Thursday, April 26, 2007


Last night I was wrassling with my four-year-old niece and two-year-old nephew. They bark, but their bite is ridiculously gentle. After a few minutes of them chasing me and pretending to be dragons, I "fell" to the ground -- you know, to help move the narrative along.

The four-year-old loosely tied up my hands and feet with winter scarves (she has just learned how to tie her shoes and is ready to practice on anything), and then they "attacked". This meant the nephew crouched on my back and cried out gleefully, "I'm balancing on you! I'm balancing on you!" and the niece hugged my legs and giggled. Then they threw the extra scarves around and screeched with laughter.

(They know this is a game they can only play with me, that they must never tie up other kids, but man, it's hilarious. If I can find a suitably anonymous picture of the antics, which my bro-in-law photographed, I'll post it. Thanks for making me think of this today, sgazzetti.)

eagerly joining the ranks of the common hater, or, a random book review

To finally pick up where I left off...

I've heard Heather O'Neill's pieces occasionally on my favourite radio show, Wiretap. Once I heard a bit by her called "Grandfather Says" (or something like that), and it was so wonderful that I looked her up immediately, discovering then that she was the long term GF of Wiretap host Jonathan Goldstein.

When I heard her book Lullabies for Little Criminals had been chosen for CBC's "Canada Reads" Program (where a bunch of people discuss a few books at length and then choose one that they think all of Canada "should" read), I thought, "Cool!" But then I read it and hated it.

The main problem with Lullabies for Little Criminals, according to me, is that the voice doesn't ring true. (Plenty of people seem to disagree with me on this - a quick google search will reveal many glowing reviews.) It did occur to me that it might just be written in such an unusual voice that I simply didn't get it, but since I get to have a personal, subjective opinion, I'll confess right now that I think it was forced, fake, contrived and pretentious.

See, the way I figure it, one of the known conceits in writing is that the character who narrates a story might not plausibly be a good storyteller in "real life" (bear with me here) - but the author gets to act as the silent conduit or translator to let it be as if they were, as if they could. That misogynist bastard Picasso was right when he said "Art is the lie that tells the truth." I can live with that.

Lullabies is supposedly narrated by a 12 year old girl. Even accepting the conceit that the author gets to unobtrusively facilitate the telling of the story, it just doesn't sound like a 12 year old, even a wildly unusual 12 year old. It sounds like Heather O'Neill pretending to be a 12 year old, and throwing in needless verbal acrobatics in some outlandish attempt to impress on every page. (Read the interviews at the back and you'll recognize the voice immediately.)

Really, if a real pre-teen was to narrate the story of his or her life, even an articulate, precocious 12 year old would jump all over the place, and there'd be unintentional posturing and faking and dissembling. Instead, in Lullabies, we get clunky, precious prose drowning in a torrent of awful similes that trample the occasional beautiful bits that DO work. I feel like the whole book is O'Neill jumping up and down squeaking, "Look what I can do! Look what I can do!"

Here's what I'll consider a litmus test for you: A slideshow by the author, corresponding to bits from the book. I swear, if I ever get a novel published, (which would have to start with the considerable accomplishment of actually writing one, I suppose), you could not pay me enough to do a this, which strikes me as orgiastically self-congratulatory and makes my skin crawl. But you might find it magical. Who knows? I won't hate you for it.

I joked with a friend that the best way to communicate why I didn't like the book would be to just send him a list of similes from it.

Do I come through for you, or WHAT? This is just a start, and I likely missed thousands as I secretly skimmed through this at my desk while all other employees were at lunch. Keep in mind that this is also just culled from about the first 30 pages or so. It's truly unrelenting.

Why just this morning I read a single paragraph that had TWO FUCKING SIMILES in it.

It smelled as if a florist shop had caught on fire and all the flowers were burning.

A glass soap dish shaped like a shell had been left behind and a set of fake nails were lying in it, like petals that had fallen off a flower.

Hell's Angels, buzzing down the street like bees.

The sky was the colour of television static.

Each candy was like taking a chick out of its egg too early.

The moon was like a melting bit of ice in a glass of water.

The snowflakes were like spiders on their invisible webs coming down.

Their voices made it sound like we were at a bottom of a well.

The glasses and jars filled with water looked like a dismantled chandelier.

The smoke came out of his mouth like ribbons being pulled off a present.

The houses reminded me of milk cartons.

The trees around there looked like garbage. They looked like a pile of old fences and car parts leaned up one against the other.

The seagulls reminded me of a scene from a movie I'd seen, where a flurry of hands wearing white gloves were applauding at the opera.

The kids looked like old women going through a bag of clothes at a community center.

He looked like Marilyn Monroe would have when she was twelve.

Sleeping next to Zachary was like sleeping in the middle of a cherry pie that had just come out of the oven.

The ground was silvery, as if some stars had fallen there.

My heart sounded like a flat tire thumping down the highway.

All the petals fell to the ground, as if someone had emptied a hole puncher.

Parents seem as fragile as a glass horse on a shelf.

The tattoo glowed as bright as a stigmata.

That light gave me the same shocked sensation you get after having been slapped in the face.

His hair was dyed different colours in different places, kind of like a dusting brush.

He'd cut his finger open and the cold water turned red for a moment, just like the tail of a fancy goldfish.

When they touched the elastic of my underwear, it was as if I had peed a tiny butterfly.

He talked as if he had just shoved a spoonful of burning hot macaroni in his mouth.

Do I really need to say anything else about it or is my position now clear?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

not a fair swap

A coworker (he's a software programmer in his 50s), said to me today: "I don't want to go to another meeting to discuss features. Every time I spend time thinking about how to implement a new feature, I'm pretty sure I lose a really good memory. There's only so much room up there, you know? And I'm pretty sure I'm about to forget that time when I was eight years old and was poking around in the swamp with my friend Tim and I got a soaker. You know? I don't want to be on my death bed, remembering how I worked out how to get this database to talk to that database."

Sunday, April 22, 2007

I can't wait to go to bed

Why? Because I washed my bed sheets today and line dried them in the sunshine. It's the first weekend of the year here where this has really worked out, because winter has been white-knuckling this city for a while. (It looks like it finally got the hint that it's time for tulips and tomato plants and canoe trip planning.)

I washed my sheets in unscented enviro-friendly detergent, so I can guaran-damn-tee you that the only smell in there is fresh air. I am telling you, it's divine. I have some pajamas and other assorted laundry that I dried out there too, and I tried to get the Irish to sniff them before dinner tonight. They said "we'll take your word for it."

(Apparently Kate and Phil, aka "the Irish" - line-dry everything in Ireland, because winter there isn't the frozen-nosehair treat that it is here.)

I'm so pleased with myself about these dang sheets that it's hard to summon the immense vitriol that I cultivated reading Lullabies for Little Criminals, a book that drove me nuts, and which I have been planning to write about. I joked with a friend of mine that by the end of it I was reading it just to savour my own righteous indignation at how awful it was to read. More on that later. I have fresh clean white crisp perfect sheets to climb into.

Feeling pissy? Feeling blue? Line-dried sheets will turn everything around. Try it!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

“Thou shalt not attend an open mic and leave as soon as you’re done your shitty little poem or song, you self-righteous prick.”

I have really really really been enjoying this...

Thanks Rik!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the dance you were never meant to see

It's Holy War Dance Party. But you might need to read the story first.

The extra-fun part (for me) is, I was friends in elementary school with one of the guys behind this. He was always making us all act in movies he'd make with a clunky old home camera (this was the mid-80s, remember). We had scripts and props and took ourselves quite seriously. He was a total weirdo, terrifically fun, and his eyes were always glinting with the excitement of wacky new ideas.

Hey DL! Thanks for being part of my formative years!!!

Spread the word. Learn the moves.

Monday, April 16, 2007

And I say, "Hush."

You were all (all nine of you) waiting for me to say something about Vonnegut moving on, huh? I've posted about him a couple of times before.

I came to work this morning after being off sick for a few days, and stuck to my clipping of the "Technology and Me" bit was a note that said:

"So it goes."
Apr. 11, 2007

Ah well, I really wonder what gives us the right to wreck this poor planet of ours too...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

the hills are alive

I took the Irish hiking in Algonquin Park on Saturday. It's a bit early for moose, but that was our hope. If you didn't know this, there's a highway that runs through the south part of Algonquin, and in May and June, the moose, (normally such shy and reclusive creatures) wander out to the road, looking to party or maybe just lick the leftover road salt. In April, they're usually still pretty deep in the forest.

We somehow dragged ourselves up and out the door by 8 AM, threw a little Hot Chip in the CD Player, and were off in my "new" (seven-year-old, third-hand) smokin' hot wheels, aka Smokey. (Maybe that name will stick; turns out that Chachi who owned it before me sucked on a lot of cancer sticks behind those cheesy tinted windows. Blech. How did I not notice during the test drive? Any tips on how to get rid of the stench? Do I have to get a filter changed and shampoo the upholstery?)

Our first stop, about two hours into the drive, was to pull over for homemade pancakes and check out how maple syrup is made. You know, good old Canadian stuff. The guy told us that while Canada produces a huge amount of maple syrup, we only domestically consume about 2% of what we make - the rest gets sold to Europe and the States, which makes NO SENSE TO ME. However, if I've done my math correctly, I account for 0.5% of that, because I like to bathe in maple syrup and I put it on everything, including steak.

We finally got to Algonquin Park, where the cheery fellow at the gate told us that it was way too early for moose and good luck looking for one. An older woman hanging around the office with a long braid had been listening to me ask about moose. Thinking I wasn't looking at her, she shook her head and smiled in that "ah, morons from the city" kind of way.

I was about to say "I've heard the best way to lure them out of the woods is to make really loud kissing noises, is that so?" but I held off.

"No problem," I said to the girl part of the Irish couple, who was the most heart-set on seeing a moose. "We'll just head out and see what we can see. I've never been to Algonquin and not seen a moose. Except for that one time. But I wasn't really looking then anyway."

So here's me and the girl Irish hiking in the Gonk, looking for moose. I'm the one in the front, because the Irish, they seemed to think I knew what I was doing, bless them:

The greatest thing about the hike was that the forest was so clearly full of spring excitement, despite the wintry six inches of snow still on the ground. The forest was noisy as hell - woodpeckers, dozens of different bird songs, grouse beating their wings against logs to attract mates (you know, the grouse equivalent of cologne, gold chains, tight black jeans, and a shirt unbuttoned to the navel, sub-woofer, ground effects on the Camaro), but beating hard enough that we could feel it in the ground under our feet from hundreds of meters away: THUMP-thump-thumpthumpthumpthump.

This shot was taken lying on my back in the snow after we spent some time by a rock wall sticking icicles up our noses:

In the four hours we were out sloshing through the snow and slush, we were rewarded with many sets of moose tracks (some old, some fresh) and finally there she was, a large female moose making her way up a nearby slope on gangly long legs. In the brisk air and in all that snow, I was struck by the fact that this creature, this winter-ragged, huge fellow mammal we'd encountered, was warm and was doing herself some hard work. Does that make sense? I mean, my life is challenging sometimes, sure, but I just ate a chicken salad sandwich and I have a pair of dry socks back at the car. I'm not waiting for the pond to thaw and some plants to grow before I can get my belly full.

We would have been thrilled with that, but on the remainder of the walk we encountered (at very close range) two beavers with emaciated haunches and ribs, stripping branches of bark in the narrow thawed edges of a frozen lake, (which was also new and exciting for the Irish). We also saw a ridiculous variety of animal tracks, including more beaver, hare, mouse, bear, possibly bobcat, a gazillion more moose of different sizes, and these:

...which were maybe wolf tracks, or maybe they were from a large fox that has 3 inch long feet? You tell me. Whatever it was, it was traveling alone and veered off into the woods after taking the snowed-over human path for about 30 meters.

It was wonderful to be out there - way before tourists and summer traffic, way before anyone else thinks it makes sense to be out wandering an untrodden snow-covered path in sneakers. After feeling so wretchedly sick last week it might not have been the smartest thing to head out for a long hike, but somehow it made me feel like a million bucks.

And then, on the way out of the park, we met this pretty young thing, who was kind enough to pose in the light of the setting sun.

Happy Spring, little lady!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the cure

The last few sick days, I have worked through them anyway because we had deadlines and people were counting on me. Even though my lungs were bleeding and I could barely talk.

Now I have just a bit of a cold (just a bit of a sore throat and sneezing), but I'm still feeling so crusty and burnt out from working through the last recent bout of illness that I just want to a) scream, b) sob, c) lie in bed with an adult diaper on and loll about reading and sleeping and pissing myself.

But then, here's a picture of one of my nieces, and it helps make me feel quite a bit better:

(Although it does make my heart ache a little too.)

Monday, April 09, 2007

the best parts

Also, as part of hanging with the Irish, we all went to Easter Sunday Mass at the church where the Archbishop of our city runs the show. He has a wonderful voice.

My favourite part of Catholic services (which I summarize thusly, as a non-Catholic who has no idea what's going on, but with all due respect: cross yourself, stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, choir, call and response, call and response, incense, choir, wafer on the tongue, cross yourself) is the part where everyone shakes hands with the random people around them and wishes them peace.

It's just so freaking lovely.

The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.

One of my favourite cartoons (I've carried it around for years, stuck it with a magnet to so many fridges) shows a rhinoceros sitting at a bar with a man, and the rhino is saying "Yeah, I'm a rhinoceros. So what? Jesus! Why do people always have to categorize each other!" (Maybe I'll scan it and post it tonight.)

I believe that we all make (correct and incorrect) assumptions about people because it's how we're wired, and it's part of a rudimentary process of differentiating. Assumptions are just part of drawing temporary conclusions based on incomplete information. I think the true test lies in how seriously you take your assumptions, how rigid they are, how willing you are to take in new information, how willing you are to make revisions, break it down, build up your limited understanding of actual individuals, frequently revisit, re-check, let it be fluid and open, let yourself be surprised and proven wrong.

I have some random Irish travellers from Dublin staying with me. They are making their way across Canada, and are just renting a room in my house for the month. I like them tremendously. They'd stay in town longer if they could find work, but the job hunt hasn't been going well, despite excellent CVs (widely distributed) and a willingness to work (sincerely expressed). Plus, they're sweet and hilarious.

My town is jammed with so-called Irish pubs with "help wanted" signs in their windows. Dear Reader, if you ran an Irish pub, wouldn't you want to hire charming, responsible, GENUINE Irish people (with bar experience!) from Dublin to work for you and chat with customers? But no offers yet, if you can believe it. Not even a call-back. Perhaps there is another problem working against them. At one Irish pub, for example, the manager actually said, "That's an interesting accent, where are you from?"

But really, is it just that there are no jobs? Is it that business owners are reluctant to hire travellers who are just passing through and have no ties to the place? Please assure me that it's not some shameful vestige of the old "No Irish Need Apply" policy, some back-of-the-mind suspicion that there's a higher-than-usual risk that an Irish employee will be an irresponsible hooligan? Are my pals being lumped into the "good ol' green, pig under one arm, bowler hatted, fighting in the car park, shamrock/leprechaun"* corral?

Because that's certainly what I did to them. I'm always correcting their pronunciation of English and hiding my booze from them and asking them to dance a jig for me. Come on, just one little jig.

* Can't take credit for that nugget, it's from my friend "Peaches" and his clever little brain.