On the reading pile this week

Just finished reading (for book club)

Deniro's Game by Rawi Hage

Although my alter ego would be over-the-moon enthusiastic about this award-winning novel by a Montreal-based author, I remain ambivalent about whether or not I liked the writing. Sometimes uneven. Sometimes unnecessarily ornate. The plot, however, was definitely riveting. I would say more but book club rules being what they are...

Best quote (kind of)
The first morning, I took the metro and walked to the Eiffel Tower. Tourists like little ants strolled under the monster's metal feet. They looked up at it, protecting their eyes with small plastic cameras, posing underneath it like smiling statues, pressing their index fingers on tiny buttons to suck the light from their smiling faces...

Currently reading (thanks to Bram L. for the borrow!)

The Seance by John Harwood

I have only read the first part, narrated by Constance Langton, but I was immediately drawn in because:

(1) it is set in 1880s London (the time frame of my own dear project)
(2) it reminded me of Berkeley Square, a short-lived series from the BBC that I loved from the first frame

I barely lifted my head from the book to eat dinner. It has the page-turning suspense of Wilkie Collins, and is written with a crisp, well-paced prose that is effortless to read.

Best quote:
Mr Montague came to see me on a freezing January morning. I was standing by the window when Dora showed him into the drawing room, and he paused as the door closed behind him, seemingly struck by something in my appearance. He was tall and spare, and slightly stooped, with grey hair receding markedly at the temples. His face was lined as if by suffering or illness; his skin had a greyish tinge, and there were dark shadows like bruises beneath his eyes.

About to read

Les hommes qui n'aimaient pas les femmes by Stieg Larsson

Because everybody on the metro seems to be reading this book. Because my colleagues can't stop talking about it. And because Larrson's story is so compelling and tragic.


Wasting precious time

Being a member of the marketing/advertising community, I have a very low tolerance for bad ads - especially ones that shamelessly manipulate our emotions with the basest of tactics. One tactic that particularly upsets me is the "stop wasting your precious time" approach.

The straw that broke this camel's back was the TV commercial for McCain Roasters. You know the one where a business woman is preparing roast potatoes while at the office? She's ripping open tiny salt and pepper packets to season the potatoes she chopped while putting together a PowerPoint presentation (or similar), and there's a voiceover making exasperated noises about 'who has time to spend all day preparing roast potatoes?'

Yes, the absurdity of the situation is supposed to be funny, but I gnash my teeth every time it comes on. Not only does it anger me that a perfectly intelligent woman is depicted as being too brain-addled to peel a potato in less than eight hours, and that this product creates more waste in the name of convenience, but I hate how advertisements are constantly telling us to save-time-don't-waste-time.

Advertisers are not worried about us savouring every moment of our time here on earth. They want us to save time so that we can keep running and keep buying their products. These commercials keep us tiny guinea pigs running ever faster on our increasingly-shrinking wheels, and the whole cycle exhausts me.

Now excuse me while I peel the biggest pile of potatoes just for the pleasure of getting my hands dirty.


Video - Tricot Machine

Stop complaining! It's pretty outside! Watch this video. It will make you feel better. Maybe even inspire you to knit.


Sesame Street does 30 Rocks

Thanks to Steve (i.e. Shorty)!


Yoga and writing

I was having a chat with my yoga teacher, Allison, yesterday and we stumbled upon a revelation.

We were discussing the topic of writing and I was saying something about what a powerful act writing is, how it can help you focus your ideas, and even help you work out things that you aren’t able to understand otherwise.

And Allison is all, “Writing is like another form of meditation then.”

And I’m all, “Yes, you’re absolutely right, writing is another kind of practice.”

Writing is a practice that nurtures mindfulness, especially if you are writing in a journal (blogs included) or creating fiction. In that moment, you must immerse yourself completely in the flow of your pen. If you allow your mind to wander away from the task at hand, the sentences will fall apart right before your eyes.

But when you’re able to keep your focus on the writing at hand, the results are extraordinary.

And just like that, two of the most important aspects of my life came together in a meaningful way. Once again, I was able to see the underlying values that anchor everything I do, even if I am not consciously aware of them. It was one of those moments that reminded me that things aren’t as random as they seem, and that oftentimes, you find yourself in a certain place because it’s inevitable, natural and logical.

Suddenly, the prospect of taking a month off next year for yoga teacher training also seems to be a positive thing for my writing. Chances are, I’ll be exhausted from the daily 8-hour immersion in all-things-yoga, but maybe it will open some writing blockages.

Back to completing my application form...


George Stroumboulopoulos

Anyone else ever find themselves suddenly attracted to George Stroumboulopoulos? It's come on quite suddenly... inexplicably... and I don't know how to handle it.

(we'd look cute together, admit it)

It happened the other night during The Hour when he got all self-conscious about wearing a something-other-than-black shirt. He kept touching his belly as if worried that he'd look *poochie* on television, and it was very endearing. He's a Habs fan, did I mention that?

(so dark, so Mediterranean, so many vowels...)

Seriously, what do I do about this?


Palanca's big day

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 was a big day. A sweeper day. In which many situations finally came to a head and were resolved in ways that were perhaps difficult, but nonethess inevitable and acceptable and natural.

There was laughter, tears, much discussion, wild applause, and so much love. I feel as if so many things are coming to an end right now, but only because amazing new things are ready to grow.

I will try to approach this methodically. And less abstractly.

Palanca's big day, a summary
  1. A highly stressful situation at work was finally resolved. I received a long overdue raise and was granted a four-week hiatus to pursue yoga teacher training next year (if Ashtanga Yoga Montreal will have me). My boss had every reason in the world to say no, but he didn't. And I am so grateful. Thank you, √Čtienne.
  2. Ms. Julie "helped" Joel Yanofsky host the QWF Awards Gala. Or rather interrupted the evening's proceedings with cute commentary and one (aborted) musical number. I was worried that I'd flub it somehow, but I think I performed quite well to the receptive crowd. My tenure as Ms. Julie is coming to an end and although she is loved hardcore, her future is uncertain. Let it be said that I loved every minute of it.
  3. And after all that, a friend and I said our final goodbyes. Not because he's moving to another country or going off to become a priest. We said goodbye because our friendship was more parts heavy than it was light. The history between us grew too big, was suffocating us, leaving no room for belly laughs and compassionate understanding. It was pending for weeks now. I was just lacking the courage. But I told him how much I'd miss him, how much I loved him, and he said all the right things too. No regrets. No things left unsaid. Just clear roads ahead for us both on our separate paths.
So now I'm home. And I'm tired. And with black eyeliner streaking my cheeks. But for the first time in a long time, I am looking forward to tomorrow.

Love to you all.


Tuesday absurdity

Inspired by Tha Connaisseur and her hilarious Monday madness posts, I bring you Tuesday absurdity, or pretentious displays that made me "cuss, cringe and shake my head". It may not be an alliterative title, but I assure you, the content is quality.

1) This is Goop (thanks Manon D). Guess what? Gwyneth Paltrow is a better person that you are, and now she has the website to prove it. As G tells us in the opening page, "My life is good because I am not passive about it" and so she encourages us, "Don't be lazy". The solution to not being lazy, apparently, is visiting her website often to be inspired by her recipes, experiences, and shared thoughts from "one of my sages".

I imagine the greatness of her life has nothing to do with being born to Hollywood parents, being a successful actress, having married a rock star, and rolling around in enough money to make God blush in shame. Nooo, it's that vegetarian lasagna she made last week...

2) Plateau party invitation. Now, out of respect to a very dear friend of mine, I will not reveal how this little treasure fell into my hands. And I certainly won't reproduce it in it's entirety, but rest assured that the whole message is equally "WTF?"

Would you have attended this party "without the social crutches of alcohol and other substances making our minds fall back asleep"?
  • PROGRAM: I will probably initiate a talking circle (based on the millenium tradition of Native peoples of the Americas) and/or a collective reflection and writing exercise. Should you have any ideas, inspiring texts, poems, pieces of visual art, etc., that you wish to share with welcoming and curious souls, please allow yourself to share this impulse!
  • FOOD, DRINKS: Please note that i do not intend to organize any "potlacht" (potluck, community meal), neither any percussions jam, since i do not feel like dealing with the "dispersion" that it would create, nor end the night with 1-2 hours of cleaning up in the wee hours or the next morning!
Raw veggies and medicinal herb teas were on the menu. Seriously. And then people wonder where the Plateau gets its reputation.

Ooh, this is giving me a stomach ache... Palanca out!


Ms. Julie does Global TV

Now if you missed Ms. Julie being interviewed by Jamie Orchard on Global TV this past Friday, November 14, here is the link.

I... she... we are on during the last 10 minutes. Having watched myself on screen (with the volume turned way down), I must admit that my resemblance to TFey is astonishing. If only Tina knew...


Status lines inspired by Tina Fey and 30 Rock

  • Staal is BLURGH!
  • Staal is a dash of high school bitchy.
  • Staal doesn't like hypothetical questions. It's like lying to your brain.
  • Staal thinks your shoes are definitely bi-curious.
  • Staal loves this [food item here] so much he wants to take it behind the middle school and get it pregnant.
  • Staal is a real good sex person.
  • Staal is freaky-deaky.
  • Staal, Beeper King.
  • Staal has two thumbs, speaks limited French, and hasn't cried once today.
  • Staal loved The Rural Juror.
  • Staal needs more business juice.
Mwah-ha-ha! My Facebook status line supremacy lives on!


Webcom 2008 – Interlude

Three grown-ups

Two man-shaped USB memory keys with adjustable arms and legs.

Dead time between two conferences.

A digital camera.

Brought to you by the same perpetrators of the great bear massacre.


On the use of place names in fiction

I’m one of those rare creatures that experiences ecstasies while walking down the street, usually provoked by a sudden glimpse of graffiti or an unexpected shade of red pushing through the foliage. Last night, as I walked to yoga, I headed west along Duluth towards Park Ave. and let loose a sigh when I cleared the convent wall.

To my right, Mont Royal was shrouded in apocalyptic clouds of grey, shot through with ashy streaks of mustard yellow. To my left, downtown Montreal lit up, the lines of the skyscrapers clearly cutting metal from sky and distant traffic lights like flickering birds of red and green.

The kind of moment that doesn’t make you regret the arrival of winter.

But it brought back a memory of my days in the Concordia Creative Writing program, when a debate broke over the use of specific place names in fiction. After one of the more outspoken students treated us to a five-minute explanation of why he hated such hackneyed touristy writing, the general consensus was 'if it's written well, it's ok'.

Lately, I’ve read a few stories and one novel set in Montreal, and their depictions (both published and non-published) of this beloved city have been uneven. In the best case, the city becomes another character, unfolding with beautiful slowness like a lotus in the palm. In the best-best case, the city and the hero evolve together towards their future.

But in the worst case, the writing comes off as forced and reminiscent of the kind of amateurish writing you sometimes do encounter in creative writing classes.

Made-up example: "I walked towards home, and hesitated before Schwartz's, Montreal's most famous deli."

This speech pattern is unrealistic for a native Montrealer. Do you think, "Montreal's most famous deli" every time you cross Schwartz's? Neither do I. So if it doesn't fall within the plausible realm of that character, that moment, then the writer should know better than to tack on such a qualifier.

In this case, the (double) mention makes the sentence less crackling because it has nothing to say about the character speaking those words or the current mood he/she in experiencing.

It does not contribute to the story. Period.

So am I totally off the mark here? What do my fellow scribes and readers think? Am I being all snobby again?


Good advertising

I found this postcard today as I walked out of a restaurant - and was immediately impressed.

It was created to promote a project by the Fondation pour l'alphabetisation to encourage children to read.

Someone give Cinderella a B12 shot...



So what did you think your adult life would be like when you were a kid? Did you ever become a fireman? Did you get married and have those two kids? Where's that dog you always wanted?

How big is the gap between what-you-thought and what-came-true? Is it better? Is it worse? Would the kid-you-once-were recognise the adult-you-are-now? Would they like each other if they met?

I ask these questions because I'm having trouble recalling those memories.

I remember wanting to write and being surrounded by stories, stories, stories from my earliest days. I also remember a short period of time in which I wanted to be a hairdresser. I remember wanting to dance ballet. I remember not believing in Santa Claus. I remember walking to school in the third or fourth grade and thinking, "Just my luck I turned out to be not-pretty". And I remember music every day.

I don't remember fantasizing  about getting married and dressing up like a bride. I don't remember dreaming about having children. I just remember wanting words every day. And looking forward to the day when someone would want to be my Gilbert Blythe. And having a house of my own where friends could come and visit anytime.

So have you filled the intervening years in a satisfying way? Or is there a gaping lacuna between then and now?

I think I'm doing ok. I still have words, stories and music every day. I have a bee-yoo-ti-ful house with a stone Buddha and a crystal chandelier. I have a great hairdresser who helps me overcome my karmic deficiencies. The Santa Claus cynicism does not seem to have negatively impacted my personal development in any lasting way. No one wants to be my Gilbert Blythe (stupid boys!) but I have an army of Diana Barrys to make life bearable... nay pleasurable!

I hope mini-Adriana is proud of me, that I haven't let her down. I'll see what I can do about the ballet... maybe she'll let me do flamenco instead.


Deleting or editing comments

Following a conversation with a friend, I did some research and found a series of blog posts addressing the issue of whether bloggers - and in particular, business bloggers - should edit or delete comments left on their blog.
Most seem to agree that if the comment is spam, offensive, pornographic or insulting, deletion is an entirely reasonable response.

As for me, I "approve" comments before they are published not because I want to control the message. It's just an easy way to ensure that I'll respond to all of them.


Going upside down

Part one of the yoga inversions workshop I attended this weekend went extremely well (read: Adriana didn't do anything to embarass herself).

At the beginning, we were all asked to give our reasons for participating in the workshop. Many of the six participants expressed a desire to overcome the fear of being upside down. Oddly, I don't think I'm afraid of being upside down. I'm more panicked by not being able to hold the pose and falling in the most spectacular bone-cracking fashion.

I'm afraid of the precariousness of the pose.

Allison asked us to practice our inversions - headstand, shoulder stand, elbow balance - before the next session in December, so that we can spend the second session refining the poses already learned and move on to the more challenging inversions.

My goals are to:
  1. be straighter in shoulder stand
  2. learn headstand without the wall
  3. learn to bring my legs up together in a controlled fashion, rather than kick up
I've only had one yoga practice since the workshop, but I have already made one discovery.

When going up, I always worry that my back is too curved, that my ribcage is already too far back, and if I shift my weight, I will certainly topple. On Monday, I played with the movement, and discovered that my ribcage can be moved back farther than I suspected - and still be entirely stable. And without a wall to catch me either.

I also managed to lift both legs as high as my waist, at which point I was so impressed with myself, I totally forgot what I was doing and just came back down. But for a moment there, I trusted myself, and it worked.

I'm getting there. I'm getting there.


Rant. And help needed.

The previous owner of my condo suggested I put up a NO BIKES PLEASE sign on my front fence, warning me that bikes left locked on the fence could be a hazard in wintertime.

You see, in deep snow, those zippy sidewalk sweepers cannot gauge where the fence ends, and it's happened that while zipping along, they have missed the mark. Now I don't know much about physics, but I do understand that when a speeding object hits a stationary target (unless it's a moose), the moving object wins.

On two occasions, the sweepers have hit bikes on the front lawn - and have taken the fence with them. In fact, the previous owner even took the City of Montreal to court to have her fence repaired last year - and she won. Today, the fence is still a little bent near the entry to the path.

Also, I had beautiful rose bushes that grew around the fence. I didn't want them crushed!

So I put up the sign, using tie-wraps to make it nice and tight against the fence. To be kind to my neighbours, I placed the sign near the opening, where the fence is less stable. This still left them two places - near the outer, anchoring posts - in which to lock their bikes.

I have this cranky German man renting a flat next door who has been heard complaining about my sign, grumbling that people should be allowed to lock their bikes anywhere, that the owner promised him he would always have a place for his bike on the street, and other anarchist-type comments that display a disturbing detachment from reality.

Now let's remember:
  • Cranky German man (CGM) is not my tenant and lives in another building
  • I own my condo, therefore making the fence private property
  • Numerous times, while he and his less surly girlfriend have been standing by my fence locking their bikes to the sanctioned corners, I have walked out of my home and smiled at them, never being mean or asking them to cease and desist.
In the summer, I tried say hell to CGM (sans girlfriend), but he stared at me coldly like I was dirt. Two days later, I discovered that someone had defaced my sign with a sticker featuring a tree and a line drawn through it (anti-nature? wha??). I calmly peeled it off.

Two days ago, I bid him good morning. More cold stares. And this morning? Someone had stolen my sign. And considering how firmly it was affixed to my fence, CGM (or whoever it was) had to bring tools with him.

Could someone please explain to me how I became the bad guy in all this?

My only thought? Putting up another sign, and then asking my father for big wire cutters so that I can"liberate" CGM's bike the next time he locks it to my fence. Maybe even lock it my balcony and force him to come and ask for it.

This is obviously not the *adult* way to deal with the matter. So, any suggestions?


Palanca gets a digital camera

Guess what? I've joined the 90s and purchased a digital camera! To inaugurate the arrival of my new Canon Powershot, I bring you a snapshot of my favourite grafitti.

Scrawled on a brick wall, corner of Prince Arthur and Clarke. If you can't enlarge the image, it reads:

Anyone can slay a dragon, he told me, but try waking up every morning and loving the world all over again. That's what takes a real hero.


Maybelline New York

At a recent conference I attended on email marketing, there was a presentation from Maybelline New York and the agency that helped them launch this (admittedly) very cool project: my MNY. The company asked women to sign up for a personalized booklet, which they received in the mail after answering a series of questions about their age, complexion, cosmetic style, favourite brands, etc.

The booklet is very modular, with some content that remains unchanged and some customized content that matches your specific profile. The cover photo, of course, was selected according to your colouring, but the teaser titles did not change. Most of the customization was reserved for product promotion on the inside pages. There were also savings coupons with unique serial numbers, so that Maybelline could track who was spending on what and when.

A stroke of genius, really.

There were some 50,000 different versions produced. For anyone who works in advertising and marketing, a project of this scope is undeniably scary... and impressive, if you have the resources to pull it off. At the conference, each participant received a randomly generated booklet, and much time was spent comparing individual pages to see just how much was customized.

And then Palanca learned something new (see image at right). 

Quote: The pointed and turned-out toe pose adds an extra few inches to your leg, making it appear longer.

There is a science to posing apparently, but I think it's inherent, programmed, built-in. I've been doing the pointed and turned-out toe thing unconsciously for years! More often when I'm trying on clothes in stores.

You know what this means, don't we?

We are all supermodels inside...

I miss you J. Hamilton

Correction, I miss talking to you, Hamilton. I could have used your explanations during the World Series.
Wherever you are cookie, I send you love and happiness.

For the rest of you who have no idea to whom I refer, listen to this tune by Angus & Julia Stone instead.