January 24th, 2018

Many things are terrible/1000 things we like is back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

461. A couple fleece blankets for myself.

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

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

February 23rd, 2015

Photos by Mark Raynes Roberts

I had the privilege of doing a photo shoot with artist Mark Raynes Roberts as part of a project he is doing, photographing Canadian authors. It will be displayed in the fall, if you’re curious to see it. I certainly am! In the meantime, here’s a selections of shots of me, courtesy of Mr. Roberts. Eventually, when I do a proper update of this site (ie., pay someone to do one) I will include one of these in the bio section, but for now all I know how to do is post them here… Feel free to let me know your favourite…I’d be curious!

I think this one is my favourite...

I think this one is my favourite…

I like the meta aspect of the photo with photos in background...

I like the meta aspect of the photo with photos in background…

Shifty eyes...somehow one of my best looks!

Shifty eyes…somehow one of my best looks!

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)
Circuit training
Long-distance running
Fancy baking
Cat clicker training
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?

May 10th, 2013

Let Me Entertain You

I have come across (or remembered) a higher-than-average of quality stuff on the internet lately. Let me share it for your possible entertainment…

Allie Brosh, much-beloved blog artist behind Hyperbole and a Half, is back. She had this zany comic based on her life, illustrated in childish MSPaint drawings, for quite a while, and a lot of people loved it. She’s actually quite a good artist and her quasi-naif style is adorable but doesn’t really limit the range of emotions she can show (which is probably why I didn’t like Parenthood: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures, because those pictures are genuinely bad [though it’s still a sweet little book]). Anyway, then she disappeared for a few months and came back with a post about depression that was so sad and wise and actually quite funny. Everyone was happy she was working through it. Then she disappeared for a year and half, and returned yesterday with Depression Part Two, which accounts for the past year, in which things apparently got much worse. Hilariously so, at least in retrospect. I love her style and humour, plus I’d been worried about her (genuinely–it’s amazing what feelings you can feel about internet people) so I was really happy to see this. The post also got 5000 comments in a day, which is lovely. As we all know, most comments people post on internet forums are deranged rubbish, but the majority of the comments I saw were more “yay!” and “I’m glad you’re still alive” and “thanks for writing this.” It actually got a bit boring after a few hundred of those, so I stopped reading–if things got mean and weird later, please don’t tell me. I prefer my illusions.

I rewatched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off recently, owing mainly to the fact that people without Netflick or Apple TV are now sorely limited in where they can obtain movies to watch at home, and whenever our local library has a DVD I think I might like that doesn’t look like it’s been dumped in a food processor, I bring it home. This film definitely has its charming moments, but I found it much harsher and more callous than I’d recalled. Poor taken-advantage-of, abused-child Cameron! And I guess that’s the difference between the 80s and now, but I found I couldn’t get too excited about an entitled, unemployed 17-year-old white boy spending his parents’ money in Chicago and whining about no one buying him a car. A few years ago, an enterprising film editor reworked some footage into a trailer for what looks like a much better film–as we watched the real one, I found myself wishing for the imaginary one. But I still loved Jennifer Grey and Charlie Sheen’s little moment!

My friend Suzanne Alyssa Andrew wrote a wonderful book called Circle of Stones, and excerpt of which has now been set to music by Menalon and made available on Soundcloud. Enjoy!

My husband wrote a great post about how to read literary journals and, you know, enjoy the experience. It’s good reading of itself and will probably inspire you to go read some more!

Kay, that should keep you busy for a while. Have a great weekend!

May 7th, 2012

Rose-coloured reviews *A Nail in the Heart* by Ian Daffern

I am a text-based person–very used to getting all my information, entertainment, and general stimulus from words. My visual perception is not highly evolved. I do actually know what matches, clothing-wise, and when a page layout is poorly done, but it doesn’t bother me all that much–I have to force myself to notice.

So it’s an odd experience for me to read a graphic novel. I’m excited, I’m looking forward to it, but I’ll read a few pages without following too well, pause in confusion, then flip back and look at the images. Ah, I’ll say, that does make sense.

Graphic novels are not just novels with pictures in them–they are a completely other form of storytelling, where words and pictures are highly integrated and symbiotic–neither one could stand alone–telling a story in concert.

This is all a very long preamble to explain why, while I enjoyed *A Nail in the Heart* very much, I perhaps didn’t get everything out of it I could’ve. This short story collection by variously creative person (I can’t figure out how to say he’s active in a number of media–what is that term?) Ian Daffern has three short stories, each illustrated by a different artist. The affect is cool–it’s like a mixed tape, in that the modes and styles of the pieces are all different, but united by a single sensibility in the stories being told.

The stories being told, FYI, are horror, which is also something new for me. The first is “Bring Me the Head of Osama Bin Ladin!” The tone is noirish–a grizzled old fed on an errand for “Eagle One” to bring in proof that bin Ladin is actually dead–guess what kind of proof? Noel Tuazon’s art fits the tone and the gross, grim subject matter quite well. The lines blur slightly in the illustration, it seemed to be, giving the impression both of a dark night and secrets obscured. Very affective. As usual, I had trouble following, but once I’d worked it all out, the ending left me with a shiver.

“Bird of Paradise” and “Eyes in the Sky” were illustrated by Shari Chankhamma and Frank Fiorentino respectively. Both had a more realistic look to them–clearly drawn faces and backdrops, details like freckles on noses and buttons on shirts easy to pick up on. Despite this, both stories were very dark. My favourite piece was “Eyes in the Sky,” because it was the funniest–not just black irony like the other pieces, but some character and dialogue humour along the way. My sort of thing–even though the story ended very bleakly, it still made me smile.

It’s going to be a long journey for me to learn to understand the graphic genre, but I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit and *A Nail in the Heart* an excellent step in the right direction.

Since there are 12 books in my To Be Read Challenge, I thought it be easiest to remember if I simply do one a month. *A Nail in the Heart* is the April/4th book book.

December 22nd, 2011

Liking: Not Just for Facebook

While I’ve been completely dug under with horrible work, some things I wrote early, before the weight of the world crushed me, have been going up online. Good to remember my more positive days!!

A book I like, on the Advent Book Elf: And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead

A journal I like, on The Literary Type blog: The New Quarterly

A website I like likes me back: Salty Ink’s Top 10 Canadian Books of Short Fiction

An artist I like: Marc Chagall and the Russian Avant Garde. Ok, that’s not online, but if you have a chance to see the exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, go. So good, so joyful.

Also, hey, it’s Hanukkah, and almost Christmas, and the weather is nice. I still have so much to do but I think I can be the light (candles? twinkle lights?) at the end of the tunnel, and it’s sparkly.

June 8th, 2011

What Else I’ve Been Doing

I guess the reason I’m not writing longer posts is that I’m busy with all this other stuff!

Filling out the Toronto Service Review (link/idea via Scott). I gotta admit, this is a boring survey, constructed with autofill templates (how else would you explain a question asking if homeless shelters should be funded with user fees?) Still, I feel it’s the least I can do to fill it out–our city government is basically asking what it can get away with cutting, and we have to tell them (well, I have to tell them) that I care about things that I don’t even personally benefit from, and a small tax savings isn’t going to comfort me when I see our services rotting because those who need them most are so poor and pointless. Ahem. I think it’s a good thing to fill it out. Even is you don’t agree with me.

Watching online episodes of My Drunk Kitchen (link/recommendation via Shannon). This is a very funny silly show that is a good five minute way to recuperate from doing something not fun, like filling out the above-mentioned survey.

Taking that V.S. Naipaul quiz (link/idea via Mark) to see if I can identify a male or female author by reading a few sentences of his/her prose. I got 6/10, which is slightly better than I would get if I just guessed at random (I think; I’m not a statistician). So no, no I can’t tell.

Reading Carolyn Black’s book The Odious Child, which is really brilliant and deeply weird, an excellent combination. My favourite story is “Games”–what’s yours?

November 16th, 2010

This post is full of friends

1) Washington, DC, at least as hosted by the wonderous Fred is delightful.
2) AMT (also wonderous) pointed out that the link to Oberon’s site (which you might want to click on for various reasons, including investigating Best Canadian Stories 10) was broken. But now it isn’t.
3) The new New Quarterly is now out and about, with some very interesting portraits (including one of me), stories (including one by Jessica Westhead) and essays (including one by Kerry Clare).


October 1st, 2010

Bits of fame

Remember that crazy time I had my portrait painted? Well, The New Quarterly is going to run it, along with portraits of a bunch of other very cool writer-types, plus our little essays about the experience we had being rendered as art. All this in the fall issue–excitement (especially since I haven’t seen any of the other portraits, or even heard who all the writers are–I’m so curious!)

Also, if you know anyone who lives or will be in or near North Bay tomorrow night, please encourage them to come out to Circus Wonderland at the WKP Kennedy gallery (link at right) to see some cool bands and video installations, plus me reading a story from my book-to-be. Should be a fun evening!

And final bit of fun fame stuff: my friend’s mom is taking some university classes geared towards retired folks. She showed him some brochures, and as he flipped through the “CanLit Now” one, a name caught his eye… I am pleased to no end!

May 18th, 2010

Road Trips

I wrote this chapbook and Caryl Peters gave it the lovely cover.

I wrote this chapbook and Caryl Peters gave it the lovely cover.

My copies of “Road Trips” have arrived and they are so gorgeous. You can see the cover at right, and that does convey a lot of it, but it’s the paper, too, and the end papers (oh my goodness, those endpapers). And the interior illustrations! I have never had a book with images in it before! I tried and tried to take a picture of myself with the book (my great idea was to lie on the floor with the book on my chest and hold the camera up above me–not a win) but I think you are just going to have to take my word for it (or order one for yourself).

This is totally not going to become a blog with contant pictures in every post–I have just had a lot of really attractive pictures to post lately. Swears.

Something about the content, maybe: the two stories in this book are called “From an Eastern University” and “The Least of Love.” Both are road trip stories (natch), concerning people who know each other well (roommates in one, a couple in the other) trapped in a car together–really, that scenario is bound to be a story one way or another (except my road trip this weekend, which promises to be serene and full of witty conversations and delicious breakfast foods).

A lot about seeing this material in print make me happy. Both stories contain characters I’ve been working with for a long time (if you’ve read Once, you’ll recognize at least a few people), and I really do like travel/motion stories. And well…yeah, I’m happy about this little book!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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