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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Merry Christmas to Me!

For years, every time I’ve cracked the tab on a Diet Dr. Pepper, someone in the room invariably says “That causes cancer, you know.” Well, those nay-sayers can officially SUCK IT!

That’s right, boys and girls. There is NO scientific evidence that links the calorie-saving aspartame in my DDP to cancer or any other health concerns. Of course, scientific evidence is rarely viewed as gospel by people who don’t like something. Moments after a friend posted this link, comments popped up like nightshade mushrooms about how it was a conspiracy by Big Aspartame, how aspartame gave them migraines, how aspartame stole their girlfriend, slashed the tires on their pick-up truck, and left their guitar out of tune (or maybe that’s a country song). 

The same tired arguments get trotted out every time science dares to prove or disprove something people believe in. It drives me nuts. This insanity used to be mostly figurative, but I’m worried it’s becoming literal. The failure of our culture to instil a rational thought process in the public is our biggest mistake, the pivotal error from which all others depend. The ability to absorb a premise, examine it for fallacies, and excrete a reasoned opinion has always been a rarity. It may seem we are worse than ever, but I suspect that’s only because the Internet and a “global village” expose us to so many more uninformed opinions than our ancestors.

I offered what I felt was a rational rejoinder to this maelstrom of lunacy: namely, that anecdotal evidence is NOT something we should be basing societal decisions on. To my delight and surprise, most of the comments AFTER my appeal to rationality have been along the same vein. Whew.

Nevertheless, I came within a micrometer of getting truly involved in an Internet Comment War, and if there are any lessons to be learned in life, it is these:

1. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
2. Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
3. Never get drawn into an Internet conflict.

For those interested in the article, here's the link:


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Win or lose? Byelection Brandon-Souris

We had a little by-election here last night, and boy, was it a nail-biter.

Less than 400 votes ended up separating the winner, Conservative candidate Larry Maguire, from the Liberal contender, Rolf Dinsdale (heretofore referred to as “Red Rolf”). Throughout the night, each refresh of the Election Canada website would tell a new tale. Red Rolf ahead by 200. Maguire up by 60. Etc. I watched until it was all over around midnight.

(First of all, let me just reiterate an oft-forgotten point: it is nice to live in a country where we can count ballots in a timely fashion and know with certainty who’s been elected. No court battle, no hanging chads, no 48-hour delays while Florida gets its ducks in a row. I like it.)

The election results blew my predictions out of the water. I’d expected an easy Blue victory here. They’ve had this riding for 20 years. They’ve only NOT had it for 4 years out of the last 60. In 2011, they nailed it with 63% of the vote. But last night Fortress Brandon came within a centimeter of toppling. It would have been great to get those last 400 votes, sure, but anyone who looks at the results as anything other than a blatant “up yours, Harper” is fooling themselves. Of course, the “half-empty glass” people are already bemoaning the results.

They are nuts. Here are some of the comments I read:

“The Liberals only did that well because the NDP vote swung.”

Balderdash. Some of it did, sure. In 2011, the NDP received 6800 more votes than they did last night. By comparison, the Red vote in 2011 was a shameful 1800. Add those numbers together, and even if EVERY NDP voter switched, you’d still have only 8600. Yet Red Rolf managed to score 11 800 last night.

So where did the extra 3000 come from? It wasn’t from improved vote turnout, that’s for sure. While we didn’t do too badly for a by-election (traditionally they have lower turnouts), we still had 8000 fewer ballots counted last night than in 2011. So the Liberals got more votes with fewer cast, a bigger piece of the pie.

Obviously, Red Rolf (and Justin) took votes from the Conservatives. Not just a handful, either, but a bunch. In terms of proportion, the Blues got 63% last time, the Grits 5% (ouch). THIS time, it was 44% to 43%. That’s a helluva swing, and if the NDP had that kind of clout, they’d be in power.

“All that effort wasted. That sucks.”

Yes, it is unfortunate that a real attempt was made, only to come up a hair short. But this was NOT wasted effort.

One of the Blue strengths is their well-oiled election machine. They have people on the ground with experience and practice at winning. Trudeau is a new leader, and his party was gutted only two years ago. This election gives volunteers valuable experience. It gives them an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. More, the coverage was extensive in media. You don’t hear Brandon-Souris mentioned as many times in a year as we heard in the last week!

The sad truth is, money wins elections, and the Blues have more of it to throw around. In 2011, when Brandon-Souris voted 63% for the Conservatives, they did so after the campaign had dropped more than $40 000. By comparison, the Liberals only spent $15 000. (Not a good return on investment there. I’m curious to see what the numbers are this time around.) More coverage means more volunteers and more donors. Dollars and goodwill will sway votes.

“If Brandon-Souris was a test, then Justin Trudeau failed it.”

If control of the entire country had been determined last night, that would be true. But our region has one MP out of 308. Sure, it would have been nice to send someone else to sit in the lonely Liberal bleachers in the House of Commons, but one more voice wouldn’t make Trudeau the Official Opposition or give him one second more during Question Period. Red Rolf’s victory would have had one real effect: it would have given him a couple years experience in the Big House before the next election.

It’s entirely possible that Trudeau will fail as the Liberal leader. He really is trying to walk a different path than Harper. I received six flyers in the mail over the last couple weeks. All of them were from the Conservatives, and all but ONE of them basically painted Trudeau as the devil and Red Rolf as his Chief Imp. Who gives a crap if Rolf plays in a punk band? So what if Trudeau smoked a doobie? Frankly, I prefer a candidate with a little dirt on him. The white-washed weirdoes the Conservatives find all look like they’ve been home-schooled for religious reasons. They claim they represent “us,” but I’ve done some pretty stupid stuff in my life. If ANY normal person had someone combing through their past for mistakes, it wouldn’t take long to find something embarrassing. At least Trudeau and Red Rolf didn’t pretend they were perfect.

No, last night was a measure of whether negative campaigning can be beaten by the ol’ smile-and-sidestep. To find that out for sure, we’ll have to wait until 2016. Failing to achieve at least Official Opposition status in THAT election will be the real failure.
===

Well, that’s my take. I have to say, I’ve been waiting for Justin to take over the Liberal reins since he spoke at his father’s funeral back in 2000. He has style, and I’ve always preferred leaders with a little flair. Someone who can be as mean as you need to be when you’re in charge, but will do it with a grin. Pierre Trudeau was like that. So was Chrétien. Jack Layton had it, too. Now we’ve got Justin, and he’s a smiler if there ever was one. I expect if he’s ever Prime Minister he’ll be caught in more than one scandal.

Here’s the thing, though: politicians of all stripes will screw you. But I’d rather be bought dinner first.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month. (For those who don’t know, it is a challenge where the participant is shooting to write an original work of at least 50 000 words in the 30 days of November). I’m participating again this year. It will be my third stab at the process. I started back in 2009 and appear to be on a biannual schedule, jumping back onto the wagon every two years. Every year I’ve tried it, I’ve succeeded (they call it “winning” on the website) by reaching at least 50K words by month’s end.

I have to say, the first time out, I thought the goal of 50K was unreal. It felt so terrible and monolithic and, well, unachievable. It works out to 1667 words a day. That number doesn’t seem to overwhelming in itself, but it takes me (on a good day) anywhere between one and two hours to reach that total. By the end of the month, that’ll mean I’ve typed for 60+ hours. By one way of thinking, 60 hours is nothing. Most of us waste more than that in TV-watching over a month. No big deal. Just stop watching Big Brother and The Voice and you’re there! But the other way of thinking is that those 60+ hours aren’t mindless or easy. Every word you type must be deliberately selected and part of the greater tapestry of the story you’re trying to tell. Even with the best of intentions, no one types perfectly, so you’re self-editing as you go, erasing misspells or changing brutal word choices before things spin out of control. I can flake on the sofa and watch all three Lord of the Rings movies (if I had a catheter, that is) but there’s no way I can type for nine hours in a row. Even if my fingers could manage it, my mind would start to melt if I’m hammering away at 850 words an hour.

What I’m saying is, writing is fun but it also takes it out of you. You can feel invigorated by a really good bout, but eventually you have to walk away from the computer. So when NaNoWriMo comes around, there are two things to remember:

1. Don’t obsess with perfection. Crafting a good novel is not done in a month with only one draft. You have to move forward and keep on creating or you’ll never reach 50K. Editing is NOT part of NaNoWriMo. Turning your work into something fit to be read by others happens after November.

2. Don’t miss a single day. Missing one day means the next day you have 4 hours of work ahead of you. This math adds up quickly. Suddenly you’ve missed a week, you’re 14 hours behind, and 9000 words away from where you want to be. Even if you can’t reach your 1700 words in a day, get something down. A half hour today means only three-and-a-half tomorrow instead of four. It all helps. Add to your word count every day.

Working on my third NaNoWriMo project, I’m well ahead of schedule because I’m following my own advice. Maybe other things will work for you; those two points above work for me. This time I’m so confident that 50K is achievable that I’m “wasting” time and posting on my blog instead of just adding words to my total. See? Cocky. That’s what experience gets you! Seriously, though, it’s less arrogance than just knowing what I’m capable of doing now, having been through the process a few times.

Like the previous two times I’ve done this, the project I’m working on is rough and very ugly in some places. What I’m going to end up with is a detailed plan with many places of text that can eventually be cut-and-pasted into a more polished work. This has value, yes, but it isn’t how I would choose to create. Since I loathe editing, I prefer to create as clean a copy as I can even the first time through. No, for me, the real value in NaNoWriMo, for me, is the impetus to work. It helps me get rededicated to writing.

That’s why I bothered to jump in this year at all. The last two years have been a disturbingly dry spell in terms of new works. With week three almost done, I feel energized. I’m eager for the month to be over so I can start different projects. In fact, for the first time, I’ve started hacking away at a short story while trying to get my core NaNoWriMo project finished. (And no, the short story words don’t count towards my 50K goal.)


Thirty days of re-training. It goes well. If you’re a writer, give it a try some year (if you haven’t already). The website has all sorts of advice and pointers, if you’re interested:

National Novel Writing Month

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cart Rage

Is it wrong to want the power to vaporize people with a thought? If so, I’m the worst person in the world, because if this little wish of mine were granted, there would be streaks of carbon and tiny piles of ash all over this town.

Cut me off in traffic? WHOOSH! Leave your ass in the lane when you’re turning left? WHOOSH! Park using four spaces cause your truck is just so impressive and precious? WHOOSH, and one for your truck, too. Chatting inanely to your passenger so you don’t notice when the light turns green? So WHOOSHed. Drive 30 km/h in a 50 zone when the weather’s grand? Quadruple WHOOSH for you, my friend.

I drive in one of two states. Either I’m in a Zen-like “Hey, it’s all cool, man” nothing-bothers-me attitude of absolute calm, or I’m a paler version fo the Hulk. “Shen smash! Out of my way, puny humans!” I don’t use the horn much, but my language can be colourful, and my thoughts (uncensored due to proximity of children) are much, much worse.

Road rage isn’t rare or unusual. I find it quite therapeutic, actually. After a good road-based venting session, I’m much more at ease. Cathartic. Cheaper than a spa, but just as good (better, really, because I don’t have some stranger pawing me up or smearing me with avocado mud). I’m sure a therapist would say it’s unhealthy, but they say EVERYTHING’S unhealthy—they have livelihoods to protect, after all, and if we all found socially acceptable ways to chill ourselves out, what would we need them for?

But today I’m not talking about road rage. I’m talking about CART rage.

This is something experienced by those of us with the higher calling of being homemakers. We go out into the world with empty carts. We pilot them through aisle after aisle of impediments, fill them with needful things (mostly), and return home, safe with our hard-won booty. But this journey is not without its perils, oh no.

On any given day during the battle to claim the grocery items you need in order to keep your family well-fed and happy, you can expect to face all of these hazards. They’ll test your patience. They’ll push you to the brink of snapping. They’ll make you question your sanity (well, not that much, really, but they WILL make you question why the hell you’re a housekeeper). And unlike road rage, you can’t hiss and cuss at those who enrage you because you lack the protective and insulating shell of a car chassis to block your fury from being heard. No, when you have cart rage, your only refuge is the silent rage inside your own skull. And maybe the occasional eye-roll.

Whole families going shopping. Why would anyone do this? I understand if you’re the only parent available, you have no choice but to bring along your brood of seven ill-mannered offspring. But when there are two parents? What madness caused you to think bringing your family gathering to Superstore was a good idea? Is this your idea of “family time?” If so, I pity you. Or is this because the husband is too scared to stay at home with the kids, so he lumbers along, pushing the cart, trying to act like he has a clue what he’s doing. (I suspect this last is the case, judging by the lost expressions on most of their faces.)

Cell phones. Unless you’re at the store because your partner is too weak to leave the house, you should know what you’re ether for. Quit talking on your cell phone, standing there blocking the aisle, while you discuss the ramifications of buying low-fat versus NO-fat mayo with your absent overlord. Pick one! No one’s going to die because of a little fat in their mayo!

To the ridiculously fit hippy couple: you need to order your groceries on-line. Years of pot-smoking or organic living have clearly rendered your gray matter useless and you aren’t fit to function in society any long. Sorry. You’re both done. This was a couple literally incapable of making decisions without assistance from their partner. It was like watching a hive mind function after it had been torn in two, or perhaps a couple of lonely Borg separated from their collective. “Do you want this?” “I’m not sure, what do you think?” “Well, we could probably use it.” “I suppose. So do you want to get it?” Etc, etc. They literally discussed whether to head to Aisle 7 or Aisle 5 after finishing up with Aisle 6. I wanted to video them, just so someone would believe me. And their dysfunction would have been entertaining, except they always blocked my path while they debated. (They were also one of those creepy couples that looked like brother and sister. Yuck.)

And it all ends at the line. Ah, here we see organization at its best. At Safeway? One line, and it’s always the Express, so you feel like a knob when you go through with your packed cart. The cashier is always begging on the intercom for someone—anyone—to come staff a till, and the pleas go always unanswered. Then there is Superstore. Many lines open, but they are always packed right next to each other so all of us have to bump elbows while we try and bag our groceries. Oh, there’s space to spread out, but they don’t so that the person tasked with cracking the whip on the cashiers can monitor all her charges at once.

Then you roll the dice to see what the person ahead of you will do. Will they pay for their purchases with a full understanding of how the debit system works and move on? Or will they fumble for change? Perhaps scratch their head, bewildered as to what their “secret code” is? Or worst of all, do they KNOW the cashier, and engage in excruciating (to me) minutes of chit chat about Mabel and Henry and the puppies?

That’s not one day, but merely one ERRAND, in the epic life of a homemaker. It’s a journey only the brave dare. Dun dun DUUUUNNNN!!!

Monday, November 4, 2013

What's REALLY Killing Marriage!

Here’s a segue from last week’s post. Orson Scott Card would have you believe marriage must be only between one man and one woman. A whole host of organizations are trying to “save” marriage, in the “traditional” sense. They believe, and will try to make us believe, that letting a couple of dudes walk down the aisle together will bring the whole marriage thing to a shattering end. I haven’t read Revelations in a good while, but I’m sure there’s something in there about one of the End of Days signals being two women sharing a “just married” kiss. I’m sure of it. I mean, why else would they all be in such a tizzy over the idea of same-sex marriage?

There is a force working in modern society that seeks to erode marriage, but it isn’t homosexuality (Homersexuality, for you Simpsons fans). It’s privacy.

Yes, that’s right. Privacy. The weird obsession we have in society with the idea that our information belongs to no one but us. No one else should have my Social Insurance Number, banking information, credit card numbers, library card, or hat size. All of this data should be guarded the way people hoarded their fingernail clippings in a world where voodoo really works.

And there is some truth to that fear. A villainous soul, equipped with the gritty details of my life, would be able to access the remaining $11.47 left on my Visa card, or strip my bank account of tens of dollars. They could gain control of my vehicle (and have to make the payments, too, haha!). A single phone call to a local pharmacy would tell them that I have... dun dun DUUUUN!!... medical prescriptions that have been filled! And theoretically used! That I’ve frequently asked if Viagra comes in Extra-Strength capsules, cause the normal ones just aren’t cutting it anymore. They could find out what sort of cellphone plan I have, and maybe even change it! Oh ye gods!

Alright, sarcasm aside, identity theft is not only a huge pain in the ass, it’s also criminal, potentially dangerous, and frustrating beyond belief. But because of privacy concerns, my wife and I are not in any way “one person.”

I want to change banking information? Sorry, sir, we need to speak to your wife. Or the phone plan needs to be changed because we’re going to the States--sorry, I can’t discuss those details without your wife’s approval. Can’t deal with life insurance unless we’re both present, have to get forms filled out in triplicate to access doctor’s appointment, and Autopac will just laugh at me if I bother trying to switch a car in my wife’s name from All-purpose to Pleasure.

Over the years of my house-husbanding, I’ve slowly, piecemeal, acquired authorization with one organization after another. For each one, my wife has to be present, verbally authorizing the next step. Then the rules will change, and I’ll lose access to something that, last year, I could change with  no problem. What I should be doing is just assuming a pleasing falsetto voice when it comes time to do “her” authorizations, because the bureaucrats can’t see through the phone, and I know our financial information better than my wife does anyway. She trusts me to deal with this crap. She works all day. I’m at home. I deal with the kids and the groceries and the meals and the errands and the, yes, bureaucracy of the world (shudder).

But because some married people clearly do NOT live in a state of trust with each other, the whole system has broken down. How is it “until death do us part” when we’ve created an organizational system that doesn’t really let us be together? When we split, we each get half of the assets, but when we’re together, apparently it’s “what’s mine is mine, what’s hers is hers.”

It’s particularly ironic in the classic 50s archetype, with one parent home and the other working. Because the cheques are in HER name, not mine, I can’t get credit cards or a whole host of other financial services without essentially being the ragamuffin tag-along on my wife’s coat-tails. (If she ever leaves me, I’ll have no real credit to my name. On the plus side, I’ll have no digital footprint! I’ll be ghost! Woohoo!) That creates the difficulty. We’re still getting hardcopy paper phone bills because the only way to change that is to talk to someone in person, and they’ll only deal with the ol’ ball-and-chain.

This stonewalling crap didn’t spring up from nowhere. It’s probably the result of a few bad apples screwing around with people, emptying accounts just before they split or fake their own deaths or something. Yet the government is obsessed--literally OBSESSED--with my marital status. So if I have to check a little box with the CRA every year declaring I’m married, and file joint income taxes, why the hell don’t we get a little leeway with sharing? If you don’t trust someone enough to give them full access to your finances, my advice is this:

DON’T GET MARRIED!

So bureaucrats, quit eroding marriage! I’m begging you.


My wife’s right here, she can authorize my request. I swear.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Ender's Dilemma

When do you stop supporting someone you disagree with?

The latest example in my life is Ender’s Game. I loved the book the very first time I read it. I still love it. Of course, I was a younger manchild in those days, and the internet wasn’t the monolithic force it is today. You weren’t able to type any question into Google and have seven million answers bounced back at you with 0.14 seconds. You weren’t able to type in an author’s name and find out that he’s been a diehard opponent of same-sex relations and marriage for many years. You could read a good book, or watch a good movie, and be blissfully unaware your dollars were helping to contribute to someone who’s views you find repellant. Sure, you could discover any secret you wanted, even back then, but you actually had to work for it. It wasn’t as easy as typing a sentence into a computer; it required dedication and research.

Because of this, I lived most of my life not knowing Orson Scott Card was homophobic. And not just the kind of homophobe I grew up around, that saw being called “gay” a fight-to-the-death kind of insult, but the “change society” kind of homophobe, with a long history of funding and aiding anti-gay rights causes. Or L. Ron Hubbard. I knew he’d started scientology, but I didn’t really know how cult-like its practices and beliefs were. And what about Chuck? I could watch Delta Force and all its attendant explosions without flinching at the virulence of Chuck Norris’s social conservatism. Maybe if Isaac Asimov were still around and writing today, he’d do something that would make me weep, too (but I doubt it—my faith in him remains untarnished).

So I ask again: when do you stop supporting someone you disagree with? Ender’s Game is now a movie, and I’m sure O.S. Card will see money if the movie turns a profit. Even if he didn’t, there is a principle involved here. Should we be encouraging exclusionary zealots to turn a profit when they act on those beliefs? I don’t think Ender’s Game is homophobic, but it’s creator is, and while a person’s thoughts are still, for the time being, their own, when a homophobe acts to promote their damaging, narrow, hateful viewpoints, shouldn’t those of us who disagree take a stand? Money talks, after all, and if all the hate-mongers found their funds drying up, wouldn’t that be better for everyone (except the hate-mongers, I suppose, but screw them!).

Or do you judge a person’s work outside and in isolation of their personal life? So what if Card’s a nut; Ender’s Game was awesome, so read it, buy it, watch the movie, he should have success because he created something wonderful, even if he does stupid stuff the rest of the time. Take Mandy Patinkin. He was wonderful in Princess Bride, good in Criminal Minds (while he lasted), and great in Homeland, I’m told. Who cares if he’s now about three short steps from being a Unabomber? 

(Why do I judge him so harshly? I was friends with him on Facebook, the place where “friendship” is loosely defined as “someone I haven’t blocked yet,” until a few months ago. I cut him loose when he posted and applauded a letter from some Canadian woman who’s basic message was: “Why should we care about torture and war crimes when we’re doing them to people who don’t like us, or might not like us, or might know people who don’t like us?” She thought everyone who had a problem with water-boarding, indefinite incarceration-without-charges, those soldiers that urinated on Taliban corpses, and anything else that showed respect or decent human values towards our “enemies” should get shot themselves. That kind of attitude is scary, amoral, and unacceptable, so I de-friended Inigo, which hurt a little, but then, Inigo only wounded Count Rugen as he had hurt Inigo himself; he didn’t hunt down Rugen’s dad, water-board him to death, then tea-bag his corpse.)

I guess in this era of open information (or at least, easily accessed information), you can’t be willfully blind to the flaws of your would-be heroes. So do I ignore those flaws, or do I ignore the stuff produced by the flawed? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying boycott Superstore because their CEO is a Broncos fan (I don’t know if he is or not, just making it up as an example) and you’re a Steelers boy. But if someone does something you see as amoral or criminally wrong, should they get the proverbial cold shoulder? And if so, for how long? As long as they keep up their evil works? Ten years after? Forever?

What I do know is I won’t be going to see Ender’s Game, the movie. I will probably reread my copy of Ender’s Game at some point in the future, but I won’t ever buy another one (or anything else Card writes, though I will confess, that won’t be so much of a punishment). It’s a pretty small gesture, but it isn’t nothing, so that makes it more than I usually do. (Baby steps, right?)

(On a related note, I’ve always been confused by book burnings. In theory, you gather hundreds or thousands of copies of a book you abhor and torch them. This sounds dramatic, but doesn’t this in reality just cause the sales of the book in question to spike? Haven’t you actually directly benefited the author and publishing house? Or maybe I’m missing the point.)


(Or another related note, I’m so clueless when it comes to sports that, after writing my little Broncos vs. Steelers example, I Googled those teams to make sure they both played in the same league. My dad would despair.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

Guest Star, Philip!


I'm back! (Sort of.) This is a guest blog post, written by Philip Rothenberger, who volunteered to offer me some words when I took the summer off. My hope is he'll find this so gratifying he'll begin a blog of his own because, let me tell you, if there's any mind you want sporadic glimpses into, it's Phil's. I haven't changed a single word of what Sir Rothenberger has written (he's a visual artist, I'm a writer, and NEITHER of us is an editor). Without further ado, here he is!

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Note, to start, I'd like to thank Shen for entertaining the notion of having a guest blogger submit a discrete entry (or two. My goal was two) on his long running and quite entertaining Blog Site. Originally the plan was to have something prepared during the summer when he announced his short hiatus (My John Oliver to Shen's Jon Stewart), but obviously that never happened. Regardless, what's what is what and what's done is done, so there is no need to cry over flogged horses I always say! (Disclaimer: I never say that)



In theory I could just as easily start up, or whatever the magic is that's involved, my own blog site and spend the required countless hours campaigning to have my musings pored over from an adoring public (That's you, Reader!) Yet, there was the question on the amount of time slash effort it takes to exercise such an endeavour before actually committing to one. (Answer: Stupid amounts. It's a crazy time sink! Take a moment out of your day or night and thank a Blogger you follow sometime, seriously) In short, thanks again to you Shen! And with that; here's to hoping this experiment won’t Ocean-Bottom this Blog Site (my Groo The Wanderer to Shen's Rufferto) No jinx there.



The Actual Blog! This isn't, in fact, the title of this blog. In observance, there isn't a title. This fact, now stated, segues nicely to inform the reader (again; that's you!) of the topic. A title-less blog about The Art of the Title. I know, I too can feel the cleansing rain of irony wash down upon us. Anyways, this is completely in opposition to the way in which I usually conduct any creative endeavour, at least as of late. Before starting a painting or drawing, I first conjure up a title, something ayatolla-rocknrolla-ish, then stand fast as everything falls neatly into place; like Tetris blocks (accompanying Russian music not an option; it’s mandatory). The more I found myself putting this technique into practice, the more I started to adhere to a personal theory that the title encompasses almost the majority of message or content of whatever it's attached to. Meaning; despite how unbelievably awe inspiring any work of art (or story, or song) is: the title can make or break it. The title and, in my opinion, its importance, has become such a revelation to myself I now dabble (great word) in nothing else creatively except thinking up titles of perfection. Titles painstakingly scribed like a monk in notebooks to those jotted on cocktail napkins at the Legion. There are those I carve with a sharpened spoon onto my desk at work and then there are those that I tweet into the ether space of the net. (The WorldWide InterWeb!) Essentially, they are titles for artwork/ books/ movies/ music and so forth, but without any actual material. These titles ARE the work.



 Now, if you were to consider the adage; 'A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words', couldn't that imply that the reverse is true? That an esoteric string of words could evoke a mental image of concepts/visuals in one's mind without further elaboration of pictures, sounds or words? I actually don't know and I've been inclined to be on the south side of rational thought more than a couple times (circa: the 90's), however, in a bid to recruit you to follow me on this, allow me to illustrate something I call: The Art Of The Title (Editor’s Note; that’s a pretty lame title) 

So imagine if you will a painting, 11x11, of solid white. Like a piece of paper. I chose a picture because I’m primarily a visual artist, but this theory, I hope, applies to authors, musicians, sculptures and the like.



>UNTITLED: Concept 7 (of 252) •Part 19 in a series of 67: Subject 4, No. 9(b)



To illustrate my first example, I am going to reference Jackson Pollock; painter and Big Wheel in the abstract expressionist scene. After a while he started to abandon the idea of naming his paintings, but rather he numbered them instead.

"...look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for"

The title has an almost clinical manner; and that this is a subject that inspires the artist profoundly and the concepts presented will, no doubt, resurface again.



>EXTREME CLOSE UP VIEW OF A SINGLE CROSSWORD SQUARE AS A POLAR BEAR COMPLETES A PUZZLE WHILST IN A RAGING SNOWSTORM



Ah, the always dismissive and always pithy title. Trust me, I'm all bread and butter of spewed sarcastic comments and condescending one-liners :day in and day out. But eventually you are rewarded with a punch to the face. But hold on. Sometimes being clever isn’t just for the sake of being clever. A title of this nature can give the arts and literature community that goose that they need every so often for fear of taking themselves too seriously. Let’s be honest; far too many song titles often read like a suicide note (“Red Roses Will Choke My Gravesite”), too many paintings that validate psychiatric treatment (“My Soul As Seen Trapped In The Hell That Wears The World’s Face”), or novels that are either a couple syllables over or one under working out as a Steven Seagal blockbuster (“Proper Justice”)



The only point I like to make about this style of title, however, is that it can often downplay respectability and often lead to belittlement. The type of person, who scoffs when they see an abstract painting then claim that their four year old kid can draw the same thing. That stellar individual loves the above style of title. It’s a free pass for society to view culture as nothing but a hobby, that life is all speeding tickets and taxes. Could culture not  shape a society and its views given the circumstances? Que Sera, Sera, I suppose. Oh, and if your four year old (or 40 year old for that matter) is arting-it-up, whether it's good or bad; it's all awesome! Try being less critical of art and heap a little more praise on your kids. Heap!

And finally the last example;



>MARCH OF THE KID KILLJOY'S IN THE AGE OF EXPOSITION (The Doorman’s Sister brought Bagels for Us; and Flowers for The Frankenstein Monster)



This, I assure you, is the type of title I am most guilty of. Pointedly abstract and teeters on the verge of absurdity? Maybe. Probably. A bit both or a whole lot of nothing. (When all is said and done, with regards to this blog, you can call your painting/your book/your song/ your whatever: anything. you. want. With as little or as much explanation as you like, I might add)

Anyways, what this kind of title does best is pure redirection. A work that says 'here I am' to your eyes and a title that then says 'boom' to your mind. Total juxtapostion. Of course, this means the title can be in support of the visual, albeit with that slight Twilight Zone twist, but works better when at complete odds. Wild.



But here is the rub. I use to paint or draw something that inspired me, usually an image conjured up while listening to music or reading or something (honestly; I've never figured out where my ideas first take root) Then I would muse (minutes to years) over a title for said piece. And that title had to fit the painting like a glove or the whole thing was a fail (I'm pretty sure this is atypical of a lot of artists/ authors/ ect.  in the same scenario. Or maybe not; all is subjective, y'know?) However, then I started to have trouble finding inspiration. At least, not in the usual places. So I figured I’d start with the title and work backwards, so to speak. What I discovered though, that when the title comes first (especially if it’s a dozy!) it’s hard to take first step to execution. Like the pressure of living up to a prophecy. A concept that a guy like Lee Majors can appreciate, because that’s a hell of a name to live up to. Seriously, when you come up with a title like

SENOR HUGS-A-LOT, PENICILLIN PENGUIN AND VICTORIA BUTTERFIELD’S GREAT TEA PARTY AND GUN SHOW ADVENTURE! (Held, annually and faithfully, at the request of  PRESIDENT MITTENS and MAYOR SLOW PANTS)

where do you go from there? On to the next chapter because this one just wrote itself! So I started working in the little know field of 'Title-ism'. And productivity is fair to good. I’m confident I’ll draw or paint something again. Maybe I’ll even try my hand at writing and sit down and type up a blog entry. Maybe I'll manage an all female punk band called Sharon Lois and the Brams (why that's mentioned here, I don't know) But, in the meantime, it’s all-icing-no-cake in regards to my creative output, and that’s o.k.; maybe I’ll find a niche market for it. Titles Without Paint strokes. Chapters Without Words. Concepts Without Foundation. A Present With No Future.



All great titles, by the way...



Philip Rothenberger

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Mothballed

For those who care (I'm talking to you, Phil, and maybe to Jen, as well), I'm taking a hiatus from the blog for a while. I anticipate more posts trickling out around September.

Enjoy your summer! (I know I won't - do you know how much heat and sun we get in Manitoba? It burns!)

A Mile From the Sun

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dreams are for sleeping


I have Casino Royale playing in the background (and may I say, THANK YOU, Daniel Craig, for the awesomeness of your James Bond). One of the previews is for “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith. Now, I’ve never seen it, and probably never will. I’m enough of a grammar fascist that the misspelling of “happiness” turns me off badly enough to give the whole film a miss. Among the many heart-wrenching and yet uplifting scenes in the preview is one where Smith’s telling his faux-kid to never give up on his dreams, no matter what. “You want something, go get it. Period.”

Man, do I hate that sentiment. Goals are important. Dreams are stupid. For example, it’s my goal to one day be a published writer. It’s my dream to one day be bitten by a radioactive spider and get superpowers. I dream of winning the lottery; it’s my goal to pay off the house in fifteen years. See the subtle but crucial difference? Even the dictionary says a dream is “a conception or image created by the imagination and having no objective reality.” (Yes, one of the later definitions is the more prosaic “something you intend to do,” but the first one I’ve quoted really sums it up.)

Goals are changeable. They are malleable. You can adapt them to your changing circumstances and desires. Goals can be accomplished. You can have many of them at the same time, and failing in one doesn’t mean you have to re-evaluate your whole life. Some dreams are really just goals dressed up in more dramatic language (“It’s my dream to get into Harvard”) and that’s fine, just don’t pretend otherwise. A goal is something you can make to happen by your own efforts. A dream may happen, but the achievement of it is pretty much out of your hands.

Which leads to my REAL problem with what Smith says. “You want something, go get it. Period.” How is that advice for a kid? It belongs in the exact same category as “Never give up,” a phrase commonly thrown around on Facebook and motivational posters. How are those words to live by? “Learn to compromise” would be wiser. “Never give up” results in a world of tyrants with no capacity to be reasonable. “I want ice cream, Mom - you said to never give up. It’s my dream to have two scoops, by the way. My DREAM. You don’t want to deny me my DREAM, do you?” Or “Well, Officer, I know I stole that Macbook, but my dad always said ‘if you want something, go get it. Period.’ It’s important to never give up, don’t you think?” Imagine seven billion people all with the “never give up” attitude. Seven billion little psychos all convinced their wants are paramount, and damn the torpedoes!

Of course I realize a reasonable person hears “Never give up” and understands “Try really hard,” so why don’t we just say that, then? “Hey, make sure you try really hard.” Maybe add “But sometimes you’re going to fail no matter what, because either someone else tried harder, or is better, or the world just doesn’t like you this time, so be prepared for it.” Why are we so committed to this idea that surrendering is wrong? I hear people I would normally count as rational, thinking individuals quote this “never surrender” drivel. Surely they aren’t convinced that’s a realistic way to live, are they?

Or do we suppose kids and adults are incapable of understanding a lesson unless it’s couched in black-and-white “sound-bite” format with a catchy little expression? If so, it’s certainly our own fault for filling the world with this stupid little tidbits of pseudo-wisdom.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Nope, nope, nope, unless you have absolute CRAP for imagination, cause I have to tell you, I can dream a helluva lot bigger than any human can accomplish.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Wrong again. What doesn’t kill us either weakens us to the point where we WISH for death, or it leaves us mentally scarred enough to think watching Dr. Phil is a smart move.

“Live as if it’s your last day on Earth.” So don’t do to work, sleep with a hot stranger, give your house to that homeless wierdo on the corner, blow your life savings at the race-track, and eat nothing but bacon and poutine? Smart plan, genius.

I could go on forever. But what’s your favourite idiotic piece of advice?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

House-husbanding


I’m a house-husband. Having experienced this life for a number of years now, I have concluded that many of the stereotypical traits attributed to the classic 1950s wife & husband dynamic are almost entirely environmental in nature. Examples?

Let’s begin with an obsession with the house, especially its interior. This is my domain. I exist within it for hours a day, either alone or in the company of non-speaking children. Flaws in design and decor are noticed first by me. (“Why’d they put the door there? It would have been better over here.” “Another stain on the carpet. Gah!”) Given a choice about where to spend household finances, I’d put them into home improvements. Bigger kitchen. Newer appliances. Renovated bathrooms. Change out the flooring. Paint. That kind of crap. I never used to care about this stuff, just since I’ve become house-bound as a full-time job.

Next? Social starvation. When the women come home from work, I nearly jump on them in my eagerness for social contact. Adult conversation! A glimpse into the world outside! Gossip, rumours, work-stories, who’d you meet, what’d they say, how was your day, what are you doing tonight? All they want to do is have an hour in silence to detox from a long day, and all I want to do is engage them in the excruciating minutiae of their time away. You can see why those 50s dads just wanted to put their feet up and have a beer, and why those 50s wives were hanging around. It wasn’t because they were waiting to serve, it was because they were WILLING to serve in the hopes of getting some conversation going.

So why not just ask? (“Geez, Bill, talk to me, will you? I’m dying in here!”) Well, that’s where a subtle but powerful factor plays in: balance of power, both perceived and actual. I have a valuable job to do--take care of the kids and the home--but these skills don’t sell particularly well. Nor do they pay well (at all, beyond room and board). Housekeepers don’t, by and large, pull in sixty large a year, nor do nannies or baby-sitters. If I’m kicked out the door, the only thing I’m currently trained to do is take care of families. While this is a legitimate career, the problem is I don’t much like children other than my own. Selling myself as a male nanny who doesn’t like your kids could be tricky.

So I have to rebuild some kind of sellable career from the ground up. All my old corporate contacts are five (or more) years outdated, as are my job skills. I wouldn’t be destitute, but it would be a bit of a slog to get back to the lifestyle I enjoy right now. And I’m lucky, in a way, as I did have the usual kind of job until switching over; what if I’d NEVER worked outside of the home? Employers rarely see “house-husband” as a big selling point. A paycheque carries with it a certain degree of freedom. Sure, the estranged wife is entitled to half the assets, but she has to fight to get them; the guy with his name on the accounts can just take what he wants without asking.

This balance of power is also why the 50s magazines carried all sorts of articles about looking your best (for your man!), preparing great meals (for your man!), and making the house pretty (for your, you guessed it, man!). It’s easy to imagine, home alone all day, that your spouse might lose interest in you. Going outside the house to work carries with it all manner of temptations. Booze, sex, drugs, and a variety of other forms of entertainment can be much more easily accessed when you’re away from your kids for eight to ten hours a day. That doesn’t even include the business trips, over-time, conferences, and other “bonus work” many are expected to do. There’s a reason “working late” is an often-offered excuse to cover infidelity. The only real way to combat all these temptations is to present something at home that can’t be beat (sexy trophy wife/husband, top-notch food, and immaculate house).

Of course, that only applies while the kids are at home. Once they go to school, I’ll spend my carefully hoarded embezzled funds to have non-stop orgies and dance parties.

Just have to remember to make sure the house is clean by 5, and supper on the table for 6.