Thursday, October 27, 2011

Surly Thursdays OR How Sometimes I'm Just Not That Bright

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time will not be surprised by my confessing that I'm fairly wishy-washy, I suck at confrontation and I just want everyone to get along. On the one hand, I think I'm fairly good at looking at issues from several different points of view; on the other hand, sometimes I sort of admire people who have a solid opinion and are not going to be swayed no matter what.

One of the things I've been trying to improve at is speaking up when I disagree with someone. In the past, I've let statements go by without challenging them either because I didn't feel like I could marshal my thoughts well enough to state cogently why I disagreed, or because I was just too chickenshit. But I've grown increasingly uncomfortable with taking that road - it feels cowardly and dishonest. So if I read a statement on Facebook or a blog post that I disagree with, I will often say so in my comment, as respectfully as possible. For the most part, this has not resulted in any negative experiences and it feels like a tiny bit of growth, so that's good.

Do you know Sandra? I like Sandra. She's kind and self-deprecating and hysterically vulgar, and she has killer abs (okay, I don't 'like' her for that so much as 'feel a bitter, coruscating acid-like envy', but whatever). She has a lot of followers and gets a shit-ton of comments on every post. Her followers like her a lot. Have you noticed that when this happens with a blogger, a sort of phenomenon takes over the majority of the commenters that dictates that every comment must be not just positive, but overwhelmingly positive and supportive and complimentary? "Oh my God, you are the funniest person ever and I love you more than I love my own children!!!!!" "I just laughed so hard my spleen came out my nose!!!! How are you this funny???? Your family must just sit around and laugh at you all day every day!!!!! And also, whoever you hate, I hate them even more than you and I will track them down and kill them with nail scissors!!!!"

I'm not claiming that I'm not often guilty of similar behaviour. When you read a post that articulates something that you suddenly realize has been floating vaguely around your own psyche, and renders it both clearly and comically, it does make you feel like you've found a soulmate, and I often love immoderately on my favourite bloggers in my comments too. But I try to be wary of being swept up in the 'if you hate them I hate them' wave without considering whether I do actually hate the person/corporation/cohort in question. Sandra recently wrote a post about an unpleasant and frustrating parent-teacher interview she had with her son's teachers. People were sympathetic, which is great, BUT, a lot of the comments on this post seemed to insinuate that not just THESE teachers but ALL teachers were unintelligent, uncaring, too quick to medicate and just general douchebags. So this was my comment:

Wow, is this a gathering of people who love to bash teachers anonymous? Or not so anonymous? One of my issues with bloggers who get big is the commenters who love them SO much that they will not only agree with anything they say but will go orders of magnitude further just to prove their loyalty – not only are THESE two teachers bad, ALL TEACHERS ARE HORRIBLY AWFULLY BAD. I would be livid in your place also, Sandra, and I’m glad you have so many supporters but geez, people, take a breath.

Pretty innocuous, right? A couple of teachers actually responded that they appreciated this comment, and no one seemed to find it offensive, so good.

Then I saw a new post from Sandra in my blogroll entitle "The Blogger Who Gets Big". I thought, uh-oh. Then I read the post and then I read the comments which said a bunch of things about rude commenters, haters and 'nonintelligent misinterpreters' and said that they should shut up and blow themselves and a bunch of other stuff. Then I got upset and commented again and said Dudes, I wasn't being rude, and I wasn't even disagreeing with Sandra, I was disagreeing with all the people who can't distinguish liking someone's writing from over-agreeing with them to a loony degree (I'm paraphrasing). I was frustrated. I was tired. I was confused about how saying that Sandra was a blogger who had gotten big was insulting. I was confused about how a comment that didn't use any bad words or direct anyone to ingest fecal matter was negative or rude. I said my piece then I went up to bed.

Then I laid in bed awake for a while. Then I realized that I'M A TOTAL MORON. She didn't quote my comment in the post. She didn't link to me. She didn't even mention me. She used the first phrase from my comment and then wrote about what that made her think, which is totally legitimate, and then a few commenters made an assumption that it was a negative comment and jumped all over the theoretical commenter, whereupon I outed myself as the theoretical commmenter like a giant idiot, when I could have just shut up and gone to bed fifteen minutes earlier. Maybe I'M the narcissist.

Sometimes blogging is really weird.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ow ow ow ow ow, and also yay me.

At some point in every woman's life comes a time when she has to face her fears and say:

"You can't scare me. I have children."

Fellow parents - do you find that things that used to turn you pale have lost their power to frighten since you've become conversant with the small beings who move into your house, take all your money, leak all over you and never let you watch the fun channels on TV? I don't know what it is - if all the years of plunging my bare hands into unspeakable substances have worn down my fear response or if it's just that I've forced myself to do scary things (like go headfirst down really high water slides) so many times solely to sew up the rights to mock my kids for NOT doing them. Or maybe I'm just too damned tired to be scared.

Anyway. I'm pretty sure that before I had kids you never would have caught me dead harnessed up and walking on skinny, swaying trails of octagonal beams or half-missing strings of swinging steps ten metres off the ground for three hours on a Saturday afternoon, FOR FUN. I still haven't decided if it's better or worse that my husband was in Australia for the group aerial adventure. I really wanted someone there that I could curse at with impunity if I got into trouble (the other three women generously offered up their husbands for cursing-at purposes). On the other hand, the tense discussion about whether we should race back to Mark the financial advisor's house in order to sign the life insurance policy for Dave which was currently unsigned, and Dave's subsequent musing on whether leaving the policy unsigned for the moment might actually render him safer while wandering around among various tightropes and swaying timbers made me think it was not so bad being a seventh wheel. We did establish a loose rule that, of the two people allowed on every course feature at one time, both should not be members of the same married couple. That's just good sense, right?

We also had a moment's pause when they divided us into an English group and a French one and, while the French guide gave his group a good ten-minute talk, our guide said "everybody got their gloves? Okay, let's go!" We were in Quebec, after all - what if they were giving the French people all the GOOD safety rules and letting us go first to see if anything went wrong? I know, I know, sometimes living in Ottawa makes you paranoid. If they were less than eager to preserve our safety over anyone else's, it was probably because of the pretty much indefensibly immature way we reacted to the whole 'nobody is allowed to touch anyone else's equipment' rule.

On the whole, it wasn't as hard as I expected. Except for about three spots, which were much, much harder than I expected. On one, I caught myself about halfway across actually doing horror-movie breathing -- you know, sobbing out, squeaking in? It was amusing, until I realized I couldn't stop. And then there was this:

My evil nemesis

So you had to get from the platform onto the ladder, which was perpendicular to the platform, and then onto the web. Except my carabiner buckles got stuck between the ladder post and the web while my body was already on the web, and by the time I got them off I was at the very limit of my arm strength. It was a strange feeling - sort of 'wow, if my life depended on how strong and smart I was about this, I would totally be dead'. So I experienced a moment of complete and utter panic, and then let myself go and rested in the harness for a moment. And the world didn't end, and people were waiting, so I figured out a way where, instead of getting my feet back on the web I just used one hand to pull myself along the bottom of the web and the other to scoot my carabiners along the lifeline - it wasn't pretty, but it got the job done. My pride was somewhat salved by the fact that the rest of our group then decided to go across the same way without even trying the other way. They might have just been trying to make me feel better, but frankly I don't really care.

I thought I might be nervous about the ziplines. But the ziplines were at the end of the courses - Christ, by the time I got there I was so happy for a rest I would done something even scarier than ziplining (sorry -shocking comparison FAIL).

There's always a certain 'why am I doing this?' factor to any of this stuff - why do we go camping, or do canoe trips, or pay good money to experience pain and fear in at least a small measure? Because we don't have to hunt for our food, or fight in wars, or plough fields and gather crops? Partly, I think. Partly just because we need to break our routine and challenge ourselves every now and then. Partly because it's good to take something to which your first response is 'oh HELL no' and see if 'well, maybe' is a possibility. Partly because after an afternoon like that, food tastes really good and every beer is the BEST BEER EVER.

Everyone I know who has done this course said my legs would be toast for a few days. Naturally, my legs are fine - when do I ever have a normal reaction to anything, I ask you? My arms are really sore (I made a few unpretty noises while trying to lift library books onto shelves today), and I have some fairly impressive bruises on my inside biceps. But my back? It feels great - I think ziplining might have cured it.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Surly Thursdays

I was a little afraid I wasn't going to be able to summon up a decent amount of surliness, what with my awesome week-end and my extremely painful and stubborn lower-back condition resolving somewhat. Fortunately, then it rained for four days straight and the tendonitis in my right elbow resulted in me using my left hand more which now causes a burning pain to shoot up my left arm every time I move that thumb. Also, my husband left for Australia yesterday and last night my enormous eleven-year-old son hurtled into my bed whimpering in terror because it was raining so hard he couldn't sleep and he was afraid we were going to get flooded (by which he didn't mean the basement might get a little damp, naturally - he was envisioning the army having to airlift us off our roof. Maybe we should stop letting him use that Worst Case Scenario toilet paper). I kept murmuring reassurances, and then just as I would close my eyes and start to drift off he would yelp "was that lightning? Was THAT lightning?" This morning he stumbled downstairs bleary-eyed and said "Sorry for what I did last night. It wasn't a good thing for either of us."

So tomorrow's a P.D. day, I have four kids all day, I have an assignment due by midnight and it hurts to type. Plus I'm supposed to scale rope bridges and zipline and shit on Saturday - who needs two good working arms for that, right?

Nevertheless, I am still thankful. That my daughter has just learned about the sixties and is wandering around saying "Let's change it up, man! It's like the sixties, man! You have to say 'man' after every sentence, man!" That my son kept guffawing at the jokes about 'genitals' in the Big Bang Theory and then looked at me and furtively asked "does that mean balls?" That no one really wants me to stop being snarky - even the universe, clearly, because right after I wrote that post I went to get my hair done and cracked a trashy magazine open and there was Toni Braxton, big as life, talking about her sons - Denim and Diezel.

Thank-you, Universe. Message received.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Mondays on the Margins: Book Review - Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

A few weeks ago I found a package of books in the mail from Trish at House of Anansi Press. The note said that the two fall releases were a little off the beaten path, so she thought they might be right up my alley. I sent her an email that read "Dear Trish: how is it we've never met and yet you totally get me?" Then she emailed back and said she reads my blog even when it's NOT about books she's sent me, which might have made me squeal in a most unbecoming fashion.

The quote from Anne Enright on the cover of my ARC of Island of Wings says that this book is written "With scrupulous attention to place, history and the natural world," and "tells a story washed by a clean and lovely kind of sorrow". I both love and hate it when someone else has articulated my own opinion so well BEFORE I'VE EVEN READ the damned book. I also automatically struck it from the list of books I will recommend to Patti and Susan, who often walk around Indigo on dance night picking up books and chucking them aside saying things like "haunting sense of melancholy? I don't THINK so!" and "heart-piercing beauty? Screw that, who wants a pierced heart?"

I found a lot of similarities between Neil McKenzie and Nathan Price from The Poisonwood Bible, which I also loved; both are intelligent, well-meaning, tormented men who I simultaneously wanted to throttle and comfort. The sense of place is vivid, evoking the harsh, spare beauty and the unforgiving nature of the land, from which the native St. Kildans wrest a hand-to-mouth living. Lizzie McKenzie is a more sympathetic character (I'm pretty sure this isn't because I'm a woman, and not in love with organized religion); she is insightful and compassionate, even though her opportunities are extremely limited by her gender and situation.

One of the most frustrating things about McKenzie is that he's NOT an evil man. He's not trying to be an asshole (most of the time) - he really thinks he's right; he's TRYING TO SAVE THEIR SOULS. This blinds him to the fact that in many ways the St. Kildans are already moral and principled people: they look out for each other; they accept no gifts unless they are given to the community as a whole; when Lizzie's twins die and she insists they must be buried in coffins, they muster together enough wood, although it is an extremely scarce commodity and they have all been equally devastated by the death of many infants. All McKenzie can see, however, is their godless paganism, and this makes them inferior in his eyes.

This isn't a book that reaches any grand conclusions. It is a fictionalized treatment of the lives of actual people, based on some documentary sources. It draws brief, vivid sketches of people trying to accomodate themselves to an austere landscape and an unfamiliar people, with varying results. It captures a moment in place and time -- exceedingly well, in my opinion.

Memorable Quotes:

-"The archipelago grew out of the low clouds like bad teeth in a weak mouth, the rugged sea cliffs bleakly lit from behind by the sun, which was setting somewhere far out in the west."

-"'You must not ennoble them with more excellent virtues than they deserve, for they are quite crude in many ways... for example, however much effort I put into teaching them the Scriptures, it is as if they will not take them to their hearts. They can repeat the catechism like a child repeats a nursery rhyme, but they do not seem to feel the weight of its truth on their souls. Nor do they let it influence their life and conversation. Indeed' -- the minister was heated now by that missionary zeal -- 'I have heard them swear in the most medieval manner!'"

-"As he continued to look out to sea he was aware that her gentle devotion threatened to embrace him. Despising himself, he felt a need to deflect his sense of failure and shield himself from her love. At that moment he resented her decency as much as his own weakness. 'Our guests did not seem to enjoy their meal very much; perhaps you will be able to improve on the fare tomorrow?' he said, hoping that the cruelty would relieve his frustration and knowing that the hurt it caused could not be repaired."

-"It was no wonder then that the puffins' calls which filled the air sounded so melancholy. 'Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!' they called mournfully to anyone who was prepared to listen. They looked pitiful and sometimes rather comical, thought Dick, like a great assembly of drunken churchmen swaying back and forth on their webbed red feet, unable to decide where to put their weight. He mentioned this analogy to the minister, who laughed and said that in the current climate within the Church of Scotland the birds may well pass unnoticed."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Blissful, Joyful, Delighted, Gratified

These are all synonyms for 'thankful'. Which I am. My life is rich and full, and I am grateful beyond measure that I have 'all of the necessities and some of the graces' (a quote I love, from this book). My children, my husband, my parents, my sister, my brother-in-law, my niece and nephew, my friends, my books, my home, the plants that live, the plants that die, the sun, the wind, the snow and rain, enough food, too many clothes, Tuesday night tea with Patti and Susan, girls' week-ends, bad jokes, good jokes, music, colour, beauty and mystery and zombie stories.

On Saturday we informed the kids that this was going to be our last hockey-free beautiful Saturday for the foreseeable future, and therefore we were going to go for a walk in Gatineau Park. Angus said "can I bring my bike?" We said "um, no." He said "But I hate walking!" We said "we know." I think I've mentioned before, also, that Eve hates the smell of fresh air. So we had no illusions - this was an idyllic family stroll under duress, and that was fine by us. As it turned out, they weren't all that annoying. Eve was bitter that all the fuzzy red-and-black caterpillars seemed to have been commandeered by toddlers, although she didn't go for our suggestion that she offer to wrestle for one. Angus found that playing 'leaf baseball' alleviated the tedium of all the sunshine and beautiful scenery.

On Sunday we went to Brockville to meet my mother-in-law and her husband at my husbands' grandparents' retirement home for Thanksgiving brunch. Nana was her usual cheerful and sharp-as-a-tack self, and Grandpa was much as he has been lately - not entirely sure who everyone is or what's going on, but happy to be surrounded by loving faces. He did snap to at one point, when my mother-in-law told a volunteer to bring him and Nana small glasses of wine, holding her thumb and forefinger close together to demonstrate. The girl left and Nana asked Grandpa if he would like some wine and he said tartly, "yes, but I wish you'd all stop measuring it with your fingers!" That'll be me when I'm 90 - grandchildren come and go, but wine is forever.

Monday we had Thanksgiving dinner with my Mom and Dad, who were nice enough to delay it a day so we could be with them. Angus discovered that he loves pumpkin pie, much to Matt's dismay. The wine was not measured in fingers.

When we were back in the lounge after brunch, I was beside Grandpa and Nana was on the other side. She asked him how he was feeling. He looked up from his wheelchair, on a day pass from the hospital where he's been for three weeks, and said "I don't have anything to complain about."

Word, Gramps.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Surly Thursdays

On the off-chance that you're also feeling like crap - or even if you're not - go read this. It will either make you laugh and forget how crappy you feel or it will make you laugh until you feel even more headachey and barfish, but it will be worth it.

I'm off-kilter. I know, considering how seldom I am actually on-kilter, that statement is practically devoid of all meaning. I must be doing not that bad, though, because I've had a nagging headache, stabbing lower back pain and a sort of medium-queasy stomach for four days now and it's taken me until about an hour ago to develop the theory that it might be some non-specific full-body cancer (and by 'develop the theory' I naturally mean 'become totally convinced').

I got called a smart-ass by Amber a few days ago. You know, Amber? The nicest person in blogging? Once she was talking about how she believes in activism but she finds it intimidating to put herself out there, and most commenters were like 'yeah, totally, me too', but one was like 'then you're a cowardly lazy BAD CITIZEN and you should probably just crawl in a hole', and Amber said to this commenter that maybe she could dial it back a bit because she wanted her blog to be a safe and comfortable place for everyone. Dude, she makes her blog safe and comfortable EVEN FOR DOUCHEBAGS. When douchebags come to my blog I want them to be stabbed in the eye with the spiky hurtful crazy (uncertain how this is different from anyone else who comes to my blog, but the intent is different). And she called me a smart-ass (can't really blame her: she tweeted something like "there's not much that a sunny day can't make better" and I tweeted back "except maybe a drought".) So I'm thinking this is something I might have to work on, because it's literally like I CAN'T STOP MYSELF. And I just read a post by someone the other day about how she's now choosing to focus on the positive and be happy, and not everyone is pleased about it, but she's tired of negativity and complaining and snark.

Tired... of SNARK?

It occurs to me that I may have developed a snark dependency. I don't think I can get through the day without snark. I don't know if I want to live in a world without snark, and that's not good, right?

Okay, I'm going to try to go snark-free for the next few hours. I'll let you know how it works out. And Amber, if I run into any douchebags, I will do my level best to make them safe and comfortable. Because I think it would be good for me to be a little bit more like you and a little bit less like me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mondays on the Margins: Book Review - John Dies at the End by David Wong

First a word about pseudonyms. I guess I can kind of understand why some people use pseudonyms - for privacy, or safety, or fun. In some countries it might be a serious risk to one's life to publish under a real name. What I DON'T understand is why someone makes up a pseudonym, and then volunteers their real name IN THE SAME PLACE.


One summer, my best friend and I were camping at the provincial park where we went every summer and she decided that this summer we should make up cooler names for ourselves - she would be Renée and I would be Angela. I'm not sure why I went along with this, except that she was hot and the only way I had a hope in hell of attracting male attention was to stick by her side and hope for some overlap, and the park was pretty boring. So at one point, she leads us up to some guys and asks if they want to go for a walk and they say sure, and as we start walking she says "So I'm Renée and she's Angela. HA HA, no, never mind, actually, I'm Danielle and she's Allison."

Guy: "Uh, are you insane? Not that it really matters, since you're incredibly hot."

Me: "You are henceforth dead to me."

So why does a book have one author's name on the cover and then on the back jacket say "xxx is the pseudonym of xxx"? WHY? If you want to be daring and mysterious and pretend to be someone else, just DO IT. If your real name is too embarrassing to be on the front of the book, why put it on the back? Or what about when it's two authors, and it seems like the first thing they do before even writing the book is sit down and make up some cutesy mish-mash of their two names -- P.J. Tracy is a mother and daughter team. P.J. Parrish is two sisters (26 letters to work with, why do they all have to be P.J.?) Will it really throw the average book-buyer into such a bewildered tizzy if there are TWO authors' names on the front?

Anyway. The book. John Dies at the End. It's weird. And funny. And a little sad. And weird.

This is the dedication: "For my wife, who had been so tolerant and wonderful through all of this that I think she might be a product of my imagination. also, my best friend, Mack Leighty, who gave birth to the 'John' mentioned in the title, and who years ago convinced me to get into writing as a hobby instead of alcoholism.

Mack, I'll never forget that when things got really tough in my life, you stepped up and killed those dudes for me."

This typefies the tone of the book pretty well - humorous, a little touching, outrageous, sneaking up to the very border of being too cute. David Wong is the protagonist as well as being the fake name of the author (I hate when authors do that, too). John is his friend - the kind of friend who call display was invented in order to enable you to avoid. There is a new and reality-bending drug called Soy Sauce, there are various assorted demons and monsters, there's a dog named Molly who keeps dying and coming back to life, there are a couple of road trips (naturally) and a lot of dick jokes.

My reading curve went something like "who recommended this again? Huh? Well this is....ew. Ohmygod, that's hilarious! Oh, so when they.... hey, there might actually be a story here. Okay, this is dragging.....oh, here we are back here again. Oh, that's kind of nice."

David Wong is the (TOTALLY POINTLESS AND UNNECESSARY) pseudonym of Jason Pargin, online humorist, National Lampoon contributor, and editor in chief of (why yes, I DID get that from the back blurb, thanks for asking). This information fits very well with what I thought of the book. It's not terribly deep, but it's not all facile joke-of-the-day fluff either. There are moments of genuine loss, fear and connection in among the Ghostbusting and bad puns. Also, it made me giggle my sleeping husband awake, which doesn't happen that often.

Memorable quotes:

-"Sixteen different objections rose up in my mind at once and somehow they all cancelled each other out. Maybe if there had been an odd number..."

-"I reached for the knob. At the same moment it began to melt and transform, turning pink and finally taking the shape of a flaccid penis. It flopped softly against the door, like a man was cramming it through the knob hole from the other side. I turned back to John and said, 'That door cannot be opened.'"

-"This is Marconi. My secretary says you have some kind of a meat monster there?"

-(song lyrics) -"'My hat smells like/ lubricant, I don't wanna touch it/ Wait, this isn't mine! And it's not a hat!/ Camel Holocaust! Camel Holocaust!"

-"John said, 'Yeah, it's not a big deal for me to lift heavy objects. I'm sort of used to it, if you know what I mean.' I held up a hand to silence him. 'John --' 'Of course I'm talking about my penis.'"