Friday, October 28, 2005

Bored at work

I don’t get bored at work very often anymore. There’s too much to do, and not enough time to do it.

We interrupt this blog entry to award sernaferna the Cliché of the Year award, for his use of the phrase “too much to do and not enough time to do it”. By using this phrase, serna has demonstrated a total lack of original thought and creativity. Well done, serna! Based on the writings in this blog, we’re sure you’ll receive many more Cliché of the Year awards...

But since I never have any free time at work, when I do get some time, I just don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve already read all of the news sites I normally read, as well as the blogs I usually look through. I’ve gone through the latest articles on Snopes. I’ve written a couple of blog entries, neither of which was important, and I’m writing another—which is still not important.

Then I took a look at my novel, which I’ve realized needs lots of work. I tend to just water ski through everything—I need to take more time, with some sections, and develop things. Fast-paced is one thing, but this is more than fast-paced. So I won’t be submitting it to any publishers any time soon.

So I guess there’s only one thing left to do: I’ll have to go downstairs to Tim Horton’s, and get a coffee. That will kill five minutes—ten if I really take my time with it.


Caveat: By the time you read this, it will already be out of date.

I really need to go to the bathroom, but it’s currently closed for cleaning. I don’t know what it is about this building, but they close my bathroom about two or three times a day to clean it! How much cleaning does one bathroom need?!?

Even worse, sometimes they finish cleaning it, but forget to take the “closed for cleaning” sign off the door. Once I tried to go to the bathroom, saw that it was closed, and then went down the bathroom two floors down—which also said that it was closed! When I went back upstairs, I realized that mine wasn’t actually closed, they’d just forgotten to take the sign down.

Descriptive Writing

One thing that I don’t tend to do that much in my writing is description. I tend to be very bare-bones with my descriptions, and leave everything up to the readers’ imaginations. So it’s always interesting when I read a book where the author has done a lot of description—and some writers really seem to get into it.

Take this example, from The Chancellor Manuscript, by Robert Ludlum. Right away, from page 1, he launches into a lengthy piece of description about a character:

The dark-haired man stared at the wall in front of him. His chair, like the rest of the furniture, was pleasing to the eye but not made for comfort. The style was Early American, the theme Spartan, as if those about to be granted an audience with the occupant of the inner office should reflect on their awesome opportunity in stern surroundings.

The man was in his late twenties, his face angular, the features sharp, each pronounced and definite as if carved by a crafstman more aware of details than the whole. It was a face in quiet conflict with itself, striking and yet unsettled. The eyes were engaging, deep set, and very light blue, with an open, even questioning quality about them. They seemed at the moment to be the eyes of a blue-eyed animal, swift to level in any direction, steady, apprehensive.

The young man’s name was Peter Chancellor, and the expression on his face was as rigid as his posture in the chair. His eyes were angry.

There was one other person in the outer office: a middle-aged secretary whose thin, colourless lips were set in constant tension, her grey hair stretched and spun into a bun that took on the appearance of a faded flaxen helmet. She was the Praetorian Guard, the attack dog who protected the sanctuary of the main behind the oak door beyond her desk.


When I’m reading a book and see passages like this, I always think to myself “I would never have written something like that”. It’s not that I think the writing is good or bad—just that it’s not what I do, because I don’t include very much description in my fiction writing. It seems to indicate a real comfort and joy with the written word on the part of the author, that I don’t know if my writing shows.

I don’t think it’s wrong to write with very little description; as I said, I think it’s good to leave things up to the imaginations of the readers. But at the same time, I also can’t help but wonder if my writing is lacking, because there isn’t any (or much) description.

Incidentally, it may or may not be legal for me to include that huge section of the book on my blog; but since this isn’t exactly a highly-trafficked site, I doubt they’ll come after me. And if they do, I’ll just take it down...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Puttin' on the Pounds

In the last 6 months, I’ve had this conversation twice:

J Random Person serna hasn’t seen in years: Wow, you’ve put on weight!
serna: Um...
J Random Person serna hasn’t seen in years: No, it looks good. It fills out your face.
serna: Um...

I don’t tend to get complexes about these things, but being told twice by people I haven’t seen in years that I’ve put on weight is enough to give me pause. I know they think they can redeem the comment by following it with “no, it looks good, because it fills in your face”, but that just means that I looked gaunt and sickly before.

Friday, October 21, 2005


I don’t have much to say, today. I’ve been sick this week, and was home Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with some kind of minor throat infection. So apparently that sucked out all of the creativity from my brain. Or at least the parts of the brain that come up with blog entries.

So, instead, here’s a blog entry from someone else’s blog, that sums up what I’m like at work.

Well, not really—especially not today, since I’m off coffee until I get better. But some days I get sort of like that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Olfactory Enhancements

Twice today I’ve been standing near a woman who had on so much perfume that it was overpowering. For instance, just now I was in line at Tim’s, and the woman in front of me had on some kind of cloying perfume, and even after I’d left, the smell was still with me for a while after.

If my wife didn’t know me better, she’d smell me when I get home tonight and assume that I’m having an affair. But I’m not.

Normally, I’d now take this opportunity to advise people to take it easy with the ol’ perfume/cologne. However, I know that people who put on that much probably won’t listen to me, so I won’t bother.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Book Review: The Russia House

Read another John le Carré book recently—The Russia House. As usual, I loved the book. This is three le Carré novels I’ve read so far, and I loved them all.

The Russia House is an actual spy novel—as you might remember from previous reviews, the other books I’ve read were not spy novels per se, although Absolute Friends definitely had some “spy novelesque” qualities. (You can see the review for Absolute Friends here, and the review for The Constant Gardener here.) However, even in The Russia House, le Carré is not writing the typical spy novel. Yes, there is a spy, and yes, he goes deep into Russia, under cover, and yes, there is danger. But much of the book takes place in the preparation for the mission, not on the mission itself, and then much of the rest of the novel takes place in the debriefing room, after the mission. You could say that the entire novel takes place in the characters’ heads, because the book is much more interested in exploring the characters than the situations.

The other thing this novel brings, which many spy novels don’t go into, is the relation between the British intelligence community and the American intelligence community. In a previous life, before le Carré was an author, he was an intelligence agent, and I think he brings this experience into his writing in a very effective way—not just to thrill the reader, but to give the reader a good behind the scenes look at intelligence.

So this is three le Carré books I’ve read so far, and three winners. Unfortunately, I’m not putting Absolute Friends or The Russia House in my Recommended Reading list, since they’re of more limited appeal, but if you’re into spy novels, I highly recommend them. They make a nice change of pace from an author like Robert Ludlum, who is all fast-paced and adventure—you have to slow your mind down, a bit, to read le Carré, but it’s worth it, because he writes like a man who enjoys writing. Which means that, as a reader, I enjoy the books more too.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What to do in a Terrorist Attack

In an effort to help defeat evil and tyranny, I am sending you to see this article, which passes on some helpful hints on what to do in a terrorist attack.

Hmm. Having said that, does a tongue-in-cheek style really come through properly in a blog entry? Oh well. You’ll understand when you get there.

Good Article on Hip-Hop and Sexism

I was forwarded an interesting article, on hip-hop and race/gender dynamics. It turned out that it wasn’t actually an article forwarded to me, it was a comment posted on some blog; the blog is here, and the comment is a ways down the page, posted by Bell Hooks. (I’ll have some quotes below.)

The problem with sexism in hip-hop is that it’s too complex of an issue to simply boil down into an easy-to-digest message; there is sexism in a lot of hip-hop music—just as there is in any music; anyone heard Figured You Out by Nickelback?—but it’s not as simple as just saying “hip-hop is sexist”. It’s a deeper issue than that, and this person’s comments get into that in a way that most people don’t bother.

To start with, let’s talk about context. In her post she says:

To see gangsta rap as a reflection of dominant values in our culture rather than as an aberrant “pathological” standpoint does not mean that a rigorous feminist critique of the sexist and misogyny expressed in this music is not needed. Without a doubt black males, young and old, must be held politically accountable for their sexism. Yet this critique must always be contextualized or we risk making it appear that the behaviors this thinking supports and condones—rape, male violence against women, etc.—is a black male thing. And this is what is happening. Young black males are forced to take the “heat” for encouraging, via their music, the hatred of and violence against women that is a central core of patriarchy.

This is interesting, because she’s saying two seemingly contradicting things: “before we can talk about sexism in hip-hop, let’s talk about where it comes from”, and “the artists must be held responsible for their sexism”. Well, which is it?

It’s both. And that’s why this is such a complex topic, because people tend to only look at one aspect or the other: the people who say “this music is sexist, and should be stopped” vs. the people who say “this music is all we’ve got, leave us alone”.

So if sexism is systemic, why does there seem to be so much of it in gangsta rap, and not so much in other forms of music? First of all, that’s an incorrect starting point to have this discussion; let’s not talk about sexism in hip-hop while pretending that it doesn’t exist, or only marginally exists, in other forms of music—sexism is everywhere in music. It’s the media who makes it seem as if hip-hop is such a haven for sexism; it may be that if you were to scientifically measure sexism in different forms of music hip-hop would have more, but I think we’d be surprised to see it’s not as much more as the media portrays.

But that being said, there may be more, and Bell Hooks suggests that there may be a reason why hip-hop artists use sexism in their lyrics:

One cannot answer [questions about the popularity of this music] honestly without placing accountability on larger structures of domination and the individuals (often white, usually male but not always) who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems. That means taking a critical looking at the politics of hedonistic consumerism, the values of the men and women who produce gangsta rap. It would mean considering the seduction of young black males who find that they can make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism, and misogyny than with any other content. How many disenfranchised black males would not surrender to expressing virulent forms of sexism, if they knew the rewards would be unprecedented material power and fame?

If you were given the opportunity to become rich and famous, and all you had to do was write music that’s sexist, would you take it? But let’s add a bit more context: If you were a young black male, and were given this same choice, knowing that there’s virtually no other way to become rich and famous, what about then?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


I do most of the cooking at our house. Here’s how I mucked it up last night:

We had some Pork Souvlaki in the freezer, left over from a previous meal. So this was my plan:

  • I would make the pork souvlaki, on our electric grill
  • I would make rice, in our rice cooker
All was going well, and I put the rice in to cook. I have a nice spiced oil that I use for making rice, which gives it flavour. Then I got the souvlaki out, and it didn’t look right. I guess I didn’t wrap it well enough, when I put it in the freezer. But, just in case pork souvlaki always looks like that in an un-cooked state, I threw it on the grill anyway. After a while, based on the smell, I decided that no, it really was bad.

At this point, I reported status to my wife, who suggested that I make the chicken breasts we had in the freezer. I misunderstood, and grabbed two whole chicken thighs, which I defrosted and throw on the grill. I put some steak spice on them, to add some flavour.

When I thought they were done, I took them off the grill, only to discover that no, they weren’t done. At least, mine wasn’t done—my wife claimed that hers was fine. And, as of about 8:30 this morning she still wasn’t dead, so I’m guessing it was okay.

But, based on the chicken blood I could still see in mine, I threw it out, and sulked for the rest of the night, since my culinary skills were proven to be so lacking.


Not that it’s that important, but I’ve updated the Recommended Reading post. All I did, though, was add The Constant Gardener and fix up some of the grammar.

Oh, and I also fixed some of the “smart quotes”, since I had originally written that post in Word, and then copied and pasted it into Blogger. Some stuff might not have shown up properly in every browser, but now it will.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Movie Review: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

I saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind yesterday, and I enjoyed it. It stars Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, but it has a bunch of other people in it that you’d recognize as well. (Elijah Wood, David Cross, and Kirsten Dunst are all in it.)

Here’s a quick synopsis: Carrey and Winslet were in a relationship, but Winslet got tired of Carrey, so she had a procedure done to erase all of her memories of him. A little extreme, I know, but that’s what she did. So Carrey decides to do the same thing, and have his memories of Winslet erased as well. The vast majority of the movie takes place inside Carrey’s head, as the procedure is happening, and his memories are being erased.

I had a couple of problems with the movie, which were both minor. (I can’t really tell you about either, because they would spoil some aspects of the movie.) One of those problems was simply the way the movie ended—which, as I said, I can’t go into—but it was expected, so I wasn’t too disappointed by it.

Overall, I recommend this movie, so feel free to go and see if, if you haven’t already.