May 22nd, 2015

My Life in Birthdays

As I approach epic 37 on Saturday, I have been thinking about birthdays past and trying to see how many I can recall. When I began writing this post, I didn’t think I could make it have a larger meaning than “It’s fun for me to remember” but the time I’d delved backwards through 15 years of notes and photos and diaries, trying to figure out how I spent each milestone, I realized that I had learned something–I feel in the moment like I never change but I have… 23-year-old RR was so different from almost-37-year-old RR that it’s shocking. I think I have finally impressed upon myself that I am truly aging. How odd. Anyway, here’s how I spent every birthday, more or less, since my champagne year…

36: I threw a big birthday party for myself, something I hadn’t done since high school. Somehow I thought people would find it self-important or an imposition, which doesn’t make any sense because I go to lots of self-thrown birthday parties myself and find them delightful. So I did it and it was wonderful and I suppose if anyone was annoyed by it, they just didn’t come–lesson learned!!

35:  This was a more chill birthday. It had occurred to me that I never go to fancy restaurants even though I am no longer dead broke and could do so once in a while. So Mark and I went to Joso’s for Italian style seafood and a decor of naked ladies. It was pretty great.

34: I was able to pull up the other memories here without any help, but I can’t for the life of me remember what I did this year. There’s no blog post about it and no birthday pictures on Facebook except for my colleagues taking me out to East Side Mario’s, as they do every year (love!) But usually I would do something else in the evening or on the weekend to celebrate…very mysterious. If you were there, what happened??

33:  Challenging birthday–I had to go to NYC for 24 hours for a reading, plus I had both mono and a terrible rash from some misprescribed medication. But I got home and Mark gave me ice-cream cake and then I felt better.

32: Mark and I went to Montreal and I got the courier bag I carry to this day. I also maintain 32 is the best age because it is the only 5th power in the human lifespan. I enjoyed it anyway!

31: I was visiting my brother in Tokyo and we did a whole day of celebrating. One of my favourite birthdays ever (36 is also in that category).

30: My good friend Penny threw me a birthday party in the party room of her condo, although curiously this post doesn’t mention that–I wonder why? Anyway, it was a fun party and I remember it fondly. However, unlike all of the above birthdays, this one seems like a different era, a very long time ago. And it really was a different time–Penny moved out of that condo shortly thereafter, my friend Kim who brought a multi-tiered neon-frosted cake to the party went on to move to England, Kerry and Stuart were at the party and they didn’t have any children yet!! Most importantly, I suppose, though it seems all of a piece, this is the last birthday before I met the man whom I later married. Truly this was a previous age of RR.

29: Apparently I went to Port Dover with my family for my 29th birthday but honestly this isn’t a crystal-clear memory. 2007 was also the first year of this blog, so props to that!

28: We are now fully in territory I don’t remember, but I can check diaries and photo albums to figure it out. I spent this birthday with my family, as my brother had just returned from most of a year abroad and I was very glad to see him. Apparently the Kimster also gave me a kit to hand-embroider a silk scarf, which sounds so lovely but what did I do with that??

27: This is now pre-Facebook for me and my diary deals but a glancing blow on the birthday. I seem to have been in a bit of a low state on my birthday, frightened of going back to school and being unemployable. Fred came to visit shortly after the birthday and that cheered me up. As well it would!

26: Apparently I went to see Shrek 2 on my 26th birthday??? This is where old RR differs significantly from young RR, as I can’t imagine why I would have wanted to do that. It’s starting to feel a bit creepy, investigating these old events as if they were the work of a stranger into whom I have no insights.

25: All I know is I described the day as “excellent” and Melanie gave me sea monkeys. I seem to remember those sea monkeys…maybe. Also, I made this statement–really funny to me now that I felt mocking of the idea of Young People when I was all of 25. “I am all lethargic and groggy. All I want to do is lie on the couch and read Fashion, a truly dreadful magazine that my mother receives in the mail for no reason and saves for me because it seems, in her eyes, to be meant for Young People”

24: My notes from my 24th birthday are a bit demented. Apparently I was working at both of the jobs I had at that point on my birthday, as well as going to a class, so my plan was to “go out at midnight.” Not sure what I meant by that–hope I had fun! I sound very tired in this entry.

23: I was living at home after university graduation at this point and a touch depressed, but I actually do remember this birthday because my home bedroom still contains a “Becky is 23!” banner that Kim brought over. I think there was cake and other friends in there too. I was excited that it was my champagne birthday even though I had no desire to drink champagne…and didn’t.

22: I didn’t keep any kind of diary (that I recall, anyway) in university, but because I stayed in Montreal the summer after third year and almost none of my friends did, I can guess by default I spent this birthday with my friend Wren and maybe Zainab. I have a vague sense that maybe we saw a movie…?

 And that’s as far as I can even guess. The summers after first and second years I went back to Ontario to work so I guess I spent my birthdays with people there, but I don’t recall. I could start going through high-school diaries and photo albums but I actually really don’t want to–this is enough nostalgia for one post.

Only one pre-20s birthday stands out, which is my 16th. I had read a story somewhere in which a girl was born in a leap year on February 29, so her birthday only occurs every four years. Thus, when she’s 16, it’s her “fourth” birthday and she throws a party appropriate for pre-schoolers. Which I thought was awesome, so I did it too, even though my birthday isn’t on February 29. Details! I remember my friends and I really enjoyed this silliness–I guess we all like having a little glimpse of our youth every now and then…

 

February 3rd, 2013

The Sky Has Always Been Falling

I came to Toronto to work in publishing at the beginning of 2002, just before Stoddart and General Publishing imploded. At the time, I was acquainted with only a very few bookfolk, but all were startled and scared about their jobs and the industry at large–they predicted that things were going to change a lot, for the worse, right away.

The sky was falling, and it’s been falling ever since.

Eventually, in my 10 years in the world of books–mainly publishing with brief forays into libraries, book stores, and the classroom–I’ve met more people, lots more people, in this world. And I discovered that publishing folks are uncomfortable without a catastrophe. It’s a hard job, making books for people who have so many shinier, easier forms of entertainment available for their leisure hours, and we–yeah, “we,” I’m in it–like it better when there is at least a focus for our frustrations, a suitable scapegoat for everything that makes delivering literature to readers so hard. Over the years it’s been everything from Dan Brown to Amazon to American dollars at par to ass-grabbing executives to Heather Reisman. I suppose this could be true of any industry–I’ve never worked in another one, come to think of it.

I started writing this post during the Douglas and McIntyre bankruptcy, lost interest as the news cycle wound down, and now I’m back because of the Globe and Mail books editor reshuffle. It’s always something! But every time is like the first time for most of us: I keep feeling like most of the conversation is all, “now we’re *really* doomed” with occasional breaks for nostalgizing how much better it was before this new bad thing happened. Which is fine, I guess, in small doses–cathartic, anyway. Bad things really have happened, we’ve got to get it out of our systems, and kvetching is sorta fun.

BUT–I feel like every literary article in the mainstream press that isn’t a straightup review lately is an end-of-days whinefest. We’re actually losing column inches across the board, but why are we squandering what we have saying over and over how it all is sucktastic?

And who knows, maybe it *is* that bad and my perspective is just clouded–see the name of this blog. But how is it going to get any better when our focus is so backwards facing, so sad about everything that has gone before that we’re unable to think of the future.

I’m hardly cutting edge, but I think some of my tiny bit of optimism comes from my unique position, which is actually multiple positions. I’ve published two old-fashioned, old-school paper books with a press that is actually still independent, still active, still innovative–somehow Biblioasis manages to keep their authors out in the world, relevant and engaged, while dealing primarily with printed pages.

But I’m also on the other side some of the time–5 days a week, in fact. I work in a publishing environment that is struggling pretty hard to do the new things–books that have no print dimension, or only a small one, but do things print could never do. Have I seen the future? No, I haven’t, but I have seen a lot of possibilities. It’s inspiring what people are coming up with. It’s also really really hard–this sort of work calls on a lot of skills that aren’t really active in most bookfolk. It’s another part of the brain–several other parts–and sometimes it makes me really sad how not-innate this stuff is to me. But I keep trying, because what choice do I have? Publishing *will* keep moving forward, and I would like to go with it as far as I can.

I do find it hard to be terribly pessimistic about the future of literature when I have seen all these great ideas–variations on the old and brand-new alike–that are coming forward. And if you’re more pessimistic than me, fine–there’s room to disagree. But surely the “we’re doomed, we’re doomed” folks must realize that they’re not the best friends a book ever had.

Literature is a vibrant part of culture–it reflects and questions and celebrates and protests what IS in our world, and therefore it has to be part of that world. If it’s hard to innovate right now, individuals and companies and the whole industry do suffer, but that’s the nature of growth. We’re just going to have to work harder. In tough times, well…you know what they say…

If you’re worried about who is going to be the next great books editor, apply for the job. If you think all the publishing houses suck, found a better one. If you don’t think there’s a book that really capitalizes on the new technologies, write one. Or write a book that transcends technology, that’s so good it would be relevant in any age. It’s something to shoot for, anyway.

Or hell, just read a book. Read anything, and engage with the content, and talk about what it is and could be. Even if the sky were truly falling, it would still be worth reading books, and I think it always will be.

December 31st, 2012

Now: 2012

In 2012, I read 68 books and reviewed a number, though without fully finishing my To Be Read Challenge (embarrassing, but I will eventually–stay tuned). I completed my lone resolution in that I cooked every recipe in the Milk Calendar, which is a project I’d recommend and will repeat in 2013.

Obviously, the biggest thing in 2012 is that I planned and thoroughly enjoyed a most wonderful wedding to a most wonderful guy, and embarked upon a marriage to same (I’ve been trying to structure this sentence better but it’s just not working out–obviously, who else would I be married to than the guy I married??) Everything else kind of pales in comparison–and honestly this was a pretty great year in many ways. But once you’ve seen everyone you love all together in one room, beaming at you and eating cake…there’s really no follow-up.

Nevertheless, some other memorable, in no discernible order:
–I saw my short story How to Keep Your Day Job become a short film by the same name. It was an absolutely magical experience to see Lea Marin, Sean Frewer, Georgina Reilly and literally dozens of others reinterpret and reimagine my story until it was something totally new, and amazing.
–I survived a tax nightmare that took up all of my free time last spring and judging from the fact that no one has come for me yet, I guess I filled out all the forms correctly. Touch wood.
–I survived a project management course that took up all my free time last fall, though I’m still waiting on my final grade. I made a couple nice friends and, surprisingly, a couple enemies (well, I consider them enemies), but managed to do a lot of work that did not come naturally to me while under time pressure and duress and I think I did ok. Touch wood.
–I spent at least one night in 13 cities: Toronto, Niagara Falls, Halifax, Wolfville, Fredericton, Orilla, Hamilton, Liberia (Costa Rica), Vancouver, Ottawa, Moncton, Charlottetown, and Dorval.
–I obtained my dream of a second cat and my husband and I managed, through patience, vigilance, and a lot of closed doors, to teach the first cat not to hate her. Now they adore each other and are sad (read: viciously angry) when separated. My dream is complete.
–I wrote slower than I have written in years, with more self-doubt and angst than anyone’s interested in hearing about, but did manage to publish a few stories once I finally started submitting again last summer. More, the new collection now stands at 10 stories. Not sure if all 10 will get to stay in the final version, and a number more exist only as figments in my mind, but progress–progress.
–I remained employed by my favourite industry–publishing–one increasingly challenged on all sides. I have a lot of faith in this crazy little thing called books, and I’m happy to try to make them–in new and old forms alike–as long as I have the chance.
–I got a new family! Not that there was anything wrong with the old bunch, but now there’s just more of them–the natural result of getting married. That’s where I was this past week (I bet you didn’t even notice that it’s been ages since I last blogged), bonding with the inlaws. Lovely folks, and *very* good cooks.

And that’s just the big stuff and easy targets. I can’t even itemize all the small kindnesses I’ve received, the friends didn’t do anything they haven’t always done and are so wonderful for that.

Let me leave you with two of my favourite impressions from the last week of 2012:
1) being terribly motion sick on my flight home and given a tiny bottle of water when I most needed it by a gallant Frenchman
2) my niece, shy and stubborn and not quite two, opening her arms to hug me without anyone telling her to.

October 4th, 2012

The Same Only Different

I have the gift and the curse of usually liking my own writing. If I was interested enough in an idea to write a full story about it in the first place(not the little abandoned snippets that litter my Word files), I’ll pretty much always consider it worth revising until someone else likes it too. This is a gift because it encourages me to keep on with stories that have a lot wrong with them, but a curse but I can waste a lot of time on something better left in the archives.

As I approach the fabled mid-thirties, I’ve found another wrinkle in this pattern of constant revision–my voice is changing, or rather has changed, a great deal. Well, a great deal to me–I find even the contrast between some of the stories in *Once* versus *The Big Dream* pretty dramatic, but I don’t expect anyone else to notice or care. But it’s one thing to read two stories written 5 years apart and notice a difference–it’s another thing to delve into a story written years ago and try to live inside it to a degree that I can write that way again.

And in truth, I don’t go back so terribly far. I’ve always written stories, but I rarely return to ones written before 2005-2006. There are simply issues of quality I cannot overcome in most of the stuff written prior to then, and issues of deceased hard drives don’t hlep matters. So really, we’re talking max 7 years, here. Have I really changed that much? I guess so. I’ve done it before.

The oldest short story I’ve published (that doesn’t qualify as juvenalia in some way–like being in teen anthology) is “If This,” originally written in 2000, published in The Puritan in 2009. It was one of pretty much two things that I wrote in university that anyone else ever understood, and I really wanted to see it published. But revising it was excruciating–my mind just doesn’t work that may anymore. Back then, I was writing in a style I named myself (I think?) called hyper-lyric. It was a maximalism, periodic, involuted style that was only one of many reasons most people found my work hard to follow, but I loved it and writing that way made me happy.

It no longer does. I wander into periodic sentences now, and then I try to get them out in the second drafts. I always want to say it more simply, and I actually think I am far more pretentious in conversation and personal writing that I am in fiction (I’d never use the word “involuted” in a story). I was never aware of jettisoning the hyper-lyric style, or whatever that was if you don’t accept my imaginary terminology, but it sure is gone now. I still *like* that story, and a number of others I’ll never be able to repair enough to publish, but I no longer possess the mind that wrote them. Weird, eh?

So revisions become a race against, well, not the clock but the calandar, anyway. These days, between work on the new stuff, I’m trying to revise work from that 2005-2006 period and send it out before I become so different from the lady who wrote them that I can’t revise them anymore. Am I being melodramatic? Maybe, but really, anything to encourage myself to work, right?

Anyway, all this is in my head today because an older story that I revised pretty heavily this past spring, called “Anxiety Attack,” has been accepted by Freefall Magazine, which makes me really happy. I’m so pleased that that story will get its crack at being read by a wider audience than me, and I’m glad some else agrees that it’s worthwhile. And I guess I’m glad too that this proves the slog of revising older pieces is worth it, at least sometimes. “First Afternoon,” another revisited and revised story, will appear in The Windsor Review next spring, too.

And the race against the hands of time continues…(another thing I’d never write in a story)

December 1st, 2010

Reverb 10

So there’s been a paucity of blog inspiration in my life of late–terrible, I know. So I thought Reverb 10, as suggested by the wonderous Book Madam, would be a good jumpstart for me. Actually, this is just a test run, becauseI feel like this is one of those things I get totally obsessed with or else ignore completely. We’ll see which one it turns out to be…when I either finish the month of posts or I don’t.

What Reverb is is taking the month of December to reflect on the past year and the one ahead, one prompt a day, to be answered in public, blog/tweet/photo format.

Here’s today’s prompt:

December 1 One Word.
Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?
(Author: Gwen Bell)

In 2010, from January 1 to now, I’ve been living in one place, working at one job, writing one book, and in love with one person. Unlike a few years of my life where nothing seemed to change and the word “stagnate” came to mind (2004, I’m looking at you), this year felt really strong and productive, as if I were laying foundations for all kinds of future good things. My word for 2010 is solid.

In 2011, I’ll probably move, and in doing so, move to a different phase of my life (I’ve lived at the Rose-coloured Ranch since May 2003). Also next year, *The Big Dream* will almost certainly be published, and people I didn’t handpick will be able to read it!! Even scarier, I’ll start work on a new book. I’d like to make my 2011 word adventure–to keep me from thinking of other, more cowardly words to cover all this new stuff!

What are your words?

December 9th, 2009

Postal excellence

Today’s mail was extra good: 1 magazine, one letter, one holiday card, one return-to-sender misaddressed holiday card (the only down note, to be hand-delivered on Saturday), and 2 copies of the fall issue of The Antigonish Review (the issue is not yet online) containing my flash fiction, “Do.”

I am so delighted to see it there, and it is a story I am quite proud of, but it is somewhat jarring reading as it was written a few years back and is *much* different from what I’m doing these days (how much flash fiction are you seeing from me lately, really?) It’s nice to be reminded that I have a little bit of range, though it’s sequential–I can no more go back to doing what I was doing in 2006 than I can skip ahead to whatever I’ll be up to in 2012 and see how that goes. I can only hope the cycle repeats, one of these days.

Anyway…hope you enjoy the story, and the whole of a very attractive-looking issue (mine was in *3* layers of shrink-wrap–it’s like they *knew* about the slush-storm!)

RR

September 30th, 2008

On Futurity

At reception at the end of a doctor visit.

Me: Oops, I forgot to ask Dr. C. when I have to come back. Do you have it in the file?

A: Yes, it’ll be in a year.

Me: A year! Well, I guess I’ll call–

A: We can book it now–how’s September 20?

Me: September 20, 2009? I could be on the moon by then!

A: The moon?

Me: Well, you know, not actually the moon, but anywhere, really…

A: Is early morning ok? 9 am?

Me: I don’t *know*!

A: (looks at me intently)

Me: 9 am, September 20, 2009 is fine.

A: That’s a Tuesday.

Me: Sure it is.

A: Do you need a reminder card?

Me: I will lose that card in a year.

A: Here is your card.

***

Come *on* now–does anyone really know for sure that we’re going to be having a September 20 in 2009? Who has evidence that we’re not going to get to September 14 and then start counting backwards again?

Is an inability to conceptualize the future evidence of my fundamental inmaturity?

The dancers need a dancefloor / the swingers gotta swing
RR

August 22nd, 2007

Nostalgia for Now

Here I sit at the library info desk, watching bright-faced new students of every age and stripe try to find the student card office. I sit behind a sign with directions on it, but they still like to ask me personally. When I point at the sign they announce: “I’ve never been in this building before. I’m a *new student*,” as if no one had every gotten an acceptance letter before. This is technically quite annoying, but I try to remember that they are *excited*, that for most students this is not a quick administrative errand but the kick-off to a major life change, symbolically their passport to independence, academic or personal or whatever, and certainly very exciting. I felt that way when I came to get *my card, 26 or so months ago. The actual picture on the card is of a very grim Rebecca (my friend John once commented on the pic: “You look like you just got out of juvie!”) but in fact I was as exuberant as any of the 18-year-olds who float past me today. I can’t explain that picture. It was a great day.

And now I’m at the other end of the experience, three days away from letting my university job, gym membership, library privileges and life lapse. I’ll be moving on to other exciting things, natch, but now I’m hanging around winding down at my old job while the whole rest of the university community kicks into high gear. I can’t go hang out at my new office in an attempt to wind *up* to the new stuff, because I don’t have the free time (I said almost this exact sentence to someone I don’t know well, who looked at me *extremely* oddly at this point) and because that’d be a weird thing to do. I’m just going to have to go in semi-blind Monday morning, newborn yet again.

In the midst of all this woebegone schoolgirlishness, I tried to go shopping for some grownup office clothes. I didn’t *need* to, since I have plenty of grownup office clothes from the last time we did this. I just like clothes, and thought also it might help with morale.

But you know what’s in style for ladies this fall?

Pinafores.

I have enough trouble feeling age-of-majority without dressing like an elderly waif. I’m going to try again, but I’m not feeling too optimistic about my wardrobing options for fall. Throwbacks to 2005, here I come.

And speaking of 2005…remember the last time I freaked out in August? Next post from my old diary!

Seein’ her reflection in the knife
RR

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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