February 27th, 2015

Why Life Is Hard for Extroverts Too

This started out as a joke post, parodying those insufferable articles about how introverts are actually must smarter, deeper, kinder, and more sensitive than extroverts. In trying to equalize our perceptions of intros and extros, the articles nearly always go too far and suggest that there’s really only worthwhile kind of human.

I don’t honestly even believe that there’s some kind of binary among humans into these two types. We all have tendencies in both directions and it’s a spectrum. And I don’t think the introverts get all that squashed in society, though maybe because I’m in the writing and editing field my perceptions are skewed–there’s a lot of quiet types here. And that’s also why I sometimes stand out as a bit more talky than some of my colleagues. In many context, I don’t think I’d qualify as an extrovert, but in the word mines, I do. Of course, I also have friends who are much much more social than I am. As I say, a spectrum.

My extroverted feelings get hurt by those stupid articles above–I’m not callous, superficial, or inane, as they always seem to suggest. At least, I don’t think I am. So I started writing this rebuttal in fun, but I think it’s kind of true, too…

Why life is hard for extroverts too…

1) I’m often lonely. I know, I know–introverted people often feel overwhelmed by being with people and need time alone. I actually feel that way pretty often myself. But the thing about wanting to be alone is, it’s relatively easy to achieve. You can go home or take a walk or go stand in the broom closet if you have to. It’s much harder when you’re by yourself and wish you weren’t. Sometimes none of your friends are available to hang out. Sometimes your husband is sleeping and has told you to quit waking him up. Sometimes no one’s online. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

2) I get rejected a lot. One of my nicer qualities, so I’m told, is I see everyone I meet as a potential new friend. The downside of this is that many people do not want to be my friend. That’s fair, but I can’t help taking it personally. If I compliment a cashier on her nail polish or blouse and she ignores me, I feel bad even though I know intellectually that this relationship is not important to my well being. Worse, people in my actual social circle sometimes don’t really want to spend a lot of time with me. When I first moved to Toronto, I did not understand that “We should get a coffee/drinks/lunch sometime” was a phrase of general approbation, and did not actually mean anything. I was forever pulling out my date book and trying to make plans. Some of those interactions actually blossomed beautifully, but some were very very awkward. I’m always the friend who is still inviting you to parties long after you’ve given up authentic-sounding excuses and started saying things like, “I think I’m going to be really tired that night.”

3) My career path does not really suit extroversion. I write books, as I may have mentioned here, and that is a task that it’s very hard to make collaborative. I’ve tried, with writing groups, reading groups, uber-involved editors, and a husband who takes an interest in my work, but sometimes I do have to sit and my office and work and there’s no one else there… All alone! I also work on books during the day, and though there’s some more interaction to that now that I’m a project manager, I’m still just at my desk a lot of hours of the day. And yet these are the things I want to do–I wouldn’t have my career any other way! I just wish a bunch of people could come hang out at my desk with me, maybe occasionally make an interesting comment about something. I’ve actually started shunning my lovely office to work in the living room with my husband and cats. Bad use of real estate, but much more comforting.

4) It’s really easy to hurt my feelings. It’s interesting that the stereotype of an extrovert is someone who is shallow and callous and not really interested in what you have to say. Since I’m so invested in other people, doesn’t it make sense that I’m invested in what they think about me? Workplace sniping, subway grumbling, arguments with close friends–they all sting, although of course to different degrees. And I’m actually paying really close attention. I used to work with someone who took great care to thank everyone for their contributions to the project at every meeting, except me. I don’t really know why she disliked me enough that she couldn’t bear to thank me for anything, but I guess expected I wouldn’t notice. I noticed.

5) Socializing is time-consuming. Introverts can get their solo-recharge time while they scrub toilets or do their taxes, but none of my friends want to come over for that (do you?) If I want to see people at least a couple nights a week–and I do–I need to make plans, send an invitation, organize a time and place and then actually get myself there, even if it’s snowing and I’m sleepy. It’s worth doing, but it means putting off taxes and scrubbing and other things I should really get done.

Wow, what a sad sack list! I was trying to ape to woe-is-me tone in the introvert articles but now I just feel really bad about myself. But actually–I’m fine! I get to spend lots of time with people and lots of time alone, just as my personality prefers. I enjoy my own company and that of others, big parties and long walks, and blah blah blah, all that other stuff introverts supposedly are the only appreciators of.

I probably shouldn’t things I read on BuzzFeed so seriously…

 

February 23rd, 2015

Photos by Mark Raynes Roberts

I had the privilege of doing a photo shoot with artist Mark Raynes Roberts as part of a project he is doing, photographing Canadian authors. It will be displayed in the fall, if you’re curious to see it. I certainly am! In the meantime, here’s a selections of shots of me, courtesy of Mr. Roberts. Eventually, when I do a proper update of this site (ie., pay someone to do one) I will include one of these in the bio section, but for now all I know how to do is post them here… Feel free to let me know your favourite…I’d be curious!

I think this one is my favourite...

I think this one is my favourite…

I like the meta aspect of the photo with photos in background...

I like the meta aspect of the photo with photos in background…

Shifty eyes...somehow one of my best looks!

Shifty eyes…somehow one of my best looks!

February 19th, 2015

Current Obsessions: Curing (or at least improving) my migraines

Much as I suggested in my last post that the internet has ruined the word brave–it used to mean fighting in a war but now it just means talking about sex–so too has the word “obsess” come on hard times. My beloved Canadian Oxford defines it as “[to] preoccupy; haunt; fill the mind of a person continually” but when someone says (as it seems they say all too often these days) “I’m totally obsessed with that nail polish/salad/tv show” they do not think of their obsession constantly. Rather, they experienced it a few times, liked it, wish to experience it again. I don’t know how obsession came to mean generic positive feelings.

In this little series, I mainly mean “obsessions” in the modern, watered-down way, but with a little edge of my own neurotic tendencies. It’s not an exaggeration to say I look at my Fitbit multiple times per hour for a total of dozens of times per day. And not this week but last, I probably listened to about 10 hours of Tig Notaro recordings.

The migraine thing is less fun and more haunting–I think about it a lot because the pain factor forces me to. There was a period last fall when I started wondering if I was destined to become one of those chronically ill people, pale and sweatshirted and worried all my friends think I’m lazy because I look fine?

I’m feeling better now but even a few days of feeling that bad scared me a lot, and I’m gotten way more serious about migraine prevention and treatment. No more letting things slide, no more organic-hearted avoidance of scary pills. Into the medical-industrial complex I go!

I’ve been here before. I’ve had migraines since I was a child–my mom and borther do too, my brother’s far worse than mine. When he was a little little kid he would just sob, that’s how bad they were. We all took some fairly strong prescription painkillers during that period, and they worked quite well. Then in my early twenties I lost some weight and the prescription I was on started being too strong for me–it made me high. I got freaked out that I was taking such a serious med and I went back to plain old Tylenol.

It’s a bad medical precedent but that actually worked for about 10 years. Things started getting worst after my jaw surgery, after I went on other prescription meds, and I think honestly with age or who even knows? Migraines are very mysterious. Until the nadir (well, I hope it was the nadir) last fall.

Migraines are weird in that, unlike most medical conditions, pain is the disease itself, not the symptom. Like, if you have a crushing pain in your chest, as bad as a migraine but in a different location, that pain is a signal to you to get to a doctor immediately or that pain will likely do you permanent damage or kill you. However, with a migraine, as far as I understand it (not positive how well that is…?) there’s no real possibility of permanent damage. Once a migraine’s over, it’s over–the pain abates, and you’re as fine as you ever were. There’s no reason to seek medical treatment except because the pain is unpleasant. It’s not actually doing anything to you.

Isn’t that weird? And random? And frustrating–because if the pain isn’t because of something else, there’s nothing to fix, exactly. Migraine treatment, as far as I can tell, can only work in two ways 1) trigger avoidance and 2) pain management. Either you don’t get a migraine, or you find a way to cope with it until it goes away.

Anyway, in the past year or two, here is what I’ve done to improve the migraine situation–mainly in category one. Please note that this is not advice–migraine triggers are different for everyone and I have some extra issues with my jaw, and lack certain others (I don’t drink).

  • almost (not quite) eliminated caffeine from diet
  • almost (not quite) eliminated aspartame from diet
  • eliminated gum (except on airplanes) (all three of those can be a trigger for me)
  •  eaten protein every morning for breakfast (apparently lack of protein can be a trigger)
  • taken large doses of B2 twice a day (I admit, I forget what that actually does, but a neurologist told me to do it)
  • made an effort to improve sleep–not just amount but steadiness. My terrible habit of waking up multiple times a night for no real reason is a potential trigger. To this end, I’ve been taking big doses of magnesium citrate at bed time to help me sleep more soundly and trying to avoid naps (but I love naps!)
  • bought a new shower curtain and had the gap behind my bathtub faucet filled (apparently mildew and mould that accumulates in damp recesses in bathrooms can be a trigger)
  • made a bigger effort to take some medication at the earliest sign of headache. I was trying to tough out milder headaches, which worked for years, but recently they just got worse until it was too bad for the medication to be effective. Now I’m trying to be proactive, though I do find the sheer number of pills I’ve been taking alarming.
  • taking whatever the doctor prescribes. No more over-the-counter stuff for me, sadly. I have an “everyday” bottle of painkillers, and another one for true catastrophic headaches. I had a different catastrophy prescription, but the only time I took it I feel asleep almost immediately. The neurologist told me if I was reacting so strongly to a “baby dose” I needed something else, so now I have a new, as-yet-untried prescription. We’ll see.

And that’s it–all I’ve thought of to do so far. The neurologist I see is really smart, but I think I might be in the least worst shape of any of her patients, so she doesn’t always have a lot of time for me. Ok, never. I’ve had a good few months recently, but I’m still very nervous. Migraines are such an inexact science, and within reason I’m will to experiment to see if I can feel better. So if you have any suggestions to feed by obsession, please do comment–I would love to expand my defenses…

February 11th, 2015

Current Obsessions: Tig Notaro

I am an insatiable consumer of music–I scan the radio, quiz my friends, and buy the openers’ EPs at concerts. My tastes aren’t very cutting edge, but I do devour new music, sometimes to the point of “using it up.” It would not be unusual for me to listen to a song 40 times in a row and then, if it wasn’t really strong or complex enough to withstand such intense scrutiny, never be able to listen to it again.

On the other hand, I don’t really like listening to recorded talking–ebooks and podcasts generally seem awkward and distracting to me. The two exceptions are during long drives and while QCing a website–both are activities that root me in place while keeping most of my mind free to get involved in a story.

But my favourite thing to listen to while doing website QCs is standup comedy. You can’t actually listen to comedic sketches or other forms of tv/web comedy while doing something visual–you may think it’s about the dialogue but try listening to an episode of *Friends* with your eyes closed–doesn’t work (that’s assuming *Friends* worked for you in the first place). But standup comedians do I’d say 85% of their work with their voices–the remaining 15% in facial expressions and gestures one does miss, but I figure that’s ok. I am working, after all.

So, I listened to most of the online oeuvres of Louis CK (devastatingly insightful and interesting, with the occasional weird little Jew joke now and again just to make me feel I can’t really like him), Dylan Moran (my heartthrob from *Black Books* but far less funny when he’s not pretending to be that character. Luckily, he is usually in character for standup) and a fair bit of George Carlin (the real deal, for sure). And then I ran out of ideas, because there is no real way to be exposed to standup comedy casually–not like hearing songs on the radio or whatever. So I actually googled “standup comedy” (what?) and I got Tig Notaro.

This was about a year ago, and the first thing I listened to was a drawn-out gag involving pushing a stool across a stage. It was not my jam and I skipped on to something or other else (honestly, I think I just didn’t have to QC any sites for a while). But somehow Ms. Notaro got back on my radar and I listened to this devastating set live from the Moth called R2 Where Are You?

The series at the Moth is called Stories and Notaro is billed as a storyteller and so she is–all the really good comedians are. But she pushes it to the next level, telling brutally honest stories from her own (very) personal life, with just this fantastic little edge of humour–like the lemon in your martini. This is not the “Didja ever notice” humour-about-nothing topical style that Seinfeld popularized (full disclosure: I quite dislike Seinfeld’s kind of comedy though I respect his talent). This is humour-very-much-about-something. About life and death, a lot of the time, actually.

Normally I’ll exhaust the YouTube catalogues for a performer and then give up, but for Notaro I bought an album, Live. I’d heard a number of interviews by that point about the live set at Largo that constitutes the half hour album, and it seemed that many people found it nothing short of revelatory. I’d listened to a lot of other sets that covered some of the same material and liked them very much, but wasn’t sure I would find this album so very full of revelations. But hell, it was only 5 bucks.

I put it on my iPod and took a snowy walk to a friend’s place last week and listened all the way, grinning, eyes wet with genuine tears, plodding through the slush. This is amazing, thrilling, surprising comedy. Some of it misfires–it was the first time she’d done the set EVER and that alone makes for fresh and interesting listening as she fumbles some of the jokes into the shapes they would eventually hold onto. But it’s just so brave and honest and funny… Blogging has kind of ruined the word “brave” but it’s much harder to be brave when you’re staring into a sea of faces waiting for you to entertain them.

This album made me question some of my stupid insecurities and wonder what I could do to live my life more fully. Most comedy can’t do that. I haven’t really gone into the content of the album because I like surprises and maybe you do too–if I could go back and do it all again, I would’ve listened to “Live” first, before I knew what it was about. So maybe you should do that–it’s only $5, it’s only half an hour–listen. I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

February 5th, 2015

Current Obsessions: Fitness and Fitbit

I’ve got a lot of little pet obsessions going on these days, so I thought I might get organized enough to do a little post on each one. I’ve had lots of great ideas for blog series that have gone no where lately, so no promises, but here’s the first one…

Mark got me a Fitbit Charge for Christmas, which is basically a watch with a pedometer inside. It does a few other neat things too, like track your sleep habits (it can only measure motion, but motion and poor sleep correlate pretty well) and count the calories you’ve burned in a day. Before I had this, I was using the Noom Walk app on my phone as my pedometer. That’s a pretty good pedometer app (I had other ones before that barely functioned) but it’s just hard to keep your phone on you all the time, especially when you are say running on the treadmill. And Noom wasn’t really totally accurate–the Fitbit is much sharper.

I LOVE it! I have some obsessive tendencies and I love to count things–I find it deeply satisfying to know how many steps it is from my desk to the bathroom, and how many in my daily commute and so on. I check the step counter many times throughout the day and feel like the information is really valuable.

What a Fitbit is for is to make you MORE fit, not just assess what you are currently doing. I am trying to be more fit and active this year–what an original new year’s resolution, I know–so this is a good test of its usefulness. And it does work, in certain ways. For example, the ideal active lifestyle person takes 10 000 steps in a day. When I started keep track, I discovered that I normally take that many without thinking of it, but some days I’m just under and sometimes I’m way under. It was very easy to just do the things I do on the successful days on ALL the days, and now I’m almost never below 10 000, but it took the counter to make me think of it.

I’ve also stopped “wasting” steps. Like, I live on a fairly high floor in my apartment building, but not so high that I’m incapable of walking up the steps–I just never did because who does that? Now I do, at least when I’m not carrying anything heavy. It gives me like 400 steps each way–obviously much easier on the way down, but either way. I’ve also realized that waiting for the bus or subway is a waste so I’ve started pacing. This only works on fairly empty platforms, but it is a good use of time and certainly no one cares what I’m up to. It was funny, one day I didn’t wear the fitbit and I didn’t bother to pace–what was the point if it wasn’t being recorded? It’s funny the way these things will trick the mind. And I’m just in general better about walking a little extra whenever I can.

I haven’t made any big lifestyle changes but every little bit counts, and I’m consistently between 10 000 and 15 000 every day. I would like to try for 20 000 but I think I need the weather to be a bit nicer first. David Sedaris went good and bonkers trying to up his step count, but I’m trying to be more moderate in my goals.

If you’re thinking of doing the same, some tips:

1) Shopping has a million steps–even the grocery store, but especially the mall. If you like the mall, mind you–if you hate the mall you won’t wander around and go back and forth. Strolling through anything that interests you–stores, museums, parks–has lots of steps, because you’re less likely to be linear and thus take more unnecessary steps. All to the good.

2) Running is a better workout than walking, and going uphill is a better workout than level ground, but everything counts the same on a Fitbit. A 10 000 step day is a totally average day for most of us–around 17 000 I’m pretty tired, but I could still do more if I had to. So the Fitbit encourages general healthy practices but isn’t going to make any of us track stars.

3) The flights-of-stairs function has something wrong with it–one day it said I climbed 58 flights of stairs, which no one would ever do, and other times it doesn’t count flights I know I’ve climbed. It’s amusing, but not that helpful.

4) If you are scared pacing will cause the bus driver to zoom right by you, hopping from foot to foot in place also works fine.

5) There is a HUGE difference between transit commuting and car commuting. You don’t realize how many steps even a short walk to the subway, then through the station and down all those stairs, then back up and out and to wherever you were going can be. There’s no where far enough you can park the car that will equal that–plus you can’t pace when you are stuck in traffic.

6) Similarly, there’s a big difference between transit commuting and pedestrian commuting. One day I talked my husband, a walking commuter, into wearing the Fitbit, and in getting to and from work, plus errands at lunch time and the gym in the evening, he was over 22 000 steps. There is no way I could do that without dedicating a significant chunk of my day to the project, a la Sedaris, but Mark has it built right into his schedule.

7) When I forget an item and have to go back for it, I feel less stupid now because at least the steps count.

So, Fitbit–one of my many obsessions and darn entertaining!

January 29th, 2015

Cutting, cutting

So I am editing my book now, and as you probably knew but I didn’t, it’s very stressful and challenging, and sometimes sad. I’m chopping up a story that never really worked anyway. On the one hand, I’m glad to be rid of it because there’s probably 10 versions in my folders and none really cohere properly. I’m going to be able to repurpose some of the more informational bits elsewhere (I hope!) but all the connective tissue, especially the mood- and character-building bits, are essentially being surplussed. Which issued, because some of them are good…or at least I think so. Then I remembered that is why I have a blog, to give voice to all my useless bits.

Thus, I give you the opening of the story “The First Day of School”, which no longer exists…

The walk to school is lemon-yellow and green—still summer, only now I’m wearing slacks and teaching loafers, carrying files, and up so very early. Early September is marketed in back-to-school Walmart fliers as orange leaves and sweaters, but the past few years it’s been just more heat and popsicles with the sunlight slightly slanted. I feel like this is a recent phenomenon, maybe the result of climate change, but it’s hard to remember. Back in the nineties, was there crisp air on Labour Day? Do I Instagram my memories? I’m old enough to be permanently suffused with nostalgia—the constant onslaught of bright-hued youth that is my profession doesn’t help. I miss the politically relaxed atmosphere that allowed me to at least use the term Indian summer.

The streets near campus are lifeless except for breezes and cats. There’s always a lull between the start of classes and when students feel up to attending. Even on Centre Green, where workers are trying to collapse the massive frosh-week beer tent, there’s a dreamy quiet. In a few weeks, the green will be trampled and strewn with lithe bodies, but for now it feels like I have the campus to myself.

January 13th, 2015

The End of 2014

I’ve long meant to write a post on the advantages of being a writer with a day job–I thought perhaps in December. Then December turned into one of the time that my day job mercilessly devours my life, leaving me only with scraps and fragments of both free time and the mental energy to use such free time productively. All of both went into my book and seasonal frolics–there was none leftover for the blog, or due a variety of other things. Sorry about that. But the dust is clearing and the big work project is (touch wood) drawing to a close, so…I’m back!

Despite my long silence, the end of the year was actually pretty fun for me. Many parties, visiting friends, good weather, nice presents, delicious foods. I was sad that I had to do the pre-Christmas week sans both cats and husband, as they had started their vacations earlier than mine (due to aforementioned work bomb). But with the also-aforementioned friends, I survived until I could jet off to PEI and be with Mark and family (still no cats until New Year’s Day, though).

This year, I got a grown-up menorah to replace the itty-bitty baby one I’ve had since I was 19 (the grown-up-ness undercut slightly by the fact that my parents gave it to me). I love it very much and lit the candles every night this year, sometimes taking it on the road with me to ensure appropriate dusk-hour lighting. I even brought it to PEI for the last night, so Mark didn’t miss out entirely…

I lit the candles at my inlaws on the 8th night.

I lit the candles at my inlaws on the 8th night.

On a literary (slightly) front, I guess I did do some stuff beyond my own book. I contributed a “bests” list to the Little Fiction 2014 Year in Review and item to the books of the year list that Canadian Notes and Queries did.

But actually, mainly I worked on my book. It’s been really hard, though I am happy with the new pieces I’ve produced and am now wading tentatively back into the full manuscript. But I’m nervous and all the rest, which is making it hard to envision real new years resolutions for 2015–basically, if I can complete this manuscript to my satisfaction as well as everyone else’s, I’ll be satisfied.

But I think I’ll put off the view of 2015 a little longer, and concentrate on shutting the file on 2014 in this post. Shall we go over the resolutions from last year? I’ll have the actual resolution in boldand the end-of-year update in plain text (if you want to see how I was doing at the midyear mark, it’s here. Here we go…

1. Mini M&Ms charity. This works better in summer than it does in winter–my mid-year report on this was sunnier than I am now. I’m just not out strolling as often in the winter, though I still do try to give when I see someone in need, and my mini-M&Ms canister is ever at the ready. Plan to continue this resolution.

2. Learn to play the guitar. This is a long-term thing, I guess–there’s still far more I can’t do than what I can. But it’s been an interesting process and I have learned a lot. Plan to continue this resolution.

3. Possibly file the papers I’ve had stacked on the floor of my office for over a year. Maybe. Fail. But will continue this resolution because I will at some point need to move out of my apartment.

4. Clicker train my elder cat, Evan, to give him something to focus his energies on so he isn’t such a pain all the time. The mid-year report on this was very positive but then we kind of tapered off. Possibly Evan learned as much as he could, but it would be worth trying again every so often. Not continuing the resolution, but will make it an occasional thing.

5. Knit a thing that has an actual purpose. Fail. Abandoning resolution as do not actually care.

6. Something about my manuscript-in-progress. I finished it, I sold it (well, Sam sold it) and now me and the wonderous Anita are making it better. As I say above, finishing this and doing it well is the only truly important goal I have for 2015!

7. Cook lots of new recipes. This one was easy–I love cooking new stuff. I don’t think this needs to be a resolution anymore, as I’m happy to do it without prompting.

8. Blog more frequently than once a month. Not really, but I was close. I think I’ll maintain this resolution. I always enjoy blogging once I get into it.

9. Floss daily. Didn’t make it, but close. Will maintain this resolution, because the alternative is gum surgery!

10. Plan to socialize a reasonable amount every week. This one didn’t work out exactly, but on average it did. This week, for instance, i’ll be out every night but Wednesday, which is unfortunate but I really wanted to do all those things. I didn’t really go out at all last week, though, so I have the energy. I’m going to abandon this resolution, because I want to see people more than I want to keep resolutions.

And I think that’s all I have to say about 2014. Hopefully I’ll back relatively soon with something fascinating to say about the year upcoming!

December 4th, 2014

Co-habitational reading challenge: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

My husband and I have lots of literary tastes in common and we’ve read plenty of the same books, but there’s an especial pleasure of reading the same book at the same time–it’s always exciting to sit down at dinner and say, “What bit are you at? What did you think about the part where…?” and know you’re both thinking about the same stuff.

So Mark Sampson and I try to sync our reading at least once a year. In the past, we’ve done rereads of books we’ve respectively loved and wanted to experience together (here’s the tag if you want to go back in time, though the posts are weirdly out of order). This year we wanted to read something new together, and chose kind of at random from the Giller Prize 2014 shortlist (what, they all looked good).

The book we wound up with was Heather O’Neill‘s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, mainly because we both got a hold of copies around the same time. But also it was a book we both hoped to love, as we had both adored O’Neill’s first novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals a few years back.

My love of O’Neill’s writing goes back even further, to a wondrous column she used to write that no one seems to have read, in Broken Pencil, called “Goldstein on Goldstein” (I believe there was an earlier incarnation of the column written by Jonathan Goldstein, and they just never bothered changing the name when she took over). I’ve gotten so blank stares when I mentioned her good old “Goldstein on Goldstein” days that I resolved that I wouldn’t include it here unless I could find an online archive to prove I’m not crazy. And I did. And you should read’em, they are great.

To the book at hand: TGWWSN had a lot of the same everyday poetry to the language and rootedness in Montreal poverty that I loved about her column and her first book. It is narrated  from the point of view of Nouschka Tremblay. She is the daughter of a Quebecois folksinger, long loved for his quirky songs about things like an elephant with a peanut up its nose and his of-the-people style. But he did knock up a 14-year-old girl in rural Quebec and brought into being Nouschka and her twin brother Nicholas. The senior Tremblay abandoned the twins with their mother and she, in term, took them to their paternal grandparents and never came back. After the grandmother’s passing, they were raised by Etienne’s senile father, Loulou.

Whew–that’s a lot of setup. But it works, quite well, actually. It was amazing how Etienne’s localized celebrity–he is unknown to people outside Quebec and perhaps Anglos anywhere–seems completely realistic. It felt totally possibly that he actually existed, and I didn’t know it–the way people sang his songs in their wanderings and recognized him on the street, the way he go mixed up in the cause of Separatism without every really being that interested.

Lots of the press and bumpf about this novel consider the referendum a part of the events, but it isn’t really–it’s simply an ingenious way of grounding the TGWWSN concretely in time and place. It feels so specific, so exactly where it seeks to be–really brilliant on the author’s part. But this is not more a political novel than LFLC–politics might be architecture, or the weather. It is what it is.

Oh, and plot–there isn’t one for, in my estimation, more than half the book. Maybe Nouschka and Nicholas are too claustrophobically close, lost in their own twin-world, sleeping in the same bed (O’Neill very determinedly tries to make this not creepy and succeeds, barely). Maybe they need to find their mother. Maybe Nouschka needs to get a good job and get out of the fatalistic poverty in which her brother and grandfather live.

None of these are quite plot worthy, but we do gradually see the stakes rise (at the beginning of the book, with the twins noodling around their neighbourhood, the plot level felt dangerously close to nil. Nicholas becomes more self-destructive and Nouschka does her own bit on that front, by hooking up with, and then marrying (at 20!) the strange and disturbed Rafael. Things happen, the risk is real, and I got more gripped by the story in the final third. I don’t want to say I had been bored earlier–O’Neill’s gorgeous prose and my love of the quotidian kept boredom at bay, but I did wonder when something would, you know, happen.

In the last 50 or so pages EVERYTHING happens, so I guess that answered that. I ended the read a bit shell-shocked–it’s rare that a book feels both overlong and too tumultuous. But I don’t know that it was actually too anything–it simply wasn’t what I was expecting.

Even the more querulous complaints I had about the book were more questions than anything–from what point in her life was Nouschka reflecting on these events? The narrator is clearly not in the same time period as the protagonist–she keeps saying things like “I was so young” but you never find out where this narrator-Nouschka went in her life or how things turned out, or what called her to tell her story in this way. I was disappointed, but I do overthink things.

I also wondered how to think about a book written in English about characters who make a point of speaking only in French–who in fact distrust Anglos and are mystified by them. There’s many wondrous turn of phrase in this book, but they would all be completely different in another language. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, really–do you know?

And finally, the cats–they turn up every dozen or so pages, but I didn’t know why. Yes, I like cats and it makes me happy to see them in books, but there never seemed to be any point to them. Many of the cats belong to neighbours or are street cats, but Nouschka refers once to having cats of her family’s own, and then never again. No one had a relationship with any of the cats, just cutesy little descriptions that I actually really didn’t like. But again, I overthink things, especially things to do with cats.

I don’t have a letter or number grade for this book but I really enjoyed reading it and think Heather O’Neill is a wonderful writer despite the fact I didn’t like everything about this book. I also really loved reading the book with my husband (for his take on the experience, see here). It’s great to share a book in this way–a highly recommended experiment, whatever you like to read.

 

December 2nd, 2014

Notes from the bronchial fog, day 22

I have been meaning to write a post telling everyone how horrible having bronchitis is, but one of the things that’s horrible about it is it makes me really exhausted all the time–every little chore is about 30% harder than it normally is. Also, when I complain, I find out that lots of people have had bronchitis, or even get it every year (chronic bronchitis is a thing, apparently, and it doesn’t sound fun). So basically, what I’m saying is, I feel extremely sorry for myself but my situation is pretty average–if that is the sort of thing that tends to annoy you, perhaps you’ll want to stop reading now.

SO, today is day 22 of being sick (actually now it’s day 23–see above about getting too tired to finish things). As I attempt to reconstitute events, they go something like this.

Monday November 10, evening, I notice I have a sore-ish throat. I am mad, because I had a really bad cold at the end of September, not even two months ago, and this feels very unfair.

Rest of that week–yep, I have a cold. On the weekend, it seems to be getting a bit better, but then I start coughing really loudly and crazily–like, sometimes I can’t breathe or I fear I will vomit. Apparently bronchitis is some kind of parasitical disease. It waits until you are weak with a cold and then attacks.

By middle of the second week, I recognize that I am no longer sniffling and sneezing, just coughing like a maniac and having trouble walking up steep flights of stairs. The doctor confirms that I have bronchitis but thinks it’s viral, so there’s not much you can do to make it go away. She does give me some meds to help me cope in the meantime–codeine syrup to prevent coughing at night and help me sleep (does nothing) and a puffer to improve my breathing (does nothing). I keep taking the puffer, which I don’t fully understand and might be inhaling wrong, but switch back to NyQuil after a few days of waking up hourly every night.

The doctor also did a nose swab (least fun!!) in order to check me for pertussis (whooping cough). She did this because my astounding new niece, Isla, was born on November 16, and I would REALLY like to meet her. It takes 5 business days to get the test results back, so middle of last week. The doctor leaves a message saying that I don’t have pertussis, but also implying that I’m probably feeling much better by now.

This is alarming, because I am miserable, so I call her back and tell her my sad state of affairs. She thinks that if I am still not better at all, perhaps I have bacterial bronchitis instead of viral, and prescribes me antibiotics. My husband picks up the new meds for me before going out for Friday night without me because I am not physically capable of attending an event where there might not be chairs for everyone.

The weekend is a low point, wherein I try to Christmas shop, become exhausted after 45 minutes but refuse to go home because Christmas. By Monday I was coughing less but so migraine-y i had to take a different medication. Worried that it would interact with all the other nonsense I was taking, I hauled everything to the pharmacy and asked them to tell me if I would do any harm by taking it all. They said no, and I spent a pleasant evening looped on pain meds before going to bed at 9:30.

Now it is today, and I am working from home so that I can nap on my lunch hour, and feeling a bit better, all things considered. Less coughing, somewhat less tiredness, but honestly, I’m still not feeling that great. And it’s day 23.

I’m pretty confident I will not have bronchitis forever, and that also by the standards of diseases I could have, this is pretty mild. However, weakling that I am, I have learned a lot from this experience. Things like:

1) Even though I think I’m not an athletic person, I do a lot that requires my body. I am a pedestrian and my mode of living requires me to walk fair distances and even climb lots of stairs on occasion. I like to run and play with the children I know. When I didn’t need to expend effort to do these things, I didn’t think about them–now I think about them all the time.

2) When I don’t go to work, I don’t get paid. This has always been true of my current job, and I chose to have things that way. I never minded because I live below my means and can afford a day or two off when I need one. However I cannot afford an endless procession of such days. Perhaps I need disability insurance. Certainly I need to be conscious of this fact.

3) My job is pretty nice in that they let me work from home whenever they can spare me so I can take lunch naps.

4) My husband is pretty nice because he goes and gets me drugs and also lets me sleep in the marital bed even though I sound like an excitable seal.

5) People who are chronically ill have a really tough time. I always knew that, but I think I know it more now.

November 11th, 2014

Rose-coloured reviews the Giller Prize Show 2014

8:41pm: Sitting around being excited for the show to start, allegedly doing some of my own work. This is my worst Giller year to date, in that I have read none of the shortlisted books. I asked Mark earlier if he remembered who is on the shortlist, and he got exasperated with me and asked why I wanted to watch if I don’t know who is nominated. Married 2 years and still he doesn’t understand me. Then he listed the nominees. I have decided to root for Heather O’Neill’s *The Girl Who Was Saturday Night* because that is the book I’m closest to having read–I’ve ordered it from the library and is currently listed as “in transit.”

I’m excited to see Rick Mercer, whom I’ve always liked, and see if I can pick out my agent Samantha Haywood and other friends and acquaintances in the crowd. I am excited to finally find out what Heather O’Neill looks like and whether she can pull of an evening gown. I’ve excited to see whether this enterprise will even succeed or if I won’t be able to get the streaming to work, or the time will have been mislisted–see my Giller post in 2012. In fact, here’s the whole archive, just in case: Giller Reviews.

8:54: Ok, after finding the website, taking a survey that asked me how I heard about the Gillers and seemed to indicate that I would be taking it after the event had happened, then going to a different website, I have found what appears to be the link to the livestream. I think I will go microwave some frozen fruit to snack on while I wait out the last 5 minutes….

8:59: And we’re back–got fruit, got Mark, no cats allowed because they are jerks. Let’s do this thing!!

Commercial break #1: Oh, I do like Rick Mercer. So charming–and the accent–“ONprecdented.” He pointed out that Carol Off was in the crowd and then joked that when people think of the CBC they should think of Carol Off. We were impressed that he got in a sly Jian Ghomeshi joke when those had been forbidden.

There was a series of flash interviews with Mercer and the authors. Mercer did mug for the camera a good bit, but it was definitely the most relaxed set of Giller interviews in my experience. And the funniest–Miriam Toews will put her prize money towards a pair of Sorels.

Someone named Kim Coates from something called *Sons of Anarchy* (band? Tv show?) present the David Bezmogis bit. The mike was too short for Coates and he was very obviously reading off a telepromter: all his pauses were in the wrong spots. The mini-movie of The Betrayers had the author reading a bit, and describing the book. Then back to poor awkward Coates, who described the book some more. Then Bezmogis was invited on the stage to get a leather-bound copy of his book and say a few thankyous, which was a nice touch. Some years the authors don’t get to talk at all unless they win.

The guy from Murdoch Mysteries introduced Frances Itani’s Tell. He at least could perform as though he wasn’t reading a teleprompter. The pattern from the previous presentation followed for this one (and all). All of the mini movies were filled with shadowy figures and spooky or flickering lighting–I really don’t know why they go to the trouble of making these videos when they all look so generic. Itani said some nice thank yous as well

Commercial break #2: Judges got introduced–no action there. Then we got the guy from Moist–David Usher, Mark remembers–introducing Sean Michaels Us Conductors for some reason. Again, there never appears to be any connection between the presenters and what they’re presenting, though Usher at least seemed pleased to be there. So did Michaels–his thank yous were stammering and delighted. Cute.

Someone from Hot Tub Time Machine introduced Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night–interestingly, this was the first presenter who seemed to convey genuine enthusiasm for the book in question. O’Neill’s video was semi-interesting, but I’m starting to think I actually hate the video segements. I’m pleased to find out O’Neill is very pretty, but wearing some sweater/blouse combo and no evening dress at all. I liked when she thanks her daughter from the stage, and I liked her outfit even if it was not an evening dress.

Commercial break #3: Another Mercer interview bit with a mad-libs type “first paragraph of my novel” set up–again, actually pretty funny. And then–shockingly–an actual author introduced Miriam Toews novel All My Puny Sorrows. Naomi Klein did the honours handily–Mark has read the novel and thought the intro was perfect–but Miriam Toews somewhat awkwardly thanked her for taking time out from her fight “against the man” to be there.

Commercial break #4: Some nice piano playing by a guy whom Mark recognized but I didn’t (are we getting from this post that Mark is more culturally current than I am?) I’ve been noticing throughout that this seems to be a more casual Giller–people look less like they’ve been to a stylist or borrowed a dress from a fancy store; more like they’ve been borrowing dresses and suits from their siblings and parents. Deepa Mehta did a great job, very emotional and enthusiastic, introducing the last book Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. But there have been too many commercial breaks and I’m ready for this to be over.

Commercial break #5: Jack Rabinovich says his customer line about how dinner out in Toronto costs as much buying all the short-listed books, so eat at home and read. I’m not sure where he usually dines, but hey, it’s not bad advice. Then some bank guy opened the envelope and the winner is… Us Conductors!!

Mark and I said “whoa!” in unison–that was an unexpected ending! I wasn’t expecting Michaels to be able to do a polished speech since he was so flustered earlier, but it was actually very well-prepared, a bit emotional but also very professional. His wife, who in purple lace was probably wearing my favourite outfit of the night, was weeping.

The thankyous were long and address everything from his writing group to (obliquely) Ghomeshi. At one point, a long shot showed Mercer getting ready to say something on a different stage, but Michaels thanked for so long the livestream ended before that happened. Honestly, I was happy to hear all the thank yous and think the director made the right choice.

Best Giller show ever? Yes, I think so–funny, unobtrusive host, 2/5 genuinely meaningful presenters, all the writers get to talk, all the writers get money (not done until this year), and an articulate and humble winner.

Well done, Giller people! See you next year!

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