July 28th, 2018


I unfriended a bunch of people on Facebook. Whew, there I said it. I had never done such a thing since I joined the platform in 2006. It felt really harsh, but it was starting to feel harsh just getting on there every day and seeing such a wash of opinions from people I didn’t know or sometimes like very much. And in truth, I doubt any of the 60 or so people I unfriended have even noticed, though if you are one and are here seeking answers, they are below. Here’s how I made the calls, if you are looking to make your own f-list a little more manageable and actually friendly, per below:

  1. Anyone I had no idea who they were. I went through the list and if I didn’t recognize the name, I clicked on their profile and looked for some identifying detail–a photo, ideally, though a surprising number of people use cartoon characters or generic-looking babies. If I couldn’t jog my memory this way, I unfriended. I felt if I could neither remember how we’d come to be FB friends nor had built up a platform-specific relationship with them over the years, there wasn’t really much point.
  2. The dead. I was startled to find 4-5 dead people still in my list, and though I was sorry to lose them all at the times of their passings, I felt it was ok to unfriend. I left one in who had passed rather recently, just in case whoever is monitoring the account would feel back.
  3. People with whom I have no interaction on FB. Many of these were nearly in the first category–I can just barely recall enjoying chatting with them at a party and thinking we’d keep in touch online, obviously something that did not work out. Others are actually people I am in touch with by other methods, but for some reason they maintain an FB account they never check, which is confusing for me with party invites and messages, which they always miss. If we don’t have this connection, I’ll remember better I have to email or text those people if I want them to actually see it.
  4. People with whom my style of FB-interaction just doesn’t gel. This was the only category where I hesitated, because a couple of these folks might actually notice my disappearance, and I might have to do another pass when I’m feeling braver. Some of these were actually people I just don’t like–devil’s advocate-players, shit-disturbers, a guy who said he knew what sexual harassment was like because someone was mean to him once and it was exactly the same. Others could be lovely people and some I know for a fact are lovely people, but they way they use FB is often snarky, and they probably expect me to respond in kind and I just can’t, and being addressed that way brings down my whole day.

There, so that’s how I did it. I’d be curious to know how others keep their friends list from being overrun by folks they met once in 2009–do you have a method?

October 27th, 2017

Some nice things

I’ve been just maintaining this file of things I keep meaning to mention on the blog but I haven’t had time to write a post about each one and now there’s a bunch, plus some will eventually get out of date, so here they are, unthematically linked and without surrounding prose that’s worthy of them but at least I got to them instead of, like so many drafted posts, just letting them live in the drafts folder forever.

My friend Hilary June Hart started Cackle Productions to better share her wonderful humour with the world. You can watch her first video, the all-too-close-to-home Fertility Nag Bot Informercial and see for yourself.

My friend Kerry Clare wrote this great blog post on how to have a great blog (hint, not like this) and it’s really inspiring!

2017 Short Story Advent Calendars are available for pre-order and they look amazing.

Mark and I did a Pecha Kucha presentation you can now watch online. It’s about our marriage and it’s a bit sweety-sweet, but also funny.

The author Sharon Bala wrote a nice brief review of So Much Love, which I was especially happy about since I just read her lovely story “Butter Tea at Starbucks” (I’m behind!), which is up for the Journey Prize.

Andrew Daley’s new novel Resort is out November 2. I blurbed it so obviously I think it’s good–“Resort is a taut twisty story that starts out being about a life of crime but encompasses so much more: love, literature, and the limits of trust are all seen from new angles. I was enthralled from start to finish,” is what I said. But you should probably read it and see for yourself.

March 14th, 2017

Launch day!

So Much Love is real and available for your reading pleasure in stores, online, and–I believe–in libraries today. You can get a hard copy or digital in myriad formats, and then you can read it and see what I’ve been working on all this time–and even tell me what you think? I fixed my contact page so I’m easy to write to!

This isn’t the celebration I was anticipating for this book–things are challenging for me right now and I haven’t been able to do the obvious thing, go to a bookstore and visit my book out in the world. There have been some reports that it is truly out there, though–even on tables, even actually purchased by actual humans! So I’m semi-satisfied with that, though hopefully I’ll get out there myself soon.

But lots of stuff is upcoming, book-wise–perhaps I will eventually have seen enough of my book, though right now that doesn’t seem possible. A few highlights:

March 22, Book launch in Toronto!! There’s a complete list of events in the right sidebar, so I’ll mainly refrain from mentioning events I’ve talked about previously, but this is the big one, and I’m very excited. If you’re in Toronto and enjoy books, snacks, short readings, and–possibly–me, please consider stopping by.

April 2, 11am, I’ll be on the radio on Out in the Open with Piya Chattopadhyay. This isn’t even book-related–it’s an episode about personal transformation–but I think being on the radio is amazing, so here we are. I hope you can listen!

April 4, Reading for the Toronto Review of Books with Jessica Westhead, Heather Birrell, Antanas Sileika, and the one and only Mark Sampson.

April 25, Books and Brunch with Different Drummer Books at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Aldershot, with Trevor Cole and Kyo Maclear.

Before all of that, though, I’m finally going to make it out to a bookstore to celebrate another book, Mitzi Bytes by my dear friend Kerry Clare. In addition to being a very talented writer, Kerry is also the best Enjoyer of Events I have ever encountered, and sharing a book birthday with her has really helped me engage with the spirit of the thing. I also read Mitzi in draft (as Kerry did for SML) and can vouch that it is funny, wise, and surprising–can’t wait to read it in its final form. I will be raising all the glasses on Thursday, and speeding through the book soon after. You should too!

October 26th, 2016

So Much Love, Mitzi Bytes, March 14, 2017

Guys, I finished my book. I know, I say that every few months–I finished a draft, I finished a later draft, I finished the draft I sent to my agent, I finished the draft my agent sent on submission…long pause…I finished the draft that was sent to copyedit, I finished all the changes the copyedit entailed, I finished all the changes the proofread entailed…and that was last week. And the ARCs are out and cool people have them, and if you look to the right, you’ll see the gorgeous cover by Rachel Cooper, and if you click on that, you’ll be taken to the M&S page where you can preorder your very own copy if you like.

It’ll be out March 14, 2017, amazingly enough the same day my brilliant friend Kerry Clare‘s novel Mitzi Bytes will be released. I read an early draft of MB–as Kerry read an early draft of SML–and Mitzi really is a wonderful novel, finely crafted and funny, a novel that feels utterly real even though I would never have predicted how the plot works out, full of characters I know I’ve met before.

It’s so nice how these things work out, not that I even realized until Kerry wrote this gorgeous post on her blog about our books and our friendship. The post is on how to get over literary envy and it’s all really good advice, but especially this:

Make sure you’re doing what you like, so that even if nobody else likes it, you’re having a good time.

So I love my book and I mainly loved writing it most of the time. Or, ok, sometimes I hated writing it, but I loved the story enough that it was worth the drudgery of getting it written in order to be able to read it, share it with others.

Kerry’s the real deal of writers, and she has built her career around joy and generosity–joy at writing, joy at reading, joy at sharing what she’s read. I am honoured to be the spark that fired that amazing blog post, but really it is all her voice and her wisdom.

February 18th, 2016

Small talk: a how-to

Social media keeps offering me this article about how small talk is bad and getting into serious, important, emotional conversations is where are our interactions should start, not end. Which I think, with all due respect, is garbage. In the best light, this sort of thinking comes from a place of desiring genuine connections with fellow humans, which of course is a great thing to want. But it also speaks of not wanting to put in any effort–the effort to learn where a person puts their emotional energy, where they are guarded or vulnerable, where they would be comfortable speaking deeply and where they’d prefer to stay on the surface. This idea that we can demand an instant connections, brave emotional honesty and all that entails, from our fellow humans, is a big red flag for me.

When I was dating, some of the fellows I went out with occasionally opened a first date with the baffling line, “Gawd, I hate dating.” After I had heard this a few times and stopped being paralyzed by it, I started making a gesture to leave the room, sometimes muttering, “Well, you asked me out.” Similarly, when someone says to me that they hate small talk, my inclination is to respond, “Ok, sure, so would you like to start with the existence of God, or how you lost your virginity?”

I don’t have a lot of patience with these sorts of comments. I resent the idea that it’s too much work to get to know me, that finding out what I’m like and whether we have things in common would be something this person would skip if he or she possibly could. It’s like saying “It’s too far to get to Spain–I wish it could be just 20 minutes away.” But then it wouldn’t be Spain.

Small-talk can be awkward or embarrassing, or very boring, but it can also be as fascinating and full of personality as any late-night revelation. And it’s very very hard to make new friends without it. Hell, with the person I know best in the world–my husband–a majority of our conversation could be considered small-talk. Since I already know most of his life story, secrets, dreams, goals, and ideals, we tend to talk about whatever has happened since the last time I saw him, often only a few hours before. How is that book you are reading, what did you have for lunch, who was at the party, and what did you dream about last night are some of our classics, and I rarely find the answers less than interesting, at least a little.

So for those whose small-talk contempt is born of fear and not a genuine dislike of talking to other people, here are some good ways to get into it…

How has your day been so far? This one works in any context. The most obvious is someone you see often, like a family member or colleague, but it can be fun to ask someone you just met at a party, or an old friend you haven’t seen in years, or the barista making your coffee. It allows for an answer that is as specific or general as the speaker likes, and unlike some other queries, could never be interpreted as prying. You get to present whatever info from the day you think is relevant, from your health, kids, and work, to a book you read or a fluffy cloud you saw. Using it in the long form, as opposed to, “How are you?” kind of hits home the idea that you genuinely want to know, and cuts down on the “Fine and you?” responses, though you’ll still get those from time to time.

Whereabouts do you live? What’s it like there? This is a great generic question, everyone’s asked it and been asked a million times at work, at events, at parties, but the thing is, there’s a lot of really cool stuff to be said here. Everyone lives where they live for a reason, and I’m curious to know what those reasons are. Are you near all your childhood friends’ houses? Are there lots of old-growth trees in the yards? What’s the neighbourhood like? What are the good restaurants around there? Where do you get your bike repaired? This one can go on for ages without getting boring.

How do you know the hosts? Obviously, this one works only at parties, but it’s a great icebreaker, because you learn something relevant about the person you’re talking to–where s/he works or lives or went to school, whatever the common element is. Sometimes you also get to learn something new about whoever invited you to this party, like you didn’t know she was on a tennis team or that her work had certain elements to it. You get to know BOTH people better, and hopefully the conversation spins on from there.

Working on any cool projects these days? I ask this one most often at my actual job, where the names of projects will have tonnes of meaning for me, and I’ll be able to ask pertinent questions. But I also ask my colleagues in the creative world this one–it’s less scary than “What are you writing?” or “Did you finish your book yet?” It also allows people to talk about projects that they care about that might not have the status of “work” or a “job”–renovating their homes, teaching a child to bake, learning French. I genuinely love to hear about people’s work, but I’ve learned asking “What do you do?” can be a threatening question to those who don’t like their jobs, are un(der)-employed, or don’t work in a traditional sense. This version of the question allows the speaker to talk about what genuinely matters to him or her.

Have you read any good books lately? This is a question I’m always interested in the answer to–I may even write it down for later purchase if someone speaks passionately enough. I have found I need to judge this question pretty carefully, because some people who don’t read a lot of books find it a bit intimidating–“good movies” or “good tv shows” can work just as well. In these days of highly niche content, it’s unlikely that two people will like all, or even mostly the same stuff, but it’s always inspiring to hear about new things, and hopefully find some commonalities in there somewhere.

How did things work out with X? This is a fantastic question, because it shows not only are you interested in talking to this person, you remember what s/he said last time you spoke. That’s huge–it can be so baffling if I update people on elements of my life and then when I see them again, I need to start from scratch. This is a good question to ask because you automatically know this is a topic the person is comfortable and interested in discussing, be s/he has before. And you get to find out another chapter in a story you have been following, which is always cool.

An unusual but not prying question: At my age, everybody’s asking “Do you have any kids?” which is a fine and interesting question, but it comes up a lot. I am a huge pet person, and I found when I started asking “Do you have any pets?” I got REALLY good answers. It’s just not most people are expecting at a party or a business meeting, and yet at the same time, not really personal or intrusive. People who do have pets love to talk about them, but the thing I’ve found was that people who don’t have pets still put some thought into giving an interesting answer. They talk about pets they want to get someday, animals they know in other contexts, and their childhood pets (the VP of my department told me a great story about the cat she loved as a child!)

There’s a billion more interesting questions you can ask people that will both set them at ease and draw them out–and then you can gradually go deeper and more personal if the person seems receptive. Or not. I know plenty of people with whom I can fill a good couple hours with the above questions and feel as deeply connected as when I’m talking about true love and fear of death.

The commonalities here are all of the above are questions, not demands–“Tell me how you knew you were in love!” or statements–“Here’s the interesting thing about me.” It doesn’t always work, but usually when I show genuine interest in who a person is and what’s going on in his or her life, the conversation goes good places–big or small.


February 3rd, 2016

Name games

I have very strong feelings about names, but they are hard to quickly and easily define to people. It’s not that I don’t have rules, it’s just that those rules are not often comprehensible to others. Also, what does it matter? It matters that I am writing a novel with a lot of names in it, so how much sense the names make could potentially drive a reader nuts.

You get a name at birth and that is always your name–unless you change your name, but that strikes me as incredibly mind-boggling. I mean do it if that’s your jam, I don’t think it’s wrong or bad to change your name, I just don’t understand how anyone copes with, for a certain number of years being one name, and then later another.

This bafflement on my part is in turn baffling to others who know me well, because for the first 27 years of my life I went by “Becky” and then switched over to “Rebecca” after that. To me it makes sense because my name was actually always Rebecca, Becky just being a nickname for Rebecca. It was just that no one called me that–parents, other family, high-school, university friends, teachers, everyone called me Becky but I knew myself to be Becky or Rebecca interchangably and I did not find it a major switch to start introducing myself formally as Rebecca. I felt I was old enough to carry the three syllables, and I wanted less dissonance between my written and spoken worlds (I have almost always written under Rebecca). Many people could. not. deal with this change, and that also makes sense to me–see below–so I stopped asking family and friends who had known me prior to age 27 to call me Rebecca. So now all those folks know me as Becky, and everyone I’ve met since–grad-school friends, work friends, people in the writing community, and notably my husband and everyone he’s introduced me to–call me Rebecca. This makes perfect sense to me, no confusion at all, the way you wouldn’t be confused if someone pointed at a piece of furniture you call the couch and said, “Want to sit on the sofa?” Rebecca and Becky are synonyms, synonyms for me.

I am extremely respectful about given names and nicknames, and I am always careful to call someone exactly what they introduce themselves as. I would never presume the privilege of using a nickname, even though I love nicknames, unless I were invited to do so. This also causes some confusion, as the various Jennifers I work with are all occasionally referred to as Jen. I never did that, because I wasn’t invited to–I wouldn’t be happy if someone went rogue and called me, say, Bek–and they all thought it was weird. The Jennifers actually got together and asked me to start using Jen, which is also weird but I feel more comfortable doing so now. Basically, I guess I think, one’s name is one’s own–nicknames are at the owner’s discretion.

Although if you ask me to call you by a nickname, or ask me to GIVE you a nickname, I will be very happy to oblige. Something that makes me happy is that way back in the 90s, my friend Karen complained that she didn’t like any of the nicknames available to Karens, and I thought for a while and suggested “(W)ren”–the second half of her name, and also she is small and birdlike. She still uses it! I got the same complaint from an old workmate named Taylor and suggested Lori, which she liked but I don’t know if she still uses.

So, I’m down with nicknames. HOWEVER, it blows my mind when someone changes their name to a completely other thing that has no relationship to the original name. How I see these two categories of change as so different I have no idea, but there you have it! Seriously, when people change their names at marriage (the reason most of those I know who have changed it did so) it takes me YEARS to get it straight. There are people who have been married over a decade that I refer to occasionally by their maiden names (is sexist terminology? I feel like yes.) I mean no disrespect, I’m onboard with the idea of the name-change, it’s just that I can’t process it properly.

One of the great things about being a writer of fiction is that I have access to and control over tonnes of names–which is good, because my husband would never let me have enough cats to use all the names I like. I don’t have a science to how I name characters, though if you read a bunch of my work you can notice certain preference areas. I once got a baby name book with the idea that I would read through it and find new kinds of names for my characters but that did not pan out at all. Usually I just think about a character until a good name pops into my head and that’s that. I almost never change a character’s name once I’ve decided on it, which is why in my last book there’s a not-so-great fellow with the same name as my husband. Sorry, Mark-the-husband, Mark-the-character showed up first and I just couldn’t unname him.

And while I’m listing my naming oddities, I should mention that I can’t use generic terms of endearment–my husband and I call each other by the names on our birth certificates. I can’t explain this anymore than I can the rest of it–maybe it has something to do with how if anyone can be “baby” or “sweetie” than perhaps no one is? And this rule does not extend to the cats, to whom I regularly refer as “sugar plums.”

I also do weird things with nicknames in fiction–many’s the editor who has come back to me with a “correction” that a character is flipflopping between or among names. In truth, it’s that someone could be referred to by different nicknames by different people, but that’s a pretty hollow truth if no one understands and just thinks the story is sloppy. So I wind up changing it–in my forthcoming book, Julianna is almost exclusively called that, and I took out most of the use of Juli and Jules. This is sad to me, but it is important not to baffle the reader with my personal quirks.

Similarly, my editor pointed out that two characters have very similar names and readers might get confused–could one change? My instinct was “absolutely not.” It’s one thing to use a nickname or not and it’s another to give someone a name he never had before!!! Despite the fact that it’s an easy change to a minor character, I am a fragile point with the manuscript and I honestly didn’t think I could look at it with the wrong name in there.

I was being, as you’ve no doubt been thinking, an asshole, so instead of stating the above, I said I was going to leave the old (right!) name in place until the last minute before I hand off the manuscript–then I’ll do a global search-and-replace with a new, yet-to-be-determined name, and send off the ms without looking at it again. Which is clearly a batshit thing to do, but shouldn’t inconvenience anyone but possibly me, which is fine.

Next time you think an artistic type person is being eccentric just for the sake of it, please rest assure, I’m annoyed by me as anyone else. But I’ve had this quirk all my life and at the end of an exhausting edit is just not the time to rehabilitate it. So on we go–

Rebecca (Becky)

July 15th, 2014

10 Years: A Tribute

I have done very few things for an entire decade–other than be friends with a short (though ever-growing) list of excellent humans, practically nothing as an adult. This is not because of a restless, nomadic disposition (if you know me, you know that’s pretty laughable) but simply because I took a while to find my groove. I think I have found it at last, and I really hope that a lot of what I’m doing now (career, cats, marriage) will last me a lifetime.

But before any of that, there was this little writing group. In the spring of 2004, Andrew Pyper’s short story class wrapped up and four of us decided to try meeting on our own and see what happened. We never specifically decided to be a foursome, and indeed some other members have been invited a time or two, and might yet again, but we’ve always mainly just been us.

Writing groups, as you likely know, are hard–they require the time commitment of not only showing up but reading beforehand, thoughtfully and articulately, and writing down your thoughts in some fashion. Anyone who has ever been in a workshop class, where that sort of attendance and participation is enforced, knows how heartbreaking it is to see someone flipping frantically through your story two minutes before class starts–clearly, they haven’t put much thought into it or made the workshop a high priority. So through the evolution of our group, to have those guys put the time in on every story, year after year, is an incredible gift, one I try to reciprocate at every meeting.

It’s not like we’ve not been doing anything else. Ten years as brought us, as a collective, two masters degrees, three children, and a husband, along with a couple home purchases, job changes, and pet acquisitions. Oh, and a move to the west coast–for two years we met as a threesome, with emails and holiday visits to break it up–until our wandering member completed her degree and returned to us. It was if she’d never left. We have, to put it mildly, kept the faith.

These folks have of course, over the years, become friends–we couldn’t do this kind of work together for so long (and do it over dinner parties, no less) if we weren’t compatible sorts of people. I am interested in their lives and adventures, and they have supported me in mine. But it is kind of nice that we started *first* as colleagues, as fellow-writers. There’s lots of time to talk to other writers in the “writing community”–lots of weird networking/socializing hybrid time. I have no problem with this–this community has given me lots of gentle, lightweight friendships, people I’d rush across a crowded party for, though perhaps not call from jail.

But the people you trust with the stories are a different kind of people–that kind of respect for their judgement and sensibility does not come lightly to me, nor I think to them. I’m really truly grateful to have my little group–we never came up with a name–because it’s made me a better reader and a better writer. The opportunity to see such a long arc of creative growth in these folks has been immeasurably instructive, not to mention fun. We are all so much BETTER as writers than we were ten years ago.

I have a number of awesome reading and writing friends outside the group–true literary colleagues, not the party kind–but this collective its own special thing, and it deserves a sincere happy birthday.

June 18th, 2013

How to build a better book club

I am currently in a lovely book club, where every 6 weeks or so we gather to discuss a book we have all read, eat a delicious, vaguely thematic potluck, and draw the name of the next book-picker. It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s added a lot to my life, but still the bad-book-club memories rear up. The time I was the only one to read the book, the time someone was mad at me for not choosing a better book, the time we read four super-depressing books in a row and then everyone quit.

Like people who have been in bad relationships and then find a good one, I’m much more aware of the loveliness than someone who had never known anything else. I would like to share with you some of the things I think make our book club awesome, in the hopes that you, too, can build a better book club.

1) Gather like-minded people and decide what you would like book club to do. Sounds silly–book club will allow you to chat about books with friends, won’t it–but trust me: different people have very different expectations of even this simple social/cultural exchange. Some people want book club to be a purely social occasion–the book is the excuse and it is only the subject of conversation for a little while, if at all. Some people want book club to take the place of undergraduate English classes, and help them understand serious works of literature. Some people want book club to keep them current on major best sellers and prize winners, so that they will be able to participate in the conversation when those books are mentioned. Some people haven’t read a book since university and are looking to get into reading as an adult for the first time.

These are all fine ways to construct a club, but note: not all compatible. If you’re forming the club, ask people what they’d like to do; if you’re thinking of joining, ask what they’ve read lately. This matters! The girl who was mad at me for picking a bad book had not read any other books that month. If book club was going to be her sole reading experience, she didn’t want it to suck. I, on the other hand, was picking books experimentally, just to see what they were like–if it sucked, oh well, I would just read something else. You see how we weren’t going to get along no matter what.

Our current club is the 250-pages-or-less book club. We all pick books according to our radically different tastes, and we all read open-mindedly whatever anyone else chose because it’s short and sweet. Even if it sucks, it’s over quickly, and we’ve discovered a lot of gems in genres I wouldn’t have otherwise touched. No one has a tonne of time to dedicate to the book club, but we are able to commit to 250 pages or less, and to trying something new. But that’s what works for us–not for everyone, for sure.

2) Appoint a leader. Not a boss–most book clubs aren’t too hierarchical–but an organizer, someone responsible and interested enough in the fate of the club that s/he will send out the emails, pick the dates, and gather RSVPs. It sounds like a minor role, but in “round-robin” clubs, where rotating book-pickers do the organizing and hosting, things can quickly descend into chaos or the club simply ends because no one ever sent that next email. You’d be surprised at how fragile a book-club is.

Our beloved leader actually takes things a step further and organizes space for our club AND a babysitter. This is really above and beyond, but it also really helps. Having a dedicated space for the meeting with the kids safe and nearby and NOT whining about how bored they are at bookclub is great for the parents among us. The whole thing tends to run like clockwork, which all members are grateful for.

You don’t have to have this super-hero level of engagement, but you do need a basic plan to keep the club going. If you want to pull off a round-robin structure, it might help to have certain “rules” in place–we meet the 3rd Tuesday of the month or BUST, for example. And perhaps meet in a public place, or at least have one as backup, so that a meeting doesn’t have to get cancelled if the host’s child gets the flu or similar.

3) Have fun! No matter how edifying they find it, no one will show up after a while if book club starts to feel like homework, just another responsibility that goes in the stack with work, housecleaning, cooking, and childcare. Bring good food–it doesn’t matter if it’s takeout, this is not a cook-off. Bring stuff that people like, and (if this sort of silliness floats your boat) is somehow related to the book. Our club also meets on the weekend, so people aren’t exhausted and running late from the workday. That’s probably not possible for every club, but it is nice if people come in a bit cheerful to start. Make sure members understand that disliking a book is just disliking a book, and shouldn’t be viewed as an attack on whoever chose it. People should feel comfortable making fun of characters, speculating about their sex lives, and talking about literary influences on the author, sometimes all at once. You don’t necessarily need to read on the level of analysis like in a university classroom–sometimes people just want to talk about how much they love a book, and that’s fine too.

We haven’t done many extra-curriculars as a club, but some fun ones are seeing the movie or theatrical version, seeing the author read, or visiting places that were settings in the book. Our one field trip was super-fun–I hope there are more. I’ve never been a bookclub that had a visiting author, but I have *been* that author. It was a bit awkward–I wasn’t sure if I should contribute to the potluck, not everyone liked the book and they felt bad about it–but overall a fun experience…

4) Accept when a book club is not for you, and find alternatives. A friend’s club was disintegrating because no one ever read the book, so it became a dinner-party club. For time-pressed people who just want to see their friends, that might be a really good solution. I also kind of like the idea of a “book-recommendation club” for people who like to read but don’t like to be given orders what to read. You get together and all talk about the books you’ve read in the last month, and which of those you’d recommend. Then maybe the next month, someone has taken one of your recommendations and you can talk about what you both think. That’s a little lower-pressure, but you still get your book-jollies in.

It’s amazing how something so utterly unnecessary has taken the world by storm–trust me when I say I’m not the only one who has experienced book-club angst. But if you get it right, book-clubs can be so fun. I hope you find, or build, a good one!

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.

December 10th, 2012

The Legal Short Story

While I’ve been busy not posting on the blog, I’ve done any number of other things, mainly uninteresting and related to the course I finished taking last week (gag! death! disaster! doom!) The one cool thing was two Saturdays ago we hosted a party to celebrate a) having such nice friends and b) the making of How to Keep Your Day Job. We screened the film for said friends, some of whom had been so excited about it for so long it seemed no longer fair to keep it from them.

As far as I could tell, everyone loved the film–it was really satisfying to sit and watch everyone laugh, wince, and nod at the protagonist’s tribulations. At the end, I got many compliments, most of which were waived because I had nothing to do with the film other than the baseline story and a lot of enthusiasm. But it was still great to hear, and I’m sure the filmmakers, home with colds, felt the love even from afar.

One especially interesting compliment came from a partygoer I know less well, who surprised me by announcing that she loves short stories always, even when she’s not at a party hosted by one of their practitioners. I mentioned my pleasure and surprise at this, as it’s not the general attitude towards short fiction. She said perhaps it was because she’s a lawyer–she likes details only if they exist for a reason, and everything extraneous to be thrown out.

I thought this was such a great way of expressing the lure of the story–that leanness, efficiency. Some short-story proponents come dangerously close to anti-novelism with similar discussions, and that’s not my aim. Novels do something our friends in science fiction (hi, Scott!) call “world-building.” Novels create a whole life for their characters–clothes and rooms and jobs and friends (ok, a lot of characters in novels don’t have friends–separate post) and the ticking sound the car makes and love of romantic poetry. You are far more likely to know which way a character votes and whether s/he believes in God in a novel than in a short story. Which is awesome in the way that that’s awesome; and short stories are awesome in a different way.

I was just pleased to hear it described so well, is all I’m trying to say here.

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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