August 14, 2012

Nine out of nine, plus links

I’ve been reading Nine Stories on the metro lately, which I always thought I’d read before, but apparently I only ever read the first one.  In "Teddy," the last one, I encountered this sentence last night, which I really enjoyed: 

“His smile was not unpersonable, but it was social, or conversational, and related back, however indirectly, to his own ego.”

There’s so much great writing that doesn’t strictly abide by the show, don’t tell principle, especially on a sentence-by-sentence basis.  This exuberant kind of writing that doesn’t skimp on the descriptors lends itself to comedy much better, I think, than its spare counterpart, and the mere abundance of words doesn't (IMO) make it any less literary.  Of course, it's Salinger we're talking about, and as always, anyone really good can break any kind of rule set out to help the rest of us mere mortals along. 
Another thing I’ve been wondering about Salinger as I’ve been reading this…what, exactly, does kittenish mean?  Or what did it used to mean at the time he was writing?  I always thought it meant something along the lines of weak and cute, but I’ve seen it in a few sentences where it appears to be otherwise.*
And.....I like this list of "books to savour" from Flavorwire – not least because I have been savouring two of them for months now.  Bleak House (which I’ve read before) is the go-to book on the Kindle app on my phone for reading before bed.  And Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is one of several books I’ve been reading while doing my edits…both the last round and this round....which gives you a clue of just how slowly I've been savouring it.  Gilead in particular is not a book with a ton of forward plot momentum (and therefore perhaps maybe not the best thing to be reading while trying to cobble my ending back together…hmmm).  But it is full of rather wonderful passages like this:

"A great part of my work has been listening to people, in that particular intense privacy of confession, or at least unburdening, and it has been very interesting to me.  Not that I thought of these conversations as if they were a contest, I don't mean that.  But as you might look at a game more abstractly---where is the strength, what is the strategy?  As if you had no interest in it except in seeing how well the two sides bring each other along, how much they can require of each other, how the life that is the real subject of it all is manifest in it.  By "life" I mean something like "energy" (as the scientists use the word) or "vitality," and also something very different.  When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the "I" whose predicate can be "love" or "fear" or "want," and whose object can be "someone" or "nothing" and it won't really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around "I" like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else.  But quick, and avid, and resourceful.  To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned."

I think you'll agree that it's not exactly action-packed, in the usual sense.  Very easy to enjoy...and put down...and pick back up without needing to remember what has already happened.  (So far: nothing really <-- awesome!)

Also, Salty Ink is back (you know you missed it), and to celebrate, they are doing a pretty nifty book giveaway.
While I’m linking like crazy, I might as well point you (as well as myself...there are a few things I've been meaning to get) to Anansi’s summer reading sale. Two weeks left!

* I am too lazy to go and look for these sentences right now, so just trust me. 
** Trying to pull up "House of Anansi" (which I have "Liked") on Facebook in order to get that graphic, I had to type all the way to "house of anan" because of some TV show called House of Anubis that has 299,894 likes.***
*** I was about to write something like the following: Not to rush to judgement, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say House of Anubis sucks, just based on their lame name and userpic.  But then I went to the page and saw a bunch of attractive/creepy teens in private school (boarding school? dare I hope?) uniforms, so maybe (probably) this show is actually terribly awesome.  See below.

Disaffected and possibly spooky private school kids

August 11, 2012

Editing is hard

A few things:

Editing is hard.  (In this case, I mean editing/cutting/rewriting one's own work in response to notes, both specific and general, from an editor.)  Not because editing is inherently difficult or because I dislike doing it or because don't think my work requires it.  No.  Actually, I think the challenges I am facing right now with Bone and Bread are trifoliate*:
  • Once your words have taken a particular form that has been stable for, I don't know, years and years, and you've read them a hundred times, they just start to sound right that way...and it certainly doesn't mean that they're better that way or that they shouldn't be only makes it hard to imagine how. 
  • Editing tends to involve moving around from problem to problem, which is a different kind of process from writing, where you are generally moving forward or through or at least thinking about a whole scene a little more slowly or singularly....and slow thinking tends to produce answers to problems.  It is harder to solve something immediately when you've only just arrived on the page ready to tackle it.
  • Maybe it's due to this jumping from note to note and getting stumped on a problem and not knowing whether to linger until it's fixed or press forward unto the end, but this kind of editing makes it much harder for me to achieve momentum and focus.  

So that's why it's hard.  But it does feel better to complain!

As penance for whining, here is a picture of a dog dressed up as two dogs carrying a present:

So clever and cute!

The unpacking continues, even though it both should (it would be great to get everything in order!) and shouldn't (I should really be spending every minute editing).  Most of the boxes are gone, although disorder persists in  the closets.  I also found time the other night to paint my nails with a colour that is still one of my go-to shades after picking it up last year:  Chinchilly by Essie.  Essie describes it as a "sleek granite gray" (yes, they spell it that way), but I find it has some warm, light mauvey-brown tones in it, too. 

Chinchilly nails on one of our new cushions.
ALSO...and forgive the non sequitur...children really do give one hope for the world.  It turns out that this is one of those clichés that also happens to be profoundly true.  People in general give me hope, but I'm always caught off guard by courage and openness and grace when they are displayed by someone very young. 

*because it is my blog and because it is midnight and because most of my time is spent making judicious word choices, I am letting this word stand, since it has charmed me by appearing out of nowhere.  Trifoliate will have have its day in the sun!  Trust me, though, that my novel is not full of this kind of word, nor, I hope, many similar discursions...then my editing would be difficult indeed

August 2, 2012

art and life

We all know that life imitates art in ways that are sometimes downright eerie, or it’s probably more accurate to say that some people who have a great deal of insight into life and human character can imagine with uncanny prescience just how a situation might play out, given all the factors at stake.  My insightful friend Alice Zorn shares a pretty amazing story about this sort of thing over at her blog.

You should also check out Alice’s excellent short story in the latest issue of Prairie Fire, which has placed first (!) in their annual fiction contest.  This fact is even more impressive given that one of her stories has actually placed first in this contest before.  (A story you can read in her wonderful collection -- if for some reason you don’t already happen to have a half-shelf full of back issues of Prairie Fire.  Although you might as well subscribe to Prairie Fire, while you’re at it.)


I am still trying to strike a balance between writing about my life and my writing life, since they are so inevitably (hopelessly? thankfully?) intertwined.  Even when the writing is not happening, there is a corresponding anxiety about it not happening…that I’m not meant to be emailing prospective graduate students at my day job, or watching television (possibly true), or going for a walk at lunch time instead of squeezing in an hour of reading or writing (this one is truly a toss-up…healthy body/healthy mind and all that).  It’s a constant inner dialogue, and since so much of my time is spent trying to arrange or rearrange things in my own life to facilitate more writing, I can only conclude that this space is going to include some words about things that may not, on the surface, appear to be about writing.   

That’s a long disclaimer. 

If all this has a slightly panicked flavour, it’s because I’m doing a little more juggling than usual these days.  I’m supposed to be editing, but every day when I come home from work, the towering piles of boxes are beckoning me to do just one more.  Even leaving aside all the oh-so-necessary items* lurking inside them that I need access to, I don’t want to compromise our living space for any longer than I have to.  Of course, every opened box means finding space for the items inside --- no small challenge in our apartment.  And besides the novel, I have three other deadlines for Sunday and Monday (freelancing things, plus an essay I really want to submit to an anthology that promises to be exciting and excellent), which means buckling down, no Osheaga, no more unpacking even, for the next few days.   

Okay?  (Okay.)

I do, however, intend to fit at least one of these cones into my weekend, courtesy of Kem Coba, the magnificent ice cream place next door to my old apartment:

A trio of yumminess

*many of these items are of dubious necessity

August 1, 2012

Hold Fast

I remember reading Hold Fast one evening when I’d accompanied my mother to university.  She was doing her master’s in Education, and since I was a child who infinitely preferred hanging out in a library to staying home with a babysitter (whom we probably couldn’t have afforded, anyway), she took me along as usual.

That particular evening, she’d taken me to the Education library, which was a less interesting place from my perspective (there was something spookier and therefore intriguing about Morrisset, the larger arts and science library), but which had a few aisles of quality children’s literature.  I browsed the shelves just as I would in a regular library and stumbled upon Kevin Major’s classic, which held me spellbound until my mother’s class was over.  Since it was a library book and not one of my own, it's one of the few books I loved as a child that I have not since reread (as opposed to many others I’ve reread half a dozen times or more).  Until I read a little about it as an adult, I couldn’t have told you it was set in Newfoundland, though it may have subliminally helped set in motion my love of that place…I’ve hitchhiked along the same highway since, and visited Gros Morne, the (truly spectacular) national park that Michael and his cousin Curtis are trying to reach after they run away.  At the time, I was a major devotee of L.M. Montgomery and all of her books about orphans and their extended families, and Hold Fast was a story about an orphan that seemed so brutal, harsh, and realistic in comparison – it felt like a very adult book to be reading at nine, and maybe that's why it was so memorable for me. 

The occasion for this reminiscence is that they are making a movie of Hold Fast (with the wonderful Molly Parker).  I hope the filmmakers can do it justice!  

Speaking of Lucy Maud, the first volume of her complete journals have just been published.  I once took her selected journals out of the library (though this was probably also around the age of nine or ten) and found them spectacularly boring, despite my best efforts.  But I'm intrigued by these more complete editions, although no doubt I'd find even the selected journals more interesting now than I did back then.