May 23rd, 2018

I am 40 now listen to me: advice

As probably most people know if they spend time with me: I am obsessed with advice columns. I read and adore a great number of them (current faves include Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward and forever champ Dear Prudence with Daniel Mallory Ortberg.) But show me an advice column and I’ll probably read it.

My dream is to have my own advice column, a dream I am pursuing mainly by wishing for it. I don’t even give advice to people I know that often, let alone strangers, because I am waiting to be asked–ideally, via postal letter. But I turned 40 today and I know some things, and I think I’ve earned the right to share them. Just this once. You don’t need to worry that if you go out to coffee with me I’m going to critique your outfit (unless you are married to me) or tell you how to talk to the loud guy on the train –this is a one-time deal, and then I’ll go back to waiting to be asked. It’s really like a resume: here’s some stuff I would advise about the world and human interactions, learned in my 40 years on earth. If you want more, hit me up! I’ve tried to make it clear whether I learned from interaction or observation or just reading advice columns, but basically, I just know, ok?

1. Don’t touch anyone unless they see clearly that you are going to touch them and have given some small sign that they are cool with being touched. I learned this from cats needing to sniff your hand before you can pet them, but it applies to humans too: don’t hug someone until they’ve opened their arms to be hugged, don’t clasp someone’s arm until they have acknowledged your hand there, don’t pull off loose threads or tags without asking permission. If you never see the acknowledgement nod, you never touch them. Everyone gets their bubble.

2. There is sometimes a second cigarette-lighter-type jack in the car glove compartment between the passenger and driver’s seat (in modern cars with bucket seats), down at the bottom. There also might be an audio jack inside the top of the glove compartment in front of the passenger seat. No one ever tells you this for some reason, you have to go feeling around to check.

3. It’s ok to work on contract for a while, if you are young and flexible and don’t need a lot of non-OHIP healthcare or dental work. People a generation older who had full-time jobs for their entire careers are horrified by contract work but more importantly they are unfamiliar with it. They just find it insulting on principle and it’s not ok to have unexamined principles in today’s economy. If there’s a reason you don’t want contract work–like you require expensive medication and really need drug coverage, or a particular company or industry is known to be terrible to contract workers, do what you need to do, but there is nothing inherently evil about contract work if all sides agree on what is going down.

4. You can double-dip if the only people sharing the dip are people who mouth kiss on a regular basis. Still, it’s polite to ask first.

5. If you ask someone for a favour and they say no nicely, say thanks anyway or something else cordial rather than snark or just stop speaking to them. Sure, you may not be getting the thing you want from this person right now, but keep the relationship friendly because it’s a) the right thing to do and b) it’s not like they’ve lost all their powers (probably); maybe they could do the useful thing or a different useful thing later if you aren’t a jerk about it.

6. Cold water gets out blood–hot makes it worse. It seems counter-intuitive but it’s really not–blood is meat, so think of the heat as cooking the blood in. Gross, but now you’ll remember.

7. It is cruel to declaw a cat–I imagine you want to keep your fingernails, too. However, if you feel you absolutely must have a declawed cat (and if you care to give me a call, I would debate all your reasons for this) there is a loophole. Some people are cruel and declaw cats and then don’t keep them anyway, and those cats wind up at the Humane Society or at cat rescues. If you were to adopt a declawed cat from such a situation, and promise to keep it forever indoors and away from aggressive situations (because it can neither defend itself nor climb trees to flee) you would not only be free of the charge of cruelty but doing that cat a favour. Everybody wins.

8. You don’t have to cook anything for a potluck–anything nice from the grocery store, deli, or bakery is just fine. You can’t bring the ingredients for a dish and ask the host to provide you with implements and kitchen space to make it, though. Seriously, just buy a family size bag of Doritos if you like–no one will be sad.

9. Insomniacs shouldn’t take naps. It’s really sad, but necessary.

10. Cats need to come to you. Do not pursue cats.

11. You need at least an hour to change planes at LAX–probably more if you don’t like to live dangerously. It’s a very very big messy horrible airport. Better advice is maybe just don’t fly through LAX.

12. You shouldn’t brake on the highway unless you are in heavy traffic. That was advice I got from a truck driver I had a crush on in my teens (I know!) and it’s really good. If you find yourself braking to regulate your speed or because you’re accidentally tailgating or you want to let someone in, all that is bad. I still do it occasionally when no one is behind me, but I feel that cute truck driver shaking his head at me.

13. There are no questions you need to ask anyone about their fertility ever unless they are your partner or your patient. Not when they will have children or why they haven’t yet or why they had the children they did have when they did or why so many or why not more or if they had “difficulties” or “accidents” or conceived “naturally” or whether they are happy to be pregnant or sad that they are not or ANYTHING ELSE. If you are a warm, interested friend, people will volunteer what they feel comfortable sharing and if you feel like you need more information than that, you must ask yourself, before you say anything aloud, why you need that information. Because unless you fit into one of the two categories mentioned above, I cannot think of a single reason.

14. Always ask permission before posting photos of other humans on the internet. Obviously this applies especially to minors, but I have been trying lately to apply the rule to everyone. It took me embarrassingly long to get with this one–I genuinely didn’t see why I’d have to ask. But I get it now–your face, your call.

15. Advice repeated from neurologist: Eating protein first thing in the morning is good way to stave off migraines. Advice repeated from naturopath: If you are struggling with your health–migraines or otherwise–protein at every meal and even in every snack is probably a good bet. Doesn’t have to be a huge portion, but at least a bit.

16. It doesn’t matter whether someone can document a food allergy or prove an intolerance–if they don’t want to eat it, their reasons are not open to discussions. However, if I’m hosting them for a meal and their needs are really complex or obscure, I am allowed to say that I don’t think I’m able to accommodate them adequately and ask that they either bring something they know they can eat or suggest a takeout place that works for them. Everyone should get to eat what they need, but that doesn’t mean I have to cook it.

17. “Perfectionism” is supposed to be that flaw that’s not really a flaw you mention in job interviews, but after a couple decades of working in actual jobs, I can tell you–it’s really a flaw. At best, perfectionists are smug, assuming that they are capable of Platonic ideals in everyday life. At worst, they are bitter and resentful that they must work with imperfect colleagues. Sure, we all have a little perfectionism in us–I have a lot less than I used to, owing to the chronic failure to write the perfect stories that live in my brain–but it’s nothing to humble-brag about.

18. Ditto romantic jealousy. Happens to the best of us? Sure, but something to work on, nothing adorable.

19. If the ends of your tomatoes in your garden are all gross and grey, there might not be enough calcium in your soil. You can fortify it with bonemeal in spring and fall, but for an immediate fix, there’s actually such a thing as calcium supplements you dig into the garden–you can buy them at a garden centre. Fixed ours right up!

20. Coordination of benefits–possibly my most boring advice, but useful! If one partner has medical/dental benefits, they can be used by the other partner if cohabitating and by their children. Most people know this and it’s lovely. If BOTH partners have medical/dental benefits, the assumption seems to be that they will just have both and use the second to cover copays and whatever is not covered by the first. Which can be great in certain situations but in others is nutso–just a bunch of insurance covering everything twice, essentially. Please, if you are in this situation, look at what you actually need and what your options are–some plans will allow you to cash out your benefits if you have other coverage, and others won’t but you can have a health care spending account so you can put ALL the money towards whatever health-related expenses you want (all the massages!) Some companies will insist you keep all your benefits, period, and like I said, some people actually can make use of two plans, but you need to think it over and read the fine print!

21. “Self care” isn’t ditching plans at the last minute and leaving people in the lurch/wasting their time (except for extreme/surprise situations). I’m so sad that I’ve seen the opposite advice repeated so often. Real, everyday self care is looking at invitations and requests and the other demands on your time and what you actually can and want to do and politely RSVPing no thank you to the rest well in advance.

22. The best thing to give to charity is money. Money does not require transportation, can be used for literally anything, can used flexibly at the charity’s discretion (they thought they were going to get a new sink, but then the stove broke) and many charities have much better buying power than the average citizen because of their charitable status and because they buy in bulk (your four cans of tuna might cost $4 versus the 400 cans they bought for $100 or some such). If money is not something you have to give or feel comfortable giving, there are myriad other things you can give away that will help, but research is required to find out which charities take what and how. Giving something to an organization that doesn’t accept it–used clothing to a group that only takes new, or expired food to a food drive that asks you not to–because you didn’t research the rules or think the rules are dumb is unethical, because it takes resources away from the actual charity and expends them on sorting and disposing of a useless donation. I have learned this from countless articles, and a number of volunteer stints.

23. The best way for women to not get urinary tract infections is just not to be physically disposed towards them aka lucky. The second-best way to avoid them is to pee after sex and ideally before too, though that is a lot of peeing. I learned the second half of that from an issue of Seventeen magazine back in 8th grade, when I didn’t know what a single word of it meant.

24. There is no reason not to repeat every compliment you hear or even think about everyone you know. All the nice words should be known!!

25. There are no books you have to read. There are no TV shows or movies you have to watch. There are no places you have to travel to. (Unless any of the above are your job, I suppose.) It was weird when I stopped feeling guilty about not watching Breaking Bad, reading Moby Dick, or going to Hawaii, but it was definitely better.

26. Inviting a single small child to an adult-oriented event means some adult is going to spend the event with that child or the child is going to watch tv. No little kid has ever “just coloured quietly” for longer than 10 minutes, no matter what their parents say, and it’s not fair to expect it. Invite at least one more kid, get a tablet out, or say goodbye to at least one adult.

27. If you get a tax refund because you put money in an RRSP, you haven’t actually gained the money–you’ve borrowed it from your future self. The refunded money is tax you didn’t have to pay on the cash in the RRSP, but you will wind up paying tax on sheltered money when you take it out, post retirement. It might be at a lower rate if your income is lower at retirement, as many people’s are, but then again it might not. SO if you use the refund to put yourself ahead for the future–savings, paying off debts, buying something you needed anyway–you are winning because you get the interest/use value years ahead. But if you use the refund to incur an expense you wouldn’t have had otherwise–a random vacation, new clothes–you are actually putting yourself in the hole against future taxes. If you can afford it, it might not matter, but most people don’t think of it that way so just fyi. Sorry, I know this is a depressing one.

28. If you melt chocolate in the microwave, you have to take it out and stir every 10-15 seconds or it will burn. Still easier than doing it on the stove, in my opinion.

29. The idea that women cannot manage their own grooming is incorrect. If a woman wants to pay a professional to make her eyebrows/toenails/leghairs/whatever look different, that’s a very legitimate path. But so is doing her own grooming at home, or deciding that whatever body part does not require grooming. I’m startled to be living in an age where not paying to have someone paint your toenails and wax your legs could actually be considered lazy or sloppy. The aesthetics industry exists for no benevolent reason–it’s there to make money. We all know that, right?

30. Sitting all the way at the back of the bus or streetcar cuts down on the need the need to watch for elderly/pregnant/disabled people who need your seat–the accessible seats are at the front and it’s unlikely someone with a mobility issue is going to come to the back of the bus anyway, especially up the stairs, though one should still not be completely oblivious. The subway is harder, for though the blue accessible seats are scattered throughout. One needs to pay more attention on the subway, or when in doubt, just stand if you can.

31. It hurts my heart when parents tell their kids–or adults tell themselves–that they can’t be writers because they need to earn a living. As if the only stories we need are those of the independently wealthy! With a few extremely brief exceptions, I have always worked full-time to support myself while I wrote my books and it’s tiring but fine. That won’t work for everyone, but there are many other paths! Really, many! Please, always look for ways to tell your stories!

32. Unsolicited advice is almost never cool unless someone is about to drive into a ditch or do something else immediately dangerous. Thanks for humouring me–I promise this is it unless I’m asked…until 50!!

May 3rd, 2018

May Likes

Thanks to Zainab–expert liker and enthusiast extraordinaire–for sending these along… Please keep those contributions coming!

512. When your city comes together after tragedy – when you refuse to let hate win

513. Being Canadian 
 
514. Walking around my home after the cleaning lady has done her magic
 
515. Tea made in a teapot
 
516. Earl grey tea with a hint of vanilla or lavender 
 
517. Keanu Reeves
 
518. My new bed–bigger, fancier, and very comfy
 
519. A California Cabernet Sauvignon namely the McManis one 
 
520. Newborn babies and how they just snuggle into you
 
521. Indian food especially a good Korma
 
522. My hairdresser – worth her weight in gold 
 
523.  My hearty Orchids that refuse to die and only need to be watered every 7-10 days 
 
524. My instantpot – electric pressure cooker 
 
525. Making a dish that would take me 3-4 hours in 30 minutes in my instantpot 
 
526. Going to see the ballet- The Eifman Russian ballet company is amazing 
 
527. The feeling when you wake up a few mins (not more) before your alarm and you feel like a superstar as you got up on your own terms 
 
528. The Raptors
 
529. The Habs
 
530. TFC- Toronto Football Club
 
531. When you you hear ABBA is going to make new music 
 
532. A fresh manicure and pedicure in the spring time when you can wear flip flops home
Yay!!

April 26th, 2018

Likes for hard times

Everything is sad here in Toronto. Or is it? Today on the radio, I came in part way through a segment where the hosts said some name-that-tune contest they were running was going to help the city get over its sadness. I thought that was wildly glib, and then it turned out they were talking about the Leafs losing. And then I didn’t know what to think.

Since Monday’s terrorist van attach, I’ve been in some dark places, both on the internet and in my own head and I’ve actually written a bit about it, but nothing fit for public consumption, I don’t think. Instead, here’s some things I like when nothing much else seems good… Please please, send me more to like!

491. Random acts of kindness, doing and receiving.

492. Sending cake in the mail.

493. New hard things I think I might be able to do.

494. When vertigo rocks me to sleep (I’m really trying here)

495. New hard things my cat learns

496. Having other people be excited about my birthday

497. My birthday

498. Being impressed by what someone else can do

499. Playmobile hands

500. All of my highschool yearbooks, just not the photos of me

501. The new The Tick series on Prime, which is excellent

502. taboule

503. when a friend trusts me to help them with something really important

504. sidewalk chalk

504. cracking the shell of a Smartie with my teeth

505. spearmint gum

506. ginger anything

507. ginger brownies in the Martha Stewart cookie cookbook in particular

508. my new very expensive pillow, which is filled with shredded memory foam

509. fantasies about buying an even more expensive pillow, someday

510. whenever anyone says anything nice about my home city of Toronto, even though there’s plenty else wrong with it

511. keeping on plugging away at something long after it would have been acceptable to give up

 

March 14th, 2018

A Year of So Much Love

One year ago that book of mine came out. So Much Love was so many years–and tears–in the making that it could not be anything but huge in my life when it actually became a public item. The subject matter is also dark and emotional, and I’d been deeply immersed in it for seven years when the book came out, in addition to the sense of vulnerability coming from events in my actual personal life. So even though I tell writers who are just starting out that one gets tough from having books in the world, inured to reviews and criticism simply by having experienced them–that wasn’t true this time. I was basically an open wound when So Much Love came out.

There’s a few paragraphs in one of the chapters about a character searching for waterproof mascara and I own that mascara in real life (research budget!) and wore it to the launch. I cried a lot about this book, literal and metaphorical tears both. It was shocking to have other people gain access to what was starting to feel like my own personal dreamscape. And even more shocking to talk to them about it–it was like letting the light in. I had been alone with the book for so long, and though eventually my brilliant editor Anita Chong came along shouldered so much of the load, I still felt cloistered with it. The many different reactions to the book–so many of them excited and engaged–let me finally step back from my own work and see it as a real book and not a dream. For the people who read it, So Much Love is a novel with a distinct shape and structure, characters and event, a beginning and an end. I never thought I’d be able to experience the book that way, but the longer I wasn’t writing it, the more viewpoints I heard–some very different from anything I’d imagined–the more it began to make sense to me as a finite object.

Other people related to Catherine and Julianna, Grey and Kyla, Sue and Donny, too–cried for them and got frustrated, and felt hope and sadness for them. They related to other characters or didn’t, felt suspense or eagerness, felt revulsion or impatience, felt so many things in the course of the novel. Readers of SML were reminded of people in the real world who had suffered similar crimes, of crimes they themselves had suffered. They thought of how incredibly difficult it is to suffer and recover. They felt the novel echoed that or didn’t, were troubled by its dissonances and resonances, were concerned, excited, questioning, scared, bored, thrilled.

Not everyone liked the book, and a few people were very clear in explaining that to me–in print, in person, on the internet–but pretty much everyone was civil. I’m actually startled by how well I coped with harsh words about the book,  given my feelings about SML per above. One reason is probably that I had kind people–mainly friends and family, but sometimes strangers–around to say, well, this is just one set of thoughts, there’s lots of other thoughts. And another reason is that I read Dana Hansen’s review in the Winnipeg Review and Marsha Lederman’s review in the Globe and Mail very early in the process, plus Bret Josef Grubisic’s in Quill and Quire and those were not only positive but seemed to read the novel in the way that I had written in. Because I saw in these reviews that people could connect with SML in the way I had dreamed–and because I knew they have a right not to–I was more or less ok with even the darkest comments on this book. It was still people sharing their thoughts on the most important thing I’d ever written, and that was generous, even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear.

Oh, the generosity of this year. From the moment I stood at Kerry Clare’s lovely launch for the very brilliant and funny Mitzi Bytes and she took time out of her own big day to give my book a little shout out–can you imagine a friend like that?–I thought things might be ok. So Much Love and I received so much heartfelt *thought* this year–from the really searching, interesting questions at the panel discussions to the TV presenters who tried so hard to get me to calm down.

And then there was the pleasure of all the other authors who I heard read and talk–one of the best things of being at so many readings and festivals was getting to hear about all the other fantastic books that were out this year. Getting to do events with my beloved Mark Sampson because for the first time we had books out in the same season. I will never get tired of hearing him read my favourite scene in his novel The Slip, when Philip tries to get the poppy that fell under the dean’s desk.

And the BiblioBash, the very fancy party in support of the Toronto Public Library, where I was a guest author!

And the time SML was nominated for an Amazon First Novel Award and there was a giant poster of the book cover and it was all so fancy!

And the many simple, kind, brief emails I received that said in so many words, I enjoyed your book and wanted you to know.

That time I was a headliner at WordFeast in Fredericton–a headliner!

It was an amazing year.

But also.

My dad died just shy of three weeks before So Much Love came out, so even though I was happy about so many things that happened this year, I was always sad too. He never read the book–by the time there was an edited version that was presentable, he was too sick to do so. I will be sad about that forever. He was upset about it too–we were sad together. He was proud of me and my book. When I finished the final edits, I sent then off and went straight to the hospital and told him. He was always happy to hear about stuff like that.

I did not talk much about his death this year because I didn’t know what to say. Often it seemed like my mind was perfectly blank. But all my grief seemed wrapped up with the book somehow. Every time I had to travel alone for a book presentation, I would be excited and enthusiastic and then afterwards wind up standing outside weeping. It’s hard book to present when you’re already in a dark place, and I wanted to be true to the novel and give my all to panel discussions, readings, anyone who wanted to talk to me. I knew I was never going to have this opportunity again, to share this work that I love so much and worked so hard on and cliche as it sounds, I knew my dad would want me to do it.

So I did. I don’t think I said no to a single event or opportunity with regard to So Much Love and I truly enjoyed almost all of it. I’m so grateful for the readers and the friends, and everyone who gave me opportunities to share the book or made those opportunities worthwhile.

The traditional duration of book promotion is a year–two publishing seasons, spring and fall. And there’s a weird little part of my brain that feels, well, now the year is over, and everything will go back the way it was. I wrote the hard dark book I needed to write and I took a year to share it with the world the best I could, and I now I can move on to other things. Because my father’s death and the launch of So Much Love were so close in time, part of me feels like once I stop working on the book, talking about it all the time, he won’t be dead anymore. Which obviously I understand is a strange little mental trick and impossible but the thought is there.

It was a strange hard year. Thanks for reading, for writing me notes, for coming out to readings, for all the kindness. New years and new books beckon.

February 27th, 2018

Still liking

I’m not even going to get into how things are going for me, but at least there are still things to like…onwards! And, if I haven’t already been clear about this, contributions to the list from one and all are very welcome–are in fact one of the things I like most in the whole world. Please, hit me up!

From Fred

475. Instagram stories
476. the smell of lavender
477. the part of yoga where you just lie there
478. slightly too many pillows on the bed
479. extremely long showers

Group project contributions from Team RVC (myself, Fred, Mel and Zai)

480. dorm life
481. ice storms
482. Annie’s (ancient and defunct dance club in Montreal)
483. Princess Diana
484. Clinque bonuses
485. hair mascara
486. glitter
487. Party of Five
488. Namur, Quebec
489. cheese curds
490. Biore nose strips (the old, best kind)

February 11th, 2018

Male novelists jokes

I love many books written by men, and many men who write books–I even married one! That said, there are certain subsets of the male-novelists genome that can and, nay, must be mocked, and this is the best example of said mockery on the internet, from Mallory Ortberg, my favourite internet person. I watch it with great joy every few months–perhaps you will like it too.

Male novelists jokes

February 5th, 2018

The dogs of February and more things we like

Despite my best hopes, January was cold and fighty, and then I spent the last few days of it puking (I had a stomach virus) and was in such a feverish haze that I didn’t even realize it was February until I saw Mark making out the rent cheque.

Maybe February will be better??? I have deleted the extremely negative post that I wrote about January, leaving only the above, and here are some positive things that I like, which will hopefully set the tone for February.

464. Ice wine! I had a lovely weekend at the Ice Wine Festival in Niagara on the Lake the weekend before I got sick, wherein I discovered I like ice wine (bad news: they mainly don’t serve it in bars so it can’t be my signature drink). Fun surprise! It tastes like syrup!

465. The Dogs of February This is one my favourite songs by The Lowest of the Low, which is one my favourite bands of my tender youth, and I’m pissed that I could only find it to link to on a bootleg full album (it comes in at 15:50). It’s a grumpy song (“Don’t you love it when it doesn’t/work out quite the way it was supposed to”) but lovely to, so that’s something

466. My little flash story is posted on The Oddments Tray. Claire Tacon produced and Chioke l’Anson performed and it turned out lovely. Please listen–only 2:39 minutes!

467. Declarations at Canadian Stage, written by playwright Jordan Tannahill, who is a writer I’d follow anywhere. None of the programme descriptions or reviews describe it adequately and I doubt I could do so myself, but I really did find the performance haunting and affecting. It closes February 11. Maybe you should go?

468. Spearmint gum

469. The (free) browser game Fallen London, which has obsessed me for nigh on three years. Soon I will be poet laureate (in the game).

470. Space heaters

471. When other people contribute to 1000 Things We Like

These are from Fred

472. being the only person on the bus

473. the crowns at Burger King

474. night skiing

January 25th, 2018

Email widget

One more thing: Rose-coloured now has an email widget! Exciting! You can see it at right, below the “Now and Next”: “Subscribe to Blog via Email”–just enter your email address and new post alerts will come to your inbox. Apparently now that fewer RSS feeds and readers are in use, this is a good way for folks to be reminded that Rose-coloured exists. Me, I still use the Blogger reader pane, but that’s probably one step above a hotmail address and I need to get with the times. Thanks, Fred, for the suggestion!!

If you try the subscription and it doesn’t work well for you, please let me know–there’s a few other versions out there I could try…

January 24th, 2018

Many things are terrible/1000 things we like is back

It probably just proves that I’m a self-absorbed jerk, but I feel a bit self-conscious about the fact that you can’t really tell from any of my social media that I realize that large swathes of the Canadian literature community seem to be self-immolating. If you care what I think–and probably no one does–I do realize. Boy, do I.

I’ve been pretty entrenched in following every new horrifying reveal and all of the ensuing bickering/battling over the details. I’m reeling for my colleagues who have been hurt and were still brave enough to come forward–sometimes more than once–to try to protect those who could be next, or just to get their stories known. I’m so sorry I didn’t know more years ago–though I knew a little. Mainly I have been very very lucky in most of my literary life. So lucky.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine–it’s very depressing. And if you know exactly what I’m talking about and feel I’m not doing it justice, I’m sorry, and I know. I’m just not really equal to this sort of thing, especially when tides and tempers have been so mercurial lately. I’ll be running around the house muttering that I’m really going to tell X what I really think and Mark–who is also upset but more measured–will suggest that that’s not the best path, and then the next morning more of the story will emerge and everything is different and I’m glad I didn’t say anything. That has happened enough times that I think I’m never going to say anything ever again. I’m spending more of my time miserably scrolling through more and more sadness, wondering what to make of any of it.

And yet one must go on–and one must write, in this increasingly fractured and strange environment. Surely it won’t always be this intense, but I can never unknow what I know now and…oh no. So…I do what I can. One thing will be a re-foray back into 1000 things we like, which for the first time in it’s 15 year history, we didn’t come close to finishing in its allotted year. But as has been mentioned in this space, 2017 was a toughie for different reasons. So I’m giving myself a pass on that and myriad other things, and just trying to do more and better in 2018. Here are some of the ways I’ve been trying to buck up, cheer up, or just get up in the morning throughout the maelstrom of awfulness so far this year:

455. The The Toronto Women’s March was on Saturday and it was an inspiration and a motivation and a joy to hear the speakers, chant the chants and walk the walk with so many female-identified humans and our allies for the right to imagine own our future. And added bonus was that my mom marched with me this year, which was really wonderful.

456. Doctors without Borders Canada never ceases to inspire and amaze with what they do. I just called them to iron out a problem with my monthly donations and it made me feel a little better about everything.

457. Cookies! I’ve been bringing them to any friend who seems to need a bit of good cheer of late, because honestly cookie-baking is one of the few concrete skills I have in my arsenal. A lot of people like my baking and even if it turns out the recipient doesn’t, I hope they feel loved that I made them something. Also, I like doing it.

458. WhatsApp–I couldn’t even tell you why, but sometimes it’s really the medium that makes the messages work. Over the past year, I got into WhatsApp groups with both a gang of my university friends and (separately) a gang of my elementary/high school friends. Both groups are delightful! Why WhatsApp, when email threads and Facebook messenger and who knows what else didn’t work for either set? No idea and I don’t care–I’m just so happy to have messages from some of my favourite people, all the time!

459. Ballet classes–they are hard, but I really do like them. Grand battement is my favourite.

460. Giving away my stuff. I said in my new year’s resolution that I was going to sort through my stuff and get rid of what I do not need, but it’s hard when everything has a story or a memory attached. Then there was that awful cold snap and a colleague said her church was running a soup kitchen and they wanted to outfit those who came with warm clothes and blankets if they could get enough donations. I went right home and packed up all my extra scarves and hats and fleece blankets–Mark gave a bunch too. Even if someone did make them for me years ago, I’m sure they wanted them to go to someone who really needed them.

461. A couple fleece blankets for myself.

462. Liking and retweeting/sharing. I haven’t completely disappeared from social media–I still like and share material, even though I’m not generating much myself. I’m not sure how much the so-called “signal boost” helps, but if it does, I’m happy to do it. Also, likes help the writer, or at least that has been my experience for sure–it does feel good and give confidence when you get a bunch of stars or thumbs-ups or hearts. You feel like your message is getting through. So I’m trying to let anyone whose voice resonates with me know that. I think I might have been a little parsimonious with the likes before, just out of thoughtlessness–“I enjoyed that essay/post/photo, what’s next?” I’m trying to do this tiny thing very intentionally.

463. Reading books. I mean, that’s the heart of everything, right? Otherwise, why bother? Currently I’m reading The Making Room Anthology under a fleece blanket, and hoping for better, warmer days.

January 21st, 2018

Interview about reading

I did this email interview about my reading habits over a year ago and I’ve realized recently that it never ran. Who knows why–maybe they didn’t find my answers very interesting? The editor I did the interview with left the publication so I can’t ask. I actually do find both questions and answers fairly interesting, so here, should you feel the same way–my reading interview:

What do you most enjoy reading, and how often do you indulge in the habit? I read something almost every day—it would have to be a bizarre state of emergency that I didn’t absorb at least some text. Short stories and novels are my staples, mixed in with poetry, plays, and graphic novels. I also adore magazines but try to keep them to a minimum because they will overrun me otherwise. I’m not much of a non-fiction person, but I make occasional exceptions for biography and a delicious kind of sociological/self-help hybrid I come across occasionally. I also read a tonne online, like everyone, and it’s a mix of useful news, humour, and practical stuff, like hotel reviews. I’ve gotten away from reading creative work online as much as I used to—I’m just at a screen so much of the day as it is—but I still do read quite a bit from online journals.

What do you subscribe to and why? Not as much as I want, per above, but here’s the list right now: The New Yorker, Canadian Notes and Queries, The New Quarterly, Maisonneuve, Prism International, the magazine from the CAA and the one from Kraft (the last two are freebies but I do read them so they count). My husband subscribes to Halifax and Malahat Review, so I get a chance to read those as well. Why…these publications are reliably good. A lot journals in Canada publish wonderful stuff and I can’t subscribe to them all, but I can consistently read these lit journals cover to cover and have a lot of pieces resonate. The New Yorker is my way of following American news and politics along with a lot of authors I admire. I’ve read every issue since 2003. I find Maisonneuve has its own voice and beat and politics and it’s an interesting filter on the world. It’s a magazine I’ve watched grow up—I’ve been subscribing for nearly 10 years, and it’s better every year. [Edit: since this interview, I’ve added Room magazine to this list.]

What’s your favourite library, a) in Toronto, and b) somewhere else? I use the Toronto Public Library a lot and I’m fond of my local branch because it’s well used—often crowded with children after school, recent immigrants there for ESL or settlement classes, people just hanging out and reading. But really, I don’t spend a lot of time at the library—just pick up my holds and go, mainly. Libraries are good because they are full of books and people who love them and people who can help you access them; I don’t really have preferences beyond that.

Your bookshelves are on fire: what do you save? Mainly childhood stuff, and probably some signed books if I could find them. If the internet age has taught us anything, it has taught us that you can always get another book if you need it, so very old, odd, and signed things are the only ones that matter to me which edition I have. I have a copy of Little Women with colour-plate illustrations that was my mother’s when she was a kid and which I read a billion times when I was—that is probably the only book I have that is truly irreplaceable.

It’s Tuesday night, around 8pm. How do you decide what to read? I general write on weeknights, so if I were reading it would be because I was ill or very tired, and thus I would be reading something delightful, like a book of brief short fictions. In desperate times, perhaps a magazine about how to make cake.

Do you have a reading routine? I read every morning at the gym on the treadmill, between 30 and 60 minutes—almost always The New Yorker. Then I read whatever book I’m reading on the commute to work—40-60 minutes—assorted internet stuff at lunchtime—and back to my book on the way home. If I’m out somewhere and waiting for people, in a waiting room, on a trip, on the beach, I’ll read, but I rarely read at home except on the weekends (on weekends, I read over breakfast and maybe a bit in the afternoon too if I have time).

How many hours a week do you spend reading? Maybe 10-15, depending on the week.

Do you write in the books you read? Almost never, unless I’m reading to review something, which is in itself rare and even then I would try to avoid writing in a book.

What formats do you read most happily? Paper books, your phone, newsprint, cereal boxes etc? I prefer paper books, but it’s not a huge deal to me. I own a Kobo but it’s older and has trouble with certain downloads and certain computers, so I don’t use it a tonne—when I read on it, I find it more or less fine, but I miss the ability to flip back and forth in the text to check things or reread bits I liked. Certainly you can do that with an ebook but it’s harder, not really intended for that. I find paper books just more pleasant and easier, especially since I read on screen all day for work, and a lot of the evening when I am working on my own projects—I like a break from that. But if the day comes when paper goes out of fashion or we just can’t spare the trees, I’m fine with on-screen reading—as long as the material can get into my brain, I’m not that fussed about the medium.

How did you learn to read? I learned to actually properly read a book to myself quite late, the summer after 2nd grade. I think the delay was mainly because I preferred to be read to and that was always on offer at my house. My mom loved to read to me, she read well, I got a lap out of it, and perhaps I was a bit lazy—reading is hard when you’re learning. I still find being read to really pleasant—my husband and I will do it on long car trips and it’s lovely. Anyway, at a certain point my mom thought it was really time I learned, so she said she’d only read me a chapter if I read the first apge—so I learned. Get’em hooked first, then make’em work for it—it’s a good policy.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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