Saturday, September 26, 2009

Friday Five.

By this point in the week, it always feels like it's been a long one. Especially when you're still eight hours away from the glorious weekend and your amazing plans to unplug your phone and watch an entire season of Extras while cooking yourself dinner from The Minimalist (Mark Bittman, will you be my roommate?). With that in mind, here's a little something (or a few somethings) to get us all through till five. Till then, if you need me, I'll be taking a lot of coffee breaks, striding down the streets of Kingston wrapped up in a pashmina, trying to look brave.

The Weight--The Band and the Staples Singers.

This is the official song of driving to work on a foggy fall morning. Some days I listen to it three times over. It's a balm for what ails us.

Mutiny, I promise you--The New Pornographers

Actually, the song I've had stuck in my head all week (and most weeks) is Unguided but I could only find totally crappy versions online. Also, I am a sucker for a bad CanRock video. And I am pretty sure that's the chick from Flight of the Conchords in there. WHAT!

Part of the Union--Strawbs

Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. Labour politics will apparently be meltdown fodder for the next two years, friends. Incidentally, this is what came up when I was trying to find a version of Union Maid I could actually embed. I love happy accidents of internetism. Who the hell is Strawbs and where did they come from?

Sailor's Eyes--Joel Plaskett

This week I missed a Plaskett show. He was playing around the corner from my house, pretty much. Sheer exhaustion and poor footwear choices will do weird things to a girl. Anyway, I've been humming this one with regret all week.

Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You--Dylan

...because Nashville Skyline is the official album of autumn, and this song is the official anthem of figuring out your shit, and coming on home, and spending the night. Not a bad way to sign off.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Don't tell me what the poets are doing.

This morning I did my favourite thing in the universe, which is to get up, go to yoga, come home, eat breakfast, and go back to bed. Seriously, going back to bed feels better than free pie and free cake and free comics combined. When I woke up for the second time, I finished reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker, and I am so glad that I did. See, I am a huge literature dork. The only reason I got through my undergrad degree in English, wading through classes filled with aspiring Atwoods and Harold Blooms and professors engaged in the kind of desperate intellectual masturbation you only get at schools that call themselves "The Harvard of the North" (begging the question, does Harvard call itself "The U of T of the Eastern Seaboard?"), was my completely nerdy and lifelong devotion to reading. Whenever I got pissed off at the misogyny/unfairness/laziness/complete incoherence of one of my professors, I just sat back and kept reading. I got a whole hell of a lot out of it, in the end.

Anyway, The Anthologist is pure literary academic candy, with a side of hilarity. The narrator is a professor-slash-poet whose girlfriend has completely given up on him, and for good reason: the guy is a mess. He's stuck trying to finish an introduction for an anthology and just generally hold his life together, but seems to be plagued by the disease that befalls so many research-oriented people: complete obsession with his work, which in this case, is poetry. Not much really happens in this book, but in between all the nothing is so much lovely, hilarious, informative, tender, and genuinely passionate description and exposition about poetry and its importance. That might sound cheesy and boring and possibly snooty, but seriously, this book will make you think about poetry in ways you probably never dreamed of, and will make you laugh out loud while doing so. There's just something so sympathetic and naive about this guy, and something very real about the way he bounces from references to Ezra Pound to Ray LaMontagne to wondering about getting into podcasting ("I could never keep it up. You have to hand it to those podcasters. They keep on going week after week, even though nobody's listening to them. And then eventually they puff up and die.") that is just very real and random and engaging. I can't say much more because it's the voice and the tone that sells this book, the sharp wit and the irreverent quipping and all that, and as much as I'd love to sit here and quote it ad nauseam, I'll just strongly urge you to go out and get yourself a copy. Even if you've always hated poetry and you thought all your profs were blowhards, I guarantee you'll find something to admire in this lovely book. You may also end up requesting for your library to buy the complete letters of Sara Teasdale, Elizabeth Bishop, and Louise Bogan. Don't worry, residents of Kingston, I'm gonna do everything I can to get them into your hands.

So yeah, in spite of what Gord might say, I WOULD like to know what the poets are doing.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Generation yay.

I just finished reading Generation A, by Douglas Coupland, and it made me crave apples so bad. We're at the height of the delicious fall fruit harvest here in Ontario, when apples are almost too plentiful. As a gal who has always loved a Yellow Transparent or a Russet, this is one of my favourite times of year. I ate two Honeycrisps before I sat down to write this. It's a good life for us apple-holics these days.

Not so in Coupland's world. The crux of his new novel, which takes place in the not-so-far-off future, is the recent extinction of honey bees, which, of course, means the end of anything that needs to be pollinated, including apple trees. At a few points, one of the main characters describes her love of the Braeburn in juicy, almost porny detail. I salivated, and was embarrassingly aroused, and also terrified at the prospect of a world without my daily staple. Leave it to Coupland to freak me out in such a particular, absurd way.

I've been an obsessive Doug Coupland fangirl since I was a teenager. I devoured Generation X and wrote three book reports on Shampoo Planet and even kind of loved Polaroids from the Dead. Girlfriend in a Coma made me cry and Life After God still remains high on my list of all-time favourite short story collections. (If you haven't read the amazing post-nuclear meltdown "The Wrong Sun" you really probably ought to.) Sometimes I'm not quite sure what he's up to (sorry, but I might be the only person who hated Microserfs) but then he always seems to redeem himself (Terry basically redeems everything). That's why, while Generation A might not be his strongest book, I still loved it, and I'll still always love him. The narrative dropped off into fragments in the final act, which I guess is part of the point--different characters telling their stories, raging against a post-Internet world where human stories have been replaced by digital nightmares. Like always with Coupland, I admire the idea, and even though the execution may be flawed, his writing is as sarcastic and satirical and spot-on as ever. But I guess what I liked about GenA, more than the book itself, is what it represents. GenX was all about the end of culture, the end of personal narratives, the end of history. I used that frigging book as an example in so many poorly articulated essays about postmodernism and the decline of civilization that Baudrillard is rolling over in his grave. It was my go-to for proving that as a poetic, thoughtful society, we were in our twilight hours. And yet, here we are, 18 years later, and Coupland's still cranking out insane, implausible, joke-soaked stories about unbelievable characters in strangely familiar situations. He's lapped himself, and I love it. It gives me hope.

I don't know what else I can say about this, except that this line from GenX is just simple and stupid enough to be totally profound: Nothing very very good and nothing very very bad ever lasts for very very long. Words to live by on an autumn Sunday, although I'm not sure why. See above re. that being the point.

Here's a Sunday night song.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Six for Kicks.

It's been a long week on Walton Mountain, and I'm not in much of a mood for talking books. Instead I thought I'd celebrate the advent of the much-needed weekend with a little mini-playlist. Fall nostalgia might be my favourite nostalgia of all. Part of me loves the early nights and the frost in the air every morning, the clean-sheets feeling of a fresh start as the seasons change. I've had a lot of good falls, in a lot of good places. Here are the six songs I'll be listening to on my way home from work tomorrow.

The Avalanche--Sufjan Stevens.

Autumn time is Sufjan time for me. I think it's because I first listened to him in the fall, just after moving to Ottawa, wandering around the city by myself and feeling pretty lost. That feeling never subsided, and neither did the wistful sense I get whenever I listen to him. Of note: I am totally okay with this budget YouTube video which gives me an excuse to stare at his motionless little hipster boy frame for three solid minutes, in the name of art.

Uniform Grey--Sarah Harmer.

She makes all my playlists these days. Ever since I moved to Kingston I moon about the streets listening to You Were Here over and over again, wondering if this is the corner from Around This Corner and where The Hideout is (actually, that one I'm pretty sure I know). I'm going to offer the Sarah Harmer Kingston Reality Tour someday. It'll be like the Peterman Reality Tour but with better bagels.

Handshake Drugs--Wilco.

This one's all Vancouver. My dear Kitsilano roommate was responsible for Wilco shifting in my mind from The Band My Boyfriend Used to Play When We'd Have Dumb Fights to The Band I Cannot Get Through The Day Without. This song reminds me of riding the bus up to the UBC campus and wondering exactly what anyone wanted me to be.

Never Had Nobody Like You--M. Ward.

Because, you know, the weekend's gotta come sometime. And when Friday rolls around all I want to do is dance. M. Ward's full of sweet little love songs that just get your hips swaying. This song's pretty great for easing on into the weekend. A delicate rockout. The "To Be With You" of our generation, if you will.

What's your favourite Mr. Big album? Mine is Japandemonium. And while we're talking about places, this one takes me right back to awkward slow dances in Hamilton, Ontario. Oh god, middle school was the greatest.

Singer Songwriter--Okkervil River.

Let's fucking party, guys.

...From suicide to salvation in six songs. Not bad.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Being smart is hard. Especially when you find yourself constantly resisting your intelligence.

Case in point:

The new Alice Munro book came in for me this weekend at work. I got super excited about it and chatted like a literary fangirl with all my coworkers about how I couldn't wait to go home and read it and one time my mom saw her on a plane and isn't she frigging classy for pulling herself out of the running for the Giller? I came home all ready for some subtle, poetic fiction-reading.

...And then, I spent the rest of the evening watching episodes of Young and the Restless online, and getting depressed at how confused and disoriented that show makes me now. Gone are the days when you could tune in once every three months and find the plot had only progressed slightly past where it was when you and your grandma used to watch it together. Now it's all Silver Chipmunks and kidnapping and peanut allergies.

...And then, I googled pictures of Lady Gaga and tried yet again to figure out why I think she is so cool. Me liking her makes the least sense than anything, ever.


Anyway, it's bedtime and I've got some old Sweet Valley High paperbacks to flip through before I pass out, just to round out this incredibly stimulating evening. Watch this video, if you know what's good for you. (Thanks, Harold.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Back to school , back to the kitchen.

I'm a firm believer in random resolutions, and September is pretty much the best time of year for that sort of thing. No matter how old I get, I still get that excited back to school feeling, the pleasant anxiety that worrywarts like me totally love because it's a nervousness rooted in possibility instead of insanity. (Rationalization will get you everywhere, I'm told.) Anyway, the cool windy mornings fill me with hope, and ideas, and resolve, all of which are soon tempered by an all-encompassing fear of failure and a quick devolution into stasis. It's a rich tapestry, this mind of mine.

Recent example: I had vowed to write every day on this blessed blog, beginning on September first. I also promised myself that I'd start reading novels again, curbing my recent obsession with music journalism and magazines in favour of something a little meatier. These plans have not come to fruition, but I am quite happy to say that some of my other resolutions are coming along nicely. Like the renewed commitment to domesticity, for instance. The end of summer means it's time for hunkering, storing, and preparing for the long winter. I've talked before about how much I love this required burrowing, and this year I decided to embrace it wholeheartedly. I made jam this weekend, and the jars are sitting on my counter like a row of cute little rubies in a jewel box. The smell of a blueberry brunch loaf is currently wafting from my kitchen as I type this; the best part of living alone is not having to fight anyone when you want to lick the batter from the bowl. I don't think you can have any idea how satisfying it is to make something like that unless it's bred in your bones, and it certainly is in mine.

And I guess in a way my return to the kitchen has got me reading a lot more, because I've been nose-deep in cookbooks for the better part of the last week. My current favourite is one I picked up from a Friends of the Library sale in Ottawa, called The Best Recipes This Side of Heaven: Home Tested Recipes from Anglican Church Ladies. This book is so, so classic, and a perfect example of the kind of culinary lore I hope never disappears from our collective memory. It is blessed by the Archdeacon of Moose Mountain, Manitoba. It includes recipes like Beef Upside Down Pie, Salad Dressing Cake, Hard Time Pudding (I used to make a version of this almost weekly until I developed uncontrollable heartburn), Italian Pizza (in the "ethnic" section), and Chinese Wedding Cake (surprisingly, not in the "ethnic" section). Primary ingredients in most desserts include Eagle Brand milk and suet, canned fruit cocktail and dessicated coconut. They do not write recipes like this anymore. This is the kind of stuff your grandmother used to make, the kind of stuff I think we should feel obligated to keep alive.

Which is why I think I might add a new resolution to my list, one that combines my commitments to cooking and writing--a Julie and Julia style project wherein I cook my way through the church ladies' recipe box. You're all invited over for Low Cal Dinner Rolls and Wedding Salad this weekend.

This will be our dinner party music.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Sincerity alert.

My mother bears the proud distinction of owning every single copy of Canadian Living magazine ever published. She bought the first few on the newsstand and then promptly started subscribing by mail. For as long as I can remember, we've had stacks of them kicking around the house at all times, mostly splayed open to the recipes section. Some issues are so well-used that you know exactly what random CanCon celebrity was featured on the page next to a beloved dish (cinnamon roll-ups? they're near the feature on the 1992 World Series winning Blue Jays, DUH). Canadian Living is a personal touchstone for me, partly because it reminds me of my family, but also because it's about exactly what it says: living. Day to day stuff. Making a nice dinner and rearranging your closets and hanging out with people you love. This magazine is maybe the only non-cynical thing I actually go out of my way to read.

When I moved out, one of the things I looked forward to on my trips back home was flipping through the latest issue. Something about the complete lack of irony, the incredible earnestness, and the food just made me feel like I was home. And as of yesterday, I won't need to wait for a visit to my parents' place to get that same warm hug feeling--I now have my own subscription, and my first issue has arrived (Pet Special! Save on Vet Bills! Room Makeovers!). It's everything I dreamed it would be: a well-researched article on workplace hazards, a recipe for an all-locally-grown Cobb salad...this is the stuff of my dreams, folks.

But I think the thing I like most about the magazine now, at this thoughtful stage of my life as I try to figure out my place in the world, is the Letters section. I love that people in Antigonish Nova Scotia and Morinville Alberta are making the same cake and are so excited with the results that they've sent in their photos. I love knowing that people all across this huge, scary country are as excited as I am to bake and learn and just do things for the sake of being comfortable and cozy. We don't focus on the little things nearly enough anymore.

The full article on local cheese doesn't hurt too much either.