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Archive for the ‘Everyone’s a critic’ Category

I know I haven’t posted in roughly forever, and no, I haven’t had the baby yet. I am currently three days overdue, uncomfortable, and cranky.

So perhaps that’s why this article from January’s Toronto Life irritated me so much.

I suppose I should have more sympathy for people getting by on a mere $10K or so a month, but I can’t help but find the entire exercise one of the more execrable things to appear in print in a very long time.

By way of an analogy: a couple of years ago a friend of mine dated a guy in his mid-twenties who still lived with his parents. She told me once that she was wary to get too deeply involved with him, because he had no life skills.

“He’s never had to pay rent or do his own laundry or buy groceries,” she said. “If I moved in with him I’d have to teach him how to do everything.”

So I offered to make him my intern – he could come and learn my domestic routines and budget skills. Because while I would not exactly call myself the proverbial Excellent Wife, I do have a shit ton of experience running an establisment on an income that has never quite crossed the boundary from inadequate to adequate.

Anyway, shortly after that she broke up with him for calling her a cougar in public (she was a few months shy of her 30th birthday at the time, FYI), so I never got to gather that bit of karma for myself. So in the spirit of positivity and all that crap I offer to share my experience with the cash-strapped upper-upper-upper middle class:

Budget tips for the 1%

If you find that your 10-15 grand a month just isn’t cutting it any more, here are a few simple money-saving tips from someone who is living on just a fraction of your income! In the exact same city as you, no less.

– Those really expensive cars you have? You might consider getting rid of one and sharing between the two of you, with an Autoshare membership as a back-up for when you really, really can’t do without two cars. It costs at minimum about $8000 to run a car in this city, so you’d save a lot even if you used Autoshare two or three times a week. You can also get a Metropass for about $1300/year.

– That expensive gym membership you have? You can cut seriously down on your need for that, cancelling it altogether or going for a cheaper option, by investing in a wonderful contraption called “the bicycle”. This can also take care of some of your transportation needs (see above), and will give you instant street cred with your kids, as well as something to feel superior to others over, which is clearly very important to you. (Note: I don’t recommend this to the couple in their 80s, clearly. I would suggest that if they want to save a bit they stop buying new Mercedes every three years and either stick with the cars they have or buy something a bit more modest, but hey. They’ll be dead soon enough, might as well splurge.)

– The several hundred dollars/month you spend on eating out? Because you’re too tired to cook when you get home from work? I suggest you suck it up and cook. I am frequently too tired to cook when I come home from work. I cook anyway, because I do not pull in $10000 per month and I can only rarely afford to eat out. You might want to stock up on some quick pull-together dinner things like prepared pasta sauce, prepared soups, and frozen entrees. These are less than ideal but cost a hell of a lot less than dinner out, even at Swiss Chalet.

– That $400/month you spend on wine? Buy cheaper wine. Or if you are already buying cheap wine, seek treatment, because if you’re averaging $11/bottle that’s 33.33333333 etc bottles of wine/month. If two adults are consuming more than a bottle of wine/day every day between the two of them, one or both has a problem. However, if you’re spending an average of $30/bottle that comes out to a more respectable 13.333333333 etc bottles/month. If you limited yourself to a couple of $11 bottles a week and one or two $30 bottles a month, you’d save about $250.

– That $5000 that one couple (who had no savings) spent on a chair? Buy a perfectly good chair for a couple hundred bucks and put the rest in your RRSP. Seriously. That is just dumb.

– There’s not an awful lot you can do about your mortgage, because real estate in Toronto is very expensive, but if you have the opportunity to do so consider moving to a smaller and/or less expensive house. Also turn your lights off when you leave a room and keep your furnace and air conditioning at reasonable levels, and if you run the A/C all day while you’re not there because it feels so nice to come home to a cool house, get a programmable thermostat and set it to start cooling 30 minutes before you get home. Or I will come over and beat you.

– Those nice designer clothes you wear? Wash them less frequently, every two or three times you wear them rather than every time. Trust me, no one will know, and not only will you save big on your energy bills, they’ll last a lot longer.

– Those vacations you take? Consider taking less expensive vacations. It’s nice to get away and all, but $7000/week is a bit much. You might think of travelling somewhere within Canada – hell, somewhere within driving distance – which is usually a lot cheaper than going overseas.

– And if you have kids, send them to public school. Trust me, they’re actually good here! There are even special arts and alternative schools that are hard to get in to, so little Peyton and Florence can still be superior to most children without it costing you $30000/child/year.

Anyway. I feel the need to add that I’m not hating on rich people (or marginally rich people, or people on the border of the upper-middle-class and the rich). I know a good number of people who fall into this income bracket, who have expensive cars and send their kids to private schools,  and the vast majority are very nice people who don’t complain about not having enough money. (At least not to my face.)

But this article made me feel like a bomb-throwing 19th century anarchist. It is a loathsome apologia for privilege. It exists, like a lot cultural ephemera, to massage the feelings of the well-to-do, to make really quite wealthy people feel hard done by. And like a lot of cultural ephemera it works, which is why we live in a city where it’s apparently unconscionable to ask drivers to pay $60/year for the privilege of polluting our air and clogging our streets, but totally OK to raise the price of a transit pass by that exact same amount while cutting service. Where outlying areas of the city deserve subways that will never be fully used, but poor seniors don’t deserve discount walkers. Where a cyclist’s life is put on par with a driver’s feelings. Where it’s legal to arrest and brutalize peaceful protesters, but not to peacefully protest.

I wish there were an award for the most despicable piece of journalism, because this would be a shoo-in. Well done, Toronto Life!

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Like I was saying, last night I went to Contact Contemporary Music‘s “Walk on Water”, featuring the excellent saxophonist Wallace Halliday and equally excellent cellist Mary-Katherine Finch, with supporting turns from Allison Wiebe on piano (who played some thankless music very well) and Ryan Scott on percussion.

If you follow me on Twitter (or, indeed, scroll down this page, where my tweets are all posted), you will already know that I managed to review the concert in precisely 140 characters:

Chang: nice textures; Karassikov: way too subtle; Denisov: !!!; Lemay: very good; Vustin: pretty, new-agey; Leuchter: Schnittke-y & awesome.

As proud of myself as I am for getting all of that into a single tweet, I felt I should elaborate a bit more.

Walk on Water (Dorothy Chang) – some very nice textural writing for the two instruments (sax and cello). The style was a bit cautious and academic, so it felt more like an exercise in sound than anything else. I respected this piece but was not moved by it, but I would definitely like to hear more of Chang’s music.

Casus in terminus (Vadim Karassikov) – before they began to play, Wallace talked a little about this piece and how “subtle” it was. That is an understatement. It belongs to that school of new music (exemplified by the late Morton Feldman) which consists of very quiet sounds played very gently with lots of space in between. While I’m sure this work had a lot of meaning for its composer and for the players, I could not enter into it. This may have had something to do with me having to sneeze the whole time. Also a car honked outside just after the last note (it happened to be in tune with it, too!), which totally broke the mood.

Sonata for alto saxophone and violoncello (Edison Denisov) – I actually wrote a paper on Denisov back when I was in school, but I remember precisely nothing about him other than his name was Edison and he was actually from Siberia, so I was glad to hear some of his music played live. I loved loved loved this piece, especially a moment at the end of the 2nd movement – the cello was holding a high note, and the sax came in with multiphonics. It was an amazing bit of writing, and not just in the “wow, you can do that with only two instruments?” way. Denisov’s writing is very lyrical and emotional – he was great at evoking fleeting emotional states through minimal means, which is awesome. I think I need to pay for a U of T library membership so I can take out some CDs of his stuff, because I very much doubt it’s on Itunes.

Tie-break (Robert Lemay) – A very well-written short piece apparently inspired by tennis. Lemay introduced his piece, saying it was part of a larger work in progress, though being pregnant I’ve completely forgotten what the other two or three movements are going to be called. Tie-break was light and spritely and added a nice note of levity to the programme.

Musique pour l’ange – another very evocative work, so evocative that my mind kept wandering. Tonal and new-agey with lots of floaty vibraphone chords. I actually have a hard time expressing an opinion of it – it was pretty and enjoyable, but it didn’t have a lot to hang on to, if you know what I mean. Maybe a B+? I know nothing else got a letter grade.

Leuchter (Helmut Oehring) – subtitled “Kurz in Mull gestochert” or “rifling through the trash”, this work expresses musically the composer’s feelings towards noted Holocaust denier/designer of execution machines Fred A. Leuchter. Kurt Weill/Schnittke/electroacoustic. Yeah, I know I just did the new music equivalent of describing one indie band in terms of three other indie bands you’ve never heard of. Let me try it with adjectives – jangly, atonal (or maybe bi/tri-tonal – it’s hard to say), snarky, and aggressive. It was totally different from everything else on the programme and I loved it.

And as I also said on Twitter, the playing was excellent overall and I’m very glad I went.

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No, this is not a list of heartwarming pregnancy/baby movies to watch.

I may be pregnant, but I have not turned into Maude Flanders.

This is about how one’s standards change when one is tired all the time and has the hormonal stability of a 14-year-old.

So. Among the things I knew about intellectually going into this but didn’t really grok was that, at least during the 1st trimester, you are tired. All. The. Time. You wake up feeling tired. You feel hungry, but too tired to cook. You feel tired when you’re working, tired when you’re resting, tired when you’re doing chores, tired when you’re having fun, tired when you’re sleeping. (It’s actually been improving for the past two weeks or so – I’m now just “tired” and not “absolutely exhausted”.)

I’m told the fatigue will fade entirely in another week or so and I’ll feel super energetic. Anyway, having less energy than normal, I have been going out much less and thus feeling thankful for Netflix Watch Instantly.

The only problem is…I fall asleep.

I can fall asleep *anywhere* now. I used to be incapable of napping. Not anymore! Honestly, if I sit down in a warm room for more than ten minutes, odds are I will nod off. And since it’s roughly 3 zillion degrees in Toronto right now and I don’t have air conditioning, EVERY room in the house is a warm room.

So in the evenings, when I pick something on Netflix and settle down on the couch with one or two basset hounds on me to watch it, I don’t exactly judge the film the same way I used to.

I mean, my old film standards were not educated or exacting in any way. But now, this is how I judge a film:

– How many times did I fall asleep? (Less than 3: very good! More than 3: Either this movie sucks or Gus is on my legs. Or both.)
– Did I fall asleep during exciting action sequences? (Yes: bad.)
– Did I need to read the plot summary on Wikipedia to fill in the parts I missed when I fell asleep? (Yes: Good but frustrating, since it means the plot was more interesting but entailed more effort for me to get what was going on; No: Well, that was easy, but really; I didn’t think I did but I looked it up anyway and found I’d missed something good: Excellent!; I didn’t think I did but I looked it up anyway and found I needn’t have bothered: Meh.)

So far “Dark City” comes out the worst; I think I fell asleep 5 times, INCLUDING during the climactic action sequence when (*SPOILER ALERT*) Rufus Sewell fights an alien who looks Manservant Hecubus to take control of the “city”. Feeling I’d missed something vital, I did read the Wikipedia summary and found…I hadn’t at all. Also the visual tone was so dark it was actually difficult to see what was going on (at least on a computer monitor) and the love story was very thin and unbelievable.

Best by this system is “American Movie” (which I recommended a few days ago), because I think I only fell asleep once and didn’t miss anything. And there were no giant action sequences to fall asleep to.

Any time you want me to take over your site, Roger Ebert, I’m available.

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…of Harry Potter 7: Part 2, some disjointed observations.

Spoiler alert!

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After watching all that Doctor Who, I felt like indulging in some agreeable fluff. So this week I watched the first three Twilight movies again.

YES I KNOW. The Twilight movies are ridiculous, but unlike the books, enjoyably so.

Anyway, after I stopped being distracted by Taylor Lautner’s abs* I was struck by the similarities between the Edward-Bella love story and the Doctor-Rose story arc.

Spoilers for both Doctor Who and Twilight after the jump! Though, if you don’t already know how Twilight ends, I’d like to know what rock you’ve been living under. And join you there.
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You know who doesn’t have a book deal?  Me.

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OK, so maybe I’ve never written a book.  But come on.  If you had to guess “Who’d write a better book?  Some lady who’s not famous or anything but writes a witty blog, opera librettos, and poetry that gets turned into song lyrics?  Or Snooki?” you’d pick me, right?

But of course, publishing is a business, a cynical, cold, soul-destroying business, and Snooki’s name and image on a book will undoubtedly sell more than mine would.  So it’s not surprising that a whole raft of celebutantes and reality TV stars have books out.  Not fair, not just to the frustrated authors of this world, but not surprising.

But it occurred to me, as I sat here fuming and looking at Amazon – what if one of those books were actually good?

What if Snooki or Lauren Conrad or Nicole Ritchie had some actual literary talent and wrote a pretty good book, but no one took them seriously because they’re famous for doing backflips in clubs?

I think that would suck more than just being your average unrecognized genius.  Because you’ve already succeeded – you got the book deal and wrote the book.  Only no one takes you seriously and everyone makes fun of you.

See, this is why money doesn’t necessarily make you free.  Snooki has, at the age of 23 or whatever she is, made more money than I ever will in my life.  But if she wants to keep making it she’s stuck acting like the cartoon she plays on MTV.  She has to be a product and a brand, not a person.  Sure, she’s not a baby and I’m sure she knew what she was getting into, but I still think it’s kind of sad.

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Yes, I have caught whatever Ben has had all week. I am calling it the Death Flu, though it’s really not that bad (at least for me, but hey I don’t smoke and I TAKE MY B12) – I’m just stuffed up and sore-throaty and have no energy for anything besides watching anime and reading the entire cracked.com archives.
(Favourites: this one, this one, and OMIGOD this one.)

Before the Nyquil (actually Neo Citran, which makes you much less loopy but much more tired) kicks in, I thought I’d knock out a quick post.

So once I ran out of lists of “5 Most ______y ______s that ever ________ed”, I decided to watch a movie. I was originally going to watch My Neighbour Toroto for the third time, but I remembered that I’ve seen the entire Studio Ghibli oeuvre, except for Howl’s Moving Castle. I don’t know why I missed that one. Ben’s seen it, and he didn’t like it that much, so maybe I skipped it based on his opinion.

Well, that was a mistake, because I LOVED it.

Because I’m too viral and drugged to write a real review, a list of things I liked about it:
****Spoiler Alert – The English dub of this movie came out in, like, 2004, so go see it already****
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