Monday, May 17, 2010

The meaning of blog

My blog is having an existential crisis right now. What is the meaning of its life? What is the purpose of updating it? Who am I trying to communicate with and why?

I would like to build a personal website and import this blog onto it, but realistically, that's probably not going to happen for a while and it's been an excuse for letting my current digital home stagnate. That's what this blog feels like - a little apartment I rent on the web, the place on the internets where I take my shoes off and keep my coffee maker.

Anyway, it seems important, for some reason, to explain why I haven't been home much lately. Maybe my anxiety about my infrequent updates is just part of my general anxiety about keeping routines and order, but it feels important. I'm just not sure why. And I have cultivated a small audience here, which is kind of cool, so I thought I'd just, you know, leave a note on the fridge for you saying I'll be back soon.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Two weeks

In two weeks, the phrase "today is the first day of the rest of your life" will actually mean something. The big gray question mark of life after school.

The amount of work I have to do won't follow the reliable schedule of bearable in September/January, busy in October/February, insane in November/March.

No more writing papers, or going to class.

Most of the people I know will move away.

It's such a massive concept to wrap my head around. The question "why should I get out of bed today?" has had such a clear answer for so long.

When I took a year off after my undergrad and went backpacking in Southeast Asia, I didn't like not having a clear answer to that question. Most days, it was "because I want to eat a mango in a hammock."

I'm not sure how applicable that experience will be.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

I may have to change the title of my blog

This week in my magazine writing class, we've been assigned two articles about journalistic fraudsters - people who have made up quotes, sources and stories and gotten away with it for long periods of time.

One was by a former Carleton journalism undergrad who got top grades by faking her assignments. The other was about Stephen Glass, who was the American magazine world's "it" writer until his spectacular web of lies unraveled.

They both seem to have been motivated by stress, perfectionism and fear of failure rather than laziness. I bet this happens way more than people think, especially in class assignments that don't actually get published and the source never sees. I think this says a lot about the absolutely insane pressures of j-school, the middle class cult of high achievement, and journalism in general. Not that that makes it right. It just explains it.

Anyway, in the article "Shattered Glass," the writer describes Stephen Glass getting kicked out of the office:

"Lane ordered Glass to leave his office. Glass pleaded to be allowed to take his Rolodex and some files from the hard drive of his computer, but Lane refused to let him. Instead, the only thing that Stephen Glass carried out of The New Republic — after Lane had searched his pockets — was a blue blazer."

He took his blazer and got out.

Not exactly a moment in journalism history I want to be associated with.

Hopefully no one would think this is some sort of obscure reference, like a serial killer leaving clues for the police.

Right?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

How I work on my MRP

(My MRP, by the way, is that thing I went to Malaysia to research and am now expected to turn into a knock-your-socks-off radio documentary)

1) Put aside an entire day to work on it.

2) Go to the gym, grocery shop, clean the apartment, read the paper and faff around on the internet.

3) Holy @#$%, it's 4:00 p.m.

4) Open the word document with my script

5) UUUUUUUUGGGGHHHH

6) Mentally prepare myself to look at it

7) Spend 15 minutes making notes and thinking about what I need to do next

8) Make a few small changes

9) Decide I need to do in depth research on Malaysian sodomy laws in order to fact check a small point

10) Realize I can't do anything else without going back and listening to an interview

11) EEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWW

12) Spend 20 minutes mentally preparing myself to listen to the interview

13) I SOUND LIKE SUCH AN IDIOT

14) Kick myself for 20 minutes for sounding like an idiot

15) Kick myself for not getting more sound

16) Actually write or rewrite the section

17) Make a congratulatory cup of tea and faff around on the internet some more

18) Realize it's 8:00

19) Panic

20) Blog

21) Repeat.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A thoughtful analysis of the 2010 Olympic opening ceremonies

I have one of those lefty, urban, ivory tower liberal arts undergraduate degrees they love to hate on Fox News. That means I can't open a newspaper or turn on the TV without analyzing how what I'm reading or watching reinforces or resists the gendered, racialized and class-based structures of power that underpin society.

Trust me, it's a curse. Sometimes I just want to watch Dr. Phil in peace.

I watched the Olympics opening ceremonies last night. And let me tell you, Canadian studies, women's studies and sociology departments across the country are about to have a field day. This is how VANOC decided the Canadian identity should be explained to the world:

A long, long time ago in the frozen and virginal wasteland called Canada, the Aboriginal Peoples who lived there put wolf pelts on their heads and danced around. Their dancing awakened the four great totem poles from their flaccid slumber beneath the snow and they shuddered to erect, majestic attention.

Immigrant communities joined the Aboriginal Peoples and danced with them in musket- and smallpox-free harmony. Some skinny women tottered onto the ice in six inch stilettos and, praise be the Olympic magic, sang songs without falling down.

More skinny women, clad in white Sexy Santa costumes, led the world's Olympic athletes onto the ice to join the dance. Then there were some crazy special effects where whales looked like they were jumping out of the ice and the dancers flew around on wires like Peter Pan and everybody was like, whoa.

Then some people fiddled and tap danced really fast. I left around this point, but I hear Wayne Gretzky lit the cauldron and not a hologram of Terry Fox, which is disappointing.

So I think VANOC's talking points about Canada here are the following:
- Everyone here gets along with each other and respects the environment
- We worship at the feet of our rulers, the Great White Penises of the North
- Canadian women are hot

Field. Day.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Old new journalist encounters new new journalism; is bewildered.




I did a class presentation on Tom Wolfe last week and I stumbled upon this interview with Tom Wolfe. I still can't get over it. In case you're too lazy to click the link, here's how it goes:

"New York: Hi. I'm Tim from New York magazine.
Tom Wolfe: Hello, Tim. You don't do podcasts, do you?

[Brief pause for understandable disorientation.]

New York: No, but I do video stories. Why do you ask?
Tom Wolfe: Because I still don't know what they are. And I've never known anyone that ever watched one.

New York: You don't know what podcasts are?
Tom Wolfe: I have a vague idea. As far as I can tell, nobody ever watches them.
New York: They're just audio though.
Tom Wolfe: They check out, but they don't check in.
New York: [Mental double take.] Are you pulling my leg? You really don't know what a podcast is?
Tom Wolfe: To be honest, I don't know what it is. I know that you sit in front of a microphone and have a conversation, and some way or another, it comes out on a screen or…

[Pause for a brief explanation of the nature of podcasts and how, for example, one could download an interview with him and listen to it on an iPod or in while driving.]

Tom Wolfe: Oh, see, that part I didn't know.
New York: Do you think now that you know you'll try it out?
Tom Wolfe: No. I never wear earphones in the car."

That's right: The man went from a career built on uncovering trends and subcultures before they even existed and totally reinventing journalism in the process to being totally bewildered by new media.

How does that happen? Is it inevitable that at some point, you get stuck in your ways and miss huge cultural and technological changes? When it happens to me, will I know, and will there be anything I can do about it?

Dear New York Magazine: Please don't sue me for copying and pasting that interview.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Take your nomination form and...

It's the time of year when a young Carleton student's student council ambitions turn to nominations.

All over campus, these fresh faced and nerdy young go getters are pounding the pavement. They have to get a certain number of nominations to get their name on the ballot. I think. I haven't actually researched this, because I don't care about CUSA bureaucracy, not even enough to spend five seconds googling it.

But these kids care enough to want to involve themselves in it. And they either don't have enough friends to get the required number of nominations out of people they know, or the threshold is set pretty high. So they stand in the hallways and cafeteria lines, harassing strangers to sign their nomination form.

I have a great ready made excuse for not signing petitions or political forms of any kind. I'm a journalism student. Sorry, random student. What if I were called to report on some future CUSA scandal and needed to use you as a source? I can't affiliate myself with you, or anyone else, politically.

Usually this throws people off enough to give up. But not these people. "It's not an endorsement!" they persist. "It's just a nomination. All you're doing is giving me a chance to run."

See, here's the thing though. Let's imagine that the KKK decides it's going to run a slate in the CUSA elections. One of their representatives taps you on the shoulder while you're waiting in line for a bagel. He asks you to sign his nomination form - after all, it's not an endorsement, and why would you stand in anyone's way who wants to participate in the democratic process?

For all I know, these people could be members of the KKK. They could be planning to run on a platform of requiring all students to pledge allegiance to Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il every morning. They could be planning to ban student groups whose views and activities they don't like - which actually happened at York, with some pro-life groups.

Do I support these fictional people's right to run in a student election? Of course. Do I want to put my signature down nominating them? Hell no.

You can tell me it's not an endorsement until you're blue in the face. Even if I wasn't on a strict non-political journalist's diet, I still wouldn't help anyone out with my signature who isn't prepared to give me some vague idea of what they're going to use it for.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Yawn-a-palooza

A young woman chewed gum and stared into space as a burly man in leather tied her up with white nylon rope.

About ten people watched listlessly as he tied a series of increasingly elaborate knots. Eventually he pulled the rope attached to a wooden frame and hoisted her off the ground. Her long, dark brown hair swung downwards. A half-hearted smile briefly interrupted her gum chewing.

The crowd dispersed. There was no applause.

“You can be next!” announced another, older burly man in leather. In response, he got more blank stares. The crowd shuffled over to inspect a table of whips and riding crops.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to Sexapalooza Ottawa, a trade show for people who make a living convincing people to spend money on one of the only things in life that’s free. The spectacle you just witnessed took place in “the dungeon,” a red polyester tent so kinky and incriminating that two sandwich boards and an inflatable devil warn you in both official languages that there are to be Absolutely No Pictures. Who knows whose delicate sensibilities might be offended had images of that fully clothed brunette ended up on Facebook.

To be fair, it was 4 p.m. in Ottawa’s decaying Lansdowne Park, which isn’t normally the time and place for getting loose and crazy. Still, these people shelled out 20 bucks for the privilege of perusing the highest concentration of dildos per square foot in the city. You’d think someone could have mustered a “Take your top off!”

Alas, the only person who seemed interested in anyone taking his or her top off was the event’s M.C. A blonde woman dressed in a military uniform, she took to the microphone throughout the night to assure the crowd the only reason we weren’t all having a wild orgy right now was city regulations.

“It’s getting hot in here,” she whooped. “Maybe everybody should just take off all their clothes! Nope, sorry, regulations won’t let us do that.”

She was similarly reassuring as the crowd watched a half-asleep stripper called Misha Manx reveal nipples covered with black electrical tape. “Regulations don’t permit it here,” she apologized, “but come on down to the Playmate club!”

But no one looked like they were in the mood to stick dollar bills in ol’ Misha’s g-string. The yuppie-looking couples tended to keep their arms wrapped tightly around each other, as if to dispel any suspicion they might be there for reasons other than improving their healthy, heterosexual, monogamous sex lives. Women in their 20s stuck together in groups, making sure to giggle frequently so no one would think they were actually interested in pubic shavers or strap-on harnesses. And lone middle aged men kept their ball caps firmly over their eyes as they inspected porn DVDs with titles like Big Black Titties.

In fact, one of the few people who seemed to be enjoying himself was a man on stilts who kept flashing a pair of rubber boobs at anyone who looked his way. “Woo!” he yelled as he opened his vest for the hundredth time.

Woo.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The 2000s: They weren't all bad.

Every end of decade list I've seen has concluded the previous decade sucked pretty bad. Time Magazine even called it the worst decade ever. This seems a bit much (Great Depression? WWII?), but there were some undeniably crappy things that happened over the last ten years.

However, I refuse to let the decade of my young adulthood go down in history as one long, violent, bad weather suckfest. There were at least a few things that were OK about the 2000s, right?

This is my short but sweet best of the 2000s better-late-than-never New Year's list.

5) Flat shoes. I can't remember exactly when flats came in style, but they've definitely been around for most of the decade. I feel as though the fact that it's stylish and socially acceptable for women to wear flats to all but the most formal occasions has made the lives of half the human race a lot more bearable over the last ten years. Throw yoga pants in there too. Basically, every time you feel like whining about the last decade, just think to yourself, "at least I don't have to wear foundation garments."

4) Cats on the internet. This item was brought to you by Kate Harper. For some reason, cats and the internet go together like, well, cats in sinks. And cats in things they're not supposed to be in. And pictures of cats and hilarious text captions.

3) Social media in general. C'mon... #iranelection? Social media is often dumb and over-hyped, but occasionally incredible.

2) TV. It may not have been an epic decade for music or other mass pop culture. But I am going to go out on a limb and call this a truly great decade for TV. The Wire, Mad Men, most of Buffy, Battlestar... smart, engaging, intellectual stuff. TV on DVD really freed up the medium to do long form story telling.

1) Barack Obama getting elected. Whatever you think of the man, I definitely felt like I was part of one of those generation defining moments when I watched that election.

Flimsy? Maybe. Does this list make up for all the bad stuff that happened? Nope. But I was lucky, and I had a pretty good decade. I'm not quite ready to throw it into Ms. Dion's "trash can of history."