Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Summertime, and the reading is sleazy

Well not sleazy, exactly. More like trite.

Book-of-the-Day Club
In a disturbing trend that could eventually lead me down the thong-strewn path to Danielle Steele (if that happens, kill me), I now allow myself to read chick lit during the summer. My brain deserves a holiday, even if my body is strapped to this ergonomically questionable chair and mercilessly whipped by the demands of my clients.

So I did something I haven't done in a long time last night. I read a whole paperback, cover to cover, and didn't go to sleep until the sun came up. Those all-night reading frenzies were so fun when I was in university and had summers off. Now--> Such a bad idea. Woke up this morning to husband and dog standing over me scratching their heads, wondering why coffee was not brewing/pellets were not in bowl. I fell back asleep to the hot damp breath of the dog as he exhaled impatiently in my face.

The novel: The Nanny Diaries. The writing of this chick lit novel was as Veuve Cliquot to the Baby Duck of The Devil Wears Prada. It was funnier, more sensitive, etcetera. But the ending was so disappointing that I had to stop myself from yelling 'For this I stay awake til five in the morning?!!!!' The ending of Devil was so much better. I won't give Nanny away, but here's my point: if I'm reading chick lit, I want my baser urges satisfied. I don't want 'graciousness' or 'moral fibre'. I want 'revenge' and 'triumph' and 'vicarious shopping sprees.' If I want moral fibre, I'll re-read Jane Eyre, for God's sake.

Speaking of governesses, The Nanny Diaries is also being made into a film, starring Scarlett Johanssen. Not sure when it's scheduled for release.

Speaking of films, tee-minus-two days and counting until TDWP opens in theatres here. Which leads me once again to the topic of Anna Wintour.

Hoods are SO Fourteenth Century
Dante's Inferno opens with the main character, er...Dante, encountering a hooded figure in a dark wood who ultimately takes Dante on an all-expenses paid tour of the Circles of Hell. Is this hooded figure Lucifer? Is he an angel from Heaven? The point is, when I think of Anna Wintour, I think of the Circles of Hell. And Lucifer. And torment.

But why? I've read her unauthorized biography by Jerry Oppenheimer. Seems like a good solid read until you clue into the utter absence of fact and the over-abundance of speculation. I've read the gossip on Gawker etcetera. I've kept track of the whole PETA blood-on-clothing-throwing-dead-racoon-on-plate-tossing thing. And of course, I've read TDWP. But could these plentiful, intelligent, experienced, and diverse sources all saying she's evil really mean that she's actually evil? I'll leave that call to greater wardrobe budgets than mine.

What's interesting is the role she plays in popular culture. Have you read Vogue lately? It should come wrapped in fatigue-green fabric with red sickle-and stars silkscreened onto it. It's dictatorial. It tells me that I must buy $700 shoes. $700 shoes are the norm. Everyone owns multiple pairs of $700 shoes. It tells me What's Hot This Season. Every month. I've been to NYC, where Vogue is published, and I can verify that they don't have 12 seasons. Just 4.

I know you're thinking, duh, it's a fashion magazine, what do you expect? But that's it. It's not really a fashion magazine. There are very few styling tips, not much advice about dressing. Just page after page of rich women telling me to be sure to pack my Gucci bikini in my Balenciaga bikini-carrier before jetting off to the Cote d'Azur for the summer.

In fact, there is no advice in Vogue anymore. There is just dictation. And articles on which designers are hot this month, and which $400/person restaurants are hot this month, and what culturally sensitive book I should read this month, and what film I should see this month (offered only in New York and Bora Bora), and which new gallery opening I should attend this month, and which diet I should be on this month. And about 500 pages of advertising. And overseeing this large advertisement for her hand-picked designers-of-the-month is Wintour.

I think Wintour is doing her publication a disservice by basically reducing her audience to filthy-rich New York socialites like herself. The popularization of the magazine is really waning. She doesn't even try to appeal to regular people anymore.

Stars would probably sell their souls if they thought it would get them a Vogue cover. I mean, even Oprah--queen of self-esteem--reportedly lost, I dunno, 30 pounds or something because Wintour demanded it as a condition of Oprah's Vogue cover several years ago. So in a sense, Wintour clutches my friend Ann-imal put it...twigs and berries of Hollywood. That's a lot of freaking power.

I guess the real issue for me is the idea that art can be so conflated with style and fashion. Ironically, Wintour takes the tone that art/culture/fashion are art-forms, when really her magazine treats them as trends.

Vogue started from a good place, where it allowed women to climb out of their homogeneous cubbyholes and be exposed to the raw materials of culture. Now, in my humble opinion, it just kind of cheapens culture by making it trendy, which essentially puts an expiry date on it.

Also, I don't like being told what to do--although I do love real insider advice.

I actually stopped buing Vogue a while ago. I do think Anna Wintour has an amazing gift for spotting value in unknown creative talent. But that's the problem too--she spots their 'value'.

So anyhow, I now read Harper's Bazaar because they are much more openly focused on style, fashion, etc. They don't have pretences to being arbiters of modern culture. And there are always lots of great foreign style mags. Interestingly, French Vogue has a much less dictatorial outlook than Wintour's realm. But you have to read French, of course.

On tonight's reading list: Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mine's definitely an inny

Having sufficiently gazed into the fathomless depths of my own navel, I feel the time is right to get shallow again. Throw away the SCUBA gear, tear off that snorkel; we're goin back to the surface! Yay!

If I were to tell you that one of the things giving me major butterflies for the last few days has been the impending release of The Devil Wears Prada in Canadian theatres...would you think any less of me? Is that even possible?

Well, to hell with it. I'm throwing caution to the wind. I can't wait to see that movie!

I read the book. Oh, what a terrible, terrible piece of illiterature that was. hurts thinking about it. And I say that as a professional writer. I've read government reports with more dynamic paragraph development.

But the story was a good one, I'll give Ms. Weisenheimerbergerson that one. It really was. And it had genuinely funny moments. And her character development did not suck. Which is a compliment, as you know if you've read the book.

Besides, I adore Anna Wintour in a 'Good God, she is the seventh sign of the Apocalypse' kind of way. I'm just obsessed with people--especially women--like Anna Wintour. So driven and single-minded. Maybe it's because they're my polar opposites. I'm fascinated with what must go on inside their heads. Do they just play heavy metal muzak in there all day? How can they block out the tormented cries of the small furry animals whose slaughter they support and, in fact, sport daily upon their persons?

I'm not saying that as a PETA activist. I'm not a PETA activist, although I do support several animal charities. But I'm getting off topic here, people. The issue is shoes. Shoes and clothing. You know, the stuff that really matters.

Where was I? Oh, yes. The movie. I was shocked to see that Ah-nah herself attended the premiere of this movie in LA or Vegas or wherever it was. Good PR move, mizzz Wintouah. It will be very interesting to see how Meryl Streep navigates the sketchy waters of NOT portraying Wintour overtly, because you know nobody ever said the book was about her and any resemblances to persons living or dead is purely coincidental and disclaimer and etcetera. Yes, how will she not portray Wintour, yet portray the overtly Wintour-like character described to minute detail in the book?

And Anne Hathaway. Should be interesting to see her as something other than fictional royalty.

I'm not sure who else is in it, but I look forward to the clothes and the set design and oh, I guess the story, kind of. I'm fairly certain it will get crapola reviews from aht critics, but I don't give a Jimmy Choo.

More on this after I've seen it...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Self Icecream

Been talking to a friend about self-esteem lately. Noticed a few people in the blogosphere dealing with this issue right now. Recently had an altercation with a neighbour about dogs and leashes, which really bugged me and made me lose my temper more than it should have. Anyways, I blame it all on the conjunction of high humidity, bathing suits, wrinkle lotion commercials, and ice cream.

It has got me thinking about the whole concept of self-esteem, though. I think I have arrived at a theory. Which I am visually representing here on PowerPoint slides.

Donations can be sent to Lameass Anonymous c/o The Royal Ottawa Hospital, Mental Ward IV, etc.

These are what I think might be the stages in the evolution of self-esteem as I see it. I'd be interested in people's thoughts on this. Do you agree with the stages? Have you experienced them? Which one are you at now? Do you think we go through them in cycles, maybe as we come into different periods of our lives where our sense of self is challenged? Do you care? Should I go back to reviewing movies from the 50s? Or writing about toast?

Phase I

Pretty self-explanatory. Your self-worth comes from how others treat you, how you think they feel about you, etc.

Phase II

Here's where we start to get a little Oprah, singing along with Whitney to "The Greatest Love of All" etc. You learn to treat yourself well, despite what anyone else says or does to you. This can be a good deflector of jerkish behaviour from others. But to me it doesn't really seem to be the 'ultimate' because, well, sometimes it takes us down the road to self-obsession.

Phase III
I haven't achieved this, by a long shot. But I really really admire people who have. This is where how you feel about yourself doesn't come from how others treat you, or how much 'me time' you take, but how you treat others. Maybe I'm not totally on the money on this one. What do you think?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

2150: Death of the Last Living Man

In a confusing yet fascinating reversal of...everything I have come to understand about gender and research since my university days (which wasn't that long ago, really...harrrumph), this researcher of gender-specific medicine is proposing that we are hyper-focusing on women's health to the detriment of men's health, and we're being really sexist against men, and men need us to focus more on them. The researcher's a woman.

But it doesn't end there.

The reason this matters, she says, is because males are actually a much weaker and more vulnerable class of humans than females. ( snicker...Sorry, it's a reflex born in my women's studies class, circa 1992.)

Yes, that's right. Even from the safe confines of the womb itself, males' chance of survival is much lower than females'.

I think many of us have heard hints of this in the news, on science shows, etc., over the last few years. You know, like how females are more resistant to disease. Females are miscarried less often. Females don't drag-race drunk and naked down a two-lane highway at 3:00 in the morning. Females are less likely to develop autism and dyslexia. Females don't blow in dogs' faces until said dogs inevitably bite off said blowers' faces. Females have heart attacks a decade later than men. The list goes on and on.

My point isn't to say that females are superior. My point is that the researcher's editorial draws some really interesting conclusions.

Like the idea that the reason so many cultures value males so much more than females is that they're actually trying to ensure male survival, which is much less likely than female survival. Er, well...okay...I guess. Doesn't really explain the whole 'burning widows at the stake' craze of 1602 (or whenever) or that whole Chinese foot-binding racket. On second thought, maybe scientists aren't so good at the 'social theory' thing...

And she also suggests that we're seeing a big decline in the birth of males in industrialized society--and nobody knows why. But they think it's because we're waiting longer to have kids and your chances of conceiving a boy go down as you get older. Fascinating.

And then there's the issue of mental illness, like depression. She touches on the possibility that our stats, which suggest women are much more likely to suffer from these afflictions, are totally inaccurate and skewed by social norms preventing men from 'fessin up to feelin' down.

None of this is really news, but what's most interesting is the whole reversal of what has become status quo, seemingly back to what was status quo 40 years ago, and which led to the revolution which led to the new status quo, which focuses (apparently excessively) on women.

Let me confuse you more.

See, I think changes in social 'paradigms', or patterns of thinking, work like one of those old-fashioned scales--you know, the ones 'Justice' carries around with her all the time. You have an imbalance--like the fate of women in most cultures for, oh, the last 10,000 years. Something happens to address it--like the 20th century, with Suffragettes, women's lib--and extra weight gets thrown on the side of the underdog. But of course, when you throw something on a scale, it's going to over-balance before it corrects itself and perfect balance is achieved.

Wouldn't it be cool if this person's article reflects, right before our very eyes, the moment when that balance started to be corrected--the balance between men and women...or at least between our rights when it comes to health research? Because she doesn't say 'stop focusing on women and focus on men instead.' She says 'lets not exclude either gender from research...lets..treat the genders equally.' It's the first time I can remember reading something that tempered in a while.

Maybe articles like this one are the tipping point, and we're seeing it unfold. That would be pretty cool. Because then we could move beyond the battle of the sexes to whatever wonderful thing awaits us when we finally wake up and realize we're only fighting with ourselves.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Real ideal

Choose to opt out of this one. I won't feel bad. I'm going to my thinky-feely place. You've been duly warned.

I have often talked with friends about the idea that there are 'doers' and 'thinkers' in this world. We need both. Without the doers, we'd still be in caves (but would we care?). Without the thinkers, we'd still be in caves (we'd never have noticed that we were there in the first place). It's always an interesting conversation.

I guess what we're really saying with this whole doers/thinkers thing is that, when it comes to how we look at life, most of us fall somewhere on a spectrum that goes from idealism to realism. Some of us (like me) are extreme idealists. Others of us (like my husband) are extreme realists. And of course, there are people who sit at every point in between.

The more balanced people can leave now. You will get nothing out of this. For we extremists, though, maybe this is a valuable point (or maybe not): I think we need each other.

Extreme realists are always asking about the 'what?' of things. Details, details, details. They seem, at first glance, to be highly practical. They can be geniuses. Or they can be Rainman (who was a genius too, after all). The point is, if left to their own devices, they will spin their tires for hours over a small knocking in the engine. Or a bad conversation they had with someone. Or what colour they should paint the hinges on the front door. How to identify an extreme realist: tell them they're an extreme realist. They will argue with you for hours about the minute exceptions that disqualify them from that category.

Extreme idealists, on the other hand, are always asking 'why?' Talk, talk, talk. They are often leaders, executives, and other people who get made fun of behind their backs and whose insight is not valued until they are gone and another much, much worse idealist replaces them. They are all about the pie-in-the-sky, big picture, birds-eye-view. While E.Rs. (extreme realists) will dismiss any idea for which a single seemingly minute detail is wrong, E.Is (extreme idealists) will foresake details if they believe the idea has intrinsic value. Idealists really irritate people at times--they're especially irksome to extreme realists--because it seems to take them forever to get to the point. Not a few extreme idealists have carried the label of 'windbag' at one time in their lives. How to identify an extreme idealist: tell them they're an extreme idealist. They will ask you to explore why you need to categorize people this way, or why you chose the categories you did, or why the sky is blue.

E.Is may understand the complete history of computing but not know how to send an e-mail. E.Rs will cause the downfall of the human race by blindly creating artificial intelligence, which will subsequently dominate and destroy us.

Which is exactly why we E.Rs and E.Is need each other so much.

When it comes to ideas, I believe there is some kind of 'fulcrum' point at which an optimum amount of insight balances an optimum amount of detail. I also think this is true of people, or more specifically, of personalities. There's an optimum point where your actions and your self-awareness come into balance. I like to think of that point as 'happiness' or maybe 'self-fulfillment.'

I'm sure a bunch of much more insightful people than me--actual psychologists, for example--have already got a bunch of well-developed theories around this. But for me, it's enough to know that there's a reason why my husband (I love you, honey) and I seem to argue in totally different languages sometimes--and that that difference actually makes us complementary to each other.

So hopefully all you E.Rs out there are satisfied that I've made some kind of a reality-based point. And for all you E.Is: thanks for taking the time to read this.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Now Wait Just a New York Minute...

Was in NYC over the weekend. Love NYC. Adore NYC. Would marry NYC if wasn't already married. Love it so much eliminate personal pronouns for it...

Four days of shopping and site-seeing in NYC with one's mother is not an event which can be easily summarized in a single blog. The repercussions will be felt for decades. The blisters will be present for weeks. The bags are unpacked, but the baggage will last a lifetime. (Mom, I'm so kidding...honest).

Here is a brief summary of some of the things I saw on my visit to NYC.

Things I Saw On My Visit to NYC This Weekend

1. My self-esteem flushed down the drain when I burst into tears at airport security. We almost missed our flight and I had my mother, a.k.a. The Angel of Doom, whispering in my ear, "We're not going to make it. There's no way. They don't give you another flight, you know. That's it. No refund either...Oh, and by the way, all our luggage will still be on its way to New York. It may take us weeks to get our clothes back." Yes, that's right. My mommy made me cry in front of the nice security officers.

2. The unprecedented dearth (that means 'lack') of public washrooms, or as they call them in NYC after scowling at you for uttering the word washroom, "restrooms," leading one poor man, how do I put this..."refill" his apple juice bottle...on the subway...and then dump"recycled apple juice"...on the tracks.

3. The inside of approximately 4,382 clothing stores (including some fan-freaking-tastic vintage shops...).

4. Eva, the winner of Cycle 5 of America's Next Top Model, catwalking through a restaurant (well, "the" restaurant actually) in the meat-packing district, Pastis. Her walk: amusing and mildly embarassing-for-her, yet exceptionally well-executed. The food: totally overrated. The ambiance: non-existent. I did witness several young women sharing lines of coke in the washroom, though. How retro. How 1983.

5. A wind-storm in Little Italy while seated for a long dinner at an outdoor patio. A tree fell on my mother. But don't worry--it was artificial. I felt somewhat vindicated for the airport incident.

6. A fabulous Cuban restaurant--Cubano Cafe--on 7th between 22nd and 21st West...or somewhere around there. If you are ever in NYC, EAT THERE. Honestly, it was one of the best meals I've ever had. And the mojitos are muy bueno.

7. Rockefeller Centre restaurant for mojitos (it was that night's theme, okay?). RC is dead on Friday nights...who'd-a-known?

8. A little piece of heaven called Shoegasm. What a lovely way to finish my trip...

9. Kenny the Deli Guy. Who also works for the city. And was one of the nicest, and most talkative, New Yorkers I've ever met. God love ya, Kenny. Hope that rich lawyer daughter of yours does you proud and buys you a nice retirement villa in the Poconos, or something.

10. Someone who was either Christian Slater or Ethan Hawke (hard to tell, he had a studiously rough, stubbly look going and was wearing a toque, but it was definitely one of them) at Cafeteria for lunch on Monday. I was the girl in the bright green golf shirt, in case you're reading this. Hi.

11. Not Rachel Wiesz or Mike Myers, thank God.

12. The Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport in Montreal, on the way home. It's big and, uh, airporty.

13. The Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Did you know that he married his first cousin? My mom found that very ironic, given his area of study...

14. That NYC is one of the most amazing, exciting, stimulating places in the world and I plan to get to know all of it over the (hopefully many) years ahead of me, but there's no place more beautiful than home.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Perpetual Misery Syndrome

What do you call that period of time between when you actually have your period and the 2 weeks of faceless murderous rage that is PMS? Oh yeah, that's right: a day.

I've got one good day a month in me, people. On that one day, I am not a puffy sausage, my skin is not a topographical map of the Galapagos islands, my thighs are not unbaked loaves of rye bread, I'm energetic, I don't want to hurl elderly drivers into the outer reaches of the solar system, and, you know, I just don't need that extra piece of chocolate. One day. One glorious, wonderful day.

Today is not that day. How is it that the number of encounters with idiot drivers, brainless clients, telemarketers, and bad t.v. programming increases in direct and equal proportion to your level of PMS? And why is this phenomenon not the main preoccupation of all scientists, everywhere?

I remember my aunt telling us this story about her PMS. She would walk into the living room and her husband would be innocently sitting there, watching t.v., and she'd want to walk over to him and knock over his easy-chair . Not violently or anything. Just waltz up to him, smile maniacally, ask him in a crazy high-pitched squeal if he was enjoying the hockey game, and quietly flip over his chair . With him still in it.

What is PMS anyways? (Please don't answer that literally--I'm PMSing and that would really annoy me.) Is it some bizarre genetic throw-back designed to keep males--and everyone else--away for the sketchy period between ovulation and menstruation (sorry guys, I said the M-word)? You know, to make sure the egg implants and stuff?

To get some answers, I visited the Web site of the U.K.'s NAPS--National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome. NAPS. That's kinda funny. Anyhow, the bottom line is this: don't visit PMS sites when you have PMS. They will enrage you, like everything else.

So then I thought it might be a better idea to search out stories. Stories about PMS. Stories I could relate to. Stories to heal me. Did you know that there's actually an entire Web site devoted to PMS stories? Good God. Here are a few of their story summaries:

“When my husband came back he was surprised to see that I bought new bedroom furniture. He wanted to know how I paid for it. I had to break it to him that I sold his truck and his dog.”

“ . . . she slammed the trunk on me and drove about five miles down the road hitting every speed bump and pothole she could find.”

The site also features: a woman who shaved her husband's genitals and then poured tobasco sauce on them, while he was sleeping (inexplicably, the story is written by the husband, and he seems to get a kick out of it). A woman who burned all of her husband's clothes in the wood stove when he commanded her to have his laundry done by the end of the day (it wouldn't take PMS for me to do that). The woman who fed Ex-Lax to her unwitting ex-boyfriend just before he went on stage with his band.

Geez. I thought I was bad for speaking to the dog in an angry tone of voice.

I feel better already.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Article critiquing film as pointless has no point.

Were you one of the 3.8 million people who went to see "The Breakup" this weekend? Me neither. But I did read a review of it today. Shockingly, the reviewer found it to be "wan" and "predictable." Frankly, I'm gobsmacked. A comedy about dating, starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaugh, predictable? Who'd have thunk it?

I wonder, was the movie as predictable as the inevitable reviews calling it predictable? Predictably, the review focuses primarily on Aniston's looks, which as we all know is the best indicator of an actor's talent. Apparently, Aniston's straightening iron has finally weighed in against her. According to the review, not only is her acting one-dimensional, but her hair's too darn perfect, and her rack is too nice. For the reviewer, these factors like totally detracted from the film's deep philosophical core.

The review then goes on to explore the possibility that all of the media hype around Aniston's personal life may have had an impact on her performance in this great art piece. Did her real breakup with Pitt stifle the fire of her thespian greatness? Was Aniston, god-like in her control over public opinion, secretly manipulating the public's sympathy to draw people to the box office? Was this reviewer using the same hype to get away with a lame, flailing attempt to generate controversy over a movie nobody expected to be good? Oh wait, she didn't explore that last one...

In the end, all is made clear. Aniston is a good/crappy actor. The public loves/hates her. She is/isn't washed up. She makes strategic/shitty career decisions. And most importantly, her hair looks better straight/curly.

The movie was/wasn't shite. So think about/don't even consider going. I think I'll definitely/not go tonight/watch paint dry.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Gardening: Innocent passtime or attempt to unseat God?

So I finally had to get out there and tackle the weeds this afternoon. Machete in hand, suited up in my galvanized steel anti-deerfly suit, covered in a fine mesh-like membrane of Deep Woods Off in a (failed) attempt to ward off mosquitoes and black flies, I headed for my small front garden.

Nothing prepared me for what lurked beneath the tapestry-like weave of roots and branches.

There were things that crawl. Things that just flail around in their own slime. More disturbingly, things with front arms and hands, which they use to dig their way back underground ("don't look at me...I'm hideousssss...."). A worm 9 inches long, and no I'm not exaggerating--my galvanized steel gardening suit comes with a ruler.

There were lightning-fast buzzy-crawly bugs that dart out of nowhere, their front antennae filled with their unhatched young. Massive wolf spiders carrying their larvae packs between their back legs. Just....ewwww.

I hurled the more disgusting specimens toward the sun. My offended screech was they last thing they ever heard. Those who got away quickly enough escaped the Trowel of Death. Those who were too slow were obliterated.

Then I turned my all-powerful eye to the quivering, nervous weeds. I pulled those weeds, and I pulled them good. I crushed them between my cramped and aching fingers, just to feel them squirm. Some I spared. Those that pleased me by being in the right place at the right time were granted life. Those that displeased me were destroyed. A caterpillar slinked toward my rose bush. I crushed it with my trowel and laughed.

I had completely altered these creatures' universe. I had uprooted their very existence. I gave life, and I took it away. And at the end, I stood back and saw that it was good.