August 31st, 2016
Back in May, I did a reading with a group of wonderous folks including Suzanne Alyssa Andrew who so kindly invited and presented me. There is now video evidence online, and despite my horror of ever seeing myself on film, I kind of like it. If you like, you can watch it too. Enjoy!
August 25th, 2016
I very rarely comment on current events on social media (or in person, actually). It’s not that I don’t care, but that I care in exactly the manner everyone else does, and have very few original insights that anyone needs to hear about. I am as worried about Trump, ISIS, and zika as most of my friends, and I too would like Canada to win lots of Olympic medals and for the heatwave to abate a bit. Me personally reporting this thoughts on Facebook would help no one. I’m definitely not shy–if I had a thought I hoped no one else had had, or even a joke, I would share it. But mainly I don’t. I have better luck having original insights about my own life, as fewer people have had the chance to think about it–that’s why most of my social media presence is so me-specific.
I also have missed a number of cultural phenomena that people like to discuss–I never saw Breaking Bad and now I’m missing Stranger Things, I have promised myself I won’t get Pokemon Go until my book is done, and I don’t eat beef so all those impressive hamburgers are lost on me. When Prince and David Bowie died (to cite recent examples), I was sorry as I am when anyone walks offstage before their time, but their music didn’t mean much to me personally. I’d be hard pressed to think of more than one or two songs by either. So I kept my mouth shut.
The Tragically Hip thing is different because I genuinely care about the band in a personal way–not a huge fan, but I know their songs off by heart and they mean stuff to me in my life other than just what the words say. I know, that is an extremely childish way of expressing it, but I do think a lot of us feel that way–unique feelings, felt in exactly the same way.
So I watched the whole show on television with a few friends and it was a lovely experience–sad but hopeful, inspiring and interesting, and full of music I like. It was a lovely experience that a third of the country had, apparently. And that kind of solidarity, solidity, was kind of great–I read all the tweets and statuses with a little joyful me-too in my heart. It was nice to be a part of this feeling for once, even for a sad reason, even when I had nothing new to say. Sometimes it’s great to just cheer along with the crowd and not worry about what anyone thinks of my individual voice.
August 3rd, 2016
–garlic did not come up on first planting, nor on second, then we found out we should have planted it in the fall. We threw away the (now shrivelled) remaining cloves and postponed the problem until October
–lavender did not come up from seeds. We bought a seedling pot at a garden centre, which thrived indoors for a while, then promptly died when planted in the garden. So we gave up.
–cucumbers should have been started as seedlings indoors but weren’t, so started as seeds in the garden itself–never came up.
–zucchini–never got around to planting
–oregano was planted as seedling indoors but took forever to grow and then died when it was about an inch tall
–soybeans planted 6 indoors as seedlings. Two never sprouted, three sprouted and then died. The sixth grew huge fast, then tipped over and continued growing sideways. It has only a few leaves and essentially a green wire on my balcony, but is alive. I do not understand.
EDIT: I posted this last night and this morning, my weird soybean plant had produced an actual peapod, with seemingly two peas inside it. So maybe that elevates it out of the failures??
–chives came up but are quite tiny still, while our neighbours’ chives are huge and proliferating
–cilantro was amazing at first, but quickly “bolted”–got very tall and flowered, and the leaves became extremely thin and tasteless. We found out later this was reaction to the really hot weather, so not our fault. I wanted to keep the plant for seeds, but it got so huge it threatened the tomatoes, so we had to pull it out before the seeds came. I have a teeny one on my balcony that did the same thing in miniature, so I will at least get a few seeds to replant and try again.
–hollyhocks are thriving, but are just a big pot full of green leaves–I don’t know when we get the blossoms (yes, I am freely including things in pots in the garden report–really only applies to this, the mint, and the soybeans)
–mint is, I was warned, incredibly invasive, so these folks told me to grow it in a container instead of the garden. I had grown two plants from seeds, so I put one in a pot and gave the other to the Mighty J. Hers died and mine, while nicely alive, isn’t growing very fast and still doesn’t really seem big enough to harvest leaves from. It could stand to be a bit more invasive, in my opinion.
–lettuce were planted from seeds directly in the garden and was one of the first things to come up and is continuing strong. I harvest a couple little lettuces every week and so does J. Nice flavour, and if you put the root in water in the fridge it stays crisp. We added a few more seeds to the same area and it seems we will have lettuce for a while. Some do “bolt” and get tall and skinny with fewer leaves at the top, but I’m trying to eat them before they do that.
–onions were the other first up, also planted directly in the garden from sets, and they came up almost immediately. Initially we were picking them to eat the green parts as scallions, and we nicely thinned the row that way. They are actually white onions, not really scallions, so we are letting the rest grow as big as they care to get so we can eat the white parts. We tried putting in a second row of these, but only two came up. I think onion sets get old, so we gave a few to our neighbour and threw the rest away.
–sunflower was given to us by another neighbouring gardener as a large seedling. We planted it and it grew like crazy, eventually growing three buds, the first of which opened on the weekend and which you can see above.
–kale is something J picked up as 4 seedlings at a farmer’s market, and it’s growing great and is delicious. We pulled one up by the roots to eat but our neighbour told us if we just pick the leaves they will regrow, so we replanted that guy (and it rerooted, thank goodness) and it’s what we’ve been doing ever since (you could actually do that with the lettuce too, but since we have so much I don’t bother)
–basil is two huge plants I started indoors as seeds and are now doing great. We pick off the flowers and so far that has kept the plant leafing, which is great. On Tuesday I picked a tonne and made some pesto–hopefully I’ll get to do more.
The TBD (but very promising)
–peppers were started from seeds indoors and seemed healthy but spindly. They were very slow to take hold outdoors when we transplanted them, and even when the perked up and seemed healthy, were quite small. They are finally getting bigger and bushier and even have some blossoms.
–the TOMATOES ARE AMAZING! Huge bushes of San Marzano (Italian/plum) tomatoes that I started from seeds indoors, thinned and transplanted. We caged about half of them, because this is my first experiment with cages and also that’s all the cages we had. There are tonnes and tonnes of tomatoes on the bigger bushes (they have grown at all different rates and some are still quite small), and the fruit is getting bigger though it remains green. I cannot stand the wait until we can eat them and am terrified a raccoon or blight or something else will get there first. But oh man are they gorgeous.
The Random Bonuses
–the previous inhabitants of plot #120 abandoned midseason without pulling anything out or turning the soil, so it was a huge mess when we got it. Hidden in the dead plants and weeds was a corner full of thriving leeks. We let them grow a bit in early spring while I looked into it–the internet indicates that leeks are a two-year crop, so this was the fruition of whatever was planted last year. We wanted the garden organized by our own whims, so we dug them very early and had a bunch of delicious baby leeks to eat.
–our French neighbour gave us a big bag of flat-leaf parsley from her plot. Our Italian neighbour gave us a few white radishes, which were tasty, and the aforementioned sunflower. Our Jamaican neighbour let us use his bucket and gave a bunch of unsolicited advice, which would be annoying if he weren’t usually right (and save that kale plant). Our east-side neighbours have never been seen, but their lettuces are doing nicely.
Stay tuned for part three!
July 31st, 2016
Yikes, over a month and no post. It’s not that I don’t have anything to post about–part of the time I haven’t been posting, I was away travelling with my husband on our long-awaited European vacation. It was a pretty great trip, but hectic–4 cities in two weeks, plus assorted train and plane transfer points. here’s a picture from Sforza Castle in Milan, which is a massive fortress-type construction now transformed into a labyrinth of different museums. It came complete with moat. The moat was drained (by Napoleon) and now–it’s filled with cats:
You get the idea , I assume. Other things that have been going on including a very high-stress time at work (which may or may not end soon), my ever-ongoing about-to-be-finishedness on my book, and perhaps most joyfully, the fabulosity that was Ghostbusters. I’ve long been a fan of Kate McKinnon, the SNL-starring comedian (comedianne?) that plays Holtzmann. I discovered her I think because my fandom of Tig Notaro prompts the YouTube algorithm to put other lesbian comics into my feed. Whatever the reason, I think she’s brilliant, but I’m so cut off from what is actually going on in the media that I didn’t realize that other people thought that too. Somehow I thought it was just me–until Ghostbusters came out and everyone was totally on team Holtzmann. There are little girls in the world who want to grow up to be just like her–and that fills me with glee. The other cast members were great too, and the affects were as cornball-cool as any summer blockbuster–you should see this movie.
That’s it–I’m sorry. I started writing a bunch of different post–a play-by-play of my trip, a serious review of Ghostbusters, various things about my garden and writing and people being dicks on public transit–but I am very tired these days, and posts seem to get abandoned about 1/3 written, ie., when I have to actually think about where I’m going with it.
Hopefully I’ll get my blogging game on again soon. Until then, please know that I’m here, working and complaining and napping, and enjoy the moat kitties.
June 13th, 2016
I grew up gardening with my dad (I feel like my dad is featuring in a lot of posts these days!) He himself grew up in cities and was a bit abashed to find himself, by the early eighties with a shed, a rototiller, and nearly an acre of arable land on which he grew lettuce, onions, potatoes, corn, beans, peppers, snow peas, squash and pumpkins, cucumbers, parsley and, the crowning glory, up to fifty-plus tomato plants of many varieties every season.
Since I grew up in the country where everyone gardened to some extent and a bunch of my friends’ parents were farmers, none of this struck me as extraordinary. I liked some of the vegetables more than others, and was happy when my brother and I got our own “little garden” with a cherry tomato plant each, and our own little rows of scallions and lettuce. I was less enthused about helping to water and weed the big garden–that was a lot of plants to keep in good order all summer long–but I liked to pick, especially beans for some reason.
When I left home, I for the most part left gardening like many things–radio and television, pie and meatloaf. I did take my potted plants with me, with which I have had uncanny luck–several of them date from grade 7 and are still going strong! Over the years, I haven’t ventured much beyond the potted spider plants and ferns though. Once in my old apartment, which did not have a balcony, I tried an indoor tomato plant but it grew sideways and only ever had a couple marble-sized green tomatoes (I was going through a bit of a sad period about being single at that point, and I believe referred to that tomato plant in a few author bios as my partner). When I moved to my current place in 2011, I tried an outdoor tomato plant with marginally better results, but let’s face it, it was my brother’s girlfriend who gave me that plant, already well potted, and all I did was water it. And I still only got a few tiny tomatoes. Last summer’s crop was about half a dozen poppies grown in the old tomato pot, with some seeds that had been a party favour.
BUT THEN, the Mighty J and I were on a lunchtime walk at work, and we found a community garden in a hydro field. We wandered around it, trying to find some identifying signs but there were none. The whole thing looked pretty messy but people were definitely growing stuff in there. We went back to the office and looked up the community gardens in the city and found the one on the map that corresponded to the one we’d found–Givendale. Then we tried to sign up for a plot, but you could only do that in February. So we put it in our Outlook calendars and forgot about it.
We applied in February over the phone for some reason, and were told we would go on a wait list. I asked when we might hear about the results of the waitlist, and the woman on the phone said April or May. I wasn’t sure whether we should start seeds or not. I asked how we’d hear and she seemed vague…maybe someone would call…or I could call back.
It turns out we got an email and the signup process was BANANAS with the parks department sending is a photocopied map that someone had partly crossed out and redone in marker and was illegible. They demanded that we pick a plot within a day or our rights to it would be forfeited and we’d go back on the waiting list. There was more nonsense than that–this is a terrible setup but I guess there’s no capitalistic reason to fund allotment gardens. But anyway, eventually, plot 120 became ours, and it was very exciting!
Here’s some facts on what we did in case you are planning your own community garden experiment, or just for myself in case I need to reference this in future years.
- I immediately went out and got a Jiffy tray and peat pots to start seedlings–we hadn’t done it beforehand since we weren’t sure we’d get the plot. I also bought a few seeds but I knew a colleague was going to give me her extras, so I stuck to stuff I knew she didn’t have in her balcony container garden–cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, onions, and garlic. J and I also bought gardening gloves and potting soil.
- I planted the seedlings–peppers, tomatoes, and a whole whack of herbs–in the Jiffy tray and put them in a south-facing window at home to germinate. I didn’t soak any of the seeds because I thought you only need to do that with parsley, but now I realize I should have soaked the mint and oregano seeds as well, as two months later they are still only a few centimetres tall.
- Cleared the lot. As soon as I saw it I realized the previous owners of plot 120 had not cleared or turned the soil last fall. As we got to work removing the dead plants, it seemed like they’d maybe abandoned the plot midsummer, as there were a lot of dead weeds and many of the dead plants didn’t seem fully mature. This was a lot of work and took forever, which made it worse because as spring went on a new set of weeds started to grow–for every week it took us to finish, the work got exponentially harder. We only have a tiny strip of weeds left to clear but that will be the hardest bit as some thistles are now waist high. We borrowed spades and a pitchfork for this work. It’ll probably have been about 10 hours of the two of us working to get it cleared.
- Turned the soil and broke it up. Also with the spades and pitchfork, also included in the ten hour timeframe. But much more pleasant work than the clearing. I have resolved that we will do a nice job putting the garden to bed at the end of the season so as to be in much better shape in the spring. Even if we give up on the garden after this year, we’ll still leave it nice for the new owners.
- Planted lettuce and onions, the easiest stuff to plant from seeds outdoors, even when there’s still a frost danger. Both are thriving. We also planted garlic, which 100% failed to come up–I think I left the bulbs in a plastic bag too long and they shrivelled, but I’ve never planted garlic before so what do I know.
- Planted the seedling herbs, which initially looked unhappy but then we started watering every day and they are happier now. These are cilantro, chives, and basil–I still have the oregano and mint at home until they are big enough to be safe to plant.
- Planted the seedling tomatoes, which seem happy to be outdoors, and a week later the seedling peppers, which haven’t made up their minds yet.
- Planted cucumbers from seeds last week–they aren’t up yet. The packet recommends planting them four feet apart, so two cucumber plants took up basically all the space we had left. Maybe we’ll squeeze in another row of onions once we do the last bit of clearing.
A few people have asked us what sort of return on investment we expect for the garden, which is a dumb question. If you cost by time and money, there is no question that it’s cheaper to buy your veggies in a supermarket or even a farmer’s market than to grow your own. See above–two professional ladies spent ten hours apiece just on the clearing and turning, and nothing’s grown yet. But we’re finding it decent fun and good exercise, so if you count it as entertainment rather than just a source of vegetables, the investment becomes reasonable. But if you’re curious, here’s what we spent so far:
- The plot itself, rented from May to October, cost $86.05.
- The seeds (other than the ones we were given), Jiffy trays, potting soil, and two sacks of triple mix (soil-enriching stuff you buy in giant bags at Canadian Tire) were about $40 total.
- The gloves were about $8 a pair.
- We were loaned the spades and pitchfork, and Mark gave me some trowels for my birthday, which we use to plant and weed.
- We actually found a watering can on the plot–who knows from where?–which worked initially. We were offered the loan of a hose from work, but we would have had to carry it back and forth every time, plus setting it up to run the considerable distance to the spigot, so that was out. We were going to buy one, a considerable expense, but then a friend lent us one for the summer.
- We also found a bunch of stakes on the lot from the previous owners, which we use to mark rows and possibly will eventually use to stake tomatoes or beans, depending on how things go. I have also one tomato cage at home that my bro’s girlfriend gave me–not sure if we’ll have to buy more or not.
- I had a tiny bit of fertilizer at home and my dad has promised to give me some more, but I suspect we’ll wind up buying a bunch before the summer is over.
And that’s the garden so far–almost 1600 words! I love it. If you’d like to see pictures, there’s some on my Instagram
June 8th, 2016
I grew up listening to the radio all. the. time. By the time I was nine or ten I was fighting my dad aggressively for “my stations” every time we were in the car. My parents gave me a small portable stereo (it goes to show how old I am that the term for that stereo has now passed out of social acceptability, as really it should have) around that time, and later a bigger better one that lasted me through university. I had it on most of the time I was in my room and though I was not in other ways a riotous kid, I was constantly being told to turn it down. I did own tapes and cds, but I was very very fond of the radio. I was not–and am not–wild about “dj patter” but there were particular shows I liked and would try to tune in for every week. Call-in shows about sex, music documentary shows, I would listen to from start to finish, often the listening being my sole occupation. I may be alone in my generation as a person who would sit quietly doing nothing else other than listening to the radio (well, not quite alone–there were a few shows I know my brother liked too).
When I moved to Montreal with my un-PC stereo, I eventually found another set of stations to listen to, though honestly I never found them as good as the range that was available in the Hamilton/Toronto corridor. I listened to them throughout school and when I moved back to Ontario I switched back to the old ones. But my constant listening fell away gradually as I entered adulthood, even though my parents bought me yet another stereo when I moved to TO, a very good one (note: my father is very passionate both about music and sound quality). Somewhere along the line I lost the ability to listen to music while writing or reading, something that was integral to my younger self–these days I can listen to songs with lyrics only when I’m doing something relatively easy or mindless. Do other people find that a problem in their middle years too?
Of course, the other thing I stopped doing was spending really any time in cars, which used to be prime radio-listening time for me. For years I battled my dad for radio control on the way to band practice, and then later I commuted alone and had total control–or other times, almost as good, I would travel with my brother, whose musical tastes have always aligned very closely with mine. I don’t love driving, but I do love radio, so it balanced out. When you’re from a rural area, almost any drive is a long one, and I listened to a lot of music en route to…everything. But from 2002 to 2011–the first decade of my alleged adulthood–I was almost never in cars for any length of time, and still more rarely alone. I remember being given the occasional ride somewhere in someone’s car and actually saying “whee!” as we went around a sharp bend, the sensation of being in a small vehicle (i.e.., not a bus) was so unusual for me.
When Mark and I moved in together, I got access to his car, and some responsibility for it. Since I’m the only one who can easily drive to work (he works downtown, where really no one should drive) I try to do it once a week or so, not only out of the goodness of my heart to keep the car in driving condition but also because it’s easier if I have to say, carry a cake, or visit someone far away, or be out late, or… Car ownership is insidious–I hate driving but it makes my life so much easier that I do it rather often. So after almost a decade away, there I was with the FM radio dial at my finger tips.
One shock was that so little had changed. My favourite station in my teens was 102.1 The Edge, for all my grunge and alternative favourites–which the station is still playing. In 2011 when I came back to radio whole hog, the situation was particularly alarming, a kind of all-nostalgia format that seemed almost to verge on an oldies station. Horror! There was a revamp a couple years ago, in response to Indie88.1 probably, where the Edge got more current and it’s a lot more fun to listen to now, that Indie88 is actually my new favourite. They play enough current stuff that I feel like I’m in the know, music-wise, and then just when I’m experiencing novelty fatigue–blam, “Blister in the Sun.
Which is all a very long way of saying, I love listening to the radio, and I’m pleased to have it back in my life after such a long absence…though I still haven’t really been able to get into the habit of listening anywhere but the car. I guess we need cars for something.
As you might be able to tell from the above rambling, I’m gearing up to write something bigger (and fictional) about radio-listening, but I can’t do it right now because I’m still in edit-land with the current project. So I just fantasize about the new thing, and ramble here–thanks for reading.
June 6th, 2016
My migraines seem to have a seasonal aspect to them that I have not fully worked out. In fall, winter, and spring, they seem to go into abeyance and I feel I’m “getting better”–the migraines are not gone, but fewer and less severe. Then the weather gets hot and things don’t seem to drastically change, but the potential for a headache to go from unfortunate to catastrophic emerges in a way that just doesn’t seem to happen in cool weather.
Last night I was sicker than I’ve ever been from a migraine–as I maxed out my prescription drugs around 4am I was thinking that if this didn’t work, the next step would be the ER. But it did work and by around 5 I was able to sleep–when I got up at 7:30 I was shaky and dizzy, but almost out of pain. Now, midafternoon, I’m fine.
Actually, I’m sort of bouncy! It is so strange to be in such terrible shape and then back to normal again so quickly–it gives one a new appreciation for walking around and being hugged and looking at the bright blue sky (all things I can’t stand when I have a migraine). Life, while as problematic as it ever was, looks a lot better after trying to vomit from pain quietly in the middle of the night so I didn’t wake my husband (failed, I’m pretty). Whatever’s going on today, at least it’s not that!
I really really don’t like having migraines, don’t get me wrong–I would give up a lot to get them out of my life permanently. But since I have them, it’s worth noting that the bright side is the realization, a few times a summer, that my non-migraine life is AMAZING and I’m so grateful to have it.
May 24th, 2016
In the fall of 2000, I started working on a big project called “Homing”, which I occasionally (and for years) retitled “All the Pretty Girls.” I gave up on that still-incomplete novel sometime in 2002, came back in 2004 and chucked a bunch and wrote some more. In 2005 I planned to work on it as my MA thesis andrevised some of the old material for my MA application portfolio and some grant applications, and added some new stuff along the way–including a new title, “The Scenarios.” By the time I needed to properly work on the thesis in fall 2006, though, my focus had shifted to short stories, and that is what the thesis project became–poor old *The Scenarios* went on the back burner.
I revised and edited that thesis to create my first book, *Once*, then went on to write another collection of stories before returning to *The Scenarios* at the beginning of 2011. By this point I had realized short stories worked for me as a structure, and I thought perhaps I could finally write this thing by breaking it up into stories–that would allow me to shift point of view, time period, etc., in a less weird way. And it worked because I was able to finish a draft by early in 2014, having acquired yet another title–*So Much Love*–along the way. I retained a few chapters of what I had written previously, some of which was already shaped as stories and some of which had to be sculpted into that shape. Of course, a lot had to be junked, but some of the old stuff–almost as old as the beginning–remained, albeit re-contextualized and somewhat rewritten.
The book was sold the M&S with the caveat that I would work with an editor to make into a true novel, rather than a novel in stories, as well as substantially increase the page count. Under the guidance of the tireless Anita Chong, I’ve done that–a challenging process. The lesson is, if the inherent form of the thing should be a novel, don’t write it as stories! So now, there’s a number of new chapters and all of the old stories have been reworked (a lot) to becoming chapters…and again, a bunch of stuff got tossed. But there is *still* some of the original material in there going all the way back to 2000 (or close–the memories are a little murky). But less and less–my writing at the time was different, the book was different, my goals for the characters were different, and it’s very hard to make old material fit the new mold.
Thus, this piece below, one of the original bits, is getting cut. If you have read a lot of my work, you might recognize Alan, who shows up in every book I’ve ever written–he’s a favourite, for sure. But he doesn’t really belong in *So Much Love* anymore–he had a major story that was taken out, and now this piece, an intro to his character, doesn’t lead anywhere and is confusing. He’s going to end up with 1 or 2 scenes and the occasional oblique reference and that is all. It’s sad, but it’s what the book needs–which is more important than the sentimental affections I retain for what I wrote 15 years ago.
Anyway, I present to you my darling Alan:
I find Alan, my TA, darting across my driveway as I pull in. The low beams catch the trailing edge of his long coat as he jumps up on the retaining wall by the front door to wait. He’s got his Inspector Gadget trenchcoat cinched tight. He is clutching a package to his chest. As I turn off the ignition, I notice ketchup on my right cuff from the fries I had at lunch. I roll up the cuff, and then the other one to match. I think about putting my face down on the tan, stretched plastic of the horn. Then I get out of the car into the chilly darkness.
Leaning against the hot, clicking hood, I wait for Alan to stroll over to me. If I went to him we’d be too close to the door and I’d have to invite him in. He crosses the driveway briskly; I’m sure he doesn’t want us to end up sipping tapwater in my living room any more than I do. I’m sure Gretta wants that even less.
“Professor Altaris. Hi.”
“Hey, Alan. What brings you by?”
He stops about a foot in front of me. “I brought over the marked essays, sir.” The bundle rests in the crooks of his arms, exposing the pale blue insides of his wrists.
“You didn’t have to do that.”
He shrugs, his narrow shoulders dragging up the hem of his coat a few inches around his shins.
“You could’ve given these to me next week, remember?” Nothing. “Or during the day at my office instead of in a dark driveway like this is a drug deal.” Too much alliteration. I yank the package out of his hands. “What’s the median?”
“It’s all in there, sir. But I think it was about sixty-two or sixty-three.”
“Sixty-two. Alan, we talked about this.”
Another shrug. His face is shaped like a light-bulb and completely expressionless. “The short answer will probably bring it up some.”
I start to argue and then stop. I don’t care. They’ll pass or they’ll fail, and if it’s really important to them, I’m sure the students will be happy to let me know. My shoulders curve inwards.
Alan seems ready to depart—not yet moving but relaxing into his new freedom from marking. I don’t want to interfere with that glee. “We’ll talk about this next week, Alan. In my office. Come up after class, ok?”
May 16th, 2016
Last Friday night I read at the lovely lovely Pages Unbound festival, and on Saturday I attended four panel discussions at The Festival of Literary Diversity. Aside from being a pretty festival-centric weekend, all that immersion gave me a little jolt on why literary community–some kinds more than others–are important.
From a self-involved standpoint, after TWO years of editing my book, not being able to publish stories (because they are under contract) and rarely being invited to read anywhere (nothing personal, but I haven’t been asking and most invitations are tied to book promotion), it was very very nice to get up on stage in a fancy theatre at the AGO, in the company of many impressive peers and after being so generously introduced by the wonderful Suzanne Alyssa Andrew. It was nice to be included, and listened to, and applauded for. It was nice to share my stories in a non-editorial context–my editor shows her regard for my work by suggesting ways to make it better, which I deeply appreciate, but sometimes it’s nice when people show regard by clapping, asking questions, or just saying they liked it. Just accepting what I have to offer and engaging where they can. I’ve always appreciated the opportunity to share my work, but now that it’s a bit rare, it’s especially precious.
Which was an interesting frame of mind to be in the next day when I hit the FOLD, a festival devoted to stories and voices that often get pushed off the stage, denied that very attention, engagement, and applause. You can read Kerry Clare’s run-down of the day on her blog (Kerry kindly invited me to go with her and a couple other smart women, and we attended all the same panels, so you can assume I had similar experiences, though not that I had Kerry’s level of insight!).
I actually meant to write a longer post about what I heard at the FOLD and how it made me feel, but I think I’m still digesting or am just overwhelmed by the amount of good and challenging discussion and debate I saw in one speedy Saturday. In any event, I feel privileged for getting to both speak and listen, and the listening was especially beneficial.
April 20th, 2016
Mark got me a new jewellery box for Christmas and so I cleared out the old one. I trashed the stuff that is legitimately useless (broken necklaces, single earrings) and gave anything I knew I would never wear again to my local 6-year-old (who was thrilled! 6 year olds are the best!) I found a bunch of badly tarnished silver stuff I hadn’t worn in years, went on a quest for silver polish (oddly hard to find–surely silver jewellery hasn’t gone out of fashion) and polished it all up. This process took months, but finally my setup is all worked out and I have access to a lot of pretty things I’d forgotten I owned.
Today I’m wearing a silver necklace that took me forever to polish because it has square links–it’s hard to get around the corners–but that’s also what makes it an interesting-looking piece. When I put it on, I realized I’ve had it for almost thirty years! Like most stories from my childhood, this one is weirder and sweeter than I knew at the time…
I went to a strange country school where there were only a few kids in each grade–usually between 7 and 9 in mine. Me and two girls named Jenny were the central girl population, with other girls coming for a year or two before moving away (why was the population of my little town so transient, I wonder now). With such a small group and my nerdish nature, it was easy to find myself without friends for a time, which is where I was in grade 4. Like I say, it was a tiny country school so no one was particularly mean to me most of the time, and I still got to play in any game that required quorum. Those games were often pretty rough, though–things like British Bulldog and Red Rover–and with my tendency to fall down even when nothing roughhouse-y was going on, I tended to want to stay away, even though I would have liked to play with other kids (note: I had friends and did fun outdoor stuff other years; grade 4 was just a rough one).
So I got really into being a “library helper” in my school library. I had done it for at least a year prior to grade 4–you just put books other kids had returned away during recess. I wish I could say I did it due to my intense love of reading, and I certainly liked all the books, many of which I would read or skim as I put them away, but mainly I was just looking to avoid recess.
That was the year the teacher-librarian, Mrs. Palubski, fell down a flight of stairs (at home; our school didn’t have stairs) and broke her ankle. Now that I think about it, something else must have been wrong with Mrs. P beyond a broken ankle, because she fell in the fall and took of the entire rest of the school year, but I didn’t know at the time that that was odd.
For a while we had a string of temporary subs come into the library for just a day or two at a time. Because any teacher could sub in for a teacher-librarian, often they knew nothing about libraries, so when I came in I would tell them about the Dewey Decimal system, which had become my favourite thing about the library, better even than the books or lack of other kids. It was just so orderly, and order was something I felt was sorely lacking at school, especially at yelling, pushing, red-rovering recess. I can still find things via the Decimal system, even though the libraries I’ve gone to in the past 20 years have almost all been Library of Congress style. 636 is my favourite, domestic animals (ok, I just looked it up–animal husbandry, but close enough!)
I’m sure I was an officious little dweeb, but I think the subs humoured me, partly because they realized this was the main thing going on in my life at school and partly because I actually did a fair amount of work that they, in turn, did not have to do. It was a good system.
I just remembered that maybe Mrs. Palubski was pregnant, which could be why a fall down a flight of stairs was such a problem. Or maybe it was just that by the time her ankle healed, it was time for mat leave. This wasn’t really on my priority list at the time–sorry, Mrs. P. I hope everything worked out ok for you!
Anyway, when it became clear that Mrs. P was not coming back, we got a long-term substitute for the rest of the year: Mrs. MacDonald. Mrs. MacD was young but not very young–perhaps thirty–with shoulder-length blond hair she often wore pulled back in a hair band. She had a vaguely western aesthetic, though thinking back now she might also have been a bit of a hippy. I thought she was gorgeous, but more importantly, she was really interested in the library and thus, really interested in what I had to say.
I’m not sure if she’d never worked in a library before or actually knew all about Dewey and just wanted to give me the floor, but I was thrilled that she let me give her the outline of our tiny library. I still did a lot of the shelving, but Mrs. MacD would shelve too, and we’d chat while we worked. Mainly about books–we both liked them–but also about other stuff, most lost to the mists of time. I know she had a husband, which seemed like a good idea to me, and many silver rings, which I also admired. At the time, I thought of us as two colleagues working together and passing the time of day, but now I know what I gift it is for a child to be treated as an equal to grownups, even in a tiny way. She never prodded me about going outside with my peers, and I don’t recall ever bringing it up. The problem would more or less resolve itself in grade 5, and then I would shift schools for grade 6 and finally make some real friends, so I think we both had it right in leaving well-enough alone at the time.
I was very sad when the year was wrapping up and Mrs. MacD was leaving, seemingly for good. I brought her a gift, as I did all my teachers–probably some jam my mother had made, as June is prime berry time and my mom was (and is) good at jam. And she gave me a silver necklace with small rectangular links. She loved silver jewellery and said she hoped this piece would be the start of my own collection of silver. It wasn’t, as I never buy jewellery and only have what I’ve received as gifts, but I treasured the necklace and wore it often for years, through high school and university.
Probably you’re thinking that a silver necklace is a bit of a strange gift to give a young student, and I guess you’re right. But unlike a classroom teacher, Mrs. MacD didn’t have to worry about playing favourites–she had no class of her own and I was really the main volunteer in the library (other kids would show up once in a while, then go play soccer). And it seemed like the sort of gift an adult would give a good friend, which is really what I wanted to be to Mrs. MacD–a peer she liked to hang out with, not a kid she was responsible for. She made me feel smart and cool and useful, which was a huge lift that tough year.
The necklace is still lovely, but somehow I forgot about it for a few years and let it get terribly tarnished, too much to wear, and then couldn’t be bothered to get silver polish. When I finally did, I was surprised to find how much I still like the necklace, and that it still really suits my aesthetic. I’m wearing it right now.
Mrs. MacD did indeed never return to my school, which is actually weird–the place was so far out of town that anyone willing to drive there to sub tended to get used over and over, as there weren’t that many. Maybe she got pregnant too, or decided she didn’t want to teach, or went to get her masters of library science. Maybe she wasn’t even a good teacher–I don’t know, since I saw her mainly one-on-one. I don’t know her first name or I’d google her–she’ll have to remain a mystery. But she was my cool friend when I needed one, and for that I’ll always be grateful.