Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Close Enough for Government Work?

So Matt was running around printing out passport forms and gathering needed information and signatures yesterday to get passport renewals for himself and the kids - I'm on a different cycle, and I said I was happy to take the kids' forms in but he's taking Angus to Florida next week-end for a baseball showcase so he said he might as well just do them all. We thought we had everything squared away, and he left this morning to go to the passport office.

As I was getting ready to leave for the gym, he swept back into the house on an immense wave of irritation, having gotten to the part where the preliminary person scans your documents and been informed that Angus is now an adult and needed the longer form filled out. Which is annoying, particularly since neither of us had noticed that that fact is mentioned in writing right at the top of all the passport forms, and reading is kind of supposed to be my thing - it's nice that Matt didn't mention that, now that I think of it. But government forms are kind of like online courses for me - no matter how many times I go over everything, details escape me - it is troubling and headache-inducing. ANYWAY. We printed out the longer form, I slapped my signature on where required, and off he went, because he was IN THIS now, and goddamn it, it was GETTING DONE.

It didn't get done.

I worked out, went down to get groceries and he called while I was going through the grocery store checkout. Turns out that since Angus is an adult, he has to apply IN PERSON if he needs express service. So, yeah, huge pain in the ass, but (plot twist) that's not actually the point to this story. As I'm walking my groceries to the car and unloading, Matt tells me the story of what happened as the forms which actually could be processed were being processed.

The white, middle-aged man at the wicket, looking slightly uncomfortable, says to Matt, "sir, it might be helpful for you to know that in six months there are going to be changes to the forms and there will be more options for gender categories". Matt says, well, great, wondrous diversity and all that, but....? The man then says hurriedly "....there's certainly nothing wrong with the way you're doing it now, I just..." Matt is increasingly baffled and doesn't know what to say. The man concludes ".... or this might all just be a huge misunderstanding." Matt looks at the passport and form in the man's hand, which are Eve's, and the man puts them down and points out the discrepancy.

And then we realized that we, two double-degree-holding university-educated reasonably intelligent (we thought) parents, had somehow managed to let our daughter walk around for five years with a passport that said she was male.

Which is not that big a deal, unless it had caused some kind of problems while we were traveling. But, well, nobody noticed, so whatevs. But now Matt is trying to figure out how to say this: "Can I say 'she's really a girl'? I guess. I shouldn't say 'she doesn't have a penis', because that doesn't necessarily mean... shit!" He settled on "yeah, that M was a mistake. Sorry."

So, you know, nobody's arguing that there isn't more work to be done to make people who don't fit into neat little categories feel accepted and comfortable in this society. But it gives me hope to think of these two middle-aged white dudes standing in a government office trying very, very hard to say and do the right things.

Monday, October 23, 2017

My Main Man Michael Marshall Smith

So I was all droopy and restless about what to read before Thanksgiving. I decided to reread something good, and went on the library website to see what I could get instantly as an ebook, so I started searching the names of my favourite authors.

So kind of funny thing about this author. I read this really cool science fiction book ages ago - it was called Only Forward and it was by Michael Marshall Smith, who I'd never heard of before. It was sort of part Blade Runner, part noir detective story and I really liked it. He only had a couple of other science fiction books, and I'm not sure if I even read them, although I meant to.

Years went by. I had a kid. That kid broke his leg while I was pregnant with a second kid. It was a stressful time. My parents came to help out and sent me out for a night of coffee shop and book store therapy. I came across this paperback mystery. Do you ever pick up a book, read the title and synopsis and just feel like it's going to be really good? Honestly, I never really have faith in that feeling because it's so easy to be misled, but I had that feeling immediately with this book, and I also noted that the author's name was Michael Marshall and wondered idly if it might be the same guy with the Smith lopped off.

I came home and read the book and was completely smitten - I love dark mysteries, and this was that with a little extra imaginative spin on it. It totally took my mind off the head-spinning shit show of having a two-year-old in diapers wearing a body cast. In fact, I wrote the author (it was the same one) a fan email - one of only three I've ever written. And he wrote back, and was lovely and gracious.

His publisher had reduced his name by a third because this was more of a mystery and for some reason they thought it should have a different name from his science fiction. I don't really care, I just think he's a standout as an author - original like it's really hard to be in a sea of fiction, smart and funny and with a wonderful ear for realistic dialogue. In my fan letter I wrote that I felt like his work was "suffused with a kind of hopeful melancholy" which he said he really liked.

So over Thanksgiving I reread Bad Things. Then I reread We Are Here, which features two of the characters from Bad Things, which I didn't realize the first time I read it because they came out three years apart and I read about a hundred books a year so unless BOOK TWO IN WHATEVER SERIES is emblazoned across the cover I miss stuff like that on the regular. Then I was desperate to reread The Straw Men, which was that very book I bought when Angus had the broken leg. I went to the shelf. I had the second two books in the trilogy. Clearly I had very ill-advisedly lent out the first one and never gotten it back. Well, no problem, I'd get it from the library, or order another copy from Indigo or Amazon. Except, no, because Michael Marshall Smith is British, no problem, I love the British -  crumpets, clotted cream, sticky wickets, big fan - but it makes his books INFURIATINGLY hard to source. EXCEPT except, the second and third books in the trilogy are actually available. Just not the first.

*head explodes*

So I spent the next few days buying up every available reasonably priced copy of everything I could find, and I'm waiting for my used copy of The Straw Men to arrive because I'll be goddamned if I will be prevented from reading some MMS whenever I freaking well feel like it. His short stories are also wonderful.

So there you go. It's not for the faint of heart, and it has a whiff of the supernatural, which judging by the Goodreads reviews some people really don't like. One reader also termed "cocky sarcasm" what I considered easy wit, so, tomato tomahto. And good luck finding The Straw Men. If you borrow mine I'm going to need collateral - possibly a hostage.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Scary Stories

Every once in a while there's a glitch in the Ottawa Public Library's ebook system, and a book that should be expired and inaccessible on my ipad just... isn't. It just sticks around until I tap on it to delete and return. It's a happy little gift from the literary gods for which I am always grateful. This time it is a massive tome called New Cthulhu: the Recent Weird, and if it hadn't gone all Overdrive Slipstream I never would have gotten through it on time since it weighs in at around 1100 digital pages.

As a fairly devoted horror fan, I'm not great at appreciating actual Lovecraft. Look, I relish tentacle porn and the unjudicious use of the word 'eldritch' as much as the next girl, but it's a little too on-the-nose for me - I just like my horror a tad more subtle. So it's probably not even technically allowed that I love Lovecraft-inspired horror fiction as much as I do. But I do, and most of the stories in this sprawling, wide-ranging collection are delicious, inventive and engaging with sometimes just a whiff of tainted sea air or the merest glimpse of a beslimed sea creature, sometimes more. Also included was Norman Partridge's bleakly superb Lesser Demons, which I had just been thinking about the other day without being able to remember either the title or the author (so much fortuitousness here!). Truthfully, I feel like the editor would have had to squint a little to get that one into a Lovecraft-inspired anthology, but I'm good with it.

I'm a bad rereader, I think I've mentioned that. The TBR pile is ever-growing, and much of the lure of reading for me resides in the pleasure of discovery. That's not a really good or defensible thing, though, not entirely. It's often why I pass over literary fiction in favour or sci fi and fantasy or horror, and the truth is that, for me, moderation and variety works the best in reading as well as in diet.

Wait, that kind of doesn't work for where I'm going next. Sod it, I'll leave it there anyway. After my last tear through a bunch of library holds that came in all at once, I was becalmed once again, with no idea what to read next and nothing really pulling at me. I wanted a sure thing, and as I'm realizing more and more, when you've read a couple thousand books and your memory is worse all the time, there's nothing like a reread for a sure thing - not only do you know already know you loved it, you can't really remember exactly why! Or what precisely happened! Or when!

And that brings us to about the length that my blog barometer tells me I would start getting bored after, so I'll tell you about who I've been furiously rereading tomorrow.

Monday, October 16, 2017


Last week-end Eve and I and my parents drove down to London to spend Thanksgiving with my sister and her family (the boys stayed home because Angus was writing SATs Saturday here in town). This week-end I drove down to Waterloo with some friends to go to an Oktoberfest event with friends that had moved there in the summer (Matt went to Watertown with Angus for baseball - Eve had music camp at school and found it inexpressibly amusing that Matt and I were both going to places that had Water in the name. She's weird).

Both week-ends were great, except I'm getting worse and worse at staying at other people's houses. It's never been my favourite thing. I'm a weird guest. I use a lot of ice. I need a lot of showers. I hate getting up in the morning in a strange place. And I'm used to keeping my house a few degrees above a walk-in refrigerator's temperature and this fall has been unseasonably warm, so I was melting for close to the entire time. I don't know if the perimenopause thing has fully kicked in that way, but unless I was right out of a cold shower and standing in front of a fan I was uncomfortable - and other people were wearing sweaters. It makes me afraid that I'm going to turn into a weird(er) recluse who never goes anywhere. Is it just me? Everyone I was traveling with seemed to just take it all in stride.

Besides that, it was all great. Eve joined school band for the first time last year and had an amazing teacher who really encouraged her and it was a great experience. He invited her to volunteer at a band camp he runs at the school in the summer, which she did, and finished all her volunteer hours before she even started high school. But all my friends were kind of dicks about how she kept saying "band camp", so my sister and I told her to watch American Pie with my niece. She watched it. She said "screw all of you, I'm still calling it band camp". And this is why I love her. They also watched the first episode of This Is Us, and I got to be there when the penny dropped near the end of the episode and they were very satisfyingly open-mouthed and shocked and impressed and teary and it was an epic moment.

I haven't been to an Oktoberfest event since university when I went to a Waterloo bar that just put an '-ausen' on the end of its name and got drunk, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Since we're older with more disposable income now, we bought tickets to a more authentic venue and it was really cool (Dracula jokes aside). There was a band that was a polka band and a cover band, and traditional dancing that was really cool, and traditional food that was delicious, and people in lederhosen and dirndls, and a mechanical bull that I didn't ride because I was wearing a dress (I have some regrets).

And now I'm home, and a comfortable temperature, and had a good sleep in my own bed, and I miss my sister and my friends. But Eve just came home and said "I have an egg test tomorrow so you're all getting poached eggs for dinner". And Angus made the honour roll again last year even though he went to Oklahoma for the Junior Sunbelt Classic one week before second-term exams. So there's that.