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!