From Vol. 1, No. 4, 1998
I watched the sun rise a couple of hours ago. It wasn’t as beautiful as it was a couple of days ago. Then, I had been staring at the edge of the city’s buildings towards the east, when suddenly a flaming spot appeared. Right away, my vision was glued to it. It was growing, growing by the second, as I kept staring like a deer staring at headlights. It was cold, not much warmer than freezing, but I swear the more of this blaze of fire I saw, the warmer I felt. I was frozen in awe at this thing appearing at the edge of the sky, this thing which kept making me feel different. Warmer. At some point I had to look away, my eyes just made me do it. My body felt warm from it, though, and so decided it was OK. I didn’t have to keep my eye on it anymore.
Today, it was quite different. I went out there to see it on purpose. This time the sky looked like a bruise from the pollution-filled clouds, and for awhile I wondered if it was already there behind the purple-red horizon. I saw the flame again, though, and cheered it on as it cut a bright disk into the unnaturally murky blanket.
Another all-nighter trying to finish Fish Piss. I remember a better one, a year and three-quarters ago, watching the sun come up with Billy Mavreas after drinking with him and explaining what I meant by ‘fish piss’. He was to do the first cover, and I wanted him to know a bit about it. About how little understood the feedback between us and what we live in is in a culture obsessed with straight-line explanations.
Originally I had an editorial written already about it, which I was going to put in this issue after people started telling me they saw me trying to explain it on TV. All I remember about that is that the TV people were very annoying. They seemed to already know what they wanted me to say, and would cut me off with another question if I wasn’t saying it. Anyway, I’ll have to put that editorial in the next issue, as since then, something happened here in Montreal that I wrote about, something that happened this winter which was far too important to forget. After all, this is still the winter issue.
But first, I should explain that it’s been a long, hard task making this Fish Piss. I’ve had to be in an office building every day of the week to make the money to pay for it. The rest of the time I’ve tried to balance between living the way life is well-lived in this city, and pissing out, releasing what it is about life here that’s important to write down. If I didn’t live, I’d have nothing real to write, nothing real to go by in judging the value of the rest of what’s on these pages. Yet between work and making this thing, often I’ve had little time to live.
It could’ve been far simpler had life in this city kept on as it was during the big shutdown, when electricity was out indefinitely and people did what came naturally. It turned out that what we do naturally is pretty damn good– we help each other, we entertain each other, and as all the old magazines got read three times over the people in the shelters or at friends’ houses were quite ready for something new to read. Especially something which they could relate to, something which reflected this warm, well-fed bullshit-free life everyone was suddenly living. Especially when the rest of the media was busy sensationalizing it all as some ‘crisis’ for the sake of a dramatic story to sell.
Alas, at one point I had to go back to work. “People elsewhere in the world depend on us,” the CEO had said. “We have to be there for them.” So we all went back to ignoring each other, and paying attention to these abstract dreams of elsewhere, like everyone else elsewhere did too.
But I should explain, for those who weren’t here.
Very slowly and beautifully, ice accumulated over the city. Over the mountain, over the trees, over everything. It was beautiful and not at all unusual at first– we’d seen many a winter when freezing rain would accumulate this way. Only this time, the ice that accumulated began weighing down our power lines to the point where they would snap right off our houses.
So we would have no electricity. Not because some central problem caused a blackout– but because the needle stuck in our arms broke off. When millions of buildings need wires re-attached to them, it takes awhile. For most of us, it took at least a week. Even for those of us who had strong wires which didn’t break off, we realized that things like water depended on buildings somewhere which needed wires to pump it to us. So when their wires broke off, we had no water…
“It was a slow waking up from machine-supported dreams,” I wrote in January. “No one, no one had expected that this icy weather would slowly, bit by bit, cripple all the machines. And, until it happened, no one realized how many machines we usually depend on. Then, no one realized how easily we could do without them.
“And then, no one had known what it would be like to go for days and days without keeping busy with them. ‘What the hell are we gonna do?’ people said. Not because they missed what they did before (no one felt like going back to work), but because they were bored and could think of nothing to do. A lot of people slept, a lot of people talked and discovered they had stories to tell, a lot of people got to know each other very well.
“After a few days of having the city be completely free of scheduled work and shopping, just a quiet place with very few lonely people in it, any thought of what usually went on felt like a dream. “I guess I’ll eventually have to go back to that building again and do whatever the fuck it is I do there,” I told someone. I was at a loss to think, much less explain, what I do at ‘work’ without any of what my work refers to presently existing. Many things couldn’t be talked about, especially those concerning money, as most of the context of our usual society, as it turned out, had disappeared with the machines. Machines which evidently had sat at the base of our society.
“The city, its trees, buildings & the ground which sit at the base of that base were there, a base we obviously could always rely on. And we did, we did survive without the machines, we survived with ourselves, with a well-built city of buildings built long before we became addicted to these machines. We survived with real, useful skills about heat, food, water, with technologies no more complicated than you, your brain and your hands. What’s more, surviving in this way made us strong, alive, invigorated and happy, because it will always be there, nature will always be there for us (or: we will always be a part of nature that way) and it was a slow, piecemeal nestling into this bountiful bosom which made us realize how trivial and how flimsy our supposed ‘more-advanced-than-ever’ automated ‘world’ was; indeed, if that is really our world, it ended. It was gone, and we lived fine without it, because the real world, real human interaction, community & survival skills are always there for us. They can never just get shut down.
“When we were firmly in this great real world for a few days, the other one was a vague dream, a passing conversation topic with no real consequence. This dreamworld could become ‘real’ again if enough people dreamt it, but if they didn’t, it would remain a dream. For now, we were really just all neighbors, acting automatically (of course) to help each other.
“This ice has taught us not to get too weighed down under our own constructs, when those constructs should be doing no more than just lessening the weight of nature on us. Re-entering the man-made dream-world after a complete escape back to real reality, circular, useless activities are more obvious. Things like: stopping the work at the shelter, which is making people happy now, to go work on a project being carried out in Brazil, so we could someday afford happiness here and now, makes it obvious that we’re more interested in seeking our ideals than in living them. What is it that we’re striving for as Canadians that we didn’t experience that week, when we were all equal, all kind and giving and sharing, when shelter and food kept all our children and mothers fed and warm? What is it, how incredible is this thing going to be when it means sending women and children back to cold homes with little food and turning them into a ‘sad child poverty problem’?
“We learned this week that the most important thing is that we all eat, keep warm, and keep each other company. Somehow, this is not our usual priority. What our usual priority is seems to involve keeping a casino running where these essentials can be won or lost as if they were chips.
“Next week, if the ‘crisis’ was still on, I could say ‘Hey, paper guy, the people in the shelters are bored & I have a magazine I’d like to print up for them– could you give me some paper for it?’ ‘Sure, here,’ he’d say, ‘that’s a good cause.’ ‘Hey, printer guy, could you print up this magazine so the people in shelters can read them?’ ‘Yeah sure, I have nothing to do anyway & I like printing. As long as we do a good job.’ ‘Of course, I have my pride too, you know.’ Then, ‘Hey, do you want to help assemble this magazine & distribute it to the shelters? They’re real bored and would love this. I’m sure they’d insist we have a good meal with them, & owe us favors later if we need them.’ ‘Yeah, sure, sounds great!’
“Now, now next week will be: me working a shit job for a bunch of people unwittingly & indirectly doing bad things to overseas strangers while ignoring their homeless neighbors. Me, working for them, straining to get the money to pay the printer & the paper guy… my only hope for escape being that if I fill out some forms our government might give me money to pay some rather hungry friends of mine on welfare so they could help make this. And distribute this to bored people who really want to read it.
And now, this is me, in April, having to wrap up this editorial because the printer’s very tired of waiting for this issue. Perhaps you’ve been tired of waiting too. I hope you enjoy it. And I hope that, if you’re homeless, hungry, or lack of money keeps giving you hardships, that you’re encouraged by knowing that last winter, in a big city, everyone would’ve been glad to help you. And I hope you remember, next time things get real tough, that it can happen again. It’s in us.