Sunday, November 30, 2014

IN YOUR FACE, November.

When we were at Sandbanks this summer, we rotated campsites for dinner. The night it was at our campsite, I offered to walk Collette next door to her campsite with a flashlight at the end of the night since she didn't have one. We went to the comfort station together, then we got to my campsite and she said "I'll be fine getting to mine". So I turned away with the flashlight, she walked three or four steps and said "HOLY CRAP, get back over here, it's WAY too dark." I thought this was hilarious.

Back at the beginning of November when I was starting NaBloPoMo, and trying to wean off my antidepressant, I felt sort of the same way - like I'd set off without a light and I'd completely forgotten how dark the dark was.

So this is a most fervent and heartfelt thanks to everyone who stopped by this month and walked with me for a bit. Nicole and Hannah, the best computer friends a girl could ask for; Mary Lynn and Julie - World Trivia Night is not quite as awesome without you; Clara, who once sent me a springtime card that was exactly like a ray of sunshine in paper form; Sarah, who decided to stick with quality over quantity AND I'M FINE WITH THAT; Brandy who I met at Blissdom; Laureen who is indeed very kind; Courtney, my book blogger bestie; Shan, who always makes me smile; Jodi, the first person I met through NaBloPoMo who I'm certain that I will keep; Jenny who lives a life I can't even imagine, but I'm enjoying the experience of trying; Pam, who is so nice to me even though I'm often a whiny drag; Collette, without whom my life would be so much less filled with laughter (often inappropriate) and hang-overs; Steph, who I think may have commented every freaking day again, meaning I owe a Starbucks card and a serious catch-up with her blog; Amy who is so buried in obligations right now I can't believe she found time to read a single post; Maggie, who fairly often knows the exact right thing that I need to hear; Lynn, the very first blog friend I met in real life; Alex, who made my first dinner at Blissdom this year SO MUCH FUN; Shoshana, who I'm going to call next time I get lost looking for the mall; Magpie - funny, acerbic and wise, and the only one I can send a picture of a sinking building to who really gets it; The Queen, who makes me laugh at things that should not be funny; Swistle, whose luckiness/suckiness tagline I have stolen shamelessly; Laurel, my favourite stalker with whom I will now go to empty movie theatres in the middle of the day; Sasha, who I need to get my ass over to visit while she's convalescing; Alison, who I need to get my ass over to have a drink with WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SEE PEOPLE MORE THAN ONCE EVERY SIX MONTHS?; Alexandra who comments on my blog every now and then, probably because she knows it gives me a little fangirl freak-out fun; another Jenny, sister in self-loathing and hating decision-making; Di, Eve's Crazy Greek Way-More-Fun Other Mother; Helen - miss you!; and Sarah and Zarah - because I always know they're reading.

Thank-you to all of you for being my flashlight this month.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Friday, November 28, 2014

Day 28

We have a landing halfway up the stairs between the main and top floors. It's covered with oldish not-great-quality builder's carpet, but it's a nice size. When I sort through the kids' clothes, or when they do, the first place discards go is down on the landing, to be sorted and apportioned properly. I make neat stacks of stuff along the wall so there's still plenty of room to walk upstairs.

When Matt and I were away in Toronto one of the times we were in Toronto this fall, he talked to my mom on the phone at one point and told me that they had had no hot water, so she'd gone to shower at our house. If you have a mother anything like mine, you'll understand why this struck fear into my heart.

I saw her when we got back and mentioned that the woman who cleans for us was coming that evening. She said "how can she clean?" I looked at her blankly, and then she said "what IS all that stuff on your landing?" Oh, I thought, of COURSE, she means that because there are a few stacks of clothing and things along the sides of the wall on the landing, NOTHING in the house can be cleaned. I said rather shortly that the stuff was there to be sorted and left, slightly pissed off.

The next day, I looked at the landing and thought, in all fairness, it HAS been a while since I sorted through it. Through all of it, anyways - I frequently take things from the top layer to give to friends with slightly younger children or when OFCP or the Diabetes Association is coming by. But the bottom layer? Now that I was thinking about it, it was quite possible that the bottom layer hadn't seen any action for an embarrassingly long time.

So I brought it all downstairs and started making piles.

Bathtub toys. My kids are fourteen and eleven. 
Yeah, so.
It's possible my mother had a point.
So the landing was clear. You would think this would be a good thing, but it was distressing for everyone - people would get to the landing and complain of vertigo from all the unaccustomed space. What if I trip? they would say. Where's the cozy bumper of fleece and cotton, my head will just smash RIGHT INTO THE WALL.

So I cleaned out the linen closet.

Back to normal.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 27

I'm driving to Zarah's today. I'm not sure how the rest of NaBloPoMo is going to shake out. Eve has a dentist appointment this morning. Matt took her to her last one, and the dentist was a little concerned about a couple of baby teeth that should have fallen out already and that might require intervention if they don't soon. The notes I was given included the phrase: "Eve is encouraged to wiggle". So that was enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Facebook Groups II: Freecycling With a Vengeance

In addition to the fun and frolic of my Moms in My Town Facebook group, I joined a Freecycling group, partly because I wanted to get rid of some stuff and liked the idea of giving it to people who specifically needed it and partly because one of my friends is an admin, so I was already seeing it and I figured I should contribute something to pay back for the entertainment value alone.

The purpose of the group is supposed to be solely to keep things out of the landfill - it's been specifically stated that it's not a charity. Many people in the group, myself included, are bad at remembering this. An offered item is posted, and then people are supposed to comment that they're interested. They are not supposed to comment on why their need for the item is greater than anyone else's. Many of them do. You're allowed to give your item to whoever you want, of course - either the first person who comments, the first person who can pick it up, or by FOP, Fair Offer Price, which means you wait a little longer for people who aren't on Facebook as often, and then choose someone by draw or however else you want. You think if I offer kids' clothes and there's a single mom in the mix, I don't give them to her? And then I feel bizarrely guilty, because it's not supposed to be a charity. There's this weird, playing-God feeling that springs up when you have twenty people vying for your Tinkerbell pillow case or sappy Precious Moments figurine, and I'm not sure how long I can take the pressure.

Then there's the whole 'things you maybe shouldn't Freecycle' aspect. I guess if you want to take someone's half-used makeup or deodorant that's your business, but really? And the skanky schoolgirl lingerie? Think this, but less fabric and more thongish. A woman replied "interested for my daughter", and I thought "so your daughter's a stripper? How sweet of you to be so supportive!" And the creepy manikin thing made out of diapers - the owner wanted assurance that the doll would be left whole, not broken down for diapers. Uh-huh, that's enforceable, and not at all weird. And someone setting up an apartment that was in 'urgent need' of a mop and bucket (yep, totally reasonable) a bread-maker (um, you know you could just...) and a deep fryer (wait, WHAT now?)

And don't even get me started on the spelling and grammar. Okay, get me started on the spelling and grammar. I know a lot of people are on their phones, so it's not fair to judge. I judge unfairly. I know a large portion of the population has trouble knowing where to put apostrophes, I've tried to make my piece with that. But I didn't know 'threw' instead of 'through' was a thing - as in 'please keep me in mind if first exchange falls threw'. Over and over and over again. One woman posted an offer, promised an item to someone, then changed her mind and wanted to trade the item for an 'excersize ball' of which she was in dire need. It's not actually allowed to ask for a trade, you're supposed to offer all items freely, and some discussion was spurred on this subject, which meant that the phrase 'excersize ball' was repeated many, many times. I finally messaged my friend the admin and said "I guess I'm not allowed to stipulate that my item will only go to someone who doesn't overly abuse the English language, huh?" She replied "No. But think of the spectacular drama that you would inspire - most of it incomprehensible."

I'm not a nice person. Unless you have twins who desperately require Groovy Girl dolls and Percy Jackson books by the week-end and you don't get paid until Monday. Then I've got your back.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Oil Changes and Attitude Adjustments

I saw this great tweet the other day:

I agree. Those stereotypes are offensive and often untrue. What do you do, then, if you're a woman who is not, in fact, a terribly confident driver or a whiz at long division, sine waves and completing the square? I'm still not the stereotype - I don't weave all over the road, I don't run over things with gay abandon, I don't generally run into things (apart from that one unfortunate incident with the signpost and the back bumper, but my husband was away, I was short on sleep and it wouldn't have cracked off if it wasn't so cold, THE REPAIR MAN SAID IT, shut up). My kids know not to come to me with their math homework, but it's not because I'm too pretty or that I think numbers are dumb - math just doesn't happen to be an area I excel in. Sorry, an area in which I excel (I AM supposed to be not bad at this word business). I just accept, I guess, that I CAN drive and do math (sort of ), I just enjoy other things more.

When I started taking vehicles in for servicing, I was always kind of embarrassed and tense about not really knowing anything. And then one day I thought FUCK it - who cares? I'm paying them to know this stuff FOR me. I think it would be awesome to be a woman and know all about cars. I think it's quite possible that a guy would find it hot if a woman knew a lot about cars. I personally find it a little hot if a woman knows about cars. I'm just not that woman. I don't know how an internal combustion engine works. I don't even know if cars HAVE internal combustion engines, 'internal combustion engine' is just a phrase floating around in my head. I also don't know what a catalytic converter is, or how a Geiger counter works, although some of the women at my World Trivia Night table did (and yeah, it was a little hot).

So now when I need an oil change or something, I show up, I park my car somewhere, I go in and say this is what I'm here for, where should I go? And they tell me exactly where to put the car, and then I sit in a comfortable chair and read or drink tea with Pam until the car is ready, and then I pay them and say thank-you and drive away.

Today I had to go get winter tires put on the Rav 4. Pam was working, so I was all by myself. I drove in the way they told me to, then got out and the woman (who knew a lot about cars) at the service desk asked me if our winter tires were on rims. I didn't know. Then she asked me something else about other parts, and I said look, I know nothing except that my husband said we negotiated the winter tire installation as part of the lease. She said no problem, how about we check the cargo space in your trunk? Now, until last week I had no idea that we HAD such a thing, but thanks to the incident with the FUSB, I at least didn't end up looking at her blankly and then having her have to show me the little pull tab in the trunk that lifts up to reveal the storage space. We opened it up, and she said "oh, what's that plastic bag?" I pulled it out and she said "ma'am, I believe we've found your nuts."

Then we made out on the hood. Okay, no we didn't, but what can I say, I like a woman who knows her way around my cargo space.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mondays on the Margins: Growing a Rainbow by Lesley Donaldson-Reid

I met Lesley briefly at Blissdom 2013 - I apologized for getting between her and someone taking her picture at the outside party and she hollered at me to get in the picture with her. Afterwards, we became Twitter friends and I started reading her blog, Real Women Drive Stick (so according to Lesley I'm a fake woman, but it's okay, I'm coping). When I learned some of the details of her son's birth, I was sort of struck by the strangeness of the fact that people can endure the most cataclysmic of events and walk around without the effects permanently stamped on their faces.

Lesley is an emergency nurse and special-needs parent, and Blissdom completely lit an author fire under her, leading her to reduce her nursing hours and write and self-publish a book about her son Torran, who was a micro-preemie, born at just 26 weeks and 6 days gestation, due to oligohydramnios, a lack of amniotic fluid. Lesley and her husband Bruce were asked on more than one occasion if they wished to withdraw life support for their son.

I've known two or three people who had babies born prematurely, even extremely prematurely, but I only met them when the children were safely out of the woods, and none of these children's conditions were as grave as Torran's. Lesley's account felt incredibly raw and real and much of it was hard to read - I can't imagine how hard it must have been to live. The number of life-threatening conditions and taxing medical interventions would be heartwrenching if a full-grown adult was involved; imagining it happening to a two-pound baby, tiny and unimaginably thin-skinned and fragile, who should rightfully still be safely tucked in his mother's womb, is horrifying. The tubes he needs to breathe and eat wear away the skin of his face. At one point a doctor says that he needs new sutures in his head, but worries that the tissue is too macerated to even hold them.

Much of Lesley's account feels almost shockingly intimate - confessions of guilt and hopelessness, the inevitable toll taken on her relationship with her husband, and feelings of resentment directed at the rest of the world, particularly people taking home healthy babies. At times when she holds Torran and his oxygen levels drop, it feels like her love is doing actual harm to him. There are also flashes of spiky humour, revolving around the physical indignities of breast-pumping and baby poop, and moments of rare beauty, such as the first time she gets to hold her son, swaddled and then skin to skin, and (this one made me tear up) the moment when she gives a mother's day card to the nurse who has been as ardent an advocate and caregiver for her son as his own parents. I also love her letter at the end of the book, addressed to other preemie parents, with love, empathy and permission to rage and grieve and hope.

Growing a Rainbow is available through the website Growing a Rainbow, and a portion of the proceeds will support the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation.

Torran came home five months after his birth, and is now a monster-hunting six-year-old who likes roller coasters and Mike Wazowski (I heartily approve). He is not without his challenges.

Some time between my first Blissdom and my second, I read Lesley's story Line of Sacrifice. I thought it was an amazing rendering of a mother's selfless love for a child. I feel like I know more now about why Lesley understands that so well.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Day 23

I don't feel good. I woke up yesterday with seized neck and upper back muscles. So I took some painkillers and then I felt nauseous. Today my back is a little better but I'm still kind of nauseous, and I'm afraid to take anything for my back OR for the nausea. And now I feel like the week-end has slipped away in this haze of pain and sickness and I didn't leave the house and I'm sort of sad and worried and icky.

On Friday the kids had a P.D. Day and Angus went to a movie with two baseball friends. He called at around four and asked if I would pick them up and drive them all home. I could have told them to take the bus. But I wasn't doing anything especially important, and my dad would have done it for me at the same age. The two other boys are funny and quick-witted, and Matt calls them Team Shit-Disturbers but I find them sweet. They both thanked me multiple times for the ride and one said "it's so sad now how it gets dark so early", and I wanted to clasp him to me and weep empathetically into his hair.

I finished Dreams of Gods and Monsters - well, first I started, and then realized I had to reread the first two books, which I don't always do although I almost always wish I had (unless I waited until the whole series was published to start). And mercifully the first two were instantly available as ebooks from the library. So I read them, and then I restarted the third, and then I finished it, and it was wonderful. Although I'm kind of sad that it's over.

I also remembered that I had stopped watching The Big C halfway through Season 3, and started watching again, and I still love it, but now it's almost over, and it's a show about cancer, so over really means over. Perhaps not the wisest viewing choice for this time of year.

It turns out that most of my book club was at World Trivia Night, which reminded me that I have book club on Wednesday and had totally forgotten to locate and read the book AGAIN. So I bought it on my Kindle. It's short and I will be able to finish it by Wednesday. I hate it. It's silly, shallow with pretensions of profundity, adolescent, tries to use sex and bodily functions as shocking devices which just seems pathetic, and generally it's the worst published thing I've read in a long, long time. At least it doesn't make me sad. My comments so far are: "Jesus Christ"; "Because you're an asshole"; "Um, no."; "Jesus Christ again."; "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST." Should make for a spirited discussion.

Last night I was reading in my chair and Eve was reading in my bed. I started nodding off. It was eight-thirty. I knew I should get up and do something or I would fall asleep and then screw my night's sleep up even more colossally than it's usually screwed. Instead I crawled under the covers beside Eve and closed my eyes while she stroked my hair and played me a lullaby of quietly turning pages.

I've spent worse Saturday nights.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Sense of Insignificance

Standing under the stars.... bowing to the weight of great literature.....

Nah. World Trivia Night. "Pieces of information of little importance or value." Except when you're trying to remember enough of them to be able to tell fifty other tables to SUCK IT. Or justify your seat at the table, and immoderate candy consumption.

Imagine my shock and horror at realizing that there was NO LITERATURE CATEGORY this year. In fact, the one question that I knew that no one else did was the next three words (the category was The Next Three Words) in Iggy Azalea's Fancy, and THAT was because I'd googled them for Eve and Marielle on the rooftop patio at East Side Mario's after drama camp. I had to wake Eve up and tell her when I got home.

I also got the Robbie Burns question, thanks to my friend Dave who has a Robbie Burns party every January, complete with the Address to the Haggis, and the Lascaux Caves question, thanks to a mean lesbian French professor in grad school (I wouldn't mention the lesbian part except she was particularly withering about the love affair in one of the books we read and how it all seemed to center around the man's "énorme pénis"), but I think we were already covered on those. Still, as long as I get one, I'm happy.

The final category was particularly creative and challenging, as usual. It was called "Questions Faciles" (Easy Questions), and they were, but they were in other languages - Finnish, Norwegian, Lebanese and Esperanto, among others. We did okay - I'm still not sure how the hell anyone in the room knew that "pääkaupunki" meant "capital", but one girl at our table went into a mysterious trance state and somehow got the answer "Paul Anka" from a garbled Lebanese phrase in which the only discernible words were 'Ottawa' and 'Diana', so I'm willing to accept that I am a veritable single-celled organism in the stages of trivia evolution. 

I also missed a very obvious turn on the way there and somehow left too late and got stuck in a lineup at the parking gate and almost turned around and went home before I even got there. But at least my daughter wasn't on a week-end sleepover with undiagnosed pneumonia this time. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Last Book Fair Post - Promise

You know how it can be really hard to do simple tasks when someone is watching you? Twice yesterday I had to look through the picture book racks for a Splat the Cat or Hot Rod Hamster book with a little boy shouting NO, NOT Hot Rod Hamster Wacky Whatever Race, Hot Rod Hamster MONSTER TRUCK MANIA, or NO, NOT Splat the Cat What was That, Splat the Cat MAKES DAD GLAD. Why, I whimpered, why on earth don't we keep all the Splat the Fucking Cat books together? Because some are picture books and some are Early Reader books (taller, skinnier, pre-chapter books) was the sensible answer, but when you have little Charlie breathing down your neck it doesn't help that much.

And the math. I am perfectly able to perform simple arithmetic, EXCEPT when someone is standing on the other side of the counter watching me. Then my brain suddenly comes to a hard stop while trying to make 10.00 and 7.00 and 8.00 and 11.50 come out to a reasonable sum. It doesn't help when a student's father starts shouting out numbers when I finally resort to the calculator - WRONG numbers, may I add. I should have just LET him overcharge himself by six dollars.

Eve, my sixth-grade daughter, was better at giving change than the ninth-grade volunteer we had. She gets that from her dad.

The parent volunteers decided we would keep the book fair open straight through from school dismissal until the end of parent-teacher interviews, letting the librarian go home for dinner and to walk her dogs. So when a student came in asking for an exchange or return, we had to make an executive decision. Sometimes it was easy - the kid wanted to exchange a Minecraft Combat Handbook for a Minecraft Construction Handbook. The one he wanted was a dollar more than the one he had. I told him to take it and bring back a dollar when he could. He did, which I was ridiculously pleased by. Then a girl came in with a poster she wanted to return. I was in the back room and Eve was at the cash. I watched, ready to step in if needed. The girl said "can I return this poster?" Eve asked why. The girl said "I was in a hurry and I didn't really read it." I couldn't see Eve's face, but I imagine her expression was as blisteringly incredulous as her tone when she said "Didn't READ it? It's a POSTER." The girl took her poster and left.

Eve was also the one to notice a bit of a disconnect between this girl's chipper expression

and the subject matter on the screens.

Read to connect to what, exactly? Serial killers? Odd choice, we think. Odd.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Day 20

Eve and I are home from the book fair and tired. We had an interview with her teacher who I already loved. She said Eve obviously doesn't face any academic difficulties, so she thinks they should focus on preparing for middle school and high school by working on the challenges of things like group work dynamics and subjects that Eve finds less engaging, like geography (poor kid has a little dead spot in her brain just like mine, where mapping skills should be). Then she said Eve was awesome, which, duh, but always nice to hear.

Then we went back to the book fair. It was crazy busy and crowded and I had to go out in the hallway every time somebody used debit or credit again and fighting through the throngs of people wearing winter coats made me claustrophobic and panicky,  but most people were awesome and we made a metric fuckton of money for the school library and by the end of the evening everything was hilarious and math stopped working in the library for a few minutes around seven o'clock and we thought about asking the principal if next year we could pipe oxygen into the library during the book fair like they do in Vegas. Then there was a lull and I walked around finding picture books and making them seem dirty (which wasn't that hard, really - There was an old woman who swallowed a stick? Oh what a trick, to swallow a stick? Seriously? Okay, she swallowed the stick to hit the puck, but come ON.) Then we played with the pom-pom pens that we had hidden behind the desk because the students kept whacking each other in the face with them. You click a little button that makes the pom-pom fly off, and it WAS oddly satisfying. 

Then we went to McDonald's and ran into some people who had been at the book fair, which made the night feel very small townish, in a good way. Then we came home and watched Bones. It started with a scene in a playground, and Eve said "oh, great. A bunch of kids are about to find a gross dead body. Why do we always watch this show while we're eating?"

Then she said something about dogs and I remembered that I had to show her this, which made me fall off my chair laughing earlier today. When she stopped laughing she said "WHY did she even sign him UP?" As a special bonus, we read the headline in the sidebar which said "Polish playground bans Pooh because 'it doesn't wear underpants'". 

And now I have to get ready for bed because Eve asked me if I would read the Bad Kitty Christmas book she got at the book fair to her just for fun. And I said I would. Because it does sound like fun.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Surly Tuesday: I'll Complain About the Snow if I Bloody Well Feel Like It

To everyone on Facebook saying "quit whining about the snow, it happens every year, you should be ready for it by now" - FUCK OFF. Unless you're someone I know and like, because I haven't bothered to go back and check who actually said it. If I know and like you - sod off (I'm sufficiently fired up that you still get some kind of expletive containing an 'off' directed at you, but we're still friends).

A lot of things happen every year. We get colds. We get stomach bugs. I get seasonal depression. I have a snow brush in my car that has the head on the wrong way - perpendicular to the handle instead of parallel, like a toothbrush, which means that it's been designed by some disciple of Satan to pull snow down on me instead of brushing it away anywhere useful, WHY WOULD ANYONE EVEN MAKE THIS KIND OF SNOW BRUSH AND OFFER IT FOR SALE??? I claim my right to complain about all of these in a timely and spirited fashion (just ask my husband, the hapless buyer of the aforementioned FUSB (Fucking Useless Snow Brush).

Complaining is one of the pleasures and comforts of life. Everybody has shit going on. Just because somebody else's shit isn't the particular kind of shit that gets to you doesn't mean you get to tell them to shut up about it (without being considered a big jerk). In certain very specific cases - say, someone very very rich is on their yacht being waited on hand and foot, with their loving and faithful spouse by their side, surrounded by their four beautiful children whom they had no trouble conceiving, and they complain that their gold lamé bikini is chafing? Maybe, MAYBE, you should tell them to take a breath and re-evaluate. Otherwise? Cork it.

I think of complaining as vaguely akin to perspiring when it's hot. You perspire, and then a breeze or a fan blows on the perspiration and cools you off so you don't die of spontaneous combustion or something. Similarly, something crappy happens, you complain, friends offer sympathy and commiseration and you don't explode or sink into a boggy mire of despondence. It's a time-honoured tradition.

I get that it's not cool if someone does nothing but complain, especially if there are things they could do to improve their situation. I get that perspective is sometimes useful and that other people often have it much worse. But in the full flush of that cold, or stomach bug, or seasonal depression, or first day driving in the snow with clenched fists and knotted stomach, how much of a percentage of a fuck do I give about perspective? A VERY, VERY LOW FUCK PERCENTAGE.

Moving to Hawaii isn't a viable option for many people who live in places with long, cold winters. Our jobs and families are here. Some of us look really bad in bikinis. And we love where we live, despite the fact that for a good chunk of the year it feels like the outside is trying to kill us (come ON, that thing where Mother Nature drifts down a gorgeous soft white fleecy blanket of snow, and then drops the temperature fifteen degrees so everything turns sharp and chunky and if you slip and fall you might stab yourself in the jugular? That is a HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT) . So we stay, and occasionally we complain. Lord help you if you try to stop us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Fair Day One

1) I thought of Nicole every time I said "the posters are five dollars each."

2) I thought "there's no way they sent us enough Frozen posters."

3) I told one grade six girl that the pointers were (also) five dollars each and she exclaimed "OH F..." and I gasped and she finished "OH FIVE, I only have FOUR, bummer!" That was exciting.

4) One little boy came back up the counter, clasping his Pokemon book and his Ninjago book, looked at me and the librarian and said 'You guys are the BEST'. 

5) I only screwed up simple addition once. Maybe twice.

6) I ranted (probably for the dozenth time) that all the erasers should be the same price, and whoever added a .50 to ANY price should be shot. Or relieved of their position at Scholastic. Or made to work the book fair without a calculator. Don't even get me started on the 1.25 highlighters.

7) There are no cake pop erasers this year so we haven't had to tell anyone not to bite the erasers. There are, however, pencils with Groucho Marx nose/moustache combos on them, which have been held up to many, many faces. I don't bother to tell them not to do it, but it grosses me out a little. 

8) I was disproportionately cranky about the 'borrowed' pencils for the wish lists. We started the day with almost twenty pencils, and after two classes we had almost none - rotten little pencil thieves. Some teachers were awesome about sending their kids back to return the pencils, some were ridiculously defensive - "most of my kids brought their own pencils" - THAT PENCIL AREA ON THE COUNTER DIDN'T EMPTY ITSELF, SIR. When I came home to grab lunch, I took some pencils back from last year's school supplies. They all have EVE A. carved into them. I will HAVE my pencils back.

9) The woman I volunteered with last year is coming on Wednesday and she's bringing a BABY. On Wednesday I will be working the BABY FAIR, and someone else can do the math and find the fucking unicorn books.

Our book fair was blessedly boner-free
Photo by IIII Chin
10) At one point, Katy the librarian came back to the desk to check the flyer because someone had asked her if we had a book. I asked her what she was looking for and she said "Do we have Fart Powder: Who Cut the Cheese?" This was particularly marvelous because Katy has a British accent, and after she said it a few times I was on the floor laughing, and told her I have to record her saying it so I can play it back when I'm sad. P.S. We did not have Fart Powder: Who Cut the Cheese. (You're saying 'fart powder' to yourself in a British accent now, aren't you? You're welcome).

11) I used to spend hundreds of dollars when I worked the book fair, on books for my kids. Today I spent twenty, on a cool washi tape craft kit, because ninety percent of the books are too young for my kids. That made me sad, but not as sad as I thought it would. 

12) Fart powder. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Panic at the Movie Theatre!

Eve and I just got home from the movies (Big Hero 6). We went with three of her friends and three of mine, with a not-exact breakdown of parent-to-related child ratio, which isn't really important so I'm not even sure why I just tried to figure out a way to describe it. We were all roughly in the middle of the theatre, the four girls in front of the three adult women and one adult male.

Photo by Carlos Garcia |Campillo
We got there pretty early because a couple of weeks ago I took Eve and her friend from next door to see The Book of Life and the theatre was super short-staffed and we didn't get into the movie until two minutes before the movie started which stresses me the fuck out and there were almost no seats left, which was okay except some douchey couple dragged their five little girls in fifteen minutes after the movie started, bustled up to the top row where we were and started calling out asking people to move so their kids could sit down, then left and sat somewhere else while the five little girls whispered and went to the bathroom five times and spilled snacks and jumped up and down until I snarled at one (I didn't actually snarl, I just said "please sit down" quite firmly).

I was focused on not letting this kind of thing happen again. Of course, I can't control the actions of douchey people, but I could get us there early so maybe we would could sit in a less douche-accessible area. 

It seemed to go pretty well. I thought any late-arriving presumptuous douches would have trouble accessing us in the middle where we were. And we had a bit of a wait, but I hadn't seen my one friend in months, so hey, more time to catch up.

We had a lovely chat. It seemed like we had been sitting there for quite a while, but not in a bad way.

The movie was supposed to start at 1:30.

We checked our phones. It was 1:40.

Someone from the theatre came in at 1:45 and said they were having some technical difficulties and it would be ten or fifteen more minutes. We weren't overly upset, since our friends still had time to make it to their family dinner, and our kids were still happily chatting. The people with small children were less sanguine. There were bathroom breaks. There was crying and complaining. There was mutiny among the troops. 

Twenty minutes later, the gentleman came back in and said it would be fifteen to twenty minutes more, MAX, before the movie started, OR we could go to the 3D one at 2:40 (too late for our friends to still make their family dinner, plus I loathe 3D), OR we could get our money back.

Eve and Marielle asked if they could get Dippin Dots. Caitlin and her friend asked for popcorn. Did I mind that we were now basically rewarding the theatre for making us wait for our movie? A little, but not as much as you might think.

We talked some more. The front section of the theatre where the birthday party was set up devolved into something resembling Lord of the Flies. I asked Eve if, in the event that it got too late, she wanted to go to the 3D movie or wait and see it with Marielle next week-end. She said she would wait. 

We were just on the verge of having to bail, and the movie started. I thought the movie was fantastic - I laughed out loud and cried three times, not including the time I cried during the beginning short. As we were leaving the theatre (they refunded everyone's money, even the people who stayed and saw the movie), the parents with small children looked like battle-weary soldiers fresh from the wars.

Sometimes I miss the little hands and baby voices and hilariously mispronounced words and lapful of toddler. 

Sometimes having older kids is a really good deal. 

(A mother and two kids did, in fact, squeeze in right next to me after the movie had started and there was some phone fiddling and loud talking. I might have to avoid the movie theatre for a while until the douche-magnetism  wears off).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Re-post: Book Review: Autism's False Prophets by Paul A. Offit, M.D.

I reviewed this way back in 2009. I wish I could say, five years later, that this kind of evidence-based research has made a bigger difference. If more people would read a book or two instead of getting their science from flaky movie stars and "shocking" Facebook postings....

This is a really well-written, timely, important book. And just thinking about it makes me tired, and sad and angry. Thinking about trying to write this review makes me tired. Because this book is well-written, timely and important, and it's completely preaching to the choir. It's not going to convince anyone who isn't already convinced, or leaning that way. The book itself contains the argument that explains why this is the case. I'm sure Paul Offit understands that he is preaching to the choir with this book, which makes it brave of him to have written it.

Some people think that brave ones are the doctors and experts who say that mercury in vaccines or vaccines themselves have caused an autism epidemic. They think these people are brave because they are going against the medical establishment and Big Pharma, who are unscrupulous if not downright evil and only care about big profits, not about the lives or health of patients.

In fact, many, if not most, of these people are surprisingly well-funded and demonstrably unscrupulous when regarded a little more closely. Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who raised the possibility of a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, is a prime example of this. On the strength of what was little better than a hunch, he published a paper in the Lancet that led to years of bitter controversy. Later it was discovered that he had claimed that his investigations were sanctioned by the Ethical Practices Committee, which they weren't. He had also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from personal injuries lawyers who were suing the government for compensation, which he failed to reveal. He paid researchers who produced favourable results for him. He disregarded information that didn't support his claims.

Despite all this, and multiple solid scientific studies that provide no evidence that the MMR has any link to autism (in fact, when Japan discontinued the MMR on the strength of Wakefield's paper, the rate of autism continued to rise), many people still will not be convinced. One of Offit's main points is that science is unfortunately a weak match for splashy headlines and celebrities who passionately advocate for unprovable theories, and claim that the medical establishment ignores them or tries to cover up their 'proof'.

Offit refers back to the silicone breast implant 'fiasco', in which the industry was basically decimated by anecdotal, unsubstantiated claims that silicone breast implants caused connective tissue disease. Massive class action suits were settled, although people who waited in hopes of winning more money individually were out of luck, since eventually the science showed no evidence to support the claims.

One of the major 'problems' with epidemiological studies, which are the most reliable, is that they cannot prove a negative. The most scientists can ever say is that 'there is no evidence' that the MMR or mercury has any link to incidence of autism. In the face of 'miraculous' cures and improvements touted by charlatans who offer chelation therapy and other useless and sometimes harmful 'treatments', this simply isn't sexy enough for the public.

Vaccines are not without risks, and no doctor has ever claimed that they are. Offit refers to incidents where vaccines caused sickness and even deaths. In all of these cases, the CDC detected the problem and halted the use of the vaccines. There was no cover-up, and the deaths caused by vaccines are far, far fewer than the deaths caused by the diseases the vaccines prevent.

In face of the various conflicts of interest, cynicism and suspicion surrounding this issue, Offit asks "if everyone appears to be in someone's pocket, who or what can be trusted? How can people best determine if the results of a scientific study are accurate? The answer is threefold: transparency of the funding source, internal consistency of the data, and reproducibility of the findings." Wakefield's results were never reproducible, or transparently funded.

There are many reasons why parents of autistic children would accept wild theories and unproven therapies over solid science. The so-called experts who propound these theories and therapies generally have simpler aims: publicity, and money. Some of them may actually believe they're trying to help autistic children, and their parents. They aren't.

Offit has been the target of public vitriol, accusations of being paid to say vaccines are safe, and death threats against him and his family. It was brave of him to write this book. I wish I could believe it would make more of a difference.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Day 14

I really have nothing. My general existential ickiness isn't following the curve I was trying to bend it into. I did work out today, which is a small victory since I really felt like just sitting - which reminds me of an article I just read on how we should be making our kids move more and moving ourselves more other than just in small bursts of activity that we pay for, and I agreed with everything about the article except its title, which was "Sitting is Still Killing Our Kids", and that is so needlessly inflammatory and sensationalized and click-baitey it almost negates the good stuff in the article for me. I'm so sick of things being titled "Number Four Will Blow Your Mind!" and "Six Suppers Containing Spinach That Your Kids Will Devour!" and Some Really Clever Third Thing I Can't Think Of! You don't know my mind. You don't know my kids. Can we cut down on the titular hyperbole a tad?

I just opened my email and Etsy sent me a November Gift Guide. At the beginning was the same black linen sundress that is at the beginning of every Gift Guide I get from Etsy because I looked at it once, and apparently some algorithm has decided that I MUST HAVE IT. Dudes. It's November. Let it go.

But then I came to the miniatures. The miniatures. As Eve says "why is it that small things are so cute and perfect just because they're small?" Well, sweetie, partly so we don't abandon our kids on that mountainside where an eagle pecks out your liver when they turn two and learn the word 'no'.... but I digress. So geez, look at this shockingly realistic tiny roasted turkey so your dolls can have Thanksgiving dinner. And this unbelievably beautiful tiny lemon layer cake so your dolls can have a birthday party. And this pile of tiny wine bottles so your doll can go on a bender after her boyfriend leaves because he's sick of getting flak for putting his feet up on the tiny coffee table - she's better off, chances are he wasn't anatomically correct anyway. I couldn't find a tiny bottle of Maalox but fortunately there are myriad tiny toilets. Who knew dollhouse life could get so sordid?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Surly Thursday: Microscopic Version

You know when small stuff bugs you, and it's small, so the fact that it bugs you also kind of bugs you?

Crabtree and Evelyn has discontinued my very favouritest body lotion in the whole entire world. I can't use stuff that's too greasy or I just end up needing to wash it off - I can't even go near body butter just because of the name - and I can't use stuff that's too strongly scented because it gives me a headache, but I like a faint pleasant scent. This lotion was perfect - soothing but not gloppy, with a really nice light scent. The salesperson at the C&E said a bunch of people had been asking for it and it was always extremely popular, which makes the whole thing perplexing as well as annoying. I bought this instead, and it's okay, but slightly heavier, and the scent is nice enough but kind of disappears as soon as I walk out of the bathroom, plus Eve hates lemons so I keep thinking I'm going to be repulsive to her while wearing it. And yes, I am aware that this is the Firstest of First World Problems.

Photo credit Chris Hawes
Eve was on a field trip to some kind of conservation area a few weeks ago and it was raining. They were walking down some stairs and a boy ran past her, knocking her down so that she fell backwards onto the stairs. She's been having lower back pain ever since. I don't really think the teacher needed to call me or anything, I'm just sort of inarticulately upset about the whole thing - why was the idiot boy running on slippery stairs (because grade six boys are idiots), why didn't anyone make sure she was okay (because she doesn't typically kick up a big fuss when she gets hurt because she finds it embarrassing), and, as someone who has experienced back pain for years, I keep thinking is this going to go away or continue to plague her into the future? Will she one day be thinking, everything was fine until I fell on that field trip? And yes, I realize that I am catastrophizing and proportion-blowing and there's no reason why I should be crying while typing this, and it's just November and dark and the very air just seems to be peering at me and finding me wanting. Mostly it's just a stupid thing that happened that is making me feel crummy.

I also feel like we've attracted some kind of financial evil eye curse thing. A month or so ago we got a flurry of notices from Revenue Canada saying we owed a huge amount of money. They also seemed to think that we hadn't filed tax returns for the last five years, which isn't true, so it will probably get sorted out in time. Then, last Saturday when I was at the comedy club, at some point between my paying for my ticket downstairs (with my credit card) and paying for my drinks upstairs, someone used my credit card for an internet purchase of a $1500 microscope. Visa has to open an investigation, and it will probably be sorted out, in time. This means I have to be patient and unhysterical and accept that the problem is not instantly fixable, which I am bad at.

On the other hand, the fact that there's $1500 dollars on our credit card that we didn't spend doesn't mean we can't buy our kids Christmas presents. And the house across the street from us caught on fire on Monday night and is probably a write-off, while I am still sitting in my own kitchen, which is messy but unburned. And I have friends with cancer. So I am aware that, in the grand scheme of things, these are small problems.

Small problems that would seem even smaller if I smelled faintly of lavender and goat milk. Dammit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


It's funny, reading this post from 2010, because I was in the middle of solo parenting and NaBloPoMo then as I am now. It's sad, because Grandpa was alive then, and he's not now. I like to think he's drinking scotch and raising hell in some place that looks just like his sprawling, riotously-blooming backyard garden, sitting in a brightly painted Muskoka chair under a giant maple tree.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mondays on the Margins. More or Less.

I've been in a weird reading place lately. My sweet spot is usually to have one fiction and one non-fiction book on the go, I try to alternate between genres and not go too long without a "broccoli book" (something that's good for me, that I usually end up enjoying more than I think I will), and when I'm in a rut I read short stories. But my focus is all over the place, and even while reading I find my mind wandering, and when I get into bed I can't decide what to pick up, and it scares me. Being a reader is such a huge part of my identity, and if depression or anxiety or getting-older hormones are disrupting that, well, that's not cool.

One thing I have to watch is over-using the library. I know, that sounds stupid doesn't it? But I splurged on three or four books that I really wanted to read at the beginning of the summer and I've only read one because of this habit I have of going to the library to pick up holds and then panic-grabbing two or three books off the shelf because GOD, WHAT IF I RUN OUT OF BOOKS? And then I go to the books that have a due date before the ones that don't. So it's NOVEMBER, and I haven't read Bark or Sorrow's Knot or Fly By Night, or the conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series - it always sort of embarrasses me when I buy a book in hardcover and it comes out in paper before I've read the hardcover. I also surf around on the library ebooks and it's way too easy to borrow them without leaving the comfort of my bedroom. After the last two turned out to be complete dreck, I've decided I need to be more discerning about those.

So I've missed my window to read Dreams of Gods and Monsters sitting in the back yard between when it was too hot and got too cold. I guess I'll go for snuggled in my chair with many blankets on a snowy day. A really great book sort of demands a more auspicious reading setting, don't you think?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I've been turning up my nose slightly every time someone mentions The Goldfinch, because we did Donna Tartt's The Secret History in my book club many years ago and most of us, including me, found it shallow, melodramatic and silly. I got it out of the library for my mom, and she gave it back to me yesterday. I started reading it today and so far I'm finding it riveting. So there's that.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Facebook Groups: Oh, the Humanity

I belong to two groups on Facebook - a "Moms in Your Area" group which I don't recall joining, I was just suddenly in it, and an "Ottawa Freecycle" group which one of my friends administrates, so it kept showing up in my feed and I asked her to add me so I could get rid of some clutter.

I say "I try not to judge" a lot. It's not strictly true. I try not to judge too harshly. I try not to judge out loud too much. I try not to judge based on things that people can't help.

These groups do not make that task easier.

Although there are many reasonable inquiries on the first timeline - which gymnastics program is better for young children, request for hair stylist recommendation, has anybody tried the new Italian restaurant - there are also frequent indications that many of the moms in my area are of a venal, sub-intelligent, parsimonious type.

First there are the "Let me Google that for you" questions: what time does Wal-Mart open? What street is this dentist on? How do I wash lamb's wool?" Then there are the seemingly topical inquiries that inevitably devolve into unseemly gossip: "Why are there so many sirens down this street?" "I drove by and saw an accident." Good, there's an accident, everybody avoid driving in that area. No wait, there's more. "It was three cars and there are five people involved and one was drunk and two are wearing fur." "Last week near there I saw a woman almost hit a dog. I could tell by looking at her that she doesn't breastfeed." There was a thread about police cars and ambulances at a house near my son's school and people speculating about what had happened in the family that was really quite icky.

The appeals for hairdresser, doctor, dentist or optometrist suggestions usually result in a good number of honestly helpful ideas and testimonials. But there is often one person who feels the need to contradict at least one referral, while offering some horrendous personal experience as a reason: "OH GOD, don't go to Lisa at Hairy's, she cut my daughter's hair into a 666 pattern and then charged me seventy-five dollars!": "I can't believe anyone is recommending Dr. Patterson at Optometrists R Us, he put up an eye chart that had obscene words in it!": "Avoid this doctor's office, you will be drugged and sold into human slavery."

Photo by Eunoia
And finally, the inquiries about where to buy goods or services that all end in earnest requests for economical recommendations: "Where can I get winter tires without spending a bunch?" "Best place to get custom-made birthday cake without spending an arm and a leg?" "Who sells mattresses at a reasonable price?" "Does anyone have a yacht for really cheap?" Look, I get it. Times are tough and no one wants to spend more than they have to. But really, what do they think people are generally going to suggest? "Go here - it's extremely expensive." "Oh, ask for Roger, he'll screw you right over." "We paid way too much at this place and we STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU DO THE SAME."

I know, I know, I could just remove myself from the group. It clearly doesn't bring out the best in me. When I'm not rolling my eyes, I'm weeping in envy at the ease with which women with small children can now find other people in similar situations to get together with - this group could have saved my sanity ten or twelve years ago. I guess you have to take the bad with the good.

I feel like that's enough snark for one post, so I'll save my Prolegomena on any Future Metaphysics of Freecycling for a post later in the week.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Day 8

I'm going out with a group of friends to a comedy club for my friend Janet's birthday tonight. I'm having vexatious, near-paralyzing intrusive thoughts, and my hair, in the run-up to my haircut appointment this week, is nearing Medusa-like proportions. Basically, I'm a mess from the neck up.

I'm hoping to laugh my troubles away tonight, and/or soak them off in a hot tub , with an option on burying them under an extremely jury-rigged coconut raspberry layer cake.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Not All Who Wander Are Lost. A Lot of Them Are, Though, Actually Lost.

Steph - one of my best friends who lives in my computer - said she thought it was brave that I post about depression. It was a nice thing to say, but I don't feel like it's brave. Maybe if it was twenty or thirty years ago, or if I had a job that I was afraid would be affected. Maybe if I'd ever talked about it and been met with anything but sympathy and understanding (well, I did work with one woman who regularly said of one customer - "she's crazy - I think she's on Prozac or something", but she was more clueless than anything).

I feel braver (because I'm more ashamed) admitting that yesterday I said I would take my mom to the new outlet mall in Kanata, and instead of looking up where it was before we went, which I could SO EASILY have done, I relied on my GPS, which was stupid since it was a new address. I have no sense of direction, but with routine and a GPS I've been able to fake my way into being a much more confident driver than I used to be. My friend Margot, who is eminently sensible and capable, always says that maps are infinitely better than GPS... things (how the hell do you write a plural form of GPS?), and I always shrug in what I hope is an attractive manner and gaily exclaim that maps are Greek to me and my GPS has never let me down yet (well, there was that time in Nova Scotia that we were trying to get to a public beach and it led us to some sort of military base, but that was a long time ago and a different GPS that might have had a grudge against us because I made fun of its pronunciation of French street names).
"Lost" by Najwa A. Marafie

So. I picked my mom up around 9:45 a.m. and tried to punch in the address. I should have had alarm bells going off right away when it wouldn't let me enter the right street number, but I just punched in one that I thought was close enough. We hit the highway and took the advised exit and turned on the street and.... came to a gravel dead end. Hoping against hope, I turned around and headed down the street the other way, but it soon became apparent that the street numbers were going down instead of up. I pulled into a Park and Ride and pulled out my phone and tried to look confident that I knew what I was doing, while swallowing a rising sense of panic and desperation.

It's worth noting that my mother is a lovely woman, but very short on patience, and even though she has even less of a sense of direction than I do and was not able to offer a single helpful suggestion, she was radiating a clear sense of disapproval. In fact, when I had first started to program the GPS she had said "what do you need that for? It's just by the Canadian Tire Centre". I asked her if she knew exactly how to get to the Canadian Tire Centre and she said "no".

The thing is, it's true! It's right by the Canadian Tire Centre! I've driven to the Canadian Tire Centre within the last five years! I should know how to get to the flipping Canadian Tire Centre!  But I don't! I know how to point the car in the direction of Kanata, but I don't retain exit numbers and I don't have a map in my head and I don't know how to get un-lost when I'm lost. I should, but I don't. There it is.

So I pulled Mapquest up on my phone and did some stuff and then trepidatiously handed the phone to my mom and told her to read me the directions. Then we got back on the road. She said "we need Highway 417 East Arnprior". I said "yes, I need to get back on the highway." I drove for a while and then realized I had gone too far and needed to turn around and go back to get the highway ramp. My mother was not in favour of this, but held her peace.

"There! Arnprior!" I said, very politely, "it's just the highway. It goes to Arnprior, but that has nothing to do with what we need to know." She told me which exit I needed. We saw an exit. We saw another exit. We were going the wrong way. Again.

We had a GMC Jimmy at one point. It had a console hanging down from the roof that told you which direction you were going. It was a very nice feature in a vehicle.

My mom said, for the second time, "oh, let's just go home." I said we could if she wanted to, but we could still get to the mall, it would just take a little extra time, and I had no plans until the evening and she's retired. She said okay.

We were almost back in Barrhaven by the time I got off the highway, drove up the road and turned back onto the highway. By this point she had almost figured out that she had to touch the phone screen when it faded, or turn the phone back on if it had been too long. She only stabbed the screen four or five times before I said, through gritted teeth "just push the button".

We found the exit. As I was heading up the ramp, I said "does it say to go left or right?" She said "it doesn't say." I said "is there an arrow beside it?" She said "Arnprior?" hopefully. I was looking at the road ahead and pointing blindly with my finger at the phone trying to get her to see where I thought the arrow should be because Jesus Christ I did not want to be going the wrong way again. She said "there it is". I thought she meant the arrow, and then I glanced to my right and saw, like a shining oasis in the desert, like Shangri-La and El Dorado rolled into one, a sprawling monstrosity of a shopping mall.

I burst into hysterical laughter and said "okay, well, why don't we just turn here where the mall is?" My mother giggled and said "Fuck".

So there it is. Judge away.

(We had a map to the mall, and the first time we tried to go back to the car we ended up in the back parking lot instead of the front. We really should be required to travel with a chaperone. A geographically savvy one.)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

She's in Awe of Me. Clearly.

Wednesday (yesterday) was Take Our Kids to Work Day. Matt was planning to take Angus until he realized that he was going to be in Japan. He arranged for a colleague who is also a family friend to take him instead. Then his best friend's mother mentioned that she could take him to the General Hospital where she works. He really, really wanted to do this (because he wanted to see the operating room and get lectured on health and wellness, you understand, not because he'd be spending the day with his friend), but he was worried that it wasn't polite to withdraw from the other committment. We were discussing this at the dinner table and Matt said he thought it was fine for Angus to go to the hospital, we would thank the other person and let them off the hook.

Then Eve said "...or he could just stay home with Mom and fold laundry - I KNOW THAT'S NOT ALL YOU DO, I REALIZED IT WAS REALLY OFFENSIVE AS SOON AS I SAID IT PLEASE DON'T TAKE MY FOOD AWAY."

Then Angus got sick and ended up having to stay home yesterday. I made every effort to look busy and important. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Voice Lessons

Today's prompt on the BlogHer NaBloPoMo site is: "Do you feel you have found your voice on your blog? What techniques have you tried to develop your voice in your writing? What are some characteristics of your personality in your writing?"

"Voice shape" by Jacob Whittaker

Answer to first question: Hell yes. I've said it over and over again. When I tried to write short stories, I couldn't develop a credible character. I started writing a cheesy mystery romance novel once. My husband read the first few chapters and said: "She's you." I said "She is not!" He said "she's in graduate school for comparative literature and she's of Polish descent." I said "shut up, she has different coloured hair and she's plucky and confident." He said "isn't this other character just your Irony Professor?" I said "I hate you." 

I wrote two short stories in six years that I thought were not terrible. I sent one to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I got a very nice rejection letter from the editor that said the prose style was interesting but he just couldn't get into the subject matter, which should have been encouraging, but I was stuck for more subject matter. I didn't know WHAT I wanted to write about. Also, the story made everybody who read it, including my husband, think that I didn't want children, which was a bit of a concern for him since we were trying to get pregnant at the time. I said "fuck OFF, not every character is me!" I proceeded to have a kid or two and not endeavour to get them kidnapped or killed, so I think by now he's probably convinced.

I kept trying to write short stories, but it didn't work. I couldn't work up a character, and if I did I couldn't get them from the kitchen to the laundry room without everything being painfully awkward - it was like my writing took them all out at the knees - "I want to be a good protagonist but these tortured similes won't let me move forward!"

I became aware of blogging at some point, and I thought it was ridiculous. Who would be colossally arrogant enough to put their diary on the internet, and if they did, who would possibly care to read it? I believe I said the words "I will never have a blog" on more than one occasion. On the other hand, I was more and more aware that all my friends would say they loved getting emails from me because they were so smart and funny and entertaining, and when I asked them to read my short stories they would read them and say "hey, your last email was so smart and funny and entertaining, and here, I made you some cookies."

So then I thought, hmm, if I started a blog, it would kind of be like writing emails to the world. And since I couldn't possibly be any less successful as a writer than I already was, I gleefully tossed my principles to the wind and googled "how to start a blog". Whenever I read my short stories over, I'm in an agony of cringing mortification. When I reread my blog posts, I'm generally thinking "goddamn, I really am quite amusing." I haven't written the Great Canadian Anything. My readership is small (but kickass). Sometimes I've done nothing but given myself and one other person a quick laugh for the day. It feels like a kind of success.

Answer to the second question: Uh, none really. I signed up for daily writing prompts from Sarah Selecky. They come to my inbox every day and I dutifully open them up and look at them and stick them in a folder. I think of NaBloPoMo as kind of a good technique to encourage my voice, in the same way that drinking half a bottle of vodka is a good technique to encourage my head into the toilet; sometimes you just have to force yourself to do it.

Answer to the third question: Overuse of dashes, undue reliance on the word 'totally' and a lot of swearing - I like to throw in a little unanticipated repetition, e.g. 'jesus jesus fuck' or "son of a bitching bitching bitch", or maybe mix it up a little with an unusual combination like 'rabbit-humping whore-douche' or 'jack-bitching anus-hat'. 

Sorry. I felt like things were getting a little earnest there. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Tuesday on the Margins: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

What? To make NaBloPoMo you have to crack a few eggs. Or something.

This book has been floating around on my radar for a while. I'm very conscious that when I label a book post "Books 2012" or "Books 2014", this means the year I've READ the book, not the year the book was published. There are a variety of reasons I often don't read books the minute they emerge. The economic one, obviously - hardcover books are expensive, and unless it's an author I ferociously adore I don't buy hardcovers, and library queues are insanely long for new releases. There's also a touch of reverse snobbery, of which I'm not proud - I don't like reading something just because a bunch of people 'in the know' profess that it's the Next Big Thing. Then I experience this panicky backlash, where it suddenly feels like everyone in the world has read the damned thing except me, and I have to hustle to be able to offer any kind of valid opinion. It's all very tiresome. Anyway.

There was the added impediment that the title put me off a little - The Interestings? Oh my, don't we think highly of ourselves. It was a little embarrassing to find out within the first five pages or so that this epithet was actually meant to be ironic. Also, I kept confusing the book with The Luminaries. (Crap, I just read the synopsis for The Luminaries and it looks really freaking interesting and I feel compelled to read it next. Okay, focus).

This book recalled to me, for obvious reasons, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, which I reviewed - holy crap - five years ago. Maybe I should send this book to my brother-in-law and see what he thinks of it. There are huge differences, but again here there is the friendship between two married couples of unequal social standing and the sense of a large span of the characters' lives tenderly cradled between two covers.

The synopsis from Goodreads: From bestselling author Meg Wolitzer a dazzling, panoramic novel about what becomes of early talent, and the roles that art, money, and even envy can play in close friendships.

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

Jules is a fascinating character - incredibly flawed (multiple times I found myself thinking "oh my GOD, she's such an infuriating twit!") and yet sympathetic (to me, anyway) because of her self-awareness. I also saw an uncomfortable amount of myself in her - the agonizing desire to be more talented and successful than you know you actually are, the tendency to be seduced by people who seem more sophisticated and worldly and the unlovely willingness to do almost anything to stay in that charmed circle. I also loved Dennis, Jules's husband, the odd man out who often sees the circle of friends more clearly than anyone. Ash seemed a little too perfect, but some people do, and Ethan seemed as realistic as artistic geniuses ever do. 

There were times when the envy thing seemed a little overdone - Jules's speechifying about it seemed too affected, when everything she was saying was abundantly clear from the context. But this was only on one or two rare occasions where I felt pulled out of the story. For the most part, I was completely absorbed in the story - I read most of it in one day - which was wonderful after a few weeks of lurching, painful, unsatisfying reading experiences. 

This type of book has come to seem very American to me - not in a bad way, or even an especially identifiable way (other than, I guess, that it takes place in America, and is populated by American characters. Um....). There is something incredibly gratifying sometimes in sinking into a story like this, where the insights flow naturally, where the writing isn't incredibly self-congratulatory or ornamental, where the sweep of the story is punctuated by tiny, wonderful details that are the greatest joy of reading, where the people do often seem like people you've met or seen in the mirror, where the author is clear-eyed but not cruel. 

Quite a few people on Goodreads didn't like the book at all, which always gives me a moment of self-consciousness while posting my four-star rating. A favourite criticism is "this book isn't interesting AT ALL." I would have to say that I disagree. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chicken Soup for the Cranky Sleep-Deprived Soul

I went to bed early last night to start my solo-parenting stretch with enough sleep. At 6:30 I felt like the day had gone on forever, and I took a sleeping pill, so I figured eleven wasn't an unreasonable time to expect my body to cooperate.

Have I mentioned my body is kind of an asshole?

So this morning I dragged my ass out of bed after not nearly enough sleep, and instead of seven feeling like eight it felt like five, and packed lunches and got ready to go to the gym and grocery store with Pam. I was sleepy and stuffy and dopey and I did not feel good at all.

We went to the gym (third time in a row with no excuses obstacles or unforeseeable events preventing us from getting there). We walked on the treadmill. We watched that debt show that's almost as good as I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant for snarky schadenfreude ("We can hardly pay our rent and we buy a new turnip dehydrator every season and I only wear silk and we never do our taxes, but we're half a million in debt? HUGE surprise!"). We did weights, even the ones we don't usually do and we have to read the instructions and keep doing them wrong.

We went down to the grocery store and I told Pam to remind me that I had to get chicken soup for Angus because it wasn't on my list. We backtracked several times because we forgot that mascarpone would be with the fancy cheese, not the Cracker Barrel in the last aisle, and I didn't believe Pam about where the pineapple was (sorry Pam) and then we saw the bakery wall of doughnuts that was self-serve. I thought to myself "Angus is home sick" and I thought to myself "Eve is so sweet and helpful when Matt's away", and I thought to myself  "consoling and/or rewarding your kids with food is a recipe for disaster" and then I thought to myself "don't be such a judgy bitch" and bought them each a cookies and cream doughnut for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON.

Pam and I agreed that it would have been better if we had never noticed the bakery wall of self-serve doughnuts. On the plus side, we do both have very bad memories. For example, I still forgot the fucking chicken soup, and Pam forgot to remind me. So she took me to the drug store on the way home, for chicken soup AND Angus's prescription, which I managed to remember was there.

Our check-out girl at the grocery store was hilarious - she gave me a plastic bag for the doughnuts, and then while I was trying to bag the rest of my stuff and Pam's, every time there was a bread item she would bark "pastry bag!" so I had to bag all of our bread together even though we were going to different houses - okay, she was hilarious AND a little scary.

I bought a poppy and stuck it on my gym bag, because I am patriotic, but I never wear a damned coat. I've already poked myself in the side and the leg while swinging the bag around. Also, in a few weeks when I'm wondering where the hell the restaurant gift cards that I bought Angus for Christmas went, somebody remind them they're in my gym bag, kay?

Our check-out guy at the Bulk Barn was funny too. And we noticed that we were getting a really good return-smile ratio for all the people we smiled at. And I got home and drank some green juice and it wasn't too gingery, which it sometimes is.

And I feel pretty good.