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.

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.

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

Why?

This month I started an online course in Artificial Intelligence. I also recently met, quite randomly at a bar, a gentleman much more technically minded than myself, who is also taking the course. He asked me recently:

I’m curious, what’s gotten you interested in following this class? Is it your apparent love of scifi, or something else?


To which I replied:

Hmmm….what’s gotten me interested? You realise my answer to this question is going to become a blog post…

Last night I went to see Daniel Clowes and Seth, two comic book illustrators, speak at their joint book launch. My daughter asked me: “Why are you going?” and I had to actually think for a moment: why, indeed? I had one of Daniel Clowes earlier books, and knew little of Seth, yet I was still making an effort to go to this reading. I’m a casual illustrated book reader, hardly hardcore, and then I realised, simply, that I enjoy immersing myself in things I know nothing about.

The most often asked question to me is: “Who is your favourite band/musician?” or “What are you listening to?” And my answer is invariably: “I don’t listen to music.” I don’t. And I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or pretentious or holier-than-thou, but being immersed in the music industry for the past decade has made me a non-believer in music. Only a tiny margin of music is real anymore, the rest are just feeble attempts at fame, fortune, or worse, relevancy. I rarely listen to new music because all I hear is…dishonesty.

But it *would* be pretentious so live a life without culture, so I’ve turned my focus elsewhere. I’ve started reading books again, and writing fiction. And I enjoy these two tasks immensely. As I write, especially, I learn: my choice to write “genre” fiction is no accident. In speculative and science fictions I see open space, pure freedom, a world without restraint. I fold in to my work things I read about technology, computing, medical advances, space exploration and robotics. I feel that in researching this stuff and reading about it, a new frame of mind is being revealed. A fresh perspective of the world spurts forth, a new community of people working and thinking… not to be “cool” but to be, essentially, creative.

I miss that about music, which is why I’ve taken this step in the opposite direction. It doesn’t mean I’m done with being in a band or making records at all. If anything I will only return with resolve and a fervent dedication that should be feared by the entire hipster set.

So….does this answer the question? Kind of. I’m really digging the way my brain is being pulled by being in the ai-class, forced to think pragmatically and logically. Embracing new terminology and honing mathematical and deductive skills. My past will reveal that I was a big nerd. My dad is an electrical engineer. I was in “Gifted” in grade school. I took Computer Science class in grade 11. I took enriched math and wrote nation-wide math competitions. I was never the “cool” kid, and I never felt threatened by the “in” crowd. I made friends from strangers through BBS‘ and the first computer I bought was the first generation clamshell iBook…dare I say…before it was cool. If I hadn’t decided to move to Montreal at the age of 18, I would have been in “New Media” at Ryerson. A technical school. One of my favourite movies OF ALL TIME is Terminator 2.

I guess with this free, online course from a reputable university came up I just said to myself: “Why not?”

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.

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!

Now Reading (Bedtime Edition)

At bedtime, I read two chapters of George’s Marvelous Medicine (edition as pictured above) to my daughter. This is a new phase that I’m very much into: reading books with her that have more words than pictures. That Grandma sure is awful.