Your Life is a Contest

I am so into the Automotive X Prize. If you haven’t heard of it, the X-ers manage a foundation that awards multi-million dollar prizes to anyone who can successfully complete their challenges. The automotive prize goes to the first team to build a super efficient, clean and affordable car. The website lists an intriguing quote by Lester Brown: “Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it does not allow the market to tell the ecological truth.”

Could a prize-based economy redefine the American Dream? The average person’s career is now likely to be a contest, and you have a better chance of winning something than hustling for it. Want to be a musician? Americna Idol. Want to dance? Dancing with the Stars. Interested in cooking? Top Chef. Be an astronaut? X Prize (or Richard Branson is your BFF). Own a restaurant? Hell’s Kitchen. Travel the world? Amazing Race. Learn how to manipulate your friends? Survivor. Learn how to manipulate yourself? Fear Factor. They are game shows gone awry…extending beyond a fantasic half-hour and defining our very existence.

But not that it’s a bad thing at all, since classic corporate structure is broken completely. Reseach and development has barely any meaning. A scientist can’t be an artist because most research is privately funded with marketing goals and target audiences in mind (especially in medicine….its sickitating). The major label music industry is run by deaf dinosaurs, so an artist can barely be an artist for the same reasons. And then you hear about the notion that US car companies have had the patents for the electric car for decades but squashed them because they would devalue the US market’s dependence on oil. Conspiracy? Maybe not so much…

It’s a little mind blowing how elite ecological living is. It doesn’t make any sense at all, but you have to be rich to live “off the grid.” It’s the old adage: “You have to spend money to make money,” well apparently you also have to spend money to save money (and the world, incedentally). I would love to line our roof with solar panels, and ditch the regular car for a hybrid, but that shit is expensive, yo!

And holy frig do Americans have A LOT of disposable income (that they generally spend on themselves, not their fellow man because that’s the American way). The disparity is amazing: there are so many really poor people in the US, working for minimun wage and basically keeping the country’s infrastructure running, while there’s also a really big population of people who literally have money to burn. I was watching one of these shows where they follow some American family’s home renovations, and this one family — who were not, like, really rich but just kind of rich — must have spent $50,000 redoing their basement into a bar/rec room. And it was ugly and selfish when it was done. So bring this idea back to the X Prize, and how easy it would be to raise a 10 million dollar purse, and the potential it lends to the future?

I guess we just have to hope that the humanity the X-Prize trustees are working towards helping isn’t an exclusive humanity. Yes, that’s right, that’s how much faith I have in my fellow man. I suppose if I could believe for a second that other people lived selflessly and for the greater good then I wouldn’t be such a cynic. Sadly my life has intersected with many people who clearly loved money most of all, and who had forgotten about Love itself.

Snow Day

It was snowing so much today that I was tempted to blame my lack of blog on it: “Um…yes, it was too snowy to blog. Sorry.” And I almost didn’t even blog about not blogging, but here I am. This morning I woke up to a thick layer of fluffy snow, so I bundled Neptune up in her hand-me-down snowsuit. She looked really cute, and when we got outside she could barely walk because with each step her whole leg would sink all the way into snow. She got tired pretty fast. I made a snow angel at which she was really, terribly unimpressed. She said: “Pussycat?” so we went over and rescued this scary, life-sized cat candle one of the Greek neighbours gave her (pictured in the header above). Then she ate a bunch of show and wanted to go inside.

Now it’s evening and it’s been snowing all day. Murray shoveled the steps earlier and already they’re covered in four more inches of the stuff. I feel like hiding under a hundred blankets. During Neptune’s nap I ate a lot of cookies and drank milk while playing Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, to which I have become truly addicted. Anyhow, I’ve taken a break to blog about it. Don’t we all feel lucky?

It’s a Friggin’ Snowstorm!

Having a baby makes you sleep a bit lighter, sleep with one ear open for one cough too many, or for that “for serious” crying out. So this morning, while Neptune was still asleep, my slumbers were stirred by the prickly sound of tiny ice pellets against the bedroom window. I opened the curtain to an intense snowfall. The cedars in the front all weighted down and saggy, and I don’t know if the acacia tree my mom brought from her garden last year is going to make it…the branches keep snapping off. We can’t bully the forces of nature, I guess.

This could be dangerous weather; this could transform into some kind of mini-ice storm overnight. Over the past few weeks, around when I bought firewood for the season, I felt pangs of survivalism, a hanging desire for emergency preparedness. I went to the Government of Canada’s getprepared.ca (does that mean I’m cynical?). I think we already have all the stuff they recommended so I didn’t feel so bad. I was a bit weirded out by the idea of making the emergency kit ready to go. Evacuation seems really extreme but…tap tap tap…knock on wood, you never know. The notion of a 72-hour survival kit hurries my desire to move to the country.

Yesterday, It Snowed

It was the kind of snow that’s very round, like lightweight fertiliser pellets, but that just blows away and is gone forever. I always curse the first signs of winter; though here in Montreal there is only one sign: snow. It dictates the beginning and end of each season. Autumn ends when snow falls; Spring starts when it melts away. So officially winter started yesterday. Suddenly my coat didn’t feel thick enough, I needed a real sweather, and maybe some real gloves. Anyhow, it’s the beginning of the end, time to hole up, get some new video games. Murray might get an XBox 360; I might get the new Zelda for DS. Time to get cozy.

The Environment

I try to be environmentally conscious. Really, I do. When we moved and had to buy appliances, we bought all of the most enegry efficient ones we could afford. We put in flourescent bulbs in almost every room, and installed all new programmable thermostats to keep our energy usage down. We updated our windows and now our house is somewhat of a sealed tomb against the elements. If we could afford to put solar panels on the roof, trust me, we would have done that already too.

On a smaller scale, we get most of our fruit and veg at the Jean-Talon market, buying local whenever we can. We use cloth shopping bags, or opt to not take a bag at all. Of course there are a million other things we do, or could be doing (next year we plan to grow our own veg in the backyard), but some efforts will just have to wait until we move out to our hobby farm/off the grid compound in the mountains (aahhh, dreams).

Anyhow, this whole train of thought started as I was loading the dishwasher (Energy Star rated) and remembered my recent stint with eco-friendly dishwasher detergent. Basically, if you have a kid, then you will instantly recognise the necessity of having a dishwasher. You don’t know how many pre-dishwasher hours I’ve spent sterilising Neptune’s baby bottles and cups in pots of boiling water, when now I just toss them in with a load of dishes. SO…that eco-friendly detergent? It was basically useless. I don’t prescribe to the “wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher” method…it wastes tons of water and defeats the purpose of a DISHWASHER. Just get the big bits of food off and that’s it, in the dishwasher. But the eco-friendly stuff demanded a severe pre-wash of the dishes and I had to ask myself which is worse: using double the amount of hot water or dumping trace amounts of phosphates (we use Cascade, which has 4.5%: 2.2% being considered “phoshate free,” 18% being the most damaging, according to the Gazette) into the water stream? The debate is prominent.

My paranoia escalates as I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which talks about the industrialisation of food. Already I look at corn differently. We don’t eat processed foods as a general rule (when we’re on tour, we are forced to eat truck-stop crap all the time so when we’re home Murray cooks), we’re vegetarian, and as I mentioned try to eat local produce (even organic foods aren’t as eco-conscious as we think). My friends Bryan and Lis who recommended the book said it would make us bigger food snobs, and they were right! What a true dilemma. My first slip back towards the bottom of the pit happened with coffee beans: social responsibility twarted by flavour.

What happened to the real life notion of the earth as a living organism? Now it’s every person for themselves. Universal misanthrophy is impossible: the earth and its people need each other. Sadly, money and capitalism has obscured our purpose here; it has, in fact, replaced it. North American society has forgone the agrarian ecosystem for success and progress. We are so lost. We would rather drive to Wal-Mart than walk to the General Store, but we’re not even sure why. It’s just been created that way for us. Dependence on petrol has usurped how much an individual is allowed to control their own life.

Oh, wow, this is turning in to one of those beastly posts with a million tangents waiting in the wings. To be continued when I finish reading my book…

Cold

Earlier this week there was a hail storm. Thunder and lightning struck simlutaneously, and then the fire trucks could be heard pulling out of the station. The weather has been strange: grey and cloudy then a moment later, bright blue and sunny. And last night it was cold. I stepped outside to place some recyclables in the green bin, and the air tasted of it. That dry metallic, wintery taste, letting me know that Montreal’s short summer is nearly over. I imagined the countdown to heavy snow, which is usually early November, though we’ve had snowy Hallow’eens before. I reviewed my wardrobe and realised the frustration of living a season at home (versus a season on tour). At home I just want comfortable, glorified pyjamas. On tour I have to wear real clothes from the moment I get up. Do I have a winter coat? Oh, yes I have that one from H&M…but will it get me through a Montreal winter? I will have to get a cashmere, cardigan sweater…or better yet, a black, cashmere vest. It’s the piece I’ve been missing. It’s time for a trip to NYC and a visit to Uniqlo. But who makes a cardigan, sweater vest? I always know so specifically what piece of clothing I need, and never find it. Then I give up and move on and two years later they are everywhere. Like I predicted the vest on girls making a comeback. Amanda and I fantasized about our clothing line, “Vest by Vest,” on tour years ago. Anyhow, it’s all just speculation, the weather, fashion, life…

The Frigging Oil Drum, RIP

When we moved into our house two years ago, it was kind of like walking into a scene from Silent Hill. Dumpsville; gross yellowing blinds on all the windows, drawn of course; back deck closed in with translucent plastic, everything once glorious but now tattered and dark. Anyway, the old lady we got it from took her crap and we ripped out all the seamy bits and voila! Beautiful, Victorian house. Anyway, there was a lot of junk let behind, including this oil drum (you can see some of the tattered plastic in the background):

oildrum.jpg

So this piece of garbage has been sitting in our backyard forever. We’ve tried to ditch it several times, 1-800-GOT-JUNK wouldn’t take it and a scrap dude wouldn’t take it. So I called the city, and they told me to leave it out on Wednesday night and they would pick it up Thursday. We got back home and some sketchy dude was like: “C’est des viandages, ca?” and I was like: “OUI!” and he took it. But before he took it he decided to dump the contents onto the sidewalk. Now its a frigging oil drum and the reason nobody would take it was because there was a tiny bit of oil in the bottom. So this ding dong is dumping the shit on our sidewalk and we’re like: “Isn’t that oil?” and he’s like: “No, I think it’s wine,” and he takes the drum and leaves. F*cking liar, it was so obviously gas.

Like an hour later it stinks like oil and I go look and our sidewalk is basically covered with gasoline. I was pissed. I cursed that guy out like crazy and busted out the hose and pulled a classic Park-Ex and started watering the sidewalk. There are so many kids that play in the laneway and not to mention Neptune so I was so burnt that that guy was so irresponsible. He couldn’t just pour it into the gutter, that would have been 1) too easy for everyone, and 2) too logical. So I am out there watering the sidewalk forever. I feel like I’m trying to save some ducks from an oil spill, I have to get gloves and pull a bunch of plants because they hold the oil. At one point Murray comes out and is like: “Its supposed to rain,” and I realise I’ve totally gotten OCD about the whole thing. Like any tiny rainbow-slick spot needed to be blasted for at least 30 seconds with water; and every tiny pebble had to go. OK. So I left it and came inside but this is not over…

Home Weather Station

I went for a haircut today. I meant to take before and after pics but remembered while the assistant was washing my hair. For about seven years I’ve only trusted my hair to Trent, because in addition to the fantastic job he always does, we don’t talk about the weather…except for in the rare event of extreme conditions. But yesterday the woman in the chair next to me was talking at length with her haircuttist about weather. They talked about the Weather Network and compared the five-day forecasts they had both memorised. Its suppose to rain, or be cloudy all weekend, or cool down, or be sunny. So it got me to thinking: why are we totally obsessed with the weather? I guess it affects everybody’s life, everyday in the exact same way. No matter how crap things could be going, at least we can credit our lives with the unifying experience of the city’s weather patterns.

So then why don’t we get more almanac on it? Like get into air pressure and storm fronts and actually learn what the giant cross-country dotted lines with moving Hs and Ls in red and blue mean. Why don’t we all track the relative humidity and make our own predictions for the next few days? There shouldn’t be a Gideon Bible in hotel bedside tables but a copy of the Farmer’s Almanac. That way we would be truly prepared for natural disasters.

In a rambling fashion, this brings me to my Christmas present from Murray. We both got each other half-assed gifts last Christmas: I got him the Jay-Z album and an olive wood spatula. He got me a home weather station. I was hoping for a lifetime of massage and spa gift certificate, so I was totally perplexed by this one. I mean, I do like (or have a slightly above normal obsession with) the weather and have Environment Canada in my Toolbar Favourites, but I still know very little about how it works. So until just recently the home weather station stayed in its box. But upon closer reading of the instruction manual I started to get totally into it. I can learn what air pressure does and which way the wind is blowing outside my house instead of from measurements taken at the aeroport. It even makes predictions for the next 24 hours! I can get truly personal weather. In your face Environment Canada.

I guess the fundamental interest in weather is a residual from an agriculture-based lifestyle, where the planting season was more important then the this season’s Lost finale. We just have to slowly evolve our way out of caring. But for now I will learn about how clouds feel and be able to always dress appropriately.

Thursday in the Garden

I have taken on an adversary larger than myself. It looks unassuming now, a short, yellow cornflower-like weed. A fluffy line of them, cute against the stone of the house. But its been growing unchecked for years now. Its growing underneath rocks, hugging the foundation, hiding in the armpits of other plants. I don’t even know its name, but it is shameless. In a few weeks it will sprout with tiny leaves, which will grow and grow into 4-inch, pubescent webbed leaves. It will then spend the summer growing and growing into an undefined, front-garden’s worth of boring leaves. My baby cedar trees standing over it, rolling their eyes and how lame their feet look. So when the lovely weather kicked in on Thursday, after our ridiculous, post-Easter snowstorm (sooo Montreal), I tackled it. I thought about buying a hand tiller (I thought the spiky wheels would eat through the roots like a carnivore), but, as any good vegetarian would, decided to try first with the following tools: pitchfork, hand rake, gardening trowel, hand claw thing and work gloves. Unfortunately for me, I was the most useful tool, alongside work of a back-breaking calibre. Two words describe the menace: tap roots. An unrelenting underground network of soft, thin arteries, linked to other plants, the next clump of flowers, woven into the soil by tiny veins, adored by worms. I must have chopped a dozen worms in half while hacking at uprooted clumps to shake off the soil. But cut worms just grow back into two new worms, (right?) so I was doing everyone a favour. After an hour of investigative extractions, they appeared to be all gone. I’ll give it a few days and see what’s left, wether or not they stay down or try to make a comeback. We will see wether or not more drastic measures are required. For now my garden is a block of overturned dirt, three little cedar trees and a handful of struggling crocuses.