Republic of One

The personal blog of Colin Brandt, Ukrainian Organic Mic Mechanic

My favourite albums of 2012.

So by all accounts 2012 had its share of delights, both actual and sarcastic. Rather than dwell on the stuff that makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry softly to myself, I thought I’d do something a little different this year.

Part of my 3 things for Calgary initative this year was to engage in the local arts and cluture scene, and I’ll be talking about that in my next post, but to start, we’re going with top ten albums of 2012. I might be the last human on the planet who still loves to listen to an album from start-to-finish, and as tempting as it is to do it just on songs, I’m sticking with albums. Okay, Colin, stop rambling, here we go.

10. Grimes – Visions

With the sort of distant, keening vocals that helped ground Sleigh Bells’ Treats – one of my favourite albums of 2010 – Claire Boucher layers 8 million synthesizers and genres over one another and creates something that’s part pop, part IDM, ALL COP. It kinda makes me want to hold a rave in an American Apparel.

One of the biggest disappointments of this year’s Sled Island was her dropping off the headlining gig for at Olympic Plaza. I hope I’ll get a chance to see her before she flames out from too much party rockin’ or whatever.

9. Jack White – Blunderbuss

Jack remains one of the my favourite people to listen to when I’m getting ready to go out. I love the way that he respects and understands the roots of American music. When he turns on the jets on tracks like “Sixteen Saltines“, I usually do a half-assed jump-kick off the bed and bust out Omega-Level Air Guitar. Some of the tracks on the new album take a little longer to unpack than his more-straightforward White Stripes stuff, but it pays off after multiple listens.

Also, “Freedom at 21” is just an awesome track to play when you want to walk down the street with your headphones in. You are 36% more of a badass by virtue of this song. That’s a guarantee.

8. Wintersleep – Hello Hum

After their last album New Interitors, I was a little bit bummed about the state of Wintersleep. Welcome to the Night Sky was such an incredible album – a collection of mood and sound that probably got heavier end-to-end play than any album I’ve owned in the last 5 years. New Inheritors seemed to signal a change in the band, away from the massive sound and soaring harmonies that make this band absolutely perfect for car sing-a-longs and into something darker, more distorted and synthetic.

Never mind – Hello Hum takes the new sounds, synths and rougher edges and incorporates it into the wider sound of Wintersleep; the results are gorgeous. Wintersleep are one of these bands that can take a song and stretch it out live until you hear and feel each instrument, and Hello Hum delivers a similar experience inside each song. This time, the tone and vibe is far more upbeat than in the preceding albums – instead of a brooding texture, the songs have titles like “Nothing is Anything (Without You)“, with massive soaring guitars and choruses that feel like cuts off Achtung Baby. It’s music to fall in love to, for sure.

7. Die Antwoord – Ten$ion

Trying to describe this group starts reading like some kind of menu item at the Hipster Cafe. “Today’s special is a pair of rap-rave Afrikaans, seasoned in the Zef movement, with sides of g-funk and post-internet commentaries on race.” When I first heard about this group, I rolled my eyes so hard I thought I might have detached my retina.

Then I heard “I Fink U Freeky” and I rescinded everything. This is one of those acts that not everyone’s going to love, and if you listen to their lyrics too much you’re going to start feeling a little bit embarrassed, but their voice and sound is so original that I can’t resist them.

 

6. Cat Power – Sun

Chan Marshall is a notorious neurotic and her reputation for perfectionism coupled with some of the saddest songs ever recorded has become such a trope that she’s even parodying herself on Funny or Die. Whatever might be happening with Chan right now, the same sense of humour that let her yell at kids on the internet for a laugh has permeated her new album.

We’re still talking about Cat Power, here, and this is by no means a comedy album, but with skittering electronic samples and beats backing many of her tracks coupled with a lyrical change that makes her far less a victim of circumstance and heartache and much more in charge, Sun is a fantastic name for the album. The whole thing warms you like a cat in a sunbeam, wrapping you in a dreamy layer of sound, with Marshall routinely layering multiple vocal tracks atop one another in interesting textural ways.

I only came to Sun in the last 3 weeks of the year, and I’m so glad I found it. It’s been the soundtrack of the holidays this year and felt like a great Christmas gift.

5. Cold Specks – I Predict a Graceful Expulsion

Al Spx is the lead singer of this band, and if you were a Trinidadian-Canadian who grew up in Toronto listening to American deep south gospel music, The Cure and had an absolute cannon of a voice, you’d probably make Cold Specks, too. I think this band is going to blow up in the next year. Her sound – which she jokingly refers to as “Doom Soul” – is the kind of thing that can hit people from a number of different directions and find the thing that hooks you. For me, it’s the way the album hangs her voice out into space, giving her enough room to really deliver the power of each note.

I saw her perform in the brand-new Festival Hall, and it was easily one of the top five shows I saw this year. She performed a couple of tracks a capella, and it was all I could do not to break down right there.

 

4. Bahamas – Barchords

Another amazing live show, Afie Jurvanen’s band and latest album is one of the most likeable things I’ve heard in a while. Feist’s guitarist on her last few tours, Bahamas has her knack for crafting melody, but has a way of creating a sense of space and warmth that was notably missing from Metals. This is definitely an album built for quiet Sunday afternoons in the kitchen, with your cat asleep on the couch and a pot of soup on the stove.

Compared to a lot of the other stuff on this list, this is definitely an unchallenging listen; I’m quite comfortable putting this album on when my parents come over for dinner. There’s nothing here that’s going to melt your face off, but it’s rare to hear an album that’s constructed essentially perfectly – where each song is a perfect accompaniment to the previous and each note seems part of a unified statement of musicianship. Plus, the music’s just fucking beautiful.

3. Twin Shadow – Confess

Twin Shadow’s first album was great, but the followup just killed it. I’m undoubtedly susceptible to 80’s-pastiche synth rock (wait ’till you hear my #1 pick) but George Lewis Jr. created a Vietnam in this album. Just like how Vietnam has absorbed the best of each of its would-be conquerors over hundreds of years and ended up with a distinct and proud culture and nation that produces saté beef served on french baguettes, Twin Shadow lets the last 30 years of music wash over them and pulls the best from each decade. Peter Gabriel, New Wave, Arcade Fire-circa Funeral, Morrissey, Prince, TV On The Radio, Joy Division, Dangerous-era Michael Jackson – it’s all there, layering and colliding within each track. The results are at times unbearably tense and passionate – the kinds of songs that you can’t decide whether to dance or cry to.

This album has been heavy, heavy rotation in the last two months for me, and there’s no question it’s my choice for best breakup album of the year. Lewis has written a bunch of songs that really swing through all the emotions that come with an old-school relationship apocalypse – with heartache, love, anger, sadness, paralyzing numbness, elation and resigned self-destruction playing pretty heavy roles in most of the tracks. He’s the kind of guy that can take a hook that is an obvious play on “Take my Breath Away” and turn it into one of the most danceable tunes I heard this year.

 

2. Japandroids – Celebration Rock

Remember when we had them all on the run
and the night we saw midnight sun
Remember saying things like “we’ll sleep when we’re dead”
and thinking this feeling was never gonna end
Remember that night you were already in bed
said “fuck it” got up to drink with me instead

There isn’t too much more to say about this album that other people haven’t said better. Ian Cohen’s review on Pitchfork sums up this album just about perfectly: “Celebration Rock treats every day like the last day of school, raising a glass to the past, living in the moment and going into the future feeling fucking invincible.”

This is music not just to pump you up, but to help you remember the moments when you felt you could do anything, be anything – a life where limits didn’t matter, when time seemed infinite and at the same time unbelievably precious. This album sounds like two guys stuffing their drums with fireworks and soaking their guitar in kerosene – the album feels on fire, alive and visceral – and if you don’t feel the same way listening to it, I’m not sure I want to be your friend.

1. Diamond Rings – Free Dimensional

John O’Regan’s story is fascinating – a post-punk rocker with the D’Urbervilles, he gets Crohn’s disease, nearly dies and is reborn as a glittering glam-rock pop star. Ultimately, Diamond Rings tries to do something similar to Lady Gaga (elements of DIY personal construction, an attitude of letting your freak flag fly) but John O completely charms me in a way that Gaga’s “art in artifice” act does not. The fact that he’s a tall, awkward weirdo who clearly wrestles with conventional gender norms and understands the meaning of performance also helps.

And the music – this is a guy who clearly tried to moonwalk in his parents’ unfinished basement, who understands that music is meant to be moved to and move you at the same time, who shows a wry sense of humor that is so rare in a world of plaid shirts and beards. He writes adorable, earnest songs about falling in love and being yourself like he’s a living Degrassi High. Listening to him reminds me that no matter what the circumstances of my life might be, there are people in the world who are going to like and love me for exactly who I am right now.

Thank you.

I’d normally start writing a new entry by making some smartass comment about not really having an excuse, and admonishing myself to write more, but to be quite honest I haven’t exactly been in the mood to write another breezy piece about how great the Parkdale Farmer’s Market is (though it is great, check that shit out). I’ve had some pretty serious stuff happen in my life over the last few months and while it hasn’t taken the joy out of writing for me, it’s made it spectacularly hard to concentrate on anything beyond my immediate circumstances. Questions like “where will I be sleeping tonight”, “will I die alone surrounded by cats, and am I really upset about the idea of them eating my corpse”, and “what is the appropriate emotional reaction to having your life explode in front of you” tend to overwhelm and shut down the part of me that likes to be creative.

I’m three days out from my first attempt at being alone since I was 21. When I look back on that person, it doesn’t seem conceivable that I’m the same guy. The world – my world – was so different then. People, we did not have Facebook the last time I was single! Twitter was but a glimmer in the Fail Whale’s eye! I thought I might make an excellent Prime Minister!

On surgery and recovery

Day one, post-op. Moist handcloths and gowns with no back side were very popular with the kids that summer.

Day one, post-op. Moist handcloths and gowns with no back side were very popular with the kids that summer.

This summer, I had my appendix removed the day I returned from a trip to Spain. Long story short, my surgery was referred to by my resident as a horror show, which was a delight to hear, but I kind of believed him since the pain was so bad that my lungs collapsed. Not being able to take a full breath for four days was a bummer, and my mobility was so crap that I couldn’t walk more than 100 feet down the hospital corridor with my buddy the IV stand before I had to turn around. The pain was tolerable with enough morphine, but I was eager as hell to get out of the hospital and when I finally was released, I didn’t really care if I was ready or not, I just wanted to get out of there.

I took some time, I rested and recuperated. For a few days, I had trouble doing simple stuff without lying down on the couch and sleeping for a while. I had a literal hole in me where my drain had been; the incision scar and swelling made it look like I had a miniature sideways butt right at my waistband below my belly button. I had to wear swimming trunks exclusively because anything with an inelastic waistband felt like barbed wire.

In a week, I was back at work, definitely not 100%, but to my surprise I didn’t come back to a massive pile of accumulated assignments and overdue projects. I came back to a clean desk, with major initiatives I had spearheaded moving forward without me – my team had kept the ball rolling and made sure nothing fell off the edge of my desk or got missed. I had never experienced anything like this before in my working life – a team of people who had been there and supported me through a really nasty thing, doing it because they genuinely cared and wanted to make sure I got better.

On tortured analogies

I can’t help but feel the parallels with what I’m experiencing now. I feel like I’ve been through something extremely painful that reduced me to survival mode. All of my energy and effort has been focused on my relationship and in trying to keep it going. I’ve been feeling alone and scared as hell and unable to breathe, except it’s been going on not for four days but for a year.

Now, the surgery is over. Whatever has happened to my heart, whatever damage I might have incurred, it’s happened, and now I’m in the recovery stage. Things still hurt – there’s nothing like the joys of anxiety to remind you of what it feels like to never sleep again – and some days it feels like I should probably just stay home, slide under the covers and watch Freaks and Geeks for 10 consecutive hours until I can start drinking with a manageable level of shame. Either way, I know things are bound to improve from here, if only because they couldn’t get a whole heck of a lot worse.

On love and gratitude

But throughout this process, I’ve discovered how ridiculous it’s been to feel alone. Since I started to break the news to people, I feel this enormous surge of relief, of not having to hide behind my pride and act like everything is OK. I’m filled – absolutely to the brim – with love and support from friends and family. Just like when I got out of the hospital and back to work, I’ve found that people’s genuine care – their capacity to just be there for you, even if they don’t know what more to say than “wow…uh, that fucking sucks, dude” has been the single most important thing to help me heal. The blast of text messages, emails, phone calls, Facebook stuff – it’s forcing me out of my shell, keeping me social and interacting with others, and helping me remember and rethink about what it is to be just me – just Colin – not “Colin and Inesia”. It turns out those two entities may be pretty different things.

Sometimes, when he looks at me, I can tell he's just really curious about what my spinal cord tastes like.

Sometimes when he looks at me, I can tell he’s just really curious about what my spinal cord tastes like.

Four months from my surgery and recovery, I feel healthy. My lungs can fill with air, I can play basketball terribly again. My drain incision healed up and the swelling went down, and now my scar looks like someone drew a line in felt tip pen delineating the precise halfway mark between my belly button and my junk, which has led me to consider some very, very bad ideas for tattoos (please try, and fail, to get the image of a “you must be this tall to ride” sign out of your head – I know I have).

I know that I’m going to get there again, too. I know I’ll be okay, that I won’t actually die alone, gnawed on by Meak or his future brethren. Virtually everyone that reads this blog and many, many others have put in time in the last while to help hold me up, to keep me moving and to remind me that there will be an end to this – a moment where I can return to the land of the fully living, to return the favour a hundred times over.

So, thank you, thank you all so much for everything you’ve done, for your support and love. You have done more than you know to help me start to heal. I love you all so much.

Diamond Rings.

Directly from the Diamond Rings website:

Although he learned piano, guitar, and saxophone at a young age, John O (as his friends call him) was more into playing dress-up with his cousin Lisa while dreaming of a life beyond the Toronto suburbs where he was born. Of course, being the only kid on the block that wanted to pair a ballerina tutu from the tickle trunk with hockey gloves didn’t always make things easy. As he explains, “when I was in high school I never really identified with that macho jock attitude but because I played on the basketball team I couldn’t hang with the goths and punks either. Let’s just say I spent alot of time alone trying to figure myself out.”

Shall we revise?

Although he learned jazz dance and guitar at a young age, Colin B was more into playing dress-up with his cousin Missy while dreaming of a life beyond the Calgary suburbs where he was born. Of course, being the only kid on the block that wanted to pair a black turtleneck with a  football helmet didn’t always make things easy. As he explains, “when I was in high school I never really identified with that macho jock attitude but because I played on the football team I couldn’t hang with the goths and choir either. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time alone trying to figure myself out.”

Is there any wonder I identify with this guy. And not just because I can actually sing in his range for once.

Go here to listen, please. He is amazing. 

The last men’s club.*

I’m a gamer. I’ve been one my entire life; hell, before I finally badgered my parents into getting me the classic grey-and-black Nintendo Entertainment System, I used to play Intellivison at my babysitter’s house (portmanteaus/weird dial controller 4 LIFE). I love card games, board games, sports – I love it all.

Intellivision

That’s that OG shit, right here.

As a kid who routinely felt powerless and confused by the wider world, gaming gave me the ability to control my own destiny – to match wits against a series of problems, and beat them – had a huge appeal. It still does.

Gaming is undergoing a sea change right now. For the last five years, the gaming industry’s revenues outstripped Hollywood and the music industry, and at a growth rate of more than 9% annually, is expected to eclipse their combined revenue within 10 years. With big money has come an increased emphasis on games as art, as the industry has expanded into increasingly baroque subcategories.

There are indie games, games as art, games as storytelling vehicles, music games, casual games, massively multiplayer online role playing games, augmented reality gaming – we are effectively at the moment when games have reached a tipping point where you are less likely to meet someone who doesn’t game as you are to meet someone who does. It seems like there’s something out there for everyone. Except there isn’t.

The single greatest thing about games is that they are immersive in a way that goes beyond any other medium. In order to successfully play a game, you must become something other than yourself – a sword wielding hero, a player on an NHL team in a lockout season, a temple-robbing adventurer, a jewel-shifting-whatever-the-fucker.

Games are just the best thing ever

For every hurr-durr Call of Duty or retread of last year’s virtually identical sports game, we are getting games that combine jaw-dropping art direction with social psychology, games that teach you how to pop and lock, first-person shooters with more multilayered cultural references and deadpan humor than Arrested Development and underwater dystopias that act as one of the most nuanced criticisms of Objectivism since Adorno and Horkheimer.

The funniest thing I heard this year wasn’t a stand-up routine, or a comedy on TV or at the movies – it was a game where I played a silent female protagonist solving a first-person puzzle game involving teleportation and malevolent AIs. The most beautiful western I saw last year wasn’t True Grit, it was a game where I played a cowboy looking to be reunited with his family, made by the same sociopaths who brought you Grand Theft Auto. The most pants-shittingly-scared I have ever been wasn’t during a horror movie, it was as an engineer fighting reconstituted undead on a planet-cracking mining ship orbiting a strange alien world.

I honestly feel really, really bad for people who don’t want to grab a controller and just try this stuff. They are missing out on some of the best culture we are producing right now.

The best gaming moments are the ones where you can appreciate the art of what the game is doing, and made even better if you can share it with others. That sharing can include cooperation or competition – I’m not asking the world to get rid of face-shootin’ any time soon – I like shootin’ the occasional face – but the best moments are when you go “holy shit, did you just see that?”.

The best video game moment of my life was sitting in a friends’ basement with 10 other people, playing a cheap plastic guitar while my friends “played” the bass, drums and sang along. I looked over and realized that our singer was being joined by a chorus of everyone else in the room, and for a brief moment it felt like we were a real band with real fans. That’s an indelible experience, something that connected me with the people I love in a way that even watching a rock concert would have never brought me.

There’s a catch – there’s always a catch

But like virtually every mass-media cultural product that came before it, games started off as a product created and consumed by men. For the first 30 years of gaming, tastes and products were determined by gaming’s creators – young men who were often acting out their own sense of powerlessness by creating worlds that they felt comfortable in. From its inception, the idea of “girl gamers” has been seen as either:

The traditional depiction of ladies in vidya gaymez.

The traditional depiction of ladies in vidya gaymez.

While gaming seems delighted to take ladies’ money, each one of these models keeps women on the outside of what is considered to be – at least for a certain subsection of the culture – the elite, or 1337 side of gaming. “Elite” in this case being a part of T3H H4RDC0R3Z – those people who treat gaming as a lifestyle, not just something they do in lieu of watching reruns of Breaking Bad. This group is remarkable in that they see themselves as elite – despite the evidence to the contrary – and band together online to preserve their exclusivity, walling off their world from noobs and outsiders, routinely using hate speech and incredibly puerile insults to protect what they see as the mass culture’s incursion on their territory.

I really, really hate these guys.

Games are changing. Shit, culture is changing, and these guys are fighting it tooth and nail. Read any article about women in gaming – be it an executive for a major multinational gaming company, girls who play or write about games for a living, or individuals who are critiquing gaming from a feminist perspective – and you’ll see message boards filled with personal attacks, critiques of the subjects’ appearance, threats of rape and murder and worse. These people – and their “FUCKING FAGGOT” contemporaries in the world of online gaming – do more to set games back as a form of art than the worst Doom-playin’ school shooter.

So, what’s next?

I can’t think of many games that could pass the Bechdel Test, but thankfully things are starting to move in the right direction. Conversations have begun about the role of gender in gaming, with multimillion-selling games like Mass Effect including not only the option of a (frankly, much better-written and acted) female protagonist, but the inclusion of same-sex relationship options for both gender. While the system is still overwhelmingly biased in favor of male characters, there’s at least an acknowledgement that hey, sometimes it’s fun to play as a girl, the same way it’s really fun to pretend you’re a fucking space marine. Seriously, I want to be a lady space marine when I grow up.

My friend Allison thinks that this change – and the subsequent reaction to it – is the outcome of the continued push to create a more representative culture; one that better reflects the world we actually live in. This is necessarily at the expense of the ubiquitous while male, and as women keep pushing for their rightful place in the culture, the people who already feel like they are disconnected and disempowered in other way are reacting to what they perceive as yet another safe place they are having disrupted by outside forces. Quite frankly, I’m delighted. I’m tired of being me, sometimes – that’s why I play games, for Chrissakes. I hope this bullshit is just the death rattle of that hardcore culture.

Allison

Allison McNeely – she’s a laydaaaay. Oh! Also my friend. Those are her two defining characteristics.

More and more, I’m seeing women – coworkers, friends, acquaintances, you name it – who are playing the same games as these guys. They are taking the fight to them , in their own way, and doing it while having fun. When I ask them why they like the game they play, they might comment on the gameplay, or the writing, or the people they play with, not because they are trying to prove a point. In fact, they usually give the same answer I do.

If the hardcore people have a problem with reality, that’s understandable. If they were anything like me, it was usually that reality that drove them to play video games in the first place. But you don’t take the hard bumps you get in the real world and act them out on the people who want to join you in your imaginary one. You recognize and have empathy with them, you include them in your narrative and you grow your tent; if you lose a little control along the way, that’s okay. Besides, I can’t hit the high notes in Rock Band and I need someone to be my Steve Perry.

 *A huge thanks to Allison McNeely, web editor of the universe, for giving me this title and helping me walk through this topic that I honestly feel wholly underqualified to discuss.

Telling the truth.

I know this is awkward and I feel ashamed having to do this en masse, but I need to be honest with myself and with everyone about what I need in my life and it is probably better to do this in front of everyone and just get it out of the way.

There’s a secret I’ve been hiding from most of you for a few years, and not revealing it has become increasingly difficult. I don’t think I can pretend any longer and while it may have a real impact on my relationships with friends and family, it’s too important to ignore.

I know this may be hard for some of you to understand, and I don’t blame you. It’s something that many people don’t want to talk about even in this modern day and age, but I feel like I should be brave and tell the truth, even if it hurts.

Sweaty nerds come optional.

I want to try Dungeons and Dragons.

Old school table-top style, with people creating their own characters and acting in-character for the duration of the game. Dungeon Masters, multisided dies, orcs, acid pits, the whole shebang.

I might be the only one I know, and if that’s the case, at least I told the truth. But if anyone wants to try it with me, message me. I promise we will be discreet.

Sympathy for the derpvil.

Having just come back from a trip to Spain (more on that later), I’d been experiencing some post-trip malaise. I’m sure the feeling is familiar – where you become convinced that life should consist exclusively of sitting around sun-dappled cafes, drinking white wine from tiny glasses and wearing linen shirts.

However, Calgary is fully not cooperating with my mood, and keeps dragging me back to feeling good. This has been doubly impressive as I managed to come home from Spain with an extra souvenir in the form of a burst appendix, which led to a week in the hospital and a further week off recuperating.

It’s easy to forget that Cowtown brings the thunder in the summer. I’m not sure if it’s because of Calgary 2012, or just the continuing maturation of the city into a place where real people may actually want to live their lives, but the overlapping festivals, cultural events, random street parties and beautiful weather is really doing a number on my badditude. As much as I occasionally rag on Calgary because it isn’t Montreal or Vancouver or Paris, it has its own unique charms and lord knows I’m keen to defend it when other people criticize.

Image

Nose Hill is a deathtrap. Have you met a deer? Chuck Norris could have a baby with a Tomahawk Cruise Missile and it would be less deadly.

This has been particularly acute since the arrival of the Nose Hill Gentleman. For the six people who read this blog, you probably already know about this guy, but if you don’t – Walt Wawra, a cop from Kalamazoo and apparently not a character from a Dr. Seuss book despite his name and residence, recently had an encounter with a couple of young guys in Nose Hill Park that compelled him to write a letter to the Herald. These two apparently asked Wally Wubbles if he had been to the Stampede yet. To be clear for the non-Calgarians, this is the equivalent of asking someone in London if they’ve been to the Olympics. It is the equivalent of asking a Torontonian if you have felt smug yet. It is the equivalent of asking a Syrian if they are nervous.

What I’m trying to articulate is that it’s a pretty commonplace question. However, Winnifred Westeros apparently took this question as an aggressive act, and responded (after the two asked the question again) that he and his wife had no reason to talk to them and then walked away, to the admitted bewilderment of the two young men. There’s been some disagreement about whether these two guys were actually simply asking the question or were somehow giving out free passes to the grouds, but so far this is just an example of how a cultural difference may lead to some misunderstandings.

Then things get wonky. Waterhouse Wiggles’ response was to pine for the handgun he had carelessly left in his home in Kalamazoo, as he would have felt safe with it in his possession. This led to an internet explosion, with coverage on news sites including all the major national papers in Canada, Gawker and a Twitterspaz of derision. I have to admit that I was right there along with the majority of Calgarians and Canadians in condemning Wilhelm Wonka for his ignorance and passion for shootin’ from the hip, both literally and figuratively.

However, as the dogpile has continued, I’ve been thinking about that difference in attitude between Wifflebat Wowee and myself. I was just in a foreign country, too, and there were times when I felt a bit uncomfortable or worried that the person I was talking to maybe didn’t have the best intentions. Just because I didn’t feel the compulsion to pull out my nine and start blastin’ suckas doesn’t mean that my sense of dislocation and embarrassment at not being able to understand everything that was going on around me wasn’t real.

You know what’s real for Windshield Washerfluid? MUUUURRRRRRDAAAA. Everything is made better with a little Ja Rule

As a cop in Kalamazoo, he is dealing with a homicide rate of 0.12/1000 residents. Pretty low, right? In a city of 76,000 people, that’s nine murders a year.

Calgary had 8 murders last year. In a city of 1.1 million people. That’s a rate of 0.007/1000.

A visit to the Kalamazoo public safety website reveals something startling; the pages are dominated by guns. Guns are everywhere. The website’s FAQ is revealing – of the top ten questions asked, eight are related to firearms. They had an officer shot and killed in the line of duty last year. The local Fox affiliate that keeps a running Faces of Meth section on their site, conveniently listed under their /entertainment section. This is a very, very different world than Nose Hill Park on a sunny summer afternoon. My neighbourhood had one reported incident of crime last year – one. Somebody broke into a car on the street about six blocks from my place during a house party. That’s all we’ve got. Our community policing representative was the Calgary Police Service’s version of the Maytag repairman.

As much as Calgary should have its hosannas sung for being safe, the culture in the city is (at least compared to some places we visited in Spain) as paranoid as Kalamazoo. Bilbao’s homicide rate is half of Calgary’s. It is, apparently, entirely normal for women to meet people at a bar and then hop in their car afterward for a drive through the countryside with zero expectation of something nefarious happening. Canadians pat themselves on the back for being polite and friendly, but I’d never encountered anything like Marivi and Bilbao Greeters. We are talking about a service wherein a person comes to your hotel, takes you for a customized guided tour of the city and flat-out refuses any form of payment whatsoever. It was like having Batman as a tour guide or something.

The gang with Marivi, Dustin liked her so much I think he started calling her “Mom”.

I’d say we still have a long way to go in the we-rule-at-friendly category, but I’m not saying that Walter White gets a pass. He is, after all, the living, breathing stereotype of ‘Murrica made flesh – but the guy has led a very different life than I have, and apparently in a very different culture. As much as we love to give America the ol’ facepalm, I can’t help but feel like we still have a ways to go to build the sense of community that I think really makes a place special, and not a place where we need to lock our doors and oil our guns to feel safe.

I’d say Calgary’s doing a pretty damn fine job this year so far. I hope it just keeps getting better.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek argument – finally decided by Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart.

Okay, by their action figures, but still.

Wait for 1:46 for the rare but beautiful Double Picard Facepalm.

There is literally nothing better in this world than this video.

My three things for Calgary.

New Years’ resolutions are horrible. Not only does it make the gym unbelievably busy for a month until everyone falls off the wagon and starts taking baths in bacon fat again, you end up unconsciously assessing yourself every time someone asks you what your resolutions are. This leads to the sort of introspection that is dangerous; I’m never very sure I want to actually know what I think of myself and what needs to change. It’s a bit like that moment in The Ring when the lady opens up the closet door and oh my God I’m freaking out just thinking about it.

After feeling like a walking disasterpiece for most of the last two years, watching my self-regard slide downward in rough parallel with my weight and anxiety spiralling upward, I’ve decided to make a number of changes to how I’ve been living my life. It really began with a change in job – as of November 1 I’ve been the Web Communications Officer for Mount Royal University, escaping the vortex of PwC and moving into an environment and role much better suited to my skills and temperament. Finally leaving PwC gave me some perspective and helped me see where my day-to-day and long-term priorities had really stopped reflecting the things that mattered to me. I’ve been extremely lucky to have an incredibly supportive wife who is as eager to see me move forward as I am.

Among my 1600 goals for 2012 (consistent trips to the gym, completing my outstanding course work, cutting down on drinkingHAHAHAHAWHOAMIKIDDING), I’m focused on rekindling my passion for public life. To keep me happy, stimulated and fulfilled, my world can’t just be work, family, friends and Meak. Part of that energy that I have needs to be devoted to the world at large – to politics and policy.

For someone who spends a significant portion of his day scouring Google Reader for news on Canadian politics and trying to cram as much policy wonkitude and information into my face-hole as I can manage, I’ve become increasingly disaffected with actually doing anything when it comes to public life. Since the volunteering for the Liberal Party during the pray-for-death results of the 2006 Federal Election (in which I stood out in -25°c weather getting spat on by engineers for a piece of legislation that was passed before I was born), I have been essentially hiding underneath the bed when it has come to politics in Canada. Living in a Tory-blue province like Alberta, watching the Liberal Party go through a revolving door of leaders and generally feeling like Canada has become a slowly-deflating hot air balloon of recycled American legislation and head-in-the-sand back-patting hasn’t helped.

However, just like in a clichéd Hollywood film, just when all hope is lost – a new hope emerges. In this case, Calgary’s Luke Skywalker has been a purple-clad Mount Royal professor-turned-Twitter-machine-turned-Mayor, Naheed Nenshi. Early on, Nenshi’s brand of pragmatism coupled with refreshing honesty was attractive, and his ideas for a better Calgary were compelling. I love my home town, and despite its countless horrors and near-sighted obeisance to new home development, there are real, manageable things to do that can make the city (and world) a better place.

For this year, I’ve decided to start small. In many ways, the ways that Canadians interact with their government isn’t at the Federal level – it’s at the provincial and municipal. As a PoliSci nerd, it has been easy for me to think that what matters is the big, global stage, the clash of world powers, the grand narratives of nations, but for most citizens government is about roads and schools, parks and hospitals. In many ways it is the Polis, the city-state, that dictates and potentially enriches the lives of citizens.

The Mayor’s Civic Engagement Committee apparently thinks so, too. They’ve launched an initiative called 3 Things for Calgary, where every citizen is encouraged to:

  1. Think about 3 Things you can do to make Calgary better. These things could be for your street, your neighbourhood or for the entire city.
  2. Do those 3 Things.
  3. Encourage 3 more people to do the same.

So this year, I’m doing my 3 things. More than anything, I want to use these things to get me out of the house, to build a better community and know that I’m contributing in a meaningful way to the lives of my fellow Calgarians.

  1. Join my local community association. Already done. The Parkdale Community Association’s executive had a hole, and they’ve been kind enough to give me a shot at filling it. Say hello to the Director – Communications for the PCA, whose responsibilities include, but are not limited to, editorial oversight on the community newsletter, establishing and maintaining a web presence for the PCA to help articulate and deliver our services to the community and acting as the mouthpiece during our ongoing dispute with a tenant who seems to believe that they have the right in perpetuity to a portion of the community association without having to pay for it.
  2. Engage in Calgary’s local cultural scene. I love going to live shows, readings, plays and other events in this city. Committing to do this more is an easy sell for me, since it puts me in contact with things and people I enjoy and this year Calgary is the Cultural Capital of Canada. If there was ever a time for me to get involved and check new things out, it’s going to be this year. Also, Sled Island is being co-curated by Andrew Fucking W.K. I’m taking the whole four days off to PARTY HARD. 
  3. Write more. Here. About Calgary. I love my blog. I think about it all the time, about what I should write about, and then I get frozen in terror that I’m going to write something dumb or too long or embarrassing and I end up doing nothing. This is unacceptable. So now I’ll write about whatever, but especially about Calgary. About the things I care about in the city, about the cool stuff I see or want people to know about. Resatarunt reviews, plays, stupid photos, whatever. It’s going on here.

Anyhoo, that’s the dream – the vision. I sure hope it works out. We’ll see.

Oh, Sister(s).

It has been an amazingly busy (and great) summer. As the cold, iron grip of another busy season at my work continues to tighten ’round my throat, I wanted to stop and write about one of the best moments of the summer for me.

My cousin Missy got married on September 10th to her girlfriend Amelia. Unfortunately for Amelia, I can’t call her Amelia, because I got introduced to her as Ed and ever since then she’s been Ed (or Edmazelington, for short – why that is apt, I’ll get into later). Why Ed? Well, there’s any number of reasons.

Missy and Ed let me stay at their place for a couple of days before their rehearsal, and having gone through the whole wedding thing not that long ago, I gotta say – they handled the whole thing like champs. It was just awesome to see them both so relaxed and happy through a really emotional, crazy and busy time. I know that weddings are supposed to be these times of joy and great feelings, and they are, don’t get me wrong – but they also happen to be a terrifying crucible that uses the white-hot flame of emotions to forge people (and families) together. People get burned by that heat, there is pain involved. Goddamn it was strange to watch it happening to someone else, not only because it makes you feel less alone, but somehow getting married turned me into the world’s biggest wuss when it comes to weddings. Case in point – my Grandfather sings one verse of one song a capella at the wedding and I dissolve into a puddle of tears that takes me half an hour to recover from. OH FUCK I AM CRYING AGAIN LISTENING TO THAT FUCKING SONG ON YOUTUBE.

Missy is three years older than me and we grew up together until her family moved away to Minnesota, just before I started elementary school. We were raised in that classic Ukrainian way, where everyone in the family just sort of communally raises each other’s kids. It’s convenient, because it means you can share the burden, giving you plenty of opportunities for smoke breaks and a chance to refill your wine glass. I’ve always considered her to be less a cousin and more a sister, and growing up a sensitive and pretty friendless only child it was really her and my cousin Kyle that were my siblings, my best friends, and the only people who really made me feel like it was okay to be whatever the hell it was I was. Our family has gone through some crap over the years, but I’ll say this – my cousins have always stuck with each other. Even when some of us (read: me) acted like jerks, there’s always a hand out and an understanding word when it really matters. Also, Missy has terrified some ex-girlfriends. For someone who weighs about as much as my left leg, she comes off like Ray Lewis coming at a dude when she wants to.

However, Missy still acted like my sister, and like all decent, upstanding older sisters she tried to drown me in the pool and tied me up and left me in the basement with the Casio keyboard demo going for 2 hours playing a MIDI version of “Little Red Corvette” . When I was 5 she told me there was no Santa Claus.

Missy learned the first rule - deny, deny, deny - early. Photo credit to my Auntie Karen and pajama credit to my Mom.

 

There are a lot of stories about this kind of thing for Missy and I, and for years I’ve teased her about how she used to push me around.There’s no question – Missy was older than me, she was cooler than me, and she sure as shit was smarter than I was, so I had better get the hell in line. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with Missy, even now, would totally get what I’m saying. She has this incredible energy and charisma that just seems to bend reality around her. She is hard not to love.

One of the tasks I had before the wedding was to dig through all of our family’s old scrapbooks, looking for photos to use in their slide show. Missy and I were both the first kids in our family, and mother of God our parents loved to take photos of us. So many of those photos are of us together, and we were unbelievably adorable.

Photo by Karen

Please note how I fail at praying. I do, however, look like I'm about to crane-kick the fuck out of someone (please note that someone was most likely my cousin Kyle)

 

What is crazy is that in every photo of us when I’m not looking at the camera, I’m looking at Missy. I can actually remember my Mom shouting Colin, look at the camera at me, when I was busy just staring at Missy, looking for the next thing she was going to do that I was going to copy. That pure adoration was born of a real love for a girl that I always looked up to, who always seemed so cool and forthright and sure of herself even when she probably didn’t feel that way. Missy’s the reason I thought it was totally normal for an 8-year-old boy to take jazz dance, why I played and sang Me and Bobby McGee in front of the entire school in elementary despite a near-complete lack of talent, why I joined choir and football at the same time. I saw Missy doing this stuff, thought that seemed like a great idea, and did it. Some of that stuff was hard, son. I got teased pretty bad, but it was never enough to make me quit; I always thought to myself “Missy did this crap, and she is way cooler than everyone I know, so she’s gotta be on to something.” The best thing is that she was; if I hadn’t learned how to dance, I probably would never have met my wife. And there were a lot of cute girls in choir.

For the past few years I’ve had the chance to see that same amazing girl finding and falling in love with someone who is just so easy to adore – so clever and thoughtful, so giving of her energy and time and willing to commit herself fully to what she loves. And Ed performs in drag as Ferris Bueller.

Watch this video. There will be a quiz later re: my cousin’s cameo. Failure will result in immediate violence.

I just want to thank Ed so much for finding Missy, for loving my amazing cousin so openly and beautifully and for being someone new to adore, and to thank Missy for bringing a new sister into my life. I love them both so much.

Photo Credit to Tim Bonham.

Photo Credit to Tim Bonham.

Oh, dear, sweet summertime – you make me fail at blogging.

Hi blog! Remember me? Big ups to Rhett Soveran for absolutely nailing the fact that blogging during the summer is made of poison.

Work is finally slowing down after a totally crazy spring, and it’s been nice to take some time off and visit some really pretty country and celebrate Nesi and I’s first year anniversary. Kelowna and Penticton were both just amazing, and wine touring was a blast. We tried some really amazing wines and came back with quite a few bottles as well. Laughing Stock vineyards produces some totally amazing wines, including their Portfolio 08, which might have been one of the best reds I’ve ever tasted. Huge points on the design front, too, as they have some of the most distinct and coherent branding I’ve ever seen (which may have impacted my feelings about the wine, embarrassingly). It was such a pleasure to just hop in our car and cruise from vineyard to vineyard, soaking up some sun (and a few glasses of Pinot Gris), meeting the people at the vineyards who were all very nice and (with the exception of Mission Hill) really genuine. Mission Hill had that vibe where you kept expecting everything that you read or saw was appended with TM or ©.


Of course, the bastards do get to live in a fucking fairytale, so I guess a bit of zombie-speak is probably the price they pay.

Unfortunately things haven’t been entirely magical this summer in the pet department, as our poor kitty Meak satisfied his fever for earplugs with yet more earplugs, which resulted in an obstruction at the point where his stomach connected to his large intestine. If you can imagine the way that a rubber stopper plugs a bottle of wine, you’ve got it. Poor Meakles couldn’t pass anything out of his stomach, and he had to get surgery to remove it.


O HAI. I HAZ A OWIE, BUT NOW I’M WURTH LIKE 2 SWEET LAPTOPS.

Poor guy ended up getting an infection, which led to some awesome medieval medicine-style shit. We had to apply hot compresses to his incision to draw out the putrescence, which made me feel like I should have been wearing a robe and reciting eldritch incantations by candlelight. Meak just purred the whole way though it, which may have been related to the fact that he got to take his cone off. Meak vs. the cone was basically a nonstop comedy classic, as the absence of functional whiskers made it kind of impossible to navigate without bumping into everything while transforming him into EmoMeak, whose favorite band is clearly My Chemical Romance. 

He’s all better, now, and back to being an asshole and peeing on our bed every time I don’t let him outside often enough which I am supposed to say is a good thing. The cone was frickin’ funny though.

Anyway, I solemnly swear to do some more of this stuff before the end of the summer, and probably with more of a point than this post. Hope you’re having a great summer wherever you are.

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