August 3rd, 2016

The Givendale Experiment part 2: midsummer report

The Failures
–garlic did not come up on first planting, nor on second, then we found out we should have planted it in the fall. We threw away the (now shrivelled) remaining cloves and postponed the problem until October
–lavender did not come up from seeds. We bought a seedling pot at a garden centre, which thrived indoors for a while, then promptly died when planted in the garden. So we gave up.
–cucumbers should have been started as seedlings indoors but weren’t, so started as seeds in the garden itself–never came up.
–zucchini–never got around to planting
–oregano was planted as seedling indoors but took forever to grow and then died when it was about an inch tall
–soybeans planted 6 indoors as seedlings. Two never sprouted, three sprouted and then died. The sixth grew huge fast, then tipped over and continued growing sideways. It has only a few leaves and essentially a green wire on my balcony, but is alive. I do not understand.
EDIT: I posted this last night and this morning, my weird soybean plant had produced an actual peapod, with seemingly two peas inside it. So maybe that elevates it out of the failures??

The Meh
–chives came up but are quite tiny still, while our neighbours’ chives are huge and proliferating
–cilantro was amazing at first, but quickly “bolted”–got very tall and flowered, and the leaves became extremely thin and tasteless. We found out later this was reaction to the really hot weather, so not our fault. I wanted to keep the plant for seeds, but it got so huge it threatened the tomatoes, so we had to pull it out before the seeds came. I have a teeny one on my balcony that did the same thing in miniature, so I will at least get a few seeds to replant and try again.
–hollyhocks are thriving, but are just a big pot full of green leaves–I don’t know when we get the blossoms (yes, I am freely including things in pots in the garden report–really only applies to this, the mint, and the soybeans)
–mint is, I was warned, incredibly invasive, so these folks told me to grow it in a container instead of the garden. I had grown two plants from seeds, so I put one in a pot and gave the other to the Mighty J. Hers died and mine, while nicely alive, isn’t growing very fast and still doesn’t really seem big enough to harvest leaves from. It could stand to be a bit more invasive, in my opinion.

The Successes
–lettuce were planted from seeds directly in the garden and was one of the first things to come up and is continuing strong. I harvest a couple little lettuces every week and so does J. Nice flavour, and if you put the root in water in the fridge it stays crisp. We added a few more seeds to the same area and it seems we will have lettuce for a while. Some do “bolt” and get tall and skinny with fewer leaves at the top, but I’m trying to eat them before they do that.
–onions were the other first up, also planted directly in the garden from sets, and they came up almost immediately. Initially we were picking them to eat the green parts as scallions, and we nicely thinned the row that way. They are actually white onions, not really scallions, so we are letting the rest grow as big as they care to get so we can eat the white parts. We tried putting in a second row of these, but only two came up. I think onion sets get old, so we gave a few to our neighbour and threw the rest away. 
–sunflower was given to us by another neighbouring gardener as a large seedling. We planted it and it grew like crazy, eventually growing three buds, the first of which opened on the weekend and which you can see above.
–kale is something J picked up as 4 seedlings at a farmer’s market, and it’s growing great and is delicious. We pulled one up by the roots to eat but our neighbour told us if we just pick the leaves they will regrow, so we replanted that guy (and it rerooted, thank goodness) and it’s what we’ve been doing ever since (you could actually do that with the lettuce too, but since we have so much I don’t bother)
–basil is two huge plants I started indoors as seeds and are now doing great. We pick off the flowers and so far that has kept the plant leafing, which is great. On Tuesday I picked a tonne and made some pesto–hopefully I’ll get to do more.

The TBD (but very promising)

–peppers were started from seeds indoors and seemed healthy but spindly. They were very slow to take hold outdoors when we transplanted them, and even when the perked up and seemed healthy, were quite small. They are finally getting bigger and bushier and even have some blossoms.
–the TOMATOES ARE AMAZING! Huge bushes of San Marzano (Italian/plum) tomatoes that I started from seeds indoors, thinned and transplanted. We caged about half of them, because this is my first experiment with cages and also that’s all the cages we had. There are tonnes and tonnes of tomatoes on the bigger bushes (they have grown at all different rates and some are still quite small), and the fruit is getting bigger though it remains green. I cannot stand the wait until we can eat them and am terrified a raccoon or blight or something else will get there first. But oh man are they gorgeous.

The Random Bonuses
–the previous inhabitants of plot #120 abandoned midseason without pulling anything out or turning the soil, so it was a huge mess when we got it. Hidden in the dead plants and weeds was a corner full of thriving leeks. We let them grow a bit in early spring while I looked into it–the internet indicates that leeks are a two-year crop, so this was the fruition of whatever was planted last year. We wanted the garden organized by our own whims, so we dug them very early and had a bunch of delicious baby leeks to eat.
–our French neighbour gave us a big bag of flat-leaf parsley from her plot. Our Italian neighbour gave us a few white radishes, which were tasty, and the aforementioned sunflower. Our Jamaican neighbour let us use his bucket and gave a bunch of unsolicited advice, which would be annoying if he weren’t usually right (and save that kale plant). Our east-side neighbours have never been seen, but their lettuces are doing nicely.

Stay tuned for part three!

July 31st, 2016

Just a general hello

Yikes, over a month and no post. It’s not that I don’t have anything to post about–part of the time I haven’t been posting, I was away travelling with my husband on our long-awaited European vacation. It was a pretty great trip, but hectic–4 cities in two weeks, plus assorted train and plane transfer points. here’s a picture from Sforza Castle in Milan, which is a massive fortress-type construction now transformed into a labyrinth of different museums. It came complete with moat. The moat was drained (by Napoleon) and now–it’s filled with cats:

Moat cats, chilling in the midday sun.

Moat cats, chilling in the midday sun.

You get the idea , I assume. Other things that have been going on including a very high-stress time at work (which may or may not end soon), my ever-ongoing about-to-be-finishedness on my book, and perhaps most joyfully, the fabulosity that was Ghostbusters. I’ve long been a fan of Kate McKinnon, the SNL-starring comedian (comedianne?) that plays Holtzmann. I discovered her I think because my fandom of Tig Notaro prompts the YouTube algorithm to put other lesbian comics into my feed. Whatever the reason, I think she’s brilliant, but I’m so cut off from what is actually going on in the media that I didn’t realize that other people thought that too. Somehow I thought it was just me–until Ghostbusters came out and everyone was totally on team Holtzmann. There are little girls in the world who want to grow up to be just like her–and that fills me with glee. The other cast members were great too, and the affects were as cornball-cool as any summer blockbuster–you should see this movie.

That’s it–I’m sorry. I started writing a bunch of different post–a play-by-play of my trip, a serious review of Ghostbusters, various things about my garden and writing and people being dicks on public transit–but I am very tired these days, and posts seem to get abandoned about 1/3 written, ie., when I have to actually think about where I’m going with it.

Hopefully I’ll get my blogging game on again soon. Until then, please know that I’m here, working and complaining and napping, and enjoy the moat kitties.

April 6th, 2016

What I’m Worried About (ranked in ascending order by how frequently the worry occurs to me)

That one of my cats will get trapped in the fridge and I won’t realize it
Losing my passport
Someone will say something racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic, etc. and I’ll be too paralyzed to respond
Losing my engagement ring
Accidentally going into an alternate universe where I’m still me but my life is different
Never finishing my book
Accidentally talking to someone who doesn’t want to talk to me
Doing my taxes wrong
A Trump presidency
Mark leaving me
Someone bad happening to people I love (vague and enormous worry)
That everyone is secretly talking about me
Global warming
Not having enough money for retirement
My book is terrible
Someone breaking into our apartment and not only stealing our stuff, but letting the cats out in the process
Being unemployed
Falling down stairs
There’s a bug somewhere in here and I won’t know until it’s too late

November 25th, 2015

Please give generously

I’m on a committee at work about our charitable donation program for the various end-of-the-year holidays, and I’ve gotten to learn a bunch of interesting stuff about giving. One thing I’ve learned is that you really have to give generous people an opportunity to give in the ways they want and to feel valued for doing so–another is that there is so much need out there, there is ALWAYS a use for whatever generous instinct a person might have.

My husband forbids household discussion of the holidays until after Remembrance Day, so here it is way past that and I want to get the ball rolling on the best of this time of year, which is ways to be kind to others. Probably there’s a bunch of stuff here that is familiar to many, but perhaps there’s something new too–hope it helps!!

Non-perishable foods: This one is a holiday standard and I think most of us are familiar with going to a party or event with cans of chickpeas in our bags for the holiday food hamper. And I do not want to discourage anyone from giving anything at all. When I was a kid, every food drive I would haul all the canned pineapple out of the cupboard and give it away because I hated it–but I’m sure someone was happy to get it, especially as many food banks operate as “free stores” and people can choose what they need. But if you’re interested in what specifically food bank might really need, it’s…
–proteins like canned meat but also alternatives like peanut butter, soy products, and beans.
–powdered milk and infant formula
–Halal products. This is going to be region specific, but where I am working (Scarborough), families that observe Muslim dietary laws struggle to use food donations. I have looked into this a bit and as I understand it (correct me if I’m wrong!), if you cannot find anything with the Halal symbol on it, anything that does not contain meat or artificial colours/flavours is fine. The meat because, obviously, of rules around butchery, but the artificial stuff because it often contains isopropyl alcohol, alcohol being haram. Interesting ,no?
–pasta
–breakfast cereals (cold cereals)
–treats. It’s nice if there’s something fun at the food bank. If a colleague or acquaintance gives you yet another box of chocolates but you’re on a diet, you know where it could be welcome??
To make your donating dollars go furthest, my parents taught me a neat trick–every time they grocery shop, they buy doubles of whatever useful items are on a good sale, then drop the extras into the donation bin on the way out. That way you spread your giving out, making it a little more manageable. The “donation packs” that some stores sell are often filled with low-nutrient processed foods, but they are a good deal, so if you feel like that’s your best option, obviously it’s still going to be useful somewhere.

Household Cleaning and Personal Hygiene Products

I never used to think of this, but obviously it’d be incredibly hard on morale and just life in general to not have enough money for dishsoap and toilet cleaner. And how about tampons? Anything you use regularly and run out of regularly is useful to these donation drives, though if it is specifically advertised as a food drive, one should probably double check that they’re able to store and distribute non-food items before loading up on bleach or whatever you’re thinking. But these are so useful, and often forgotten, kinds of donation.

Miscellaneous
A cool friend posted this link to ALL SORTS of donating opportunities on Facebook, so I thought I’d pass it on here. But do keep in mind, in this season of sock drives and one-day volunteer stints, it can feel overwhelming to fit in helping others with work and school and family and everything else. I love volunteerism and creative charitable projects, but I just want to mention that these are very much the kind of problems you CAN throw money at. Yes, there are foodbanks that don’t take cash donations, but most love them as liquid funds allow them to go out and purchase exactly what their clients need, without having to sort or store it. I think there’s a vibe around a lot of giving (cough, especially for women) that if it is not a project with a lot of time and love and sacrifice it’s not worth doing. And giving one’s own time and love is amazing, but so is giving a cheque. As I say, there’s so much need, there’s always a use for whatever you want to give.

June 16th, 2015

Things people who haven’t written anything yet need to stop saying

Warning: this post is probably snarky. And I’m not even at all confident that I’m right to disagree with the statements below, which is why I’m adding the caveat that these injunctions are for non-writers only. If you’ve been working at the craft seriously for years and want to argue with me about this stuff, I will listen–but if not, I won’t. Here’s why…

Everyone has a novel in them; everyone should write it. Nope. There is nothing, other than basic human functions like eating and walking and texting, that everyone can do. Not everyone can score a soccer goal, not everyone can sing on key, not everyone can paint a lilac bush so that it is recognizable as such. This phrase is a mangling of the basic principle that everyone’s life contains a novel–if looked at from the right angle and with enough insight and artistry, some aspect of everyone’s life could form the basis of an interesting novel. This is also how dating works. But not everyone is able to write–or even find–the novel within his or her own life. Which is fine–they simply have to be content with living it, which is still pretty good.

Are you worried about ebooks and stuff? It’s not even friends and acquaintances who keep asking this question; it’s newspapers and magazines! To be fair, newspaper and magazine journalists are also writers and I suppose they are themselves worried about ebooks and perhaps think that creative writers are going to share their pain. And some do, up to a point–I know plenty of writers who have an emotion of some kind about ebooks (I don’t). But insisting that hardworking passionate writers talk about something they have no control over and that has nothing to do with the content of their work is disempowering, not to mention boring. Imagine if a huge double-page spread in the sports section were devoted to astroturf.

Once I really get down to writing, I think I can make a living at it. I don’t doubt that people do make a living at writing–I know a few–but it’s very hard and fairly rare, and saying this having done nothing towards said goal indicates a complete misunderstanding of the industry (or non-understanding, as in no attempt made). Not to mention it’s mean, considering I’m still showing up to work every day and squeezing writing into my evenings and weekends. Would first-year law students approach a working lawyer and say, “I plan to be much more successful than you are.” Well, maybe they would, but they shouldn’t.

I think I’m just going to write a bunch of [insert genre] stuff to make some easy money. Apparently there’s a Doris Lessing novel in which someone does this and it works out. Maybe that’s how things were in the past or maybe it was just Lessing being a snot, I don’t know. Certainly, it has not been possible for most of us to quickly and easily write novels ever, and especially not in a genre we distain. For those that can do it, it still isn’t very easy to sell said novels, and for those that can do that it is unlikely that they’ll make much money, let alone enough to justify the (I imagine) excruciating process of writing a novel one does not like. Not to mention the horrible cynicism of attempting to sell something to people one transparently does not respect–not impossible, but please stop telling me about it. No one I know personally has ever succeeded in one of these projects and most have quit almost upon starting.

I would love to be a writer, just sitting around all day writing, but I’ve never been able to afford to quit my job. This is a problematic sentence all around, but the central issue is that people are saying it to me. One very special someone made this comment to me at work, standing about six feet from my desk, which was not far from hers. I can’t even begin to parse what this means–that I’m not a real writer? Oh, wait, I think I parsed it and, again, that’s mean. Even if you truly don’t consider me a real writer, and I’m sure some don’t, why would you announce that? I’m sure some people don’t like my hair or clothes, but they rarely mention it at dinner. Also, who spread the rumour that being a writer is just like being on vacation? Being an accountant is largely just sitting at a desk all day too, but no one thinks that’s much easier than having a “real job.”

I think most of the writing in my genre/writing in my region/writing of my time/writing published anywhere ever isn’t that good. I just want to do my own stuff without getting influence by all the weaker books. Again, as I say above, it is not impossible that a talented writer would feel this way, though I don’t honestly know how–how do you create in society if you’re not in dialogue with others working in the same way in that society? But whatever, I know for a fact that some people can do it. So, if you can, write something amazing and blow my assumptions away. For everyone else who makes this claim but hasn’t themselves accomplished anything yet, I assume that you’re like the women I met in university (and beyond, sadly) who thought “most girls are bitches” and preferred male friends–an exact translation of, “All the attention for me, please.”

June 8th, 2015

Mark Raynes Roberts

You will recall Mark Raynes Roberts from my previous post of wonderful portrait photos he took of me. Now one of those photos, plus many many more of other Canadian writers, plus Raynes Roberts’ crystal sculptures, are to be featured in some exhibitions this fall. There’s a flier below (you’ve got to click on it to make it readable size) and a more detailed press release below that. I hope as many people as possible will see these intriguing exhibitions.

It Started with Charlie! (1)

P R E S S R E L E A S E

M A R K R A Y N E S R O B E R T S
I L L U M I N A T I O N

RENOWNED CRYSTAL ARTIST & PHOTOGRAPHER
ILLUMINATES CANADIAN AUTHORS & LITERATURE IN A CELEBRATION
OF CRAFT, IMAGINATION AND ARTISTIC DEDICATION.

For Immediate Release

June 1, 2015, TORONTO – Craft is in short supply these days. The investment of time it requires – and the need to continually perfect the skills of that craftsmanship – are not for the weak of heart. In celebration of the passion for craftsmanship and the important value it has in a fast-paced, technological world, renowned Canadian artist Mark Raynes Roberts illuminates the imagination and personalities of Canadian authors in three venue exhibitions in Fall 2015: the Gardiner Museum, International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre and Toronto Reference Library.

At the Gardiner Museum, Raynes Roberts, who is best known for his intricate, hand-engraved crystal art that draws upon ancient techniques of old-world craftsmanship, will present 12 new engraved crystal pieces. The ILLUMINATION: Portraits of Canadian Literature communicates narrative passages based upon the theme of light and taken from 12 literary works by Canadian authors. (Literary passages were chosen by the Writers Trust Advisory Board.) At both the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront Centre and the Toronto Reference Library, his ILLUMINATION, “Portraits of Canadian Authors,” a projected art installation of 150 photographic portraits of Canadian authors, will be showcased to the public.

The multi-media project was two years in the making. Raynes Roberts traveled over 20,000 km and took over 22,500 photographs as well as worked on his one-of-a-kind crystal pieces, the hand-engraving of which involves a mastery of skills that are a lost art. His ILLUMINATION crystal art pieces use a rare combination of both delicate stippling – a time-consuming technique from the 17th century – and deep intaglio diamond wheel-engraving. They depict “dreamscapes” of Canadian literary stories, expressing the beauty of the written word and exploring the human condition, hopes, wisdom, love and transcendence born from Canada’s most inquiring minds.

“The Gardiner is delighted to be unveiling twelve luminous new crystal works of art by Mark Raynes Roberts that uniquely celebrate both Canada’s rich literary culture and the beauty of human craftsmanship and creativity,” says Kelvin Browne, Executive Director and CEO of the Gardiner. “Seeing Mark’s work in the context of the Gardiner collection really illustrates the deep affinity between glass and ceramics in terms of history, design, and technique.”

As creator of the prestigious Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Award for Non-Fiction, Raynes Roberts was interested in investigating the authors’ creative process, determination and contribution to cultural life in Canada and the world. Interaction with authors provided the inspiration for this important body of work, which celebrates the Canadian literary community at a time when authors and publishers face the challenge of redefining their industry due to technological changes. He also understood the parallel between the time required for the craft of their work with that of his own. And he wanted to draw attention to the importance of this dedication and passion in a world that is increasingly automated and divorced from the touch and nuance of human craftsmanship – the very thing that helps define us as a species.

“Literature is an art of illumination. Every author wants to shed light on some truth no matter what form the writing takes: fiction or non-fiction. Writing is a pursuit of knowledge and understanding; the desire to bring attention to a story that needs to be told, whether it be about a person, an imagined life, an issue, a part of our history or the human condition. This is why literature is important. We’re not only enriched by it; we’re connected by it,” commented
Raynes Roberts.

A Canadian artist whose crystal masterpieces sit in many private and corporate art collections around the world, Raynes Roberts art has also been presented to royalty, business titans, sporting superstars and luminaries including Dr. Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and the Archbishop of Canterbury to name a few. His largest architectural installation, a stunning 53 ft engraved glass mural at McMaster University, Health Sciences Library, was designated a cultural property of Canada. In 2013, “Visions of Light,” a 30-year retrospective of the artist’s work was held in Toronto, with subsequent exhibitions in Johanfors, Sweden, London, England, and New York.
Throughout the 32 years of Raynes Roberts’ career, photography has played an integral role as both informer and catalyst for his crystal interpretations. To complement his crystal exhibition at the Gardiner Museum, ILLUMINATION: Portraits of Canadian Authors will provide an intriguing glimpse through his artistic eye to reveal the personalities of Canada’s literary community including such noted authors as Margaret Atwood, Conrad Black, Joseph Boyden, Emma Donoghue, Charlotte Gray, Elizabeth Hay, Sheila Heti, Plum Johnson, Margaret MacMillan, MG Vassanji, Anne Michaels, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Andrew Pyper, Miriam Toews, Kathleen Winter and Jane Urquhart.
“We’re pleased to be able to complement the crystal art sculpture exhibit at the Gardiner Museum with a special display of the ILLUMINATION photographic collection here at Harbourfront Centre during the 36th edition of the International Festival of Authors this fall. That Mark has brought together photography, sculpture and literature in such a moving and beautiful way is astonishing. And it’s wonderful to see so many past Festival participants as his subjects,” commented Geoffrey Taylor, Director, International Festival of Authors.
Central to the project has been Raynes Roberts’ commitment that the ILLUMINATION project be viewed by the Canadian public as an inclusive project reflecting the diversity of the country he immigrated to in 1982. The 150 portraits in the ILLUMINATION photographic collection is his gift to the country which will celebrate its 150th Anniversary in 2017. In this spirit, the project celebrates both emerging and established authors from all genres of writing, ethnic background and gender, often traveling to the authors‘ homes to photograph them in their places of work and inspiration.

Raynes Roberts says, “Canada is a country known for its modesty. But we have every reason to feel proud of our literary excellence and to herald our Canadian authors whose words of truth, solace and wisdom are read by people from around the world. ILLUMINATION is about bringing into focus portraits of those who write the words in silence and in solitude.”

ILLUMINATION VENUES:
PORTRAITS OF CANADIAN LITERATURE – Crystal Art Sculpture
Gardiner Museum, Toronto – Oct 26 – Nov 11, 2015

PORTRAITS OF CANADIAN AUTHORS – Portrait Photography
International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront Centre – Oct 22 – Nov 1, 2015

PORTRAITS OF CANADIAN AUTHORS – Portrait Photography
Toronto Reference Library – Oct 11 – Nov 1, 2015

CONTACT INFORMATION:
Mark Raynes Roberts, Crystal Artist + Photographer T: 416 520 7588
E: info@markraynesroberts.com
www.raynesillumination.com – launch date July 1, 2015 www.markraynesroberts.com
Rachel Weiner, Communications and Volunteer Assistant Gardiner Museum, 111 Queens Park, Toronto, T: 416 408 5062 E: rachelw@gardinermuseum.com
Maeve O’ Regan, Communications & Marketing Coordinator
International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West, Toronto,
T: 416 973 5836
E: moregan@ifoa.org

Yvonne Hunter, Manager, Cultural + Special Events
Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St, Toronto, T: 416 393 7098
E: yhunter@torontoreferencelibrary.ca

January 13th, 2015

The End of 2014

I’ve long meant to write a post on the advantages of being a writer with a day job–I thought perhaps in December. Then December turned into one of the time that my day job mercilessly devours my life, leaving me only with scraps and fragments of both free time and the mental energy to use such free time productively. All of both went into my book and seasonal frolics–there was none leftover for the blog, or due a variety of other things. Sorry about that. But the dust is clearing and the big work project is (touch wood) drawing to a close, so…I’m back!

Despite my long silence, the end of the year was actually pretty fun for me. Many parties, visiting friends, good weather, nice presents, delicious foods. I was sad that I had to do the pre-Christmas week sans both cats and husband, as they had started their vacations earlier than mine (due to aforementioned work bomb). But with the also-aforementioned friends, I survived until I could jet off to PEI and be with Mark and family (still no cats until New Year’s Day, though).

This year, I got a grown-up menorah to replace the itty-bitty baby one I’ve had since I was 19 (the grown-up-ness undercut slightly by the fact that my parents gave it to me). I love it very much and lit the candles every night this year, sometimes taking it on the road with me to ensure appropriate dusk-hour lighting. I even brought it to PEI for the last night, so Mark didn’t miss out entirely…

I lit the candles at my inlaws on the 8th night.

I lit the candles at my inlaws on the 8th night.

On a literary (slightly) front, I guess I did do some stuff beyond my own book. I contributed a “bests” list to the Little Fiction 2014 Year in Review and item to the books of the year list that Canadian Notes and Queries did.

But actually, mainly I worked on my book. It’s been really hard, though I am happy with the new pieces I’ve produced and am now wading tentatively back into the full manuscript. But I’m nervous and all the rest, which is making it hard to envision real new years resolutions for 2015–basically, if I can complete this manuscript to my satisfaction as well as everyone else’s, I’ll be satisfied.

But I think I’ll put off the view of 2015 a little longer, and concentrate on shutting the file on 2014 in this post. Shall we go over the resolutions from last year? I’ll have the actual resolution in boldand the end-of-year update in plain text (if you want to see how I was doing at the midyear mark, it’s here. Here we go…

1. Mini M&Ms charity. This works better in summer than it does in winter–my mid-year report on this was sunnier than I am now. I’m just not out strolling as often in the winter, though I still do try to give when I see someone in need, and my mini-M&Ms canister is ever at the ready. Plan to continue this resolution.

2. Learn to play the guitar. This is a long-term thing, I guess–there’s still far more I can’t do than what I can. But it’s been an interesting process and I have learned a lot. Plan to continue this resolution.

3. Possibly file the papers I’ve had stacked on the floor of my office for over a year. Maybe. Fail. But will continue this resolution because I will at some point need to move out of my apartment.

4. Clicker train my elder cat, Evan, to give him something to focus his energies on so he isn’t such a pain all the time. The mid-year report on this was very positive but then we kind of tapered off. Possibly Evan learned as much as he could, but it would be worth trying again every so often. Not continuing the resolution, but will make it an occasional thing.

5. Knit a thing that has an actual purpose. Fail. Abandoning resolution as do not actually care.

6. Something about my manuscript-in-progress. I finished it, I sold it (well, Sam sold it) and now me and the wonderous Anita are making it better. As I say above, finishing this and doing it well is the only truly important goal I have for 2015!

7. Cook lots of new recipes. This one was easy–I love cooking new stuff. I don’t think this needs to be a resolution anymore, as I’m happy to do it without prompting.

8. Blog more frequently than once a month. Not really, but I was close. I think I’ll maintain this resolution. I always enjoy blogging once I get into it.

9. Floss daily. Didn’t make it, but close. Will maintain this resolution, because the alternative is gum surgery!

10. Plan to socialize a reasonable amount every week. This one didn’t work out exactly, but on average it did. This week, for instance, i’ll be out every night but Wednesday, which is unfortunate but I really wanted to do all those things. I didn’t really go out at all last week, though, so I have the energy. I’m going to abandon this resolution, because I want to see people more than I want to keep resolutions.

And I think that’s all I have to say about 2014. Hopefully I’ll back relatively soon with something fascinating to say about the year upcoming!

December 4th, 2014

Co-habitational reading challenge: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

My husband and I have lots of literary tastes in common and we’ve read plenty of the same books, but there’s an especial pleasure of reading the same book at the same time–it’s always exciting to sit down at dinner and say, “What bit are you at? What did you think about the part where…?” and know you’re both thinking about the same stuff.

So Mark Sampson and I try to sync our reading at least once a year. In the past, we’ve done rereads of books we’ve respectively loved and wanted to experience together (here’s the tag if you want to go back in time, though the posts are weirdly out of order). This year we wanted to read something new together, and chose kind of at random from the Giller Prize 2014 shortlist (what, they all looked good).

The book we wound up with was Heather O’Neill‘s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, mainly because we both got a hold of copies around the same time. But also it was a book we both hoped to love, as we had both adored O’Neill’s first novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals a few years back.

My love of O’Neill’s writing goes back even further, to a wondrous column she used to write that no one seems to have read, in Broken Pencil, called “Goldstein on Goldstein” (I believe there was an earlier incarnation of the column written by Jonathan Goldstein, and they just never bothered changing the name when she took over). I’ve gotten so blank stares when I mentioned her good old “Goldstein on Goldstein” days that I resolved that I wouldn’t include it here unless I could find an online archive to prove I’m not crazy. And I did. And you should read’em, they are great.

To the book at hand: TGWWSN had a lot of the same everyday poetry to the language and rootedness in Montreal poverty that I loved about her column and her first book. It is narrated  from the point of view of Nouschka Tremblay. She is the daughter of a Quebecois folksinger, long loved for his quirky songs about things like an elephant with a peanut up its nose and his of-the-people style. But he did knock up a 14-year-old girl in rural Quebec and brought into being Nouschka and her twin brother Nicholas. The senior Tremblay abandoned the twins with their mother and she, in term, took them to their paternal grandparents and never came back. After the grandmother’s passing, they were raised by Etienne’s senile father, Loulou.

Whew–that’s a lot of setup. But it works, quite well, actually. It was amazing how Etienne’s localized celebrity–he is unknown to people outside Quebec and perhaps Anglos anywhere–seems completely realistic. It felt totally possibly that he actually existed, and I didn’t know it–the way people sang his songs in their wanderings and recognized him on the street, the way he go mixed up in the cause of Separatism without every really being that interested.

Lots of the press and bumpf about this novel consider the referendum a part of the events, but it isn’t really–it’s simply an ingenious way of grounding the TGWWSN concretely in time and place. It feels so specific, so exactly where it seeks to be–really brilliant on the author’s part. But this is not more a political novel than LFLC–politics might be architecture, or the weather. It is what it is.

Oh, and plot–there isn’t one for, in my estimation, more than half the book. Maybe Nouschka and Nicholas are too claustrophobically close, lost in their own twin-world, sleeping in the same bed (O’Neill very determinedly tries to make this not creepy and succeeds, barely). Maybe they need to find their mother. Maybe Nouschka needs to get a good job and get out of the fatalistic poverty in which her brother and grandfather live.

None of these are quite plot worthy, but we do gradually see the stakes rise (at the beginning of the book, with the twins noodling around their neighbourhood, the plot level felt dangerously close to nil. Nicholas becomes more self-destructive and Nouschka does her own bit on that front, by hooking up with, and then marrying (at 20!) the strange and disturbed Rafael. Things happen, the risk is real, and I got more gripped by the story in the final third. I don’t want to say I had been bored earlier–O’Neill’s gorgeous prose and my love of the quotidian kept boredom at bay, but I did wonder when something would, you know, happen.

In the last 50 or so pages EVERYTHING happens, so I guess that answered that. I ended the read a bit shell-shocked–it’s rare that a book feels both overlong and too tumultuous. But I don’t know that it was actually too anything–it simply wasn’t what I was expecting.

Even the more querulous complaints I had about the book were more questions than anything–from what point in her life was Nouschka reflecting on these events? The narrator is clearly not in the same time period as the protagonist–she keeps saying things like “I was so young” but you never find out where this narrator-Nouschka went in her life or how things turned out, or what called her to tell her story in this way. I was disappointed, but I do overthink things.

I also wondered how to think about a book written in English about characters who make a point of speaking only in French–who in fact distrust Anglos and are mystified by them. There’s many wondrous turn of phrase in this book, but they would all be completely different in another language. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, really–do you know?

And finally, the cats–they turn up every dozen or so pages, but I didn’t know why. Yes, I like cats and it makes me happy to see them in books, but there never seemed to be any point to them. Many of the cats belong to neighbours or are street cats, but Nouschka refers once to having cats of her family’s own, and then never again. No one had a relationship with any of the cats, just cutesy little descriptions that I actually really didn’t like. But again, I overthink things, especially things to do with cats.

I don’t have a letter or number grade for this book but I really enjoyed reading it and think Heather O’Neill is a wonderful writer despite the fact I didn’t like everything about this book. I also really loved reading the book with my husband (for his take on the experience, see here). It’s great to share a book in this way–a highly recommended experiment, whatever you like to read.

 

July 22nd, 2014

*So Much Love*–heading for the world

I am so very pleased to announce that my book, So Much Love is forthcoming with McClelland and Stewart in 2016. It’s being edited by the very talented Anita Chong, senior fiction editor at M&S.

I have been working on this book a long time–I believe the original idea sparked somewhere in the year 2000 . I know I workshopped some very early ideas with my Concordia friends’ writing group that winter, and have been workshopping and rewriting on and off from this book ever since (about every 3 years, I’d try again). One of the many (many!) joyful things about the book deal is that now I know for sure I will have a place to put my ever-expanding list of acknowledgements. But the weird thing is, so many people have helped me with this book so long ago that they don’t even remember helping me, or in at least one case, who I am (that was an awkward conversation, let me tell you). I think I’ll try not to freak people out with the acknowledgements page–so no one who has potentially forgotten my existence–but I’m still really looking forward to writing it. Gratitude–love it!

After I posted the happy news on Facebook and Twitter yesterday, a few people asked why it would be SO LONG until the book is published–which is the sweetest thing in the world to ask. But the reasons are good ones! First, that’s how publishing rolls these days. To sell books effectively, it’s very hard to just publish things all of the sudden. Substantive edits, copyedits, page design and layout, cover design, composition, proofreading, printing and binding all take time, of course, and when you add in marketing and publicity, even more. It’s better to be later than sooner in order to get it all right. There’s books that come out faster, but mine definitely won’t be one of them…which brings me to reason number two…

SML needs a lot of work. I wrote the best book I could, and a lot of people helped me, and I am very very proud of it. But I knew it needed more, and I knew it was only by working with a really insightful editor that I’d be able to produce it. I am so grateful to Anita for wanting to do this heavy lifting with me, and I definitely want all the time I can get to make the edits and additions to the manuscript work in the best way possible. If it gives you a sense of my perspective, spring 2016 seems crazily SOON to me.

So yeah–that’s the scoop. Book in a couple years, in the meantime lots of work. In case you can’t tell, I’m THRILLED, really just bouncing down the street excited. More on this situation as it develops…

February 10th, 2014

Cheap Writing Hacks: Characters

I’ve been reading tonnes and tonnes lately, which I guess I always do, but I’ve also been tired and busy and grouchy, and thus less patient with the lousy stuff. There’s a list of cheap writing hacks that I’ve noticed over the years–things we might do in fiction with plot or characters not because it makes sense or is interesting, but because it makes the writer’s life easier. Of course, I’m a giant snob, but to my mind they are cheating–even when I do it myself, I’m conscious of cheating–I’ll edit or rewrite or junk the story if I can’t fix it. Either I write what the fictional universe of the story demands or I don’t get to write the story–or at least, that’s the ideal I’m striving for.

In my current snarky mood, I have been mentally listing the fictional dodges I see most often–here’s a few about characters. Let’s be honest: character is what I care most about and I may well have a few unconscious hacks in other areas that aren’t priorities for me in my writing. But I’ll try to cover them later. If I’m not too tired. If you think of more hacks, about character writing or anything else, please comment to add to the list:

Prenaturally intelligent/wise-beyond-their-years children are written by people unable to write believable kid dialogue. So they about write short, slightly odd adults who like video games.

Loners are wildly popular in short stories and novels. There are any number of reasons why this is, but I suspect that a certain percentage of it is because it’s extremely hard to create the impression of a complex, interconnected social world without giving it undue space if that’s not what the story is actually about. The worst is in YA novels, because for kids their varying levels of friends and acquaintances are the whole world, but inevitably YA novels give protagonists one friend apiece, and rarely even mention other acquaintances by name.

Only children/people isolated from their families/people whose families are dead: see previous point.

Freelancers and other people with flexible schedules: see previous point but also this is a research failing. For some full-time writers, it’s very hard to imagine what a structured scheduled lifestyle with enforced contact with strangers and/or people they don’t like. So they give the characters a “freelance” gig that they spend almost no time on, and that never interferes with anything or causes them to have to do anything they wouldn’t have done anyway.

Villains are people who have no motivation other than to oppose the protagonist of a book or story, and seem to have little back story or indeed personality beyond their evilness. These people are distinct from fully imagined assholes, which everyone is welcome to write about all the time because they are so interesting.

Horrible marriages for apparently no reason: Fiction is often populated by spousal villains–jerkfaces that exist to thwart the main characters but are also somehow married to them. They have no positive characteristics and no one seems remember why they hooked up in the first place but now here we are…

***

Sorry for the snarkfest–I have had a headache for nearly a week now. Hopefully I will feel better soon and write something nice about something…

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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