Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Days gone by

Le grand spectacle
Somehow, my weekend was perfect. (I even had time to read!)

I'd been dreading it actually, knowing that J-F was to work on Saturday and I'd have to wrangle the child on my own. But it was lovely. We had a picnic in her bedroom. We dressed all her dolls. We did puzzles and had adventures.

Helena asked me to read the Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary to her, which I'd left lying on the floor. I complied, skipping over the boring bits. Her favourite entries are "Norwegian elkhound" and "lute," which inspired a song, "La guitare, ma guitare...," in the flamenco style.

Sunday evening Helena made preparations for a "pestacle," converting our second bathroom into a performance theatre space. The crowd was assembled. We parents were also invited — standing room only. Much to my surprise, I was called on to open the show. Though unprepared, I performed an abridged version of Don Quixote, throwing in a chorus of "The Impossible Dream," which was well-received. J-F used the chalkboard to illustrate an alternate battle plan from the Lord of the Rings, or some such, involving helicopters. Helena herself finally took the podium to read a Caillou story. She then attempted to lure one of her babies on stage, but baby kept dropping her chalk, so we adjourned for supper.

It's days like these that dissolve all our petty growing pains. Of course, the weekend's joy was balanced by the migraine that developed Monday morning, the one that made me want to die, and Helena's pesky new habit of trying on all her underwear after every trip to the bathroom to find a pair sufficiently comfortable.

Some kind of burgeoning
I couldn't put down Ami McKay's The Birth House. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to like it so much. Based on my very limited experience with "Canadian" fiction, I didn't expect early 20th-century Nova Scotia — an isolated village — to hold more than over-the-top melodrama, the hardships of small lives peppered with sugar. I was very wrong. The Birth House is lovely (and a joyful complement to my other recent maternal readings).

The Birth House website.
Ami McKay's blog.
CBC profile.

It's the story of a midwife's apprentice. Yes, there are hardships, and it is emotional, but it never induces eye-rolling. The writing is clear and honest, the heroine very likeable.

One blurb notes that this is "a world where tradition collides with science." I say it's where tradition and progress (scientific and other) both collide with common sense.

One of my favourite, and subtle, aspects of the novels is that our heroine Dora Rare is a reader behind her father's disapproving back, "borrowing" books — Dickens, Austen, et al — from forgotten cupboards. "Every woman needs a sanctuary." (For some of us, it is found in books.)

(It's clear, too, that the author loves books. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I find myself discouraged by all the wannabe writers with a blog presence who wouldn't know a classic if it bit them on the ass, who have no reverence for the tradition that's gone before them. McKay's sincerity when she notes "You gotta read to write," is hard to resist.)

(Thank you, Patricia! (who met The Birth House's author) for helping me get my reading groove back.)

My sense of Smilla
Not very good.

Last week I finished up Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg. Part murder mystery, action thriller, forensic investigation, police procedural, social commentary, sea voyage, psychological drama, and science fiction. Ordinarily, I embrace this kind of genre-spanning refusal to be pigeon-holed; here, I couldn't find a comfortable foothold. And really, the suggestion of the possibility of an alien life form, or life force? Ridiculously out of place. (Oops. Did I just ruin it for you?)

I was never convinced that Smilla cared what had happened to Isaac up on the roof. Perhaps this is an effect of the translation. Perhaps her motivation is a kind of distinctly Danish or Groenlandian attachment emotion that I cannot hope to understand. Perhaps she really does not care what happened to Isaac; in fact, Smilla's investigation is to lay to rest the psychological demons leftover from her own childhood. Thinking of it in this last way, now, makes it a little better.

She's emotionally cold, or at least suppressed, though she evolves somewhat on this front. This makes her drive — her desperation — for truth all the more puzzling.

Smilla doesn't strike me as very smart, starting with the illogic of pursuing the question of Isaac's death. She knows mathematics; she knows ice and snow on molecular level; however, this is not a product of extraordinary intelligence, but rather an offshoot of her instinct. Neither is she street smart, walking into situations she shouldn't. Granted, she always extricates herself expertly, thanks to luck and instinct. (I suppose this raises some questions of definition. Is instinct a kind of intelligence? Are book smarts in and of itself not sufficient to prove intelligence.)

My instinct: I don't like her. But I am somewhat intrigued by her. (Strangely, I also relate to her, as far as goes her personal, banal emotional being anyway — not so much the daredevil breaking and entering or nothing-to-lose attitude regarding this still mysteriously all-important and all-consuming quest.)

Also, there are far too many people in this novel. I couldn't keep them straight. But I'm sure this is the fault of my divided attention.

I don't know any Danes personally but am a little puzzled by Smilla's assertion that Danes are essentially optimistic. 1. This runs contrary to my sense of the reputation of Danes. 2. The Danes in the novel do not strike me as optimistic. (Similar assertion, though less problematic for me, regarding their complacency.)

Mostly it was cold, just achingly cold, without inducing the wonder of snow I so wanted to experience.

In my opinion, the book's vastly overrated. (I wonder, was it so well rated to begin with? Why did the buzz of so many years ago stick with me? The promise of mathematics to be beautifully literarily rendered?)

February for me was emotionally volatile, physically less than healthy, mentally exhausting. My reading has been overall disjointed and not satisfying. Still, it can't all be me, can it?

Unfinished business
I've resolved to finish, finally, A Whistling Woman, by A.S. Byatt — I have 50 pages or so to go to be done with it.

I hate not finishing books and it's very rare that I don't. If I've brought a book into my home, it has already been very carefully considered and deemed worthy on some level. In recent months, however, it's becoming clearer that life is short; perhaps not all books are worth finishing after all. (I almost set Smilla aside.) At the very least, I ought to revise my criteria, or consider them more carefully, for bringing books into my home.

The book is full of interesting ideas, but I can't find the life in them. It's academic and cold, which to some degree is the point of her story, but the more it goes, I think Byatt writes like an academic — her books are an exercise. There's no writerly passion in her.

A Whistling Woman more than any other novel I've read in recent years has me dog-earing pages, noting paragraphs of insight, clever turns phrase. I reach for my notebook (or blog), but I'm always stopped from quoting at length like I'd like to. Stopped cold. I can't make it connect.

All of which has me thinking: what do I like to read? Books I've wanted to read for years disappoint me; books I'd be unlikely to pick up of my own accord surprise and engross me. (Nor is it lost on me that I have more to say about books that I don't like than those that I do.) Every book has its time and its place, but the spaces within me for them to fill up are shifting too rapidly for me to finger them precisely.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reading for the maternally inclined

I never considered myself particularly maternally inclined, but here I am.

I've been a mother for more than 3 years now. In some ways, the last month or so has been the hardest — at 3, Helena is horrid and vile, by which I mean no longer completely pliant to my will, stubborn. She is testing her boundaries, my patience. Of course, the first months were hard too, but frankly, I barely remember them anymore, if anything at all of those sleep-deprived times even registered on my cortex.

And this is one of the great mysteries new mothers puzzle over: Why didn't anybody tell me it would be this hard? I didn't think it was supposed to be hard — it's supposed to be natural. Women have been doing it for millennia. How hard could it be? And why didn't they tell me?

Because they forget. Because they know how it is, and with the years it's easier, and they convince themselves it's not so hard after all; they assure you you will arrive at the same conclusion, that it's worth it. And really, most of the time it's not that hard at all.

Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined, edited by Andrea J Buchanan and Amy Hudock, helps us remember.

Earlier this month, anthology editor Andi Buchanan on her own blog responded to some questions posed by Miriam Peskowitz. Parts of those answers are worth repeating:
Why should mothers read literature?...
...As an avid reader, I can't imagine a life without reading, and even though motherhood has compressed my available "free time" to an incredible degree, I find myself needing good literature now more than ever. And when I say "good," I don't mean lofty, or Important, or boring, or academic, or literary, or whatever adjectives people like to use to describe books that seem more like assignments than enjoyments; I just mean works that lift me out of my own life. As a mother, alternately plunged into the most mundane and most vital aspects of existence, reading books is a window out of and into my busy, complicated, boring (and when you think about it pretty incredible) life...

What's the literary in Literary Mama?
...The Literary in Literary Mama is about making mother-writing count as "real writing," as writing that matters. And if you care about that — and about reading that kind of writing — then you're a literary mama.

Reading Literary Mama has been an emotionally charged experience for me. Since it arrived on my doorstep just after Christmas, I've been dipping into it when I can. Of course, this is the same timeframe that included post-holiday clean-up, bedroom furniture assembly, an ever-growing work project with a cruelly unrealistic deadline, a crashing computer, a bout of something flulike, central vacuum installation, and a sick child (twice!). Too, it seems my longest sessions with this book were accompanied by PMS.

I started keeping a reading journal for this anthology, but gave up after just three entries. They all kind of went like this: "Wake up at 5:30. Helena won't go back to sleep. She drags me to the living room and turns on the TV. I try to read a couple pages but doze off. Not enough energy to make coffee." Other days are better, whether because I manage to read chapters at a time or because Helena has spontaneous bursts of affection that paint my day happy.

Some of the essays make me uncomfortable. While I don't think it's always a deliberate effect, it's still worthwhile for me to consider why. A few others — the poetry, for example — simply don't speak to me, at least not in a voice that I'm accustomed to listening to.

(I have not yet read those piece on illness and loss. That will require the emotional fortitude of another time and place.)

My favourite essay by far is The Gift, by Karen Vernon. She recognizes her daughter's creative gift and finds incentive to nurture her own. I am similarly awakening to the gifts before me and within me.

Read the introduction to Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined:
...the vein of voyeurism that is often a part of motherhood—observing children, teachers, other mothers—leads women online, often late at night, between feedings or diaper changes, to seek out other mothers’ stories.

...we assert that motherhood as a theme is worthy of great literature — and that mothers are capable of writing it.

If you've read along this "review" thus far, you might be dismayed that I've provided very little information about the book itself, that it's all about me. As far as I'm concerned, this is the point. The essays are windows, as much into myself as to other mothers. They let me try on other styles of mother for size, recognize the common denominators while appreciating the uniqueness of my own experience.

The pieces included in the anthology will hold appeal for both women and men, regardless of parenting status, wanting insight into their mothers, sisters, wives. It's great that motherhood is considered a worthwhile topic of discussion, and that mother-writers are supported, allowed a voice and given a platform. But Literary Mama's greatest gift is to the new mother, showing her her past and her future, reassuring her that she's not alone, encouraging her to embrace her Now.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

World literature tour

Just over a month ago, Culture Vulture kicked off a World Literature Tour. It's a great way to learn or share what you know about literature that isn't written in English. And you can have a say in where the tour stops next.

Recommendations for Finland, the first stop, have been neatly summarized. It seems there's way more to Finland than Aki Kaurismaki, Saku Koivu, vodka, and Moominland books (as if those aren't enough).

Poland was next up (yet to be summarized), and I'm proud to say I did contribute, if only because it makes me angry to think most people actually believe Czeslaw Milosz to be Poland's greatest literary export. (He's not.)

Now boarding for the Czech Republic... (Has anyone read anything other than Kundera?)

Monsterpiece Theater presents

The Postman Always Rings Twice

Monday, February 20, 2006

Can you smell the excitement?


Am I the last to know? Why have I not heard about this? How come nobody told me?

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patick Suskind, is being adapted to film! And with Alan Rickman! Coming to a theatre near me in September!

Trailer! (via a German fan site)

I read this book in 1995 when I was vacationing in Provence. Which was really the best place to read it. The visceral punch of it amid the lull of lavender. Absolutely horrifying! (Come to think of it, I haven't travelled alone since.)

So who borrowed it from me and failed to return it?

TV or not TV

Helena was recently introduced to my 30-odd-year-old finger puppets. Bert's lost some hair over the years. I'm pretty sure I also owned Grover (my favourite) and Cookie Monster (everybody else's favourite) — I suspect their heads were bitten off, or maybe whatever toxic material they're made of simply disintegrated with overuse. While Helena enjoys them, her enthusiasm does not rival my nostalgia for them. The reason's simple: Sesame Street ain't what it used to be.

I miss Sesame Street's good ol' days. When Kermit the Frog would interrupt our regularly scheduled program with a breaking news story from the 3 little pigs' house. When the Count would spontaneously start counting things. When Cookie Monster ate everything in sight, not just a cookie imprinted with the letter of the day. When letters and numbers of the day turned up every couple minutes, and I felt a glimmer of recognition. Big Bird was less patronizing and more stupid. Snuffleupagus was invisible. Oscar the Grouch was grouchier. When muppet denizens freely commingled in the street without being compartmentalized into narrow roles so obviously designed with a different specific instructional goal in mind.

I continued to enjoy and appreciate the genius of the Children's Television Workshop well after I grew out of their target audience range. Mostly I miss Monsterpiece Theater, hosted by Alistair Cookie. I have a particular fondness for Grover's rendition of Upstairs, Downstairs.

When I was little, I watched Sesame Street every day. My mom would sit me in a playpen in front of the TV while she did housework. My dad came home for lunch and we watched the Flintstones together. I remember watching snatches of Polka-Dot Door, Romper Room, Electric Company (which holds great nostalgia for many and is being released on DVD), with less regularity and less enthusiasm, but they too filled my world.

Afternoons, my mom and I went next door. I watched my mother watch General Hospital and The Young and the Restless with our neighbour while I enjoyed milk and cookies. Somehow I amused myself with a quiet stuffed toy, or with trying to reach the pedals on the exercise bike in the neighbour's TV room. Sometimes I just watched with them.

That is to say, I watched easily 2 hours of television a day. And I turned out OK.

Nobody really knows the long-term effects of TV on kids. I'm not convinced it matters.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Baby math

Babies may have abstract numerical sense (via Mirabilis):

Even before babies learn to talk they have a bit of a grasp of math, according to new research concluding that infants may have an abstract sense of numerical concepts.

. . .

"As a result of our experiments, we conclude that the babies are showing an internal representation of 'two-ness' or three-ness' that is separate from sensory modalities and thus reflects an abstract internal process," researcher Elizabeth Brannon wrote.

. . .

Understanding the research could be useful in devising methods for teaching basic math skills to the very young, Brannon said.

It's clear to me that babies already have basic math skills. No? The trick is to teach them to express it in the formalized manner we expect.

My metaphorical houses

Nothing has gone as planned.

The child was home sick a couple days, the physical house is only slightly (but somehow, magically!) more ordered, the work house entirely neglected, the house of love is cold. All my metaphorical houses are toppling. And my blog house feels so empty.

One sentence — "A small child kept me circumscribed." (Doris Lessing, in "Now You See Her, Now You Don't," Time Bites). One sentence, in an essay on Muriel Spark, not meaning anything but to explain a difference in their social circles. One sentence bursts a dam, and I dissolve in tears. I feel circumscribed.

The horrid child. (The first sick day was awful, starting in a sleep-deprived state. It got better, easier. I'd like to think it's just a matter of finding the rhythm, adjusting to it. But I spent hours feeling incompetent. How do other mothers do it? I have it relatively easy — this child spends weekdays in daycare — but this week it feels very hard.)

(Yes, having a tough time of things this week. Part domestically overwhelmed. Part parenting-skill-challenged. Part revisiting emotions, previously thought resolved, in reading Literary Mama. Part PMS. Part professionally unsatisfied. Part where am I and how did I get here.)

Serious questions
How do you keep a small child in bed who doesn't want to stay there? How many stories should I reasonably be expected to read? How many songs should I sing? How many times should I sing the same song over again? Do I really have to stay with her till she falls asleep (as she's requested a few times, and as I've acceded) (She says she's not afraid, she just wants me there. Me. Not Papa. There's a nightlight on and the door stays ajar — should I not do that?). Must I threaten her? Close the door on her? Is there a way to do it without tears (hers or mine)? Is bedtime the province of one parent or is it shared or in turns? Is this just a phase (no, I don't think it's related to her feeling under the weather this week)? How long does this phase last? Should I read parenting manuals?

Moments of joy
Seeing Elmo on television, Helena rushes to find her Elmo and sits him down to watch.

Perusing Where Is the Green Sheep? with Helena, anticipating the English text in her bilingual head she recites: "Here is la lune sheep."

The grin on the face of the T-shirted twenty-something driving a massive and noisy snowplow through narrow Plateau streets yesterday. Like Christmas! We should all love our jobs so much.

"There is water at the bottom of the ocean."

Monday, February 13, 2006

The natives are restless

And I'm still bored, and experiencing severe cognitive difficulties.

(What does it mean when you no longer feel guilt over your guilty pleasures?)

I may or may not be here this week. Excuse me while I struggle to put my metaphorical houses in order.

(Coming February 23: Literary Mama Blog Book Tour stops here!)

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bored and stupid

1. I'm bored.

(NPR interviews Gillian Anderson and includes a clip of her boredom.)

Is anyone else watching Bleak House who's never read the book? Or like me you tried to read it 20 years ago because it had a cool title and you can't remember a thing about it? Only you realize you did read some of it and some of it must lurk in your head in a dark room with no doors and watching it now something is starting to seep through its floorboards? And it pisses me off that I can't stop watching — I'm riveted — to break away and read it cold, or anew, that I'll never know whether the obviousness of the story is actually there in Dickens's story, or whether it's an effect of a director's interpretation and editing, or whether I've simply found access to forgotten memories. And this review, which I finally got round to reading, confuses me all the more, because I am on the edge of my seat and dizzy with it, it's the exact opposite of "languid," exactly not "a luxurious cat stretch" or "seductive languor." More a cat bristling, wriggling its little butt preparing to pounce. Is it me?

2. The public wants what the public gets.

3. Have been very, ugh, domestic this week. Not in a satisfyingly domestic-goddess kind of way, but just barely keeping it together. Taming books and toys and bills and wrapping paper. Ugh. But we're eating well, and I've determined that I'm a better cook than I, and other people, think I am — I just need to sell myself better by, for example, saying "blanched asparagus with lemon and herbs" instead of "some vegetable."

4. Other people's children are amazing.

5. Am mildly bewildered? amused? horrified? that one of Helena's baby dolls has developed an identity as her baby brother Philipe.

6. Also, I'm feeling stupid.

I've never read David Foster Wallace, but I will, having been inspired by Callie's encounter with him (parts 1, 2, 3, and especially 4).
...it smacked a bit of..."Look, at the end of the day, I'm really too smart for all of you, you will never understand my work because you are idiots, so can we just end this thing already?" But in the most charming way possible.

How can I not see that as a challenge? I feel stupid just reading about it, made to feel stupid by proxy, dreading to think how I would've withered were I in his actual presence.

But I have read the commencement address he delivered. I've printed it out and reread it several times already. Somehow it makes me feel better. (Even the ouch of "Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out." — gives me perspective.) Read it if you're having a bad time at the grocery store or just wondering what the hell you're doing with your life.

7. A package of books arrived for me yesterday! The book I ordered that I was most looking forward to was not among them, but I will console myself and rest my brain by indulging in a guilty pleasure for the rest of the week, and then probably getting all worked up over how stupid it is.

There you are. Bored and stupid.

Days go by
Endlessly pulling you
Into the future...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Inspiration, and hard work

If I could choose any living author with whom to sit and chat over a bottle of wine, Doris Lessing would be it. Not given that opportunity, I took some time last week, finally, bundled in pyjamas and blankets, tea and cold medication at my side, to watch Doris Lessing deliver the first Monique Beudert Memorial Lecture, "a series of events that focus on literary writers and their relationship to visual culture" (recorded in December).

The lecture purports to be about images in literature from visual art. Where do writers draw their inspiration? Lessing says we make things too simple; people tend to offer banal answers — composites of acquaintances, a dream, a picture reminds one of a character.

But there must be more to it? Something deeper? That a picture, as an indirect inference, corresponds with one's view of life.

Virginia Woolf describes, she says, an old woman's mind as an opening of doors, letting in a stream of ideas and associations.

With age, space and time become extremely fluid. Every face one encounters reminds one of other faces, in other times and different places.

The webcast is over an hour long, with the first 25 minutes, and then some at the end, devoted to Proust and Vermeer's yellow patch of sunlight.

This is difficult for me to summarize. Lessing rambles and digresses through her mind's labyrinth of associations, and connections are not always evident. Is it contradictory then for me to say what I admire most about her is her straightforwardness? She says what she thinks. And she thinks a great deal.

Mara and Dann is an adventure story (possibly, she confides, soon to be an animated film) with that most classic element of stories found the world over: orphan children.

Set in the future, Europe is in an ice age. She pictures it like the mountains in the background of Brueghel's "Hunters in the Snow," a poster of which she has hanging on a door: unnatural and otherworldly, not a real part of Brueghel's countryside, improbable, mythical mountains of snow.

Now there is sequel, The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog.

Mara's daughter looks like this:

Because she does. This painting ("The Parasol," Goya) makes Lessing feel like she's being stroked like a cat.

What strikes me most from this lecture is what she unwittingly divulges about her writing process. She knows the end, knows her characters; she still allows for minor characters to pop up, some unexpected incidents to occur, but she knows where's she going, she knows the shape of the thing. Yet for the first time — remarkably I think, for a woman of 89 years who has published scads of novels — in Griot did a character "take on a life of his own." She always knows how things turn out, but not so with Griot.

(Remarkable, I say, because I read and hear often about writers discussing the ease of writing: characters simply come to life, stories write themselves. I wonder how many of them are lying, what is their motivation in perpetuating the myth of the inspired artist, in denying the hard work; does their reliance on that myth condemn them to lesser accomplishments, relinquish them of the responsibility to do hard work; can they be serious writers?)

So an hour after having raised the question about the source of inspiration, she answers it honestly. Sometimes things come in dreams. How can one know why something draws you, inspires you? But it does. Perhaps one shouldn't ask. "Where do all these things come from? They come from everywhere."

Through all her rambling runs a thread of... melancholy? A weight of the world, a weight of wisdom. And cynicism and even anger (at Alexander the Great, and Banda; how the media is a mechanism in keeping life tame, ordinary, boring; her lost Africa). She talks about humankind's destructive tendencies and her despair if she thinks about it too much — better to pretend it isn't there. And yet. What we destroy, we will rebuild. It won't necessarily be better, but it will persevere.

Lessing would like to be remembered as a hard worker. "Life is really very hard work."

(Why, why, why do I have such a hard time writing about Doris Lessing? It's not for lack of anything to say, it's my inability to break it down, to do so concisely. It's too big somehow. Lessing says, "The human mind, can't stand too much complexity, I've come the conclusion. We have to simplify things." I think she's right, and I think she implies that this is not necessarily the right way to grapple with life, and I agree with that, and this is very much what The Golden Notebook was about for me, insofar as compartmentalizing is an attempt to simplify. Our efforts to simplify often have the opposite effect. Maybe I should stop trying to say anything about Doris Lessing, just delight in the ideas sparked and tangents followed.)

I've not yet read The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog, but I plan to. In case you're wondering, there will not be another book in this story — what happens after this novel leaves off is obvious, and Lessing has nothing more to say about it.

Recent interview: San Francisco Chronicle.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Between sleep and wakefulness

My days and nights lie between sleep and wakefulness.

Helena comes home all sweetness. We chat, eat, play.

She makes tea (with tiny rubber frogs), and "washes" dishes.

She delays bedtime, tucking in all her friends before she herself is ready to don pyjamas. Tubby Dipsy has trouble falling asleep, Helena tells me. She presses an imaginary magic button on the wall that plays Dipsy's music, Dipsy's favourite — and, so far as I can tell, wholly imaginary — song, "La danse du lion." Helena tells me shh, listen (!?), isn't it pretty?

Where's Helena's magic button?

She is in bed by 9, late but not terribly unreasonable.

I snack, tidy, putter. By 9:45 I decide to ready myself for bed. I'll settle in and read. Helena is sitting on the stairs, waiting for me. I re-tuck her, but she's restless; she puts socks on, plumps her pillow, takes her socks off, doublechecks that her friends are sleeping soundly, and creeps into my room.

I invite her to read with me. With a sigh I set aside Smilla's Sense of Snow, which is maybe just as well, cuz it makes me feel a cold that no number of blankets can comfort, though I expected it to be perfect February reading, and it might be, if the snow outside where fresh, crisp, white, but it's not, it's grey and damp cold not suited to gazing in wonder, and we read about Caterpillar's Dream, which takes forever because the pages are lightly textured, bumped, and Helena has to feel every square inch of them, and then we read Guji Guji, which takes forever because Helena interrupts every sentence with urgent tapping on my hand or tugging on my sleeve or even less subtle "Mama, mama," to catch my attention to tell me, "look, c'est Guji Guji" and there he is, crocodile among ducks, I think she only does it because she likes saying Guji Guji, it's hard to fault her for this, it is fun to say Guji Guji, and then we read The Happy Lion, which takes forever because Helena must say "Bonjour, Happy Lion" whenever he is pictured and roar a little, we rarely make it to the end of this story, I don't know why, she loves the first half, but then I don't know, so she hands me the Pandi books, the reading of which takes forever because they're French, and I read French slowly on the best of days, self-conscious that my pronunciation will be corrected by the child, worried too that I'm missing the whole point of the story even if I think I know the words, and it's painfully so now that I'm tired and bleary-eyed, J-F has joined us and as much as I encourage, nag, beg him to read to the kid, especially her French books, he rarely does, and now it's a vicious circle cuz when he offers, Helena wants none of it, c'est mama who's the reader, so he offers less, nobody likes rejection, and I read two Pandi books, one about the doctor, and one about the ball, and they take forever also because Helena insists that Pandi's name be changed to Helena throughout, I don't know where she got that idea, and just for this series of books, so I proceed slowly, taking care, but sometimes I forget anyway and Helena scolds me and I have to read the page over, and then we read The Cat in the Hat, and both of them are snoring, finally, is it 11:00 already? just before Things One and Two arrive, thank goodness, I do not like those Things, Mother would not like them at all, and I sneak out to lie in Helena's bed, and I toss and turn, and I wonder what Isaiah was doing up on the roof, I think I hear Helena cry out a couple times but I do my best to ignore her and remind myself that I am far far away, until she wakes before 5 am wanting me to read her the train story and then eager to play Lego.

J-F has to go in to the office today, so I let him sleep while I make juice and coffee and muffins and fruit, we turn on the tv, I think I doze off for a while. Helena is busy camping, which entails packing the car, which entails a lot of shopping bags, each with a book or a doll or some sandals, piled in a corner of the living room. She tells me to wait in the car, I think I doze off again.

Fate smiles on me in this mysterious way: that my hair in incredibly sexy today, so this makes me feel a tiny bit beautiful and we go for a walk.

We buy matching socks — which takes forever because the store has a children's play area, a few steps, a tunnel, a slide, Helena had to slide, I actually consider for a moment leaving her unattended, what's the worst that could happen?, when I hear a child crying and I think it might be Helena, even though I'm staring right at her, I tell her she can have 3 turns and then we have to leave, this is the very longest 3-foot-high slide of my life — and butter cookies and a gerber daisy.

She sleeps a little in the stroller on the way home, maybe 20 minutes, it doesn't last, it's not deep enough that I can move her without disturbing her and I can walk no longer. I need to rest.

We spend the rest of the day shuffling our feet and not understanding each other, she's highly emotional, I cannot tell her to wash her hands or not to open the umbrella in the house without inspiring a flood of tears, we find comfort in tomato soup, cheese and crackers, staring at Dora dancing like ants and spiders, we giggle, but mostly we're silent.

She's asleep now.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dating by the book

Literary speed-dating, ie, speed-dating with books to talk about in front of you:
There's still a bit of strategy to selecting books for Literary Speed Dating.

"That's part of the interesting thing about it — how do you want to introduce yourself through your books?" Tom said. "You don’t necessarily want to bring your favorite books. You want to bring books that tell somebody something about you, but speak well of you, too."

I'm thinking:
1. Something by Paul Auster or Jose Saramago.
2. Perdido Street Station (China MiƩville) or Snowcrash or Cryptonomicon (Neal Stephenson).
3. ?
Part of me wants to bring The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing), but that would be a little cruel, and clearly indicates I shouldn't be speed-dating at all.

What 3 books would you bring on a literary speed date?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006


There's so much cuteness and love in this household, it's killing me, or it would if it weren't doing so much to alleviate the misery of my vicious viscous head-cold.

I've been trying to remind myself to take pictures, but Helena runs at the sight of a camera, and, frankly, the all-pervading aura of cuteness is something altogether nonvisual.

Like how I hear her at the other end of the house singing Chim-chiminee, chim-chiminee, chim-chiminee-chee. Or something about a teddybear's picnic.

Helena makes goofy faces all the time, but it's most fun when we're sitting at supper together. J-F encourages this behaviour, and I'm expecting the daycare to send home a note regarding her table manners any day now. But it's just too funny to correct. J-F did warn her not to cross her eyes cuz they'll stay that way, but that reduced us all to howling with laughter, not least because it's exactly the sort of thing one's parents might say (lies!) and we resort to saying it anyway.

She's finally absolutely clear about her yesterdays and tomorrows, and while she's always had, I'm sure, a subconscious sense of structure and her routines, it's a fresh kind of anticipation she exudes when she dresses in the morning knowing it's gym day or chooses to take a book to share with her playmates at storytime.

Till now, I've had to interrogate her about her day, and I've wondered whether I'd spend the next decade having to extract information from her tooth by baby tooth. Very suddenly she's realized that there are things happening in her life! Interesting things! With narrative value! And she wants to talk about them! All the time!

She tells me about her "theatre" course, the story they're enacting with a kind of chorus, about some pigs, three of them, tucked away in their little houses, afraid of the wolf. The wolf is mean.

She tells me how Marie-Claire took the yellow ball away from her and she started to cry cuz she wan't finished yet. But Julie got it back for her and Marie-Claire had to wait.

And she tells me she loves me, beaucoup beaucoup beaucoup. Oh, I am so lucky!