December 2, 2014

Two weeks old

Well, it looks like I won't reach my goal of 100 blog posts for this year, but I have the best excuse possible:


So far she is the cutest, sweetest little baby ever, and I am just stunned and elated that she is finally here. 

November 3, 2014

Judging the Journey Prize

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it here before or not, but I was on this year's Journey Prize jury! I still feel pretty lucky to have been selected. Lucky in a very peculiar, synchronous way: the day before I was asked to participate, I was actually idly wishing that I could be part of the jury. I was reading something about short fiction in Canada, thinking about how I hadn't read any short stories in a little while and how fun it would be to read all the best ones of the year. I even wondered if there was a way to go about being invited...like tweeting about it or emailing someone. But I did nothing except think it and the very next day when I got an email about it I basically fell off my chair in the office. (And yes, promptly began all manner of very earnest wishing...for a sudden million-dollar windfall, for perfect bangs, etc...but I'm still waiting on all of those.)

The Journey Prize Anthology 26

I wrote a little bit about the judging process in our collective introduction to the anthology (which you should go buy right now!), as well as in a more detailed Q & A with Brad de Roo just posted on the blog of Guelph's wonderful bookstore, the Bookshelf.

So I'd planned to write about it here, but I think I've pretty much covered it everywhere else. I'll just say, again, that it was a true pleasure and honour to read and discuss these stories by so many talented Canadian authors. I also feel really fortunate to have been paired with Steven W. Beattie and Craig Davidson, who are both very perceptive and fine writers --- as well as gentlemen and all-round good guys.

All still smiling after a long day of judging!

I've written about it before, but winning the Journey Prize in 2008 was truly one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me...and not only because it helped me to pay off my student loans many, many (many) years earlier than expected. The Writers' Trust does so much good work for writers in this country. Check out this week's profile in Maclean's, aptly titled "How the Writers' Trust of Canada Saves Authors," where you can also read excerpts of the five shortlisted books that are up for the fiction prize.

Tomorrow night all of the prize winners, including the winner of the Journey, will be revealed at the Writers' Trust gala, but before that happens I want to again congratulate all of the amazing writers who appear in the anthology. It was a privilege to read your work, and thank you for writing.

October 21, 2014

Côte Saint-Luc Reads 2014

I'm really thrilled that Bone & Bread has been chosen as this year's Côte Saint-Luc Reads pick! The Côte Saint-Luc library book club has already read and discussed it, and I get to stop by and meet some readers and librarians later this week. (Thursday, October 23rd, if you'd like to come.) I hear that there will be music...and food! I'm really excited, actually. Nervous, but maybe even more excited than nervous! This might even be a first for me. 

The event is part of Canadian Library Month....and Quebec Public Libraries Week. I wish I'd known earlier that October was Library Month. I love libraries!



Isn't it a lovely poster? It makes me a little shy to see how much of it is taken up with my photo. But I'm going to try to rise to the occasion by wearing a fancy purple dress I bought in Kensington in London... 

October 13, 2014

Why Natalee Caple teaches brand-new CanLit (and why you should, too!)

In case you missed it, novelist and English professor Natalee Caple contributed a brilliant guest post to the QWF Writes blog called "Why I teach Brand-New CanLit." 

I urge you to read the original post, but I am going to quote at length from it here about her excellent reasons for teaching new Canadian books, even when it makes her job as a professor (in terms of constantly redesigning her syllabi and lecture notes, etc.) harder:


  • The books are never out of print.
  • Pre-ordering books helps to let the publisher and the bookstore know that the titles are desired.
  • The material is often quite relevant to students’ daily lives. This allows students to identify better with the settings, characters and scenarios.
  • Authors are accessible, alive and often available to Skype into the classroom so that students can ask them questions directly.
  • Student presentations are much better. Instead of Googling a biography and retyping a handful of academic quotes they have to read the whole book (they do complain about this).
  • Student essays are much better. Their close reading skills really improve because that is all they have to rely on.
  • Student confidence in their own readings improves. Because they don’t have to compete with the scholarly opinions of experts they learn that it is okay to rely on and develop faith in their own readings. This causes them to engage more deeply and so…
  • Students get better marks. When they see this they start to appreciate the work they did.
  • Students become more willing to take risks in thinking.
  • Plagiarism is greatly reduced. In fact, because a brand new book is so unlikely to have essays on it in circulation, to plagiarize really means paying someone to create an essay. Far fewer students are willing to take this extra step as it requires more planning and seems somehow more actively dishonest.
  • Canadian culture is reinforced as real and ongoing, lively, diverse and present.
  • Book sales show up in a timely fashion for authors. Titles get circulating at a time when it is most beneficial. We all know that numbers have become incredibly important to the sale of future books and that there is some self-fulfilling prophesy there.
  • I get to stay engaged with my peers in the writing community. I am giving them my support and staying on top of my field.
  • I get to read all the books I wanted to anyway and call it work! Did I say that it is my dream job?
Isn't this amazing? I can say that as an aspiring writer in university, it was completely life-changing (and ambition-fueling) to read contemporary Canadian Literature in the classroom. One professor assigned Strange Heaven as an extra-credit assignment in an Atlantic Fiction course and mentioned how Lynn Coady had been a student in his classroom not that many years earlier. (And I felt affirmed, somehow, to hear that she was quiet in class, like me.) I can only imagine how much more galvanized I would have been if I had had the opportunity to meet or Skype in class with one of the writers whose work I had read and studied. 

I also strongly agree that close reading develops crucial critical faculties. Education shouldn't be all about research and organizational skills, important as those are. When students begin grappling with texts on their own and developing their own arguments, learning becomes more profound and, I think, more rewarding. But Natalee has already covered all this more succinctly in her original post....

...so I'll just add that as a published writer, it has truly been a privilege to be invited into several classrooms where students have read and studied my work. The experience has been incredibly positive -- and instructive, too. Students actively engaged in trying to make sense of a text will ask very incisive questions. And of course it is intensely rewarding to know that students are reading and engaging with your work at that level. I might even go so far as to say there is almost nothing MORE rewarding for me as a writer. This is the kind of knowledge that gets you through the occasional long bad days of struggling to finish the next story or novel, slogging away at the day job unjamming another photocopier, or thinking about people with business degrees who make eight zillion times more money, etc.

So all of you wonderful, lovely, gorgeous Canadian Literature professors out there: please consider teaching brand-new CanLit!

October 5, 2014

Wolfe Island LitFest

All year, as I’ve been going around from literary festival to literary festival, there has been a quiet but persistent legend growing in my mind of the Wolfe Island LitFest.

“Have you heard of Wolfe Island?”

“Have you been to Wolfe Island?”

“If you get invited, GO!”

And then I was invited. So I went!!!



The 11th Annual Wolfe Island Joe Burke Literary Festival

You can see from the poster that this happened in June. But that was a mere blink of the eye ago in blogging time...

Rumour has it that Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip (!!!) is sometimes in attendance. Joseph Boyden is usually there, and this year his absence was lamented by many (including me). I was told by a few people that the first public readings of sections of The Orenda and Through Black Spruce happened on Wolfe Island. (I don't know if this is true, but it was a fact related with a significant amount of pride.)

The mystique of Wolfe Island was such that right up until a few days before I left, I wasn't 100% sure how I was getting there or where I might be staying. It was the kind of uncertainty that otherwise might have made me nervous (I like to plan! I like to visualize!), but I also knew that I shouldn't worry...I knew it was all going to come together.

I was charged with connecting with visiting Irish writer Kevin Barry upon leaving the train and to take a taxi to the dock, where we would be met by someone in a boat. Somehow, without ever having met before, Kevin and I spotted each other immediately, and along with his wife Olivia, easily found a cab.

The taxi drove along Tragically Hip Way, which caught the attention of the Irish, and as a long-time Hip fan, I had the fun task of trying to explain how awesome they are and the place they occupy in the national consciousness.

We were found by the lovely people who needed to find us (including the inimitable Mark Mattson, whose family plays a role in this wonderful festival), and we crossed very choppy waters on a little speedboat. Not knowing exactly what to expect -- or rather, having ignored some of the concrete information I did have at hand -- I was wearing heels, which made the boat boarding process slightly more nerve-wracking than it ought to have been. City girl mistake!




On a boat!

Then we crossed to the island, which was beautiful. We were fed, welcomed, introduced to a whole host of lovely Wolfe Islanders, taken to a remarkable abode known as the Duck Club, and then, later, to the venue. 



Beautiful peonies on the lunch table
 
The reading venue was a beautiful spot. The festival is supported by Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, an charitable environmental group that works to protect the lake and keep it safe for drinking, fishing, and swimming.

Gorgeous light at the venue
 

Listeners gathering

Posters from previous years


Ken Babstock reading

Kevin Barry's (hilarious) reading

The photos are lacklustre and incomplete, I know. But all of the readers were amazing, those pictured as well as those not. Mostly, I was too much in the moment to worry about documenting things. Tanis Rideout read a poem about Wolfe Island which was full of references to past festivals and which was somehow moving and funny even without access to the full knowledge to understand all the allusions.

My own reading started with an introduction from Dave Bidini (!!!) and some microphone trouble, and I really enjoyed the reading itself. There were actual, palpable good vibes. At one point, I was startled to look up and notice Sarah Harmer in the audience. I got super into the band Weeping Tile after they broke up (sadly!), but Sarah Harmer’s solo album You Were Here was a major theme with me and my friends during my undergrad. (Listen to this as a sample if you don't already know it...then buy it.) I was lucky enough to see her play at least half a dozen times over those years. I was so thrilled she was there and even more thrilled when she came up to speak to me afterwards!

After the readings, everyone ate, drank, and made merry. A lot of us watched part of the World Cup game between England and Italy in a nearby garage while an eclectic soundtrack, (including "Poets" by the Tragically Hip, achieving a quintessential interdisciplinary artistic CanLit moment for me!) blared at full blast. 


Merry-making evidence

Dreamy drive through a wind farm

Bundled up outside the Duck Club before a night out

Then that night Dave Bidini and his band played at a beautiful patio venue on the water, where sadly my phone was too dead to take any good photos. Although I did work up the nerve to ask Sarah Harmer for a photo that Kevin Barry was kind enough to take and send to me. She is so gracious and lovely!


Me and Sarah Harmer!

I don’t want to unravel any more of the Wolfe Island mystique, so I won't get into the antics that played out after dark (most of which, due to exhaustion, I didn't even witness).  Maybe you really don't want to know what the poets are doing... Let's just say that there are good reasons to keep guns under lock and key.... 

September 9, 2014

Ten U2 songs that have stayed with me

In honour of today's exciting free U2 album release, I decided to skip ahead of all my half-written blog posts about book clubs and literary festivals and do an alternate version of the meme that has taken over Facebook lately. 

For the record, I don't think these are the ten best U2 songs. And some U2 songs meant a lot to me at the time, but I basically drove them into the ground through overplaying. I also haven't listened to the last two albums at all, although I've heard some of the songs when I last went to see them.



So...10 U2 songs that have stayed with me, in no particular order:

1. One

2. Electrical Storm

3. Red Hill Mining Town

4. Beautiful Day

5. New Year's Day

6. Dirty Day  (hmmm, notice a trend?)

7. One Tree Hill

8. Until the End of the World

9. A Sort of Homecoming

10. In A Little While

July 31, 2014

Sitting in judgment

Just in case you're the kind of amazing writer who can whip something off in a day, it isn't too late to mention that I'll be the fiction judge for this year's Room Annual Writing Contest! The extended deadline is August 1st at midnight. 

A few weeks ago, I answered some questions over at the Room blog, which you can read here

I also thought it would be worth mentioning that although I will be judging the contest, there is a chance I won't be reading your story.



The Room contest, like many (if not most, if not all) other fiction contests in this country, employs readers to read and vet the entries before they go on to the main publicized judge or jury. These readers are no slouches, I should add. Often they are published writers with one or more books to their credit, or editors or critics of long-standing. They are used to reading stories, and they know what makes a good one. I've been an early reader for a number of literary fiction contests, and I've always done my best to make careful and considered choices. 

But still. There is a certain degree of subjectivity in any matter of art, and there are questions of taste and style and subject matter that differ from reader to reader. Maybe in one of my previous incarnations as an early reader I passed over something brilliant because I couldn't see past the magical duck or the narrator named Toothpaste or the Pre-Cambrian time period.* (*Not real examples.) Some contests have a safeguard against this, which is to have everything read by TWO readers, so that one person's magical duck bias won't rule out a rare duck masterpiece.

Maybe you read that I was the judge and you looked at all your carefully polished drafts and selected the one you thought *I* would like best. Maybe you even checked my collection of short fiction, Mother Superior, out of the library. I might do something like that, if I was submitting to a contest.    

This is a long-winded way of saying that I will not be reading all of the entries for this contest, but a pre-selected, anonymized stack of what has been vetted to be the very best work submitted. And I'm so delighted to have been asked and to be able to come in at the end and take credit for lots of other people's thoughtful reading and consideration. 

But when the winners are eventually announced I don't want you (or you or you) to think that I didn't like your story. Maybe I never even read it.  

July 25, 2014

Becoming the book: Bronson Pinchot

I don't usually share most of the wonderful things I read on the internet here, mostly because I suspect I am mostly reading the same things that everyone else on Twitter is already reading. However, I occasionally remember that I have readers who fall outside of the social media circuit, and so I will set aside my fears of redundancy. (And thanks, Kelvin K, for sharing the link!)

Do you know how writers sometimes talk about writing for the "ideal reader"? The reader who will intuitively understand what they mean and/or give them the benefit of the doubt, the trust to go on, if they don't? A faceless, nameless, quasi-mythical being who gives one the hope to keep on writing even when one suspects that nobody really cares about literature anymore? Well, it turns out that the ideal reader is actually Bronson Pinchot, or Balki from the late eighties/early nineties sitcom Perfect Strangers, as you probably remember him.  

As a voice actor and narrator, Pinchot has voiced over 100 audiobooks. This long interview with him in Vulture is a fascinating and heartening read for anyone who cares about books and the worlds that authors are trying to create when they write.  

Click here to read it. 

July 23, 2014

NYR check-in

How is everyone faring with their New Year’s Resolutions? It’s actually more than halfway through the year now (aughgh), but as good a time as any to take stock. (If you want to see my original post, full of hope and promise, it’s here.)

1) Finish one project and start another. I don’t know exactly what I even had in mind when I wrote ‘start another,’ since I’ve been midway through two projects for a while now. The ‘finish one project’ part is progressing, though it’ll still be a major challenge to wrap it up before the end of the year.

2) 100 blog posts. Hah!  Unless there is a strong uptick, I think I am bound to fail on this one.

3) Stop buying chips. Also a fail, mostly fueled by my desire to try novelty crisp flavours in Britain. (Cheese and onion! The perennial prawn cocktail! I even spotted haggis-flavoured crisps but managed to exercise near-superhuman restraint to avoid buying them.)

4) Take a photo every day. I’m  not sure at exactly what point I just completely forgot to do this, but it was in the spring and it was only after a week or so had gone by that I realized I had stopped, so there was no recovery possible. However, my manic vacation photo-taking has probably almost made up for this, quantity-wise, if nothing else.

So success is now riding completely on #1. Wish me luck. 


Now, as promised yesterday, here's a random vacation photo of the castle variety:

St. Andrew's Castle, Scotland

July 22, 2014

Summertime

I’ve been on vacation. Not just vacation from blogging and writing (although, yes, that, too), but from work and my regular life and home. Three weeks in the UK!

It was wonderful to have a day off yesterday to unpack, catch up on laundry, restock the fridge, and remind our place that people live in it. (Centipede hanging out in the sink: take note!!) I was even able to spend the whole morning writing, which was a relief. And I think now I have more of a handle on the story I’m working on.


Also, Montreal feels tropical compared to the Scottish Highlands. It is hot here. Shorts and popsicles weather.

While I was away, I took more photos than I know what to do with, so maybe I’ll post some here over the next few weeks. Get ready for an endless stream of scenic hills and ruined castles....


May 29, 2014

too long

Friends and stalkers, I know I have kept you waiting too long for news. You are bored on the internet and there is nothing to read. I know! It is because I feel just the same way that I am going to write something myself.

What have I been up to in the long silence of blogging? Have I…

a) been visiting lots of book clubs?
b) been wasting time reading lots of light genre fiction?
c) been making and drinking lots of smoothies?
d) all of the above

It’s D)! Of course it’s D), even if the consumption of blended fruit drinks shouldn’t count as an activity in the same way as the others…but somehow it does. I have even purchased a large polka-dotted Kate Spade cup for smoothies-to-go in the morning.

Somewhere in there I took trips to Toronto and Hamilton for writing-related and book-related stuff (more later? no promises, though), and went on a knitting retreat in the country and hosted out-of-town visitors. I also watched all of House of Cards. 

 

Now you’re pretty much up to date.

March 22, 2014

Metaphysical Conceit watches the movie before reading the book

The movie is White Oleander, which I watched long time ago without knowing it was based on a book. I rewatched it a couple of years ago because I remembered really liking it, and I enjoyed it even more the second time. That was when I found out it was based on a 1999 novel by Janet Fitch, and I kept my eyes open for a copy until I finally picked one up at a secondhand bookstore.

The one I found is the movie tie-in version of the book, which I always do my best to avoid buying, but in this case, it's no more than I deserve, right?  


Movie tie-in cover --- one notch above or below Oprah's Book Club edition??

I read it on vacation in North and South Carolina. I felt like the movie does a good job of capturing the essence of the novel, although there are whole sections left out of the film for reasons of length. 

It's about a girl whose mother is an eccentric, self-centred poet who ends up convicted of murdering her ex-boyfriend. Her daughter is shuffled from foster home to foster home throughout her adolescence. It's sad and hopeful and full of fascinating female characters. 

Recommended!

March 7, 2014

Alma Mater Matters and a trip to Ottawa

You know when something is so perfect that you don’t know how to write about it without somehow diminishing it?

Even two three four weeks out from the event I did at the College of the Humanities at Carleton University, I’m not sure what I can say about it that would do it justice. I really had the nicest time!


Before I went to Ottawa, I thought a lot about what I remembered from my university classes as part of my Humanities degree, and I realized it's hard to predict what will stick with you. I jotted down a few of the random facts that have lingered in my mind in the dozen or so years since I graduated. I listed a few of them at the beginning of my reading, and I'm sharing a couple of them here upon request: 

  • Paradise is shaped like a multifoliate rose 

  • Flatterers are found in the 8th circle of hell 

  • Ezekiel cut his beard into three parts (which, respectively, were burned, chopped, and  thrown to the wind)   

So basically the recesses of my mind belong mostly to Dante and the Old Testament. 


I also dug out some of my old notebooks from university and flipped through them to see what I'd frantically underlined or highlighted in my notes as critically important knowledge from our Humanities lectures. 

Pack rat or archivist: you decide.

Here are some of the choice phrases I’d highlighted in my notes:

  • Socratic speech is always adapted to suit the interlocutor.

  • The experience of transcendence also involves the experience of immanence.

  • Happiness is contemplation.

  • There is an erotic compulsion to intellectual virtue.

Yep.

After my random reminiscing, I did a reading from Bone & Bread and a Q & A with Ottawa poet David O’Meara. David did some one-on-one feedback sessions with aspiring College writers back in the day and very helpfully stopped me from writing like a Victorian. So it was fun to be able to thank him in person and chat about writing, too. 

Everyone was incredibly generous with their questions and comments, and it was lovely to see old friends and former professors in the audience. I never imagined speaking in that lecture hall and having my (revered!) profs ask me questions about the creative process. It was humbling and thrilling all at once.

There were old friends from Carleton, former classmates and teachers...even a girl I used to babysit! But o
ne of the most exciting reunions was with B., my dearest and very best friend from Grade 1/2, and her mom, who was my fourth grade teacher...and my first serious editor. (The editing is another post for another time.)


B, me, and Mrs. D

I wish I'd taken more photos, but my phone was in danger of powering down all day. I popped back into the seminar room before we headed out to dinner to snap this one: 







A different perspective on my old lecture hall...the front!

After the talk and the reception, there was an alumni reunion dinner. It was so wonderful to catch up with everyone and find out what they’re doing now. There were also old issues of our College literary journal, including some poems of mine I'd completely forgotten about! I was happy both to be reminded of them (okay, of some of them) and to have them restored to me with just a couple of quick photos.

Catching up with former profs/old friends

My friend K came to get me (after a complicated series of back and forth texts in which we realized that even though both of us went to Carleton, neither of us could remember any meeting place accessible by car well enough to describe it to the other person), and after I changed into pyjamas and took a couple of Tylenols (some kind of strange stress headache had taken hold the minute the talk was over) and actually gotten into bed and turned the light out, I managed to touch base with my Winnipeg writer friends and ended up having a long-distance meeting until about midnight Ottawa time. So fun! I keep forgetting about the magic of Skype.

The magic of Skype: illustrated! 

And if all that wasn't already an absurd amount fun to pack into 36 hours, the next day friend K gave me a private cross-country skiing lesson.  Maybe next time I'll fully graduate to poles. And her lovely parents cooked a delicious early supper so we could eat together before I had to catch my train home. 

K said I was a natural, and I almost believe her!

February 27, 2014

first drafts and writing longhand

I was looking for something else a few weeks ago, when I found the original manuscript of my story "Mother Superior" (the first and title story of my first book). I wrote the story in 2004. Here's a photo!



In this one notebook, there were actually lots of first drafts of the stories I ended up publishing in that collection. I'd sort of forgotten that I didn't initially write them on the computer. Maybe I should write in unattractive spiral notebooks more often.

I like seeing the evidence of the instantaneous editing that happens in the initial writing of a story. Choices and quick changes like this happen all the time when you're writing (of course), but they disappear just as quickly on the computer and leave no traces. 

Up close and personal

It disturbs me a little that it has been so long ( a couple of years?) since I've written any fiction by hand. I like seeing it on the page like this. Why does it feel like such a novelty? 

February 26, 2014

Metaphysical Conceit goes to the movies

I stayed up late the other night watching Stuck in Love, a movie that was (unexpectedly!) about a family of writers. I don’t think it’s a perfect movie, but it’s sweet and funny, with that ring of honesty that seems to come from first-time writer-directors who are making a very personal film (not sure if this is the case, but it has that feeling). The performances are great, and the soundtrack is so, so good. If you like romantic dramedies (sorry, but that’s what they’re called!), you should check it out.



There were one or two small moments where the writing business part of it didn’t feel 100% true, but maybe that’s just me feeling more authoritative than I am. It’s hard to find a movie about writing that feels accurate. Adaptation is a great film, but it felt a little too psychologically true to be totally enjoyable. (Did it make anyone else super anxious?) Wonder Boys is my favourite movie about writers/writing, but since it’s based on a book I wonder if it should count. 

Oh, I just looked up Stuck in Love’s director, Josh Boone, and it turns out he will be directing the adaptation of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, a book I really enjoyed and a movie
 I'm looking forward to seeing when it comes out. (However, it looks like the screenplay has been handled by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the writing team responsible for (500) Days of Summer, a movie a lot of people seemed to love but which I really disliked.) 

February 25, 2014

Flashback: Kingston WritersFest

I've been meaning to share this lovely photo that was sent to me after my event at the Kingston WritersFest. It's me with Mark and Chris --- my wonderful Author Patrons of Montreal law firm MacDougall, MacDougall & MacTier. It's thanks to sponsorship by their firm that the festival was able to pay my way from Montreal.

What a great idea to pair patrons with writers!

Photo by Cat London.  

(Maybe the government should look into a provision whereby individual authors can issue charitable tax receipts to philanthropic and culturally minded donors...! I'd happily dedicate my next novel to a generous sponsor!)

February 24, 2014

writing, word count, and sandwiches

Guess what? The silence here really does mean that I’ve been writing. Granted, most of that writing took place yesterday in a concentrated 10-hour flurry, but nevertheless…there was a certain amount of thinking and trying and failing and time-wasting that led up to yesterday’s marathon that definitely has to be counted as part of the process. As for whether or not the new story is any good, I’ll leave that to my writers’ group to decide. Even if it is only sort of good, I can make it better. It just feels good to do the work I need to be doing. 

My word count in this current project is now up around 65,000, even though many of those are rough and unpolished. I know that obsessing about word count can cut both ways (writing to a target might produce too much filler, or useless dialogue or exposition or otherwise rambling prose), but I find it a really useful way to move forward. And let’s face it: books are built out of words. 




               Here is the lunch that my husband brought me yesterday to keep me going!

February 14, 2014

Things I have learned this year

It was my birthday last Friday, which is always a good occasion to take stock of things. Here are the big lessons I've learned over the past twelve months:

  • It’s okay to answer questions on your own terms, especially when it comes to your own work.

  • Stand up to bullies. It’s the only way to break the pattern.

  • It’s okay to say no. It will make you so much happier when you do say yes.

  • Ask for the things you really want. There is little to be lost in asking and so much to be gained.

I'm not perfect about putting these into practice, but when I remember, I'm so much happier. 

February 4, 2014

Coffee badgers, Chinese New Year, and Carleton University

  • This morning I made coffee for the first time in a couple of weeks, and unfortunately it was crazy strong!  Now I have the shakes and a burrowing anxiety badger in my chest.  Not to mention an upset stomach. Eeeep.  If anyone has a sure-fire method for combating this unruly animal, let me know. My techniques so far include exercise (best), drinking hot water (pretty good), eating something carb-y to send myself into a sugar crash (untrackable but probably terrible), and complaining about it on the internet (acceptable).

  • K came for a fun visit for a few days this week, which means we have now officially had our first overnight houseguest! Another milestone for our new home. 

  • We had a wonderful Chinese New Year celebration on Saturday, with singing and dancing and glitter and new slippers and tons of delicious food. Thanks to the hosts and the cooks and the fellow attendees for a great evening. Happy Year of the Horse! 

  • I started reading A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which I’m really enjoying so far. A friend of mine listened to the audiobook, and I have to remember to ask her how on earth they handled the footnotes in that format. 

  • I was so sad to hear about Philip Seymour Hoffmann and I’ve been growing sadder by the day as my original disbelief has faded.  Knowing he was in a movie was enough to make me watch anything, and it’s terrible to think of all the performances the world will be missing out on now.  His death is another tragic reminder that addiction is an indiscriminate killer.     

  • It was lovely to see a review of Bone & Bread in Room Magazine here! And even more jaw-dropping to see my upcoming event at the College of the Humanities plugged yesterday on the front page of the Carleton University website (as one of a rotating series of pictures…click through if you don’t see it at first). Seeing it was a pretty gratifying moment for me. 

  • Speaking of which, I’m not sure how to approach taking the podium at my old lecture hall. It’s a little bit intimidating to think about! However, I feel really honoured to have been asked, and the honour is outweighing the nerves at this point. If you’re going to be in Ottawa on Saturday, why don’t you stop by? I’m looking forward to the alumni dinner that will follow --- I wonder if any other graduates of 2002 will be there?

January 27, 2014

Fiction dream and reading lunches

We all had friends come over this weekend, which is always a big help in making a place feel like more of a home. Thanks, friends! Let’s do it again sometime soon.

On Saturday, I had a small victory: I managed to sort through and empty two small containers full of randomness that had begun accumulating when we were staying with my in-laws: buttons, earrings, business cards, Sephora samples, receipts, hair elastics. To give you an indication of my pack-rat tendencies: when I was done sorting, I was left with a pile that can only be categorized as “interesting string.” 

I was also pretty happy on Saturday afternoon when we were gathered around our new table eating a late, informal lunch. My husband was sitting at one end of the table, working on his lunch along with his poems, and my stepdaughter and I were cozied up on our new banquette (i.e. a loveseat, pushed up to the side of the table), reading novels and eating soup.  Maybe it’s not a surprise that I had a moment of feeling truly grateful for my life when everyone was sitting around together quietly reading. (For the record, we also have meals where we sit at the table and talk to one another!)

It was nice to have that time to do lots of reading this weekend, and I did quite a bit of thinking about a new story and even wrote the first scene.  There was also time for a nap on Saturday, in which I somehow continued planning the story and had what seemed like a great idea involving a Saint Bernard. I don’t think the dream idea makes any sense, but I’m tempted to put a dog in, anyway.

And on Sunday, I managed to purge five items in my closet: two skirts, a dress, and two tops.  I’ve stashed them in the giveaway bag in my closet that I'm storing up for the next clothing swap.

I neglected my email and the internet in general, but that seems to be the weekend pattern these days and I’m okay with that.

January 24, 2014

Goal tracking, Peter Doig, and pics of the day

One of the goals we’ve been making headway with this year is cooking more. We’re playing to our strengths in that I’m doing the planning and creating the grocery lists once a week and my husband goes to the store. The cooking itself we’re sharing, and so far it's working really well. We’re eating healthier and saving money, too. I think that there is also a side bonus in that we are both more careful not to let the kitchen get too messy. The fact is that we’re both more inclined to cook when the kitchen is clean.

I’ve also managed to avoid buying even a single lunch at work so far in 2014! Yay me. However, I have bought a number of breakfasts and tons of coffees, so that’s something that has to change.

I want to change other things in my life, but I’m not sure how. I want to get more out of my day. It seems to me that it is not full enough of the things that matter. But there are so many things that matter and scarcely enough time to do a quarter of them! Oh well… all I can do is keep trying, I suppose.

Last night was a perfect example of  the right kind of busy-ness . We went to the opening of the Peter Doig exhibit, which I LOVED (and I’ll definitely be going back around midday sometime soon, away from the crowds). Then, after quick supper of leftovers at home, I headed over to knitting circle, where I got to hang out with a dozen wonderful women, knit four or five rows of my hat (yes, I’m a slow knitter), and enjoy yummy wine and lemon meringue pie.  All I can conclude is that I really have nothing to complain about! Except the weather. Always the weather.

Lapeyrouse Wall by Peter Doig

I was asked to show some of the pics I’ve taken as part of my photo-of-the-day efforts:

Mid-January, in snapshots


Clockwise from bottom left:

- Kid-friendly noodle casserole – a definite hit, but needs to be less salty next time, for my taste.
- Our brand-new coffee table the day it arrived! We’d planned on another, but this one has wheels and storage, both things we realized we needed.
- A selfie trying to capture a lip colour to add to a review I wrote on MakeupAlley. (After almost nine years as a devoted reading member, I finally decided to write some reviews of my own.)
- The Aquarium Channel. I guess this is what the Yuletide Fireplace channel became after the holidays. They play the most bizarre and amazing retro dance music!

January 23, 2014

January cures

I’m slowly reading The Little Friend. It’s unfortunate that there doesn’t seem to be much time for reading these days. I know that a major part of the reason I managed to read 50 books last year was largely because of the first five months of the year in which I was taking the subway every day.  It makes me a little sad to think about all the reading I was doing over the holidays and how the only book I’ve managed to finish in the past couple of weeks was Deenie. But that’s modern life these days– overly scheduled busy-ness. I was reflecting this morning that for someone who prefers to be at home, I definitely seem to spend a lot of time out of the house…

But it’s a hard thing to complain about when I’m doing so many things I enjoy. I met with my writers group this week, which was immensely helpful not only for the insightful feedback but also for the deadline to produce something. Deadlines are a gift! If I can stay on track to produce a story or a chapter every month for the rest of the year, as per my 2014 resolutions, I will definitely be in good shape to finish one of the things I’m working on right now. It’s so exciting to look at a project and realize that you’re past the halfway point to a complete first draft.

The January Cure on Apartment Therapy is continuing to inspire me. I haven’t completed all the daily assignments (some aren’t really applicable…and some are TOO applicable/impossible right now, if you know what I mean), but I’ve done a few and have gone above and beyond on some of the others. I did a quick reorganization on my closet after I finally switched up my summer and winter wardrobes, and now that my hangers are full of things I haven’t looked at (much less worn) in months, I’ve got that impatient, tingly feeling that suggests I might be able to get rid of a few more things soon. I have too many skirts where the waistline is at my hips (why??) that I never feel good wearing anymore.  And though there is something nice about my thrifted cashmere sweaters (um, mostly that they are super soft lovely cashmere), none of them are cut to fit in contemporary or flattering ways. You’d think the fact that I paid $1 for each of them would make it easier to let them go, but I get so excited about bargains and thrifty finds that sometimes it actually makes it harder.

The other good thing about organizing my closet
even with the rushed, incomplete job I did – is remembering what clothes I have and actually wearing them. This is another good reason to try to thin things out: so that I can actually see what’s there. It has been a major help to have most of my dresses temporarily packed away because I have a lot of them. (With dresses, it is definitely harder to concede that there are too many. There are just enough!)

I’ve still been taking a photo every day, but at least half of them are pretty mediocre or random selfies. This one probably seems equally random, but it was a lovely breakfast prepared by my husband last weekend:



The most important meal...of the week

Yum!! In other news, I am really ready for this cold weather to be over. It's so stabby cold and sunny bright out there that it reminds of me of Winnipeg. I can hardly wait for it to be -16 tomorrow, which is rather a sad observation.

January 20, 2014

Bone & Bread: the SoCal edition

Thanks to the McGill prof who sent me these photos of Bone & Bread in Anza-Borrego State Park in Southern California! 

Bone & Bread: seeing cacti for the first time?

 Bone & Bread and a beautiful vista

The temperature here dropped again, and it feels even colder after looking at these pictures! I am officially jealous of everyone who gets to travel to California in January. (Not that I've ever been there, but I'd really like to go...)