Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rape? Not rape? Don't Ask Amy: Defaulting To "YES"

I'm not normally moved to write about something such as this in a public forum, but after stumbling across a link yesterday, one that detailed the story of an "Ask Amy" column in the Chicago Tribune which blamed the victim of a rape (yes, the college student was a victim, Amy said, first and foremost of her "own awful judgment" for daring to drink at a campus party)...I can't not write something about it. I could so so in my private blog, but everyone over there has already seen the shocked Twitter updates and so on. It's better to say it all here.

I think it was the somewhat frustrating conversation I had with my parents after reading all of this "Ask Amy" garbage that made me realize it wasn't a subject I could just shove aside and forget about. My mother and I have discussed similar things at length throughout my life; we've debated, argued, agreed, and most importantly have just talked about it. About rape. About power. About what is and isn't okay. We haven't always agreed on every point - hell, we've had some pretty bizarre arguments about what is "proper" for a young lady to do - but that's not what matters, from where I stand. She raised me to be able to discuss these things and be critical and careful in both theory and practice.

My father is a bit of a different story. It's not because he thinks differently than I do; he's quite possibly able to become even more angry at the thought of a man thinking he has inherent rights to a woman that he clearly does not. He's the kind of dad who - no word of a lie, here - used to park down the block from my date's house, thinking I wouldn't see his car, just in case. In case of what? I don't know. I'm not sure what he thought he could do from his car to help if my date decided to attack me mid-movie in the rec room. But damned if he didn't sit out there and read his book, believing himself to be in "stealth mode" (even though I always caught him when I'd be getting into my car to drive home), just in case his little girl found herself in danger at the hands of a guy he didn't know well enough to trust. (I sort of wonder if such a guy exists, actually. I'll have to ask him if there's ever been a guy I've dated that he truly trusted not to harm me in some way. Hmm.)

Did I mention that he was doing this stealth-driving act while I was in university? Yeah. Did I mention that my mother has always seemed quietly pleased that he did so? Yeah.

And, all in all, I can't say it ever made me angry for long. They weren't trying to ruin my fun or police my social life; they were trying, in their possibly insanely overprotective way, to make sure they were there if I needed them, because they both knew that bad things happen and that some guys can't be trusted.

The trouble we ran into during our conversation about the "Ask Amy" situation yesterday stemmed from a very organic place. My mother knows what I mean when I say, "I wish our society didn't just assume that a woman defaults to 'yes,' and that she has to kick, bite, and scream 'NO!' if she's going to avoid being touched or grabbed or spoken to inappropriately by men." (I should probably qualify that by saying that I do not think all men are inherently evil. For the purpose of this post, I'm discussing the men who do think they have these rights, and who don't feel they ought to take any responsibility in what happens if a woman's resistance isn't "strong enough" or...whatever.) During the conversation, I made reference to something that had angered me last year: "The Open-Source Boob Project". I'd break it down if I could, but you're probably better served if you go to the link and read up on it (this post in response, written by a friend of mine, is excellent, too; there's something of a "highlight reel" posted here, along with a link to the response essay entitled, "A Modest Proposal: Open Source Swift Kick to the Balls Project"). It did have that same feeling of "Women Default To YES!" to it, although it later came out that the whole situation had been poorly explained, and that the writer of the post is not an evil, woman-hating predator.

Even so, it just happened that this post and its ideals surfaced only days after I'd been sexually assaulted in my workplace. The "Project" would have riled me up no matter what, but the timing certainly made it worse. The man who assaulted me was very clear about the fact that he thought he had every right to put his hands all over me, and that, because I hadn't backhanded him yet, he could just keep going. Never mind that I was in shock, or that I was afraid it would only escalate further if I angered him; it was my perceived halfhearted refusals to let him go any further (he'd gone plenty far enough, thanks) that seemed to embolden him, as though I actually needed to knock his teeth down his throat for the word "NO" to mean anything to him. Telling him to stop, to let me go, making excuses so I could escape his grasp...none of it worked. I only got away from him when he, rather dementedly, interpreted my "NO" and "MY BOSS IS RIGHT UPSTAIRS" as "You'll have another shot at me tomorrow when we're alone, I promise!" In the end, I don't care what it was that allowed me to get my wrists free of his hands. I got free. And I was the one who went through hell for months afterward, being persecuted by the insensitive police officers who didn't seem all that interested in my case if it wasn't "real" rape or if I didn't feel strong enough to go to court right away. On top of that, after my employers had to change things around to accommodate me and my (apparently ridiculous?) security needs, I was fired from my job only three weeks later. Draw your own conclusions there. It might be telling, too, if I add that I was forbidden to tell any of my coworkers - all of whom were female and had to walk a good distance to their cars alone, in the dark, right outside the very building where this guy worked and where the assault had taken place. They didn't want to "cause a panic." Yes. Better to leave them totally blind and not know that there was a pervert with access to their office. We wouldn't want a panic.

Anyway. Tangent. Yes. My point, though, is that I'd told my mother all about the Open-Source Boob Project, and how much it bothered me that, even if the guys involved in the original post didn't feel "entitled" (even though discussing the fact that women who go to comic and sci-fi conventions dress provocatively for the men's viewing pleasure certainly smacks of it, doesn't it?), it was still a slap in the face to many of us who hadn't really thought about it before...but yes, our society does think that a woman's default is set to "YES." What we have to go through to prove that we mean "NO" is ridiculous.

I hadn't ever discussed that whole issue with my father. He was with me the night the police came to get my statement, and he did his best to comfort me when I cried about how I just couldn't understand how someone as strong and (apparently) intimidating as I am gave off the signals to this guy that it was okay for him to grope and kiss me in an empty stairwell. (See? Victim-blaming, done by the victim herself!) But he's not as tuned into pop culture as I am (and as my mother therefore is, as she's usually the one who gets to hear all of my ranting), and he doesn't have the front row seat that we do to just how pervasive the Yes Default really is.

For that reason, his immediate response to the "Ask Amy" situation was to go into Mr. Fix-It Mode, which seems to be common among the men I've known. He was full of solutions about how this particular fraternity should be handled, and what this victim needed to do, and so on. None of what he said was wrong, but it missed the broader point. We still live in a society that is completely permissive as far as things like this go. This girl went to a frat party, told this guy she would NOT be sleeping with him, had several drinks, still said no, took the guy at his word when he promised he wouldn't make a move on her and would just take her to lie down when she started feeling unwell from the alcohol...and when he raped her, she was still so unsure about whether or not it WAS rape - because, as she said, she wasn't physically strong enough to kick or punch him, and could only verbalize her rejection of his advances - that she wrote to an advice column to ask if she was really a "victim."

It's encouraging to see the amount of outrage directed at this Amy woman's response, because it hits the nail on the head. Some of the comments had me chuckling darkly.

"If you are a drunk man, it's not your fault that you rape someone; if you are a drunk woman, it's partly your fault if you are raped. LOGIC FAIL."

"Because rape isn't a choice or a deliberate action: it's a bodily function, like throwing up on someone because you drank too much. Which is also embarrassing, especially if you've 'done it before'."

How could Amy possibly live with herself after advising this girl to confront her rapist to clarify what actually happened that night in order to ascertain if it was, indeed, rape??? WHAT THE HELL KIND OF ANSWER IS THAT??? What woman, who already carries the shame of the attack (because it's rare, I've found, to come across a woman who's been assaulted and who doesn't at some point ask herself if she somehow did something to "deserve" it - myself included), would want to face her attacker and talk it over???

I don't know if men, even the most well-intentioned of them all, will ever really understand what it's like to have the very real concern constantly in the back of their minds that today will be the day that someone will violate them. On the subway. In the parking lot. At work. In their driveway. Women live with knowing that there are far too many people out there who believe that, unless you're walking around screaming "NO!" at the top of your lungs 24/7, you are somehow giving permission. The way you dress, the way you walk, the places you go, the oh, so absurd idea that maybe you want to go shopping alone on your way home from school or work. Newsflash, gentlemen: Women are even less "allowed" to do things the way they'd like to do them than men are in saying or doing sexual and demeaning things to those women. It happens to us every day to some degree. EVERY DAY. We - none of us - have the luxury of setting foot outside of our houses without thinking about the precautions we have to take. I tried to explain that to my father. He tried to understand, but he always ends up back in the same place: "The guys I've known my whole life have never thought they could say or do those things and have it be okay." Well, that's good to know. I like knowing there are lots of men out there who don't think women are their property. I'm certainly fortunate to have so many men in my family who have such respect and empathy for women; not many people are as lucky as I am. But just because you haven't heard it, or seen it, or been surrounded by Bad Guys, does not in any way mean that they aren't waiting for one of us outside the grocery store, or that otherwise "well adjusted" men don't suddenly think that a girl getting drunk at a college party equals permission to do whatever he wants to her. And my father knows this, too; why else would he be parking one block down to make sure I was safe when going on a date with a guy he hadn't met yet?

There is no logical conclusion to this post. I wish there was. I'm not a good enough writer to tie this up in a neat little bow. What I can do, though, is leave it off with a link to an essay that I came across while reading all of this "Ask Amy" crap, one that, maybe, if I read it to my Dad, would finally make things make sense. The fact that I've been on the unfortunate receiving end of two "Not Rape" situations (I won't discuss the other one publicly, because - as bizarre as I'm sure it would sound to most - I don't want to ruin the life of the guy involved, despite that experience being considerably more...well, it was rape, I've come to understand, but still... That one gets left alone) makes this essay that much more poignant.

Read it here: The "Not Rape" Epidemic. Pass it around. And I sincerely hope you know someone - anyone - who hasn't had at least one of the things described in Latoya's essay happen to her. I'm not sure I do. And that makes me want to cry.

[ETA: Amy has addressed her critics with the lamest non-retraction/apology ever. I sincerely hope the Tribune fires her sorry ass for this debacle.]

Friday, December 4, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie...

...that, hours (and, I expect, days, weeks, months, years) after the fact, still makes you want to scream and cry and scrub your brain with an SOS pad??

Let me start by saying this: I originally posted this entry back in May, under lock and key, in my private blog. Over the years I've had a lot of people tell me I should start an actual movie blog, since I see so many films (and a lot of them are not playing at your local cineplex or sitting at your nearest Blockbuster; I go out of my way to find stuff that isn't dumbed down for the tween set). Perhaps I should. Maybe I will. But in the meantime, I wanted to post about this film in a public forum, because I want to know who else has seen it, and how much more violent my reaction to it may have been compared to, say, yours.

So. On with it then. Here's my post from May, only slightly modified, and IT DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS, but you'll have plenty of warning before you get there.


May 15th, 2009

Have you ever seen a movie that, hours (and, I expect, days, weeks, months, years) after the fact, still makes you want to scream and cry and scrub your brain with an SOS pad??

I alluded to this in my last entry, but because I was on my way out I didn't have time to get into it. Now I'm laying in the dark and I simply cannot get those images out of my head. I honestly don't recall the last movie that did this to me.

The movie is called "The War Zone", directed by Tim Roth and starring Ray Winstone and Tilda Swinton. It's based on a novel that, by all accounts, is actually more horrifying than the film, though I really have no idea how that's possible.

And that's all I'm going to say about it before I break this post up again, because there are a number of you who will NOT want to read this. TRIGGER WARNINGS AHOY. If sexual abuse-related material will upset you, just stop here. Please. [Ehch's Note: In my private blog, I'm able to put things behind a cut; that feature doesn't appear to be available here, which is unfortunate. If any fellow Blogger users know of how to do this, or to at least cut the post off with a "Read more..." link, I'd love to know how! For now, though, I've made the most horrifying spoilers very, very small, so odds are you won't accidentally see something if you're trying to scroll past.]



I'm a big Tim Roth fan; I have been for years. I should've known better, though, than to get this on my ZipList (the Canadian version of NetFlix) when the reason I heard about it was because I was looking for an answer to a question I had about the film "Irréversible" (Monica Bellucci & real life husband Vincent Cassel) and it was recommended in a thread on IMDb about that horrifying film. (If you're interested this is an interesting review/analysis of "Irréversible" that does NOT show the nastiest, most graphic scenes; it stops short and spares us. It's still NSFW, though, as we do get to see the gorgeous Monica sans clothes a few times, but in a perfectly sweet context.)

Some of you saw my early-morning freakout on Facebook. I was finally watching "The War Zone" after waiting for more than a year for it to become available through Zip, and when I got to something that I'd seen referred to as "the infamous Bunker Scene", I was...paralyzed. I wanted to make it stop, but I just...couldn't. And then I had to reach for my garbage can, because I was absolutely certain that I was about to throw up. I didn't (despite having done so in the past - once when I saw "A Clockwork Orange" for the first time at the age of 11, and then the first time I ever saw the Nine Inch Nails "BROKEN" movie, when I was about 20). But I think the reason I didn't was because I actually went into literal shock.

(I suspect I'd have been sick at Irréversible, too, but the truth is that I've actually never been able to watch the whole rape scene; the two times I've attempted it, I can only get so far before I have to hit fast-forward and look away from the screen. There's another scene in that movie - those of you who've seen it will know what I mean when I refer to it as "the fire extinguisher scene in the nightclub called 'Rectum'" - which very nearly sent me running to the bathroom, but again, I've never watched it in full. I can't.)

So. The War Zone.

Here's the basic plot summary from IMDb - I suppose it should be considered a fairly major spoiler, but it's nothing you probably wouldn't find out from reading the description on the back of the DVD, or that you would figure out for yourself only a short ways into the film:

***KINDA SPOILERISH PLOT SUMMARY (but does NOT give even HALF of what ends up happening)**

An alienated 15 year old (Freddie Cunliffe), forced to move away from his friends in London when his family relocates to rural Devon, struggles with the change and becomes an observer of the family. His mother (Tilda Swinton) is pregnant, his dad (Ray Winstone) is vocally abusive, and his 18 year old sister (Lara Belmont) is sexually active and open to her brother. However, the boy guesses at and finds that he is correct that his father has had sexual relations with his sister.

Now, first let me say this about the movie: It is beautifully shot and directed, and the performances are extraordinary. The emotional notes these actors hit without so much as a word are incredible. Tim Roth did an amazing job adapting the book in such a way that there's a lot more of a gray area to certain elements. As movie-making goes, this one really deserves accolades.

But then there's that "infamous Bunker Scene". I really had no idea why this was called The War Zone and what this "bunker" was - if it was literal or figurative or a metaphor for whatever-the-hell - until that scene. And despite the constantly growing uneasiness that pervades the film up to that moment (and no, it's not the end, or even the climax, of the movie), there was nothing on earth that could have prepared me for what I saw.

Before I go 100% spoilery on you, let me show you two of the only three bits of trivia featured on the IMDb page for it. So help me god, if only I'd read these first... Maybe I wouldn't have seen the film at all, but at the very least, if I had seen it nonetheless, maybe I'd have been more...ready? I don't know. Here's what it says (spoiler-free):

  • According to director Tim Roth the bunker scene was so difficult to film that the sound man almost ruined a take by crying into his microphone. Ray Winstone also found acting the scene upsetting and nearly left the production because of it.

  • At a public screening of this movie during the 1999 Toronto International Film Festival, one viewer was so upset and devastated that he rose to his feet and shouted that he couldn't take any more, then headed for the exit, intending to pull the fire alarm. Tim Roth, who was in attendance, intercepted him at the door, and it took 20 minutes of intense conversation to calm the man down.

Uh...yeah. I probably could have used that information beforehand. My own fault, I know. But I'd probably have found the idea of someone bolting from their seat at the TIFF, shrieking and heading for the fire alarm, laughable had I not seen for myself why someone would react like that. I'm not laughing now.

So, now, some of you who are reading this are dying to know what on earth could be so awful, especially knowing the kinds of things I can watch or read and remain relatively unaffected. And a couple of you probably need to know for sure what the Bunker Scene is, so you can decide for yourselves if this is a movie you can handle. I'll tell you.


The scene in question takes place when Tom, the 15-year-old son of this family, follows his suspicions about the things he's seen and heard as far as the relationship his sister and their father are having, and he walks out to this bunker that is on their property. (They're in the middle of nowhere, near the shore in Devon, and this big concrete outbuilding is at the edge of their land - I'm not sure if it's ever explained what it was originally for, but that's inconsequential.) The bunker has a foot-wide gap that runs around the perimeter of it, which allows Tom to look inside when he hears something.

That "something" ends up being - filmed in one excruciatingly long, unflinching shot from a bit of a distance, presumably to give us Tom's true perspective as someone on the outside looking in - his sister Jessie, on her hands and knees on the cement floor, and their father pulling off her clothes and then his own, before he viciously sodomizes her (and yes, it is later made very clear that it is forcible anal sex, if it wasn't evident already). The shot is such that we don't really get to see Ray Winstone's face, and as I said, the camera doesn't move at all. It neither pans out nor zooms in. You see what you see. And you mostly are seeing Jessie's face and body, as well as that of her father behind her (up to about his shoulders), and she is crying out in agony while he hammers relentlessly at her for what felt like an eternity. It is graphic. The sounds made by the father, intermingled with the weeping and cries of pain from the daughter, were enough that, even if I'd closed my eyes and had only heard what was happening, I would be haunted forever.

There are two more huge spoilers that I'll share here, in the interest of full disclosure. One is that their mother (Tilda Swinton), who is apparently oblivious to what's going on, has just had a new baby girl, and when a night comes that the baby has to be taken to hospital because she's "bleeding" (I don't think they get specific about that, but...the implications are very, very clear), Tom finally tells his mother that she needs to keep baby Alice away from the father. He doesn't say why; he doesn't have to. The look of horror on his mother's face as she stands beside her baby's hospital bed says it all.

The second is that this new-found knowledge of the incest between his father and his sister really fucks Tom up, even more so than he already was, and it is heavily implied at the end (once the father is out of the picture - I'll leave that bit alone) that the cycle begins again, as Jessie finds Tom sitting in the bunker, and asks him what they're going to do now...and Tom gets up and shuts the bunker door, closing them in together. In the novel, it is explicitly stated that yes, brother and sister do go on to have an incestuous relationship; Tim Roth chose to leave the ending ambiguous in the film, but it was clear to me even before I'd read up on it. Tom had already turned his anger toward his sister after seeing what he saw in the bunker (and seeing several other disturbing things as well), going so far as to beat her up, burn her with his lighter, etc., as though he believed she'd seduced their father and it was all her fault. But he later defends his sister and faces his father with what he it's hard to say whether the sexual relationship between Jessie and Tom has evolved out of some twisted kind of love, or if Tom is simply using Jessie as a means to let out his fury over his family being blown apart, and Jessie is giving in because she's been a victim for so long already.

An additional point: Someone in an IMDb thread said something about the fact that Jessie had agreed to carry on serving her father and not telling anyone, as long as he promised he would never touch the baby. Obviously, since the baby had to be taken to the hospital because of this mysterious bleeding, the father didn't live up to his end of the bargain. That seems to have been what pushed the two older kids to confront him at last.


I don't really know how to make these images leave my brain. I've already seen another movie in the meantime, have been out with a friend, have conversed about fluff, and yet my ears are still ringing with the sounds from that bunker.

Have any of you seen it? Or have you seen something else that has messed you up as much as this has done to me? Am I the only one who has been driven to physical sickness from watching a damned movie?? How on earth does one go about deleting it from one's brain? Or is it there forever, because there's no such thing as being able to "unsee" something??

I'll leave you with a completely safe YouTube clip of the review Roger Ebert gave back in 1999, when it first came out. Then you can decide for yourselves if you would ever be willing to experience this film, for the sake of seeing an excellently made movie, and in spite of it being something you may never be able to wish away.

Monday, November 30, 2009

NaNoWriMo is over. Donation time begins.

The real entry is actually over at my WordPress blog, but for whatever reason, I wasn't able to embed the PayPal button - meant for accepting memorial donations for Martin Streek - over there. For the whole explanation, head on over to WordPress. If that's where you've just come from, here's the button you're looking for:

One of these days, I swear I'll update this blog properly again. For now, though, I'm just relieved that I broke 50K, won NaNoWriMo, and accomplished something long overdue. Thank you, again, to everyone who's supported me. Stay tuned - the book will remain Project #1 for me until it's in readable shape, so here's hoping I can do it justice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NaNoWriMo = Radio Silence.

I know. I've been terribly neglectful of my blog here. In truth, I've been neglectful of just about everything for the past couple of months; I was in pretty rough shape upon my return from Edinburgh, health-wise, and am as always struggling to regain some kind of equilibrium. (Sad, isn't it? I've been back since the end of August, for crying out loud.)

What's been taking most of my attention and energy at the moment, though, is something about which many of you know all too well, having survived it yourselves or, at the very least, having been part of someone's cheering section (maybe even mine): NaNoWriMo. Yes, November is National Novel Writing Month, and yes, once again I'm putting myself through the wringer. This time, though, it's different.

Remember my farewell entry to Martin Streek? I do. Vaguely. And I remember saying that, come hell or high water, I would finish the book he knew I was writing. He was, after all, the inspiration behind it. I'd started my first draft back in 2006, when it seemed like we had all the time in the world... Martin was quick to give me whatever access I needed to do "research" (and yes, it was as much fun as it sounds - and no, that wasn't meant to sound vulgar! I simply meant that "doing research" by going out clubbing isn't exactly the toughest job in the world, especially with a guy like Martin holding up the velvet ropes for me anywhere I went). He was endlessly amused at the ideas I had for his alter ego. He'd already been a fan of my writing for almost a decade before that, and I guess it was gratifying for both of us to see me try to go "legit," especially since he'd had such a significant hand in it.

Anyway. That's all very well-covered ground by now. I just wanted to post something here - for those of you who've only been peripherally aware of where the hell I've been and what on earth I'm up to - to say that yes, I'm using NaNo as the kick in the backside I so obviously need to finally give this book the life it deserves. It's been an agonizingly slow process. I know what I want to write, but each time I sit down to do so, I find myself overwhelmed by memories, emotion, and the inescapable fact that Martin will never read it. To further motivate myself, I've opted to add even more incentive: If I do, indeed, reach the goal of 50,000 words by November 30th, I'll be pledging money to a very important charity, one that seems appropriate not only because of the subject matter of the book, but because of the man who inspired me to write in the first place.

I'm way behind in my word count so far. But there's time to catch up yet. I'm not giving up, no matter how many tears I cry or how many times I hear myself saying, "You can't do it. You're not worthy of this. Quit while you're ahead." I have to ignore that voice, because there's more at stake this time than just the self-congratulatory pat on the back that will come when I hit 50K. There are people who are pledging money to the charity alongside me, matters. So I'm not quitting. I will soldier on.

If you'd like to watch my progress and give me the occasional smack upside the head when I falter, start here. If you want to show your support by becoming my "fan" on Facebook, there's a page for that, too. If you want to pledge to the charity, let me know via one of my many contact routes. And come November 30th, one way or another, I'll be back to let everyone who's supporting me know that I did it, and can only hope that, if the man behind it all were still here with us, he'd be proud.

Thank you. To everyone who's had my back so far. You know who you are.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kiwi: Three years later and I still sob!

I don't cry a lot. I mean, I'm not one of those people who often finds herself getting misty in the Hallmark aisle, or gets that lower lip trembling at Tim Horton's commercials. (Okay, yeah, maybe one or two of those cell phone ads a few years back, but...cut me some slack, here. I'm trying to make a point.) And as much as I loathe all things Seinfeld (yes! I SAID IT ALOUD! ...surely enough for another entry on its own), I must say, as far as people who tear up easily go: "Not that there's anything wrong with that..." Some of my oldest and best friends get all soppy over the strangest things. I judge not, lest I be judged on the one day someone happens across me as I'm watching "Kiwi". Because that day? That day you'll find me face down in a pile of Kleenex.

Oh, would you look at that? TODAY IS THAT DAY. Again. I'm narrowing my puffy eyes at a certain friend from elementary school who posted a link on Facebook, but how was she to know that Kiwi and I have had a troubled history that goes back several years? It's okay, Tammy. I forgive you.

A small group of you are privy to my off-site locked blog (est. 2001!), and may remember the day I posted about an animation I'd come across that had surely caused a spike in tissue stock for the quarter. It'll take some doing to find that entry, but I'll transcribe it here when I do. I vividly recall several of my friends saying they weren't able to watch "Kiwi" and had no idea why I was weeping all over my keyboard; I guess the link I'd posted had gone down from traffic before most could see what the fuss was all about. I also remember, however, that several good friends posted countless comments containing their most adorable YouTube finds to cheer me up, even without having seen the sad little video about which I was blubbering. Now, see, I really need to find that entry, 'cos you're gonna need those happy, fluffy distractions after you watch "Kiwi."

Notice I didn't say, "if you watch" it. Because you know you're gonna. And you won't feel bad about yourself afterward, since it's nothing like rubber-necking or Train Wreck Syndrome. It's a cartoon, at its base, and how can you be a bad person for watching a cartoon? No, the only reason you're gonna feel bad is because POOR KIWI AUGH.

From the maker of this short and, clearly, utterly unforgettable masterpiece: My Master's Thesis Animation, which I completed while I was at The School of Visual Arts, MFA Computer Art, in New York City. Created using Maya, After Effects, and rigged using The Setup Machine by Anzovin studios. If you would like to download there is a small version at my website: Damn. I'd have given this student his/her degree on the spot.

So shut up already! you're all saying. Let me see what has you sobbing like a three year old, when not even those brutal infomercials make you blink! Yes, yes, fine. A few words of advice, though: Don't read the comments left at the YouTube page before watching the clip. Go in blind and completely unprepared, as I was when I first saw this in 2006. I've already given you an enormous advantage by telling you that it made me cry; had I not said such a thing, you, too, would be staring at the incredibly cute little bird on your screen in mere moments and thinking, "Awwwww! This is adorable!" And then, just like mine did, your face would slowly contort into an expression that would be the offline equivalent of "WTF?!?" and then "OMG" and...well. You'll see.

All right. Secure a handkerchief. Join the club. Take the plunge. Watch "Kiwi." it over yet? Can I stop hiding my eyes?

If you're among the people who don't understand what the hell you just saw, there is, apparently, a helpful site with some sort of FAQ here: I for one had no problem absorbing its message - although "absorbing" makes it sound as though it was a slow and gentle recognition, rather than the slap across the face to which I'd rather liken it - but I've seen a lot of puzzled comments elsewhere, so if you're looking for insight, you know where to go.

I really ought to leave a note for the person who created this animation. Something that would convey how oddly and unexpectedly powerful s/he managed to make an under-three-minute-long MFA project. Because, really...I'd long forgotten about little Kiwi, three years later and having only ever watched it once; yet all I had to do was glimpse the freeze-frame on my Facebook news feed and it all came rushing back. That is the mark of something pure. Yes, it's something that made me cry, but not in the way that a commercial for the Humane Society or the Hospital For Sick Children does. It's...different. It's...just different. And it makes you think, in a very introspective way. It doesn't surprise me to see that "Kiwi" now has its own IMDb page. I haven't looked at the Discussion Boards yet, but I'm guessing, by the millions of views on YouTube, that there are a lot of people marvelling at this beautiful little wonder as much as I have.

By the by, if the original didn't quite accomplish the feat of wrenching a tear from your eye, DO YOU EVEN HAVE A SOUL??? you now have the option of having Gary Jules hurt your heart EVEN MORE at no extra cost. Just sayin'.

Quoting The Beatles is much more my style than referring back to Seinfeld, so I'll just leave you with the video, your tissues, and whatever you take from seeing that precious little bird, and will simply state: I can say no more.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

For those who've written to me about Martin Streek...

I realize it's been a while since my last post, about Martin. I've received a significant amount of email in response, asking me questions that I either cannot or will not answer (which isn't meant to sound as harsh as it does; I simply don't feel as though I'm someone who ought to comment on certain things, nor do I feel that some subjects warrant discussion). I do realize that the reason I'm still getting these notes - mainly from strangers who were fans of Mr. Streek - is that, even seven weeks after we and the rest of the world lost a good man, a lot of people are still in shock, or are trying to understand, or are simply still mourning, as many of us will do for the rest of our lives.

It's been surprising to me just how many people who never had the good fortune of meeting Martin, but who felt connected to him over the airwaves nonetheless, have sent messages my way. I hope so very much that Martin knew how far and wide his influence reached. This post is for them, the people who have said time and again on various message boards and memorial groups (like that on Facebook) that they are shocked at how big a void they feel, having lost someone they'd never even seen face to face.

Instead of relying on my own words this time, then, I thought it would be best to make available to all who've asked (and even those who haven't) a small selection of other people's touching tributes to Martin. Because he meant something different to everyone whose lives he touched, it is only right that his fans - who may not have caught some of the blog posts and such in the confusing and heart-wrenching days that followed Martin's passing - should have access to the missives posted by a few of his old friends. In so many ways, they each said it better than I ever could.

There are countless news articles and posts floating around in cyberspace about our Martin. Some contain misleading or outright incorrect information. After sifting through far too many, I always come back to the same ones, those that stand head and shoulders above the others, written by people who knew and loved the man. To see him through the eyes of friends other than myself, I highly recommend reading the following:

As mentioned in my original post about Martin, the on-air tribute by Dave Marsden is an absolute must-hear as well. And if, after all of that, you still feel the need to read an "official" news report, the only one I'd suggest is posted on the website of the Toronto Star, written by Ben Rayner.

[ photo from the tribute held for Martin at the Phoenix, July 2009 ]

If there are any blog entries, articles, tributes or other such material out there that you feel ought to be included in this list (since my blog apparently comes up at some point during Google searches of Martin's name, thus leading a number of his fans to contact me with questions that I cannot answer), or if there's something you've seen that you think I might like to read, please feel free to comment here, or to reach me via email. I'd be glad to add to the list of posts that will induce a smile while reading, whether the reader is a fan, a friend, or his family. The tears haven't stopped, but I don't think I'm alone in saying that we're a little more ready now to laugh at the great memories with which we've been left.

[ photo from the tribute held for Martin at the Phoenix, July 2009 ]

Thank you, to everyone, for the kind words and wishes. And I hope the links I've provided in this post will answer whatever questions for you that I cannot.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Martin Streek: My unlikely muse.

Since Martin's passing on July 6th, I've been very much at a loss for words...or, at least, for the right words. My first draft of this blog entry took five pages just to explain how our paths first crossed in 1997; a second draft was so disjointed and scrambled that it was clear I wasn't ready to write about him yet. Usually putting my thoughts down on paper, or onto the screen of my laptop, is cathartic...but in the days and now weeks since we lost the man that so many of us loved in so many different ways, I've been surprised again and again by just how shell-shocked I've been left with him gone. Words haven't helped. And considering the fact that it was my writing which sparked our friendship 12 years ago, I've felt even more lost without it.

[ click photo to go to Martin's site & hear the on-air tributes done for him by the lovely Dave Marsden as well as a 3-hour 102.1 The Edge special dedicated to him. Sadly, as of 2010, the site is no more. The playlist, however, can be found here. ]

The story of how Martin Streek became someone I considered a friend is an amusing one. I've ditched the first draft and will spare you the painstaking details of our rather inauspicious beginnings, but suffice it to say that, when I found myself completely blocked for a writing assignment in university, the divine idea of using Martin's larger-than-life personality as inspiration ended up getting me an 'A'. We hadn't even really met by that point, beyond saying hello at the nightclubs in which he worked and I partied, but I could have written epic novels about this man, who was armed with such charisma and energy, with only the barest of introductions. At some point, on a drunken post-party evening on my university campus, my roommate Chris dared me to stop in at UW's computer lab and email this Streek fellow, and to tell him I'd gotten a good grade by virtue of him simply existing. Chris looked up Martin's email address, and I followed through on the dare. You can imagine my surprise, in the midst of a nasty hangover the following day, when I found a response from Mr. Streek himself, insisting that he ought to read what I'd written and asking if I'd send it along to him.

I did. And that led to a lengthy back-and-forth between us via email. He even commissioned me to write more short pieces for him (I suppose my version of him was a flattering one), and eventually, as a token of his gratitude for indulging him, he'd put me permanently on his guest lists at the clubs I loved so much. I was always written down as "Heather/Hilary", a nod to the pseudonym all of my writings for him had borne. When at last we met and had a longer face to face conversation than just a casual hello or goodbye, I knew this was a guy I wanted to get to know better. I'd never met anyone like him before. That's easy enough to say, really, since I was barely 21 at that point...but now, a dozen years later, I can still say I've never met anyone like him. He was unparalleled in so many ways - he was hilarious, incredibly smart, engaging, and there was always so much to learn from him. He had a knack for providing random bits of trivia about nearly everything, from music and pop culture to literature and politics, and everything in between. He was a great debater; we had plenty of heated face-offs over the years. The bottom line: There was nothing about the man that wasn't interesting.

martinMartin & Heather, Jan. 1st/00Fatboy Slim night! Heather, Martin, Dwight & Laura celebrating at the Kool Haus.Heather\'s 23rd b-day, surrounded by friends! (Martin, Deb, Sean, Roger, \"Slam\", Jay and others)martinPhoenix Memorial

When he and my mother first met, I had no clue whether she would agree with my assessment. But within moments of my introduction, I was impressed by how respectful and genuinely fond he seemed of her. The feeling was mutual. He could relate to anyone, changing like a chameleon to fit every situation without needing to be phony. My mother, a good judge of character, was immediately charmed, and though they only met a handful of times after that first evening, she always had a soft spot for him. It didn't hurt that his admiration for his own mother, Grace, was so plain. Martin could act like a badass, a tough guy, the leader of the crazy three-ring circus made up of Toronto's nightlife and his countless admirers, but he wasn't afraid to pull back the curtain every so often and allow us to see the depth and kindness that were just as big a part of who he was.

We had occasion over the years to talk about serious stuff, too. I remember a lengthy conversation we had about a particularly tough break-up through which he was going, and I felt honoured that he trusted me enough to know that he didn't have to be "on" when I was around. He told me so many great stories about his brothers, about his parents, about his incredible experiences with famous people that most would give anything to have met... If ever I had a friend who wanted to interview him for their campus newspaper, or to photograph him for their portfolio, or to pick his brain about how to break into the radio business, he never hesitated. He was generous with his time and never once made my friends feel as though he was put out in the least. I can't think of anything I ever asked of him that he didn't do.

I could go on for pages listing examples, but two jump immediately to mind. One took place at a birthday party that one of our mutual friends was throwing for me. Despite it taking place on one of his precious nights off, he came by long enough to buy me a drink and give me a hug. I found out later that he'd gone straight to the hospital in a taxi once he left, because he'd hurt his back while skateboarding earlier that day. The guy was in enough pain to warrant medical attention, but he still didn't miss my birthday. That's the kind of man he was.

The other instance took place a few years later. I'd gone to one of his Sunday club nights to see him and visit with friends, and at some point I realized my very expensive and beloved watch had stopped working. Martin fiddled with it for a minute or two, to no avail, and then mysteriously excused himself. Twenty minutes later, he was back, looking victorious and saying he had something for me...and out of his pocket he pulled a watch made of candy. He said he and a friend had "broken into" Sugar Mountain, the candy store down the block from the club, but I never knew what really happened (or if his friend was in fact the owner of the shop). All I knew was that such a gesture was sweeter than the candy itself.

That terrible night and morning, when the reality of Martin being gone forever was beginning to sink in, I was alone. I cried harder than I can ever recall doing before, my sobs coming from a place so deep that I never even knew existed. I'd sent him a goofy note on Facebook less than 24 hours before he died. We'd waved to each other only a few weeks earlier while attending the same concert. He'd scrawled all over my Facebook wall about Peter Murphy, an artist we both love, only days before that. It just didn't seem possible that this man, who had fought his way through so many tough moments in his life and was, in my eyes, finally the best possible version of wasn't possible that he was gone. But he was. He is.

For whatever reason, as I wandered around my house at 5 a.m. in shock, I immediately thought of that candy watch. I'd never taken it out of its tiny plastic bag, and was, even in my disorienting grief, pretty sure I knew where I'd kept it. Sure enough, it was still in the pocket of the purse I'd had with me the night he gave it to me. I'd carried it with me for years; I've no idea why. But that morning, I was desperate to have a tangible piece of my history with him. A touchstone, of sorts. It has been brought out of its dark little hiding place now, and is on display in my house, where I see it every day and manage to smile.

I cried a lot for days. Still do. I cried for myself, knowing I would never again have a silly Sunday morning email exchange with him about x-rated album covers or whatever other fluffy things we'd discuss. I cried for the friends of his who were closer to him than I'd ever been, for I couldn't imagine how much more painful his loss would be for them. And I cried for his family. He loved them so much. I knew that, if they loved him just as much in return (and surely they do), they must be devastated.

In the last three years of his life, he'd given me access to whatever nightlife research I needed to do, because at long last I was going to attempt to parlay my skill (according to him, anyway) for storytelling into a bona fide novel. The central character? Yeah. You guessed it. I told Martin about his alter ego, and he was so supportive any time we talked about my slow-as-molasses progress. He even wrote some words of encouragement on the last page of the rough draft's notebook, addressing me as always by my real name as well as my nom de plume. Those scribbles will forever be one of the most precious reminders of him.

I never did get around to telling him that I planned to give the book a title meant to honour him.

This is where I ask for your help. Martin was my muse for so many years; if ever I was stuck for something to write, he somehow managed to kick me back into creative gear. Now that he's gone, I feel like it's more important than ever for me to commit myself fully to finishing this book, the one about which he'd always ask as we drank mochaccinos and caught up on each other's latest travels and travails. It will no doubt break my heart to pick up that pen again, but I want to do him proud. I want to prove that he was right, that I didn't need luck to write it, that skill would get me through. I need you, my friends, to make sure that I don't find any more excuses to drag my feet. I need to not forget what a kick Martin would've gotten out of it, had I managed to finish a proper draft while he was still here.

I will miss him always. He left a void that nothing can ever fill. But maybe - just maybe - finally finishing "Locked & Cranked" is the best tribute to him I can ever make. Please, for him, don't let me fail at the last thing I can do in his memory.

[ ETA: There are countless news articles and posts floating around in cyberspace about our Martin. Some contain misleading or outright incorrect information. After sifting through far too many, I always come back to the same ones, those that stand head and shoulders above the others, written by people who knew and loved the man. To see him through the eyes of friends other than myself, I highly recommend reading "Thoughts About Martin Streek" by Kneale Mann, "Martin Streek: This Charming Man" by Alan Cross, "Martin Streek Remembered" by Liisa Ladouceur, and "Martin Streek: RIP" by Fred Patterson. As mentioned above, the on-air tribute by Dave Marsden is an absolute must-hear as well; if anyone knows of a current, working link, please let me know so I can replace it appropriately. And if you must read one "official" news report, the only one I'd suggest is posted on the website of the Toronto Star. ]

[ **JUNE 2010:** TO DONATE TO ONE OF MARTIN'S FAVOURITE CHARITIES: Go to his legacy page at the Princess Margaret Hospital website, read the wonderful story about his longtime support, and make a donation in his name to the Ride To Conquer Cancer foundation by clicking on the link to Martin's page. To everyone who pledged during NaNoWriMo 2009 and helped us raise $1,000 for the cause, and to all who've contacted me to ask about how you can continue to keep his memory alive by giving: Thank you so very much. I made sure the donation cards reached his brother. ]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

1st Annual "Ehch Is Bored" Contest on Twitter - come play!

Mmkay. The 1st Annual (or weekly, if these antibiotics keep me laying facedown in my bed for much longer) Ehch's Boredom Contest on Twitter will begin at 8 a.m. EST on Friday, June 19th. Up to three prizes shall be awarded (if there are enough people playing along to warrant a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place finish, that is), and they will be based on the recipient's taste (i.e. if the winner is a movie buff, s/he'll get a DVD; we'll discuss it once you actually win).

NOTE (Fri. June 19 @ 9:30 a.m.):

The complete rules etc. can be read


(I removed them from this post to un-clutter things a bit - my friends' progress has already begun to be posted below!


The winner(s) will be announced by 8 p.m. EST on Saturday!

I already have several challenges in mind, so I'll set about scheduling them into HootSuite ASAP. :) Let's have a little fun with our Friday, folks!


Wanna keep track of people's progress?


8 a.m. - #1. Upload a song about "morning" and post the link here on Twitter for me to download. GO! (Bonus points if it's "Friday morning"!)

9 a.m. - #2. Be the first person to find a celebrity whose birthday is today (June 19th) AND who has a Twitter account. (There's gotta be someone!)
  • @madam_mina - 1 point for PAULA ABDUL!
  • @pweifenbach - honourable mention for being so close with the same answer.

10 a.m. - #3. Six Degrees Of Separation: Connect any of the following (by musical association) to Level 42! : The Killers, Rod Stewart, Rihanna, INXS, Eric Clapton, Kanye West, Radiohead. (It's hard, so you get choices! There must be a MUSICAL LINK - played together, etc.) FYI re: #3 - you get a point for solving the link, no matter who's fastest, so no need to rush like mad on what I knew was a tough one. ;)
  • @madam_mina - 1 point for an INCREDIBLY impressive answer (which I won't post yet while others are working on it, but BRAVO)! "Dominic Miller played with them in '79 later played with Sting - "It's Probably Me" (Feat. Eric Clapton)"
  • @pweifenbach - 1 point for ANOTHER impressive (and totally different!) answer! "Mark King and Mike Lindup performed with Eric Clapton at Prince's Trust concert in '86..."
  • @ShayneWinters - 1 point for Lethal Weaponry! "Dominic Miller played with Sting, who sang "It's Probably Me" with Eric Clapton on the Lethal Weapon 3 soundtrack."

11 a.m. - #4.Name four Grammy-winning musical artists who are Canadian. Then link me to a video on YouTube by one of those artists. GO!
  • @madam_mina - a TIE! 2 points for being the first, with Joni Mitchell, Michael Buble, James Ehnes, The Band
  • @ShayneWinters - 2 points - a TIE for answering at the same moment as @madam_mina! Joni Mitchell, Michael Buble, James Ehnes, Celine Dion
  • @pweifenbach - 1 point for Michael Buble, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morissette, and Sarah McLachlan
  • @herstorian - 1 point for Alanis Morissette, Bryan Adams, Leonard Cohen, and Celine Dion.
  • @aliciamcauley - 1 point for Joni Mitchell, Michael Buble, K.D. Lang, Diana Krall

12 p.m. - #5. It's lunch time here in Ontario! But here's a trivia question for you: How many time zones exist across Canada? (Ignore the DST thing!)

1 p.m. - #6. Scavenger Hunt! Find 5 photos featuring my 1st name (NOT handwritten; I mean street signs, billboards etc.)! Links ok here or at DW.

2 p.m. - #7. Will you be the first person to persuade a famous author to send me a get-well Tweet?

3 p.m. - #8. Find a complete stranger on Twitter, send him/her a note saying you have a crush on him/her, & link me to the tweet. Bonus for reply!
  • @pweifenbach - LOL at saying "NOT!"
  • @herstorian - she did it! (link pending - 1 point) 2 POINTS! !

4 p.m. - #9. Put all of the songs on The Beatles' "Abbey Road" in alphabetical order & tweet the first word of each to me. GO!
(I'm granting points to all due to the creativity of presentation)

5 p.m. - #10. Do you think you can bribe/talk a famous musician into sending me a get-well tweet before 8 a.m. tomorrow?

6 p.m. - #11. Name 3 actors or actresses who died on this day (June 19th).
  • @madam_mina - 1 point for
    Geraldine Brooks, Jean Arthur, Bobby Helms
  • @ShayneWinters - 1 point for Robert Shafer, Scott Merrill, and Zelda Crosby

7 p.m. - #12. Scavenger hunt! Can you find photos online of things that feature YOUR first, middle, and last name? (Each 3 can be separate pics.)

8 p.m. - #13. Tell me, in 140 characters, about your worst date ever. ("Didn't get laid" isn't quite detailed enough, FYI.)
  • @ANGRYSAM - 1 point! "In high school, first date, took girl miniature golfing, other friend swung club & slammed her in the eye. Had to go to hospital." Ouch.
  • @madam_mina - 1 point! "5 Arby's melts for $5 and he was cheap enough to be pissed that we couldn't share a soda because I drink diet and he doesn't" Creep!
  • @herstorian - 1 point! "Worst date=Awkward guy. In a comic shop we had something to talk about;afterward, he was almost silent for 2 hours. Excruciating."

9 p.m. - #14. Name 4 films that are based on conspiracy theories (and tell me which theories they cover). The Mel Gibson/Julia Roberts one = NO. :-P
  • @madam_mina - 1 point (great answers; will post 'em later so nobody steals 'em!)
  • @ShayneWinters - 1 point (though I should deduct one for your choice)
  • @herstorian - 1 point (I especially liked "there is no spoon")

10 p.m. - #15. Trivia: How many American states either begin or end with the letter 'A'?
Okay, there is some debate over this one; I'll have to verify!

11 p.m. - #16. Send me a link to the very first baby photo taken of you! (Hint: it was probably with your birth announcement...)
  • @herstorian - 1 point ( - aww!!)

12 a.m. - #17. Go to this optical illusions site - - and tell me how many you get right. (No cheating!) Highest score gets 1 pt.
Apparently I am the devil and this was a terribly misleading question; points for those who played along!

1 a.m. - #18. Write a Haiku for me about something we both love! Can it be done in 140 characters??
  • @ShayneWinters - 1 point for "Watching horror flicks. / "We're never going there." Bad / things happen in corn." (LOL!!)

2 a.m. - #19. Confess a slightly embarrassing factoid about yourself to me, something I didn't know before. (You can get back at me in one hour!)

3 a.m. - #20. Name 3 of the best guitarists EVER, then link me to a solo by each of them on YouTube. GO!

4 a.m. - #21. Only a scant few hours left to convince a famous actor/actress to send me a get-well tweet... Good luck!

5 a.m. - #22. Okay, it's officially Saturday morning. Upload a "Saturday" song and link to it for download! (hint: you can use MegaUpload/YouSendIt)

6 a.m. - #23. Find and post a picture of someone who shares both your first and last name, but is NOT you!

7 a.m. - #24. Only one away from the grand finale! Trivia: Name Canada's last 4 Prime Ministers AND the last 4 leaders of YOUR country.

8 a.m. - #25. LAST CHALLENGE! Find someone famous on Twitter, of whom I'm a fan but am not already Following, & see if you can get THEM to follow ME! You have until 7:59 p.m. EST (June 20) to accomplish that feat. The Follow only has to last long enough for me to know!

*** THANK YOU to everyone who devoted a full 24 hours to my amusement! I actually want ALL of your addresses - mail me at my username @ gmail!! ***

STAY TUNED FOR FINAL SCORES (Saturday 7:59 p.m. EST...) You have until then to answer the last few!

As of #18, here are the points:

You can still get more with the remaining challenges!


[Saturday night]
Health issues have sidelined me for a day or two; apologies for the delay, and I'll do the final tally as soon as I'm able. Thanks, guys. xoxo

Monday, June 15, 2009

Musings on Dunbar's Number: When do we "max out" on friends?

On Friday, June 13th, 2008, a 20-year-long friendship came to a sudden, though not unexpected, end. I'd thought it was one that would last a lifetime; people don't generally see each other through so many of life's obstacles, victories and rites of passage only to toss aside one's partner in crime. Precisely how something that had seemed so fireproof went up in smoke within only a matter of months is a mystery that will confound me for years to come, if I let it. It is, perhaps, energy best spent elsewhere - I'll get to that - but the fact remains that I learned a solid and valuable lesson from the experience: There is no such thing as a sure thing. Oh, and as a TV show once told me (I listen to what the television says, you know), "Trust no-one." Damn straight.

I preface my ponderings about Dunbar's Number with that bit of background mainly to exemplify one of its biggest points: Damage to our innermost social "ring" can knock you off your axis for an incalcuable amount of time, and you might surprise yourself with what measures you'll take to try to rebalance yourself. All of our "social networking" and society's sudden, strange fixation with "collecting" friends as Readers or Followers might be a direct result of us trying to fill a void - one that should be reserved for only a very few VIPs - by stuffing as many acquaintances into it as technology will allow.

"But what the hell is Dunbar's Number?" you're thinking. You don't really wanna read on if I'm going to babble and analogize and never explain the theory. I don't blame you. So here's the quick and dirty Wikipedia definition, for a start:

Dunbar's number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar's number, but a commonly cited approximation is 150.

Dunbar's number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who theorized that "this limit is a direct function of relative neocortex size, and that this in turn limits group size ... the limit imposed by neocortical processing capacity is simply on the number of individuals with whom a stable inter-personal relationship can be maintained." On the periphery, the number also includes past colleagues such as high school friends with whom a person would want to reacquaint themselves if they met again.

That is only one facet of the theory, of course, but at its basest, it shows us that we all have a limit on how many balls we can juggle, and how valuable our nearest and dearest are in the grand scheme of things.

If you're like my mother, your immediate reaction is to say, "Uh, no. My social circle doesn't come close to a hundred and fifty people." But when I started to elaborate - "Think of your Christmas card list, and all of the people who are offshoots of those people!" - my Mom had to admit that it sounded more plausible with an expanded definition. I used the analogy of our own personal universes having orbits around them, or Bohr's rings, each populated by different "levels" of people in our lives. The innermost ring, for most, would include a significant other, or one's children, siblings, or best and oldest friend. The next ring would feature other close relatives and friends who are central to one's life. The next might have longtime colleagues or in-laws. And so on. It's a highly personal thing, the organization of one's particular universe, but you get the idea. Once you start to extend it to include the other people who exist in your sphere, in whatever capacity - those you know through work, old friends you only see once a year, people you've met through your boyfriend/best friend/boss - it's not hard to imagine 150 as being a reasonable middle-ground kind of number.

I'd never heard of this theory before a few days ago - odd timing, really, since I hadn't realized that it was the anniversary of the annihilation of that aforementioned friendship upon which I stumbled across Dunbar. Of all days to be learning about the delicate balance of our social circles and the damage that can be done if an inner ring is somehow disturbed, I had a one in 365 shot that it would be that day. I hadn't even recognized it as being a day of any significance until I was reminded by someone about where I'd been a year ago that night, and things all fell into place from there. And yes, the theory is correct about just how whacked out your social connections can get when a fundamental party is obliterated by circumstance (death, divorce, drama). I'd experienced it before I knew that it had a name.

The theory goes on to explain that we, as social creatures, are in a constant state of flux - the outermost rings of people coming and going, changing in their composition or their degree of importance to us - but that it is more important than most of us realize to keep some semblance of sameness to, if nothing else, the sheer number of people we're trying to juggle. With the onslaught of new social networking media, like Twitter and Facebook, we're bombarded by (or is it "with"?) the minutiae of more and more of our most distant contacts every single day...and it's screwing with our heads. Those of us who used to have close-knit circles of only our dearest friends and family, numbering nowhere near that magic Dunbar figure, are now in constant contact with people who would otherwise be relegated to "work friends" or "old schoolmates" or people we had simply shed as part of the process of growing and moving on. That's not to say the internet hasn't been an amazing tool, helping us to reconnect with countless people with whom we'd lost touch and being able to pick up where we left off; I don't know anyone who doesn't have at least one happy "you'll never guess who found me on Facebook!" story. But there's a flipside to that element of our lives: The energy we each expend nowadays, trying to maintain all of these new or revived relationships, can be exorbitant, and I know of a startlingly high number of people who suffer from what I call Facebook Guilt. It's that feeling you get when you see how many messages have been sitting, unread, in your inbox for days, and the endless little comments or virtual gifts left for us each day - kind and thoughtful though they almost always are - that makes turning on your computer start to seem scary as hell. It's the cyber-version of drowning in paperwork. Throw Twitter into the mix, add in your 24/7 availability via text message on your cell phone, and the capability to IM anyone from anywhere...and I'm betting your number has soared well beyond 150 and into the realm of "holy HELL how do I make the BEEPING stop?!?"

It's not just me. Honest.

So Dunbar has applied the whole "apes grooming each other" thing to us humanfolk, and has postulated that we're in danger of being driven crazy by too many people in our sphere or having parts of our lives and personalities neglected if we have too few. A line from "Trainspotting" has come to mind frequently as I've pondered my own circle of friends: "It's a tightrope, Spud. A fucking tightrope." Truer words have ne'er been spoken. As our Contact Lists grow longer, our time spent cultivating the face-to-face variety of friendship grows inevitably shorter, and eventually we'll all find ourselves either loaded down with 400 expectant people or a scant few who can be bothered with us since we blew them off to catch up on our unanswered email or ignored them as we texted furiously under the table at dinner.

I didn't have to think for long before I could say with absolute certainty that the number of people in my life who deserve to be slapped with the Truly Important To Me label is laughably higher than 150. I say that not to boast nor to complain, but rather to marvel. I didn't do an actual headcount, but I didn't need to. A quick scan of the people who can read my locked blog + the number of contacts on MSN + the list of cell numbers stored in my phone + the friends and family on Facebook = a metric crapload. (I mean that in a good way.) The majority of those people are ones I've known either long or well (or both) and would never want to "lose" in a Dunbar shuffle. I think that puts me in the realm of Critical Mass. And one might make a good argument that spending so much time tending to so many, and wanting to keep up on the details of that many lives, has (and still could) cost me some of the relationships I've had since before I became @prettyh. Would I change it? Nope. Do I recognize the insanity of somehow really knowing such a high volume of people, and the effort it requires to be an active participant in their lives? YES. And since most of them (you might be one of Them, if you're reading this) are in the same boat, I think it's safe to say that they realize it, too. Thank goodness for that; I'm lucky to have a mightily forgiving lot of inhabitants in my life, all of whom know that the expected turnaround date for an email response or a phone call or a ReTweet or a night at the movies has grown exponentially longer because our social circles have exploded.

(Anyone who knows me at all just laughed aloud at the idea of me voluntarily making a phone call. It was just an example.)

It wasn't my ever-expanding clan that rendered my decades-old friendship extinct; the death of that relationship was inevitable, with or without 'net access. But I've seen it happen to other people, trading precious RL moments for a chance to bask in the adulation scrolling across their computer screen. I suppose the whole point of this blather is to say that we've lost sight of our Number and why it should matter to us. We expect ridiculous things of ourselves as we try to mete out the appropriate amount of time and attention to each and every member of our worlds and, without proper perspective, we're constantly in danger of denting our Inner Rings by letting the weight of the Outer ones crush toward the centre. Which is us. We are at the middle of our own universe by its very design; people are in our orbit. And we are in theirs. And we're no good to anyone if we're spread too thin, spending countless hours ignoring the relationships in front of us in favour of sending mass forwards to our 6,342 "closest friends." A tightrope, indeed.

Does it shoot all of my credibility to hell if I confess that I Twittered about this very subject only days ago? Ahem.

Take a good, hard look at your Number. Count your rings. Ask yourself if they're prioritized correctly. If the answer is no, it's time to back away from the mesmerizing pull of seeing lives in 140 characters. If the answer is yes...well, then, you're probably a lot further ahead of the rest of your pack. And Dunbar would be proud of you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NIN/JA, fickle fans, expletives and videos: My farewell to one of my favourite bands.

I was in the process of trying to find the exact set list for the NIN/JA show that took place on June 5th in New Jersey...and I'm coming across an awful lot of...well, frankly, bullshit.

Read the comments to this Rolling Stone article as a primer. Hell, just read the article itself. What the...?

I found out from a friend maybe three days ahead of time that NIN would be performing before Jane's Addiction. (If I'd had half a brain I'd have seen the huge notice on the NIN website.) I said, "Wha...?" and then got over it. Because despite not even owning any of JA's albums, I loved the '90s alt scene, and I don't care in what order they play; seeing NIN and JA share a stage is like a rock-gasm for people who were heavy into the club circuit throughout the last decade. Having Tom Morello tossed in for good measure was simply a cherry on top of it all.

I consider myself a pretty good critic as far as concerts go. Lord knows I've seen enough of them to be called, if not an expert, at least thoroughly informed on the subject. I've seen NIN five times (or is it 6...? Yes, it's six! HOLY CRAP), so I have a basis for comparison. And I would say that the NIN/JA show was easily the second best I have ever experienced. (The absolute best was on the summer leg of the With Teeth tour in '06 - it cannot be beat. Not only did Bauhaus open for them, but the electricity in the crowd, the gorgeous summer night by the lake - same venue as the one they played the other night - and the amazing set list and brand new light show were just unbeatable.)

Having said that, one could argue that it's because I've gotten to see them so many times that I can feel as fulfilled and as happy with whatever Trent wants to throw at us as I am. I do wonder how I'd have felt if the NIN/JA experience had been my first (and, as it appears more and more each day, the LAST). But on the other hand, I know NIN's catalogue backwards and front, sideways and then some, and I didn't learn it from seeing them live; I already owned it all going in. I'd be hard pressed to come up with a set list that would disappoint me, because I love stuff from every Halo that has been put out.

Trent made it very public that there would be no flashy light show this time, and that they wouldn't be playing Closer and all of the other mainstream pseudo-fan favourites. They just played those in November! (And, okay, AGAIN, I will grant that Toronto is insanely lucky because we've almost always gotten to see NIN both at the start and at the end of a tour, so we get two different shows with different set lists etc., while other cities get passed over completely. I saw one Fragile show, two on the With Teeth tour, two for Year Zero, and then the NIN/JA set. All in my own city. That's lucky. I do get that.) The point is that Trent made it abundantly clear that this was the Wave Goodbye tour, and it was for the die-hards, not the poseurs. Silly little blonde sluts who like to bump and grind to Closer at their local sleazy dance club were not the target audience.

(My clip, which sadly did not go far enough to let everyone hear me screaming, "IT WON'T GIVE UP IT WANTS ME DEAD GODDAMN THIS NOISE INSIDE MY HEAD"...because I wanted to dance, not film. Sorry 'bout that. I do know there's complete video of it elsewhere on YouTube, though!)

So instead of the same old regurgitated set list for the umpteenth time, Trent opted to give the fans something else. Something about which, at least at the Toronto show, people in the audience were SO pumped. Nearly every song they played, you would hear thousands of people exclaiming things like, "Holy shit!! I never thought I'd hear this live!!" I was one of those people. I had to apologize to Ian, my intrepid partner in concert-crime, who is a relative NIN novice, because I'd sent him a bunch of MP3s to prep him for what he was likely to hear...and I think only ONE out of the 30+ tracks I'd given him ended up being played. But he was pretty amused to see me jumping up and down - literally - because we were getting to hear Heresy instead of Closer, and I'm Afraid Of Americans instead of Only. (You really must check out this awesome footage of IAOA from our show.) And despite only even recognizing two of the songs at all, and never getting to see the mind-blowing light shows that had marked the previous Lights In The Sky tours, and being younger than me (just shy of 24) and therefore never being exposed to NIN as part of his nightlife, he enjoyed it. I don't think you could help but enjoy it; there was just an energy in the crowd that was infectious, and everyone was simply there to have a great time. And I think everyone did - certainly everyone around ME, and the reports from other friends at the show were the same. [ ETA: Browsing the NIN.Com boards, I see that the West Palm Beach thread is mostly negativity, whereas nearly everything said about our Toronto show was over-the-top positive. In the WPB thread, there is - seriously!! - a guy who says they were "entitled" to an encore. A contradiction in terms, to be sure, Einstein. ] It was a nice way to say goodbye to the longtime fans, and clearly it was enjoyable for some of the newcomers as well.

I'll have to ask my friend EmCee to weigh in on this, too, because we were at the same show and she was in the section ahead of me, so she might be able to lend more insight into the vibe. But from everything I witnessed, people were having a blast, even while the sun was still up! (NIN in daylight is, truly, a weird experience.)

[ETA: EmCee's response to all of this: Yeah, I was at that show and people were totally into it from my POV.

Hell, I know I loved it. I've never gotten to see NIN before and I am absolutely in no way disappointed with this being what is most likely the only one I'll ever see. IMHO, it was tight.

Those tickets are pretty. Shame mine says [my brother's name instead of mine]. Oh well. Still look all shiny. Nicest looking ticket I've got on my board.

Anyone who bitches and moans and acts all entitled can go DIAF.

Well said, my friend. ]

Back to the über-bitching that's spreading across the 'net, then.

(It's really not so bad, you know, once you get past the taste...)

what a fuckn letdown man. if theyre really gone now an that was what we were left with than FUCKYOU NIN.

I'm reading comments like these, and just shaking my head. Everyone's entitled to their (grammatically flawed) opinion, and of course there will be shows that are better than others, but come ON.

Went to the Austin show and it was awful. NIN was lackluster and sounded weak. Audience was not into the music. Trent recently tweeted about it: “Not one of our better shows. Despite our efforts we seemed unable to win over the crowd. Texas ends with a whisper.” about 4 hours ago from Tweetie -
Trent should buckle down and focus on the tour and not his cheapo girlfriend.

And then this:

There were a lot of very pissed off people at the West Palm show… NIN opened for Jane’s, but nobody knew that was going to happen. I guess my fault for showing up a little late, got there around 7:45 and NIN was already on stage. Then they didn’t even come out for an encore. The stage looked like they were going to come back out for a bit and then all of a sudden the lights came on and they started setting up the stage for Jane’s. Heard a lot of booing… Lots of pissed off people…


Now, see, here's the thing. A lot has to happen to make a concert orgasmic. There has to be a certain synergy between band and audience. Sometimes it happens organically; sometimes it has to be pushed a bit before things start rolling; sometimes there's a misfire and the connection just doesn't take. Keeping NIN as the sole example (just because it could get messy if I start comparing good vs bad shows when I'm talking about totally different bands/crowds/expectations etc.), I can say that I was underwhelmed at the winter show of the With Teeth tour. Part of it was probably because the one I'd seen in July, only a few months previous, was The Best Show Ever. But there were other elements, too - the electricity wasn't the same. The set list wasn't as good. Hell, our seats were crap. But not in a million years would I go and post something like those comments above just because things weren't firing on all cylinders.

I like this response, given by another Rolling Stone reader:

Hey Austin...How can you be mad at the band. They feed off the energy of the crowd. You got no feeling….you fail.

This is SO TRUE. Sometimes there'll be a crowd who come in with this indignant attitude right off the bat, thinking about what they paid for their ticket and having a specific set list in mind, and it's as though they've set themselves up to be disappointed. I've been to other shows like that, with other bands; you can feel it before the show even starts. Instead of there being a buzz in the crowd as everyone comes together in anticipation of what they're gonna see when the curtain comes up and the lights go down, there's an expectation. As though the band is a bunch of trained circus dogs who are expected to perform a certain set of tricks, and one false move totally kills the moment. The band is up there, working their asses off, and the crowd is barely moving. Because OH NOES THEY DIDN'T PLAY MY FAVOURITE SONG!!

To which I say, "If you want to hear your favourite songs in the 'right' order in the 'right' way, STAY THE FUCK HOME and LISTEN TO YOUR iPOD."

For the record, NIN has only ever played my "must-hear" songs once each. I wait with bated breath every single show, hoping to hear the first notes of Ringfinger and The Wretched. Only once, ever, did that happen. And y'know what? THE SHOWS WERE STILL AWESOME.

And god forbid if the band acknowledges a night when the crowd wasn't feelin' it. Because then you incite remarks like this:

Did you see Trent Reznor whining about the Austin show on Twitter? Really, is he surprised? IT SUCKED! HE SOUNDED LIKE SHIT. He needs to grow up and stop being a ass. He’s “sad” that the crowd wasn’t into it, well if he had put together a tighter show, we would have been into it.

Now, okay, I wasn't at the Austin show. I can say nothing with any authority about how good or bad it was. And I've seen Trent whine (OY OY OY), and I've rolled my eyes at it too. But the remark he made about that one concert wasn't whiny. And when fans take something like that and twist it around, why on earth do they expect their supposed favourite band to work nearly as hard next time?? If they can do no right, why bother?

I'm trying to find a comment that was made about how Trent "didn't interact at all with the audience" and that was a bad thing. I'll post it here if I can find it. But y'know what? TRENT DOESN'T TALK TO THE AUDIENCE. With the exception of ONE of the six shows I've seen - during which he actually dragged a stool to the front of the stage and sat on it to explain why he likes bringing NIN to Toronto more often than anywhere else, and what makes these shows stand out to him (it was quite a surprise to the whole crowd; fifteen thousand people fell instantly silent to hear what he had to say, and it was really very touching and kind of surreal) - he has always kept it to "thank you" and "good night" and that is IT. What the hell kind of NIN fan are you if you're expecting him to, like, get everyone singing Head Like A Hole in the round???

(The idea of that just made me LOL.)

Maybe it's just that the stereotypical NIN fan is all angsty and only happy when they're pissed off, or something. Get a load of this:

There was a BIG problem for those of us that bought Atlanta pre-sale tickets. This was COMPLETELY screwed up, they didn’t have the tickets ready at all! There were literally hundreds of people waiting in line to get their tickets. Once you got to the window (which took over an hour), you had to give them your name, and then someone had to run out and find them somewhere and bring them to the window. It was a total fiasco. I got there just before 7pm, and we didn’t get our tickets until almost 8:15pm. We missed Streetsweeper and half of the NIN set. And we were actually lucky because we were at the front of the line. I feel bad for all those behind us that were waiting. I WILL NEVER GO TO ANOTHER NIN CONCERT. That’s what you get for being greedy old man Reznor.


This is NIN's fault how, exactly...? Sounds to me like the venue is shit. 'Cos we got NIN.Com presale tickets, and we were treated like royalty. No lines anywhere, a separate entrance, better seats (without the insane "convenience fees" from TicketBastard on them, no less)... Hell, even the tickets themselves are pretty! (I still have to take a photo of mine. ETA: Okay...that was harder than I thought.)

It is a hell of a lot harder to photograph a shiny ticket in bad light than I expected it to be. Further attempts to show the shiny prettiness of my ticket did not turn out terribly well. But you get the point. Probably. It's SHINY and it has my name on it and it's purple and silver and stuff. Photos don't do it justice.

Anyway, I guess my point is that this is turning out to be one of the more controversial and talked-about tours that I've ever seen, and I'm genuinely shocked at how much of the talk is negative. I've done my fair share of bitching about certain concerts (is there a soul alive who hasn't heard my kvetching about the 2005 U2 gig where Bono lectured us all to call our PM - he even had the phone number up on all of the big-screens for us! HOW THOUGHTFUL - to get Canada to "drop the debt", and then told us how we could have better spent the $200 it cost each of us to see the fucking show???!?). Some concerts deserve to be bitched about. And as I've said, it is ALL a matter of opinion, and every show will strike something different in every member of the audience. But from where I was sitting (literally and figuratively), my assessment was that Trent Reznor went the extra mile to give his actual fans a proper farewell - from playing rare and thrilling stuff, to controlling the ticket prices (honestly, $75 to see three of the biggest music icons of my generation?!? WOW) and offering better seats/easier access/nicer treatment to the .Com crowd, to making sure that everyone was allowed to bring whatever cameras they wanted to bring without getting hassled by security - and for all of his efforts, he's gotten more shitty feedback than any of the truly awful bands or shows I've ever seen.

I don't blame him for waving goodbye. If my "fans" were as greedy and thankless as the most vocal ones I've seen thus far, I'd have quit long before Trent did.