Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Let it be resolved

I never make resolutions. Never. Thirty-four years on this planet, I've never felt compelled to improve myself. Sure, I make to-do lists occasionally, but they usually involve, say, going to the post office, not learning to cook French cuisine. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I should be making resolutions.

Here goes...

1. Be better informed about world events.
2. Read at least some of the National Geographic that appears in my mailbox every month.
3. Be an active conversationalist.
4. Play my violin regularly.
5. Speak Polish with Helena.
6. Speak French with all the French people around here.
7. Take a walk every day.
8. Procrastinate less, work more efficiently.
9. Make more to-do lists.
10. Drink more, in that fun, uninhibited way.

That's enough. Wish me luck.

Number 14

Lower right cuspid.

Cranky girl. Ya big baby — it's just a bony growth piercing your gums.

Morgan's angels

Richard Morgan's Broken Angels is a neat (sometimes very messy) adventure story set against a sweeping backdrop of dirty politics, revolutionaries, corporate loyalties, and military action, and on this foundation it begins to construct a Martian mythology.

This is the same world we were introduced to in Altered Carbon, further fleshed out and featuring the same but freshly sleeved hero, Takeshi Kovacs. Whereas Altered Carbon was a detective story driven by individuals, Broken Angels is a kind of treasure hunt, where personalities are secondary to the vast corporate and other forces that direct them. The noir is gone, but the darkness remains in this more traditional and militaristic sci-fi story.

The characters, though secondary, are fully three-dimensional with consistent behaviour. When bodies are so easily replaced, identity by personality is very important, and Morgan is a master at this. Takeshi Kovacs remains complex, a product of his slum-ridden childhood, his special-ops training, and bio-engineering, including a wolf gene splice.

The language and the violence are still pretty hard-boiled.

But. The punctuation. Was driving me. Nuts. Periods are intended to mark the end of a full sentence or, at the very least, a complete thought. Here, they are used to mark. Both unnatural. And natural pauses. Dashes and ellipses are better suited to this purpose — showing... how we... slow down to... collect our thoughts, or when our — speech — is — externally — interrupted. Fire that copyeditor.

The broken angels of the title are the vanished Martian civilization. I hope the archeologists of Richard Morgan's world will continue to pick away at their remains and piece together their culture in the third Kovacs novel, Woken Furies.

Same old pain in the ass

The pain is subsiding, but the sight of the site of it is absolutely grotesque and streaming with colour. It radiates heat. J-F says it looks like a bullet wound.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Home for the holidays

It was nice to go "home" to spend Christmas with family — Helena brought many people much cheer — but there's nothing like coming home.

Dismayed by the news of no news from Mars. The Beagle may or may not have landed.

Today and yesterday felt more like Christmas than any day of the last couple weeks. Lazing about in my new Christmas pyjamas, and playing. Playing, and not working. Playing with baby, and with baby's toys, and on the computer. Reading. Relaxing.

I've added the soon to be published Mimi Smartypants to my sidebar because I think she's dreadfully funny. And she has a freshly adopted daughter about Helena's age, so I can compare notes.

Helena's toys

I have little say in what others give Helena. I have little say in whether Helena will like what others give her.

At the end of the day, I can stand back and watch. I'm learning to see through Helena's eyes. And sometimes I even understand what other people were thinking when they purchased their strange playthings.

This said, I feel such elation, pride, and vindication when Helena interacts with the toys I picked out for her. If I can find objects that produce such joy in her, maybe I have some inkling as to what I'm doing as a mother after all.

It doesn't have to be big or bright. No bells and whistles, so to speak. Digital this, electronic that... I believe in simple and pure.

For Christmas we gave her a shape-sorting castle, pictured here. She's entranced by it.

Helena also received lots of clothes, in which generally she doesn't show much interest; books aplenty, including a series of four brilliantly illustrated books of nursery rhymes and an amazing cloth book with a tiny Pooh bear that can be moved from page to page (Helena hasn't shown much interest in this yet; its appeal is to adult Pooh fans); and Lego, with its own table.

The Lego is from my sister. I think Lego is awesome, and I hope Helena will, too. We've waited to make the introduction. We have yet to establish a Lego play area, and we've waited for Christmas happenings and excitement to die down. But now, soon, maybe tomorrow, it is time.

Where is the Walrus?

God help me if I can find a copy in Montreal, and I've looked, and I've looked.

Bookninja's mad, too:

Extra! Well, here it is, the end of another month and The Walrus is AWOL, AGAIN. Are they late? Are they on a break? What is their schedule? No one seems to know. It's not in the magazine (at least not easily found) and it's not on the ridiculously out-of-date and error-ridden website (eg, on their contact page: "ADVERTISERS: Plese read Information for advertisers." Typo and broken link... That's gotta inspire confidence.) The first issue somehow made it to stands before those hoodwinked into subscribing by a massive media blitz even saw it, the second issue was weeks late with the excuse, "Hey, it's still November and we only said 10 issues a year." So, apparently, those other two months are to be doled out in two and three week chunks as needed to cover for inept editing and poor management. We'll see what happens come April when they've used this "flex time" up and the excuses and finger pointing start to get really amusing. It's bad enough the magazine looks like a bad text book and that the articles are so boring they seem to actually reach into you and squeeze your adrenal glands shut, but on top of poor design and editing, the damn thing is late three times in a row. I could excuse a few screw-ups from a magazine that was working its way up from a grassroots following to a monthly publication, but these guys have sold the Canadian public (and some big American writers) on their cash, reliability, and editorial "vision." Did that vision include bored readers and late issues? Probably not. As of 10:30 this morning, no one was answering the phone there. 10:30 on a Monday when there are millions of dollars in the pot! This magazine is supposed to be Canada's answer to American juggernauts like Harper's and The New Yorker, but despite it's $5 million kitty, it actually is more closely related to another American institution: Mickey Mouse. Ask yourself a serious question: why has no one written about this in the mainstream media? $2.50 a word, that's why. So much for the integrity of journalism.

Maybe I don't care if I can't find a copy.

Monday, December 29, 2003

The extraordinariness of it all

Last night we watched The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

The website is basic and can't decide whether it's Allan Quatermain or Quartermain, Dorian Gray or Grey. I hate that.

The movie was off to a great start, built on a fabulous premise, but somewhere along the way it got confusing, then boring.

Of course, now I must search out the graphic novel by Alan Moore upon which the film was based. I hate being one of those people who come upon books via blockbusters. I want to have known the book first. In this case, I did lay eyes and hands on the book some two years, courtesy of J-F's uncle, and I was intrigued, but I never followed through.

As such, I don't know whether my problems with the material generate with the moviemakers or whether they lie with the source text.

Allan Quatermain. I'm not familiar with this legend of a man. He seems a fitting leader.

Captain Nemo. I guess I'll have to read Verne to know if Nemo had kung fu in addition to science.

The Invisible Man. The movie features not the Invisible Man, as it seems the book does, but rather some thug who stole the formula. If Griffin was good enough for Moore's story, then why not for the movie?

Mina Harker. Since when is she a chemist? And why isn't her behaviour typical of vampire mythology? (She is out and about in daylight, and I believe she checks herself in a mirror.) And why do all the movie and book reviews spell her name "Minna" (did Moore do that?)?

Dorian Gray. Weird choice for a "hero." Weird. He says he's there amend for his wrongful ways. Not believable motivation. As for the later revealed real motivation, it simply doesn't make any sense. The guy's immortal — if someone has something he wants, he could walk right up and take it.

Tom Sawyer. Not among the league in the source text. Not a good idea to include him in the film. Necessary to embrace some Americanism? He sure don't talk like I thought he would. An' if I was the government, I wouldn't be lookin' to enlist the likes of 'im. Yet, according to the movie's official website, "the American government hunted him down... Tom's mission: to infiltrate the League." Huh. I watched the whole movie, and I didn't know that.

Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde. Why is he in Paris? Quatermain when hunting him down makes reference to the string of as yet unexplained murders in the Rue Morgue. But those of us who have actually read Edgar Allan Poe know the culprit there to be an orangutan. (Apparently Dupin has a role in Moore's work, but I don't know in what context.)

As for our villain:

He is the Napoleon of crime, Watson.
He is the organizer of half that is evil and of nearly all that is undetected in this great city.
He is a genius, a philosopher, an abstract thinker.
He has a brain of the first order.
He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them.
He does little himself.
He only plans.
But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized.

Sadly, little of this character actually shines through on film.

The first "incident" of the movie involves the theft of blueprints of Venice, an aid in boobytrapping a secret conference of world leaders. However, my understanding is that this secret conference was only called in response to the series of incidents set off by the circumstances surrounding the theft of the blueprints. Hmmm. Too, I'd think the conference attendees would be made aware of the threat to their meeting location and maybe reschedule. (From all I can deduce, the main plot point of the graphic novel is confined to London. I suppose the Venice setting showcased the Nautilus in ways London never could.)

Still, a nice literary jigsaw puzzle of a premise. Not at all ordinary.

A bigger pain in the ass

The bruising is spectacular. J-F says it looks like Saturn.

The flesh of my buttock is now augmented by a hard, grapefruit-sized lump. Sitting hurts; moving is awkward.

It seems I must've put out a hand to break my fall after all — a tough reflex to inhibit. My thumb and wrist are tender, and on close inspection there is a shallow scrape across the meat of my palm.

I'd wanted to go for a walk with Helena today — get some air, buy some fruit. But I'm not sure I can carry her down and then up again to the third floor, let alone with a diaper bag and any shopping we pick up.


Sunday, December 28, 2003

Pain in the ass

Today, I fell. On my ass. Hard. On the ice in our parking lot. With baby in arms.

In readjusting the grip on my purse, I lost my balance. The irony is that, were it not for having a sleeping baby in my arms, I'd've recovered a well centred and upright position, or at least broken the fall.

But I hugged her tight and close. In slow motion, I felt dread and panic as to what might befall my precious cargo.

The jostling obviously woke her, and she woke up laughing. I almost think she was laughing at me falling, but maybe it just felt funny.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Merry Christmas!

J-F's taken Helena into the office with him this morning. It's still officially a workday, but the atmosphere is casual and festive.

When they return, we pack up the car and drive. I expect we'll be there well before midnight, but I also expect my mom will be a little miffed that we're late for the traditional supper.

Just my mom and my sister will be there. A quiet holiday. But I hope a happy one. For my mom, I mean. I'm happy. There's no doubt Helena is full of cheer. And J-F — the next few days won't be easy for him, but I know he's happy to do it.

The New Yorker has posted A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner) by James Thurber (December 24, 1927):

“We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said.

“Go to sleep,” said mamma.

“We can’t sleep,” said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.

“Can you sleep?” asked the children.

“No,” I said.

“You ought to sleep.”

“I know. I ought to sleep.”

“Can we have some sugarplums?”

“You can’t have any sugarplums,” said mamma.

“We just asked you.”

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

The person Helena will become

How much is my child an expression of myself?

"Grown-up stores marketing children's items add to the misconception that kids are just like adults, only smaller. And the unfortunate side effect of that theory seems to be the burgeoning concept of parenting by art direction: The belief that one can mold his or her child's personality by purchasing the appropriate accoutrements."

How do I groom her to be an astronaut?

"An Ikea child would feel stifled and confused in the home of a Pottery Barn kid. Except for the wicker baskets. They both have wicker baskets."

Even Helena has wicker baskets. For her cloth diapers.

But her room's a mess actually. I wouldn't feel comfortable sleeping in there. I should do something about that.

On her wall are letters spelling out her name that I cut out of some old Picasso calendars. Mostly because I didn't have any child-appropriate posters to hang, painting would require too much energy, and I had more old calendars on hand than I do bristol board in primary colours.

As for around the house, we listen to a lot of Beethoven, some Miles Davis. We prefer to have CBC radio provide the background noise to our day than to watch television. There are books everywhere; Helena sees me often with my nose in a book and mimics this behaviour.

I have, of course, insisted on a couple splurge items (and convinced other family members to splurge on these items for us): the chair and the stroller.

"Roll a hulking Graco stroller down the streets of Manhattan and you'll be greeted with xenophobic stares from all the Maclaren pushers. But this is not just urban elitism; it goes both ways. Take one of those lightweight Maclarens with you while visiting relatives out in SUV country and you'll have incredulous neighbors asking you where the baby's cupholder and clip-on toy rack are."

Helena's an urban baby.

Still, all we want for her is the best — we're just muddling about trying to figure out what that is.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Baby dolls

I see them both now. I just can't let it go.

Helena got dolls for her birthday from both her grandmothers.

My mother sent her a sweet little musical thing. The doll from my mother-in-law, on the other hand, continues to give me the creeps.

I'm kicking myself for not having saved the tag, though I'm fairly certain it offered little information other than to identify her as Lazy Baby featuring a beanbag body. I wish I could link to a picture of her, because truly this is the ugliest doll ever.

She has a squat, misshapen head, with narrowset eyes. They blink an unnatural blue behind a coarse brush of lashes. The pinched face closes in on a removable pacifier (a habit Helena never developed a liking for).

She's an Edward Gorey baby. But not even his Gashlycrumb Tinies depict this doll's ghastliness. Well maybe Xerxes and Kate, but with a glint of evil.

I never much cared for dolls. Helena doesn't seem to much either.
Helena's BA-ACK! My cold's almost gone, I'm exhausted, and the day is almost over. So far, today, amid phonecalls from J-F and from my mom and sister, I've fed baby, played with baby, changed baby, unpacked some of her stuff from the weekend, fed baby some more, had coffee, sorted laundry (but washed only one load), cleaned the cat litter, fed the cats, changed baby, fed baby again, changed baby, did dishes, checked for mail, made cookies, played peekaboo, changed baby, read most of the Grinch (aloud), fed baby, prepared dough for a different batch of cookies, did more dishes, played ball with baby, practiced walking, fed baby again, finished my morning coffee, fed the cats, changed baby, prepared baby a snack, and completed 45 minutes of billable work.

I neglected to have my morning orange juice and vitamin.

I have got to stop procrastinating.
They have awards for this stuff?!

Sunday, December 21, 2003


It's been almost 48 hours.

Friday afternoon, J-F dropped off Helena at her grandmother's house. There was a hustle and bustle in packing her up and sending her off. Then I headed out for a couple hours' unhindered Christmas shopping. And I returned home to an eerie stillness.

This time away was intended to provide us with a little romantic respite, to throw caution to the wind in celebrating J-F's birthday on Saturday.

In addition to spending time alone together, we've had time alone.

Though my head is clouded with phlegm, I can hear my thoughts a little clearer, and I can hear my body telling me to rest — messages Helena usually helps me ignore.

As much as I've needed a break from her, I'm sure she needed a break from me, too. It can't be fun spending all one's time with me. Day in, day out, "Mom can be such a drag." It sounds like she's had fun, but I hope she missed me a little. I miss her terribly.

We're off to retrieve her shortly.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

What's your favourite book?

Bookslut, among others, thinks it's a stupid question, but people still ask it, answer it, and analyze the answers, as well the question-askers.

I've asked it often and I feel no shame.

And I answer: The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham; The First Century After Beatrice, Amin Maalouf.

12 and 13

My baby is miserable today.

We're all sick. J-F was first. He's just about over it now. Helena's been... there's no other way to describe it than "under the weather," since Monday. I resisted for 24 hours longer. And then I was tired, and my throat was sore, and I ached, and my head was foggy, and I couldn't keep my eyes open.

Today, right now as a matter of fact, Helena is bawling. And in mid-scream, I caught a glimpse of those pearly whites, new ones, of the molar variety.

Upper and lower left first molars. Numbers 12 and 13.

Helena's propensity for asymmetry thrives. Lower right cuspid still not in view.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Colour our world

For her birthday, I got Helena a colouring book from the Dollarama and some classic Crayola crayons.

The box of eight we purchased is clearly labeled 1+ (as is the U.K. pack of jumbo crayons — Look! They're huge! And there's no paper wrapper.).

But it seems in the U.S. they're recommended for ages 3 and up. (Are American babies less artistic than others?)

Helena's not impressed. They're simply not very tasty. Every few days I try to encourage crayon use, but it only promotes crayon ingestion. It takes a second for her to remember that the green one tastes icky (I think it's the texture), so she tries the red one. I guess she thinks they must be flavoured differently.

So far Helena's more Beethoven than Picasso. With a touch of engineer (Leonardo?). She can now stack three blocks and tries to match the shapes to the sorter (sometimes successfully). And she loves her cups this week — nesting has been pretty much conquered, though stacking is still a challenge (a height issue).

Yesterday evening, Helena spent an hour moving our socks from wherever in the bedroom we may have dropped them when disrobing to the hallway, then from the hallway to behind the bedroom door, then back to the hallway. The wheels are turning...

Is anal-retentive hyphenated?

I have work somewhat under control, so I feel I deserve to vent publicly about what terrible writers doctors make.

There, I feel better already.

But this puzzles me: one author neatly and consistently formatted all his 124 references, identifying the second author of each source by initials only.

There are a lot of style guides out there, and more than two perfectly valid ways of styling reference lists, but I can't imagine what this author might've read to lead him to invest the time to meticulously replace names in a given position with initials.

This author is a smart cookie, no doubt, having published articles, chapters, and books. But this is weirdly channeled obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Just plain weird.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Stop that right now

According to a recent study, I'm an abusive parent.

Today's article in Salon mocks the notion:

"They do not distinguish between different forms of communication -- harmful invective like "I wish you had never been born!" as opposed to "Do your homework now!" pleas. In their view, it also doesn't seem to make a difference if parents scream at their children constantly, or just get loud once in a while."


I wonder if the experts have kids. If they don't raise their own voices from time to time out of frustration, they must be dead inside.

As if Helena doesn't make me feel guilty enough. That tiny little word "no" carries such force behind it as to generate torrents of tears.

I used to be first in line to blame parents for the sorry state of today's youth. But I begin to see the light. I spent the summer trying to afix a hat to Helena's head, while she spent the summer flinging all headgear to the ground, and numerous busybodies scolded me for not protecting my child from the sun. Abuse indeed! That much hat-flinging would cause any mother to raise her voice.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

This is hard

Really, really hard.

I'm working. I have deadlines. I have professional pride. And I have a baby underfoot.

During the daytime, I can usually manage two hours of work while Helena naps or entertains herself. There's a couple more hours of "free" time, but that gets used up in sweeping, laundry, preparing dinner, the occasional excursion outdoors, and my morning coffee — all essential activities that cannot be sacrificed. My world would collapse if these were not performed.

I work when J-F comes home from work, and on his days off, and on the weekends. Needless to say, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for enjoying each other's company. Sigh.

I'm tired. But I do feel I'm accomplishing something a little bigger than the financial contribution to the household.

I have seriously cut down on the procrastination. While I used to blog to avoid some unpleasantness or other, now it's my reward for staying on track.

Ironically, the topic of working at home with kids has made a showing on CE-L this week, but I've been too busy to read and glean anything from that conversation.

I'm still hoping that this work schedule will somehow settle into itself, and that I'll master travel at the speed of light and acquire the ability to leap tall deadlines in a single bound.

It helps that Helena is independant and is quick to find a way to occupy her time. I just have to finetune the eyes in the back of my head to ensure it doesn't involve the contents of the garbage can.

Reality does not yet match the perfect picture in my head — the one where I'm well coiffed and quickly tapping away at the keyboard, baby at my feet learning to read, purring cats curled up nearby, Beethoven, an aura of peace and productivity and efficiency engulfing our clean and neatly ordered and stylish apartment. But we get a little closer every day.

Still, this is harder than I thought it would be. It's pretty hard.

Time for Teletubbies

Today we watched Teletubbies. It's not the first time we've tuned in, but it's the first time Helena's really watched.

I do think this show is brilliant for very young children learning to respond to sights and sounds — clear colours, funny noises, and a giggly baby sunshine! And no complicated plot to follow.

Today Helena was all a-squeal — laughing and pointing and clapping and peering with that look in her eyes that says she's figured something out.

Thus far it's occasionally been convenient to place Helena in front of a television in order to induce a nap. (TV can have a hypnotizing effect on us all.) We've been indiscriminate in our viewing habits, but now I know it matters.

Time for tubby bye bye!
Work, work, work.

Work now, blog later.

All work and no blog makes Isabella a little crazy.

Monday, December 08, 2003

What writers read

The Guardian invited writers and critics to share their favourites of 2003.

AS Byatt makes me want to read The Cryptographer, which I've added to my wish list.

So much to read, so little time...

Confronting demons

I too got caught up in the frenzy surrounding The Da Vinci Code — I read it last spring and loved it, especially that it had very short chapters.

(It should come as no surprise that the Code has already been optioned to Hollywood.)

The mystery forming the framework of Code was familiar to me. Not only have I played Gabriel Knight: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, I have read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln), which Brown references within the novel.

I had to read the previous adventure of Brown's hero, the Harvard symbologist.

Angels & Demons is not quite as friendly a beast. (But friendlier by far than Foucault's Pendulum.) For starters, I know little about the Illuminati, so the plot was much harder to swallow. I couldn't understand the motivation of most of the characters. I am unable to accept, let alone fathom, one of the book's central relationships — that between genius scientist Vittoria and her adopted father, the book's first victim, who is both a CERN scientist and a Catholic priest. I don't think it's common for priests to adopt children, and there are two such relationships in the novel. This is a weak ploy for building an emotional familial connection between characters.

Angels & Demons did, however, brilliantly paint Vatican City, secret passageways, ancient churches. It humanized the mystery of the papal conclave. The Vatican and its popes is rife with intrigue and conspiracy, with endless fodder for fiction. Having read about the "murder" of Pope John Paul I, perhaps I was able to suspend some components of disbelief quite readily.

Apparently there is more in store for our crime fighter, though I suspect the need for an expert in religious symbols may be limited. (I'd love to see a mystery based on the cult of the Black Madonna!) Although, there is a whole world of religion beyond Western Christianity to explore...

Friday, December 05, 2003

That was fast

Jayson Blair's book is on its way.

I wonder if it's been fact-checked.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

What editors wear

Dressing the executive editor at St Martin's Press:

"A typical work outfit for Ms. Beier consists of an ivory Marc Jacobs cashmere turtleneck ($640), a red wool miniskirt by Club Monaco ($89), black boots from Sacco ($275) and a gray Burberry duffle coat ($675). Books and manuscripts are stashed in a cream leather Hogan Pan Am bag ($795), which can also house a smaller orange suede Prada purse."

I'd like to know, "What editors?! Where?"

How much do they pay her? Does she wear a different cashmere turtleneck every day of the week?

I wear a Gap turtleneck ($29) and pyjama bottoms ($10). Same ones pretty much all week, though I save a "good," non-baby-food-splattered sweater and jeans for excursions into the outside world.

But then, I edit copy, not executives.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Coincidentally, I hear there's a new, uniquely packaged Talking Heads box set.

I don't care what Tina Weymouth says. David Byrne is a genius.

Once in a lifetime

When in DC at my sister's place, we watched The Family Man (starring Nicolas Cage) on tv.

And ever since, I've had the Talking Heads in my head:

"And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself — Well... How did I get here?

The movie is sticking to me like toilet paper. It's not particularly good, but I can't shake it. It shows me the matrix of my life.

How the hell did I get here? and is this where I wanted to go? Sometimes I think about the choices I've made, leaving the coolest job ever to live with my love in another (much cooler) city, not working (ya right, that's a sacrifice) to stay with baby. Peanuts. It's not like I ever had clearly defined ambitions. Vague ones like being rich and famous, sure...

And here we are.

There is no dress rehearsal for life...

Number 11

Lower left cuspid.

Helena woke up crying a couple of times last night.

The right cuspid will be through at any time now.

How many more teeth can that sweet little mouth hold?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Mom email

This piece on Mommy Mail really sums up my sentiments precisely.

I hate syrup. I am not a martyr. I still have dreams. And sometimes I sneak away to where nobody will disturb me (read bathroom) so I can read whatever I want, leaving my boyfriend, or sister, or mother-in-law to tend to baby's needs and/or demands.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Hi Honey, we're home!

Two mostly successful flights for baby — there, and back.

Helena is so cute, airport personnel and people in general can't help but be charmed into helping and forgiving.

To start off our adventure, I needed coffee. The girls at Starbucks were super — accommodating with the room we took up and patient with the mess we made feeding Helena, they gave Helena a stray Bumble (of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame) finger puppet.

The flight was uneventful. Helena was a bit antsy from time to time but a flight attendant or fellow passenger would always start in on a game of peekaboo. She slept through our descent and landing.

Yvonne had presents galore waiting for Helena at home. Lots of exciting new additions to her wardrobe. And two books: Art Spiegelman's Open Me...I'm a Dog and Tails by Matthew Van Fleet. The tails are a big hit, two of them already having been ripped from their pages.

Our days were full with laughter and turkey. We wandered through neighbourhoods and browsed in bookstores.

And then we came home.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Prepare for take off

My baby and I are flying away.

We're off to Washington, DC, to visit her auntie. Fortunately, it's a relatively short flight.

It's shorter than the train ride to see my mom. It's shorter than the bus ride to Ottawa. Heck, it's like a rush-hour drive to Laval.

I have yet to pack.

Back Sunday.

It was a dark and silly book

I recently read an article about Art Spiegelman and the state of comics and was inspired to investigate this phenomenon of a project. (God help me, that article was in none of the places I thought it would be... Took me forever to track it down again).

I don't know how, but somehow I came to read Spiegelman's Maus and Maus II shortly after the release of the latter in the early 1990s. Then I understood what a graphic novel was and could be.

Spiegelman is also responsible for the ghostly black-on-black post-9/11 New Yorker cover.

How pleased I was when this compilation was scratched off my wish list and turned up on my doorstep in time for Helena's birthday (and mine, too). It Was a Dark and Silly Night is extraordinarily silly. Most reviews indicate that it is the lesser in the Little Lit series thus far, geared more toward children than adults. If that's true, my inner child is much stronger than I ever thought. I can't wait to see the others in the series.

We planted a seed in some of the most fertile minds of the planet: cartoonists, novelists, and children's book artists. We asked them to start a story with the words: It was a dark and silly night. We wanted to know... "What happens next???"

What grew from the seed is this generous, chock-full, over-the-top jungle of silly comic book stories that show how rich the human imagination is. Lemony Snicket and Richard Sala imagined a dark and silly night where a young girl chases after a Yeti. Neil Gaiman and Gahan Wilson imagined a dark and silly night where kids throw the greatest party they ever had... in a graveyard! William Joyce tells us about kids whose Silly Ray saves the world from warrior florists. This collection of wild and silly imaginings will tickle your funny bone for years to come.

Lemony Snicket's tale is absolutely Borgesian. But my favourite is the upside-down world contributed by Kaz. I giggled a lot reading this book. Very silly indeed. And the puzzles are great fun, too.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Number 10

At least, we thinks it's number 10.

Upper right cuspid. That explains yesterday's misery.

I was hoping the doctor could give us a complete and accurate tooth count when we saw her Friday, but Helena wasn't letting her look either. We may not know about molars until they fall out.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Birthdays redux

Birthday #1. Helena. She seemed happy. I think she was a bit confused about having a bath in the middle of the afternoon, but it induced the nap that allowed to her to party all night.

She had presents throughout the day, including a funky purple Alphabet Pal (English), a wooden puzzle with electronic sounds, and a phone (French).

Most importantly, she genuinely likes the xylophone.

We went to my mother-in-law's for dinner. Cake. She made cake. I said something snippy, and went off for a short cry in the bathroom. If anyone was going to make my baby a cake, it was going to be me. (It had been agreed that store-bought would do.) Not that Helena would particularly care. Sigh. I proceeded to drink much.

The evening was noisy and long. Cake was served well after bedtime. Helena firmly removed the candle and deliberately placed it in my coffee cup. It floats! She was served a generous slice, which was promptly flung to the floor. Vindicated.

Birthday #2. Me. I woke up the next day with birthday wishes from J-F and Helena, which I acknowledged in something of a hungover fog. My sister phoned in her wishes at a respectable hour. I was still sleepy and confused, but I did finally get 'round to believing it:

It's my birthday and I'm 34 years old.

How unimportant. Now, last year's birthday was memorable. A day-old baby in our midst. Very chocolate cake smuggled into my hospital room. Me alternating between intense pain and complete drug haze. Those were the days. And that would be my last birthday. They don't matter from here on in. It's all about Helena now.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Happy birthday, Helena!

She woke up in a great mood this morning. I think she must know it's her special day.

No presents yet. One mylar-swathed box has attracted some attention (shiny!), but it seems the time is not yet ripe for unwrapping.

I'm about to make carrot muffins. Then I think we'll curl up to watch The Aristocats (a gift from my sister).

One year old! A remarkable accomplishment.

You learned to recognize my face, my voice. Your father's too. You learned to smile, to laugh, to express your joy with the world. You nursed. You comforted yourself to sleep. You made friends with the cats, and with Ginger Giraffe. You love books — turning the pages and reading along in your babble tongue, chewing them up.

You rode in cars, taxis, buses, subways, and trains. You excelled at yoga. You learned to roll over, and to roll yourself to anywhere you might want to go, and some places you probably didn't want to go, like over the side of the bed. Rolling, sitting, crawl-hobbling, standing, cruising.

Your body grew. And it grew more hair, and teeth, too. Months after you discovered them, your toes are still tasty, and your fingers can do increasingly amazing things.

You've developed quite the personality — you're a people person and a flirt.

You've made the world a better place for all the smiles you put on people's faces.

You will never cease to amaze me.

I love you,

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Celebration preparations

I'm worried about Helena's birthday. At first, no one seemed interested in marking the occasion in any special way. I came round to the fact that it would be just our little family of three staying in and having grilled cheese sandwiches and cake — intimate, really. Now, we're going to my mother-in-law's house. I suspect there may be more guests in store for us. I don't know what's for dinner.

I will bring cake. Black forest cake.

On Friends a couple weeks ago, it was Rachel's baby's first
birthday. Now I get it. Much anxiety. Silly, cuz she's one — she won't remember a thing. But I feel driven to make it memorable, symbolically at least. Or maybe I just want it to be picture perfect, like the snapshots from my first birthday.

The packages have been rolling in all week. I suppose I should save them all up for her to open at her "party," but It seems a shame that by then there will only be an hour or two left in her day for her to enjoy them.

I found the perfect gift, months ago already. I hope she likes it.

Dressing up baby

Baby clothes. Cute. Impractical. Poorly designed.

Helena's growth is textbook. Big at birth, but within weeks her height and weight were smack down the middle of the charts. Yet, sizing clothes can be a problem.

Do not baby clothes designers realize that babies wear diapers? Could they not design pants, shorts, underwear, bloomers, with a little extra wiggle room in the baby butt area? God forbid the little one might wear cloth diapers, as Helena does! Outfits look adorable — and proportional — on the hanger, but their reality is a little askew. Even though they look nice on, and may even be comfortable, it's often a tight squeeze and a struggle to get them on.

I am proud to say that Helena spent most of the first months of her life in pyjamas. The best way to ease into life (or one's day) — lounge about a bit, check out the surroundings. Socks, booties, vests, sweaters, headbands — I don't understand them. Why would parents do that to a baby, or themselves?

Autumn. The temperature has dropped. Since mid-October I've seen babies in the neighbourhood sporting the latest winter fashions. Deep-winter, sub-zero snowsuits. What do they plan to wear in January? I expect it'll be a bit colder then...

We actually went clothes shopping for Helena on Saturday — she has boxes full of hand-me-downs (including Baby Gap silks and velvets, and very groovy pyjamas), and handfuls of new outfits from every friend and relative she has, yet I felt the need to assuage my fears that she would be sadly underdressed (or undressed) through the winter. We picked out some casual pants and a turtleneck which she can mix and match with the rest of her wardrobe.

I hate pink.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The blogosphere

It is a small blogworld after all.

Jennifer Howard in Sunday's Washington Post writes:

"What began as the ultimate outsider activity -- a way to break the newspaper and TV stranglehold on the gathering and dissemination of information -- is turning into the same insider's game played by the old establishment media the bloggerati love to critique. The more blogs you read and the more often you read them, the more obvious it is: They've fallen in love with themselves, each other and the beauty of what they're creating. The cult of media celebrity hasn't been broken by the Internet's democratic tendencies; it's just found new enabling technology."

Every blogger Howard mentions has already blogged on this article. And they do seem every bit the Old Blogs' Club.

I'm glad to be introduced to Bookslut (as I continue to refine my blog circuit and my link list). But I'm generally weirded out about how tight-knit this community seems to be.

How do they all find the time to read each other every day? And how is a newcomer to make a mark?

1. Voice.
2. Audience.
3. More hours in a day.

Blog. Blogger. (Bloggee?) To blog. Blogosphere. Bloggerati. Blogarazzi. Blog-stalkers. Blogarama. Blog, blog, blog...

Which cat is that?

It's the cat in the hat. The cat wearing the hat. Not a kitty curled up snug inside some sombrero.

Like the girl in the bikini. The man in the grey flannel suit. Or better, men in black. The woman in Chanel. In fashion.

Dr Seuss's cat in the hat wears a hat. He at no time sits inside a giant fedora; he does not jump out of a prop panama. The hat he wears is silly, but it sits atop his head.

Of course, commercials are now running for the live-action version of The Cat in the Hat. The French version title is Le Chat dans le chapeau. Who tranlates this stuff? The cat is not literally in a hat — it's an idiomatic usage of the preposition "in."

The cat wearing the hat. The cat with the hat.

Le Chat au chapeau. That's what they mean.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Baby loves mango

Helena loves mango. Fresh sliced, for breakfast. Or for lunch. In her cereal. As a chutney, with beef or chicken. With yogourt. As a snack. Mango — anytime, anywhere.

Why doesn't Heinz produce mango baby food? They sell baby food jars full of apples, and bananas. How ludicrous is that?! How hard is it to mash a 10-cent banana? Not that mango is any more difficult — but it can be harder to find. It might generally be considered a more intimidating, "exotic," fruit. Would not everybody benefit from the people at Heinz exploring other food cultures and bottling the stuff for our convenience?

Or avocado.

Sometimes I think Helena eats better than we do. And I guess she should. Pasta with chicken and roasted red pepper yogourt sauce. Steamed zucchini with yogourt on pita.

Although, today Helena filled up on buttered toast. (I have days like that. Comfort. Must be the tooth.) I see her first grilled cheese sandwich in the very near future...

Lunch. Lunch has been difficult of late. I think texture has a lot to do with it (though, yogurt seems to make everything better). And the burgeoning independence — Helena's desire to feed herself. I've come to expect disaster at day's peak, and I'm learning to appreciate that this experiment in attitude does not happen first thing in the morning or as the day is winding down.

Interestingly, for the last week or two, when Helena's plate is empty (or when she wants it to be empty), she turns it over.

Number 9

Tooth number 9. Upper left cuspid. This might explain yesterday's crankiness.

I was expecting a molar, actually. And I thought we had another month or so before worrying about it. But Helena's teeth so far have all come in in atypical order — why should this one be any different?

So yesterday, Helena was likely in pain and not, as I had guiltily assumed, simply recovering from the previous day's lab-rat experience compounded with the bright lights and obnoxious sounds of fitting rooms and checkout lines I subjected her to afterwards. (But these comfy Gap jeans would still be so worth it!)

With every tooth Helena looks a little less like Bumble, the abominable snowman, and more like a real little girl.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Infant speech perception project

Once again, Helena and I headed out to McGill to participate in yet another language study.

I must admit, I didn't fully understand yesterday's experiment (I arrived in a cold, public-transit-riding–induced haze). This time, Helena listened to recordings of English "da" and French "da." That's where I get lost. "Da" being fairly meaningless in both languages, I assume the question is whether Helena can recognize that the syllable was pronounced by an English speaker or a French speaker, by the intonation, the "quality" of the consonant and of the vowel.

Again, I listened to jazzy tunes over some heavy-duty headphones so as not to colour Helena's responses.

The attention-getting mechanism for this study was a little different than for previous studies. Just one red light was flashed in front of us, but a monitor projecting a checkerboard pattern also faced us and periodically flashed on and off. I guess since the subjects for this study are about a year old and a little more sophisticated, so must be the methods to gauge them.

For her efforts, Helena received a T-shirt proclaiming her an Official Consultant on the Infant Speech Perception Project (School of Communication Sciences and Disorders).

Previously, we participated in a study of vowel contrasts — the difference between "heed" and "hid" as judged by Helena's reaction to them being piped in at the left and at the right. Since Helena was well-behaved back, the experimenters asked if they could take data for a music study another group was working on. Vocal versus instrumental music. They played a Chinese folk song. Apparently there's a clear gender distinction — girls prefer the sound of a singing voice. So on June 24, Helena received her first degree, "Honorary Infant Scientist Degree" according to the official-looking certificate — MIT, here we come.

On August 12, Helena was observed as part of a study to determine whether infants of a certain age can recognize unnatural sentence pauses. Her T-shirt identifies her as a Research Assistant to the Bilingual Acquisition Lab (Department of Psychology).

Human baby, lab rat, trained monkey, it's all the same. (Hey, it's not like we locked her up in the attic to see if she would develop language on her own.) Heck, it's all for science!

Sunday, November 09, 2003

8 women

French movie — part British mansion mystery, part Bollywood musical. Kooky.

Catherine Deneuve and Fanny Ardant get into a catfight and end up rolling around on the floor and kissing. How sexy is that?

Amazingly, after all the nonsense, these and the other 6 actresses come off as nothing less than chic and elegant.

Sorry to give away the plot...

I finished Kit's Law last night. My gawd! The melodrama!

It turns out it's the Reverend who took advantage of Kit's poor retarded mother and he is in fact Kit's father, but we don't know this till after she's gone and eloped with the Reverend's son, her half-brother, Sid, just after he's returned from a 2-year stint in jail, having taken the rap for the murder of that vicious thug the retarded mother ran 'round with, whom she actually killed when he was attacking Kit and Sid.

Ugh! Who writes this stuff?

Yes, the author evokes a great sense of time and place (though I found it distracting to have to muddle through the Newfoundland dialect — just not natural to my sensibility). But it's not as if the plot is even halfway believable. And the characters don't have any particular insight. These grand themes (well, let's see: dealing with the mentally unwell mother, incest, death, love, blah, blah) invite no real discussion. The ending is suddenly vague, airy, poetic — an amateur's trick to lend importance to the resolution. But I dislike this turn in authorial voice, and see no reason for the closing scenes to be put forth in any other than the straight-forward, matter-of-fact manner that preceded this mess.

But I finished it.

Can't believe it would've been offered up on the Canada Reads People's Choice list.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Nothing to read

After receiving a copy for Christmas from my mother-in-law some four years ago, I'm plodding through Kit's Law, by Donna Morrissey.

I heard her in interview sometime during the last year and was charmed and inspired to get round to giving her novel a go. The pile of unread books on my shelf is fast diminishing, so what better time?

Well, it's life and death and joy and misery in an isolated community. Not my cup of tea. I'm on page 109, and I'll finish this book if it kills me (it might). (Why do I feel compelled to finish books I don't like? Then there's Ulysses, which I started to read 13 years ago. I refuse to "file it" in the bookcase — it continues to sit on my bedside shelf even now, in the 7th bedroom I've inhabited since I started it.)

But I need a good book to read! Soon! Before my brain withers.

To be fair, over the last two weeks I've read bits and pieces from magazines I've hoarded over the last year. Nothing significant. And there's the chapter I edited on craniosynostosis (yuk).

Time to plan an expedition through the big-box bookstore bargain bin.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Concept: cat

It's confirmed. Helena groks "cat."

On Tuesday, we were again reading PD Eastman's Are You My Mother?, when something extraordinary happened.

We're at the part where the bird is asking the kitten if the kitten is his mother, when Helena starts pointing and giggling and says "keet'dah" (with aspirated consonants and a glottal stop). And on the next page. And on the next. And she keeps pointing at the kitten (an interpretation of which is rendered in this review). "Keet'dah." It could be no plainer to my ears: "kittycat."

She responds in this way to our two live kitties, but there's been a mental leap regarding this two-dimensional representation — not one of our cats as in a photo, but an illustration of a generic cat. She's never seen this cat before, but knows he's a cat. The metaphysics start early.

Yesterday, the event was repeated. "Keet'dah." This morning, we looked at an old cat calendar and my cat feng shui book, and everwhere there was a cat there was excitement and "keet'dah." And sometimes "lnoh," by which she refers to Calvino, our big black tom.

So not only is there a concept fully formed, there's a way to refer to it.

That Helena. She's such a cool cat herself.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Play ball

We're spending a lot of time hugging today, Helena and I. Rainy days are good for that.

I should be working. I promised one publisher 15 hours of work per week. So far this week I've done only one hour of editing for them. Maybe I have bitten off more than I can chew.

It's much easier to procrastinate with a baby in the house. I've always been rather gifted at procrastination. But now... There are legitimate distractions, like feedings, diaper changes, rescue missions. And why even pretend to try to work when I can play ball with baby?

I will have to search out advice on this issue — working from home with a baby.

It's a really big play week for Helena. The ball is an ongoing favourite. I did manage to capture the first "game" of ball on video on October 6. She took to it instantly. Perhaps I should've thought to try giving her a ball sooner. She drop-throws the ball and follows it. And laughs, and laughs. I throw the ball at or past her and she crawl-hobbles after it. And laughs.

I finally organized the kitchen cupboards. Helena now has her own cupboard, which stores a tub of tupperware lids, an old spatula, a funnel, various plastic containers, and a paper towel tube. It's a hit. Though, she still shows a preference for the door with the cat food behind it, but I will only go so far in compromising functionality (for me) for fun (for her).

To the best of my knowledge, she has not yet sampled, or at least demonstrated a liking for, the cats' food pellets. However, the cats are somewhat disturbed by the seemingly endless enjoyment she derives from moving food pellets from their dishes into their water bowls, along with her socks and an assortment of blocks and things.

Today, Helena had a breakthrough with her nesting cups. Not only can she fit some inside or on top of others, she seems puzzled that not all combinations of cups are equal.

I know her play is her work. We should all be so lucky.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Helena's book club

I signed Helena up for the Grolier Beginning Readers' Program shortly after she was born. We now have a lovely collection of Dr Seuss books, and Arthur, and Berenstain Bears.

This morning we received the 2004 Dr Seuss calendar and a Beginner Fun Book. I just finished making arrangements to return this shipment.

I haven't even removed the calendar's cellophane wrapper, but the back cover depicts a thumbnail for the ninth month, "Septembe."


The crappy local newspaper

On Saturday, I bought a print newspaper for the first time in a very, very long time. And I'm still outraged.

The Montreal Gazette has the feel of small-town community newspaper. This in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is poorly written and extremely anti-French (even in its movie and food reviews). Saturday's front page story was about the mother of the runner-up of the recent Miss Philippines Montreal contest suing for damages because her daughter should have won. Sigh.

And don't get me started on the Asper aspect and lack of editorial freedom.

But in this issue, it was two ads that hit me, both likely produced in-house.

On pA8, one-third of a page, at bottom. A photo of Jon Stewart, with the credit "Courtesy CTV," and the following text at right:
How can one telvsion [sic] show be nominated for best comedy, best news show and best program all at once? Check our report on The Daily Show, starring Jon Stewart, who has been described as "one of the smartest acts on TV."
In Sunday

On pC3, full-page colour ad with landscape orientation. Three-quarters of the page is a team photo, with the following text at right:
The Montreal Alouettes Defensive Line
This photograph is brought to you by The Gazette's Raise-a-Reader program and the Montreal Alouettes Foundations' Adopt-an-Alouette program, wich [sic]support literacy and education for children.
[Logos placed here.]
Look for the Alouettes team photo next Saturday.

It's just that the point size is ssooo large. And the irony: "intelligent televsion"; "wich support literacy"!

I expect better than this. They should hire me.

Perhaps it's another sign of the sloppy state of English in Montreal. Errors in basic spelling and grammar are rampant. Montreal, though proud of its bilingualism, has yet to realize that some situations require an English (or French) language specialist — perfect bilingualism rarely exists.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Helena the comedian

She's developing a sense of humour. Helena laughs. A lot. Sometimes I wonder if everything's quite right with her to laugh so much. It seems so unnatural. But it's an innocent delight — I can only hope this means we haven't wrecked her yet.

The infant sense of humour has really taken a leap over the last few weeks. It's developing alongside a concept of category. For instance, she'll spend hours (OK, minutes) removing the toy sea creatures from their fishbowl, and then returning them to their bowl. If she loses sight of one of them, she'll find it and return it to the grouping. It won't do to put the sock or the Megablok into the fishbowl — they don't belong. The Megabloks go in their own blue plastic container, and she'll examine that more carefully later in the day. And Mommy's balled-up socks fresh from the laundry, well, they're a divine mystery.

And like that, it's very, very funny if I get my foot "stuck" in the fishbowl, or if I wear floppy bunny as a hat. Ordinary things occurring in slightly unusual ways. Humour. She'll giggle hysterically, but look at me knowingly, "Don't be silly, Mom."

Often she will suddenly start laughing, for no apparent reason. Is she remembering something funny, and trying to communicate the humour to us the only way she knows how — through laughter? Or is she perceiving humour in something around her at that moment?

Maybe it's not funny at all, but sheer delight in the now.

Almost a year, and we haven't wrecked her yet.

Finding a voice

Camille Paglia says she isn't a fan of blogs:

"Blog reading for me is like going down to the cellar amid shelves and shelves of musty books that you're condemned to turn the pages of. Bad prose, endless reams of bad prose! There's a lack of discipline, a feeling that anything that crosses one's mind is important or interesting to others. People say that the best part about writing a blog is that there's no editing -- it's free speech without institutional control. Well, sure, but writing isn't masturbation -- you've got to self-edit."

She goes on to complain about most bloggers trying to flaunt their sharp political insight. So there's one thing I shouldn't be doing. Too many media junkies with soap boxes already. Besides, I don't follow most news, nor do I have relevant insight.

I can write about being a mom and watching my baby grow. I think that's kind of neat, but I still need some of that elusive insight, or this whole project will slide into that emotional cesspool of The Confessional.

Though it may take me a few months to actually find that quiet voice inside me, in the meantime I'm messing with the blog template. I hope to soon establish and organize some useful links (useful to me. Is it ever a non-solipsistic universe?). And I'm working again. Aaurgh.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Face full of mush

Today Helena refused to be spoonfed.

I give her "finger food" at least twice a day, and she always has her own cutlery on hand, to satisfy those self-feeding urges. But in the interest of expediency, and cleanliness, and maximal food intake, I usually do most of the work.

But this morning was different. As usual, Helena feeds herself the banana I cut up for her. We follow this up with oatmeal, with blueberries today. But she grabs first one spoon, then another, and another, from me, flinging them far away. And she pushes her fingers forward into the mush.

What a surprise for me! How deeply — disturbingly — sensual. Now, everyone in this household enjoys food, but I can't explain Helena's behaviour as learned. Were she an adolescent, or older, girl, I'd slap her — "Where'd you learn to do that? Who told you that was acceptable? Is it a boy?" But she's just a tiny little baby.

Don't get me wrong — this was by no means an erotically charged breakfast. I was simply unprepared for this level of primal sensuousness in my baby. It was mashing, and, kneading, and licking, and smearing, accompanied by giggling and moaning. And more smearing. Pure sensual enjoyment.

I forget that, from birth, and likely before any life of the mind or the spirit, there is nothing but the senses, and a whole world to explore with them.

Monday, October 27, 2003


A few days ago I ranted about Amazon's Search Inside the Book feature.

Well, Wired beat me to the punch, but had nothing but good things to say.

As much as I dislike the corporate America-ness of Amazon, I do recognize that the new search ability is an absolute marvel, not the least because of the logistical and technological hurdles that were overcome. And how they skirt copyright law.

I still say it could stand some improvement.

Fowl by name, foul by nature

Artemis Fowl, boy genius. A deviousness cool and calculated.

Touted as an antidote to Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl is obviously a complex character, but one who is barely hinted at. I've read only the first of Eoin Colfer's series, but I feel I hardly know this antihero. He appears in so few scenes, one might see this book as more about the fairy world he infiltrates.

The book has a modern texture, and offers full descriptions of fairy technology. The mood is more sci-fi than any other children's books I've read. (Harry Potter is mythological fantasy; Lemony Snicket is gothic satire.)

But the tantalizing hints as to the inner workings of the mind of the title character are never followed through.

Fowl's following, if one looks at online communities is small, but dedicated. And followers are relatively private. I searched with interest for the secret message — a code for readers to crack runs along the bottom of the pages of this book. Generally, fans are keeping it to themselves. (I can't imagine a Harry Potter fan keeping a secret like that.) Anyway, since I wasted many hours unraveling the message on my own, I feel compelled to post the decoded prophecy below, to vindicate my time misspent.

"The prophecies of Ohm, phlegm pot cleaner, to Frond, elfen king. I am Ohm, phlegm pot cleaner to the king. But I am much more than that for I see the future written in the phlegm. For centuries we pixies have read the phlegm, but I am the best there has ever been. My visions are generally of little importance. I foretell outbreaks of troll pox or gas spasms among elderly dwarfs, but sometimes even a poor pot cleaner can see wondrous things. A vision came to me two moons ago when I was gazing deep into his majesty's own phlegm pot. I was heating the pot over a flame when the sign appeared. This vision was more vivid and detailed than any I had previously seen. Because of its importance I decided to write it down for posterity. And so I can say I told you so. I saw an age when the People have been driven underground by the mud men. This is what the phlegm told me. In this time, one shall come among us. Fowl by name and foul by nature. A mud man unlike any other. He shall learn our secrets and use them against us. I see him as plain as day. His face is pale, he has dark eyes and raven hair. Yet it must be a mistake, for he seems a mere youth. Surely no mud boy could outwit the People. But now I see that the boy is not alone. He is aided by a formidable warrior scarred from a thousand battles. This Fowl shall hold the People to ransom for their most precious possession. Gold. And in spite of all our magic, there is a chance that he will prevail. For he has discovered how to escape the time field; unfortunately, how the story ends I cannot say. But there was more to see. There is another story to come. Someone will bring the People and the mud men together. The worst of both races. This fairy's goal is to grind all the creatures of the earth beneath his boot. And who is this traitor? It is not clear. But he shall start a war unlike anything the People have ever seen. Those who were enemies shall be united against him. And for the first time there will be mud men below ground. I have one clue to his identity — a riddle. Goblins shall rise and haven shall fall; a villainous elf is behind it all; to find the one who so disappoints look ye to where the finger points. Instead of one face, this elf has two. Both speak false and none speak truth. While publicly he lends a helping hand, his true aim is to seize command. I know. It's not very plain, is it? I don't understand either. But perhaps in the future all will become clear. Look for a power hungry elf who has a finger pointed at him during our tale. And so this is Ohm's legacy. A warning that may save the world from total destruction. There's not much to work with, I know. The details are a bit sketchy. My advice to you is to consult the phlegm. It may be that you are sensitive. I have buried this prophecy with my phlegm pot. If you are not fortunate enough to work as a pot cleaner, then there is usually a supply of phlegm every time you have a cold. There endeth the first prophecy of Ohm. But because of the importance of my visions I shall repeat the prophecies once more. If you have just began to understand the text then read on. If you have worked out the entire message then congratulations. Now go and save the world. The prophecies of Ohm..."

My kingdom for an editor

It's nice to see blogs that recognize the value of editing.

But to edit a blog would deny its immediacy. So many blogs are from writers and journalists — save the editing for your books and columns. I read your blogs because they're unedited, purer, more intimate.

Unless of course your blog is your daily column or your next novel. Then edit away. The question is: How do we tell the difference?

Friday, October 24, 2003

Search inside the book

As of today, has a new search feature, so you can find books "based on every word inside them."

It sounds promising, but the system has a few shortcomings:

Search results include only books for which has the publisher's permission to display copyrighted material. It took me a while to figure this one out, after plugging in some odd words I've come across in recently read books and not getting relevant results. Although they claim that 120 000 books are searchable in this manner, there are many, many more books in the world.

Results cannot be sorted in a particularly useful manner. Of course, that's not a problem with the search mechanism so much as with the preexisting sorting feature. An alphabetical sorting does not let you skip ahead to entries starting with, say, "J" — you have to get there by clicking "Next," "Next," Next"...

I don't know about you, but I'd be likely to want to use this sort of feature in this way: "'Rocket experiments' — what was that book I heard Steve talking about? There were a lot of rocket experiments. And it was a mystery book for kids." I search for "rocket experiments" but can't refine my results by category.

It clutters up traditional book searches. There's currently no way to specify whether you would like to include a text search, or stick to titles and key words. A search now results in so many titles as to effectively supply no results at all.

The new search feature is not available at I wonder if that has to do with copyright laws.

On the up side, the system is smart enough to not accept "the" as a viable search term.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


Every day, more evidence that I am not alone. In fact, I'm effortlessly riding the wave. Gen Xers are having babies. And after a decade of a hip, going-nowhere life laden with irony, it's very cool.

Nor am I the first to want to write/talk/think about it. This too is a massive trend.

And, suddenly, like every other Gen X mom, my life has meaning and direction and is imbued with self-worth.

"Generation X moms may want to work only one day a week, but they still think of themselves as career women. They do not think of such arrangements as 'a privilege.' They just expect it."

Hey, that's me. And most every other mom I know. Cuz we're cool to be moms, and good at it too, but this does not form the basis of our identity — we're well-rounded individuals with careers and interests outside of motherhood.

Evidence how this blog came to be. Mommyhood is so layered and fascinating, it cries out to be novelized, serialized, hand-inspected, sliced open, scrutinized, celebrated, laughed about, shaken up. The world needs to know about this. Why didn't anybody tell us this ten years ago?

I don't understand the demand for how-to parenting books. One article suggested that the stack of books at our bedside is a direct result of no longer having grandmothers, so to speak.

Worse, who subscribes to parenting magazines? Why?


I thought it my duty to check out a few other blogs, see how it's done. I'll keep looking — I plan to compile a short list of those I deem worthy of following regularly.

Thus far, I've noted three main types of blog:
1. The journal/confessional is by far the most common. Many of them are completely unintelligible — "in" jokes and running commentary intended for a tight circle of friends, or thoughts so random their only purpose could be self-expression, a purging of emotional and mental debris. This is in fact the sort of blog I thought Magnificent Octopus would be.
2. The wannabe journalist's column is best suited to the medium. Most bloggers aspire to this sort of blogdom and. When thoughtfully prepared, it uses to best advantage all the web has to offer: immediacy and hypertext! This is what Magnificent Octopus can be with a little focus.
3. The professional or celebrity diary provides insight into the creative process (as of published authors) or public life (tour schedules, living and working on the road). These can be fascinating, but to my mind are not real blogs — this material could be presented in other forms, and often is (websites, autobiographies, TV documentaries). Magnificent Octopus might settle down to this one day, but only after I have acquired the prerequisite level of fame.

Then there's blogs about blogs.

Of the garden-variety infotainment columns, many have currently been obsessing about the art of blogging, and the fine line between it and journalism. It seems there's been a slew of "serious" articles recently on this very topic.

"In just the past year, camera- and video-enabled cell phones and other mobile devices have changed how the news is reported by mainstream news outlets: Ordinary citizens are getting in the act, sending news photos to newspapers via their cell phones, sending video to TV stations and calling in reports from the scene long before the real reporters arrive."

Imagine. Top price to the "journalist" with a "direct feed" to the action, sometimes deadly. The ultimate in thrill entertainment.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Eleven months old

Helena is increasingly mobile. She pulls books off shelves. I put them back. She pulls them off again. I put them back, moving some to a safe location. She pulls the knob off the stereo (I'd never tried to remove the knob, but I didn't think it was that easy). She gets her fingers caught in the VCR frontload flap. She pulls CDs off the shelves. I put them back. She pulls them off again. She snaps off the little plastic tabs that grip the CD hole. She removes the inserts and gets her grimy little fingers all over some of the CDs. (How'd they get so grimy?) She seems to favour the Beethoven and Schubert string trios. I've listened to that disc now more in the last week than in the whole of the eight years I've owned it.

She's fast. Now I know what it is to have to watch out for them. If I let her out of my sight, she crawl-hobbles to hug one of the cats. But who knows where this could lead?

Haven't decided about how to deal with "stuff" -- books, CDs, magazines, etc. I refuse to be one of those parents who moves all belongings behind locked doors or above reach, but I understand it now.

Keep your zombies, but give us your women.

We rented 28 Days Later the other night. Creepy.

About halfway through, the movie takes a turn. Survivors have actually begun to consider their future, or lack thereof. A couple handfuls of adrenaline-driven, slightly crazed soldiers, and two women. Do the math. It's The First Century After Beatrice again, although in this case at least mankind isn't quite as directly responsible.

And every few weeks I hear another report about the shortage of females in India. Prenatal sex testing has been made illegal.

The movie's virus was "rage," to allow for the zombie effect, but one can substitute SARS (high contagion factor) or other bioterrorist substances and see the implications.

I'm reminded also of the time-released disease unleashed in Oryx and Crake, and the difficulty of building a post-apocalyptic future.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Who is Helena and what is she doing here?

It occurs to me that contrary to my intentions in maintaining a blog, I've written very little about my baby — this has not been the forum for reflections on motherhood I thought it would be.

It's always bothered me that some new moms dote on their little ones, unable to converse on any other subject. Perhaps I'm trying too hard not to be one of those mothers. Perhaps the point of this blog then is to exercise the other facets of my brain.

I was good at being pregnant. They talk about a pregnant woman's glow — my glow was an uncontainable burst of radiance emanating from a messiah within. Not only did I feel special, I felt that I carried within me a person who would change mankind: more than a salve for my woes, she would cure the world's pain, a panacea. Do all mothers-to-be feel that way?

The feeling has faded a little, but it's still there. That she is destined for greatness. That she is a good person. That she will make the world a better place.

Helena Beata Kratynski-Fournier.

I named her Helena after my grandmother (but don't tell my mother that). Let it suffice that it's classical and full of strength. Light.

Beata because we are blessed to receive her. Inspired by Amin Maalouf's First Century After Beatrice. Because the times we live in need a Beatrice.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

I wrote about this book last week, but forgot to post my draft copy.

I finished reading another bargain bin acquisition, Millennium Rising. It caught my eye only because it's penned by Jane Jensen, who authored the Gabriel Knight series of video games.

Gabriel Knight III was one of the first PC games I ever purchased and played by myself, for my own enjoyment (not like Quake and Tomb Raider, which I'd enjoyed on some level, but were really the boyfriend's games). It proved what I'd suspected games could be. Well plotted narrative, complex characters, puzzles with creative solutions. Not a shoot-em-up, or automated D&D. And it had substance beyond the lush visuals of such "adventure" (and the industry uses that term very loosely) games as Myst, or the crap Dreamcatcher Interactive produces, whose games if they were books although packed with stunning illustrations would be missing every other page and stop abruptly in the middle of chapter two, just when you realize the pictures obviously belong to a completely different book.

Gabriel Knight was drenched in mood. A couple inventory item combinations necessary to move the game forward made no sense whatsoever, but all is forgiven. Access to an in-game computer allows the player to organize information and notes as well as to research key story concepts on the in-game intranet. No game in this genre beats it.

So, Millennium Rising. Very entertaining, in an over-the-top conspiracy kind of way. Once I got past the overly dramatic, pretentious, stupid title, and once I was reconciled to calling the French priest "Michele" (not Michel; perhaps it was intended to be styled in the Italian fashion), I really enjoyed the play of religious prophecies. And underneath it all is the very believable concept that people want to believe, in the process imbuing traditions, prophecies, perceptions with all sorts of energy and power.

SF-noir sequel

Oh, goody. Goody, goody, goody. There is a new Richard Morgan out there. Broken Angels. And it features the same hero. Yay. Just in time for someone to get it for me for my birthday!

Morgan speaks intelligently of his vast and coherent future world.

Can't believe I missed the news of this publication. And the news that Altered Carbon has been optioned to Hollywood. Now maybe someday J-F will get to see the visual proof for why I kept exclaiming, "This would make a great movie!"

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Dream house difficulties

Thanksgiving has come and gone without much ado. It's a nice long weekend, but I never considered it an important holiday. In fact, I don't even remember Thanksgivings from my childhood. I get the feeling we just sort of picked it up, cuz everyone else was doing it.

I am, however, immensely grateful. For the roof over our heads and the food on our table. But most particularly for Helena — not just that she's healthy, strong, smiling, and clever, but the fact of her. And the fact of her keeps me humbled and grateful every single day.

I spent my weekend worrying about my dream house. Yes, worrying. And not my dream house, but La Maison de Rêve, being raffled off yesterday.

I became aware of the drawing only once it was too late to buy tickets. I'd finally pulled out the promotional magazine that had been included with my purchase at Les Ailes de la Mode last week. I initially discounted the dream house as gaudy. But then I started to drool. A library. With a mezzanine. A solarium. Home theatre. A massage room. Obscene.

But the worry that possessed me all weekend! The house comes furnished, of course, and I counted four stereo systems. There was not one in the kitchen, which is a problem. But where am I to keep my CDs?

Currently, I keep them all in one place, but our apartment is relatively small and we have only the one stereo. Should I split them up by genre? Store the salsa CDs in the solarium and commit to listening only to classical music while sitting in the library? Or do I supply a cross-section of my collection to each room? Thank goodness I own two different versions of Beethoven's late string quartets.

I suppose I could keep all the CDs together in one central location and pull them out as the mood inspired me. But the house is large. That's a lot of travel time, and distraction, and bother. Or I could acquire duplicates of those most listened to CDs. But this could be costly and/or time-consuming.

How do rich people muddle through these dilemmas? Obscene.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

The Democratic candidates debate tonight. I've been looking forward to this for weeks, but I think I'll watch Friends instead. And Scrubs — now that's the funniest show on TV.

It's not like I have a say in who gets to be president of the United States anyway. I'll read all about it in the morning. Besides, I don't think I can be swayed from favouring Dean. He's the only one to have opposed going to war with Iraq from day 1.

Well, anyone of them will be better than Bush. Although, I don't much like that Lieberman fellow.

Last month, "Lieberman attacked Dean for telling supporters in New Mexico last week that the U.S. should not take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he [Dean] said that day [September 3], "It's not our place to take sides."

You're supposed to negotiate peace for crying out loud!!! You can't take sides!
Hey! Blogs are being recognized as a great source for writing talent. My dream can come true!

Imagine... Me, a writer...

Clones and infiltrators

Ooooh. Raelians are in the news again. I though I heard something about that on the radio the other morning (today?), but I eventually shrugged it off as a dream. But there's a piece now on CNN. And it hit the Montreal Gazette.

I remember thinking the cloning was for real. Then, as days went by, and promised evidence was postponed, I thought, "It's for real. And something's gone horribly wrong."

I wouldn't be surprised if my theory proves right.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Governator

Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California last night. For shame. How can people vote for him when they have no idea what he stands for (politically), when he refuses to debate and take a firm stance on issues.

When he first announced his candidacy he deflected questions regarding specific policies, asking for more time to research and analyze the situation. What the hell was he doing all that time while considering whether to run or not?!? He agreed to participate in only one debate, for which he could prepare his responses to questions ahead of time.

It was in this debate he uttered to Arianna Huffington, "I just realized that I have a perfect part for you in 'Terminator 4.'"

(From Salon, "Although Schwarzenegger later denied it, the comment was plainly a reference to a scene in "Terminator 3" in which Schwarzenegger slammed the head of a female actor into a toilet -- a scene the actor described with unseemly glee in an Entertainment Weekly interview earlier this year.")

Early in the campaign, he proclaimed the fiscal picture too complicated to analyze and said he'd appoint an auditor to figure it all out once he was elected. Well that's a vote-worthy position.

Of course, all voters know him by reputation — by all counts a good businessman (what California needs, but then it's easier to be a good businessman when you have millions to spare), and fairly liberal when it comes to "lifestyle" issues like gay rights, abortion, education. To Democrats, that should sound pretty good.

But the misogyny — that's simply unforgivable and should make him ineligible to run for public office. (I was first clued into his character here.)

Would you let your sister vote for this man? Apparently the Hollywood patriarchy is doing just that, guiding their wives' votes too.

Schwarzenneger admits to "behaving badly" and apologizes. "Where there is smoke, there is fire." (What the hell is that supposed to mean?!) Then he denies some of the allegations. He calls the reports "trash politics." Then he says he would explain the allegations when the election was over.

Comparisons of Arnold's behaviour to Clinton's sexual indiscretions just gall me. Though I don't condone adultery, I firmly believe that whatever transpires between two consenting adults is nobody's business. Arnold's misdeeds run a little deeper. Salon nicely summarized the difference, saying Clinton "sounds like a guy who enjoys having sex with women; Schwarzenegger sounds like a guy who enjoys humiliating them."

It remains to be seen whether the U.S. constitution to allow Schwarzenegger to run for president. The horror.
It seems the Hell on Earth show in Florida did not take place this weekend. The theatre cancelled the show, and the webcast sites were brought down by a flood of data. (Their website is difficult to find and currently inaccessible.) The show has been rescheduled for next weekend.

No news on whether the promised suicide took place or whether it too has been postponed.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Now that the Boston Globe reports Peter Boyer to be in the middle of the furor over Mel Gibson's movie The Passion, I've finally gotten around to reading Boyer's article in The New Yorker ( "The Jesus War"; Sept. 15, 2003). It's the first piece that let me put my own passions aside, and "understand" why Mel made this movie and with what particular religious bent.

Mel actually believes that his wife, whom he considers a better person than he, is going to go to hell because she's not of the Church, a Traditionalist Catholic (p 71).

I'm not going to say Mel is anti-Semitic, but it wouldn't be a stretch to assume he blames Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, because the Bible says so. The Traditionalist looks to the Old Church, and does not recognize Vatican II, of which the primary reforms were ecumenism and reconciliation with Jews.

Boyer raises the point of the film's marketing problems. Who is going to go see The Passion anyway? The active Christian community" (p 68) — i.e., Traditionalist Catholics and evangelical Christians; theological scholars; and me (who is neither, just fascinated by this stuff).

See also Mel Gibson vs. "The Jews" and Divided over "The Passion" in Salon.

Friday, October 03, 2003

The future is now.

St. Petersburg, Florida has passed a law making it "illegal to conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, and to host, promote and sell tickets for such an event."

For all the fear of the possibility that the World Wide Web offers, this is the first I hear of a law designed to prevent such horrors (though I don't believe it addresses webcasts — I just think the internet is well suited to this kind of thing).

I am in fact amazed that humanity has exercised such restraint, without being prohibited by law.

It rings of a future described in Oryx and Crake.

Didn't Timothy Leary plan to webcast his death a few years ago?

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Vigorously fleshy development

Lemony Snicket rocks. Book the tenth is the fattest yet, but very fast devoured. The Baudelaires are growing up. Helena reminds me of Sunny — although Sunny is walking now, developing her culinary skills, and has uttered a complete sentence, Helena has twice as many teeth (though I don't recall the number of Sunny's teeth being indicated in this volume. Perhaps Sunny is growing in more ways than we thought...).

Violet faces dear darling desire of the heart.

Vast fresh divulgences. New characters, nasty and seemingly important ones.

The biggest disappointment of this book is that V.F.D.'s motto, "The world is quiet here," is counted as four words.
I'm positive I heard a report on CBC radio yesterday morning regarding the return of Iraqi children to school. Although it was a day much anticipated, there was some question as to how "rebuilding" funds allotted to education were being spent. Buildings had not been swept, let alone painted or repaired. Toilets weren't working. (The U.S. firm contracted to do repairs had made one evaluation visit, months ago.) Teachers had received no guidance regarding a new curriculum. Much-promised new textbooks were nowhere to be seen.

Was curious how CNN would spin the story. Saw one clip yesterday evening — a feel-good story that Iraqi children were returning to Saddam-free schools. No troubles reported. Thousands of new math and science textbooks were being published.

Why republish math and science texts? Could they really have been so propaganda-filled or behind the times? Or is it just to exclude the portrait and preface of the ex-leader? What a waste of money... A lovely sentiment, but pay a few kids to rip out the pages instead.

I've been unable to find any reference to either of these stories on the web.