Sunday, May 22, 2016

south of Olha

I watch a flock of pelicans, some two dozen strong, lift and freefall across the waters of the lake. Something about the physics of flight - a half-remembered discourse on wind-shear and turbulence - comes back to me. As massive as they are, these big white birds are as unperturbed by the incessant wind as we landlocked bipeds are buffeted by it.

The prevailing southeasterly is their ribbon of highway. Wingtip to wingtip they curlicue, rising and soaring with the up-gusts, swooping low and skimming the choppy surface with the down-drafts. Wordlessly, perfectly choreographed, in innate unison, the flock coasts as a single being. Meanwhile, on land, we strain against the gusts and struggle to even talk to each other over the gale forces.

A remarkable bird is the pelican. Its beak can hold more than its belly can. It can hold in its beak enough food for a week, but I really don’t know how the hell it can.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


When there is scaffolding around your house, you tend to stay away from the windows. To maneuvre the delicate etiquette between hired and hiring, you quickly learn the Venn diagram of who owns what space. You both avoid accidental eye contact through the kitchen window.

When there is scaffolding around your house, you open doors slowly. You look up, down, left, right, and back up again.

You go out every morning to talk about the weather and to offer coffee, but you pee with the blinds closed.

Monday, April 18, 2016

up for air

There is absolutely no excuse for my lack of blogging over the past month, but that won't stop me from trying.

Excuse number one: Work. I just finished up a major assignment for the magazine work that I do. With the exception of one or two days, I have been writing every single day for a month. I had very few words left at the end of the day. Certainly none that made any sense. 

Excuse number two: Renovations. With the woodpeckers and the Northern Flickers declaring victory in the decades-long battle for our cedar siding, we finally threw up our hands, talked to our banker, and called our contractor. Technically this should not have prevented me from blogging, of course, but I was distracted.

I am looking forward to reading all the wordy gems that you have been writing recently. And to adding a few words of my own. Now that I have some words left at the end of the day.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

birds: 1, humans: 0

We liked having the house ripped apart so much during last year's renovations that we are doing it again.

This year's strategy continues the campaign of gross carpet slash and burn that we started last year, this year in the living room/dining room. Without having to bisect the house by blocking off three sets of stairs for hardwood installation like we did last year, this should be relatively straight-forward. The Dexter kill room tarping should be kept to a minimum.

Also on the previously planned agenda is the construction of a back deck to tie together the piecemeal cement blocks, shale and half-dead grass that currently define the area. We will be able to move the patio furniture to a nicely shaded area so that we don't have to spend alfresco dinners huddled under the meagre protection of a sun-bleached umbrella, squinting against the glare off the glass table.

In addition to these previously spreadsheeted campaigns, there is another - significantly more substantial - reno that we have recently decided that we need to address. It is one, alas, that signifies an air battle lost. After many years of skirmish with the local avian community, we have thrown in the white flag and will be replacing our cedar siding with something that birds don't eat. Vinyl, likely.

What used to be a March to October annoyance of birds hammering at the house has become year-round. The last few winters we haven't had a good solid deep freeze to scare house-eating birds further south, so the attack on our abode has been relentless.    

Yes, we have tried all the tricks, but none of them have made any difference. We surrender. I wonder if we can get some local birding community to sponsor the job?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

hiatus interruptus

With the drying up of the local economy in recent months, so too has much of my paid work. I haven't minded having the extra time, to be honest, to tackle the list of home improvement schemes that I have imposed upon myself (and others). Things have been painted, rooms have been rearranged, no longer needed crap has been given away by the truckload. Dozens of Disney movies on VHS, anyone? I have even gotten into the luxurious habit of reading a bit in the afternoons and accompanying the recently retired one to matinees at our local cheap seat movie theatre.

That all ends now, though, with a recent batch of new assignments (first one due tomorrow) and the promise/threat of an avalanche of same just around the corner.

Now, I just need to relearn how to write.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

brotherhood of the travelling gun

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick deWitt

I have been hearing rumours that The Sisters Brothers is scheduled to be made into a film, with John C. Reilly playing the part of the narrator, Eli Brothers. I am glad for this. Not only does pretty much everything that John C. Reilly touches turn into gold, but he closely fits the mental image that I had of Eli. I am counting on the filmmakers not to muck it up.

The Sisters Brothers is the story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, two assassins-for-hire who travel from Oregon to California during the height of the gold rush to carry out a hit on a prospector. Charlie is impetuous and brutal, Eli is introverted and has a certain sweetness to him, despite the fact that he has no problems murdering people. The novel is at times gory, at other times touching, and it is woven throughout with generous strands of dry humour.

The Sisters Brothers is inventive in its scope - a darkly comic western noir - and its sparsely worded pacing fit the genre perfectly. I will admit that it took me a couple of chapters (they are very short chapters) to appreciate the narrative voice and to understand why everyone seemed to love this book so much. But once I did, I was hooked.

I could easily have kept reading, had the book been twice as long, and it would take very little prompting to entice me to revisit the world of the Sisters Brothers, be it in a film, a reread, or (dare I hope?) a sequel someday.

The Sisters Brothers has won a mitt-full of literary awards, and for good reason. You should read it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

if you squint just wrong

Sometimes my favourite photos happen by accident. 

While peering through the view-finder to get a better angle to photograph something else entirely, I noticed that a collision of overhead lights had doubled up to make the shadows cast by the camera in my hands look sort of otherworldly. Or at the very least, like a fabric pattern left over from the 60's.

I think it swings.

In other - more linky - news, I'd like to offer up some of my recently published scribblings:

In the latest edition of Latent Image, my short story called The Handbook of Facultative Morphology.

On the National Music Centre website, two articles about the new exhibition spaces - Amped Up Exhibitions at Studio Bell and Behind the Scenes: Developing NMC's Exhibitions. 

May you always see the good in the weird.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

some assembly required

I don't bake very often, other than around Christmas, because:
(a) I would just eat it, and
(b) you pretty much have to follow a recipe while baking, and I like to think of recipes as mere suggestions.

I'm not good at following formulas - too many flashbacks to Biochem 235. With cooking, I can make stuff up and it usually tastes pretty good, and if it doesn't, I can usually figure out how to fix it. Not so with baking.

Until today.

I had an almost full container of ricotta that I wanted to use up and have been thinking for a while about making the Spousal Unit (aka the Resident Macaroon Aficionado) some coconut macaroons. So I threw the ricotta together with a bit of crushed pineapple that I had in the freezer and some icing sugar and almond extract, with the idea of making macaroon balls. The mess tasted fine but was not in any way rollable. And, not containing any chocolate, it wasn't worthy of eating with a spoon.

So I figured I would turn it into a cake. Not able to find any suitable ricotta-coconut-pineapple cake recipes on the interwebz, I figured I would just make a white cake and incorporate the mess into it.

But I discovered that all the white cake recipes on the internet start with Take one box of white cake mix ...

What the what? If you are using a cake mix, why would you even bother to post a recipe? It's on the side of the ding-dang box. That's not baking; that's paper shuffling.

But from somewhere in the recesses of my tiny brain I pulled out enough cake chemistry data to remember that you have to cream together butter, sugar, eggs and flour (with baking powder and salt mixed into it) at a roughly 1:1 ratio. 

I alternated adding the dry ingredients with the pineapple-coconut-ricotta mess (more latent cake chemistry knowledge), threw it into a greased pan and baked it for about half an hour. Oh, and I tossed in a bit more almond extract and also some lime juice, because it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Turns out it was a darn good idea. Turns out you can hack a cake recipe after all. Especially when you slather it with a lime-coconut buttercream icing.

Who wants to come over for dessert?

Friday, January 29, 2016

a story a day brings Santa to my yard

2015 Short Story Advent Calendar
- compiled by Michael Hingston

This is a brilliant idea for an advent calendar, for those of us who would rather read than choke down some cheap dollar store chocolate. The brainchild of Edmonton author Michael Hingston, the 2015 Short Story Advent Calendar is a collection of 24 stories and one bonus novella, featuring Canadian and international authors. Many of the stories have never been published before and they were all handpicked by Hingston for inclusion into this compendium.

The advent calendar aspect (besides the concept of reading one story per day) comes from the fact that each story is individually sealed, with no identifying marks as to the title or even the author. So each day brings a literary surprise.

The cover of each booklet was designed by graphic artist Natalie Olsen and features simply a number which corresponds with the day of the month on which you are meant to read the story. But look carefully and you will find that the number is drawn in such a way as to give you a hint about what happens in the story. I found myself observing a little ritual of pouring over the cover, speculating about its contents, before carefully unsealing that day's story.

The stories come nestled in a solid cardboard box, reminiscent of the ones that hold the question cards in Trivial Pursuit or Cards Against Humanity, and the package looks quite attractive sitting on your coffee table or under your Christmas tree, waiting for you to read the next one.

I found it hard to find time to sit down and read first thing every morning and started falling behind. Eventually, though, I realized that late afternoon worked better for me, and that had the added bonus of letting me swap the accompanying cup of coffee for a wee snort of Christmas port. Port and short stories are my new favourite combination.

I loved both the concept and the beautiful design of the 2015 Short Story Advent Calendar and I hope that 2016 brings another edition.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Sin City: the good, the bad, the ugly

Las Vegas is a polarizing place; you either love it or hate it. I definitely did not love it.

Everything in Vegas, it seems, is fake. Fake volcanoes, fake Eiffel towers, fake Statues of Liberty. Even the grass is made of plastic. I did, however, get very excited when I spotted a stand of what I think were real trees...

I understand the whole mirage-in-the-desert concept upon which Las Vegas is built. I get that. I realize that there is a certain allure to playing make-believe with pretend glamour and reproductions of exotic locales that you may never get to in real life. I realize that a lot of people find escape in Vegas' excess, in its over-the-top tacky architecture and in those elusive pipe dreams of instant wealth that define the city

But I didn't realize, before our trip there last week, just how pervasive that I will have fun even if it kills me mindset is. And I never really realized how ultimately sad and desperate that mindset is. Just ask all those people with oxygen tanks, smoking and feeding slot machines for hours on end, how glamorous their Las Vegas lifestyle is.

That said, rant done, there were some things that I really enjoyed in Vegas. Behold then, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly list:

The Good:

The Continental Cup of Curling
On site and a five minute walk from our hotel room to our arena seats, this was four great days of curling featuring the very best curlers in the world, ending with a right-down-to-the-wire photo finish. 

The National Atomic Testing Museum
Fascinating display of the political, scientific and cultural history of the atomic arms race, including the astonishingly naive atomic testing that took place in the Nevada desert. Set up your lawn chair and watch the mushroom cloud!

Don't bother with the add-on Area 51 exhibition, though. It's pretty hokey and not terribly well done.

Casa di Amore
Billing itself as "Vegas the way it used to be" this old-timey neighbourhood Italian diner - far off the Strip - has wonderful food, throwback jazz singers providing dinner entertainment, and a cozy community feeling. More people kept arriving and they just kept bringing in more chairs. The highlight was when the band announced the 70th anniversary of a couple dining with their family. As the singer crooned a Sinatra tune just for them, the 90-year-old couple got up and danced together. We all clapped and got teary.

As if that's not enough, Casa di Amore will drive you home in a limo, for free. And they gave me a tee-shirt because I ordered the cannoli!

The Bad:

Cigarette Smoke
Smoking is allowed indoors in Las Vegas, at least in the casino areas. And there are very few indoor areas that are not casinos. It was disgusting and stinky and my eyes burned the entire time.

Gambling Overkill
I naively assumed that our hotel would have a normal hotel layout - front desk, lobby, some restaurants and services - and then have the obligatory casino in a room to the side. But no. The casino IS the hotel. You walk into the front door and are immediately assaulted by rows of slots machines all pinging away, lights flashing through the cigarette haze. Sure, there is no smoking in the restaurants, but they are all open to the casino, so it doesn't matter a tinker's damn. Anywhere you go in Vegas, you must pass through a casino to get there.

Plastic Carnival
I found the facade and the fakery, especially along The Strip, to be really disheartening and exhausting. It was like day six of the Calgary Stampede crammed into Disney World and stuffed into the Playboy Mansion. All the worst of society in one place.

The Ugly:

The myriad of seriously unhealthy looking people, many with walkers and the odd oxygen tank, wheezing their way through the casinos. 

Chain-smoking zombies endlessly feeding the machines, eyes fixed unblinkingly on the flashing colours, pausing only to order another drink.

Low rollers wandering from machine to machine, sucking on a beer, at 8:00 AM.

The layer of sadness and desperation that seems to have settled over the fragile veneer of merry-making.


I wouldn't mind seeing some other areas of Nevada. I would love to see some desert tortoises, those atomic test sites, and some of the sandstone buttresses that have been shaped by wind and time. 

But I will bypass Las Vegas.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

just for one day

On the day David Bowie died, I woke up with chest pains. 

I spent the better part of the morning chewing low dose aspirin and checking Web MD. There is no particularly good time for it, of course, but two days before you are set to head south of the border for a week likely ranks right up there for Worst Possible Timing for a Suspected Heart Attack. Especially after the icon you have always considered to be immortal has just died.

As the morning progressed and the pains didn't manifest any further, I stopped blaming the fact that I had unwisely polished off the last of the Christmas chocolates the night before. I had, it seems, merely pulled a muscle while sleeping. 

I have never been a good sleeper, and as the aches and pains and twitchy legs of encroaching old age start to pile up, I have become somewhat of a nocturnal thrasher. It was bound to happen, I guess, especially since the cat (aka The Immovable Object) has taken to lying on my left arm and chest while I read in bed. I sometimes drift off while reading and wake up to a dead left arm, thinking that a stroke has finally taken me.

But for now, I survive and am excited to be heading stateside tomorrow to celebrate the Spousal Unit's retirement. I shall put on my red shoes and dance the blues.   

Sunday, January 03, 2016

to binge is human, to list ... also human

As we crest into January, I am stepping back from my normal practice of listing top music of the past year. I didn't really listen to a lot of new music in 2015, nor did I go to that many concerts.

But being an unrepentant list-maker, I have to rank something to commemorate the turning of the calendar. And while I may not have listened to much in 2015, I sure did binge-watch. And DAMN if there weren't some great series to eye-guzzle on the old Netflix this past year!

Here, then, are my favourite Netflix series that invaded my chesterfield nest in 2015:

1.  The Bridge

I pretty much had to toss a coin to decide between the first and second ranked shows, but in the end this Danish-Swedish co-production featuring a mesmerizing Asperger-ish police detective took the honours. The series begins with the discovery of a corpse in the middle of the bridge connecting Denmark and Sweden, placed precisely on the border. The Bridge is rivetting, at times cringe-inducing, and over way too soon.

2.  Luther

British crime drama featuring the eminently watchable Idris Elba as DCI John Luther, a brilliant, but self-destructive, investigator. I especially loved the twisted thrust and parry between Luther and his equally brilliant nemesis Alice Morgan. 

3.  The Fall

Here again, numbers three, four and five were neck and neck in their ability to hold me hostage on the couch and destroy my blink reflex. I pretty much had to draw straws here. 

The Fall is an elegant and terrifying psychological murder drama set in Belfast. Gillian Anderson is Stella Gibson, brought in from the Metropolitan Police to act as DSI. She proves without a doubt that Scully is all grown up and still not taking any shit from anybody.

4.  The Killing

I would love to see the original Danish series, because nobody does murder like the Scandinavians, but this American adaptation is utterly gripping. Set in one of my favourite cities, the moody rain-drenched Seattle, it's filmed largely in Vancouver, so there is the added fun of looking for recognizable landmarks. A few too many red herrings were thrown into season one, but the tension between the two damaged police investigators means all is forgiven.

5.  Broadchurch

Equal parts charming and heart-wrenching, Broadchurch is set in a close-knit English coastal town, where the murder of a young boy threatens to tear apart the threads of the community. Not being a Whovian, I didn't realize at first the significance of David Tennant playing the role of the taciturn inspector from away who takes over the investigation. But his snarling Scottish brogue soon had me convinced.

6.  Dicte

Evidently I hold Scandinavian tv series to higher standards than I do North American ones, because I was quite shocked to realize that this Danish show is actually a little formulaic. Despite its "plucky lady reporter solves crimes" stereotype, however, Dicte is really very charming. I liked the characters, the friendships, the laid-back sexuality and easygoing partner-swapping. Heck, I even liked dancing to the cheesy theme music.

7.  Wallander

Again, I would love to see the original series, but this British remake of a Swedish crime drama is really good. I appreciate that they maintained the Swedish setting, instead of trying to wedge it into Sussex or California, even though it is a little disconcerting to have all the Swedes speak with British accents. Damned enthralling show, though.

8.  Lilyhammer

NYC mobster turns witness and gets relocated to Norway to protect him from retaliation. Need I say more? A light-hearted, hilarious fish-out-of-water series.

9.  Death in Paradise

Another fish-out-of-water, in a different ocean. A British police inspector, who only wants a decent cup of tea and a nice beef roast on Sundays, is transferred to a small Caribbean island. He hates it. The Spousal Unit refers to this show as "our generation's Matlock". The beaches are pristine and the murders are squeaky-clean and solved at the end of each episode. It's utter escapism.

Evidently, I did a lot of Netflixing in 2015. With River, Narcos and Hinterland queued up on the old viewing machine, I see no reason to change anything for 2016.

What have you been eye-guzzling? Any recommendations? 

Monday, December 28, 2015

beautiful dystopia

Station Eleven - Emily St. John Mandel

This may very well be one of my favourite books of the year. Weeks after finishing Station Eleven, I still find myself thinking about the world that Emily St. John Mandel has created within its pages and of the people who inhabit them. I keep wanting to return to that world where wonder exists in the midst of seemingly insurmountable odds, where existence is so much more than just survival.

On a snowy night in Toronto, famed stage and screen actor Arthur Leander suffers a fatal heart attack onstage in the middle of a performance of King Lear. Despite the CPR administered by audience member Jeevan Chaudhary - a former paparazzo, now an EMS responder - Leander dies in front of his young protege, child actor Kirsten Raymonde. 

That same night, though, the tragedy unfolding in the theatre is overshadowed by a deadly flu that has arrived in the city on a trans-Atlantic flight. Quickly, hospitals are overwhelmed, people begin to die, and the world goes dark.

Fifteen years after the Georgian flu has wiped out 99% of the world's population, Kirsten Raymonde is an actor in The Travelling Symphony, a group of musicians and actors who traverse the Great Lakes area performing Shakespeare in the small isolated settlements that dot the region. 

Station Eleven moves back and forth through the decades, from the post-apocalyptic world of the roving performers, to Arthur Leander's early years and rise to fame, and back to that fateful night in Toronto when Jeevan Chaudhary - cautioned by a call from a friend who is an Emergency Room doctor - barricades himself in his brother's highrise apartment and watches the lights of the city die.

The novel unfolds through the eyes of Raymonde, Chaudhary, Leander, as well as Leander's wives and friends. Slowly, the threads from their individual stories, separated by time, geography and circumstance, weave into a single strand.

Mandel is a gifted storyteller. She eloquently meters out the growing fear and ominous realization of that first night. She melds the survival instinct and resiliency that has become a critical part of life by Year 15 post-pandemic with a sense of wonder and a basic human need to elevate existence to something higher than food and shelter. Everyday occurrences of the past - like pressing a button that connects you to someone else on the other side of the world or the light that comes on when a refrigerator door is opened - have become things of legend, stories passed among those too young to really remember when these things were reality. There are even rumours of the existence of a Museum of Civilization in an airport terminal somewhere.

Through her weaving of timelines and stories within stories, Emily St. John Mandel gradually pieces together seemingly scattered tales into one beautifully interconnected work. 

Definitely recommended. 

Monday, December 21, 2015


Soon, kiddies, soon, the daylight will return. Infinitesimally at first, a few seconds gained at sunset, but lost again at sunrise.

But slowly, slowly, as we burn more candles and watch our stockpile of winter socks dwindle in the drawer, until we have no choice but to pull on the flimsy cotton anklets and declare it spring, the sun will wrench itself free of the frozen horizon. The corner will turn and this winter solstice day - an agonizing 8 hours and 39 minutes shorter than its summer counterpart - will be but a chilly memory.

In the meantime, please pass the shortbread.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

commence the advent

I've accepted the fact that the Advent calendar that I remember from my childhood will remain only a memory. 

For years I tried to find one just like it - a streetscape of an old German city centre at twilight, sparkling windows looking out over a main street where St. Nicholas is trailed by adoring young uns. St. Nicholas (no Coca Cola Santa Claus here) had just the right combination of German sternness and begrudging generosity. I spent way too much time gazing at those lighted shop windows, wondering what life was like in the apartments above those shops. There was just the right amount of glitter sparkling through windows that opened to reveal modest offerings of teddy bears and spinning tops. There were no cartoon figures or crappy chocolate.

This was one classy Advent calendar. Or, at least that's how I remember it.

I've given up trying to reproduce the magic. It belonged to another time. But I did recently stumble upon a lovely box of Advent calendar short stories. So I think I will start a whole new tradition. What better way to go through the darkness of December than escaping into a short story every day?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

probably not first

The Heart Goes Last - Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has a track record of creating vast, deep and fully realized worlds, particularly in her eerily dystopian novels. She falls a little short in The Heart Goes Last, though.

The story is based on a compelling premise: a secure walled community thriving in a post-apocalyptic world, where every inhabitant is guaranteed a comfortable existence and full employment. For six months of the year. For the other six months, they swap places with their counterparts in the community's prison and become the inmates.

Stu and Charmaine have been living in their car since losing their house in the global economic collapse, trying increasingly desperately to scratch out a living. They are understandably thrilled to be invited to join the community, until they start to realize the insidious secrets that lie behind its success.

The Heart Goes Last doesn't quite work for me, because it seems to go for flippancy over depth, and because, frankly, I didn't really like Stu and Charmaine very much. I don't always have to be best buddies with a character in order to enjoy their importance in a book, but in Stu and Charmaine's case, they are also not terribly bright. And while I appreciate how challenging it must have been for Atwood to write using voices of dim and rather shallow characters, it made me long to spend time with some of Atwood's more thoughtful literary characters. 

The Heart Goes Last is an entertaining read, but not necessarily one that would give someone new to the Atwood-osphere a good sense of master storyteller's true brilliance.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

qujannamiik very much, music

Have a seat, take a load off, get comfy and indulge in a little clickety-clicking. Come along to Canada's far north, via my latest National Music Centre article, a Canadian Bands You Should Know feature on the high-octane Iqaluit band, The Jerry Cans. They'll have you singing, clapping, air fiddling, foot stomping and throat singing along.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

around the clock

Morning becomes electric.

By afternoon, snow bunnies recline on branches.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

winter coat

One minute, all the rabbits are two-toned and the next, it's winter.

No complaints are allowed, though, because we had an actual Autumn this year, i.e. longer than ten days. The shoulder seasons are very brief, here in the high plains desert, so I celebrate those years when they do linger.

I've actually been enjoying the after-dinner walks to pick up the mail, now that our flyers and bills are delivered to a community mailbox. My walks have been getting progressively longer, since the early darkness allows me to gawk into my neighbours' houses. That never gets old.

I expect the mail-fetching will get tiresome, however, once the sidewalks ice up and I start walking like a penguin, butt cheeks clenched to avoid slipping and pulling a hamstring. Everybody knows it's the gateway injury to falling and breaking a hip. 

Because just like that, you are old.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

dem bones

 Much as I hate surprises (and can generally/annoyingly sniff them out before they happen), I have to admit I was completely gobsmacked when the Offspring showed up on the doorstep the morning before Thanksgiving. I may even have gotten a wee bit misty. 

The Spousal Unit and the Offspring joined forces to surprise me for the catch-all anniversary/birthday/Thanksgiving weekend (and I believe that the cat's birthday falls in there as well). Can't come home for Thanksgiving, she told me, going to Victoria for the weekend

Nicely played, family! You got me good, real good.

It was a beautiful weekend and the Offspring and I indulged in several long walks to talk, take in the fall colours and work up an appetite for the massive turkey chowdown.

The Offspring has been creating art once again, after a bit of a hiatus. I love the blown-apart spinal column painting that she made for me. Not only does it appeal to my nerdy inner anatomist, it looks fabulous in our kitchen. Plus it makes me want to simmer up a big pot of beef stew.

Everything, it would appear, ultimately reminds me of food.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


When Everything Feels Like the Movies 
- Raziel Reid

When Everything Feels Like the Movies is the story of Jude, a flamboyant gender-bending gay teenager suffocating in a small bleak mining town. His mother is a stripper, his mother's boyfriend is a hard-drinking homophobic brute, and his best (and only) friend is sleeping her way through the entire male population of their high school. Jude faces the expected bullying with a mixture of nose-thumbing and a self-destructive embrace. He plans to escape to Hollywood, where he will become wildly famous and infamously lusted after.

This book has courted a lot of controversy. As a finalist in this year's Canada Reads competition, its inclusion was hotly debated, not just because it was the first Young Adult novel to be included, but because it is such a sexually explicit YA novel.

Personally I had no problems with the explicit sexual depictions, but they are relentless, even for a story told from the POV of a raging teenager. I did, however, have some other problems with the book.

Jude's outlook on life is, frankly, dead shallow. I wanted to root for him more than I did, but his obsession with appearances and instant gratification made him more frustrating than sympathetic. That too, I suppose, could be attributed to his being a teenager and all. As could his insistence on indulging in the same self-destructive behaviours over and over again. Those are all somewhat realistic character flaws.

My main problem was that of voice. Near the end of the novel, something happens that makes it impossible for the book to continue in the same narrative. Yet continue in that narrative it does. I found that very glaring and I wasn't able to entirely suspend my disbelief.

Despite its flaws, though, When Everything Feels Like the Movies is a novel worth reading. Because ain't none of us perfect.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

say it with cheekbones

The birthday girl. 

Seven years old and still rocking the supermodel/Olympian look.


Monday, September 28, 2015

shoulder season shining

Autumn is very fleeting around these parts. It's why I have been taking the long way around the block (and maybe around the next block, too, while I am at it) to the newly installed community mailbox. Because I have a feeling that those after-dinner strolls to pick up the mail will lose their charm once the luster of the new experience wears off, sometime around February. Quite possibly considerably sooner.

But even more fleeting are those moments of absolute perfection that happen all too infrequently. You know those moments - the ones that make you stop, or at least slow your step - and tell yourself always remember this precise moment because life does not get any more beautiful than this very moment.

Many of the leaves are down now, but those trees that turn bright yellow seem to hang onto their leaves longer than most, and the evening was simply glowing in the late-day sun. As I rounded the corner on my take-the-long-way-to-the-mailbox post-dinner stroll, I spotted a new Little Free Library in front of the house up the road. Naturally I stopped to read the spines and, as luck would have it, spotted a book that I had been meaning to read for years. 

I tucked the book under my arm - grinning like I had just gotten away with shoplifting - and continued around the curve in the road. And that was where I was struck dumb by the moment. To my left was a green space, treed with those yellow-leafed trees that always look as though the sun is shining directly out of them. They had been transformed into brilliant orbs of light. I took a few more steps and, through a parting in the trees, had a perfect view of the river valley of Fish Creek Park across the road and beyond that the Rockies - the clearest I have ever seen them at that spot - silhouetted in purple against the evening sky. Directly ahead of me, the setting sun dumped a bucket of fluorescent yellow paint on the stand of trees through which it shone. 

It is a brief moment in time that I will add to my list of always remembers that I will pull out of my hippocampus as required and smile at having lived it.  

Monday, September 21, 2015

it writes itself

I heard a writer today, talking about how his various novels demanded to be written at different times of day. Some - which he described as awakening from dreaming novels - needed to be written in the mornings; another - which he referred to as a going into a dream novel - had to be written late at night.

Because my writing is primarily done to deadline, the time of day is not so much a factor. Lately, however, the place where I write has become important. 

I recently finished purging and reorganizing my office, turning it from a cramped and overflowing room that tried to be both an office and a spare bedroom - and succeeded at being neither - into a semi-minimalist office that works. There is now a sensible place for everything and everything is in its place. At least for now. 

But sometimes, the words just will not gel. Even worse, they will morph into corporate-speak. And then I have no choice but to pack up the laptop and move to the dining room. 

You gotta shake things up sometimes to keep them from getting stale. 

Where do you write? Does it make a difference?

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

no small feat

All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews

It's been noted by people far wiser and more eloquent than me that Miriam Toews is hilarious even when dealing with the bleakest of subjects. Her latest novel, All My Puny Sorrows, certainly does deal with the bleakest of subjects - one sister who wants desperately to die, one sister who desperately wants her to live. So allow me to jump on the bandwagon here and state that All My Puny Sorrows is absolutely hilarious while being completely heartbreaking.

Yolandi is a bit of a mess. She tends to sleep around without really meaning to, has two kids by different fathers and scrabbles out a living by writing a Young Adult series called Rodeo Rhonda. She is now writing a "real" book,though, about a boat, that she schleps around in a Safeway bag. Yoli has returned to Winnipeg from Toronto because her brilliant, beautiful, talented concert pianist sister, Elfrieda, has tried to kill herself. Again. And now Elfrieda is begging Yolandi to help her to die.

Slightly screwed-up Yoli is enormously likable. (If Miriam Toews can't make it to my fantasy dinner party, then I hope that Yoli can come in her place.) She brings the funny to circumstances that should be anything but. Her self-effacing humour, even as she struggles to stay afloat, to keep various family members happy, and to keep her sister from killing herself, rings strangely true in a heartbreakingly tough situation. Because, of course, Toews drew from her own life to write this novel.

Toews wrote All My Puny Sorrows in the aftermath of her own sister's suicide. Like Yolandi, Toews grew up in the darkness of family depression, having lost her both her father and sister to suicide. 

She has said that as a child, she took it upon herself to be the humourous distraction in the family dynamic, the lightness in all that darkness. That deep understanding of the essential role of laughter within tragedy has resulted in unforgettable people in a remarkable book.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Eventually, they could no longer lift their heads. Over the years, their neck muscles had atrophied to the point where their chins were permanently fused to their chests. Their field of vision had narrowed to a small sphere around their feet and, of course, their thumbs clicking rapidly on the tiny screens clutched to their torsos. 

They developed an instinct, eventually, to avoid obstacles as they walked. But in the early years, before the instinct kicked in fully - back when some of them could still lift their heads slightly - there were countless collisions along sidewalks and in hallways. Sorry - they would text one another after bumping shoulders or striding into each other head-on - didn’t see you. 

The majority of them had by this time lost the ability to vocalize. They had become so proficient at communicating through keystrokes that speaking out loud seemed unnecessary, inefficient and boorishly outdated. Eventually the practice died out entirely, with only a few archaic holdouts uttering the odd LOL or WTF as they narrowly avoided yet another collision in the mall. 

None of them had looked directly at the sky in years. A few had tried, arching themselves backward or draping themselves, head down, off chairs, but in the end it wasn’t worth the effort. At best, they caught a glimpse of the clouds before the strain of fiercely rolling their eyes upward caused them to quit. At worst, they dropped their devices in the process and then suffered excruciating panic attacks while they groped madly, blindly, for them.  

Some of the older ones could remember a time when the devices were a mere convenience, an easy way to tell your partner that you would be late for dinner, to find out where your pals were meeting for a drink, to recall the name of that song by that band that you used to love.  

Gradually, imperceptibly, there was a shift from convenience to lifeline. Over time, the devices became de facto memory banks. It seemed pointless, really, to memorize all that information, all those facts and figures and tedious numbers, when all the universe’s knowledge was right there, easily retrievable, at your fingertips.  

Eventually, amongst the bowed heads, collective hippocampi withered away. Once the seat of human memory, cerebral cortices ultimately became nothing more than shrivelled appendages of the central nervous system. These once defining organs of humanity were now vestigial and slightly perplexing bits of tissue.  

No new memories were ever made thereafter or stored within the human body. All knowledge was relegated directly to the devices. It was just easier that way. Heads began to bow, increasingly, permanently, endlessly, to the power contained within one small stylish box.

But not a single fact was ever unknowable, and they considered it a fair trade-off.