I Could Fake it But I’d Still Want More

A month or so ago I embarked on a quest to deconstruct the literary merits of the ubiquitous  Romance novel.  Well maybe merits is too strong – perhaps mechanics is the word I was looking for.  In any event, what I was trying to work out was what made these books such colossal sellers. I was sure that if I looked hard enough, I would find something in the genre with some merit, some meat on the bare bones of a too-thin plot, poor editing and mediocre writing.   But  what happened to me along the way, reading all those junk books, was that I become the literary equivalent of Morgan Spurlock – I was mentally Super Sized – and I don’t mean that in a good way.  Reading Romance novels was the mental equivalent of eating MacDonald’s every day and it did to my brain what The Whopper did to Mr. Spurlock’s liver and other assorted internal organs. 

In case you have been living on a desert island and missed it, Morgan was a fairly regular sized guy (well in Canada he would be – not so sure about in the US) who took on the task of eating three meals a day,  for 30 days, at MacDonald’s.  And if he was asked by the helpful staff if he wanted to “supersize that” – he had to.  And he had to finish every meal.   He documented the results, which were devastating to his health, as well as lot of commentary of agribusiness,  in the movie  Super Size Me.   

And in case every single thing about MacDonald’s has not previously pissed you off (ok, maybe the Frozen Strawberry Lemonade gets a pass) watch this movie and it will.  Don’t get me started on the commodification of food . . . .

And that describes fairly graphically how my poor brain felt after six weeks of research into the world of the Romance novel.  I embarked on my Sisyphean task because I was thinking that even if I never write the next Girl Who Played With Fire, I could probably work out the formula for success in Romance land and start cranking out some cheesy novels that would pay me an income that would allow me to retire permanently from corporate servitude. I could take up residence somewhere nice and warm with white sand, palm trees and margaritas, where I could ply my trade electronically  in nothing more than a bikini and flip flops.  My own little nirvana, or so I thought.

What I found out from my “research”  is that Romance novels are so formulaic, so mind-numbingly robotic that a computer program could write them.  I’m not kidding, no matter what type of “romance” it was, they all followed a wholly predictable plot.   Downtrodden (or just plain helpless in the more annoying ones) female meets stalwart man and they take an instant dislike to each other, despite her winsomeness and his obvious masculine charms.   There is a simplistic problem and over the course of this adventure they are forced into proximity with each other where, somewhat reluctantly (they are always reluctant at first) our heroine submits to the overtures of her would-be hero.   Nature takes its course and true love ensues . . . fade to sunset.  
And this “plot” holds true no matter what genre of Romance you read – from your basic Harlequin to Ellora’s Cave the “premier publisher of erotic romance for women” whose novels must contain, by definition “abundant and explicit sex described in graphic detail”  to quote their website.  Wow, who knew?  But no matter how exotic – there were a few things that I seriously don’t think are physically possible, even with paranormal creatures – the basic plot remained unchanged and I was bored with even the racier ones two books in.  End of research.
So where does this leave me?  Well first, I had to go on a mental  nutritional rescue mission.  I headed down to Vancouver’s Central Library (a building I love . . total aside) ditched the junk and came out with an armload of intellectual rescue.   Some Cormack McCarthy – difficult to read, but one of my favourite writers of all time, Catcher in the Rye and Walden, Thoreau’s classic piece of writing that I find myself quoting liberally and often.   It was like intravenous Vitamin B for the brain.
I also re-read Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist as a reminder to myself of what I should be doing because,  in the end, selling out is selling out.  Writing garbage romance novels in the hope of financing a different lifestyle is really no different than writing garbage pop songs because you think it will get radio play, or appearing in train-wreck reality TV series just for the 15 minutes of fame.  Selling out is selling out, a failure to follow our own personal legend.    To paraphrase Mr Coelho, our dreams are  buried because we  become convinced they are impossible to realize;  because we are afraid of hurting those we love by abandoning everything to follow our dreams;  because we live in fear of the defeats we will meet along the path and, finally, when faced with realizing our dreams, we are overcome with the guilt of getting what we always wanted when those around us do not.   
He goes on to say that “if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then . . . you understand why you are here”.  And I seriously doubt that I am here to add to the pile of written dross that already exists out there.  So it’s reality check time.  If I plan to do more writing than my blog, I’m going to have to figure out a way to devote more than a couple of hours a week to it.  I don’t know if I have a “cabin in the woods” , Waldenesque time coming my way anytime soon, although I have, in the past, actually lived in a cabin in the woods (yet another story).  But I’m still very much enjoying my singleton lifestyle in the big city . . . . So, I will keep banging away at the blog and encourage myself with the thought that I AM writing and that maybe one day out of these stories will come the thread of something good.   It’s just taking some time to spin the hay into gold. 
Today’s soundtrack was easy – Massive Attack is a  band that has always remained true to their artistic vision, no matter how out there.  The results are mesmerizing, brutally honest, sometimes violent and frequently erotic.  They have been fearless in writing and recording what they believe in, regardless of how it “sells”.    Here is Dissolved Girl.

It was a really good day

I worked a long day today – 11 straight hours in one meeting – from 7am until 6pm.  Then went out for an amazing dinner and drank an unreasonably expensive, but incredibly good, bottle of Pinot.  It was exhilarating and exhausting in equal parts.  I was enthralled with the sunset from the bridge on the way home, not only because it was stunning, but because it was the first time today I got to see what a gorgeous summer day it was and who knows how many more we might have in this the afternoon of the year, to quote Mr. Thoreau.

It was a very good day. If I didn’t have to do it all over again tomorrow, I’d stay up and write more. That and maybe I’d be tempted to write and post with a certain lowering of inhibitions. . . . 

It was a really good day.  

And for every one of those that rolls my way, I’m so thankful.  

Here’s a song I love from Train – it’s not deep, it’s not dark, it’s not tormented, but the image of a parachute . . .washing the words and pain away . . .beautiful.

Roooaad Trip – We are Warped

If it’s August, that can only mean one thing . . .it’s time to get Warped on the West Coast.  The Vans Warped Tour  decided to skip Vancouver the last few years, so we do what any serious punk/hardcore music lover would do . . .road trip to the nearest venue, which just happens to be the fantastic Gorge amphitheatre in George, WA.

What’s Warped Tour you ask . . .one of the biggest and best punk/hardcore music tours in North America.   This huge caravan of 115 bands (no typo – that’s 115) goes on tour in July and August, hitting the biggest and best outdoor venues all across the US and Canada.  Not all bands play all dates, but you can expect to see 75+ bands on 8 stages on any given date.   Complete chaos you say . . .oh no.  Warped runs like a well oiled machine.  Every band on every stage has their alloted time slot.  If the time says you start at 2.25pm, you better be on stage playing at 2:25pm, not doing sound check (haha, there is no sound check) not being late, not selling merch – playing.  And when you hit your alloted 20 or 30 minutes – get off the stage.  No messing around – the next band is standing by, ready to go.    Screw it up more than once and you will find yourself unceremoniously kicked off the tour.  

If you only go to see big name bands in massive sound-sucking arenas with hideous sight lines, then this is probably not the event for you.  You may have heard of a few of the headliner bands – Paramore, Simple Plan, 3Oh!3, Sum 41 but for the rest these bands rarely play to more than a couple of thousand people – and that’s on a good day.  But if you love alternative music (and I don’t mean the alt country/folk rock kind)  and you love discovering new bands and new music, Warped is the bonanza we wait all year for.

Here are some of the bands I’m totally excited to see:

The Aggrolites – bring on some SoCal dirty reggae.  Saw them in February in Vancouver, can’t wait to see them again.

Falling in Reverse – a hardcore rock band from my fav city – fabulous Las Vegas.  Haven’t seen them before, but love the sound and the look.

Dance Gavin Dance – screamo/hardcore – but with Jonny Craig (who took a brief hiatus with Emarosa until that ended disastrously) singing, it’s bound to be an incredible show.  Yes that boy’s a mess, but damn, can he sing. 

Family Force Five – get yo’ crunk on boys and girls and “Get your Back off the Wall”  for one of my fav Warped bands, those glam boys from the duuurrty South.  Ok, this video makes me laugh every time, so I had to put it in as well. The comments below in YouTube are worth a read – hilarious.

Less Than Jake – some fun, fantastic pop/punk/ska.  Love these guys, they are just made to dance too.

August Burns Red – more metal/ hardcore.  Caught them on the AP/Nike Airwalk Tour in Vegas last year.  Might not be everyone’s taste, but they bring the sound and the energy.

The Black Pacific – talented former Pennywise lead singer Jim Lindberg with his new band.   Really, really good.  And for a gal who is sorely missing Bad Religion this year, I’ll take these guys as a substitute.  I’m super excited about seeing them, so they get the video. 

The wingchick and I will be off on Friday afternoon to make the 6 hour drive to the Gorge.  We will be armed with Sharpies and highlighters – you have to be ORGANIZED to see all the bands you want to see in one day, lots of sunscreen and some good shoes – this is not a day for the faint-of-heart or weak.  Oh yeah, and lots of black eyeliner and maybe some dress up clothes – it’s a punk show after all!!  And the best part – we are camping right at the Gorge this year.  We usually stay at the nearest motel – Ellensburg – which is a 45 minute drive away.  Making that drive at 11pm at night after a full day of Warping  kind of cuts into the fun factor.  So this year, since we have all our camping gear out, we are setting up camp right beside the caravan for a weekend of sun, fun and great punk  music.  Have to say . . .I’m loving my August.

Weekly Overload Recreational Killer

Thanks to my friend Donna for the inspiration for some Friday night humour – she’s the only person I know that can start a 20++ string of comments on FB because she’s home dyeing her roots on a Friday night.  You go girl – anyone that’s been in Vegas with you knows that you can give Kathy Beth Terry a run in the partying department.    Oh and whoever that is in KBT’s bed on Saturday morning would make an awesome Hump Day Hottie . . do your homework and surprise us!

Wish I’d thought this up, but I’m just passing it along.  Ok,  the last one is all my own, couldn’t resist a shout out to my personal favourite.

The Center for Disease Control has issued a medical alert about a highly contagious, potentially dangerous virus that is transmitted orally, by hand, and even electronically.  This virus is called Weekly Overload Recreational Killer (WORK).  If you get WORK from your boss, any of your colleagues or anyone else via any means whatsoever – DO NOT TOUCH IT!!!  This virus will wipe out your private life entirely.  If you should come into contact with WORK you should immediately leave the premises.

Take two good friends to the nearest liquor store and purchase one or all of these three antidotes – Really Urgent Medicine (RUM), Work Isolating Neutralizer Extract (WINE) or Bothersome Employer Elimination Rebooter (BEER). Take the antidote repeatedly until WORK has been completely eliminated from your system.

You should immediately forward this medical alert to five friends.  If you do not have five friends, you have already been infected and WORK is controlling your life.

I’ve added one more that I find particularly effective  – Potent  Antidote To Repeated Office Nuisances (PATRON). 

Have a great weekend.

Catching Some Star Dust and Rainbows

“The wilderness and the idea of wilderness is one of the permanent homes of the human spirit.”
— Joseph Wood Krutch, Today and All Its Yesterdays, 1958

That’s how I feel after getting back from a 10 day camping and whitewater rafting trip on the Nahatlatch River; the wilderness was truly the home of my human spirit for those 10 days.  10 days of living in a tent, hauling water from the river, camp stove cooking, no power, no cell phone, no internet.  10 days of bliss cut off from my world as I know it.  

Henry David Thoreau said of nature:

“The indescribable innocence and beneficence of Nature–of sun and wind and rain, of summer and winter–such health, such cheer, they afford forever and such sympathy have they ever with our race, that all Nature would be affected, and the sun’s brightness fade, and the winds would sigh humanely, and the clouds rain tears, and the woods shed their leaves and put on mourning in midsummer, if any man should ever for a just cause grieve.”

Mr. Thoreau was a master wordsmith and he manages to capture exactly in this paragraph the sheer marvellousness of Nature, of living with only her rhythms as your time clock and guide.  I came back home tired, but completely refreshed in spirit and mind (and in case it wasn’t obvious, while I may have some small talent with the English language, I’m not Thoreau). The privations of living without all the modern conveniences force you to live totally and completely in the moment.   Each day is filled with the simplicity of just living, looking neither to the past or the future, totally absorbed in today.

Here is the gorgeous Nahatlatch River from the Apocynum campground we stayed at.  Totally off-grid, totally unserviced.  Pack in everything you need, pack out everything with you. 

The first night in the campground it was just the wingchick and me . . .we were absolutely the only human souls there and I have to say we were just a wee bit nervous . . .there might have been non-human souls (like bears) really close by.    Or worse yet . . .hillbilly souls.   These gals had no desire to become the unwilling brides of a couple good ol’ boys from out of them thar hills.   We were 20 miles from anywhere, down a steep, winding, rutted forestry road that gave us fits driving in.  Hillbilly country without a doubt!!!    Fortunately it stays light until late, but as night finally fell over the campground the darkness was complete and absolute.  Hold your hand up in front of your face . . . it’s too dark to see it.  There were a few stars, but in a heavily forested area their little lights don’t shine very bright.   Going to the outhouse at 3am is an exercise in determination . . .and fear!  

Something we quickly came to appreciate, however, was the ever-present rushing of the river.   I had not realized just how loud a river in full flow can be . . .really loud.  The blessing is that it covers up all the little night-time rustling noises of the forest, so you don’t spend all night lying in your tent wondering if THAT rustle is Yogi coming for a snack, or Billie Joe coming for a bride.  And you come to love the sound of the river.  It was disconcerting when we finally left and didn’t have that river noise anymore, I missed it a whole lot.  

The next day the rest of our camping group arrived and the blissful serenity of that first day gave way to the busyness of camping with a large group of people.  But it’s also a whole lot of fun and you really connect with people – no TV, no music, no anything to provide distraction.  You have the campfire to sit around and conversations just seem to flow.   You spend a whole lot of time talking and listening and getting to know people  in completely different way than you would under “normal” circumstances.  Lifelong friendships are made at camp.  Always.  

But it wasn’t all deep conversations and communing with Nature.  Heck no, we were there for some fun and excitement as well.  And what better way to do that than whitewater rafting.   We were hooked up with the amazing Reo Rafting for our rafting adventure, and we could not have made a better choice.   So much fun, amazing, fantastic guides and a great resort to hang out at after rafting.  


Into the Nahatlatch Canyon - no going back, it's all out till the other end!
Slidin’ into a hole with our amazing guide Jamie.

And that’s how we spent our days – raging fun and excitement on the river, hot tubbing at the resort afterwards, some serious R&R by the campfire and a blissful nights’ sleep.   And yes, we got over our fear of both bears and hillbillies and managed to return home unravaged by either, although these are paddling words to live by and if the guides said “paddle hard” I never questioned why, I just got on that blade.

My soul has been revived and my body refreshed.  Now that I’m back,  I am thoroughly enjoying all the comforts of my home and I’m just thrilled to be back in my online world.  But to close with another quote from Mr. Thoreau, of whose writing I have become so completely enamoured after my little foray into the wilderness  that I am now working my way through Walden:
 “The true harvest of my life is intangible – a little star dust caught, a portion of the rainbow I have clutched”
 I caught some star dust and rainbows. 
My one concession on this trip (well other than the hot tub!) was my iPod.   I really can’t be without my music.  I”m listening to John Mayer’s Battle Studies as I’m writing tonight, here’s “Heartbreak Warfare”