Tomorrow, Scotland will vote on its independence. It’s an issue that I’ve closely followed over the past couple of months and one that I have a deep interest in. I’m not Scottish, but I think that it’s important and deserves attention. According to polls, it’s a pretty close call. If the “Yes” camp wins, it would be the first time in a while that a developed country has split up. If it doesn’t win independence, it will probably still cause some major changes in the UK. I also believe that this issue has some serious consequences on separatist movements in other countries. Whether the vote is “Yes” or “No,” the contest is so close that it will surely serve as an inspiration to places wishing to gain independence.

If Scotland votes “Yes,” then I support Scottish Independence. I believe that if a country wants to be independent, then it should be independent. A lot of commentators on both sides have compared the issue to a marriage, and I think it’s a good comparison. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you cannot save a marriage. You just want different things and if you can’t work out your differences, you’re both better off going your separate ways. An even better one might be that of a business partner wishing to leave a business to start a new venture. If the existing business isn’t going in a direction you like, isn’t it logical to want to strike out on your own?

Of course, a lot of people are quick to point out that maybe Scotland won’t fare that well on its own. I think the question isn’t really “Can Scotland become a successful independent country?” It’s more like, “Will the UK and the rest of the world allow Scotland to become a successful independent country or will it stand in the way?”

Scotland has the building blocks to become an independent country. Like most of Northern Europe, is rich in natural resources (and not just oil and gas). It has vast stretches of agricultural land, and historically it had a strong manufacturing industry. It has a very strong financial services sector and can continue to do so if institutions stay reasonable and don’t pull out due to a “Yes” vote.

Scotland also has a fairly skilled and well-educated population, which are helpful tools in any successful economy. It also runs many of its own affairs due to devolution, so it’s not exactly starting from scratch as far as running an independent country is concerned.

Scotland can certainly create a strong, healthy economy for itself if it manages its affairs wisely. A “Yes” vote doesn’t imply that everything will be perfect, but it has the potential to be a strong country if it does the work to make it so. However, countries do not exist in bubbles and in this part of the world, other countries can have a huge effect on each other’s economic success. Scotland may become independent, but it will never stop being interdependent. It will need trading partners and political alliances. In this regard, other countries can definitely hamper its success.

Whether Scotland becomes independent or not is up to the Scots. The rest of us don’t have any say in the matter, and truthfully, I don’t think we should. If they want to be independent and believe they would be better off as an independent country, that’s their choice. The real question is, are the rest of us going to accept it and wish them well? Will we cooperate with an independent Scotland? Or will we collectively shun the country for choosing to be autonomous? I think the latter would be a shame, not only for Scotland but for us as well. The “Yes” camp has demonstrated its willingness to become a cooperative trading partner with the UK, Europe, and the rest of the world. I think that saying “no” to that would be cutting off our noses to spite our faces, so to speak.

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Shakespeare probably didn’t put his work aside when he got a little bit bored or frustrated.

One of the more frustrating things I find about being a writer is that so many people do not take my job seriously. A lot of people tend to see creative jobs as “not real jobs.” They see that kind of work as something people do while they’re in between proper adult jobs or something they’ll give up once they finally “grow up.” When you work in something that involves writing, music, visual art, dance, handcrafting, or film, people think you just goof around all day and that you never have the same struggles with your work that everyone else does. I think that this stems from the fact that for most people, creative activities like writing, music, and painting are hobbies, so they don’t see the work in the same way that professionals do.

Believe me when I tell you that doing something creative as a job is not the same as doing it as a hobby.

Creative professionals are lucky in that they get to do something they’re passionate about for a living. But that doesn’t mean that their jobs are all fun and games. As a creative, there are a lot of parts of the work that are work. Musicians don’t spend all of their time jamming or playing their favourite songs; the practicing process involves a lot of repetition, technique work, and stuff that most people who do it as a hobby generally won’t bother with. If you did piano lessons as a kid, think of the practice work you had to do, times a lot more – that’s what being a musician is like. Musicians do it because they like their work and want to be good at it, but it’s not playtime. In the same vein, the writing process involves a lot of research and review work. Writing a good story is only part of the process. Fiction and non-fiction both require research; there’s always some sort of fact or aspect of the story that involves a bit of digging. Even genres like fantasy and sci-fi draw inspiration from historic events, cultures, and politics. Writers usually add things and subtract things throughout the writing process, and then they go over their pieces again a couple of times to polish it up. I’ve done a quick run-through of this blog entry, and I’m pretty casual about my blog compared to everything else I write. I’m sure there’s something comparable with painting, filmmaking, and stuff like that, but I don’t do any of those things so I don’t know what that thing is.

On top of all the more tedious parts of the work, creatives don’t always get to pick and choose which projects they do. In fact, this is often the case, especially at the beginning of their careers. The term “starving artist” isn’t really an exaggeration and it’s hard to make money doing anything remotely creative. Therefore, the criteria for taking on a job are often, “Related to what I do, not soul-sucking, and will pay me.” Most writers don’t get to spend all of their time working on their novels or poetry collections; they have to take on writing for websites, catalogues, or anything else that pays. Musicians may learn a few golden oldies and play wedding gigs, or they might learn a style they wouldn’t normally play so that they can play backup for someone else. The alternative to doing those kinds of things is getting a second job, which is a route that a lot of people take but is one that can be more difficult to juggle with artistic work.

Doing anything creative at a professional level also takes years of education and/or training. Many professionals go to college or university to bring their skills up to a certain level, and even those who do not spend years practicing and improving. Many do start off doing what they do as a hobby, but what sets them apart from people who will always do it as a hobby is the amount of time and effort they are willing to spend on improving their work. Almost no one drops everything one day and says, “I’m going to be a writer!” and then magically has full-time writing work. Getting to that level involves years of reading, writing, submitting, rejection, learning, re-writing, and so on.

When you get tired of doing your hobby, you can put it down and watch TV. If you get sick of a project, you don’t even have to finish it at all. You can just leave it and go onto the next thing. People who do creative work for a living don’t have this option. There are deadlines to meet, which means that they often have to slug through their work, whether they feel like it or not. If they’re working on their own creative projects, they can ditch them when they don’t work out, but they have to do so knowing that all that time and effort they spent on those projects are gone. This means that, although creative professionals might ditch a project in its early stages, they’ll most likely struggle through the tough stages of an established project, even if those stages drive them crazy.

That’s not to say that creative professionals don’t have “pet projects” that they do just for themselves; it’s just that these kinds of projects don’t encompass all of their work. The lucky few (and “few” is almost an understatement here) who are well established in their careers may get to give all of their time and attention to their passion projects, but that’s not business as usual for most people working in the arts. Also, I suspect that even those who are established have to make some compromises in their work; authors must work with editors on their published novels and musicians have to work with record companies, and both of these parties are concerned with balancing what authors/musicians want and what will sell.

So, the next time you think people who do creative work don’t have “real jobs” or think that doing something fun should make up for earning fair pay, remember that occasionally writing your fan fiction after work is not the same thing as being a full-time author or that occasionally noodling on your guitar is not the same as being a professional musician. Those jobs are jobs and they deserve the same consideration and respect as any other job.

Before I moved to Berlin, I had this idea in my head that Europe was one big classy, glamorous place where everyone dressed to the nines and ate gourmet food. Basically, I thought that the entire continent was the fancier parts of Paris or London. It took all of a day in Berlin to shatter that image, but I’m constantly learning new facets of Germany’s culture (or, lack of culture, as some German friends like to put it). Like every nation on this great planet we call home, Germany has its fair share of terrible pop music, reality television, and awful mass-market films. As someone who grew up somewhere else, I find a lot of this fascinating. I gobble up Schlager, televised spectacles, and vampire movies set in Berlin from the perspective of an anthropologist doing some cultural research. Or, that’s what I tell everyone, anyway. I secretly might like some of it.

Of course, many North Americans still think Europe is a classy place and that Germans are highly organized people who would rather debate philosophy than watch sketch comedy, so I am going to do everything I can to shatter that image. Thus, I bring you “German Video of the Week,” in which I will post a new German video each week. Now, I won’t limit this to “trash culture,” as there certainly are many Germans who enjoy classical music and expressionist cinema and focusing on the lowest of the lowbrow pop culture won’t fairly represent the culture of this country. Therefore, I’ll try to post as many of the odd, crazy, beautiful, interesting, and terrible German videos that I can find.

This week, I bring you a Schlager tune titled, “Und wir waren wie Vampire,” which translates roughly as, “And we were like Vampires.” I think that, even if you can’t understand any of the words, you can enjoy the cheesy costumes and terrible “Thriller” rip-off dancing.


“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”

Due to the East-West divide, Berlin has multiples of a lot of different institutions. Back in the day, you couldn’t easily cross from West to East and you couldn’t cross from East to West at all, so there were two city centers, several theaters, and many opera houses. And, as the world renowned Zoologischer Garten was deep in the heart of West Berlin, East Berlin opened its own zoo in 1955 on the gardens of Schloss Friedrichsfelde.

After reunification, Berlin decided to keep both zoos open. Rather than closing the Tierpark, the city decided to make it a complementary attraction to the larger Berlin Zoo. The zoos swapped a few species and both remained open to visitors. Today, the Tierpark is home to over 800 species of animals, which are spread out over 160 hectares.

Although Zoologischer Garten is much more famous than the Tierpark and has far more species within its borders, the Tierpark is well worth a visit. Because it is not as well known, it is much quieter. Even on a summer afternoon, the park was relatively quiet. This was a welcome change from the crowds gathered in the Zoo. It is also a very peaceful place. The premise used to be the palace gardens of Schloss Friedrichsfelde, and it still maintains the feeling of serenity. It is a bit more out of the way than Berlin Zoo, which lies smack in the heart of Charlottenburg near a major train station.

It seems that many animal habitats were larger than those in the Zoo. There are fewer animals in the Tierpark in a much larger space, leaving a lot more room for enclosures. Most of the enclosures are also tucked away among the trees, which gives the place a very natural feel. In general, the animals seem a lot less bored and listless than they do at Zoo.

Tierpark is surprisingly easy to get to. It has its own stop on the U5 (“Tierpark”) and the station takes you right across the street from the entrance. Several trams and buses also stop right at the front door. We went by bike, and the ride from Prenzlauer Berg was straightforward and hassle-free.

My boyfriend and I spent a sunny Monday there during the last week of August. I forgot my camera, but I snapped a few pictures with my phone. If you live in Berlin and you’ve never been before, I encourage you to check it out. If you’re visiting the city and want a quieter alternative to the Berlin Zoo, I highly recommend it.

You can visit the Tierpark’s website here!



















I have kind of a love-hate relationship with “Sex and the City.” I discovered the show when I was 20 and quickly picked up on its aspirational aspects, free of any critical filtering whatsoever. Like most women that age, I was pretty impressionable, and I thought Carrie was amazing. I wanted to be her; I wanted her wardrobe, job, boyfriends, and even her hair. Her New York City life seemed amazing and I secretly strove to emulate it when I actually grew up. I watched and re-watched the show throughout my early 20s, but then eventually shelved it. Last year, I gave it another run through and was much less impressed. Carrie, who seemed so glamorous when I was 20, came off as irresponsible, selfish, and flakey. Samantha, who always gave me a laugh, made me cringe. 20-year-old me found Charlotte sweet and harmless, but 28-year-old me found her annoyingly conservative. When I posted about the show last year, an analysis was posted in the comments that reviewed many of the show’s satirical qualities. Maybe it’s because I’ve read the book, which is much more satirical and better presents Carrie as an anti-hero, but I think the show lost most of that after the first season. What started off as a somewhat critical show about men and women dating in New York City quickly became aspirational fluff that seemed more like a giant advertisement for Manolo Blahnik than anything else. Anyway, I’m veering here, so I’ll get to the point.

You may have noticed that I left Miranda out of my little rant above. When women are asked which character they identify with, almost no one answers “Miranda.” I guess it’s easy to understand why; compared to the other characters, she’s a bit bland and ordinary. When contrasted with the other characters’ annoying optimism, she can also come across as sort of a bitch. 20-year-old me didn’t see much of interest in Miranda; however, 30-year-old me finds her the only tolerable character on the show. She’s the only realistic character in the whole series and the only one that presents a half-ways healthy image of a 30-something woman. She was never afraid to assert herself and call out the men she dated on behaviour that bothered her. Sometimes she was in the right and sometimes she wasn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that she wasn’t afraid to speak up. She never hesitated to tell Carrie when she was being needy and/or totally unreasonable. In one episode, she calls out the others on the fact that they always talk about men, asking why four smart women can’t talk about anything other than boyfriends. I don’t know Miranda; I don’t know. In another, she turns the tables on a construction worker who sexually harasses her on the street. Good one, Miranda.

I suppose that in a show full of idealized characters, the one who most closely resembles a real person is bound to be less popular. Still, if given the choice, I’d much rather be a “Miranda” than a “Carrie” or a “Charlotte.”

I was never one to fear getting older. When I was growing up, I always anxiously waited for my birthday and each time, I was excited to be another year older. Throughout my 20s, I embraced growing older and approached it with pride rather than fear. I didn’t think it was something to dread; I thought that each year would bring on new experiences and knowledge. I still feel that way, but that being said, I feel kind of anxious about turning 30.

It’s not really about the number. I don’t feel any different than I did yesterday and I don’t think my entire life is about to change just because I entered a new decade of my life. That being said, my entire life is about to change, and that’s a bit scary. See, early next year, my boyfriend and I will be moving to a new city. The fact that this is happening shortly after I turn 30 is entirely coincidental, but it still sort of feels like my youth is ending. That doesn’t mean that I think that my life is over or anything ridiculous like that, but I do feel like a major change is on the horizon. I’ve spent almost my entire 20s in Berlin, so leaving sort of feels like entering an entirely new phase. I don’t yet know exactly what that means, but I do know that life will not continue on as usual. Berlin is sort of a Neverland, where no one ever really grows up. I doubt the same can be said for the small city in the Rhineland that will be my new home. Part of me is excited for all of the new things that this change will bring, but part of me is also very, very nervous.

That being said, I’m a little happy to leave my 20s behind me. I had some great times over the last decade, but also some not-so-great times. In an early episode of “Girls,” a doctor tells Hannah (Lena Dunham) that “you couldn’t pay (her) to be 24 again.” I totally understand that, because when you’re in your 20s, you’re so unsure of yourself. You’re still learning about who you are and what you want. I don’t have everything all “figured out” yet and I’m not really in the same place that my younger self thought I’d be at this point in my life. Still, I’m happy with who I am and what I’ve accomplished over the last few years, and I’m grateful for what I have (which is quite a lot!) I may be anxious about the big changes that are coming up, but I feel well equipped to face them. My 20s are over, but I have a long life ahead of me. I’m looking forward to it.

womens restroom

Ladies, we need to talk about an important issue: our public restrooms are awful.

*Disclaimer: if you can’t handle the idea of women using the bathroom, either grow up or just stop reading right now.

First of all, they’re way too small. Clearly, whoever gets put in charge of designing public restrooms is never a woman, because otherwise the men’s room would be smaller and the women’s would be larger. I know that a bunch of men are going to say that this would be unfair and that men need to pee as much as women do, but those men are wrong. First, men’s rooms have stalls and urinals, which automatically creates more, uh, options. Sometimes there is one less stall in the men’s room to accommodate a couple more urinals, but overall if you compare the amount of stalls in the ladies’ room to the amount of stalls and urinals in the men’s room, the men have the advantage. We can’t stand up to pee, so we have to use the stalls. Unfair. Second, because we can’t stand to pee, it takes us way longer to use the bathroom. There’s also extra work involved in public restrooms, because no one wants to actually sit on the seat. Finally, women are more likely to have small children with them in the restroom. This means that one trip to the bathroom is more like two or three. Even when the kids don’t have to go, those women still have to manage small children as they try to pee. If you think that’s a quick and perfectly easy task, I dare you to try it. Anyway, considering all that, why are women’s restrooms the same size as men’s?

Second of all, women’s public restrooms are disgusting. Seriously ladies, we need to do something about this. The size thing might be more or less out of our control, but this one is on us. For the love of all that is holy, use the bins next to the toilet. Make sure all of the paper you use goes in the toilet or the bins. If it falls on the floor and you can’t stand the idea of touching it, just use some extra paper to pick it up. I know that you may feel that it’s someone’s job to clean that up, but a) you can at least do something to make that person’s job less icky, and b) some of us will have to use that stall before someone cleans it. Also, if you can’t hover without peeing all over the seat, just decorate and sit down. I’m begging you to do the rest of us a favour. If you can’t bear the idea of sitting on a public restroom toilet, even with layers of toilet paper in between, at least wipe the seat off when you’re done.

I’m not joking about this last point. People keep telling me that men’s rooms are grosser, but I have yet to see that in Germany. I’m not talking about bar bathrooms (those will be gross no matter who uses them); I’m talking about restaurants, shopping centres, etc. The men’s rooms are almost always cleaner than the women’s (or, at least the stalls are). If you’re wondering how I know this, I’ll refer you back to point number one. If there’s a line for the women’s room and I see the men’s room is totally empty, there’s no way I’m waiting in that line. I couldn’t care less whether or not the stick figure plastered on the door is wearing a skirt.

Of course, we could just do away with gendered bathrooms all together and solve at least half of this pressing issue. But, I realize that this is too radical an idea for a lot of people, so we’ll talk about that again in 10-15 years. In the meantime, someone please design bathrooms better and ladies, for the love of the seven gods, clean up after yourselves.


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