Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Well this is just... neat.

Damn, I want to read this book now. And then join a Muslim punk rock band.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My RA job: a flashback montage

I don't think I've blogged about my RA job yet. So here's the deal: the rest of my peers got TA jobs where they did things like run discussion groups, mark papers, teach people how to use photoshop, and other tasks that require at least some degree of intelligence, skill and mental stimulation. I was assigned to be the research assistant for a professor who's writing a book on women in the CBC in the '50s to '60s, and a journal article about Canadian feminist newspapers. 

Right up my alley, you might think. This is also probably what the director of my program thought when he assigned me the job (it was either that or 'A feminist, eh? We'll show you what we do with THOSE'). Well, yes, except that my main duty was transcribing interviews word for word with very, very, very old people, who mumble, trail off into unrelated anecdotes, and get angry when they're asked questions they don't remember the answer to. Ten hours of that a week gets a bit tedious, to put it mildly.

Well, today I finished it. I transcribed the very last word of the very last interview, after plowing through three weeks worth of backed up work. And so in commemoration, I present to you My RA Job: The Montage.

(Cue music. Violins, perhaps.)

Scene 1

(Claire walks up to the Special Collections desk at Library and Archives Canada.)

Claire: Hello, I would like to order this list of audio materials.

Desk lady: (Types them into computer) I'm sorry, but these are not available for use at this location.

Claire: Um, then how am I supposed to listen to them, since that is my job?

Desk lady: They are only available in the main storage location in Hull. They are open only on weekday mornings. Very, very early on weekday mornings.

Claire: But I go to school on weekday mornings.

Desk lady: Well, then I suppose you'll just have to get there extra early.

Claire: Please check one more time before I die of a heart attack.

Desk lady: Alright, but... oh wait... ha ha, I entered the number wrong. They'll be here in two days.

Claire: *Dies of a heart attack*

Scene 2: The audio consultation room of Library and Archives Canada

Claire is transcribing an interview in which not one, but two Very Very Very Old Ladies are interviewing EACH OTHER.

VVVOL1: Now, if you could remember anything about the women's senate party in 1763...

VVVOL2: Oh, now, let's see, yes, I wore a red dress, no, no, it was blue, and it was Mary, no, Marjorie, who put on the party.

VVVOL1: Oh yes, wait, no, it was Mary, it was Mary after all, and your dress was red.

VVVOL2: Yes, yes, I remember now, and oh, didn't they have the nicest sandwiches.

VVVOL1: Yes, but now, what were we talking about, oh yes, the women's senate party, and you made that speech...

VVVOL2: Oh my, yes, now that speech, I wrote that speech while I was caring for my husband, who was injured in the war, you know, and back in those days, the only medicine available was cod's liver oil and pressed garlic...

VVVOL1: Oh dear, I believe we've gotten off topic again, now where were we, oh yes, the women's senate party of 1763...

(Claire ejects the CD and throws it across the room like a frisbee. It hits a security guard. She waves.)

Scene 3: The Special Collections desk again.

Claire: Hello, I just had a question about the material on this CD...

Desk lady: *Goes white* Oh God. Oh God. Did you take that... from the audio consultation room?

Claire: Well, yes...

Desk lady: Into the hallway???

Claire: Yes, but it was just a few feet, and I...

Desk lady: No archive materials are ever. Ever. Supposed to leave. That room.

Claire: Oh, OK, well, sorry, but if you could just answer my quick question...

Desk lady: *Grabs Claire by elbow* I must immediately escort you back. Please keep your eyes forward and the CD visible at all times.

Claire: Uh, alright, sure, but I was just wondering if this is the right recording, because I was looking for...

Desk lady: *Hisses* Never. Ever. Do. That. Again.

Claire: *Dies of a heart attack*

Scene 3: The audio consultation room of Library and Archives Canada

Claire is sitting in one of the little cubicles with headphones, attempting to put one of those giant reel to reel tapes on the tape player. Every time she successfully balances on the player, it plays for a few seconds then falls off.

Claire: $&@*#($*!@&#!(!!!!!!!

People from the neighbouring cubicles give her dirty looks.

Claire: Sorry. *$^#@*#$@!!!!! Does anyone else know how to work these things?

Everyone either ignores her or shakes their head no. Claire tries one more time and this time the entire tape falls off the reel in a tangled mess.

Claire: MOTHER &@#$^@!##$!!!!!

Claire stands on a chair twirling the reel in an attempt to untwist the tape. A security guard walks by. Claire waves.

Scene 4

Claire is transcribing an interview on her laptop at her apartment.

Terrified researcher on tape: So, can you tell me what year that was? '51? '52?

Old lady: Well, now, I don't know! That was 40 years ago!

Terrified researcher: But you can't give me even a rough idea of when, was it before the national broadcasting conference, or after...

Old lady: National broadcasting, now, it was called the broadcasting conference of Canada! Don't you know? Haven't you read anything?

Terrified researcher: Uh, yes, right, I'm sorry, I'll make a note...

Old lady: Now you're rustling your papers! That's going to make noise on the tape! Don't you know anything about broadcasting?

Terrified researcher: Uh, I... sorry...


Anyway, it's been fun, and it is with regret that I must take on another position. But all good things must come to an end.

Excuse me while I mine my parents' wine rack.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I can't believe that just happened.

I sent in my Battlestar article to MONDO yesterday and got an email back this morning.

There is a new TV editor and she has decided to take a firm stance against putting anything BSG related in the magazine.

That's right... I'm too geeky for MONDO. MONDO, the site that had Batman themed content for like, two solid weeks when The Dark Knight came out. MONDO, that has a comics section, editors obsessed with Spiderman, and once ran a series of Buffy fan articles years after the series finished.

Well, that's a blow to the ego.

So I'm making you read it instead. Blogs: helping rejected writers force their material upon an unwilling audience since 1999.


Just Let it Happen.

I’m about to take on an ambitious task.

I’m going to try and convince everyone who reads this article to start watching Battlestar Galactica, and to keep watching it until they’ve caught up to the last episode that aired mid fourth season. The show is starting up again on January 16, and you’re going to need the full Christmas break to prepare.

This being MONDO, bastion of pop culture nerdery (whatever, embrace it), many readers will not need convincing. However, I believe that a subtle approach is necessary to convert the skeptics, the people who respond to the argument “it’s the best show on television” with “yeah, but I’m not into spaceships and all that crap.” I want to be able to bring up the show at a bar and be met with a lively round of conversation, goddammit, instead of the usual chorus of “Shut up, geek!” followed by napkins and straws being thrown at me. So even if, especially if, you’re an ardent science fiction hater and the mere mention of the title makes you want to beat me up and steal my lunch money, hear me out.

I’m going to ease you into this. You may claim that all forms of science fiction give you seizures, but I bet you’ve enjoyed it in the past without even realizing it. OK, fine, you hate Star Trek. Acceptable. You may even hate Star Wars. A shame, but to each his own. But I bet you’ve watched Futurama through to a commercial break at least once while flipping channels. That show involves a spaceship, robots and the future: it counts. I bet you liked The Matrix and Independence Day. That counts too. I bet you’ve read Slaughterhouse Five, A Clockwork Orange, or 1984, and I bet you wrote a stellar book report on it. You’re busted.

Sneaky? Perhaps. Unfair? Maybe. But hey, I just proved that just because a book, movie or TV show has elements of science fiction in it doesn’t mean you won’t like it. A whole new world is now open to you. Thank me later. I’ll see you at the “Environmental Sustainability in Frank Herbert’s Dune Series” book club next Tuesday.

Now that your knee-jerk genre prejudice has been dealt with, let’s move on to Battlestar. I may be forced to give away some minor plot details in order to make the most convincing case possible, so if you’re already hooked but not completely caught up, proceed with caution.

The cast is hot and often half naked. OK, so this may be a cheap way to get people interested. But it’s true: BSG has a little something for everyone. Straight male? One of the main characters is a blonde model who often struts around in a very skimpy red dress. Straight female? Locker room scenes of buff, manly army guys wearing only towels abound. Gay male? Locker room scenes of buff, manly army guys wearing only towels abound, plus there’s Felix “Gaydar” Gaeta’s adorable man-crush on Dr. Gaius Baltar. Gay female? Katee Sackhoff plays short haired, cigar chomping, ass-kicking tomboy Lieutenant Kara Thrace, and... get ready for this... Lucy Lawless plays a bisexual robot (unfortunately minus the Xena breastplates). I challenge you to watch two episodes of this show and not incorporate at least one of the characters into your sexual fantasy roster.

The writing is riveting and the acting is fantastic. I don’t get hooked on long story arc type shows very often, because I find that most of the time they quickly disintegrate into the realm of the soap opera. But Battlestar sets itself up with a story line interesting enough to sustain an entire series without jumping the shark. I’m tempted to describe the premise, but every time I try I end up saying “I know that sounds really lame, but...” Just trust me that it’s not, and remember that this isn’t the first plot involving a futuristic robot war you’ve enjoyed (remember my point about The Matrix and Independence Day?). The creators of the show consciously try to make the daily lives of the characters believable, showing you where and how they live instead of having them just wander on and off the set like on Star Trek. This distracts you from the fact it’s set on a spaceship, I promise. Again, there’s something for everyone: intrigue, action, sex and drama. There’s just enough action to keep the romantic plot lines from getting sappy, and just enough romance and personal drama to keep viewers engaged who yawn watching fight and shoot-out scenes. The problem is that the very plot elements that make the show great are also what make it difficult and confusing to watch the episodes out of order. Why does the same actor seem to be three places at once? Why is Baltar the only one lucky enough to be able to see the model in the red dress? All will be revealed, my friend. Take the time and watch from the beginning. It’s worth it.

The plot features intelligent, complex social and political commentary. I would go so far as to say it’s the best I’ve see on television, ever. The show makes parallels with terrorism and the Iraq war, with the humans and robots (called cylons) holding competing religious belief. In season three, the cylons occupy a human settlement, so the humans develop an underground insurgency using suicide bombing as a tactic. Sound familiar? The fictional premise allows the writers leeway to explore controversial topics that would probably get them pulled off the air if the setting were more realistic. It also means the themes can be incorporated seamlessly into the plot without appearing preachy or out of place. Other topics brought up include abortion, freedom of speech, class politics, torture, and labour rights.

Christmas break is the perfect time to rent a season, hole up in your basement wrapped up in a blanket, and not leave the house. It’s snowing; you don’t want to go outside anyway. You’ll have an excuse not to talk to your family. You’ll save money by not going out. And when the series comes back on in January, you’ll be babbling about it excitedly to anyone who will listen instead of telling geeks like me to shut up.

Just let it happen.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A cautionary tale.

Yesterday I showed up to work five minutes early, giant yellow purse packed with all the essential tools of my trade, eyeliner carefully applied, blazer jauntily buttoned. "Boy, I sure am a picture of responsibility and professionalism," I thought as I looked at my put together self in the bathroom mirror. "Who wouldn't hire me? I am clearly amazing."

"Good morning, Claire," my editor said to me.

"Good morning, Kate," I cheerfully replied.

"Are you enjoying your internship?"

"Why yes, it is going fantastically," I said. "You will notice that I emailed you all three 850 word articles last evening at 5:30. Would you like to assign me some other work to do while you read them? Or shall I just bask in the anticipation of praise, like a puppy waiting for a tummy rub?"

"So you're really enjoying your internship?" She pressed, smiling knowingly.

"Why, of course I am. Ha, ha, ha. Hard work, federal politics, not having to deal with all those pesky tax forms since I don't get paid, who wouldn't?"

"Because I found your blog."

Heart stops.

Jaw drops.

Hockey buzzer goes off in head as I frantically try to remember exactly what I said in my most recent posts.

"I have this Google alert thing set up..."

Crap. Last week's quarter life crisis where I reassessed my career path. Being less than thrilled about fact checking stories on fertilizer policy at midnight.

"And it tells me every time the name of the newspaper gets posted online..."

OH CRAP. Gin buckets. Saying the House Curator's job is to scrape gum off historical objects.

"And so it emailed me when your posts came up..."

CRAP. CRAP. Asian prostitution. Drug tourism. How did I manage to fit all these things in one post?

"They were funny. You're a good writer."


"Here's your pay equity story back. My edits are in bold."

And so I stared at the computer, trying to make sense of what had just happened, picking up the pieces of my sense of identity as a together, unflappable intern. I mean, editing my pay equity story.

Yes, I know that anyone can find what I write on this blog. And I've definitely been playing fast and loose with my usual rule, which is if I can think of anyone I wouldn't want to read it, don't write it. But I didn't know that it was as if I was emailing my blogs to my boss every time I wrote the name of the paper (which, yes, I am carefully avoiding using).

It could have been a lot worse, that's for damned sure. So let this be a lesson to you. A cautionary tale, if you will. I'm ramping up my standards. Not only will I not write anything if there's anyone I wouldn't want to read it, I will assume it is getting emailed to everyone and everything mentioned.

Dear Kate:

If you are reading this, I really did enjoy my internship at your fine newspaper. I feel that my unintentional candidness gives you a more well rounded and honest perspective of my performance. Also, now you know how hard I worked. If you hire me in the summer, I promise I will not blog about pieing politicians or mention the name of your publication and Asian hookers in the same post again.

I look forward to working with you in the future.


Claire Brownell.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Internship week 2: A lot less terrifying?

Mega was right. Despite the fact that I have a similar workload this week, I finished work at 5 today with two rough drafts done, anticipate being done by 6:30 at the latest tomorrow, and am about to watch two hours of Kenny v. Spenny. 


I have a press gallery pass for Parliament!

If I had a digital camera, I would definitely post a picture of it. In fact, it would probably be my new profile picture on Facebook. You'll just have to take my word for it that it has my name, The Hill Times, and the Parliamentary crest (there's probably an actual name for that), and a picture of me that looks like someone squished my head. It's beautiful.

I interviewed the Curator for the House of Commons Collection today for a feature profile. Basically his job is to keep track of all the historical stuff in the Centre Block and make sure no one sticks their gum on a bust of John A. MacDonald. Nice guy. We somehow got on the topic of Cambodia, and now I'm slightly concerned he'll Google me and find my MONDO articles and have his image of me as a fresh faced go-getting intern drown in a bucket of Samsung and Red Bull. Note to self: launching your journalistic career with a series of travel articles about drugs, prostitution and binge drinking can lead to future awkward professional situations.

Tomorrow I'm interviewing the woman who plays the bells in the Peace Tower at noon. She used to be a doctor in Spokane, you know.

And my pay equity article is turning out to be quite exciting, and led to a brief but lively exchange with a spokesperson for a certain government department that I should probably not discuss in detail in my blog. Ask for details in person.

Coming soon on Take your Blazer and Get Out:
- The wife leaves town: Mega, Lisa and Claire consume 17 pies, 36 gin buckets and the beer store's entire stock of Max Ice
- I starve to death and cry myself to sleep in my lonely, wife-less state
- I discover that attempting to do 30 hours of backlogged transcribing in 30 hours leads to hallucinations and uncontrollable fits of shrieking

Stay tuned!

Oh. AND. Mega has a blog now! Find it on my blog roll or at

Friday, December 5, 2008

Internship week 1: still standing.

Well! I was right. That was interesting. Not quite in the way I thought though.

My dreams of chasing down politicians while yelling hard hitting questions about accountability and parliamentary precedents were crushed Monday morning when I was handed a stack of assignments on resources, next week's focus topic. 

So instead, I found myself frantically making phone calls trying to get interviews on such topics as fertilizer regulations, offshore oil in Newfoundland, and Arctic research. I had a meltdown Wednesday night around midnight as I was still banging out my fourth article and wondering if I had damned myself to a life of working 16 hour days and doing interviews on my cell phone sitting cross legged in bus shelters in subzero weather ("Oh, yes, you're the NDP Indian Affairs critic... yes, of course I have time to talk to you now. Please excuse the sound of rush hour traffic and my chattering teeth").

Realistically, it wasn't that much more work than a normal week at school, where I'm used to never getting a day off and working all night. But there's something about having to be in an office from nine to five that adds extra misery to the realization that it's 10:00 p.m. and I'm reading the Fertilizers Act to fact check.

But Mega reminded me that any new job seems overwhelming at first, and that maybe it would get easier. And it did... once the deadline was over things were pretty easy, and I spent the afternoon getting a head start on assignments for next week, which will hopefully mean I'll be less crazed. I even pitched a story idea that I got the go ahead on... and it's a story about the Conservatives rolling back pay equity! I'm getting a story published about feminism! Who woulda thought?

Another weird thing I noticed is that after spending so much time exerting every ounce of energy sounding professional and articulate in five billion interviews with important people, I immediately became a neanderthal when I slipped back into normal life mode. "What kind of coffee would you like, miss?" "Uh." "How many sheets of bus tickets do you need?" "Duh." "Yo Claire, how's work going?" "SO. HUNGRY."

And I'm making it sound like it was all stress and caffeine. It wasn't. I definitely got a perverse kick out of calling MPs and lobbyists and pretending I knew what I was talking about. "So how long have you been with The Hill Times?" they would ask me. "Since Monday," I would respond. ".... Oh." I went to a conference on renewable fuels and interviewed the woman in charge of a $1 billion biofuels fund. I wrote a really interesting article on drinking water quality in First Nations communities. And I saw my five (FIVE!) articles the way they're going to be laid out in Monday's paper with my byline, and damn... my name looks good in print.

But I think the strongest indication that I still like journalism is that I came home from work today, made myself dinner, turned on the 6:00 news and started blogging.

Career path confirmed. Lisa, start baking that pie.