Friday, May 30, 2008

Vendredi

It's hard to believe that even with the idea of the time difference, the days have flown by at lightning speed. It's 9 PM and I just ate dinner at a small bistro down the street from our rented apartment in the Bastille after the vegetarian restaurant AROUND THE CORNER FROM OUR HOUSE was also closed. Sam will understand. It's the, um, 4th or 5th (I'm exaggerating, but only slightly) vegetarian restaurant from the Lonely Planet that's a) closed or b) simply not there. Somehow, I think that perhaps the world is trying to tell me something. We hit a wall last night a about 8 PM, the third or fourth night in a row of not eating dinner before 10 PM, walking all that time, exploring all the time, shopping and seeing all that time, or rather, I hit a wall, and we had fish and chips at an Irish pub in the grossest area of Paris around Centre Pompidou. It was bliss.

Yesterday we took it easy. We looked to all the things we hadn't done: a few old, old churches we longed to see (the organ in St. Sulpice!), visited the yarn shop, had a pint (me) and a Coke (Sam), did more shopping in the rain, thought the architecture of Le Halles quite disruptive if not just a little bit intriguing. The morning was spent wandering the Islands and having delicious ice cream. Oh, and having crepes. I could live on crepes alone although it's not entirely healthy to have crepes and Berthillion for breakfast. Ah, when in Paris...

Only Sam and I could stumble upon a great building next to a church that surprised both of us (and as I'm here without the guide book the name of it shall have to be filled in later) next to a church that people lined up for hours to see. The most fascinating part for me was the women's prison gardens, the place where they drank, the table where they ate (that I mistakenly sat on) and the iron-gated space where they waited to be executed. There was a recreation of Marie Antoinette's cell that sent a shiver up my spine, even though it was filled with those strange waxy figured they always use in historical recreations. Okay, one waxy Marie and a bunch of other male prisoners, many of whom were very poor and living in cramed and truly gross quarters.

Afterwards, we ended up at the knitting store, which Sam will tell you about. I mainly contemplated making my RRHB a scarf made from bamboo by buying a metre of really pretty light grey yarn and then realising (upon talking it over with Sam) that I could probably get similar yarn at Romni at less the price.

Annnnywaay. It was raining, yet again, so we browsed the stores around St. Sulpice, and then made our way back to the Marais for gift shopping. I have some sweet presents for my RRHB and managed to finally find a pair of shoes that I actually liked enough to buy. This is all I'll say: they are made in France and have red polka dots on the bottoms. How cute!

Skip past our truly "french"-style fish and chips and we're in front of the Hotel de Ville, and all I kept thinking about was The Hunchback of Notre Dame and the Place de Greves, because it sits on that historical site. Walking home I actually, for the first time in a week, knew the direction and felt a part of the city. Chatted, walked, chatted, and then dropped down on the bed for some restorative yoga before bed.

We woke up early this morning, wandered through the Place de Vosges (sp?) and then went into a FREE museum that I can't remember the name of off the top of my head. A bit more shopping and I finally found another pair of shoes worth buying. At this point I'm a little troubled about how it's all going to fit in my suitcase. Sigh.

Then it was off to l'Opera to find Sam the bus for the airport. I would have cried but I didn't. Then I went back to the mall and bought a cute jacket to go with my dress for the wedding, and then walked to ANOTHER UNOPEN vegetarian restaurant before deciding upon a cucombre sandwich and a good rest before attempting the Musee D'Orsay.

I wrote a poem about the above.

It's to come.

Then I ate out by myself which is something I never do, and the waiter was amazingly nice, said something about 'sur pleasure' after I mumbled my French. The food was delicious. Seven days and only one mediocre meal and it wasn't even remotely bad, just not what I wanted.

Okay, the internet place is closing down so I can get a little homesick and weepy for my RRHB and my real bed and his strong arms and grumpy demeanor and to be loved and to love in return and yes I've had two glasses of wine but that doesn't mean I don't want to be home.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tired Feet, Taped Toes

We had another banner day yesterday: started with Sacre Coeur, then walked down through Monmartre, and found the Metro. Took it to St. Germain des Pres to see the oldest church in the city. Walked from there to a restaurant where Simone de Beauvoir and JP Sartre used to eat. Then more walking. The Rodin museum. More walking. Edith Wharton. Gertrude Stein's house. Sketchy almost-dinner at Le Select before we decided to have pizza. It was the right choice.

I have not read more than 10 pages of any book other than my guide book.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blue Skies And Sweatshirts

The rain continued all day yesterday. But that didn't stop us from exploring the city in depth. We took the Metro to the Arc du Triomphe, wandered up and down the Champs Elysse, stepped off the beaten path for pastries, had some fab fruit salad, and then wandered back up. We were wet and tired but there's not much you can do about it and we had umbrellas, so... The area around Av Victor Hugo was quite amazing (we were walking toward the stores where they sell all the designer goods second hand; still, a purse cost 440 euros) and we had lunch: white asperagus; salad with goat cheese and bread. I did almost buy a Prada skirt but alas it was not the right size. Damn you Italian sizes. Plus, we really needed Scarbie to tell us what to buy. We didn't have the patience necessarily to crawl through all of the racks. Although, the fashionistas around were quite spectacular.

Then we took the Metro to the old Opera house, discovered Gallerie Lafayette, did some shopping and then raced down to take a boat cruise on the Siene. I must admit, I was skeptical. Too touristy, too cheesy, too much rain, but we sat down on wet chairs outside and were awed by the views of Notre Damn, Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the place where Marie Antoinette was beheaded, and the Musee D'Orsay and its magnificient clocks, and by then I thought my feet my fall off. But after the rest of the rocking boat, we were ready to find some dinner (it was 10 PM by this point).

Today it's Monmartre, shopping, yarn stores, Cafe Flore, the oldest church in Paris, and the rest of the writers walking tour. And whatever else we can squeeze into the next twelve hours.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's Raining In Paris Right Now

We have a fabulously low-key apartment in Bastille right around the corner from the Marais where we shopped like crazy on Sunday. Saturday was spent hanging out with Tina, getting into the apartment, napping and then having a really nice lunch and dinner. Yesterday we went to the Louvre, which was madness. Absolute insanity. A whole whack of people who should probably learn to appreciate art in their every day lives and not jam up lines and ask the only ticket taker where the farking Mona Lisa sits. In the end, I meandered slowly around the Flemish and French sections, and came upon Holbein's Anne of Cleves, which made my day. The two Vermeer's in the gallery are also spectacular, but the more popular paintings are often crowded by pushy people and tours.

Then we took the Metro to the start of the "Bookworm" walk in our Lonely Planet guide. From Hemingway's apartment to Shakespeare and Company to the pub where Kerouac and Ginsberg drank (I had two half pints). We saw one of the oldest churches in Paris, the remains of St Genvieve and Ici Repose le Coeur, which is the heart of someone named Voisine. I just like the translation: Here Lies the Heart. Perhaps a good title for a novel.

I've bought a sweater, a couple funky shirts and a super-cute skirt and today we might walk the Champs Elysses and walk up the Arc and, of course, do more shopping. We had thought about going to Brussels but the train tickets are expensive, the weather less than exeptional and we have our apartment here for the whole week. I only wish that it would stop raining. It's not Ireland for heaven's sake.

I'm a little homesick, especially at night, for my RRHB, my cats, my own bed, but we're managing. The food is unbelievable.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

One More Sleep

This time tomorrow night Sam and I will be on a plane and will by flying somewhere near the ocean. We are headed to Paris for Tina's wedding. So far, I'm all packed (as much as I think I'm packed) and hideously behind in everything else. Our house is in a complete tip: there's dust everywhere; my clothes are in piles all over the bedroom; and there's a hairball on the cat's bed that I've ignored for, um, three days now.

Today is my RRHB's birthday too. We celebrated on the weekend with dinner at this amazing restaurant down the street from us called Foxley. The meal was honestly spectacular. So much so that he was still raving about it the next day when we were wandering around the antique shop near Aberfoyle (I definitely should have bought the lamp) on Saturday. Then we stopped by my parents house for dinner. My ridiculously generous stepmother was cleaning our her closet and decided to loan me her gorgeous Louis V. for the foreseeable future (poorly lit and pictured above). How delicious!

Now almost a whole other week has passed and I can't believe this time tomorrow I'll be on my way to another continent. Thank goodness the dress I ordered online to wear to the wedding a) arrived and b) fits. Whew.

Okay! Back to packing and I'll be back in 10 days. If we find an internet cafe, I'll try to update, but chances are I'll be offline and unable to understand a French keyboard.

Oh Gawker, Yawn

Loving to hate remains one of the most entertaining reasons for reading Gawker. But sometimes, sometimes you need to roll your eyes. They've had a hate-on for James Frey ever since the story broke, which means that this latest barrage of "investigative" journalism around his novel should come as no surprise. But my only question is when should people just start burying the hatchet and letting it all go? There's a disclaimer at the beginning of the book that reads simply: "Nothing in this book should be considered accurate or reliable." So I know it's an easy potshot to take then, muddling about in what I'd consider to be the lesser aspects of the novel, the multiple lists and "fun facts."

Although the Gawker piece is tongue-in-cheek, it must get tiring to be writing and reporting the same old story again and again. But in the same sense, you'd think Frey would learn the lesson, and maybe double check whether or not actual facts are correct. In the end, though, I guess it'll continue to be an easy criticism to make and to level against him, regardless of how many books he manages to sell in his lifetime.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

#36 - The Secret History

Donna Tartt's epic The Secret History feels at times over-wrought, over-written and perhaps many, many pages too long. That said, holy crap did this novel grab me by the toes and pull me in from beginning to end. To summarize: it's the story of a young, unhappy man from Plano, California who finds himself embroiled in a murderous plot at an exclusive college (called Hampden) in Vermont. But the book is also so much more than that -- it's the dramatic coming of age for a young man who searches for something exciting and finds himself deeply embroiled in events that will change his life forever.

The narrator, Richard Papen, has had an ugly childhood: his parents are typically unhappy, he's poor, an only child, and longs for a world far different from the one he grew up within. Enter Hampden College. And even better, enter his acceptance into a small fraternity of students, six including Richard, that study Greek under an epic teacher named Julian Morrow.

The group's leader, Henry, a wickedly smart (he speaks six languages or something crazy like that), embarrassingly rich fellow who controls the group. Besides Richard and Henry, there's Charles and Camilla (twins), Francis, and Bunny (real name Edmund). All five were reared at prep or private school, and all five both accept and reject Richard at the same time. The secret history of the novel's title revolves around the events that fall out of a weekend where the core five, Richard excluded, attempt to create a true bacchanal in the woods around Francis's property. It's impossible for any of them to move forward beyond the events that happened over those few days and the book meditates on those moments in your life that impact where you'll end up, the idea of a ruinous youth, and the consequences to thoughtless actions.

Tartt unravels the novel like a mystery with masterful suspense. Richard slowly goes through the motions of telling the story, which has become 'the only one he'll ever be able to tell,' to the reader and in part finally letting the history consume him once again if only to finally let it all go. Elements of Highsmith and other solid British writers (Tartt's an American) sneak into her prose and characterization (Henry is a solid Ripley-esque fellow, right down to his glasses), and I found the most frustrating part of the narrative never knowing exactly when the novel is set. But in the end, it's a terrific book that sucks you right in and would be perfect for summer reading up at the cottage when it's cold (like today) and raining (like today) and all you're looking to do is curl up by the fire with a good, hair-raising story.

READING CHALLENGES: Believe it or not, The Secret History is on the 1001 Books list, and so it was on my particular challenge list for this year. I think I might be slightly behind the whole 1001 Books challenge for now, having given up Huck for the present time.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: Saints of Big Harbour, a nonfiction book that I started while waiting for the osteopath this afternoon called High Crimes, and whatever I'm going to take to Paris (probably the two IMPAC books I actually have and anything else that'll fit in my suitcase and, of course, a Jane Austen because I always love to read her on a plane).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Not-Quite There Poem

I've been going through old writing today and picking up threads of stories that I had always meant to finish. Just typed an email to a friend saying that now that I've finished one book I honestly think that I'll be able to finish another and another. But perhaps the sunshine and free time are making me a bit euphoric. Here's an old poem that I've been rewriting this afternoon.

Churchill

He pulls me away, with
a voice that equals your own,
strips you clean,
and leaves me knowing
incomparable middle class suffering.

Stands there with a strength
that comes from foreign places,
with names I can’t countdown,
places in the mine, places
where I have not yet spent time.

The next one had a reedy voice,
shiny shoes, short tie, lively banjo.
I couldn’t get that song out
of my head, enduring
train ride, a long walk, a whistle.

The fitness in his hands,
cracked, scared, calloused,
that when they touched me,
bear me to run away, a place
by the river, sweater that wasn’t mine.

Another Saturday

My RRHB is working again today. And I was going to spend today making a list of all the things I wanted to bring to Paris, but I was going to try to pack lightly, a couple of good skirts, a cute dress or two, and that's about it. That leaves more room in the suitcase for items to bring home. But I haven't written a stitch since I gave the book to my friend in editorial and I've been missing it. Missing the book. Missing the process. But knowing that it's such a mess and needs some outside help. I think she's going to try to get it back to me when we're back from Paris, and then I'll start rewriting like a mad woman until the end of the summer. That gives me three good months before my next internal deadline: September 1st. Now the question is: what do I write until then?

Friday, May 16, 2008

#35 - See the Child

David Bergen's lyrical, gut-wrenching and tragic novel surprised me. I picked it up on a whim, trying to satisfy my Manitoba requirement for The Canadian Book Challenge, from a pile of books that were about to be sent back to the warehouse. Am I ever glad that I did.

The story of a middle-aged man who lives in small-town Manitoba, See the Child begins with a tragedy, as do so many good, Canadian literary novels. A knock on the door wakes protagonist Paul. He comes downstairs and expects to see his missing son at the door; instead, Harry, the local police officer, stands in front of him to say that Stephen's dead. The rest of the novel deals with Paul dealing with the loss of his son. Stephen's girlfriend, Nicole, was pregnant at the time of his death and when she and his young grandson come to live with him at his apiary, the young boy, named Sky, becomes his lifeline.

A couple of years ago, I read Bergen's The Time in Between, and it took me months to finish. The book just didn't capture my attention, so I was reticent to try more Bergen. However, this novel had me from the first few pages, I read the book up until the last moment of having to babysit, walked with it home down Lansdowne, and went to bed early so I could finish it after I got home from my cousin's. The narrative stays close to Paul. And it's not that we feel his suffering, we see it, in his actions, in his conversations, in how he almost abandons his life from before when his son was alive. It's a novel about small town life, and has strong resonances of Margaret Laurence, which is probably why I liked it so much.

READING CHALLENGES & WHAT'S UP NEXT: As I mentioned, this is Manitoba for The Canadian Book Challenge. That's 10 out of the 13 to make my cross-country reading adventure. I'm still a bit stumped by Nunavut, but I've got Nova Scotia (Saints of Big Harbour) at the ready to dive into after I finish Donna Tartt's exceptional (so far) The Secret History.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

#34 - Bright Shiny Morning

I'm going to start off my review by confessing a number of things:

1. I work for the company that published Bright Shiny Morning.
2. I came down hard on the side of Frey over the whole Oprah debacle.
3. I did not read My Friend Leonard, but loved A Million Little Pieces.
4. I believe Frey to be an extremely talented writer.

Now with all of that out of the way, I think it's important also to note that it's impossible to read Bright Shiny Morning outside of the context of what happened to its author. The characters are all deeply scarred by life, by their own actions and by the harsh nature of the world in general. That's as far as I'll go in terms of imprinting an author's psyche onto his work.

When I started the novel on Friday evening on the subway ride home, I wanted to ignore the world and simply read it until I was finished. Lucky for me, my RRHB had to work on Saturday so I did not leave my room until I had read all 501 pages. And the thank yous. And my first thoughts upon finishing the book was not unlike what Thom Geier over at Entertainment Weekly opined. Once done, I said to myself, "Huh, where's the story?"

I got out of bed, pulled the covers up, tidied the pillows, sat back down and decided I was all wrong in my thinking. It's not so much where's the story but what's the story. And the city is the story. The book is Los Angeles. From its beginnings (told in chronological order in parallel to the various stories that have physical characters in them) to its current state: polluted, prolific, rich, brilliant, troubled, lost, found and a whole host of other descriptors pregnant with meaning. Throughout the novel, there are 4 key storylines that thread the book together, that break through the setting (which includes many, many other characters, which go beyond their usual narrative importance and simply become setting themselves) and hold the book together: a young couple that leave abusive homes to find their fortune in LA; an American-born Mexican girl struggling to find her way; a closeted superstar with a functional marriage and dysfunctional obsessions; and a homeless man who lives near Venice Beach in a bathroom.

Frey's unique writing style, his lack of punctuation, his driving, aching prose, reaches out off the page and right into your emotional core. When life collapses all around the characters, as it does, Frey's ability to convey the events that cause their downfalls is matter of fact. Not without emotion, but with a driving honesty that enables one to come to grips with the sheer force of unhappiness in all its glory. That's not to say there aren't happy parts to the book, but there's a lot of realistic unhappiness too, as if he's taking the Hollywood dream and showing it from every angle the cameras won't capture. It's as if he's taken the idea of honesty and pulled it apart, driven it to new heights, and then broken it all apart again just to make sure we get it.

And we do, get it.

By the end of the book, I felt despite the cliches (and there are some, they are unavoidable), despite the slightly frustrating epic-like lists, and despite my own craving for more about the 4 main stories, I closed the cover extremely satisfied. Satisfied in the sense that there are many writers trying to push the boundaries of fiction and the form of the novel, but none who can do it so publicly as Frey. His name will push the novel onto the bestseller list, but his work will show everyone what he's got in him: a tenacious ability to tell a good tale and a need to drive the form of the novel itself in a new direction.

I got up off the bed again, stripped off my pajamas, had a shower, and decided that yes, it's a freaking good book. My thoughts now far more in line with what the NY Times had to say. And I'd highly recommend it to anyone who asks, and I still think Oprah was a fool over it all.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

#33 - The Ravine

A few years back, I read Paul Quarrington's Galveston. It was a swift read, from what I can remember, with some rather blush-worthy sex scenes and a grand old sense of humour. And other than seeing Whale Music about sixteen times, I haven't read much else by Quarrington, despite him being a mainstay of Canadian literature and having won Canada Reads this year.

[Note: I am blogging while under the influence of exhaustion so pardon my rambling review].

[And isn't that an AWESOME cover?].

Quarrington's latest novel, The Ravine, is his most semi-autobiographical (In his own words the only difference between he and the main character is the guy's name is Phil. Heh.) book to date. The down-on-his-luck protagonist, freshly separated and eagerly co-parenting, attempts to change his life by writing a novel. Up until now, Phil McQuigge, seduced by the blue glow of the television from a young, impressionable age, has grown into a writer/producer managing to stay on the air in "teevee"-land by running a show called Padre. All his life he's wanted to reach his full potential. All his life he's stopped himself short by the bottle, by male stupidity (he loves his wife; he cheats on his wife) and one tragic event from childhood. In a way, I kind of felt like this was Quarrington's Cat's Eye, only funnier. And kind of goofier. And really self-referential and kind of trippy.

The narrative follows the narrator writing the book that the reader is reading.

Yeah.

At 4 AM it was kind of confusing but it's sure as hell good company. Quarrington's narrative barrels along in its own kind of drunken stupor, tangential, argumentative, full of love and great dialogue. The characters are real. Broken. Amazingly complex, but also brittle and ultimately redemptive.

I know I'm not making much sense tonight. But in a way, it's kind of appropriate. How very Phil of me. Now, I am going to go eat dinner. Tonight I might start David Bergen's See the Child or I might try to finish Huckleberry Finn. Let me just say that when I told my RRHB that I was finding Finn a little boring, he sat up in bed and said, "That's because you have no sense of adventure or imagination." Aw. He really does love me.

Tired Tuesday Twitters

So, I've become mildly obsessed with Twitter. It's so fun! But it's also kind of addictive. I absolutely love the little updates. But perhaps because I'm wicked tired today (I haven't slept since Sunday night) the whole online world is blurring into one giant fuzzy mess.

Baby steps, right? 4 AM came close to breaking my brain in half after many, many hours of reading, drinking tea, reading some more, closing the light, lying there panicked and awake, until I finally decided just to get up. And while I threw up this morning because I was so tired my whole body was upset, I did manage to get the bits of the manuscript revised enough that I'm only mildly embarrassed to give it to my friend in editorial. She's going to do substantive edits, and then I'm going to rewrite the whole book for the second time. I figure that'll take me until the end of the summer (if all goes according to plan) and then by the fall I'll start preparing myself for the rejection that'll come along with trying to find an agent.

The book is still kind of a mess. There are big problems with it but for now I need someone else's eyes and mind to look at it as a whole and tell me where to go next. Even now, I'm amazed I'm still typing.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday Morning Redux

I woke up too early (6:23 AM). Checked email. Took my needle. Went back to bed. Felt bad for my RRHB who had to go to work. Let the cat in. Spoke to my father. Finished the book. Pet the cat. Put my hair up. Drank some water. Ate some cereal. Will now do chores. Write. Go babysit at 5 PM. Hang out with my nephew. Worry about whether or not my eyes are infected. Read stories. Play. Bedtime. Watch a movie. Come home. Then, Sunday.

Friday, May 09, 2008

#32 - The Woman Who Waited

While I have to say that while much Andrei Makine's IMPAC-shortlisted novel, The Woman Who Waited, exists somewhere between lyricism and imagination, much of the book suffers from slightly muddled storytelling. There's also a quirk in his writing that slightly befuddled me: how sentences and dialogue simply trail off with an ellipsis... and then start up with a completely different thought. Maybe it's an attempt for the author to force the story off the page? Maybe it's a way for Makine to foreshadow the ambiguous nature of his main character, a Leningrad scholar to goes to a remote northern village and ends up falling in love with an equally ambiguous woman.

Who knows.

Annnnywaaay. There's are fairy tale elements to the book that I quite enjoyed. Lots of deep, mysterious woods. Plenty of aging old crone-like women. Many figures appearing out of the mist. Goodly amounts of atmospheric hoarfrosty weather. The story goes like this: boy comes of age in an urban environment in Leningrad that's slightly unsatisfying. Listless encounters with the opposite sex lead to drunken fumbling behind the curtain (literally and metaphorically) and our hero sets off to the north on an anthropological mission. He's going to record and study the rituals of the women of Mirnoe, a tiny village obliterated by the Second World War, now populated almost entirely by diminishing families and widows. Among the elderly women lives a 46-year-old woman named Vera who has waited since she was 16 for her soldier to come home to her. He never arrived.

Our narrator becomes fascinated, even obsessed, with Vera, and a strange relationship burgeons between the two. He's intrigued by her story and this drives him to follow her into the woods, to the railway station, into her house. But he's young, foolish, and selfish, and as the novel progresses it becomes obvious that he's incapable of telling her story, as much as he wants to. Ultimately, I think the book, more a novella than a full novel, is worth being read. The setting (which fulfills my Russia component for Around the World in 52 Books) is mysterious, enigmatic and ultimately the most interesting aspect of the novel. It's a lovely little fable, and while so far it hasn't blown me away like Rawi Hage's DeNiro's Game, it was certainly worth the read.

READING CHALLENGES: As well as being Russia (see above), the novel the 3rd title from the IMPAC shortlist I've read so far.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I indulged in a little something special for myself starting this morning: Paul Quarrington's The Ravine. I'm already over 50 pages in. Then I need to start kicking ass in terms of The Canadian Book Challenge, as I've got two months left to read 4 different provinces. Gack!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Escapism

My RRHB headed out of the house last night to do some recording after we booked our trip to NYC with his parents. We got an exceptionally good deal and we're super-excited to take them (they've never been). Then I sat down and sucked it up and worked for a bit until my eyelids drooped so far down my face that I was afraid they might stay that way. So I took my cup of tea and sat in front of the television and watched Gossip Girl, How I Met Your Mother and Samantha Who?.

It was wicked fun.

Then I noticed that the PVR had recorded a new This American Life. I've only seen a few episodes and was mainly recording it because it's something my RRHB would enjoy. But last night's episode, the first in the second season, was utterly captivating and truly moving. It started off with shots of three inner-city kids plus their mentor riding horses in North Philadelphia. Caring for them. Feeding them. Riding them. Then Ira Glass explained that the theme of the episode was the idea of escape and what that means for a very special man still living with his mother at the age of 27.

No ordinary fellow, Michael suffers from a rare debilitating disease called spinal muscular atrophy that has made him virtually immobile. He talks by tapping his thumb onto a small instrument that controls his computer -- recording his thoughts as words and giving him a spoken voice not his own. And yet, he's engaged in the most classic struggle of life -- how and when to gain your independence from your parents. His mother has been taking care of him his entire life. When his mother doesn't take care of him, accidents happen. Breathing tubes slip out, feeding tubes malfunction, and Mike's life hangs in the balance of human error.

But the urge to not become "a disability cliche" is great. He paints his nails black. Goes to tattoo conventions. Loves his girlfriend. Writes lovely, introspective notes (read by Johnny Depp, his choice for a voice; I cried, I'm not ashamed to say) about his life and his quest for independence. The immediacy of his experience and the utter strength in his voice and convictions caught me off guard. While the struggle, quite simply, to stay alive is a very real concern, Michael's spirit, for lack of a better word, comes across loud and clear, even if it does sound like Johnny Depp.

This American Life is the kind of television that kid over at Stuff White People Like loves to blog about. But I'd argue that in a world full of Oprah Winfrey (and I'm not knocking Oprah, believe me)-loving, Mitch Albom-book buying, The View-watching people, it becomes harder and harder to experience stories like in "Escape," ones that are real, relevant and utterly worthy of the energy it takes to create them.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Struggle Of The Everyday March To Nowhere

This morning it was impossible to get out of bed. Last night it was impossible to concentrate. If I didn't know better I'd say I was having a bad disease day, but since the WG is in remission, I can't blame it. Which is too bad, considering I blame the disease for a lot -- like it's another person living inside of me that I can point a finger at and shout: "This, this is all YOUR fault and what are you going to do about it!"

I've been complaining (skip forward those of you who could care less) a lot about being tired. The Super Fancy Disease Doctor has ruled out the disease as the cause. Excellent, yes, but now what? The kidney doctor has always said it's just a modern-day plague. My family doctor (my my it's a lot of opinions, isn't it?) says it's probably the panic that's making me feel so tired. Putting your body through all that flight/fight stuff, the pain in my chest, the constant nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, means that you're exhausted by the end of each day. And am I ever feeling it this week.

So far this week I've managed two pages of edits and with the two-thirds of my manuscript still to go, I'm already a full week past my deadline. But last night I wanted to burn (virtually) the entire project. Don't worry, I won't, but the urge to press delete and just get on with my life, accept the fact that I'll never publish the damn thing, was great. It was either that or quit my job because I certainly can't do two things at once and this giant split down the centre of my being is perhaps a little overwhelming.

Also, my hip hurts.

Blah complain blah tired blah frustrated blah de freaking blah.

Okay. Now that it's out of my system maybe I just need to go home and have a nap.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

#31 - Airstream Land Yacht


I am counting Ken Babstock's Airstream Land Yacht as Newfoundland for The Canadian Book Challenge. I'm quite sure that's where he's originally from (if I remember correctly) and it's one of the titles John had listed in his own challenge suggestions. The poems, though, are so much more universal and can't really be defined by geography in the same way a novel can. They take inspiration from philosophy, from art, from literature, from other poets, from everyday life, from the stars, from the sea, from a whole host of interesting things that I will not be able to mention here, many I probably didn't even get.

Separated into four distinct parts (Air, Stream, Land and Yacht), the book's poems are deeply intriguing. It's been years since I've thought critically about poetry but even so that didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book. Perhaps in all the time since my Masters degree I've come to appreciate poetry a little for the pure beauty of how the words play together on the page. I'm also a little in love with the author's impressive use of contractions, of apostrophe "d's" and other whimsical ways of pushing the language to new heights.

If I had to pick just one favourite poem, it would be "Marram Grass" from the first section. A underlying sweetness pulls the piece along and it has stuck with me in the 10 days it's taken to read the collection. I tried to stop my habits of speeding through sentences and forcing my eyes to take the corners fast so I could enjoy each one in the way it should be read. Thoughtfully. Carefully. Over sustained periods of time left to look up and imagine what the poet's saying or how marvelous he is with vocabulary and language.

Highly recommended.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The cover from Anansi.ca.

READING CHALLENGES: This makes #9 for my Canadian Book Challenge. In terms of provinces, I've got: Manitoba, Nunavut, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick left.

WHAT'S UP NEXT: I'm already halfway through The Woman Who Waited. I should be done by tomorrow, it's a swift read.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The Royal Royalty

Yes, it's that time again. My royalty cheque landed in my mailbox today. There were smiles.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Ouch The Light

Much needed fun with old cronies from the place where I used to work led to a much later evening than I had anticipated. Which meant a slow start this morning but a revived outlook in terms of getting over the loneliness at work or maybe just ignoring it all together because I always expect it to be like it was, and it never will be. But isn't that always the case. Many new music suggestions with only beer memory and all I can remember is that the one half of Uncle Tupelo that became Wilco means there's another half out there that is apparently much, much better.

I've been reading poetry all week (Airstream Land Yacht) by Ken Babstock. Poetry and travel mean stopping in funny places to write. Like the middle of the street, halfway between University Left and Right, to make sure I caught this bit of something (or nothing, depending on how you look at it):

9:18 AM Dundas 505

A sturdy man sets his
coffee down on the floor
of the streetcar,
bravely flaunting his
knowledge of an
equation I fail to master
the teetering
balance of iron and gravity,
the dancing hips of the
machine en route
to deliver him, now awake
and alert, to a same-time,
same-day destination.

This morning. I am glad
to be late with time
still left to kill.

I think I have discovered that after I finish a big project I like to write poetry. Who'd a thunk? Another in a long list of embarrassing confessions I make here: I am now wearing a giant, over-sized Tom Green sweatshirt. One should never internet shop when one is a band widow on a reduced amount of sleep and under a deadline. But now that it's here, I do have to wear it, or else suffer the consequences.

EDITED TO ADD: The band is called Son Volt. Whew. That's one less thing to remember.