Friday, February 27, 2004

My weeping heart

(Weeping about many different issues simultaneously.)

Helena has not been happy this week. Rather, she has been happy, but she has also been extremely miserable. There's diarrhea. And yesterday I thought I caught a glint of white in the dark recesses (lower left) where a molar is someday to be.

Her appetite, or at least her eating patterns, is in flux. I thought she wasn't hungry, but it turns out she really wanted to feed herself, so lunch takes about an hour.

This morning, after having dropped her at the mother-in-law's so we can enjoy a romantic getaway of a weekend in Quebec City, it's been reported to us that there's a pus-y discharge from her eye. I'm going to try not to worry.

And I've been working. (Note how the number of blog entries earlier this week directly corresponds to my capacity for procrastination.)

I took a phone call from a client the other day and Helena was screaming the whole time. The incident has me extremely upset. Fortunately, I have a healthy relationship with this client; I don't think it's a big deal. I deperately want to explain, though, to the client and to the world, that Helena's rarely like that. But I'm angry, too. I know clients realize I work from home and therefore set my own hours and conditions, yet I feel that if the phone rings I should be "on." On the clock. On the ball. Not have a wailing infant in my arms. I'm really upset. I guess I have to rethink some things. Again.

The Passion is finally out, to mixed reviews. Charlie Rose the other night had Christopher Hitchens, among others, calling it the Jesus Chainsaw Massacre. I'm dead curious to see it with my own eyes, but I have serious reservations about contributing financially to Mel Gibson and his weird sect. We'll see which forces within me win out.

I particularly like the joke about Donald Trump firing Pontius Pilate.

Did I not read somewhere that the use of Latin in the movie is historically inaccurate? That Greek would've been the lingua franca of politics and "diplomacy"? Nobody seems to think that's an issue (just another detail that calls into question the accuracy of the interpretation). Maybe I dreamt it. I wonder...

Be careful of what your government is voting on:

The real aim of the legislation is to undermine abortion rights by giving the unborn the same legal rights as the born. They charge that abortion politics was taking precedence over the need to protect abused women.

Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said it would affect a woman's reproductive rights. It "is not about women and it is not about children. It's about politics."

According to Maud Newton's site, there's more on the semicolon issue, and there's an octopus making it's way around New York City.

And I really feel for Mimi this week, what with battling "the Great Drifting Alienated Orb Of Adulthood (see ill-conceived metaphor here)." Maybe I should write to her.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

According to the Book Quiz, I'm The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger:

You are surrounded by phonies, and boy are you sick of them! In an ongoing struggle to search for a land without phonies, you end up running away from everything, from school to consequences. In this process, you reveal that many people in your life have suffered torments and all you really want to do is catch them as they fall. Perhaps using a baseball mitt. Your biggest fans are infamous psychotics.

Maybe I should grow up.

The second time through, I'm Eliot's Prufrock:

Though you are very short and often overshadowed, your voice is poetic and lyrical. Dark and brooding, you see the world as a hopeless effort of people trying to impress other people. Though you make reference to almost everything, you've really heard enough about Michelangelo. You measure out your life with coffee spoons.

Funny, cuz both these pieces were highly significant to me, when I was 15.

Go, gods, go

I liked Neil Gaiman's American Gods. In fact, the more I think about it, the more time passes, the more I like it.

Read an excerpt.

It didn't hit me over the head. Although I cared what happened next, I didn't stay up late reading. I didn't sneak off to bathroom, asking J-F to watch Helena "for a few minutes."

I wasn't sure what all the fuss was about — pages and pages of quotable blurbs written by reviewers I've never heard of. "An important, essential book" is a bit overblown. "Keeps the reader turning pages" is somewhat more lowkey, but a meaningless comment, really, to make about any adequate book.

There's nothing bad to say about this book. But it's lingering with me. The story's a giant metaphor, of course, which I'm still enjoying unravelling. This book is aging well.

Gaiman paints America with the reverence only an outsider could muster. He is able to express and comment upon his experience with America through wildly fantastical elements. One realizes how magical even the plainest portions of the country are, as Wednesday and Shadow trek across the country looking for supernatural recruits. No imagination can escape the boundaries of America's wide and varied landscapes, and even gods are humbled by it. These modern times are often defined in terms of conflicting values and eras, as well as ethnicities and languages, and somewhere, standing undefined, is that elusive figure suggested by the term "American."

Gaiman's no literary genius, but he knows his craft well enough. It's idea that drives this book, not language. (More books might be better off if they had ideas like these.) I don't really see how American Gods could win both the Bram Stoker Award for Best Horror Novel (the only horrific element is that dead woman who keeps hanging around) and the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Novel (there's certainly no science about it, and the fantasy is the kind that pervades our daily lives) — I'd sooner file this book in the magic realism genre.

The story behind the story is the marketing of this book. Part of that plan included an online journal, which still thrives.

From one of Neil Gaiman's first journal entries:

I first suggested we do something like this to my editor, the redoubtable Jennifer Hershey, about a year ago, while the book was still being written (a process that continued until about 3 weeks ago). She preferred to wait until the book was on the conveyor belt to actual publication, thus sparing the reading world lots of entries like "Feb 13th: wrote some stuff. It was crap." and "Feb 14th: wrote some brilliant stuff. This is going to be such a good novel. Honest it is." followed by "Feb 15th. no, it's crap" and so on. It was a bit like wrestling a bear. Some days I was on top. Most days, the bear was on top. So you missed watching an author staring in bafflement as the manuscript got longer and longer, and the deadlines flew about like dry leaves in a gale, and the book remained unfinished.

I have no idea what kind of book this is. Or rather, there's nothing quite like it out there that I can point to. Sooner or later some reviewer will say something silly but quotable like "If JRR Tolkein had written The Bonfire of the Vanities..." and it'll go on the paperback cover and thus put off everyone who might have enjoyed it.

(There is a blurb that goes, "If Jack Kerouac had written Lord of the Rings...")

It's about the soul of America, really. What people brought to America; what found them when they came; and the things that lie sleeping beneath it all.

Where is bin Laden?

Driving home late Saturday night we heard on a French AM radio station that Osama bin Laden had been located. We scanned the radio dial for more information. Nothing.

We got home in information-hunting mode; I went for the TV, J-F for the Internet. Nothing. Nothing on the French wires. In the clear light of the following day, still nothing.

This morning finally the story makes its way into the pages of Salon:

Osama is being "monitored by satellite"
So says the Sunday Express, a London tabloid owned by Brit publishing magnate Richard Desmond, whose other titles include "Horny Housewives," "Mega Boobs," and "Worldwide Golf." Though some Bush opponents worry that the administration could spring an "October surprise" by capturing Osama just in time to parade back into the White House in November, few mainstream media have picked up the Express story. Australia's Sunday Telegraph ventured a cautious report on Monday:

"Bin Laden 'surrounded'

"February 22, 2004

"A British Sunday newspaper is claiming Osama bin Laden has been found and is surrounded by US special forces in an area of land bordering north-west Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Sunday Express, known for its sometimes colourful scoops, claims the al-Qaeda leader has been 'sighted' for the first time since 2001 and is being monitored by satellite ...

"The claim is attributed to 'a well-placed intelligence source' in Washington, who is quoted as saying: 'He (bin Laden) is boxed in.'

"The paper says the hostile terrain makes an all-out conventional military assault impossible. The plan to capture him would depend on a 'grab-him-and-go' style operation. 'US helicopters already sited on the Afghanistan border will swoop in to extricate him,' the newspaper says ... The special forces are 'absolutely confident' there is no escape for bin Laden, and are awaiting the order to go in and get him.

"'The timing of that order will ultimately depend on President Bush,' the paper says. 'Capturing bin Laden will certainly be a huge help for him as he gets ready for the election.'"

Now, I suppose the source of the story is considered questionable (Salon drives that point home), but it's a story people are very much interested in. So why aren't we hearing more about it?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Faith-based politics

Where do I start? It's infuriating, and I can't not say anything any longer. Please, go educate yourselves, and vote wisely.

1. From Harper's:
More than 60 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel prize winners and 19 winners of the National Medal of Science, denounced the Bush Administration for its systematic distortion of scientific facts for political gain; John H. Marburger III, the administration's head of science and technology policy, dismissed the report and said that it was politically motivated.

2. Unnoticed by much of the public, the Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have been laying the groundwork for a repeal of abortion rights.

The anti-abortion movement is making tremendous progress . . . but "they're doing it below the radar."

Laci and Conner's Law: (Whenever possible, Republicans title their legislation after high-profile victims.) Though it makes an explicit exception for abortion, within the rhetoric of a law that defines killing a fetus as murder the exception seems absurd — and that's precisely the point.

The bill to suspend the FDA's approval of RU-486, the abortion pill: An 18-year-old died in September, a week after taking the pill, making her the second American woman to die from RU-486 complications. In comparison, according to the Food and Drug Administration, as of 1998, 130 Americans died after taking Viagra.

Even more devastating has been Bush's reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule, which denies American aid to family planning agencies that even mention to pregnant women that abortion is an option. See also point 3 below.

Some laws have been struck down because they didn't provide exceptions for the health of the mother and didn't contain a precise definition of the procedure it purported to ban — a crucial point because "partial birth abortion" is not a medical term. Bush doesn't follow this logic.

There cannot be an anti-abortion majority on the US Supreme Court!

Note that Roe vs. Wade isn't over yet.

Abortion in Law, History & Religion provides an interesting international perspective.

3. Abstinence over sex education:

Bush's budget recommends $270 million for programs that try to dissuade teenagers from having sex. Much of that money would be given in grants to Christian organizations such as Youth for Christ and to anti-abortion groups operating so-called crisis pregnancy centers, outfits that masquerade as women's health clinics but deliver a strongly anti-abortion message and often medically inaccurate information. It would pay for school programs that teach kids that premarital sex leads to psychological maladies and that sex with condoms is a kind of viral Russian roulette.

There is no scientific evidence that abstinence-only programs work.

There is anecdotal evidence aplenty that they do not!

Often, though, the doctors associated with the Medical Institute seem to put their "values commitments" ahead of hard evidence. One member of the institute's advisory board is W. David Hager, the author of a book called "As Jesus Cared for Women: Restoring Women Then and Now." Hager has suggested prayer as a cure for premenstrual syndrome and, in private practice, refused to prescribe contraception to unmarried women. In 2002, Bush appointed Hager, whom Time Magazine called "scantily credentialed," to head an FDA panel on women's health policy, but after a public outcry, he was merely made a member of the panel.

That's absurd! That man should be nowhere near women's health, and no president of any brain would think to appoint him.

4. Amending the constitution:

Bush says marriage cannot be severed from its "cultural, religious and natural" roots. (Haven't they taken God out of the constitution yet?!)

I don't see how amending the constitution would not be discriminatory. I fear this opens the door to a lot more Christian-Right amending.

Grrr. It all just makes me so mad.

Editing can be criminal

Be careful who you edit:

The US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control recently declared that American publishers cannot edit works authored in nations under trade embargoes. Although publishing the articles is legal, editing is a "service" and it is illegal to perform services for embargoed nations.

Will it inhibit academic exchange?

The notion that publishing articles does not inevitably involve editing them is mind-boggling to many in the business.


The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc (IEEE) has posted its policy on dealing with embargoed activities, which include reordering of paragraphs or sentences, correction of syntax, grammar, and the replacement of inappropriate words prior to publication. "It doesn't matter where the reviewers or editors are located when applying these rules."

The people in our neighbourhood

Yesterday afternoon, Helena and I headed out for a longer walk than usual. Destination: the other grocery store, because it has a superior meat counter.

Outside the ATM vestibule were two security guards, one of whom even held the door open for us. Two parking metres flank the side of the building. At one was a youngish, scruffy, tough-looking guy poking the coin slot with the blade of a Swiss army knife; at the other was a neatly dressed couple, also prodding the contraption with various keys and cards. They were still there when I left 5 minutes later. The security guards chose to leave then, too, and one of them entered a nearby phonebooth. I don't understand what they were doing there. I don't understand what would possess people to jab at a jammed quarter for such a sustained period, and without raising questions among uniformed authorities.

Further down the street we saw two of Snow White's dwarfs, though perhaps one of them was a distant cousin, looking less a miner as he was wearing a snazzy captain's hat and cowhide-print scarf. The other was appropriately toqued up for the cold.

I do not have enough hands and feet to begin to count the babies out in their strollers on this sunny day.


Bookninja points to a little history of Courier New 12, recently announced as banned by the US State Department.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Even though The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe was the last book standing on Canada Reads, it's the review I read this morning that makes me think it's a book I might like to read.

Canada Reads — great concept, but apart from naming a must-read for the country, the debate, though entertaining, is not very informative for people who haven't read the books on the table.


Helena spends a lot of time pretending these days.

She's copying a lot of behaviour, including dance moves, which are particularly challenging since she refuses to walk, or even stand, unsupported.

She pretends to eat, picking up and savouring imaginary morsels. She pretends to read, her finger following the text and flipping pages. She "participates" in conversations. She pretends to use the computer, happily tapping away at the keyboard and mousing away. She pretends to use the phone — our real cordless phone. The primary-colour toy phones simply won't do (well, sometimes, in a pinch).

She holds the phone correctly and babbles away. Sometimes she punches in a string of numbers. I guess this is her best impression of me using the phone. She looks like she knows what she's doing and having a conversation. I haven't a clue what she's saying, and I can't imagine what must be going through her head when she does this.

Helena's computer skills leave much to be desired. Her documents are all nonsense, but she goes through the motions as well as many coworkers I've had.

All of this confirms some niggling suspicions I've had over the years — If you pretend you know what you're talking about, people will believe you. If you pretend you're a grownup, people will treat you like one. If you pretend you're sociable, smart, and funny, people might actually think you are. Act happy and you'll be happy. Mind over matter. There are days I pulled off remarkable things, cuz I believed I could and I convinced those around me. It's all a big game of pretend.

Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to "act " like he's presidential material, and, frightening though the thought is, he might make it happen.

Ralph Nader continues to act like an idiot, and the voting public knows that he is one.

From this day forth I will pretend to be a competent and all-knowing supermom with a successful editing career.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

The boring details of my weekend

Friday evening we headed to the mall for reasons I won't get into here, but I am so very excited about the black turtleneck sweater I bought for my baby for $3.44, tax included. I guess not many people buy black turtlenecks for their babies, which accounts for the sale. I can't wait for the crisp of autumn (the sweater's still a bit big) when Helena and I will head out to the cafĂ© in our matching outfits — jeans and a black turtleneck. Now if only I can find her a beret.

We visited friends yesterday: an old coworker of J-F's, his wife and kids. Helena befriended the three-and-a-half-year-old girl; we were all pleased to meet the five-month-old boy. The day passed sweetly, too quickly, mostly uneventfully. Bridget was rather excited, and a bit excitable, and at one point Helena fended her off — I guess Bridget was too much in Helena's space. Later Helena stuck her whole hand in someone's glass of red wine. Her expression was one of displeasure — I'm not sure if that's cuz she'd licked her hand or just cuz of the feeling of wet.

They're good people. And we feasted on barbecued meats. The only thing better than barbecue in the sizzle of summer is barbecue in the snow.

It was a long day for Helena and with no afternoon nap. (And she seemed to be snacking all day long.) She had a couple outbursts but was mostly of a pleasant disposition. Helena's a good egg. (I love that expression. I should use it more often.) Everybody likes Helena.

Good egg.

Today marks the start of Freedom to Read Week. I'd like to enjoy the freedom to read something this week. (I'm almost finished American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, but more on this when I make it to the end. I suppose lots of people of a certain kind could find this novel full of the sort of objectionable things they would rather not let people read about.) I continue to be shocked! outraged! incensed! that books — most harmless, many provocative and inspired — are being banned. It makes me sad even when the book is kind of boring and stupid, or just unimportant. I guess I should find some examples of that, huh. But really, Where's Waldo??

So far, today, my family is doing a lot of sleeping. It's a good day for that. I shall bore you no further.

Making the cut

We rented In the Cut the other night. The Meg Ryan porno. For all the fuss about this movie, it was all a little too uncomfortable to be truly sexy. Though some of the sex helped to more fully paint character, most was gratuitous.

On the whole I enjoyed the movie, but it had a lot of problems.

For starters, there's a glaring continuity problem in one scene, a conversation on a sidewalk. One flamboyantly dressed passerby walks by twice, in the same direction, within seconds. This is simply sloppy editing.

The title is never explained. The film opens on a conversation about sexual slang. It's easy to assume to the title must belong to this category. A web search yields "slang for vagina, the street usage meaning a safe place to hide," as well as a couple references to female circumcision.

The story is fairly predictable and Meg Ryan proves she can act in other than Meg Ryan movies. But her character is tough to figure out — partly deliberately so, but some of fault for this must lie with the direction and with the script.

"Frannie" is distanced from her surroundings, a natural attitude for a writer, but she seems to look on everything with distaste. Everything. She admits she is not happy when she wakes up in the morning, but the wall she has around herself while making a life in this neighbourhood is too thick. She is constantly surprised at the seediness around her, and I don't find this believable in a long-time resident, no matter that she's a writer or romantic. She would've killed herself long ago, or moved on.

How she came to live in these circumstances is also something a mystery. We know her father left her mother. We know that on one occasion he left Frannie in Geneva to go to Washington, DC. She went to boarding school. She now lives on a schoolteacher's salary, and has a close relationship with a half-sister and a fascination with New York's underbelly. (Maybe not "fascination"; she is inexplicably drawn to it.) She matter-of-factly states that words are her passion, but she never demonstrates that passion. This is the contradiction that is Frannie, and I couldn't entirely buy it.

Frannie particularly liked the word "disarticulate." I wish most of the actors had articulated better. I guess the underbelly mumbles when feminists talk out of their cu-ts.

Friday, February 20, 2004

How Caitlin Flanagan pisses me off

Flanagan's latest, "How Serfdom Saved the Women's Movement," is now online. (Or just read this commentary — "There is a point in the article somewhere, but you'll have to slug through all the self-satisfied bullshit first.")


I felt in every way superior to them: every day while they had been miles away from their babies, I'd been right there with mine, catching every little smile, writing down every advance—rolling over! eating a bit of mashed banana!—on the lined ivory pages of their baby books, importantly calling the pediatrician if anything seemed slightly awry. That so much of the day had been tedious and (truth be told) mildly depressing was itself a badge of honor.

If it's tedious and depressing, maybe you should rethink your "career" choices.

See, Flanagan had "a highly capable and very industrious nanny who did all of the hard stuff. There was no need for me to be moping around the apartment all day; I really could have lightened up and had a little more fun, clicked off the TV and gone to the movies or lunch or shopping. But I felt anxious about the whole thing—very, very anxious. If I was going to stake out my turf as an "at-home mother," putting all my worldly promise in cold storage to do it, didn't I have to actually stay home?"

Uhh, what about the mother part?

Mel's dad

Mel's dad is having a little bit of a reality problem.

"They claimed that there were 6.2 million (Jews) in Poland before the war and after the war there were 200,000, therefore he (Hitler) must have killed 6 million of them. They simply got up and left. They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles.''

Mel has declined to comment.

Hutton Gibson follows a tiny wing of traditionalist Catholicism that views the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council as a conspiracy between Jews and Masons to take over the church.

He's kept quiet while Mel has worked to improve the PR regarding his new film, till now.

Is it ever appropriate to speak out against one's father? I think it is.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

People shouldn't use semicolons unless they know how

They're tricky. It's no wonder they've fallen out of favour.

The LA Times ran this piece the other day (which I'm reproducing here to avoid the registration hassle):

SAN FRANCISCO—Conservative groups trying to stop the city from issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples failed to win any immediate action today in two separate court hearings.

Superior Court Judge James Warren told plaintiffs late this afternoon that they would likely succeed on the merits of their case but said he would not issue a court order until they corrected a punctuation error in their legal filing.

“I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal. That semicolon is a big deal,” Warren told attorneys, according to an account by Associated Press.

In documents filed with the court, the Proposition 22 Legal Defense and Education Fund had requested a court order that would force the city “cease and desist issuing marriage licenses to and/or solemnizing marriages of same-sex couples; to show cause before this court.”

“The way you’ve written this it has a semicolon where it should have the word ‘or’,” the judge said. “I don’t have the authority to issue it under these circumstances.”

Copyeditors rejoice! The law is on our side!

Metamommy crap

Caitlin Flanagan will be writing for The New Yorker:

"If it were possible to splice the DNA of Mary McCarthy and Erma Bombeck without the world exploding," said Ms. Flanagan of her new gig, "that’s what I’m going for. I’m interested in the kind of keen social observation and—at times—caustically precise criticism of McCarthy, but my subject is domestic life. Middle-class Americans used to think of work as a burden and home life as a pleasure—but now people tend to think just the opposite. I’m interested in how and why that change took place. If a household is a tiny state—as, of course, it is—I want to be its chronicler."

Something about that women is just so troublesome. In a recent interview about nannies, Flanagan admitted:

Hard work: frankly, I try to avoid it. When I was in high school, I didn't even plan on going to college. I wanted to go to community college, live at home, and then get married. I like being home! You can read and have snacks and go out to the garden and watch Hot Topics on The View.

That statement makes me want to scream, "Shut up and go back to reading your stupid Martha Stewart Magazine and doing your nails. Shut up shut shut up shut up shut up!" (Very mature of me, I know.) I find it extremely unsettling that this woman's opinions are being read by an enormous number of (can I assume things about the magazines' readership?) well-educated, career-minded men and women. Yet, all of us, it seems, are drawn to her like a train wreck.

Meanwhile Salon features an interview with an author of The Mommy Myth.

"If you're like us — mothers with an attitude problem — you may be getting increasingly irritable about this chasm between the ridiculous, honey-hued ideals of perfect motherhood in the mass media and the reality of mothers' everyday lives," Douglas and Michaels write. "And you may also be worn down by media images that suggest that however much you do for and love your kids, it is never enough."

I am increasingly relieved that I don't read mommy books, whether they be how-to parenting guides or political feminist manifestoes. Now if I can only stop reading about them.

Motherhood isn't exactly a walk in the park (well, maybe every other day we go for a stroll), but I wouldn't say it's rife with difficulty in attaining unfair ideals. Women have been doing it for, well, ever, under all sorts of impossible circumstances. If I have time enough to read about how hard it's supposed to be, I don't have it too bad. (Unless I'm doing something dreadfully wrong...)

That is, of course, assuming Helena turns out all right.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Brilliant marketing, or serious paranoia?

Still more media coverage of the movie it was feared no one would go see (The Passion of the Christ), and about its media coverage.

The source of my angst [had] everything to do with [Hutton Gibson's] worldview; as he laid out his alternate history of the 20th century, I had that gut-churning sensation familiar to any journalist witnessing something horrible -- the shock of seeing it, laced by the excitement of being on hand to record it. And while I never assumed that Hutton spoke for his son, the film Mel produced and his comments about it certainly suggest father and son share a core of moral certainty that can alternately come off as righteous, uncompromising or pathological.

It's that intense moral certainty that can lead to revisionism. This is why Mel, his movie, and most of all his fundamentalist Catholicism fascinate me so.

And how he's walking that fine line between madness and genius.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

More passion

I'm not sure what the point is supposed to be in this just-posted piece in Salon, but at least I'm not alone in finding Mel's behaviour decidedly odd:

Gibson's mannerisms during his interview with Sawyer don't exactly help to dispel this notion of him as a propagandist with a pulpit. His eyes dart back and forth nervously, his tone shifts rapidly from humility to condescension to anger, and he talks in clipped sentences, pausing to grin smugly or widen his eyes to pound home his point.

Whistle while you work

We've been busy. J-F collected Helena from his mom's place and got her home just in time for my sister's visit. She was flying through town, so she spent Sunday night on our couch and Monday day hanging out with Helena (time enough for me to go to the dentist), and with me too.

In the afternoon we went for a stroll and stopped for lunch. The bread was great, according to Helena, and even better when dipped in the carrot & ginger soup. She tried mushrooms for the first time (from my chicken and pesto panini) and thought they were really funny, I think because of the texture and because they were sliced very thin.

Helena's play is advancing to a new level. The Alphabet Pal is no longer just for kicking — Helena seems to now realize that pressing each foot of this caterpillar produces a unique sound. Lego pieces are no longer for piling into and taking out of the drawer — they can be pressed together. And she seems to have figured out that the blocks that belong to her sorting castle don't have to gain entry through the drawbridge door exclusively — they sometimes fit though the cutout shapes in the side.

Vocabulary additions:

lala = lala (Polish for doll). Surprisingly, Helena also knows that her Teletubby lala (doll) is Po and not Laa-Laa.

googlygooglygoogly = cookie. Or maybe "cookie, cookie, cookie." Although most of the time it stills appears to mean nothing at all. It's not as if she gets a lot of cookies, only Farley's "instant cereal in biscuit form."

Then there's the whistling. She makes a tiny "o" shape with her mouth, and blows. Yesterday she produced a faint, but sustained, tone. I'm amazed. I didn't figure out whistling till I was well into my twenties, and I'm still not very good. And she's learned this from me!

Today marks the first true day of our return to normalcy and Helena doesn't seem very happy. Maybe she's tired after the last couple weeks (she is napping quite a bit). Maybe she's really not impressed with our regular daily life in our tiny apartment. Or maybe there's a tooth on the way. (What kind of excuses for her misery will I come up with after all her teeth are in?)

We'll have to do some more whistling.

Gibson's Passion

I had to watch Diane Sawyer's interview with Mel Gibson last night, but there was no new insight into the director or his new film, The Passion of the Christ.

The only interesting things about the interview were 1) Sawyer's explanation that throughout the interview the word "passion" would be used in its original Greek sense of "suffering," referring to Christ's final hours (thanks for that, Diane; the movie's title had me totally misled); and 2) Gibson's particularly twitchy, tic-y, shifty-eyed comportment — like his character in Conspiracy Theory — which supports some people's claims that that role closely modelled Gibson's inner psyche ("The Jesus War" by P Boyer [not available online] in The New Yorker, Sept 15, 2003). Maybe he's just upset about having to continue to defend his film, but to me he looks unstable.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Sunday, February 15, 2004

That stupid Tremain book

I finally got 'round to finishing The Way I Found Her, by Rose Tremain, and I am so mad that I wasted my time reading this stupid story. The narrator is not believable. The story's a bit weird and, toward the end, completely not believable.

It's supposed to read as a coming-of-age story, but nothing makes me care what happens to the 13-year-old boy narrator. Perhaps I can't relate because I've never been a 13-year-old boy. But then, neither has the author. I just don't buy any of it.

The whole book just makes me mad. It reminds me of those creative writing workshops I attended, where someone has a little bit of talent but mostly she's just a poser. She fancies herself a literary artist, dahling, but she's a big fat phony and sadly the workshop doesn't go on long enough for the prof to realize it and dissuade her from the literary lifestyle or at least focus her talent and help to rein in the pretense. It feels like that's who wrote this book, and it just makes me so mad I wasted my time on it.

Love day

I got to sleep in! I love my cohabiting significant other. God bless him — I got to sleep in.

Helena and I are enjoying some time apart. I wonder how often she gets bored of me and wishes she could just walk away.

We dropped her off at the mother-in-law's in the afternoon, headed back into town to go drinking. Ah, the simple pleasures.

We even managed to have hours of scintillating if slightly drunken non-baby-related conversation. Quite a relief, actually, to know that it's still possible. I love him.

We'd gone to the bar across the park, Universel. (I think two other bars may be even closer to home, but we really would need a tape measure to figure it out.) It's nothing fancy. The food is inoffensive. But the ambiance is just right. Dim lighting. Great music — from David Bowie to Moby.

So it was nothing special, but very special all the same.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Back from away

Got back yesterday. Tired. It's good to be home.

Just a couple days into my trip, I was going through blog withdrawal. Blogging on paper (just "logging," I guess) doesn't cut it. (Everything I note down is so obviously of the utmost importance to the whole world that committing anything to paper rather than the Internet is committing a disservice to mankind.) And a couple days ago I realized I'd kicked it. I'd kicked the blog habit. But wait — it's a good habit, isn't it? So today, I'm forcing myself to reestablish the daily routine.

Some highlights from our trip (in approximately chronological order):

Bedtime's a bit of a chore. Helena can climb out of bed, and does at every opportunity. I lie down with her to barricade her and help lull her to sleep. This takes well over an hour.

The WMD debacle continues. Clearly WMD now stands for weapons of mass deception. (See? That's something I'd noted down on paper as something to elaborate upon in my blog later. I thought it was terribly clever and thought by the time I had access to a computer again this old initialism with new interpretation would be passé. How terribly wrong I can be. It's not clever at all. It's the pen and paper that puts up a wall between me and the world and obscures the relevance of my reality.)

Helena has some new dance moves. She stands no hands, just in front of the stairs so she can use the first step to help prop her up if needed. There's a bit of a twist in the knees, and she clasps her hands together and swings them from side to side.

Sensory overload. Possibly for Helena, definitely for me. The tv is almost always on. I turned it off for a short while in the early evening and was bowled over by the quiet.

My mother tells Helena repeatedly "Nie, nie, nie" (Polish for "No, no, no") when she's getting into something she shouldn't, or more usually when Helena is trying to climb the stairs all the way up when no one is really in the mood to follow and monitor her. Helena now mimics my mom, saying "Ne, ne, ne." You know she's going to say it cuz there's a pause while she tries to figure out how to coordinate the words with shaking the head and wagging the finger from side to side. It's so cute! It's so cute that I fear the meaning of the words is already lost on her.

Helena bit my mother. Three times. It seemed deliberate. (This morning, she bit J-F.)

Edwards screwed himself out of the vice presidency. George Stephanopoulos asked him that sleazy question (Would you consider being Kerry's running mate?) about 50 times with very slight variations. (Sleazy because if you answer yes it's a surrender that the fight for the presidential nomination is lost, if you answer no you narrow you're options.) Edwards evaded for a while, but tired of the damn game, paused, and said no. At least Dean, when posed a similar question by Wolf Blitzer, laughed.

Bush met the press. Moron.

I really hate sleeping with Helena. She kicks me in face in the middle of the night, and then she wants to play.

The Grammys went off without a hitch. The only political statement came from Coldplay's lead singer, calling John Kerry the next president of the United States. My first thought: What does he care? He's British. But, apart from being an activist, etc, he knocked up Gwyneth Paltrow, who used to date Chris Heinz, who is John Kerry's stepson and campaigning actively on his behalf. Coincidence? Was this orchestrated by Kerry to help attract a youth vote?

It a took a few days, but Helena finally established a corner of the front hall closet as her space capsule. She likes storing her stuff, and stuff from my mom's cupboards (provisions?), there. She sits there for a bit, sliding the door closed on the outside world.

Tuesday we went "downtown" (it's not exactly a bustling urban centre) to meet a friend. Helena was quite social and thoroughly enjoyed the coffeehouse couches.

Wednesday Helena climbed up onto the coffeetable. Man she's fast!

The train travel went pretty well. The hardest part is trying to look a little helpless and pathetic so that someone offers to help carry a bag off the train for me. The most stressful part is boarding the train in St Catharines — it's not much of a station and the train stops there for all of two minutes. I'm afraid of the train pulling away with only half my baggage on board, and then in all the fuss I might drop the baby.

Actually, I was so stressed about our departure, we overslept. The alarm failed to go off. I woke up and checked the time with only 35 minutes to go before the train was to pull up. Ack. What on Earth possessed Helena to sleep late on this of all days?! Immediately called for a cab, but the dispatcher told us it would take 25 minutes. But the gods smiled on us, and the cab company. Somehow we made it aboard, and with most of our possessions (I left my pyjamas in a puddle on my mom's floor and my toothbrush in a puddle on the bathroom counter). Helena was way better without breakfast than I was without coffee. But we made it.

And now we're home.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

The way I found it

I've been reading a recent acquisition from the big-box bookstore bargain bin, The Way I Found Her, by Rose Tremain, and I haven't been particularly enjoying it. It's narrated in the first person by a 13-year-old boy, and I really can't get past this voice to let myself enjoy the story.

I really enjoyed Tremain's Music and Silence, which I read in the very first days after moving Montreal, and completely lost myself in it while I holed up in bed with exhaustion and a touch of flu and pregnancy. Historical romance is not really my thing, but it transported me to a time and place like a much-needed vacation.

The Way I Found Her is set in contemporary Paris.

Every act of reading fiction requires a suspension of disbelief, some more than others. But I have great difficulty buying into narrators opposite in sex to the authors when they use the first person construction. (Nick Hornby's treatment in How to Be Good is a notable exception, but I had approached it with great trepidation for that first-person/opposite-sex narrator reason.) It's one thing to play out the story from a character's perspective, but first person is crossing a line.

Though I'm just 50 pages from the end, I can't justify bringing this on my trip. Space is at premium, and I've already packed a carefully selected fat paperback. I'll have to finish Tremain when I get back, even though I don't really care how it ends.

Perhaps I'll have better things to say about this book then. Perhaps not.

Choo choo

Helena and I are within hours to embark on a 7-hour-plus train journey to visit my mother for a week. We've done this trip before, but last time Helena wasn't quite so mobile, and she slept more. And she didn't play that pick me up, no, put me down, ok pick me up, wait, no, put me down game.

Wish us luck.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

A new typeface on the US State Department

For a more modern look.

I read, in posts from Bookninja and Maud Newton, who heard from Boing Boing, who heard from Ben Hammersley, who read in The Prandial Post, that "US bans timed-honoured [sic] typeface."

Some of them joked about it. But this is serious business. Courier New 12 has used up the allotted period for being honoured. It's time to move on.

As of February 1, at the US State Department "only Times New Roman 14 will be accepted."

The article notes three exceptions, so evidently the chosen typeface is to be applied to all manner of documents, not just electronic correspondence. It strikes me that Courier, long associated with computer text and printouts, was a very strange choice to begin with. How long was it honoured as the official font? Since the pre-computer era? Why was it ever the font of choice — it's notoriously difficult to read in printed matter.

Practically speaking, however, this shows the evolution of the in-house style guide in action. It is reassuring to me that government departments do have guidelines for their documentation. And according to the language of the news story reporting the change — bans, edict, decreed, draconian — these guidelines are to be taken seriously.

The world needs style guides, dammit! Without them — chaos.

Pop politics

Listening to CBC Radio One yesterday morning I heard: "Former National Post t-v and movie critic Scott Feschuk has his own debut today. He's been hired as Paul Martin's chief speech writer, and no doubt has a hand in today's Speech from the Throne."

I did not listen to the Speech from the Throne, nor, lazy bum that I am, have I read about its highlights or reactions to it. I don't know if it was any good. I'll make a better effort to tune into Paul Martin's address today.

I can't stop wondering: What qualifies a pop-culture guru to write speeches for the prime minister? This must be part of Martin's plan to infiltrate today's hip, disaffected youth. Can they make Liberal cool again?

Feschuk was a year or two ahead of me in the county education board's enrichment program. If I remember correctly, he was considered a geek even among us geeks. His success is further evidence of how geekdom has become cool in our culture. Next on the agenda: to rule the world.

Monday, February 02, 2004

This really nifty ethical philosophy selector this morning told me I'm an Aristotelian. But as the day progresses, Kant is a better match. Huh?

Primary problems

I like CNN's summary of the candidates and the issues. Simplistic for a real analysis, but helpful for me.

John Kerry. I don't trust him. I don't trust his hair. I don't trust that he supported the war. But I really don't trust his hair.

John Edwards. Seems like a really nice guy. Solid. Too bad it sticks in my mind that he supports the death penalty.

Wesley Clark. Not blinking. That's it. That's why I find Wesley Clark creepy.

Howard Dean. The media's done a real job on Howard Dean, making him Internet king, then criticizing The Speech, and bankrupting him. If I were conspiracy-minded, I'd blame the media for Dean's rise and fall. I still like him. I liked him since the day he came out against war. And I liked the speech. I don't think it was inappropriate; it showed passion. All the other guys say stuff, but it's hard to believe they mean it.

So, really — Can someone please explain to me how the primaries work? What's the difference between a primary and a caucus? And why is it so difficult to find out the answers to these questions?

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Lingering curiosity

The more I consider The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, the less I regard it.

I've decided that it's an unimportant book. I would not, for example, present it to my daughter on her 13th birthday, like I might The Catcher in the Rye or The Fountainhead, saying "This book will change your life." This book will not change anyone's life, nor open up a world of new ideas.

The book is decidedly well crafted (as I've decided while reading a novel whose narrator is a 13-year-old boy that leaves me cold — but more on this another time), but unimportant. I'm left wondering why all the accolades? Was it a bad year for fiction?

Helena meets a puppy

On Friday our little family scooted off to visit friends in Wakefield, to wine and dine and talk into the night, and play and brunch into the next afternoon.

For the first time, I felt, hmmm, uncomfortable in their home, like something's changed. I've changed, I think. We've been there with Helena before, but this is the first time the household featured an 11-week-old puppy.

Helena and the puppy excited each other greatly. Jennifer and I hovered close. I watched to make sure puppy didn't scratch Helena, poke her eye, or bowl her over on hard, ceramic tile floor. Jennifer watched, obviously anxious, to make sure Helena didn't hurt the puppy.

[I never understood how people could refer to themselves as "Mommy" (and less often "Daddy") regarding their pet "children." I consider myself an upstanding pet-owner, and never would I consider using these terms, and never did I presume that the relationship is at all analogous. Maybe it's that kind of sense that makes me fit to be a mother (of a human baby) after all.]

I guess I'm more permissive than not when it comes to baby. But on the whole I see Helena's exploration as harmless. I'm always there and I try to explain how stuff works and what it's for. We do rein her in somewhat, and she exhibits remarkable self-control, in other people's houses. But after Jennifer had asked a few questions about the age at which one can train baby, it was evident to me I should not have allowed Helena to open and close, open and close, open and close the kitchen cupboard, even though it was the kitchen cupboard of a very close friend.

And so it begins, the great divide between those with children and those without. I always said I would never let it happen to me. But undeniably, things are different now.

As other mommy bloggers have noted, inevitably the childless one kindly suggests that toy phones etc. are available at a store near you. Jennifer: "Those toys — they're so good, aren't they?" Well, no. Babies want the real thing. Somehow, they can tell the difference.

I'm starting to see a lot of differences.