June 8th, 2016

Me and the radio

I grew up listening to the radio all. the. time. By the time I was nine or ten I was fighting my dad aggressively for “my stations” every time we were in the car. My parents gave me a small portable stereo (it goes to show how old I am that the term for that stereo has now passed out of social acceptability, as really it should have) around that time, and later a bigger better one that lasted me through university. I had it on most of the time I was in my room and though I was not in other ways a riotous kid, I was constantly being told to turn it down. I did own tapes and cds, but I was very very fond of the radio. I was not–and am not–wild about “dj patter” but there were particular shows I liked and would try to tune in for every week. Call-in shows about sex, music documentary shows, I would listen to from start to finish, often the listening being my sole occupation. I may be alone in my generation as a person who would sit quietly doing nothing else other than listening to the radio (well, not quite alone–there were a few shows I know my brother liked too).

When I moved to Montreal with my un-PC stereo, I eventually found another set of stations to listen to, though honestly I never found them as good as the range that was available in the Hamilton/Toronto corridor. I listened to them throughout school and when I moved back to Ontario I switched back to the old ones. But my constant listening fell away gradually as I entered adulthood, even though my parents bought me yet another stereo when I moved to TO, a very good one (note: my father is very passionate both about music and sound quality). Somewhere along the line I lost the ability to listen to music while writing or reading, something that was integral to my younger self–these days I can listen to songs with lyrics only when I’m doing something relatively easy or mindless. Do other people find that a problem in their middle years too?

Of course, the other thing I stopped doing was spending really any time in cars, which used to be prime radio-listening time for me. For years I battled my dad for radio control on the way to band practice, and then later I commuted alone and had total control–or other times, almost as good, I would travel with my brother, whose musical tastes have always aligned very closely with mine. I don’t love driving, but I do love radio, so it balanced out. When you’re from a rural area, almost any drive is a long one, and I listened to a lot of music en route to…everything. But from 2002 to 2011–the first decade of my alleged adulthood–I was almost never in cars for any length of time, and still more rarely alone. I remember being given the occasional ride somewhere in someone’s car and actually saying “whee!” as we went around a sharp bend, the sensation of being in a small vehicle (i.e.., not a bus) was so unusual for me.

When Mark and I moved in together, I got access to his car, and some responsibility for it. Since I’m the only one who can easily drive to work (he works downtown, where really no one should drive) I try to do it once a week or so, not only out of the goodness of my heart to keep the car in driving condition but also because it’s easier if I have to say, carry a cake, or visit someone far away, or be out late, or… Car ownership is insidious–I hate driving but it makes my life so much easier that I do it rather often. So after almost a decade away, there I was with the FM radio dial at my finger tips.

One shock was that so little had changed. My favourite station in my teens was 102.1 The Edge, for all my grunge and alternative favourites–which the station is still playing. In 2011 when I came back to radio whole hog, the situation was particularly alarming, a kind of all-nostalgia format that seemed almost to verge on an oldies station. Horror! There was a revamp a couple years ago, in response to Indie88.1 probably, where the Edge got more current and it’s a lot more fun to listen to now, that Indie88 is actually my new favourite. They play enough current stuff that I feel like I’m in the know, music-wise, and then just when I’m experiencing novelty fatigue–blam, “Blister in the Sun.

Which is all a very long way of saying, I love listening to the radio, and I’m pleased to have it back in my life after such a long absence…though I still haven’t really been able to get into the habit of listening anywhere but the car. I guess we need cars for something.

As you might be able to tell from the above rambling, I’m gearing up to write something bigger (and fictional) about radio-listening, but I can’t do it right now because I’m still in edit-land with the current project. So I just fantasize about the new thing, and ramble here–thanks for reading.

June 2nd, 2015

Things I feel awkward about

Oh, they are many and legion, the things I feel awkward about. In this case, I am not referring to social awkwardness, although those things are many and legion, too. Today I want to talk about experiences that weren’t awesome or terrible and that maybe I still haven’t fully processed–I just don’t feel exactly one thing about them and that is…awkward. These were all going to be separate blog posts and then I realized a) I won’t write that many blog posts in the next few weeks, and after a few weeks these topics will all feel irrelevant and b) they fit together this tidy theme. And so…things that made me feel awkward lately…

Career Day I usually agree to do just about whatever I’m asked if it gets me an opportunity to speak to young people. I’m at an age where teenagers and early twentysomethings won’t speak to me voluntarily at a party or even at work, but all my friends still have only little kids, so they can’t help me much with the zeitgeist (though they do help me get to swing on swings without anyone giving me weird looks). So I did a career day at UofT and it was definitely an awkward experience. I was on a panel on working in education, which was a bit weird as everyone else taught in some format. Youth today is much for savvy than I was in my uni years, and much more goal oriented. In part, they have to be–the job market it is tougher now than in 2001 when I graduated, and it was plenty tough then. I saw a lot of fear in the eyes of the people at the seminar, and I wanted to help them but I wasn’t sure how. One way they very much were like me in my youth is that they couldn’t really process the idea of jobs they hadn’t heard of before–teachers made sense to them, along with firemen and doctors and crossing guards, I’m sure. For those not playing along at home, I am a production project manager and that most definitely did not make sense to anyone there–I thought I explained pretty succinctly (and my job isn’t rocket surgery, as they say, though it’s pretty interesting/challenging) but most of the young folk were looking right through me. Hell, maybe they knew exactly what i was talking about, but just didn’t want any part of it. I did get a sense of the zeitgist (panic!) but other than that the day was kind of sad.

Klout Scores I had the opportunity to go to a seminar on how to land a book contract, and even thought I actually already have a book contract (and I can’t say enough hoorays about that) I went–it’s always good to know more about the business, and I wasn’t doing anything else. It turns out I learned a tonne, because the author who was speaking has an American agent and submitted her book to only American houses. It is VERY different over there. (Also, I should point out that the speaker, Rachel McMillan was so incredibly charming and well-spoken that it was worth the hour just to listen to her, and I will defo buy her book when it comes out!)

Anyway, to publish in the States is a very different thing, it seems, than publishing in Canada, and one of the differences is how many things other than an author you need to be. Skilled marketer and respected influencer are two; the presentation touched on Klout scores, which are a measure of how known/respected/influential we are on the inter webs. All of us, even if you don’t register for Klout or look into it, you are still out there, with our certain amount of influence in the world.

I’m really into quantifying stuff so even though I’d like to pretend I don’t care about Klout scores, of course I set off immediately to find mine out. It was a 10/100, which I felt sort of bad about but resigned to, but it turned out it took a few days for the data to feed into the system–now I’m a 52. On the one hand, that’s a bare pass; on the other, Rachel said influence begins at 35. I don’t even know if telling you this is appropriate in polite company–is this like revealing my weight?

Christina Kelly Has a Blog It’s called Fallen Princess and I love it even though it makes me squirm. If you’re not familiar with this writer, she was one of my heroes back in the early 1990s when she wrote for Sassy. When Sassy, the best and weirdest teen-girl magazine I’d encountered crashed and burned, I was already 16 and basically ready to leave the teen-girl mag world behind and actually, gendered magazines full stop, so I missed out on the rest of Kelly’s career there–she went on to Jane, YM, Elle Girl…and apparently did good work at all. For some reason, even though the Sassy writers put a lot of their personalities into their writing and I loved them all, I didn’t attempt to find out where they went or what they did next. Actually, I do know why that is, if I’m honest–I read them as fictional characters, and when Sassy ended, the novel I was reading about these people ended.

At that point in my life, the first person was verboten in anything but novels–everything for school or even the student paper or the yearbook was supposed to be this weird unbiased unreferenced speaker. The first glimpse I got of self-referential journalism and criticism–the world that would become the blogosphere–is via Sassy. And Rose-coloured is actually where you can hear the greatest influence of that kind of writing; if you follow the link above to Fallen Princess, you’ll hear a voice that echos distinctly around here.

Christina Kelly was the tougher, scarier one at Sassy–known for her sarcasm and being in a rock band. I thought she was an amazing super-adult, and I dreamed of having her life while simultaneously knowing I’m not cut out for a rock-and-roll lifestyle and I don’t understand sarcasm. And honestly, I’ve done a lot of amazing things in my failed attempt to become the person I imagined CK to be in 1994 (that’s a tough sentence to get right, but I think I got it), so the result was excellent.

But now, having stumbled upon this blog, I’m startled to discover that the target has shifted and Kelly, while still a charmingly brusque and funny writer, is also a suburban full-time mom, Girl Guide leader and yoga-doer. She still sounds like an excellent person to meet for dinner, but I no longer wish to be her. Maybe I’m just older and no longer wish to be anyone other than myself (which is true) but also I think this is a good lesson that people change and life changes and you’re not always on the road you think you are on. Or something.

I don’t really have an issue with the suburbs or the yoga or the Girl Guides, but I’m distinctly uncomfortable with the regularly-bubbling-to-the-surface subtext of the blog, which is that it is f–king hard to be a writer. I found this Non writer post kind of heartbreaking, because it is such a well written (right until it trails off onto another topic, but such is the license of blogs) meditation on not writing. But the post I Am Actually an Actual Feminist Housewife is probably the best post on the blog (and yes, when I found out Fallen Princess existed, I did go back to the first post and read it straight through like a novel–I often do that. Maybe I sort of wish everything was a novel.) It’s so complicated and honest and when you finish reading it, there’s no designated response, no obvious, “right on!” or “what you should have done” or anything–you just need to think about it.

So the awkward thing is that I’d like CK to write more for publication so I could read it, but I also think I’m happy for her that she’s comfortable making the choice not to…for now.

September 4th, 2012

1000 Things We Like, part 3 (10-year anniversary edition)–coming soon

Yes, oh my god, it’s true–we’ve been doing 1000 Things We Like for 10 years. I’ve been searching for the original introduction from the 2002 edition, but while I was doing so I found this–a description of a wedding I went to in October 2002.

“Then, oh god, then it was cocktail hour, actually slated for an hour and a half on my invite. They seemed to have some trouble getting drinks out, the hors d’oevres didn’t appear for about 45 minutes, there were no chairs, there was simply nothing for me to do but stand about and not be talked to. Which is what I did, the whole time. I started out leaning against this oversized mantlepiece, and eventually discovered if I slouched just a touch, I could fit under it, so I did that. Not quite as weird as it sounds, but almost. People kept looking at me curiously, so I’d smile thinking they were about to say “Hi” or “Beautiful ceremony, eh?” or “Poor you, all alone!” or something, but then they’d look away. I was wearing the same pale floral dress as I wore to M/D’s and M/L’s weddings. Apparently, for a fall, evening wedding, black is the norm these days. I think I was the palest person except for the bride. Honestly, it would have been impossible for me to have been more uncomfortable without being on fire.”

I can just about remember how miserable I was that night, but it seems *very* distant–like that girl is a friend I don’t know well. And if you told that girl that, 10 years hence, she would be at a wedding where she knew *everyone* and that it would be her own–well, I don’t think she could have processed that.

Kay, nuff nostalgia, I’ll find the actual intro very soon.

March 29th, 2011

The Old Place

I have started half a dozen amusing, insightful blog posts in the last week or two, and finished none. I am moving in two days and it consumes my life, pushing thoughts of writing–plus actual writing–out of my crazed mind.

I’ve been jamming everything I own into banana boxes, trying to figure if I’ll be sorry if I throw out the inexplicable package of castors I found in the linen closet, and scrubbing the stove for all I’m worth (did you know there’s a level below the level below the burners, but above the oven? yeah, there is, and it gets dirty too). In the gaps between all that, though, I’ve been indulging in a little nostalgia.

I’ve lived here just shy of 8 years, and I’m pretty certain they were the best 8 years of my life. It was the first place I lived where I couldn’t see the fridge from the bed, the first time I ever had multiple rooms and a dining nook–it was the first place I lived as a sort of grown up. I had only been in TO just over a year when I moved in, and I was really shocked when a lot of people came to my housewarming–the first Toronto party I threw–and we had a lot of fun. It was the place where I started feeling I belong in this city, that I could stay awhile.

I eventually grew to semi-hate this apartment, partly because I just lived here too long, partly because… Ok, I can admit this now, since no one will ever being invited over here again–partly because of a small but persistent vermin problem. Mainly because Mark doesn’t live here, though; I probably would have stuck it out with my little friends out of sheer inertia if I didn’t want to go live with him so much.

But it’s actually a nice apartment. You can sort of tell in these pictures, some of which (the not grey ones) were taken here. I’ll miss the 10-foot south-facing window that made all my plants thrive. I’ll miss being on the second floor and never having to take the elevator (I seem to have developed an elevator phobia without noticing, since I never have to take them). I’ll miss my rare and delightful bathroom window, my shiny dark-wood cupboards, and big deep windowsills.

I’ll miss all the stuff I remember when I look around here. This is where I wrote most of my first book and all of the second. The place where I learned poker and RPGs (well, one) and to make bread and devein shrimp. I got some amazing letters in that mailbox downstairs–ones that make me tear them open in the foyer to see what they said. Here is where I once crouched at the window for an hour, fascinated and sleepless, as a Portuguese family crammed all their belongings–one by one–into a truck in the middle of the night. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it was very loud.

I’ve hosted various book clubs, writing workshops and salons here, had great guests of all stripes and prepared some fabulous brunches. FYI, guys, I slept on the futon last night (bed has been disposed of) and it’s still really comfortable–hope you will visit in the new place.

But even the things that happened to me while I was away are memories about the apartment, too. Here is where I returned to from Costa Rica, New York, Japan, PEI–and was always happy to do so, no matter how great the trip had been. Here is where I slouched down at my computer with a bowl of cereal after great and terrible dates, parties, readings, my dissertation defense, horrible rejections, strange days at work, and everything else.

Here is my baseline, the background against which everything else has been happening. And the larger background, the ‘hood, my beloved Leaside–the best place in the city where nothing every happens. I’ll miss all the cashiers I know at the Metro, including the one who mysteriously knows far too much about me. I’ll miss the fatalistic incompetence of the drug-store staff and how all the ladies at the gym have Lululemon everything and massive engagement rings.

I’ll miss my neighbours of the present and the ghosts of all the past ones: the guy who I met by the garbage bins on my first night, and asked him how he liked the building. He said, “It is what it is,” and that has rung in my ears ever since. I will miss the guy next door who sold tires out of his apartment and the woman upstairs who had so much vigorous sex. I will miss the current upstairs neighbours and their ill-behaved but adorable puppy. I’ll missed all of the parade of supers, from Eric who was never around to the very first one, Raoul, who was so adamant in his refusal to fix my shower that I actually asked my father to speak to him.

I miss my (much) younger self, who thought it was ok to ask her parents to solve everything. My younger self who thought I would be happy in one secure, stable job forever; that made awkward conversation with the guy across the street even though I really dislike him; that did not know all the things I now know about my stove. I’m still pretty much afraid of everything (now including elevators!) but in this apartment I got a lot better about conquering my fears, or at least peacefully co-existing with them.

For all my (frequent) complaining, this has been a great place to live, vermin not withstanding, nor that time that someone stole my bathtowel out of the washing machine.

And now I’m ready for the next thing.

I’ll probably be offline starting Thursday morning until at least Saturday afternoon, possibly longer depending on how utterly Bell screws us. If you were planning to ask me or tell me something, tomorrow’s the day–but remember, I’m hopped up on stress and oven-cleaner, so I hope it’s not a hard question.

March 1st, 2011

Love song for letters

I am into sending and receiving letters. I am actually into all forms of communication. Writing is (natch) a favourite–but the letter-love originates way before I ever anticipated an audience larger than one at a time. As a kid (and still), I had no family beyond parents/brother/pets in Canada. I wrote a newsletter for the household, but that did not satisfy my need to communicate–I wanted to contact with the outside world. My parents attempted to corral a few recalcitrant relatives into writing to me, and I would get the occasional note (I actually got more gifts than letters in the post, so I shouldn’t complain). By and large, though, I couldn’t get the long-form sustained letter-exchange that forms literary collections (I was, at this point, 7 or 8, so you can’t really blame them–often my letters consisted of descriptions of the houses on our road).

My most attentive relative, a step-uncle who, unsurprisingly, was a writer, used to call me “my faithful correspondant” because I usually responded to whatever he sent by return mail. He also once sent detailed instructions for folding a letter into thirds so that it would fit into a normal envelope–a trick I’d been having trouble with.

In grade school, a popular writing exercise was to pass out overseas penpal addresses to anyone who was interested. I signed up every time the program was offered, and quickly exhausted pals in Argentina, England, and Norway. These days, most people who want to keep up a long term correspondance do so by email, which is fine with me–old-fashioned as it is, I’m more concerned with the medium than the message. But I do *like* getting letters, when someone chooses to send me one. There are a few people in the world who send me mail, and it does make me very happy to see a penned address in the mailbox (unless it is my own handwriting on a self-addressed stamped envelope, signifying literary rejection).

The point of all this is that I was so charmed by Arcade Fire’s We Used to Wait when I realized it was about nostalgia for sending and receiving letters. It’s a strangely sweet song, I think, off the (I hear) Grammy-winning album *The Suburbs*. You can listen at the above link, and/or read the lyrics I will now attempt to transcribe for you below (yes, I still believe the exercise of listening closely enough to transcribe song lyrics is somehow helpful for my writing. I’m just not sure how.)

We Used to Wait/Arcade Fire

I used to write
I used to write letters
I used to sign my name
I used to sleep at night
Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain

But by the time we met
By the time we met the times had already changed
So I never wrote a letter
I never took my true heart
I never wrote it down
So when the lights cut out
I was lost standing in the wilderness downtown

Now our lives are changing fast (repeat)
Hope that something pure could last (repeat)

It seemed strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
What was stranger still
Is how something so small could keep you alive

(We used to wait)
We used to waste hours just walking around
(We used to wait)
All those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown
(Ooo, we used to wait) (repeat 4x)
Sometimes they never came (repeat 2x)
Still movin through the pain

I’m gonna write a letter to my true love
I’m gonna sign my name
Like a patient on a table
I wanna walk again
Gotta move through the pain

Now our lives are changin fast (repeat)
Hope that something pure could last (repeat)
(We used to wait) (repeat x3)
Sometimes they never came (repeat)
Still moving through the pain
We used to wait (repeat)

We used to wait for it (repeat)
And now we’re screaming
Sing the chorus again

We used to wait for it (repeat)
And now we’re screaming
Sing the chorus again

I used to wait for it (repeat)
And now we’re screaming
Sing the chorus again

Wait for it (repeatx3)

February 22nd, 2011

Retro moment–April 29, 2001

I totally meant to blog all day today, but somehow none of my ideas seemed to pan out. Then I happened to glance at this really old journal entry, and it made me laugh–perhaps it will have the same effect on you?

Before you read it, I have to say that living inside my own brain makes it difficult to tell if I’m changing or maturing at all. Usually I’m pretty sure I’m not, and am exactly the same as I was at 18. Or 15. But a few things in this post are actually quite different than my current modus operani. For example:
–many questionable dietary decisions (this was before I really knew what fat content was)
–owned a Walkman (even in 2001, this was a bit odd, actually)
–spending actual money on *Glamour* (I would still be happy to read *Glamour*, if someone happened to give me one for free–paying for it is where I draw the line)
–spelling “deal” as “dil” (I regret this deeply!)
–casual use of the word “bitch”, a word I’m pretty careful with these days
–rather worked up over having to use cash machine. I can’t honestly remember why this was–maybe I had higher banking fees back then?

Anyway, here you are–a random day from 10 years ago, when I was slightly different than I am now:

In the first moments of the doomed April 29, I realized that I had no batteries for my walkman, which I wanted to listen to on the train. So, off I trotted to the dep, full of innocent hope. On the way there, noticed copious police cars and tape. Figure there was an accident. Proceed to dep. Select batteries and Butterfinger bar. As I go to pay, cops enter and announce that someone was just stabbed across the street, that the stabber is still wandering around and we have the choice of staying barricaded in the dep until they bring the dogs in to find him, or running home now. This is bad.

Bad for the person who got stabbed, bad for business at the dep, but also bad for me, who now has no time to pay by interact and has to give up five dollars of her paltry remaining cash. Sprint home, lock all locks. Heart pounding. Worry about friends who are out and will have to walk home alone. Freak out. Go to bed at one and lie there freaking out for a while. Wake up at five, in order to have an hour to get ready in. Worry about stabber. Have time on hands so do dishes?!

Call cab (note: cab lady is a lot friendlier and less likely to hang up on you at dawn). Arrive at station and give cab driver all of remaining cash. Walk in. Train is not listed on departure board. Get sinking feeling. Ask man at desk what the dil is with 7am train. He explains that it is Sunday and therefore there *is* no 7am train. I beg to differ, as I have a ticket for said train. Upon examination, the ticket proves to be for the previous day. Wish to kill man who sold it to me under the pretence of it being for Sunday. Wish to kill self for not checking. Put head down on the ticket guy’s desk. Is too early to comtemplate alternative plan.

Debate calling parents at 6:10am, but extreme exhaustion makes me unable to be considerate of others. As it turns out, *they were having breakfast and it was a good thing I called so early because they would have left soon to meet by 11:30 arriving train in the city an hour away*. My parents now exist in an entirely parallel universe. They are extremely sypathetic but have no good ideas. Mother suggests waiting three hours in train station for first real train of the day, but am not wild about that idea. Return to ticket man (all this while dragging suitcases, I might add. Heavy suitcases).

Ask him for phone number of bus station, which he writes out for me. He attempts to tell me something helpful about using the old ticket next time, which causes me to be snippy and say I can’t understand the machinations of the VIA universe because I have been up since 5am. Storm off. Stop and turn around and say, “Well, so have you, I guess”. Feel like giant bitch, likely because I am one.

Call bus station. For $60 extra dollars and several extra hours, can finally leave city. Hurrah? Return *again* to ticket desk to ask directions to bank machine so as to get cash for taxi. Extremely nice ticket man says he will pay for my taxi, which he calls for me, instructs the driver and opens the door for me. Am truly giant bitch. Props to lovely VIA ticket man.

Arrive at train station. Purchase ticket. Eat terrible egg and tomato (??) sandwich, made by the waitress at the restaurant because the cook was apparently missing or possibly dead (I ascertained this by listening to the waitress shriek “JOHNNY” for five minutes until it was clear if he was in fact still alive and in the building, he would be kneeling in supplication with eardrums bleeding by then). Buy Glamour and Chuppa Pops. Examine fellow travellers. Bus passangers have none of the air of shabby gentility of those on the train – some are different to distinguish from people who just sleep at the bus depot. I am puzzled by this, as the price difference is really not very much.

Board bus. At least are no chickens. Get teensy tiny double seat to self (makes you appreciate the turquoise semi-spaciousness of the train) and spend rest of day studiously avoiding eye contact with new passengers so will not have to share. Read Glamour, eat apple. Time passes. Woman behind me occasionally pokes me in the shoulder by “accident” and attempts to speak to me in some non-English, non-French language which she never seems to believe that I just don’t understand. Am past caring.

Wake up in Kingston with hood somehow over face. Each lunch lying on grass median of the bus station parking lot. Return to bus and lapse into blissful unconsciousness. Somehow arrive in TO *early*. Wait outside for family. See car at the lights, wave and trot over. They don’t see me and drive off, leaving me looking like a freak in front of taxi drivers, who honk at me. Eventually brother arrives and shepards me, whimpering, to car. Eat spaghetti. Go home.

Discover computer will not disgorge story that needs to be finished by tomorrow. This means must wake up at 8 as opposed to say, 3, to go to Bureau en Gros to see if they can print it out, which they probably can’t. Is now time for bed, if I do not slip in the shower and knock myself out first. Fingers crossed.

August 17th, 2010

Kids that I once knew

I think there might be something in writers–some writers, anyway–that serves as a reasonable counterfeit of being a really nice person. I don’t think I’m a jerk or anything (usually), but the amount of time I spend listening to other people is not something I do out of generousity: I am *fascinated* by what other people say. Almost all of them (except those doing home renovations).

Actually, maybe this has less to do with being a writer and more to do with not having a television, but anyway–it’s certainly not research. Don’t worry, I’m definitely not cribbing your words and experiences for literary reproduction, not even those of drunk people at parties who tell me their sexual woes, or people on the bus who screech into their cellphones about a knife-fight at the appliance store where they work. I would never put that stuff into a story, since it already is one. I just like the narratives. And I can’t help but think that it is, in some osmotic way, good for my writing to hear a lot of different voices, a lot of different experiences, all the time. So I am able to sell myself my own personal preference as professional development, which means that I don’t have to leave the bar and go to bed early when all my friends are bitching about their jobs. Hooray!

I think this love for narrative (and other people’s business) might explain why I enjoyed high school as much as I did–when else are you so intimately associated with people you do not know. In fact, you do know them, but it’s a form of knowing that does not come again in life: teenagers are loud, theatrical, bad dissemblers, self-absorbed, and often in close proximity to each other every day, 10 months a year, for 5 years. Sometimes 12 or 13. In my school, anyway, everyone knew everything about everyone. I wasn’t even well-connected enough to hear gossip, just overhear it, and yet I knew plenty about people I’d never spoken to except to do a French assignment in pairs.

This sounds like it could lead to snark, and occasionally it did: I was pretty judgey about the girl who cried in French class because she had just realized she wasn’t wearing her bra, and in a completely different way, judgey about those who were too devoted to the crystal-growing competitions. But I was also (no one will be surprised at this) the yearbook editor: I knew *everyone’s* name, and rather liked the idea of us all being part of one thing or at least one book. I loved slotting everyone’s face into their little boxes next to whoever came before and after in the alphabet, regardless of their affiliation. Everyone together.

That sounds lame, and, oh, it probably was, but here’s the thing: I went to a *really* good high school. It was in an area where parents had the money and the time to encourage their kids’ interests, and so did the teachers. Many people were in band, as well as the school band, which was pretty outstanding (FYI, I played flute, and was not outstanding). People acted, wrote, went to OFSA championships and did power-tumbling. And even the non-participants, the people I couldn’t coral on picture day (punished them by running happy faces in their boxes) were the stars of their own lives. I am firmly convinced that most people in my school were interesting, and almost all were very good at at least something.

I was really looking forward to finding out how it all turned out for everyone. I am *not* sure how I was planning on actuallizing that. I am still friends with my closest hs friends, but who stays in touch with random acquaintances, lab partners, and the girl who had the locker next time mine and a goth boyfriend. Aside from a brief misfire right after I graduated from university, I never lived in the area again so I couldn’t run into folks at the supermarket, and since I’m not actually *from* the wealthy suburb where I went to school, neither do my parents.

For a while, my lovingly tended narratives of my schoolmates had nothing to go on–did the bandboys take it on the road? Did university finally pose a real challenge for the science smarties? Did that girl ever find her bra? I pestered friends and acquaintances for who they’d run into in parking lots, gyms, sports bars, whatever, and asked questions like, “Did she/he look happy?”

And then came Facebook. People ask what’s the point of “friending” people you aren’t friends with in real life, and I say that’s the point! I have a lot of FB friends who I talk to in my actual life via email or phone or actually in person, and if FB suddenly limited the # of friends we could have, those guys would be the first to go! If I can talk to you elsewhere, I don’t need you on FB. But there are also plenty of FB friends on my newsfeed who just friended me because we are in the same high-school network–we have spoken since the 1990s, but I see their funny status updates, their wedding pictures, their workplaces (urgh, many people don’t post that–so annoying!) I get to continue their narratives, even though most of them probably barely remember me and would be puzzled by this post.

I eat the same thing for lunch almost every day, and if I liked you once, I’ll probably always like you unless you do something terrible like try to eat my cat. I like stories, and I always want to know what happens next. I think that’s actually a human instinct, not just a writerly one, and I suspect it’s part of what makes FB so popular.

October 27th, 2009

Happiness and Nostalgia

The Globe and Mail had a nice review of The Journey Prize Stories 21 on the website yesterday. Yes, I am always pleased when my name is on a book that’s in the newspaper, but mainly I am thrilled for the 12 writers whose work constitutes the collection. Especially for those who have never been in a book in the newspaper before.

The Globe’s review of The Journey Prize 19 was my first review, and that, along with actually being included in the collection, was part of a big huge shock to my system, that of real professional grown-ups that I had never met taking notice of my work. That morning, which was full of phone calls and emails, since I had no subscription and no clue such a thing was possible, was amazing.

I hope the current 12 had a similar kvell yesterday, and that there will be more to come. I am sure I sound like such a fogy, and this was all only two years ago. Actually, maybe that’s why the nostalgia is so acute–I’m not over the shock yet! I actually got an acceptance letter from a journal this morning and it took a moment to sink in–what, really, seriously??? Amazing.

I tried and tried to find the blog post from that 2007 Globe Review (or the review itself), but to no avail. But I did find this post, which might make you laugh.

RR

July 23rd, 2009

Peevish

When I graduated from highschool, we were supposed to write “obits”–little responses to abbreviated questions to squish beside our grad pictures in the yearbook and apparently sum up our personalities and lives in high school and after. The queries were PP: pet peeve, AM: ambition, PD: probable destination and K4: known for. Here’s mine (if I were braver I’d scan in the picture; I’m not):

AM: to have one, to be a licensed driver, to blowdry, to reincarnate my fetal pig, to name that smell, to get the fish joke
PD: the bus 4ever, sleeping thru the apocalypse, K.N.’s floor, crushing my rage into a tiny ball
K4: too much hair, “I don’t get it…oh, yeah, I do.”

Though I did get my license (I corrected the spelling error–“liscenced”!! jeez!!) that’s pretty much the same as I would write now, especially the last bit. But you’ll note–no PP! At the time, I thought there were no peeves I wished to be remembered by (if you think I’m obnoxiously rose-coloured now, you should’ve seen high school, especially at intramural badminton!)

So things have changed, as I do have a few peeves now. And as KateN’s dissection of a pet peeve has inspired me, here’s some headliners from recent peevishness:

–the tap of a fork-tine against tooth enamel
–the rainbow-coloured spinning wheel Macs replace the cursor with when something’s not responding
–when people say “How are you?” as an alternative to “hello,” without waiting for an answer.
–Cyclists on the sidewalk! oh, my most hated ever, cause it’s dangerous and not just annoying!! Like, I get that that many drivers in Toronto are horrible to cyclists, but taking a bike onto the sidewalk is like someone who is pushed around at work coming home and taking it out on their family–sidewalk abuse!! I got clipped by a bike-rearview mirror recently and was so very unimpressed.

Ahem. So, yeah, I get a little more tetchy as I age, I suppose. But I really would love it still if someone would explain the fish joke to me.

I was waitin’ for the hot flashes to come
RR

April 21st, 2009

Old School

Last night I dreamt that I was back in undergrad, and I had chosen a half-year course thinking it was a full-year. So in second term, I was a course short and somehow got thrown into a class not of my choosing, which I was completely unprepared for and hated* and was going to fail. Fairly standard anxiety dream, especially perfect given that I was going back to my old high school to speak this morning.

That’s a pretty fun thing to do, actually–I was anxious mainly because this event was postponed once before due to my laryngitis episode a few weeks ago. I was pretty thrilled to be invited back to my high school by my Writer’s Craft teacher, Pam North. When I was a whippersnapper, sitting in Writer’s Craft class writing ghost stories, Rachel Preston came to talk to us about her writing career, and made a huge impression on me. One, because she was a real writer and she still assumed human form. Two, because she said, “If you put an action or expression by the person into the same line, you don’t need a dialogue tag.” Brilliant.

I don’t think I said anything that wonderfully useful to this batch of whippersnappers, but my voice held up through the reading and my little self-intro, and then the Q&A did provide a number of quite insightful questions for me to work with. So I think we managed ok. More than anything, I wanted to convey that being a “real” (ish) writer is hard–endless drafts, rejection letters, balancing other work–but it’s something one can do. I encouraged them to send their best work to journals, to attend readings and meet other writers, to join workshop groups (after Writer’s Craft) and to take their work seriously enough to withstand the endless drafts and rejection. But not so seriously that they didn’t have any fun with it. Because what would be the point in that?

Is your bed made? Is your sweater on?
RR

* The non-standard part of the dream was that it was a drama class called “Social Problem Dramas” and I had to star in one. I was furious, because the play wasn’t even about any particular Social Problem but, rather, the concept in general. My dreams aren’t usually so satirical.

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