Review: Douglas Coupland exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery

The other week, I joined Twitter and was immediately flooded with information, including the news that Douglas Coupland was opening a new solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Naturally, I used the newfound medium of Twitter to it’s fullest purpose: whining.

I really do get some weird stuff people want me to write about. But my petulant cry into the Internet was rewarded with an undeservedly generous response from VAG staff:

I am going to come right out and say it: I am a Douglas Coupland fan. I’ve read most of his novels as well as his photo essays Terry, City of Glass and Souvenir of Canada. I credit Terry with getting my young nieces excited about the story of Terry Fox and motivating them to raise money for the Terry Fox Foundation each year on their birthdays. I even met Coupland at a book launch party once, where he patiently let me slobber my fandom all over him in the guise of a conversation for about 10 minutes. It had been a terrible night, for various reasons, but I felt great walking out of there after that chance encounter.

Aside from the carefully composed photos in his Canada books, or the Terry Fox Memorial at BC Place Stadium, however, I hadn’t seen very much of his art. His books have evolved a distinct visual style, with a sans serif typeface on the covers that should probably be named “Coupland” by now. (Or, if you prefer, the “Cards Against Humanity.”) That typeface is seen throughout the VAG show, too.

Everywhere Is Anywhere Is Anything Is Everything uses material culture, Pop Art, consumer products and interactive technology to explore what it is to be a human, particularly a Canadian one, in late 20th and/or early 21st century. If you possess these attributes, you will likely get this show.

Coupland and I are similar in a lot of ways. We both grew up on Vancouver’s North Shore, which is also where Coupland set some of his novels. I used to deliver pizza to Rabbit Lane in West Vancouver’s British Properties and to the Delbrook neighbourhood of North Van, prominently featured in Girlfriend in a Coma and Hey Nostradamus! respectively. “Growing Up Utopian,” which largely consists of a “perfect” Lego suburbia backed by tall towers, could be taken as the view of downtown Vancouver from many a North Shore neighbourhood, albeit with more hills.

Coupland is fascinated with the material culture of our society, as well as ambivalent toward technology, a tension I think we all feel with living in a consumer-oriented society. His assemblages of familiar objects delight, whether it is plywood shelves holding a variety of retro Canadian items such as Labatt’s stubbies and Woodward’s brand canned goods in the Canadiana section titled “Secret Handshake” or the giant assemblage of food and toys and furniture making up “The Brain.”

Technology is derided in the room of witty put-it-on-T-shirt messages titled “Slogans for the 21st Century,” mostly dealing with the onslaught of social media (“I miss my pre-Internet brain” reads one); yet other parts of exhibit use interactive technology to enhance the experience. The Pop Art Explosion displays paintings that look like giant QR codes – and they can be scanned with a smartphone (if you can get it all in the screen) to reveal messages – and the 21st Century Condition section displays pieces that seem to come into better focus if you view them through the lens of a phone or tablet. (There is also an audio tour component for iPhone and Android, and the gallery has some iPads you can borrow.)

There’s a fair amount of “a-ha” if you share this milieu, and also homage to artistic influences such as the Group of Seven and Andy Warhol. The blacked-out grad photos reminded me of Warhol, as did the Tokyo Harbour assemblage of Japanese cleaning products, in the sense of putting everyday objects into artistic context. Why is it that coming across bottles of the mysterious pink cleanser I used to clean my tiny Japanese apartment fill me with delight upon encountering them in a gallery? Or spying a tiny model of our old Chiba City hangout, the Toyoko Inn, in the midst of the otherwise apocalyptic installation “The World, 2013-2014″?

Frankly, I’m not an art critic, but these witty references to popular culture, these particular ways of seeing a screwy world, are very familiar if you read Coupland’s books. His views are often dim, dealing with a post-apocalyptic near future/present (Player One and Generation A come to mind), but there’s a glimmer of delight, cynical as it may appear.

He works in the medium of familiar, with found objects, putting them together in ways that perhaps appear obvious (“Oh, I could have done that … if I’d thought of it!”). But that’s just the beauty of it, Coupland’s highly developed visual style and his way of connecting and putting objects together are perhaps what you would express if you knew how. I know I smiled a lot while walking through this exhibition.

And I’ll probably go again.

Everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything is on until September 1, 2014 at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Image gallery

Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.

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Trying to appeal to cyclists with an ad placed at a bike rack, the image and copy don’t add up to the clever pun they were probably going for. “Peddling” means to sell something, while what the cyclist is doing is “pedalling” (or “pedaling”) a bike. Obviously, they could have used my usage cartoon for that exact thing.

Usage Cartoon No. 4: Horde vs. Hoard

Internet, I can’t take it anymore. Everywhere I look (i.e., comment boards), people are writing about “a hoard of people” or “hoards of people.” If you’re hoarding people, you’re doing it wrong.

So I made this super-short presentation to help you learn the BIG difference between horde and hoard. Enjoy!

More super-useful and gloriously primitive usage cartoons live here.

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Today, I finally decided to join Twitter. It’s exciting how many friends and conversations I’ve found already! Feel free to fly by and call out to me @crowlandia.

Books for the road, from the road

Remember road trips? Sometimes the purpose was the Road Trip itself; sometimes it had an actual destination. If you’re a child of North America, chances are you’ve driven somewhere that takes hours or days to reach, and in that time, you know that nothing much happens.

Yet, there’s a strong and vibrant tradition of literature of the open road (On the Road, is that you again?), just moving down the highways, alone or with travelling companions, experiencing what’s out there. And perhaps if you’ve ever had a friend on a trip who posts (and photographs) everything they’re doing on social media from meals to monuments the moment it happens, making you wish they’d vacation in some dark, signal-less corner of Nowifiland, you can appreciate some writers who took the trip and then told the tale.

Travels with Charley by John SteinbeckTravels with Charley

One of my all-time favourite writers is John Steinbeck, but I didn’t read Travels with Charley until fairly recently. I was put off for a petty reason: Charley is a French poodle, and I don’t particularly like poodles. I am nuts about dogs, but not poodles. Anyway, this is a non-fiction book Steinbeck wrote about driving through the United States, seeing the country he has written about all of these years in his novels and meeting people who don’t recognize him for his fame and awards but for being another traveller like themselves. One of my favourite scenes is him waiting in a motel room that has not been cleaned for his stay yet, and he is picking up clues about the last traveller – a businessman he nicknames “Lonesome Harry” – from the “bits and pieces of himself he had left behind.” (Lonesome Harry’s scotch glass and cigarettes could very well have belonged to the real-life Don Draper.) It’s all very earthy and reflective, as well as letting modern readers glimpse an America before every little town had that strip of fast-food joints and malls.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic philosophy book, though it does have the narrative throughline of a road trip. Amid all that heaviness, I appreciate the descriptions of little towns, of old men passing the time on porches and of roadside diners, and of the sadness he feels for the closed-up worlds of city drivers. And of course, appreciating the craft of keeping a vehicle moving forward, down to the turn of a screw. If you’re looking for a book to read out in public and impress people with your depth, you could do worse and you might actually learn something along the way.

The Lost Continent by Bill BrysonThe Lost Continent

Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent is sort of the heir apparent to Steinbeck’s Travels. He also takes us on a trip around the United States, visiting most of the Lower 48 on trips radiating out from his hometown in Iowa. Bryson is a master of wry observation and funny asides, not only telling you what happened on his trip but also stories of the places he goes. In this book, he’s on a bit of a quest to find what he calls “Amalgam, USA” – that is, the classic American town seen in movies and TV, the one with a courthouse and green lawn and a soda shop and movie theatre (basically, Hill Valley from Back to the Future). He finds a few close contenders, but of course, almost always hidden by the tacky, shiny neon strips of chains on the edge of town and marred by boarded-up shopfronts in the old downtowns. This was written in the late 80s, and not much seems to have changed on those fronts. Though he’s now turned to writing entertaining science and social histories, Bryson is a great, funny travel writer whose observations are as bewildered as they are withering.

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw by Will FergusonBeauty Tips from Moose Jaw

And I can’t leave out my home and native land, Canada, where we get Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw from Will Ferguson. Ferguson and Bryson might be border-brothers in that they both wrote funny travel books mixed with social history, and now write slightly more serious books. Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw also combines several trips to various regions of Canada, including the West Coast, Maritimes, Prairies, Quebec and yes, the Centre of the Universe (Toronto). It’s saturated with observations about Canada that even a Canadian might not know, all told in typically Canadian self-deprecating fashion. As I’ve driven across Canada and can appreciate the vast distance this country covers, sometimes without much of interest to see (and that includes some towns), it’s amazing that Ferguson mines so many gems for us to enjoy. I laughed out loud a lot during this book.

You may notice that these books are more than a few years old. Travel book publishing isn’t what it used to be – guidebooks have been supplanted by TripAdvisor and Yelp, and travel narratives demand more extreme tales than simply getting in a car and reporting back on the trip. But with gas prices being pushed up with every return of what is now called “driving season,” you can still get the old road trip feeling by pedalling your bike down to the library and taking out a book.

Thank you, Bud

I am saddened to hear that poet and activist Bud Osborn has died. I have just been drafting a post on road trip literature, and his prose-poem account of riding the Greyhound across Canada, “Hounded to the Coast,” is seared in my memory. He wrote about the poor and poverty with anger and empathy, hitting hard to a privileged suburban child like myself. Though he will write no more, the power of his voice remains. Thank you, Mr. Osborn, and rest well.

let my words

sing a prayer

not  a curse

to the tragic

& sacred mystery

 

of our

beautiful

suffering

eternal worth

from “Down Here,” Lonesome Monsters, Anvil Press, 1995

Outgrowing Kerouac

On the Road coverEver since I posted it many moons ago, Kerouac’s Rules for Spontaneous Prose has been far and away the most visited post on the blog. It is lovely poetry in itself, brimming with inspirational snippets like “Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy” and “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition.” Crazy stuff; Kerouac is definitely a writer’s writer. Who doesn’t want to be a poet, a literary wild man? His name alone is an incantation.

But I suspect that most writers aspire to living the Kerouac lifestyle than actually writing like him. Hands up: have you ever actually read On the Road? Did you enjoy it? Did you get through it – and be honest – without saying, “What is this about?” Did it make you want to read anything else the man wrote? And if you have read it, do you have any desire to read it again?

My answers: Yes. No. Got through it, but not without a WTF or two. I think I read Maggie Cassidy afterwards; it’s even more unintelligible. No, but I keep it on the bookshelf for ambience.

I used to want to be a writer. Now I write. I don’t know, I guess there are some great lines of poetry in there, surrounded by vast paragraphs of stuff that happened. Kerouac’s rules serve as a warm fuzzy encouragement to get going on your self-expressive writing, but if they didn’t have Kerouac’s name stamped across the top, I wonder if we would consider them nonsense. Beat, hipster, jazz, vinyl, snaps, I’m getting too old for making the effort to go to cafes to hear boring writing read out loud by heirs apparent to the travelling rebel poet crown.

That goes for you too, JD Salinger wannabes. Then again, don’t listen to me. Just turn 30 and re-read Catcher in the Rye. You’ll see what I mean.

subTerrain’s Lush Triumphant literary contest: Deadline extended!

subT_lushtriumphant2014

If you’ve got a great story, poem or piece of creative non-fiction (i.e., essay, memoir or commentary) that needs to be read to be believed (and is yet unpublished), enter it in subTerrain magazine’s 2014 Lush Triumphant literary awards competition. Winners and runners-up in each category get cash prizes AND publication in upcoming issues of the magazine.

UPDATE: The deadline has been extended til May 31, 2014. Entry fees include a one-year subscription to subTerrain. (And this ain’t your hippie-aunt-from-Saltspring’s lit mag, either.)

So get that brilliant piece printed on some 8 1/2 by 11, snug it up with a paper clip, and slip it into an envelope with a cheque for the entry fees and slide it on into the mailbox, pointing this way:

Lush Triumphant Literary Awards
c/o subTerrain Magazine
PO Box 3008, Main Post Office
Vancouver, BC V6B 3X5

(That’s Canada for you international and US readers – and your entries are welcome too.)

New for 2014: you can also enter online via this magic portal.

For more details, visit the Lush Triumphant webpage and Facebook.

* Full disclosure: I am a member of the subTerrain Editorial Collective. Be brilliant my friends.

Writing on the railroad

J.M.W. Turner, Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844; public domain artwork via Wikimedia Commons)

This has to be one of the coolest things I’ve heard of in a while: Amtrak is starting a writer’s residency program. The deal is that writers can apply to take a free round-trip anywhere on its system and simply write as they ride the rails.

The program started rather informally as a Twitter exchange in which a writer named Jessica Gross expressed a wish to write aboard a moving train. Amtrak set her up with a seat from New York to Chicago, and she later wrote about the experience for the Paris Review.

Not surprisingly, other writers took notice, and Amtrak is now setting up a more formal program and application process. It’s not clear what the requirements will be on the writer’s side, other than to use the time to write aboard the train and perhaps to send out some tweets en route. The Wire blog post contains a good Q&A and Amtrak’s social media director Julia Quinn also participated in a Reddit AMA session.

As a Canadian resident, I probably can’t apply for this program, but VIA Rail, are you listening?

UPDATE: It seems that Amtrak has put in some troubling language surrounding “exclusive” rights to the required writing sample in paragraph 6 of the terms and conditions. The comments on Amtrak’s blog post on how to apply are interesting – make sure you have all the info before applying, know before you go!

Meditations on crowing

Vancouver Crow Sunset

Vancouver, BC, has many spectacular natural sights. Views we have in abundance; go to any high place and you can gawk at the mountains, the harbour, the bridges, and sometimes even Georgia Strait and the misty archipelago of the Gulf Islands. But one of the most beautiful encounters you can have with nature in the city happens in a non-scenic industrial neighbourhood of central Burnaby.

At dusk on a clear day, look up at the sky and you can see them flying in from every direction: crows, thousands of crows. They converge on the neighbourhood around the intersection of approximately Still Creek Avenue and Gilmore Avenue, and land everywhere: parking lots, fences, power lines, railroad tracks, and of course, the thin green strip of trees and bushes that remain of what was once marshland. Before business parks and warehouses began eating away at the wetlands surrounding Still Creek, this was their nightly roost. Crows being the smart, adaptable creatures they are, they have just made use of the new structures people have put in their former home.

This scene has often been compared to the classic Hitchcock movie The Birds. In this live version, the crows are non-malevolent but I still can’t help feeling, as I pedal past on my bike at sunset, that I am a visitor in their world. They make a terrific noise and there are lots of birds swooping overhead, more and more arriving and jostling for a spot to land, but they take no notice of me.

There’s a comfort of being alone among the crowd. They are too busy doing their bird things and calling out to another and sorting out their own highly particular social order to be bothered by one insignificant human. They don’t care if I gawk in amazement at their sheer numbers and the beauty of this phenomenon. They don’t require my attention; they will do this mysterious thing that they do, every single night in this particular place, whether I notice or not.

Conventional wisdom would have it that I would want to stand out for being different. Maybe I should wave my arms or try to shout out about the din. But what good would that do? At best, I would use up my own precious energy only for the purpose of getting their attention. At worst, the crows would swoop down, maybe even dive bomb or attack. Why would I want that? And who are we to each other anyhow? Just a couple of species who happen to be in the same space (kind of like high school, or the Internet).

With all the birds crowing to one another, the noise is deafening. You cannot even hear the traffic on the freeway only a couple hundred metres away, and it’s rush hour. It is a tunnel of bird noise, and even if I could pick out any specific voice, I would not understand the language they’re speaking. Like I said, I’m just a visitor here. But altogether, the sight and the sound and the fleeting light in the winter sky reach out and speak to me.

I want to linger, grab my camera, capture the moment, but no shaky video with bad sound can give you the sensation of being there. (And I actually took the photo you see here on an another jaunt through the area, when the birds seemed to have settled down to their places.) And I wanted to just be in the moment for once in all my overly connected life.

At one time, the Internet represented a second life, where you could create a persona of your choice complete with a pseudonym. Now, the web of social media is intricately woven into your real life and comes complete with multiple dire warnings about the harm you could do to your image by posting the wrong pictures or an ill-thought-out update. Nothing is private, they say; the settings are just window dressing. And over it all hangs the sinister implication of digital spying. I personally don’t know who would be interested in my life online, but there I am, squawking away anyway, along with the rest of the world.

Personally, I liked that none of these thousands of crows were trying to get my attention individually. Because when crows want you to notice them, it is not pleasant and, as Hitchcock demonstrated, can be downright scary. People who try to get attention from the crowd can be equally annoying and scary in their quest to get in your eyeballs, get clicks and shares and likes, get “mindshare,” get you to do something. (Those clickbaiting headlines from Upworthy come to mind.) You’re constantly building new shields to deflect crows that just won’t quit.

I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, as of course, part of my job is being a copywriter. I write things that are designed to persuade and inform people about the things clients want them to know. And I am ever aware of the problem of bringing attention to this ad, this brochure, this website, within the cacophonous din of a million other messages and a thousand other concerns the real live humans we want to reach have to contend with. Will we reach them by shouting louder than the others or by being flashier and bolder or by interrupting their attention to bring them These Important Messages? Hmmm. Probably not.

But maybe, just maybe, if we can be honestly together in the same space, there is a chance of reaching through the noise and having a moment to think and to meditate and to feel something real.

subTerrain looking for “Coincidence” submissions

subter 67“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” – Albert Einstein

Two rays of light strike a surface at the same point, at the same time. Your high school English teacher who you just thought of for the first time in years sits next to you on a plane. The one-night stand you brought home turns out to be the good friend of your ex, who is crashing on your couch. Your manuscript gets picked up by a major publisher seconds after you’ve tossed it in the trash. Some of us call it accidental, while some of us search for meaning… Is it fate? An accident? A conspiracy? Or just … a coincidence?

subTerrain magazine has just extended the deadline for submissions for issue 67, “Coincidence,” to February 7, 2014. So if you just happen to have some original fiction, non-fiction, poetry etc., send it right away. Mark the envelope “Coincidence” and send it to:

subTerrain Magazine
P.O. Box 3008, MPO
Vancouver, BC V6B 3X5
CANADA

More information, right this way: http://subterrain.ca/about/35/sub-terrain-writer-s-guidelines

Link
Subscribe and enter to win Whistler Prize Pack

Subscribe and enter to win Whistler Prize Pack

My good friends at Vancouver-based Subterrain magazine* are currently running a contest. Subscribe or renew before October 11, 2013, and you could win a very literary weekend in Whistler. And you’ll enjoy several issues packed with thought-provoking, unboring writing and art: stories, poetry, commentary, interviews and reviews. Visit subterrain.ca/subscriptions to enter.

*Full disclosure: I am a member of the editorial board.

The Joy of Editing

We Can Edit

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Editing and proofreading don’t enjoy the glamorous image of writing. They’re kind of like the siblings to the star. Sometimes you see a picture of, say, Nicole Kidman posing with her sister at a movie premiere in one of those magazines you only admit to reading at the hair salon. They look somewhat alike, but one is clearly less glossy than the other. Editing is the rarely seen sister. But without editing, most writing would look quite different. (Perhaps a better analogy would be the star posing with her hairdresser, but now you know too much about my low-brow reading habits, anyway.)

When I edit, it’s a privilege to help improve someone’s writing. When I write, it can be a privilege to be edited. But it’s a rare privilege to be edited by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about and can convey suggestions for improvement in specific, tactful terms. For example, on an assignment I took to write a newsletter, the copy for the events calendar section came back with a reviewer comment: “Where did the info for these events come from? Please change.”

This is the opposite of good editing – it insults the writer and gives no direction on how to improve the content. Blunt, nonspecific, unhelpful, uninformed comments are exactly what professional editors are trained to avoid. And it gives me no small measure of  joy to give my clients a better editing experience than what is usually afforded me!

When I’m editing, I love catching all those little errors: typos, inconsistencies, factual errors, bad usage, deviations from the style sheet. I take pleasure in reducing the number of times in the world that “impact” is used as a verb (most of the time it should be “affect”) or weeding out wordy, redundant expressions. These little things make up for the sometimes tedious cleanup of maybe thousands hundreds of stray commas, hyphens, and apostrophes from a manuscript.

I also take pride in knowing my boundaries in editing, that is, what is out of my scope to change on a particular job, even if I would have written it differently. Yes, we want to improve a thing, but like doctors, we also must avoid doing harm. And we are constrained always by time and budget.

Editing is invisible to the reader, but transparent to the writer and to the rest of the team. Editors often work alone, physically, but are almost always part of a team and a process. Others will see our work, and will question it, and we have to be prepared to explain every single change. Luckily, I am not often asked to defend the removal of a comma, but I need to supply a (specific) reason if asked.  And then I get to display my nerdy command of style guides and writing conventions and arcane references. “Did you really want to talk about punctuation?” I’ll say, excited. “Because we can talk about punctuation.”

I don’t always win the battle for minutia, but I’m willing to at least spar a bit on a point where I think it will really affect the reader. That’s who it’s all about, after all, the reader to whom I am mostly invisible, except when a typo shows up in a headline and they invoke me, crying out, “Where was the editor?!” Most likely I was down in paragraph 5 checking a crucial fact and confirming and correcting the spelling of the subject’s name, and the headline may have been rewritten hastily after it was out of my hands. It’s a good thing no one ever died of a typo.

The joy of editing is neither in the glory (non-existent) nor the blame (world’s funnest game), but in the craft. We do our magic, the red ink is scrubbed away, and then we disappear. Until the cheque arrives, and the next project begins, and my eyes are needed once more.

The Joy of Drafting

typewriter

“Typewriter” by Amy Dame, via Flickr

“Writing is starting.”

“Writing is finishing.”

Yay! Now that I have those two quotes down—I heard them somewhere and will check them later*—I have conquered a blank screen. I have started writing. I have an idea in my head of what this post will be. I scrawled a few notes on a notepad beside the bed about a week ago. Now with a space in the calendar, I finally sat down to try it out.

If this post sounds a little stream of consciousness, it is because I am drafting. When I am drafting, I am trying to turn off the editor and JUST GO. Usually when I write, I never get up too much of a head of steam because I fall into the trap of revising as I go. Computers let us do that. Back in the day, you just tore out the paper from the typewriter and crumpled it up and started again. At least, that is the classic image of the writer in movies, agonizing over starting. And then, the music comes up and we see him or her typing and motoring along with inspiration as the words just flow through the fingers.

Today, maybe the equivalent image would be someone on a computer screen, deleting several tries and then finally getting into the flow. It doesn’t translate as well to screen, but then writing never really looks like it does on TV. (Does anything?) Me, it’s sitting down at all that’s the challenge.

When I have an assignment, it usually has a deadline, which is the ultimate motivator, along with the promise of some money at some point in what I hope is the near future. And the deadline means the sitting and writing shall be done at some point, because I like hitting my deadlines as much as I like writing in a clean house with alphabetized CDs.

Another saying: “I hate writing, I love having written.” Dorothy Parker also reportedly said two of her favourite words were “Cheque enclosed.”

Personally, I love typing. I love the sound of typing. I feel good when I’m typing. Breathe. Thinking. Keep typing. It’s the music we crave.

Speaking of music, I love drafting to music. When I need to write, or when I need to have written, I put on beautiful, motivating rock. When I’m editing, it’s non-distracting classical piano like Chopin or instrumental jazz like Brubeck or Bechet. But for writing, nothing gets the fingers moving like Led Zeppelin. I think I’ll put it on now.

There. Houses of the Holy Physical Graffiti, disc 1, because I want to hear “Kashmir.” (Edit: I always get those two albums mixed up, because the image of the building on the cover throws me off.)

If I even think of Facebook, I have to go check it. Resist, resist.

Once I get started with a piece of writing, the thing I love about drafting is the freedom. The piece is nothing yet, so it could be anything. And if I can turn off that revisional urge to shape it while it’s still a heap, it can be. I’m not just talking about creative writing, but also copy writing, in which the final product has to be extremely focused, catchy and, these days, short.

Copy writing will also be relentlessly scrutinized and revised before unleashing to the world, so drafting is the part of the process where it’s just me and a bunch of ideas and more than a few naughty thoughts. Shocking words and dirty mind: it’s all part of the process. Drafting is the party—it’ll get cleaned up eventually, so never mind the mess and inappropriate language.

Maybe that’s my editor talking again. I suppose I look at drafting as a reductionist process—if you can get the words out in a big block of text, you then have something to carve up. You start with something and then you cut it down.

But when I think about it some more, I often work the other way too: I write ideas out in bullets and phrases and then flesh them out. It helps, sometimes, to have a skeleton to hang the details on, an outline to keep you on track. God knows, I have enough rambling essays that started with an idea, were drafted in a burst of inspiration and added onto over time, and were never finished. They’re in a folder.

The nice thing about outlining and then writing to it is that it’s non-threatening. Getting a few words and ideas out is a lot easier than trying to achieve artistic perfection out of a blank page. And it’s still something. It gets you started on the process. It’s a shape.

And you’re off.

*As it turns out, neither of my quotes was really accurate. Both are paraphrases of common writing advice. For the first, you might listen to Anne Lamott, author of the well-known book, Bird by Bird: ““Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.” For the second piece of wisdom, bestselling author Neil Gaiman says, “Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.” Then again, Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck gave this advice to a friend: “Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.” In other words, just get started.

Things no one tells you: How to pronounce segue

Though I consider myself a pretty good speller and perceptive picker-upper of words, the connection between spelling and pronunciation of “segue” — meaning to make a transition from one topic to another — has completely escaped me up until now. I don’t know about you, but I always read segue as something like “seeg.” The last syllable seemed to be silent, like similar-looking words like vague or tongue or league. But as it turns out (pointed out very tactfully by a colleague), segue is pronounced “segway.” And segway is not actually a word at all, though I could have sworn it was, meaning the transition from one news segment to another, and not just a brand name for Gob Bluth’s preferred mode of transport.

The unusual pronunciation is due to the word’s Italian origin, which won’t help you spell or pronounce it at all in English, world’s trickiest language.

Confession booth: I’m a bad blogger

There it is. I’m going to open up. Sort of. No, I’m going to try. I consume too much media and write too little of it. On a daily basis, I cruise a slew of mostly local media sources – CBC News, the Straight, Scout Mag – with frequent stopovers in Facebook and Yelp, and an occasional dip into Yahoo Screen to get my daily fix of Burning Love.

And I have to stop. Because comments are killing me. Sometimes I merely scan the article itself, then read the comments in detail. With the exception of The Tyee’s rather erudite community, most comments that people leave are just mean. Mean, small-minded, petty, pointless and often useless. Whatever the topic of the article or video is, there is someone who will take the time to tell us how they hate that thing. Article about how someone pulled themselves out of debt? Comments criticize how they did it, or tell us about how they think people buy too much useless stuff. News about Facebook? Commenters will usually enlighten us about how useless they find Facebook. (Or if it’s about TV, people come in droves to tell us how they don’t watch TV. Thanks. Good for you.) And my very favourite head-shaker is those who watch videos clearly labelled “stand-up” or “comedy” and then proceed to leave comments about how wrong the comic is or how the video “sucks.”

The stupid blind vitriol that fuels so much of the Internet is killing me. It really is toxic. Is everyone stupid? I think I understand the motivation behind all the meanness: people want to be heard. There’s a world full of chatter and so they’re shouting. Me! Me! Me! Over here! And the quickest way to get others to listen is to push their emotional buttons. Well, I’m (unladylike adjective here) exhausted of the name-calling, the anecdotal expertise, the political categorizing, the stereotyping, and the way it riles me up, invades my brain, and kills the creative drive.

Everyone wants to talk and no one wants to listen. Everyone says “How are you?” then tunes out the answer and then uses whatever you said as a segway into what they wanted to say. Listening isn’t sexy. Your stories are boring. That’s why we pay certain people to do it for us. Or marry them so they’re forced to lend an ear during commercial breaks, at least. Those comments on the Internet, too, are not there to add to any conversation. They’re just people having their say, reacting to whatever has been put in front of them. Negative, negative, negative – to change, to things that threaten our beliefs, to new ideas. It’s exhausting, trying to process all that.

Who cares?, you say, if you’ve gotten this far (Hi!). If it bothers you, don’t read it! In advance, thanks for the advice, Captain Obvious. I am going to try to stop, but it’s going to be hard. I’ve always loved reading opinion columns, the letters section of the paper, rants and raves, advice columns. I love learning about what people think. I love a good conversation or argument about ideas (in person). Up to a point – I am an introvert and usually need time to charge my batteries after an intense talk or social event or heated forum thread – anywhere and anytime too much information or emotion is coming in from other people. And the online, ongoing nattering of the world wide peanut gallery is getting me down.

And with the amazing, interactive power that all of our communications technology holds and all that goes into designing and making our magic boxes called computers and smartphones, is mean commenting really what we do with it? Bash strangers? Complain about things we had no hand in creating? (And I don’t even spend much time with Youtube comments.) I know there’s a whole positive world out there on the Interwebz, but at the moment, it’s clouded in a veil of “Your [sic] an idiot” level interaction and I am having trouble seeing it, much less breaking through to create, not hate.

This is an attempt to break with the toxic chatter, and to shake off the paralysis it has left me in. This is a writing blog, after all, and you should know why it’s hard to write for the internet. It’s a loud place, full of unpredictable reactions – not the safest place for a writer. It’s not that I’m some delicate flower like a golfer needing silence and shushers. In fact, I would predict this post to garner cricket chirps at worst and some amusing comment spam at best. Interactivity is good. Communication is what I crave. Real live human beings reading these words and talking back to me is the goshdamn thrillingest thing I can imagine.

I think sometimes one person can change the world, but I’m not going to try to be that person. Mean comments will likely continue, because we can make them so easily and the instinct to shout to be heard is never going away. However rational we think ourselves, we’re bags of emotionally charged water and our opinions spill out. So whatever anyone else spews about bike lanes or bad dog breeds or generation X vs Y vs millenials or vegan restaurants or kids in coffee shops or a million topics that are seemingly up for debate, it’s all too easy to get sucked in and then get riled up enough to jump in, all mouth and fingers. Avoiding all that emotional push-buttonery takes strength.

Can I move the mob in a more positive direction? Perhaps. Can I be one less torch n pitchfork in the crowd? Definitely. Can I be a witty little light, an amusing critic, a careful observer, a funny sidekick? Yes. And so can you!

Very few of the online peanut gallery could ever dream of being as witty and endearing as the Muppet Show’s resident critics, Statler and Waldorf.

Bonus: Other people who said funny and useful things about comments