Archive for July, 2011

Video Book Review: Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain

Posted in Geeks/Nerds, Science/Technology, Uncategorized, Video Book Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 26, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

I’m a brainy chick these days.  Well, I’m reading a lot of brainy books lately.  Books about the brain and neuroscience.  And books about Buddism and the Dalai Lama, who’s as into brainy stuff as much as I am.

So imagine my excitement when I was in a secondhand bookstore and I found this book by Sharon Begley on how to rewire and change your brain to do almost anything.  So here’s my next video book review, hope you don’t mind!  (Ar ar!)

Well pardon me, I’ve got a hot date tonight ;)

Hot In The City Tonight

Posted in Canada with tags , , , , on July 21, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

The problem with being me is I’m forever giving myself shit.  I mean, I can be relentless with me.  Y’know Howard’s mother on The Big Bang Theory?  It’s kinda like that, except without the just-on-the-edge-of-lung-cancer-gravelly-New-Jersey-Jewish-mother voice.

So just as I’m getting ready to leave the office today, I start in on me.

“Chardenet, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” sez this humorless voice coming from, well, like, me.

“Uh, putting on my walking shoes…”

“You don’t REALLY think you’re going out walking in THIS heat, do you?  Don’t you know it’s 37C in the city?  That’s almost 100 in Yankee degrees!”

“Yeah, well, so what, I brought my water bottle…”

“Chardenet, are you brain-dead?  There’s a Weather Warning in effect for the Greater Toronto Area at Environment Canada and they’re not talking about that piddly-ass rainstorm they’re forecasting for Saturday either!”

“Oh, what, like I’m gonna let a little hot weather stop me from doing my half-hour walk to the subway station?  Please.  Pshaw!!!  I was born in Florida, remember?  When I was ten I used to play Hide & Seek and Smear The Queer and Torture Baby Brother with temperatures waaaay higher than this and air so humid you could drown just by respirating–”

“Ten???  Jeebus, Chardenet, have you looked in the mirror lately?!?!  You’re not exactly ten anymore.  Cripes, it’s been how many years, at least thir–”

“SHUT UP!!!”

“Okay.  Humor me here.  Let’s sit back and analyze this thing here.  You haven’t lived in a tropical climate since the days before colour TV–”

“We had colour TV when I was ten!  I’m not THAT old!”

“Okay, whatever, Nixon was still in office and you only had three TV channels to choose from, Dinochickasaurus.  Anyway, you were young and healthy and you didn’t live in a major metropolitan area where the air wasn’t sealed off by a dense blanket of smog–”

“That’s not smog, that’s pot smoke.  Canadians are total stoners.”

“–Nor were you carrying a backpack, a purse, and a giant water bottle filled with cold water pinched from the company water cooler.  And might I remind you, in case you’ve forgotten, you are not ten years old anymore, you will probably die of heat stroke and heat exhaustion and lung cancer caused by the pollution and secondhand pot smoke and maybe even ebola and tstetse fly disease and a whole bunch of other stuff and if you keel over and burn your face on the sidewalk and die, don’t you dare come running to me!!!”

Gods, I am such a worrywart sometimes.  I don’t know how I can stand me.  I did do the full walk to Dufferin station.  I just thought of the Spartans, those paragons of stiff-upper-lippy masochistic punishment-inflicting pederast pain-meisters who’d probably step outside on a day like this and go, “Damn, the temperature feels like it’s barely 40!  I’m freezing my ass off!  Periaclodesapopoulos, hand me my heavy woollen coat and my tuque, will you?”

“You might not be so lucky next time you try to pull a stunt like that on a day like this, Chardenet.”

“Chardenet, I already have a mother.  Don’t panic.  We got home okay, without passing out, although granted the subway car was like a sauna.  But just think, we got for free what people in Yorkville pay big bucks for at expensive spas!  And have you ever noticed that people in Canada who are from the warmest climates are the ones who bitch the most about hot weather?  Like my friend Libby, who comes from the Skin Cancer Capital of the World, Australia.  She’s always going on about how hot it is.  God, don’t they just like hang out under kangaroos or something when it gets too hot?  Or get piss-eyed drunk quaffing beer and boffing Matilda under the billabong tree.  And then there was my old boss in Connecticut who was from India, no one complained louder than he did when it was acting all August-y outside–”

“You are such a freakin’–”

“Hey me, you want to go take a nice cold shower?”

“Good gods, I thought you’d never ask!!!”

Polaris 25: Where the geeks don’t want no freaks!

Posted in Geeks/Nerds, Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

Buy my book or I'll burn these flags!

Where was I for the past week instead of blogging here?  Well I’d like to say on the run from George Clooney after he caught me in the full monty with Matthew McConnaughey, but the truth is almost as titillating – I was at the geeky Polaris Sci-Fi Convention here in Toronto in my goofy pseudo-medieval garb flogging my fantasy/science fiction novel Young Republican, Yuppie Princess and spreading over-the-top American nationalism and the horror of the 80s.

The show, which for most of its twenty-five year existence was known as Toronto Trek for, guess which fans, went much, much better for me than the convention at which I exhibited in April, mostly because I sold absolutely nothing at that first show second day and because attendance was really poor, some brainiac having scheduled it opposite Comic Con the same weekend in another part of town and Comic Con was doing a Fan Appreciation Thing where everyone got in for free.

"We're hot. You're not."

Which didn’t, in my estimation, leave any excuse for hordes of literary-hungry geeky Torontonians to not descend upon our motel, willingly fork over the large entrance fee, and all just to buy my magnum opus.  The nerve!!!

But, I went to Polaris which was not scheduled in opposition to anything good, unless you count the myriad downtown Toronto festivals which shut down most of the roads this weekend, and I doubt that was much competition as the temperatures have been in the thirties and our motel was air-conditioned.  Anyway, I told myself maybe I would sell more books there, because the world needs more fantasy/science fiction with goofy ’80s crap and  even if I didn’t, I would just interact with my fellow nerds lots more and let them get to know me.  And don’t you know, it worked on all counts!  I sold more books and interacted with a lot of nerds and began to realize that my real talent (apart from writing books about annoying college students set in an annoying decade mostly known for its overpriced drugs and outrageous fashion) is performing and being a wiseass.

Yeah yeah yeah, I know, big news flash, alert the media ;)

"I *AM* smiling!!!"

Dressing like a pseudo-medieval 80′s princess with varied belly dancing headpieces and belts seems to attract more attention than, say, yet another dude dressed as a Klingon.  And inviting conversation by saying things like, “Admit it, you were totally into Duran Duran!” or “Show me your best breakdancing moves!” worked way better than what I’d done at the last con, which was to stand around and look really really mortified because no one was buying my book.

Okay, the Reagan-Bush campaign button at the centre of my bodice also raised a few eyebrows, until I explained that it played a pivotal role in the book and that I was not, in fact, a screaming Republican (although they tell me that actor Adam Baldwin, who was one of the guest stars appearing on Saturday to sign autographs, is.  No, he did not stop by to buy my book.  I’m so disappointed.  Think I should mail him a copy in case he forgot???)

I developed a lot more enthusiasm for doing  more shows which was a way different attitude than I had while driving to Polaris on the first day thinking, “Fark, there are two more shows I have to get through after this.  Why am I doing this?  I hate these shows!”  Which is a pretty snap judgment to make considering I’d only done one so far.  But by the third and final morning of driving to the motel, I had the 80s station cranked up on Sirius (Goddess I love rental cars!!!  I’d be too cheap to get satellite radio if I actually still owned a car) and my mind was brimming over with ideas for what to do to refresh my booth for my next show, the über-convention Fan Expo next month.  Hint: Horrifying ’80s crap.  Don’t ask.)

I had fun.  I met some new people.  I got some good advice from an established author who says if you pass out a lot of promotional material and have actual conversations with people they may well come back later and buy your book (‘later’ being defined as some day, but in my case, some came back before the show was over and bought.)  I got to sit on several different discussion panels and the best was one on The Big Bang Theory TV show (where I got to do what I do best, which is, of course, being the aforementioned wiseass.)

I wasn’t at all looking forward to Polaris, but now I can’t wait for Fan Expo, which is gonna make Polaris look like a small town in the middle of the Saskatchewan prairie.  Sixty-five thousand eyeballs passed through last year…

(And no, I didn’t catch who was short an eyeball, before you ask.)     ;)

Video Book Review: Understanding Men’s Passages by Gail Sheehy

Posted in Pop Culture, Video Book Reviews on July 9, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

Since I read so much, I wondered, why am I not doing book reviews on my blog?  Or better yet, video book reviews?  Funny video book reviews?  Apart from the fact that I’m usually too busy stalking people I went to kindergarten with on Facebook and chasing the flying poop monsters o’ doom off my balcony?

Since I’m too lazy to write out a book review, I decided to video them instead.  Beginning with Gail Sheehy’s excellent analysis of the changes men go through as they age, Understanding Men’s Passages.

Hopefully you’ll find it funny.  There’s humor in almost everything, isn’t there?

 

Homeland Security: Keeping America safe retroactively since 2002!

Posted in Politics/Current Events with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

Okay, even though I’ve only been at the new job for three days now I’m afraid I’m going to have to quit, because I have a new calling. I need to go work for Homeland Security because I’m soooo much smarter than they are. Actually, so are my cat and my coffee table, but the job falls to me because I’m the only one who can communicate a message other than “Please clean my litter box before my deposits morph into a horribly intelligent life form and terrorize Toronto,” and “Please remove all your stupid bills from my top, and maybe even pay a few before the Internet is cut off.”

The brilliant sparkies in the government have discovered a whole new possible threat from Al-Qaeda – explosives implanted inside of human bodies! (And preferably, from what I read in USA Today, with overweight terrorists.)

Great gods, am I the only person alive who can remember the 1970s?!?!

When Richard Reid tried to blow up a plane with explosives in his shoes, what was Homeland Security’s response to this? To make Americans remove their shoes before getting on a plane, because OMG, terrorists could blow up a plane with explosives-laden Dockers. Did they not consider, as I did one Christmas Eve at Toronto’s Pearson Airport as I waited to board the plane, “Maybe it would be easier to blow up a plane by stashing the bomb in your bra or underwear.” Because who, after all, would submit to that sort of thing to ensure airline safety? Maybe Homeland Security just didn’t want the hassle of explaining to Americans that Homeland Security was not, in fact, a collection of perverts seeking to body-search everyone in an effort to prevent future terrorist attacks when no terrorists had, in fact, attempted to blow up a plane with their BVDs. Although it would have made absolutely perfect sense and I for one would not have complained because risk management is all about thinking about what could happen and striving to prevent it.

No, we had to wait until some dipshit from Nigeria tried to blow up a plane with his Calvin Kleins to jump on that particular clue plane.

And so I thought, not because I have the mind of a terrorist but because I have the mind of a novelist, or just because I have a memory span longer than that of a gnat, that maybe terrorists could swallow bags of explosives or stick them up various orifices and then detonate them with a cell phone. Because, you know, that’s exactly what drug smugglers did with bags of heroin in the 1970s. Well, they didn’t try to blow them up, and they certainly didn’t have cell phones.  But you get my point.

Well, at least the drug lords managed to come up with this before anyone actually tried it. On the other hand, Homeland Security appears to be completely unaware of this idea before intercepting enemy intelligence.

So, kids, I’m off to Washington to save us from ourselves. I’m doing it for my country.

You’re welcome.

Eeeek! Gay people!!! Run away, run away!!!

Posted in Canada, Politics/Current Events, Pop Culture, Sexy Stuff on July 2, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

Tomorrow is the always-entertaining Gay Pride Parade, one of the biggest and flashiest in all the world, and we Torontonians are pretty damned proud of that, thankyouverymuch.  We’re diverse and multicultural and we really don’t care if it upsets the homophobes.  Of which the first and foremost may be our own Mayor Rob Ford, self-described “300 pounds of fun” who hied his and his family’s arses to cottage country this weekend because, “Erm, my family comes first.”  Never mind that he couldn’t make a single one of an entire week of Pride events, so there goes that theory.  I don’t call him Mayor Edsel for nuthin’.  He’s been a gigantic failure almost from the get-go.  Just the other day he turned down the offer of two free nurses from the province, demonstrating once again that Conservative politicians (and small-c conservative politicians, as demonstrated consistently in the US) can’t do math.  Mayor Edsel was elected on a promise to ‘stop the gravy train’ at City Hall, making ‘gravy train’ the biggest meme in the city since last year’s G20 debacle did the same for “police brutality.”  Apparently ‘gravy train’ isn’t just defined by mismanagement of taxpayers’ dollars, but it also means ‘benefits to the city that don’t cost us anything.’

But pardon me, I digress.  Like absolutely everyone urged him to go to the Pride Parade to prove he wasn’t a homophobe but the Mayor refused.  I don’t know if there will be a last-minute appearance, even his usually equally-idiot brother Doug Ford, a city councillor who recently urged a poor person at a town hall meeting to ‘get a job’, told him he needed to do it.  Granted, the Mayor may not be homophobic so much as chicken-hearted – he sent one of his lackeys to address the crowd on his behalf at the ceremonial Pride flag raising and she was heckled.  Probably he’s afraid the same will be done to him if he appears in the Parade, and even worse, what if some dude tries to stick his tongue down his throat?!?!

I imagine homophobes will be exiting the city in droves, rather than deal with the glittery, disco-ey, incandescently flamboyant display of boy-on-boy concupiscence that is Toronto’s Pride and joy.  Oh sure, Pride week is about more than just the right for guys to get married and live unhappily forever after just like straight people, but seriously, that’s what homophobes get all het up about, not chicks-on-chicks (OH PLEASE!!!).  And bisexual chicks?  Totally hot as far as your average straight man is concerned, and a fantasy they hope to find under the tree at Christmas.  Maybe they’re not so keen on the drag queen/transvestite/transsexual thing, but really, it’s uniquely the idea of two boys – two guys – two big strong strapping manly men with bulging muscles and dressed all in leather getting down on the couch and – OMG LET ME RUN FOR THE BORDER JUST AS FAST AS I CAN SO I CAN GO TO A NICE SAFE FOREIGN STATE LIKE ARKANSAS OR WYOMING WHERE THEY KILL THOSE PEOPLE FOR DOING @#$% LIKE THAT…!!!

Lesbians. Getting men off since the dawn of time.

(But not chicks.  Chicks on chicks is totally hot!  They just want you to remember that.  But not the sort of chicks you see marching in the Dyke Parade.  This fantasy always means really hot gorgeous thin actresses well-paid to do all that stuff in extremely entertaining pr0n flicks.)

I really don’t get homophobia.  It definitely seems to be more of a guy thing, probably related to misogyny because so many of these guys who get hysterics at the idea of two guys getting it on together also seem to have serious issues with women.  Although some of them at least may simply not know how to live in a world without clear gender divisions.  Not sure why, because I fail to see how what others do with each other involves you in any way.  I mean, even if you’re propositioned by a gay person, who cares?  Just tell them you don’t play for Team Rainbow.  They’ve made a mistake with you, rather like when you’re a tourist in a foreign country and you stop someone to ask for directions and oops, they’re tourists too and have no idea how you get to the London Bridge or the World’s Biggest Ball of Belly Button Lint or whatever.

So tomorrow I’m going with my friend Barry who’s one of the least -ist people I know – he totally gets how ALL racism is wrong (even when non-white people do it), ALL sexism is wrong (even when practiced by women), and how ALL discrimination and bigotry is wrong, even though he doesn’t really want to think about two dudes getting it on either.  Barry’s enough of a man to know that real men do whatever the hell they want, including attending the Pride Parade, without having to worry that they’re gay.  Or that someone might see them and wonder if they’re gay.

Fly the Rainbow Flag proudly, my Toronto brothers and sisters!!!

It’s Canada Day! Let’s celebrate for some historical reason

Posted in Canada, Politics/Current Events, Pop Culture with tags , , , , , , , on July 1, 2011 by Nicole Chardenet

Today is Canada Day (or Fête de Mangez Nos Brefs, Canada as they call it in Quebec), which for the Canadian-history-challenged (and by this I mean my fellow Canadians as well as everyone else), commemorates the day when Canada blew off British rule with the British North America Act in 1867.

It was a lot more bloodless than the American separation, because it mostly involved a lot of long boring meetings, gratuitous rubber-stamping and paper-shuffling and tedious debates about when to establish the ‘birthday’ as a statutory holiday, made all the longer by Quebec’s insistence that everything said must also be said in French.

What it mostly means for Canadians is engaging in an annual reflection of what it means to be a Canadian, and the reason why they engage in this ritual every year is because no one really knows.  Canada is one of the most multicultural countries on the planet, which explains why, if you ask what the national dish is, everyone kind of looks around nervously and says, “I don’t know, eh?  What do you think?  Tikka masala?  Pad thai noodles?  Shawarma?  Souvlaki?”

And then someone usually says, “Fish ‘n’ chips, eh?  Or maybe bangers ‘n’ mash,” and everyone kind of makes a face and bobbles their head in semi-agreement, because, despite being an independent country and all, we’ve still got ties with England who, let’s face it, will always be a little bit cooler than us, because they’ve got a colourful past and beautiful monarchs-to-be (finally!) and a really cute accent and no one ever pays attention to Canadians when British hats are in the room.

Hosers. We got hosers. We *invented* hosers.

And then someone else says, “Hey, what about poutine, eh?” and everyone else kind of bobbles their head again and grumbles a bit, because it’s almost always a Quebecois who mentions it, and they’re the ones who invented this cardiovascular reign of terror.  And finally someone says, “We’ve got good beer!” and everyone else nods enthusiastically because yeah, Canadian beer is really good and way better than that crap they drink in the U.S.  Canadians may forever play second fiddle to their southern neighbour but they can always comfort themselves that they have way better beer, along with far more affordable healthcare.

So, like there’s this big ongoing identity crisis whereby Canadians try to define themselves in ways that don’t necessarily involve the flag, lumberjacks or hockey.

Pay attention: Why we don't suck!

The Toronto Star ran some good op-ed pieces on Canada.  In The India of the New World, Rick Salutin makes a case for the historical precedent of multiculturalism Canada sets.  (Yeah yeah yeah they slaughtered the Natives and treated them badly too, just like down south.  But Canadians are at least decent enough to feel really, really guilty about it.)  Then in A Nation Able to Overcome Its Challenges, Carol Goar celebrates Canada as a ‘mature democracy’ and bullet-points some of the progress Canada has made and is still making, good news in an ocean of news about how crappy the global economy is, how Greece is going to destroy us all, and wondering how Canada’s going to fare when another recession hits again (thanks once again to a completely unregulated or unpunished Wall Street).  And in Tell – And Teach – Canada’s Stories, Michael Levine – in an article I’d like to plaster on the eyeballs of every native-born Canadian – urges the country to explore Canadian literature more as well as Canada’s history.

I’m an American living here for six years now – six of the most stress-free years I’ve ever known in my entire life, Canada, and believe me, it’s heartfelt when I say THANK YOU VERY MUCH! – and I can’t count how many Canadians have told me, “I know more about American history and politics than I do about our own.”  Part of the reason, it seems, is that, at least in the past. Canadian schoolchildren learned about American history rather than Canadian history, and no one can tell me why.  Can Americans imagine their children being brought up on Mexican history, or Canadian history?  I don’t know why this is.  Maybe it’s just a really successful long-term program of exporting American culture and values.  After all, everyone else around the world now thinks that Greed Is Good and Labour Unions Are Bad and that the best way to stimulate an economy brought to its knees by irresponsible rich people is by cutting services to the poor, exporting middle-class jobs to cheaper Third World countries, and bailing out bankers so they need not suffer the torment of not being able to buy that extra jumbo jet or give up that winter escape in Dubai after leading us to the Great Big Global Financial Fuck-Up of 2008.  (Which I watched, surreally, from the sidelines in a country that came out of the crisis better than most other countries thinking to myself, ‘Good Goddess, I really dodged a bullet when I moved here!”)

Folks, (and by this I mean my fellow Canadians as well as everyone else), do not short-change Canada.  I don’t mean to denigrate my home base, but I sometimes wonder just how much in the crapper my life would be if I hadn’t moved to Canada when I did.  Long-term, I see the US as a nation in decline – I mean this quite seriously – and one that won’t likely rebound to what it was like when I was growing up lo these many years ago.  So when folks ask me if I’ll ever move back, I say, “Never say never, but I just don’t see it ever happening, today.”

Canada doesn’t get much respect and it’s still the grown-up of the world, patiently reminding everyone else that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than by mindless violence, that you can in fact live in a country with gay people who get married and God will not in fact strike it down with a lightning bolt from Heaven, and that sorry, Americans, but if you continue listening to Fox News your children will die of stupid preventable diseases and conditions that only otherwise exist in the Third World because you can’t afford a Band-Aid, much less a doctor, while Canadians eventually get many of the operations and help they need, even if we have to wait a ridiculously long time to get it.  What difference does it make if you can get that procedure now in the US if you can’t, in fact, afford it?

Canada’s reputation has taken some well-deserved hits in recent years with our meddling in the Middle East and a Conservative government (natch) that acts in the fairly hysterical manner of the Bushies by angling to build more prisons when the crime rate is going down, its unwillingness to launch an investigation into the G20 debacle in Toronto last year (or to reimburse downtown business owners for vandalism incurred), not to mention Canada’s constant hammering on the human rights issue (See: G20 debacle, condition of Natives on reserves, and the complete mishandling of the Omar Khadr and Maher Arar cases.)  Still, we’ve got the strongest banks in the world, we don’t worry about getting sick nearly as much as Americans, and I for one don’t worry about walking the streets of Toronto at all hours, which I’ve done, many many times.  And I am doing much better here financially than I ever was in the US.

So Happy Canada Day, Canada!  And don’t worry about the identity thing.  We’ll get it figured out sooner or later.


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