Wednesday, March 31, 2004


I'm really disappointed with An Obvious Enchantment, by Tucker Malarkey. The book jacket promises a story as follows:

Tangled in a mystery whose clues lurk in the pages of the Koran, and transported into a world where women are possessed by spirit husbands and fresh curses are whispered over tea, Ingrid is forced to realize that there are many things she does not know about this man who inhabits her dreams and haunts her mind. With the help and hindrance of Finn Bergmann, the enigmatic son of the founder of Salama, she begins to uncover a web of alarming incidents. Templeton's research has carried him to the hot core of the island's darkest confrontation. How far will he go in his passion for the truth? What is he willing to do to protect his newfound faith — and where has he gone? Ingrid embarks on a quest that opens her heart and threatens to unravel her mind.

Bullshit. There is no real mystery, no insight into the Koran, no mysticism, no unraveling of a legend, no web of alarming incidents. It is not "epic." It barely involves us in Professor Templeton's research; it's about Ingrid's love life. This is not a quest novel; it's a fucking romance.

Reminds me of the sort of airy-fairy crap I probably considered writing in my early 20s about my "profound" revelations about self and relationships through my unique experience of "falling in love" and my exemplary insight into different cultures on my travels (read: short vacations to a few places and under circumstances that a very few people may have considered slightly unusual).

Although a reasonable sense of place is evoked and I found myself actually caring what happened to some of the characters, the writing is bad ("Bougainvillea was trained to climb the bright outer walls, its intense pink flowers catching the eye like jewelry.") and the ending is stupid.

Also, the copyeditor chose to show the possessive of nouns ending in "s" with a mere apostrophe ("Gus' excuses," rather than "Gus's excuses"). I really hate that.

(Why would anyone named "Malarkey" not change their name?)


As of a few days ago, Helena is tall enough to reach the buttons on the television and smart enough to register that stuff happens when you push them. So she turns the television on by herself, then she turns it off, then she turns it on again, then off, on again, off, on, off, on. . .

This can occupy her for half an hour at a time. Almost as fun are the volume control buttons, although when a certain level of loudness is achieved, she backs away with an expression on her face that says, "Mommy, help."

Although she's learning some tv-savvy, at least very little actual watching of the television is occurring during these sessions.

While on the subject of television, I feel it's my duty to weigh in on The Apprentice before it's all over.

Four more episodes. Five "interviewees" left. Who's it gonna be?

Bunsen has an insightful summary of their strategies and personalities.

Kwame seems like a really nice guy, smart, smooth. But he doesn't do anything. He'll be next to go.

Troy's farmboy schtick is tiresome. He'll do something sleazy and the others will gang up on him.

Bill. Bill could do it. Bill should win. If he wanted it, he could have it. But I really don't think he wants it anymore. He seems to be really fed up with this whole game, like he has better things to do. He probably does. He'll be leaving by his own design.

Nick just isn't as smart and savvy as everyone thinks he is. Amy's playing him, and is going to win it out from under his nose. She's going to keep him there with her till the end. Amy's got a creative spark that no one can compete with.

So, Kwame, Troy, Bill, and Nick, eliminated in that order, leaving Amy to do the job.

But there's something about Bill. . . I'm still rooting for Bill.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The walking project

Helena is treating learning to walk as a project. A look comes over her that says, "I'm going to practice walking now," and she devotes 40 minutes to it, walking the same stretch of floor, back and forth, over and over, occasionally stretching the distance incrementally.

Hobble-crawling and bottom-scootching are still her primary modes of tranportation, but her walking practice sessions are becoming more spontaneous and frequent.

I think her approach is really weird. Smart, I guess, to set herself this task of walking to accomplish, but weird.

On other developmental fronts, Helena still hasn't decided whether she's a one-nap- or two-naps-a-day baby, but at least she's getting up in the morning at her normal hour. Inexplicably, she no longer eats banana.

J-F taught her how to drink through a straw — that really caught her by surprise. Helena knows the sound of J-F as he's coming up the stairs and will announce "Papa" before he unlocks the door.

She's says "baby" a lot. Affirmation of self? Helena is still the centre of her — and the whole family's — world.

Let's start at the very beginning

The Globe and Mail has started a series on early childhood development, Canada being a world leader in this field of research.

Believe it or not, there's new evidence that, umm, babies cry. Some more than others, and often for no reason. Ah yes, and they're capable of experiencing pain too.

"A computer-like brain" looks at the evidence for infants being hardwired not just for language per se, but for all the nuances of communication in general.

Infants, like little computers, learn by statistically analyzing the impressions they receive. In the case of language, this analysis allows them to distinguish what is variable and focus on what is constant.

Babies can detect nonsense, unnatural pauses, and minute differences in sound, as well as discriminating changes in and responding emotionally to music.

It seems parents are likewise hardwired for babytalk, to make it easier on the little ones to take it all in, as well as being biochemically prepped for parenthood in general.

A Canadian researcher has found the brain activity of new parents is strikingly similar to what is seen in patients who have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

So far, there's been only one angry letter regarding the series:

They're everywhere these days, in the suburbs and the cities, in the parks and on the playgrounds, like a tribe that can survive only atop childproof rubber safety mats. I'm referring to modern-day parents of the upper and middle classes, so stylishly dressed, vigilantly tending their children as if never before in the history of civilization have there been such mommies and daddies. What makes these parents all the more unbearable is their smugness — that what they are doing is so ennobling that those who choose to not have children are to be dismissed smugly as idle, ignorant, selfish and less human.

Please do not give these people any more facts for them to marshal their arguments to support their moral superiority as they push their prams to some dreamed paradise.

"Trouble close to home" dispels the myth that "problem" children come from low-income families. They're as middle-class as white bread, or something like that.

In the same way that parents can make major differences in development by doing simple things like chatting a lot with their children, a series of small negatives can leave larger hurts.

What makes kids vulnerable in middle-class homes? Dr. Hertzman has a long list: Maybe their siblings mistreat them when the parents are away; maybe their boring nanny does nothing but babysit; maybe their parents are too strict and inflexible, or too permissive and indulgent, or working all the time; maybe their working parents are too tired to read to them each night; maybe their families are socially isolated from other relatives and adults who may understand the children better; maybe their neighbours, though middle class, aren't all that neighbourly.

The big problem, of course, is how one defines "problem" children: "short on the basic tools they need to succeed, from simple language to fine motor skills to co-operating with classmates."

Study after study shows that children who do not arrive "ready to learn" fall behind, are rejected by peers and sour on school, setting them on high-risk paths toward unhealthy, unhappy adulthoods.

Sure, let's all be the best parents we can be and give our kids the best start in life, but part of the problem would go away it the middle class would just relax a little on the need to succeed and let kids be kids.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Why I hate Disney

(Except for The Aristocats. A cat's the coolest cat, who knows where it's at.)

But seriously. I hate Disney. Not Walt per se — Disney Corporation.

I've always had trouble articulating why, but it goes something like this: Disney is the ultimate symbol of corporate America, of commercialism, and commercialization of all that is good and true, a perversion of childhood innocence, and then it feeds off our children for chrissakes.

Hilary Flower bemoans the trend to abridge, to simplify, to Disney-fy children's lit — to strip the classics of all that is classic:

I went to the library to get my daughter "The Wind in the Willows." What I found was a happy-face, Disney-esque conspiracy to rob the classics of children's lit of their drama, their passion and their soul.

Some of these omissions can be forgiven if brevity is a priority, but how can you launch "The Wind in the Willows" without spring "moving in the air above and in the earth below and around him, penetrating even his dark and lowly little house with its spirit of divine discontent and longing"? Divine discontent and longing are at the heart of this book; they propel the action and motivate the characters. I have always loved how this magical sentence opens the book. Take it out and Mole is just sick of cleaning.

When it's real literature, we show up and celebrate it with her. If it's going to be dumbed down, we might as well pop in the DVD.

But if my child is going to dive into a world of someone's creation, let it be an artist's, not a corporation's. Great children's literature is written by an artist answering an urgent personal call, and the artist's magic can touch the reader in places that a cheap imitation can never reach with its sugar-sticky fingers.

My daughter deserves nothing less than the gifts of artists. What I want for her is precisely what the Great Illustrated Classics wants to leave out. The unfathomable mystery of intimacy and glimpses of its inner workings. A taste of the dangers of the world. The jaw-dropping beauty of language. The heartbeat of the artist.

Sunday, March 28, 2004


I'm very exciting about attending an event that's part of Blue Metropolis later this week: Paul Auster reading from his most recent novel, Oracle Night.

I've been planning. J-F has been notified of being on baby duty. I'm still trying to figure out how to reserve my ticket without paying more than 100% markup of handling fees and service charges. (What's the difference between handling fees and service charges?)

I've been daydreaming too. J-F joked that of course it's fine if I step out for the evening, to a reading, he just doesn't want me going for drinks with Paul Auster afterwards. I'd already dreamed up an impossible, incredibly naive and unimaginative scenario in which Paul Auster simply spots me in line to have a book signed by him and falls instantly in love with me, and yes we do go out for drinks afterwards.

I have not yet decided which book I will offer up for a signature. As much as Oracle Night intrigues me since I stumbled upon it a couple months ago, and intrigues me even more since I saw Paul Auster on Charlie Rose, the purchase of a full-price hardcover (gasp!) may have to wait.

That leaves the choice of my very ratty paperback version of The New York Trilogy or the recently acquired bargain-priced Book of Illusions (perhaps I should read it first). J-F wants me to take The Book of Illusions. He doesn't really care about the book — he just wants me to leave the sale sticker price on it and wait for a reaction. (We played with this scenario even before watching Duplex the other night, which incorporates some very funny observations regarding the writerly life.)

The New York Trilogy changed my life. (Come to think of it, that's all I've ever read by Paul Auster. Yet that's enough for me to consider him significant. Of course, I loved Smoke and Lulu on the Bridge as well. Still, The New York Trilogy changed my life.) It made me sabotage my own (potential) success in certain philosophy courses I was taking. It made me reread Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It awakened in me a fascination with the myth of Babel. It consolidated my interest in semantics and perception. These things may seem minor, but really they speak to the essence of my being. Really. Things could've been very different.

I'd really like to take a copy of Don DeLillo's Cosmopolis along for Paul Auster to dedicate to me. See, Don DeLillo dedicated Cosmopolis to Paul Auster (that is, the novel itself, all instances of it, not just a particular copy, though he probably did that too, but one could only assume that copy would be in Paul Auster's personal collection and not something I could get my hands on), and I thought it would be cool if Paul Auster signed a copy "To Isabella," as if the original dedication bestowed on him the power of ownership and mastery over the novel's fate, and I would explain to Paul Auster that no, the book wasn't for me, I intended to give it to someone as a gift, after I personally inscribed it (this is really where it all falls apart, because I'd really be quite unlikely to part with such a thing, unless of course, he were willing to sign two copies...), and in this way we would each have given the novel a different life potential, a chain of potential, even though it's manifest in a mere series of scribbles on just one person's shelf, but still preserving aspects from each of us. Kind of like Schrodinger's cat, but not really, and it's a book.

(Must an author be dead before we refer to them by their surname alone? Hemingway, Tolstoy, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster.)

Yes, I'm very much looking forward to my date with my boyfriend Paul Auster.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Ad space

It's brilliant. I'd never seen anything like it before, and I'm wowed:

Stair risers.

I got off the metro yesterday and proceeded along with the herd toward the stairs to exit the station. And there it was. One stunning slope of groovin' girl in black silhouette on fuchsia, highlighted with white, promoting iPod.

On approach, the angle of one's glance works with the angle of the stairs to produce one whopping masterstroke of advertising. The image breaks apart as you walk over it.

Maybe that's a metaphor for something.


The U.S. Senate passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Bill. It is expected that Bush will sign it (I can find no evidence that he has already, but it's not reasonable to hope he wouldn't).

''The legislation defines an "unborn child'' as a child in utero, which it says "means a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.

Feinstein said that by defining when life begins, the bill was "the first step in removing a woman's right to choice, particularly in the early months of a pregnancy before viability." She said it could also chill embryonic stem cell research.

"This would be the first time in federal law that an embryo or fetus is recognized as a separate and distinct person under the law, separate from the woman,'' said NARAL president Kate Michelman. "Much of this is preparing for the day the Supreme Court has a majority that will overrule Roe v. Wade.''

President Bush has some trouble keeping his religion separate from our state. From a recent article regarding stem cell research:

In a sense, then, Bush is boxed in by his own moral decision, and so are we all. He is committed to his line of thinking, whatever the cost. As the bioethics council points out in its report, Tommy Thompson, Bush's secretary of health and human services, has actually said that "neither unexpected scientific breakthroughs nor unanticipated research problems would cause Bush to reconsider" his policy, because it is based on "a high moral line that this president is not going to cross."

Is a 5-day-old human embryo actually new life? The council got nowhere near reaching consensus on the question. Instead, it found only unbridgeable differences . . . One is left feeling that the moral status of embryos will probably forever remain in dispute, constantly eluding compromise.

Sadly, that moral status may be constitutionally ingrained before anyone's looking.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Everyone's a critic

For some time we've been hearing about how much store is put by Amazon sales ranks by authors and publishers. But it seems they're not just looking at the numbers — they're actually reading customer reviews.

"It's all part of this culture we're now seeing where, 'My opinion is just as valid as the guys at the L.A. Times,' " said Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. "It may not be as informed or educated and is maybe wrongheaded, but there's no question that a reader has as much right to publish their own opinion."

I don't want to read reviews that recount the plot (if it's been told once by Publisher's Weekly, that's enough). I don't much care if you loved it or hated it if I don't know who you are. I need more.

Everyone has a right to their opinion, but how much should we value it?

One of Amazon's top-rated reviewers is often solicited for her opinion and receives free books by the boxload. For nonfiction books she often supplies the table of contents in her review — extremely useful.

Johnson, 36, is a freelance writer from Yakima, Wash., with a master's in education. She is known for her relentlessly sunny reviews and once even provided a blurb on a book jacket; she'll send a book back to a publisher rather than write a bad review.

Who will criticize the critics? OK, I will.

What's with all the glowing reviews?

Take Newt Gingrich, for example. Of all 135 reviews he's posted, he's awarded 3 stars (in a 5-star system) to only 4 books, one of which was authored by Bob Woodward. Everything else he read merited 4 or 5 stars. (To be fair, in the "About me" section he states: "You will not find any bad reviews here, just the books he thinks you might enjoy.")

Perhaps predictably, Newt's taste runs to spy thrillers and military books. Robert Parker seems to be one of his favourites, and of Colleen McCullough's The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra he writes, "This is the culminating sixth volume of one of the most important historical novels of our generation. . . . This is a work of genius." He may have been qualified as a Speaker, but as a literary critic I have my doubts.

Johnson gives a lot of 5-star reviews. You can't convince me that everything she reads is not only above average but exceptional. Has she not read any crap? Never felt she'd wasted her time? I don't buy it.

I'm tired of hearing, "Oh, it's pretty good for what it is." Pretty good for being a piece of trash?!

It seems people are naturally inclined to find the best in things. This is not a quality I want in a critic. Give it to me straight. I want informed and educated opinions that are objective. I'll trust the professional with the credentials. I'll gladly pay someone to read crap so that I don't have to.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Calling all Martians

Maybe it's for the best the shuttle program is winding down:

To prevent another catastrophe, NASA will replace braking mechanisms on all its space shuttles after discovering some of the gears were installed backward.

"Bottom line is, it was not good," Parsons said.

Not good at all. "The maker of the rudder speed brake mechanisms . . . now has better quality control." Better late than never.

Tuesday we learned that Mars didn't just have water, it had a pool of water:

The sediments that bonded together to form the rocks were shaped into ripples by water that stood at least two inches deep, said mission science team member John Grotzinger of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The water flowed over the site at an estimated four to 20 inches per second, Grotzinger said.

[MIT — that's baby Helena's alma mater by the way.]

Today's news report is not new, but it is more poetic:

A salty pool of liquid water once sloshed on Mars, ebbing and flowing in an environment that could have supported life eons before a NASA spacecraft visited the now dry and frozen spot, the space agency said.

See the original press release on the JPL site.

Have I ranted about how inadequate the NASA, JPL, Mars Mission websites are? Cuz they really are very poorly designed. I don't think they have any idea who visits them, or why. It's damn near impossible to find what you're looking for.

The sidebar should include the time on Mars (OK, that's there), the weather (the temperature, that is — does Mars have "weather" to speak of?), a current map (showing "Opportunity is here"), and the day's agenda (studies the rovers are undertaking as well as related events on Earth, such as press conferences). How hard is that?

Cranks and curiosities

Helena's been a little out of sorts this week. I'd be cranky too if I were getting up before 5 in the morning and not napping sufficiently during the day. Come to think of it...

We tried the one-nap-a-day routine a couple months ago, and fortunately for everyone at that time, it didn't work out. But it seems Helena's ready to give it another go. So we'll be spending even more time together — what the heck are we supposed to do? Let's hope the weather clears up so we can go for more walks.

There's more on Daphne de Marneffe's "lovingly crafted and carefully constructed" new book:

In the end, it all comes down to every mother's need to view her experience as universal, expressive not merely of one of a myriad of ways of doing and feeling, but as of the only way, or certainly of the best way.

Didn't I say that, or something like it? Maybe that's why I refuse to read these books — I must insist that my experience of motherhood is absolutely singular.

This morning I finished reading A Case of Curiosities, by Allen Kurzweil. I never thought I was one much for historical novels, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The first quarter of the book in particular — the matter of our protagonist's education — reminded me of Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast (not in plot: in tone), in its sense of place, in the weirdness of its players, in the richness of its language. Evocative.

The plot point that drove our protagonist from his native countryside to Paris was weak, as was the narrative tone (airy, vague, philosophical) that delivered it. But the characters were wonderfully drawn and the strange course of events was engrossing. I'll definitely be looking into Kurzweil's second novel, The Grand Complication.

I think that makes nine books I've read so far in 2004. I am way behind schedule. I really shouldn't be counting the Nancy Drew, but I will, to make myself feel better about it.

Mel's dad

A director of not-so-significant films...

Don't Shoot the Pianist
A gifted young musician in Warsaw becomes a celebrated concert pianist. Fortunately his career is not interrupted by a Holocaust.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

You'll never be able to fire anyone ever again

At least not in so many words.

It was reported that New York developer Donald Trump has filed an application to trademark the phrase "You're fired."

More from the mommy experts

I'm still digesting yesterday's interview with Daphne de Marneffe, author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life, in Salon.

I also couldn't figure out Bookslut's vehement reaction to it. I was going to email her about it, but it seems others beat me to it. She clarifies, "those of us with no intention of having children . . . are tired of being told we're defective women."

Well, that explains that.

The Salon interview presents an author who seems pretty balanced, sensible, moderate. I admit, though, that myself now being a mother I neglected to consider the position of women without children. However, the glut of mommy books on the market — the latest, hottest publishing trend — appearing in the guise of feminist critique, are primarily targetted at and consumed by privileged mommies to make them feel better about themselves. (Do not deduce from this statement that I believe feminism and motherhood to be mutually exclusive.) So Bookslut's frustration may be a little misdirected.

A friend [of de Marneffe] told her that "every time she sees a new book about mothers, she feels mingled dread and hope as a question instantly pops into her mind: Is it for me or against me?"

I have not read this book, but according to the interview de Marneffe is telling women that it's OK to want to have children, and to want to stay home with them, just because you want to, not because the patriarchy tells you to. It's implied that it's also OK not to want those things. After all, the last couple decades of feminism have been telling me that motherhood is beneath us and career and conspicuous consumerism are far more important.

de Marneffe urges each woman to think hard about how much time she wants to spend caring for her children vs. working, about whether she's struck anything close to the right balance in her life.

There are some trouble spots in de Marneffe's attitude, however:

You don't have to feel guilty that you want to read while you're with your kids, for example. I feel lucky that I don't feel guilty. My attitude is, Hey, they're lucky I'm around.

Now, this resonates with me, cuz that's something I sometimes say. And I feel guilty for it, cuz I'm staying at home for baby's sake, not mine, right? Although, de Marneffe might say I am staying home for my own sake as well. At what point would baby be better off in daycare, where professionals know how to stimulate, educate, and entertain her? I haven't got a clue.

So once again, I post a mommy blog entry with no real conclusion.

Monday, March 22, 2004

More things that make me mad, and other stuff

1. Snow, lots of it, and this bloody freezing cold, beyond the first day of spring. Brrr. Grrr.

2. Wide elastic that's not actually sewn into the waistband. It folds, twists, and bunches up, defeating the purpose. I expected better of you, Calvin Klein!

3. Not having time to play video games. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was an avid gamer pre-baby, but I enjoy a good adventure. I received a game for my birthday (November) and to date have logged a total of about 40 minutes playing time. I don't even expect much from this game, but I'd like the time to be critical of it at least. On the other hand, I do find time to read quite a bit, so to some degree it's a matter of my priorities. Still, I miss video games.

4. The last beer of the six-pack (cans) being returned to fridge still sporting the plastic six-pack ring thingy (is there a name for that?). I really hate that.

OK, that's enough anger for a while.

We brunched with friends and mere acquaintances and a couple complete strangers in Ottawa this weekend. Pleasant enough. Our weekend was otherwise uneventful.

I stumbled upon a discount copy of Spalding Gray's Morning, Noon and Night and was morbidly compelled to read it. Basically, he recounts a day in his life when his youngest son was still an infant.

Other of his works are better written and with sharper wit and insight, and to plod through this one — to get it — you have to hear Spalding tell it in your head, see his expressions and mannerisms.

This memoir is something of a reflection on parenthood, and, well, everything, in true Spalding fashion. The book is full of sentiments that everyone confronting parenthood can relate to. I found myself angry at him for saying some of it though (OK, so I'm not finished with my anger just yet). Toward the end he writes:

Here it is only ten-fifteen in the evening and I'm wasted, and I didn't even go to work. I don't know how people do it. I don't know how people raise families and work at the same time. What's more, why would they want to do it? With only one life to live, why bring more life into the world to be responsible for? It's absurd. It's ridiculous, I think. Why complicate your life with more life that you are ultimately responsible for? I love my children, but they could only be accidents born out of a kind of blind passion. I could never have had a child if I had to think about it.

Although he didn't go to work, he didn't do much parenting either. His girlfriend, working from a home office, also cooked, managed the household renovations, tended to the baby. He was selfish and spoiled — yoga, bike-ride, drinking.

But in the light of his death this work also sketches a portrait of a very sad, confused, scared — desperately scared — childish man. (Lots of inky water imagery too.) The humour and the wonder had already started leaving him.

Nancy Drew: girl detective

ALL NEW ALL NEW ALL NEW screams the cover.

It also boasts "Only 99¢ U.S./Can." I take great pride in the fact that I purchased my copy at 20% off.

Without a Trace is without much of anything (an apparently new cover shows an increased price). Authorship is still attributed to the imaginary Carolyn Keene. The persona of Nancy Drew herself has changed with the times, but she is a hardly a more fully developed person.

The writing is passable; the plot is predictable and nothing special. A mere 150 pages, it doesn't compare with my memory of delving into the thick hardcovers with the twisty plots of my childhood. Mind you, it's been 27 years since I read Nancy Drew through the eyes of a 7-year-old.

Grosset & Dunlap retained the rights to the first 56 titles, which they are still selling today (the revised editions) [the ones I remember so fondly]. Simon & Schuster was allowed to take control of the character.

While these new books aren't poorly written (not always true of the earlier titles), they just don't have the same pizzazz as the original, unvarnished Nancy Drew.

I don't remember the books being narrated in the first person, but they probably were. I do remember Nancy Drew's "hunches," but I don't recall this 'gift' being referred to as a "sixth sense."

What I remember most about Nancy Drew books was the sense that I was learning — phrases of Turkish, gardening, history, and culture. This installment devotes almost a full page to the history of Fabergé eggs.

While I enjoyed imagining myself in her shoes and piecing together the puzzles, I don't remember ever thinking of Nancy Drew as a contemporary. She seemed always to be a step back in time, and this added to her charm.

Although it wouldn't upset me to see Helena someday entranced by this modern version of my childhood heroine, there are better books (and role models — Hermione Granger springs to mind) out there for her.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Things that make me really mad (this week)

1. MBNA Canada. Over a week ago someone called to offer me a super low rate on any balance transfers, and I decided to take advantage of this deal. The other day someone else called to tell me they had not in fact proceeded with the transfer because I had an outstanding balance, so that would be contrary to policy. Eight stinking dollars. Not only did no one notice I owed eight stinking dollars at the time of offering me a low rate for transfers, MBNA cancelled a transaction of thousands (well, one and half) for the sake of eight stinking dollars. "Customer service" called to tell me that if I wanted to proceed with a balance transfer I would have to call back after my payment to them of eight stinking dollars had cleared — and the super low interest rate may not be available at that time. Well, forget it! Eight stinking dollars!

2. My dishwashing detergent. Specifically President's Choice Invigorating Aromatherapy Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Passion Flower Scent. Which I purchased because my usual brand wasn't available and this seemed like the best available option of the slim pickings at the nearby overpriced grocery store where I don't usually make such household product purchases, but this was a dishwashing liquid emergency. No, there's nothing wrong with the dishwashing liquid per se, but it doesn't work. Invigorating — my ass! Do they really think a little whiff of something can transform the dishwashing experience into a pleasant, let alone pleasurable, one? Not even catnip...

3. Bookstore employees who don't realize they're at work. Not that I have anything against enjoying one's job, but failing to acknowledge that customers exist is a bit of a problem. It's not like I wanted to ask them a question or anything. All I ask of them is a little professional demeanour. Two of them scrambled to get past me and the stroller to grab the last two copies of Umberto Eco's Baudolino off the bargain shelf ($8.99), chatting the whole time about what a good deal it was and how lucky they were to save the last two for themselves. Lucky for them I already read it. I can appreciate that some bookstore employees actually like books and that, with their wages, a bargain may be worth scrambling for. But do it on your own time, before or after your shift, or at least when there's a lull in the store. Not during lunch hour when the place is packed and you have to scramble through crowds. Maybe that's what it took for them to feel the urgency of the bargain, with the books' potential to vanish from their shelves forever, but it's so not professional.

4. People who push and shove in order to wrangle the last available table at Starbucks when I, tired and coffee-deprived and with a baby chomping at the bit to get out of her stroller for a stretch and a snack, could really use a sit-down. Sure, there were pre-baby times when I didn't offer up my seat to seemingly more deserving individuals, but guiltily I would always try to smile apologetically to convey that I had a migraine or otherwise didn't feel well and I really deserved that seat. But these two guys were just assholes.

5. People who don't understand how traffic flows on sidewalks (walk on the right, pass on the left), escalators (stand on the right, pass on the left), and within buses. I've been on buses that were transporting as many as four babies in strollers at a time, and I know they can be compactly arranged so as to not impede the flow of other passengers. But yesterday's stroller owners obviously sucked at Tetris.

6. Arriving home when Helena's been asleep in her stroller for only 20 minutes and it's not feasible to extend our excursion just for her to get a little more nap time. It's damn near impossible to extricate her from the stroller and lug her up to the third floor without her waking.

7. My hair.
How well do you know Dr Seuss?

Will we ever really know him?

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Baby chronicles and stuff

Helena and I did venture out yesterday for a most glorious stroll. Well, I strolled. Helena slept in her stroller — for almost two hours. (Lots of babies out yesterday.) I bundled up before heading out, wrapping up my neck tight, but nevertheless my throat feels raw, just from breathing in the icy air.

The lake in the park across the street is still seemingly solidly frozen, but at least people aren't skating on it anymore.

Having nothing more pressing to do, we explored Le Valet d'Coeur, and I hit the motherlode of go manuals, one of which was based on proverbs such as "the bamboo joint cannot be broken." I'll know where to go when I decide I need to master the game.

And I got a close-up look of The Mystery of the Abbey, but decided I need more friends before I can justify buying it. The kind who wander 'round after dinner to share a bottle of wine and play boardgames. Interestingly, the French version costs a couple bucks more.

We did not find the Time Magazine we'd gone looking for. It seems all the shops around here stock only the Canadian edition, a different beast entirely. I really wanted to buy a magazine, but after much browsing I didn't. I've come to resent spending some seven bucks to be able to read the mere nine pages that pique my interest, leaving the rest mostly unread. I've added the cash to my novel-buying fund instead.

I filled in some more babybook stuff yesterday as well. I've made good progress over the last week, sorting out photos, filling in dates. I don't know that Helena will much care for any of this stuff, but I always thought it was really neat that my mom took notes on my development, and I find it really sad that J-F's mother did not.

It seems I overlooked a tooth. In my vigil for back "second" molars, I forgot that one first molar hadn't made an appearance. But it's there, number 16. I guess I can arbitrarily assign it a date, attributing one of those cranky days over the last two months to its sprouting. Four molars still not in sight.

Helena is not "off like a rocket," but she is walking and braver about it by the day. For a few more days I can think of here as still a baby and not yet a toddler. I'd imagined that those first couple steps would open a floodgate of vertical experimentation, but Helena's fairly cautious and studious — there's a look about her that she wants to get it just right.

On Boohbah yesterday a couple little girls were doing shoulder rolls before more vigorous swinging and jumping. Helena was quite interested. Rolling individual shoulders escapes her for the time-being, but she has mastered a shrug. Very funny.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Breadwinners and breadbakers

I'll be heading out this afternoon to pick up a copy of Time Magazine to see exactly what is "The Case for Staying Home." It seems more women are indeed making that choice.

However, a glance at the photo gallery indicates that it's professional women in their mid-30s, who've already paid their dues, struck some kind of career success, and more than likely feel they've missed out on something with their previous children.

Sure, it's harder to afford to stay home today than ever before, but it's still easier for some than for others. Women who are doctors, lawyers, or engineers, or even women married to men in these professions, can better afford the luxury of choosing to stay home than women who work in, say, retail or the service industry.

An accompanying opinion piece argues that "Most working moms don't go to work to "fulfill themselves," they do it out of necessity":

To be sure, there are plenty of mothers who scrimp and save and find a way to stay home (at least for a few years). But there are plenty more who decide that the cost is just too high, and the choice of whether to stay home is no choice at all.

I'm learning that this issue is loaded, and complicated, and not black and white. I remember starting out to work out of necessity — no one else was going to pay my rent — but along the way I came to like having an income, some of it disposable, and maybe by accident it so happened I was finding fulfillment too. My staying at home is similar in its varied texture.

It seems men are also a little dissatisfied with the way things have worked out, and Michael Elliott makes some interesting observations on this:

Look around your home; you will not see a significant labor-saving device invented since the 1960s. Nothing has happened since then to make feeding the kids, washing their clothes or cleaning the home easier. Think about the time you spend schlepping around; note that New Yorkers travel in the same way and at much the same speed as they did in the 1930s.

The most significant technological development of the past 30 years has been a collapse in the price of a unit of information. That, it turns out, has been disastrous for the work-life balance. Information is now ubiquitous. Home life is no easier than it was, but work has invaded the domestic space. . . The incessant demands of an always-on, 24/7 world of free information have made some middle-aged women who would like to go back to work consider whether the benefits are worth the hassle. But so long as they stay out of the labor market, their husbands are trapped in it.

We have such a long way to go...

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The second Thursday Next adventure

Book-jumping. The lives of books. Good, clean fun: Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde.

What's it about, you ask? Well, according to Fforde . . .

I like subplots a lot, and it probably shows. In fact, you could say that Lost in a Good Book consists only of subplots — a month in the life of a literary detective. The actual plot I have decided, is the love interest between Spike and Cindy — all the rest are just subplots.

This book is very much more about the world Thursday Next inhabits than the sort of narrative that drove The Eyre Affair. It's hard not to be grateful for that — it smells of more adventure to come.

One of my favourite elements is the snippets from the glossary of The Jurisfiction Guide to the Great Library (used, along with other "publications," at chapter openings primarily to fill in backstory — personal, social historical, and technical). For example:

PageRunner: Any character who is out of his or her book and moves through the backstory (or more rarely the plot) of another book. PageRunners may be lost, vacationing, part of the Character Exchange Program or criminals, intent on mischief.

The author's website also includes a little insight into the editing process — how a few simple substitutions can make things so much better.

Monday, March 15, 2004

A final word on Martha

I really like how The New Yorker has presented the chronology of events in summarizing Martha Stewart's case and trial.

Defenders of Stewart, and others, questioned whether a case based solely on her statements to federal agents merited such a major effort by the government—especially since she was accused of lying about something that wasn’t a crime.

I still don't get it.

Shelf of shame

Here's an entertaining article, that's reassuring, too. Apparently, the "professionals" haven't read all those books we think they have either.

My own shelf:
Ulysses, James Joyce.
Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust.

Richard Bernstein of the New York Times writes:

OK, I never read Ulysses from beginning to end, but then again, neither, I believe, has anybody else, including most of the writers and scholars who declared it the greatest English-language book of the century in that Modern Library list last year.

On the up side, I have read many of the books that make other people's lists: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Bulgakov.

My biggest shame:
The Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad.

But I'm finally starting not to care too much. It was required reading in first-year university — how I aced that course is a mystery to me. I first tried reading Conrad when my grade 11 history teacher suggested I might like Nostromo. I've tried many times. Never got page 17.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Praising Maugham

A new biography of W Somerset Maugham is reviewed in The Economist.

In the four decades since William Somerset Maugham died in 1965 at the age of 91 he has passed a writer's cruellest test: people still read him.

But he's still vastly underrrated as a keen observer of human nature.

But it is not Maugham's choice of exotic locations that keep his books in print. Nor is it that he wrote so much: 78 books and numerous plays. Much of his writing is best forgotten. But in his prime, he evolved a clear and effective prose style that achieved a quality possessed only by master story-tellers, making the reader greedy for more.

The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.

Tentative steps

Helena on Wednesday evening took her first look-ma-no-hands steps across the bare floor. We only got as far as five before she propelled herself in the direction of an object she could fall onto (the side of the sofa). But it's a start. By this morning we'd worked up to eleven steps. There's still a little problem with directional control, with a strong tendency to sway toward inanimate objects that could provide support. The steps are so tiny, almost imperceptibly inching one in front of the other, that it looks almost as if she's exerting all this energy merely to walk in place. But she's walking! She'll get the hang of it.

Thursday my throat felt pretty normal again, but my eye was itchy. A trip to the clinic confirmed a mild case of conjuctivitis. Yuck. The thing is, waiting for two and a half hours to see the doctor, I'd developed such a migraine — the worst in recent history — that I was pretty incoherent with debilitating pain when I did see him, and though he "tapped" my sinuses, I think this test for infection was pretty inconclusive cuz, having a migraine, it felt like he was hitting a pressure point and it actually provided relief. So he said there was no sign of infection, other than the eye thing, but I'm pretty mad cuz I didn't think to make him check my throat and I'm sure he's wrong. My throat's still got a tickle in it, and it occasionally forces a hacking cough.

So I'm more angry, really, than sick. I do feel run down, but I'm mad at myself for not taking better care of myself the last couple weeks. Little things, like I've been forgetting to take my multivitamin and I've neglected to keep the fridge stocked with orange juice and broccoli. This nonsense has got to stop.

I have been diligently applying drops to my eye. And let me tell you, stuff going anywhere near my eye really freaks me out. (I should be watching Gray's Anatomy this weekend.) But I'm doing it for my little girl. This infection stops here.

I applied for a job yesterday with Cirque du Soleil. Imagine, running away to join the circus. Nevermind that their headquarters is here in town and it would be in the capacity of technical editor.

The job involves "manuals, guides or other documents of a technical nature (processes, training materials, etc.)" and I would be required to "verify the validity of information with content specialists." J-F and I spent hours speculating as to the nature of these documents: Installation and maintenance of the trapeze 2000 (or, humans cannot fly). How to seat 30 clowns comfortably in a Volkswagon Beetle. The cover letter: "I have extensive experience in working with clowns, though I myself never clown around on the job."

Last night we rented Lost in Translation. Bill Murray essentially plays himself, or what most of us would surmise is his real self, which is just fine. The film is a keen observation of what it is to be a recent philosophy grad still trying to find herself, to have insomnia, to be in a strange land, to be a family man having a midlife crisis (I'm guessing). The audience has to provide its own insight though. Contrary to popular opinion, we feel the ending was a little contrived in providing too much closure (serves us right for not being European). Really lovely.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Thursday Next

Kinky Freidman is a little too Texas.

Dirk Gently, alas, will have no more adventures.

Thursday Next seems to fit the bill.

Heroine of The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, she lives in an alternate universe where the Crimean War is still going strong in 1985 and literary greats are worshipped like rock stars. Performances of Richard III generate the equivalent hooplah of a viewing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Fun. Funny. Wacky. And there's time travel.

In summary, the wall between reality and fantasy has been breached. Jane Eyre has been kidnapped, and Thursday must restore her, as well as the novel's ending.

The official website, though confusing, makes good conceptual use of the technology to supplement this series of novels and flesh out Thursday's world.

A word on Martha

I didn't follow the Martha Stewart trial. It was there, in the background, and it didn't really strike me as important. Plain old celebrity-gawking, celebrity-bashing, the little people stickin' it to the man. Martha had abused her position and was getting her comeuppance.

But something's not sitting right with me. Enough with the jokes about the food and decor in prison. I get the feeling no one actually knows what that trial was about. They just want to see the rich bitch get hers.

Post-verdict, Charlie Rose had as one of his guests trial attorney David Boies (the Miscrosoft antitrust case; Napster; Election 2000. Remember — the guy who represented Al Gore and democracy in court?). I find him to be of astounding clarity and logic.

Within minutes he had convinced me that:

1. The Martha Stewart case should never have gone to trial. Had she refused to cooperate with investigators, all subsequent communications would've been so thoroughly documented as to leave no doubt as to whether Martha lied and/or misled (or not).

2. It was a mistake to not have Martha testify. Rather than preserve her cool demeanour, she might've fought a little harder.

3. It just doesn't make any sense. Why would a woman of such great resource risk so much for a mere $50,000?

Slate's Guide to the Martha Stewart Trial provided a deliberation of its own that summarizes much of the weirdness:

All of the crimes that Stewart and Bacanovic allegedly committed were a direct result of an investigation into a crime that they didn't commit (criminal insider trading based on a tip about the Erbitux rejection); the bloodthirsty political environment that spawned this indictment was, in its own way, as rabid, crazy, and ephemeral as the boom that preceded it; the only people hurt by Stewart and Bacanovic's alleged crimes—aside from a few bruised egos at the Justice Department—were Stewart and Bacanovic themselves. (Everyone else was hurt by the investigation, prosecution, and publicity surrounding the alleged crimes.) Again, legally, this doesn't excuse anything. It just muddies the moral waters.

It turns out I'm not alone in feeling troubled by the verdict.

What kind of world expends its energy on making an example of Martha Stewart, self-made woman and homemaker extraordinaire (Doesn't she embody what most women aspire to be?), when other people with a little sleight of hand cause thousands to lose their jobs and their life savings.

No more jokes.

Sick, and tired

J-F says I have strep throat. Friday I'd suddenly developed an agonizingly sore throat. My neck ached. Whatever it is, I think it's almost gone now.

I've been meaning to go to a clinic, but what with the hassle of getting to the dentist the other morning and some ongoing, very uncooperative work files, it hasn't happened. (Hmm, going to the dentist with an infectious throat condition probably wasn't very socially conscientious of me...)

This morning, I am plagued with guilt. My baby was coughing, and there was a hoarseness in her voice. How could I be so selfish? Not only was I having trouble finding the energy to care for her properly, I made her sick!

By breakfast time Helena seemed her usual self, so I won't beat myself up too much. Lesson learned.

Helena and I spent much of yesterday fighting. She's never much liked having her face wiped. Ditto her fingernails clipped. (I used to cut them while she was breastfeeding, but the opportunity to exercise that technique has for months not been available.) Yesterday it became a power struggle.

I lost all mommy confidence in my mommy competence. How can I raise a child to have sound morals and a good education if I can't even keep her face clean?! But we made up by bathtime, and I'm pretty sure that we're going to do all right.

I'm really bummed out about Spalding Gray. Death, let alone that of a "celebrity," doesn't generally get to me, so I feel a bit spooked. Not only is death making an impression, but I haven't quite figured out what it is about Spalding Gray I think is so important.

He was profoundly and painfully aware of all the details that make up our existence.

Helena and I had a really good nap together this morning. We don't do that nearly often enough (damn blogging compulsion!).


For moviegoers.

Shbuuq shuukhaaraa deel. Man ethnaggad udamshaa?
Sorry I'm late. Have I missed any scourging?

Monday, March 08, 2004

Spalding Gray

So he's really dead.


The embargo has lifted

And the reviews are in.

"The book is almost as much a mess as the author's life."

The New York Times is set to call it a "shoddily written and filibustering book."

"Calling this book "self-serving" isn't nearly enough. The tone is occasionally confessional, but huge portions of the book are attacks."

"It’s a curio, an artifact, an unprocessed download from Blair’s brain—vivid, wired, serviceably written and paced, and, in a way, more interesting for its artlessness."

I watched Katie Couric's interview with Jayson Blair last Friday. The man is obviously a sociopath. He says he feels remorse, but his eyes cannot be believed. He checks off the charges against him, but her offers no defense.

When he returned to work so did his mistakes, enough to prompt one of Blair's editors, Jonathan Landman, to write a now-famous memo.

"We have to stop Jayson from writing for The New York Times. Right now."

Couric: “In retrospect, he was right, wasn't he?”

Blair: “You know, that's not a judgment for me to make.”

Couric: Why not? Why can't you examine your own behavior?”

Blair: “I can examine my own behavior. But I can't decide whether, you know, his call at that particular point was the right call.”

This really summed up the interview for me. Blair refusing to judge, to commit. Couric was even harsh at times; he wouldn't fight back. It wasn't "cold and calculating"; it was dead. Part of me when I tuned in was hoping to see the face of a criminal mastermind. Instead, an inarticulate slimeball.

It's infuriating that he sits there quietly with an attitude that suggests he is entirely removed from those despicable actions, entirely above our criticisms, entirely deserving better than all this. All in all, he's done pretty well.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

The amazing Helena baby

It's been quite a week for my baby. The developments are staggering.

Thursday we'd gone shopping, and she was a hit everywhere we went. The sight but particularly the sound of her (what odd vocalizations!) made lots of people smile and laugh.

We'd stopped for cappuccino and Helena insisted on getting out of her stroller. I sat her on a regular chair where she looked happy, if short, grooving along to the sounds of Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter tunes. A couple passersby commented on her great sense of rhythm.

Friday she stacked 9 megabloks, one on top of the other, in one fluid go with
no tumbles, and then she quickly moved on to other business. Usually she loses interest by block 3 or 4. But this was like a mission she had to accomplish—vision and execution.

She "walked" 3 unaided steps, on the couch, with the cushion removed. She'd been bouncing on the one cushion that remained in place and there was a look in her eye that she suddenly wanted to come see me (poised at the end of the couch), but the propulsion from bouncing sent her forward before her hand could go out to help her sidle along the back of the couch. She looked very surprised. Kind of fell forward onto the arm. This has been repeated a few times. We try it on bare floor, and she gets that look in her eye, but then she chickens out.

(I think it's cuz our place is too small. I can't turn around with arms outstretched and not bump into anything. When Helena reaches, there's almost invariably a wall, a chair, some toy, or furniture for her to grab on to for support.)

Although, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if she were walking behind my back. She's so fast.

She can reach and operate the door handles (more like a lever one depresses than a knob one turns)—you know, the kind the baby-proofing kits don't address.

When "reading," Helena turns the book right side up. At least when it's a picture book. (I wouldn't expect her to have figured out text yet.)

Object shapes are going through the sort holes without my help.

We've gone through entire meals (including cereals) where she doesn't insist on my helping to feed her. And it's politely made clear when she wants more (she shows us her empty plate instead of crying or screaming).

She says "Papa" with regularity.

Yay for baby!


I have blown snot out my nose by the handful this morning. No wonder I'm not thinking clearly. I'm amazed there could be so much snot lining the cavities of my head.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Judging a lawyer's case

Spelling counts.

A federal judge in Philadelphia, in prose suggesting barely suppressed chortles, reduced a lawyer's request for fees last month because his filings were infested with typographical errors.

Who recognizes the value (necessity!) of accurate documentation: judges, rocket scientists. No ambiguity about it — Hire an editor!

Digital monks

Apparently the work is mind-numbing, but ancient texts are being archived.

In the world's oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastic community, a Greek Orthodox monk from Texas is working with some of the world's highest-resolution digital technology to help preserve the monastery's 3,300 priceless and impressively intact ancient manuscripts.

Bookninja says, "This is just like The Nine Billion Names of God."

Can God be digitally defined? No, not quite. But what a great story! Arthur C. Clarke.

I read that for the first time in Grade 6. The assigned reading was Isaac Asimov's I, Robot as an introduction to Ethics or something like that, but one thing led to another. . .

And ever since, I've been fascinated with where God and science fiction intersect. (Everywhere.)

Recommended retail price

Bookninja provides a link to commentary regarding the book-publishing industry wanting to remove the recommended retail price (RRP) from the covers of books.

I've never really considered the implications of that tiny line of print.

Some retailers price-clip their books, as do some people who give books as gifts. They must not be aware that, should that particular edition of a book gain status as collectible some day, they are drastically reducing its value.

Books that show both U.S. and Canadian prices also intrigue me. How are those prices set in consideration of the fact that the run of books will be on shelves for a relatively lengthy time while the currency exchange rate fluctuates daily? I price-comparison shop even between and

Then there's the question of who buys books at the RRP anyway. I occasionally buy books online at discounted prices, I occasionally buy books through the Book-of-the-Month Club at discounted prices, and I often buy books at the big-box bookstore bargain bins (at discounted prices, naturally). Rarely do I buy books at the RRP — even new releases in hardcover generally come at a 20% or more discount. I pay the RRP for mass market paperbacks, of which I've purchased four in the last year.

Nevermind how authors' royalties are to be calculated, how will I know if I'm getting a deal? And I never really know till after I've read the book, do I?

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Have you hugged a book today?

Today is World Book Day! In some places in the world anyway. (Others will have to wait.)

A great article in the Independent asks: "Is World Book Day, in essence, anything more than an excuse for . . . bourgeois self-improvement?

There are many reasons why we want our children to read, and vanity is one of them. The sight of a child buried in a book is a potent symbol of intelligence, self-reliance, imagination and cultural awareness. And it does no harm to the parents' self-image as inspirational figures.

Just yesterday I was telling J-F that while I was sorting laundry, I realized I was hearing silence, so immediately I scurried over to where I thought I'd left Helena, and she'd clambered up into the chair and was happily flipping the pages of de Bono's Thinking Course, and it really made my heart smile.

But it is by no means scientifically proven that non-reading children will end up as losers or philistines, nor that chronic bookworms invariably grow into well-adjusted human beings.

But I don't know many smart people who don't read. So there. So, read.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

The cat's in the cradle

No, we don't have an actual cradle. But we have a crib. He's in the crib. The cat.

I was putting way Helena's laundry late this afternoon when I espied a big black mass pulsating in the middle of her bed. Confusion, then shock. Calvino couldn't look happier!

I shooed him away but he was back within the hour. Once was cute, twice less so. This could be problematic.

He must've been plotting this for the last year. His agility really is remarkable. Don't tell my mother.

That song's been going through my head all evening — those are all the words I know (what do they mean exactly?) — and I had no idea what it was about till I looked it up just now. How sad.

More mommy crap

The New Yorker reviews a couple mommy books I won't make time for.

Where there is angst in America, there is also opportunity, and the past few years have seen a veritable baby boom of books on motherhood.

Daphne de Marneffe, author of Maternal Desire: On Children, Love, and the Inner Life, "belongs, unapologetically, to the class of women who have enough education to find challenging work and enough wherewithal not to need it, a class that also, presumably, makes up her target audience."

That would be me.

In de Marneffe’s view, it is a mistake to equate staying at home with forgoing an adult identity, because it is precisely in caring for children that an adult identity is forged.

Umm. Well, ok, maybe by default. It's not the caring for children per se that forges identity, but the choice of how to live one's adulthood. I'm not sure I've actually made that choice yet, nor have many stay-at-home moms (or work-at-home moms, as is called the demographic to which I now belong). Many women through motherhood are still trying to find themselves, and motherhood when it is not the answer will either show you the correct path or occupy enough of your time to stop worrying about it. (When it doesn't occupy all our time, we read books like this so we can theorize about our lives abstractly.)

Authors of The Mommy Myth (previously reviewed and discussed),
Douglas and Michaels are concerned about a dominant discourse that is oppressive to women; . . . “to be a remotely decent mother, a woman has to devote her entire physical, psychological, emotional, and intellectual being, 24/7, to her children.” Such images, they maintain, have been multiplying in recent years, a trend they dub the “new momism.”

I am at home because I was trying to establish a freelance career when I discovered I was pregnant. Had I been steadily, traditionally employed then, I would now probably be back at work, at the office, 9 to 5, with Helena in daycare. Is it my choice to stay home? In part. But it is also a product of the laziness and privilege of my class and generation.

This is not to say that I am of a privileged class where I can indulge in such luxury. I do not have a nanny, or a housekeeper. Since Helena's first birthday I have been invoicing clients for a total of approximately 60 hours a month. I keep a clean enough house, and most days I cook. I spend a lot of time with Helena, playing, reading, and going on various outings, but I always have time for myself (coffee and a blog entry), usually when Helena is napping.

None of us work at being moms as hard as some would have you believe.

I think our little family has consciously embraced some values of generations past. (I think of my own mother, stay-at-home mom extraordinaire who cared for me better than Martha Stewart ever could.) Unlike many double income families we do not own a house in the suburbs. We do not own an SUV or a second vehicle. We aren't driven to acquire a plasma TV or satellite dish. We don't have a matching bedroom set. We don't have crippling debt either. Helena does not lack for toys, though she has remarkable fewer than her peers — but I'd have to say her toys are smarter.

That many women return to work is also a result of their inertia. They have a job, they should keep their job, and their income, and their lifestyle.

To choose to rear a child or to pursue a career or to combine both is a very difficult decision, and I suspect most women never consciously choose at all — they let it happen. Then we read books that justify our "decisions."

Am I repeating myself?

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Small miracles

Dean wins Vermont! Now the voters are angry.

Johnny Depp to play Jesus!

Returning to film adaptations about His life and Word, Christ said some inaccuracies can be traced back to the source material, the New Testament.

"Remember, at the time the Good Book was written, I was running around saving souls like a madman," Christ said. "I couldn't focus on a writing project, too. I basically gave My team of writers the broad strokes and hoped inspiration would fill in the cracks. Now, I'm not saying the New Testament isn't good—it is. It's great! But by the time I got around to reading the galleys, the monks had already finished the first printing."

Habitable environment

Mars! No signs of life, but the conditions for life existed. Water!

The outcrop of bedrock near which Opportunity landed is yielding all sorts of evidence. Crystal formations! Salty earth!

The press briefing is still in progress.

Happy birthday, Dr Seuss

Oh, the places you'll go now...

Helena and I can't wait to get mail!

Alone in the universe

"The impression out there is that a lot of the blog activity is very feverish. That's not the case."

It makes me feel like a member of the elite.

In other news, Spalding Gray is still missing.

Nothing else is going on.

I've been reading about how boring the Oscars were. I'm glad of all this insightful analysis, or I never would've known. I feel sorry for Bill Murray though. I wanted him to win. No, I haven't seen Lost in Translation yet, but I've been bugging J-F about it since it was first released in theatres months ago.

Bill Murray was really great in The Razor's Edge, too often dismissed and thought inferior to the 1946 version with Tyrone Power. Just because it's old and in black and white with a handsome, brooding leading man doesn't mean it's any good. It's Murray's performance that makes Larry's soul sing. (And Theresa Russell as Sophie was gut-wrenching.) Anyone who didn't like it obviously didn't understand the book.

I finished editing a chapter last night (work) so I'd be free today. I thought Helena and I would go walking, to browse books and buy bananas. But it's raining. We may have to cuddle up and read instead.

Monday, March 01, 2004


We got away from our tiny little apartment. We got away with not doing housework and groceries for a few more days. We got away from the cats endlessly whining for more food and something about spring being in the air. We got away from baby.

Helena didn't much care. But she was rather huggy on our return.

It turns out that the discharge from her eye warranted a trip to the clinic after all (well, according to my mother-in-law), where she was diagnosed with a very mild case of pinkeye, for which she was prescribed both drops and ointment as precautionary measures. Apparently when Helena woke up Friday morning her right eye was entirely encrusted with dried-up pus, and going to the clinic in the evening was deemed a good idea (sans carseat I might add). I'm not going to think too much about the fact that Friday morning my mother-in-law had told us everything was just fine. Regardless, Helena is at present her usual healthy self, and you'd never know there'd been anything the least bit bacterial, or viral, about her to look at her.

My mother-in-law certainly had her hands full this weekend. Her partner's granddaughter was also staying over. Nimiké is little more than a year older than Helena and took it upon herself to guide my baby into toddlerhood: "Pour marcher, tu fais comme ça." I would've liked to see that.

Quebec City was lovely. The weather was sunny and mild (though not nearly so mild as everywhere else in the world this weekend it seems). We did nothing.

We strolled. We drank. We relaxed. We ate. We drank more. We slept late. We wandered about aimlessly. We ate. We drank. We bought magazines. We napped. We drank. Well, you get the idea.

We chose our hotel for its location. It's the oldest hotel with the oldest restaurant on the continent, I'd read. As much as we enjoyed our stay, I'd try someplace else rather than stay there again.

We did treat ourselves to a fancy meal in the Charles Baillairgé dining room. For an appetizer I had a (very rich) terrine of boar and pistachio, served with berries and horseradish. The house salad was excellent — too many chefs think they can throw some bitter greens together and charge you a fortune for it, but these greens were well chosen (including endives) and extremely well dressed (I'm guessing it was capers that contributed the salt, but it was balanced with sweetened citrus juices). My main course was pork medallions (a bit dry) in a caramel raspberry sauce served with soya shrimps. The presentation was exquisite, but the flavours were a bit complicated for my taste. (J-F had a fillet mignon capped with blue cheese — he claims it was nothing to write home about.) Dessert followed this pattern: a paisley-shaped white chocolate and strawberry mousse served with a small cup of almond-flavoured ice, garnished with various fruit slices (including starfruit) in a puddle of blueberry coulis with chocolate liqueur syrup around the perimeter. As I said, complicated.

And we drank.

The couple next door provided some entertainment. I heard them having sex before dinner, and later that evening they entertained the whole floor with quite the fight. Doors slamming. Much swearing. Something about him being Italian. I don't know where they found all those doors to slam.

I hope they made up.

It put a spell on me

Friday night, holed up in our hotel room in Quebec City, we ordered room service and watched The Great American Celebrity Spelling Bee on tv. What could be more fun than racing to outspell famous people?!

Apparently it ran for three Fridays, but it was only by chance that we tuned in for the final faceoff. The setup was straightforward:

Kept backstage is a little boy named Simir, who won the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee and seems to be smarter than all of the celebrities combined. When a celebrity is stuck, they can use Simir as a cheat sheet. . . . Seeing marginally famous people look terrified at the prospect of spelling ‘cappuccino’ is entertaining, and watching them plead to an 11-year-old boy for assistance just adds to the fun.

Most of it was laughable: The dumb blonde getting really easy words and still missing them. Sherman Hemsley. There were a few smart cookies. And I feel strongly that Alan Thicke was wronged. C'mon. "Ecdysiast"!?! You can't tell me the game wasn't fixed. After making smart jokes for an hour, nailing "sommelier" to the raised eyebrows of his competitors, conquering American spellings (a subject of heated discussion during commercial breaks), and watching his "peers" stumble over words like "maneuvre" and "epitome," even he rolled his eyes at the monster planted to elimninate him.

(I can relate. Grade 11, representing my school, I was ousted on "machicolation." Do not underestimate the import of enunciation and definitions in a spelling bee.)

Brett Butler was a very gracious winner, lucking out on "cornucopia."

So thank you famous people for being dumb, Simir for being a smart-ass and FOX for adding yet another show of good, clean, lowbrow fun to the reality genre.

I want more.