Oh, Mr. Neville…

27 07 2017

05103c84733200777408f3c80b5eb4da4e65deOne of the blessings of my enforced by MS flare-up idleness is that I have been able to plunge myself into a myriad of books, to wallow in lives not my own, to lay on my patented “chaise short” (an antique chaise with the merit of being less than 5 feet long and thus fitting both me and my apartment) and read the hours away.

It’s been wonderful, but I see that I have chosen the last three books unwisely. The first mistake was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book tells of a man who loved a woman so much he followed her around, through her marriage and children, at a distance,  until her husband dies. Then he asks for her hand. She accepts, and he tells her he had remained a virgin for her, all those 60 years. She says, simply, “liar!”, and they go to sleep. Meanwhile, he had been keeping track of the conquests he had to relieve his suffering for her love. He had arrived at 650 or more.

I adored this book, both for the love over the years and for the practical approach to it. It’s a grown up book, with grown up affection. And lasting love. And badness, concupiscence, and humour.

The next mistake was another of Marquez’s  – All My Melancholy Whores, an amazing and surprisingly sweet book. A ninety-year-old man desires to bed a virgin to celebrate his birthday – (at first a horrific thought.) He goes to a whorehouse that he used to frequent when younger – of course, it has aged, too. The madam obtains the virgin, but the girl is nervous so she is drugged, asleep when he meets her. The man finds he prefers to simply look at her, and sleep beside her.

Over a number of visits, he falls in love with her, and she with him. The romance is chaste and both sad and joyful in turns. I loved it.  Again, a twist on the usual story, and characters with deep, serious emotions. I suspect Marquez of being one of those men who truly loves women. There aren’t so many of them about…

images-10Third mistake – The charming, witty, and ultimately motivational Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner – winner of the Booker Prize, and I can see why she won. It’s brilliant.

Edith, the protagonist, is a writer who has been sent to the Hotel du Lac as punishment for something awful she’s done. She has not been a “good woman”. The hotel is almost closed down for the season – it’s fall, and it is not in a fashionable ski resort. The weather is generally glum and foggy, as is Edith’s poor mind. She’s trying to write another novel, but she is emotionally fraught.

We don’t learn why until halfway through the book. She is in love with a man, David, but scheduled to marry another. David is married to a Very Perfect Wife, and thus available only upon his whim. The man who is to marry her is a bit too commanding for my liking, and also for Edith’s. She stands him up at the altar. The author is wise to put the “reveal” in the middle of the book – by this time we’ve grown to quite love Edith and her quick wit and desperate kindness, her loneliness and her resilience. So, of course, we cheer when she tosses the bossy man into the drink.

The other characters at the hotel and the employees are all charmant, all interesting in different ways, all dealing with their own issues. The rampant consumerism of some females is hauled out and mocked; Edith is made to feel inadequate in dress. (It’s a common enough thread amongst women – I’ve felt it myself. Edith and I favour comfort and giant sweaters. We may, at times, look sloppy. Just saying. ) There is a very thin woman with a tiny dog, a fat older woman and her clingy but oddly sensuous daughter, a deaf woman who smiles or grimaces on occasion, and a mysterious man, Mr. Neville, who seems to like Edith.

He proposes to her and offers her his companionship because he wants someone “steady” to help him rebuild his status after having his wife leave him. He says cheerily that he doesn’t love her, that he will have affairs and she can, too. I identified so much with Edith, I found myself saying ‘NO!” out loud when she decides to accept him.

But she rallies. And I am left cheering, and, oddly, with the desire to write.*

So what is the problem with reading these three all together? They all three deal with solitude and loneliness, with the interweaving between the desire for contact and the desire for silence, with connections made and severed.

It’s too close to my reality to be completely comfortable.

And, they are all filled with discussions of passionate love – not the “grab and smooch” kind my cousin and I used to giggle over in “the soaps”.

bb0daba08d0cc572acfe66e4a94d018c--forever-alone-quotes-being-alone-quotesThe sort of love that lasts through hardship and challenge, the kind that comes unexpectedly, but is fulfilling even if incomplete.

The kind of love that fills in the spaces around one’s life, enriching it.

The kind I would still like to find.

So the three in sequence makes me feel a bit sad, a bit lonely. I feel an ache. It’s not painful, just a bit of a gap.

Which is what makes me want to write.

 

*Of Anita Brookner, Wikipedia has this to say: “Her novels explore themes of emotional loss and difficulties associated with fitting into society, and typically depict intellectual, middle-class women, who suffer isolation and disappointments in love.” Hmmmmm. I think I may have found a kindred spirit.

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Statute of Limitations

10 06 2017

images-9I’ve just read Nuala O’Faolin’s “Almost There”, a book of the second half of her life, after the success of part one of her memoir. I love her writing and she makes me want to go live in Ireland forever, but in this book, I found myself irritated by her perspective.

She spent the book blaming her mother for being absent with depression and alcoholism, and her father for not being there. Really? REALLY? I mean, in this book she’s in her 60’s!! Can you honestly go through your entire adult life blaming your parents? Surely you must have contributed something to your general state of misery yourself by age 60 – heck, 40 even! Blaming your parents in late middle age is kind of ridiculous unless you’ve been living with them your entire life. parents-to-blame

I had differences with my parents, especially my mum, but I can’t hold things against her anymore. I certainly don’t blame her for me being single and a bit odd and perhaps a bit messed up. Nope, that’s all down to me. I figure at this stage I should take responsibility for myself, thanks. Hardly fair to blame a woman who is now gone for 25 years.

It’s a bit like chewing over marriage/relationship issues endlessly. Your marriage ends, you work out the hateful details, and then, by golly, you should let it go. Even if the guy/gal treated you horribly, holding onto anger just leaves you trapped. Sure, there are things to work out, like why you let them treat you that way, and how you can prevent it in the future, but there’s no point in blaming them for this work.

Everyone contributes to their own growth or lack of same, to some extent. I know women get trapped in abusive relationships, and I am sad for them. But when they pull themselves out of the toxic scene, they need to let go of it, move to making themselves whole again, instead of endlessly rehashing the situation.

 

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Still, she makes a good point…

I know I had to do this. When I left my lonely marriage, I wrote all of the reasons I was angry on a piece of paper and burned it. When my ex kept demanding to know why I was leaving, I couldn’t remember – I’d burned my memories. I didn’t want to live with them anymore. Fortunately, I had journals or I might have reconsidered – but my review of those at one point reminded me of the little cruelties we’d visited upon one another until the desire to live together was gone. For me, anyway. (Some of the love remains, and always will.)

There should be a statute of limitations on blaming people for unhappiness. Eventually, it isn’t fair. And there’s a need to get on with life, find the things that make your life better, ditch the sulkies over being treated badly. And go live a little! As for me, I’m letting go of the anger I feel over a child’s betrayal. He’s made his choice. Time for me to move on.

After all, as George Hebert said, “Living well is the best revenge.”

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On being ravished, or why the Iceland Writers Retreat is simply perfect

11 04 2017

IMG_1475And now for the other side of the story, and why it is so likely that I will be going to the IWR again.

It’s hard to encapsulate this event. To say it was life-changing sounds trite and overblown, but it was so for me. When I went, it was with a mind set of failure, wondering why I had spent so much money (again) on the writing I never seem to get done properly.  It was, I thought to myself, the final kick at the can, the Y in the road. If I couldn’t tolerate the conference with my MS brain, then I knew all was lost and crafts would have me forever (not that that is a bad thing, precisely, but…).

And then I entered the vortex that is the IWR.

IMG_1443It is set perfectly in Iceland, an island. A place sufficiently different to make the visitor feel vaguely alien, set apart, unreachable by real life. Nature like the surface of the moon, isolating us together. A place where both other human beings and that nature are reachable and attractive, in the way that magnets are attractive. You are inevitably drawn to the poetry here – the visual, musical, otherworldly poetry.

It rains here. Rain is so much better for writing than any other weather. Mists swirled.

And Eliza Reid and Erica Green have pulled together those trailing mists and created magic.

The Iceland Writers Retreat is a big conference these days. On the last day, I saw people I hadn’t seen all week. Yet, it feels intimate, safe, friendly, warm, and oh so supportive. The group of fellow writers, from the professionals to the new, were to a person kind and willing to share.

Usually, at a conference, you will meet the designated asshole, the one 130902_a17742_g2048-600who dominates everything, who is filled with nothing but complaints. I didn’t meet that person. (unless it was me – gasp!)

The classes were small, with an overwhelmingly spectacular faculty: Meg WolitzerClaudia Casper, Chris Cleave, Esi Edugyan, Carsten Jansen, Bret Anthony Johnston, David Lebovitz, Paula McLean, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Murray, Madeleine Thien, Hallgrimur Helgason, Viborg Davidosdottir, and many more Icelandic writers I didn’t have the pleasure to meet. They were so approachable they likely needed a long space in utter silence after they left.

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Paula with mini-Bob

 

I am presently in love (in an acceptable way) with David L. as he offered me such reassurance and good cheer I feel ready to write on for months purely on that. Of course, some of my time will have to be spent on reading his lovely cookbooks. Bret was a no- nonsense writer and dropped pearls of wisdom threw rocks of wisdom, each veined with marble, each ready for use. Meg gave us our Wonder Woman bracelets of fiction writing. Claudia spoke wisdom about the publishing world and promoted Canadian writers, gods bless her. Paula gave us the idea of mapping out our character’s world, and using that to highlight what was important to them, and to us. All of them shared books they loved, useful books, ideas and stories. Suffice to say my reading list has grown another five feet tall!

IMG_1456All were hilarious and excellent teachers. Writing well does not necessarily equal teaching well, but however the two E.’s selected this group, the faaculty were masters of both. I never felt tired, or feared dozing, in their classes. All of us were deeply involved in every one. That is truly rare, especially in jet-lagged, well-fed folks. And we were very very well-fed. Yum. If I could have an Icelandic breakfast every morning, I could take over the world. But I digress…

I learned so much, from them and from other writers – like my fellow Dorothy from Australia, who spoke to me of how to work the trauma in my YA book and my cookbook class who told me to write the damn MS book and pull in the royalties.

I am smiling thinking of it all. Even our tour guide, the charming Sigurlin Bjarney Gisladottir, aka Bjarney, was a writer, a multiply published poet. Who can also cook eggs in a hot spring.

We were taken to meet the President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, a charming man who coincidently has translated several books by Stephen King! I pressed two felted mice on him for his daughters. I fear he thought them an unacceptable gift, but it was all I had to say humble thanks for the warmth and kindness of his country’s welcome.

IMG_1415We went to the home of Halldor Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Independent People. I’d read that book, and to see where he wrote it was beyond compare – to say nothing of his beautiful home itself, with its view of the mountains and its geothermal swimming pool, steaming gently in the frosty air. He walked every day, a pattern highly recommended by many of the other authors for jogging your brain into submission.

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In the Laxness dining room

 

I’m taking that idea on. We have fog here as well…in all senses of the word.

I missed much of the fun of the retreat, as I ran out of energy early in the day and skipped the evening events. Instead, I had time for in-depth discussions with fellow writers, many of whom I hope will remain friends.

We were discussing dating at the lunch table one day and in my usual inappropriate way, I told my tablemates that I simply wanted to be ravished. The literary definition of ravish is: (ignoring the more violent ancient definition…)

fill (someone) with intense delight; enrapture.
“ravished by a sunny afternoon, she had agreed without even thinking”
synonyms: enrapture, enchant, delight, charm, entrance, enthrall, captivate

“you will be ravished by this wine”

 

I have been ravished by the Iceland Writers Retreat. I remain enraptured.

I will go again. And possibly again.

 

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The Laxness walking forest…

 





Stardust

12 02 2017

There are times, frequently, when I wonder if the world really needs another book, especially one written by my clumsy creative heart. After all, there are so very many BAD books out there, killing trees by the thousands.

I really wonder about this, though, when I read something so marvellous, so heart-changing that I am left with nothing but awe. The kind of book or story that makes you weep when it is over, that makes you wish for the world it describes, that transports you so readily that you feel jarred when the day is over and you have to pull yourself out of the book and toss yourself into the comparative greyness of your dreams.

9405533_origNeil Gaiman routinely does this to me. I’ve just finished reading his lovely fantasy tale (or is it fantasy? I wonder…), Stardust. It is filled with witches and dread kings and lowly boys who dream big and fallen stars and even a unicorn. Characters can walk on clouds and even hail ships that sail on them.

And it is all utterly believable. I suspect Mr. Gaiman is a wizard ship_on_clouds_by_totialcott-d4iu6nahimself. Somehow he has seen into the world I dreamed of as a young girl and he has recreated it, filled with beautiful language and quotes from famous literature and derring do and the type of boy I’ve always looked for in my romantic heart of hearts, the boy I’d thought I’d found only to realize he was not, quite.

There are no glamorous princesses here (well, maybe one); there are dirty, muddy, and wet journeys; there is kindness and cruelty. It’s a real world, but with the magic I sometimes see the edge of in our world.

It reminded me of that magic at a time I really needed it, as we watch the world we loved dissolve in anger and frustration, peril and threat. It reminded me of the fact that we are both fact and fantasy, that by tilting our head to one side we still can see the beauty that surrounds us.

Thank you, Neil Gaiman. May you ever dwell in the joy you provide.

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Am I ignorant? Dim? Or why can’t I enjoy prize-winning books?

2 12 2016
4c8517fe6b5d0030bd46bce6a3163c5e

heaven

I read. A lot. I have authors I love, I have ones I can’t dig through. Colm Toibin is impenetrable. Jane Urquhart makes me want to weep, and not in a good way. Even Tom Hardy gets into the story faster than these two. I need a long time in the quiet of a soundproofed cabin with lots of wine, a self-maintaining fire, and an IV infusion so I never hunger just to focus on their stories.

I am often reminded of the wail of the actor in “the Complete Works of Wm Shakespeare, abridged” when asked to perform Hamlet in the second half. “So many WORDS!”

I’m reading an award-winning book right now (author’s name withheld) and I can barely stand it. I can’t keep track of the story because of all the words blowing through the pages like gently frost-enclosed leaves from the mountain that existed behind my house and that we walked every seventh day when the sun climbed into the sky like a weak thing only to brighten to shimmering coin gold by the time we reached the windy granite-strewn rounded summit and turned, gardenia-like, to face it.

3720871

kindergarten rules

I understand the desire for concrete descriptors. Showing instead of telling, yes, I get it. Saying something is nice doesn’t cut it.

But I can’t help but think that describing a cup in all of its form cuts it, either, especially if it happens with every &*&(^^ object in the story and every time the object or person reappears, it is described differently, by new and extended names or nicknames, or a novel piece of backstory that rumbles on for paragraphs.

Don’t authors know we read these things before bed???

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now find the little man on the sixth level…

 

This book that I’m reading has so much description it has the effect of distancing me from involvement. I feel as if I am looking down at a very confusing miniature trainset where the tracks frequently move, trains vanish or change appearance every few pages, and that somehow I am going to be tested on remembering the schedules of each one.

As someone who attempts to write, I’ve taken more classes than I care to remember that emphasized the need to be simple. To put the story forward, to involve the reader, to create empathy with the characters. It’s almost impossible to care one whit about these characters, smothered as they are in the fluffy cotton and silk and ribbons and wool and paper corsages and tiny hidden diaries and bits of recipes and hints of music and some offal. And yet, the story could be fascinating. I WANT to read it. I want to know about the things that happen, but characters disappear and pages are spent wafting about some past encounter. Time changes; half is in memory, half is in distant past, half is in present.

Yes, I know that equals more than one.

I feel buffeted by time zones, tossed about like a Caesar salad and as lost as a fallen sales receipt from that little craft store on the corner just up past the schoolyard that I go to with my aunt Mary, who never likes the crafts but knows the owner’s mother, on the blue-green silk sea of descriptors.

I have to take breaks from reading this book, because the urge to throw it becomes too strong. I feel a bit like Dorothy Parker:

I’m much better now, in fact, than I was when we started. I wish you could have heard that pretty crash “Beauty and the Beast” made when, with one sweeping, liquid gesture, I tossed it out of my twelfth-story window.

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not Bendicks

(I have skipped any reference to throwing books at cats (of which there are many) as Bendicks is watching and will stomp on my keyboard when I’m not looking and readjust my investments.)

The thing is, I feel like a failure. I continually read award-winning books and am so often frustrated by them. I must be lacking something.

There are exceptions. Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs was wonderful, miraculous, and a real treasure. I WALLOWED in it. Anakana Shofield’s Martin John was intensely interesting and gripping. And those two are from the 2016 Giller List.

So you see, I can read. I can decipher difficult texts. So why, oh why, can’t I find the gold in some of these gems?

big-book-feature

the risk of reading big books

Sigh. Time for a good mystery or thriller to cleanse the palate and the brain. Or maybe some Proust. With madeleines.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.[5]

 





So impressed…

3 11 2016

I had the very good fortune to meet Judy Penz Sheluk some years ago at the fabled  (and sadly, deceased) Bloody Words Mystery Writers Conference. We’ve kept in touch since and I always like to hear from her, but lately she has zoomed on, winning all sorts of awards for her second novel, and I just had to mention her here both to say congrats and bask in reflected glory. You see, we once had a discussion over Tim’s oatmeal and she taught me about that, too. (It is surprisingly good.) I’ve learned a lot from Judy.

She’s a powerhouse. Just sitting by her sets your energy to a high vibrate – she is kind and encouraging, but she just goes. It’s like driving on a highway next to a Porsche. You feel the slipstream and you want to go faster, too.

An example is her website: (click on the image)websiteheader3

It’s stunning (as are her awards). In addition to writing two excellent novels and countless short stories, she’s got marketing down, big time (as the evil T would say). I watch from the sidelines, feeling the breeze and appreciating the energy. She is a professional writer. Me, an amateur. I rather suspect it will be ever thus. For one thing, she gets things done. For another, she gets a ton of things done. Me, I dabble. (ergo my Masters degree and no PhD – focus is difficult, and I hate paperwork.)

It’s well worth spending some time on Judy’s website, even now during Nanowrimo. For one thing, you will see how a professional website should be set up. But beyond that, the site is packed full of reviews and interviews with other authors, information on the publishing journey, links to writing associations and groups, even information on antiques.

It’s utterly splendid and can give you hope when you are in deep into your November writing and realize you are hopelessly lost and you will never be good at writing and life sucks and all that – then look at Judy’s website and realize that her first novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose. was published only this year and she has another one out already , Skeletons in the Attic, and who knows where she is headed next!

The website is a motherlode of information. Everything from how to name your characters to how the whole publishing thing works. It’s written in an easy, “you can do it” tone, and I find it cheering to see all the new release reviews.

Of course, I’m still toiling away at my books and stories, being more of a Ford Focus (go fast occasionally, slow right down unexpectedly) kind of writer. I’m glad I get to see Judy whipping past on the left.  I know she’s working hard, doing all the things she should. It is wildly impressive. Check out her site. You’ll be impressed, too.

Better still, read her books. I don’t usually read cozy mysteries as I prefer my mysteries darker and colder, but Judy’s are turny and twisty enough I can’t see what’s happening until the end. I like that. Plus now I want to own an old house and an antique shop and live in a small town. I want to hang out with her characters and slap the bad ones. I can’t wait for novel number THREE!

For now, THREE cheers to you, Judy, for your well-deserved successes. I hope you don’t mind if I look on and maybe learn a few tips!

 

 





On Olympics coverage, or how I am becoming a rabid feminist

10 08 2016

There’s a phrase rumbling around the inter webs lately, something like, “When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” I’ve seen it here and there and it resonates with me, with the ENDLESS whining of white men about how hard done they are by having to compete with women for jobs (tho still women suffer with lower pay and less advancement), the growling by Trump-ettes about how they want THEIR country back, yadda yadda. (From another all white almost all male show).

34263_G06_W01But it’s the Olympic coverage that is really driving me insane. I can just barely stand the men chirping about how gosh gee isn’t it cute how all the medals are being won (by Canada) by the WOMEN! The surprise in the voices if the male commentators is annoying but given that our Canadian women are rocking the stats, I can afford to be calm. Last night I just about spat, though. Here are the women, doing their swimming to pretty muted colour commentary, doing the VERY SAME races as the men did right afterwards, and the male commentators went all orgasmic gettyimages-586857690over the men’s 200 meter freestyle – “This is the epic race of the Olympics in swimming” – as if the only important race was this one, and the women’s exactly same race meant nothing.

 

The same is true for the track and field competitions. All focus is on the men, the women compete as a sideline. At least, when listening to the commentary.

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What with the blatant misogyny of the current political atmosphere in the US, and the endless revelations that gee golly, yeah, women have been attacked in taxis here in Halifax but you don’t actually expect us to spend time on such things (say the Halifax police, a group with an abysmal record of solving violent crimes against women from what I hear), I’m getting pretty fed up.

images-7I’m so tired of men thinking they should have nice things just because they have an extra dangly appendage (which looks frankly ridiculous when just hanging about, truly) (though I do enjoy some of its conformations, I admit). I’m tired of the blather and the need to prop up fragile male egos while we women thrash along in our own personal situations and just bloody make do, thank you very much.

I’m tired of the assumption of sex when many are happy to share if asked nicely. When it’s expected, it ruins it, y’know? Grabby grabby never gets. Well, except in Halifax, apparently, where it is an added bonus of a taxi ride with one or two men (No need to slur all taxi drivers with the same charge).

I’m tired of every time a woman makes a name for herself she is either ignored or derided. Called a bitch, hated, or in Trump’s and other’s cases, put on the firing line (in all senses of the word). Or stoned or raped, or otherwise destroyed. It’s got to stop. And while you may not equate bad coverage in the Olympics with stoning a woman in Saudi Arabia because her brother raped her, hell! It’s all of a piece!

I’m sick of all womanly achievements being made less than a male equivalent, despite the additional work she has necessarily done to achieve them.

Argh. And yet, I do love men. Or I did, though I am finding them a little tiresome lately. (Except for you know who you are – you I adore).

Just stop the endless whining, will ya? And give some props to that other gender, one of many yes I know and I’m all for trans rights and gay rights and all that, but hell, I’d like to see the women get some props first. After all, we’re over half the population.

It’s enough to make me swear like a sailor.

 








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