Thursday, December 30, 2010

Our Guest Tonight Is....2011!

I just wrote 253 words of utter hoo-haw about the final days of 2010. I talked about the year in deaths and the year's best albums, and how people feel pressured to drink on New Years Eve, and what happens to your liver when you drink your blood volume in "punch" that you make by adding food colouring to vodka and then wish for sweet death on January 1.

And then I scrapped the whole damn thing, because it was ungodly boring. Look, I like nostalgia and looks back as much as the next gal, but right now, I'd be lying if I didn't tell y'all that I'm ready for the next thing. I sort of wish I was a southern hemisphere woman, because heaping a new, untested year onto the short, chilly winter days seems sort of, like, cruel, but I'll take the fresh, unopened 2011 donuts now, thanks.

So let's chat about all the wicked things we call look forward to in the upcoming months. First of all, we're finally leaving this awkward decade behind. The Aughties? The Oh-ohs? Were we serious? Thank god for the sleek and easy to understand "Teens." Based on Chinese Feng Shui and digital coding legends, along with predictions I'm currently making up right now, I'm positing that the next decade will be a time of great turbulence and change: earthquakes! Sandstorms! Canadian pop idols descending on an unsuspecting world! More flu pandemics! Pantone colours will run the gamut from beige to ecru! It'll be a time of great changes, in which everything basically stays the same, but with more technologies to befuddle the old and the poor.

By the time we get another decade in, I'll be 37 years old - maybe settled, maybe not, with hopefully a higher net worth than my current standing (I'm at minus nineteen thousand dollars, which isn't super inspirational, but whatevs). Maybe a nice spousal-type person, or a couple kids - hell, maybe both! I'm feeling greedy tonight! - and I'm sure a I'll be running really irritating mommyblog about organic baby food and the best ways to roll when Junior blows chunks all over the papaya pyramid at Whole Foods. But also, I hope, with solid relationships with my friends and family, and the ability to ask for help when I need it, and the ability to give help when it's needed. What I look like, what with my unbrushed hair and my potentially fat ass (I come from hearty stock! I'm big boned! I'm really, really lazy!), will hopefully come to matter less and less as I conquer the January-first thing and move more into sane, healthy adulthood. And if not, there're always squats.

The next few years promise to be jazzy and playful, with oakey notes and a sparkling finish. Whoops, sorry: that's tomorrow night's champagne. But 2011 should also be a good time! Global warming brings us spring earlier with each passing year; I'll be refining my prairie girl/zombie fighter ensembles; I'll (probably) move out of student housing and into a big-girl apartment. I'll be able to say the words "my boyfriend" without having an out-of-body experience. I'll travel: my dad has promised me a father/daughter pilgrimage to Lebowskifest, the closest I'll probably ever come to having religious ecstasy. I'll have a paycheck-type job. I'll buy more contact lenses, try new foods, see good movies, kiss, write, bike, eat, drink, make new friends, renew friendship vows with others, and start paying off my horrible student debt.

So I'm not making any resolutions this year. None of this "I'm going to lose fifteen pounds and only eat kale for three weeks" bullshit, because that's punitive and unfun. I vow to be interesting to talk to - last night I had dinner with a man who is not only a tombstone carver, but also a champion sled dog racer, and he was cool as hell - and interested in the world around me. I promise to try new things: a different route to work, a new meal (I ate, like, one hundred burritos in 2010), a small kindness for a stranger. I'll try to take care of myself, both physically and mentally. I'll work on things with my family, who need kindness and guidance and a listening ear 365 days a year. I promise to try, really hard. And I vow to fail sometimes, because I'm going into 2011 the same way I'm leaving 2010: as a human being.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Getting Baked

In the spirit of the do-nothing week between Christmas and ringing in the New Year, I've been baking a lot. Since moving back to Toronto in September, I've been exploring my kitchen in a way I never really did when I lived alone - I'm sure having a boyfriend, who I love cooking for, totally helps, since when I say, "Hey, would you eat shrimp and rice and veggies?" he looks at me like a wolf looks at a baby sheep. That's what's known as motivation.

I love when all my ingredients are lined up on my kitchen counter (and balanced precariously on the toaster). My little third-floor kitchen is tiny, and constantly smells like our green bin, but it's also really cozy and has a pantry, which always makes a huge difference in workability. So I pull out all my ingredients and get to work making grilled cheese sandwiches, or omelets, or Big Salads, or fancy nachos, and I feel nice: I feel like I'm home.

Oh, I'm still a sucker for take-out...but being broke and unemployed also helps curb that expenditure. I went from a sushi/burrito/schwarma person to a girl who thrifts her way through No Frills, so cooking at home, along with being an educational and self-discovering process, is a financial no-brainer. Huge bunches of kale and bags of apples share fridge space with fake meat and loads of Coke Zero, the only vice I haven't been able to shake in the past few years.

But even though my burners are all ablaze and my pantry is stocked, my first love is always baking. From s'mores brownies, which I'm currently obsessed with, to Perry Good Cookies - originally named for a family friend in Calgary, now known as "Kaitlyn's cookies" to friends who agree that they are, bar none, the best cookies in the history of the world - to chocolate-chip banana muffins, preheating the oven and making something sweet and gooey is a great way to express affection, blow off steam, use up skanky bananas, impress your guests, or even play nice with the friends and family. In the spirit of the holidays, I give to you the recipe for Kaitlyn's Cookies, also known as Perry Good Cookies, also known as "are you making those cookies? GOOD. They complete me. You're okay too."

The Best Cookies Anywhere, Ever
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
1 cup butter/margarine
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
  • Mix
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 baking powder
  • Mix!
2 1/2 cups oats (this is one of those things that always tweaks me out. I've made them with everything from instant oatmeal to the classic 15-minute business, and they all seem to work fine.)
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional, and sort of unnecessary)
1/2 cup chocolate chips (or more!)
  • Mix, and place 1/2 inch balls (ha) on a baking sheet. These are flat cookies, so leave some space between them, since they'll spread as they bake. Bake 12-15 minutes, and cool on a plate or wire rack. I have no idea how many cookies this recipe makes, since I always eat a good amount of cookie dough, but I would say probably a couple dozen, at least.
So make these for someone you like, or want to impress, or want to fatten up. Alternately, just stuff the whole shebang into your mouth and pretend this is a good idea. And Merry Belated Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Short Days

You know what's nice? The days are getting longer again. What a huge relief. On Tuesday, I went to a Solstice party in Kensington Market. In previous years, I've marked the longest night of the year by a) doing nothing or b) getting schnockered with my mom. This year, I went to a street party comprised equally of children, hippies, and drunk hipsters, and I have to say, this was kind of a hoot.

I mean, I did my best to carry on the tradition of solstice tipsiness: we had some drinks after the bonfire, including Dieu du ciel's Solstice d'hiver and Great Lakes's Winter Ale. This past summer, I was all about Mill Street's totally drinkable Lemon Tea Ale, but the darker, spicier brews I tried on the solstice felt cozier and warmed the belly (and the blood - the Solstice d'hiver was a whopping 10.2% alcohol, which meant the half-bottle I drank went straight to my head and made me slurry in under ten minutes.)

But that was after. The event itself was a mini-parade of folks and their paper lanterns, leading each other down to Alexandra Park for the bonfire. I suffered with absolutely zero view, although I by the time I left the bonfire, I could tell you everything about the hoods on the coats of the girls in front of my face. Apparently there were fire spinners and native dancers, whose singers I definitely heard, and was thrilled by. I know it's super white of me to be all, "I love Native singers!" without being able to identify, like, specific tribes in that, but y'all know what I'm talking about when I say that, so let's not make each other feel bad. My special friend and I shared a Thermos full of tea and leaned on each other for a better view. And after the cultural expressions, the fire breathers lit up the bonfire, which was in the shape of a raven, and whose light warmed the faces of the entire crowd.

I struggle some in the short days, and I know I'm not alone. My friends Mike and Amanda wake up before the sun rises and leave work a scant fifteen minutes before it sets. Canadians suffer from chronic vitamin D deficiencies in the winter, a result of endless overcast days and less effective sunshine when it does break through. It's hard on people to be stranded in darkness, and endless night, aside from being an up-and-coming horror movie trope, is often a metaphor for death. Sometimes, in the bleak Toronto winters, it's easy to dramatically throw myself down on my mattress and declare, in my best middle-school voice, that I'm moving to New Mexico and I'm never coming back.

Which is a dirty lie. I love Toronto, and I even like winter most of the time. The wind cuts and the snow makes me crazy, but it beats the hell out of summer, which is when I want to move into a walk-in freezer and never come back. Truth be told, I'm at my best in the middle months, when the clocks change and the leaves are doing interesting stuff. I think a lot of people can identify with my not-at-all groundbreaking stance: room temperature is awesome.

But there's something to be said about looking around a crowd of bundled up, chilly people who have come out to bear witness to a long, slow, cold season. I feel better than I have in a long time, and while I know some of that has to do with my new special friend, old friends being around, and generally enjoying the Christmas season, I think marking the solstice definitely helped. So: enjoy the winter season. And think about a crowd of chilly people trying to stay warm together as they wait for the old year to burn away and turning their faces towards the light.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

An Open Letter to Hipsters

It's my 200th post, and since I woke up with a sore throat, I've decided to don my finest pair of cranky pants and tell you all to get off my lawn. So to speak. Or to attack the very premise this blog has been based on. Namely: do hipsters even exist any more?

I mean, okay, yeah, sure, they do. There are plenty of folks with their fingers on the pulse of heart of the scene, or something equally meaningless. Writers and their editors, musicians and their internet admirers, fashion mavens and students, techno-geeks and media obsessives: they're all part of the hipster scene, still, because every generation and every city has its strata of people who are devoted to the New and the Now.

But when Leah McLaren (hiss!) puppy-dog-eyes the hipsters of Toronto's Queen West as "cute...with their porno mustaches, their ironic 8-track collection [and] their penchant for Top-Siders," it's enough to rage-grind my teeth into nubs. She trots out the Brooklyn-and-Berlin demographic, again, as if we haven't all heard about those neighbourhoods and cities as the epicentres of cooldom for the past, oh, decade. It'd be cute if she wasn't behaving like my grandma - this backlash began quite some time ago, Leah - and getting paid handsomely by the Globe to do it. Eye Weekly's Kate Carraway, in her brief survey of 2010's hipster scene, asks why hipsters have been dismissed as frivolous: "why these items and ideas — the straw-man black-framed glasses and who-cares-y-ness and the emphasis on detailed knowledge of art and culture mini-movements — are so potent for, say, half of a generation who have some access to an allowance and the internet. Writing off the unmanageable emotional ennui of the post-coddled, the deadening consumerism that the 1990s wrought and the subtlest class warfare probably EVER — while not even attempting to grasp why Vice's safe anarchy made total sense to millions of teenagers — is a serious Grown-Up Problem."

Carraway raises more of a point than McLaren, although I might just be biased. The whys and wherefores of the hipster isn't an issue rating a thesis statement...is it?

Challenge accepted! I came of age in a time when hipsters were just starting to resurface in pop culture. "Hipster" was previously an old-person word, more attached to the wanderings of Kerouac than the stylish pop music of Vampire Weekend. But as our culture moved into the new millennium, "hipster" started to mean someone who was posturingly cool: Marc Jacobs advertising campaigns, a sneered lip at white-bread teen comedies, more serious pop music. In a post-Britney world, a pair of black-rimmed glasses signified a rejection of all that bourgeois prepackaged bullshit. Ceci n'est pas les Ray-Bans, right? The internet brought emerging trends to the forefront like no tastemaking magazine could - websites devoted to "street style" curated fashionable looks from all over the planet into easy-to-ape slideshows, and the explosion of vintage stores and online shopping meant an escape from the mall's dreary sameness.

And then there's that other thing. I was seventeen years old in 2001, an year that was widely touted as bringing us "the death of irony." I know, it's lame to blame stuff on the World Trade Centre attacks, but it's hard to dismiss that moment as the defining pop culture moment of my generation, at least until they release the Hoverboards. The comfortable middle class had been attacked - okay, not really, but you'd never know it based on all the hysterical news coverage of A Post-9/11 World. The comfortable middle class's teenagers and college-aged students were thrust into a world that was suddenly less excited about looking forward into a newly scary world. Our popular culture longed for the pre-terrorism days, a nostalgic look back in time to when America (read: fancy white people) were mighty and powerful beings.

We ended up with fashion designers who ripped off 1980s punks in a bid for edginess, or bands who were compared (favourably!) to Hall and Oates. Hell, even the much-derided Tron has come back into style. What passes for edgy is often a ill-communicated attempt at politics: remember those controversial keffiyehs? Even war protests came with its own accessory.I know fashion is cyclical, but it seems weird that so much of what's considered "cool" these days has its origins in a hipster's childhood. Teens and 20-somethings are often folks with some cash; without a kid to support, or with the firm financial truss of living at home, we can blow our disposable income on, well, disposable stuff: beer, sunglasses, mp3s. And it's undeniably comforting to have these motifs of the past surrounding us. The uber-maligned Pabst Blue Ribbon, long rejected as the beer of hipsters, has been around since 1893, but its sales peaked in 1977 - right around the time our parents were hipsters themselves. In the new millennium, what we all seem to be longing for is a taste of what we had before.

We're feeding on leftovers, and hipsters, who, in a different generation would have been excoriated for recycling their parents' trends, have been praised for it. We like comfort. We like sameness - how many times have you heard someone exclaim, "Hipsters! They think they're sooo special, but they all look the same!" Maybe this media ripple about hipsters and their place in the world will force some of our generation's tastemakers to expand our collective horizons. Instead of lauding dingy dive bars, retro-inspired fashions, retread music and movie pitches, and the utter refusal to get our shit together, move out, on and up in the world, we can start making our own new stuff. I'm hungry for the Next Big Thing, not the last gasp of a now-futile demographic.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

That Krampus Spirit

You know, for once I'm not feeling down on the holiday season. In fact, aside from the incessant, cloying holiday music piped into Shoppers Drug Mart, I've barely registered the Christmas hoopla at all.

This sounds like a bad thing, but it's not. Arriving at my parents' place, I found my mom's paper mache carolers perched by the door, and glittery snowflakes suspended from the chandeliers. I was charmed! December 18, a scant week before The Big Day, and it was my first real run-in with Christmas. In years past, I've been hypersensitive to the holiday cheer. Too much (read: any) exposure to it, and I was transformed into a poisonous cocktail of Scrooge and the Grinch. Who, you know, isn't an especially fun character, especially for folks like my mom, who genuinely likes Christmas. She was sad to learn that I wouldn't personally decorate for Xmas; if she left the house bare for the month of December, I'm sure my peabrain would register it as "different," but I wouldn't rush out and replace all the vintage Rudolph dolls and stuffed singing church mice with gleaming new decorations.

Like so many family things, Christmas is a layer cake. The decorations are just frosting: they pretty up the family dinners, the kids in pajamas clutching new toys, the champagne in the hot tub, the cookies for Santa, the wistful longing for gifts you know you'll never get, the traditions and the memories. Some of those memories are great, like the year my sister received a board for Christmas, with a jolly promise that it would become a dollhouse. Some are less awesome, especially if you're from a family with issues - booze, food, money, parent/child relationships, sibling drama, and travel stress all comes into play for plenty of people. Maybe you - if not, you're lucky. And if not you, then definitely some of the people you care about, people with whom you might celebrate the holidays.

When you think about it, the end of the year is kind of intense. There are so many events packed into, like, a month (although I swear I heard Christmas ditties in October this year, which is insane and, of course, unacceptable), and not just for the Christians, either. Muslims have Eid, Jews have Hanukkah, and everyone is oppressed by their decision not to live on the equator and therefore engage in seasons, leading to "days" in Toronto that are less than nine hours of sunlight. If the sun even shines at all that day. Raise your hand if you'd like to come with me to Miami for a while; I bet we could get a killer group rate. Ready? Okay! Next week!

Anyway, no matter what your cultural heritage, there's a place for darkness in the holiday months. I've finally stumbled upon Krampus, who promises to make Christmas way more bearable in the upcoming years. Krampus is a European (mostly German and Serbian) tradition that hitches up with the popular Saint Nickolas figure. While Saint Nick obligingly brings the treats, Krampus brings the coal. For especially naughty kids, Krampus also, uh, escorts them directly to hell. Which I LOVE.

It's always sort of bothered me that there was no yin to Santa's yang: every story has a black hat and a white hat, a saviour and a trickster. In the year 2010 in North America, Christmas has two good guys (Santa and The Baby Jesus) and no bad guys, unless you count whatever sadistic advertising agency is drumming up the schmaltzy seasonal ads that are ostensibly designed to sell razors but end up making the audience feel like they should call their fathers immediately to make sure they haven't died. But there wasn't a real sense of urgency around the be-good-or-else line of reasoning. If I was morally decrepit, I might take a miss on the gift basket. Worse case scenario, I get some lumps of coal? Pfft. But Krampus puts a more terrifying spin on the season. My kids will be well versed in Krampus. It's only fair.

It's not just the discovery of an archaic seasonal demon that's put a smile on my face. Being home is nice, being newly employed is a heady treat, I've fallen in love with a new TV show, there have been some great friend visits and some lovely dates. For a time of year that's usually been a real buzz-kill, this December has actually been surprisingly great. Maybe it's part of getting older. When you're a kid, Christmas is the point of your whole life: presents and missing school?! What? After I outgrew the childhood version of the holidays, I took a scorched-earth approach to the season, hating its frivolity and commercialization and resenting it for the intrusion on my schedule. Now I'm sort of excited about it, because it's bringing new traditions and old friends into my life. How I can stay mad at you, Saint Nickolas? But seriously, next year, bring your Krampus friend to the office party. He looks like a hoot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Crazies

My pal Kelli recently wrote a post about her summer-induced weight gain. A yearly cycle, she figures it's the beer, the hot dogs and the fro-yo that adds a few pounds to her frame, and in the winter she takes it off with a more rigorous workout schedule. It should be noted that Kelli fluctuates between "bony" and "svelte" in her annual gain/loss rollercoaster, and she looks great, fit and toned, no matter how much she moans about her ice cream consumption and the effect it has on her ass.

I'm the opposite. Usually I'm more active in the summer months, when biking and walking and sweating and not wanting to eat anything except ice pops and watercress melts (ha!) off the pounds . My body type is curvier than hers - even at my skinniest, I probably weigh in a few classes above her. But now, unemployed, post-surgery, and without a defined workout schedule, I'm getting...fat.

Oh, boo. I know it's not kosher for women to say they're fat. We've all been socialized to refer to our overweight friends as "a little heavy" or tell each other, "she's a big girl" and do that thing where we hold our arms away from our bodies and sort of shake them a little - I guess to convey all their glorious jiggliness . But rarely do we break down and actually verbalize the words "fat" or "overweight" or "obese." It seems too harsh for the people we care about, so we tiptoe around the words and use those ridiculous jiggly arms.

Let's be clear: I am not what you might call "sane" when it comes to weight and body issues. I've spent upwards of a decade struggling with eating disorders and the auxiliary body image issues it creates. Sometimes, when I look at my body, I feel humiliated and betrayed. Later that day, I might feel strong and sexy. It's a crapshoot. Certain things trigger the bad-body-moods more reliably than others: if I weigh myself, it's almost guaranteed to bother and annoy me for at least a few days, and to make me hyperaware of my physical flaws. It's taken me a long time to come to terms with the idea that I can gain some weight without wanting to throw myself under a streetcar; it's taking even longer to figure out how to get to a healthy size without going crazy in the process.

But. The numbers don't lie, and I've gained. The Body Mass Index calculations, while flawed, does give you a rough estimation of where you should be, weight-wise. My sister is adamantly opposed to it; since it fails to take into account extreme muscle mass (which would be an indicator of fitness, not obesity), it's apparently flawed and untrustworthy. I use the BMI system, mostly because it affords me more wiggle room than the height/weight ratio system. But no matter what system you use to calculate where you are and where you should be when that scale stops spinning, nobody can deny that there's magic in those numbers. And when they creep up and up, it causes a certain mindset (hello!) to freak right the fuck out.

One of the main issues with eating disorders is that they reward the sufferer with endorphins, those fun-ass brain chemicals that make us feel better. Learning how to eat and exercise without the benefit of the euphoria is...sort of a drag. In the sense that exercise is hard and annoying and makes you sweaty, and alternative methods take, like, ten minutes. They also lead to a next-level spectrum of bodily impairment, which exercise, unless you're doing it wrong, won't do. And they make you crazy. So don't do it. Eat your food, keep it down.

So I'm trying something new: acceptance. Oh, I'm still not really pleased with the way I look. But I'm trying to focus on the positive. I have great hair. My ass seems to have some admirers. I'm not deranged. When I feel crappy, I'll go for a run. And since I'm feeling pretty crappy about my bod these days, and the numbers on the scale, and how tight my pants have gotten, I bet I'll be going for a lot of runs. Nice, sane, healthy, non-crazy runs. Wish me luck.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In The Key of Suck

I blame Glee. When the ultra-popular teenage soap started last fall, glee clubs were a minor and half-remembered slice of high school, a place for the musical-theatre nerds to blow off steam between angsty productions of The Secret Garden; now it's a place for middle-aged soccer moms to showcase their mediocrity during the holiday season.

Let me back up. I occasionally do some ushering for the Ryerson University theatre. It's a good gig: show up, rip tickets, watch a show, and get paid. Last year I lucked into the holiday dance showcase, and this fall I worked the Toronto Film Festival (hot tip: Let Me In isn't as good as its Swedish source material, and the hipster romance Blue Valentine is unbelievably boring!). Tonight, I ushered in a thousand friends and family members to a local singing choir - I'll omit the name, to save the well-meaning participants more embarrassment than they already suffered - and watched as they butchered nineteen radio hits.

They were a sweet bunch, in their black knee-length dresses and their black collared shirts. During one number, they donned sunglasses. It was cute! But they weren't talented. No, their talents lay elsewhere. I'm sure some of them are great drivers, or wonderful at decorating cupcakes. I have no doubt that some of them are experts on, like, oral sex, or Michael Caine impressions. But were they talented songbirds? They, unfortunately, were not.

Clearly influenced by Glee, the group included Rolling Stones numbers and closed with the Journey song "Don't Stop Believing", which both opened and closed the first season of Glee. This was right after they massacred "Your Song", the Elton John classic that my parents favour. I love that song; this version was offensive in its terribleness. Other selections included Sly and the Family Stone and the Black Eyed Peas (this choir was fully 100% white, it should be noted), and a stiff version of "Hide and Seek" that left me scratching my head.

So, here's the problem. I like singing. I like it when adults sing - many of the CDs I buy are by adults. I like it when children perform, because children are usually pretty cute, and cuteness gets you a lot of mileage with me. But if you're an adult and you want to sing in public, you should do what other adults do when they want to sing in public: get blind drunk and go to a karaoke bar. You don't rent a hall and charge your favourite people money to come watch you clap your way through "Go For A Soda." That's silly.

Professional choirs are something else entirely. When you have to audition to get in, it changes it from being the 40+ equivalent of those Little League games where everyone gets a "Participant!" ribbon, into a legitimate artistic endeavor. But if you can just show up? If the only obstacle for joining is buying a knee-length black dress? That's sort of...lame. I'm not saying don't sing. I like singing, even though I'm horrible - I have this reedy little voice, and I've listened to so much Fever Ray at this point that I sing with a Swedish accent - but just reconsider joining a league of equally middle-of-the-road performers. It's just a little embarrassing.

Look: if you're a good singer, audition for a grown-up choir; you know, one with standards. And if you can't get in, then maybe singing isn't for you. There's no shame in being bad at something. I'm no good at stock car racing, so I don't spend a lot of time on the ol' oval. "But it's not hurting anyone!" I can hear you saying disapprovingly. Yes. It's hurting. It hurts to have to lie ("That was so good!"), and hear your favourite songs ruined. These men and women have other talents, I'm sure of it. Maybe it's time to showcase something they're actually, um, good at. But I know this is a pipe dream...I'll see you next year, at the 2011 Holiday Showcase!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dance Caving In

Last night I went to the Dance Cave, the venerable Toronto institution that specializes in retro dance parties and allowing girls to get humped by creepy perverts. I love the Dance Cave, more so since I spotted it standing in for Tom Cruises' "Caribbean nightclub" in the horrible movie Cocktail. I love it in a tolerant, sigh-inducing way. I love the way you can't wear sandals there because the floor is a sticky mess of beer and broken glass. I hate the infestation of crappy U of T kids on the weekend, with the full admission that I was once one of those crappy U of T kids. I love it, with strings.

But the main reason I love the Dance Cave, aside from when the DJ plays The Prodigy's 1995 single "Poison" during her retro-'80s night (and I danced so hard one of my boobs fell out a little), is that it's a node on the scene of the people.

Okay, I know that sounds stupid. Hear me out. Remember high school? Where everyone was mashed in together, so you had goths mixing with preps mixing with nerds mixing with pretty girls mixing with drama queens? Remember how awkward that was? Sometime after you left high school, you started to wonder where all the people who aren't you/your friends ended up. Whatever happened to the dramatic goth-lite kids who would smoke cigarettes behind the high school and come late to every class? What became of the stoner boys who were so beautiful and so high? Where did the D&D kids go, the ones who had twelve-sided die and tiny hand-painted figurines of warrior-elfs? What about the hipster-nerds, who started fight clubs in their mom's basement and who had girlfriend who never let them get to third base? Where are those people?

Because as we get older, we start self-selecting more and more for the people who are just like us. It's not a bad thing: I like my nerdy obsessions, and well past the judgmental, self-conscious confines of high school, I don't have to justify them. They're accepted by my friends and family as just Stuff We Are Into: Scott Pilgrim comics, zombie lore, bikes, weird beers, DIY haircuts, cheap sushi, the occasional foray into nature (or a close facsimile), the library. It's not that we don't interact with other people, other types of people. But do we brush up against them in such close quarters? (The subway during rush hour doesn't count.) We don't.

So even though we see the girl with blue dreadlocks on the subway, commuting to her CSR job with Rogers, listening to early Nine Inch Nails and staring into space like the rest of the ridership, we don't often see her in her natural habitat. If you want see the girls who wore cardigans and had a salon haircut, just stake out any brunch spot or Indigo books - you'll see her there, eating muffins with her boyfriend. But how many folks head out to the Dance Cave on a Monday night? Not a lot. And if you do head there, you're likely to see the girl with the blue dreadlocks. Why there? Why not at brunch? Because they rarely play big beat at Aunties and Uncles.

Frankly, I was chuffed to see a bunch of folks in their mid-30s to late-40s standing around at the Dance Cave last night. Clearly, they knew each other - maybe from other venues and events, maybe from working together through the years, maybe through friends. They were there because it was clearly one of "their places" - a venue that serves most, if not all, of their needs for a night out. And it was casual. Having a few beers and dancing to The Cure and the Chemical Brothers is just a Monday night, the way some folks always bookmark Saturday morning for the farmer's market, or Wednesday evenings for Bible study. It's a place to come together, and to feel comfortable (as comfortable as you can be dancing in leather pants and knee-high jackboots, anyway). I love that - there are so many ways of existing. Sometimes, without them right in front of my face, it's easy to forget that. Last night was a welcome reminder that, sometimes, the dark side just wants to go dancing.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wedding Bells

Ever since one of my best gals from high school got engaged last month, I've been all over the wedding scene. Oh, I'm not a bridesmaid or anything - one of the benefits of losing touch with 90% of your high school chums is that you end up very uninvolved in the matrimonial party - but I've been thinking about my wedding, and about what my fancy day might be like.

I wasn't one of those kids who was obsessed with weddings. I wasn't really a dress-up kid; my sister was, but instead of donning pretend veils, she basically dressed like a Day-Glo version of Siouxsie Sioux. My younger sister has a juvenile punk streak a mile wide, which is odd, because now she dresses like a prepster with a hidden jones for jumpsuits. We all have our quirks.

I was more of the reading type, and the reading I did was balanced between trash-o-rama Sweet Vally Sagas and more highbrow kidslit like The Giver. Sweet Valley was just infested with melodramatic tales of lost love, where one night of passion before leaving for war turns into a young girl's "lifelong mistake" (i.e. pregnancy and shame-children), thus propagating the species for another generation without diluting any of the drama of the final-chapter wedding bells. Sweet Valley Sagas, for those of you with better taste or penises, were what you get when you combine one part icing sugar, three parts desperate love, a quarter-cup reincarnation, and a passing acquaintance with historical fiction. They. Were. Awesome.

In any case, though, they didn't fuel any obsession with marriage. My parents' wedding was low-key; my mom made her own wedding dress, a size-two number with ribbons. My dad sported an 1980s mustache. Although the last Royal Wedding was in 1983, the year of my birth, I don't come from a culture that's all about giant froofy dresses or spending tens of thousands of dollars on Your Special Day. My parents were wed in my grandparents' home. In my family, if you want drop thousands of dollars, you'd better be picking up some real estate.

But my family way isn't the only way to do things, and there's a serious wedding industry out there. The Canadian wedding scene alone rakes in about four billion dollars - to put that in perspective, that's more than we collectively spend on foreign aid and international development. From magazines to TV shows, from cakes to cake toppers, from gowns to feathery...hat...things, from rings to DJs to venues to celebratory DVDs, it's a mega money machine.

Depending on where you're coming from, folks seem to either buy into that, or want to go their own way. Wedding magazines regularly encourage couples to drop student-loan-worthy amounts on their wedding day, but some (and as much flak as she gets, Martha Stewart really is the best for this) point couples in a more DIY direction. Less traditional often equals less expensive, since wedding purveyors haven't clued in to the idea that 120 fancy cookies can be for a wedding the same way a four-tier cake is. And doing it yourself gives brides and grooms a level of control over their giant paper flower decorations that buying really misses out on.

My girlfriend from high school seems to be going the lo-fi route. Her engagement ring is a gorgeous pearl set-up, bucking the diamonds-are-forever trend that bloody De Beers pimps so hard. My mom got no ring - "I think I got a dog" - and my friend Rachel has long proclaimed that if and when she gets engaged, she wants a tapestry. "Rings signify ownership," she says. I tend to disagree, unless they're clamped around my ankle with a ball and chain, but during this summer's OTT heatwaves, I was like, "Screw diamond rings, what I want to be proposed with is a Dyson Bladeless fan."

I haven't really been to a lot of real-type weddings. Maybe one or two, where there's a venue and a first dance and a sit-down dinner, and not in the last few years. My pals have mostly Done It Themselves: my friend Ewan had a choir of his friends sing him and his bride down the aisle. The friends were dressed as Star Trek crew members. Liz and Toby eloped: they invited my mom, who brought my teenage, basketball-shorts-wearing brother. One of the "bridesmaids" wore ski goggles in an attempt to neutralize the August sun's UV rays. It was...unusual. Nobody's worn ugly bridesmaid dresses or shoved cake in their beloved's face.

But I love pretty, fancy things, and I love love, so weddings are really appealing to me. I'm not a huge fan of polished, glossy business. I like my celebrations like I like my men: a little rough around the edges. For example, the recent trend of hand-tooled and rough-cut engagement rings looks gorgeous to me. It's lovely, not ostentatious bling, and unexpected. Or this couple's wedding photos, which were taken in a gallery and show off her dark teal wedge sandals and gown beautifully. I love that splash of the unexpected - not everyone wants to be a princess on her wedding day. Some of us want to be David Bowie.

No matter how a wedding shakes down, ultimately it's not about the first dance, or the chicken/fish, or the groomsmen shagging one of the bridesmaids, or any of the other things each couple strives for to set their party apart. It's a celebration of love, of unity, of promises. Whether it's just two people who love each other very much running down to City Hall, or a day-long affair with 400 of the couple's friends, relatives, neighbours, former bosses and personal shoppers, the point isn't the "stuff" of the wedding. Nobody cares if the entree has ginger or the flower girl trips. What people want, what we care about, is that magic moment that says, "You may now kiss the bride."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Smilestones

Twenty-seven years ago today, my parents were the exhausted and probably terrified guardians of their first child - me! Hello! I was born in Toronto's East End, on a day that was probably much like yesterday: a little dismal, a little rainy. Late November isn't a great time for inspiring weather. It's not like spring, which has its organic fireworks display of fresh foliage and blue skies bursting forth. My parents had to settle for a new kid bursting forth, a process I'd imagine was a lot less picturesque.

But burst forth I did, and twenty-seven years later, I've turned into a passable main character in a pretty decent book. I have a fantastic family with supportive, funny parents. I have smart, thoughtful siblings. I lucked into a fantastic group of friends, most of whom called me on my birthday to wish me feliz cumpleanos, and I got especially lucky with my female friends (not in that way, pervs), because I have a seriously excellent coven of lady-pals. Sure, my chapter on employment is a little skinny, and I'm still neurotic and weird about any number of things (spiders, food, fears of looking stupid on the subway platform), but I think I've turned into a decent adult.

I'm actually pretty excited about getting older. I feel more comfortable in my skin (which, I know, is something women in their forties who just discovered the joys of, like, colonics and talk therapy usually gush about), both in the hey-this-body-is-pretty-nice sort of skin, and also more comfortable in my priorities. The jobs I'm looking for suit me, instead of just desperately grabbing at the first gig that makes me some paper. The men I spend time with are solid, decent guys who make me laugh. I've learned how to say, "Hey, you hurt my feelings" and "I don't agree with you" in ways that aren't tantrum-y. I brush my hair less. I spend less time obsessively thinking about how much I weigh. I spend more time thinking about friends, family, co-op, how to be a real live writer, bikes, and delicious food and snack ideas. I'm happier.

In the same way that January 1 is a magnet for stringent, punitive resolutions ("I'm going to lost one-third of my body weight, never drink beer again, and be nicer to the siblings I haven't gotten along with since birth"), and early September usually inspires dreamy attempts at new projects ("I'm going to renovate the kitchen and finally get around to writing that novella about man-eating duvets"), birthdays tend to inspire a similar stock-taking of one's life. Remember elementary school? The difference between seven and eight seems massive, and the trip into double-digits at ten, or official teenager-hood at thirteen, is mind-blowing. The new age, scrubbed clean of your fuck-ups of the past year, represents new promise. As a twenty-six-year-old, I was kind of a screw-up. I broke myself down: I quit binge-drinking, got help for an eating disorder, had panic attacks, and got some surgery.

My twenty-seven-year-old self knows better. This year could be a year of rebuilding after the flood. I'm looking forward to the kind of milestones my late twenties will bring: travel and fulfilling work, friends getting married, new businesses being launched, maybe falling in love, definitely showing off as much cleavage as I can. I mean, as much as I like getting older and all, I'm no Helen Mirren, and breasts are definitely one of those things that are better when we're younger. Everything else? We'll see.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Straight Poop

I went to a dinner party earlier this week, where a bunch of us sat around and talked poop for a few minutes. We compared notes on gas and times of day, on cramps and allergies, and then realized that the other guests were staring at us with a mixture of unbridled horror and repulsion. It had only been a few minutes, but we had clearly crossed a line.

In a weird way, it's part of a larger cycle in my life: the inappropriate conversation. It usually starts with someone's thoughtless overshare, but that moment of unedited honesty often leads, at least with my friends, with a sense of relief. We aren't alone! We aren't freaks! When I moved into my first co-op house, a building that housed fifteen university students and had only one kitchen, we talked about sex roughly 23 hours a day. Over ramen noodles, we discussed anal sex. While drunkenly eating burritos, post-Dance Cave, we slurred our way through a conversation about vibrators. We talked about porn as we passed the popovers at Sunday breakfast. It was liberating, though, to find out that we weren't alone in our mental obsession and weird preferences.

Now that most of that crew has settled into LTRs and we all know everything about everyone's vagina, we've flipped the script over to other bodily functions. Digestion's a big one, but when I took a medicine last fall whose side effects included making me produce a little breast milk (and oy vey, that was weird!), folks clamored to see. And, in some adventurous cases, taste. I know all about various allergies, and how they manifest in the ear, nose, throat, digestive tract, skin, eyeball, and, in the case of anaphylaxis, hospital room. Latex sensitive? I know all about that one. Susceptible to cat dander? Walk this way. Shellfish make you break out? And so on.

I guess what we're trying to do for each other is make it normal. While it's not really "normal" for someone to "poop liquid" as my friend Alexandra does (names have been changed to protect the innocent, although that phrase is so disgustingly evocative that I have to use it) if she drinks a glass of milk, that is Alex's normal. So it's become normal for us to have dairy-free brunches and skip the eggnog when she's around.

Like with sex, even if something is weird, the goal is to make it comfortable and fine. If you're GGG and your partner is into boot-licking, then you get to buy some slick knee-high boots. And if your boyfriend gets hives the second he pets a dog, then unfortunately your apartment isn't going to hear the pitter-patter of little feet until he knocks you up...which, given all those latex allergies, might be sooner than you thought.

Because that's what we're heading towards, anyway: the pregnancies. God, pregnancy is weird. Not bad-weird. Just weird. Your ankles get fat and you grow more blood. And no two pregnancies are alike. There are literally thousands of women posting on hundred of forums during their gestational periods, asking, "Is this normal?" and being relieved when the answers come back. Or alarmed. Or both. And after the pregnancies, we can all look forward to getting old.

The internet often acts as a digital version of the crowdsourcing we've been doing for years, especially when it comes to bodies. Asking our friends what they think about heavy breasts, his reluctance to orgasm, and if it hurts if you put it in your butt, is often way less intimidating than asking our doctors, and helps normalize the whole weirdness. I'm not condoning using your friends as a substitute for actual medical advice, and your smarter pals should gently say, "Friend, sounds like you should see a doctor about that wart/missed period/bald spot/allergic reaction/reluctance to orgasm," if faced with a troubling question. Health care is free in this country.

But I am condoning the occasional inappropriate conversation. Clear the air, ask about what's normal (take, for example, the appearance of vaginas in porn versus your average civilian sex-haver. Worlds apart), check yourself out, and make it normal to have the talks. That way, when we all inevitably get pregnant and have ridiculously weird/normal children, we can talk to them about poop, sex, and all the other magical, mysterious, and wonderful parts of our crazy, weird bodies.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

I'm DIM: Doing It Myself

I am not what you might call "hands-on." Oh, I'm not one of those super-high-maintenance women, with the high-heeled snow boots and the weekly manicure. I once read a particularly snarky letter to the editor of Homemakers magazine after they featured Mila Mulroney looking chipper and pert on their cover. Imagine how much more money we would all have, the writer groused, if the taxpayers weren't springing for Mila to get her signature bangs trimmed all the freaking time.

That's not me. But neither am I one of those super-crunchy folks who are making their own bike seats out of locally-sourced goat leather and engaging in vermiculture in order to improve the spirit of my garden. I can barely sew, I kill plants by looking at them, and I don't know how to rewire a lamp or help birth a calf. Based on my current skill set, I would that useless, irritating farmgirl - the one who stares wistfully at the horizon and hides in the sweet-smelling hay of the barn, reading, instead of helping out with chores, singing, or carousing with the ruddy-cheeked neighbouring farmboys at the annual barn dance and/or parent-approved snogging festival.

Lately, I feel like there's been an explosion of the DIY culture. You can grow your own food. You can raise your own chickens (although not in the city of Toronto, which apparently has a by-law on the book prohibiting fowl from the downtown core - unless, of course, it's dead and presented on a styrofoam meat tray). You can join a co-op to invest in unpasteurized milk and futures on homegrown beef. Your kids can wear hand-made clothes while you menstruate onto "adorable" feminine products. Call it urban homesteading, the rise of the Etsy generation, or just a simple desire for city-dwellers to connect to where their stuff comes from.

It's interesting to think about it from a class perspective: a lot of my more granola-type pals, the ones who are growing their own food/biking everwhere/making their own beer, are doing it because, um, well: we're broke. I can't afford a metropass; ergo, I use my bicycle. My friends can't afford to buy new, eighty-dollar pants, so they pick up clothes from the Sally Ann. The "free to a good home" barter system that's sprung up on Craigslist in the last decade or so has netted clothes, fitness equipment, pet supplies (and the occasional pet), books, kitchen tools, furniture and more. The library and it's "free! But bring it back or we'll take your money" model of business has given us comics and cookbooks, the likes of which permanently collecting would be financially unfeasible.

And then from the other side, you have folks who purchase their handmade stuff and then behave like it makes them more enlightened. Look, I like Lush soap as much as the next gal, but when I plop down a fiver and receive a product in return, I'm not being special or using magical hippie powers to change the world. All I'm really doing is engaging in what's known as capitalism.

Now, if Etsy, Lush, Grassroots, or the Slingshot collective, or any of the businesses that promote the DIY/environmentally-friendly aesthetic, also accepted the fact that folks often "choose" to DIY not out of earthy lust but because we are poor people, and offered their goods and services on a sliding scale - equitableness is fun! - then I'd believe that their mission statement of being good to the earth and the people who live on it isn't just lip service. I know people gotta make a living, but when my choices are el cheapo No Name laundry detergent that's basically allergenic poison, or expensive retro detergent that won't give my family hives, there really isn't much of a choice.

Personally, I'm not totally useless: my culinary skills, while not particularly diverse (I, like most cooking-for-one types, make the same dishes over and over), manage to deliver consistent tastiness, and I will try new projects in the kitchen; "bloody zombie" cupcakes, anyone? I knit, I bake, I make the occasional collage or art project. I'm capable but not particularly experienced.

I'm wildly interested in things like canning food and brewing my own beer. Part of that interest comes from wanting to save a few pennies down the road - seriously, do you know how expensive fig preserves are?! - and part of it comes from half-seriously wanting to be ready should the end of the world descend upon us (hint: zombies!) Part of it comes from Canada being a nation built on farmers and homesteaders, and to ignore that cultural motif, while embracing fashionable buffalo plaid, seems disingenuous. Part of it comes from the desire to have skills, to be self-supportive, and to know how things work - things like pastry and beer have their own rules.

And part of it is just wanting to get my hands dirty. A lot of things in the DIY movement make your life harder - seriously, baking your own sourdough is a commitment - but in the end, you end up pretty much what you want, made with your own hands.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Little Red Hearts

We live in a curious age, and I have questions. Not in a weird, steampunk sort of way - although some of those girls can be mighty sexy, the men generally come across as pervy and slavering - but in the sense that our time gets ever more complicated, and the boundaries and expectations aren't clearly defined.

To wit: Facebook. Web 2.0 has its own grammar of etiquette, and not unlike email 15 years ago, or the more recent texting revolution, we're still learning the capabilities of what it can do...and what it should do. In an era when so many folks are putting so much about themselves online, it definitely helps to have some boundaries.

Especially when it comes to romantic and friendship entanglements, and the murky waters between the two. I remember the first time I was "in a relationship with" someone - I mean, not someone's girlfriend, which had happened before then, but had the chance to show it off on Facebook. A little heart icon appeared next to the news item (!) It was adorable. Conversely, I remember the end of that relationship, and the heart-wrenching moment I went from "in a relationship with" to "single." I'm not kidding when I tell you that the little icon was, at that point, a little broken heart. (I think Facebook has since wised up, and now accompanies any relationship updates with a heart.) It sounds ridiculous, and it sort of is, but it's now a part of the young-person break-up process to have your friends get in touch with you via Facebook to commiserate your newly ended relationship.

And after the breakup, there's all the uncertainty: do you stay friends? Do you "hide" the person from your newsfeed? (for the non-Facebooked among us [hi, Mom!], your newsfeed is what shows up on your main page - it's all the stuff your friend have been doing and saying, their photos, their posted links, roughly chronologically. "Hiding" people means they don't show up there, so their incessant updates about their angry politics or engagement showers are blissfully out of sight for you.) Should you delete altogether? Is there a cooling-off period before you start interacting with them again?

I personally like it when people are "in a relationship" with someone on Facebook, if they are in real life, too: newly friended Faceook pals are often snooping around looking for deets on one's relationship status, and a firm statement that you're off the market is nice to see. I know it's awkward if/when folks break up to change it to single - that can feel very abrupt and frankly, horrible - but it's nice while a couple is together. Likewise, if folks are married, they don't need to be all OMG I'm totes hitched or whatever - one of my very favourite couples went from "married" back to "in a relationship" on Facebook because, as she put it, "I'm puking at married- buy a house - live all alone - have a pack of kids. That's not what I signed up for!!!" - but some acknowledgment of your girlfriend, boyfriend, wife, husband, whatever they are to you, is important.

I'm torn about the best post-breakup strategies, though. Nobody likes seeing their ex jumping around the city, gleeful and hilarious, while you sit at home surrounded by bourbon-filled chocolates (from which you've sucked all the liquor) and the evidence of your sad, lonely life. On the other hand, many breakups are mutual, non-heartbreaking affairs, and it's nice to keep in touch. Facebook is great because it's exactly as invasive as you make it: you can obsessively go through photos and comb their wall, or you can be like, "Huh!" when your ex posts that they've started a catering company and are generally doing awesome, and then go back to thinking about what kind of sex noises Al Gore would make, based on his Futurama guest spots.

I asked my friends about this issue last week - what do you do with a Facebook ex? - and most folks erred on the side of caution. If you hate her, they counseled, then delete her. If you're ambivalent, hide him. And if it was amicable and friendly, then stay friends. Facebook sort of mirrors real life with this strategy, and cuts down on the number of stomach-churning digital run-ins you'll have with an ex-lover. And deliberately checking in, on the internet, on an ex, feels really invasive. Never mind that you're still friends, or that all that information is there because s/he put it there - I end up feeling like I'm spying. Deleting them can help curb that impulse, since most people don't have viewable profiles, but it can still be a challenge.

And no matter how much distance you put between yourself and an ex, there are always going to be emotional ties that bind - do you really need digital ties as well? Facebook, like email and stored numbers in your phone's memory, can be nasty or nice, sweet or bittersweet. I'm not saying that folks have ditch all their exes, but distance, in time and cyberspace, is good.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Your Revolution Will Not Happen Between These Sighs

I love a good call to arms in the morning. I've been so invested in this whole job-hunting thing that it's sometimes good to scrub out your soul.

Yesterday, instead of going to a job interview like I had planned, I ended up having mega-panic and sort of shutting down. This isn't so uncommon for an anxious gal, but it was demoralizing. After applying to jobs for months, I've only had a few interviews - a combined effect of reaching, just a little, of a tough old job market, and of only applying for jobs I actually, you know, want. All the job postings I've seen for cafeteria lunch lady or part-time bookkeeper have been noted, but not applied for, because I don't want to be a lunch lady or part-time bookkeeper. So getting an interview was sort of A Big Deal, and to blow it due to panic was a little lame.

Anyway, said the oyster, buck the hell up. It's a new day today, and a new day comes with a new, ass-kicking mindset. And there are brothers and sisters in the fight against bullshit. Sarah Jones's "Your Revolution," which I first heard all the way back in high school, is a nice manifesto (womanifesto?) about not putting up with crap. It's a take-off of Gil Scott-Heron's spoken word slam "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," and both the original indictment of TV society, and her next-generation raised eyebrow at misogynist hip-hop culture, are great tools for howiztering a bad day.

It's my belief that everyone has their own tricks and shortcuts to busting a bad day. Some folks go for runs - getting those endorphins moving through the bloodstream is a great way to annihilate a lousy day. On the oppos a ite end of the spectrum, there are the people who get all Bukowski on us and drown their sorrows into numerous kegs of beer. As a woman who is trying to avoid the keg-like physique this technique often results in, I'm shying away from the alcoholic bad-mood buster...although some days demand a ginger beer and bourbon, and there's nothing you can do to stop it. In the category of "things I don't understand" are the folks who engage in what's known as "retail therapy;" shopping adds to my stress levels. My idea of hell is Kensington Market on a Saturday afternoon in the summer. Smells, people, and jostling? Gross. The last thing I want to do when I'm feeling fragile is head to Winners and look at flats.

I have this sweater that I call "the flu sweater," because it's the single most comforting article of clothing I own. It's blue, cashmere, holey like whoa, and so soft I wish I had jumpsuits made of the stuff. It's what I wear when I'm home and feeling like I need a hug. I also have this floor-length black skirt, which is flowy and sort of Angelina-ish, but when I put it on, I feel like a sneaky lady-ninja and I'm ready to kick some ass. Putting on the lady-ninja skirt and making breakfast is a powerful experience; wearing the flu sweater while I eat yogurt and bananas is a comfort moment. It's all about the headspace.

In any case, there's been precious little ass-kicking going on in my head lately. Cowed by the middling success at job hunting, I've gone on the defensive, curling myself around my psyche's soft belly in order to protect it. No more. Sometimes strength comes from the inside out - the indomitable feminist rant about where, exactly, the revolution might take place - and sometimes you need to put on your armour, lace up your running shoes, pour out a shot, and get back into the world with a smile and a fake-it-'til-you-make-it attitude that glosses over the nerves until its embedded in your core. See you at the revolution: I'll be wearing my ninja skirt and holding my resume.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Join The Club

My mom, who is a member of a book club, has been calling me up every few weeks to bitch about her reading choices. "Eat Pray Love is terrible," she groaned. Having read the dust jacket and seen the trailer for the movie (the thesis of which seems to be "Isn't Julia Roberts just swell?"), I wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment. That woman, the one with the smug writing style and the white-lady travels to Bali, Belize, and some guy's futon, was a huge source of derision for my mom and I - she having had the reading experience, and me being the knee-jerk judgmental reactionary I am.

My mom has had mixed success with book clubs, as have I. My favourite book club story is when she sent me on a search for Sophie's World, the mega-bestseller about philosophy and adolescence, two of my least favourite things. I spent almost an hour in the second-hand bookstore, combing the S section, gave up in frustration, and then got uproariously laughed at by my mother, who informed me that the author was Jostein Gaarder, not Joe Steingardner. Mission eventually accomplished, but like, come on. The book, which was like, seven hundred pages of philosophical, sophomoric, moronic gabbling, was not well received at casa di Mama.

When I was a youth, I was in a book club, along with several other of the less social successful kids in my fourth-grade class. We read titles like Maniac Magee, The Bridge To Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins (whose name I'll admit to still not knowing how to pronounce). We had meetings at one of the many Jennifers's house - there were seriously, like, eight Jennifers in my class that year - and she was one of those kids who had been saddled with all the unfortunate allergies and/or hypersensitive parents. Her birthday cake, which weighed an easy ten pounds, was made of rice flour and stevia. Anyway, I was lucky to come of age when some classic kids lit was being written - Gordan Korman novels, Paula Danziger books, all the Newbery award winners that were thought-provoking and well-written.

I know Oprah thundered all over the concept of the book club in recent years, and the subsequently embarrassment of the Frey debacle sort of took the wind out of her sails a little. Not to mention Franzen and his eff-you take on the whole phenomenon. I do like a good book club, though - Canada Reads is an especially good one, what with the whole home-grown bent and the fight-to-the-death element that's so pleasing. But really, any old group of folks can get together in the name of literature.

We tend to want to share the things we love, be it books, movies, comics, music. One of the best variations on the "club" theme was the Music club one of my friends joined. Each member chose two albums to listen to, and discussion ensued. Themes and similarities were debated and discounted, and the whole undertaking could be as shallow as a cursory listen on the subway, or an obsessive, repetitive round that both destroys and rebuilds the soul - you know, whatevs. But no matter what kind of media you're delving into, it's not about the book...it's about the community.

I miss the days of my childhood book club, mostly because I still love reading books meant for children, but also because books are amazing, life-changing ways of accessing emotions and information. I miss sitting down with the written word, knowing that, at some point, I was going to talk about it. Maybe my early years as a reader helped shape my interminable stint as an English student, or my writing, or the miles of bookshelves I've stuffed with my favourites. I believe early access to reading helps make readers, the way dancing with my dad to Mike Oldfield helped shape my interest in electronic music. And early access to other people makes children into human beings. Book clubs? That's some good humanity right there.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

InStyle: Winter Worn

My friend Rachel is the single most stylish person I know. I don't know how she does it, but she's a dazzler. I've seen her sick with the flu, and even in her febrile state, she's rocking a slouchy toque and the rosy cheeks. When she's not running a fever, she manages to combine these outfits that just amaze me with their insane awesomeness - bangles, DIY haircuts that feature "unicorn horns" and mini-braids, band pins and dresses and hats. I told her years ago that she could place a handful of cabbage on her head and I would totally buy it if she told me it was new, jaunty chapeau, and it's still true.

She's gifted, of course. Not only has she run the gamut from gothic-fabulous to stylie-raver to earthy bohemian, she's saved others from fashion disasters. Notably, she once hid the enormous beaded necklace of a high school buddy in a barbecue - the "beads" were seriously the size of billiard balls, and painted a humiliatingly clownish red. Rachel can be like some fashion oracle, saving those less visionary from tragic missteps and leading the way.

Needless to say, I'm way, way less debonair when it comes to dressing myself. I'm short - not "tiny" or "petite" or any of those delicate ways of telling people that you're five-nothing and a gossamer little sprite of a pixie of a person; I have some heft to me - and have big, curly hair. Not on purpose. If I was a different kind of gal, I'd be like Dolly Parton, all boobs and hair and smile. But I'm a moody sumbitch sometimes, and I can't quite pull off pleather clamdiggers. My fashion tastes run a little odd sometimes - floaty maxi skirts and dresses paired with kimono-cut tops, tight little jackets, cargo capris, slutty tank tops, scarves and wrist gauntlets. The colour palette is a lot of grey and black, with some red and navy in there to lighten the mood. It's sort of a post-industrial prettiness, one that wouldn't be out of place in a stylized zombie invasion or a bummer of a WWOOFing trip.

Winter is my favourite time to dress, not least because I get to shrug my shoulders at all the girls on the U of T campus who wear tights under their booty shorts for a year-round take on the Daisy Duke. I also get to maximize my layers: one of my favourite games to play mid-December is to count how many shirts are between my bare skin and the outside world. It averages out to five or six, leaving me with a plethora of options when I get into the overheated bar or onto the packed-yet-chilly streetcar. It also beats the hell out of summer, when going topless feels like too much clothing. I love a layered-up guy, too: a rolled-up-sleeves shirt over a band tee matched with a hoodie, some scarves, a hat: they become sexy little bundles of coziness and fashion.

I'm not one of those people who thinks that every outfit represents something essential about its wearer - but I do believe in thoughtful fashion. Even if your closet is stuffed with nondescript tops and blah sort of bottoms, there's a method to one's madness (even if the final result is a weak "please don't look at me"). Just like musical taste, fashion choices can show the world who you are, but only up to a point...you also have to be an interesting person when you're naked and your stereo is busted.

And this is such a great time of year for stuff like this. A brand-new coat or sweater can make a world of difference in feeling ready for the seasonal oppression. The other day, I put on my snowpants (a video-game green) and a black tank top and felt very tough and winter-ready, like I'd been fistfighting in the snow all day. I'm figuring out ways to incorporate my silly summer dresses into Canadian winters - sometimes by wearing two or three at a time - and breaking out woolly hats and legwarmers in order to ease the transition. Sure my feet are sometimes cold, or I misjudge an overcast day and end up sweating in my down vest, but it makes me feel better to know I'm suited up, fashionable (-ish), feeling like myself, and feeling good. And I rely on Rachel to size me up occasionally, maybe putting a particularly ridiculous accessory in the oven in order to save me from myself.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Schmaltz Balls

So, sorry about the lack of updates. It's been one of those weeks when my computer's hard drive grinds itself into dust, my volunteer hours are spent arguing, my continued job hunt is miserable, my bank account is evaporating, my bike breaks, and my romantic life is a rollercoaster. My broke, fat ass has been dragging around, moaning about the lack of awesome in my life. Hopefully the situations will be rectified, and soon...

In the meantime, some things that are successful these days include the heart-shaped sunglasses I bought this afternoon, the gluten-free chocolate-cherry pound cake from the new java joint in Kensington, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World out on DVD next week, new (okay, "new") clothes from Value Village, and a recipe for buttermilk pancakes that looks like a wicked way to spend a Sunday morning. One of my gals treated me to a pedicure this week, my mom took me out for matzoh ball soup, and I had a very satisfying phone call from an out-West friend who is a shining star in my friend constellation.

What's the point of renumerating the good stuff up there? I'm trying to remember that not everything is horrible. For every meh, there's an alright. For every stupid argument, there's a pat on the pack, a buttermilk pancake, a phone call from a friend. Sadly, my glass is often half empty. I struggle with remembering the good stuff, especially when all the lameness threatens to overwhelm: when I'm up to my neck in shitty feelings, it's easy to forget the difference a pair of heart-shaped sunglasses can make.

I'll keep this post brief, since the computer I'm updating on is roughly three thousand years old and likely to keel over dead any second. I've been blessed - not in that Judeo-Christian sort of way, what with the holies and touching and the whatnot, but in a more cosmic, human(e) sort of way - with so much support and love. For me to moan over shitty emails or univited parties makes me miss out on how good most things are. While a bowl of matzoh ball soup won't cure unemployment, the people around me give me mad strength to keep my chin up, stare down my email inbox, and keep going. My friends and family are the people who keep me going when it's all computer explosions and indigestion, and to them, here's a fat thanks.

I promise to return soon, with significantly less schmaltz. Until then, who wants to lend me a hundred bucks so I can get my laptop back from the highway robbers (I'm sorry, "technicians") who currently have it? Eh? Any takers? EH?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Missing The Boat

There's a time and a place for everything, including Hunter S. Thompson (I have to admit, I always think the S in the middle there is one of those Homer Jay/J. Simpson things, along the lines of Harry S Truman, whose S stood for nothing, but I'm wrong - the S. in Hunter S. Thompson stands for Stockton). I'm reading Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas right now, and while I like it, I think I would have loved in high school. Now, I'm just sort of like, "Dude, enough with the ether and the mescaline and the knifeplay," although I do recognize that those things are sort of the point of the whole thing, and that it's kind of interesting in a corrupt-American-Dream sort of way.

But I get the sense that it's not for me. Written in 1971, back when American troops were busily losing the Vietnam War, and before the War On Drugs had been launched, the dizzy, lurching story of the Mint 400 features Raoul Duke, a Thompson stand-in, and his debauched attorney, as they try to survive a weekend fueled what Thompson describes as a "mobile police narcotics lab," in Las Vegas no less. It's mostly about how many drugs they can stuff in their maws, and how loopy they subsequently feel.

If I had read this ten years ago, back when drugs held a certain glamour, I would have been in awe of their dirty weekend. I had girlfriends who cried when Thompson died in 2005, since they had read his books in high school and seen their own drug consumption justified. If Thompson could gobble sheets of acid and still get played by Johnny Depp in the movie, then they, logic went, were pursuing art by doing stepped-on blow during weekend barbecues.

The same thing comes up with Requiem for a Dream, which I did actually see when I was sixteen. The climax features an amputation, an ECT session, and a double-ended dildo, and is all about how drugs are fun until they're really, really not. It was the alpha and omega of drug movies - a particularly stylish PSA about heroin and how crappy it'll make your life. The book, which is actually more upsetting, left me in a navy-blue funk for a week. The whole experience makes heroin seem awesome, until you're inevitably on the ward without an arm.

And on a much less drug-terror note, I finally saw Edward Scissorhands this summer, way, way too late. I loved it, because it's good, but if I had seen it when I was a kid, it could have taught me a ton about, you know, acceptance and difference and blah blah blah. Plus, Johnny Depp as Edward is just great, all tortured silence and ratty hair. I could have had a childhood kindred spirit in Edward Scissorhands's horribly messy 'do, instead of the Wakefield twins and their ridiculous heart-shaped faces and perfect blonde hair.

It's hard catching up on pop-culture references. Internet memes have a shelf life of weeks - once you've missed the boat on those, you're basically out of the running, joke-wise. Movies and TV shoes are a little more durable, but smoke-monster jokes are dunzo and "I am Jack's raging sense of inanity" are a dying breed. Not that it's impossible to cast your mind back to full stuff you loved a decade ago; more that, if you miss the moment, it's sort of hard to join in at a later date. You lose that head-space: things that were amazing to your younger self (the drug lore, the fight clubs, the dirty lays) morph into things that make us go "ew."

I remember the first time I saw The Matrix. I literally rewound the tape - this was back in the olden days, when movies didn't have chapters - and watched it again, straight through, barely breathing. It was so awesome, so epic, so punchy and green and blue and Keanu! It was awesome in a way that, twenty years from now, is going to be dated. Teenagers, looking for the thrills that thrilled their parents, are going to download that movie and watch it, wondering what all the fuss is about. Making it, not bad, but very much of its time - like Hunter S. Thompson, it'll be a kind of pop culture Mary Celeste, drifting along, influential and exciting but ultimately meant for a certain person in a certain moment.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back!....To The Future!

Back to the Future, oh how I love thee. Michael J. Fox, you are among my top three favourite Michaels. Christopher Lloyd, you are by far my very favourite Christopher (and my second favourite Lloyd). Lea Thompson, when I was a child, I thought your Enchantment Under the Sea dress was just the little bosom flaps, and thought it was odd that someone would attend a school dance basically topless. Guy who played Biff Tannen, you've been in plenty of other projects, yet you are linked inextricably in my mind to this meat-head sociopath. Crispin Glover, you are a glorious weirdo. Delorean, you are just the coolest vehicle ever put into production. Siiiiigh.

Back to the Future was one of those childhood movies that, rewatching it in my 20s, really isn't a kids' movie at all. I had the pleasure of attending a screening this week, and it was odd to watch it with a room full of people - whole jokes got subsumed in laughter, things that I've never thought were hilarious turned out to be rollickingly funny to others, and there were surprisingly few kids in the audience. The movie has turned into a nostalgia piece for those of us born in the 1980s, and a classic on all levels, but do kids born in the 1990s and 2000s know about the genius of Marty McFly and "Dad! George! Hey, you on the bike!"? Do the children dream?

Sorry. Having moved every few years growing up, I never had the experience of running into my grade four teacher at the grocery store or having "our" library branch. Lacking physical touchstones meant my siblings and I relied on media for connection: The Lion King soundtrack, Tracy Chapman albums, Blossom, the Berenstain Bears, endless stacks of Archie comics. If I'm feeling upset and/or homesick, I can put on Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and veg out. In the same way that my mom's salmon cakes and my baby blanket are totally connected to me both today and in 1992, throwing on The Point is nearly fool-proof way to get me out of a mood.

And Back to the Future stands the test of time. Sure, it's all about time and place - Hill Valley, 1955/1985 - but it's also timelessly about falling in love, being true to yourself, and finding your way home. Sure, it might start being upsetting if you think about carefully. But Fox and Lloyd are so funny: they're both so good in the role that it's mind boggling that Eric Stoltz almost got the part. Part of Fox's charm is that he's basically playing himself (an affable charmer), and Glover's charm lies in the fact that he's acting. Hard. Lloyd is just hanging out, burbling "One-point-twenty-one jigawatts!" and being all loony mad scientist. The story is simple but fantastic - a young man accidentally goes back in time, interrupts his parents' first meeting, and needs to engage the help of a mad scientist to reunite his parents and get back to his own time - but the film has skateboard vs. car action sequences, frilly petticoats, Libyans, guitar solos, Huey Lewis, the most garish 4x4 truck I've ever seen, and "I am your density...I mean, destiny."

SOLD, right?

I'll grant that the sequels aren't wonderful: 2, while featuring a hoverboard and the famous self-lacing Nikes, is pretty damned dark, what with the father-murdering and the dystopian alternate 1985. 3 is crazy, just straight up insane: Wild West! With Doc Brown falling in l-o-v-e and a replacement to the original time-traveling Delorean that is candy-coated lunacy (spoiler alert: it's a train!). Unlike the other major '80s trilogies, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, BttF sort of goes off the rails in the last couple movies, but they're interesting to witness. And the original is so good. (Better than Star Wars. Yeah, I said it. I meant it.) And it's a blessing that Universal Studios dismantled the ride that was based on the movie, since it made a full 60% of my family lie-on-the-floor nauseous. But the movie is magic. Science fiction, comedy, romance, action, and a poop joke or two? What's not to love?

If and when I have kids, I hope they're into Marty McFly's timeline-bending escapades. It's my duty as a parent to expose them to the magic of the movie, and hope that I've spawned children who aren't total dolts. If they start wandering around shouting "Great Scott!" in their high-pitched tiny-person voices, I'll know I've done my duty.