Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Recursion 23

Scintilla Day 9:  Write a list of 23. (23 things to do, 23 people you owe apologies
to, 23 books you've lied about reading, 23 things you can see from
where you're sitting, 23 ten-word hooks for stories you want to

Notwithstanding the fact that any project that mentions LYING about reading books is momentarily on VERY SHAKY GROUND with me, here is my list of ... lists.

I couldn't think of anything to list, and going random just seemed too easy, so I googled list of, and then got caught up in all the lists there are. Which then makes this kind of random, doesn't it? Look, my husband's away and I did dance class AND playoff hockey last night, okay? AND the other team almost tied it up in the last four seconds. My nerves are SHOT.  

1. List of colours. Colour swatches from domain-specific naming schemes, and a bunch of other stuff I don't understand, but the names are cool. Android Green. Dark Byzantium. Caput Mortuum (that means 'dead head' or 'worthless remains' which is totally something I would like to have on my bedroom walls, how about you?)

2. List of the top ten evil children in fiction. Recently I watched Orphan and Joshua, which made me wonder what the hell I was thinking, and then question what the hell Vera Farmiga was thinking, especially the second time. Is there anything scarier than evil children? Evil bunnies, maybe? Especially because the people in the evil children books or movies have apparently never read or seen an evil-child book or movie, so no one ever believes the person who figures out that the kid is evil, while the poor person reading or watching is going "But it's so obvious! The child is EVIL! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE!" 

3. The top 17 most overused movie soundtrack songs. I had no idea the Big Butts song was in so many movies. 

4. The phobia list. Acerophobia - fear of sourness. Blennophobia - fear of slime. Zelophobia - fear of jealousy. Automatonophobia - fear of ventriloquists' dummies, animatronic creatures, wax statues - anything that falsely represents a sentient being (this seems to me both uncreatively named and JUST GOOD COMMON SENSE). Soceraphobia - fear of parents-in-law (not touching that one). You guys - this list is FUN.

5. Top ten animals you didn't know were venomous. BUNNIES. Just kidding. But look!

It's as cute as a bunny - and it's venomous AND poisonous. 

6. The Penis List. It's rude. It's crude. It's for the shallow and easily amused. Needless to say, I laughed my ass off.

7. The top ten most misunderstood lines in literary history. If you're anything like me, you will approach this list with an insufferable degree of smugness and immediately be demolished by the fact that HOLY CRAP, that's NOT what that Robert Frost poem means AT ALL. Hmph.

8. List of Doofenshmirtz's schemes and inventions. In case you're ever in the need of an idea for a good 'Inator'. Because who doesn't want to show the entire Tri-State area who's boss some days? 

9. List of songs that contain lists. Too meta? Sorry. 

10. A List of Dragon Movies

11. Lucky and unlucky Chinese numbers. Just, you know, in case.

12. The Elf Name Generator. Oh pipe down Gurutphen, so it's not a list, it's fun. 

13. List of antibiotics. Blephamide sort of sounds like it could be an elf name, doesn't it? 

14. Top ten amazing holes in the earth. You think I'M copping out here? One of these is called the Great Blue Hole!

15. List of hysterical fridge notes, which I can't link to because one was too gross. Sorry.

16. 12 hilarious teachers' replies. This one should be safe. 

17. List of Pokémon by National Pokédex Number. Some of you will thank me for this some day. The rest of you, move along. 

18. List of the world's billionaires. You never know when you might need one. And to the Spanx chick - NO ONE DESERVES IT MORE. 

19. List of Challenged Books and Magazines in Canada from Februry 2012. Including that hot-button tome, Ziggy Piggy and the Three Little Pigs. 

20. List of Endangered Languages: Be a sport - learn Dzongkha today. Feel slightly guilty if you can't help chuckling ruefully when you learn that the last two fluent speakers of Ayapaneco aren't speaking to each other.

21. List of curry recipes. Yes, I have spent way too long on this list and I need to go make dinner. Too bad I don't have any snake gourd on hand. 

22. List of Kangaroo Words. Here is a good definition of kangaroo words, which I knew nothing about until two minutes ago and about which I am now ridiculously excited. 

23. List of positive affirmations. Because I feel like I reverted to my regular blog persona somewhat on this one, so I went a TOTAL OTHER WAY just to keep you off balance. See? I can be positive and affirmative or whatever. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Scintilla Day 8: Who was your childhood best friend? Describe them--what brought you together, what made you love them. Are you still friends today?

She lived up the street from me. Honestly, I don't exactly remember why we became friends. We were nothing alike. She was gorgeous, developed early, had a lot of male attention at too early an age. Her parents (I only get this now) had married too young, were dissatisfied and inconsistent, ignored her for stretches and then demanded impossible things. She was athletic, a dancer. She wasn't the teacher-pleaser I was and had difficulties in school.

But we were inseparable. We rode our bikes around the dusty streets of our little town. We ran around the hills and bushes behind the elementary school. We babysat her younger sisters and played music and danced and she taught me how to move slightly less like a deranged bobble-head. I helped her with her homework. We snuck out her basement bedroom window at night, wandering the dark streets of our neighbourhood looking for safe danger, then wiggled back in the window, her skirt hiked up around her waist, her green underwear showing, and laughed until we gasped for air.

We navigated the rocky coast of first love and first heartbreak together, wrote terrible poetry and cried into her mother's ice cream. We discussed baffling sexual terms and talked to boys on the phone, switching back and forth without the boy ever guessing. We did unforgivable things to each other, often because of boys, and forgave each other anyway. I often felt that, although she lacked the vocabulary, she had an uncanny ability to see right to the heart of a matter. She may have been the first person to know me well and like me anyway.

In high school we dated best friends. My boyfriend found her baffling. Once when we were talking about her and I was explaining (not defending, because I never felt she needed that) he said "so... she's not wise, but she's clever?"

"No," I said "she's not clever, but she's wise."

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blood, Caste, Clan, Class, Division

Scintilla Day 7 prompt: List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get
the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your

There were times growing up when I felt like my cultural tribe wasn't much to get excited about, and envied those with  seemingly richer and more vibrant traditions and beliefs. My mother's family was Polish, so when we visited (usually once a year or less) there were perogies (yum) and cabbage rolls (blech) and unintelligible speech and the fact that we didn't like Ukrainians much even though they sounded EXACTLY the same. My father's parents were Scottish and English but didn't communicate much of that to us. Even the fact that all of my relatives lived in Saskatchewan gave them that 'western Canadian' tag, and the ones that were farmers had that in common - I spent years joking that whenever they didn't want to go on vacation with us they would just use 'the harvest' as a lame excuse.

My family lived in Ontario - average people living in the middle of Canada. On days in school when we were supposed to bring in things representing our heritage, I never really felt like I could compete with the Croatians or the Finnish kids, or the lone, impossibly exotic boy from the Philippines. 

I started to realize, at some point, that a deeply held feeling for one's culture carried some fairly heavy baggage with it, such as a bone-deep hatred for certain other cultures, or a long history of war. I thought maybe it was okay for me not to have a cool ethnic costume or a national dance if it also meant that I didn't automatically spit on the ground every time a certain country was mentioned. 

My friend Zarah has remarked, when I talk about growing up, that it sounds like my mother loved me but didn't really get me. That remark probably still holds true today.

I had friends in elementary school and high school - good friends. I wasn't exactly popular or exactly shunned. I was somewhere in the middle again. I always got high marks, and I always sucked at gym, so teachers liked me and cool kids mocked me with varying levels of affection and derision. 

In my first two years of university I lived in a residence where I was in a tiny minority - arts majors - in a sea of students of a decidedly more science-like bent. It was a fabulous time, living away from home, testing a variety of boundaries, finally learning to read and write with an underpinning of critical thought rather than a rote sucking-up and regurgitating method (which had admittedly worked quite nicely for me thus far). But again, most of the people I spent most of my time with were different enough that we regarded each other with a certain bemusement. One of my friends from the arts programs, a guy who loved Romanticism and actually read poetry out loud to girls, asked me why it seemed difficult for me to have a discussion about literature or philosophy without, at some point, needing to puncture the seriousness with a joke. I told him it was a self-defense mechanism borne of living among mathematicians and engineers, who would lynch me if they ever caught me going on about the noble savage or emotion recollected in tranquillity (hey - I might have just pinpointed the origin of my incorrigible smart-assery). 

I got married. I could say my husband loves me but doesn't really get me, but that's probably giving myself more credit for an alluring mysteriousness than I really deserve. He has my number in more ways than I care to admit.

We had children. There is absolutely something to be said for making your own tribe. My children get my wacky jokes, and not just because I've taught them how. From my husband they've gotten useful stuff like athletic prowess and mathematical ability. From me, they get a love of reading and the ability not to find their mother completely baffling. I'm calling it a win. 

I met three other women, two of whom worked with my husband along with their husbands, one whose husband worked at the same place. None of them still work there now, but we all had kids around the same time, and anyone with kids probably recognizes that this is a glue stronger than almost any other. All four of us have some significant differences in upbringing, sensibility and taste in movies (can you believe I'm friends with someone who loved Passchendaele?) But it doesn't matter. We've been through job loss, childbirth, teething, sleep deprivation, hitting, biting, wood slivers lodged in eyes, swallowed marbles and oceans of puke together. And we've confessed our darkest and pettiest secrets to each other, while drunk enough to overcome our shame and not drunk enough to forget. These women get me AND love me, even if the things they get about me are not things they have experienced. This is a gift whose value is beyond measure.

I started blogging. I met other bloggers. I confessed a lot of my darkest secrets again. I met people who felt the EXACT SAME WAY. Another gift, unexpected and welcomed with a dazed sort of joy.

It took a long time to feel like I had a tribe or three to which I solidly belonged, one that I am not afraid will cast me out if I make mistakes or show weakness. The chief image that springs to mind when I think of my tribes is laughter - not only because we all rely on humour to salve the occasional bitterness of life, even though we do, but because when I am with these people I frequently feel so all-encompassingly grateful and jubilant that I just have to laugh. 

Loving people because you understand them so well you're nearly the same person, and loving people you can't quite understand and probably never will. What else is there to strive for, really?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Faith (not the George Michael song)

Scintilla prompt Day 6: Talk about an experience with faith, your own or someone else's.


I had this when I was younger. My mother was a devout Catholic - still is, more or less. I went to Church every Sunday, and sang in the choir, and then played the organ for the choir. I went to Communion and Confession. I tried to root out every poisonous tendril of sin from my cracked and grimy soul, and still believed most of the time that I was going to hell.
But I had faith. That God was real. That I needed to follow the rules. That believing was more important than knowing.
I got a little bit older. I read a lot. I looked around some. I started to feel something else.


That we should feel superior to other people because we went to church once a week.
That the people in my church were following the rules they said they believed in.
That 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions' was a kind and Christian thing to say to an anxious eleven-year-old.
That anyone had all the answers.

People call someone a Doubting Thomas if they want evidence before believing in something. Thomas was the apostle who asked to touch Jesus' wounds before believing that he had risen from the dead. Jesus reportedly said about Thomas, 'blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed'. I'm thinking Thomas probably felt a little less beloved than the rest of the apostles when Jesus said this.

I once had faith that a man who said he had locked his keys in his trunk on a Sunday and needed a hundred dollars to pay a locksmith so he could pick up his kids in the park was telling the truth. That man robbed me. I once had faith that a man who said he just needed directions to the hospital was telling the truth. That man tried to hurt me. I once had faith that if I had sex before marriage or said Jesus Christ in anger or told a lie that I would spend eternity in agony and torment, and that this would be a proper and rightful thing. So do I want to feel something with my hands or see it with my eyes before I believe in it?

You're goddamned right I do.

My children ask a lot of questions. They want to know how things work, and why they work that way. They will keep asking 'why?' until they understand completely. I think this is a good thing.

So yes.


That I need the promise of a heavenly reward or the threat of eternal fire to persuade me to treat people kindly, and to refrain from cheating people or hurting them.

I know people who have faith. I don't begrudge them this. Sometimes I miss that feeling of absolute belief. But wedged like a dusty sapphire between my former faith and my present doubt, my constant striving to do well and to add beauty to the world even if this life is all we have, there is something else. Something that comes from loving fiercely, and feeling deeply, and drinking in the flawed and fallen world like wine.

I think it might be Grace.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Why did the blogger cross the road?

Scintilla prompt Day 5: Show a part of your nature that you feel you've lost. Can you get it
back? Would it be worth it?

Truthfully, most of the parts of my nature that I've lost have been ushered out the door with a cheerful good riddance. Not that I've been able to shed these things entirely - anxiety, I mean, and perfectionism, and morbid self-consciousness and self-doubt - but they're around in much less of a big ugly capacity than they used to be. And that kicks major ass.

I think I'd rather talk about a part of my nature that I'm happy not to have lost, no matter how the world sometimes seems determined to steamroll it out of me - a certain skewed, some would say screwy, sense of humour.

I don't understand humourless people. By this I don't mean that I don't like them (I usually don't, but that's not what I mean in this particular instance) - I mean I literally can not understand them. How do you get through a day in this Kafka-esque adventure called life without seeing the funny side? I mean, come on - half the people in the world don't have enough to eat and the other half think a Twinkie is an edible substance. A teacher's starting salary is barely enough to live on, and Eddie Murphy made millions playing a bunch of fat farting people of various genders. You can die from walking, driving, flying, taking care of an elephant and not getting out of the way when it craps, eating too much stuff, not eating enough stuff, by fire, by water, by earth, by sun, and any day now it will likely be proven that reading too many blogs is fatal to lab mice (in which case -- SORRY!) How do you not laugh?

This quality, in fact, played a big part in turfing out the anxiety and self-consciousness. Four months after I had Angus, I was taking a Dance-fit aerobics class with a friend I'd met in playgroup. I got there one night and there was no one in the hall. I looked in the gym and there were people working out, so I thought I was late and rushed to the back and tried to join in unobtrusively. About two minutes in, I realized that this felt a lot more like a cool-down than a warm-up, and I caught the instructor's eye and called out "I'm totally in the wrong class, aren't I?" I was. I howled with laughter. I went back out and my friend was just arriving. Not only did I tell her what had happened, when the rest of the class got there and she demanded that I tell them also, I did. A few years before, I would have slunk home in humiliation and never gone back again.

At one point my doctor suggested I see a psychiatrist in addition to taking medication for my depression and anxiety. The psychiatrist's office was in the basement of the same building my doctor was in. As we went down the stairs and started toward his office, we passed rooms that were still unfinished, with bricks and dust and various sorts of debris lying around. I said "old bomb shelter?" He looked at me very seriously and said "No. Just an unfinished basement." You can imagine how long that therapeutic relationship lasted. My doctor, on the other hand, gets me. I walk into her office and I said "this is the kind of cancer I have this week" and she laughs (hear THAT, honey? SHE finds my rampant hypochondriacal tendencies CHARMING!)

When I was doing wedding preparation with my Mom, we started talking about what we should do for favours. I decided I would paint miniature plant pots to make candle holders, and as for what to put inside, my Mom said "just think of something that represents you", so I said "you mean like nuts?" She didn't love it, but I went with pistachios and everyone thought it was great. Oh, the tags read "Nuts to you from Matt and Allison". Add to this the fact that I had neglected to make clear to the wedding invitation printer that, although his official first name is Robert, he goes by Matt. So I gave them the written-out text for the inside of the card, forgetting that the outside of the card featured the bride's and groom's first names. So, yeah. Everyone knows him by Matt, and I sent out invitations that have people going "Allison's getting married - to some guy named Robert???". What do non-giggly people do when they pull crap like this? 

I know, I know - humour's all well and good but you can't use it as a shield, sometimes you just have to feel your feelings, etc. etc. It works for us. I knew I'd brought the right kid home when I asked two-year-old Angus what he wanted for breakfast and he waved his hand in the air magesterially and yelled "fettucine!". And when Eve was doing a project where she had to put three things in a box that represented her family, she put in a baseball, a book, and a funny picture to represent 'bad jokes!' Not the worst legacy, I think.

Monday, March 19, 2012

How to make a day

Scintilla prompt Day 4: What does your everyday look like? Describe the scene of your
happiest moment of every day.

This is from a post I read at Blogging out Loud Ottawa in July of last year:

... I'm nearing the end of my second year of both kids being in school full days, and I still haven't gone back to work. I know - it sounds heavenly. I assumed I would be giddy with freedom. I assumed my house would be spotless and scrupulously organized by the end of the first month, I would be finished my first novel by the end of the sixth, and OBVIOUSLY I would be thirty pounds lighter, because, like my mother said "you can go to the gym five times a week!"

From where I'm sitting at the kitchen table right now, I could reach out and lay hands on six novels, three textbooks, a kit for making twinkle tiaras, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Cheese Touch Game, a sock puppet wearing sunglasses, and a box of ant bait. That should give you a clue about the state of my house. The state of my ass? Let's not discuss it. 

I can't say I've undergone any great epiphanies since then. I'm not in my third year of both kids being in school full days and I'm still not working, at a full-time job outside the house that someone pays me for. 

Right now? I get up in the morning. Sometimes I get up with the kids and make breakfast and get them off to school and this feels good, even if I'm headachey and nauseous and slightly stoned from lack of sleep. Sometimes my husband takes the kids to school and I sleep late and get up and this feels less good, even if I feel more well-rested. Sometimes I get up at the EXACT RIGHT TIME and feel neither raw with insomnia or guilt-ridden and lazy. But not often.

I shower and come down to the kitchen table and my laptop. We used to have an ancient round dark wood kitchen table that I hated. We now have a light, clean, rectangular pine table that I love, and sitting at it typing makes me happy. I make breakfast and take it to the table with the telephone (because the minute I sit down the phone usually rings, and then I bash into the table trying to get around it to where the phone is) and some water, which I usually intend to be tea, but I usually forget to make tea, because I love tea but lack the area in the brain that tells you to make it, so I usually only have it when someone makes it for me.

Email. Blogs. Facebook. Twitter. Course work (which is usually of varying degrees of interest and challenge, but at this particular point in time is INSANELY CRIPPLINGLY BRINGING-ME-TO-MY-KNEES BRAIN-BREAKINGLY DIFFICULT). Then if it's Monday I go to the library to shelve books (which used to be very relaxing, but the fact that I now start shuddering and whimpering at the sign of a Dewey Decimal Number makes it harder), if it's Tuesday I go to Zumba, if it's Wednesday I go to physio and/or the chiropractor, if it's Thursday I go on adventures with Pam and if it's Friday stand back because ALL BETS ARE OFF.

I used to go to school to pick up the kids at three o'clock, but now Angus walks to my Mom and Dad's right after school, and Eve walks there after she's played at school with her friends (she has a walkie-talkie, my Mom and Dad have the other one - Eve is Baby Bear, my Dad is Poppa Bear). They go get stuffed full of ice cream by my Mom and then get delivered home between 3:30 and 4:00. Eve explodes onto me and unleashes a torrent of information and silliness. Angus confirms that the day was 'good' and goes out to play basketball or downstairs to play video games. 

Piano practice happens at some point (on a good day). Piano lessons on Monday, Eve's dance on Tuesday, dinner, homework (for them and/or me), reading, bed.

When I'm feeling normal, I love most of this. I love all the ways I can connect with the world through my computer. I love making an ass of myself with Pam at Zumba (our initial comment was 'we make asses of ourselves most places, at least here we get a good workout'). I fully realize how lucky I am to have the freedom to go wherever I want while the kids are in school. 

Soon we'll be in the full swing of Spring Baseball (I call it Goddamned Baseball, mostly good-naturedly). This will mean four nights a week of one or both kids having to be in uniform and out the door by 5:15. We eat a lot of chicken wraps and pasta in May and June. At one point last year, when Angus was swamped with baseball and I knew for a fact that all the marks were already in, I actually told him to go play baseball while I finished his project, because I thought it was so stupid that it had been assigned. Last year Matt coached Angus so I always took Eve. As a result, last year I watched a LOT of crap baseball. This year Matt promised Eve to coach her team, which means I'll get to watch a lot of good baseball. Either way, it's a LOT of baseball.

Some nights, around 8:30, I get in bed with a book. Angus gets in Matt's spot with his book, and Eve goes in the huge armchair beside the bed with hers. The room fills up with the smell of freshly showered kids and the sound of flipping pages. Every now and then one of them asks how to pronounce a word, or what it means, or one of us reads a funny line to the others. Instant happy moment.

Friday, March 16, 2012

So there was this song.....KIDDING.

Scintilla Day 3: What's the story of the most difficult challenge you've faced in a
relationship? Did you overcome it? What was the outcome?

Things I thought about and discarded:

1. My husband going bald

2. My husband liking the Three Stooges

3. That time my boyfriend said he didn't like that I smelled of woodsmoke.

4. The Lost finale. No wait, that was my friend Collette's relationship. Jury's still out on if their marriage will survive.

Okay. In all seriousness. We've been lucky. Very, very lucky. We haven't had to deal with terminal or serious illness, serious financial difficulties or horrible in-laws (on either side. My husband adores my parents and I love his mother. His father is a bit of a space cadet, but well-meaning). So I'd have to say that the major challenge to our marriage has been...


Before I had kids I totally bought into that whole "it's more selfish to have kids than not to have them" poppycock. I said those very words to validate people who said they didn't want to have children.  

I don't say them any more.

I think not wanting to have children is perfectly fine. I think it's admirable to know yourself that well and not to have kids just because people expect it of you. I think there are lifestyles and careers that it would be very difficult to incorporate parenting into, and good on you if you realize that. I'm sure it's very challenging and time-consuming to run a Fortune 500 company, or train for the Olympics, or split atoms or whatever.

But none of them are more challenging or time-consuming than trying to convince a sixteen-month-old that he should quit sticking his head into the space between the CD cabinet and the wall because it ALWAYS GETS STUCK. Or trying to get a spoonful of barley cereal into a nine-month-old's mouth when she's decided that said mouth will not be accepting barley cereal today, thank-you very much. Or...well you get the point, and this post is not about that.

We lived together before we got married. Marriage was not a huge transition for us. Before we had children, we were a case study in couples who communicated well, respected each other's feelings and generally made other people nauseous with the little hearts that floated up from our joined hands.

Children, on the other hand? Children were like a nuclear bomb. My husband always knew he would have children. My husband is fantastic with children. He had a brother born ten years after him so, when we had Angus, he taught ME how to change a diaper. I always thought I would probably had children, but I knew, with absolute certainty, that I would suck at it (positive thinking is not one of my strengths). 

If anyone disagrees that having small children is hard on a marriage, I look at them with extreme suspicion. Before we had kids, when my husband traveled for business it meant I got to use the car, watch scary movies and have popcorn for dinner. After we have kids, when my husband traveled for work it meant I cried a lot, slept even less than usual and flipped through the yellow pages looking for divorce lawyers. Before we had kids, I didn't care that my husband loved hockey. After we had kids, this meant that my kid was going to play hockey. Before we had kids, our conversations contained phrases like "would you mind if" and "is it okay with you that" and "could you please". After we had kids, our conversations contained phrases like "keep your fucking voice down if you don't want to" and "would it destroy your soul to move the goddamned" and "If you think that then you're a moronic excuse for a". 

I wasn't that great at parenting small children. I always felt like I was probably doing it wrong. On the other hand, I knew for sure that my husband was doing it wrong. I absolutely did that delightful thing that many, many mothers do - demanding that he help out more and then getting mad when he didn't do everything my way. Add to that the fact that I thought every sniffle and rash meant they had cancer, and that if he didn't react the same way he obviously loved them less, and .... yeah. Good times.

We got through it. The kids got older, and their needs became, if not less intense, less immediate and all-consuming. I learned to relax a little (shut up, I did so). My husband is a really great father. I am more hands-on in the day-to-day, but every once in a while he does something spontaneous and fabulous with them that they remember forever. He coaches them both in baseball, which I love to watch but can't understand, and he is fantastic at it. He helps with the math homework and I help with the reading and spelling. Everyone in the house is agreed that no matter what, Daddy never, never gets to pick anyone's clothes.

We're not back to being that sweet, harmonious, untested couple. We're something a little more battered and smudgy, and much, much stronger.

We are parents. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I Just Got a Letter To My Soul

Scintilla, Day two prompt: No one does it alone. Write a letter to your rescuer or mentor (be
it a person, book, film, record, anything). Share the way they lit up
your path.

I promise after today I won't do any more song posts. 

It was September of 1993. I had moved from Hamilton where I did my undergrad to Toronto to do my Master's at U of T. I had been living in a house with four other people; now I was sharing a tiny apartment with my sister, who I hadn't spent a whole lot of time with in the past four years. My boyfriend was still back in Hamilton.

I remember sitting on my bed in my bedroom on the 25th floor, looking out the window and feeling...peculiar. I wasn't worried about my courses, exactly, or missing anyone, precisely. It was more that I felt untethered, dislocated, like I didn't really fit in here yet but realized I couldn't go back to where I had come from. The future was completely unreadable, and I was terrified. 

It was kind of a rough year. It was the beginning of my really hardcore sleep issues. I got some undiagnosable skin infection that kept eating up my face and I walked around looking like a burn victim. There was a pool in the apartment building, and I love swimming, but I barely swam the entire year. Often I felt like the air was screaming around me and I couldn't quite hear it but I couldn't quite ignore it either. The following year when I finally got a doctor and described this she went "Hello - sounds like massive depression, have some pills". 

Seems totally clear in retrospect. But considering the Student Health Services doctor I saw only gave me 2 millilitres of cream for a massive infection that, when I wandered into the walk-in clinic down the street, made the doctor go "Holy shit - antibiotics and steroids RIGHT NOW", it was highly unlikely she was going to be inquiring into the niceties of my mental health.

When I was too agitated to read or write or deal with people, I would sit at my desk and play solitaire on my computer for hours. I had a CD player on a stand right beside my desk and I would listen while clicking repetitively.

The song was Virginia Woolf by the Indigo Girls. 

"When my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
Empty pages for the no longer young
The apathy of time laughs in my face
You say
Each life has its place".

It was like my entire soul could finally take a deep breath. 

I never enjoyed Virginia Woolf's novels until after I had read her diaries. The novels seemed impenetrable and slightly cold. The diaries were blazing bright and heartbreaking. Then going back to the novels felt like continuing a conversation. I feel like I'm so much like her, except she had staggering literary talent and I have better drugs. And children - I wonder if having children would have saved her, or just made it all worse. 

Anyway. There are a lot of people that helped me through that year. The walk-in-clinic doctor who looked about twelve. The dermatologist. My friend Janet. A really great Canadian Lit prof. The man I would later marry. But for one weightless moment when I actually believed again that everything might be okay, it was Virginia Woolf, and the Indigo Girls. 

Oh right. This isn't reallly a letter. Oh well. Also, I haven't been listening to music enough lately.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Untamed Music

It was my third time, I think, at the Ottawa Folk Festival. I was on the lawn chair side, sitting beside a friend. I love the Folk Festival. I've been to the Blues Festival, and I love the music but it's too big - I feel overwhelmed by the crush of people and it almost always rains on me when I'm there. The Folk Festival, at least at this point, was smaller and more civilized - a neat division between ground-sitters and chair-sitters, no trouble being near enough to the stage. Here I fell in love with Jesse Winchester, who was quiet and unassuming in speech and wove an unbreakable enchantment in music. Here I developed a huge crush on Fred Eaglesmith, who was the very opposite of quiet and unassuming and made me wonder why I had never realized how great songs about cars, freight trains, and big ass garage sales were. Here I began decades-long love affairs with The Wailin' Jennys and David Francey.

In the warm August air, under the stars, I heard the Wyrd Sisters sing Warrior a cappella for the first time.

For the first time, I understood why dictators have poets and musicians murdered. It seemed less like music than wild magic, sowing seeds of potency and passion in each transfixed listener.

I don't know if it changed my life forever, but I think of it often. I am an older woman now. And I am much less afraid of speaking out. Because those who cannot speak for themselves need us to be warriors for them.


Whew. Okay. Scintilla Project, Day 1. Patti, I can't figure out if I love you or hate you right now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mondays on the Margins: The Juliet Stories by Carrie Snyder

From the publisher: "Juliet Friesen is ten years old when her family moves to Nicaragua. It is 1984, the height of Nicaragua's post-revolutionary war, and the peace-activist Friesens have come to protest American involvement. In the midst of this tumult, Juliet's family lives outside of the boundaries of ordinary life. They've escaped, and the ordinary rules don't apply. Threat is pervasive, danger is real, but the extremity of the situation also produces a kind of euphoria, protecting Juliet's family from its own cracks and conflicts. 

When Juliet's younger brother becomes sick with cancer, their adventure ends abruptly. The Friesens return to Canada only to find that their lives beyond Nicaragua have become the war zone. One by one, they drift from each other, and Juliet grows to adulthood, pulled between her desire to live a free life like the one she remembers in Nicaragua, and her desire to build for her own children a life more settled than her parents could provide. 

With laser-sharp prose and breathtaking insight, these stories herald Carrie Snyder as one of Canada's most prodigiously talented writers."

I can't find a way into this review.

How about this? My ARC says 'a stunning new novel-in-stories' on the front and the back (I assume the actual published copy has the same but I'm not sure). About four chapters/stories in, I wondered why they had called it a novel-in-stories, since to me it seemed like, well, a novel, and I didn't really think any of the chapters would work especially well as a stand-alone story. Then, nearer to the end, I read a chapter and realized I had, in fact read it as a stand-alone story and thought it was fine. But I still think the whole works better as a novel, and my reading of that story would have been enhanced by the backstory and the depth of the rest of them.

As a novel, it's very good. A lot of it was almost like having memories of things I never actually experienced - it was that vivid. You can feel the suffocating heat and taste the dust of Nicaragua. I actually winced at many moments of Juliet's searingly clear gaze; she sees her parents, their details and slightest gestures and motives they hide even from themselves, with painful clarity, even while lacking a more mature understanding of them. It made me wary of the gaze of my own children for days.

It's hard to write children well. It's often not entirely enjoyable to read when an author accomplishes it. I felt almost trapped in Juliet's world, the helplessness and bewilderment and lack of control, with moments of exhilarating freedom and strangeness. Juliet's parents are not the parents of my -- I don't know, my generation? my circle? my general knowledge? -- the parents who think carefully about how everything they do affects their children. These parents are out to change the world and the children are just along for the ride, until one of them gets cancer, and then he becomes the focus. Snyder avoids the temptation to make them simply misguided zealots, although there are definitely hints of that; they're just people, flawed and idealistic and in over their heads.

This is not, on the whole, a happy family. It's hard not to feel for Gloria at the moments where she's left to look after three children in a third-world country while her husband rides around on a motorbike raising consciousness and getting close to young, attractive comrades. The most painfully empathetic moment for me, though, is when Juliet, an avid reader, after pestering her mother for days to take her to the library, finally gets there and realizes that all of the books are in Spanish: "She can't read this book. She can't read any of the books in this library. It is like staggering through a desert towards what looks like a pool of clean, clear water and discovering as you kneel to drink that cupped in your hands is sand, that you are washing your face in a pool of sand." At this point, when Gloria "huffs a small laugh" at Juliet's distress, I felt actual hatred for her. 

No one emerges as a good guy here, though. There's not a lot to leaven the weight of this story, but that's not a bad thing.

Memorable quotes:

"Juliet and Keith rattle around the open truck bed like loose teeth, amazed and elated by all that's here to be seen. Their mother, Gloria, hammers on the glass and tells them, 'Get down!' Baby Emmanuel hammers too, but Bram, their father, waves expansively out of the open window. He feels as they do: Look at this."

"At home in Indiana, Gloria was just her mother...But here, in this strange city, Juliet glimpses the stranger Gloria could become, giddy in her jubilation, separate and apart from her children; hardly a mother at all."

"She returns to the book, picks it up, but an empty restlessness chokes her at the hollow of her neck, where she wants to swallow but cannot. The sensation unspins itself like a cape whirling around her body, envelops her; thins the words on the page, wrings from her the ability to feel.     When she's older she'll know the word for it: desolation."

"Juliet is going to tell a story. She knows the rules, the five Ws, five sister witches who must be beguiled into gathering and pouring out their tinctures and their powders, lest the story emerge from the pot deformed, unbreathing, lest it bubble until it is burnt away, stillborn. Magic. It's as good as anything for explaining why one tale comes out for good and another does not. Effort, though a fine starting place, is not the half of it."

Disclaimer: I was sent an Advance Reading Copy of this book by House of Anansi Press for review purposes. Opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Well, it's KIND of funny

I shouldn't have promised a funny story, when really it's funny in a very particular, some might say slightly pathetic, kind of way.

So I'm working away at my library technician diploma, one course at a time, right? And a lot of these courses are about stuff that I've had little or no exposure to, and the learning curve can be steep. But I'm fairly intelligent (shut up, I am so) and I work through them and it eventually comes clear and I generally get between 93 and 97 percent on a course because I am and always have been a keen, anxious, overly perfectionist student. A couple of times I've emailed in assignments and felt like I hadn't done terribly well, either because the assignment was, in fact, difficult and I wasn't sure of my answers, or because it seemed too easy and I worried that I'd missed something (I tend to overthink things, in case you hadn't noticed). Every time this happened and I talked about it, I felt sort of embarrassed when the assignment came back and I HAD done well. We all knew those people in university who got all hyper about every exam or essay or lab and said "OH MY GOD, I'm TOTALLY going to fail" when in fact the worst thing that probably could have happened was that they would get an A instead of an A plus, and even THAT probably wouldn't happen. I like to think I wasn't quite that person, but I'm not entirely sure.

So. The course I'm taking this term (Subject Analysis and Classification) is HARD. Remember the rousing pep talk our instructor gave us at the beginning? Well, she wasn't kidding. The first assignment, which was on Library of Congress subject headings, went fine - I got about 80, which was fine with me. Then we started on Dewey Decimal numbers. Now, numbers are not really my friend at the best of times. I try not to talk about how bewildering I find a lot of math stuff, because Eve loves math and is good at it, and I hate the 'girls are bad at math' stereotype, but the fact is, I'm a girl, and I'm not great at math, it's a fact. And this isn't math, but it involves charts and graphs and  there are these schedules, and from the schedules you go to tables, and then you go to other tables, and then you put all these numbers together to form big long other numbers, and there are rules with seventy-five exceptions and it is labyrinthine and counterintuitive and it does NOT make me want to sing Oh Sweet Mystery of Life At Last I've Found You.

I did something I hardly ever do with schoolwork. I went into denial. Things were busy, and I didn't feel like I could gain much ground with the short periods of time I had, so I figured I'd wait until Matt was away this week and a couple other things were done, and I would take the kids to school in the mornings and take a few days to get caught up on the exercises and then work on the assignment which was due next Sunday.

We had a great week-end. Friday we watched a backlog of Modern Family and Big Bang Theory episodes on the PVR. Saturday we went to our friend's 40th birthday party, which was a blast. Sunday morning Matt left and I was noodling at the computer before picking up Eve at one friend's house to take her to another friend's birthday party. I casually checked the course schedule just to make sure I was on track for what I had to do this week.

And I saw that the assignment was actually due LAST Sunday. Like, TODAY Sunday. Like, in ten HOURS Sunday.

I stared at the date, checked the calendar, stared at the date some more. I thought, I wonder why I don't feel worse. Maybe I'm in shock. Why don't I feel worse? Why am I not hyperventilating?

Then I realized, hey, I'm not in shock. I'm a grown-up. I screwed up. It's one assignment in one course. It's not the end of the world. I'll take Eve to her party then I'll come home and crack the books, and I'll get as much of the assignment done as I can, and I'll go from there. I probably won't fail the course, and even if I did, the only sucky thing would be losing the money and having to take this bitch of a course again.

Personal growth, I'm telling you. HUGE personal growth.

So I did all that stuff, and the first part of the assignment went not abysmally, if not swimmingly. The second half was much worse. We were supposed to reverse-engineer these incredibly long numbers, and I got the first two, but after that I could get to maybe the second decimal place and then I was stuck. The kids were in bed, it was nine o'clock and I thought, I COULD stay up until midnight and work until the very last second, but it probably won't get me much further, and one or two extra marks isn't worth the exhaustion and aggravation. So I hit send, and then sent my instructor an email explaining that I had let myself get behind and I was sorry for the less-than-stellar assignment, and I would work on getting caught up for the next one.

I congratulated myself. I emailed my husband and called Pam and they congratulated me also (I sort of made them, but they seemed fairly sincere). I went to bed and slept like a baby. I was sort of looking forward to getting the assignment back and waving it in people's faces (figuratively, I don't want to break any noses with my laptop) and saying 'look, I TOLD you it was really hard and I might not get a ninety, and THAT'S FINE.'

And then the next day my instructor emailed me and told me to go ahead and take a few extra days if I needed them.

Why, Universe? Why do you mock me like this? Why won't you just let me grow?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Angus reading The Hunger Games

Did anyone else realize that the guy named Peeta was the baker's son and when you say Peeta out loud it sounds like Pita, which is HILARIOUS? Because, like, it's a kind of bread? Yes? Everyone except me? Fine, fuck off then.

Angus is about halfway through Mockingjay, the third book in the series. When I'm folding laundry at night on my bed he lies in Matt's spot and reads and sometimes reads lines out loud. The other night he read:

"I cleaned my teeth and smoothed my back hair again."

Me: what's that now?

Him: "Wait.....oh. 'I cleaned my teeth and smoothed my HAIR BACK again.'"

I know, this is pitiful. I have a funny story to tell, and I have to review The Juliet Stories, but my overly dramatic airways kept me up most of last night and Matt's away (must be Tuesday), and Eve had dance tonight and we just got home and I wasn't going to blog at all, but then it will be a week, and the thought of the last post in anyone's blogroll with the caption "1 WEEK AGO" underneath makes me unutterably sad, so....