Friday, April 25, 2008

Very Close To Heaven

Okay, so anyone born in the early 80s knows how special the second generation Disney animated movies are. The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King - That whole era came while we were kids and the thought of it will forever bring back memories of belting "Part of Your World", both feet jammed into one leg of your sister's tights, a pair of creative seashells made of construction paper . . . No? Just me?

Annie Leibovitz, my photographic hero, has been doing a series of photos for the last year and a half or so, celebrating Disney's Year of a Million Dreams. They've all been gorgeous and magical and today the newest image has been released. Two things make this more amazing than the others: 1) Arguably the best actress of her generation, Julianne Moore, playing 2) the greatest Disney princess in history, Ariel, the Little Mermaid! It just makes me so happy.

See more of the series here.
Also, that cross-dressing mermaid thing never happened.

Monday, April 21, 2008

In "As If It Wasn't Obvious I'm a Fan" News . . .

Two of my favourite writers hit book shelves this spring. Augusten Burroughs gets serious with a book about his Dad, while Sedaris gives us another collection of essays. If you haven't experienced their hilarity there's no better time to hop on the bandwagon. Nothing reads faster, funnier, or pairs better with a smart gin cocktail than these two.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

For The Love of Mary Kate

I've had something on my mind for the better part of 20 years. If Uncle Jesse was such a success, I mean, successful enough to tour with The Beach Boys, why on earth did he live in Danny Tanner's attic?

Friday, April 11, 2008

White Culture

I used to think it was an oxymoron. The notion that we have little more than Wonderbread and Earl Grey tea to claim as our own is sad.

Growing up I read a lot of Toni Morrison novels, watched a lot of Oprah, and had a thing for each of the Cosby kids. As a result, I think I thought I was black. Or at least someone who was cultured beyond Kraft Dinner and aluminum siding installation. I was convinced my own family had nothing to say, nothing to show for ourselves. I didn't want to accept Jell-O molds at Easter as the pinnacle of our culinary creativity. I remember being disappointed by our lack of history, our boring approach to everything. I had a hate-on for Farley Mowatt and couldn't understand what I had in common with meat loaf or a John Deere tractor. That wasn't my life. How could it possibly be?

When I was in grade ten I wrote a short story about a little black girl in Mississippi who . . . oh, I can't even say . . . it's all too much. Suffice it to say, it was called Tears of the Blackbird and was in no way a story of my life, not in the slightest bit based in anything I knew more deeply than a thousand Oprah-hours logged on the couch. But I was proud of it and convinced myself a story about rural Ontario was no more my life than that of a traumatically-blind 9 year old black girl from the southern United States.

Looking back, I see I was wrong.

I always bonded with student teachers and ours at the time willingly read my story. I remember being nervous, as it was my first significant piece of writing at nearly 20 type-written pages. When we met in the library to discuss, I was shocked by her response. What I saw on her face felt like disdain and arrogant, hateful mockery. She asked me, basically, what the hell I thought I was doing. She told me I had to write what I know. I immediately stopped listening. I was a good student, one who could write well and express myself in several creative ways. My teachers were always amazed and held my classmates to a standard I set. Who was this woman to tell me anything? I think I fell into a rage black out, but I remember being very upset, telling her she was mean and lacked the heart required to be a supportive and effective teacher.
I may have overreacted.

Years later, after starting my Canadian Literature class, I put down the Morrison and clung to Robertson Davies. These were stories I could see myself in. As I read Fifth Business, I could replace the streets of Deptford with the ones I grew up on in rural Belmont, Ontario. It was shocking to me. White people could be interesting!

It was eye-opening and I began to see my family in several more dimensions. It was a definitive moment I recall quite clearly. I was to write a collection of poems for Writer's Craft, one of those hokey classes taught by the comically aged and erudite member of the English faculty. I wrote several long and involved limericks about human darkness, and just one 4-line poem about my great grandma and her 30 baroque geese, an ode to the depth I had begun to see in my family, my own culture. In just those few lines I realized how the life they had lived had been savagely discounted by an obnoxious teenager (me) and hoped one poem (I shared with no one) could make up for it.

Not long after that, I'm ashamed to say, I was happy when my Dad fell into a bipolar episode. It solidified my new-found interest in the annals of my family. Not only were we interesting, but we suffered too! At the time, it seemed worthiness came from sadness, from strife. That's teenage-hood for you. I mean, it wasn't decades of slavery, but it was something! Conflict and Resolution are powerful notions to a young person; they satisfy on every level, like makeup sex for the soul. It's important to create trauma in order to successfully manipulate a resolution. A favourable resolution can stay with you for weeks and months, making you feel alive and successful! It's what being young is all about, a compulsion I'm glad has, for the most part, passed.

I had finally found a way to appreciate my life. Until that point I didn't know what to do with it. I didn't know how to take Philadelphia Cream Cheese and make it interesting, worthwhile. I wasn't sure I would have anything to tell my grandchildren. Now when we drive through southwestern Ontario, I stare out the windows, across vast fields, and think of my Grandma working in them. I think of my Grandpa and my Dad in the tractor, cutting through the wheat and soybeans. I imagine my great grandparents going to church on Sundays, living through the Depression, raising all those children. My mail correspondence with my Grandma reveals so much, and by uncovering the stuff within, I'm okay with Jell-O molds.  In fact, I tend to think they are fairly amazing, architecturally-speaking.

(Top: My Grandpa, 1940 | Bottom, left to right: My Dad, Uncle and Grandma, 1960)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Baby Mania

There's something in the water. I'm convinced that if outfitted with ovaries, I'd be pregnant at this point. Everyone is having babies! I rant and rave a lot about how times have changed and how quickly we're speeding into the future, but this baby boom makes it feel like the 50s! All we need is a backalley gay nightclub and a race riot!

I found out today a beautiful friend is expecting twins. Like Jennifer Lopez-Noa-Combs-Judd-Affleck-Anthony and Angelina before her, she will welcome two for the price of one later this year.

Laura is the picture of urban-cool Mom. Including the requisite über-stroller and Scandanavian nursery set, she's a great example of the nü-Mom. (Please forgive my obnoxious over-use of the umlaut. Jesus!) She is warm and communicative, loving and sweet. She talks to her baby like the intelligent human she is. She's relaxed and at-ease. Affection oozes over a brunch/breast-feeding session.

In many ways, Laura has been like a Mom to me. Well, like a teenage Mom; that Gilmore Girls kinda Mom or Nicole Ritchie - One who maybe wasn't prepared for a mid-twenties offspring, but deals well nonetheless. Someone who listens and gives advice, but makes you laugh like no one else in a series of inappropriate ways. Laura is one of the funniest people I've ever met. Mostly on purpose, but sometimes in that magical guttural way.

Example A: I was eating a tuna sandwich when she wheeled into the room exclaiming: "It smells like a whorehouse in here!" We vowed to open a deli offering the Whorehouse on Rye.

I can't pinpoint exactly what Laura is. She's an ever-present source of comfort and support. She is one of the main reasons this blog exists, so blame her for starting something that can't be stopped. She appeared in my life when I wasn't expecting someone to fill a void I didn't even know existed. If that makes any sense.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

I loved Lego. I built the most amazing houses when I was a kid. Sprawling suburban 4 bedroom homes with open-concept living/dining, breakfast nooks, and walk-in-closets. I made big screen TVs out of Lego windows; sectional sofas looked cozy and inviting, peninsulas jutted from spacious kitchens, bar stools lined up neatly. A tree-lined driveway and a fenced-in-yard.

I didn't construct fighter jets, but rather passenger planes, complete with flight crew serving terrible little Lego meals. I was a realist with my toys, rarely delving too deeply into a world I didn't know. I didn't build castles or dragons, instead I forged a desk phone out of tiny black pieces. I built a flower shop for my homeowner to work in, and a lovely economy-class car to take her there. I would stand at the table my Dad built for me for hours and days on end, waking up at 6am to get back to the little lives I had tucked into bed the night before. The kids would go to school, the family would throw dinner parties or cut the lawn, perhaps reorganize the living room furniture on a Sunday afternoon. A normal family living a terribly normal life.

Once in a while I'd put them through some sort of turmoil - A tornado or an earthquake, perhaps home invasion. I'd tear down a wall or drive the economy-class car through the kitchen like when Stephanie Tanner drove Uncle Joey's. Mostly these were excuses to remodel the house, but I had a series of irrational fears as a child (see: tornadoes, earthquakes, and home invasion), so perhaps getting my tiny family through assured me I'd be okay too, you know, should the Gulf War head west or the San Francisco quake of '89 somehow affect us.

As I sit here thinking of my play-ways, I remember so much, so clearly. So many of my daily games were inspired by sitcoms of the 80s. If I was getting bored, I'd create a role for someone new. My toys jumped the shark by adopting a teenage runaway or winning the lottery like Roseanne, replacing an old house with something shiny and new. Who's The Boss played a major role in my childhood; Lego people were often named Tony, or Angela, Jonathan or Mona Robinson. My playtime plots always followed the same storylines; it was no coincidence that when Mike Seaver on Growing Pains moved into the apartment over the garage, my Lego family quickly followed suit, before forcing their fat daughter to cut back on the sweets.

I suppose you didn't need more evidence that I was a crazy person as a child. But there it is.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Showing My Colours

Gay bars are a strange place. Pulsating with sexual tension and dance beats, they feel more like a zoo or the set of a reality show than actual reality. Shell necklaces have made a startling comeback, it seems, as have cropped t-shirts and blonde tips. Like stepping back in time, like walking through the Museum of Natural History, the exhibits come to life to the tune of Kylie Minogue. Strange.

Last night two friends and I ended up at Buddies. It's been years since I've stepped foot inside the place, years since I've spent $7 to get inside any building. But it's as if nothing at all has changed since 2004. While my life has moved forward (new jobs, new rental apartments, a deliberate lack of dye in my hair) it seems Buddies hasn't changed at all. J-Lo and Britney, though now with four children between them, still blast from the speakers, cheap shots of sugary liquor still flow. The requisite sects of the gay population are still represented (the bears, the silver foxes, the twinks) and security guards still position themselves as if protecting the President of the United States. Symbols on washroom doors vanished years ago, a gender-free-for-all. The smell of too-much-cologne and sweat bringing back vast memories of my free-wheeling youth. It's a devastating realization that 26 is now on the old end of Buddies attendees.

Gay bars are for singles. A hack would make some kind of joke about an all-you-can-eat buffet at a fat camp, but I won't do that. It's just all too much. Heightened everything. Lights, music, bleached teeth, and $400 jeans. Fag hags grinding desperately against boys who look to be about 14 years old. Tank tops, tube tops, and just plain tops bottoming out after too much to drink, vomitting in the parkette next door. There was a time I could handle all this. Now I just feel old.

I mean, I had fun, I guess. We checked our coats, got drinks, danced half-heartedly to five songs, left and got pizza. When I think back to the days when this happened weekly, I have fond memories. Brian and I would know exactly what kind of night we were in search of and we'd make it happen precisely that way. It was fun. It was what we did. Now it just feels silly and age-inappropriate, like Melanie Griffith or jelly shoes on a senior.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Brain Drain

I can feel myself getting stupider. First went my handwriting, now the ideas behind it are vacating too.

Like, seriously. As each day goes by, I can literally feel the knowledge I've accumulated over the years draining from my brain. When Google asks me "Did you mean . . .?" my answer is far too often "Yes." and with a quick click, I meander on down the information superhighway. What has happened to me? I used to be the top speller in my class, I used to store dozens of phone numbers, at the ready, in my head. Birthdays, postal codes, state capitals, historical tidbits. My brain was once a great resource.

Really it's an access problem. We have too much information at our fingertips, so we start storing it in our computers, rather than our heads. Why remember something when you can dial up Wikipedia and get the answer (however suspect) in 30 seconds or less? I forget how to spell because that red line shows up under a series of letters I've mashed out on the keyboard. With a simple right-click, we can replace our errors and get on with life. It's faster and easier than knowing in the first place. Efficiency has replaced intelligence in almost every instance.

While I feel immense guilt, regret, and shame about this, my real concern is for the kids growing up today who don't even know the difference. They don't know a world without Google, let alone the helpful "Did you mean?" option. I've heard, with my own ears, teachers say to students, "Spelling doesn't count." I like to think they are attempting to encourage creative writing, without the hangups that come with grammar and punctuation, but I think it's more about the spell check. Teachers have come to terms with the reality of the situation. Why try to teach them things they might never need to know? For the sake of nostalgia? We've always evolved, our education system following the needs of society. At some point keyboarding classes retired the typewriters and started using computers. Eventually that class won't even exist, as kids will learn to type in utero. So, perhaps spelling shouldn't count.


I used to take great pride in knowing stuff. As time goes on, I take pride in vaguely remembering I once liked knowing stuff. Someday I'll have to ask my computer if I like anything at all.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Can I Steal You For A Minute?

Two things piss me off. *

1) The people who canvas for Sick Kids' Hospital. I think it's nice, obviously. And I think it's probably important to their annual fundraising campaign. I do not, however, like their approach. As you walk by, perhaps absorbed in the music you're listening to or the conversation you're sharing with a friend, they say "Do you have a moment for Sick Kids?" The answer to that question every single time is "Yes I do." But . . . I don't. More rightly, I don't have money for Sick Kids right now. And they look at you with equal parts puppy-dog-eyes and rage, because hundreds of selfish people have passed them by all day long. I think it's vindictive and cruel, this job they do. Like the Beavers who ambush you to buy their chocolate covered nuts outside the beer store, but with the added guilt of leukemia.

2) Black History Pamphlets. The same sort of thing. These guys stand on Yonge Street, usually in some sort of natty hat and glove combo, where they hold out poorly designed 8½ X 11 booklets. When you reach to take it, to show your support of their ethnicity, they clutch it tightly in their hand and ask you for money. For what? They don't even try to explain. They just want your money. And then, resentful, you let go and they look at you like you're Don Imus. I hate it when this happens. Every day of my life.

* Not including thousands of other things.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Gush It Real Good

Sophia and I had another late-night chat. 10 615 kilometers between us. She sits in front of a computer sometime in tomorrow's South Korea. I in the office of our house, a room that sits at a ten degree pitch, my desk chair rolling southwestbound if I don't anchor myself to the floor with my feet.

Tonight we talked about gushing. Emotional over-indulgences, compliments, a very specific and thorough expression of praise to a friend. Oscar speeches, eulogies, declarations under the Eiffel Tower, the In Memoriam montage in awards shows, and anything that happens outside Tiffany's. And Sally Field.

We're both suckers for this stuff. I can tell from the opening music of Oprah if it's gonna be a good one. "Today, on an All New Oprah: A little girl dying of a rare blood disorder and her mother, the Gulf War veteran who adopted young Farwah from wore-torn Kuwait." Sold. You got me. Lay it on me. Pass the Kleenex®.

I've always been like this. Human interest stories on the local news, commercials, weddings, or when Tony and Angela finally got together in Season 8 of Who's The Boss. I love it all.

I have vast, gorgeous memories of Julia Roberts' 20 million dollar "I'm Also Just A Girl . . ." speech in Notting Hill. I relive it in my head, sometimes. " . . . standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her . . ." If one Sunday in November, TBS is airing back-to-back-to-back Notting Hills, you know where to find me!

I try to avoid being flowery and over-sentimental, but I have those tendencies. Anyone who's heard me rave about iTunes knows I can get fairly passionate about almost anything. But I mean, seriously, a whole album in my hands in 30 seconds or less, for the bargain-basement price of $9.99? And I can buy it while I'm wearing a towel? What an amazing service! It's the greatest thing since email. I said it.

Really, this blog was designed as a forum for me to gush. About pop culture, interior design and amazing food, the people I love. I like what I like, and I tend to let people know the details. If you think I have a lot to say here, try being my boyfriend. He's five long-winded stories away from faking complete hearing loss.

(Editor's Note: I feel I should point out that I draw the line generously this side of Tom Cruise on a couch. Just for the record.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mathematics for Life

I like what I like. Ask my Mom, I've always been very clear about my tastes. From clothes to my hair to the way I like my sandwich cut. I've always had a select group of friends, never sure of bringing someone new to the group. As you get older, however, your friends start to branch out, and your group, by proxy, starts to expand. This is particularly interesting when dating begins.

A formula where A = Me, B = My Friend, and C = Their Significant Other:

A Likes B therefore A Likes C

Unfortunately, as we get older, this is not always true. It's a very special thing to like the ones your friends choose to be with. Conversely, it's a horrible thing when you don't.

There's nothing so difficult as reconciling this kind of misstep. For the first 15 - 20 years of your life, your tastes are largely decided by your friends. Like it or not, that's just sort of true. You bind to other people, perhaps because they like what you like. Or, you adjust your tastes to suit them. But, adulthood differs from high school (thank God!) Your tastes and ideas are not solely built around your friends. You grow a pair, and you start to use 'em. And sometimes, especially if you were a follower, you rebel and, at the first opportunity, branch-out: new university friends, a drinking problem, a crazy boyfriend with tattoos, perhaps. The post-high-school years are a time for change.

We've all been there: You and your best high school friends separate on Labour Day and by Thanksgiving you meet the people who replaced you. It's fascinating and devastating all at once. Inevitably some of these people don't jibe, you're confused as to why they don't understand your high school jokes, you can't quite figure out what your friend sees in them. It's hard. Harder still is when you meet the new boyfriend.

Shouldn't my formula be water-tight? If you like me, shouldn't you like the people I like? Sadly, this proves false, time and time again.

All of this stems from a night out with my Brian's boyfriend Chris. I've talked about Brian in previous posts. He's my bestie. He's in Australia until September and his boyfriend is here, alone and lonely. And it makes me very happy that I love him! (Had you nervous, didn't I?) Chris is nice and soft. He's pleasant and quiet, and thoughtful and curious. He listens. And he makes sense for Brian. I am not confused or befuddled. I see them together and I get it. In this most-critical example, my formula works.

Damaged Goods

There's required reading in high school. Lord of the Flies. I had a particularly shitty tenth grade English teacher, so we skipped huge chunks of the book and watched the movie instead. Then later, Heart of Darkness. A better teacher made us read it, then showed us Apocalypse Now, more of a twisted-treat than an educational cop out. Finally we read Robertson Davies' Fifth Business. I'm not sure why so many books about inherent human evil are pimped out in high schools - Perhaps because teenagers are pure evil; this might be the school board's less-than-subtle attempt at making us shake hands with our devils.

After reading part one of the Deptford Trilogy, I quickly read the others and became obsessed with Jungian psychology. I bought textbooks and used the word "shadow" entirely too often. I was fascinated! And also obnoxious. But I couldn't get enough. As a concept, I still like it but I stopped reading medical journals and avoid discussing my endopsyche with strangers. These days, I prefer to get my fix from pop culture. Enter: Glenn Close as Patty Hewes in Damages. Evil incarnate. Wolf in sheep's clothing. A straight-up scary lady.

I couldn't wait for Showcase to air it, so I bought Season 1 on DVD. Jeff and I have been watching two episodes a night for the last few days, burning through them fast. Like Christmas or a bag of Doritos, there's something sad about coming to the end of something so good. But it's over. I've even hit the end of Bonus Features. And I can't stop thinking about it.

Lots of shows/books/movies have tried to tap into the whole shadow/ego blahditty-blah-blah since Freud started blaming his mother - Pop psychology is a critical part of the culture these days. But it's been a long time since I've seen an exploration as complete as in Damages. Over thirteen gripping episodes we're torn between truth and fiction, the good and bad, archetypes flying like daggers, Glenn Close in all her glorious shades of grey. The kind of discomfort experienced in liking such reprehensible characters is a real art, on the part of filmmakers. They walk a fine line and leave us unsure how to feel about everything. Being drawn towards such unmitigated immorality makes us question our own goodness. I love that. I can't wait to start back at Episode One.