Goodbye Black Dog

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Our favorite video store, Black Dog Video, is closing and I feel sad about it. You couldn’t have asked for nicer staff and the selection was a cinephile’s dream. Over the years we rented everything from Agnes Varda to Pee Wee Herman there. My children experienced the autonomy of physically roaming the aisles and selecting exactly what they wished to watch. Ponyo. The Gold Rush. Star Wars. A Night At the Opera. Garfield. Occasionally this led to protracted debates. Often we walked out with something entirely unexpected. Sometimes we’d fall in love with a movie and rent it again and again. It didn’t matter that it made no fiscal sense to have spent $50 on one DVD rental.

Today I went to Black Dog’s closing sale. The Kurosawa shelf was cleared. The Criterion collection had gaping holes. I ended up choosing a few docs. As I stood in line, the owner was saying how happy he was that the films were going to good homes. It felt a bit like he was giving away his children.

A cultural era ends and it always feels strange and soberly communal to be among those marking its passing. I’m glad I stopped by. Goodbye video store. Goodbye fellow movie trawlers. You will be missed.

Three Things About Foxes

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This past weekend, I happened upon a psychic. She was sitting at a table with an empty chair in front of her so I made the impulsive decision to sit down. Within moments, the psychic was telling me that someone whose name starts with M was very important to me, and someone whose name starts with J would become so. She was a very assertive psychic who told me to place lapis lazuli on my desk and tend the houseplants of my relationships and remember that as a writer my animal is the fox.

The fox?

Yes, she said. The fox tells you to be observant of the small details. Your problem, if you don’t mind me saying, is that you get caught up in the big details and lose track of the people and things that bring you happiness. A fox knows that dinner rests in the small details. Stay with the fox in the woods, she said.

So here are three things about foxes…

#1. A Picture.


(By illustrator Katty Maurey)

#2. A Stop Motion Animation.

#3. A Song.

“Fox in the snow, where do you go
To find something you could eat?
Cause the word out on the street is you are starving
Don’t let yourself grow hungry now
Don’t let yourself grow cold
Fox in the snow”

(I walked into a shop this morning and this very song by Belle and Sebastian was playing. Eerie.)

Florence Heide Parry (1919-2011)

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“She was so alive, so gracious. She had all the good qualities that ordinarily make people boring, but with a kind of roguishness that made you like her.”—Jules Feiffer

A tribute to the trail-blazing writer who gave us the unforgettable Treehorn series.

A Beautiful Coming Apart

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Not so long ago, a Spanish-speaking friend of mine told me that she was feeling stressed out. She had recently moved back to the city from the country and the shift was getting to her. “I’m falling to beats and peaces,” she wrote. It was such a beautiful way of describing our moments of breakdown, that the phrase has stayed with me.

What does it feel like to fall to “beats and peaces”? Psychedelic? Liberating? For some reason, I keep thinking of Hundertwasser—an artist who championed the beautiful brokenness and unruly nature of creativity.

“Today we live in a chaos of straight lines, in a jungle of straight lines. If you do not believe this, take the trouble to count the straight lines which surround you. Then you will understand, for you will never finish counting.”
—Hundertwasser

Hurray for Isabelle!

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Isabelle Arsenault, illustrator extraordinaire and my collaborator on Spork and the forthcoming Virginia Wolf, has been chosen as one of the top ten illustrators of 2011 by The New York Times.

The book she illustrated—The Migrant by Maxine Trottier, published by Groundwood—is the beautifully-told story of a Mennonite family that migrates between Mexico and Canada every year for work. I love the way the shadows of a passing flock of geese seem to grow from the feet of the journeying migrant family in one spread. But I think my favorite detail is an inverted teardrop shape that appears in various guises throughout the book—bunny ears, speech bubbles, steam from a teacup… amazing!

Have a look at this wonderful slideshow featuring the work of the ten winners. So many new titles to add to our family wish list…

As it flees…

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The idea…is to get hold of this fleeting life as it
flees and not after it has flown.
— D T Suzuki

(One-stroke calligraphy by Kazuaki Tanahashi.)

A Manifesto for Uncertain Times

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The problem with most manifestoes is that they are static and self-limiting. That’s one reason why Occupy Wall Street has been so refreshing. (A favorite placard:”We’re here. We’re unclear. Get Used to it.”) But some manifestoes can be quite beautiful—a clarion call to the collective imagination, etc. Over the past few days I have taken a look at various creative manifestoes to see what, if anything, artists might have to offer at this moment. (It turns out a lot….)

Instinctive cooperation.
—Frank Lloyd Wright’s Manifesto for his Apprentices

Leave the house before you find something worth
staying in for.
—Banksy’s Manifesto

Long Live the Immaterial!
—Yves Klein’s The Chelsea Hotel Manifesto

All of which to say, artists make good role models during time of uncertainty and upheaval. They don’t feel threatened by flux. They know how to let go of fixed solutions and old ways. They regularly dismantle things. They thrive in gap spaces. They are masters of the one-pot meal…