Friday, January 30, 2004

You're fired

Now this is all that reality TV can be. Not a gang of strangers forming alliances and performng ridiculous tasks in an artificial closed environment — this is the game of life. I love The Apprentice.

Sixteen people of various backgrounds — self-made men and women with street smarts and no formal education, Harvard MBAs, small business owners, executives and consultants — jump through believable hoops for Donald Trump in this ramped up version of a job competition, vying for the position of president of one of Trump's companies.

At the start Trump established two teams — the men and the women — and each week he sets a new challenge. Thus far: to sell lemonade on the streets of New York; to devise a marketing campaign for a private jet rental company; to negotiate the lowest price on a list of items, including a box of cigars and a leg wax; and to manage Planet Hollywood on Times Square for a night. The losing team meets with Donald Trump in the boardroom, where someone has to take responsibility for the loss. Someone is "fired."

The women have won every task to date. Now, watching last night, we were starting to get upset about this, because the women have used sex every time. Only in the marketing campaign, where, however blatant, it consisted of clever images and words, was it the least bit appropriate; otherwise, the women flash skin and play dumb to get what they want. If this is how it's going to be, they may as well prance around in their underwear till all the men have been eliminated.

But it seems this behaviour was starting to offend Donald Trump's sensibilities a little, too. He called the women aside to have a word, and wagged his finger at them. Tsk, tsk. Such bright women, such base behaviour.

Of course, they're playing to win, by any means possible. Who can blame them? Well, Trump can. It's his game, his rules. The women should feel shamed, but it seems this gaggle thinks there's something here that's open to debate. The strategy they use next week will be telling. (And watch out, cuz they can be catty little bitches.)

Yesterday's instalment was the first to bring us into the area of the ethically questionable. The men, to sell more merchandise, sold "autographs"; though they never lied, they created a context that intended to mislead. Meanwhile, the women pushed alcohol. Really pushed. To the extent that the restaurant's general manager needed to remind them that they can be held liable for incidents resulting from their patrons' condition on leaving, and to scold them for drinking on the job.

How far will they go to win this job? More importantly, how much brown-nosing can the TV-viewing public stomach to watch? Why doesn't Donald Trump just hire me and be done with it?

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Use your imagination

We watched Sesame Street together this morning. Elmo interviewed Robert De Niro about his profession, and Robert De Niro explained that acting was using your imagination to pretend you're something else. Then he gave some examples. He pretended to be a dog. "Woof, woof." And then he pretended to be a cabbage. Cut scene to show a muppet-cabbage sitting on Robert De Niro's stool, and Robert De Niro's voice saying "Look at me, I'm a cabbage — an excellent source of riboflavin." Very surreal. I laughed hysterically. Helena just looked at me; I guess she didn't get it.

I was surprised that Maud Newton found news of Boohbah to be blog-worthy. Of course, this is the show that's taken the Teletubbies' timeslot. The Boohbahs are rounder and fluffier than the Teletubbies, with an updated colour palette and an electronic soundtrack. Picture the Teletubbies at a rave. I haven't decided yet how I feel about them. The Teletubbies seem so charming and sane and sensible by comparison.

Timing is everything

Yesterday, Helena became a one-nap-a-day baby. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but I kept hoping for later.

This means not only less sleep for her (and less quiet time for mommy), but a tad more crankiness. It seems that she's still a bit tired and fighting it, but she doesn't quite know what else to do with her extra time. Neither do I. Ack. This is going to take a bit of adjustment for both of us.

That also makes two days in a row where she's literally fallen asleep in the middle of lunch.

Along with the new sleep pattern, Helena's exhibiting some new weird behaviour. She'll lie down anywhere, for no apparent reason. Sometimes to flail about, sometimes to just really feel the floor. Lie down in the kitchen and kick the refrigerator. Lie down in front of the balcony door and stare up at the ceiling (sky?). Lie down under the coffee table.

Also noteworthy was yesterday evening's standing — unaided, prolonged, and deliberate. And with one hand in mine, and the other hand in J-F's, we walked steadily across the living room. It's like she's a real little girl, holding our hand to cross the street or something. Any day now, she's going to stand up and assuredly walk from here to there, just like that.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

The coolest board game ever

The Mystery of the Abbey. How come I didn't know about this in time for Christmas? Why don't I know more board-game-playing adults?

Loved by Eco readers everywhere, and available at a store near me.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Deep impact

Helena's first foray into space...

Stretching the boundaries

Till yesterday, come naptime (or quiet time) I would lay Helena on our queen-sized bed — a futon mattress on a low-to-the-ground platform, low enough that I really wasn't concerned those times she fell, rolled, slipped off, back in the early days when she'd just discovered she had mobility and started to explore her boundaries. There she was surrounded by pillows and cats, with books and a toy or two always in reach. It seemed so much more civilized than the prison of her crib.

Those days are over. Though she'd wriggled down from our bed a couple times in the past, yesterday it clicked. She would not be bound by these four edges a mere foot off the ground.

Life will never be the same again. Everything on the bed must be moved to the hallway. Then to the closet. Then back to the hallway. No, the closet. What's on the bed again? Cat? Pet him. Chase him into the hallway. Check the closet. What are these clothes doing hanging here? Should put them on the bed. Or in the hallway. Where'd the cat go? No time for napping. Ack.

Is your church ready?

The Passion of the Christ is being touted as the most authentic and biblically accurate film on the subject, but according to Rev. Mark Stanger, "It's absolutely not."

An interview in Salon shows why Christians should worry. It seems Mel Gibson doesn't have much regard for "biblical scholarship" and looks to The Book for the literal truth.

Did you feel in the storytelling there were any particularly glaring omissions or otherwise historically inaccurate stuff?
Not really, except that Jesus' crucifixion was made too singular. This was an ordinary event. Jesus was one of dozens of insurrectionists that the local Roman occupiers would have crucified, but [Gibson] tried to make his suffering especially agonizing and horrible. That was the other subtext — I thought there was an unspoken assumption that somehow, for Jesus' death to have meaning to believers, it had to be more horrible than any other kind of suffering and death.
Holding this up as somehow emblematic of something central to our belief — this preoccupation with both sin and blood sacrifice — is just absolutely primitive.

There's an effort to use the film as a tool of conversion, but it's too Hollywood to work. Strictly preaching to the choir.

Monday, January 26, 2004

There's a town I know where the hipsters go

Bedrock! Twitch! Twitch!

Opportunity knocked on Mars on January 24th. Photos confirm it was a hole in one, landing inside a crater—a good thing when it comes to studying the geology of the planet.

Meanwhile, the Spirit is still willing, but weak.


I had to see what all the fuss was about. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon, is a wonderful read, and there's not much else to say on the subject that hasn't already been said.

I had no intention of reading this book, actually. Though the title gripped me, it's been reviewed to death, with only lovely, positive things said about it. (What a turn-off.) But then I cracked it open at the bookstore, and I was hooked. Read an excerpt and decide for yourself.

The premise of telling a tale from the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic boy is inventive. The execution of narrating the (mostly) everyday events in a detached and logical manner is skilled. The character is heart-warming. There is not the mystery that the title and opening pages suggest, but we see Christopher's world unfold and unravel. (And everything's tied up properly in the end.)

Haddon tells a little of what was on his mind when he wrote the novel. He knows autism. I do wonder if he's capable of writing in another voice.

I wish I'd waited a couple months and saved a few bucks on a paperback, but I'm not sorry to have read it.

Animated Pynchon

I still don't know what Thomas Pynchon looks like, but I do know how to pronounce his name.

It's a testament to the far-reaching tentacles of the Simpsons that they can get a grip on this guy, or at least his voice, "appearing" as himself in last night's episode.

I'll have to get around to reading Gravity's Rainbow someday.

Saturday, January 24, 2004


The Cryptographer, by Tobias Hill, is not so much about a cryptographer as about a woman trying to understand the cryptographer. That the subject is a cryptographer is not particularly relevant, apart, perhaps, from his natural tendency to behave cryptically. All that matters is that he has power and money. He is money.

In the Globe and Mail, cryptographer John Law is likened to Gatsby, but he is not quite so pathetic or tragic.

The Guardian sums up the novel well, though I think it is mistaken in calling it "a thriller, however poetic and elliptical." The novel throbs with an underlying intrigue, but there is never a quickening of the pulse.

According to the Telegraph, "The plot lacks depth or plausibility." I have to agree. Maud Newton didn't like it at all, but I think it has some merit.

It is a character study. As I mentioned previously, the book offers some insight into money, particularly into people who work with money without having any per se. Anna Moore, tax inspector. She carries on her side a balance of a kind of power, a sinister but moral intimidation, only The Revenue wields.

Though the relationships between characters ring true and resolve as it seems they must, they are riddled with elisions. Hill uses a poet's trick of using empty spaces to give the content meaning, but I found myself working too hard to fill in the blanks. For example, while Anna has occasional obligatory dinners with her sister where they are as conversationally distant as strangers, there remains a "sisterliness" in their dialogue that I credit more to accident (and my ability to read between the lines) than to Hill's skill.

Anna's relationship with John Law starts nicely, but evolves not plausibly at all. Their initial conversation, believably, is imbued with innuendo. They engage in a dance of flirtatious contact over months. That a year later this woman might construe this as love and pursue him to the ends of the earth is just silly.

The prose is elegant, but the plot is a Prufrockian missed opportunity.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Rover has something to tell us

Good Rover. It seems Rover is responding to commands. But we still don't know what Rover is trying to tell us.

Meanwhile, Mars Express has detected ice at the southern polar cap. Water!

Maybe Rover is thirsty. For a little Martian blood. Go get 'em Rover.

Sleeping with baby

Have I mentioned how much I hate sharing a bed with Helena? I mean I really hate it. It evokes an image of all sweet and tenderness, mother and child basking in each other's warmth, anchored in peacefulness, restful. But it's the opposite.

It might be that she feels my presence, and that keeps waking her. Or possibly, in the course of a usual night she wakes just as often, but since I'm in the next room I don't notice. If we're sharing a bed, there's already an unusual circumstance at play: we're in a strange environment, staying the night with family or friends; or as was the case last night, Helena wakes in the night, crying frantically for some reason we can't pinpoint, and cannot be calmed.

J-F suggests nightmares as the source of her trouble. I usually suspect teeth. Yesterday may have been the wind rattling her windows (though she continued to wake in our room, which has no such windows to rattle).

For some reason, once she's in our bed, J-F sleeps soundly, assured of her security. Not me. I'm not at ease. I'm still afraid of crushing her; she's still tiny. And I worry for her, speculating on her pains and fears, and praying for her restful sleep.

Yet, after a dreadful night, I look forward to sharing a nap with baby this afternoon. Perhaps we'll fall asleep in each other's arms while I'm reading to her. More likely I'll crash to the mattress, digging my palms into my eye sockets, waiting for the Motrin to kick in, and Helena will clamber over Mount Mommy, and bounce along my thigh in victory, and climb back to the other side, and try it again, and again, and again, till she collapses in exhaustion.
As much as I wanted to see Howard Dean on David Letterman last night, I couldn't stay awake that late. The top ten list he delivered is available on the news wires, or see the video clip at the official Late Show site.

I particularly like Dean's Austrian accent.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Rover distressed

We're very much dismayed to hear the news that the Rover Spirit has "a serious anomaly" and has been issuing a distress signal.

But wouldn't it be cool if the reason was that the exploratory space vehicle had tripped the security alarms of some nearby colony, so over the last few days the Martians assembled and devised a war plan and stormed down on Rover, atomizing it!?

Engineering 101

My favourite kids' show is Tiny Planets, featuring two animated creatures named Bing and Bong, "heroes of the universe." At the beginning of each episode they are given a mission, to salvage some desperate situation on a faraway planet, that centers around a key point of physics (usually). Some examples:

Episode 2 "Snow Problem"
Educational Concept: Rain and snow are different forms of water.

Episode 44 "Flocker Flicker"
Educational Concept: Animation works by presenting a series of still pictures very quickly, one after the other. The result is that the pictures appear to move.

Episode 47 "Flower Power"
Educational Concept: Sound can be directed (Megaphone) so that the listener hears it more loudly.

It's amazing! Helena's a little young to fully grasp these concepts, I know; but I try to watch this show regularly with her, hoping to instill a sense of and wonder at how things work.

(Bong not required for full entertainment value.)

A new day

Thirty hours plus of fever hovering at 103°F, one sleepless night, constant vigilance, worry like I've never worried before. Yesterday was miserable; though Helena still had some smiles and giggles, even a dance, in her, they weren't quite right — they weren't her. But she slept through last night, her temperature returned to normal by morning. Her appetite is not back in full force yet. The sparkle of fever in her eyes has been replaced with a weariness. But it's over.

I commend the people at InfoSanté CLSC for being well informed, reassuring, and authoritative in their approach.

A word on ear thermometers: Though they're said to be not very accurate, they're fast. They're a godsend. Accuracy is overrated at times (ssshhhh, don't tell my clients). Knowing how it measures her baseline temperature, I can gauge all readings relative to each other.

Fever aside, one of yesterday's biggest disappointments was that Teletubbies is no longer carried by our local PBS station. I'm not sure it's quite sunken in with Helena yet.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004


Neil Gaiman has Translucia Baboon's permission to warn the world about the ducks. Take heed.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Oprah's book club

The new book club book: One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I guess I should read it. (Can it be better than Love in the Time of Cholera?)

Ah, the mystery of the Church

"It is as it was," but, "That is not true," is the latest report on Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

(Note the use of the article "the" with "Christ." It's not a reference to the biographical name but is used in the sense of "messiah." Mel Gibson is spelling it out.)

US politics

Gephardt is officially out of it, of which I am glad, because he refuses to answer the questions he's asked.

But can somebody please explain to me why it is that Wesley Clark could opt out of the Iowa caucuses. They have a choice? Then what's the point?

The book blog

It has arrived.

Bloggers do what they do for love, not money. The tone that results is quite unlike paid reviewing and reporting. Most bloggers are passionate about books and their enthusiasms (for, say, small presses and literature in translation) and hatreds (for, say, the pompous book reviewing of the New York Times) are refreshing, even when over-the-top.

So that's why there aren't any good literary magazines out there.

But then my blog simply repeats what Maud Newton and Bookslut have already told the world. I copy them cuz I think they're cool and I wish I could hang out with them.

I wonder how it'll end

The Philadelphia Inquirer style committee will soon revisit the
newspaper's style on the use of the word like to mean such as and

In most instances, our newspaper's style dictates we write -- Some
people enjoy big cars, such as Cadillacs. Not: Some people enjoy big
cars like Cadillacs.

There may be fist-fights over this one.

Make it stop

Helena has a fever. It's been 8 days since her measles/mumps/rubella vaccination. The information sheet states that the child may have fever (and "non-contagious redness") between the 5th and the 12th day. Right on schedule.

For the most part, Helena is her usual cheery, chatty, active self today. Except for the numerous unforeseen and unconsolable bursts of crankiness. And the lack of interest in all foods other than cheese.

For the rest, she doesn't stop. The Megabloks are in the kitchen cupboard. The tupperware has been moved to the other cupboard. The CDs have been rearranged, in I don't know what order, but I know it ain't alphabetical. The kitchen chairs, now her main mode of transport (pushed along walker-style), are everywhere but the kitchen. The cats flee for their lives. Post-it flags adorn all the furniture. And her books. I guess she sees me do that.

I have been working diligently. I am fully confident in my newly acquired knowledge of facial reconstruction. I could do it, in an emergency, like if we're stuck in an elevator or something.

And my newest skill, ignoring the mess my baby makes, is being enjoyed to the fullest.

Monday, January 19, 2004

More on Spalding

I just read a very poignant essay remembering Spalding Gray. How very sad. Sadder still is the fact that his friends are acknowledging the likelihood that he will not be found.

(It strikes me that there's the gloom of TS Eliot in the air.)

I'd like to think he just walked away, still trying to find himself, and will live out long years hermit-like somewhere in New England. He will be some small fishing village's crazy man with wise warnings.

I reread Monster in a Box the other night and revelled in the frenzy of it.

Sunday, January 18, 2004


Helena is finding her groove.

Though she seems to dig a full range of music, with a mommy-influenced appreciation of Philip Glass and Beethoven, the tunes that inspire the most headbopping and bouncing tend toward jazzy lounge electronica.

Maybe it has something to do with that Supreme Beings of Leisure concert we went to just a week before my due date. My belly was reverberating.
Book shopping was a success. Not only did I find everything I'd intended to purchase, I returned all those books to their respective shelves and came away instead with a chance discovery and some inspired fresh choices.

Chief among my purchases is The Cryptographer, by Tobias Hill, which I can barely put down. I found it out on AS Byatt's recommendation, even though I can't trust everything she says.

Thus far, the book offers some insight into money, particularly into people who work with money without having any per se (a population subgroup to which belong many people I know). And Tobias Hill measures out his prose in careful homage to TS Eliot. The central character, Anna Moore, is no doubt of Prufrock's acquaintance.

More on my literary adventures as they unfold.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

When I turned on the television the other night, Entertainment Tonight was just unveiling its exclusive look at Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Lucky me.

The trailer is intense. I can't wait.

Tooth sighting

Yesterday. Number 15, to the best of my knowledge. Lower right first molar. Spotted while subject was in mid-laugh.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Experiments in sound

Helena is putting to use all the 500 ml plastic tubs I've saved from yogourt and stuff. She holds them over her muzzle and breathes. She seems to be systematically running through a whole range of vocalizations, pitches, and volumes.

Reminds me of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. Creepy.

Where am I going with this?

It seems the blog circuit is buzzing about Caitlin Flanagan and her review of Dr Laura's new book, but generally about Flanagan.

So I had to check out what it's all about.

For starters, there's a contrasting review of that book in the Washington Post, with which I agree.

On the "other" side is Flanagan, who points out, "Our culture is quick to point out the responsibilities husbands have to wives—they should help out with the housework, be better listeners, understand that a woman wants to be more than somebody's mother and somebody's wife—but very reluctant to suggest that a wife has responsibilities to her husband." OK.

She goes on about all Dr Laura's contradictions as a person. Fine, I don't know much about Dr Laura (though from what I know, I don't think she's my cuppa tea). Flanagan criticizes the book for not once mentioning the stay-at-home dad.

Then Flanagan explains of Dr Laura that:

"If she had admitted up front that as a young woman she lived a life of sexual liberty and experimentation (rather than waiting for the press to discover and reveal this past, one humiliating episode at a time), and if she had explained that motherhood had produced profound changes in her, she would have earned herself a lot less derision and ire. There are many of us who understand that once you have children, certain doors ought to be closed to you forever. That to do right by a child means more than buying him the latest bicycle helmet and getting him on the best soccer team. It means investing oneself completely in the marriage that wrought him, for there isn't a person in the world who won't date his moments of greatest happiness to the time his family was the most intact, whole, unshakable."

Well, yes.

Flanagan casually mentions in her reviews that she's a mother. This is what she's all about.

In last issue's column, she reviewed a handful of books of the subject of marriage and sex, "The Wifely Duty." Among Flanagan's observations:

Men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks, but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washcloths; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won't spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential. And a lot of women feel cheated and angry and even—bless their hearts—surprised about this.... I might be quietly thrilled if my husband decided to forgo his weekly tennis game so that he could alphabetize the spices and scrub the lazy Susan, but I would hardly consider it an erotic gesture.

Well, yes, again.

[As an aside, when I read, "The reason abortion rights hold such a sanctified position in American political life is that they are a critical component of the yuppie program for maximum personal sexual pleasure," my regard for Flanagan plummeted.]

But here's where it gets complicated. Before I had a baby I would've responded differently. To all of this stuff. A woman needs a balanced life. And it is the crux of my discomfort that I might be a person who believes "having a baby changes everything." It shouldn't. Not everything. If anything it should only improve, nurture, highlight (and sometimes mask) the cores of goodness, of being, already within us.

You go, girl

(I never actually say that.)

More Nancy Drew. Yay! I think.

"Nancy Drew, the fictional teen sleuth popularized in mystery novels for eight decades, is about to get a heavy dose of 21st-century hipness and relevancy."

I read them all before I was even 9 years old. I remember getting in trouble in grade 2 for reading under my desk.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Why would anyone consider stopping on the Moon on their way to Mars? Is that even scientifically sound? Obviously, we have the technology to go directly to Mars. Do not pass Go, do not collect $1 billiion.
Not long before Bush's announcement, funding has been cut for technical editors at NASA. (Heard on the copyeditors' grapevine.)

To the moon

GW Bush is expected to announce a push for travel to the moon this afternoon, granting a 5% increase in the NASA budget. Going to the moon is considered "good practice" for travelling to Mars.

This appears to be a positive development, hoping to inspire a fervour similar to that seen in the 1960s' space race. The focus on exploration will undoubtedly ignite the imaginations of voters. (Hear experts argue the politics.)

However, it comes at a cost: cutting back on the space shuttle and space station programs. The financial boost to the moon will largely come from existing monies. Of course, after last year's space shuttle tragedy, not many will mourn abandoning the dangers of those missions. Meanwhile, any current science in progress aboard the space station will have to rely on private corporate backing.

One small step for GW Bush, one giant step backward for mankind (and space aliens everywhere).


I needed to look up greenstick fracture in the dictionary. Just below it is the entry for grenade-thrower's fracture, defined as "fracture of the humerus caused by muscular contraction, as in throwing a grenade."

Does one throw a grenade in a manner unlike one throws anything else? Is the muscular contraction related to the throwing action per se or to the panic one feels that the object one is about to throw may explode in one's hand?

Who had the honour of naming this variety of fracture? Why not "Molotov-cocktail thrower's fracture"? Or "picked-up-debris-in-the-driveway-that-turns-out-to-be-a-dead-animal-so-fling-it-away-in-a-hurry-thrower's fracture"?

Where is Spalding Gray?

C'mon, this isn't funny anymore.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Everything under the kitchen sink

Helena's taken to sitting inside the kitchen cupboard, under the sink (you know, where most people keep their garbage). I think she must see it as practice for chair-sitting, and for general chair negotiation. The cupboard bottom is just the right height off the floor that her feet can be planted on the floor with her knees bent at a right angle. She's experimenting with whether it's possible to move from a seated position directly to standing. Good luck, baby.

A new negative development, Helena is now of a size where she can comfortably open the self-contained garbage can. She just "threw away" her milk bottle, because she can. At least she's not yet removing the garbage to organize it elsewhere. Yet...

Why would anyone fake a book (or a whole language for that matter)?

Book people versus movie people

Now here's an article that makes me want to blog and post comments all day.

"What books people love isn't books; what they love is their own standards, and their fantasies about what literature should be."

Note, though, that the "people" under discussion are not everyday Joes, but professionals, those in the biz.

"American book-world people? A drearier — and much less worldly — bunch. (IMHO, of course.) They're often introverts, as well as sensitive souls who howl in outrage if you dare to crack a joke about their sacred cows. Many like little more than working themselves up into a red-faced paroxysm of indignation about the cruelty of ... of ... well, just about everything, you know? I mean, life, huh? (FWIW, and I don't have wide experience here: the British book-world people I've known have been much more buccaneering and extraverted than American books people, and much more devil-may-care. Much better at parties too, by the way.)"

For the record, I love Bridget Jones, but I can't stand Jane Austen. And I honestly believe that science fiction has way more to tell the world than does most contemporary "literary" fiction.


There's been a lot of work (of the paying variety) over the last week, and there's more to come, any minute now. This is good, although I'm a bit resentful that the book-shopping day I'd planned has had to be postponed indefinitely. I'm craving a couple hours in a bookstore, to wander aimlessly, browse bargain bins, sample those novels I've been wanting for months, make discoveries too I hope, treat myself to cappuccino, and spend my Christmas monies and accumulated coupons.

I can't wait.

Helena's been super. Sunday I'd popped out to the store around the corner. When I came back J-F was all agog, but trying desperately to contain himself, saying "I guess you see her do this all the time and it's no big deal." It turns out the little scamp can climb up into our old, low-to-the-ground Ikea "armchair," and just sits there, lounging comfortably and laughing. Then she turns herself around and slips down to the floor. Not bad for a kid who can't even walk yet!

She's spending quite a bit of time with her xylophone these days. It puts such a smile on my heart. She's actually playing it the way it was intended.

We took Helena for her 12-month vaccination yesterday (a little late, I guess). Two shots. There was much glaring directed at the nurse. No reactions are evident, though if the other immunization events to date are any indication, she'll be sleeping a lot today. That's OK with me.
This is pretty weird.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

The annotated Helena vocabulary

(Listed in roughly chronological order of acquisition.)

Mama: That means me, although there are a lot of other things she calls "mama." Then there's the mamamamamamama mantra that spills out for no apparent reason.

Papa: That means J-F. It's starting to issue forth more regularly now. She's been saying "dada" for some time, but we attribute no meaning to it.

kookoo: "Peekaboo." Not vocalized, but clearly associated with playtime.

chat: French for "cat." We encouraged this term after watching her struggle with something vaguely resembling "kitty cat." It was obvious she needed a word by which to refer to this concept. Initially it sounded more like a whisper (sssshhhaa), but it has since taken on confidence.

no: Means "no." This is a word she does not yet vocalize but which she clearly comprehends. It generally elicits gut-wrenching cries of exasperated, wrongly wronged despair. Sigh.

bam: Means "boom." Something we say quite often when Helena falls back on her bottom, or when she drops objects from a great height and makes a loud noise, or when she accidently knocks things over. She uses "bam" in the same context.

bu-bye!: "Bye-bye." Usually accompanied by vigorous waving and trailing off into a series of high-pitched squeals.

ta-dah!: An occasional exclamation, usually upon getting into a standing position.

la: Means lait. French for "milk." A recent vocabularly acquisition (yesterday) and "learned" by means of pointing and repeated naming. Must use this method for more objects...

Fiction faves

Salon has released its list of the 10 best fiction titles of 2003. I've read none of them. I've heard of half of them. I've meant to get around to picking up one of them (The Curious Incident...).

The list inspires me to look into The Bug: "Acidic vignettes of high-tech business culture alternate with meditations on such 21st century preoccupations as artificial life." Sounds good to me.

My favourite book of last year? Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. Though other books were more popular or flashier, this is the one that strikes deepest. Years from now I'll be examining our future in terms of Atwood's vision. (Although I refer to it a couple of times in these pages, I guess I read it in the pre-blog era.)

Friday, January 09, 2004

Poetry in motion

Regarding the vaseline incident, under no circumstances are you to scold me for 1) leaving my child unattended, because although my back was turned while I was absorbed in processing her diaper laundry, she was in fact within 7 feet of me at all times; 2) storing a tub of vaseline within child's reach, because a week ago it wasn't; or 3) even having vaseline with the intention of using it on my baby even though these days all parenting authorities strongly discourage its use because it hinders the absorption of vitamin D or something stupid like that, because that's just silly.

I liked the article in the Washington Post this week about raising girls to succeed in science.

"Help girls get past the "yuck" factor. Science is messy, so put aside your desire for clean girls and surfaces. Girls who are afraid of getting dirty aren't born that way -- they're made....Encourage them to get good and grubby: to dig in a riverbed, change a tire or explore an engine. Let them learn they have a right to be themselves."

The best part is that when she does get grimy, instead of acting contrite for my neglect and laziness I can now proudly say it's all in the name of Science.


Everywhere. Coating all surfaces in Helena's bedroom up to about 2 feet off the floor. Slick handprints denoting the progression from where the Vaseline tub was stored to where she sat when I entered her room.

It makes for a lovely hair-styling product, if you're into the wet look.


I'm interested to see that McSweeney's recommends The Master of Go, by Yasunari Kawabata. I read that! It was captivating.

The book comes from a series of newspaper reports Kawabata wrote on the Go match of the century. McSweeney's gets it right to finger the tension between tradition and modernism, in the opponents' style of play, but also in the sociopolitical context of their lives. It's a passing of the torch.

I've been trying to "master" Go for some two decades now. No success. Very few manuals are written on the game. Those that are available are often reprints of very old work and written in a style that can't be called user-friendly.

For example, The Game of Go: The National Game of Japan, by Arthur Smith, was first published in 1908. My sister gave it to me for Christmas in 1985 (every 16-year-old girl's dream). Smith includes a few sample games, and for one he comments at move 202 (of a possible 361 play positions) that "all the rest of board is practically finished." In fact, the published reports of most games stop at about move 250 or so, intimating that the rest is obvious. I am mystified.

I think there must be some zen aspect to grokking Go that is simply beyond me.

Thursday, January 08, 2004


The complete Prisoner series on DVD. Received it for my birthday (at my request), and wanted to have a marathon viewing session of all 17 episodes. (Since my grade 12 English teacher introduced me to the series some 17 years ago, I've only seen a handful of episodes.)

Well, almost two months later, we've watched almost half the series, squeezing in episodes when we can.

Since its original airing in 1967, the show has had a cult following (with an Internet presence including fan clubs) and has had more influence on pop culture than one might realize, including being referenced in The Simpsons.

What a beautiful program. The opening credits are a masterpiece, providing the viewer with all the necessary backstory. I can think of no other show that sets up its episodes in this way.

Interestingly, though it's assumed Patrick McGoohan's character (Number 6) worked as an agent with access to top-secret information and not without influence in the sphere of politics, his occupation is never made explicit. Perhaps a weapons engineer... No, his behaviour is clearly consistent with spyhood, but it's a point worth considering — assume nothing.

The set is visually rich, interiors and exteriors both, and unique, with an array of recurring symbols. Incredible art direction.

The bicycle. A penny-farthing bicycle, said by McGoohan to be a symbol of progress.

The council chamber in a couple of episodes features a chair awash in illuminati symbols. Membership to the council belongs to the elite, and Number 2 (the political head of the Village) wields no influence.

Numbers are assigned to "inmates" according to the value of the information they possess, Number 6 being fairly high up on this scale. Oddly, many people seem to hold positions of "power" who have large numbers, such as various doctors. One is reminded that though they are of great service, their brand of information does not serve the primary interest of the Village.

The order of episodes is widely disputed as they were aired in different sequences in different countries (The Prisoner premiered in Canada!) and not necessarily in the order in which they were planned or produced. The DVD box set liner notes outline the arguments for the order A&E established, but in my opinion they erred on at least one crucial sequence.

"A, B, and C" and "The General" are shown sixth and seventh respectively. It's obvious to me this order should be reversed. They feature the same Number 2: in the opening sequence of "The General" he introduces himself, "I am the new Number 2," whereas in "A, B, and C" he announces merely, "I am Number 2."

Why is this Number 2 allowed a second crack at breaking Number 6?

I assume Number 2's job is to dig for information not just from Number 6 but from the other citizens of the Village as well. Or is it?

Be seeing you.

League of boredom

Now that I've read Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (since having just recently received it as a gift), I can authoritatively say that it has, as suspected, absolutely nothing to do with the movie of the same title.

Except for the concept, which is a really neat concept, of gathering together a group of contemporary (to each other) literary characters. The novel limits league membership to five, with only four of these (plus a host of others) appearing in the movie.

But this league of characters also confuses me. Mina displays no vampiric tendencies whatsoever. She contributes no "gift" to the league but her womanly wiles. She is no more "gentlemanly" than the rest of them, and I fail to see the reasoning behind her membership. Nemo remains an enigma, having even less presence than in the movie.

The work teems with literary reference. It's a bit of clever fun, but this is not genius.

The artwork is rich, but not astounding. Admittedly, the graphic novel feels suitably dark. London is seedy, compared with the carnival atmosphere of the Venice film setting. Though there are visual references aplenty, the story is not moved along by pictures.

Likewise, the dialogue does not bestow meaning deeper than that already imbued by the name-dropping. I feel (unpopularly, I'm sure) the story concept would be better served by a traditional novel, or by a movie.

Happy birthday Ivonna!

I feel pretty bad (but not too bad) that I didn't send you a card or get you a proper present. I don't know how I let that happen. For this I apologize.

But let this stand as a public record of my declaration that you're the best sister ever! And you're an awesome aunt too!

So on this occasion, I offer you a proverb (well, you'll have to put it together yourself) and a little advice on keeping healthy.


Wednesday, January 07, 2004


Another crime against culture. A mob in India destroys ancient Sanskrit manuscripts. How is it that culturally rich seats of civilization can have evolved to produce such barbarism?

Poo poo

I smell baby poo. Everywhere. My sinuses are clogged up today, and somehow the smell of baby poo has lodged itself in my olfactory centre. I keep checking to see if maybe there's baby poo smeared on my clothes, but nothing. Just the smell. Following me everywhere.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Mars bound

We watched Charlie Rose this afternoon — our local PBS rebroadcasts shows from the night before — and were treated to news of the red planet.

Though the current impetus is to gather data to determine whether water persisted on Mars for long enough for life to have some foothold, the Mars experts expect we'll be planning manned explorations about 20 years from now.

Helena should be at MIT by then. We're on track.

We're highly anticipating Nova this evening. They're on top of this mission and will broadcast all the latest pics.

Maybe Helena will stay up late to watch.

Monday, January 05, 2004

Negative words

Reading Eco's Baudolino about a year ago, I had to set it aside to check "licit" in the dictionary. One of those words we usually use in the negative, I questioned the legitimacy of the unmorphemed version.

Amazon searches inside the book to reveal that "licit" is not all that uncommon. Still, it made me stop.



Impeccable. Strictly speaking, the antonym is "peccant." When's the last time you used that word in casual conversation?

On the subject of words, the list of words to be banned for overuse in 2003 is under discussion.

I rather like the word "metrosexual," but I've only used it once. I heard and saw it a gazillion times in the news, but it was always in the context of defining what a metrosexual was to determine whether it was a new word or a new phenomenon. I'm not convinced that counts for usage.

The only real problem with "shock and awe" was that there wasn't any. Just another clever marketing catchphrase.

Oddly, though many news sources are carrying the same AP story, the list in its entirety does not appear to be available.

Small talk

Q. How long can people talk about how tall their siblings are?
A. At least 20 minutes.

Q. How long can people gossip about people you don't know?
A. All afternoon.

It seems Christmas never ends. We've been enjoying yet more Christmas cheer with even more family and friends, in Laval and Ottawa respectively.

We're of that age when a good number of friends have started families. And so we visited with some families this weekend. One couple has a 4-year-old girl and 11-month-old boy. Another couple has a little girl, almost 3.

Helena gets on pretty well with people her own size, and her behaviour was near impeccable, apart from trying to use the toy hammer on Nicholas's head. Helena went on to occupy herself in exploring our friends' kitchen drawers — I don't think they minded too much.

Sadly, now that there are children, among friends that has become the only (at least primary) perceived point in common. Conversations revolve around developmental milestones, and discussions about, say, current events are relegated to that nebulous yet artificially constructed "adult time," when the kids have gone to bed. Sigh. Already my resolution to improve my conversational skills has been thwarted.

Helena's been a trooper and a sweetheart, enduring long drives, forgoing naps, and throwing scheduled meals to the wind. My heart brims with pride at her easy-going nature. Her nights have been restless, but I can't blame her after thrusting such full days upon her.

Anyway, life is returning to more or less normal today. I think Helena senses it and is resuming her usual daily "routine" with glee.

Pictures from Mars


Though, a lot of them are not really pictures of Mars. (Are they really in black and white? Don't they have Kodak colour technology?)

We're keeping a log of Mars events to help with Helena's astronaut training. One hopes that within the year she'll be contributing to this log, in some capacity.


I don't know who you are, but I know you're there.