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.