A Tom Wolfe quote

From The Bonfire of the Vanities:

In this little room full of people he was suffering the pangs of men whose egos lose their virginity—as happens when they overhear for the first time a beautiful woman’s undiluted, full-strength opinion of their masculine selves.

(Finally finished it, by the way.)

Your quarterly omnibus update

Looks like I’ve broken my promise of updating here more regularly. The last five months have been some rough sledding. This blog, which is a purely for-the-kicks endeavour, is the first thing to go out the window when I have a busy week, which is every week. Since I have no idea when I’ll next be able to write here, consider this your quarterly omnibus Tom Ingram update. There’s a lot to get off my chest.

In addition to the Manitoban, I’ve been working on the revived Gradzette, the graduate students’ magazine at the University of Manitoba. This has been a challenge, since I’m responsible for essentially all aspects of the magazine’s operation—there’s a designer and a copy editor with whom I work closely, but I do everything from assigning and rewrites to statistics and distribution (i.e., I schlep hundreds of copies of the magazine around to newsstands every month).

This has given me an interesting perspective on the world of writing. For instance, standards are not particularly high—it’s just that a lot of people suck. I’m not in a position to demand much more than text that’s truthful, more or less grammatically correct, and makes some kind of sense. You’d be surprised how few writers can leap that bar.

In only my second issue as editor I had to deal with a case of plagiarism—in its lowest form, WikiPlagiarism. The writer is a postdoctoral fellow, i.e. someone who has at least three degrees and is taken somewhat seriously by the academic world. These are the people who mark your papers and the experts who inform public opinion and government policy.

The biggest problem with finding writers is that the U of M has essentially no writing programs—no creative writing, journalism, rhetoric & communications, or anything of that sort. You have to take an English class in the first year of an undergraduate degree because the majority of new students are functionally illiterate. So there’s no natural constituency of writers to draw from. This leaves me scrambling to find contributors more often than not, and I have to rely perhaps too heavily on the few people I know are competent and consistent.

Which is a roundabout way of saying: if you’re able to write and are connected to the U of M in any capacity, and especially if you are a current graduate student, please drop me a line at editor@gradzette.com.

Since the summer, my housing situation has been chugging along in genial mediocrity. Everything more or less works, which is the best we can hope for given the hassle it would be to get things fixed. In particular we haven’t had any trouble with heating, the roof, or windows, for which I’m grateful. I’ve definitely learned a lot from the experience, but I wouldn’t try to live like this again. Six people in a house is just too many. You have to compromise on things you’d rather not compromise on, you never really feel like you’re at home, and you have to be in a social mood all the time. And nothing will ever be truly clean. Not for me.

Christmas happened. Each year it becomes more difficult and less pleasant to manage the social calendar that comes with it. I have divorced parents and two clannish families, and my girlfriend has family in Stonewall (just out of town, but an insurmountable distance without a car). We both went to all our family events, and between dinners and overnight stays we were kept out of the house more often than not. I had to cancel New Year’s Eve plans with friends from out of town because I couldn’t imagine going to a bar without vomiting all over everybody (also I was broke as all hell, but that’s another story). Never again.

The new year also happened. 2015 will go down in my history books as the year in which shit got real. I started the year coming off a hand injury from a dog bite. The injury turned out to be no big deal, and today I can hardly even see the scars, but in those tense moments between the bite and seeing the nurse, all I knew was that I couldn’t move my thumb and some of my fingers. Until I was told everything would heal, and quickly at that, for all I knew my musical career was over. I felt relieved.

By the end of January I was auditioning at a grad school that had an excellent clarinet teacher and a very nice building but was otherwise the pits. A week after I decided to decline my acceptance, I found out that the excellent clarinet teacher was leaving for a better job at a better school.

The next month I auditioned at a more reputable school, but my heart wasn’t in it—predictably, I was not accepted. I cancelled my two other auditions for stupid reasons—one because they only accepted the audition fee in the form of a registered cheque, the other because the prospect of travelling to Ohio fills me with unutterable dread.

I braced myself for a year of fucking around during which I would practise hard, take lots of lessons, learn my orchestral excerpts like a good boy, and go off to respectable places like Ottawa and Montreal to audition. That theory lasted me until halfway through September. I broke ties with my new and more respectable teacher and decided, aside from one long-shot application that didn’t pan out, not to pursue grad school for next year.

I had originally wanted to write a long and self-indulgent explanation of why, but there are certain things I’d rather not reveal. I’m confident everything is going to work out for me, so I’m going to do whatever seems like a good idea now and then pretend ten years hence that it was my plan all along. Suffice it to say that I’m off what Judith Guest called “the main street,” and that the next time someone tells me to play with “more air and a higher tongue” I will jam my mouthpiece in their eye.

Musically I’ve been as busy as I can manage. I played in two chamber groups last term and did a smattering of exciting one-off things. I’ve also started making wind quintet arrangements. I have a few of them in a state of near-completion, and I intend to post them here once I’ve finalized the scores. I’ve also been doing score study, reading about theory, and practising piano in contemptibly dilletantish ways. The arrangements, at least, I think I have a real knack for, and I believe they’ll fill an important hole in the quintet repertoire.

Speaking of music, the WSO’s Mahler festival was hosted by music journalist Norman Lebrecht. I was so taken with him as a speaker that I started following his music news website Slipped Disc and checked out his book Who Killed Classical Music? from the library.

The book is everything I’ve ever wanted. Through exhaustive interviews and research, Lebrecht exposes the way that corporations, avaricious superstars, and Nazis caused the classical music world to become financially nonviable, forcing it to look for heavy government subsidy and corporate sponsorship for survival. Among other things, this means that symphony concerts increasingly consist of bored and overworked stars, supported by underpaid and overworked orchestra players, playing greatest hits for an audience of indifferent aristocrats.

This, and not anything in the music itself, is the source of classical music’s difficult-to-shake reputation as elitist. It’s also the reason that the future of successful music is at the independent, hyper-local level, what Alex Ross describes as “a kind of grassroots activism, with aesthetic rather than political transformation as the goal.”

Lebrecht has been described as “sloppy but entertaining” and has frequently come under criticism for factual inaccuracies. I’m not sure what in this book has come under fire, but much of it is self-evidently true and it’s all sufficiently well-documented that if you want to go back over his tracks you could. Besides, as one of the people who handles correction requests at the Manitoban, I’ve learned to distrust people who claim a journalist has misrepresented them almost as much as I distrust journalists.

Other stuff I’ve been reading: Headstone City by the late great Tom Piccirilli, which is a fun off-the-wall take on gangster novels, and The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I went through a brief Tom Wolfe kick in November in which I gobbled up his magazine pieces, but it’s taken me a while to finish off this novel.

What I enjoy in Wolfe’s writing is his uncommon honesty about the white man’s perspective on race relations, and the upper-class white psyche more generally—see for example the bit in “Mau-mauing the Flak-Catchers” where he talks about the various kinds of fear white people have of various races, or the part at the beginning of “Radical Chic” on the necessity of a fashionable family having white servants. He portrays these ignoble traits frankly without pretending to be above it all and, in the novel at least, milks them for all the situational comedy they’re worth. I love it, but I also have a weak stomach for this sort of humour (I can only take Seinfeld or Fawlty Towers in small doses) so I’m still only about halfway through.

I’ve also been playing Just Cause 3 on my roommate’s PS4. It’s got some mechanical improvements over Just Cause 2 and is tremendously fun (the wingsuit especially adds a hilarious dimension to cross-country travel). What I miss is the bombastic story missions and cutscenes. Just Cause 2 is an uproarious satire of American foreign policy. Just Cause 3 is a soap opera with guns. Nevertheless, it comes highly recommended.

That’s about it. Tomorrow I strap on my waterskis and embark on the river of shit. You may not hear from me again until April. Until then, thanks for reading!