This page was born of Kari's desire to fill in the blanks while waiting
for Brenda to produce her first batch of recipes. It really
consists only of Kari's random thoughts. In the beginning, the
random thoughts were all about food, but Kari now seems to be moving
away from food and towards Life, the Universe, and Everything.
However...if you like blog-like documents about nothing in
particular, keep reading.
The page will be updated whenever Kari
feels like it. She may feel like it every Monday, but she's not
really sure about that yet.
Monday, May 20, 2013: I Need a TARDIS
Would it at all inconvenience you if I borrowed your TARDIS for a
bit? I don’t have to keep it; I know you need it to save the universe
with, plus occasionally to visit Shakespeare and Winston Churchill.
However, what interests me about it is that it’s bigger on the inside.
My apartment, you see, is not.
Cleaning is tedious at the best of times, but when you have
completely run out of shelf space, it becomes an exercise in
frustration. You “tidy things up” by moving your possessions from one
pile to another. You can’t put them away because there isn’t anywhere
for them to go. When you sit down to start figuring out what to throw
out or recycle, you cart bag after bag out of your apartment, then turn
around to survey it, only to find that it looks exactly as messy and
chaotic as it did before you got rid of all that stuff. Perhaps all you
want to do is move your decrepit old couch, which has a hole twice the
size of your head in it, out so you can get another one in, but you have
been working at “cleaning up” for days, and it’s still impossible to
extract the couch from the teetering piles that surround it. You have
also breathed in about a pound of dust.
If I could just have the use of your TARDIS for a few days, I could
shove a bunch of crap into it, get the damn couch out, then retrieve the
crap before it inconvenienced you much. I know using the TARDIS as a
glorified storage locker is probably kind of demeaning for a machine
that is basically alive and has been designed to plumb the depths of
time and space, but I’m desperate here.
If you could get back to me yesterday, which I know you’re perfectly capable of doing, that would be appreciated.
Kari.CommentMonday, May 13, 2013: ...As the Shark Recedes in the Distance
Oh, Community, Community, Community. What has happened to you this season?
Admittedly, I've been a bit determined to see Season 4 of Community
as in a negative light. I don't entirely trust my own reaction because
I know I'm inclined not to look on the bright side. However, I'm
pretty sure that last week's episode, "Advanced Introduction to
Finality," was genuinely bad. It didn't just rub me, personally, the
wrong way; it broke some of the fundamental rules of good storytelling.
Today's Rant will be spent complaining about this. I need to get it
out of my system somehow.
There will, of course, be spoilers. Read on at your own risk.
thing I've noticed about all the 2013 episodes is that they appear to
be going through the motions. It's as if the writers like Community
but don't really understand what makes it tick. They've retained all
the parts, but those parts aren't fitting together to make a coherent
whole. The writers know parody has become an integral part of Community;
therefore, almost every episode has been a parody. They know fans like
Abed and his "meta," so Abed has been transformed into a socially
dysfunctional manufacturer of meta who cannot cope in society at large
for more than a few minutes at a time. The characters act like their
old selves, but here's the kicker: their old selves have evolved over
the seasons. Season 4 has had Season 1 Britta confronting Season 2 Jeff
in one episode and Season 3 Shirley and Pierce going up against Season 2
Abed and Season 1 Annie in another. Annie has apparently fallen back
in love with Jeff for no discernible reason. Chang has become entirely
pointless and has gone through a sudden and seemingly artificial arc
that makes no narrative sense. Pierce does nothing but make racist
comments and draw attention to the fact that he's losing his memory (ha
ha haaaaaaaa...isn't dementia hilarious? I. Don't. Think).
Every episode ends with the group learning a lesson that draws them
closer together and Jeff making a heartwarming speech about it.
next to last Thursday's episode, all this stuff seems positively
Shakespearean. We start out with Jeff on the verge of early graduation
but having second thoughts about returning to his old firm. Yeah, okay,
but the Jeff we're given here is nothing like the Jeff we've been
seeing lately. He's far too nice to everyone. He doesn't use irony.
He asks for a graduation party. As far as I can tell, he's
acting as he does simply to further the plot. His attempt to replicate
the die throw in "Remedial Chaos Theory" is weakly explained.
everything goes mad. The end of the previous episode hinted at the
pending return of the Darkest Timeline, but here's the thing: in Season
3, the Darkest Timeline is handled in such a way that it doesn't break
the fictional world. It may or may not actually exist. For instance,
in "Remedial Chaos Theory," Abed catches the die in the "real"
timeline...but it is never confirmed that the other timelines do or do
not absolutely ever happen. The hints that they do may be a product of
Abed's imagination. Evil Abed is seen only once (in the tag of
"Remedial Chaos Theory") exclusive of Abed himself. Point of view is
maintained, and the rules of the show's world are not violated. They're
prodded, but they remain intact.
"Advanced Introduction to Finality" seems, at first,
to violate the rules of the world. Various Darkest Timeline
characters, primarily Evil Jeff and Evil Annie, begin turning up and
messing with the prime timeline. They thus confirm the reality of the
Darkest Timeline (yes, I know this will change, but bear with me for a
moment), which was always ambiguous before, and smash point of view to
smithereens. Jeff Prime has no idea that Evil Jeff has arrived. The
Evil Study Group has scenes at which no one else is present. Someone
viewing the episode for the first time has two choices at this point:
1) to believe that the rules of the show have suddenly and inexplicably
changed or 2) to anticipate an "it was all a dream" ending. Both
choices are narratively problematic. In "Remedial Chaos Theory," the
ending works because everything remains ambiguous. In "Finality,"
however, there can be no ambiguity; the writers are going to have to
make a choice. The point-of-view issue complicates matters. If the
entire episode were from Jeff's perspective, an "it was all a dream"
ending would be weak but comprehensible. In "Finality" as we have it,
whose dream would it be? It would need to involve someone in the study
group imagining scenes in which he or she was not present and somehow
being okay with that.
The episode goes with
the "it was all a dream" ending. Specifically, it uses Abed as a sort
of spirit guide who explains to Jeff that he's making this entirely
plotline up. We soon learn that Jeff is imagining it all in the moments
before he throws the die. If Jeff is fully conscious, why is he
confused as to the reality of what is happening? Is it all meant as a
metaphoric representation of what is going on in his head? We've seen
Jeff daydream before, but we haven't seen him invent a complex story
inside his own head in the space of about two seconds while everyone is
staring at him expectantly. This kind of ending is already very weak
storytelling, but here, it makes no sense at all. It allows Jeff a
chance for another heartwarming speech, though. Yippee.
have a hard time understanding how experienced writers could choose to
go this route. There are twelve-year-old children who know the "it was
all a dream" plot is cliched. Worse, it takes away all character growth
gained during a storyline...except, arguably, for the person having the
dream. This episode could easily have been about five minutes long.Community
is a shell of its former self. Sure, it's "only a TV show," but it
used to be a rather intelligent one. I guess I'll go back to watching
paint dry for a bit. I do find that fascinating.CommentMonday, May 6, 2013: Sleepless in Toronto
The fun bit about having over 200 students and no marking support is
that at the end of the term, all the assignments come due at the same
time. Have you ever tried to mark 200 term papers, 30 presentation
essays, and 200 exams in a two-week period? It’s hard. There is
crying. And towards the end, you come to the inevitable but worrying
realisation that if you go to sleep for even a few minutes at any point
in the next forty hours, you’re not going to finish on time.
Everyone has a different strategy for coping with the dreaded
all-nighter. As I don’t drink coffee, mine involves Pepsi and jelly
beans, neither of which are good for me but both of which give me just
enough of a rush that I can stay away for a few minutes more. Staying
awake all day and all night and all day again by drinking gallons of
Pepsi was a bad strategy, but it was all I’d got. I also posted updates
on Twitter every time I finished ten more exams. I’m not sure this
accomplished anything besides annoying all my Twitter followers.
I finished marking with an hour and a half left before the
grade-submission deadline. You would think this would have been a good
thing, but not really; I still had to create a grading spreadsheet,
enter 200 participation marks, and submit 200 grades to four separate
pages. This ended up taking me an hour and twenty-nine minutes. I got
the grades in with one minute to spare. By that point, I was seeing
little creatures move around on the other side of the room, and when I
stood up, I bumped into walls I hadn’t realised were there.
When you’re really tired and saturated with Pepsi, you’re also really
hyper. Despite my condition, I stayed up until 10:00 p.m. My entire
There’s no real moral here beyond “Marking systematically destroys
one’s sanity,” but, you see, I’m still tired. I would like to
experience the sensation of having a T.A. eventually. That would be
CommentMonday, April 15, 2013: Marking Time is Here Again
Updates may be spotty for a while, as the worst of marking season has
begun. In the course of the next two and a half weeks, I must mark over
four hundred assignments. All I really have to say about that is:
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. It basically seems impossible, but
we shall see. Tomorrow, I need to buckle down and tear through as many
essays as possible. There may be some crying. Pieces of furniture are
likely to be punched. All I can hope for is not to go mad before I
finish. I’ll see you all on the other side.CommentMonday, April 1, 2013: When You Wish Upon a Star
CommentMonday, March 25, 2013: Let It Snow?
You guys are never going to guess what happened to me yesterday.
It’s really been an insane long weekend. I answered sixty-odd
student e-mails and finalised plans for two CDs. In the end, though,
none of that mattered because on Sunday evening, I finally fulfilled my
I was sitting in my favourite sushi restaurant, waiting for my
take-out order, when it happened. Across the room, our eyes met. He
was tall and dark-haired, with dreamy black eyes and just a hint of
stubble. The connection was instant. Immediately, I knew I had been
wasting my life. What was I drawing all those comics for? Why did I
want to write novels? What was with all the amusing songs about
Batman? What good was I doing teaching two hundred students per term to
appreciate literature? All along, I had just been waiting for a nice
man to come along and take me away from all this. It was blindingly
Of course, no good love story is complete without an initial
misunderstanding leading to tears and eventually forgiveness. We got
through all that in the first two minutes. The waitress brought me a
bag of takeout first, and I was almost out the door when I realised it
was too heavy to belong to me. I had been given his sushi! Shamefaced,
I brought it back to him, then succumbed to my fate as a woman in
love. The wedding will be in Paris two weeks from now (because, of
course, he’s rich as well as cute).
Farewell, Toronto. I’m off to live the life of a bored socialite, since that is what success entails.*
*On April 1st, at least.
The weather is going all weird again. Okay, it’s true that where my
parents live, there’s still two feet of snow on the ground and a daily
average temperature of -15 degrees Celsius. Here in Toronto, however,
it’s often a bit more spring-like by, well, the first day of spring.
This year, it snowed like mad on March 20th. It’s supposed to snow
again today. I think the groundhog may have lied to us.
I don’t actually mind long winters, mostly because I have Allergies
from Hell and don’t react well to spring. When I lived in Vancouver,
the allergies started up in mid-Febrauary and lasted until late
November. Here, they don’t begin until late March, and they end in early
November. I suppose that’s an improvement. However, there’s also no
ragweed in Vancouver. There’s definitely ragweed in Toronto. We hates
it, precious. We hates it forever.
For the first time in years, I’ll have a classroom course this
summer, which means I’ll experience the joy of teaching in
allergy/smog/humidity season. I’m curious as to whether my office will
remain as freezing cold in the summer as it is now. It’s basically the
only office in the entire English department that isn’t ten degrees
hotter than it should be. Instead, it’s at least five degrees colder.
No one can explain this. I sometimes think that architects deliberately
construct university buildings to be as maddening as possible. Don’t
even get me started on the six classrooms I’m using this term and their
seemingly random approaches to how the light switches work.*
At any rate, this Rant is meandering all over the place, but it’s
mostly about the weather. It was going to be about stage fright, but
that attempt got extremely pompous. I am once again reduced to
discussing snow…in Canada…in March. And, you know, ragweed and stuff.
Soon, it will be April. I guess we’ll see if the snow will stick around until then.
*You would think they would work by turning the lights on and off. You would be wrong.CommentMonday, March 18, 2013: On Endings
As many of you know, I’m wending slowly but surely towards the ending of West of Bathurst.
It’s a strange and sometimes fascinating process that isn’t quite like
anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve written plenty of endings, but
none for a work I’ve written serially over the course of seven years.
There’s something about creating a serial that sets it apart from other
kinds of creation.
For instance, serials are published bit by bit, with no option for
going back to change things around if you have a brilliant idea about
something later on. This is not a new observation, of course. Serial
novels, comic books, comic strips, and TV shows have been around for a
while. I’m sure Dickens looked back on early portions of his novels and
muttered to himself about how he wished he’d left a particular
character out of the story altogether. I’m pretty nearly certain that
the writers of Lost held at least one meeting per year in which
someone went, “So when are we going to deal with those damn polar
bears?” Stories change and evolve as they’re written. Authors shopping
out manuscripts are often advised to rewrite so many times that the
final (for now) version bears little resemblance to the first draft.
Serials, on the other hand, force writers to accommodate their own
errors and false starts.
I’ve included plenty of elements in West of Bathurst that
haven’t gone anywhere. Morgan, Barbara’s stroppy former friend, was
originally meant to be a major character, as was Fred, an early
character who only ever got about six lines. Other elements have come
out of nowhere and taken centre stage. Rahim was supposed to be a
background character. Jackie didn’t even have a name until a friend of
mine observed how much the character resembled her. Barbara’s Sherlock
Holmes outfit originally appeared when I was on a bit of a Holmes kick,
but it kept coming back and has recently become a pretty important part
of the plot. Marie’s tendency to lose her mind when she stays up all
night just sort of happened, but it’s currently figuring into her Ph.D.
Then there are the bits and pieces that appeared briefly early on but
later became major plot elements, some on purpose and some by
accident. Nico was first mentioned a few months into the comic’s run. I
always knew what his deal was, but I didn’t bring him properly into the
comic until Christmas of 2010, almost exactly four years after his name
first came up. I don’t know now whether or not I was ever planning to
introduce him as a proper character. After a while, everything sort of
blurs together. It’s possible to convince yourself that you know
precisely what you’re doing, even if that isn’t true.
The hardest bit is the ending. I’ll freely admit that when I started
the comic, I didn’t know where it was heading, let alone how it would
end. Every once in a while, I would think, “So how am I going to
resolve this? Eh…I have plenty of time.” Eventually, you wake up to
the realisation that most of the time is gone now. That’s when you
discover whether you really have been setting things up for an ending
all along…or whether what you have is a snarl of disconnected elements
and a bunch of extraneous polar bears. Sometimes, not even time travel
can save you.
It remains to be seen whether I can pull this off. West of Bathurst has been accused of being rather Lost-like
in its tendency never to answer any of the questions it proposes. I do
know how it’s going to end, and I guess all I can hope for is that it’s
not completely terrible. If it is, then it will, I suppose, simply be
echoing many other serials.
Endings are also rather sad. I wish they didn’t have to happen. But
old stories do end, polar bears and all, probably so that the new
stories won’t feel so very crowded.CommentMonday, March 11, 2013: The Road to Oz
I have not seen Oz the Great and Powerful. I’m not
sure whether I ever will. I feel uncomfortable about commenting
extensively on it without seeing it, but I also really don’t want to
have to experience 127 minutes’ worth of uncontrollable rage just so I
can knowledgeably light into a Hollywood movie. However, I’ve heard a
few things about the film, and I shall use those few things as a
springboard to discuss my own relationship with the Oz material. I get a
bit upset when people do silly things to the story that defined my
I’m not talking about the film, either. My dad read me The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
long before I could read myself. I must have been four or five the
first time he did it. At that point, like any pre-literate child
confronted with a marvellous story, I virtually memorised it. My dad,
forced to read the novel to me over and over, started amusing himself by
changing the words around. The Scarecrow became the Crowscare; the Tin
Woodman became the Wood Tinman. I was particularly indignant over this
second change. “No, Dad,” I would say, “it’s the Tin
Woodman.” I loved everything about the story. I had my own copy, which
was illustrated with brightly coloured pictures I still visualise when I
think of the novel. In my imagination, Dorothy isn’t Judy Garland;
she’s the little girl in the book. When I did learn to read, I expect
that book was one of the first I got through on my own.
I never got into the sequels, mostly because I didn’t know they existed. We did eventually acquire a copy of The Marvelous Land of Oz,
which I liked too, albeit not as much as the first book in the series.
No one ever told me there were more books. However, by the time I saw
the film (as well, later, as Return to Oz), Oz was part of me.
I played Dorothy in our grade seven production of the musical, and even
though the Cowardly Lion refused to hug me on stage because I was
unpopular and he didn’t want his friends to mock him, I had a great time
doing it. I had always identified with Dorothy. Until grade 4, when I
cut off most of my hair, I had even looked a bit like her.
The story is, on the surface, a very simple one. L. Frank Baum, in
his introduction to the book, frames it as aspiring “to being a
modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and
the heartaches and nightmares are left out.” In his opinion, the
“horrible and blood-curdling incidents” in fairy tales could be dropped,
as modern children, with their strong moral educations, didn’t need
them. Funnily enough, however, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
contains plenty of heartaches and nightmares. The protagonist, Dorothy,
is an orphan who spends the whole book yearning to return to her dour
aunt and uncle. Her companions all long for attributes that they
already have, and in the end, they have to be tricked into acknowledging
these attributes within themselves. Throughout the story, Dorothy’s
life is in danger; several times, she nearly dies, and twice, she
inadvertently commits murder. Oz is far from a safe, happy landscape.
It’s a land in which half the population is enslaved, and everyone
respects and fears a charlatan whose main power is his ability to put on
a show. The simplicity of the story runs up against the complexity of
Oz. This supposedly safe, sweet little children’s tale has teeth.
In addition, it has a fantastic heroine. I’ve heard that later books
in the series (which I’ll soon be reading, as I’m on a bit of an Oz
kick now) tend to focus on female protagonists too; in fact, Baum
himself was a feminist with a bunch of strong women in his life. The
one other book in the series that I’ve read seems to focus on a boy but actually doesn’t (and if that sentence confuses you, I can only suggest that you go find The Marvelous Land of Oz, which, like the other Oz books, is in the public domain and thus available for free online).
In the first book, Dorothy is really just an ordinary little girl, and
this ordinariness is what makes her extraordinary. She’s just some kid
who happens to be swept away into a strange land. She doesn’t have the
tortured, complex backstory of more recent young protagonists—except, of
course, in the hint that her parents are dead—but she doesn’t really
need it. What’s great about Dorothy is the way she simply keeps rising
to the occasion. She wants to go home, but she doesn’t waste time
whining about it. When a Scarecrow winks at her, her reaction is not to
question her own sanity but to walk up to it; when a Lion threatens her
little dog, she whacks it on the nose. Like Lewis Carroll’s Alice,
Dorothy has a certain practicality that allows her to cut through the
Wizard’s bluster and figure out what’s really going on. She’s not the
Chosen One, but she kills two witches and discovers the truth of the
Wizard. She doesn’t need to turn up surrounded by prophecies or urged
on by destiny. She’s iconic without being a pointlessly blank slate.
Part of the reason I don’t want to see the new film is that from what
I’ve heard, it turns the Wizard into the Chosen One. Never mind Baum’s
heroines; let’s tell the same tired story of the young man who is,
despite his own apparent laziness, destined for greatness. Let’s also
turn the four powerful witches of Oz into potential love interests.
What a good idea that will be. There’s no way, after all, that a story
about a girl could appeal to anybody but girls. This interesting logic,
which appears to drive the entirety of Hollywood these days, ignores
not just the popularity of Baum’s books but the popularity of The Wizard of Oz,
the fiercely loved 1939 film that inspired this new “prequel” in the
first place. A sequel to this prequel was apparently green-lighted
before the film was ever released. Oh, joy.
Do yourselves a favour and pick up the original books. They’re not
in 3D, and they don’t have special effects or James Franco mugging for
the camera, but unlike the Tin Woodman (in his own mind, at least), they
certainly have a heart. In many ways, everybody, no matter what
gender, is a version of Dorothy Gale.CommentMonday, February 25, 2013: And That's How It All Began
So as some of you know, I'm trying desperately and in vain to get a
publisher, any publisher, to take a look at my novel. This is a
soul-destroying process through which many people have gone, so I won't
whine about it here. I do, however, want to say a little something
about the expectations of agents and publishers when it comes to
openings: particularly, the openings of Young Adult novels.
recognise that my book's opening needs work, and I'll get on that.
However, I'm also wondering if current expectations aren't a teeny bit
restrictive. I understand why these expectations exist. An opening,
saith the Experts, needs to provide an instant "hook." The reader must
be drawn immediately into the story. In the first 250 words or so, the
writer must introduce the protagonist and the protagonist's situation.
The characters should be "in the moment"; there shouldn't be much, if
any, exposition. Starting with pure dialogue is kind of cheating but is
better than starting with a description of the setting, which is
boring. It must be instantly clear to the reader what every element in
the opening means; if anything is vague or incomplete, the reader will
undoubtedly lose interest and wander away to play video games.
yes, we live in a culture in which everything must happen NOW. Our
attention spans are fragmented; we consider a five-minute YouTube video
too long to watch and complain vociferously when our profs assign us
more than one short story to read per week. I'm wondering, however, if
we're not getting a bit too dictatorial about the whole "If you don't
capture the reader in the first three words, ALL IS LOST" thing. It
wasn't that long ago that openings were allowed to be gentler, more
mysterious, with fewer explosions and less of an expectation that the
protagonist's personality would be laid bare in the first paragraph.
am thus going to take a look at three openings of well-known children's
novels (from back before YA was a thing, mostly) to see if they pass
the 250-word test: that is, the expectation that after the first 250
words (more or less) of the novel, the reader will be invested in the
protagonist and know exactly who all the people, places, and concepts
mentioned in those 250 words are. I'm not saying that the 250-word test
is wrong or not at all useful. Expectations do change over time. I'm
just saying...well, let's see what happens.
Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit (1937): First 244 Words
a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet
hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry,
bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a
hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
It had a perfectly round door
like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the
exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a
very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors
tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of
pegs for hats and coats—the hobbit was fond of visitors. The tunnel
wound on and on, going fairly but not quite straight into the side of
the hill—The Hill, as all the people for many miles round called it—and
many little round doors opened out of it, first on one side and then on
another. No going upstairs for the hobbit: bedrooms, bathrooms,
cellars, pantries (lots of these), wardrobes (he had whole rooms devoted
to clothes), kitchens, dining-rooms, all were on the same floor, and
indeed on the same passage. The best rooms were all on the left-hand
side (going in), for these were the only ones to have windows, deep-set
round windows looking over his garden, and meadows beyond, sloping down
to the river.
This hobbit was a very well-to-do hobbit, and his name was Baggins.
Mythical editor's comment: This is all exposition. Moreover, it's vague
exposition. What on earth is a hobbit? I get no sense of what kind of
creature this is. Or is "hobbit" a job description? You spend two
whole paragraphs describing his "hole" (why is he living in a hole?),
but you give me very little sense of the hobbit itself; all you really
say is that he likes clothes and has a nice house. You completely lose
me with this description, which is without context. I don't even know
what kind of story this is supposed to be. It's only in the very last
line that you mention the hobbit's name. You've given me no reason to
Yes, of course, but: This may be one of
the best-known openings in children's literature. It tells us little
about Bilbo; it doesn't even tell us that his name is Bilbo.
It does not plunge us into the story. Frankly, Tolkien doesn't begin to
set up the initial conflict until three pages in. However, there's
something to be said for a gentle approach. The opening contains hints
about Bilbo's personality, and those hints will eventually come to
define his approach to his adventure. We don't know his name, but we
know that he's a comfort-loving clothing fanatic with multiple
pantries. We know that his house matters to him. The description of
the setting is, in fact, a description of Bilbo; the author just doesn't
come out and say so.
Today, Tolkien would be expected to spice
all this up. An editor would probably suggest that he cut the first
three pages altogether and begin with the encounter between Bilbo and
Gandalf. This would undoubtedly be more exciting. It would also
deprive us of that initial hidden description of Bilbo as
indistinguishable from his comfortable surroundings.
Example 2: E.B. White's Charlotte's Web (1952): First 266 Words
"Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
"Out to the hoghouse," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night."
don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight.
"Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and
weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided
to do away with it."
"Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?"
Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell, Fern!" she
said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway."
pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet and
the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping by the
time she caught up with her father.
"Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."
Mr. Arable stopped walking.
"Fern," he said gently, "you will have to learn to control yourself."
myself?" yelled Fern. "This is a matter of life and death, and you talk
about controlling myself." Tears ran down her cheeks and she took hold
of the ax and tried to pull it out of her father's hand.
"Fern," said Mr. Arable, "I know more about raising a litter of pigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!"
it's unfair," cried Fern. "The pig couldn't help being born small,
could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?"
Mythical editor's comment:
At first glance, I liked this opening. You did a good job of putting
the reader in the moment; the conflict between Fern and her father was
nicely laid out, even if the setting could have been clearer. However, I
was impressed enough that I flipped ahead a few pages, and I was very
surprised to see that Fern was not, in fact, the protagonist of this
story! Suddenly, without warning, you switched to the perspective of
the pig I had initially thought was just a plot device. The opening is
highly misleading. A reader expecting a realistic story about a girl
growing up on a farm is, as of the second chapter, expected to accept a
whole other reality in which animals can talk and a pig is befriended by
a spider. When I moved on past the opening, I felt cheated, and I lost
all desire to read on.
Yes, of course, but: Charlotte's Web
is another children's classic, and it certainly does contain this
abrupt shift in point of view. Fern returns and is even an important
character later on, but the bulk of the story concentrates on Wilbur,
her pig, and his life on the farm. Under present-day rules, this
opening would be seen as a "prologue" (i.e., not a proper part of the
story) and thus discouraged. However, beginning with a realistic story
about an eight-year-old girl and her compassion for a runty pig allows
White to do some pretty essential things. He sets up the novel as a
coming-of-age tale; Fern learns here that life isn't fair, though
sometimes exceptions can be made. Wilbur will learn both lessons
himself later on. Fern's changing priorities as she grows are also a
major thread of the story; as Wilbur comes of age through his
relationship with Charlotte and his hard lesson about letting go of
someone who cares for him, Fern is undergoing a parallel coming of age
as she spends less time at the farm and more getting interested in boys
(yes, okay, the novel was published in 1952). Fern and Wilbur learn in
different ways that things change, not always for the better.
White would be encouraged to drop the first chapter entirely or perhaps
to ditch the talking-animals angle and stick with Fern throughout.
Both approaches would take something from the story. It is quite
possible that despite the testimony of generations of readers who first
experienced the mourning process vicariously through this book, Charlotte's Web would be considered unpublishable by current standards.
J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997): First 261 Words
and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that
they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last
people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious,
because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.
Mr Dursley was
the director of a firm called Grunnings, which made drills. He was a
big, beefy man with hardly any neck, although he did have a very large
moustache. Mrs Dursley was thin and blonde and had nearly twice the
usual amount of neck, which came in very useful as she spent so much of
her time craning over garden fences, spying on the neighbours. The
Dursleys had a small son called Dudley and in their opinion there was no
finer boy anywhere.
The Dursleys had everything they wanted, but
they also had a secret, and their greatest fear was that somebody would
discover it. They didn’t think they could bear it if anyone found out
about the Potters. Mrs Potter was Mrs Dursley’s sister, but they hadn’t
met for several years; in fact, Mrs Dursley pretended she didn’t have a
sister, because her sister and her good-for-nothing husband were as
unDursleyish as it was possible to be. The Dursleys shuddered to think
what the neighbours would say if the Potters arrived in the street. The
Dursleys knew that the Potters had a small son, too, but they had never
even seen him. This boy was another good reason for keeping the
Potters away; they didn’t want Dudley mixing with a child like that.
Mythical editor's comment:
This opening is all exposition. Show, don't tell; if you want us to
get to know the Dursleys, let us see them interacting with each other.
I'm bewildered by the point of view here. Are the Dursleys your
protagonists? They don't seem very likeable. Is Dudley the main
character? Is the Potter boy? If you hadn't sent me the title of your
novel, I wouldn't be able to tell. A glance through the rest of the
chapter demonstrates that you jump from point of view to point of view,
throwing a bewildering number of characters at a reader who has no idea
who they are. Then you skip ten years. You should begin with your
protagonist, not tease the reader with the introduction of characters
who will soon be relegated to secondary roles. I'm just too confused to
want to read on.
Yes, of course, but: If you thought I was just bringing up novels written before I was born, think again. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone,
the book that arguably began the rise of YA fiction as we know it
today, starts with a whackload of exposition and is--in its first
chapter, at least--written in the slightly condescending tones of J.R.R.
Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, who produced children's literature back when it
had different conventions associated with it. You might argue that
Rowling was just starting out and needed to find her rhythm, and that
would be true. However, though the condescending tone didn't stick
around, the exposition did. She often started her novels by explaining
that Harry Potter was a wizard and outlining, point by point, what that
meant. She continued to like beginning with the point of view of a
secondary character as well. She didn't call these initial chapters
prologues, but that was what they were.
Do I have a problem with any of this? Hell, no. The Harry Potter novels work beautifully. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
is essentially writen for eleven-year-olds, and it borrows its tone not
just from Tolkien and Lewis but from Roald Dahl and Eva Ibbitson, both
of whom have produced wonderful literature for that age group. Starting
with the Dursleys allows Rowling to introduce the Muggle world as the
apparent norm, then subvert this norm with her colourful, eccentric
wizards. Harry is not the only one who starts surrounded by the mundane
and must make his way into the world of magic; the reader joins him.
Chapter 1 allows us to gain knowledge Harry doesn't have--knowledge of
the existence of wizards--and then wait in delicious anticipation for
him to figure out what is going on.
Today, ironically, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
might easily be asked to lose its first chapter, due largely to the
increasingly rigid rules that have developed since its publication. In
fact, the film of the book leaves out the bit with the Dursleys and
skips to Dumbledore's first appearance late in Chapter 1. Chapter 2 is
more "in the moment," it's true, but the introduction of the Dursleys
gives us the essential conflict between the Muggles and the wizards;
it's also quite funny. A swifter beginning would lead to a less
So yes, these examples are more or
less arbitrary. They do, however, demonstrate that there's more than
one way to begin a novel without causing young readers to give up
immediately. All three of these books are still in print, after all.
Sure, the in-the-moment technique is probably the one it's easiest to
get right; that doesn't mean other techniques are automatically not even
worth trying. For crying out loud, Watership Down begins with a two-page description of rabbits in a field. And if you haven't read Watership Down, you need to go do that now.
exist to sell books. It's probably easier, theoretically speaking, to
sell books that are exciting from the first sentence onward. However,
by discounting stories that begin more quietly or subtly, we may be
losing out.CommentMonday, February 18, 2013: Study Week: An Exercise in Frustration
Every term, the university at which I work holds a “Study Week” in
which students do not attend classes. It’s pretty nice for students.
It isn’t quite so nice for instructors.
You see, Study Week follows the fifth week of classes. There are
twelve weeks’ worth of classes per term, meaning that Study Week is more
or less in exactly the wrong spot. Profs who set their midterms for
week 5 have only four weeks to work with as far as material is
concerned. Profs who set their midterms for week 6 or 7 can’t mark
during Study Week. I tend to go with Option 1, and therefore, I do mark during Study Week. It’s very practical, but it’s not very fun.
I haven’t had a Study Week that counts as an actual “break” since I
was an MA student. I usually goof off for the first several days, at
which point I realise, with rising panic, that I have 220 midterms to
mark in the course of a week and a half. The pattern is always the
same, but do I ever wise up and start marking on the first day of the
break? No, I do not. That would be far too easy.
I have pledged to start my marking tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow is a
holiday, and I have a lunch outing at noon. And there’s laundry to get
through. And I should work on Wednesday’s comic. And I’ve written one
of my songs for March now, but I need to think of a concept for a
second one as well. And I should practise the first song. And I should
play my tenor guitar a bit. And…
Damn you, Study Week. Damn you to Hades. I always succumb to your lure.CommentMonday, February 11, 2013: The Hierarchy of Snow
When it comes to winter, Canadians get a little bit strange. We take
pride in our winteriness. We collect scarves, tuques, and pairs of
mittens. We brag about cycling in the snow. Two-inch snowfalls prompt
middle-aged women to haul out their cross-country skis and use them to
commute to work. The more snow there is, the more we rejoice.
attitude tends to lead to what you might call a "hierarchy of snow,"
which we may notice only when we leave one place in Canada for another
place in Canada. We get very...regional...about our snow. The grass is
always greener on the other side of the fence; the snow, on the other
hand, is always less impressive. When it comes to winter weather,
Canadians shed their stereotypical politeness for outright bragging.
grew up in Vancouver, which is automatically at the bottom of the
hierarchy. Vancouverites don't think of their snow as being less, well,
snowy than everyone else's, but living in Toronto has taught me that
the rest of the country views Vancouver's snow with amused contempt.
Everyone who doesn't live in Vancouver believes that Vancouverites are
completely unable to cope with snow. The story runs as follows: in
Vancouver, it rains for 364 days of the year. On the 365th, it snows,
and the city shuts down because no one in Vancouver is capable of
dealing with frozen water falling from the sky. Vancouverites can't
drive in the snow. Vancouverites think that an inch of snow is the
worst thing ever. How funny and silly those Vancouverites are!
course, the truth is that Vancouver, while quite temperate, does
sometimes get a substantial amount of snow. Vancouverites, who live
their lives surrounded by quite tall mountains on which the snow
accumulates to a degree that would utterly alarm someone from Toronto,
are as capable of driving in the snow as anyone, though they are
sometimes defeated by Vancouver's steep hills. A Vancouverite's
knowledge of snow acts somewhat like a secret superpower. Though I hail
from the city at the bottom of the hierarchy, I grew up cross-country
skiing and snowshoing, and I knew what a tree well was and why it was a
bad idea to fall into one by the time I was eight.
I live in Toronto. Toronto sees itself as well up in the hierarchy,
and consequently, many Torontonians are shocked to learn that the rest
of the country regards it as well down in the
hierarchy. Former mayor Mel Lastman didn't help this general impression
by calling in the army during Toronto's 1999 blizzard. Only about a
week ago, I saw an online comment from a Torontonian who indignantly
complained about mockery of Lastman's decision, even though, in the
commenter's words, Toronto had sustained a "90 cm." snowfall at the
time. In actual fact, the snowfall was probably no more than about 40
cm., or a foot and a third. There have been some snowy Toronto winters,
but total accumulation rarely goes beyond a foot and a half. And yes,
other Canadians think that Toronto shuts down under such conditions. As
Vancouver is to Toronto, so is Toronto to everybody else, though
Torontonians, unlike Vancouverites, often lack mountain-related
I spent Christmas in Prince George this year.
Prince George is in northern British Columbia, and it gets quite a lot
of snow. In fact, when I was there, I never really saw actual pavement,
as Prince George sands its roads rather than salting them. In Prince
George, snow tires are a necessity, not a luxury. Vancouver and Toronto
are both full of wimps as far as the people of Prince George are
concerned. Even though I was there for only a week and a half, I find
myself inclined to snicker smugly at Toronto's comparatively teeny
snowfalls and balmy temperatures. The hierarchy of snow sets in
There are doubtless places further
north that regard Prince Georgians as soft. That's how it goes in
Canada: everyone's snow is better than everyone else's snow. Just
about the only thing everyone agrees about is that even Vancouver is
hardier than most of the United States. And that's pretty Canadian too.
CommentMonday, February 4, 2013: Prelude to a Kiss
So for some reason, I've entered a small, lighthearted Internet
writing contest that involves posting a kissing scene from some story or
other. I'm obliged to post this scene on my blog; I have done so here
. However, in this week's Rant, I would also like to muse a
bit about my attitude towards kissing scenes.
I've written a lot
of novels (most of which no one will ever see) and a fair number of
short stories, plus a towering pile of comics. How many kissing scenes
have I got through in the course of my life? Well, that would be
three. Two of them are in West of Bathurst, and one of those
is a single panel long. I have created exactly one prose-fiction
kissing scene. It appears in a novel I wrote a few years ago. The
existence of this novel now embarrasses the hell out of me, but I did
quite enjoy writing the kissing scene. There may have been a wee bit of
meta in there somewhere.
The longer West of Bathurst kissing scene doesn't exactly play the trope straight either.
I don't seem to be able to write a conventional kissing scene, probably
because I tend to get rather impatient with such scenes myself. Some
works handle kissing very well and actually make it relevant to the
plot, which is always nice. Others include kissing for the sake of
kissing. If an author is going to spend a page and a half describing a
lingering kiss, it needs to have something to do with the story.
the other hand, I do often wish that I didn't shy away from writing
kissing scenes. My reaction reminds me of the reaction of a certain
actor who was playing a part in a musical a friend and I had written
together. The play contained an "almost-kiss" scene, which is not quite
the same thing as a kissing scene. The two characters needed to lean
in towards each other at the end of their duet, then break apart before
anything happened. The female actor simply couldn't get through this
scene. The almost-kiss embarrassed her. To cover up her embarrassment,
she pretended to be running towards the male actor in slow motion; when
we asked her to stop, she just kept squirming away from him in the
middle of the scene and declaring that the whole thing made her feel
stupid. We finally persuaded her to be a little less awkward about it,
but she never quite got into the spirit of the scene. I think maybe I'm
acting like her when I avoid kissing scenes. Perhaps I should learn to
embrace the power of the Kiss.
As West of Bathurst is a
comic, it's not eligible for the kissing-scene contest. However, I'll
reproduce the relevant plotline below because I can. Those of you who
read the comic may remember that that particular kiss was hugely
relevant to the plot, albeit maybe not in the way you might expect a
kiss would be. At any rate, it was fun to write. I may not be addicted
to kissing scenes, but when I do use them, I am satisfyingly cruel to
Here is the West of Bathurst kissing scene, which originally ran between September 8th and 19th, 2008:
CommentMonday, January 21, 2013: Glee vs. JoCo: A Slightly Different Angle
I won’t bore you with a repetition of the details of the Great Indie
Cover Scandal of 2013. If you want to read about how the TV show Glee
helped itself, practically note for note and possibly even duck-sound
for duck-sound, to Jonathan Coulton’s acoustic cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s
“Baby Got Back,” I would suggest you try here. Or here. Or here. Or here. If you want to listen to the two tracks simultaneously (one in one ear and the other in the other), go here.
Heck…Google “Jonathan Coulton Baby Got Back Glee.” Lots and lots and
lots of things have been said about this already. Seemingly, the only
people who haven’t weighed in are those affiliated in any way with Glee itself.
But I shall not Rant fruitlessly about Fox and arrogance and whether
covers are copyrighted. Instead, I shall simply say: I told you so.
I write about Glee sometimes. I don’t like Glee.
Admittedly, I stopped watching it a couple of seasons ago; perhaps it
has miraculously improved in the interim, though from what I’ve heard,
it’s actually done the opposite. The main reason for my loathing of the
show isn’t entirely the same as that of many of people. Sure, it is an
insult to the very idea of musical theatre; its plotting and
characterisation are inconsistent; it has populated a fictional high
school with yet another group of beautiful thirty-somethings; even its
moments of mild cleverness lead nowhere. What I regard as its biggest
problem, however, is the way the impetus of its writing clashes with its
supposed mission statement.
Glee is apparently the story of a group of misfits who
struggle against their own unpopularity as they attempt to negotiate the
horror that is high school. As I’ve posited before (on the Rants page before I started posting the Rants on this blog; check the entry for September 19, 2011), the Glee
characters read more like popular kids in disguise. My theory (which
may, of course, be vastly unfair) is that the writers were all popular
in high school themselves. They know what unpopularity is like in theory,
but they’ve never actually experienced it. They thus give us a bunch
of cheerleaders and football players, have some cardboard bullies throw
slushies at them, and announce that they are telling a story of
empowerment. Empowerment, in Glee, seems to equal the attainment of–you guessed it–popularity.
Glee‘s apparent theft from an independent musician whose fan
base consists largely of geeks and nerds is not thematically
inconsistent with the tenor of the show. Some have theorised that the
musical directors simply didn’t realise that anyone would know who
Coulton was. He is not, after all, a studio musician; he hasn’t signed
with a huge label. Don’t kids these days listen only to really popular
music? It’s a mistake along the lines of thinking that unpopular kids
are just socially awkward carbon copies of popular kids. Sure, some of
them may be. However, it’s probably fair to say that quite a few of
Coulton’s fans remember being genuine misfits in high school. Coulton’s
ideal fan is the shy outsider who spends large chunks of time online
and thinks about the world in a twisty sort of way. The Glee kids don’t seem like the kind of people who would ever have heard of Coulton.
That is, in a way, too bad. A Glee that dealt with genuine misfits could do a Coulton-themed episode without a problem. “The Future Soon”
is the perfect high-school song: a cheerful ditty about a hopeless
nerd enduring the shame of his daily existence by imagining his future
as a vengeful cyborg scientist. “Big Bad World One” and “Code Monkey,”
though not set in high school, deal with the crushing defeats of the
workplace and unrequited love and could easily fit into a better version
of the show. If the writers were even a little bit brave, they could
use “Shop Vac” in relation to the home life of one of the characters. If you must
borrow other people’s music in order to tell your story, borrow the
music of somebody who bears even a remote relation to the kinds of
characters you’ve got in your story.
I am not advocating a JoCo-themed Glee episode; Glee
is doing everything so wrong that it just wouldn’t work. However, it’s
pretty telling that this show about “misfits” has gone and alienated a
goodly number of geeks and nerds, most of whom are not afraid to wield
the Internet as a mighty weapon. Whether or not Jonathan Coulton
deserves and/or will receive either acknowledgement or compensation for
his cover, by opening itself up to the wrath of his fans, Glee
has really just demonstrated what it has been all along: a show by and
for people who have never fantasised about conquering Earth with an army
of violent robots as revenge for being humiliated in high school.
CommentMonday, January 14, 2013: There's Something About Adler
I’ve been wanting to Rant about Irene Adler for a while. Inevitably,
someone much more prominent has beat me to it; Esther Inglis-Arkell has
an interesting article in io9 called “Why Can’t Any Recent Sherlock Holmes Adaptation Get Irene Adler Right?”.
I agree with many of the sentiments expressed here. As Ms.
Inglis-Arkell points out, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Irene Adler is actually
less old-fashioned than the versions of the character that have appeared
in the film Sherlock Holmes and the BBC series Sherlock.
Unlike the later versions, the original Irene is not a pawn of
Moriarty, and she is actually quite honourable. In Inglis-Arkell’s
words, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia,” a “clever,
unconventional, take-charge, and seductive woman is, unreservedly, a
We simply don’t deal well with her any more, and not just in the two
examples cited in the article. I would like to take a look at the other
side of the coin: the Irene Adlers who appear–or, significantly, who don’t appear–in two American takes on the Holmes material, House, M.D. and Elementary.
There are two characters in House, M.D. who can be seen as
versions of Irene Adler. One, Rebecca Adler, appears in the pilot
episode. She is the patient of the week; the only truly remarkable
thing about her is that she refuses treatment until House can
demonstrate that his diagnosis is correct. They have a conversation in
which she quizzes him about himself and his hang-ups; perhaps her
insight into his personality is a tribute to the original Irene and the
reversal of power in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” However, once she is
cured, she vanishes from the show. Even this brief appearance may
constitute the most accurate recent Adler. Yet the show involves an
actual “Irene Adler” as well. In Season 5, Episode 11, Wilson
(apparently) lies to House’s team, telling them that House used to date a
woman named Irene Adler. As far as we ever know, this really is a
lie. Irene thus appears in the show as a figment: a lost love who
never existed in the first place.
“A Scandal in Bohemia” is in no way a love story; Holmes is
fascinated by Irene because she has beaten him, but there is no hint in
any of the stories that Holmes is capable of falling in love. In that
same story, in fact, Watson writes:
To Sherlock Holmes she is always the
woman. I have seldom heard him mention her under any other name. In his
eyes she eclipses and predominates the whole of her sex. It was not that
he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and
that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably
balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and
observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have
placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer
passions, save with a gibe and a sneer. They were admirable things for
the observer—excellent for drawing the veil from men’s motives and
actions. But for the trained reasoner to admit such intrusions into his
own delicate and finely adjusted temperament was to introduce a
distracting factor which might throw a doubt upon all his mental
results. Grit in a sensitive instrument, or a crack in one of his own
high-power lenses, would not be more disturbing than a strong emotion in
a nature such as his. And yet there was but one woman to him, and that
woman was the late Irene Adler, of dubious and questionable memory.
It’s nice that Irene turns out, in House, to be a lie rather
than an actual lover, but that still removes a certain reality from
her; she can be either a love interest or no one at all. If Rebecca
Adler had been allowed to stand, she might have been a decent, if
uninspired, substitute, but Irene-as-figment takes over. Irene is
allowed no independent existence outside House. Even Rebecca is saved
In Elementary, it all gets ever so much worse. (Spoilers
follow, incidentally; if you don’t want to find out what happened in
last week’s episode of Elementary, stop reading now.) It is
possible there will eventually be some sort of massive plot twist
involving the revelation that Irene is still alive. For the moment,
however, she is 1) Sherlock’s former true love, who 2) was murdered by a
man who 3) turns out to have been Moriarty. If Irene is still alive, she is doubtless in cahoots with Moriarty, which would put her in the same category as the Irenes of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlock.
If she truly is dead, she has been reduced to the role of the dead
girlfriend/fiancee/wife/lover (or, in some stories,
daughter/sister/mother) whose murder motivates the hero. She commits
the further offence of making it necessary for Sherlock Holmes, a
character who is notoriously single and singular, to have a love
interest. In the context of this particular show, this then creates the
potential for unresolved sexual tension between Sherlock and his female
Why not give Irene Adler her due? Have we really reached a point at
which the two options are “sexy, untrustworthy vixen who serves as the
catspaw of a male mastermind” and “dead girlfriend”? Despite her brief
role in the Holmes canon, Irene Adler has pretty clearly made an
impression, rather like Moriarty, whose role is equally brief. Moriarty
is, famously, Holmes’s intellectual equal. Irene Adler beats Holmes. Yet in the adaptations (even, in a way, in House,
in which a character named Moriarty shoots House and then effectively
invades his mind as he lies on the verge of death), Moriarty becomes
almost unimaginably powerful, while Irene is demonstrated to be inferior
to both Holmes and Moriarty. It sometimes seems a concerted effort to deprive her of her original power.
I would like to see an Irene who truly stood as a modernised version
of the character in “A Scandal in Bohemia,” not as either a “strong”
woman who was really just a minion and who relied entirely on her
sexuality or a mere name tossed around to motivate the male
protagonist. She needs her chance to beat Holmes all over again, and
not just in name.CommentMonday, December 10, 2012: Fear of Bicycle Repair: A Morality Tale
I took a bike-repair course once. It was kind of fun and gave me a
sense of accomplishment; I was, it seemed, capable of doing mild bicycle
maintenance without physically hurting myself. I had gained knowledge
that was actually useful.
Then the course
ended, at which point I learned a hard truth: no matter how many things
you learn in the repair shop, you will eventually not have access to
said repair shop any more. Deprived of the tools, the expertise of your
teachers, and even those thingies you stick bikes on to lift them off
the ground and make their bits easier to get at, you will be almost back
to where you started: incapable of anything more complex than tire
inflation. I had the added problem of entirely lacking in upper-body
strength. Even after I acquired a multi-tool, I was frequently
incapable of using it. No amount of knowledge will allow you to loosen a
bolt when you have the muscle tone of an undernourished
But I do like the idea
of being able to look after my own bike. I always feel a creeping
sense of shame when I have to take my bike to the shop to get a tire
changed because I'm not strong enough to take off the wheel. And yes, I
have done this more than once.
ended up in one of those incredibly stupid situations that affect only
people who are fantastic procrastinators. My brake pads were worn down
to the point that they were hardly working any more. When I say "hardly
working," I mean that I was having to drag my left foot along the
ground every time I wanted to stop. Stopping on a hill involved me
jamming on the brakes as hard as I could half a block before the
intersection, then dragging my foot for at least thirty feet. Calling
this situation "insanely dangerous" would be putting it lightly. It was
not smart of me to continue riding a bike that was incapable of, you
I made all the usual
excuses. I was too busy to fix the brakes. I didn't remember how. I
was going to screw something up, and I would get the bike into such a
bad condition that I would be forced to take it to the shop, and then
the people at the shop would laugh at me. It wasn't that bad.
If I pumped up my tires, the brakes would almost work again.** It was
nearly December; I wouldn't need the bike for much longer anyway.
of these excuses obscured the fact that I was putting my life in danger
every time I got on the bike. Finally, I stopped procrastinating and
fixed the damn brakes.
It turned out that I
did remember how to do it. I didn't have all the tools that would have
made it a painless operation, but I had enough to get by, and as far as
I know, I didn't destroy anything. My brakes soon worked again. Once
more, I felt that sense of accomplishment. Small victories can be very
The day after I fixed my
brakes, I was cycling along Bloor when an absolute idiot in a huge white
van made an illegal left turn in front of me, nearly killing another
cyclist and forcing me to jam on the brakes. It wasn't the kind of
illegal left turn you could excuse with, "He must not have seen the
sign"; this was someone swerving across three lanes of traffic onto an
off-ramp usually only accessible to people driving in the opposite
direction. You don't explicitly watch out for that sort of thing
because ninety percent of drivers just aren't that freaking insane. All
I can say is that I'm really glad I stopped procrastinating and fixed
my brakes. I'm not sure the foot-dragging manoeuvre would have helped
much in that situation.
The next time my
brakes stop working, of course, I am probably going to do exactly the
same thing. But for now, it's nice to know that I can fix my brakes if I
*I don't enjoy being this wimpy.
A lot of my problems do seem to be bike-related, too. The university
at which I work has recently got rid of several banks of bike racks and
replaced them with these horrible plastic things that are meant
to hold bikes placed almost vertically. In principle, they save a lot
of space. In practice, all they mean is that people with no muscles in
their arms are forced to take their bikes elsewhere. I cannot for the
life of me get my bike into one of those racks. At one point, I was
flailing around in a futile attempt to make the damn thing stay, and a
couple of students were standing nearby, laughing at me. I don't even
try any more.**This was actually true.
Full tires are fatter than soft ones, and the brakes are thus marginally
tighter. In this case, "marginally tighter" means: "For the first day
after I pumped up my tires, I had to drag my foot for only the last ten
feet, not the last thirty."
CommentMonday, December 3, 2012: Twenty Days of Horror
I do actually like teaching. I don't actually like marking. I know
I'm not exactly alone in this, but sometimes, the obvious just needs to
be restated. Marking is the devil. Because of marking, I haven't
written a Rant in a month. I've finally got a small amount of time for
Ranting, and what am I Ranting about? Why, marking, of course.
on December 1st, I had about 300 assignments--180 essays and 120 exams,
not to mention 160 discussion responses--to get through by December
20th. I'm now finished 25 of the essays. At this rate, I'll be almost
done by next March. I also have to write, memorise, rehearse, and
perform two songs, rehearse and perform two other songs, do something
about this whole album thing, draw eleven comics and a Christmas header,
and not go mad. And that isn't even considering the Christmas
Next term, I'm teaching four classes instead of
five, but they'll have more students in them. The course I'll be
teaching (four times over) is one of the university's most popular,
mostly because it can be used as an elective by students in a wide
variety of disciplines. Also, it's got comics in it. My classes will
start out full, though I'll doubtless terrify many students into
dropping out a few weeks into the term. To begin with, however, I'll
likely be teaching between 220 and 240 people, in contrast to the 145 or
so I have at the moment. Crying is going to be happening quite, quite
soon. The fun bit? The university considers my job "part time."
any rate, the next eighteen days are sure to be filled with joy. If I
run into many more apostrophe faults, I may try to swallow my own
tongue, but that's par for the course.CommentMonday, November 5, 2012: Being Busy is Terrible
I skipped the last two weeks' worth of Rants, and I can see myself
skipping next week's too, so I'd better get this week's in here
somewhere. The truth of the matter is that I've bitten off a wee bit
more than I can chew.
Sessional Instructor Mantra is: take the work when it's available,
since you can't know when it won't be. This is true, and it's all very
well, but it doesn't take into account the fact that the work takes
actual time. I have five classes this term. Three of them are for the
same course; the other two are for two different courses. Of the three
courses I'm teaching, two are ones I've never taught before. That means
that I have to put together two three-hours lectures from scratch every
week. In addition, I have to mark for five classes, three of which are
on essay writing and thus involve more assignments than usual. It's
got to the point where I'm marking the essay-writing class's third
assignment second because I don't have time to do the second assignment and
the third assignment, the latter of which is an essay proposal that is
going to need to be handed back to the students this week.
only reason I've been able to keep up with my comic is that I do need to
take breaks occasionally, and on those breaks, I draw. I haven't
mailed out the prizes I owe people from this summer. I haven't done
some increasingly urgent late marking of summer assignments. I haven't
cleaned my apartment in forever. I've somehow managed to record an
album, but I'm still not sure when that happened. I have a concert at a
convention on Saturday, as well as a small performance with my band on
Friday, and all I can think about is how much trouble I'm going to be in
if I spend all weekend not marking.
I have heard that
"full-time work" is supposed to involve, you know, free evenings and
stuff. I laugh in the face of that assumption. I'm sitting here
surrounded by essay proposals and wondering just when I'm going to find
half an hour to mail my nephew's birthday present. I also have to
reapply for my job at some point very soon. I don't understand how
people do NaNoWriMo in November. November is appalling. It needs to be
At any rate, I'll Rant when I can, but the only
reason I'm able to Rant tonight is that I'm on a break from marking
twenty-five essay proposals in a single day. I have ten to go. I also
practised with my band for two hours today. When the guitarist asked
why we couldn't meet twice more this week, I nearly punched him in the
eye.CommentsMonday, October 15, 2012: And Then I Killed Another Tree
The first thing you learn when you are teaching five classes in a single term is that the piles are eventually going to win.
in the electronic age, teaching involves a lot of paper. You'd think
it wouldn't. Universities tend to operate on the assumption that we're
moving towards a "paper-free" format. A couple of years ago, my
university's English department stopped printing out course outlines on
the understanding that students would easily be able to access the
outlines online and, if necessary, print them out themselves. The
result has often been that students don't even look at the course
outlines and then complain when their profs say, "The answer to the
question you just asked me is in the course outline." However, the
issue of handouts is even more problematic.
Three of my
classes are focussed on analytical essay writing. Such classes tend to
require a lot of handouts. Theoretically, I should be able to post them
online and let the students bring them to class. Realistically, when
students are asked to print something out, a large proportion of them
don't. Many of my students don't bring their weekly readings to class
even though they know we'll be discussing them. I generally just print
off the handouts myself. The result is that I'm always carrying around
mountains of paper. A given weekday will see me lugging several class
lists, two or three textbooks, six or seven lectures (some of them old
ones I just haven't removed from the pile yet), six to eight course
readings (ditto), thirty to eighty assignments (either newly collected,
newly ready to be marked, or newly ready to hand back), and about two
hundred sheets of paper including assignment instructions and various
bits of helpful advice. As soon as I shed a portion of the pile,
another vast sheaf of paper arrives to take its place. My backpack is
as appalling heavy as it is mostly because of all the paper.
not sure there is a solution besides, of course, tears. I suppose a
tablet might help, but somehow, I doubt it; I would still have to print
most things out. Perhaps someday I'll be able to dive into a room full
of paper the same way Scrooge McDuck dives into a room full of money in
the intro to Duck Tales (woo-ooh). I doubt that would be particularly fun, but it would be better than carrying the stuff around.CommentMonday, October 8, 2012: Elementary, My Dear Sherlock
With the advent of Elementary, the American television show that is oh-dear-me-no-not-at-all a ripoff of the BBC’s Sherlock,
the current Holmes craze can be seen to have reached what is probably
going to be its tipping point. We’ve had so much Holmes lately that
it’s hard to see how anything more can be wrung out of the poor man
without sending him into space or switching his gender, both of which
have already been done. In a strange but somehow logical counterpoint
to the superheroes who have also ruled the last decade, Holmes has
provided us with a sort of intellectual superherodom, with Watson
tagging along as the audience surrogate. One pleasing element of the
recent rerise of Holmes is, in fact, the prominence of the intelligent
Watson figure: not the bumbling moron of earlier portrayals, but still a
nice counterpoint to Holmes and his superbrain.
I’ve watched the first two episodes of Elementary and am slowly forming an impression of the show. Full disclosure: I’m a fan of Sherlock and am not entirely convinced that Elementary is necessary, though not, perhaps, for the reasons you might think. Sherlock
is a great show, but it’s not the only possible approach to a
modernised Holmes. I would actually argue that there’s already been a
successful American modernised Holmes: Dr. Gregory House of House, M.D.
That show, which ended last spring, never hid its debt to Conan Doyle’s
character. Sure, the show got steadily worse as the seasons
progressed, but early on, it was a brilliantly incisive take on Holmes,
an exploration of the detective as outsider. The show also picked up
towards the end of its run when it began focussing more intensely on the
relationship between House and Wilson, the Holmes and Watson
stand-ins. The cleverness of House as a Holmes adaptation lay
not in its exact parroting of the Holmes stories but in its work with
character, which was almost fan-fictiony (in a good way); the writers
reimagined Holmes as an obnoxious American doctor and set him loose on
Sherlock‘s approach is entirely different but just as clever. Like House, it does plenty of character work, but it is also about the mythology of Holmes. Within the world of the show, we see an echo of the process that happened in the real world in Conan Doyle’s day. The voracious readers of Holmes’s adventures in The Strand
appear in the show as the voracious readers of John Watson’s blog; the
problematic iconography of Holmes’s deerstalker and Inverness cape,
which originated in an artist’s illustration rather than in the text of
any of the stories, turns up in the show when Sherlock tries to hide his
face behind a deerstalker that doesn’t even belong to him, gets his
picture in the papers, and is known forever afterwards as favouring that
particular hat. The show deals with Holmes’s real-world fame by giving
his fictional counterpart a fictional variant of it. In fact, fans of
the show have taken it further in the “I believe in Sherlock Holmes” campaign
(I wouldn’t advise clicking on the link unless you’ve watched to the
end of Season 2, but the article does make interesting reading).
I say all this in token of my acknowledgement that there is more than
one viable approach to a twenty-first-century Holmes. I enjoy both House and Sherlock. They are doing different things, and they are doing them well. Elementary, on the other hand, has problems of its own.
It doesn’t go the same route as Sherlock, likely
deliberately; it is very much not about the mythology. So far, the show
has been focussing on the relationship between recovering drug addict
Sherlock Holmes and “sober companion” Joan Watson, who has her own dark
past she is trying to escape. A marked difference between Sherlock and Elementary lies in the Watsons. Sherlock‘s
John is damaged and, at first, in denial about the fact that he still
craves the danger and excitement of war. His growing but difficult
friendship with Sherlock forms the emotional core of the series. Elementary‘s Joan seems mostly to have informed
damage; the characters keep mentioning that she’s kind of screwed up,
but all we see is her dealing fairly competently with a rather
aggravating person. The show is pretty clearly going to usher her into
bed with Sherlock at some point, so obviously, it needs to start off
with her unable to stand him. Startlingly for a Watson, her
interference in the cases appears so out of place that it seems wrong
that the other characters don’t comment. Again, the characters keep
telling us that her presence is necessary, but we don’t see her being necessary.
None of this, however, is the real problem with the show. The real problem is that we’ve seen everything here before.
It’s likely more than a bit ironic that the latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation seems like a ripoff not of Sherlock but of House, Monk, Bones, Lie to Me, The Finder, The Glades, Numb3rs, The Mentalist, and even Psych, which is a parody of most of the above. All the works on that list owe something to Holmes, even though only House
acknowledges it overtly. We’ve had Holmes as a misanthropic doctor, a
genius with severe OCD, an emotionally stunted forensic anthropologist,
an abrasive British expert on micro-expressions, a brain-damaged former
soldier, a police officer capable of driving his partner to murder, a
math prodigy, a former fake psychic, and a current
fake psychic. All of these characters are hyper-observant,
hyper-intelligent, and not very good at playing by society’s rules.
What the producers of Elementary appear to have done is to
create yet another of these socially dysfunctional geniuses and happen
to name him Holmes. The only elements I’ve noticed so far that have
been taken directly from the stories are Holmes’s violin, his drug
addiction, and his belief, stated in Episode 2, that his brain contains a
finite amount of space and must not become cluttered with
trivialities. Otherwise, there seems no reason that the characters
should be called Holmes and Watson. If they were named Dixon and Jones,
the show would seem just another in a long line of procedurals, most of
them featuring a detective and his or her more ordinary sidekick. Not
even the “radical” move of making Watson female is an innovation.
Sorry, guys, but Mulder and Scully did it first and best, with Scully
adding some sober common sense to Mulder’s brilliant maverick
behaviour. In the animated 1999-2000 TV series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century,
Holmes gets a female Lestrade and a robot Watson, with the female
Lestrade acting as the audience-identification character. So much of
what Elementary is doing has already been done that it seems derivative not of the original stories but of the many, many knock-offs.
I’m going to continue to give it a chance; I do have a soft spot for
procedurals. However, I think it may be time for the world to take a
deep breath, step back a bit, and leave us to develop the incarnations
of Holmes we already have. I’m not sure it’s an accident that three
versions of “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” the Holmes story in
which the great detective dies, appeared between December of 2011 and
May of 2012. Holmes did have more adventures after fan pressure forced
Conan Doyle to bring him back to life, but they were never quite as good
as the early ones.CommentMonday, October 1, 2012: Reserving This Space
do have something I want to write about this week, but it's nearly
midnight, and I've just now finished tomorrow's lecture, which I must
deliver at 8:00 a.m. I'll try to write you a Rant on Monday
afternoon (though whether or not I finish it depends on whether or not
any students show up to my office hours).Addendum:
I'm sorry about all the inadvertent lying here. I never did
write that Rant. Instead, I saved the subject for the Rant of
October 8th.Monday, September 24, 2012: This Is Just to Say
I have bypassed*If you have no idea what the hell is happening in this Rant, go here. I'm afraid I'm too tired for anything but parodic poetry tonight. Also, I have to get up at 6:00 a.m.CommentMonday, September 17, 2012: Cinderella Had It Easy: The Search for Shoes That Fit
that was on
my "do" list
you were probably
it was astounding
and so mean*
My hatred for the activity of shoe shopping, which has, for some
reason, become a stereotypical "female" activity that people use to
demonstrate how frivilous those womefolk are, is deep, with spiky bits.
I cannot stand shopping for shoes. Ordinary people who need shoes can
pop into the nearest discount shoe store and grab the least offensive
$10 pair of whatevers off the shelf, or so I've heard. Those of us with
oddly sized and shaped feet tend to share such stories with each other
in tones of awe. It is the Weird Foot Person's version of an urban
legend. We are unfamiliar with the concept of cheap and abundant shoes.
father, who needs size 15 shoes, had to wear size 12s for years; size
15s were simply not available to a Canadian family of modest means in
the 1950s. He has spent his adult life frequenting specialty shoe
stores, even going to the States occasionally because there's more
selection there. My mum's feet have been, at various times, 10 1/2 and
11 (the equivalent of 9 and 9 1/2 in male sizes). Mine are 11 AA: in
other words, 11 extra-narrow. They're like really skinny clown feet.
Everyone in my family except my sister, whose feet are of average size,
has a hard time finding shoes.
When I was in Calgary for the
summer, my sandal strap broke. Anyone else would have regarded this as a
minor annoyance. I, however, knew what was coming. I must have
visited every shoe store in Calgary. None carried anything over a 10. A
few said they might have an 11 somewhere (none did), but 11 M,
not 11 AA. Most ordinary shoe stores stick mostly to M widths. Even
Tallcrest, which used to be a good place to find mid-priced shoes,
dropped its wide and narrow fittings six or seven years ago. Calgary
was a wasteland of shoe stores that entirely lacked shoes I could wear.
I finally located a Birkenstock store and coughed up an appalling
amount of money for a pair of sandals. Admittedly, my Birkis have been
my most comfortable sandals ever, but I wasted hours trying to find
something less expensive before I finally went crawling to the specialty
Those of us with weird feet belong to a sort of
shoe-related sub-culture. Many or us will, in desperation, wear our
shoes until they wear out, and when I say "wear out," I mean "fall
completely to pieces in at least six ways simultaneously." The sandals
that broke in Calgary had already more or less lost their soles. My
Birkis are on their last legs (so to speak), being cracked in several
places and having lost chunks of cork. Only the straps have held up.
My five-year-old walking shoes self-destructed in the spring; the soles
and toes were already in bad shape when one of the soles came
semi-detached from the shoe, meaning that every time I took a step, I
tripped over the flapping sole. This, of course, happened at a
convention in a hotel in the middle of nowhere. The only people who
understand the trauma of losing a pair of shoes are themselves the
victims of very small or very large feet. We nod at each other in the
street and exchange world-weary stories in speciality shoe stores.
clans within the larger group. I was in Harry Young on Saturday,
replacing my unsalvageable walking shoes. Harry Young is one of the
only places in Toronto that carries shoes that fall outside the magic 6 -
10 M size range. I like the selection, though not the prices. It's
not the store's fault, though; no one makes cheap shoes in unusual
sizes. As I waited for my salesman to finish up a phone call, the woman
next to me started talking to me about her shoes. Her feet were size 5
1/2; she insisted that my own problems finding shoes were nothing
compared to hers, as "most stores" carried 11s. I tried to tell her
this wasn't the case, but I don't think she believed me. The
Little-Footed People and the Big-Footed People sometimes regard each
other with suspicion. Each group is convinced it's got the short (or
overly long) end of the stick.
Harry Young also stands out in
having shoes that actually look nice. I've looked over the 11s in
Winners. They're all Ms, for one thing. For another, they're the
ugliest shoes I've ever seen in my life. The lower sizes get some
nice-looking shoes; the 11s get shoes covered with sequins and
artificial flowers. This happens with clothes in general, actually:
the bigger the piece of clothing, the less attractive it is. I don't
really care what my shoes look like, but I draw the line at sparkles. I
would also like to point out to the shoe designers of the world that
women who need size 11s often prefer flats to heels. Many of us don't
need to be any taller; we also find high heels painful. Winners'
selection of six-inch size-11 platforms makes my brain cry.
sincerely hope that my new walking shoes hold up as long as my old ones
did. Shoe shopping is never going to be my favourite activity.CommentMonday, September 10, 2012: An Open Letter to 8:00 a.m. Monday Three-Hour Classes
Dear 8:00 a.m. Monday Three-Hour Classes:
mean absolutely no disrespect when I say I cannot help but feel very
strongly that you shouldn't exist at all. I do understand that there
are 1) only so many hours in the day and 2) only so many classrooms in
the university, but forcing first-year undergraduates to attend a
mandatory critical-analysis class that early on a Monday morning is
simply cruel. It's cruel to the instructor as well. I am used to
running three-hour classes, but I find that even one held at a sane time
of day leaves me drained. An 8:00 a.m. class renders me boneless and
incoherent for the rest of the day. Oh, I'm fine in the class itself,
but I pay for it afterwards.
Only once before have I had an 8:00
a.m. class to teach. Coincidentally, it was also on a Monday, though it
was about television rather than critical analysis. The students used
to line their Tim Hortons cups up on the desks in front of them. There
must have been thirty Tim Hortons cup in the classroom at any given
time. The day at the end of the term on which I brought doughnuts, I
cracked that we would have made a great commercial for Tim Hortons.
Such observations seem hilarious at 8:00 on a Monday morning.
I haven't met my Monday morning students yet this year, but
chances are I'll have done so by the point you read this Rant. I just
hope they're awake enough to form coherent thoughts. They may not be. I may not be. I suppose we'll just have to wait and see.
Perhaps someday, someone will ban 8:00 a.m. Monday three-hour
classes. Until then, dearest 8:00 a.m. Monday Three-Hour Classes, I
suppose we'll all just have to learn to live with you. Damn it all
KariCommentMonday, September 3, 2012: In With the New (Term)
September is icumen in, which means that thousands of bright-eyed,
bushy-tailed undergraduates are about to buy their grossly overpriced
textbooks and trek with varying degrees of enthusiasm to their new
classrooms. Hello, undergraduates. I am a sessional instructor,
meaning that I will be teaching hundreds of you in five classes. Below
please find an impassioned plea for a few tiny little classroom-related
favours. Fulfilling them won't take a huge amount of effort on your
part, but it will make the lives of your instructors less miserable.
What is the benefit of having less miserable instructors? Wouldn't you
rather your papers be marked by cheerful people liable to hum "Happy
Working Song" as they buzz through your essays than half-insane
academics at the ends of their ropes who are more inclined to thunder
out a rousing chorus of "Hellfire"?*
I do understand how devoted you are to your cell phone. I know you
find it difficult to go ten minutes without checking your messages or
sending someone a text or even just playing Angry Birds. Perhaps I am a
terrible fuddy-duddy for trying to deprive you of the pleasures of your
phone. However, there is very little as distracting as a classroom
full of students staring avidly at their phones as one attempts to
engage them in the critical analysis of a nineteenth-century poem.
Please put the phone away. Please. Put the laptop away too. I don't
really buy the whole "I can't take notes by hand" excuse, since you're
not really taking notes with your laptop anyway. Just go
unplugged for a few hours. If you want not to pay attention for a bit,
doodle. Perhaps you will discover some exciting new artistic technique.
Before you e-mail your instructor asking about that assignment you
simply don't understand, please read the instructions. Odds are the
assignment sheet answers most of your questions. I know it's easier
just to shoot off an e-mail to your instructor, but you need to
understand that every other student in the class has had the same idea.
Your instructor spends hours replying to e-mails that ask questions answered on the assignment sheets.
Read the assigned texts. Maybe you're pressed for time. Maybe this
course is "just an elective." You still signed up to take it, meaning
that you implicitly agreed to take it seriously. English classes do
tend to have fairly heavy reading loads, so be prepared to spend some
time every day reading. Reading the summary on SparkNotes and/or
watching the film adaptation of the work is not going to be adequate,
and your instructor is not going to be fooled. Even if she can't prove
that you haven't done the reading, the quality of your papers will
suffer, and you may find yourself reading pointed comments such as,
"There is no real evidence in this essay that you are familiar with the
contents of the novel." Do not let this happen to you.
Don't ignore the course outline. Like the assignment sheets, it
contains information that will be useful to you. In particular, pay
attention to the bits on late papers and extensions. An instructor who
writes in the course outline, "Extensions will be granted only
in exceptional circumstances involving documented medical or
compassionate excuses," will likely not look kindly on pleas for
extensions that arrive two days after a paper is due and hinge on the
words, "I've been having a lot of personal problems this term." An
instructor who specifies that there is no make-up work in the course may
be driven to frustrated tears by multiple requests for make-up work or,
in fact, for a "slight" tweaking of a C grade so that it becomes a B-.
Take the outline as gospel.
5) Your instructor is not out to
get you; please don't treat her as if she is. If you need to request a
favour or appeal a grade, be polite about it. If you are called in for
a plagiarism meeting (which is designed to allow the student a chance
to explain apparent problems in an assignment and thus does not
constitute an outright accusation of wrongdoing), do not draw yourself
up in righteous indignation and imply that your instructor is a
certified idiot who has quite appallingly dared to call your
honour into question. Unfairness happens, usually by accident. Assume
an accidental cause (extreme fatigue is always a possibility), and be
gentle and open-minded. Despite appearances, instructors are people
too, and their feelings can be hurt, especially when they are genuinely
trying to help the students showering them with abuse.
If you follow these simple rules, students, your instructors will appreciate it, and all manner of things will be well.*Both of these are Disney songs. One of them is satirical, but it's still a happier song than "Hellfire."
CommentMonday, August 27, 2012: Let Us Pause for a Bit
I’m in BC visiting my parents at the moment. Consequently, alas, I
haven’t had time to write a Rant. Let us simply take a bit of a break
until next week. The clock says “11:20 p.m.” at the moment, but my
brain says “2:20 a.m.,” and it isn’t at all happy.CommentMonday, August 20, 2012: My Nemesis, the Guitar
I should really be marking, of course. Instead, I’ll offer a few
thoughts on my struggle with the one musical instrument everyone and his
dog can play: the guitar.
Technically, I can play the guitar too. I took lessons when I was
eighteen or nineteen, and I learned enough to strum my way through most
three- or four-chord songs. I should clarify that I’ve taken lessons
for relatively few of the instruments I play. I took piano lessons when
I was a little kid, but I got bored with the inane repetition.
Eventually, I taught myself how to play the piano on my own. I had the
guitar class and another class on the harmonica, and we learned the
recorder in elementary school. The only instrument I really studied
classically was the flute. The ukulele, accordion, mandolin, melodica,
and tin whistle I picked up on my own.
The guitar has always been the one that has given me the most
trouble. Partly, it’s that my first love is the piano, meaning that I
am more comfortable with keyboards than I am with fretboards. However,
that’s not entirely it; I can manage the mandolin, and I can do some
crazy stuff on the ukulele. The guitar is just too big for my hands.
My mum’s classical guitar has too wide a neck; my own acoustic guitar
has a narrower one, but I still struggle to make bar chords. My hands
are pretty big for a woman’s, so I’m wondering if my fingers are just
not thick or strong enough. It seems pretty clear that guitars are made
with guys in mind. Ukuleles, mandolins, and even banjos have narrower
necks than guitars, and I can play them more or less all right. I do
have problems with bar chords on any instrument, but never to the extent
I do with the guitar. I don’t understand how some players make bar
chords look so effortless. I really think there’s something wrong with
At any rate, until recently, I’d just sort of accepted that guitars
and I didn’t get along. It’s always been a bit embarrassing. People
will express incredulity when I explain that I play everything but
the guitar. Some accuse me of joking or lying. I’m not sure why this
is. Guitarists who play nothing but the guitar never seem to get met by
accusations of lying when they confess they can’t play anything else. I
play the piano, accordion, ukulele, mandolin, flute (two different
styles), piccolo, recorder, harmonica, melodica, and pennywhistle
(numerous sizes), but there’s something wrong with me because I stay
away from the guitar.
Summer is the time I am most prone to spend money on musical
instruments. This summer, I became a bit more aware than I had been
before of the existence of the tenor guitar. This instrument looks like
a slightly smaller guitar but has only four strings; it is tuned CGDA,
like a cello, tenor banjo, or mandola. It isn’t a very common
instrument, and it hasn’t been around for even a century; it was
invented as a transitional instrument at about the time the tenor banjo
began to go out of style and the six-string guitar gained in
popularity. Lately, it has been enjoying a small renaissance in the US,
possibly related to the Rise of the Ukulele; this renaissance has not
made it to Canada, and it is virtually impossible to find a tenor guitar
here. I therefore ordered one online. It just struck me as the
perfect instrument for me. I’m already familiar with circle-of-fifths
tuning from the mandolin, and though I am comfortable with my ukulele, I
sometimes, when playing with a group, miss having access to notes that
are not, well, really high. The tenor doesn’t go as low as the
six-string, but it’s strung with steel and works well as both a rhythm
and a solo instrument.
My tenor arrived last Monday. It has not disappointed me. My girly
fingers still find some of the chords a bit of a stretch, but at long
last, I can play the guitar, or something resembling the guitar. I do
find I’m more comfortable with four strings (or eight strings in four
courses, as on the mandolin) than I am with six. I’m still loyal to all
my other instruments, but it will be fun to play a stringed instrument
that is more or less audible in a band and doesn’t sound as if it is
being played by one of the Chipmunks. I would highly recommend it if it
were, in fact, possible to find tenors in Canada. Oh well…perhaps
someday.CommentMonday, August 13, 2012: My Mind is Completely Blank
For some reason, I cannot think of any subject worthy of a Rant
tonight. I think I may have used up all my Rants this afternoon, when
some of us gathered at Massey College to watch Donna Vakalis compete in
the Modern Pentathlon. I ranted to Davin about the frustrations
attendant on the desire to write a young-adult fantasy that was not, in
fact, a romance. I ranted to Barry about this same subject, plus also
, and the fact that I couldn't stop ranting. I ranted to Heather about Twilight
as well, then to Heather and Alexandra about fairy tales. All in all, a
lot of ranting happened today. I skipped the closing ceremonies of the
Olympics and went home because the ranting had made me tired.
Therefore, I'll need to end today's Rant here. I suppose it was really
only a matter of time before I wrote a Rant about my own ranting.CommentMonday, August 6, 2012: 70,000 Steps Forward, 3,000 Steps Back
I've written over 55,000 words in the
past six weeks, bringing my current novel up to about 70,000 words in
length. Because I've been doing this writing for a write-a-thon,
there's been a certain pressure (mostly just from me) to bull on ahead
and not backtrack. I've discovered that I'm not entirely comfortable
with this kind of writing. Sure, it's invigorating to see the word count build up. Yet the first thing I did once the write-a-thon
was over was go back and delete about 3,000 words. In fact, I nixed a
whole scene involving a terrifying climb over a pile of loose rocks at
the edge of a cliff because it was entirely unnecessary, added nothing
to the development of the plot or the characters, and brought the actual
story to a juddering
halt for several pages while the characters spent about an hour of their
time engaged in a purely physical activity that allowed them to
accomplish something that five minutes of walking could have done just
as well. It can be heartbreaking to delete that much work, but some
scenes really just have to go.
of my students skip the editing stage when they're working on their
essays, and I know perfectly well why. Editing is tedious. It draws
your attention to the glaring flaws in the work you thought you just
spent hours or days perfecting; it demonstrates that what you believed
were clever turns of phrase are, in actual fact, clunky and
embarrassing. It takes up time that could be better spent sleeping,
eating, or surfing the Internet. If you wrote it that way the first
time, didn't you do it for a reason? Isn't editing like second-guessing
yourself on a multiple-choice test?
Above all, editing
hurts. Your writing is your baby. This may be less true for essays
than it is for works of fiction, but I've still seen students behave
defensively when called out on confusing writing or problematic logic.
Your writing is perfect in your head; it may be less perfect on the
page, but surely some of the
staggering genius of that brilliant story that has lately been seething
through your brain has emerged onto the page. It seems wrong to regard
your baby with a critical eye, then hack it to pieces in the interests
of "improving" it. You may also, of course, believe that you are
Wordsworth and feel quite strongly that writing is meant to spring full-grown from the head of Zeus.
my experience, however, editing isn't just the boring, uncreative
process of cutting bits out of what should apparently have been a
breathtakingly spontaneous piece of Art. There's a certain creativity
to editing too. It allows you to go back over your story and make the
connections you missed the first time, adding in the details, the
subtext, the references that will cause your readers to weep at the
beauty of your words or, at the very least, not throw the book against
the wall in disgust. It allows you to make your story leaner. It gives
you a chance to regret your love affair with the common adverb. It
shows you at least some of your typos, and then it shakes its head at
Towards the end of my 55,000-word marathon, I was feeling
wretched about those 3,000 words. I knew they were there; I knew there
was no reason for them to be there. Because of all the obsessive
counting I was doing, I didn't feel free to get rid of them until after
the need for the counting had stopped. They bothered me, though. They
were still there. I kept having to remind myself that the
scene would be gone soon enough. When I finally got around to editing
the offending chapter, it was the easiest cut I had ever made; I didn't
even miss the words when they were gone.
It's a good idea to
remember that progressing towards a writing goal is about more than
churning out words. (This goes for you too, students.) Getting the
words down is a necessary step, but so is laying into them with the
pruning shears. Writing feels like inspiration; editing has its Eureka
moments too.CommentMonday, July 30, 2012: All the Girls in Fairy-Tale Land
A while ago, I wrote a post
on how fairy-tale heroes, far from being the bland princes who tend to
grace Disney animated features, were actually a bunch of murdering
bastards hacking and cheating their way through the Other World. It's
time the womenfolk got their due as well. Are fairy-tale heroines more
Disneyesque than the princes? Do they typically spend their time
languishing, waiting for their princes to come, and singing wistful
songs about wanting much more than this provincial life?
answer to that one is kind of complicated. The heroines whose exploits
were recorded by such personages as Charles Perrault and the Brothers
Grimm aren't necessarily the same heroines rampaging amorally through
actual tales of the folk. Monsieur Perrault was a courtly gentleman
whose views of women seem to have been rather strict, despite the fact
that he wrote in a tradition shared by many highly intelligent and
opinionated ladies who could probably have run intellectual circles
around him, singing "Fa la la" all the while. In Perrault's small but
extremely influential collection of fairy tales, female agency is Bad.
When Little Red Riding Hood is so foolish as to go off and pick some
suspiciously metaphorical flowers, she dooms herself to a short future
as wolf chow, and the narrative voice chimes in with a chiding comment
about silly young ladies who allow themselves to be seduced---I mean
eaten---by charming gentlemen---I mean wolves. Cinderella wins through
mostly because she just sits around and lets everyone else do stuff for
her. Bluebeard's wife makes the colossal mistake of wondering what her
husband keeps in that there mysterious room, and she nearly dies for
it. Sure, her husband is a psychopathic serial killer, but as the
narrator makes clear, it's really all her fault for not obeying him in
the first place. Silly Bluebeard's wife: if she'd just not unlocked
that door, she would have had a long and happy marriage. But you can't
stop them womens and their terrible curiosity! Hahahahaha!
Grimms were less, well, brain-meltingly misogynistic, but they were also
recording their stories in an era in which fairy tales were beginning
to be considered appropriate mostly for children. We have this idea of
the Grimms as the purveyors of gore, and it's true they didn't shrink
away from a little light cannibalism, but they did edit out a lot of the
sexy bits. They also played up the moral elements, meaning that their
version of Little Red was in trouble not because she was metaphorically
in danger of losing her virginity but because she was literally
disobeying her mother. If you disobey your mother in the Land of Grimm,
bad things happen. But since a lot of the Grimms' stories
were told by women and were thus women's stories featuring girls, what
we ended up getting were all these stories in which little girls were
rewarded for being obedient. It wasn't quite the same kind of passivity
as that idolised by Perrault, but it was still passivity.
are the fairy tales we know now: the ones in which the ideal woman is
Snow White in her coffin or Sleeping Beauty in her castle or Rapunzel in
her tower. There are exceptions, but we tend not to notice them. A
lot of people who read the Grimms' version of the Cinderella story are
surprised to see the protagonist running in and out of pigeon coops to
escape a father who goes after her with an axe. Perrault's Cinderella
has won out over the Grimms' more active version.
However, if we
hop over to England and take a look at the fairy tales of Joseph Jacobs,
we see something a bit different. Jacobs, like the Grimms, was a
folklorist; also like the Grimms, he was collecting stories expressly
for children. However, though he undoubtedly did a bit of careful
editing, he was more likely than the Grimms to preserve the batshit
insanity of his heroines.* Obedience is less likely to be a driving
force in the lives of these girls. Some of them, such as Molly Whuppie,
have as much of a claim to the title of "murdering bastard" as do the
heroes. Others, such as Kate Crackernuts and Cap o' Rushes, know what
needs to be done and damn well go and do it. Most of them end up
married, but to be fair, most of the heroes end up married as well.
Jacobs's girls are just as liable to be clever or wily or brave or
completely mad as his boys are. Jacobs's stuff offers only a hint of
the material out there; there are many collections that haven't been
edited for children at all.
Disney is no more likely to get
anywhere near these girls than it is to tell a story of a boy who isn't
genuinely good at heart and just needs a bit of a push into true
heroism. Brave takes a stab at it, but when all is said and done, Brave
is still the story of a princess who learns to listen to the wisdom of
her parents. It would be interesting to see what happened if someone
tried to do something filmic with some of the more amoral fairy-tale
heroes and heroines. What if you don't win through because you're good
and kind and obedient? What if you win through because you're lucky and
a really good liar? Some of the heroines are also pretty handy with
the murdering, just like the heroes, and they're not really in it for
love. Winning a husband or a wife is not, in fairy tales, the same
thing as falling in love and living happily ever after. The husband or
wife doesn't even have to be particularly willing.
I get tired of everyone assuming fairy tales are all about morals. To Hades with morals! Have you read
Perrault's morals? They're all "Don't get 'eaten' by 'wolves,' if you
know what I mean"** and "Why are you not obeying your murderous husband,
silly woman?"*** and "As long as a kid's wearing pretty enough clothes,
all the girls will want him, obviously."**** And then you go look up
the Grimms, who were writing explicitly for children, and you
find this story about a woman beheading a small child, framing her own
daughter for the murder, and feeding the boy's flesh to her husband.
Fairy tales are all about stories. If I want to learn to be
good, kind, and obedient, I'll read sweet little condescending picture
books about anthropomorphised turtles. Hands off my fairy tales,
bowdlerisers. Let their protagonists, male and female alike, stab and
con themselves all the way to gloriously undeserved happily ever afters.
is somewhat of a simplification. The Grimms do have some heroines
who are batshit insane; they just aren't as well known.
**"Little Red Riding Hood."
****"Puss in Boots."CommentMonday, July 23, 2012: The Future of West of Bathurst
This is not going to be an easy post for me to write. I have been
aware for a while that this moment has been coming, but I’m still rather
in denial about it. I know that West of Bathurst
may not be
the Internet’s most popular comic, but it’s kind of my baby, and I very
much enjoy creating it. Oh, look, I’m crying already.
This is more or less an announcement that the comic, in its current
incarnation, probably has about a year left to go. I’m including all
those “more or less”es and “current incarnation”s and “probably”s
because I’m not entirely certain how long the GRIPPING CONCLUSION is
going to take to write. The rough plan is for everything to come to a
close around and about the fall of 2013, near the point at which the new
term begins. I like it when stories go around in circles, you see.
I’ve always thought of seven years as being the natural length of WoB.
It’s basically a fairy tale, after all (not a Disney fairy tale but a
girl-goes-out-into-the-world-to-confront-monsters fairy tale, albeit in a
somewhat unexpected form and with the monsters not quite where you
think they are). Every once in a while, I’ve rebelled against this
natural length. Why not have a ten-year comic? What’s wrong with
continuing indefinitely? But one characteristic of WoB that sometimes attracts readers, sometimes repels them, and sometimes maddens them with helpless rage is that it is a story. Despite its newspaper-comic-y form, it isn’t really
a gag-a-day comic except in the sense that there is, in fact, a gag a
day. It’s just that all the gags are sort of joined together into this
monstrously huge storyline that goes on and on and on like Lost or Battlestar Galactica,
and it’s still not entirely clear whether the Cylons do have a plan.
And since monstrously huge storylines are still storylines, the impetus
is always towards some kind of an ending. This does sometimes cause
problems, as it did with, oh, let’s say Lost and Battlestar Galactica.
At any rate, WoB is going to have to end. I don’t really want it to, but it wants to. Like the characters of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, WoB is figuratively screaming, “Get on with it!”
I do kind of see its point. I’ll therefore attempt to get on with it
as best I can, on the understanding that the story will most definitely
After that…who knows? I can’t give up comics, so there will be some
other project. My friend House has made a suggestion I like at least
as a transitional project to get me through what is, for me, probably
going to be quite an extensive grieving period. House has pointed out
that there are many WoB-related gaps that can be filled in in a
series of shorter graphic stories. Characters such as Weird Beard,
Kenneth the Porter, Sara, Steve, Basil, Morgan, and Ursula are crying
out for their own stories. Periods of time have been skipped. And who
knows what Evil Marie gets up to on her own when Marie isn’t around?
Maybe even poor neglected Fred will finally get his due. (If you do not
know who Fred is, that’s because he hasn’t really had anything to do
since the first couple of weeks of the comic. He was originally meant
to be a major character, but Rahim, who wasn’t, shunted him aside.)
I’ll have to figure all that out over the course of the next year and
a bit. Until then, it’s worth saying that I really appreciate you guys
sticking with me all this time. I know I’ve lost a lot of readers
(while gaining some new ones), but that’s how webcomics go.
Tomorrow is West of Bathurst‘s sixth birthday, so stop by
for an extra comic panel, a giveaway, and possibly some unnecessary
snivelling on my part. Try not to be distracted by the shiny object.CommentMonday, July 16, 2012: Well, This is Just Completely Ridiculous
I would like to ask the weather to go back to Hell. Clearly, that's
where it has come from. Is it really necessary for it to be above 30C
and humid every freaking day? I had to get up yesterday at 2:00 a.m.
and take a cold shower. I can honestly say that I've never done that
before (cold shower, yes: at 2:00 a.m., no). People keep saying the
temperature will go down in a few days. Environment Canada claims it
will be 34C on Tuesday. Damn it all to Hades.
On Saturday, I was
foolish enough to board the subway without a bottle of water. When I
transferred at Yonge, I found that the train I would otherwise have been
on had broken down. Apparently, the only way for the subway workers to
remove this train from the tracks was to tow it all the way to Finch.
As a result, the trains behind the broken train, one of which
I was on, kept on stopping for long stretches of time to let the broken
train limp halfway across the city. I was standing for half the ride
and probably would have been standing for most of the rest of it if I
hadn't come so close to passing out that I had to hunker down on the
floor of the train. Some nice lady eventually offered me her seat. I
felt as guilty as if I'd been faking it, which I absolutely hadn't.
This was exactly the second time in my life I had almost fainted on
public transit; the first time, I had the flu (which had only made
itself apparent earlier that day while I was in class), and I asked
someone for her seat. It was so freaking hot on Saturday that I had the
same symptoms I had that one time I caught the flu.
There was a
thunderstorm today. It didn't help. Nothing helps. Everything is hot
and sticky and disgusting. I'm supposed to be marking, but I start
getting tired at about 1:00 p.m. I would like to punch the weather in
Yes, I do realise that 32C "isn't that bad." I know
that people from Louisiana are laughing at me right now. You know
what? I don't care. It may be worse in other places, but it's bad
enough here. I think I need to go stand in the shower for an hour or
so.CommentMonday, July 9, 2012: Bravely Done (Now Onward and Upward, Please, Pixar)
I've posted my feelings about Pixar's seventeen-year run of male
protagonists before. Basic summary: my love of Pixar and my huge
frustration with Pixar's apparent inability to write female characters
who are not relegated to secondary roles have been at war with each
other for the last decade or so. The frustration peaked around about
the time of Ratatouille
, both of which I adored and both of which could easily--easily
--have been written with female leads. The writers wouldn't have had to
change anything but the pronouns. As far as I am concerned, the
substitution of female characters here wouldn't have affected the
meaning of either film at all, but (as I am sure everybody is tired of
hearing me reiterate) we have this maddening way of seeing "male" as the
default and "female" as a special category that automatically limits a
work to a special audience.
Oh, Pixar, I do love you so. I
appreciate your fresh, innovative, character-driven plots; I delight in
the way you surprise me almost every time (the Cars franchise doesn't count). I'm just kind of tired of the dudes. I realise that all of you
are dudes, but if you genuinely believe that you are incapable of
writing female characters, even though I fail to see why this is the
case because women are, in fact, human beings too, you do have the power
to hire female writers. It isn't hard. Do you know how many female
writers would gnaw off their own limbs to have a chance to work for
Pixar? Would you like my freaking phone number?
rate, Pixar has, at long last, produced a film with a female
protagonist. It actually has more than one prominent female character
and is probably the second Pixar film to pass the Bechdel Test (with The Incredibles being the first). I recall reading something somewhere on the Internet about men complaining that Brave relegates the male characters to the background. Welcome to our world, gentlemen.
has been treated quite harshly by critics, who usually fall over
themselves to praise Pixar films.* When I say "treated quite harshly," I
mean that it's at 77% on Rotten Tomatoes
instead of Pixar's usual twenty kazillion percent. Personally, I
really enjoyed it. Sure, Pixar has chosen to make its first female
protagonist a damn princess. Sure, the film offers us the tired old
"I'm a tomboy who just wants to be as good as a man!" theme. Yet it
manages both these elements well. Merida is, to my absolute delight, a
fallible character who creates her own dilemma and takes the bulk of the
film to realise that what has happened is, in fact, her fault. This
may seem a strange thing to be delighted over, but let me explain.
is a fundamental difference between a "strong person" and a "strong
character." Some writers and filmmakers set on creating strong female
characters--not all, but a good portion--apparently subscribe to the
belief that strength is equivalent to an absence of all but the most
superficial faults. Last year, for instance, I read a young-adult novel
that I won't name because I really don't want to go around slagging it
without doing so in a proper review. The female protagonist is
beautiful, kind, and intelligent; she also has magical powers. A hunky
young man is in love with her, and her only fault seems to be that she
doesn't realise this until he spells it out for her. She ends up in
terrible danger through no fault of her own. Frankly, she's boring as
hell. I've already forgotten her name. The beauty, kindness,
intelligence, and magical powers serve only to make her appear
Merida's faults seem, at first, a little too
typical of a teenage girl as imagined by Hollywood. However, then they
land her in hot water, and instead of instantly learning her lesson and
vowing to change, she just keeps on screwing up in the same way. She's
appealing not because she's a woman fighting to belong in a man's world
but because she's an individual, a smart kid who does stupid things
sometimes. Her main conflict is not with some sneering baddie--unlike
Ariel from Disney's The Little Mermaid, whose arc is also
predicated on a boneheaded choice--but with her mother, who is neither
saintly nor villainous but just as stubborn as Merida, and just as in
need of a shift in perspective.
Brave is not Pixar's
best film. It's less original than many of its predecessors, and it
lacks my favourite Pixar ingredient: those heart-smashing moments of
silence in which character development happens without a word being
spoken. However, I can forgive it its lack of originality because it
takes its atmosphere from fairy tales, which do not need to be original
to be meaningful. In fact, it's in the lack of originality that a fairy
tale's meaning is often found. The familiar motifs of Brave
raise echoes, especially in the treatment of otherworldly spaces not as
realms of evil (as in some Disney films) but as places in which both
danger and knowledge can be found, sometimes simultaneously. I won't
tell you about my favourite bit player, as that would be a major
spoiler, but let's just say that this bit player does an excellent job
of embodying what the Other World means.
All in all, then, I am happy with Brave; I don't agree with a certain friend of mine who places it just above Cars 2, which he hasn't seen, on the Pixar spectrum. I would say it's quite respectably situated.
Now that Pixar's got its feet wet, however, I hope it will
consider creating a film in which the whole point is not that OH MY GOD,
SHE'S A GIRL. Just give us a character who happens to be female and is
allowed, in true Pixar fashion, to be not a type but a unique
individual trying to make her way in the world.*Let us just take it as a given that when I say nice things about Pixar, I am never ever ever including Cars or Cars 2.CommentMonday, July 2, 2012: Productivity is Terrible
I notice this every time it happens, and it continues to baffle me:
am more productive when I have more to do. I don't mean I'm more
productive at what I should actually be doing; I'm more productive at everything
, including work for which I am not being paid. When deadlines are
looming and I am panicking at how much work I have left to complete, I
do plenty of work, but I also write thousands of words' worth of
fiction, build up a buffer of comic strips, and even produce a song or
two. I feel guilty about this because I am not working at my "real job"
when I'm doing these things, but the truth of the matter is that I need
breaks from my "real job" if I'm going to produce anything coherent for
it. As long as I'm working frantically at something, I
always eventually return to the course I'm creating, and I probably
write a lot more of it every day than I would if I took no real breaks
On the other hand, sometimes I have relatively little
to do. This happens very, very seldom, but it does happen. These
periods are characterised by almost zero productivity. I could be
writing stories or cleaning my apartment or getting ahead in my comic,
but it just doesn't happen. In fact, I find I am more likely to have a
comic buffer when I am bound to produce more comics in a shorter time.
is all a little bewildering, and it sometimes makes me want to stab
myself in the eye with a fork, but I guess all I can do is accept it and
get even busier every time I'm busy. My brain makes me sad.CommentMonday, June 25, 2012: Scooped! The Musical
Full disclosure: I have no right to be complaining about this.
Actually, I'm not truly complaining as such. It's more that I'm shaking
the Fist of Frustration at the Goddess of Amusing but Ultimately
Insignificant Coincidences, twin sister of Annoia, Goddess of Things
That Get Stuck in Drawers (all credit to Mr. Pratchett).
been writing a lot of songs lately, mostly fantasy- and sci-fi-flavoured
bits of amusing fluff. I perform some of them at a monthly SF reading
series, and people do seem appreciative. I've never put any of them
online, since I've only really been working on them since last
Christmas, but I've always planned to do so, despite my complete lack of
knowledge of how to make a half-decent recording or video. In fact, I
was sort of thinking of working on that this weekend.
For the last
few weeks, I've been refining one particular song that covers a subject
that will be recognisable to many fantasy fans and, nowadays, HBO
viewers,all in anticipation of a performance this coming Wednesday.
Perhaps I was a little too pleased with this song and am now being
punished for my hubris. On Friday, less than a week before the
performance, Paul and Storm released their own single on more or less exactly the same subject. You can, and should, watch the video here (or, in fact, on their website, which is linked above). It's very funny. I am unhappy with Paul and Storm.
sort of thing does happen, of course. It's not even that it happens
only to struggling unknowns; Pixar probably has a few choice things to
say to Dreamworks about Antz, released a month before A Bug's Life. And I can hardly complain that a brilliant comic duo has scooped my song, considering that I've never, you know, released
any songs, ever. It's just that coincidences do sometimes make
one fall to one's knees in a rain-soaked meadow and scream, "Whyyyyyyyyyy?" to the heavens. One generally goes for ice cream afterwards.
any rate, my vaguely directed indignation has now been put to
relatively good use: I have recorded four of my songs, damn it,
including the scooped one. I did the scooped one first in an attempt to
prove, if only to myself, that I was not a freaking copycat but simply a victim of Fortune's whims. The
recordings are not, shall we say, of professional quality. Basically, I
had one microphone, my voice, and a ukulele. My voice can charitably
be described as "untrained." Nonetheless, feel free to listen. Do go
find the Paul and Storm video first, though, since it's got fake beards
in it and is hilarious. Then go find other stuff by Paul and Storm. I
especially recommend "Frogger! The Frogger Musical."
I apologise beforehand for the weird format below; I can't seem to fix it.
Here's my scooped song, which may baffle you if you do not know who George R. R. Martin is:
"Dear George R. R. Martin"
This one may appeal to those who believe that Twilight is the devil:
"Kids These Days"
This one is (literally) self-explanatory:
This one is an affectionate poke at my city of origin:
"We Protest the Robot Occupation"
There will eventually be more. I've got about ten at the moment.CommentMonday, June 18, 2012: Waiting for Rejection
When you are trying to get a novel published, you spend an awful lot
of time sitting around waiting to be rejected. Sometimes, this happens
even when you are not, in fact, sending anything to publishers.
someone who has been writing since she first picked up a pen in her
chubby little hand but who has, in fact, spent the last two decades not
sending her work out to publishers, I am a slightly weird example of a
newbie wannabe writer. During my undergrad, I just knew I was going to
be published someday. I even sent a partial manuscript to a small
Canadian publisher when I was in my early twenties. It was, of course,
rejected; the rejection was personalised, but it still hurt. I did know
I wasn't going to give up.
I did, though. Oh, I kept writing.
I've lost count of the number of novels I've written. I would always
pound them out, edit the hell out of them, and put them carefully away
on the Shelf of Shame. I did plan to start sending stuff out again. I
did. But this manuscript had problems in the climax, and that one was
too sentimental, and I had to write a synopsis, and how was I supposed
to write a synopsis? My synopses always ended up being about ten pages
long. And then there was the query, or the cover letter, or whatever.
Was there a difference between a query and a cover letter? How long was
an excerpt? Why did no Canadian publishers accept children's fantasy?
(This was before Harry Potter. Eventually, it was also after Harry Potter. Canadian publishers took a while to catch up on the whole children's fantasy thing.)
Oh yes: Harry Potter.
Before Rowling's books, no one wanted fantasy; it was all about gritty
realism. After Rowling's books, everyone wanted fantasy, but everyone
who wrote fantasy was a Rowling copycat. And then there was Twilight. Oh God, was there ever Twilight.
Suddenly, there was no more "children's literature"; there was "YA"
and "middle grade." YA was all dark and gritty, with pouty girls on the
covers. My stories didn't have romance plots; no one would want them.
There was no use in even trying.
I did this for decades.
I made all the excuses. I made it to the age of thirty-six without
having sent out a single manuscript or even a single short story or poem
since that one novel I had finished when I was twenty or so. It was
easier to deal with the rejection when it was only happening in my head.
I finished another novel when I was thirty-six. This time, I was determined to do something with it. I mean, I was thirty-six.
Never mind that I hadn't been trying: I was still someone who had
meant to be published by her mid-twenties and had made it to thirty-six
without gaining a single publication credit. Writing had always been
what I wanted to do, and here I was, avoiding sending stuff out because I
was afraid of failure. So I edited until I could edit no more, and
then I actually did write the damn synopsis and the damn cover letter
and eventually an agent query and so on. And I've sent the novel out a
few times. Two publishers and a few agents have it at the moment. I've
had some rejection letters and a lot of ringing silence from the agents
(agents often don't respond at all unless they're interested). I do
feel crushed and despondent and as if I'm attempting to climb a
ridiculously high mountain with no gear. I've got a short story out as
well. I know I could receive a rejection at any moment...or I could
wait for months and months and then receive a rejection. I
know in my heart that all the replies will be rejections because I am so
very used to thinking of myself as failing at everything. Yes, I
realise that huge numbers of people go through this; I am not claiming
uniqueness in any way.
But you know what? At least I'm trying now. Even if I'm eventually rejected by every agent and publisher in the world, I'll have tried. I spent so long not
trying that trying feels weird. All I really know is that I can't stop
writing, so rejection or no, there will be more novels. If they sit
forever on the Shelf of Shame, so be it. I guess the fact that I'm
thinking like this now instead of just telling myself that there's no
use in even researching publishers is, in its own topsy-turvy way, a
kind of success.CommentMonday, June 11, 2012: SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM SPAM
I just took a look at my WoB Talk
spam folder. A few months
ago, I would generally have had between five and ten comments in there
at any given time. Lately, however, the spambots have been taking
notice of the blog. There were 100 spam comments yesterday. Today,
there are 121. Considering that comments are deleted when they're more
than thirty days old, that means I received at least 21 and quite
possibly many more spam comments just today. One even got through the
filter, though it was pretty obviously spam, and I deleted it
The spambots have really been trying hard lately.
Gone are the days of all-caps spam detailing which bits of the male
anatomy the spammer is proposing to perk up; such messages have fled to
the Gmail spam folder, where they languish in dusty obscurity. No: the
blog spammer is a more sophisticated creature. A spam comment on a
blog is designed to look like a genuine comment, though it is couched in
the sort of vague language that fake psychics use to convince their
marks that they really can see beyond the mysterious veil. The secret
to a successful spam comment is to word it in such a way that the spam
filter and/or the blogger may be fooled into thinking there's a
possibility that it's genuine.
Take an example from today's
appalling load of spam, all of it directed at the Rant I posted two
weeks ago, "Not Exactly a Handsome Prince." Apparently, all the
spambots have been telling each other about that one. Here is the
latest comment (spelling and grammar reproduced faithfully):
you so much for providing individuals with such a nice possiblity to
read critical reviews from this site. It is always so excellent and also
stuffed with a lot of fun for me personally and my office mates to
search your blog at a minimum thrice per week to study the new secrets
you have got. Of course, I’m just certainly fulfilled with all the
surprising hints you serve. Certain 2 ideas in this posting are honestly
the most efficient I have ever had.
The commenter mentions
"critical reviews," often a safe bet for blog content. He personalises
the comment by mentioning his "office mates" and their thrice-weekly
blog search. "Surprising hints" also turn up on many blogs, and calling
two of the blog's ideas "efficient" is a savvy idea, as it praises
something that, again, many bloggers aim for; it also suggests a certain
specificity. Other spam comments mention daughters, friends, or
spouses. Some are short and vague; others are long and detailed. The
former often work better, as they are less likely to get stuff wrong.
Two seconds of analysis will, of course, direct you to the spam link
accompanying the "personalised" comment, but I'm sure many people are
fooled just long enough to click.
It's probably only a matter of
time before spammers find ways past the filters by creating programs
that can borrow actual content from blog posts, plugging key words into
the spam and thus personalising comments to the point where the filters
can't distinguish then from genuine comments posted by genuine human
beings. We'll know the machine world is imminent when the spambots
begin posting fake comments that are more insightful than the real
ones. Perhaps the spambots of the future will be able to construct
fluent paragraphs extolling the virtues of a certain blogger's cat or
agreeing with another one that the ukulele is a noble instrument.
Bloggers will start writing to attract spambots, with whom they will be
able to have much more intelligent conversations than they do with
thirteen-year-old trolls who clog up their comments pages with such gems
as, "LMFAO STFU IM SLEPING WITH UR MOM."
I, for one, welcome our new spambot overlords. Maybe if I ask nicely, they'll help me with my marking.CommentMonday, June 4, 2012: On Not Being a Guitarist
It's a funny thing about being a musician: the guitarists have it easy.
you're a guitarist, you're expected to be, well, a guitarist. You play
the guitar. If you're a really high-level guitarist in a high-level
band, you may have a lot of different guitars for different kinds of
music, but you will probably also have someone to carry them for you.
It is likely that you own some sort of truck. If you're just any old
guitarist who plays with people sometimes, you may take only one axe to
any practice...maybe electric, maybe acoustic. If depends on the gig. A
guitar is not a small instrument, but it can be carried with a fair
amount of ease in a light gig bag. Your music probably fits into this
gig bag too.
If you don't play the guitar, you may be a
keyboardist. A keyboardist runs into a few more problems. Your
keyboard, if it has, say, 61 keys, is about the size and weight of an
acoustic guitar but more awkward to carry. You will need a stand and
possibly a stool. It is also probable you'll be using an amp. So will
an electric guitarist, but the latter won't need the stand. A
keyboardist just has more to carry.
You may also play the drums.
You're really in trouble now, especially if you don't have a truck or a
van or any kind of vehicle. You probably want to practise in some place
that already has a drum set. On the day of the gig, you'll get a
friend with a car to help you out.
Then there are people like me.
By "people like me," I mean "people who have learned a few too many
instruments and end up playing all of them at any given gig."
guitar and the keyboard are both versatile instruments. Better:
they're regarded as fundamental. I can play the guitar a little and the
keyboard a lot, but I am usually in kinds of bands where the keyboard
is not, in fact, a standard instrument: for instance, folk and
bluegrass bands. No worries: I can play the accordion. And the
mandolin. And the ukulele. And the banjolele. And various flutes and
whistles. And, if necessary, the bodhran. I own a banjo but don't yet
play it well enough to gig with it, and I am sometimes kind of grateful
for that fact. Banjos are heavy. Mandolins and ukuleles are not, but
if you are carrying one of each, plus most of the other instruments just
listed, the weight adds up.
A couple of days ago, two friends and
I played at a book launch. It was a lot of fun, and I loved the music
we were doing. The one problem was that I was playing six damned
instruments in eight different songs. We rehearsed every Saturday. I
got to haul an accordion, mandolin, ukulele, wooden flute, low whistle,
and C whistle back and forth across the city. One week, I had a bodhran
too so I could lend it to our singer, who also doubled as a
percussionist. On the day of the gig itself, I added a music stand, a
ukulele stand, and a guitar stand I had converted into a mandolin stand
to the load. I also had to take the bodhran and assorted other
percussion with me on the way home.
I'm still in pain. The
accordion was on wheels, but accordions are heavy, and even rolling one
along the sidewalk takes strength. I do not want to talk about getting
on and off buses and the subway. It got to the point where I was
physically incapable of lifting the accordion a few inches off the
ground. The "light" instruments seemed less light when I was carrying
them all at once. The guitar/mandolin stand was this big awkward thing I
strapped to the accordion case, and it kept getting caught in
doorways. I was constantly worried that I was going to squash the
ukulele or sit on the flute.
The problem is that it's nice to have
instrumental variety in a band. When that band has only three members,
it's not the guitarist who ends up providing that variety: it's the
"other instrumentalist," the idiot foolish enough to have more than one
instrument available. It makes sense. Not every song needs an
accordion. Sometimes, a ukulele is just too quiet or a mandolin too
shrill. When you're playing a certain kind of bluegrass without a
fiddle, a flute can make a half-decent substitute in a pinch. I could
easily have said, "I'm going to stick with the mandolin this time
around," but I'm a fan of mixing it up. I do find that when I do
ridiculous stuff like this, I end up kind of regretting not being able
The gig went well, incidentally. Johnny Cash and the accordion make a surprisingly good combination.CommentMonday, May 28, 2012: Not Exactly a Handsome Prince
I'm authoring an online course on fairy tales at the moment. Last
week, I wrote the heroes module. I kind of love doing the heroes unit
in a fairy-tale course because the students absolutely don't expect the
Go up to someone on the street and ask that person to
describe a fairy-tale hero. Seven out of ten people will say something
about a handsome prince; the remaining three may bring up the Beast from
Beauty and the Beast or Aladdin from, well, Aladdin
. It is worth noting that by the ends of these Disney movies, the Beast
and Aladdin have become, well, handsome princes. We don't really have
any other kind of fairy-tale hero any more. Every once in a while, a
rogue with a heart of gold turns up. There's also Shrek, but Shrek did
start off as a deliberate deconstruction. If the handsome prince
weren't already regarded as the norm, Shrek wouldn't work as a
I tell my students that the Disney films constitute a
continuation of the storytelling tradition in filmic form and in a
twentieth- and twenty-first-century American context, and I do actually
believe that. However, I also believe that the almost universal
association of Disney and fairy tales has caused us to lose a lot of
rich material, which has been shunted aside for a very few stories with
some very definite messages. This has all been observed before, of
course. Volumes have been written on what the whole "Disney princess"
thing has done to the brains of little girls. But also worth noting is
that the concentration on princesses has obscured the vast amount of
fairy-tale material out there, much of it not concentrating on
princesses at all.
I could say a lot about stories in which the female characters actually did stuff
. There are plenty of those. Yet today, I think I shall take a look at
the heroes instead, simply because we tend to treat them as if they
don't exist. Disney has turned fairy tales into stories about girls
dreaming of meeting pretty boys and living happily ever after. Those
pretty boys have become our fairy-tale heroes. In the source stories,
the pretty boys are mainly prizes for the heroines; many of them do very
little. If you want heroes, you have to go to stories with male
protagonists, which, conversely, tend to involve princesses only as
What can be said about fairy-tale heroes?
Well...generally, they're jerks. Don't get me wrong: so are fairy-tale
heroines. Most fairy-tale characters are jerks. It's how they
survive. The heroes tend to be underprivileged, sometimes to the
extreme. They're usually youngest sons. The rich ones are still
regarded as useless because they have older brothers; the poor ones
often spend all their time sitting in the ashes, pretending to be
stupid. When the crisis comes, the older brothers are going to try and
fail, whereapon the simpleton youngest brother, all covered with grime
and never having worked a day in his life, will stroll in with a magic
axe and win the princess without trying. That stereotype about heroes
being good and kind and generous? Yeah, right. They're assholes. They
rescue princesses only if there's something in it for them. A lot of
the time, the princess doesn't even need to be rescued; she's just
sitting on top of a glass hill waiting for a bunch of random knights to
ride up and get her because her father has never heard of such concepts
And then there are the real tricksters: the
heroes who wander into the Other World and immediately start murdering
giants. In many fairy tales, giants exist solely so they can be
murdered by trickster heroes. The heroes tend to be kind of small and
weak, so they'll often just get the giants to murder each other.
Occasionally, they get the giants to murder their own children.
Heroines sometimes get in on this sort of thing too, but the heroes
really go to town on those giants. If there aren't any giants around,
there are always the witches. The more subtle heroes treat the giants
and the witches carefully and end up with supernatural goodies that they
can use later in their stories, but the trickster heroes just go, "Hey,
there's a giant. I think I'll trick him into strangling his seven
daughters." It's all good clean fun.
If these guys run out of
giants and witches, they tend to start in on their neighbours. A common
trick is to fool the neighbours into murdering their grandmothers.
Heroes are really all about the murdering. If I were in a fairy tale
and had a choice between encountering a hero and the devil, I'd pick the
devil every time. He has rules; the hero doesn't.
Of course, it may not be his fault. A lot of heroes are born
after their mothers accidentally sleep with: a) trolls, b) bears, c)
elves, or d) bulls. Some women accidentally ingest bird poop that
apparently has the power to impregnate them. It occasionally goes the
other way around: a human man will impregnate a cow or a female troll.
And every once in a while, someone just makes a colossally stupid wish,
such as, "I would give anything to have a child, even if it were a hedgehog
." Take a look at the Grimm Brothers' "Hans-My-Hedgehog" if you think
I'm making that up. Hans annoys everyone he knows, demands his father
buy him bagpipes, tortures and disfigures his first wife, and eventually
lives happily ever after with a girl who spends the first part of their
relationship terrified of him.
Oh...you thought these guys found
true love? Ah ha ha ha. Silly mortals...fairy tales aren't about true
love. The Grimms made their fairy tales all nice and moral for little
children, but what counted as "all nice and moral" two hundred years ago
is not what counts as "all nice and moral" now. The Grimms' story "The
Brave Little Tailor" ends with the titular character tricking his way
into marriage to a princess who is not at all pleased with him and tries
to have him kidnapped. When that fails because the tailor uses his
Intimidating Voice, they just stay married. Whenever mention of "true
love" turns up in a fairy tale, odds are it has been inserted by a
transcriber who feels that he or she has to justify all those princesses
being handed out to peasant boys like candy.
I'm not complaining,
incidentally. These heroes are far more interesting than the Disney
princes, who ride around waving their little decorative swords and being
good and kind and generous and very, very boring. When we come across
characters who resemble fairy-tale heroes nowadays, we generally call
them "anti-heroes" and imply that they're contradicting thousands of
years' worth of stalwart heroes fighting for the Forces of Good. In
reality, many of our anti-heroes can't hold a candle to the murdering,
princess-stealing bastards who gleefully pillage their way through our
fairy tales. I guess it isn't all that surprising that Disney leaves
these guys alone.CommentMonday, May 21, 2012: No Happy Ending for Community: The Adjectival Complexity Test
On Friday, it was revealed that Dan Harmon, the showrunner of the struggling but critically acclaimed NBC sitcom Community, had been fired by Sony and replaced by David Guarascio and Moses Port, two consulting producers on the ABC sitcom Happy Endings.
Admittedly, this is not a world-changing issue that will bring Western
civilisation crashing to its knees, but some elements of what has
happened are still worth discussing because of what they tell us about
some pretty problematic trends in television. These are not new trends;
their pervasive nature is part of what bothers me.
of the Harmon ouster should probably be discussed by someone eventually,
if they haven't been already: for instance, the devaluing of the
work's creator (Community is pretty specifically Harmon's
baby), the debate as to whether Harmon's reputedly difficult behaviour
justifies him getting the boot without consultation, and the issue of
whether a generally good but struggling show should be forced to have
wider appeal so that it can stay alive for a bit longer. These issues
tend to come up sooner or later when Community is the subject
at hand. I would like to take a slightly different angle---one that not
many people have dealt with yet---by concentrating on Harmon's
Harmon's devoted online fans have had a lot to say
about Sony's little coup. However, when Guarascio and Port come up, the
comments become rather cautious. Some people admit that they haven't
seen Happy Endings but have heard that it's "quirky" and are
glad the new showrunners do not, for instance, hail from the much more
middle-of-the-road The Big Bang Theory. Others express trepidation that the choice means Community will become less geeky and odd. I do get the sense that relatively few Community viewers also watch Happy Endings.
I watch both, not entirely by choice. Last term, I taught a course on
television in which my students took on a home-viewing assignment for
which they needed to choose their own shows to watch. Since several
groups went with Happy Endings, I decided to work my way
through its run. Descriptions of it online do generally contain the
word "quirky"; they also imply that it's a lot like Community
in tone. The premise has potential: six good friends struggle to adapt
after one of them leaves the other at the altar. I was cautiously
optimistic about the show before I started the first episode.
I could say a lot about many aspects of Happy Endings,
but that isn't really my intention here. Instead, I would like to
apply one concept to it as a demonstration of why I think the
appointment of the new showrunners is even more of a step backward for Community than everyone is implying. In short, Happy Endings
fails the Adjectival Complexity Test, which will hereafter be referred
to as ACT. It actually goes beyond failing it. It kind of cuts it up
into little pieces and then dances on the bits.
ACT, which I have invented just now, is a system for evaluating fictional characters. It can be applied to anything from Dora the Explorer to The Wire,
and that's just taking television into account. The premise is
simple: any given character can, theoretically speaking, be described
with a series of adjectives. ACT measures character complexity, which
can be determined via how many adjectives are necessary for a
complete, accurate description. The simplest "flat" character may need
only one adjective. A slightly more nuanced but still flat character
may require a string of adjectives. As a character becomes
"rounder"---that is, more capable of change and development---a string
of adjectives will become inadequate and give way to adjectival phrases,
then complete sentences explaining motivations, back story,
contradictory behaviour, and change through time. The most complex
characters will need paragraphs.
There is absolutely nothing wrong
with one-adjective characters in certain contexts. Many background
characters will be one- or two-adjectivers. Some shows are populated
entirely by such characters. I would argue that the series 24
contains mostly flat characters, and it works very well. Even the
protagonist, Jack Bauer, can generally be characterised by the adjective
"tough"; it's one of the major reasons he has become so popular. You
might add "patriotic," "intelligent," "rebellious," and, in the final
season, "vengeful," but you really don't need much more than that.
Jack's character arcs tend to be shallow, if not non-existent. Again,
this is not a criticism; the show does exactly what it sets out to do.
None of the characters is particularly well developed because the action
is really what matters.
A show will often begin with one-adjective characters who
eventually become more complex, not an uncommon strategy in fiction; it
is useful to start with a set character type, then gradually add nuances
to it. The sitcom How I Met Your Mother gives us "lovelorn"
Ted, "commitment-shy" Robin, "womanising" Barney, "naive" Marshall, and
"acerbic" Lily. Several seasons in, it is impossible to describe the
characters with even just a few adjectives each. HIMYM is, in
many ways, a fairly traditional sitcom, but it has some innovative
aspects such as an unreliable narrator and an eventual slide from comedy
to dramedy without reliance on the tradition of the Very
Special Episode. The characters have grown. More importantly, the
characters have grown at the same time. All of them started out as one-adjectivers, and all of them are now full-sentencers. Admittedly, the sentences are not very long. Though HIMYM
does some neat stuff, it does not take it nearly as far as it
could. It goes for the easy laughs. It chooses safety over
The Community characters are full-sentencers too, and it
almost invariably chooses innovation over safety. The show is one of
my favourites, but I am capable of admitting it isn't perfect. Its
quality is uneven. When it's good which it frequently is, it's
transcendent; when it's less good, it's just sort of meh. The
characters have grown and developed throughout, but they sometimes seem
in danger of sliding into ruts. Of the seven protagonists, Pierce and
Shirley have been neglected a bit, though I would argue that Shirley has
had a lot of development this season and has gone from a
several-adjectiver to a full-sentencer. The best thing about the Community
characters is that they are not necessarily defined by their
categories. One danger that ACT highlights is that the single adjective
will be something like "black" or "gay" or "married" or "female" or
"disabled" or "old." Community mostly avoids such tokenism,
despite---or, perhaps, because of---the fact that its cast is so
diverse. The characters are individuals; what matters is not what they are but who they are. Community
somehow manages to weave meaningful character growth into a continued,
and often viciously clever, attempt to take the piss out of sitcoms in
particular, television in general, and all forms and genres of fiction
in really general.
Happy Endings, like How I Met Your Mother,
begins with a series of one- and two-adjectivers. Dave is "wounded,"
Alex is "confused," Max is "gay" and "sarcastic," Penny is "needy," Brad
is "married," and Jane is "controlling." To be fair, some of these
adjectives fragment pretty quickly. Max's sexuality, for instance,
turns out not to be his defining attribute but simply a part of who he
is, as with the sexualities of the other characters. Max is portrayed
without the stereotypical attributes generally assigned to gay
characters in American television shows, but conversely, his sexuality
is not hidden either; he has a healthy sex life, and his friends discuss
it with him as openly as he discusses their sexual escapades with
them. Max develops throughout the show, eventually attaining
full-sentencer status as he explores his fear of disappointing his
parents, his inability to commit, his secret yearning for a long-term
relationship, and his underlying common sense, which is masked by his
sarcasm and apparent callousness. Dave and Brad follow suit. None of
them, please understand, is likeable---in fact, all six protagonists are
reprehensible human beings who behave like entitled brats most of the
time---but Max, Dave, and Brad are not without complexity. Attributes
of naivete, arrogance, over-confidence, and a tendency towards the
romantic emerge in Brad as the series continues. Dave's initial hurt
eventually gives way to determination, ingenuity, a need to get his life
together, and a constant inability to do so. The three men demonstrate
both positive and negative qualities; each is an individual who fits
into more than a single category.
At the beginning of the show, as
I said, Alex is "confused," Penny is "needy," and Jane is
"controlling." As the show continues, Alex is revealed as "stupid,"
Penny as "needy," and Jane as "controlling" and "manipulative."
The problem with Happy Endings is not that the characters remain undeveloped. As I demonstrated with 24,
some shows work well without character development; in fact, sitcoms
are known for doing so. The real problem here is that one large
category of characters---men---is allowed development, while another
large category of characters---women---is not. Alex's adjective
changes, but that's mostly because we get to know her better. Jane
gains a second adjective once we have seen her in certain situations.
Penny's adjective remains the same throughout. Moreover, the adjectives
that fit the women are all negative. All six characters are
unlikeable, but Max, Dave, and Brad have positive qualities, while Alex,
Penny, and Jane don't (or none strong enough to act as defining
adjectives, at any rate). The best that can be said about them is that
Alex and Penny are "cute," and in Penny's case, "cutesy" fits better;
she is trying so hard to come across as cute that she makes herself
repellent. Subtly, the men become the point-of-view characters, while
the irrational, incomprehensible women are shrugged off.
episode that really sums up the problematic nature of this discrepancy
is called "The Kerkovich Way." At the end of the preceding episode,
Alex slept with Dave for the first time since their non-wedding. "The
Kerkovich Way" begins with Dave telling Alex they need to talk about
this. However, Alex says the encounter never happened; Dave dreamed or
imagined it. Investigating further, Dave finds a lot of evidence that
Alex is telling the truth, including Brad's memories of watching a movie
with Alex and Jane on the night in question. Brad confesses that he
can't quite remember watching the movie, but he has chronic
problems with his memory, to the extent that he has to have regular
MRIs. He points out that he even has popcorn stuck in his teeth,
proving that the movie viewing took place. Dave eventually uncovers a
crucial piece of evidence, and the truth comes out: Alex and Jane
together made up the whole story and convinced Brad to believe them.
Jane confesses that she does this sort of thing to Brad all the time and
even went to the trouble of planting the popcorn between his teeth; she
calls it the Kerkovich Way and claims it was invented by her
The whole situation is presented as light and amusing instead of bloody freaking horrifying,
considering that Jane habitually manipulates Brad into believing he has
serious memory problems.* The Kerkovich sisters are even demonstrated
to have manipulative behaviour in their very DNA. Ah, those
womenfolk! Who could ever really understand them? Hyuck hyuck hyuck.
attitude towards television writing is not uncommon; gender roles are
pretty strictly delineated even in the otherwise fairly well written How I Met Your Mother,
in which men who demonstrate stereotypically "female" traits are
mocked, while women who demonstrate stereotypically "male" traits are
praised. Some other sitcoms, such as Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory, play on the assumption that gender creates personality. Happy Endings, however, is one of the worst I've seen outside shows from the 1950s. The show is a sort of nightmare rip-off of Friends and Coupling
in which the male viewpoint is so strongly privileged that the female
characters may as well paint their skin green and fly off, cackling, on
broomsticks. It is "safe" in a much more ominous way than HIMYM
is safe, as it implies not just that gender roles are inherent but that
one gender is more worthy of attention and sympathy than the other, and
it mines the inferior gender for as much condescending, contempt-based
humour as it can. If Guarascio and Port have any meaningful influence over the content of Happy Endings, Community is truly going to be in trouble.
Dear Sony and NBC: screw the ratings. Screw the
status quo. Screw appealing to the widest possible
audience. Community is good TV. Happy Endings? Oh, hello, cultural hegemony. How very much I have missed you.*Before you start upright in righteous indignation and cry, "But you used this very plot machination in your own comic!", let me just say: yes, I did, and I presented it as appallingly
cruel, a fact that was driven home by Marie when she pointed out to
Casey that she had already been worried she was going crazy because of
her confused and contradictory memories of her parents' deaths, and his
callous screwing with her wasn't helping.CommentMonday, May 14, 2012: See You Next Week
had the flu this week, and now I'm sick and tired and behind on
everything. Rants will return next week. Happy middle of
May, everyone.Monday, May 7, 2012: Kari Vs. the Watches
often Rant about my long, futile struggle to find a computer that works
and doesn't hate me. I spend less time complaining about my
problematic relationship with watches. I expect I've done a Rant
on this relationship (or bits and pieces of it) at some point, but if
so, it was long enough ago that an update may be in order,
especially in light of recent development.
I've always been, for
want of a better phrase, a "watch person." I do remember
stretches of my childhood during which I didn't wear a watch, mainly
because it was summer vacation and I didn't need one. However, I
did get my first watch when I was just a kid, and if you discount those
summer vacations of yesteryear, I've worn one more or less steadily
ever since. I love watches. Actually, I love clocks of all
kinds. There's something about the idea of this intricate machine
full of delicate little cogs
that just makes me happy. For that reason, my watches have rarely
been digital. I know a lot of people can't read clock faces any
more--my students are often sheepishly puzzled when they ask me the
time and I automatically show them my watch--but I prefer them. I
think it may be because I'm one of those strange people who think of
time as having a shape. When I picture the months of the year,
for instance, I see them going around in a sort of wonky elipsis.
The hours of the day have a shape too. The clock face
mimics that shape. A digital clock is easier to read but divorces
the sense of time from the sense of space.
Despite my fondness
for watches, I have a hell of a time with them. I've owned a
ridiculously large number of them. I seem to be very good at
making them not work.
My childhood $30 Timex was actually a
decent watch that worked properly for years. It lost about half a
second a day, but I just had to remember to fix the time every once in
a while. I wore it into my twenties. Then I graduated with
an M.A., and my long watch-based nightmare commenced with a graduation
gift of a Tissot.
It was a lovely watch. An automatic, it
ran without a battery and didn't need to be wound. It was just
too bad that it kept time so badly. Swiss watches are, of course,
supposed to be the best, but my Tissot lost far more time than my Timex
per day. It wasn't a regular amount, but it was often around a
minute. Sometimes, it would simply stop, then start again later.
Automatics are wound by movement, and I don't think I was moving
so little that the watch was winding down; I tend to move a lot, even
when I'm supposed to be at rest, and I swing my arms enthusiastically
as I walk. My parents and I took the watch in for repairs
something like three times. No one could figure out what was
wrong with it. The final time, it was out of warranty, and it
cost far too much to "fix."
The thing is...I hate not being able
to trust my watch. The Tissot was the least trustworthy watch I
had ever owned. Sorry, Tissot makers. I'm sure your
products are usually very nice, but mine was a dud. I still have
it, and it's still very pretty, and it still keeps absolutely appalling
I eventually gave up on the Tissot. I would have
gone back to the Timex, but my parents had moved in the interim, and
the Timex had vanished. I made do with a gift watch that was too
small for me and hurt my wrist, but when its battery gave out, I found
another cheap watch that was relatively accurate. The really bad
watch times had begun.
The new watch worked fine, but the band
was one of those faux-leather things, which never last for long.
The band eventually broke, and I got another one, which was
itself on the verge of breaking when the watch went from "working fine"
to "rather resembling the Tissot." It didn't seem to be the
battery that was the problem; the watch itself was breaking down.
Fortuitously, this happened shortly after I found a Timex Ironman
in the middle of the street. The Ironman is a digital watch, but
a good one. My wrists are surprisingly skinny, and the Ironman,
which was made to fit a man, could barely be cinched tight enough.
I'm not sure how long all these watches lasted.
I think I had the Timex for at least ten years, the Tissot for
maybe six, the too-tight gift watch for one, the watch with the cheap
strap for four or five, and the Ironman for maybe one and a half.
Then its strap broke too. I replaced the watch with a cheap
Shoppers Drug Mart watch, which I told myself was good enough. It
ran for a few months before stopping. Again, it didn't seem to be
the battery; to this day, it runs sporadically for a few minutes at a
time. I found myself making do with a wind-up steampunk pendant
watch. It was a cool watch, but it wasn't the sort of thing you
wanted to wear every day. It was the middle of the marking
period, and I had no time for watch-hunting, so in desperation, I found
another Shoppers watch.
That was the nadir of my Great Watch
Adventure. The second Shoppers watch lasted for three days.
It kept time well, but the last straw came a few days ago, when I
rode my bike down to the university. It was a fairly humid day,
which meant that perspiration happened, and the perspiration triggered
an allergic reaction to the watch. I don't know if it was the
cheap acrylic band or the (assumedly) nickel buckle that was to blame;
I know I have a nickel allergy, so it could have been either.
That was the day I decided I needed a real bloody watch, damn it.
have a decent watch now, or so I hope. The band is stainless
steel, so I'm not allergic to it, and it isn't likely to break.
The watch is keeping time well so far. I really hope it
lasts. I do like watches a lot, and I am tired of not being able
to keep one for more than a few years at a time. If my new watch
outlasts my new computer, I shall declare victory.CommentMonday, April 30, 2012: More Crunchy Marking
are due on May 3rd. I have been marking almost non-stop for weeks
now. I've got through thirty exams today and may try for up to
ten more tonight (I may not; my head is going thumpy-thumpy-thump);
there are ninety left to go. Last week, I gave you five ways in
which huge piles of marking altered one's life. They were all
sort of quirky and lighthearted. I have passed the
hearted stage now, and I just want the marking to go away and leave me alone.
I have, however, always found it ironic how much easier it is to get other
work done when the marking is at its most heinous. This must be
how workaholics feel all the time. I'm not sure how they keep it
up. Maybe they secretly cry a lot.
In the last week,
despite--or, perhaps, because of--the mountains of marking, I have
accomplished the following on my "breaks" (read: the periods
during which I have to stop marking because my head hurts too much):
1) I have held an initial meeting about creating a short film for the online course on fairy tales I am authoring.
2) I have paid my taxes.
I have sorted out my banking situation, something made necessary
by the teller's gasps of horror and astonishment as he processed my
taxes and, in the process, discovered that I had not set foot in the
bank for about ten years.
4) I have published a comic every two days.
5) I have reapplied for my job, a process that takes way too long and involves a lot of typing.
I have come close to finishing the first chapter of another novel
that I have been writing entirely during fifteen-minute breaks from
7) I have written this Rant.
As soon as
the marks are in, I shall be returning to my usual sloth. I wish
I were capable of being productive without also being too busy to eat.CommentMonday, April 23, 2012: Crunchy Marking
It's marking time, so I would merely like to mention five ways in which huge piles of marking alter one's life.1) Time slows down.
You would think it would be the opposite. Wouldn't the
contemplation of appalling piles of essays and exams make the clock
race? Wouldn't the thought "There's no way I can finish all this
in time" actually prompt the second hand to zoom around in a brisk
little circle, destroying all hope of finishing before the deadline?
But no: suddenly, unexpectedly, there is enough time for
everything. An hour becomes a vast blank space in which ever so
many things can be accomplished. I believe this is called Being
in the Zone. I believe it is also called Sheer Desperation.2) Procrastination becomes less urgent.
It's sad but true: during Marking Panic Mode, you just work
more efficiently. The breaks you used to take every fifteen
minutes become the breaks you take every four hours (but only if you
finish a certain number of essays during those four hours). You
become a marking machine. Two weeks from now, you will
not understand how you did that.3) Sugar becomes a necessity.
Forget caffeine; it's all about the sugar. If you have
nothing sweet around, you will go shopping and come home with several
mammoth containers of Sour Cherry Blasters and Gummy Worms. You
will eat way too many of them as rewards every time you finish a paper.4) Creativity happens.
Despite--or, perhaps, because of--your relative lack of
procrastination, you will start to have a series of ideas. If you
like to write, they will be ideas for stories. If you are
musical, they will be ideas for songs. If you paint, they will be
ideas for art. Ideas will teem within your brain, and you will
have absolutely no time to do anything about them.5) Everything that goes wrong will seem both inevitable and trivial.
Your watch stops the night before the exam?* Meh.
Your shoe's sole comes loose?** Whatever. An alien
spaceship lands on your balcony? Okay, sure, but I have to mark
this essay on television sitcoms. The world could be coming to an
end; it wouldn't be worse than those 150 essays sitting on your desk.***
Happy marking, fellow instructors. Reality will reassert itself eventually.
*It is, in fact, the night before the exam, and my watch has stopped.
**This one happened last weekend.
***Or, more accurately, on the floor beneath your desk.
CommentMonday, April 16, 2012: Introversion 101: The Trouble With Sherlock
spent this weekend at Ad Astra
, a sci-fi/fantasy/horror/etc.
convention, and somehow, I ended up on six
panels. The first and the last, which technically had nothing to
do with each other, have set me thinking. The first panel was
"Introversion is not a Bad Word"; the last was "So Much Sherlock."
Introversion has been coming up a lot lately in various articles and books, as well as a TED talk by Susan Caine
People are beginning to observe that introversion is not the
defect many have assumed it to be for the last century or so; introverts
simply have a different way of approaching the world and generating
ideas about it. The old Myers-Briggs cliche is that extroverts
get their energy from social interaction, while introverts get theirs
from being alone. Cliche or not, it's a pretty good definition.
As the people on the panel observed on Friday evening,
extroverts also tend to develop their ideas by talking, while
introverts develop theirs by thinking. The results are the same
in both cases, but the extroverts end up praised as indulging in
"constructive conversation" and being "proactive," while introverts are
criticised as anti-social, not team players, and even slow on the
uptake. In a world dominated by extroverts, introverts are
treated almost as handicapped.
My first panel dealt with this
frustrating social situation. My last was devoted to a discussion
of Sherlock Holmes and the current revival of Holmes-focused stories.
One topic that came up more than once was our apparent need,
especially in North America, to diagnose Holmes and other Holmes-like
characters with brain damage or some sort of mental illness.
have no problem with telling stories about people with mental
illnesses; in fact, I think there should be more such stories and much
less of a tendency to treat mentally ill people as diseased and
contagious. However, there's a difference between a story of a
person who happens to have a mental illness and a story of a brilliant but eccentric
man or woman whose eccentricities are automatically explained away as
something that in a less useful person--one who didn't solve crimes
every Monday evening at 8:00 p.m., for instance--would need to be
cured or controlled. Even if we just stick to television, we find this impulse everywhere. In the BBC series Sherlock
some characters describe Sherlock as a psychopath; Sherlock calls
himself a sociopath. The title character of Monk
has OCD, Walter of The Finder
is brain-damaged, Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory
is broadly hinted to have Asperger's, and House of House
is occasionally diagnosed by other characters with Asperger's or sociopathy. Temperance Brennan of Bones
went through an extremely traumatic childhood and can probably been
seen as suffering from PTSD. It would not surprise me if in the
pending American show Elementary
, which transplants the Holmes story to New York, Holmes were portrayed as having something the matter with his brain.
the Holmes panel, someone observed that Holmes wasn't a sociopath; he
introvert. In both the original stories and the BBC series--even,
in fact, in the Guy Ritchie movies--Sherlock Holmes goes inside his own
head to reason out the answers to the problems with which he is
presented. His powers of deduction work because he does, in
fact, think and act like an introvert. A good contrast (again
sticking with TV, since we're already there) would be the Doctor of the
British series Doctor Who
, currently being produced by Stephen Moffat, who is also responsible for Sherlock
In at least his last two incarnations, the Doctor has been the
epitome of an extrovert; he is a genius who needs to talk everything
out, and he draws his energy from his relationships. Holmes is
the opposite; in the original stories, he frequently keeps his
deductions to himself until the big reveal at the end, and though he
does have a sort of symbiotic relationship with Watson, he usually has
his ideas sorted out before he confides in his one friend. He
doesn't tend to launch into long, rambling speculations during which he
has a series of revelations. The revelations happen before he
opens his mouth.
I wish we could just let Holmes be Holmes.
Yes, he's outside the norm. He's eccentric. He's
interested in the wrong things; he can differentiate
between different types of tobacco ash but doesn't know that the
earth travels around the sun. His fascination with puzzle solving
borders on obsession. But it's his position outside the norm that
allows him to be as effective as he is at what he does, and arguably,
it's why so many readers angrily cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand
when Arthur Conan Doyle killed him off. Without his
eccentricities, Holmes would just be a very smart man with a cocaine
addiction. Moreover, without his introversion, Holmes would not
be able to solve crimes at all.
Is it really necessary for
eccentricity or introversion to be explained away as something that
could, in an ideal world, be "fixed"? Holmes marginalises
himself; why do we have the urge to portray him as someone marginalised
by disease or defect? Does the impulse to stand apart even have
to be a defect? As Caine says in her TED talk, for millennia, we
have revered people who remove themselves from civilisation and go out
into the wilderness. We call them mystics, sages, prophets.
I would take it further; look at folklore and mythology, and you
can see that we also call them heroes. The hero is the one who
goes off alone into the dark. There are very few stories about
heroes who are the life of the party. Yet nowadays, being the
life of the party is "healthy." Internality makes one a little
bit weird. It's more important to talk than to listen.
Mental illness is clearly the only explanation for the urge to go
off alone into the dark.
Let the brilliant, eccentric problem
solvers of fiction have both their brilliance and their eccentricity,
please. Why shouldn't they be different because they want to be,
not because they have to be due to some tragic accident of genetics?
In a way, "eccentricity" is only another word for "creativity";
the eccentrics of the world just look at things from their own
beautifully wacky perspectives. As far as I'm concerned, there's
no reasons we shouldn't let them do so. If we don't want to live
in a universe full of little clones who never deviate from the norm,
we'll stop trying to find something fundamentally wrong with Sherlock
Holmes.CommentMonday, April 9, 2012: Teeny Tiny
am the first to admit that I like tiny little musical instruments.
I play a number of them, from the ukulele and the piccolo to the
harmonica and the pennywhistle. I also play some particularly
huge and ungainly instruments, such as the piano and the accordion, but
there's a certain appeal about being able to stick an instrument in
your purse or sling it over your shoulder and carry it around all day
without suffering major back pain. Portability means greater ease
of access. In the case of instruments, it does sometimes have its
drawbacks. Playing the piccolo is fun, but people tend to run
away whenever you get it out. I am happy to argue that the
ukulele is a viable musical instrument capable of complexity and beauty
(take it away, Jake Shimabukuro
but I'll also admit that it has much less sustain and resonance than a
guitar, and the fact that it has a short scale and four strings instead
of six can be seen to limit it as well. Devotees of tiny
instruments love them because of what they can do; others shun them
because of what they can't
a trend that sometimes rather baffles me involves an apparently endless
series of attempts to make already small instruments even smaller.
stick just with the ukulele for now, simply because it offers us so
very many example. The ukulele comes in four standard sizes:
soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. The soprano is the
size most people think of when they think of the ukulele; the larger
sizes are tuned more or less the same (except, occasionally, for the
baritone), but they offer longer scales and larger, more resonant
bodies. A typical soprano is about 21 inches long and weighs so
little that it can easily be balanced on a single finger. Even a
tenor uke, at around 26 inches, is small enough to treat as carry-on
And yet there are compact "travel versions" of even the soprano ukulele. Kala makes a thinline travel uke
that simply reduces the depth of the body, making the instrument easier to stow in a bag. Ohana has a sopranino size
that is about 19 inches long and is generally tuned a bit higher than
the soprano. I own one of these, and it's fun and kind of cute,
but it is really just taking something that's already very small and
making it even smaller. Kala has gone Ohana--and itself--one
better and produced a pocket ukulele
, which is 16 inches long and tuned even higher than the sopranino. The KoAloha Noah
is 3/4 the size of an ordinary soprano. The Kala pocket uke is usually considered the smallest playable
ukulele, but there are smaller ones out there; Tangi makes a tiny model
that is supposed to be mostly decorative (though some do try to play
it), and a few independent makers, such as this guy
make miniature ukes that are meant to be played. A few higher-end
uke makers also do sopranino, sopranissimo, and miniature ukuleles.
But that's just the beginning. Eleuke, which makes electric ukuleles, has the Peanut
, a soprano-scale solid-bodied instrument that is much slenderer than a standard uke. Risa also has a tiny electric uke
. An independent maker sells kits for making foldable ukuleles
they sound pretty terrible, but they do fold up quite small. Another
independent maker has come up with a very small and not very
nice-sounding travel ukulele
made from scrap lumber.
could go on. Over and over, people are taking an instrument that
is already about the length of a grown woman's arm (hand not included)
and making it even smaller. Sometimes, it becomes so small that
the sound quality is entirely compromised. Sometimes, it sounds
okay. But the impulse to force the instrument into teenier and
teenier packages remains.
My personal theory, which I have
expressed before, is that ukuleles and other small instruments are a
bit like puppies; they have the "awww" factor on their sides.
This does not detract from the fact that they can sound
absolutely gorgeous at times, but it does make some people take them
less seriously. We try to compensate, in a way, by accentuating
the convenience. You laugh at my tiny instrument? Look how
easy it is to carry around! How do you feel about your double
I do enjoy my sopranino, though if I want the best
possible sound, it's not the instrument I pick up first. I don't
think I'll ever own one of the Kala pocket ukes. They remind me
too much of those little wee dogs rich women carry around in their
CommentMonday, April 2, 2012: Hail? Really?
I know I write about the weather too much. However, it's just been weird
lately. When you get 26C temperatures in March, that's odd.
When they are followed three days later by snow, that's freaking
bizarre. Today, it hailed...with "today" being April 1st.
Perhaps the universe has a sense of humour after all.
we were roasting in Toronto, it was snowing on Vancouver Island, where
spring habitually begins in mid-February. On March 31st, a friend
of mine living in St. John's was forced to shovel his driveway.
The weather forecast for the next week shows temperatures varying
by 17 degrees within the course of a single day. It's as if the
season is having a genuinely hard time coming to terms with its
identity. Someone should write a coming-of-age YA novel about it.
problem is that it's impossible to know what to wear. If it's -2C
when you leave in the morning, 15C when you go out for lunch, and 6C by
the time you start to make your way home, are you just supposed to keep
donning and/or shedding layers all day? Do you wear boots?
Sneakers? Walking shoes? Sandals? Do you need a
tuque? Gloves? A scarf? Is the wind blowing, making
it seem ten degrees colder than it really is? What if the wind stops
blowing? Should the windows be open at night? During the
day? What if everything changes five minutes from now?
the wild fluctuations in pressure and humidity harming my musical
instruments? Do they account for the fact that I'm tired all the
time? Can I blame them for my reluctance to start marking?
Why have I not started marking? Why do Cinnamon Pops not
taste like cinnamon? Are people going to try to kill me again
after they read this week's West of Bathurst
comics? Has the weather affected my attention span?
is the meaning of life? Why do dogs have wet noses? What if
you gave God a sandwich so big he couldn't finish it? What did I
do with the driver disk for my portable scanner, and why is there no
way to find the driver online? Why are old clocks and old keys so
wonderful? What would happen if I decorated my apartment with old
clocks? Could I recreate the opening scene of Back to the Future
and would there be dog food involved? Am I subconsciously a
steampunk fan? Why are tiny little musical instruments so
appealing? Why does everyone sneeze in a different way?
Damn you, weather: this is what you've done to me.CommentMonday, March 26, 2012: Reality Television Week (*Sigh*)
Well, it's here again: the one week per year in which I must lecture on reality television.
get me wrong: it's a fun lecture to give. It's always
easier to generate discussion with controversial subjects. Some
of my students hate reality television, while others watch almost
nothing else. The reasons behind the popularity of the genre are
pretty fascinating, and I really like talking about the wish/shame
complex the shows use to draw viewers in and keep them hooked.
These shows tend to be cleverly put together and structured in
ways that do get people addicted; a given reality episode is
structurally similar to a news broadcast or, interestingly, a soap.
The continually deferred fulfilment is, in part, what keeps
people glued to these shows.
That's not why I *sigh*ed in this entry's title. I *sigh*ed because in order to talk about reality TV, I have to watch it.
I Ranted about American Idol
a bit over a year ago (February 28, 2011), so I won't go deeply into my feelings regarding that particular show. I am
following it again this year, as well as The Amazing Race
, and I've watched some episodes of Kitchen Nightmares
in the past. That's about as far as I'm willing to go. I
feel as if reality TV is trying to devour my soul. Even The Amazing Race
which is relatively harmless and at the very least introduces a bunch
of Americans to the fact that they are not, in fact, living in the only
country on the planet, is awfully fond of dwelling lingeringly on the
contestants' meltdowns and interpersonal abuse. Emotionally
abusive boyfriends, shrewish wives, brothers who can't stop fighting,
liars and cheaters and people who end up in hysterics because they
can't taste the difference between six distinct types of tea:
sometimes, I think the show's main purpose is to demonstrate how
awful all people everywhere are. Leave the poor taxi drivers
alone, guys, seriously. You ran up out of nowhere, stuck a
camera-person in the front seat, and are now screaming abuse at your
driver because he doesn't understand English and is unwilling to drive
like a lunatic so you can win a million dollars.
delight in showing us how horrible people are. Even when they
pretend to be "educational," they are really just voyeuristic. If
someone starts a "documentary" reality series called simply Dirty Underwear
, I won't be at all surprised.
I was therefore delighted this week when the usual American Idol
parade of soppy ballads sung by desperate teenagers who believe that
they will fail at everything if they don't get to move into the mansion
was interrupted by the fantastic Idol
contestant Heejun Han, who has so far utterly failed to take the
process at all seriously. Despite the fact that Heejun's voice is
just sort of okay, he is wildly popular because he is a very, very
funny guy, and not in an extroverted LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME
kind of way. If someone sets him up, he will say something
hilarious. He does it every time. In a group of earnest
kids fixated on their images, he is extraordinarily refreshing.
week, which was Billy Joel themed, Heejun started with what seemed to
be one of his usual ballads, then apparently lost his place. He
turned to the piano player and asked for something faster, then tore
off his suit jacket and went running all over the stage, singing "My
Life" in what was really an extended comedy routine. His singing
was all over the place, but it didn't matter. The judges were not
as happy as I was; Stephen Tyler was clearly furious and felt Heejun
had disrespected the song.
Well, why shouldn't he? Good lord...do we really need to treat American Idol
like sacred ground? It involves a bunch of kids crooning pop
songs for months. Apparently, music is not allowed to be fun;
it's a deadly serious business.
This is what damn reality TV
does to me; it makes me care about stupid things. I even know how
it does it. I just can't stop it from happening. For now,
therefore, I'll just quietly raise a glass to Heejun and his
increasingly entertaining attempts to deconstruct the entire Idol
process. More power to you, Heejun. There should be a
Heejun in every episode of every reality TV show ever made. At
the very least, he thoroughly shatters the illusion that this stuff is
as immensely important as it claims it is.CommentMonday, March 19, 2012: The Computer Curse Continued
once, there's actually nothing wrong with my laptop. However, the
reason there's nothing wrong with my laptop is that it's brand new, and
the reason it's brand new is that it's replacing another brand-new but
defective laptop, and the reason I had the brand-new but defective
laptop was that the laptop before that one, which was well under three
years old, had finally died completely, a year and a half after its
hard drive was replaced.
I really don't know what it is
about me and computers. I've complained about my Acer before, and
I would like to reiterate the complaint now. I got off to a bad
start with it because I wasn't used to either Vista or the new style of
keyboard (with extra "\" keys everywhere and a tendency for the
keyboard to turn French without warning and without any way of making
it go back to normal). I took a couple of months to figure
out how everything worked; then the computer started malfunctioning.
It crashed constantly. The DVD drive stopped working.
One of the keys fell off, and I couldn't get it back on because
the key itself was broken. Other keys jammed (this was near the
beginning of the Really Flat Keys Phase, and the manufacturers hadn't
yet figured out that it was a bad idea to leave space under the keys so
that bits of crud could lodge themselves in there). Finally,
about fourteen months after I had purchased the computer, it stopped
working. A friend helped me pull a few files off it, and I got
the rest from Future Shop (though not without giving them about eighty
bucks for the privilege).
As I had wisely bought an extended
warranty,* I was able to get the computer repaired. However, I
was without it for nearly two months. When I finally got it back,
it was basically a new machine. Again, it worked for a few
months, then deteriorated. In the winter of 2012, it once more
ground to a halt. I was able to rescue all my files myself in
safe mode, though it took a while. Then the real fun began.
My desktop computer, which is four years old, has dysfunctional
USB drives (at one point, they fell inside the computer; now they're
just sort of hanging out of the tower, and they work when they feel
like it). I simply could not get the USB drives to recognise my
external hard drive, and I was therefore unable to access any of my
files, even though I had technically rescued them from the Acer.
to go to Future Shop the next day and find another computer. I
had listened to my brother-in-law's advice but ultimately chosen
another laptop, which did turn out to be a better deal. However,
almost as soon as I started using it, the power cord started to
malfunction; the computer wasn't getting any power half the time.
Every time I jiggled it, it would stop charging. It took
thirteen days for it to get so bad that I had to take it back.
Future Shop will replace your laptop if you return it within
fourteen days. As it turned out, the store had sold out of the
Samsung model I had bought. Hasan, the guy who had sold me the
Samsung, remembered me and found me a Lenovo for the same price.
Hasan was very nice all the way through this process. He
was a good salesman, but I forgave him for that because, well, he was a
I now have a Lenovo to replace my Samsung, which
replaced my Acer, which replaced my Toshiba, which replaced my Compaq,
which replaced my other Compaq. I have had more laptops than most
people have had dental procedures. I honestly don't do anything
to these computers; they just don't like me. I really hope the
Lenovo lasts for at least a little while.*This would not count as wisdom for most people, but computers really hate me.
CommentMonday, March 12, 2012: Weather Weirdness, Go Away
used to do this thing where I would write open letters to either summer
or winter, phrasing them as if they came from a committee of senior
bureaucrats taking issue with the abuses the season in question was
perpetrating on the system. This little conceit has now pretty
well played itself out, and I haven't used it in a few years.
However, I do have to say:
What the hell
has been up with the weather lately? It's been bouncing from 16C
to -2C to 16C to -10C, back and forth and back and forth. One
day, everyone dresses for spring; the next, we're back in the depths of
winter. My allergies have been coming and going. On one of
the cold days, a friend and I noticed some frozen crocuses that had
half-emerged from the ground before being blindsided by a small
blizzard. I have been alternating between a heavy down jacket and
Is some consistency too much to ask for? Pick cold or warm; I don't even care which. Just pick one
The constant zig-zagging is bewildering. Do I need my tuque
or not? Should I be wearing boots? Is it cycling weather?
Nobody knows. It's as if the weather is deliberately trying
to bewilder and distress us. With the addition of the
daylight-savings-related spring forward, I have become tired, grumpy,
and certain I'm wearing the wrong clothes all the time.
luck, the weather will eventually settle down and figure out exactly
what it is. It's just too bad that until then, everyone has to go
around dressed in layers and wondering which spring is going to be the
real one.CommentMonday, March 5, 2012: Potted Potter: A Plea for Actual Parody
I saw Potted Potter
with a couple of friends this afternoon. If you haven't heard of
it, you are in good company. A lot of people in Toronto have
heard of it, as there are banners advertising it all over the city right now. Briefly: it's a 70-minute dramatic Harry Potter
parody that purports to get through all seven Potter books. All
the parts are played by two guys, Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner,
who appear on stage as "Dan" and "Jeff." I believe the play was
born at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; the two actor-creators have
produced other "potted" (i.e., condensed) plays as well.
I had neither high nor low expectations going in. I am quite fond of another Potter parody, A Very Potter Musical
which successfully makes affectionate fun of the Potter series
while simultaneously forming a coherent narrative and even offering
actual character development (and not just of Harry). I am thus
aware that it is possible to parody Harry Potter well. When I
first saw the poster for Potted Potter
I was pretty dubious, but it seemed to be getting good reviews, so I
decided to give it a chance. I enjoy good parody and am always
happy when I stumble across some. Unfortunately, Potted Potter
is not good parody.
admittedly, it's definitely for kids. The subject matter is taken
from a series of children's books, and the creators have decided to aim
their play at the prime Book 1 crowd (8-11-year-olds) rather than the
prime Book 7 crowd (15-18-year-olds). I do not accept the whole
"but it's aimed at kids!" thing as an excuse. Certain children's
entertainers, especially those who wander on over to Hollywood, seem
convinced that children are incapable of paying attention to anything
that doesn't involve a lot of screaming and frenetic physical comedy.
Clarkson and Turner yell at each other, spray silly string
everywhere, and at one point organise a theatre-wide Quidditch game
that ends with them shooting half the audience with a huge water gun.
I would have no problem with any of these elements, which are
potentially fun, if they were accompanied by some sort of narrative
coherence. Instead, we have a setup in which straight-man Jeff
attempts to retell the seven stories while wild-card Dan constantly
undermines him. There's nothing else here. Jeff sometimes
"plays" Harry for ten or fifteen seconds. Dan "plays" all the
other characters, though none of them get much time on stage; Voldemort
and Ron are really the only two who appear more than once or twice and
actually interact with Harry. A
scene involving Dumbledore goes on for far too long, encompassing a gag that becomes reminiscent of Family Guy
, and not in a good way.
are certainly funny bits; the oversized Golden Snitch is amusing, and
the dissection of Book 3 on a series of PowerPoint slides works
well. The big problem is that this isn't parody. It's a
couple of guys yelling about Rowling's books for an hour and a bit.
Parody comments intelligently on the original work, often
pointing out its inherent flaws by exaggerating them. It doesn't
have to be nasty. Some of the best parody is written by people
who love the original works on which the parodic adaptations are based.
the flaws in the books, but it doesn't do so via exaggeration; it does
so via the two actors explaining to the audience that the books have
flaws. A retelling involving the storytellers putting on
deliberately inappropriate voices and mannerisms does not really have
anything to say about the original. Potted Potter
should be billed not as a parody but as a comic recap. When all
your jokes come from you running around frenetically and being silly
for reasons not connected to the actual story, you're not writing a
It's also worth noting that children are not stupid.
Sure, it's fun to watch someone get covered with silly string or
be forced to dress up a a Golden Snitch. However, if there's
nothing more to watch, all the zaniness gets kind of boring. I've
seen some great children's shows that acknowledge the intelligence of
all their viewers, child and adult both. Entertainment that just
goes BWAAAAAAAAAAAA will catch a child's attention for a time but will
prompt only cheap laughs. Give kids a chance to become involved
in the story, especially when it's a story they already love.
sure plenty of people have enjoyed this show. I'm sad to say I'm
not one of them. However, if an actual Potter parody ever makes
its way to Toronto, I'll be the first in line.CommentMonday, February 27, 2012: The Secret World of Twittiquette
on the table: I fell into the Twitter craze completely by
accident. I don't even remember signing up; I don't know why I
did it, and I don't think I even knew what Twitter was at the time
(this was way back before Twitter had catapulted into popularity).
I forgot about the account soon after I had created it.
Eight months later, someone followed me on Twitter, and I got an
e-mail. I went, "Er...what's Twitter?" I tried signing in
with a password I thought I might have used, and it worked. This
weirded me out a lot.
I've used Twitter sporadically ever
since. Lately, I've been using it more often. By "using
it," I don't really mean "posting." I post every once in a while,
generally in reply to the posts of people I know personally.
Mostly, though, I just read. I find Twitter a useful source
for links to information that interests me (often about genre fiction).
Occasionally, a webtoonist or blogger I follow will post whenever
he or she updates; these links are useful too. (I don't do this
with my own comic or blog because I am terribly, terribly lazy.)
I suppose I am failing to optimise my Twitter experience, but I
to optimise my Twitter experience; I just like the way it enables procrastination.
However, I've got to say: some people really don't know how to use Twitter. I mean, they really don't know
how to use it. As far as I can tell, what they're doing with
their Twitter accounts is assuring that all sane people conceive
violent dislikes for them.
I'm not going to use any names
because I'm not the devil,* but I do want to describe two examples of
How to Ensure That Everybody on Twitter Hates You.
suppose this first one isn't really about "hatred"; it's more about
"mild annoyance." I follow two prominent fantasy authors, both of
whom shall remain nameless. One of them posts prolifically but
relatively sanely; she mostly just links to things that interest her
and alerts followers whenever her books go on sale. The other
posts every single tiny detail about his personal life. He has a
lot of followers, so people apparently enjoy this. He does have
some good tweets, so I continue to follow him, but I could do with
fewer details about his relationship with his wife. I get this
with a less prominent author too; some of his tweets verge on
uncomfortable, as he occasionally insults his wife and announces to the
world whenever they're having a fight. He also hates everything
everywhere, as far as I can tell.
2) I follow some
webtoonists as well. Most are fine; they just post links.
One, however, has driven me to loathe him. I like his
comic, but I'm on the verge of unfollowing him because he cannot shut up about himself
Every time he pencils, inks, or letters a new comic...every time
he has a brilliant idea...every time he worries that he doesn't have
enough readers (this happens constantly)...every time he decides that
he is a misunderstood genius...every time he has either more or fewer
readers than usual exploring his site...every time he wants to explain
how much he deserves success...every time someone follows him on
Twitter...every time someone un
him on Twitter: I must get hundreds of tweets per day from him.
I mostly just skip over them. Dude, please just draw your
damn comics and stop whining about how wonderful you are. I
understand that self-promotion is important in the webcomics community,
but there's a fine line between "self-promotion" and "overweening
arrogance." The only reason I still follow him is that I do like
reading his comic, but eventually, my irritation with his tweets will
win out over my need to follow his work.
Long story short:
Twitter can be kind of neat, and some people really know how to
use it. If you are not one of these people (I know I'm not),
consider backing off. Do you really need to post seventeen tweets
within ten minutes? It may be cute if you do it once, but
multiple times a day? If you have that much to say, why not just
start a blog? Think of it as like being at a party. If you
sit in the corner and don't say anything, you're not going to make any
friends, though it's possible you may still learn something
interesting. If you politely take part in a few conversations,
you may make some friends; you will certainly be able to exchange ideas
and opinions with others. If your ideas and opinions are
particularly witty, you will make even more
friends. If, on the other hand, you shove your way into every
conversation and never let anyone get a word in edgewise, you will
drive everybody away, no matter how brilliant your thoughts are.*Or so I claim.CommentMonday, February 20, 2012: Leggo My Lego
Okay, yes, admittedly, I just drew a comic
on this very subject. However, a number of people have responded to it, and I, in my turn, have responded to them
with some mini-Rants that have threatened to turn into non-mini-Rants.
I know it's a silly thing to rage about when the world is plagued
problems, but then,
I rarely deal with actual problems in this blog.* So here we go:
Why I Want to Punch Lego in the Face.
The basic situation is as follows:
has been around since the 1940s. Unbeknownst to many North
Americans, the toy actually originated in Denmark, but it has since
become popular worldwide. Lego's current marketing strategy, in
place for the past seven years or so, has almost exclusively targeted
boys, despite what I would characterise as the gender-neutral nature of
the basic toy. I mean, it's a bunch of plastic bricks you can use
to build stuff. Are we really going to claim that girls will be
naturally less interested in this sort of thing? Why, exactly?
of late (i.e., over the course of the past few decades), Lego has
become more and more interested in producing "themes" instead of just
plunking a bunch of brightly-coloured bricks down into a huge tub and
letting children have at them. A visit to the Lego site will give
you something like thirty-five thematic options, each containing
sub-options. Some of these themes allow the toys to be broken up
and added to the glorious piles of loose bricks; others are less
adaptable. Lego has occasionally come out with "girls' lines,"
some of which combine with the regular bricks more easily than others.
The latest girls' line, Lego Friends, involves a number of female
characters--all of them differing in several ways from the regular Lego minifigs--who are
apparently bestest friends with each other and spend their days hanging
out in beauty parlours and cafes. The marketing for this line
involves a lot of pink and purple and seems to imply that it will allow
little girls to emulate the exciting lives of the Desperate Housewives.
Friends is just one of Lego's thirty-odd lines. The other lines
are marketed to boys. This includes the Harry Potter line and the
Spongebob Squarepants line. I was not aware that Harry and
Spongebob did not interest girls at all. The minifigs in these
lines are mainly male, with some token females scattered about here and
The mere existence of Lego Friends is not what has me
Ranting and making frowny-faces. Some girls are, well, girly.
They like frilly princess dresses and play house a lot. If
that's what floats their boats, more power to them. Some girls,
however, do quite like, well, building things. They like
adventure. They like running around with imaginary swords.
They like imagining that they are princesses who outwit dragons
while dressed only in paper bags. They are fond of pirates.
I wouldn't actually identify any of these "likes" as normally
being exclusive to boys.
Why is it necessary to have a "girls' line," anyway? Why not advertise all
Lego for all
children? Ads that exclude girls are
going to drive girls away. Are you afraid, Lego, that ads that include girls will drive boys
away? Why do we simply accept that it's okay for boys to be
ashamed of being associated with "girly toys" and "girly books"?
What would be so terrible about just making as many female
minifigs as male instead of including a few female ones as tokens?
Would the whole concept of a toy with which both boys and girls
could identify, not because it was specifically gendered but because it
offered scope for children to imagine out stories involving male and
female characters, truly be that much of a problem? Is the idea
of a gender-neutral toy really such a revolutionary concept?
who disagree with me on this one tend to ask what the problem is.
If girls want to play with Lego geared towards boys, these people
say, there's nothing stopping them. The Lego is there; they can
skip Lego Friends and go straight for the space stuff. What these
people are disregarding is that lack of female minifigs. It could
be pointed out that there's nothing stopping little boys from playing
with Lego Friends, but many would probably agree that there is
something stopping them: the fact that all the characters in this
line are female. Even if a male character were introduced, he
would be a token, like Ken in the Barbie pantheon. We tend to
assume that boys should never be expected to identify with female
characters and may, in fact, be incapable of doing so.
Simultaneously, little girls who want the more adventurous Lego
are assumed to be fine with playing with mostly male minifigs.
Lego is thus, again, framed as a boys' toy; girls who buy the
sets on sale in the "boys' aisle" of the toy store are deviating from
the norm of their gender instead of just choosing to play with a neat
toy. The fact that they have fewer characters with whom to
identify shouldn't be a problem because everyone
should be able to identify with male characters.
why not encourage male interest in Lego Friends? There are,
heaven forbid, some little boys who might be attracted to the idea of
going to the beauty parlour and then chilling in the cafe with their
BFFs. Why not do Lego Friends with minifigs so it can be combined
more seamlessly with other sets, and "Emma" and "Olivia" can hang out with "Harry
Potter" and "Voldemort"? Why not introduce a few spin-offs?
Lego Friends in Space! Lego Friends in Their
Time-Travelling Ice-Cream Truck! Lego Friends Discover a
Dystopian Otherworld in the Sewers of Heartlake City! If you're
going to embrace themes, Lego, don't stop with the boring stuff and
claim you're covering the female demographic. Let the girls have
their adventures too. Also, consider using a bit of green and
dark blue in the bricks used to construct the beauty parlour.
Better yet, build a comic-book store next door.
possibilities here are actually limitless, and no, I am not being
sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek. I hate Lego Friends at the moment,
but the hatred doesn't have to last. The line seems limited
because Lego appears to have set limits on it. If it tried, it
could do more than simply assume that all girls were alike and should
be exposed to only one type of play.*Unless the actual problems involve bullying in some way.
CommentMonday, February 13, 2012: My Name is Kari, and I Hate Valentine's Day
know perfectly well that it's a cliche to hate Valentine's Day.
Worse, it's a cliche that everyone expects from me, as I am, in
fact, a thirty-seven-year-old single lady. I should point
out that I don't hate Valentine's Day because
I am a thirty-seven-year-old single lady. I hate it because it is fun
to hate it. I expect it's much more fun than it is to participate in it.
mean, come on: you're expecting me to believe that you actually
look forward to a day on which couples obsess over making everything
perfect? Is it really enjoyable to spend hours looking for a
piece of jewelry that says "I am very fond of you" without adding "and
I think we should get married relatively soon"? Do you look
forward to dissolving into tears because you couldn't get a reservation
wherever? Is this actually a necessary part of your life?
sure some couples have fun on Valentine's Day. I'm also sure that
even more secretly long for it to be over. As for us supposedly
sad, lonely singles: why should we care? It gets the
schmoopsy couples out of our hair for one night, and the next day,
there's half-price chocolate at Shoppers.
I plan to spend
Valentine's Day marking, mostly because I plan to spend every day this
week marking. I'll also probably edit part of an MBA thesis and
update a lecture on sitcoms. Then I'll burn some sparkly pink
hearts and chase nuzzling couples around Toronto with a laser.
All in all, it will probably be quite a good day.CommentMonday, February 6, 2012: No Rant Today
I just spent all day on a plane, and I'm tired. Tune in again next week for more meandering randomness.Monday, January 30, 2012: A Rowse by Any Other Name
at my parents' place at the moment. Yesterday, I answered the
phone; the called said, "Is that Jan?" Jan, my sister, had been
staying with my parents for a week and was just about to head home.
I said, "No, it's Kari."
"Oh," said the caller, "Carrie!"
was so used to this sort of thing that I didn't even notice what had
happened. My sister, on the other hand, did. She could hear
the caller's voice, and she laughed out loud. Admittedly,
it's pretty amusing when someone corrects my pronunciation of
I really don't understand why people do this.
I know some names are difficult to pronounce or remember, and
that's fine; what baffles me is when an otherwise sane person will
immediately respond to my name by telling me what it's supposed to
be. Frankly, my name isn't even that difficult to say. You
can pronounce "car," yes? Then you can pronounce "Kari."
But there seems to be a sort of general disbelief that I am
getting my own name right.
When I was a little kid, I would correct people all the time
My dad picked up on this little quirk of mine and called me
"Carrie" just to get a rise out of me. I now frequently just let
the error stand. It's too exhausting to go around explaining the
proper pronunciation of my name to everyone I meet. And I haven't
even mentioned my surnamed yet. No one
can pronounce my surname. Those who try and fail generally ask me
why I pronounce it the way I pronounce it. "Because that's how
it's pronounced" is not a reply that goes over well.
that mistakes happen and people mishear things. However, I would
ask you not to correct the pronunciation of an unusual name immediately
after the person to whom it belongs utters it. There's something
just a teeny bit insulting about the whole situation.CommentMonday, January 23, 2012: Unrantiferous
afraid I'm too worried about actual problems at the moment to feel
justified in writing a long Rant about imaginary ones. I suppose
I could do a short list instead. Here, then, are the Top Six
Reasons I Am Unhappy With My Boots:
6) When I put them on,
my left big toe begins hurting like crazy. I don't know why this
is. It doesn't hurt at all when I'm not
wearing my boots.
I have a bad habit of dragging my heels. I do it so
persistently that I generally end up wearing the heels of my boots
away. The heels of these particular boots are so worn that they
can probably most accurately be described as "completely gone."
If I rock backwards on my heels too far, I fall over.
I'm not sure what the point of boots that height is.
They're too low to keep the snow out but too high to count as
ankle boots. They certainly aren't a fashion statement. I
don't really get them. They were the only ones in the entire
store that fit me.
3) They are always covered with salt, meaning that...
2) They are beginning to leak. I think the salt has eroded the leather.
Because of my weirdly shaped feet, they cost about the same
amount one would pay for, say, a banjo, and they haven't lasted nearly
as long. I wish I wasn't always being disappointed by my boots.
That's life, I suppose.CommentMonday, January 16, 2012: Open Letter to the Jerk Who Drenched Me in Slush the Other Day
understand that it's probably a great deal of fun to drive as close to
the sidewalk as possible so that you can hit the puddles that have
formed right next to the curb and therefore shower pedestrians with
freezing cold water and small chunks of ice. It probably feels
good to see someone standing dripping on the pavement, screaming
imprecations, while you drive away in your toasty automobile. Why
do pedestrians expect anything different, after all? They choose
to walk instead of driving like sensible human beings. They want
to expose themselves to the elements. They therefore deserve to
end up covered in grimy liquid that can really only be called "water"
by an optimist.
Yes, there are bigger problems in the world. One of them is your car, dear, dear
jerk. Your car is a polluting money pit that is a danger to
everyone who encounters it without being enclosed in--in point of
fact--another car. It's lovely that you are contributing to the
destruction of the environment, endangering the lives of cyclists and
that the contents of puddles are forever spraying gracefully
over sidewalks instead of remaining in the puddles themselves.
Thank you ever so much for not driving in your actual lane.
Why would you want to? The pothole-riddled bit of the road
next to the curb offers you a much smoother ride. If you're
lucky, perhaps you'll kill a cyclist.
The funny thing was that you were the fourth
jerk to splash the sidewalk on the day you got me. I escaped the
first three but thought I saw a window of opportunity once they had
passed. I was wrong. Thank you for showing me the
error of my ways.
It's much colder now, and there are no longer
any puddles for you to drive through, which is sad. Let us both
hope for warmer days so that you may return to your campaign to
terrorise those pedestrians who, obviously, so richly deserve it.
Kari.CommentMonday, January 9, 2012: On Negativity
been sitting here trying to figure out what to Rant about today.
Every time I come up with a possible topic, I end up telling
myself, "No, I can't write on that
; it's too negative." I try something else, and it's too negative too. This has been going on for a while.
So now I'm wondering:
is it about negativity, exactly, that makes us assume it makes
someone's opinion less worthy? I know I'm often a bit too much of
a pessimist about things, but people do sometimes use that fact to
dismiss what I say. On the other hand, people who are
unrelentingly cheerful and optimistic are taken very seriously and
assumed to be in the right.
This may seem like the beginning of
another Kari is Feeling Sorry For Herself Again session, but it's
actually not. I'm genuinely interested in this phenomenon.
What makes Pollyanna more reliable than Eeyore? Why is
someone who always expects the worst automatically less accurate
than someone who always expects the best? As far as I know, there
is nothing in the physical laws of the universe that says that
sunshiney beamers who see the good in everything are more likely to be
right about what is going on than grumpy sulkers who are always looking
Maybe the myth of Cassandra is more than just a
clever bit of classical irony; we really do tend to regard the
Cassandras of the world as mere naysayers and Negative Nellies.
Frankly, it's probably self-defence. Sure, maybe the
volcano is going to erupt and kill us all, but if we're always harping
on it, we're missing out on enjoying the three or four hours left
before it happens. If we sing and dance through life, we don't
end up paralysed by the knowledge that no one lives forever.
People who do nothing but point out the negative tend to be
unhappy themselves, and they can be seen as spreading their unhappiness.
the other hand, it may not be entirely fair to place less of a value on
negativity. The people who launched the Titanic were pretty
optimistic. The people responsible for maintaining aircraft
might, in contrast, be regarded as having pessimism built into their
very jobs; if they just smiled and trusted that everything would turn
out okay, there would be a lot more plane crashes than there are.
The devout belief in Murphy's Law ultimately leads to stringent
safety standards and a lot of double-checking. Perhaps this
double-checking is unnecessary 99% of the time; it's the remaining 1%
where it comes in handy.
The prejudice against pessimism also
prompts some people to look askance at the grieving process.
Mourning leads to tears, denial, rage, confusion; certain
perpetually happy individuals think it should be possible to skip over
all those inconvenient reactions, and they express puzzlement when this
doesn't happen. The emotions somehow become the fault of the
mourner and stand as signs of weakness.
I am fully aware that it is bad to be negative all the time. However, I don't accept that the opposite--being positive
all the time, whether or not the situation warrants it--is an
improvement. Optimism is not strength, especially when it
persists in the face of the facts. Perhaps the ideal would be a
mixture: the ability to be either positive or negative at need.
I do think we should be able to recognise the necessity for
sadness and anger and suspicion of "too much of a good thing."
Sweeping negative emotions under the carpet may make them less
visible, but it doesn't make them go away or solve the problems that
have provoked them.CommentMonday, January 2, 2012: To Boldly Go Where Everyone Has Gone Before
Well, it's early 2012. It is a time of resolutions, apparently. Let me make one. But first, a story:
John Troutman, the creator of the webcomic Lit Brick
, which I follow and admire, has made a resolution
himself. Basically, he has declared that since his comic has existed for over a year and has gained what he has declared via Twitter
to be "1000ish readers," which he doesn't regard as anywhere near enough to count as success, Lit Brick
will be "entering a hiatus" that Mr. Troutman's tweets are pretty much
implying will last forever. This makes me rather sad, as Lit Brick
I discovered a few months ago, and which, due to a combination of
laziness and a complete lack of spare time, I have not added to my
links page--is devoted to reproducing the contents of the Norton Anthology of English Literature
four panels at a time. Mr. Troutman regularly describes his readership
as "niche," but I prefer to think of it as consisting of people capable
of finding this
funny. Okay, maybe it is
niche. If you remember the end of Beowulf
even a little bit, you will likely understand why that strip gives me the giggles.
completely understand the need not to continue with a project in which
one has lost faith; several of Mr. Troutman's comments have hinted at a
general discontent with the episodic nature of Lit Brick
and the frustration of not having a proper continuing storyline to work with.
However, the "my readership isn't growing" argument is one with which
I must respectfully beg to differ. I suppose this makes me a masochist
or maybe just delusional, but I've got to say it: West of Bathurst
has been running for five and a half years
and it has a few hundred readers at most. Does this mean I am going to
abandon it? Hell, no. I shall continue with my aggressively niche
comic until the story is finished, whenever the heck that might be, or
until my computer bursts into flame, which may very well happen first.
of us has the right of it? I honestly don't know. Do low
a project is no good? Do they mean that the person gaining them
should give up and try something more likely to be popular? It's
true that "success" in the webcomic world
equals "ability to gain enough readers that one can make a living via
merchandising and advertising," and it's also true that only a very few
webcomic creators possess such an ability. There are some fantastic
with huge readerships. There are also some terrible comics with
readerships. Conversely, there are some fantastic comics and
some terrible comics with small
readerships. Meh comics can be found
in both categories, as well as in between. Does popularity equal
success, and does success equal worth? Am I an idiot to spend all
this time creating a comic that, in the larger scheme of things, hardly
I don't care if I am. As far as I'm concerned, West of Bathurst
doesn't have to be Penny Arcade
(You know, now that I think of it, I've never
even portrayed characters playing video games. I think Baldwin is
probably a gamer, though.) It has only a few hundred readers?
and so do I. It's kind of fun to be a little fish in a big pond.
If you do something outrageous, there will be a mere few hundred
people who want to kill you.
I don't mean this as a criticism of Mr. Troutman, though I am
disappointed that there will be no more She-Jesus (don't ask).
He's got to do what he's got to do. His declaration just
got me thinking, and it has prompted me to declare:
I hereby resolve that West of Bathurst
will stubbornly continue, even if its website keeps going down and its
readers forget about it for months at a time. Have a happy New
Year.CommentMonday, December 26, 2011: Another Week of Not Ranting
10:30 p.m. on Christmas night, but since I was in Toronto two days ago
and am now in BC, it feels like 1:30 a.m. on Boxing Day morning.
Also, there have been small children going mad with excitement
all over the place since 5:00 a.m. I am tired and need to skip
the Rant. Next week, however, things should return to normal.CommentMonday, December 19, 2011: The Joy of Marking
afraid I don't have time for a Rant this week. I have marked 146
exams in the past two days, and I still have about twenty essays and
several hundred discussion responses to go before the mark-submission
deadline on Tuesday afternoon. Why didn't I finish my marking
earlier, you ask? That would be the fault of the 200 essays I had
to get through before I started the exams. "I just want to cry"
is probably the most coherent thing I'm capable of saying right now.
I do hope everyone else is having a great break. Imagine me
simultaneously glaring and weeping as I type that.CommentMonday, December 12, 2011: Bullying Mark Two
of all, I would like to thank everybody who has commented, both
publicly and privately, on last week's Rant. The subject is one
that is important to me. A lot of you have had similar
experiences, some much worse than mine. Some have been witnesses
of bullying rather than victims themselves. I have heard from
nobody who claims to have been a bully, but one of the interesting--and
terrifying--things about this issue is that the categories are not
mutually exclusive. In a recent Globe and Mail
article, a number of kids were asked to speak of their experience; the
majority of them identified themselves as belonging to at least two of
the three categories of "bully," "witness," and "victim." Some
claimed to be all three.
When you're ten years old and people
are hurting you, you want to hurt them back. Sometimes, you want
them to die. But the truth of the matter is that they're not
monsters. They're kids. They're louder or physically
stronger or more charismatic than you are. Often, they're just as
scared, and of the same things: of being singled out. Of
being laughed at. Of being bullied themselves.
If we want
to solve the problem, we need to stop treating the categories as
entirely separate, and we need to stop focusing solely on the victims.
Yes, the victims certainly need our help. They need
support; they need to know that the teachers are not just "letting kids
be kids." They need some assurance that they are not alone.
But bullying is not a natural disaster. If we simply teach
the victims to cope, we are accepting bullying as a fact of life,
something that will happen no matter what. We have to start
talking to the bullies too. Punishment isn't enough.
Punishment doesn't teach empathy. It also tends to drive
bullies to revenge.
Perhaps there will eventually be some way
for us to change our definition of "strength." Our society tends
to view the loudest, pushiest people as the strongest; we do not
highlight the strength necessary to choose not
to kick and shove one's way into the alpha position. In actual
fact, it's braver to refuse to taunt a classmate--thus risking scorn
oneself--than it is to join in on the ridicule.
In the last couple of weeks, I have noticed two sitcom episodes that have dealt with bullying, one on The Big Bang Theory
and one on Community
They are worth looking at briefly because they offer,
respectively, very conventional and rather unconventional
portrayals of bullies and their victims. There will be some spoilers below.The Big Bang Theory
a traditional multi-camera sitcom, offers a familiar portrait of
childhood bullying. The now adult victim, Leonard, is about as
typical a Hollywood nerd as it is possible to find: small, weak,
smart, glasses-wearing, suffering from various digestive
ailments. In the episode, he is contacted by a former bully who
wants to have drinks with him. The majority of the episode
consists of Leonard describing all the things the bully and various
other bullies did to him, to uproarious laughter from the studio
audience. The bullying incidents, some of which are genuinely
horrifying, are played for laughs. When the bully turns up, he is
a large, crude alcoholic who is clearly not very bright. His
drinking features heavily, implying karmic retribution for the
bullying. When Leonard finally confronts him, he seems
remorseful, though it later turns out that the remorse stemmed from the
drinking; he has forgotten it by the morning, at which time the
bullying--again played for laughs--resumes. The B plot involves
Leonard's next-door neighbour Penny being forced by her much nerdier
friends to realise that she was herself a bully in school. She
phones her former victims to try to pacify her conscience, but they all
reject her overtures. She continues to mock them (for laughs, of
course) even as she apologises.Community
is a less conventional comedy, and it takes a less conventional
approach. One of the protagonists, Jeff, is bothered by some
loud, obnoxious foosball players at his community college, and when he
tries to get them to stop, they humiliate him in a game of foosball.
He tries to persuade his friend Shirley, who is a foosball genius
but never plays, to teach him how to beat them. Neither Jeff nor
Shirley has played since childhood; both were once devoted to the game
but eventually driven away from it. In the course of their
training session, they discover they have a linked past: at
twelve, Shirley was the bully who tore into ten-year-old Jeff during a
game of foosball, abusing him so violently that she made him wet his
pants. He quit foosball because of the bullying; she quit because
the incident made her recognise herself as a bully. The
coincidence is, of course, contrived, but it leads to a foosball-themed
shouting match in which the two of them both scream out their anguish,
Jeff pointing out what the bullying did to him and Shirley countering
that she was trying to divert attention from her own difference.
The interesting bit is that the adult Shirley is a devoutly
Christian mother of three, while Jeff is an outwardly arrogant,
manipulative lawyer; in most stories, their positions as bully and
victim would be reversed. They reconcile at the end of the
trumps The Big Bang Theory
here by focusing on both bully and bullied without stereotyping either.
Both are portrayed as human beings, neither overly kind and good
nor ridiculously mean and rotten. Shirley has not been overtaken
by karmic retribution, and she is not identical to her twelve-year-old
self. Jeff, despite his seeming confidence, has been haunted by
the incident well into his thirties; by the end of the episode, the
viewer realises that Jeff's motivation for attacking the foosball
players in the first place must have been linked, perhaps
subconsciously, to his memories of Shirley's bullying. In The Big Bang Theory
on the other hand, everything is black and white. The bully is a
cardboard cut-out; I watched the episode only a couple of days ago, but
I've already forgotten his name. The bullying itself is clearly
meant to be hilarious. In Penny's plot, Penny's obliviousness is
mocked, but the audience laughs just as loudly when she is making fun
of someone's stutter as it does when she is demonstrating her own
selfishness. Leonard's lists of the bully's physically violent
treatment of him elicits more laughter, and the episode ends with the
bully once more asserting his physical superiority by chasing both
Leonard and his roommate down several flights of stairs in their own
apartment building. The episode gives us the bully as natural
disaster and simultaneously provides us with the false but doubtless
comforting fiction that bullies will end up as alcoholic losers (unless
they are female and pretty). Community
offers no karma and, in the actual bullying scene, no laughter.
It's still a very funny episode, but it doesn't take the easy way
I'm sure I could write on this subject for another year or
so, but I'd better stop now. Please do keep thinking about this
issue. If nobody thinks about it, nothing will ever be done.CommentMonday, December 5, 2011: "Kids Will Be Kids": A RefutationNote: I'm going to start posting my weekly Rants on the WoB Talk blog as
well as on this page. Some people do like to comment
on them, and these comments tend to confuse people who just want to
talk about the comics. I'll continue to post the fortnightly comics
threads, but Ranty threads will be appearing on Mondays as well.
The permanent link for today's Rant is here.
week's Rant is likely to be less goofy and sarcastic than usual.
I apologise for the lack of ironic humour. However, this
issue is one I've been thinking about a lot. It seems to be
ending up in the news quite frequently lately (I think the Toronto Star
may have just done a series on it, but I've seen it elsewhere too).
have an unfortunate habit of reacting to social situations with
impulsive and bitter references to Bad Things That Happened to Me in
High School. When I do so, my acquaintances tend to respond by
telling me to get over it. High school was a long time ago; why
am I still complaining about stuff that happened to me when I was
fourteen? I should grow up and move on with my life.
Theoretically, these people are correct. I'm thirty-six,
not fourteen. I was in high school decades ago. There is no
logical reason I should still be harping on that time of my life, which
is over and done with. My references to the "unfairness" of high
school doubtless come across as self-centred and pointless.
The fact that I can analyse my own behaviour like this is actually a symptom of what I am about to tell you.
was bullied--viciously, unrelentingly, mercilessly--between the ages of
eight and sixteen. I expect that in realistic terms, the bullying
began in a minor way in kindergarten and didn't truly end until I
graduated from high school, but I have a crystal-clear memory of what I
think of as the beginning of the terror: the moment in grade 3
when one of my classmates discovered that my last name sounded quite a
bit like "moron." In grades 11 and 12, on the other hand, I was
still ostracised somewhat, but I also managed to find some similarly
ostracised friends, and we formed our own nerdy little defensive group
of outcasts. It was in between these two periods that my life
became a living hell, and no, I do not use that term lightly.
"Kids will be kids," adults say indulgently. Of course
there's some bullying, but it's harmless; it's just children squabbling
amongst themselves. Adults who talk like this were rarely
ever bullied themselves. Being the class pariah is
terrifying. There is no other word for it. The pariah is despised
She is ugly, fat, stinky, clumsy, nerdy, stuck-up. She
spits when she talks, and that's hilarious. She is blamed for
every fart, every belch. Her clothes are wrong. Her
opinions are stupid. She has no right to speak; she has no right
to play. If she has a friend, that friend must be weaned away
from her. She must be singled out. She must be made to see
how worthless she is, how incredibly lame her achievements are.
Anyone who treats her kindly must be ostracised too.
wasn't the only kid in my cohort who was treated like a worthless piece
of garbage by the others; there were a number of us low on the totem
pole. We weren't friends. A couple of girls who were mocked
for being poor stuck together, but because
they were sticking together and therefore counted as a group, they saw
themselves as superior to me. I was rejected even by the other
did play with some other kids in my neighbourhood; they tolerated me
but didn't really like me. None of the members of this loose
neighbourhood gang were in my class at school. I had one "best"
friend between grades
five and seven. Let's call her Amelia. She wasn't
academically gifted, but she was nice; we used to play together almost
every day. In grade seven, when the bullying was at its height,
one of the boys made a loud, crude joke about me in front of
the class, and Amelia laughed. That was the end of my single
real childhood friendship. Looking back now, I realise that
Amelia's reaction was probably spontaneous and that she may not even
have thought about how it might have affected me. At the time, as
a lonely twelve-year-old who spent every day in an atmosphere of
hostility and mockery, I saw Amelia's laughter as the worst sort of
The bullying took many forms, most emotional rather
than physical. I couldn't open my mouth without being mocked.
Everything I said was proof that I had no right to exist.
I was "Kari Moron," the ugly, fat, smelly nerd. I wasn't
athletic, which made the boys laugh at me. I wasn't pretty, which
made the girls laugh at me. My parents told me that junior high school would be better because all the bullies
would have something else to occupy them and would lose interest in me.
In fact, the bullies made friends with other bullies and
graduated from name-calling to physical intimidation. One boy
walked past me in class and violently punched me in the arm. A
group of boys followed me home from school, throwing rocks at me,
aiming for my bum, since that was "funny." A boy grabbed the
front of my shirt, yanked it open--breaking my necklace in the
process--and shoved a handful of holly leaves down my front. A
couple of girls took me aside in class and described in detail what was
wrong with me and how I could fix it. A group of girls sat in
front of my locker and refused to move.
I occasionally felt in physical danger from my classmates, the
people I was expected to interact with on a daily basis. A lot of
this stuff may seem relatively trivial, but imagine enduring it day
after day for eight years.
were periods when I cried every day. I hated going to school; I
told my parents I wanted to stay home. Contemplating another day
as the class punching bag made me feel nauseous. There was
nothing I could do to stop it. My parents advised me
to "ignore" the bullying. Any bullied child will tell you
that ignoring the abuse just makes it worse. So does
If your classmates want to bully you,
they will bully you. Complaining to a teacher is one of the
stupidest things you can do. Snitches do not prosper in
elementary or high school. I occasionally had to beg my parents not
to phone the parents of the children who had been tormenting me.
In retrospect, I suppose I was just enabling the bullying, but I
was also afraid of what the bullies would do to me if their
parents punished them.
When I was a very little girl, I was
happy and outgoing, probably almost obnoxiously so; I wasn't afraid to
insert my opinion into any conversation. I even remember having a
crush on a boy and actually telling him to his face that I liked
him. Adults tended to describe me as "precocious."
By the time I graduated
from high school, I was seething with internal rage that I didn't
quite dare express aloud; when it escaped, I was ashamed, immediately
assuming that I was in the wrong. I had no self-esteem or
self-confidence. I knew I was a failure. Even when I was
good at things, I knew these things were essentially worthless. I
would never have dreamed of telling a boy I liked him; I would have
expected to be laughed at and publicly humiliated if I had. I
hated almost everything about myself. I thought of myself as grubby and ugly and insignificant. I was aware that my
opinions were always wrong, that my ideas were always stupid, that I
didn't really deserve to win at anything. I did become resentful
when I felt I had been treated unfairly, but the resentment was always
accompanied by the thought: "But was it really unfair?
Maybe it wasn't. Maybe you're wrong again." I knew my
natural state was to be wrong about things.
I can look back on this time of my life and see why
I felt the way I felt. What I can't do is stop it from affecting the way I feel now.
still feel like a failure. I still feel as if my thoughts are
less than everybody else's. When I express my opinion aloud, I
expect it to be rejected; I expect everyone to be wondering at my
presumption. Even now, as I write this Rant, I am worried that
its readers will roll their eyes and assume that Kari is just being
Kari again. I tend to get clingy with my friends; when they draw
away from me, I take it as personally as I did the day someone made a
joke about me in elementary school, and my "best friend" laughed.
I have never been in a relationship. I would never in a
million years announce to a guy that I had a
crush on him. I still feel ugly. I'm incapable of small
talk or of interacting comfortably with strangers, especially strangers
I see as being superior to me (which would cover almost everyone).
I become angry very
easily, and I react badly to the anger in public, then assume any
confrontation is almost entirely my own fault; I also assume that
everyone else is blaming me as well. I expect not to succeed.
I approach the world so negatively that everybody sees me as a
pessimist. In reality, the pessimism is my way of steeling myself
against the inevitable disappointment.
I am never
going to "get over it."
It's hard to "get over"
eight years of being told by the people you see every day that you
don't matter. It makes you who you are. Maybe it shouldn't.
Maybe kids really will just be kids; maybe the fact that it still
bothers me genuinely means that I am weak. Maybe if I were a
better person, I wouldn't let my appalling childhood shape me like this.
maybe that appalling childhood is something I need to accept, not so
that I can forget it but so that I can acknowledge that it is part of
me. Many people seem to be willing to admit to the influence of
the past only when that past is a happy one or involves positive
aspects such as a personal, individual triumph over a bully. Many
others will even now be thinking that my experience wasn't that
bad. I didn't grow up in a dictatorship. I didn't see
family members tortured or killed. I had rights and privileges; I
had enough to eat. I had a loving family and a place to live.
I had an education and teachers who cared about me. This is
all true. But you can't take a happy little girl and spend eight
years telling her she is a waste of space, then expect her to remain a happy
little girl. If you dismiss her experience because she never got
over it, you are implying that you could have withstood similar abuse
without effect. I would invite you to try.
Kids will be
kids; that doesn't mean kids will be reasonable or kind, and it doesn't
mean their "play" is harmless. It also doesn't mean that their
victims will ever "get over it." For better or for worse, the
bullying made me me
I'm not trying to excuse my own bad behaviour or claim I
shouldn't take responsibility for being cowardly and, occasionally,
anti-social; I just want you to know how hard some things are to
can't even say that the current me is any worse a person than a
non-bullied me would have been. She's certainly a different one,
and most likely a much sadder and more bitter one. She is
undoubtedly less well adjusted and more difficult to get along with.
But she is probably also more empathetic, more willing to see the
point of view of the underdog, even if she doesn't always show this
side of herself to her acquaintances. She is a better critical
since she approaches everything from at least two perspectives
simultaneously. When she takes refuge in sarcasm, she does feel
bad about it; in fact, she feels a bit like a bully herself. She
hates this aspect of her personality more than all the others combined.
she does very much hope that children--or adults--who find it necessary
to mock the "weird kids" in order to make themselves feel better will put
themselves, for just an instant, in the shoes of the girl sitting alone
in the corner because she is "different" somehow.Monday, November 28, 2011: Zombie Season
been sick for two weeks now; I'm getting better, but my voice is still
not 100%, my nose remains stuffed up, and I occasionally go off into
violent bouts of coughing for no particular reason. What I've
mainly noticed, however, is that I'm not by any means alone. In
fact, it sometimes seems as if most of the people around me are sick.
go to class, and half my students are away. Sure, some of them
are skipping because it's the end of term and they are getting really
tired of Canadian short stories, but about seventy-five percent of the
ones who do show up are cough, sneezing, and/or rasping. There's
a guy coughing--that hollow, desperate sort of coughing that denotes
more than just a polite clearing of the throat--in the grocery store.
The streets are full of coughing and sniffling and general
misery. People give each others sad, knowing smiles. I have
an appointment that involves both me and the other person clutching
tissue boxes and blowing our noses every two minutes or so.
Nobody seems to be feeling very well.
I know it's flu
season, but it doesn't seem fair that this illness has hit in
mid-to-late November. I'm so far behind on my marking that it
isn't even funny. My students are preparing for their exams.
Presumably, retailers are rather busy at the moment too, despite
the lack of Black Friday in Canada.* Why do we all have to get
If I end up
with another cold before Christmas, that will be my third this term,
and I shall be very angry and make vague, impotent threats. It's
all we can ever really do when we catch colds.*Except
online. Why did I receive so many Black Friday ads from Canadian
retailers last week? There is no Black Friday here!
Christmas shopping starts in Canada on November 1st! Nobody
in Canada is going to put all the waffle irons on sale for $2 apiece at
midnight, causing a riot! We have to wait until Boxing Day for
Monday, November 21, 2011: Speechless in Toronto
few minutes ago, I had got quite a ways into a bitter Rant about how when
you have laryngitis, people tend to pretend you're not there.
However, realising that it was probably an unfair accusation born
of frustration, pain, and the knowledge that I was going to have to
give a two-hour lecture on Harry Potter in a whisper, I deleted
it. It's true, however, that people don't know how to deal with
someone who has laryngitis. I expect many of these people have
never had laryngitis themselves. How does that even happen?
I've had it (the full-blown variety, whereby the voice vanishes
entirely) at least four or five times. I wouldn't describe it as
"fun"--in fact, I would describe it as "maddening to the point where if
I still had a voice, I would scream loudly and try to knock down a wall
with my head"--but it's a fact of my life. How are there people
who have escaped it? If they are smug in my presence, am I
allowed to hit them? My first impulse would, of course, be to
yell at them, but somehow, I'm expecting that wouldn't work out.
thing I learn anew every time I have laryngitis is that when you can't
talk, your facial expressions become progressively more exaggerated.
The necessity to communicate entirely with your face and hands
leads to some truly remarkable grimaces and a lot of fruitless
flapping. During the Massey Belles' performance of "The Night Pat
Murphy Died" on Friday, one of our singers started on the wrong note,
and I apparently terrified him into stopping dead when I whipped
around and scowled at him silently. I shall doubtless lose this
superpower when my voice returns.
Tonight, I have some limited
voice function back. I sound rather like Mickey Mouse, and I
doubt I'll be able to speak for more than a few seconds at a time
before my vocal chords begin to swell again, but it's nice not to be
totally silent any more. Now just watch these be Famous Last
Words; I'll probably wake up in the morning to find I've caught another
cold. If anyone has something I can punch, let me know.Monday, November 14, 2011: Stupid, Stupid, Stupid, Stupid, Stupid...
sick again. I think I need not to write a Rant today. My
head hurts, and my throat hurts, and everything is stupid.Monday, November 7, 2011: Marking is Pain, Princess
the course of the last ten days or so, I have marked about 155
midterms. On my best day, I got through forty; on my second-best
day, I managed thirty-four. By the time I finished up yesterday,
my right arm hurt so badly that I was only able to write notes for
about ten seconds at a time. I had to lug my accordion around
today, and I learned, in doing so, that even my elbow hurt.
know marking is a necessity, but I wish there were some way of doing it
directly with my brain without getting my hand involved at all.
Why has this technology not yet been developed? Hordes of
teachers the world over would be grateful if someone invented a way to
beam thoughts directly onto exam papers. Of course, there would
be problems, but I'm sure the program could be taught to translate
"This paper has no redeeming qualities and may yet cause me to weep in
despair at what is apparently the current state of the human race" as
"You may need to work a bit on your verb tenses."Monday, October 31, 2011: Once Upon a Graaaaaaargh
For some inexplicable reason, television has caught the fairy-tale bug lately; two new fairy-tale-themed shows, Once Upon a Time
have recently launched. I am passionate about fairy tales and am
always willing to try new fairy-tale adaptations. Despite common
belief, I'm not really a purist; I don't think it's possible to be a
purist with fairy tales, which have changed constantly down through the
centuries in order to retain relevance to the societies in which they
have been told. My discontent with many of the Disney adaptations
lies not with my feeling that Disney has "adapted the stories wrong"
but with my disagreement with Disney's forced imposition of some rather
repellant morals onto the stories, especially where female characters
are concerned. I do very much like some of Disney's films, but
others make my want to punch things. I also get agitated when
people equate "fairy tales" with "Disney cartoons," as if the older
material has been erased by the popularity of the Disney films.
Many people who have grown up with Disney have no idea that "good
vs. evil" is actually not an inherent property of fairy tales or that
the "handsome prince" is less a typical fairy-tale hero than he is a
minor character who acts as a reward for the protagonist of the
female-centred story. At any rate, while I don't object to
Disney's adaptations per se, I do object to their dominance, which is
so prevalent that when people talk about creating "darker and edgier"
fairy tales, it is assumed that they are doing something new, not
returning to something very old.
I say all this because I want to make it clear that I was quite happy to view the pilots of Once Upon a Time
both of which I thought would probably be fun to watch. My
impression, after having watched the first episode of each, is as
follows:Once Upon a Time
infuriates me to a degree I associate with Glee
only more so. It's not so much that the show works on the
assumption that the Disney versions are canon--though that's certainly
a distracting element--as it is that the show's writers are apparently
setting out to vilify everyone involved in the adoption process.
I don't really like the word "offensive," which is used far too
often in ad hominem arguments, but I'm not sure what other word applies
here. The writers have apparently set out to insult birth parents
(the birth mother in the show is accused of throwing her son away like
trash; a kinder character also implies that she has caused permanent
damage to him by abandoning him), adoptive parents (the adoptive mother
is the patented fairy-tale Wicked Queen, and she all but states that
she doesn't love her son), and
adoptees (who are apparently deeply troubled and desperately in need of
their birth parents). As an adoptee, I am used to a certain
amount of prejudice in American film and television, but this is more
blatant than anything I have ever seen. The writers also treat
fairy tales with contempt and laziness by not bothering to go beyond
Disney's black-and-white world view, but for me, the fairy-tale idiocy
is eclipsed by the cruelty of the adoption plot. The show's basic
set-up is also stolen quite blatantly from the excellent comic series Fables
is an improvement on Once Upon a Time
, though frankly, almost anything would be. It has a lot of good bits, but it could be better. Basically, it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer
with a forgettable male Everyman in the lead. Part of the reason Buffy
worked was that the protagonist was a teeny blonde cheerleader-type
high-school girl who found herself thrust to the margins by her
unwanted role as the "chosen one." Buffy was simply an appealing
character, and at the time, no one had seen anything like her before.
, Nick has no
real personality; he is characterised mostly by his bafflement.
Every other character presented thus far has been more
interesting than him, from his partner to his girlfriend (who has had
perhaps one line) to the "big bad wolf" he is obviously on the way to
befriending. However, what frustrates me the most about this
programme, which does have plenty of potential, is that I want Nick's
Aunt Marie to be the protagonist. Aunt Marie is fantastic
. Who wouldn't
want to watch a show about a little bald cancer-ridden old lady who
goes up against scythe-wielding death-faces in hand-to-hand combat?
Why hasn't there been a show about a little bald cancer-ridden
monster-fighter before? Marie is clearly going to pop her clogs
very soon, which is simply too bad. I would take her as a main
character over Nick any day. As for the fairy tales: so
far, they seem like an excuse for the show to line up a bunch of
monsters to be slain. Where are Xander and Willow when you need
I'll continue to give Grimm
a chance, but I'm not sure about Once Upon a Time
which left me crying with anger after I viewed the pilot. I know
I shouldn't take TV shows so personally, but I'm a bit tired of the
convention that makes it all right to treat adoptees and their parents
like freaks of nature.Monday, October 24, 2011: And Now I Have a Terrible Headache
don't think I shall be able to Rant much tonight. Just looking at
the computer screen for more than thirty seconds at a time hurts
profoundly. The headache is basically the culmination of my many
activities today, from marking to cartooning to random poster creation
to make-up-exam composition to essay-assignment-sheet production to
lugging five instruments halfway across Toronto and playing most of
them for an hour and a half on an empty stomach. It's all sort of
added up. I do need to do more marking tonight, but I'm honestly
not sure I can. This is the kind of headache that just makes me
want to cry.
Ah well. Maybe there will be a real Rant next
week. I would like not to have another headache like this any
time soon.Monday, October 17, 2011: Well, This Isn't Working
have attempted to write a Rant today. Every try has come out
bitter, vindictive, and swimming in terrible wrath. Since
everything I have done this week has apparently been wrong, I see no
reason this Rant should turn out any differently. I thus leave
you with a picture of a tentacled monster from a LARP I was in a couple
of years ago:
Monday, October 10, 2011: On Pie
mouth is made out of a toilet seat, a fact that pleases me very much.
I got to work a couple of the tentacles. None of this has
anything to do with anything going on in my life right now, a fact that
is also good. Frankly, this was simply the most random photograph
I could find on my computer. I need to go put a new drum in my
printer now. I hope everyone else is having an okay week.
is it about pie that's so comforting? I don't mean just apple
pie, either. I actually can't stand apple pie, and I'm not all
too fond of that other standby, cherry. I am allergic to both
apples and cherries in their raw forms, so it is sad that I find it
difficult to choke down the cooked versions as well, but cooked apples
and cherries tend to make me gag, not figuratively but literally; I am
actually unable to chew and swallow them without having to fight an
almost uncontrollable urge to hurl. Other types of pie are
generally fine, as long as they're fresh and have not yet begun to
dissolve into mush. Blueberry, strawberry, raspberry, pecan,
pumpkin, chocolate: they are so very, very bad for me, but they
taste so very, very good. Eating a nice piece of pie fresh from
the over is like being hugged by your mother, only in the form of food.
Yes, this sounds slightly odd, but you know what I mean.
generally spend Thanksgiving alone. My family is on the other
side of the country; my friends have their own plans. I have a
hard time getting through Thanksgiving without shedding an awful lot of
tears, actually. The only good bit of the holiday is the pie.
I don't bake it because that would take effort, but pumpkin
and apple pies abound at various grocery stores. Luckily, pumpkin
pie is one of my favourites. When I was a kid and went for
Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents', there would always be pumpkin
pie smothered liberally in whipped cream. My sister went for the
lemon pie, but I always chose the pumpkin. There were other
things served, of course--turkey, stuffing, ham, corn, potatoes--but
the pie was the meal's crowning glory. To me, pumpkin pie tastes
of those evenings with my family.
I may be alone in wishing that
Thanksgiving weekend would hurry up and end already. However, at
least I have my pie. Seeing as there's only one of me, I'll be
eating it for some time to come.Monday, October 3, 2011: Ode to the Accordion
limping along for a year and a half with a broken accordion, I finally
got my act together and took it in to be fixed. The problem was
that the air-release button (which allows one to expand or contract the
bellows without making any sound besides a sustained
"FSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS") had fallen inside the instrument, resulting in a
breach in the airtightness of the bellows. I could still play the
accordion, but every note was accompanied by a hissing noise, and the
bellows would leak air constantly if I didn't hold them in place.
The problem was getting the accordion to the out-of-the-way
repair shop, which required an appointment and a lengthy subway trip.
I could have done it ages ago, but I just never did.
the repaired instrument back yesterday, and today, I have been happily
playing at full volume during lecture-writing breaks.* I know
nobody else cares, and many people think I am insane, but I just need
to express my affection for the accordion. I've been playing for
sixteen or seventeen years now. Unlike the ukulele, an instrument
I have also been playing since long before anybody began to realise it
was anything other than a toy, the accordion is still not particularly
well regarded in North America and frequently substitutes for the
bagpipes in jokes about musical instruments as instigators of
unbearable torture. I've lost count of the number of comic
strips, comedy routines, television shows, films, books, stories, and
probably even songs designed to mock the accordion. I remember
even catching a glimpse of some episode or other of The X-Factor
or Britain's Got Talent
or something similar, probably while I was researching reality TV for
my television course last winter, in which the Requisite Acerbic Member
of the Judging Team claimed, after a tiny
this-is-supposed-to-be-hilarious clip of two people quite competently
playing a duet on their accordions, that the very fact that they were
playing accordions at all disqualified them. The only positive
pop-cultural accordion references I can think of are: 1)
Weird Al Yankovic plays one, damn it; 2) so does Daniel Handler,
a.k.a. Lemony Snicket; 3) the short-lived British sci-fi spoof Hyperdrive
includes a character who plays a sort of space accordion, but frankly,
he isn't very good and generally uses the instrument's "automatic"
setting, which corrects his errors or simply plays the music for him.
Two of these "references" are cheats, as they are really just the
names of prominent people who play the accordion well, and the third
isn't really positive at all, as the accordion in question is played
incompetently by a buffoon.
I find all this quite sad, as the
accordion is actually a pretty versatile instrument. What people
do often seem to object to is the kind of music often played on it.
Who says a particular instrument can only be used for a
particular kind of music? Am I restricted forever to polkas
because of my chosen instrument? Why is the harmonica considered
so much cooler than the accordion, though they do, in many ways,
produce similar sounds?**
At any rate, I shall continue to play
the accordion, and if you insist on laughing at me, that's up to you.
If you want to give the poor slandered accordion a chance,
however, I encourage you to do so.*I hope my neighbours are not preparing to break down my door and kill me.
sure there is a legitimate answer involving jazz and note-bending and
things like that, but I'm still going to be sulky about it.
Monday, September 26, 2011: Negative Rant, Positive Rant
do Rant negatively quite often, so today's Rant will contain one
negative item and one positive item, just to prove that despite my
reputation, I can be both negative and positive about societal change.
So there.Negative Rant:
Dear City of Toronto:
know what? Not everybody has a freaking cell phone. Your
systematic removal of public telephones from the city is more than a
little maddening for those of us who don't go around with tiny mobile
devices in our pockets all the time. Last weekend, I ended up
towing a huge accordion up and down Bay Street, crying
because I couldn't find the building in which I was supposed to meet my
friend; I also couldn't find a phone so that I could call him and
ask him where the hell the building was. I understand that Bay
Street is occupied mostly by well-off businesses and ridiculously
expensive condominiums, and you are thus probably assuming that
everybody who sets foot on the street owns a cell phone, but thank you
ever so much for making less flush people feel unwelcome there.
I've noticed that there are still public phones in subway
stations and, in fact, in my neighbourhood, both of which tend to be
frequented by people who cannot afford million-dollar condos.
It's nice to know we are encouraged to stick to our kind and not
soil the hallowed monied neighbourhoods with our despised presence.
lack of public telephones in, you know, public spaces would be a bit
more understandable if the idea of the public telephone were brand new,
but you have actually been systematically removing
phone booths from the streets of Toronto for years. In other
words, the booths were already there, but you've taken them away
because they cost you money, and you
don't know anyone who needs them. I hope your damn phone battery
runs out on Bay Street next week, Faceless Public Servant.Positive Rant:
am continually amazed by the inventiveness of the clever people who
have realised how trendy cloth shopping bags have become. These
bags have been around for years, but the tax on plastic bags has
propelled them into the spotlight and shifted the public perception of
them from "Oh, that's a good idea...I should get one of those
eventually" to "I MUST HAVE CLOTH BAGS IMMEDIATELY." When I was
in Calgary for the summer a couple of years ago, I noticed that these
bags were very difficult to find. In Toronto, they're everywhere.
I own far too many of them. They're just so very difficult
to resist. Also, Sobeys was giving them away in a promotion last
The thing is...companies have realised that these bags
offer endless possibilities. You can make them in different
shapes and sizes. You can print different images on them.
They must be absurdly cheap to produce. Sobeys has the bags
in at least three different sizes and at least six different patterns;
it also offers "thermal" versions of the bags designed to keep your
food warm, plus an entirely different sort of bag that can be folded up
into a tiny little package and tucked away into a pouch. Sobeys
is really quite enthusiastic about this whole bag thing.
one beats Shoppers Drug Mart for Cloth Bag Ingenuity. Shoppers
has the various sizes, the various patterns, the pouch bags, and the
thermal bags, but yesterday, I discovered yet another permutation of
the Shoppers cloth bag. I had gone to Long and McQuade for a sale
and had foolishly taken my bike with me; the foolishness became
apparent after I went mad and bought some bongo drums. I had
always wanted bongo drums, and these ones were bright red, damn it.
I have a thing for bright red instruments. I own two bright
red accordions, a bright red low D whistle, a bright red high C
whistle, a bright red djembe, and a bright red simplified melodica,
plus a deep red Xaphoon (bright red wasn't an option). I once
tried to purchase a ukulele that was half bright red and half white
(all in natural wood, interestingly), but someone sniped me on eBay.
As far as I'm concerned, happiness is a bright red musical
instrument. The bright red bongos were impossible to resist.
However, they were also extremely heavy and did not come with a
carrying case. I knew I would have to get home via subway, and I
needed some way of carrying the bongos in one hand while guiding the
bike with the other.
Fortunately, there was a Shoppers across
the street from the music store. I went there in the vague hope
that I would be able to pick up a couple of cloth bags and double them
up for strength. I would have done so if I hadn't spotted
Shoppers' latest attempt to suck in people like me who simply can't
resist those damn bags: a cloth bag with wheels
. With wheels
, I say. It works like those shopping carts you see everywhere, except without the actual cart.
it was inevitable: I had to have the wheely bag. As it
turned out, it was the most practical possible way of getting the
bongos home intact, as they were too heavy to hang comfortably on the
bike's handlebars. It's probably a good thing I didn't go for the
Yes, I realise that these bags are a cynical
cash grab capitalising on pseudo-environmentalist populism, but I still
like them, and I approve of the idea of bags with wheels. Long
live cloth-bag creativity.Unexpected Positive Addendum:
Word on the Street this afternoon, I spent quite a lot of time sitting
on the ground drawing comics. At one point, two girls who looked
about ten started peering over my shoulder and commenting on my work.
They eventually sat down beside me and told me all about the
comics their parents had bought for them; they asked me what I was
drawing and what my various pens were for. They were very excited
about seeing someone actually drawing comics, and one of them called
her dad over to see. The dad did ask me a question that always
infuriates me--"Why do you pronounce your name 'Kah-ri' and not
'Carrie'?"--but I suppose it wasn't his fault. He probably
thought I was just being pretentious until I explained to him that my
family was, in fact, Norwegian. At any rate, it is oddly awesome
to have two small girls deciding you are their new best friend because
you have been quietly drawing comics in a park. It kind of made
my day.Monday, September 19, 2011: Fun with Formulae (concl.)
the thrilling conclusion of my series on how it is actually possible to
create original stories that people will like, I shall move away from
film animation and, in "honour" of Glee
's third series, which begins this week, deal with television for a bit.
I know I have Ranted about Glee
before, and I'll try not to repeat the same tired old arguments. In this case, however, Glee
seems to me to exemplify the problem I highlighted in Part 1 of this
little collection of essays: the tendency of writers, producers,
and directors to substitute "new" and "exciting" surface details for
fundamental originality. While Up
takes a common plot--the coming-of-age adventure--and adds a unique
thematic spin to it by delaying the coming of age by about seventy
years, films such as Igor
merely sprinkle equally common plots with crazy, crazy settings,
assumedly on the assumption that most eight-year-olds aren't going to
notice they're watching the same story over and over again.
in my opinion, does something similar. It presents itself as an
"edgy" show that provides a clever, ironic look at American high-school
By drawing on popular music from a number of genres--from straight pop to hip-hop to Broadway--Glee
explores the dynamics in what is assumedly meant to be a typical high
school. We get all the high-school-related issues covered decades
before in the various incarnations of Degrassi
(teen pregnancy, cliques, drugs, alcohol, dating, homosexuality, you
name it), plus an extra focus on the hang-ups and foibles of some of
the teachers. However, we get these issues as filtered through
pop music and sprinkled with Magic Realism Dust. Many viewers and
critics call Glee
It does have the requisite elements; it portrays a
larger-than-life version of one aspect of American society, in the
process revealing the cracks in the surface of both that one aspect and
the society as a whole.
However, I do see Glee
as leaning more towards Igor
than it does towards Up
. As I have previously posited, Glee
pretends to be from the perspective of freaks and geeks while actually
giving us jocks and cheerleaders. One of the reasons Canadians
are proud of the old Degrassi
, despite its inherent corniness, is that while American teenagers were eating up the plastic, skewed Beverly Hills 90210
Canadian kids were watching a fourteen-year-old who was not from an
appallingly rich family get preggers and deal with the consequences.
rather than 90210
in giving us mostly kids from lower-middle-class families, many of them
broken, but it pushes the American Dream so hard that after a while, it
begins to feel as if an anvil is repeatedly being dropped on our heads.
LOOK, says Glee
THESE KIDS ARE DISADVANTAGED. DO YOU SEE US MAKING THEM
DISADVANTAGED? DO YOU NOTICE THE WAY WE ARE CLEARLY BEATING THEM
DOWN INTO THE DIRT? WON'T IT FEEL SO MUCH BETTER WHEN THEY
It kind of won't. The Glee
characters feel like popular kids in disguise. They're walking
around with little signs on their foreheads--"poor" and "gay" and
"unpopular" and "fat" and "handicapped" and "delinquent" and "pregnant
at 16"--but they're not convincing in the roles. Their collective
goal in the show is to get the rest of the school to realise that
they're worthy of being popular too. While they claim they've
accepted their outcast status, they never stop working to shed it.
Realistic? Sure. Sending a message that unpopular
kids are people too? Not so much. Unpopular kids are potential
people who will eventually emerge from their cocoons as beautiful butterflies and take the American Dream by storm.
is a difference between surface and essence. Too many popular
films and television shows choose to change the former rather than the
latter, paying lip service to an "edgy" idea but really just telling
the same tired old story that has been told for decades. I find
it sad to read newspaper comics now, but at least many of them are
honest about being stuck in the 1950s forever. I do hope we can
eventually dig beneath the surface and produce more original works with
popular appeal. If Pixar can do it, so can others.Monday, September 12, 2011: Fun with Formulae (cont.)
week, I discussed how recent animated films seemed to be substituting
quirky surface details for actual creativity. This week, I would
like to take a brief look at a recent animated film that has done
(almost) everything right so that with luck, the difference becomes
I'll start with the negatives first, just to get them out of the way. I love Pixar's Up
to bits, but I do find the lack of female characters frustrating. This film fails the Bechdel test
with a resounding crash. Yes, I know that not every story ever told has to include female characters, but the point with Up
is that it so easily could. There is no reason we couldn't follow
Ellie's story rather than Carl's. There is no reason Russell
couldn't be a girl. I've heard people claim that an old man /
little girl combo would be creepy, but gosh, thanks for the double
standard. Old man / little girl is creepy, but old man / little
boy isn't? What about old woman / little boy or, heaven forbid,
old woman / little girl? There is nothing in the story that
requires the protagonists to be male; they simply are because "male" is
considered a neutral category in Western literature. The only
female characters in this film are a dead woman and a large bird.
Even the many talking dogs are exclusively male; it's difficult
to see how there can possibly be so many of them, as Muntz doesn't seem
to have a single bitch in his pack. Pixar, I adore you, but come
the hell on.
However, what Up
does well, it does very, very well. It is known for having
audiences howling with grief within the first ten minutes; the
introductory montage is extremely nicely done and allows the audience
to establish a connection with Carl without really ever hearing him
speak. Carl himself is a refreshingly unexpected hero, a
cane-wielding old man who just wants to be left alone with the memories
of his dead wife and his regret that he was never quite able to give
her what she wanted. This is, please note, a children's film, and
it has an elderly protagonist who has given up hope. Carl is a
far cry from the quirky-outsider-young-man-with-talent who keeps
popping up as the Patented Animated Hero these days.
young character sets off into the world to seek his fortune, we know
what's coming. He'll go through many trials and tribulations,
then slay some sort of monster and settle down for a nice happily ever
after with a princess equivalent. When an eighty-year-old
curmudgeon sets off into the world to seek his fortune, we're less sure
what to expect. Carl's journey is also complicated by the
presence of a Wilderness Explorer named Russell who is determined to
"assist the elderly" and earn himself a merit badge. The
interactions between Carl and Russell are those of a reluctant mentor
and his protege, but whereas in a traditional plot, Russell would be in
the spotlight, here, it's the mentor character whose growth is
important. One reason it's slightly tragic that Carl is not
female is that he is, in a way, sending himself over the rainbow, an
elderly Dorothy setting grimly out for Oz even though he half believes
it's too late to get there.
As with most good stories, Up
offers not only external conflict--mainly between Carl and his idol
Muntz, but also between Carl and Russell--but internal: Man vs.
Man but also Man vs. Self. Carl has to learn to let go, not of
Ellie herself but of his own rigid association of Ellie with their
house and the dream that never did quite pan out. What Ellie
always really wanted was adventure, and in the end, Carl begins to live
for the present, not the future or the past; he accepts that he is on
an adventure now
, even if it
isn't quite the one he thought he wanted. His growth is not
hammered into our heads; we see it gradually in the sacrifice of the
house and its contents. Yes, Carl's redemption is predictable,
but by the time it happens, we are so invested in him that we don't
care. Since Carl himself is a unique, living character, the plot
grows from his personality instead of forcing him to march to its beat.Up
is not perfect; it does contain some pretty cliched elements, and it's
got that worrying lack of gender diversity. However, its
imaginative plot and reliance on character development allow it to
transcend the dreariness of Hollywood animation and give us something
simultaneously old and new. I just hope that Pixar continues in
this direction instead of going the lazy Cars
route. I'm looking forward to Brave
the guy who sarcastically shouted, "Work it, baby!" at me as I biked
home tonight: you know which part of my anatomy you can bite,
right? I'll give you a hint: it's behind me, and it's made
of shiny metal.Monday, September 5, 2011: Fun with Formulae
couple of days ago, when I was slogging through the boring bits of my
colour comic, I watched a pair of animated films, Dreamworks' Megamind
and Exodus's Igor
Though the films are rather different in subject matter (despite
the quirky evil-is-good theme, which has become a little too
tediously popular in animated movies lately), they follow similar plot
trajectories and have thus made me think about how very, very many other
animated films have exactly the same plot. I honestly think
animators are missing the point. They are attempting to copy
Pixar in being inventive
but they're really just telling the same story over and over again.
Even Pixar falls into the trap occasionally, though admittedly,
less often than the other studios.
Let's take a look at this
plot, which I sometimes feel applies to the great majority of
non-princess-centric Western animated films:
1) Enter our
hero. For the sake of argument, let us call him a young man,
though depending on the film, feel free to replace the word "man" with
"robot," "alien," "insect," "rodent," "monster," or any other
appropriate term. In human terms, he is equivalent to someone in
his teens or early twenties. We shall, for the moment, call
him--and yes, he is invariably male--"Bob."
2) Bob is
well-meaning but misunderstood. He is very talented, but his
talent is unrecognised or unappreciated by his peers. He
is regarded as an outsider, a rather odd person who doesn't know
his place and is unable to accept his fate, which is usually to follow
his parents/ancestors/predecessors/etc. into a job as a menial worker.
Bob wants to please his parents and teachers, but he can't give
up his unsanctioned activities.
3) Bob has an unrequited
crush on a girl. He may have known her since childhood, or he may
meet her in the course of the adventure that follows. In either
case, she is spunky and slightly quirky. She has guts and brains,
and her current boyfriend, if she has one, is a meathead. At this
point, she sees Bob as "just a friend" or even as an enemy, if she
knows he exists at all. As per tradition
, let us call her "Alice."
Bob is driven from his society. It is his own fault; he
gets carried away while trying to do something helpful (usually, he is
trying to avert a disaster that he has seen coming but no one else
believes is going to happen) and causes some sort of catastrophe.
He finds himself alone. Alice will believe the worst of him
and reject him outright.
5) The disaster that Bob has
foreseen occurs. This new threat puts Alice in immediate danger.
Despite her spunk and intelligence, she is kidnapped / staked out
to appease a monster / used as bait / etc.
6) Using the
talent everybody originally scorned, Bob saves Alice and eradicates the
threat. His actions are witnessed by many people, all of whom
realise that Bob was right all along and deserves to be allowed to
follow his heart.
7) The story ends happily. Bob
gets the girl, the villains are killed or imprisoned, and society
adjusts to accommodate Bob and his unusual talent.
This plot is
a version of the rather common hero's-journey pattern; it is not
surprising that it turns up so often. However--and here's where I
have a problem--there are other plots
. Honestly: this is not the only story out there. I was never surprised by Megamind
. I knew exactly what was going to happen and exactly when it was going to happen. Megamind
was quite amusing to watch, but it was also drearily predictable.
Have you Hollywood writers ever taken a peek at actual children's
literature? There is a lot of it. It varies widely in tone,
and it involves all sorts of different plots. Why can't you film
some of those
? I know I go on about this a lot, but what about letting Alice into the limelight every once in a while? Not Princess
Alice, mind you: just plain Alice. Why not leave out the love story? Does every
film need a love story? Do you really think the average
eight-year-old is sitting there longing for a romantic subplot?
Look at some of the Pixar films that buck this formula:
notably, Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles,
The first one concentrates on the relationship between a big
furry monster and a toddler; the second and third acknowledge the
importance of love stories but certainly don't make everything about
saving the girl. (Admittedly, Boo in Monsters, Inc.
eventually ends up in need of rescue, but she is, after all, barely old
enough to speak. Saving a baby and saving a grown woman are
rather different propositions.)
There are many stories out there
waiting to be told. It seems to me more than a little bit
unnecessary to keep telling the same one over and over again.
Simply changing a story's setting does not make one "edgy" and
"inventive."Monday, August 29, 2011: On Humidity
in Prince George visiting my sister at the moment. One thing that
has really been striking me lately is how effective humidity is at
making one feel like a weepy, exhausted puddle of slime.
George is the kind of place that tends to have quite high temperatures
in the summer and quite low temperatures in the winter. I realise
that everybody who lives easy of Calgary believes that British Columbia
is continually drowning in rain and that British Columbians wouldn't
know a proper snowfall if it walked up to them in the street, but the
truth is that British Columbia is actually quite a big province.
What holds true for Vancouver does not necessarily apply to the
rest of it. Prince George gets very heavy snowfalls in the
winter, while its summer weather isn't typically particularly wet.
In both summer and winter, Prince George lacks humidity.
Unlike Toronto, which is achingly dry in the winter and
bone-meltingly humid in the summer, Prince George produces both a dry
heat and a dry cold.
Yesterday, I was outside in 28C weather.
It was warm, but I wasn't sweating at all. It was actually
kind of freaking me out. 28C in Toronto is likely to have me
sitting five inches from my fan and wringing out my shirt every
Toronto, why can't you have dry heat? I really wish you could. I like you pretty well by now, but I can't freaking stand your weather
When even a thunderstorm doesn't clear up the oppressive
humidity, you know there's a problem. You hear that, Toronto?
There's a problem. You are the problem.
Prince George also makes me tired, but that's a whole other story.Monday, August 22, 2011: Marking and Why It Should Be Banned Forever
not quite finished living through this terrible, terrible nightmare,
but no matter what happens, I'll be done by 4:00 p.m. Luckily, I
somehow managed to mark something like 150 essays this week, and I now
have mostly the grade collation left. It will still take me at
least three hours, as I need to go through the old discussion responses
to make sure the students have earned their participation marks.
I've done one class and have two left to go.
What I Have Learned This Summer:
When you are teaching three sections of an online course, and the
institution for which you are working suddenly raises class sizes from
45 to 65, the outcome is not going to be a happy one.
When one of those classes is condensed (seven weeks instead of
fourteen), which would work better if one of the course texts were not
the seven-hundred-page-long The Shining
, you will experience a great deal of stress.
3) In university-speak, "part time" means "seventy hours a week, though you only get paid for twenty."
4) Being sad makes marking harder.
5) Well, okay...blinking makes marking harder. Eating potatoes makes marking harder. Everything
makes marking harder. Marking is hard.
When the people who are in charge of designing Blackboard claim
they have introduced "modifications" to make it "better," you can bet
your bottom dollar that what they really mean is: "We have made
the interface more difficult to use and hidden all the useful
I think I need to go to sleep now. Tomorrow, I must slay the mighty Beast of Collation. Farewell.Monday, August 15, 2011: Another Short Note about Why This Note is Short Again
more, I am frighteningly far behind on my marking. I'm also
desperately tired. I am thus going to skip the Rant and cry
myself to sleep. The Rants will expand once I'm finished this
cursed, cursed marking.Monday, August 8, 2011: I Think I'd Better Cheat on the Rant This Week
do need to get some damn marking done tonight, so I'm afraid today's
Rant is going to be a repetition of what I've already got over on the West of Bathurst
portion of the website. See...I recently finished getting a novel
ready to send out to be rejected by publishers. I didn't mean
to Rant about this on the WoB
site, but it just sort of turned out that way. However, that's
all the Ranting I have in me right now. I'm tired and headachey,
and I seem to have contracted some strange variant of the flu.
Also, I really need to mark until I cry tears of blood. So I'm
just going to paste the Rant I did over there
The Rant in Question:
I have finally whipped one of my novels into shape. Lemme tell you
about me and novel writing. I've been doing it since the age of 17
(technically, I wrote my first "big" work when I was 15 or so, but it
was only about 40 pages long. The next one was something like 600
pages in longhand). However, while I can churn out a fantasy epic on
my summer vacation, I find writing query letters nigh on impossible and
can spend weeks agonising over a one-page synopsis. I sent out a
mauscript to one publisher once when I was twenty or so. It was, of
course, rejected, which I knew would happen, but I apparently decided
that the emotional turmoil involved wasn't worth it, and subsequent
manuscripts ended up hidden away forever. I'm also a perfectionist who
wrong with my writing. I tend to like my stories for about three days
after I'm finished writing them; then I start ferreting out the flaws.
Most of the time, I decide that these flaws are huge and unfixable,
and I let the story languish because I know
it would be rejected if I sent it out.
latest story is flawed because, let's face it, what isn't? However,
I've persevered and pounded it into shape. And you know what? Even if
it isn't good enough to be published--even if it's rejected by everyone
and his dog--I'm proud of it. This time, I didn't take the easy way
out and give up on it. I rewrote Chapter 1. I picked away at the
other chapters until most of the plot holes were plugged and the
protagonist's motivations were much clearer. I added stuff and took
stuff away and got rid of a lot of unnecessary adverbs and most of the
appearances of the word "realised." I wrote the bloody
synopsis--twice--and wrestled with the page-numbering weirdnesses of
WordPerfect. And I am
going to send it out. I am not
going to hide it away. So what if I get rejected? Everyone gets rejected. It's better than not trying at all.Monday, August 1, 2011: A Short Note about Why This Note is Short
it is 2:30 a.m., and I am nearly too tired to think. I'll have to
skimp on the Rant today. Tomorrow, I get to mark some more.
HURRAH!Monday, July 25, 2011: Enough About the Weather Already
did think about writing another open letter to Mr. Summer, but what's
the use? Mr. Summer has clearly gone mad. It was on the day
it hit 37C (48 on the humidex) that I finally gave up. This is
not being a happy sort of summer. This is being, quite literally,
the summer from Hell.
There is no need for it ever to hit 37C.
Do you know that when it's that hot, standing in the sun
genuinely feels like standing in an extremely large, extremely moist
oven? Australians may love that kind of weather, but I think they
may all be crazy. Also, on the horrible day in question, this
before, the City of Toronto turned off the water in my apartment
building so it could tear up the street and hack the water main to
pieces. The workers were planning to be finished by eight,
meaning, of course, that they spent all night operating heavy machinery
beneath my window. Was the water back in the morning? It
was not. On the hottest day of the summer thus far, my apartment
building was bone dry. The City issued a notice "apologising for
the inconvenience." To their credit, the bureaucrats in charge
did leave some portable sinks in front of our building, but it would
have been much nicer to be able to bathe. I eventually escaped to
my office, which I'm supposed to be moving out of very soon but which
at least has air conditioning.
If the temperature doesn't go
down soon, I am going to punch a wall hard enough to break it.
Damn you, Mr. Summer. Damn you.Monday, July 18, 2011: Did I Say the Weather Was Sucky? I Meant the Weather Sucked
week, I whined about how consistently warm and sticky the weather had
been lately. It cooled down ever so slightly this week, meaning
that the median temperature was probably around 25 instead of up near
30. I didn't really plan on doing two weather-related Rants in a
row. Today, however, the temperature hit 35C. It's 8:30
p.m., and it's gone all the way down to 31. It's 29 inside my
apartment. I walked to the drug store to buy allergy medication
at 1:00 p.m. and nearly melted. Some friends and I had been
planning to see a Fringe play tonight, but after realising that we
would really only have a chance at tickets if we lined up for three
hours, we decided to wait for the Best of Fringe next week instead.
I'm kind of glad. I'm not convinced I would have survived
the bike ride.
It's the humidity that really does it.
Sure, it was 35 today, but it felt as if it were at least 40.
It also felt as if I were moving through a swimming pool filled
with sweat. When I lived in Vancouver, I hated wearing sleeveless
shirts and really only regretted this hatred on three or four days
every summer. Now I have a vast collection of tank tops and short
skirts. Even shorts are too warm for this weather, and pants are
out of the question. I see people walking around in jeans and
cardigans, and I think they have probably gone mad.
someone please punch the weather in the face for me? I would do
it myself, but I'm not a very good puncher. I need someone with
real muscles in his or her arms. This weather is stupid
. It's just stupid
There's no reason for weather like this to exist. Stop
laughing at me, Australians. You can have our summers in exchange
for your winters; I don't mind at all.Monday, July 11, 2011: How Consistently Sucky the Weather Is
suckiness of the weather has really been extraordinarily consistent
this week. You may remember that last week, I nearly killed
myself while attempting to buy an eraser from Staples on very hot, very
humid day. The heat and humidity have continued for eight days
straight now. I have come to hate the feeling of clothing in
general. The temperature inside my apartment has been
averaging 27C. I went to play ukulele with a bunch of people
in a pub last Wednesday night, and I didn't even bother to take a
jacket. I cycled home at 11 p.m.; it was probably still about 25C
I have some acquaintances who hail from very hot and humid
parts of the world and who can't for the life of them understand why I
find 33C plus humidity uncomfortable. The Australians are my
favourites. The typical Australian tends to talk like this:
"33C? 33C is cold
. I wear my winter coat
went the temperature goes below 30. Once I had to walk half a
mile when it was 27 degrees and windy; I almost died. When the
temperature drops below 25, my hands get so cold that I can't type.
Seriously, I have to type in gloves. Anything below 20 is
like being in Hell shortly after it has frozen over. I'm cold
just talking about it. Could I borrow your duvet?"*
not sure I would survive in Australia, a land in which 35C is
considered "pleasantly cool" and all the flora and fauna are trying to
kill you. Maybe I should just count my blessings.*Not even slightly exaggerated, trust me.Monday, July 4, 2011: Adventures in Heatstroke
So this afternoon, I run out of mechanical pencil erasers.
As I use these erasers constantly, I decide to pop down to
Staples and get some more.
2) The closest Staples is at
Gerrard Square, a 15-minute bike ride away. That's 15 minutes to
get there, as it's all downhill. It probably takes twice that
long to get home from there.
3) I ride to Gerrard Square.
I do notice as I do so that it's rather warm out, but I am, after
all, zooming happily down the hill the whole time. It's not until
I'm actually inside the mall that I realise how very dehydrated I have
4) Staples may be the devil. You go in to
buy erasers...and then you see the double-sided Sharpies. And the
key-ring Sharpies. And the pencil lead. And the external
hard drives. And...
5) Realising that it is, after
all, not exactly cool outside, I stop at the dollar store, which
inexplicably carries every type of sugary drink known to humankind but
no bottled water. I buy a sugary drink. I reason that it
far back to my apartment; I should be fine.
Every time I visit Gerrard Square, I end up biking home down a road
that eventually turns into a one-way street and forces me to take an
awkward detour onto Pape. This time, I decide to get onto Pape
right away so that I don't have to take the detour. I forget
about my own complete lack of a sense of direction.
Thinking I am biking north on Pape, I cycle along for ten minutes
or so. "Hey," I think, "this isn't so bad. The slope is a
lot gentler than I expected." This is, in hindsight, remarkably
stupid of me.
8) It is only when I have reached Coxwell
that I realise I have been going east the whole time. Coxwell is
three subway stops beyond Pape.
9) I go north on Coxwell.
In this part of the city, all the north-south streets have slopes
ranging from moderate to steep. Coxwell has one stretch that
doesn't quite count as properly steep but lasts for some distance and
is punishing in 30-degree heat. A number of us are biking up it
at the same time. I see one woman get off her bike and walk.
She later passes me, as I have had to get off my
bike and sit down. The sugary drink sort of helps but may also be
contributing to my impression that my chest may explode at any moment.
At long last, I reach Danforth, but my legs have turned into
rubber, and I have to find some shade and sit down for ten minutes.
I don't even care that the only place to sit is the sidewalk.
I come pretty close to fainting. There are a lot of dubious
gentlemen hanging around this particular corner. It's a pretty
seedy intersection, actually. The sugary drink is giving me chest
11) I get on the bike again and make it to Pape and Mortimer before I have to take another break.
This time, I manage to find a seat on a bench in one of Toronto's
tiny parks. One of the other benches is occupied by two women,
one with a guitar and the other with a banjo. They don't play
anything while I'm there because they're talking to a couple of
friends. I finish the sugary drink.
12) I arrive
home nearly two hours after I left. I have spent about $110 more
than I expected to spend, almost passed out twice, and developed a
repulsion towards orange-flavoured pop. From now on, I'm just
going to stay inside.Monday, June 27, 2011: On Adverbs
I have a love/hate relationship with adverbs. I suspect this is not uncommon.
a way, adverbs--that is, words or phrases that modify verbs,
adjectives, or other adverbs--are useful beasts. I can write, "He
ran down the road, his legs pumping, his lungs straining, the sweat
trickling down his face," or I can write, "He ran desperately down the
road." The first version, which is adverb-free, offers a more
detailed picture of the scene. The second version is in a sort of
literary shorthand. The reader interprets "desperately" herself,
filling in the pumping legs, the straining lungs, and the trickling
sweat. Different readers may have different ideas of what
desperation entails. The version with the adverb is more concise
but also less precise.
The occasional adverb can be useful.
Problems arise when adverbs multiply beyond control, at which
point even the conciseness is lost, and the writing comes to seem both
vague and flabby. "Joan eased back the safety on the small gun
and turned to face Ryan" is a stronger sentence than "Joan gently eased
back the safety on the ridiculously small gun and defiantly turned
to face Ryan angrily." Too many adverbs will have the
opposite of their intended effect, lengthening a sentence instead of
trimming it down. Adverbs also tend to be a way of cheating on
the "show, don't tell" rule. There is a difference between a
sentence that describes what a woman looks and acts like when she is
furious and one that explains she is doing something "furiously."
often write with too many adverbs, then go back and take most of them
out later. My favourites are "probably," "actually," "possibly,"
and "apparently." They have become crutches for me; they sneak
into my writing without me meaning them to. They're not even
particularly (there's another one) descriptive adverbs. I think I
use them mostly for the rhythm.
Please treat your adverbs with
respect. Don't abandon them altogether, but don't lean on them
either. A few adverbs go a long way.Monday, June 20, 2011: The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week
have nothing good to say about last week. It was hideous in
multiple ways. I'm technically glad it's over, but realistically,
I spent it avoiding all the things I have to finish by tomorrow.
Therefore, this week is probably going to suck too. Joy.
I wish I had something else to say, but I think I'd better leave it at that this time around.Monday, June 13, 2011: I Am Ahead on My Marking. What the...?
This has never happened before.
Usually, my marking strategy goes as follows:
Day 1: Papers are due. I can't start marking on the day the papers are due. That would be wrong.
Days 2-12: I can't start marking now. It's too late in the day / I have to write a lecture on How I Met Your Mother
/ I'm behind on my comic / Ooh, pretty website.
Day 13: I promised I would hand the essays back in two weeks! Why haven't I started yet? What's wrong with me?
Day 20: I hand the essays back. Apologies happen.
time around, to my vast and unending surprise, I started marking the
day after the papers were due. I marked ten papers that day.
I finished the first class's papers in four days; the second
class's took seven. Even so, I managed to hand back the second
class's papers eleven days after I had collected them.
so strange not to be frantically marking twenty-five papers a day.
The lack of stress is kind of stressful in and of itself. I
just don't know what to do with myself. How did I manage to mark
nearly one hundred essays in eleven days? Have I been possessed
by aliens? Why is it that marking essays during the first
eleven days is so much less soul-destroying than marking essays during the last
hope I'm able to force myself to do this again in three weeks when
Assignment 2 comes due, but I wouldn't bet on it. I can't seem to
stop myself from making my own life difficult.Monday, June 6, 2011: GO, 'NUCKS, GO
Okay, I admit it. Sad but true: I am a die-hard fan of the Vancouver Canucks.
not as if I have even watched hockey much lately. It's
just...well, I remember 1994. A lot of Vancouverites remember
1994. That was the year I was dragged unwillingly into the
insanity that was sports fandom. I don't watch any other sports.
I am genuinely terrible at playing
sports. But the year the Vancouver Canucks made it all the way
through the Stanley Cup playoffs, only to lose to the New York Rangers
in game 7, I was hopelessly ensnared.
I wasn't even watching
the games. I listened to them on the radio, then wrote bits of a
story on my computer during the breaks. My parents were watching
the game downstairs; every time someone scored a goal, I heard them
yell. Either the radio or the television broadcast--I can't
remember which--was slightly delayed, and so there was a slight
difference in when we would react. I know I liked the radio
commentator better than the TV ones. The radio guy would get
very, very excited. Yes, the TV guys would raise their voices
whenever a player neared one goal or the other as well, but the radio
guy sounded as if he were enthusiastically peeing his pants. He
could scream the word "SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORE!" for about a
minute without taking a breath. I got to know the players by
their names, not the numbers on their ugly orange jerseys. Pavel
Bure, the Russian Rocket, was the Canucks' golden boy back then.
I did see him skate more often in subsequent seasons, and man
, was that little guy fast.
course, the Canucks did eventually lose, at which point Vancouver
actually erupted in a riot that lasted all night and into the next day.
I found out later that my seventeen-year-old sister was there.
She had told my parents that she was going over to a friend's
place to study,* but she had actually gone downtown to party. She
and her friends did not find it easy to get back home, but they didn't
get arrested, either, so that was a plus. Possibly the most
galling thing about the riot was the reaction from New York; newspaper
articles proclaimed New Yorkers to be "shocked" at the antics of the
Vancouverites, and also rather smug about their own peaceful
At any rate, the exciting progress towards the
final, accompanied by the rather less fun excitement of the riot,
permanently warped my brain. After that, I liked hockey. I
cheered for the Canucks. I could speak hockey speak. For
the first time in my life, I was a sports fan.
again this year. I do hope it goes right this time. My
sister hasn't been seventeen for seventeen years.*Do teenagers even need any other excuses?
Monday, May 30, 2011: Where Did May Go?
seems wrong that tomorrow is the last day of May. My memory is
telling me that the old term just ended; the calendar is telling me
that there are only three months left in the summer term. I am
upset about this. Time is not supposed to move this quickly.
4 of my summer course started two days ago. The Canadian election
happened four weeks ago. I bought a banjo a fortnight ago. Doctor Who
just had its sixth episode, and most of the American shows had their
season finales one, two, or even three weeks ago. The Stanley Cup
playoffs ended three--no, wait, those are still going. It may be
just a little bit silly that the hockey season extends into June, but
let's leave that aside. Go, Canucks.
I would like time to
stop for a bit; I need to catch up. The hell that is marking
starts for me on Tuesday. I haven't had even a month away from
it. Time really sucks sometimes.Monday, May 23, 2011: SPROING
sorry I've forgotten about Ranting for the last couple of weeks.
This is the first Sunday in a while on which I've finished my
Monday comic relatively early and have thus had time to write a Rant
It has been a rather odd week. Last
Monday, I bought a banjo. Last Friday, my soprano ukulele
committed suicide. A friend has suggested that these two facts
might be connected; his theory is that the ukulele was so jealous of
the banjo that it caused its own bridge to become unglued and fly
violently across the room. I'm not entirely convinced that he's
right, but who can really say what might go through the mind of a small
string instrument as it leans quietly against a piano bench?
Perhaps it was actually aiming
the banjo. Perhaps it was a David-vs.-Goliath sort of situation;
a banjo is, after all, several times the size and a great many times
the weight of a ukulele. Perhaps the ukulele was anticipating the
supposed end of the world the next day. I don't know. At
any rate, it was very sad.
I do like the banjo, though I'm still
very slow at it, and I'm afraid my neighbours may hate me; it is the
loudest instrument I own, and that includes the accordion and the
electric piano. I've ordered a mute so I don't get lynched
by a mob. The banjo seems to exist for the express purpose of
drowning out every other instrument in the world. It's feisty.
I just hope my other instruments don't explode any time soon. If they all
decide to attack the banjo, there are going to be strings and keys and
bridges flying around in here, and it's really not a very big apartment.Monday, May 2, 2011: Third Monday of Panic
know the feeling you get when it's three days before your marks are
due, and you still have nine essays and one hundred and fourteen exams
to mark, plus the summer course you're teaching will probably be online
as of tomorrow, and you haven't modified the course's two websites yet,
even though this modification will take hours because the people in
charge of cloning the website always erase over half the discussion
forums you use, and for some reason that escapes you, the university
has gone and raised the cap for this course from 45 to 65, and since
you're teaching two sections, that gives you forty extra students
plus you haven't paid your rent yet, and two of the exams you need to
mark by Wednesday afternoon are probably in your box at Ryerson right
now, except you don't know when you'll have time to go and get them,
and you've had a miserable cold since Thursday and wish you could just
curl up in a corner and cry*?
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.*There is a reason I have ended all three of my most recent Rants with a similar question.Monday, April 25, 2011: Second Monday of Panic
know the feeling you get when it's one day before half your marks are
due and two days before you have to hold an exam for 112 people whose
term papers you have still, for the most part, not yet marked because
you had to finish marking stuff for two other classes first, and now
you have to collate the marks for those two classes, which is going to
take hours because it will also involve calculating participation marks
in a particularly cumbersome way involving 65 separate searches and
probably a lot of crying, and you are still taking breaks to play the
ukulele, only it's a different ukulele this week, since you own more
than one, and this one's plinkier and thus more conducive to angry
strumming, and you start getting tired every evening by 7:00 or so and
have a hard time concentrating on the everlasting marking
that you will never ever finish, and it's way too easy to get
distracted by the Internet, which you cannot switch off because half
your marking is on it, and damn it, maybe you should just play the
ukulele for a bit again while you ignore the huge pile of essays that
is making you want to cry?
I really want it to be May 5th. My brain hurts.Monday, April 18, 2011: First Monday of Panic
know the feeling you get when it's the last week before half your marks
are due and also the last week before you have to hold an exam for
112 people whose term papers you have not yet marked because you need
to mark 65 term papers for two other classes first, plus an untold
number of discussion responses, and you've just given yourself a
headache marking ten essays in a row, and you keep taking little breaks
to play the ukulele because it is a small instrument that you can
easily keep next to your chair and that doesn't hurt your head as much
as the piano probably would if you played it, which you don't, because
you should be marking, and the ukulele seems like less of an outright
procrastinatory instrument, though that's probably an illusion fostered
by a desperate need to do anything other than mark, and it's eight
o'clock p.m. and the headache is already really bad and you know that
you will need to mark for at least four more hours before you go to bed
and you also have to create an exam because the lady who photocopies
stuff needs it a week ahead of time and you really just want to throw
yourself down on your bed and cry?
That is the feeling I'm having right now.Monday, April 11, 2011: Last Monday of Doom
I just spent all weekend becoming very, very tired, so this entry will be brief. I would
like to celebrate the fact that today is my final Really Early Monday
of the semester. From here on in, I may go insane from all the
marking, but I shall do it at a relatively decent hour of the day.
I like my Monday class just fine, but I'm pretty sure that
everybody in it just wants the pain to end. There should be some
sort of law against classes being scheduled before 9:00 a.m. I
long to punch Monday in the face. Luckily for Monday, I'm
currently too tired to do so.
Happy Random Day in April. Enjoy things.Monday, April 4, 2011: April is the Cruelest Month
Over the course of the next month, I must do the following:
1) Mark 57 2,000-2,500-word papers.
2) Mark 40 4-5-page papers.
3) Mark 112 6-8-page papers.
4) Mark 65 1,500-2,000-word papers.
5) Mark 650 discussion responses.
6) Write a three-hour lecture on Pleasantville
and deliver it twice.
7) Deliver (twice) a three-hour lecture on Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog
8) Create a two-hour exam about television.
9) Mark 112 two-hour exams about television.
Sit on three panels at the SF convention Ad Astra, thus occupying
an entire weekend I should really be devoting to #1-9.
I think my brain is going to explode. I'm going to go sit in a corner and cry now.Monday, March 28, 2011: Saturday, March 26, 2011
Wynne Jones died on Saturday. You may not have heard of her, but
she was one of my favourite authors, the creator of many strange and
wonderful fantasy books for children, teens, and (occasionally) adults.
There's no way I can say anything about this that doesn't sound
both pretentious and presumptuous, so I'll let people infinitely more
qualified do it for me.
Neil Gaiman's tribute is here
. Emma Bull's is here
Diana Wynne Jones's official website posts the news of her death
(and talks about her last two books, which will be published later this
year and next) here
I can really say myself is that Diana Wynne Jones is one of the reasons
I write children's fantasy. She is, simply put, one of the best
fantasists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, and I am going
to miss her brilliant stories. Please read her books if you can.Monday, March 21, 2011: Random Notes
My package arrived in Prince George on Tuesday, which happened to
be my niece's birthday. I suppose all's well that ends well.
However, Canada Post can still kiss my shiny metal posterior.
Saturday was not a good day until I ended up on the TTC in tears,
at which point three complete strangers were unexpectedly nice to me on
three separate occasions.
3) One of the better parts of
Saturday was actually the bit where my band fell spectacularly to
pieces in the middle of a song. It was largely my fault; I had
neglected to open my music before we began. Realistically, I
didn't need it; psychologically, I did. I lost my head and
played wrong chords all the way through, prompting everyone else to
screw up in various intriguing ways as well. The overall effect
was so charmingly hilarious that the flautist and I ended up giggling
through our final duet. I'm not sure how she even managed to
retain her embouchure. Possibly the best that can be said about
the performance is that it was "wacky." Even so, I had a
surprising amount of fun watching the song implode.
have to finish writing a lecture about a TV show involving a lunatic
who talks to a dead man and keeps chocolates inside a skull.
5) Have a good week.Monday, March 14, 2011: Canada Post Has Done It Again
thing I frequently feel guilty about is my tendency to send birthday
gifts and cards to my sister and her family so late that I almost might
as well just wait for the birthday in question to come around again.
I don't like the fact that I do this, but I can't seem to stop
myself. It is a type of procrastination of which I am ashamed.
I decided that this year, I was damn well going to send my niece
Lindsay her birthday present ahead of time. I was not
going to become known as "Aunt Kari, who gives me my present in August,
even though I was born in March." So I bought Lindsay's present
in mid-February. I made her a card. Secure in the knowledge
that Lindsay's birthday wasn't until March 15th, I wrapped everything
up nicely and had the package on its way by February 25th.
I talked to my sister yesterday. Had my package arrived yet?
No, it had not. As of this Monday, it will have been on the
road between Ontario and British Columbia for seventeen days.
why? Is the package hitchhiking? Is it relying on transport
by carrier pigeon? If one were completely insane and willing to
survive on no sleep at all, one could drive across Canada five times
in seventeen days. Where is my bloody package, Canada Post?
For once in my life, I was on the ball; I mailed the present in
good time. You charged me twelve freaking dollars for it.
It wasn't even a very big package. It would, of course,
have cost me thirty-six bucks to send via Express Post. Since I
sent it so early, I didn't think I would need
great good luck, the package will arrive by the 15th. If it
doesn't, I suppose my reputation as "the late Aunt Kari" will be
upheld. I'm just a wee bit frustrated because this time, I really
did try.Monday, March 7, 2011: Not Cleaning My Apartment: A Justification
1) Wow...my apartment is a mess. I'd better clean it.
2) First, though, I should finish writing this lecture. The class is tomorrow, so it can't wait.
3) I've written a page and a half of my lecture. I should take a break. Maybe I could do a bit of cleaning.
4) No, that's not fair; I've worked really hard, and I deserve a real break. Ooh...TV Tropes
5) Okay, I'm done my lecture. Now I need to finish my comic.
I'm finished my comic, but I've got some marking to do. If
I don't start it now, I'll be doing it all at the last--
7) Ooh...TV Tropes
8) Now I'm behind on my marking, and I still haven't cleaned my apartment. I think I'll have a snack.
9) I wonder if my ukulele is still in tune.
10) It is! That was fun. Time to clean my apartment.
11) Damn it; I have to answer e-mails from students. I should also really start in on this marking.
12) This reminds me of that episode of Castle
where the investigation kept being delayed for various reasons. I should try to find that episode.
I was right; it was a good episode. Of course, I had to
watch four episodes before I found the right one. Time to clean
14) I haven't called my sister in a while.
15) Damn it all, I keep forgetting about the marking!
16) It's really, really
time to clean my apartment.
17) Too bad it's two o'clock a.m.
I'd better go to sleep so that I can give my lecture tomorrow.
After I get back from the university, I'll clean my apartment.
19) For sure.Monday, February 28, 2011: Reality TV: A Question for the Universe
am teaching a course on television at the moment, and there's a unit on
reality TV coming up. I am not exactly the world's greatest
reality-TV fan, so I decided I had better force myself to follow one
show, then watch single episodes of some of the others the week before
the class. The show I chose to follow was American Idol
. Perhaps I should have followed Jersey Shore
, which half my students seem to love, but American Idol
is about all I can handle, and frankly, it's bad enough.
I understand that a lot of people like this stuff, but it just makes me so very, very angry.* The thing that makes me the most
angry is that I can tell that the show is manipulating me. I
don't mean that I loftily see past the manipulation and am not affected
by it; I mean I am
by it, and I can actually watch myself being affected and know exactly
how and why the manipulation is happening and yet still feel the damn feelings that the show is making me feel
. It has even made me cry a few times, mostly due to the heartstring-tugging backstories of certain candidates. Idol
presents these backstories in such a way that they have
to cause tears. They've got the swelling music, the
slow-motion shots, the interviews with proud, weeping family members,
the lingering focus on the fresh young candidates tearing up over what
they see as the only chance they will ever have to escape from the
horrors of Real Life and become famous. I can almost see the
show's editors sitting around calculating the most effective ways to
present these sob stories. I know exactly
what they're doing to me. The fact that I still bloody well cry makes me want to punch someone.
more fury-inducing is the fact that this show has somehow pushed an
entire generation of talented young people into believing, fiercely and
wrongly, that American Idol
is the only way for someone to become a musical sensation. Quite
frankly, a lot of these kids are good musicians, or they will be in a
few years. They're not just singers, either; they play guitars
and pianos and a myriad of other instruments. One candidate this
year plays the melodica and has twice accompanied himself on the double
bass; he also has a fantastic voice. Yet over and over, they say
the same things: "I want this so much." "This is my last
chance." "I need this." "This is my dream." "If I get
voted out, I don't know what I'll do."
Guys. You're kids
Some of you are kids who don't know who the Beatles are (really).
Go out and play music in pubs. Form bands. Experience
rejection and defeat. Practise. Buy a CD of music by the
freaking Beatles. There is not only one road to the top.
Sure, the Idol
road is shorter. Why should you have it easy? You say again and again how "hard" Idol
is, but it lasts only a few months; most successful artists try for
years before they gain fans. Why must success be instant?
Why must the words "I'm sorry, you didn't make it" mean that you
shows are about wish fulfilment. I know that. But when the
"dream" becomes tied explicitly to the show, problems arise.
Dear American Idol
I recognise your entertainment value, but gosh, do you ever make
me angry. Also, you've got me addicted to you, completely against
my will and even though I know exactly how you did it. Damn you, American Idol
. Damn you.*Sort of like Glee. Clearly, there is something wrong with me.Monday, February 21, 2011: Why Phones are Terrible
a couple of months now, I've been receiving phone calls from people who
clearly cannot accept that I am not someone else, despite the fact that
I cannot speak their language and tend to get rather abusive when they
wake me up for the twentieth time in a row at four o'clock a.m.
When I say "the twentieth time in a row," incidentally, I a) am
not exaggerating and b) am actually meaning that they wake me up twenty
times in a single night
, at five-minute intervals. I have absolutely no idea why. If I don't answer the phone, they call back. If I do
answer the phone, they call back. They speak no syllable I can
understand. Occasionally, they leave long, incomprehensible
messages on my answering machine. I call them "they" not because
I am finally embracing the singular "they" but because there are
several of them. It's usually a man on the phone, but there are
always numerous people in the room with him. Sometimes, I hear
nothing but muted voices speaking in the background, while the person
who presumably made the call remains silent.
I don't understand
any of this. Their area code is 909, so they must live in
California, but they generally call me between 4:00 and 8:00 a.m.,
which would be 1:00 and 5:00 a.m. on the west coast.
Yesterday, they made only a single call at 6:44; the day before,
they called me twenty or thirty times between 6:00 and 8:00. Do
they stay up all night dialing my number? Why would they do that?
Why would anyone
at 3:00 a.m. to make twenty phone calls to a very tired person whose
responses ranged from, "You've got the wrong number. Bye" (call
#1) to "LISTEN. It's SEVEN FORTY-FIVE IN THE MORNING. You
have been calling me for TWO FREAKING HOURS. I hate you.
Leave. Me. Alone'" (call # 20)? When you get a
wrong number, don't you generally check to make sure you've written
down the right
When someone doesn't answer the phone at 5:00 a.m., is your first
impulse to call again? If the person who answers the phone
screams imprecations at you in a language that is nothing like the
are speaking, might you possibly deduce that you are talking to the wrong person?
3:25 a.m. I am fully expecting the phone to ring in an hour or
so. Perhaps I should give in and turn off the ringer, but damn
it, I shouldn't have to do that. I would like to gather together
the numerous people on the other end of those calls and punch them all
very hard. It's probably just as well that I have no idea who
they are.Monday, February 14, 2011: Oh, Goody, It's Here Again
Dear Valentine's Day:
happy I am that you have come around again! I look desperately
forward to you every year. There is nothing I love so much as
watching happy couples goo-gooing along, hand in hand, with little pink
hearts all over their sweaters. If only you happened more than
once a year!
Some people call you a cynical holiday devoted to
leaching as much money as humanly possible from hapless young men who
want to keep their ladies from nagging them. I think these people
are wrong. You are a great little time of year and not at all
designed to make single folk feel like crap simply for existing.
You are also clearly not a way for popular girls to keep score.
No, of course I am not still haunted by the trauma of high school.
on keeping on, Valentine's Day. May you spend many, many
centuries provoking nausea in those terrible spoilsports who don't buy
into your beautiful message of love and folded squares of cardboard for
six bucks a pop.
Yours with a great deal of gush,
Kari.Monday, January 31, 2011: Because 6:00 a.m. is Such a Happy Time
I apologise for skipping Rants. The problem is that I now have to
give a three-hour lecture every Monday at 8:00 a.m., meaning that I
spend all weekend scrambling to complete it and generally end up
without time to finish my comic and Rant. By Monday afternoon,
I'm too tired to do more than finish my comic. This goes for
today as well, but I'll do a Rant anyway.
Today's Rant constitutes an open letter to the Canadian version of Netflix.
Dear Canadian Version of Netflix:
quite like the idea of you, and yes, I have subscribed; you're not that
expensive, after all. However, are you ever going to acquire any
actual content? It's getting a bit wearing to see the words "X is
not available" over and over again. So many films and TV shows
are "not available" that I sometimes wonder if you're really worth it.
I mean, okay, you have The Republic of Doyle
, so good for you, but I could get that perfectly legally via the CBC's website. You don't have Lost
which I do want to watch, or any film that isn't zany fun and dates
from 1982. I'm hoping you will improve over time, but so far, you
haven't really. The most I can say for you is that you have
acquired a few more British TV shows, some of which I'll probably try.
Have you thought of adding some current American TV shows that
haven't yet been cancelled? It would be awfully nice if you did.
I saw the musical version of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
this weekend (not bad if you like that sort of thing), and I attempted
to get the original film on Netflix, but no. The film is
twenty-three years old, and you can't get the rights to it? You
don't have The Shining
either; it's thirty-one years old. The "recommendations" you toss
at me every time you reject one of my requests aren't appreciated,
either. I can't get Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
, but I can
get Dirty Dancing: Havanna Nights
? How does this help me? What is wrong with you?
I'll stick with you for now, Canadian Version of Netflix, but please build up your collection a bit. Republic of Doyle
is not going to sustain me forever. It would also be nice to be
able to find at least one of the shows I'm teaching in my TV class in
your database. At the moment, I can't.Monday, January 10, 2011: Evil, Evil Early Classes
about not writing a Rant last Monday. I tried, but I kept falling
asleep. I need to stop leaving everything to the last minute.
Yet again, it's 12:45 a.m., and I haven't finished
proofreading the syllabus for the course I have to start teaching
tomorrow at 8:00 a.m.
Why is there such a thing as an 8:00 a.m.
class? Why must such a class run for three hours? I'm not
good at mornings. I like evenings quite a lot, but mornings are
not my friends. The only good thing about this particular 8:00
a.m. class is that it is not in Peterborough. I can therefore get
up at 6:00 instead of 4:00. Hurrah...?
8:00 a.m. classes
exist solely to torture people. They don't discriminate; they
torture both instructors and students. Everybody has to get up
way too early and spend three hours thinking longingly of bed. I
don't mind teaching the course, but why 8:00 a.m.? Why not 9:00
a.m.? 9:00 is a relatively sane time of day. I don't mind
being awake at 9:00.
The infuriating thing is that those of us
who don't like rising at 6:00 are generally labelled lazy, even if
we've stayed up working until 2:00 a.m., whereas people who enjoy
popping out of bed at 5:30 are praised as go-getters, even if they went
to bed at 7:00. I would like to lodge a protest, please.
I must finish preparing for tomorrow. Note that I am up working
If you must think I'm slothful for not being pleased that I'll be
getting maybe four hours' worth of sleep tonight, please go right ahead.Monday, December 27, 2010: I Think I've Gone Critical (Again)
I really need to stop falling in love with various musical instruments. It's getting a little worrying.
past year, it's been mostly whistles, flutes, and ukuleles, all of
which are instruments with which I have a lengthy history. I've
been playing the uke since I was eight or nine, the flute since I was
eleven, and the whistle since some point in my teens. In fact, I
have long relationships with all my instruments: the piano (since
I was a toddler), the accordion (started at about twenty), and even the
mandolin (been playing for eight years or so). I should
really just quit while I'm ahead. However, I've recently been
given a little harp by someone who can't play hers any more. It's
a cheap one made by Mid-East Instruments,* and regrettably, the wood is
splitting in several places, but I've played it a bit, and now I really
want a bigger one. I'm not talking a twenty-thousand-dollar
concert pedal harp here...just a decent standing lever harp.
actually isn't a new desire. I've been wishing for a harp for
most of my life.** However, harps are expensive, and I've never
quite been able to justify spending food money for a year on one.
I nearly gave myself a heart attack eleven years ago when I spent
something like three thousand bucks on an electric piano; I'm not sure
I could handle the harp thing, though since I have no way of getting
the tiny splitting harp back to Toronto, I'm sorely tempted. I'm sure
playing all these instruments can't be good for me.
no real point to this Rant. I simply feel moved to observe that I
am probably addicted to musical instruments. I suppose it's
better than being addicted to crack, though you never do know.*Very prolific, instrument-wise, but does not have a fantastic reputation, justifiably so.
I realise the harp is a floaty sort of instrument and doesn't seem my
style. I have been making my little one do some decidedly
non-floaty things. My theory is that harps don't have to be
exclusively floaty any more than accordions have to play exclusively
Monday, December 20, 2010: IN THE ZONE
the past five days, I have marked, on average, thirty exams and/or
essays per day. Panic is a fantastic motivator. I am now
slightly ahead of
thought I would be at this point, though that doesn't mean that
tomorrow is not going to be just as frantic as today was. It just
means that there is a slim possibility that there won't be very much
It's funny how in the middle of the term, I struggle to
mark two papers per day, while at the end of the term, I fly
through twenty in an afternoon. I think I need to be under
extreme stress to get anything done. Ironically, I don't actually
have any more fun while I'm struggling with the two papers than I do
when I'm zooming through the twenty.
I am taking a short break
tonight, and I already feel guilty about it, even though I marked
eighteen pieces of work and collated an entire class's grades today (I
only did fewer papers than usual because I ran out of papers.
Tomorrow is all about the collation). I do hope I don't end
up working right up to the last minute on Tuesday afternoon, though
knowing me, I probably will.
Have a good break, everybody. I shall resume my whining shortly after Christmas. Hurrah!Monday, December 6, 2010: Four Bloody A.M. Again
really have to stop doing this. I would be truly pleased if I
ever got to bed before 4:00 a.m. on what should be a Sunday night but
is actually a Monday morning. Next term, I'm going to have to
change my habits, as I've got an 8:00 a.m. class on Mondays.
The horror is going to continue for at least two more weeks. Frankly, I can't believe I have only two more weeks
to mark all this stuff. If I stop and think about it, I'll start
screaming and looking for things to bang my head against. It's
much nicer to be in denial. I can even pretend that I'll have
time to do my Christmas shopping.* I have about sixty essays to
mark in the next two days so that I can make room for the ninety coming
in on Tuesday and the sixty exams I'll be picking up on Wednesday.
In the meantime, I get to deal with the Joys of Bureaucracy.
Just don't even ask about that one.
Looking forward to the
break would be nice, but I get to spend the break frantically reading
up on television. I have to teach a course on television next
term. I need to learn the relevant terminology really, really
quickly. I can rag on Glee
but when my office-mate started talking to me about "flow" and
"simulacra," I got lost very quickly. (She taught the same course
this term. I shall be reading all the books she read, I think.)
I have other things to do as well. Nothing ever ends, ever
. Dr. Manhattan was right, albeit not in the way he thought he was.**
ideally, I should mark about thirty essays. Ha ha ha ha ha.
I need to go to bed and cry now. I hope you guys are having
a good December.*I won't.
**I am allowed to make Watchmen references at 4:00 a.m. when I am really grumpy and tired.Monday, November 29, 2010: Hitting Stuff Alleviates Stress
life gets to be a little bit too much for me, and I need to resist the
urge to fling all my marking off the balcony and then lock myself in
the bathroom and cry, I purchase a small rhythm instrument, and
suddenly, everything seems all right.
I cannot explain this.
I like all musical instruments, and I play several, but rhythm
instruments have a special place in my heart. It's not as if I
know how to use most of them properly, either. I can hit stuff
with other stuff in patterns, but until recently, I didn't know the
correct way to hold my claves. As well, it's generally other
people in my band who end up playing my various shakers and clickers
and boomers, as I am needed to play instruments capable of making
actual melodies. The members of the band keep comparing me
to a kindergarten teacher, possibly because I tend to wander around
with bags of maracas. I have actually lost count of the number
of castanets I own.
For some reason, however, just knowing
that I have access to a vast array of objects that go
CLICKETY-CLICKETY-CLICK is comforting. My latest acquisitions
include a bell tree, a cowbell, finger cymbals, and a triangle; I think
I'm feeling loud and clangy at the moment. The bell tree is
particularly delightful; it has twenty-five sleigh bells on it, and the
sounds it can make range from "distant, delicate jingling" to "Santa
Claus has lost control and is about to crash in my front yard."
is possible that percussion makes me happy simply because it gives me
something to hit productively. It's actually a pity almost all my
percussion is at Massey at the moment; I feel like shaking something
vigorously right about now. Luckily, I do have some castanets and
a couple of güiros shaped like toads hanging around my apartment.Monday, November 22, 2010: Why Do I Hate Glee So Much?
week's Rant was written more or less on autopilot; I was so tired that
I didn't even remember afterwards exactly what I had put down.
Reading the document over this week, I am startled to see that I
actually wrote in complete sentences that made a certain amount of
sense. I'm not entirely sure how I did that.
Since it is now morning and I am fully awake, I am able to reflect more coherently on Glee
and why it is that I really want to punch it in the face.
I have always had an odd relationship with Glee
about which I have written before. I don't like it, but I still
watch it faithfully every week. I really don't want to be one of
those people who follow a show just to be able to rip it to shreds;
however, it kind of seems that I am, albeit only in terms of Glee
. Watching Glee
is kind of like eating Sour Skittles right after a tooth extraction.
You know it's going to hurt, but you just can't freaking stop
My current source of rage is the episode that aired
two weeks ago. In it, Kurt, the only "out" gay student in his
high school, has to deal with a bully who keeps smashing him into the
lockers and flinging homophobic insults at him. As it turns out,
the bully is himself deeply in the closet, and he eventually plants a
passionate kiss on Kurt. A parallel storyline has the school's
rather masculine female football coach, Shannon Beiste, finding out
that the kids have been cooling off during their heavy petting sessions
by imagining her in lingerie. Coach Beiste is deeply hurt, but
this hurt is apparently assuaged when the ultra-cute Spanish teacher
takes pity on her and gives her her first kiss (followed by a comradely
The twin storylines insult everyone
Seriously...the writers have outdone themselves this time around.
What the bully is doing to Kurt is actually quite violent
physical assault, but the teachers just stand around and watch; the
most proactive of them talks to Kurt about one of the incidents, but no
one actually thinks to talk to the bully
What seems to have happened, as per usual, is that the writers
are so focused on their little group of central characters that they
have completely forgotten to deal with the implications of what they
are doing to the minor
characters. Bully walks on...bully does something that proves he
is a deeply confused individual...bully walks off. Oh, and we
don't need to develop him at all, besides hanging a huge "REPRESSED
HOMOSEXUAL" sign over his head. That will do for character
The bit with the coach is even worse.
Dear writers: has any of you ever been a forty-year-old
female virgin? No? Nothing wrong with that. It's
hardly a universal condition. However, has any of you ever talked
to a forty-year-old female virgin? No? Has any of you ever
gone on the Internet and read a blog written by a forty-year-old female
virgin? No? Is there a single one of you who believes
in forty-year-old female virgins?...No...?
going to go out on a limb here and say that if a forty-year-old female
virgin who had just been thoughtlessly insulted by a bunch of spoiled
idiot children with no conception of how the world worked had had her
cute friend, the kind of guy who generally had to fend off hot women
with a stick, kiss her in the locker room just so she would know what a
first kiss felt like, her reaction would not
have been tender tears and a hug but instead a vigorous attempt to
strangle said cute friend and dump his body in the sea. First
kiss? Cool. First kiss given out of pity by someone who
probably had his own first kiss when he was twelve? NOT FREAKING
writers: stop pretending you know anything at all about unpopular
people. You don't. You really want to be writing about the
jocks and the cheerleaders, not the freaks and the geeks, but you think
your approach is "ironic." Please go watch Freaks and Geeks
Hang around in a real high school and condescend to talk
to actual losers. It's very difficult to write an effective
satire when you don't understand the reality of what you're satirising.Monday, November 13, 2010: Well, It's Only 4:30 a.m. This Time...
...so let's do a list:Five Reasons We Should Take Matters into Our Own Hands and Burn Glee to the Ground
1) It thinks it's satirical, whereas ninety percent of the time, it's really not.
It presents as an "ideal" teacher, apparently without irony, a
man who habitually lies, changes his mind for no reason, gets
distracted by the incidental deails of his life, is willing to put on a
high-school production of The Rocky Horror Show
in which he himself appears half-naked while he tries desperately to
seduce someone else's girlfriend, and apparently never ever teaches the
subject that the school is paying him to cover.
3) The writers
may very well have been popular in high school, as their idea of
"misfits" is a group of football players and cheerleaders with the
occasional obnoxious lunatic sprinkled in.
4) The writers are
also clearly not forty-year-old female virgins, as their treatment of
Coach Beiste has been astoundingly condescending.
5) The characters are driven by the plot to such an extent that they will sometimes change their personalities
without warning, just so that a particular plotline can go through.
I could go on for a while, but it's now 4:45, and I need to go to bed immediately
.Monday, November 8, 2010: I Need to Stop Staying Up Until 5:30 a.m.
is something terrible about 5:30 a.m., especially when the clocks have
just turned back. I would prefer never to stay up until 5:30 a.m.
again. Since I am going to have to start marking once more on
Tuesday--after a one-day break--I am somehow doubting that my wish will
be granted. I'm afraid I'm too tired to write a real Rant.
I hope you all had good weekends. I remember when the word
"weekend" meant something to me. Farewell.Monday, November 1, 2010: I Think I Am Losing My Mind (Again)
Today, I shall be visiting the dentist's office for the third
time in as many weeks. I have a fourth appointment next week.
I am tired of going around with my jaw frozen.
have nearly finished one mountain of marking, albeit about two weeks
after I should have done so. I now have to get through sixty
midterms in the next four days. I also have to write a lecture on
, which, incidentally, I have not yet finished rereading.
Last "night," I went to bed at 5:30 a.m. I was woken up
this morning at about 9:15 by the sweet sounds of a pneumatic drill.
Could I get back to sleep? No. Has the drilling
stopped yet? Nuh-uh. Is it going to stop at any point
today? I don't freaking think so.
4) I cannot for
the life of me play a C#m chord that does not sound like the noise a
cat makes when you dunk it into a bath.
5) I have heard there are people who go out and have fun sometimes. I would like to be one of those people.
6) Did I mention that I had a "part-time job"? HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA.
Oh, right: I have to reapply for that part-time job this
week. You know...because I have all this free time in which to do
so. The interesting bit is that I must fill in a separate form
for every single class I apply to teach. I am going to bang my
head on the wall and sob.
8) If that GODDAMN DRILL does not shut up RIGHT THE HELL NOW, I am going to DICE somebody.
What a lovely sunny day it is. I remember when I used to
have the time to go outside for five seconds or so late in the
afternoon on every second Thursday.
10) Maybe in a hundred years, I shall actually have a very short break. That would be really, really nice.Monday, October 18, 2010: Ode to the Toothache That Has Destroyed My Weekend
you are quite unpleasant.
I think it is possible that you
have moved beyond mere "discomfort"
and into the realm of OH MY GOD THE PAIN THE PAIN SOMEBODY MAKE IT STOP.
you had to do this on the damn weekend.
All the dentists are home doing whatever dentists do when they have
no access to instruments of sublime torture.
Possibly they watch a lot of TV.
I think it is possible you are causing my throat to hurt too.
I do not know how you are doing this,
but I suspect you of being behind everything
that is currently wrong with me.
Why can't you leave me alone?
Yes, I probably eat too much sugar. I KNOW.
I can see another root canal in my future.
O Monday morning,
please come swiftly
so that I can beg my dentist for mercy,
plus lots and lots of painkillers.Monday, October 11, 2010: How I Didn't Quite Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Retail
skipped last week because I finished my comic at something like 6:00
a.m. and just couldn't bring myself to write a Rant as well. This
week, I may be finished the comic as early as 3:30 a.m. (speedy), so I
can squeeze a Rant in here. It's funny how little time I
always seem to have, especially as the most productive thing I actually
did this weekend was teach myself how to play "Skullcrusher
Mountain" on the ukulele. Yeah, I need to re-evaluate my life.
paid a visit to Long and McQuade (a musical instruments and supplies
store) on Saturday. The experience made me think--as per usual
after I have had to enter any retail establishment that does not sell
books or food--about phobias and how very much I wish I didn't have any.
am mortally afraid of shopping. I know it is something that has
to be done, but I have never liked it or been able to handle it well.
Aggressive salespeople love me; I am easy to bully into spending
money because I am reduced to a jelly of terror every time I enter a
store. In fact, an aggressive salesperson I met on Friday is
indirectly responsible for my adventures with "Skullcrusher Mountain,"
since he sold me the ukulele on which I played it. Granted, I had
been wanting a new uke for a while (my old one is made of laminate and
plastic and generally sounds rather as if it is being played off-key
under water), but I wasn't sure I was willing to commit until this guy
started haggling with me. I don't deal well with haggling; I
freeze up and let the other person make all the moves. I did
check up on my new uke online afterwards, and as it turned out, I got a
fairly good deal on it (unless it has yet-to-be discovered flaws)--and
it is pretty, and it plays in tune
and I love it very much--but the thing is that even if it hadn't been a
great ukulele, I could easily have let myself be herded into buying it.
I've had this happen with computers and extended warranties,
though admittedly, my luck with computers is so bad that I should
go for the extended warranty every time.
The problem is that this phobia, which is as about as stupid a phobia as has ever existed anywhere, is in play all the time
even when the salesperson in question isn't aggressive. I know
it's supposed to be possible to conquer one's fears, but the effect
this particular fear has on me doesn't seem to be under my control.
Whenever I address a salesperson, I lose the ability to form
coherent sentences in English. I get flustered. In the
music store (not Long and McQuade but a smaller store) on Friday, I
lost my ability to tune a ukulele, an instrument I have been playing
since the age of eight or so, and I broke one of the strings on a
baritone I was trying because I had wound it too tightly. In Long
and McQuade on Saturday, I found myself unable to articulate the
sentence, "I need a gig bag for a tenor ukulele." As often occurs
in such situations, I was reduced to using sign language and stuttering
incomprehensibly. The salesperson was very nice and did
eventually come to understand what I wanted; this just made me more
ashamed of myself and thus more incoherent.
I don't know if
there is a technical term for the Fear of Shopping, but damn it, it's
crippling. I sometimes describe it as the "fear of people behind
desks," as it extends to any situation in which I have to approach
someone in charge of something. People occasionally tell me to
get over it. I wish I could, but the problem is that even when I
tell myself I am going to be brave and boldly storm a store, I end up
losing my head and behaving like an idiot once I'm actually inside.
My intentions are always good, but there seems to be a
fundamental disconnect between my intentions and my brain.
well. The experience was excruciatingly painful, but I did manage
to make purchases on Friday and Saturday without dying of
embarrassment. I really hope I don't need to buy anything else
for a while.Monday, September 27, 2010: I Try to Make My Peace with Technology
realise I am always complaining that technology--specifically,
computer-related technology, but also just technology in general--hates
me. I have had so many problems with computers, printers,
scanners, tablets, modums, DVD players, VCRs, space heaters, electric
pianos, toasters, ovens, refrigerators, staplers, watches, clock
radios, remote controls, lamps, phones, answering
machines, harmonicas, harmoniums, accordions, piccolos, bicycles,
bike locks, and sliding closet doors that I'm pretty sure inanimate
objects that contain fiddly bits are out to get me. My watches
are an interesting case in point. I had a perfectly good Timex
that lost maybe half a second a day until my parents gave me a really
good watch for my B.A. graduation. It never worked properly;
it lost at least thirty seconds a day, stopped for no reason at random
moments, and was generally untrustworthy, even after several sessions
with the Really Good Watch Doctor. It is now in my parents' house
somewhere; they were going to try to get it fixed again
, but I suspect they finally gave up the whole business as a bad job. I now have a Caprice (i.e., a really cheap
watch). It worked fine for two or three years. Then, about
a month ago, it decided to mimic the really good watch and lose time
for no reason every once in a while. I thought the battery might
simply be in the process of dying, and I took it off...but no, it has
run perfectly ever since. It only loses time when it is on my
wrist. I am now wearing a digital watch I found on the street.
I don't particularly like digital watches, but I seem to have no
At any rate, I thought I would try to escape from my
depressing and almost wholly negative relationship with technology by
finding some technology that has improved my life instead of making it
deeply frustrating. It hasn't been easy. This is what I've
come up with:1) My hand-binder
Many years ago, I bought a little machine capable of punching the
holes necessary for a comb binding. My reasoning was that it
would a) save me on three-ring binders and b) just generally be cool.
I have used the binder frequently over the years, completely
justifying the purchase. It is a little decrepit now, but it
still gets plenty of use.2) Books.
Books count as technology. I like books. I read them a lot.
that's it. I can't think of anything else. Even the chair
on which I am currently sitting is problematic. Even my couch
is falling to pieces. I don't think this Rant has helped me
escape from my depressing and almost wholly negative relationship with
technology after all.
Monday, September 20, 2010: End of the Epic Computer Saga
lo, late on the Day of Thor, a messenger did come to me bearing glad
tidings. "Rejoice," quoth he, "for thy patience has profited
thee. Seven weeks and two days have passed since thou broughtst
thy computer to our realm for repair. At long last, 'tis ready
for pickup!" My heart wept with joy at these words.
Day of Frigg,* two days and fifty after the computer was submitted to
the Lords of the Machine, 'twas returned to me. "O laptop," quoth
I, "how I have missed thee. I hate thee with a fiery,
all-consuming passion, but still I have missed thee. Do not ask
me to explain this." My gladness was somewhat tempered by the
fact that my new hard drive meant that I had to reload every single
damn program onto the machine, but what are hours of boredom next to
the joy of a cheap Acer laptop that actually turns on every once in a
while? Cry huzzah!
If my laptop breaks again, which I am
suspecting it will, I shall weep tears of terrible sadness. Alas
for the grief that the future imposeth upon our miserable lives!*Or perhaps of Freyja, or perhaps of both, assuming that the two names are cognates. I shall stop talking now.Monday, September 13, 2010: Random Thoughts About Nothing in Particular
As of Tuesday, I will have been waiting for the return of my
ailing laptop for exactly seven weeks. My dad tells me that if
the lovely people who currently have my computer sitting in a warehouse
somewhere take more than sixty days to return it, the store officially
(according to store policy) owes me a new one. The fact that this
may actually end up happening kind of appals me. What can
possibly be taking so long?
2) I have stumbled upon more
excellent British TV (for some reason, I seem to be doing that a lot
lately). The BBC has produced a three-part series called Sherlock
; it is a modern retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes series, and it is much
better than it sounds. Actually, I'm going to have to go out on a
limb here and call it excellent. The Holmes story fits
surprisingly well into twenty-first-century London; the updated
elements are tastefully done (i.e., the writers don't point at them
with giant neon arrows and go, "Eh? EH? LOOK AT THE CLEVER
THING WE HAVE DONE HERE!"). It is oddly logical that Watson
should be a blogger and that Holmes should obnoxiously text Lestrade
the word "Wrong!" in the middle of a press conference. The
writing is very good (no wonder, as Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss of Doctor Who
fame are in charge), the portrayals of Holmes and Watson are spot on,
and the show does not forget to be funny. Showcase is currently
airing it; it is also available online, rather less legitimately.
The DVD will be available in Canada in November.
3) Since I've somehow got onto British series, you might also consider checking out Blackpool
which is, unfortunately, impossible to view in North America by
legitimate means. It's a 2004 six-episode musical that is a
little too odd to describe accurately; however, once you get used to
the strange format (the characters sing along to pre-existing versions
of well-known songs that somehow manage to fit perfectly into the
plot), it becomes absolutely mermerising. It tells the story of a
man who is attempting to turn his two-bit Blackpool arcade into a
Vegas-style casino; complications arise when a body is discovered on
the premises, and these complications multiply after the investigating
officer falls for the arcade owner's dissatisfied trophy wife.
You can see one of my favourite sequences, the opening of the
second episode, here
North Americans are probably most likely to recognise Tenth
Doctor David Tennant, but frankly, all the actors in this one are great.
The school year has started again. This is really my
favourite time of term, simply because the marking hasn't begun yet.
However, it will be upon us soon enough.
5) I don't
actually have anything more to say, but I wanted a fifth entry.
Have a good second half of September, everyone.Monday, September 6, 2010: Definitely a Curse
is once again 4:30 a.m., so in the interests of easing myself towards a
more sane sleep cycle, I shall do only a short Rant, this one a
follow-up to last week's. I am still waiting for my computer,
which has now been in the shop for six weeks. The Puture Phop
people have finally given me my data back, but the machine itself
is absent. In the meantime, I am stuck with my desktop.
This computer is actually better than my laptop because it does
not have Vista on it, but it has its idiosyncrasies. For
instance, the display occasionally turns pink or yellow for no apparent
reason. The useful USB ports on the front of the tower actually fell inside the box
a year or so ago, meaning that I had to knock out one of the front
panels, pull the loose ports out the front of the machine, and
plug a USB extension cord into one of them (the other had somehow
become completely bent out of shape and now works only sporadically).
My scanner does not like the extension cord. When I plug it
in, it will often decide that it is going to disconnect, then
reconnect, then disconnect, then reconnect, and so on forever. Of
course, the computer goes ding every time this happens. I am
sometimes able to force a connection by squeezing the plug and the
extension cord really firmly together in my hand, but not today.
Today, only plugging the scanner into the defective port worked.
In the meantime, my DVD drive has gone wonky and will not
reproduce sound properly (it's definitely the DVD player's fault; if I
play something off the Internet, the sound is fine).
don't know what to do any more. I can make a computer or piece of
computer-related equipment self-destruct simply by looking at it funny.
I would really like to punch technology in the mouth. Since
I can't, I think I'll retire to a corner and weep gently for a bit.Monday, August 30, 2010: It's a Curse, I Tell You
late July, my one-year-old laptop stopped working. This is not
exactly an unusual state of affairs for me; I don't seem to be able to
keep a functional computer for more than a year at a time.
Fortunately, I had gone for the extended warranty, which tends to
be a scam unless you're, you know, me. I should always go for the
I took my computer in for repairs on July
27th. I had bought it from a well-known chain whose name I shall
cleverly disguise so that no one will possibly be able to guess what it
is. Let's call it Puture Phop. The guy at the desk told me
I would have my computer back in a week to ten days. He also
charged me seventy-nine bucks to back up my data. Good old Puture
'Twas exactly one month later that I returned to the Phop
to inquire into the fate of my computer. I could have phoned, of
course, but I find phone conversations with people in computer stores
very frustrating. No one listens to anything you say, and when
you arrive at the store, the person at the counter contradicts
everything the person on the phone told you. There is no record
anywhere that you have spoken to anyone at all.
Events at Puture Phop played out as follows:
approached the repairs/set-up counter. There were two people
being helped, so I stood a few feet back and waited. Ten minutes
later, the same people were still being helped, and when I came out of
my daydream, I noticed that some guy had calmly cut in front of me.
The two people left, and the jerkwad started talking to one of
the clerks. The other one left the desk and went to talk to about
six other Puture Phop employees who were just standing around, doing
About twenty minutes passed. The jerkwad kept on
being helped. A couple started hanging around near the desk, but
they eventually got impatient and left. At long, long last, the
jerkwad was satisfied, and I moved up to the desk, though by this
point, there was no longer anyone behind it. There continued not
to be anyone behind it for a good five minutes.
At last, an
employee, Bob (Not His Real Name), wandered up to the desk and asked me
what the problem was. I explained that I very much wanted to
locate my computer, please. Bob said a month was excessive for a
repair job and promised to check. Meanwhile, just like magic,
another employee had appeared to deal with the enormous line that had
formed behind me.
minutes passed. I could see what was going on off in the staff
area, and it was instructive. It went something like this:
1) Bob checked a computer for my information.
2) Bob moved to another computer and checked there as well.
3) Bob returned to the first computer and did yet more checking.
4) Bob called over two other employees and showed them my receipt.
5) The three of them opened a huge cabinet that looked to be full of laptops and went through it.
6) They went through it again.
7) They went through it a third time.
8) They stared at the receipt a bit more.
9) Bob returned to one of his computers and checked it again.
By this point, I was pretty sure that Puture Phop had lost my computer.
eventually returned to the desk and informed me that my computer was
off somewhere, probably "waiting for a part." He would photocopy
the receipt and ask someone senior about it.
To his credit, Bob
(who actually was quite helpful) phoned me today and told me that my
computer had been located and really was waiting for a part. He
said I would probably get it back in about a week. I'm not
holding my breath, but it was nice of him to call.
I seriously think I'm under some sort of curse. Computers make me sad.Monday, August 16, 2010: It's Five Fifteen in the Bloody Morning
would love to write you a real rant. I truly would.
However, when I go out on my balcony and look east, I can
actually see the damn sky getting light. I've stayed up all night again
I expect this (very short) little document is going to be full of
typos that I shall miss because I am too tired to proofread.
Under the good points, I was able to watch last week's episode of
while I was finishing
up the last boring mechanical aspects of my comic. It was about
evolution, and it actually made me laugh more than once. There is
hope for Futurama
. I'm not sure there's any hope for me
, on the other hand. I have three classes again this fall, two of them online and one with sixty students in it
. I plan to break down and weep very, very soon. The West of Bathurst
book will probably be finished in the year 10,000,000,000 or so.
It is currently 5:25, and I think I need to go to bed right freaking now.Monday, August 9, 2010: An Open Letter to the Perpetual Construction on Bloor Street
Dear Perpetual Construction on Bloor Street:
have known each other for a long time, you and I. I can't
remember exactly when we first met, but I know it was many, many years
ago. Ever since, you have been a presence in my life.
have to admit that I never thought we would be together forever.
I was initially under the impression that you felt the same way;
in fact, I expected you to stick around for a few months, then move on.
I knew that ours was a casual relationship, not meant to last.
as time went on, you seemed to settle in. Oh, you weren't
entirely anchored in one place; you progressed slowly down Bloor,
transforming the roads and sidewalks into pretty much exactly what they
had been before, only with more planters. However, your
apparent movement was really an illusion. You were clearly in it
for the long haul, while I was still not ready to commit.
have now, I think, reached a crisis point. You have spread out
over several blocks in one of the busiest parts of downtown, reducing
traffic to one lane in each direction and causing bicyclists to go in
constant fear of their lives. I, alas, am one of these
bicyclists. I just don't think we mesh
any more. We have grown apart. Your interests directly
contradict mine, and your stubborn refusal to get the hell off my bike
route demonstrates an extreme lack of sensitivity.
think it is time for us to spend some time apart. I know you mean
well, but you seem to want to stick around forever, and I would like my
freedom. Perhaps you should consider retiring to the suburbs.
Surely there is someone there who will be willing to love and
Goodbye, Perpetual Construction on Bloor Street.
For both our sakes, please consider finding some new interest a
very long way from here.
Yours temporarily, with luck,
Kari.Monday, August 2, 2010: It's Official: Computers Hate Me
went to Newfoundland last weekend. It was a good trip, though I
fear I was grumpy enough to make several of my friends quite angry with
me. I would like to apologise to these friends. I know I
should hide my bad moods and not impose them on others, but I find it
difficult to do this. I can see
myself being a jerkwad; I just can't stop. The result is that I
feel bad about it not just afterwards but also while it is happening.
This is difficult to explain to normal people, who are generally
able to control how they behave. Clearly, there is something
wrong with me.
At any rate, one of the things causing the
grumpiness was the fact that the second I arrived in Newfoundland, my
laptop stopped working. I had wanted to get some comics finished
so that I didn't fall behind and could mark without interruption once I
returned home; instead, I got hours of fruitless frustration. One
of my friends eventually managed to revive the computer, but only for
an evening. It is now in the shop, and I am using my other
computer, which is slightly less dysfunctional.
do not understand why computers hate me so much. Perhaps they
sense my computer-related weakness and go wrong simply because they
can. Other people keep their computers for years; I go through
laptops the way most go through Kleenex.
I just want a computer
that will turn on and do stuff. That is all I ask for. I'm
tired of the inexplicable freezing and the data loss and the blue
screen of death. I'm tired of not understanding why neither my
mic or my headphones work on my desktop any more. I'm infuriated
by Vista, Word, and all their little friends. If Future Shop
charges me for any
these repairs beyond data recovery, for which it is already bleeding me
dry, I shall punch someone. You sold me this utter piece of crap,
Future Shop. You fix the damn thing.
I shall probably wander off and cry now. Have a good holiday, Canadians.Monday, July 19, 2010: The Unfortunate Thing About Board Games
weekend, some friends and I were reminded of one of the unofficial
Rules of All Board Games: no matter how fantastic a game is, if
no one in your group knows how to play it before you start, you will
all hate it forever afterwards.
It's always advisable to learn a
board game from someone who understands the rules. These things
tend to come with twenty-page-long rulebooks badly translated from
German or Chinese; you can certainly read them, but they will answer
your questions in the wrong order, if at all. An experienced
player will explain the rules as they come up. The first ten
minutes of the game will involve some fumbling, but people will
probably catch on after that.
Sometimes, however, you will
find yourself with a game everybody assures you is "good" but nobody
knows how to play. Such was the case last weekend with my copy of
Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot
My sister gave it to me for Christmas about two and a half years
ago. She usually plays the games she gives me with me, but this
time, she was banished from my parents' house because she was pregnant
and they had been exposed to German measles. She told me the game
was a good one, but I didn't have a chance to try it out until last
I'm sure it is
a good game. I'm not
sure we'll ever play it again. We seemed to spend endless amounts
of time looking stuff up in the two instruction booklets, often
fruitlessly. There were all sorts of fiddly rules that went along
with certain types of cards, and we kept doing things wrong, and friend
#1 cluelessly used what was probably the nastiest card in the game to
give us all Ebola Virus and basically bring the game to a standstill,
which, as we discovered later, shouldn't have happened because we were
actually using the Ebola card wrong. Friend #2 decided early on
that he hated the game, and he actively tried to lose. Friend #3
played skilfully and with intent to win, only to be taken down
accidentally by friend #4. I won, mostly by virtue of staying
quietly under the radar throughout the game; I had no idea what I was
doing and was employing no strategy whatsoever. The effect was
basically what you would get if five people who didn't know what nutmeg
was were turned loose in a kitchen and commanded to bake a pie.
Any resulting edible substance would probably be a fluke.
I am a little sad about this game, which I suspect is actually kind of neat, and is certainly no more complicated than Munchkin
which it resembles. At our next games night, however, I hope we
stick to games at least one of us knows. It is hard to keep track
of one's bunnies when one doesn't know what they are for.Monday, July 5, 2010: Free Music and Other Sad Stories
apologise for not posting last week. Marking and the comic
conspired together to eat my life. They should also be eating my
life now, of course, but I am currently pretending they shouldn't.
nothing besides marking and the occasional film* has happened to me in
the past two weeks, I shall simply reflect briefly on the nightly
concert at the pub across the street from me. The place has a
live band on the patio just about every night of the week in the
summer. I dimly remember the days when it stuck to Mondays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays. Those days are gone now.
not that I particularly mind; I quite like the whole thing with the
free music. It's just that some of the band choices are...odd.
Back in the days of Monday/Thursday/Saturday, it was all jazz,
all the time; now we get various styles played on various instruments.
Tonight, it's jazz. Occasionally, there's old-fashioned
rock and roll or country. On Canada Day, it started in the middle
of the afternoon and was just freaking weird.
I mean, okay, give
me Elvis all you like, but a jazz version of "On Top of Old Smokey"?
Whose idea was that? Was your band bored? It's bad
enough that you felt obliged to turn it into jazz; the fact that it's
purely instrumental is just going to make people think of the much more
commonly known parody, "On Top of Spaghetti." It was a kind of
strange thing to find myself listening to, to tell you the truth.
I was waiting for you guys to segue into "London Bridge is
Falling Down," but you never did.
I seem to remember that there
was other odd music that afternoon as well, but now, of course, I
cannot for the life of me remember what it was. At any rate, I'm
sure there will be odder stuff some evening soon. Tonight's
rather anonymous jazz is relaxing in comparison.*Damn
you, Pixar. Damn your ability to make me sob for ten minutes,
even though I know perfectly well how you are doing it. Damn your
sad music and poignant moments of silent character interaction.
And damn you, M. Night
Shyamalan, for taking what could have been quite a good little story
and trapping it forever in Expositionland, where it falls prey to such
deadly lines as, "It is time we show the people of the fire nation we
believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs." Damn you.
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