Why Don’t You Vote? An Essay For The #CCL Generation

Maybe I was a bigger nerd than most, but when I turned 18, I was really excited to finally be able to vote. As a teen in Toronto, I went down to the polling stations at the Polish church on Bloor St W, or to the Keele Community Centre, and always voted. Even if I barely knew what I was voting for, I knew it was my duty as a citizen, as a Canadian, to give at least the smallest toss about politics. I also began doing my taxes, which I looked forward to. At the time I liked filling out forms. Today, not so much.

As citizens of the “free world” — North Americans, at least — we have a great power bestowed upon us: the right to vote. Yet this basic right is often taken for granted. Understandably, enacting one’s support for politicians can be frustrating, but fundamentally they are chosen by us to manage our tax dollars. And listen up: you pay taxes. Even if several years delinquent on your income taxes (unlike 18-year-old me), everything you buy has a range of taxes and tariffs included in the price you are paying. Essentially if you don’t vote it’s because you couldn’t care less about, well, anything. You might as well become a feral anarchist. Goodbye. Have fun living alone in the forest. WITH NO INTERNETS (which, incidentally, is taxable).

While some may swirl away in these #YOLO daydreams, a harsh reality reveals itself: Canada has a voter turnout problem. Historically, Canada has an approximate average turnout of 74 %, ranking it 30th among democratic countries worldwide (the highest being Malta at 94 %). In our last federal election turnout was a paltry 61.1 %. No wonder PM Harper is still in there. Canadians couldn’t care less.

When I gather this sentiment from peers and friends — young people, artists, musicians, thinkers — that they didn’t vote, I am endlessly frustrated. What is preventing people from voting? “All the candidates are losers,” they say, or: “I spoiled my ballot,” which at least is closer to the mark than not voting at all.

Having lived in Montreal for nearly two decades, my biggest moment of “Rage Against Apathy” came after the last provincial election — hot on the heels of the Maple Spring, when Montreal’s student and young adult population took to the streets to protest tuition increases. The generally peaceful protests cast a larger shadow, vocalising a general discontent with governmental ways. But the real frustration set in when, after walking the streets of my neighbourhood, talking with protesters, ruining cookware, and listening to their voices THAT MANY OF THESE PEOPLE STILL DID NOT VOTE.

Were the protesters faking it? I lost a little respect for the “red squares” because few stood behind the cause. People cared enough to march around for hours but could not care enough to march for 10 minutes to the polling station around the corner. Granted, overall voter turnout for the post-Casseroles election did increase: youth aged 18 to 35 turned out at an average rate of about 64 % in the 2012 provincial election, compared to about 42 % in the 2008 elections. Overall turnout in 2012 stalled at 74.6%.

The moment Pauline Marois pinned that little felt square onto her lapel, everyone’s hearts melted and suddenly young people thought that she cared. The PQ put a Band-aid on the problem by shutting down the hikes. Which, ironically, would be meaningless in an “independent” Quebec — university tuitions would increase drastically should federal transfer payments to Quebec be discontinued. But I digress.

All this, taken together, is the irony of politics. At the end of the day politics is just business and asset management. The frenzied actions of politicos asserting their salaried positions in office. It’s plain to see how this stuff can appear totally boring to young people. Politicians have been suitably branded as “uncool” and therefore not worth it. Blame PM Harper’s normcore hairstyle and his World’s Most Boring News Capsule, 24 Seven. Or that Quebec’s Liberal leader Philippe Couillard reeks of “dad” and PQ’s Pauline Marois is a snore (except in GIF form). And the other two? Bandwagoners.

I decided to call someone who cares. Alison Maynard is part of the Vote It Up campaign, created by the Quebec Community Groups Network (QCGN) in association with Quebec’s Chief Electoral Office. Vote It Up is a non-partisan organisation aimed at the specific demographic of 18-35 year old Anglophones in the upcoming provincial election. I asked Alison why young people aren’t voting:

“Accessibility and motivation are the top two reasons why youth are less likely to vote. Generally there is a lack of motivation, in that youth don’t see a significant difference between political parties, and don’t have an enjoyable experience throughout the process of voting.

“According to Elections Canada, youth are more likely to vote when they are contacted directly by a political party. If there is low voter turn-out by youth, political parties are not reaching out enough to this demographic. For the first time, polling stations will be setup in educational institutions across the province, which will hopefully increase youth voter turn-out.”

In an attempt to remedy this, Vote It Up is running a comprehensive social media campaign, as well as offering a rundown of each major party’s platform. The info has been distilled down by issue and is useful even for old farts like myself to get a sense of what each party is on about.

Why the focus on young Anglophones? Alison continues: “English-speaking Quebec is a diverse, confident, recognized and respected national linguistic minority that actively participates in and contributes to the social, economic, cultural and political life of Quebec and Canadian society. English-speaking youth represent 15% of the total youth in Quebec, while the total population of youth (both Francophone and Anglophone) is 2 million, representing 25% of the population of Quebec.”

At the end of the day, electioneering, like the Radiohead song, is a wailing, cowbell-driven, hot mess that often feels as though it is going nowhere. But we can’t leave it at that. We have to own it, own our roles as citizens of Quebec, no matter how “meh” or “un-cool” it may seem. The Casseroles ignited a spark in Montreal’s youth, we have to find a way to keep that burning. Did the Quebec Charter of Values smother or fan that flame? I suppose that on April 7, Quebec will find out.

This blog also appeared on The Huffington Post Canada

Apathy vs. Rage: Thoughts for a New Year

Maybe it’s winter, blame Canada, point the finger at the polar vortex: 2014’s malaise has kicked in fast and hard. As I curse the cold, fumbling at child seat buckles with numb fingers, I observe a behavioural trend from within. Something that totters between frustration and rage, these are ugly demons that must be dealt with promptly.

Over the holidays all work stops and my gaze was locked in on the Internet. It was too much. I lost my way, irritated by BuzzFeed‘s jaw-dropping mind-blowing bucket-listing posts, or maddened by the confused philosophies of Jezebel (which I think, like Gawker, is too cynical to keep reading…that bookmark is getting deleted riiiiight…now! *click*). Let’s not mention Facebook. The sad, window into the lost souls of the 21st century. You, FB, are also getting downgraded. *sound of apps being deleted from all devices*

I am optimistic about the future, and despite the paragraph above I am generally a glass half full person. But the unsettled vibes echoing throughout my body straight up suck. Or is it that at all? Is it, simply, the world: the unfairness, inequalities, the music biz, the brutal mirrors…

As mothers, the future bears down on us in an inexplicable way. The weight of the world is heavier than, well, before we were mothers. Lately, overwrought news items about how Stephen Harper is burning books and dismantling the health care system are not sitting well. I wake up with my teeth clenched. I remind myself these are editorials, or in the words of Todd Flanders: “Is your source on this reliable?” Where is everything headed? What about the country, the citizens of the world, global warming, food crises, money, life, death, all these things…

Well? What about them?

Somewhere in this brief yet wandering post I’ve found my resolve. The impetus for 2014: a middle-ground between hashtagging everything #CCL and hot, complaining rants. I must respect the world, love everyone and especially myself. To not resent things beyond my control and to remember what it means to be alive — how organic and fragile that is. It is perspective, simply: life is so simple and oftentimes it seems everything out there aims to knock you off your feet, to cause you to lose balance.

My inspiration, visually, is BigDog. He gets kicked and shoved around by thin pale robotics engineers ALL THE TIME and still he keeps prancing along. Moving forward. Like BigDog I will learn to trust my inner algorithm.

Matrix Mixtape: An Antithetical Shout Out

Consider picking up a copy of the Winter 2011 edition of Matrix Magazine. A literary mag out of Montreal, this issue was guest edited by Rob Benvie. It includes a piece that I wrote called #DeathToWisdom, which I would describe as a danse macabre with cloud computing. I’ll eventually put it up on the Scribd, but for now will allow the print issue some shelf life.

I would also include a link to the magazine website, but it has been down for weeks. I shall restrain myself from making any editorial comment on this matter.

Lucky Number 13! Also inside: Litpop Winners!

Backyard Projects: Outdoor Sink (Part 2)

Read part 1 here.

This morning I said to myself: “Natalia, you should blog.” And since the weather is rapidly descending into Autumn — and before we Montrealers know it, Winter — I figured I’d better get this summer-themed post happening. Anyhow, back to finishing my potting nook:

First I laid out the wood:

Then flipped it over to create the frame/rigidity:

Murray and I notched out the wood to fit the sink and accommodate the HydroQuebec tubing that leads to the meter. At this point, my daughter thought this construction was the window to some mythical clubhouse I’d built her:

The next big step was the plumbing. It was blazing hot outside and wearing shorts while soldering in a tight space, I later discovered, was a bad idea. I must have burned myself around six times with dripping molten solder. Still determined to “freecycle” all my materials, I limited myself to the valves and pieces around the house. At times during the plumbing step, I felt like I was a contestant on Canada’s Worst Handyman. It was laughable. The final product, however, boasts no leaky connections! TA-BLAOW!

Add legs and here she be! Drainage, at the moment, is into a “grey water” bucket that I use to water the garden. We wash vegetables out here when we’re cooking outside. In addition to planting and potting, and this area has been super useful to keep the kid’s hands clean when mucking about before dinner!

The end.

The Diana+ Camera-Birdhouse: How?

Well, the “HOW” part is hardly something to brag about. I’m not gonna lie: this wasn’t a pretty build. When I got the plastic analogue camera, I couldn’t believe I had to, essentially, destroy it: it was so simple and pretty and nice to hold. I thought how it’d be a great camera on which my daughter could learn about photography, film and light (I know, how archaic!). But the idea of finding 110 120 film and paying for processing convinced me otherwise. So trying to think of a design, I was inspired by some scraps of 100-year-old bard wood in our garage. I would build a birdhouse around the camera.

I first imagined a proper house, with a removable bottom for access to the camera….like so you could actually take pictures remotely of, possibly, birds. But then I realised the wood is very thick, prone to splitting when it is cut into small pieces, and basically an overall temperamental medium. So, to plan B: a single-panel sloped roof design. This was more easily executed, since some of the wood pieces already had a 45° cut on one end. Murray suggested we use softer and thinner pine pieces (of which we also had scraps in the garage) for the front. A great idea, since it allowed us to fit the Diana’s lens right through to the other side — with the help of this nasty-looking drill attachment (which certainly has a proper name, of which I am not aware).

A ton of cursing, a jug of wood glue and some blue paint later, it was done! Read more about the gallery showing and the more technical promo info at my post for The Dears. Also, as a valued reader of my blog, I’m extending to any of you the possibility of attending the gallery opening in Toronto on Thursday, September 8th. Email me at natalia.scifi (at) gmail.com and I will send the info to you so you can RSVP and attend the opening party!

Nobody is Safe: I WILL Go There.

If you haven’t already I strongly recommend you check out my interview with Midnight Poutine. It is an eye-opening take on the modern-day music industry, “indie” culture and other forms of depravity. Let’s talk about it when you’re interviewing me! I accept the challenge. It’s really long so you can put it on your personal MP3 listening device and listen to it on the way home from work.

Midnight Poutine vs. Natalia Yanchak (The Dears) (direct link to MP3)

Also you can watch us on the Late Show with David Letterman this Friday Feb 11th on CBS. We do a rousing rendition of BLOOD with Paul Shaffer + the Late Night Band horn section. Badass.


While you read this, you should be downloading and listening to BLOOD from our new album. It is free. Click there. Harpsichord solo, grunge guitars, punishing bass (that your computer speakers can’t handle).

I had a bunch of stuff to say earlier on, typed everything out, then decided it was not fit to print. Total baloney. Anyhow, you should still listen to the song and think about these cool things happening right now:

1. Indie Rock Coloring book on sale from YBP today (Tuesday) only. Or buy something else tomorrow.

2. You and your kids should Dare to Drum this weekend. A family charity event happening all across Canada to help raise money for the Steven Lewis Foundation. Also watch the promo vid where Chris Murphy acts like a goofball because that’s what he does best!

3. In Montreal: STARS this Saturday at Metropolis. Duh.

4. Now: Vote for the Pablove Shutterbugs program that helps kids with cancer express themselves through photography.

Have fun. No matter which path you choose.

Portrait of Us

Check this painting/portrait of Murray and myself that was part of a recent series by Quebec City paintress Caroline Jean. She also did one of The Dears’ Patrick Krief and Maia Davies of Ladies of the Canyon (who are, incidentally, opening our Wednesday Oct 13th residency show in Toronto).

Shout out to Mrs. Bartle

Generally I don’t enjoy listening to myself sing or play live. I don’t know what it is, but it reinforces any pre-existing deficit in confidence. Check the version of Crisis 1&2 The Dears recorded for a Daytrotter session. I hope we get to do another one in the future, because that was fun.

At any rate, I noticed a couple moments where my vocal performance was *ahem* not exactly pitch-perfect, when a memory came to me: of my grade school music teacher, Mrs. Bartle, and the hand gestures she would use as a conductor to denote our pitchiness. Like a musical umpire, she would hold her hand close to her chest with a finger pointing upwards if we (the altos, I was forever an alto in choirs) were sharp, and tug on her ear if we were flat. Thinking back to the music program at my elementary school in Toronto, I am super grateful and fortunate to have had such a passionate and knowledgeable teacher. In my fuzzy memory, I recall Mrs. Bartle looking like some combination of own mom (because of their trendy 80’s hair style) and Margaret Thatcher (because of her British-ness) and how Mrs. Bartle, appropriately, took no bullshit. She wasn’t the nice teacher at school, but she kept us in line and as a result, we learned a lot about music before the age of 10.

My daughter started kindergarten this year, and I worry about her school’s lacklustre music program: the meek music teacher, and the fact that the school doesn’t even have a dedicated music room or offer instruments other than recorders. At Howard, we had a second teacher, Mr Tacconia (sp.?), who came in once a week for extra-curricular band class. Thinking back to my school daze, much of my early learning was steeped in music and now, suddenly, I am concerned for my own daughter’s musical education. Perfecting her “rock face” has already been established, we just need to get the music in her.

Or maybe it is there already, intuitively. Music definitely makes learning more fun, and I think it made school more interesting for me. Music and arts are always a school’s lowest priority and the first to go when cuts happen. Let’s not forget to support charities that bring music programs and instruments into schools across Canada. ALSO: mad props to music teachers and school volunteers EVERYWHERE.

Coalition for Music Education in Canada: http://www.weallneedmusic.com/
CARAS’ MusiCounts: http://www.musicounts.ca/

Check me out on the flute! Mr. T rulez! Although, I was very bummed that I got the flute when my first choice was the TRUMPET. Neptune, however, will get but a lame-ass recorder and certainly no flammable polyester blazer. #publiceducationfail

Arrested Development

A recent Arrested Development marathon around these parts has left a surprising impression on me. Murray wrapped watching the whole series last week, yet I am still thinking about it. Pure comedy, unbridled idiocy, total genius.

I know Michael Cera has had a major resurgence for his recent role in Scott Pilgrim (Side note: Check out this photoshop competition – scroll down to the comments for maximum laffs. I love that shit. And, also, he was born and raised in Canada, so all Canadians everywhere will forever claim him as one of “Ours.” *sigh*

But I will mainly remember Mr. Cera for this:

As it was intended, I’m sure. Anyway, the whole point of this post was because my new love for Arrested Development reminded me of this time backstage at the Siren Festival in Coney Island. I don’t think it was the year we were playing, but we were hanging out with soms palz, including Stacey M. when we also saw David Cross, who very graciously joined us for this:

At the time we were in love with him for his brilliant comedy tape, Shut Up You Fucking Baby, which we listened to dozens of times on tour. Thanks to Rob Benvie for sharing that joint with us, for we still, to this day refer to “The Gator and The Lunatic” in most of our music industry-related conversations.

Thank you, everybody, for the jokes. That is all.