November 26th, 2013
Right now I wish that Goodreads would let me give half stars–it’s really a 3.5 kind of novel. Parts of this epic tale by Donna Tartt contain some truly, truly exceptional writing, intuitive observations, and a keen eye for the failings of the human spirit. But parts are bloated, even a little overwritten with a tendency to restate, sometimes within the self-same sentence, a previous observation–and this made me batty.
That said, I loved Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, with abandon. Thoroughly enjoyed her second, The Little Friend, but got lost in the beginning of this book, almost to its detriment. The novel opens with a terrorist bomb blowing up in one of the biggest galleries in New York. Theo, having been suspended with school, is there with his art-loving, advertising-working mother, before a meeting at his school, his deadbeat father having been out of the picture for a while. The plot device-ness of the attack concerned me, but it was necessary in order for Theo to come into possession of the novel’s namesake, a Dutch master’s painting, “The Goldfinch.” And it’s within this framework–what happens to him as a result of the painting, where his life goes, what decisions he makes, that form the bulk of the action in the book.
Almost immediately, there’s Charles Ryder-esque quality to Theo–he’s the centre of the story but not necessarily the most interesting person in the book. Especially when Boris arrives on the scene. He’s an incredible character, amazing, actually, who flits in and out of the book at exactly the right moments like he’s in a movie. The book is Dickensian in all the right places, and despite its length and heft moves at lightning speed. The only thing I was really missing was a keen and wholly believable emotional core–but, in the end, the heart of the book is one boy’s tragedy and the depths that it pulls his life in a direction that can’t seem to be reversed. And for that, Tartt had my heart, and that’s all you can really ask of a novel, isn’t it?
October 10th, 2013
It’s been so long, I don’t even know where to start. I just know I need to, start, that is. There’s an element to my personality, a constant communicator, I think, with myself, that gets lost when I don’t have a moment to catch up, to document, to brave the introspection that comes with what blogging represents in my life. In a way, it’s my journal–as it is with many writers, and I have sentences whirling around my head at all times, with nary a place for them to go these days because by the time I wrestle the pen out of my son’s hands, find a piece of paper that doesn’t have scribbles on it already, and sit down to write, he’s climbed up the stairs by the banister or something equally dangerous, and by then the thought is lost anyway.
We spent about a week in Winnipeg visiting friends and it was very nice to get away. There’s something truly wonderful about taking a break from your everyday life. Spending time in a place that is not familiar to you. And when you pause, even more ideas come floating into your brain. Yes, we could sell our house completely and move to Winnipeg. Yes, we could make a change that drastic if we really decided we needed to. Yes, wouldn’t it be nice to just take a jet plane somewhere so completely away that you honestly get a break?
But what am I saying?
The value of routine for my life is unquestionable. I need the stability. Stemming from living through tragedy in my childhood, that I have a house I have lived in for almost ten years, with no plans to leave, makes me feel strong. Knowing I’ve been with my RRHB now for almost fifteen years holds something together. I’m not saying the last few years have been easy. They haven’t. I’m not saying that we have a perfect union. We don’t. But I am entitled to take comfort in the fact that fifteen is a lot of years.
I have seen both of my doctors in the last little while, the SFDD and the kidney doctor, and the disease has been stable now for a year. Our boy is turning three. I got a promotion at work, and my job is very interesting at the moment. We are climbing out of a debt-hole so huge I never thought it would be possible to fill in the dirt/debt, but we’re slowly getting somewhere. The thing is–when you make a big list, and when you see your life in the big picture, it’s actually a picture, and not just a snapshot, a slippery moment when everything feels overwhelming. Progress isn’t always huge leaps and bounds. Things are better than I could imagine them to be–now if only I could control the day-to-day.
September 30th, 2013
I can’t believe it’s September. And so much has changed this summer–my RRBB has grown into a RRB (rocknroll boy). We have made it through sickness, health, cottage, home, single vacations, family vacations, new jobs, changed old jobs, other jobs, and then some. I’m going to do it point form because I want to track some of the things that happened over the summer but can’t write a missive:
1. My RRB had a rough few weeks where he was diagnosed with pneumonia, strep throat and a sinus infection. He was so ill we were at the family doctor three times, and Sick Kids twice. He bounced back after a few weeks but it really knocked the stuffing out of him. The night his fever bounced to 104 had me terrified. He missed two weeks of school, and I missed countless hours of work. There’s nothing like a sick child to put your life in perspective. I have never held him so tight. He was so brave at the hospital when they were running tests and putting in I.V.’s. My boy is magic.
2. I started a new job this summer teaching at Ryerson. My course, “Publicity for Book Publishers,” meant less time for, well, my life, because it took up most lunches in terms of planning, and then all of Thursday nights until the beginning of August. Here’s what I learned about myself. I love the “teaching” part of teaching, the lecturing, the examining issues, the discussions–but I am TERRIBLE at administration. I have always prided myself on being organized, but after handing back assignments and forgetting to write down the grades, I knew I had to pay better attention to the details. Overall, it was an incredibly rewarding experience. My students were smart, the university offers excellent post-grad course work for publishing students, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
3. We spent every moment we could at the cottage. And it was packed with friends, family, visitors, cousins, kids, swimming, chasing, running after the RRB, and generally collapsing into bed at night feeling like we squeezed the most of out the summer. It’s my favourite place in the world.
4. I stopped reading. I don’t know what it was–a combination of exhaustion from my part-time job, being a mom, and working full-time. A dissatisfaction from anything that I picked up, but I could not finish a book this summer to save my life. I don’t know if I ever did actually finish anything that I started over the summer unless it was specifically work related or Laura Lippman’s new novel. I might be back on track now. At least I’m managing to get through some words… but who knows. I’ve never, in my life, not been able to read.
5. My boy has developed a sense of humour. He’s taken to walking around the house with various toys in his pants saying, “I’ve got a surprise for you mommy!” And then cracking up. And then I crack up because he really doesn’t understand why it’s so funny that he’s walking around shouting about surprises in his pants.
6. My garden was a bit of a disaster, yet again. I’ve now paid a professional to fix it, and it looks much better at the front of our house.
7. I got a promotion at work and the focus of my job is changing. It’s exciting, but terrifying.
August 11th, 2013
I keep meaning to create a new post. To say something witty. To purport something wise. And then… silence.
One of the hardest parts about money management, for me, is finding space in what I consider to be an already stretched and stressed situation. We, like many Canadian families, are working hard to get out of debt. It’s an ever-constant battle to go from paycheque to paycheque, then try to get ahead on top of that when you’ve got a small child in daycare, and the added pressure of working hard to keep one parent at home. There simply isn’t enough money. And then, because it’s so practical, you decide that you need a vacation. The easiest thing would be to jack your credit back up, just say flapjack it, and go… Or not. Coming to terms with having to pay more later would stress me out and end up voiding the whole point of a vacation.
Not this summer, but next, we’ve been planning a trip to Disney World. We all know the pitfalls, the insanity, the cliches, but my sister-in-law really wants to go, and our two families travel exceptionally well together. Plus, my son adores his cousins, and he’ll have way more fun with them there, then if we went on our own, just the three of us. We’re planning on spending a couple of days right in the park, and then a couple more on the outskirts, maybe cramming in some other fun spots–hoping not to completely overwhelm the kids along the way.
Florida in the summer might be exhaustive, but it’s actually a really good thing for us because it gives us a good year, and then some, to save. If you’re like me and find it hard to squeeze additional, “look-ahead,” money into your already tight budget, I find I have to trick myself into saving. The number one rule that I have is that we don’t touch emergency savings (that I’m just trying to build back up now after some legitimate emergencies).
Trick #1: Use the Chatelaine Example
A few months ago, Chatelaine had a great idea for extra savings–start with $1.00 the first week, and add a dollar for every week of the year. At the most you’ll be setting aside in one week is $52.oo, but at the end of a year, it’ll compound to over $1000.00. I’ve been doing this for 14 weeks so far, and it’s starting to add up.
Trick #2: Change in the Change Jar
It’s the oldest trick in the book–not spending your change (especially loonies and toonies). At the end of the day, empty your pockets into a gigantic jar or piggy bank (sealed, locked, away from prying hands), and it’s out of sight/out of mind. Check in every once in a while to roll it up and stash it in the bank in a super-hard-to-get-at bank account, and consider this your spending money.
Trick #3: Right off the Top
The easiest advice is to tuck the money away before you even spend it. The day your paycheque drops into your account, set up an automatic withdrawal, and shorten your budget by the amount. If you can only afford a few dollars, start with a few dollars. It just means you’ve got that much longer to go until you have your vacation stash. The reward will come in the form of a super stress-free holiday because you won’t actually have to pinch your pennies upon your return home.
Trick #4: Buy Your Tickets Early, Shop for the Bargains, Do Your Research
I know this isn’t necessarily related to how to save, but it’s more how to spend your money smartly. You’ll have more to splurge if you’ve done your homework (Butter Beer at Harry Potter’s theme park is expensive, I hear) and found a deal on airline tickets, hotel stays, and other such necessities. Start early. Make lots of notes. Use the internet to your advantage.
All in all, sometimes it’s hard to get started saving. To keep putting it off, to ignore the sage advice to “pay yourself first,” to dig a deeper hole because you need time away… But as someone who used to travel now and pay later, and pay, and pay, and pay, I’m much happier knowing that next summer we’ll be away with Mickey and his crew, and won’t come home to a pile of bills I’ll have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay.
May 29th, 2013
This picture has been sitting here, awaiting a post, for weeks. That’s the pace of my life at the moment–frantic. We were just lamenting this in the office the other day, a co-worker and I, how we missed
[And that's where I started and left this post for a few more weeks.]
The inevitable pace of my life is such that I can’t seem to string two consistent thoughts together–they’re all in a jumble, each jumping up and down for attention, until my head feels like a pinball machine on speed.
[And here we pause again to get some work done. To have a meeting. To set up some meetings].
The whole point of this post, when I imagined it in my mind, was to talk about the new normal. My RRHB coined this phrase for me–and it’s been reverberating ever since. I’ve been deeply saddened, and having a lot of trouble coping with, the changes in my body/health post-pregnancy + delivery. The bits about the disease have been well worn on these pages, but I kept holding out hope that at some point, my body would rebound. But it hasn’t. For all intents and purposes, and this is happy, happy news–the disease is in remission. My bloodwork is stable for the first time in three years. My body is functioning. My body has a new normal. Getting used to living from such a depleted place takes some getting used to. At first, there’s the decided lack of energy (my kidneys not making enough red blood cells). Then, there’s the bloat and grossness from the meds (baby weight is now just “weight.”). There’s the rough eating habits that go along with not having enough energy (sugar, terrible, sugar). And this all equates the new normal, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m simply mad at myself. And this anger seems to be seeping into all kinds of parts of my life like a fog.
I like to think of myself as a problem solver. I can take a situation and sort it out. I can deal with just about anything, but lately, maybe I’m not quite sure how to deal with the new normal. Perhaps I have aged a century in a couple of years? Perhaps I really need to focus on the few things that I can control, and suss out some Oprah-esque platitudes, when I feel better, I’ll do better (with the diet).
It doesn’t help that we’re so busy these days that time moves at warp speed. When I’m home, my RRHB is working or running errands. When my RRHB is home, I’m doing the same. We are cramming our lives into the edges, and it’s tough–I am not going to lie, I miss lazy Sundays of watching movies (that are not Cars, it’s a great film, but I’ve now seen it 1,000 times), of reading a book in one fell swoop, of taking a long, leisurely walk with my child safely strapped into a stroller (and not complaining about it because, well, he couldn’t). My darling boy races along and we race after him. He’s charged and amped up, gloriously chatty, and deliciously energetic. This is coupled with readily exhausted, super-tantrum prone, and fiercely guarding his onslaught toward independence. He rode a bike the other day. A bike. He’s 2.5 years old. He’ll climb anything. Jump off of anything. Run into anything. He could solve our renewable energy sources if there was a way to project him into the power grid. He’s beyond amazing but with the new normal, I’ll never catch up. I only hope he never notices.
I’ve got a part-time job these days. I’m teaching publishing (publicity in particular) at Ryerson, and I’m finding that truly inspiring. It’s summer hours now, so the Fridays where we’re not going to the cottage, I can stay an hour or two later at work and write. I’ve got 30k words of a new project that’s fun. Oh, the places we are going these days. I just wish I could stop raging against the dying of the light in terms of the Wegener’s and accept my new normal. But it’s not in my nature. I’ve never met an immovable object I didn’t want to move–I’ve never accepted limitations before. I don’t know where to start. I wish I could regenerate like my perennials–have parts of my body pop up unannounced in my garden, and I’ll lovingly tend to them. There are ways. I know there are. I just need to figure out how to get there.
April 12th, 2013
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead seems to be garnering speed. Of course, Sheryl Sandberg’s in a position to spread the gospel of her book as the current COO of the world’s biggest social media site, Facebook. Her overarching message, that women need to lean in to their work life instead of falling back, resonates without. In a sense, it doesn’t really need to be a whole book–there’s a lot of repetition in terms of message–but I’m choosing to celebrate what it is: a manifesto of how feminism hasn’t quite achieved the equality women need in the workplace.
Manifesto, defined: a piece of work that urges readers/users/doers to carry out the change they wish to see in the world. In a sense, while ‘manifesto’ rings perhaps a bit to the left for Sandberg, it’s how it reads to me. There’s great research in here, both empirical and anecdotal, about how, regardless of the impact of the various waves of feminism over the last fifty years, there is still not equality in the upper levels of the companies that are running the world. How do we change that? Sandberg has very real and actually quite straightforward opinions about how to exact change–and, for once, I’m happy that she’s using the “f” word–feminism.
Those of us who would consider themselves feminists have no issues with the terminology. And I’m consistently surprised at how much we’re still divided by simply using the word. Strong women come from strong women. I’ve been lucky in my life to have role models, whether they worked primarily in the home or outside of it, where women are strong minded, intelligent, and have worked impossibly to build both family and foster their children to unite in a different kind of world. I was shocked that less than 4% of parents that stay home in the US are dads. For the majority of my friends, the women are the breadwinners–and that’s an exciting change. It’s challenging for all of us, because we’re still looking for that balance between work life and home life, and it’s forever changing. But it’s wholly different from my mother’s generation. Anyway, I’m still thinking about this book. I was all fired up at work a couple of weeks ago when I finished it, and now I’m not quite sure where to go next…
April 1st, 2013
I’m not sure what to say about Tamara Faith Bergen’s Maidenhead. I know it was hard for me to read, something akin to watching that film Thirteen where you know a world exists like this, but it’s just perhaps too real. Myra, a relatively inexperienced sixteen-year-old “meets” Elijah (and I say that in quotes because he was actually hunting her or someone like her, young, virginal, easy to be preyed upon) while on holiday in Key West. What follows is a story of sexual awakening coupled with some very extreme emotional issues as Myra’s mother leaves the family, and her father retreats into the basement, emerging red-eyed and downtrodden. Like many smart teenagers with little adult supervision, she’s back and forth between drugs, sex, and this Elijah character who doesn’t necessarily take advantage of her at first (as she’s ready and willing to be with him)… but, I don’t even know. She’s young, wild, and knows her own mind, but the situation, as much as it frees her, is dangerous.
There are a lot of themes, threads, and intelligent issues in the novel, but overall I felt it lacking something. In a sense, I wanted Myra to be more than just a f*#ked up teenager with a value to shock. I wanted the relationships with her parents to be less stereotypical, and I found the odd play-type dialogue between Myra’s friend Lee and Elijah’s girlfriend Gayl, a little off-putting. And the p0*n, which really isn’t my thing, was a little overwhelming. I do, however, appreciate that Coach House published the book–even if it ended up not quite being for me.
March 20th, 2013
Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome had been on my “this book seems interesting to me” list ever since I read the New Yorker article that Jonathan Franzen wrote, while the specifics of the article faded away rather quickly, the general sense that I should be reading more of her work stayed with me. We have done a version of this book for our public domain ebooks, and I glanced through it briefly, which gave me an idea of the tone and scope of the novel. But upon a closer reading, it’s actually quite incredible what Wharton accomplishes in the novella–she tells the entire story of the very sad, very tragic lives of Ethan, his wife Zeena, and her cousin Mattie with brevity, which actually allows for the weight of what happens to them to settle without it feeling overwhelming.
In short, Ethan’s unhappily married to a hypochondriac woman. Zeena wasn’t always that way–there was a point where she helped Ethan’s family out immensely (the reason they married), but for years they’d been engaged in a psychological battle. Zeena’s “illnesses” defining reasons why their lives are incapable of moving forward. When Mattie shows up, a poor cousin of Zeena’s without anywhere else to go, Ethan’s life changes. And when Zeena leaves for a far-flung doctor’s appointment, the two nights he and Mattie spend together have the potential to change their unhappy lives forever. For upon her return, Zeena means to turn Mattie out, and as she’s his last glance at happiness, Ethan will do anything to prevent it from happening.
Oh, the heartbreak in this little book. It’s truly and completely engrossing. Her choice of words, how she structures the story, it all comes together in a way that elevates the everyday-ness of the events to new levels. Parts of the house is described (and I’m paraphrasing) as “grungy” even for this poor area. Ethan schlumps and slogs through his life despite his relatively young age, and Zeena, with her greasy hair and dowdy clothes remains unbearable from day one. The narrator’s removed–a stranger, an outsider–they’re able to honestly look at what happened in ways that someone intimately involved with the events in the book would be unable to. Does their slight poverty increase the tragic elements in the novel? Absolutely. But it doesn’t define them. They act the way they do simply because they have no choice to otherwise. It’s a novel that explores how limited the choices are for women of a certain class, and it does that expertly. In a way, I enjoyed this little book even more than I enjoyed The House of Mirth or The Age of Innocence, both books I adore, by the way, because of its simplicity and sadness.
March 18th, 2013
In The Blondes, Emily Schultz has written a terrific, original novel. I think, in my perfect pop culture world, it’s exactly my kind of book. The writing is great, the story is compelling, and it’s fresh in its tone. Hazel, a Phd student in film, embarks upon post-grad work in New York City. She’s left behind a disastrous relationship with her faculty adviser, the aptly renamed Karl Mann (having changed his moniker from Dichlicher [sp]), and has just found out she’s pregnant. Accident or no, finding yourself up the duff at the very moment of an apocalypse, well, it’s not terrific luck.
The epidemic starts with just one or two incidents–blonde women losing it both literally and metaphorically as a result of a virus that soon turns the world into a place where any light-headed person, peroxided or not, could fall victim. Hazel, a natural light-haired red-head, soon finds herself face-to-face with the kinds of situations most familiar to people who have seen and studied Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. North America on lockdown, Hazel tries to get home, and she ends up at a government run containment centre with other women who may or may not develop the virus, SHV.
Government officials let her out, eventually. And this part of the book eerily reminded me of Blindness, the moment when the government fully admits that it no longer has control over the situation. She manages to get herself back to Toronto, to see her best friend, but then, from there, it seems that everyone, anyone will do what it takes to survive. I’m making the book feel more Walking Dead than it actually is–there’s great humour here, a lot of laugh out loud, smart revelations by the writer. It’s funny, essentially, the novel is epistolary in format, Hazel’s retelling the story to her unborn child. And she moves back and forth from events deeper into the past and from where she is at the moment–in a cottage owned by her ex-lover and his wife, Grace.
All in all, if you are looking for an intelligent mash up of 28 Days Later without the terrifically horror elements, with a dash of Blindness, as above, with a wholly original, satirical point of view, The Blondes is the book for you. I, for one, would love to see Sarah Polley make this into a movie, because I think it would be great fun on the big screen.