Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Where have all the flowers gone.

1. While I may grouse a whole lot about hating my profession and nearly everyone in it and threatening to leave it all behind to become a reiki practitioner, every once in awhile the universe offers me a little nugget to remind me that you can take the gal out of the library but you definitely can't take the library out of the gal. Like this morning, when the Library of Congress released its annual list of recordings to be preserved for cultural posterity. This year's list is pretty killer: it includes The Band, REM, Loretta Lynn, the original cast recording of Gypsy, battle sounds from Guam, the Staples Singers, and Tupac. Fucking TUPAC, man! How much do I wish I'd been part of that selection committee? Answer: SO much.

2. Hearing Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie alongside someone from Antiflag discussing the state of protest music on the Current this morning reminded me yet again why I love the CBC so damned much.

3. It also reminded me why I love Arlo Gurthrie enough to name my cat after him. I think they share an equally random and whimsical sense of humour. And possibly a snaggletooth.

4. If you'll excuse me, I'm off to watch Christopher Plummer chew the scenery at Stratford.

5. I don't go to the theatre much, but whenever I do, I wish that someone would LITERALLY chew the scenery, and I hope that someday I see that happen.

6. Are these the thoughts that someone on the eve of her 30th birthday should be having? Probably not, but hopefully yes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I do.

As usual, now that I am back home with the parents', I have very little to report. Instead of reading, I spent most of my days making jam, falling asleep in lawn chairs, trying to ride a bike, and helping the neighbour children pick the cherries out of their black cherry ice cream. Thanks to the magic of cable, I have also become completely obsessed with wedding-themed reality programming. Have any of you ever watched Rich Bride, Poor Bride? This is a completely horrifying show. I guess the horror level depends mostly upon the couple being profiled in a given episode, but the one I watched the other night gave me heart palpitations. Unable to agree on ANYTHING for their wedding, the bride and groom opted to hold two separate events on two days, necessitating three dresses for the bride and two for each bridesmaid, not to mention a miniature pony dressed in pink feathers and a cape (I am not joking) to greet the guests outside the hall. They were more than thirty thousand dollars over budget. THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. As someone who has a hard time shelling out more than five dollars for a new pair of underpants, this show is several solar systems outside my frame of reference.

I guess I'm just baffled by the whole concept of a huge wedding with, like, choreographed dance numbers for the bridal party (although I still watch this damned video when I need a little pick me up, as much as it embarrasses me to admit it), and I also feel a little bit sorry for the subjects on the show, who are clearly being set up to look like complete nincompoops who fight over things like ice sculptures and fondant figurines. On second thought, I have a sneaking suspicion that anyone who would sign up to appear on television during what is arguably a very vulnerable period for any nascent partnership is probably fairly alright with having their emotional baggage on display, but that doesn't make my jaw drop any less. As a friend once said, weddings represent the coming together of two people and the complete spiritual undoing of about a hundred other involved parties. She hit the nail on the head, and also defined very perfectly what I masochistically love about weddings: love and celebration run right alongside chaos and pain. It's like all my favourite feelings together in one place. There's something appealing about a hot mess, you know?

And in lieu of a coherent conclusion, here's a feel-good love song to start your day.

Oh, and this. Which totally makes me cry. Every hell damn ass time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Old man, take a look at my life.

Recently I've developed a bit of a thing for crochety old men. On paper, I mean. It started with a complete obsession with Studs Terkel, compounded by my discovery that Harvey Pekar had edited a really wicked comic book version based on the original transcripts. From there I moved on to listen to a bunch of Terkel's interviews, collected on Voices of our Time and owned by my library (and probably yours). A friend of mine described Studs Terkel as "the man Ira Glass wishes he could be." For any non-NPR-listeners, you can probably replace Ira Glass's name with Peter Gzowski for an apt analogy (although then you would probably argue that Gzowski truly IS Terkel's Canadian counterpart, AND HOW!, and then you could up and die of embarrassment at what a huge radio nerd you are.). He's a man generally interested in the human condition and the human story, and he seems to draw the most amazing truths out of his subjects. I've written before about a couple of my favourite passages from Working, and here is another gem.

“Perhaps it is this specter that most haunts working men and women: the planned obsolescence of people that is of a piece with the planned obsolescence of the things they make. Or sell.”

Insight! Horrifying, panic-inducing insight!

Anyway, my Terkel-philia waned a little this weekend, when the audio version of his book Coming of Age: The Story of Our Century by Those Who Lived It got me so drowsy I almost drove into a ditch alongside Highway 38. I hate to undercut the importance of oral history and undercutting everything I've already said, but listening to this book was a little like being trapped on an elevator with Abe Simpson. So I cut my losses and moved on.

My second old man turned out to be Kurt Vonnegut, a man who has wandered in and out of my reading life for nearly as long as I've been holding books. Again, I've written before about my complicated relationship with him, but I'm happy to report that, if only for today, Kurt and I are back on. Maybe it's just the magic of Rip Torn's dulcet voice reading Vonnegut's words to me. I think that's exactly what it is, in fact. Rip Torn is finally giving a pitch-perfect voice to the words in my memory, and he is pulling it off. I'd go so far as to say this recording is the cure for the drive-home-Monday blues. Vonnegut's cranky words in this compilation of miscellaneous non-fiction from his later years should make you cry with abject grief about the state of humanity, but out of Torn's mouth, the words will make you laugh harder than you've laughed in a long time. Get thee to the library, and check out Armageddon in Retrospect, read for you by Don Geiss. You won't regret it.

And now, a tangential video-finale.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A word devoid of meaning.

It's Friday, which, since I have to work on Saturday this week, is a statement that has lost its relevance. Yesterday morning at the end of my yoga practice, my teacher said, "Back when I was in undergrad, Thursday was the new Friday. So I hope you live your Thursday like it's a Friday today." A lovely notion, but seeing as how I can't even live my FRIDAYS like they're Fridays, it was lost on me. Moreover, when I was in undergrad, Wednesday was the new Friday. Clearly in Toronto we were a little bit ahead of the curve.

Anyway, the one thing we can all agree on is that we're at the week's end. I have a lot to do this fakest of fake weekends. In between a much deserved haircut, a lot of half-assed hours clocked at the reference desk, and taking self-portraits of me and my cat, I also intend to do a little bit of actual, non-magazine reading. Here's my to-do list.

1. The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman. I started this last night (once I'd gotten through my priority-reading, a feature article on Ellen Degeneres in Shape Magazine. I know. In my defense, it was written by Jennifer Weiner, and therefore counts as literary non-fiction.). It is really, really funny and poignant. Colour me surprised. I've only seen a few snippets of Sarah Silverman on TV and on the internet, and her humour isn't exactly my cup of tea, but she makes a really excellent memoirist. From now on I am only reading autobiographies that feature accounts of taking too much acid and forgetting how to drive.

2. The Widower's Tale by Julia Glass. Working in libraries has maybe three perks, and one of these is access to publishers' reading copies. I love Julia Glass, and am constantly thrusting her books at everyone around me (it you haven't read Three Junes or The Whole World Over yet, I don't want to talk to you again until you've finished them), and this new one isn't out until September. You might say I'm travelling INTO THE FUTURE.

3. Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott. I just finished her latest, Imperfect Birds, which was, like all her novels, one of those books where you want to slow down your reading and make it last forever. She's got such a knack for characters, mothers and daughters and the hard love that comes with being a family. Her descriptions of Northern California make me want to jump in my car and drive. Her unassuming and surprisingly unannoying thoughts on faith and love and compassion make me want to devote myself to spirituality. And halfway through, I realized that these were the same characters that populated her earlier works, Crooked Little Heart and Rosie, so now I need to go back and visit some old friends in an older time.

4. Lonely: Learning to Live with Solitude by Emily White. Because sometimes you just want a book that you can read and just nod enthusiastically in agreement at everything therein, you know? Also, what an adorable cover!

TGIF, y'all.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

People. People who read People.

Is it a bad thing, do you think, if the only things I've read cover to cover in the last month are a stack of People magazines?

People Magazine Free Association, June 14, 2010 issue

1. How totally awesome is it that Ian Ziering (playboy with a heart of gold Steve Sanders of 90210 fame) invited the whole cast of the original series to his wedding? Even awesomer: the caption below a photo of Jennie Garth describes her as the woman "whose character dated Ziering's on the show." Proof positive that these kids peaked early, and peaked gloriously.

2. Nothing sounds more disgusting to me than a premade frozen sandwich. With toast marks on the pre-prepared panini bread. Seriously, what the hell?

2a. Upon visiting the Lean Cuisine website to find that link, I have to say that their site offends me as both a feminist and a foodie.

3. Are they actually making a live action version of The Smurfs, and is Hank Azaria actually playing Gargamel, and are they actually filming live on the streets of New York City, or am I currently having some sort of hallucination?

3a. Oh my, this makes it sound so much weirder.

4. Celine Dion is amazing. Choice quote from a piece about her miracle pregnancy: "It's stressful but I'm relaxing. I look at my little belly. I do almost nothing. If you tell me I have to stay in bed, I will stay in bed. To bring them into the world, there's nothing more important than that. It's incredible." Self-effacing!

4a. Fourfour's Celine supercut videos are as amazing as the woman herself.

2a. Part of my panini-rage stemmed from the fact that at the time of reading, I was eating a truly amazing and not at all frozen sandwich, based upon one of my favourite dishes from Vancouver vegetarian restaurant the Naam, aka my living room during the years I lived out West. They had this killer veggie dog wrapped in a fresh chapati with cheese and guacamole. It only cost 4$. I ate it a lot. Anyway, my version involved a nearly-stale flour tortilla, the end of a chunk of gouda, fried mushrooms, and a metric ton's worth of delicious tender salad greens from my incredible CSA. No one deserves to eat a shitty frozen fake-toasted sandwich.

6. I may or may not envy Shania Twain's chichi European lifestyle. Seriously, from a country singer from Timmins to living in a chateau and hosting charity balls in Switzerland? Well done, lady. Well done.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday night breakdown.

After a day spent in the woods I came back into town for some serious culture. It began with a visit to Wolfe Island, and reminded me why Kingston really is the best town around. A ten minute walk from home and there you are on the ferry, gliding past Fort Henry and the Thousand Islands in the distance. Twenty minutes later and you're in a teeny tiny town hall on the island, lit by Christmas lights and listening to the Great Lake Swimmers playing for you and a hundred of your new best friends. And the best part is, you're doing it for an amazing cause, the Waterkeepers. Oh, and Sarah Harmer is on your ferry, driving her incredibly shiny hybrid car.

Yep, pretty much an ideal Kingston Saturday night.

My houseguests and I woke up bright and early on Sunday with the intention of running a race, but since one of us had left one of her running shoes back home in Almonte and it was pouring rain, we decided that we'd do ourselves even more good by having breakfast at Pan Chancho.

Stuffed with grilled corn salad and lemon currant rolls I spent my day in a state of happy burrowing, and watched movies in a vain attempt to catch up with the zeitgeist. I am notoriously behind on cinematic viewing, because I am too cheap to go to the theatre, and even too cheap to rent things; I prefer to wait till the library buys them and then wait till my name comes up on the reservation list about ten years after the movie's original theatrical release, which is why it took me till just today to see Julie and Julia. MAN was this movie ever disjointed. I know a lot of critics already noted this when it was released, but this felt like two different movies, one quite charming (Meryl Streep's spot-on performance as Julia Child, the beauty of Paris in the 1950s, the sweet sexy relationship she shared with her husband, played by Stanley Tucci, whom I find incredibly attractive for some reason--I blame Big Night), the other just so annoying and trite (Amy Adams' shrill and unreasonably, unneccessarily worried civil servant-slash-blogger stereotype, complete with a one-dimensional marriage and an apartment that's supposedly really crappy but actually looks amazing and unaffordable). I absolutely loved the Julia plot, her joy and her intelligence and her incredible life. I loved the notion of someone completely defying social expectations and getting by on her own merit and passion. But I just wanted to reach through the screen and punch Julie in the face.

I actually really liked Julie Powell's original book, which was one of the first one-year-project-turned-blog-turned-book dealies; when it was published in 2005 I was just starting out in both the library and blogging worlds, and her story gave me a lot of hope for my own quasi-literary future. But I think the sheer volume of the blog-to-book products since then has sort of worn the shine off the apple. Not to mention the fact that they really cleaned up the Julie character to a degree where she completely lost her edge and her fullness. Julie in print was goofy, witty, and crass, swilling gimlets and dropping loads of F-bombs. But the script seemed to suck all that out of her character, stripping her of the ballsy, shirty attitude and leaving nothing but a sort of neurotic pile of sad garbage crying on the kitchen floor next to a burned boeuf bourgingon.

I also admit that I skipped over the parts in the book describing Julia Child's life; I found them trite and poorly researched, probably because I'd just finished reading Child's own memoir, My Life In France, and it was hard to read an overly simplified version of a life after having heard the story from the memory of the woman who lived it, I guess. I was relieved to see that Norah Ephron based the script on Child's book as well as Powell's, and I think the reason I loved the Julia plot so much was that it reminded me of the memoir, which everyone really must read. On the page, and in her own words, Julia Child just seemed so full of life and buoyancy and wit, and she lived with such conviction. I promise this book will make you feel better about something.

Really though, the most embarrassing thing is that I totally cried at the end when Julie visits the Julia Child kitchen at the Smithsonian and tells a photograph of Julia Child that she loves her and places a cube of butter down on the shelf in front of the photo like some bizarre voodoo housewife ritual. It's probably a sad testament to my flaky emotional state that butter makes me cry. Anyway, that little bit of catharsis might have made the whole viewing worth it. Nothing like a good irrational sob from time to time, especially after two hours of delicious food footage.

And just to come full circle, here's Kingston's favourite son making a mess of Julia Child.

Friday, June 4, 2010

there's no secret handshake. there's an iq prerequisite, but there's no secret handshake.

Thanks to an article on the only website I really read, I was thinking a lot about Reality Bites last night. Judging from the comments on the article and the article itself, it's one of those movies that polarizes the women of my dumb, self absorbed generation, in more ways than one: You either love it (and in this case, "it" includes Janeane Garofalo's amazing bedroom, Winona Rider's hair and clothes and WHOLE BEING, Ethan Hawke's greasy beard, the dance in the gas station, the whole idea that growing up is pretty fucking awful and you're basically going to sell your soul as soon as you leave the hallowed halls of your overpriced know, that stuff), or you hate it (and in this case "it" means the reductive, oversimplified plot/characters/themes, Ethan Hawke's greasy beard, the incredibly obvious dichotomy set up between Hawke's hipster doofus archetype and Ben Stiller's quasi-capitalist douchebag, et al).

I get that. But I also fall firmly into the former camp.

I've seen this movie so many damned times, in so many different living rooms and basements and bedrooms. I bought the soundtrack through the Columbia Record club back in that brief period when a whole generation of people were still duped by that little money grab (we still have an Anthrax CD that was mailed to us after we neglected to send back the little form with the "for the love of god, don't send us an Anthrax CD and then bill us for it" box ticked off). I was a teenager when Reality Bites came out, and I longed for those awful, confusing years of my early twenties, because they seemed like they'd at least be more independent than the awful, confusing years of my adolescence. I fell in love with Ethan Hawke (I know, I know. I even READ HIS BOOKS, you guys. I had a problem.) and dreamed of the day when I'd have a job to be fired from and my own apartment and philosophical dilemmas with actual, tangible heft. I think that's my favourite element of this movie, the struggle to just live your own life and be your own self while having no idea how to do it, only a general sense of what you DON'T want.

It's also the thing that creeps me out about this movie as an adult who is now older than its heroes and heroines. When you're on the far side of twenty-five, you start to realize that you're likely never going to feel one hundred percent satisfied with your life, that you're rarely going to have all your ducks in a row, although most of the time you'll have enough of them lined up to stave off the urge to curl up in the fetal position and unplug the phone forever. But until that dawns on you, you sort of freak the hell out constantly and convince yourself you're never going to get it right. The stakes are so absurdly high:

Lelaina: I was really going to be somebody by the time I was 23.
Troy: Honey, all you have to be by the time you're 23 is yourself.
Lelaina: I don't know who that is anymore.
Troy: I do. And we all love her. I love her. She breaks my heart again and again, but I love her.

Oh MY. As a teenager I loved that part. The emotional subtext, the self-doubt, the intensity of every exchange. As an adult, I still love it, but I also feel so relieved to be past it. It also reminds me of Demi Moore's line in St Elmo's Fire, another post-college classic, where she says, "I never thought I'd be so tired at 23." When I turned 23, I felt pretty much the same way (melodrama!), but now that I'm nearly 30, I feel like I'm on the other side of that constant struggle. And it feels good to look back. It really does.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

It's been a long long time.

A few years ago, I had this very sobering moment while listening to Weezer's Blue Album. It must have been around 2004, and the awful truth dawned on me that I'd been enjoying and dissecting that record for ten years. Holy shit, I thought, I am getting old.

Several years on, this same thing is happening more and more. And every time it does, I feel another little crow's foot bore its way into my face. I guess maybe it's a testament to my amazing taste in music that I listen to things that are relevant and poignant and touching even years after their release (notable exceptions: the Vengaboys, Aqua, and several others too embarrassing to list here, although I would posit that Aqua's Turn Back Time is in fact a very moving song). Yes. Let's go with that. But it's also probably a testament to how much I love going back to particular sonic memories. I've written about this before, but I'll say it again: aural nostalgia is the best kind.

So here is a list of the top five songs I've been emoting to for far too long and the embarrassingly ancient eras they evoke.

Happiness--Elliot Smith. The endless GO-Train rides of the summer of 2000.

Deathly--Aimee Mann. A bad breakup, a worse makeover, and a long trudge home in the snow from the movie theatre in 1999. Also, several months spent lying on the living room floor in Vancouver.

My Name is Jonas--Weezer. Approximately seven thousand house parties between 1994 and today.

Sloan--She Says What She Means. East Hamilton in the mid 90s was a pretty great place to be, until your parents found your secret stash of Absolut.

(I could probably include most of Sloan's catalog on this list. For a long time I felt like I was the hippest person in the universe because I owned a copy of Smeared on cassette.)

Autumn Sweater--Yo La Tengo. Makin' out, breakin' up, beach-walkin', sleep-walkin', you know, all the good stuff that seems pretty weird and shitty at the time. Ah, the halcyon days.

It should be noted that the main criterion for this list is that I first heard the music on or around the time it was released. I could write a whole other list for the oldies, and of course, Kodachrome would be number one, followed closely by Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. (Party Mix 4-eva!)