Friday, May 29, 2009

It's noon. Do you know where your parents are?

It's my mother's birthday today. If you have ever met me, you know that I am very close to my parents. We talk on the phone with astonishing frequency and email each other approximately one million times a day. That's why I thought that Love, Mom, Doree Shafrir and Jessica Grose's ingenious collection of mother-daughter correspondence, would be the perfect gift for my own dear mama this year. The book is based on the editors' hilarious blog, Postcards from Yo Momma, a reader-driven compilation of texts, emails, and other mother-missives. When I first learned about the blog I have to admit I was a little bit afraid to read it--I was worried it might cheapen the very real, so-absurd-it's-endearing nature of the communication between parent and kid. I so treasure my correspondence with my mom and the idea of laughing at other people's emails made me feel nervous and vulnerable (See last night re. misplaced anxiety). I was also pretty confident that no one else's conversations could rival the amazingness of my family's, and I figured I'd wind up being annoyed.

I was wrong on both counts. Both the blog and the book are sweet, funny, and sympathetic, not to mention totally random and absurd (This entry is killing me right now). There's something comforting in the knowledge that there are so many people out there who have this kind of warm, goofy correspondence on a daily basis. I always figured I was one of the lucky few, but clearly there are many many people who engage patiently in electronic repartee with parents who don't quite get it. The world is richer for these conversations. If you don't already email your parents on a regular basis, I encourage you to do so. Their replies will undoubtedly be as lovely and amazing as my parents' always are, and you might even get lucky and receive an anecdote about bat rehab.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Goodnight, sweetheart.

Insomnia's a glorious beast to carry around, I think. I've always had trouble sleeping and I know exactly why, and no amount of redirected thinking, cognitive therapy, warm milk/tea/bourbon, or properly-ventilated bedrooms is going to make it any easier for me to pass out at night. My mind just doesn't have an off switch. When I was younger I used to read when I couldn't sleep. I'd stay up really late with a book (usually something crappy and mindless that I secretly loved in spite of my purported braininess--even as a kid I would read, like, Anne Frank by day and the Fabulous Five under cover of darkness), alternately willing myself to fall asleep and worrying that reading garbage was going to make me dumber, wishing I could drift into dreamland and getting terrified that my recurring nightmare (Predatory ghost statues in my grandparents' yard! I blame that scene in Prince Caspian where they go back to Narnia and end up in the creepy overgrown courtyard and realize how much time has passed since they left; this seriously terrified me as a kid.) would rear its ugly head. Even when I didn't have anything to worry about, I worried about worrying. Needless to say, this process has never stopped, and I still associate bedtime reading with some mild form of panic attack. I aspire to be part of a case study someday.

All of which is to say, it's my last night in Ottawa and I can't sleep. I've packed all my V.C. Andrews paperbacks and drunk all my mini bottles of rum. There's no furniture left in my house and nothing to look at except a cat curled up on an air conditioner box like an extra in an after school special where a perfectly nice girl goes to a crack house and feels sorry for the crack dealer's cat before she does crack for the first time. Clearly I have also lost my ability to carry a metaphor to its logical conclusion.

Anyway, this is as good a headspace as any to end my time in our nation's capital--quietly freaking out and wishing I had something to read. That's pretty much the way I roll.

...and speaking of Shanana, did you know they played at Woodstock? According to a problematic Wikipedia article, it's true!

I'm pretty sure that last statement is all it takes for the library police to come and revoke my credentials.

pop quiz.

The following video is:

a. a placeholder so you don't lose interest in this, the greatest blog of life
b. a passionate statement about potato farming
c. the perfect thing to watch five times in a row on your penultimate day at your current job
d. the greatest thing the internet has ever, ever unearthed

To borrow a phrase from my dear old friend Heather, who sent me this incredible gem, "I don't even know why anyone has tried to be awesome since, because this cannot be topped."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Friday Friday.

I still haven't started reading real books again (I blame insomnia, panic, and a mild addiction to It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia). I have, however, dusted off my Calvin and Hobbes collections, and if you are having any kind of dilemma I urge you to do the same. Those comics are like a warm philosophical hug. They remind me of so many points in my life, of the uncertainty and existential mayhem and quasi-intellectualism that have pretty well been the hallmarks of every major change I've ever gone through, and I love that. I read a lot of comics and graphic writing now, and Calvin and Hobbes, along with Peanuts, were totally the first strips that made me realize there was more to this genre than kids' stuff. Both comics have such a beat on the melancholy, solitary aspects of childhood, and I always identified with loner types like Charlie Brown and Calvin. In spite of being in no way outdoorsy as a kid, I would get such a pang of envy whenever Calvin and Hobbes trundled around the woods in their wagon, totally alone with their thoughts. (Also, I essentially WAS some mix of Susie Derkins and Lucy Van Pelt as a kid, but that's another story for another post.)

In other childhood non-sequitur news, Lizzie Skurnick is reviewing one of my very very favourite books today, Nothing's Fair In Fifth Grade. She's so right when she talks about the discomfort in the book, the raw way the characters' actions are judged by the other kids around them to an alarming degree. I remember getting kind of freaked out by this book as a kid, reading about just how mean these girls could be to each other in spite of being each other's friends. I was always a big fan of books about social exclusion, from the traditional bullying of Blubber to the strange coven of two in Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth. At the best of times, I felt like I teetered on the edge of obscurity, and I think I liked to freak myself out at the prospect of becoming a complete reject.

And on that happy note, let's all have ourselves a relatively chaos-free weekend. Let's take a page from the book of America's greatest songwriter, and learn to fly. Or at the very least, learn to pack up one's apartment.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Everything must go!!!!! (maybe.)

(So I'm moving, and I'm packing, and there are things I'm on the fence about. I need your help. Tell me what stays and what goes. And what you want me to give you.)

Things currently living in apartment-purge purgatory.

1. Panasonic portable cassette player ('Walkman'). Still in working order, at least as of time and place of last use (Vancouver, August 2005, when I decided iPods were stupid and I would never own one and instead I'd revive the lost art of the mix tape).

2. Frankenstein (1815 Text). Last read (partially) in April 2001 in preparation for a Major British Writers final at the University of Toronto. (I should know what distinguishes the 1815 Text from the other versions but clearly I retained nothing other than the memory that the guy who guest lectured on this book also taught a Sci Fi course that my boyfriend took and he talked about Blade Runner in it and isn't that weird to study Blade Runner?)

3. A Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot by BC Southam (6th Ed.). Some spine damage due to being thrown against the wall of a Walmer Road slumhouse in the fall of 2002.

4. How Green Was My Valley on DVD, still in original plastic shrinkwrap. (Who needs to watch this movie more than once? Really. If I wanted to weep for 4 days I'd pull out my own teeth, or watch Steel Magnolias again.)

5. The entire John Hughes catalogue on VHS cassette (including the oeuvre's dark horse, Some Kind of Wonderful).

6. Approximately 76 candle holders/creme brulee pots/teacups/spare thank you notes, some with envelopes.

Any takers?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

You turn me on, I'm a television.

I wish someone would pay me to identify bit actors on TV shows. Recent sightings: Paris from the Gilmore Girls playing a cancer stricken chick on Grey's Stupid Stupid Anatomy, and Samantha's lesbian dalliance on Sex and the City playing a maid at the Newman Ranch on the Young and the Restless.

For a gal who only gets three TV stations, I get around.

Also, you guys, Nina is back on Y & R! And she looks pretty amazing.

I promise to start reading books again next week. The madness ends here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It's a long, long, road.

Yesterday, as part of my ongoing baby steps into packing up the apartment, I decided to weed out some of the detritus that piles up after living in a place too long. Actually, scratch that. This wasn't just junk acquired over my three years in Ottawa, this was junk I've dragged around for all of my twenty-eight years. This was junk my parents asked if I still wanted when they moved a few years ago, stuff I begged for them to keep, crying into the phone on the other side of the country and mourning the loss of the great storage closet that was my childhood home. The biplane I made in eighth grade shop class. The evaluation sheets from countless Kiwanis music festivals. So many adorably awful incarnations of my resume (Graduate of the Red Cross Babysitting Course!). A typewriter-forged list of emergency numbers handed out to all new residents at my all-girls undergraduate college. More medical notes than I care to mention. A newspaper I "published" (ie. glued my own articles over the existing ones on the pages of a 1986 copy of the Hamilton Spectator) featuring an article about a juggler whose friends told him his juggling was bad, ON HIS BIRTHDAY. I could go on, and on, and on. And on.

The worst discoveries, though, were the myriad (legion, even) binders of awful, awful poetry. Don't get me wrong--I'm an avid diarist, and one of my favourite navel-gazing activities is to delve into the archives and re-read my diary from a given year. You know by now that I'm a huge fan of introspection, and I love revisiting the mundane details of my past daily lives. But something about re-reading my angst-ridden, sexually ambiguous, teenage poetry, just makes me die a little inside. It's enough to make me want to time travel back to 1995 and rip the pen out of my metallic-blue-nailed hand out of my fifteen-year-old self and order her not to write any more metaphors about ferris wheels, stabbing, and eating disorders.

I get that sinking feeling of complete and utter embarrassment when I read most of my old creative writing. It's weirdly satisfying, maybe because when you know how just how earnestly lame you once were, you can at least be safe in the notion that you're not quite as bad as you used to be. It's the same masochistic comfort I felt when I read Mortified by David Nadelberg, an absolutely brilliant collection of adolescent diaries and writing that will make you laugh and die all at once. Wear a hooded sweatshirt while you read it, because I promise, you'll be overcome with the urge to pull it up over your head and hide from the reflected shame emanating from the pages. I honestly can't say anything more about this book, other than to beg you to read it. To describe it is to diminish its brilliance. And brilliance is the best word for it, I think, because really, that's the beauty of pre-teen and teen writing--when you're that age, you honestly believe you're a stifled genius exiled in an unforgiving world, which validates your decision to write a sonnet about barfing up a box of Nilla wafers with all the plucky flair of a modern-day Anne Frank.

All suffering is relative, they say.


I also found my small but mighty collection of literary rejection slips, which run the random gamut from Seventeen to Random House. Ah, youth.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Weekend leftovers.

1. I know I already said it, but I'm really going to miss the National Gallery. Wandering through that place all afternoon makes me feel like I am on the best field trip of all time. Especially when accompanied by friends who actually know what they are talking about when they explain the art to you, and interrupt their own lectures with incredibly inappropriate anecdotes. Oh, Culture Hour.

2. I should also add the Manx to the list of things I'll miss. A life without easy access to their tofu tacos will make me a sad, sad girl.

3. In my ongoing, and increasingly heroic, efforts to avoid packing up my apartment, I watched Singles for the millionth time this afternoon. Then I googled Campbell Scott and got sad at how old he is now. This realization notwithstanding, the movie is every bit as good as it ever was, partly because it is so lo-fi and sincere. All the stuff that seemed so rad and cool the first time I saw it, the Mudhoney posters and Eddie Vedder cameos and awesome coffee shops, are so charmingly dated in a way that's more nostalgic than campy. It's like a Norman Rockwell painting.

4. On Friday night I pulled out a box of old mix tapes and we had a very enthusiastic rockout to REM, Elton John and Ru Paul, the Pet Shop Boys, John Cougar Mellencamp, and Soul Asylum, among others. This was less embarrassing than it probably should have been.

5. I am now overcome with 90s nostalgia and might spend the next hour rooting through old VHS tapes to find Reality Bites. While this one definitely falls further toward the campy end of the spectrum, I'd still kill for Winona's haircut and Janeane Garofalo's apartment.

6. I've actually read 2 of Ethan Hawke's "novels." Maybe I was just really high and still in love with him but I'm pretty sure one of them was kind of okay.

7. I have the best friends in explored space.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Stop, look, listen.

I drove from Hamilton to Ottawa yesterday, hopefully for the last time. Trust me when I tell you that this is the longest, stupidest, boringest stretch of driving on God's green earth, and the frequency with which I'm forced to make this trek is a mean cosmic joke. The only bit of excitement I ever get is when I pass by the inexplicably-named store just east of Toronto on the 401 and I yell out " com" and giggle and then look over to my empty passenger seat to see if my non-existent road buddy thought it was funny too.

Anyway, usually I make a point of throwing together a very meaningful mix CD for my road trips, but this time I forgot. On the way down to the Hammer I listened to my husband's new triple album over and over again, to the point where I fell in love with it so hard I wasn't really sure if I could ever listen to anything else. So yesterday I decided to forgo music all together and I threw in a book on CD. I used to listen to audiobooks all the time when I had to drive to work every day, and I'm looking forward to doing it again when I start my new job, even though I nearly always endanger myself and my fellow drivers by listening to hard. Seriously, I had so many almost-accidents when I listened to this essay by David Sedaris.

I am a total snob when it comes to the narration on audiobooks. A good reader can make or break the story. My old boss had a real thing for British narrators, and I totally jumped on that bandwagon. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell remains one of the best audiobooks I've ever listened to and while the story of a young boy growing up in 1980s Britain is indeed heartbreaking and lovely all on its own, what made it for me was the handsome-sounding BBC-style narrator. Melissa Bank's The Wonder Spot is pretty much the greatest book ever written about becoming a woman, and the version I listened to, with Bank herself as the dry, slightly-Brooklyn-accented narrator, made me fall in love with it even more.

On the flip side, a crappy reader can completely ruin a wonderful story, like the American narrator reading Tracey Chevalier's decidedly British Falling Angels (cockney slang delivered in a CBS newsanchor dialect = death). Sometimes a voice is just wrong for the character it's trying to embody, which is the problem I encountered with Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, which I listened to yesterday. The protagonist is a frustrated, introverted teen guy, someone who probably would have joined the trench coat mafia if he'd had the opportunity. After a summer spent working alongside his school's janitorial staff as part of his community service for a crime that's revealed bit by bit, Tyler returns to the minefield of highschool a muscled, misunderstood legend. He's not really sure who he is, and neither is anyone else. Anderson's one of my favourite teen writers, and this book is every bit as moving as her other instant classic of teen crises, Speak. But when the tribulations of the reluctant antihero are told by a too-old male voice with all the subtlety and shyness of a Bud Light announcer, something just doesn't compute.

I'd conclude this in a more thoughtful way but I'm still on holiday, and there's a half-finished batch of sangria in my kitchen that really needs some attention. Happy Friday, my ducklings. Here's ten minutes of Liz Lemon to ease you into your weekend.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Magazine Time.

Sorry guys, my vacation has been pretty full of excitement and napping and other noteworthless pastimes, which is why I haven't updated all week. Also problematic is the fact that as soon as I get to my parents' house my literacy level drops down to that of a comatose himalayan cat and I read nothing but back issues of Everyday Food and Canadian Living. Oh, and the Hamilton Spectator "Special Announcements" section, which is seriously the standard-bearer of citizen journalism and automatically makes you feel about 25% better about your own pathetic life. No matter how bad things get, at least your dental hygienist graduation photo isn't plastered across the front page above a poorly-written paragraph about your dubious achievements, capped off with the best wishes of your nana, papa, and Chappy the family spaniel.

Not that I wasn't secretly upset my parents never put an announcement in when I finished grad school--if they had I might have forgiven them for the bald baby photo they sent in when I turned thirteen.

Anyway, between my dad turning 60 and my mom winning the Women of Distinction award this week, me and my kin are having a pretty awesome time. So awesome that I think I'm going to go rest my eyes for a bit and then maybe scoff at an episode or two of John and Kate Plus 8. Oh TLC, you are my heroin.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vacation, all I ever wanted. Vacation, had to get away.

So I'm about to embark on a week's vacation because I need to use up my time off before the Man rips it out from under me when I give Ottawa the keys to the street later this month. I am pretty stoked, because ever since I made all those big life decisions a little while ago, I've been in an annoying state of cat-like readiness that has compounded my usual insomniac tendencies to the point where I laid awake last night until 4 AM listening to the wind whip around my windows and worrying that it was going to knock down a hanging basket on my fire escape which would then fall and hit my car. I also had a brief fear that there was a vampire in my storage closet because my cat was acting sort of funny. This is how I roll, people. I need some sleep, the kind of sleep I only get on the foldout couch in my parents' basement. There's something soporific about their house. Maybe it's the cable TV.

Anyway, when I finally gave up on actually trying to sleep, I started reading All The Wrong People Have Self-Esteem by Laurie Rosenwald, an incredible, delightfully neurotic collection of advice-ridden collages for teenage girls. I'd never heard of Laurie Rosenwald until a friend recommended this book to me, but she is fantastic. She combines old photos and magazine clippings and wicked typeface to rail against women's magazines, worry about her lack of activism, and generally obsess about the details of her daily life. I could not sympathize more. I love books that are stuck in the heads of their creators, particularly those that delve into girlhood and the awkwardness of the transformation from girl to woman. Rosenwald's book belongs alongside Lynda Barry's One! Hundred! Demons! and Lauren R. Weinstein's Girl Stories, graphic books that are funny, heartbreaking, and endlessly self-reflexive. Books that make me wish I could draw, or do better collages than the ones I ripped apart my Sassy back issues to create back in 1996. Books that make neuroses-fuelled insomnia feel pretty okay.

Speaking of comic books, tomorrow is Free Comic Book Day. Call your local comic store or library to find out more. Or just listen to Wolverine.