It’s Alive!

“This blog is probably dead,” you say to yourself. It looks that way, but fear not! I’ve just been incredibly busy! I have a few ideas for eventual posts floating around in my head, but unfortunately I haven’t had that moment of manic inspiration that leads to most of my best content. Still, you lovely people deserve an update, so here’s what I’ve been up to:

I’ve got a new full-time job! And a new apartment! Being IN Toronto proper makes a huge difference, I’ve been going out and socializing, which hasn’t left as much time as I’ve wanted to get other things done. 2013 was a rough year for me, a sort of quarter-life crisis, but I’m so happy to be where I am now. I sometimes feel like my head might explode from all of the things I have to plan out at any given time, but comparing that to where I was this time last year, I can’t be anything but grateful. Everything has sort of fallen into place and I’m feeling optimistic about the immediate future! Hooray!

In the real-life sphere, I’ve also joined the X-Men of Toronto, a cosplay-based charity organization. Come on out to our events if you live in the GTA!

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The X-Men of Toronto. Photo by Derek Cutting.

Additionally, I’m proud to announce that in addition to frequent contributions, I’m now an editorial assistant for Paper Droids!

Haunt of Horrors is now defunct, but my reviews are still up if you want them. I’m still writing for Pop Culture-y, and will continue one day, hopefully, be able to write for a fully-operational Nerdstock. If you like pictures, you can also check out my Frankenstein-themed Tumblr blog.

I’m also editing dialogue for the new Toronto-based comic series, The Pitiful Human Lizard, and I’m helping the owner of weirdshitblog with an upcoming short story collection.

Unfortunately, all of this meant that my YouTube channel died as quickly as it was born, but check it out anyway if you like books! When winter hits I might update it again sporadically but I don’t want to make any promises on that front…

There’s still my Facebook page and Twitter, where I try my best to update whenever I write something new, plus the odd observation or article shared.

I’m trying to do as much writing as I can, and if you can believe it, I’ve got my eye on a few more opportunities! I’m sorry I don’t post very often, but I hope that infrequent but (mostly) quality content is preferable to frequent hollow updates. I’ve had some notes on werewolves and how much I love them in my drafts for months, but I might end up publishing that somewhere else. We’ll see! Is there anything you’d be curious to get my thoughts on? Want me to discuss anything in particular? Been reading anything interesting?Shoot me a comment and if I’m inspired maybe you’ll get a post out of it.

Thanks for following, everyone.

Recent Writing Round Up

The past month has been unexpectedly crazy, so let me begin by apologizing for/explaining my absence. I went to Fan Expo Canada at the end of August, which required a preparation (and then recuperation) period. I wrote up the Mike Mignola panel and the Women in Comics panel, if either of those subjects are of interest to you.

photo cred: quiddatively.tumblr.com

I’m the Scarlet Witch in the centre of this dream team

I then took a week off to visit Chicago; it’s incredible how much you can do for free if you look hard enough (and have connections – a friend of a friend brought us up to the lab at the Field Museum). We stumbled onto art exhibit The Happy Show, a definite trip high light (and not only because it was free). When I came back I had some family stuff to deal with, and I’ve spent this week catching up on writing.

I’m bad at updating this blog at the best of times, but I’m good at having opinions, so I have been doing some reviews! At Paper Droids I do a weekly column called Gender Issues where I look at the representation of women in comics. I was hoping to get conversation going with this instalment especially but maybe this audience will be more receptive to talking than the site’s – what’s your view on problematic humour?

I also enjoy comics events, and I attended the launch party for Sex Criminals #1 the other night. It was weird, to say the least. If you’re not a comics fan, you might like my review of The Conjuring or my celebration of Mako Mori from Pacific Rim. I’ve also got this article about why you should read a series called Saga even if you’re NOT a comics fan, and I’ll be doing some “comics for newbies” articles soon as well.

For any horror fans in the audience, I keep writing horror comics reviews for Haunt of Horrors Press, if you’re looking for recommendations. You should also like us on Facebook; you can get our content and links from around the web, as well as info on a Kickstarter, and hopefully a print magazine soon! I’ve written about horror a number of times before on this blog too, if you’d like to hear my thoughts on the genre in general, vampires specifically, or other misc stuff. With Halloween just around the corner, you might also enjoy this bizarre collective comic about a skeleton. I’m addicted to this surreal, choose-your-own-adventure style webcomic.

Now that we’re on the subject of horror, the first season Hannibal came out on DVD this week, so you might like to check that out this October (if you’re not squeamish). It’s more psychological horror than a procedural about catching serial killers, so check it out if you like spooky stories, not so much if you like things explained and logical. This isn’t that kind of show. Todd VanDerWerff of the AVClub wrote this spectacular piece on the show but it’s full of spoilers. This kind of article is what made me want to write about pop culture (incidentally, their review of the Dexter finale also reminded me why I gave up on the show after season 5, and stole all the points I was going to make in a blog post on the subject, so blame Joshua Alston for robbing you of a better update).

Over the next while I’m going to start looking for a real job so I’ll continue to be very busy, but my best posts (such as the post on satire) tend to come out of flashes of inspiration rather than determination to write something down. If inspiration hits maybe you’ll hear from me soon, WHO KNOWS. For now, I’m sorry I don’t have a better update for you, but hopefully I’ve provided something interesting for you to read! For more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter, @AllisonMOToole.

Metafiction

I sat down to write my story.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I could have written about doomed lovers, or an underdog triumphing over adversity, or an epic battle between good and evil. I could have explored the human condition, what it means to love and be loved, or the negative effects of capitalism on the proletariat. But that’s all been done before.

I wanted to write something different, something that hadn’t been done a hundred times before. But what is there left? After millennia of making up and telling stories, is there anything original left? Is there anything new to say?

I closed my laptop and groaned. Maybe this would be easier with a pen and paper; it would be more symbolically potent that way, at any rate. I doodled for a few minutes, but that was getting me nowhere so I went back to the laptop.

“Have you seen him?” said a voice from behind me.

“Um, who?” I turned around, to be greeted by a tall man with excellent mutton-chop sideburns.

The man grunted in a way that suggested I was eating into his very valuable time. “The prisoner 24601. The man called Jean Valjean.

“Oh. Uh, no. No I haven’t. There’s a prison just down the street, you could-“

I was rudely interrupted by another man walking in from another room. Upon seeing my other guest, he mumbled something that sounded suspiciously like “merde.

A fire lit in Javert’s eyes but before he could speak, I jumped in. “Gentlemen, while I have you here, I need some advice. I’m supposed to be writing a story, a metafictional story, but I don’t know what to write about…” I trailed off and hoped that the ellipsis implied the question.

Looking me straight in the eyes, Javert said “all stories end when justice is served. Write about a wrong that is righted.”

“Compassion for fellow man is more important; if we show compassion we are being just,” sermonized Valjean, although probably more to his cohort than to me.

Javert snorted, “Compassion is what the meek call weakness. It is far nobler –“

“Okay! Okay! Thank you, that’s enough,” I sighed. This was no more helpful than the doodles I’d been drawing. Maybe less helpful.

“You could write about me. I’m always popular.”

Death leaned her scythe against the wall and stepped between the pair of men. “Although isn’t every story about me, in a way?” She smiled sweetly at Javert, who seemed unnerved.

“Death is the noblest act of all, if it is done in sacrifice!” proclaimed Sydney Carton, who was now lying on my couch.

I mused for a moment. “But what do I know about death? Even as a teenager I never gave it much thought, except in horror stories. Obviously I’ve never actually died, or even come close, and I find the whole subject kind of depressing to be honest.”

Death smiled again, this time at me. I could see why that had made Javert so uncomfortable. “No one knows anything about me, honey, that’s why they talk about me so much. I’m life’s greatest mystery.” She stretched out her arms as if to say ta-da!

I swallowed. This conversation was not going in the direction I had hoped. “Well, I’ve never liked mysteries very much, and I’m not philosophy student.” I snickered awkwardly, but was cut short by a trumpet flourish. A balding man stepped down from his lion-drawn cart and held up his hand, as if to silence the room. No one was talking anyway, so he just stood there for a minute, establishing a more sombre atmosphere, I suppose.

“The great battles of history are forever a dignified subject for writing,” Caesar announced grandly. “I’ve written volumes about my experiences in Gaul which are still read today. The truth will endure longer than any fantasy you can concoct. For –“

“HEY!” I shouted. Valjean had been eying my fresh Bavarian multigrain bread, but gave me a look of feigned innocence when I jumped out of my chair. Now that Valjean knew I was watching him, I turned back to my laptop, where a striped cat was stretched across my keyboard.

The Cat grinned, “but what is real, really? Is your real really more real than mine? Or theirs? Why is a raven like a writing desk?”

I didn’t really have a response to that one. I was still mulling it over as the Cat disappeared when I felt a cold hand on my shoulder. “He was correct, you know,” said a thickly-accented voice. I turned to face glinting fangs and black hair in a widow’s peak.  “Human lives are nothing more than compilations of imperfect memories, coloured by bias and emotion. History is written by the winners, as they say.”

Gesturing to Caesar, who was already in a snit at having been interrupted, I agreed with the Count. “Scholars’re constantly arguing over history anyway, finding new angles and arguments for who won or lost, who was lying, what they didn’t tell us…”

Dracula chuckled. “You do the same in your own mortal life. You edit your own experiences through a lens of emotion. You hold onto the things you wish and discard the rest. My story was committed to paper, and is more real to the masses than you are. In the minds of the masses, I truly shall live forever!”

I raised an eyebrow. “Until another author comes along and rewrites your story. The Dracula of the public unconscious is as-played-by Bela Lugosi, not Stoker’s version. And don’t even get me started on him.” I pointed at Frankenstein’s creature, who had shoved Carton off my couch, where he was now languishing dramatically.

“Woe is me,” he wailed, “my story has been re-written more times than I care to count! A man tempted by the bounds of human imagination, by the bounds of science and nature, is eternally tantalizing. In more than two hundred years, this fable has never become irrelevant or untrue. You constantly test the limits of human ingenuity, and feel obsession, madness, longing, and loneliness along with us.” Through this whole speech, he gesticulated wildly with increasing fervor. “For our tale speaks to the very core of human nature, something I profess to know little about, for I am a wretched, loathsome monster. My hideousness is kept vital forever by thrill-seekers unable to look away, and every time I curse myself and my creator anew –“

“YES, okay, thank you.” I had to stop him there. If I hadn’t, I’d have been forced to add another ten pages to this story.

Elizabeth Bennett stepped with care over muck left by Caesar’s horses. “Whatever you write, it should include a woman who knows her own mind. There are few enough of those nowadays,” she said coolly.

“Oh they can be found, if one knows where to look,” declared Dorian Gray with a rakish grin. He slid a questing hand toward the small of Elizabeth’s back. She slapped him.

“A mystery is the most satisfying of all tales, mademoiselle,” smiled Hercule Poirot. “It provides stimulation for the little grey cells, n’est-ce pas?”

“And It must have plenty of food and plenty of songs,” added Bilbo Baggins, before joining Valjean around my pantry.

“That’s enough!” I all but screamed. The room had long-since descended into a noisy mess, my control unravelling along with it. I took a deep breath and tried to calm the cacophony of voices surrounding me.

I managed to quiet the voices down to one. “I think I may be able to help,” said the Bard. “Take a collection of stories the public knows well, and write them in a way that will transcend time and place. If your story speaks to the human condition, as said the Creature, it will be lauded by the masses.”

“That’s easy for you to say! I’m not trying to write the next Hamlet here! And what help are you anyway? Some people don’t even think you wrote your plays! You’re not helping me at all!” I leapt up, my frustration reaching its peak. I looked around the faces in the room and shouted “NONE OF WHAT YOU’RE SAYING IS HELPING!”

“Then make us say something different,” said Shakespeare gently.

Yet again, I had nothing to say. I closed my eyes, but I could feel the crowd slowly fade away. Shakespeare did have a point; my culture-obsessed mind is a permanent jumble of everything I’ve ever read or seen or heard.  Rather than try to ignore or sort through this mess of influences, maybe I’d be better off working with them. Maybe acknowledging my literary predecessors would be the best approach. I took another calming breath and turned again to face my desk.

I sat down to write my story.

This was originally published as an assignment for ENGL 488, Queen’s University, Prof Yaël Shlick, October 31, 2012.

So begins the 4th year of undergrad (and a new blog!)

I haven’t posted much this summer, but hopefully a new blog will change that.

It looks like I’m applying to grad school in October, so I’ve decided to revamp my online presence – the good stuff from my old blog is still here, I’ve just purged some of the ramblier stuff. Which I will celebrate with this ramble.

This is the first year I’ve not been involved with Orientation here. Everyone seems to be having a blast, and I’m really happy for them, despite expectations that I’d be really jealous and nostalgic. I chose this summer to go Fan Expo Canada and then recover from that instead of rushing back to school, and I can’t say I regret that decision, since it was a blast. But I am glad to be back at school now.

Being in my last year, I’m finally starting to get used to the idea – even excited about – seeing myself as an adult. With grad school, I’ll still have a few years of being a student ahead of me, but I’m getting excited at the prospect of getting my own apartment and feeding and clothing myself. I mean, I’m still terrified of that, but I’m excited too.

It’ll be hard to attend regular classes after my amazing time in England last year, but hopefully this year can be ALMOST as good.

Tonight I’m heading out with my lovely housemates for the first time this year, and classes start on Monday.

Wish me luck?

A Post About Breaking and Repairing My Own Dreams

(I think this post wins for cheesiest post title. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t think of anything better right now, so deal with it).

For Darnoc, Bringer of Darkness

A friend of mine is having a bit of a tough time, so I thought I’d write about a time when I was feeling like he is now. Be prepared for a story that starts out pretty braggy, and getssort of self-pitying in the middle. Don’t say I didn’t warn y’alls.

From the time I could speak, my favourite game was what my mother calls “I’ll be Jasmine, you be Genie.” Basically, rather than play with dolls and making them act out stories, I would make my parents or babysitter or whoever else would humour me act out scenes from my favourite movies. I sang “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid at my school’s talent show in grade 1. Basically, I loved performing from a very young age.

When I was 7, I was in my first musical, How to Eat Like a Child. I adored it, and was in a show every year for the next 3 years, switched to choirs instead, but did a few more musicals in later years. I hate to brag here, but to get you properly into my mindframe for the latter part of this story, I should point out that I usually had lead roles, and if I didn’t, it was because I was the youngest in a group of people who were all at least a few years older than I was. I got used to feeling special, and had never experienced rejection.

Now here’s the thing: I can sing pretty well, I’m a mediocre (but serviceable, sometimes) actor, but I can’t dance to save my life. How did I get into so many shows you ask? Well, when I was a kid, skill in dancing wasn’t as necessary, and in later years, I could usually squeeze in for my singing, or play roles where dancing was less prominent. I had been encouraged to take lessons in singing/acting/dancing, but couldn’t really see the point. I hated dancing, and I could still get into shows without it, so why would I pay to embarrass myself? Especially since it got harder to find super beginner classes as I got older. And, I admit, I thought I was pretty good on my own, and that I was learning all I needed to from my choirs about singing. After I sang in that talent show, my grade 1 teacher told me I should get lessons, and I assured her that I was good enough without them. I guess I never quite lost that cocky 7 year old self.

So as time went on, I liked doing a lot of things, but my passion lay with musical theatre. When it came time to start applying for university, I decided that nothing could really make me happy the way that theatre could, so with my parents’ support, I decided to go for it. I applied to a few theatre schools in Canada, as well as the musical theatre program at NYU. I was pretty sure that I could “at least” get into Ryerson, if I couldn’t get into the school in New York, which is where my heart was set. I took the SAT (and did pretty well on the reading/writing, not so much on the math), I sought professional assistance to choose material and prepare for my auditions. In February, my Dad and I went to New York and I auditioned for one of the entomologists from Silence of the Lambs. I felt pretty good about it, and hell, even if I didn’t get it, I did an audition in New York, which is pretty cool on its own. Inside though, no matter how many times I told myself that, I desperately wanted “to go to there.” I loved the program, the school, the location, just… everything. So then I just had to wait.

A few weeks after that audition, I went to Ryerson in Toronto, where they had group auditions for the theatre program. Seeing the sorts of people I was up against, I realized that I had nothing on them. It was the first cold, hard splash of reality, especially after I’d flubbed one of my pieces out of nervousness. I went home, put on a sad episode of Buffy and then cried for 45 minutes straight. I was upset that I wasn’t hot shit like I thought I was, but the fact that I did it to myself just made it so much worse. I had so many opportunities to train, to learn more, but I never did because of my own stupid cockiness and pride. Because of over confidence in my own abilities, I wouldn’t be able to do what I loved. So I was embarrassed and frustrated and angry, and couldn’t envision what the future held. I had no idea what I would do.

Needless to say, I didn’t get into any of the theatre schools I wanted. Luckily I had applied to some schools that don’t require auditions, including my mother’s Alma Mater, which is where I ended up. I applied for Drama, I think, but quickly re-thought that when I got Bs in first year drama class. I couldn’t even minor in drama as a result. On top of that, I had some relapses into self-pity when I couldn’t get into musicals at school. I had really though I had a chance at those too, but again, I just didn’t quite measure up. I now have friends in the drama program who are doing shows all the time, and I’d be lying if I said that no small part of me twinges with jealousy when info about their shows pops up in my Facebook NewsFeed from time to time. It’s not crippling self-pitying jealousy, but a sort of wistful sigh will escape my lips if I’m feeling morose.

Thankfully, my story has a happy ending. I’m doing so much more writing than I ever have before, and I’m loving it. I’m majoring in English, and just got a scholarship for third year English students, so I guess I’m doing pretty well. I’m seriously considering becoming an entertainment critic, which would put me only a degree or two of separation away from the actors doing what I always wanted to do. I’m still singing with a choir, so my life isn’t devoid of performance. I’m really happy with the way things turned out and I really don’t see this as “giving up on my dreams,” of which I was accused by one or two theatre types when I decided to ditch theatre for books. My brother is now the age I was when I was trying to do theatre, and part of him still longs to be a rockstar. I really hope that he can take his own path and find something that will make him happy too. And I wish that two years ago I could have known I’d end up here. I’ve been coasting along for years, but I hope that now that I’ve sorted out what I want to do (or come close), that I can take some control and steer the ship more.

I thought for a while that I’d really screwed myself over there, and part of me will always regret not doing more to further my potential theatrical career. But now I think I’m working to something different and better for me, and it feels awesome.

Premature Posting: Yay Summer!

Hey. Hey guys. You know what this is?

An Eddie Izzard t-shirt is an acceptable but incorrect answer.

The final English paper of my second year! Gender Relations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight… because I was feeling uncreative when I was writing the title. Now I just have to make it through 4 exams, and then summ.. Right. Working. So not really a break at all.

It’s weird actually, I was talking to friends who are graduating this year, and who are going off to get real jobs with real salaries. We were talking about how cool that sounded – the idea of being shoved out into the world, being expected to fend for yourself, became “cool” somewhere along the line, and no one told me. Remember when you were a kid, and summer meant playing outside? My friends and I would make crafts, explore a nearby ravine, or set up sprinklers – or, if we were lucky, Crazy Daisies and slip n slides – in our backyards.

When we were really young, we would head to the park, before they made everything of plastic for “safety” reasons. In retrospect, most of the really fun apparati were pretty dangeous: Slip ‘n Slides, the hanging tires at the park, home made rope swings (especially those over water), even climbing trees frequently ended in injury. But it was always worth it.

Summer for me this year will mainly mean processing mutual funds. But it’s not all bad, because now it can also mean driving with friends to the Elora Gorge or to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to see a show. It can mean outdoor concerts in Toronto, grabbing lunch on a patio somewhere, and late night walks to star gaze. Hey, it can still mean exploring the ravine and playing on the rope swing. I am not above that. The difference now is that I have more freedom. And also a car. I still have two years before I am thrust into the world, and even then, I doubt I’ll stop doing stupid things. I just do different stupid things, mostly at night now.

So yeah, part of me is really excited at the prospect of going out on my own, moving to a cool place and doing something I like doing every day. Until very recently, I wanted to do theatre. Musical theatre, to be exact. I decided to major in English because I’ve always really liked reading, but never so much the writing part. Obviously I’m doing quite a bit more of that now, and it’s starting to actually excite me. I can happily envision myself being a critic or theorist, something other than the actress I have imagined since I was 8 or so. And to be clear, I really don’t see this as “giving up on my dreams” or anything, of which I have been accused. My interests have shifted, it’s a good thing. You crazy drama kids can have lots of fun with your shows, and I’ll miss that sometimes, I admit, but I’ll keep writing and reading, and be just as excited about it. It’s good news.

Wherein I do Battle with a Great Spider

I was enjoying a warm shower, when I noticed movement in the corner of my eye. For fear that it could be an enemy, I slowly turned to face the dark form. My worst fear was confirmed: A large, hairy spider had invaded my shower. A cowardly part of me wished to leave immediately, and resume at a later time. But ‘twas too late, I was already soapy. I said to myself, “Thou must do battle with the fiend. Thou daren’t flee, lest thy family thinketh thee a coward. Defend thy honour and fight!”
I turned to the brute and said in my most confident and courageous voice, “Begone foul creature! This is a place of cleanliness and thou hast no power here!”
As I watched, the wretch began to try to navigate the formidable shower wall. It was beleaguered by the soggy traps that I had inadvertently set, and could not navigate a wall covered in water droplets. I relished in my small victory, only to realize that I could exacerbate the situation at any time, as the traps were mayhap too effective. Forsooth, they nearly jettisoned the demon from the wall, and onto the floor or my loofa.
“Now,” said I to myself, “thou shalt not hit the monster with the cast-off from thy hair – it may falleth into the shower, or onto thy skin, and this cannot happen. Tread carefully.”
The remainder of my shower was spent in tension, while I tried to ensure that the arachnid remained in its runny prison, until I could summon the courage and the armaments with which to do proper battle. In a fresh state of purity and cleanliness befitting of a knight, I grabbed my trusty sword, lovingly named Wad o’ Toilet Paper. With apprehension, I approached the beast’s lair.
To mine own self I said “Thou daren’t allow its spidery innards to grace the walls of thy shower, for thy mother does wish to use it after you. And it would surely be gross.”
Suddenly the fiend began to struggle once again to cross the wall, despite the formidable water thereupon, and my heart was stilled by a momentary burst of pity. It then began to show its true self, and move its legs in a disturbing manner employed only by spider kind. The sight steeled my nerve, and I knew that I was prepared to fight. With one quick movement I slew the beast.  I carried its corpse to the toilet, and sent it to a watery grave.
My name shall be remembered throughout the land forevermore, as the noble one who defeated the great Spider of the Shower. My name and my family’s line shall prosper in glory for all days.