Oh, Canada: who are you?

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 12:30 PM
                Poor Canada: always struggling with identity. And once again, it looks like efforts to improve matters upon this regard are being renewed under the Harper administration. The uncertainty behind what it means to be Canadian is something akin to going through adolescence. After all, being able to ascertain our identity is incredibly useful for giving us a stable ground from which to act. This is why organizations develop mandates, why politicians and policy-makers take on philosophical approaches, and why teenagers desperately seek to affirm who they are by frequently using labels like prep, hipster, nerd, etc. The insecurities that are caused by not having an established identity can be twofold: first, a personal lack of direction in behaviour and, second, an uncertainty with our peers in not knowing where we fit in the grand scheme of interactions.

Not having an identity is unsettling.

                I recognize that what I’ve just said is vague, but such is the nature of identity-seeking. Ask about a long-established and culturally distinct nation, and even those answers will not be definite. What does it mean to be British? Italian? Egyptian? Japanese?

                Nationalism was much simpler before the age of globalization and mass movement. Humans tended to live out their lives within a small geographic area, communicating almost exclusively with their neighbours. This means that generations were defined by responding to the same things: the weather, the lay of the land, the sources of food, the spoken language, the habitations, the available entertainment, the challenges of survival, and the legacy of the ancestors. These are very concrete things that could be used to define the identity of groups of people; nations were formed around this.

                The problem with “Canada” is that it began with nations attempting to conquer territory, decimating the native populations. In doing so, the legacy of the land and its people was irreversibly distorted and a new “identity” began to be fabricated. The reason it is essential to recognize multiculturalism in Canada is because every single Canadian entered the fabric of its history at a different point. Thus each person has a preceding legacy that, though they may not be aware of it in the case of families who have been here for generations, had a unique and profound impact on how they and their predecessors interacted with other “Canadians”.  If anything, this is the basis for the Canadian identity. Instead of many “lifelines” extending from a centralized point, it is many lifelines converging on that remarkable point that is Canada.

It’s funny; the people of Canada are so incredibly complex, and yet they too often consider themselves to be the most boring folks on the planet. I think our historic inability to understand who we are leads us to skim over our fascinating complexity.

                How do you create an identity for Canada? What common experiences unite Canadians? I suppose there is a reason why the aforementioned article reminds us of the hockey and Tim Horton’s stereotypes: you will find them everywhere. Oh, and let’s not forget winter. There’s something almost triumphant about how we experience, enjoy, and/or survive the changing of the seasons. But can we go further than this? What should we take into account: the past, the present, or the future? Unfortunately, each of those approaches comes with problems:

  • An identity based on the past struggles incessantly with the fact that everyone has a different background.
  • An identity with the present struggles with the fact that because Canadians are spread out and divided by a vast and varied geography, the way they interact with their surroundings is never the same.
  • And the future? How can you possibly determine a vision to which all Canadians would like to direct themselves?

                It’s said that nationalism arises in two ways. First, as a movement that rises from the people, and, second, as a tool the government uses to move the people. It looks like the Harper administration is trying very hard to impose nationalism upon us. Feel free to question the motives. “Mr. Harper, do explain to me why the War of 1812 is essential to my experienceas a Canadian.  I can appreciate it insofar as I appreciate being a citizen of this country and not of the USA. That being said, Canada wasn’t even a country when it happened. I wonder who at the time truly considered themselves to be British subjects or people of the land. Either way, if the culture of this wonderful country and its education system has not embedded a deep sense of pride for the legacy of that war, perhaps that would indicate that we do not see it as essential to our identity. Should the government be spending $11.5 million, not just to commemorate it, but to convince us that it is important to all of us? Or how about the flag? Can you imbue a sense of patriotism and respect for the Canadian flag by threatening the people with penalties should they not treat it appropriately? 

                What is being achieved through these efforts? Is a national identity truly being solidified? I hardly think so. We need to stop kidding ourselves. Our population is too vast and varied to do that. Certainly, the history of the land must be recognized; you lose far more when you forget it. It’s what you do with history that is important. Instead of using it to manipulate our attitudes towards our country, how about we take it in as a way to accept how each of us got to be where we are? I would like to suggest that this is how we will find our Canadian identity. In such a large and diverse nation only a small idea, a small seed, can unite its collective mind and grow into a more secure identity. We are a growing quilt of many fabrics; let the threads that bind us, the idea that unites us, be acceptance. When we learn to accept our presence, we will become at peace with it.

Let’s stop worrying about our identity. Labels are for teenagers. Only in doing what we do will we become who we are.

Surviving the Trials and Tribulations of University, Op. 3, No. 1 "Moving Off-Campus"

Friday, September 30, 2011 at 6:12 PM
After three years (three years?!) of living in a university residence, I finally decided to move off-campus with some friends. Yes, I am a bit of a late bloomer in that regard, but I would also like to blame the ridiculously tiny university town I live in. The competition to find housing is stupid. People sign leases at the end of September or the beginning of October of the year BEFORE they want to move into the place. Seriously. This really sucks because most people have only been at school for a month and don’t know what they plan to do yet in the following year. I think I once suggested that everyone should simply abstain from signing leases until March to make it a fair game. But nobody wants to be left without housing. Alas.

                The most common reaction I got when I told others that I was moving in with four other people was definitely some form of cringe. A house with FIVE university students! Impossible! How could the world support that? Well, if this town turns into the site of a massive crater, then you know it couldn’t.
To be honest, though, my first month in this house has been fairly uneventful. I’m going to credit my mad roommate-finding skills.

Formula for finding a Set of Good Roommates:
1.     1.  Make sure each person is reasonably self-reliant, but willing to cooperate and be considerate with others.
2.     2.  Find people who enjoy spending some time alone. (read: random people aren’t going to be walking in and out of your house ALL the time)
3.     3.  Get some nerds. Seriously. They tend to come with a decent stockpile of movies to watch, create many moments of hilarity and intense discussion, and/or keep people from getting too full of themselves (unless all the residents are the same type of nerd...).
4.     4.  Find one person who is willing to share his/her maple syrup and juice packs.
5.     5.  Find another person who will steal some of the maple syrup and juice packs and then replace them all with a bigger set of maple syrup and juice packs.
6.     6.  No couples. No drama. No drama. NO DRAMAAAAAAAAAA.

7.     7.  People who have taken the course you’re taking.
8.     8.  Anyone willing to take a bribe.
9.     9.  Tea.
10  10. Someone with a truck who can move furniture.

Lessons I’ve learnt in the kitchen:
1.     1.  Do the dishes immediately after cooking (or while you’re cooking, too). Because dirty dishes suck and should not be allowed to exist any longer than absolutely necessary.

2.     2.  If you don’t have money for groceries and are going to survive on three things in your fridge, make sure one of those things is a root veggie. Potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, etc. So useful and so easy to cook. Incidentally, sweet potatoes and jam are really yummy (different jams taste better, btw).

3.     3.  Onions make everything better.
4.     4.  Peppers are surprisingly versatile.
5.     5.  Spices are your best friend, unless you like a monotonous diet.

6.     6.  If you’re going to resort to using pre-packaged/frozen food like KD or pizza, make it taste better. For example, many (*cough-cheap-cough*) frozen pizzas tend to be of the boring pepperoni/generic meat type. Add your own ingredients to make them taste better!

And as we move into the notorious month of midterms, I leave you with a video a friend shared with me the other day. Remember, folks: humour is the best tool for survival.

Exploring the Wilderness of Music, Op. 2, No. 1 “The Soprano”

Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 9:38 PM
(A joint effort of blogger Mariana and guest writer/speaker Morgan)

[Recommendation: this report best appreciated when read aloud with a very fake British accent or, alternatively, you may use the recording below and read along.]

Whilst observing this rare and rather ludicrous species, this blogger came to notice that the soprano has a lofty sense of being. They feel as though they are elevated above the average mortal by their ability to screech at astronomic heights and decibels due to their heavenly status. Due to this psychosis, it is imperative that no attempt is made to subvert the underlying logic of this being, in order to avoid incurring its divine wrath.

Kathleen Battle, a particularly notorious Soprano.

Oblivious to the sane and humble mindset considered to be normal amongst human beings, these creatures have evolved a selective understanding of their surrounding environment. When presented with evidence contrary to their beliefs, diva-logic sets in and allows these creatures to continue to exist as they desire. In fact, the soprano philosophy takes Shakespeare's line "all the world's a stage" quite literally, and so the "stage" exists to revolve around them.

This species is rather territorial, as has been noted through careful observation in its natural habitat. For example, in the backstage of the opera house it is imperative that, when dealing with numerous sopranos, safety precautions be taken. In order to prevent territorial fights, all opposing parties must receive the same size dressing room despite demands for special treatment. This will reduce injuries, casualties, and the ensuing ambulance expenses.

Necessary for its survival, the soprano develops an effective stage presence which, as similarly observed with the plumage of birds, involves the creation of a strong persona with a unique and opinionated fashion sense. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution shows us that when the affection and adoration of a cultured audience is lacking, a soprano is thusly demonstrated to not be "fit" enough to survive the demands of the position and is likely to wither and die in public contempt. While the fully grown diva has survived to win this adoration and acceptance, the maturing soprano often suffers a gross lack of common sense.

Irony may be found in the budding soprano's scathing criticism of the unrefined fashion sense of the average mortal, for while she may look down upon a mixture of brown and black in an outfit, she will not recognize when her attire is likely more revolting. For example, one may find sopranos wearing winter shoes with summer dresses, enormous belts that reflect the stage lights, and even translucent leggings with leopard print panties beneath. Some adolescent sopranos can even be found to wear skirts far too short for the average audience's comfort.

[An advertisement to mothers with young children is warranted: do not approach a fully developed soprano that is wearing stage makeup, as the frightful image, when comparing the ability to reduce a child to tears, lowers a clown's red-nosed makeup to amateur status]

And so, with a better understanding of this curious being that is the soprano, one can be better prepared to deal with the inevitable challenges encountered in day to day life. For as they like to constantly remind us: no opera is complete without them...or so we let them think.

Performance Practice Takes Lots of Practice

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 11:33 PM

I’ve never fancied myself to be a particularly “girly” girl. But every now and then I’ll get the urge to indulge in some aspects of the "gender normative role" set up by society for females years before I was born; I’ll buy a pretty dress, I’ll watch a romantic movie, or I’ll do my face up all pretty with makeup. One evening this past week, I decided that it was time to give nail polish a try. Is it just me or has nail polish gotten really into fashion lately? I’ve never been one to pay much attention to that, but even I have noticed people talking about nail decals and doing super cool things with them.

So I sat down at my desk, Jacques Brel softly seducing me in the background, and I took out a bottle of red nail polish. Staring at it as if it were some strange medical instrument that would be used to operate on me, I cautiously took hold of the bottle, remembering to shake it and listen for the metal ball inside to hit the glass sides. This wasn’t something I hadn’t done before, but it certainly had been a few years. I was a little nervous. Slowly, I took the brush out, wiped some excess polish off before beginning to paint the nail on my pinkie finger. One stroke, two strokes. I took a look at it. I’ve never had an issue with nail polish on other people, but when I looked at that finger, it looked to me like I’d grown an alien body part. It was just wrong. I attempted to finish painting that nail properly, but the final brush stroke took an amateur slip and painted my skin. With some impatience, I gave up on the task and tried to wipe off the nail polish with another finger. Not caring enough to clean it off properly, I spent the following day looking like I’d hit that poor little finger with a brick.

I’m not going to lie: I know that the above story is overdramatic and a little crazy. Why do I have such an issue with nail polish?

“Performance practice refers to techniques that are implied, and not written or notated.”

For those who don’t know, I study music in university with piano as my primary instrument. I will not pretend, however, that I have ever had the intention of becoming a concert pianist...or the ability. It’s just not in me—people who argue this fact underestimate just how much it takes to be a successful concert pianist. That aside, over the years I’ve been interested in pursuing many different areas in the music industry: music education, collaborative piano, composition for film, and—most recently—musicology. As demonstrated by those interests, it’s pretty clear that I don’t want to spend my life in the spotlight. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t write about it.

                A month ago, I attended a recital for piano and French horn, with my dear friend and classmate, Isaac Adams, on piano. Isaac just finished his first year in university, and I must say that I am thoroughly impressed with his performance as a solo and collaborative pianist. He’s probably not going to be too pleased by my saying this, but I can’t help but recall his first performance in the Conservatory and appreciate how far he’s come. That first performance was fairly good, but it certainly highlighted details of performance practice and stage presence that are easily missed, yet make a huge difference to the performance. Isaac, bless his soul, was upset that he hadn’t given his absolute best and refused to bow, despite the audience clapping enthusiastically even after he left the stage.

                Now I understand that “performance practice” applies mostly to the details involved in actually performing music (the way you hold a bow, the amount of vibrato and decorations used, etc.). However, I like to consider the hardly uttered and often overlooked rules of stage etiquette expected by the audience as an integral part of performance practice. Besides, it’s not as if these rules are universal: stage etiquette has changed in many ways throughout the years.

It’s funny, often I see musicians perform and seemingly forget that we, the audience, are staring at them the whole time. When the image produced on stage is not accordingly respected, audiences are prone to cringing uncomfortably.

These are a few of the guidelines I find most helpful in providing a pleasant performance:

1.       My dear friend Isaac got a lot of teasing for not following this one: bow. Always. At the very least, at the end of the performance. Do not curtsy or do some other elaborate variant. The bow is the performer’s thank you to the audience. This is how we say “thank you for taking the time to listen to my performance.” Even if you did a bad job, your audience still took the time to sit and listen to you. Thank them. Recognize their applause. Us musicians like to complain over the lack of appreciation and support music receives. You’d think we’d be extra grateful for what we do receive.

2.       Plan out how you will walk on and off stage. How many performers are you? Where is each performer going and what order of entrance will best facilitate those positions?  Do you know what door you are using to exit the stage? Are you going to bow before the performance? (I should hope that you’re bowing after!) Where on stage will you bow? Will you coordinate the bow with other performers? These details seem fairly mundane, but it’s important to take note of them. Someone who arrives on stage and doesn’t have a clear direction will often look clumsy and may give away performance nerves. It also really sucks when a collaborating pianist, for example, plans to walk behind the singer after the initial bow, only to find that the singer didn’t leave room to walk behind. It looks good when everyone on stage knows exactly what they’re doing, especially if it’s something as mundane as walking.

3.       Look pretty. And by that I mean: judge the formality and intent of the performance and dress appropriately. Brush your hair, tuck in your shirt, do all those things you were taught when you were young. If you want people to take your performance seriously, look like you’re taking it seriously, too. If you want to wear a skirt or a dress, don’t wear one that is much more than a couple inches above your knees. Keep in mind that usually on raised stages, audiences will have a better view of the lower half of your body. Even if you don’t reveal anything, it’s quite uncomfortable for an audience member to avoid looking at you for fear of being flashed. Skimpy clothing in general is uncomfortable for audiences. Yes, audiences are often prudes. But unless you paid them to be there, be considerate to them. It’s also nice to coordinate with what the other performers will be wearing, even if you don’t choose to match your clothes.

4.       Pay attention to performance mannerisms. Most musicians will develop certain mannerisms in performance after a few years. These generally are not a problem, but on occasion, those odd habits can be quite distracting. These are things like constantly flicking your hair back, chewing on your tongue, moving your head back and forth unnecessarily, etc. It is well worth your time to record yourself playing a piece to see what you are doing. Not only is it extremely helpful in practicing, but it also helps you see what unnecessary habits you  may have developed—you can then judge of you consciously want to do something about it or not.

That’s probably enough ranting for this blog post. The point is to always keep in mind everything that you do on stage, if anything, out of simple consideration for your dear audience.

So what is my problem with nail polish? As a student of piano, nail polish is always an inconvenience. It’s simply not practical, due to the fact that piano playing will chip it and make it look bad. As I grew up, a tacit understanding seemed to be agreed upon by myself and many of my colleagues: if you walk around with perfectly painted nails, you probably aren’t practicing much. I can only speak for myself—I’ve never had much of a conversation on this subject with anyone. However, just like having long nails, painting them always seemed to be a major pianist faux pas. Here and there I will notice someone who does use it, and though I generally won’t make a judgement on the matter, I cannot help but judge myself. Should I choose to paint my nails, I feel that I am branding myself as a bad pianist.  Alas, the rules we often impose upon ourselves are often simple foolishness. At least in this case, it is a mere trifle that’s hardly due reason for concern.

Summary: I’m a little crazy, but that’s ok. As long as you’re considerate to your audience, all is well.

Crazy People in Music, Op. 1, No. 1 “Rousseau and his Buffoons Take on the Monarchy”

Friday, May 13, 2011 at 7:51 PM

                No matter what explicit purpose is designated to its creation, music is the expression of human life. Want to understand a particular demographic today? Or perhaps get a clearer picture of what a society was like at another point in time? The music produced and enjoyed by those people can give you a detailed account of their lives: their priorities and activities, their challenges and interactions, their traditions and developments. Human society is pretty fantastic that way—we like to tell stories and show off who we are. But sometimes who we are can be pretty nuts: humans sure do the darndest things. So here’s to a celebration of all the quirky things people have done in relation to music.

                 One of my favourite instances of peculiar behaviour in music occurred in 18th century France:  “The War of the Buffoons”. However, in order to tell this little tale, I need to backtrack a bit and look very quickly at the development of opera in France. Oh, yes. I am talking about opera.

It is important to remember that opera, unlike the majority of other genres in classical music, was invented. This means that prior to the work of certain Italian figures, such as those in the Florentine Camerata during the late 16th century, the concept of a drama set to music was foreign to pretty much everyone. Contrast this with other genres like the symphony, which developed through "advancements" in ensemble works during the course of many years. So when opera ventured out of the lovely Italian city states, audiences in Europe had varying responses to the latest novelty in music.

The initial response from France was fairly negative. Critics refused to believe that opera would be compatible with the French culture and language, nor did it help that they would not accept the suspension of belief required to combine music and drama—most people don't burst into song as they die from a stab wound, a suicide, or TB...or during most activities for that matter. See: Mimi in Puccini’s La boh√®me, although that’s getting quite far ahead in this historical discussion.

It also didn’t help that a lot of French folk hated the Italians at the time, which included Italian-born Cardinal Mazarin, a huge proponent of opera. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that opera was partially rejected out of spite for the Cardinal. 

To make a very long story short, France eventually did accept opera into their musical repertoire. But being the way they were, it could only be done in a French way, rejecting the Italian example. It amuses me how some people try so hard—too hard?—to be unique. All sorts of things were redone: the melodic style and range, the rhythm of the recitative (sung dialogue), and French overtures and dance were incorporated. A lot of it was focused on glorifying the French monarchy, often featuring roles for the King to perform himself. Want to know where the Sun King nickname came from? Jean-Baptiste Lully had Louis XIV perform the role of Apollo in a ballet, and the “sun god” reference stuck.

Louis XIV as Apollo

It was also Lully who championed the opera in France, redesigning it to be suitable to the national culture. Fun fact: Jean-Baptiste Lully, champion of French opera, was born in Italy! What an irony. Unfortunately for Lully, the French performance practices eventually lead to his death. The French practice for keeping time in music didn’t involve conducting with a baton or hands, but rather had conductors banging a staff on the floor. Lully managed to bang a staff on his toe pretty darn hard and refused to get it amputated when it got infected, leading to the poor composer's demise.

It’s worth noting that practices such as banging a staff on the floor to keep time were largely why outsiders often scoffed at French music. Music critic Charles Burney commented quite politely: “as a spectacle, this opera is often superior to any other...but as music, it is below our country psalmody, being without time, tune, or expression.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself comments on how one could not perceive a beat in the music without the crude banging from the conductor.

And so French opera continued with its unique form for a very long time…until 1752, when the Buffoons arrived.

In 1752 an Italian troupe of comic actors arrived in France, performing an Italian comedy by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, La serva padrona. This was a risky move, due to the French near-religious fervour for their national style. So it should not have been a surprise that this performance instigated what came to be known as the War of the Buffoons. French nationalists voiced their vehement opposition to the unsuitable Italian style in a series of pamphlets and newspaper articles. Fortunately for the “buffoons”, they developed several allies, lead by none other than Rousseau and other “enlightened” folks, who responded to the nationalists in turn. This pamphlet war would rock the nation’s art, political, and intellectual community for two whole years.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
philosopher, writer...composer?

Fun facts about the two sides:

Italian Supporters
  •           Led by Rousseau, who even wrote his own opera for the ‘cause’—Le devin du village

  •           Comprised mainly of Encyclop√©distesthe Enlightenment and Renaissance seem to have a few things in common, one of which is "clubs" of people with too much time on their hands!
  •           Supported by the Queen, mostly to spite the King and his mistress, Mme. de Pompadour
  •           Weren’t fans of the monarchy—one could interpret this as a direct, but harmless challenge to the monarchy in the 18th century (let's not forget that the French revolution was just under 40 years away).
  •           Preferred the light Italian comedic operas (the Buffoons did not perform opera seria—non-comedic operas)

  •           French music critics overwhelmingly insisted that all music had to be compared music “known” to be good. For a long time this meant comparing everything to Lully. Eventually, after many years of harsh critique, they made room for Rameau and picked up the nickname “Ramistes” which largely replaced the earlier nickname “Lullistes”, as both composers had been accepted as icons of the national style.
  •           Generally made up of a group of elitists who wished to pander to the King’s interests...but I'll admit that that's my judgement on the group (not to say that I don't like traditional French Baroque opera).
  •           Supported by the King and his lovely mistress Mme. de Pompadour (for you lovely Doctor Who fans out there, that is indeed the same character that Tennant met in the fireplace!)

Mme. de Pompadour and the Doctor in The Girl in the Fireplace

  •           Loved serious mythological tales, especially since they could be used to glorify the monarchy and suck up to the King—interludes of dance and music generally provided the “comedic” break.

So for two years lots of articles in papers and pamphlets were passed around. People were quite angry with each other and got into very heated arguments with lots of political and social undercurrents. It seems a bit silly looking at it from our modern perspective. First with all the measures the French took to be unique, and then how it became a prominent national issue. The craziest part about it? It hardly changed anything! One could say that the nationalists won, but it seems that everyone just gave up on the argument and moved onto something else. Most people in France continued to enjoy the traditional French operas—at least until the French revolution mixed things up for the genre—and other people continued to enjoy their opera comedies in smaller theatres that would soon gain more popularity, allowing the comedies to develop into grander and more prominent productions.

Moral of the story? A generalization for sure, but it seems that, given the chance, the French will argue passionately about anything!

How the Art of Patience Became Badass

Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 6:41 PM

                I’ve never been one for calm and patience. My attention span is so pathetically short that I lost a pen three times when a friend challenged me to keep track of it for five minutes last summer. Likewise, my constant need to fidget or do something with my hands has been known to irk people in many a conversation. In a way, though, my restlessness has been a blessing, shaping many of my decisions and pursuits throughout my life.
                At some point in my childhood I developed a fascination with anything “Asian”—likely inspired by the movies “Big Bird Goes to Japan/China”. Eventually this led me to read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. After reading it and falling in love with the inspirational tragedy, I decided that I wanted to be Sadako (I suppose I didn’t put much thought into the Leukemia part). However, since I wasn’t “Asian” and couldn’t change my name to “Sadako”, the best I could do was learn to fold paper. This was a pretty awesome hobby to take up as it gave my fidgety hands something to do when, for example, I was waiting in a restaurant or wanted to make something out of the gold Ferrero Rocher chocolate wrappings.
                To make a long story short, after more than a decade of folding paper, several page-a-day origami calendars, and many boxes of creations, I realized two things. As I had gotten older, I had learned to fold more complex origami. A natural progression, for sure, but the amazing thing about it is that for many years I would simply give up on the origami I couldn’t figure out or get distracted and move onto another origami before finishing the previous one. Restless, fidgety me had learned some patience. Shocking. 
                After that introspective revelation, I became aware of something else. Or rather, the internet became widely available. Origami is flippin’ badass. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to go YEARS without realizing that origami was so much more than all the flowers, birds, bugs, and boats I was making.
Some of the creations people have made are absolutely astounding. (And some of the masters even use math to create complex designs. Go figure...although I guess it’s not that surprising.)


While I did not develop enough patience to attempt some of the examples above, I did find out that there were some pretty awesome creations I could make.
And in another effort to assert my nerdy side, I present to you my latest origami collection: 

The Star Wars

X-wing Fighter

Millennium Falcon

TIE Fighter



Yoda: Over 70 folds!

Gotta Love the Nerds

Sunday, April 24, 2011 at 11:36 PM
                I mentioned in my first post that as I was creating this blog, I got myself involved in a heated argument over the definition of nerd. As someone who has identified with much—yet thankfully, not all—of nerd culture, this is a subject I have thought much about and discussed. The most common discussion I, and I expect many others, have come across is the distinction between nerd and geek.
                A quick search on the internet reveals the following definitions:
geek is any smart person with an obsessive interest.
nerd is the same but also lacks social grace. (a dweeb is a mega-nerd)
I don’t completely agree with these definitions. Geek seems fairly accurate; I have always associated the term with someone who has an obsessive interest in very specific areas. Nerds I give a broader definition. Their interests may not be as specific, but they are obscure, esoteric and of little practical use.
                The argument in question, however, is focused specifically on the definition of nerd. According to a friend of mine, I am using an awful generic definition of nerd. His definition goes as follows:
“People who are into RPG playing, sci-fi and fantasy, tabletop gaming, card gaming, can recite trivia from pop culture related to those things (LOTR, SW, ST, DW, BSG, DnD, Magic, etc.). And if you had to describe how a nerd looked and behaved, you’d say he (VERY rarely she) was short, had glasses, not well built, and can’t talk to girls. Sure, those are certainly generalizations, but you get the point.”
For some reason I am reminded of this character:

(hey, his friend IS the Dewey Decimal System!)
He continues to argue that these are socially built up standards to which the term must adhere. Any other kind of nerd, such as a music nerd, isn’t really a true nerd.
...this is coming from a guy whose facebook status earlier in the day was “is walking around his house wearing only his Thor helmet and boxer shorts.” You can imagine the kind of impasse we reached. And I’m going to be roommates with him in September. That’ll be quite an interesting time.
                While I remain vehemently opposed to his definition of nerd, I cannot help recalling last summer with my friend over at Maple Glaze. I consider this guy to be one of my closest friends and, with all confidence, I can tell you that he embodies much of what it is to be a nerd...and is proud of it. Imagine my shock when he revealed that despite his extensive knowledge on the Star Wars series, he had never seen the movies! All his information came from Wikipedia! What a sacrilege. I immediately revoked his “nerd” status until he had seen at the very least, episodes IV, V, and VI.
                So perhaps my Thor-helmeted friend is somewhat correct in saying that society has certain standards to which nerds must adhere in order to maintain their title. I still maintain, however, that just because society has expectations that it applies to titles, doesn’t mean that they define the title. That’s like saying that a gay man must be effeminate and artsy in order to be gay. When you’re talking about labels people use to identify themselves, they need to be broad in order to function. Otherwise you’re just talking about exclusive cliques to which people belong. And make no mistake about it, even if it’s online, those cliques are real, but they do not encompass a social label.
Can’t we just accept nerds as what they identify themselves to be?

Smart Girls Recognize When to Stop Getting Into Trouble

Saturday, April 23, 2011 at 1:58 PM
Perhaps starting this blog was a bad idea. After all, it seems that the powers that be were making every effort to stop me from doing it. Or maybe I just can’t handle technology. I mean, for the past two days I haven’t been able to connect to the internet because I had the wire in the phone jack. What is that wire even called? I don’t even know that! Now imagine the disaster that would occur in my attempts to start the blog.
I should probably backtrack a bit and talk about my reasons for starting a blog. I don’t really have any. My “summer” break just started and I realized that I no longer have essays to procrastinate. I also get bored very easily. For a while I did what many typical university age people do: surf the webs, watch TV, have a friend over, and chat online or via texting. But two days in, despite the Doctor Who marathon on the Space channel, I was restless and ready to do something else. This happens often during the summer and for some reason my remedy is always to come up with random projects to fill the time.

So this blog has turned into one of those projects. Unfortunately, this is the kind of project that requires me to either have mildly interesting things to talk about or do other things that could be “reported” on here. Looks like I need to come up with more projects.
That leads me to starting this whole blog business. Apparently when you start a blog, the first thing you’re asked—at least on this hosting service—is to create a url and a name for the blog. Problem. I didn’t have one. So I went online to get ideas from friends. This process unfortunately took about three hours, since I initially got embroiled in a heated argument over what constitutes a nerd that never got resolved. I may talk about that later. I also came across another difficulty when my friends asked me what my blog would be about. I’m supposed to figure that out?! Sheesh. So many demands. My answer was and continues to be: various discussions on music, Doctor Who, Start Wars, general sci fi, and other esoteric/academic material. Great idea, eh? Maybe I’m crazy, but at least this project isn’t dependent on having a huge number of followers. Eventually one of my pun-tastic friends came online and I had him throw ideas at me until I figured out something I liked. You can see the results.
Following that fiasco, I had to figure out how to format this blog.
I spent an hour trying to figure out how to add a tagline and change the font and colour, much less anything else. Then I realized that I could use a template. Then I spent another hour trying to unzip the file, eventually realizing that I had shockingly successfully unzipped the file, but that I was attempting to upload the wrong location. By that point, it was late at night and I needed sleep.  I suppose, now that I’m writing this, I’m going to have to figure out how to format my text. Hopefully not, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt about this process, it’s that it’s not going to cater to my technological abilities.
But it’s done. This blog has been started and I am not going back. Let’s see if it takes me anywhere good. For now, I have the season premiere of Doctor Who to look forward to tonight! I’m desperately hoping that it doesn’t disappoint the hype it has built up; I look forward to hearing what others think about it.