Ottawa is for Real Russians



A Russian New Year superstition is that the way you usher in the New Year is the way you’re going to spend it. If so, 2013 is looking pretty cold for me.  We celebrated the New Year with my parents in Ottawa, which is derived from the Algonquin phrase for “holy shit, the windchill.”



Goodbye, Pixar. I loved you.

In the dim, dim recesses of my  early childhood memory, I remember sitting with my parents late at night, marveling at the television they’d just bought, an amazing accomplishment in the late 1980s in the Soviet Union.  I couldn’t have been more than three or four years old at the time, but lasered in my brain even today are two lamps and a ball in the darkness. Why or how these lamps were let into the Soviet Union, I have no idea, but ever since then, Pixar and I have had a beautiful friendship.


As I’ve grown up, Pixar has grown up, too. I was just the right age when Monsters, Inc. came out, and it opened a world of possibilities in my brain. Someone created this concept, I thought. Someone thought this up and brought it to life, and I realized the power of ideas.

There is something about a Pixar film that allows you to enjoy it no matter how old you are.  My favorite Pixar films are ones I’ve only been able to appreciate when I was older: Up and Wall-E, both of which made me cry. If you’re over the intended target audience age of 10, you appreciate the subtleties, and as soon as the movie starts, you are drawn into a state of childlike wonder that makes you believe dreaming is possible again.  It makes you feel more creative, it makes you feel emotions, it makes you feel like a better person when you leave the theater.   It’s like stardust for your brain.

Because we all need that stardust; we need that sense of wonder, of possibility otherwise our brains become old and withered. The world is boring and dull, and every day is the same: you get up, brush your teeth, work, bills, gym, sitcoms, sleep, and then do it all over again.

“Life, which is already boring and repetitive, becomes deadly dull when imagination is missing.”

To break up the monotony for myself, I write.  I imagine ridiculous scenarios which would never happen in real life.  But sometimes the stardust needs to come from somewhere else, and for years, that place has been Pixar.  I was desperately hoping to feel that stardust when I went to see Brave last night.

It was already easy for me to be excited about Brave: it features the best country with the worst food in the world, and the stills are GORGEOUS.

Oops. Sorry, that’s stills from my Culloden folder. Doesn’t everyone have a Culloden folder?

Actual still from Brave:


Also, it has a !female! protagonist.  That was possibly !against marriage! and !changes tradition!  Also, she is good at archery and sword-fighting! Also, her dad kind of looks like Liam Neeson.

I was SO excited.  I haven’t been this excited for a movie since I found out I could watch all of Mosfilm online for free.

The theater was packed, even for a Sunday night, with a mix of kids, parents, and creepy adult-kids like Mr. B and myself, which is about right for a Pixar movie.  We got there in time for the previews to start.  The previews for Brave were also Pixar offerings:   Finding Nemo in 3D,  and Monsters University. Basically, a rehash of their greatest hits, riding on the coattails of the past ten years.

It was honestly disappointing.  How many amazing people does Pixar have working for them? And they’re wasting their creative energy rehashing sequels and re-rendering movies that shouldn’t be rendered into 3D, into 3D because Disney wants to $$$–> $$$$$$ its bottom line with merchandising and prequels and sequels and requels and BLAHHH, when instead, they could be producing stuff like La Luna?

La Luna is the Pixar short that came on before Brave started, and it is beautiful and whimsical. It’s about dreaming and cleaning falling stars off the moon.  It’s the stuff true, good movies are made of.  I wish there were a full clip of it somewhere online.  It makes you feel all the things a Pixar movie should make you feel.

So, ok, terrible previews, beautiful La Luna.  I was ready for the movie.  ON THE EDGE OF MY CREEPY ADULT-KID SEAT.

Unfortunately, the movie fell completely flat.

It starts with the beautiful landscapes, which is what happens when you get paid to lie around in the heather for a couple months, I guess:


We learn about Princess Merida (a name no Scottish woman has had, EVAR,) who is feisty, spirited, and learns to fence. Unfortunately, she has to be married and so her mom makes her be a Lady.  The conflict stems from the difference between what her mother wants for her and what she wants for herself, an extremely relatable and emotional story.  In a rage, Merida wishes from a witch that her mom will change, and obviously she does, as the unintended consequence of a spell.  The rest of the movie is spent by Merida trying to reverse the spell on her mom and reconcile that with the rowdy suitors who have come to win her hand.

The mother-daughter relationship aspect of the movie is very touching, relatable, and an interesting idea in a world of children’s movies that doesn’t often explore family ties as much as send princesses out to find the right man.  The fact that this princess can take care of herself is great, and the fact that the movie encourages moms and daughters to find a common language is beautiful, different, and true, and Pixar-ish.  There is one scene where Merida’s mom, Elinor, is singing to small Merida in Gaelic that, in particular, made me tear up.

But the execution of this brilliant idea is unfortunately wrapped in what I can only imagine is Disney creative direction bullshit. There are half-complete corny songs, whimsical characters who never really fit into the main plot, a whole second plot with a character called Mordhu that feels rushed, and an unsatisfactory resolution.

The Gaelic background of the plot is there, but still somehow you feel like the story could be taking place in a generic anyplace; there’s nothing distinctly Scottish about the disparate elements even though the kilts (completely historically inaccurate for the time frame they’re trying to portray…I mean COME ON..a Pictish character in the 9th-12 centuries AND kilts?), the Highland games, and the actual Highlands are there.  But it all feels…artificial. Not relevant to the heart of the movie.  Which, actually, I never really understood what the heart was.  The marketing for the movie is completely different from the actual plot, which is completely different from the actual second plot of the movie.  So I never really felt sympathy for any of the characters.

I fully believe that, had Pixar been left alone on this one, they would have knocked it out of the ballpark. They would have cut back the extra themes, cut out all of the songs or written actual good ones, sharpened up the ending, and made some of the characters more three-dimensional. But I can just imagine Disney stakeholders standing over the animators’ computers. “How much is this sequence going to cost?  We need to trim costs.  Our Miley Cyrus Amazing Fantabulous Braindead Roadshow is going on and we need to make bank,” which is always the problem in the difference between business and art.

Somehow, the struggle between creativity and profitability has never been a problem for Pixar before. But, since it’s become now, it looks like I’m going to have to say goodbye.  It makes me sad that it’s come to this, but I’m sure they won’t miss me.  And, come to think of it, I won’t miss them, either.

Because I can catch up with the real Scotland anytime. DAT WEATHER.


Plus, look how much cool and interesting stuff is going on on Vimeo.

Defective Detective from Cartoon Brew on Vimeo.


Heat hallucinations. And then, a Scottish miracle.

Yesterday, I ran a 5k, the same one I ran last year.

Except this year I am weak and fatty because  all my various non-Olympic activities like writing books, my MBA program, going to the West Coast, and laughing at the Russian publishing industry have eaten into my running time.

So, as can be expected, I almost died.  Mr. B was right. I would never make it. 

The first mile wasn’t so bad, and I actually kept a pretty good pace with the rest of the crowd.  It was also mildly downhill, so my spirits were high. It also helped that I paced myself really well with the playlist I picked out.  It is really hard to put together a good playlist because it has to be ranked in order of increasing BPM and also has to be motivational.

I started out with this one, the Russian version of Ai Si Eu Te Pego to pace myself:

Then, onto Shakira:

Then, Country Roads.  Man, I was killing it, even without preparation.  Doing great!

Then, at .92 miles, we hit the first hill and something strange started happening to my legs—they were forced to work. Good God, it was the most painful experience ever, because my legs are weak and not muscly anymore, so I gasped up the first hill. I felt like I would never make it to the top.  I started mentally making a list of who my possessions would go to.

The worst part is that everyone was beating me.  Kids were passing me. Dogs were passing me. Pregnant women with strollers were passing me. At a brief moment in time, the heat made me hallucinate and I was convinced I was passing myself.

And then, at the top of the hill,  I had to walk. Because I finally started feeling the 86 billion degrees it was outside, plus the hill, plus life beat me down. I’ve never had to walk any part of a 5k before. Defeat. She is ugly.  I turned down the volume all the way on my carefully-curated (God, I hate that word) music, because someone who’s not running doesn’t deserve the Cool Jams. I concentrated on trying to walk as fast as possible and gulped down air to regulate my breathing, but it was like trying to breathe in a fishbowl full of sand. There was no way I could cool down fast enough to run the second half.

But, I started jogging again when I passed the first volunteer station.  Because those people are always happy and start to cheer you on, and when you’re walking, you kind of feel like a moron. I jogged weakly past the first station, then I walked again.  I jogged, I walked.  My lungs expanded to full capacity and I still couldn’t pick up the pace enough to pace myself while running. The course became super-hilly, and I almost just gave up.  I was desolate.

By mile 2.7, I was concentrating on making it back to Mr. B alive.  I turned the corner up the last hill, and I could feel the finish line in the distance. I knew that, as much as I didn’t want to, I had to  I saw more volunteers and people watching on the sidewalk, so, I forced myself to start jogging again.

It really was the last of everything I had and I wasn’t even sure I could finish it out jogging, but I was going to give it my best effort.  I braced myself mentally. I quieted my mind. I turned the volume up on my music, because music is for winners.

Sometimes life is better than fiction, and I am not making this up at all when I say that  the song that came on was my remix of Loch Lomond.

And it pushed me through to the end.

Mr. B came up to me after the race with a cold water bottle.

“You’re still alive!” his eyes said.

“Loch Lomond pushed me through to the end,” I said, then I told him the whole story. It was like I’d seen the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast.  It was a Sign from somewhere that I was meant to live through this race and make it out the other side. It was a Sign that there is a just and benevolent God. It was a sign that-

“Every other song on your playlist is Loch Lomond,” Mr. B said.

“That is NOT true,” I said vehemently, crazed and probably sunstroked. “Do you want to see my playlist?  I have only one Scottish song on there (THIS time, I muttered, sotto voce). ONE. So the chances of this song coming on were, like, one out of THIRTY.”

“THIRTY,” I repeated in a Scottish accent, then stumbled a bit, because I couldn’t feel my legs anymore.

“Right,” said Mr. B with sympathy and concern and gave me my water so I could de-heatstroke. “You only have one Scottish song ever.  Let’s go inside. I turned on the AC for you.”

“Wait!” I said. “Take a picture of me!”

“Are you sure?” asked Mr. B.

“Aye, I said.”

“Smile,” said Mr. B.




How to really test the limits of your marriage


If you are a fellow Special Pretty Princess (also known as “creative type” ), you know that sometimes your  craft goes easier if you are playing music.

When I was writing my ebook, I often worked really early in the morning, right before a full day of  thinking intensely at work, and late at night, right after a full day of thinking intensely at work, and, on Mondays, in class.

So I needed music to not only push me through, but to get me in the right frame of mind to write.  Unfortunately for Mr. B, with whom I share the office, the music was a playlist of about 50 songs that I could loop through infinitely. It was Scottish folk songs. Also, remixes of Scottish folk songs. Also, Enya.

Oh, how Mr. B suffered.

At first, he was ok with it.

“Anything to push you through to the end,” he said brightly as Annie Laurie played in the background.

“Ok, looks like you’re really writing,” he said, hesitating slightly as the Scottish MegaMix looped through a third time.  (Although I have a discerning and classy eye for literature and design, I have an embarrassingly Russian love of techno music.)

“Oh my God it’s this song again,” he said as Scottish Rain came on again.  Yes, this song really does exist and after the first month of about ten plays a day, Mr. B was singing this song like a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome.

But somewhere in the middle of month two, he cracked.

“You HAVE to put on headphones,” he said in desperation in the middle of Loch Lomond.

“But it’s my pushing code song,” I protested. (I was in a startup frame of mind.)

“No one in the history of anything has EVER pushed code to Loch Lomond,” said Mr. B and sadly left the room.

Between the playlist, the neglect of the house, the empty refrigerator, and the piles of teacups and manuscripts everywhere, I’m actually not sure I’m even married anymore. Even if I was, I can’t find Mr. B. I think  the huge tumbleweeds gently rolling through our living room ate him.

Now that I’m slowly clawing my way back to reality, maybe I should check.

Guess what, though?  You can listen to the playlist, too!  But make sure that if you’re married you hide your marriage certificate. Just in case.

P.S. Right now I am listening to 0 songs on that playlist.  I’ve even worn myself down. Instead, I really like this song.