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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.


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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.


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.

As the Head of Lettuce Crumples

Organizers of fashion week in Madrid have put the kibosh on skinny girls on the catwalk. And they face the wrath of some designers who feel their “artistic vision” is being tampered with. Incredible.

From “When Is Thin Too Thin?”, New York Times

The producers of these fashion events have largely dismissed the concerns. On Saturday a British cabinet member, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, called for London designers to follow the example of Madrid by banning underweight models. But the British Fashion Council, led by Stuart Rose, the chief executive of Marks & Spencer, said it would not interfere with the designers’ aesthetic. And some designers said it was misleading to equate thinness with being unhealthy and that the standard cited by the organizers in Madrid did not take into account age and puberty, which may cause a model who is unusually tall to appear frighteningly thin.

Um, I get that some girls are skinny, boney even. Perhaps even tall, too. I find it an amazing quirk that these same skinny, tall girls have the other “appropriate” criteria that allows entrance into the great houses of couture. Not a zit among them, which is equally astounding for young models are approaching puberty. So, what are these designers saying? That the girls in their frocks are ten to twelve years old?

From “Like It or Not, This Sells,” Globe and Mail (requires login)

[Elmer] Olsen said, “because on a runway, like it or not, thin sells. The pictures turn out better.”

Sells to whom? These shows are not marketed to the prêt a porter crowd; indeed, many creators in the industry argue that haute couture is art, and that what they parade on the catwalks is not intended for everyday wear. And I totally buy this argument. There is room in the art world for textiles. Humans are used to exhibit art in most other disciplines (i.e., music, painting, performance). But these art forms see beauty in all types of humans, not merely those that resemble fully-starved gazelles.

British cabinet minister calls for ban on super-thin models,” Globe and Mail (requires login)

So can a government ban or legislate against this practice? Well, yes, technically it can. Certainly, the industry is not going to self-regulate. The issue of sickly stick figures wearing more weight down the aisle than they do naked on a scale is not new. And designers have not seen fit to dress healthy models. Will said ban or legislation have any effect? That remains to be seen. I highly doubt it.

Karen Von Hahn’s column, “The Skinny on Self Esteem,” Globe and Mail (requires login)

Yes, girls often want to look like magazine covers and catwalk models. But body weirdness usually starts at about age twelve. Telling kids “it’s what’s inside that counts” works only up to the point when the insides start making appearances outside. Then the brain goes nuts, people that were icky aren’t icky anymore…and it doesn’t stop till menopause.

So, back to the stage. Can healthy be the new black, dahling? Perhaps for a season. It will last as long as faux fur and heroin chic.

PS: One model agent, Ben Barry, is actually making a dent. For more information, you can visit his website.

Happy Mother’s Day

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So what makes a great mum? Well, she got excited when she first found out she was pregnant and patted her still-flat belly. Then, when we made our presence known to the world, she kept her doctor’s appointments and kept us fed, even if the food was a little weird.

Then she birthed us.

Doesn’t stop there. Mum literally gave of herself to keep us fed. She cleaned us and stayed up nights singing quietly to help us sleep. Mum taught us to talk and walk and read and write. We learned that strained peas came not in jar but on a plane that made strange noises and looked an awful lot like a spoon.

Mum cried and yelled and wondered and shook her head. She picked up and dropped off. Mum called Dad to find where her little darling went with a few local tots only to discover us at the local strip mall attempting to ride the mechanical horse. She learned the map of the discount stores, especially the toy section. And she made her apologies to shop clerks who found a little girl hiding in the racks of ladies’ apparel.

Then she lived through our teen years. Ahem.

Mum knew when to set conditions when things were unconditional. She knew when to make us pack our bags and get on with our lives. And she knew when doing laundry was the best cure for a broken heart.

She knows when to bite her tongue and when to give us a tongue lashing. And she respects us enough to avoid the m-word and the g-word. She enjoys watching us come to our own conclusion.

A great mum makes us want to be a great mum. And I’d like that very much.

Thanks Mum!

The Famous Five 50

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So Toronto’s Now Magazine’s John Akpata doesn’t think it’s appropriate to have Emily Murphy on Canada’s fifty-dollar bill because she held questionable views with regard to minorities. Murphy, by the way, is one of the “Famous Five” — along with Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Louise McKinney, Nellie McClung — who fought to have women legally considered persons in the constitution. Up till this point (1930) we weren’t. As a result of their success, women could be elected in Parliament and hold seats in the Senate.

Under the pseudonym “Janey Canuck,” Murphy wrote in venerable Canadian publications like Maclean’s hateful articles disparaging Asians, Blacks, Jews, and Eastern Europeans who chose to make Alberta home. Of course this is unfortunate, but not without precedent.

The suffragette movement in the states included white women who wanted the vote before black men. Fortunately abolitionists made up a larger part of the movement, but one cannot forget the past. In England, too, the vote for women split the Pankhursts leaving Sylvia to fight for rights of working class women with Labour party leader Keir Harding while her mother and sister campaigned to get the vote for rich conservative white women.

The fight for human and civil rights has never been pretty or pure. It still isn’t.

Akpata agrees that Murphy was a woman of her time. As was Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King who thought Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy and under whose watch Canada returned boatloads of Jews to their doom. Mr. King graces the fifty-dollar bill . No campaign to rub that guy out. Just Murphy.

Or what about H.R.H. Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada. Yes, that is one of her many titles. Despite the fact that we are a sovereign nation with our own nationalized constitution, the matron of the family most responsible for atrocities at home and abroad graces not only our bank notes, but our coins and our stamps. Indeed, Akpata sees nothing strange about the Bank of Canada spending tax dollars changing the image of the Queen because some nutcase with a magnifying glass saw the “devil” in her hair.

No. Akpata would rather one of the few women officially acknowledged for furthering women’s rights in our colonial nation erased from official history, which is replete with celebrated and acknowledged drunks, racists, thieves and misogynists.

Mr. Akpata would like to render Mrs. Murphy persona non grata.

Some things never fucking change.



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