleep, woke-up, remembered having a dream about the Winnipeg Jets, searched for the trailer for Guy Maddin’s autobiographical film from 2008, “My Winnipeg”, and then I was officially haunted.

Between classes at school, I found myself watching interviews with Maddin about his film, hearing that song in my head, and thinking about people I know. In addition to the people in that photo, I thought about my friend who, after a couple of years of struggle, got accepted to a master’s program in Finland this fall, as well as a friend who has had a more difficult year than most of us could imagine – losing his grandmother and father all within a 6 month period. And as these thoughts pass through my head, I open an email from a friend back home who lost a close co-worker in a car-crash just last week. She was 28 years old.

So, melancholy descends, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I look at the year some of the people in my life have had (facebook’s good for that), and I think about my year – which hasn’t been bad, though what I’m really noticing these days is the reality of time passing. Life is short. I’m thinking seriously about what I’m doing with mine.

Guy Maddin’s “My Winnipeg” has been described as an autobiographical docu-drama. The film-maker grew-up in Winnipeg, and was commissioned by the Manitoba government to film a documentary about his hometown. The result was recognized with the Best Canadian Feature award at the Toronto International Film Festival and a place on Roger Ebert’s list of the Top Ten Films of the Decade. If you see the trailer and watch interviews about the film, you might agree and have a similar sentiment to the one I have regarding “One Great City” – that being, if I were a film-maker, “My Winnipeg” is exactly the kind of movie I would want to make. I can’t imagine a more personal nostalgia on screen. I wonder what he felt when he was making it, and then a found interview answers the question for me. Maddin describes the process of filming a surreal return to his childhood as one that showed him things he never thought he could feel. The act itself of turning his simple, humble, un-noteworthy life into something that his writer/director/narrator filter describes as art, showed him that he could feel his life, or the life of anyone really, as being worthy of such a title. That would be something.

I look around at my life, and though my family is far away, it doesn’t feel that way unless I let it. I couldn’t ask for a better girl in my life, and being with her makes the former sacrifice unquestionably worth it. I have good friends around me, and though they are few, they are quality (I’m getting more selective as I age). I also have a great deal of additional fortune in my life, which I don’t need to go into detail about here – though it would suffice to say that the fact that I can sit here and get all pouty philosophical about a song and a movie and write about it on a Mac reveals all you need to know about the level of privilege I have been given. But, as school and my role in it plays out through another month, and I struggle to find ways to really make a difference, I feel that I could, should, and need to be doing more.

I also know that writing about the same issue constantly is revealing in and of itself. In a significant enough way, despite the fact that life ain’t so bad, I’m spinning my wheels here, and as they are spinning I run into a cross-breed of sentiment and encouragement in songs like “One Great City”, and stories like the ones in “My Winnipeg”. Youtube can be a black hole that you emerge from hours later. My Winnipeg search brought me to a few entries surrounding the Jets. One particular one showed the announcement of the sale and moving of the team to Phoenix. A sports radio host takes a call from a man who says simply “Our city’s becoming a graveyard” before his voice trails off and the host’s does the same as he thanks the man sincerely for the call.

I read that when the Winnipeg Arena was finally demolished, the explosives were initially only able to bring down the 1979 building expansion, while the original building core remained intact. Earth-movers with cables were brought in later to finish the job. The on-lookers chanted “Go, Jet’s, Go!” as the dust cleared.



I want to be a real teacher. That reality is on the horizon, but there are days where it feels very far away. A friend from a couple of years ago will be arriving tomorrow night and then we’ll be joining another friend for a trip to the coast and an island not far off it. I can all but guarantee that this trip will be just the thing to give my introspective self a much needed kick in the ass.

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