January 29th, 2015

Cutting, cutting

So I am editing my book now, and as you probably knew but I didn’t, it’s very stressful and challenging, and sometimes sad. I’m chopping up a story that never really worked anyway. On the one hand, I’m glad to be rid of it because there’s probably 10 versions in my folders and none really cohere properly. I’m going to be able to repurpose some of the more informational bits elsewhere (I hope!) but all the connective tissue, especially the mood- and character-building bits, are essentially being surplussed. Which issued, because some of them are good…or at least I think so. Then I remembered that is why I have a blog, to give voice to all my useless bits.

Thus, I give you the opening of the story “The First Day of School”, which no longer exists…

The walk to school is lemon-yellow and green—still summer, only now I’m wearing slacks and teaching loafers, carrying files, and up so very early. Early September is marketed in back-to-school Walmart fliers as orange leaves and sweaters, but the past few years it’s been just more heat and popsicles with the sunlight slightly slanted. I feel like this is a recent phenomenon, maybe the result of climate change, but it’s hard to remember. Back in the nineties, was there crisp air on Labour Day? Do I Instagram my memories? I’m old enough to be permanently suffused with nostalgia—the constant onslaught of bright-hued youth that is my profession doesn’t help. I miss the politically relaxed atmosphere that allowed me to at least use the term Indian summer.

The streets near campus are lifeless except for breezes and cats. There’s always a lull between the start of classes and when students feel up to attending. Even on Centre Green, where workers are trying to collapse the massive frosh-week beer tent, there’s a dreamy quiet. In a few weeks, the green will be trampled and strewn with lithe bodies, but for now it feels like I have the campus to myself.

December 2nd, 2014

Notes from the bronchial fog, day 22

I have been meaning to write a post telling everyone how horrible having bronchitis is, but one of the things that’s horrible about it is it makes me really exhausted all the time–every little chore is about 30% harder than it normally is. Also, when I complain, I find out that lots of people have had bronchitis, or even get it every year (chronic bronchitis is a thing, apparently, and it doesn’t sound fun). So basically, what I’m saying is, I feel extremely sorry for myself but my situation is pretty average–if that is the sort of thing that tends to annoy you, perhaps you’ll want to stop reading now.

SO, today is day 22 of being sick (actually now it’s day 23–see above about getting too tired to finish things). As I attempt to reconstitute events, they go something like this.

Monday November 10, evening, I notice I have a sore-ish throat. I am mad, because I had a really bad cold at the end of September, not even two months ago, and this feels very unfair.

Rest of that week–yep, I have a cold. On the weekend, it seems to be getting a bit better, but then I start coughing really loudly and crazily–like, sometimes I can’t breathe or I fear I will vomit. Apparently bronchitis is some kind of parasitical disease. It waits until you are weak with a cold and then attacks.

By middle of the second week, I recognize that I am no longer sniffling and sneezing, just coughing like a maniac and having trouble walking up steep flights of stairs. The doctor confirms that I have bronchitis but thinks it’s viral, so there’s not much you can do to make it go away. She does give me some meds to help me cope in the meantime–codeine syrup to prevent coughing at night and help me sleep (does nothing) and a puffer to improve my breathing (does nothing). I keep taking the puffer, which I don’t fully understand and might be inhaling wrong, but switch back to NyQuil after a few days of waking up hourly every night.

The doctor also did a nose swab (least fun!!) in order to check me for pertussis (whooping cough). She did this because my astounding new niece, Isla, was born on November 16, and I would REALLY like to meet her. It takes 5 business days to get the test results back, so middle of last week. The doctor leaves a message saying that I don’t have pertussis, but also implying that I’m probably feeling much better by now.

This is alarming, because I am miserable, so I call her back and tell her my sad state of affairs. She thinks that if I am still not better at all, perhaps I have bacterial bronchitis instead of viral, and prescribes me antibiotics. My husband picks up the new meds for me before going out for Friday night without me because I am not physically capable of attending an event where there might not be chairs for everyone.

The weekend is a low point, wherein I try to Christmas shop, become exhausted after 45 minutes but refuse to go home because Christmas. By Monday I was coughing less but so migraine-y i had to take a different medication. Worried that it would interact with all the other nonsense I was taking, I hauled everything to the pharmacy and asked them to tell me if I would do any harm by taking it all. They said no, and I spent a pleasant evening looped on pain meds before going to bed at 9:30.

Now it is today, and I am working from home so that I can nap on my lunch hour, and feeling a bit better, all things considered. Less coughing, somewhat less tiredness, but honestly, I’m still not feeling that great. And it’s day 23.

I’m pretty confident I will not have bronchitis forever, and that also by the standards of diseases I could have, this is pretty mild. However, weakling that I am, I have learned a lot from this experience. Things like:

1) Even though I think I’m not an athletic person, I do a lot that requires my body. I am a pedestrian and my mode of living requires me to walk fair distances and even climb lots of stairs on occasion. I like to run and play with the children I know. When I didn’t need to expend effort to do these things, I didn’t think about them–now I think about them all the time.

2) When I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid. This has always been true of my current job, and I chose to have things that way. I never minded because I live below my means and can afford a day or two off when I need one. However I cannot afford an endless procession of such days. Perhaps I need disability insurance. Certainly I need to be conscious of this fact.

3) My job is pretty nice in that they let me work from home whenever they can spare me so I can take lunch naps.

4) My husband is pretty nice because he goes and gets me drugs and also lets me sleep in the marital bed even though I sound like an excitable seal.

5) People who are chronically ill have a really tough time. I always knew that, but I think I know it more now.

November 10th, 2014

On hobbies

I’m a recovering type-A personality. I doubt many people (of that small group that would even care to think about it) would peg me as such, because I’ve gotten a lot more easy-going over the years. But in truth I’m a standard eldest child: straight As not because my parents wanted them but I did, years of Conservatory music exams though I possessed exactly no talent, very few electives in university because why would I do anything other than the things I did best??

Yes, I’ve calmed down a lot since–the nice thing about being an adult is you get fewer letter grades, so “doing well” becomes by necessity an internal proposition much more than one bestowed from above. Many people use money in lieu of grades when they get older, but I don’t run in those circles. Happiness, I guess, is a good barometer…but so ambiguous!

One of the most important things I’ve found for healing the type-A blues is hobbies. In high-school and university, most people I knew were in a band or on a sports team, active in politics or their religious institutions, making art or performing something or other. As adults, we naturally narrow our scope to a few things we do really well, or at least can do really well sometimes. For most of us, that’s a job of some kind, because in this economy if you aren’t at least pretty good at your job you don’t eat. For me, I also have a second career writing, and though it’s not hardly keeping me fed, it’s very important to me to do it well (though I am procrastinating my current story to write this post).

So there: two things I have trained and worked for many years to excel at, at least a little. I feel terrible about even minor failures in either arena, and beat myself up for weeks (who is currently cringing with shame over a stupid mistake at work?? oh yes–me). Other people’s assessments of my work matter to me tremendously (sad but true) and though I’m not a cry-in-the-bathroom type, I remember every harsh thing said by a colleague or a reviewer for life.

For years, I didn’t have hobbies both because I didn’t think I had time, but also because when I was already struggling so hard at the things that are supposed to be my areas of expertise, I thought why would i want to start doing something I was LESS good at–for fun! Those 15 years I played the piano had their bright spots, but a lot of it was me failing over and over to play the music the way I knew it should sound. Constant disappointment, really.

But as it turned out, I needed an arena I could fail in–somewhere where the stakes were low-to-non-existent, where no one was even bothering to assess my work because it was just a goof-off, for fun. An opportunity to learn new skills instead of endlessly trying to refine old ones. The learning curve goes so much faster at the beginning–have you ever noticed that?

As for time–well, eff time. No one has enough–human activity is like a gas, expanding to fill what time is offered. I have to not work some of the time, and I might as well be using my brain and doing something at least a little cool. And guys, take it from someone who has agonized over a B-, it’s FUN to screw up and have there be not only no consequences but no evidence. No one knows how badly I just played that version of “O Holy Night” (except possibly my husband if he’s paying attention in the next room).

Here is a list of hobbies I’ve taken on in the last 8 or 9 years. With most of them, I’ve quit or stepped way back right around the time my perfectionist instincts kicked in. Once I started noticing how other people in my yoga class could bend so much deeper in Warrior II, the thrill was gone. But I loved learning yoga and I’ll probably go back to it one day–I just didn’t want to get far enough in that it wasn’t fun anymore. Other things of a similar ilk:

Pilates (as the first of the adult hobbies, this one did get a bit overboard for a while)
Yoga
Circuit training
Long-distance running
Crochet
Knitting
Fancy baking
Feldenkris
Cat clicker training
Guitar
Makeup applications (no, really–so fun!)

What these things all have in common–I have friends who enjoy discussing them, relatively low cost of entry both in money and time, vague but not passionate interest from me. And that’s really all it takes to get a fun weeknight or a few months or a few years. What do you do when you need to not need to succeed?

July 6th, 2014

Midyear review

Remember when I used to check in on my new year’s resolution progress every year on my birthday and call it the mid-year review? Yeah, I’m not as organized as I used to be (it turned out that bitchy friend who said, “I wonder if you would get so much done if you had a boyfriend?” was right–I don’t. There’s a few other reasons too, though.) But it is still approximately the midyear and I’ve been thinking about it so, hey, why not. Also, let’s face it–I probably would be less likely to try this if I didn’t think I was progressing decently. Those years I didn’t do check ins–there was nothing happy to report. Anyway, let’s take a look.

Here’s the old post with the original resolutions. And here’s my thoughts on how I’ve done in the first six months:

1. Mini M&Ms charity. This has been going fairly well in the sense that I have actually been giving to people. Sometimes I forget, since for so many years it was against policy, and then I have to go scrambling back on the sidewalk with my little M&Ms case. I doubt it makes me look too sane, but oh well. I have also been noticing to whom I’m more apt to give: anyone with a pet, of course, but also younger kids with kooky signs. I’m trying to go against that instinct a little, because I think everyone has it–younger, saner-looking people are less intimidating than older possibly mentally ill or intoxicated men, especially since that’s the category who is likely to smell a bit funky. I guess most of want to give to those whom we relate to, but my thinking is that the ones furthest out of the mainstream probably need help the most. Hence, I’m trying to give more to them. They don’t say thank you very often, but I’m also trying not to mind that–not supposed to be the point!

2. Learn to play the guitar. Meh, I just finished practicing so I am not at peak self-esteem re: musical ability, but it’s going ok. I can pluck out a number of recognizable tunes, and I think my ear might be getting better. Chords continue to challenge me and my tiny mouse hands, but I preservere. Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” might be in my grasp yet.

3. Possibly file the papers I’ve had stacked on the floor of my office for over a year. Maybe. This one is basically a fail–the pile is still there, and messier than ever after being attacked by a cat. But I did file a few of the papers, and I am tending to fail new papers directly, instead of adding to the pile. Of course, my definition of “file” is a little difficult–I basically mean “put in filing cabinet, anywhere.” This is problematic, I know.

4. Clicker train my elder cat, Evan, to give him something to focus his energies on so he isn’t such a pain all the time. Surprisingly, this one worked. I have trained Evan to do a high-five and assorted other small tricks. We have also mastered “sit” and are working on “stay” now, his first useful trick. He is currently at 17 seconds for stay, which wouldn’t be very much for a dog but is HUGE for a cat. I’m very proud of him. Who would’ve thought this would be my most successful resolution.

5. Knit a thing that has an actual purpose. I did actually secure a scarf pattern and wool for a said scarf, but then the friend who runs my knitting club had a baby. So no more knitting club, and I do not see the point of knitting alone in a room. I cannot knit in an open area of my home because cats, so knitting is kind of over for me for a while. I’m not too upset about it, really.

6. Something about my manuscript-in-progress. I did what I set out to do–I wrote the book I wanted to write to the best of my ability. Which is not to say it is the book it needs to be yet, but I am very optimistic about the next step. Please watch this space for more on this situation as it develops.

7. Cook lots of new recipes. Going well! I will be travelling to Utah later in the summer, and so the lovely Julia Zarankin gave me a Utah cookbook, which has lead to some culinary adventures and deliciousness!

8. Blog more frequently than once a month. Basically successful on this one–3-4 times a month on average, with some dips and overages.

While we’re on the subject, I should probably add to the list:

9. Floss daily. A resolution in previous years that I was successful with. But then I got cocky, so it’s back on the list.

10. Plan to socialize a reasonable amount every week. Not every night, because that is exhausting and also I am allegedly writing a book, but also not no nights, because I am me and shrivel up without social fun.

Well, I feel like I’m set for the next six months. What are you planning for the rest of 2014?

January 18th, 2014

2014 Resolving

It’s been over a month–sorry, guys. I missed the holiday season completely on this blog–I hope you had an excellent one. Here at the Rose-coloured Ranch, the ice-storm left our power intact but stranded a householder in Moncton for a few days, so things were a bit scrambly. 2014 has actually been going fine for me, but my job has gone bananas, as it does a couple unpredictably timed months a year. It’s a good job and people have been kind to me there, so I try to role with the punches and put in the hours, but I really think I’m simply not cut out to work overtime. A few 10-hour-days, which is nothing to people in many other positions, and I am absolutely bonkers with nervous energy and fret. It’s not very nice to find out I have so little fortitude, but at least I’m certain I don’t now. I just want the month of January to be over, and with it this project.

I had been thinking about not doing resolutions this year–I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by simply getting through the days of late–but a few things conspired to inspire, so I figure, why not? I’m not going to get too bent out of shape if I don’t do these things, but…why not try?

1) Mini-M&Ms charity. I’ve always told people new to Toronto that you’ll make your life easier if you make a blanket decision about panhandlers. Maybe you give whatever’s in your pocket to whomever asks, maybe you never give on the street but donate to a charity that helps the homeless, maybe you stop and chat, maybe you pretend not to see. Whatever you are going to do, reason it out and stand by it–it’s the dithering that makes you crazy and sad. My usual policy is to give to charities like the United Way and local food banks, not to individuals, but to meet everyone’s gaze and apologize that I won’t give to them. This policy was born of being disorganized and not wanting to fumble in my bag and take out my huge wallet in front of strangers that may or may not be benign. Usually people who hit me up on the street for cash nod or shrug at my murmured apology; some even say something nice in return. Lately I’ve noticed a new phenomenon where I get some snark–one girl said archly, “Wow, that sounded really sincere.” I have no idea why she bothered–it’s a weird kind of pay-it-forward, because I’m not going to running back to shower cash on someone who said something mean to me, but it does make me think a bit harder about my own sincerity, and what I’m going to do the next time I’m asked.

Years ago, when my brother was living in Toronto and I wasn’t, he told me he used mini-M&Ms containers–small plastic tubes–to carry quarters in. They are just the right width for them, and you are able to fish them out without rummaging through all your belongings. You also know at a shake whether you actually have something to give or not, so you don’t waste everyone’s time. Of course, mini M&Ms disappeared from Canada years ago, a sad loss for many reasons. But beloved friend AMT brought me some from America recently and, delicious as they were, I couldn’t help but fixate on the container. It showed up at such fortuitous time, right when I was rethinking my street charity policy. As I type, it’s beside me, half full of quarters.

I don’t kid myself that 50 cents or a dollar from me is going to make a great difference to anyone at all. It’s the stopping and engaging that might matter, if not to the recipient, than at least to me. I’m worried that after nearly 12 years in Toronto, I’ve stopped seeing people on the street, despite my “sincere” little apologies. I’d like to start seeing again, and seeing where that leads me. Giving a little bit might help me do that–and I’m sure a few quarters wouldn’t hurt those who ask.

2) Learn to play guitar. I will count success as being able to play a recognizable tune on-key. I have had two lessons so far and have learnt two octaves of the B-flat major scale–progress. I enjoy the practicing well enough and am starting to develop some calluses. I’m also find that, as was true in my many years of piano lessons, and also with opening pickle jars, juggling, and holding hands with large-fingered men, my tiny little mouse hands are a handicap. One I plan to overcome, but the fourth fret poses some challenges for me.

3) Possibly file the papers I’ve had stacked on the floor of my office for over a year. Maybe.

4) Clicker train my elder cat, Evan, to give him something to focus his energies on so he isn’t such a pain all the time.

5) Knit a thing that has an actual purpose. I have been working on a pointless blue rectangle for more than two years.

In the number 6 slot, I could say something about my manuscript-in-progress here, but I sort of feel like at this point in the process that’s a bit like resolving to get a boyfriend. I’m going to do my best and not worry (as much as possible) about the rest. Actually, maybe that will be true on all fronts this year. That lack of worry in itself is a worthy resolution, I think.

7) Cook lots of new recipes, even ones not from the milk calendar.

8) Blog more frequently than once a month!

August 22nd, 2013

Dance like no one’s watching, write like you’re 14

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s On Writing lately and it’s pretty good–folksy and a bit “well, it worked for me!” simplistic, but also funny and well-referenced and common-sense. It was clearly written with Stephen King fans in mind (some of the examples do not make sense unless you have read one or another of his novels) but another target audience is nervous novice writers. There’s a lot of gentle handholding about not caring if it’s brilliant, not torturing yourself over the exact wording of the first sentence when you could be writing the second one, not caring when people say you ought to get a real job (Note: King’s central delusion is that novice writers can and will write as a large share of their every day.)

It’s mainly good advice and certainly supportive, but geez, it made me feel bad for people who start writing as adults. So much pressure!

Not that I think you shouldn’t, mind you–anyone who wants to write ought to, immediately. It’s just that it’s so much easier to start in high school. Because I wrote my first creative pieces in grade 9, I always find the “why did you decide to start writing?” question that gets asked in so many interviews a bit baffling. Eh? Why *anything* I did when I was 14? Why the floral leggings, the swamp food, eating lunch on the shotput court, that crush on Bill S.? The short answer for almost everything that happened in high school is boredom. From bullying to band practice, teenagers choose their high-school activities basically just to fill time. The kids in band don’t expect an orchestra career anymore than the football team expects to eventually make it to the CFL. I played intramural *badminton* in high school, and believe me it was not a springboard to going pro (hands up if you’ve ever taken a birdie in the eye?)

I was a chubby smart kid, so sports and dance were largely out for me. I played in band, but drama club was a disorganized mess and honestly, even if it hadn’t been, I really wasn’t much of an actress. I needed another *thing*…and then there as the poster in the library about a literary conest–with prizes! I was bored, I spent a lot of time in the library, I got good grades in English, and my friends said I was funny–why *wouldn’t* I write a humourous essay about my school bus?

My point is slightly undermined by the fact that I did win the “junior humour” category of that literary contest, but I think out of a fairly narrow field. And it wouldn’t have mattered to me if I didn’t, just like it didn’t matter to me that I was a lousy pianist–I still played from ages 5 through 19. What else was I gonna do after school?

Grownups give themselves a much harder time, generally, especially if they have multiple other demands like work, spouse, kids, commute, etc. They feel some kind of pressure to have a “reason” to write, like people loving their work or making lots of money. But writing is hard, slow, and often unrewarding by the conventions of the “real” world. And even if you could write the best novel in the world, if you started tomorrow you wouldn’t be finished for at least a year, more likely a few–and a couple beyond that to see it in print.

Aspiring writers who haven’t yet started the actual process find me a bit baffling sometimes–I have some markers of success, like published books and some positive reviews, the occasional award nomination. But I am neither rich nor famous, and I am still work at something other than writing most days. Am I a big deal? A big failure? What’s going on here?

Grownups, used to doing things for a reason and seeing the results, find the lack of concrete “made it” moments in writing frustrating. Teenagers, who can’t even necessarily drive the car or buy the shirts they want, find random impotent work totally normal. If it’s fun, why not do it? It’s better than homework, and if your brother’s watching something stupid on tv…

This was actually a really wonderful attitude, and one I try to recapture when I feel like writing is pointless. Why does it need a point if I enjoy it? It’s cheaper than golf, and better for me than Facebook–and I like my stories. Game, set, match.

I’ve gotten in trouble for saying this before, but sometimes I can sell working on my book to myself more easily if I think of it as an occasionally lucrative hobby rather than a career. I get that writers need to take ourselves seriously in order to get the work done and done well, and if for you that means saying the word “career” than please do so. But I think I’ll probably write for the rest of my life no matter what I call it, and when I call it a hobby I feel less pressed, more like I’m supposed to have fun.

But mainly I don’t call it anything–I just keep writing, or try to. Because that really is the best part…

April 23rd, 2013

Freedom!

So that stressful project at work is complete, I believe, so I’m finally on vacation this week and next! And for once, I’m not going anywhere or doing anything big on vacation. When I was younger, I mocked the concept of the “staycation,” but that was probably because I never realized how much I could like my own life. I have an amazing apartment, partner, friends, family, and city, not to mention gift certificates–why would I want to use my limited free time to leave all that.

So I’m here, enjoying my life (and accepting lunch dates, if you’re interested!) So far I’ve
–eaten Korean food and gone to a board games cafe
–gone to a farmers’ market
–built a nightstand
–watch a movie in a movie-theatre
–made soup
–walked all the way across downtown
–eaten Thai food
–bought a vacuum cleaner

Some of this is prosaic, I admit, but the chores need to be done and at least I have time to do them at my own pace. And most of it’s just been lovely–especially that long walk yesterday. I had an over an hour before a lunch date and nothing in particular to do, so I decided to walk it. The weather was stunning, I had nice music on my ipod, and the thing I was walking towards was such a pleasant prospect. I love walking in Toronto–it’s really how the city looks its best.

For my next trick, I will be experiencing my first spa, thanks to a gift certificate I got for Christmas. The treatment itself is very expensive, but there’s all kinds of extra stuff there you can do for free there, like work out in the gym and swim in the pool. So obviously I’m going to go 2 hours early and try everything, because why not, right?

I am also, of course, writing a bit on my break. I am so tired from work that I am not setting any huge goals, but it’s nice to be able to give writing some of the good part of the day, instead of getting to it when I’m already sort of miserable. I always write, but often in tiny bursts–my output has been pretty pitiful lately. I hope some leisure time will help expand it a bit.

Speaking of pitiful, I contribute a little bit to “Failure Week” on Hazlitt, in the form a comment in Jowita Bydlowska’s article “Where Do All the Dead Stories and Characters Go?” A fun and somehow inspiring article–so many brilliant writers have to kill so much of their work, and yet it turns out amazing anyway. Encouraging!

Anyway, so that’s the news with me right now–rather pleasant, and no griping for once. Hope it’s the same where you are!

March 17th, 2013

Why I Didn’t Have a Cell Phone Until Yesterday–and What Changed My Mind

The first thing to recall is that I pre-exist cellphones. There’s a generation of whippersnaps now who have never known a world where it was fine to be out of touch for a few hours, and it troubles them to be. I get that, to a certain extent, though I don’t feel it myself. When I was teaching high school kids and tried to outlaw phones in class, their first reaction was, “What if there’s an emergency?” My first reaction, which I didn’t voice, was, “You’re 15–how much help are you in an emergency?” And the second, which I sometimes did, was, “Whoever needed you would call the school and get the secretary to come get you, like they did in my day. The whole argument was basically stupid, but I did understand the *idea* of feeling insecure without a thing you are simply used to having. If they turned off the landlines in my apartment right now, it wouldn’t fundamentally change my safety level, but I would *feel* unspecifically unsafe.

But I grew up in a world where you didn’t need a cell phone to feel safe. First because they didn’t exist, then because only bajillionaires had them so they might as well’ve not existed, for my purposes. Then doctors and international businesspeople and the occasional drug-dealer had them. Then long-distance commuters and people who had small kids in day-care or otherwise away from them for long periods. Then anyone who drove any distance regularly or had any kids or was just very social and hard to get ahold of. Then pretty much everybody.

Through all these developments, I’ve driven almost never, and even less alone. I have no kids and, while I’m moderately social, I am also amazingly easy to get ahold of. Except for two years of grad school, I’ve had deskjobs for a decade–that’s nearly 40 hours a week you know where I am, plus I write in the evenings and am all-too-eager to pick up the phone or answer an email while I’m writing.  I would be very surprised if there were many people out there annoyed that didn’t hear back from me faster.

But honestly, lots of people with cells have lives like mine–I can’t honestly claim that it’s because I’m *so* practical that I’ve stood up against a tide of commericalism. Being broke for a few years–the grad school years–helped me convince myself I didn’t need lots of things, and then when I had money again I remained sorta convinced. I’m also naturally pretty cheap and lazy–I didn’t want to spend money or learn a new technology I didn’t have to. And in the background of all of this is probably some sort of mini-inferiority complex, e.g., no one really wants to talk to me that badly.

So, in short–who knows why I didn’t have a cellphone until yesterday? But I guess getting one’s first phone in 2013–especially if you’re not 60+–is kinda a big deal. Why did I get one? Well, the ostensible reason is there was a confusion with a friend about a meeting place, and I wound up having to use a credit card on a pay phone to call someone to ask him to call her to ask her to come get me. Argh–annoying, expensive, embarrassing, and all my fault, no matter who made the actual locational mistake, because with a cellphone it would’ve been a ten-minute probably, without all those extra people and credit card charges. Confusion and human error happens all the time, to anyone, but it was starting to be only with me that human error would ruin an evening.

So, there–a perfectly good reason for getting a cellphone and I’m sure many of my potential dinner dates are already grateful. But it was actually a conversation I had with a friend a couple days after the above incident that probably tipped the scales. I ran into her at a bus stop while she was texting on her phone, but when she was done she seemed happy to chat. I asked her if she loved her phone, and she said she did. I said I would probably get one soon, and was interested in what social doors texting might open, since I’d never done it. She said it was great, because it was like an ongoing casual conversation–no committment, no need of an immediate reply, but a low-key way to be in touch. She said she spoke to her best friend every day, and that was probably the straw that broke the camel’s back.

During the years of rising cellphone ubiquity I mentioned above, I’ve noticed the near-demise of the “hey how are you?” phone call, followed by the diminishment of the long newsy email. Folks simply don’t catch up in these long gluts anymore, because they don’t need to. Anyone who actually matters to you is following your twitter feed, friends with you on facebook, and readily available to text about minutiae in real time–everyone already *knows* how you’re doing. The first two have been great for me–I’m up-to-date on people I care about but who aren’t “close” friends. And I know some people do like the occasional multi-paragraph email or phone chat, or at least, they do for my sake. But I’m really excited about this whole texting thing–I think it might be a good format for me, because I’m so chatty with so little to actually say (she says, at nearly 900 words and counting).

So I’m now cellphonic and hoping to finally stop being useless to folks who leave the directions to the restaurant at home or are just running a bit late. But I also hope to hear from anyone who cares to be in touch, about anything at all.

March 5th, 2013

How to Enjoy a Concert…in Your Thirties…

I came across these tips on how to have an awesome time at a concert on Alan Cross’s blog. It’s good, but extremely sparse to me, and probably to most people who don’t regularly attend concerts. Tips like “bring a friend or go alone” and “when to drink and where” might make some uncool people like myself think that this is a code keep the uncool out.

It’s not true! Just like how on the internet no one knows you’re a dog, in the dark no one knows you’re a dork: if you feel like going to hear live music, you should go. I went to a show last week with a kleenex in the sleeve of my cardigan, so if I can do it, anyone can.

If you’re like me, you probably used to go see bands semi-regularly in high school and university, whenever someone told you about a cool show and you could afford it. But then, after graduation, you (I) knew fewer people who went to stuff, and moved to a city where I didn’t know the venues, and gradually got really intimidated and started picturing every show I considered attending as a cross between a mosh pit and a grade 8 dance.

About 4 years ago, my brother and I realized that while we both finally had money to spend on each other, we could never think of anything we wanted for holiday or birthday gifts. We also realized we have similar taste in music and both regretted not taking part in Toronto’s vibrant musical offerings. So we buy each other show tickets for every gift now, and we attend together. It’s really fun, and not nearly as intimidating as I thought. So, after a few dozen shows, here’s some tips if you’re old-ish and looking get back to concert scene:

1) Listen to music. A friend said to me once, “It’s so sad how terrible music is these days. All I ever listen to is my old albums.” I barely stopped myself from screeching, “That is how you die!!” Music is not depreciating, it’s changing! It’s harder to find things you like when you don’t have whole evenings to spend listening to music and none of your friends suggest things to listen to. But try. Listen to the radio and google anything you hear that you like. Try one of those internet radio stations that takes a performer you like and suggests more. Ask your friends what they’re listening to. Most people in their thirties didn’t stop listening to music, they just stopped forming their identies around it. And it’s totally fine to stick to some bands you used to like in the 90s–they were great–but for goodness’s sakes, listen to their current albums. Bands evolve, and you don’t want to be disappointed at the show because it turns out you don’t like anything they’ve written in the past 15 years.

2) Pay the money. One thing I don’t do in my rock-and-roll renaissance is see random bands. I don’t just go sit in a bar and see who comes on, or go to free community shows, or anything where I don’t have at least a hopeful suspicion that I will like the band. If I’m that hopeful, I am also willing to pay whatever a ticket costs. Not usually that much–I don’t have Rolling Stones tastes–but I pay whatever it takes. I wish I could be out discovering the stuff that no one knows about yet, but really, to stay out late on a weeknight, I have to sorta know I’ll be happy.

3) Plot the logistics. In case you’re a real newbie at concerts, or have only been to those outdoor summer festivals, here’s the biggest logistical issue with concert attendance as a grown-up: you don’t get to sit down. There are no chairs in most venues, and in the few that some stools or whatnot, like Lee’s Palace, people hunch on them grimly as soon as the doors open. It’s not worth it–wear comfortable shoes and a bag you can hang on your shoulder, and come well-rested–you’ll still be tired at the end of the night, but it’s manageable.

Other logistical issues: There are coatchecks in most concert venues, but then you’re stuck in a giant line at the end of the night when you want to go home. I favour the “roll your coat into a ball and stick it between your feet” approach, but it’s up to you. Also, figure out how you’re getting to and fro, especially if it’s Sound Academy, which annoying to walk, transit, AND drive to. Basically, unless you have a jetpack or are willing to live there, only go to Sound Academy shows you *really* want to see. Lee’s Palace and the Phoenix are on the subway line and are awesome; the Opera House and the Mod Club aren’t, but at least have some reasonable transit options. I have no idea how to park anywhere, but if you’re going to try driving, best to look into it–might be challenging.

4) Embrace the experience. I sometimes skip the openers in favour of eating and sitting down for a little longer, but I’ve discovered some good music when I see the full show. Go to the merch table, buy a drink, crowd watch. Music is growing increasingly atomized–we listen alone, on our computers and ipods, and have little idea who our fellow fans are. It’s an amazing experience to assume this tiny bit of solidarity–I like a thing you like–with strangers. In the absence of knowledge, I assume everyone who likes a band I like is just like me. Imagine my surprise to discover teenagers in arm-warmers and eyelines at the Bright Eyes show and drunk university students at Hey Rosetta. My favourite crowd ever was at a The Wooden Sky. I think of them as a gentle roots-rock band, but the early twentysomethings at the show seemed ready for a kegger for some reason. Many were drunk upon arrival, including two beautiful young women who were so surprised to meet up in the lobby, they embraced so hard they fell down. A girl standing in front of me in the bathroom lineup asked me to tell her “honestly” if she had puke on the back of her shirt, and I sadly had to tell her that she did. Later in that same lineup, the girl behind me was having so much trouble waiting that I peeked around a corner and told her we were only a few people away from the door–she hugged me. It was a really really fun night.

5) The music is worth it. Not every time, of course–some bands suck live, and sometimes you just aren’t feeling it. But in general, I feel that the *being there* aspect improves the music by about 20% on average and if you liked it already, that’s amazing. It’s neat to see what people look like and how bandmates interact with each other. Hell, it’s cool to see how they hold their instruments. I’ve never tried to meet anyone or get an autograph or whatever, but just being in the same room is pretty cool.

February 20th, 2013

Deathmatch

Every year I see a posting for a Broken Pencil short-story contest, click on it with interest and then recoil in horror. I am not Deathmatch Material. I like to think all us short story writers are our own special flowers, and though every reader might not like to sniff every flower, there’s room for all of us in the garden.

Broken Pencil’s Short Story Deathmatch posits a winner-take-all, hateful-comments-weed-out-the-week mentality, at least on the surface. In reality the comments from Canadian readers and writers aren’t *that* harsh–more, the commenters often seem to really engage with the stories. So though I quail from entering myself, I annually find myself drawn into a public-opinion-based literary contest that is actually about the literature.

Because, let’s face it, most public-opinion book contest *aren’t* about the books. At least, not as a “contest” is normally interpreted. Every few months, I’ll get an email or see on FB that an author I know/like/admire is in contention for one of these readers’ choice things, and could I please vote? Usually, I do it if I’ve read the book and liked it–I draw the line at voting for books I’ve haven’t read, no matter how much I like the author’s previous works or personality. But still, even if I know the book well and love it, my vote isn’t really fair, because normally I’ve read few or none of the competitors, so I don’t actually *know* the book I’m voting for is better.

In the interests of fairness, I should really go out and read every book in contention, at least a few chapters and skim to the end, before I make a bold claim that I know which the best one is. But let’s be honest, who is willing to do that without being paid? And who is paid–judges. That’s why I contend that the best people to judge contests are always the judges. It’s not because I’m elitist snob who privileges certain opinions above others; it’s because the only people who are going to read dozens of books in a year that they didn’t select for themselves, some hard to find, obscure, very long, or about topics that don’t interest them–are the folks on the payroll. The “popular” way isn’t even close to fair.

Amazingly, near as I can tell, the Deathmatch *is* fair. Of course, you can’t stop people voting without reading and the writers with friends working office jobs, who can set their phone alarms and go online to revote every hour, are going to do better than folks whose friends are teachers and construction workers. But it works really well. Each quarter final pits only two short stories against each other–it’ll take you maybe half an hour to read both, and then you can make a totally informed decision. You can choose to vote in any number of quarter finals–1, 2, 3, or 4 rounds. The semi-finals pit the winners against each other in 2 more rounds after–get this–everybody’s rewritten their stories to incorporate the feedback they got the first time around. How cool is that?

I voted in a couple quarter finals, but didn’t think to share the love. Now we’re in the semis, but it’s not too late–you can vote until Sunday midnight in the first semifinal, and all next week in the second. Start here and enjoy some weird fiction.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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