Doomsday Spirit (with punchline)

With the end of the world right around the corner (again), I’ve been experiencing a confluence of ideas. Witnessing a cultural paradigm shift. Watching a new consciousness unfold. And I attribute it mostly to the popularity of zombie culture.

Seriously, though: this stream of thought stemmed from reading a new book called “Makers: The New Industrial Revolution” by Wired‘s departing editor-in-chief Chris Anderson. I’m only halfway through, but already I’ve been inspired by the concepts therein. He suggests that manufacturing will go local. That is, with the advent of the DIY “maker” revolution and the growing accessibility of 3D printers, people will begin to modify, customize and essentially manufacture what they need instead of relying on imported or mass-market goods.

At risk of being completely sexist, this idea is like homesteading for men. And I mean this in a complimentary way: where homesteading culture promotes the independent production on a domestic side — things like food and shelter — the maker culture promotes off-grid manufacturing of useful things.

Not a decade ago, if something broke, it could easily be fixed. Shoes could be taken to a cobbler. A vacuum cleaner or blender could be repaired. These days we are so reliant on cheaply made things that when something breaks, we’re conditioned to throw it away and drive to the Wal-Mart to buy a new one. It’s simply a better value than having it repaired (let alone finding a skilled repair person… who has time?).

And how does this relate to zombie culture? Two words: Apocalypse Preparedness. It’s on the minds of the citizens of the Western World and is stimulating this Leftist-Libertarianism. Simply put, when the world goes to shit and it’s every person for themselves, those with a cold-storage full of preserves and an equipped workshop that can repair radios and shotguns will be more likely to survive. Just watch a couple episodes of The Walking Dead. You’ll see what I mean.

As a Canadian, it’s tricky talking about Libertarianism because it’s not really a thing here. I’m still not entirely sure what it is, and wonder why, as a movement in the USA, it needs to be so politicized. It’s generally associated with the Right due to its leanings towards small government. But at its core Libertarianism needs community (and dare I say, Communism?) which results in the feeling you get when you try and force two identical poles of a magnet together. A positive will always repel another positive. Like this.

Upon further reflection I am totally optimistic: I hope the Maker movement continues to gain momentum. It popularizes a very creative way of life, one that is productive and satisfying. It can make the everyman proud of something, however small the contribution or creation.

Hopefully then people will be less inclined to start unnecessary and crappy indie rock bands as a means of attaining that sense of fulfillment. Instead of starting a Bandcamp, create a Arduino mod so you can control the toaster with your iPhone. Then we’ll have something to talk about.

The post also appeared on the Huffington Post

Where Have I Been?

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I’ve been a little incommunicado lately, due mostly to the addition of a son to our family. As you’ve probably read somewhere, Murray and I welcomed Apollo into this world on Oct 31 and therefore blogging has taken a backseat to many other things. I will be back in the new year, but in the meanwhile have a happy holidays.

ALONE (short story)

I’m pleased to release a new short story for your reading pleasure on these brief Fall afternoons. What is this story, ALONE, all about?

Two marooned astronauts cope with isolation, existentialism and artificial intelligence in this romantic tragedy.

I’ve been writing on ALONE for nearly a year, picking it up and working feverishly on it, then putting it away for weeks at a time. Finally I decided to let it out into the wild. This germ of this story sprouted from wanting to write something that made the reader (you) feel uncomfortable. I test my protagonist with impossible situations, of being alone and confined while travelling through the infinity of space. What does life mean at that point? What would keep someone alive or cause them to give up hope?

This is a sentiment I’ve often felt — though not while travelling through space where a technical malfunction could mean certain death — but on tour. In a tiny bunk on a tour bus, squished up in a van with 6 other people or on an intercontinental flight for hours on end: each day, every day, for months at a time. On the road, my purpose is constantly tested, patience taken to new heights. On a terrestrial tour, if something goes wrong, it is easily remedied. You pull over and the problem easily solved. But what would you do in space, alone, with limited resources and millions of miles from anything resembling home?

I also tip my hat to CBC’s Canada Writes and their “Sci-Fi Twitter Challenge” — though I’m not exactly sure what that means. I guess this is my long-form contribution to the community. There is sadly no podcast at the moment (as my lengthiest finished story, the MP3 file would be too enormous). For eyeballs only. Happy reading.

Pop Culture + Kids + Aging Hipster Mom = ???

I am now in the twilight of my second pregnancy: with less than two weeks to go and the baby already “in position,” I’m finding I have to force myself to focus on the marathon I’m about to run. Labour is similar to just that — running a marathon — it is mentally and physically exhausting, but the reward at the finish line is like nothing else we, as human beings, will ever experience in our lifetime. This goes for moms and dads.

This being our second child, I feel more confident than I did the first time around. And while this confidence still comes with its own hesitations, I guess I am more relaxed knowing how the whole labour thing is generally going to go down. I pulled up my previous birth plan and whittled it down to the “best of,” a half-page of point-form notes detailing my personal list of dos and don’ts for whoever is staffing the maternity ward that day.

As I was working on the plan, I decided to consult the Internets to read about plans for second births. One of the resources I came upon was a blog called TheFeministBreeder.com. The name of the blog was one thing and the advice was fine, but more captivating was the blogger’s bio:

Gina Crosley-Corcoran — writer, doula, childbirth educator, activist, and mother of three littles. Used to play in a famous rock band. Now earning a Master of Public Health in Maternal Child Health.

I mean, “famous rock band?” How could I not Google this? The rabbit hole led me to ’90s femme-grungers Veruca Salt, of whom I was a big follower in my mid-teens. While mommy-blogger Gina was not in the band while I adored them, I was nonetheless fascinated to learn that the band is still kicking around. I watched YouTube videos for Seether and All Hail Me two of their singles from their seminal 1994 American Thighs album.

Thank the heavens that tight, ringy snare sound, which I would vocalise as a tonal schpincks, has gone out of style.

Beyond that, I began thinking about our seven-year-old daughter who can memorize and sing back a song after hearing it once. She comes home from school with all this total musical garbage in her head — stuff her peers are “into” — though I’m sure they don’t know why they like this music other than the fact they must be mainlining the Disney Channel where it’s being marketed aggressively to them. I mean, these kids are in grade two and their parents are buying them head-to-toe Selena Gomez and Hannah Montana apparel. Call me a snob, but yuck.

Do people even listen to music? Following my alternative lifestyle, harsh words for most mainstream music and dangerously “aging hipster” attitude, I mostly think that music is an empty escape for most of the consuming public.

But I digress. I want my daughter to actually listen to music, to hear and appreciate what she is listening to. She is immediately drawn to music with female singers — she likes Feist and Robyn but we rarely listen to music at home so nothing is forced upon her — and for a moment I thought maybe she would like Veruca Salt.

Parenting is an odd, amorphous journey you take with your children. We have to avoid cramming our own nostalgia down their throats and let them discover who they are and the culture that will inevitably inform their identity. So as I shepherd a seven-year-old carefully around the edges of the music industry, I will also welcome a new person, who will grow up hearing me talk crap about music marketing and false-representation in the arts.

Wish me luck.

This post also appears on the HuffingtonPost.ca

I Fell Deep

Got this in my head today. So I pulled out a vinyl copy of GOL and listened. Sounds effing incredible on rekkid. Personally would love to play this one live with Luciani.

I was gonna make a lame joke about how some idiot critic out there might call us Morrissey meets Arcade Fire, but listening now, to this track, I can’t even fathom what enormous amount of laziness and/or non-effort that would require. And yet, it happens with astonishing regularity

Fuck those guys.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHYpTm5YjQk&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Will Vice be The Harbinger of Neo-Grunge?

Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and other places that algorithmically recommend things one should be interested in, I read an article on the Vice media empire. The headline: “Can Vice Get 20-Somethings to Watch the News?” The most intriguing quote was from Vice co-founder Shane Smith on some of the inner workings of the Vice machine:

“Most of the people who work here are 14 years old. They sit two inches from each other. We only employ millionaires’ children.” And later calls Vice “a sweatshop for trustafarians.” Simultaneously a hilarious yet poignant comment on what defines much of today’s culture.

I thought not much of it, finished the article, then went into the backyard to do some seasonal gardening. Tomato plants: gone. Mealy dogwood: uprooted. Hula hoop and toy shovel: stored in the garage. Yet as I worked the article resonated with me. I thought, if engaging the youth in current events is the goal of Vice today, then back in the mag’s early years was it more to get the bored 20-somethings of the late 90s to care?

When sitting back, pondering the genesis of hipsterdom, I often trace it back to Vice, and the importance they laid on the concept of “cool.” I mean, Vice didn’t invent it, they just presented a pre-existing sub-culture in a consumable format. And yeah: back then, I understood what Vice was because I was living it. Watching one of the guys that started the mag drink his own piss on the patio at Foufounes, or letting someone smack my bare ass at a bar in exchange for more beer — these things are what young people do. In your 20’s, getting messed up and having fun is serious business. It wasn’t #YOLO it was punk rock. You don’t fuck around with that. You write about it.

But it’s not 1997. Fifteen years have passed, and my lifetime subscription to the magazine has long been revoked. After having a kid, I was admittedly nervous about having a full-colour, glossy magazine showing stylized images of syringes, used condoms and blood-soaked models lying around the house. In 2008 I posted on my blog a comparison of Vice to the Economist, calling one “stupid” and the other “smart.” At the time, I found it ironic that I held subscriptions to two diametrically opposite magazines. Soon after this post, Vice stopped coming. An independently wealthy intern must have caught it.

Little did I realize that the two magazines were converging, and now I am fascinated by the concept of non-ironic, hipster investigative reporting. And I have to commend the concept of fearless fieldwork and its promotion of xenophilia to a young population that is otherwise totally living in a self-obsessed, social-media infused bubble (see #RKOI as an extreme example).

Today’s culture is at a tipping point, much as it was back in the 90s: we’re waiting for the next Grunge to topple the current mainstream “regime.” The romanticized, nicely packaged version of reality in which we float about must be torn down, and we need to remember that our heroes, and the people and places that influence our very existence, are never perfect.

This post also appeared with a lamer title on HuffingtonPost.ca

Photo Intermission and Tonight: Literary Death Match!

Without coming off as vain or anything, I offer you this link to a recent photo Murray took of me. I’m so pregnant right now it’s crazy. I have one month to go. Wish us luck and happiness, etc, etc.

Anyhow, this afternoon I will be on Home Run (the local Montreal CBC drive time radio show…with Sue Smith!) at around 5:45PM along with Literary Death Match creator Todd Zuniga. I’ve been doing more press than I anticipated for tonight’s event! Heck we were even in The Link!

If you’re in Montreal as the city descends into the madness of Pop Montreal, I hope to see you there…or somewhere, at least.

Montreal’s 3rd Literary Death Match happens Tuesday September 18th at Sala Rossa. Click here for more info.

Literary Death Match: Less Slam and More Smack-Down

I shall be guest judging at Montreal’s upcoming Literary Death Match, where poets try to, uh, out-read each other. I like the competitive angle — there’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek here, too — poetry readings should be fun, less “slam” and more “smack-down.”

Anyway, I’m supposed to give hilarious and constructive criticism, which really makes me wish I could be a little drunk for this event. But, alas, I will be 8 months pregnant. Which (total change of subject) brings me to the internal chuckle I get out of the mileage I’ve gotten out of that portrait. In reality, I feel like an over-inflated balloon has been implanted under my skin, while I get my lungs and intestines repeatedly punched and kicked by the small person growing inside me. IRL, I look like this:

Still TOTALLY HOT, I know. I can’t help that….insert smiley face of your choice, most likely 😛 to denote deep sarcasm….

Montreal’s 3rd Literary Death Match will be held Sept 18th at La Sala Rossa. Show starts at 7PM. Click here for FB event info.

Pregnant Natalia photo by Murray.

New Blog in Which I Extol Montreal’s First Maker Faire

Lately I’ve been obsessed with today’s musical climate. Too long have I agonized over this sentiment, trying to reconcile whether “it’s just me” or if music has evolved into a new beast with unusual behaviours I no longer understand.

As is well documented on my blog, I feel as though apathy has taken over music, especially in “indie” rock. And although I must continue to conduct myself within the music industry’s walls, I am merely moving about its hollow carcass as a means to an end. So instead of continually raging against the music machine, or, alternately, risking being that crusty old hipster at the back of the dubstep show, I will put it out of my mind. Modern music, I am done with thee.

As a result, I have turned my mind to creativity on a global level. What keeps me going is the knowledge that people are still putting their souls into things. How do I know? Because it is in our human nature to create, it is what separates man from beast. Except maybe these guys.

I’ve found a new creative optimism in technology and the wonderment of science. Undoubtedly fraught with its own demons of commercialization, to me the tech world still wears a virginal shroud, an unpretentious Eden yet to be explored. Programming, artificial intelligence and robotics are elements that represent, to me, the possibility for expression and reflection of humanity in infinite ways. Not to mention space exploration. It’s partially why I’ve started writing fiction, specifically speculative fiction: for the creative freedom.

How do I jump from there to here? From music to tech, in one simple step? I’m not sure I can answer that, but as a mother of a seven-year-old with another along the way, the future is, quite simply, more meaningful. Dare I say, more relevant?

Next weekend I’ll be taking my family to Montreal’s inaugural Mini Maker Faire. Having followed some of the activities at the flagship Maker Faires, I am beyond pumped to go. Labelled as a “festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness,” I can only imagine the range of ideas — from crafts to Arduino-controlled machines — individuals catering to their imaginations and simply creating for creation’s sake.

For a long while, music was fun, an exploration. But somewhere along the way it became a one-dimensional business that lost its naïveté. I long for those carefree days, but know it will never be 1998 again. In our current tech-drenched world, storytelling and expression exist in a multiverse. And as music continues to evolve, I can rest easy knowing that there is a place where I can continue to to the same.

Upcoming Canadian Faires:

Montreal Mini Maker Faire (Parc Olympique): August 25 & 26, 2012

Calgary Mini Maker Faire (East Village Riverwalk): September 8, 2012

Ottawa Mini Maker Faire (Shopify Lounge): October 13 & 14, 2012

This post also appears on the Huffington Post.

Live by the Google, Die by the Google

I had an idea for a short story wherein the main character’s life is dictated by products and services provided by Google. It was set in a near future where self-driving cars dominate the roads, and one’s home and social lives, commute and workplace are completely regulated by computers. Every decision my character made would be run through a customised, personality-based algorithm that, in my fictitious society, is a mandatory download for every citizen at a certain age.

I started writing this story: I began to imagine an individual’s otherwise lonely existence lovingly devoted to Google. I wrote one paragraph and then stopped. It was already too pedestrian, too easy. The present day obviates an explicit description of such an existence. When I read about Google Now — the automated personal assistant you never knew you needed — I realised that we have practically arrived at my vision of the near-future.

We have given less responsibility to machines or little robots that physically complete tasks (as imagined back in the 80’s), but have placed a great amount of faith in apps and programs that make simple, everyday deductions for us: cooking instructions, directions, suggested news to read and media to consume, shopping recommendations and other monetary deals, who to be friends with, who is interesting enough to creep, and the people and things the AI believes you should generally avoid.

I recently purchased Google’s Nexus 7 tablet and, without going all fangirl by producing an overly eager “unboxing” video, I really adore having the Nexus 7 around. It wasn’t a decision I took lightly. After careful research and an increasing skepticism of the Steve Job-less direction Apple is taking, I decided to go fully Google. I believe in the Google, in a company that admits its mistakes and that tries not to be evil. Like Microsoft before it, Google welcomes ideas and criticism, invites its users to develop, hack and reprogram the products they use. Apple, on the other hand, is a very exclusive club. A tight, insular and proprietary collection of well-branded hardware and software. But to what end? Apple rules the roost with dedicated customers who will unquestionably buy every new increment of their products not because of actual practicality, but because of incredible marketing.

I think, like Facebook, Apple has peaked. As I type this on my MacBook Pro — the “entry-level” model from a few years ago, on a computer that is powerful enough to record, edit and multitrack an entire album or batch process hundreds of images at a time — I wonder why I need such a powerful machine? I have probably only ever demanded 5% of the computer’s processing capabilities at one time. It’s an expensive typewriter, just like an iPhone is a rather pricey telephone (unless you lock into some telecoms contract, which is an other story altogether).

What is the function of all this gadgetry? What is essential and what is superfluous? In newly acquiring the fully Google tablet, I’m hoping that downgrading computers — that is, paying for the processing power that I actually need — my life will be simplified. My data can float in a cloud or remotely on a memory stick, wherever I choose. And although I admittedly give preference to Google services, I still feel a certain freedom, that I have not over-committed to Google, that my data can be liberated at any time, that I did not compromise financially, and that when the world falls apart, I’ll not have lost track of who I am.

So what of my short story? I probably should have written it earlier. For now, it seems, I’m destined to just live it.

This story also appears at huffingtonpost.ca.