WHAT’S NEW?

Ha! Didn’t think I was coming back here, did ya?

Well, I will admit I’ve been sorely lacking in the posting department here on my blog. Life’s been a bit crazy again. This summer — aside from the profoundly crappy weather Toronto’s been having — has been a big one, full of lots of ongoings.

You know how I’ve written on here in past posts in a very contemplative, introspective fashion about my life? There’s been a point to this. If 2007 was the year it all fell down, and 2008 was the year things sunk into a black hole I had to fight like an angry dog from hell to climb out of, then 2009 has been a year of revelations and self-discoveries. I’m not going to whine and moan about how life’s been tough. Sure, it has been, but who else doesn’t go through this kind of pain at least once in their lives? Well, I know a few, actually. You’re unlucky to have lived such an unexamined life, if you can believe it. Everyone needs to face this kind of thing, I figure.

Anyway, enough of that self-righteous chatter.

MAD MEN: It’s fitting that I’m listening to Amy Winehouse’s You Know I’m No Good right now, considering it was Mad Men’s unofficial theme song to the first season back in 2007. And now… after months and months and months of waiting, Season Three starts this Sunday. My work colleague Irwin — a major fan himself — and I are watching the season premiere together. Yes, we’re major geeks. Still, after all the time I spend on the Lipp sisters’ MM site, I pretty much know the show backwards and forwards. I can actually quote entire scenes, that’s how much of a MM nerd I am. And please don’t question why I’m addicted to this show like heroin. If you know me well enough, you probably already know why.

J-SCHOOL: Here’s a link to an article on Gawker — yes, I know, it’s Gawker — about the travails of investing in a journalism degree in America in this time of total and complete implosion of the journalism industry in America (and to a lesser extent, Canada). I’d laugh, but you know. Probably in poor taste.

Alright, that’s enough for now. I’m going to get back into this regular posting thing soon. Well, as regular as I can be. I’m kind of fluttery on here, as any quasi-regular reader knows.

4CHAN: A site that I have a very complicated relationship with, 4Chan, has been profiled by Douglas Rushkoff. In case you’ve never heard of 4Chan, it’s the online location where Anonymous — the organization loosely formed around declaring war against Scientology — was founded. The best and most apt comparison I have for this kind of site is that if 4Chan was a musical genre, it would be hard-boiled, Sex Pistols-esque Punk.

2008

Well then. It’s December 1st and I’m feeling fine. Of course, with me, feeling fine refers to life in a Philip Roth sort of way: your connections to the world are confusing, fledgling perhaps, and tinged with a bit of self-discovery that comes with activities you’d never conceive of doing at one time. It’s all very self-indulgent, taming the beast sort of stuff I’m talking about. A lot of it is just the kind of things that remind you how strange a society we’re living in now.

For all the virtues we espouse collectively when it comes to personal freedom — writing on a blog, over-indulging and traveling to Anywhere But Here — the world in 2008 was collecting on some old debts. It was a year of payback, a little revenge and some absolution. Both as a society and on our own, there’s been a sense that a whole lot of long-dormant feuds, crises and other dramas were finally coming to a head. A few personal Sacred Cows got a major dose of reality and some much-needed rejection. Sometimes, as you get older, you need to let go of things you once held true to. They’re just reminders of something you once were – how does that help you move forward?

I know what all of that feels like.

For me, 2008’s been mostly about two things: just plain survival and some hard-hearted personal exploration. I’ve had some really bad things happen this year, stuff I can’t talk about on a public blog. Shit, that’s life. It’s not a fair or happy thing often enough. I’m not even angry about it. I’m just taking it in. Just adding it to the digital white noise of modern life. I don’t fear the Big Questions anymore — it’s just What Is now. I’ll face those Big Questions when I get to them.

Of course, all the unpleasant stuff that has happened this year has only strengthened my resolve and will. I’ve learned that people who hold grudges against others need to look at themselves too and their issues. I’m letting of my own grudges and past resentments, or at least really focusing on them. I’m no longer letting fear control and determine idiosyncrasies.

It’s been that kind of a year. It’s been a year of extremes.

Unlike 2007 – a year I couldn’t wait to see over – I’m leaving 2008 with a sense of optimism. Sure, the world’s economy is sinking faster than an iron chalice in a river, the Canadian government’s in a tail-spin of Palpatine-esque proportions and there’s been more than our fair share of bad stuff that’s happened to me and my family this year. It hasn’t been an overall happy year. It’s just a lot of changes coming at a million miles a minute, some good, some bad.

As I’ve said a few times on this blog, I truly believe that in order to understand a life’s work (or at least, a year of life’s work), you have to go back to the beginning.

On New Year’s Eve, I was at Nathan Phillips Square with a few friends. They were new friends I’d only met recently. Of course, two major events happened that night. The evening was cold, snowy and damp – a sub-zero harbinger of things to come. And I was forced into physically defending one of my friends from a drunk who took it upon himself to get a little too close and fresh, as it were. It was my first altercation since Halifax. Now I remember why they’re not something you should ever start, but should always finish.

Strange how you remember things like that – two very inconsequential events that bear no witness to a crazy year. But oddly, I think they spelled out what’s happened this year.

I’ve been forced to defend myself on several occasions this year, emotionally, physically and what-have-you. I’ve been braving the elements that the world’s been handing out to me and I’m stronger than ever.

Perhaps, on some level, all the challenges of the past two years have been some kind of secret, subtle set of lessons (no, it’s not a sign from God, as I’m an atheist.). It’s a private theory, sure, but 2007 was arguably one of the all-time worst years of my life. I sunk into a funk I’ve never experienced before. I was probing all the darkest sides of life, staring the Black Dog in the face. He was snarling and egging me on. But I wasn’t doing anything to save myself. I was just wallowing.

While 2008 seemed to feature a lot of bad stuff too, there’s a big difference between the years. I faced up to challenges this time. I refused to back down. I stopped being pre-occupied with things that don’t matter. And yes, there was conflict. There were people who didn’t deserve (and some who did) what I said to them. For a culture obsessed with the visual, the superficial and digital, it’s amazing how much words still matter.

They say learning to cope with this insane, fucked up, crazy world of ours is learning to adjust, learn from and deal with memory. I’m not saying being possessed by bad memories that halt your personal growth; I’m talking about sorting through your thoughts, feelings and ideas and accepting you never stop learning from those memories.

Maybe that’s what it’s all about: learning. It’s about accepting you’re not perfect, you never will be, and that life’s really all about learning to live with yourself. It’s a long, never-ending process, but it’s worth trying.

A final revelation: anybody who reads this blog knows about my semi-obsession with my all-time favourite show, Mad Men. There’s a lot of reasons why this show speaks to me: the brilliant, brilliant, I-would-die-to-write-them scripts, the fanatical obsession with authenticity, the intellectual heft the show embodies, the near-perfect casting.

Season Two of Mad Men was about Don coming to terms with himself and how his past behaviour hurts those around him. It was also about Don learning to live with all the conflicted, confusing aspects of his personae: the darker, self-obsessed Don Draper versus the compelling, kind, loving Dick Whitman.

Betty Draper too underwent a profound metamorphosis of character. She was angry at Don’s cheating, her long time resentment of feeling out of control of her own life finally coming to the surface.

In so many ways, I got where these characters were coming from. I get that sense of confusion, the idea of a conflicted sense of identity. The idea that you’re never truly, completely in control of your own life. The notion that once you accept the sometimes-painful waxing and waning of life’s fortunes, you’ll find that inner peace. The belief that all things too shall pass and return and repeat again.

Seems appropriate for 2008. Learning to accept the contradiction that life is.

THE 21ST CENTURY BEGINS… NOW?

It’s been a few days since I last posted on here, but needless to say it’s been a bit busy as of late.

Before I write about my main topic of interest – the new issue of Esquire – I have to post this poster for Seth Rogen’s new movie Zack and Miri Make A Porno.

See, the moralistic nutjobs at the MPAA decided the old poster of Zack and Miri – which features a barely-there shot of Seth Rogen getting a blow job – was way, way too much for the sensitive child-people of America. So here’s what the cheeky, witty folks behind Kevin Smith’s upcoming ode to amateur pornography did as an alternative:

I love you Seth. I love you Kevin. I love the View Askew.

Anyway, onto the business at hand…

Yesterday I got my new edition of Esquire – it’s the 75th anniversary issue and it’s truly epic in size and scope. The main theme of the issue is, as the august periodical proudly and confidently claims, that the 21st century begins right now.

Sure, it may be a few months still before the next President of the U.S. is elected and a real, clean break with the horrors of the past eight years is finally wrought. Maybe that’s when the 21st century truly begins, who knows.

In any event, Esquire neatly lays out some of the finest journalism I’ve seen in quite sometime with this issue: there are profiles of the 75 most influential people of this coming century, some you know (Barack Obama, Al Gore, et al) and some you’ve never heard of but glad you know of now (Rory Stewart, et al). There’s also articles on Google’s influence, filmmaker P.T. Anderson, new technologies being introduced to help immobilized folks re-gain control over their senses and movements, and a kind of Lessons Learned piece about the Bush Administration. It’s monolithic and truly overwhelming to take in with one sitting, but I can’t recommend the new issue of Esquire enough.

MAD MEN: Wow – I’m really starting to get revved up over where this season is going. Holy crap Don, how does it feel to have Betty go on the attack now? And really, next week looks like the inevitable showdown between Peter and Peggy is finally here. Oh it’s getting very, very good now.

THE DARKER SIDE OF MAD MEN?

- AMC Stills

- AMC Stills

With the second season of Mad Men now in full swing, this year’s season is already demonstrating a fascinating and considerably darker shift in the show’s tone. It’s undeniable that so far this season, the characters in Mad Men have gone a shade into the shadows – most notably, Don Draper himself.

Never mind that Don looked at his most corporate, cruel and menacing when firing Lois, his sweet but admittedly dim secretary. Last night’s most shocking and surprising moment happens just moments after above’s photo is taken: Draper aggressively and violently pulls Bobbi Barrett’s hair and then shoves his hand up into her crotch, whispering in a quiet, raging manner, “I will ruin him.”

It’s a decidedly dark moment in the show – perhaps the darkest so far. It’s alarming to see Don – a moody, quietly desperate man – doing something so decidedly violent. While Don is capable of anger, rage and violence – remember last year with him shaking Betty’s arms after Roger came over for dinner? – as all people are, last night represented a turning point for me when it comes to the show. The show’s tone is getting darker, which is only making a brilliant show even better.

One thing Season Two has been notable for thus far is how Matt Weiner is really getting in deep on the character’s interior and family lives. While Don and Betty – talk about keeping up appearances – continue to struggle, we’re also seeing Peter and Trudy battle over a baby, a frustrated Harry and his wife (watch for Harry’s role to likely get larger and larger over the next few seasons, now that he’s in charge of television at Sterling Cooper), and Joan. Oh Joan. Not sure what to think about you these days.

OLYMPICS: So, China’s already got 14 medals, leads the medal standings and is winning events with almost-robotic like efficiency. We’re not even half-way through the first week and the Beijing Games already look like a whitewash between China and the U.S. battling it out for the top spot in medals.

Call me crazy, but even in a field as deep as the Beijing Games, shouldn’t Canada already have some piece of the medal action? How does North Korea have four medals already?

THE CAT CAME BACK…

Good news: our cat Riley has returned all on his own! He lost his collar and he apparently smells a bit, but he’s seemingly okay. What a relief.

Just before the premiere of the second season of Mad Men last week, there was a promotion for the show in Times Square in NYC that featured business cards of Sterling Cooper being handed out (once again, my mutual blog crush, the Lippsisters, save the day… you ladies are great!).

Here’s the card:

Oh man. I want one of those cards so very, very bad.

THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS…AND THE CJR

Aside from Doctor Who, Rome and Battlestar Galactica, I rarely get charged up over a new season of television watching. But oh baby, Mad Men: Season Two is just three days away.

Slowly, AMC’s been leaking photos of the new season online, and the good folks at Basket of Kisses have been an indispensable resource in daily Mad Men news fixes.

But this article in Salon today is possibly the most exciting news yet. It’s kind of spoiler-ish, but at the same time, it’s got a few bombshells in it about the new season.

Again, thanks to Basket of Kisses for all your hard work online!

COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW: The CJR has posted a series of comments from recently downsized journalists about what it feels like to be put on the street, as it were, in this increasingly bleak future of journalism we’re experiencing (well, at least in cash-money-hungry North America). Some of the posts have a tinge of Grumpy Old Man in them, but the comments are still valuable.

I wish I wasn’t negative about journalism’s future. But with stories like this, this and this coming out at an increasing rate and the U.S. economy in such a dramatic, potentially long-term contraction, it’s hard not to worry about whether there’s real hope for profit-focused newspapers, television news and radio.