January 18th, 2016

Best Canadian Stories 15

Oberon Press sent me a couple copies of the lovely Best Canadian Stories 15, which includes, among other wonderful things, my story “Marriage.” Actually, Oberon sent it a couple weeks ago, but CanPar bafflingly just held on to it, never gave me any delivery notices, and eventually returned the package to whence it came. Grr, CanPar, but yay the kind folks (hi, Nick!) at Oberon who sent it out a second time.

If you get a chance to pick up a copy, you totally should–there’s stories by Alice Petersen, Kathy Page, Adrian Kelly, Kevin Hardcastle and tonnes more awesome people that aren’t so web present. I can’t wait to read it all!!

To temp you, here is a photo of the book, being nuzzled by me for some reason (I took a few versions of this photo–this was the best one, sadly).

Hello, gorgeous!

Hello, gorgeous!

January 15th, 2016

A complete list of everything that went wrong for me on Thursday

  1. Did not discover hot water wasn’t working until after gym workout.
  2. Had to take awkward sponge bath; cats watched, looking horrified.
  3. Developed migraine.
  4. Dispiriting work meeting.
  5. Found all colleagues dispirited by work meeting, all in different ways. Upside: we can’t all be doomed. Downside: no one available for cheering-up role.
  6. Migraine worsened.
  7. Myriad other small work problems.
  8. Decided to go home early to cope with migraine; when boarding bus, driver closed door on me. Like, I wasn’t trying to squeak in in a hurry; I was standing in line and he saw me, but his hand just jumped or something and the door whacked me in the face. He nodded wryly but did not actually apologize.
  9. Upon arrival home found that not only had hot water not been reactivated but heat now not working either. But it’s all scheduled to be back by 7:30, per mysterious voice over PA system.
  10. Yes, my building as a PA system. It is like living in a high school.
  11. Spend part of evening sitting on kitchen chair in front of stove, despite migraine and wanting to lie down, because bedroom is too cold.
  12. Eventually feel better and make dinner, but are unable to wash dinner dishes because hot water did not return as scheduled.
  13. By about 8pm, sitting on couch under duvet trying to edit novel.
  14. Voice returns to PA but is garbled, and we can’t understand what it is saying.
  15. My hope the PA is that it is saying the heat/hotwater is back, but as I go to check, power blacks out.
  16. Mark runs down then up 10 flights of stairs to investigate electricity issue. Mark has a chest cold and this was not, in retrospect, a good idea.
  17. RR finds a trickle of warm water and does dishes by flashlight.
  18. Heat is still not on, apartment is freezing, it is too dark to do anything but go to bed and hope Friday will be better than Thursday. So we go to bed at 9pm.

January 7th, 2016

A reading!

I know, right–I haven’t done a reading since November 2014–over a year!–and it was starting to seem like I might never do one again. But friend and correspondent Jeff Bursey is coming to town to read from his new novel Mirrors on Which Dust Has Fallen and he kindly invited me, Mark Sampson, and S. D. Chrostowska to join in the fun. We’re all reading together at Supermarket on January 28, doors 7pm, readings 7:15 (I think there’s a band after, is why). Here’s the BlogTO notice for it and here’s the Facebook invite in case you want to respond or see our bios or whatever. If you are free that night, I hope you consider coming out!

Honestly, this event is mainly to celebrate Mirrors but I can’t help but be a little excited to read for an audience again. And the good thing about my long hiatus is that I have a wealth of new material to choose from…whatever shall I read…

January 5th, 2016

The best condiments

10. Maple syrup

9. Chili sauce (the sort of the thing rural people make from their garden tomatoes and peppers and bottle; not actual chili)

8. Chutney

7. Balsamic vinegar

6. Pickled ginger

5. Applesauce

4. Raspberry jam

3. Marmalade

2. Salsa

  1. BBQ sauce

December 27th, 2015

For 2016

I hope everyone had a very merry everything this holiday season, and continues to do so. Mine has been and hopefully will continue being wonderful, but I’m not sure a recap of the nice things I’ve been doing, seeing, and eating would be that interesting. Instead, I’m in the mood to look forward to 2016. 2015 was a pleasant year in many ways, and certainly nothing really bad happened to me personally, but I found it to be a challenging 365 days in large and small ways. So I’m anxious to get on to the new one, which, like an unwritten book, has not had anything go wrong in it yet. Here are some things I resolve to do to keep making 2016 a good year even once it has gotten started.

  1. Finish novel–really finish, not like the other times I’ve resolved this when it was “finish a draft” or “finish submission draft.” This time it is “finish and submit to copyedit” finish–world without end finish. Not included in 2016 goals only because it’ll be happening in January 2017 is “publish novel.”
  2. Clean out spice cupboard. Find a way to store spices that is not a giant mess for first time in life. Cannot be that hard.
  3. Wear every piece of jewellery I own at least once, out in public. This is an adapted version of KonMari, I guess. I got a new jewellery box for Christmas and in transferring everything over from the old one, found I had a tonne of stuff I never wear and indeed have forgotten about. I’m inclined to keep it all because most of it was gifts, but if I find I can’t even get through a single public appearance with the item due to physical discomfort or embarrassment at the item’s inappropriateness for my look, I think I’ll have an easier time parting with it.
  4. No eating after dinner is over.
  5. Stop being so fussed about what people I might never see again think of me. Focus on being a better friend to people who are genuine friends.
  6. Start new novel. Have clearer structure and better plan than first novel from the get-go, so this one does not turn into another six-year ordeal.
  7. Experiment with only one social outing per week for month of January. See if it makes me more productive and happier, or insane.
  8. Use migraine tracker properly, or else find better migraine tracker.
  9. Complete marathon critical essay and edit into something publishable. Essay is currently less than a third finished, 10 000 words long, and largely about my personal issues.
  10. Train cat to ring bell on command.

December 14th, 2015

Holiday cards

Holiday cards–I love’em. I love all greeting cards, actually, but rarely do I get to send, or receive, so many all at once. I tend to buy most of mine at Boxing Day sales so I can afford the really glitzy ones with glitter and high-quality card stock, though sometimes the cheaper ones are too cute to pass up and sometimes I get caught out and have to buy cards at full price in December. But most years I am eagerly waiting all fall for it to be November–card-writing time. When I lived alone, I would start at the beginning of November and work on them on and off for a few weeks. Now, my husband asks me to wait until November 12 out of deference to veterans and just the natural order of things. So I do, but I am VERY excited to get out my cards and stamps and address book on November 12. I try to get everything into the mail for December 1, because I feel like that is the first acceptable day (a card in November would be weird) and I want to give people maximum time to have them up. I always used to feel sad if I got a card on December 24, knowing it would be up for only a few days before getting recycled. Then one year I realized I didn’t want to take down all the cards taped to my kitchen cupboards–who wants to look at blank cupboards–so I only slowly replace them as I receive birthday and other holiday cards throughout the year–but I realize most people don’t follow that procedure. I also use an otherwise empty curtain rod above my living room window to display some of the cards we got for our wedding three years ago.

So yeah, I like cards–writing, stamping, mailing, and yes, receiving them. But I am not concerned if people I send cards to do not send one to me. Most people don’t send holiday cards these days, which has three main advantageous effects that I can see:

  1. Even the cards with glitter on them are cheaper now. The popup ones remain expensive, but that’s pretty much it.
  2. If I forget someone from my card-sending list, that person isn’t sad because they weren’t expecting to hear from me in the first place, and
  3. Those people who do get a card from me are more delighted than they would have been 20 or 30 years ago, when many people got dozens of cards. Some people have told me that mine are the only cards they get in a season, and that they love them.

So I’m not surprised that I get back a fraction of the cards I send, though I do love those that I get. Some people, not card senders by nature, email or Facebook or text in response to the cards, which is lovely. Or they make sure to hit me up for coffee or a drink early in the new year. Or something else–anything else–to respond to my card in kind. Because what the cards say is, mainly, “Hey, I like you. I hope you’re doing good.” And there’s a million ways to say that.

It kind of alarms me when people freak out about not sending cards–that it’s such a beautiful tradition, such a shame that I just can’t do them anymore. This is of course usually untrue–anyone could buy a box of cards at the drugstore, order stamps online, and do up the whole box by staying up an hour late. If you don’t want to, I get that–lots of things are higher priority. Cards are one of my priorities, but they don’t have to be everyone’s. It’s silly to say can’t though.

Let’s face it–grown-ups don’t stay in touch too well. My friends have scattered over the world, but even locally, it’s hard to get people in the same room very often. We have to work at our jobs and, in the creative community, at our other jobs; commute; raise children; care for ill or elderly relatives, and/or be ill ourselves; clean our homes and cook food; spend time with our partners, pets, and families; sleep. And no one wants to talk on the phone anymore, for reasons I still don’t fully understand.

I grew up with the idea that you could care about people from afar, even if you don’t talk to them that often. My folks came to Canada in the 1970s, and often had only one or two long newsy calls or letters a year from people back in the States, often around the holidays. It makes sense to me that there will always be people I care about that I’m not in regular touch with–cards are one of a number of ways I maintain that bond.

Pretty much the only reason I would ever drop someone from my card list is if there were zero contact for several years in a row. I send you a card, you don’t send me one back–you’re busy, you’re out of town, you don’t like cards. And maybe we don’t get around to hanging out at all that year, and I send another card, and another year goes by, a few Facebook messages go unanswered, an email bounces…I might conclude that it’s best to stop bothering you.

Even if a friendship were getting weird or tense, I’d probably still send a card, and hope that could be either a step to improving things or a stopgap until I thought of something that could–it’s such an easy way to convey positive feelings, and you don’t really need to write a lot more detail. Happy holidays and all the best in the new year really does, in fact, suffice.

December 4th, 2015

Way back: Grade Nine Flight

I don’t usually go on about my old published work–I figure if anyone wanted to buy my books they could figure out how, and if they wanted to read a particular story they could google it or check my “publications” link above and try to find it. But there’s a few stories that didn’t get into a book and aren’t available, or aren’t easily, on the web.

Grade Nine Flight was my third acceptance ever, and my second publication (because of how speedy online publishing is. It came out in the December 2006 edition of the old version of The Danforth Review, that wonderful online mag but out by Michael Bryson (the new version of The Danforth Review remains wonderful, but does not include the archives of the old one. Rather, those archives are housed at Libraries and Archives Canada, which is a wonderful service but doesn’t appear to be google-search-able. So if you were looking for this story that way you wouldn’t find it, but why would you even be, because who has heard of this story I published nearly 10 years ago?

So here it is–the link above should work, if you’d like to read the story. I read it over lunch, and even though it’s so different than the stuff I’m writing nowadays, I still really like it. Is it bad to admit that? I feel so distant from the person I was when I wrote like that, saying I like it doesn’t even feel like vanity–that writer is another person entirely, I feel.

Yet, I know I wrote it, and I remember why: my brother was travelling abroad for a year, and I missed him. Even though none of the characters are based on anyone I know, the vibe of kids living in a house together is definitely something I am personally familiar with, and some of the games they play and conversations they have and tv shows they watch are things I remember fondly from my childhood.

It’s weird that I’m nostalgic for the person I was when I wrote “Grade Nine Flight,” but that person was nostalgic for a yet earlier period. We never get done longing for things, it seems (though I am very glad my brother lives nearby now).

If you read the story, please let me know what you think!

November 27th, 2015

The ethnic issue (rant)

This is the definition of “ethnic” per the nigh-on-infalliable Canadian Oxford dictionary:
“(of a population group) sharing a distinctive cultural and historical tradition, often associated with race, nationality, or religion. 2. relating to race or culture (ethnic group; ethnic origins). 3. (of clothes, music, etc.) characteristic of or influenced by the traditions of a particular people or culture, esp. a minority within another culture or one regarded as exotic.”

These definitions aren’t as clear-cut as perhaps I would like them to be, but I do think they prove my point, often ranted about but perhaps never in this space, that EVERYONE HAS AN ETHNICITY! White Canadians, in my experience, tend to dwell on the “exotic” aspect mentioned in the third definition, and assume that “ethnic people” are the ones who aren’t white, or speak some language other than English, or perhaps wear something that isn’t sold at the Gap.

I get that many people’s families have been in Canada so long they no longer identify with the cultural tradition they came from, and that they are not religious–but that doesn’t mean that they are the water and only non-white people and recent immigrants are the fish. Other than First Nations and Inuit, we are all descendants of immigrants and Canadian culture is itself an actual thing too. Saying one has no cultural affiliation as a Canadian doesn’t really make sense in a global context–like saying one has no accent. As soon as you leave the place where you are part of the dominant culture, it becomes clear that you have both.

It strikes me as offensive when a white person looks at an advertisement featuring only other white people and says, “It’s too bad they didn’t include any ethnic people.” !!!!! Obviously, that sort of comment comes from a political correct place–the speaker is trying to be inclusive, but it also comes from a place of privilege, where the speaker considers his or her place in society so dominant and assured that it has no point of origin–it just is.

We all get to decide who we are and what culture we want to identify with, but it is very very weird to say some people have a culture and some people do not. And even if people get where you are coming from and aren’t offended from a cultural perspective, I guarantee that if an editor hears you, s/he will be a seething over the improper use of language.

November 25th, 2015

Please give generously

I’m on a committee at work about our charitable donation program for the various end-of-the-year holidays, and I’ve gotten to learn a bunch of interesting stuff about giving. One thing I’ve learned is that you really have to give generous people an opportunity to give in the ways they want and to feel valued for doing so–another is that there is so much need out there, there is ALWAYS a use for whatever generous instinct a person might have.

My husband forbids household discussion of the holidays until after Remembrance Day, so here it is way past that and I want to get the ball rolling on the best of this time of year, which is ways to be kind to others. Probably there’s a bunch of stuff here that is familiar to many, but perhaps there’s something new too–hope it helps!!

Non-perishable foods: This one is a holiday standard and I think most of us are familiar with going to a party or event with cans of chickpeas in our bags for the holiday food hamper. And I do not want to discourage anyone from giving anything at all. When I was a kid, every food drive I would haul all the canned pineapple out of the cupboard and give it away because I hated it–but I’m sure someone was happy to get it, especially as many food banks operate as “free stores” and people can choose what they need. But if you’re interested in what specifically food bank might really need, it’s…
–proteins like canned meat but also alternatives like peanut butter, soy products, and beans.
–powdered milk and infant formula
–Halal products. This is going to be region specific, but where I am working (Scarborough), families that observe Muslim dietary laws struggle to use food donations. I have looked into this a bit and as I understand it (correct me if I’m wrong!), if you cannot find anything with the Halal symbol on it, anything that does not contain meat or artificial colours/flavours is fine. The meat because, obviously, of rules around butchery, but the artificial stuff because it often contains isopropyl alcohol, alcohol being haram. Interesting ,no?
–breakfast cereals (cold cereals)
–treats. It’s nice if there’s something fun at the food bank. If a colleague or acquaintance gives you yet another box of chocolates but you’re on a diet, you know where it could be welcome??
To make your donating dollars go furthest, my parents taught me a neat trick–every time they grocery shop, they buy doubles of whatever useful items are on a good sale, then drop the extras into the donation bin on the way out. That way you spread your giving out, making it a little more manageable. The “donation packs” that some stores sell are often filled with low-nutrient processed foods, but they are a good deal, so if you feel like that’s your best option, obviously it’s still going to be useful somewhere.

Household Cleaning and Personal Hygiene Products

I never used to think of this, but obviously it’d be incredibly hard on morale and just life in general to not have enough money for dishsoap and toilet cleaner. And how about tampons? Anything you use regularly and run out of regularly is useful to these donation drives, though if it is specifically advertised as a food drive, one should probably double check that they’re able to store and distribute non-food items before loading up on bleach or whatever you’re thinking. But these are so useful, and often forgotten, kinds of donation.

A cool friend posted this link to ALL SORTS of donating opportunities on Facebook, so I thought I’d pass it on here. But do keep in mind, in this season of sock drives and one-day volunteer stints, it can feel overwhelming to fit in helping others with work and school and family and everything else. I love volunteerism and creative charitable projects, but I just want to mention that these are very much the kind of problems you CAN throw money at. Yes, there are foodbanks that don’t take cash donations, but most love them as liquid funds allow them to go out and purchase exactly what their clients need, without having to sort or store it. I think there’s a vibe around a lot of giving (cough, especially for women) that if it is not a project with a lot of time and love and sacrifice it’s not worth doing. And giving one’s own time and love is amazing, but so is giving a cheque. As I say, there’s so much need, there’s always a use for whatever you want to give.

November 11th, 2015

Gillers are now!

And not last night, as I erroneously said in my previous post. I am very excited for the live-stream, starting in a few minutes unless I or the CBC somehow screws it up…

First commercial break: I do not understand any of the jokes in the opening monologue, but always happy to see Rick Mercer again. The room looks glamorous but I don’t spot anyone I know yet. The mini-interviews with Rick and the authors take place in the Halifax public library this year and are very mini–maybe there’s more later [edit: there wasn’t]. Buffy Saint Marie does Andre Alexis’s *Fifteen Dogs* intro–a better choice of presenter than usual, though she still sounds very scripted. The mini-movie that accompanies Alexis’s reading is awesome, because it’s full of dogs–much more engaging than any I’ve seen in previous years. Coming up next: Samuel Archibald’s *Arvida*.

Second commercial break: A ballet-dancer presents *Arvida*, but it turns out to make more sense than it sounds because the dancer grew up in Arvida (the town the book is set in) and so he can vouch for its accurate vibe. He also sounds very scripted but is pretty enthusiastic (also handsome). The mini-movie, this time with archival footage from the town back in the day, is again pretty good–the GIllers have really upped their mini-movie game. Archibald’s tiny speech is for his daughters and partly in French, very sweet. He’s shown in a video clip picking a question from a hat–is this going to be a reoccuring feature throughout the show?? How come Andre didn’t get to do one? Or did I miss it?

Third commercial break: Rachel Cusk’s outline is introduced by a “science-fiction actor” (not a thing) and her mini-movie is just shots of people doing the things being described in the reading, a bit boring and on the nose–did Cusk draw the short straw? Her mini-speech is about how grateful she is to have hung out with the other nominees though, which is an excellent thing to say. Then Mercer does a “comic” bit that he did last year, alleging he’s written a memoir about his interactions with Canadian politicians but needs help with the metaphors, to coax the nominees into playing a mad-libs type game. It’s really silly and not funny. An opera singer introduces Heather O’Neill’s *Daydreams of Angels*, which is still not a logical choice but she does have a wonderful presentation style. The mini-movie for O’Neill’s book is really good, sparkly and simple. Her question from the hat is from Patrick DeWitt and her answer is funny.

Forth commercial break: The judges are introduced but not invited to the stage or allowed to speak–they just stand in a clump in the audience and then sit back down. That seems shameful considering how hard they worked. Pleased to hear Alex MacLeod get a big round of applause–everyone loves that guy–but they all deserve that and much more. The presenter for Anakana Schofield’s *Martin John* is the director of TIFF, which makes even less sense than most of the presenters, but he is the only one who sounds like he’s speaking extemporaneously, from a genuine sense of respect for the book. The mini-movie is fine, I like the public transit scenes. AK looks fantastic in her flow purple dress and her mini-speech is sweet. Next up: the winner!!!

Fifth commercial break: There was no speech from Jack Rabinovich this year, or from any of the bank guys. There was a brief shuffle over the envelope and who got to read it–I was just asking Mark when someone was going to say that for the price of a meal out in Toronto, you could buy all the shortlisted books when he shushed me–the envelope was open!!!

*Fifteen Dogs* won. Alexis gave a dignified but sweet speech and then it was all over. As the winner was announced I yelled, “I am shocked!” because I genuinely loved Anakana Schofield’s *Martin John* enough to be blind to the possibility of any other book winning. Which is a pretty stupid position for someone who has not read three out of five of the nominated books, and who understands that other people, including lit juries, have agency and different subjectivities from her.

Schofield posted some lovely things about being happy for Alexis on social media and others in the community seem pretty thrilled, too, so I’m going to try to take that to the bank. I’m less dejected than I was last night (hence the delayed posting)–really, so many great books got celebrated, a bunch of deserving authors got money and a fancy dinner and some well-deserved attention, and because of who the jury is I’m sure *15 Dogs* is a great book, though I probably still won’t read it…or perhaps I will. It was an interesting couple months running up to this event, and an interesting event too. I should be feeling lucky that my country celebrates authors like this, and mainly I do…but I was so sure I was right!!


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