June 23, 2015

Don’t Judge A Book By Association: June 23, 2015

For all of my previously noted (both real and perceived) snobbery about books, how I select reading material is sometimes less than particular.  Such was the case with Bend in the River (which was a good book, but not great).  I also fall into the trap of being ever-hopeful in the case of an author who had a brilliant book or two and then proceeded to churn out pulp.  John Brunner, for example, wrote The Shockwave Rider*, The Sheep Look Up**, and Stand on Zanzibar***, and then an endless succession of absolutely pedestrian crap.

But I digress (heck, given a chance to talk about those 3 previous books, I’m liable to wander).  One of my other oft-repeated book-buying traps is to buy the book that the band was named after.  Not even because I liked the band, but because the name piqued my interested.  This worked out really well for The Grapes of Wrath, for example.  I stumbled across The 39 Steps in high school, also thanks to an idie band of the same name.  There are many more and I will think of them all in the middle of the night tonight.  This is the way I’ve chosen many a book over the years.

This is not always the best strategy, however.

See, I have a very vivid memory of purchasing The Velvet Underground (neat!  I recognize that band name! Quirky!).  I had been wandering around my favourite used bookstore and I stumbled across this book.  When I brought it to the counter, the store’s proprietor (for whom I’d babysat, and who knows me and my family rather well) made some sort of confused comment and raised an eyebrow.  I realized I’d been caught out on choosing a book for an extremely dubious reason, but rather than let on that this was how I’d actually chosen the book, I more or less bluffed that I’d chosen it deliberately because I knew of the book and wanted to read it.

Just to give you an idea of why this might have caused a tiny bit of consternation…and a whole lot of embarrassment when I finally opened it up to have a look-see…here is the beginning of the description from Chapters:

Swingers and swappers, strippers and streetwalkers, sadists, masochists, and sexual mavericks of every persuasion; all are documented in this legendary exposé of the diseased underbelly of ’60s American society.


So no, I don’t always give careful thought to my choice of reading material…if you’ve ever wondered.

Day 235 scorecard: 1175 down, 660 to go

* Which he wrote in the 70s and which basically predicted having an online life and various of the strange effects this would have on social relationships…

** Predicting the radical ecology movements, the collapse of inter-related systems, the politicking and lobbying that blocks change, and the radical fighters…

*** On par with 1984 and Brave New World as the best of the best dystopian Sci-Fi.  ALSO incredibly prescient but also including a radical writing style that seems not-so-weird now, but which was bizarre 45 years ago.

June 22, 2015

Narrative Frustrations: June 22, 2015

I’m in a book club (I know you’re shocked).  I used to run a book club, too, and then I got sick and tired of organizing it all the time, so I stopped.

Once per year, one member’s husband provides a list of books from which we pick one and then he “lectures” us on it.*  (It’s less weird when you’re aware that he is an English professor.)

This is my third (or 4th?) year participating in this event, and each year we discuss how the book of choice somehow frustrates the readers’ expectations.**  Often it’s because the writer doesn’t follow the structure that a standard novel follows: the beginning, the build up, the climatic event, the winding-up.  Instead, the “frustrating” books might follow that structure over and over, or they might never reach a winding-up, or they might not ever coalesce into a central narrative.  Somehow, they nod at the conventions, toy with them, and then flout them. This year’s book, Manhattan Transfer, for example, had the city as the main character. It’s frustrating.  I’ve used that word a lot in this paragraph, so I’ll move on.

As I was driving home, I thought about how this fragmentation and refusal to follow a narrative is a lot more true to life than any plot-driven story could ever possibly be.  It’s like the silliness of the 30 minute mysteries: it might be impossible to know whodunit right now, but you can be sure it will all come to a tidy end by the time the cuckoo pops out of the clock.  Real life is entirely made up of fragmentation and frustration.  You might see the smoking gun, but if you missed seeing it fired, you’ll never really know what happened.  Or that intriguing snippet of conversation you overheard?  You will never know how it turned out.  Questions go unanswered all the time in real life and people who were the centre of your world can vanish without a trace. People die without answering important questions.  There aren’t even any chapter headings so you know things are going to change.  Life is untidy.

My real life feels extremely untidy right now just by virtue of un-tethering ourselves from this house.  We’re opting out of a particular story arc…probably. We’ve not yet listed our house, we’ve not yet even truly begun to prepare to list it, but we’re beginning to psychologically imagine life without it, beyond it.  It’s a little bit exhilarating to think about possibilities when the familiar confines are dropped, but it’s also terrifying.  Our narrative is off the rails at the moment, and I’m afraid of feeling frustrated without the clearly defined tracks laid out in front of us.  Each time we look at a house (online or for real) it’s all about constructing a story around what that structure would mean and the effect it would have on our lives.

I didn’t enjoy Manhattan Transfer, but I really appreciated it.  I was amazed at how anachronistic it seemed…but in the opposite sense: it seemed as though it was written recently, looking back at the early part of the last century.  I appreciated the tension created by not following the path of expectation.

But I didn’t enjoy it.

Old, well-worn, reliable things are often extremely comforting and soothing.  Can I stand to make such a huge change?

Day 234 scorecard: 1170 down, 665 to go

* Funny story: this husband is a friend I know from back in my grad school days…whom I then ran into in the smallest of small towns here when our firstborns were merely wee lads…and then our daughters went to daycare together.  It’s all very odd.

** and by “readers” I mean “book club members” and by “frustrate” I mean “most of us usually hate the book.”

June 21, 2015

It’s All In Your Head: June 21, 2015

I don’t know what you, dear reader, are doing right now, but whatever it is you should immediately stop doing that and get yourself to a movie theatre to see Inside Out.

This is a movie that takes on a very simple story: girl moves with parents to the other side of the country and her used-to-be perfect life vanishes and she is angry and fearful and disgusted.  The majority of the action takes place in her head and each of the previously mentioned emotions plus joy and sadness are personified in colour-coded characters.

It is a compelling and visually appealing story combined with a fascinatingly simplified depiction of how we form and keep memories and our personalities.  I’m not going to give away the ending, but the resolution of the movie provides beautiful insight into how our personalities develop and become more nuanced as we grow older and have more experiences.

One of our children has had a lot of trouble with anxiety and he was blown away by this movie.  A couple of years ago, we did some visualizing work to help him learn to manage his responses to life.  We talked about his responses as “guys” who were in a race inside his head.  His guys were divided differently, though.  He has Emotional Guy, Rational Guy, and Values Guy.  His trouble is that Emotional is a big bully.  He is faster, and stronger, and more determined than the other guys.  He trips the other two and is not above attempting to pretend they don’t even exist.  Our work focussed on distracting Emotional so that Rational and Values had a fair shot at arriving at the finish line.

Interestingly enough, the running I do was a really great way to explain that this is a race that is more like a marathon than a sprint.  The important part is for everyone to cross the finish line, even if sometimes we need to go back and help a friend out.

Until about a year ago (and occasionally every so often now) I would regularly need to say things like “Values Guy wants to know what kind of kid you actually want to be.”

He really responded to this and became accustomed to seeing his responses as being under his control.

He was an enormous fan of this film.  He was thrilled at how “workable” it was for him.

So we came home, all agreeing Clara was the living embodiment of Joy.*  Everyone proceeded to get ready for bed.  Then Clara came into my room, sobbing, holding her music box in one hand with its spinning dancer in her other hand?

“Where did Joy go?” I asked, as I took the music box and dancer from her hand, “I see sadness!”

I popped it back on and wound it up and it worked!  Joy came right back to play.  Solomon stood by, ready to fix whatever had gone wrong for Clara.  “That was a great idea that they made that movie,” he said, “I think it’ll be really good for kids.”


So what is the 5Down theme?  I loved the things it did not do: it did not cast a boy in the lead (although I could make an argument about how boys need more attention paid to their emotional development, but it was too good for that, so I won’t).  It did not treat children’s emotions as less real or serious than adults’ emotions. It did not provide a solution that came from others.  It didn’t make distinctions between male brains and female brains.  Or, for that matter, animals’ brains.

Emotional vocabulary is a really great thing to have.  I remember the first time I actually experienced nostalgia. I’d read about it when I was too young to actually conceptualize what it was.  I felt the feeling and it took me a long time to realize what it was – a painful mixture of looking back on joyful times that I could never return to even though I would have given anything to return there.  It really took me aback when I was finally able to draw that word out of my memory because I could remember being really focussed on trying to understand what nostalgia could possibly mean when I was just too young to get the concept.  Inside Out felt like a full-colour illustration of how this all worked.  You need to go see it.  With your kids (if you have them).

Day 233 scorecard: 1165 down, 660 to go

* Clara labelled me Sadness, Mike Anger, Solomon Fear, and Max she thought he’d have to be Disgust because that was all that was left, but Max really didn’t fit Disgust.  I’m not sure how we feel about these.  Solomon shrugged.

June 20,2015

Happy Hitching: June 20, 2015

While we were out, our children gathered together the 5Down goods for today and wrote them up on the chalkboard.  This is the life, people.  Older kids are the bomb.

And I would like to take a moment to say Happy Wedding to YOU, Liam and Ashley.  Ashley 5Downed her last name and they both 5Downed singledom.  The rain soaked everything nicely yesterday and then the sun burst out and dried everything up for the perfect outdoor setting and then it’s going to rain for days.  Good planning, guys, and thanks for the help, weather.  Those were two extraordinarily happy people (and not just on account of the great good fortune with the weather).

You can dress us up...

You can dress us up…

Happy times.

Day 232 scorecard: 1160 down, 665 to go

June 19, 2015

And No Souvenir Costumes! June 19, 2015

Sometimes the star of the show is the guy behind the spotlight.

Max and his good buddy Conor “manned” the spotlights at the school play tonight and they were fabulous.  No costumes needed, no worrying about lines, no keeping on key.  They lit up the show.

I did laugh a little when my mother (who went last night) commented on how great the lighting was…but they really did use those 2 spotlights to keep the audience focussed on the featured ‘bit’ throughout the show.

Last night Mike took Clara, tonight I took Solomon.  Great quality kid time.

Day 231 scorecard: 1155 down, 670 to go

June 18, 2015

A Sewing Post for Monica: June 18, 2015

I am so proud of myself tonight.  I hemmed a skirt with an actual needle and thread.  This is because the scotch tape I had used when the original hem fell out had come open.  As it happens, scotch tape is not the greatest method for hemming.  Neither, if you’re wondering, is hemming tape.  Hemming tape seems like a super quick fix, but it inevitably comes unstuck and then you’re faced with a reopened hem that is now full of sticky nasty goo.

Sometimes trying to save time is a huge time waster.

I have some excellent sewing skills (that is, when I put them in contrast with the regular world.  If I’m comparing my sewing skills to those of my sister, my cousin Monica, my friend Medrie, and various other folk I know, I sew about as well as a two year old) but for some reason, I almost never use them these days.  This is a great shame, because my ban on clothes-shopping (which expires in September) means that I have many clothes that I should alter, and that I can alter, but which I do not alter.  I spend a lot of time thinking and planning, but I don’t do.

It’s the same with my bike.  I have a basket that needs to be lined.  Instead of sewing a liner for it, I have spent a lot of time carefully wedging things into that basket in such a way that the items will not go flying.  I am rewarded with varying levels of success and many head-shakes by varying onlookers (mostly incredulous men, for some reason).   I’ve learned that my yoga mat provides the exact amount of resistance when I wedge my wallet between it and the corner of the basket.

I guess this rambling, tenuously connected post is meant to tell you that it is true: a stitch in time saves nine. And adhesive is no substitute for stitches (nine or otherwise).

Day 230 scorecard: 1150 down, 675 to go

June 17, 2015

Assigning Value: June 17, 2015

Tonight, whilst running, I was joking about disliking a famous book just for the sheer joy of dissing something because it is famous.  This led to me pondering how I had avoided, for a long time, reading the book J K Rowling published after she’d left off with Harry et al.

I’m reading it now and absolutely loving it.  Passionately loving it.  I mean, it’s not great literature or anything anyone will be made to read in university, but it’s a gloriously grubby view into the underbelly of a small town.

But it’s so strange to me to realize why I almost did not read this book:

1. Because I heard a review that said it was nasty and

2. Because I cynically thought it was only published because she was leveraging her fame into a new book deal.

You’ll note that neither of those things had anything to do with the intrinsic value of the book.

All of which just made me stop and think, yet again, about how we assign value and for what strange reasons.

I’d offer more than just this nod in the general direction of the assignment of value, but all that running has tired me out.

Day 229 scorecard: 1145 down, 680 to go