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For some aimless afternoon fun, I braved walking into Holt Renfrew downtown. Normally when someone who looks like me walks into a store like that, the staff sends out some sort of pheremone to dispatch the haughtiest amongst themselves to follow me around. But that did not happen, and I wandered freely amongst the two-and-a-half floors of the too-bright store full of ridiculously expensive things.

I walked past racks and mannequins, shelves upon shelves of handbags, cases full of shiny things and fine timepieces, and shoes by the pair. And makeup counters, but I always avoid those in any store. Two whole floors of women’s things, a half floor of men’s – and suddenly, it hit me while staring into a great big backlit display of sunglasses – wall o’ shades – everything here is just decoration for the body. Expensive objects to cloak the body and things to wear for awhile until they go out of fashion, nothing more.

I have no money to spend on such armour – how Carrie Bradshaw could afford multiple designer ensembles on every danged episode of Sex and the City is a complete mystery to anyone who has actually tried to live off their writing – but even if I could buy things at places like Holt Renfrew, I would still find it strange that you can’t buy anything there like art for your home or implements for a hobby, like silver pens or cashmere yarns.

Nope, it’s not about beautifying your world or taking enjoyment in doing, this stuff is all about you, the hobby of grooming yourself continually and elaborately, like a big expensive monkey.

But we all like pretty things and I guess I can’t fault Vancouver’s richies and pretties for liking the pricy stuff. (Another thing about HR I found odd – no price tags visible anywhere…) So I’ll end this post by giving a little shout out to a shop called Room 430 where everything is designed and made in Vancouver, and not only that, the designers help dress those of us who can’t dress ourselves. It’s my favourite place to get something special when I do actually need to look nice.


It’s not as though there is a dearth of interesting topics to write about. Transportation, the Olympic$, the Climate Change Dividend, even the asylum next door – all kinds of people are doing interesting things and events are going on all around us. People are blogging about them too. Every day, something new to know.

As for me, I signed the papers I’m over the shock. And here I am again: my own boss and cruise director, tasked with doing something useful, not just the dishes. That means thinking up my own projects as well as mustering up the courage to go after all the opportunities that cross my desk. (At least the ones that don’t look too dodgy.) Sometimes when there is a legitimate posting, whether it comes via the Editors’ Association mailing list, Craigslist, Jeff Gaulin or Freelance Writing Jobs, I talk myself out of it before even applying. This habit must be stopped – if I plan to make any money.

I like money.

Writing for money is hard work – I’m not kidding – if you plan to get paid for it. It feels like that today at least. Getting a job was a way to get money that I needed at the time, but it’s the easy way out. You don’t have to think for yourself and the cheques come regularly.

My sister, a creative chick who’s been at the freelance game for awhile, said to me, “You have to stop working the backup plan and the safety net, and go do it.” She’s absolutely right. There is no happiness in mere acceptance at the workplace, I need to go achieve something and make a name. It would be easier to just fit in, but that is not to be.

In Japan, they have a saying: “The nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” The message is that those who don’t conform, for the good of society, are a threat to harmony and must be brought down. On this side of the ocean, I’ve noticed that there is a similar societal pressure to be likeable and have a pleasing personality. No matter your other talents, it’s important to have a high “emotional intelligence” if you want to have success. It’s important to be popular, otherwise you’re a big fat loser, right?

The funny thing is, I’ve noticed that a lot of assholes are popular. It ain‘t scientific, but two individuals from my past who I consider to be absolutely piss-poor human beings for being selfish, vengeful, manipulative and just plain mean, each have over 200 friends on Facebook. Maybe they work at large companies with lots of co-workers on FB, but I suspect it’s just because they’re assholes who happen to be likeable assholes. In other words, they are good politicians.

This is not to say that everyone who is likeable is an asshole, oh no. I know many people who just seem to have that gift for easy rapport with anyone who they meet. My sister’s friends especially, seem to have the knack of making you feel remembered and important each time you see them. They remember what you talked about the last time you saw them, they ask how such-and-such is going, they share freely of wine and cigarettes and other little social lubricants. There is no agenda; they’re not just waiting for you to finish your thought so they can jump in with theirs.

I always wanted to be more like that, to get on easily with whoever life throws in my path, and have that sort of easiness with people. But I’ve never quite mastered it. I never remember anyone I don’t already know when a mutual friend brings them up in the conversation. Like someone I met at a party. Who? What did they look like? Oh sure I remember now… (no idea) I don’t remember birthdays. I’m told I put up walls when first meeting someone, or that I can appear rather cold and silent. I mostly just feel shy and awkward when meeting another person for the first time, and beyond that impatient and/or infuriated. Sometimes I can’t wait to just get home and get away from people.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been any good at hiding my feelings, and I’m an awful liar. So whatever I’m feeling seems to leak out and someone always seems to take it upon themselves to call me on it. That part always bewilders me, especially when it takes the form of advice, like “You should be nicer to me!” or insults, like my favourite: “You’re a cold-hearted bitch!” I mostly try to stay uninvolved, and I’ve never tried deliberately to hurt anyone, so it always takes me by surprise when others try to attack me for … being imperfect, unlikeable me. Bloody well mind your own business, is my usual reaction followed lots of imagined snappy comebacks.

Going back to my original point, it makes people angry to deal with someone who just doesn’t care what others think of them. Ah, now I remember where that came from, the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. In the story, Toru constantly compares himself to Nagasawa, the future politician who shows him how to get laid without caring so much about it. He does have some lingering angst about it, and Midori, the independent love interest, tells him that not really caring about what others think is what sets him apart from society. I guess that’s me too.

I know myself pretty well, and I know I havewalls and defenses. I like to think I’m generous to friends (and I cannot stand cheapness in others!) but once you cross me, there’s pretty much no going back. It doesn’t even have to be a huge fight. I’ve had disagreements, passive-aggressive bitch fights, and although I’ll obsess for awhile over the conflict, I won’t make the effort to right things unless the other person and I are really close. Generally, I choose flight over fight.

Despite it all, though, people generally know where they stand with me, and I don’t much care about pretending to like someone I don’t, or sucking up for political reasons. You can like me if you want. I like to be liked.

I’m really not sure why I am this way, but I guess I had to get it off my chest.

There are just two things I would like to do this year.

The first is to blog more. I’ve got to get out of this space in my head that this must a professional, topical blog. Screw that idea, which was impressed upon me by various and sundry professional readiness teachers who encouraged the use of the blog as some sort of personal marketing tool. No, no, no. The thought of disapproving employers reading the contents of my twisted, cynical brainwaves just froze up the fingers. They couldn’t fing. As of now, I’m changing the name of this puppy and getting free.

The second is – not getting suckered in by any more lantern festivals. In the past year, I’d see the ads for one, get all excited, and try to drag all my friends out. Then I’d go, disgruntled husband in tow, to look at… candles and flashlights in the dark. Sure there were some interesting displays, sort of.  But I was forced to admit “Wow this is really boring.” to all those afflicted by my lantern mania this year, I’m sorry. There will be no more.

I’m still processing my Northern Voice experience. I am left thinking about two things: the quality of the interactions with other bloggers/attendees, and that blogging too has its elites. And like Hollywood stars, the elites of the blogosphere all seem to know each other. (I am tempted to label them as a clique, but hey, we all form our little communities online and off.)

I found personal interactions at the actual conference, well, shallow. I went hoping to reconnect with some of the faces from my past and meet some new people who share the blogging obsession. Somehow conversations at NV2007 were confused and distracted. While talking to one person during a coffee break, a third person joined us, and the next thing I knew, two backs were turned to me. There was a lot going on and people were really excited to be there so that probably contributed to the “can’t talk now” feeling.

The best part of attending Northern Voice has been the aftermath; that is, discovering a whole bunch of new fun blogs to read. Some of these belong to the presenters and/or “famous” bloggers. Others were ones discovered by my habit of snooping while in sessions i.e. checking out what was on the laptops around me. Such blogs include:

  • Ponzarelli
  • Christian Burns is Thinking It Through
  • Total Perspective Vortex, which led to Wasted Time, a blog written exclusively by drunken bloggers

  • I’m also still checking the Northern Voice blog feed thing whatever it is for more blog updates from other participants.

    The conference has made me think more about what makes a blog readable, and therefore popular. This is a sweeping generalization, but it seems that many blogs are either male or female in their character. The most popular male bloggers demonstrate mastery of technology and delivering information, while most popular female bloggers are often the ones who are willing to be open and revealing online about their personal lives. (I don’t just mean about sex, although NYC’s This Fish has done pretty well by blogging her love life.)

    Of course, this generalization ignores the fact that there are also millions of subject-specific blogs out there, but still, the ones people go to are the ones that have the information they want. The people that write them are popular because they are perceived to have expertise in their subject and they have the techno-savviness to publish it.

    Northern Voice has inspired me, but not in the way I expected. I expected to go out of there, all fired up to blog. It hasn’t been quite like that, but I was reminded how powerful this medium of communication can be. We may all be elites just for having the guts to put it out there. Mumble, murmur, mhm.

    A full penny jar, a case of empties and few bucks won on the Scratch’n’Win tickets – it’s a portent of wealth in the New Year, Canadian-style.
    New Years Fortune

    The other week, I went to see Stranger than Fiction which I enjoyed very much. It is the odd story of a man (Will Ferrell) who first discovers that his life is being narrated by an author (Emma Thompson) and then discovers that she plans to kill him off at the end of her story. Will Ferrell is so lovely in it, and I’m not just saying that because of my geek-crush on him. It was a quirky comedy, sort of quiet.

    But the previews – good god, what a lot of downers! The worst-looking trailer was for Children of Men, your standard dystopic vision of the post-apocalyptic future: grey people, skies, and cities, armed guards herding the masses through barbed wire mazes, and a mean and miserable totalitarian dictatorship. The movie, set to open Christmas Day, is about a world in which women have been unable to reproduce for the last 18 years and no one knows exactly why. Everyone is miserable without children since there’s no future to look forward to. And then the main guy, played by Clive Owen, finds out about a woman who has somehow managed to get very, very pregnant. Guess where they find her? In a barn. Full of dairy cows. Hooked up to milking machines. Talk about pregnant – with symbolism. Bah.

    Maybe it’s the “No Children, No Hope” thing that’s gotten to me about this particular film. I don’t like dystopic films in general: Sin City, Aeon Flux, V for Vendetta come to mind. (I can’t even stomach those alternate-present scenarios in movies like Back to the Future II and It’s A Wonderful Life.) In an interview with Radar Online, Voluntary Human Extinction Movement founder Les U. Knight opines that fewer people having children would actually prevent the future chaos that Children of Men depicts:

    If viewers find it plausible, it’ll show how irrationally human-centered we are. Besides, we’re already living in a dystopia, but we don’t want to admit it. Voluntary human extinction would prevent the dystopia of that science-fiction drama, not bring it about. Phasing ourselves out would actually enable us to progress toward a peaceful coexistence with others.

    Knight’s is an extreme view to be sure. But he does bring up an interesting point about dystopia: are we already living in it? Dystopic fantasies seem to be based on the idea that all things have already gotten so bad that they can’t be fixed, and that everything is just going to get worse. This is called cynicism and it’s a comfortable view and an easy escape. Imagine everything turning to shit and sooner or later it will. Then cynics will predictably say, “Well, that’s what I said would happen.”

    In the last century, there was this belief in progress, that things were just going to get better and better. People built railroads and went to the moon. In this century, such optimism is ridiculed. Artists, writers, filmmakers who want to be taken seriously deal in darkness, not lightheartedness. In a recent article for Walrus Magazine, designer Bruce Mau describes his irritation with the pessimism among artists and designers:

    The prevailing mood feels dark, negative, harrowingly pessimistic, and tending to the cynical. Bizarrely, this kind of negativity has become the vogue even in creative fields, which are traditonally committed to vision, beauty, and pleasure, to notions of utopia – to possibility, in other words. This is especially true of design. How, I wondered, had the virus of pessismism crept into the one area of art that is charged with looking forward?

    Optimism is unfashionable. It invites the stock response “How can you be happy when there is so much wrong with the world?” To that question I have no real answer, only a belief that there are still beautiful things in the world. To give in to the dystopic fantasies is to assume that everything will go wrong, in the worst way possible. If we’re just going to give in, I suppose we might as well do it now and stop torturing ourselves with images of a bleak future.

    It’s shockingly easy to get cynical about where the world is headed at Christmas – on one hand, we’re bombarded with crap advertising that tells us Stuff=Perfect Gift!, and on the other, news of war, bombings in the Middle East (home of Jesus), etc. Yesterday, supposedly the frenziest shopping day of the year, I was walking the streets of the downtown shopping district, and I was struck by how everyone looked absolutely miserable. Everyone except the Salvation Army kettle people who were shaking their bells and singing like they just didn’t care who knew it. The shoppers looked fucking grim.

    I feel happy, and I don’t know why. Call me a reformed cynic. I refuse to believe that everything will just get worse and worse. But I don’t believe in utopia any more than dystopia – things will never be absolutely perfect. The other day, a friend described how another friend of theirs bought a plot of land and was planning to build solar panels for energy to live off once the world’s energy ran out. I said I would just keep turning off lights when I left a room.

    Victoria Day Weekend is here and it’s the official start of summer. Life is good – we’re eating good, fresh food and drinking alcohol with juices mixed in out there on the IKEA patio ensemble. Herbs are growing, the lawns are green, and the sun is shining, natch.
    It’s oddly quiet too, being in town when all the rest of the city seems to have gone off to get in ferry lineups and mangle themselves on the highways. Maybe the lack of construction noise – long weekend break – contributes to my sense of uneasy peacefulness here at the homestead. However, I am excited about going to the Hyack Festival, a New Westminster tradition for 30-odd years. Tonight, it kicks off with fireworks which is pretty goshdarned exciting. We’re going to watch them from our friend’s place that has a view of the Mighty Fraser River. (Officially its just the plain old Fraser River, but in my mind I suffix it with “Mighty.”)
    Mostly, I’m just sitting around knitting, watching movies, and reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood for the brand-spankin’ new book club. I can’t believe no one ever invited me, book nerd, to join their book club before. I feel so validated. I miss my knitting group – we had such fun knitting with our beers and girl drinks.
    Haven’t got much else to say right now, so I believe I’ll just shut it.

    Sometimes, I like to have a cigarrette. I would call myself a suggestible smoker; that is, if I am at the bar or restaurant and the girls say, “Let’s go outside for a smoke and chat,” I’ll more than likely tag along for a cancer stick and a head rush. If there’s a movie or TV show with a lot of smoking going on, yes, I might go and fish the emergency pack out of my dresser drawer. I will light up one, smoke it til it’s stubby, think “My fingers stink,” and most likely be done with smoking for months to come. In fact, that emergency pack of DuMaurier Lights has lasted me almost a year, and it still has five delicious tobacco treats left. Writing this is making me think about having one now.
    Is there something wrong with my very very occasional habit? The other week, my friend and I went to watch Thank You for Smoking – good film, great cast, killer Rob Lowe cameo/character bit – and I commented on the urge to light up when watching people do it onscreen. “You smoke?!” Yes, I also experiment with firecrackers and kittens, read Star, and shoplift printer ink. If I only I lived in Newfoundland… I must confine the actual clubbing of baby seals to daydreams and bitch slap people who ask about my reproductive schedule instead.
    I don’t smoke pot, however. I find that stating that elicits a very different question: “Why not?” or “You don’t?!” I don’t really understand how tobacco, which is legal and comes with all kinds of fun chemicals, is so shunned, while dirty disgusting smelly old joints are so revered. I’m looking for friends on Craigslist, all of whom state their chosen respondents must be “420 friendly”. I don’t care if anyone else does it; I just don’t want to ‘kay? If someone really wants to hear about it, there is a long and thrilling tale of The Night of the Joint in the Out-of-the-Way Motel that I’d just as soon spare everyone.
    Why is it that smoking is horrifying and evil, and smoking pot is quasi-acceptable, if not downright cool? Either way, it’s about sucking smoke into your lungs and feeling the effects. Except that smoking gives you a nice little lift and smoking pot makes your cheeks hurt from giggling for hours on end. It’s all bad for you; that’s why it’s called a vice. Vices are what your mothers warned you against while fastidiously hiding their own bad habits. Some vices are just more acceptable than others, and at this time, in this city, I am sick of being told that I am uptight because I’m less than “420 friendly” and that I’m bad because I might have a cigarette once in a great while. One smells up the sidewalks of the city; the other makes for unsightly litter.
    Perhaps a game of kickball would settle once and for all who are the worst smokers – the pot hippies or the tobacco trailer-trash. The losers would have to buy the drinks and then everyone would gather in the parking lot for a smoke-in. The differences settled, we could all live in peace with our vices at last.

    I find myself at loose ends. This restlessness is familiar, but I’m still not quite sure what to with myself. I get so absorbed in work that when it goes away, I’m at a loss.
    The world is swirling on to be sure — that mysterious kidnapping case, fer instance. Why was it such a huge story? Why did the police make so many arrests yesterday, and why do they continue to be so tight-lipped about the case? And why was the media guy for the VPD SMIRKING throughout the press conference this morning? If people on say, Saturday Night Live can keep straight faces while making an audience full of people laugh, surely, you can keep a straight face while evading questions from a roomful of reporters.
    The world is swirling on while I look for new distractions – a new knitting project, books (Sense and Sensibility, Cookoff, on the world of competitive cooking), and magazine shopping. I’m working a little bit, although apparently not enough to keep myself from hitting the refresh button on my email about every five seconds. I managed to lose my mobile phone last week; at least that keeps me from shaking it and yelling “Ring! Damn you! Ring!”
    The husband counsels relaxation, take it easy, ooh Degrassi’s on. I hope to enter a state of peace with my boredom. Some creative emptiness would be good for this jangled soul. Until that state arrives, is anyone up for some karaoke? Anyone?
    I was also planning to attend my first Shebeen Club event here in Vancouver. My friend, whose opinion I respect on matters of culture, labels the write-up for the latest installment of this series “tasteless and glib” which kind of attracts me to it more. I’m contrary. Any other of you lit chicks and dudes want to join in on April 18? Shore y’do.

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