January 31, 2012

procrastination, book covers and yellow boots

The draft still looms. Instead of editing, I've been buying shoes. I've been working on freelance stuff. I've cleaned out and washed the inside of my refrigerator. (My main thought after finishing this last task was not the expected satisfaction of gleaming rails and orderly foodstuffs, but rather, what a waste of time.) I've toyed with (and discarded) the idea of entering Canada Writes for creative non-fiction ($6000 prize! A Leighton studio! Deadline: Feb. 1) and, relatedly, have been sidetracked at length into tracing genealogy via the Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics.

Tomorrow is February, which leaves me less than six weeks for an editing blitz. But I'm comforted by the thought that, sooner or later, I have to start. I will start.

Until then, though, in case you're somehow out of the viral video loop, here's a magical little film of a rainbow of books getting up to some nighttime antics at the wonderful Type Books. Apparently it took four full nights to film. And yes, although writers often make a number of comparisons between books and children that I do not necessarily support, I can definitely always pick my book out of a crowd. I was happy to see it in the video!

I can spot it at one hundred paces. The cover is a very particular shade of yellow (I love it).

Hmmm, that also makes me realize why I may have been coveting these boots for years. I finally bought them when they went on (super) sale this week.

Although I think the book goes with everything, I'm not sure the boots will. Suggestions welcome.

January 26, 2012

the reread begins

A graduate student on a maternity leave came in yesterday with a photo of her month-old baby. She was elated, buoyant, energized. It made me happy to see. I don’t know many people with children, but PPD, at least in some low-grade form, seems to be more of the rule than the exception among my friends. (And why not? What with the sleep deprivation and radical realignment of one’s life in service of another, I’m amazed and relieved that anyone manages to thrive under the circumstances.) Today I’m in the middle of helping another graduate student who recently returned from a maternity leave figure out how she might downgrade her current Ph.D. to an M.Sc. She’s worn down and doesn’t think she can finish. I’m trying to be helpful while at the same time giving her the space to consider all of her options (putting the degree on hold again, etc).

Tonight I’m finally going to buckle down and reread the Draft…the one I sent in on October 15th, after an intense three months of radical cutting, ordering, and writing. And thus begins the next stage of editing. Until I reread what I have, I can’t be sure how much work it’s going to entail. I do have a feeling that I might need to put back a number of things I cut, or reimagine them somehow so that what I left in isn’t so thin on the page. There are some parts of the story that could endlessly expand in my imagination, and others I feel like I barely know…and don’t even care to know. It’s amazing how, if you’re not careful, your story can wriggle out of your grasp and race into places and characters you’d rather not write about. But for some reason they got in there and won’t be ignored. Hmmmph.

My editor and I have agreed on a deadline of March 12, which seems awfully soon, but I think more time can be wrangled if needed.

January 25, 2012

Using things up

As part of my efforts to declutter, I’m going to write about my small triumphs and strategies and ordeals. Read no further unless you are fighting a similar battle…or don’t mind hearing about it.

If you are a woman in your twenties or thirties, chances are that you have a cupboard full of lotions, soaps, shower gels, bath oils,and sundry other cleansing products. Most of these probably came to you as gifts -some wanted, some unwanted – though some others may have been purchased on a drugstore whim, or acquired as a sample when purchasing some oh-so-necessary other product. Those necessities, the things one actually uses…well, those get used up right away and never delegated to the back shelf in the cupboard Where Toiletries Go to Die.

I recently cleaned out the cupboards in my bathroom (a tall order considering the size of the cupboards, which are high enough that I have to climb on top of the washer and dryer to reach the upper row), and though there was a fair number of straight-to-garbage products (see above re: toiletries dying), there was also enough left over to clean and primp and scent me for what I suspect may be a full two years. (Perhaps I exaggerate. But I doubt it.)

So now next to the tub, there are three overturned bottles of lotion. (Given that they are pump dispensers, this is no easy balancing act on the tile floor.) Two have been coaxed to give up their remaining, previously unpumpable goods and have already been completely finished and recycled. When these next ones are finished, there are still yet-unopened lotions lurking in a neat row in the cupboard. These, too, will get used, somehow. Don’t be surprised if you come over and I ask you how you feel about the scent of jasmine…

I’m lucky I live alone and there is no-one to complain about these odds and ends balanced around the bathroom. On the edge of the sink, there’s another emptying pump of antibacterial hand soap. It doesn’t look pretty, and it feels and looks like the height of parsimony. But it isn’t only thrift. I don’t want to take for granted what I have, nor do I want to waste anything. The packaging on everything makes me queasy. (I know, I know, it’s recyclable…but how recyclable? How much energy and waste goes into the recycling process itself? I need to look into this.)

I want to be free of so many of the things cluttering my apartment, but I’m a pack rat. Sometimes I have to do things the hard way when it comes to letting go. But the idea is that once everything is gone, I’m going to be oh-so-careful about what else comes in. Here’s hoping.

January 24, 2012

nearly February, crazy weather

Well, the list for the Oscars is out and Midnight in Paris is on it, and somehow that’s the only one of the long list of movies up for Best Picture that I’ve seen --- even though I’ve seen a ton of movies this year, it feels like. Just not those ones yet.

Speaking of movies, my mother came by my office today and dropped off an early birthday present of a DVD player, as mine was on the fritz (where does that expression come from?*) for so long (after, admittedly, functioning perfectly between 2002-2010…a decent run in the world of electronics, I suppose) that I finally had to retire it altogether. (Although along with everything else I’ve “gotten rid of,” it continues to sit in a box near the door.) Along with a new-old large TV someone gave me recently, this heralds a new era of luxurious movie-watching at home on something other than a 10-inch screen. My mother was also kind enough to bring a can of Tim Horton’s coffee and a big package of gourmet jelly beans (already opened).** Somehow I’ve got birthday bounty, and I haven’t even started to think about my birthday yet. I can’t believe it’s almost February.

The weather these days is crazy. Snowstorms. Rainstorms. Bitter cold. More rain. Repeat. It turns out that even when rain is freakishly unseasonable and frankly alarming (hello global warming), and even hazardous (sidewalks and streets frosted with slick ice), I still like it. The warmth isn’t unwelcome either. It gives me that spring feeling even though I know it’s a lie. I wonder…if global warming really carries on in the dreadful way that has been predicted, will that spring feeling ever give way to one of impending doom, or will that sudden Canadian lightness-at-heart that arrives on a warm breeze simply coexist with the rational concern we’ll all be feeling? I think there may be a tiny bit of buried glee even as we slather on SPF 5000 in the middle of February.

* According to various online sources, nobody knows for sure. Surprising!
**Recommendation: do not look at the ingredients on a package of gourmet jelly beans. (Shellac…plus two kinds of wax.)

January 23, 2012

managing expectations

The thing about Mondays seems to be managing one’s expectations. There is the thrill of upcoming plans (tonight: music and loved ones, tomorrow: drinks with a friend I haven’t seen in much too long, Wednesday: more music), the slight anxiety of conflicting commitments (two things scheduled for Saturday! Possibly at the same time! One in a far-flung corner of the city I’ve never been to before…), the looming freelance deadline square in the middle of the week when there is almost no time free to prepare for it, the allocation of lunchtime plans to exercise or errands or social calls (in this case, lunchtimes are given over to a dear friend recovering in the hospital across the street), the overly ambitious to-do lists that include pressing matters (the now-monthly and increasingly dreaded and despair-filled call to Bell to get them to adjust my service and billing as originally requested back in September) as well as items that have continued to roll over for weeks (make dentist and doctor appointments), along with all the regular stuff like buying groceries and making meals and doing the dishes and managing to get out of the door wearing two socks without holes in them (this last is only very occasionally achieved). Then there’s emails and texts and chats with friends. Then there’s worry and longing for people not seen in much too long, not to mention guilt over all those other ancient items on the to-do list that never quite make it onto the week’s menu.

And then there’s the writing. When to do that? Sigh.

If I expected to do it all, I’d be crushed by disappointment on a daily basis. But if I expect nothing, I achieve even less. All the writers out there with even busier lives (e.g. kids…gulp): I don’t know how you do it!

transformation time

Happy Lunar New Year! According to one of the dozen or so forecasts for the Year of the Dragon that I looked up (until I found something that caught my fancy…that’s the way horoscopes work, right?), 2012 is supposed to be a transformative year, a year of major shifts in one’s life (my Sheep horoscope seems to call for almost every kind of major life change imaginable). One site is calling it the Year of Empowerment – a time for risk-taking and moving outside one’s comfort zone. True or not, I like the sound of all that. (Sort of! It has to be admitted that my life is pretty great just the way it is, too.)

Bring on the Year of the Dragon!

Midnight in Paris

I finally saw Midnight in Paris recently, and I was a little disappointed, even though it was a perfectly fine movie. The opening was long and unfocused (I get it: we’re in Paris…happy as I am to watch endless picturesque shots of the City of Lights), and the whole thing felt too fluffy to mean very much to me. (I also kept getting bogged down by the “practical” considerations of the time travel magic…and how it worked exactly...though I recognize this is probably mostly my problem.) I’m not in love with the time period (true, I haven’t read all that much of any of those writers), and I’d already heard the best jokes from a friend of mine who was talking up the movie, and Rachel McAdams’s character was enough of a caricature (wasn’t she just awful?) to make the whole thing seem mostly like a pleasantly diverting little comic strip.

Then I was reminded of Vicky Cristina Barcelona, a movie I don’t recall all that well, but which I remember well enough to be surprised all over again, when I think about it, that it was made by the same person. It felt like an entirely different category of movie. That’s Woody Allen for you. Prolific!

A few interesting Woody Allen links have crossed my desktop lately.

On Woody Allen’s typography (he uses Windsor, based on the recommendation of a printer who used to eat breakfast at the same New Jersey diner in the late seventies):


9 things entrepreneurs could learn from Woody Allen (I think they’re pertinent to anyone involved in a creative endeavour):


January 21, 2012

742 days ago

I made a note to myself on my iPhone as follows:

Dominant eye
New York City

Before I started carrying a new phone, I used this Notes feature primarily for addresses, account numbers, and story ideas. In this case, I wish I had given myself a little more to work with.

getting down to it

Today is one of these wonderful Saturdays alone at home when it seems possible to get everything done at a leisurely pace...until about four or five or whenever o'clock when I realize I need to scramble to order to get ready to go out.

For a few years now (five?), my friends and I have been going out for dinner to celebrate Lunar New Year. Traditions/superstitions passed along by J's mom and rigorously followed ever since dictate that the apartment needs to be scrubbed clean, the laundry must all be done (and dried), and, if possible, a bowl of eight oranges needs to be obtained and placed auspiciously on a newly tidy kitchen table. At least, this is what I do. Sometimes it takes the threat of a whole year of bad luck to really inspire a good deep clean, and that's what on today's agenda. Though I really ought to have started earlier! But there' s still Sunday night if I don't happen to finish.

The dishes have been done (does anyone else clean their apartment in a certain order?), coffee has been made and nearly finished (hence the blogging break), and laundry is about to be put on.

In other, actually more interesting news: I finally got my notes on the new draft of my novel yesterday! So once I've taken the time to reread the draft (a task I dread less than usual), I can dive back into revising. I've now spent even more time away from it than I spent on the revision itself (three months), and looking over the notes, a few things were even a little fuzzy in my memory. I'm happy to have something focused to dive into right at the start of the Year of the Dragon. New year, new work.

Before the day is over, I also have to track down something to wrap some little gifts before tonight. (I'm happy with what I managed to pick up on my way home...I'll post a photo if I have time.) I'm also behind schedule on picking up red envelopes for the children in my life, but I'm hoping the stores in Chinatown will be open late this time of year, so I can pick them up before dinner.

podcasts, Skype, tax fantasies

I’ve been listening to podcasts lately (finally). Radiolab is my current favourite. It’s probably a reflection on the sad, stale state of my music collection, but I’ve been having a great time putting them on while I’m cooking or doing the dishes. This month I’ve also Skyped for only the second time ever. I see more of both in my future.

These days one of my fantasies (hold onto your hats!) involves doing my taxes early and oh-so-leisurely. Ever since a procrastination-induced panic attack during my third year of university, I have been extremely careful not to cut things too close. In fact, starting a very short project only two or three days before a deadline is enough to almost make me nervous and uncomfortable at this point…even if it leaves me plenty of time to start and finish. It makes for some inefficient work -- there’s no doubt that deadline pressure is effective in getting things rolling, and I understand perfectly why people leave things to the last minute, as I relied on this method for virtually all of my undergraduate papers – but I’ll happily accept some inefficiency as the price of peace of mind. I like to do my taxes over a few evenings – it takes that long to organize all my receipts – with a glass of wine. It makes me feel wonderfully organized and competent, as well as a little buzzed.

Another daydream is that Instagram will hurry up and make an Android version of their app, which was one of my favourites before I ditched my iPhone (or rather, relegated it to the practical status of an iPod touch). I love the dreamy, retro style photos it makes, and there’s nothing else quite like it. I can still use it on my iPhone when I log into wireless, but it’s definitely less convenient. Hurry up, wonderful Instagram!

Also there has been a lot of this here lately:

A Monday Morning in Montréal from CloudRaker on Vimeo.

The good thing about a snowstorm is that it usually means it's (relatively) warm out. What a strange country we live in!

January 19, 2012

this and that

I’ve been slowly updating the list of links in the sidebar. Since becoming a blog slacker, I’ve been relying exclusively on my wildly disorganized (or formerly organized but now ossified and only marginally useful) set of folders on Google Reader. Meanwhile, check out the new additions!

Exchanged some more emails today re: a freelancing payment I am still waiting on from something I wrote back in August. In this case, and upon request, I had invoiced promptly – the very same day I filed the story. But such is the life of a freelancer. I am full of admiration for people who can survive on this kind of piecemeal salary, and no doubt those who are most successful at it have (one hopes) at least a few reliable gigs to bank on. But I am far too practical/anxiety-ridden when it comes to money matters to be able to try this at the moment.

The best thing I have read lately is a letter from John Steinbeck to his son on the subject of love. It has reminded me of grandness of Steinbeck’s heart, and it is good, warm, soul-expanding advice. I found it via the wonderful Classic Penguin tumblr, but it was originally posted on Letters of Note, a site I'm very happy to know about.

The best thing I saw earlier this week was the amazing Can Lit is Sexy tumblr. I hope whoever is doing it keeps it up!

And the last thing worth sharing is the great sale being run by ECW Press. Buy any Spring 2012 title and get the eBook for free. A terrific deal!

January 18, 2012

Taking stock on old resoutions

I was going to take stock of how well I achieved my 2011 New Year’s Resolutions, but then I saw that the last ones I posted were at the beginning of 2010. I also saw that I only posted three times in all of 2011…clearly a resolution waiting to happen right there.
So I’ve had two years to work on these goals:

Read more American fiction
I did this, a little, though less than I would have liked. (Then again, I would prefer to have read more of everything, in every category.) I read The Corrections (yes, finally), A Visit From the Goon Squad (really amazing), We Need To Talk About Kevin (really good…very curious to see the movie, especially as Tilda Swinton seems like perfect casting), Home (tremendous), The Human Stain (the only Philip Roth I’d read before was Portnoy’s Complaint…my, what I’ve been missing), and Mr. Peanut (a totally dark and amazingly clever novel about marriage and murder). This last one was recommended to me by another amazing American writer, Joanna Pearson, whose novel The Rites and Wrongs of Janice Wills is the perfect YA treat. (YA = Young Adult, for those of you who don’t occasionally take great pleasure in dipping into what’s available for the younger set.)

Read more British fiction Unless you count rereading Villette, the only British novel I’m sure I’ve read is The Little Stranger. It’s a great story – I got spooked reading it – and it was the perfect companion piece to Downton Abbey, which I got swept up in last January. Oh no, wait! At some point I also read Skippy Dies (solid, enjoyable).

Read more poetry Yes, I absolutely did! Not only did I read a fair bit from the library, but I'm also fortunate enough to know a number of amazing poets who've published books recently. I promise you will not be disappointed by any of the following: Hypotheticals by Leigh Kotsilidis, The Id Kid by Linda Besner, A Complete Encyclopedia of Different Types of People by Gabe Foreman, and All This Could Be Yours by Joshua Trotter. Now I just need people to do this all the time and I'll be totally covered on the poetry front.

Finish my novel Well, what does finish really mean? I finished and submitted the initial draft I’m sure I was referring to here. And then another. And…one more? And now I’m waiting for notes. That’s about as much as I feel like saying about this right now.

Write another one Hahaha, it is to laugh. Well, not really. I have two other serious projects underway, and a few other less ambitious things somewhat started/imagined/idly planned. But a lot of major work needs to happen before this gets crossed off the to-do list. 

Try writing something in another genre Yes! A little. Though I haven’t tried submitting anything yet.

Conclusion: Decent progress? Unless you consider the fact that I had two years to work on these. (Secondary conclusion: time to make some new goals.)

January 16, 2012


I am thinking about New Year’s Resolutions, as always. The gap between January 1st and the Lunar New Year leaves a little room for resolution-tweaking or reaffirmations. Sometimes the goals I write down are too ambitious, or too amorphous to be useful. Be a better friend. What does that mean? What does it look like? (Probably: go out more. Check in on people you miss. Plan Skype dates with people who live far away. Don’t let emails languish in your inbox for too long without a response.)

Writing with a full-time job and any semblance of a social life is always something that requires heaps of resolve. I’m not sure whether this is ever something that can go on auto-pilot. In order to get anything done, I have to remind myself of what I want most of all and then set to work doing what I have to do in order to achieve that. Just about every day. And even then, I don’t always listen to my inner drill sergeant. It’s so hard when the diligence required to produce pages seems at odds with building and maintaining friendships and relationships – the things that, besides work, are supposed to make life worth living.

I wish “Just Do It” wasn’t so irrevocably linked to that all-too-successful advertising campaign. It really is a powerful little message/mantra.