Tuesday, July 23, 2013

A Few Favourites: Relaxed podcasts to learn from

The obsession begins...
I am an anxious person masquerading as someone who is laid back. Only those close to me see that my toe starts tapping within the twenty minutes of having to catch the bus mark and the weird stress faces I make when forced to do something unproductive when there are deadlines. Living in a house where CBC was always on, I grew up with serious sounding jingles as a means of telling time. (As It Happens meant supper soon!) In fact, my early meanderings of the Internet were mostly spent seeking clips of Peter Gzowski’s wonderful voice in its hey day, before he became a guest on other up and comer’s shows and eventually passed away.

Some like music, but I’ve found conversation has always had more rhythm. I seldom listen to podcasts for information but more for the one excellent story that I can decide whether to further research at a more appropriate time. From Bill Simmons to Ira Glass I have a whole slew of characters for putting on make up to, working to, washing vegetables to, and eventually drifting to sleep. Radio is the best kind of passive, not requiring the attention that an episode of anything on Netflix does. Podcasts can be consumed without so much attention on the screen.

What I listen to every day is too long a list for one post, but these are my perfect part geeky part transcendental experience that will inform you while making you feel. Podcasts are merging art and science in ways I haven’t seen other mediums try to succeed. If you enjoy dreamy synth pop but want a story, all of these are for you.  Although none of the following have anything to do with these actions, all of these podcasts use their voice, their editing, and their stories to evoke emotions in me akin to spending time looking at antiques with no deadline, eating a slightly tart frozen yogurt on a hot day, looking at sepia photographs and, for a reason I don’t understand, the colour orange. It can be tempting to relegate sound based to a lesser form of television, but the artistry in these pieces proves that no, it’s just different.

This I Believe

The 1951 radio show was revived as a podcast in the early aughties. When reading about it’s history, I learned that much of it’s appeal lay in that it “stressed individual belief rather than religious dogma” which adds a different element to it when I listen to the brief, plain segments of people speaking passionately about something that they believe.

Length: roughly 5 minute an episode once a week 
A park ranger talks about building community from within.


Radiolab tells science like stories, frequently by telling the stories of people who work with the sciences. The perfect “NPR mad professor” characters, Robert & Jad present an array of philosophy, anthropology, physics, and lately legal stories in a quirky, otherworldly way.  

Length: either 15-20 minutes or an hour, 2-3 times a month 
‘Ally’s Choice’: A white woman calls herself a negro in a small town, but one of her daughters decided not to.
‘Killing babies, saving the world’: Don’t let the name deter you; this is a fascinating look at ethics and evolution.

The Memory Palace

Spoken like a novel, The Memory Palace is haunting but not in a spooky way. Mini moments of forgotten Americana are given a tone that can only be described as Sofia Coppola’s aesthetic made aural combined with your family’s matriarch or patriarch’s attention to detail. I hesitate to use the word favourite, but….

Length: 5-10 minutes once a month
The Sisters Fox: Sisters convince everyone they can contact the dead with so many twists that will make you gasp.
The Messrs. Craft: A slave dies on a plantation that she owns. In between she dresses in drag to escape across the country and so much more.

99% Invisible

Imagine if they told fairy tales about urban planning and design. They do, his name is Roman Mars, and 99% Insivible will make you acutely aware of your surroundings.

Length: 20 minutes, once a week
Heyoon: The movie Stand by Me only with art instead of dead bodies
The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: Dispelling the myths of public housing
Elegy for the WTC: A look at the world trade centres you definitely haven't heard before.

The Moth

Performers tell their stories. Some are good, some are bad, some are campy, some are inspiring. When they are good, they are very, very good. When they are bad, they are the people who think they are legally entitled to a cronut or some crazy New York crap like that.

Please note that my two favourites for this show are possibly by favourite 40 minutes of anything ever. Both stories make me nostalgic for things I don't understand.

Length: 20 minutes once a week
Stars on the Ceiling: An ode to the resourceful women in our lives who make things okay when everything goes wrong
The Case of Curious Codes: A woman escapes her abusive husband, becomes an author at 70, and finds romance through code breaking. You will cry.

Maybe coming soon:
Badass female podcasts / Reporting to make you feel things / Sports with humour or Why Grantland is the best and nothing will ever compare...

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Embracing Monday

It was far from a private island, but it only took a 5 minute ferry ride for us to feel like we were "out of the city." (Seriously, if you've ever taken the ferry at the Porter airport in Toronto, it was like that.) My favourite part of George's Island was how average it was; it was exactly like most parts of Nova Scotia, only in a very little place so close to all of the busy of downtown. I like how the consistency of this province always allows me to feel like the new is familiar. Although when travelling I seek out adventure, when it comes to home, I'd rather leave my surprises to my soda choices. (Delicious!)
  1. I really enjoy doing an annual resume refresh. Here's some inspiration to get you started.
  2. This ultra modern landscape & these surreal beaches have me thinking about Brazil. 
  3. These tweets from the Abbotsford Police Department left my stomach hurting from laughter.
  4. We have a myth that if the poor work harder, they will succeed. This suggested budget by McDonalds tells its employees to work two full time jobs and acknowledges that they still couldn't afford heating.
  5. It may be a little baseless in this article, but I'm loving anything positive about Detroit right now. (Keith Law thinks the Tigers will do well!) Here's everything else you need to know.
  6. I fell down a historic pop culture images rabbit hole this week; I'm shocked I had never seen The Supremes look this vibrant and Ingrid Bergman look this magical.
  7. If you're inspired by the women above, also check out Hannah's take on Audrey Hepburn, but not the Breakfast at Tiffany's one. (I never have the patience for make up learning, but Hannah is magical.)
  8. I hope the internet finds whoever sent this threatening letter to a Kingston lesbian couple... I won't say why.
  9. These portraits of people as they were might make you a little emotional. (via @DartmouthKate)
  10. What would the perfect women's magazine look like? I am a huge fan of both Chatelaine and Real Simple. I have been since I was about 16. Maybe not their target market, but...
  11. "Education is what makes us fully human": a short, lovely piece.
  12. Beth Hoeckel's art reminds me of nostalgia and expresses what I would have liked to express with visuals at so many points in my life but I didn't have the vision or talent. Luckily, she does.
  13. Beyonce: artist, diva, and evangelist minister / exorcist? Yep.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Lots of actually interesting things to do with teenage girls

Let me start off by saying I don’t think teenagers are some sort of different animal that we are seeking to tame, influence, and patronize. There are many ways in which I am not Time Magazine, and aside from the paycheque, it is also that I don’t treat people who are a different age from me as some sort of alien subculture who speak only Snapchat. I love spending time with friends and my friends span a very diverse age range. Still, I’m not going to pretend it’s always easy to do things with Sophie, Luke’s younger cousin, who I think is completely badass and awesome, and it’s not her fault.

Living in a small city where the all ages music scene is existent but not necessarily flourishing, it can be hard to break the mold of showing Sophie the John Hughes movies that I worry she won’t see without our influence. It’s also frequently looked over that everyone matures different at every age. As someone who frequently observes horrible the horrible treatment of staff at restaurants or even cashiers at the grocery store, I know it’s not like the teenage years are the only time there’s a discrepancy in maturity. Still, knowing the lines of when Twin Peaks is creepy cool vs. just plain creepy can be difficult to determine with someone you only have honorary “kinda cool kinda aunt” status with.  

Truthfully, this is a list of things you can do with any teenager, or almost any one, but in an age where feminism is having as many waves as an ocean there’s a lot of focus on how we talk to girls. In my desperation to have a crazy cool weekend with Soph, I took to Google, and I found the offerings somewhat lacking, rather stale, and usually surrounding the vaguely religious notion of keeping them ‘pure.’ Yech.

Things to do with teenage girls:
  • Introduce them to ‘important’ people. It must be a bylaw that every elected official has to tell every kid that they can be in their position some day. Although it gets a bit cheesy after a while, there remains power in this saying. You need to get it in the brains, even if they’re wearing a Pikachu costume. It worked in Back to the Future, right?
  • Introduce them to people they’ll like. Frequently, it can be tempting to see quality time as alone time, but the real value can sometimes be found in being the person who lets two fans of anime or country music or nail art enthusiasts talk. When growing up your pools of places to be introduced to people are fairly limited. Introducing them to others with similar interests gives girls new ways to see what their hobbies can become. (Any women in the gaming industry want to come do coffee with us?)
  • Go outside. No one spends enough time outside. No one. Outside is not just hiking. Especially if they are from a suburban background (hi), it can be liberating to just walk down streets they are not used to.
  • Take them to campy restaurants. Truly campy restaurants are usually old, making it the perfect place for feeling cool because they’re not at Swiss Chalet or Chipotle’s or whatever the family favourite is. They also make wonderfully bad references to the past which is especially important to the digital natives (LINK). Sophie watched my face drop as she asked what a card catalogue was (in a library, remember?) but then I realized there was absolutely no need for her to know what that was. This started wonderful conversations about the way things were, all of 15 or so years ago. 
  • On storytelling vs. gossip: Whether it’s through DNA or culture, it is undeniable that the practice of storytelling is incredibly important to women’s bonding. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous spiel goes “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people” but ideas are only understandable in the context of their time. It’s likely useless to start talking Adorno to a 13 year old and NOT because they’re not smart enough. Honestly, it’s patronizing to start a conversation with an idea without the context; I’m tired of intelligence being made to look like something some people “have” and some don’t. Bringing great ideas into other conversations is how we keep from falling into the tempting gossip trap and grows great minds, both in yours and hers.
  • Make crafts. I’ve never been a fan of gluing things on pinecones, but whether you’re good at woodworking or can make one skirt, there is an indescribable power in creating instead of consuming that can’t be put into words. This is what I will say to try to get Sophie’s help in painting my bedroom walls next month.
  • As an add on, if you buy someone young a cheap canvas and tell them to do whatever they want on it and then hang it in your house, you will earn all of their respect forever and likely get a new piece of hilarious abstract art out of the deal.
  • Anything that is part of a festival. The word “festival” holds attention in ways I don’t understand. They can still appreciate music if they show up to the one all ages event at Whatever in the Park looking dressed for Coachella.
  • Play games. To go back to the “introduce an idea with context”, it’s really not great to take someone somewhere and just expect them to appreciate what’s there because it’s “great.” According to who? That question alone can spur an entire conversation, but informal scavenger hunts based around finding the colour red in an art museum, and then talking about why red is or isn’t there, is fun for both of you as long as you’re both playing the game so you aren’t self relegating yourself the teacher.
  • Teach them how to apply make up. Maybe you think make up is a tool of the patriarchy. I’m not going to be the one to convince you otherwise, but maybe others will. I won’t peddle this blend yourself a slimmer face crap, but I would’ve appreciated knowing how to apply mascara in a way that didn’t make me look like a raccoon.
  • Let them pick groceries. This frequently doesn’t happen until you’re out on your own for the first time and end up buying cereal and cheese. When you’re not buying food out of hunter-gatherer instinct you can actually appreciate the environment and the strangely liberating feeling of choice.
  • Do anything at night. There’s no logic behind this. It is exciting to be out at night because young teens seldom have a reason to be.
  • Talk out issues instead of always challenging them. You may find the gender roles in her comic books a little questionable, but she probably has a more progressive view on culture or art or something that she doesn’t understand how big it is, but she will have a view like this, and she will have arrived at that conclusion without an academic paper telling her to, and it will blow your mind.
  • Finally, they’ll talk when they want to. They will. Really.

We are going to George’s Island this weekend; boyfriend, one of best friends, Sophie and I. For those not familiar with Halifax geography (what do you mean???), it’s in the middle of our harbor and it’s just hard enough to get to to make it a great place to film just about any adventure movie. I’ve promised prepurchased picnic baskets full of trendy, local food that makes eating vegetables fun. She’s promised to fishtail braid my hair.

It will be fun.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Embracing Monday

In the saddest way, after a crazy weekend there's a certain comfort in the fact that there will always be Mondays. Here's how you can get through yours:

  1. Luke talks about living in small, small, small condo and having a beautiful weekend cottage to fix up. This is the most wonderful 'cottage' I've ever seen. I can be swayed.
  2. Everything may be bigger in Texas, but everything's better in Finland and there's a reason for it.
  3. The work of Therese Murdza is so soothing.
  4. Another from The Atlantic: TV is giving us all feelings.
  5. Lauren sent me every cat ever in a gif. (Some harsh language in the text.)
  6. When I cry I sometimes like to listen to the beauty of people who can make the best of anything. Stars on the Ceiling is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard and I have listened to it twice this weekend.
  7. Tim Lincecum, the dreamiest, threw a no hitter... and this.
  8. This movie is going to be a classic.
  9. I've actually consulted this list of how to store fruits & vegetables several times. 
  10. Mini vacation in a few pictures.
  11. It's been a heavy week, so here's an old Buzzfeed article I can always count on: 30 Guinea Pigs Wearing Hats.
  12. It's been a heavy week, so here's a 16 year old girl addressing the United Nations after being shot for going to school, making you cry and giving you hope.
Here are some of the pieces about Trayvon Martin that have touched me so far. I'm sure more are to come. 
The photographs above were taken a week or two ago at Fisherman's Cove in Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, an almost spiritual place whose beauty is amplified by fog and is easily accessible by bus.

Monday, July 8, 2013


The Jays had just embarrassed the hell out of the Atlanta Braves. Luke and I had chosen our destination*, determined our timing, and planned our entire trip around seeing the team that he has watched, at the least convenient times possible, since he was three years old. Still, walking into the cold night air surrounded by drunk people Rasmus jerseys gave me a weightless, infinite feeling that could only be described as happy.

I’ve never been into self help books and my daily writing tends to verge on goofy than particularly profound. I groan at the endless streams of slogans on Pinterest that are supposed to motivate me to #eatclean or #livelovelaugh. Happiness is hard to write about because putting your feelings down in a meaningful way means others have something concrete to tie your happiness to. After all, it’s a dangerous, offensive thing to imply that at any point in your life you were anything less than happy.

Even without realizing, so many people hold other people’s happiness as a currency of personal value. I have one of those doting personalities that are obsessed with fixing emotional turmoil even if I know that picking the right movie or taking someone out for dinner isn’t actually the answer. Even the most hardened person, the one who says they don’t care what others think, would be left questioning if their partner, best friend, parents confessed to not usually being happy right?

It’s completely irrational to assume that happiness is a natural state. Happiness is portrayed as something that naturally occurs when all of your needs are met which is why the common acceptance of a midlife crisis seems so contrary. The idea that I had to work at happiness was such a struggle because it seems selfish to admit to not being naturally happy.

The mentality that satisfaction leads to happiness also sets dangerous infrastructure for proper understanding. I still think so much of the generation gap could be closed without even discussing iPods if we were able to separate the concepts of happiness and gratitude. We have the mental capacity to grasp this; someone might be very grateful if they were provided with food and shelter after their home burned down, but no one would expect them to be happy. Still, I used to feel an overwhelming anger towards myself, like something was wrong, if everyone was kind to me and I couldn’t shake a mood.

The revelation that I could be grateful and happy with what I had but still not actually happy was a liberating revelation that shaped my current life period more than independent living, university, or entering the work force. All of these things may have influenced my eventual happiness, but this breakthrough was not achieved through them.

We also need to separate the ties between happiness and personal virtue because it’s so in denial of privileges. You can be a pleasant, talented, graceful person who has happy moments but it’s nearly impossible to be truly happy and comfortable when you’re hungry. Optimism and happiness shouldn’t be mistaken for each other, neither should resourcefulness, or any other character trait. It’s very comfortable to say happiness can be achieved by anyone at any time; it’s the thought that gets us to sleep while others lie awake because they don’t know what’s going to happen about rent this month.

I'm so fortunate. I have an encouraging and loving family, a partner who I adore, a kitten that seems to at least appreciate my ability to feed him, an apartment that makes me feel at home, and enough resources to get from day to day for this point in my life, and I’m still not always going to be happy. This doesn’t make me broken, ungrateful, or even depressed. I’m not here to be your early 20s cliché. I’ve simply given up the attitude that I’m going to be happy all of the time and I’ve been much happier since then.

I’ve been truly happy for about a year now. Not consistently, not always, not logically, but I feel a whole happiness, an everyday completeness, a life not highlighted by happy days that I try to accumulate and use as a way to measure myself.

It was the spirituality of my baseball stadium exit, not just the great memory of the Braves coming back and succeeding the next day, that made me consider moving to a city with an MLB franchise, any MLB franchise, one day because it’s finally occurring to me that as someone previously obsessed with cramming chores efficiently into every evening who occasionally had melt downs over missed buses, I am not impressed by athleticism or human ability but am liberated by baseball’s freedom from time constraints. 

I make notes about what makes me happy, knowing they’ll change but at least acknowledging the moments as they pass. I buy all of the fruit I want even if it means I can’t afford butter. I calm myself down to both Jessica by the Allman brothers and Ellsworth Kelly’s earlier works. Sometimes I paint furniture just to go through the relaxing wrist motions, always accompanied by public radio podcasts. I indulge in the frivolous aesthetic value of peeling the ugly, irrelevant labels off  necessary products. I’ve finally given myself permission not to read when I don’t feel like it, even if I love books and have equated the action with virtue for far too long. I work hard and a lot and am learning to relax just as much because it makes me work better. Writing makes me happy, and sometimes sharing it does too. Sometimes.

The biggest struggle in my quest for happiness was being rude. I try to let go of the past but I’d be lying if I said that being bullied for being so nerdy, so annoyingly different as a child hasn’t shaped my life in ways I’ll likely never understand. The compulsion to be polite, to be liked, to be well mannered is much more than social grace. In fact, I’m not always these things, but I have always tried to the point of exhaustion. The mouth that was always so outspoken about politics and feminism had the hardest time telling someone why they hurt me. Ignoring jerks is the biggest freedom I’ve ever allowed myself. Everyone feels as though they have a demand on your time, and although I try to be generous with mine, I’m slowly understanding I’m not meant to be a dart board for bad attitudes, even, and especially, if I want to change the world.

It’s not over, but when I go to sleep, I actually sleep. It takes a lot of effort to do the things I know I need to do, and even more for the right reasons. Exercise gives me plenty of endorphins, but not when I’m heaving on the bike because I’m embarrassed for eating ice cream. I have those days, but now they are days. Sometimes even a day. So yes, there is a ‘happy’ ending; I’m happy, except for the days I’m not. And that’s okay for as long as it is.

*Bring back the Expos!
** Although not being happy does not mean you’re depressed, if you even have an inkling that something is  seriously wrong, why not check out if people can help? http://depressionhurts.ca/en/