Saturday, May 23, 2009

Big Wheels Keep On Turning

In celebration of Toronto's upcoming Bike Month, I'm going to refrain from writing the usual post wherein I nag reckless drivers, write sentimental pap about the joys of biking (ahem), or offer "helpful" tips for cyclists' and the aforementioned reckless drivers' continued co-existence. That's been done about one billion times before, and it's getting to be a snooze.

Instead, I'll call attention to the fact that Toronto has a Bike Month in the first place. How cool is that? The events look wicked: there are breakfasts and group rides, tune-ups and book launches, fundraisers and concerts. It's also family-friendly, which is awesome; it sometimes seems like urban bike culture can be heavy on the road-warrior and lacking in the mom-and-pop side. It's not condescending - it's not a bunch of city nabobs marshalling blocked streets. The month includes events with local businesses and community organizations, so it's being directed by the people who actually, you know, like bikes.

It sometimes feels like city hall pays lip service to the idea of a viable bike community - mounds of horse crap in the bike lane, left by police horses, is exhibit A. Minor improvements that would better the cycling experience for everyone are often left undone, like smoothing out bike lanes, installing contraflow streets, or ensuring ample bike parking in popular areas (seriously, who does a girl have to call to get some ring-and-posts installed around St. Mike's? Oh). It's nice to see some active promotion happening, even as the cops use the month as an escuse to crack down on bike infractions.

Maybe it's because I'm looking for it, but I really do feel like cycling and cyclists are in the cultural zeitgeist. There are at least two relatively new mags specifically for the cycling lifestyle: not, like, weird BMX bikes either, but normal people who just happen to love cycling. The newly established Bikes Without Borders lends a philanthropic air to the festivities, and there's a plethora of bike imagery popping up on tres cute clothes. It seems like a good time to grab your finest steel horse and ride off into the sunset.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Big N

It's time I stopped living the lie I've been telling myself and those I love. I know it's going to be hard, admitting to the world what I've been hiding - sucessfully or not - for all these years, but I truly feel that the only way to inner peace is through honesty, and honesty, as scary as it may be, will set us free. Whew. Deep breath.

Folks: I am a nerd.

I feel better already. Seriously, nerds get such a bad rep on TV and in the movies that it's hard to imagine a glamorous, social and well-dressed person (such as myself, naturally) giving themselves up as a nerd. It'd be like a NASCAR driver admitting that he was really into Tintin or something. Although, aside from the incredibly problematic depictions of every culture that doesn't happen to be Belgium, Tintin sort of rules. (I can't believe it took me so long to admit to nerdery. "Tintin rules"? I practically glow on the nerd radar.)

In any case, now that I'm loud, proud, etc., I need to address the totally false assumption that comic books and sci-fi are lame. Specifically, they're the exclusive lame domain of thick-glasses'd losers who have never seen naked people. True: some fans of SF and sequential art are not, as they say, stellar with the social skills. But to equate appreciation of an awesome show like Firefly with some fundamental loser-ness is a mite unfair.

Look, I'll bite: I'm dig conspiracy theory shows and flying car crap. I know who Michio Kaku is. I love Roberta Bondar. I have read more than one book about the end of the world. I like the CSI franchise for its hilariously bad writing and pretend science. I am invested in some pretty nerdy stuff...yet I myself do not fall into the nerd stereotype. Luck? Maybe. But let's examine the facts.

First: most people have a secret love that they don't easily cop to at cocktail parties. It's cool to be interested in new cell phones. It's less cool to be super jazzed about old episodes of Dr. Who. This is why people have a variety of interests: unlike the televised dorks, real nerds tend to be three-dimensional people. I am interested in all those things up there; I also am invested in topics like Canadian literature, bikes, and radically expensive furniture. Plus (and not to toot my own horn or anything) I'm not an uggo, and I like to talk to people. That helps.

The caveat to this is obviously high school, where it's important that everyone have a little box. Boys who were shy with girls, liked comic books/science/weird porn, and didn't dress "right," got that big N on their chests. Which is a shame, really. So much of high school is trying desperately to be thought of as cool. Sometimes, the easiest way to do that is to put as many miles as possible between those kids and yourself. It doesn't do you any favours, though: submerging your own healthy interest in comic books/science/weird porn in order to seem less like those "dweebs" is actually way lamer than the original interest. It's one of those twisty little lies that do us no favours, like claiming the hostess's Dr. Pepper goulash is delicious. Social, face-saving, soul-destroying lies.

But we're not in high school any more. Pretending to like Lost when you actually think it's a huge snore? Chump. Pretening Cosmo saves your life each month when you're really more of a Spacing gal? Weak. Playing down your real interests so people will think you're someone you're not? What? Why would anyone who's not trying to survive high school do that? Embrace it! If all you get are glazed and uncomprehending looks, then move on! But chances are, there will be someone who likes comic books/science/weird porn as much as you...maybe more. We can all nerd out together.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Oh, Canada-a-a!!

It's no secret that I have a total crush on Canada. This place is amazing: sure, the natural landscape is totally postcard-worthy, and unlike tiny jewel nations (like Switzerland, say), Canada's a huge sprawl of pretty. Canada's a babe, yo.

While our natural good looks are widely acknowledged, our cultural aesthetic gets this rep as boring and back-watery. Apparently, we're the nation equivalent to being a really hot band geek. I mean, sure, Newfies have accents (high-larious! What a boon to lazy American stand-up comics!), and we have some farmers and fishermen. We have health care and like, WAY few guns than other places in the world (rhymes with "Shmamerica"). We like soulful singer-songwriters, literature and hockey. We like gay marriage and we're down with the smoke. No-one except uppity city folk are claiming that Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver are on-par, worldliness-wise, with London, Paris or New York. We're not morons, and we're not what's the deal?

I guess Canada is easily stereotyped. We have more than our fair share of earnestness, ranging from La Atwood to our coffee shops; hell, compared to shiny, imported Starbucks, Timmie's is a pit stop on a country road (actually, Tim Hortons is often literally a pit stop on a country road, all analogies aside). But I think we're only earnest when people look at Canada in an us-vs.-them perspective; "them" in this case being, of course, the US. I prefer to think of my homeland in a more global sense; it also helps to remember that yeah, we were a bunch of hosers at one point. Look how far we've come!

Actor peeps like Sarah Polley often have a grittiness that's totally lacking in airbrushed and glossy Hollywood performers; Canadian movie stars have more in common with across-the-pond stars like Tilda Swinton or Cate Blanchett: complicated, real-seeming people who can act the pants off a scene without even trying. Our national identity is closely tied to sports, the outdoors, and the arts, especially internally: I don't know tons of mondo hockey fans, but I do know a bunch of people who would shed blood to see Sarah Harmer live. Plus, some of my favourite art in the past few years was done by a Canuck: check it out! Haida masks made from Nikes? That's some smart dealing.

It's a fact that Canada's been squeezed on both sides by cultural juggernauts: we sprang from the fertile loins of the British Empire, and we share a border and a lot of head-space with Americans. But then again, so what? Those Brits are back on their island (except between 7:00 and 7:30 on CBC, obviously). Maybe America ain't that far behind. It's time we started making some noise of our own.

Instead of some high-strung country kid who's always a little a little slow on the uptake, Canadians could start thinking of their national identity as Hoser 2.0: we were the people who invented peacekeeping, for Christ's sake. I'm not naive enough to think that everyone's having the same brainwaves as me (my two parents love their three cars, f'rinstance). On the other hand, I don't doubt that it's possible to pimp our socially progressive, beautiful, smart, inclusive nation a little harder out there in the world. Instead of that same old plaid-wearing, beer-guzzling, lacrosse-playing imbecile who seems to be what people think of, let's get some hot young thang out there, reppin' hard for all us Canadians who are effing awesome, eh.