Category Archives: Life

Here I Go Again…

Some of you might know that back in November I signed up for and participated in National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo.) You might also know that I was VERY DILIGENT about writing my 1667 words – or more! – each day from November 1st to 15th, and at the end of the day on November 15th I had written 25,468 words on a project (I was and still am hesitant to call it a novel, so it continues to be known as a project) and was feeling quite smug about my process and my success thus far. And you also may know that on November 16th, my son had a spontaneous brain hemorrhage, and no writing was done from that point on.

Now that Max is practically 100% better after a few months of recovery, I started thinking about that project again. In fact, he and I had been talking about my writing recently and he brought up  the NaNoWriMo project like this:

Max: Hey, speaking of your writing, what about that thing you were doing where you were trying to get to 50,000 words or whatever?

Me: Yeah, I did that for a couple of weeks in November, but stopped.

Him: Oh, that’s too bad.

Me: Yeah.

Him: Wait. November? Ooooooh. Shit. Sorry.

It was kind of a funny conversation, honestly, and if he hadn’t almost DIED it would be truly hilarious. But things are good now, so I decided it was time for me to get back at it and so I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo for the month of April.

LOOK HOW CASUAL I AM ABOUT WRITING THOUSANDS OF WORDS EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH.

Honestly, though, it will be great, and it will be just what I need to kickstart my project and see it through to (sort of) completion. I’m excited, and while I haven’t even looked at this draft since November 15th, I have missed my characters, and I have been wondering how they are and what they are doing, so it is clearly the right time to find out.

If you’re camping and novel writing in April, please let me know! I am very good at sending along encouraging words, cheering you on, and virtual s’mores. We got this, pals.

Emily Starr 4ever

I am rereading Emily of New Moon because of Russian Doll.

If you’ve watched or are watching Russian Doll on Netflix you will probably understand the reference. If you’re not, well first off you SHOULD because it’s amazing, and next off, well… I don’t want to spoil it at all in case you watch it (which you should) but the main character makes reference to the book a few times over the course of the first season. And while Nadia, the main character,  is not the most optimal person to aspire to be, as soon as she mentioned Emily of New Moon, I definitely wanted to be her friend. (Ok fine, I loved her and all her flaws anyway, but the Emily reference put it way over the edge.)

There have been so many instances in pop culture, movies, TV where characters claim to love or hate books and those choices have resonated with me but this is the first time I’ve felt it viscerally. For real.

I spent a lot of time during my childhood and youth in the Barton branch of the Hamilton Public Library. I absolutely loved it there. My mum took my brother and me pretty regularly and then of course when I was old enough to go by myself, I went every opportunity I could, starting when I was around 8 years old or so because it was 1975 and obviously if you could walk, you could get yourself to wherever you needed to be, without parental supervision. (One day I will write a post about taking my younger brother and some of the other neighbourhood urchins to see the movie The Hindenburg because that was totally age-appropriate.) But back to the library. I would sometimes go with friends, but I mostly went on my own and I would stay as long as I possibly could.

In typical 1970s childhood fashion, I was required to be home when the streetlights came on. Once after browsing in the children’s section, I had signed out a few books and then another one – a teen book, in the teen section, scandalous! – caught my eye so I started reading it and before I knew it it was dark, the streetlights had been on for a while and I had to bike home alone, completely freaked out. 42 years later and I still remember that the book that had me captivated/terrified was Are You in the House Alone? and I was convinced that the killer was after me as I biked as fast as I could along Barton Street to home. Honestly, every book for young adults in the 1970s was either terrifying or about sex. Which to be fair was also terrifying at the time.

But I didn’t find Emily at the branch, I found her at the main library downtown. If you know Hamilton you know that the Central Library is a massively modern (well modern in 1980) structure with a lot of glass and concrete. It’s a fantastic building and I love it so much. But, if you are of a certain age, you will also know that the earlier Central branch was at Main St. and MacNab St. (it’s now a courthouse) beside what used to be the Canadian Football Hall of Fame – and that is where I found Emily.

On a rainy early summer evening, possibly the same summer as the Are You in the House Alone? experience, I went downtown with some older kids from our street. We had taken the bus downtown specifically to go to this library, I remember that because I guess we were that cool. And I also remember wondering if kids were even allowed in this formidable place. I was definitely nervous; the building was big and dark and very, very different from the bright, windowed, one level branch library I loved so dearly. But walking in was a revelation. It was much brighter than I had expected, the facade had always seemed gloomy – masterful but gloomy all the same. The main floor was massive – the building itself is quite large, although when I pass it, as I do daily now, on my way home from work, it seems a little less gigantic than it did when I was 11. The floors were cool marble, and there were two wide marble staircases that dazzled. And there was, in fact, a children’s area. The paperback racks spun quietly and as I browsed, a thick book caught my eye. I recognized the author, but the cover seemed more modern than something written by L.M. Montgomery should have been which didn’t make a lot of sense but then it was the 70s amirite? So I found a place to sit while my friends wandered around and I started reading and it was SAD, friends. Like really sad. Before we even left the library to head home I was completely hooked and immediately transported to Emily’s lonely world, so I signed it out. Nervously because I wasn’t sure my library card would even work at this big, impressive library. But it did, and I took Emily home.

This cover! I mean, how could I have left it there?

I loved her right from the start. I loved her relationship with her father and her relationship with nature. I loved the fact that she composed descriptions and elaborate events in her head – most of which involved her dying pitifully and tragically and everyone in her life being super sorry that they were mean to her now that she’s dead, which is a thing that I also did when I was 12 (it is probably a thing  a lot of 12-year old highly dramatic kids do to be fair) and then when she had some actual paper she wrote these scenarios down (which is also a thing I did.) I especially loved the letters she wrote to her dead father which act as a kind of diary for her, and in which she pours out her heart dramatically about her experiences living at New Moon with her aunts and cousin. Emily is so fucking emo, you guys, it’s amazing.

In Russian Doll, Nadia searches for her own copy of Emily of New Moon for reasons (again, which I won’t spoil) and when a friend tells her did you know it’s the same author as Anne of Green Gables, Nadia says, “Everyone loves Anne but I like Emily. She’s dark.” And Emily is dark – so dark – and a little bit extra. She has a sort of intuition, a second sight kind of thing that includes visits from The Flash (not that one) and a kind of spooky understanding of people, which is and has always been my total jam. And Emily feels things deeply – so very deeply – but she can also make adults a little afraid of her, and who doesn’t want that power as an overly dramatic preteen? In short, Emily was and continues to be everything to me.

So I’m glad Russian Doll reminded me how much I loved the Emily books, and how much I love them still. I’m not sure I’ll go on to reread the others in the Emily series, but New Moon will always be a favourite and it, like the library where I found Emily and the night I found Emily, will always be a treasured memory. It was more than 40 years ago but sometimes it feels like it was just last summer. I have a lot of amazing childhood memories and I will always be so grateful that so many of them revolve around books and libraries.

 

In Praise of the Desk Lunch

When I worked in a small library where I was the only staff person, I often lamented my sad desk lunches. With the exception of the patients that would use the library, I spent my days alone, and so often my lunchtime was also spent alone. I did have colleagues from another (attached) hospital library and we would occasionally go out for lunch, but my midday meal was largely eaten in solitary.

I ate – for the most part – where I worked although I would usually stow the keyboard somewhere away from potential crumbs, and I would minimize any work-related browser tabs or documents I had open. A true vacation from work, right?

And it wasn’t as if I didn’t have options. There was a staff lounge and an outdoor patio area with picnic tables, as well as any number of benches on the hospital grounds I could have escaped to, but I rarely did. The lounge was a bit of a cesspool of negativity, and I really didn’t want that in my life. When I would occasionally use one of the communal microwaves there, I tried very hard not to get involved with conversations complaining about management, other staff, etc. I had worked for a lot of years in a workplace with that kind of lunchroom and so when I encountered that I would quickly retreat to my desk, grateful that I no longer had to endure that.

The outdoor options? Well as promising as they were, if you know me at all you’ll know I really don’t like being outside. Especially when the weather is very warm and especially at the noon hour when the sun is strongest. If I couldn’t guarantee a spot in the shade, I wasn’t interested. So back to my desk I would go.

And yet, I complained. Friends would post photos of work lunches, potlucks, camaraderie over the noon hour and I would be envious. I would scowl at my boring sandwich and veggie sticks like it was their fault they weren’t a four-course Italian meal lovingly prepared by work friends and brought in for all to share, or a glass of red wine at a colleague’s birthday lunch at a downtown bistro.

It was a lonely existence.

When I started my new job (it’s been two and a half years, but it’s still my new job) I noticed that hardly anyone ate lunch at their desk. There is a staff lounge here with all the things you need to eat a proper lunch, including a real kitchen table and chairs. People bring their lunches from home or they buy them from the cafeteria, and many of us eat together. It feels like a real and welcoming community, and it’s so, so great.

So each day I grab my lunch bag and head to the staff lunch room and chat with whoever happens to be in there at the time, or not. There’s no pressure to participate in conversations, there’s also not any exclusion from conversations, you can join in or not, you can just do what you want. So refreshing, and such a step up from my sad desk lunches of yore.

Last week we were informed that the lunchroom will be getting a real overhaul. New or newly-covered furniture, a new fridge (honestly!) and a few other razzle-dazzle kinds of changes will be happening, which is amazing, but it means that the room will be out of commission for most of the week while these things happen. We were told to plan our lunches accordingly since we would be without access to things like a fridge, the microwave, etc. So making my lunch this morning I built myself a sandwich and added a few other things to the bag, and then at 1pm, after my desk shift, I stowed my keyboard and closed my work-related browser tabs and docs, and proceeded to eat my lunch. And I found that I kind of missed it. After all those years of moaning about being alone and having a solitary lunch day after day, I was actually kind of excited to sit and eat without any other distractions.

I found I slowed my pace because I really had nothing else to do. I could have read my book, but I was almost halfway through my sandwich before I even thought about it. I scrolled through my phone a bit but even stopped that after a few minutes. I really just ate. And I realized it had been a very long time since I had just eaten without doing anything else.

There’s a lot to be said for eating and only eating, and there has been a lot written on the subject of mindful eating, of eating without distraction. Mindless eating is – or can be – eating on the go, eating while doing a bunch of other things simultaneously when you’re not even thinking about the food you are ingesting. Mindful eating encourages us to focus on the act of eating – without doing anything else – and this is kind of a lost art when there is a lot of pressure on us to always be doing something.

Meditation apps include courses and sessions on eating mindfully and a quick Google search turns up dozens of sites all about why and how to practice mindful eating. (I know this because I did a search after I ate my lunch.) And while it would be amazing to spend a full hour in contemplation of our food, even just a few minutes of only eating can have a positive impact on slowing down our day.

Once the lunchroom renovation is complete, no doubt I will return to the lunchtime social time, but I think every so often I’m going to make an effort to slow it down and find a quiet place to be alone with my lunch. Today was a good reminder that a desk lunch doesn’t have to be a sad lunch after all.

 

Waxing on. And on and on…

I leave for work, as you are no doubt getting very tired of hearing, extremely early in the morning. My bus arrives at 6:50 am, and I am fortunate that the bus stop is practically at my front door, so I can dash out around 6:49 am and still make it. It’s a small luxury, to be this close to a method of transportation that you don’t own, I recognize that, and I am very grateful for the HSR and this bus route in particular.

Because I leave so early I don’t eat breakfast. At home, that is. I find it difficult to eat at such an ungodly hour, so I have been bringing breakfast to work with me, and depending on my information desk schedule I can usually squeeze my breakfast in somewhere between 8 and 9 am. Not too bad at all.

Sometimes I bring a smoothie I made that morning or the night before, but when I returned from my leave while my son was recovering, I noticed our workplace toaster. And this was quite the revelation.

It’s not new, this toaster. I am pretty sure it’s always been here – at least as long as I’ve been here – but back in February while I was waiting for the kettle to boil for my morning tea I thought “I can bring things to toast in that toaster!” and that changed my world.

So now I bring a bagel or English muffin with cheese or marmalade or something and I can have these bread products TOASTED which is much nicer than having them UNtoasted, and I honestly look forward to this new ritual every day. My life is VERY EXCITING PLEASE TRY NOT TO BE JEALOUS.

When I pack my breakfast and lunch, I mostly used wax paper for wrapping things like sandwiches, cut up cheese to have with crackers, cookies, etc. When I unwrap these things and then consume them, I fold up the wax paper (or ball it up if something leaked on it) and place it back in my lunchbox. I understand this is…unusual, or…perhaps even downright weird. It’s ok, I get it.

In high school, I began taking my lunch daily. For both elementary and middle school, we all went home for lunch unless there was something special going on (choir, sports, band, etc.) This was the 1970s, friends, and most of us lived less than 10 minutes away from the school, so going home for lunch was a thing. It was The Flintstones and Big Al’s Cartoon Capers, (“The cartoons are comin’ your way!) and tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, and it was life.

But my high school was too far to go home every day for lunch, and I also joined a lot of groups which met at lunchtime, so I brought my lunch. And I used what we had in the kitchen to wrap my sandwiches, and that was wax paper.

My mum was a big fan of wax paper. By this time, in the early 80s, plastic wrap had taken over, and that’s what most of my friends had. Sandwiches and vegetables wrapped in plastic that you just threw away afterwards. What a concept. My food, wrapped in its milky white parchment-like shroud, seemed exotic to my friends and it turned me into the one thing I absolutely hated: being different. At the time, my goal was to be just like everybody else, as much as possible. This only lasted a year or two, by grade 11 I wanted to stand out, but those first few years, eating lunch with the other bandies in the music room, I didn’t want the attention that wax paper brought upon me.

Which…is ridiculous, right? Who the hell cares what your food is wrapped in? Well, I did. And so I asked my mum to buy Glad plastic wrap next time she went grocery shopping. And I did so off-handedly like it was no big deal. And my mother flat out refused.

Wax paper, she told me, could be reused. It was sturdy, and it was biodegradable – at least more biodegradable than plastic – and, it was cheaper.

My mother, you see, was an avid recycler from way back. She saved newspapers and bottles for people who would come around to collect them to sell. She flattened aluminum tins and saved those too. She recruited me to remove the little windows from envelopes so that the paper could be recycled. Eventually, our city got a recycling program (doesn’t it feel weird that at one point everything just went in the garbage?) and the collecting people no longer came around, and all the papers, bottles, and tins went in the blue box. But until then, our front porch was a storage area for recyclables before anyone really knew what recycling was.

She was also one of the first in our neighbourhood to compost kitchen waste, and she would even save the apple cores at the school where she worked and bring large bags of these cores home to put in the composter, rather than have kids and staff throw their fruit scraps in the garbage. People thought she was so weird (she kind of was but in a nice way) but she didn’t let it bother her and she remained diligent about the importance of reducing, reusing, recycling. So much so that one year she was awarded special golden blue boxes (not real gold) for diverting nearly 90% of her household waste from landfill. I don’t remember our family of four ever having more than a single bag of garbage on any given week, sometimes one in two weeks, sometimes none at all. She was a machine.

And this is the woman that I tried to convince to buy me some damn cling wrap so I could be like everyone else at lunch. Nice try, kid.

So even today, at age 52, I wrap the parts of my lunch that require wrapping in wax paper. We have cling wrap in our household (shocking!) and we even have Ziploc bags (the horror!) but I am insistent that those get washed and reused until they spring a leak or rip. And wax paper can now, if it can’t be reused, go in the green bin. See? She sure was on to something.

My kids rolled their eyes at the sandwiches they would pull out of their lunch bags, tightly and perfectly wrapped in wax paper. But they too would save the paper, balling it and throwing it back in the bag to bring home where I could smooth it out and determine if it could be reused. If not, it went into the green bin, my mother’s legacy intact.

It’s astounding that I’ve written over 1000 words (mostly) on the subject of wax paper (and if you’re still here and reading, well thanks and congratulations I guess?) but it was on my mind this morning as I made my lunch. And then, of course, my thoughts drifted to my mum, the wax paper advocate.

On May 5 she will have been dead nine years, and it was around this time of year in 2010 that she started to feel unwell. It’s a funny thing how the body remembers, how the melancholy can start to seep into your day to day world and little, trivial things become shockingly important without you really even realizing why.

I miss her just as much as I did nine years ago, but the absence is less raw than it was. It still hurts, and it hurts a lot, but now when I remember those little, insignificant things – like how she fiercely defended wax paper and recycled like it was her job – it no longer feels like a punch to the gut. There’s more of a fondness now, more smiles, fewer tears, although the tears still do come, and often when you least expect it. I imagine they always will.

So next time you are wrapping a sandwich, considering pouring one out – or tearing one off I guess – for Pat.

 

 

 

 

 

Medline Searching as a Metaphor for Life?

This morning I got to work at my usual extra-early time and did what I normally do when I arrive early. Once my colleagues and I had finished the opening routine, I went back to my office to get started on the typical morning tasks: checking email, making a cup of tea, etc. Our library, as I mentioned, opens at 8am, but we don’t actually start offering reference services until 9am. the 8-9 shift on the desk is usually a quiet one, letting us all ease into the day. This morning I was scheduled on the desk from 9-11am, but at around 8:30 my first shift colleague who had a lot on her plate to start the day came and asked me if I would help a student. The look on her face told me it was a kind of special/urgent situation, so out I went.

When I sat down at the desk a student was waiting for me, laptop open, and a vague deer in the headlights look on her face. I introduced myself and gave my standard opening of “How can I help?” and we got started.

She took a deep breath and started talking. She explained that she had an assignment, but that she felt completely overwhelmed about where to start, where to look, how to formulate her PS question, what words she should be using, and on and on. I let her speak, let her dump all the information she needed to get out onto me, and let her voice her frustration as to how she didn’t exactly understand and how scared she felt because it seemed like everyone else knew how to do everything and she didn’t. I listened, and once she had said everything she needed to say, I asked her a couple of clarifying questions, questions designed to help her slow down her thought process and questions that would allow her to explain the topic to me in her own terms, using her own vocabulary so that I could understand.

It’s a fascinating thing to watch someone who minutes earlier had been so flustered and confused patiently tell me about her research topic, and to see passion and excitement replace panic. Once I had a handle on what she needed to find I asked her the question I ask a lot of students in this situation: “What words or phrases do you think you should use to search the database?” And she, like a lot of students, looked horrified.

“It doesn’t matter what I think! It has to be evidence-based!”

“True,” I told her. “But you can’t find anything until you enter something in the database, so tell me, who is your population? What is the situation? Just think in regular language, normal, everyday words and you’ll be surprised what the database will turn up.”

This whole exchange likely won’t make much sense unless you too search databases with college or university students, but the wonderful thing about the entire conversation was that it became a Wizard of Oz moment. You know, when Glinda says to Dorothy, “You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it for yourself.” THAT is what it’s like to see students go from “Oh shit, database searching” to “Ooooooh SHIT, database searching!”And it’s a glorious thing to witness.

These are some of my favourite kinds of interactions. I love that moment when students realize that they do have the power, that they can figure it out, that all they needed was a little guidance and someone to get excited for them once they were on the right track. Today’s student left with the tools and resources to take her further in the searching process and the promise that someone would always be at the desk in case she needed a little more assistance down the road.

But most of all I think she left the desk with a sense of accomplishment, a sense of pride that she did know what she was doing after all and no, maybe she didn’t know the exact MeSH terms she should be searching, (who does, really??) but that’s ok. The relief on her face made my day. I helped her, but she also helped herself. Slow it down, trust yourself. Your thoughts and opinions are always valid, and they are such an important part of the process.

Database searching, like life, can be very confusing. And, like life, it’s a lot of trial and error. But, also like life, you do have the power. You just have to learn it for yourself. And it helps to have friendly people along the way to get excited with you and high-five you when you figure it out.

 

 

My Year of Slow

This morning I was texting with my friend Vivian as I usually do in the mornings, and she asked what I was up to. I mentioned I had just rescheduled a couple of appointments that I had this week and that it felt pretty great to do that. I continued, saying that I’m trying to make 2019 the year I don’t overstretch myself and, at the risk of seeming precious, I am just tired of constantly running from one thing to another. I want this to be my year of slow.

My year of slow. Even typing that felt amazing. I sat back after that text conversation with that phrase in my head and considered. Slow. Slow what, though, exactly? Slow down the pace, mostly. The pace, lately, has been unreal. Let me tell you.

On November 16, our youngest son suffered a brain hemorrhage caused by an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which is basically a faulty blood vessel. It was something we didn’t know he had, and you can’t really know you have it unless you’ve had a CT scan or MRI for something unrelated or in a kind of investigative way – as in, what’s causing all these migraines, did that fall result in a concussion, etc. An AVM is a sort of timebomb that can happen anywhere in your body. Obviously, your brain is the worst possible place to have one, as we found out two months ago.

In a lot of ways, he was lucky. Lucky that his dad and I were with him when it happened. Lucky that it happened in downtown Hamilton, so that when I was on the phone with the 911 dispatcher, we could, almost immediately, hear the siren as the ambulance made its way to us. Lucky that it was late evening, no traffic to speak of and so the trip to the ED took mere minutes. Lucky too that we live in the city that hosts the regional trauma centre and one of the best neurosciences programs in the province.

Of course, our understanding of all this luckiness came much, much later when we were able to finally breathe a little bit. At the time it didn’t feel much like anything except terror.

From that night until now it’s been a constant state of vigilance, of running to the hospital, of making sure we were around to meet with doctors and therapists. Max was in hospital from that awful night in November until the 19th of December. 33 days of pacing, of waiting, of hoping, and waiting some more.

Once he was finally home the running continued. Now to a clinic every couple of days to have the tubing changed for his PICC line, to have the PICC line flushed, to see what was causing the incessant beeping of the IV pump. These trips, while not far in distance, were often a nerve-wracking struggle. And, because of the nature of temperamental technology, they often occurred two or three times a day. And all the while Max, who bore the brunt of this, was trying so hard to recover from three open skull brain surgeries and surgery to install a shunt in his brain. You know, no big deal!

For us, life has now somewhat returned to normal. The PICC line is out, there are no more trips to the community clinic, and the only thing Max needs to do now is to attend physiotherapy twice a week to work on things like balance and to regain some of the strength he lost being practically bedridden for nearly five weeks. He is able to go out with friends occasionally and to do most of the things he enjoyed doing before his injury – video games, continuing with the screenplay he had begun writing, practicing for and attending his singing lessons, etc. – and we will never ever take those things for granted ever again.

I have returned to work and the transition has been relatively smooth, helped in no small part by my wonderful coworkers and my supervisor, and so life is actually fairly uneventful in the early stages of 2019. I hope it remains so.

Not surprising, I’m sure, that our family has taken stock over the past few months. Taken stock as to what’s most important, what can be eliminated from our lives (stress, please!) and what we want more of (family time, down time, time with friends) and so my commitment to slowing it all down began to emerge.

I used to look at my calendar and see several things listed for at least four of seven days, sometimes more than one thing listed in the same time slot. They weren’t always huge time commitments and sometimes they were really fun commitments, but often they involved driving or bussing from one location to another with little wiggle room to be on time for the next appointment (I have always had an extraordinary fear of being late, it causes me so much stress, I am actually your dad, five hours early at the airport!) and I have decided that those days are over, as much as they can possibly be.

So far it’s been fairly easy to do this, and I certainly do recognize the privilege in being able to reschedule things, to eliminate some of the stressors in my life this way. And to be honest, it might not stay like this, but for now, I am really enjoying it. As someone who was chronically overcommitted for most of her adult life, I have become a convert to the slow, undercommitted life and it’s quite glorious.

And, as a testament to this commitment to being undercommitted and embracing the slow life, I would like to reveal that I started this post on January 22nd and am finishing it today, February 12th. How’s that for commitment to a cause?

(Actually, it’s just that I am horrendously out of blogging/writing practice, pals.)

 

 

 

You’re Probably Not Doing Anything Else in November Anyway.

A few weeks ago I tweeted out to the world that I was thinking of signing on for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I asked if I knew anyone who had done it before, if it killed them, made them stronger, etc. Just out of curiosity, really. And no one really responded, which is fine, and I figured that was because I didn’t know anyone who had done it before. Or maybe I did and it actually killed them, I guess. Anyway, then I went and signed up. Because honestly, why not?

Why not indeed.

Back in June or July, I can no longer remember which, I participated in a writing challenge called 1000 Words of Summer, the brainchild of delightful author Jami Attenberg. The premise of this challenge was to write 1000 words (obvi) every day for two weeks. At the end of that, writers would have approximately 14,000 words under their respective writing belts. When all was said and done, and the two weeks were up, I had around 16,000 words. Added to the 4,000 or so I already had…well, that’s a significant amount of words. In sentences and paragraphs too, not just random words! (I feel the need to say that for some reason.)

The thing is, those first 4,000? Took me FOREVER to get down. Weeks of stealing a couple of hours at a time in the library or at home. Hours and hours of character sketches and plot points and reworking things. And all I had to show for it was 4,000 or so words. It’s not terrible of course, I was glad to have those words, but there is something about a goal and a deadline that really lights a fire under me.

The great thing about the 1000 Words of Summer idea was that I felt accountable to someone and that someone was none other than Jami freaking Attenberg. I mean, ok, it wasn’t like she was looking over my shoulder to check my word count, but she was sending out encouraging emails every day for those two weeks and that was super motivating. Often, she would write, that she also was having trouble getting the words in, doing the job, and that also was encouraging to hear. Theoretically and intellectually I know that most writers and authors have days or even weeks where the words just don’t come, and I love the writers that I know and follow who share this with the world so beginners like me can breathe a collective sigh of relief that we are not alone. But there was something about getting those emails directly to me (ok, and lots of other people too) that made my writing spirit soar every single day of that challenge.

Write when you’re tired, write when you don’t want to, write even if you know you’re going to delete it at a later date. These were all such good lessons for me, and at the end of the two weeks, there were only 2 days where I didn’t hit the goal and many days where I went way, way over.

20,000 words, give or take. That is tough to walk away from. And I didn’t. I’m still at it, and I’m going to do my best to turn those 20,000 into closer to 70,000

I know. It’s 30 days vs 14 days. 1000 words each day vs 1667 words each day. But it’s not not doable? Right? Right.

It’s a goal plus a deadline and both of those things are 100% my jam. I work best under pressure, I work to tight deadlines like a BAWSE. I got this. And, maybe, we got this? If you’ve ever considered NaNoWriMo, now is the time, friends. I learned first-hand this summer that the writerly community is one of the most supportive out there. Everyone wants everyone else to succeed, and it is so refreshing. So take the plunge with me! Dive in! It doesn’t even have to be a novel! Start some kind of writing project and commit to 30 days where you’re writing every day. Just start. Like I did. Like everyone who has ever written anything did. You just have to start.

It’s been a rough year and a lot of that roughness shows no signs of fading away. So write with me. Let’s lift each other up and share our struggles and our successes together. And, once it’s all over and the words are on the pages? We’ll drink a shit ton of champagne.

So NOW who’s in?!?

When You’re a Jet…

I have been reading A LOT lately. A lot. For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary, but at the beginning of the year I set a goal to read 40 books and you guys. You guys, I have read 21 books so far. And it’s not even the halfway point of the year. And I haven’t even had vacation yet, which is when I typically do the bulk of my reading. So, making pretty great strides if I do say so! And I want to do a roundup of the latest books I’ve read, I really do. But I need to tell you first about the book I am currently reading, and about one passage in particular.

If you follow me on social media, you probably saw photo earlier today of a page from a book with a crude red sort-of-square around a paragraph with the caption “I…I have never felt so seen.” Which is, honestly, pretty dramatic, even for me. And I feel I need to expand on this, because it brought a flood – A VERITABLE FLOOD – of memories, and I think you, my half dozen or so loyal readers, will enjoy this story that will serve to explain so much about me.

The photo in question

This passage is from Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion and it is excellent. That’s all I am going to tell you about it, you can read the reviews – the book came out yesterday – and they will tell you everything you need to know, and a hundred times better than I ever could. Moving on.

I learned to read when I was around 4 years old. I spent a lot of time indoors as an asthmatic child. The asthma went undiagnosed until I was about 8, and because of that, in my early years I suffered a lot of sleepless nights (as did my mother) and since I couldn’t always be particularly active, I learned to read.

By the time I got to kindergarten, I was reading at about a grade 3 or 4 level. Other parents expressed shock that I knew how to read, and told my mother that she should have left it for the the school teach me to read, that it was no good to arrive at kindergarten already knowing how. My mother, thankfully, rolled her eyes, said “What am I going to do, stop her? How can you stop someone from reading if they want to read, and why would you even do that?” and gave me more books.

By grade 1 I was reading everything, and reading was my favourite part of any school day. Our lovely teacher Mrs. Rieger developed reading groups for our class, each child assigned to the group based on their reading level. You probably remember the leveled readers in elementary school, they might still even have them. We had Mr. Mugs and Pat and Cathy (Mr. Mugs was a dog) and the idea was to work your way through each level. You can probably guess how fricking excited that made me.

Our groups were named after animals, and while I don’t remember all of the groups, I remember the lowest level were known as Kangaroos, and the best readers in the class were Elephants. I was an Elephant.

After a few weeks, it must have been pretty clear that I was burning through all the readers, and while I don’t remember ever saying I was bored – I was 7, and all shiny-eyed with how much I loved school  – but it seemed that Mrs. Rieger felt she needed to challenge me.

When we next broke up into our groups, I remember her very clearly saying “Elizabeth, you’re not with the Elephants anymore, I have a new group for you – the Jets!” At first I was excited – even though Jets are not an animal, and 7-year old Elizabeth liked everything to be just so, why not another animal, Mrs. Rieger – but then I was worried. I was the only Jet. And so I took my brand new reader and went to my section of the classroom to read. All by myself. And I read that book with tears running down my cheeks.

When my mum came to pick me up from school she could tell I was upset and when she questioned me I cried so hard, and through my blubbering, I said, “I only just want to be an Elephant!”

This must have confused my poor mother so much, not having a clue about our reading groups or what the hell I was talking about, so I guess I must have filled her in because the next day mum came to the classroom to explain what the actual fuck was wrong with her daughter. To me, at 7, being in a group of one, even though it was the “elite” reading group – to which others would probably have been added eventually – was a punishment. 7-year old Elizabeth was a fantastic reader, but she was also a very social child (she still is, actually) and while poor Mrs. Rieger thought she was doing me a favour, in reality – well in my brain – she was condemning me to a life of isolation and social exclusion. DRAMAAAAAA.

And of course the story has a happy ending, because I got to go back to being an Elephant, and I was allowed to take the readers from the Jets group home with me in the evenings and even write reports on them if I wanted to – which obviously I DID, because duh.

Please know there is SO MUCH MORE to The Female Persuasion than that passage. This was just one that stopped me in my tracks and made me think I was being Punk’d. Honestly. And I’m glad it did, because, as I said earlier, that is probably the story that best represents me and who I am.

At 7 years old and, 44 years later, at 51.

 

Arm(y) of Me

On Monday night I went to bed like every other night, although that night I was anticipating my birthday, which was the next day. Tuesday. Yesterday. It might seem weird to you that a woman about to turn 51 years old was excited for her birthday, but as one of my 2018 goals, I promised myself I would not be mad about my birthday anymore. I was mad when I turned 50, 49, 48…the years stretch back in a series of annoyances. I’m getting old, damn it. But this year I decided to face it head on because, as they say, the alternative is worse.

I suppose I could lie about my age, but I’m a Capricorn, and we don’t like to lie. Mostly because we always worry we’ll get caught – and a lot of times we do get caught – because we’re just not good at it. So it’s either embrace the potential of a birthday in a positive way – another year on this planet! Presents! Cake! etc. – or be an old lady curmudgeon for the rest of my days. I decided to choose the happy persona.

So. Back to Monday night. Went to bed, the usual. Then at around 1:30am I woke up with a screaming, burning pain in my left arm and shoulder. There was numbness in some parts like it had fallen asleep, that pins and needles feeling. But mostly it was agonizing pain. And left arm pain is never a good sign.

I made my way downstairs for a heating pad and some Tylenol. and sat in a chair wide awake and wondering “Is this a heart attack? Should I wake John? What are the other symptoms? Why can’t I remember? Wait, heart attacks in women present differently. What else should I be looking for? Should I grab my phone and consult MedlinePlus?” And then “Of COURSE I would be the person to die on their birthday, why not.”

I need to mention that I was really calm throughout, which pleased me. I am, actually, a good person to have around in a crisis. Should you require one, I can be available. I am very, very practical, and I rarely panic. And I think that intellectually I absolutely 100% knew that I wasn’t having a heart attack, that it was likely just a pinched nerve, or even maybe I had been sleeping funny, but I had to go through all the “what ifs” before I could rule it all out.

I suppose if it was a heart attack I could have been DEAD before my brain reasoned its way through all the evidence, but whatever.

In the morning over birthday coffee, I told my husband what my night had been like and he was pretty pissed off that I didn’t wake him up while all that was going on. I shrugged and then I uttered the words that drove me the most batshit about my mother: “I didn’t want to bother you.”

I DIDN’T WANT TO BOTHER YOU.

Even our 17-year old said, “Mum, I think that if you think you’re having a heart attack and maybe dying, THAT KIND OF CONCERNS THE REST OF US JESUS CHRIST.”

My mother, for reference, fell down a flight of stairs and busted up her face, but waited THREE DAYS to go to the hospital and only ended up there because her friend happened to drop by for something unrelated, took one look at her, and forced her into the car to go to the ER. When she called me later, after they’d fixed what they could, I asked her why she didn’t call me. That’s when she told me “Oh it was a few days ago, I didn’t want to bother you.” And that’s when I lost my shit on her.

 

But, as it turns out, I have that same tendency.

Fortunately, it was a false alarm, I remain alive and able to celebrate my 51st year unscathed, the arm pain was likely from having a 65lb husky drag me around the city 7 days a week. Good to know, I guess.

Happy Birthday to me. Still alive, still annoying af.

Wednesday night cold vibes

It’s 2018 now and Happy New Year, and let’s hope we make it through without dying in some horrible Twitter-related dick measuring nuclear strike incident! Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but there it is.

I am currently drinking orange cinnamon tea and eating toast with honey because I am ever-so-slightly under the weather. It’s just a cold, nothing serious, but it’s a good enough excuse to eat toast and honey, which I really don’t do often enough. Not just any honey, mind you. Stay away with your liquid Billy Bee is what I’m saying. I’m only here for the solid, white, slice it like butter honey. There is probably a name for this kind of honey, but it escapes me. But, this is the honey of my youth – and honestly, I didn’t know there was any other sort of honey until I became an adult – and it’s the honey I stand by. I also had it on toasted baguette because I am fancy.

When my mother quit smoking back in 1975, spoonfuls of this kind of honey are what worked for her. She also wallpapered the bedrooms in our house and did some painting to keep herself occupied, but she told me years later that every time she had a craving for a cigarette she would go to the kitchen and eat a giant spoon of honey, then go back to what she was doing. Whatever works, I guess. There were no drugs or hypnosis for smoking cessation, there was really just cold turkey. Or cold honey, in her case.

So naturally I associate honey with quitting smoking, but so far have refrained from asking smokers who are trying to quit “Have you tried honey?” They don’t need that kind of aggravation.

So back to my cold. It’s nothing, really, but earlier I did start to feel a little bit loopy like maybe I had a fever (I don’t.) I did, however, finish reading Michael Redhill’s Giller Prize-winning Bellevue Square and holy hell, now I realize that is definitely what made me loopy.

If you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil it for you. Mostly because I wouldn’t even know how to begin to describe it, other than it’s the story of a woman and her doppelganger. OR IS IT?

It’s worth reading, it really is. Redhill plays with imagery and humour, and his prose is beautifully done. At times I felt like I was the one wandering the streets of Toronto looking for her (I’m not even going to give you character names because I am still not sure of anything) it was that compelling. And like with a lot of novels that are twisty and turny – the technical terms, obviously – I felt completely unmoored at times and smacked in the face like Sideshow Bob and the rakes at other times. It’s a trippy trip, let me tell you.

And obviously, the Giller jury thought so too, so you know, it isn’t just me saying it’s a good book that you should read.

If you’ve read Iain Reid’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things you will recognize this feeling of not being in control of what you’re reading. I mean, I guess that’s kind of a weird thing to say, obviously an author has written the book, you don’t get to have control, it’s not like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” kind of deal, but maybe you get what I mean? I don’t know. Read it, and then we can talk about it. Just not yet.