Thursday, 31 January 2013

Schooling the Academy...

Hello Friends.

Forgive me for posting this nearly a month before the Oscar telecast, but my hope is that by reading this now, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences can enact at least some of my suggestions by the time the program is set to air. Also, if celebrity snark or movie references aren't your thing, give this one a miss. See you next week!

I have watched the Academy Awards for as long as I can remember. I'm not one of those nostalgic types who thinks past ceremonies were any better, because they've always been self-important, overly long, and a strange combination of pandering and elitist. Consider this awkward, toothless, opening number from 1995.  Make 'em laugh, indeed. Who is this for, precisely? Who said, "If Kathy Najimy isn't prominently featured with a toothless girl and Dr. Frankenfurter, I am done with this program!" And how odd that it exists as an intro to David Letterman, a notorious anti-host who, as I remember, brought out a dog who spins when you applaud, but then got mad because the audience kept applauding while he was trying to set up the bit so the dog just kept spinning, and then he showed a montage of a roster of celebrities doing his single line from Cabin Boy ("Would you like to buy a monkey?").

But I watched the show before I even knew anything about the films being honoured, or the actors and actresses up for awards. I will continue to watch this year, even though I've seen none of the nominated movies. I saw This Is 40 recently and quite liked it, though I have no desire to sit through the literal torture of it's bizarre prequel, Zero Dark 30. I'm sure Argo is good, I'm sure men stand around in shirtsleeves smoking. I'll bet Lincoln is grand and sweeping, and Les Mis is bleak but singy. But I just don't want to sit through any of it, you know? I'd like to see How to Survive a Plague because I love a good documentary and seeing activism does my heart good. Oh, and I think I might like The Sessions because it's a feel-good story where Helen Hunt has sex with a paralyzed man which reminds me of The Waterdance, a movie that I loved, where Helen Hunt has sex with a paralyzed man.

My reluctance to see the films notwithstanding, I have low expectations of Oscar night. Some people will win, most people will lose. People will cry that this person was robbed, or this film deserved more attention. People will snark on the outfits, the comedy bits, the speeches. But I'll still watch every minute, and so will you, because we're all kind of hoping for a glimpse of the what's behind the curtain of the Hollywood facade. We'll determine exactly what makes the famous so special and different from us. That doesn't mean the ceremony is necessarily any good though, so here are a few things I'd like to see changed in my lifetime.

Dream: Revamp the Academy Awards.

Goal: Achievable. There used to be five movies up for Best Picture, now they consider up to ten. The show used to take place in New York, now it's in LA. Comedy films used to be considered worthy of accolades, now they are not. Things change, why can't I be the one the change them?

Plan: Shake up what is tried and true to make for a more exciting ceremony. Take another look at:

1) The Nominations for Best and Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Guess what? Gone! No nominations will be announced in any of acting categories. Instead, whomever won the award the previous year gets to pick who wins it this year. So, using the 2012 ceremony as an example, Meryl Streep would pick the Best Actress and Jean Dujuardin would pick the Best Actor. There could be no conflict of interest, though. You couldn't vote for yourself, nor could you select someone from a film that you had anything to do with. Meryl Streep couldn't win one year, for instance, then be in a movie with Kate Winslet the following year, then name Kate Winslet the Best Actress for that movie. There can be no discernible ties, and if any are discovered, the recipient is disqualified. The presenter could still have Bruce Vilanche-style banter before they make the announcement, though. "Picking a winner made me les miserable! I wish I had some kind of playbook to find a silver lining in all of this!" The hands-down best part of this process would be seeing who showed up to the ceremony. Because if no nominations are announced, any actor in any movie could be potentially selected. So whose ego is so big, which performer is so confident, that they show up in their finery to the Kodak Theater? I bet Julia Roberts would show up every year, Alec Baldwin, too, no matter what garbage they made that year. To ensure she got a spot, Anne Hathaway would camp outside the venue for days. That would mean every telecast would be star-studded! And to accommodate all the ego-driven heathens, no spouses or family would be allowed in. Halle Berry next to Jonah Hill next to Naomi Watts next to Burt Reynolds. Wall to wall stars!

2) The Host and the Bits. What goes into selecting an Oscar host? Do the producers just flip through Shitty Personalities Magazine and pick a person at random? James Franco and Anne Hathaway? Billy Crystal (who manages to be blandly inoffensive with his hack jokes, then incredibly out of touch by doing impressions in blackface)? And Seth MacFarlane. I'm sure the guy has merit. Creating several hit animated series is impressive, but his stock and trade seems to be vulgar humour, which he surely won't be allowed to exhibit here. So there will be middle-of-the-road song and dance and cringe-y bits where Quagmire and Stewie insert themselves into the nominated films. I say let the professional hosts do the hosting. How about every year, a personality that already hosts something hosts the Academy Awards? Yes that means we'd probably have to suffer through a Leno year, but that would also give us another Letterman go, a Jimmy Fallon Oscars, a Jimmy Kimmel Oscars, a Conan Oscars, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, the cast of SNL, Chelsea Handler, that awful Scottish guy that follows Dave, Key and Peele, Charlie Rose, Ricki Lake, Garrison Keillor, Nancy Grace. And their sensibilities determined the bits? Terry Gross might ask probing, insightful questions of some of the famous attendees, while Maury might surprise guests with paternity test results. Uneven from year to year maybe, but isn't it already?

3) Retroactive award-taking. This sounds mean, but stick with me. Driving Miss Daisy won Best Picture the year that Do the Right Thing and Sex, Lies, and Videotape came out (the latter two weren't even nominated). Alfred Hitchcock never won Best Director for any of his now classic movies. Sandra Bullock, you guys. I have nothing against her, she seems charming and can carry a comedy ("That's not how a beauty pageant contestant is supposed to behave!"). But did anyone actually watch The Blind Side? I know this rant is irrelevant now, years later, but that movie is crazy racist! After she won the Oscar for it, I rented it from the video store where I worked (thank god it was free, couldn't live with myself if I paid for it), and it was really upsetting. Sandra Bullock plays a white woman in a white family who lets a black high school student stay with them and he turns out to be good at football. That's the movie. But they treat this black student like he's an exotic bird or sign-language gorilla. He's always skulking around in a wide shot, hardly ever speaks, everyone is scared of him. He gets paired up with Bullock's eight year old son who treats him like a peer, and not an older person to be respected or anything. And the guy himself, the football star, is devoid of personality. He's not happy, not angry, not sexual, not contemplative, not nothing, just "Yes ma'am, no sir, thank you." If his part was played by a white actor as a white character, you would think this character is mentally retarded. Go back and watch the trailer, and pretend Mike, silently lumbering around, is white. I'm sorry, maybe I'm just being contrary, but I really can't with this nonsense. So anyway, at the end of every ceremony, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has the opportunity to take an Oscar away. They don't have to do it every year, but wouldn't it be something if they could? They could also reject the decision of the actor/actress presenter who decides the actor/actress trophies. So if Daniel Day Lewis picks an obscure French clown to win Best Actor (seems like something he would do), at the end of the broadcast, a spokesman for the Academy could say, "Sorry Le Jolie Pamplemousse, we must take your Oscar away."

4)) Also, In Memorium runs ninety seconds max, so no one is allowed to clap because if there's one thing I can't abide, it's solemn applause for dead people, and 5) let's bring back bad presenter pairings and terrible banter. Worse than it is now. I want Tommy Lee Jones and Tony Danza to present Sound Effects Editing preceded by the following witty exchange:

DANZA: Just so we're clear Tommy, I'm the boss.
TOMMY LEE JONES: No, I'm the boss.
DANZA: I'm the boss!
TOMMY LEE JONES (stone-faced glare for twenty uninterrupted seconds)

Here to present the Best Original Score, please welcome Larry Flynt and Dr. Stephen Hawking!

LARRY: You know, Stephen, we have more in common than our wheelchairs...
HAWKING: (Beeps and mechanized whirring and buzzing)
LARRY: I also have a theory about black holes...
HAWKING (Robot voice): Hey now! Let's get to the nominees!

Carol Channing and Lil Wayne, Anthony Hopkins and Flo the Progressive Car Rental Lady, Sidney Poitier, Dame Maggie Smith, and Honey Boo Boo. Let's do it all.

I was talking to my Twitter friend Marrilee, and we figured the best thing to do in for this upcoming broadcast is outsource it to the people at OWN. They could use the ratings, and the personalities from that network could be easily integrated. Oprah could host, Iyanla Vanzant could be the muscle that silences yammering winners. Dr. Phil could do that thing where he walks into the audience and picks up his wife and walks out (because Mrs. Phil is a seat-filler professionally, the Oscars are her biggest night). Dr. Oz could tell you about your bowels.

Again, it's almost impossible to determine exactly what makes the Academy Awards appealing to those of us who find it appealing, and I realize I've lost most of you with this lengthy thesis. Dr. Jon, for instance, is so out of touch with celebrity and pop culture, that when we went to watch the awards at a friend's house a few years ago, he mistook Morgan Freeman for Nelson Mandela and Michael Douglas for Pat Sajack. But this is my Superbowl, Stanley Cup, or... I don't know, dick measuring competition on ESPN 2. And four Sundays from now I'll be parked on my couch with a bowl of salt and a drink of sweet and a keen eye, ready for that glimpse behind the curtain.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Of Age and Oprah...

Hello Friends.

This week I was the closest to Oprah that I may ever be in my life, geographically. She was in Edmonton for some kind of concert. I didn't go, but I did hang out downtown the day that she was here in the hopes that I might run into her at Dairy Queen or whatever. No such luck, and I don't know what I would have said or done had I actually seen her in person, but it would be a great anecdote to dust off at a party, because everyone at that party would love to hear an Oprah story.

My theory is that everyone has an Oprah story of their own. Whether you love or hate her, she has been such an ever-present figure in pop culture for so many years and her show was on every day, that every person remembers an episode or a guest or something to do with her. I had a great uncle, for instance, that I barely ever saw and who died when I was quite young. If memory serves he had throat cancer and skin cancer and some other cancer and his final years were rough. But he said he saw an Oprah once about conjoined twins and there was one set attached at the forehead. He said something like, "If those gals can get up and face the world every day, I sure as hell can." I met a drunk girl at a party once who told me that her mother had seen an Oprah about depression and realized that her youngest daughter (drunk girl's sister) exhibited a lot of the signs and began to take her to counseling. Drunk girl insisted that "Oprah saved my sister's life!" When my best friend Ryan and I were teens, we were watching an Oprah that was about teens and there was a pre-taped bit from confused parents and one mother said, "The word I keep hearing is 'poser'! What's a poser? Am I a poser? Is Dad a poser?" I don't know why we found it so funny, but Ryan and I will still say to each other, "Am I poser? Is Dad a poser?" But the Oprah episode that remains so resonant with me is a medical one where they determined Your Real Age.

Oprah had this doctor on who said he had devised a test which would tell the participant his or her Real Age. It used factors of biology, genetics, but mostly lifestyle, which was the selling point of the book they were hawking. So if you were thirty years old but smoked and drank and topped your pizza with pretzels and marijuana cigarettes, your Real Age was 56 or something. Oprah was jazzed to take the test and this was when she was in a thinner period so she was all to happy to boast that she exercised daily and ate celery instead of birthday cake. She was in her forties at the time and they said her Real Age was 33. You could tell she was pissed. She thought she'd be 17 or something. She said, "I also cut out drinking coffee altogether. I know how bad coffee is for you." And the doctor said, "Oh coffee doesn't really do anything to you one way or the other" and I thought she was gonna fly into a rage. A funny post-script to this Oprah moment is that when I looked up the Real Age guy, it was Dr. Oz! So this must have been an early appearance before he became her pet or her son and was issued his own spin-off talk show, that's mostly about what your poop means. But I don't give a shit about that (ha ha HA!) because it's the Real Age thing continues to fascinate me today.

Dream: Create my own Real Age test.

Goal: Achievable. Remember when somebody's age was one of the most important factors in your relationship to them? In school, for instance, having a friend even one year younger or older than you was just weird! But now, even though it makes me sound like a Dateline-calibre predator, it's clear to me that biological age is a pretty artificial stricture when it comes to connecting with people. I have friends and coworkers who are younger and older than I am, sometimes by quite a few years, but it really isn't something I notice. I remember at one cashiering job teasing a guy called Anthony because a new hairstyle made him look like Tony Danza circa Who's the Boss. I did my best "SaMANtuhhh!" and asked him what Mona was up to, then explained the reference when he didn't get the joke and he said, "I was born in 1992." But except for that exchange, our nearly ten year age difference didn't come up around the cash register. So age as it translates to years on the planet isn't the best indicator of how old someone truly is, and it's time someone came up some new methodology.

Plan: Create new factors which indicate your real age. You can do this at home! Using your biological age as a guide, find your new age with this handy guide.

1) Do you have to take your pants off when you get home from somewhere? Add 5 years.

2) Have you ever broken up with someone by text? Subtract 7 years.

3) Have you smoked salvia? Subtract 5 years.

4) Did you just Google "salvia"? Add 5 years.

5) When you're having a shitty day, do you blame "the universe" (subtract 10 years, baby), blame yourself (subtract 5 years, drama queen), or take action to ensure your day is less shitty? (Add 10 years, you wise old soul).

6) Remember the episode where Joey thinks DJ was drinking at a school dance but she was just with some boys who were drinking and sprayed some beer on her dress and Joey told Danny and Danny punished DJ and she said, "I can't believe you would take his side instead of your own daughter!" (You are exactly as old as me)

7) Would you drop everything for a roadtrip to an outdoor musical festival? (-5)

8) Do you sometimes catch your own face in the mirror and see your parent staring back at you? (+5)

9) Turn on your contemporary rock radio station right now. Add 1 year for every song that plays where you can name neither the title or artist. If you use an app to cheat and identify the title/artist, you don't need to worry about this one as you are a young person.

10) Do you ever look at your bowl of cereal while grabbing breakfast in the kitchen with your boyfriend and think, "This is MY bowl! In MY kitchen! With MY boyfriend! Is this my life?" Then I don't know what to add or subtract because I don't feel young or old but I feel this feeling nearly every day.

Okay, maybe Dr. Oz is smarter than I give him credit for (although he can't be that smart because he's always wearing scrubs on his show like he just came from surgery and it's like give it up, man, we know you're a doctor, alright?) because this Real Age stuff is hard. I don't think it is arbitrary minutiae like pop songs or salvia or apps that tells you how old you are. I know I feel young when I can stand for an eight hour shift, head to the bar and dance and drink the night away, and I know I feel super-old the morning after. I am as young as my youngest friend when they say something new and insightful that I've never heard before but completely agree with and I think, "My mind has been BLOWN!" But I am as old as my eldest friend who says something I've long held to be true and I think, "It's always been that way, hasn't it?"

I'm never sure just how old or young I am supposed to feel because of the Oprah effect in my own life. I feel like I'm moderating a new episode every day because there's always someone new to meet and something new to learn. And sure, there are some days when I'm vegetative and parked on the couch with ice cream and cookies (just like Oprah, you can be damn sure), but most of the time I feel like the host of my own show, the writer of my own magazine, the head of my OWN channel, and I figure stuff out for myself. Otherwise, what does that make me? Am I a poser? Is Dad a poser?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Traditional Value...

Hello Friends.

The summer before my final year of university, I realized I was short a pesky elective credit and took a course. As I recall I chose Anthropology, not because of a particular interest in any culture, but because it was all that was offered. It was one of those truncated summer courses where instead of going twice a week over a normal semester, you spend a few hours a day in class Monday to Friday for three weeks or something. I always meant to remember and enjoy this interesting class, but instead I forgot all the boring shit that guy said. I remember sucking back a large coffee in the back of the lecture theatre every single day. The prof who ran the course had spent a number of years in Bali studying the...Balinese, I guess? He was interesting enough but had that habit some eager speakers have of letting spittle collect in the mouth and then sucking it back while taking a breath. I wish this blog were like one of those obnoxious straight-to-camera YouTube things just so I could demonstrate what I mean. Like, he'd go, "One thing about culture in Bali is that while they value traditional expression of prayer through dance sskskkkskskskksk that wasn't the limit of their liturgical offerings."

Anyway, one of the things that does stick with me from Anthro 100 is the rather obvious notion that a culture is, at least in part, defined by its traditions. The Brits have High Tea, for instance, the Spanish enjoy a mid-afternoon siesta, and I'm sure if you trace my boyfriend's lineage back far enough, you'll find pioneer settlers who would tell their partners ten innocuous things while they're trying to fall asleep.

Traditions aren't exclusive to entire cultures, though. Traditions can be unique to families, couples, even individuals. And I'd hate to think that, generations from now, some professor will be attempting to explain how I lived in 2013 and he'll say, "Well, we know he had a pizza gut sskkkskskksksk but he observed no traditions that we could uncover."

Dream: Start a tradition.

Goal: Achievable. Really the only thing one must do to have a tradition is to repeat an action on a consistent and regular basis. Plus, a tradition could really anchor me in a satisfying way. I don't work 9-5 anymore and so don't always eat at home, wake up or go to bed at the same time, or even have a weekend any different from a weekday. I'm not complaining about that (this week), but I do feel that imposing some structure in my messy life would be prudent.

Plan: Pick a tradition to...tradit. Some options:

Cocktail hour. I remember both of my grandmothers enjoying a drink every day. This is not to say they were lushes, far from it, but they were from the generation where the workday ended with a tumbler with ice and some delicious contents. I remember from childhood the clinking of ice cubes in Grandma K's gin and tonic, or the maraschino cherry drowning in amber liquid at the bottom of Grandma O's Manhattan. I can't stomach gin or vermouth, though, so my daily libation would have to be a cocktail of my own creation like a Spicy Puke (1 oz Bailey's, shot of tobasco, three green or pink mini-marshmallows) or a 7th Grade Slumber Party (1 oz Sourpuss, tsp lime jello, issue of Tiger Beat magazine) and that kind of robs the tradition of it's classiness. Plus, in spite of my interest in our loud neighbours, and the fact that I can't stop complaining of foot pain, I'm not an old lady. I'm a young person, and probably haven't earned the right to toast my "accomplishments" at the end of the day. I'd also be far less likely to enjoy just one drink and four 7th Grade Slumber Parties in a row is actually called an Anne Hathaway because you become babbling, incoherent, insufferable, and convinced you'd look cute with shorter hair.

The news. I'd be so well-informed and worldly if I could just make a tradition of watching a proper newscast every day. Jon turns on the CBC News Network whenever he's home for lunch, and if I'm home with him, I invariably put my headphones on or play on my laptop, like a sullen teen. Because there's really no best-case scenario with the news, is there? It's either round-the-clock horrific like the news cycle after the Sandy Hook shootings. Sidebar: I can't even deal with the Sandy Hook tragedy and it's news aftermath. Instead of interviewing traumatized five year-olds, wouldn't it have been something if CNN, HLN, etc, went dark for an hour? You know, out of respect? For twenty dead children? If they just put a graphic that said, "This is the worst of times. Children shouldn't die at school. Hug your kids, if you have them. We'll be back to sicken you at 5." Anyway, it's either extremely upsetting or boring as shit! For instance, the other day, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their General Manager, Brian Burke. No reason was given at the press conference, so the newscaster just kept repeating that he had been fired, then cutting to a picture, then saying he'd been fired, then showing a clip from the press conference, then saying he'd bee fired, then showing him in a Leafs jersey, giving a thumbs up. Over and over and over again. Nothing against Brian Burke, his vocal opposition to homophobia in sports is refreshing and admirable, but there's no reason to stretch this non-story into an hour of yakkin'. The point is, if I have to choose between bloody or boring, I choose neither.

Reading. I love a good book and I do read all the time, but it's usually on the train to work or in a coffee shop or something. At the moment I'm slogging through People Who Eat Darkness, a disturbing if overly thorough true story about a British girl living in Tokyo who goes missing after possibly encountering a possible sex pervert who possibly dismembered her. It was recommended to me as similar to In Cold Blood, which I loved, which also recounts a true story of a brutal crime, but the guy who wrote Darkness is no Truman Capote and I just want to find out how this girl died so I can read the new Garfield treasury. But did you know you're not supposed to read in bed? I always, always used to read in bed, but apparently that deeply ingrained habit contributes to insomnia, a condition from which I occasionally suffer, so I've cut it out. The bed is supposed to be exclusively for sleeping and sex, no tv, no laptop, and no reading. Occasionally, then, I'll bring a book out to the couch in our living room (which does play host to our laptop and television), but sitting on the couch reading just feels weird, like I'm waiting for a bus or something. I guess I need a chair dedicated to reading. My friend Lewis has that, under a good lamp, beside a wall that's a bookshelf. Are you jealous of my friend Lewis? You shouldn't be. The same apartment has a bathroom so small that you can't pee standing up because the sink jams into your back.

Maybe you can't really plan a tradition, because then it's a chore. I suppose the best traditions I know are the deeply personal ones that just happen. I have dear friends with two kids and a third on the way, and every night, they tuck their girls in with a song. I don't know what the song is, or if it changes from night to night, and I know Mom and Dad aren't singers, particularly, but that's not what it's about, you know? It's about love and family and those things that make your family unique and special and amazing in its own way. For now, without a schedule and without kids to wreck that schedule, I guess my tradition would be the Thursday days I spend thinking about what I might blog about, then writing some crap down on Thursday nights, either before or after I catch Parks & Recreation. That might not be very cultured but skkskskskssk it's all I can offer.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Hello Friends.

Do you remember that movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles? Steve Martin and John Candy have to get somewhere together for some reason. The plot is that thin and unmemorable, but that's fine, the exquisite pairing of the two leads is what makes the film great. Well, that, and this marvelous scene right here. Go ahead and watch, I'll wait...

Wasn't it good? I'm sure it's worth finding the movie on the cheap somewhere and just buying a copy for all the times I've seen it. It's one of those movies constantly rerun on cable, though, and tv standards just murder that scene before your eyes. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles was on the other night and I tuned into the car rental scene, which played out like this:


Ugh! Painful! But I can see where the tv standards people are coming from. I don't want a family television station throwing the fucks around at 4 pm on a Saturday. Similarly, I wouldn't want explicit lyrics played on the easy listening radio station they play at the candle store I frequent (although you haven't heard jazz piano until you've listened to John Tesh's seminal recording "Blissful Afternoon, Motherfucker").

I suppose the problem with foul language is that it makes something meant to be entertaining potentially inaccessible. I remember working in a video store when that movie Little Miss Sunshine came out. I loved that movie so much and recommended it to everyone. Most people loved it, but I did have one lady return it to me angrily. "The language in this movie is horrible! I want my money back!" she said, and I obliged. But I couldn't believe a few choice words could keep one from enjoying a great movie! I wondered what else people avoid just because cuss words can be alienating.

Dream: Stop swearing in my writing and speaking.

Goal: Achievable, I guess. There are great books, music, movies, tv shows and people without a cuss word in them. Kids wouldn't read To Kill A Mockingbird in school if it was called Enough of this Racist Bullshit. I'd hate to hear Mr. Rogers welcoming me to another goddamn beautiful day in his neighbourhood. And I'd be decidedly horrified if my little nephew Luka's first words were, "You know what? Fuck this." So I really should make a concerted effort to knock off the potty mouth. In a little bit. Not right now, though.

Plan: Make a pros and cons list concerning "adult language" to determine whether or not I should keep cussin'.

PRO: Swearing is powerful. Do you guys remember your parents or teachers swearing? I do. And it always meant that we were out of line and they were in control and enough is enough. I remember being in an all boys health class in the 9th grade, a big portion of which concerned sex ed. Our teacher tried so hard to be straightforward and informative, and never let any embarrassment seep in, but a room full of 14 year old boys giggled like a room full of 14 year old boys at every crucial piece of information. We didn't take anything seriously and soon the class was just one long, extended interruption. Our teacher tried yelling, threatening and scolding to no avail. Finally, one day, two sentences in to a lecture on glands or hair or erections or something, we erupted into laughter that ceased immediately when our teacher looked up, startled and said, "You know, this is bullshit. Your behaviour is bullshit." Because it was! We were acting terribly but as soon as teacher said bullshit, an invisible line had been crossed. We sat there stunned with a new respect for our teacher. I don't know how long it lasted, but we definitely behaved ourselves the rest of the day.

CON: Swearing can be crass. I remember being on a bus once with a group of teenagers and a Dad with young kids. The teenagers were being loud and obnoxious and swearing. Dad turned around in his seat and said, "Hey, come on guys! I'm with my kids! Watch your language!" And the lead streetwise teen yelled back, "Fuckity fuck fuck, fuckity fuck fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck" to the tune of "Thumpity thump thump, thumpity thump thump, look at Frosty go." Dad just threw up his hands and the bus driver hollered some vague threat about kicking them off, but that was the extent of the fallout.

PRO: Sometimes there's just no other word. I remember when I was about ten years old being picked on by some older kid. Nothing too serious beyond being teased, but I think I was shoved in the mud or something once and so explained what had been going on to my mother. After hearing the whole saga she said, "Wow, that kid sounds like a real asshole." For some reason, that turned everything around in my brain. For one thing, my mother didn't ever curse when we were kids. She's not a sailor on leave now by any means, but when we were kids we never heard anything like that. And when she deemed that intimidating older boy an asshole, I know it was true and he suddenly diminished in my estimation. He wasn't a bully, he didn't have this magnificent hold over me, he couldn't really do anything to me, because he was just some asshole who went to my school. If I ever had a run-in with him again, I don't remember it. I suddenly knew this kid wasn't important at all anymore, thanks to a lovely word choice by dear old Mom.

CON: Swearing can be lazy. I want to be a good writer and I want to craft funny jokes. It seems like swearing can be a descriptor that's too easily relied upon, or an all-too-simple punchline. I want to craft prose that doesn't require four letters to be effective. The following is an obscure example of what I mean, but stick with me, as this is delicious.

I often listen to this podcast called How Was Your Week with Julie Klausner. Julie opens every episode with a lengthy monologue about anything and everything and it is often extremely funny. She also writes articles for Jezebel and Vulture, and is an astute cultural critic. She is all that I want to be. Anyway, she is a big animal lover and launched a campaign to pet the spokesdog for a Bush's Beans. Maybe it was a little tongue-in-cheek, but she just wanted to pet a gorgeous hound dog and started a Twitter thing about it, and a Facebook campaign. Her request to pet the dog was officially denied and she wrote a piece about it for The Daily Beast (you can read it here). After she wrote the piece, she checked out comments on that article and recounted in her monologue, that she didn't like what she read. The following is my best attempt at a transcript of what she said. (Also, the entire episode is available for download here and is a great starting point as it is a Best-Of episode)

So I found this comment that this Nobody wrote about it and he was like, "I'm expected to read three pages about how Julie Klausner wanted to pet a dog and couldn't pet a dog?" And I know that I shouldn't read it in the first place, or think about it in the second place, but all I wanted to do is be like, "Actually nobody expects you to read it because nobody thinks about you. Because you imply that people have some sort of awareness of who you are, or that they want you to do something, and in reality, your invisibility is your very defining feature, which is to say, you are nothing."

Oh my GOD, right? Isn't that just the best? Just so scathing without resorting to any bad language. Far worse than any "Fuck off", isn't it?

I really don't think I can cut out the occasional profanity myself, though. I'm not going to dust off the old, "Words are just words, man! They have no power unless we perceive that to be so" argument, because it doesn't hold up. Tell any non-white person that words are just words and they just might point to a few really uncomfortable examples of why that isn't so. I think we beholden to what we say, insofar as one uses discretion depending on to whom one is speaking or writing. Whoever is reading this right now, I'm sorry if I curse gratuitously, or occasionally offend your sensibilities. But I'm also sorry that expletives are such a bummer for you. I don't know what happened in your life that makes you sensitive to such things, but I hope it doesn't ruin this blog, or our friendship, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles. If you can't take some pleasure in stuff like that, you're fucked.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Cross Promotional Bonanza...

Hello Friends,

Happy New Year! I recently got a plumb gig writing for Saskatoon Well Being Magazine. Find them online here or, if you're in Saskatoon, pick up a free copy at any of the locations listed here. So proud to partner with these folks. My first entry below!

Hello Saskatoon,

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many entries for Saskatoon Well Being Magazine.  While I am no expert in the field of well being (I'm more concerned with, well, being), I know a thing or two about living your Dreams.  I agree with the maxim, "If you believe it, you can achieve it!" with the all-important caveat that you must lower your expectations significantly.  For instance, we can't all be millionaires, but you can easily save 50 dollars a year if you stop buying soap (simply carry empty freezer bags around and fill them up with the low-quality liquid soap offered in most public restrooms).  Do without soap for 10 years?  Boom, you've got 500 dollars.  You're not a millionaire but, Saskatoon, you're well on your way.

I once heard that the difference between a Dream and a Goal was a Plan.  I also believe this notion to be true and it is the crux upon which I will base my column for this magazine.  This time of year, we put a lot of Dreams out into the universe.  A new year is a blank page for many of us; a fresh start.  We're often inspired to put pen to paper and write out a list of well-intentioned New Year's Resolutions.  I wonder why so many of us start every January by effectively shooting ourselves in the foot?  It's not that we're lazy, but rather that we set impossibly high standards, then beat ourselves up when we can't reach them.  Well, not so for me.  Not this year.

Dream:  Keep all of my New Year's Resolutions for 2013.

Goal:  Achievable.  I remember track and field in grade school.  I was not an athletic boy, unless you consider my truly heroic intake of chapter books.  Not every kid had to compete in citywide competitions but, as I recall, every kid had to practice every track and field event in gym class for weeks.  I wasn't thrilled about any of this, but I certainly enjoyed the first round of the high jump.  High jump, if you'll recall, is the event where a bar is raised higher and higher in front of a giant plush mattress and the participant would jump over the bar.  Anyway, I don't know if this was provincially mandated or if we just had a sympathetic teacher, but the first round of high jump had the bar set lower than the giant plush mattress!  This meant that you got to take a running start, leap with abandon and land, unencumbered, into softness.  If that's true athleticism, I was thrilled to be a part of it.  I could never clear the bar set any higher than that and I hated every other aspect of gym class, but, boy, I loved that first round.  My point is, nothing is daunting and everything is achievable, if the bar is low enough.

Plan:  Make 10 resolutions that will be nearly impossible not to keep.

1) Lose some weight, then gain it all back plus a bit more.

2) Think about planting a garden.  Settle on thoughtfully touching a tree while out on a walk.

3) Read 10 books.  Or one magazine.

4) Go to bed the same time every night and wake up the same time every morning, except for those times when I'd rather stay up or sleep in.

5) Don't engage in conflict with friends or coworkers, but plot elaborate revenge fantasies that eat up time during my morning commute.

6) Buy pants one size too big and give myself the freedom to “grow into them."

7) Hold a door open for somebody one time.  That makes me a mentor.

8) This calendar year, try to get divorced just once, if at all.

9) Drink more water!  Increase my intake by adding more ice cubes to my cocktails.

10) Watch a meaningful film like Hotel Rwanda, Schindler's List or Weekend At Bernie's.

"But James", I hear you rudely objecting, "Aren't achieving such easy challenges inherently disappointing?  One doesn't feel any sense of satisfaction this way!"  To you I pose this question:  do you get more satisfaction from accomplishing a difficult task or from crossing said task off a list?  You could lie and say it's about the challenge, but liars never prosper.  It's about the list.  People love to tell you everything they did in a day, even if the tasks themselves aren't impressive ("I woke up, made coffee, did four sit-ups, looked at the cat, cried in the shower and checked my email, all before noon!").

Look, unless you are born into poverty, work in a horrifying forced labour scenario or attend several outdoor music festivals every year, your life is as easy or as hard as you decide to perceive it.  So why not be easy on yourself this year?  If we're all captains of our ships, shouldn't we do all we can to ensure smooth sailing?  Join me on a new adventure, Saskatoon, and let us take baby steps together.  Let us greet the year with an open mind, open heart and freezer bags full of soap.  Let us take leaps of faith and land in softness.  Let us be well.