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Hard Day’s . . . Night

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The Night Sky by  Blake Nancarrow

The Night Sky by Blake Nancarrow

Legend has it that after a particularly long recording session, Ringo Starr left Abbey Road muttering something like “That was a hard day’s…” when he looked up, realized the time and said, “…night.”

True or not, I’m sure you’ve shared that experience: a long work day during which you rarely look up and made worse if you don’t leave the office or have a window. The concept of time that was once gauged by the sun is now dictated by the clock. How many times in the winter have you looked up at 5 p.m. and said, “It looks like nine o’clock at night!” Yes, but who said what nine o’clock looks like?

Indeed the appearance of time, day and night, has changed since the invention (and popularity) of gas then electric light. Compounded with the popularlity of “smart” devices, we are inundated with light to the point that we can’t sleep. And if we can’t sleep then, well, shouldn’t we be productive?

We haven’t always slept through the night. In the distant past, we used to go to bed “early,” dog tired after a labourious day, wake up later in the night or early morning, do stuff in the dark, fall asleep again, and wake up with rooster. Some people still do this, only they write, as Karen Emslie tells us in her Aeon piece, “Broken Sleep.”

Unfortunately this schedule doen’t work for many people. Perhaps we’ve been programmed. Regardless, light affects our melatonin which affects our sleep which affects our mood which determines our mental and physical health. Sure there are pills and exercises and sex and yoga and mantras, but let’s to go to the source: light. Humans cannot cope in a world without darkness, says Rebecca Boyle in her article “The End of Night,” published in Aeon. Not only does it rob us of biological needs but it compels us to produce, to be “on” all the time. We’re surrounded by (very rich) role models, leading us to believe if Highly Successful Person can be highly successful with only four hours’ sleep, then so can I because I’m efficient, not a slacker like other people! For the record, I count myself among the “other people.” You really don’t want to around me when I’ve only had four hours’ sleep. In fact, I think that says something about Highly Successful Person too.

The idea that we must be productive most of the time makes me wonder about the definition of productive. From my North American perspective, it appears to mean making something tangible. Thinking isn’t seen as productive. Oh, you’ll hear lots of discussion about “creatives” and “knowledge workers” “innovating” in “collaborative work environments,” but I think that’s all marketing spin. As I sit alone in my home office by my window looking out onto a tree and a neighbouring building, I wonder what a boss would think, all buttoned up in a dark blue wool suit. He or she would likely scold me for daydreaming then request a status report on something, probably the very thing I was “daydreaming” about.

One thing I do daydream/think about is space. It gives us perspective. Once upon a time I witnessed the northern lights. Recently, my Facebook feed was filled with other people’s photos of the glorious phenomenon. I’d like to see the northern lights again as well as the other celestial shows, but judging from Toronto’s light-polluted night sky, I’ll have to drive pretty far north to do so. Having lived in a city for most of my life, I used to shrug this off. Then I saw the wonderful doc The City Dark and I realized I’m missing something–something important.

It’s a hard day’s night, indeed.

Putting the NO in Casino

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The city of Toronto and the province of Ontario are currently embroiled in a debate about casinos; indeed, as I write this I’m listening to CBC Radio’s Kathleen Petty host the mid-day call-in show Ontario Today. Today they’re featuring Rod Phillips, president of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation (OLG). The callers are raising some great issues and the OLG is responding with typical bureaucratic rhetoric. Typically my blood is boiling.*

I’ve visited casinos on two occasions and played lotteries a few times, and without exception I’ve felt ripped off, as if I’ve spent $5 on a piece of paper that simply goes in the bin. No fun. No novelty. No gain. In fact, the one time I did win money on the slots ($12), I shoved it back into the machine only to lose $7. Imagine if I bet more. Imagine if I used my credit card.

What else was strange about the casino experience was the creepy feeling of being watched and intimidated. I literally huddled with my friends so I didn’t stand out. Does this make me a chicken, a wuss, a lightweight? If it does, so be it.

What’s creepier, however, is the line we are being fed by the OLG’s TV ads; that lottery and gaming money helps community centres and hospitals, implying that without the money you gamble away small towns will suffer. Let’s examine this: You have, say, $1,000 cash in your pocket. You go to a casino, gamble, and ultimately lose it all. The casino gets most of it and the OLG gets the remainder to distribute among various charitable groups.

My question is this: if that $1,000 is supposed to benefit charities, then why not give it directly to them? If not through taxes then by donation so you’d get a tax receipt)? These organizations are supposed to be supported by our tax dollars anyway; why are desperate people targeted to fund this scheme? We are fed a dream of winning the lottery, but so few do. The odds of winning are ridiculously low; indeed, I’d wager they’re in favour of the house. Yet people still bite in a bid for financial freedom and security. Ironically, they are likely the same people who are swimming in debt and bereft of savings. Why not take that $5, $10, $1,000 that you were going gamble and stick it in a high-interest savings account? Even at 1 per cent interest, you’ll be more ahead than you’d be at the roulette wheel.
Fun? Only if you own the joint.

*I actually wrote this on Wednesay, January 23, 2012, but I was listening to the show. Honest. Deadlines, appointments and falling asleep . . . well, you get the idea.

Pinko

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Many of my feminist friends who have little boys have given in to the reality that their toddlers love things with wheels. While they will provide their children with a wide array of choices, wheels win out. This, of course, is perfectly fine. Wheels needn’t be branded; they just move and occasionally make noise. If it keeps the little darlin’ quiet and out from underfoot, all the better.

Only a few of my friends have little girls, so their propensity toward certain toys remains uncertain. If the daughters who squeal through my store on any given Sunday are anything to go on, however, then animals are the go-to item. Anything pink also seems to grab their attention and if it has glitter, well, the battle for gender neutrality seems lost. At least this is the sentiment some mums have when they reluctantly purchase very pink glittery books (often featuring Barbie) for their wide-eyed children. Mum grimaces at the book, looks down at the cherub, confirms that this is in fact what she wants to read, sigh, and hands me $5.24 with tax. This transaction is completed with what appears to be an apologetic look to me as if to say, “I tried and failed to raise a non-stereotypical girly-girl. I’m a bad mum.”

I’m sure my mum had the same expression once upon a time when I announced I wanted a pink bedroom—and got it. Oh, how I loved princess books and Barbie—and I got those as well (driving the children’s librarian at Bendale library nutty, I’m sure.) I even wanted to be a ballerina. Mum drew the line there, correctly convinced it was too expensive, would ruin my feet, and that my interest lie in tutus not pirouettes.

When I admit my childhood love of pink and princesses, I tell them that I grew out of it, that it won’t last forever, and that dinosaurs, bicycles, and playing the mud took over at about age six. In other words, stay vigilant, Mum, and be ready for grass stains and bruised shins.

Yes, pink is for little girls. Not for grown women. Sadly, some adult females and those who market to us need reminding of this. For many, shopping is a chore, not a hobby. While I like pretty clothes and shoes, they don’t define me. I’d like to think my character is more dynamic than that. Yes, I enjoyed Sex in the City, but if I were to pick a female character to emulate it would be Gwen Cooper from Torchwood. She has much more going on than any of the stick-like stereotypes from the hit rom-com. And I would wager she likes her beer brown not pink.

Globe and Mail columnist Katina Onstad seems to agree. In her recent piece, ““What Women Don’t Want: Pink Beer, Pink Cars, a New Pink Ghetto,” she argues against the infantilization of women by marketing execs. Apparently, we won’t buy a smartphone or a hockey shirt or a beer unless it’s pink.

Bollocks.

Why would an adult woman want to be treated like a child when she can, in fact, birth one? Why would she buy into the cult of pinkness in order to combat a very adult disease such as breast cancer? You want me to buy your phone, tell me about what it can do, not how goddamn “cute” it is. You want me to buy your beer, leave the inflate-a-babes out of the ad campaign.

Honestly, it’s not that hard.

Gobble, Gobble

On December 18 I spent the afternoon volunteering at Loblaws for Second Harvest’s Turkey Drive. Second Harvest is a Canadian charity that recovers excess food from restaurants and redistributes it to social-service agencies. This was my second time participating in this event, and this year it really hit home as I was laid off from my full-time job, which made it even more important to help out. Perspective is everything.

And so I donned a Santa hat, grabbed some fliers, and worked up a short and cheerful spiel to say to customers who came to the frozen-turkey case. All smiles and positivity, I spoke to many people who no doubt have been inundated with appeals for donations. Many generous folks bought birds that afternoon (263 in total) ranging in price from $13 to $50. A lot of bellies will be filled this coming Christmas.

Despite what some may think, there was no particular type of person who donated: young, old, tidy, sloppy, male, female, singletons, families–they all opened their wallets to help others.

There was, however, one exception: vegetarians. It’s not like I knew they were coming, as if they had an Xed-out cow tattooed on their forehead. Rather, when I approached they announced their dietary choice loud and clear, “I don’t eat meat!” “I’m a vegetarian!”

Clearly, we’d crossed wires. My spiel, “Hi! I’m from Second Harvest’s Turkey Drive. Would you like to donate a turkey to feed Toronto’s hungry,” lacked pertinent details. The bird wasn’t for the giver, it was for other people. Ok, I readjusted and provided options.

“Oh, but the turkey isn’t for you. You simply buy it to feed those in need.”

“I’m a VEGETARIAN!”

“Ok, well, perhaps you’d like to consider an online cash donation. Here’s the website…,” I beseeched in vain as they walked past.

I wasn’t the only person who noticed. My comrade in wings, so to speak, encountered this resistance too. “What’s that all about?” he whispered, “It’s not like they have to eat it!”

Just to be clear, I stopped eating meat for two years once upon a time. For many reasons, I reclaimed my omnivore status and have never looked back. And for just as many reasons, others remain stalwart. Very well, I can respect that. Different strokes. More bacon for me.

But why must one’s personal and voluntary dietary restriction prohibit giving food to those whose “dietary restriction” is involuntary? I can’t believe that people think animal rights come before those of a person who must choose between rent and food. Or do some tofu-munchers feel the moral imperative to impose their wishes on those with few choices? I certainly hope not.

I often hear the argument that a vegetarian diet is cheaper than one that includes meat. That may well be true. There are many poor people around the world who don’t eat meat. What’s also true, however (Hindus aside), is that meat consumption in many emerging economies has gone up with increased income. This leads me to believe that poor people would likely eat more meat if and when they could afford it.

Ah, but who knows what those individual vegetarians were thinking; it matters not. I can only hope that they dropped some non-perishable food in the Daily Bread Food Bank bin or wrote a cheque. People in this city, and elsewhere, needn’t go hungry. That is the true moral imperative.

Holidazed-off

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According to the Toronto Star and Toronto Life, the economic committee of the city of Toronto voted five to one in favour of allowing retailers to open on Christmas Day. Councillor Kyle Rae says that, “On Christmas Day, I spend my time in a movie theatre. It’s a great time… Family isn’t always a good thing.” (By the way, the councillor for Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale isn’t running again. Funny, that.)
This idea is wrong on so many levels, but I’ll attempt to list them.

  • It businesses cost money to stay open and pay their staff stat holiday pay, which is taxable.
  • Businesses are unlikely to hire new staff to work stat holidays, which would incur more employment taxes.
  • Current staff would be “strongly encouraged” to work Christmas.
  • If they protest, then they “aren’t a team player,” “person X has kids,” “you’re single, so you don’t what else are you going to do,” “you’re not religious, are you?”
  • Sunday shopping was supposed to take up the slack and offer jobs to the unemployed. Didn’t work out that way.
  • People for whom part-time retail is one of a number of jobs they have to make ends meet deserve at least one day off a year to rest. It has nothing to do with religion.
  • Having one day off a year that doesn’t entail shopping does in fact make us civilized. Consumption and gluttony are not hallmarks of sophistication.
  • In Ontario, the Liberals enacted “Family Day” as a day in bleak February for people to be with their kin. (I think it was more a cynical election ploy, but I digress.) Great! Wonderful! So now we’re being greedy in wanting to keep Christmas Day(or to be secular about it, December 25) a day off to be with our families?
  • If we’re like Rae and dislike our families, we can take the day off and be with friends, or volunteer at a shelter, or simply rest. Not work. Not produce. Not consume.
  • Remember that this does not apply to banks, government, offices, and other white-collar, middle-class employers. This is largely non-unionized service: restaurants, cafes, shops, bars, and so on.

I’m sure there are many more arguments to be made.

Did You Feel That?

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This is just plain insane. In fact, I’m surprised some American religious zealot hasn’t picked up on this yet (or maybe on page 54,894 of a Google search, someone has). Anyway, just when we despaired of scientific illiteracy in North America, up to the plate steps Iran. The Guardian reports that according to senior Iranian cleric Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi, “women who wear revealing clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.”

Just as a quick reminder, Sedighi is referring to women showing their ankles and wrists. Makes men crazy, apparently. So not only has Cosmo been deceiving women for a generation, but so have scientists with their wacky notions of tectonic plates shifting. We women, by rolling up our sleeves and “getting down to business,” can now make the Earth move.

Hmm. Why, with that power, we could, dare I say? Nah…really?

>Fashion Weak

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>Any dictionary will concur: a book launch at a Fashion Week event is ironic. Sex and the City aside, fashionistas are not lit freaks. If it ain’t glossy, it ain’t. That rule holds for people as much as it does for books.

And so I found myself at such a gathering this week. Last Friday, my invitation arrived in my work email. Being a glutton for “material,” I figured I’d go and channel my inner Carrie Bradshaw. Naturally, I spent the weekend agonizing over what to wear. I’m not a clothes horse. I could be. I’d like to be, but working in the arts, particularly in publishing, is not conducive to such equine aspirations.

I settled on a wardrobe, planned on transportation, worked the day, met a friend, and then at 10 p.m., set off with a coworker to the event. Easy peasy.

Not so much. Once through the door, I was made abundantly aware that I was underdressed, under-heeled, under-augmented, and over-aged. Mere glances. That was all that was needed.

I’ve been to film, music, and publishing events. Each has its own pretenses, and while I feel like a bit of an outsider, I’m always able to navigate my way through. At Fashion Week, I felt completely alien, as though I was walking through an air-kissing, lip-glossed, acid-rain cloud about to float away.

When we arrived at our particular section of cloud, things got easier. They always do when you can commiserate with cultural kin. Together, us bookish types could gush, drink, and make quiet fun of our surroundings. We may have been outnumbered, but none of us got off the fucking boat, so we were safe.

Nevertheless, it was weird. I think I met my match. And if the opportunity arose again, and I decided to enter the ring, I’d definitely go shopping first. For the Fashion Weak, clothes will make or break the woman.

Whatever

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