Monday, July 4, 2016

Conversations

Pam: "Come on, let's go to the gym."

Me: "But it's Monday. Who wants to go to the gym on Monday?"

Pam: "We always go to the gym on Monday. It's our gym day."

Me: "Didn't we just go to the gym yesterday?"

Pam: "That was LAST MONDAY."

Me: "What are we doing at the gym."

Pam: "Cardio and weights."

Me: "What kind of weights?"

Pam: "Arm and leg."

Me: "We did that last time. You have to rest your arms or legs between sessions. Or something."

Pam: "NOT WHEN YOU ONLY GO ONCE A WEEK."

Me: "How about we just go cupcake shopping?"

Pam: "You realize that in real life Mindy Lahiri would probably be very unhealthy and have no friends, right?"

Me: *grumpily picks up gym bag*

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Surly Thursday: Not Crazy, Just a Little Unwell

I still don't feel like writing. But I told myself I have to write a blog post or exercise, and I REALLY don't feel like exercising, so here we are.

I become more and more aware of my mood cycles as I age. In April my friend was here and I said I felt like she was mad at me or hiding something, and when she looked shocked I said "but I'll believe you if you say I'm wrong, because I remember the same thing happening last year before your birthday. I think this is the time of year when you get distant and I get paranoid."

I had a brief burst of wit and energy in May - decluttered a bunch of areas in the house, framed and hung up a bunch of pictures that had been lying around for years - and then June hit me like a hammer. And I realized that I invariably feel completely etiolated in June, even though I'm happy that the school year is ending and the structure of our days will change and the weather is better. Way to make NO FUCKING SENSE, mood cycle.

Photo credit Scott Hart
 I roused myself to hitherto unseen heights of house-cleaning the week before my birthday party - you can actually see WALL between pieces of furniture in the living room and dining room now, instead of stacked-up kindergarten art (yeah, my kids are practically adults now, piss off) and paintings that my husband likes but I don't (trees and rocks, they're great, maybe better outside than in) and rolls of wrapping paper and gift bags (it would be a TRAGEDY if we had to go all the way downstairs for one of those). And it was quite satisfying. Then we had the party, which was fabulous.

Then..... *that sound of something falling before it explodes, but no explosion, because an explosion would take energy*.

I'm working on my penultimate course for my diploma. I miss my placement. I loved my placement. I should have done that placement last, because any other placement will invariably suck by comparison. I just want that job, now, with, like, actual pay. I am finding it hard to give any kind of fuck percentage about this course, even though it's on children's programming which I'm theoretically interested in.

I find myself nursing resentments over throw-away comments my friends made months ago, or bracing myself for my mother to make comments about my hair or my weight or my driving before I see her, or dreaming of fighting with my sister over things we would never fight about. And then I realize that there's one common denominator here, and it's not all the OTHER horrible people in the world. Uh-oh.

I need new orthotics really badly - every time I walk anywhere I hobble around with a burning lower back and twisted-up feet for days after. So am I hastening with great alacrity to order those orthotics?

Photo credit Troy Tolley
Not so much.

I read another book today that wasn't really worth the two hours I spent reading it. I keep saying I'm going to stop doing that, and then I don't. My taste for writing has matured, but my juvenile sense of curiosity invariably sucks me in to any book that has a mystery that I can't immediately figure out. Then even when it all becomes predictable and the dialogue is clunky and I know I should go read something substantive instead, I just don't.

It's okay. It will pass. Probably. Eve got out of grade seven with good marks despite, not because of, most of her teachers, and I'm proud of the resilience she's developed throughout a pretty challenging year (more on that in the next post). Angus is baseballing all over southern Ontario and the states right now and having a blast. I will force myself to work on my course, and walk, and order new orthotics, and blog. Because it makes everything better, or at least helps me keep a handle on everything getting worse.

If anyone needs me, I'll be over here in the red tent.




Monday, June 6, 2016

Mondays on the Margins: Twist and Shout OR Stop F*cking Comparing Everything to Gone Girl Already

For the love of Gillian Flynn, could every freaking publisher stop marketing every freaking new book as the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train? Yes, Corporate Reading thinks we're all sheep that follow every new trend and then every other trend coat-tailing on the first trend, without any ability to discern quality for ourselves. Could we just not?

For the record, I read both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Hey, I'm as susceptible to hype as anyone, I just take a breath before I leap in, and I don't buy, I borrow. Here's the thing about Gone Girl; Gillian Flynn has actually been around for a while. I would have read Gone Girl even without the blow-up because I had read her previous two books and found that she's actually a really good writer. Her books are dark mysteries that also have some solid and uncomfortable insights into the icky parts of relationships and family and self-image and identity. This is also true of Gone Girl, and that's what I think makes it a great read, not just the 'twist' that seems to be the hook that publishers think will grab everyone.

Here's the thing about The Girl on the Train - it's a really solid book, for a first novel. It has great narrative energy and the writing is workmanlike. I felt that it lacked the depth of Gone Girl simply because Hawkins hasn't had the time to develop those writing chops, but she very well might in forthcoming work.

So now every new book, especially debut work, is being touted as the next Gone Girl or Girl on the Train. Well, yeah, because every publisher wants you to buy up stuff by their new author and create another feeding frenzy that will make them rich. And hey, I'm all for Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins getting rich off writing - something that is really, really hard to do these days. But I'm not a publisher, and I don't have a horse in this race. What I can do is tell you about some books that I've read that have a twist, if you like that kind of thing. And I do - if it's done well, and supported by great writing, and works to subtly undermine things in a clever way, there's nothing more delicious than a good plot twist. What a lot of these 'next Gone Girl' writers and publishers don't seem to realize is that a plot twist is nothing without a good plot to twist, or good writing to twist it well. And a lot of readers (present company excepted, naturally) don't realize that you can read backwards as well as forwards - it doesn't always have to be about the Next Big Thing.

So here's my list of, um, I don't know.... the last Gone Girl? Gone Girl Precursors? Really Good Books that Mostly Have Some Sort of Twist and Who Actually Gives a Fuck About Gone Girl, Let's Move On? No, that's unkind, I'm not blaming the book, just the shallow lowest-common-denominator shilling.

There are seventeen - not ten or fifteen twenty or any kind of round number because this isn't a neat little magazine list!

Exmoor Trilogy by Belinda Bauer (Blacklands, Darkside and Finders Keepers): These work as standalones, but they are a magnificent work of melancholy mystery with a visceral sense of place when read all together.

Monkeewrech by P.J. Tracy: On the whole, this series is a little uneven - some entries are brilliant, and some are mediocre mysteries that still have a really fun cast of characters. The first one really needs to be read first, though (I didn't read it first. Slight regrets).

The Scarred Man and The Animal Hour by Andrew Klavan: I could write a whole post on this author in the category of whether you can still love books by people you come to strongly dislike personally, but I won't right now. I read these years and years ago, and to me they exemplify classic noir storytelling with hard-boiled characters, flawed steamy romances and cracking good twisty mysterious plot elements.

Lost Boys by Orson Scott Card: See above about authors with problematic opinions on stuff which I feel strongly about. I can't tear myself away from his storytelling, though. This is more of a meandering family story where the mystery smacks you in the face, but it packed a real punch for me. 

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane: I also adore his Kenzie and Gennaro mystery series - like, it's in my top five mystery series list. But this fits square in the psychological-suspense, slow-build-of-dread, shook-my-head-in-wonder-when-it-was-over category. 

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton: I also liked her earlier mysteries, before she started her Lacey Flint series. There's a substantial danger that this will get confused with Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - if you end up with one instead of the other, just read it! Happily, they're both pretty good. 

To the Power of Three by Laura Lippman: In direct contrast to how I usually feel, I really like Lippman's Tess Monaghan series, but I LOVE her standalones, particularly this one and Every Secret Thing. They both have some very deft writing about class divisions, adolescent female friendships, and how the effects of crime reverberate around a society in sometimes unseen ways. 

The Treatment and The Devil of Nanking by Mo Hayder: Dark, twisty AND twisted - not for the faint of heart. 

The Last Child by John Hart: With some books, you just feel like the author squished up a bunch of broken hearts and wrote the book in broken heart juice. You might think I'm a monster for liking this. "Like" isn't even the right word. 

Sanctum by Denise Mina: 

Land of the Living by Nicci French: She has amnesia but is not a brain dead moron. In fact, she takes control of her own victimization quite admirably. 

Judas Child by Carol O'Connell: Dark and messy and brilliant. 

The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah: Leads you down the garden path and then clobbers you with a bird-feeder. Wholly unreliable narrator. I had no idea where this was going. Still catching my breath. 

Oh, and there's this book The Widow that's supposedly also for fans of You Know What, and you know how I always say even if someone you like doesn't like a book, don't let that stop you from reading the book and deciding for yourself? On this one, do yourself a favour and let me decide - it's utter crap. 

(I apologize that I seem to have let Surly Thursdays creep somewhat into my Mondays on the Margins post. I will attempt not to make this a regular thing). 




Sunday, June 5, 2016

Conversations

On our way down to Toronto to visit the new baby, Eve and I stopped for lunch, and bought some doughnuts that we put in the back seat.

A while later, she looked back and said "oh man. I want a doughnut. But I'm not really hungry. Have you ever had that happen, that you're not really hungry, but you just feel like eating something?"

Me: - HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA *drives into a speeding transport*

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Death, Birth, Life

So, my friend died. And then my other friend died. One I had only met in person once, and we kept making plans to get together that never quite materialized. One I had never met in person and it was unlikely that I ever would. This doesn't really matter - Nicole summed up nicely how Internet friendships are not in any way inferior copies of real-life friendships here and here. It does mean that I'm very aware of not being anything close to a primary mourner, but I am heartsick and bereft and can't even imagine how devastated their families are. I also got kind of scared to open Facebook, which was where I found out about both (very unexpected) deaths. My husband came home and said "My Facebook was blowing up about Greg from Science School" and I started tearing up before he could spit out that Greg wasn't dead, it was just really cool that now his daughter was going to the same Science School where my husband met him.

Then my dad had a sudden-onset crippling vertigo thing that landed him in the hospital for a couple of days being CT-scanned and examined by a neurologist and unable to move out of a bed without falling. This was terrifying and surreal and also sort of screwily wonderful, because it showed how my family maintains their cock-eyed humour and smartassery even in the face of fear and medical uncertainty. The paramedics said they hadn't had so much fun on a call in weeks. It turns out that it was probably a virus, since the doctors couldn't find any causative factor and we heard anecdotal reports of other people having the same thing. Still, it was exhausting and scary and showed how everything can turn in an instant. Which I knew, of course, but there's knowing and knowing, you know?

In the midst of all this, I finished my placement at my kids' old school library by running a book fair from start to finish. It was a lot of hours of being on my feet, and dealing with volunteers and kids and parents, and moving stuff and fixing stuff and adding stuff and counting stuff, and my head was usually pounding at the end of the day, but it was wildly successful and very rewarding. Kids ran into the library yelling "Looks great, Mrs. McCaskill!" Kids pumped their fists when they were given their book fair time slots. Everybody bought Monsters Love Underpants and kitten posters. Then Katy did my evaluation for the placement and said she had to take out the thesaurus to look up a bunch of synonyms for 'excellent', and it was just really nice to feel so wanted, and competent, and appreciated.

I've been really happy for the past few weeks. Like, really, weirdly, several-days-at-a-time happy. I was working just enough in a really fun position where I saw people I liked every day, I had just enough structured time and just enough down time, and I felt good. So of course when things started to go haywire I wondered if I shouldn't have been so happy. If being happy was taking my hands off the wheel and not paying attention was what made stuff go wrong for other people. Or if I stole someone's happiness right when they really, really needed it. Intelligent, logical stuff like that.

And in the midst of it all,  my sister-in-law went ahead and produced this magical creature.


And Matt and Angus met her when they were in Toronto last week-end for baseball.


And Eve is green with envy, so this week-end Eve and I go to meet the baby, and the goddamned vicious, cursed, perverse, wonderful, beautiful circle of life goes around. And around.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Halting and Catching Fire

It's been a strange, exhausting few weeks. I'm happy about some things, sad about some things, and my computer keeps overheating and shutting off every few minutes. But I'm still here. And I just realized I really want to talk about all of it. So stick around if you feel like it, okay?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Word by Word

So Sunday was Blogging Out Loud Ottawa at the Writers Festival, probably the last one ever. I'm kind of sad that there's no chance Lynn will be emailing me to say "I'm so sorry, but you have to read at BOLO again" next year. I wore my new Docs because I wore my old Docs the very first time I read, and it seemed like a full-circle kind of thing. I had brunch with a group of people so fabulous that I kept pinching myself and everybody else just to confirm that I wasn't dreaming, until everyone said stop pinching me or I will pelt you with Tater Tots.

Photo credit Jennifer Bennett


And here's a really bad photo of my cute dress.


 I got to the venue and saw even more fabulous people and I thought I might actually be in heaven, except a few key people were missing. Also, in the one picture of me reading I look as big as a house (not inaccurate, but sobering). But I kind of like this picture of me laughing at Joe Boughner's hilariousness.


And the pictures of me smiling so hard I can't keep my eyes open because I'm standing next to someone delicious. 



Would it have been a more magical day if my tummy stuck out a little less? I guess I'll never know for sure, but I'm guessing probably not by much. Would it have been better if I was less drunk with joy and remembered to keep my eyes open and smile a little less manically? I don't think so.


I read fifth. I didn't print my post out in a big enough font, and it was a little dark at the podium, so I was kind of straining to read, and people laughed at the right parts but the funny parts seemed really far apart, so the whole thing felt very long. I was too nervous to even notice if everyone clapped after, but they probably did. As usual, the other posts were amazing and being included in that lineup felt like it required more pinching (I looked like someone had used me for a dart board the next day).

I came home exhausted and elated. Angus asked me to help me edit his rant for English. I usually don't do too much to edit him because I want it to be his work, so I just point out the most obvious mistakes. But his previous English teacher who he liked was off on mat leave, and the new teacher seems to be a much harder marker, so he wanted me to really be stringent on grammar. I reworked it with him until it seemed beyond reproach to me and then I said "now if she marks it badly we'll know she just doesn't like jocks". And then I started laughing and he asked me why I was laughing, and I said I had just remembered this guy I knew in University who was extremely smart and well-read and a tiny bit stuffy. He had a huge crush on this black-haired girl named Sophie with a Russian last name - she was tiny and beautiful but not very smart or well-read, and he was furious that she had gotten a bad mark on an English essay, and I asked him why, because Sophie getting a bad mark on an English paper didn't seem like a big shock to me, and he said "because I WROTE the damned thing!" (Actually he probably said 'blasted thing' or 'cursed thing' - he really was kind of pretentious). Which is not a great argument for the professor, as it turns out.

Then I went to work on Monday and spent long delirious moments in the supply room trying to decide between saffron, salmon and goldenrod paper for my Book Fair memo. I lifted the papers warm from the photocopier and giggled as I thought of the phrase "hot off the presses". I hurt my shoulder using the paper cutter to slice them all into thirds. I risked repetitive strain injury stapling three hundred memos to three hundred flyers (and that's only half of them). And I thought again about how happy I am there, and how stupid it is that it took me as long as it did to realize I belong in a library job. And how lucky I am that I spend a good part of my life now surrounded by wonderful people, and words.