28 February 2015

making faces :: tiny vices, part 2

in case you're not sure what this is about, you could go back and read last month's post, where you'll also learn about my criminal mastermind past.

here's this month's recap photo, a quick look at everything that i've put on my face [makeup-wise] in the last twenty-eight days:

i cannot tell a lie: there are three repeats in there from the month of january:

  • armani rouge ecstasy "sultan" [second row, second from right]
  • dior rouge baume "coquette" [second row, extreme right]
  • nars audacious "vivien" [third row, third from right]

but i can explain!! well, sort of, anyway. it's been so bitterly cold that despite the fact that i try to stay hydrated and moisturized, my lips have been in turribul shape. that means i can either just give up on the cosmetics and go naked [which i did in a few cases, as will become clear if you count through the photos], or i can limit myself to extremely forgiving formulas. rouge ecstasy is definitely my preference for such situations. [i could have used another shade, of course, but i was already dressed and that was the best shade i had to go with what i was wearing. if i feel poorly put together, it's like i have a stone in my shoe all day. i'm not joking.] i wanted to test the dior rouge baume to see if it could withstand the crackling, since i really have to review this little pretty that's been sitting on my vanity for two months. there will be a review forthcoming but chapped lip spoiler alert: it's good but not great.

the third repeat, "vivien" was because i felt that the original shots i took made it look very severe, which it isn't. [top row, second from right in the january photo, if you'd like to take a gander. i wonder if anyone ever got confused by that saying and stole a male goose? "what? you told me to come over and take a gander. what were you expecting me to do?" things like that keep me up at night. i've heard of studies showing that people who are night owls and who sleep less are more creative, but i'm still waiting for that to kick in, evidently.] i did say at the outset [i don't know if i said it out loud, but i thought it very clearly] that i was going to give myself some leeway on new shades, because it's not their fault that they arrived late.

but other than those three, yes, these are all different shades. i took one of those "test your vision" things online a little while ago that evaluated your ability to differentiate between colours. i scored in the top 2%, which may mean that i'm one of the very few people who can tell the difference between all these shades. it's possible that some of you are looking at the above picture and thinking i'm wearing the same lipstick in every picture. [although if you think the first two are the same, i'd feel more comfortable if i knew you weren't getting behind the wheel of a vehicle any time soon.]

some stats to make it more science-y:

  • most worn brand this month :: nars [6]
  • most worn brand overall :: guerlain [12]
  • first-timers :: 2 [1 purchase, 1 gift with purchase i'd forgotten]
  • repeats from previous month :: 3

the second thing i've noticed is that there is clearly more light showing on balance throughout the month. yes! the sun is coming back! it may still be freezing or well below it outside, but there is hope somewhere. [cynical me is snickering a little at the idea that i'm implying that the weather improves in montreal in march. it tends not to. in fact, what often happens is that it just gets warm and humid enough for a few major snowstorms. but after the coldest february on record, i'll take hope where i can find it.]

there are a couple of looks in here that you might recognise from previous review posts, but if you have any questions about any shades or looks above, please feel free to ask. does the challenge continue? it does. i'm not promising there won't be repeats, but there i can keep a high level of variety going for a long time. how long? stay tuned...

25 February 2015

world wide wednesdays :: imaginationland

so many generic tattoos to answer for...
while i was thinking up a topic for last week's "world wide wednesdays" post, i had two ideas that i wanted to pursue. the one i went with was about brazil, which i thought was appropriate given the proximity to the beginning of lent [which is preceded, of course, by carnival]. i wish i could tell you what the other one was, but, as certain as i was that it would stick with me, i lost track of the idea some time between last wednesday night and this morning.

i'm mentioning this because it is an obvious lesson in the importance of writing things down and it ties in directly to the topic of today's post, which is basically a look at what happens when people don't write anything down for hundreds of years and the mess it can make of your history. today, ladies and gentlemen, we're talking about the celts. [side note :: i'm guessing that some of you are already trying to decide whether you should pronounce that word as if it starts with an 's' or a 'k'. please don't. both are acceptable. if you want to get picky, the original name was an interpretation of a tribal name by a roman and latin speakers of the time would have pronounced it with a hard 'k', as in julius caesar, which you've also been pronouncing wrong your whole life, because a roman would have said it as "yoo-leeus kaiser". the confusion stems from the same place for both examples: the latin language lost the hard 'c' pronunciation at some point and the change filtered down to english through this later latin and old french. the "retro" approach of using the classical latin pronunciation was something that arose as part of a revivalist movement in the 19th century, but more on that a little later. for now, just pick whichever pronunciation tickles your tongue muscles and go with it. believe me, things will be confusing enough without getting hung up on details at this stage.]

chances are when i say the word "celts", you have some idea that's related to a romantic past of druids and red-haired warriors and misty landscapes with enya playing in the background. perhaps many of you take pride in a certain amount of celtic heritage. if you're of european extraction, it's almost likely that you have some type of celtic blood in you, not because your ancestors were druids, but because the term celtic is so broad that it's nearly meaningless in a genetic sense. this is compounded by the fact that many people don't agree one who should be considered celtic, even now in the age of advanced dna typing, because, with such a long passage of time and such a broad area of origin, knowing when to draw the line can get tricky. and then there's the problem of written records: in a lot of cases, there aren't any. celtic written languages are limited to very specific areas and only developed in those areas after about the fourth century, when celtic culture was only a remnant of its earlier self. that means that the information we have on the earlier, more powerful celts comes entirely from other sources, who realised the importance of writing stuff down. it also means that we know next to nothing about the actual origins of the celts, because while their culture was incubating, no one was around to document it.

in getting to know the celts, the most important first step is to realise that all common knowledge we might have about them is tainted. modern knowledge of the celts, and particularly the romanticism that surrounds them, stems not from any meaningful history, but from a celtic revival and nationalist movement that took place across the modern day united kingdom and ireland in the eighteenth to the twentieth century. there were a lot of reasons for this revival, but a key one was that the celtic dominated parts of the islands had become socially and economically disenfranchised, as the rise of the industrial age favoured larger cities, which were of anglo-saxon origin. [reactionary movements against modernisation included such people as the pre-raphaelites, the romantics in literature and the classicists who decided that "celtic", which had been pronounced "seltic" for centuries, should thenceforth be pronounced "keltic". thanks, guys.] a revival of traditions served to assert outlying groups' identity versus the monolithic centre, which had political implications as well, kick-starting the irish nationalist movement. like most cultural identities, it was based more on perceptions of how history might have been and far more on art and literature than on fact. that image of the celtic world has persisted, aided in the latter part of the twentieth century by the new age movement. [side note :: the british isles was not the only place to experience a celtic revival at that time. around the same time switzerland went through something similar, rediscovering their country's roots with the hevetii, a celtic group of tribes who lived in what was to become switzerland in roman times and earlier. ironically for a culture that had no written language, they are known in the contemporary world chiefly for giving their name to a popular font, but in switzerland, they are still closely linked with national identity. the neo-latin name for switzerland is the "confœderatio helvetica", which is why swiss websites always end in ".ch".]

so now that we've established that most of what we know about the celts is, if not wrong, at least highly misleading, we can start looking at who the these people really were. the easiest way to do this is by looking at the celtic languages, which offer the clearest connection between groups. unfortunately, our knowledge of celtic languages starts quite a while after they did, so we're left to rely on third-person accounts and educated guesses. we know that celtic languages are/ were all part of the indo-european family, but they aren't connected to other branches, which means that they split from the original stem and didn't descend from anything else. although the early celts didn't leave any writings, they did leave some brief inscriptions, the oldest of which are found in southern switzerland and northern italy. even at that point, however, it seems that there were a number of celtic languages, or at least dialects, spread over continental europe. the most prevalent theory is that all of the celts originated with the central european urnfield culture, named because of their practice of placing the cremated remains of their dead in urns and burying them in fields. [that might seem like a pretty uninspired way to name a culture, but it's probably better than naming them the buddy-eating culture after the disturbingly widespread indications of cannibalism.]

urnfield culture expanded into the more diverse halstatt and la tène cultures [the source of most of the flourishes we now think of as celtic art], spreading from the "homeland" of central europe and breaking into many, many different groups and by the time the romans took note of them in the second century bce, tribes speaking celtic languages were everywhere. they stretched from the iberian peninsula to the british isles to modern day turkey, which is why i said earlier that anyone with european ancestry has at least a decent shot at having some celtic in their background. the romans interacted with these groups in many different locations and it is from them that we learned that they referred to themselves as celts, or something close to it. the romans, however, decided to call them gauls.

one of the notable things about celtic/ gaulish culture is that they loved to fight. they fought the romans. they fought each other. basically, if there was a battle to be had, the celts were there. the romans were shocked/ intimidated/ probably titillated/ all of the above to find that not only celtic men but also women were up to a fight and even tried to ascribe celtic combativeness to the fact that they let their women boss them around too much. this has given rise to the new age fallacy that celtic cultures were female-centric. they were not. however, there does seem to be evidence to indicate that women were at least more free than they were in roman society. [they had some property rights and were able, under certain circumstances, to occupy positions of leadership, as well as the aforementioned participation in ass-whooping.] since it's the romans who transcribed the history, we're left with the impression that it was some kind of gender free-for-all across the celtic world. [side note :: in every sense. diodorus sicilus wrote that, beautiful as the british celtic women were, the men there preferred to snuggle up with each other, or with whatever men they happened to meet. ok, he didn't say snuggle, but you get the idea.]

celtic territories, just before it all started to go to hell
with that great appetite for fighting, you'd think that the gauls/ celts would have been formidable opponents and to some extent they clearly were, or else they never would have been able to conquer the amount of territory they did. however, pitted against the romans, things started to crumble pretty quickly. part of the problem was that same appetite for fighting: the celts were a broad group made up of dozens if not hundreds of small groups who were at least as interested in fighting each other as they were in fighting anyone else. they were able to put up a temporarily unified front against the romans at first, but ultimately, there was no place in which they were able to prevail. every celtic language on the european continent has been extinct for hundreds of years, because all of the existing tribes fell to the romans and became "romanized", adopting latin in place of their original language.

things went somewhat better for celts in the british isles. celtic tribes in britain were forced out to the edges of the country, but never fully assimilated, either under the romans or by the subsequent anglish and saxon invaders. they were never strong enough to rival the dominant culture for control, but they were able to maintain aspects of their culture, including their own languages. one of the chief reasons that celtic culture is associated with the british isles is that it survived much longer there [long enough to be written down]. all of the remaining "living" [meaning that there are native speakers and children who are learning the language from birth] celtic languages, save one, are in britain: irish gaelic, scottish gaelic and welsh. in addition, two other celtic languages, manx and cornish, have been revived. the so-called insular celtic languages [differentiated from the european celtic languages] were almost all teetering on the edge of extinction at the turn of the century. in the last fifteen years, the number of speakers of each one has grown. [side note :: the one surviving celtic language not in the british isles is breton, which is spoken in the northern french region of brittany. the breton language is closely related to welsh and cornish, having apparently developed from immigrants of those regions who came to france. like the other celtic languages, it has experienced a rebirth in recent years.]

arise, ye bloodthirsty buggers and bitches!
the trend towards celtic revivalism, in a number of different forms, shows no sign of abating. at the moment, only those areas with surviving languages [ireland, scotland, wales, brittany, isle of man and cornwall] are considered "celtic nations", but there are movements in other areas to re-establish older celtic connections. most notably, former territories of the iberian celts [including a swath of northern spain stretching from the basque territories to the atlantic and much of northern portugal] have shown an interest not just in reconnecting with their celtic history, but also in bringing their gallaic language back to life. [the iberians take their celtic heritage seriously. the spanish province of asturias is home to the international bagpipe museum.] some czechs have also gotten in on the game, claiming that their relation to the celtic boii tribe [from whose name we get the word "bohemian"] makes them as much celtic as germanic. that might not be romanticized hot air, either. dna testing conducted in the czech republic at the turn of the century showed a high incidence of a genetic subgroup common among celts, but rare among slavs. [side note :: part of the interest in rediscovering celtic culture in northern spain stems from the fact that regional customs were suppressed under the fascist dictatorship of francisco franco. he sought to unify spain under a single national culture, which was largely drawn from traditions of the andalusia region. franco eliminated the special status given to a handful of spanish provinces fearing- not without cause- that these autonomous regions were breeding grounds for political opponents. ironically, franco himself hailed from galicia, one of the provinces whose autonomy was stripped, and the traditional heartland of celtic culture in spain.]

i'm guessing at this point that not only do you not have a better understanding of who the celts are, but that you're having trouble remembering your own name. yes, it is exceptionally confusing, so let's try to boil it down to basics:

  • the term "celtic" does not and never did refer to a single group.
  • the celts were a very diverse linguistic group and never had a unified political structure.
  • at one time, celtic tribes held some level of control over much of europe.
  • the vast majority of celtic languages disappeared as the tribes were brought under roman control. 
  • celtic languages survived in a handful of territories in great britain and northern france and modern celtic identity is associated chiefly with those areas. 
  • since the nineteenth century, there has been a revival of interest in the celts, although it has not necessarily been tied to historical facts. 
  • other regions with long-standing ties to celtic cultures have also experienced revival of interest in their heritage.

% of population with celtic blood: it's not an exclusive club
much of the romantic and new age claims about the celts can be dismissed as fantasy, however there are grains of truth hidden among them: celtic women, particularly those in great britain, were known to join the men on the field of battle; there were actual druids, but they were more like a caste of elder statesmen and educators, not magicians; celts do have a higher incidence of red hair than any other group. [they're also disproportionately prone to hemochromatosis, but that isn't as exciting.]

as people start to get drawn to the complexities of history, both of the world and their own lineage, it's little wonder that the celts hold a special fascination. they are the bearers of a vast and dramatic history, but have almost nothing to show for it. they seem to be everywhere and yet almost nowhere. vast numbers of people are descended from them [we haven't even touched on communities descended from celts in diaspora, like the new world irish and scottish] and yet no one seems to be able to pinpoint exactly where they come from. they are both the ultimate genetic mystery and the ultimate genetic mess.

24 February 2015

sooner still.

the secret shall be revealed...

it's smaller than a bread box, but larger than a mobile phone, but that might be open for discussion.

23 February 2015

mental health mondays :: eat happy

lots of people shy away from treating mental disorders with drugs, at least until they've tried other options and in milder or transient cases of depression or anxiety, that might be the best way to go. there is some evidence to indicate that unless someone is seriously depressed [although the threshold for determining seriousness is a little unclear], anti-depressant drugs aren't going to be particularly effective, which means you're taxing your liver for no reason. diet, on the other hand, is increasingly linked both to improving mental health and preventing mental issues to begin with. plus, for those who do need medication, eating specific foods and maintaining an overall healthy diet makes for good supplementary medicine.

there are, of course, a few tricks to getting the mental balance right and getting the maximum benefit from what you eat and it's possible to get very, very complicated very, very quickly. so while there is a lot more to learn on the subject, what follows is a very brief primer on how to eat the crazies away with a few key nutrients. first off, though, a little preface about how you should be getting those nutrients.

to supplement or not to supplement

the vitamin/ mineral supplement industry has gone through massive growth and continues to benefit from "superstar" products that become the rage and then are replaced by the next rising star cure-all. [ten years ago if you talked to someone about probiotics, they probably would have thought it was something to do with robots.] fads are often attached to perfectly valid science but, of course, it can be difficult to determine how closely the end product conforms to what's required to reproduce scientific results. moreover, fad products can be dangerous: they're often rushed to market, they can have disastrous impacts on the environment [thousands of pounds of fish are required to produce even a nominal amount of the fish oil used in omega-3 supplements] and they often don't take into account how the body processes ingredients on their own.

that last part is why most people i know who are well-informed professionally or personally about nutrition recommend getting whatever elements you can from your diet and not from supplements. our bodies are not built to process nutrients on their own. they're built to extract nutrients from a whole food. other elements in the food help the body absorb key nutrients, therefore maximizing the benefits and requiring a smaller quantity of those nutrients [since a greater portion of what's consumed is usable]. some elements are better absorbed in isolation than others, or can be difficult to obtain within certain diets that it's worth investing in supplements, but most people should be able to meet their dietary requirements through their food alone. [this leaves aside the question of cost. high quality supplements get expensive and since depression is culturally linked with poverty, they may just be outside the budget of a lot of people.]

with that out of the way, here are a few ingredients with decent science behind them that can help you feel better about yourself, the world and life in general. at least a little bit. [note :: i haven't dealt with omega-3 fatty acids because there's already a metal health mondays post dedicated entirely to them. same goes for vitamin d.]


most people hadn't heard of tryptophan until a few years ago when everyone started talking about how turkey was loaded with it and that it was the element that made you get sleepy after a holiday dinner. ironically, neither of those things are true. turkey is not especially high in tryptophan, although it does contain it, and tryptophan does not make you especially sleepy. you're sleepy because you ate too much and your body is marshaling its resources to digest all the food you put in it. add in a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, potatoes or other carb-heavy foods that trigger the release of insulin, and dessert that caused your blood sugar to spike then drop, and you have yourself a perfect storm of nap time.

tryptophan is an amino acid, crucial for good health and it cannot be produced by the body. that means it has to come through an outside source. fortunately, tryptophan is extremely easy to find, existing in almost every form of protein we consume. eggs, particularly egg whites, are the best source, but it's also present in chocolate [hell yes chocolate is health food], soy beans, fish [especially cod], aged cheeses like cheddar or parmesan, dairy, sesame, chick peas and, yes, turkey and poultry. interestingly, dried foods [including dried egg whites, fruit, and fish] are often better sources than fresh.

tryptophan helps mental health because it allows the body to synthesize serotonin and we all know how important that is to fighting depression. [or do we?] people who are chronically tryptophan deficient [fairly rare and generally linked to an inability to absorb tryptophan] do exhibit signs of depression.

natural tryptophan supplements are generally marketed as 5-htp [5-hydroxytrytophan]. tryptophan is converted to 5-htp in the body, which is ultimately converted to serotonin, so it's like you're taking the nutrient at a more advanced stage. however, there's little research on the efficacy of these supplements and what there is, is inconclusive. additionally, there is some concern that supplementation could [in theory] cause problems for the heart. might be best to wait on this one until there's more evidence available.

one weird little thing that's important to remember about tryptophan is that getting too much of it can actually make you deficient in it. once you've exceeded the amount that your body can handle, it starts signalling that you need to stop and uses the existing tryptophan in your blood to prevent further absorption. but once your body stops absorbing tryptophan, it stops absorbing it entirely, which means that what you're getting is useless to you and what you already have is losing its power. bizarre, huh?

do not consume foods high in tryptophan if you are taking maoi drugs for your mental disorder as the combination can be dangerous. maoi's are not particularly common anymore, in part because of the onerous dietary restrictions they impose. however, in some resistant cases, they're still prescribed when newer drugs have failed. don't worry, your doctor and/ or pharmacist will tell you if your prescription falls within this category.

20 February 2015

making faces :: the elusive ms. leigh

vivien leigh is proof that one need not be in a lot of movies to qualify as a screen icon. the stage was her first love and her main focus throughout her career, despite the fact that two of her performances won academy awards. the combination of her passion for acting, balanced with a sort of indifference to the silver screen is just one of the seeming paradoxes that help make her so fascinating. as such, she makes a perfect inspiration for yet another of nars audacious lipsticks, one that is also a little elusive and hard to define. yes, it's time for another edition of kate's lipstick and film journal...

one of the strange things about vivien leigh is that while she was british and spent much of her working life in her home country [often alongside her husband of laurence olivier], she's best known for two academy award-winning performances as southern belles. the first was scarlett o'hara in gone with the wind, the hot-tempered daughter of a georgia plantation owner during the civil war era. practically every actress in hollywood had tried out for or been considered for the role, but it's difficult to imagine anyone else embodying the character [or making her at all likeable]. thirteen years later, at a very different place in her career, leigh won an oscar again for her portrayal of tennesee williams' faded southern flower blanche dubois, a role she'd become synonymous with on stage. blanche seems eerily like scarlett's future self, living in a fantasy world of a nostalgia-tinted past, refusing to come to terms with the crushing realities that have overtaken her.

it is also difficult not to see parallels between these two performances and the actress herself, the one when she was the epitome of youth and beauty, the second when she was starting to weaken under the strain of a long-term struggle with bipolar disorder and the health effects of a recurring case of tuberculosis that would eventually kill her at only fifty-three years of age. [leigh herself said that she was uncomfortable being so closely associated with blanche, since she felt her time playing the character pushed her over the edge with her own mental disorder.]

19 February 2015

armchair centre back :: you're racist and we hate it

you may have heard that a group of chelsea fans managed to distinguish themselves in paris by refusing to let a black man board a metro train and chanting "we're racist and we like it". as with absolutely everything done in the world today, these events were captured on camera, with the boisterous chanting all too audible. leaving aside for the moment that these people are most likely minions of the antichrist, it's worth noting that not only is this indicative of a racism problem within the sport itself, but a problem with chelsea fans in particular, who are, according to british home office statistics, the most racist fans in the premier league [i.e., the fans who have been arrested/ charged/ convicted most often of racism].

first, here's the video [courtesy of the guardian]:

keep it classy, boys.

initial reports were simply that the fans had resisted the man's attempts to get on the train, but the video seems to show something a little more active. one of the self-declared racists appears to grab him and virtually throw him back on the platform, all amidst the chanting. i'm not exactly sure what kind of brain thinks singing that you're happy to be racist is acceptable, especially in the middle of one of the world's most cosmopolitan cities, but i'm happy enough to go through life without meeting anyone so stupid as to do so.

john terry, an inspiration to chelsea fans in all the wrong ways
to give you a better idea of the intellect at work, however, i direct you to one fan's defense of the group's actions: he claims that they pushed the man back because the car was full [those of us who frequent public transit would say that we've seen people squished into more crowded cars] and that the fans weren't singing about being racist themselves, but rather as an homage to chelsea team captain john terry, who was suspended for racially abusing another player. [terry was eventually found not guilty of criminal racism, but the incident was enough to see him pushed out of his role as the captain of the english national football team. he retained the captaincy of chelsea.] that is seriously the explanation that's being offered: we're not racists, we're just showing our support for our number one guy, who is racist.

i'm guessing no one on that train is splitting the atom anytime soon.

[read what the victim of the abuse has to say about the incident here, in an interview with le parisien. as it happens, he doesn't speak english, although the body language of the fans was clear enough, and was sort of surprised when he found out that video of him was all over the internet.]

personally, i'd love to see what those fans would have to say to club legend didier drogba and to see if any of them individually, had the stones to repeat the racist chanting to his face. for that matter, i'd like to know how proud racists justify cheering a team that owes its success to a wealthy jewish owner and a manager whom many european racists wouldn't consider to be "properly" white. [i'm choosing to interpret as coincidence the fact that chelsea's racial diversity literally pales when compared with other top-tier premier league teams like liverpool and arsenal.]

didier drogba, one of the greatest arguments against racism
racist chants at football matches are unfortunately not rare. indeed, the sort of abuse that gets hurled at players in europe is shocking to north american ears [not because there isn't endemic racism here, but because it has become understood that there are certain things that one just can't say in the general public sphere]. the european football association has punished some teams [notably russian powerhouse cska moscow] for fans' behaviour by banning supporters from attending matches, which also denies the team the revenue it would have generated from ticket sales. however, that's clearly been ineffective, which means it's time to ramp up the stakes a little more. time to hit teams where it hurts- penalizing them points or goals to handicap them in their search for domestic and international titles.

many pundits, fans, players and journalists have condemned what happened in paris and chelsea themselves have said that if and when the fans on the train are identified, they'll be banned from team matches for life. [hey guys, a couple of them have been identified. here's a picture of one of them with ukip leader nigel farage. apparently, the chelsea fan is a big supporter when he's not shoving black men around or singing about what a proud racist he is. and that's in addition to the one who gave the "excuse" interview linked above.] however, it's really the regulatory body that has to step up here. until then, all that others can do is speak out and condemn this sort of behaviour when the opportunity arises.[breaking news! literally as i am typing this blog post, the bbc is reporting that three fans have been provisionally suspended from attending chelsea games, with lifetime bans possible if it's proven that they were involved in the paris metro incident.]

i will leave you with what i think might be the greatest reaction to racist fans ever. [and sparked a trend of footballers posing with bananas to make a statement against racism just ahead of last year's world cup.] it's become a trend now to insult darker-skinned players by referring to them as "monkeys" or making monkey sounds at them. in this case, one fan jeered barcelona player dani alves by tossing a banana at him during a match. [the fan responsible was later identified and banned from matches for life.] alves' response was to grab the banana, take a big bite and proceed with his game with professional cool. yeah, that's right: this man eats racism for breakfast.

18 February 2015

world wide wednesdays :: parda people

god is watching you, white people
i guess you could call this one "world wide ash wednesday", since today is indeed ash wednesday, the first day of the christian period of lent, when you're supposed to give up something important to you in honour of the jesus' fast in the desert, where he was exposed to the great temptation. i've never participated in this, although i've always been aware of it, because in the days when i would attend church [when i wasn't old enough to have a say in the matter], it was always protestant and lent is more of a catholic thing. you'd be surprised at how deep that division still runs in some parts of canada. my family did, however, practice the british tradition of pancake day on shrove tuesday, the day before ash wednesday. so the beginning of lent for me was generally associated with a food coma and sticky syrup stains in strange places. i do, however, think i might give up depression and anxiety for lent. both are important facets of my daily life, after all.

some people take the wind up to lent a little more seriously and celebrate it by indulging all of their senses, just to get indulgence out of the way before they start the annual purge of all things enjoyable. and no country is more associated with this custom than brazil, with their [in]famous carnival. it's an orgiastic fest of music, food and partying in the streets that draws millions of brazilians and almost as many hedonistic tourists [who probably aren't going to observe lent afterward] and is one of the things that has helped establish brazil's reputation as a party capital of the world. [side note :: one of the principal foods consumed is meat in all its myriad forms, since many catholics traditionally gave up eating meat for lent. in fact, this is what gave the carnival its name: it's derived from the latin word for meat "carne".]

carnival in brazil is not a uniform event. as you might expect in such an ethnically diverse country, significant differences exist between regions at carnival, which is pretty indicative of how things are in general. while foreigners original flocked to the party capital of rio de janeiro, interest has in recent years shifted to its cooler northern cousin, bahia province. rio, and the south of the country in general, is dominated by those classified as "white"- descendants of european settlers from the portuguese on- whereas bahia, where sugar plantations were the major industry for many years, became dominated by the descendants of african slaves, or workers from africa. this means that bahia has a much higher black population, but also a much larger number of so-called "parda": people with mixed racial history, termed "brown" for official purposes. in brazil, race is very complicated and it very important.

the history of the slave trade in brazil may seem odd to someone used to viewing the practice through the lens of the american experience. it's estimated that four million slaves were brought to brazil up until the country abolished slavery in 1888 [the last country in the americas to do so]. that's roughly ten times the number brought into the u.s. as a result, the black/ african influence on national culture has been marked: catholicism in bahia province is heavily influenced by the african traditions, especially those of the yoruba tribe from west africa.

rio de janeiro
despite the fact that slavery was the norm on plantations, the rules were quite different than in the united states. it was not uncommon for slaves to gain freedom and, more importantly for the history of brazil, there was little racial segregation. it was always acceptable for blacks to marry whites, or people of other races [generally of the same social class]. the combination of blacks and those of mixed ancestry have long formed a majority in bahia and, as of the 2010 census, now outnumber whites across the country as a whole. however, despite brazil's insistence that its racial history has been gentler and friendlier than others, particularly the united states, the fact is that whites continue to occupy a place of prestige in economic terms, which, as you might expect, has lead to other advantages. [side note :: the extent to which miscegenation was actually acceptable in colonial brazil is somewhat debatable. the image of brazil as the ultimate racial melting pot stems largely from the writings of guillermo freyre in the 1930s, who portrayed the portuguese as being more relaxed and inclusive in their rule, a sort of kinder, gentler colonizer. evidence from elsewhere would indicate that the portuguese were every bit as cruel and autocratic as other european nations and freyre incurred the wrath of the portuguese government, who vociferously objected to his assertion that they had been open to mixed race marriages and families in their former colony.]

for one thing, it's a great deal safer being white in brazil. whites are able to afford better security and are also able to exert more influence on politicians to keep their affluent neighbourhoods safe. brazil is a frighteningly violent country, with a murder rate almost four times that of the united states, a country with 60% greater population. most disturbingly, the brazilian police force kills at a rate of about five people per day [overwhelmingly black]. the united states has been heavily criticized for the number of people killed by police in recent years, which is about four hundred, or one fifth the number murdered by police in brazil. in the last decade, the number of blacks murdered has increased by about 40%. the number of whites murdered has decreased by 24%. 

not black. also not white.
the mixed-race afro-brazilians occupy a difficult space in the middle of these two groups. or rather, they occupy about a hundred and thirty places, because brazil has one hundred and thirty-six different descriptors for race, with separate categories for blonde, light blonde, people whose skin is more cinnamon, people whose skin is chestnut, somewhat chestnut-coloured, white, snowy white, off-white... the list is pretty exhaustive and, just to make things a little more confusing, people self-identify on the census, so it's really more a reflection of how people see themselves. soccer player naymar jr., the darling of this summer's world cup, raised some eyebrows when he told an interviewer that he had never experienced racism in his profession and added "but i'm not black". [read the original interview here, in portuguese.] from the perspective of a white north american or european, that might seem peculiar, because he is so clearly not white. but in brazilian terms, the only ones with which he would have been familiar at the time, neymar is absolutely not black and racism in brazil clearly rolls downhill through a spectrum of skin colour between white and black, getting progressively worse. meymar was simply indicating that he was high enough up the hill that he wasn't a target.

definitely beautiful, definitely white
appearance is a very big deal in brazil. the country is now the fifth largest consumer of beauty products in the world [and is projected to be third by 2017, after the united states and japan]. considering that a much larger proportion of the population lives in poverty and, of course, that the population is much smaller, that statistic is incredible. and within the beauty industry [which includes male consumers in almost the same number as women], there is an implicit [and expected] bias towards some level of whiteness. blonde highlights have become a huge trend and even the level of highlighting can denote relative social status. bolder, brassier highlights are the hallmark of the lower and middle classes, while more caramel tones- a more natural option on those who are whiter to begin with- are worn by the wealthy. more recently, golden tanned skin has become a major trend [achieved through artificial means to avoid any ugly damage] and, of course, it's a look only white people can achieve. the further down one falls on the racial hill, the less likely it is that they can adopt these major beauty trends. [there is no better example of the ideal of brazilian beauty than super-model gisele bundchen, with her subtly lightened hair, clearly caucasian features and golden but gloriously healthy skin.]

there are some signs of improvement in brazil where the racial divide is concerned. while black brazilians earn only about 60% as much as their white countrymen, that's actually better than the 50.5% they earned fifteen years ago. government efforts at affirmative action have increased the number of blacks at universities, which they hope will lead to a greater presence in higher-paying and more influential jobs. [in a country where afro-brazilians form a majority, there is only one black cabinet minister in the government. also, while racial abuse is a crime in brazil, it's relatively rare to see prosecutions within the massively white legal system.] affirmative action, however, has met with steady and vocal resistance, not only among whites, but among those who feel that dividing brazil's patchwork of races into groups who are then judged to be more or less deserving is in itself racist. [side note :: as often happens, universities were the bulwark for affirmative action reforms. the policies have been strongly suggested by the government rather than enforced, and early studies have indicated that its beneficiaries have performed as well or better than the whites that they displaced. the theory is that blacks who end up attending universities are people who actually want to do so, whereas for many whites, it was simply considered a normal step after private school for someone from a wealthy background, and therefore was not taken as seriously.]

since today is ash wednesday, the carnival is over in all parts of the brazil and the observance of lent has started. here's hoping that some people are choosing to give up their conservative views on race, for forty days and beyond.

17 February 2015


i have something pretty major that should be ready to unveil in the very near future. any guesses as to what it is?

that image is sort of a hint, except that it's only a hint if you already know what it is that's coming, which no one does, so it's really the crappiest hint in the history of all crappy hints. i'm really bad at this.

16 February 2015

mental health mondays [rewind] :: the art of madness

this could almost be considered part two of last week's mhm post, except that it was written years earlier. as much as creative work can help diminish certain mental disorders, mental disorders can also bring new magic to the work of creative people.


there is an ongoing debate as to the interaction between mental disorders and artistic creativity. while it's difficult to document the subject, there does seem to be a cultural fascination with the idea of the artist having an eccentric mentality. likewise, so-called "outsider art" or "art brut" has a sort of cult following, as if we believe that such art unwittingly reveals something of the workings of the disordered mind.

the terms "outsider art" and "art brut" are somewhat confusing, as they are used interchangeably to refer to professional and/ or trained artists and "naive art" created by amateurs, without artistic education, many of whom have been discovered only late in life or posthumously.

french artist jean dubuffet, who coined the term "art brut" and, along with andre breton, was responsible for drawing attention to it and building a permanent collection, described it as art that existed outside the pressures of culture and therefore as something which could never be assimilated by the mainstream [since the artists did not operate within the confines of the mainstream]. this differentiates it from art which challenges cultural norms, since such artists are aware of [and responding to] their predominant culture.

the difference between genuine appreciators of outsider art and a freakshow audience seeking a spectacle is a fine one and chances are that such artists tend to attract both, because what they do piques both our curiosity and our fears, showing us at once imaginative potential and the fragility the mind.

here are a few examples of art by the mentally disordered, from various backgrounds and times. i've focused on visual arts, since they're a little easier to include here...

louis wain, professional illustrator, later diagnosed with schizophrenia

adolf wolfli, the original outsider artist, a mental patient who inspired dubuffet


14 February 2015

making faces :: sweet carnage

carnage ahoy!
i'm trying to write a  review of dior's eye shadow palette "cuir cannage", but i keep having to retrace my steps, because i unthinkingly type "cuir carnage", owing to my english default setting. then i pronounce that in my head and think "queer carnage", which strikes me as what republicans think of when they imagine a country with marriage equality for all. then i giggle. this makes for slow going, but i'm pretty sure i can tell you what eye shadow i'll be wearing when marriage equality finally does become law.

last fall, dior revamped their existing 5-shadow palettes with a new formula and all new colour combinations. brands do this periodically to keep up with trends and stimulate interest in all teh nuu thingz. i delayed on picking up one of the new dior palettes partly because i was sort of overwhelmed with new lip options, but also because i hadn't been the biggest fan of dior's past palettes. it's not that i disliked them- many of them seemed good. i just found the shades more often than not didn't seem that unique and that many of them had a lot of frost, which is unkind to my eyelids. that said, some of the new options were tempting. [i also like the slimmer, sleeker packaging, although that's purely a subjective thing.]

old dior, new skinnier dior
i ended up deciding on "cuir cannage" [you're thinking queer carnage now too, aren't you?] because i passed by my counter one day when a dior makeup artist was visiting and she offhandedly mentioned when she saw me looking at all the options, that it was the palette she'd pick for me. there's something about someone who tells you that a colour, or an article of clothing, or a style suits you in a very matter-of-fact way that just seems to resonate with me. i didn't buy the palette on the spot, but i hadn't really considered it, because i'd assumed the combination would be took dark and would look heavy on me. her recommendation had me intrigued.

as it happens, i'm inclined to believe that she saw something that i missed, because having eventually decided that i should give it a try, i'm very happy with the results. while it is possible to end up with a heavier look, it's also very possible to avoid. plus, it nicely sidesteps one of the issues i generally had with other dior palettes, which is that they often contain multiple light frosty shades that look more or less the same when applied. that does seem to be an issue with some of the new palettes as well, but it certainly isn't a problem with "cuir cannage", as you'll soon see.

12 February 2015

world wide wednesdays :: because you don't want people to think you're ted nugent

[please excuse kate for being tardy. she lost her will to write after seeing swansea city continue a poor run of form with a loss yesterday and then regained it by stepping out to the brilliant voix de ville variety show, which happens every wednesday night at the wiggle room, which ate up most of the time she was supposed to spend writing this post. slacker. -ed.]

the altai mountains of siberia, birthplace of america
some of you may have heard last year that rock musician, self-promoter, proud republican and born-again right wing nut-job ted nugent got a titch upset when the owners of an indian casino canceled his appearance at their venue due to his comments about people of other races. nugent referred to the native americans as "unclean vermin" and said that he didn't even consider them to be human, which serves as a perfect illustration of why they declined to be graced by his presence in the first place. you may all now pause and wallow in your feelings of superiority.

not content with having dismissed an entire race of people as subhuman, he went on to say that those who protested his performance were jealous because he was a successful white man and that native americans needed to be rounded up and sent back where they came from. ok, ok. that's not actually fact, although the "vermin" and subhuman comments are. and he did say that native americans who protested his appearances just hated all white men who stole their land. but when i read that article, just for a moment, i did think it was possible that nugent actually believed that native americans were some sort of immigrant group. heck, for all i know he does believe it, because all that clicking the convenient "show facts" button at the top of the page establishes is that the exact quote they've attributed to him is satirical.

it's probably impossible that anyone thinks that native americans are immigrants, even ted nugent, who isn't exactly going to win any scholarships to oxford. but if you let your eye wander south of the article itself and into the comments thread [always a risky proposition], you'll find gems like the one that says all america was native land before any "mexican, viking, whiteman [sic] or spaniard" arrived. this statement is backed up by someone else who rejects the "b.s." that native americans come from africa or asia.


the americas :: late bloomers on the human circuit
i don't ever want to be the kind of person who people believe could say something as stupid as "native americans need to be sent back where they came from". and i certainly don't want to be the kind of person who thinks the mexicans invaded mexico or thinks that "whiteman" is a word, let alone a nationality. and i'll bet you don't want to be those people either. so here, to ensure that we don't have to worry about being mistaken for those people, is a very broad story of the settling of the americas. well, settlings.

now, i'll start by saying that, while the idea of a white man telling native americans to "go back where they came from" is laughable, it is true that they came from somewhere. ultimately, we could all go back "where we came from" and that would mean that we would all move to southern and eastern africa, where we would be extremely crowded and uncomfortable, but at least no one would be able to tell us to go back where we came from anymore. in fact, our species spent longer in this region of africa than anywhere else in the world. it took about a hundred thousand years for us to even tiptoe our way across the suez canal and check out the middle east, as well as north africa and those places were like right there. so, as you can imagine, it took a hell of a long time for anyone to make it all the way around to the other side of the world.

here today, gone some time in the next thousand years
by the time people got around to doing that, there were a lot of differences between groups in different regions. over tens of thousands of years, dna began to diverge, giving each group recognisable features that persist, in some form, to this day. this is how we're able to trace which groups are descended from which: we all carry the dna of our ancestors. in the case of native americans, their closest genetic links are with northern central asia- specifically the area of the current altai republic in siberia. those people were hunter-gatherers and lived by following the pleistocene megafauna [which, incidentally, is going to be the name of my sludge/ doom rock band] right across the land bridge that once joined russia to sarah palin's back yard. there is some debate as to when exactly people made it far enough into the north american land mass that they figured there was no point heading all the way back. consensus is that it happened no later than about 15,000 years ago. a lot of people believe that's when it did happen. however there are others who think that the immigrants started arriving as far back as 30,000 years ago. it's a question of determining when it would have been physically possible to pass into north america, which is trickier than you would think, given the as it turns out, getting into north america from europe would have been the easy part. [side note :: inuit and aleut people, while they are generally included in the blanket term "native american" are descended from a completely different series of migrations, which occurred several thousand years later, displacing the existing dorset culture and eventually driving them to extinction. the inuit and related groups are linked with the thule culture which migrated from northern asia into alaska, through canada's north and eventually into greenland. the inuit and aleut just barely beat the europeans to north america, arriving only in about the year 1000 and not fully establishing themselves until about five hundred years later.]

over time, these new arrivals wended their way south, becoming a smaller and smaller group as they did, since some of them would decide along the way to set up a permanent or semi-permanent camp. over the next two thousand years, more and more of them poured across the bering strait land bridge and further south into this strange new megafauna-filled land. as they started to make their way across the narrow strip of land connecting the north and south americas, something odd started to happen: the weather warmed up. the ice age ended, the glaciers retreated and parts of the americas that had been inaccessible opened up. it was probably a great time to be american, with all this new stuff to explore, a much more hospitable climate and, with the land bridge to asia now submerged, they had all this great stuff more or less to themselves. to celebrate, the first americans got to knockin' boots. the population expanded rapidly and the last major landmass on earth became inhabited. [side note :: the timeline of how all this happened has been called into question. clearly, having spent thousands of years inching their way across the land bridge and into present-day canada and the united states, the paleo-indians proceeded to gallop the rest of the way through the continent, populating everything down to the southern tip within about a thousand years. while there's no rule that says they couldn't have done this, it does seem peculiar and history does not yield a lot of large-scale peculiarity without a pretty good explanation. furthermore, there are archaeological sites in south america that pre-date the oldest ones in the central part of north america and are show some surprisingly advanced technology. how this came to be is still a complete mystery and, while theories abound, there isn't a enough science to favour any particular one.]

if you think having to learn a second language is a pain, consider the alternative
by the time new colonizers arrived from europe over ten thousand years later, the earliest americans had spread throughout both the northern and southern halves of the land mass and diversified into a complex web of nations with different cultures and languages. they had made the transition from hunter-gatherer to agrarian culture extremely successfully- a large number of the crops we rely on today were first domesticated by americans. while some cultures remained at least partially nomadic, others were extremely advanced, had huge cities with advanced engineering and considerable bodies of written work in their languages. despite that, even the greatest of those civilisations crumbled before the invaders for reasons that are left vague. originally, of course, the europeans claimed it was because god was on their side. [the spanish also bragged that their completely inhumane treatment of the natives guaranteed they were feared, respected and, ultimately, followed.] gradually, this got supplanted by the idea that the europeans were just superior, both in armaments and in intellect, to the "primitive" tribes they encountered. in the latter part of the twentieth century, a more apologetic tone was taken and the official story became that the europeans had employed some dirty tricks and exploited the americans. this, of course, still rests on a pretty paternalistic view that the american groups were naive, childlike, and too disorganised to mount a counterattack. the real reason that the american nations were defeated and manipulated by the europeans was that most of them were dead.

in most schools, there is lip service paid to the fact that the americans were exceptionally susceptible to european diseases, having built up no immunity to them. and there are stories of the europeans exploiting this by offering gifts like disease-infested blankets. but the extent to which this damaged the american population is not well understood. in the early years after the first contact with europeans, the native population of the americas dropped by at least half and possibly as much as ninety percent. smallpox, the bubonic plague, measles, mumps, typhus, yellow fever, malaria and influenza, along with others, killed off millions of people, essentially doing the bulk of the conquering before the europeans even had to raise a sword.

erik the red wuz here
had the americans faced the europeans at full strength, things might have gone very differently. hundreds of years earlier, the vikings had advanced as far as eastern canada, but had eventually abandoned their settlements. although the vikings never admitted as much, it seems that a likely reason for this was that they were repelled by the tribes already in the area and continued tension with them meant that it simply wasn't feasible to establish a permanent colony. given how incredibly rich in natural resources the area was, the situation would have had to have been pretty dire to convince the vikings to give up and return home. but return they did and chances are that, if the native americans hadn't been decimated by disease, they would have sent the spanish, english and french packing as well. [side note :: why were the europeans so disease-ridden? most major infectious diseases emerge from close contact between humans and animals. because of the east-west layout of the eurasian land mass, it was much easier to domesticate animals over a large area, as opposed to in the americas and africa, where changes in climate and flora make large scale domestication difficult. as a result, europeans were around animals and their bacteria a lot more than any of the american tribes, so they built up antibodies that helped them resist infection. that isn't to say that a lot of europeans didn't get sick and die from these causes, but the difference between some defense and no defense is pretty spectacular.]

given the advantage it conferred on the europeans, the rapid spread of disease and its profound effects on the american population is the single most important event in the history of the americas since the arrival of of the people who originally settled there. by the same token, an invading army storming across europe in the wake of the black plague would have had a very different impression of their civilisation. the european invaders were certainly aware of the fact that these natives were vulnerable to infections- hence the diseased blankets- but it seems like that knowledge faded after the new world was secured and was minimized in favour of arguments about military prowess and god and organisation.

it does lend a rather ironic quality to ted nugent's choice of the words "unclean vermin" to insult native protestors. someone needs to tell him that if it weren't for unclean vermin, people who look like him wouldn't be living in america today.

09 February 2015

mental health mondays :: follow my lead [for once]

there's something deeply gratifying about finding out you've been doing something instinctual only to find out that there's a very good scientific reason for you to be doing so. this week, i unearthed some information on a series of scientific studies that point to the importance of creativity, particularly writing, in the healing process. spoiler alert: it's good news.

before dealing with the results, however, let me explain that the idea of using creative pursuits as a healing and coping method, particularly for mental illness, is not exactly new. well, it is new, compared to a lot of other things, but it's not brand new. the term art therapy was coined in 1942 by a convalescing artist recovering from tuberculosis. he found that focusing mind and body on his painting helped to speed his recovery, because it made him focus less on the effects of his illness. he encouraged other patients to pick up paint brushes and thus was a new form of treatment born.

others were quick to realise that art therapy could be an extremely useful psychoanalytic tool, since it coaxed people to express themselves without the pressure of having to speak out loud about their experiences. therapists generally found that patients who used art as a medium for self-expression were afterwards better able to express themselves verbally when discussing the cause of their problems. and of course, the practice is particularly useful with patients who have limited vocabularies to begin with, such as children or people who may have suffered some form of brain damage.

although the practice of art therapy flourished in the last half of the twentieth century, it understandably took some time for the practice to become standardized, and it was only after that point that it could be studied in any meaningful way. however, in recent years, a significant body of research has emerged that suggests results of art therapy are very positive- more so than its early proponents may have even realised.

as it happens, art therapy is not just about mental disorders. studies show that the original idea behind it- helping patients with a physical illness- is scientifically sound, in that it reduces stress and depression and therefore allows the body to heal faster. [stress has always been an important factor in keeping us alive by urging us to get the hell away from things or situations where our lives were threatened, however in the modern world, stress has generally gone haywire and now does horrible, horrible things to the body. it is absolutely not something that affects only the mind.] so it seems that art therapy is a particularly good choice for patients suffering from any kind of trauma- mental or physical.

what has emerged more recently, however is that patients do better when they are directed to write [the studies i've found specifically reference writing] about traumatic events, rather than just writing in general. a 2013 study in new zealand on elderly patients who underwent biopsies showed a significantly higher rate of improvement among those who wrote about stressful subjects than among those who wrote about mundane ones. doctors suspect that writing down these stressful events helps patients to come to terms with them in a way that having them trapped inside their head cannot. so it is not merely the process of creativity that helps, but achieving a greater level of personal expression.

this may also explain why art therapy has been shown to be useful [less so, but still useful] among prison inmates in helping them deal with issues of control. put in a situation where they are unable to exert control over most areas of their lives can trigger mental/ emotional problems among inmates that follow them after their release. by providing an outlet for expression that they are otherwise lacking, art therapy can help reduce the effects of anxiety and depression associated with loss of control.

these results fall in line with an older [2005] australian analysis that showed how a number of studies pointed to a plethora of benefits gained from art therapy, many of which were objectively verifiable. that analysis is particularly interesting, since it established that it didn't even take a particularly long time to gain benefits from expressive writing: 15-20 minute sessions over a period of 3-5 days was sufficient. [the authors of the new zealand study used 20 minute sessions over a 3-day period.] by way of explanation, the authors referenced a theory advanced in the eighties that suppressing/ repressing traumatic events in the mind takes a considerable amount of effort, so that simply having the memory of them, but not thinking about them, puts tremendous stress on the mind and body, turning one's head into a very complex pressure cooker in the hands of an inept cook. by coaxing those memories and feelings out, the pressure is relieved and the brain becomes free to do all the pleasurable and practical things it's been neglecting as it tried to keep from blowing its lid.

the difficulty with this type of therapy is, predictably, that writing about severely traumatic events causes a short term increase in stress levels, always a danger for patients in a fragile state. the benefits, while they aren't especially long in coming, do take a couple of weeks to manifest, whereas the first few days after engaging in expressive writing therapy can leave a patient in a bad state. for that reason, the greater the trauma being recalled, the more important it is to use the services of a therapist.

much better
however, the benefits of expressive writing therapy are such that it seems a valuable way of dealing with even everyday sources of pain or anxiety. after all, you clearly don't need to be writing a novel. short bursts for a few days will help. the important thing is to make it honest, make it personal. write a letter to someone who's caused you pain. [but don't send it!] write down your memory of a stressful event. write about nightmares you've had, particularly recurring ones [after all, that's your brain trying to find ways to deal with stress anyway]. if you don't feel like writing, you can always try another method of communicating through your creative faculties. [i think the preference for writing in these studies stems from the fact that most people can do it easily and because it takes less time. doesn't that make all you writers feel special? yeah, you can write about that depression too.]

so pick up your pens... er... your keyboards... no, wait, don't pick them up, put them down and press on their keys... your brain is a powerful, mystical thing with the power to hurt you, but also the power to heal you. it's free, it requires no particular skill set and it's backed by science.

p.s. :: because i can't resist making light of things that i really shouldn't, the pictures i've used are taken from this page of charming illustrations by children who are clearly comfortable with expressing their inner demons.

07 February 2015

if i don't care, there's no reason you should

my creative engine

after my spate of creativity [really more of an unexpected burp] that led to making this short piece, i have been trying to make myself work on creative things every day. because the only way to keep the process happening is to just push it out there and hope for the best. i know this to be the case. i know that when i've sat around, waiting for the muse to poke me in the ear, i've ended up on some truly epic dry spells and have been left questioning my purpose, my life and the universe, all of which usually gives me a headache.

i have a headache now, which should tell you about my frame of mind.

what i've discovered more recently, after my revelation about a decade back that i needed to keep writing every day [which i haven't been doing, which might be part of the problem], i've realised that some of the time, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you have an idea and then you try to start writing it. i know i've gone through this sort of thing before. i've written about the pain of wanting to write something that seems really good in my head, but just doesn't work in practice. and i've dealt with the frustration of having something come out that just seems like my brain has gotten lazy and tried just regurgitating stuff it had come up with before. at the moment, i'm kind of struggling with a combination of the two.

i hadn't planned anything out, but just set to work trying to write something based on a loose idea [possibly a loose screw] i had in my head. the original idea was to make it into a very short, creepy little tale, kind of like this one. the trick is that i knew exactly how i wanted it to end and i had the beginning in mind. so if it's a piece of micro-fiction, that doesn't leave me a lot of space to go astray, right?

sigh. you know damn well i wouldn't be writing this blog post if everything had worked out fine.

i was aware of a problem shortly after i started. i opened with a man waking up in a terrifying situation, with no idea as to how he got there. a decent enough way to start, except that i already did that in a big way in "the tower", the opening story [hence the one most likely to be read] in interference. so this is going to be my thing now "wakey wakey! you're in a whole arseload of trouble, buddy!" but it's not like no other authors have ever repeated themselves, right? how many times have i had to endure hemingway talking about the stupid bullfights? maybe men trapped in horrifying situations are my matadors.

but then, as i pranced forward, i realised that there was a lot that i was writing, far more than i'd originally intended. i really wanted to communicate the horror of the situation, but i also wanted to do it in a way that was sort of funny. i'm like that. i'm working on a sock puppet show about stalin's purges.

of course, i don't mind if something gets longer than i intended. that's happened to me a lot. it's how i've written some of the things i like the most. but what occurred to me as i kept heaping words on my idea was that none of it was in any way leading me towards the ending i'd envisioned. in fact, it was pulling me in quite the opposite direction. the more i wrote, the more i realised that the ending and the beginning i'd had in mind would only work together if you didn't think about it very hard. subject to any kind of scrutiny. worse still, the funny bits, as typical of me as i like to think they are, were undermining the whole idea.

so why had i included them?

i had to think about that for a little bit, but then it hit me: because without them, i had no interest whatsoever in what was going on. here's this poor guy in a horrible situation, a situation that i put him in for my own purposes and i'm trying to move his story forward, but in the back of my mind, i'm wondering what else is on my mental television. my excitement to keep at it was so low that i had to take a nap at one point because i was falling asleep. i think this poor gentleman might be stuck where he is until i can work out that conundrum.

i'll keep the fragment that i've started, because i keep all of my fragments on the off chance that i'm less embarrassed by them in the future. i don't want to keep working on it, at least not right away, because the more i work on it, the more i'm working my way into a deep hole. all i know is what i've put as the title of this post: if i can't bring myself to care about what's happening to this guy, there's no way i can expect that other people will.

and so i face a tomorrow swollen with the possibility of new ideas, new creative adventures and new failures. 

06 February 2015

go to bell

oh bell canada. i thought you were getting better. well, i don't know if i thought your customer service was getting better, but i at least thought that you were doing some good stuff with the cause of mental health, which would help divert people from your shitty customer service. anything that works, right?

but just a week after your annual "let's talk" awareness-fest, one of your employees decides to lash out at a customer via email, calling her a "bitch" and a "slut". her offense? giving said employee a less than perfect rating on a customer satisfaction survey after he was unable to help her. she didn't even say he gave her bad service, and left a comment that it wasn't his fault that her overall experience wasn't satisfying.

one would hope that this isn't typical behaviour of bell canada's employees. i got called a liar during my dispute with them, but only when i called them. no one ever thought to contact me proactively to call me names. [well, it's possible they did. i received a couple of abusive messages on my voice mail, which i attributed to the fact that i'd recently been torturing sleazy scam callers from "microsoft". the timing still makes me think the scammers were the most likely culprits, but now that i know bell likes to do that too, i'll never be certain.]

i've noticed that a lot of the reactions to this incident have focused on the fact that the employee was in north africa, touching off a lot of anger that many jobs have been "offshored" to areas where employees are cheaper. i don't think that's quite fair. i've personally been treated rudely by all sorts of bell employees, some of whom were clearly canadian. true, i haven't heard of any of them contacting a customer to call them a "slut", but the fact is that with the massive number of complaints against them, it's impossible that all the abuse is coming from one ill-tempered guy in morocco.

furthermore, talking about the problem as if it's just a problem with cheap employees in other countries masks the greater problem: bell canada is letting this survey information pass directly to the employees being evaluated, employees who have access to all a customer's personal information, like their email, their phone numbers and their home address. and apparently they have no concept of why that might be a bad idea. surely, no employee in history has taken a bad evaluation personally, right?

hey bell: let's talk about the mental health problems you're causing for your customers.

05 February 2015

making faces :: another grande dame from nars

when most people think of the leading ladies of french cinema, their minds probably go to brigitte bardot, certainly the country's best known sex symbol. however, the real grande dame of the golden era that produced so many of france's most lauded films is jeanne moreau. she is the recipient of a number of awards for her performances in europe and has worked with some of the most famous directors in cinema. no less than orson wells, who worked with her on three different films, called her the greatest actress in the world. her best known performance was probably the captivating but perfidious leading lady in françois truffaut's jules et jim, a film school staple considered one of the high water marks of postwar french cinema.

moreau seems to have decided early on that she wanted to be an actress, pursuing the career from the age of sixteen. she started out on stage, working with the prestigious comédie française by the time she was in her early twenties. while one of her early films, louis malle's les amants, got her tagged as the "new bardot", it became obvious very quickly was that she did not want to be a screen siren, but a serious actress who took on challenging roles.

indeed, in her personal life, moreau's circle of friends included artists, philosophers and writers. she had off-screen relationships with both malle and truffaut, as well as designer pierre cardin and the equally iconic miles davis. [she also had two marriages, to french actor and director jean-louis richard and a short-lived one to william friedkin, the director of the french connection and the exorcist. academy award winning director tony richardson left his wife vanessa redgrave for her, but the two never married.]

jeanne moreau has also had a successful career in music, has directed and written films as well as starring in them, and continues to appear in films occasionally, despite being in her late eighties. clearly, this is a woman of power and authority, someone who is respected and also held in a kind of awe for her independence, her drive and her talent. clearly, creating a colour inspired by such a woman demands that those characteristics be reflected.

and they are.

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