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.

How I Became a Katy Perry Sympathizer

Currently making the rounds on Facebook is this parenting blog post about our responsibility to teach kids about “good music.” Or, as the title states: “How to Talk to Your Kids About Their Shitty Taste in Music.” It’s a weakly argued call to arms in reaction to the whole VMA/Miley Cyrus twerking debacle.

What a load of hipster-douchebag crap. My retort: How on earth did your kids get exposed to this “shitty” music in the first place? Pro tip: don’t leave your kids in front of Disney XD all day, or they will think music is meant to be overly synthesized, un-artistic pop.

I’ll admit, pop music is heavily marketed to our young people. Whether you realise it or not, a lot of money is spent on product awareness — that’s the music biz. What is on the album takes back seat to the mysticism or hype built on what you think is going to be on the album. You already know what to think and feel, before hearing a note. That is marketing.

If done well, the potential audience will be worked into a frenzy. So let’s get accountable for our actions: instead of pointless, complain-ey blog posts, why not get our mom-and-dad brains into the game? The question should be: Are your kids getting caught up in marketing? Do they know what marketing is? Do you know what marketing is? Do you understand the intersection of marketing and the arts?

Few people, including most people who work in the music biz, care to understand this concept. They willfully ignore it, and gleefully get caught up in it. And, so, our kids follow suit. New Arcade Fire anyone? Gawd, white people — adults, even — are SO PUMPED about their new album. It’s exhausting.

So when my 8-year-old daughter decides her favourite singer is Katy Perry, what do I do? Is Ms. Perry a suitable role model, considering the mainstream options? Is anybody? Or is this an opportunity to impose my jaded, post-feminist, post-indie rock opinion?

In my mind, my daughter must make her own decisions. If I listened to my parents, I would only like Kenny Rogers and 80’s Tina Turner. Our kids must create themselves for themselves. Our job is to give them a loose set of rules, parameters inside which to make good and positive decisions. When my kid asks to listen to “the radio” in the car — which inevitably means Top 40 dance pop stuff — I abide. We listen. I tell her to listen for the sidechain compression, the auto-tuned vocals, the recurring use of beats and fills, arrangement structures that are copied form song to song. I want her to listen with her brain, unhindered by any marketing message.

Point being, life is a perpetual learning experience to be enjoyed. This is the main lesson I teach my children, and happens to be my prime directive. Most music, yes, is shit. Katy Perry balances on the razor’s edge of being a mega-YOLO-slut (ever listen to the lyrics to “Last Friday Night“?) and being a young, powerful, inspiring woman with an incredible voice. RAZOR’S EDGE, PEOPLE.

So sure, we’ll watch the “Roar” video on YouTube together. We did that with “Gangnam Style,” too. Trendy music will ebb and flow, but it’s those times when we’re walking home from school and my daughter is humming “Ring My Bell” by Blood Sisters that I feel a tinge of redemption.

This entry also appears on HuffingtonPost.ca

On Feminism.

* logs in, dusts off blog *

Woah. This is still here? And it’s still on?

After my longest break from blogging I am happy to return with a classic “explaining myself, mostly to myself” post. While I’ve had many ideas for posts, the one-two punch of motherhood and new role of label manager prevents me from actually getting anything down. Not to mention the speculative fiction novel — whose progress has come to a complete and grinding halt. 😦

So what brings me back? Grade three has begun for one kid, and a Tempra-induced teething nap consumes the other. Topically, a raging Facebook exchange with some of my dearest friends begs further thought/explanation:

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The discussion continues. Every time I log in, more comments. More discussion. Which is great: it makes Facebook temporarily feel useful.

In my opinion, the topic is definitely one to be contested: feminism, like any system of beliefs, must be incremental. Labels and the labelling of oneself is purely a matter of personal choice. If I choose not to identify myself as a feminist, what does that mean? Does it mean I don’t believe in women? That however or wherever you were born you do not deserve to be treated with fairness and respect? To come to that conclusion is closed minded.

I believe in equality. This, I will stand atop a mountain and proclaim loudly. I will stomp on those who think any person is better than any other person based on which category they belong to. Fuck you if you think your “haters gonna hate” is better than my “haters gonna hate” attitude. That’s the point: to identify with any establishment immediately makes one part of the problem. In this classic Noisey/Vice article (classic in that it takes the stance of “If you’re not with us then you’re against us”), the author suggests the following:

“We get so mad when some nitwit says she’s not a feminist. I guess if you’re cool with being raped all the time and having no options in life other than being a baby machine or a prostitute, then yeah, you’re probably not a feminist. But if you enjoy birth-control pills and not being beaten up by your owner—I mean, husband—then you pretty much are one so you may as well stop shaving your legs right now. Just kidding.”

Heh…I like the Just kidding at the end. That’s cute. But putting this in less extreme terms, as an independent, strong woman it is “correct” to be a feminist and “incorrect” to identify oneself otherwise. Any opposing stance is heresy. I must therefore be a witch. Burn me at the stake. Woman-on-woman crime (a.k.a. catfight).

Contrary to what you have just read, I am a woman. Hopefully a positive influence to other women, especially my daughter. Early in my rock-band career (in the 90’s) my role in The Dears was scoffed at. I was often deemed an unnecessary accessory in The Dears: women shouldn’t be in bands, keyboards do not belong in rock. I was (and still am) constantly talked to condescendingly by sound guys about how to plug things in. It’s getting better, but it’s still lame. I am asked on a weekly basis — mostly by other women — why my hair is grey. If I doubted my self for a second, my hair would not be grey. I give a shit about how I look, but I don’t care to “fall in line” with the false ideal of what a woman should be. It’s one of my little protests. The natural you, male or female, is the best you. It’s not a feminist thought. It’s a human one.

And yet, people fear that which they do not understand, that which does not conform. It is human nature. Suggested reading: Heart of Darkness.

Let’s flip the script on this one. Let’s turn the table on my problem with “-isms” and “-ists.” Why are we forced to identify with categories? Why do humans need to starkly label themselves? Why do they second guess themselves about, in essence, who they are? Because at our core, as human beings, we are uncertain. The modern world encourages us to be lost. We are forced to be motivated not by philosophical thought but by material status. Our psychological state, our self-worth, is perpetually undermined. It is instead medicated and suppressed, pushed away and replaced with a litany of hang-ups.

If we truly had equality, if everybody simply believed in equality, feminism would not need to exist. So let’s get real here. I’m not into labels because they segregate. My husband and children are black. You want to talk unfairness, the things you just “can’t say,” the truths others unlike you will never understand? Read this book (trust me, it will be fun!), then get back to me about the whole thing.

But seriously, if you want to identify as a feminist, then by all means. I won’t judge you. Just don’t make me wear the ribbon.

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.

Coming Soon: Morrissey Fan Fiction

Inspired partly by the faux-nnouncement that Morrissey would be retiring from show biz in two years (a statement he later said was “wishful thinking” on the media’s part), I decided to write a piece of fan fiction. I’ve never written anything (with any kind of seriousness) like this before. And I’m sure veteran writers of fan fiction would likely scoff at my only scraping the surface of how deep a “fan” can go. What I’m writing is more “The Wrong Boy” than some sort of made up day-in-the-life of Mozzer. That’s not my style.

While it’s not yet finished, I’ve been obsessed with writing this story. It is dark yet romantic, and at times threatens to cross the line separating YA and A fiction. But that’s how I roll: I like to dive into something without knowing too much about it. Artistically, it’s often the only way to keep your mind free, and your muses unburdened by influence or unwritten rules. What is popular, what “sells,” these preoccupations pepper the mind in evil, counter-productive ways.

So I write without prejudice, and expect to be critiqued with full prejudice, because that’s how I’ve come to understand the Western World. We are natural-born haters, because it would be impossible to like and to agree with everything. Opinion drives us, it defines us, and the internet has given each of our opinions an equal voice.

Anyway, this is not about that. This is about the next short story that I’m pushing through. This is the “hype” post, with the story itself coming soon. This piece is a little therapeutic to me since it’s slightly personal, but a story I’ve been trying to tell since my teenaged years. I was just always too close to tell it. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Recently, Murray and I produced a documentary about The Dears (we’ll talk more about that later). We had to dig through boxes and bins of archival material: analog photos and photocopied press kits, 3.5″ diskettes and cut-and-paste artwork. In this digging, I was forced to look through my “personal archives” as well. Maybe you don’t keep these things, but I have bundles of letters from my family, friends, ex-boyfriends and crushes. I have writing journals and diaries from my high school and university days — memories, stories, feelings I know I’ve long forgotten but that are well documented.

A person changes so much as they grow — every experience, the big and the small, moulds us whether we like it or not. Our opinions harden and soften, we are shape-shifters, never the same, never looking back…

So in many ways, this story I’m writing is a reflection of that. It is completely fiction, and has been totally fun to write. And I got my pal Joe Ollmann to “bang out” some cover art for me. I’m excited to let you read it! It’ll be on my Scribd shelf soon!

I’m Thinking of Un-Friending Everyone

We get up in arms — offended almost — at the suggestion of Our Internet being taken away from us. We view corporatization or privitization, tiered or restricted content as an affront to our civil liberties. We must maintain network neutrality. The www is merely a vessel, like a library, something that holds information we might seek or need. Which items you choose to view is completely at your discretion.

So why, then, do we allow Facebook to slap a crazy bias our online experience with such welcoming and open arms? Facebook has essentially taken the back door: now that we’re at the party, FB has come in and made that party a little less free and amorphous. The party is now rigidly structured. Compartmentalized. There’s nothing neutral about it: FB offeres a thinly veiled sense of freedom, but really, we have simply and unwittingly been initiated into a private club.

The FB format tugs on our very heartstrings, having lured us in emotionally, then entrapping us under a pretence of socialization, popularity and approval. If a child’s birthday party needs to be a Facebook event, or an intriguing idea condemned to a one-Like-click then hasn’t it been done already? Haven’t we all, as members of FB, been played?

I imagine stinking rich millionaires, smoking cigars, wearing tailored three-piece suits on their yachts (or whatever the stinking rich stereotypes would do), chuckling with admiration at the level of Evil Genius Mark Zuckerberg has attained: how he made it through the gates, into our hearts, and now we believe in him. Implicitly. Now he preaches to the converted, and we follow. Unquestioning of the fine print. Who has time to sift through repeated updates to the myriad terms of service agreements we face daily?

If the phone rang this moment, and on the other end was a nice lady asking if you had a few minutes to answer some questions you would say: “No,” and press End before either of you had a chance to say good bye. What we don’t realise is that Facebook passively does this: collects personal data. Every move you make, word you say, link you click through, funny picture of a cat, zombie or cat-zombie you approve of: that information is collected. Every friend you have comprises a matrix of data that is being used to “connect” you with products. Or future products. Now we gleefully volunteer the information, we volunteer our level of education, where we live, how old we are, if we are married or single, if we have kids or pets, what books we read, TV shows we watch, games we play: statistical data we can’t find the time to enter in to our own government’s Census forms (I bet you just threw that shit into the garbage anyway).

The level of marketing at the foundation of this operation is multi-tiered and brilliant. Admit it: you guys lapped that “The Social Network” drivel up. Another success: Evil Genius/CEO/guy that JUST WANTS TO BUY HIS OWN FUCKING YACHT has been humanized. But you know what they say: “It takes money to make money.” And I am saddened on a daily basis by how true this is, especially in the Western World, and more heartbreakingly, how it increasingly applies to modern culture (another rant, another time).

“Success” is not about doing your best, it’s about being invested in.

Just remember: you don’t need an online life. It’s just something someone gave us for nothing. Oh, and what’s that other adage? “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

Fundamentally, what I’m getting at is that I encourage you to be a good person. Don’t be evil. Don’t be a dick. It is so vitally important that you live your life in the moment, because let me tell you, the grass doesn’t get any greener on the other side.

Book Review and Notes on The Science Fiction

Last night I finally finished reading The Windup Girl. This is the first book I’ve read – honestly – in years, a statistic I am slightly embarrassed to reveal. I used to read way more: reading would inspire me, make my vocabulary better, make me think more analytically. But then I went through a phase of either starting books I couldn’t get in to or just being a too-tired new mom to dedicate the time. So I would get my “intellectual” fix from the pages of The Economist and call it a day.

I’m on a science fiction kick. As a genre it is liberating, allowing for adaptability to style and genre, a realm where ideas propel the language. Often I find other forms of fiction restrictive in this way: where I am easily distracted by an author’s choice of words, language before the ideas. With sci-fi I let it slide: I don’t know why, I just don’t really care if the choice of words isn’t executed with laser-like precision. Maybe I find some sort of sense of satisfaction, newly inspired by my own “not-good-enough-yet-now-good enough” writing style. So now I read the sci-fi and I write it. And now I write about it, in the form of this one-paragraph review:

The Windup Girl: Author Paolo Bacigalupi drops us into a world where calories are the currency. A near-future, dystopian Bangkok that is threatened by rising sea-levels and a “gene-hacked” food supply. Oil is out: energy is kinetic. Disease is manufactured, and people live in a caste-like militarised Kingdom. I won’t lie to you: life in this world sucks for everyone. Though it is a city in delicate balance: each character’s life is under constant threat, comforted by any fleeting moment of stasis. Everybody needs each other – as with any society – needs one and other to complete their job, their task, to ensure survival. It is a beautiful, tropical world that has been created by Mr. Bacigalupi, one that is being coaxed by its characters into a continued existence. As a reader, I got familiar with it, intrigued by it. Then, towards the end, this fragile balance is upset in a major, major way: it is fucking destroyed. So awesome, so satisfying. Loved it. Thank you, sir.

Anyhow, selfishly, this book kind of mind-fucked me. I had begun writing a piece of sci-fi last year before knowing that The Windup Girl even existed. There were several similarities to what I was writing – not a totality, but the thread of food being totally industralised, and the world being at the mercy of some forces of nature, were common to my thing. I suppose those themes probably exist in tons of sci-fi: they are prevalent issues in today’s society, and that is was sci-fi does best: critique/troubleshoot our real world problems.

And so, I’ve convinced myself to finish my short story. It is a story that should belong to something longer, but there is still an independent story in there. I’ll make it available on my Scribd page (which is in it’s infancy, I admit). Follow me and get this first piece of writing as soon as it’s up. I’m giving myself one month – until June 4th, 2011. Everyone who follows me on Scribd before then will be rewarded with an exclusive audiobook/podcast version of the story, read by me!

I guess reading books can still be inspiring…

Galactic Tides

Read a great post this morning from PANK Magazine Blog:

“Galactic tides will end our lives – Taking us down in the moonlight”
The Dears – Galactic Tides

There are some masses, immense and greedy. I try to stay away from them, stay away from their gravitational field. Otherwise, the closer I get, the more I will change; the more parts of me will change.

Sometimes there is destruction. Some tides pull hard enough to rip you apart.

Sci Fi Digest

I recently entered a writing contest at one of my favourite websites in geekery, io9. I also recently learned that I did not win said writing contest. I had a hunch I wouldn’t: the story I submitted was a good story, not so much full-on science. The science was there, it just wasn’t overbearing like it is in the winning stories. Mine was Fiction-Science, more than Science-Fiction.

Anyhow, don’t be discouraged because I’m not. I’ve had loads of ideas coming through, nurtured by all kinds of random things and human interactions – including seeing Lynda Barry speak. She was very inspiring.

This morning I started a story (it’s more of a screenplay than a story) with the tentative title: Higgs Boson Brûlée. It’s about robots wanting social sophistication. In mid-descriptive sentence, I felt compelled to refer to this video from yesteryear:

Yeah, I was imagining “people” like that: half mechanics, half clothing, the way they look and move is human-esque, but their primary reason for being designed and built is something totally mundane and/or inhuman. I further interrupted my writing to share this thought path with you. Here’s an excerpt of what I was working on:

MURIEL and THOM have just finished eating. What have they eaten? We’re not sure, their plates filled with scraps of tentacled sea-creatures oozing black goo, a brightly coloured sponge in gasoline jus with rainbow-sheen. A flat bowl of amoeba risotto, a dark blue lumpy mixture that emanates tiny busts of phosphorescent light.

Awesome, RIGHT?????

P.S. I’m planning on recording myself reading my contest-losing story and making podcasts available soon. Hopefully before February.