Tuesday, April 15, 2014

pointed lives

Nine Inches - Tom Perrotta

Prior to receiving this book of short stories in a care package from a dear friend, I had never heard of Tom Perrotta. I have since learned that he is an acclaimed novelist and Academy Award nominated screenplay writer. But for today's purposes, all you really need to know is that Tom Perrotta writes damned satisfying short stories.

Perrotta masterfully gets inside the heads of the characters that populate Nine Inches. Not all of these characters are particularly likeable (although many are), but they are all understandable. From the teacher who turns an online slagging on its head, to the little league baseball coach relying on a final win to keep his life from fully unravelling, to the weary volunteer who makes an unlikely alliance, these are all people who would not be out of place in your own neighbourhood. They can be unspeakably cruel, they can harbour secret hatreds, they can lead lives of quiet desperation, and sometimes they can rise above their own frailties. 

Just like the person down the street to whom you may nod as you walk by, but whose name you will never learn, the characters in Nine Inches lead lives that remain largely invisible to the world. Tom Perrotta gives them all voice. 

Most heartily recommended. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

bachelor soup

What do you do when you overcook the salmon that you were planning a few meals around because the Spousal Unit is away all week and you want some easy meals that you know he won't eat? Well you choke down the original meal, of course, but then instead of throwing away the leftovers (as I almost did), might I suggest you make spicy salmon soup instead? Chances are you can clear some stuff out of the freezer at the same time. Win-win.

It was a really nice piece of salmon, so I was loathe to toss it, but I also didn't want to add a lot of mayo or cream cheese or other high-fat ingredients to make it less dry and more palatable. Soup seemed worth the gamble, especially since I had a small baggie of leftover cooked bowtie noodles in the freezer that needed eating. Or tossing. (It was a toss-up.)

I was pleased to find I had both broccoli and spinach in the fridge, since no soup is complete without those, so I sauteed broccoli, green onions, and some strips of yellow pepper that needed using. I then added chicken broth, spinach, those leftover noodles and chunks of salmon. And here's the important part - I also added quite a bit more cayenne pepper than seemed wise. Oh, and I tossed a splash of white wine from the glass that I was sipping, because I figured it could use a touch of acid and that was a lot faster than getting the lemon juice from the fridge.

I heated the whole mess up for a few minutes and by then the salmon had once again become juicy and tender and even the noodles were no longer freezer-burned. I happily slurped it all down while reading the newspaper and listening to As It Happens.  

Friday, April 04, 2014

transversal

There are few right angles in the reinvention of oneself. Mostly the changes involve a more sweeping slope, a gradual veering toward one direction or another.

Lately, though, I have made some right angle changes in my volunteerism. I stopped reviewing albums for a record label which shall remain nameless, partly because I didn't like any of the albums, but mostly because I didn't think that a major label needed my charitable hours. I also dropped a  volunteer gig last year because I wasn't getting any love for my efforts. Primarily, though, I simply need to keep things interesting.

After eight years,I will be taking this summer off from volunteering at the Calgary Folk Festival. Although I get lots of love and perks as a Record Tent co-ordinator, it's time for a rest. Originally we thought we might be travelling during festival time, but even if we are not, it will be rejuvenating and very freeing to don the Birkenstocks, sling our festival chairs over our shoulders, and assume no responsibilities for the entire festival. No close-toed shoes, no keeping an eye on my watch, no putting out any fires, and no abandoning the family tarp while filling a shift. No free admittance and meals or hanging with musicians backstage, either, but I am willing trade in those perks to be a civilian again for a year.

A few weeks ago, I started a new volunteer gig, helping out with the creative writing session of create! in the East Village. This is a wonderful program, started by one amazing and very caring woman, who was concerned about the lack of creative programming for marginalized people in our city. Single-handedly and with virtually no funding, she started offering two visual arts and one creative writing session each week, in addition to hosting two evenings a month - devoted to Artists' Trading Cards - at a neighbourhood cafe. All sessions are free, drop-in, and open to anyone in the community.

I've been to a handful of creative writing sessions now and am always taken aback by the quality and the passion of the writing that people share. Many of the participants have not had an easy life and many of them face a lot of challenges. They inspire me.

This week I led a tutorial on Blogging 101 during the creative writing session. I am by no means a teacher, but these students were so kind and accepted my bumbling explanations with good humour. I hope to see a few of them start their own blogs. Not only does the declining blogosphere need an infusion of fresh blood, but I have a suspicion that my highly engaged students are just the writers to inject that much needed passion into the art. 
  

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

running out of fools

I remember an April Fools' Day years ago, when the Offspring was quite young and just beginning to realize the limitless potential of the day. The Spousal Unit and I had been reminiscing the night before about April Fools pranks from our university days, pranks that usually involved plastic wrap and toilet seats or dorm-room doors and duct tape. 

In the morning, the Offspring greeted me with a big smile and the announcement that she had made breakfast for me (which had never happened before, or since for that matter). She could barely contain herself as she handed me a plate with a slice of toast on it. Perhaps if the toothpaste that was smeared liberally on the bread had not been blue, I might - just maybe - have taken a big bite. I had to give her points for optimism, though.

This year, I got pranked by the cat, although I have to suspect it was unintentional. When I woke up this morning and couldn't move my arm, my first thought, of course, was that I had had a stroke. Frankly I was surprised that I felt as good as I did after my stroke. Rested, even. And then I realized the cat was lying on my arm, and had presumably been sleeping there for some time. No more looking at the Grumpy Cat wall calendar for her!

In shameless self-promotion news, please check out my latest Canadian Bands You Should Know article on the National Music Centre blog. This time I tell you all about the former folkie turned chanteuse, Jill Barber

Monday, March 31, 2014

no lamb, all lion

Never one of my favourite months, this March has been particularly brutal. Aside from a brief couple of days that actually exceeded seasonal temperatures, this March has been bookended by cold, ice and never-ending snow. No, not just bookended: the whole damn bookshelf is spilling over with winter. The lambs didn't even bother to show up.

March is also a month that is permanently coloured in loss. Thirteen years ago this month, the Spousal Unit and I both lost our fathers, a mere two and a half weeks apart. We had barely unpacked from a trip halfway across the country to lay his father to rest, when we were hauling our funeral clothes back out of the closet and into suitcases. We were getting good at eulogies, too good.

Today is the actual anniversary of my own father's death. We joked that he would have been exceedingly annoyed that he missed dying on April Fool's Day by one stinking day. He would have considered that to be the very height of humour.

I am more than ready to kick this month to the curb, if I could find it under those endless snowbanks, that is.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tippi Heddron Day

I should probably be terrified, but I am charmed. And more than a little awed.

You know the cautionary tales you've been hearing about how the North American swallow is disappearing? I'm pretty sure I know where they all went. They are alive and thriving and evidently vacationing at our lake place.  

When we trekked across the prairies to spend some time there a couple of summers ago, we discovered two swallows' nests tucked into the rafters of our deck roof. They are built of twigs and mud and the avian contractors had left a bit of a mess on the deck, bird contractors evidently being no different from their human cousins. I actually thought they were wasp nests at first and cheered the Spousal Unit's suggestion that we knock them down. But when we realized what they were, we figured nah, leave them be. Especially since the siding of the Manitoba place is made of a concrete-wood composite. If the owners of the bird dwellings tried to drill holes into our siding, like the woodpeckers who have been plaguing our house in Calgary have been doing for the past dozen years, they would just suffer massive headaches and considerable dental bills.

So the swallows nests stayed intact, and we enjoyed watching the aerial acrobatics of the little birds, as they swooped bat-like across the horizon.  

It was after we returned home that I first heard stories on the radio that the North American swallows were disappearing at an alarming rate. I cheered the handful of winged gymnasts living at the lake, wishing them well in repopulating their kind from the comforts of their lakefront homes.

Evidently they took my wishes to heart.

As we stood on the deck during the final trek that summer, unwinding from cross country drive and watching the sunset on the lake, we were thrilled to see six, no seven, no at least a dozen swallows darting and diving across the sky. So what if one of them flew in a straight trajectory at the Spousal Unit while he was peeing off the deck (what's lake life without taking a little not-suitable-for-city-living license)? No harm done. No doubt just playing chicken.


When I woke the next morning, I lay in bed watching swallows hover and freefall. They all seemed to be congregating outside my window, which faces not the lake, but the stand of trees and abandoned barn across the road. There seemed to be a few more than the dozen we had seen in the evening. Exponentially more, as it turns out. When I got up for a better look, I was stunned to see that there was not a spot to be had, not even for the skinniest swallow, on the hydro lines that stretch along the dirt road. I counted at least ninety swallows.

Time to make a movie, I think. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

the story of how the story came to be told

MaddAddam - Margaret Atwood

When I realized that I was about four-fifths of the way through MaddAddam, I got that little wave of sadness that you get when you realize that soon you will have to leave a world that you are not quite ready to leave. Until that point, I didn't even realize that I was as engrossed in the story as I actually was, to tell you the truth. So I slowed down, trying to stretch out the book for as long as I could. But it is hard to slow down when you are in the midst of a final battle for revenge led by intelligent pigs.

The world that Margaret Atwood has created in MaddAddam and in the two preceding books in the trilogy (Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood) is so fully realized, with every detail of genetic programming fleshed out, that takes a bit of time to adjust to the real world again. Atwood claims that all of the technologies that exist in this dystopian world either already exist or have the potential to. It is a chilling reminder of the consequences of playing God.

In MaddAddam, the survivors of a man-made plague that decimated the earth are eking out a living amidst a rapidly re-forresting earth. They have a nice little enclave, where they keep Mo'Hairs (a species originally engineered for growing replacement human hair) for their milk and, while gardening and foraging for the world's dwindling supplies, they offer protection against pigoons and Painballers to the Crakers (a bioengineered species of gentle vegan, mosquito-repellent semi-humans) who graze on kudzu and mate with glee. 

MaddAddam tells the story behind the stories of the earlier two books. There is the ongoing narrative, of daily life in the compound and of the larger concerns of attack from sadistic former prisoners. There is the evening story - full of ritual - that Toby, a former God's Gardener, tells the Crakers who hunger for tales of their creators and their own creation. And most intriguingly, there is the story that the hacker Zeb tells Toby, of his life in the time before the waterless flood, of his escape from a murderous depraved father and his religion of petroleum. For me, Zeb's stories were the strongest part of the book - rivetting and intense. I couldn't wait for these sections.

MaddAddam is not a perfect book. There were times when the voice used did not really work for me, particularly when Blackbeard, the young Craker, took on the mantle of Toby's voice. But generally, I was enthralled with this book and it made me want to re-read the previous two, just to get back into that world.   

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

know your local zombie

The Mutfords have picked a heckuva time to come to Alberta on spring break. Sure they have been having a blast skiing in the mountains, but they slide into Calgary today on the heels of political turmoil and bringing with them - so it is forecast - a late winter snow storm. As I recall, the last time everybody's favourite Yellowkife family was in town, they brought a wild late winter storm down upon us then as well. This can't be mere coincidence.

But even if we agree not to discuss politics or the weather when the Mutfords break bread with us tomorrow evening, I am confident that we will find plenty to talk about. After all, John now knows all about my issues with geography, thanks to my recent Canadian Book Challenge participant profile that he hosted on his long-running blog, The Book Mine Set. Do check it out, and discover for yourself just how many gut-wrenching (literally) attempts it took me to finally discover that I have a sensitivity to squid.

Guess what I will not be serving for dinner?
 

Friday, March 14, 2014

oatmeal friendly

I am more excited than I probably should be to never again burn my fingers on my bowl of oatmeal. But anyone who has ever snatched a steaming bowl from the microwave - only to be faced with the split second dilemma whether to let the blistering dish filled with molten lava smash onto the stove-top two feet below or risk forever losing their fingertips - knows of what I speak. The Bowl Buddy, made by the grandma of a work colleague, is absolutely ingenious. Evidently there is quite a black market for the simple but clever little mats spreading throughout the office towers of the Beltline. I'm not surprised - grandmas are smart. I'm glad I got in on the ground floor.

I was chuffed to have a short story of mine appear in the spring issue of Latent Image. A bit of a nasty brutish story, it is, but it somehow feels at home amongst the evocative and provocative images that the fledgling magazine excels in. Do check out Latent Image, read it as a download or, if you are so inclined, order a print copy for your coffee table. 
 
Also in the shameless self-promotion department, my byline has once again darkened today's Friday Showbiz section of the Calgary Sun. In this issue, I find out from the project manager just what makes the new National Music Centre building so special anyway. 

Grab a copy, YYC!

  


Sunday, March 09, 2014

drainage

Come melt season, I am my father's daughter. In the Offspring's castoff rubber boots and ratty hounds-tooth jacket, I take up the ice shovel.

A keen eye is required, and a strategic understanding of the ice-pavement-air-water interface. I chip where the ice-face has lifted imperceptibly from sidewalk. I scrape where the frost-sheath has fragmented into crystalline skin. I crack the loosening grip of the glacier's edge with one well-placed smack of the shovel after another. 

You have to know when the ice is ripe for destruction.

And when I start shaping carefully plotted trenches into the remaining snowbanks, noting sun angles and flow patterns, I know I am a product of my genes.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

wherever I lay my wrists

One of the sweetest perks of freelancing is that your office can be wherever you want it to be. Today I am looking out on a frozen vista from the dining room table.  Tomorrow I may head back to the green chair in the corner, provided it has not been transformed into a feline fortress. Someday, who knows, I may even use the actual office.

The SRK makes frequent hops up onto the dining room table slash desk today, to nibble on her cat grass and to encourage me to rub my face in the fresh greenery. Belly rubs are dispensed freely, vigourously and often.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Houston, we have a problem

If I was the suspicious type, I would suspect that Houston's G. Bush Intercontinental Airport has got something personal against my man. Perhaps we should not have mocked its namesake as much as we did, back in the day.

On the way to Mexico on the weekend, the Spousal Unit was delayed in Houston for 8 hours,on the same day that a blogger friend was also cooling her heels in the exact same airport, on what would turn out to be a 40-hour trip home from Mexico. So I guess he was lucky.

Today, he was delayed at G Bush Intercon for 3.5 hours. 

Interestingly, the Air Canada flight tracker still shows the flight as leaving and arriving on time. It's airline magic!

The SRK is now in serious needs of those belly rubs that only her daddy can give. 
  
In much cheerier news, I was chuffed to see my byline in today's Calgary Sun. I'll be contributing to a regular feature all about the National Music Centre which will grace the Show Biz section every Friday. I'll be darkening those pages about every two weeks, but you should pick up the Calgary Sun every Friday to learn about all the cool goings on. 

/shameless self-promotion

 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

dear Maui: it's not you, it's me

Maui is an incredibly lovely island, bursting with colours and sounds and textures that I have never experienced elsewhere. Which means, obviously, that it is totally wrong for me.

It's not even the fact that Maui is an island (because we all know how freaked out I get by islands) or that the sun is 3.7 million times stronger than I expected it to be. Oh no wait, that was partly it, actually. This is not the ideal spot for a person with sun allergies.

I did manage to find a few lovely shady locales, among my favourite being the lobby of the hotel. Which isn't as pathetic as it sounds - it is a stunning lobby, all open on one side, built onto a pool with a waterfall. Small rounded peninsulas jut out into the pool, each appointed with two deep plush chairs and a table with flowers. I wasn't the only person who sat there regularly, watching the resident pelicans and the black swan duke it out with the rather pedestrian (by comparison) mallard duck. From my vantage point, I could also watch the human stream flow by along main traffic area of the lobby, perpendicular to where I sat. I always kept an eye out for the 90-year-old who roamed the lobby in her bikini, clanking her cane whenever she stopped to chat to the regulars. I still regret not taking her photo when I had the chance.

I also missed getting a photo of the slightly younger fellow (by perhaps five years) who hung out at the adult-only anything-goes pool. I really wanted a shot of his bathing trunks, the ones with SPANK written across the ass. When you are in your eighties, you can wear whatever the hell you want.

Perhaps if I hadn't gotten a blister on the bottom of my foot on the first day there, a blister which took a turn for the worse after my fight with the undertow and my subsequent panic-stricken scramble-climb out of the ocean - requiring me to wear shoes and socks for the rest of the week - I would have felt a little less out of place. Not enough to ever go swimming in the ocean again, perhaps - or at least not at a part of the beach where the land drops away sharply and the waves keep knocking you over while the undertow prevents you from standing up again - but at the kiddie beach, maybe. 

Just kidding, there is no kiddie beach. This is not Disneyland. This is a real ocean, fraught with dangers, requiring your respect. There is a reason there are warning signs every 20 metres along the beach. Do not fuck with this ocean.

Not being a beachy person, and not seeing any record shops or book stores in the vicinity, I loved that we went on side trips during which I learned about things I didn't even realize I knew nothing about. Things like pineapple growing, things like coffee production, and the fact that Hawaii only grows 10% of its food and that if it were suddenly cut off from external food supplies, Hawaii would run out of food in two weeks. 

I especially loved the whale watching we did late one afternoon, during which we saw several pods of whales up close and all slappy-fighty. Even better was that dinner that evening was held at the nearby Maui Ocean Centre and was preceded by a tour through the aquarium, complete with appies and drinks, and extended chats with some really knowledgeable and enthusiastic marine biologists. Ever the know-it-all,I even managed to impart a little octopae culture (about Paul the soccer-prognosticating octopus) to one interpreter.

We went to a luau on our last night, along the beach in the harbour town of Lahaina. There were 160 of us, so it was a sitdown meal, rather than the pig in the ground type of luau. The food was interesting and odd, while the entertainment - which featured stories and dances from around Polynesia - was spectacular, particularly against a backdrop of the setting sun over the ocean.

I ate a lot of mahi mahi in Maui, which was to be expected, as it is a delicious fish. Less expected was the amount of eggs benedict and bacon that I managed to consume. Curse you, buffet breakfast!

I have never had pineapple quite like the absolutely perfect fruit we sampled at the Maui Gold pineapple plantation. Apparently the hotels will often buy under-ripe pineapple under the mistaken impression that it will last longer. However pineapple doesn't ripen after it is picked, so it remains hard and pale. Not the same animal at all!

After my infected blister healed, I enjoyed one glorious day of feeling free and islandy (albeit with a steady supply of bandages) in sandals. We hung out at the upper pool at our hotel during the afternoon, in the deepest shade we could find, taking an occasional dip in the adult-only anything-goes pool, sipping on tropical drinks and judging sunbathers harshly. It was glorious. Especially since that night, as the luau drew to a close, I was slammed with a head cold that instantly turned my noggin into a solid wall of snot.

With little sleep that night, the next day spent waiting for our 10:30 pm flight, was tough. I sat in the lobby, mouth-breathing, until we remembered that there was a small whaling museum in the Whalers' Village shopping mall next door. Not only was it a fascinating look at the difficult life faced by early whalers, but I got a senior's discount on my admission. 

It was the perfect way to end our island trip, before the lengthy shuttle bus ride to the airport, followed by passing out on the overnight flight, aided by Nyquil. Much better than on a whaling boat.
 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

sinking with sharks



Writing, 
what will not be writ 
without a fight. 
Deadline looming, 
brain hurts. 
Why did I not become 
a marine biologist?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Maui wowie

For now, only pictures. Words to follow, sometime after I have erased the sleep debt of a night spent on the plane.

Good thing Maui sunsets speak for themselves. 

In the meantime, while you wait to hear why Maui is paradise, but that I am not built for it, here are some more pictorial highlights.





 

Sunday, February 09, 2014

nice work if you can get it

The bars here (and there are many of them) all close at 10:30 pm. We figure that's because everybody is up by 6:00 am, out doing their running and/or beach yoga before it gets really hot. By 10 in the morning, everyone has established their spot by one of the pools or on the beach and by noon the drinks are flowing. 

We figure that's why elevator noise turned out not to be that big of an issue at night after all. Since we are okay with being woken at 6 each morning, we opted to stay in our current room. We really do have a splendid view, after all. It was incredibly nice of the concierge to send a bottle of wine up to our room though!

After yesterday's meet and greet and welcome dinner,it was lovely to have an essentially free day today. We originally considered taking a shuttle into Lahaina, but it looked pretty built up with malls and pizza huts when we passed through it on the way from the airport. A little different from the idyllic village that the spousal unit remembered from thirty years ago. So we opted to stay put and do some swimming and sitting.

That ocean is one scary bitch. Those undertows will yank the feet right out from under you and drag you out, only to return you back near the shore with a force that has you skidding along the sandy bottom for several yards. I emptied about 20 pounds of sand out of my bathing suit when we got back to our room. The rest of the afternoon was spent in numerous shady locales poolside.

We'll be sleeping soundly tonight.

Tomorrow - business meeting in the morning for the spousal unit, article writing for me. Whale watching and a group dinner in the afternoon and evening. Free Willy!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

mahalo

I know it's terribly bad form to bitch and whine when you are in Hawaii, but in the 19 hours since we have landed, I have gotten heat stroke, a blister on the bottom of my foot, and been housed in a room directly beside the elevator shaft. Not separated by a stairwell or an ice machine alcove, but set up so that our heads are directly butting up against the elevator as we lie awake in bed and as it moves among ten stories at all hours of day and night.

That's the bad. The good is that Maui is incredibly lovely and that the hotel we are in is gorgeous, very old world Polynesian charm meets tiki bar. In the best way. The lobby is open to a series of pools and waterfalls populated by flamingoes and fish and a very domineering black swan (as black swans should be). The grounds are well treed with a series of pools descending onto various levels, and finally ending in a well-used beach pathway, and, of course, the beach.

We walked the pathway last night after we arrived, to see how far we had to walk the next morning to meet with the rest of the group at a neighbouring hotel and I was amazed at the force of the waves we could see and hear crashing onto the shore.

I will be trading in my sandals for shoes and socks and bringing a hat with me in the future. I want to be able to enjoy this trip, even if it means looking like a Canadian.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

head down


It's -29C, the roads are an icy mess, and I have many places to go and people to see today. But I really don't feel like I have license to complain, since the Spousal Unit and I will be ditching this frozen desert in a couple of days and winging off to paradise.

It's a work trip for the Spousal Unit, so there will be some necessary schmoozing to be done. And I do have considerable work to do while away, but I don't mind trying my hand at writing on the beach.

I just have to use my time wisely over the next couple of days, work hard and gather as much quality information as I can, before collapsing onto that plane.

A few months ago I was asked to write about the building of Festival Hall, the deceptively modest and beautifully functional home of the Calgary Folk Festival. Check out my story of how Festival Hall came to be, despite all odds.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

bikini diet perogies

Despite having not pounded back the oatmeal shortbread for a month now and despite having embraced an rigourous exercise regime in place of competitive cookie eating(okay, that ended with the onset of the first head cold in years that I contracted a week ago), I have accepted the bitter reality that my bikini body days are well behind me. 

Actually, I am okay with that. Especially now that I am fully grey; somehow it gives me license to be the fat lady on the beach. Before long I'll be telling them damn kids to get the hell off my lawn.

I will be able to test this theory shortly, because there is indeed a beach in my near future. Being the trophy wife that I am, I am accompanying the spousal unit on a work trip to Maui in mere days from now. 

Naturally it occurs just as my work load ramps up, but given enough planning time, I can squeeze it all in. And although I have never had to write articles on the beach before, I am more than willing to give it a try.

I leave you with my latest album review on the National Music Centre blog, a review of the drop dead gorgeous new album from the Abramson Singers. A must for fans of beautiful voices. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

lady-cold




choking razor blades
line my throat, while in my head
cement mixers churn
 

Friday, January 24, 2014

about to drop

After an unseemly long hiatus, spent primarily watching the looming snowbanks transform to icebanks, I am inching back into writing mode. The muse disappears disturbingly quickly and luring her back is harder than it looks. Perhaps I need to plan a trip to the nearest Writers R Us outlet, to buy one of those humane muse traps.

I am going to need her. I have been given an amazing long-term writing opportunity, about which I am very excited, although at this point I can't divulge any more than that. Stay tuned.

But I don't want to leave you on a teaser note, so here's a good solid link to my recent review on the National Music Centre blog, of a fine solid debut album. What a voice on this lady! Have a read, take a listen.

And if venues are more your style, you may want to check out my latest BC Musician Magazine article, in which I tell you all about a funky little music cafe, in a strip-mall just down the hill from my house.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

discomfort and joy

Hellgoing - Lynn Coady

Lynn Coady can take a concept that I would be tempted to base an entire story around and toss it off as a throw-away line uttered by one of her characters. I guess that's why she is Lynn Coady and I am not. She does this several times in her Giller Prize winning collection of short stories, Hellgoing, and I am jealous each and every time. 

The characters in Hellgoing have an unfailing way of getting under your skin. They are not always the nicest people, but neither are they a super-villain variety of evil. Rather, the characters in Lynn Coady's stories are oddly flawed, often in a disturbingly public and unapologetic way.

Hellgoing has no shortage of people who flaunt, either through choice or situation, their slightly shocking foibles. There is the writer who carefully follows her own code of conduct for being an alcoholic, to the extent of coaching a hook-up on drunkard etiquette. There is the woman who uses her uncomfortable visit with her estranged family as fodder for supremacy during girls' night out. There are, among others, the reluctant landlord struggling with discomfort over his tenant's plight, the teacher and pupil whose strange relationship continues over the years, and the masochistic bride whose quest for pain spills out of the basement dungeon into daily life.

The stories in Hellgoing do not necessarily wrap up tidily by the end, but then neither does life. The stories in Hellgoing may not end neatly, but they are gloriously complete. And they will haunt you.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

dominoes fall

Now that we are into week two of computerlessness, my games craving is subsiding, and the house is cleaner than it has ever been. There may even have been one or two drawers cleaned out.

My actual work continues to pile up, which is becoming a trifle worrisome, but not enough for me to attempt to do any research and writing on this tablet. Instead, I am tackling the Great Office Clean Out Project.

In light of the fact that I did not receive a shredder for Christmas, I instead hand-shredded the giant bag of documents that has been mouldering in the office for the past half year, a task that was nowhere near as onerous as I feared. Today, the giant sorting/shuffling begins.

I am far more excited about this than I should be, and should probably take this as an indicator that I need to get out more, but the prospect of a streamlined, uncluttered office with a filing system that is accessible, makes sense and actually works is pretty heady to an OCD minimalist like myself. Even more exciting to me is the fact that this undertaking will improve not only the office itself, but also a bedroom closet, the exercise room and my urban assault vehicle. The domino effect of this project is huge. I don't know why I didn't figure this out years ago.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

picture this

Me, pecking away at a borrowed iPad, grudgingly admitting that the touchscreen keyboard is not that bad and that the scrollability is actually pretty handy, marvelling at the lightness of the gadget and that it can be used when my lap is already occupied by a feline. Such is my screen time for the next week or so while my real computer is at the hospital.

But oh how I miss my games. Newspaper sudoku is a good substitute, but sometimes you just need a little Minesweeper or Free Cell or Spider Solitaire.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

10 of 13

2013 was not a particularly musical year for me - a few less concerts, a few less must-haves scratched onto my album shopping list. However despite my slowdown in music listening, I did find that there was no shortage of albums to populate my top ten list. The following favourites are not ranked in any particular order. Rather, they are those ten albums that I found myself returning to again and again.

SAVK - Love Letters and Hate Mail
I bought this album upon hearing one song played on CBC, and fell immediately in love with the record. Hopefully it is not the kiss of death to call an album pretty, because that's the best word to describe this release from Calgarian and former Beija Flor member Stephen van Kampen. Soulful, lilting, and a touch gritty, with lots of folksy backup chorus. Very satisfying.

Frightened Rabbit - Pedestrian Verse
Damn, the Frabbits just keep getting better and better! Dour Scottish angst laid bare in an insanely rhythmic upbeat fashion that I cannot resist howling along with (in my best fake Scottish brogue), is so good for my soul. And since many of the tracks from this album also featured prominently on the workout mixes I made this year, good for the rest of me too. 

Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Uzu
Gorgeous, soaring, shape-shifting, theatrical, rock opera that calls upon the ancients and cries out to the future of rock. 

Rae Spoon - My Prairie Home
After delving in electronica on two previous releases, Rae Spoon made a brave return to country folk roots in 2013. My Prairie Home, which is the soundtrack for the NFB film of the same name, features starkly beautiful and surprisingly catchy songs interspersed with brief choral interludes. Spoon's perpetually sweet voice is the perfect foil to these songs of quiet rebellion. (fun fact: this album and SAVK's were both produced by local wunder-kind Lorrie Matheson - go Calgary music!)

Matthew Good - Arrows of Desire
Feels like a throwback to the MGB that tore up the college radio charts in the late 1990's and the early part of this century - straight-up politically charged alt-rock delivered with a sneer and driving beat. Good shit.

The Sadies - Internal Sounds
I became a Sadies fan far later than I should have. They were always on the periphery of my consciousness, as the premier purveyors of Canadian alt-country, but it wasn't until I really sat down with their considerable back catalogue that I came to appreciate just how majestic they are. Internal Sounds is a satisfying melange of that signature dark twangy guitar and experimental forays into the underworld. 

The National - Trouble Will Find Me
It took me a while to get into this album, but I think that was more a lack of time and opportunity. The National does what they do very very well, and I am happy they didn't mess about with things too much.

Josh Ritter - The Beast In Its Tracks
I have just about worn this CD down to the nub. Heartfelt and often joyous, this album is Ritter's most personal. Here he moves away from the literary songs peopled with characters from his fertile imagination and sings instead about getting through to the other side of heartache, in a very real way. Lovely personal stuff.

Abramson Singers - Late Riser
This album resonated with me immediately. At times playful and lilting, at other times full of heartbreak, it is a delicious blend of layered chorals, ethereal voices soaring above rounds of notes. Leah Abramson has a wonderfully effortless voice - light and playful but at the same time filled with quiet strength. Highly imaginative.

Basia Bulat - Tall Tall Shadow
Same honeyed husky tones, same plucky autoharp, but the songs on Tall Tall Shadow feel more mature, with a melancholy that was absent from Bulat's previous joyous romps. This album is all growed up.  
*

I just realized that seven of my ten favourite albums from 2013 are Canadian, proof positive that, in the zombie household at least, Canadian music is powerful and thriving.

Monday, December 30, 2013

she shoots

The table top air hockey game has proven to be an inspired addition to the Christmas games collection. Fun for the whole family, evidently. Now we just need to find a little jersey for the SRK to wear, as she triumphantly accepts the Zombie Cup for winning this tournament.

I shall be taking the laptop in for repairs today, as I haven't really been doing much work on it anyway (unless by "work" you mean rising to the tops of the rankings in Free Cell and Bejeweled), a situation which is more likely to change next week than this. So I shall be set adrift on the great computerless ocean for up to ten days. I foresee books in my immediate future.

 
I leave you with a snap of this year's Christmas mystery parcel. As anticipated,it is a depiction of eleven pipers piping, surprisingly tasteful and well constructed. The SRK quite likes the feather, too, so thank you to the mystery sender for that cat-friendly addition.

I wish you all a stellar New Year. Catch you on the flippety flip.

 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

touching down

We have begun the descend into slothdom, hopefully not past the point of no return. I am hopeful that with today being Get Your Own Damn Supper Day (and for some family members, the parallel high holiday of Wear Your Pyjamas All Day Day) perhaps tomorrow will bring a renewed interest in the world beyond the discarded Christmas wrappings.

My annual Christmas board game purchase has gone rather more high tech this year, with the addition of a table top air hockey game to the games cupboard. I expect that once I establish dominance by slaughtering all family members with my dining room table hockey prowess, the game itself will eventually be transported out to the lake place, where it will bring a little culture to the internetless wilds.

In the meantime, my only nod to civility has been to use a china tea cup and saucer passed down from my mother-in-law, as an accompaniment to the Christmas squares scarfing.

Good thing I exercised by playing a couple of games of air hockey.