Thursday, December 22, 2011

When in Doubt: Make a List

RADIOLAB: Laughter by Nick Iluzada
RADIOLAB: Laughter, a photo by Nick Iluzada on Flickr.

It’s nearly the time of year when we all make brave/bold/ambitious New Year's resolutions. I tend not to because I never see them through so I’m making a different type of list this year. This is my 1st annual Things I'm Glad I Learned this Year Which I'll Hopefully Remember Next Year list. I hope it catches on.

  • The best reading is re-reading.
  • Renovating is great in theory. Shitty in practice.
  • You can get sick of eating ribs.
  • Turning the computer on and off a few times often fixes the problem.
  • It's important to be kind to everyone. Especially to those who you know don't feel the same.
  • If you're not failing, you're not living. Or trying hard enough.
  • Bad meals will put you in a foul mood and should, therefore, be avoided.
  • Bad movies can be enlightening.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • Bacon makes everything better.
  • Kids are smarter than you think.
  • Nothing feels better than waking up next to someone who you know loves you.
  • Swimming naked is better than with a bathing suit.
  • Kids can be jerks, too.
  • Sleeping in a hammock is very satisfying.
  • A chipmunk landing in your hammock while sleeping? Not so much.
  • Making someone laugh is The. Best.

Anything to add?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

What's That Ringing in my Ears? Oh, It's the Sounds of Christmas!!!

Last week, I was in the city doing a little bit of shopping when the clerk at my favourite cheese shop - who's amp, by the way, is always at 11 on the "I love my Job" meter- told me that the reason she was looking and feeling a little depressed was due to the fact that she was dreading the weekend. Why I asked? Did you have a horrible task to attend to? A funeral to attend? A children's Christmas concert, perhaps? No she told me and then leaned in conspiratorially so that no one but I could hear. "This is the weekend we will be turning on the Xmas music". Ah, I said with a knowing nod of my head. I then doubled my order and told her I wouldn't see her until after the New Year when they would go back to playing whatever music they slap on that makes me buy more Boursin than any human should reasonably eat.

Every year, millions of people head out to gather gifts their family will tire of in a fortnight and find themselves needlessly exposed to Christmas music. Would it surprise you to know that when U.S. soldiers at Abu Grahib wanted to break the will of their Iraqi prisoners they chose "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth"? I'm not because every time I hear the less-than-dulcet tones of Bruce Springsteen warning me that Santa Claus is coming to town, I want to put Amnesty International on speed dial.

I should come clean: I don't hate Christmas. I like the idea of universal fellow feeling. I’ve made my peace with consumerism. Plus; I enjoy getting presents. What I don't like, however, is having music I despise shoved down my throat every time I step into a Shopper's Drug Mart to buy feminine products. Here are a few things I would rather hear than Christmas music:

  • a jackhammer
  • a cat in heat
  • a mosquito in my ear
  • anything by Keasha
  • fingers on a chalkboard
  • an old school computer modem
  • a colicky baby
  • Ben Stein
  • Nancy Grace
  • a drunken karaoke singing "Don't Stop Believing"

And while we're on the subject, why does every second song have to be a question? Do They know it's Xmas? What Child is This? What Time is Santa Coming to Drop off the Bootie? I might have made the last one up.


Here is the point (and it's more a desperate plea at this point) : for every Xmas song played, throw in a favourite song of that year. Wonderful Xmas, by Wings followed by Halocene by Bon Iver, for instance. All I Want for Christmas is You by Mariah Carey followed by Helena Beat by Foster the People. You feel me? For every mallet hit of Xmas cheer, a lovely ear worm. It would make the season brighter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food Rules

Illustrated edition of Food Rules, now available

I have a bit of a confession: I am a bit of a routine queen. I like my universe to be in a certain order and will often go to great lengths and pain - to myself AND others - to ensure that it remain so. I can't sleep without making my bed first, for instance, and haven't slept in an unmade bed since Nixon resigned. For my entire primary school career, I packed the same lunch - peanut butter and jam sandwich, juice in a thermos, cookies and a piece of fruit - and ate in the exact same order every day. With no deviation. Ever. Sick, right? Monk has nothing on my ass.

The problem with being a slave to routine and ritual, of course, is that it doesn't lend itself to a life with a ton of spontaneity which, of late, I've come to see as a bit of a character flaw. So, over the summer, one of my personal objectives was to change things up a little. I let things sort themselves out with little in the way of "personal interference", if you will, and, instead, ran my life on the path it naturally set for itself as opposed to cleaving to the grand plan I mapped out in my head. I didn't get in my own way, as they say in therapy speak.

Guess what I learned? Going with the flow: it sucks, y'all! I am a bag of toys without a consistent schedule. Meals, daily grooming and exercise, childrearing, none of these things get done with any consistency - Hell, at all!- if I don't set them to a time of day. It made my nerves so bad not to know what I was doing on a daily basis that I almost had a nervous breakdown a few times. I was like Jeremy Renner's character in The Hurt Locker, trapped in a world that expects me to make decisions in the cereal aisle of life when all I really know is wearing a helmet that looks like a giant fishbowl and defusing the same bomb over and over and over again. So I dialled it back, reverted to my old ways and made a little promise to myself that I would change it up occasionally but not as a rule, as my poor, regimented system couldn't handle the strain. Baby steps, right?

Which is why I love the new book by Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater's Manual. Was this book made for me or what? Firstly, it is festooned with illustration by my God, Maira Kalman, the greatest illustrator on the planet. And it's a book. With rules. About food. I really doesn't get any better, non? Here are just a few of the wisdoms you'll find therein:
  • Do all of your eating a table
  • Don't become a short order cook
  • Enjoy drinks that have been caffeinated by nature, not science.
  • The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead.
  • Don't get your fuel from the same place your car does.
May I recommend that this book appear in every one's stocking?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Long Live the Turtle (Neck)!

In our home, the change of season is marked NOT by the turning back of the clock but by my switch from t-shirt to turtleneck. It is a sad day when this happens for it means that the cold is about to set in and we will, for six months at least, be subjected to soup for dinner at least once a week and complaints from both young and old alike that we can't find our other mitten. Sigh.

Though turtlenecks have long been associated with arty intellectuals, turkeyneck-hiding old ladies and sexless Christmas sweaters, I have always loved and worn them. Actually, I always thought that my love for the turtleneck came from a compliment I received once in my twenties. I was at a party at a friend's apartment in Montreal and flirting heavily with a young gentleman with whom I shared an existential philosophy course, a course, I should say, that I signed up for - foolishly! - and should have gotten out of waaaay before I did, but waited past the due date before realizing that my brain couldn't handle it. I turned, instead, to the wearing of the turtleneck as a solution to my problem. Dress like an intellectual, feel like an intellectual. Clever, right? Wrong. Ever the fraud, I remember secretly wishing that my bus would get t-boned on the way to my final exam. 

But I digress.

The object of my affection was looking at me attentively while I blathered on about one thing or another until he interrupted with this: You look like Audrey Hepburn in your turtleneck, did you know that? I was speechless. I know that for certain woman, Audrey Hepburn is an icon of beauty and fashion.  Her petite frame and gamine haircut have been copied by hundreds of starlets and co-eds, with varying degrees of success. In fact, a few months before the compliment was uttered, there had been an Audrey Hepburn festival at the revival cinema a few blocks from my apartment. Posters of her likeness were still plastered everywhere, her wide eyes and big mouth assaulting me from the sides of abandoned buildings and enveloping me in the shelter as I waited for the bus. She was a beautiful woman, there is no doubt. But to a 5 foot 10 inch black lady?  There really is no weirder compliment.

I turned to my complimenter and simply shook my head.  Yeah, I said with a pause. You're reaching. And, I added, you've probably had enough to drink, I think. He stood staring, bleary eyed before getting up from his perch on the arm of a couch and puking into a nearby plant.  I guess that's why, for me, turtlenecks have to be about something besides a movie star.  And as an added bonus:  I can  only conjure the image of a ponytailed man vomiting every time I see a movie still from Breakfast at Tiffany's.  Some images simply endure forever.

I think Audrey would agree.....

Thursday, October 20, 2011

I Don't Heart Raccoons

raccoon by tobin eckian
raccoon, a photo by tobin eckian on Flickr.
Dear Racoon-Who-Invades-My-Garbage-Can-Like-a-Maurauding-Vampire-Every-Night,

Did you enjoy the 25 pound weight that I put on the garbage can last night? And the red pepper flakes I spread on it in order to make it more appetizing?  Did you enjoy those, too?  How about the bungy cord criss-crossed all over all of that? Are you thinking twice about choosing my place as you All-You-Can-Tear-into-and-Destroy Buffet? If not, I hope you will carefully re-think your choice in the coming nights. Cause it's on, brother. I will eff you up.

So, what drew you to my house in the first place? Was it the trees? The lovely, well-cared-for yard? The feeling of peace and serenity? Or was it the overwhelming feeling that, yes, this MUST be the house where a nice black lady with an over-arching sense of order will REALLY go crazy if I spread all of last night's dinner and most of this past week's peelings all over her driveway and porch? I'm curious.....

For the record, aren't you suppose to be a wild animal? Isn't there is a forest a few miles away that would take you with open arms? Where if you actually made the effort to access the hunting skills that Nature programmed into your DNA, you might find dinner? But you don't wanna do that now, do you? No, because that would actually be classified as work, right? And it looks to me like you'd rather spend your nights busting into easy prey (sponsored by Rubbermaid) than actually get busy on something you might have to chase.

Yours is not a discriminating palate either, is it, fella? Stale bread? Old chicken carcasses? This is your fist choice for food, huh? Interesting.  And is it more delicious when you eat them under my car, or is that just where you had a party with the eggshells afterwards? I don't mean to pry but it's what I was thinking about when I was prying them off of the asphalt.  The same asphalt that the sun shone on for a few hours before I discovered them making the driveway and entire surrounding area smell like a slaughterhouse. Oh, and a big thank you for really grinding them in there. Nice touch! It's was especially nice trailing them indoors and pick them out of the carpet for three- No, four! - days afterwards. You are a scamp!

Have you figured it out, yet? Have you figured out that you chose the wrong lady to piss off? That I hate you? That of all the houses, in all of this town that you could have chosen you, you made a mistake in choosing mine? If I haven't then come by again tonight. I've been thinking of the millions of ways I'd like to wipe that mask off of your face and I'd love to try a few of them out.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Every year come Thanksgiving, my thoughts inevitably turn, not to overeating and dysfunctional family dynamics, but to my wedding.  Yes, I was technically married on same date in July that only my mother-in-law seems to remember (July 24? Or is it the 25th?) but it was on Thanksgiving weekend that we had the reception. And as we all know, it's the reception where the real fun happens.  Mine was no exception.

Every year we run through some of the highlights from that special day and they never fail to crack us up.  Here are a few of my favourite moments (In certain cases, I have changed names to protect the innocent:

  • My friend, Jim, from The Jim Show, juggled bowling balls during the dinner.  He wanted to juggle frozen turkeys but I couldn't find any on such short notice.
  • A friend of the groom's got so drunk that he ended up falling asleep on the floor of the restaurant where our reception was taking place. Don't worry. It was under a table. We ended up taking him home to our honeymoon suite because he couldn't remember the address of the place where he was staying that night.  Good times.
  • A friend of the bride's had a nap half-way through the reception. She slept on three chairs and used a table cloth as a blanket.  She woke up, continued partying and was one of the last to leave.  I have since used this technique at other weddings.
  • My 75- year old Nana introduced herself to everyone as "a friend of the family". Later on in the evening, she walked in on two friends getting it on in the ladies restroom.  She told them to make sure that they washed their hands afterwards. They assure me that they did.
  • I drank 400 gin and tonics and never got a buzz.  Much to my chagrin, I have not been able to duplicate this since that day.  

Enjoy your Turkey Day!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Your Music Kinda Smells Funny

Day 268: Too Loud! by matt.koenig
Day 268: Too Loud!, a photo by matt.koenig on Flickr.
The other day, I gave a friend a lift home in the rain (The same friend who, several years ago, told me to "Leave my name out of it if you ever blog about me, k? I mean it!!" Which I will do now not only because I am a woman of my word but, also, because I'm slightly afraid of what she'll do to me if I don't.) We were chatting away (read as, I was chatting away) when I noticed that she was getting a strange look on her face. The kind of look that you get when smell a bad odour, if you get me.

Nameless Friend: Is this the radio?
Me: No. It's my iPod.
Nameless Friend: Are you kidding me?!!!
Me (clueless): Yeah. Why?
Nameless Friend (incredulous): Because we are listening to Christopher Cross, Francis! Christopher Cross, for the love of God!!! From the eighties?!!!

And that's when I realized it. My iPod was on random. And I had been caught listening to Arthur's Theme. In my car. Between the moon and New York City. I know it's crazy. But it's true. (You know I had to do that, right?) While Nameless laughed her ass off and banged her hand uproariously on my dash, I busied myself trying to find an Arcade Fire track that might restore my dignity and street cred, not to mention cleanse the car of shame. All of this whilst driving and dying a thousand deaths. Multitasking, yet again.

Let me see your iPod then, Jag-Off! I yelled in defense. I bet you have something in there you wouldn't want people to know about. That shut her up quick. She clutched her purse protectively and swung her head from side to side like she was shaking a giant bug from her hair. NO! NO! she screamed. I won't let you look! Do I even need to tell you that I wrestled her in her front yard, got the iPod and then ran three blocks from her home with her trailing me from behind while frantically scrolling through her song list? Well I did! And worry not, fair readers! I hit pay dirt with Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy), by Big and Rich. How you like me now, Nameless?

The digital age leaves little room for deniability. I know this first hand now. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, here are a few more embarrassing finds from my device.

Low - Flo Rida - This song is wrong on soooo many levels. It's a song about a guy going to watch a stripper, for God's sake! But every time my husband puts it on - usually really loud when we he is in his boat at the cottage- he pretends like he's a gang-banger and gets this totally greevy look on his face that completely cracks me up. The kids actually call it, Daddy's song now. I know. How can something so wrong be so right?

I'm Coming OutDiana Ross- OK, here’s the deal. A friend got hitched a few years back and the playlist was filled with dance hits from the early 1980s and mid 1990s. I danced with such abandon to this song with the bride's gay cousin that I felt like I had been transported to The Limelight, circa 1982. That feeling is lightening in a bottle, people, and I get it every time I hear that song. It stays.

Who Can it Be Now? - Men at Work- There is crack in this song. I have no excuse.

Can You Feel It? Black Eyed Peas - Let me be clear: I hate this song more than Senator Anthony Weiner hates the bitter taste of regret. But it lives in my iTunes. At least until 5 minutes after I publish this post, anyway. That shit is GONE.

Now, I know I am not the only naked person in the pool.  What embarrassing songs do you have on your iPod? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thrown Under the Bus? No More!

Thrown Under the Bus by I, Rodius
Thrown Under the Bus, a photo by I, Rodius on Flickr.
Every once in a while, a saying worms its way into our cultural consciousness that leaves you questioning your will to live. Where's the beef? comes to mind.  WHAZZUUUUP! another.  What you talking bout, Willis?  Need I go on?  My current lexi- enemy is the now-ubiquitous term, Getting thrown under the bus.  Hell, my eye twitched just writing it. 

For those of you new to the planet, the term is an idiomatic phrase meaning to sacrifice another person (often a friend or ally), who is usually not deserving of such treatment, out of malice or for personal gain.  Apparently, it was picked up by the mainstream media during the 2008 primary season when it was frequently been used to describe various politicians distancing themselves from unpopular or controversial figures. David Segal, a writer for The Washington Post, went on to call the expression "the cliché of the 2008 campaign."  Well guess what, Dave?  We are leading up to a new primary season, and all I can ask myself, is, Why! Dear Lord! Why?! must I keep having to hear this phrase day after day?

My Waterloo with the line came last night while watching Project Runway, of all things.  In this particular episode, silver fox/mentor Tim Gunn empathized with a contestant who was having difficulties with a team challenge.  I don’t want your role to be so trivialized that you’re thrown under the bus, he cautioned and as he patted her on the back.  That's when I lost it, interweb. Lost. It.  So this is what it has come to. It’s not enough to use the phrase after people have been thrown under the bus or to comment on bus-throwing-unders as they are happening. Now, like an insatiable fungus, this godforsaken blight on the English language has spread its tendrils to the subjunctive, and we are INVENTING situations in which someone COULD be thrown under the bus so that we may remark upon those! (N.B.  To be fair, in the Project Runway universe, contestants exist only to be thrown under an enormous bus.  It is the way of the show.  It doesn't lessen the intensity of my ire, however, when I have to hear the term used out loud.  By Tim Gunn, of all people.  Sheesh!)

There must have been a time when the term was fresh as a summer breeze and didn't stink up the joint like it does now, non?  According to Wikipedia (where, sadly, there is an entire entry for it.  Yes.  Really.), the phrase harkens back to the writer Charles Bukowski, purveyor of all things skid row.  In his work Septugenarian Stew published in 1990, one of his characters, Harry, pushes his friend, Monk, in front of a bus.  While Monk lays unconscious and probably dying in the street, Harry steals his wallet and goes directly to a bar where he spends Monk's money by buying himself  two double whiskeys. Later, he goes to a  steakhouse where, again, using Monk's money, buys two beers and two Porterhouse steaks with fries.  Go easy on the grease, he tells the waiter.  

It is not a moment that launched a thousand Hallmark cards, to be sure.  But a catch phrase?  Could Bukowski have known that this scene would paint an image that would inspire millions - some, like me, to complete and utter distractions- each day?  Maybe this is the silver lining, then.  Maybe this is Bukowski's revenge:  that he managed to wheedle his way into the zeitgeist way past his due date. When you look at it that way, all I can say is, Touche, sir.  Well played.  But to the rest of you who insist on keeping the bus-throwing dream alive I say this:  Stop.  Saying.  That.  NOW!  Go easy on the grease.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Making The Corrections

Might I direct your attention to the far right side of this blog.  (No!  Not that right!  This right!)  Do you see that column that indicates all of the books I've read so far this year?  It's a pretty long list so far, huh?  Are you impressed?  Don't be because if I'd had my way, this  list would stretch the length of my arm. Allow me to explain why it isn't.

Every summer, before I head to my top secret retreat, I build a pile of reading materials that I try to get through in between trips to the washing machine.  This summer, however, in a joint effort to both improve myself and purge my shelf of some unwanted material, I made an effort to take out and read only those books that I owned and had not yet read.   There were books I'd been given and told to read by pain of death, some had been picked up on the road while travelling, with a few birthday presents from year's past and garage sale finds sprinkled in for good measure. It was a very big, very daunting pile but, no matter! I piled them into a Land's End boat tote and headed off to the land of  washing dishes by hand and worrying about the dump schedule.  Good times.

The project got off to a great start.  By the end of the first week, I had knocked three books off the pile.  Yay me!  I'm gonna eff you up list! The next week brought two easy reads before Wednesday.  This is like shooting fish in a barrel, I thought, as I reached towards an Ann Tyler novel paperback that'd stolen from the dentist office.  I was getting cocky. I needed a challenge.  And then I saw it.  The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.  Hadn't the entire world crapped themselves over this book? Isn't he the only author to have spurned Oprah?  Wasn't it time that I discovered just how good/bad/indifferent I should be to this novel?  Why not I thought, as I removed the book jacket and started to read.  And so began my trip down the rabbit hole that is The Corrections. 

How do I begin to describe just how depressed I became while reading this book? How do I begin to dissect a book that left me in a state of intellectual torpor for weeks afterwards? So much so that I couldn't pick up anything deeper than US Weekly (What's the point of reading, I kept telling myself.  It all pointless, isn't it?).  And more importantly, how do I begin to explain that despite all of this, it is really the only book I have thought about for two straight months? 

The Corrections is a skillful, disquieting examination of a severely dysfunctional Mid-Western family - The Lamberts - as they make an effort to fulfill their mother's desire to have one last perfect Christmas with their Parkinson's afflicted father. To say these people are messed up is really understating the case and they are, each of them in their own twisted way, looking towards ritual and routine to provide any vestige of happiness or sincere emotional connection to their already shaky foundations.  And so Christmas hangs over the family in this book like mistletoe but, it ends up, by books end,  causing them more grief than joy. The happy family reunion that Mama Lambert ends up hoping for never materializes, of course.  Same goes for the rest of the family members whose lives are heaped with turmoil of one kind or the other. Characters medicate themselves with  happy pills or sleep with married people in order to feel connection of any kind.  Gary, the family's eldest, looks for joy in cooking for his children which, in the beginning starts as a weekly family event, but later turns into yet another cause of his growing depression. What Franzen confronts about our modern world is how the rituals we have embraced have become disorienting and empty.   We take our medication to be happy, but are unsure of whether our happiness is really a sham. We encourage sociality in our families with special dinners around the table, but those dinners might end up feeling like mere pageantry disguising unhappy lives. 

Buzzkill, right?  

And then I got it. Like the Lamberts, most of us are committed - ambivalently or otherwise - to some pretty miserable routines.   What Franzen suggests is that this is our modern dilemma:  creating stability in a deeply unstable and contradictory world. Just as Enid Lambert eventually learns from her vacation with her husband Alfred on a cruise boat, to avoid tumbling overboard, we are compelled to constantly adjust our balance. 

Certain books have that uncanny, almost, magic ability to speak to us about our time.  They prop a mirror up to our culture and speak to us in a way that, to be perfectly frank, can lead  to uncomfortable resolutions about ourselves.  And that's why I dropped that book full of unread shiite off at the dump on my way home for the summer.  I had to make the corrections.  I have Jonathan Franzen to thank for that.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The World According to Leon

Forgive me, blogosphere.  It's been too damn long since my last posting.  I repeat: Too. Damn. Long.

For those of you who were not aware, for the last 2 months I have been sequestered in a  witness protection-type of program with the members of my immediate family. Although I cannot divulge the exact location of said program nor the reason why I was sent there (I might blow my cover, people.  My deep, deep cover...), I can say that the time spent away from the rigors of my normal, every day existence were beneficial to my general well-being and psyche.  That it coincided with the beginning and ending of the school holiday break was only a coincidence, really.  Just a coincidence. That said, a big shout out must go out to my good friends, Wolf Blass and Kim Crawford for getting me through this difficult period.  I could not have done it without you.

I did have occasion this summer to host a fair number of guests at my top secret domicile and it gave me occasion to ponder the very nature of the houseguest.  The mark of a good one, I've been told, is their ability to stay for a good time, not a long time.  (There is another homily about guests and fish, too, that you often see embroidered on pillows in your finer homes but I'm not a lover of fish analogies of any kind, so I'll it leave it to your imagination. )  I prefer, instead, to draw my best illustration from the murky pond of popular culture and in the pantheon of fictional houseguests that span from Blanche DuBois to Mork from Ork, perhaps none has wreaked as much havoc in the lives of their hosts as the character of Leon Black.

Leon, from my favorite show Curb Your Enthusiasm, is the underdressed layabout and willfully vulgar foil of the producer and main character Larry David. Leon landed on the show when his family moved in with Larry after being displaced from Hurricane Katrina and his job - besides eating Larry out of house and home and never paying rent - seems to be to lay down the wisdom on Larry.  Leon, with his aggressive posturing — in one episode Leon literally steals the shirt off the back of a pedestrian because Larry believed the shirt was his — and hilarious one liners ("You have to bring the ruckus, Larry!")  seems to exist to transgress as many taboos as possible.  He has no deeper agenda beyond bringing on what he does best.And what is that exactly, you may ask?

Keeping it real.

Here is a perfect example of that:

Consider me inspired. Look out blogosphere! This year, I intend to bring the Leon.  

Friday, June 24, 2011

Am I Alone, People?

monkey eats popcorn by gilesbooth
monkey eats popcorn, a photo by gilesbooth on Flickr.

Last week, my son and I ditched one of his after-school activities so that we might get started on our "Summer Must See Movies" list. A ++ parenting, non? As we sat in the darkened theatre and waded through the super-lame previews that kick start most summer (and winter, for that matter) films, it dawned on me that there was only one thing I've always found annoying about the movie- watching experience. Popcorn. Specifically, the amplified sound of popcorn being chewed.

An informal poll of several of my peer-group, however, garnered slightly distressing result. Are you kidding, Francis, was the common refrain? Popcorn is the best part of the going to the movies! You have a thing against popcorn, said another? For real? It was obvious that I was alone in my hatred.

It wasn't the first time, either. I have discovered that there a more than a few areas in which my observations do not jibe with those of the gen pop. Like my use of the term gen pop, for instance. Here are a few more:

- I despise the way magicians dress.

- I think hand sanitizers are pointless.

- Pretzels should never be eaten alone. They need the rest of the Party Mix.

- Every time I see James Cameron I have to supress the urge not to bust the television

- I still enjoy Woody Allen films

- I don't find The Three Stooges funny

Just wanted to let you all know.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Animal Snuff No More

When my husband and I cooked up our offspring, the thing we most looked forward to was introducing them to the classic movies that had formed our childhood. How great is it going to be to see these movies again through their eyes, I thought to myself as I sat down to compile a list for their enjoyment? Mid-way through the making of the list, however, I began to notice a troubling trend: Never Cry Wolf, Bambi, Finding Nemo, To Kill a Mockingbird, Sounder. Are you seeing it? How all are either animal or mother snuff film?

Ask 10 random people about the greatest popular-entertainment-related trauma of their childhoods, and you'll probably find it's an even split between the death of Bambi's mom and the death of Old Yeller. So let me ask you this: whence comes the tradition of heartrending children's classics in which a central character spends an entire book caring for and loving a very special animal, only to have it die in the end? The easy answer would be Disney but blaming them for anything is like shooting fish in a barrel. Sadly, most of these classic have been culled from literature where cherishing, nurturing and killing off an animal is as old as the form itself. Hello? Have you re-read The Yearling, lately? Brutal.

Which is why I decided to reverse the trend with my kids by coming up with a radical concept. For every film aimed at a young audience, I would throw in a documentary. It sounds crazy, I know, but if well chosen, a doc can introduce your kids to film making and life concepts that a fish looking for his mom mom simply cannot. And if you can avoid those docs that have extreme violence and sex as a core them (Duh.) - for which their are legion - you won't believe how enjoyable the experience can be.

Our latest in a long line of Should-We-Let-the-Kids Watch-This? - films is the documentary, Man on a Wire. Directed by James March, the film chronicles the events of the morning of Aug. 7, 1974, when a French daredevil named Philippe Petit stepped into the sky above Lower Manhattan and for almost 45 minutes ambled back and forth on a metal cable strung between the towers of the World Trade Centre. The movie starts with Petit talking about how he skirted security to get into the World Trade Centre in the first place, and then it works backward and forward until the story is complete—right through the nerve-wracking, awe-inspiring moment when Petit steps into the chasm and enchants the world. My son watched this as if he were in a trance and afterwards, we had as deep conversation as you can have with a ten-year-old about everything we had just seen. From the film's theme of pursuing your dreams despite the odds, to the importance of teamwork to why people want to do things like this in the first place. And as an added bonus: no animals were killed in the telling. Brilliant!

N.B. I also highly recommend Spellbound, a fantastic doc about kids participating in the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and Sharkwater. Both excellent doc- primers!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Talking Bout...Pop Music! Talking Bout....Pop Music!

In February of this year, a more innocent time, I embarked upon a strange project. It began with a request from my daughter to change the channel on the radio on our short drive to school to the syndicated pop station that for the purposes of this post must remain nameless. ( It does, however, rhyme with "More gin, Radio!" But, I digress.) Now normally, we would listen to the alternative music station enjoyed by both my son and I. (Sending them off to school bathed in the soothing waters of the Foo Fighters made the day seem easier to face, somehow, you know?) This morning, however, I decided to give in. We'll just listen to her station instead of ours for a few weeks, I explained to my son as he watched horrified as I cranked the dial towards this new pop music world. Let's just listen to it and try to embrace what the young kids are listening to these days, I said, as we sat back and let the soulful sounds of Kesha rape our aural canal.

Do any of you remember what it felt like back in 2004 as you watched George Bush become president? You don't remember seeing and hearing that freight train coming and feeling like there was nothing you could do about it? Well, let me ask you this: can you recall a pre-Black Eyed Peas world? Because it was a glorious time. It was a time when R and B singers weren't allowed to use Auto-Tune as training wheels (Sure, this robot helps me sing. But someday I'll do it all by myself!) and groups like Train didn't seem like the least likely group to put out a song entitled, "Hey, Soul Sister".

When I was a kid, my sister would order compilation albums from the TV. They had names like Knockout! and HITS! HITS! HITS! and we would sit and listen to these for hours. It was how we were introduced to some of the most crap-tastical music of the day. We would consume the popular songs like a bag of penny candy but if we let the record ride buried on there was usually an artist on there that didn't get conventional radio play. Louden Wainright was on one of ours. Nick Drake on the album of a friend. Who are these weirdos, we would say when our friends were around? Only to find ourselves strangely moved to listen to them again when no one else was around. Ah, the familiar push and pull of commerce and art!

It's important to remember this when it feels as if pop music has hit an all time low. Pop music has always been ridiculous and disposable. That's why it's called pop. Culture Club was pop. Pat Boone? Pop. Flock of Seagulls? Same, same. When was the last time you heard "I Ran" and thought, Wow, this song is a deep, deep well? And yet that album sold millions and millions of copies. Pop fades with time. Art endures. That's why we will still be listening to Arcade Fire 50 years from now long after the name of Train has been cursed for the last time.

Try to remember this the next time you climb into the car with the kids and one of them twists the dial towards the local pop station. Maybe I'll hear a hidden gem. Maybe I'll hear I'll hear a gem. It's what I keep telling myself.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


Mister Rogers by glindsay65
Mister Rogers, a photo by glindsay65 on Flickr.
There other day, I was approached by a friend who let me know that she was giving up on Facebook. The reason? She felt that reading other people's posts, looking at pictures on other people's walls, made her feel like she was missing out on something. You’re home alone but watching your friends' status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere else. You are aware of more parties than ever before and like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you’re not participating and missing out on something.
The feeling she was experiencing has a name and it is FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and many critics of the inter-web believe it will ultimately be the undoing of most social media. But my question is this: hasn't it always been thus? Doesn't this ring of hand-wringing of both the personal and the cultural variety?
Radar equipment companies sell radar equipment to the police as well as to the general public. Clorox is one of the world’s worst polluters of water but they also own Brita who make filters to get the bad stuff out of the water again. Lawyers create mazes that you have to hire a lawyer to escape. Facebook and Twitter create FOMO and also cure it.
Do you see where I am going with this?
Despite the occasional sense that everyone is popping bottles of champagne on city rooftops while I watch Modern Family reruns in my yoga pants, I still love participating in social media. And, believe it or not, seeing what I’m “missing” has shaped how I decide to spend my time. It has reminded me to fill my life with stuff that makes me feel like there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. If I feel like I’m missing out, I see it as a flag that I’m unhappy about something else, an indicator that I need to invest some time in finding my own fun, or a reminder to stay in the moment — even if the moment is just enjoying my friend's photos photos on Facebook!
There can be true meaning in social media—real connections, real friendships, devotion, humor, sacrifice, joy, depth, love. And filling your life with a sense of constant craving and desire (also called defilement, affliction) will make you feel like a slave. Is what we are looking for when we log on? No. What we are looking for is connection and you can find it on the interweb is you look in the right places. It's in the earnest posts of friends who've lost loved ones, in the pictures of their dogs dressed up like movie stars and the heartfelt bragging of their children's accomplishments. It is even in this speech that I found of Mr. Rogers accepting an Emmy. Read this and ask me if the interweb can be so bad when there is this type of stuff to be found on it:

mister rogers went onstage to accept a lifetime acheivement award — and there, in front of all the soap opera stars and talk show sinceratrons, in front of all the jutting man-tanned jaws and jutting saltwater bosoms, he made his small bow and said into the microphone, "all of us have special ones who have loved us into being. would you just take, along with me, ten seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are. ten seconds of silence."

and then he lifted his wrist, looked at the audience, looked at his watch, and said, "i'll watch the time." there was, at first, a small whoop from the crowd, a giddy, strangled hiccup of laughter, as people realized that he wasn't kidding, that mister rogers was not some convenient eunuch, but rather a man, an authority figure who actually expected them to do what he asked. and so they did. one second, two seconds, seven seconds — and now the jaws clenched, and the bosoms heaved, and the mascara ran, and the tears fell upon the beglittered gathering like rain leaking down a crystal chandelier. and mister rogers finally looked up from his watch and said softly "may god be with you," to all his vanquished children.

Monday, May 16, 2011

First Time Last

The Wilrik by Donald Lee Pardue
The Wilrik, a photo by Donald Lee Pardue on Flickr.

The other night I was laying in bed coasting through the channels when I happened upon the film, Requiem for a Dream. My husband is a huge fan of its director -Darren Aronofsky- and he and I had watched it together several years ago. I vividly remember sitting through the entire thing and turning to my husband immediately afterwards and telling him - nay, pronouncing! - with all sincerity, that I was never going to watch that film again. Ever.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film when it was released, Requiem For A Dream was about a lot of things: addiction, exploitation, destitution, loneliness, institutional corruption, the toxins of the media and our get-rich-quick culture, the false promises of the American Dream. Mainly, though, it was about visceral experience and Aronofsky provoked the audience in a visual way to feel these themes with the characters rather than have us sit back comfortably as the characters slowly circled the drain. That's why when Ellen Burstyn's character started to buzz out on pain pills, you started to feel like you were doing the same. When her drug addicted son (Jared Leto) started riding the heroin train, you felt like you were too. Fun times, huh? It was as powerful an anti-drug movie as I had ever seen and probably ever will since. And guess what I learned? I didn't like feeling like a crackhead and never wanted to be in a place where I had to turn tricks to get a fix. Lesson learned, Mr. Aronofsky. Success!

There are definitely films that I will love and cherish forever but there are also those that handily fit into the category described above: first time last. Sometimes, however, I would like to meld the two. I have decided that the best way for this to happen would be to receive the full Lacuna Inc. treatment —that's when a total stranger could with the touch of a "forgetting pen device" wipe away the memory of having seen a certain movie. Then I'd watch Hitchcock’s Psycho again for the first time. And Rushmore. And all of the Godfather movies. I just want a chance to spend an evening getting really invested in the Corleone family. Or watch Bill Murray sink to the bottom of that pool in the middle of his twin's birthday party and feel my heart break. Or watch Janet Leigh and wonder just what she is going to do with all that money. And when she meets Anthony Perkins, I want to sit through that whole awkward, kind of sweet conversation they have over sandwiches without knowing that the wig Norman’s about to put on his head is made of human hair, and not know just where he might have plucked that hair from…

Wouldn't that be nice?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Done, Dammit!

Here's a little something I've been crapping out for the past two years. I finished it yesterday. I had been thinking about it for several years before I started it. Started it. Stopped it. Loved it.Hated it. Been indifferent to it. Now it's done and I feel.....weird.

I'm sure I'll get over it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Feeling....Groovy? Not So Much.

Nothing makes you feel like you are 100 years old like the following:

1) Falling asleep in front of the television at 9:30 PM. On a Saturday. Before your eight year-old does.

2) Buying a bottle of Crown Royal. For the bag.

3) Complaining to your kids about the size of the speed bumps in a traffic calming zone.

4) Using the word "Cripes". Or "Trousers". Or "Groovy", for that matter.

5) When your body wants exercise but your brain says stay home and read the paper.

6) When you buy something with the Heart Smart label at the supermarket and it gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling.

7) When you consider walking and talking multi-tasking.

8) You get teary listening to the national anthem.

9) You are using a duvet in May 'cause it's chilly in here, don't you find?

Anything to add, intraweb?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Last week, HBO unleashed a new show on the cable-viewing public called Game of Thrones. Based on a series of wildly-popular fantasy novels by George R.R. Martin, the show has been dubbed by many of the critics as a Must Watch if you are into the men-killing-other-men-while-pimped-out-in-fur-coat-style-period-garb-and-bare-breasts-exposing fare that cable has come to be known for these days. Hello, Tudors-fans. Nice to see you.

I have never been much of a fantasy fan, generally, but when I mated with a geek and we made a boy-child, I felt it was my motherly duty to embrace the genre. I watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy dutifully; re-watched all of the Star Wars films of my youth and their urine-soaked prequels. I bought in as best I could. But this Game of Thrones business is some weak kung-fu. Even my husband, who likes all of this crap, proclaimed it bad from the start. And this is the same dude who spent every Wednesday for four years telling me that "This is the absolutely last time I ever watch Lost, again", only to return to the exact same spot on the couch the following week. In short, he invests. But this stuff, he has walked away from after the first episode. If he is a canary in the coal mine then this does not bode well for the Game of Thrones people, I'd say.

Now, I know it takes a while for a series to find it's legs. The first couple of episodes of Lost and The Sopranos were watchable for me only because they managed to mine an atmosphere of claustrophobia and couple it with shadowy mystery and the occasional terrifying example of raw aggression. But GofT's is faltering because there is no nuance. Zero. It just keeps hitting the same tone of impending doom over and over again. And hits it, it does. Like a fat kid on a Smartie. Over and over and over again. Isn't this a show that is supposed to be based on an elaborate fantasy world? Yes, there are magical wolf-dogs and women who wear their hair in a long, overly-brushed style but between the incest, rapes and beheadings, it's difficult not to watch this pretend world without questioning humanity. Did you have to keep the worst aspects of the real world, George R.R.. Martin? (And, by the way, is it necessary to have two initials if you're a writer of epic fantasy tales? And can I see other hands up besides Mr. Tolkien and Mr. Martin to this question?) Heck, even fantasy-world crime solving is based on finding hairs. Can we have some magic here, please?

Actually, don't bother 'cause I'm out. I'd be better off watching Dragon's Den. At least there is some fantasy involved. And Dragons, apparently.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bridesmaids Movie Trailer Official (HD)

Can this start today, please? Thanks.

Globe Piece

Here's a piece I wrote about the cottage that appeared in today's Globe and Mail. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Persistent Myth of "Women Aren't Funny"

read the full text...

In 1985, cartoonist Alison Bechdel and her friend Liz Wallace decided to come up with a way of examining movies for gender bias. No small feat. The test they came up with posed three questions: Does a movie contain two or more characters who have names? Do those characters talk to each other? And, if so, do they discuss something other than a man? Most movie-goers - of both genders - would not expect movies like "The Expendables" or "The Fast and the Furious" to pass this exam. They don't. But would it surprise you to hear that the majority of comedies you love, also fail? 'Cause the list is long: The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Hangover, The Princess Bride, The Big Lebowski, anything with Adam Sandler. So, why are female roles in comedies lacking when there are so many funny women working in Hollywood?

According to most studio heads it's largely due to date night. Not the mediocre studio comedy of last year starring Tina Fey and Steve Carrell, but actual dates. Here is how it was laid out in The New Yorker:

Studios believe that making comedies for women flout the almighty laws of Date Night, which hold as follows - Men rule. Men decide which movie a couple will see on a given weekend, and any hint that a film involves fashion, pedicures, or female troubles is "man poison"

Both men and women can relate to Kevin James in Paul Blart: Mall Cop.....if that character is played by Tina Fey, it wouldn't work, for the same reason that men can't relate to Rene Zellweger in Bridget Jones Diary. Men just don't understand the nuances of female dynamics. "Often, the woman in the picture is in a movie just to make sure the audience knows the guy is not gay," says actress Catherine O'Hara.

Breathe, Laura. Breathe.

Why does this myth of women not being funny still persist? Is that women are just "fundamentally not funny", as the late John Belushi once said of his female counterparts (What a peach, huh?) or that those who make the movies have simply decided to see it as a cash issue and not a laughs issue? The last ten years or so have brought about some very positive changes in the narrative of women in comedy. Have these studios peeps ever watched an episode of 30 Rock? Seen Kirsten Wiig on SNL? Lifted their knuckles off of the ground long enough to hear the hundreds of female comedians that are out there pounding the pavement in comedy clubs nightly? I thought we were past the days when we let one gender decide what was funny for another.

Comedy has always been a man's world, but there were some bad-ass, ballsy (for lack of a better term) ladies who clawed their way in, who refused to believe the popular assumption that dismissed an entire gender as incapable of making people laugh. Mae West's first movie was in 1932 but before that, she went to prison on morals charges for writing, directing, and starring in a play called “Sex.” You want a bad boy, that's a bad boy. Funny women have always been around — we were just much less willing to see them.

And the great part is, once we realize that we must open our minds, there are twice as many people to laugh at.

N.B. An essay I wrote about buying my cottage will appear in the Fact and Arguments section of The Globe and Mail next Tuesday. I'll be sure to link or repost it here once it appears.