Reeling into the future

The image that appears on the cover of this issue is from a film sequence in Paulette Phillips’s recent play . In the film a woman quite literally bashes her head against a brick wall. It is the contradictions that coexist in this film-frame that hook me as much as its individual elements: the dazed and confused look of its protagonist, her well-groomed appearance and bloody forehead, the fresh green of the shrubbery. The image’s easter-egg colours lend an eerily cheerful note to its intimation of violence.

Many, seeing it during the course of production, have joked that my interest in the shot has a strong element of identification and I can’t deny this possibility. Though happily for me, it is in a more figurative sense that my head meets with brick walls. At another level, C itself might be seen as the metaphoric subject of its own cover. Enduring regular blows dealt by funding and staff cuts and staggering forward under the weight of its deficit, C has managed nonetheless, like the woman on its cover, to maintain a refined appearance.

But as steeped as I am in my own narrow problems or in my desire for a flourishing publication, I do sense in this image more than a personal identification. A generic feeling seems to permeate this era, one of pressure and disintegration – fiscal, information, territorial, religious, ethnic. With the endurance of those who have no other option, the people of Ireland and London, Israel and Palestine, Bosnia and Sarajevo stagger forward through the pain, revenge and loss of wars and bombs. Corporate and public sector down-sizing leave thousands of first-world, middle-class employee/consumers on the brink of unknown futures.

From where I live and work, the scene is more specific. C’s office is located in a mixed downtown neighbourhood in Toronto – residential, public service and small business. Residents present a fair economic and ethnic range – students, artists, shopkeepers, electricians, health-care workers, carpenters, architects, jewellery designers, researchers, gardeners, business people; asian, african, european and native backgrounds. C is also across the street from the Queen Street Mental Health Centre and around the corner from Toronto Western Hospital’s detox unit. Located here and publishing an international contemporary art magazine, we are simultaneously in the midst and at the borders of North American culture. It is easy in this neighbourhood to be aware of the fragility of our social fabric and the people who make it up. I frequently (if warily) engage in snippits of conversation with those whose psychological and social dysfunction is inscribed on their bodies, clearly visible though rarely easy to read. A few weeks ago, as I cleared snow from the walk in front of the office, such a man was walking by. He asked with quick intensity, “Do you want to hear a joke?” Ah, sure, I said – though I wasn’t at all. “What did the dog say to the tree?” I don’t know. “Bark. Bark.” He flashed a half-smile and turned quickly to go. I was relieved that the joke was merely silly.

When he glanced back as if to see whether I got it, I wanted to say something (perhaps grateful that his joke had not turned ugly): They speak the same language, I suggested. He stopped in his tracks; obviously, he had not expected a response. “What?” He leaned slightly toward me as I elaborated, The dog and the tree – they speak the same language. His face lit up, as if the idea was pleasure itself. We smiled again then each turned to go. I can’t romanticize mental distress or forget the costs borne by the socially maladjusted, yet I marvel at human ingenuity in expressing and enduring pain and at the pathos in our eagerness to share a joke with a stranger.

The woman on our cover is neither admirable in her actions nor comprehensible in her motives. Yet she does offer one point where thoughts of myself and of this manpassing-by converge quite easily. Such unlikely links offer a reminder of how delicate the lines that connect and separate our realities really are.

In this issue, apparently unlikely associations abound and the lines that link and separate various thoughts and endeavors wind their way through each of our features, and will no doubt, through our futures as well.

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