November 9th, 2018

I went to Poland!

Mark and I finally went on this trip! It was an enormous stressball to plan, per the previous post, but completely worth it! You can see photos on my social media and I’m attempting to write some deeper long-form reflections, but should I keep on in the advice vein? Yes, probably, said the no one who is currently in this room with me.

1) Flights: It costs to fly to Krakow or Warsaw what it costs to fly most places in Europe, but it’s a bit trickier and there are fewer flight and times at that lowest price point. There is such a thing as direct flights to Warsaw but not very many when it’s not summertime, and they seem to sell out. There are no direct flights to Krakow but it’s relatively easy to change planes in Germany (Frankfurt or Munich, we chose Frankfurt) although Frankfurt airport is sort of stressful (not LAX stressful, though–it makes sense basically). You can fly to Gdansk, but you have to change planes in Warsaw in addition to anywhere else you change planes, plus you have the cost of that extra little flight, rendering the exercise pointless, at least for us.

2) Hotels: Poland is basically an inexpensive country for a Canadian (a cab-driver disabused us of the notion that it’s an inexpensive country, period–they don’t make the salaries we make). We always stay in budget hotels but we were able to go one rung up and it was all very inexpensive and nice. Not super-luxurious, but everything was clean and pretty and the staff was all charming. We never paid more than about $110 a night, and as low as $45, depending on the place and weeknight versus weekend. Also, October is not exactly a hot tourist season, though several of the places we stayed were fully booked. Also we stayed in European chains like Ibis and Golden Tulip, and one local guest-house–I think the big American chains would be more costly. I didn’t look into AirBNB at all for Poland (I only do AirBNB if I can’t find/afford a hotel) so I don’t know about that.

3) People and weather: I’ve lumped these two together because both struck me as pretty much the same as in Toronto. The trees were starting to turn when we arrived in mid-October, and the weather was highly variable, ranging from sunny and 20 to raining and 5. We got more of the latter sort of weather, which locals said was unseasonable. Most of the trees and farmland looked similar to home, although people out in bad weather seemed to have a better attitude about it and fewer layers.

Although all Poles speak Polish first, most people also speak English there. To generalize wildly (there were a million exceptions) the younger you are, the more likely it is you speak English–interestingly, people over 50, even those with quite good English, seemed to have an entirely different sort of accent. Also, it seemed somewhat class-based–people in lower-paying jobs often had no English at all, even if they were public facing, like store clerks or cab-drivers. Socially, people out in public generally kept to themselves and didn’t make eye contact, but if you asked someone for directions or information, they were usually very kind and helpful. On the other hand, people would put their bags on seats on the tram and then watch you stagger about trying to keep your balance until you finally asked them if you could sit down, when they’d very slowly and grudgingly take the bag off–just like in Toronto. Most people seemed to draw the line at being outright rude, though–with some notable exceptions per below.

4) Trains: Trains were efficient, comfortable, and affordable–a good way to get around Poland easily and see a lot as we did so. Trains stations were awful–confusing, chaotic, and train station staff appeared to actively hate us. Also many of them did not speak English, which I mean–it’s fair, it’s Poland, but the whole rest of the country is full of English-speakers, so why are the train-stations only hiring the monolingual?? Anyway. No, not anyway: in Warsaw, connecting trains are not on the arrivals OR departures boards. Only trains that originate or terminate in Warsaw get to be on the board. It took me about 45 minutes of staring at the board to work this out. So if you are looking to get on a train that originated elsewhere–a LARGE percentage of the trains since Warsaw is in the middle of the country–you have to ask the lone, angry, non-English-speaking woman at the information window what platform. The huge line of people at her window, and the shooing motion she made at me when I attempted to ask a follow-up question, attests to the problems with this system. Also, all of the train stations were ugly. But the trains themselves were glorious and it was worth all the hassle to stare dreaming out the window at the rolling fields and tiny villages for two hours while kindly attendants brought me free bottles of fizzy water.

5) Other modes of transit: We took a shuttle service from the airport and then again back–Krakow Shuttle, should you care–and another one through Viator to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Krakow shuttle was excellent, very punctual and efficient, and only about $30 each way. The Viator thing was a hassle to get organized but came bundled with a tour and somehow lunch, and ended up being a good experience. I’m not going to recommend the specific people who did the tour because I think Viator uses a bunch of vendors and it would be hard to get the same ones–they whole thing seemed to be a bit of weird–but they were good. FYI the roads out to Auschwitz are very windy and hilly, if you are prone to carsick. We took a cab to and from a visit to my publisher in Warsaw–again, efficient and inexpensive. Also, lots of streetcars in both Krakow and Warsaw, where they are both cheaper and better than in Toronto. And a commuter train out of Gdansk to Sopot, which was like a dollar for a 20-minute ride–this is the Gdansk equivalent of Go Transit and SO MUCH BETTER. Ahem. We took a lot of transit.

6) Food: I thought the food in Poland was excellent, but your mileage may vary depending on what you dig and what you grew up eating. I was worried about the fact that I don’t eat beef/pork/lamb in such a sausage-y country, but there were plenty of pierogies, which I love, and there was always pizza available somewhere–Italian food, especially pizza, is everywhere in Poland. It would be very easy to travel there as a vegetarian, but probably pretty difficult to do vegan or gluten free, I think. I loved both the “Polish” piergoies (mushroom and cabbage) and the “Russian” pierogies (cheese). There was also a meat kind I didn’t have that Mark said were good. In addition there was lots of cabbage and potatoes, both of which I like, something called “farmer’s cheese” or “mountain cheese” (I think they are the same??), smoked fish and lots of other kinds of fish in Gdansk (near the sea), chicken livers (so hard to get here–I was delighted to see them on a menu!) and also lots of sandwiches and pastries–very carb-heavy diet there! Plenty of restaurants just served North American-style food, of course, and I’m sure it was good, but that wasn’t what we were there for. We also liked the Polish chocolate and those famous jelly doughnuts!

Ok, that’s kind of a lot for now. I might try to do a city-by-city thing too, at some point… I love writing about all the great stuff we saw and did!

November 6th, 2018

The life and brief death of Rose-coloured

Around the middle of October, this site went down for a few days. I only noticed when I went to add a post and couldn’t–no one complained to me that they couldn’t view it, and I’m fairly certain no one besides me actually noticed. For a while I felt if I could just get the writing archived here back, I would feel ok if Rose-coloured itself could not survive, but that was a lie. I actually love having a blog, even a blog almost no one reads. It’s the potentiality–someone *might* read it–that makes me try to be clear, coherent, funny, succinct. I just can’t discipline myself the same way when there’s not even the possibility of an audience. And you’ll note, I’m not even that clear or funny in this space!

And of course I love the archive especially! Ten years of random musings–that’s a history I enjoy having around and, again, having it findable by random strangers. I don’t know why. That’s my jam.

Thanks to Stuart at CreateMeThis.com for saving Rose-coloured, and thanks for reading, whoever you are, if indeed you exist.

October 2nd, 2018

Can you please one of the people all of the time?

***Here is a weird thing–I wrote this post back in August for my wedding anniversary, and it never posted. I just found it now in my drafts folder. I think I meant to post it, thought I did, and just assumed it never received any comments, as many of my posts don’t. It’s possible I decided at the last minute not to post it for some reason–maybe I decided it was too personal? I don’t know–I sort of forget a lot of August now. Here’s the post.***

Western ideas of romantic partnership are so weird. You are expected to like someone’s face, body, parents, cooking, taste in music, driving ability, pets, friends, clothes, parenting style, breath, way of communicating, moral code, and hair. Your romantic partner is expected to become the first person you think of when you are upset or need to move a piece of furniture or want to have sex or have financial concerns or are considering an international move or need career advice or want to up your housekeeping standards or want to invite friends over or want to adopt a new pet or child. You expect your partner to consider dropping friends you despise or values you abhor, to challenge beloved family if they are mean to you and to think about professional development in concert with what it would mean to your relationship to take that promotion, retrain for that new field, become part-time or full-time or zero-time or really anything at all. Our partners are the people we want to look hottest for but also perhaps the only people we are comfortable seeing us at our worst, the one whose opinion matters most but also the person who when I say “I want to be alone” mainly doesn’t count.

I’ve been married six years tomorrow and I still find it really bizarre. Great but just…1000 years ago when people were trading sheep for wives I bet they didn’t see all this coming (no wait, the sheep were a bonus with the wife??? I guess that system didn’t make much sense either).

Before I’d ever dated anyone I would walk down the street alone and imagine doing it holding someone else’s hand and how great that would feel, and you know what? I was right. It is great to have a person at the party who I know will always be willing to absorb me into his conversation when everyone I was talking to mysteriously needs to get a drink or go to the bathroom at the same moment. It is great to be at the movies and suddenly overwhelmed with hilarity and look beside me and he is laughing so hard too. It is great to have someone to look at the giant bug bite on my back and say, “Wow, that IS really bad.” It is great to be the smartest one half the time and to be in awe of how smart he is half the time–I am so glad I get to do both.

Still. Sometimes I tell someone I am having a hard time lately and they are baffled because “Mark is so great.” Which is honestly a thing I might have said when I was young and had never been in a great relationship and thought great relationships might be the universal antidote to all sadness. But then again I am baffled, too, by people who say “my partner is my best friend” or “my partner is my whole world, my everything.” My partner is my favourite human and I am so lucky to have him in my life, but I get to have friends too, right? And the rest of the world?

My wedding day is legit one of the happiest days of my life. Mean people sometimes liken that to having peaked in high school, but it’s not about the wedding being better than the marriage–it isn’t–but about concentration of happiness. I liked having a whole day to celebrate our love along with the love of our friends and family for us. I liked celebrating our new little family with our old big family.

Hmm, what I’m trying to say is there is a lot of pressure on romantic partnership to be so much to us, and it is already a lot, and the same time a lot of pressure to be chill about it. When we go out tomorrow to celebrate out anniversary, I’m sure there’s going to be half a dozen people who inform me gravely that they never bother to celebrate their anniversary or even know when it is. From a certain contingent, there’s this idea it’s shallow to think about one’s relationship too much or get too excited about how great it is, even if it is in fact really great. Are these the “my partner is my whole world” people too? I don’t know.

I am lucky. I am in love, and loved. I am tired. I have had a headache for most of the summer, but I just got back from a vacation where I swam in the ocean. Mark is the best thing that ever happened to me, but he isn’t perfect and he hasn’t solved all my problems, or even very many of them except for the problem of not being in love and the problem of not being able to carry heavy things. I think that’s enough. We aren’t friends. We’ve been married for six years.

September 25th, 2018

Vine Awards Shortlist

I had thought So Much Love, now out for 18 months, had passed through all its award eligibility, but I got a pleasant surprise last week–it was shortlisted for the Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature for fiction. You can read the full list of shortlisters–and excerpts from their work!–at the link above, but the other two on the fiction list are Bonnie Burstow’s The Other Mrs. Smith and Class Mom by Laurie Gelman. Great range, eh? And the judges are Beverley Chalmers, Joseph Kertes, and Lee Maracle!!! So I’m just delighted by the company, obviously, and very honoured. I’ll try to read both my colleagues’ books before the awards are announced on October 11.

This is also my first time being noticed for an award by the Jewish community so this is extra-special to me. What an incredible run SML has had. I am very lucky.

September 21st, 2018

Wedding gift etiquette

This post is a bit off-brand, but I read a really egregious wedding-gift-etiquette post this morning–it very strongly implied you should attempt to “cover” the cost of whatever wedding catering you eat with the cost of the gift you give, with the kind of caveat “Of course you don’t have to but c’mon everyone knows you should.” Um, no. Also, I was chatting with a newly engaged woman on the weekend and threw out some random wedding etiquette facts from when I was researching weddings in 2012 when I got married, and I got some looks–I know a LOT. When I research, I really research, and since I don’t intend to get married again, all that info is just sitting in my head, going to waste. So here it all is–wedding gift etiquette! Everything I know!

1. You never have to give a wedding gift. It’s not a rule of etiquette by any respected authority I’ve ever seen. In fact, of all the occasions commonly celebrated in North America where there are often gifts given–birthdays, engagements, retirements, etc., etc., etc.,–the only ones I’m aware of where a gift is an obligation of attending are showers, wedding and baby. Shower is a short form of shower with gifts, and gifts are the point of those events–if you don’t want to/can’t give a gift, send regrets and that gets you out of the obligation. For everything else, gifts are optional. Pretty often, we WANT to give gifts because we want to celebrate the people involved and gift-giving is one way that a lot of people do that, but everything from the whether to the when to the how much is up to us.

2. While not a regulation, gifts are certainly a norm. Most people do give and expect gifts as most weddings. Etiquette experts have been talking for years about how weddings are celebrations of love with one’s nearest and dearest and not a transaction, but if the culture in your family say you owe your cousin at least a dust-buster to cover your chicken cordon-bleu, then that’s the culture in your family and your cousin won’t be less mad if you tell her no dust buster and also she’s wrong. Also many cultural groups consider money the only acceptable gift and some consider it a terrible gift; some hate registries and some hate people who don’t have registries. I don’t know what to tell you except know who you are dealing with.

3. Wedding gift-giving is not affected by attendance. Unlike the showers mentioned above, which are really in-person-only affairs, whether you attend a wedding or not should not affect whether you give a gift. In fact, some people will give a nicer gift if they don’t go because they have more space in their budget due to not having to pay for travel, hotel, party clothes. That’s certainly not an expectation though. Basically, if you don’t go, you just send the gift you would have given anyway. If you weren’t going to give a gift, I would strongly encourage a card–in all cases, but especially if you’re not going. A lot of people (myself included) feel their weddings are a really important day in their lives and if your only response is “not coming” and then silence, that is easy to think that you are trying to end the friendship.

4. Wedding registries are suggestions not requirements. Registries of any type are supposed to be helpful ways to feel confident you have bought the couple a gift they will like and use. Thoughtful couples will select items in a wide range of price points, and thoughtful guests who wish to spend on the high end will not simply buy up a bunch of the low-priced items because that is a dick move. Other ways to feel confident you given the couple a gift they will like and use include giving money, giving gift cards to a store or restaurant or other place you know they like, or knowing them so well you can figure out a non-registry, non-cash/card gift that you feel confident they will enjoy. There is no hierarchy among these choices.

5. There is no minimum amount to spend on wedding gifts. You just give what you can afford and want to give, period. This was actually a lot easier when I was broke, as there was a hard upper limit, the end. I once gave a pair of newlyweds a $15 board game and felt proud of myself because it was on sale and I wrapped it nicely, so it seemed slightly more expensive. For weddings during periods of financial turmoil where I’ve had to travel to be there, folks have gotten a pretty card with nothing inside but my heartfelt good wishes–by strict budgetary standards, I probably shouldn’t have even been there, so a gift was out of the question. Once I was making a decent living it got more confusing because what I could “afford” was relative. Basically I try to find a nice present on the registry that I feel good about giving. Also getting married myself was useful, as people gave us gifts and I learned what those people consider a nice gift!

6. Don’t bring gifts to the ceremony or reception. Even fairly etiquette-savvy people don’t seem to know this one and thus there will usually be a card box and gift table at most receptions (not at the ceremony–no one is ready for gifts at the ceremony and you’ll wind up having to hold the boxed dust-buster in your lap) but it’s really not ideal. If the reception is in a banquet hall where the public or even just guests at other events have access, someone will need to watch the gift table and card box to make sure nothing is stolen and as the night wears on and drinks flow, that’s harder to do. Everyone has heard a story about a wedding-gift robbery–those are both awkward and depressing. Also, at the end of the night the gifts need to be taken somewhere–challenging if they are big, extra-challenging if gifts are fragile and whoever is doing the loading is drunk. Stemware gets broken, gifts get separated from their cards and no one ever knows who gave the dust buster, and if the couple is leaving immediately on their honeymoon or even just is driving a smaller car, now it’s a storage concern for someone. Send the gifts to their home before or after the wedding.

7. Be ok with not receiving a thank you note. The etiquette rules are pretty clear on this–wedding thank you notes should be sent within a few months and they should be a personal note about the thing you actually gave, not a pre-printed “Thanks for giving a thing!” But etiquette isn’t a contest and so many people don’t send wedding thank you notes that it’s wise to check yourself ahead of time for how much resentment you might harbour if you don’t get one and if it’s “tonnes” just don’t give a gift. And relying on thank you notes to confirm that the gift even made it to the recipient is not a great plan–per #6, have it sent to their home with a tracking number or use the registry to track.

8. If it’s driving you crazy, stop. One of the worst things about etiquette is that it can sometimes feels like we serve it and have to do whatever etiquette says, instead of the truth, that etiquette was created to help us maintain good relationships. If etiquette drives people to not like each other, they’re doing it wrong. If you are hunting for a wedding gift and angrily thinking/talking about how much you don’t want to buy anything for these people who you barely know/you don’t like/don’t deserve it/have lots of stuff, maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t go to the wedding at all and step back from the friendship. Or if it’s just a stress reaction, and actually you do like them, could you just skip the gift and enjoy the wedding with lots of love? Or could you chat with them and mention that you’re stressed/broke right now, but since you’ll be friends forever, there will be a chance down the road for you to get them a nice gift? If you can neither comfortably skip the gift nor comfortably talk to them about it, I’d be back to looking at the relationship itself.

9. My favourite thing I got for my wedding is people coming to my wedding, though they could have been doing anything else that Saturday. My second favourite is towels. Seriously, even if they don’t seem like “fancy bath linens” people, we all have to shower eventually and few of us are that into shopping for towels. Even if they have some nice ones already, time comes for us all and eventually they will get around to using yours. I registered for cheap ones because I felt guilty and also like it didn’t matter, but then Mark’s aunt got us Vera Wang towels somehow (!!!) and when I am buried I want my shroud to be Vera Wang towels. That is all.

September 16th, 2018

Writing with a day job

When people tell me their dream is to write a book (something about a writer inspires people to announce this). I generally take an interest and ask what part of the process they are in, but I should know better because if someone is using the word dream they mean “not reality,” and inevitably they say they have not made any attempt to write anything and have no plan to do so. Sometimes that’s not the case but I’m gonna generalize here. The worst example of this conversation was an acquaintance who had her whole book mapped out in her mind, but she never wrote it because she’d “always had to make a living.” This was awful because she said it standing in front of our two desks–we had the same job, and after that conversation we both went back to it. But she knew I’d written a book and was working on another–she knew the job wasn’t preventing me from writing, and yet some cognitive dissonance made her say that to me.

Look, I get it–I have had considerable privilege in my life and that has helped me to free up time and brain space and energy to put into writing. What’s more, everyone is different, and even someone with equivalent opportunity might have different processes that require more or different time or energy or brain space, and not be able to make it work with the slivers and bits of time I have, and that’s totally legit.

But here’s the thing–I think if you really want to write a book, if it’s your actual goal and not just something to say, you should try! I mean hard-core, working seriously, assembling all the bits and slivers of time, sacrificing things you like but not quite as much as writing, and then see where you are. And try for a while, until these things become habit because writing is hard–it won’t feel fun, just like starting a new job or exercising for the first time in a while doesn’t feel fun, and then it’s tempting to say it’s the wrong fit and you should stop, but maybe it’s just new? If you do it for whatever a habit-forming while is for you and it is all drudgery and no gentle euphoria when you look at yesterday’s nice paragraph, ok, yeah, maybe it’s the wrong fit, but then that’s one more thing you know about yourself and your writing process. Here’s some suggestions from me and the many many other writers I know who do the 9-5 thing and write. You’ll be able to strike some out right away–some are not suitable for those with caretaking responsibilities, short attention spans, long commutes, etc., etc. But I bet something at least could work for you–at least worth trying?

  1. What if you brought your notebook on the subway or bus and wrote on your commute? Or your laptop? Or if you jotted things on your phone in the Notes app on your phone and then transcribed…every evening? One evening a week? If you commute by car, what if you tried dictating your words and then transcribed every evening or one evening a week? What if you tried a text-to-speech app–those are easier than dictation if they work for you, though they don’t work for everyone.
  2. What if you ate at your desk and wrote through your lunch hour, either in a notebook or in Google Docs or Dropbox or something else that would allow you to save your work remotely from your work computer? What if you took a walk at lunch and dictated your writing into your phone, or took notes per above?
  3. What if you kept a Word doc minimized on your computer all day and jotted down any cool thoughts or lines that came to through the day, then stayed 15 minutes late to try to synthesize them a bit, then sent the doc to yourself?
  4. What if you stayed an hour late every day to work on an ongoing writing project at your work desk? What if you came in an hour early?
  5. What if you got up an hour early to write before work? Or two hours early? What if you went to bed an hour or two later?
  6. What if you just stopped watching TV? Or even everything except that one super good show?
  7. What if you just cooked one giant thing one day a week and the other days your writing time was the time while the leftovers were reheating? Or what if you found some convenience food you could live with nutrition/cost/packaging-wise and your writing time would be while those were heating?
  8. What if you didn’t go anywhere on vacation but just wrote, and with the money you saved not going anywhere, you could order more takeout and write even more?
  9. What if you applied to a writing residency and that was your vacation?
  10. What if you went to your parents’ house and asked them to cook your meals and be nice to you, and all the rest of the time you were writing in your childhood bedroom and that was your residency/vacation?
  11. What if you gave up a hobby/rec league/book club/volunteer organization and took a writing class instead? Or what if you got together with a writing friend once a week and wrote for two hours and that was your writing class?
  12. What if every night before bed, no matter how late and how tired you were, you opened the document where your story lived and just looked at it and saw if there was anything you could do for it before the day has to come to an end. This one is my current modus operandi, and while it isn’t perfect, doing it always makes me feel better than not doing it.
  13. What if you knocked your hours down to part-time for while and used the former job days as writing days? This is obviously a bigger sacrifice financially and a more permanent one in many cases, but if it works it can be perfect–you’re already in work-mode on those days, so just work on something else.

I do think it’s worth fighting for more ways of making creative work pay in our society–it is so hard to have a job to support your other job. But it can be done and saying only rich people get to write it is the death of having the good and interesting books that I, for one, want to read. So maybe it’s a personal desire to read the books that get written in-between-times that is making me post this. Please try to find the time–look at your day and find one non-life-sustaining thing that you like less than writing, and get me that book!!

September 9th, 2018

How to plan an RR-style vacation

…in case you were feeling like you needed to.

1. Timeframe: forever, or as long as you like: occasionally look at maps or photos of a place or hear stories about it, and think you’d like to go there. Assume this constitutes a plan.

2. Timeframe: a year or possibly two. Begin telling people about your “plan” to go to this place. Maybe even say something dangerous about going “probably summer 2018.” When you run into people who have been to this place and they tell you about their experience, make a mental note of what they say. Assume this constitutes research.

3. Timeframe: a few months before you’d like to travel: One insane afternoon, look at all combinations of flights for all weeks in the entire summer to every city in the country of your heart’s desire. Become overwhelmed and hysterical, to the point where you shut down the computer and don’t even mention to your travelling companion that you’ve done this.

4. Timeframe: a few months before you’d like to travel: purchase one (1) guidebook. Read in its entirety, without taking any notes, as if it were a novel. Enjoy thoroughly.

5. Repeat week #3 weekly for several weeks, until you feel like you’ve got a grasp on things. Ask your travel companion to take a look with you and attempt to show the best option, only to find all the options have changed.

6. Timeframe: a few months before when you’d like to travel: ask your travelling companion to deal with the flight research.

7. Timeframe: When you’d actually like to be on your trip: go on a completely unrelated trip that didn’t require any planning. Have fun, but when you return, receive several excited questions about how your dream trip finally went and feel like you have failed.

8. Timeframe: A couple months before newly rescheduled trip: have fight with travelling companion about who does all the work of planning trips. Both of you, it turns out.

9. Timeframe: Month before newly rescheduled trip: travelling companion makes itinerary for trip but there are problems with it, makes alternative itinerary. Then you make a problematic itinerary and alternative itinerary. Also, start researching train schedules, repeat #3. Wonder how anyone ever goes anywhere.

10. Timeframe: a few weeks before newly rescheduled trip: reschedule trip again, attempt to book plane tickets in a fit of excitement, just as entering credit card number, recall potential work conflict that can’t be checked for a few days, collapse in despair.

11. Timeframe: a couple months before newly re-rescheduled trip: actually book plane tickets! Collapse in exhaustion.

12. Timeframe: a couple months before newly re-rescheduled trip: get asked several times if you’ve already gone on the trip you’ve been talking about for so long. Resolve never to talk about anything ever again.

13: Timeframe: month before re-rescheduled trip: book hotels. Find it so draining you can only do a few at a time.

This is actually as far as I’ve gotten. Tune in later for steps 14 through 25–book attractions, book trains, pack suitcase, arrive at airport 5 hours early!

September 4th, 2018

Summer and Fall

Is summer over? Judging by the weather, certainly not, but it’s back-to-school today, and that’s always how I judge it, though the school year doesn’t really affect me at all these days. My summer vacation wasn’t even properly a vacation–I took a week off to PEI and otherwise I stayed in the city and worked, saw a LOT of movies–it was a great summer for movies, I thought, and also a great summer to be in a dark air-conditioned room for a couple hours–ate dinner on the balcony, read some good books, sat in the park, visited friends and family, went to Dairy Queen…it was low-key. I also got a lot of migraines, which probably coloured my desire to keep things low-key.

I saw people this summer, but not all at once, so when I went to the Coachhouse Wayzgoose last week and EVERYONE WAS THERE, it felt very startling–so many happy faces, so many conversations. I was worried I wouldn’t know anyone or no one would want to talk to me even if they did know me, but in the end everyone was delightful and kind. It felt like a great kickoff into fall. A fall in which I will go out more, see more people, and hopefully feel a lot better and not be sick as much.

Other things going on with me: I’m adjunct faculty in the MA CRW program at University of Toronto. This means I’m a thesis supervisor for exactly one student, which is thrilling and something I’m determined to do well. She seems quite smart and talented, which is all the more reason for me to do everything I can to help her make her work all it can be!

Polish So Much Love, Tyle miłości translated by Teresa Komłosz is out now and French So Much Love Coeurs Battants translated by Aurelie LaRoche is coming soon.

I am working on new fiction, ever-so-slowly, and planning a big vacation, and trying to talk to anyone who will listen about all the movies I saw. So, you know, I’m up to a few things. But very low-key.

August 23rd, 2018

#tbt The Anonymous Party

I’m going to do something writers are never supposed to do–it’s gauche, it’s self-serving, it’s proof you should have written better. But whatever, just this one little indulgence after all these years: I’m going to explain a story in public.

The logic goes that a writer writes what she writes with whatever intentions she may have, but then releases her work into the world–she cannot accompany it. And a reader reads whatever they read into or out of the work–if they don’t interpret intention “correctly,” then it’s not there for them, the story has a different meaning for that reader than it does for the author. Better, worse, more boring, more enigmatic, it doesn’t matter–writers cannot possibly follow our work around on kite strings, explaining it to each individual reader. It must stand on its own as the words on the page.

I largely adhere to that, even when asked directly by a student or an interviewer or a friend “what did you mean by x?” Often I meant something quite specific and I really hope you get it–equally often I was just rolling with the characters and whatever the reader can come up with is as good what I do. Either way, I feel like it’s unfair to say–unfair to the reader, who was hoping to create an imaginative world for her own self. And unfair to the work, which I did rather hope was good, good enough to speak for itself. But in this case, no one ever mentioned getting this one joke, so I’m going to speak for it.

The story in question is “The Anonymous Party,” from my second book, The Big Dream. That book came out in 2011, but I can see in my submission records that I was sending the story out to journals as early as 2006, so it’s even older than that–let’s say conservative estimate 13 years. I amassed 8 rejections according to my Excel sheet before it got published in the book and I couldn’t send it out anymore.

I actually think it’s a really good story and I’m not sure I understand about the 8 rejections. I just finished reading it a minute ago and while some of my older work makes me squirm a bit, I still feel really proud of this one. It’s about a young woman named Yaël who is a brand manager at the magazine company that later turns out to be Dream Inc. She is only in her early twenties but bright and successful. She’s also very pretty and quite concerned with her appearance. The whole story is about different worlds colliding, and the first half is about Yaël coming home to very old-fashioned Jewish family, telling them about her work day, and preparing to go out for the evening with her girl friend who is also secretly her girlfriend. One of the things I would do differently if I were writing this story today is not make the family quite so old-fashioned. I still think there’s a lot of truth and sweetness in that section, but having the mom wear a housedress is hitting it a bit too hard. Also Yaël has a cellphone and even uses it properly–quite an accomplishment considering I didn’t own one myself at that point–but we don’t see any technology at all until much later in the story, which doesn’t quite seem accurate for a character like that.

Anyway, the dichotomies of the scene are what interested me–Yaël’s polished clothes with the roughness of language she uses with her family, her elegance and her parents’ schlumpiness, everyone’s bafflement with each other and their genuine kinds and interest in each other. I really like that family and had actually hoped to write a bit more about them later, but no further stories ever came to me. Sadly.

Yaël leaves for the party and here is the joke that I want to explain. She buys a bottle of wine to give as a hostess gift at the party her girlfriend Sasha’s friends are giving. She, both in her family circles and in her professional ones, is used to the courteous gift given to anyone so kind as to invite you into their home. What she doesn’t realize is that Sasha is a grad student and this is a grad student party. As soon as she gets there, she offers her wine, but not only can she not find the hosts, grad student etiquette is that everyone drinks their own alcohol unless you are close friends, so no one will even take it from her. She gets annoyed having to carry the wine around all night and eventually abandons the bottle under the sink in the bathroom. Anyway, just to wrap things up, the story goes on with Sasha and Yaël finally connecting at the party.

That’s the joke! I have to assume someone somewhere got it, though no one ever mentioned to me nor in any of the reviews the book got, positive or negative. The few times anyone did directly reference the story to me, they did say they liked it–especially the name Yaël, which is not something I can really take credit for. The wine joke was not the point of the story–nor the name Yaël for that matter. But sometimes I just realize that that thing I thought was so clever, no one is probably ever going to know about unless I tell them, so here I am, telling you. You probably still don’t care, which is very natural. This has all been hugely self-indulgent and truly it was kind of you to even read this far, if in fact you have.

July 29th, 2018

Copyediting vs. Being awful

Hello Frenz,

I would like to talk about the world of finding errors in text today. It is a subject dear to my heart and one in which I have considerable expertise. I feel that, perhaps because among my favourite kinds of jokes are the self-deprecating kind, my expertise is occasionally devalued a little bit when I offer it, so although it feels awkward, I would like to assert that I am smart enough for all normal purposes. A normal purpose is one like earning a living, and finding errors in text is one of the things I earn a living at, and have for many years. So that is my credential. Make of it what you will.

SO, as a person who has been proofreading and copyediting and supervising proofreaders and copyeditors for a decade and a half, I would like to say this: if you cannot win an argument without resorting to correcting someone’s spelling, grammar, or punctuation, you cannot win the argument. The only exception to this rule is arguments that are actually about spelling and grammar. If the argument is about racism or gun control or #metoo or whatever intense and freighted topic and someone’s rebuttal is a grammatical critique, they have nothing left to offer the conversation and should be ignored as surely as if they had resorted to a stream of obscenities–neither contributes to a useful dialogue. I would like to see this method of “debate” never ever again on Twitter or Facebook. I would like people to stop correcting ME on Facebook–can we assume I know how to spell and punctuate, and that I enjoy my time off with the occasional dangling modifier, much as a professional chef might like a little Kraft Dinner on a night off? Or assume I don’t know how to modify, and that I should have even more imposter syndrome than I do–you’re not going to re-eduate me in my replies. My main thing is that I would like folks to stop trying to shut down arguments this way, as if someone who has conjugation problems couldn’t possibly have anything to say worth reckoning with substantively.

Why? Because it’s classist–everyone has a different education and lexicon, and everyone comes to social media with a different idea of the formality of the diction. Just because someone has expressed their ideas in an ungrammatical way doesn’t mean they don’t understand the grammar AND even if they didn’t understand the grammar doesn’t mean the ideas themselves are not valuable. Obsessing about saying it “right” is another form of tone-policing, just like saying everyone has to meet a certain imaginary standard of politeness before they can be allowed to participate in the discussion.

It is not a coincidence that of the many friends I have met in the editorial community over the years, I have almost never seen a copyeditor or proofreader come aboard of anyone for this type of thing–we know our work is valuable up until a point and that point does not include disrupting social interaction. If a friend were consistently misspelling or misconstructing something in a noticeable way I might discreetly take them aside, if I felt it genuinely would be noticed by others–like by someone who wasn’t looking for gotcha errors. This is a spinach in your teeth situation–you say something to your friends so that a stranger won’t. But I would never do it in public.

Seriously. Stop it. Knock it off. The sentence would have to be really garbled before you can claim to not understand. Don’t give yourself a giggly self-diagnosis of “OCD about these things” (NOPE–now you’re being awful in two ways). Read what’s being discussed. Think about it. See if you’d like to respond to the content. No? That’s cool. We don’t always have to have something to say.

 

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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