Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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#43 – Guest Posting: 17 Random Things Books Taught Me

ZOMG! I’m such a scatterbrain!  I haven’t even posted Dave’s guest posting yet!  I suck!  Here it is – and, as always with Dave’s writing, it’s freaking hilarious!

Despite this being a theme I suggested, I’ve had a lot of trouble figuring out what to write. I wanted to lock onto one idea—one book—and write about that. Couldn’t do it, though. Instead, I present 17 Random Things Books Taught Me. This started off semi-serious, but it gets dumb and stays dumb from very early on..

If you’re nauseated, you feel sick to your stomach; if you’re nauseous, you make other people sick to their stomach – The Elements of Style

Under certain circumstances, I have found myself rooting for two siblings to have sex with one another –The Hotel New Hampshire

The Weinsteins are brilliant businessmen but complete and utter assholes, and Bob Redford’s a big of a dbag – Down and Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film

Slaughterhouses are awful environments where animals are inhumanely murdered, and where the push for faster and faster production results in even the workers themselves getting mutilated; but all the same, I still likes me a hamburger – Fast Food Nation

To kick heroin, you will need: one room which you will not leave, soothing music, ten tins of tomato soup, eight tins of mushroom soup, one large tub of vanilla ice cream, milk of magnesia, Paracetamol, mouthwash, vitamins, mineral water, Lucozade, pornography, one mattress, three buckets (for urine, feces, vomit), one television set, and Valium. Alternately: never do heroin. – Trainspotting

There are books I have read and hated but will keep and display on my shelf forever just because I love the cover design. – A Polished Hoe

If you have a spiritual philosophy that’s best summarized in nine bullet points, and you stretch it out to a ‘novel’ with no real characters or plot, and the narrator just keeps running into people who vomit information at him for two hundred and fifty pages—there’s a pretty good chance your book will make seventy kajillion dollars – The Celestine Prophecy

Clowns are fucking scary. – IT

Stories of dystopic nightmare futures are made that much more bleak when described in very long sentences with little to no punctuation. – The Road

The big-breasted look might not always be in fashion. – What To Expect When You’re Expecting

If you take a big pile of money that your parents gave you, and you burn it, and then you drift across the States for a while, and then you go out to the middle-of-fucking-nowhere-Alaska alone, armed with nothing but a bag of rice and your questionable wits, and then you die—I’m not really gonna feel that bad for you. – Into the Wild

Moloko is milk, bog is god, glazies are eyes—and I still don’t know what the sloochavvy is. – A Clockwork Orange

Everything I ever needed to know, I learned in kindergarten. – Everything I Ever Needed To Know, I Learned in Kindergarten

Never fake being crazy to stay out of prison. Chances are pretty good that you’ll end up lobotomized, then suffocated with a pillow. On the bright side, the large native man who killed you will then throw an air conditioner through a window and run away to his freedom. – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

There’s a John Steinbeck book where one of the characters tortures another character by stabbing their genitals with a knitting needle(!?!) – East of Eden

If you’re good son who does all the hard work, minds the farm, lives well, and generally respects your dad, and you have a shithead brother who goes all prodigal, asks for his inheritance early, blows it all on (we can only assume) hookers, then comes back begging when he’s all poor and hungry, your dad will throw him the mother of all parties, which makes him a bit of a dick too. – The Bible

That Gatsby character: not so great, actually. – The Great Gatsby


#40 – Guest Post: The Story of Beth & Kalev

This guest posting by Kalev just arrived in my mailbox.  Kalev is trying to make me cry!  So I’ve bumped the posting I was working on until next half hour, ‘cuz I needed to post this one right away!

The funny thing about me and Beth being friends is that we don’t quite remember when we became friends. I mean, we know when we met and under what circumstances, and then we know we kinda bonded when she was in San Francisco for a conference and I was there with a friend for SF Pride and I took her to the best veggie Chinese restaurant in the city and then to a cool gay pride party called “Pink Saturday” that happens every year in the Castro the night before the parade. But after that, there’s this weird gap between San Francisco and when we became good friends, the kind of friends who not only help you kill someone (e.g., [notice the comma] “It,” Drooling Idiot, Captain e-Tool, Lives-and-Breathes, MuffMaster 2000, etc.) but who also help you bury the body and frankly offer to take the blame and provide you an alibi if you get caught.

There are several ways people can tell that Beth is one of my very best friends. The most obvious one is that Beth loves hockey. I loathe hockey. But not only do I still associate with Beth despite her passion for the sport of heinosity (yes, that is a word, because I say it is), I have even attended a birthday dinner in her honour at a bar where the heinous game was being broadcast. And sat through the entire disgraceful affair. (Unsurprisingly, Beth’s darlings, the Canucks, lost. Shocking, I know!)

Another way people can tell Beth is one of my best friends is that I am more than willing to abruptly scuttle plans with lesser friends if it means I can spend time with Beth. Okay, maybe you can’t tell that because it’s not like I go around telling people in my life, “Well sorry, you mean a lot less to me than Beth” but I can assure you that has happened on more than one occasion. (No, I don’t falsely maintain that all my friends are “equal” in stature. Please.)

Yet another way in which you can tell that Beth is one of my best friends is that I stop and think about what she says if what she says is not what I am expecting or does not agree with what I think. That is (aka i.e.), I consider her an equal. Actually, in some ways, I consider her my superior. If you knew me, you would understand the import of this. *grin*

But the way it truly became clear to me that Beth was one of my best friends is when my mum was sick with cancer. She was diagnosed in Fall 2005. At this point I was seeing quite a lot of Beth. After the diagnosis, I told quite a few of my friends what was going on but very few people who weren’t, shall we say, “top tier.” One of the people I did not tell immediately was Beth. Partly that was because she was going through a pretty trying time in her own life (getting divorced after ten years of marriage) but mainly it was because by not telling her, I had someone to hang out with where I was just Kalev, where I could pretend everything was normal, where I could desperately avoid being “Kalev whose mother was dying of cancer.” I had someone close to me where I could be the person I had been before the news that forever altered my life. I had someone with whom I could escape the horror my life had become.

My friendship with Beth became a place of refuge, a place where I could just be me and laugh and rave about the petty injustices of the world, the idiots who were totally meaningless in the context of losing the most important person of my life.

There are a handful of people who saved my sanity and probably my life during that period. But Beth was the only person who didn’t know what solace she was providing, just by being her incredibly amazing self. As far as Beth was concerned, I was a friend and she and I were hanging out and having fun. She didn’t know, she couldn’t have known, how every time I saw her or talked to her or emailed with her, she was doing the impossible: she was helping me through a time that was unendurable, a time that I did not believe would ever end, a time where I was so not myself and so lost and alone… and she made me feel like it might one day be all right. She helped me hold on when I didn’t know anymore who I was or how life worked. She let me know that even in the darkest time of my life, I was loved and respected and valued… and she kept me laughing when in all rights I should never have laughed again. And she didn’t even know how much I needed her; she was just there for me.

It took nine months for me to finally tell Beth what was happening with my mum. I felt so guilty I hadn’t shared the truth with her and I wanted so badly for her to understand that it wasn’t what it seemed like, that it wasn’t because she wasn’t that good a friend that I had neglected to mention the fact that my mum was terminally ill, but it was precisely because she was such an amazing friend that I had needed to keep her in the dark until the last possible moment.

And as long as I live, I don’t think I will ever see someone so effortlessly and so gracefully accept and understand another person’s pain-driven need as when I told her my mum had been sick. I still marvel at that to this day and I will cherish her compassion and her generosity of spirit for as long as I live.

And when my mum was in and out of hospital the rest of the summer of 2006, Beth was always there for me. And when my mother died, Beth was there for me. So well beyond how smart and funny and witty and incisive Beth is, well beyond the fact that we so delightfully share similar worldviews and that the same stupid people make us crazy, well beyond what a thorougly good and loving person Beth is, I know Beth is my friend because when I most needed a friend, when I had nothing left to give, Beth was my friend. Beth loved me and comforted me and she was there for me like very, very few others. And if we are indeed judged on the quality of those who hold us dear in their hearts, I know I have nothing to fear, because I am the friend of Beth Snow… and I can think of no honour or accomplishment that can possibly top that.


#31 – Guest Posting: My Earliest Book-perience(TM)

A guest posting from my Official Statisitian and Tattoo Consultant

Holy crapshite!

I almost forgot to write my blog entry! I’m horrible. But then again, I remembered so maybe I’m not so horrible after all. I blame my PhD, and my Post Doc, and a slew of other academic pursuits for my memory lapse. I also blame the universe for failing to remind me in a timely manner that I need to write a blog entry. Furthermore, I blame pants, spiders and any sort of pant wearing spider. The reasons for this should be obvious. Granted, I probably should really blame the beers that I drank last night, in place of working on said academic pursuits and blogging. But who can really blame beer for anything? It’s all tasty and wonderful and full of wholesome goodness.

So this is my first official blog entry for Not To Be Trusted With Knives. In fact, it’s my first blog entry ever. I’m a blog virgin if you will. So please, dear reader be gentle; it’s my first time. Truth be told, I’m stoked and nervous. Stoked because it is a huge honour to be writing for NTBTWK. Nervous, because I don’t really know what to write about, and I have a lot to live up to, especially given the awesomeness of the posts that one regularly reads here.

So, what to write about? As I sit here contemplating the theme (“Stuff books taught me”), I find myself at a bit of an impasse. Why? Well, despite my love for all things statistical and mathematical, I’m guessing that most readers likely don’t want to read about Bayesian priors, Multivariate Conditionally Autoregressive Random effects, or Poisson Mixture Models, really, ever [1]. In fact, based on my experience, most people tend to find a reason to leave the conversation if ever I go on a statistically laced rampage. I find this especially true when I make the effort to strike up a conversation with family and friends, or that random person on the bus that has that look about them. You know the look I’m referring to. It’s the I-want-to-know-everything-you-know-about-stats look. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that before. Hence, I need to figure out other “stuff books taught me” in order to satisfy the theme of this particular blog-tastic blogathon. But what makes up the “stuff books taught me”?

If I think back to my earliest book-perience [2], I find myself a child of the tender age of [insert whatever age one would be in grades 1 and 2] [3]. So there I was, an innocent [insert whatever age one would be in grades 1 and 2] year old going to the school library. The uniqueness of this particular visit is what makes it stand out in my memory. Specifically, this visit was to extend beyond the typical sit-down-and-listen-to-a-story as read to us by the librarian. In this case, we were tasked with the additional responsibility of choosing a book to check out and read at home. Being the nerdly fellow that I was, I was beside myself with excitement. Which book would I choose? How would I know that it was the book for me? Would people think me weird if I were to choose say, book A: Happy Days for Mr. Mugs, or book B: Where the Sidewalk Ends [4]. I frantically searched through the shelves, looking for that one book that spoke to me. The book that would be My Book. The book that would forever be my first.

This book was too ugly, that one too thin. A book about dinosaurs, that might work. A book about rainbows – no. A book about knights – maybe, but not quite. Fire breathing dragons? Monsters under the bed? Jelly-Belly? Little Ms. [anything]? No. No. No. No. I was losing patience and running out of time. The clock was ticking and I was the only one without a book. My teacher, Mrs. Hannigan, had already informed us that our time was running out. But where was my book? I was lost, heartbroken, confused and frustrated. So many emotions for such a young boy. And then, when I thought all was lost, a glimmer of something. To my left, shoved between two larger, uglier books which surely read of stupid cowboy adventures or saving the damsel in distress, there it was. A thin, simple book. But oh this book! The title spoke to me: “Where the Wild Things Are”. I knew it was love the minute I touched it. The minute I cracked it open and saw the pictures, touched the pages, smelled the ink. They weren’t just pictures, they were more than art, they were images of a place that I knew intimately from my moments of make believe. It was as if someone had reached into my head and made real the world that I believed in, but up until that point thought was only in my mind. This world existed and I had documented proof. While the thoughts that ran through my brain were a blur, I distinctly remember thinking, “I must find this island”. It became my mission whenever and wherever I could, to seek out the “Wild Things”. I carried that book with me all the time. I often hid it in the library behind other books that no one would read so that I would know exactly where it was to check it out and keep it just for me. I had my book and I wasn’t about to share it with anyone. “Where the Wild Things Are” taught me about adventure, about exploration. It made me realize that monsters aren’t scary. It made me love books. It was my first book, and I love it to this day.

So, what makes up the “stuff books taught me”? I think, above all other lessons books have provided, beyond all the questions they have posed, assumptions they have prodded and poked, past the heartbreaks and adventures; above all of this, books have taught me how to stay forever young. For any time I’m feeling too caught up with the world, events of my life, the stresses of jobs, the stresses of relationships, family, etc., I know that I can always, always pick up “Where the Wild Things Are” and instantly be transported to that day in the library when I first discovered my love for books, and the feeling that someone could write not just for me, but to me, about me. That I could always revive the kid in me, and fully believe that there is an island out there just for me and my adventures with the “Wild Things”.

I only hope that the movie adaptation (which is hitting theatres October 16, 2009) lives up to the beauty that is “Where the Wild Things Are” [5] I know that I will be one of the first in line to see the movie and will, without a doubt, be instantly 7 years old again when I watch it. I can’t wait!

Official Statisitian and Tattoo Consultant of NTBTWK

[1] Although, for the life of me I don’t understand who wouldn’t want to read about that! Go Stats!
[2] Copyright!
[3] I’d do the math, because I’m all I-love-Math-all-the-time, except I’m a little rough due to the beer consumption from the previous eve. Hence, you’ll have to forgive my laziness for not calculating the appropriate age.
[4] Both fantastic reads. Of course, I think the latter holds more value to me than the former.
[5] Check out the trailer here:

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#27 – Guest Posting: Stuff Gay Books Taught Me

And now a guest posting by Kalev, my Overseer of Deb0rking and Tsar of the Nerdery!  Which is brilliantly written (as Kalev’s stuff always is), the likes of which have no been seen since the last guest posting I posted today. I figured it was time to give you some good writing, since you’ve been so kind as to follow the tripe of decreasing quality I’ve been feeding you all day.

Hello, and welcome to the guest blog post that I promised Beth I would get to her before today and then managed not to.  Even now she’s probably wondering, “Where the heck is Kalev with his guest post?!”

So I wanted to take Beth’s Blogathon 2009 theme, Stuff Books Taught Me (or, as anyone who knows Beth would know she would put it, Stuff Books Learned Me), and put a bit of my own spin on it.  So I figured I had two choices: I could go back to my roots in the misty past and do Stuff Comic Books Taught Me (which granted is an interesting twist because most people just do not take comic books very seriously and probably do not think of them as terribly educational) or I could go for the obvious and do Stuff Gay Books Taught Me.  Because obviously, as anyone who knows me knows, everything about my life is about gay stuff.  (Ok, that’s maybe a little more accurate than my sarcasm would indicate, but shut up, ok?)

Getting back to the point, and I do have one, my relationship to books and what one can learn from books is, I like to think, different from the average person.  Not just because I had a 3-hour daily commute for the last four years of high school and did nothing but read (generally fantasy and sci-fi) but also because a key facet of my entire identity, the way I understand myself in the world… well, it found its genesis in a book.  A fantasy book, to be more accurate.  In fact, my entire coming out was presaged by one fateful moment back in Grade 10, when on page 70 of Mercedes Lackey’s book Magic’s Pawn, the reader finds out the main character, Vanyel, is gay.

The reader in this case was me.  And my initial reaction was, “Oh that’s why I identify so strongly with Vanyel!”

And then the freak-out began.  Well, ok, it wasn’t that big a freak-out.  A big freak-out wouldn’t have let me sweep things under the rug.  I just convinced myself that no, the only reason I identified with the main character was not why I identified with the main character.  And I stayed very deep in the closet (the full denial mode place) for nearly 5 years after that.  But I do give my 15-year-old self a lot of credit, because even though he was so frightened he denied the painfully obvious truth for nearly half a decade more, he did finish reading that book.  And that series.  And further books by the same author, who always wrote sympathetic gay characters.  In fact, thinking about it, it is stunning to consider just how many lives one person can change (and, more than likely, save) through the power of writing.  The power of books.

So everything about me coming out and me being gay (which if you know me, is–still to this day–quite a lot), all of that is bound up in books and reading.  Books and reading are integral to how I define myself, even though to be honest, I don’t do that much reading anymore.  But there is no denying the power of books to radically transform lives.  In my case, books literally taught me how to be.  Because having butterflies in your stomach over your classmates at the all-boys private school is a far, far cry from being gay.  One is not born a gay.  Being gay requires learning to be gay, and learning to be gay requires instruction.  (And no, I don’t mean that kind of instruction, dirty-minded people… honestly, that doesn’t require much in the way of how-to steps.)  But getting from the obvious question, “Why the fuck am I like this?” to the less-obvious one, which is, “Why the fuck do people give a shit that I’m like this?” requires, if you ask me–and since this is my guest post, I’m going to assume you do–well, it requires context.  And books are great for context.  The best, really.  Maybe oral storytelling comes close, in a slightly different way, but books, having things codified, solidified, structured and laid out for people to delve into–books are king.

And gay people?  They love to write.  And when they write, they really write what they know.  I mean, slightly fictionalized autobiography is a staple genre of gay literature.  As are coming out stories.  So for a boy who did nothing much more than read, coming out went pretty well.  All I needed was to do was find the sometimes tricky to find gay books and away I went.

This is all kinda pre-Internet.  I mean, it would have been totally pre-Internet if I hadn’t been studying Computer Science at UBC at the time, because this was 1994, which is about 2 years prior to when the web first exploded into the public consciousness and the public sphere.  In fact, I’m probably one of the very last people to come out pre-World Wide Web.  And I think that’s important to note.  Because as much as I think the Internet is awesome for queer youth trying to figure out who they are, I think the fact it detracts from an already-endangered pastime, the reading of books, is pretty detrimental.  Because if you’re a young queer person and all you do is talk to other queer youth and the occasional queer adult (who for some reason hasn’t been labelled a dangerous predator *rolls eyes*), you do not get anything remotely approaching the whole story.  You lose so much context, and so much history.  You end up with a really shoddy foundation.  And we all know what happens to people who don’t learn from history, right?  Or is that something you can only learn in a book?  But yes, 1930s Berlin always springs to mind these days.

But yeah, in addition to a fantasy novel making me gay, I learned everything I needed to know about how to be gay from books.  What it meant.  What the implications were.  How it might impact how I interacted with my family, my friends, my workplace, my country.

And what stunned me, even then, which was 15 years ago, is how incredibly CLUELESS my contemporary newly-out brethren were.  Like by 2 years into the whole “being gay” thing, I knew more than some people who had been out two, three, four times as long.  And not because I’m particularly bright–these are, in general, all university-educated people I’m talking about–but because I read.  Because I bothered.  Because I made an effort to learn whence I came, in the cultural sense.  Because, in essence, of books.  Because so many of the queer people who came before me made an effort to record their experiences for posterity.  And it is heart-wrenchingly good they did, because many of my favourite authors from the 1990s–which was a definite high point in gay literary history–many of them are no longer with us.  And their stories, I think, are the ones I carry closest to my heart.  Their stories, really all gay stories–they are what connects me to people.  They are my history and they give me my sense of belonging.

Stories, which more often than not end up in books than in any other form of media, stories are incredibly important to queer people, I think.  We still grow up thinking we’re all alone, we still grow up without any obvious queer role models and elders, we grow up raised by people who still far too often have no clue what we’re going through, even if–gods willing–they are less likely to outright reject us these days.  So to me, books are even more important to us than to the general population.  Books contain stories, and stories connect us in a way we often thought was beyond our reach.

So what stuff have books taught me?  Only how to come out.  Only how to find my voice.  Only how to be steadfast, how to be brave, how to live life fully.  How to live honorably.  How it was okay to be outrageous, okay to be out, okay to stand up, okay to fight back.  How it was okay to cry.  How it was okay to be different, and to walk my own path.  Books, more than anything else in my life, taught me I belonged, and in so doing, they showed me how to be Kalev.

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#23 – Guest Posting: Stuff Books Taught Me – War is Hell

Here’s a guest posting from the lovely Sarah, my Resident Historian and Chief Political Correspondent.

Stuff Books Taught Me – War is Hell

File:Rilla of Ingleside.jpg

That title is a bit sensationalistic, and not entirely accurate. But I’m going to be writing about the first book that haunted me, that made me bawl, that really stimulated my interest in Canadian history (especially the First World War). Surprisingly – it’s Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series by LM Montgomery.

WARNING: I am about to spoil the plot of this book. It was published almost 90 years ago, though, so you’ve had your chance to read it. Plus, certain plot points are vital to the life lesson the book imparted. You have been warned.

RoI is the 8th book in the series chronologically, though the 6th one written (Maud wrote the 4th and 6th books – Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, respectively – during the 1930s due to pressure from her publisher. They fill in gaps in the Anne narrative). It focuses on Anne and Gilbert’s youngest daughter, Bertha Marilla Blythe, who is 15 as the novel opens in August of 1914. It follows the Blythes through the entire war until beyond the Armistice, ending in early 1919 when Rilla is about to turn 20. It is far more serious in tone than any of the other books in the series and is painstakingly accurate with respect to dates and battles of WWI. This tone shift and accuracy are deliberate; I’ve since read Maud’s published personal diaries and she not only recorded these events with the focus of an archivist, she also mined her personal writings for components of the novel.

RoI is the only Canadian novel about WWI on the homefront written by a contemporary author. And is it ever sad. All the boys you’ve grown to love in the previous novels head off to war. Virtually all are injured or worse. It’s horribly realistic, and that’s the worst part. And Anne’s son Walter, the beautiful dreamer who is the best friend and older brother of the protagonist, is killed in the Battle of the Somme.

So, it’s the summer of 1987. I’m nearly 10, and I am flying through the Anne series. I catch a reference to a grave marker in the 6th book (the last one written) but it makes no sense at the time. Into Rilla I plod. She’s flighty and 15 and a bit boy-crazy; she’s not so much older or different than I am. She idolizes her older brothers has a crush on one of their friends. She, and all those around her, have no idea of the emotional upheaval that will be contained in the subsequent four years.

Walter, one of her older brothers, has just survived a horrible case of Scarlet Fever and is unable to enlist. He has taken a leave of absence from University (he’s an author and he’s becoming successful) to convalesce and over this time Rilla and he (and the reader) become close. Circumstances and his influence transform self-indulgent Rilla into a sensitive and selfless woman. Walter, an old soul with an incredible imagination, harbours no belief in the glory of war. He knows that it’ll be hell on earth and he’s TERRIFIED. He’s also thankful that he’s unable to fight and is shamed at the admission. But, as time goes on and the war continues, he realizes that he must enlist. Rilla (and the reader) spend the novel hoping that he won’t have to, hoping he won’t go, then hoping he’ll be alright. All of this is shattered in the summer of 1916 when he is killed. Then, Rilla receives a letter from him, written the night before his final battle; he’d sensed that the next day would be his last. Dude. DUDE. I am getting choked up just thinking about it, over 20 years since the first time I read it.

This was the first time a character I’d loved had died (well, besides Matthew in AoGG, but he was old). A character with whom I’d identified, one who had such amazing potential and, had he lived, who would have gone on to do incredible things. I remember being gobsmacked when I first read those chapters, then absolutely bawling. It took me a good day or so before I could steel myself to pick up the book and go on.

The rest of the book is excellent; Rilla’s transformation is a triumph. It’s filled with moments of humour and happiness, and I have read it more times than I can count. But Maud’s intention – to make the horrors and loss of war real to readers – sure resonated with me. The death of fictional Walter represented the all too real loss of tens of thousands of other young Canadians, full of potential and greatly loved. What a cruel, vicious waste. Reading about WWI is still terribly painful for me, but I feel compelled to do so in order to pay tribute to these kids. And kids they were – when I visited Ypres at the age of 24, NOT ONE person in the Ramparts cemetery was older than me when they died.

Other books have affected me, have made me sob (HPatDH, I’m looking at you for a recent example) but every time one does I think back to Rilla. And say a little prayer for all the Walters lost on both sides of conflicts.

Image source: Wikipedia

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