Category Archives: Personal Life

4 Reasons Why You Should Attend Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche is a free annual art festival that occurs overnight or at night. The first one happened in 1990 in Barcelona. As the tradition spread to other cities and countries, they used their own language’s words for White Night as the name for this event.

Here in Toronto, Nuit Blanche generally occurs in late September or early October. It begins at 7 pm and ends at 7 am the next morning, but not every city follows this same exact schedule.

I’ve been attending this event for years now, and I thought it was high time to discuss it in detail with my readers. The photo that accompanies this post wasn’t taken there, but it did remind me of a cool exhibit from it from 2015. While I didn’t add them into my post for copyright reasons, you can see actual pictures from this year’s festival here.

If you’re ever in Toronto, Barcelona, Montreal, St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires, Naples, Cairo, Havana, Paris, or any other city that hosts its own version of Nuit Blanche when this festival is taking place, here are four reasons why I think you should check it out.

Art is for Everyone

One of the things I love the most about Nuit Blanche is how accessible it makes art. While some of the attendees are obviously experts on the creation and interpretation of this sort of thing, many more are people who are casually interested in the topic but who have no specific training or background on it. Some of them are even small children! This isn’t something that is specifically geared towards this age group, but there are exhibits every year that are child-friendly.

I adore the mixture of people that show up for an event like this in general. You’ll see very young infants all the way up to senior citizens enjoying the exhibits, and I’m not even kidding about that first part. I’ve watch the expressions on babies’ faces at the most colourful ones, and they were definitely liking what they saw. Tourists who can’t speak any English at all will marvel at the same exhibit alongside people who have spent their entire lives in English-speaking countries. People from every race, nationality, sexual orientation, social class, and  every other possible demographic group you can imagine are there, too.

There’s something to be said for works that can appeal so many different groups simultaneously. It’s magical.

It’s Interactive

I’ve wandered into the middle of a zombie uprising, danced with spotlights, explored an abandoned subway tunnel while listening to music the creator thought would increase the chances of us spotting a ghost, and heard the stories of people who work or worked in the sex industry at this festival in past years.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the creative things artists have done for it. It’s incredible to see what the participants are able to come up with and how hard they work to make their ideas spring to life. As much as I enjoy wandering around art museums, too, this is nothing at all like that experience. It’s more like the energetic, joyful, and slightly rowdy environment you see on Church Street after the Pride Parade each summer.

No Two Years Are Ever the Same

Let me be really honest with you here. There have been a few years when I didn’t emotionally connect to any of the exhibits I saw for a wide variety of reasons. Not every Nuit Blanche has been spectacular for me as an attendee, but that’s actually a good thing.

I value risk-taking in the arts. Artists and other creative folks who are willing to stretch themselves and their creative works should be admired. It’s much easier to make something that could blandly appeal to most people than it is to drill down and come up with an idea that’s thought-provoking, shocking, humorous, or memorable.

This means that some years will be better for me than others, and vice versa. Not everything can or should appeal to everyone.

Your Definition of What Art Is Might Change

This year there was a dumpling exhibit that caught me a little off guard at first. You could go into it, buy real dumplings (all of which smelled amazing), and eat them while you walked around looking at other artistic displays.

I never would have thought something as ordinary as food preparation could be reimagined as art, but that exhibit was extremely popular. The lines for the dumplings were huge, and everyone who got one looked pretty happy.

As someone who is casually interested in this topic, I appreciate the fact that this event stretches my understanding of what art is or could be. It made me think of what I generally consider to be the fairly mundane practice of cooking and baking food in a new light.

The next time I make cookies, shepherd’s pie, or any number of other dishes, I’ll see it in a way I’ve never seen it before. (I still won’t look forward to washing the dishes, though!)

That’s the beauty of art. If nothing else, I hope that will be what you take from Nuit Blanche if or when you ever see it for yourself.

4 Things I Want to Accomplish This Autumn

There’s something about the autumn season that makes me want to write out lists and accomplish things. Maybe it’s because of how much I generally looked forward to school beginning again when I was a student.

A blank notebook can hold an endless number of possibilities. Several months from now they’ll be full of lecture notes, but there might be poems or little drawings scribbled in the margins. The smell of fresh paper is enticing, too.

An unread textbook is often full of interesting things that you never knew about the world before. Sometimes I even read parts of my textbooks – especially the literature ones –  that were never assigned to us for the sheer fun of it.

It’s been well over a decade since I took any courses, but I thought this year it might be helpful to set a few non-academic goals for myself. This post will be shorter than usual. My goals are fairly simple, and I see no reason to pad them out  since they don’t require a thousand words of explanation.

1. Spend One Hour a Week Lifting Weights.

I’m currently recovering from a minor injury that temporarily derailed my normal weightlifting routine. As soon as I’ve healed, I’m going to leap back into my normal routine of lifting free weights. I can’t tell you how much I miss that. In the meantime I’m trying to do some bodyweight activities that don’t aggravate my injury to keep up my strength as much as possible.

2. Meditate for 20 Minutes Every Day.

Honestly, my meditation habits have been pretty erratic these past six months. That needs to change.

3. Join New Social Groups.

One of the downsides of being a writer, and especially a full-time writer, is how much time we tend to spend alone typing on a keyboard. While I’m incredibly grateful for the many benefits of this career choice, I think it would be healthy for me to get out and socialize with other people at times.

Ideally, I’ll find at least one group that had nothing to do with writing so I can meet people from other professions and walks of life. I’m open to all possibilities, though, and hope to blog about my experiences once I find a couple of groups that suit my interests and schedule.

4. Write My Second Sci-Fi Novel.

This is by far my biggest goal for the autumn. A while ago I began a novel that was about a woman living in what used to be Arizona several generations from now after climate change permanently altered the landscape there and North America at large. I got stuck 30,000 words into it and have yet to finish it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to figure out how to do that one if I work on a entirely new story in the science fiction genre.

I’m tentatively planning to check back in with my readers in December to discuss how many of these goals I’ve reached and what’s happening with them in general.  My hope is that I’ll be very motivated to accomplish them now that everyone knows what I’m trying to do.

What are your goals for the next few months?

Not Everything Deserves a Response

There have been references to the argumentative nature of the Internet for as long as I’ve been aware of such a thing, much less an active participant in it.

Without giving away my age, I was around back when people got into never-ending arguments on message boards about topics that ranged from the serious to the downright silly.

For those of you who don’t remember those halcyon days,  message board discussions sometimes went something like this:

 

Thread title: Dogs Are Great

Anne: Here’s a humorous story about my dog not realizing that it’s Daylight Savings Time and waking me up an hour early for breakfast. I really wanted to sleep in, but he was so excited to spend time with me that I ended up getting out of bed early. Aren’t dogs the best?

Bernard: Oh, so you must hate cats then.

Anne: Wait, what?

Bernard: Obviously, everyone who loves dogs also hates cats. If you didn’t feel that way, you would have included cats in the beginning of this thread since they also like to ignore Daylight Savings Time.

Charlie: Yeah, what Bernard said. You really should have thought this rude thread through before posting it for these fourteen reasons that I will now list in exhaustive detail.

Diego: Well, I agree with Anne. Cats are the worst pets that have ever existed for these fifteen rebuttals to Charlie that I’ll now list in exhaustive detail.

Anne: ………..

Depending on how Anne responded once she realized that her innocuous thread about the joys of dogs had immediately been hijacked to argue about whether dogs or cats are the superior pet, this thread could go on for multiple pages and many days.

It didn’t matter what the original purpose of the message board was. I saw it play out on every one I ever visited. Maybe these kinds of arguments are an inescapable part of human nature in general.

At any rate, this pattern of behaviour carried over to social media as soon as such a thing existed. It’s shown no sign of of stopping since then.

No, this isn’t going to be a rant against social media or the Internet in general. Like many other tools, they can be used in all sorts of constructive or destructive ways depending on the intentions of the person behind the screen.

What I did want to talk about today is why not responding is sometimes the best possible thing you can do when someone online – or offline, for that matter – is determined to argue with you no matter what you say or do.

It Takes Two to Argue

I was originally going say that it’s impossible to argue with yourself, but I have seen a few examples of people so determined to win a debate that the lack of an opponent doesn’t do much to stop them.

Still, most arguments require at least two people to sustain them. If one person simply refuses to play the game, it becomes much more difficult for the other one to keep pressing their points. I don’t personally find any fulfillment in debating, but I’ve noticed that many people who do get a thrill out of any response you give them.

It’s not necessarily about the merit of the arguments themselves, it’s about the act of getting the other side to respond in any way.

Nobody’s Mind Will Change

There is nothing Anne can do to convince Bernard that her original post was intended to be lighthearted and happy. He is so determined to drag his own feelings about dogs and cats into every interaction he has that he’ll probably never stop.

Likewise, Bernard will never convince Anne that cats are better than dogs. That wasn’t why she originally signed up for this message board or started that thread. She has no interest in arguing with a stranger on the Internet on a topic she already has an opinion on, and there’s nothing Bernard can say or do to change that.

You’re Not the Cause or the Solution

A certain percentage of people have urges to do things like stir up conflict, always be right, or push their opinions onto everyone they meet regardless of the social context.

Nobody that I’ve known has ever learned to examine the reasons why they behave the way they do based on a conversation with a stranger. If or when they decide to work on changing those parts of themselves, they’ll seek out help on their own terms.

But you didn’t cause their behaviour and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. They are who they are just like you are who you are.

I Choose Peace

There’s something liberating about choosing not respond to everyone who wants to debate. The Bernards of the world obviously have the freedom to rant about cats and dogs as much as they wish, but they’ll soon learn that I’m not someone who will jump into fruitless arguments with them.

There are plenty of other folks on the Internet who are willing to do that, and I wish them well with their virtual battles.

How do you decide what you will and won’t respond to online?

4 Things That Inspire Me to Buy a Book

This post was written as a response to Candy Korman’s What Inspires You to Buy a Book? If any of my readers decide to write their own responses, I’ll edit this to include a link to your post. 

Raise your hand if you sometimes have no idea what to read next! I know I have this problem from time to time, and it’s not because my to-be-read list needs to be padded out. My TBR is as long as it ever was.

So many books are being published these days that it can be hard to know where to begin even if you’ve narrowed your search down to a particular genre. (Sometimes I have trouble even getting that far!)

I’m going to be honest here and say that I don’t buy a ton of reading material these days. My local library does an incredible job of bringing new titles into circulation soon after they’re released, and I already have dozens of Kindle ebooks that I need to finish before I can justify buying more of them. When I do eventually buy new stuff to read, though, these are the criteria that matter most to me.

This list is written in order from the most to least influential things that will encourage me to buy a book.

Already Loving the Author’s Work

I’ll immediately go out and buy the newest book from particular authors as soon as it becomes available because of how much I’ve adored everything else they’ve ever written. The number of people who have made it to this list is small, but once they’re added to it they will almost certainly be on it for as long as they continue writing.

For example, Sarah Waters is one of the folks on this list for me. She has a way of reimagining what the past might have really been like, especially for non-heterosexual women, that will always hold a special place in my heart.

She also only publishes new material every few years, so I have plenty of time to wait for her next story before finishing the last one.

Personal Recommendations

Confession: I’m a little hesitant to take book recommendations from folks who don’t know me well. My tastes are so specific that I’ve found it’s more effective to get to know someone well first before I start asking them what I should be reading next. They’re welcome to give recommendations, but I’ll be more interested in checking out their ideas once they know more about what I really love in a story.

For example, one of the things that can irk me about the science fiction and fantasy genres is how women are treated in certain parts of it. I love those genres in general, but I have little patience for storytellers who haven’t figured out to how include female characters without shoving them into the sidekick or love interest boxes. This also applies to stories where members of minority groups are given the same treatment.

Give me great storytelling by all means, but also make it intersectional and relevant to the lives of many different types of people.

Yes, I apply this rule to the way I interact with others, too.  It’s fairly rare for me to give out recommendations to folks I haven’t gotten to know well. It takes time to get to know what their preferences are. I’d rather say nothing than tell them about something that they have no interest in or that potentially stirs up painful memories for them.

A Great Blurb

I won’t go into specific details about the types of stuff I look for in a blurb since this is such a subjective topic. What I consider to be a must-read plot might bore you to tears and vice versa!

There are a few things that I think every blurb should take note of, however.

One, it should tell the readers what the storyline is about. Has anyone else run across vague or misleading blurbs? I see them every so often, and I get irritated every time I realize that I’m reading something that was not anything close to what was mentioned in the blurb at all.

Two, it should not give away the entire plot. I’ve been seeing quite a few blurbs lately that basically summarize the entire story for the audience. Not cool.

Three, it should encourage the reader to ask questions. Will the lonely young woman find true love? Will the detective find out who is killing her neighbours before she becomes his newest victim? Even if I know what the answer will be ahead of time, I still want to approach the plot with a sense of wonder instead of knowing everything (or nothing) about what is going to happen in it.

Well-Rounded Reviews

I choose to believe this dog has opinions about books, too.

While it is possible to write something that universally appealing, I place more trust in reviews and reviewers who mention the stuff they didn’t like about a particular novel or other form of entertainment as well as everything they thought was wonderful about it.

To me, a great review is one that reminds you of sitting down casually with friends and discussing what you’ve all recently read, watched, or listened to.

That is, I always want to know if a reviewer thought the pacing was a little off in the middle or if a certain character could have been fleshed out a bit more.

Small details like these actually make it more likely that I’ll buy a book because they show the reviewers were probably paying close attention and thinking critically about what they read, especially if there are multiple conflicting opinions on the same topic.

If the storyline includes something that is commonly triggering, I also want to know about this well before I even start thinking about reading the first paragraph. The list of things I absolutely refuse to read about is vanishingly small, but it exists and I hate being surprised by those topics.

Yes, compliments are important, too. A review full of nothing but compliments is definitely a pleasure to read, but it strikes me as eerie when every single reviewer agrees that something is perfect the way it is. Diversity of opinion is critical when I’m deciding what to purchase and read next regardless of how much I might or might not end up agreeing with any particular reviewer.

What encourages you to buy a book?

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What Should I Write About Next?

Once or twice a year I like to check in with my readers.

What fitness, mindfulness/meditation, and scifi/fantasy topics would you like to see me blog about here?

I haven’t been writing many meditation posts over the last several months because, frankly, my foray into unguided mediation hasn’t been going well. Even guided meditation has been challenging for me. Normally, I like to hold off on posts about stuff that isn’t working for me until I find some kind of solution for it.  Would you rather read about someone who is currently struggling or who used to struggle and then found a way to make it better?

Writing reviews of sci-fi and speculative films has been a true source of joy for me this year. It was originally something I started doing because of how much I enjoyed my friend Alexandria’s movie and TV reviews. She’s introduced me to some  stories I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own but ended up liking quite a bit.

I also love the process of analyzing the plot and discussing what I did and didn’t enjoy about it. Do you all find this kind of content useful? What films would you recommend watching next?

My workout schedule has remained pretty uneventful this summer. Everything is good on that front, although I’m not entirely sure how to blog about something that hasn’t brought any new or unusual challenges to my life lately. Maybe it’s time to try something new?

I do have a list of ideas for future blog posts that I’ll continue to drawn on, but I always enjoy hearing your thoughts as well.

What kinds of posts do you find most enjoyable here? Do you have any ideas for me?

What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year. Now… Read More

My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day! One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years. From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States.… Read More

My Favourite LGBT Books

Happy Pride month! Today I thought it would be fun to share some of my favourite LGBT-themed books in honour of all of the Pride festivities that have been and are still going on here in Toronto. Rainbow flags are popping up everywhere, and that’s always a heart-warming thing to see at this time of… Read More

Anything But Books Tag

Thank you to Stephanie from Adventures Thru Wonderland for tagging me in this. To the best of my knowledge, this tag was originally started by ReadorRot.  Name a cartoon that you love Futurama. I should warn you all that this isn’t the kind of cartoon that was meant for children. The jokes in it are… Read More