SAYING GOODBYE TO 2007

Well, it’s that time of year again. It’s time to take stock of the year that was known as 2007.

As I’ve written on this blog before, 2007 will be remembered for me as a very challenging year. I won’t go into all the details again as I’ve done on here before, but needless to say I’m quite glad it’s coming to an end. As another friend wrote on her blog, how you start the year usually is a good indicator as to how things will turn out. This past New Year’s Day did not start out well. I almost lost a friend because of that New Year’s. It was not a fun New Year’s for me. Also, looking back on it, you’d never expect things to be where they are now for me. So much has changed since then, both good and bad.

Looking forward to 2008, I’m turning 30 on January 13th. Holy crap. I know, it scares me a little. But at the same time, I’m kind of excited. Being in your twenties is nice, but there’s something to be said for moving on and evolving past the days of extended adolescence that is the modern twentysomething. There will be a lot of big changes coming for me in 2008. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.

To everyone who has been a good friend to me this year, thank you. You are all awesome and I greatly appreciate it.

Here’s to the holidays – Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, people.

THE CASE AGAINST TORONTO, PART 1

It’s taken me a long time to come to this realization. At this point in my life, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want to live in Toronto. My tolerance for Canada’s biggest city is starting to wane big time.

I know I’m not alone, either. This city may be one of the most alienating places in Canada, a wannabe-metropolis that seemingly cannot get its act together when it comes to funding a public transit system or uniting under a common banner with other Greater Toronto Area municipal governments to rally against an indifferent federal government. Instead, it’s the same old nonsense in the Mega City: city workers acting like spoiled children with each other, a complete and total lack of affordable housing for those of us who don’t have six-figure salaries, overcrowded subway cars that make rush hour seem like a compressed sardine tank and all the usual nonsense.

But here’s the rub that’s starting to get to me about Toronto. Toronto is a cold, mean place to live. In a city that once called itself world class, it’s most definitely not so when it comes to how people treat each other. I don’t know if it is based on a long-standing cultural ethos that Torontonians embrace all too easily – money is all that seemingly matters in a city that seems permanently allergic to fun. Toronto is a city so self-obsessed with keeping up appearances to outsiders that we refuse as a city to let loose and have unapologetic fun. Seemingly, the only time of year this is possible is during New Year’s Eve, and even then, letting loose means going to bed at 12:30 a.m. (at least Toronto isn’t as dull as Ottawa, but that’s another post).

Now, to be fair, not everyone in Toronto is like this. I’m generalizing, to be sure. But, after many years of wheeling and dealing with so many aspects of GTA life, it’s hard to deny the cutthroat, win-at-all-costs nature of this city’s culture. Sure, we’ve got a lot of nice aspects of Toronto – the diversity of peoples, the Toronto Islands, the multitude of public events that serve the amorphous Toronto “community” well. But I’m not really talking about those things. I’m talking about how people treat each other in Toronto.

Toronto’s day-to-day life is a mix of passive-aggressive, me-first b.s. We’re either overly polite to the point of annoying (someone going far too much out of their way to accommodate others and not being sensible about it) or just plain aggressive and mean to each other. How is this called The Liveable City? It’s most definitely not, not anymore. The only activity that unites us all? A lousy hockey team that has continually sold the public a bill of goods when it comes to their worthiness of being watched by sell-out crowds at the Air Canada Centre. It’s fitting that the Toronto Maple Leafs, a joke of a team, only stays the way they are because of corporate clients selling out the ACC on a regular basis. If this were Montreal, the Leafs would actually be watchable today.

I don’t know why, but Torontonians have seemingly internalized the now-very-out-of-fashion British Uptightness of yesteryear. While Britain might have been an uptight place in mid-20th century life, the U.K. of today is distinctly fun and far more evolved socially than one might expect (I have a few British ex-pat friends whom can verify this). But Toronto, on the other hand, hasn’t evolved at all from the Uptight Protestantism that founded this city. While Toronto is a very multicultural city, it doesn’t change the fact the only thing that matters in this city is work, money and making more of it. Fun? That’s something that can only be done if there’s practical utility involved, i.e. going to a corporate cocktail party to ostensibly have fun but to actually network. Note: obviously there’s value in work and money, but it’s all about balance with enjoying life. Toronto seems to have forgotten this.

But on a more personalized, individuated level, Torontonians are not friendly. We’re so uptight culturally in Toronto that everything has a preset agenda in terms of how we interrelate. It has a strong effect on almost everything we do.

Take, for example, the dating scene. On a purely anecdotal level, I have a friend (in this case, friend is not a socially sanctioned cover for me) that hates this city for the way the sexes treat each other in terms of dating. Instead of taking people as they were, there are certain cultural precepts in place that prohibit some people from dating others, i.e. does Gentleman X have a nice car? I’m not saying people shouldn’t have standards. But why is it here, in a culture devoted to the fanatical pursuit of work and money, these are even issues in the first place? I’m not saying this is the case for everyone, but Toronto’s cold, abrasive ways seep into so many aspects of our daily lives we barely notice anymore.

Maybe, in another time when live in Toronto was more liveable (i.e. a half-way good public transit system, easy access to housing and a continual infusion of new people and perspectives through this mechanism), it would be easier for people to get along. But there’s no common sense in terms of civility and decency in Toronto anymore. The fact alone there are signs on TTC subway doors indicating common sense messages like allowing exiting passengers to leave first shows this alone. This is a city where the dog-eat-dog message has been completely internalized and life is becoming harder and harder.

As was quoted in this week’s NOW magazine, actress Lois Maxwell (she of Miss Moneypenny James Bond fame) once said that Toronto “is a frightfully lonely place. I find people very inhospitable at times.” She was right then, and her message gets more correct every year.

Toronto is fast becoming less and less tolerable. And I know I’m not alone.

READING AND THE WEB

There’s some digital feathers being ruffled this week by a noted author: Nobel laureate Doris Lessing attacked the Web as a medium that has seduced “an entire generation into its inanities.” She also made the point that people are now reading less because of cultural fragmentation and know very little about the world.

Lessing, who obviously has a vested interest in keeping people reading, isn’t entirely wrong when it comes to the issue of cultural fragmentation and people reading less. Digital culture has undoubtedly fragmented audiences for most mass mediums, in turn making it harder for people to generate revenue to pay for content. In terms of people reading, she’s only half-right: while it is quite correct to suggest that egocasting via the Web is marginalizing what people know about the world and the publishing industry is now entirely at the mercy of inane celebrity confessional books and soul-destroying books about Rachel Ray, You Go Girl! books like He’s Just Not That Into You and other mediocrity-breeding dreck, people are still reading. Well, kind of (although you’d be hard pressed to go into any Indigo or Chapters this time of year without seeing seas of books that look like they were written for people with ADD).

Part of the problem, I think, is that Lessing doesn’t really understand how the Web functions as a kind of central nexus of culture beyond the printed word. We’re in a post-literate age – the visual is now alongside the written word as cultural communication. We’re not going back to a mid-20th century ideal, as Lessing seems to believe, of high culture for the educated masses all reading books and the great unwashed consuming All In The Family and radio dramas. Those days are done. In some ways, I question the sincerity of Lessing on this issue: is she really concerned over people not reading or people of reading her works?

Sure, the Web does produce a lot of terrible crap. There’s an overwhelming amount of junk out there on YouTube or other sites that lack professional production values that might have signified “culture” in another time. Thing is, to deride the Web as creating an entire generation that basks in its “inanities” is missing the point entirely. This is not about books. This is about a generational divide and the flattening of cultural hierarchies that prevented people from participating in a cultural exchange. It was never a good thing to have rigidly stratified cultural precepts in place in the first place. And let’s not get nostalgic for a time when everyone was allegedly reading in the pre-Web era: there has always been crap in every mass medium. The only difference between now and then has to do with the amount of content available and ease of access.

So I come back to the same point about Lessing: is she afraid of a generation not reading (which just won’t happen – people will always be reading, I’m convinced of that fact) or that rarefied, cultural elites like her will have to work harder to gain the people’s attention? I’m not saying that’s what she’s up to, just something to point out.