February 10th, 2013


Lately, I have been completely failing to like things my friends adore, which makes me sad. If you know me personally, you know I’m rarely happier than when falling in line with my peers. Which is why I’m so sad not to be enjoying *Mad Men* and completely baffled by *The Silver Linings Playbook*. I really have to accept that tastes aren’t universal, but I so *want* them to be.

Here’s something I DO like–a video of Alice the kitten with her head stuck in a kitchen chair. It would not be funny if she hadn’t freed herself 20 minutes later, but she did so it is, so enjoy!

The reason I don’t like MM and SLP is not because they don’t have kittens in them–really.

November 12th, 2011

Rose-coloured Reviews the Giller Prize Show 2011

To watch last year’s Giller show, Mark and I had to head for someone else’s house, but this year through the power of live-streaming, we could watch at home and keep the kitten company. I have no idea if CTV had a live-streaming version of the Gillers, too, but the CBC one was hitchless–no hiccups or buffering issues. Lots (and lots) of commercials, but I guess that was the point.

So there we were with our smartpop, our wine, our kitten going insane under the desk, watching the camera roll over the vast and glittering crowd at the Four Seasons up to…Jian Ghomeshi?? Hooray, I love that guy. He was the host at the Writers’ Trust Awards the year I was a presenter, and he did a lovely, low-key, and charming job of it. What a shock to find that at the Gillers, right off the bat, Ghomeshi was unfunny!

Worse, as the show wore on, he seemed to be rolling his eyes at his own jokes. He’d kind of grimace, look down at his notes, make the joke quickly, and then say, “C’mon, c’mon, that’s funny, right?” It was all a lot more Fozzie-Bear-ish than I was expecting.

But that was the cumulative effect of the entire show–at the beginning he just seemed a little stiff as he introduced Lang Lang, who played something lovely on the piano and was, unique among the men I saw on the telecast, wearing an open-collared shirt.

The next segment was a bit from the judges, talking about how hard it was to read so many (140+) nominated books. One of the judges (I don’t know who any of them were except Annabel Lyon–always nice to see her) said, “All of the books had something about them that made them worthy of the prize,” or something along those lines. “They’re talking about my book!” I squealed. (Full disclosure: I have no idea if *The Big Dream* was put forward for the Giller, I just know that–technically–it was eligible.)

Like last year’s event, things moved along at a good clip, and as I recall after that we got pretty much directly into the book presentations. As with last year’s, the presentaters were a random assortment of vaguely famous non-book-related people. The first one, “international celebrity” Lisa Ray was no one I’d heard of and her telepromtation delivery of the introduction to David Bezmozgis’ novel did not make me want to investigate further. Nelly Furtado, Robbie Robertson, and that guy from Hedley did slightly better jobs, but still–who cares? I seriously doubt anyone who was not going to watch the show would see an advert and say, “Hey, Nelly Furtado is not singing, but is speaking for 120 seconds? I’m so there.” As for me, who was looking forward to the show, there’s pretty much no one whose literary opinion I respect less than the Hedley guy’s, and I consider myself *un*curmudgeonly among litsy types–why not cater to your audience?

Weirdly, the only presenter who did such a good job that I believe (a) that he was speaking extemporaneously, and (b) that he had read the book, was Ron MacLean introducing *The Antagonist* by Lynn Coady. Mark explained that he is some sort of hockey commentator, and he certainly spoke bomastically, but also with genuine enthuasiasm for the book and its author, whom he address directly, as “Lynn”–he also said he was going to call her parents and congratulate them. If all the presentors had been like that, I could’ve forgiven their literary irrelevance.

I should admit that Michael Ondaatje’s book *The Cat’s Table* was introduced last and, though I genuinely liked the excerpt in the New Yorker, by that point I was not paying attention. I don’t even know who introduced it. Part of the problem was that the kitten had become increasingly destructive, flipping a folder off the desk and sending a plume of papers into the air, followed by partially eating a little rubber thing that could not be subsequently identified. But also, there was the fact that I was freaking bored.

The best parts, as last year, were the personal interviews with the authors. This year’s however had shucked off the lame invasive aspects–showing the writers with their partners and kids–in favour of actually focussing on the books, and writing in general. They had also left off the syrupy natural settings (strolling beside a river, anyone?) in favour of a really nice, book-lined studio, the same one for all six. The questions were interesting if not overly intellectual, and the editor kept in only the bits where the authors sounded thoughtful and smart. I liked last year’s pieces very much, but these were far better–weirdly, making the setup less personal allowed the authors’ personalities to come through far better. I was especially impressed with what Coady said about what the reader owes the book (nothing) and what Zsuzsi Gardner said about why she writes (to comment on the world). I also liked that the writerly questions were folded in with the life ones, so that no one was stuck standing in front of a white wall just after the commercials, talking about what is their muse. Really well-done segments, all six (fine, I didn’t really watch Ondaatje’s–the cat was trying to dig through the floor).

I said it last year and I’ll say it again–why are there no readings at the Gillers? The Oscars show clips, the Tonys show song-and-dance numbers, the Grammys have songs, the Gillers have…that Hedley guy reading the back cover bumpf. These are supposed to be our country’s best crafters of words–how come some speech-writer is crafting everything that’s said in the awards presentation? And if the worry is that the authors themselves would be too nervous and unprofessional for a CBC telecast, one could certainly hire actors to read passages–they’d be cheaper than Robbie Robertson, I’m guessing. Although I vastly prefer to see how a writer reads his/her own work, and anyway, this year the writers didn’t even get to stand up on tv (except the winner) and I wanted to see what they were wearing.

And while I’m ranting, with all the serious, respected, professional criticism and reviews that has been written about these 6 books, why was the only quotation in the broadcast of Nelly Furtado’s tweet that she was “consumed” by *Half-Blood Blues*?? WHO ARE THEY TRYING TO APPEAL TO???

Deep breath. Esi Edugyan won. I’ve only read Better Living through Plastic Explosives and The Antagonist (and loved both) but Mark read *Half-Blood Blues* and assured me it was strong novel and a worthwhile winner…though he, like me, was pulling for Coady’s novel. And Edugyan gave a calm, sweet speech and also is absolutely stunning, so it was pleasant to watch her (though for some reason I STILL couldn’t see what she was wearing).

So though we were happy enough with the outcome and were glad these 6 books were celebrated, I found the broadcast of the Gillers extremely lame and unrepresentative of the glorious books it was supposed to be showcasing. And there were *so many* commercials. I haven’t watched broadcast TV with any kind of regularity in nearly a decade, and almost never with my partner, and it turns out there is a strange kind of silence that comes the first time you watch a yeast-infection-treatment advert together…which was probably the most memorable part of the experience.

August 26th, 2010

My Top 10 Favourite Sitcoms

I have thought of several nice litsy posts I could write, but the last one inspired me to think about sitcoms all the time for the past couple days, and I love them, and I do think they were very formative for me. You’ll see on the list below that all my faves were on, new or in syndication, between 1987 and 1997, my prime tv watching years. Maybe the reason I am fine with almost never seeing any tv now is that I had my fill before I graduated high school–I think I saw almost every non-cable half-hour show at least once in those years. And it was great! These are the highlights:

1. M*A*S*H I had to put this one first, because it was probably the best show, artistically and dramatically, that I’ve ever. It was, as far as I can tell, pretty accurate and gory in its depiction of the Korean conflict, though occasionally the racial depictions of actual Korean folks got a little hokey (it was the 70s). But in truth, it was Hawkeye Pierce sneaking around in his red velour bathrobe, about to play some crazy joke on Charles Winchester the 3rd that really got me. I loved the show to such an extent that the movie didn’t floor me as much (it wasn’t the same as the show!), nor did the book. Although I’m sure both are actually very good.

2. WKRP in Cincinnati Like I say, M*A*S*H was the best show, but WKRP probably holds the most tender place in my heart. I really really loved Johnny Fever, and in lighthearted moments still occasionally address my friends as “fellow babies.” The episode where John and Venus do the drinking-and-driving reflex game is probably my all-time favourite episode of anything ever. And the “With God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly” one is a close second.

3. Twitch City According to Wikipedia, this one aired in a time when I didn’t even have a tv, but I know I saw all of the first season, which just goes to show how special it was. Don McKellar being crazy and antisocial in Kensington Market made my impression of of Toronto long before I ever lived here. And there was a cat! There was a second season a few years later, but though I by then had a tv, it didn’t get CBC very well (what?) and though I tried to watch it anyway, it was so fuzzy I really have no idea what happened.

4. Sports Night Again, this seems to have been on during a period I didn’t have a tv–I think maybe my parents video-taped it for me??? (We were a tv loving family back then, what can I say?) It was Aaron Sorkin’s first television show, and it had a perfect first season of tight banter, high anxiety and even somehow made sports interesting. Then it had a second season where Sorkin gave in to his lady-hating demons and made Dana (Felicity Huffman) a big flake, but even then, there were still more hits than misses.

5. Murphy Brown Much as I loved the tart dialogue and Murphy’s sniping at her rotating crew of secretaries, what I remember most about his show is how *warm* it was. Murphy and Frank and Jim were old-guard friends and really cared about each other, in a gruff snarky way. Oh, then there was Elden, the housepainter–I hearted him, too. Dan Quayle was crazy to attack this show.

6. Newsradio Are you starting to sense a theme here? I like newsroom shows. But seriously, Phil Hartman and Dave Foley could have been alone in a canoe and this would still have been funny, and with the supporting cast it was pretty unstoppable. Andy Dick is a very very annoying actor, but the first few seasons even he was funny, due to being extremely tightly reined in. I have heard that John Lovitz was also very funny when he replaced Phil Hartman, but after Hartman’s death I didn’t have it in me to continue watching.

7. The Golden Girls I don’t care what anybody says, this show was revelatory. Imagine that women in their 60s could have a show all to themselves: no husbands, very little screen time for the kids (maybe once a season), not even any Important Social Issues for them to Face Bravely. Just hijinx and cheesecake. I distinctly remember Dorothy hitting Rose in the face when she said something dumb–ha! For proof of this show’s historical appeal, ask any woman in North America what Golden Girl she’s going to be like when she gets old. She might not tell you, but you’ll be able to see in her eyes that she knows.

8. Mad about You It is very hard to make a sitcom about just a couple–the only other example that is even close that I can think of is Anything but Love (yes, Richard Lewis and Jamie Lee Curtis, what the hell, I Know). But Paul and Jamie were genuinely sweet together, and yet a realistic scrappy couple with jobs and parents and a dog (Murray!) I loved the scenes were they discussed the problem of the day/episode while sniffing things out of the fridge to see if they could eat them. And Hank Azaria as the dog walker–heart heart heart!! (I did not watch the final seasons with the adultery and the baby and the high drama–blech!)

9. Roseanne Didn’t see this one coming, did you? If you go back and watch the early episodes and try to clear your mind of prejudice, you might just be stunned at how good it was. Seriously, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf are first rate actors; Sarah Gilbert too. And Barr was pretty funny on the show (I am told she’s actually a horrible person, but in tvland, who cares?) And the later seasons had Billy Galecki and Glenn Quinn (who is now dead, so we need to cherish what footage we have of him)! Again, I didn’t watch the very late seasons, when they won the lottery, or some such nonsense. Also, there as a character named Becky on the show, always the weakest character, as protrayed by 2 different actors. All this annoyed me.

10. Friends Say what you will about their massive, impossible to afford NYC appartments and Jennifer Aniston’s hair–this show gave teenaged me something realistic to aspire to: life in a city with lots of friends and an interesting job and witty banter, and not necessarily a desperate striving to be married off and settled in the suburbs. The people on this show were happy to goof-off and it didn’t always make total sense (the duck and the chick?) and the Ross-Rachel plotline was laaaammmme, but tell me you didn’t chuckle when Joey put on all of Chandler’s clothing at once to punish him for hiding his underwear!!!!

11. Ok, we’re over the limit, and way past my tv years, but someone gave me a few DVDs of Arrested Development and it’s brilliant enough to overcome my anti-family-sitcom prejudices. I even liked when Buster’s hand got eaten by that seal, and I’m not usually one for violence.

This is a pretty favourite topic of mine, so I would love to hear anyone else’s list, if you have some time to kill and feel like sharing.

December 16th, 2009

Kill your darlings

This scene has no real point, except that I like it. So it’s getting cut (mainly) from the story, just as soon as I can stomach it. Thank goodness for blogs–you guys take care of my darlings for me.


Her sons were in the front room, music and the tv and their two loud voices all at once. She hollered her greetings, and then meant to go put the groceries away. But she went into the front room instead, carrying the bags.

The boys looked her quizzically, searchingly, researchingly.

“What are you watching?”

Hal said, “We’re done our homework.”

Avery said, “There’s no basketball practice tonight.”

Hal said, “So we’re allowed our tv hour, right?”

Their mother said, “Yes. But that’s not what I asked. I asked what you are watching.”

Avery said, “It’s not violent, and there’s not swears.”

Hal said, “Much.”

She said, “I don’t care.” And then she “pursued the question independently” as her supervisor used to put it, back when she had a supervisor. She sat down on the couch between her sons, bags in her lap, and looked at the screen.

A granite-coloured word swirled on a pink and orange backdrop. She pursed her lips, longed for her notepad. “Mod as in modern?”
“What?” Hal pursed his lips, a mirror of her. Though the boys were identical, somehow he seemed to resemble her more.

Avery arched his eyebrow. “Oh, no, it stands for something, issa, whatcha—the first letters spell a word—”

“Acronym,” she said, her hand hovering above his knee.

“Yeah, that.”

She waited. Finally a negligeed woman with no two strands of blond hair cut the same length staggered onto the screen and began to exhort them all to dance. Hal and Avery looked immediately away from her gyrations, at each other then their mother. “It’s Much on Demand,” said Avery.

“Demand for what?”

Hal dropped his faux-hawked head into his hands. “Mom,” he said, facing the floor. “Much is MuchMusic, a tv station.”

She pointed at the translucent logo at the bottom of the screen.

Avery smiled gently. “Yes, Mom. And they do a request show, like people write in to ask for videos they want to see. They demand them. So it’s Much on Demand. See?”

She thought for a second. “They write in? No phone calls?’

Avery was watching raptly as the woman onscreen danced with her arms over her head. “I dunno. It might be phonecalls sometimes. We doan watch the part with the request. That’s boring.”

“Do you boys write in? And request songs?”

“Nah.” Avery turned to her and thought for a moment. “It’s like, we like what everybody likes. So even if we don’t say nothing, we still get what we want.”

Hal was crumpling some pieces of notebook paper and throwing them into the fireplace, but he nodded and smiled at her encouragingly, as if she had almost solved the math problem. “Yeah, we got real good taste. It’s only people who like weird sh—stuff that gotta call in.”

“But…if only people who liked weird shit called in, wouldn’t only weird shit get played?”

They were both looking at her now, but less encouraging, more special-ed. “It’s only the ones who like weird stuff,” said Avery, “who gotta call in. But lots of people who like good music like to call.”

Hal bounced a paper ball of his brother’s head. “Namely, girls.”

They snickered.

“Ah.” She nodded and stood up. “Thank you for answering my questions. This has been most beneficial.

October 24th, 2009


If you count the week as Saturday to Friday, I attended four literary events this week, and spent a similar number of evenings up after midnight. I also did some work, two readings, saw a bunch of awesome people and took some fair-to-middling pictures. And now am so very very tired.

And now, though of course have blogged *The New Quarterly*’s fall launch for you despite any exhaustion, I have a delightful break, because Alex James, who provided the musical accompaniment to the evening, is also a profession blogger, and has a wonderful (and flattering!) post about the event. Hooray! It really was a terribly fun night, with so many friendly writers and delicious food only one jack-knifed tractor-trailer (my publisher, Dan Wells spent only five or so hours on the highway to be there and bring us books!)

So that’s it–I can concentrate on small, easy, non-exhausting tasks for the rest of the weekend–Hallowe’en shopping at Zellers, getting the DVD player to work long enough to play the last two episodes of season one of Slings and Arrows (the first tv show in a long time that I’ve been willing to argue with the DVD player for), maybe a nap in there somewhere.

Weekends are nice, and I hope you enjoy yours! Seeya Monday!

January 9th, 2009

The YouTube Revolution…

is something that I’ve by and large missed. Mainly, I work on two computers: one on which I can’t stream video, and one on which I’ve gotten accidentally locked into a restrictive bandwidth contract (ah, me and the phone company: good times). So even if I actually remember to forward the cool link someone sent me to the computer that will allow me to watch it, I often forgo it if I’m close to my limit for the month and living in fear of incurring massive evil fines.

Such is my life.

*Anyway*, there a few things I do rely on YouTube for (isn’t it funny, by the way, that the name is based on the old picture tube, which is nearly archaic now in televisions, and certainly is in the computer-world). So I do know watching videos on the internet is great, although I only remember ever six months or so. It is great for the following things especially:

1) That thing everyone’s talking about! I can’t believe you missed it. No conversation will make any sense until you see this.

2) Overanalyzing music videos I saw incompletely at the gym and thought might have some hidden meaning. Also, occasionally, just videos I really like.

3) Kittens falling asleep!!!

4) Happy Slip! A Filipino girl who lives in California who makes little mini-movies about her crazy family. She makes vids about other things too, soap opera parodies that I don’t get because I don’t watch soaps, and maybe other stuff too. I am content to watch the same three or four thingies over every six months, they’re that funny. I actually think she’s quite famous now, but I don’t know much about that because…I don’t really do YouTube. Really.

Take me with you / I start to miss you

November 14th, 2008

Sleep camel

I learned that term from the Idler’s Glossary, in a discussion about those who will *not* idle, who make a contest of activity and reserve leisure for unconsciousness. A sleep camel is one who stays up to all hours during the week, usually in order to work extremely hard, and then crashes out all weekend.

I am very fond of sleeping, and try to do as much as possible, and yet I find myself more and more verging on the camel-type, popping out of bed bright-eyed on Mondays, only to be red-eyed and whiny come Friday. It’s not *exactly* that I’m a hard worker though; more that I am an average worker who works on several different things, and also does a lot of random but entertaining non-work whenever the opportunity presents itself. For instance, this week I stayed up very late every night, doing the following:

Monday–Saw taping of So You Think You Can Dance, Canada? (go, Izaac!!) followed by work.
Tuesday–Read in support of Harold Hoefle‘s launch of the *The Mountain Clinic*, followed by hanging out at the bar, followed by work.
Wednesday–Fancy dinner with friends, followed by insufficient amount of work.

What has happened to my life? It is full of frolic, obviously, but also marked sleep debt. I have to manage my time better. Or have less fun. Or something I’m too tired to think of right now. Whatever. Don’t call too late tonight is I think my point.

You overthink

October 27th, 2008


I’ve actually never in my life seen anything on the Discovery Channel, yet somehow their advert tapped exactly into my consciousness (and so did Scott, who passed it on). This is how I feel!!

Boom de ah dah

October 17th, 2008

My autopsy will show

Every time I do myself yet another moronic small injury, I wonder if this will be the day I die under mysterious circumstances. Because, as we all know from hearing episodes of CSI recounted to us at parties*, when people die under mysterious circumstances an autopsy must be performed to unmystify them. And the county coroner, when autopsying (verb?), does not just investigate the subdural hematoma or gunshot wound or whatever the ostensible cause of death is. Oh, no, they examine all flaws and injuries of the entire body and somehow, in 49 minutes, knit these together into a brilliant recreation of the poor dead person’s last moments.

I worry about this. I worry that everyone who ever falls into the lake and drowns because his or her shoulder bag is too heavy and gets caught on his or her coat also has myriad other small injuries the originis of which can never be parsed by objective medical science. Examples off the top of my head:

–large round bruise in centre of back? Standing behind door when roommate burst in, euphoric due to larger-than-usual GST cheque. Caught doorknob in spine.
–small, slightly infected puncture wound on upper thigh? Stabbed with pen by toddler furious over denied banana. Ink and fabric fibres from jeans caused infection.
–shallow thick gash on back of wrist? Too fast, too vertical, too enthusiastic attempt to remove soda from soda machine.

And then there are the ever-present burn marks on the tops of my ears.

I wanna be the one to walk in the sun

*I would be ok if no one ever told me about CSI ever again. The one time I tried to watch it, they found a severed head in a newspaper box in the first 90 seconds and then I had to go home.

July 27th, 2008

Rose-coloured Reviews the split-screen episode of *Coupling*

I haven’t had a functioning TV in years, and the last show I watched regularly was the first few seasons of The West Wing, but I still am devoted to the idea of the perfect situation comedy. This is a holdover from my youth, when I actually watched TV and TV actually specialized in sitcoms. Now from what I hear, the medium has largely moved on without me, towards shows that teach you how to build a house or make supper (I have always been averse to learning anything from television).

I can watch as much Much Music as I can do cardio at the gym (and I have pretty good lung capacity), but other than that, all my TV comes from someone else’s house or their DVDs and download. And the British situation comedy Coupling keeps coming up among all the smart people who share TV with me, even though it’s no longer being made (and there’s an American version that no one seems to watch). I’ve seen perhaps 10 episodes over the past couple years, and I do think it is a fine fine example of what may well be a dying breed.

Near as I can tell, there are six friends/acquaintances on the show, three men and three women: urban, neurotic, very funny and attractive, in varying degrees of romantic and sexual involvement with each other. If it sounds like Friends, it does have that flavour of banter, but a) it’s dirtier, because it’s the BBC, b) not all of the characters are actually friends. The men seem to be mainly friends with each other, and two of the girls likewise, the third girl being the ex of one of the guys, that guy now being the boyfriend of one of the other women. It’s confusing and I don’t fully get it, having watched only a smattering of non-consecutive episodes and never bothered to read an episode guide (there is so much wrong with my reviewing technique). But you can still get the jokes without the backstory.

The big diff between this show and a standard American sitcom is that it is more invested in being kooky and inventive than having to have to tie up neatly at the end. The plot of the episode Split is pretty standard and dull, but it takes place entirely in split-screen, which is very cool. It concerns, natch, the break-up of the central couple, Steve and Susan. They each retreat to their own gender teams/sides of the screen, and you get to see both sides offer truly pathetic advice and comfort. The semi-annoying thing about this show is that it’s *so* gendered–but often creepily accurate. The boys with their video games and the girls with their self-help books are lame but also very much like people you know, only funnier (Sally on women’s magazines: “A thousand articles on why men are crap, and then one on how you ought to wake him up with a blow job.” [that may not be a direct quote, since I am not in possession of the DVD, but close enough]).

To do an entire episode in split screen and not make it either boringly static or dizzyingly hard to follow is quite an accomplishment. Even better, they pull a lot of neat visual and aural tricks with the set-up. When the split couple wake up alone the morning after the breakup, each have of the screen shows a lonely arm wandering over the empty half of the bed. And best bit concerned a lot of accidental/on-purpose dialing of each other’s numbers and then hanging up, with ensuing agonies about 1471ing (the British equivalent of *69, I gather). The Greek chorus of friends jumps with each new development, and it’s neat the way the cause and effect ripples across the screen.

Who knows, sitcoms could have come so far since I watched them last that the few still being made are *all* this clever, but I don’t care. To me, with zero context, this is froth at it’s finest and I might even make a serious attempt to watch another episode, which is high praise coming from me.

No more fire / only desire

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