Monday, March 31, 2008

These Roving Eyes, This Raving Mouth

I spend a lot of time just roving around the internet. There are several sites I frequent (see side bar) and others I stumble upon just once. I bookmark a lot of things, for fear of losing the trail back. It's an endless web, afterall.

Virginia Sin of Brooklyn, New York is one of these recent discoveries. She got tired (and guilt-ridden) of stacking paper plates 5 deep in order to support the weight of her summer time BBQ, so she came up with a brilliant idea. She made porcelain plates out of paper pulp (don't ask me!) that look like the typical ones you'd find collapsing under a cheeseburger at your family reunion. People with this kind of talent and vision make me at once furious with jealousy and panicked with the feeling that I'm not doing anything valuable with my life. But mostly I just marvel at the ideas people have.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday DIY


Jeff broke up with me 4 years ago. It was the first of two bad moves he made in that brief six-week period. Second was his inexplicable decision to recover his dining room chairs in a peach-coloured terry cloth fabric. This offended me almost more than the breakup did. I like to remind him of his bad decision-making skills based solely on that cloth.

Somehow we managed to tolerate these chairs for the 4 years that followed. Today we went to Queen West, scoured the fabric stores and found a gorgeous replacement. We spent a lovely, crisp day, the curtains pulled open, the house filled with light, struggling with a task regular people should never attempt. There's a reason upholstery is an art.

But, we got through it, and they look great. Dramatic. These new seats make us feel a bit like queeny 50 year old fags of another era, but we're sort of okay with that. Click at right to enlarge. It's a proud day in our house.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Way With Words

One of the nerdier things about me is that I love words. A series of examples:

I remember the day I learned that "chaos" spelled chaos. Of course, at 10, I'd heard the word, but I'd never seen it written down. And there it was. What an odd little word. But it made sense.

Sonovabitch. I remember seeing it written that way in one of my Mom's Mary Higgins Clark novels. With vivid detail, I remember stopping, letting the book rest in my lap, and saying it over and over in my head, amazed it had been one word all this time, rather than the four I thought it was. I see now that there are many spellings, but at the time it was a revelation. To this day, whenever it strikes me to write the phrase "son of a bitch" (which is rare, I assure you), I recall that day with utter clarity.

Later in life I was known to privately recite monologues from Toni Morrison novels, in-character, as an aged former slave. Partly because I'm a diva! but mostly because I love the sound of words, particularly ones so beautifully crafted. To this day I often grab my copy of Song of Solomon off the shelf, flip to the dog-eared pages and go off on a hot biblical-infused soliloquy. It makes me who I am, what can I say.

I was always a reader, always good with punctuation. I loved Phonics class and considered those activity books you could practice your letters in a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I still say "A friend is a friend 'til the end", and my mind whirls as I type along. Even now, my brain isn't so much focused on the words or the physical act of keyboarding, but instead flipping through the tactics taught to 3rd grade spelling students. I consider punctuation and structure above most everything. The words are flowing, because that's how my brain works, but I'm building, I like how the words look. If there are too many letters with ascenders, it sort of bothers me. Like "little"; always bothered me, but not in a serious way, rather in the way that peanut butter on brown bread worried me as a child, because the browns clashed terribly. I'll sometimes change a word, (a perfectly suitable, lovely word) because the letters, within the confines of the specific sentence, look like a lava lamp sitting in the middle of a Victorian home. Somehow inappropriate.

I'll end with a transcript from a late-night conversation with Sophia:

Sophia: "Affidavit". That word sits uncomfortably with me for many reasons.
Jason: Absolutely. A lot of ascenders, for one thing.
Sophia: And the "davit" part . . . I don't like that one bit.
Jason: I know! A word with no diction. Like post-dentist numbness. No.



Thursday, March 27, 2008

Estelle

She's English and her new single is fantastic. I don't know much about Estelle Swaray of West London, but "American Boy" has been on repeat for two weeks. Featuring Kanye, it's rollicky and summery and everything I like.

Her album, Shine, will be released in Canada in the next several weeks but you can buy "American Boy" and her first single "Wait a Minute (Just a Touch)" on iTunes now.


Faces I Won't Soon Forget


This little guy, Juan Miguel, was wandering the streets of Havana with his mother and siblings. Sadly, there are a lot of families, dressed in their best clothes, kicking about the streets, hoping tourists will give them money. I, however, had a bag full of toys and gave every child something when I took their picture. I gave Juan Miguel a little ball and will never forget the look of excitement on his face. Just after I took this photo, he reached into Jeff's cargo pocket, took his bottled water, opened it and had a drink. It was the most adorable act of thievery I've ever seen.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Springtime is for Haters


It seems, every year, a rash of people (friends, friends-of-friends, colleagues) break up in February and March. Sometimes it's the May-December romance that simply went on too long, sometimes it's people who've been together 5 years or more. This annual purge strikes all types, wreaking havoc and driving thousands to drink. I'm convinced this massive love-cull funds bars and clubs until November, when some rush to reconcile and others hunker down with a new beau for the cold months.

What causes this outbreak? Is it cabin fever gone wrong? Is it Seasonal Affective Disorder running rampant and misguided? Where's the breakdown causing all the breakups in town?

On a daily basis my Newsfeed informs me of another awkward move from "In A Relationship" to "It's Complicated". It seems endless this time of year. Spring cleaning, or something like it. Is it a cold-climate thing? When buds creep from branches do chemicals surge, inspiring once-happy couples to look elsewhere? Do these people turn to the person they've been cooped-up with and say "What was I thinking?!" It makes me wonder when Los Angelites break up. Without seasonal cues perhaps they float, year-round, in a happy haze of love and sexual satisfaction. It's a mystery some Ivy Leaguer must be researching.

However selfish it may be, hearing of these devastating separations makes me feel particularly satisfied by my own relationship. I'm entirely happy sailing along, a steady heart beat, no major spikes of drama, no dips into the dramatic, no seasonal shifts. Those days are long gone, thankfully, and my Newsfeed remains beautifully uncomplicated.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Carpet Munching


I've been a bit obsessed with rugs lately. In my ongoing Housing Project, a new one is at the top of the list. Well, not on the top of my overall list of priorities, but in terms of my living room.

There's a store at the corner of King and Jarvis called Modern Weave and it has gorgeous rugs. They are thousands and thousands of dollars. But just today, on Apartment Therapy, the rug I've dreamed of since seeing similar designs on Welcome to the Parker is quite reasonably priced. This is the one I want. Oh someday.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Next Stop: The Future!

Many of my friends are not here. They are scattered about the globe in Australia, and India, Korea, and Montana. It's easy to forget how far away they are when you see an updated Facebook status or a slew of photos across your computer screen. What did we do before the digital age? When your friend said, one day, "Hey, I'm going to Australia for a while!" did we just retire to a dark corner and weep, as if they'd died and might never be seen again? Did we wait weeks and months for letters in the mail, wondering all the while if we'd heard the last of them? It sounds dark, but really, I'm not sure I could handle that. A time so slow, boats insteads of jets, candles instead of compact fluorescents.

There was a time when anything north of Bloor was cottage country. If you lived in Cabbagetown it would take hours for your horse and buggy to take you to the wilds of Rosedale where your summer home sat on the edge of uncharted territory. The world has gotten so very small. Does it ever make you wonder why old people seem to walk around in a befuddled and frustrated state? That will be us in 50 years. We, who were born into a world without the internet, will look back on all of this someday and marvel, wondering how the moon became so accessible. A weekend jaunt to Jupiter might be possible, and we'll say "When did the galaxy get so small?" Our grandparents have finally figured out the VCR and are now fighting to grasp the infinite wonders of email, though they came up during a time when light bulbs were a luxury. How confusing! How terrifying!

In the last 25 years, just my own lifetime, everything has changed so dramatically. The whole world is at our fingertips, literally and otherwise, we have more information than we could ever sift through, and every opportunity we might ever want. If I had enough money, I could be in Korea this time tomorrow (or would it be yesterday?) Anything, at the drop of a hat.

I am constantly stunned by the advances we've made. I went to a record store a couple of years ago and when the young salesperson handed me a wireless debit machine, I nearly fainted! I said "Wow. Do you remember when we didn't even have debit?" She smiled, rolled her eyes, and said "No." She was 18 and couldn't remember a time without it. I'm sure she thinks of Jim Carrey like Cary Grant and Mariah Carey as an aging pop star's grandma. She probably hasn't experienced the devastation of a tape being eaten by your stereo, but I'm sure there's a modern-day equivalent. A corrupted MP3?

Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have my international friends feel so close, happy the world is such an intimate place. But it probably makes us lazy, as a people. When everything is right there, we don't reach for things. We don't extend ourselves beyond an email or a quick Wall Post. If we had to take a horse and buggy, we wouldn't go anywhere. Once I discovered its utter convenience, it took me 5 minutes to replace a lovely walk to the record store with a click on iTunes. And there was a time I loved strolling those aisles more than almost anything else.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Pot Smoking

T.J. Tasker is a friend and colleague. He is also a guest blogger. See below.


I hate those mornings when I’m forced awake by my alarm. It seems such an uncivilized way to start the day. I much prefer to wake up the natural way, when I’m good and ready. I’m generally an early riser and like to take my time in the morning . . . make breakfast, have a cup of coffee, read a bit of the newspaper, that sort of thing.

To help soften the blow I set my clock to ‘radio’ rather than ‘alarm’ and every morning I'd wake up listening to Metro Morning with Andy Barrie. Andy’s smooth voice and intermittent coughs would lift me out of my slumber, with other folks, all with friendly ‘wake up sleepy head’ voices chiming in with news tidbits and weather. There were days when these voices would drift into my early morning dreams, slowly coaxing me awake.

I remember one morning in particular when I woke to news of a disaster on the 401. It seems a truck full of teapots had overturned and scattered its contents all over the highway! The newscaster, in a very grave tone, told us of the chaos this was causing for the morning commute and, if at all possible, we should avoid this area of the highway.

The smug non-driver part of me chuckled at what a spectacle this must have been. Teapots all over the highway! I had visions of loose pots stacked neatly on shelves in the back of a transport truck heading toward Chinatown to make delivery. There was something I really liked about this vision, something very Disney; every little bump in the road would cause the pots to jump just a little and then return to their neat stacks. Then, out of nowhere, a sharp turn in the road caused the truck to veer a little too quickly one way and, boom, teapots on the highway!

I soon forgot about the mess on the road and got about my day. My sister and I had some errands to run together and as we drove up the DVP I asked if she’d heard about the teapots on the news.

What?!” she said in disbelief. “Yeah, a truck full of teapots turned over on the highway…can you imagine being in a car behind that truck? Teapots coming at you like grenades? Terrifying!” “You’re an idiot!” she laughed, “The truck wasn’t carrying teapots . . . it was a gardening truck full of peat moss!

In that moment, my Disney dream was shattered like millions of teapots on a highway. But boy did we have a good laugh! Since this day, I've avoided hard news before noon.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Madonna


It shouldn't surprise you that I'm a Madonna fan. It's in my genetic makeup. On April 29th she'll release her 11th album called Hard Candy. Not one to miss a trend, she's teamed-up with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland to produce a hip-hop flavoured record. Her last, Confessions on a Dancefloor, brought her back to form with a series of hit singles. Based on the new photoshoot with Steven Klein (click to enlarge at the right), it seems she'll be blonde for this promotional tour. Half the excitement of a new Madonna album is a new Madonna Look. Remember when she hit the press junket for Evita? All 50s hair and old-school-couture? Hot. And in 2006 it was all hot pink body suits, purple tights and heels. From what I've seen, this year will show us the "hardcore Madonna", who apparently boxes on weekends and wears gold. Thugged-out and streetwise. So utterly manufactured. I love it.

Listen to the new single, 4 Minutes (To Save the World).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Boy Wonder


I am a considerably together and well-adjusted adult, despite my childhood. And I don’t mean that I was abused or that I overcame anything significant or specifically arduous, I just mean that I was an especially strange child.

At 9 years old, I was often found waxing-domestic with one of my 35-year-old, mother-of-two neighbours. She with a cup of coffee, I with skinned knees, we’d sit together on her front porch, watching her kids play in the grass, discussing the events of the day. As openly as she heard tales of 4th grade nothingness, I ravenously absorbed stories of diaper-changes and marital un-bliss. The dynamic was most bizarre in its total lack of peculiarity. I had the same relationship with most of my teachers – except with those who were decidedly male and resistant to chitchat after class.

I've mentioned my intense attraction to Judith Light. I was always drawn to women of a certain age, and was a total sucker for one with well-coiffed hair and a smart wardrobe, shoulder pads notwithstanding. Judith Light’s pedigreed turn as Angela Bower was a dream come true. Add a t-shirt-laden Tony Danza, and a sharp-tongued Mona Robinson, and you can be sure Tuesday nights on ABC had me spellbound.

Like I said: strange.

While most boys my age were playing baseball and riding bikes dangerously, I was organizing desk drawers and not riding bikes at all. I had a penchant for stationery supplies. I dreamed of my own daytime talk show. And I was obsessed with infomercials.

Bathtime became a particularly eccentric time. My Mom had a blue-bottled-product near the tub. Its sole purpose, electric blue and shaped like some sort genetically-altered conch shell, was to dye the water, making the bather feel like she was Brooke Shields, I imagine. Worked for me. Aside from soaking in the Blue Lagoon, I would become the host and creator of a fantastic new stain-removal system. I would squirt the dye onto a facecloth and spend the next 20 minutes using shampoos, conditioners and a variety of hard soaps working the blemish out – all the while, in a hushed monologue, describing to my viewers how my cleaning products would get anything! out.

My skin wrinkled and gently tinted, I would climb from the tepid water an hour later, entirely satisfied with my latest performance. This was, of course, before puberty, when the bath became a single-purpose-endeavor which long-outlasted the hot water.

Finally, I was just like the other boys.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

One Month Closer to Biceps

So, I am one month into my new life of fitness. That's not to say I've gone every day or anything, but I have gone half the days. I want to write about the gym in an effort to dispel the myths and alleviate the fears of those who read. I've wanted to join a gym for many, many years, but have always talked myself out of it, or let it "slip my mind". It's intimidating. But, guess what: It's not so bad! Below is a list of things to know about health club culture, from someone who gathers information like a paranoid anthropologist.

1) No one is paying any attention to you. And if they are, it's because they're probably attracted to you, not because they think you're lame or skinny or ugly or wearing stupid shoes.

2) Working out is not an athletic endeavor! It's easier, it's slower, and no one will expect you to catch anything! No teams, no score keeping, and you make the rules! Why do you think so many gay men hit the gym so hard - It's because they get the machismo points and participate in something that isn't a garden party. It makes our fathers proud!

3) The locker room is a bit weird, sure. But if you shower at home and avoid that walking-around-stark-naked thing, you'll be fine! Avoid starting at those who are stark naked.

4) I take it all very slowly. If there's a machine I want to try, but don't know where to start, I carefully watch people to figure it out. Remember: We are not supposed to know how to use weight machines or cardio equipment. Even though some of the super-fit people strut around like they had a Stairmaster© in the womb, they didn't, and they were once a tiny child with the arms of a teenage girl. Be proud of your efforts and look forward to the day you can intimidate others!

After one little month, I'm starting to see the smallest insinuation of results. My friend Nick said of working out: "As soon as you start, when you look in the mirror you notice the good stuff, instead of the bad." It's a complete mental shift. You ignore the bits that bother you and start focusing on the tiny changes, the hint of a line (or is that a bruise?), the mere suggestion of a muscle growing in your 13 year old girl arms. It's fantastic!

Welcome Home


Our best friends, Nick and Natasha, finally got their condo. They bought the loft-style apartment two years ago and have been at the mercy of a contractor ever since. Jeff and I drove by from time to time, watching as iron beams became walls, the metal skeleton continuously sub-divided into homes for hopeful young couples. Each has lived with their parents in the suburbs, their savings accounts running-over, their boredom and impatience too. When the keys were finally delivered on Monday, it was surreal. They'd finally live downtown, just blocks away from us. With an excited squeal and a turn of the key, weekend sleepovers at our house instantly became a thing of the past; our guest bedroom echoes with their absence, and bittersweetly, we no longer have to share our pillows. I'll miss falling asleep to the familiar night-noise of these two: the breathing, the restlessness, the morning gastrointestinal noise. There's a strange selfish-sadness mixed into my happiness for them. Something like empty nesting, I guess.

They've been preparing for this day for a long time. Nick relishing the last loads of laundry done by his Mom, Natasha buying up housewares, stockpiling them in her parents' house like an interior designer's emergency preparedness kit. So many boxes, sealed-up for years, holding items we found together at flea markets and antique shops. Everything from glassware and tchochkes to furniture in desperate need of her love and a smart reupholstering. It was fun to finally crack those crates, to see her face light up as she was reacquainted with a set of vintage juice glasses or a teak salad bowl she'd forgotten about. I remember the day we found each piece, a pair of treasure-hunters stumbling excitedly, a contact high from the dust.

We unpacked, assembled and organized for the whole day, Natasha and I moving around each other in her compact kitchen. We've always been able to share a room, no matter how small. Like ballerinas, we glide around each other; she's the only person I can have in the kitchen with me, the only one who doesn't irritate. I placed her things in cupboards where they made sense to me, figuring I'd spend nearly as much time searching for the salt and peppers as she would. Digging through a box, I'd hold up a set of candle-holders as if to say "Do you really want these?", because, you see, not every flea-market-find retains its charm.

Flubs and Tubs (as they're known) have been fixtures in our life (and house) for many years. Jeff and Nick went to high school together, Jeff and Natasha shared a college. Jeff brought the two together almost 8 years ago, a modern-day Dolly Levi. Then I came along and we meshed like magic. Natasha and I share a bundle of neurosis, Jeff and Nick are the supposed "easy going ones". We're a well-balanced foursome. We travel together, we dinner together, we sit and do absolutely nothing together. We take each other for what we are on any given day. We know each other's moods and ticks, when to poke fun and when to shut up. They are our family and I'll miss our jam-packed-weekends - Saturday night turning into Sunday brunch and into Sunday dinner all over again. Now they'll hop a cab and sleep in their own bed, just down the block. No more pajama parties, no more gassy mornings. I'll even miss the toothpaste in the sink. Yes, Nick, you just got that in writing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

High School High


There's nothing I hate more than a deceptive movie trailer. One that makes you think you're about to see Ferris Bueller for a new generation and then, in full-length, comes something entirely unexpected. Charlie Bartlett, starring the adorable and talented Anton Yelchin, is just this sort of lie. The trailer, all quirk and personality, tells the abridged story of a young man who climbs the social ladder after becoming the go-to shrink for his classmates. He starts dispensing pearls of wisdom and pilfered pharmaceuticals from his boys' room office while falling in love and finding his place in the world. A busy day for sure!

The brief little preview rode hard the coat tails of the ultra-current Juno, as if it would be a clever peak into the lives of modern-day teenagers, a biting social commentary on the over-prescribed youth of today. Turns out this movie is an elongated episode of Degrassi Junior High and, thanks to a Canadian filming location, employed dozens of kids from that show. Where the trailer aims its sights on a more mature audience, the movie is actually for tweens and teens - A 10 Things I Hate About You, a She's All That. It's not that the movie was horrible (I mean, who didn't love Freddie Prinze Jr.'s turn in She's All That?) it just wasn't for two 20-somethings expecting something more. Charlie Bartlett made Ellen Page's little movie look like Sophie's Choice. I wanted the edge of Welcome to the Dollhouse, I got a movie Hilary Duff passed on.

I will say, however, that Anton Yelchin is a charming and engaging young actor. Adorable, to put it mildly, and I think I'm in love. Totally worth the price of admission.


However disappointing the movie, I enjoyed a rare night with my decade-long friend, Sandi. After the movie we fell into a deep high-school-memory hole. We sat in the lobby bar of a hilariously boring hotel and drank, recalling the characters we'd been back in those days. Movies, of course, show the most typical sects of teenage life - the goths, the nerds, the cheerleaders. While they did exist, it's hard to remember if they were quite so clearly defined. Although I filled the role of Nerd, unadulterated, in elementary school, people like Sandi and I walked the line by the time we were teenagers. On the Spectrum of Geek, we were well-above the kids who played Dungeons and Dragons at lunch, and miles from those fast-tracking brown-nosers. However, we breezed through our classes and always had stationery supplies, which automatically takes you out of the running for Homecoming Queen. We like to say we were self-proclaimed outcasts, avoiding almost everyone but each other, because they were so lame. Sour grapes, perhaps, but really, weren't they so lame?

Sandi and I both, by chance, played the alto saxophone. We sat next to each other, that first day of grade nine music class, and struck up a friendship. Over the years we shared a love of The X-Files, Gummi Bears, and an inexplicable adoration of Can-Rock. I am grossly oversimplifying, but suffice it to say we were deeply connected. We often wonder what would have happened if one of us played the clarinet instead. Would I be seeing bad movies with Heather Gimson, a notorious classmate we always seem to recall? What may have come of me, without Sandi's dry wit and fidelity?

I shudder at the thought.

Whenever we get into one of these nostalgic conversations, we are often at a loss. We simply don't remember much. And, no, it's not what you think: One of the few regrets we share is that we didn't smoke drugs in high school. It's just that nothing sticks out. We had one of those teenagehoods - We hung out at the mall, we hung out in our basements, we listened to Sarah McLachlan and spent spare periods in the library laughing. We crafted amazing scrapbooks and made beaded jewelry (I am not proud of this), we poked around at Value Village and we loved used CD stores. But we didn't do anything. We shared time. And we did it, largely, just the two of us. It's one of those memory things, nebulous and indistinct, a feeling that makes your heart swell, but is so intangible. Like family. You can't really pinpoint the specifics, but you know the smell. It might not make a good movie, but neither do movies.


Sunday, March 9, 2008

Faces I Won't Soon Forget


Another Cuban face. This man was sort of fierce, I must say, and very straight-forward. He was sitting in an alleyway in Havana, one hot day in January. (It's strange to think of hot days in January sitting here in my house, practically snowed-in. I'd be happy to sweat on a streetcar, shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, at this point.) This old, wise-looking fellow was sitting in the doorway of a building. All buildings look the same in Old Havana. Dimly lit, charmingly run-down, entirely generic. A restaurant could be a shoe store could be a bank from the outside. I took two frames, one slightly too bright, and gave him a few pesos (the tourist kind, not the Cuban kind, much to his satisfaction) and moved on down the pock-marked street where we met Juan Miguel.

Saturday, March 8, 2008










I think it’s important to remember that your parents were once babies. Children. Tiny people with little to do. It’s important to keep in mind your grandparents were once young and virile, and critical to acknowledge your teachers had lives outside the classroom. Because we tend to box people in, think of them one way, rather than as whole people. We cling to dangerous archetypes and allow ourselves to be shattered when they’re disrupted. I look at this photo of my Dad, as a little boy, to remind myself he was once that little thing.

A memory: It was summer, I was 10. My best friend and I spent the morning with my parents – flea markets, hot cakes at McDonald’s – I have no real memory of that part of the day. I imagine it was a perfectly fine day, my parents always ten paces ahead, my friend and I lagging behind, enjoying an entirely different adventure. If we hadn’t been fifth graders (no drivers’ licenses and forbidden the use of public transit) we surely would have been out on our own.

One of our “new to us” used cars rolled into the driveway. Our day of errands was done. Ryan and I were likely planning the rest of our afternoon: Nintendo and Doritos high on our list of priorities. The car, well-worn and prone to breakdowns, had only two doors. Three, if you include the hatchback, I suppose, though it didn’t even open in the winter when ice would jam up the mechanism. I remember my Dad climbing out of the driver’s seat, bending to release the lever, freeing the passengers from the cramped backseat.

I contorted myself past the seatbelt between the folded seat and the hard metal doorframe, blistering hot from the sun. When my torso was free, my Dad reached under my arms and lifted me. Playfully. Lovingly, I suppose. In the way Dads do things in front of your friends – Acts that have a way of ending up embarrassing, rather than cherished as a gesture of affection. I was 10. I was a boy who, at that point, didn’t particularly like his father. I wanted him to put me down, and quickly. I also happened to be ticklish. I flailed. And my sneaker made contact with his shin.

I knew instantly that our lovely day was over. Like so many days had ended before. Like so many family dinners, summer vacations, camping trips, household DIY projects. I didn’t have a chance to yell “I’m sorry! It was an accident!” I guess I wasn’t entirely sure it was.

My father’s eyes expressed a kind of rage that I can now, as an adult, only describe as clinical insanity, depicting years of sadness and anger. My sister and I still refer to that look as “Dad’s crazy eyes.” I know he didn’t mean to, and he’d be devastated to know, but each time he looked at us with those eyes he chipped away at the image we clung to.

Occasionally time would sort of stop and loop over itself, his anger giving way to that deep sadness. You could see what you'd only heard in bits and pieces; the stories of his childhood that would leak out in fragments during family discussions, fights between my parents, or, what I now know was some kind of massive chemical imbalance, which always involved the purging of closeted skeletons. How he was tormented by his older brother, unloved by his father, expected to work 18 hours a day on the farm. The stories had become like fables to my sister and me, I think we got them mixed-up with our Grimm’s Fairy Tales collection. Memory has a way of folding over itself like mixing dough.

Once when my Dad was 8 years old, his mother bought him his first new Spring jacket. Joyfully (though I haven’t decided if she was happy to present it to him or proud of herself for a well-chosen item) she led him into the rarely-used living room and offered her purchase. It was blue nylon, it fit perfectly. He stood in awe of a brand-new jacket, all his own, and marveled at the grandness of it. He was 8 years old. Small, but strong. Muscled and tanned, like a sturdy little workhorse, his hands, though, belying the utility of his body. They were small and gentle, unlined and soft; he ran them down the length of his arms, over the metal zipper and into the pockets near his hips. I find myself telling this story as one would tell a joke: adding details no one can be entirely sure of, but created out of images and stories, the history of your family, all placed neatly into one concise recollection. I imagine he turned and spun around the living room – or maybe that was me as a boy. I imagine he smiled and laughed a little, unsure of himself. I imagine he hurried to find a mirror, to drink himself in, and to savour this moment while his jacket was still at its newest, a boy proud and unsure and delicate.

A boy kicking out as he was held under the arms. Wriggling and writhing, unwilling to let himself be held me in that intimate way. A boy who was 10 years old who didn’t much like his father.

Standing in his new blue jacket, spinning, perhaps, smiling and laughing, maybe. His father appeared from nowhere, his voice arriving in the room ahead of his boots. The little boy had left open the door to the grain elevator or the feed stall, vulnerable to coyotes or cats or rats. As he stood reveling in this new blue jacket he had neglected something far more important. His father lurched forward and tore the coat from his body. Stripped it into long strands from his small frame. Frayed edges of blue nylon hung from his shoulders. I imagine there was yelling. I imagine there was some kind of explanation for this, as it happened. I imagine this small boy fought to avoid direct eye contact. I imagine my Grandma focused on the muddy boot prints dragged in by her husband. I imagine her staring there, at the carpet, rather than at her son, layered in strips of blue.

Any variety of events caused my Dad’s eyebrows to fold into dangerous slashes. Chores left undone. A tent peg not held at the right angle. A presumed-dirty finger grazing the lemon-yellow wall of the kitchen, balancing to slide into a shoe.

His father, nylon threads clinging to his fingers, stormed out of the house, leaving a boy in shambles and his wife to go to her knees, scrubbing at her muddied carpet, muttering angrily about a grain elevator or a feed stall or a boy who didn’t deserve new things if he didn’t do his work properly.

He released me from his grip, after I kicked him in the shin. His anger came instantly and my friend and I scurried from the hot tar to my bedroom, that sinking feeling in my stomach that this incident was far from over.

My parents came in the house, and I could hear my Dad’s anger, I could hear his teeth clenched. I could hear his eyebrows etched into fierce angles. My friend and I sat behind my bedroom door, and then he said it. In the kitchen, as he stomped around searching for neglected errands: “I wish I had a little boy instead of a little girl.” My shame was immediate, my sadness irreversible. It would be one of those defining moments in my life, one that would make a great indie film. One sentence would encapsulate our relationship, even if, years later, I would joke about the incident telling him I'd put it behind me.

I climbed to the top bunk of my bed. I waited until Ryan went home, awkwardly slipping into the hallway, out into the kitchen, and through the door while my parents had their backs turned. My shame had become his. I often wonder if that was as significant a moment in his life as it was mine. He had actually said those words out loud, within earshot of the boy in question. I always suspected he felt that way; I never wanted to play catch (mostly because I resented the lack of originality in his notions of father-son-bonding), I preferred Barbies to power tools, and I lacked the physical coordination required to scale a ladder or climb a tree. But I never thought he’d say it out loud.

Hours later, I was still on that top bunk. I could still hear him seething, although he was asleep. He collapsed there, on his bed, mostly a boy in a tattered blue coat.

I am of a generation that seeks out closure and forgiveness. An overly communicative, self-actualized, Oprahfied generation. But I vacillate, often at odds with that kind of hatchet-burying, like I was born out of order, like I belong, rather, in the days of spite, anger, and resentment. And to be honest, I wasn’t waiting for my Dad to come to me, weeping, desperate to explain his rage. I didn’t need him to do that. I hoped he wouldn’t. I preferred he silently bought me a new Nintendo game, leaving it near the TV with the price tag still attached. At the time, shame still flushing my cheeks, I think I'd have been okay with never seeing him again. Luckily I let myself get old enough to see him as a boy. Shame and memories, like dough, folding over each other, that firm grip, a fistful of blue nylon.


Who's A Funny Girl?


Last night we saw Lisa Lampanelli, the hilarious stand-up comic from Connecticut, the self-titled "Queen of Mean", the riotously offensive insult comic. She might not be your cup of tea (if you're the uptight brunette sitting ahead of us), but she's exactly what I love. Imagine, if you can, a more reprehensible Sarah Silverman, a female Michael Richards without the willful fits of rage, a Rodney Dangerfield for the 21st Century. She wears 50s-inspired A-line dresses, and spouts off on anyone with a "disability" - the gays, the Blacks, the hearing impaired. She's out of control!

Between AIDS jokes and below-the-belt (literally) jabs at the token Asian, I wiped my tears and caught my breath, wondering how she gets away with it? If Cosmo Kramer and Don Imus are raked over the coals, how can this hyper-aggressive, cuss-addicted modern-day white supremacist get away with the N-word, the C-word, molestation quips, and the occasional blitz against Mexicans? And, unlike the cellphone-video evidence against Richards, Lampanelli releases high-quality DVDs that pull no punches. I ask you, how do funny women like Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler, and Lisa Lampanelli get past the censors and the right-wing pundits? Is it the dresses? Is it the vagina? The cleavage? And where are they putting women, in terms of feminism? Is this the new feminism? Have they taken back the chauvinism and the degrading image once avoided entirely, turned it on its head and used it to their advantage? Well, sure.

The new issue of Vanity Fair (Who Says Women Aren't Funny? April 2008) explores these ideas and the new wave of hilarious female comedians. We're experiencing a renaissance of the Carol Burnett-style funny ladies (Tina Fey, Amy's Poehler and Sedaris, as well as the aforementioned), those who write and perform their own material. In the 90s it was all Jennifer Anistons and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss's, those who are admittedly funny, but played no part in the writing room. Since Tina Fey became the first female head-writer on SNL, something has changed. Where once men wrote sketch comedy, asking women to characterize themselves in ways not particularly authentic, now women pen their own scenes, bringing that sense of truth, however off-colour, edgy or questionable.

This is a series of half-baked thoughts, so grab the new Vanity Fair, if not for the article, for the fantastic photos taken by my personal photographic hero, Annie Lebovitz.


For funny ladies, we’re attractive. But when you open us up to real, professional attractive people — I do not want to run with those horses.” - Amy Poehler, Vanity Fair

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Alice Smith

For fear of becoming the guy who only seems to recommend the hot musical stylings of the oh-so-current old-school chanteuse, I won't tell you about Alice Smith. I won't tell you a major-label recently re-issued her 2006 album, For Lovers, Dreamers & Me which is now widely available. I won't tell you she's really fucking cool and, unlike her contemporaries, isn't channeling that 60s girl-thing, but rather a mid-70s, snarling, soulful, R&B sound. I won't gush about her 4-octave-range or how she reminds me a little of the world's most underrated and misunderstood artist, Fiona Apple. I will, however, mention there are a couple of tracks that may have been best left in 2006, but aren't beyond forgivable. In closing, I definitely won't ask that you take a listen to this.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

His Roving Eyes


With this, I give you the Guest Blog.

I am surrounded by clever people, people with big, wide-open hearts, and people who cling to the foibles of their life as I do. David is one of those people. Below, he writes about something that has been both a motivator and a roadblock, something any self-proclaimed "dork" can attest to.

Shame
By: David W.B. Dick

In the preamble to their chapter "Domains of Shame" in the 1998 book "Shame: Interpersonal Behaviour, Psychopathy and Culture," authors Deborah Greenwald and David Harder describe the emotion as an adaptive signal that helps us avoid negative social consequences. Because shame is an example of a directly adaptive emotion, one that orients our behaviour in an unmitigated way, it makes sense that even years later, the burn of shame is so much more immediate than the other emotions we conjure up at will. I remember some happy times, I remember some sad times, but my moments of intense shame, I can tick off one by one like a laundry list, and the swell of humiliation that floods back is more present than anything other memories can reproduce.

I started to write this essay with the preamble already formed. I knew I would be writing about shame - but THE moment of shame that I was about to write about didn't strike me until the writing was well underway. It's something I don't think about often; perhaps the counterpoint to the intensity of shame is the fervency with which we are able to block it out.

This story takes place in about 1983. I was not yet in grade 1. I was at a stationery store in St. Thomas, left wandering the aisles while my mother went about business. And two things caught my eye: a row of toy gumball machines filled with tiny erasers in different colours, shaped like gumballs, and a styrofoam block packed with little clips on springed hinges, each in a different colour and with a little rainbow over the block-letter phrase "God Loves You!" And I was very young, and bored. I noticed one of the gumball-shaped erasers had escaped its gumball machine. Or maybe that's revisionism; maybe I turned the crank. And I noticed one of these clips was broken - backless, unmated. A clip that couldn't clip - as useful as one-handed applause. Taken on their own, these two artifacts were garbage. But I could give them a home. They went in my pocket.

My mistake was telling my sister when we got home. Stupidly, I thought she'd keep my secret, that the bonds of fraternity were stronger than filial loyalty. She did not.

I don't remember much clearly after that, except that my ears got very hot, and my eyes welled up with tears. Looking back, at the blur of events, I remember it like I remember my nights of extreme drunkenness - dimly, disoriented - the difference being that as I type, remembering this, I feel sick to my stomach. I feel nauseous when I dwell on how I had to wait until my father got home, pleaded not to be taken back to the store, the long drive over, listened as he explained how I had taken something and it had to be paid for, watched as the clerk looked at the two bits of junk in his hand and tried awkwardly to calculate their worth, looking bemusedly from the man to the sobbing red-faced boy and back again.

There was no lecture on right and wrong or personal property - just a demonstration that what we take, we pay for. I can't imagine I would have remembered what he said anyway. But the shame - that I remember, and always will. As for the whole social modification thing, I haven't stolen so much as a pencil since that day. But when does a lesson become a neurosis? Do we really need to conjure up such negative feelings on demand? Humiliation can be a great teacher, it's true, but a ruthless one. When we start shutting off rooms of ourselves, nailing the doors shut because they're too painful to enter, we start to forget who we were - maybe that's a loss of self, but maybe it's a way to cope.

A few months ago I pulled out a diary from my mid-teens and every entry was so excruciating to reread that I had to stop. I couldn't reconcile myself with the embarrassment of the person portrayed in the pages I'd written. If I had to go through life acknowledging daily the person I used to be, I would be unable to function. No matter how petty the peccadillo, we need to be able to pretend like it never happened. Shame has a way of rearing its head at the times it's provoked, but thank God that in the interim we can let the wretched beast lie.

Monday, March 3, 2008

I Like My Baby


There are certain events that tend to bring people together. Happy things like weddings and babies. Miserable things like potato sack races at a dreaded Family Reunion. And sad things, like the sudden death of a valued and significant patriarch.

Yesterday we went to Stouffville. The time has come to pack up Jeff's family home so it can be sold to the highest bidder. There's a laundry list of things to do, for fear of home inspections and a looming buyer's market; areas to tidy and organize, paint to touch-up, treadmills to pull out of closets, staging them as if they'd been an important part of family life in this house. It's critical you paint a picture others want to see themselves in. It's a time to de-clutter and de-personalize, real estate experts urging you to encourage the buyer to take over your life, your household. It's a strange thing, especially under the circumstances.

This kind of deep-tissue purging unveils a lot of history. Boxes labeled lovingly in marker "Jeff's Kindergarden Art" or "Baseball Cards" provoke a break from the task-at-hand, as it's rather more interesting to read the writings of a 6 year old version of my boyfriend. Sassy and arrogant, concise and straight-forward. A voyeuristic peek into a past I was not a part of, but, over time, am starting to feel belongs to me too.

While preparing for his sixth grade speech (Topic: the perks and quirks of his family) Jeff made comprehensive lists of the "ups" and the "downs" of each person in the house. He had no problem rattling off an inventory of negatives about his Dad (eg. "He gets us in trouble and won't listen to our part of the story!") but it was the first "up" that got me down. "He carries us upstairs to bed when we're too tired to walk." What matters most listed there in a bubblier style of his still-bubbly handwriting.

I sat on the floor in the mudroom, amidst stacks of finger paintings and Social Studies projects, and thought about the people who lived together in this house. 40% of them are gone now, how strange. Three kids charged with the task of sifting through these lives to decide what matters, what can be discarded. Does this token remind you of anything? Does this knick knack conjure a memory too important to add to a growing heap of garbage in the garage? How much can we possibly keep?

Jeff's grade school journals tell me a lot about his family. The trips they took, the friends he had, the games he and his brother would make up in the yard. It tells me about his Mom, who died before I was around, in tiny fragments. She liked her baby. That's nice. She had a black friend. That's something. She didn't buy sugary cereals (a down) but she always helped with homework (up!). I tend to ask specific questions, which always come off as crazy (Was your Mom the kind of lady who sang in the shower? Was she a morning person? Did she like buying new purses?) These ramblings of a tiny boy are more descriptive and powerful than anything he's told me.

Jeff was a good student - Academic, even. I met him after he had abandoned such scholastic proclivities, and as such, had always thought of him as the cool kid, perhaps even someone who might have bullied me on the school yard. It turns out he began as something of a nerd. Check marks and A+ stickers and friendly little comments from teachers in the margin. He wrote a lot about his cousins, great friends then, growing more distant as adulthood wore on, as is usually the case. But I didn't know they were so close. That will mean something when I see them at Easter, or find them standing next to me in a potato sack.

A day like yesterday brings up a lot. Mostly a series of clich├ęs and Hallmark cards yet-to-be-written. But all the best bits are just that, aren't they? Whenever I need to laugh I'll open to page 3, November 26, 1986, to read about a first grader who likes his baby. Because she is fun.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Duffy

The music industry has birthed another throw-back artist who will endure comparisons to Amy Winehouse, Adele, and Kate Nash - We're desperate for something to pin people to, yet aching for them to stand-alone. But she's doing her own thing, as she notes that hitching her to greats like Dusty Springfield is like saying trains and cars are the same because they both move.

Set to make a major splash in 2008, the 23 year old mono-monikered Welsh soul singer is well on her way with a record breaking #1 single in the UK, Mercy. Check this out to get a taste of what she's about. I think you'll like it.