Saturday, November 27, 2010

A balm for what ails us.

Ten songs for a bad week, presented without comment.

1. Gord Downie--Vancouver Divorce

2. Calexico--Going to Acapulco (Bob Dylan cover)

3. Feist--Intuition

4. Neil Young--Out on the Weekend

5. Wilco--I am Trying to Break Your Heart

6. Sufjan Stevens--Vito's Ordination Song

7. Young Rival--The Ocean

8. Sarah Harmer--Don't Get Your Back Up

9. Joel Plaskett--Face of the Earth

10. Great Lake Swimmers--I Am Part Of A Large Family

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I always wanted a doll named Chevrolet.

In times of trial and trouble, I tend to retreat from productive adult reading and go back to the stack of Ramona Quimby books tucked on a special shelf in my home library. I firmly believe that Beverly Cleary is a genius who has pinpointed so perfectly what it feels like to be a kid, the injustices and fears and joys that help us grow up, the development of the empathic and emotional mind. As a child I read Ramona and remember that amazing feeling of YES! This is so right! And as an adult I read Ramona and think Wow, this is STILL so right, and I am STILL learning.

Last night I was reading Ramona the Brave, which was never my favourite Ramona book as a kid (I was partial to Ramona and her Father and Ramona Quimby Age 8, mostly because I looooooved the last chapters in each of them and on repeat readings would get SO EXCITED as I got closer to the end. "Ramona and the Three Wise Persons" is a seriously wonderful Christmas story in its own right.). Now that I am old and wise, I think I like Ramona the Brave because it's all about Ramona having a really shitty time, and admitting she's not happy, and trying to do something about it. This is some deep emotional activity for a six year old, but Cleary never sugarcoats it, and I love that. To me, there's nothing more important than owning your feelings. I think I owe my ability to do so, in part, to the fact that I read Ramona so closely and carefully, over and over again. This book makes you feel like everything can be not okay and still okay at the same time, which is a pretty great zen lesson for children of all ages.

Also, this, from a passage on Ramona learning to read.

"The reader was more interesting now that her group was attacking bigger words. Fire engine. Ramona read to herself and thought, Pow! I got you, fire engine. Monkey. Pow! I got you, monkey."

Hell yes. As someone who reads pretty much constantly, I have all but forgotten how exciting it was to learn to read, to actually make sense of the words on the page. What a crazy awesome gift it is to open a book. Table of contents? I own you!

Also also, Ramona names her doll Chevrolet, and says that it is the most beautiful name in the world. Yes.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Remember, remember, the fifth of November.

Here's what I like to do in November.

1. Listen to Sufjan Stevens. I am pulling the hipster, I Liked Him Before He Was Really Big And Am Not Too Keen On His New Album card on this one and wholeheartedly recommend you go all the way back to Michigan, my personal favourite soundtrack for mooning around the house because it's too cold to go outside.

Fun fact 1a: This song was on the episode of the OC where Johnny, the surfer from the wrong side of the tracks, fell off a really high rock and died. Fun fact 1b: I was really into the OC. "COHEN!"

2. Read Jeffrey Brown. A fan of all things autobiographical and graphical, I discovered Clumsy, possibly my favourite comic memoir, on the shelf of the first library I worked at in Ottawa. Clumsy tells the story of Jeffrey Brown's long-distance romance with a girl from Florida named Theresa. His drawing style reminds me of the tiny, scribbly, incredibly detailed doodles that this gifted guy in my elementary school class used to draw in the margins of his notebooks--stick figures doing intense things. Every page is comprised of six panels of heartbreak. It is a really beautiful book.

Fun Fact 2a: The library just bought his newest book, a collection called Undeleted Scenes which includes some of his best strips and also some random new stories. I am very sad to report that he has written a story about his wife and baby, which I guess means I need to cross him off the Secret Husband list.

3. Watch Brideshead Revisited. The cold gloomy weather at this time of year gets me jonesing for England, and there's no better way to indulge this feeling than to unplug the telephone (just kidding! I don't even answer it when it's plugged in!), turn on the television (ie. laptop) and cozy up for ten solid hours of the decline and fall of the archetypal upper class on the other side of the pond. Like most Brit Lit-loving nerds who went to Gothic Revival style university colleges, I have held Brideshead close to my heart for a very long time. It represents a very particular, dysfunctional dream of academia and intellectualism and the good life that I always thought I might enjoy but never really believed in, the kind of life where you wear tuxes to dinner and a divorce in the family could ruin everything. It is a tragicomedy of manners in which I would like to be a fly on the cocktail tray. It has a very evocative soundtrack which always makes me cry a little.

Fun fact 3a: I've also been watching the Up! Series, which I cannot recommend highly enough, and which I will write more about later, and one of the men profiled blames the failure of his life on putting too much stock in books like Brideshead Revisited. I think I know exactly what he is talking about.

Let's take it out on a little more gentle folk rock. Sufjan covering Dylan? I think my heart just stopped.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


So, I had kind of a rough week, and spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms. It's pretty hard to focus on anything in that sort of situation, but like the diligent bookworm I am, I tried like hell to plow through several books. This effort was completely unsuccessful. Here's what I failed to read.

1. Great House by Nicole Krauss. I have this thing with Nicole Krauss where I really want to like her work because the New Yorker and the New York Times tell me I should, but every time I try to get into one of her books I just get sidetracked thinking about the fact that she is so intense and her husband Jonathan Saffran Foer is ALSO so intense and what the hell do you think they talk about at the dinner table? Kittens?

2. Half Empty by David Rakoff. The only reason I didn't finish this one was that I passed it on to my boyfriend-slash-patient so he'd have something to read in the OR waiting room.

Me: Don't you think you should take something lighter with you? Didn't your mom just loan you some Frederick Forsyth paperbacks?

Patient, hepped up on percocet and distracted by a television in the waiting area: I can't believe these people who won't wear their Remembrance Day poppies. It's disrespectful, is what it is. Hey, can I borrow that book?

3. Macleans Magazine from sometime in October. Here is a strategy you might think will help you feel better about your current situation: read an article about the Chilean miners and think about how much luckier you are than them. I am dismayed to report that this strategy was completely useless.

...At least I was trying.

There's a line from To Kill A Mockingbird that's been running through my head through all this:

"Neighbours bring food with death and flowers with sickness and little things in between. Boo was our neighbor. He gave us two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad."

I've been overwhelmed by the generosity of my neighbours near and far this week. I hope I can give back what they've given me.