Saturday, January 30, 2010

#7 - Burning Bright

As I've been, well, telling just about anyone who'll listen, I've had a whopper of a cold since last weekend. I abandoned my Reading Nonfiction for January for a few days only because my head, eyes and nose hurt so much it was impossible to concentrate on the written word. However, I did manage to finish Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright.

When the novel opens, the Kellaway family, after suffering through the tragedy of the death of a son, move from the country to bustling London. Tom, a chair maker, his wife, daughter and son, Jem, eventually settle in Lambeth near Astley's Circus, and next door to William Blake. The other prominent family (of scallywags) includes Maggie Butterflield, her elder brother Charlie, and their parents. Their lives intersect with one another over the course of the novel, both because they're neighbours, but also through the burgeoning relationship between Maggie and Jem.

Life in London isn't easy at first for the Kellaways. Jem's mother Anne, at first, stands at the window watching the fine dresses and hats wander by, afraid to conquer the streets on her own. But when their patron (of sorts), Mr. Astley, sends them tickets to the circus, her life is transformed. Thomas and Jem start to work for Astley (who has a scoundrel of a son) as carpenters and soon everyone's smitten with London life, in a way.

But the good tidings can't last, and events put pressure on both families. Whether it's the shock of what Maggie did in Cut-Throat Lane or Jem's sister's disasterous love affairs, soon personal issues send the Butterfields and the Kellaways reeling. Set against the fiery London just before and after the start of the French Revolution, it's interesting to see how history and famous people (William Blake) intersect with the presumably "real" everyday people who would have lived during 1792. While I've yet to read a novel by Tracy Chevalier that captures the emotional resonance and lasting power of Girl with a Pearl Earring, I totally enjoyed Burning Bright. It's very good historical fiction and it really was just what I needed last week.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sick Day #254836874

Life seems to be about the push/pull for me. I'm doing well with the disease -- I get struck down by appendicitis. I find a job with people I adore; I get restructured right back out on the street. For every yin, there's a yang. I'm imagining that's the way it is with many people in the world. You take your good with your bad and you get on with it. Both my RRHB and I have been felled like a mighty tree by a nasty virus. That's the yin. I'm still waiting for the yang this week.

As of yesterday, I couldn't even stand up for longer than a minute or two without feeling weak, nauseous and dribbling snot everywhere. It's not pretty. Not even a shower could sting the stench of sickness off of either of us. And it's that tired-achy kind of sickness where your eyes hurt and even reading takes too much energy. Hence, bucketfuls of television and movies have been watched. So, I'm bored, as you can probably tell. Here's another top 10 list:

1. We sent our money to the Red Cross for Haiti relief. The small amount we gave doesn't feel like nearly enough but it's something.

2. Even though our spreadsheet doesn't necessarily show it, we're clearly winning in our battle against our budget. Thank you Gail Vaz-Oxlade. There's no way we can be debt-free in three years (massive renovations = massive debt) but we can try. She's so right about debt fatigue. I also wish my quiet OCD-like tendencies would stop me obsessing over pennies but at least it's no longer keeping me up at night now that I've created the Best Spread Sheet Ever (based a bit on Gail's and then some lovely accounting of my own).

3. Ever since I watched this video, I've been dying to read Tracy Chevalier's latest novel. Of course, when I checked my shelves, I discovered I had her previous novel, Burning Bright, (in hardcover no less) already so I started that yesterday evening.

4. I've watched a pile of movies over the last few days. Mainly because neither of us can move from the couches to do, well, anything: Hunger (excellent; disturbing; heart wrenching; shot exceptionally well), Personal Effects (questioning why I will watch Michelle P. in just about anything; love that it's shot in Vancouver and I recognized so many of the locations that it totally ruined the 'suspension of disbelief'), The Invention of Lying (super cute and totally underrated as many films Gervais seems to do end up; it's completely cougarish of me, but I lurv Jonah Hill); and a few more that I'm even forgetting because my brain is mush. After four days of a terrible cold, I'm thinking I need a break from television.

5. Spartacus was far too cheesy for the likes of me. #1. Why are they all so clean and not cold while wearing nothing in the snow? #2. What's up with the blood being the only colour with texture in the whole of the art direction? #3. Does it ALWAYS have to be in slow motion? #4. Sex, sex, sex, sex, yawn. #5. Rome was 100x better.

6. When you're sick, your virtual life is way more boring than even your real life.

7. I could really use a donut. I know it's not good for me but every needs a break from soup.

8. I unwittingly read one of Penguin's Top 75 this weekend (A Year in the Merde), which means if I were to embark upon that challenge, I'd only have 60-odd books to go. Sigh. Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus with these reading challenges.

9. Sometimes, I wish I had a place to be anonymous, totally anonymous, and rant about things. Uncensored. Like Conan in his last week on NBC. I'd keep it classy, too. Maybe.

10. The days are very long when you're coughing like a freight train.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

#6 - A Year In The Merde

Colour me foolish: I finished this whole book thinking it was a memoir before realizing that a) the author and the protagonist have different last names and b) wondering why I didn't hear about the political/social events in the news. Sigh. It's been a long week.

Stephen Clarke's cute, engaging novel follows Paul West, an upstart, up and coming restaurateur who moves from London to Paris to accept a job to open a series of tea rooms for France's largest meat producer. Paul finds it hard to settle into life in Paris. Of course, it's difficult to move to a new country, and his learning curve along the way remains hilarious. Having never been anything but a tourist in Paris, I admire how hard he works to fit in -- stepping in all kinds of merde along the way.

The narrative style of the novel reminded me of Nick Hornby -- Clarke has an easy-going way of telling a good story. Even when things go wrong for Paul, and they do (or else there wouldn't be a book), it's still a lighthearted read. Something perfect for a sick day spent at home on the couch with a hot water bottle and some Vick's vapour rub. I've been thinking a lot about what it would be like to live somewhere else, even for a year. And this book gave me some wanderlust -- it was also lovely to read a novel set in a Paris I know and understand, from the perspective of someone who obviously just wants to (eventually) fit in.

#5 - In Defense of Food

Carrying forth with my "I should read more nonfiction. I'll do it in January" mentality, I finished Michael Pollan's excellent In Defense of Food this week. I know Foer's critical of Pollan's approach in Eating Animals, but I still find him to be the most logical, engaging food/environmental writer (and I don't read widely, sorry!) that I've read in years.

The book has a simple edict: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Throughout its 200-odd pages, Pollan explains what he means by these simple statements. He defines what "food" is (it should be recognized by your ancestors, live in the outer edges of a grocery store, and grown) for people who may have been confused (or living under a rock), sets out simple ways to find it, and then encourages them to eat it (at a table, preferably).

The idea of becoming a selective omnivore never would have entered my mind five years ago. When our neighbour planted tomatoes and some herbs in our backyard I was so grossed out at the thought of eating something pulled right from the dirt that I poo-pooed the vegetables before even picking them. And then I tasted them. Now I can't eat a pale, lifeless grocery store cucumber without longingly thinking about the ones that I've grown.

Your muscles have memory, and so do your taste buds, and Pollan's so correct when he says that finding connection to your food by something as simple and inexpensive as a vegetable garden remains a resoundingly rewarding activity. My beans taste nothing like the waxy, protected grocery store bags of veggies I had to buy for Christmas. It might be a silly thing to say, but my crazy, intrusively kind neighbour changed my outlook on food completely. Then Pollan came along and gave me cause to shout.

While the book might linger just a little bit too long on the science and evolution bits, the idea that we're getting it so fundamentally wrong on such a massive scale still catches my breath in my throat. Maybe we can change the world one seed at a time. Maybe we can't. But I won't stop digging in the dirt and doing what I can regardless.

#4 - The Happiness Project

Many, many years ago, after what felt like a lifetime of taking prednisone for the disease and suffering through the awful "induced psychosis" and resulting debilitating depression side effects, I began to explore the idea of happiness. My doctor recommended reading Mark Kingwell's In Pursuit of Happiness: Better Living from Plato to Prozac, which I did, until I got about halfway through. It just wasn't practical. I didn't need an empirical exploration of what "happiness" was -- I needed some magic lessons to lift the pressures of my troubled life and float me away on a magical river of self-understanding, satisfaction and, yes, intense happiness.

Like so many aspects of my (naive?) twenties, you have to grow up a little and realize that happiness isn't something that magically appears. It takes hard work, it's incremental, and it's perhaps not even the point. Gretchen Rubin's year-long experiment, her aptly titled The Happiness Project, comes to some of the same conclusions. Rubin doesn't set out to radically renovate her life.

Instead, she took incremental steps to increase her happiness on a daily basis. She tried everything, from smiling yoga to starting a YA book club, and created a theme for each month in the year to centre and ground her expectations. Not everything worked. Which, I imagine, was to be expected, but I'm going to summarize, perhaps incorrectly, that the point of Rubin's book wasn't to just find new things in life that equated a happy pill -- it was to try and experience organic growth around the goal of leading a happier life.

Yet, like Kingwell's book, I found Rubin's to be also somewhat unsatisfying. She's got a sweet, chatty tone to her writing, did massive amounts of research, and put herself out there (warts and all as they say) in an intensely personal way. Yet, the book, on the whole, felt a little superficial. And perhaps that's just me as a reader; I did want some broader, philosophical implications from studying happiness for a year. But, in Rubin's defense, that's not at all what she set out to do. There's a lot of hows in Rubin's book, and not a lot of whys. She's a goal-orientated person (and loves her gold stars) and therefore her quest for happiness consists of plenty of goal-orientated activities.

When it comes right down to it, maybe I'm looking for a balance between both books in my own search for understanding -- a book that takes happiness outside of the person, looks at it from a different perspective, what does it mean and why it's important, and then provides some guidance about how to get there. There's an undercurrent to The Happiness Project that equates, in my mind anyway, that the end result is somehow deserved -- but I know I'm reading my own thoughts into her project. The idea that by being happier herself Rubin can then infect others with these lightened feelings seems simple enough. But, like I said before, the book feels a bit too much like a happiness "to do" list to me. Maybe I wanted Rubin to dig a little deeper (why did she have so much clutter to begin with, what's the emotional resonance behind any of the projects she embarked upon over the year) -- the book felt rushed to me: did this, check, tried that, check, improved this, check, now on to the next thing.

However, I'm not even going to remotely suggest that it's not a good idea to spend a year trying to a) improve yourself, b) improve the lives of your family or c) try to make it through life with a lighter, happier load. For this, I tip my hat to Gretchen and her year-long quest to be herself, sing in the mornings, and do what she loves. And also, I say a hearty hallelujah to the author for setting out from the beginning the differences between suffering from a depression (Rubin's not at all depressed) and that all encompassing sadness, and the meaningful way she wants to set out to improve her life on a daily basis. Not once does she mix up "sadness" and call it "depression." The slippage of the word depression into the lexicon whereby it becomes interchangeable to 'sadness' enrages me.

Annywaaay, Rubin's clear, honest and forthright; she's intelligent, a keen reader, and doing good in the world by helping the many readers of her successful blog -- those are also things wherein I cannot find fault. But maybe for her next year, she might explore a little self-help Beth Lisick-style, because Helping Me Help Myself still remains my favourite of the happiness-seeking memoir genre.

The Sick Day: A Top 10 List

Both my RRHB and I have been struck by the nasty cold going around. We woke up this morning feeling faint, coughing, and feverish. Right now, I'm all achy and exhausted, meaning the last thing I want to do is sit down at the computer and write. Except the weekends, Saturdays in particular, remains the only time I can squeeze out of the seven days to get anything done for me. And by 'for me,' I mean work on the book, blog, read, conquer a to-do list.

1. I've been reading The Value of Nothing by Raj Patel. Today I learned that, "the energy cost of the 550 million Big Macs sold in the United States every year is $297 million, producing a greenhouse gas footprint of 2.66 billion pounds of C02 equivalent" (emphasis mine; 44). That's certainly not cheap food by any standards.

2. I had decided that January was non-fiction month. I finished up A Year in the Merde, loaned to me by a co-worker, thinking it was a memoir. Oops.

3. Opening up my virtual drawer where the novel has sat for many, many months was both freeing and panic-inducing. It's almost time for me to put it out into the world. I'm terrified of this -- but I can't hold on to it for much longer. One more draft and I'm ready to take the plunge to try to find an agent. Given the state of Canadian publishing, I know this won't be easy.

4. My emotional state vacillated so much this week -- from elation to heart-pulling sadness, from determination to abandonment. And then I had lunch with a sweet, good friend who has had a very, very hard time over the last little while. Perspective, the giants say, is everything.

5. Dinner parties are the new house parties in my life. I think I might try to have them once a month, if that works, for two reasons: 1) we have some amazing people in our lives and 2) I like cooking. Pleasure is just that simple.

6. Work is the new holiday. Since I lost all my holiday time due to illness last year, I think I'm in a funk -- I'm craving a proper holiday. More than a week. Somewhere that takes an effort to get to. Sightseeing. Walking. Sleeping. For the first time in my life, it's kind of an unaffordable luxury. Our house is our holiday at the moment. We made the choice, as my RRHB said the other night, to buy and fix up the house. But I'm a selfish girl, sometimes I want to do what I want to do...even if it's not in our budget. However, we're sticking to our budgets.

7. Swimming during the week is the new eating lunch at my desk.

8. The weather has almost been warm enough to garden. Or at least consider the idea of gardening.

9. Our Niagara Falls mini-break (one night's stay in a hotel; The Family Stone show at the Niagara Casino) was exceptionally fun. I highly recommend going with the flow.

10. Being a vegan is impossible.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

#3 - Her Fearful Symmetry

Let me start off with a confession, as so many of my book reviews do (which leads me to ask one simple question: does anyone actually care about what I confess?), I hated The Time Traveler's Wife. I found Niffenegger's book to be slightly absurd, overwritten, and ridiculously implausible. In a way, I guess you could say I wasn't a fan of supernatural romance.

With that in mind, I have no idea why I wanted to read Her Fearful Symmetry in the first place. I mean, the book got terrible reviews, and even the somewhat kind piece by Emma Donoghue in the Globe hits upon the novel's central flaw: that too much symmetry makes a bit of a mess of a book. Yet, I was utterly intrigued. And, last night I stayed up way, way passed my bedtime to finish it. In fact, I turned off the light, closed my eyes, tossed and turned for a bit, thought about the book, got up, turned the light BACK ON, and then read the last 150 pages. What kind of a book does that?

The story opens as Elspeth Noblin dies from cancer. Her ravaged body is held by her lover of many years, Robert, and it's sad. A tad cliched, terribly overwritten, but sad nonetheless (all of the things that annoyed me about the first book). But I was so engrossed by the sheer force of Niffenegger's story that I almost missed my bus. And buses in Toronto are loud. And I was standing rightnext to the stop.

Elspeth leaves the bulk of her estate to her nieces, the daughters of her twin sister Edie, with whom she hasn't spoken in over 20 years. It's not a straightforward kind of will, for what kind of novel would include such boring, plot-sucking details as that, and Elspeth demands: a) that the twins, Julia and Valentina (ugh, that name, ugh) must live in her flat for one year and b) their parents, Edie and Jack, are never to set foot in the apartment.

The girls, who are mirror twins, are looking for an adventure. Julia, aggressive, demanding, controlling, pretty much makes decisions on behalf of Valentina. And Valentina, desperate to get away and have her own life, simply can't figure out how to break the bond. These problems are somewhat cyclical, something akin to what their mother and Elspeth must have gone through when they were young.

Once in London, and this won't spoil the story too much, they're literally and metaphorically haunted by Elspeth. She's a force in the novel: both as a character who left behind gaping holes after her death (for her lover Robert, for her family) and as a paranormal spirit who simply can't move beyond the confines of the very apartment she willed to the girls. Lots of creepy stuff happens. Lots of silly stuff happens too.

The setting of the novel aptly reflects the atmosphere Niffenegger tries to create -- the apartment building, which contains Robert, Elspeth and Martin's homes collectively (Martin is an older gentleman whose wife, Marijke, has just left him because he refuses treatment for his highly advanced case of OCD) sits right beside Highgate Cemetary. And Robert, an historian who's finishing his PhD thesis, works as a graveyard tour guide. Their lives swirl and intersect around one another, relationships develop, both romantic and friendly, and it's this part of the book that I enjoyed the most -- the "up and move to London" portions.

However beyond the fascinatingly banal everyday life sections, Her Fearful Symmetry moves into the absurd. The sections where the implausible happens were the hardest for me to get through. What I honestly loved about this book were the parts with OCD Martin. As a girl who knows and understands what those compulsions are like, I found his character, his struggles, incredibly moving and effective. I was less convinced by the last third of the novel, and wholly disappointed in the book's main twist. Yet, as I said above, I stayed up way, way beyond my usual bedtime just so I could find out what happened. It's a rare writer who can capture your attention like that and not let it go.

Was this book worthy of Niffenegger's massive advance? Probably not. It's terribly overwritten and full of needless details. Is it worthy of being on the bestseller lists? I'd hesitate, and then say yes, if only so the publisher can recoup their advance, but also temper my negativity by giving the book an overall thumbs up for being a truly enjoyable commercial read.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

#2 - Eating Animals

In preparation for our Vegan Smackdown 2010 (here's our very first video podcast), I read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals this past weekend. I've been a "selective omnivore" and a "passive vegetarian" for the majority of my life. Despite turning vegetarian when I was about twelve (in a shocking moment of tween tempestuous in response to my mother serving me a piece of almost-rare roast beef), I've always eaten fish (albeit with no regularity), and started eating chicken (from Rowe Farms or the Healthy Butcher) about a year ago.

At first, it was about the animals -- we grew up listening to "Meat is Murder" and were very into Morrisey. Then, when I was diagnosed with the disease and learned that too much protein was terribly hard on your kidneys, that sort of clenched it for me. The environmental concerns came last -- for, like Safran Foer, I still had idyllic images of farmers in mind when I thought of chickens, cows and pigs. Fast Food Nation opened my eyes a little. The Omnivore's Dilemma was also good. But Safran Foer's book has had me thinking and mulling over my eating choices for days.

Sure, he's making a point. Sure, he wants people to become vegetarians, that much is obvious. But even though I realize I'm being pursuaded by an incredibly convincing narrative, there are truths about this book that are unavoidable. We, as a society, do not think, properly debate with ourselves, about where things come from. We consume. We package. We shop. We eat. We sleep. We get up and do it all over again. And as so much of our lives has been managed for us by giant companies whose only responsibility seems to be to their shareholders, it seems impossible to try to step outside and make a difference.

Factory farming
, as its described in the book, is abhorrent. The socio-economic, environmental and philosophical implications of being so separate from that which sustains us can't but have an irrevocable impact on human society. That's not to mention the impossible suffering that the animals who give their lives to ensure we get up, walk around, go to work, entertain ourselves and keep us healthy endure. Yes, I like to think I buy responsible meat (from a local butcher who sources from local farms when at the cottage; from The Heathy Butcher or Rowe's in the city), I still can't get my head around the fact that industry is ruining the sheer sustainability of our lives, of my nephew's life.

The fact that we are destroying the ocean at record-breaking pace to keep shrimp on the table and frozen in aisles of the grocery store makes me furious. The fact that hundreds of thousands of species are decimated by fishing techniques makes me want to row entire populations out to the middle of the ocean so they can see what soon won't be there. Imagine not seeing the whales in Tofino? Imagine sea horses being a thing of encyclopedias? I can't. I don't want to. Words matter. Calling senseless killing "by-product" doesn't erase the fact that for every piece of fish on the table, hundreds needlessly litter the oceans because of impatient and irresponsible companies looking to make a profit. Is there sustainable fish to eat? I think I'm going to turn to Taras Grescoe's Bottomfeeder for the answer. But, until then, I will not eat another piece of fish.

After our two-week Vegan Smackdown comes to a close, I'll probably still continue to selectively eat what little chicken I do eat -- but I'll never buy it in a grocery store. I'll never not take the time to make a separate trip to Rowe's or the Healthy Butcher. And, it's not like I do this anyway, but I certainly won't be eating any chicken I absolutely don't know the providence of.

I thought I was doing well by gardening. After all, growing my own food has given me a solid understanding of how much hard work goes in to keeping a garden that will actually feed me and my husband for most of the summer. It's not easy. It's worth celebrating every time a pull fresh green beans and steam them up for dinner. But knowing that the butter my RRHB smothers them with was made using factory farmed milk would turn their taste sour in my mouth. How can I avoid butter for the rest of my life? Is buying organic butter enough? Is it enough to do that small thing?

I don't have any answers to the numerous questions the book brought to the forefront. It a persuasive, thoughtful, artful (if repetative in places) work that had me hunkered down when I should have been cleaning the house in preparation for my brother's birthday. Here's the thing -- I'm an easy one to convince. I was already headed in the right direction. Here's hoping that Jonathan Safran Foer finds an audience for his book outside of people like me, and his book can make a difference.

READING CHALLENGES: I'm continuing all of my 2009 challenges because I didn't finish a single one. Here's a book for The Better You Read, The Better You Get theme I set up last year.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

#1 - Dracula

For the majority of my life, I've associated with Dracula (the character) with scary things I'd rather not imagine thank you very much. "I vant to suck your blood" refrains and the truly awful Francis Ford Coppola movie that I remember seeing in the theatre did nothing to help the cause. Bram Stoker's (pictured left) book was mentally filed, "never going to read."

And then.

#1. The Undeath Match happened.

#2. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die happened.

#3. The Strand happened (and I fell a little in love with the TP edition I found sitting a top a pile of totally unrelated books).

#4. "My RRHB read the book in one sitting and wouldn't stop talking about it" happened.

Which meant I simply couldn't ignore it any longer.

And rightly so. It's an excellent novel. Echoes of one of my all-time favourite books, Frankenstein, are found within the epistolary format; the novel contains a truly kick-ass female heroine (why was that never portrayed in any film who actually stands up and fights both for her life and for her friends [in a totally appropriate 19th century way, of course] in a way a certain, modern character [ahem, starts with a "B" and ends with a "hella" er "ella"] never does); and there are some really fun, creepy scenes of Dracula making his way to England (the boat, ahhh, the boat) that actually made me shudder and I flipped the pages. Put all of it together and I'm kind of shocked to say that I'm really glad I finally finished Dracula.

If I have but one criticism of Stoker's work, it would have to be the bits of the book told in colloquial dialogue. I found Van Helsing's sections hard to understand and the way he spoke to be kind of silly and affected (not his character; that's exactly the opposite of this). But I got over this quickly as the book's action and pacing ripped me along on another part of the adventure. The story's so rich, so layered and so utterly engaging that my own preconceptions about affected speech/dialogue in novels can be set aside.

Also, it's pretty neat to see the literary evolution of the vampire from the sort-of beginning. I'm sure there were earlier moments in terms of the vampire appearing in literature, but I like thinking about all the moments in pop culture that has sprung from this particular text. Annywaaay, I just loved it.


WHAT'S UP NEXT: Reading The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, Clean by Alejandro Junger, the first Sookie Stackhouse book and Sometimes a Great Notion. Yes, we'll see which one I actually finish first. Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

TRH Movie - (500) Days of Summer

There's not a single stitch of doubt in my mind that I'm a sentimental girl. I have a few movies that I watch over and over again when I get that girlish need for imagined romance. Tully, Before Sunset, Say Anything -- you know, those kind of films. The ones that get under your skin more and more after each repeated viewing. The ones you never get tired of, that you find kind of inspiring regardless of the odd cliche thrown in here and there. Well, (500) Days of Summer has just been added to the aforementioned list.

Summer's a person, not a season, and the (500) (while I'm not entirely sure what the point of the parenthesis might be other than the fact that the film obviously doesn't show ALL 500 days) refers to the length of time spent in a relationship. Tom meets Summer at work. She's out of his league. She's quirky, wears great clothes and can sing a mean karaoke. They become involved. Words are uttered. Time's spent. Things wind up. Maybe they unravel in interesting ways. But at the end of it, you're enamored by them -- they're dangerously quirky and fundamentally flawed, qualities I much admire in films of the romantic, ahem, nature.

But what I truly admired about (500) Days of Summer was the film's storytelling. It moves back and forth like memory, discombobulated and out of sync, through their relationship. Starts at the end, works its way to the beginning, winds past the middle, perks up for a day or two at either end, and yet, you never get lost. You're happy to be thrown in to the places that feel important (or not); to observe the differences a month can make; to wander into the sprawl that defines these two 20-somethings.

It's a whimsical film, and if you can stand a little whimsy with your love story, then I'd say you'll enjoy this picture as much as I did. You'll revel a little bit in how they listen to The Smiths (maybe a bit too much), how they dispense of some indie cliches but not others (oh wise baby sister sage, yawn), and hold your heart in all the right places at more than one crucial, ideally filmed moment. It's delicious. And I've already ordered a copy, getting myself all ready for the summer when I can have a mini-festival of all these films in a row. Perfect for a hot summer day at the cottage after you've spent a few hours in sun, written a bunch of great pages, and are looking for that one sweet escape with a mint julep and some jelly beans at the ready.

New Year's Revolutions 2010

I'm a bit late with my New Year's Revolutions for 2010. Usually, I write them the day before the year actually starts so I can step directly onto the right foot before the countdown begins.

To review: New Year's Revolutions 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009

Where I feel I ended up depends on how we look at the year that just passed. There's a line in a Raconteurs song that I adore that goes, "It's been a wasted, worried year." And that's kind of how I feel about 2009 in general. I spent a lot of it upset, irritated, frustrated, ill and almost dead. But despite the negatives, I managed to tackle quite a few of the things on my list for last year: I kept the weight off (saved in the regard by the almost-dead episode this summer); have been exercising regularly (swimming, among other things); have lived a less cluttered life; brought my lunch A LOT; kept the budget in check (and this with massive renovations going on); bought less (with some huge exceptions); and have desperately tried to use what I have (again, with some exceptions).

Not bad, I'd say, for a wasted, worried year.

But my big question is where to go next. What to put on the list for this year? What have I learned and where did these revolutions get me?

1. I am hopelessly addicted to television and movies
Every year I put 'watch less television' on the list. Every year I manage NOT to accomplish this goal. It needs drastic measures, like cutting off the cable or throwing out the television. Neither are rational responses. Limiting myself to certain shows has helped. Giving up time wasters has helped too, but the structure of my modern life, and the state of my health, makes it far too easy to spend far too many hours baked out watching bad television. And I try to dress it up all the time by saying that time spent watching a movie isn't wasted time. It's artful. It's cultural. It's important. The 10 Revolution: Try to watch less. But don't beat yourself up if it doesn't happen. Give up the crap. And go to bed earlier to read.

2. I am hopelessly addicted to being miserable at the big "W"
One night, after a particularly rotten, awful week, my RRHB and I were talking about how we aren't the kind of people who find it easy to just go out and "do a job" and come home. You know those "people": happy to not be defined by the job, content to get your paycheque and carry on, excited by the prospect of stability and nonplussed about the politics, etc. Wouldn't life just be easier if we were one of those magical, happy people. Being "Zen" didn't cut it. In fact, I'd say that I'm far less content now than I was even a year ago. The 10 Revolution: Make small changes to my outlook so I can make good decisions about where I want to go next and what it is I'd like to be doing. Be more positive. Take things less personally. Plan for better options. Take more deep breaths. The answer isn't for me to become a better person; it's for me to accept the kind of person I already am, right?

3. Cleanse. Be Strong. Cleanse Again. Breath. And Stretch.
Despite the really shitty health year I've had (starting it off on prednisone; ending up down one organ), I'm actually healthier than I've been in ages. Restorative yoga, a good, healthy diet, regular exercise, calmer disease -- these are all goals I've had for the last five years. I finally feel like I've gotten somewhere. It's an interesting feeling, that's for sure. The 10 Revolution: Keep at it. Cleanse more often. Cleanse properly. Keep swimming. Keep sweating. Keep up with the yoga. It's all going in the right direction.

4. Take a really, really long, relaxing vacation or two.
With no blackberry, Twitter, Facebook, email, computer, television or anything other than good company and a few good books. The 10 Revolution: Turn off the digital life more often so I can enjoy the real life, but perhaps blog a bit more consistently.

5. Be kinder to the people I love.
This one is self-explanatory. The 10 Revolution: Remember that the choices I've made are always the right ones and act like I believe this. Maybe a little of this includes being kinder to myself -- but that sounds cheesy.

There you have it. These are my lofty aspirations for 2010. Trust me when I say I have concrete goals too -- but these are tucked safely away in another list, written in pencil in a place where I'll be able to consult them frequently.

My Boy is Ten

My friend Heather took this photo a couple of weekends ago. We went for a walk in the woods. It was a bit cold at first, neither my boy nor ...