June 24th, 2012
I’ve spent the bulk of the past few days having mild food poisoning, so it wasn’t the best weekend of my life. But a few nice things did happen. Let me share, in case you too have food poisoning or other things you need to be cheered up about.
1) I was on the top floor of the Bay, headed for the down escalator, which was blocked by a woman trying to carry a heavy, awkward foldup stroller and lead her toddler daughter by the hand onto the escalator. Toddler was having none of it, and the standoff blocked my path. At first, they were just going to move aside, but then the woman asked if I could help her. I said sure, and waited for her to hand me the stroller. Instead, she hefted it onto the top step and said, “please take my daughter down the escalator. She is scared.”
Well, me too–for one thing, I know I am not a psycho but it’s not printed on the outside of me and what if this woman does this on a regular basis until she finds someone who is. But secondly and more pressingly, the little girl has started to cry. I took her hand, which soothed her somewhat, and when I stepped on she looked *really* worried but then followed me one stair later. But the second escalator (we were on the fourth floor to start) she balked. The mother was already half a flight down and the girl began to sob (I would put her at barely 2, I think). I gestured frantically at the mom. “Should I pick her up?” The mom, growing ever smaller in the distance, shrugged.
I scooped up the tiny thing, pressed her cheek to mine, and said what I say to the cat when he freaks out, “You’re fine, nothing to worry about here, totally fine.”
AND SHE STOPPED CRYING. This is what superheroes feel like. We went peacefully down the escalator after that. Her mother did not seem aware of the amazing feat that had been accomplished, but still thanked me profusely when I handed back the little one.
2) My beloved and I have been going to the same falafal/schwarma place once a week for about a year, always being served by the same very nice fellow who remembers our orders and tries hard to make small talk despite the fact that he clearly has a hard time with English words that are not falafal/schwarma toppings.
On Saturday, I went to pick up dinner alone (finally over the poisoning and excited to eat solid foods again). He asked after Mark and for whatever reason I told him we’re getting married, which he was pleased for and said is a good idea. I said, “Are you married?” and he said, “Of course!” I guess they don’t let you wear rings when you work with food?
Anyway, from this he went on to ask me where I’m from. I get this a lot, and hate it, but I do like this guy and I knew why he asked. We look a lot alike, him and me, as Semitic peoples often do, but we’re not all the same and occasionally that can be an issue. But after rebuffing my attempt at “from Hamilton,” he seemed relatively calm about the “Jewish” answer.
He turned out to be from Morocco, which I hadn’t been expecting. I asked him if he spoke French and he said yes. So very tentatively, I said, “Moi aussi. Un peu. Seulement lentement.”
Honestly, if you’ve ever heard me speak it, you know my French is basically crap–weirdly accented (I learned a lot of it from a woman whose first language was Chinese) and ungrammatical (I took a class on Quebecois slang, which imprinted itself rather deeper than it should’ve). I have a mid-size vocabulary and can generally make myself understood, but it’s a sad struggle. And of course, now I’ve lived in Ontario for a decade, much worse.
I have *never* had anyone praise my French more, or react with more genuine delight at my mangled conjugations. In the course of our brief chat en francais, it emerged that English is his *third* language, French his second (after Arabic) and he is much more comfortable in it. Indeed, he spoken very beautifully, without even a scary accent to throw me off (I have a hard time with accents even in English, actually).
I think he was just dying to have a somewhat normal, comfortable conversation in a language he can relax in, in the midst of what must be a long trying day in a language he can’t relax in. It was really nice to feel a bit of a connection there, across the counter.
Little things, but both really made my days. How was your weekend?
January 2nd, 2012
Hello and welcome to 2012–I hope you had an excellent holiday and did not spend as much time in the Halifax airport as I did. But except for that little blip, and the fact that I never seemed to get the time to blog as I meant to, I really enjoyed my time off. It was spent reading, swimming, eating, playing with cats, talking to friends, talking to family, talking to people who will soon be my family, eating, wishing for more cats, opening presents (so many presents), and eating some more. There was also a lot of sleep involved–sometimes multiple naps per day.
2011 was one crazy mofo of a year–a wonderful one, but there was a reason for all those naps over the holidays–I was exhausted. In 2011 I talked to so many cool people, read so many excellent books, petted so many excellent cats, there’s really no boiling it down. So here’s a list of random good stuff from 2011:
Best cat of 2011: Evan, who likes everyone and everything except boredom, who didn’t panic when he fell into a half-full bathtub (twice), who sometimes gives actual hugs, and who desperately wants to eat a moth.
Awfullest Moment: When I realized I had hired the movers for the wrong day. The fact that it was the realization and not the actual move that was the worst day tells you something about the excellent friends (and brother, and partner) I have. Thanks, Scott, Ben, Mark, and Wren, for being not only the nicest but the physically strongest people around!!
Best musical discovery on my part of 2011: I don’t know how long they’ve actually been around, but I didn’t know about Elliott Brood until this year, and I’m sorry it took me so long.
Best-Planned Book Launch: Jessica Westhead’s launch party for *And Also Sharks* was such a superlative example of fun and inclusivity for a book that actually merits the excitement that surrounded it.
Most puking: That honour would go to the lady across the aisle on my Toronto to London (England) flight, who vomited noisily for nearly four hours. Obviously she was very ill and I doubt that this small honour can make up for that–I really hope she was all right and able to enjoy England, but oh my goodness gracious, that was a lot of puking.
Closest approximation of my life in 1991: Nintendo Wii. Seriously, I was wicked good at Super-Nintendo, and some things never fade.
Best interviewer: Well, obviously I’ve not been interviewed by all that many people, but sometimes it starts to feel like I have–all the ones who don’t enjoy it (plenty of good ones, too, of course). But Kerry Clare’s stage interview with me on the night of my book launch was so thoughtful, so insightful, challenging and interesting, all those things the best interviews are supposed to be, that it makes up for a lot of inane questions.
Dumbest illness: Getting mono just before my 33rd birthday, and a trip to NYC. I was never *that* sick, but I was undiagnosed for a while, which led to the stupidest thing anyone said to me all year–“It’s probably not leukemia” from the doctor at the walk-in, which did not lead to a very restful sleep that night. They actually didn’t figure out what I had until I’d been prescribed the counter-indicated drugs, which resulted in the year’s (and hopefully the lifetime’s) worst rash. Also, now it’s painfully obvious that I didn’t get kissed much in high school!
Best rap video partially set at No Frills: Show Me Where Ya Noms At by Hannah Hart and Songs to Where Pants To. Seriously, watch it now.
November 27th, 2011
So I went out west to do a bunch of readings and had an amazing time–but I also was in 4 timezones in 4 days, and am now very tired. So this recap will be brief–but with links elsewhere, and a few pictures.
Before I left, the November Quill and Quire went online, including that review of *The Big Dream*. Also the December print edition of Q&Q came out, and if you should read it you might see a gang interview on the short story with me, Jessica Westhead, D. W. Wilson, Alexander MacLeod, and Michael Christie. You should read that interview, because it’s definitely interesting, but you should also take a look at the picture of us (sadly minus the east-coast dwelling Mr. MacLeod) looking confused and friendly, as your garden variety short-story writer often does. (Bonus: there’s an extra picture in the table of contents).
Then on Sunday the Winnipeg Free Press ran a short interview with me by Ariel Gordon, in advance of my appearance there with Ray Robertson on Thursday. But before that, Calgary and Vancouver. Here are some highlights:
August 15th, 2011
Thanks to P&J for making me a part of your incredible day. You guys go together as well as the delectable sandwich that shares your initials. May you be married forever, and always surrounded by friends. (P, thanks for picking such an awesome bridesmaid dress. And, everyone, would it be weird if I wore this to my book launch?)
July 15th, 2011
One thing that has always marked me out as a Canadian with American roots is that I don’t care much about tea. I mean, I’m happy enough to drink tea, if you’re putting the kettle on anyway, but I don’t find delight or solace in it the way so many of my fellow Canadians and, I’m told, Britons do. I don’t even care what you put it in–I’ll drink tea with or without milk, sugar, or lemon. If I don’t feel like getting up, I’ll drink it black.
But it was kind of delightful to drink a “proper” pot of tea on our first morning at Charlie’s. Given the extremely basic level of the room, I was shocked by the quality and generosity of the morning feast. Eggs, bacon (very strange looking bacon), all the toast and jam you could handle, tomatoes, cheese, croissants, and lovely tea–it seemed *richer*, without being stronger, than the Canadian bag-in-cup kind. Thus fortified, we set for the heart of London.
Everyone I talked to who’d been to London said the best part was just walking around looking at stuff, so instead of going straight to Russell Square, we got off the tube at Covent Gardens and just wandered around. It was a bit early to see much action there, but the day was lovely and fresh, and the buildings and old markets really are gorgeous. We wandered somehow to Piccadilly Gardens, which was terrifying–the most traffic ever in the world. We went to the Waterstone’s, a nice giant bookstore, and I finally got an A-Z map–then we immediately got lost. Or perhaps we’d already been lost, but hadn’t known it until we looked at the map.
Finally we gained Russell Square–Bloomsbury!! I tried to imagine Vanessa and Virginia Stephens, Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes and all the rest walking briskly among the old townhouses (less old, then), having brilliant conversations about the next great thing in art, literature, furniture, economics. I didn’t entirely succeed, but enjoyed myself. We found a bookstore devoted entirely to the works Swedenborg, sat on the grass in Russell Square and watched the pigeons, and finally went and got something to eat from a grocery.
We carried our food to the front yard (garden?) of the British Museum, which was an absolutely perfect place to picnic. See?
The inside of the museum was pretty great too. Mark had wanted to go, and since it was free (well, a 3 pound donation is recommended, which is still pretty reasonable) I had thought we could just drop in for a little bit. But both the space and the exhibits were pretty enthralling. What I couldn’t get over was the Enlightenment Exhibit–the British Museum actually *existed* during the Enlightenment, and took on some of their collection on an as-it-happens basis. I have never seen anything like that.
After another grocery-store meal (they have really nice prepared foods in English groceries–who knew?), we went to see *Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead* at The Royal Haymarket Theatre. We had gotten the tickets from of the 8 bazillion discount ticket outlets in central London, after seeing a single tiny poster for the show on the subway. Apparently, most people want to see *Shrek the Musical* or *Legally Blond, the Musical*, but I loved this play when I read it/saw the film, and wanted to finally see it live.
Totally great! The film, with Gary Oldman and Tim Roth’s portrayls of the title characters, is pretty firmly entrenched in my mind and I think many others’ minds, and it was so delightful to another brilliant interpretation that was so *different*–bawdier, goofier, just as weird but differently so. If you’re in London this summer, I recommend.
The next morning, we had another generous breakfast, this time including Red Leicester cheese, which I wanted to try because I hadn’t had it before. Turns out, pretty much like cheddar.
Then we hit the tube and parted ways, as Mark was off to Oxford and I was headed east of London to Dagenham. Dagenham is technically in another county (Essex) but such is the size of London that it qualities as a suburb and the tube goes there. There’s also a movie made about Dagenham, but I haven’t seen it and so can’t comment. Mainly Dagenham is where my friend K. teaches grade one (“year one”, I believe they call it), bakes cupcakes and remains awesome.
I was pretty proud of myself of getting myself all the way out there solo (over an hour, and without incident). It was also great to be reunited with K., who had left Canada a year and a half before. We hung out, ate chicken at Nando’s, bought underwear at Marks and Spencer, and went to the bingo hall in Romford. All the typical daily life of the residents there, which I was delighted to try out. Here’s me goofing around in the bingo hall.
Then to bed, because early the next morning, Windsor Castle!! I don’t mind doing touristy things when they are awe-inspiring, as Windsor truly is. After taking a train reminiscent of the GO (but with only one level), surrounded by the gorgeous and the posh on their way to a horse race (I think) also in Windsor, we got to this magnificent…fortress. Seriously, if you declared war on Windsor, you’d have a hell of a time getting in there. We saw all the stuff you’d imagine–Queen Mary’s dollhouse (I am a dollhouse enthusiast), lots of art and lofty rooms, and the best part, the changing of the guard with a random little show from the marching band. Here they are:
They we wandered Windsor proper for a while, before getting back on the train and heading into the heart of London, to the very beautiful Regent’s Park. Not only did the open-air theatre in the park have the most wonderous public bathrooms I’ve ever seen:
They have an amazingly huge and commodious theatre–not that the High Park Amphitheatre isn’t wonderful, but this one had actual chairs!! We saw The Beggar’s Opera. The set was so amazing it was copyrighted, as a very polite usher informed me when he made me delete the picture I’d just taken of it. The show was well performed, but at times hard to follow and…unimaginably filthy. What were people *like* in 1728? Oversexed and amoral, apparently. I was particularly stunned by the mega-meta ending, but it was a wild performance and exciting to be there.
The next morning we got a late start, ate a tasty Canadian breakfast (maple syrup!), and tried to go into town to drop my luggage off at Paddington Station, then go explore Camden Market for a couple hours before I had to get back for my train. This was the plan but…it was Sunday. I had been feeling very bad about how much better London’s subway system is than Toronto’s, but the nice thing about ours is that it mainly works every day of the week, while London’s becomes half-inoperative and entirely slow and baffling on Sundays. What should (I think) have been an hour’s journey turned into 3, with many crowded transfers. So by the time I finally left my bags and got to Camden, I had spent 17 pounds to be free of my things for less than an hour. Camden is very nice, I think, but all I saw of it was the Doc Martens’ store (wowsers!!) and a Pret a Manger, before i had to head back. And then of course the subway station we’d come out of had closed, and we had to walk to another one. My advice is not to use the Paddington left luggage if you’ll only be gone a short time, as it is the same cost for anything under 24 hours, and it’s very expensive.
After all that hassle, it was great to get on a train and just not transfer for an hour. It was still very warm on the train, though, and I hate sitting backwards, so it was even better to get *off* the train and find Mark waiting for me at the station in Oxford. After our merry reunion, we lugged my luggage (which I had grown to loathe) into the centre of town and had a little tour, before a delightful dinner at a centuries old pub. I had the mussels, which were younger than that.
Then we got on the Oxford city bus and went out of town about half an hour, to a place called the which is basically a rest area off the highway, although more advanced than the north American version–this one had restaurants, a mini-park. a grocery store, and hotels. We stayed at the Days Inn, which was very plain and cheap, but clean and comfortable and, thrillingly, had a door on the bathroom. There was a tea/coffee centre in the room complete with biscuits, and Mark had thoughtfully placed a Dairy Milk on my pillow. Hello, Oxford!
December 22nd, 2010
Writing about travel and Fred reminds me that I never recapped when went to Washington, DC, to visit said Fred. We had planned to write a joint blog post while we were there, but were too busy frolicking and never did. We attempted to proxy-blog by retelling the experiences of the trip together over Facebook chat. Facebook, annoyingly, does not save chats, and even if you attempt to cut and paste the whole of one, it won’t let you have the earliest parts if your chat was very long (ours was, of course). So here, below, is a very small refraction of our DC adventure, way back in mid-November (well, Fred’s DC adventure continues, because she lives there…you know what I mean).
NB that some cuts have been made for coherency/non-embarrassment. We catch up with FD and RR having brunch at Kramerbooks’ Cafe with some friends, old and new.
the danish dude was Bo!
yes all were nice
In my mind, it was spelled “beau”
we chatted easily
oh that also makes sense.
Then we parted, after our historic brunch…
right to eastern market
we didn’t even spend that much time in the market
we walked around the flea market for a bit
then the art dude was rude to you
WHAT A JERK!
The market was interesting, but we bought nothing. I think I was afraid of having anything odd on the plane, because of crazy customs
I have not forgotten!
how does he sleep at night?
on we went
towards capitol hill
and we stopped at that charming used bookstore
For the record, he told me left leg was blocking passersby’s view of his art, and could I move?
Our readers will hear about this!
He had painted an american flag on…what?
I love your outraged loyalty!
I also really liked that bookstore!
it was hideous and pointless whatever it was.
no I’m being too harsh
but you know.
I do know!
Your leg’s presence did not do his artwork any disservice.
okay yes riverby
Thank you! I feel that way too!
I’m better now.
we were basically kicked out (gently) by the security guard.
I bought a book at Riverby’s because I thought it was edited by my long-dead cousin, but it turned out he was Irwin Stone, not Irving (though everyone called him “Irv”)
oh it wasn’t your cousin?
But since I have it, I’m reading it, and it’s pretty amazing (selected letters of Van Gogh to his brother).
They were nice about it. Then we went to…Supreme court building, yes?
it was closed
but we ran up and down the stairs and took photos by the columns
and were just generally happy to be there.
I was fascinated by those columns, and the statue of a woman with a tiny woman in her lap!
Trust me, even though I was only able to provide a snippet, IT WAS ALL THAT AWESOME! But FBchat sucks for eating our chat.
December 9th, 2010
Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans. (Author: Shauna Reid) (www.reverb10.com)
I’m not really getting this–is Reverb a writing thing or not? Most of these questions could be answered by anyone, but one of the first ones wouldn’t have had any answers for non-writers…mysterious!
Anyway–parties! Like most people, I started 2010 at a party full of friends, and as recently as last night was at a similar event (actually, I didn’t know all that many people last night, but it was still excellent). My favourite parties this year…oh, the bbq in Moncton that lasted for 12 hours and involved moonshine jello shots and croquet (first draft of this said “crochet”…the ladybug birthday party with ladybug everything and adorable babies…the swish engagement party for estatically happy friends (whose families know a thing or two about food)…the picnic Mark and I held in Norwood park on a so-sunny August afternoon. Ok, and the formal Christmas party I went to last week, which was fun and glamourous and all, but almost entirely overshadowed by the fact that the centrepiece was a box of chocolates and the BOX WAS MADE OUT OF CHOCOLATE!!
I may never get over that.
November 16th, 2010
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).
September 20th, 2010
Of course, you knew that, because it’s taken me a whole day to write this, so you’ve likely already read Kerry‘s or Mark‘s or someone’s accounts. So just to briefly recap: it was gorgeous out, the crowd was sizeable but not intimidating and full of cool people (Toronto Poetry Vendors! CoachHouse Books! Biblioasis! The New Quarterly! Etc!
The readings were stellar, the children were well behaved, and though I accidentally bought the wrong kind of hummus for our picnic, that was good too. Unfortunately, something insectal bit me during Stephen Heighton’s (excellent) reading and now I have a giant welt on the back of my thigh, but that was really the only downside.
Souvenirs (besides the welt) include a TPV copy of a Michael Lista poem and a copy of Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting, which got nominated for a Giller today! As if you weren’t already excited to go to his book launch tomorrow. See you there?
And, from the non-literary quadrant of my life, I arrived home to discover that one of my dearest friends has gotten engaged, and I am to be the maid of honour! I am honoured! Although, after googling my duties, slightly terrified. One thing I must do is help make boutenneres, which as turns out I can’t even spell. I always thought those were just flowers men put in their buttonholes…how would one “make” that? Oh dear. I promise there won’t be a lot of this sort of thing coming up on Rose-coloured, but…the issue might recur. Still, hooray for love!
August 24th, 2010
With all this talk about the “How to Be Alone” video, I have strangely been thinking about times I’ve worked with others and it’s been wonderful. I am fairly decent at being alone–it would be very hard to write stories and not be–but sometimes the solo, non-social nature of writing bugs me. Sure, it’s nice to have total control over most of what I write, me being a meglomaniac and all, but sometimes it is nice to have someone to talk to about how it’s all working out.
So I’ve always been in writing groups and workshops. It helps to get feedback on my own work, as well as to see what sorts of cool stuff others are getting up to. It helps to keep the conversation about writing going with smart people I respect. Of course, I listen carefully to editors and try to really engage with them on what they think a piece needs. When someone is willing to share some of the heavy lifting of writing, I let them–it’s still mine in the end, but sometimes being drawn out of my hot little skull to a fresh perspective from someone else’s skull is wonderfully liberating.
I’ve also gotten the opportunity to take the process of collaboration farther, to actual shared writing projects. One writing group I was in collaborated on a murder-mystery anthology. I felt this was a pretty brilliant idea, and since it didn’t quite work out, I’m hoping some other group will want to steal it–do you? What we did was, we brainstormed a character and a bit of backstory, and then a scenario in which she is found dead in her apartment building. Then each of us individually wrote a short story for one other tenant in the building, in which each person had motive and opportunity for the crime. Then we were going to collaborate on a final story, revealing the true killer, but the group disbanded before that happened. I’m still rather proud of my piece, though I have to admit that without the context of its sister stories, it doesn’t make complete sense. Still it was a really fun process–everyone went in such different directions that it was really entertaining, as well as instructive to hear the stories presented every meeting.
Somewhere around then, I was also writing a satirical romance round-robin style, with about a dozen other people. A round robin is where each person writes a paragraph adding on to what’s gone before. It’s like improv in the sense that you need to work with, not against, anything you are handed when you enter: if the write of the previous paragraph says that aliens landed, and you undermine it by saying that it was a hallucination brought on by bad ham, the forward momentum and structure of the piece is imperilled–you’ve just wasted 2 paragraphs, basically. But round-robin writing is, also like improv, best suited to silliness! Our love story was hilarious, but not anything anyone could actually print or publish or even read seriously. I also don’t think it had an ending.
An even simpler–and sillier–version of such shared stories is Little Papers (Petites Papiers), a game that I think Fred introduced me to (right, Fred?) in first-year university. This is a blind round robin–you sit in a circle, each writes one part of the story folds it over and passes it on to the next person to write the next bit. We always played with 3-6 people, but I think it would be fun even with 2. Our stories had a standard structure, as follows (how many great novels can you apply this structure to?)
Where they meet
What she says to him
What he says to her
What happens next
Somehow the results were never not funny. I think you could also play it with less structure, just sentence-sentence-sentence, but that runs the risk of, like our round robin, never ending.
The round robin and little papers exercises are probably best suited to goof-off activities for word nerds, or classroom activities to teach kids of have fun with writing and enjoy working together. As serious fictional enterprises, maybe they won’t work so well (though I’d love to hear an example where 30 people wrote the great Canadian novel in round robin or some such). And also, these are a projects where collaboration is limited: everyone creates singly and contributes, rather than creating collectively. Creating collectively, as we know from marketing campaign brainstorms, focus group film endings and themed bridal showers, often ends in inane results, no results, or hand-to-hand combat.
So the only time I ever wrote something in full collaboration with someone–no “my-part-your-part”–was with someone I have always been comfortable throwing shoes at or biting*, my younger brother. We wrote three episodes of a sitcom together a couple years ago, mainly because we both laugh at the same stuff and have the same strong opinions on how sitcoms should be. Who knows it is actually a good idea to try to write something funny with someone with a similar sense of humour; certainly, not everyone agrees with us and perhaps it would help the universality of our show to have someone on the team who did not collapse in hysterics at our elaborate clowns-at-Starbucks setup.
It wasn’t all hilarity and delicious snack items, though–ok, it was mainly. We wrote it for no particular reason except it’s nice to have an activity sometimes; basically, to entertain ourselves. That certainly worked, though we did nearly come to blows about how to turn off track changes (on Word for Mac, apparently, you just never do). But I do think it was a good exercise in making a single unified work out of two disparate views (even if the disparity is only slight). Maybe next time I’ll work someone who is not a blood relative, even someone I wouldn’t chase with a stick. The sky is the limit.
But actually, I really liked working with my brother.
*What, like you weren’t hard on your siblings?