Thursday, April 30, 2009

We all scream for ice cream

Actually, I don't scream. I get my spoon into position. Favourites:

Vanilla Gelato
Not an ice cream, but it's my blog and I'll count it if I want to.

Haagen Dasz Vanilla Swiss Almond
Fun Fact: If you're living in an el-cheapo apartment with a tepid freezer, the standard tub is small enough to eat at one sitting. As is the second you walk back to the store for. If you move to a better apartment, the protein and dairy make it an acceptable substitute for breakfast. Assuming your metabolism looks like a rabbit in motion.

Baskin-Robbins Mint Chocolate Chip and regular Chocolate Chip and for milkshakes, Gold Medal Ribbon
Fun Fact: When my parents moved us to a new town they successfully bribed me out of throwing any more tantrums about it by pointing out that unlike the old one, the new town had a Baskin-Robbins.

Orange Sherbet
Again, not an ice cream.
Fun Fact: I used to get this with Bob Walsh at Christie's Dairy, either poured into a plastic cone with a giant gumball in the bottom, or molded over a stick that had a pirate-related scene molded onto that. We also used to get popsicles there molded over a plastic chainlike stick you could assemble into structures if you collected enough of them. And boy, did we collect enough.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Neuroenhance this!

I finally had time to read Brain Gain in a recent issue of the New Yorker, concerning the off-label self-medicating habits of people who feel they need extra brain power to juggle parties, work, and study. Er, is it brain power they're after, or the fantasy of adequate functioning in the absence of sleep?

I found this article both fascinating and depressing. You can sharpen your mind through exercise, healthy eating, learning, social contact, touch... so many things, all of which benefit your body and in some ways, your community as well, which initiates a longer cycle of improvement. Or you can take a pill that temporarily lets you do more than your body was ever intended to take on. And even outside the drug companies it seems an awful lot of think the pill option is a huge and positive advance for humankind. I'm going to go all moral and ethical about this and say Ew.

What really struck me though was Margaret Talbot's conclusion, in which she notes the challenge our technology-festooned society poses to the ability to focus on a particular task. Did I mention I learned how to use a drop spindle last weekend? Because I managed to focus on twisting loose animal fiber into string for two hours without so much as registering the time, and since then I've been pretty high-functioning on the whole time-management thing. Wouldn't it be cool to see a multi-million-dollar industry built up around that?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ideas in the ether

Remember the other day I was saying it seems like ideas float around in the air and people just seem to pull down the ones they like the look of?

Well, the other day I was learning how to design a sweater pattern and the math portion of the day came just about exactly when any caffeine consumption had fizzled out and the rainy view outside the window sank in. Ugh, I said to my neighbour. I know, she said, and proposed an unconventional, math-free technique for making a sweater pattern I won't share in case she's going to do anything professional with it. Unconventional and also familiar. H'mmm, I said. I myself was thinking of a more hybrid approach. And I described an Evil Idea I'd had to get around fitting problems fast.

No way! she said. I was thinking of that exact thing the other day!

So there you go. Ether. We might both end up being too lazy to take it any further, but it's sort of validating to know I'm not the only person who liked the idea enough to pull it out of the air and take a closer look.

Monday, April 27, 2009

All my worldly goods

I had an Aha! moment reading Not Yet the other night, when Wayson Choy described the loss of all his things after a serious asthma attack made it clear he could not be in dusty, cluttered spaces. Those things, he writes, were possibilities.

That one word rung out loud and clear. It hadn't struck me before how we (and I especially) accumulate things - collectibles, clothes, books, project and hobby paraphernalia - or that they represent what we want for our future. They aren't even a commitment to that future. They're just an image of its potential, a goal to keep us going.

Yesterday I sat with a woman as she ripped out many inches of a sweater she started a year ago so that she could remake it into something that would work for her. Faced with that kind of disaster, a sweater near completion before I realized it wouldn't fit, I know I would roll the project into a ball and stuff it into a closet to deal with another day. I know this because I have one doing that right now; it's festering in there, transforming slowly from potential into burden, telling me not what I could be but what I have failed to achieve. Better to give such a thing away to be somebody else's possibility, and free yourself. Better even than that to let go of what wasn't to be and transform the lost dream into a useful reality.

Just not until after I'm finished the current short story. Or at least today's stint with it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

So sew something!

I feel a new procrastination coming on. It started a couple of weeks ago when I was looking at the grocery store's selection of magazines and noticed that Threads magazine had an issue on fitting. Another (misleading to knitters) headline mentioned knits (turns out to mean knit fabrics, not knitting.)

My eyebrows went up but my hands stayed on the cart. I looked at it twice more thinking yeah, but I don't sew my own clothes any more (because it was such a pain to get the fit right.) I don't have time. I don't have space. Then I had a super scary drive to the same store and made a beeline for the magazine and bought it. Who cares if I'm not going to use it? I thought. I'll have it if I ever need it.

Well, since then I've been thinking about garment construction in knitting... and the coming hot weather for which I have already decided I need a new small but flexible wardrobe, and... h'mmm. But this time it will be different. I'm going to try the fitting without any pattern at all! That should take up even more time I should be spending writing, don't you think?

ps for the record, I did a lot more writing this week and I like all of it so far. take that, procrastination girl!

Friday, April 24, 2009

It must be spring

Yes, it's true - in the midst of the full schedule, I went shopping last night. Not really for fun, though when is shopping entirely not fun? Don't answer that.

So maybe my purchases were not thrill-inducing, but they could have been. An amusement park fair thing was set up in the parking lot of my target department store, complete with a Model T Ford ride that tugged kids along a track at a pace only slightly faster than snail, presumably to avoid seatbelt obligations. It was so pretty out in the warm spring air, with all the coloured lights and bobbing bags of candy floss and giant stuffed toys you would never, ever win and a ferris wheel with spinning cages that are probably a hoot for other people with more settled stomachs than my own. I could have slipped in there if I'd wanted and thrown a ball at a target or ridden a ride maybe, unless grownups are too tall to climb into snail-outpacing Model T Fords.

But I went home instead of doing those things because I am committed to my work schedule: I was born to knuckle down when there are deadlines to meet. And also, I'm more of a carousel kind of girl.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Time management

I had a lovely conversation with my project manager today about the editing work I'm doing for her over the next two weeks, and as I noted it all down on the calendar, I had one of those dry-mouth moments. I have been toying with the notion of taking some courses this weekend and had just gotten to the point of being really quite desperate to take them, but I also have two papers due Monday morning. And sleep to acquire.

In fairly short order I realized I can do it all, as long as I budget my time and stick to that budget. Here's what I do in this sort of serious pinch: I mock up a calendar form for however long the nightmare schedule is likely to last, and make a list of all the individual tasks I can think of that lead to completed projects. Then I note the due dates and figure out where I have free or multi-taskable time, and note down any other events that fall into that period, which is where I usually remember tasks like wrapping a present I had the good fortune to buy a couple of months ago by accident, or getting a nice topper for the gift for a party I thought was a week sooner than it is.

And then, when I've filled in all the available slots with necessary tasks and I have a sense of control over my existence, I go prowling for chocolate.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chocoholics Not Anonymous

I knew it wasn't my imagination! Now there's proof that chocoholism is more than just a cute phrase!

And I have it. Also cakeoholism and bananabreadaholism, Mary said through a mouthful of same.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where my ideas come from

There are enough related themes running around in my head at any given time to make a pretty hot collage if I were more about art than words. The current cycle:

psychic communication
loss and opportunity

Wait a minute - I was sure there was ice cream in there somewhere.... No? What a morbid girl I am.

Moving right along: the thing I find most interesting is how these ideas are linked and reinforced by friends keeping me up to date with their own ideas and experiences, and by events in the media, and by the books I am reading. I've heard that concepts float around in the ether and we all pluck them out to examine them, leading to shared interests and familiar plots in novels. But I wonder whether we are plucking what has already engaged us? Like when you don't see white trenchcoats anywhere until you buy one, and then they're everywhere.

Monday, April 20, 2009

In C

Yesterday I found myself feeling a lot overwhelmed by everything I've thrown into my To Do bucket. So naturally I pulled out some skeins of yarn to whap over the back of a chair and wind into balls.

Before I started - stopping in the middle of winding yarn has sometimes led me to a knotty tangle of Godzilla-like proportions - I flipped on the radio. Sunday afternoons are usually opera, and while I despised opera for many years I like it now. What was playing was not, however, opera. It was In C. Translation: I was trapped in a room filled with the very clear sound of many different musicians playing the same very very few notes over and over again in the same sequence, the actual notes shifting to a new set occasionally to be repeated for just short of infinity. And it lasted for nearly an hour, because I tuned in late.

Though I love Philip Glass, I could feel my nerve endings pop listening to this. I kicked myself when I realized I had finished one skein and set up for the next without taking the time to turn it off, until I noticed I'd relaxed a little, whether because of the repetitive yarn-winding or the repetitive sounds I couldn't say. By the time the sounds had wound down to one single piano key pressed briskly and insistently until suddenly it stopped I was feeling a lot better. If I hadn't had yarn in my hands I would have applauded along with the audience: I was glad it was over, but I was also glad I'd heard it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weekend getaways

I spent my Saturday out of town at a thing for the yarn-obsessed. Not therapy as such - though that might have been useful - unless you count the retail variety. All the way there I thought, I should be writing. And then I didn't even wait to get inside before I struck up a conversation with a very nice woman about the spinning wheel at her side.

Things I did not buy:
A spinning wheel
A box of hand-dyed roving to spin into yarn
Mohair-wool blend hand-dyed yarn

Better not to ask what I did buy; you'll only encourage me. It's enough to know that I don't need to shop for yarn again for a very, very long time. Like more than a year, probably. And to keep up my procrastinatory efforts should any of that fail me, I treated myself to a drop spindle (aka another thing you really don't want to know anything more about.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tax Season

ugh. Every year in the days following Christmas I think, I'm definitely pulling together the tax numbers now so my return will go in early this time. And every year I find something else to do. Sometimes I put a lot of effort into the procrastination, by painting or overhauling the house or cooking elaborate meals or something. This time I think I just napped.

And now here I am, with two weeks or so to go, leafing through the monetary evidence of last year's memories, deeming them frivolous, well-deserved, or downright astonishing (those gas bills!) and reflecting on the time that's past as though it were New Year's. Which reminds me again that I really should do this job in December for multitasking advantage: the full benefit of reflection + proof of wise and poor choices + resolutions and clear motivation to improve in future = the luxury of enjoying the spring weather guilt-free.

I'm thinking it's okay this time that I procrastinated, though, because now I get to work at a desk with a view. The investment in which I will be able to wait until next year to deem foolish or brainy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Maybe it's because I never went to a school with a uniform, or maybe it's because I've always been interested in multitasking, or maybe it's because swift decision-making has never been my strong point, but from girlhood I've been a sucker for the idea of a 10-piece wardrobe that takes you through a whole season.

It was those photo spreads in my mother's Woman's Day and Family Circle magazines that started me off, I think. And then when I started sewing - you could buy patterns with enough different pieces to make a coordinating wardrobe of skirt, dress, vest, shirt etc. I ate that stuff up and still do. But this past winter: this was the pinnacle. I pared myself down to one pair of jeans, one skirt, and one dress that I rotated almost without interruption, aided and abetted by three long-sleeve Ts and two short-sleeve Ts to layer over them and one pair of woolly leggings. Nine pieces! and they all folded up small! and nobody knew because it was winter and everybody had a giant coat and hat on.

Well, those days are gone as of today. We're getting real spring/summer weather that's way too warm for a hat or a coat... I'll have to call my hair finally grown out enough from last October's miscalculation and get it trimmed, and figure out a new mini-wardrobe. Shopping doesn't count as procrastination, does it?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Library Shelf

I am loving the library at the moment, what with needing to know things only written in out of print books (which is quite a perplexity in itself; why does it often take so long for people to figure out that a book is invaluable that the publisher has long since given up on it?)

I had this situation in mind when I organized the desk-wedging exercise last weekend, and left most of one shelf free to house the books I can have in three-week intervals. Up to nine, in fact, if nobody else needs them, though most of the time there's a lineup of people who do.

All this research I'm doing has made books as magical to me as when I was little and first reading on my own. I'm leaping into specialized material that isn't available to me any other way, from people I might never meet who live in places I might never go. It's quite a thing, really, this notion of recording information for the benefit of others. I may never have anything as useful to share but it sure does make me glad to be a writer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Time (mis)management

I'm a pretty good multitasker. I can talk on the phone, clean the kitchen, make a meal, check whether my shoes work with my outfit, and clean out my e-mail simultaneously without dropping a ball.*

I can concentrate well too, having gone to an elementary school built with few interior walls. The idea was to throw a few hundred little kids into a big room with a library in the middle and nests for each class along the walls with nothing more than tall blackboards on wheels to mark the divisions. You could hear and see everything, all the time. Apparently the kids who did best in this environment were the ones from big families, go figure... mine, though not as big as some, was apparently big enough because I learned to tune out whatever I need to when it's time to get work done.

Unfortunately this is not true for my current project. I'm experiencing 'reverse gravitational pull', something that usually comes up when a story isn't ready to write--it's as though my fingers are being forced away from the keyboard. So today I'm going to try a trick St. Jude recommended: work for 30 minutes, break for 5. And to be sure I don't dawdle online, I'm going to work on paper in a computer-free room. Wish me luck.

*this is merely imagery, since you will note there were no balls in the aforementioned list. In fact, I do sometimes burn the meal.

Monday, April 13, 2009

That was a surprise

Over the weekend's ramblings I picked up a copy of a 1950s sci-fi action story about a man made out of iron, clearly intended to get young boys to read, and I thought, ohhhh! What a larf!

Not so much of a larf in fact. It was really well written. In fact the cadence of each sentence was carefully controlled, building as the action built, slowing for suspense, stopping short for shock. It begged to be read out loud. I'm not much of a girl for poetry but I recognized these words as a prose version of it, and I was curious about who wrote it.

One Ted Hughes, as it turned out. As I say I'm not much of a girl for poetry so it took a moment for me to remember where I'd heard that name before, and I suppose it's a sad reflection on Ted Hughes that the first glimmer of recognition was when the name Sylvia Plath dropped into my head (followed by an image of Gwyneth Paltrow, which is sad in its own way.) So, being neither a boy nor small during the 1950s I completely missed out on the fact that Ted Hughes wrote quite a few fine children's books including this one, The Iron Man. And the next one I'm going to hunt up is The Iron Woman.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The desk stays

MAN, this thing is awesome! Thanks to the miracle weirdness of IKEA, the two separate legs I had to get so I could fit the desk over the left side of the rad, which juts out, attach to the bottom of the table slab... but the pedestal leg I needed to slide under the rad on the other side has bumpers on the top. The desk top just sits there.

I realize that doesn't make any sense so I'll translate into human: any time I want to move the desk to clean the window (ha) it's easy to flip out of the way. And that's great because as you can see, it's really wedged in. Well, maybe you can't see but there's more furniture on the left side too. I'd probably break something trying to shift it if the desk was all connected everywhere.

But cute, yes? Isn't it great how there's just enough space to tuck a stool under the desk in front of the rad so I'm not falling over a chair back when I'm reaching for the curtains?

Okay, so I'm probably not going to spend the rest of my life here or anything... but it sure is nice to have dedicated work space. And I especially love how the bottom accessible shelf lines up perfectly with the desk top.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Pigs in (my) Space

I watched The Muppet Show so religiously, I may never forget the echoing call of Pigs... In... Space. Especially on a day like this, when I am trying to wedge a desk into a pig of a space.

Yeah, it means losing access to part of the only bookshelf there's space for, but I only used that part for market bags and I can probably cram those someplace else. It also means I won't be able to get right in front of the shelf to pull down the heavy basket of recipe calendars and stuff I keep meaning to transpose into a real menu planner (like that's gonna happen) so I'll have to find another place for that. Probably means I won't be able to reach anything that's up in the far corner of the top shelf, now that I think of it, so I'd better keep very very light things in the basket, like... um, lint?

Okay: putting a desk in front of the window means I will never again be able to perch on the rad and breathe fresh air. I will be divided from it by about 2' of melamine-covered particleboard. And I will lose shelf space and have a harder time opening and closing the curtains and cleaning the window, which I'm pretty sure I did do once so I know it's possible I might want to again some day.

But I will have a desk by the window. Hmmm. I'll keep you posted about how this all works out, okay?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Desk Set

Lately I've been rediscovering the beauty of working at a desk, on paper with a pen, with a window and a view on the other side of it. Trouble is, the desk I've been using is a multi-purpose zone; I can't leave my papers out to come back to in three hours, which I'm beginning to think would be rather useful. It doesn't have a lamp either, or anyplace to plug one in. It's a daylight-only zone.

Which is not to say I couldn't go on working there productively just as I have been. And that is exactly why, I think, that I have once again been snuffling around the house with a tape measure hunting for a place where I could sneak in a new desk just for writing. The more compact the better-- in a small house like mine, maximizing scraps of otherwise useless square inch-age is a real rush.

As it turns out I have another window with a view and just such a scrap of mostly-useless space, and IKEA has introduced a leg for its mix-n-match table and leg collection that would get around the problem of the radiator that dominates said scrap. For $60, I could buy myself some writing real estate. The catch? I'd lose the bottom two shelves of my tiny but much-used bookcase. Ouch.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Books and the characters who make them

Last night I visited Ben McNally Books in downtown Toronto and I have to say, it is the most beautiful bookstore I have even been in. It's like an elegant boutique for the best of the best reading materials.

I was there for the launch of Wayson Choy's Not Yet*, and while I waited I looked at a lot of other books too, including Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree. That's a book that always makes me cry and also makes me want to kick The Boy who is so neglectful of the tree who loves him, even though I do get that The Boy is me and the tree is not. This is something that's being brought home to me a lot this week - practical examples of the importance of characters. They don't have to be likable, but they have to be there, and people have to be able to relate to them in some way. Boring when you say it and so big when you try reading out loud a story without any characters at all and then look at the blank faces of the people who may or not be listening to you by the time you're three minutes in.

The signing was packed by the way, and Wayson had bowls of origami butterflies at his table... how many authors give their readers little presents when they get a book signed? And the book itself - it's wonderful. You totally need a copy for yourself, and one for somebody else you love.

* I always link book titles to a big online retailer so that people visiting from other countries know what book I'm talking about, not necessarily buy them there. Support your local bookstores people, big or small, online or down the street!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Temptation in print

I wrote fiction yesterday! Effortlessly, too, though the hot chocolate and banana pecan muffin I inhaled between words might have been motivational. I wasn't hungry again for about 5 hours after I had them so they were certainly something.

And now, having broken through the block after all this time, I am going to risk mentioning the magazine I spotted on Sunday. 'Paper' is in the title of the magazine series though I believe it refers to paper put to crafty use rather than anything I should even be thinking about. Still. This particular issue is a special one about studio space. It has bright shiny pictures of things I like, and the subject is organization, and really the Easter bunny should be dropping a copy into a basket with my name on it, yes?

Or maybe surrounding myself with masses of arty supplies would be the equivalent of dropping 2 tons of limestone screenings on the tender plant that is the short-story-in-progress?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Writing, or thinking about it anyway

Today is a writing day in that I will have about an hour to kill where there's little temptation to do anything else. (I need more days like this, don't I.) I don't know whether my fingers will drift over to the new short story, or over to the nonfiction project, and I accept that. However, a quotation from a wonderful interview that Binnie sent me this morning is sticking with me:

"... until I'm writing I don't know what I know."*

It has me wondering what I don't know that I know because I'm not writing it down. It's like what a sales manager told me once: in the hotel business, every day you don't rent out a room is lost revenue, because you're not going to get another shot at that day next week or next month. Every day that I'm not writing may well be a day that presented more difficulties because I had less information about life, or maybe just less self-awareness.

What I do know for sure is that every day I'm not writing is a day that doesn't make me as happy as one when I do. So even though the weather outside is way, way beyond frightful, I'm thinking this is going to be a good day.

* This is from Wayson Choy, naturally - lots of good Wayson Choy words in the media just now!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The upside of the amazon

I'm a huge fan of HUGE. I can't shop there because I'm Canadian, and anyway I love my local booksellers, but the customer reviews are invaluable to me.

Not so much for fiction, obviously. The business of people spiking in for 5-star reviews to support a friend or 1-star reviews to hate on a not-friend makes it difficult to judge a novel. But for nonfiction: amazing. I love that there are readers, experts in their fields, who will weigh in and compare a book to others on the market and give advice on whether it's a good buy and for whom. Those reviews are plenty long enough to get a sense of the writer's bias, an important filter in whether or not to take the review seriously.

I just wish Amazon was set up to let other shoppers e-mail those reviewers because I would love to be friends with some of them. Which, now that I think of it, is probably why Amazon is not set up to let shoppers e-mail their reviewers.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shhhhh, don't tell anybody!

All I get for personal work time today is 2 hours, and 2 hours is not long enough to finish even one component of the big project I'm wrapping up so...

Nobody's reading this over your shoulder, right?

Okay, so I'm going to sneak over to the file I started for a new short story and just type until the words that have been writing themselves in my head are on the screen.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

The ultramarathon in my mind

St. Jude pointed out in a comment on yesterday's post that imaginary exercise is almost as good for your brain as actual exercise, and I am going to go with that, because I have been on a long and hilly mental ultramarathon and I would like to have something to show for it.

I met a really cool woman last year who runs ultramarathons, a sporting event I find unfathomable. In the particular one we discussed, she ran for 24 hours without stopping (apart from one tumble down a scrub-brush slope at the side of the trail when the light on her forehead failed in the middle of the night and she had to wait for some other runner to light the way for her to scramble back up) through woods. Woods with bears in them. You can just think about all the factors that go into such a run while I go on with my post, 'kay?

I've been working for nearly 3 months now on a project that draws on everything I'm good at and quite a few things I'm not. I started out with all kinds of enthusiasm and energy and now, if I tumbled down a scrub-brush slope, I would just curl up contentedly and go to sleep. Except that I'm very, very close the finish line. And when I cross it, I'm gonna write fiction. Or do my taxes.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I hate chocolate. Really.

I hate chocolate so much that I can't stand to have any of it in the house. So when somebody brings it in, or for some reason I buy it (out of some purely charitable impulse, since naturally I can't let my local shopkeeps go out of business) I have to make it go away as soon as possible. By eating it of course. I mean, how can I let it just go to waste?

Yes, well. I'm off to the gym today and while I can guarantee I will not put in an extra hour on the elliptical trainer afterward, I am getting closer to being emotionally prepared for making such a decision. You know, when the weather gets nicer. And in the meantime I'm just very annoyed that somebody left a lot of chocolate here, and very grateful that there aren't any more chocolate-themed holidays coming up any time soon.

Oh, wait.

So maybe I should dig out the books on tape again, for something to do while ellipticizing?