Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goal-Setting In The 21st Century

In this current incarnation, I've tried to stay away from the lazy man's blogging, which is just making a list and slapping it on the internet. Don't mistake me: I love lists. But they're not always fun to read. There are the exceptions, like Cracked, which has elevated the fine combination of dick jokes and lists to a museum-worthy art form. Blog lists are usually things like, "Reasons Jesus loves you, personally," and "Stuff I like to put on my cat" and "The top five foods that are making me fat/skinny/clinically depressed" (hint: it's probably dairy!), but those irritate me because they're usually badly written and not really meant to be consumed by the outside world. This is why God invented the journal. And the pen. And the chance to be moody, alone, in private.

With that in mind, let's turn to the topic of New Year's resolutions. A perennial favourite among people who feel guilty and/or like a failure, the resolution can be a powerful way to motivate you into losing those last few pounds or trying new foods. It can also act as a terrible depressant when, in February, you realize you've been mired on the couch since January third and are covered in an orange and carcinogenic drift of Cheeto crumbs. I found a list of resolutions from 1996, when I was, like, thirteen years old, that resolved to "not act so snarky" and "lose ten pounds," which: holy shit, and also: something never change.

This year, I want to try something a little different. Resolutions are all about attempts, trying to strive for some more perfect version of yourself. Lose ten pounds, quit smoking, spent more time with your wife, ditch the lousy boyfriend, write a novel, and the ever-popular go to the gym. It isn't about accepting the person you are; it's about rejecting what you see in the mirror in favour of creating, tailor-made, the future self.

I can tell you with great certainty and experience that being ten pounds lighter (or heavier, for all you dudes who want to bulk up) won't make you a more satisfied person. If you're used to a gym-induced endorphin rush, then yeah, maybe weight loss will be a corollary effect to all that awesome dancing or weight lifting you're doing, but seriously: losing weight through January isn't going to fix it, whatever it is. That same priniciple can be applied to almost every New Year's resolution. The end result (upholding the resolutions) is way less dramatic than the process. On the other hand, having resolutions in the first place never acknowledges that there is a process, and that change is hard work. We're supposed to wake up on January first, yawn cinematically, and start being Father Of The Year.

Apparently, according to my mother (after a particularly effective harangue re: sleeping until noon), it takes about three weeks to create a new habit. I'm not sure I totally believe that, but it seems attractive in January. That's the time of year when everything seems frozen solid - habits, the sidewalk, your love life - and creating a gym-going ray of sunshine could be only 21 days away! But how often does that really happen? Because I can think of about two things in the past five years that happened as a direct result of doing them consistently for three weeks. Getting trim and slim was't one of them.

I think this year, if I go to the gym, it won't be because I said I would feel bad if I didn't; it'll be because I'll feel good if I do. Same with things like giving up drinking and not hemorrhaging money like a goddamned burst artery: better if I don't, not bad if I slip up. I can be a bit (okay, hugely) neurotic and perfectionistic, so trying this little mental exercise could be really beneficial.

I mean, of course I'm still going to make the damned list. I'd be making a list anyway, regardless of whether or not I wrote any of it down. Will I post it on the internet? Nope. This sucker is purely for me. I'll spill the beans on topics like how often I flirt with babies and what kind of pets I like (more than you'd think and none, respectively), but my New Year's resolutions are for my eyes only.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sing A Song For Love

Aside from all the heartbreak, destruction, life-shattering and tears they cause, breakups suck because they ruin all the songs you've liked for the duration of the time spent with your former flame. You're forced to choose between completely overhauling your iTunes library, or surprise weeping as your suddenly sentient and sadistic mp3 player decides to hit you with "Nothing Compares 2 U" while you're riding the escalator at the mall.

I remember right after my first real holy-shit breakup, which ranks as a complete bag of garbage in the house of my life, that "Hey There Delilah" song was suddenly everywhere. If you've never heard it, it's this earnest little tune about a couple who decide to tough out long-distance. The dude is strumming his acoustic love. It's a little saccharin but generally pretty sweet. Unless, of course, you've been recently dumped, in which case the Plain White Ts (alternate name: the Plain White One-Hit Wonders) are both fucking mind readers and also out to get you.

I was thinking about this, because, like a lot of people who had relationship drama in the mid-2000s, the Imogen Heap song "Hide and Seek" is sort of an emotional anthem. It's a gorgeous song all on its own, but coupled with the heightened state falling in and out of love can produce in a person, it became this ur-song in the pantheon. "Hide and Seek" could be about anything - I sometimes picture a natural disaster in the vein that Roland Emmerich would produce - but when you're dealing with cheating and dumping, like I was, the song is about you and your situation. Duh.

Lately, I've been listening to a bit more Imogen Heap/Frou Frou, and every time it comes on, I'm reminded of both the bad feelings and the road out of Crazy Breakup Junction into Ifeelalittlebetterville. The songs have changed, man! It's sonic evolution! Damn, I sound like I'm about four tokes away from a van ride to Burning Man. But instead of just deleting the shit out of those songs, I took them back. That kind of self-work isn't always successful; I had to relinquish Silverchair's "Straight Lines," which is a decent song that was 100% attached to the ex-boyfriend. But for the most part, music's healing properties can work wonders on single-fied dude or dudette in the throes of a breakup-related meltdown.

I think it's fascinating that you can take a painful song and turn it into a song about empowerment. Transforming a traumatic musical interlude - and yeah, there is such a thing, and some people will never be able to listen to the Muppet Show theme song without bursting into tears - into a personal narrative about triumphing over a terrible time in a person's life and becoming a stronger, more balanced person who hasn't traded her brain for a three-and-a-half minute-long chunk of radio time is awesome. Regardless of what they are, I dare you to make a playlist of the songs that were "ruined" by a breakup or an ex and see how you feel now when you listen to them. I bet you feel a small sense of wonder, as if you can barely remember the person you were when you decided that they were ruined in the first place.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Xmas Spirit

Now is the time of year when people take to sighing and saying things like, "I'm so glad there's snow," as though snow is what makes or breaks the Christmas time. Or mock-pulling out their hair and hissing, "I haven't finished my Christmas shopping," because we all know that gifts are the most important part of the festive season. Or sardonically lifting their shopping bags and saying, "I just don't have enough time," which is true, especially since people waste so much time kvetching about their lack of minutes in a day.

I am not pro-Christmas. I'm not anti-festivities, but the whole brouhaha over the red-green-and-white is kind of garish and weird. I had a talk with my mom the other day, who was hurt that, if she didn't put up Christmas decorations (and she does an amazing, tasteful job of decorating every year), that I wouldn't be moved to, out of tradition/holiday joy. And I wouldn't. I like certain aspects of the holiday season - the family, the meals together, the winter wonderland walks, the visits with old friends - but there's a lot of stuff about this time of year that really grates.

For example. I love my family and my folks are amazing people, but coming home for weeks at a time is a huge disruption on my schedule. "Oh, boo hoo," I can hear you saying. "Poor little match girl, with the schedule-distruption and the crying. Waaaah." Look, I'm not saying that coping with a different dinnertime makes me some kind of hero - I'll leave the heroing up to Disney princes, thanks - but it is stressful. Having people cook for me takes away the control I had over the food I eat, and sorry, but that is rough times. I've lived on my own for the past three years, and I've come to be, well, sort of a picky eater. This extends to dinnertime, which often coincides with the news. My parents' place? Six o'clock. Mine? 11:30. See? Different. And we can all agree that change is hard.

This is a depressing time of year. Hello, the winter solstice is, like, four days before Christmas. These are the shortest, coldest, windiest days of the year, and while whoever thought to plunk a festival down in the middle of the short, windy, cold days and make it about giving and the birth of the Saviour probably deserves at least a piece of Toblerone, it doesn't detract from the fact that, after the whole Santa season, we're still mired in that cold, windy, short-dayed season.

I guess part of it is the whole ridiculous commercialism of it all. I'm pretty isolated from the real burning core of it, since I don't have kids or shop in malls all that often, but it seems like every holiday that gets its own seasonal crap at Shopper's Drug Mart has a marked tendency to annoy the living shit out of me. Valentine's Day? You bet. Hallowe'en? Yup. Saint Patrick's Day? Oh yeah. Christmas is the big offender, though, since its "season" extends from early November until the last of the discounted chocolate Santas are sold in January.

My favourite holidays are the ones that are about family and getting together. Simcoe Day is an especially good one, since it combines the summer, family, and the joys of taking a day off work because the goverment tell you to. That rules. Plus, Popsicles are awesome. Plus, there are very few commercial takes on things like Canadian Thanksgiving - sure, maybe a harvest wreath or a pumpkin ale, but that's so minor compared to the H-bomb that is Christmas decorations. Maybe it's because this is ostensibly a religious holiday, but it certainly doesn't feel like a godly time of year. I associate religion with times of reflection - faith, the nature of the world in which we live, piety, etc. The Venn diagram overlap of "religious days" and "days when it's acceptable to cut a bitch for a Tickle Me Elmo" shouldn't be as large.

But that's the world we live in. I guess I need to come to terms with the fact that I will always be slightly freaked out by Christmas, and learn how to play along because my family and friends generally do. The nature of the solstice, by far the more understandable holiday in December, is about renewal and cyclical rebirth: the days can only get better/longer/warmer from here. Christmas is the same. The days can only be what we make of them - more about family, more about friends, more about growing into adult relationships with both. So, Merry Christmas and all that, and here's hoping the holiday season is all that you want it to be.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Little Kids, Big Babies

There's a definite interest in my house recently in the concept of childhood. Not children - I'm no pederast, dude - but the ways in which our early lives shape the people we become. I was reading the recent New York Times Magazine profile of my former future boyfriend Spike Jonze (he is seriously so cute, still, and was ridiculously easy to love in Three Kings), and what struck me was the the importance Spike and his team placed on replicating the sweaty, blurry, tearful and unsettling parts of being a kid.

It's not like I had a horror-show childhood - I hit all my developmental targets right on cue, I had loving (if slightly perplexed) parents, and was invited by several of the fifty-odd Jennifers I went to elementary school with to join in on book clubs and birthday parties. On the other hand, I remember almost none of this. Childhood, to me, is represented by a series of out-of-context moments: ice skating at the Calgary Olympic Stadium, for instance, or playing an uncoordinated fifth grade version of lacrosse. It's totally possible that most of my memories are dreams I had. Who knows? I remember the overwhelming flavour of being a kid was one of waiting: waiting to get older, waiting for adults to give permission/rides/meals/discipline, waiting for privacy, waiting for my taste in music to improve, waiting for the all-important control of the car radio. And then when I got control, privacy, and a Totally Hair Barbie, I promptly forgot that I had ever wanted for them in the first place.

So. When S.Jonze says he wants to replicate the experience of being nine years old on the big screen, I can only shrug my shoulders in bemusement. I'm not the only one who can only guess at the experience of being a child, because a couple of my pals will cop to the very same failing. I guess we're not destined for greatness, however, since total childhood recall seems like a requirement for any creative type out there. Coming to terms with, and representing, your own personal kunstlerroman, seems to be priority #1 for any budding auteurs out there, second only to the stop-motion music video. Artists, especially writers, are constantly plumbing the depths of their terrible/riotous/possibly imaginary childhoods for best-selling memoirs and slightly fictionalized stories. Even Maurice Sendak, the author behind the admittedly moving and gorgeous source material Where the Wild Things Are for the movie that scored Jonze that cover story in the first place, admitted that his children's fable was heavily influenced by his own childhood.

This type of magical thinking will usually earn the pontificator a big fat Bronx cheer from yours truly, but I like Sendak and Jonze and so I'll give 'em a pass. I'll defend my childhood-non-remembering honour by positing that childhood comes in a variety of forms, and in some ways, I'm still a little girl. I'm still afraid of spiders and the dark. I still hate green soups and sandwich crusts. I'm still shy around new people and not exceptionally great with change. I still revel in goofy things like great names or creepy fancy dolls. I'm not alone in my recalcitrance: I have friends who are into their parents' music or pirate ships. I have pals who basically live in treehouses. Hell, I still refer to people as "pal," a term last seen in an Archie comic as Reggie was threatening Archie with a sock in the jaw.

The fact that my vocabulary is equally influenced by Riverdale's best-loved playboy and David Foster Wallace means that I don't have to rely on my childhood recollections (and lack of same) as the primary focusing lens in the creative process, and I wish that media sources would lay off the assumption that the Peter Pan complex somehow engenders a striking creative vision. It's possible to be creative and still get over your childhood. I believe in the power of the creative adult to speak the language of, you know, grown-ups.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tight One On

When he was much, much younger, my now-handsomely adult brother used to give my mom tights. Every Christmas and birthday, he would proudly hand over a new pair or two, the rest of us would grouse about the predictability of it all, and she would graciously thank her toddler child, who was probably attracted to the bright colours and knew that, as a small child, legs were the most promininent feature of the visual field.

If I was a creepier older sister, I would crack wise about a nascent lingerie fetish, but that's so far offside that I wouldn't be able to see the side any more. Since, for once, I'm erring on the non-disgusting side of the mind - that would be the left side, probably - let's talk tights.

Much like cruiser-style bikes and fingerless gloves, tights are the perfect seasonal bridge. With cruiser bikes, you can coast into winter knowing you're upright and your brakes aren't quite as likely to crap out on you mid-yellow light. With the fingerless gloves, you retain your beer-bottle-opening dexterity and warmth into the chilly season. And tights provide the perfect way to showcase both your summer miniskirts and the leftover thigh muscles you earned through the aforementioned bicycling. They're all throwbacks and promises: remember when things were nice? Think they'll ever be nice again? God, I hope so.

On the especially chilly winter days, I like to layer up with two pairs of tights: one solid, one fishnet, for added warmth. Yeah, I know that's like putting on my finest mesh parka and claiming to be "totally toasty," but the teensy bit of added fabric makes a huge difference. I hate wearing pants (I'm the author of the permanently hiatused comic book"A Jihad Against Pants"), and prefer almost any other option. Short shorts? Bring 'em on. Summer dress? Obviously. Snow pants? I do make an exception there, since snowpants are inherently funny and totally awesome during urban blizzards, if only for the quizzical looks from the sushi resto staff. But tights + skirts + winter is usually a winning combination, of nothing more than it keeps me out of pants.

Despite American Apparel's attempt to sex up tights even more - Dov, they're skintight sheer pants with built in socks; the fetish is already there - by making an assless version, tights have a noble and lengthy history of being for the horsey, poncey set. They also have a variety of sordid cousings, like leggings, which are pretty much the sole domain of Professional Tragedy Lindsay Lohan. I'll be sticking with a nice, classy tight. Sure, the fishnet might add a little sass to the mix, but it's not like my ass is hanging out of my pantyhose. (Sheesh.)

Tights are just one of those little things, those seemingly unimportant details that make both a day and an outfit that much better. In the winter, when the days are short and the wind is just a-howlin', sexy miniskirts bring the mind to summer. Maybe my tot-sized bro, who was gifting my Scorpio mother during her personal high holidays, recognized the shot-in-the-arm value of a brightly coloured pick-me-up during the year's least skirt-friendly months. Or maybe he just really like legs. Either way, I'm feeling it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Toronaissance

I've been sort of up in the air lately, what with the impending graduation from university/getting of a real life that's hanging, Damocles-like, over my head. At first I was like, "I'll do grad school!" but, what with my terrible grades and questionable work ethic, I think grad school is going to have to wait until I have some modicum of self-discipline. Then I was like, "Maybe I'll go out West!" but, like with the '49ers, the rush for gold that may not be there isn't that stable. And by "gold," I mean, obviously, "cash money." Then I was like, "I'll go to Africa!" but it took me about 45 seconds to regain my senses and remember that I'm not that adventurous; volunteerism is awesome, obviously, but I'm not into getting eaten to death by the wildlife.

So, where does that leave me? It leaves me where I am now. It leaves me in Toronto, working towards a career in housing (if I have my way) or writing (if my mom can wrestle me into co-operation), or being a professional bum and money-ower (I'm amateur right now, what with OSAP and all). It leaves me having a tiny love affair with Toronto these days.

Oh, sure, the other day I was railing against the winter - we were in the middle of a cold snap that made me question my allegiance to Canada - but generally speaking, there's no other city I'd rather live in. Toronto is urban without being totally insane, with decent transit, great neighbourhoods, an active municipal government, a bitchin' park on the lake, tasty eats, great shopping, the foremost in current fake penis sculptures, good jobs, a variety of loud-'n'-proud scenes (bike, queer, sports, whatever), and

I know Toronto isn't perfect: the architecture can be terrible, the winters are grey and lame, and apartments are expensive. Even if I get into a housing co-op (oh yeah, living the dream!), it's still pretty pricey to live and work in the downtown core. However, there's nowhere else I want to be. Where else am I supposed to live? Milton? Oakville? Jeez Louise, that seems terrible. I love urban living, especially in Toronto, where core-dwellers still have access to things like groceries not bought from a bodega. The energy, the very Canadianess of the place, is so fun to be in. Whenever I go my parent's place, the small-town vibe is almost oppressively quaint; granted, my hometown is designed to be charming, and the encroaching seediness from outlying parts of town is especially disconcerting given that Stratford gives every impression of having some secret social eugenics program designed to obscure and weed out anyone not attractive/rich enough to mug for the limelight.

So, leaving the small town and coming to the Big Smoke was a good move, eventually, though the culture shock was actually fairly acute. After a while, though, adjustments were made and I got used to living in a bustling, vibrant place (which took a surprisingly long time, actually); I found friends and a passion, favourite places to be, libraries, restaurants, magazine shops and patios...all the hallmarks of a cosmopolitan city. Not to mention the chance to get outside of that small-town vibe, to create my own priority list. I have access to things that just don't exist the same way in other places: the Leslie Street Spit, for example, or co-op housing, or bikes. My love affair continues unabashedly.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Winter Tired

Last night, as I was trying frantically to right myself before ultimately sprawling off my bike and into some particularly hand-shredding road ice, I thought to myself, "Maybe I shouldn't bike through the winter." I biked last winter, to the consternation of my parents, who were convinced I was going to die, and occasionally myself, when I was slushed by a Mac truck going around Spadina Crescent.

In fact, I went on to think as my lobster-red hands grasped at a frozen-solid bike frame in a lengthy attempt to pick myself up off the frozen street, "Maybe I shouldn't leave the house until Victoria Day, a scant six months away, and the next time I can look forward to sweating in public."

I am no fan of the winter. Everyone in Toronto is marvelling at the lack of snow this year; we've had one piddly little drop that went hand-in-hand with the aforementioned iciness/hand pain. All my "extreme" friends are whining about how this is going to really mess with the ski season, while all my reasonable friends are whining that this is really going to mess with their regimen of sledding, drinking hot chocolate, and cuddling with their partners. I am more down with the idea of lying on the beach, drinking icy-cold diet colas, and holding hands. I'm not a winter gal.

"But surely there are good things about winter!" I can hear you exclaiming. There are: those things include Toblerone bars and...I've actually been staring at the computer for the past five minutes, trying to suss out a second awesome thing about wintertime. Fail. Sigh.

I'm not a skier; maybe if I was , I'd be more into the whole season. But, I'm a cyclist. Christmas bums me out (too much anticipation, which always spoils the pay-off), the weather is a total drag, my boots get about five times heavier, and patio season is but a distant memory. With other seasons, I can convince myself that it's not such a drag, that 40 degree weather is fun, that I love rain, that the sounds of dead leaves rattling against my third-floor window isn't a creepshow. But winter is 100% dreaded at my house. Nothing delicious is in season, it's cold, and hauling myself around the city is purely annoying.

America gets to have it both ways: they have both Alaska, which is has places named Skagway (hilarious!) and is cold; they also have Hawai'i, which have places named Honolulu (hard to spell!) and is hot as hell. Canada didn't think things through. Oh, sure, we have the North Pole - that's ours, right? - but where is our tropical getaway? If Trudeau was half the genius people thought he was, he would have annexed Cuba and I would be a happier girl today.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Fantastic Misters

Over at the Fug Nation HQ, the girls have been dilligently monitoring George Clooney's progress from smirking, terrible Batman to fox. How apropos that the Cloons, who is known by the people who know these things, as a foxy kind of guy, is now playing a real fox. Even better, he's doing it in a Wes Anderson-directed adaptation of Roald Dahl's book The Fantastic Mr. Fox, thus bringing together three of my favourite pop-culture creating men. Clooney, Anderson, Dahl: The CAD! Wait, that sounds weird. We'll figure out their sassy acronym later.

Let's take them one at a time, shall we? Clooney, being the biggest star for the older-than-twelve set (Dahl being the biggest star in the under-twelve set, of course), used to annoy the living daylights out of me. Remember when ER was huge and George Clooney was starring in those dippy romantic comedies that aren't really all that funny? Yeah, that was annoying, wasn't it? Right around the time of Three Kings, though, something switched. El Clooneria has made an interesting late-career choice to go funny and political, and that movie was the first flick of his that won me over. Since then, he's gone on to star in several Coen productions - generally a win, in my books - and usually plays disgruntled soldiers, bank robbers, or other unsavories. In fact, looking over Clooney's resume since the mid-'90s, there have been few straight shooters; he loves a loopy morality. Maybe playing Batman did something to him after all.

Wes Anderson can also be sort of a hit-or-miss enterprise. His films are generally precious, sometimes working and sometimes not so much. I loved The Royal Tenenbaums, because it's required by law for people under thirty to love it and identify fiercely with one or more of it's characters. (I'm a Margot, thanks for asking, although I aspire to one day be an Etheline.) Same with Rushmore, which perfectly captured the insecurities and arrogance of high school love. Some of Anderson's later works have been...uneven, especially the oddly paced and highly affected Life Aquatic, which wasn't all that good. But I do admire his aesthetic sense, because everything onscreen seems to have a story. His liveliest movies are practically three-dimensional; his flimsiest can barely muster one.

And then we have Roald Dahl. I'll be honest - those illustrations used to scare the crap out of me. Especially those for The Witches, which I read on vacation (in a cottage with strange closets) and which terrified me. His books balance whimsy with sheer pant-shitting scariness, often with bright children fighting off awful adults. I read a piece in the Globe recently about how Dahl wooed children's imaginations by writing about their suspicions that adults are nothing more than overgrown, beastly children, more like than not imbued with power and strength they use only for evil. As a current adult, it's not a flattering portrait, but hey - he called 'em like he see'd 'em. The best adults in Dahl's worlds are crafty, caring and educational: they teach their young charges that the world is going to try to mess with them, and the best ways to mess with the world right back.

So. To combine these three incandescent people into one project, the recently-released Fantastic Mr. Fox, which is plus animation and a lovely warm colour scheme, and which is a children's movie, which I also enjoy (yeah, I know), and those whole thing just seems ripe with the fruits of potential amazingness. I'm not going to oversell it to myself - I learned my lesson with the heartbreakingly mediocre Life Aquatic, thanks - but I do want to see it. Movies that inspire, books that move mountains, children who grow up to be George's a serious case of the warm 'n' fuzzies over here.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bus Stopped

Disclaimer: in no way am I saying that the people who live, work, make sexy times and raise families in the following places are bad people. I am credulous of their eyesight, but the residents of these places are, I'm sure, fine people with some sort of mass ocular disorder that prevents them from seeing the truth.

Which is: Kitchener is a total dump.

Oh, there are lovely pockets of the town. Whatever this is happens to be kind of pretty, in a what's-your-point sort of way. But vast stretches of the landscape are both really unattractive and vaguely offensive, as though the municipal government has thrown its hands in the air and said, "The hell with it, we're moving to Cambridge."

Take, for example, the bus station. It's totally groady, with the filthiest escalator I've ever seen. Think it's weird that I noticed a dirty escalator? This thing is disgusting. The whole building gives me the heeby-jeebies. Bus stations, as a rule, aren't known for their glorious architecture, but Kitchener's seems disreputable; if the building was a person, it would be seedily hanging around on a corner, trying to sell you watches from the lining of its coat. It's ingrained right down to its commuter bar ("Transfers," natch) and the fact that you have to buy Greyhound tickets on the platforms, as in not with the standard issue ticket-counter set up that is, you know, official looking. They keep the tickets in one of those Thermos lunch bags, as though the tickets need some sort of heat engineering. The whole thing seems unorthodox, and possibly illegal.

Taking the bus through Kitchener is one of those OMG-what-is-this-place deals. All the restaurants located in strip malls; the entire city seems to be housed in car dealerships. If aliens landed in beautiful downtown Kitchener, they would assume that humanity is powered, not by the sun, but by painful fluoresent tubes and pad thai. Across the street from the bus station, there is a tattoo parlour - nay, a former tattoo parlour, since it appaears to have gone out of business some time ago - named "Stray Katz." That's terrible.

This type of endemic ugliness isn't native to Kitchener's soil. It infects all kinds of small cities - Kitchener, along with Saskatoon and Burnaby, is home to about 200,000 people - especially places with an impverished downtown core and seeping sprawl along the outer rim. The downtown kind of looks like one of those "flea markets" that sell Confederate-flag bandanas and bootleg DVDs, and the sprawl is filled with big-box stores and Galactus-sized movie theatres.

I'm not demanding that Kitchener suddenly thrust a fat wad of cash into its downtown. It could start small - like the bus station, which is the pits, and unfortunately one of the transit hubs (and therefor public faces) of the city. Maybe small cities need to be more aware of their zoning outlook. Sure, Costco et al brings jobs into the area...but what kind of jobs? Low-paying, vest-wearing jobs that people need to drive to. It's kind of a losing situation all around.

Anyway, I'm just venting. I'll continue to travel through Kitchener, since it's a spoke on my wheel o' travel. I just wish the time spent there was just a little prettier to see.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Procrastination Is A...Wait For It....

End-of-term anxiety is a tough monster to beat. I, of course, am a total procrastinator, and as such, consistently ruin my own life every four months. I think this is one of the curses of the smart kids - I was going to be modest, but at this late hour, why bother? - because we're told for a number of years that we're awesome. And then we get farted out into a university system that doesn't care about our awesome sparkly specialness. It's demoralizing. I'm demoralized. I'm bummed.

In high school, at least your teachers talk to each other. This can be a drag for that one kid who started a garbage can fire in the first week of grade nine, and is now branded (probably not unreasonably) "a troublemaker." For the rest of us non-pyromaniacal peeps, however, the interteacher convos can be kind of nice: teachers know what's up. In university, I've had to go, sick as a dog, to a bunch of classes to explain why my feverish flush is not the result of some hot-for-teacher crush but a medically terrible day. Or explain that, since I've just returned from a funeral, my mind had wandered off the upcoming assignment. Things like that - things that make me feel like a jerk who's somehow let them down.

Even more frustrating is the sense that, since I'm paying gobsmacking amounts of cash to be there, the more prickly teachers are such pricks. I've had debates about whether or not post-secondary should be free. As a current student, and one who is interested in not graduating with an assload of debt, I'm firmly on the "yup" side of that debate. Making it free would also sort of justify the jerkiness of the system as a whole: at least when I'm peeved about a lousy mark that I worked for, at least I'm not also annoyed that said lousy mark cost me a couple hundred bucks to earn.

To be fair, most of my lousy marks don't come from some stray teacher holding a bullet with my name on it; they're a result of my deeply ingrained tendency to procrastinate. I'm not lazy (well, I'm not really lazy), but I am a perfectionist. I tend to rationalize my procrastination by saying, "Well, if I had really put in the effort, I'd have done a bang-up job...but this is good enough, since I did all my work for the term in seven hours. Now, let's all drink a beer." It's not so good for the soul. Or, actually, the liver. But I would say mostly the soul.

Even if I know why I procrastinate, it doesn't make it any easier to stop doing it. I resent when people tell me to man up and get to work, because that's about as effective as commanding my hair to stop growing. It's just a part of who am I. Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a system that allows me to thrive with the procrastination/perfectionism dyad that wrecks me so hard...especially since all my I'm-smart confidence goes right out the window once I'm deeply into a late, sure-to-be-horrible project.

Fortunately, as the song suggests, big wheels keep on turning (turnin'!), and this Proud Mary keeps on burning (burnin'!), and the second hand keeps making its sweeps. What I'm trying to say is that time heals all procrastination wounds, since the work either gets done by the due date or it...doesn't. It usually does, and while I'm not averse to handing things in late, I like to at least offset the chance of bad lazy-work grades by getting the suckers in on time.

Still. It's hard on the soul. Not to mention the distressing trend in some of my classes to base marks on things like attendance and vocabulary terms instead of things like essays and comprehension. Because comprehension doesn't need me to actually go and spend three hours in an uncomfortable chair, listening to the deranging clickettes of a hundred laptops being typed on. I rarely write essays that are truly terrible, and I resent being told that I have to sit still and listen in order to avoid doing so in the future. Procrastination, I see you. What I need is some anticrastination. Do they make that?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Secret Pleasures

Living alone has its benefits, not least of which is the chance to be as naked as possible as frequently as possible. (Another is peeing with the bathroom door open, but this really isn't going to be about bodily functions, I swear. But it is nice.) But the best thing about living alone is the chance to indulge in all the secret pleasures that otherwise would need to be smothered in the interest of, you know, living in polite society.

For example: I enjoy stand-up comedy. A lot. I mean, I have seen my fair share of Just For Laughs, the seminal and usually hilarious Canadian comedy showcase out of Montreal and rerun 84 hours a week on the Comedy Network. I'll rent stand-up comedy specials by comics that other people are bored by: Jim Gaffigan, he of the Hot Pockets jokes and blinding whiteness, or Russel Peters, the it's-okay-I'm-racist-'cause-I'm-brown comic. I know these people are celebrities, but in a very particular, nerdy way. I am clearly a member of the Nerd Tribe, however, and indulge myself as such.

Anther secret pleasure I can only really enjoy alone is my huge number of baths. I am a bather. Showers? Meh, and I'm sure my friends can attest to my high score on the stinkiness battles. (Those battles are disgusting, FYI.) But baths? - baths are ridiculous. I take, like, nine a week. I think it combines some of my favourite things: hot tub-like spaces, reading, and being naked. Win-win-win.

Secret pleasures don't have to be a strictly house-bound game. One of my personal joys is dining out - or in, since the person who developed the take-out container is, in my opinion, worthy of at least a Nobel prize. Magazines are another delight, as is playing solitaire on my iPod, and playing Bad Outfit with friends while in line for the bathroom at bars. I love sequined shirts, short-shorts, graffiti, duvets, the smell of new books, really cold Coke Zeroes, petty thievery when drunk, and scoping out bikes on the street.

The thing about keeping a personal blog is, some of those secret pleasures aren't so secret any more. I write a lot about myself and my interests - hey, as your high school English teacher probably taught, write what you know (they probably also taught you about Freytag's Pyramid, which you heard about 95 times in fours years of high school, never knowing the name, until it was reintroduced amongst great internal groaning in your totally horrible Fantasy and Horror class in university and you were docked marks for forgetting the name of the Pyramid, which, frankly, never seemed all that important until said marks were docked, provoking a great gnashing of teeth and rumpusing of spirit, because seriously, that class was frustrating and gave you the first C- you had recieved in, like, three years, which is totally stupid because you're practially a professional English major at this point. Maybe this didn't happen to you specifically. Maybe another secret pleasure I have is hyperbole. There are a lot of hypotheticals going on here), and what I know is myself. If I knew a lot about ancient Egypt, say, or animal husbandry, I'd write about those. As it stands, I'm not totally clear on what animal husbandry is. I'm pretty sure it's not dressing up livestock in formalwear, but that's what I think of. Every time.

While the people who fought in World War Two are known, not without their own sense of the hyperbolic, as "The Greatest Generation," I would posit that people who are currently living and breathing and, for the most part, not fighting off the Red Commies or what-have-you, might be known as "The Indulgent Generation." Oh, I'm not indicting anyone but myself. The Craig Kielburgers of the world aside, my peers and I are a pretty self-obsessed. I might make the argument that our technologies have allowed us to monitor ourselves with ever-increasing levels of mania, but that's more of a symptom than a disease. We love to talk about ourselves.

Okay, maybe not as much as the alleged Me Generation, whose pop-culture legacy, despite having great sports apparel and hilarious moustaches, consists pretty much of Classic Rock and the invention of cocaine - sometimes both at once. Or Generation X, which incorporated the medicalization of every known personality failure into their self-obsession. People who are jerks do not have "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." They're just jerks. My generation loves to blab: we twitter, update our statuses, and overshare to the max. We're so good at telling each other way too much that "TMI" has become a standard phrase, like NASA, or DTMFA.

Our secret pleasures? Not so secret. I propose a thought exercise: search your brainpan for one thing you've never told anyone you enjoy. Masturbating outdoors? Dipping your fingers into barrels of dried beans? Vintage slides starring your parents in their awkward honeymoon phase? Paper-mache? The feeling of fresh, fluffy towels? Dusting your television set? Static electricity? Whatever it is, think on. Turn it over in your head. The word "mull" is appropriate for the activity I'm describing. Now, take that secret pleasure and never tell anyone. Save it; make it just for you. Don't update anything or take a picture. Preserve a little something that makes you happy in a weird, fleeting way. Your secret pleasures may change through the years, but the ability to keep something secret should last a lifetime.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Plan for the Future

Man, I am just nerding out a little vis-a-vis all this New Urbanism that Toronto is grooving on. I went to class today and this Charles Campbell fellow was talking about all the ways his citizens group is trying to mess with the new development along West Queen West. Having tried, for last three years, to squeeze blood from a stone re: housing, money, power, respect for our little housing co-op that could, it was super gratifying to hear of even modest successes in the fight against the glass tower'd landscape that's infecting Toronto the Good's downtown core. Plus, with the Richard Florida interview in the last issue of Spacing talks about how, while LA has film and New York has - what? everything, I guess - Toronto has this rep as a burgeoning proponent of the New Urbanism school of thought that makes me gleeful.

New Urbanism, for the unconcerned or ignorant, is a school of thought that basically prioritizes residents (those of who work, live, move and shop within the city walls) over the concerns of things like cars - which led to the ultimately defeated Spadina Expressway proposal - or the fake-landed-gentry, big lawn, big garage, total bullcorn that leads to projects like, oh, all of suburbia. It likes its architecture modestly futuristic, its foodstuffs local, and its streets walkable. New Urbanism is not without its detractors - there are problems with how much it costs to integrate all the expensive facets of NU into a workable site (you know how transit systems cost money? Yeah) - but it's really captured the imaginations of a generation of regional planners, city councillors, and urban dwellers.

The nice thing about this moment in urban design is that Toronto's been leading the guard for a while. Ever since Jane Jacobs blew a raspberry at New York City and started working in Toronto, we've had a smug little cachet of people who have claimed her as a personal saviour. While Jane Jacobs did not, in fact, save lives, she was huge in the 1970s in putting the stop-work order on a variety of ill-advised projects (the aforementioned Spadina Expressway), as well as ones that, in hindsight, might have been a case of good idea/bad timing. In any case, much like a reverse Michael J. Fox, Canadians got to gloat over an American made good on our turf.

Despite the recent uglification of some of Toronto's downtown (ROM? OCAD? AGO? BARF.), during which Borgian structures have had their way with unassuming older buildings, there's also been a real effort to promote Toronto as a city people can actually, you know, live in. Section 37 projects, which trade a developer's desire for more height/units/penile surrogates for community benefits like low-income housing, parks, libraries, and so on. While it's sort of lame that the city isn't funding those projects themselves, I'll takes what I can gets. Section 37 brings subsidized housing to the downtown core, parks to the financial district, and, maybe someday, waterslides to the elderly.

Even if I wander off the road labelled "urban planner" in favour of the path labelled "co-op developer" or the trail of breadcrumbs through the underbrush called "writer," it's exciting to live in a city where community design is something the community actually talks about. With the advent of Spacing (full disclosure: I'm doing an internship there), a network of active and chirruping neighbourhood associations, and an explosion of development in the past ten or fifteen years, Toronto has a chance to create a space for itself on the world stage as a leader in best-practice consideration while it develops its communities and businesses. Man, it's going to be exciting to watch Toronto either shine or fail. I vote shine.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Friends Are Friends

It's a goofy thing to admit, but I sort of miss the Friends.

Cast your mind back, if you can, to the late 1990s. Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were still married. Angelina Jolie was starring in such classics as Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which was one of those films that was a total WTF moment in most people's lives, if they even noticed it in the first place, which most people, to be honest, did not. There was no such thing as the critical flop and destroyer of career worlds known only as Joey. It was, as they say, a simper time.

While Friends is no ground-breaker, the series itself was charming and shockingly well-executed. The characters - dimbulb Joey, kooky Phoebe, nerdy Ross and all the others - were well developed and genuinely funny. Most women I know (the ones between 20 and 35, at least) can solidly point to one of the male Friends as their "type." Most of the dudes I know can point to all three of the female leads as being "babes." I think while most people started off as Chandler girls - he brought the funny! everyone loves the funny! - by a few seasons in, Matthew Perry had started mugging so hard you could fill him with coffee. Chandler was so easier typed that it sort of became lame. Well, lame for him: it allowed David Schwimmer and Matt LeBlanc to shine that much brighter. By the end, even though he was a dork, Ross was America's Favourite Dork.

Friends is one of those shows that sort of defined a generation of TV watchers. Oh, sure, Seinfeld was hilarious and off-beat and cutting edge; they played fast and loose with TV rules and rooted the show in some slightly off-kilter alternate universe. For that, they won a bajillion awards and became one of those intensely quotable shows that still shows up in daily conversation (see: master of my domain). However, I feel like, because Seinfeld was just slightly out of our world, Jerry, Elaine, and the rest of the gang were a little alien. Friends, on the other hand, peopled its universe with characters who were slightly larger than real life, and therefore imminently relatable.

If you go back in time, Friends followed a time-honoured tradition that was probably started by Gilligan's Island, honed to a fine (if mostly asinine) point by Three's Company and indelibly stamped by Cheers: they were all about friends who argue, hang out, date and make the funny. While shows like I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch and The Simpson used the family as the driving trope, Friends made space for the self-created family, the friend group, to really shine.

While neither the show nor the genre is perfect - sitcoms, as a rule, can grate, and by the end of its 10-season run, Friends was getting a little Byzantine in its hooking-up flowchart (and, quick sidebar: what is it about flowcharts that makes them rule so hard?) - the show worked really well. The writers and the actors all knew their characters inside and out, making episodes like "The One With Ross's Teeth" sucessful as both stand-alone episode that your average person can watch on TBS with only a hazy recollection of the show, and as part of a larger narrative wherein the thrice-married Ross Gellar is unlucky in love and not a slammin' stud with the lady-types, which produces much comedy over the years.

I might be overselling the point a little, but I think that Friends is in the top five or six shows produced in the last 20-odd years. Rivalled seriously by only and Seinfeld, The Simpsons and The Office in terms of character-driven comedy, Friends was consistent, semi-sweet humour with a huge side order of relatability and humour. As such, I miss it. If that's lame, I'm fine with it: there's a lot of TV out there in the world, and I like the stuff that makes me feel good.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

It's A Series Of Tubes!

I am in a serious rut. Oh, sure, I've kvetched before about my apparent lack of motivation re: obsessions (although my mom rightly pointed out that I may have, ahem, fixed that), but in terms of time spent surfing the various screens, I'm losing my touch.

Oh, sure, I still love me some CSI: Someplace, especially when Eddie Cahill gets all drunk on the subway, and I'll still sit down for the old Jon Stewart and his Daily Show - a stalwart favourite since 2002 - but TV, when you only get two channels, means watching a lot of local news. The local news is always some lead story about: the dearth of/apparent unsafeness of the flu vaccine; a massive local fire; some boneheaded thing Americans are doing; a shooting. Then it's weather, sports, and a feel-good story about a local kid made good. Then I have my nap.

It's the same on the internet. I regularly read, like, three websites: Go Fug Yourself, to which I am fully and completely addicted; XKCD, which I remember to check maybe once a week; and Cracked, which, given the chance, I'll read everything they post. Dudes: this isn't enough. Wither the funny Youtube videos? Where is my addiction to online TV? How come I can't find anything new, anything fresh, anything that hold my interest for longer than a few months? My cultural currency is like, a peso.

I guess it's okay that I'm not totally addicted to the Next Big Thing on the internet, since I don't have an at-home connection and am loathe to spend hours in Robarts, which gives me a headache and makes me hungry. But I still feel a little out of cultural touch - it makes me wonder how I'm going to cope with I'm older. I mean, the things that grew up when I was growing up include: home computers, cell phones, digital cameras, Discmans (Discmen?), iPods that shuffle songs when you shake them, talking to your car, phones that fit inside your damned ear, hologram newscasters, and making long-distance phone calls on your computer.

Do I own any of those things? Nope. I am so technologically ill-adapted at this point, when someone hands me an iPhone, I return it and demand a phone with numbers. I can't work this shit. I have been alive for 26 years. What the hell am I going to do when I'm in my fifties? I can't drive a regular car; how I am supposed to drive my flying car?

In a way, it's a relief not to keep up with the trends; if something's really important, people will tell me about it. Like the Beyonce video that everyone spazzed about this summer. It sort of clears the path of all the look-at-me crap that's out there competing on 456 different channels and a zillion websites. With a DVD player, a stereo system and a land line, we can figure it all out, and still have time for a nap.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Mash Up My Heart

Who can resist the concept of the mash-up? Take two seemingly disparate things, gloop 'em together and make something genius. For example, Bert & Ernie and gangsta rap. That's a classic. Or pickles and ice cream: for those about to gestate, we salute you. There are some things that don't go together well at all, like children and PETA, but most of the time, the juxtaposition of two different things can allow one to give insight into the other. Or just reveal a delicious bassline in a C.Walk joint.

I first encountered mashups in my freshman year at U of T, when I lived with one of those boarding-school girls who had been dumped in a dorm when she was twelve. Lots of money + little supervision is one of the world's oldest mashups, so my new gal pal was well-versed in sneaking into clubs and whole genres worth of music that I was ignorant of. 2 Many DJs, authors of the Radio Soulwax phenomenon, were a well-established blend of pop-rock and electro elements when I finally found them. But to me, they were a game-changer. Music became something that was DIY, not officially sanctioned tunes from a band. Music, especially electronic music, was something that could be molded, something that didn't have to be played.

Mashups aren't anything new: for anyone who's interested in the history of awesome beat-driven music, may I recommend the impeccable tome, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life? It's got facts in it! On the other hand, if you're more televisually oriented, I'm going to have to steer you towards a recent episode of my new favourite shame, Glee. (Shut up. It's awesome. Seriously, crazily, shamefully awesome.) The book is full of words about music; the show is forty-three minutes of total insanity. There's singing! Dancing! Fake pregnancies! Cheerleading! The best put-downs this side of the Rio Grande! Strangely familiar-looking leading men! Hot Jews! God. I love it.

That recent epsiode of my new favourite shame Glee (I'm just going to start calling it MNFSG, which is less embarassing and sort of has a NASA-esque tang to it) featured some of my all-time favourite classic plot points on teen dramas: namely, hilarious hijinx with psuedoephedrine. Oh, and Journey. That's right, Journey. She took the midnight train going anywhere? Sing along; I know you know the words. Anyway, the whole show is sort of a mash-up: what happens when nerds and popular kids interact because they, like, want to? Chaos, apparently. Riveting TV.

Glee makes me wonder about American high schools, though. Aside from all the rah-rah-fame-is-everything message that's been old hat since Survivor started its hoary reign an unbelievable nineteen seasons ago, Glee, along with most American media, sends a message about class mobility that isn't really all that, um, truthful. Unfortunately, working hard and trying your best isn't going to net the average kids - and face it, we're all average kids - anything better than assistant regional manager down at the local IHOP. Breaking out of the little box we're in - and, like it or not, we're all in little boxes - and hitching our wagon to the stars is a long shot.

Glee sort of addresses this in its pilot episode, when the quarterback of the losing-est high school football team in Ohio history reminds his knucklehead teammates that they are all losers: that half of them won't go to college, and that maybe two of them will leave the state to do it. Why not try to have a little fun while we're busy being losers? Who gives a damn what's "cool" and what isn't, as long as your heart is pure and your soul is wild and...zzz....sorry.

Okay, yeah, it's still evening-soap melodramatic and therefore 85% unbelievable. But what's really got me hooked is its mash-up qualities: it combines demi-realistic staging and scripting (as much as you're going to get in any other non-reality TV show on the airwaves) with choreographed musical numbers. It splices totally absurd plotlines with with relatively understated acting. It plaits together the amazingly mean and crazy Jane Lynch with the exasperated and unexpected Iqbal Theba. Hello, it actually gets Broadway-style singing and dancing into a network television show. That's weird. And it works. It's a mash-up of the most epic proportions, and like the best mashups, what makes it different also makes it successful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Naming Names

About a year ago, I was at a concert with my mom, and I asked her about names. I said, "If you have to name me now, knowing who I am, having met me, blah blah blah, what would you name me?" According to family legend, I was named after a character in a Paul Newman movie, which my parents saw together and made admiring noises at the name. It is, naturally, spelled differently in the film. I think it's required by federal law to have all spellings of Kaitlyn to be distinct from all others.

After thinking for about, oh, three seconds, my mom proposed "Mary." I refused. "Cella?" I pointed out - correctly - that Cella is a totally made up name and frankly, I've had a lifetime of mystified stares at the spelling and pronounciation of my current name. Saddling me with Cella would have been child abuse. (My mom has a history of lusting after unusual names. Had my brother been born a girlchild, he would have the inappropriate-for-kindergarten handle of Anais.) We finally settled on "Scout." Upon hearing this, my sister snorted, "Scout? Fine. Then I want to be called Boo Radley Kochany. That's a bad-ass name." She's not wrong.

The literary highlight of today was reading about Fernando Pessoa, who, according to Harper's, published under 72 different pseudonyms and made up elaborate backstories about all of them. My personal favourite is Alvaro de Campos, a "seafaring, bisexual, naval engineer who wrote Whitmanesque poetry." I mean, please. That leapfrogs right over awesome and into previously undefined areas of total, unadulterated coolness. Pessoa - which translates to "person," which, like, whooo, meta - thought of his alter egos as people who wrote things he, Fernando Pessoa, could not. This is both wonderful and not a little crazy.

I'm jealous of great names. I like collecting them: characters in films, like the fabulous Oseary Drakoulis from The Life Aquatic, or books, like Claudia Kishi. In real life, we have the ridiculously well-named British photographer Rackstraw Downes; also, the Western writer/man's man Cormac McCarthy, who apparently renamed himself Cormac because, presumably, Charles wasn't tough enough. I think my favourite name of all time is Tenzing Norgay, who was Sir Edmund Hillary's sherpa, because it's just fun to say.

Especially for a writer of fiction stories (which I occasionally fancy myself to be), naming characters is a whole crazy kettle of fish. Too insane and you run the risk of making your characters wacky by virtue of their name, which is lazy and trite. Too straight-and-narrow and your brilliant creations feel flat. There are some truly iconic names out there in literature: can you imagine if our childhood classics had been Joanne in Wonderland or Denise of Green Gables or Walter Pan? Yeah, exactly.

Names are important - not as important as good health and shiny hair, but for someone like Mildred Bonk (one of the lesser characters in the Infinite Jest libropolis), it would be hard to argue that a terrible moniker does not beget a terrible life. Fortunately, we rarely confront such a uncontrollably bad name in our real lives - although New Age moms are trying, yo - so most of the time it's just your standard-issue unfortunate name.

Trend names - a tribe to which I belong - are an especial pet peeve of mine, since your children are not going to appreciate being called Tercel and Terrina when they apply for college. Criminal use of "y" (as in Mychael, Kyrsten, Delyla, Lyle, etc.) gets right up my nose; so does the practice of having a child, giving it a stupid name, and then naming its younger sibling something equally brain-injured so that they "match." Socks match. People don't.

Given half a chance - okay, given a baby - I would be flummoxed. I've adored some classic male names for a while (not that you asked, but Henry and Angus, thanks), but am at a total loss for female names. It's hard to be classic without being boring: classic names like Ruth or, let's face it, Mary, don't have a ton of sex appeal. Names should be honest, hard-working and grounded. Name a baby Priscilla and you're just asking for trouble. Pryscylla? I'll just punch you in the mouth. I want earthy, solid names that still convey romance and mystery. Names that evoke classic scenes of adventure, names that don't make a kid lisp, names that would inspire a Jr. or even a III on the end. Above all, names with a total lack of the letter y. Non-negotyable.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Back when I was in high school, I used to get obsessed with things at the drop of a hat. (Actually, one specific hat, which was woolen, purple, and so hideously ugly that, looking at pictures of it now, I can only wonder if I might not be legally blind.) At various points, it was things like Nylon magazine, hip-hop, and the best roof in Stratford to trespass onto, drink cheap red wine, and chill out. For the record, it is - or was - the roof of the TD Canada Trust building, which is multi-levelled, private, and led to me and two friends nearly getting arrested. Long story, but my record remains bland and sans hilarious story of enforced law.

In any case, I've gone through phases of being super-into things that don't make a ton of logical sense, especially in high school. I mean, I was this dorky white girl living in Canada, fronting like I knew the 1980s New York hip-hop scene. In retrospect, that's sort of humilating to admit. But, at the time, it was totally honest: I needed to feel apart from my dorky white Canadian hometown. I've also been obsessed with fancy food, which is easy to do in Stratford, whose downtown seems mostly comprised of bistros; comic books, like the epically amazing Y: The Last Man series that wrapped up last year; housing co-ops, which, like, duh, since I live in one; Judaism (yeah, I know) and, lately, David Foster Wallace, my literary fiancee.

These obsessions serve specific functions: obsessions with fancy food allows me to think about food a lot - something I would do anyway - but frame it in a healthy, abstract way. Being all, "Judaism's so raucous!" opens up the part of my brain that wants community and some sort of religious structure. Thinking on apocalyptic comic books lets me discuss the end of the world to death with my like-minded friends.

Let me underscore that: to death. Two years ago, I spent seven hours a day for three months locked in a van with three friends. We talked pretty much exclusively about housing co-ops, weird science and the end of the world. Good times. Why? Because we were working through a summer where everything about our personal lives and living situations was changing. It felt like the end of the world, but eliding that into comic books made it safe, accessible, easier.

But, aside from the DFW thoughts, there's been a dearth of awesome brainwaves lately. I love having an overarching obsession to think on; otherwise, I just spend a lot of time watching crappy crime shows on TV and re-reading back issues of Jane magazine. It's frustrating, because I can't just decide to get all excited about something or someone - it doesn't work like that. I can't be all, "You know what's awesome? Weight lifting! Man, I was at the gym today, and let me tell you, my clean and jerk is re-donk-ulous. I'm all over this shit!" etc., etc., which would be bizarre and annoying.

Maybe it was so easy to slip into crazy obsessions in high school because there are so few responsibilties. No rent, no grocery bills, school structuring my nine-to-fours, and sexy times are few and far between - no wonder I had all this time to devote to learning all about breakdancing. I could sublimate all my frustrations about not getting laid into Googling breakdance moves. Plus, high school is the part of your life when folks try on different personas and see which ones fit. Apparently, the hip-hop outfit didn't really fit. C'est la vie.

Maybe the brain space I had before has been taken over by real, adult-type concerns, like money/health/relationships, which means that the drawers that were previously reserved for things like "Personal information re: Michael J. Fox" and "Urban legends about Coca-Cola products" have been supplanted by "The last time I paid my credit card bill" and "Holy shit, is that a lump?" and so on.

But I would like to get into something. I'm probably not going to start going to Civil War re-enactments or making small talk at parties about grammar, but that's fine. Maybe triathlons, but they seem painful. I'm very wimpy. Maybe I could expand on existing nerd-files: housing co-operatives are a super-important part of my life, and I could stand to know more. Maybe I could knit a pair of pants or something. But I miss having something to stake a claim to, something that wasn't deadly serious (apocalypse notwithstanding, natch), and getting really excited. I miss the excitement! Help me out: give me something to get effing pumped about?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Zine Queen

Gladstone Hotel, we need to talk. According to your website, you're striving to be a "social and cultural incubator facilitating sustainable and accessible ways of experiencing art, culture, community, and local cuisine." To which I reply: awesome. Incubators? Great. They make delicious chickens, and help with sick babies. I'm pro. Plus, who's going to cop to hating art and culture on Queen West? You can't lob an iPhone without it bonking off a gallery window.

The issue isn't with the idealism; like so many idealistic projects, the Gladstone means well and mostly works. They've hosted soirees like TUFF media events, they have plenty of available wall space for up-and-comers in the art world, and they do love the queers. They're also part of the bad-ass good-doing gang over at Zeidler Projects; the same brains that dreamed up 401 Richmond and 215 Spadina - hubs for Torontonian neato-swell non-profit folks.

While the Gladstone is a totally successful venue when it stays small, their larger events are kind of...gong shows. No disrespect, but I've attended two events in the last four months where the prevailing sentiment of its attendees has been a resounding "Man ALIVE, this place is crowded." First was a Spacing event, which was charming - prizes! - and packed to the rafters. Today, the Gladstone hosted Canzine, which was, as the name implies, a festival for Canadian 'zines.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of "'zines," the end product is usually a self-published/independent document, often highly hand-made, usually with either a personal ("I'm so crazy/lonely/crafty!") or political ("Fuck the government/America/men!") thrust. While it first started out as a music-driven thing - fans making fanzines to talk about bands - the current scene has a wider scope, incorporating fiction, comics, music, politics, how-to's, poetry (epically bad poetry, usually) and reviews. The quality is, shall we say, on a spectrum.

In any case, the 'zineapallooza was not crowded. It was packed: purses everywhere, eighteen-inch-wide aisles, 1" buttons sliding every which way, paper fluttering to the floor, self-ironizing tattoos (yeah, they don't take up more room than the person they're printed on, but damn, clear the visual field a little, right?), and dozens of tiny rooms that required both an entry- and exit-strategy. It was 100% overwhelming, and not helped by the absence of a coat check, a multitude of rooms, both large and small, and the fact that I am eye-level with most people's collarbones. I was annoyed, and I blame the Gladstone.

Dudes! If you know you're going to have a big, gangbustering event, make sure your venue is big enough! Don't be all, "Oh, I'm sure we can fit roughly a zillion people in winter coats into a room designed for 200!" and then be surprised when people are staggering into the lobby looking like they've just been airlifted out of Korea. Your place was too small. And the folks organizing the fest should have known better: this couldn't have been their first rodeo in the space. Seriously, 200 people isn't a suggestion.

Kudos to the Gladstone for trying, and to Canzine for trying, but it was just too small. It wasn't a bust - I snagged a book on bikes and a sweet token for a friend who is weirdly obsessed with Winnipeg. I got to squeeze a bunch of tiny stuffed animals. I got to coo over baby onesies. I leafed through roughly 300 'zines, saw about 140 undernourished hipster dudes, and got incredibly thirsty. The event it fun, the venue is fun, but the combo was too crazy.

Maybe I'll make a 'zine about it. "This just in: girl, 25, expresses crankiness and annoyance on West Queen West. She has been credited with starting a neighbourhood-wide trend of complaining loudly and expressing a desire for an alcoholic beverage. Story on Page 3." See you next year!