Thursday, 26 December 2013

About Face...

Hello Friends.

It’s taken me awhile, but I think I’ve figured out what I have in common with North America’s finest film actress. Like me, Meryl Streep is a face-toucher. It’s hard to believe that a performer so lauded for her versatility would do the same thing in every movie, but if you watch for it, it’s there. Julia Child, Margaret Thatcher, Karen Silkwood, even Mia (the Mamma in Mamma Mia) did this thing where they kind of tapped their chins with their index finger while thinking about something. Maybe I’m misremembering, maybe it’s not there in every movie, but I picked up on this tick because I’m terribly astute and also because I’m the most frequent face-toucher in the land.

When I’m anxious, self-conscious, or worried, I touch my face. Or if I’m embarrassed, angry, or flirting. I touch my face when I have too much stubble, but also if I’m too recently shaven. I tuck my hair behind my ears and rub my temples and tug at my eyebrows and tap my cheekbones. I check my throat glands and palm my eye sockets and pull on my lower lip until it hurts. Anytime I’ve ever been on camera for anything, directors have had to tell me not to touch my face. Filming didn’t happen often, by the way, I’m referring to crappy student films and no-budget “projects” that never made any festivals—the similarity to me and Streep ends with face-touching, believe me. I’d also always have to gel my hair down flat or wear a hat on camera because I’ve always had an ever-expandable mop of hair that I’d mess with every take and ruin any continuity. The point is, I can’t leave my mug alone.

I don’t think my habit is born solely of self-obsession. I have no illusions about my face, I know it’s long and asymmetrical and droopy and plain, but I think I touch my face so much because so few other people will let me mess with theirs. I’m just wild about faces and I’m frankly a little bummed I just get this one.

Dream: Have a new face.

Goal: Achievable. Barring some sort of Nicolas Cage/John Travolta Face Off scenario, I may never know what it’s like to have a face other than my own. That said, advances in plastic surgery are being made all the time. Some poor woman in the American Midwest was shot in the face but then they performed an entire face transplant on her! I saw a show about it and experts in the field of… facery, I guess, marvelled. To be frank, the woman’s new face was a bit jarring and mask-y, but the same is true of Madonna’s newest face (did anyone see her cameo on SNL recently? What the fuck was that? Did she put a grill in her mouth at the end or something? Is there something going on with you, Madonna?). Anyway, I hope I don’t get shot in the face, but if I save my pennies (and plastic surgery continues to develop), I could try out a few new visages.

Plan: Think about hypothetical faces I could have and what that could mean for me. Faces like:

A smiley face: I don’t mean that stupid logo, I mean a face that’s naturally open and happy. These are people for whom a smile is their most natural and attractive setting. The ones you can’t help but smile back at, all the while knowing that your attempt at a grin doesn’t quite measure up. These folks radiate positivity and draw people to them at parties and are extremely photogenic. They are good-looking because they are happy-looking, but don’t make quite the same impression as the truly best-looking among us, those with….

A symmetrical face. It is scientifically proven that symmetrical faces are the most attractive, and you can’t argue with science. It must be so freeing to have that good-looking a face. People with symmetrical faces are lucky because, unlike the rest of us, they don’t have to worry about how they look otherwise. We normals cursed with a fair-to-middling face put as much effort as we can into the rest of the packaging (the hair, the clothes, the physique), but symmetrical faces don’t require any such work. A strong jawed man or a big-eyed woman will still look beautiful wearing a garbage bag or Crocs because their face is doing all the work.

An expressive face. If you’re just lazing about at home this holiday season, I strongly encourage you to check out the HBO series Getting On, which is a dark comedy about nurses. The head nurse is played by Laurie Metcalf, who also played Aunt Jackie on Roseanne. I mean this only in the kindest way, but Metcalf is every argument against Botox for actresses. Hers is a squinty, fretful, open, exceptionally readable face. All I could find was this clip and it doesn’t quite illustrate my point as the shots of her are so quick, but just watch how her face changes in seconds. Incredible.

An inscrutable face. The flip side of an expressive face would be fun, too. I’d love to be able to receive any information, feel any number of feelings, and have none of it show on my face. My brother has a face like that, pretty unchanging in most circumstances. This is not to say he is unfeeling, but rather that his ability to appear to remain neutral means that people have to work harder to figure him out. That has to be fun sometimes.

Alright, I’m going to lazily level with everybody and say that this face thing is a little half-baked and not truly worthy of a blog entry. Anyone who could see my face right now would know that I’ve just returned from a lovely but too short trip home for Christmas and am in the midst of working the terror that is Boxing Week and I am equal parts happy, sleepy, and jangled. Going from a lazy few days at home to a crazy week at work had knocked me off-kilter and made me a little sad, so I promised myself I would blog tonight (I skipped last week), just to prove that I still could. If you’re reading this from your parents’ home, or you’re enjoying a long winter vacation, I envy you and hope you had a great holiday. If you’re back at work already, you have my sympathy and well-wishes. As another year comes to an end, let’s meet 2014 head on with a big smile. Chin up, Friends. Best face forward.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Ring-Ting-Tingling Too...

Hello Friends.

You know that song “Do They Know It’s Christmas”? I can’t speak for “They” (in the context of the song, I’m guessing starving children somewhere), but the answer to that song for the rest of us is, “Yes.” Yes, of course we know it’s Christmas because we’re listening to that godawful song. That one, and countless others, are pumped into every tv commercial, shopping mall, restaurant, drugstore, and retail outlet in the world from the day after Halloween until New Year’s Eve, and it’s too much.

I’ve worked retail every holiday season of my adult life and there’s a lot not to like. People are pushy, people are stressed, too few employees handle too much demand, and so on and so forth. That said, I think the worst thing about working the holiday season has to be the holiday music.

I’m not anti-Christmas music or anything, but there are simply too few options to pump through a store’s speaker system this time of the year, and the repetition is awful. The store I’m working at now plays a mix of throbbing house beats and angsty hipster garbage during the rest of the year, and the Christmas playlist is a terrible mix of both. We have a remix of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas  (because if any song needs a techno-mix it’s that one?) and a version of Sleigh Ride by .fun which is as awful as it sounds.

By far, the worst offender is Zooey Deschanel and her “band”, She & Him. That’s enough, Zooey. We hear her warble through Sleigh Ride, Baby It’s Cold Outside, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, and Little Saint Nick (with the always insightful holiday refrain, “Christmas comes this time each year”). Last year, OMG Blog (a site I visit often) held a contest because they were giving away two holiday CDs: Tracey Thorn’s Tinsel and Lights (which is excellent) and Zooey Deschanel’s A Very She & Him Christmas (which is not). OMG asked contestants to write who they would rather host for a holiday party, Tracey or Zooey? This is what I wrote to them:

OMG, Hi:

The thing is, comparing Zooey Deschanel to Tracey Thorn is like comparing apples to Tracey Thorn. That is to say, there's no comparison. I'd invite Tracey Thorn because she exudes cool with no effort. Because she's released so few albums and made such a big impact. Because when she sings, it's as if she's just decided to in that moment, and it's perfect. Her voice glides over Ben Watt beats, Cortney Tidwell twang, Hot Chip synth, with versatility and ease. Because I can barely picture what she looks like and I'm thrilled. If there's an image she or EBTG seeks to cultivate, I don't know what it is. Her album covers are cartoons, or faces painted over, or crafty wreaths. She might be 41, she might be 24, it is immaterial. I'd invite her because she wouldn't come. She might send regrets, which I'd frame, then I'd dig a few olives out of a jar, put a Santa hat on a lamp, call it a night.

I wouldn't invite Zooey Deschanel because she'd Instagram the whole fucking thing. She'd open her eyes really wide and bring her uke and stand pigeon-toed even though she's a grown lady. Maybe I'm being unduly harsh, but the whole indie pixie warbler hook loses some credibility when you've got your own show on Fox. Plus, she has so much power in the entertainment industry and refuses to be bold, feminist, or interesting. She likes kitties. She likes party dresses. Does she like the sexualization of young girls in her industry? Does she like the state of political discourse in her country? Does she blink her eyes ever?

I don't want to snark, but gimme Tracey over Zooey. I'd pick Sade over Lea Michelle, too, or Charlotte Rampling over Cathy from the comic strip Cathy (not that you asked). This contest is built on the supposition that I am hosting a holiday gathering, which I wasn't planning on this year, but two new holiday discs might at least get the olives out. Thanks for the opportunity, OMG!

Anyway, I won the contest! After my presents arrived from the OMG people, I put the Tracey Thorn cd into heavy rotation and am saving She & Him to part with at one of those White Elephant Gift Exchange things so some other poor sap ends up with it.

I wish I could just opt out of hearing covers of the same old Christmas songs every year. Songs I used to really like are forever tainted by countless covers and too much airplay. Joni Mitchell’s River, for example, is an excellent song, but it’s like Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Everyone thinks they should take a crack at it, and they really shouldn’t. But almost all Christmas playlists are limited by dint of the fact that there just aren’t enough songs to go around. Let’s change that.

Dream: A new batch of Christmas songs.

Goal: Achievable. Christmas music is traditionally Christian in nature, of course. Hymns became carols became standards and so on. But many people don’t celebrate Christmas and so wrote more secular, less Christ-y holiday hits. White Christmas, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Jingle Bell Rock, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and on and on, were all written by Jewish people. I’m all for it.

It really bothers me when holiday celebrations aren’t inclusive, and it chaps my ass when people complain that work Christmas parties and school Christmas concerts take the Christ out of Christmas. Of course they do because not everyone shares the same beliefs that you do and school and work should be accepting of other cultures and beliefs. I remember one poor girl in elementary school who couldn’t perform in our school’s Christmas concert because her parents forbade it due to the overly-Christian content (we were not a Christian school, but probably sang Silent Night or something). So while we rehearsed and made ornaments, she was stuck making a “Winter Doll”, whatever the hell that is.

Anyway, a few generations ago, we came up with these inoffensive, not especially religious “Christmas” songs that were inclusive, peppy, and while not overtly Christmassy, had a definite holiday theme. Let’s make more of those and expand the playlists of malls around the country.

Plan: Write a bunch of new holiday songs. I’m not a songwriter, but I’m sure I can least think of some titles that will warm some cockles this Yuletide season. They are:

  • Consensual Holiday For Two (this would replace the sinister and vaguely-rapey Baby, It’s Cold Outside with lyrics like “I really can’t stay/That’s no problem for me/I’ve got to go away/I respect your autonomy.”)
  • Pleasant Night (a song that, rather than describing the birth of Christ, recounts an enjoyable stay at a Comfort Inn)
  • You’re Getting A Gift Card
  • Ho Ho Ho Dad’s Drunk
  • Why U Buy Me Extra-Large (How Fat U Think I Am)
  • Christmas Airplane (“Christmas Airplane/I’m taking you home/Christmas Airplane/Don’t lose my bags/Christmas Airplane/I’ll fart in you until we laaand.”)
  • Rudolph, The Gay Guy Next Door
  • Turkey Turkey Turkey! (The Turkey Song)
  • Wrapping is Hard (Gift-Bagging is Easy)
  • Grandma Got Run Over By An Amazon Drone
  • Parents’ Internet (“I can’t dial-up the spirit of the season/Your malfunctioning PC is the reason/I appreciate you hosting and letting me stay here/But accessing my email shouldn’t take half a year")
  • Let’s Decorate Drunk Dad
  • Who Took My Terry’s Chocolate Orange? I’ll Kill You
  • Cautious Christmas (War Is Inevitable)
  • Fatter Every Year

I’m not anti-Christmas and I’m certainly in the spirit of the season, especially as my time with family draws ever closer. But the ring-ting-tingling just burrows in my brain from the time I clock into work until January 2nd, 2014. Maybe, instead of filling our gift-buying, present-wrapping, debt-mounting brains with contrived cheer, bustling shops ought to turn the music off this holiday season. Give customers a moment of blessed silence to reflect on what they truly value this time of year, and whether their time wouldn’t be better spent at home, with family. Maybe if we had the silence and space to contemplate what Christmas really means to us, we’d appreciate it more. If I’m on your list this year, you really don’t need to get me anything except maybe a little time with you. Catching up with friends and family old and new is how I know it’s Christmas time at all.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Have I Got a Deal For You...

Hello Friends.

I have recently applied for the best job. It’s back in the Big City, so competition is surely fierce, and I probably won’t get it, but that hasn’t stopped my hopes from skyrocketing. Basically, the job is to be part of the copywriting team for the brand new ad campaign of an established product. I can’t get into specifics, but it’s like if Tim Hortons, or Roots, or Little Red Stick Industries decided to clean house and market themselves anew (Little Red Stick Industries, by the way, had its biggest profit increase in 80 years when it partnered with the HandiSnak people).

Jokes aside, it would be incredible to get a job like this one. The advertising industry might be suffering due to people skipping commercials, reading print journalism less, and avoiding overt marketing like banner ads on the internet, but surely that makes the people behind marketing campaigns smarter, savvier, even at times subtler in their techniques. It’s a new age, and I want to be a part of it!

Dream: Write ad copy for a living.

Goal: Achievable. I worked writing copy full time last year until the company went up in flames, and for all the headaches inherent in working for an organization in peril, I really enjoyed the work. These days, I sporadically freelance for a marketing company doing much the same thing, but assignments arrive pretty infrequently, and they can’t pay the bills. If I got this dream job, or one like it, I’d get to be creative and make money, which is practically unheard of.

Plan: Figure out what I know about the ad industry in preparation for my role as an ad man. I might not have a degree in marketing or communications, but I know the following things to be true about advertising:  

Sex sells. This truth is undeniable, but not very comforting. The way corporations market to us using sex is problematic. Jean Kilbourne discusses these issues brilliantly in her Killing Us Softly films. But I do think there’s a way to subvert these tropes while still kind of adhering to them. For instance:
In her bathroom at home, woman zips up the back of a revealing dress and gives herself a sexy face pout in the mirror.  In his bathroom at his home, a man buttons the top of tight jeans and gives himself a cologne spritz, leveling an equally smoldering look to the mirror. Man and woman are shown leaving their (separate) apartments, looking great. Out at the club, woman is being approached by a group of gross “player” guys. At another club, man is shouting his drink order to a bartender who can’t hear him over the noise of the music and crowd. Woman tries to dance on the dance floor, but it’s so packed that she can barely move. By contrast, man has the dance floor nearly to himself thanks to his awkward, off-rhythm, ultra-white guy dancing. Woman tries to recreate her sexy look in the club bathroom mirror as she applies mascara, but she is bumped by a drunk girl stumbling in, and she pokes herself in the eye. Man goes to his club bathroom, unbuttons the top of his pants and groans appreciatively as he lets his gut hang out for a moment. Woman heads home in a noisy cab full of girlfriends. Man stands shoulder to shoulder on a crowded subway. Man is in his elevator, looking worse for wear and just as the doors are about to close, he holds it open for the Woman, who has just arrived! She thanks him. He smiles at her. She smiles back at him. They share a little laugh together. Text on the screen reads: The sexiest thing about you is your smile. And it’s ad for Crest or whatever.  You could easily cram that into a 30 second spot.

Funny sells. A lot of ads use humour to sell their stock, but trying to be funny in ad can often backfire because the need to sell a product overrides the humour, and a lot of jokes come off lame and toothless. I think one way ads can be successfully funny is if they can make fun of the tropes their industry uses. Remember when Kotex had that ad campaign making fun of other tampon commercials? Brilliant! Necessary! I could do that. For example:

We open on a woman, flatteringly lit, lazing about in bed in her underwear. She eats a spoonful of yogurt, while laughing in a, “Aren’t I naughty to indulge!” kind of way. Then we see a group of women, laughing on a couch, legs tucked under their bums, all eating yogurt and laughing together. Then we see a man lazing about in his underwear like the first woman, eating yogurt and laughing to himself. We see a group of male friends, legs tucked under their bums, eating yogurt and laughing. We see a burly man in a bathtub filled with bubbles, surrounded by candles, eating a yogurt. We cut to a group of men on a different couch, screaming at the tv during a sports game, yogurt in your mouths and spewing down their faces. A group of men in a bar knock back shots of yogurt and cheer. The tagline would be something like, “X Yogurt tastes good, no matter who you are.” Something like that, I don’t know.

Realism sells. Truth in advertising is rare, but isn’t it a jewel when we can find it? What if, instead of being perfectly made up and exquisite in the morning, we saw a lady in an ad who looked like the rest of us? Her alarm goes off and she groans. Her hair is matted, her face is rumpled and sleepy. She turns on the shower and groans louder as the cold spray hits her face. She emerges with wet, still messy hair, in normal person pajamas (stained sweatpants, oversized t-shirt, bunny slippers). She makes a beautiful looking egg, then groans at the toaster for taking too long. She eats her perfect egg with toast while watching tv. A perky morning show hostess says, “I love to get my day started with some exercise and meditation” and our lady laughs, her mouth full of egg. She checks her watch, grabs a blouse from a pile at her feet, and puts it on. She sits at her desk, runs her fingers through her still wet hair, and smoothes down her blouse. She clicks on a video-conferencing type icon (Skype, for all intents and purposes), does a few hacking coughs, and then when Skype connects, is all business. “Good morning, everyone. Are we ready to begin?” While she looks perfectly professional in her chat window, we can see that she still has her stained sweatpants and bunny slippers on. And it’s just one of those “Get Cracking” ads for eggs.

Sentimentality sells. Imagine this: A man is rushing around his house, cleaning and straightening everything, while another man follows him, calmer.

MAN 1: I’m so nervous, she’s gonna be here soon!
MAN 2: Don’t worry, everything is fine.
MAN 1: How can you say that? We need more time! We need more information! We’re not ready!
MAN 2: Of course we are. Will you relax?
(MAN 2 steps into the kitchen, pushes a button on one of those Keurig One Cup Coffeemakers, emerges a second later with two cups of coffee. He gives one to MAN 1, keeps one for himself)
MAN 1 (Taking a sip, absently): Mmm, that was fast.  (Doorbell rings) Oh wow! Okay! She’s here! This is it…
MAN 2 (As they walk to the door): Just breathe. People do this every day. Everything’s going to be f--
(MAN 2 opens the door and involuntarily gasps)
(A lady in a business suit smiles in their doorway, holding a baby)
LADY: Ben and David? Meet your baby girl.
(MAN 1 takes baby into his arms and MAN 2 hugs them both. Both men are overwhelmed and teary)
Tagline reads: Keurig. Ready whenever you are.

AWWWWW, right? I don’t know why those two guys couldn’t go to the airport to meet their baby (assuming it was an international adoption—I wanted to put in the treatment that the baby was Asian but that seemed insensitive somehow). The point is, manipulative though it might be, ads that hit you in your feeling parts will make you spend those dollars faster.

I don’t know if I’ll get this Dream Job, or one like it, anytime soon. The nice thing is, no matter where these jobs open up, I have the support of the Doc to pursue them as hard as I can. We live here now, in large part, because of his Dream Job, and he knows enough to let me go after mine, and we’ll work out the details later.

I wish there was a way to convey, in a job application, just how hard you would work and how grateful you’d be to be given the chance. I wish resumes and cover letters were given more than cursory glances and arbitrary dismissals when they land on the boss’ desk. Coincidentally, that’s about how long a good ad has to grab your attention, draw you in, and make you a consumer. I don’t know the best way to sell myself except to say that I’m capable, and ready whenever you are. Oh, and also,