Monday, August 31, 2009

How's this for a 'hmmph' moment?

You go to New Hampshire for a long week-end, and when you get back there are five messages, and they're all for your nine-year-old son.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

I'm Definitely NOT Without Sin, BUT....

I try really hard not to judge other parents. I know full well that parenting can be like a box of chocolates mixed with rabbit poop -- you REALLY never know what you're gonna get. So go ahead, feed your toddler chocolate in front of me, leave them wailing and beating their fists on the floor of the mall for as long as you like, use whatever bribery or blackmail seems required... whatever gets you through.
My kids are fairly timid and clumsy, so they're not big climbers or clamberers or daredevils. A lot of kids are, and their parents let them climb things or jump off things that I don't have to debate letting my kids climb or jump off because it just doesn't come up.
However, today we were at this great park we go to quite often. There are a bunch of different areas with different play structures, and a splash pad. My friends and our eight kids and one baby were pretty much the only ones there for a bit, and then a summer camp of twenty kids showed up. It got a little crazy, nothing major. Then one boy climbed up on the top of the play structure where our kids were playing. Now, I've seen kids get on top of a play structure with a flat roof. It doesn't thrill me, but really, it's the same surface they would be on inside the play structure, just a little higher. This was not a flat roof. This was a curved piece of slippery plastic that was barely as wide as his body, which was over three slides so there were kids rushing by under him and bumping him. If he fell, it was far enough to do real damage.
In short, this seemed to be like the classic 'real bad idea'.
photo credit
creative commons license
We didn't really know what to do. His sister kept yelling at him to come down, but no parent appeared. I was on the verge of going over and asking him where his Mom or Dad was just so I could go ask them if they were okay with this, because (this does not show me in the best light) if he fell, then at least I could say I drew someone's attention to it. As I was about to go over, one of the camp counsellors seemed to be approaching him, so I thought maybe he was with the camp. But the counsellor just looked at him as if he was having the same 'real bad idea' thought, but he didn't actually say anything.
Just as one of us was about to go over again, we see this woman running over from another play area. We breathe a sigh of relief. We wait for her to say "are you crazy? Get down from there this minute! You'll break your neck!"
Instead, she pulls out a camera and takes a picture.
So I'm at a total loss. I have no idea if I should have said something. Why is it so hard to say something? Instead I just thought "well, at least she'll have a good shot to show them when the emergency room doctor asks 'and how exactly did this happen?'" Bitchy, I know. I wonder what I've done to make people feel about me the way I felt about that woman.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Summertime, and the Blogging is Breezy.

I'm happy. We're having a great week. For once I didn't overplan, and we had a nice quiet Monday and Tuesday, ran a couple errands and got school supplies and lazed around and the kids acted like they liked each other. Yesterday we went to the beach with friends and it was hot but cloudy enough to shield us from the blazing sun, and the kids frolicked in the water and played in the sand and my friend and I went in and out of the water and talked and then we went over to her house and the kids disappeared upstairs, and when I had to take Angus home for baseball practice Eve refused to leave, so I left her there until bedtime. Today we went over to another friend's house and the kids were great and I made lunch for everyone (to make up for the fact that I had basically invited myself and my kids over to her house). I'm happy.
It's hard to blog when you're happy. Well, it's hard to blog and not feel like you're being really cheesy and boring. So I will not blog any further about myself. I went to see the movie Julie and Julia last week (well yes, I saw the movie, but... well, just listen). I enjoyed the whole movie, but the parts with Meryl Streep as Julia Child were so amazing, so magical, that I sort of felt like they couldn't help but overshadow the parts with Amy Adams playing Julie Powell, even though I love Amy Adams.
I read the book a few years ago, not long after it came out. It's Julie Powell's autobiographical account of how she decided, in a period of job-hating and self-loathing depression, she decided to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it. Her blog caught on and resulted in her getting a book deal. She currently has another book coming out about butchery and her extra-marital affair.
Last week there was a column in the Ottawa Citizen which ridiculed Julie Powell's original project and characterized her as frivolous and self-involved. It would have been good if I had kept the column so I could quote from it and capture its acid tone. But I didn't. Suffice it to say that it was mean enough that it struck me, and made me think -- really, what's your issue? Julie Powell wanted to be a writer, was stuck in a job she didn't love and couldn't figure out a way to be a writer. She figured out a way to be a writer, which succeeded in a very public, fairy-tale kind of way. For some reason, her writing struck a chord in enough people to make her successful. Okay, it was a rather obvious gimmick, but how exactly do you break into publishing these days without a rather obvious gimmick, if you don't have powerful connections or a stupid amount of dumb luck?
I'm not saying this columnist was just jealous. I'm saying that I'm curious about how she thought she could write a column like this and come off as anything but jealous. Maybe the whole "if you have nothing nice to say, it's better not to say anything at all" should be revised to include "because it just makes you look jealous". Unless it's really really funny. Somehow it's okay to be bitchy when you're really really funny. So maybe it just wasn't funny enough.
It's true that Julie Powell sort of climbed to fame on the sturdy back of Julia Child. So what? There are very few works of art, literature or music that can't be called in some way derivative. Everybody's on everybody else's back (ooh, did that sound dirty? See? Julie Powell would have made that sound dirty).
If I was in a midwinter funk I'm sure I could work this up into a more rigorous thesis of something or other. I don't really know where I'm going with this at all. In fact, I hate it when other writers only ever say positive, glowing, fake-sounding things, so I'm not sure why I felt so prickly about this. I guess there are some things I think it's fair to attack someone else's writing on, and some things that there are not. I mean, if someone wasn't self-involved to a fairly high degree, how would they be a writer at all? Julie Powell isn't always likable -- maybe she's a little too honest. Julia Child probably wasn't always likable either (oh, but she was so full of life and joy, she was so boisterous and spirited, she was so...tall!), but she didn't keep a blog.
Go Julie. Get over yourself, columnist whose name I can't remember. Go blog friends. Maybe someday someone will call us frivolous and self-involved. I'm certainly in there trying.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Getting Out of my Own Way

Yesterday was supposed to be my day off. Eve had slept over at my Mom and Dad's on Friday night and was happily ensconced in Grandma-and-Poppa-land ("I had pancakes for breakfast and macaroni and cheese for lunch, and then I told Poppa that I had all my favourites except nachos. So he went to the grocery store."). Matt and Angus were at a baseball tournament. The weather was perfect -- sunny and breezy, not too hot.
photo credit
creative commons license
I slept in, had a shower, cleaned up the kitchen, did some laundry, read a bit. Then I tried to figure out what The Thing should be. The Thing that I did to make my day off count. So I wouldn't just fritter it away without due consideration. My husband accuses me of being terrible at Days Off; apparently I obsess and brood and overthink until nothing I do can possibly be good enough and I end up depressed and irritable instead of relaxed and refreshed. And to that I say -- well, nothing, he's totally right. So yesterday: I could have read more but I wanted to do something outside. I could have read in the backyard, but it's south-facing and fenced so it was pretty hot back there. I thought about going for a walk, but I was kind of lonely.
It would have been a perfect day for sitting in someone's backyard or at a cottage -- you know, lawn chairs, drinks, talking, laughing, kids running around yelling happily. That particular scenario wasn't available.
So I thought. And thought. And fiddled with my hair a little, then thought some more. Half an hour later, I was at the baseball tournament. Sun, breeze, lawn chair, fun baseball moms, drinks (diet pepsi instead of margaritas, but still), laughing, talking, kids running around happily, and my son smacking a monster triple and snagging four line-drives out of the air effortlessly. And I ran into my friend and we ended up going to see a movie in the evening.
It was a perfect summer day. Happily, I didn't overthink my way out of it.
(Yeah, I have no idea what that really means either. This post lacks weight. Oh, the irony.)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Book Review: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

I don't know how to do this other than as a sprawling, messy, off-in-all-directions thing. I can't do book reviews like Emily, who has her own little New York Times thingy going on at Edge of the Page. I remember this one professor I had for a few courses -- he was French, and big and bearish with spiky black hair and a beard, and it always seemed to me that he carried this towering body of knowledge around right on top of his head, and all he had to do was reach up and pluck out a few facts and an allusion or two, and there was another fucking brilliant off-the-cuff insight. In contrast, I always felt like I had a much smaller body of knowledge, and it was all tucked away in my pockets or left on my dresser at home, so I was always saying something like "well, it's like the goat in the desert and... wait!... something about Flaubert and feet, or everybody dreaming about Zeus and then walking funny..." I guess there's a good reason why I ended up writing about playdough recipes rather than Melville.

Anyway, Crossing to Safety. My brother-in-law recommended it. Highly. Which didn't make me think I wouldn't like it, but makes me concerned that I won't get it in the right way and then my brother-in-law will stop talking to me and it will cause a rift in the family and I'll never be able to see my nephew again. And for the first few pages, I didn't get it. It seemed very seventies. A new professor starting a teaching job at a midwest university, a beatific, pregnant, insanely supportive wife... I could see it as a movie with a young Dustin Hoffman. Even the cover image, a dirt road between rows of blazing fall trees, was only waiting for the professors in matching harvest-coloured tweed.

But that was only the first few pages. The story actually takes place in the mid-thirties. And what is it a story about? The jacket says things like "love and loyalty" and "steadfastness and fidelity" and "several beautifully rendered American landscapes". When I ask which story it is all I get is a voice saying "this one". It's about two couples, one relatively poor, one relatively rich, who meet at a crucial point in their lives and become lifelong friends. The rich friends are dynamic, intelligent, and generous to a degree that strains all credibility. The poor couple is sweet, genuine and accepts the largesse of the rich couple with gratitude and graciousness. The plot twists do not consist of adulterous partner-swapping or war-time catastrophes, but of the small vagaries of fate that skew the courses of our lives, and how differences in character shape how people react to those changes of course. What would be, in another story, a character flaw mentioned in passing becomes, in Stegner's hands, elevated to the level of Greek tragedy.

Stegner poses the question of how much honesty can be borne by a marriage, or a friendship. Is equality a necessity, or possible, or even desirable? Charity Lang is a wonderful character -- someone you want to know, and at the same time, someone who fully illustrates my conviction that nothing is as terrifying as someone who is certain about things.

Sometimes it makes me sad how the lives of people, even fictional people, can be contained within the pages of a single book. There is definitely sadness here, but it's the sadness you feel when things end more or less the way they should, the way you expected them to, as well as possible.

I worked at a small independent bookstore in Toronto about thirteen years ago, for a little over a year between finishing my Master's and moving to Ottawa. There was a book club doing this book, so we sold a dozen of them at one point. One of the women I worked with always said 'Stenger' instead of 'Stegner', and this made me crazy. I kept meaning to read it, but I don't think I ever even read the jacket copy. It would have been interesting to read it then, having just been married, and again now, with a few more years of marriage, and a clearer picture of how complicated it can be for a married couple to be close friends with another married couple.

I like a good anti-hero as much as the next person. But sometimes it's nice to feel that an author is sympathetic to his characters -- that he sees them clearly, but forgives them, and loves them anyway. Like a really good friend.

I recommend it. Highly.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

On second thought

He's a good husband, really. He was just trying to get the partially-assembled basketball net off of the driveway for the night. He didn't realize I wouldn't be able to drag the hose around it. And last night he didn't realize that when he wound the hose up in the hose box it would be incredibly difficult for me to unwind it enough to reach all the flowers in the front yard without extremely taxing bodily contortions and said hose box being dragged about six feet down the paved path as I hoped I could just pull on the goddamned hose hard enough that it would unwind itself. It's not his fault that my feet are made wrong which makes my back hurt most of the time and I was hot and getting bug-bitten.

I probably shouldn't have opened with "WHY do you hate my plants?".