Thursday, September 30, 2004

Science versus Hollywood

"As you go through the show," he said, "you'll see that he plays detective, he plays crime scene investigator, he plays lab analyst, he plays forensic psychologist, he plays social worker." In New York City especially, Dr. Kobilinsky said, the police work is more specialized.

Chemical and Engineering News

"In the name of physics decency, to protect the minds of children everywhere, so that they may grow up in a world where they know the difference between speed and velocity, we have taken the responsibility to rate movies for their portrayal of excessively bad physics."

Science against Bush

There's been a pretty serious downgrading of the input that the administration gets from scientists ... You get the impression that George Bush doesn't understand what science is.

48 Nobel laureates endorse John Kerry.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004


I had intended to regale you regarding my recent obsession with almond butter, but it seems I have unwittingly set off a family crisis, the details of which are much tastier than that smoky spread sensation.

My mother was just made aware of the fact that I'd posted a story regarding our family history.

Though I did in fact believe that story to be the truth and presented it without embellishment as fact for the record, the story would be better represented as a composite of impressions I'd gathered from snippets of others' recollections recounted over the years and assumptions I'd made to fill in the blanks. Such are the consequences when the one and only time I actually took notes, my mom, sister, and I poring over that map some 10 years, I was inebriated.

The damn notes were illegible.

Let me set the record straight. My mother's father and brother were never at Monte Cassino.

Nor did my grandfather have a mistress who helped them leave their village. The Russians ordered them to the trains, like everyone else, with only a couple hours to collect their belongings.

There is no Pulitzer prize for journalism in my future. Apparently, I'm much better at writing fiction than I thought.

I have, in my mother's words, cast dirt on my mother's family's name (which shall remain unnamed), who suffer great shame and humiliation for the lies I tell to the world, or at least to all 11 people who read this blog.

For the hurt it has caused my family I am truly sorry.

Still, I find it interesting that, in a time when people are rediscovering their past and looking for roots (witness the resurgence of "family values," the best-selling status of memoirs, the popularity of genealogy associations, courses, and software), when people are celebrating the "secrets" of thieves and murderers as the blood coursing through the branches of their family trees, an indiscretion I took for fact (though it is groundless) and told unflinchingly can stab deeply into the heart of one family's moral upstandingness, causing horror and casting shadows on its sense of right, but also of propriety.

Let this entry also serve as a reminder to readers, particularly of a certain age, that the internet is vast and anarchic, that my story is one to be lost among billions, that just because it's on the internet, doesn't mean it's true.

Monday, September 27, 2004

The pot

Not that you particularly care, and not that I don't feel a tad odd sharing information regarding bodily functions with the world, but this blog being the place where I note the minutiae of my life and of Helena's development for posterity (boy, will she be embarrassed!): yesterday, Helena used the potty. In an appropriate manner. Helena peed in the potty.

We only just bought a potty the other week, though I've been thinking about it for months. Helena has certainly barged in on me often enough and seemed interested in the goings on therein.

She did not like the potty the first day, nor especially being put to sit upon it. The next few days, she seemed more interested in trying to lift and move it. The last few days, she's taken to proclaiming "Poopoo!" or "Peepee!" and toddling quickly over to it; I'd help her wriggle out of her pants and diaper, wherein the contents would attest that the event was already complete.

It seems, Helena understands the theory. And yesterday, once, she was able to execute the act.

I have no idea if this is on target age/development-wise. I haven't even wanted to consider the prospect and the messes of toilet-training.

But this could be easy!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Washington Post Book World offers reviews of new translations and retellings of classic fairy tales, and one original, all of which seem to feature glorious illustrations. Worth checking them out.

The Magic Crystal Posted by Hello

Today, Helena walked up all the stairs (34?) to our 3rd floor apartment, upright, one hand in mine, her other on the railing.

It's all or nothing with that girl. I've seen her stand at the bottom and consider the prospect, then put her hands down to help her climb. Lately she'd stop after 4 or 5 steps and demand to be carried, more, I thought, because of the indignity and frustration of it, dirtying her hands, than because she was too tired.

This, after a day of much walking, rustling through fallen leaves.

Friday, September 24, 2004

An unfortunate series of events

Words of the day:

obtundent (ob·tun·dent) (ob-tun¢d[schwa]nt) [L. obtundens] 1. having the power to soothe pain. 2. causing obtundation. 3. a soothing or partially anesthetic medicine.

obtundation (ob·tun·da·tion) (ob²t[schwa]n-da¢sh[schwa]n) clouding of consciousness.

I haven't quite wrapped my head around how to use "obtundent" in a sentence, but I was able to determine my author was using it incorrectly. Go figure.

How about: All mothers are obtundent.

This morning I was editing a chapter on headaches in children, and it includes a table of Features Suggesting Serious Etiology for Headache, details of which I feel it is my civic duty to share with you. One of those features is "increasing head circumference in infant."

So, if you think your baby has a headache, and you see the baby's head expanding and you think it might explode, go to the emergency room.

I picked Helena up from daycare just after lunch today. We had a doctor's appointment for the post-ear infection clean bill of health. Received.

J-F left this morning for his annual fishing weekend with the guys in some remote location. Thank god he left behind his cigarettes — I meant to ask him to leave me some, but forgot — so I can fill my weekly smoking quota (one Friday night, one Saturday night, plus the occasional puff).

I was looking forward to it being just us girls. Me still feeling a trifle sickish, I thought I'd spend the weekend in bed cuddled up with baby and a cat or two, all of us singing along with The Aristocats, maybe reading The Grim Grotto aloud. But the weather was so nice today, and I've had to force myself to be out and about anyway, and Helena's way too healthy to submit to that kind of cocooning, that we spent the afternoon wandering about shops, then home through the park for some duck-watching and playground antics, and the cash in my pocket I'd earmarked for the new Lemony Snicket got spent on a handful of my favourite Polish brand "cup-a-soups" the deli happened to have in stock and a bottle of Dubonnet instead.

Mmmmm, Dubonnet. Cigarette. And the most appealing reading material in the house at the moment being the new IKEA catalogue.

I really should go to bed. (Damn this blogging addiction.) Who knows what tomorrow has in store?

Beautiful minds

Nobel Prizes. A century of creativity is an amazing exhibition of extraordinary intellectual suggestion, which takes inspiration from the men and ideas awarded with the Nobel. The exhibition investigates the uncertain origins of creativity.

The exhibit is in Florence till January. If you're going to Florence, go see it. Take me with you.

Umberto Eco opened the event.

(Found while looking for info on Eco's latest novel.)

Check out the foundation.
Stay tuned for prize announcements.
Play the games.

I missed the monkey

Pitch my life?

You gotta be kidding.

High school? Anything interesting there? Maybe a little Square Pegs meets Head of the Class, only no teacher is remotely like Howard Hesseman. Though there was that one with all the Rodney Dangerfield impressions (math), and the other one with the David Letterman schtick (math)... And all the classmates, the bit characters, are in fact much more interesting than our lead, only we never really get to know them.

No one would buy that.

The monkey was... what, a week ago? Why am I even bothering? I feel like I'm in school again and I missed the assignment, and it's so late there's no point in even trying to make it up... Point deductions per day late would fail me even if I had a stroke of brilliance.

Maybe some of the travels.

Only you have to do it from the perspective of inside my head, kind of Being John Malkovitch only you're being Isabella. We could do a kind of Sheltering Sky / Lisbon Story hybrid, but with a Bridget Jones sensibility (or lack thereof). A Nick Cave soundtrack. We'll cast Andie MacDowell — she could probably use the work. Can we get Kieslowski for this? Damn, he's dead. Well, maybe Polanski can pull this off.

Pitch my life. Like we're trying to sell it. It doesn't have to be true much, right?

A word about Walter

I can't stand that dog — the farting one.

"A huge, international marketing phenomenon" he may be, but cuddly? No.

I didn't know there was a sequel, but it seems plenty of people do. And a Latin edition.

Next month there'll be a toy Walter dog in the stores. And it farts. Ugh.

Murray says the books appeal to four distinct groups of adults: pull-my-finger dads, dog owners, people called Walter, and friends of people called Walter.

I'm none of those.

Helena received the book as a gift ages ago, and she occasionally pulls it out of the stack. Fortunately (in my view), she fixates on the picture of the veterinarian and shows little interest in the other pages or the story therein.

Walter's problem flatulence accidentally saves the day. So the father of the household finally sees his worth and decides Walter can stay. That's a moral?

The illustrations are quirky, but not inviting. I don't know at what age they might become interesting to a child. They're busy and disjointed. They lack focus — maybe there's something in them for hyperactive kids.

As for the farts, I'm not disgusted or repelled. I just don't think it's funny. I understand making light of socially awkward behaviour, but celebrating it strikes me as socially inept.

Maybe Helena will grow up to be one of those people who appreciate fart humour. Who knows? I for one won't encourage it.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

The operation of grace in the material world

That's what the narrator on the last page realizes he's been looking for. It ends well. Not happy or even just, not particularly the wiser, but rather graceful.

I wanted to write something smart about Jane Smiley's Good Faith, which I finally finished reading, but I'm sick and not thinking clearly, besides which I really only just wanted to document the fact of having read it here, which makes 20-something books this calendar year to date, which means I haven't a chance in hell of making the year average out at 1 book per week, but still, 1 every 2 weeks ain't bad.

The book was breezy and mostly believable. The characters were rich and complicated — I still wonder what really made them tick, not because they had contradictions or shortcomings but because they were human.

Real estate in the early 80s. Small-town America. The Reagan years. Something about greed and money, but refreshingly it's not a big city story. It's big fish in a small pond dreaming about making the big deal.

It's written in the first person though, from a male perspective, by a woman. And I always find this jarring. Particularly the sex scenes. They somehow didn't ring true. (I wonder if I'd feel the same way if I hadn't known the name of the author, if it weren't plastered across the cover.)

The narrator, nice-guy Joe, is a bit of an idiot about some things, and you know his "friend" is a slimeball, and you want to shake him and open his eyes to the way these "deals" are going, but you just know he wouldn't listen to you anyway. We all keep a variety of people in our lives; they're not necessarily good for us.

The sleazy snake is ex-IRS, so he has a lot of theories about how money works and how to hide it from the government. Just like Joe, we never get to know him quite as well as we'd like to.

Reviews all over were generally positive (but no gushing). I'm not sorry to have spent my time on this one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

About to enter the cycle

With the release of the third volume of Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle in hardcover, the first volume has entered the paperback cycle. Reviews were mixed, and I was daunted, but I think I'm ready for it now:

Staring at my 11 pounds, 3,775 pages, roughly 2 million words of Stephensonia, I feel the queasiness of a boa constrictor who has rashly swallowed not one, not two, not three, but four water buffalo. This act of digestive hubris has paralyzed me. How is all this to be reduced to manageable size? Where does one begin? Stephenson doesn't just care about technology and money and excrement — he cares about the intersection of God and science, the emergence of democracy, the rethinking of religion, the birth of the digital computer, and the abolition of slavery. All are mixed in with a love story, an action thriller, the search for Solomon's gold, an intellectual duel to the death between Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton, and the rise and fall of kings and nations.

(What's with Amazon listing the release of Necronomicon #2 and #3 on December 31, 2024? How weird is that?)

Tuesday, September 21, 2004


For a moment yesterday I felt like Superwoman.

Really, the feeling was good for most of the day — Helena was at daycare, I'd had a productive morning of billable work, the house was clean, dinner under way.

We are achieving normalcy. J-F and I both are lazy by nature and tend to feel overwhelmed to the point of paralysis regarding just about anything that needs doing, but we're pulling ourselves together.

I've instituted a schedule of chores, which, 2 days in, has been held to. All in an effort to free up free time, particularly weekends. Why didn't I do this before? Now we have grocery night, laundry night, bathroom-cleaning night, cat-brushing night, etc. I'm very excited about this. It feels so. . . productive. Like the world is suddenly manageable.

Helena's a bit sniffly, but in fine spirits. She started her music classes, making a foray into the world of percussion. She's learned a new song, in French, about apples, coincidentally her current fruit of choice. We've had reports that she's standing up to the daycare bully — there was bound to be one — not just standing her own ground, but coming to the defense of others. The group leader says she's never seen that kind of behaviour in one so young. When the troublemaker was kicking one of the girls, Helena stepped in, warning, "Touche pas!"

She makes me proud. I'm not convinced I have a right to that feeling just for providing a little genetic material and making sure she's fed when she's hungry. She's a good and wholly remarkable person with or without me. And whether I deserve to or not, I feel proud.

Then came this moment yesterday when I popped out for a brisk walk for a break (to return a DVD — I sure do love them Coen boys, but Ladykillers was a little slow; I dozed off midway), and there was a spring in my step, and I felt pounds lighter from the weight of the world having been lifted just a little, and everything (my body and my life) felt streamlined, and I smiled to myself, thinking, "I'm a mommy. A pretty good mommy," like it was my little secret to hold against the world.

I can do this. The whole freelance editor, working mommy, organized urbanite thing. I can do that. And I feel sexy, too.


The phenomenon of blogging about a matter days after it has occurred, after other people have blogged literately on the matter, and usually after the matter has ceased to have any relevance. The resulting blog post is generally lacking in insight as well as intensity, though occasionally it may boast a certain polish.

I can't believe Trump fired Bradford! Bradford's rash decision was stupid, Trump's decision to fire him on that basis was equally stupid (though Bradford's a despicable pig whom I would've taken down at the first opportunity — except maybe this one), but the very most stupendostupidest thing, for which he does, in a twist of logic, deserve to be fired, is Bradford's failure to defend his initial decision.

There, that's better.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Suffering from mommy brain?

Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers.

Thoughts on the many different subsets of mothers, the elusive unifying bond of motherhood, and the communities we're part of, including the ones in our heads in our relationships with books.

Three mothers walk into a bar. One is a well-paid executive who lives in L.A. with her three kids, husband, and nanny. Another, who works as a cashier at a video store, is unmarried with one teenaged child. The third raises her twin toddlers and cares for her dying great-aunt. So the bartender tries to think of something to say to the three of them, something about motherhood that they could all could relate to, but all she can think of are broad emotions like Love and Fear. The three smile politely at each other and at the bartender, then sip their drinks in silence. The bartender cleans some glassware and thinks about what to pack in her kids' lunches. They're all tremendously relieved when the priest and the rabbi walk in.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Watershed fiction

It's been a week since Lisa Jardine's article about women from academia, the arts, and publishing nominating life-changing books was published in The Guardian, and I've been meaning to mention it, but I've been thinking about it instead.

The idea behind "watershed women's fiction" was to create a list of 30 books – by women and men – that had been in some way inspirational for women readers. We defined a "watershed" book as one that had made a crucial difference during some transitional period in life. It might have sustained someone in adversity, matched her joy at moving on in some significant way, or helped her make an emotional choice through emulation or analogy. It would be a book that made a memorable intervention – not a favourite book or one that got you reading in the first place.

Has any one book actually changed my life?

Sad to say, my first reaction is that the answer is "no." Of all the hundreds (thousands?) of books I've read in my lifetime, very few have left any lasting impact at all. Perhaps I'm not very good at this reading business after all.

Regarding the usual girly mentions: Jane Austen books I never particularly liked (I prefer the movies). As for the Brontës, Wuthering Heights I never finished; Jane Eyre I loved, but it was hardly an earth-shattering revelation or life-changing inspiration.

Contemporary fiction also made a strong appearance. We were surprised to find that it was the mature women who tended to pick Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, Annie Proulx, Doris Lessing, Maya Angelou and Jeanette Winterson.

I'd like to share company with the mature women. Atwood and Lessing are favourites of mine.

Atwood is smart, and funny when you least expect it. If I had to single out one of her books, it would be The Blind Assassin, but it did not change my life.

As for Lessing, I haven't read many of her books, but I feel she's important. The Fifth Child articulated some deep fears within me about the children mothers raise, long before I ever considered entering into motherhood. And I happened to be reading The Good Terrorist when the events of September 11 transpired, which gave me a perverse window onto (say, however simplistically) the misguided lives, the intentions and motivations of the perpetrators.

These books had an impact, but they did not change my life, no more than after the reading of any book you are different person from when you started.

I will again sing the virtues The First Century after Beatrice by Amin Maalouf. It is the book I most often recommend. To everyone. It has opened my eyes a little to the issue of gender selection and associated distasteful practices. I follow news stories I might otherwise not have noticed. But it has not made me an activist, apart from encouraging others to read this book.

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster. Changed my life. There. I knew I would find one. Thing is, I can't quite pinpoint how. Something to do with that time in my life, fumbling about at university, identity, my obsession with the myth of the Tower of Babel, why I finally chose to study linguistics, and my generally roundabout approach to life.

(A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower also scores points, pushing all my buttons but not moving me to a life-changing degree.)

If I search back, way back, there's A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett). Not because it introduced me to the world of books — I was already immersed in it. I read it when I was 8 or 9 — it couldn't've been long after my father died. I felt something like empathy with poor orphaned Sara (our princess), and so a whole new level of reading was opened up to me, some place Nancy Drew could not take me. I learned something about mastery of one's inner life even when completely at odds with one's surroundings.

The results of the survey were summarized the following day, but I only just stumbled upon the article today.

(I'm delighted to see A Little Princess made the list, but infuriated that they got the article wrong — it's "A," not "The.")

My watersheds to date: the loss of innocence of childhood and the brink of adulthood. I anticipate more to come.

Friday, September 17, 2004


Yesterday, Helena did some drawing. Usually, it's just line and colour — a study in formalism. This time, I asked her what it was she was drawing a picture of. She thought a minute, decided "Doggy," and added a few strokes as it to solidify the representation.

Really, it's a dog. Posted by Hello

When prompted, she pointed out the tail, nose, and toes. If you squint you can kind of see it. That's a dog alright, its tail wagging up on the left, blobby mass of head to the right.

This morning, I conducted a little science experiment. I asked her about the picture. It's still a doggy, its tail, nose, and toes still in the same places.

Does she clearly "see" doggy in her handiwork? Or does she "merely" remember having proclaimed it a dog and want to stick by her story?

When artists paint with a "child-like naivete," do they physically behold the world differently? — Not filling in the blanks, as it were, as the rest of us are accustomed to doing to give continuity to our surroundings; nor grasping for details to help attribute meaning. The world is beheld just for a moment as it is.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Which fantasy/scifi character are you?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

Jean-Luc Picard
An accomplished diplomat who can virtually do no wrong, you sometimes know it is best to rely on the council of others while holding the reins.

I wish.

Via SF Signal.

(If you retake the test, not only do the questions appear in a different order, so do the answers. Nice touch!)

Scales and arpeggios

As I write this, Helena's on her way to daycare. I'm breathing a small sigh of relief, but it's confused by the anxiety accompanying the feeling that this is her first day all over again.

She's healthy as ever and excited to be going back. All through breakfast Helena was mumbling stuff about Marlène, her group leader.

Everyone at the center has commented on Helena's sweet disposition and easy-going nature, that she's been quick to get the hang of their ways and routines. There was only one incident on her second day, when the group was going out for a walk: her refusal to hold onto the rope. But by the following day they'd crushed her spirit enough to the point she'd follow along — she has a good attitude, they said.

So we had a couple sleepless nights this week. We also had much cuddling on demand.

There have been other demands. But we all get a little cranky when sick, and Helena has the disadvantage of not yet being able to make herself understood.

One night in the delirium of fever, I thought, she was crying and pointing vigorously, angrily. After many failed guesses at the intended direction of her flailing, she, though evidently frustrated, was calmed by my efforts. She pointed more clearly now while I carried her, following her directions to the kitchen, stopping at the freezer door. She clearly announces, "pita," so I pull one out of the freezer and she bites in. If only she'd said it 20 minutes beforehand... Who'd've thought that at 2 a.m. she'd be craving a snack? The poor little thing was ravenous, devouring one pita and falling asleep with a half-eaten second one in her hand.

There was another sleepless night of books. Although her behaviour had the air of delirium about it, maybe it was just plain tired and cranky and not being able to sleep. We sat in bed and she insisted that I read to her at least a dozen different books.

How do I know that? It's not like she names them by title. I guess we know their distinguishing features well enough, and we know each other well enough, that some things are clear. But at some point exhaustion took hold, and she fell asleep crying, screaming, "book! book! da book! book!"

All three of us in our bed. Because it's roomy, and we can't all climb into her crib for cuddling, and I wasn't sleeping in bed anyway — in theory I was up late working. J-F had dozed off and was lightly snoring. Helena looks over at him, then at me, and raises her finger in front of her mouth and says, "Ssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh. Sssshhh!" I laughed so hard, I woke J-F up.

We watched The Aristocats about 10,000 times. If possible, each viewing holds her attention even more. I guess there's a familiarity factor that lets her explore new details each time.

(Helena's not much of a TV watcher. In fact, after 10 minutes of Sesame Street, or whatever, or if I'm watching Charlie Rose or Oprah in the afternoon, she's good enough to walk up to the television set and turn it off so we can focus our attention on more important things, like block assembling or teeth brushing.)

But The Aristocats are something else. And I played an active part in creating this monster, encouraging this kind of passive downtime, and encouraging this film above the usual TV fare.

I tried to trick her once. We don't have a huge library of children's DVDs (there's some Muppets, and The Secret Garden — it'll be years before they're shown any appreciation), but I did dig up an old video of Charlotte's Web (thanks, Janine!).

So I slid the movie in, and enthusiastically pointed out farm animals. But there's just not enough cats in it. Besides, why examine the rural life when you can see the sights of Paris? (That's my girl!)

Helena's favourite song from The Aristocats is "Scales and Arpeggios," to which she always sways her head from side to side and sings along. But she doesn't know the words, so she supplies her own lyrics: "Cat, cat cat. Cat, cat."

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The engineer that is my baby

Last night, I slept. Six glorious, uninterrupted, overindulgent hours.

Corollary: Helena slept through the night.

Implication: the job due 2 days ago remains unfinished.


We went to feed the ducks yesterday, and that was a very good thing.

For the umpteen-hundredth time I ask Helena to please not remove the bookmark from the novel I'm currently reading (rather, not reading, for want of spare time). She casts the bookmark aside and starts flipping pages.

I embark on a polemical defense of the bookmark and its uses. Helena picks it up — novel on lap, boomark in hand. With a scooping gesture, she uses the bookmark to separate and turn pages. She glances at me, "Mom, the energy involved doesn't make it worth the effort."

She settles on a chapter, placing the bookmark across the open pages as if to hold the book open. It slides shut. Try again. No success. She gives me another look, a raised eyebrow. "Really mom, your bookmark ought to be able to do these things for you. Otherwise, what's the point?"

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

What kind of a freaky mother are you?

Goth Mama
You're a witchy woman! Chances are that you see
Morticia Addams as a role model, and your
wardrobe sports a fair amount of black. The
other mothers at school pick up may look
askance, but your kids already know that the
judgement of others isn't what counts.

What kind of a freaky mother are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Via Scribbling Woman.


Helena's first full day at daycare was Thursday last week and resulted in exhaustion — hers, that is.

Friday she was tired, a little feverish. We kept her home. I'd been prepared for this — the reaction to last week's vaccination was about to strike. She'd reacted last time, freaking us out with high fever; I assumed we'd go through something similar again.

Fever seemed to come and go. Saturday, she was still up for a jaunt in the park with J-F. I was trying to work to make up for hours lost to easing the daycare transition that week.

None of it seems so bad now. When I proclaimed it "the shittiest weekend ever," I was overreacting. When I declared it was almost over, I did so without realizing the shittiest night ever lay ahead.

Helena has an ear infection.

After an essentially sleepless night for all parties concerned, I wanted to check her temperature again. Then I noticed the gummy residue on the ear thermometer.

I should've known. I shouldn't've been so quick to assume it was a vaccine reaction. I should've been checking her ears.

Guilt: I must really be an awful mother. Justification: if she were the kind of baby who was prone to ear infections, I'd've known about it by now.

The doctor at the clinic (not our usual) was a little dramatic (Spanish, I think): It's serious. What a big infection, very serious. Oh, my God — this one's perforated. Did you smell that?

He cleaned Helena's ear and insisted on showing J-F the pus he'd extracted. "Wow, look at that! What a serious infection!"

I'm standing beside them, dying inside. My baby's eardrum! How could I have not rushed her to a doctor days ago? Or is it because we spent 3 hours in the waiting room? Have I ruined her hearing? Is her head gangrenous?

The looks on our faces spoke volumes. Dr Excitable turned it down a notch, reassuring us it was very common in babies and no permanent damage was suffered. For a second though, I saw him as a little kid poking frog entrails, thrilling at how cool blood and guts are, thinking maybe he should be a doctor when he grows up.

Helena is well on the road to recovery. She's home from daycare for at least another day.

I missed my work deadline. As much as I pushed, 10 minutes here, 5 there, sacrificing sleep and, more importantly, dismissing Helena during the day "Not now, Helena. Mommy has to work," a hundred times over — ensuring she'll have a really bad attitude towards employment, I'm sure — I still missed the deadline.

I have got to find a way to work with her in the house. J-F when he's home still finds it endearing — "She likes hanging out with you. She thinks you're cool." — Distracting Helena is just too much work; easier to make mom feel guilty for neglecting her daughter. (But as soon as Helena's better and we get this fulltime daycare under way, I won't need to be working evenings, nights, and weekends.)

Until an hour ago, I kept pushing myself. I'm just now reconciling myself to the flubbed deadline, to the fact that I'm only human, that I need sleep, and just this one quiet coffee break. I'm doing what I can. I'm deathly afraid of the irony to transpire — that Helena will be tended to by strangers (however well) while I sit home with nothing to do, having given my client cause to award contracts elsewhere.

There's a handful of sweet-Helena anecdotes to relate, but I'll save it for later.

Peace and love.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The shittiest weekend ever

is almost over.

There was some good stuff, but very little.

Helena's sick, and I'm about to miss a deadline for work.

Experiencing intense withdrawal (in addition to sleep deprivation). Must. Blog. Soon.

Thursday, September 09, 2004


Brick Lane, by Monica Ali. Shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize.

I was prepared to dislike it, call it overrated. I'd saved an early (North American) review, noting the novel as one I should look into:

The miserable shock of immigration to Britain has been touched on by other writers — Naipaul, Rushdie, the Sri Lankan novelist Romesh Gunesekera — but no writer I know of has taken as her entire stretched subject the loneliness and the shabby poverty of these English near-ghettos. . . Ali's fictional world is shockingly monocultural — it contains only Bangladeshis who by choice and by necessity keep to themselves — and it is far from cheerful, even if her book is frequently comic.

My interest waned as the rest of the English-speaking world's took hold.

Months went by; I didn't even consider paying full price for it. But finally I selected it as part of my QPB introductory package.

I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

It's a quiet little novel. Nothing much happens. The opening chapters made no impression on me. But the further along I read, the more I was drawn in.

The book deserves every word of praise written about it. I'm surprised that some critics gently knocked the ending or thought the story lacked depth, seemingly compelled to level the usual criticisms against a first novel. Maybe they only do that to books strong enough to take it. (Contrast the undeservedly glowing reviews of Jhumpa Lahiris's The Namesake.)

The story is summarized elsewhere — it's Nazneen's coming-of-age story, Nazneen who was "left to her fate," who had an arranged marriage with a much older man, Nazneen barely literate, plucked out of Bangladesh and dropped into London — but I wanted to record some impressions.

The husband we dislike from the beginning, the man we thought foolish, even ridiculous, who becomes a cuckold, at first pathetic, becomes very sympathetic. It's this fool who later has the wisest things to say.

"The thing about getting older," said Chanu, "is that you don't need everything to be possible anymore, you just need some things to be certain."

Ali in telling the world through Nazneen's eyes, compels us to feel Nazneen's softening for him, and a growing respect. Chanu's relationships with the world are a mystery. We come to understand him at the same pace as Nazneen does.

"I don't know," said Chanu. "Apart form this: sometimes, when it seems the world is against you, it is tempting to side with the world."

Chani's not really the focus of the story, but he's always there, wielding so much control. A symptom of the readers' identifying with Nazneen, I got really wrapped up in trying to figure out what makes him tick.

This to say the people of Brick Lane are very complicated creatures.

This is the first novel I've read incorporating the events of September 11 into its backdrop for everyday life. A bit jarring, but sensibly dealt with. A catalyst for some of the characters, living in their Islamic microcosm.

Brick Lane is praised also in a guest opinion hosted by Maud Newton.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Daycare day 1

A half-day really. Declared a success.

Off to daycare. Posted by Hello

Apparently she got along swimmingly with all. No crying. One little boy tried to take away the toy she was playing with, but she stood firm and said, "No!" (I'm very proud of this).

J-F and I both went to retrieve her. She was happy to see us and show us around, but she would've been just as happy to stay put. (Oddly, it's J-F who's the most concerned — emotionally invested, even — over this change in our lives. Helena and I are taking it in stride.)

She fell asleep moments after we left the centre, so I'm guessing she won't have trouble adjusting to the nap schedule. The sounds of heavy construction, rerouted traffic, disgruntled bus passengers, and renovations in the downstairs apartment have not woken her.

Seeing through this transition means this week is not yet a "normal" one for me. Of course, it's a priority to ensure Helena acclimatizes to her new routine, and the new people and environs in her life. All else will fall into place.

See the attitude I have to put up with:

Wearing my shoes no less. Posted by Hello

Monday, September 06, 2004

Growing up and growing tired

I'm a mess.

I probably shouldn't even be taking the time to do this, to blog. I should be sleeping. But I need to empty my head before I can rest it peacefully.

(There's always so much to say when things are busy, but no time to say it. By the time there's time, the words are always less intense, less important, less real. Remind me that I have things to say about Brick Lane, which I finished days ago — is the book leaving me already, or is it in me now?)

Helena starts daycare in the morning. I'm pretty excited by this, but I feel so sad that this weekend was so full of nothing special and some plain old shit — that I couldn't take her to the park, spend a day doing our favourite things, and maybe some new someday-to-be-favourite things, like buying her an ice cream cone. As if we'll never again have a day to do those things. As if life has changed forever. And I squandered my last days with her on work.

I tell myself the weekend doesn't count anyway — our last stay-at-home-mom day (rather, stay-at-home-baby day — I'll continue to sit at this desk in the apartment) was Friday, and though eventful, in spirit it was typical.

Saturday morning she had her innoculation, against whatever weird diseases the government requires us to combat. The usual cocktail for 18-month-olds, though it's been a couple months since she was 18 months old. Yes, I procrastinated, then was busy, then forgot — I am an awful, negligent mother.

The stats: 13.45 k, 89 cm. At 21-and-a-half months, she's a big girl. The nurse says her hair is incredibly long too.

The shot: Helena wailed inconsolably, but then she got over it.

Neat stuff about my baby

When Big Bird's counting while Ernie's hiding, Helena puts her hands over her eyes and makes noises that sound a little like numbers. Very cute.

She mimics words like they're going out of style. Popular words this weekend: slinky, Lego, cacoor (calculator), and something I couldn't possibly replicate that means "shiny elephant."

Helena was served some leftover pasta for lunch, and I swear she said, "That doesn't look very good."

For the first time, Helena asked for a cookie. She took me by the hand, pointed to the cupboard, and said "cookie." Not sitting at the table, questioning the meal in front of her, discovering percussive uses for her "fook," babbling in a fidgety kind of way "babacookie?bana." This time, her intention was unmistakable. I give her "cookie" (Farley's biscuits) as an occasional snack — Helena can take it or leave it. Cookie is definitely more fun to say than to eat. But this one — she wanted it and relished it.

We had a cherry tomato incident. Helena was helping to unpack groceries and it seems she decided to liberate a few. I thought the basket looked rather meagre when I tucked it away, but it was 24 hours before I discovered there were runaways stashed in all corners of the living room.

"Manate." Tomate. This is the word her rendition of which is, in all her vocabulary, furthest from the actual word.

The summer I was pregnant with Helena, all I ate was tomatoes. I've always loved tomatoes, but that summer they were particularly plump and juicy. That smell when they're fresh off the vine drives me wild. I wanted Helena to share my appreciation for the fruit, but I was afraid that after all her in utero consumption she might swear off them for life. My worries were unfounded. A couple of months ago she came 'round. Manate.

So we're playing with my old Fisher Price schoolhouse, specifically the magnetic letters of the alphabet and the tray that houses them, when I made some innocuous comment about whether they would stick to a particular surface in Helena's room. Helena looked at me, left in a hurry, and came back a moment later with her (plastic toy) hockey stick. And she raises the stick to the surface in question. I'm flabbergasted. She heard "stick" and understood "stick" the noun when I meant "stick" the verb. How complicated is that tiny mind! How sophisticated the human machine and its language!

Today, she drew on the soles of her feet (her legs in general, but her soles were the focus, with some spillover onto the sofa cushions) with a black pen. I saw it about to happen, then happening, and I'm guessing I probably should've stopped her (is that what a good mother would do?) but I was somehow living a vicarious thrill. Pen! Writes on the body! Boy, was she proud.

Weird stuff about the blogosphere

I'm a voyeur. That's what the Internet is for (I mean "internet," lowercase 'i' — I never understood that well-it's-a-proper-noun argument which everyone denies ever existed, yet I have trouble breaking the habit), to peer into others' windows.

(So, yeah, this blog is a fort. It's ostentatiously private: how much am I telling you? You don't know what my apartment smells like, for example. Not that I expect you to care. Only, having a blog sets up an inside and an outside; otherwise, it would be all inside, or all outside, and there would be no reason to look. Our computers are the peephole, and the whole (can I use this word?) blogosphere is a vast international warren of forts, like a hamster-run, connected by an elaborate system of tunnels.)

Over the last month, it's become uncomfortable. I almost want to turn away, close my eyes, navigate the browser to a virtual happy place. I've read about the intimate details of strangers: mothers dying, wives leaving, rapes and miscarriages. People turned inside out.

Public, yet anonymous.

Where was I going with this? Something about my personal angsts. That I don't mind for the world to know them. That in the grand scheme of things they're not to be taken very seriously.

Friday, September 03, 2004


This morning, Helena and I hung out at the playground, then went to feed the ducks.

We perched ourselves up on the rock. I left the stroller on the sidewalk.

Only I forgot to put the brakes on.

And it was kind of windy.

I am such an idiot.

We watched the stroller roll in slow motion as some malicious prankster ghost tipped it over the edge, into the lake. That's what I get for choosing the 11-pound model.

I was running for it before its hitting the water was an inevitability, but not fast enough. I yanked it out by its back wheel. Helena was crying, stranded on the rock. Helena's jacket, which had been slung over the handle, was drifting away. I debated walking in after it — it's not even 3-feet deep — before realizing I may as well try using the already soaking wet stroller as a grappling hook.

Why am I even telling you this?

I'm certain people were pointing and laughing.


Of course Helena at this point was much too tired to walk home, so I carried her. The stroller I pushed, and I guarantee it weighs significantly more than 11 pounds when sopping.

The stroller had needed a good hosing down anyway, but I would've planned our day differently.

Hello? Anybody there?

An article in New Scientist would have you believe we are on the brink of contact:

This radio signal, now seen on three separate occasions, is an enigma. It could be generated by a previously unknown astronomical phenomenon. Or it could be something much more mundane, maybe an artefact of the telescope itself.

But it also happens to be the best candidate yet for a contact by intelligent aliens in the nearly six-year history of the SETI@home project, which uses programs running as screensavers on millions of personal computers worldwide to sift through signals picked up by the Arecibo telescope.

The signal's frequency is one of the main frequencies at which hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, readily absorbs and emits energy; if you were an alien trying to communicate something to the universe, you might use this part of the radio spectrum.

There are other oddities.

However, Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute sets the record straight for The hopes expressed in the New Scientist article are all hyperbole.

The statistics of noise make it fairly likely that at least one of the candidates observed . . . would reappear, even if all these signals were simply due to receiver fluctuations.

As yet, there's no good reason to believe we're about to patch through a call to another civilization.

He reassures us that when the SETI project has some real evidence, we'll know about it.

What if, just like us, the aliens aren't transmitting, but just sitting at home quietly, listening?

Thursday, September 02, 2004

What the rest of the world is reading

From a poem by Marzanna Kielar:

...The clouds descend amphitheatrically,
into the mountainous sea,
into ashen alleys of shattered columns, into collapsed
arches of arcades
drift fishing vessels

The new issue of World Literature Today is online. Much as its material interests me, I'm too dumb to understand most of it. Though I can appreciate Ngugi wa Thiong'o on recovering and connecting to one's language.

Plenty of excerpts. I recommend "The Last Face," from a recent translation of The Mansion by Álvaro Mutis.

There's a piece on the state of Russian poetry, and I don't care much for either Russian poetry or the state it might be in. However:

Given the opportunity to express themselves freely, unexacting authors have turned to the printed word with the sole aim of attracting attention to themselves, of shocking the reader in some way. It can be difficult for uninformed readers to find their way through the constantly swelling sea of new publications. Literary journals that provide an overview of current fiction and poetry cost so much that few people subscribe to them anymore. Professional critics should be working to identify works that display true artistic merit, but, for a number of reasons, they are not always up to the task. In Russia, a country where, we once believed, people read more than anywhere else in the world, suddenly there seems to be a catastrophic shortage of readers.

...amid all this, Russian poetry is thriving.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

88-Fingers Louie

What's with the puke yellow jerseys? Who's bright idea was that? Who the hell are the Winnipeg Falcons? I like how everybody's name is Canada though; shows real team spirit — Canada scores! And they just ripped out a couple rows of seats — they could easily change the NHL standard rink size!

It'll be Chinese takeout and more hockey tonight.

Remember when Fred buys the piano for Wilma? Sing it with me.

Happy anniversary,
Happy anniversary,
Happy anniversary,
HAAAppy anniversary.
Happy happy happy happy hAppY AnnivErsary,
Happy happy happy happy happy anniversaryyy!

Eight years ago today, J-F and I had our first date. Only I wasn't sure it was a real date when I set out to meet him. But about 5 hours (and 8 beers) into the encounter I realized I was having a really good time and it could indeed be construed as a date; so we stayed another 5 hours and embarked on a lifetime.

Since we never actually bothered to get married, this is the day we celebrate. (Honestly, you can't tell me that after 7 years and 10 months of living with someone and raising a baby with him, an official marriage ceremony would make one iota of difference.)

The biggest problem is the labelling issue: neither boyfriend nor husband is exactly right, partner is wrong, significant other is too long (and s.o. is just stupid). With casual acquaintances I've referred to my husband or my boyfriend, but I have trouble keeping it consistent. I've looked back on conversations and thought, gee, I hope she doesn't think I have one of each.

The first anniversary of this blog is also fast approaching, though in my mind a bigger milestone was recently passed: 100,000 words. Granted, only a small fraction of those words are not quoted from other sources, but it gives me pause: Maybe there's something to this writing stuff. Maybe I could do that (write) after all. If I wanted to.

Mind you, I just finished writing a sample article for a job application, and the process was gruelling. Without the right motivation, it's hard.

Although, the other week I stumbled across this phrase in a text I'm editing, and I can't get it out of my head: the huntingtin site on chromosome 4. Does that not sound like a space opera crying out to be written? Only more like, say, "Meiosis" by Calvino.

The Infinite Cat Project (as distinct from the Infinitely Stupid Cat Project being conducted in my household).