Northern Ascendancy: The Moxie of the Imperfect


I crossed a border yesterday. For a passport-toting white woman nowhere near Arizona, this should have been a straightforward endeavor. However, I failed to factor in that the airplane slotted to fly me out of Duluth was to have come from Chicago, and Chicago is windy and foggy and muggy and corrupt. Plus, pilots out of Chicago often bury their faces in hot dogs and pizza and forget to start the engine of the 747.

Anyhow, corruption and pizza (and fog) interfered with getting the plane to Duluth, a fact I discovered when I arrived at the airport at 5 a.m.—having woken up at 4 a.m. after pitching into a restless sleep on the couch not too long before that. Come back in nine hours, said the lady behind the counter, and then we’ll stuff you into a cramped seat and offer you two ounces of a diet beverage.

Few things undermine the drama of bedtime hugs, kisses, and “Mommy’s going to a conference in Canada and won’t be here when you wake up” goodbyes more than Mommy being there at wake up. When I returned home at 6 a.m., Groom greeted me with a sleepy “What are you doing here?” At 7:30 a.m., Paco dashed into the bedroom, took a gander at me lying there trying to get even 18 more zzzzz’s, and echoed his father.

My presence hadn’t been challenged with such suspicion and hostility since I’d strung a wire between the Twin Towers back in 1974 and gamboled across it for an hour, calling out all the while, “C’est magnifique, n’est-ce pas?”

Eventually, I did get my two ounces of Diet Coke, a fair set of leg cramps, and a glimpse of Chicago. A few hours after that, I hopped a plane to Toronto (because Canadian pizza and hot dogs are significantly less appealing than those found in Chicago, flights from Toronto generally run on time). Upon my arrival in The Country of Civility and Genuine Good Manners, I waded through passport control—handing my documents to a lovely young red-haired man and greeting him with a “Hey, I know people who are red haired. Are you my brother?”

Quite some bit later, the airport express bus deposited me at my hotel in downtown Toronto, at which point, considering the number of hours I’d put into waking up, driving around, returning home, laying back down, getting back up, neatening the house, going for a run, pushing kids on a swing, eating some quiche, and flying hither and yon, it seemed prudent to stare in the mirror for a minute and announce, “You might should brush your teeth now, Mavis.”

This morning, with a tidy 5 hours of sleep tucked into my waistband, I hoofed it over to the hotel where the busses to the conference site were departing at 7:30 a.m.

Two things remain unclear to me:

1) Why conference attendees were booked into hotels downtown, when the actual dealio is happening an hour outside the city;

2) How anyone could think it’s a good idea to pack a bunch of academics together during the fragile hours before mid-morning, as it only encourages them to start tossing around words like “solipsism” and “nihilism” whilst detoxifying from the previous night’s whisky.

Fortunately, I buried my face in hot dogs and pizza and managed to weather the bus ride without backing myself into a charge of semi-voluntary academic-slaughter (“But, officer, I had to cut off his air supply: that windbag violated the inchoate nature of my private experience”

…and if you think I just made that phrase up, here’s the truth: I wrote down some of my favorite poncey I Have a Ph.D. and Little Else jargon throughout the day, during the various sessions I attended, and “the inchoate nature of private experience” was actually uttered. So were “the hermeneutic of temporality,” “volitive modality,” “deixis,” and “unlimited extra-diegetic narration.”)

The highlights of today’s sessions, outside of frantically scribbling onto my agenda “blowhards should stop standing up front, parroting academic papers they wrote five years ago,” were the short story readings. I sat in a classroom with fifteen people—an intimate setting—and listened to Spanish, Irish, Taiwanese, and Sri Lankan women read their stories. I guess, um, the male writers were in the other room down the hall. The one with urinals and beef sticks. I actually could have used both when the Spanish authoress, in her heavy accent, read aloud the words “my neon womb.” Outside of that minor blip, the women were mad-hot-talented examples of how life experience shapes fiction. In particular, I was unable to breathe during the Sri Lankan author’s three brutal stories about the effects of the civil war in her country, particularly the ways in which the media intersects with the violence. Her first story was called “Too Many Legs,” and in it, a dispassionate journalist watches officials trying to sort out a pile of legs based on the clothing—depositing uniformed legs in the military pile and sarong and sandal clad legs in the Tamil Tiger pile, puzzling out where the missing leg has gone off to when they come up with a final tally of 19 random limbs.

Yea, like that.

A welcome counterpoint to such stuff was provided this evening at one of the Toronto Public Library branches when the charming and animated Sandra Cisneros read three unpublished stories, one of which used Affection for Doggie as a means of exposing the uneven marriage of Frida Kahlo and her husband.

Finally, fifteen hours after arising, my dopey self was returned to downtown, a wonderful place teeming with young, old, slow, fast, hip, nerdy and a whole. lotta. nummy. take-out, including the Vietnamese vermicelli salad that is currently sitting in my belly and upping my winkem-and-nod factor to eleventy-hundred yawns.

At this minute, although my eyelids are heavy with hegemonic praxis, I can’t yet sleep. I have tomorrow’s short storying to contemplate (wrap your gifts:  it’s Margaret Atwood Day!)…

along with notions about fitting in visits to the Royal Ontario Museum and the Bata Shoe Museum…

HELLO, yes, I just typed shoe museum, which officially makes Toronto a candidate for Jocelyn’s Favorite Cities Inventory (which has been dominated by Budapest since 1999, after it offered up the Proustian experience of a melty, warm chocolate croissant early one morning as I raced to hop onto a train)…

along with the fact that I’m lying here under crisp sheets watching “Mall Cops: Mall of America.”

It’s research.

See, at the next conference, I plan to present a paper entitled “Contesting the Liminal: Busting the Criminal.”




19 responses to “Northern Ascendancy: The Moxie of the Imperfect”

  1. Jeni Avatar

    Some mighty big words you tossed about in this post, young lady. Do they all pass the spell checker test as real words? I'd have been going bonkers trying to figure out how to spell those words so I could then look them up in the dictionary to find out what they mean.

  2. Jazz Avatar

    You're in Canadia? Why is that conference not in Montreal? That conference should be HERE!

    Oh yeah, we don't have a shoe museum.

    But we have damn good food!

  3. choochoo Avatar

    burying your face in hot dogs and pretzels is good for what ails you.

  4. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar
    Jenn @ Juggling Life

    I'll comment after I get out my dictionary are re-read the post.

    I did understand the Sandra Cisneros part–and, lucky you!

  5. secret agent woman Avatar
    secret agent woman

    Oh, God, there is just nothing in the world like academic jargon.

  6. Becky Cazares Avatar
    Becky Cazares

    hermeneutic, volitive, deixis, diegetic… Where did you go, the spelling bee? (Is there an alternate usage, please?).

    I'd love to go to Toronto. I'm putting it on my to-do list right now. Think I'll skip the shoe museum, though. Never understood the fascination, really. Does that make me less than female?

  7. Deborah Avatar

    How do you do this? Spend a day like that and write a post like this??

    Damn, I wish I had your wit. Sorry for the short comment, but I am wrung out from beach/rainforest walking and used up all my remaining energy laughing at you. Hope Margaret is as good as her advance press!

  8. yogurt Avatar

    I agree with Jenn, lucky you listening to Sandra Cisneros. I heard her read during a radio interview. She has a beautiful voice in addition to beautiful writing.

  9. Fragrant Liar Avatar
    Fragrant Liar

    Heh heh. Er, darlin' these words just scare me: “unlimited extra-diegetic narration.” Does that mean somebody's barfing or going to barf? Ew.

    My ex-pop-in-law was a PhD candidate, and he was ALWAYS bandying about pretentious wordery. A frequent favorite was the subjectg of the ubiquitous ethnomusicology.


  10. Fragrant Liar Avatar
    Fragrant Liar

    P.S. Hope you're having a great time in the land of Canucks.

  11. geewits Avatar

    Your trek through customs sounds so easy. Actually it was getting OUT of Canada that was a nightmare. I hope yours was better.
    Do people really talk like that? I suppose I should just deign insouciance about all that academic speak.

  12. ds Avatar

    Ain't academic jargon the bomb? (as in nuclear, upon the English language–or anyone's language for that matter)Insanely jealous of your Margaret Atwood day–please, please, please report on that–but not of the "volitive modality" of your conference. Now to re-examine the inchoate nature of my own private experience and get some sleep.
    Enjoy the shoe museum!

  13. Logophile Avatar

    Shoe museum, and nummy food?
    What more could you ask!
    Oh, and the blowhards? I love that you are recording their nonsense and blogging it, love, love, love.

  14. Michelle Wells Grant Avatar
    Michelle Wells Grant

    Oh, you O Mighty Crisis, you! So immensely entertaining. Despite all the academics shenanigans, I would love a conference like that! Sounds like there are some great writers there.

  15. Meg Avatar

    You had me at "Vientamese vermicelli salad". Don't you just wish there was a pin big enough to pop the word balloons of those pompous proliferators of such rarified rhetoric? Such vile verbiage? Such obnoxiously obscure oxymorons?

  16. kmkat Avatar

    1. My cousin's husband was a mall cop at MOA. If yo se any that are 6'6" or so, that's Matt.
    B. Move over. I'm gonna join you in Toronto. Sounds like a fun place!

  17. Midlife Jobhunter Avatar
    Midlife Jobhunter

    Oh, how wonderful to be surrounded by like minds. You must be having such fun. I listened to Sandra Cisneros a few years ago at the Texas Book Festival. I think Atwood there one year also. The days often filled with such excitement that Mall Cops is the only thing that settles the mind.

    I get to attend a workshop in a couple of weeks. Hoping it will help teach me how to write again. Enjoy your time away.

  18. Pearl Avatar

    Mall Cops?! Fight it! Fight it!!!!


  19. lime Avatar

    i confess, it was i who stole the 20th missing leg. i used it to beat the cloistered academics into a sense of reality.

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