Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Li'l Peggy Atwood

CBC Radio One between 9 and about 10:06 PM every night is my version of porn. We talk a lot in my circles about radio crushes (voices of interest include Eleanor Wachtel, Elvira Kurt, and Anthony Germain, though this last one is more of an obsession for someone I know) but my relationship with Paul Kennedy's voice on Ideas is nothing like that. It's a love that is pure. Listening to him is like having a bedtime story read to you by a favourite grandparent. And as if that wasn't good enough, after the 10:00 news I get to listen to the provincial weather forecast. I don't know what it is about hearing the nightly low for places like Perth County and Sarnia, but it makes me feel sleepy. I love that the Toronto-Hamilton forecast always starts it off and usually Ottawa is somewhere near the end, my two homes bookending each other with random symmetry that totally delights me. And I love when they give the forecast for Algonquin Park because for some reason I always picture Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven all holed up in there somewhere, wind blowing outside their tents, all of them shivering and dozing. It makes me feel cozy and lucky to be in my own warm house.

All of which is to say, I was listening to Ideas last night, which was a rebroadcast of last year's Massey Lectures, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, by Margaret Atwood. The fact that old Peggy dreamed up a whole series on debt way in advance of the current madness is pretty much all the proof you need of the fact that she is some kind of creepy oracle. I know some people hate her deadpan delivery but it kills me dead.

But what I especially loved about last night's essay was her description of being a terrible and terrified babysitter, saving her penny earnings in the same tin as milk tops and marbles and other little tchotchkes that had as much value to her as the actual money, prizing pennies with dead or bearded Royals over the ones of bald-faced, still-living George VI. It's such a great illustration of how totally subjective money actually is, but it's also hilarious to imagine Margaret Atwood as a kid hoarding her change. The woman whose warped and wonderful mind brought us The Handmaid's Tale and Cat's Eye was a child once too. I bet she was a weird one. I bet she was scrappy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

how to fight loneliness

I watched Grey Gardens on Friday night. It was maybe not the best movie for a gal trying to prove to herself that she is completely comfortable with holing herself up in her apartment for days on end. Anyone who has seen the movie knows what I'm talking about, but here is a particularly amazing clip of Little Edie to force the rest of you to watch it ASAP:

I was really moved by the whole big show. I'd recently read a review that called it a terrifying portrait of codependence, but I don't know, maybe I'm as crazy as the Beales, but I didn't see that. I saw the sad aftermath of privileged lives, and the difficulty of growing up beautiful and full of promise only to completely shit the bed on all expectations, and the most fantastic costumes this side of a Wes Anderson movie. Seriously. Except that they aren't even costumes. You almost forget that these women are just LIVING THEIR LIVES and that these amazing props and outfits are just the old things they drag out and put on for the film crew. Okay, fine, so they're putting on a little show, that's for sure. Little Edie especially is obviously into being filmed. But it's not like they left the house to buy any of those things--they're the artifacts of this practically unbelievable life.

...if anyone needs me I'll be letting a raccoon eat the drywall in my place in the Hamptons and listening to old records. And wearing a floppy hat.

I also watched Steel Magnolias, and took a lot of incoherent notes about how play-like and deep it was, and then I dissolved into a teary mess when Julia Roberts died, and then I ruminated on how maybe it was the high point in all the lead actresses' careers, and then I decided I'd spent too much time thinking about Steel Magnolias for one lifetime. But I will say this--for a truly horrendous example of how Wikipedia is destroying research prose, read this article.

Particularly illuminating is the Title Significance section. Also, the TOTALLY EXCITING NEWS that Mayim Bialik, aka television's beloved Blossom, will be starring in the off-Broadway revival.

You can thank me for all that later.

Friday, March 20, 2009

weekend warriors

Oh boy you guys, it's going to be a big weekend around the First Avenue homestead. I'm talking documentaries on DVD, cheap read wine, overdue library books big. Here's the first of what I hope will be many weekend plan posts, just to give you a richer picture of just how exciting my life is.

Here's what's on the list for this weekend...

The Collected Short Fiction of W. Somerset Maugham Someone mentioned Up At The Villa to me the other day and I realized I'd never actually read anything by Somerset Maugham. The literature nerd in me died a little.

Hero Type by Barry Lyga I just finished Barry Lyga's amaaaaazing book, Boy Toy, which is an incredibly powerful, sensitive story about abuse and sexuality and the horrors of those things for a teenage boy. He writes about the psychology of being a boy like no one else. I can't wait to start his latest.

Steel Magnolias. Another piece of fallout from my drunk Oscar night ordering binge at the library. THIS IS A VASTLY UNDERRATED FILM. I don't think I've seen it since I was a teenager and I am so stoked to have a good old fashioned weepfest. Possibly Julia Roberts' greatest work, which isn't saying much.

Speaking of Julia Roberts, she is hilarious in this interview.

The Tracey Fragments. I read this book last year and it was so messed up. Anything that opens with a girl wrapped up in a shower curtain is okay with my books. Also, anything with Ellen Page.

This might be the last somewhat chilly weekend of the year. While I welcome spring with the wild, unbridled enthusiasm of a SADS sufferer, I will also kind of miss the readymade excuse to hunker down that is an Ottawa winter. I am an expert burrower. Alone time is the cause of, and solution to, all of my problems, and I am totally okay with that.

But enough about me. What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This one's for the ladies

The Orange Prize longlist is out.

Check it.

This is one of my favourite awards to watch because it is always full of random fiction by random women. Given my love of randomness and the fact that I am a lady, this is a winning combination for me.

Here's to the writing ladies.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"do something nice." --Mom

Okay you guys, so I didn't have a really stellar day. It was one of those days where my iPod was decidedly not on my side, decidedly not doling out anything resembling good juju. It was a Bright Eyes/M. Ward/Neil Young doing Don't Let It Bring You Down live at Massey in 1971 kind of morning. Seriously, I defy you to listen to that song and not want to crawl into a hole and just off yourself in some kind of lovely way, like smothering yourself in a room full of lilies. I read somewhere that they require so much oxygen that planting yourself in a roomful of them is a very elegant form of suicide. This morning I waited for the light to change at the corner of Laurier and Metcalfe, the windiest, loneliest corner in all of Ottawa, and I imagined myself in some kind of 1920s-style satin housecoat, lying on a chaise longue, waiting it out.

It wasn't a fabulous walk to work.

I'm a little discombobulated today, which is nothing new to anyone who knows me. I've been reading really weird books lately, like The Moviegoer, by Walter Percy. It won the National Book Award in 1961, and someone referenced it during the Oscars. I should not be allowed to drink and watch television and go on The Internet at the same time--I end up spending the night on the library's website, placing holds on everything referenced on the tube. About a week after the Oscars telecast I had this Lost Weekend-esque experience when I checked the hold shelf for my latest arrivals--4 Hitchcock DVDs, Cactus Flower on VHS, and the Percy book. It was like I'd blacked out and had a nerd bender.

Actually, I take that back--I SHOULD get drunk and place random holds on library items. I should actually go into work and staff the reference desk while drunk, because clearly I have good whimsical drunk taste. I'm glad I ordered The Moviegoer for myself, because it's the sort of book you want to read at this time of year when you feel like the winter will never end, when all you want to do is burrow under a pile of pillows and wait for a sign that there's some hope of a thaw. Percy's book gives me the exact kind of hope I need--the slightly depressing kind. In the character Binx Bolling, I found a weary, sincere, superficial antihero, a guy you don't want to like but who wears you down to the point where you hope he figures himself out. I'm about 50 pages in and I'm not sure he's going to have any kind of epiphany; so far his life is all about hiding in the suburbs of New Orleans, going to movies and enjoying himself whether it's a good one or a bad one, struggling to defend and define himself but retreating more than succeeding. And he's a bit of a dick with the ladies, which I know is a product of being written before third wave feminism, but really, dude, ALL your secretaries? Percy opens with a line from Kirkegaard's The Sickness Unto Death, which reads, "the specific character of despair is precisely this: it is unaware of being despair." It's enough to freak out a maudlin girl like me at the best of times, but the passage is even more chilling when it's followed by the story of a man who's living it.

And yet. I'm going to keep reading it tonight, and hope that old Binx Boling figures it out, or at least keeps telling his story in this light-handed, easy way. There's something hopeful about being, at the very least, a good narrator for your own life. It's the least we can do for ourselves.

I talked to my parents on the phone tonight and my mom told me I should "do something nice" with my evening. She can always tell when I am bummed out, usually because I am yelling at her on the phone and feeling guilty about it. Anyway, I took her advice, and I did something nice. I sat in my house with the windows open and watched it get dark so much later than it did a week ago. I looked forward to things, even though I wasn't really sure any of them were worth looking forward to. Everyone deserves a little introspection on the first day of spring, even if it doesn't amount to much.