katharine promotes herself: flashback


Maybe you’ve forgotten or maybe you’re new to me, but some time ago (let’s call it two years) I made a book with words in it. It came from a blogging project. It did not become an international internet sensation. Not everything can, you know. The internet and the human attention span are finite.

30 Failures by Age 30 is still available, despite my now being…some years over 30 (let’s call it two years). But maybe you know someone who is turning 30 or experiencing some other age-related life crisis and you would like to purchase a novelty book to make them feel better about themselves. 30 Failures by Age 30 will do the trick! It won’t solve the problem. My book offers no solutions, no nifty tips for feeling less like an unsuccessful, underachieving slob. The best it can offer is a few chuckles and a sense of relief that there’s at least one other person who didn’t meet society’s standards.

There’s a book trailer for the book. I’ve since mastered the hula hoop but still terrible at drawing on myself with magic marker. And I won’t be asked to perform at the local go-go dancing establishment.

The digital edition is also available to download from iTunes bookstore, Amazon, Kobo, and Smashwords for the remarkably low price of $1.99. For the purposes of gift-giving and bookshelf-filling, 30 Failures by Age 30 comes in a convenient slim paperback edition for $7.95, exclusively at Amazon.com.

The original list of 30 failures was created in 2009. In 2011, after publishing the book, I came up with a list of even more failures! I am really good at not doing things and/or doing things terribly. What’s the German word for feeling simultaneously good and bad about oneself?

If you’re throwing a 30th birthday, you can download these Bingo cards for an instant party game. The prize is probably booze and self-loathing but maybe you can find some gag gifts and doodads from the Oriental Trading catalog.

…I don’t think my self-promotion skills have improved either, you guys. Should I put that on the list for the sequel?

Sparkling Observationalist: Technology Dependency


While watching an episode of Mad Men, it occurred to me that smart phones are the new cigarettes. We’ve replaced one addiction with another, trading the experience of taking a drag and having an idle ponder for dragging our fingers across a screen in search of idle distraction.

Ten years ago, it was rare to see someone texting in public. The only people photographing their food were actual photographers and tourist. Blogs went months without an update. Those were quaint times. Not as quaint as the previous years of typewriters and phonographs and word processors and one-hour film developing booths. Ten years ago, we were complaining about the abbreviation of “app” for “appetizer” at TGIFriday’s. Ten years ago, it was rare to find a hotel with an in-room ethernet hook-up for internet access. Now the wi-fi waters run (mostly) free and deep and everyone’s texting and tweeting and snapping pics of everything everywhere. Instant messaging is now more instant-y than ever and there’s no excuse for being AFK or opportunity to BRB.

Look, I love the glowing screens. I’ve been staring into them for nearly 34 years. I experience minor panic whenever I’m thrust into a situation without a television and/or internet access. Television was my nanny, my first love, and my connection to the outside world. My addiction predates smart phones, social media, Web 2.0, Mac OSX, and the birth of the average Tumblr user. But even I need a break sometimes. I know when it’s time to step away from the black mirror and join the rest of humanity in meatspace. Unfortunately, meatspace is now overrun with earbuds and little glowing rectangles. And once again, I find myself in a minority.

When I go out, it’s to get away from the devices. I’ll load up a bag with my notebook and pens and go to a coffee shop for a caffeinated scribble. My favourite spot is usually filled with people having a casual chat or reading a book. I stay away from the cafes filled with laptop workers and I leave the wi-fi connection off on my ipod. I pretend to smoke and let my mind wander, free from the compulsion to press a button to release a bit of information that it won’t retain. Are we retaining any of the information we consume from our constant connection? Can you recall which site had that headline that you skimmed before checking Twitter for reactions to that headline? Can you remember whose baby-smeared-with-food photo showed up in your News Feed?

We’ve been conditioned to check email and social networking sites with the possibility of a reward. “Has so-and-so responded to my note? Oh, who clicked ‘like’ on my photo? Have there been any new tweets in the last thirty seconds?” We satisfy that mental itch only to be sent scratching away mere moments later. My diminuitive social network does not minimize my own urges to switch between the Facebook and Twitter tabs/apps. The rewards are minimal (or non-existent, if you’re in the mood to be hurtful), making my behaviour more inexplicable.

To cut oneself off from “social media,” to declare “email bankruptcy,” to disconnect from the internet entirely is a lovely fantasy. What must it be like to be without computers, mobile phones, televisions and toaster ovens, refrigerators and stereos? Oh, the sweet relief from electronic hums! Except toast is delicious and refrigerators are quite handy. You could purge yourself of all technology, but you’ll be leading an inconvenient life in the modern world. Every generation, or sub-generation, now has to make the choice of being deemed irrelevant or adopt and adapt every new technological “upgrade” and social media “innovation.” It’s becoming impossible to say “No, thank you. I’ll sit this technology fad out and join in again later.” Mostly it’s impossible because technology won’t allow it. Which is why we’ve gone through five generations of iPhones in just five years.

Is it ridiculous that iPads and tablets have built-in cameras? I’ve certainly found it handy in sneaking photos of my camera-shy cats. But apparently it’s considered rude or something to use one’s iPad to record an event or take photographs in public. It looks stupid to some people and they would prefer if the iPad people would stop doing it. Who decided there was a size limit on obnoxious behaviour? “Please don’t hold up your big flat glowing rectangle to photograph that concert (that has clearly posted “Photography and Video Recording Prohibited” signs all over the venue)” says them. “But it’s totally cool if you hold up your smaller flat glowing rectangle (even though recording is still a no-no, but maybe you’ll be a bit more discreet).”

Built-in cameras mean that everyone’s a photographer now. Take a photo, slap a filter on it, and post it on the Internet. Welcome to everyone’s holiday slideshow. It’s easy to dismiss the glut of candid photos and videos as noise until something big happens. We live in the era of Threat-Level Scary and crime procedurals, which fuels the need to capture every moment for the what-ifs. Every event has the potential for a breakout buzzy moment. Someone could jump on a stage and do something wacky. Something could erupt. History is being made somewhere. Concerned citizens become journalists and papparazzi. The rest of us become observers and commenters.

On the average day, the smart phone just contributes to man’s obliviousness to man. People are in the cinema right now, blithely texting away like they’re in their living room, unable (or unwilling) to notice how bright their little rectangles glow in a darkened room, unaware that their faces are illuminated by their ignorance.

Will the pendulum swing back to more natural pursuits? Will Pinterest links to DIY tutorials pique the general public’s interest in making and doing things for themselves? Will we ever yearn for the reward of hard work and manual labour? Isn’t the result of churning one’s own butter or mending one’s own trousers much more satisfying than the swiping of screens and pressing of buttons in pursuit of “information”? The possibility remains that we’ll kick this technological dependency in my lifetime, by choice or by force. Some entrepreneur will tire of his food truck and discover there’s money to be made in technology rehabilitation centres. In another ten years, I could be sat in some hospital playing with a grown-up busy box to break myself of my crippling addiction to refreshing the Facebook home page. Maybe then I’ll finally learn a skill that can be monetized in the real world.

Step away from your electronic device. Go look at the sunset. Watch the squirrels. Look at how the sun streams into your backyard at a particular time of day and illuminates a spider web that’s seemingly floating in midair. Have you noticed that before? How many times have you almost walked into that thing? Is that squirrel smoking a cigarette?

Viewing Habits: British Pathé

I am prone to falling into the YouTube trap of looking for a specific video and then clicking on related videos of interest. Thankfully, my interests are innocent enough that I only spend hours watching old educational films about how to use the telephone and psychedelic infomercials about decorative refrigerator panels. While doing some “research” on Expo ’67, YouTube suggested a newsreel clip that introduced me to my new favourite hobby: watching clips from 20th century newsreels from British Pathé.

I could regale you with the history of Pathé and walk you through all the variations of newsreels and “cinemagazines,” but I’m short on time and Wikipedia could probably give you a better overview. This is merely an excuse to post a bunch of links to my favourite reels and to introduce you to the bright and jovial narration work of Bob Danvers-Walker. If, after watching several newsreels featuring his work, you do not begin to narrate your own life in his style, you simply haven’t watched enough.

The British Pathé site is full of film clips dating back to the early 1920s—although those won’t feature Danvers-Walker—and photo galleries. If you’ve got a hankering to look at a bunch of photos of Queen Elizabeth donning silly hats, British Pathé’s got you covered. In my explorations, I’ve stuck to the whimsical slice-of-life stories like provocative hat fashions in the 1950s, underwater dinner parties, and showgirl bowling. These are the kinds of stories that now only grace the pages of the free neighbourhood weekly paper or kitschy blogs. From science and technology to travel to sport and leisure, there’s something for everyone…well, everyone who’s interested in the ways of the 20th century.

We need a modern day Pathé to produce gentle newsreels for the cinema to temper the garish, in-your-face adverts that precede today’s new releases. Wouldn’t you prefer an imitation Bob Danvers-Walker cheerfully narrating a day-in-the-life of GrumpyCat or an artisan knot store to another mobile phone commercial?

Popped Culture: Inside Shelley Berman


When I was 12 years old, I discovered an LP of Inside Shelley Berman in my mother’s small record collection. Nestled between The Sound of Music movie soundtrack and Helen Reddy was this comedy gem. While my mother was at work, I transferred the record onto audio cassette by holding my white Centurion boombox up to the stereo speakers. I managed to fit the entire album onto one side of the cassette. I listened to the album on my generic Walkman during my commute to school every day for several months. I didn’t know anything about Shelley Berman. For the longest time, all I knew was this one record. This was all pre-Internet. Berman didn’t have prominent television presence at the time and the local record stores couldn’t be bothered to stock pre-Yankovic comedy albums. Those were dark times, friends.

Inside Shelley Berman was aspirational listening for me. I’m not sure I wanted to be Shelley Berman as much as I wanted to be worthy of sitting in his audience. Berman exudes a sophistication lacking in your Adam Sandler or Louis C.K. You listen to a Shelley Berman record, you want to be wearing your best cocktail attire. Inside Shelley Berman is the comedy record I imagine the Drapers would play while entertaining their suburban pals. Grey suits and their wives having a giggle over observations about air travel and department store customer service. A couple of the guys would elbow and wink at Don about The Morning After, “Hope I don’t have to make that phone call to you in the morning, har-har-har.”

This record will not blow your mind with outrageous ideas. While I’m sure Shelley Berman is no stranger to outrageous ideas, his stage persona in this album does not indulge in them. Inside Shelley Berman is polite, gentle comedy. This is comedy that can be enjoyed in mixed company, should anyone still concern themselves with comedy etiquette in mixed company. If you want to be shocked by comedy, get a time machine and a Lenny Bruce album. If you like neuroses couched in light observational humour, Berman’s your man. Through a mix of telephone bits and monologues, Berman taps into the average anxieties and frustrations of modern life. Although some of the specifics are dated, the general concepts remain as relevant today as they were in 1959. Technology may be evolving rapidly but human behaviour plods along.

Because this is a live recording of a performance, comedy students can study the audience response to Berman as well as the material itself. This is a well-behaved, mild-mannered audience. There is no hooting. There is no wild applause. There is genuine, honest laughter. Sometimes only chuckles. Occasionally a cough. In the first two minutes, you can hear the audience shuffling in their seats, unsure whether the actual comedy has begun. That it takes so long to illicit a laugh from the audience would surely unsettle an entertainment executive today.

Twenty years ago, most of the material on this record went over my head. From the Airline bit: “…if anybody can forget an Erskine Caldwell novel. Frankly, I don’t know why that man is seeking success, he can have so much fun sitting around thinking.” I didn’t know who Erskine Caldwell was then (or until two days ago, when I looked him up on Google after listening to this record again), but I enjoyed the idea. Revisiting Inside Shelley Berman 20 years later, I find that I understand more of the jokes and references. The album may actually be better now than it was when I first heard it. We’re a long way from rotary dial phones and cassette tapes, but buttermilk and neuroses remain the same.

Fun fact: Shelley Berman was a recurring judge on Boston Legal.

katharine likes to make things: bunting necklace

As the weather warms, it’s time to find projects that don’t involve being buried under fabric for hours at a time. It’s back to the craft table for me to figure out just what to do with all these tiny scraps of paper. Whenever I finish a paper craft, I’m always left with chunks and strips of paper that are too small and awkward for my regular projects but big enough that I feel guilty just tossing out.

If you can’t make circles or squares, make triangles! I decided to jump on the trend of making…bunting? Pennants? Garland? These easy-peasy necklaces are a fun way to feel festive on even the crappiest days.

Scrap paper
jump rings
chain, clasps
paper piercing tool
gloss Mod Podge


1. First, I cut a bunch of small diamonds from scrap strips. It helps me to have a template that I can trace onto the paper and then cut. My necklaces have at least three pennants but I like to have five just so I can use less chain later. An odd number drapes better on the neck than an even number of pennants.

2. Fold the diamonds in half to create triangles and glue sides together.
Some scrapbook paper is actually printed cardstock and may not need the diamond treatment. Also, some paper is printed double-sided, with a different design on front than back. In those cases, I would use clear packing tape to act as a protective laminate (look, I’m not making these for the Queen. Costume jewelry isn’t meant to last for generations. Heck, televisions aren’t meant to last for generations anymore!) If my scrap paper is too small for diamonds, I’ll just cut the triangles and glue black paper to the back to stiffen the charms.

3. Coat the triangles with gloss Mod Podge. This helps stiffen and protect the paper. You still don’t want to wear these in a heavy rainstorm. Also, the gloss adds a bit of sheen. Let the pennants dry fully before going onto the other steps. Go hula hoop for half an hour or watch a couple of episodes of QI.

4. Using the paper piercing tool, I poke holes in two corners of each triangle, where I want the jump rings to go. This is tricky business because the paper is still fragile and could tear when pulling the piercer out. Slow and steady makes the holes.

5. Join the pennants and jump rings.

6. Attach chain to pennant with jump rings. Cut your chain to desire length and attach your favourite kind of necklace clasp.

I can make several of these in one sitting. This is great if you need to whip up a bunch of inexpensive gifts for girls. Sit down and cut a bunch of paper, take a break, do all the gluing, take a break, punch all the holes, take a break, and attach all the findings.

You can find a few of my finished creations at Peppermint Robot Surprise on Etsy.