Friday, November 2, 2012

Weather, Sports, and Politics: A Friday Mixed Bag

Greetings Friends,

When you envision the New York City skyline, it is usually as a tableau of lights and impressive skyscrapers, not the metaphorical black-and-white cookie seen here: one dark half mingling with a light half. This image is the least of what "superstorm" Sandy inflicted on my hometown. I'm sure most of us have seen enough horrific pictures of coastal New Jersey, Queens, and Staten Island to leave indelible images on our hearts and minds forever.

Right now, it seems like the good people of the East Coast of the United States will never recover from Mother Nature's wrath. They will eventually. It will be long, hard, and painful, but it will happen. It is not fun to wake up one day to find life as you know it changed forever. It's happened to me, and to countless others. From my own personal experience, I know it sometimes doesn't seem possible to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on. But, it was possible for me, and it will be possible for the thousands who were impacted by Sandy. True, life will never be the same, but eventually, it will begin to brighten. There will be a new normal, and life will go on.

In the meantime, we could surely use a distraction from the devastation. Here are two topics that have been distracting me since before Sandy, the dreaded "superstorm," materialized:

Pucks and Padlocks: Well sports fans, it's no secret that labor disputes have become a fact of life for those of us unfortunate enough to be afflicted with the sickness known as fandom. This year's lockout marks the third major interruption of a National Hockey League season in the past 18 years, and it looks like it's going to be every bit as lengthy as the last one in 2005. Today, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the cancellation of the Winter Classic, the outdoor game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Detroit Red Wings that was supposed to be played on New Year's Day in front of about 100,000 people.

The bullshit -er, rhetoric, associated with this latest work stoppage has been even more vitriolic, particularly on the part of the players. They do in fact have much to lose, but for every middle-sized North American boy who dreams of lacing up a pair of skates to risk jarring his brain loose on a sheet of ice, there is no league other than the NHL in which to attempt that. So, guys - all of you - please cease the threats of not coming back if your salaries are cut and your contracts are capped at six years. Just please concentrate on putting your jellied heads together and sorting this all out. Then, when you finally do, members of both sides should have to kiss the hairiest asses of the fans who will flock back to the arenas to see you play. Remember: all is fair in love and lockouts.

Politics: I picked the perfect time to skip back across the border into the United States: three weeks prior to the presidential election. I've tried like hell not to listen to all the rhetoric - er, bullshit, but some of it is unavoidable, particularly the stupidity that's been spewing out of the mouths of certain Republican congressional candidates. Abortion and a woman's right to do what she chooses with her body should never be politicized, but it seems this year, there is no avoiding it. Morality and religion aside, you have no right to tell me how to stuff a ballot box, let alone tell me what to do with an even more personal box. That's crude, I know, but so is saying that a child conceived during an act of rape is a blessing from God.

Watching New Jersey Governor Chris Christie smooch President Obama's buttocks for federal disaster relief money this past week has been almost as distasteful as listening to the right wing nuts go on about abortion. So was watching CNN politicize an unfortunate weather event. Mother Nature has some pretty ironic timing, and I think her message is very much in keeping with what Joan Crawford told the Pepsi Cola board when she took over for her deceased husband, CEO Alfred Steele (that is, if the dialogue in the movie Mommie Dearest is historically accurate): "Don't fuck with me fellas, this ain't my first time at the rodeo."

Have a great weekend.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Back In the U.S.A.

Greetings Friends,

If there is anything I've learned over the past three years, it is to never count on anyone but yourself. As much as we would like to believe that there are family members and friends who will be there for us no matter what (sometimes they might be), the majority of the time, we are our own best friends. It's a tough lesson to learn, but thankfully, I've not only learned it, I've lived to tell about it.

Without going into copious detail about why I'm glad to be back living in the United States, I will say, however, that I did appreciate what Canadian life had to offer me during the time I spent there. I learned some new skills, gained some valuable insight, and finally made peace with the fact that my Canadian family is nutsy-fagan-batshit-crazy. That's a technical term; I found it in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to live in my mom's birthplace for a few years. For a very short period of time, I truly felt like I belonged there. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a huge mistake for reasons beyond my control. I beat myself up about my decision to move there for a long time, and now that I'm back below the 49th parallel, I can say with complete honesty that that mistake lead me to something even better than I could have possibly imagined. Life is not easy, and the journey it takes you on is not always pleasant. Sometimes, you have to endure a hell of a lot of unpleasantness to get to a place where things start to get better. I thought Toronto was that place for me, but it wasn't. The place I am in now is that place.

I am deliberately being vague about my current location for reasons having to do with the nutsy-fagan-batshit-craziness I had to endure during my time in Canada. I will, however, say this: To those who might read this (and you know who you are), you can no longer hurt me; you can no longer control how I live my life; you can no longer inflict yourself and your insanity on me; you will never see or hear from me ever again. And lastly, I want to say that I feel sorry for you; it is your loss that I am no longer in your life.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, it's on to bigger and better things. I will look back on my time in Canada as a pit stop I needed to make in order to get to where I am. I am grateful for the experience, however horrible and painful it was to endure, but I am even more grateful for where it has lead me. And, I am happy to say that I still have the ability to experience the joy and happiness it has brought me.

Have a glorious weekend.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Labour vs. Labor

Greetings Friends,

Labour/Labor Day is here, and instead of bemoaning the 8.3 percent American jobless rate, I want to talk about another topic that is uniquely Canadian: hockey.

Why am I choosing to discuss hockey on a day meant to honour hardworking Americans and Canadians? Well, for those of you who are unaware, the NHL's collective bargaining agreement with its players is set to expire on September 15. Once again, and for the third time in Gary Bettman's tenure as commissioner of the sport, the NHL is poised to lock out its players because of a labour dispute.

I have always maintained the stance that professional athletes should not be allowed to unionize, but that idea is about as well-received as asking Donald Trump to get a decent haircut. Instead, every few years the owners and players like to play a game of "chicken" with their sport, while the fans wait to see who flinches first. This might not be big news in the States right now, what with the Democratic National Convention set to begin this week, and millions of Americans waiting to see how President Obama will respond to Clint Eastwood's "empty chair" speech at last week's Republican National Convention. Americans have many more pressing matters to attend to than wondering if a metaphorical padlock will once again be slapped on the second-rate sport of hockey. Granted, millions breathed a collective sigh of relief last year when the NFL avoided that scenario, and still more gleefully tuned in when the NBA started its season late after settling its labour dispute. But, the NHL subscribes to the "go big or go home" way of doing things, so chances are, hockey fans are looking at yet another lost season.

The first time the NHL tossed an entire season (2004-05), I had a vested interest in the outcome: I was a season ticket-holder of the New York Islanders. Now, I hold no such status other than that of a somewhat interested bystander. I amuse myself by reading impassioned pleas from Canadian sports writers to team owners to make "smart business decisions," rather than "putting hockey teams in places where 12-year-olds knew they couldn't survive," and tweets from fans attempting to convince themselves that they won't have a Pavlovian response to the first Hockey Night in Canada game that airs post-lockout. Come on people, at least fess up to caring. We can't help it; we're sports fans. As I've said previously, being a sports fan is an affliction there is no cure for.

As the deadline looms, and things continue to look bleak, I can't help but think about the people who will really get hurt by all this labour strife: the individuals who work for the teams and the arenas in which they play. That list includes vendors, ushers, maintenance people, office staff, and others who rely on much smaller salaries than the players and owners enjoy to support their families and live their lives. These people are the ones who really get lost in the shuffle; the ones who have to worry about finding alternate employment if the worst case scenario materializes. The players will be fine. The owners, better than fine. It's the labourers no one ever hears about that suffer the most. Maybe Donald Fehr and Gary Bettman should think about those people at their next meeting. Chances are, they won't.

So on this Labour Day, think about those who are struggling, and those whose hearts are heavy with the worry of imminent struggle. The wealthy enjoy the privilege of success from the sweat of others. Sadly, professional athletes are no different.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

It's My Body, Damn It!

Greetings Friends,

Okay, I admit that my use of the image of a wire hanger might be puzzling (I "borrowed" the idea from the Huffington Post), but it certainly grabs one's attention.

For the past few days I've been listening to anyone with a voice and an electronic device communicate their disdain for the comments Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) made about a woman's decision to seek an abortion in the event she becomes pregnant as a result of being raped. They are as follows:

"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume that maybe that didn't work or something, I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child."

Before I read these comments on on Sunday, I had never heard of Rep. Akin. Since then, I have learned that he is a "longtime hero" to the antiabortion movement, one of many evangelical Christians who believe that "during a rape, the trauma sets in motion biological blocks so a woman cannot conceive a child." Oh really? That sort of thinking might encourage other biologically ignorant people to believe that the "trauma" of a woman's first experience with sexual intercourse might trigger similar "biological blocks" that would prevent her from getting pregnant if she is not using some form of birth control. Funny how so many young woman wonder how they get pregnant after having had sex only once. As the saying goes, "once is all it takes," whether the sex is consensual or not. It is a biological fact. These "blocks" evangelical white men speak of, simply do not exist. But, how would they know that? They are, after all, men.

A woman's legal right to seek an abortion has been in place since the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. The court decided that a Texas statute forbidding abortion unless it became necessary to save the life of the mother, was unconstitutional. The justices arrived at their decision by stating that, according to the Constitution, a woman's right to an abortion is a private matter. They did however, include the following statement in their decision:

"State regulation protective of fetal life after viability thus has both logical and biological justifications. If the State is interested in protecting fetal life after viability, it may go so far as to proscribe abortion during that period, except when it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother."

What that means, in plain English, is that a particular state can make it very difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion, if it chooses to do so. And that's what many American politicians, including Todd Akin, have devoted their careers to doing for the past 39 years.

In 1973, I was 6 years old. I have effectively lived my entire life knowing that it is my right to have an abortion if I choose. I cannot begin to imagine what life was like for women when abortion was considered a criminal act, performed in secret, and often to the physical detriment of the woman. Granted, I don't believe the decision to have an abortion is one that should be made lightly, but I do, however, believe that I as a woman, have every right to make that decision for myself. A group of men, white, black, blue, purple, or any other colour, have no right to make that decision for me, regardless of the circumstances. And, to further muddy the waters, said men have absolutely no right to define rape as "legitimate" or "illegitimate," or to make nonsensical statements about a woman's biological ability to become pregnant.

I could go on for pages about how evangelical Christians and other religious groups choose to ignore science by making ridiculous claims about biological blocks and other issues that have no basis in fact. That has been done and will continue be done as long as humans walk the earth.

What I will say, however, is that the right to free speech should be cherished and not perverted by individuals who seek elected office to gratify their own egos. Todd Akin and his brethren are not interested in protecting women from themselves. They are nothing more than narcissistic agenda-pushers who attempt to bully people into believing in their skewed vision of a perfect world. Sorry, gentlemen, but there is no such thing as a perfect world. We women have the right to govern our bodies as we please, just as you do. That is one biological determinism that you and God can't do a damn thing about.

To women of my generation who might not realize how infuriating this is, do a little research about what risks were involved in obtaining an abortion before Roe v. Wade. I ain't spoon-feeding this to you, ladies; this is something you must make an effort to be aware of. 


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Hands Off the Milk and Gas!

Greetings Friends,

I'll be the first to admit that a trip to bulk-behemoth Costco is never a pleasant experience, but for things like toilet paper, paper towels, laundry detergent and various other products, I'm willing to suck it up and brave the crowds every few months. For some people, though, Costco is Mecca, the place where they shop for outsize configurations of groceries, cheap clothing, gas, and just about anything they can stuff into their vehicles.

Earlier this week I spotted a story about the Bellingham,Washington Costco location being overrun with Canadian shoppers (Bellingham is right on the Washington/British Columbia border), and locals getting pretty steamed about being invaded by their neighbours to the north. Especially industrious residents on both sides of the border have even set up duelling Facebook pages to rail at each other about the store's overcrowding, fast-disappearing pallets of milk, and long lines at the gas station. I won't even get into the parking lot issues because I have no idea just how awful B.C. drivers are. I can, however, go on for hours about Quebeckers and their proclivities behind the wheel. That's a topic for another day.

This Costco scenario got me thinking: all my life I've been listening to my nutter-butter Canadian family members wax rhapsodic about how much better they think life in the United States is. I've mentioned this on several occasions, but when it comes to cross-border shopping, my family is not unique in their stance that Americans have no idea how lucky they are when it comes to endless retail options. Another story I read confirms this: the CBC reports that Americans enjoy 23 square feet of retail space per person, while Canadians have only 14 square feet per person. This is actually not too bad considering that Canada has only about one-tenth the population of the U.S. But, Canadians being Canadian, it's one more reason to bitch about living in the shadow of the U.S.A.

Americans, on the other hand, should be grateful that their northern neighbours are willing to put up with annoying border crossings and other inconveniences to contribute to the ailing U.S. economy. In all the times I've cross-border shopped in my life, I never heard anyone in the Buffalo, New York area complain about Ontario residents "invading" their space. There are a plethora of retail establishments located within scant minutes of the Peace Bridge, which connects Buffalo with Ft. Erie, Ontario, and I've never once read anything about people in the Buffalo area wanting to ban Canadians from their stores. If anyone has, I'd sure appreciate hearing about it.

Going to Costco, as I've mentioned, has never been particularly enjoyable. The locations are always crowded, the shopping carts big and unwieldy, and the patrons are a bit, shall we say, overindulgent. I'm not suggesting that anyone should pass up great deals on staples like milk, eggs and bread, but when you're buying cheese in blocks the size of Toyota Corollas, it might be time to reconsider just how much of it you really need. I can't say the same for toilet paper, because I am a staunch advocate of having no less than 36 rolls in the house at all times. 

The lesson we should take away from this international "incident" is that Americans and Canadians, while we look the same for the most part, have wildly varying points of view when it comes to our cross-border relationship. This is yet one more example of how ignorance can cause a shit storm, albeit one that could have easily been avoided.


Friday, June 29, 2012

The Ignorance Epidemic

Greetings Friends,

Yesterday, my Facebook news feed was moving at light speed after word hit the great electronic void that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's mandate that approximately 30 million uninsured Americans should be required to purchase health insurance. The 5-4 decision by the high-and-mighty judges is a major victory for Americans, but unfortunately, too many of them are too ignorant to understand why. This landmark decision puts into place one of the most important social programs in decades, and will effectively eliminate many of the bonehead insurance practices that prevent many people from obtaining health insurance (pre-existing condition, anyone?).

If you want more about the details of the decision, I suggest reading this Washington Post article and checking out some of the related links. What I find most infuriating is this amalgamation of Tweets and Facebook conversations by Americans who claim they want to move to Canada because of this decision. Reading them should have made me laugh, but instead, I had to shake my head at the abject ignorance on display by clueless people who think that moving to Canada holds the promise of a better life - at least from a health insurance perspective.

Well, here's some news, my fellow Americans: Canada has had a government-sponsored healthcare system in place for 50 years. While it is a far from perfect system, Canadians have been living with it, and for the most part, thriving. The earth hasn't opened up and swallowed anyone up, nor has Parliament spontaneously combusted during the ongoing debates about how to improve it. And here's the kicker: three men, Tommy Douglas, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson (the latter of the three are former Prime Ministers), each with diverse political ideas, managed to come together to create the system that is still in use today. That much cannot be said for American politicians; Democrats are celebrating the decision, while Republicans are crying in their tea over it.

To all the Tweeters who want to move to Canada, the joke is very clearly on you. There have been many knee-jerk reactions to various American policy changes by legions of political ignoramuses and the solution always seems to be, "I'm moving to Canada!" There were times when I agreed with that sentiment, but this particular trumpeting of "life is better in Canada" is at best laughable, and at worst, an indication of just how stupid some Americans really are. Yeah, the American public school curriculum doesn't teach its kids all that much about their neighbours to the north, but with all the access to technology we now have, a simple Google of "Canadian Health Care" would have made many of these moronic Tweeters refrain from posting their threats of flight. And, before any more of you start calling the United States of America the "USSA" (United Socialist States of America), I suggest doing a little more research on Canadian politics. Canada in no way resembles the old USSR, but it does have significantly more social programs in place to benefit its citizens. And that's with a conservative government in place, mind you.

The heath insurance issue will never be one that is not fraught with controversy. I applaud President Obama and the U.S. Supreme Court for taking the necessary steps to make life better for all Americans, but I soundly boo all Americans who think moving to Canada is the answer to escaping these so-called socialist policies. Do your homework, people; reading about your ignorance is giving me a headache. And before you go shooting bullets in my direction, I have an Ontario Health Insurance Plan card in my wallet, and I am a citizen of both countries.

Have a great weekend, a happy Canada Day, and God save the Queen.


Friday, June 15, 2012

All Happy Families Are a Load of Crap

Greetings Friends,

Anyone who has slogged their way through Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is familiar with the line, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anyone who is of my generation and grew up watching "The Brady Bunch," "Leave It to Beaver," "Father Knows Best," and the rest of those happy-go-lucky family shows, and wished they had June Cleaver or Carol Brady for a mother, knows exactly what I'm talking about. Once the masses tired of the Carol Brady/June Cleaver unattainably perfect mom hooey, we were given shows like "Eight is Enough," "Family," and my personal favourite, "Dallas," to sink our teeth into. I bring this up because the re-boot of "Dallas" premiered this past Wednesday, and at first glance, Larry Hagman's J.R. Ewing has lost not a lick of his implacable cruelty, which is comforting in a sense, but deeply disturbing in other ways.

When I was younger, I had many illusions about the sanctity of the family. My own was a pretty frightening amalgamation of deeply flawed characters who were always hell-bent on tweaking one another utilizing the most vindictive forms of behaviour even the most talented fiction writers would have trouble conjuring. As I aged, I attempted to bury the abject dysfunction of my own lot in favour of observing the dysfunction of others. I loved playing voyeur and watching other families rip themselves to pieces at a distance. The ones I was privy to made me feel better about my own; I took comfort in knowing that I wasn't the only person who grew up in a loony bin. I was still on the lookout for that seemingly perfect, supportive, unconditionally loving group of people that would tolerate just about anything. If they're out there, I still haven't found them. If you happen to know who they are, please let me know so I can halt my ongoing search.

The resurrection of "Dallas" is proof to me that despite the attrition of the generations, there are certain patterns of behaviour instilled in every family that are about as hard to eradicate as fleas, lice and termites. They are passed down genetically as well as learned, and no amount of outside influence can disabuse these individuals of their destiny. Yes, they are actors re-creating iconic television roles, but they are also depicted as having adapted to the changes that have taken place over the decades. That holds true for fictional families as well as real ones, in particular my own, since none of the deeply flawed characters who are at this moment still drawing breath, seem to have learned anything from their personal histories. And, as with re-booted television series, new characters have been added that deepen the intrigue, and add to the lunacy.

Watching the first episode of the new "Dallas" brought on an epiphany that made me feel both lighter and unbearably sad. Lighter in the sense that life does indeed go on, but sad because those who were once malevolent and vindictive will always continue to be so. Even if they can manage to convince the world that their facade of decency and altruism is genuine, those who have the misfortune of knowing another side of these individuals will always be privy to the truth. What you do with that knowledge has everything to do with shaping the person you were, the person you are, and the person you want to become. You can either wallow in destiny, or you can take the necessary steps to distance yourself from it. Do you want to be a victim of nature, or do you want to nurture yourself beyond that to which you were born? The choice is yours; and it is one many of us struggle with.

I hope those of you who are members of similar familial loony bins have taken comfort in these words. As for those of you who come from a mythical, perfect family, please identify yourselves. I'd so love to be disabused of my cynicism.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Sacred Canadian Right to Bitch

Greetings Friends,

As both an American and Canadian citizen, I feel I am uniquely qualified to debunk some of the myths Canadians believe about Americans and Americans believe about Canadians. I have been traveling across the "great undefended border" all my life, and have been living in Canada full-time for the past three years. I can say with complete honesty that neither country has life all figured out; in fact, they both have a lot to learn about what makes them so different from one another. Mud slinging, name calling, and righteous indignation solve nothing. Ignorance seems to trump all, even from the Canadian media, which I always thought was a tad more credible than its American counterpart. Boy was I wrong.

This morning, while perusing and sipping my milked and sugared mug of tea, I came across an astounding load of bitch-crap, courtesy of one of those supposedly credible Canadian journalists I used to somewhat admire. CBC's Senior Washington Correspondent, Neil Macdonald, penned a "thank you Captain Obvious" editorial titled The sacred American right to overeat. Gee Neil, had you not enlightened us to the fact that millions of Americans suffer from obesity and related ailments, I would have thought all these specimens with "[b]ellies hanging down over belts, rolls of neck fat, faces so bloated they’re losing their original appearance, huge rear ends and breasts (on men as well as women), curtains of fat hanging off the undersides of arms, and thick, heavily veined legs muscular from years of hauling around all that extra tonnage," were dropped from alien crafts to live among us and Hoover up all our natural resources. How nice of you to enlighten us Canadians to the fact that it is a "sacred right" we Americans have to indulge in endless gluttony whilst expecting our brethren to pick up the tab for our excesses. And there are no obese Canadians roaming the land mass north of the 49th parallel consuming "over-processed, high-sugar, ultimately toxic food?"

As you can see, I am pretty steamed by Mr. Macdonald's choice of topic. While I used to think he did a somewhat decent job of communicating the ins-and-outs of American politics to Canadians from his perch inside the Beltway, he has now lost all credibility with me. Not only did he choose a topic that is one of the hottest of hot buttons in American culture, he forgot to acknowledge that his fellow Canadians suffer from the same penchant to overindulge and all that goes with it. But since it has become de rigueur to poke fun at Americans for practically any reason, Neil decided that to kick us while we're down was something he could do to fill up his downtime before the Romney vs. Obama heavyweight bout gets underway.

Don't get me wrong; Americans deserve to be made fun of; so do Canadians for that matter. Unfortunately, the world listens when Americans are made the butts of countless jokes. Fortunately for Canadians, you can joke about us from now until the Rapture and the world will not bat a collective eyelash. Why? Because on the world stage, Canada is an inconsequential nation that rides on the blubbery coattails of the very fat United States. Much as Canadians claim to love and and admire Americans, the fact is they are pea-green with envy. They are so jealous of Americans they can barely see straight. Personally, I don't feel Canadians have much to be jealous of, but to attempt to disseminate that opinion would result in some jiggly belly-laughing by the majority of the population. Canadians have their own mountains of dirty little secrets the world has no clue about. We have our share of obese citizens inflicting themselves on the government sponsored healthcare system, due to the same gluttonous tendencies Americans possess. The difference is, nobody cares. The spotlight of the world has always been on America, with Canada glowering in the background like a group of homely girls who can't get dates for the prom. The rest of the world may believe that Canadians are a group of nice, polite do-gooders, but the truth is, they're sometimes mean-spirited and jealous as hell of the United States. And that's not very neighbourly.

Macdonald closes out his editorial by stating, "[W]ere I an American, I'd rather not help pay for Rush Limbaugh's bypass surgery, once he qualifies for Medicare." Guess what Neil? The tax dollars you pay to the Canadian government are footing the bill four countless bypass surgeries for your fellow citizens. Worry about them, not some blowhard right-wing American pundit who is the reason why you have a job.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Mash-Up

Greetings Friends,

Happy Memorial Day to everyone south of the 49th parallel! Here in Canada, it's only Monday, but it is a day worthy of remembering those who serve, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defence of both great countries. Keep that in mind as you grill your burgers and dogs and enjoy a day off from the grind.

As for me, I'd like to share another one of my lists. Along with a killer sinus headache (blasted humidity), I've got some topics rolling around inside my cranium that are just itching to get out. Hope you like them.

Skinny Jeans and Stilettos Will Bring You Down: Back in my Sassoon, Sergio Valente and Jordache jeans-wearing middle school days, I don't remember anyone bitching about how tight their jeans were. They were and you just dealt with it. Add to that the fact that my mother insisted on having mine dry-cleaned, so not only were they tight, they could stand up and walk away on their own. Today, I have to read about fashionable skinny jeans being bad for your health. According to some, too much time spent in skinnies can cause meralgia paresthetica, a condition that compresses the nerves in the outer part of the thigh, causing numbness, tingling and discomfort. Add a pair of towering heels to that mix that cause your pelvis to tilt, and you're putting even more pressure on those nerves. Folks, let's keep in mind that most of today's jeans have a percentage of Lycra in them that makes them a hell of a lot more comfortable than their truly torturous predecessors. As for the ridiculously high heels, a broken ankle can cure you of them right quick.

BlackBerry Going the Way of Betamax: It seems the once ubiquitous BlackBerry, or "CrackBerry," has lost much of its clout with all the iPhone and Android smart phones in use now. According to one report, Research In Motion (RIM) is preparing to announce more layoffs this week in light of their shrinking global market share, which as of this writing is down to a meagre seven percent. Sony managed to recover from its Betamax tape fiasco, but I'm not holding out much hope for the BlackBerry. As a devout iPhone user, you'd have to rip it out of my cold, dead hands before I'd consider an alternative. I'm very certain I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Evil Penguin: Last month, Google, otherwise known as the "Evil Empire," unleashed its latest algorithm update, affectionately known as "Penguin," on the SEO community. According to what I've read, it was not supposed to affect English language Web sites all that much, but those that are written in "highly spammed" languages. I don't know which languages they're referring to, but I know of a few English language sites that got slammed. Burgess Meredith's "Penguin" character in the Batman series was never this evil. Anyone up for an "Occupy Google" sit-in?

Are You Mom Enough? When I got an eyeful of Time magazine's May 21 cover, showing a woman breast feeding a little boy who looks old enough to chew steak, I thought to myself, what's wrong with this picture? Don't get me wrong, I am a strong proponent of breast feeding babies (even though I don't have kids of my own), but all these "extreme" parenting trends are a tad much for me. I'm all for raising healthy children, but "attachment parenting" that leads to "helicopter parenting" spells disaster for an entire generation of young people who will most likely be unable to function independently as they age. Unfortunately, I'm not a Time online subscriber, nor do I have any desire to pick up the print edition of the magazine, so I have not read the article. You can, however, view the cover by clicking here.

And lastly,

Thank You Pinners! I've picked up almost 50 new Ink & Paint fans since I joined Pinterest. Thank you for your support.

Now, go forth and grill.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Have a Conversation

Greetings Friends,

There isn't much on television these days that blows my skirt up, so when I find a program that does, I want to let everyone know about it.

My latest discovery is "The Conversation with Amanda de Cadenet." I stumbled upon a link to the show's Web site and was riveted to the two episodes I was able to stream. You can catch the show in the U.S. on Lifetime, which surprises me since that channel has been the home of "Movie of the Week" type dreck for as long as its been in existence. From what I've seen, "The Conversation..." is the anti-Oprah, with de Cadenet conducting thoughtful interviews with strong, outspoken women like Jane Fonda, Diane von Furstenberg, Melissa McCarthy, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Silverman and others. Watching it was indeed a revelation. 

For years I've been hating on Oprah because I believe her message to the women of the world is that it's okay to be weak. The message of "The Conversation..." is the polar opposite. The show depicts women who aren't afraid to go after what they want, and aren't afraid to admit that they've made mistakes. They don't rely on men for happiness and they believe that strength and independence are two of the most important things women should have. Most importantly, they believe that a woman should not fall victim to societal stereotypes about perfection - both physical and emotional. 

There was once a time when strong, outspoken women were considered scary feminists. Now, post-Oprah, it seems we are more willing to accept the role of a strong female in society. I find it ironic that Oprah's OWN network is floundering on the brink of implosion in the face of this one little show that has the guts to talk about things like titties, and a plethora of topics that matter to most women; not to mention favourite sexual positions and things you would tell your 14 year-old self if you could. I found the candour refreshing after years of watching Oprah cackle and screech about all the things that were important to her, as opposed to what is really important to women in general. When you make it to the pinnacle of your own media empire, it's only a matter of time before you become so insulated that you lose touch with what's important to the masses. The chickens have come home to roost in Oprah-land and for the first time in a long while, she's going to have to own up (pun intended) to a potential failure.

 While I must admit to some degree of schadenfreude about Oprah's current boggle, I would love to see "The Conversation..." succeed beyond the limits of a home on a whiny little cable channel to something more along the lines of, say, Charlie Rose, or even Bill Maher. Women have valuable things to say and we need strong outlets for our voices. The show is a bit too risqué for the comfort level of the networks, but I'm hoping that despite its venue it manages to survive. I am committed to regular Internet viewing, and I'm hoping my readers will follow my lead and check it out. Men too; you might just learn something. 


Monday, May 7, 2012

Fifty Shades of Bad Writing

Greetings Friends,

Early on in my second career as a student, I encountered a somewhat jaded classmate who told me something to the effect of, "The more degrees you obtain, the less you will enjoy the books you read. When you get your Ph.D you're bound to hate everything." Well, I stopped at a Masters degree, only because Ph.D programs in English Literature are now about as hard to get into as a keyhole, or those trendy night spots that have bottle minimums that run into the thousands of dollars. Unless of course if you're James Franco, then your celebrity opens every door with a smile, even the doors to Ph.D programs in literature.

I admit to being a book snob, even during my downtime. The thought never occurs to me to pick up a mass-market paperback by one of those churn 'em and burn 'em serial authors, or indulge in any of the latest crazes like Twilight, Hunger Games or Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy. None of that remotely interests me. Give me literary or historical fiction, a good memoir, or the latest by one of my favourite authors, and I'm more than happy. So, what was it that drew me to the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy? Read on...

I had a Chapters Indigo gift card burning a hole in my wallet since Christmas, and last week, I happened to be in one of the stores. I was perusing the stacks when I encountered a display containing all three books in the Fifty Shades trilogy, and thought, what the hell - these aren't books I would normally pay for so why not use the gift card? And before all you library-hounds get on my case, no - it didn't even occur to me to borrow them.

So, home I went with these "erotic romances" in my hot little hands, anxious to read what all the fuss was about. I put aside the tome I was currently about 100 pages into thinking I would read about 20 pages of Grey before I gave up and carted the books down to my building's laundry room for my neighbours to fight over. Seven days later I chewed through all three volumes, just over 1,500 pages of what had to be the most insipid, formulaic drivel I ever laid eyes upon. Even the S&M-laden sex scenes became boring after about the first two. The "suspense" was predictable and the main characters were vapid and self-involved. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why I stuck with all three volumes until I polished off the last one (no pun intended) yesterday afternoon. Then, it hit me.

At some point right before I re-entered academia, it dawned on me why I love to read so much: reading a good novel is a challenge; the author's imagination and his or her ability to weave a tale that captures yours is what makes reading worthwhile. An author who writes many successful novels that stand on their own is supremely talented, in my opinion. An author who engages in the churn and burn, like many of the most financially successful ones do, relies on a tried-and-true formula that the average reader never ceases to tire of: sex/romance/suspense. Before Fifty Shades, I can't remember the last formulaic novel I read. It had to be something by Danielle Steel (gasp!) way back when I was in high school. I had high hopes for John Grisham when I read The Firm, but he amounted to nothing more than a churner and burner; mass market authors are little more than tree-killers.

As for E.L. James and her trilogy, I believe she is the latest in a long line of financially successful authors who are guilty of making the great literary talents resort to mewling and begging for publishing deals; that is, if mewling and begging even works. In the world of sex/romance/suspense, at least in the one conjured by James, writing about mewling and begging equals a huge payday. It's sad that talent still must starve, and formula is the perennial glutton at the smorgasbord.


Friday, April 27, 2012

The Great Canadian Hockey Crisis

Greetings Friends,

As of last night, there are no Canadian teams in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs. After the Vancouver Canucks lost a shocking 5 game series to the Los Angeles Kings, and the New York Rangers dispatched the Ottawa Senators in a seven game nail-biter, there is no hope for a Canadian team hoisting the Cup for yet one more year. In fact, no Canadian team has lifted Lord Stanley's hardware for 19 years. The Montreal Canadiens were the last to do it on June 9, 1993 when they beat Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings.

There are many theories as to why there has been such a long drought of Cup victories north of the 49th parallel. Logic dictates that the likelihood of a Canadian team winning is less because there are many more American teams. Emotion dictates that hockey is Canada's game and a 19-year drought is inexcusable. I'd rather swallow a hockey puck whole than debate either scenario with anyone, particularly a Canadian hockey fan. When it comes to sports, there is no logic or reason; nobody, I don't care how talented a prognosticator, is capable of coming up with a cogent explanation why 19 years have passed without a Canadian team achieving glory.

The longer I live in Canada, the more I come to realize how different this country is from the United States. On the surface, Canadian life looks almost identical to American life, but when you start digging, you uncover many differences - some subtle, some not so subtle - about what makes Canadians Canadian, and Americans American.

One of those not-so-subtle differences is the Canadian attitude toward professional sports. Sure, Canadians love their football, basketball and baseball. They even follow the European soccer leagues more closely than your average American. But, those all fall by the wayside when it comes to hockey. Canadians are obsessed with it; not just the NHL, but hockey at every level. They live it, breathe it, wear it, celebrate it in every way possible; the only American pastime that comes close to the way Canadians feel about hockey is how a large segment of the American population feels about football. Even with that comparison, there is something even more profound about the Canadian love of hockey. People aren't generally born sports fans; Canadians, however, seem to have hockey woven into their DNA at the moment of conception. That's an extreme take on it, I admit, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it's true.

With Canada now bereft of a rooting interest for the remainder of this year's playoffs, there's a strange stillness in the air and a sense of loss permeating the collective psyche of the population. People seem a tad snappier today than they normally would be on your average Friday, and the only reason I can think of is that, as winter turns to spring, visions of hoisting the Cup on Canadian soil have once more been dashed. As the saying goes, there's always next year.

For those Canadians still intent on watching playoff hockey, you can consult this handy guide to see if you can stomach choosing (gasp!) an American team to cheer for.

Have a great weekend.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Emotions in Motion

Greetings Friends,

I can't believe it's going to be 30 years in July since Billy Squier released his album "Emotions in Motion." I was a huge fan of Billy's back in those days, mostly because I liked his music, but also because the guy was pretty damn cute. Feel free to snort your coffee, guffaw or just outright giggle at me. I stand by my choice - it was as close to hair band-lust as I ever got in the 80s. Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Dokken, Poison, etc. just never blew up my skirt.

I chose to title today's post "Emotions in Motion" for a completely different reason, however. This past Saturday, I had an emotional outburst on Facebook that so shames me, I feel the need to spill my guts. Here's why:

Everyone I know (and likely millions of people I don't) has an infuriating story or two about their dealings with their cable TV/satellite/Internet/phone provider. I had my share when I lived in New York, and sadly, those experiences have crossed the border with me. My service provider here in Toronto is Rogers Communications, which, unfortunately, is even more of an evil empire than my former favourite target: Cablevision. 

I had a horrific run-in with Rogers over a billing/payment SNAFU that was clearly not my fault, and despite "the customer's always right" edict you would expect to get from a company raking in billions (yeah, right), I received zero satisfaction. Said SNAFU ended up costing me a good bit of time, plus extra money this month to straighten out the incompetence of a Rogers' employee, which is not how I expected the situation to resolve itself. In my high emotional state, I took to my Facebook page and wrote a short diatribe about how if I had access to automatic weaponry, I would have "gone postal" in my local Rogers store, where the SNAFU occurred. I left the post up on my page for about 10 minutes before I re-read it and promptly deleted it. In this world of electronic instant gratification, not to mention the fact that you never know who or what is watching your every move online, I felt such a degree of mortification at what I did, I still can't get past it more than 48 hours later. Yeah, I didn't post naked pictures of myself or anything equally as compromising, but implying that I wanted to "go postal" in a public place is not exactly a smart move, either.

At the beginning of the month I posted about drowning in ineptitude. I had a sense of humour about it on that particular day, but on Saturday, my sense of humour took the day off. I was incensed; infuriated; angry as a hornet that just got kicked out of the nest. It makes no sense to me why what we have come to rely upon as basic services, have to be so difficult to procure and maintain. Using a mobile phone, and having cable television and Internet access are things we rely upon in our daily lives; unless of course we want to engage in Neo-Luddism and pitch every electronic device we own. Unfortunately, my livelihood prohibits such a move, unless I decide I want to join a Mennonite colony and become a full-time quilter. I should mention I'm not very proficient with a needle and thread with the exception of having to sew on the occasional button. So, I have no choice but to put up with the abuse from an entity like Rogers Communications, which could give a toss about how it treats its customers, and laughs all the way to the bank. And that pisses me off.

Still, regardless of my degree of "pissed-offitiude" I have to suck it up and endure the shitty treatment. The only other choice would be Bell Canada, and the services I need are not available where I live. So, in effect, Rogers is not only the evil empire, they are the only game in town for me. And that gets my emotions in motion.

The lesson I learned from this is to keep my emotions to myself. The last thing I need is for anyone to think I am truly capable of such a heinous act. The only thing I can do is hope that the bastards get what they deserve. And that goes for many more outfits than just Rogers.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Two Years of Blogging: A Few Thoughts From the Writer

Greetings Friends,

On April 6, the Ink & Paint Creative Writing Services blog turned two years old. Most blogs fall by the wayside long before they hit this particular milestone; many others become such vainglorious sources of drivel that you'd sooner stick needles in your eyes rather than read what the scribe has to say; still more are just middling wastes of bandwidth. Which category does this one fall into? I'd like to think that those who read my "etchings" appreciate my candour, sense of humour, and interpretations of the subjects I choose to write about. If not, there's always the "Next Blog" key you can click on at the top of the page. The choice is yours. The words are mine.

Here are some thoughts about what I've learned from working as a freelance writer for the past two-and-a-half years. Be forewarned: some of it ain't too pretty.

It Is Possible to Hate Your Job: The writer who tells you they love their job 24/7 is as full of shit as those "you've won the British lottery" e-mails that clog your Spam file. Just because we get to make our own hours and dress in the"Freelance Writers' Union" uniform (the rattiest t-shirt and sweatpants you would never want to be seen wearing in public), doesn't mean we're happy and peppy and bursting with joy all the time. Sometimes, we become burned out; we want to smash our laptops against the wall; we want to stare mindlessly at the television watching hours of the "Real Housewives of New Jersey" until our brains turn into oatmeal.

I Miss the Luxury of Getting Regular Paycheques: You never realize how nice it is to get that paycheque every other week until you don't get it. Doing your own billing is tedious; having to hustle to do as much work as possible before the end of every month turns something you love to do into a giant albatross around your neck. Still, I'd rather do this than attempt to co-exist with an office full of inept sociopaths.

Yes, This Is a Real Job: Contrary to popular belief, being a freelance writer is a "real" job. Many people tend to think that unless you have a publishing deal that pays you six figure advances and allows you to doodle from your Eames chair in your well-appointed wood-paneled study, you don't actually work for a living. News flash, folks: this is as real a job as any I've ever had. If you don't believe me, read my blog.

The Internet is a Blessing and a Curse: If it weren't for the Internet, I would likely be working either as an English teacher wishing I could indulge in corporal punishment, or as a lackey in one of those aforementioned offices full of inept sociopaths. Alas, the Internet allows me to do what I do and get paid for it. The flip side, however, is that I have to endure  proving my worth to clients who believe that cut-rate Web site content written by computers located in the Philippines and India is much more cost-effective than my services. 

Google is My Rabbi: And, like any 12 year-old soon-to-be-Bar Mitzvah boy, I am subject to a thorough metaphorical ass-kicking at every possible turn.

Despite all of the above...

I Wouldn't Trade This for Anything: So what if I don't have J.K. Rowling or Stephen King bucks in the bank? I have skill, integrity, and heartburn that could bring down a rhino. It's all good.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Drowning in Ineptitude

Greetings Friends,

I couldn't decide whether to ape Andy Rooney or Gilda Radner for this post, so I chose both. You're getting the picture of Gilda as "Emily Litella," her Saturday Night Live character famous for her d'oh-brained commentary. You're also getting the curmudgeonly vitriol of Andy, because I'm just about ready to bust an artery or two over how much ineptitude I've been dealing with lately. Please, buckle your safety belt and keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.

Have you ever noticed how some people manage to breeze effortlessly through life while their ineptitude manages to drive the rest of us borderline insane? They flit through their days wreaking havoc on those around them - blowing off their tasks, damaging property, exhibiting a degree of cluelessness that for most of us would have dire consequences - yet, they somehow get away with it. The rest of us ("us" is sadly becoming a smaller and smaller group) possess varying degrees of conscientiousness with which we go through our days, performing our jobs to the best of our abilities and ensuring that we stay as far under the radar as possible. We go home to our families, pay our bills, love our loved ones and try to stay on the straight and narrow as best we can. Sadly, it's always the "good" people who are victimized by the inept ones, even if we never grouse about it; mostly giving those individuals a well-intentioned pass, even if they are as daft as kitchen sponges. Why do we let them get away with it? I'll be totally honest with you: I have no idea.

For the past week or so, I've been wondering what would happen to all these daft, inept people if they were called on the carpet for their ineptitude and made to suffer the consequences. Right now, there are so many decent, qualified people out there across North America who have been victimized by tough economic times and are enduring considerable suffering. They lost jobs, pensions, homes, savings, their shirts; you name it, they've lost it over the past several years. Yet, there are millions of metaphorical feathers floating on a perpetual breeze, seemingly placed in our paths to drive us crazy. I'm not talking about the lackey at McDonalds who forgot to include the Big Mac in your drive-thru order, or the ditzoid college student who didn't give you that third squirt of vanilla syrup in your latte. I'm talking about people who have to use their brains a few hundred times a day, who outright refuse to. What's up with that? Again, I have no idea.

What I do know is that I've always been one of those people who busts her ass and tries to do the right thing - at least most of the time. I'm not perfect and I never try to be. One of my most glaring imperfections is that I let inept people get under my skin. It's not the only one, but it's one that is giving me the most agita right now. I could swallow a barrel of Tums and it wouldn't go away. Yet, the ones who are causing me this grief have no idea just how much it is getting to me. If they did, I'm sure they would giggle like idiots because they couldn't possibly fathom just how much I want to smash their empty heads against the sidewalk. Of course, decorum, and the law, prevent me from indulging in such violent behaviour.

While Andy Rooney and Gilda Radner both rest peacefully in the afterlife (I'm assuming), I will continue to grit my teeth and tread water in this sea of ineptitude I'm presently swimming in. I know I'm not the only one; but seriously folks, I'm about ready to go under.

Alas, tomorrow is another day. In the words of Gilda as Emily, "Nevermind."


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

New York City: Not Like I Pictured It

Greetings Friends,

First, I must give thanks to my friend Deb for this picture she took of the downtown New York City skyline while visiting last weekend. Deb's picture inspired this post because, as was commented when she posted it to her Facebook page, it looks very "21st century," as opposed to old New York. It got me thinking about just how much New York City has changed - not since I left Brooklyn in 1991 and moved to the suburban enclave of Massapequa (that's in Nassau County, on Long Island), but about how much it has changed since I left the area entirely in 2008. For the first time in almost 4 years, it dawned on me that I am no longer a quick car or train ride away from the city I grew up in. Why did it take so long? The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that I wasn't careful what I wished for.

Everyone is (I hope) familiar with the saying, "Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it." Never has that been truer for me than when I hauled my cookies here to Toronto, to live in the city I've always been proud to call my second home. Two-and-a-half years later, I'm not entirely sorry I made the move, but let's just say that what I wished for and what actually happened haven't exactly been a dream-come-true. I'm not naive enough to believe in that perfect utopian state of being, but in hindsight, maybe I should have stuck around. Hindsight is, after all, 20/20.

I must admit that things aren't entirely crappy here in the Great White North. Toronto is the place where I realized my dream of actually getting paid to write. It is also home to the best bagels in North America (in my opinion), a Tim Hortons within walking distance from almost anywhere, and, let's not forget: Canada is the land of government-sponsored healthcare. Oh, and how about those Leafs? They're coming up on 45 years without having won a Stanley Cup, which last happened, coincidentally, two days before I was born. Food, healthcare and hockey aside, the biggest disappointment I've encountered, sadly, hits much closer to home. 

When I came here, I was desperately in need of some empathy and tender loving care from my family. You know how you have this idea in your head that blood is thicker than water and family will always support you no matter what? The toughest lesson I've learned since I got here is that that sentiment couldn't be farther from the truth. The reality is, the perfect family - you know, the ones you always see in the movies and on television - does not exist. No, the "perfect" family is more Dickensian than Brady. As long as we're talking fiction, the contemporary author who has most accurately nailed the concept of family has to be Jonathan Franzen. Anyone who has read The Corrections is likely to agree with me on that. Based on that harsh reality, I don't consider my move a geographic boo-boo, but rather a Freudian one; or maybe Jungian. Oh hell, pick a philosopher; their theories are all up for debate in the loony bin I was born into. The sad part is, it took me almost my entire life to realize just how loony they actually are. 

I know there are very few people who can honestly say their families are not loony in some way. "Normal" is a term that does not exist in my opinion; "crazy" is the one we should be examining, since, as Douglas Coupland wrote, All Families are Psychotic. Ain't it the truth. 

So what does this have to do with a picture of New York City? Growing up in Brooklyn, working in Manhattan, and living close to New York City was always "enveloping." Many people who find New York intimidating will likely believe that I'm the crazy one, but hear me out: being a New Yorker is something that is always with you. Whether it's your accent, your sensibilities, your overall demeanour - you never lose it no matter where you go. Somehow, the geography becomes intertwined with your DNA and becomes a part of you. Physiologically that's not possible, but psychologically, I'm convinced, because Toronto and New York are the two places I've spent my entire life in. Toronto is where I live, and where my family is, but right now, living here makes me feel isolated and displaced. New York, on the other hand, would welcome me back with open arms - I think. After all, I am supposed to be a tough Brooklyn chick. Only lesser people than me get chewed up and spit out by the big city. Or should I once again be careful what I wish for? If only I had a utopian crystal ball I could gaze into to obtain that answer.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Already

Greetings Friends,

Call me Captain Obvious, but I feel the need to point out that today, February 29, is Leap Day, that pesky extra day of the month that rears its ugly head (kinda like those dinosaurs in the image) in a year when the number is divisible by four. Since it is 2012, it is indeed a Leap Year. Honestly, you can have it.

February is usually a month that passes quickly. March is one that seems to drag on interminably; unless you are a college basketball fan, which I am not. This February, however, has been particularly brutal; not from a meteorological perspective - it has been an exceptionally mild winter. No, this February has been a testament to how frustratingly unpredictable life can be.

Part of the charm of what I do for a living is that I never know where it will take me. This month, I've had some scraps with clients; one fairly new, the other not-so-new. Unfortunately, both of them have been relegated to what I referred to last week as "the black hole that is 'blocked-ness.'" It's unfortunate that I will no longer be able to count on these clients for financial support, but it is not so unfortunate because, really, they were um, not my cup of tea. I'm not suggesting that my clients are like Kleenex - another one doesn't always pop up to replace the one you just pulled out of the box. But, sometimes, for the sake of your own sanity, bidding adieu to someone or something that makes you contemplate taking a flying leap is not necessarily a bad thing.

The longer I live, the more I realize that getting along with people is becoming quite the challenge. I could give you a rather long list of reasons why, but for the sake of brevity, I'll try to keep it short and sweet:

With all the technological advancement and modern conveniences many of us enjoy, life has become exceedingly complicated because of them. What I do for a living is a perfect example. Writing comes easy for me; SEO does not. The more I think about it, the more I'm starting to believe that SEO is like a high-tech version of the board game "Monopoly". If Google doesn't allow you to pass "GO", you don't get to collect $200. Therefore, you are screwed from the starting line. That holds true for life itself these days, no matter what your occupation. You could be a desk-jockey, a factory worker or a stay-at-home parent, and be hard-pressed to find anyone who will tell you that life has gotten easier over the past decade or so. The added pressures of life in 2012 cause many people to look inward, rather than outward, giving them a wide variety of excuses for being unable to look beyond themselves. I'm not begrudging them that - I'm guilty of it too.  Are there solutions to these dilemmas? None that I'm particularly jazzed about; if you have any to offer, please leave them in comments.

In the meantime, I'll be glad when the clock strikes midnight and I'm able to flip the calendar over to March. I don't think I've ever been this welcoming of the month, but with the way February turned out, even college basketball sounds enticing. It's a good thing every year isn't a Leap Year.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is Mine the Superior Intellect?

 Greetings Friends,

OK, it's been a slow month topic-wise, celebrity deaths notwithstanding. Sometimes, I have to find a nice ripe bee in my bonnet to motivate me to put metaphorical pen to paper. Today happens to be one of those days.

As an SEO writer, I spend more time Googling than your average Internet user. In the field of SEO (Search Engine Optimization for those not in the know), you have to always be one step ahead of the average Internet user, and as many steps as humanly possible ahead of the brainiacs at Google, whose mission in life is to make the lives of SEO geeks a living hell. Naturally, some SEO geeks are better at playing the game than others.

I've been pretty sore over the past couple of weeks about a job I did for a now former client of mine. The client and I had a profound disagreement over what constituted proper practice in the project I was asked to undertake. He thought he knew best, and I thought I knew better. Alas, we met at swords point and fought to the death. In a world where you can block people from your online life, I now consider him a resident of the black hole that is "blocked-ness". Thankfully, we never met in person, so there is no need to avoid certain geographic locations that might result in uncomfortable encounters.

I don't normally trash-talk my clients, but what lead me to indulge in a bit of bitching and moaning was the "Google Doodle" I was confronted with earlier. Today is the 155th anniversary of the birth of Henrich Rudolf Hertz, the German physicist whose electromagnetic wave research eventually paved the way for radio, television and radar. It seems almost trite to me that Google chose to honour an individual whose work is now literally being undone by the medium most of us now use instead of radio and television. Of course, I learned all about Herr Hertz back in my days as a Broadcast Management and Technology student, and his work is still relevant to many people. But, I can't help but think the folks at Google tend to flaunt what they probably feel is their superior intellect over all us Internet users, and SEO geeks in particular. Twenty years ago, an oscilloscope was an important piece of equipment; today, a lightning fast microprocessor and high-speed Internet connection are the tools of the trade. Or, do they have more in common with the "tools of ignorance", so coined by 1920s Washington Senators catcher, Herold "Muddy" Ruel? Sometimes, I have to wonder.

Of course, you can't write about "superior intellect" without paying homage to the Khan character from Star Trek. The original 1967 episode of the series was "Space Seed", and was later turned into the 1982 film, Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan. The story of genetically and intellectually superior human beings is one some of us tend to fixate on, myself included, since in my line of work, there is always going to be someone, or something trying to outsmart me. When you earn your living by attempting to please an electronic entity, it's easy to be blindsided by its intelligence.


R.I.P. Gary Carter: Last week, the baseball world lost Gary Carter, the iconic catcher for the New York Mets, whose never-say-die attitude lead the team to victory over the Boston Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Carter succumbed to inoperable brain cancer on February 16, at the age of 57. Fans of the Mets and the Montreal Expos remember Carter as "Kid", the man who donned the "tools of ignorance" with a smile on his face, and the fiercest competitive nature of any man who ever played the game. The team in baseball heaven just got a whole lot better.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Humanity on the Battlefield

Greetings Friends,

It's been a busy week, and I was at a loss for a suitable topic until I realized that this Sunday is the Super Bowl. Madonna, this year's half time spectacle (notice how I didn't bother to refer to her as an "act"), made an interesting comment on Anderson Cooper's talk show when she referred to the Super Bowl as "[the] holiest of holy in America." She's right about that. Even here in Canada, the world stops for this one big game. The same cannot be said of the CFL's Grey Cup; the only other event that comes close is the Stanley Cup finals. 

As many of you know, I am a sports fan. There are times when I enjoy it, and there are times when I despise it utterly. Growing up in New York and having a plethora of teams to cheer for has made sports fandom interesting to say the least, including the unintentional - and admittedly often times intentional - act of picking and choosing your relationships based upon team allegiances. When you fall down the sports rabbit hole as a child like I did, you can't help but judge other people on the basis of which teams they root for. It's shameful, I know, but even in my 40s, I still find myself doing it. Much as I like to think I've become more accepting of the teams I loathe, the bottom line is, I will continue to loathe them as long as I am able to draw breath into my lungs. 

A former friend of mine is a staunch New England Patriots fan. When the Giants beat the San Francisco 49ers two weeks ago to gain entry into this year's spectacle, I decided I would cheer for them; not because I am a Giants fan, but because I'd rather think of my former friend wallowing in the misery of a Patriots loss. It sounds cruel, I know, but that's how sports fans think. We know that the agony of defeat is exponentially more painful than the thrill of victory, especially when you only have one shot at it. Many people malign the playoff structure of other sports because there are multiple game "series" that must be won in order to be declared a champion. In football, you only get one shot. Squandering it is the most prolific misstep in professional sports; for the team on the losing side, there is no tomorrow. 

I was planning to write something snarky about the spectacle the Super Bowl has become: the two week media frenzy surrounding the big game, the ridiculous commercials (which cost an obscene $3 million for 30 seconds this year), the half time extravaganza; everything over-the-top that has become synonymous with the game, except for the game itself. Then I realized, what could I possibly say that hasn't already been said? It is what it is, and much as I hate to admit it, Madonna is right: Americans revere the game as a religious ritual; it is part of what makes America the land of the free and the home of the brave. I just wish it didn't have to be so cheesy. 

Last year, the conclusion of the Super Bowl was marred by a pending labour dispute. You know how I feel about millionaire professional athletes and their unions. I was hoping, as is my cynical way, that the NFL would give itself a black eye by tossing an entire season in the trash. Alas, they did not, and here we are 48 hours away from the big game. Not that it would have mattered in the long run; football fans are the most sheep-like in my opinion: as long as they're alive, there's an endless supply of wool to be shorn. 

All cynicism aside, I did read one interesting article on the NFL's Web site. It turns out, the Patriots' and Giants' owners, Robert Kraft and John Mara, were integral to bringing about an end to the league's labour unrest. I did not follow the negotiations closely, so this was a revelation to me. The NFL, the major U.S. television networks, countless advertisers, team employees, etc., all had vested interests in making sure a deal was stuck and the season was played. What tore at my heartstrings was the following quote from Kraft about losing his wife to cancer in the process:

"The team saved me. I never understood what the word heartbroken meant. It's hard for anyone to relate to it. My wife was 19 and I was 20 when she proposed to me. We had five kids right away. Then they left and we became best pals for 25 years. She was 98 pounds, read four books a week and was healthy. I thought she would outlive me for 30 years. This horrible cancer came and it's wrecked my life. Having this team has been a savior for me."

Sometimes, you have to swallow your abject cynicism and shed a few tears for someone. I don't know Robert Kraft, and I still won't root for his team, but I found a human angle to the spectacle in his words. That more than makes up for all the cheese.

Have a great weekend, and Go Giants!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Underneath It All

Greetings Friends,

Yes, that is Mario Lopez in his underwear. Why, you ask? Well...because. That's my answer and I'm sticking to it.

I originally intended for this post to be about underwear. I was perusing my favourite news source this morning ( and came across a video of Mario dropping trou on the "Ellen" show. Of course he's promoting his line of men's underwear, "Rated M by Mario Lopez;" not that the guy is particularly shy to begin with. I can recall a vast number of occasions when I turned on the television and saw him in varying states of undress. If I were a guy and I had a body like that, I'd be showing it off, too. For me, it's a toss-up between him and David Beckham - I'd like to be the turkey breast in the middle of that sandwich. Maybe that should be a topic for another day.

Getting back to the underwear: Mario's "Rated M" line of skivvies is "For Manful Men and Their Very Special Guests." To that I must reply, come on! I'm not a girl who's ever been particularly impressed by a man's choice of undergarments, as long as they're clean and in good condition. I've never looked for a specific message on the waistband, and I sure as hell never want to see a pair of those smiley-faced Joe Boxer boxer shorts on a guy if he wants me to respect him in the morning. I prefer my underthings functional and basic. And just for the record, from a female perspective, that doesn't mean I'm into granny panties. If it's lacy and frilly, chances are it's uncomfortable and not worth the bother. Just so we're clear.

The more I thought about writing a post dedicated to underwear, the more I thought I would be wasting my time, literally and figuratively. What interests me more than "boxers or briefs" is what's underneath it all. What is underneath what we show to the world? Not so much the woman wearing the merry widow under her austere business attire, or the man with the cheeky boxers underneath his monkey suit; it became more about who we are underneath the facade we show the rest of the world. Maybe underwear does have something to do with it, and the fact that the pair I have on right now are red with little penguins all over them says something significant about me. If it does, you'll have to let me know. I don't indulge in that level of contemplation; at least not when it comes to undergarments.

How we adorn our bodies defines us as individuals. We all have a certain "style" and some of us take the concept of dressing much more seriously than others. I enjoy all that but I try not to take it too seriously. If I did, I'd be uncomfortable and bitchy as hell. You'll never find me teetering on a pair of six-inch platform stilettos, nor will I ever subject myself to wearing a pair of thong underwear. Thong sandals, on the other hand, are doable; as long as they're not flip flops. What I am interested in, however, is the person underneath it all - not the clothes, and certainly not the underwear. And even if those unfortunate smiley faced boxers were to make an appearance, I'd be willing to ignore them if the person underneath were possessed of a warm heart and a kind soul. I think that's what we're all hoping to find.

In the meantime, boxers or briefs? Despite my stance on underwear, the question still begs to be asked. 


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Random Winter Wednesday

Greetings Friends,

This was the view outside my window a few weeks ago. Granted, it has not been a particularly harsh winter so far, but there is still a long way to go. January is almost over, February manages to pass rather quickly, and March; ugh! March...I hate March!

Cutting to the chase, I don't have a specific topic worthy of devoting an entire post to, so here is another one of my mixed bags:

Cinema Blasé

The Oscar nominations were announced yesterday, and I have not been to see any of the nominated movies. So, that means I am totally devoid of any opinion about who or which movie should win which award. A sentimental favourite, however, is Meryl Streep for "The Iron Lady." Any actress willing to spend many hours deliberately transforming herself into the likeness of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is deserving of any award she can get her hands on. 

Make That Coffee to Go

Another example of Canadians sorely needing to get a life is the hubbub surrounding the introduction of a new, larger size extra-large cup at Tim Hortons. Yesterday, the ubiquitous coffee chain rolled out its new 24-ounce extra-large cup and eliminated the small 8-ounce (I believe) size. Being a regular cross-border traveller, I've known for some time that U.S. Tim's locations have had the 24-ounce cup for a while. Indigenous Canadians are somewhat outraged. Not me; I prefer my coffee in a container significantly larger than a shot glass. That and my bladder is sturdy enough to allow me to hang on to all that liquid much longer than the average person. 

What's Next? Blood and Urine? 

Yesterday, Google announced the unveiling of new changes to its privacy practices that will allow it even more access to your information. What's more is that these practices will be in place across all the company's sites, including the Android smart phone operating system. The beauty part is, there is no opting-out of any of it. You're either in, or you're out in the cold. It's scary how far the Evil Empire will go to violate our right to privacy. What's even scarier is that we continue to allow it. 

Good Luck, Gabby

I can't think of a more inspirational individual than former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. After making a miraculous recovery from the injuries she sustained when she was shot in the head last year, she is the most prolific example of a person who, when they put their mind to it, can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. She resigned her congressional seat this week to focus on her continued recovery, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who can't wait to witness what this exceptional woman will do next. 

Save a Piece for Me

Every once in a while you need to offer yourself up to someone or something else. I wrote about it recently as "A Leap of Faith." The journey continues...


Monday, January 23, 2012

The Friendship Tango

Greetings Friends,

Friendship is a complicated topic I've ruminated on for most of my adult life. I'm of the mindset that to truly be a friend, and to have friends, is much more difficult than it appears. Friendship, like any relationship, requires work; if either party in the friendship drops the ball at any point, mayhem can ensue, transforming the friendship into a rivalry, or worse - turning the friends into enemies. 

I always begin my blog entries with the salutation, "Greetings Friends" because I like the way it sounds. A friend, to me, is someone who will take the time to read what I write, regardless of whether they mention it to me or leave a comment. I'm not looking for validation; nor do I believe that all my readers are truly my friends. It's just something I like to do. We have reached the point where the word "friend" is bandied about irresponsibly; the real definition has been bastardized by things like MySpace and Facebook - places where we have "friends" but they might be people we barely know, or don't know at all. The term "acquaintance" has all but disappeared from use, leaving us to attempt to decipher who these people who call themselves our friends really are. That's a fairly new conundrum, which I won't even pretend to know how to address at this point. I'm one of those rare individuals who is willing to admit that I might prefer life before social media, even though I've met many lovely people through the medium. 

A solid friendship between two people is something to cherish. The friendship can be between two men, two women, and a man and a woman. Personally, I don't discriminate. A friend is a friend regardless of skin colour, sex, gender, what have you. What makes friendships complicated is not "the sex part" as Billy Crystal attempts to explain to Meg Ryan in the clip I've chosen from When Harry Met Sally... Well, sex can complicate matters, but more often than not, friendships are torn asunder for many different reasons, with sex never entering into the equation. Women can be particularly adept when it comes to wrecking friendships; and as a woman, I've had it happen to me a few times. Specific reasons notwithstanding, I find it much more difficult to be friends with a woman than I do with a man. That's just me. 

My best friend in the world is G., and we've known each other since kindergarten. She's been the one constant in my life for almost 40 years, and no matter what life throws at us, we will always be there for each other. But, she's my only female friend. I have other female "acquaintances;" none that I would categorize in the same way I do her. That's just the way it is. Men friends, however, have always been much easier to come by. I have a handful of those and the friendships have been very rewarding; and completely platonic. None of this "friends with benefits" crap or other juvenile terminology that's pervaded the vernacular since the advent of social media. Just friends - no muss, no fuss. 

I might sound like a raving narcissist for making this statement, but here goes: I know how to be friends with a man. That's not something I've ever been able to explain, nor would I attempt to offer my advice in a workshop setting to women who would twist whatever wisdom I would offer into fodder for how to turn a platonic relationship into a romance. That's why we have Cosmopolitan. That's never been my M.O. A friend is a friend, sex and/or gender be damned. What we do have to keep in mind is that friendships sometimes evolve. When that happens, you have to work even harder to figure out where the relationship is going in order to guide it along the path it has chosen to travel on. That's not an easy task, but it can be accomplished. Again, the two parties involved have to collaborate in order to make it work. Maybe that's the reason why so many friendships and romantic relationships fail: the parties involved are not willing to invest the time and effort required to make them work. Our lives have become all about instant gratification, and most times, we have no idea what we're missing. On the other hand, we have to be realistic with ourselves and acknowledge when a particular friendship is perfect just the way it is. 

None of this is easy, but nothing worth having ever is. I leave you with that to think about.