It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I’ve been mainlining coffee and shitty food for four days straight trying to put the finishing touches on this term. Tomorrow’s the last day of class this term, meaning it’s my last day of class ever. I have to present my senior design project in the morning and finish designing an air pollution control system in the afternoon. And when that’s over, I will spend the night with my friends drinking and doing dumb stuff, and then I’ll start studying for exams.
Anyway, here are some things I’ve written recently over at Pitchfork:
- A review of the unexceptional new album by Australian indie pop group Architecture in Helsinki, NOW + 4EVA.
- Track blurbs for a wicked Haim remix by Cerrone and new singles from Lone and How to Dress Well. All three were named Best New Track, so you know they’re good.
I hope your snow has long since melted. Talk soon.
Popping in quickly to plug two recent reviews for my friends over at Myspace: here’s one about Future Islands’ new record Singles (emotional, masculine, complex synth-pop), and another about Cloud Nothings’ new one Here and Nowhere Else (intense, pummelling, anguished punk).
I like writing for Myspace a lot, and they’ve published a ton of worthy journalism and feature writing over the past year. If they’ve somehow managed to stay out of the “culture” section of your bookmarks bar, give them a slot and check in often — you’ll usually find something you’ll like.
When I’ve had free listening time over the last few weeks, it’s almost exclusively gone to Mac DeMarco and Todd Terje, with some Tony Molina in the shower because the songs are extremely short and pack a lot of potency into small packages. He makes me want to shower faster, which is important because six people live here and there’s never enough hot water. (But that’ll be a problem of the past soon!)
Exams start next week, so I’ll either be writing more than usual to maintain my sanity or hiding out completely to focus on my studies. Hope you’re well — see you later.
Bellers was our family dog for over a decade. My mom texted me yesterday morning to let me know that Bellers was going to be put down that afternoon. She’s been having more and more trouble with her surroundings over the past year: she would get stuck behind coffee tables and in between chair legs, walking into places and then forgetting how to walk back out; she didn’t have even an inch of pep in her step, not that she had much to begin with; she would pee on our upstairs carpet, then get scared when her human overlords got upset. She was losing control and she couldn’t help it. She had overcome a ton of various maladies throughout her life, but Father Time’s hard to beat, and it was time for all of us to move on, for her sake.
I wrote a little obituary for Bellers on Facebook yesterday, but posting it here with a sprinkle of editing didn’t feel right: that post was for her family and friends, the people who had sat on our couch with her and smelled her puffed-Cheetos scent and plucked her grabby hairs off their outfits. Tumblr gets something different. I want to share my ten favourite Bellers moments/facts with you, and I hope that after reading you have a sense of who she was and why she’s leaving a huge void now that she’s gone.
So, here they are:
1. It all starts with the name: Bellers is a weird name for a dog, and that’s even with the extra creativity that’s typically allowed in the realm of dog naming taken into consideration. When my mom was much younger, she had a family dog of her own named Lady, so our starting point for this dog’s name was Little Lady. This somehow transformed into the horridly complicated Little Lady Lulubelle, which was then truncated several times: Lulubelle -> Belle -> Bellers.
2. We must have tried over 15 pets before finally sticking with Bellers. When your house is stuffed with three relatively young kids — my siblings and I would’ve all been between 11 and 4 during the Great Pet Search, or something close to that — it can be impossible to find the perfect pet fit: we tried cats, dogs, rodents, fish, everything, and problems kept cropping up. The dog we owned before Bellers was Henry, a rambunctious beagle; he grew vicious after a brain tumour bloomed, and had to be put down within a year. Bellers was lazy, gentle, and kind of dumb, and while we would laugh at her for having these traits for years to come, without them she wouldn’t have made the perfect addition to our family.
3. Bellers’ favourite game was “kitty kat”: that’s where you sit one or two steps above the floor, bend your knees at a 90 degree angle, and tap the floor to let her know she can wriggle through. She loved it.
4. if you were ever making something in the kitchen — and this is something my mom had to deal with every single night while she made dinner — Bellers would come and sit on your feet, keeping them warm and hoping you were in a generous mood. It was cute, but it made moving around the space a little tougher.
5. The girl never met a human snack she couldn’t eat. Skittles, watermelon, pork rinds, the list goes on: you name it, she’d cram it in her snout. She was a dachshund-Golden lab, which meant she was cursed with tiny legs supporting a long, thick body, and it didn’t take too many scraps from the dinner table to get her belly dragging on the floor. (It didn’t help that she led a mostly sedentary life, of course, with most of her time spent watching TV and movies on the living room couch with whatever human happened to be spending time there.) But she loved food more than I will ever love anyone or anything, and while that’s probably true of every dog I like to think Bellers loved it 1% more.
6. While Bellers didn’t get around to much exercising (and that was an issue with her humans, not her, but I digress), she was one hell of a sprinter when she had the chance. There were a few times when the front door was cracked open for some reason and Bellers ran for daylight, catching a whiff of something that awakened the need to chase that lay mostly dormant inside of her, and it would take our whole family barrelling in multiple directions to catch up to her. It’s a good thing she didn’t have much stamina, or else she could’ve been free forever; eventually, she’d just tire out, and we’d haul her back home, cradling her like a baby.
7. We were sitting in our backyard one night last August and I spilled some cider on the ground, and Bellers lapped it up before we could stop her. She spent the next two hours staying perfectly still with the slyest little grin on her face; she was a quiet, happy drunk. I’m just glad it didn’t kill her. The pictures are very funny.
8. Another anecdote about liquid consumption: when she was just a puppy, she got into a cup of cold coffee that had been left on the floor, and the caffeine drove her totally insane. I was at school, but my mom recounts having to box her into a room with furniture, and then watching her run head-first into walls on the opposite side of the room over and over again before finally tiring out. Dogs: their bodies aren’t like humans!
9. OK, this is my one true favourite thing about Bellers. She was the most neurotic dog that ever lived, with an array of fears and insecurities so wild she could’ve used a doggy therapist to sort them all out. Her funniest fear: she was terrified of farting. Everyone in our family used this fear to our advantage when Bellers stole our spot on the couch, which happened to all of us at least once a day: she’d be sitting at the foot of the couch, we’d get up to grab a drink or snack, we’d come back and she’d have moved to our warm spot, stretched out like the queen bee that she was. The best way to get your spot back? Make sure you had one in the chamber, sit down beside her, and let it rip. She’d spring up and run to the bathroom or the kitchen, claws skittering on the hardwood, and you’d have the whole couch back. It was foolproof and always hilarious.
10. She was the only real pet I’ve ever had, and she was an idiot but I loved her. When I’d come home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, she’d catch my scent at the door and come running, jumping into my arms and scratching my pants; 30 seconds later, I was nobody to her, and she’d be back on the couch or waiting by the door to go outside. She was cranky, lazy, and girthy, and she was a notoriously shady queen, but she was ours. R.I.P., Bellers. The chip bag in heaven is never empty.
Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, I have about a month left before finishing an engineering degree that I will almost surely never use, at least not in any traditional sense of the profession. While much of my class will work in the energy sector, pharmaceuticals, or manufacturing, I only needed a few months’ worth of experience to know I would never be satisfied carving out a career in those fields. When classmates and acquaintances from the engineering world find out about my side hustle as a writer (and vice-versa), it doesn’t take long for the question that has defined the last few years of my life to bubble to the forefront: “If you don’t like what you’re doing, and you’re demonstrably better at other things, what’s the point of your engineering degree?” I’m writing this as an answer to that question, if only for my own benefit.
In the months before graduating, Canadian engineering students receive an iron ring as part of an elaborate ritual whose details are kept private. The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is nearly a century old. Its roots lie in a 1922 meeting of seven esteemed Canadian engineers who wanted to bind the members of the profession together and craft a set of obligations for said members. The engineers contacted Rudyard Kipling, who authored both the obligations and the ceremony surrounding them. The iron ring lies at the heart of the ceremony: it represents both the pride engineers should have in their profession and the lofty ethical standards that are integral to the profession’s maintenance of public trust and professional conduct. The ring even has its own legend, one derived from the 1907 collapse of the Quebec Bridge during construction: each ring isn’t truly fashioned from one of the broken bridge’s original beams, but the bridge’s failure was instrumental in the implementation of professional standards for Canadian engineers, and so the myth is fitting.
The iron ring ceremony (and its accompanying mega-bash, IRS) is a huge deal for engineering undergraduates, comparable to convocation itself. The countdown to the ceremony begins as soon as each new undergraduate class steps onto campus for the first time, and milestones along the way are marked with little parties and celebrations of their own. I ridiculed the countdown every chance I could get: to me, it seemed like a frivolous extension of the paternalistic boys’ club mentality that pervades engineering here, an ill-earned sense of exceptionalism that’s wielded against other faculties and anyone who doesn’t exactly conform to the beer-swilling, purple-stained, undeniably masculine ideal that’s been cultivated over the past few decades. (One of the weirdest nights of my life was spent going from dearly departed pool hall Dooly’s to a pit stain of an engineering kegger, where an HDTV hosted a Tumblr that existed to curate the finest possible sets of breasts and pictures of kittens. As much as I’d like to forget the wagging tongues and testosterone haze of that party, I can’t erase Titties ’n Kitties.)
I felt that way right up until I left the ceremony, during which something changed inside me. Chalk it up to the sobriety of the session or the physical impact of receiving a ring laden with significance, but it was one of those rare moments where I could feel myself growing and reaching a deeper understanding of myself. Instead of allowing my feelings about engineering to be coloured by my lack of enthusiasm for the work and disdain for many of its practitioners, I began to realize the many ways a commitment to integrity and a personal code of ethics could help me to become a better writer, worker, and person. I can use rigour when I’m researching for a review or completing a project, and I can remember respect and fairness when I’m writing emails and tweets and making decisions in the workplace. Even if I’m not working as an engineer in the way most of us recognize — building a bridge, designing a pipeline, controlling a reaction — I can employ the ethical principles that govern the profession, and I remember that every time I look down at my right pinky and see a ring sitting below my knuckle. That’s what my degree means to me now, and it’s a big reason why I don’t view the last five years as a waste of time and money.
Many of you have probably seen this picture before. I posted a version of it on every other social network I use the first day I saw it in the wild. My roommate took it while waiting in the big Toronto airport for a flight across the country. (She was flying to Vancouver for a graduate school interview. So smart!) It’s a review I wrote of Pharrell’s album G I R L taking up nearly a whole page in TIME magazine; you can’t see it but big (not physically, maybe), famous, award-winning author/TIME writer Lev Grossman has been squeezed into a sidebar by my words and Pharrell’s big hat. The issue is dated March 17, and you could buy it in New York on March 7, but I didn’t get a copy until I went to Toronto to eat dinner with my mom and brother last Saturday. By that point, there was already a new issue on most newsstands in the U.S. 95% of Canada is a rural wasteland!
Anyway, I remain very proud of this, and I forgot to show it off here last week so I’m doing it now. Apologies if you’re seeing it for the second (or third) time! I have two copies sitting in my basement; I want to get one framed, and I honestly don’t know why the other one is there, I think I was supposed to give it to someone but I forgot. I never expected anything like this to come from this occasionally frustrating, ultimately fulfilling + incredible hobby, and I will be thanking Sam Lansky and his co-workers (but mostly Sam) on my deathbed for it.
Hope you’re all well, thank you for sharing in this joy/tolerating it with me, and with luck I will see you in this space once or twice before exams are through at the end of April. The weather will be nicer then.
Hey, hope everyone’s doing well out there — I haven’t had a lot of time to spend on Tumblr over the last few months. Between my senior design project, a standard load of classes, and a freelancing schedule that gets more and more packed (I haven’t yet learned to say “no”) it’s been a struggle just to find time to sleep, never mind to write new stuff for here. I feel bad about it, and not out of some sense of obligation to the people who are reading this, but simply because I think writing in this space helps me to get better and cool down in a way that writing for money can’t. I only have four weeks of class left and a handful of exams, and then I’ll be finished, at which point I should be simply swimming in free time. We’ll see. Anyway, here are some things I’ve written over the last few weeks.
- I reviewed Major Lazer’s mediocre new EP Apocalypse Soon for Pitchfork.
- I reviewed Danish producer Tomas Barfod’s decent new EP Pulsing for Pitchfork.
- I reviewed Pharrell’s fun new record G I R L for TIME. I have some really exciting news about this review coming in a few days — probably just after the weekend — so stay tuned for that, you’ll definitely understand my excitement when you see it.
- Moving outside of the world of music criticism for a second, I’ve accepted an offer to work here at the University of Waterloo for a year starting in May. (I know, I’m counting down the days until I wrap up a degree here and then I’m coming right back, it’s ridiculous.) I’ll be returning to the department I’ve been working at in both full-time and part-time capacities for the last 16 months in a slightly upgraded role, and I’m so glad that they had a slot for me to come back as a Real Adult, at least for a while. I’m not sure what’s in store after the contract runs its course, but I’d happily continue moving up in the institutional sector if the work’s there.
- I’m going to see a real apartment tomorrow, and meeting with a financial planner next week. Adulthood: a little bit terrifying, but mostly totally thrilling!
- We bought a heater a few weeks ago and it sits by our patio doors. We sleep in the basement in this place, it’s our only source of outside light. I keep looking towards the doors as I’m writing this: the sun is out and it’s bright, and if I look at the window with the right focus I can see the waves of heat rising from the heater, shimmering and slightly warping the image of the glass. There’s magic in being able to see heat; we take it for granted because it typically moves unseen. I wanted to get that image down on paper in case I forget about it.
- I’ve been listening to the Clientele a lot over the next 24 hours, so before saying goodbye for now, here’s "I Hope I Know You." How does this band make it look so easy? See you in a few days/weeks.
I wrote about seeing the Yeezus Tour in Montreal for Noisey Canada -
This was a spur-of-the-moment purchase that turned into one of my most satisfying concert experiences ever. In terms of creative ambition, musicality, and sheer gutsiness, the Justin Timberlake show I saw three days before this one belongs on some other, lesser planet. A lot of other writers have taken their crack at the Kanye West live experience over the past few months, so it was rewarding and challenging to try my own hand at it. I hope I brought something new to the tour’s universe of coverage — and if not, I just hope it’s a satisfying read.
LIVING IN FEAR
I reviewed a new record by Kalle Mattson for Pitchfork -
The 23-year-old Ottawa singer-songwriter Kalle Mattson’s third album, Someday, the Moon Will Be Gold, is a document of personal growth set against the backdrop of his mother’s death. His sound’s never been this fully realized, and he has never drawn himself in such clear, unflinching light.
This album landed in my inbox one day and was such a pleasant surprise: warm, ambitious, familiar. If you’re into indie rock — esp. the sort that came out of the Canadian indie golden age of the ’00s — I think you’ll find a lot to love in this record.
1) A programming announcement: I’ve been curious for a while about using Medium as a writing platform. Speaking personally, I think it has potential in the short-term as a complement for Tumblr: there are some things that will be better suited to the form, and some that should remain on the latter. I wrote something there about how the changing nature of my readership has gradually made me a better writer, and you can read that here. I’m going to split it like this for the foreseeable future: short posts about songs and albums and personal items (so maybe like ~80% of things) will remain on Tumblr, and broader thoughts on writing/media/trendy issues (the other ~20%) will find a new home on Medium. We’ll see how it goes.
2) Next week is our school’s Reading Week, which means a week off to catch up on all the assignments, projects, and readings I’ve been avoiding since the term started. (I will spend most of it worrying about my senior design project, a.k.a. the project that haunts my waking and dreaming hours, a.k.a. the item without which my life would be pretty much ***flawless.) My boyfriend and I are heading to Toronto tomorrow night to see Justin Timberlake, staying the night, and then leaving for Montreal Saturday afternoon. We’ll be there until next Wednesday morning.
This is going to be my first trip to a province other than Ontario, which is pretty strange and very exciting for me. Neither of us has ever been to Montreal, and I don’t have much idea about what to do there except search for bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. So if you live in Montreal or have been to the city and have any recommendations for stuff to do/eat, I would really, really appreciate them. (Leave a reply to this post, askbox it, email, whatever.) Here’s hoping my weeks of sporadic French practice using Duolingo will prove even 1% helpful.
3) I just updated this blog’s “other writing" section — a collection of major clips that serves as a decently comprehensive introduction to my freelancing over the last few years — so feel free to check that out.