Monday, May 31, 2004

Oprah Karenina

I told you so.

ABCs

Helena's had another lightbulb moment.

Suddenly, she loves The Alphabet Song (you know the one: A B C D E F G, H I J K . . .). When I start singing it (this song, and no other), it inspires vigorous dancing and — here's the lightbulb — pointing and tapping on the newly acquired large magnetic letters on the fridge.

No, she's not tapping on the corresponding letters as they're being sung, but, hey, what do you expect? She's only 18 months old.


That's my baby! Posted by Hello

I, moviegoing, smoked-meat-eating mother

We retrieved Helena Saturday morning. Our break from each other was a little too long. I missed her terribly.

Now that we're home, she won't stop following me around, and that's kind of nice.

Helena has a very big bruised bump on her forehead. Apparently she slipped and fell down the bottom four stairs. I wanted to scream and point fingers, but I took a deep breath and realized it wouldn't make any difference. I didn't bother to ask for more details. Helena was in high spirits, no bones broken. J-F meanwhile chose to scream and point fingers. Sigh.

Of course,it was great to have a night out on the town, so to speak, just the two of us. After much drinking, we needed food.

We headed to Ben's Delicatessen. (We prefer Schwartz's, but Ben's is around the corner from the cinema. Still, we end up there once or twice a year.) J-F usually starts into some hockey anecdotes, inspired by the signed photos on the wall. This time, we were seated along the Celebrity Wall of Fame, and we got a good look for the first time. It seems Ben's patrons have included such diverse characters as Catherine Deneuve, Liberace, Colonel Saunders, and Iron Maiden.

The movie was entertaining but far less than great. I feel a little misled by its title — I'm a sucker for a post-apocalyptic movie, the apocalypse itself I don't particularly care for.

What I miss most about going out to the movies is seeing trailers. I'm looking forward to I, Robot. It's the first science fiction I ever read — assigned reading in grade 7, can you believe? (I think it was part of an ethics module.) Time to revisit the past's future.

I don't remember anything of the stories, but the three laws of robotics have stuck with me:

1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

There's enough of the stories both in my subconscious memory and in the movie version that seconds into the trailer I was saying to J-F, "Hey, it's I, Robot."

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The day after The Day After Tomorrow

There was much destruction. But at least someone saved the Gutenberg Bible (and for reasons having nothing do with God!).

Friday, May 28, 2004

Lazy Friday with nothing to do

I miss my baby. But I am enjoying not having to be "on."

I even lingered in bed this morning. I'm currently reading Perdido Street Station, by China Miéville, and loving it. By page 9 I'd decided to read it with pencil in hand to mark all the words I don't know: termagant, harridan, susurrus, judder, grot, syncresis, sortilege, oneiric, abseil. So many words!

How does one come to write a world so intricately imagined? I picture the author hovering over a topographical map, moving action figures along trains and rivers, stopping to examine the shadows of detailed models of buildings and market stalls. Admiring the landscape.

Harry Potter fans should brace themselves for the character's death. Who would have better insight into the character than the kid actor who plays him? "The only way Voldemort could die is if Harry dies as well."

Oprah on Monday is to announce her choice for summer reading. My guess: Anna Karenina. You heard it here first. Can she do that? Put her stamp on a new edition of this classic?

Which translation? The accessible Pevear and Volokhonsky? Has she commissioned a new translation? Does she realize how important translation is?

I don't know why people are so intimidated by it. Sure, it's big, but it's just life and love — one long gut-wrenching, tear-jerking soap opera.

I'm surprised not to be hearing more on yesterday's statement from Michael Moore regarding the 20 minutes of footage of Nicholas Berg he filmed for Fahrenheit 9/11.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

What's that buzzing noise?

I feel like someone was hammering away at my tooth all morning. Wait a minute. Yes, that actually happened. Root canal part two is behind me. To be continued.

The cicadas have descended upon Washington, D.C. Take a few moments to educate yourself about this threat to national security.

The house (by which I mean this tiny apartment) is toddler-free for a couple days. But at least I know Helena's safe at her grandmother's house and not lost in the cicada-strewn streets.

The creator of the Artemis Fowl series is out having a drink and a chat.

Children love it, perhaps because they're also like fairies, darting about beneath adult surveillance. They may have to abide by some inexplicable adult rules, but they're normally far more adept in the world of microchips and basic video-programming than their parents. "I'm very keen on not writing down to children," says Colfer. "They all use computers and watch Ally McBeal."

And there's going to be a movie! Oh, goody!

Waldorf

Helena won't be going to school for a few years yet, but naturally I fret over the education she's going to have. I fret even that I've begun fretting a little late in the game.

I fret about the state of public schools. I used to believe that the public school system we had was a good one. My public-school education served me well; I even had the benefit of special education — of an open-concept, self-directed, advanced variety — for a few years and a good music program.

But there's no point in denying that times have changed. Funding is lacking. Educational standards are lacking. School buildings are being converted into condos.

I've toyed with the idea of home-schooling Helena, but I know I'm not up to the challenge. I wonder, though, if grade-school teachers are any better equipped for this task.

I don't know anything about the school system in this province. I'm bothered by the fact that Helena will be starting school at least a year later than I think is usual.

Of course, it's time to start educating myself about the rules and regulations, about the school districts, and not least about the standards of education and alternatives to public schooling.

So it was with interest that I read this article on the Waldorf system. (Set aside the fact that the article can't quite make up its mind what it's about.)

Waldorf education — a holistic, media-minimal and arts-based alternative to traditional schooling that's said to foster creativity, independent thinking and mind-body-spirit wholeness in its students.

Sounds nice.

But it turns out that the founder was a self-proclaimed clairvoyant and occult scientist who founded a philosophy with a mystical twist on Christianity, incorporating reincarnation, karma, and gnomes. (The website of the Anthroposophical Society of America is uninformative. I really want to know more about these gnomes.)

It seems parents are upset not so much about the "spirituality" that pervades the entire system as about the lack of disclosure regarding it.

Still, any program of education that sets out to produce well-rounded individuals itself ought to be well-rounded, to nurture mind, body, and spirit. It should include an arts component. I'm not convinced it need exclude media in this day and age.

To me the most troublesome aspect of the Waldorf program is that it delays reading till age 7 and academics till age 14. These "arbitrary" ages are based on the founder's spiritual principles, not at all on science.

The official website for Waldorf schools has this to say:

There is evidence that normal, healthy children who learn to read relatively late are not disadvantaged by this, but rather are able quickly to catch up with, and may overtake, children who have learned to read early. Additionally, they are much less likely to develop the “tiredness toward reading” that many children taught to read at a very early age experience later on. Instead there is lively interest in reading and learning that continues into adulthood.

Show me that evidence. "Tiredness toward reading" has nothing to do with age or readiness and everything to do with boredom — the ability of a curriculum to be appropriately engaging and challenging.

And so the search for a proper education begins...

Search me

Here's a list of the some of the weird searches (Google and other) that have led people to this blog:

- shut up shut shut up shut up (What reason could anyone possibly have for entering this as a search term?)
- brain octopus
- is a child's fascination with pantyhose normal?
- david letterman baboon on his desk
- pantyhose porn
- lego porn
- autism poo visual schedule
- illuminati sacrifice adrenal
- schlepping new yorkers significant technological development disastrous ubiquitous (They must have had something specific in mind...)
- aggressive squirrels and strollers

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Fractured

My tooth was fractured. I know not how that came to pass, though I am reminded of how much I hate sleeping with Helena cuz she kicks me in the face.

Dental procedures have begun. The tooth nerve was extracted. I wanted to see what the dead nerve looked like, but then I forgot to ask, or I lost my nerve.

I am unnerved by the fact that the dentist at the emergency clinic and the dentist whom I usually see told me different, almost contradictory, things. I feel I have little choice but to trust my dentist even though that trust has been shaken. I feel that very worst of all possible feelings: not in control.

Owing to poor planning and shitty timing, I had to take Helena with me to the dental clinic. I'm extremely proud of the little monkey; she kept herself quietly entertained for a full hour.

Have I mentioned how much Helena enjoys the word "pen"? She says "pen" with such glee whenever she finds one, which in this house is very often. This week Helena has discovered that crayons are for more than chewing on; she has taken up scribbling with a vengeance.

Scribbling Woman posted links aplenty on pens. I think it's pretty neat that people feel so strongly about their pens, and their notebooks too. I used to take my pens very seriously — occupational hazard — but not so much anymore. Primarily because I no longer edit on hardcopy. I've loved many notebooks, too, saving them up for something "special." Now I buy notebooks at the dollar store and I use them all the time for taking notes: comments on anything that strikes me, whenever it strikes me. I even take notes on things I intend to get around to blogging about later. Once I've dealt with a particular set of notes, transferring comments to the appropriate forum or completing the to-do list or discounting a theory as silly and alcohol-induced, I tend to rip out the pages and destroy them.

Bookninja indicates a list of mathematical fiction, and we all know that math + fiction = freakin' good time. I question the inclusion of some works, but seeing as how I'm familiar with but a handful or two of these works, I'll hang on to this list as a springboard for future reading. One oversight obvious to me is t zero, by Italo Calvino.

In a second I'll know if the arrow's trajectory and the lion's will or will not coincide at a point X crossed by L and by A at the same second tx...

The short story "t zero" is about that second.

Coincidentally (have I mentioned that I believe in the interconnectedness of all things?), Bookninja also links to an essay on the experience of reading and rereading Italo Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveller:

My conclusions, for what they are worth, are: some books are best loved when young; the older me has more time for Calvino the fabulist (Our Ancestors), Calvino the short-story writer (Adam, One Afternoon) or Calvino the essayist (Six Memos for the Next Millennium) than for Calvino the Escher; and that however breathtakingly inventive a book is, it is only breathtakingly inventive once. But once is better than never.

Often, once is more than enough.

Have I mentioned that I was once just outside the town of Malbork? ("Outside the Town of Malbork" is the title of one of the chapters the protagonist You reads under the mistaken impression that is the continuation of the book If on a Winter's Night a Traveller You is reading.)(Circumstances conspired to keep me from visiting the castle therein.)

Have I mentioned that my cat's name is Calvino?

The blog habit

When I go out of town, I go into blog withdrawal (posting here as well as reading other blogs). Now that I'm back, I'm having trouble reestablishing the rhythm. My mind is a fog of pain, painkillers, exhaustion, and a general world-weariness: the point of just about anything is obfuscated.

Here and now, I will reembark on the blogging exercise with renewed vigour. Because I say so. Even though I don't really feel like it today.

I remind myself why I do this.

1. To record for posterity Helena's development.
2. To record for my own amusement the complexities of motherhood — my convoluted experience of motherhood, anyway.
3. To write, for writing's own sake.
4. To exploit hypertext in recording the news and opinions that shape my life.
5. To enforce an active search for information and inspiration.
6. To help me maintain some level of analytical thinking and critical evaluation.
7. To give my day (as distinct from Helena's) shape, and some diversion.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Moon milk and music

My sister had a present for Helena, a book I'd espied earlier this month.

(It reminds us both of a book from my own childhood,
Wiersze dla Kaji, by Joanna Kulmowa and illustrated by Janusz Grabianski. Full of whimsy and wonder, text and illustrations both.)

Kitten's First Full Moon, by Kevin Henkes, is utterly charming. Henkes has the inspired notion that Kitten sees the round white moon as the ultimate bowl of milk.

The review in The New York Times describes the flavour of the drawings. "Henkes uses the advantages of today's printing technology with care and a well-disciplined eye."

The pictures are creamy and dreamy. The text is simple and repetitive (in a good way). And there's a kitten!

The book is a hit with Helena. Repeatedly she offered it up to my sister and urged to be sat on her lap and read to. Helena sat rapt for the whole story. Twice.

I was jealous. Why would Helena sit still for my sister but not me? What was I doing wrong? To my relief, Helena's reading habits soon returned to squirmy normal. But she's improving every week.

Helena's enunciation is also much improved. We have "cheek," "down," "babcia" (grandmother), "ciocia" (aunt), "delicious," and "Where do you think you're going with that?"

J-F meanwhile is becoming an expert astronomer, to help Helena with her astronaut studies.

The universe is 156 billion light-years wide! (I think they mean in diameter.)

There's ice on Mercury.

What do you do with a piece of the Moon?

Brian Greene talks about life, the universe, and everything — and string theory — in interview at The Atlantic Online.

Inside an electron, inside a quark, inside any particle that you've ever heard of, there is something else. It's a little filament, a little filament of vibrating energy. It kind of looks like a tiny, tiny vibrating string, which is why we call the theory "string theory." The wonderful idea is that in the same way the string on a violin can vibrate in different patterns, which our ears would hear as different musical notes, these little strings in string theory also can vibrate in different patterns. They don't produce different notes, however; they produce the different particles. So an electron is the string vibrating one way. A quark would be a string vibrating a different way. It's kind of like a music of the spheres injected into the microscopic makeup of the universe.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

The salmon of no return

I'm home and exhausted.

For nine days I changed every diaper but one (when I was at the emergency dental clinic). I prepared and administered every meal, except the one where my aunt spoonfed Helena two and a half bowls of jello ("It's only water." — umm, what about the pouch of fine crystals you poured into the bowl?). I alternately read to, sat with, rocked, and sang to Helena till she fell asleep, on average an hour and a half past her usual bedtime. I was there when she was up an at 'em every morning at ten to six.

I ensured Helena's pleasant disposition for the better part of a seven-and-a-half-hour train journey, each way, with only the last half hour a steady stream of desperate wailing. I was armed with activity toys but none captured Helena's attention like the safety information card. Once she found her train legs she amassed quite a collection of these from neighbouring seat pouches.

My tooth no longer feels like a gaping chasm, pulsating outward against an imaginary restraint jacket of dental floss. There's a huge lump on my jaw. Now it just feels like the tooth is locked in a vise, with the screw tightened every couple of hours.

I'm looking forward to having a root canal this week because Helena will stay with my mother-in-law for a night. I'll read a chapter or two at the dentist's office. Then I'll come home and sleep guilt-free. Pain-inspired, drug-induced sleep. Guilt-free.

All in all, our trip was rather pleasant. It's just my tooth has coloured everything a little cranky.

It so happened that the Niagara Folk Arts Festival got under way last weekend. (Do organizers have any idea how hideous the website is?) That brought on a flood of memories of our respective childhoods and formative years. We determined to attend the Polish open house for old times' sake, for a drink, maybe see some familiar faces, but mostly to show off Helena. Sadly, we arrived after the dance performances (we're told they were sluggish). The crowd was less a crowd than a collection of sad and weird-looking old people. At least the bar was open (we didn't bother staying long enough to enjoy it, however). A local shop had some wares on display; my sister bought a DVD.

We settled in one evening to watch U Pana Boga za Piecem. Once I got past the speed of their banter, the accents, and the regional dialect, it was kind of funny.

Here's something odd. A mother asks the priest if it's OK for her daughter to wear a white wedding dress. The daughter is obviously with child. The priest allows it, commenting that at least the daughter didn't succumb to the greater sin of contraception. I thought that was pretty funny. But the odd thing is I don't know if that was meant to be a joke. Were the moviemakers moralizing or mocking? That's the problem with knowing a second language — you can never fully know it when you are removed form its sociocultural context.

Last night J-F and I tuned into The WB's Superstar USA. "The best singers were sent home while a gang of hopefuls, with more guts than talent, were chosen." J-F's been dreaming of this program since we saw the very first episode of American Idol. The only good reason to watch that show, after all, was to see people make complete fools of themselves in the audition. J-F's in heaven. Can so many people really not hear how awful they sound and still be so cocky? Such ignorance deserves our mockery, says he.

Have I mentioned that I believe in the interconnectedness of all things? I shouldn't be surprised to find mention of Douglas Adams everywhere in recent days, on the anniversary of his death. I shouldn't be surprised that just a day later I am unable to find any of those references. I shouldn't be surprised that The Salmon of Doubt was destined to be my vacation reading.

The book itself was enjoyable, a collection of essays and some work in progress, sensibly divided into three sections: Life, The Universe, and Everything. I saw another aspect of the man who was inadvertently responsible for my drinking about five too many pangalactic gargleblasters on my 20th birthday. I got to know that he was a bit of a computer geek and science guy, and even this was entertaining.

The thing that really made me wing through all the essay stuff (many previously published but never before collected in one volume) was the promise of another Dirk Gently adventure. There were only a few chapters, a number of which Adams would likely have reworked, and no resolution. (Weirdly, the plot reminds of Paul Auster's work.)

My favourite sentence: "Silent Mexicans moved over impossibly perfect lawns."

No doubting salmon here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Thoughts from someplace else entirely

The world seems to have come to a standstill.

No news of anything for some reason, no daily routine, no new projects. My brain is on hold and I can only assume having Muzak piped in. No insight into anything. Just a steady stream of intense pain.

I've never had a toothache before. It started Friday. I chalked it up to stress — the tired feeling after a long journey, the difficulty of quieting Helena at night, the attempt to be social with my brother (who insisted we watch Kill Bill even though I've seen it, he's seen it a number of times, and my mother would live a happier life never having seen it — only my sister had any interest, but that waned when she realized the constant and meaningless running commentary ("Oh, watch this carefully. This is classic!") it would involve).

Saturday's pain was gawdawful. Sunday was better. Monday we headed to Toronto. On arrival, I headed to an emergency dental clinic.

Turns out the nerve is inflamed and in the process of dying. The nerve of that nerve! But poor nerve, really. No means of releasing its anguish. Trapped in its enamel casing, banging on the walls with all its might. Well, I hear you, nerve. We're gonna scrape you outta there. You'll be dead by then, but free.

The staff at the clinic were extremely sympathetic, and not only was the dentist cute cute charming cute, he laughed at all my jokes: "So it's not just commiserating with my baby girl with sympathetic teething pain." "Yes, that's the tooth... Yes... Mmm, ya, I'm 100% sure... Yes... No, wait a minute — could you please hit all my teeth with that blunt instrument again? It might not be the one that makes me scream after all." "Was lovely to meet you. Hope I never see you again."

I'll be easing my way from (mind-numbingly achingly throbbing) vacation to real life with a root canal in a few days.

My cousin thinks I need more drugs. I tend to agree. I hesitate, though, because it's me who's primarily responsible for Helena. The pain is lessened, I find, when I'm distracted (hence this post), but it's difficult to find suitable distraction while in a foreign space — I've been dissuaded from scrubbing the kitchen floor and I'd be thought rude to just pick up and go hang out at the bookstore (assuming I could find one).

At least Helena is able to spend some quality time with her extended family. She continues to charm the pants off everybody.

I'm reading Douglas Adams' The Salmon of Doubt when I have free moments, and when the pain lets up enough to not consume every fibre of my being, allowing just a small bit of my brain to run carefree and wild.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Buh-bye blog

Back in a week or so. Probably.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Bathtime

It was just me and Helena sharing dinner this evening. Then bathtime.

She resists being plopped down into a full tub, but loves sitting in an empty tub and letting the water rise around her.

Helena has a lot of squirty animal bath toys (maybe two inches long each). Every bath she picks out the yellow duck and the mauve seal, claps them together (makes them kiss?), and sits them side by side on the edge of the tub, in the corner, leaving them there for the duration. Twice she's tried other corners, moving them clockwise around the tub, but they always end up in the same place.

J-F promised to bring home some reading material for me for the trip. I can't wait to see what he picks out.

We're almost packed. I'm nervous. We've done this trip by train a number of times, but each time Helena's a little older and I don't know what to expect. Last trip she wasn't yet toddling. What if she won't sit still or nap? Where will all her energy go if not to the park?

Lemma dilemma

About a month ago, Russian researchers announced a plan for a manned flight to Mars in 2009.

Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, said he had never heard of the project and that it "was absolutely impossible" to implement with such a meager budget and in such a short time period.

Fund-raising schemes are said to involve a reality television show.

On Monday, Anatoly Perminov, Russia's space agency chief since March, expressed support for the mission to Mars — visiting the planet within a decade is realistic provided funding is adequate.

Stanislaw Lem in interview discusses politics, globalization, and film adaptations of his work.

On Bush talking about the countless riches on the Moon and Mars:

There is nothing up there. And what about the money for these space adventures? Do you think U.S. Congress will come up with hundreds of billions on a silver platter? Besides, what is the dollar really worth now? In Communist-era Poland it could buy 100 zlotys: That was some money. But now it is worth a mere 3.5 zlotys. Today I am getting more dollars for new editions of my books from Russia than from the United States. We should deal with earthly problems, not with space chimeras.

Today's space race: "This is not development but militarization, pure and simple. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the Universe."

Although the stories of science fiction are often parables of the human condition, it surprises me that a man who writes of space adventures and alien cultures does not view exploration as a worthy pursuit.

How much of the science fiction writer's work is speculative, the extension of known fact? How much is it based in the paradigm of the known world, on his worldview? How much of is pure chimera?

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Little Miss Fancypants

Ack. Here I was thinking I'd just jot down a few notes while I finished up this beer before heading to bed, and I'm confronted with this completely unanticipated new Blogger look and way of doing things, and just barely skimming the news updates on these changes has already made this a much longer and more painful experience than I'd planned. Sigh.

Mother's Day rocked. I am the luckiest woman alive to be the mother of that sweet, brilliant little creature. We did very little today, and even littler that was "special," but there was a little something in the air that made it magical.

Helena, as if she knew how Hallmark had designated this Sunday, an amazing feat for one not yet 18 months old, was full of spontaneous hugs and kisses.

The three of us went to the park. A very busy park day it was. It seemed a lot of suburban families treated their moms to a picnic in the city today. Didn't they move to the suburbs for the wide green spaces? If you're going to come into the city for the day, why not enjoy one of those unique city experiences, like a nice restaurant or a museum? Do they not have proper parks in the suburbs? (Mind you, this park really is exquisite.)

Helena is perhaps still a little young for the park. The sign on the gate clearly states it's for 2- to 6-year-olds. Our last few visits she's been less a participant and more an observer. Perhaps she's had another one of those lightbulb moments, albeit a less obvious one to the casual observer (OK, to anyone. I am not a casual observer; I am her mother) — something that's made her go "hmmm" and hang back so she can test a theory or perfect a technique. Perhaps she's simply too tired to be rambunctious — she still can't make up her mind whether she wants one nap a day or two (today I had three!). (I'm toying with "scheduling" the park as a morning excursion so that she's not torn between napping and playing this way, giving them each a half-assed go.) I worry that she'll grow up to be an antisocial push-over, as are both her parents. But we're working on that.

After the park, we made a side trip to return the DVD we'd rented last night (Intolerable Cruelty — I enjoyed it immensely. Very funny, both witty and silly. And George and Catherine are sssoooo sexy.) and J-F bought me a Mr. Freeze (blue) at the dépanneur cuz it was almost hot outside. I had a lot of those the summer I was pregnant, but only maybe two last year. Something in the flavour makes my throat very scratchy. We found a 1-800 number on the wrapper and decided that I should call (does anyone ever call? would anyone answer?), but I promptly forgot and threw the wrapper away into the first trashcan we passed.

The only out-of-the-ordinary thing we did today was play dress-up. Kind of. Helena did the wearing, I did the dressing (J-F didn't participate). I feel like I've spent a whole month already sorting through her wardrobe: stashing away winter things and clothes that have stayed in her drawers since even before the snow; sorting those things into stuff to give away and stuff to hang on to "just in case"; pulling out season- and size-appropriate clothing from the boxes of hand-me-downs friends have given us, as well as clothing received as gifts going as far back as the baby shower. It's a tricky matter of timing, cuz today I find myself trying stuff on Helena, hoping it's not too late, hoping I haven't let a particularly fantastic gift go to waste simply by not reading the size on the label (remembering too that Baby Gap sizes things a little smaller than the rest of the world, and with hand-me-downs there's the matter of shrinkage to consider).

But I think Helena had fun. She took a real liking to the outfit from her great-grandfather: a hot pink ensemble consisting of a three-quarter-sleeve shirt/jacket and skirt/shorts. Helena chose to accessorize with my gray purse she pulled out of the closet and then wielded my cellphone, which really played up the whole power suit effect. A toddling mover and shaker.

I've been sneaking peeks at The World According to Mimi Smartypants for a couple days now. I managed to read the whole thing a couple pages at a time, when J-F was changing Helena's diaper, while I was tidying up and just happened to be moving this book from the stack in the bedroom to the pile on the kitchen table, reading it while giving it a mere sideways glance while pretending to watch TV. So now it's done, and I'm panicking that I have nothing to read on the train on Wednesday — sure, I can pick up a magazine at the train station, but I don't see a book-buying opportunity presenting itself before we leave.

I did enjoy the book, but I don't think Ms Smartypants would be offended to know I was a little disappointed. That's my own fault in a way — had I saved it for train-reading it would have served as a substitute for blog-reading. As it is, I can't think of a very good reason for reading this book, except for if you've never read her blog and don't have Internet access. Still, it was fun and easy, in the sense that I wouldn't be likely to read her blog archives straight through and in chronological order and it provides more — background? context? character? — just something more, to her current-day ramblings.

It's kind of creepy actually to be reading someone else's diary and at every other entry or so exclaiming "hey, that's me." Me too, I play violin! Me too, I edit medical stuff! Me too, I had a thing for Al Gore!

What's even creepier is that I seem to have adopted her cadence in writing this entry.

I will add to all this that for some reason I am inexplicably really, really, really bothered by the list of Dramatis Personae at the front of the book, which includes people mentioned within the book proper just once, as if a reader on first (and only) mention of a character couldn't glean from context that this was obviously someone she knows and occasionally has drinks with.

On the other hand, Helena is smitten with the black kitty-cat that adorns the dust jacket (in five places!). Silly, but true.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Disney denial

Michael Eisner claims the decision not to distribute Michael Moore's Farenheit 911 was not related to politics.

Strangely, no alternative explanation for the action is offered.

Don't panic

Bookslut features a review of Neil Gaiman's biography of Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

It feels as if you casually ran into Neil Gaiman at a pub, bought a round, and giggle like a fangirl over the behind-the-scenes book legends of The Hitchhiker’s Guide. . .

Don’t Panic is a book about the life of an idea, not the life of an author. Gaiman follows the career of Douglas Adams in relationship to the Hitchhiker phenomena, rather than focusing on Adam’s personal life.


Sounds like fun. Sadly, not available in paperback in time to enjoy on my upcoming train trip.

Too much TV makes me nervous

Salon today has a reaction to the study of a few weeks ago connecting TV watching to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The media were not content to announce merely that an activity enjoyed in 98 percent of American homes, according to the Census Bureau, has been associated with a neurobiological disorder. . . They took the concept an alarming step further.

Most of the article demonstrates the sort of confounding factors that lead to confusing correlation and causation.

Should I let Helena watch television? How much? What kind? What if I ruin her, create a monster?

One expert assures me it's OK to feel guilt: "Being a parent is the most profound moral responsibility anybody has. If you didn't feel guilty 90 percent of the time, you wouldn't be a moral person." But she doesn't say it's OK to watch TV.

If only someone would definitively say TV is bad for you. Then the government could intervene for the sake of the children, for everybody's well-being, and confiscate all our television sets. That would be much easier.

Pregnant with possibility

Shelagh Rogers is interviewing Rebecca Eckler this morning regarding her new book, Knocked Up: Confessions of a Modern Mother-to-be.

I'm fascinated with this weird little genre, the pregnancy memoirs and the mommy lit.

Shelagh's questioning sounds scripted and uninterested. Ms Eckler sounds like a ditz: he was like . . . I was like . . . — some version of a valley girl accent.

An optional c-section — a choice I can't understand. "Like if my water breaks at the Gap. That doesn't appeal to me at all." "Career woman." Wants to know when things are going to happen. Surprise: she had trouble finding a doctor that would do it.

Publishers like to tell you the pregnancy memoir is a story all mothers can relate to, a universal experience. Well, it's not. My experience of pregnancy was vastly different from what friends of mine have gone through.

Eckler's experience as written, though allegedly sprinkled with humour, is distasteful to me — selfish and immature.

Pregnancy helped me grow as a person. I can't extrapolate to say the same occurs for all pregnant women. Obviously, it didn't hold true for the shallow party girl.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

All quiet

J-F is away for work for a few days, so it's just us girls here. Helena is better, but still not quite her usual self. I'm pretty confident this time in saying that it's teething. There has been much cuddling.

I was struck by this week's episode of Judging Amy. (We like that show.) In a case involving a girl accused of shoplifting, Amy orders the defense attorney to cut back her work to 40 hours a week, to allow the client’s mother — the attorney’s nanny — to spend more time with her daughter. There's hope too that the attorney's spoiled daughter will benefit from the arrangement. If only real life were more like television.

My order from Amazon arrived yesterday. I ordered late Sunday night. My account showed "items to ship soon" (or some similar wording). Yesterday morning my account still showed "items to ship soon," and I worried that maybe they wouldn't arrive in time for Mother's Day, but by 10 a.m. I had a parcel in my hands. My account showed "items to ship soon." Some 7 hours after taking delivery of the package, I received an email from Amazon stating my order was recently shipped. I'm glad their tracking feature lags behind their shipping process and not the other way round.

I ordered The Da Vinci Code in French for J-F's mom as a Mother's Day gift. She's going to love it. For the record, I state here loudly and proudly that I read The Da Vinci Code last summer and I ate it up. Who cares if the theories have been dismissed by academics? What's the harm in readers wondering if there might be any truth in it and finding more out? For the record, I read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail about 9 years ago, and I loved that too. I hope no reader would buy the theories outright, but speculation is fun and healthy. So there.

For myself I purchased The World According to Mimi Smartypants, cuz she's so funny. I'm not sure I'll get anything out of it that I haven't already from reading her blog, but it struck me this could be the perfect "trashy" travel reading I was looking for. (And for all the entertainment value I don't begrudge contributing a few dollars to the worthy cause of her drinking.) To my surprise, and contrary to Amazon's book info, the book arrived in hardcover. Still, it's a slim volume; it might just do the travel trick.

Now I have another reason to hate Disney: blocking distribution of Michael Moore's latest film.

The reasons behind Disney's decision are not hard to fathom — they have to do with politics and money. In "Fahrenheit 911," Moore takes a critical look at President Bush's actions before and after 9/11 and examines the president's ties to prominent Saudis, including both the royal family and the bin Ladens. According to Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, Disney fears that if it distributes the anti-Bush movie, Jeb Bush, the Florida governor and the president's brother, might withdraw tax breaks that Disney gets in Florida for its theme park and hotels. Disney CEO Michael Eisner "definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation," Emanuel told the New York Times. "He didn't want a Disney company involved."

The other day the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study finding that "Reading disabilities are clearly more frequent in boys than in girls."

Why is this so? The researchers don't know. They say it isn't intelligence. Even after accounting for IQ, boys' risk was still higher than girls'. Nor did they find it was the inability to pay attention or hyperactivity.

I bet it has something to do with the activities they choose to engage in. They don't enjoy reading because they find it difficult, or vice versa? My instinct tells me that boys are not encouraged to read to the extent girls are, that physical play early on takes time away from other activities: reading suffers.

(Is there a difference between "reading disability" and "reading difficulty"? The trend to medicalize conditions frees us from our responsibility for them.)

Scribbling Woman and others are exploring various ephemera. I find the information on bookmarks fascinating, as I have a small collection of those myself. (My favourite is an almost paper-thin strip of sandalwood into which is carved an elephant.)

From Bookslut I learn that Indy Magazine's new issue is devoted to the anniversary of Paul Auster's City of Glass, the graphic novel version. I have a copy; it didn't strike me as notable in the way the original did.

An analysis of its visual motifs and graphic strategies starts like this:

When David Mazzucchelli and Paul Karasik's adaptation of Paul Auster's City of Glass, the first novella in the New York Triology, was published in 1994 as part of the Neon Lit series by Avon Books, it received a review in Newsweek, a brief mention in The New York Times Book Review, and no scholarly attention at all. By contrast, there are dozens of articles on Paul Auster's prose original. The difference would appear to stem from an automatic prejudice on the part of American critics who regard comics as a form of "low" art, although this attitude is being challenged in some academic circles.

Graphic novel fans love to bemoan that the medium is generally slighted, but the lack of press on this example might be chalked up to the fact that the original had been reviewed to death and the graphic version simply didn't merit further discussion. Whatever.

I'll be watching the Friends finale this evening all alone. With a bottle of wine and a bag of potato chips. Just like when I saw the first episode. I'll miss it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Mark my words

Introducing the Franklin PageMark Dictionary, a digital dictionary with 80,000 definitions designed to function as a bookmark.

Neat.

But which 80,000 words does it include? A merely abridged dictionary of simpler, more common words will not do.

While the dictionary was generally beyond reproach in my random word tests, I was able to stump it a couple of times.

For example, the reasonably common word "verboten" — defined in my hardcover Merriam-Webster as "forbidden" — had the PageMark billowing smoke.


Perhaps the makers are smart enough to think most readers would know the meaning of "verboten." One hopes the dictionary does not include a definition of "forbidden."

I imagine a version for young readers. I imagine genre-specific designs and content: 50,000 words of cybervocabulary or military terms, for example.

I'd like to give one a spin.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Travel books

This article on packing books is timely, as I've just started considering what to read on my own upcoming trip (but as Bookninja points out, the woman is nuts).

You need this respite: without books, on a trip you'd be trapped inside your head with only your own thoughts, assaulted by strangeness, doomed to awareness. Traveling bookless is like Sartre's hell — a place without eyelids. No blinking, no sleep.

Umm, ya, awareness. Personally, I thought that was the whole point of traveling. Books should be chosen to enhance the experience, not escape it.

She packs eight books for two weeks. That's insane!

I've always chosen my vacation reading material very deliberately, a key factor being weight and considering the page count per days away. Better to take two small books than one big one, in case you don't like what you got yourself into.

Hotel rooms in Spain featured collections of short stories in their bedside tables. Too bad for me they were in Spanish.

My best ever book-to-place match-up: Perfume, by Patrick Suskind, while spending an otherwise restful week in Provence.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

The weight of the soul

Helena is sick.

I'm not confident in what the doctor at the clinic had to say, though it seemed to appease both J-F and his mother. Whenever someone gives them a prescription it seems to validate their concerns and works as a guarantee of fast improvement.

I know that my baby's sick. Had the two of us been home together, we would've curled up on the sofa, watched TV. There would've been a lot of hugging, and a lot of soup. Helena was obviously a little feverish and out of sorts, but I don't think I would've taken her to the clinic.

Thursday morning, J-F dropped Helena off at his mom's for the day so I could get some work done. For various reasons we decided to have her spend the night and pick her up the next afternoon. When we got there, Helena was waiting with her grandmother to see the doctor. Overdressed for the weather and no snacks on hand. Sigh.

We all stuck out the wait. Helena toddled all over and babbled up a storm. The doctor observed flecks in her throat, said it may or may not be strep, she may or may not have swollen tonsils, it may or may not be linked to J-F's mystery illness of a few weeks ago. He prescribed penicillin.

I'm having intense mommy angst. How could I let my baby out of my care when she was obviously coming down with something? How could I be so unconcerned when first I heard of her fever? Why am I continuing the course of penicillin when I don't trust the diagnosis? Why am I so freaked out about the overuse of antibiotics? Why haven't I called our pediatrician yet for advice? Why am I so mad at my mother-in-law?

This makes twice that Helena's been taken to the clinic on her watch. (Have I been neglectful that I don't see the signs that warrant investigation?) Obviously, I'd rather she err on the side of caution, but she does tend to make really big huge deals out of nothing, whether the issue is health, supper, or the purchase of a T-shirt. Then there's her recounting J-F's childhood, that he was always sick, that she was always taking him to doctors, that she was sure he had cancer. A little Munchausen by proxy?

Helena is home now, though still out of sorts. Sickness or not, the day after spending time with her grandmother is always a little rough on me, whether she stayed the night (this time it was two) or if we're simply visiting for the evening. These visits seem to register with Helena as out of the ordinary (if regular), and she needs time to readjust to her usual routine. Call me crazy — I think it has something to do with the energy my mother-in-law emits; her excitability infects my baby.

Meanwhile, J-F's grandfather (his father's side) had a stroke. He's well, all things considered, but he's being kept at the hospital for further tests. J-F's been a real peach driving around to do errands for him, picking up pyjamas for him, bringing him newspapers.

(Funny, old people are. He needed to cash a cheque that was to come in whatever day's mail. It couldn't wait three or four days.)

The most uncomfortable aspect of his condition is the matter of the will. I see no reason whatsoever for it to ever come up in conversation. But it does, and I'm bothered by the fact that some people are considering the financial implications of the situation. You try to be a good person cuz that's what it's all about, and it's family, and you try to do good cuz that's the right thing to do, not for the promise of financial reward.

Anyway, Pépé's assured us that Helena's education will be taken care of. I hope J-F told him she's going to MIT.

We watched 21 Grams last night. I was shocked to find out that's what J-F had picked out at the store. He's not one for "downer" movies; for some reason he thought this was a more conventional drugworld thriller. Anyway, he bowed out about halfway through and went to bed. (Pet peeve of mine. I hate when he does that.) I rarely have opportunity to see "downer" movies, and I sometimes miss that. Not because I enjoy being made to feel depressed, but many such films are well-crafted (as many as in any other genre, anyway), and some of them even have something interesting to say about the human condition that doesn't involve a cheap gag or special effects. So I watched the movie through to the end. It was difficult — I find myself in tears when I hear about the death of a child these days (I wonder if it'll get easier when Helena's older) (I never used to cry) — but I'm glad to have seen it. I'm not sure that mixing up the chronology was fair to the viewer (is that the distant past, or now?) or particularly clever or necessary for evoking emotional responses, but hey, I'm not a film director.

(I imagine a lot of terrible things happening to my baby. A lot of close-call what-ifs. I probably shouldn't talk about it here, cuz I fear it's not normal, and somebody may send men with straightjackets to collect me. For example, walking back to our place we have to circumvent the construction on the high-rise down the street and as we step off the curb I imagine the stroller tips and Helena is flung into traffic and run over­. It's not complicated with detail. It's not really imagined; it's just a flash. Anyway, this sort of thing flashes across my mind quite a lot, and I see it as an internal mechanism for reminding me, to warn me, to stay vigilant. Kind of like when we were in Spain a few years ago and after the purses were snatched from the backseat of the car we were in, I kept having "flashes" where I'd see myself in various circumstances being shot.)

I'm starting to look forward to the train trip Helena and I are embarking on next week to visit my mother. And I'm wondering what book to take with me on the journey. Good chance I won't actually find time to read on the train, but it wouldn't feel right if I wasn't carrying a book. I've started reading Libra, by Don DeLillo, and even though I suspect it may take me weeks to plod through, its dimensions are too big for me to consider it a companion.

Must. Find. Trashy. Lightweight. Paperback.