my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

March 21st, 2018

Nothing Is Ever Easy

Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it’s still very cold outside. The heat is still up high, and we’re still wearing sweaters, although I have given up my boots. I will take my cold toes over clomping around in snow boots. I’ve been having a bit of a tough time coping with some unstable situations, nothing that we can’t handle, but it’s drawn me down a rabbit hole of thinking that I’m having a hard time escaping.

Things are not easy right now. I know that’s the case for many people, for many people in far worse situations than I am, in far worse places in the world. NPR was reporting on what just happened in Austin, and hearing about the data breaches on Facebook, and the beleaguered communities here in Toronto, I know I’m lucky in so many ways. But that’s what’s hard about facing challenges, sometimes, you’re blinded by the stress, the everyday nonsense, and can’t look beyond.

My family is very supportive of my edict to “get outside” on the weekends. We’ve spent so much time inside this winter, not doing the things we really enjoy, snowshoeing, skiing (well, in my mind I enjoy skiing, we never go), walking through the woods. We attempted to do it this weekend at Mountsberg, a provincial park near Hamilton, and it was crowded, filled with people, and exactly the opposite of what I needed. When I feel trapped or frustrated, I think I like open skies and big trees and the sound of the wind and fresh air and all kinds of other things that remind you that even when the everyday is at its worst, you can still put your feet down on solid ground and move them.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want and where I want to go next. This idea of middle age being a stopping point, but also a starting gate–all the building blocks of what’s come before leading me here, to this place, one that’s of transition. The only problem being I’m not at all sure what I want to transition to. I’m happy to take suggestions…

In these moments, when it’s so very hard to see what’s next, I miss my mother, my grandmother, so very much. I don’t know what it is about that kind of ache that comes to whenever I’m feeling alone or overwhelmed or in a place where I don’t know how to make a decision. At this point, I’ve lived far longer without them than I ever did with them, but the visceral missing them never seems to waver. The same questions run through my mind, would they be proud of me, how would they counsel me, how would I be different if they were still here. My grandmother would have been 98, which feels impossible. We just don’t live that long. Even knowing she wouldn’t still be here when she’s not here is a roundabout way of saying that I still miss her, and her advice, and her thoughts about what to do next, where to go in this meandering way of life.

Anyway. Those are thoughts for a Wednesday. I’m saying little, I’m afraid.

March 1st, 2018

3+ Protein & Doctoring in the Modern Age

My kidneys are spilling protein. For any of us with kidney disease, or having your kidneys impacted by another disease, you can understand what this means. It’s a sign that they’re not working all that well, and having protein run through them damages them even further. For a while, I was taking this blood pressure medicine that helped–it stops the protein, by opening up something-or-other (I do not know the specifics), from doing further damage and it was working for a while. The downside was that it plummeted my BP and so I was dizzy all the time and super woozy. So, they took me off of it.

But now I’m going back on the meds, and I’m fine with it–I know the routine, I know I don’t have high BP, and so, psychologically, I can cope with this medication. I can not feel angry at it or damn it all to hell and “forget” to take it because I’m so pissed off with the disease in all its forms.

What’s funny is that the doctor and I did all this diagnosing via email. He sent the test request to me via email (well, his secretary did; she’s awesome). I emailed them that I’d done the test and should I take the meds again, and he said “yes!”. I find it all quite amusing.

And even though taking a 24-hour urine test is mildly (read: extremely) annoying. All the back and forth around it isn’t/wasn’t. What a revelation, what a way to live your life — easily and actively knowing what to do and just actioning it. It’s shocking actually. Can you imagine if everything was that easy?

February 23rd, 2018

A Picture of Moss

This is my favourite moss. It’s a spot just up off the driveway of our cottage, set back into the woods a bit, near a bit of a clearing. I walk to it, by it, all the time, when heading out on adventures with our boy if his cousins have already left and he needs an adventure-mate. It’s unbearably grey and rainy here in Toronto, and cold. Perfectly acceptable end-of-February weather if you felt as though you could endure even another February day.

So, today in my my mind I’m brushing my hand against the fluffy pillow-like moss on the rocks by a place where I’ll be in a few months when the weather changes, and we’re in the rush-rush of the summer season. The colour is delightful, and green, proving that even the sight of something so hopeful and growing can help you through the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the longest-shortest month of the year.

Over the last few weeks/months/years, I’ve been having a hard time concentrating. At first I put it down to the disease, and that never-ending “brain fog” it induces both from medication and from, well, disease. But it’s more than that, it’s too many decisions and questions during a day, it’s not enough exercise, it’s too much sugar, it’s too many hours spent with a phone, watching too much TV, it’s the in and out of how to spend the couple of hours at the end of the day after the boy is in bed before my mind can actually fall into a fitful sleep.

I decided this year to pump up my reading by making myself accountable to GoodReads. I set up a reading goal (52 books), and I’m tracking them on my phone. At times like this, fiction gets hard, but nonfiction feels like a breeze. I’ve finished Roxane (with one “n”) Gay’s excellent Bad Feminist. I’m really enjoying Worry-Free Money and felt like Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home wasn’t necessarily about being happy or being at home (goodness she’s a writer in love with quotes. So. Many. Quotes.). I’ve started reading a book about Monet’s Water Lilies series. Nonfiction has a way of soothing your over-worked mind, I find. Letting you puzzle in someone else’s thoughts for a bit as yours continue to be muddled and messy.

Reading has always been the way in which I sort out my world. But working in publishing means that I’ve gathered many, many books–my shelves are sinking at the weight of it all–and so, like many other years, I’m trying to work my way through them. Make some hard decisions. I have books from my very first publishing job that I’ve carried around for years, hoping to read, planning on reading, when is that moment when I’ll just know that no, I won’t get to this in my lifetime, and is it worth the emotional baggage and years of collected dust. I never imagined from that very first moment when I discovered reading could be a challenge (remember Read-a-thons? I took them as a personal gold-star-maker, used up both sides of the sheet and then some) that I could “succeed” at, that there might be a moment in my life where books didn’t give me pleasure. Now, with life so full and balance completely off, I’ve struggled for the last few years to find my way through the backlog of books I have on my to-be-read shelf.

But who am I without a book in-hand? What do I do without a giant stack of books beside my bed? How do I define myself if I’m not a reader.

I’m getting older. I’m outside of mainstream publishing. Beyond the books that win the Giller or the GG, I don’t know what’s hot at the moment (but if I read one more essay about Rupi Kaur through teaching I might have to give up entirely) and I’m not sure I care any more. Finding my way around the stacks that I have might be a valuable thing to do for a year, maybe two–to not buy the latest bestseller (or anything new, really, unless it’s for book club) but suffering from FOMO is a real thing when it comes to my reading.

Anyway, enough rambling for today. Perhaps I shall go home and finish something while my family’s at hockey practice.

February 21st, 2018

Where Even To Begin, Again

I’m sitting at work, contemplating getting my lunch, and thinking about how to re-start doing something you haven’t done in a long while. How do you re-ignite a relationship that’s fallen fallow? A simple hello?


A bit of a simple conversation?

What have you been up to lately?

Reply: Not much, life…really. My son has started playing a lot of hockey. The transition from little kid to almost-big kid is a bit tricky for all of us. There are so many complex emotions, it’s a lot, really.

A bit too heavy for a first post after many years, perhaps.

For the last three years, I’ve been working at a publishing start up, which isn’t much different from a regular start up. Lots of hours, lots of stress, lots of travelling. And by the time I get home, my brain is mush. It’s impossible to think. I’ve tried reading. I’ve spent a lot of time on the couch watching TV and eating apple blossoms (and chips). Watching movies with my family. Trying to clear away the space that needs to exist between me, and them.

But how do you begin to begin again? I suppose you just have to start. Open up the program. Set your fingers up across the keys, and go.

In a way, this online place has always been a way for me to start. To get things flowing again. To remind myself that I exist in this world in a concrete, up and down way. So many things are still true:

1. I am a person with a disease

2. I am a mother, a wife, a member of a family

3. I am someone who works in an industry that I enjoy

4. I am happy to be in my own home (even if we’ll probably never pay for it)

If I ran into someone on the street I hadn’t seen in a while, it’s not the minutia of life that get’s discussed, it’s the broad strokes that get attacked. But, as always, this has been a space for me to try and work out the wonder of my life as well. And my life is filled with wonder. It’s just something that I easily forget when the drudgery of the days threatens to hold me down, and smother me with its pillows.

The photo of my boy is from a hockey tournament we went to a few weeks ago, in Niagara Falls NY. I love the photo of him in action, trying so hard, even if he’s not always succeeding. In the last few weeks, I’ve been philosophically struggling with where I am. Physically, I am here. Physically the disease is stable, and I am relatively healthy, although exhausted all the time. And those struggles, the ins and outs of constantly defining and redefining who I am and what I’m doing, maybe that’s the point. Maybe I’m searching for other people’s words because I’m find it ever-so hard to find my own. Like a habit that’s broken, I need to get my 66 days under my belt (apparently, according to Gretchen Rubin that’s how long it takes for a new habit to stick). No pressure. I’m just going to keep talking, if that’s okay.

March 25th, 2015

On Self-Publishing: The Work Boyfriend Experiment

The Work Boyfriend While I was in graduate school, in a pitch of desperation during a flare-up of my Wegener’s, I made a list of accomplishments–not current, but what I wanted out of life. Most of them were typical for someone of my age and state-of-life, I wanted to have kids, and find a better job, and go to Paris, and England–and foolishly, write a book.

At the time, I was barely surviving grad school. I mean, I ended up with a degree by the skin of my teeth, and was then set adrift because my plan of becoming a professor sort of relied upon going forward and doing a doctorate. Further school was not for me, I wasn’t cut out for the competitiveness, nor the cutthroat nature of grad school, but I did enjoy writing. But my work at the time was a mess, I mean, there’s stream of consciousness and then there’s just words on the page, which is what my writing tended towards.

Over the years, I’ve gone back to thinking about that list, because it’s in my nature to simply cross items off and keep moving forward onto the next line that will ultimately bring fulfillment. Except that’s not quite how life works. Goals are hard to achieve, and sometimes they take far longer than you’d ever expect. So, way in the way back I had “write a novel” on that list, and it wasn’t until this passed December that I finally crossed it, metaphorically, off.

Still, I want to distill what I was actually trying to observe–writing a novel is one part of it, following the journey of a character from start to finish in a way that’s readable, entertaining, and engaging is a very rewarding goal. But I think what I was trying to escape at the time from the misery of my one-bedroom underground apartment was my quest for a career. So, it’s never been about just “novels”–it’s more about making a living from my pen. At the time, I was reading a lot of Aphra Behn, and was besotted by the idea of earning my keep from writing. And in the following years, I’ve managed to make a dent in this goal, whether it was abridging classics for kids, being a complete hack on the internet, and publishing the odd poem or two about Johnny Cash. I’m not an artist, and I wouldn’t even call myself an author if anyone asked. I never thought I would make a very good freelancer or magazine writer, although I’ve never pursued either of those options, primarily because I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to fall into a career in publishing over the last decade. I just really like writing. I like characters and pulling out sadness and pushing bad situations to worse and examining the human condition and poor decisions and so on.

I managed, over the course of about three years, to write a solid draft of a very Canadian novel. It was highly flawed and utterly unpublishable. I can see that now, but what it did give me was the courage to keep going. It gave me the idea that I could get to the end of something if I focussed on the process that works for me (I was doing a page a day, rain or shine) and held onto the time. The biggest hurdle was finding the right voice. I’m a natural echo. I am deeply influenced by the written word, by music, and by movies. And so the first book I wrote was super literary, really intense, and completely unbelievable; if you can believe it, I was reading, watching, and listening to super-heavy, intensely artistic, and amazingly gifted art-art at the time. A friend of a friend at work kindly referred me to an agent, who read the book and even more kindly rejected it, and by then I was at the end of my pregnancy, which meant that we were at the beginning of the terrifying journey to bring my son into the world. So, novels were once again put on the back burner.

Fast-forward a couple of years. And I’ve found my confidence again, found the right voice, the right tone, and am plugging away again at something different this time–it’s old-school chicklit, like you’d have read at the beginning of this decade. Think Gemma Townley or Jane Green only edgier because I’m incapable of writing characters who aren’t, at their core, completely messed up for one reason or another. The book is there, and I can see it, the beginning, middle, and end, and I find that if I write the ending, always an afterword of a sorts, I can get TO the end. THE WORK BOYFRIEND had a cute concept, a good conflict, and a resolution at the end that I thought was satisfying.

Starting a business, of any kind, is a challenging endeavour. Even though I’ve been in publishing for a decade now, I knew it would be a challenge to put the book out myself. I’m extraordinarily lucky that I have a business partner with whom I am keenly matched, and I also understand the necessity of certain parts of the process, like copy editing and building a fully functioning epub. In that sense, I’m luckier than a lot of writers who come into this space. Still, the challenges are legion. Just because we work in publishing doesn’t mean that the publishing world will do us any favours. Publishing is, above all, a business. Just because I might have met the editor Globe Books through work at some point, doesn’t change the fact that they don’t review self-published books. And we’re a small two-person company without marketing budgets and have no interest in publishing a physical book. The whole model was something I wanted to try, simply because I’m interested in the differences between how my business does its business vs. how the business could be done outside the business.

So, the book is up–and friends and family have been kind and generous with both their time and their social media space. We have a great cover, and some amazing early reads, with some solid reviews up on Amazon. Now the real work begins. We made the decision not to put the book up exclusively on Amazon, which means our royalty percentage is lower. Kobo’s a big part of the Canadian ebook market, so we spoke to some kind, generous people at Writing Life. And female-driven, romantic-type stories do well on both Apple and Google, from what I’ve seen on their bestseller lists. So we’ve got the positioning down pat. But none of this guarantees the book will be merchandised, and I completely understand that–primarily because, like I said above, the ecosystem of publishing revolves around the fact that it’s a business, and there’s limited space for self-published authors, independents like us, on the homepages of sites like iBooks or Kobo. And the number one way of finding ebook readers, of discovery, is via merchandising.

With merchandising out of the picture, we’ve got to start building up word of mouth and momentum–which isn’t easy. It’s the hard work of find readers, of supplying reading copies, and of asking for favours, which I’ve never really felt comfortable doing. Social media will only take you so far, and a like does not equal a sale. I have wonderful friends and an incredibly supportive family, but they aren’t all ebook readers, and it’s not the same as your aunt heading into the bookstore and buying ten copies of your book because she’s so proud of you… So, it’s interesting. There’s the added issue that there are millions of ebooks on the market, and breaking through is hard–the formula, publish lots, offer your readership something for free, and slowly build an audience is what we’re working towards, but that’s more relevant for romance or, ahem, heavy romance, then the single novel-type novel that I’ve written.

So, the experiment continues. I’m over the panic and worry for the moment, the money that’s out there will trickle back with every copy we’ve sold. Right now we’re sitting at over 50+ copies, which isn’t terrible, but it’s not great either. We’ve made about $100.00, which I am incredibly grateful for, and the most profitable copy of the book I sold was emailing the ebook to a friend who bought it directly from me. And I think my experience is very different from what Jowita Bydlowska talked about in the National Post, primarily because the kind of books we’re writing are different, but the struggles are the same–to find an audience, to build up a readership, to make it on your own–it’s akin to the scrappy DIY-nature of most of my life. And I’m staying true to my list, to the distilled goal anyway, of making a living by my pen–even if right now it’s coming in painfully slow drips and drops of $10.00 payments from Amazon.

We’re getting there. I’m now realizing that perhaps I was premature in crossing “write a novel” off my list, because while I might not be an author in the traditional sense, I did find the essence of myself in that list. “Write a novel” wasn’t the end, it was really just the beginning.

January 16th, 2015

The One With The Kilt

Back when my mother was in high school in Mississauga, at Gordon Graydon, she wore a kilt–the one on the attached photo. She’s standing on the far end, next to my grandmother, and both great-grandmothers, with my uncle in front. They lived not far away from where my in-laws live to this day, in the house where my husband grew up. After my mother had her accident, so much of her old clothing ended up folded and away in the closet in our spare room, the sewing room, the one my grandmother would sleep in on the nights she would stay with us if my father was working. I like to think I would have discovered the kilt anyway, would have worn it regardless, because I loved it and wore it all through high school with black tights, liquid eyeliner and big, clunky black shoes. I wore in waiting for the bus in sub-zero temperatures that would meander all around the neighbourhood, eventually picking Katrina up, and we’d spend an hour, even more, in transit to get downtown where we’d walk up and down Queen Street like we knew what we were doing. Oh, that bus ride, it was killer, it took ages and ages, transferring at Square One, which, back then, was just rows and rows of orange-striped buses that were never remotely on time. I wore that kilt out dancing until all hours of the night after Lesley got her license, and we’d end up downtown at RPMĀ  after filling up on Diet Coke and Mars bars, which masqueraded for dinner. I wore that kilt late at night, hanging out with the skinheads at Michael’s with my friend Amanda, terrified at the conversation, and thrilled to be there at all, sipping a tiny class of ridiculously warm and watered down draft, and wondering if it was a good thing that a fellow named Chad had my phone number (it ended up being fine, really thanks to Jay, who bailed me out of so many situations when we were in high school). I wore that kilt rolled up so it would appear shorter, and never dry-cleaned it–wore it until the buckle wore through the leather. Maybe I wore that kilt because it was my mother’s. Wore it because it belonged to her, and I could thread my way back to her, ever so slightly, even though we were not remotely the same size, same build, or even really had the same colouring.

It’s a strange thing to raid the closet of a ghost, in a way. My mother wasn’t there to tell me not to cut down her suede skirt or to how not to royally mess up “sewing” a skirt with this phenomenal black-patterned material she was planning to use. My mother wasn’t there to make sure I took care of her clothes, but I did in my own way, just by pulling them out of their ghost-like status, and breathing new life into them. I forgot to ask my aunt where her family might be going on this occasion. My paternal great-grandmother in her splendid pink outfit with that glorious hat. My uncle’s hair is so tidy. My mother is probably in grade nine or ten here, her hair in a bangs-with-bob style that I wore through much of high school, too. I still have this kilt, tucked away in a box in our basement, yet another reminder of stuff I’m not quite sure what to do with, like my prom dress, which I’ll never part with simply because my grandmother hand-sewed it in places, and it’s still beautiful, to me. Maybe my son will have a daughter, and I can hand her a musty pile of 70s & 80s & 90s clothes for when she’s a teenager striving out on her own to define herself by how she looks instead of what she feels inside–I wanted so badly to be different, never really internalizing the fact that we are all inherently our own snowflake. I remember a bus ride, early on in my time at high school, still reeling from the loss of my mother, still beside myself at the weekends visiting her in the hospital, trying to cope with the sheer weight of the loss of her from our everyday lives, our house so quiet, slowly losing furniture, and never really coming back to life, when I got into a fight with someone about something as asinine as whether or not INXS was better than U2, and then burst into tears. “It’s okay,” someone whispered to someone, “her mother was in a car accident.”

And that became the rallying cry. The only story. The whisper between teachers and parents and other kids who knew me before–the girl whose mother was in a car accident. It explained so much and described so little, a definition beside my name in the dictionary of my life. There’s nowhere to go from there. You can’t explain or push it away, it sits there, lump-like, waiting to be unparsed by legions of therapists over the course of a lifetime. We are nine full years away from having a teenager. Our boy, still giddy with the thought of school, of doing his activities, of learning how to swim, of learning about life, only understands the bits and pieces of what’s come before, and he certainly doesn’t grasp the sadness. There’s a wonderful book by Oliver Jeffers called The Heart and the Bottle. It’s about love and the loss of a parent, and the young girl who closes her heart up in a bottle to survive it all. I read that book to him because I think it comes close to explaining what that kind of loss feels like when you’re a young girl who loses her mother. And I cry a lot when I read it to him. Not big, wet sloppy crying, but just some tears that leak out because that’s sometimes what tears do. They’re there just to remind you that the sadness stays sometimes even when you’ve dealt with the loss, and talked about it, and remembered, and filled up some of the spaces in your life.

I never got to fight with my mother over that kilt. Never got to ask her permission to wear it. I just took it out of her ghost closet and put it on, claimed it for myself, a strike in my individuality column, or so I thought. Maybe she’d have been fine with it. Most likely yes. But she was keeping it for her own reasons I’ll never know. Whether it was to remind her of high school or because she did want me to have it at some point, or because she had a hard time giving old clothes away. And because it’s hers, I have a hard time passing it along too, even though it doesn’t fit me anymore and probably never will again, and I don’t need to look like a school girl anymore, anyway. I can walk down Queen Street and know exactly where I’m going. That’s the gift of growing older, being able to look at how silly you were to brave the frigid temperatures just to visit Pages, but knowing you’d have probably not turned out the way you had if you hadn’t read those books or played those records or raided your mother’s closet.

The other day, I was carrying our boy up the stairs for his bath/bedtime routine. He had the hiccups. He pressed himself to me, monkey-like, as we went upstairs, his “hic hic hic hic” right against my chest. And for a moment, it felt like he was back inside, “hic hic hic hic” was what I felt for almost the entire eight months he was in there. I didn’t know it was possible to be reminded of my pregnancy in such a vivid way–it was pretty great. And I wanted, at that moment, to tell my mom, one of the many things I’ve stored up over the years–put away into stories or tales or hidden way into the hinterland of my subconscious–and ached to be able to let out. Maybe that’s what I’m finally doing here.

January 14th, 2015

New Year’s Revolutions – 2015

Oh, so late. It is now two weeks passed the first of the new year, and I have not written down a single revolution for 2015. Maybe it’s for the best. To not have a Revolution in mind for the year. Still, I need organization, but I think a better phrase might be that I need simplification, simplicity, even, in 2015. The last year was a good one–so many terrific things happened: our boy turned four, which is a delightful age; the disease remained stable, which is always a source of worry; my writing year went well, which filled me up in ways I find hard to express (ironic, isn’t it–a writer struggling with self-expression?); and my job remained both in-tact and fulfilling.

I had ten Revolutions last year, from Write to Sustain to Make Dinner–and, in a small way, we made gains in all of these areas. And that’s my takeaway from 2014 leading into 2015, making small, consistent changes works, for me. Ever-so slight differences that add up over time, like riding your bike to work almost every single day for over six months, which carried over into riding the ancient (thanks Sam!) exercise bike I have in the basement whenever I’m home in the evening without other plans. Managing, over time, to lead a more active life, which has rolled over into our family life, too. My favourite parts of the weekend these days are the Saturday afternoon visits to the community pool and the Sunday morning visits to the skating rink. I am wholly more active this year than last, and some of the baby-prednisone-disease weight has come off, seven kilos so far. I didn’t think it was possible, but it is–it’s just as easy for me to watch Sons of Anarchy on the bike as it is on the couch, and I’ve got a routine now, a pattern, and it’s working for me. Tiny steps.

It’s the same for writing. I’ve got a half-hour, maybe three times a week. It’s not much, but I managed to finish a book this year, and have started a grand publishing experiment. I’d like to stay on that track, too. It works, for me.

So, in light of this, and how late I am–I really think I’m going to stay focused this year on small changes. And I’m only going to have one Revolution, just one, and it’s as above:


I think the word encompasses so much of what I want to accomplish over the next year, and while I want to do more–more writing, more reading, more travelling, more movies, more exercise, more, more, more time with my family–in order to get there, I need to simplify.

Like most people, I am my own worst enemy. Make life so much harder than it has to be, and by bringing the focus back down to what’s simply in front of me, what my goals are, and they are not exceptional, I think I can keep on the path of small change equals big difference path I found myself on for much of last year.

So: simplify my spending, which will help us get out of debt; simplify my routine, which protects my body; simplify my worry, which will calm my system down and keep the disease at bay… and on and on and on.

Feels too easy, as I write these words. Feels, almost impossible, when I think of the constant, churning of my mind. Feels, as though I might regret it, but I’m going to try anyway.

December 19th, 2014

The Work Boyfriend: A Novel

As a publishing professional, I’m curious about the changes in our industry, about the opportunities, and about platform. So, here’s our grand experiment. Written over the last couple years in the half-hour I had a few times a week, it’s a chicklit novel (with a bit of an edge) about a young woman trusting her instincts and carving out her life, on her own terms. Because I’m an ebook person, and because I have Rebecca Mills, my amazing partner-in-crime when it comes to this endeavour, we are trying out digital-only publishing.

So, The Work Boyfriend is in the world. It’s up here at Amazon, through Kindle Direct Publishing, and here at Kobo through their amazing Writing Life platform, here at Google, and here at iTunes.

Like I said, we’re curious to see how it all works. But, overall, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could finish something–and I hope for those who kindly decide to read it, that they enjoy it.

I have a million and a half people to thank, the aforementioned Rebecca, without whom the book would simply not be up at any of the vendors; my family, who loves me but, more importantly, puts up with me; especially my sister-in-law Denise and her friend Charlene, who read early drafts and were encouraging. Jessica Albert, who did our super-cute cover. My friends, who said go-go-go from the beginning, with a special shout-out to Nadine Silverthorne, without whom there would, literally, be no book. And work for giving me the okay.

Anyhow. I’m excited. And terrified. But thrilled to be continuing the indie spirit of our family, from my rock ‘n’ roll husband, who has played independent music for over two decades now. So, we’ll see how it all goes… publishing a book kind of like you would a blog–I like it, I think?

And P.S. The name of our company, Farringdon Road, comes from my British great-great-grandfather, who was a publisher in London–it was his place of business, sort of (we changed the “Street” to “Road” because we liked it better).

December 15th, 2014

I Love This Photo Of My Grandmother

Funny, I didn’t even know this photo existed until this past summer, when my aunt showed it to me. There’s my grandmother, in the top-right corner, standing beside her mother, and beside my great-uncle, who was a member of the Canadian Navy (I think). The caption on the back says that it’s D-Day, June 1944–and I am nowhere, not remotely alive, but that’s okay.

That my grandmother had a life, an entire world away, before she came to Canada as a war bride and become, as I knew her, my Nanny, intrigues me. It’s a research project, to find out more, more, more about my grandmother’s life. I remember more of her, because she was alive, with me, for longer than my mother, but she’s no less enigmatic, because so many questions I have remain unanswered. Her’s was a hard life, one of supporting tragedy, of having lived through the bombs, and the Blitz, and of ushering in new life (my aunt!) in the wake of all that blew up, oh, those Boomers. What was to come? Losing herself to colon cancer, that runs in our family, her son to follow a decade later, losing her middle child to the accident, like we all did, widowhood, and raising her grandchildren as much as was necessary–and that’s the part that I feel like I can tackle now.

I did not know her in this photo, but I want to. I want to ask her what it was like to be in London during the war. What it must have been to go to work at fourteen, when she really wanted to stay in school. What it was to meet my grandfather, and to see your life in that first blush of romance, to spend all that time with someone that maybe you shouldn’t have been with, to be an only child, to be British, and then staunchly Canadian. To be private, to have lived a life inside yourself, and so responsible, even if life gets beyond you. These are all my questions. These are all moments that I wish I could go back and ask about.

My favourite memory of my grandmother, and there are so many, are of her playing invisible snap with some friends of mine from high school. Of her holding court over a crazy pile of teenagers in the backyard of our house on Chaumont Cresent, where we lived in Mississauga. The first time I had a drink (peach schnapps, I do not recommend it). The first of many times my house was invaded by piles of teenagers and, still, my grandmother had a spirit and a presence about all of it–letting me find my way, enjoying my friends, enjoying herself. Another moment in time: my head in her lap as she ran through family history with me, noting cousins, aunts, uncles. I still have the piece of paper where we mapped it all out. Since then, I’ve gone through a half-dozen more generations, tracing as far back as I can to somehow reach deep down and figure out who I am. I’m not there yet.

In that moment, right before she died, wearing an oxygen mask, and settled in her bed, I wanted to shout out a list of everything she saved me from when she stepped in during the first tumultuous years after my mother’s accident. She saved me, most of all, from myself. She gave me her spirit of adventure, and her tenacity. She cut my hair, and loved me fiercely, but quietly. She was firm, but strong, and had character that came from someplace I would never understand. She made my clothes, and tried to teach me how to knit, backwards, because I’m left-handed, and left behind a space that aches when it’s sunny, in particular, at the cottage, a place she loved.

No special anniversary to celebrate. No giant, sweeping epic. A few secrets, I’m sure. It’s again, more of the everyday that I miss. And that’s the rub, that’s the intensity of losing so many people that you love. You can’t appreciate the small moments, in detail, because they’re forgettable. And that’s the way it should be. You can’t climb back through time, because it’s impossible. You can’t remember everything. But there are moments when I wish I could slip into the photograph, and stand beside my grandmother, wear my own pinny, wave a flag, and shout out: “I was here. You were here. And I love you, desperately.”

December 11th, 2014

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Picture the moment before a pandemic–what might that look like–people in everyday situations going about their everyday lives. Some are at the theatre. Some are walking home from work. Some are on a plane going somewhere. Coming home from somewhere. Stuck somewhere. This is the premise that opens Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel’s captivating novel. In the instant before the world collapses, one man falls down on stage–a renown and infamous actor, Arthur Leander–dead from an apparent heart attack. A young man, training to be a paramedic, hops up on stage to try and save him. He can’t. A young girl in the production of King Lear with him is deeply, profoundly affected by not only his death, but her association with the play itself. An ex-wife a world away who hears the news, doesn’t quite know what to do with it. And what Mandel has done here, sits with me, profoundly–because she has paused on the very moments before a calamity, and allowed her characters to stew in an everyday tragedy. Here’s the mark, the one event that would have scarred your life had it gone on as it should; instead, it becomes the punctuation, an ellipsis, that melts into a much larger event–the end of the world, essentially. And that to me is some smart, smart storytelling.

The Georgian Flu, an extreme case of a type of avian flu, hits the world and within a few weeks 90% (or some crazy number, no one really knows exactly how many) of the world’s population is dead. And with any pandemic, the life that’s left behind is forever “after,” so much so that the years are recalibrated as “Year One,” “Year Two,” etc., after the worst has passed.

Many of the characters in Station Eleven are artists, the members of the Traveling Symphony that roam a mostly safe route to perform, as a troupe would have in the days theatre first evolved, from place to place, looking for an audience. They are storytellers, hunter-gatherers of culture, roaming their way across a civilization that has lost everything. For me, while the threat of other people was always ever-present, it never really approached Walking Dead territory, where every human being puts up a kill or be killed kind of fight. This isn’t a post-apocalyptic situation that I’m used to–there’s Shakespeare in this world. There’s Bach and a museum, and a thread of the “before” in ways that feel as if Mandel means to point out that art is important. That said, the world isn’t without its dangers, and when members of their troupe go missing after engaging with a particularly fanatical prophet, it becomes apparent that the skills of the road, the necessary parts of survival, are as bare and animalistic as one would imagine.

So there are survivors, and there are victims. There is magic and there is brutality. There is humanity and there is insanity in this new world post-flu. And overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book–I loved Arthur’s flawed character, and how, even in death, his presence haunts the entire book. I really liked the Traveling Symphony and their wandering band of actors and musicians. I even, truly, appreciated the ending of the novel, which I won’t spoil here for obvious reasons.

Still, I’ve been ruined by post-apocalyptic situations. Mainly, I’ve been ruined by Battlestar Galactica. I know. That might be the strangest sentence I’ve ever written in a book review before. But stay with me–here’s what I think. The nature of the attack on humanity was different, alien, in fact, and the humans were stranded on a small fleet of vehicles up in space–but they managed to keep civilization somewhat in tact because there was government. And that’s, I know, not Mandel’s point–she’s more focused on individuals, and not what a country would do, but that’s where the book fell down for me, ever-so slightly. That in all the years, and all of the small civilizations that would have sprung up, there would have been some effort to at least locate survivors of government, to keep something at least barely organized, in communication–and that the whole world essentially stops around a band of what feels like to me, the least likely to survive, felt a bit contrived.

I’m probably not expressing myself clearly–so I’ll stop there. It’s a good book. Highly deserving of all its praise and accolades, and one I am so pleased I read this year, when reading has been more of a challenge for me than any other time in my life.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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