Entering Nerdshire

A series of recent events caused me to realise that they should create a variation of the term “grupster” that incorporates the word “nerd”. While “negrupster” connotes a black grupster, and “grupsterd” sounds like it belongs in a toilet, I contemplated “grerdrupster” before giving up on trying to pigeonhole my already complex identity any further.

So what events could possibly lead to this assumption? First: a childlike glee that I experienced after learning that the latest title I purchased for my Nintendo DS was really quite enjoyable. And that I was looking forward to playing “Professor Layton and the Curious Village” through to the end.

Next, due to weeks of rainy days and thus a listless, playground-deprived daughter, I decided to try the Centre des sciences de Montreal. I have such fond memories of the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, what with all the buttons and things to touch, ancient Chinese xylophones and that model train that drove through tunnels between two glass display cases. And the running. There were bridges to jump on and technicolour replicas of my shadow to be made. Anyhow, the Centre des sciences is much newer, smaller and a little less in-depth. There’s still a lot going on in there, but nothing recommended for toddlers. They literally told me to not bother buying an admission. So we went to see the river and a pond in the rain, got a giant lollipop and went home. I love science but I guess not that much.

Finally, and most awesomely, was that I posted a comment on an article on Wired.com’s Listening Post blog and the author (Scott Thill) knew who The Dears were. That blew my mind; it was really rad and made my day. I read Wired.com every day, so it was like we were exchanging a knowing nod: yes, nerds and music can co-exist…as they must…

Then, after all this I met up with my misanthropic pal Michael, who completely de-asserted my nerdness. This was after I admitted to him that I hadn’t read a science fiction novel in years. And that I had never read (nor had I seen) “Dune.” He recommended I read “Valis” by Philip K. Dick and call him in the morning. I felt ashamed and unworthy of my admittedly hasty claim to the “grerdrupster” title — even though he was totally right.

I’m a little bit of a nerd at heart, and at least that I can be proud of.

Death To Indie Rock

Being part of a band that has been plunked into the “indie rock” category, I often struggle with the genre and what, exactly, it means. What is indie? I believe it is a dead identity: like how the title “alternative” was borne from grunge in the 90’s, and has since come to define bands like Nickelback. It’s outgrown its meaning: Death Cab is indie, but on a major label. So WTF?

The term “indie” essentially used to mean “not major label” and oftentimes “not on any label.” But now the new “indie” had been commodified and major label bands can be indie rock. And to me “indie” still means angular guitars, you know, like Pavement. Let’s see what the my go-to knower of all things says:

“Indie rock artists place a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, releasing albums on independent record labels (sometimes their own) and relying on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Some end up moving to major labels, often on favorable terms won by their prior independent success.” – from the Indie Rock wiki.

OK, well that kind of explains it but doesn’t fully satisfy me, because it doesn’t address the indie rock sound or aesthetic. I mean, I don’t even think I could easily define it, but I know it’s out there, and everybody is trying to do it. And then this morning I read this: The Question Mark: Is Feist Still Indie?. This appears in the Canadian broadsheet ‘National Post’ who are notoriously conservative, but are trying hilariously to be ‘with it.’ Anyhow, the article is flimsy at best but addresses the issue: “What is indie?” It seems that we can’t agree: it’s an important label for some people, so important that they won’t listen to it if it’s not indie (even if it’s totally amazing); and yet for others it’s entirely meaningless.

As frustrating/obsolete as retail CD shopping has become, at least we can rely on a shop’s inability to define any sub-genre beyond “POP/ROCK,” which I am just fine with. You really, really cannot please everyone. I mean, is being indie that important to you?

So as The Dears put the finishing touches on our orchestral sci-fi noir-funk opus, we prepare ourselves mentally for the inevitable: being lazily lumped into the indie category. This is me, being curmudgeonly about the whole thing: *grumble*. We always say that making an album is like raising a child: you give it everything you can and then release it into the world, as if sending it off to its first day of school, and you can hope for the best, pray it makes good friends, but really, it’s beyond our control. We’ll see what the fates allow.

Long Weekend-ey Things To Do

Being Easter weekend and all, my inbox was empty aside from my e-mail news alerts and Malaysian spam. Nobody is updating their blogs, and judging from my stats, no one is reading them, either. So I decided to try and do some Easter weekend-ey, internetty type things.

My mom was in town for a few days, and she brought this quilt she made for my sister and I like when we were kids. I remembered it and when she found it again in the house I asked her if Neptune could have it. Problem is that it’s pretty ratty in places, so my mom and I did the ultimate, Easter weekend, family thing: we quilted. We went to the fabric store and matched the almost garish pink and light green squares with a retro pattern that added a yellow element (to match Neptune’s room, of course). My mom did most of the sewing and it still needs a bit of work but it’s looking really good and I’m pretty proud of my mom and I for fixing it up. It’s gonna look great. Thanks mom!

Today I spent my free time in the afternoon redesigning our oppressive, concrete backyard. Murray and I have been toying with how to revitalize it on a budget, including taking up the concrete. Because we’re not really up for backbreaking work, and since the reasonable quote from our contractor was still too much, we’re opting for some decking, raised bed planters, pot gardening and zen-like pebbled borders. I downloaded this 3D drawing program called SktechUp, which I’d seen once before when a carpenter designed some really nice built-in bookshelves for us. It’s a neat program, and is surprisingly easy to use. Last summer I had taken precise measurements of our backyard’s ground plan, and just started working on the layout and adding the third dimension. I haven’t take any Z-axis measurements so there’s a bit of eyeballing going on…can’t wait for the four feet of snow to melt so I can get out there again!

Anyway, if you care, then Happy Easter, and if you don’t, then enjoy the long weekend!


Reading Aloud

Does having a child make you smarter? Is it possible that caregiving forces caregivers into being mentally svelte? This is my hypothesis for today, and now the ridiculously roundabout way I got to this question:

In yet another sad attempt to fill the void that is my life – while Murray works on other people’s records (see: 1, and 2) and my having finished Zelda – I recently purchased a copy of Brain Age for the Nintendo DS. The whole thing about this “game” is that it’s supposed to train your brain, namely your prefrontal cortex. Or something like that. So by solving a bunch of cute little puzzles as fast as you can, the “age” at which your brain operates is measured. I started out at 58, and depending on how tired or distracted I am, can get down to a 28 (20 being the best brain age possible…though I might debate that my brain was actually optimized at 20…it doesn’t say anything about the effects of career drinking).

ANYHOW, one of the tests asks you to read passages of text aloud, because that activates the certain part of your brain that will make you sharper and keener and other wonderful things. It didn’t occur to me until the next day, when I sat to read Corduroy with Neptune: as a mother I read out loud quite a lot. So assuming most responsible mothers spend at least fifteen minutes a day reading to their children, does that make us smarter?

Does parenting enrich the senses? Murray and I swear we have ninja reflexes now, and understand the concept of having “eyes in the back of the head.” Parents who are in tune with their kids know what their kids are going to do before they even do it. And when they grow up into teenagers, that parental intuition is frustrating as hell. But we do it all in the name of love, and those who’ve never raised a kid will never be able to understand that connection.


I’ve been having a loop of thoughts since Neptune requested some popcorn as a snack the other day.

Growing up, my parents had one of those really loud air popcorn makers. You know, the ones with the little plastic tray on top that melts the butter? With the spinning, glorified hair dryer part that shoots popped kernels into the bowl with hot air? It was beige and brown (like everything in the 80’s). Anyhow, that was fun. My parents also had a microwave but that was back when you had to cover your uterus while they were in operation; basically pre-dating microwaveable popcorn altogether.

Now I’m faced with the creation of popcorn for Neptune. We don’t have a microwave, so sometimes we get Jiffy Pop, but it seems like it is something we could do on our own. Can we? Armed with some hot oil and a pot and an inexpensive bag of dried corn kernels? It sounds almost dangerous, archaic even, to actually cook popcorn on the stove.

But the thread of popcorn got me to thinking about the song, Popcorn (click here to refresh your memory). Actually, Popcorn-Song.com has an exhaustive history of the song. If you are too young to remember how this track infiltrated the 80’s, then think about the effect that the Hamster Dance Song had on the early 00’s. You can find an equally exhaustive history here, though it’s almost too much information to bear.

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?

New Star at the Playrground

Lately I’ve been a major star at the playground. It all started earlier this week when I went to the park with Neptune one morning, and there was a day care’s worth of kids already playing there. They were a little older than Neptune, but maybe only by a year. So I was sitting with Neptune at this little mini picnic bench, drawing shapes in handfuls of sand we put on the tabletop, and suddenly there were twevle kids around me, showing off their shoes: “Looka this!” and I respond: “Oooh, Spiderman,” or “Wow, Dora,” or, occasionally, “A bonhomme, cool!” Now there’s a girl that collects stones for me to keep. Everyday I come home with about ten little rocks, a chestnut and a popsicle stick in my pocket. The kids are great, they come over to hang out, want me to watch what they’re doing, or let me know what flavour their sand pie is made of. Often I just have no idea what they are saying at all, but I usually tell them it’s pretty cool, amazing or very, very interesting. And once a kid put a whole pile of sand in my jacket pocket, which was pretty funny because I didn’t expect that at all.

Anyhow, it’s pretty hilarious that I chose today to blog about this, because this morning’s visit to the park was less than spectacular. Basically I was dethroned as Park Idol; perceived simply as “Another Mom.” Neptune had a tumbly day, falling down and crying three times. I could feel the other adults sending judging gazes my way. And on top of that, there was a different bunch of kids there, all of whom could not care less about me. So we walked home, both defeated, and thus rewarding ourselves by eating Creamsicles on the bench outside the school. Happily, I retain my title of “Super Mom” at home, where it matters most.

My Parents: a follow up

The “My Parents” blog from a few days ago wasn’t my first online observation of the two most delightfully complicated people in my life, but being The Dears’ Number One Fan, my mother subscribes dedicatedly to this blog. This, in turn, caused the following email:

“From: ursula yanchak
Subject: blog…parents
Date: September 4, 2007 4:49:46 AM EST
To: natalia@thedears.org

OK…so we got home and there on the floor in the kitchen is a sewing needle with thread in it….Where is this from? The sewing kit!!! ….that Neptune had thrown on the floor and I had hurriedly put back together.
Well I truly enjoyed Murray’s cooking, as did Dad. I guess you need stuff to write about. Nice water pic. Send it to me with the [others] please.
What route did you finally take home? We got turned around once on country roads and ended back in Haliburton where we started, laughing. There was a Hwy # marked on the map right over a slight jog in the road and a road sign to Gelert with tiny arrows pointed in both directions.
love MoM”

I remember when I was researching about starting a blog (yes, I know, I’m such a control freak that I actually researched something that thrives on being spontaneous), someone warned of the dangers of writing about your family, friends and co-workers. They cautioned of the repurcussions, of people being offended by the honesty of your diary. But really how can I resist writing about my parents? They are the characters in the story of my life that I know the best, that I care about deeply, and that can drive me crazy suddenly and for no apparent reason. It’s almost like its too easy to write about the things they do, as if that license were part of the relationship; I can expect to deliver a frenzied, panicked, all-encompassing, love-driven attention to Neptune one day, too. Maybe I already do, she’s just too un-jaded to notice.

What was the other thing? Oh yeah, all that being said, what’s up with our parents and maps? They are obsessed! We spent days at the cottage discussing the best route home, and while Murray and I were like: “Yeah, we do directions for a living. I have Google maps on my Blackberry if we get lost. We also have the map of Ontario you gave us. And a GPS. We’ll figure it out,” my mom was fascinated by our final routing. I guess it’s like my obsessing about the weather, and actually wanting to talk about it (not only for small talk): just one of those things.

So, in closing: we took the 11 to the 169 (which becomes the 12), then onto the 7 just past (Brendan) Cannington, then down the 28 at Peterborough to the 401. And we stopped in Kingston to visit Lis and Bryan. And we drove straight to Jimmy and Dominique’s for their housewarming that night. It took us 7 hours.

My Parents

Being at the cottage, isolated and without TV in the country with my parents, evokes all the fear and self-loathing of David Sedaris’ autobiographical essays, or Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections.” Here are two brief but telling examples:

I noticed, sitting on a bathroom shelf a small sign of preparedness: my mom had brought a sewing kit. Contained in a small, clear plastic box were about a dozen colours of thread, some safety pins, a button, measuring tape and a tiny pair of scissors. It looked a right kit, prepared for any clothal failure. But one thing seemed to be missing: a sewing needle. I was so amazed by this fact, that I looked through the whole kit just to make sure, but it remained missing. So could someone please offer a possible use for a sewing kit without the tools required to sew?

Unless you are grilling a steak with fries, my dad is impossible to cook for. The things he likes are simple, he likes down home soul foods, and so cooking for him might seem easy. But there are several wildcards, the main one being that Murray and I are vegetarian. Next is the list of no-go foods (only out of preference, not dietary in any way): no cilantro, no eggplant, no cucumber, no garlic, no cream sauce, no ricotta, and the list continues. A single misstep could ellicit the reaction (that Murray got this week): “Its good but I don’t like it.”

Parents. They just don’t understand. Either that or Murray and I have become serious food snobs. Its probably a little bit of both.

Satisfied by Failure

I always am amazed by our obsession with the failure of others. I thought it was “just a Montreal thing,” where we all go to bars, read the papers, read the blogs, get depressed and revel in trash-talking others, and their going-down (in flames or otherwise) after reaching any kind of high. But really, it’s universal. Have you ever just scanned the news headlines? They tend to focus on the bad news, the mistakes, the accidents. For example, this WestJet one is absolutely classic: here’s a very successful company that is basically doing everything right. And it’s killing someone out there (CEO of Air Canada?), the idea that they’ve been so competitive and forward-thinking. It’s as if the media were just waiting for them to screw up, waiting for a reason for their stock prices to fall. If you didn’t hear about it:

WestJet Plane Involved in Close Call at LAX. So basically the byline should be: “Nothing happened, due to a common human error.” But the media (in Canada) is going nuts on it. Like the way the paparazzi flock to Britney, because it’s so easy to get some dirt on her. The headlines: “She’s totally not perfect! In fact, she’s just like most of you losers!” I guess this mentality is why The Onion and The Daily Show are so popular: news making fun of the news is more entertaining, because the real news can be totally absurd.

Another clash of reality and, well, fake reality, that’s been creeping me out is this: Eleven Injured on Cruise Film Set. I mean, can you get that photo of Tom with his eye patch and Third Reich outfit out of your head? You know, I kind of like Tom Cruise; at least I’ve got a soft spot for him, and think he’s had a bum rap. He’s done dozens of huge, blockbuster movies, most of which most of us have seen, yet he’s never won an Oscar. I mean, since when did awards justify a career: they’re more like acknowledgements rather than reasons for being. I was at Sam’s place yesterday and I noticed his Juno collection, shelved subtly in a glass cabinet in the corner of a room; not in your face, but still a nice reminder. That said, I’ve also seen other people’s Junos being used as a doorstop, so…

Anyway, can’t we all just get along? Can’t we be happy for each other? Here are two more things I’m fascinated by: fake death and dying having real-life implications, and grupster weddings (actually this kind of reminds me of when I heard Matt Good invited his A&R and the president of his label to his wedding…do these people send out press releases or something? Personally, I think publicity about home life a little dark, but I guess I should feel “refreshed” that at least there’s some “good news” out there.) Once Murray and I were invited to do an interview on eTalk Daily. We thought it was to talk about the album, but then they asked us if we would do the interview in a toy store, shopping for toys with Neptune. When we declined to include Neptune in the interview, but would still go toy shopping with them (really, do you bring your kids to work? Do you flaunt them around hoping to get a raise or a bonus?), they cancelled the whole thing. It was so dark. I guess Murray and I, and our music, just weren’t cute enough.