The Introvert’s Guide to Killing Media Clutter

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How much media clutter do you experience each day? A few months back, that old guesstimate that we each see around 5000 pieces of advertising each day was revised to be around 300, which makes more sense but is still way too much. Turns out our brains only absorb about half of that… but what if you could make your life almost “media clutter” free?

As a curmudgeonly introvert, I don’t want to see ads, especially for stuff I have no interest in. I don’t want to deal with flyers, catalogues or emails with suggestions of stuff I might like. I know what I like, thanks, and can usually use the old Googlebox to find it for myself.

Eradicating media clutter not only has environmental benefits, but with so much less “noise” coming in, it allows for a more tranquil life.

Working from home, the only time I now encounter advertising I have not intentionally sought out is when I’m on the street (billboards, bus shelters) or when I ride transit. I love, love, love not being inundated with ads for crap I don’t want or need. Here’s how I did it…

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The Genuine Marriage Test – And Why I’d Fail

wedding
December 31st, 2007. Our friend John performs our wedding ceremony. I rock a wedding boa. Greg still has hair.

First, an upfront – my marriage isn’t technically “genuine” since Greg and I never bothered with a license. In Canada, common law relationships carry the same legal status as married, so there is no financial benefit to paying for the piece of paper if you are a Canadian citizen. So while we’d immediately set off flags if one of us was originally from another country, no eyelashes were batted when it came to the legality of how we chose to “wed”, and as far as we’re concerned we are married and have been so for over 17 years.

But according to this piece in the Toronto Star, if one member of the couple happens to be an immigrant, you’d best be sure that you: have an actual diamond ring, kiss in your wedding photo, have a big reception (not at a restaurant, pub or home), and take a honeymoon immediately after your ceremony and be sure it’s to some place far away… because not doing any of these could mean that your wedding is not about love, but that you’re helping someone to enter and live in Canada illegally.

I don’t need to outline why this is not only stupidly racist but also just really idiotic, right?

Here’s the thing, in 1997, my wedding to Greg cost us under $500. Were we not both Canadian citizens, we would totally have flagged Immigration Canada’s checklist.

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Review – The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu by Dan Jurafsky

language-of-foodThe Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu
by Dan Jurafsky
W. W. Norton & Company, 2014

Fresh. Delicious. Perfectly cooked (oh, how I hate that one). The way we talk about food, especially how it’s described on menus, plays a huge role in how much we’re going to end up paying for those same dishes.

Dan Jurafsky’s amusing and informative book The Language of Food looked at thousands of menus from all types of restaurants. Fancy restaurants with “five-dollar” words on the menu charge more money for their dishes, But beware any place telling you the food is fresh, real (as in maple syrup), or crispy – because don’t you already assume that the food in restaurants is fresh and real? As Willy Shakes said, “I think thou doth protest too much.”

Menus aren’t the only thing Jurafsky, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University discusses in his book. He spends a lot of time looking at the origin of food words and how they morphed as food culture was carried with explorers to new countries. Ice cream, for instance, started as flavoured syrups used in drinks in the Middle East and Persia. Then the Chinese discovered that salt-peter used in gun powder made ice really, really cold and that process also moved east where it was used on those syrups to make the frozen treat sherbet. It didn’t take long for someone to start flavouring milk and cream and using the same process, and voila – ice cream.

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Join Me For Dinner – May 5th at The Depanneur

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So the brilliant folks at The Depanneur have started a cool weekly new program called Table Talks where they invite people involved in the Toronto food scene – from farmers and producers to local food writers – to drop by each week for an hour-long informal “around the kitchen table” sort of talk. Owner Len Senater cooks up something tasty and everyone shares a meal while discussing a pre-determined issue or topic related to that week’s guest.

I’ll be the featured guest on Tuesday, May 5th from 7 – 8pm where I’ll be talking about Canadian long-form food writing; specifically the lack of diverse voices and foodways in Canadian food writing and why we should all care about not just keeping the food stories of our past alive but why we should be expanding our views to encompass all Canadians.

There will be copies of Stained Pages Press titles for sale and a stack of my favourite Canadian food books to peruse. Not sure what Len is planning on cooking up just yet, but it’s guarantee to be tasty and inexpensive.

The Depanneur is at 1033 College Street, and the talk takes place on Tuesday May 5th at 7pm.

I hope to see you there!

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The Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger

dior1While it’s often easy to think of fashion as mere frippery, looking back on changing styles reveals a clear indication of society’s attitudes and politics of a particular era. As the western world adjusted to peacetime after a long and terrible war, women were trying to find their new place in society after years of fashion freedom in which they wore slim, close-fitting dresses and even trousers, and worked in factories doing jobs typically belonging to men.

Christian Dior’s New Look of 1947, while offering a whole new silhouette of gorgeous, glamourous dresses, was met with mixed reactions. French fashionistas with money adored the wasp waists and voluminous skirts, but most women, Americans especially, rejected Dior’s designs as restrictive (back to corsets and garters instead of comfortable pants) and pretentious.

The Girl in Dior (Amazon, Powell’s) gives us an insider’s view of the designer’s atelier during this time. The fictional Clara, a fashion journalist assigned to cover Dior’s show, causes a stir when a photo shoot goes wrong, inadvertently pitting models dressed in expensive gowns against impoverished people running market stalls.

The job gets her fired but Dior takes pity on her and she becomes one of his top models; going on to meet her future husband, she moves from Dior model to Dior customer.

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Why We Should Mourn For Worn

I’m not sure how I missed the boat when it comes to Worn. I had always sort of known of their existence, but maybe I wrote them off as being a bit too indie girl twee or something. Or wrote myself off as too old, since it seemed directed to a younger demographic. In fact, I don’t recall actually picking up an issue until I came across a volunteer manning a table at City of Craft a few years back. I bought a couple of issues and even met with editor Serah-Marie McMahon, who was kind enough to offer me some wise advise regarding indie magazine start-ups (I was considering starting a food magazine at the time), but maybe because I assume that, despite (or because of) my own rockin’ style, fashion magazines have little to offer me, I never followed through on keeping up with new issues.

I even missed the publication of the Worn Archive in the spring of 2014, and it wasn’t until the fall when McMahon announced Worn was shutting down operations (the project had always struggled financially), that I clued in and bought the book.

And then I realized what I had been missing.

Because Worn is everything most of us who don’t care about “fashion” actually want a fashion magazine to be. The photo shoots are modelled by Worn staffers and volunteers (Wornettes) – regular-sized folks of various ages and sizes, usually wearing their own clothes. No, you can’t rush out and buy that exact outfit from a store – but that’s the point – Worn is more about personal creativity and inspiration that being able to “shop that look”.

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Got Game?

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Crispy Masala Quail from The Queen & Beaver. Photo by Q&B chef Andrew Berry-Ashpole.

Hey y’all! A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to write a feature on local game meat for Toronto’s weekly indie NOW Magazine. Just adding some linkage here to prove it actually happened. :)

Got Game – why more Toronto shops and restaurants don’t offer wild-caught meat.

Top 5 places to buy game meat in Toronto.

Top 5 game dishes from Toronto restaurants.

 

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Arthur Elgort’s The Big Picture

elgort

The photographs are, of course, iconic. As in, I remember exactly where I was when I opened that September 1991 issue of Vogue to flip to the page of Linda Evangelista kicking that bagpiper (plaids are hot for fall, ladies!). But Arthur Elgort’s The Big Picture (Amazon, Powell’s) is about more than pretty fashion models.

Oh, there’s plenty of them there, dating back to his first shoot for British Vogue in 1971, and there’s a sub-theme in The Big Picture that is really the history of haute couture from the 70s forward, as the photographer worked with not just Vogue but Interview, GQ, Life and Rolling Stone, and shot advertising campaigns for Chanel, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent.

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A Little Squirt of Crazy

nasal sprayTo begin, an apology to anyone with an anxiety-related mental illness. I have no intention of implying that anyone with an anxiety disorder is “crazy” (which is considered an inappropriate usage) but really, crazy is the only reasonable term I can come up with to describe what I recently experienced. It was a really brief glimpse at what it might feel like to suffer from anxiety/panic attacks and to experience what people with mental illness must face when dealing with the medical system, but I don’t purport to speak for anybody else, to define anxiety-related mental illness, or to present myself as an expert in any way. Rather I want to share my experience of a very specific situation that was one of the most terrifying events of my life.

Early in February of 2015, I came down with a cold. It moved though fast and I was feeling remarkably better after only a few days. Then the second wave (or a second cold) hit. This time it was bad and I started taking a pile of cold medicines to try and make life a bit less miserable. Specifically I was taking one of those daytime/nighttime cold pills and making regular use (but still following the usage directions on the package) of a generic store-brand nasal decongestant spray.

I had started out with pills that included pseudoephedrine, and those worked reasonably okay. When they ran out I turned to another, similar product that replaced the pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine. For those not in the know, or who missed the early seasons of Breaking Bad, pseudoephedrine, despite its efficacy, is being phased out of cold medications because it is regularly used as an ingredient in the production of meth. (As a cold medicine it tends to make people fairly stoned, but it also works decently well at its intended purpose.) Phenylephrine, the drug now being used instead, does a pretty crap job of actually decongesting anything, which means that in all likelihood, more people will do what I did and will use  decongestant spray on top of that.

The problem with those decongestant sprays is that you can only use them for 3 to 5 days or you risk a rebound effect (it takes more of the medication to work, and it doesn’t last as long); addiction to this product is pretty rampant. So after 5 days (specifically, February 15th) I stopped using the spray.

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What We Do in the Shadows – Review

For more than two decades, Nicholas Cage’s Vampire’s Kiss has been my hands down favourite vampire movie. But recently, that place of honour has been usurped by a group of flatmates from New Zealand.

What We Do In the Shadows is a mockumentary-style film about a group of vampires living together in Wellington, New Zealand. Ranging in age from 183 (Deacon, played by Jonathan Brugh, is the baby of the group, and, oh yeah, also happens to be a Nazi) to 862 (Jemain Clement plays Vladislav, who keeps a dungeon full of sex slaves and is known as The Poker) the trio (including Taika Waititi’s vampire Viago, a 379 year old dandy) share a flat along with 8,000 year old Petyr, doing the things that flatmates mostly do, which is to squabble about the housework and rent, go out clubbing, and try to stay out of the sunlight.

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A Food Writer’s Favourite Food Books

fashionable880If you ask most people, their best-loved books about food are probably cookbooks. They likely don’t actually cook from these tomes but rather consider them light entertainment, to be read in bed, provoking dreams of meals they’ll probably never prepare. As someone who spends most of the day reading and writing about food, books have to have a unique point of view or subject matter to catch my interest, and especially to earn a permanent spot on my shelf.

These are a few of my favourites, chosen mostly for their diversity in demonstrating different styles of food, cooking and eating. There are no celebrity names here, no flashy TV shows to help sell these titles, and no well known food writing personalities, but I think they cover an interesting cross-section of food writing and food history.

bakingbioBaking as Biography – A Life Story in Recipes by Diane Tye
What if the person whose cooking you most admire actually hates to cook? Diane Tye relates the story of growing up as the daughter of a minister in 1970s New Brunswick. Her mother, responsible for preparing food for weekly church functions, drew on recipes from various sources depending on who she was cooking for. Tye’s narration is sometimes clinical, observing food trends as they related to social norms, and sometimes familial and romanticized as she discusses her mother cooking dishes for the family. The book is often uneven as Tye relies too much on interviews with family members as opposed to either strict analysis or her own personal memories, but it’s such a vividly accurate picture of foodways in Atlantic Canada that it is one of my favourite food books.

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Billy By Numbers – or – How the Future Fascist State Will Control Us With Free Concert Tickets

billyidol
Photo credit: John Kenney / Montreal Gazette

1 sweaty t-shirt thrown to a fan in the front row
3 songs from the new album
2 Generation X tracks (one obscure) for the old punks in the house
4 costume changes
1 in-joke (in this case about Gordon Lightfoot and Massey Hall)
12 frisbees tossed into the crowd
2 of the biggest hits saved for the encore
1 rocker chick sitting backstage who looked like she had been time-warped from LA’s Sunset Strip circa 1987
20+ the number of times the name of the city of the current concert was said to the crowd

First off, don’t get me wrong, I dig Billy Idol. Idol was the first concert I ever attended, in 1984, and the imagery in his “White Wedding” video, full of Bat Cavers in black vinyl and religious iconography, was the impetus for me to become part of the punk/goth scene and thus, the person I am today.

But let’s not for a minute forget that Idol is a “rock star”. That concert I went to in the 80s – filled a 10,000 seat arena. More than he mastered singing and playing music, he mastered his persona. He is a celebrity. And undoubtedly revels in the power that comes with that.

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Up The Women – Lady-Positive TV

psychobitches

A few days ago, I came across an article on Bust that made me terribly sad. The article was about how women are mostly left out of Superbowl programming and the best we can hope for, if we don’t like football, is a selection of assorted oddities on other channels, including a marathon of Law & Order SVU (really, on Superbowl Sunday, you want to watch multiple shows about sex and violence and rape and other triggering stuff?), Downton Abbey on PBS, and – the saddest thing I’ve ever read on the Internet ever – that “Ghost will play multiple times on E!”

Ghost? The worst movie of all time is the best that someone could come up with on a day when women are relegated to the small TV in the bedroom? What is your problem, American TV programmers?

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Chowing Down for Change

chefchange_noodles

Last week I had the chance to attend a fantastic dinner event called Chefs For Change. Yes, there are a variety of these types of events taking place throughout the year, many of which are formal with a high ticket price. However, this very reasonably-priced event ($75, drinks extra) not only directed funds to a very worthy cause, it was one of those great occasions when guests got to see a gang of local chefs from different restaurants all working together. Food was mostly served family-style with all the chefs and a team of students from George Brown College creating the dishes.

This series of events (there are three more – Jan 30th, Feb 20th & Feb 27th – all sold out) all take place at Propeller Coffee, a spacious coffee roastery on Wade Avenue (Bloor/Lansdowne) that has both a huge prep area and event space.

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Step Away From the Yarn! I Repeat, Step Away From the Yarn!

yarn_shorts

Alright hipsters, enough is enough. I don’t care if it’s art. I don’t care if it’s all adorably cute… y’all really need to stop with the crocheting/knitting of unnecessary items and find a new hobby.

I get it. When you first learn a craft, especially a yarn craft, you’re so excited to make things that you soon have a plethora of scarves, mittens and sweaters. And probably blankets. More than you could ever need. And after you’ve gifted everyone you know with knitted goods, after you’ve yarn-bombed entire parks (for the love of all that is holy, people, stop putting sweaters on trees!), and you still just can’t stop knitting, even though every stitch sends a burning twitch up your arm because you’ve given yourself carpal tunnel syndrome… you think to yourself, why not? Why NOT crochet shorts for men? Or an entire kitchen? Or massive food-shaped headgear? Look at you, you’re like a twee hipster version of Madame DuFarge.

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Theatre Review – BOOM

Boom_soup
Rick Miller’s BOOM. Image from the BOOM website.

 

In my house, the correct answer to the question “Beatles or Stones?” is “The Kinks”; the defining event of 1969 is not the moon landing but the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family. Which is to say, and is probably said so often I might sound like a broken record, I don’t have a whole lot of interest in mainstream culture. Even if it’s from a different era.

For the Boomer generation, who are now well into retirement, the mainstream culture of their youth is what they’re now remembering fondly. Shake-ups, assassinations, fear of war, sure, but as a whole, the weird and wonderful bits of the era tend to be forgotten in favour of a sometimes idealized, sanitized collection of events.

Rick Miller’s BOOM, then, while brilliantly executed, visually breath-taking, and painstakingly researched, is the mainstream version of the Boomer story.

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The Not So Secret (And Actually Overtly Sexual) History of Wonder Woman

lepore_wonder_woman_coverAt the Toronto book signing for Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman, a guy at the back of the room got up during the Q&A section and asked an elaborate question about a specific story in a specific issue of the comic. Before Lepore could reply, another audience member stood up, vehemently yelled, “I disagree!” and the two began to argue about the plot while Lepore looked vaguely terrified. Fortunately, moderator Nathalie Atkinson (a culture writer for The Globe and Mail who happens to be married to the owner of a comic shop; one can guess she’s witnessed such an exchange more than once in her life) shut down the argument quickly and expertly, allowing Lepore to reiterate a point she had made earlier in her presentation – she is a historian, not a comic expert and her book was written from that perspective.

This is a good thing to remember when looking at The Secret History of Wonder Woman alongside Wonder Woman – Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948 by Noah Berlatsky. Berlatsky is the editor of a (mostly) comic-oriented blog called The Hooded Utilitarian. As such he comes at the story of Wonder Woman and her creator William Moulton Marston from a completely different perspective than Lepore. Which is why the two books work together so well to tell Marston’s story.

In fact, The Secret History of Wonder Woman is really the secret history of Marston, documenting his early life, his promising beginnings at Harvard where he earned degrees in both psychology and law, his marriage to Elizabeth Holloway and his subsequent relationship with his student/assistant Olive Byrne, who came to live with Marston and Holloway in a long-term poly-amorous relationship, giving birth to two children with him while also caring for his children with Holloway. Also important is the fact that Byrne’s family had a great effect on Marston – she was the niece of reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger, someone who Marston greatly admired. Lepore doesn’t even get to talking about Wonder Woman until page 180.

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Lucky Dip – A Selection of Strange and Awesome Stuff – January 15th, 2015

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Mötley Crüe rehearsal, 1983. Photo credit: Gary Leonard.

If you’re in Los Angeles, stop by the Los Angeles Public Library and check out the fantastic exhibit From Pop to the Pit: LAPL Photo Collection Celebrates the Los Angeles Music Scene, 1978-1989. Full of photos of some of your favourite bands (especially if you’re a GenXer) from gigs to publicity shots, and encompassing the full range of pop-ish music from rap to punk to metal with everyone from Quiet Riot to the Minutemen  to the Go-Gos.

dip_lanacrooks
Autumn Hawk / 8″h x 5″w x 5″d / Hand-dyed Wool housed in a Glass Dome by Lana Crooks

Lana Crooks is a Chicago-based textile artist whose work, made with wool and silk, includes some spectacular pieces meant to look like bones and skeletons. Just as fascinating as the real (creepy) thing, but also art. [Via This Is Colossal and Geyser of Awesome]

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Book Review – Tasty by John McQuaid

tastyLiver, blue cheese, candy, chili peppers. Some people like these foods, others loathe them. But why? How is it that some humans love sweets but hate hot stuff? How can some beer drinkers go crazy for hops while others prefer nothing but sweet, malty stouts? The secret goes beyond our tongues to our very DNA.

Tasty by John McQuaid explores the whole history of taste, starting hundreds of millions of years ago with trilobites and progressing through the stages of evolution. McQuaid does this through five meals that show the progress of vertebrates, touching on the use of tools and ultimately fire.

It also seems a lot changed for humans when we moved off the African continent into other areas of the world and discovered a wider variety of things to eat. As we evolved, people in different parts of the world developed different tastes and this happened within our very genes, creating various levels of tasting ability from super-tasters down to those folks whose taste buds offer little in the way of reaction, allowing them to drink bottles of hot sauce without breaking a sweat.

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