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“There was a certain comfort in having someone so assured make decisions at such an embarrassing time. Still, it was hard to remember that when her kohkom” – grandmother – “whipped out a piece of twine, wrapped it around her rib cage and passed it to the wide-eyed sales clerk.
‘This big,’ she had said. ‘She was this big.”
How To Grieve
Vacuum. Vacuum vacuum vacuum. Make deep noises from your chest, shoot noise out of yourself, worry about words later later laterrr latbl#ch96@. Later is totally coming.
Toast, and toast often. Toast whatever, you don’t have to get through this without a crutch. Go ahead and lean. On a vacuum. Clean the fuck out of everything. Be high or drunk or both. Text your friends, and text often. Don’t text anyone you are dating. Don’t. Stop it. Nothing they say will be good enough.
Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help. But not from anyone you are dating. Ask your friends. Ask your parents. Watch the stupidest movies, with a pizza. Get tears on everything.
Saw Montage of Heck. Everybody in my age group had better just go and see it. Shhhh. Just go. I can tell you that I thought it was “good,” but I can’t tell you whether I’d bother to argue with anyone about its artistic merit, since nostalgia turns you into a drooling, biased lump. Montage of Heck pours the nostalgia over you like syrup, and you will dance in it. You will feel young and old at the same time. You’ll remember what complete surrender to chaotic emotion does to your body. It might make you cry, or break out, or something. If you are a little too invested in your status as a functioning adult, your own personal march to the grave, it might just make you grumpy. As soon as the thought “kids these days just don’t get it” crosses your mind, you’re out of the critic’s game, at least in the world of pop culture. But that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from the twisted walk down memory lane this film offers. It’s intoxicating. It’s morbid, indulgent and completely masturbatory. It is exactly like teenage-hood.
Even though it didn’t sound that way to our parents, the nineties offered a reasonably diverse soundtrack for us to drink, ache and make out to. So a lot of you won’t have been Nirvana fans. That’s okay. (you fucking posers). Montage of Heck does a great job of invoking the nineties in general, with just enough slick “Mad Men Presents: the fifties!” era stylization to… I don’t know… what does that do exactly? Make it feel safe for us to indulge? True stories that are too real can be problematic. And that’s a risk filmmaker Brett Morgan took in assembling the packaged memories of a man who died violently and publicly. It’s not nice to watch a real person publicly implode. Don Draper is not a real person, but Kurt Cobain was, even if his fame made it nearly impossible for us to see him that way. Although we may search for the most authentic, accessible idols entertainment can provide, they’re still idols. Far away from us. So, aside from the glitzy-grungy memory machine Montage of Heck delivers, some rumination on the fame-game and fabricated emotional connections to highly emotional celebrities will keep some viewers busy. How does one find empathy for a beetle on a pin board?
Cobain is beautiful and doomed. If we really empathized with Cobain, and saw him as a human being, would we be able to watch his raw-recorded memoirs without conscience? And I’m not just talking about Cobain here. Courtney Love and Francis Bean are also laid bare, the latter being only an infant at the time these home videos were filmed. Montage of Heck reminds us that before we the people met Frances Bean, we’d been told that her mom shot heroin while pregnant. Now ruminate on that for a second. A scene where a clearly high Cobain holds his daughter on his lap while Courtney Love cuts her hair is upsetting. It upset me. Because it really happened, and because I bought a ticket to watch it.
In a recent Rolling Stone article, Frances Bean’s own comment on the film is smooth and professional.
It’s emotional journalism. It’s the closest thing to having Kurt tell his own story in his own words – by his own aesthetic, his own perception of the world. It paints a portrait of a man attempting to cope with being a human.
It’s easier to see Kurt Cobain as a character, as a portrait of a man attempting to cope with a trope. It’s easier for all of us. It’s easier to indulge in the dream of the nineties for two hours, then leave the theatre. Maybe bum a cigarette off some kid at the Skytrain station and get a few puffs in to it on your front porch before you remembered why you quit smoking. Go inside, brush your teeth, and go to bed. That’s when you’ll be back to feeling old again. Was it worth that two hours?
One of my most beloved stories, Chins and Elbows, will be in the upcoming spring issue of subTerrain Magazine. This story has grown and developed over a period of four years, so I’m here to tell you that you must never give up on a piece you believe in. I’m thankful to Brian, Karen, Shazia and all at subTerrain, a bunch of fine folks who really speak the same language as me, and have supported me since the beginning. I’ll let you know when it’s out, and where you can pick up a copy, but I suggest getting a subscription, because they put out great work all year.
I’m painstakingly stitching the entire manuscript together this weekend and I came across a little excerpt I felt many readers could probably relate to. I suspect the mix of a learning disability and childhood anxiety has facilitated the development of many fine creative minds. I like to think I’m one of them.
There were strokes to learn: the J-stroke, the draw, the pry. I dragged the paddle through the water and it wobbled as if someone was trying to pull it away from me. I pulled back.
“Use the boat for leverage.” Calder instructed patiently, letting out little murmurs of approval when a J-stroke did what it was supposed to do. He laughed when I turned the boat the wrong way, endlessly over-correcting. Not a cruel laugh. He wanted me to laugh too, but I couldn’t. I was too frustrated with myself.
“You’re getting the hang of it,” he said, as we swung the wrong way around two buoys I was trying to do a figure eight between.
“This is not what I’d call getting the hang of it,” I grumbled. I’d told myself I would keep my spirits up for Calder’s sake, but my arms were tired, my knees hurt, and the salt water stung my eyes. We’d been at it fifteen minutes.
I’ve always had a problem with not being perfect at something the first time I try. It’s an anxiety thing. I had my first nervous breakdown in third grade. My parents pulled me out of school for a few weeks, and when I went back, I had to see the school psychologist for a full assessment. I saw Dr. Coe for a half hour, a few times a week. Hearing tests, puzzles, word problems. Kick this ball across the room. Tell me what this splotch looks like. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the weird things I had to do, but I was thankful to get out of class. He found two major things. One, I had a fairly common coordination issue called cross-dominance. Also known as mixed-handedness, or increased hand efficiency, it’s a motor skill issue where a person favours one hand for some tasks and the other hand for others. For example, a cross-dominant person might write with the left hand but throw primarily with the right. Ambidexterity is a well-known but rare version of cross-dominance, but cross-dominant people may also be left or right-handed rather than ambidextrous. Sounds neat, right? But it made me an awkward kid who tripped and fell a lot and had terrible handwriting. At the meeting my parents and I had with Dr. Coe when the tests were done, Mom recalled that I had been left-handed when I started school, but had switched over pretty quickly when I realized most other kids were right-handed. I still kicked with my left foot. According to Dr. Coe, my right eye was dominant.
I don’t think anyone ever told me I had a “learning disability,” but cross-dominance sure caused me some problems. I couldn’t write as quickly as most kids, and when I tried, it was illegible. Not long before my breakdown, my parents, who were teachers themselves, went to a parent teacher night only to be told the teacher had no good examples of my work to show them, because I hadn’t finished anything in time. A clearly intelligent kid, so what was the problem then, lazy? Teachers hate that, seriously, it’s the worst thing you can be. The talk my parents gave me afterwards basically amounted to OMG, we were so embarrassed.
The other thing Dr. Coe diagnosed was generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety doesn’t come from nowhere. Mine came from being unable to live up to my parents expectations. Two traitorous hands that couldn’t decode the mysteries of cursive writing, or throw a ball with any accuracy. That didn’t reach out to catch me when I tripped. My hands were my enemies, even after Dr Coe’s explanation and my parents subsequent apology. No child ever really forgives herself for letting her parents down.
But that’s kid Carleigh. Adult Carleigh is strong and capable, runs like a mofo, laughs and mugs on camera with a gin and tonic in her grasp. I have a couple of crows tattooed on my forearm. Crows are so dextrous and intelligent, they can make tools from sticks. Biologists have run tests where the crows pull apart paperclips to extract treats out of glass beakers. YouTube videos of them opening up shellfish or pulling bugs out of trees. With nothing more than a claws and a beak, and a tiny brain. Today, with the gift of opposable thumbs, all I have to do is learn how to steer a canoe.
I have a new review in the Globe & Mail this week. Ken Coates’s new book, #IdleNoMore and the Remaking of Canada.
“Look out, Idle No More, here comes another white guy with an opinion. But white guys get listened to. And as a mixed-blood woman, I’m genetically predisposed to cheer those who attempt to bridge the gap between Canadians in this, the human-rights argument I can’t believe we’re still having.”