July 19th, 2015

Best job

When I was about five or six, I had maybe the best job of my life. My parents and I were getting out of our car, which was parked at the one intersection in my little hometown. I think we were going to the video store. A woman was walking along the sidewalk, a rarity in rural areas because so few places are walkable that everyone just drives everywhere. She wore a long black wool coat and from one of the hip pockets you could see the head of a small grey kitten peeping out. If you’ve met me, or really any small child, you’ll know that I was enthralled. The woman came over to me there on the sidewalk and told me she had to go into the bank, but you can’t take a kitten into a bank. Could I hold the kitten for her until she came out?

COULD I??? Of course I could. I would not get a kitten of my own until my seventh birthday, but I was quite confident I could handle the squirmy little fuzzball. So she handed it over and off she went. I think this scenario involved one of my parents having to forego the video store so that I could be supervised whilst I supervised the kitten. I can’t remember too much about the actual kitten interaction other than it was really soft and I was so happy.

The woman came out of the bank fairly quickly and apparently not realizing this was the best thing that ever happened to me (or, I know now, of course realizing exactly and being as delighted as I was) paid me fifty cents for watching the kitten. And took the little fellow back and off she went. I come from a very small town, where people often know each other, but not always because it’s near a bigger city and people come and go. I had no idea who that woman was and neither did my folks. As far as I know we never saw her again.

This happy little memory just popped into my head and, because I have a blog I can share it with you and so I have.

July 12th, 2013

Good literary news

This blog has been a bit quiet of late, and when I do post it tends to be vacation anecdotes or random rants, but here at last is a post with some actual literary news…

First off, in the ongoing adventures of the short film How to Keep Your Day Job, now a nomination for best short film at the Directors’ Guild of Canada Awards. I guess you can watch this space at the end of October to see who won, but it’s just so great to see the amazing cast and crew of the film getting some recognition!

In terms of my own literary accomplishments, my short story “Marriage” has been accepted for an upcoming issue of The New Quarterly. Longtime readers will know I have a long love of The New Quarterly and am thrilled that they like this story. Can’t wait to see it in their pages.

And finally, Monday of this week, I did a fun 75 minute class with Professor Rawding’s literature students at University of Waterloo. They’d read a dozen stories out of The Big Dream, then thought about their reactions and made lists of questions by theme. Each group took a turn asking questions–yes, I did over an hour of Q&A with people who a) knew their stuff (no softball “so do you write with a pen or on a keyboard?” questions) and b) had not chosen the book themselves and did not necessarily like it.

It was *intense* to say the least, but also thrilling–the best compliment is a careful reading, I say. And honestly, no writer worth his/her salt ever believes anyone who says “Great book!” and leaves it at that. But the thorough, insightful questions from these students made me feel truly flattered that the book inspired them. I hope my answers were as good (or nearly).

Here’s a picture with me and the class. I am slouching because I was worried about blocking the kids behind me, who were actually way higher so I just look odd. Professor Rawding’s on the left in the green check shirt.

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And finally, a photo of me with the professor’s cat (of course!)

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July 3rd, 2013

Thunder Bay: Now with photos!

 

I promised ages ago to post some photos of my Thunder Bay Experience, and though that trip, less than a month ago, seems impossibly distant now, I still enjoy looking at these and thought you might too…

Random public art at the TB harbourfront

Random public art at the TB harbourfront

Statues on Mount MacKay (note also gorgeous weather)

Statues on Mount MacKay (note also gorgeous weather)

The amazing and stunning Kackabecka Falls

The amazing and stunning Kackabecka Falls

Lake Superior from the harbour

Lake Superior from the harbour

Lake Superior up close

Lake Superior up close

Random deer on someone's lawn--love it!!

Random deer on someone’s lawn–love it!!

And there’s even more, but you get the idea–Thunder Bay is a gorgeous place and you should go look at it if you possibly can.

June 27th, 2013

Rose-coloured reviews *Cats* (the musical)

I read Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot when I was kid, and enjoyed it immensely. I would love to claim to have been the sort of tween who randomly read books of poetry from the 30s (and to a certain extent, I was) but I read this one because my friend Kim had gone to see *Cats* and couldn’t stop talking about it. I was clearly not going to be taken to *Cats*, because my parents, lovers of musicals though they are, are more Stephen Sondheim than Andrew Lloyd Webber. So I was very sad, and Kim suggested I might like the book as a substitute. I did! It’s just a book of nonsense rhymes introducing a variety of chubby, mischievous, happy, and sad cats. I guess nonsense rhymes is not quite right–they make sense by their own internal logic. It’s not like “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat” is immediately obvious in meaning if you’ve not read the rest of the poem, either.

And that reading has helped mold me into the adult I am now, who knows all the words to every song in *Rent* and regularly makes videos of cats I meet. I’ve never combined these two passions of mine, I think because I have never been in a city where *Cats* was playing…but I’m unobservant, so I could’ve missed it. Nevertheless, the point is that there I was, 35 years old, encountering the wonder that is *Cats* the musical for the first time.

IT WAS AMAZING!!!

So much dancing, so much singing, wild costumes, incredible choreography, enthused, tightly polished performers, and a *very* positive audience. Plot–eh, not so much. Old Possum’s book was a collection of poems, almost of them descriptions of individual cats. These work surprisingly well as individual songs, and give each member of the cast (well, almost each–there’s about 3 cats on-stage that have no song of their own. Weird.) Anyway, the “plot” such as it is, is that every year on the night of the Jellicle moon (which I thought meant full moon, but there are twelve of those per year, so who knows) all the Jellicle cats gather and their leader, Old Deuteronomy, chooses one cat who gets to live another life…in space.

Well, I know don’t know–they go up on a high platform at the end of the play, Old Deuteronomy and the chosen cat, and then they go behind this scrim that is suddenly lit up with zaps and flashes of green electricity and then the chosen one disappears–seemed a lot like a Trekkie teleport to me. I’ve brought this with others, who variously insist that the special cat goes to heaven or is reincarnated in a new life. Either way, basically the cats have gathered to murder one of their own. “This sounds like Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery,'” said my musical hating husband.

My husband stayed home. All musical-haters should stay home from *Cats*. I’m not saying no musical-haters will ever be brought round–you might get behind the plot of *Les Miz* or the humour of *Into the Woods* or a thousand other multifaceted musicals. But *Cats* is really really really a musical-lover’s musical. Plotless (except for the space/heaven thing), almost completely without dialogue, narrative, even setting (they’re in some kind of junkyard, never determined where or why), *Cats* is about dancing and singing, full stop. The songs are about nothing and though some of the movement onstage is very convincingly catlike, the actual dance-numbers are nothing of the kind. They are DANCE NUMBERS. Tightly choreographed, impeccably rehearsed and lovely to watch, the dance routines have very little to do with cats. They are what musical watchers love, though–big showy dances.

I ate it up with a spoon. *American Idiot* aka the Green Day musical, was the last show I saw with lots of dancing in unison. The choreography made no sense in that show–would punks dance in unison? Of course not. Well, neither would cats, but at least their routines didn’t look like high-impact aerobics. This paragraph has wandered off–what I was getting at was that *Cats* is great because it embraces what it is, a showcase for song and dance.

And singers and dancers! There are SO MANY talented people in this show–I didn’t see a misstep out of all the many routines with their oh-so-similar setup and cues. And they were always beaming, whereas you’d think a normal person would’ve sweated through his or her spandex unitard and collapsed two numbers ago. I was really impressed with the cast, and pissed that their program notes featured photos taken NOT in their cat costumes, so if you couldn’t recall a cat’s name, you couldn’t figure out who played him or her.

I’ve noticed a Toronto musical theatre phenomenon where everyone’s an outstanding dancer and there are many outstanding singers, along with some servicable ones. I didn’t didn’t see a misstep in the show, but I heard a few wobbly notes, if not outright false ones.

Quibbles, quibbles. I will be singing Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats for the rest of my days, content in the knowledge that the words mean nothing and I couldn’t do that dance routine without a dozen lines of coke and plastic surgery. Cats was well-performed, well-staged, and a joy to watch. I don’t quite know if it was well-written–the TS Eliot poems are good as far as they go, which is not far, and the one original song by Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Memories” has certainly gained cultural weight (though I thought it was a bit dreary compared to the Jellicle stuff, myself). Oh, hell, who even cares what wordy explanation I can come up with about a 30-year-old musical–I loved it, but I also totally understood the man who stood and marched up the aisle ten minutes into the show, never to return. He was muttering “I can’t take this.”

June 10th, 2013

Greetings from Thunder Bay

I forgot the dooie (technical term) that imports photos from my camera to my computer, so this post will lack the most important aspect of Thunder Bay: visual beauty. It is full of trees and rocks and beaches and every time you turn around, there’s Lake Superior flashing blue and enormous at you. There’s also a number of mountains, a gorge, a waterfall… Imagine if Niagara Falls were 20 minutes away from the Grand Canyon… It’s like that here.

Also: wildlife! It is very exciting here, to the point where i have a hard time concentrating on conversations that happen in cars, because if you look out the window long and hard enough you might see: a momma deer nursing her fawn; an adolescent bear thinking about crossing the road, deciding against, then lumbering off. Or a moose! A ring-tail hawk! Baby goslings! Photos of some of the above to come–some moved too fast for me to capture on camera.

Other things they have in Thunder Bay: nice houses owned by non-rich people; Finnish pancakes; a nearby crossing to Minnesota; friendly people, including my lovely host Jaime; a farmers’ market; a steakhouse with a salad bar (love!), and much more. I am having a good time here, as you can probably tell. Soon it will be time for a tour of the university here, Lakehead, but in the meantime I just thought you’d like to know how nice Thunder Bay is, and that you should probably come visit if you get the chance.

Photos to come in a future post!

October 14th, 2012

Literature is anything, taken seriously

I’m the worst when it comes to cat obsession–I’ve already spent far too much time and bored far too many people talking about my kitty, Evan. I even have YouTube channel for my cat videos–including a new one that finally offers proof that Evan knows how to fetch

Ta da! And that great echoing silence is the sound of no one clicking on the link. Which is fine. Cats are my one pure indulgence, the one part of my life I don’t have to analyze or think about with a subtle critical eye. I just enjoy them and all their fuzzy silliness.

And it’s only going to get worse, because on Friday we got kitty number 2, Alice Sampsonblum. Isn’t she pretty? (I can’t explain what’s going on with my hair, here).

In the Humane Society Playroom, after we’d made the big decision.

So it’s basically a personal problem and pleasure, cats, that has somehow crept onto this never-really-professional blog. But I *have* started taking a professional interest in cats, professional in the sense I write stories about them (though actually, I think kitten shepherd would be a great job for me).

From the earliest-written story in the book that became *Once*, I’ve always had cats around the margins in my work. Why? No reason except that I’ve always had cats around the margins of my life–when I imagine a world, it has cats in it. When a Famous Writer reviewed a story of mine for a class, all she had to say was it was interesting that an adult woman’s close friend would turn out to be her brother. I did not think that was interesting and wished she had said something substantive about the story, but it’s true–many of my characters have brothers, at least in my head if not on the page. Because that’s just my reality–my default position for the human race is to have a brother and a cat. Write what you know is a hackneyed, limiting piece of advice–but it can work sometimes.

I do not think writing about cats is more or less frivolous than writing about brothers, or anything else for that matter. As with everything in literature, it’s not what you do but how you do it. Which is why it’s ridiculous that, say, humourous writing is sometimes not taken seriously. I guarantee you the writer of a genuinely funny book took the task of making it so *very* seriously.

So I’m a touch nervous to say that I’ve written my first story with a more central cat in it, Everyone Likes a Little Guy, just published in the Rusty Toque Issue #3. I hope it’s a good story and engages with real people living real lives. Much as I want to live in a fluffy world where the kittens wear bowties and dance on rainbows, I live in the real world and try to write about it as best I can. One of the perks is occasionally I can write about cats.

July 3rd, 2012

What happens when you self-search

Guys, I’m ashamed to admit it, but sometimes I enter my own name into search engines and go in 8 or 10 pages, just to see what comes up. I do this for a couple reasons–mainly to kill time when I’m feeling simultaneously vain and bored. But also because I’ve discovered that Google Alerts (yes, of course I have one–that’s not even vanity, just efficient) is not all that–it misses a lot of stuff. And while the good stuff will eventually make its way to me, no one ever passes on a really negative review–unless I make some more sadistic friends, it’s up to me to find the scathing ones.

Sometimes, however, my sad little searches turn up fun stuff. Often, it’s stuff I already knew about, only in a shiny new package. Like, I always knew the time and date of my reading at the Leacock Festival, so no one thought to tell me that it’s now up on slick event page (scroll down). And though I’ve already talked SO MUCH about the film “How to Keep Your Day Job” it’s still pretty awesome to see it has a little web presence. And sometimes folks even forget to tell me about a really lovely review (scroll down again). Also, did you know that someone with almost the same name as me is Dr. Date?

Finally, somehow I failed to attach my proper full name to my YouTube channel, so you can’t find it by searching me–I don’t think that’s a huge loss to anyone but I’m going to try to work this out. In the meantime, in case you couldn’t fine it otherwise, I’ll leave you with my favourite kitty video creation so far, Evan versus Gunter Grass.

June 4th, 2012

At the Eh-List Reading Series, S. Walter Stewart Library–Tomorrow!!

Good news–I’m on the “Eh” list and will be reading tomorrow evening to prove it, at the S. Walter Stewart Library, at 7pm. Yes, yes, it’s the east end, but trust me, it’s exactly equally as cool east of Yonge Street as it is west–maybe even cooler because we’re not so worried about it. Plus the reading is at a branch of our beloved TPL–it’s never a bad time to support our libraries. And finally, I don’t exactly know when my next public reading in Toronto might be–perhaps not for a while. So if you’ve been hoping to see me read, this might be your shot!

But, ok, if for some reason you really can’t make it…you could listen to this wonderful podcast of Laura Boudreau reading my story “How to Keep Your Day Job.” She does a wonderful job, and there’s an interview with RMSYL wizard Steve in the mix too.

Other things you could do to fill the void if you really really can’t make it tomorrow night include reading this lovely review of *The Big Dream* on the Stuff I’m Reading blog and/or watching this adorable video that I made of an angry cat.

And finally, I can’t resist sharing that a story from the new-new book (ie., the one that doesn’t exist yet) has been accepted by PRISM international and I’m just thrilled. There’s editing to do before it can actually get into print, but one of these days my story “The House That Modern Art Built” will actually be in this prestigous journal and on newsstands. Which gives me hope that I might just finish the rest of the book…eventually.

December 9th, 2011

The past few days

In the past few days, my last two posts for the National Post’s book blog, The Afterword, have gone up: from Wednesday, Because there is no real and from Thursday, Oh my god, my friend is a writer–what do I do?. It was very fun writing for the Afterword, but I am happy to be back in my blog-home, without the pressure to post every day!

What else has happened recently? I went to a nice party, ate some really good but odd toffee, had a tough time catching a #7 southbound bus, and discovered that ligers are real! Did you think Napolean Dynamite made them up?? Me too! But no, really, there are actually ligers in the world. Also, tigons, or possibly tiglons. The information is a little unclear, mainly because most of the folks who have a big interest in this topic are crazy, but anyway, I just thought it was kinda neat. As if I was just sitting around chatting with friends and found out they have a gryphon in a zoo in upstate New York.

November 30th, 2011

Tomorrow night

I am pretty jazzed about the reading I’m doing tomorrow night, because my co-reader is the marvellous Anne Perdue, author of I’m a Registered Nurse Not a Whore, a book many probably read for the title, but few were likely to be disappointed. It’s an amazing collection. Our reading will be at the Lillian H. Smith library on College Street, one of the nicest libraries in Toronto. It’s also really close to my favourite Chinese restaurant, which I will point you towards if you like. You really can’t lose.

Can’t make the reading, but still craving more of my thoughts? Well, that’s a dubious pursuit, but I did participate in Shaun Smith’s Fiction Craft Discussion on Dialogue this month, so you could check that out.

In other news…today I opened a can of chickpeas to make my lunch and the kitten went *insane*. The can is the same size/shape as his catfood can, and apparently he thought I was hogging all the catfood for myself and not sharing. That he would think so little of me really hurt my feelings, which tells you a bit about how tired I am. Also, today it snowed, and I betcha that won’t be the last of it.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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