NaBloPo No.

Back at the end of October, I toyed briefly – very briefly – with the idea of once again giving NaBloPoMo a go. It is, today, the 15th of November, and I have yet to contribute a blog post to the cause, so I guess you could say that idea is dead in the water. And that’s ok.

It’s definitely a challenge to work up a whole blog post every day for 30 days. I mean, maybe it’s not for you, but taking a look back at my most current posts, I seem to have gone back to being a once-a-month blogger. So if there is a challenge that is “write a blog post EVERY MONTH for an entire year” I could probably manage that. But even then…

The good thing is that I have at least been writing. I write a twice-a-week blog for a friend’s business. I’ve been asked to write some promotional material for another friend’s business, and I even wrote a book review – and then read and recorded it – for a radio program. So I’ve got that going for me.

And, of course, in the midst of all this are the short stories and potential novel (I know, right?) that I’m slogging away at on a fairly regular basis. So the words are getting out there. They’re just not getting in here.

It will come, I know it will.

For now, as proof of my actual writing, you can go ahead and listen to my shaky voice read my review on Get Lit:

http://www.jamietennant.ca/index.php/2017/10/26/get-lit-e49-with-karen-smythe-plus-a-book-review-by-elizabeth-obermeyer/

My voice isn’t that shaky, really. And writing a book review to be read out loud was a really fun challenge.

So I’ll leave it there for now, with a promise (to myself) to be back. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. I just need to make time to say it here.

 

 

Holiday Monday Feels

Like most Canadians, I’m at home today given that it’s Thanksgiving Day. And also, like many Canadians, we had our Thanksgiving meal yesterday, leaving us with leftovers for today, as we lounge about in sweatpants and eat pumpkin pie for breakfast and/or lunch. It’s a good holiday, Thanksgiving, one of my favourites.

Usually, by Thanksgiving weekend we also have lovely autumn colours and crisp temperatures, making Thanksgiving a cozy kind of holiday, where you don’t mind turning on the oven and boiling water for several different vegetables. But this year we have muggy low 20s temperatures, turning the house into a sauna, and green trees as far as the eye can see. Damn it all.

Still, we had nice later evening dinner yesterday, both boys were home, and we were joined later by our eldest son’s girlfriend, so it was fairly festive. And then I went to bed around 9:30pm.

My parents used to host Thanksgiving dinner for 20 people. At least. Hordes of people. 20 for dinner IS a horde, don’t even judge me. And they did it beautifully and perfectly and damned if I didn’t just ATTEND these dinners, with very little to do. But now, it turns out dinner for 5 can just about kill me, so what is the difference between me and my parents? Probably not much. They probably went to bed early too, I have just forgotten that part of the equation.  Also, dishwasher. We don’t have one.

Fortunately for me, the rule in our house (mostly) is that those who do the cooking do not have to do the cleaning of the utensils used to create and consume the meal so that usually means I don’t do any of the post-meal cleaning up. But honestly, having a dishwasher automatically gives you loads more counter space, and I have determined part of what exhausts me so much when preparing large meals is the time I spend trying to creatively create space for things where there is no space for things. My kitchen is SMALL, friends. And the counter space therein is practically non-existent. But every time I plan a large dinner party or get-together for friends and family I 100% forget that there is no actual space to prepare foods for large numbers of people. And yet? I continue to do it because I love it so much.

To me, there are few things better than feeding the people you love. When the boys were small and we had a million places to go after work/school and I was trying to get food into their faces before we ran out the door, ok then maybe there were lots of things better than feeding the people you love. But even back then, I loved having a weekend to prepare food and the time to enjoy it with my family. Or to create something special for friends who maybe didn’t always have the time to make Sunday dinners for themselves. And just texting or calling a friend to say “What are you up to? Wanna come for dinner?” and knowing it can make their entire weekend is such a great feeling. And it isn’t that I pull out all the stops and do a massively elegant and luxurious feast (I mean ok sometimes I do) but often it’s just mac and cheese or nachos or ordering pizza. But it’s still sharing a meal, talking about our week, solving the problems of the world. As one does.

I know I inherited this from my parents. It’s in me because it was in them.

One of the last things my dad ever did before he went into hospital for the final time was to host a fish fry at our cottage for my mum, the four of us, and our neighbours. Next week will be the 14th anniversary of his death, and while a lot of the details about him are gone from my memory, (which SUCKS, trust) I don’t think I will ever forget the pure joy that was on his face during that meal. The happiness that radiated from him for just the simple pleasure of cooking for people he loved. That has stayed with me, and it’s him I think about every time I welcome the people I love to our home, offer them a drink, and encourage them to have seconds of whatever is on the menu.

Happiest of Thanksgivings, friends. Big kitchen, small kitchen or no kitchen, I hope you get to celebrate surrounded by people you love.

 

Thursday Night

I went to yoga tonight. My last yoga class was sometime in 2007 – after I started taking karate but before I started kickboxing. I wanted to keep doing it all, but there are just not enough hours in the day. At least there weren’t back then. There might be now, but alas, I am too broken for karate and kickboxing, so yoga on its own it is.

And it was great! Nearly everything came back to me; the breath, the focus, the postures, the way I knew what the instructor was going to say and where she was going with the practice before it happened. Muscle memory, I guess? Something, anyway.

And yes, this is the same instructor I had all those years ago when I used to yoga. We were reminiscing. It was probably 2001-2002 that I started classes with her. Max was wee, Charles barely in school. Her own daughter was just a few years older, and now she is doing a Masters degree. Time goes on.

And my body. Oh dear, my poor old body. I am 10 years older, several pounds heavier, and oh dear. So what didn’t come back? The flexibility. Holy god, I have lost it all.

This is the kind of thing that would have, back in the day, bothered me so much that I would have given up. But tonight I was able to cut myself some slack, work to my limit, and not go beyond that. I was, as a matter of fact, present.

I had kind of a shitty summer, friends. I won’t go into details, but there was a lot of stress, a lot of shit going on that I was unable to control. And, if you ever ask me what level of control I would like to have in any given situation, my answer is typically ALL OF IT. So you can see how this would have been kind of a problem.

When we were asked at the beginning of class what brought us to yoga – or brought us back to yoga – I said I missed the ability to be present, to be mindful of the present. I had lost the ability to focus on the now, and, after this summer, I needed to get that back. I hadn’t planned on saying that. Usually, in those kinds of situations, I say something benign, something generic, so the instructor just moves along to the next person. But tonight, those words – present, mindful – just rushed from me. Clearly, they needed to be said.

The class flew by. Suddenly we were settling in for savasana, and then it was over.

I am going to be SO SORE tomorrow, I know it. I have not moved like that in a very long time. But as I always like to say it’s a “good hurt.” The hurt where you know you’ve done something amazing for your body, so you don’t mind the pain.

My body hurts, but my brain – for the first time in quite some time – does not. I call that a win.

Also? Hi. Thanks for sticking around. I think I might be back for good this time. This too is good for the brain.

 

Goddamn it, Howard the Duck. I can’t ever quit you.

Yesterday, an 80s pop culture account I follow on Twitter reminded me that On This Day in 1986, Howard the Duck was released in theatres. How thoughtful of them.

The summer of 1986 stands out for me for the following reasons:

  1. I wrote exams and successfully completed grade 13.
  2. I accepted an offer from McMaster University.
  3. I flew, on a plane, for the first time ever, to spend eight weeks on Vancouver Island.
  4. I saw Howard the Duck. In the theatre. On purpose.

In the summer of 1985, I joined the Canadian Naval Reserves and completed training in their (now defunct) Summer Youth Employment Program. In the fall of ’85, I started working in my Navy trade of musician. Yes, this is a thing. One of the requirements to advance as a musician in the reserves was to attend the Canadian Forces School of Music (yes, that also is a thing) at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt, on Vancouver Island. There I would be practicing for TQ (trade qualification), performing in bands and other ensembles, and taking part in parades and events with the other students. And, in case you were ever wondering, Homer Simpson was correct when he said “It’s not just a job, it’s a really, really easy job.” (Go Navy!)

This was pretty huge for me, honestly. I had never been away from home for THAT LONG before. I had never even been on a plane, but then one day in early July, my dad dutifully drove my friend and me to CFB Trenton, where we spent the night, then arose bright and early to board a plane to Victoria. Well, ok, we boarded a plane to Winnipeg. Then to Edmonton. Then to Vancouver. Then we got on a completely different plane – one that sat 6 people and luggage extremely uncomfortably – and then, finally, we arrived in Victoria. It was the longest fucking day of my life. Once we arrived in Victoria, we boarded a bus to the base in Esquimalt, and then we collapsed into bed. BUT NOT FOR LONG.

The first few days were a sort of culture shock. We were jetlagged, nervous about the job, trying to get the lay of the land and figure out where we needed to be at any given time.

We were housed in barracks with about 40 other women, required to be present for daily inspection which included our bed and the area around our bed, our locker, the shared bathroom, the common area, etc. We were given rulers to ensure our pillowcases were a certain size, and that our sheets were turned down the appropriate length, with counterpanes tucked in just so, and boots and other footwear lined up under the bed in exactly the correct way.

And, if I’m being honest, I fucking EXCELLED at this. I love nothing more than organizing a closet, making sure things are JUST SO. This part was SO perfect for me. Other parts of being in the military, not so much. But the ironing and the organizing and the cleaning? I was there for it.

Eventually the terror of, you know, everything subsided, and we spent our downtime exploring the base and hanging out with and getting to know the other students at the School of Music.

We had, it turns out, quite a lot of downtime. We were typically finished work for the day around 4:00 pm, and then after supper, our time was our own. With just one stipulation: we weren’t allowed to leave the base.

We watched other people come and go through the gates of the base all the time, but there was a rule for those of us who were new and that was that we had to stay on base for the first three weeks of our tenure there. I still have no idea why. Did they think we run away and never come back? WE WERE ON AN ISLAND, how far could we get? Anyway, that was the rule, and I a and have always been, a rule follower to the extreme. See above for goddamn sheet measuring.

So we were “stuck” on the base for 21 days, and at first it was fine because we were a) terrified and b) we had no money. But once we’d been paid, we were anxious to spend money. And the base activities were growing increasingly dull as the weeks went on. As well, the lucky ones who could escape for the evening would regale us with fantastic stories of pints at The Tudor House (RIP),  buses to Victoria for shopping and movies, and tea at the Empress Hotel. ROGERS’ CHOCOLATES, people. It was glorious, and when we finally were able to make our way through the gates, military ID firmly in hand for our return, we were giddy with anticipation. And what had we, as a group, decided on for our first foray into the city? Why, a screening of Howard the Duck, of course.

I vaguely remember the bus ride into town and lining up – LINING UP – to get our tickets. There was probably popcorn and a drink and then the movie itself, which, I don’t think I have to tell you, is one of the WORST movies ever made. And to be honest, I remember very little about the movie. I can recollect precisely zero plot (perhaps there wasn’t one?) although I vaguely remember a suuuuuper awkward bedroom scene that caused 19-y/o UIG to panic in a “OMG there’s not going to be alien duck/human sex, is there? I don’t think I can handle alien duck/human sex right now.” There wasn’t but honestly, fuck you everyone involved in the making of that dumb movie for causing anyone to have to EVER worry about Lea Thompson potentially having sex with that goddamn awful duck.

ANYWAY.

Our group of freshly-released navy friends exited the theatre, and I think there might have been beers afterward, or at least food that wasn’t served cafeteria-style from bored military cooks, and then we took the bus back to the base, having survived our first big adventure.

The entire summer was one of high adventure, honestly. I was four entire provinces away from my home and my parents. I was working full time for decent pay, so I didn’t have to worry too much about tuition heading to university that fall. I was navigating a new city, figuring things out on my own, AND going for tea at the motherfucking Empress Hotel.  It was the most grown-up  I had ever felt until that point, and it was a pretty glorious feeling.

So thanks, I guess, Howard the Duck, for being so terrible that people can’t help but talk about you every single year, reminding me where I was, and what I was doing in August, 1986. Perhaps if we’d seen a different, better movie, there’d be less to talk about each year? So I guess I’m grateful?

FINE, let’s go with grateful.

NEVER FORGET

 

 

 

I yell about books I like, invite me to join your book club

After a bit of a reading drought (this is going to seem funny shortly, drought) I recently read Margaret Drabble’s excellent The Dark Flood Rises. The title makes it sound a bit like a disaster novel. It isn’t. What it is, is a nearly perfectly crafted novel, a perfectly told story, and when I finished it, I had planned to write a nice tidy review of it here on my blog. So I made some notes. What follows are the notes I quickly jotted down. I had originally planned to go back to them, to clean them up, to flesh them out, to make them, you know, readable. But rereading them tonight, I have decided to leave them as is. So here you go:


Margaret Drabble has written one hell of a book.

This is a treatise on ageing, on family, on the rise of the so-called grey tsunami (a tidal wave, more water) and the what on earth are we going to do with all these old people. On life and love and friendships and facing down your own mortality, as well as the mortality of others. The treatment of the elderly. Where will we be when death takes us, how will we go, surely not in a car wreck, but more pleasantly in bed. After a fall. Who is to know.

Themes of age, themes of water. So much water. An incredible cast of seemingly unrelated yet rather related characters living in varying degrees of opulence, with eccentricities, with faith or not, with intellect or not.

Every story is tragic, yet hopeful. Everyone is longing for something, trying to recapture something. Drabble’s characters are full and rich and intriguing. They are everyone.


Idk does this make you want to read this book?

But sometimes raw is better. I stared at these words for an hour or so, and I couldn’t rearrange them into anything else, honestly. The bottom line is that Margaret Drabble really has written one hell of a book. It’s pretty much all you need to know.

If you would like more information – or, you know, actual information – about this book, get at me. I will probably just demand that you read it.

 

Friday nights are for books and cheap wine

Last Friday night, I took the bus downtown, and when the friendly bus driver asked where I was headed, I told him I was going to the library. He said “That’s how you’re spending your Friday night? At the library?!” But you know what? Hell yes, I was. Also it was a licensed, 19+ event, and glasses of wine were five dollars. FIVE DOLLARS. Where else can you get a glass of wine – and it wasn’t even plonk – for five dollars? Nowhere, that’s where. Plus a lovely spread of cheese and crackers, Roma pizza (I firmly believe there is a bylaw that states you cannot host a party in Hamilton without at least one Roma pizza in attendance) and then a table of desserts. COME ON. Best deal in town, honestly.

And while the wine was very attractively-priced, we were also there for the reveal of the Hamilton Reads One Book One Community choice for this year, and for the lovely Jane Urquhart, who read from her new book A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through 50 Objects.

I will admit to being skeptical of the entire concept of A Number of Things, because there is this tendency, among Canadians, to focus only on the stereotypes when compiling lists of “Canadian” things. Toques and moose and hockey, amirite? And I still haven’t read the book, so I’m withholding judgement, but from what Jane read on Friday night, I feel I might be pleasantly surprised by the insight and depth of research, by the thoughtful inclusion of important, culturally significant objects, as well as some of the ones that may more generally spring to mind. I mean, she’s Jane Urquhart, after all. I suppose I needn’t have worried.

Worries aside, the entire evening was a delight. A packed house, standing room only for books and authors on a Friday night? Hamilton, you never disappoint. And of course, the big reveal of Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People as the choice for Hamilton’s One Book One Community!

HPL has organized a season of programming designed around the OBOC pick, and there are some amazing events lined up. I’m not sure the details are available online yet, but you can pick up this little booklet and make your plans for the fall. There’s even a series of workshops by me! Pretty sure I’ll have a lot more to say about those later this summer. Other than, you know, “Eeeeeeeee! I’m running some writing workshops, you guys!” I promise, ok?

HPL staff were also there to offer book talks for those who were interested, and listening to two book talks meant you were eligible to be entered into a draw. 12 tote bags with books were up for grabs, as well as a large bucket o’ books. I didn’t win, but my friend Jessica won one of the tote bags, which made an already great night even better.

Finally, HPL is also running, for I believe the first time EVER, an Adult Summer Reading Club! It will surprise virtually no one that I consistently OWNED at summer reading club as a kid, and over the years I’ve wistfully watched from afar as other library systems began advertising their own adult versions, so I’m happy HPL is finally on board! Grab your card at any library branch, or download from the website, and print your own.

So to recap, wine and cheese, door prizes and authors, book talks and cupcakes. And all for just 10 bucks. Friday nights at the library? Absolutely, and let’s do it again soon.

Love your library system, folks. Hamilton truly has one of the best.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juror #3 Reports for Duty

I’m not sure if you noticed, but I was gone for awhile. I mean, I’m not the most prolific blogger, I’ll give you that, but for three weeks in May I was basically out of commission, and doing my civic duty, participating on a jury which really took over my life.

The trial itself wasn’t all that interesting – civil trial, one dude suing another dude kind of thing – but if you’ve ever been on a jury you’ll know that it can be exhausting because you spend the whole day just listening and – and here is the really tough part – PAYING ATTENTION. TO EVERYTHING.

And you’ll likely know that I am a pretty good listener, but we’ve all had those conversations where we might drift a bit, or we’re thinking of something we want to say to move the conversation along, so we’re not 100% engaged, 100% fully focused. And that’s normal! But in court, you don’t get a chance to interject or voice your opinions (lawyers really don’t like that) you just have to listen. And you can’t zone out for a bit, because you might miss something ultra important. Then, once all the talking is done you have to go away for a few hours to determine the course of someone’s life, based on what you heard and listened to for the past 12 days. NO PRESSURE.

The other thing, of course, is that you’re not permitted to talk about the case, and my dudes, that was kind of the hardest ever thing for me. Because while I am a pretty great listener, I am an even better talker, and more importantly, I am a person who likes to talk things through in order to better understand them. So having to come home and just not talk about what had been going on all day was rather tortuous.

It’s kind of a humbling experience, to be part of a jury. For the first few days, we sat, we listened to witnesses, experts, the plaintiff, the defendant. As the trial went along, when it became clear that things were starting to wrap up, I became more and more nervous. Would we be able to do this? To do the right thing? To look only at evidence, and not let emotions take over? Once both lawyers had presented all their witnesses, we had only closing arguments and the judge’s charge to us left to hear. And then it would be up to us.

So, spoiler alert, we did it, and according to the judge we did a fantastic job. She praised us for being so attentive, so thorough, for taking our time and working through the questions we needed to answer in such great detail, and that was a huge relief. We’re still not really supposed to talk about the case, but honestly, if we’re ever out together having a few drinks, I might just have to give you a rough outline of this trial that consumed me for practically the entire month of May. Because me. Listener. But also talker. Actually, mostly talker.

I learned a lot from sitting on this jury, sitting in that courtroom for so many hours just listening. Listening is a true skill, a real art. We were permitted to take notes – the judge herself is an avid note taker – but what I found was that I was better off watching and listening. I did jot down the occasional fact or concept, but I mostly relied on observation. In then end, my memory of the proceedings was just as good than that of the note takers. For me, head up, watching everything was better than head down, writing furiously on a pad.

It’s a very good lesson, learning to listen more actively without wanting to jump in and add your own two cents to the conversation. To process and reflect, and make decisions based on evidence and fact, and not always just emotional response. It was an experience I’m glad I was able to have. But I’m still quite happy they can’t call me back for three years.