About Me

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If who we are is what we do, then like most people, I am a mixed bag of personas. Writer, bookworm, friend, are what first come to mind. Equally apt would be potty mouth, dog walker, Guinness drinker, swimmer, storyteller, political animal, baker and proud Canadian. Mostly though, I consider myself simply insanely lucky to have a small posse of near and dear ones who put up with me and my curvy, creative, curly haired, opinionated self. I started this blog several years ago with the idea to challenge myself in a myriad of ways. Years in, despite the sporadic entries, I still like to muse about the absurdity of life, what inspires surprises and angers me, books and other entertainments, my menagerie, my travels and any other notion buzzing round in my head.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hero Worship

I just finished the second book in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, The Girl Who Played with Fire. Like the first in the series, writing about this one can be tricky because you cannot discuss the plot in any way without fear of spoilers. Nonetheless, if I had to sum up this book into one word, it would be addictive. Larsson’s books do not possess particularly literary prose or evocative language. You won’t see them topping any “best of” lists, nor are they particularly good book club fodder. But what they lack in beauty and symbolism, they make up for in compelling story telling, interesting and complex characters and heart pounding drama. The story draws you in. Like millions others, I have lost hours sitting glued to the couch, racing through the pages, eager to find out what happens next.

It got me wondering about story telling in general and what constitutes a good tale. I am always inspired by an author who has the ability to completely transport the reader to another place. Good stories do that. But how? I’ve read all sorts of books. I have genres I like and those I don’t particularly gravitate towards. There are settings and themes I prefer over others. As a writer, naturally, I want my stuff to be good and appeal to someone else other than myself. I struggle, as many do, thinking my characters are flat or forgettable. Being unoriginal is what bothers me most. So what is it then that makes for good stories? I understand how to construct a sentence; how characters need an arc. I’m pretty good at writing dialogue. But on a broader sense, I am interested in understanding the chemistry of a good story; its components, interactions, characteristics. I doubt there’s a magic combination, but some common properties exist for sure - love, conflict, memorable characters, loss, humour, adversity.

I recently blogged about Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture. I flat out loved that book. I was drawn to the unhurried poetic words. Reading it inspired and left me feeling like I had experienced something beautiful. But I thoroughly enjoyed Larsson’s books too. Two drastically different and yet so very satisfying reading experiences that I immediately set to roaming around the internet to find a place where I can order Larsson’s third installment of Millennium Trilogy (arriving from the UK in October) and expect Barry’s The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty to be delivered any day now. I like that my taste in books is eclectic. Despite my efforts this year to take one thing at a time, I still frequently find myself with a few books on the go simultaneously. A writing professor friend of mine may have pointed me in the right direction when he recommended that I should read, Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I’m still savoring it, but have read enough to summarize the gist here. Campbell was a renowned American author, mythologist and specialist in comparative religion. The point of his book is that there is really only one story; a basic structure to every story that Campbell calls the monomyth. Essentially it goes something like this: the hero of the story leaves his every day life, to venture out into the big wide world in search of something. Along the way, he is hindered and helped by various forces and/or individuals. Ultimately the hero succeeds and returns home to share what he has found with those he left behind. The world is a better place for it. I’m paraphrasing of course. Campbell itemizes various stages in the hero’s journey, but ultimately, this is what stories, what myths are all about. Sounds simple doesn’t it?

Simple, but for one who frets over originality this was initially depressing. I mean, if it is true that there are really no new stories, then what is the point? I will likely always write, at least for myself. I cannot see that changing. But my rather large ego would prefer that my work not be a retread of something that’s come before. Frankly, I was rather pissed at Campbell for a while. There’s no question in my mind, that his idea is sound. Applied to every kind of story I can think of, his structure holds. Brilliant. But, fuck! Who wants to think that their work ultimately is predictable?

I googled Joseph Campbell. On the Joseph Campbell Foundation website, is a link to references relating to his personal philosophy “follow your bliss”. Now this I can relate to!! Campbell’s idea wasn’t just about doing things you like, but in identifying that which you are truly passionate about and giving yourself to it fully. And then I got it. It is in following this passion, doing what makes you tremble with joy, following it however it comes about and wherever it takes you, that you (or your characters) live their story. It is the journey that is the unique part. While the structure maybe archetypal, each journey is unique, as unique as the person (or hero) taking it. Whew! I am sooo bloody relieved. I have no idea whether my stories will entertain as I have been entertained. But formula or no, I continue my journey and if it needed a title, my story could be "The Girl who Gave it a Shot... or Two, or Twenty." Hey, at least my aim's improving.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Munchkin Alert

At 5 weeks old today, and with just a few more til she comes to live with me and Murph, I received these pics of Matilda and her litter mates. Too cute not to share.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Happiness is a warm puppy!

It's just over three weeks until wee Matilda joins the family. In prepping for her arrival, I've found myself thinking of the past years with Murphy and remembering the day I brought him home. What a cute little bundle of white fur he was. I've said this before, but it bears repeating, he was by far, one of the best decisions I have ever made. My life has been remarkably changed since his arrival. He makes me smile daily and centres me in ways I would never have imagined.

From the pictures which I've received of Mattie and her litter mates, I suspect she'll be every bit as adorable as Murphy was as a pup. Charles Schultz had it right. Happiness is indeed a warm puppy.

In browsing around blogland earlier today, I stumbled on a list of simple life lessons gleaned from a dog's life. When I think of Murphy and look forward to the joy which Matilda will bring to my life, I am reminded of how true much of this is:

When loved ones come home, always run to greet them.
Never pass up the opportunity to go for a joyride.
Allow the experience of fresh air and the wind in your face to be pure Ecstasy.
Take naps.
Stretch before rising.
Run, romp, and play daily.
Avoid biting when a simple growl will do.
On warm days, stop to lie on your back on the grass.
On hot days, drink lots of water and lie under a shady tree.
When you're happy, dance around and wag your entire body.
Delight in the simple joy of a long walk.
Be loyal.
Never pretend to be something you're not.
If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it.
When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently.

I have no doubt that I am in store for many licks, romps and marvelous moments with the arrival of Matilda. As I sit here writing, Murph's backside keeping my feet warm as he snores away on the end of the couch, I know what a good thing it is to have a dog in your life. I feel excited in the same way we anticipated Christmas morning as kids. More good things are coming, that I know for sure.

The Secret Scripture

I love it when a something within the first paragraph or two of a story takes hold of me right from the start. I am caught up immediately wanting to dive in.

"Roseanne’s Testimony of Herself
(Patient Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, 1957- )

The world begins anew with every birth, my father used to say. He forgot to say, with every death it ends. Or did not think he needed to. Because for a goodly part of his life he worked in a graveyard."

Sebastian Barry’s novel, The Secret Scripture is the story of Roseanne McNulty, a 100year old patient in a decaying Irish mental hospital which is slated to be torn down. Realizing her advanced age and the possibility she will not live much longer, she sets out to write a record of her life as clearly as she can recall it. While Roseanne remembers and secretly documents her history stashing pages in the floorboards of her room, Dr. William Grene is charged with the task of assessing each of the patients under his care to determine if they are fit for reintegration to society. Gently probing Roseanne for any detail which might help him understand why she was committed to Sligo Mental Hospital some 40 years previously, Dr. Grene gets nowhere. With an edict from the Department of Health looming, determined to do right by Roseanne, he tries to figure out who this seemingly frail aged beauty is and what happened to her.

This story unfolds in the form of journal entries from them both; Dr. Grene’s notebook where he frets over Roseanne, castigates and psychoanalyzes himself as much for his lack psychiatric prowess as his own dysfunctional personal life; and Roseanne’s spidery hand of blue biro written sheets of secret testimony - her life beginning as a young girl in County Sligo during a time of political upheaval and turmoil in Ireland’s history.

"Sligo made me and Sligo undid me, but then I should have given up much sooner than I did being made or undone by human towns, and looked to myself alone. The terror and hurt in my story happened because when I was young I thought others were the authors of my fortune or misfortune; I did not know that a person could hold up a wall made of imaginary bricks and mortar against the horrors and cruel, dark tricks of time that assail us, and be the author therefore of themselves."

To be the author of oneself. There is something strong and resilient in that and so I dove in.

Barry has written a lovely and stirring tale. His language is poetic and expressive. I found myself rereading sentences just to enjoy the beauty of the way he has phrased things. He’s a wonderfully gifted author. There’s no shortage of awards and accolades which have been bestowed on Barry for this book too. But for the reader, our reward is a moving poetically masterful narrative of love and betrayal and the power that religion and the politics of the day played in the lives of some in rural Ireland.

I was going to end my blog entry there. But one more thing is still needling at me.

I was struck at one point in reading The Secret Scripture that Dr. Grene appeared to be attributing too charitable an attitude to those who had a hand in Roseanne’s history, ascribing the perspective that they did what they believed their faith dictated them to do at the time. As a modern woman living in 2009, these actions seemed atrocious to me.

As a preface to this book, the author includes a reference to a quote from the preface of Maria Edgeworth’s book Castle Rackrent. I haven’t read this work, but am intrigued by what I have read about it. If what I understand is true, it was written in 1800, and is considered one of the first good examples of narration from a point of view contrary to the actual players in the story. In this case, a slave to a wealthy landowner and family.

“Of the numbers who study, or at least read history, how few derive any advantage from their labours!... Besides, there is much uncertainty even in the best authenticated ancient and modern histories; and that love of truth, which in some minds is innate and immutable, necessarily leads to a love of secret memoirs and private anecdotes.”

I wonder now, having just considered this preface, that perhaps perspective and point of view do factor in here in a more significant manner than I originally considered. My natural, albeit arrogant, inclination is to believe that some things are simply right and some wrong. Taking Barry’s careful prefaced selection here and Dr. Grene’s attitude into consideration, I see compassion and understanding - that each of us is often caught up in things bigger than ourselves. History is written and rewritten over time again and again from various points of view. I take away here that the best we can do in any given moment is to own our own stories and live as truly as we know how.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Change is gonna come!

Change is eddying around me everywhere. Weirdly, I feel equally excited and daunted. September seems to bring about this kind of flux for me. This year, the changes have more impact to my day to day. On the horizon I can see some interesting things.

A joyful adjustment to the household as our new girl joins the fold ~ Puppies are wonderful, but tons of work. Sleep deprivation and some potential for damage from chewing are a given. The first six to eight months are the hardest. But looking at her picture (below), I know it will all be worth it in the end.

The resumption of writing classes ~ It is essential for me to keep the creative pump primed while I try hard to finalize my first draft by a February 1st deadline. It is not lost on me that having to be reasonably house bound while Little Miss is in training, is good for my writing routine. Having twisted the story’s plot and focus around, I find my writing is coming along well and elements are clicking into place. As anyone who has written anything knows, ideas can come tumbling out quickly. Sentences these days seem to be splashing out onto the page, like raindrops hitting the ground running all together. It’s a good feeling and one that I am relishing.

I am going to be moving in the coming year ~ it is all but officially decided. The time has come to buy my own place. Little ripples began occurring last year. (This is how things always come to me). A nibble of an idea. More rumbling. Some discussion with my gang for moral support. More mulling. And then usually a strangely coincidental sign or two to shove me along a path. I’ve been struggling with the notion that to buy, I was going to have to sacrifice lifestyle. I love my current neighbourhood and have lived here for many years. I could never afford to own a home here. That said, my flat needs some repair and our landlord is dragging her feet these days. Having spent weeks crunching numbers, I know what I can afford. Browsing MLS listings, I was beginning to think it was a condo (which smacks annoyingly of fishbowl to me) or a wee house on the outskirts or even suburbs of the city. I don’t mind Mississauga or Oakville. I enjoyed living there when I did, but I am essentially a city girl. I love the feel of the city, the options available to me for entertainment, transit, shopping and such. Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, clean safe and livable. This is important to me. Feeling mired down by the give and take of what I have now versus what I can afford, I was beginning to wonder if I should rethink this decision. And then there they were… on my daily scrounge through real estate listings online, I found three really cute little houses just right for me. Homes in the city, near a park, close to all that I want. It is possible… and I am psyched.

September is a good take stock kind of month. For me, as the leaves begin to change, so is life as I have lived it these past few years. Quiet and familiar routines are about to be replaced by a different more hectic schedule of work, writing classes, daily training for the puppy and a stricter regime than the one Murphy and I follow. My pennies will get careful attention in the coming months as most extras go by the wayside as I continue to save for my new house. For a girl with a large latte factor, this is an adjustment. Trust me.

In taking a look at the coming year, there is a comforting symmetry to it all. My new puppy means sticking close to home for a while. My writing and saving for a house only benefit from this need. It’s cool how it all falls so neatly together. There is a harmony here. Just another sign to me that I’m on the right track. I have never been one to baulk at change. However difficult it can be, I have learned that there is usually some good to come out of it. If my gut is accurate, the changes of the coming year, although at times a challenge, will shepherd in a new season in my life. That is something to be excited about.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Joy of Chocolate

I am excited beyond belief!!!

I don't usually post twice in one day, but this deserved it's own space.

The countdown is officially on. 38 DAYS. Just over one month.

On October 15th, our wee family will grow, with the addition of a beautiful girl, a chocolate lab puppy. Having spent the day yesterday up in Arthur, Ontario at the breeders it is all arranged. She was born August 20th and only just opened her eyes 2 days ago. Although we couldn't touch her yet or take any pictures, she was as beautiful as can be with a little scrunched up face and little mewing sounds coming from her.

I am thrilled to bits and eagerly anticipating her arrival. I have lots to do to puppy proof the house again. Murphy, of course, has no clue what is up, but very shortly our lives will get a lot busier. He's about to become a big brother and in my view there's no boy better to teach our girl the ropes.

Am still mulling over names, which is the fun part. Looking for something meaningful to me. A unique name, beautiful and gentle. Trying out names from favourite books, authors, activists, saints, Irish poets and mythological women, German (we do have an iota of German in our background too don't forget) writers and thinkers. It's a big deal to get the right name. But I still have a few weeks.

No matter what we call her, she'll be a joy. Joy? Hmmm.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

It’s a tough thing to write about a book when you cannot discuss the plot without fear of spoilers. Such is my dilemma in reviewing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Swedish author, Stieg Larsson. Crime novels and thrillers, in the Robert Ludlum or Jeffrey Archer vein are not my usual reads. But I found this book more engaging than the lighter fare of other books in this genre. These characters are flawed and memorable and for this Canadian chick, a story set in both Stockholm and the fictitious town of Hedestad on the Swedish archipelago, was a refreshingly new environment to explore. Not much more can be said about this plot than that it involves an unfairly disgraced financial journalist who is hired freelance to write about the disappearance of the young niece of a prominent industrialist.

Not wanting to give anything away, you will just have to read it for yourself. But one thing is for sure, while enjoying this thoroughly engaging, and at times twisted thriller you will be in good company. People all over the world seem to be on the same page. While in Europe this summer, I saw several people, nose down lost in this book. As Spanish translations occupied commuters in Barcelona, a week or so later I noted stacks of this book in the Irish bookshops I visited in Clare. Upon returning home, during a usual book exchange with my Mom, both my youngest sister and Mom were raving about Larsson’s books. While I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo this week, two of my work colleagues were also lapping it up, one of whom had bought the book on her recent trip home to Norway (she is reading the Norwegian translation).

As an aspiring author, Larsson’s is a phenomenal accomplishment. As I understand it, he wrote The Millennium Trilogy, which includes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, mostly for his own pleasure at night after work (which in and of itself is incredibly cool). He worked primarily as a journalist and political activist. When he died suddenly in 2004, he left the three finished manuscripts unpublished. They went on to be printed posthumously. While the surprising circumstances of his death and the subsequent squabbling over his estate are interesting, Larsson’s legacy is, from having read just one book, the excitement of a story told that keeps you on the edge of your seat and leaves you wanting more.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tu ne cede malis sed contra audentior ito!

It is time to face it.

Avoidance is not going to make it go away.

Having blatantly snubbed the topic for a while, its time to get back to the weightier focus of this blog. Anyone remotely perceptive would have noted the "ugh" entry in the Pounds section, which I made after my trip . I have had nothing short of a complete and utter setback in my efforts to lose weight. A trip to Europe for sure, but to be more accurate, any remotely enjoyable summer activity, does not appear to be conducive to my weight loss program. In fact, I had recently come to the depressing conclusion that I am not going to be able to sustain any real weight loss, unless I give up drinking, going to movies and out to dinner all together. As a social gal, with a standing date for pints every week with one set of friends or another, this bites. But after several weeks of yo-yoing up and down the scale, losing weight through the week, only to blow it on the weekend, I just gave up trying. I was even well on my way to convincing myself that living my life happily (which means socially too) is more important than anything else. I am so incredibly frustrated with myself. I hate that I have not been able to master this. I am successful and accomplished in so many parts of my life, why do I fail in this one area? Its irksome. Worse yet, my feelings flip flop back and forth on this issue incredibly.

One one hand, there is what I know intellectually. I am not defined by what I look like. I am wonderful just as I am. Although an emotionally healthy outlook, I don't think this helps encourage me to a physically healthier MB. I also believe that there is nothing I cannot do if I really try. And I know that it is simply not smart to carry excess weight. The long term negative affects on my quality of life will certainly be felt as I age. I hope, like most people, to live to a ripe old age: active, alert and reasonably self sufficient. Being heavy decreases my chances of doing so. I have been known to be a bit of a whirlwind at times, and consider myself a veritable force of nature in terms of accomplishing something I really want. With all this knowledge floating around in my head, does this mean, on some level, that I don't really want to lose this weight?

On the other hand, there is what I feel emotionally about myself. My body image, my ego and how I cope with having failed myself in this regard. Breaking it down more specifically, the body image thing is a tough one. There are many things I love about the way I look. Being buxom and curvy is cool. Having plenty of wobbly bits, not so much. A more sensitive subject for me is how I feel when I realize that someone is responding to me purely based on how I look. It's unlikely that anyone who is an average size would really understand this, but being big does affect how people respond to you. I have been called fat. I have felt rejection because I'm chubby. I have felt people look right through me on their way to more classically beautiful women. This smarts. I can rationalize it and remind myself of how fabulous I am and how small these people are, but it doesn't help the fact that at the time, I feel a little bit bruised. When I realize that I have control over this situation; that I can change how I look, my frustration shifts from the insensitive person who may have hurt me to myself, knowing that I am hurting myself by not doing something proactive about my weight.

In the end, this is all up to me. Like every other success and each failure in my life, I own this. I still refuse to give up. Perhaps, all I need is a kick in the pants. Maybe I need to get some assistance (she says wincing at the notion of some trainer barking orders for one more set... sigh). Possibly, (shudder) I should consider light beer.

I'll figure it out. I'll give it another go, if for no other reason than that giving up on trying to lose weight, feels a lot like giving up on me. And that, is simply not an option!

Yield not to misfortunes, but advance all the more boldly against them!