Advice on life and career from Wolverine
August 10, 2009, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Really good advice is rare, especially when it comes to figuring out who you are and what you want to do with your life. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I’ve received really good advice on either of these topics.

One of those times, the advice came from the father of a friend of mine, who told me that no matter what you do for a living, there will always be moments of boredom and tedium.

Even the most exciting job in the world has days where you’d rather be doing something else. This is a phenomenally and necessarily sobering idea that has kept me from getting discouraged when I hit those “dip” moments, when the excitement of some pursuit starts to (temporarily) give way to those phases when it just feels like work.

Another time was a bit of insight on rejection from Stephen King’s On Writing, which I’ve mentioned before.

Most recently, I found some great advice in, of all places, an issue of Amazing Spider-Man: Extra!, released this past winter. The advice comes in the form of a story that the character Wolverine tells Spider-Man after the two of them get into a bar fight together.

The story is about dating and the advice is about fighting (I’ll let you make your own pithy observations about that little juxtaposition), but it could just as easily apply to starting a writing career or, indeed, just getting your life together.

The bar fight was a fairly pointless one: Spider-Man and Wolverine weren’t really foiling super-villainy, they were just – as Wolverine puts it – “blowing off steam.” Spider-man, being an eternal worrywart, asks Wolverine why he would take the risk of getting in a fight when there was so little to gain.

Wolverine responds with this story, which an old army officer once told to him:


“It’s about a good guy, like you (Spider-Man). He grew up poor, though around people like him. People who dressed a little shabby but good people nonetheless.

But he decided he was meant for somethin’ better. He wasn’t gonna settle for any plain woman like his pops had. He was gonna marry a beauty… nothin’ short of a knockout.

So he stayed away from the neighborhood girls, even though some of ‘em woulda been happy to show ‘im a thing or two. But he waited.

Months of waitin’ turned into years and people started to talk. But he didn’t care. He was waitin’ for his perfect girl. A stunner.

And one day, what do you know, he found her. Everything he’d hoped for. Smooth skin, big eyes…a knockout.

He chased her like his life depended on it, and she must’ve seen something in his enthusiasm, because eventually she relented.

This was it. His big moment. And you know what? He had no idea what to do. He kissed her with a dry mouth, fumbled with things he shouldn’t have, and before he knew it, the whole thing was over.

The beauty, unsatisfied, left him stunned and alone, wishin’ he’d let a few of those plain janes teach him a thing or two.”


What a great little analogy. The point – as I see it – is that nobody ever got anywhere by sitting around waiting for conditions to be perfect. Because even if – by some unlikely cosmic convergence – the perfect conditions DO present themselves, if all you’ve done is sit around waiting, you’ll be completely unprepared to capitalize on them when they do.

Progress comes from movement. Whether you’re trying out a new career or trying to get your work in the public eye or even trying to make sense of your dating life, taking risks by starting down a road you can’t necessarily see the end of is a good in itself – because chances are, the experience you gain will far outweigh anything you might have lost by taking it and finding out it was the wrong one.

The only wrong direction is no direction – as long as you’re moving, you’re on the right track.

Thanks for the good advice, Wolverine.


Wells, Zeb. “Birthday Boy”. Amazing Spider-Man: Extra! No. 2, March 2009. Published by Marvel Publishing Inc.


Future vs. present in Art. Or something about Batman.
July 24, 2009, 12:38 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , ,

This past weekend, while watching a rerun of Boston Legal of all things (judge if you must, but William Shatner just keeps getting more entertaining the older he gets), I had a thought about the difference between art and entertainment.

In the scene that inspired the thought, Denny Crane (Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) discuss the difference between the promise of the future and the joy of the moment. Denny and Alan were talking about love, but I think you can apply the same principle to art/entertainment.

“Art” – as in, “serious” Art – is all about the promise of the future. Someone participates in Art in order to improve themselves by gaining valuable insight or wisdom about themselves, the world, whatever.

In a sense, participating in Art is about sacrificing the present. You’ll never get back the two hours you spend watching Citizen Kane, but ideally, you’ll have learned something about life or about film or about something that makes you just a slightly better person. Those two hours are gone, but they were an investment in your future self.

Watching Transformers, on the other hand, is a whole different experience – it’s fun and it’s loud and there are cool transforming robots and explosions and uplifting lines like (Megatron) “Humans don’t deserve to live!” (Optimus) “They deserve to choose for themselves!”

Now, you likely didn’t learn too much from watching Transformers – chances are, you’re precisely the same person you were at the beginning of the movie as you are at the end. You haven’t gotten any farther ahead in terms of your personal development as a result of watching this movie. But there’s a good chance you had a lot of fun watching it. Your future self is none the richer for your Transformers experience, but your present self sure enjoyed the heck out of it.

With that in mind, it’s not really hard to see why Art gets privileged over Entertainment in intellectual circles – intellectualism, of course, is all about self-improvement, all about sacrificing your present self for a better, future one. But it’s something of a shame when someone can’t put that aside and live in the present for a little while – I think you could even argue that one would be better for it.

Either way, the best examples of Art/Entertainment, I think, are the ones that manage to have one foot in both camps, that manage – as Phillip Sidney would put it – to delight, as well as instruct.

My personal favourite example of late is the movie The Dark Knight. The film is emminently watchable as an action flick, with excitement, suspense and the coolest super-villain since Star Wars. And who can get enough of those adolescent power fantasies? Not I.

At the same time, the film deftly poses questions about the nature of the hero, of violence and its justifications, and, of course, the social roles of chaos and order (one of the most brilliant parts of the film is during Batman’s interrogation of Joker at Gotham PD when Joker starts to talk about the insanity of a system of rules – and actually starts to sound like he’s the only one who’s got things at all figured out).

Because it blends the promise of the future (i.e, an investment in the future self) with the joy of the moment, The Dark Knight can be enjoyed on many levels, allowing it to have a deeper and more lasting impact than a film that focuses on just one or the other.

Perhaps Art vs. Entertainment isn’t so much a dichotomy as a spectrum, but either way I think that the most successful examples of culture and media are the ones that manage to land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum.

What about you – what’s your favourite example of art or media that delights as well as enlightens?

A cat on acid
July 17, 2009, 4:00 pm
Filed under: Life in Toronto | Tags: ,

Here is one of the reasons I love living in the city. Below is a photo of a poster I found walking home from work one day (I think it was a Thursday). You just don’t see this kind of random, hilarious wisdom in the suburbs on weekdays.

A cat on acid - city wisdom at its best

A cat on acid - city wisdom at its best

Wisdom you ask? Sure – thanks to this photo, I am reminded that some things you just can’t judge unless you can experience them from the perspective of the parties involved. That’s wisdom if ever I’ve heard it. Thoughts?

NxNE wrap-up
July 15, 2009, 12:11 am
Filed under: Life in Toronto, Media | Tags: , , ,

It’s hard to distill the experience of North by Northeast, Day Three into words. It was fun, it was loud and it was a little bit blurry. It included spilled beer, a fair bit of embarassment and a friendly Englishwoman name Cat. I learned never to stand on the seats at Black Bull and Iain learned not to trust me with event calendars – though we all learned that the best way to make friends at an indie music festival is to take your copy of said calendar and discuss it loudly enough that people around you can hear what you are saying (pro-tip #3).

Musically, it seemed to be the night of cover tunes – though covers are somewhat rare at NxNE, at various points, we heard fully legitimate renditions of a Johnny Cash tune, the Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” and the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right”, which – astonishingly – the band managed to PULL OFF.

Other highlights included:

  • catching a great string of sets at the Black Bull (one of NxNE’s more underrated venues – there usually aren’t crowds here, but the music has been quirky and catchy and exciting for two years running)
  • making it in time for an after-hours set at Horseshoe (not at all underrated, but just as consistently good during NxNE)
  • and getting a free copy of Three Day Threshold’s newest CD, then getting the whole band to sign it. Every single one of them made a penis joke.

If I can offer any conclusions from Day Three, it would be these: take any chance you get to go see either Three Day Threshold or You Handsome Devil. And if you have the chance to be the only person in front of a stage screaming your head off to the lyrics of “Search and Destroy” while the band screams them back at you, take that too (pro-tip #s 4 and 5, respectively).

But of course, the most important pro-tip of all for NxNE is just go. Get out there. Get into it. You’ll never be sorry. It’s the best weekend of the year.

North by Northeast wrapped up on Sunday so, as promised, here’s another set of highlights from the best weekend of the year. This will cover Friday night, which was night two of the three nights we spent peregrinating around Toronto’s best indie rock venues to see the world’s best indie rock bands.


Trucked it out to Mod Club to go see Brody Dalle – failed to gain entrance, despite possession of 5-day wristbands. Have decided (for future reference) that, at NxNE, if you have to take a streetcar to get there, it is not a show worth going to (pro-tip #1).


Saw The Superstitions at Reverb (upstairs – I forget the actual name of the room). They looked like clean-cut kids who’d just arrived from the sock-hop, which is a good metaphor for their show – tight and fun, if a little safe.


Caught the last minute of…something…in the bottom floor of Reverb. Some kind of death metal with only discernible lyrics being “BLOOOOD! BLOOOOD!!!!” Fantastic.


Stopped to talk to marketing street team for Strut brand wine. Entire group of friends I was with had individual photos taken and projected 30-feet tall onto neighbouring building. Discovered that when I do a disco pose, I look silly in photographs. Got free wine out of it, though, so no harm.


Discovered my new favourite TO patio at Hideout. Large-ish, with comfortable (and not mouldy or sketchy) couches. Also spontaneously developed a taste for Amsterdam Blonde. Watched set by Triggerfinger, a bluesy hard-rock band from Belgium. Singer was amusingly creepy, repeatedly reminding audience that “booties are made for shaking”. Almost as hilarious were the drunk scenesters who (mid-set) enthusiastically pestered the bass player with business cards and technical questions about distortion pedals until being escorted away from stage by bouncer.

(Here’s some more from Evil Shananigans on our encounter with Triggerfinger – that’s right, our experience was so awesome that news of it made it all the way to England)


Walked to Queen and Spadina to see who was playing at Horseshoe. Encountered line-up, decided that, at NxNE, if you have to line up to get in, it is not a show worth going to (pro-tip #2). Tried Rivoli – made it through 1/2 a song and walked out. Don’t know how Rivoli manages to attract so many bands that I hate, but it’s the only club I ever walk out of during the festival and I did it three times.


Head to Kensington to check out Supermarket. Made it in time for last two songs by the paint movement, an indie-pop group with a killer sax player. Stayed for Fox Jaws, a dance-rock group from Barrie, who was a personal highlight at last year’s festival largely because of their singer and the almost Shirley Bassey quality to her voice. They did not disappoint. In between sets, my friends and I broke into spontaneous rendition of some song by Boston (I think it was Boston – maybe Europe), garnering strange looks and guffaws from other patrons. Sang louder.


Walked to El Mocambo to catch the downstairs closer, a hardcore band from Montreal called Bionic. Got there in time for last song by The Sadies, kind of a rockabilly band from Toronto. Not bad. Saw Melissa Auf Der Maur on the way back from the bathroom, rudely interrupted her conversation to tell her I liked her show the previous night. She said thanks. I’m not claiming to be cool or anything, but I did talk to Melissa Auf Der Maur. Just saying.


Bionic absolutely destroyed the small crowd assembled – just destroyed them. Also destroyed my new sneakers, but whatever. Were loud, fast and aggressive with blazing licks and absolutely no filters or hang-ups in front of an audience – one of those bands that has fun from the moment they step on stage and like to make sure you’re having fun too (largely by making you feel like a pussy if you’re not having fun). Announced that they were breaking up and that this would be their last show in TO, much to our disappointment. Still, this was a definite highlight. Iain gets big props for forcing us to stay up way past our bedtimes to see them.


Home around 4am after pizza and a cab ride. Vaguely remember heated argument in cab about whether Jaguar XK8s are nice cars or if they are only for “old men”. Someone pulls out a comparison to Astin Martin, which I feel is unfair. It didn’t come to blows, but it was close.

Day Two completed successfully – details on Day Three to come.

North by Northeast I
June 19, 2009, 2:53 pm
Filed under: Life in Toronto | Tags: , , ,

NxNE started this week, and it’s easily my favourite Toronto event of the year.

Highlights from last night included:

  • Blood Group, a dancey post-punk group from Iceland. The singer is in a category all her own on account of the fact that she is a) unbelievably talented, b) extremely attractive, and c) takes a good 15 seconds to introduce herself because of her very long last name.
  • Drunkula, who played a whole set of 90-second biker punk songs. Impossible not to get up and dance around. And the singer kept playing the maracas, which makes no sense because it’s biker punk but it sounded awesome.
  • Zoo Bombs, a psychedlic blues band from Tokyo. This was 40 minutes of the keyboard and bass players holding down awesome funk riffs while the drummer and frontman lost their minds overtop. Sick.
  • Random people in the street, including a guy who thinks my name is Tom (for reasons I can’t understand) and that my friend Iain’s name is JD (because we told him it was). There was also the girl who was being helped home on a bicycle by her friend because, as her friend explained it, “she’s Polish”.

I have to say, the performance level is up this year. I mean, it’s always good, but usually there are some standout frontpersons (I say “persons” not frontmans because of the number of frontwomen we saw last night) and some that are not so good. Every single lead in every single band we saw last night absolutely killed it. Fantastic.

More later. Three more days of festival, come out if you’re in TO!

Social media is not technology
June 16, 2009, 1:05 pm
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , ,

The importance of social media is not the technology. In fact, it’s not even useful to think of individual examples of social media as technologies, it’s more useful to think of them as groups of people gathered in common, virtual, spaces.

The reason that this model of social media is more useful is that the importance of social media has nothing to do with individual technologies that community members use, but rather the a) new genres of communication that are being produced with the rise of social media activity and b) the new expectations that audiences have as a result.

For example, one of the values that seems to be emerging on the internet as a result of social media is the wisdom of the crowd – e.g., the value (esp. through increased authenticity) that content acquires when it is allowed to be reviewed openly by the audience. Blog postings and even major news sources, for example, look a lot more authentic when they enable comments to their postings – many of them also include links to Digg, Reddit, etc., that allow their content to participate in processes that allow the community to filter out the best and most interesting information.

There are even sites where content isn’t even published until it has been sufficiently vetted by the community (e.g.,

This level of audience involvement was unheard of 20 years ago when it was limited to call-in and game shows. But now two-way communication is the norm and that is going to change the way that content producers reach and relate to audiences.

On top of all this, the boundaries between the various social media spaces, marked solely by the technologies that people use to access them, are very quickly eroding as said technology develops. Many of the recent revisions to Facebook, for example (such as the changes to the wording of the status box to “what’s on your mind?” and the introduction of customized usernames and URLs for your profile) seem blatantly designed to make Facebook more Twitter-like, possibly in response to the threat that Twitter presents to Facebook’s marketshare.

Then there’s the fact that using freely-available software such as Tweetdeck, you can now read and update your Twitter feed(s) AND your Facebook status AND all your friends’ Facebook statuses AND access all your FB friends’ profiles AND keep track of your favourite blogs all in the same place.

In fact, right after I put up this blog posting, I will probably use Tweetdeck to post a notification about it to both my Twitter feed (, if you care to follow me) and to my Facebook status.

Clearly, all of the major social media spaces are rapidly integrating and it’s only a matter of time until the divisions between the Twitter network and the Facebook network and the blogosphere and whatever else is out there just aren’t relevant, if those divisions even exist.

In 5 years (2 years! 6 months!) the specific network that someone is on will be about as relevant to your ability to network with them as the email client they use is to your ability to send them an email. The importance of social media, then, isn’t identifying the specific technology that will come out on top after the dust has settled, it’s learning how to use social media itself.