David Mitchell's Slade House!
This 2016 book scared the spit out of me, once the ghost story got going a third of the way in. And let me add, I don't get scared easy by novels, since I'm such a voracious horror fan and have been somewhat desensitized to the usual fright tricks authors throw into their books.
But there was something about how Mithcell described the haunted house at the core of this book, I still think about it today, a year after finishing the book.
This from the guy who wrote Cloud Atlas and Black Swan Green, two relatively harmless books that weren't tinged with horror at all, but still showed off Mitchell's chops at writing compelling characters and engaging action. When someone asks me a horror novel to recommend to them, I go with Slade House. Stephen King, you had a good run.
I've noticed something interesting recently: I've maintained relationships with friends and colleagues thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While that may sound Captain Obvious to you, I believe it's under-appreciated how this era of online connectivity is fostering bonds to one another that would've dissipated in a more analogue time.
We all know platforms such as Facebook allow us to keep friendships that may not be construed as our inner circle. I have more than 1,200 "Friends" and of course only around 5% of them are those I see regularly or semi-regularly, either in person or online. But if Facebook or Insta didn't exist, would I really be keeping those links alive and healthy? Probably not, much like our parents may not have been able to stay in touch with friends overseas in the 80s and 90s. The intentions may have been there, but the logistics were too difficult to overcome.
Now that we can send a Facebook Message to a buddy living in San Jose, instead of penning a letter and waiting two weeks for a reply, keeping those relationships going is simple and seamless. That's why I think today's users of Facebook and other platforms will develop stronger relationships to what I call outside friends - they aren't living in your community or even close enough to call up once in awhile. Outside friends are those orbiting outside that inner sanctum and instead are folks you want to keep in touch with, somehow, but you may not have the kind of face time (or FaceTime) that you have with closer friends.
The conflicting argument is that these relationships are ephemeral and unsubstantial due to a DM's lack of intimacy. "That can't place a coffee date or 30-minute chat on the phone!" some of you cry out. I'm not arguing that; rather, look at friends you may not have ever wondered about in a Facebook-less world, but thanks to social media you can stay in touch and heck, maybe even invite for a coffee date if you visit their hometown or they visit yours.
I've long believed that social media doesn't replace in-person relationships but instead fosters a new kind of connectedness that can be very foreign to those not accustomed to anything but in-person hangs. And I've long thought that's a good thing to bring to the world, even if you never want to log onto Facebook for such relationship maintenance. It might not be for you, but it's right for other folks.
When I first came across a video essay on YouTube breaking down the music behind the Lord of the Rings movies, I got hooked. I never thought something so intelligent and nuanced could find its way into my YouTube meanderings, so much so I started poring over this guy's other video essays on movies and TV shows. And that's how I first learned about the video essayist known as nerdwriter1.
His videos, released every two weeks, dissect a director or a film in such a thorough way, I'm surprised he isn't a household name. From his ode to Nathan Fielder's quirky show to "how David Fincher hijacks your eyes", nerdwriter1's videos revealed to me subtleties I missed in my favourite media, perhaps due to my lack of knowledge or experience in filmmaking. I think, deep down, I have a love of film that extends into a thirst to understand the inner workings of quality cinematography, script writing and editing.
nerdwriter1 isn't the only video essayist I'm subscribed to these days.Entertain The Elk does a magnificent job with the series "The Day ____ Died" such as "The Day South Park Died," where he critiques a show's jump-the-shark moment and how it all went downhill from that head-shaking episode.
Lessons from the Screenplay doesn't focus very much on directing or where the camera wants you to look, but instead a writer's channel for all things Hollywood. How did Moonrise Kingdom blend story and style? What tools of suspense did Tarantino employ for Inglorious Bastards? Or maybe you prefer to dip into Christopher Nolan's mind to learn how he created the Joker as the ultimate antagonist in The Dark Knight?
Speaking of, The Dark Knight comes up in almost every video essayist's catalogue, and for good reason: It broke a lot of ground in how it told a superhero story, what a villain is supposed to be, and so much more.
When I want to go neck-deep into the minutiae of filmmaking, I turn to Every Frame a Painting. This video essayist uses well-known films and directors, such as Spielberg, to pull back the curtain on filming and editing techniques that aren't often explored in-depth. I especially enjoyed his piece on how Spielberg pulled off the "oner" so seamlessly aka the one-take shot. (See below).
And for Looney Tunes fans, I recommend watching his brilliant expose of artist Chuck Jones (which also delivers a hefty dose of nostalgia for anyone over 30).
Such analysis of movies and TV shows reframes how I see classic art that might have remained with me due to its themes and acting, but didn't register to me as content displaying stellar editing or standout direction. I just don't know the terminology or the techniques of filmmaking, so these video essayists reveal to me some secrets of the trade I took for granted as a casual viewer.
And whoever spends all those hours to break down the details of films and shows in such a compelling way deserve your kudos...and your cursor clicking on that "Subscribe" button.
What I mean by the "easy dig" is the quick insult or disrespectful comment someone can shoot at their partner, often done after an incident where an opening is available for that kind of exchange. It's the kind of remark coming after a slip-up or accident, and gives the other partner an opportunity to one-up the other by showcasing their mistake, rather than acknowledging the error and moving on and/or helping soothe the hurt feelings that may suddenly be developing.
An example is when, say, he accidentally calls someone else by another name, and she'll criticize him for always forgetting names, rather than being patient with his poor memory. I've seen the same with the wife-husband scenario swapped. Another example I've seen is she'll let the toddler wander around the house while company is over, the kid will fall down and hurt his knee, and the husband will rail against his wife for "always letting Junior wander without supervision, and is that the kind of parent she wants to be?"
Often, couples make mountains out of molehills, and heck, this isn't just the domain of those in relationships, but everyone else too. We get too anxious about things that haven't transpired yet (a hurt knee isn't a broken spine, a forgetful mind isn't detrimental to someone's entire personality).
I came across an example of a couple that avoided the easy dig. I was driving with my friend, she was behind the wheel, and she took a turn too fast and ended up hopping on the curb and popping her tire. Thankfully, we were one minute away from her house, that she shared with her husband and two kids. Pulling up to her house with the flopping tire, her husband was on the porch smoking and shaking his head, the obvious precursor to a few lobbed insults I expected to come her way. But this guy took it all in stride, said to his wife, "It's OK, it's OK, I'll fix it now and get it changed proper at the mechanic's across the way." He was more concerned about ensuring he got the tire fixed then being angry or insulting.
That same couple went out to a smokehouse BBQ with me the following night and she spilled water all over his jeans and shirts before the food arrived. Again, here is an opportunity for him to criticize her clumsiness, something she even admits, but he didn't even raise his voice. He didn't use this mistake as an opportunity to get an edge in the relationship. And I admired his composure, which I know he didn't have when they first started dating.
One of the pillars of a solid relationship is respect. When we lob insults or demeaning comments to our partners, we reveal how we truly don't respect their feelings or emotional state at the time. It would've been easy for that husband to make fun of his wife for busting a tire, so it's an easy opportunity for him to be superior - I'm the better drive, that would have never happened with me.
But the better person in that situation needs to understand how a quick jab will only hurt their entire relationship. Like a boxer facing those jabs, that connection can get worn down by all those small hits of abuse, accumulating day after day. Even if the situation is innocuous, like a spilled glass of water, those criticisms backed by disrespect instead of empathy can do serious harm to the love forming the foundation of that relationship.
TLDR: Don't be an asshole, peoples.
Sushi burritos sound like a cool idea at first, until you realize it's just sushi rolls thrown in a fajita wrap and you wonder why you ever thought it was appealing in the first place.
Any Monty Python skit is funnier than what Saturday Night Live has broadcast in the past five years.
In the summer, black shirts and tops are two-faced: They are fantastic for hiding sweat stains but they attract the sun's heat. Damn you, black shirts!
These days, a solid third of my conversations with my parents revolve around how to fix their printer.
Tim Meadows kills it with deadpan delivery, and if you need any clearer evidence of that under-rated skill, watch his performance in Mean Girls.
The best Red Hot Chili Peppers album is Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Writers are tempted to use juicy thick words to add sparkle to their prose or non-fiction, but more often than not the simpler shorter words is le mot juste, as Flaubert called that ideal word writers always try to find.
Playa Cabana makes the tastiest tacos in Toronto.
If you hate puns, you'll never enjoy a career in headline-writing at daily newspapers.
There should be a language translation app by now. You say a phrase in a foreign language and then the app translates it instantly into your preferred language. Get with it, Silicon Valley.
[To read Part 1 of this Truisms series, go here]
Reel Big Fish. The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Operation Ivy. Sublime. Mustard Plug. Goldfinger Fishbone. If those band names evoke an aura of nostalgia, then you're in my camp - I used to love third-wave ska, what with their happy horns and quirky lyrics and dance-heavy riffs.
I've always wondered if there'd be a documentary chronicling this blip in the music radar, and thankfully two nights ago I saw a new film doing just that. Pick It Up! - Ska in the 90s debuted in Toronto at Gerrard Grand Theatre (thanks for alerting me, Brahm!) and I was smiling the whole time. Something about ska always does that to me.
The film did a fantastic job in offering a history lesson on the first and second waves of ska, most notably how two-tone ska (think The Specials, Skatalites) gave way to a more poppy and giddier form of "fast reggae", as ska has often been labelled. t was illuminating to hear bands like Reel Big Fish and Mustard Plug talk openly about how the public first welcomed the quick rise of ska music, but then got over the trend just as speedily, seeing ska "as cheesy and immature," as Save Ferris singer Monique Powell said in the film.
Viewers will also learn the origin stories of checkerboard shirts, horn sections, skankin dancing, violent mosh pits and ska tunes making it into films such as Clueless. More importantly, the musicianship is discussed in the middle of the film, and that section not only dissects writing certain songs but also honing the on-stage personas for folks like The Aquabats!
I was actually oblivious to the two tipping points for ska in the 90s: No Doubt making it big, and Rancid's Time Bomb going viral on MTV/Muchmusic, legitimizing a punk-rock-jazz trend that began in Orange County, CA, and spread across the US. I guess I always saw Rancid as more punk than ska, but it turned out Time Bomb opened the door to ska in a way that buoyed other bands.
The doc covered a lot of ground, but only in one area I felt it lacking: When it came time to introduce how Sublime influenced the music industry, the filmmakers only got Miguel (a producer) and Brad's wife to speak on camera, as opposed to snagging two of the surviving members of the band, Bud and Eric. Sublime's impact can't be under-stated, so why not interview two of the guys deep in the heart of third-wave ska movement?
There's a reason I went to a Reel Big Fish concert four years ago, long after I amassed RBG and Goldfinger cassettes: unfettered joy and sweaty fun are the key ingredients in a great ska show, and RBG has never failed to entertain me. Maybe it's the blast of the three horns, something I din't see often in a lot of concerts. Maybe it's the lyrics taking me back to the 90s. But it's probably the skankin I break into when all those elements blend smoothly into a heady celebration I don't want to see end anytime soon.
The show you need to be watching right now is Fleabag. Both seasons. On Amazon Prime, binge it, space it out, whatever you need to do, but make sure this gem of a TV series is slotted in your queue.
Why? The writing. It’s snappy and realistic and hilarious and charming and engaging and I can go on but I don’t want to overload you with synonyms of “fantastic.”
Because that’s what Fleabag is, a nutshell. Fan-fucking-tastic, from the Season 1 pilot to 2018’s season 2 finale, which some have been saying could be the series finale.
From writer/actor Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who you might know as the brains behind serial-killer dramedy Killing Eve, Fleabag follows a British café owner through her 30-something London lifestyle, complete with tense relationships with a sister and dad, unfulfilling romantic partners, misogynistic weirdos and guilt. Lots of that.
As much as I applaud the casting and overall acting talent on screen (hat-tip to Olivia Colman for being brilliant as always), PB’s scripts elevate this show beyond most of the bland fare clogging our screens these days. The conversations between characters feel natural, never forced, lulling you into Fleabag’s world as soon as you hit that 10 minute mark in episode 1.
Then there are the twists and rug burns the characters endure, more so in season 2 than 1, and the stories shatter your expectations of how this or that plot thread will unravel. It’s as if Waller-Bridge has been so damn bored by television’s cliché approaches to relationships, she wanted to flip some tables and make something unlike anything done before.
One such tool is giving the main character, played by Waller-Bridge, the ability to break the fourth wall and address the audience in these snarky asides that often mirror what you’re thinking about the scene as well. It’s the kind of device that could backfire if the direct-to-camera commentary falls flat; but the writing’s quality never wavers and always stays consistently strong, even though more expositional scenes.
Lately, I’ve been tracking who writes my favourite shows, such as Atlanta, Barry, Crashing, Preacher (wow, I really like shows with one-word titles). I never used to do that, and for some reason preferred to note which actors guest-starred in a random scene. Now, thanks to learning more about the TV writing process through a few words, I try to look deeper into the writing of a favourite show – it can crackle off the screen or fizzle quick, no matter which A-list actors try to make the best of the D-minus lines.
And Fleabag, which deserves all the awards and all the love, is snagging As across the board, gold stars everywhere.
On the surface, I often come across as a smile-every happy-go-lucky guy with not a care in the world. My optimism often shines brightest, out of all the emotions squirrelled inside me, and so my friends and family never really see the negative self-flagellation I often endure. I'll admit, it's the kind of self-doubt that never paralyzes me from doing something worthwhile, but more often pinches me to say, "You sure you want to do this?"
I often find I've been plagued with five types of negative thoughts trying to worm their way into my psyche, poking holes in my ego and derailing the good vibes that initally had me soaring. Maybe you'll recognize a few of them:
You're an imposter. You're simply not good at what you do.
Otherwise known as imposter syndrome, such poison-tipped inner monologues have infected many artists over the years. It can be difficult to consistently stiff-arm that idea of being an imposter, especially when you're surrounded by such inspiring and talented writers and creatives everyday. But I've learned to recognize the encroaching whisper of this toxic thought, often reminding myself, "No, you are an original, and accept the thumbs-up feedback from friends and family as what it is: appreciation for your art."
Are you really better than you were yesterday?
For context to this sly needling, one of my mottos is "There is no need to compare yourself to another. The true greatness is being better than your previous self." So, in some way, I try to be a more accomplished David than the prior day, even if that relates to small things (Calling parents more, giving a dollar to the homeless man outside LCBO, helping a friend move etc). Some days, I slip back into bad habits, especially when it comes to food, something I have long struggled with as a charmingly chunky guy. I'm not too surprised that negativity finds it way into my brain; I needed to be better today and I wasn't. Thing is, I can be hard on myself and I've gradually learned to shelve this particular self-doubt and pick myself up to recognize that some days we aren't improving ourselves and that's OK. Tomorrow, it can happen.
Be a better friend.
I think this type of trash idea infects me when I feel like I've neglected a friend that's been trying to get in touch with me to hang out but the timing is off. I've always been someone with many friends in various circles - the poetry crew, the high school crew, the "Russians" - and it isn't easy to ensure every friend gets a decent share of my time. Does that sound egotistical? I'm not sure, but it rings a bit like, "Oh woe is me, too many friends!" But I think friendship fadeaways happen way too often when we get complacent about relationships that may have been always been solid, but start to fray at the edges as we age. And I'm determined to keep the friends that matter to me most, even when the "Be a better person" starts to echo in my head. Actually, especially when that happens.
You're not worthy of love.
As someone who's been single more often than being in relationship, this nagger of an insult appears as annoyingly as a neon pop-up ad. I've never been one to feel depressingly lonely as a single guy, thanks to so many great friends and fam feeding my social life. But I'm not immune to such doubts when those patches of singledom strike particularly hard. I've trained myself to block those pop-ups by complimenting myself on never compromising in relationships, and learning from each woman I've dated. Such discipline in steering your thought patterns to that space takes work, and won't happen in a fingersnap after that first or fourth breakup. But I've learned I can be a positive person most of the times thanks to my will to push away negative thoughts that encroach on my everyday.
June is packed with a slew of shows where I'l be bringing my poetry and solo show Jewnique. If you're in the GTA, Hamilton or Montreal, you can check me out at any of the gigs below:
June 8 - Tikkun Leil Shavuout at Miles Nadal JCC(750 Spadina Ave). 10pm. Room 201. Free.
At this all-night Jewish learning festival, I'll perform segments from my solo show Jewnique and then lead a workshop on how people can tell their Jewish story through poetry. No pens/paper required.
June 11 - Boneshaker Reading Series at Gladstone Library (1101 Bloor St. W). 7pm. Free.
This reading series will give me the opportunity to share more of my work from As Close to the Edge Without Going Over. Also reading with poet Paola Ferrante.
June 18 - Art Bar Reading Series at Free Times Cafe (320 College St.) 730pm. $5
At the venerable Art Bar series, I'll share more poems from As Close as well as one segment from Jewnique. If you're a poet, note there's always an open mic at the Art Bar.
June 23 - HYP! Slam Feature Poet in Hamilton. Spice Factory (121 Hughston St.). 7pm. $5
Feature poet-ing it up at Hamilton's dopest slam around. Will have copies of my book available for purchase.
June 30 - Ian Ferrier's Words and Music Show in Montreal. 8pm. Casa del Popolo (4873 boul. St-Laurent). PWYC.
It's my Montreal book launch and you're invited! I may also do a couple segments from Jewnique.
I've been thinking recently about going freelance full-time, a decision I made just over three years ago. What is one of the key differentiators from the ol' 9-to-5 is lacking a boss. To give myself the autonomy of determining how I spend my work day (or night) wasn't easy at first, because I was so used to a structure set out by bosses or colleagues, despite how much freedom I was awarded as a key figure in the startup.
So I had to get organized with my schedule. At first, I micro-managed my day, creating an Excel spreadsheet to lay out what I intended to accomplish every hour, even half-hour. For example, 9am to 10am would be working on my site, 10am to 11am would shift me to pitching ideas to BBC News, and then I gave myself a two-hour window of lunch and reading time, and then I was back for a half-hour of researching about an upcoming article, then slotted myself 30 minutes to conduct a short interview and then-
You get the picture. As comforting as it was to return to a schedule that held me to responsibilities that I truly wanted to do, I thought I was rolling down the right path. But that rigid structure soon got on my nerves because I realized a simple truth about a life without a boss: the beauty of spontaneity. There's something tasty about giving in to gut instinct, to crumbling the schedule and 3-point-shooting it into the trash can, and saying to yourself, "Let's see how the day goes. Let's just roll with it."
That decision evoked such a feeling of comfort in me, I got all warm and fuzzy just thinking about my upcoming day, which could be, well, filled with whatever I desire. Head to the Distillery District to work out of a cafe? Boom it's happening! Spend the morning swimming at a public pool, then read the new Wired on a patio before writing an 800-worder for a client? I'm down like James Brown in Motown!
A job without a boss isn't without its hazards, such as wallowing in the summer sun for so long you neglect that grant-writing that needs to get done, and so you'll likely finish it within an hour of the deadline. You also can get lonely, without someone to bounce ideas off, or even just riff with during lunch. But I enjoy being with myself (I can already hear you brainstorming a terrible masturbation joke) and I love that I relish my Dave time. That isn't easy for everyone.
Slipping into this lifestyle has its peaks and valleys, but I've definitely immersed myself so deep in the freelance life it's difficult to rearrange my behaviour for a day job. Been there, slayed that. Now, to be my own boss is the challenge I'm tackling as a freelance journalist, and I'm savouring a different kind of joy with wins I call my own.
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