Friday, October 14, 2011

Gridizens of Toronto

You used to be able to tell the kind of people you hung out with by the free Toronto weekly paper they picked up. There are two major competitors in this fine city, and a host of other, more niche-market options to supplement your transit-time reading. Since I'm not a gay man or a person of South Asian descent, and I rarely find myself in the market for a new automobile or apartment, I tend mostly to stick to the big two: NOW and The Grid, formerly known as Eye Weekly. With The Onion's recent entry into the Toronto market, there might be a third horse in the race, but for now, it rests with The Big Two.

In previous times, Eye Weekly was a distant second to NOW, which boasts the Savage Love, and a thorough selection of globe-trotting pleasure women - Tatiana from Russia! Svetlana from Sweden! Like a cadre of slutty Carmen Sandiegoes! Also, the concert listings. I'm a nerd and so I'll include the NOW weekly crossword, which is one of the better crosswords out there. NOW has the restaurant reviews, movie listings, and a naked, photoshopped Rob Ford. NOW also, unfortunately, sometimes seems a little chintzy: their cover stories, often musicians or actors, are frequently interviewed at open press scrums and their cover images are culled from non-exclusive sources, which can lead to a sense of deja-vu while one gets their Ryan Gosling fix.

Eye Weekly was its sickly second-place competitor. When I bothered to pick up a copy, I was always impressed with the layout, which was clean and interesting - it reminded me of IKEA catalogs, but I mean that in a good way. But the covers were uninspired, and they always seemed so slender. I rarely grabbed a copy in the first place. NOW seemed to cover all my bases, and Eye Weekly wasn't going to tell me anything new about being a Torontonian.

In recent months, though, there's been a shift. Reading through NOW doesn't actually take that long. Readers with a political bent use it as a forum to decry Toronto's devolution under the pinko bike-riding vegans who want us all to pay 110% of our income in taxes/under the fascist warlords who bring want to rip out the TTC and start charging 120% of our income for private schools and flu shots. Under Rob Ford, the tone became shrill and strident, and a little alienating to those of us who live somewhere in the middle of the extremes. NOW still offers top-notch reviews and a rigorous approach to concert listings, which my boyfriend pores over with Talmudic intensity each week. But like I said: the content? Not so much. Puff pieces on actors and bands, festival guides and eco-advice, and cover stories that don't leave me feeling satisfied.

Enter The Grid. Despite it's semi-unfortunate name, it's done something that leaves NOW in its dust: it produces actual, readable, entertaining content each week, every week.

For instance, recent cover stories have been a celebration of the city's young fashionable risk-takers and one woman's chronicles of her box-bike experience. It also, unfortunately, ran a story about how hard it is to find an apartment downtown, which read like "Yuppie Like Me: one white, under-30, $100K+/yr couple's struggle to find a cool apartment for under $1500/mo while illogically refusing to put a totally manageable down payment on a house," which made me, and everyone I know, want to scream. Generally, though, The Grid manages to put out cool issues from week to week. They spend money on their cover shoots, and it pays off. They have an informal, bloggy aesthetic that's a breath of fresh air from NOW's text-block crunch. They brought back lots of man-on-the-street interviews, which makes it feel like Toronto is participating in The Grid's experiment, and their editorial tone is sophisticated, urban, and inclusive.

Obviously, with free weekly newspapers, I'm welcome to pick up both and read them with pleasure and any degree of completion. NOW still blows The Grid out of the water in terms of concerts and reviews, and that's okay: to fill up The Grid with that kind of content would mean edging out their more interesting and original pieces. Readers should, and do, take a hybrid approach: each weekly offers something for everyone, even if neither offers everything.

But The Grid should be congratulated for trying something new, like a redesign of their visual brand and a re-conception of their editorial focus. It's paid off handsomely. I, and many of my friends, have become Gridizens - people who look forward to each new issue. Even if the crossword is sort of second-rate, they have a kick-ass Sudoku.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cherry Pie Don't Come For Free

Last week I wrote about the joys of home cooking, and then, in my Thanksgiving-induced food coma, I promptly forgot to add a second entry. Sorry, loyal fans! (Also: LOLZ.)

Over the last few week, I've been thinking more and more about What I'm Going To Do With My Life. Dad, I know that you're clutching your laptop in one hand and your chest with the other, shouting, "Just get a job, dammit! Temp agencies! Call one!" and if you were Jewish, you'd tack on a hearty "oy vey" and a headshake or two. Because you are Polish, you will likely just sigh and reap your crops, and by that I mean mow the lawn. And I'm working on it! Job hunting is one of the worst jobs to do, because it's all work and no feedback. You know those cartoon jobs of endless cubicle farms and beige phones? The ones where all the workers are the same, and that sameness makes them crazy? (You know this cliche. Scott Adams built an empire on it.) That is job hunting. It sucks at your soul.

Naturally, between applying for jobs, I've been daydreaming about My Perfect Job. I love writing, and, despite a missed self-imposed deadline or two over the years, I've been pretty good at updating and maintaining this blog, which has led directly to a 2009 internship at Spacing and to a more recent twice-monthly gig at the Huffington Post Canada, both nice feathers in my cap. But, as of yet, I haven't sold an actual piece of writing to an actual publication. This has proven to be somewhat of a stumbling block in considering myself a writer, psychologically speaking.

Ariel Gore, in her excellent book How To Become A Famous Writer Before You're Dead, recommends that writers create alter egos to tackle the less amazing parts of being a writer. Your alter ego is in charge of the beggy follow-up emails, of reading contracts, of money stuff, of rejections, and of all the less-than-ethereal aspects of being A Person Who Writes.

I'm likely going to have to develop a split personality, since I tend to go into a tailspin when something gets rejected, and my authoress self has yet to make an appearance due to a deficit of any real authoring. On Gore's advice, I'm going to call my bad-ass version Cherry Pie: she'll grapple with the crappy feelings brought on by extremely cheerful and supportive rejection correspondence from The Hairpin, and I will be in charge of the women's writing circle-themed erotica and pitching short stories to Canadian small presses. Should I have any degree of success, I will honor Ms. Pie by dying a chunk of my hair fire-engine red: that's how you'll know I've sold something.

I like to think that there's an alter ego for my alter ego: the Person Who Writes, who wears flowy linen pants and has great, wild, creative-person hair. If Cherry Pie is like Rosie the Riveter, only with more tattoos and a really terrific phone voice, then my creative side is a woman named Roshonda: a woman who smokes vanilla cigarillos and who owns a large, well-trained dog. Both Roshonda and Cherry Pie have their benefits and drawbacks: Cherry's a big-hearted den mother, but she's got no self-control when it comes to vegan cheesecake and will eventually get happily fat; Roshonda's got the creative chops, but she's a terrible sleeper and will steal your pillows from between your knees.

There's been a recent mini-media storm about young people and our allegedly slutty creative ways. We're just giving it away for free on the street corner, apparently, with our free blogs and our Huffington Post contributions. This is irking more established writers, like Russell Smith who argued that new writers are somehow devaluing the creative industry standards that older writers worked so hard to implement.

To this I say: Russell! You have a job. A writing job! A rare, published, marketable writing job! Smith is tough to defend, since it's been a long-ass time since he's been hungry for a job. In my mind, a blog is like a photographer's portfolio or a designer's sketchbook: examples of what a client might get if she paid for it.
Some of my writer friends make a point of never working for free, but almost all of us have personal blogs. Ain't nothing wrong with giving it away for free, selling some work and not others, or working exclusively for the paycheck.

Where is Kaitlyn in all of this; where am I? Well, did I mention the job hunting? The blogging? The feeling not-quite-there-yet in terms of writing? I'm still figuring out a way to not get teary-eyed when someone says, "No thanks, this isn't quite right!" both in the traditional professional settings - I am a basket case before job interviews, no question about it - and in these new creative attempts. It'll take time. Smith and Topping might scoff at my free internet writing, but those guys can blow it out their ears: I have Roshonda and Cherry Pie on my side.