What did I do for Christmas?
The evening was spent in rapid email argument with Shilhak-Inshushinak; let's just say that probably no student of history, no matter how ambitious their thesis is, will ever again link ancient Mesopotamia and 1920s USSR history in the way they interwove in that conversation. But I learned more about Ashurbanipal than Lord von Colonnade , my Ancient Civ teacher, ever told us. Since the entire Elamite civilisation was breaking news to me when I met Shilhak-Inshushinak (pray convey to him that typing his chosen name is a bother, and I hereby forbid other characters choosing their names from now on; what will the world come to if they take such liberties?), I suppose I must blame Lord von Colonnade for a woeful lacuna in my knowledge. Snow Crash
, come hither and let me reread you.
I woke late, wasting my precious day off, yet productively spent it first cleaning up the living room, and then settling down to writing. Shilhak-Inshushinak maintains the same position as Isaac Asimov did in an editorial I read recently (seriality, I love you) - ambitious writers should spend their time writing novels, not essays, letters, or blogs beyond what is necessary to cover the subject. He has a point; yet I know the kind of writer I am. My writing congeals out of a vast pile of notes, some in specialised notebooks, some in math-notebook margins among matrices and integrals, some in conversations scribbled down, some in emails, and some now in blogs. When I am actually engaged in writing a novel, yes, my post length will probably start converging to zero. Right now, I have one in the last stages of production, yet three in the first stages, existing as clusters of paragraphs, scenes, dialogues, character histories, and explorations of motivations, geopolitics, the physics of magic, and dragon biochemistry. If I write like that, like a patchwork quilt, I love having as many dialogues and observations transcribed as possible, to whittle at later. The snow of Bronson Avenue may end up on the icecap of a long-settled Titan, and the words of the Dark Lord may be spoken by...a Dark Lord. It would be a lot more fun if I do not forget them.
Besides, I have mentioned before which of the Erikson psychosocial crises I am facing. When I was younger, I used my first novel, along with a great many poems and journal entries, to figure out who I was. Now I may use my next novels, a great many poems, journal entries, and blog posts, to figure out the next question, perhaps by calling it out to the world: "This is what I am, this is where I'm going; who's coming with me?"
Anyhow, I spent much of Christmas Day rewriting a certain key scene, which I admit I could not have written without knowing as much about mental disorders as I do now. And then, of course, sending the scene to Shilhak-Inshushinak to check for poor usage of the present perfect tense. What did I do without email? What did I think I was doing back when I wrote 60 pages longhand?
I did take some time out of it to watch a DVD a friend gave me a while ago - yes, it was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
. On DVD. But if you want to watch movies on DVD while the original is still in theatres, and you happen to speak the language of the second most pirating country in the world, you are in for some interesting adventures. The first file was the English movie dubbed by some amateur into Russian, doing all the voices himself, and seemingly without any practice at all, since the translated sentences were often morphologically and syntactically inconsistent. But you could just hear the English dialogue under the Russian, which was a lot more interesting, and if there was a way to remove the dubbing, I would do it.
The second file was even more fun: the translator's voice (and regional accent) changed, and at first it seemed like the translation got better. I tried listening for the English dialogue under the dubbing, but something about the vowels seemed very funny. Finally I understood - the characters were speaking German
. And the translator was translating into Russian from German. Here I was, watching a Russian dubbing of a German dubbing of an English movie. Gillyweed was therefore cited as the German word, some word ending with Kraut. And I did not hear Ralph Fiennes' voice work as Voldemort, something I would have loved to hear someday. Well, the movie was free - and worth every penny. My brother, watching it, remarked often on how "Harry" is pronounced the same as "Gary" in Russian - that is, the most famous Gary, Kasparov. And the Goblet of Fire makes blue fire, so the movie is crying out to be parodied as a retelling of Gary Kasparov and the chess computer Deep Blue (by the way, Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine
is a very good documentary, and even better if you understand the Russian speeches they do not subtitle, and the music on it is surprisingly good, if anyone can give me hints on where I can find the soundtrack). My brother and I agreed that the Harry Potter movies are dying for a Goblin translation. I will explain Goblin translations another day.
Yesterday, on Boxing Day, I misread the schedule and instead of coming in 11 to 6, I came early and worked 9 to 6. Am I that fond of $15? The Bagelshop was surprisingly un-busy; everyone was out buying electronics and clothing, I guess. After work I phoned Athaira, who had worked all that day too, and, coincidentally, had seen Goblet of Fire
on Christmas Day as well - in a theatre, in English, like normal people. We arranged to meet today (Tuesday) to exchange gifts and make pumpkin pie.
I began work at dawn, at 7 am. Rosa was due in at 8, but she phoned to say she will be late, so Traci and I were left alone.
Bringing the pastries to the little island in the middle of the store where the cash and the deli counter are, I sang, "Here I am, stuck in the middle with you." Traci gave me a funny look. "Where is the radio?" I asked. "That's what I want to know, too."
But Traci was not to have radio songs. She was to have me, and I was on a French kick that day.Il joue avec mon coeuril triche avec ma vieil dit des mots menteurset moi je crois tout ce qu'il me ditLes chansons qu'il me chanteles rêves qu'il fait pour deuxc'est comme les bons momentsca fait du bien quand il pleutJe me raconte des histoiresen écoutant sa voixc'est pas vrai ses histoires mais moi j'y croisMon mec à moi il me parle d'aventureset quand il brille dans ses yeux,je pourrais y passer la vieil parle d'amour comme il parle des voitureset moi je suis où il veut, tellement je crois tous ce qu'il me dittellement je crois tout ce qu'il me ditoh oui...mon mec à moiSa facon d'être à moisans jamais dire "je t'aime"c'est rien que du cinémamais c'est du pareil au mêmeses films en noir et blancqu'il m'a joué 200 foisc'est Garvain et Morganenfin ca ressemble à tout caJe me raconte des histoiresdes scénarios chinoisc'est pas vrai ses histoires mais moi j'y croisMon mec à moi il me parle d'aventureset quand il brille dans ses yeuxje pourrais y passer la vieil parle d'amour comme il parle des voitureset moi je suis où il veut, tellement je crois tous ce qu'il me dittellement je crois tout ce qu'il me ditoh oui...mon mec à moi
- Patricia Kaas, "Mon Mec A Moi", with possible grammatical errors in the lyrics from a site, and one intentional change, with which I always sing it.
Astonishingly enough, I once looked up to see Lord Hammerblow, my Grade 12 AP English teacher, in the store (those who were in his class may recall the reason for his name). He wished me a merry Christmas holiday. Myself, I was randomly wishing people happy Hanukkah. "Even if they are stocking up on ham like there's no tomorrow," I remarked to Serena, "happy Hanukkah is what they get." Serena, who, I discovered, had a Jewish education that eerily parallelled mine, laughed. I continued singing Hanukkah songs to drown out the Christmas carols CD that, evilly, came back on!The lights of Hanukkah are shining
Their glow will brighten up the sky.
Let these lights of love tell the story of
A miracle of days gone by.
The people had a little oil
Enough to last for just one night
But through God's great ways it burned eight long days
For the Festival of Lights.
Light the candles, let them glow,
They'll remind us of the miracle of long ago.
Light the candles, burn them bright,
For the Festival of Light.
- a song we had to sing in grade 5 choir for the Christmas/winter assembly. I include it for forthcoming reasons.
I forgot to mention, for forthcoming reasons, that the Bagelshop got a shipment of promotional gifts from the Dairy Farmers of Canada. They are cutting boards for cheese portraying a stylised and whimsical picture of a mother cutting cheese for her son. We are giving them away to every person who spends more than $100, but the boss gave a few to his close friends, one of whom passed it on to her
close friend, who is my mother. So my home has one.
But enough about Monday and Tuesday's work. After work I set off for Athaira's house, eager for gifts and giving and pie.
Athaira is probably my oldest friend, and definitely the friend who most matches my insane side, and the insanity of us together is more than the sum of its parts. More seriously, I will not speak lightly of mental disorder; Athaira and I are both reasonably sane, just with a silly streak a mile wide (I am able to conceal it when I need to; I cannot speak for her) and vivid imaginations we are not afraid to let loose. Which is why we started off writing fantasy collaborations of varying length and quality, and now various story games are a staple of our meetings. We had gone through the Who-What-Where game I had used to entertain the guests on my 11th birthday, went on to Mad Libs, then the Question-Answer game (one person writes a question, then the other, without seeing the question, writes an answer on the other side. "Athaira: What is my future career? Me: Oh hungry? Oh Henry." - 1998-99.) Then we returned to the Who-What-Where game, expanded, elaborated and enriched it with traditions, and we are still practicing it. Someday I may share the Quest for the Beaker.
Athaira gave me the Gormenghast Trilogy
by Mervyn Peake, assuring me it is one of the best things she has read in years. She and her family were delighted at the gift I gave her; I had not even noticed its elven style until it was pointed out by her mother. We also gave each other chocolate, naturally, I receiving a Drosté Honey Nougat milk chocolate tablet, and she a Cote d'Or dark chocolate orange tablet, a flavour she has apparently never before been exposed to. 'Twas the season of my converting Athaira to a few of my favourite things. Both chocolates were happily consumed by both of us while making pie.
I have not rolled out a pie crust since, if I recall correctly, Christmas 1996. And that had been with a bottle instead of the fine rolling pin Athaira's family has. "To make pies. It is good for a woman to make pies," as Magda said on Sex and the City.
My family baking generally involves dumping whatever random ingredients are available into the bowl, beating them into submission with a blender, then tossing scoops of them on a pan and calling the almost-invariably swiftly devoured result pancakes. Since they are almost always a hit, we must be doing something right. Athaira seems to follow recipes with strict orthodoxy.
We made dough according to the Tenderflake recipe and made two pies, one with her family recipe for filling and one with canned filling. I consulted the recipe; Athaira, working by my reasoning that she knew better what pumpkin pie filling was supposed to be like, tried to improvise around the instructions on the can without any evaporated milk. Me: "Oh, just add real milk until the consistency is about right, then stop." I am a pure mathematician to the core: left side should equal right side; make it happen; once it does equal, stop. Athaira uses sophisticated measuring cups and spoons; I, regarding an amount of melted butter that was greater than the teaspoon required by the recipe, considered the fate of the leftovers, said, "Who cares?" and dumped all the butter into my mixing bowl. "You're cooking with Tourmaline here!" I grinned to Athaira's slightly startled look. I also learned how to grind up nutmeg using a sophisticated grater I have never seen before. As nutmeg is a spice totally missing in our family, especially in whole-nut form (we grate our own ginger and cinnamon bark, on the other hand), that was a delightful experience. "Did you know that I have read recently that nutmeg is poisonous in large quantities?" I chirped.
I am apparently better than she is at rolling out dough, despite the aforementioned date of the last time I did it; maybe it's my motto, "No such thing as too much flour"; maybe it's beginner's luck. Out of leftover dough we crafted two "turnovers": Athaira's with the traditional raspberry jam and apricot jam; mine, experimental, with orange marmalade. "You will never know if it works if you don't try it." Then, while the pies were baking, we sat down to some Who-What-Wheres. In the middle of them, Athaira answered a phone call from her sister, and her mother, sitting in the next room and overhearing Athaira's side of the conversation, misheard "run" as "rum." "Why are you talking about alcohol on the phone?" Athaira, who drinks even less than I do, protested. This detail is included for forthcoming reasons.
While we were engrossed, Athaira's mother brought a pair of ebony carvings into the kitchen. "Those are from Malawi," she said proudly. "They are symbols of friendship." I perused the little persons. They had large eyes and resembled Roswell aliens more than anything else, except Roswell aliens are usually portrayed as having arms. "They're scaring me," said Athaira. "They are going to give me nightmares." "They look like aliens to me," I remarked. "Maybe aliens visited Malawi long ago, and they were very friendly, so they are immortalised in the culture as symbols of friendship." Then Athaira and I returned to the game.
The game is played so: a piece of paper gets written on it the questions that are in boldface below: Who? With (who)? Did what? Where? When? Why? How? Who saw? Who is to blame? What were the consequences?
The question marks are usually omitted for speed, which is sometimes utilised in the game. Then Player 1 writes an answer to the first question on the paper, then folds it down so the other player(s) cannot see, and passes it to Player 2. The latter writes her answer to the next question, folds it down, and passes it along in the circle; this is a game for two or more players, but we like two, since more answers from one person allow for a story or theme to be developed. After the consequences have brought the story, of sorts, to a conclusion, it is unfolded and read aloud, usually to ensuing hilarity. That day we played simultaneously, each with a pen, each writing at the same time and exchanging. This means that often you forget what you wrote last on this particular paper, which affects the narrative arc.
Over the many years we have played this game, we have developed traditions. One of them, among Athaira, me, and often Iselen, the person to blame must always be Thoth, a brilliant former classmate (he allegedly wrote his MCAT medical-school exam this summer, and was still holding down 99% grades at Queen's university last Athaira heard from him). It almost goes without saying that, our imaginations and the courtesy rule "do not use a person in the room to commit some stupid act" being the only limits to the answers, the Who-What-Wheres recount a very skewed history and take place in a world that randomly mixes reality, wishes, jokes, film and literature. The Quest for the Beaker is a case in point, but the following Nutmeg Saga, as we dubbed it, provides an introduction. Bromthymol blue entered our set of tropes when Iselen and I surreptitiously played Who-What-Wheres in grade 11 chemistry. The tales of Ol' Gam-Gam and the Divine Forklift will be recounted in future posts.
In all the odd game rounds, all the odd questions are answered by me (odd as in x ~ 1 mod 2, no comment about other meanings.) In all the even game rounds, I answer all the even questions. The rounds were played simultaneously, two by two.
So, disclaimer: if you are not ready for a bit of insanity, go read another blog. Not Athaira's
, though. The tales of Ol' Gam-Gam and the Divine Forklift will be recounted in future psts. Familiarity with the Harry Potter canon, Pirates of the Caribbean,
a little Seinfeld, current events of the entertainment world, and the previous contents of this blog is encouraged. And before I conclude the post with this grand finale, pray note, Shilhak-Inshushinak and Athaira, that I have never
yet mentioned what you complain is my overwhelming obsession.
THE NUTMEG SAGAWho?
The Sugar Plum Fairy, and the Orange BumblebeeWith
sanity of a rather questionable nature, and a spatula of mythic proportionsDid what?
Nefarious things with nutmeg. To Dolores Umbridge.Where?
Away in a manger - but not a special one, just some random manger.When?
In a time of joy and gladness and massive shoe sales.Why?
A long history of emotional trauma, courtesy of various teachers of mathematics over the long, dark history of their school careers.How?
By not fearing to make mistakes and trying really hard.Who saw?
Tourmaline. She started to write of it in her journal, but it evolved into another ode to her ruling passion, jewelry.Who is to blame?
Thoth! He can't make pumpkin pie.What were the consequences?
We could never look at screwdrivers the same way again.Who?
A pumpkin improbably named MervynWith
Participated in an impromptu game of Quidditch, which soon turned to mud wrestling when the brooms wouldn't flyWhere?
In the great hall of Hogwarts (a lot of "pumpkin juice" was involved)When
they were on Christmas holiday and so finally had time to celebrate soWhy?
A reason to hope for the end of schizophrenia, and a great obsession with jewelry.How?
Love will find a way. In this case, the way involved screwdrivers and dynamite.Who saw?
Ol' Gam-Gam. He made everyone write an in-class essay on the activity. The essays were collected by the National Enquirer and made a bestselling book and a blockbuster movie.Who is to blame?
Thoth, for old times' sake. Dunno how - maybe mind control or something.What were the consequences?
King Kong won a special performing arts award, and celebrated with yummy goodness.Who?
Godzilla. And Harry Potter.With
burning curiosity and the scientific methodDid what?
Rescued the Triwizard Cup from the Dead Marshes. It was dead. Dead, I tell ya!Where?
On the canal, before it was actually open. The Beavertail huts were still closed.When
they were building a tower to reach the heavens. Altitude sickness...Glossolalia...Why?
A deeply-rooted psychological need for attention. Attention at any cost.How?
Using BUTTER! And Real Cream!Who saw?
Rita Skeeter. She wrote a blistering attack on their reputations and was sued for libel. The case was tied up in court for decades.Who is to blame?
Thoth. He milked the cows wrong, they kicked, the milk curdled, our heroes drank it...What were the consequences?
They were fined for going on the canal, but won their case against Mrs Skeeter. By that time, she'd made so much money from blackmail she had no trouble paying damages.Who?
King Kong and Gollum (both personalities)With
nutmeg...and brandy beans...and cinnamon...and SNUFF! And Bromthymol blue.Did what?
Auditioned for Canadian Idol. Enthusiastically. Dance was involved.Where?
Around the Festivus Pole. They aired grievances. Interactively.When
they should have been studying for exams, but they decided that this will be more profitable in the long runWhy?
They really, really, really, really wanted some bagels and lox.How?
The free spirit, unplanned, whatever seems like a good idea at the time approach.Who saw?
The dairy farmers of Canada. The activity was portrayed on promotional cutting boards, but cows got upset.Who is to blame?
Thoth. But he childishly refused to accept responsibility - in fact, he ignored the whole situation. What were the consequences?
They got their bagels and lox. But no cream cheese.Who?
Hermione and Parvati Patil, and CrookshankWith
a deep conviction in the moral rightness of their actions, and abs of steelDid what?
Danced the Hora. To celebrate Hanukkah.Where
nobody could see themWhen?
At Hanukkah, duh! Their glow will brighten up the sky.Why?
They were bored. They had nutmeg. Honestly, what else
are you going to do with nutmeg?How?
A miracle of days gone by. Ron was invited, but chickened out.Who saw?
Tourmaline. She wrote a poem about it just in time for the new edition of Teen Angst Poetry
. Adolescence is such
a trial.Who is to blame?
The grindylows. Their singing was off key. Thoth was one of them.What were the consequences?
They had to go into therapy for years to recover from the trauma. Even now, they still have nightmares.Who?
The newly-crowned Canadian Idols (yes, they won. If you object, you should have voted then, eh?)With
a star map. And a laser pistol. And two AA batteries. And some nutmeg.Did what?
Sought to prove, once and for all, the existence of that strange ancient large mythical mystical being: Santa ClausWhere
the two Neptunes twinkle gleefully above the billowing grassWhen
they had heard "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" on the radio one too many timesWhy?
To remind us of this miracle of long ago.How?
They never actually figured that part out, which is why their efforts were abortive and Santa's existence yet remains a mystery.Who saw?
Madame Olympe, who told of this to Fleur Delacour to help her win Triwizard.Who is to blame?
Who else but Thoth? He refused to clap for Tinkerbell.What were the consequences?
They got an award cutting board portraying King Kong and Gollum. And bagels. And some jewelry. And a new oven mitt.Who?
The grindylows, after banishing ThothWith
cinnamon, ginger, aaaand...NUTMEGDid what?
Made rum. Lots
the rum ran out. The beer ran out. The coffee ran out. So did the Bromthymol blue. Aaaaaaah!!!!Why?
They thought it was funny. They have a bizarre sense of humour.How?
Size does matter.Who saw?
People in Malawi. They made scary statues of it.Who is to blame?
The people who drank the rum in the first place!! How dare they?What were the consequences?
The statues gave me nightmares and the screaming interfered in others' study time (sorry).Who?
a little nut tree, nothing would it bear but a silver nutmeg (ooh yeah!) and a golden pearDid what?
Created a lasting monument in bronze to that influential spice: NUTMEGWhere?
On a rumrunners' island. They put nutmeg in the rum...When
they had had a little too much rum, and hand't anything better to do anywayWhy?
They liked hockey.How?
The immutable bonds of friendship and love.Who saw?
The aliens who had once visited Malawi. They showed friendship, despite all. One has to mind one's manners.Who is to blame?
Thoth. He gets scary when he's bored, and scary things happen.What were the consequences?
The rum ran out again. The aliens flew away, but left friendship behind.Who?
The Hogwarts OrchestraWith
Bromthymol blue (seasoned with nutmeg) and RUMDid what?
Formed a secret army of Defense Against the Dark DerivativesWhere?
In the math office, when everyone was away for ChristmasWhen
they were seized by a spirit of adventure, but calculus was banned by the EQAO (the Death Eaters)Why?
They were hungry
. This made them lightheaded. And a bit dopey.How?
With complex numbers. And, of course, nutmeg.Who saw?
Lord Voldemort. He thought it was a pretty good idea and resolved to try it himself. One day.Who is to blame?
The out-of-tune trombone, played by Thoth. And the EQAO. And the Quotient Rule.What were the consequences?
They were really hung over the next day. Much Tylenol was consumed.Who?
The Dementors of Azkaban, led by Barty Crouch (junior)With
out nutmegDid what?
Staged a coup and took over the headquarters of the rumrunnersWhere?
In the Room of Requirement. It had some chamberpots in it, but they kicked those out of the way.When
all hope was lost, so fool’s hope made it seem like a good ideaWhy?
They had no nutmeg! What more do you need?How?
A strong sense of commitment, stubbornness, and nobility of spirit.Who saw?
Peter Jackson. It was an influential childhood memory he made a blockbuster movie of later.Who is to blame?
Thoth. He goaded them into proving themselves by saying their superpowers were effeminate.What were the consequences?
On a day all will know, the Divine Forklift’s salutations shall ring across the world from tropics to the snow!Who?
The Ghosts of Christmas NutmegWith
an Alvin and the Chipmunks
song stuck in their headsDid what?
Exterminated bad fruitcake. Everywhere. Prohibition was nothing to this.Where
ver they could find the roomWhen
they blamed fruitcake for schizophrenia and violence against ManitobaWhy?
In an effort to increase job satisfaction.How?
Using chess boxing! Very versatile skills.Who saw?
A soon-to-be millionaire, who turned the concept into a game show.Who is to blame?
Thoth adulterated the nutmeg in the Fruitcake Conspiracy!What were the consequences?
They sleep with the lights on now. And look over their shoulders every ten seconds.Who?
The ghosts of Christmas past, present and futureWith
too much Nutmeg Frappuccino from Starbucks (it’s hard to have too much, but they did it.)Did what?
Sought to instill the spirit of Christmas into Lord Voldemort and WormtailWhere?
In Azkaban, while the nutmegless inhabitants were staging their coup elsewhereWhen
ever they felt like it. All sorts of random, boring, inconvenient moments.Why?
Their pumpkin pie was made with soy milk.How?
Visions of sugarplums to dance in his head. And warm fuzzy feelings they sent, and candy. And pie. And cookies. And chocolate. And candy.Who saw?
King Kong. He fell in love. Or maybe it was addiction to nutmeg…Who is to blame?
Thoth. He had spiked their rum. With more rum. And with NUTMEG.What were the consequences?
The price of soy milk went through the roof.
And then we ate the pies.
I leave you with a parting conclusion from the first round: Remember, "Oops!" is not what you want to hear from your torturer.