Category: Reading

Extra! Extra!

Publishing alert: my latest published piece is in The New Quarterly’s Extra!, which can be purchased online, or will be included as an added bonus if you choose to subscribe to this wonderful Canadian literary journal (and, please, do subscribe if you don’t already; you will savour the lively mix of fiction, poetry, and essays; and the chance to get acquainted with new and rising writers).
Note that my contribution is a personal essay, not a work of fiction, though the further I get from having written it, the more I wonder … does it really lie somewhere in between, and how the heck can I know?

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I will also take this opportunity to let you know that I’ll be reading at Kitchener’s Word on the Street, which takes place in Victoria Park, Sunday, Sept. 26. The time has yet to be pinned down precisely, but it will be sometime during the afternoon. More info forthcoming.

Dial-Up Carrie

Why do I feel so slothful while on holiday? Is slothful even a word? My holiday brain cannot compute. Slowly, surely, holiday drains away my ambitions and intentions. I have to work to remind myself that rolling out of bed in the morning isn’t THAT hard.
Cottaging seems to strip me down to a more basic Carrie, a more primitive version of the 3.5 Carrie I currently enjoy. This is dial-up Carrie. This is Carrie attempting to cook delicious meals for nine on two wonky burners in three cottage pans (why do cottage kitchens supply such an eccentric selection of cookware and devices? and could we please ban the production and sale of all non-stick pots and pans? though I did read somewhere–in a study no doubt commissioned by non-stick purveyors–that Teflon is not absorbed by the human body, but passes right through; phew).
So, what are the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between 3.5 Carrie and the dial-up version? The dial-up version washes dishes, folds laundry, sweeps the crumbs and cleans the bathroom, and tries to get the kids to sleep at a reasonable hour. But the routine is off-kilter. This Carrie also drinks a shandy after lunch and sits in removed fashion reading a book (“Okay, Mommy, are you listening for real now?”).
Having worked so hard to develop 3.5 Carrie, I find it jarring, almost troubling, to revert to this more basic version; she has no interest in taking creative photographs (this will be a low spot in the 365 project); she has very little creative interest whatsoever; she slows to a crawl, scarcely able to force herself to keep up some reduced version of exercise. Maybe this is what a holiday is for? To vegetate and sink into words and thoughts, or float amidst them without thinking at all, to check out, to retreat.

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Of course, one must also observe that “holiday with kids” is not precisely the same as “holiday.” Last night we resorted to turning out every light in the cottage in order to impress upon CJ that we were indeed all going to sleep, RIGHT NOW. It was nearly 10pm. He was wired. He’s taken to saying, “I tell you a story,” and then launching into long detailed dramatic inventions about elephants and little lions and turtles who eat persons and wear pants. He had us spellbound after supper the other night (I’ll post video footage). But well after dark, being regaled by the tales of a two-year-old is not on the holiday agenda. No. On the holiday agenda is eating some freaking amazing cheese, a ripened sheep’s milk pebbled with blue purchased at Wendy’s Wigwam, reading a book, and drinking a beer. In adult company only.

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Two book recommendations: Truth and Beauty, by Ann Patchett, a memoir by a writer about her friendship with another writer, Lucy Grealy–if a relationship so intense can be pinned down by the word friendship. I’ve never been in a friendship like that. I am not sure whether I envy the author, or feel grateful to have been spared such a friendship. It’s also a fascinating portrait of writers in their developing pre-fame years (because, yes, both women became successful writers). Kevin’s reading the book now, or I’d look up some quotes. I particularly liked one from Lucy’s letters, in which she says that at least, as a writer, there is some measure of glamour to be gleaned from the drudgery and poverty of the occupation. I need to look into that.
The other book, which I’ve not yet finished, is a series of excellent short stories disguised by the publisher as a novel: The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman. It’s set in a newspaper, so it has the additional appeal of taking me back to my brief fling with the industry; and it’s currently on bestseller lists. But I’ll bet it wouldn’t have made it there if the publisher hadn’t cleverly marketed it as a novel rather than as what it is: a collection of linked stories. If I feel a touch of bitterness over this necessity, yes, it’s personal. The book I am currently finishing is a collection of linked stories. Maybe my agent will find a publisher who will pretend it is a novel, and we’ll find success together. But I (selfishly) wish more people would embrace the short story (and in particular, linked stories) as a legitimate and complex and pleasurable form.
Now, for the glamour. I must pour myself a shandy or something.

Notes from Quarantine

Note to self: Never announce that one is mending. One will instantly be swatted back to germworld by the Powers that be. (What are these Powers? Dare I ask?) Mending, say you? Hacking and coughing, say we. Oh, and for good measure, let’s send that stomach flu spiralling through the rest of the family, shall we?
Some pictures from our week …
Fooey and CJ home with me on Monday, posing for a sibling portrait.
Also on Monday, a day of reading and puzzling together: CJ posing with the first puzzle he ever put together–for real! he stopped and held still in this position, thumb tucked into palm, till the shutter clicked! (I helped with the puzzle; but he did a lot–a lot more than I realized that he possibly could).
Yesterday, all four children were at home, giving us a prelude of what’s to come on next week’s March Break. They spent all afternoon organizing themselves to play school (ironic, huh). I peeked into the living-room at various points to discover: a beautiful craft being made that turned pencils into flowers; four children at four “desks” working in math books (apparently we have a lot of these, usually neglected, on our colouring book shelf); four children arriving at the counter for “nutrition break” (a chocolate bunny split into four equalish pieces that we bought from a child selling them door-to-door for his school; I do not want my own children to have to do that, ever); and four children putting on rain boots and sweaters to run outside and play in the slush for recess. And I recorded none of it. The best I can come up with is this out-take photo from my portrait project, which shows yesterday’s post-school littered living-room, and the self-adorned CJ.
[Note: The portrait project can be found by scanning down the right-hand side of the page, but be warned, it’s all about me. 365 days of self-portraiture. What’s the worst that could happen? No, Powers, I’m not asking. Really. That was just a joke.]
And, finally, today … two brothers watching a movie together in the basement. My boys! The younger of the two has just fallen asleep for a rare afternoon nap. So rare, I thought they were extinct. I should go grab a photo of it while I still have the chance, before it flies into the deepest darkest forest known to humankind. (That feels like I’ve written a riddle, the answer to which is: the past).

Nice Lid, Kid

Someone likes getting his hair brushed. But is he going to declare us the meanest parents ever, somewhere down the road, for dressing his gorgeous toddler self in a pink sleeper? And photographing him wearing it? And posting said photograph online? After this photo was taken, he asked to “see! see!” and when shown, he stabbed with his finger at the little person on the tiny screen and yelled out his own name, for the first time ever, to the insane delight of his entire family, who happened to be gathered ’round for bedtime snack (Kevin’s least favourite “meal” of the day).
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My friend Tricia has joined a challenge to read 100 books this month–children’s books. That got me thinking that it might be interesting to keep track of what I’ve read on a given day … say, yesterday. I know that I read a lot every day, but it’s not the reading I used to do when I would sit down and devour a book for hours at a time. It’s endless little bits that add up to … not sure, really. Broader knowledge? Or shallower knowledge? Less about more?
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So, here’s what I read on Wednesday, though not in any particular order …
Front section (news) of the Globe and Mail newspaper (on actual newsprint–we get it delivered). Online first-person piece by Diana Athill, from the National Post’s website. A blog about the Bookstravaganza reading I attended on Monday. Caught up on the Globe and Mail’s online book blog. An interview with Annabel Lyon on the Toronto Star’s website. A bunch of emails. Facebook content provided by Facebook friends (thanks, friends!). Dooce. Several assigned articles in a textbook called Open Boundaries, which, truth be told, glazed my eyeballs. The obituary of a famous anthropologist in the Globe and Mail. Something from Nothing (a children’s book), and Pancakes! Pancakes! (another children’s book). Part of Attack of the Giant Mutant Snow Goons, or somesuch, a Calvin & Hobbes comic book. Several recipes. A couple of my own stories, for editing purposes. My women’s studies essay, for proofing purposes. Various sheets of paper carried home in the bags of my school-going children.
There may be more that I’m forgetting now.

Leaf by Leaf

Almost all the leaves are down from our big trees out front, and most from the back. Yesterday was warm enough for no mittens while playing outside till nightfall. The kids raked up a giant leaf pile, snacked on the last local watermelon of the season, ran, climbed, dug a giant hole in the sandbox. It so was easy to entertain them–because they needed no entertainment.

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Want to alert any readers in Waterloo to next week’s “Bookstravaganza” at the Starlight, Monday, November 2, 8pm. It’s a mini-festival to celebrate books, and includes in the lineup local writer Jason Schneider whose most recent book has just been published by my brother Christian’s own Blaurock Press. Also appearing will be exciting new talent from House of Anansi, ECW, and Coach House.
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Today is a sleepy writing day. I’m tapping away at the stories, and wondering … what comes next? If you were to ask my kids that, they’d say: Hallowe’en!!!! All week it’s been: only three more days, Mommy. Only TWO more days! And after that comes Christmas! Here’s what I look forward to at this time of year: winter solstice, when the days begin imperceptibly lengthening again.
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