Saturday, August 29, 2009

Park Your Butt

Most of the time, I love living in the city. I have access to the things, people and places that I feel I need to survive: friends, gluten-free cookies, used CD shops, concerts, coffee shops, pay phones, pharmacies that stay open until midnight, and the library. Even though I owe a ton of money to the libraries (yeah, with an s: I am notorious for owing cash to each of the four libraries I belong to), it still gives me a warm glow to know I can access damn near everything.

On the other hand, sometimes I get to wishing I had access to a more natural space. I love the urban amenities, but Toronto isn't renowned forbeing overly nature-ish. Even though allegedly it's the "city within a park," it's surprisingly difficult to get at the green spaces. Sure, the Humber Valley is sort of there, as is the Don Valley trail, but they're both kind of ho-hum in really creating a natural setting for urbanites to explore. I mean, for Pete's sake, the DVP runs right through the Don Valley. It might be a haven for cyclists, but the only river that flows through the Don Valley is one made up of Mazdas and Mack trucks.

I admire cities that have really exerted themselves in creating or maintaining natural spaces. New York City's Central Park is the most obvious example, even though it's more park than forest or nature reserve. Savannah (go Sandgnats!) has this remarkable archipelago-style park system that greens up the city real nice, even as they're all hemmed in by buildings.

Toronto, when viewed from above, is desperate for the green. High Park might be considered "downtown" if you live in, like, Rexdale (go Streethawks!), but it's pretty far West for a lot of folks. Besides, even if there was a 100-acre wood right across the street from me, it might not be enough. I'm getting a hankering for the big vista. I am not really a nature girl, but I love the idea of the natural world. I love watching the water, and having to fight through an escarpment of condos to get to the lake ain't my idea of a great time.

Giving up the great views for bonuses like all-night shawarma joints is just one of the trade-offs you get for choosing to live in a big city. Urban living, while not rife natural spaces, allows me to live a uniquely eco-friendly lifestyle: I don't drive, I bike, I can shop at Ontario farmer's markets, I can buy second-hand clothes, I can curb-score my cookware, and I can live with lots of other people. Living in the country, with all those great views, wouldn't let me do any of those things.

I'll eventually spend time away from Toronto (go, grad school!), and when I do, I'd like to have sought out some different landscapes. Canada is just chock-a-block with different geographies, and a summer on the Praries or a winter in Southern BC might be a great cure for the skyscraper blues.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Man, I am not really a summer girl, but I sort of hate the thought of losing it. I usually love the change of seasons, but Summer Oh-Nine hasn't really felt like a mojito party on the beach. It's seemed more like a vague segue between late spring and late fall, with a handful of blisteringly hot days thrown in to confuse and dehydrate us.

I know, I know - Toronto gets an easy-breezy winter compared to places like Regina and Winnipeg. I shouldn't be bitching. I should just be thanking my lucky stars that I've never had to be one of the 6,184 souls toughing it out in Iqaluit. Blah blah blah. Toronto still gets slammed with some unpleasant precipitation. Look, we all know that Vancouver has the weeniest Canadian winter. Boo hoo, it rains a lot. But when your winters look like this instead of this, it's a mite difficult to muster up the sympathy. Even if it does rain, it's not like you're out there - y'all seem busy with other hobbies. (Stereotypical? Yes. Sue me.)

This summer was kind of lame. Sure, it had some hot days, and the nights were pleasant and cool. It's always a drag when your (read: my) apartment heats up to roughly cookie-baking temperature; it tends to make sleeping really shitty. But overall, it seemed so blah. There was the garbage strike - and thank god it wasn't hotter, or else the city would have stunk -and that meant no Canada Day fireworks or sneaking into public pools.

Officially, the rainiest summer on record was just last year. But didn't this year feel like it was sort of off-kilter? And it's almost over! It's like that joke in Annie Hall: The food here is terrible! And such small small portions!

All right, I'll stop bitching. To everything there is a season (Turn! Turn! Turn!) and summer 2010 is a scant ten months away. That'll bring the South Africa-hosted World Cup, the release of Toy Story 3 (what? I was twelve years old when the first one came out. It was awesome then, and it's awesome now), and my long-delayed graduation party (only eight years . It will also mean the end of those terrible CTV Olympics ads, which seriously can't come fast enough.

So: gods of summer. Small request. Give me a glorious Indian summer in mid-to-late October - just a few more days to sit out on the deck and watch the snow not fly - and I'll do my best to keep the moaning about the upcoming winter and this bust of a summer to my own bitter self.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Emily Blog Post

While it seems like, on the surface, technology is shiny and wonderful, it's becoming harder and harder to separate good form and bad form on the intertubes. Breaking up with someone is hard enough - changing your status on Facebook just breaks your damned heart.

It doesn't have to be that way. Web 2.0 could be a gentler place, full of unicorns and whatnot. Taking a look at the protocols of the hypertext tranfer protocols isn't griping about things's just acknowedging that things have changed. Online communication has become the Wild West of interpersonal interaction.

Online conversations are lame. Yo, we have all done it: been chatting on some pop-up window, blithering away, when oops! Out comes something that shouldn't have. Telling someone you've grown fond of them (in your pants! Sorry, heart! Awwww...) is totally way easier when you can hunt-and-peck your feelings into being. Same with expressing anger or giving bad news, since the stakes are way lower when you don't have an audio or body-language stream of information that corroborates and intensifies the words.

Building friendship or romance around online interaction is fine - late night conversations are especially gratifying - but you'd best get along with your friends and girlfriends in the real world, too. Online conversations usually have face-to-face ramifications: you can't be all, "I like you" on the internet and then pretend that didn't happen the next time y'all hang out.

Instant-messaging is a totally useful tool, but those conversations, with their lowered inhibitions and delayed reactions, shouldn't be standing in for real-time flesh-and-blood talks. Too much gets lost in translation.

Facebook is for you...not your dog/baby. Facebook is already solipsistic enough without dragging the pets into it. Chairman Meow is adorable, but please don't devote albums upon albums to pets. Fine, "accidentally" snap a couple shots of your furry friends, but the look-we-got-a-kitten album is tired.

This goes double for babies - very cute! But how much do you need to share with your "friends" from high school, former bosses, people you met drunk at a party four years ago, and distant cousins? A good rule of thumb is, if you wouldn't want these people accosting your children on the street, why allow them access online?

Keep your Facebook profile adult: don't post pictures of anyone or anything that can't untag a bad photo. And obviously, post as many pictures as you can of your drunk idiot friends.

That goes double for weddings. Happiest day of your life! Your mom! Your best friend! Your professional photographer who is going to squeeze blood from a stone and give you six thousand wedding-day shots! And then you're going to post them online! Happy!

Okay, seriously, if they weren't invited to the wedding, people don't care about your nuptial photography. Chances are, even if I was there, I spent most of the time avoiding the photographers until the tequila haze set in (see: drunk idiot friends, above). It's usually a lovely day and an important part of relationships, but thousands of wedding photos get old really fast. And can someone please explain why they all look the same? Add one white dress to one suit and poof, it's a marriage.

Now, if you've done something different (or really different), post 'em all. But if you've gone the bride-looking-demure-while-husband-hits-on-her route...we've seen them. Save them for your mom, friends, and future grandchildren.

MySpace doesn't make you a musician. Anyone can sign up for one of those seizure-inducing MySpace pages. Not everyone should. In order to be considered "successful," you need things like shows, fans, album deals, merchandise, and a band member who ends up at the bottom of the pool.

I suppose blogging (ahem) could be considered the written version of those heinous DIY jobs that infest MySpace...but my page doesn't garner you disapproving looks when the built-in music player goes echoing out into the office. Nor will it crash your browser. While MySpace has been lauded as the next step in marketing small bands, that kind of success doesn't come from trying to get your band's wallpaper to match its "mood." Bands that make it actually, uh, work. Hard.

Invest the money, buy a domain, post your music and listings there, and for god's sake, do it professionally. The difference between a lousy MySpace page and a beautiful website is immense.

Never replace face-to-face with technology
. This is the big one. Human beings are social. We need facetime. We need touch. We rely on extremely subtle cues from tone of voice, body language, and posture to read people; those things can't be replicated in text messages, no matter how much passion is infused with "r u awak?" People live far? Call 'em on the phone. People live close? Go see 'em.

All this technology is supposed to bring people together, not make it easier to circumvent the very basics of human communication. If we are truly friends, let's use these zeroes and ones to our advantage.