Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Only in Canada

Canada Day is upon us. July 1. The height of summer. What better time to discuss your favourite hockey jerseys?

(Were it actually hockey season, one would be far too engrossed in the game to follow such a conversation.)

Some odd signs around the park:

The international symbol for No Hockey-Playing. Posted by Hello

That means you, you lazy ducks. Posted by Hello

The international symbol for No Tobogganing. Posted by Hello

The graphic's nothing special (or is it?). I find it amusing primarily for its location — at the bottom of the slope.

Then there's the near indecipherable:

The international symbol for Looney Tunes Incident In Progress. Posted by Hello

Squirrels with attitude

Consider this post a public service, for all those poor folks who arrive at this blog via their Google search for "aggressive squirrels."

Squirrels are your friends. Kind of. Posted by Hello

We stumbled across this valuable information the other day at the park. According to the signage by the kind people of the Ville de Montréal, squirrel aggression stems from overpopulation and the subsequent competition for food.

The population of squirrels in their natural habitat is kept under control by their natural predators (primarily large birds), of which there are none in the park.

There have been reports of squirrels biting people, but we're not told how many, and it's not clear if those incidents occurred in this park or elsewhere.

If you have been bitten, see a doctor.

But as J-F notes, if the squirrels are vying for your crumbs, you'd think they'd be extra nice to you.

The international symbol for No Squirrel-Feeding Posted by Hello

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Boring inner world, exciting outer world

Ah, yes. All the debris that was milling about in my head yesterday that I couldn't find time to sweep away.

An article in The New York Times, "Books Make You a Boring Person," by Cristina Nehring, is causing a bit of a stir.

There's a new piety in the air: the self-congratulation of book lovers. Long considered immune to criticism by virtue of being outnumbered by channel surfers, Internet addicts, video maniacs and other armchair introverts, bookworms have developed a semi-mystical complacency about the moral and mental benefits of reading. . . To be a reader these days is to be a sterling member of society, a thoughtful and sensitive human being, a winner.

We assume that reading requires a formidable intellect. We forget that books were the television of previous years — by which I mean they were the source of passive entertainment as well as occasional enlightenment, of social alienation as well as private joy, of idleness as well as inspiration. Books were a mixed bag, and they still are. Books could be used or misused, and they still can be.

There are responses from Maud Newton and Tingle Alley.

The truth is, I am pretty boring. And I do read a ton of crap for pleasure, and I often don't retain much. In one ear (eye?), out the other.

I have sssoooo lost the ability to think critically.

Some people assume I must be smart because I read so much. Honestly, I don't encourage this opinion of me. (I don't really try to dissuade them, though. I'm too lazy for that.)

Maybe my attitude comes from reading too many books and no longer being able to think for myself, but Nehring has a point. We should be active, thinking readers. But fer cryin' out loud, not all the time.

I have to agree with Chicha:

The truth, though, isn’t that books make you boring, but that you can easily pick out a boring person by the way he talks about books.

Another point to be made: If you are a reader of books, don't be a snob about it.

Michel Basilières is contributing a regular column, The Outer Edge, to Maisonneuve that's caught my interest.

This month he discusses "The Treasure Island of SF: Samuel R. Delany’s Nova":

What Ron handed me in 1972 was one of the newer writers, one of those my brother scorned. The author was Samuel R. Delany and the book was Nova. And it changed everything for me. As soon as I started reading it, I was gripped as I never had been before; it really seemed that light was exploding in my head. Reading was no longer just fun. There was something going on in this book, something I’d never seen — or noticed, anyway — in any other book: it wasn’t just about its plot.

For the first time, I understood that writing could be multi-dimensional, that books could mean something as well as just describe, that layers played back and forth in texts. I devoured it.

I'm not familiar with the book or its author (though I may investigate), but I can relate to the sentiment. For me the lightning-bolt book was The Razor's Edge, by W Somerset Maugham. I don't regard it as a "classic" by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a fondness for it and owe it a debt.

In "Death to Realism," Basilières tells us it's the job of science fiction to be ahead of its time.

When William Gibson wrote Neuromancer in the early eighties, it was clearly science fiction. When Pattern Recognition was released last year, it was obviously realism. What’s cool about Gibson is, he still wears the sneakers. He hasn’t changed. The context has.

But we knew that.

Once in a while a really good slap in the face gets published as literary fiction. Just recently Houellebecq’s Elementary Particles was both lauded and derided for this (I’m in the cheering section over here), but does anyone else agree with me that it’s science fiction?

Umm, I don't, not really. It's a dystopian novel. A bit of weird, unrealistic science thrown in toward the end to bring about the utopian society is not enough to qualify it as science fiction. Is it? Just how much science does science fiction need?

It did not provoke outrage in me, but generated profound discomfort.

Coincidentally, I read that on the tail of Oryx and Crake last summer and saw the movie Equilibrium (which we loved) just afterward, and I stood in awe of the triptych these formed before my mind. I was so proud of myself for having written an insightful email, of which I have no record, in a casual correspondence, comparing these dystopias — their reason for being, their means, and where they went wrong. Sadly, those synapses have been unused since, and those musings are now irretrievable.

See? No capacity for information retention or critical thought.

(The Spell Checker wants to replace "dystopian" with "dustbins" and "dystopias" with "Dostoevsky" — how cool is that?)

I love to hate her

Caitlin Flanagan's first Domestic Life column for The New Yorker, "To hell with all that: A mother decides to go to work," appears in the issue of July 5, 2004.

(Is that what I think it's about? How timely.)

Is that on the stands yet? I may have to cut Helena's nap short so we have time to head to the magazine store this afternoon.

Waking up in a democracy

You've got to hand it to the Bloc people. Hard workers. I received my 6th phonecall of the campaign from them last night at 8:35, just to make sure I'd voted. I don't think any other candidate in this riding even bothered to campaign. (Maybe we can get Bruce Cockburn to run next time.) Duceppe by a landslide. Sigh.

On the up side, I'm pleased as punch to note Ed Broadbent will be on hand to help restore the concept of right and honorable to Parliament.

My legs have been really itchy these last few days. Mosquitoes, I thought. Sand ticks, J-F says. From the playground. Whatever it is, I know now that these bumps don't remotely resemble mosquito bites, and I'm afraid I've contracted some rare and horrible disease that's begun to cause stomach upset and disturbed sleep (which logically I know to be an effect of stress). It's probably sand ticks.

The itch comes and goes in waves, and when it comes it's almost unbearable. (But it's not nearly as bad shingles.) Yesterday I was wearing pantyhose, mostly cuz it looked nicer (and it was important to look nice) than my bare splotchy red, insect-bitten legs, and I really didn't want to, cuz pantyhose are generally uncomfortable and I thought it would make the itching worse. But they were silky smooth and their hug so soothing, I'm almost tempted to don some today, even though we're going to the park and the post office, to which in cool conditions such as today I would ordinarily wear jeans.

I had a job interview yesterday. Hence the pantyhose. I haven't interviewed, nor worn pantyhose, for a very long time. I think I may in fact be ready for steady employment. Probably.

Helena will benefit by spending time with people her own age while guided by trained professionals, who have some idea how to capture a toddler's attention and encourage her development, all while not going stircrazy.

(As part of the job process, I wrote a test, on which I did not score perfect. Aurgh. For this I feel as if I deserve to be dipped in a vat of acid. (Maybe that would help the itching.) It's going to take me a while to recover from that stark dose of reality. Imagine — me, not perfect!)

J-F stayed with Helena for the afternoon. He looked utterly exhausted when I returned home. I'm grateful for moments like these, when he appreciates the patience and resourcefulness required to tame the hurricane that is our daughter. Every day.

While I was away, the scamp (Helena) got into my Harry Potter Lego, safely stored on a shelf that was until yesterday beyond her reach. Choking hazards everywhere.

Triangle. Helena says "triangle." And "camera." (OK, she actually says "tingle" and "camma" but we know what she means.)

Helena has just learned that even more effective than whining or repeating "Mama" to get my attention, she can simply walk up to me and grab my hand, pulling me in the direction she needs me to go. It's hard to ignore something like that for "just a second while I finish brushing my teeth/washing this glass/sending this email." Mildly annoying. Infinitely endearing.

Monday, June 28, 2004


From the Shatnerian comes this window into my household — I swear the sentiments were lifted directly out of J-F's head.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Halide Edib Adivar

I finished reading Halide's Gift, by Frances Kazan (wife of Elia Kazan, as we are reminded in the book jacket bio and in every other reference to this book). She states:

My novel is loosely based on the early life of Halide Edib Adivar, writer, scholar and Turkish nationalist; but Halide's Gift must not be read as fact. . . The real life Halide did not possess the gift. Apart from describing frequent visits to the fortuneteller with her Grandmother, Halide made no reference to mystical interests in either her memoir, or her writing. Her gift came from my imagination.

The "gift" does not belong in this book. Halide's story should be compelling enough.

Kazan's writing is not compelling. Rather than weave an intricate backdrop of political turmoil, chunks of Turkish history are tossed in inexpertly. They interrupt the story more than they enhance our understanding of the times in which Halide lived.

(I find myself thinking Kazan was striving for but failing to achieve the kind of magic found in Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith, by Gina B Nahai — a story of women of strength and great resource amid difficult times, with an "exotic" sociocultural flavour.)

Halide Edip Adivar was a real person — a remarkable woman — witness to, and agent of, the modernization of Turkey. I find myself wishing to hear her tale told by a master storyteller such as Amin Maalouf.

In the meantime, pure fact will have to do:

A brief biography of Halide Edip Adivar: The Republic of Turkey Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Halide Edib was active in the women's movement prior to the War of Independence, establishing the Society for the elevation of Women in 1908. She dedicated herself to the improvement of education for Turkish women and to furthering relations between them and European women. She was also involved in relief efforts for women and their families left hungry and homeless by war. But it was her fiery address to the women of Istanbul at the famous Sultanahmet meeting of 1919 following the occupation of Izmir which left the strongest mark on people's minds. From that point on she no longer lived as a private individual.

A historical overview of the women's status in Turkish society: Daughters of Ataturk.

A pioneer of women's literature: The Turkish Daily News.

Women writers were rebellious, criticizing the power of men in Turkish culture and acknowledging the importance of women. On sensitive subjects such as marriage and other moral issues they were cautious in voicing their criticisms, but they criticized nonetheless. In creating female characters, they wanted to demonstrate the talents of women, which were often hidden in a male-dominated society. At a time in which women were generally not permitted an education — only a few lucky women were taught by special tutors — these writers wrote about women who could play musical instruments, speak different languages and talk freely about political and other intellectual issues. They wanted to rescue women who were suppressed and possessed by men.

English translations of Halide's work, fiction and nonfiction, are hard to come by.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Bonds of many kinds

Miramax Books is signing Charlie Higson (never heard of 'im) to write a series featuring the teenage Bond.

The idea for the "young Bond" series originated with Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Ian Fleming Publications Ltd. is a partner in the deal.

The new Bond series will revolve around a crucial period in the life of James Bond: his school days at Eton College, beginning at about age 13.

Weird, and distasteful in that capitalist let's-milk-this-for-all-its-worth–hey-how-about-a-prequel kind of way, yet compelling.

I'll bet that 6-year-old kid I met at the park the other day will grow up to be Bond.

Quite by accident last night we tuned into the tribute celebrating the 2004 inductees to Canada's Walk of Fame:

Peter Fonda presented the award to John Kay (I didn't know he was Canadian) of Steppenwolf (I really have to read that some day). Rock 'n' roll, man. Born to Be Wild – Easy Rider. See the connection? Now that's a movie-moment song. Rock 'n' roll!

Denys Arcand delivered a brilliant acceptance speech, of which, sadly, I am unable to find a transcript. He talked about his father, how disappointed his father was that he wanted to devote his life to the arts. How he wished his father could see him now, sharing the stage with hockey legend Mario Lemieux — "that for him would've been an epiphany."

Ah, Canadians.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Balcony gardens and playground politics

I feel ashamed for the state of my balcony garden boxes.

Helena "helped" to plant a geranium yesterday.

(We have full sun all day long. And this street is a wind tunnel. This makes for great balcony-sitting, so long as one has a firm grasp on one's drink. It does not make for great flower boxes. Every year I want even lower maintenance. Next year I may settle for garden sculpture, sans garden.)

In past years, I might procrastinate getting our outdoor space in order, but there would come a point, usually at the end of May, where I'd say, "Oh I'll just set aside an hour later today and do it — do it all! — plant some stuff, spruce it up, hose down the area."

One geranium yesterday took two hours and a change of clothes for each of us. It produced a planted geranium so desperately over-watered I'm afraid it won't survive. Since it was drizzling outside (too wet for the park but not wet enough to keep us from getting fresh air in a desperate attempt to keep from going stir crazy inside the apartment), and since Helena was in charge of the watering can, we also produced one huge puddle of mud. Today it's not a puddle so much as a really dark stain that raises clouds when the wind gusts over it. I'm not sure how to tackle cleaning it — Helena will want to "help."

Morning glory will fill up the other bare boxes. And that'll have to do.

Helena will help. I just have change my mindset, set it all up as a time-consuming, dirty toddler activity. It's an activity! A day's adventure! I should have the hang of this by next year.

Today we went to park.

Helena was cued up at the top of the slide and waiting momentarily for the bottom of the slide, and for that matter the chute sides with all those grabby parent hands, to clear up. A woman coaxed her granddaughter to walk right over Helena. Walk right over her. Literally. And slide ahead of Helena. Somone coached a child to behave this way.

Helena started crying, I think because this woman spoke loudly and waved her arms a lot in a personal-space-invading kind of way, though I suppose she may have had her fingers stepped on. I could've clocked that woman. But I didn't. I scrambled up to the platform to comfort my child. And I muttered obscenities in this woman's general direction. In English (she was French). And rather quietly, it being a playground with impressionable children within earshot.

Should I have told her off? Corrected the child (had I been close enough, say, to physically bar her with my arm while Helena had her turn)? What is Helena learning from my actions, or lack thereof? Exactly how horrible a mother am I? This playground stuff is really hard.

Helena and I moped about the playground a little while longer, then we left to feed the ducks.

We, moviegoers

What with I, Robot the movie on the way, Cory Doctorow's cover story for this month's Wired Magazine is on Asimov and robots.

Asimov's stories aren't brilliant fiction; he was no prose stylist and his characters, especially women, are wooden and one-dimensional. His work is a kind of proto-fiction, stuff caught in the Burgess Shale of the genre, from a time before the field shed its gills and developed lungs, feet, and believable characters. What makes Asimov's robots stand out, even today, is the resiliency of his imagination. Despite the complete failure of anything like a thinking robot to appear on the scene, the vision endures. Many people still believe that someday soon we'll have thinking robots living among us.

Any day now.

Drinks, milks & pops

The thing that's kept me from purchasing a copy of Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves comes even before the dedication, where Louis Menand (The New Yorker, issue of 2004-06-28) claims the first of the grammatical errors occurs.

I can't get past the front cover. I would've hyphenated the subtitle as follows: The Zero-Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.

Hyphenate an adjectival compound when it comes before the noun it modifies.

However, style guides in recent years tend toward recommending omitting this hyphen so long as it produces no ambiguity. Or if the phrase is sufficiently established in everyday language.

And this is where Truss misses the boat. Acknowledging the fluidity, the differences, the choices, the grey areas.

Though she has persuaded herself otherwise, Truss doesn’t want people to care about correctness. She wants them to care about writing and about using the full resources of the language. “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” is really a “decline of print culture” book disguised as a style manual (poorly disguised). Truss has got things mixed up because she has confused two aspects of writing: the technological and the aesthetic.

The function of most punctuation — commas, colons and semicolons, dashes, and so on — is to help organize the relationships among the parts of a sentence. Its role is semantic: to add precision and complexity to meaning. It increases the information potential of strings of words. . .

What most punctuation does not do is add color, texture, or flavor to the writing. Those are all things that belong to the aesthetics, and literary aesthetics are weirdly intangible.

Menand comes close to correctly identifying the problem, but doesn't, quite.

The problem: punctuation, and grammatical correctness generally, is often a judgement call. When is a phrase "sufficiently established"? When is there no ambiguity? How do you know if a clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive, or when it's been punctuated incorrectly and means something else entirely?

The rest of the article is an interesting discussion of "voice" — the thing writers aspire to imprint on their work and which editors recognize as a thing of great value to be cultivated and preserved.

Grammatical correctness doesn’t insure it. Calculated incorrectness doesn’t, either.

Of course, good writers know when to break the rules, and good editors know when to allow it.

The rules help to carry meaning a far way, but in good writing there's also an ineffable something conveyed. Our aesthetic sensibilities remain largely subjective.

(This is why I love Saramago — his commas pause in the same rhythm as my brain breathes.)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Fowl incidents

Why do I do this to myself?

I set aside another book I was reading so I could eat up Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident, the second book in Eoin Colfer's series.

I feel similarly disappointed as after reading the first Artemis Fowl adventure. The action bores me. I'm not convinced that the book needs the Fairy People to be Fairy People (and not just regular human supervillains and talented vanquishers of evil). Yet I really want to know more about this mysterious boy genius criminal mastermind. Why is he a genius? Why is he a criminal? How does he relate to his parents? What makes him tick? The whole series seems to be built on this tease of a character, yet he's practically dispensable to the plot.

Aurgh. I should know better than to be reading books intended for 9-year-olds.

Helena and I spent more than three hours at the park yesterday. Thank God today is dark and damp and not conducive to wandering out of doors.

It was a bit chilly for the wading pool, and Helena seemed bored with the playground, so we were off in search of ducks. Around the lake and over the bridge and back again. Quack, quack, quack. My, how they've grown.

One old man was alternately feeding the ducks and throwing inedible, heavy things at them. He bore a remarkable similarity to Ian Holm portraying Professor Seagull.

Helena climbed up on to and down off of about a million park benches. We circled back to the playground.

One little boy was very polite about asking me if he could get in the fire chief's car with Helena. He took care not to bounce too fast for her. And then he sets about to engage me in conversation. He was utterly charming. How old is Helena? What's her name? He is six years old and in the first grade at St. Joseph — do I know it? If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was trying to pick me up. Figured Helena was a little young and not vocal enough, so he'd try for the mom. His French was far better than mine. I know enough to know he was speaking French well, like a grown-up — no childish inflections or simplistic syntax. A smooth-talking, clean-cut kid. Probably holds a steady, sensible job and season opera tickets.

J-F, when I told him about this interaction later: Did he give you his business card with his lemonade stand address? You didn't give him your phone number, did you? Will he be calling to invite you over to his place to play Lego?

Some things I've finally learned about Helena: If I'm cooking them, she likes her carrots steamed (any other cook is allowed to boil the hell out of them). She loves broccoli, but only if I prepare it, very lightly steamed. And only papa's pasta will do.

Monday, June 21, 2004

You don't need to spell it out for me

From a review of Steven Erikson's 10-volume series, "The Malazan Book of the Fallen," these sentiments:

Successful fantasy does not require magic swords, or the triumphant overthrow of whatever Evil Dark Lord of Black Shadow Midnight Murk is currently torturing the poor denizens of Happiland. It doesn't even require a subplot involving a teenage boy (or increasingly often, girl) who becomes a Man (or Woman) while on a dire quest to find (or destroy) the Holy Trinket

Give me, instead, the evocation of a rich, complex and yet ultimately unknowable other world, with a compelling suggestion of intricate history and mythology and lore. Give me mystery amid the grand narrative. There's no need to spell it all out; no prefaces, please, elucidating the history of Middle Earth as if to students in a lecture hall. Instead, give me a world in which every sea hides a crumbled Atlantis, every ruin has a tale to tell, every mattock blade is a silent legacy of struggles unknown.

I don't feel compelled by this review to read Erikson any time soon, but I agree strongly that in writing about alternate worlds, this is how it ought to be done.

Two examples of masters of this, whom I've discovered only relatively recently: Richard K Morgan and China Miéville.

I read some crappy SF as a kid — "fantasy," that is, trashy romance novels wearing elfin costumes. Yuk. But that hint of magic, or just plain "other," keeps drawing me back to further explore the genre, most interesting of course when it blurs category lines.

I'm happy to hear that increasingly more writers are getting SF right.

Window with Glass, blah, blah, blah, and some language stuff

We rented Secret Window the other night. I have nothing to say, really, about the movie itself — there are worse ways to spend a chilly evening at home and it's always a pleasure to watch Johnny Depp.

The scariest thing about the movie was learning that the soundtrack came from Philip Glass. The soundtrack was barely there, which is generally a good thing for soundtracks. But a Philip Glass soundtrack has its own movie presence. I thought.

He should definitely spend less time on film and more time on opera. (I would kill for a recording of "The Making of the Representative for Planet 8.")

We celebrated Father's Day quietly. Helena had picked out a book, On Mars, for Papa when we were downtown earlier in the week (well, she pointed this one out over another I'd suggested from the bargain bin). We had a fancy breakfast, which means we had French toast with stuff instead of regular toast with stuff. It was a nice day.

The Bloc Québécois have been working hard. They've updated all their posters, slapping a big red sticker across them to punctuate their message. "Le 28 juin, on vote!"

The Bloc are to date the only party to have tried contacting me directly. They've phoned no less than four times. Now if they only took a moment to figure out how to pronounce my name (really, it's not that hard), I might give them a minute of my time. Damn ethnic vote.

Helena is happy, happy, happy these days. I swear she was singing (la-la-la-ing) Beethoven's Fifth yesterday (it's our banana song: Bananana. Bananana. Banananabanananabananana...).

Notable new and improved words (in no particular order): up, cup, elbow, mango, belba-a (bellybutton).

Something like "kine" or "cayenne" denotes either crayon or colouring, or both.

Though "cin, cin" comes out "gan, glan" (it is more onomatopoeic), she definitely has the ritual of clinking glasses down pat.

Friday, June 18, 2004


The wading pool is open and I'm very excited about this.

Helena doesn't have a clue, yet. She didn't seem to notice that the playground was unusually quiet this afternoon and that just over the fence were delighted squeals and splashes and a lot of rubber ducks.

(After play, I directly proceeded to buy Helena a swimsuit. Very chic.)

She enjoyed the calm of the playground today. One could even say she's staked a certain claim on it, established a comfort zone. And she's standing her ground.

Today she started chasing boys. They weren't bothered; in fact, I'm not sure they noticed. Helena had the time of her life. Just running after boys.

The slide tends to have traffic control problems. The ladder is often congested. The platform is a mass of confusion, toddlers moving in all directions, or just sitting there. Access to the actual slide is haphazard at best. It seems toddlers don't quite have the hang of taking turns.

Today, Helena owned that slide. She was firm, without being nasty. She would not be pushed aside. She would not be rushed. She was readying herself for a run when I think someone poked her. She turned and stared him down. She's doing it her way in her own good time.

Oh, I'm so proud.

It's all so very high school

The Atlantic Monthly reviews 3 books on high school culture, and does a pretty poor job of it. At least, Tom Carson doesn't ask any of the interesting questions arising from the scenarios he presents.

Maybe there's nothing to the issues that spring automatically to my mind, and I guess I'll never know because I'm certainly not likely to look at these books myself. I rather hoped a review would undertake the investigation for me.

The basic difference is that our fellow developed countries treat secondary school as the beginning of responsibility. If little Jean-Pierre's fate is to be a mechanic, the stench of cooked goose is mingling with the incipient reek of motor oil by the time he turns fifteen. But for American teens high school is the beginning of freedom — their first crack at making choices. The autonomy involved is restricted, though not as much as parents might wish, and its purposes are generally frivolous — from the outside, anyhow. But the project of self-definition thus gotten under way is neither.

Strong statements here from our reviewer. Why is it that Europeans see secondary school as a lesson in responsibility and Americans see it as an exercise in freedom? Is Jean-Pierre's fate really sealed by age 15? Where do you get your wacky ideas? Did you learn that in high school?

Carson dismisses the "obvious" research and theories in Freaks, Geeks, And Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of Consumption, by Murray Milner Jr.

Carson is so much a product of this school system that he seems unable to step back from it. Everyone "knows" what high school is like — why bother studying it? He seems happy enough with one of the other books he "reviews," which seems merely to identify and illustrate types (the star athlete, the homecoming queen) we encounter in school. You obviously don't care what makes the American high school unique from others.

"Perhaps the thing that American secondary education teaches most effectively is a desire to consume," Milner asserts early on, and 150-odd pages later, the case still unproved, he's only grown more insistent: "I am suggesting that high school status systems have played an important role in the development of consumerism in the United States." Note that both sentences are structured to slide over the niggling question of agency.

He criticizes Milner, that:

to reduce adolescent behavior to consumerism alone, or to status-seeking alone, discredits the loose and variegated social order that emerges even from this monotonous study. (I suppose stoners are consumers in a sense, but I doubt that's really what Milner has in mind.) Don't we all understand that high schoolers' self-devised categories and peer comeuppances, including the petty cruelties Milner deplores, are just tools for the basic project of adolescence, which is a hunt for identity?

Do European adolescents not hunt for identity? Do they hunt for it elsewhere than in high school? Do they not need to hunt one because it is already defined for them? By which forces?

Conspicuous consumerism does indeed set American culture apart from others. It could be a factor.

How is it that European manage to grow up educated, self-assured, career-minded, and ambitious, all without the identity-forming trappings of an American high school?

Carson learns from this book the obvious, that teen social hierarchies exist. However, Milner had stated that "what I have learned about how status systems operate from studying [Indian] castes significantly clarifies what goes on in our high schools." Carson entirely ignores the question of how and why teen cliques come about in the context of American society. He doesn't seem to realize that might be what the book is trying to be about, and he doesn't care.

The book may have missed the boat, but so does Carson's review.

Tabula rasa

Helena discovers chalk (more ephemeral than crayon), and that the world is her canvas. Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Us and them

We arrived at the playground yesterday to find it overrun by about 100 kids.

Helena was not impressed.

She climbed onto my lap. We sat and watched. For a long time, it seemed.

What kind of incompetent mother am I that my little girl isn't socialized adequately to cope with "normal" playground dynamics?

I soon realized we weren't alone. As the daycare centre kids reenacted Lord of the Flies, other park regulars (varying in age up to about 4) also sat quietly on or beside their mommies and daddies, all with the same expression on their face: "What the hell just happened here?!"

The hurricane passed, and regular play resumed.

Helena has discovered the tiny playhouse, with the built-in bench and table. A little girl stayed for a while to make chocolate cake with her pail and shovel, which Helena studied intently, and then some older boys stopped by to take Helena's order and enjoy an invisible meal.

She spent well over an hour in there. Her new office.

There are worse ways to while away the heat of the day.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The lies Disney sold you

Via Bookninja, this very interesting review of Pinocchio. You know. The book. By Carlo Collodi.

It's Italian and it's dark.

Much is often left out of condensed English-language versions.

The Disney film omits even more of the story, and changes it drastically. Geppetto, Pinocchio's foster father, appears to be a prosperous toymaker, and the town where he lives looks Swiss or Bavarian: his workshop is full of music boxes and cuckoo clocks. In the original story, however, Geppetto is a desperately poor Italian woodcarver. When the film begins Pinocchio is a lifeless wooden toy; he comes to life only when a fairy grants Geppetto's wish for a child. In the book Pinocchio is alive from the start. Though he is only a nameless stick of firewood in the shop of the carpenter Master Anthony, he can already speak and move. When Master Anthony strikes the stick with his axe, it cries out "Ouch! You hurt me!" The carpenter is terrified, and offers the piece of wood to his friend Geppetto, who wants to make a marionette. It continues to act up, mocking Geppetto, and striking Master Anthony, provoking two fistfights between the old friends.

When Geppetto gets home he begins to carve the marionette. But as soon as Pinocchio's mouth is finished he laughs at Geppetto and sticks out his tongue, and once he has arms he snatches Geppetto's wig off his head. When his legs and feet are finished, he runs away.

From the start, Collodi's Pinocchio is not only more self-conscious but far less simple than the cute little toy boy of the cartoon. He is not only naive, but impulsive, rude, selfish, and violent. In theological terms, he begins life in a state of original sin; while from a psychologist's point of view, he represents the amoral, self-centered small child, all uncensored id.

I'm inspired to read it for myself. (I don't know if the version available online is condensed or not.)

In light of what the story of Pinocchio is alleged to be, Roberto Benignis's movie version becomes much more interesting than just plain weird. The "boy" was troubled and obnoxious, infuriating — dare I say evil?

See it with subtitles, and not dubbed (though this makes it harder to share with children). I didn't come across a single favourable review of this film, but then most reviewers freely admitted that the Disney version was their measuring stick. Few if any were familiar with the original text.

The moral (as true today as it was in Collodi's time) is that poor boys who quit school and hang about doing nothing and enjoying themselves are apt to end up as exploited and overworked laborers — or possibly dead.

Some think the story is too dark for children, but that lesson is, in fact, precisely what I want my offspring to know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Weird yet strangely poetic email I received this evening

From Eduardo Short.

Tue, 15 Jun 2004 18:00:15 -0800 Academic-Qualifications from NON–ACCR. Universities. No exams. No classes. No books. Call to register and get yours in days - 1-603-457-0203 No more ads: await silversmith gantlet aftereffect mcallister falconry ret friend sensual globule polygonal debutante ashland linoleum benzene ferocity heroine devolve bema bespectacled emphatic programmer irene aristocrat dylan effluent chilean ah company hebraic acropolis danzig gird shark jorgenson plural cleanse indignation burgundy newport cackle hobo aileen diffusion girl hardy saga officialdom abovementioned factorial forfend filly apple boggy inhibitor coffman balletic anagram furrow impertinent goodyear carrie increment dallas abrasion ain't flatiron furtherance familiarly andrei adulthood cancelled howe correspond sadden differential oral broach johnston panic bluebill deoxyribose edwina scrumptious

Thank you, Mr Short. I don't know what else to say...

Blocked and snarky

A whopping 28 people (myself included) have voted in The Walrus's online poll regarding the book reviews in the New York Times, that "the most compelling ideas tend to be in the non-fiction world."

The Walrus's short history has certainly been tumultuous. But please tell me more than 28 people read it.

The Walrus's Summer Reading Issue is out. Do you think I can find a print copy somewhere? I have yet to lay eyes on a print copy, and it's not like I don't hang out in magazine shops. Maybe more people would read the magazine if it were actually available to public. Maybe then people would care.

If I'm not mistaken, the book-blog circuit has already made mention of "The Art of the Bad Review." That is, the good review that tears a work to pieces.

Obviously, writers are afraid to review their peers because it's a small community.

But I think the world could be a better place if more average-Joe readers, movie-goers, consumers, employees, citizens stood up and said, "This is shit."

The New Yorker this week considers writer's block: great writers who've had it, its link to mental illness, its theoretical psychological and biochemical roots, its antidotes, its unremarkableness.

A story that haunts the halls of The New Yorker is that of Joseph Mitchell, who came on staff in 1938, wrote many brilliant pieces, and then, after the publication of his greatest piece, “Joe Gould’s Secret,” in 1964, came to the office almost every day for the next thirty-two years without filing another word.

I love that story. (Joe Gould's Secret is a really interesting piece, and Ian Holm was a brilliant Joe Gould in the movie. See it! Read it for yourself!)

Ronald Reagan is dead and buried, and I'm surprised not to hear more public debate over stem cell research. The Reagan family continues to issue impassioned pleas, but they are not being heard above the din of all the schmaltzy tributes.

June 12, Kerry challenged the Bush administration to relax restrictions on stem cell research.

Laura Bush also had a few things to say about it last week: "We need to be really very delicate about it." Thanks for that powerful insight.

Research saves lives!

Monday, June 14, 2004

Crocodiles ate my map has a review of Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz (whom China Miéville listed as one of the best writers using the fantastic aesthetic).

Schulz is a master of metaphor, and his lush, poetic sentences burst with sensory detail. He transforms the pedestrian — salesgirls, brooms, bolts of cloth — into fantastic apparitions, lit with significance and color. He has been compared to Kafka, which is justified, but he also evokes Calvino in his careful description of the city's vagaries, and even Lovecraft in some of his alchemical descriptions.

Schulz's stories involve rare birds' eggs, bicycles, and a quarter of the city that is gray and does not exactly exist.

Kind of like the bookstore you go into to skim through the pages of this title doesn't exactly exist.

See glorious exhibits of strange places at the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame and the House of Elsewhere.

(More SF links available from Scribbling Woman.)

Mars via the Moon: “A Journey to Inspire, Innovate, and Discover,” calls for NASA to transform its organizational structure, business culture, and management processes, but I'm still not convinced they know where they're going.


I took Helena to the pediatrician for her regular check-up on Friday. For those of you keeping track: 13 kg, 85 cm, makes Helena a big little girl. She's healthy, but drinks too much milk.

A little girl in the waiting room took a toy out of Helena's hands and walked away. The girl's mother was around the corner. I didn't do a thing, and I feel awful about it. I'd hate for my daughter to grow up to be a pushover.

The pediatrician's office is on a stretch of St Laurent that for some reason was closed to traffic. Restaurants and bars spilled out into the street. Our walk home was a real zigzag. Some idiot was walking his young cat on a leash down St Denis. A major part of Mont Royal was also closed to traffic. The mood in the streets is very festive, seemingly for no other reason than that summer is here. God I love this neighbourhood.

Our playground is a friendly place, where lots of toddlers experiment with other toddlers' toys. The other day, a little girl asked to use Helena's pail and shovel, which were sitting unused. I said no, as we were planning on leaving in a minute, and instead pointed out the ownerless pile of communal equipment. The little girl picked up Helena's stuff anyway. This pissed me off no end. The girl's mother intervened, but I was galled that my "no" should be ignored.

I guess I have a lot of awkward social negotiations ahead of me yet.

I spent Saturday in bed, thanks to the better (worse, really) part of a bottle of a wine I drank the night before. For one brief moment, I wished we had a house in the suburbs, with a yard we could let Helena loose in where we could watch her from the door. Thankfully, the moment passed.

Election placards around here are being literally defaced — heads removed in triangle cutouts. We live in Gilles Duceppe's riding, one of those seats so strongly held as to make you feel for a moment that your vote won't make a difference.

Helena continues to make a difference, everywhere she goes. New words this last week, lifting our hearts: "tink you," belly-button (which comes out garbled in various configurations but has an undisputed reference point), and "home."

Friday, June 11, 2004

Where's a good place to dump this pail of sand? Posted by Hello

Thursday, June 10, 2004


The other day as we were going through the park we passed a young woman who was moving slowly, leisurely, running her fingertips across the grid of the fence, her arm dragging slightly behind her. (Is there a word for this act?)

She seemed a little sad. Lost in thought.

It's not something I see very often in real life anymore. It's a quasi-romantic/nostalgic scene that belongs in a movie. It's something schoolboys do with sticks. Is it the domain of the young to do this, and therefore occurring outside my range of vision? Or has the environment changed — fewer fences of the wrong sort entirely in inappropriate places?

Why do we do it? The sheer sensation of the rhythm, reverberating along the arm, through the body? It never seems to cause joy in itself. Though a very deliberate act, it has an absent-minded quality — the mind is elsewhere, also reverberating. Is it a zen moment? Present yet absent. Lost in absent thoughts.

Yesterday Helena chose to explore the corners of the playground. With outstretched arm, walking leisurely through the tall grasses, she ran her fingertips across the bars of the fence, her arm dragging behind her. She seemed lost in thought.

Did she remember the woman of the other day and want to experience the moment for herself? (Different kind of fence.) Did Helena spontaneously intuit there would be a rhythm to match her soul in this act?

We watched Love Actually last night — an utterly charming movie. Lots of laughs, but it made me cry too. Some viewers may have gripes about having to flesh out the characters and fill in plot blanks for themselves. The film is a broad-stroked sketch capturing tiny slivers of life, moments of love.

From the movie's outset we're reminded that "love actually is all around." We don't always notice it, so quiet amid the horrors of the world, but it's there, everywhere. Never mind that it crops up in the unlikeliest and sometimes most inconvenient of places. That it can cause as much grief as joy. That it's the thing war's are fought over. It's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

How books affect children and how freedom affects barbarians

Some link somewhere led me to World Literature Today, and I'm very excited about this discovery.

The cover story: "How Are Children Affected by the Books in Their Lives?" by Marc Aronson.

As a parent, I act as if I believe that what we put into a book affects a child’s behavior, but as an author and publisher, I make just about the opposite claim. This question of how books affect their readers is the big unexamined issue in children’s books, and while we all know it is there, we have not even begun to face it.

As literate and trained thinkers, says Aronson, we know that readers construct their own meaning in a dialogue with the text. Kids, arguably more impressionable the rest of us, still come up with the darndest things, as individual "thinkers." But reviewers of children's books insist on discussing the messages in the text and their impact on the malleable minds of young readers.

Our certainty about how kids will respond to the texts they read, the art they view, is not, then, based on research or, for most of us, on well-defined ideological positions. We just believe it, and somehow know it. I think there are two reasons for this: (1) we can all think of books that have affected us deeply; (2) we are in the very strange position of creating, publishing, and evaluating books for people whom we know to be fundamentally different from ourselves but toward whom we feel a protective concern. We believe we are acting in the best interest of the child. So a book that makes us feel good seems good for them. We desperately wish that the messages in books would work, and we dare not think of a world in which they don't.

The more children's books I discover, and the more I'm confronted by the whirl of independence and self-assertion that is my daughter, the more I think the messages aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Certainly we don't give kids the credit they deserve for thinking for themselves. Kids don't learn lessons from books — they learn from life going on all around them. All the time.

Helena likes The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister. Its message of sharing is so poorly executed that it sounds as if one can buy friendship. Sure, this troubles me, but it's only going to affect Helena deeply if it's reinforced in the relationships she witnesses around her. (How much of the text she understands as an 18-month-old is questionable, but there will come a day...) Helena likes the book for the pretty pictures. And that's OK.

Similarly, I heard a lot of fairy tales as a child. For all the gender stereotyping (a historical record of social attitudes) and the evil that men do in them, I wasn't scarred. Sometimes a story is just a story.

On the flipside, just because something's "good" for you doesn't mean you have to like it. The compulsion some people feel to correct the industry to ensure there are appropriate books out there with life lessons for their children has produced a lot of trash (for example, Madonna's books for kids).

No kid becomes sweet, nice, sensitive, politically enlightened, culturally alert from one book or another. But reading many books, hanging around the library, and keeping a flashlight under the bed for those late-night dates with books you can’t put down has a humanizing effect.

Aronson doubts this proposition. I'll have to side with the humanizing factor — exposure to books and art, all the glory and garbage both high and pop culture have to offer, makes Helena a balanced and interesting little person.

There's also an article on how Polish poetry has changed with Poland's becoming a democratic country. "The barbarians have come."

The most striking features of poetry by this new generation are its aloofness from politics and a programmatic absence of the historical consciousness that distinguished what became known in the West as the “Polish school of poetry.”

The new poets are egocentric.

One of the values this generation of poets appreciates most is the sense of freedom, but, unlike their predecessors, it is not freedom from a specific political reality of a totalitarian regime. It is freedom from politics itself, from any manifestation of public life. The mythology of political freedom of previous generations is now being replaced by the reverse mythology of personal freedom. It is a passive conception of freedom, freedom as a “state” rather than action. It abandons not only commitment, patriotism, and Polishness but also the need to present a new poetic program, new aesthetics, and a new social sensibility.

It'll take time, but Poland still has to get over its new-found democracy. It may yet find for itself a viable economy. And then it can find its cultural self all over again.

World Literacy Today is published four times a year.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004


I've been considering using this blog to tell the story of my family, to record what is known so that Helena will also know. I've researched my roots only very informally. Maybe I can use this blog to connect with family, not just strangers.

I'm not yet ready to take on that project, but in that spirit I'd like to inform you regarding an important piece of history.

While the Western world celebrated the successful Allied landings at Normandy, Poland struggled alone.

CNN presents Warsaw Rising: The Forgotten Soldiers of World War II, to be rebroadcast Saturday, June 12, at 8 and 11 PM ET and Sunday, June 13, at 8 and 11 PM ET.

A study guide is available.

Sent: Monday, June 07, 2004 12:02 PM
Subject: Congratulations to CNN Presents!

Dear Mr. Ensor, Ms. Slobogin:

Congratulations on an excellent film that presents so very well a story that is so little-known here. The program did a great job describing the military objectives and tactical operations of the Uprising, and especially the defeat inflicted not by the Germans but by Poland's allies. However, I feel it did not articulate clearly enough the political and strategic objectives of the undertaking.

In short, the main motivation for the uprising was more the impending Soviet occupation than the existing German one. At one point Ms. Jaroszewicz says in the film: "We wanted to liberate our own city ourselves" — what's left unsaid is what was the looming alternative: "liberation" by the Red Army. This issue is entwined with great political significance, because the Poles believed that the liberation of the capital would allow the return of the legal government-in-exile and prevent the establishment of a Communist puppet one. The strategic objective was more than a free Warsaw — it was a free Poland. The dashing of that hope, not in the streets of Warsaw by the German enemy but in Teheran and Yalta by Poland's allies, was the greatest betrayal and defeat. Zbigniew Brzezinski summarizes this in his closing remarks, but the story would have a greater impact if the overall strategic issues were mentioned at the outset and the events portrayed against that background.

In closing, I wish to express sincere thanks to CNN, to David Ensor and to Kathy Slobogin for an excellent program that deserves to be widely publicized. I look forward to assisting in spreading the word for any future showings.

Thaddeus Mirecki, President
Washington Metropolitan Area Division
Polish American Congress

Stories of women

The New York Observer profiles the paradox that is Caitlin Flanagan.

I love to hate her and hate to love her.

It took her two years to write that nanny essay for the March issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Her gig with The New Yorker kicks off with a piece to run sometime this summer.

What does she do with her time? We know she has a nanny for the kids, and she doesn't change bedsheets. She does sew buttons though.

"Ms Flanagan’s frontier is one in which sophisticated women living lives full of complexity and contradiction on some level long for the clarity of a world."

Which is why I'm intrigued by her. The frustration comes from the fact that not only does she not provide any clarity, her depiction of the muddles demonstrates no keen insight.

On more serious matters, Salon launches Heroes of Freedom, a four-part series celebrating those who have fought to advance civil rights.

"I like to talk about the difference between what I call 'theoretical' feminism and 'practical' feminism," says Megill. With Haven, "It comes down to supporting women, not just women's rights. Supporting actual women, flesh and blood."

Too often the abstract obscures the concrete.

I remember seeing Une affaire de femmes and feeling like I was being slapped to snap out it. Wake up. The story's not over.

Number 17

At long last, there's been a sighting. Bottom left second molar.

It's effing huge. That's really gotta hurt.

Poor baby.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Chick lit joins the war on terrorism

Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination, by Helen Fielding, has arrived. Kind of.

Though Olivia may have more self-assuredness than Bridget, it sounds to me as if her author is less certain of her character's identity than she would have you believe.

Introducing the "anti-Bridget":

Instead of a low-level publicist mooning over boyfriends at boozy London dinner parties, Olivia is a self-made, self-confident, globe-trotting style writer turned international spy, who quaffs martinis while hunting Al Qaeda operatives in Miami, Africa, Los Angeles and the Caribbean.

As much as I loved Bridget (as much as I feared women would aspire to be her), I always suspected Helen Fielding was more lucky than talented. Sometimes funny, sometimes just plain stupid:

"I always had the idea that if you were a successful writer you would live in the south of France and to me, L.A. is like that — only with shopping," said Ms. Fielding.

The book was reviewed in the New York Times a few days ago.

Olivia seems like a misplaced character, doomed to wander, page by page, chapter to chapter, from one sort of novel into another, as this dreadfully plotted story meanders its way through an anthology of genres. Sometimes, Olivia is the ditsy screwball heroine of a light chick-lit comedy, coping with fashion emergencies and bad hair days. Sometimes, she is a wannabe spy, part Girl From U.N.C.L.E., part Austin Powers, part Harriet the Spy, trying to parlay her job as a freelance fashion writer into something more important.

I hate to admit it, but I know — I just know — there will come a day when, bloated with PMS, I'll fix myself a bowl of popcorn and a Bloody Caesar, and I'll read the damn thing.

Transit of Venus

The romantic planet. Deadly.

Tomorrow, we'll be able to see Venus crossing the face of the sun.

By the time the sun rises in this area, the crossing will be nearly complete.

The best reason to watch the 2004 transit of Venus is history.


China Miéville writes Weird Fiction:

[Tolkien] wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.

That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps — via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabinski and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on — the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.

He names six "great" writers. Two of them are Polish.

The English-speaking world knows very little of Stefan Grabinski and Bruno Schulz. Miéville, relatively, knows a lot.

(I've read The Dark Domain by Grabinski, as well as the stories in The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy, his only work available in English. As for Schulz I've read only the piece in that same anthology, but some insight into his work can be found here.)

Miéville wrote about Grabinski in The Guardian:

Sometimes Grabinski is known as "the Polish Poe", but this is misleading. Where Poe's horror is agonised, a kind of extended shriek, Grabinski's is cerebral, investigative. His protagonists are tortured and aghast, but not because they suffer at the caprice of Lovecraftian blind idiot gods: Grabinski's universe is strange and its principles are perhaps not those we expect, but they are principles — rules — and it is in their exploration that the mystery lies. This is horror as rigour. A student of philosophy, Grabinski took Bergson, James, Maeterlinck, and extrapolated them, sometimes cross-fertilising them with the science of Newton or Einstein, to create weird tales of a heretic intelligence.

This is the kind of literature to which Miéville obviously aspires in Perdido Street Station.

About halfway through the book I thought to myself, this isn't particularly deep. Not the biting social commentary I'd for some reason expected. A rip-roaring ride of a book. An astounding vocabulary. A sense of place that infected me. But this was not a dystopia to challenge my moral framework.

An illicit cross-species love affair. An underground economy. A druglord. Labour unrest. A flawed voting system. Top secret government-sponsored research. A government informer betrays a friend. That's pretty much it.

Well-paced intrigue and engrossing action sequences.

Then, "Constructed Intelligence" and a few questions as to the nature of consciousness.

Then, battle plan in action, the end in sight, it hit me, viscerally. The worth of a life. The ultimate sacrifice. The greater good. The power of choice, the power to choose for others. The choice that infringes on another's power to choose.

The book starts with a first-person narration, and bits of this personal record are scattered throughout. The identity of the narrator had me puzzled; once it was clear, it was no less puzzling why this viewpoint should be given much consideration. Only in the final pages does one realize how central this character's story is.

He wants his wings restored. They were removed as punishment for a crime we learn about only after we've gotten to know him as a person. How do we judge him?

He accepts his fate and strives to become human. His questionable ethics have already shifted in that direction.

New Crobuzon is a desperate and vile city — I hope where you live is nothing like it. But it's a lovely place to visit. I can't wait to go back.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Another day older

The little scamp climbed out of her crib last night. Silently at that. I'm torn between feeling pride and fear of what the future holds.

Helena is an expert climber. Stairs. The ladder up to the slide at the park. The stepping stool up to the bathroom counter for hand-washing and teeth-brushing practice. Into her chair at the kitchen table.

Bedtime was hard this weekend.

It must be teething. It couldn't be simply the excitement of mastering climbing, or all that fresh air. Though she is excitable, generally she takes everything in its stride.

She seems to really dig hanging out with me, but wailing when we part at the end of the day just isn't her style. It must be teething.

We've had some great excursions of late.

Caught in a downpour last week, she laughed up a storm. We were soaked. It was almost romantic.

I'm loving the park in the morning as much as Helena is, now that I have the sense to take a coffee with me.

I was disheartened to find a broken beer bottle in the playground yesterday. But every park in all neighbourhoods has its incidents (I tell myself). There's no reason (yet) to suspect the place is overrun with hooligans. I scoured that ground and picked up all the shards. This is my park after all.

On a super happy note, the ducks are back! Four adult males out for a swim. Only two adult females visible in the reeds behind the theatre, but a few handfuls of little ones (I lost count at 14) out stretching their wings.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Christmas in June

Yesterday I redeemed a gift certificate I'd received for Christmas for a massage.

I'd noticed this place before but had never been. Partly the name turned me off. Ovarium. Sounds like a new-agey fertility clinic. My best guess is that the name comes from the egg-shaped pods used for floatation baths (I go back for one of these in a couple of weeks).

It was a massage unlike any other I've ever received, this one being mainly shiatsu style, allegedly. Apparently the tension I feel is not in my muscles but in the fascia. Go figure. I'm told this is a remnant of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and general baby-holding.

It felt very much like what I think a laying on of hands should feel like. I think my internal organs were kneaded and reshaped. Apparently all my tissue fluids have been moved.

I was afraid the sense of calm and well-being would wear off quickly, but it's holding its own.

And I feel much taller.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

A bee, a cat, and many ferocious squirrels in between

The 77th annual Scripps National Spelling Bee is under way. Are you glued to your television sets?

Helena and I played in the park this morning. Not only was the playground packed with children from three area daycare centres (all of which, sadly, have discontinued their drop-in programs), but the park at large was surprisingly busy (in a lazy kind of way) for a workday morning of uncertain weather. Who are all these people?

I'm a fairly open-minded person, but it turns out I still have preconceived notions. Some "strange" man came ripping through the playground, directing growling noises at some of the kids. Casually dressed, 30ish, a bit artsy — a guitar and a joint would not have seemed out of place on this fellow. I immediately drew a few feet closer to Helena, keeping a careful eye on this guy's whereabouts. He just kept running back and forth across the sand and yelling gibberish.

As it turns out, Mauricio was in fact associated with one of the daycare groups. Of course men can work in childcare. And yes, men do play differently with children. And that's a good thing. Some kids had been eying him suspiciously, I'd thought. But they regarded the women in charge similarly — I just hadn't noticed.

Here at home, Calvino Cat is keeping awfully close today. He made a break for it yesterday while I was negotiating a sleeping Helena and a bag of groceries through the doorway. Down one floor, in through the slightly ajar door to the unit inhabited by the landlord of this pet-free establishment. Madame Perreira, hairnetted and aproned (is she always scouring floors?), pointed out the front window, and across the balcony of the recently vacated apartment. Calvino's never looked so scared. Somehow, after much scrambling, I pulled off the rescue.

He used to be an outdoor cat, but that was years ago on a quiet street of a much quieter city. Nice to see that at the age of nine he still has the spirit of adventure.

Any comments?

Talk back! Mouth off! You don't have to be nice, but at least try to be interesting. I'll settle for a good laugh.

Maybe you can even maintain a discussion among yourselves. All five of you. What do you need me for?


Can we fight back against the spread of the idea? Can the condition of the idea be improved?

Blogdex is a research project of the MIT Media Laboratory tracking the diffusion of information through the weblog community. Ideas can have very similar properties to a disease, spreading through the population like wildfire. The goal of Blogdex is to explore what it is about information, people, and their relationships that allows for this contagious media.

However, it seems that Blogdex does not account for the spontaneous generation of ideas in multiple locations. Similar environments will often naturally breed similar ideas, or diseases, without having contact with each other.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Chicken soup

A woman's right to choose is paramount.

Somehow, I burned the chicken stock I was making yesterday. I don't know how. But it has a distinctly burnt flavour.

I am frustrated to no end that my chicken soup does not have the clarity of my mother's golden elixir. It's murky. Is my chicken not lean enough, not clean enough? Am I using the wrong kind of vegetables? Did my mother forget to tell me about the pinch of secret magic clarifying powder I'm supposed to add? Even what I skim off the top is murkier than my mother's scum.

All my other soups come out of packages and cans. Chicken soup I insist on labouring over from scratch. It's not nearly as good as mom's. But generally, it tastes . . . OK. Yes, it's definitely OK.

Helena has discovered the laundry basket. It's a great thing for sitting in with a blanket and a book. All the time.

Perdido Street Station has infected me. It's under my skin. I find my thoughts keep returning to it. Not in an I-can't-wait-to-see-what-happens-next or just-one-more-chapter-before-I-turn-out-the-light way (I could be reading right now after all), but in a that's-some-serious-shit way. I worry about the circumstances they live in and whether they can save their world.

As part of Helena's musical education, J-F the other night was comparing and contrasting versions of The Clash's "London Calling," and again I found myself harking back to New Crobuzon, thinking this song captures the mood of that place perfectly. If they ever make a movie of Perdido Street Station, this should be The Song. Of course, they'd have to change the setting to London. . .

Also, over the last week I've been wandering around the apartment flapping my arms a lot, as if I should be able to fly. (Not flailing about; more a graceful stretch in anticipation of lift-off.)

I took Helena with me to the dentist yesterday. She would peer in on me from time to time then go back to her toys or tapping on the aquarium. It just goes to prove: I really can take her anywhere.

The ache in my jaw is subsiding, but it still hurts to yawn.

Chip Kidd wants "One with a big penis on it." Something about good book cover design.

Could it be true — "that our Sun has a companion star responsible for recurring episodes of wholesale death and destruction here on Earth"?

Ever wondered what the birth of the universe sounded like?

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Joke's on me

Oops. Turns out it was a joke. I had to have it explained to me, but I get it now.

Ironic, isn't it?

What Mr Brown meant to say was, "As well-intentioned as she is, my mother is a shit copy editor."

But his way is funnier.

So it seems I've made a grand fool of myself in front of all five of my readers. Will you respect me in the morning?

I did apologize to him and explained that I had a root canal this morning. (The third and final part of the root canal. Yay! Stay tuned for the saga of the crown.) I find all this dental work is making me cranky.

Still, the copyediting profession doesn't get the respect it deserves.

Dear Mr Brown

Explain yourself, Sir.

"As well intentioned as they may be, moms do not make the best copy editors."

I'm a mom and a copy editor. I was a copy editor — a damn good one — before I ever considered taking on motherhood.

I'm still a damn good copy editor. Better than ever, in fact.

In addition to all that hokum about how being a mom has made me a better person, I've learned a little something about time management, multitasking, and prioritizing. Sure. These are things any mom can take to the office with her.

But here's the copyediting-specific value-added stuff:

I now notice details 24/7. I was always good — that's why I started copyediting in the first place. But now it's second nature. I'm tuned in to inconsistencies, whether it be in the chapter I'm working on or across a publisher's output, in my daughter's appetite from one day to the next or in her poo. I can pinpoint changes in flash, whether it's a wording an author neglected to mention or a minute swelling that indicates a new tooth.

I can better qualify those details. I can automatically adjust my focus from the details to the big picture, from the trees to the forest, and I know instinctively which ones matter. Yes, I've always had that instinct, too — part of what made me such a fine copyeditor — but motherhood has honed it. I've sorted the non-serious fever from the tiny rash that needed attention. I know when to leave an author's voice alone and how to use gentle persuasion to make it better. I know when to identify issues for someone else to make a decision.

Working from home with children underfoot can be problematic logistically and full of distractions. But these problems are not specific to moms or to copy editors. Copyediting does hinge on those details, though, whose oversight may not be noticed so much in other professions. All employers out there really should pay much closer attention to the final product of those people who telecommute, particularly if they're contractors who charge by the hour.

I generally ensure that my daughter is being cared for elsewhere when I'm getting down to work.

Being a mom in no way in itself qualifies one to be a copyeditor. (Neither should copyediting be the task of students who work for low pay or of administrative assistants who are not trained in wordsmithery.) But it sure don't hurt.

Intentions do not a copy editor make. Nor do they make accountants, teachers, dentists, or firefighters. Only skill and training can do that. Perhaps to be a publisher intentions are enough.