Sunday, January 29, 2012


Back in highschool, I was one of those insufferable literary nerd types who took Writer's Craft classes very, very seriously. I was highly in touch with my creative side in those years, scribbling down free verse poetry about people I'd kissed at an alarmingly prodigious rate. I really miss that state of misplaced and occasionally wavering self-assurance, the absolute certainty that what I wrote was GOOD--so good, in fact, that within five years I would be offered my first contract with a small but reputable independent publisher (I had designs on Anansi, but I wasn't picky.). I spent so much on postage in those days, mailing two-thirds of what I wrote into publications like Seventeen (which used to publish some really great short fiction, no lie. Sylvia Plath once won the short story contest, as did Meg Wolitzer and also Curtis Sittenfeld, one of my favourite American novelists) and Sassy (where I got my first taste of the staggering genius of Blake Nelson). I actually did have a handful of publications back then in decent-ish magazines and journals for younger writers, successes that only fuelled my delusional flames.

But I digress. Anyway.

In a couple of those classes, I remember starting the year with a writing exercise our teacher called An Inventory of Being. The premise was simple, and, I still think, pretty cool. You basically wrote a long, free-form, rambling poem about yourself that began with your name and ended with the year you were writing it. In between you did your best to capture exactly how you fit into the world, exactly as it existed at the time of your writing. During a recent move, I stumbled upon my 1997 version, which contained such gem-lines as "I know I am in love. He told me as he lit his cigarette outside between classes" and "I wish I could be Anglican, and sing hymns, or Buddhist, and do yoga on a mountaintop." (Sidebar: I have since sung in an Anglican chapel choir and done yoga in close proximity to nature. CLEARLY I POSSESS AN AWESOME POWER.) I also talked about bands I liked (Pavement, Sloan, Tori Amos) and books that were important to me (Atwood, Munro, Salinger). I talked about dyeing my hair a lot (I was obsessed with distinguishing myself, a tendency that often manifested in semi-permanent, poorly-executed aesthetic decisions). Reading my Inventory again, I cringed and cried and laughed so hard. There is something so wonderful and heartbreaking about reading a letter from a version of yourself, an exhaustive description of what it felt like to be you at a particular time and place.

A couple of weeks ago, I was filling out yet another online dating profile, and I realized that one of the reasons I continue to subject myself to such a ridiculous exercise is that, frankly, I really love writing about myself. Not in a showy or self-congratulatory way, not at all. It's comforting, is all, creating a document that sums up exactly what you like and what you're like, here and now. In 2012, as in 1997, I talk about bands I like (Joel Plaskett, Wilco, Aimee Mann) and books that are important to me (Coupland, Woolf, Salinger--still). I talk about doing yoga and baking cookies and generally trying to make the world a better place. I actually use the words "non-lame feminist" and "new-agey" to describe myself (still obsessed with distinguishing myself, I guess, although hopefully in a manner less damaging to my appearance). I hope silently for a boy who might someday say he loves me, although hopefully not during a smoke break. Some things stay the same; others, not so much.

So I guess my point here is that you never know what lessons you might learn from the exercises set out in front of you. I may not find true love on the internet (there is a whooooole other blog in my head detailing the many tragicomic encounters that support this possibility), but I am grateful for the chance to check in. I really urge you to start writing your own inventories every couple of years. You will feel so much embarrassed love for yourself, for the worlds you've inhabited, and for the people you've known. And if nothing else, you can pat yourself on the back for always having had such stellar taste in music.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

We are sick, we are sick, we are sick, sick, sick.

If you are among the handful of people who've read this little serial of mine since its humble beginnings, you'll know this already, but here it is. When I get sick, this blog becomes devoted to sketchy recipes and obsessive documentation of classic (and not so classic) television. I've been holed up for the last 2 days and find it vaguely comforting that I still resort to the same old tricks to make myself feel well again. I'm also incredibly thankful to have a real couch now, because taking sickroom naps on my dilapidated old love seat was really angst-provoking. Adulthood ain't so bad.

Anyway, here's what I made tonight.

Quinoa Pudding

(Inspired in part by the Joy of Cooking's rice pudding recipe--Volume II, page 458--and in part by this)

3/4 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk (skim or soy or almond, whatever. I used skim dairy milk because it was all I had.)
2-3 eggs
another 1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup agave nectar (or brown sugar, if you are feeling less self righteous than I am)
1-2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. grated orange rind
1 tbsp. vanilla (if we're gonna get honest here, I actually used brandy. Brandy's my oregano--it works in everything.)
1 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup mixed berries (I used frozen raspberries and mango, which turned the pudding a delightful pink)
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots

Bring water and 1/2 cup of milk to a boil. Add quinoa and simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes or so.

In the meantime, combine eggs, second half cup of milk, agave, honey, orange peel, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk it up.

Once the quinoa is cooked stir in butter. Lower the heat to medium low. Slowly stir in the egg mixture and fruit. Cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. It should thicken up at this point. WHen it's the consistency of warm pudding, remove from the stove, and pour into a shallow baking dish. Bake for half an hour at 325.

Let it cool for a bit, or eat it piping hot from the oven with a little cream and/or maple syrup drizzled on top. Thank your lucky stars your appetite is back.

Best enjoyed while trying to wrap one's head around Lost. I'm only on the first season guys, but I'm already feeling a little overwhelmed.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

january inventory.

Four years ago, I drove out to the Ikea in Nepean to meet my best friend for a shameful post-holiday shopping trip. It was something we did fairly often, usually under some kind of influence. This time, though, we were stone-cold sober, the dim twinkle of parenthood in Freya's eye growing brighter by the day.. "I don't want to chance it," she told me. "Fair enough!" I replied gamely, having no idea, not really. Later that night after an embarrassing spree of Billy shelving and cheap bed linens we went back to her house for dinner. Dinner involved a lot of wine, at least for me and Greg and Greg's friend Tom. It was one of those nights when one things leads to another, one of those nights you try to dismiss the next morning, with limited success. A few days later, Freya called me to tell me she was pregnant, that her weekend of sobriety had not been in vain. I screamed into the phone and then asked her for Tom's number. It was January in Ottawa, and I was spending a lot of my time skating up and down the canal, trying to embrace the cold, embrace the wind, embrace the silence.

Three years ago, my favourite thing about my job was that I could usually sneak out early on Friday afternoons to drive out to Tom's place, two long and lonely hours from my Glebe hideaway. I'd just come back to Ottawa after two weeks in Hamilton at my parents' place for Christmas, and Ottawa felt less like the right place for me than ever. On New Year's Day when I'd told my brother I needed to change something, he said "So, then, make your move." He might be younger, but he's often wiser.

Instead of making a wise move myself, I made the same move girls in love always make, and spent that January running away from our nation's capital every blessed weekend, over and over again. I came back from the lake every Sunday (or sometimes Monday, as I perfected the delicate art of calling in sick) with my tail between my legs. No, that's not quite it, I kept thinking to myself. That's not quite what I meant to do.

Two years ago, Tom picked me up from work at the library in Kingston on a snowy Tuesday night. We drove to the Montreal airport (he adamantly refused to fly out of Pearson, even though all of our flights stopped over in Toronto anyway, adding an hour to our travel time; stubbornness can be endearing in a certain light) and took off for the Oaxaca Coast in Mexico the next morning. Our flight itinerary was an incomprehensible milk-run that involved a three-hour stopover at the Mexico City Airport, where we sat in the Mexican equivalent of a TGIFridays and drank bottle after bottle of Corona. When we finally got to Huatulco and wrestled our way into a sketchy taxi into town, I rolled down the window of the car and breathed in the warm, ocean-dampened air.

"I love the air here," Tom said. "It smells like bonfires and garbage and trouble." He was right, in the best possible way. We spent the next two weeks on deserted beaches and half-empty bars, eating avocadoes by the fistful, feeling like extras in a low-budget surf movie. It was the coziest January I've ever experienced.

One year ago, I was rattling around my Kingston apartment. Tom and I had broken up before Christmas in an epic split worthy of a teen novel, and I was homesick for my family, newly truly on my own. Sometime around the first of the year, I did 108 rounds of Sun Salutations. My teacher talked about creating new energy for a new year, and I thought long and hard about just what I was going to do with all the crazy heat zinging around my body. The next day, I got an email from the library in Hamilton inviting me back for a second interview and I broke down in tears. It didn't seem right to go back yet, even though it didn't seem right to stay put either. "I don't know what I'm doing," I told my mother on the phone. "Sure you do," she replied. I drove back to Hamilton a few days later, called in sick to make it to my interview (again, a fine and careful art). After four hours of questions, answers, and Powerpoint insanity, my dad and brother picked me up, and we went skating at the Dundas Driving Park. That night as I drove back up to Kingston, I watched the thermometer on my dashboard as the temperature dropped, slowly and surely, the further I got from Hamilton. Well, I thought, that can't be a good sign.

I moved home a few weeks later.

So, here we are, then.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

resolution revolution.

2012's not even a day old yet, but I've got some ideas for what I'm going to do differently this year.

1. Continue my plans for the world's first breathalyzer-deactivated phone. I am confident that I am not the only person who feels like they could really, really use this, particularly after about 2:00 AM.

2. Re-evaluate Jack Daniels' role in my life.

3. Revisit my old friends on The O.C.., thanks to the fantastic DVD holdings of the Hamilton Public Library. I wondered recently whether this little show would stand the test of time. Three hours into a marathon I am pleased to announce that it so, so does. Okay fine, so there are some minor annoyances, such as the fact that the soundtrack is 10% pop punk and 90% various covers of Hallelujah, but whatever. Seth Cohen, I still heart you. I still heart you so hard.

4. Reread The Stand. I'm currently plowing through Stephen King's newest book, 11/22/63, and it is genius. Now I'm dying to revisit some of the other classics that blew my mind over the years. Incidentally, there's also a really excellent comic book adaptation of The Stand, which I emphatically recommend to all fans of post-apocalyptic narratives, zombie comics, and being mildly repulsed in the best possible way.

5. Dance like no one is watching. I really mean it.

Happy New Year, everyone.