RIP to TAH: In which I spill a whole bunch of feels about my favourite bar

If you’re a fan of This Ain’t Hollywood you probably already know that the owners announced yesterday evening that the building that houses the bar has been sold and will not be maintained as a live music venue. And if you’re a fan you also probably realize what a huge blow this is for anyone and everyone who ever enjoyed a show there.

If you don’t know This Ain’t Hollywood it has been, since 2009, one of the best venues for live music in the city. Consistently winning awards for their sound, bringing in some incredible bands and artists, and just overall being a really cool spot to hang.

It’s located in a very old building, that has been some sort of drinking establishment or other for a long time according to their sign which reads “Serving since 1893”, an impressive record of drinks slinging, really. Charm – well, a certain type of charm, at least – it has, but not sophistication. The washrooms are not for the faint of heart and there is a very good chance that the stickers, the outdated gig posters and the thick layers of graffiti are the only things holding the stalls together. But it doesn’t matter because when you grab a pint at the bar and make your way to the front of the room to stand by the stage it is always a night to remember.

I’m super sad about this, and I don’t know if it’s because everything is extra pandemic sad right now, but losing this bar feels really personal. Maybe it’s because TAH came on the scene when we, John and I, were also getting back on the scene. By 2009 we had a couple of tweens in the house and it was just starting to get easier to get out a little more frequently, to go see more live shows, something we did nearly every weekend when we were dating and newly married. And TAH, located not too far from the neighbourhood where I grew up, became a favourite of ours. As well, having a cool rock and roll bar in that part of town is a source of pride. The place means a lot to me, honestly, and I know I’m not alone.

From the very beginning, This Ain’t was familiar and it was all Hamilton. Walking in felt like visiting a friend’s house and descending to their rec room, all dark wood, kitschy posters and board games, a faint smell of weed, as if their older brother and friends had just vacated, leaving us their cool records to play as long as we were extra careful.

There are too many shows to count, but some standouts off the top of my head include Diamond Rings, a show that happened during a pretty severe snowstorm, but a show that most definitely did go on. There was the incredible Carole Pope whose immense presence and voice filled the entire room of awestruck fans, and there was also powerhouse band Monster Truck, before they went on to sell out giant arenas all over Europe. We saw The Sadies, Shonen Knife, Teenage Head…and that’s not even including the bands that Charles has been in. Illusion Avenue. The Retroaction. Delta Days. Billy Moon.

Illusion Avenue, the first band Charles was ever part of got a headstart there because Lou, one of the owners of TAH, loved them. They were four 12-15-year-old kids and they had an old school rock and roll kind of sound and Lou and his regulars couldn’t get enough of them. These kids opened for bands like Monster Truck, and Blue Coupe, members of Blue Oyster Cult; they even headlined their own CD release show at TAH. I spent a couple of late nights there while they recorded live from the stage because the sound guy wanted to do them a favour when they didn’t have a place (or money) to record demos. On one of those nights, at midnight on a school night, I ordered pizza to the bar and we fed the boys and the grateful staff who toasted us and topped up our pints.

TAH is also part gallery with its rotating displays of local art, and part community centre, so many times raising money and support for local charitable organizations. It became the official Supercrawl after-party location, with queues to get in stretching for blocks, and there would be open mic nights, jam sessions, all-ages gigs for high school kids, and so much more. It is truly, truly the bar that is up for anything and everything.

The building has been sold but it’s not over ’til it’s over, and that doesn’t happen until August. Some shows are promised before the last last call, but with the pandemic forcing things to be so up in the air, it’s hard to know what that will look like. But I do really hope we get a few more nights to remember before the place as we know it now is gone forever. I still want another few pints, another few bathroom selfies, another few encores, and another few tipsy stumblings home at the end of another, final, memorable night of live music.

“Always catch the last set to play as the night gets old
Oh babe, It may be quite good
But it’s not quite as good as It should
Oh babe, It ain’t Hollywood”

Pour one out, pals.

 

Mondays are for Melancholy

I’m on vacation! Just for today, actually. I’ll be back at work tomorrow, but today is a day off for me. And this really just means that I’m on my computer in the living room (at the back of the house) rather than my office (at the front of the house) and WOW what a difference! It truly feels like a vacation!

Not really. These are the things we tell ourselves in isolation.

This vacation day was originally planned for Friday, April 17, the first full day of Hamilton’s gritLIT Festival, so today feels a little bittersweet since obviously, gritLIT didn’t happen the way it was intended – there is gritLIT content coming online very soon which is exciting, but there is nothing like the thrill of being in a room with dozens of writers and readers, of participating in a writing workshop with one of your favourite authors, of attending a reading, purchasing the author’s book and having them sign it right there and then for you. Literary and book festivals are among my absolute favourite things in the world and it’s been hard watching the dates come and go, honestly. And not just gritLIT, there are a lot of other festivals that won’t happen because of our current isolating and physical distancing situation. I hope you are ok

But the really nice thing about these kinds of festivals – any arts festivals I suppose – is that you can still support the work of your favourite artists by purchasing their art, their books, their music, even if you weren’t able to see them live and in person. You can make a donation to your favourite writers festival; you can order books from authors you were hoping to see, and you can order those books from your favourite local bookstore, some of which are doing curbside pickup or making local deliveries! You can find your favourite bands and musicians online and order music or merch directly from them or from their record label if they are signed! You can even purchase works from local artists and artisans to support them while this is all happening. And, if you’re someone who doesn’t have a lot of money to spare right now, you can talk all of these people up on social media! Share their work, help get them followers! Like songs on Spotify, and add them to playlists! You probably know all this, I doubt I have to tell you, but somehow it feels good to say it “out loud” right here.

And it’s not the same, of course. Who doesn’t miss live music, author readings, browsing in book and record stores? Not to mention eating in restaurants and wandering through parks! There is so much we’re missing right now, so very much.

And like the rock says, I hope you are ok.

 

Weather or Not

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and the weather was lovely so we sat for awhile out on our front porch in the afternoon. We had glasses of wine and we waved and chatted with the neighbours who walked by with kids and dogs and there was a light breeze and you could almost believe that the world was normal.

Today is rainy and bleak and, if the Weather Network is to be believed (and you always SHOULD believe the Weather Network), we are expecting extremely high winds along with the rain. It is currently quite blustery but these winds aren’t exactly apocalyptic just yet, just strong enough to have me venture back out to the porch to secure the cushions from our patio furniture that like to upend themselves and flit about.

Two very different kinds of days and for me, two very different ways of reacting to each during these stressful, odd, pandemic days.

I have always loved rainy days. As I said to a friend not that long ago, there is so little expectation of one during rainy days. As soon as the sun appears, no matter the season, there are always loads of people on social media encouraging us to “Get outside!” “Make the most of this gorgeous day!” “Get off your ass, go for a walk, it’s beautiful out there!” There is a LOT of pressure to be outside in the sun when the sun makes an appearance. (Also can we please take a moment to discuss those irritating people who say this to the people whose JOB it is to be INSIDE so those same “Get outside!” people can purchase the goods inside or use the services that happen to be inside?! Can you imagine their reaction to a sign that reads “library/salon/bookstore/ restaurant closed because it’s JUST SO NICE OUT TODAY!” They would flip. Please don’t be one of those people.)

Anyway, rainy, windy, blustery days don’t hold the same level of expectation and I live for these days, I always have. I do like going outside, but I don’t really much care for the sun. Or perhaps it’s that the sun doesn’t really care for me. I burn. I sweat. I can’t seem to find sunglasses that work well enough so I continue to squint. Insects are drawn to me. It’s exhausting.

I am an indoors kind of person, I guess. I like to read, I like to cook, I like to watch TV and movies, and I like to clean and organize things like drawers and cupboards and the attic, things like that. And often if you spend a sunny day telling people that’s what you’ve been up to they become slightly to massively offended, as if you wasting (their words) a glorious sunny day by staying indoors is a personal attack. So I used to pretend, I honestly did. The beach? Oh my god I LOVE THE BEACH! A picnic? Absolutely what could be better than eating food on the grass in a public park? An outdoor music festival? Oh I am so down to spend 19 hours in a massive crowd, dehydrated and unable to tell who exactly is even onstage, let’s go!

I…might be exaggerating a little bit, but still. The sunny day  p r e s s u r e  is real.

In the before, a day like today, one where I don’t have to leave the house even to go to WORK would have been my dream. I am productive on rainy days. I dive into projects, I read entire books, I organize down to Inbox zero. I am a machine. Except now? I’m not.

Now I see these high, potentially catastrophic winds as a sign that the world really is in some kind of weird trouble, some apocalyptic limbo. I imagine the rains and the possible flooding in some areas as a kind of warning. I mean yes, climate change is real and a lot of extreme weather acts – or should act – as a warning to get that shit under control. But now, as the kids say, it hits different.

There is an electricity-like hum of stress that exists under everything now, a tight wire of tension. You probably feel it too. Extreme weather just adds to this tension. We’re going through so much, can’t we just have some nice, quiet, sunny days until we’re through the pandemic days? Is it too much to ask? Um yeah bitch, it is, says Mother Nature (or climate scientists if you want the real talk.)

For me it’s a completely new way of looking at the days as they unfold. Sun in the forecast? Great, nothing to worry about, relax and look at everyone out and about staying 6′ away from each other, yes, yes, nothing odd about that, nothing to see here it’s all ok. Rain and wind? We’re doomed. Such a complete turnaround for me, but that’s about where I’m at these days. So little makes sense right now and if sunny days give me (and possibly you) a false sense of security, I’m more than happy to live in that sunshiny little bubble for as long as it takes.

But maybe ask me again in August when the sun is baking down and it’s 39C. Provided the pandemic is history, you’ll probably find your girl back inside cursing the obnoxious yellow orb and trawling the Weather Network site for signs of rain. Let’s hope so, anyway.

 

 

 

Words come.

I mentioned on social media last week that in the past several days I’d started many blog posts, all currently residing in the drafts folder, languishing, it could be said, while I try to organize my thoughts enough to finish them.

Each time I open one up to write, the words don’t come. Or, they do come, but they’re trite, silly, words from before. Before we were isolating, sheltering in place, under quarantine and with an extra-large dose of social distancing. It wasn’t that long ago that these words would have been just fine, perhaps even good words, strung together in a blog post about something small, about nothing consequential, and that would have been ok. People would have read the words, maybe enjoyed the words that formed the post, they might have become thoughtful about something I’d written, or they might have smiled or laughed at the words and moved on with their lives. I feel now that these words aren’t right, they aren’t important enough to be said right now. And it’s ok. Honestly.

I have been working from home since Wednesday. But even before that, on Monday and Tuesday of last week, it was hard to focus on the work that needed to be done. Students were sent home from residences, classes moved to online delivery exams were cancelled. The campus felt deserted. Everyone was on edge. What would happen to the library? On Tuesday we spent the morning training on how to do our jobs from our homes. Tools we would use for meetings, for the public services work we normally did face-to-face. And we adapted, and it’s been a seamless move, really, but – and I am sure I’m not the only one to say this – the focus has just not been there.

When we have reference questions, sure, we’re focused and working hard to help the person virtually. And even with check-in meetings with our supervisor and our team, everyone is there, we’re doing ok, we’re getting by. But, as always, the elephant in the room is this: What is happening and when is it going to end. And the answer, of course, is that we just don’t know.

And so the words don’t come in this instance, we just don’t know what to say, so we say those things about coping, about getting by, and when we end the calls we say things like “Stay safe, everyone!” which is not, in case you were wondering, a sign-off greeting we have ever used before in our lives when speaking with co-workers at the end of a day.

And I know there are places and communities where that is a way to sign off a conversation and it’s likely my co-workers also know this and now we are all thinking the same thing –  that things are not safe in our world now and how did it come to this. But we don’t say it because the words don’t come. Or they do, but no one wants to be the one to say them. Out loud, anyway.

In my library, we have an archives and that archives is, as are most archives, run by an archivist. On Wednesday morning while we were all struggling with our technology, the resources that were going to help us do our job all alone in our homes, our archivist sent us all a message.

She told us she was going to be keeping a journal of this time. A document that outlined her day-to-day existence under self-isolation. Things like her daily routine, the weather, challenges and successes with work, reactions to the news, grocery lists and costs, etc. etc. Anything at all, really. And she encouraged us to do the same. Documentation of crises all through history has been crucial to understanding regular people living through difficult times, and whether it’s through poetry or letters or journals, the experiences are important. And they are necessary. And they should be documented.

I emailed her back right away and told her to count me in. I told her that I too would keep a journal of all of these things, these thoughts and feelings, these challenges and fears, and by sending that email I had found the words. And not only that, I understood that the words are important, even the trite and the silly. They are human, and they need to spill out in a format of our choosing to be documented. I hesitate to say documented for future generations but that’s exactly what this is. How will people in twenty or fifty years understand if we don’t actually tell them?

In the days, months, and years to come, there will be a LOT written about the pandemic.  Government officials, healthcare professionals, researchers and scientists, economists, financial experts and others will be weighing in with their expertise.

Maybe we should all weigh in too.

 

 

 

 

Some things can be more than just things

At the end of November I attended a fiction writing workshop at Hamilton Public Library that was given by Claire Tacon, author and lovely human being. Claire’s novel In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo was one of my favourite books from this past year and so I was more than excited to attend her workshop and hear her thoughts on writing. At the start of the evening she had the attendees go around the room and introduce ourselves by giving our names and then telling everyone gathered there a little bit about an object that fascinated them as a child. Claire started the introductions by telling us about an ancient apple press that had fascinated her, and then it was our turn.

This is the story I told about the object I remembered. I’m massively expanding on it here because I can.

For as long as I can remember the hat rack had been on the wall at the cottage. My memory blinks on and off as to which exact wall it hung on, and I think my mother moved it occasionally, but I am nearly positive it was on the south wall, just above the wood stove, a skinny Quebec heater that resided in the corner of the living room. The living room also included the dining room and the kitchen, divided up into rooms by the merest suggestion of walls. I suppose if I was a different kind of person from a different kind of family that room might have been known as The Great Room. But to us, it was really just the living room or even the “front of the cottage.” The house had been built in pieces: first the main room, a rough cabin structure designed to keep the rain out on days when my grandparents drove up for the day to picnic and swim. Then later, no longer wanting to rely solely on picnics, a small area to cook meals and wash dishes was added to the main room. Bedrooms were built later, when picnic days wanted to turn into overnight stays, and after that the outhouse, deemed too rustic now that my family were becoming “cottagers” was replaced by indoor facilities. Later still, the front of the house was pushed out toward the lake to accommodate a dining table and chairs and the little patchwork quilt of a cottage was complete. I might have the order incorrect, this was all happening long before I was born, but if you look at old photos of my parents and grandparents enjoying the place, or if you look very closely at the walls of the house itself you can trace its evolution.

The hat rack, as I knew it, was a bit of an oddity, and seemed to me a strange thing to have in a rustic cottage. We didn’t even have a hat rack at home and yet here was this solid wooden structure, hung close to the ceiling and over our woodstove – an odd location indeed. There were six pegs, three on each side, that came out of the back and angled slightly upwards. The top was about 6 inches deep and held a variety of treasures – tchotchkes, knicknacks, whatever you want to call them. Those nursery rhyme character figurines that came in boxes of Red Rose tea; novelty salt and pepper shakers, purchased in touristy places like Niagara Falls, Cape Cod. Probably also some shells and rocks from our beach.

The hats it housed were changeable, much like the people who lived there. There was always at least one Toronto Blue Jays cap (after 1977, of course) as well as cloth sunhats for children, and a wide brimmed straw hat belonging to my mother. At one point my father had been given a traditional Greek fisherman’s hat by a friend and so it lived there for awhile too. Sometimes other things were draped over the pegs; a dog’s leash and collar, a decorative scarf, a skipping rope.  As my brother and I grew taller and were able to better reach it, it became a catch-all for hats and more.

The most fascinating part of this hat rack was the drawer at the bottom. The drawer spanned the entire width of the rack and it had a lock. The key had been lost years before and the drawer, unlockable forever now, held batteries, other keys, sunglasses, some fishing tackle, fuses for the electrical panel and other bits that required housing. It was the equivalent of a kitchen junk drawer, a hall closet, that black hole of detritus and lost and found that resides in many homes.

Did anything change when I learned it was actually a gun rack?

My dad had been a hunter in his youth. Mostly deer, sometimes moose. Our photo albums are filled with pictures of him and his grubby, bearded friends posing with their kills… Did I say filled? Filled with grimy looking men who’d spent a week or so at a hunt camp, yes, but I really only remember one or two with an actual deer present. Dead, but present. And never a moose.

I’d never put the two worlds together in that way, but that legendary gun rack turned hat rack was one of the last remnants of my father’s younger self’s hobbies. That and a tattered hunting jacket and a 1950s-style sleeping bag that smelled permanently of wood smoke and cigarettes.

My father stored his guns on, you guessed it, that very same gun rack. It would have originally resided in my parents’ apartment in west Hamilton, I imagine (there is no one left now to ask, I’m afraid.) The lockable drawer made sense now, you would lock your ammunition away, of course. Safer that way. Space for three guns (on those pegs we tossed our hats on) a drawer for shells. I suppose it should have made me wary of it, but by 1976 it was so far removed from its original use that it was laughable. Imagine, weapons of ungulate destruction removed to make way for left over Lego pieces and packs of playing cards with most of the face cards missing.

When I asked him about the gun rack and the guns that were conspicuous in their absence and had been for as long as I could remember he told me this:

In 1966 we lived in a tiny apartment. I sold the guns before you were born in ’67, that was always my plan. I didn’t want them there once you came along.

I asked him if he missed it. The guns and the hunting.

No. My priorities changed.

But you kept the gun rack.

It makes a good hat rack.

Can’t argue with that.

The gun rack slash hat rack is no more. Eventually, after more than forty years of living through sweltering summers and frigid winters, the glue that held it together dried and cracked, the pegs fell out and the facing of the drawer broke and the whole thing just fell apart. My mother was, I believe, secretly happy about its demise because when I think back to it, this gun/hat rack was, while fascinating to us as children, deeply, deeply ugly. So she bought pegboard and hooks and our hats and other things were moved to the hallway. Now, I don’t think I could write 1000 words about pegboard but you know what? I bet there is someone who could.

I love the object exercise as writing prompt, it’s one of my favourites and I loved that Claire incorporated it into not just the beginning of her writing workshop during our introductions, but that she also brought along several objects for us to write about throughout the evening.

She encouraged us to choose one that spoke to us (not literally, of course, how weird would that be) and to think not only about its intended use but how it can end up out in the world to be used in other unintended ways. Think of its backstory and describe it in great detail using all your senses and then imagine how your character might use it or see it or react to it.

In her handy guide 5 Prompts to Bring Back Your Blogging Spark (which you yourself can and SHOULD obtain at no cost from her newsletter via her blog picklemethis.com) favourite blogger and lovely human Kerry Clare encourages us to explore the hidden lives of ordinary objects because so many of them have a story. You might not have a gun rack, but you definitely have objects with stories. What are they?

And even if you aren’t a writer, the object exercise can be a excellent one for mindfulness. Developing your observational skills, using all your senses to describe something thoroughly can help you to be more present in your day-to-day life, and taking the time to notice the world around you in greater detail can help you move through that world at a less hectic pace.

I’m so grateful to Claire and her wonderful workshop and to Kerry and her always on-point newsletter for reminding me to take the time to dive deeply into the world of observation, to mine memory and see where it takes me.

 

 

 

 

Happy Friday! We’re All Going to Die One Day!

Alone in the kitchen this morning, while waiting for the kettle to boil, I raised both arms way, way up over my head in a luxurious stretch, and severely pulled a muscle in my upper back.

There is a lot going on in this opening paragraph, truly, so let me break it down for you. The first thing you might have noticed, should you know me in real life, would be the presence of a kettle. Surely, Elizabeth, you are a coffee drinker, are you not? And yes, I am. Or rather I used to be. Coffee, sadly, no longer agrees with me in the mornings, and so I have taken to brewing tea as my wake-up beverage of choice. And it’s fine, really. Although as I have said to my husband many times, “Tea is lovely, but it is not coffee.” Which is, I believe, a fair assumption. But, a hot beverage is one of the nicest things about waking up early – whether it’s for work or school or just life – and so tea it must be for me.

I can drink coffee, mind you. Just not first thing in the morning with nothing else in my stomach and not all the time and definitely not too much in one go. It is a fact, universally acknowledged, that getting older blows, yadda yadda yadda.

You might also be interested in the kitchen stretching portion of this opening sentence, but as one gets older (as one does, should one be mortal) one ought to take the opportunity to stretch whenever one can. And by one I mean me. Stretch like nobody is watching is a good motto to live by. Again, for me. I have a comfortable bed, a ridiculously-priced pillow (good for the neck and shoulder support or so I was told) and yet I wake up daily with stiffness and aches and pains. Often the root cause is one 65-lb husky who likes to lie at the end of our bed and rest her chin on my leg/hip all night long. She is a very good dog and her proximity and warm furry body are just delightful. For the first ten to fifteen minutes. If the entirety of the dog is about 65 pounds, the head of this same dog seems to be about 50% of that entirety. Dead-weight husky head clocking in at around 30 lbs, easy. I might be exaggerating. But even if she isn’t snuggled up to me all night, there are still those same – or sometimes different!? – pains each and every morning. So yes, stretching is essential and I try to do it whenever and wherever I can. Again, what a drag it is getting old.

But! The absolute horror story of stretching is that after a certain age you must, must, MUST pay close attention while you’re doing it. Failure to do so can result in severe muscle cramping and straining (like I experienced this morning) sharp pains in muscles that linger all day long (also like I experienced this morning) and death (you know, probably.)

It’s completely unfair that doing something to RELIEVE THE PAIN THAT AGEING CAUSES YOU can also cause pain – worse pain, actually – unless you apply the kind of laser focus on each tiny section of your body that is typically reserved for surgeons and air traffic controllers.

And so, to recap, I am too old to drink a damn morning coffee and too old to stretch on a whim, and the best part? Is that it only gets worse!

I don’t usually get too bothered about ageing, it’s mostly fine. There are even some perks, honestly (the virtual invisibility of the 50-something woman in society can be quite freeing) but there are days when everything seems to conspire against my body and it’s frustrating. And on those days I get a glimpse into my future and my fleeting mortality which, let’s be honest, no one really wants.

So now I sit with an increasingly stiff and sore back and I am AFRAID TO STRETCH IT OUT because that doesn’t always work out for me! And so instead I sit (and stand sometimes too because too much sitting is bad!) in the discomfort that represents the downward spiral of my ever-ageing body while I ponder what might be next on the growing list of age-related ailments and stare into the void.

Fuck it. I’m going to get a coffee.

 

 

 

Windsors, Schmindsors

I started watching The Crown last night. Yes, I am a habitually late adopter of basically everything, but what finally prompted me was the trailer for the 3rd season. I’d heard that Gillian Anderson would be taking the role of Margaret Thatcher and that kind of sealed the deal, but also the trailer for season three is excellent. It helps, of course, that this upcoming season – which begins as the country prepares for the Silver Jubilee – occurs in my lifetime, with events that I remember. And I toyed with the idea of just watching the third season on its own, (It’s history after all, and fairly easy to fill in the blanks) but decided to go for it and try to get the first two under my belt before embarking on the third. So I did, and after watching the first two episodes last night I have some thoughts:

  • John Lithgow makes a very good shrewd and curmudgeonly Winston Churchill.
  • Queen Mary is a literal boss, and I love that Eileen Atkins has already played Queen Mary at least once before as well as Eleanor of Aquitaine, so she truly knows how to get her royal matriarch on.
  • I am SO glad they portray Philip as the dick he is right from the get-go. The only unfortunate thing is that this entire series is based on real life because if it was fiction, you know he would get his comeuppance, but alas, he never does. And now he’s like, what, 95? Annoying.
  • They sure do like to shoot things, those mid-century royals. Ducks, pheasants, whatever. Just shoot ’em all, all the time. “Want to go shooting? Of course you do, you’re part of this family now, we shoot things.”
  • The monarchy is a helluva drug, you guys.

The other thing that struck me as I was watching is that although this royal family and royal extended-family has always been complex with its lineages as well as with its marriages that make the most sense politically and economically, is that even with all that background, all that history of ruling, it is still just an arbitrary group of people who hold enormous wealth and (now dwindling, it should be said) power, and it irks me beyond belief.

And by arbitrary, I mean of course hundreds and hundreds of years of being descended (sometimes but not always!) from the original arbitrarily designated person or people. Obviously I am reducing nearly 1500 years of history here, but if you do look into it, there’s a lot of “guy shows up and claims the throne and no one argues” or “guy shows up and claims the throne and there IS argument and possibly war, too” but I stand by my initial statement. Who were these people? Why them and not someone else?

I mean, I don’t often quote Monty Python, but when I do, it’s typically these lines from Monty Python and The Holy Grail:

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony…You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!

Indeed.

When I was just out of university I got a job at a museum downtown and was what was known as a historical interpreter. It was a pretty great job, one that actually kind of related to my degree, I’ll have you know, members of my extended family!  Historical interpreters would take groups and individuals on tours of the house, imparting knowledge of the family who’d lived there, making note for visitors of various important parts of the house itself, the furnishings, what rooms were used for, what else was going on in Hamilton at the time, etc. I worked mostly during the holidays, and the house was very popular with school groups and organizations who loved to see it done up for Christmas. A giant decorated tree, the dining room table set for a big dinner, garlands and wreaths, that sort of thing.

Most of the time we had groups scheduled in advance and we would listen for the doorbell from the staff room/kitchen at the back of the house. There were usually three of us working at a time and when we heard the bell we would hurry to the front door and greet our visitors. It should be noted that women interpreters were in costume (uniform) dressed as upstairs maids, and any men on staff wore attire suitable for the male equivalent to that (I hesitate to say butlers, because I’m not sure that’s quite right, but something like that, anyway) so there was almost always an “Oooohhhhh!” from people at the door who were likely expecting normal-looking people, not these weird transplants from the Edwardian era. We were also meant to remain in character as best as we could throughout the tour and interaction with visitors, and that part could be a lot of fun. I was very good at deadpanning “I’ve always been here” whenever people asked how long I had worked there which mostly made them laugh but every so often a less humorous group would be unsettled by my joke. Occupational hazard. Everyone’s a critic.

When there were no groups scheduled we sometimes did a bit of research in the back, reading up on what was going on in Hamilton during the era we were to represent, thinking of other issues and events that we could potentially highlight during our tours so they didn’t get stale. The house was officially open all week and on weekends, and we didn’t get an awful lot of action during the week with people just dropping by, but it did happen.

One afternoon it was my turn to get the door when the doorbell rang and I smoothed down my apron and made sure my little bonnet was on straight and I opened the door. I was about to launch into my scripted greeting when a woman pushed past me into the hallway, dragging a large stroller with her. She wore a fur coat of indeterminate age and animal and there were large round circles of red blush on her cheeks. Her eyes were wild. She was taller than me and I would have put her at the time in her late 30s early 40s, and as she looked around the hallway for a place to park her stroller, I noted that it was filled with stuffed animals and one smallish baby doll.

I had already decided not to ask her to pay the entrance fee, but it turned out not to be an issue, because she began by introducing herself as the rightful heir to the house and she spoke in a sort of English accent that would, more often than not, slip during our time together, and she also told me that she was expecting to move back in any time now. I asked her if she would like to take a look around and she agreed after I assured her the stroller and baby would be safe in the hallway.

We headed upstairs and she regaled me with tales of her connections not only to the family who had lived in this house in particular but also to the royal family in England and possibly some others.

I tried to do a little bit of my official tour guide banter, but she was more interested in checking out the furnishings, ensuring they were suitable to her tastes and telling me more about her royal lineage, her claim to the throne and more. I was 23 years old and had a pretty good idea that I was dealing with someone not entirely based in reality, and felt it was better to just listen.

At the end of our tour, she thanked me and I asked her to sign our guestbook which she did in a flourish, taking up three full lines:

Mary Elizabeth Anne Rose III (Royal)

She collected her stroller and bumped it down the front stairs and I went back to the kitchen to my colleagues.

I think about her every so often, usually in conversations with friends about odd or interesting situations we’ve found ourselves in with various jobs, but I thought about her a lot last night after watching The Crown when that whole “one random person eons ago started something and look where we are now” concept kind of struck me.

In this case, the woman who visited that day back in 1990 was likely extremely far removed from the family who lived in the house where I worked, and even further removed from royalty of any sort, but, much like those ancient “kings” who showed up from Denmark or wherever and claimed the throne, because someone sent them, who is to say who gets to be what they get to be? There are probably people who show up to royalty-type things all the time claiming some kind of connection – modern-day Anastasia Romanovs if you will – and security gets called to oust them and their claims, yadda yadda. But all I’m saying is that a few hundred years ago, this kind of stunting could have totally worked, and probably did work, too.

People are born into the situations they are and it’s honestly just sheer luck of the draw whether you’re born a Windsor or a Hamiltonian playing dress up in a historical house giving tours to people at Christmas.

And, if you work backwards from the Windsors and you go back far enough into the past it all gets pretty muddied, anyway. In another reality or another time, it just might have been my visitor shooting all those ducks or marrying that dick Philip.

I’m grateful she was spared that last part, at least.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sick Day(s) Reading

My cold started on Friday afternoon with a scratchy throat and a stuffy nose. By Saturday it was worse, but I mostly ignored it because I had, like most people on the weekends, SHIT TO DO. On Sunday I was practically bedridden, and honestly, I probably deserved that.

I stayed home from work on Monday and Tuesday, and while I spent a lot of that time napping, feeling sorry for myself, and staring into the middle distance, I did manage to read three books.

Regular days never seem to have enough hours in them, but sick days draaaaaag, so I was happy to be able to do something with my time. When you’re not exactly sick enough for bed but also not well enough to go to work, well that’s the perfect storm for sick day Netflix bingewatching (I did a little bit of that too, thank you Derry Girls, season two) and sick day reading. And fortunately for me, Hamilton Public Library had come through with a bunch of my holds last week, so I was set.

I’d been waiting to read Kristen Arnett’s Mostly Dead Things for months, and I was so happy to finally have it in my to-read pile. It’s as good as advertised: funny and dark and strange and occasionally kind of gross – taxidermy is at the heart of the novel with lots of graphic descriptions of animal gutting, roadkill scraping, and more – but there is also the story of a family grieving for loves lost and trying to come together to thrive and survive in spite of the forces against them, and the ones truly of their own making. I loved the Mortons and their drama and their messy, messy lives, and the book was a dream to read.

I also read Supper Club by Lara Williams. A few weeks ago while waiting for my son who was attending a comedy show in Toronto, I spent some time wandering in Book City. Supper Club was a book I picked up initially for the cover (it’s lovely) and then for the front flap description because it sounded intriguing. And while I didn’t purchase it that evening, I was intrigued enough to add it to my library holds and I’m very glad I did.

Supper Club is the brainchild of two young women in London who dream of and then create a secret club, a place where women can be themselves, can take up space, can reclaim and sate their appetites for food, drink, and life. Their lives outside of Supper Club are messy and their relationships challenging. As the book progresses, we slowly learn more and more about the book’s narrator, Roberta, the trauma she experienced that ultimately leads to the demons that drive her and to the choices she makes.

Like Mostly Dead Things, Supper Club is graphic in its descriptions, but instead of taxidermy, here it’s food and drink. Food is ever-present, the backdrop, the all-encompassing ingredient that motivates and drives and it is, frankly, glorious. (And now I know how to create a sourdough starter, should I ever want to.)

And finally, to round out my sick day reading list, I read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, and I can’t remember for the life of me where I heard about that book or why I put it on my holds list, but I’m not even going to talk about it here except to say that I didn’t like it. I found it reductive and predictable and while some of the language was lovely it was overall a quick, relatively unsatisfying read.

So there, Reese Witherspoon.

And, now that I am healthy-ish and back to work, my book consumption will return to its regular pace, alas. Still, it was kind of luxurious to spend three days just reading. I’d like to do it again soon…this time without the fever and sinus headache, please.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back 2 School, Back to the Future

I am late, so late to the back-to-school season, I know. I had planned this post for much earlier in September, but things happen. Not terrible, awful things, mind you. Just…things.

But a few weeks ago, closer to the beginning of the school year, I posted this picture of me on Instagram and it sparked a back-to-school kind of vibe that I didn’t even know had been lurking in my brain.

This was Kindergarten class photo day. The year? 1972.

When I look at this photo I am overwhelmed by some pretty intense feelings for this little girl, this tiny 5-year-old whose cardigan game was fire, even then.

There is a kind of trend online these days where people write letters to their former selves, their childhood selves, their other selves. And I love it, I really do. Imagine being able to confront yourself in another dimension, so to speak; to be able to warn yourself, to prepare yourself, to encourage yourself. To impart the knowledge you have now to yourself back then. What a wonder.

What would you say to another you, a younger you, a different you? I had never really felt the urge until I posted this photo.

There is something about the girl in this photo that feels, to me, more vulnerable than any other school photo I own. Perhaps because it’s Kindergarten, her first foray into the education system, a year that helped forge her love of learning, of reading and writing and of following rules. (oh how she loved and continues to love rules.)

And perhaps it’s because of this vulnerability that I do, finally, have some thoughts for 5-year-old me:

  1. You are a pretty smart little kid and for the longest time, you will be picked on for being “the smart one” in the class and you will resist that completely until one day you will learn that someone else is “the smart one” and you are just the ok one, and you will find that extremely hard to take. So I am here to tell you that it’s ok to be the smartest kid in the class. It’s also ok to not be the smartest kid in the class. This probably feels like a contradiction but as with everything I’m about to tell you, you just have to trust me. Be yourself. You are actually pretty great.
  2. Your illness does not define you. I know it’s hard right now, it’s so, so hard. But soon, very soon, you will get a diagnosis. You will be asthmatic for your whole life, I’m sorry to tell you, but there eventually will be medication to help you breathe. It won’t be great at first, but it will be something, and the medication only gets better as time goes on. Trust me. You won’t always miss so much school, so much life. You will dance and you will run and in 2015 (a lifetime from now, I know, but just you wait) you will earn a black belt in karate. YOU will do this. YOU.
  3. You will always be emotional. Lots of things make you cry now, and lots of things will continue to make you cry. But this: your empathy, your compassion, your ability to put yourself in others’ shoes, these things actually make you strong. So go ahead and cry and continue to feel things deeply. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t.
  4. I know that Rosa Too Little by Sue Felt is your favourite book right now, and the only book you ever want to borrow from the library,  and that’s ok, but you know what? You will move on from that book, and even though it will always hold a special place in your heart, you will read HUNDREDS of other books. Really! And the library will continue to be a place of solace for you and one day when you are grown up you will not only WORK in libraries but you will also be asked to teach classes in the public library and you will think that you could not be any luckier. And this will actually be true.
  5. You will spend years trying to find your signature “look” with various fashion trends but your ultimate style will come full circle to this very photo. A plaid dress, a sensible cardigan, tights, and cute shoes. Own it. It’s your destiny.

Happy September, friends. Knock ’em dead.

 

 

Come and cry with me as I gush about Melissa Barbeau’s The Luminous Sea!

It’s not difficult to become completely taken by The Luminous Sea based on the cover alone, which of course they tell you not to judge books by, but here is a secret for you: I do in fact judge books by their covers. Well, maybe not judge exactly. But I am definitely a sucker for a well-designed and beautiful book cover and this one might be the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

The premise of this novel is a relatively simple one, yet we quickly find out that simplicity is deceiving. Vivienne is a young summer student hired to study the potential reasons for the glow-in-the-dark waters in a fictional bay and area of Newfoundland. One evening while out on the water taking samples she catches a creature unlike anything ever seen before, brings it to the lab where she works, only to have her discovery taken over by other researchers whose motives may not be as pure as they should be.

I would like you all to know that from the moment the fish creature landed in Vivienne’s boat, I had made up my mind that I would die for her. The fish creature. Well, for both of them, really. And the entire book had me holding my breath, waiting to see if I needed to jump in, somehow, and rescue them.

The Luminous Sea is a short-ish novel, under 250 pages. By all rights I should have been able to finish it in a day or two. Between commuting. lunch hour reading, and after work reading, I usually consume a lot of pages in a few days. But this book. This book I had to take in small doses, doling it out to myself as a reward for completing a task. It was something to be savoured in the early evening sitting on the deck after dinner with a glass of wine. A chapter or two at a time, no more. This story demanded to be drawn out, to let the words – the beautiful, evocative words – settle in my head and my heart. I needed time to process each magical phrase, to allow the imagery to wash over me.

I realize I am being dramatic, but there is not a lot I can do about that, I’m sorry. Read this and you’ll understand:

“The evening is calm, the ocean uneventful. The copper sea unspectacular in its beauty. Sun pennies dapple the water and Vivienne feels as if she is sitting in a bowl of shining coins worth so little they have been taken out of circulation. She eases the boat around the point and heads towards the stacks of the sunken ship, just past the lighthouse. As the sun sinks in the sky, the pennies disappear and the water regains its mundane jewel colours — emerald, sapphire, lapis, turquoise, tourmaline. The ocean extends for endless, monotonous, beautiful miles.”

Every line is like this, every line is beautiful.

Fog is exhaled onto the landscape by the fog dragon that lives over the far hill.

The night is described as ‘glassy’.

The sea throbs; the fish creature curls like a galaxy.

It is all too glorious.

The novel is fast-paced as well, and that is one of the reasons I slowed it down as I read it. It is so easy to read quickly because the story itself is gripping, but doing so would be like taking a train trip with only the destination in mind, being in an incredible hurry to get there, with no attention paid to the breathtaking scenery en route. And that would be a shame.

The Luminous Sea did, in fact, leave me breathless many times as I read it. The final section unravels at breakneck speed, and the ending is perfectly poignantly, perfect.

Wade into it, friends. It’s a stunning, wonderful read. And promise to let me know how much you loved it. And how much you cried.