Whisper in the new

Samhain is the end of the year and the beginning of a new year. The god dies, yet his seed is within the goddess, who will give birth to him anew on Yule. It is the beginning of the darker half of the year. It is interesting that the year begins with dark and cold.

I never make resolutions, neither on conventional New Year's Day nor on Samhain. But I am feeling this cusp between the years rather strongly this year. I am especially conscious of the need to let go of what is spent (without losing what is good) and work toward new things. The new year doesn't automatically change anything. I have to make change. But it is a reminder to me that I can make the change I want and need.

One of the strongest lessons I have learned in life is that I have to follow my heart. That doesn't mean that my head doesn't come into play. Indeed, heart without head is a recipe for disaster. But head without heart is a recipe for unhappiness and frustration. Over the years, I have tried to do the "right thing," the responsible thing, the sensible thing. I have been rewarded for doing this. But the reward has often been bittersweet. I'm quite bad at doing something just because I think I ought to. If my heart isn't in what I'm doing, I can't keep doing it.

For a little over a year, I have been trying to do the responsible thing by working toward a certificate in technical communication to prepare for the eventual layoff (time unknown) from my current software job. It was never my burning ambition to be a tech writer. It was a "good idea." It was something I'd done before and could do better now. It was something that would, or could, allow me to earn a decent living. Some of the training has been interesting and useful. But my heart simply isn't in it.

I'm still being responsible. I'm holding onto my current job. I don't think I will leave that until they let me go. But training for something that I really won't want to do makes no sense. I got into high tech pretty much by accident. High tech has been berry berry good to me, and I'm grateful. But when it's done, I don't want more of the same. It will be time to follow my heart.

There's no point in me going into some other training at this point. Most training works best if you can finish with a practicum and immediately try to apply what you've learned. That can't happen while I'm still working. So for now, that releases me from the need to go to school, except perhaps for personal enrichment.

That will leave me time to do at least a couple of things that I have missed. One is to do volunteer work. I have been offered a short-term opportunity that I might take. I would like to explore some long-term opportunities that might put my counselling skills to work, even if in an informal way. I give money, but I have not given time for years, always with the excuse that I was busy with school. No more excuses.

The other thing I would like to do is play more music. I'm giving that so little time at this point. I haven't practised drums since forever. I'm barely playing guitar. I'm rarely writing songs. A friend wants to play more and see what it leads to. I really want to have time for this, and maybe to jam with some other people as well. Music brings me joy. Everyone needs some joy.

And there is more. I want to keep learning to make new recipes, to expand my cooking and baking knowledge and my repertory of dishes. I need to put some time into things this old house needs. Those are things that are more about obligation than love, but this is our house. Sometimes I still have to do the responsible thing whether I feel like it or not. My garden always needs work too.

This evening, my sweetie and I will answer doorbell rings and knocks at the door and hand out candy to kids who yell "trick or treat!" We'll enjoy the inventive costumes and how cute the littlest ones are. We'll say hi to the parents and wish everyone Happy Halloween. Then later, when no more kids come, in the quiet when it's almost time for bed, I shall have my own little solitary Samhain celebration. And I will look toward a new year that I will work to make truly new.


What if they did America's Next Top Model All-Stars...

...and nobody cared?

Also known as, Is that a shark I see in my rear-view mirror?

I really don't know why this season has gone all sideways. Your favourite models from past cycles! The best of the best duking it out for the title of America's Next Top Model All-Star! This should be a big deal. So why does it seem that they're cutting corners?

I understand that they have to try to keep the show fresh. After 16 cycles, you can imagine that there's little they haven't done already. But just when you'd think they would want to go big, they seem to be going small. After the huge and probably expensive Cycle 15, with a trip to Italy and some true couture in the photo shoots and shows, perhaps Tyra just didn't have it to spend on Cycle 17.

The show this past week started out promising. I love the idea of the models creating their own fragrance and marketing it. That seems like a very realistic kind of challenge—yes, Bianca, even the bathtub part (although I don't recall seeing Shannon sitting in the tub either). Unfortunately, the winner of the challenge was granted immunity at panel, and they decided that the winner was the one most over the top—Lisa. I don't think they were rewarding quite the right thing, but hey, it's not my show. It was a disappointment, however, to know halfway through the show that Lisa would definitely not be going home yet.

And then, another bizarre photo shoot. Two weeks ago, we had the Kardashian line of clothing for a runway challenge. That same episode, the models had to pose as various incarnations of Michael Jackson for a photo shoot. This did not bode well. And this week, we got a combination of the two. The models had to somehow embody qualities of one of two reality TV stars—Snooki from Jersey Shore or NeNe from The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Imagine—aspiring professional models are supposed to spend their time getting familiar with reality TV characters! That's serious class, Tyra. In earlier cycles, the emphasis was on knowing the fashion business. Now, for "all stars," we've sunk to slumming with Jersey Shore.

(I will admit to never having seen either Jersey Shore or any of the Real Housewives series, although I did have some idea of who Snooki was. It's hard to escape pop culture. And who knows. Maybe if I watched, they would be guilty pleasures. But somehow I doubt it. And really, what does this have to do with winning a modelling contract?)

Because no one was eliminated the week of the Michael Jackson shoot, the models knew there would have to be a double elimination at some point. And even though "TyraMail" announced that eight would be continuing after the judging, it was really only seven. That seemed a bit sloppy. I mean, really it was a lie. Lisa got best photo, even though she was already immune. I will admit that it was one of her better shots. Angelea, who no longer annoys us, had second best. Others were fairly predictable: Dominique, who has been strong all along; Laura, who has gone way beyond the sweet little hayseed from Kentucky but still needs to pick up her game if she wants to go all the way; Allison, who is still getting away with having the same look week after week; and Alexandria, who somehow manages to survive. At the bottom were Shannon, Kayla, and Bianca.

Boring St. Shannon of the querulous voice was saved. I have no idea why, except that they had to save someone. The stunning Bianca was just too much trouble, and Kayla never got even close to bringing her A-game.

And that seems to be endemic in this show. Tyra thought the idea of bringing back models from previous cycles was a good one, but it might be that one by one they all wonder just why they agreed to this. Kayla never seemed engaged. Beautiful Bre never found her focus. Among those remaining, only Lisa seems consistently happy to be there, and that might be because she herself has turned into an over-the-top reality TV star, someone you remember for being wild and crazy, not for seeming like a top model. I hope Angelea gets more consistent. I hope Laura gets more memorable. I hope even Dominique, never my favourite, starts to show some star quality. Anyone but NeNe. Excuse me, I meant Lisa.


Measure twice

I did some baking this afternoon. I made blueberry ricotta squares for this evening's women's wine and book club. Sometimes we meet at a restaurant, but this month we were meeting at a private home, so we had a potluck. Usually I bring a savoury dish, but this time I just felt like making something sweet. You can't have too much dessert, right? And this recipe was made with ricotta cheese, so it was even somewhat nutritious.

Ever since we got Food Network Canada on our cable, I've been watching a lot of cooking shows. Last night on Chopped, one of the chefs who is usually a pastry chef made a remark about how baking required precision measurement. If you're off a little on an ingredient one way or another, whatever you're making might come out all wrong, or even inedible.

As I was making the blueberry squares, what she had said really hit me. Mostly I cook. I don't bake very often. When I cook, I measure when I have to, but if I know a recipe very well, I don't need to measure. And often I'm creating something, so I'm going by feel and taste. With savoury food, you can make adjustments. Often you can adapt a dish to match ingredients you have on hand. Sometimes you can even save a dish that was going horribly wrong.

Baking is something else entirely. Measurements have to be exact, and you rarely substitute ingredients. Not only that; you also have to pay close attention to technique. When I made my first successful pie crust on Thanksgiving, part of that came from the right ingredients properly measured, but even more came from the careful handling of the dough. If I had been careless, the crust might have come out tough or not well blended.

Lately, my bread has been failing. One of those was a recipe failure, I think. It just didn't have enough liquid. But my last failure happened because they are really serious when they say make sure all the liquids are at room temperature. In the case of this bread, that meant milk, water, and eggs. I now know they were too cold, and that prevented the bread from rising properly.

I've never been that good at following directions. I do pretty well as a cook because following directions is less important, and often you can add something you missed earlier. But following directions is paramount for baking. I'd like to do more baking, and I want things to come out right. That means I'm going to have to reform my ways—read the recipe carefully, get all the measurements right, and follow the directions. There is little margin for error in baking. All cooking is chemistry, but baking even more so.

I was careful making the blueberry ricotta squares. The reward was that they came out well and were much appreciated by my fellow wine and book clubbers. And by me too!


West Side Story still packs a punch

The Vancouver Opera production of West Side Story opened last night at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. Thanks to a wonderful early birthday gift to Sweetie from her sister, we had great seats in the left centre dress circle.

This was my first time at the QE. I've never seen so many dressed up Vancouverites! It did this girl's heart good. We were early enough to be able to wander around the lobbies on the various levels and do some people watching. Somehow I figured I would spot a celebrity or two on opening night, but I didn't see any. I did, however, see some sartorial excellence. We did our part. Not quite floor-length gowns, but Sweetie was wearing a pretty and very complimentary purple dress while I went in my red "Mad Men" (as Sweetie calls it) dress, complete with faux pearl necklace.

For both of us, West Side Story is the greatest musical of all time. So I will try to make this a review. But let's just say that I had raccoon eyes by the end of the show (and probably well before that) because waterproof mascara is never as waterproof as it's supposed to be.

Overall, the production was brilliant. I think the strongest aspect was the dancing. Apparently, they were using Jerome Robbins's original choreography, and it was a real treat to see. The dancers were so strong! They really brought a thrilling visual element to scenes such as "Dance at the Gym" and the song "Cool."

Colin Ainsworth, who played Tony, has a gorgeous, strong tenor voice. Lucia Cesaroni, who played Maria, is a trained opera singer but kept it nicely toned down. Their duets worked very well despite the very different quality of their voices. Scott Augustine, who played Riff, is apparently mostly a dancer. His singing could definitely have been stronger. But the heart of the story is Anita, and Cleopatra Williams played and sang her brilliantly. Supporting the singers was a superb pit orchestra. Such a treat to have live instrumentation!

The staging was stark, dark, and simple as it really must be. Various gang members (and Anybodys) climbed up and over a chain link fence. Kudos to the designer and builders of that piece of staging! The use of rolling stair-ladders was also excellent during Maria and Tony's "balcony scene" after the dance.

Kudos as well to whoever stepped in as Snowboy (I think it was Stephen Cota) and especially to Shawna Parry, who filled in as Anybodys. That is another pivotal role, and she did an excellent job.

Sweetie has the soundtrack memorized. I'm getting closer. We thoroughly enjoyed such crowd pleasers as "Tonight," "America," "I Feel Pretty," and "Gee, Officer Krupke." Tear ducts were fully in gear by the time Tony sang "Maria," partly because of the song and partly because of his beautiful voice. The "One Hand, One Heart" scene was wonderfully touching. And by the time Maria and Anita sang their duet "I Have a Love," I had completely lost it.

There are the edgy parts as well, mostly in small hints until the end. The fatal stabbings at the end of act one hit hard. And despite the stylization, the brutality of the scene at Doc's in which the Jets assault Anita was clear—and devastating. It's difficult for me even to write about it.

This was only my second time seeing West Side Story on stage. I have seen the film version more times than that, and for better or worse the film version sometimes gets stuck in my head. So I found that the dream-dance sequence that accompanies "Somewhere," with a recorded (originally off stage) song playing, for me undercut the emotional impact of that song. I'm usually a puddle when they sing "There's a place for us / Somewhere a place for us." In the film, I'm pretty sure that song is sung as a duet between Tony and Maria. I'm also pretty sure that the production I saw a few years ago at the Massey Theatre in New West went with something closer to the movie version, because I really was a puddle that time. So in this case, I think the film improves on the original staging. But maybe that's just me.

As well, it was definitely opening night. The first act was brilliant. The timing in the second act was not quite as smooth. Some things seemed to happen more quickly than they ought to have done. I'm sure they'll fix that as the show continues.

This West Side Story is a production well worth seeing. And I think the play still hits with devastating impact more than 50 years after it was first staged. No one talks that way anymore. Yet they still fight that way. It's just that the weapons are deadlier now.


The horns of a dilemma

I've written before that I'm working on a certificate in technical writing. I'm just finishing up a six-week (half) course called Writing for the Web. It's been a lot of work in a short time but overall fairly interesting. I mean, how can I balk at a course for which one of the requirements is to write a blog? The next half course is called Single-Sourcing for Technical Writers. I have a vague idea what that is. I've heard that it's five weeks of very dense PowerPoint slides with an exam at the end.

Even though I'm working toward something, I'm feeling a bit stuck and a bit in-between. I'm still working full time. It's a good job, and it pays me very well. There's a lot to be said for that. I'm not a big spender, but I do like the things that money can buy—travel, nice clothes and shoes, dinner out, smaller but repeating expenses like hair colour. I appreciate that I'm still fortunate enough to have this job. I would rather wait for the inevitable layoff (when my servers are retired) than to quit sooner.

There's a major downside to hanging on though. The longer I stay at this job, the older I will be when I need to look for a new one. Age discrimination is a reality. I don't look my age, but neither do I look like a fresh-out-of-university 22-year-old. And I might well be starting from the bottom.

Where's the passion?
The fresh start might not be tech writing. Even though I've done that before, and it involves writing (of a sort), and it can pay reasonably well, I'm really not sure that it's right for me. As much as I'm addicted to a good paycheque, should I really take yet another job that I like well enough but don't love? Will I ever get to do something I love? Should I not do that before I retire?

It's good to have a driving passion. My older sister is a neonatal nurse. She came to it later in life, but she should probably always have been a nurse. Caring for newborns is her passion. My younger sister is a college professor in her chosen field. That's what she wanted to do ever since she was young. My brother is a DJ. That job has not always been kind to him, and it gets rougher the older you are, but still, it was a passion that he pursued and was able to fulfill. My niece is a puppeteer and a builder of puppets. Perhaps even more than for her mother, aunt, and uncle, this is a consuming passion for her. And my beloved is an elementary school teacher. She was not young when she finally realized that was what she really wanted to do, but she didn't let that stop her, and now she is doing what she loves.

Unfortunately, I am polyamorous when it comes to career pursuits. My English degree took me into magazine editing. Sometimes I wish I had shifted out of technology publishing into something else in writing and editing, rather than shifting deeper into technology as I did. Writing is something I do because I love to. But that's water under the bridge, and as I noted, I was and continue to be amply rewarded for my choice.

I had a passion for music, but not quite enough. I had a passion for acting, but not nearly enough. At this point in life, there are a few things that get me excited, especially fashion and food (both of which I write about rather often). But does either of those make a realistic career option at my age? I could get training in fashion marketing (I have no design talent), but where would that leave me in an industry that skews toward younger people? I could get culinary training, but again, at my age, would it make sense for me to be an apprentice chef? Would there be room for me? No one should ever let age get in their way, but let's face it—you're a lot more likely to get an entry-level position when you're young than when you're older.

I have even considered getting training to be an administrative assistant. One of the things I like best about my job is being my boss's unofficial assistant, someone he discusses strategies with, someone he bounces ideas off. But as with fashion and cooking, would anyone hire a older admin with training but no experience?

Just like starting over
I'm not alone in being somewhat older and needing to start over. During this recession, such a scenario has been all too common, especially former executives who now find themselves too old to get a fresh start. But being in the same boat with other people doesn't make me feel any better.

When you're facing an uphill battle to get someone to hire you, maybe what older people like me are supposed to do is make their own way. We're supposed to start our own businesses or consulting firms. We're supposed to be our own bosses. We should be hiring other people, not waiting to be hired ourselves. Chef training, then open a food truck in Hanalei? That sounds like a pipe dream, but maybe it would just take some hard work, careful planning, and a bit of luck. OK, a lot of luck. But still, crazier things have happened.

Is it fear that holds me back? Fear of what happens when the big paycheque is gone? Fear of not being able to make something else work out? Fear of not being passionate enough about anything to make it work? I'm very intelligent. I have a lot of diverse experience. I should be able to do what I want to do. But fear is a killer.

This situation is embarrassing really. When you're young, people ask, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Shouldn't I have grown up by now? I'm sufficiently adult in a lot of ways, but you'd think I would have figured out this career thing long before now. I hope there's still time. It's too soon to retire without a big lottery win.



I haven't bitched yet about last week's episode of America's Next Top Model. Well, until now.

The challenge was OK, even though it featured the Kardashian line of clothing. High class, ANTM! Oh well. From what little I saw, the clothes weren't bad. And the real challenge for the models was to step onto a moving carousel and then step off it onto a runway. There was a little awkwardness, but no major spills. This all happened on the beach. It made so little impression on me that I can't even remember who won the challenge. Bre again? Might have been.

Then we moved on to the photo shoot. The theme was positively weird—the models had to portray Michael Jackson at different stages of his career. Very realistic for the modelling business, no? I'm starting to see Bianca's point. This was all done in conjunction with adviser and guest judge LaToya Jackson, Michael's sister.

It was a challenge in a way, I suppose, but really, would any of these women put this in their portfolio? I doubt it. There were some interesting shots, but nothing that really stood out. The makeup team resisted going with blackface for the white models. After all, it wasn't really necessary for the later years, was it. But Allison, the only one portraying Michael during the Jackson 5 years, was browned up. Ugh.

At panel, after going through the usual preliminaries, and hearing the opinions of the regular judges, Tyra announced that they had allowed LaToya to set the order from best to worst. Laura got best picture. I always like when Laura does well, but really, even the best shots weren't any big deal. The extremely annoying Lisa and the surprisingly much less annoying Angelea, who deservedly had best picture in the previous episode, were in the bottom two. So who went home?

Neither! LaToya decided that everyone got A for effort, and no one would be eliminated. I mean, we're going through all the build-up and I'm getting all hot and bothered when suddenly he grunts, rolls over, and starts snoring, and I'm like, yo, what about me? Srsly, this felt like a major waste of time. Sure, I know, ANTM is probably always kind of a waste of time, but normally I enjoy it. But here we had an uninspired runway contest, a more bizarre than usual photo shoot, and no payoff. I felt like I'd been played. I mean, please, couldn't they have overruled LaToya and sent Lisa home?

Even the drama has been dull! What fun is that? Bianca is having some kind of meltdown because she thinks the other women are picking on her, and Bre keeps stepping in as protective sister. Shannon is having another kind of meltdown because she can't stand conflict (meaning normal human interaction), and Bianca gives her shit for being a Christian. Lisa shoots off her mouth at every opportunity but she really hasn't taken any great photos. At every shoot, she either jumps in the air or spreads her legs. We haven't even had the seemingly tranquilized Alexandria to kick around! She seems to have decided that bland is better than pissing everyone off, and so far she's managed not to be sent home for it.

So unless they worked something out with the CW network, I'm guessing this means we're going to have a double elimination at some point. Maybe even next week. Yeah, I'll watch. Sucker. Sigh.


Straight and narrow

Ah, the Georgia Straight--can't live with it, can't kill it. For those who don't know, the Georgia Straight (a play on the Strait of Georgia, which lies between the mainland and Vancouver Island) is the weekly arts/alternative newspaper in Vancouver. Every Thursday, it brings us an odd mixture of leftist politics, high-end (i.e., expensive) fashion, and indie-angled arts reviews. It has essential listings for all kinds of events. It has the must-read Savage Love.

We have to get the Straight every week. We have to look through it, at least. I start with Savage Love in the back (buried amongst the escort ads), find out what's featured in the Style section, then flip through from front to back. Sometimes I'll stop and read. Most times I'll skim.

I wrote about the Straight once before, and I'm writing about it again for pretty much the same reason. Here we have the leading alternative weekly in Vancouver, but when it comes to gender, it looks a lot like the New Left of the 1960s. The cover story this week is about women making their mark in the field of interior design. Judging by the cover photo, however, it might as well have been called "hot women of interior design." The featured designer is lying on a platform with plans in front of her, one booted leg kicked up behind her. She's holding a pencil with the tip in her mouth and looking up engagingly into the camera.

No, it's not overtly sexy. But try to imagine a picture of a young male interior designer in the same pose. Can you?

The editor/publisher of the Straight is a man. The VP of operations in a man. The editor is a man. The first woman on the masthead is the copy chief. The copy desk has long been a "woman's place" in newspaper publishing. A woman edits the arts and fashion sections. A man edits the music section. Travel and food? A woman. Movies, theatre, books, and technology? Men.

Bylines in the news section? All men. Political commentary? A man. Technology? Male, of course. Fall books, featuring several female authors? Men's bylines. We'll give a woman the style article. The travel piece is by a man. The arts section starts with two pieces by women, one about an exhibit about Hiroshima, the other about an exhibit about neon (which I really want to see, at the Vancouver Museum). Theatre? Man again. Dance? Well, that's for women, everyone knows that.

The profiles in the cover piece, "Designing Women," are written by women. Not surprising, but yay anyway. We have both sexes represented in the urban living section that follows, and a woman doing this week's restaurant review. (Jergen Gothe always does the wine column.)

Then we come to the very important music section. Overwhelmingly male. With a man running the section and mostly male writers in his stable, is it any wonder there were so few women featured in the piece a couple weeks ago about local musicians? Film reviews are also mostly by men, with some exceptions. And that's pretty much all she wrote. Or should I say all he wrote.

Yes, I know, I'm critiquing from the outside. Maybe I should send them some writing samples. Maybe I should apply for a job. I once did a writing project with the woman who is one of the three associate editors. I should put my money where my mouth is, right?

It's not that men can't be progressive. By the usual standards, the Straight is a progressive newspaper. But given that, you'd think they would try harder for more balance on the staff and among the contributing writers. You'd think they would want to break the mould a bit. I mean, even mainstream television stations have female sports reporters! Shouldn't the Straight put its own money where its mouth is? It matters to have both men's and women's voices in all sections, especially music and movies. It matters to have representation from outside the majority, from outside those who automatically have power and privilege. However progressive the male editors are, they still can't make themselves female, part of a visible minority, or physically challenged.

[Just so you know, I know the phrase is actually "strait and narrow." You knew that too, right?]


Driving Miss Representation

As I mentioned recently, I saw a film called Miss Representation at the Vancouver International Film Festival. The film, written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, shows how women and girls are represented, or misrepresented, in the media. It's a powerful film, and I doubt there are any women (and no doubt some men) who can make it through a screening without getting angry or upset at least once.

Let me say before I go on—I loved this film. I would see it again. It's an important film, and I hope many, many people get to see it. But keep in mind that even a film you agree with should be viewed through your critical facilities.

Make no mistake about it. This film is propaganda. It's propaganda that I agree with, but propaganda nonetheless. I have no doubt about the facts it presents, but it does so in such a way as to reinforce its premise as strongly as possible.

It's also entertainment. It's not a dry, academic look at the issue of the portrayal of women in the media. It's meant to engage its viewers and keep them watching. This means that sometimes the film will go for effect more than for in-depth examination of certain issues.

All of the interviews are short. Some are long enough to present a context. Others are the length of sound bites. I appreciated the diversity of the talking heads: mostly women, but some men; young people; and the inclusion of people of colour from various backgrounds. Still, the interviews were clearly well edited. They said what the filmmaker was looking for.

Some of the interviewees came across particularly well. It's hard to believe I now think Condoleezza Rice is the bomb! Several of the academics were thought-provoking as well. And who can resist Rachel Maddow, although I do think she'd come across better if she didn't laugh at her own jokes.

As well as very short interviews, we have statistics flying in from time to time. Some you probably know. Some might make you gasp. All should be taken with a grain of salt. Why? Because they are disembodied statistics. By themselves, they can have a powerful effect, but they are not something to accept uncritically.

One of the strengths of the film is the premise that this sexualization and objectification of women that we are seeing now is a backlash against the gains that women have made over the last several decades (and indeed before that, although more slowly). As women gain power, those who hold more power, mostly white men as it turns out, work to undermine women's power. It's a provocative assertion, but one that I think is well supported in the film. The film affected me emotionally, but it was that well-argued premise that made the strongest impression on me.

In the course I am taking right now on writing for the web, we're looking at three ways that web writing tries to get attention and convey information. Logos is an appeal to reason, and there is some of that in this film. Ethos is an appeal from authority, and certainly many of the talking heads convey such authority. But more than anything, this film is about pathos—an appeal to emotion. Again, that's not a bad thing. If it gets people to take action, then it has done its job. But it does mean that the film must be viewed critically. The film should provoke. It should stimulate discussion. It should get people to dig deeper. But it should not be swallowed whole.

It's interesting that toward the end of the film, filled as it is with horrifying images and statistics, the filmmaker wants to leave us with some hope. Earlier, someone had spoken some words that were used as a tag line for the film: "You can't be what you can't see." I think there is truth in that. Most girls probably need role models with whom they can identify. But at the end, someone else points to Roberta Bondar, first female American astronaut (if I remember correctly, Russian women had been in space for many years before). The speaker noted that Bondar didn't wait for a female role model to go after what she wanted. She simply went for it. There are always a few, fortunately, who manage to be what they have not seen. The tag line, as catchy as it is, is undercut to an extent in the film's conclusion.

I strongly urge everyone to watch Miss Representation. But don't just give in to the ethos and pathos. Keep your own logos in gear. We need to take action, but we need to do so not only with heart but with head as well.


Furry love

Jill in Feministe wrote a beautiful piece called On loving, and losing, little creatures. Naturally, I cried my eyes out, not just because I love cats but because before too long my partner and I will be facing the same decision Jill faced.

We adopted our kitty from the SPCA shelter in Vancouver. Or, as many say, she adopted us. We knew we belonged together right from the start. She had been a stray. The people in the shelter had named her Jewel. We re-christened her Marley, after Bob Marley, but somehow it's nice that she was named Jewel. She has always been precious to us.

She is what is called a Dilute Tortoiseshell, or Blue-and-Cream Tortoiseshell. Most people have seen regular Tortoiseshells, mostly black and orange, and Calico cats, which have white in them as well. Marley is the more muted version, grey and buff and tiny bits of black and white. She has the softest fur of any cat I've ever known. It's like bunny fur. She also has the loudest purr I've ever heard, and she purrs at the drop of a hat.

She's very snuggly. She almost always sleeps with us, usually right in between. She can sit on your lap until your legs fall asleep along with her. She seems to have an infinite capacity to be skritched behind the ears, on top of her head, and under her chin. She loves to be brushed. She will let you know when she wants to be picked up. She will also let you know when she wants belly rubs and for how long. Sadly, she is rather shy around people other than us, so not many people who visit get to see her, although a few have had success at winning her over.

As is our way with pets, we rarely call her Marley. She has had many alternate names over the years. Lately I tend to call her Puddin'. Even though she has lost weight, when she is lying on the floor she still tends to splodge out.

Every once in a while I think of how odd it is that we share our house with this little furry critter. We certainly never did it willingly with the mice that used to get in before all the holes were plugged. But Marley is as much a part of this house as we are. She has lived here almost as long.

We knew when we got her that she would need care. Her kidneys have never been quite up to snuff. We're not sure how old she is, since her age has always been a guess, but we think she's about 14. We've had her on a low-protein diet for quite a while now, recently reduced even more, since she is now definitely in early stage renal failure.

After giving us a bit of a scare that seemed to have to do with a particular kind of food, Marley seems to be relatively stable. We know that won't last forever. We will do what we can for her for as long as we can and as long as she seems to be enjoying her existence. It will be horrible for both of us when we have to let go of her, but we don't want her to be in pain. We will love her until we have to let her go. And then love her memory.


Dumming up

Last thing about the Dum Dum Girls for a while, I promise. But I saw them play last night, so of course I have to post a review. The usual sort-of-a-review.

My friend and I arrived around 10. She was dressed nicely in black. I was wearing my slutty black dress (j/k, it's not really that slutty) for the first time since I bought it at the awesome MLK Fashion Plaza in Portland, with purple tights, booties, and too much makeup. Sorry, no pics. I should have got her to snap one, because she has a real camera in her phone as opposed to my pathetic camera (evidence of pathetic camera in that picture to the left). Anyway, we looked good. A few other people looked good. But this is Vancouver. Dress up? Make an effort? Sorry, too cool for that. Sure, the Electric Owl is a rock club, a cleaned-up rock club, but the Dum Dum Girls are more Bangles than Bikini Kill. Either way, it shouldn't have been a flannel night. Hey, it was 13°C outside!

Enough of the fashion snobbery report. When my friend and I arrived, there was a young woman on stage. She was wearing sunglasses. She played an electric guitar with lots of distortion. She had electronic backing, no band. Her songs sounded OK, but I'm afraid I didn't pay much attention. Someone can probably tell me who she was.

I had seen the Crocodiles a couple years ago in San Francisco, opening for the Raveonettes at Bimbo's. At the time, I was not familiar with their music. They were kind of like a very noisy Raveonettes, which is pretty darned noisy. There was melody in there, but it was lost in even more noise and reverb and vibrato than the Raveonettes use. Since then, I've listened to one of their albums, and I like it. And last night, they did a good set. It was a sunglasses night—the lead singer never took his off. I recognized some of the songs. The mix was pretty good, and I could hear the melodies through the noise. They do have this annoying habit of making lots of guitar noise between every song, but that wasn't such a big deal. I danced a bunch. Kristen Gundred of the Dum Dum Girls came out at one point to duet with the lead singer, who is her boyfriend. Touring together! Cute, eh?

I remarked to my friend that it was somehow very satisfying that her band was the top billed over her boyfriend's band.

The Dum Dum Girls played a strong set. Did I dance from start to finish? Pretty much. Some other people did. But again, so many people just stood there. They applauded and cheered, but really, these women deserved more enthusiasm and movement.

It's true that Kristen does not really engage the crowd. It's about the songs, not the show. The band member who really caught my attention was the drummer. She was good! And it doesn't hurt that she was gorgeous too. She had a fan blowing on her, probably for practical purposes, but it also had the effect of acting like a wind machine on her hair. Music video!

The set consisted of a mix of new and old songs. Yes, the new songs sounded better played live, but the old ones sound even better. They just kick more ass! I think Kristen's guitar should have been mixed a bit higher. It would have filled out the sound. One way in which the new songs were improved were that you could hear Kristen's voice pretty well, something that doesn't often happen in a club mix. But you heard the pretty melodies more than the less-than-stellar lyrics, and that worked very well.

I danced to lots of favourites—"He Gets Me High," "Bhang, Bhang, I'm a Burnout," "It Only Takes One Night," "Always Looking," "Bedroom Eyes," "Wasted Away." They finished the set with the Smiths' cover "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out." A very satisfying closer! They then came back to encore with their ballad "Coming Down." No, I didn't wave a cigarette lighter.

In case I don't get back before then, Happy Thanksgiving!


Let not the sun go down

The Vancouver International Film Festival is currently running. This Sunday, I will make some time to see a couple of films. One of them is called Miss Representation, a documentary about how women are portrayed in the media. I've been wanting to see it ever since I caught a trailer on Feministing (there's also a great review in their community blog).

In the trailer, someone says that when children are seven years old, girls and boys in equal numbers say they want to be president. But by the time they're 15, the ratio has changed drastically. Every time I hear that, I start to cry. I had tears in my eyes while reading that review.

Why do I get sad and not angry?

These kinds of injustice hurt. They even feel like physical injury sometimes. And I react like someone who has been hurt. I cry. I am injured and I feel sad. Empathy makes me want to take the pain away from others. Empathy makes me want to fix the situation.

But sadness won't fix anything. Anger in itself doesn't fix anything either, but anger, much more than sadness, can drive action.

The trouble is that I don't get angry easily. In fact, it's rare for me to be angry for more than a very short time. Even if it hits me, I don't sustain it. I imagine there are a lot of reasons for this. One is that anger was discouraged in my family. In fact, any strong emotion was discouraged. But somehow I have very strong emotions now, except for anger. And then maybe it's because I used to have a lot of anger, and I realized that it was hurting me and driving people away. So I learned to overcome it. I didn't suppress my anger. I just learned not to react that way. Maybe I've trained myself too well.

As well, anger has a definite downside. The anger that leads someone to join a protest in the street, or even to start one, can turn into anger that leads to violent confrontation. Anger channelled into violence is basically terrorism.

Still, there are things I should get angry about. I should get angry at the sexism and misogyny that still pervade our supposedly enlightened culture. I should get angry that female genital mutilation is tolerated and even encouraged in parts of the world—and even crosses into North America. I should get angry that my federal government is trying to dismantle the Charter of Rights by stealth and remake my beloved country in their own twisted image. I should get angry at the appalling inequities and the complete lack of political will to address them in the land of my birth.

Leaving aside the fact that anger does not come easily to me, which I think is basically a good thing, maybe there's something else at work. Maybe if I got angry, I would have to do something about it.

The anger I overcame was basically about stupid personal stuff. But earlier in life, I was able to work up some really good political anger. I protested the Vietnam War. I marched for economic democracy. I learned techniques of nonviolence in working against nuclear power. That's the anger I should have now—political anger. But if you want to make sure that political anger doesn't destroy you, you have to direct it toward a goal.

Perhaps sadness is an inappropriate response to injustice, either toward self or others. Perhaps anger is a more appropriate response. But I don't know how to work it up. Maybe I won't be able to and shouldn't be able to. What I shouldn't do, however, is use that as an excuse for complacency. Perhaps the overly empathic can channel their empathy into action rather than just allowing things to hurt.


Falling for Veronica Falls

So I gave another listen to Only in Dreams by the Dum Dum Girls. I'm afraid it didn't improve on a second listen. I'm still going to enjoy seeing them, but I'll be most happy to hear the songs from their first album and recent EP—unless the new songs come off better live. On record, with few exceptions (the album starts stronger than it finishes), they seem laboured and uninspired, even lazy. There are refrains where there ought to be choruses. There is a reliance on form without the substance to go with it. The lyrics perhaps don't deserve to be right up front. I'm not giving up on the band, but I certainly hope Kristen Gundred gets more inspired next time around.

I mentioned Veronica Falls in that last review. Their first album, All Eyes on You,, really catches my attention, even more on second listen than on first. That's a good sign. What we have here are 12 strong songs. I found myself clicking the "love" icon on my Last.fm scrobbler more than a few times.

I am not familiar with any of the C-86 bands, so I don't know the antecedent to this sound. But I don't really care if this is a revival. As far as I'm concerned, it's just plain good stuff. Twee? Sure. It's ringing guitars and pretty girl-boy harmonies from Roxanne Clifford and James Hoare, with solid backing from bass player Marion Herbain (who is French and so has an adorable accent) and drummer Patrick Doyle. There's nothing edgy or dangerous about this music. But good songs and a cool sound win me over every time.

Since I don't have a point of reference for their actual influences, I will say that the band they remind me of most is the Chills, a band (really a series of bands) from New Zealand led by songwriter Martin Phillipps. They also seem to like a bit of surf guitar. And then there's the gothic influence on songs like "Love in a Graveyard" and "Beachy Head," although it all seems rather more tongue-in-cheek than truly gothic. There is one spot in "Love in a Graveyard" that I swear is a melodic quote from Joy Division. There's something about the way Clifford sings the descending fifth on the word "you" that makes me think of Ian Curtis (I think the song is "I Remember Nothing").

Here are songwriters who use conventional pop elements but make them distinctive. The sound does not rely strictly on the quality of the singer's voice. The songs don't sound generic; they sound fresh. If you don't like this kind of music, then I'm sure it won't work for you. But if you're a fan of indie pop, you owe it to yourself to check out Veronica Falls.

They're playing next Tuesday at Venue before the Drums (who are too poppy even for me). I am so tempted to go to the show and stay up too late when I should be studying for a test on Thursday, after having spent most of the weekend with my sweetie and her sister seeing movies at the film festival and having Thanksgiving dinner. But maybe I can fit all that in.