Monday, March 29, 2010

Living In A Tip.

My dear old friend B is living with us right now. He's as tidy as I'm disheveled.

Now, I have said for ages that I'm comfortable with a certain level of disarray. I'm not a neat freak, is what I mean. I don't like it, but I'm ok with it.

My room is often a total tip. I get overwhelmed and can't even start. I see my desk covered in clean but unfolded clothes, and I can't start putting it away because I see one sweater that needs de-linting, and another that needs a needle and thread for a newly-discovered hole, and then under the clothes are papers that need sorting. That means I have to arrange my file folder and clean it out. Then I have to label file folders. Do I have file folders? Are they in that drawer? That drawer is awfully disorganized... I should empty it and clean it. Do I have labels?

It just snowballs and I can't start.

B is like a warden when it comes to cleaning.

I whine and stomp and sulk and beg, but he crosses his arms and looks at me sternly. He also encourages and points out my good work. It makes me feel like a third-grader, but I have to be yelled at to clean my room, so I guess that fits. B is also savvy enough to make me feel guilty when he takes allergic sneezing fits. Cunning.

I have been thinking about my future boyfriend, and how that would change my tidiness. I think it would change it a lot, because I am ashamed of the mess, but no one ever sees it but me, and I don't count. If someone who I was trying to impress were to see my room, it would be a lot tidier.

Hm. Even more motivation...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Run The Good-Will Gauntlet.

I am getting so frustrated and angry toward charity solicitors in the street. You see them from time-to time, with their clipboards and nametags and vests. Usually, here in Toronto, they're collecting money for one of three causes: Greenpeace, SickKids (the big paeds hospital here), or the World Wildlife Fund.

Well, what used to seem like a "from time-to-time" situation has become a scourge.

This is how they roll (proving that they're evolving, not unlike the Borg in their insidiousness): they stand in pairs on either side of the street; four of them altogether. This means crossing the street to avoid them is out (my old stand-by) is no longer an option.

"Would you like to help sick and suffering children?"

Of course I would. Do you know how much they want you do sign up for in monthly payments? $60! A toonie a day!

I don't like not acknowledging their existence, but that's how they get you. They flank the street and make you feel like a callous a-hole if you a) ignore them or b) talk to them and turn them down.

And like I want to tell people I'm unemployed! "Oh, I've been laid off, so I'm not sharing my grocery money with sick children, beached whales, etc."

I can't think of a tidy way to finish this post. I'm just irritated by being forced into feeling guilty because I'm not giving my money away.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Compare If You Dare.

This song and video is begging to be parodied.

And these are the men to do it:

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Auntie Fern!

After months of trying to kick and punch her way through my sister's rib cage, my niece found a more conventional way into the world last Saturday, the 13th. Nobody knew, even my sister and her husband, if it was going to be a girl or a boy, so that was a fun surprise. It was a really long labour (like, 34 + hours), but both Marilyn and the baby were fine.

They named her Svea, which is a family name and also my middle name. We pronounce it SVEE-ya, so if you can say Sven, you can probably muster Svea. She'll have to tell people how to pronounce it all her life, but unless she moves to Stockholm, she probably won't meet another one.

I'm up in Ottawa now. Marilyn's really exhausted, and I don't blame her. One thing's for sure, the kid's lungs work! She cries and cries, even when she's just eaten. Apparently Marilyn did the same thing to my parents, so... karma*? It's a funny little newborn cry, though, like a little kitten mew.

Well, I'm pretty stoked to be an aunt. I'm the only one, since we have no other brothers or sisters and Marilyn's husband is an only child. It makes me want to get the theme to presents, or sing her a certain song, or dance a certain dance, but I'm really not going to worry about it - it'll all come naturally. I just hope I'm around enough in the coming years to get to know her.

Oh, the stats: she was 6lbs 6oz, has some wispy hair, blue eyes.

ADDENDUM: Svea's actually pretty darn good. It turns out she was full of gas that first night I was here, but now my sister's gotten used to feeding and burping, so she's pretty congenial. Damn straight.

* I mean "karma" in the misunderstood, Western sense, so says the Religious Studies snob.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The little criss-cross of thread that holds the vent closed on the back of your new coat is meant to removed before the garment is worn. It is only there to keep the vent flat in shipping.

Cousin of same advice: the label on the outside wrist of your new sportscoat is meant to be removed.

The vent tacking isn't quite prêt-à-porter - you have to do the finishing.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Oscars 2010.

Ugh. I am so over the Oscars this year.

For a long time I was able to look the other way when it comes to the arbitrary bullshit, and actors or directors being "owed" awards from other years or just general goodwill/good marketing.

Now, with the Academy expanding the Best Picture to include 10 pictures, basically to allow for more popular films to be up for the big prize and therefore attracting more viewers.

For years, possibly a decade, I've really made an effort to see all 5 movies nominated for Best Picture. Almost every year I've been able to do it. This year, because I think the top ten are now meaningless, I have totally foregone all interest in the Oscars for the prizes and am now just going to watch for the reasons most people watch: to see beautiful people in nice clothes, and to hope to spot someone embarrassingly drunk on the red carpet.

I have seen five of the ten Best Picture nominees. Every other year that has been fine. I will go down the list of those I have seen, followed by my impressions of the ones I haven't.

Avatar. This was a great big popcorn movie from heck. It was loud and flashy with the 3D, good high concept story, strong characters. Best Picture? Yeah, I can see that. The Academy likes James Cameron, despite his constant jackassery when he wins awards. Postscript: Now that I think about it, they weren't strong characters. They were caricatures of rote characters. Meh.

An Education. This was a fantastic character study with great performances, and the Academy likes period pieces, but was it big enough? I dunno. It was a fantastic vehicle for Carey Mulligan, an actor I hope to see more of. She deserves all the accolades she gets for her performance in this movie. Sarsgaaaaaard was good, too.

Inglourious Basterds. Awesome. Beautiful, chilling, suspenseful, disturbing, funny, dripping with style: all those things you'd expect from Tarantino. Brad Pitt was a red herring. He was cool 'n' all, but he was clearly overused for the posters and trailers. All eyes were on Christoph Waltz and Mélanie Laurent, who will go down in the books as one of the greatest femme fatales in film for her turn as Shoshanna Dreyfus. Yes, the gore was there, but it was revenge fantasy gore that was cartoonish.

Up. This was a hard one for me to watch. I wept through most of it. I thought the lonely widower looked too much like my lonely widower grandfather, so I was a mess. That being said (read: if you're not an overly sensitive sucky baby), this was a fantastic film. One of the best of the year. There was so much said in the first 10 minutes without one word of dialogue. Now, it's animated, so does that mean it shouldn't be in the main Best Picture category? Other animated films have been nominated for Best Picture, but that was before a separate category was created in the last few years. I don't like that it is nominated for both Best Picture and Best Animated. No.

Up In The Air. Again, a great character study. We get Clooney, which is always a treat, but the best part of Clooney is, he can really deliver the goods. He is a good actor, and brings great depth to roles that go beyond his handsomeness. I think the buzz for this film was warranted. Perhaps it was too low-key to seduce most, but its quality was its subtlety. It should be on the list.

The Blind Side. I did not see this movie. I will never see it. Not if someone else pays my way, not if it's on TV, not nuthin'. It looks like the lowest-common-denominator bullshit Hallmark movie-of-the-week tripe I could imagine. It is on the list because it is a manipulatively emotional football movie and the Academy thought that all the big-haired Texan football mothers would tune in to cheer for between organizing church raffles and buying bulk meat. I shudder to think that Sandra Bullock, who could be called a good actor (at least in fits and starts) could win an Oscar for her performance in this.

District 9. I would have liked to have seen this. I like sci-fi, and it looks cool. It's nice to see a sci-fi movie nominated for Best Picture, but again, I don't imagine this would have been on the list if there were only 5 spots.

The Hurt Locker. I wanted to see this, but my apathy for the Oscars this year didn't drive me to even rent it. I'm curious about the suspense. My brother-in-law told me that it was sponsored by the American military and that left a bad taste in my mouth, even though I suspect that it is nothing but conspiracy speculations.

A Serious Man. Again, I would have liked to have seen this, although I've heard it's not a laugh-a-minute. I think I would get a movie like this. I think I could find the humour in the pathos. I've heard it described as a modern-day Job story, which isn't exactly Duck Soup.

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Boring' by Whocares. I will not see this movie for the same reason I will never see Passion of the Christ or Monster's Ball. I am not interested in watching stories about people being abused, beaten to a pulp, or chronically demeaned. Actually, it's not a lack of interest - it's more the fact that I am far too sensitive to watch that kind of story. (This was proven when I loudly bawled though The Pianist in a sold-out theatre. It was a beautiful, haunting film, but I can never see it again.)

So. There it is. I'm not going to choose what I think is the best since I have not seen them all. I would LOVE Inglourious Basterds to win because I think it moved me the most. Apparently because of some dubious tallying, that could happen.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

I recently read my favourite book for the first time.

When I finished it, I was in the middle of a blood donation. I closed the book and set it my lap, and calmly thought, "I can't remember reading a book I enjoyed more than this one."

"The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" by Michael Chabon was highly recommended to me years ago, and because of that recommendation, I began hunting for it used. It took me years to find it, and now I know why. No one would ever want to part with their copy, save lending it out to a good and trusted friend.

"Adventures" follows the lives of two cousins for about fifteen years, starting in 1939. Joe is an immigrant from Prague. His family worked especially hard to get him, the eldest son, out of the increasingly Nazi-occupied city. Just as the day for him to travel to New York City arrives, the regulations on travelling Jews were tightened once again, making his hard-earned papers obsolete. He seeks help from an old man who was once his escapistry teacher. Joe was a big fan of Houdini and sleight-of-hand artists, and once studied with Mr. Kornblum, who taught him how to pick locks, hide keys, and hold his breath for long periods of time. Mr. Kornblum arranges to smuggle him east in a casket carrying a golem.

After travelling east, Joe finally arrives in New York, where he meets his cousin Sam for the first time. Sam is a devotee of the earliest comic books, and works as a mediocre illustrator at a novelty catalogue company. He dreams of creating his own comic books. It turns out that theirs is a match made in heaven, as Joe is a trained illustrator and Sam is a natural story-teller.

They create the wildly popular Escapist, a superhero who pursues justice and, best of all, graphically trounces Nazis. This allows Joe to take out some of his frustration while his family suffers in a ghetto in Prague.

The history of comic books informs the title and the cover designs. Here's the first edition's cover:

I won't detail any more of the plot, since this is an epic work - babies are born, wars are fought, and there are tragic losses. This is clearly a masterpiece, a magnum opus. I pity Chabon sometimes, wondering if every time he sets pen to paper, he tries to live up to the greatness of this book, and lets the air out of his lungs and allows his shoulders to slump.

One thing I regret is that I didn't keep a pencil close at hand while I was reading "Adventures." When I was a student, I would keep a list of words I didn't know in the back cover of the book and make a tiny dog ear on bottom of the offending page.

Being a word geek, this book was a thrill. I wager on every page there was a word I didn't know. Don't let this intimidate you: we know to not get hung up on words we don't know, but to glean their meaning from the context and move on. Still, I wish I'd made the effort to look them all up, just to get them under my belt. Chabon has such a raw, but also subtle way of using the English language. Violence is graphic, but hardly described. Sex scenes are complete and satisfying in two sentences. Grief and shame are illustrated in a simple nod.

There was an incredible amount of research that would have had to have been done to make this novel click. In the back of the "Adventures," Chabon lists dozens of books he read about the advent of comic books, New York in the 1940s, World War II, Jewish folklore and Jews in Europe before and during the war, among many other topics. He interweaves historical events into "Adventures," which makes it read more like a duel-biography than a work of fiction. It's funny, but true: you take away a feeling of wanting to shake Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier's hands for their contributions to American culture.

I can't implore you enough to find this book and read it. I am going to try to read Chabon's other books to see how they compare. I've since read his first novel, "Mysteries of Pittsburgh" and it was good. Again, it had that rawness but also a cool disconnect with the characters. I could hear his voice in it, but still, it didn't have the intrigue of "Adventures." "Adventures" did, after all, win a Pulitzer Prize and was on many of the "best of the decade" lists that came out in December. I'm going to try to find a copy of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" next. I think I'll enjoy that one, too.

I am nervous about an impending film adaptation, however. It's too big a book for a movie, and I don't mean length-wise (although it is a good-sized tome at c.600 pages). If it has to be filmed, and I wish it didn't have to be, it might be better suited for a miniseries or a trilogy of films.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cabin Fever.

Once again, I'd like to point out one of the most frustrating parts of unemployment: having lots of free time but no money. Let me fill you in on why this frustration is particularly irritating to me at the moment.

A habit of mine is to check the weather at home, and also where my sister lives, just out of benign curiosity. For some reason, though, in January, my eyes began to wander to the forecast for Honolulu.

For weeks (and now going on months), and I mean without fail, the high in Honolulu has been between 25 and 27 degrees Celsius and partly cloudy.

Meanwhile, there are days here that I wonder if I can get away with wearing my flannel pajama pants under my jeans for another layer of warmth.*

Again, because it turns out I enjoy grinding in the salt in my cash-poor/time-wealthy wounds, I started shopping around to see how much it would cost me to get to Hawaii. I found a round-trip flight for about $670. That seems incredibly reasonable!


Going to Hawaii is becoming a recurring dream. Now that the US dollar is better and I am marginally more comfortable with the political state there, I want to go, take surfing lessons, and see the workshop where I will buy a new ukulele.

I will a) be burnt to a crisp, b) be in traction from my surfing lessons, and c) have shredded and blistered fingertips from my obsessive uke playing.

It sounds like paradise.

*The answer is a resounding NO. There is barely enough room for my legs in my jeans. Some might argue there is not enough room for my legs in my jeans.