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.