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August 8, 2011

Going Home Again

“I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience or returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to? It is not quite true that you can’t go home again. I have done it, coming back here. But it gets less likely. We have had too many divorces, we have consumed too much transportation, we have lived too shallowly in too many places.” –Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose

I don’t get home very often, hardly ever. I’ve never lived in either of the houses where my parents live now, my grandparents’ houses were sold and gutted long ago, the woods behind the house I lived in until I was nine are now so grown-up that you can’t see the house from the road, and I rarely find myself on that road anyway. Wallace Stegner was right. Like Joan Didion, my parents may have wanted to promise me that I would “grow up with a sense of [my] cousins and of rivers and over my great-grandmother’s teacups, would like to [have pledged me] a picnic on a river with fried chicken and [my] hair uncombed, would like to [have given me] home for [my] birthday, but we live differently now.” Which I don’t think is an inconsolable loss, but it’s a loss still, and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve been awash is nostalgia this last while. I keep wanting to write essays about how I spent the night of September 11 2001 in Kos at College and Bathurst eating fries with my friends. This comes on because that night was ten years ago, a nice round number, and because I’ve been listening to Dar William’s The Honesty Room, which I bought around the same time. I keep wanting to write essays about riding our bikes in Japan, and our house in England with its dirty lace curtains and the park across the street, and these wouldn’t be essays, really. They would be diary entries, which, according to Sarah Leavitt, are differentiated from memoirs in that in memoirs, the role of the self is to serve the story. In my story, the role of the self would only be to serve the self, pure indulgence. Basically, I’d like to go home again. Which is as impossible as: Basically, I want a time machine.

I try. Sometimes I walk down Dundas Street between Bathurst and Manning, where I lived for a pivotal year at the turn of the century, except that the Chinese herb shop we lived over is now a store where you can buy a $2400 ottoman, and the restaurant at the end of our block burned down last summer. Sometimes I walk through the university campus where I lived when I thought that a push-up bra and blue eyeshadow were key accessories and where the snow fell so high once that the army came and shovelled us out, but it’s too altogether the same and different. We’ve been replaced by new students who sleep in our beds and imagine themselves to be the centre of the universe.

My family has a thing for nostalgia. A favourite pass-time has always been the Driving By Where We Used to Live game, or the Driving by Where We Lived Before You Were Born game. I sometimes still play this, except we don’t have a car, and so we settle for Pushing Your Stroller Past the Old Apartment whenever we’re in Little Italy. My husband thinks this is weird. Partly because he has lived in none of these locations save for one, and so the game to him is a little bit boring. I keep trying to take him home to places he’s never seen in his life which are inhabited by strangers who have painted the garage door and redone the siding. Besides, he grew up in a land so steeped in its history that he was eager to shed the concept entirely with his new life in Canada. He’s had enough of trodding on Roman ruins. He also thinks it’s funny that any Canadian building one hundred years old is worthy of a plaque.

Anyway, the point is that the cottage we’ve stayed at the last two summers is also where the summers of my childhood were spent. Or not the entire summers, but a few weeks of every one, which, interestingly, have gone all metonymic and become the only bits of those summers I remember. So that last week I did get to go home again, to a place so utterly unchanged, but then I am so changed that it’s a new place altogether and I am happy with that, because I certainly don’t want our summer vacation to be one of those drive-by games that makes Stuart exasperated. I want the cottage to be a place for Harriet to discover for herself, just like I did, and she doesn’t need to know that the dock used to be broken and sinking, so slippery that you couldn’t run, where our fort was, and that the beach was wider once upon a time, but the minnows are the same, and so are the leopard frogs. It is easier to walk barefoot on gravel than it used to be, or maybe it’s just that the soles of my feet are just hard.

No one needs to know about the two salient selves I remember from there. The seven year old girl with a side-ponytail performing a choreographed routine to the theme from Jem and the Holograms on top of a picnic table, and the other one even more awkward, if you can believe it. She’s sitting on a swing dreamily, listening to “Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover” on the yellow Sony Sports Walkman tucked into the kangaroo pocket of her baja jacket. She’s staring at the sunset sparkling on the lake, and she’s thinking of profound things, like boyfriends, and breasts, and one day being so far away that she’ll be able to refer to herself in the third person.

February 14, 2011

Valentines Day is for eating.

December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

In every way, it’s been a pretty wonderful year. We began it still pretty shell shocked from the chaos that having a baby created, but it was also when I really began to enjoy the shape of our new life with Harriet, and the pace of our every day lives together started improving in leaps and bounds. Harriet has become more fabulous with every passing month, and these days we never threaten to throw her out the window more than once or twice a week. I also continue to adore her dad a whole lot, and note that he is pretty much the key to everything good.

Other keys to everything have been joining a local writers’ salon with a wonderful group of women who are extraordinary in both talent and generosity of spirit. Our meetings have been a source of great company, conversation, ideas, inspiration, and friends. Concurrently, I have also been honoured to be a member of The Vicious Circle book club, and meetings have been along similar lines (albeit a bit more ribald in tone). Both have been the very best ways to spend my time-off from motherhood, and I look forward to them always. I also mark how far I’ve become this past year by remembering my first salon meeting in February, how I’d never left Harriet in the evening before, but how we all made it (including Stuart, who was tasked with putting her to bed solo), and how me leaving the house at night is no longer remotely a big deal.

I have been extraordinarily blessed by creative opportunities this year. I’ve had two stories published, and had a dream come true as reading as part of Eden Mills Festival Fringe Stage. I’ve written lots of book reviews, and published two essays on topics I care about deeply (and then there was the matter of that shout-out by the Utne Reader). None of this was on the cards one year ago, and so it leaves me hopeful for what 2011 will bring (though I looking forward to seeing my piece in the Sharon Butala Special Issue of Prairie Fire this Fall, which has been forthcoming for about two years now).

My goals this year are to finish the first draft of my novel, to finally read Great Expectations, and to not drive our rental car into anything when we go to England in March. I am going to try to get out to more literary events, although not too hard because there is really no better place to be than my house. I am excited to be teaching The Art and Business of Blogging at the UofT School of Continuing Studies in April. And I look forward to finding new and creative ways to live frugally in the city, while concurrently exploiting the many opportunities that city-living brings.

I have read 149 books this year, which I’m pretty pleased with, mostly because so many of them have been wonderful. For this large total, however, I really only do have Harriet to thank, and her wonderfully epic nap times. Long may they live. It has been a diverse list of books read, male and female authors, a bit too heavy on the contemporary due to judging a book prize this summer, but otherwise I can’t see any major gaps. It’s worth nothing, however, just how much satisfaction I am getting from independent Canadian Presses even as I’ve become a more more demanding reader these last few years, and it was so exciting to see them get their due through the Giller long and shortlists this year. May indie presses outlive even Harriet’s naps (or they could both live on forever?).

And may 2011 be full of good things.

December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Not a perfect festive photo, but will have to suffice right now, even though it’s a bit heavy on the Miffy. We’ve got the tree though, and Harriet hasn’t shut her eyes (which she lately thinks is required when she’s called on to smile). I was just out in the neighbourhood dropping off banana bread (as you do) when I ran into some women from Baby Yoga, and we were reflecting on a lifetime ago when we were all new moms. And then I went on to the library, and we saw our friends there, and I thought about (like I always do) is how blessed we are by the community we’ve found in this big, big city. And on this big, big internet too– the connections I’ve made are such a delight. I am so grateful for your friendship, support and inspiration, and wish each and every person who turns up here (yes, even you who came googling “connect mammoth with god with us an a line mam” and especially you who came via “supporting breastfeeding mothers on the second night”) a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. xo

May 26, 2010

On the occasion of Harriet's first birthday– A TNQ Giveaway!

Because it is a truth universally acknowledged that there is nothing more boring than a mother marvelling that her child is actually one year older than she had been 365 days previous, I will sweeten the deal for you with a giveaway (see below). In the meantime, allow me to wish my favourite grass-grazing, scone-eating, bath-splashing, book-chewing, mommy-kissing, tea-pouring (imaginary), scream-uttering, world-charming, fast-crawling, quick-squirming, noodle-devouring, all-night-sleeping baby, Ms. Harriet (who is my prime distraction, main occupation, the one subject of which I will never, ever tire [though I will tire, oh yes I will, and I have]) a very happy first birthday. It has been a year that’s turned my pickled piglet into an honest-to-goodness person, albeit a still-quadrupedal one. It’s simply been an eternity, and it’s all disappeared in a flash.

There. Thank you. And for your patience, A TNQ Giveaway!

I have an one-year subscription to give away to my favourite magazine in the world, The New Quarterly. TNQ is fiction, poetry, features, art, profiles, creative non-fiction and more. TNQ is never the same, but always gorgeously produced, the work is always thoughtful and interesting, containing stories that have absolutely blown my mind. I read Alison Pick for the first time there, and Carrie Snyder, and Terry Griggs, and Amy Jones, and Zsuszi Gartner. I love the “Magazine as Muse” section. The Editor’s letters are always a pleasure to read, and full of treasures themselves. In short, four times a year, TNQ comes into my world and makes it a better place. And now you have the chance to make yours similarly enhanced. (Providing you’re a Canadian resident. So sorry, my international friends!)

To win a one-year subscription to The New Quarterly on the occasion of Harriet’s birthday, email me (klclare AT gmail com) and tell me who is your favourite literary baby. (You don’t have one? Come on…). Deadline is Saturday May 29th at midnight. Winner will be chosen randomly OR I will pick my very favourite, if one is so astounding.

And anyone who chooses Margaret Atwood’s “Hairball” is disqualified.

May 9, 2010

I'd rather lick a garbage truck

It was a year ago that we discovered just how immovable our child was, though I wouldn’t comprehend just how much until she was born. And now she’s eleven and a half months old, we’re planning her first birthday party. She sleeps all night almost every night, which makes me feel that wonder and amazement you’re supposed to feel when someone hands you your newborn for the first time. That this enormous blessing could be mine. (Other mothers say, “We’ll see how long it lasts” and then I want to hit them.)

I had a splendid Mother’s Day today, beginning with six and a half hours sleep (and it’s only that because I stay up far too late), then a lie-in, breakfast in bed (croissants! yoghurt! fresh fruit! tea!). Harriet was thoughtful enough to buy me Darwin’s Bastards (which I didn’t think I’d want to read when I first heard about it, but the more I read about it, the more I longed to). This afternoon, my own wonderful mom came into the city and accompanied us to afternoon tea at The Four Seasons. Scones were so fresh. Harriet was an angel, and the staff were so nice to us even though they had to vaccuum grapes and cheddar cheese off the floor after we had gone. (Interestingly, they remembered Harriet from our last tea in February. I am not sure whether that’s a good thing or not.)

Also, asparagus is in season, so all is well.

In really stange news, my maternity leave ended on Friday. In an alternate universe, I’d be going back to work on Monday, but as working full time and being a mother would cut into my tea breaks, we decided it would be best if I stayed home for a while. Also, my husband begins a new day job in two weeks, leaving his Bay Street office behind for work at a non-profit. I’m very proud of him, excited for him, and relieved that if I get to be home all day, at least he’ll be working somewhere that makes him happy.

And I do mean that, “get to be home all day”. Can I just say that staying home with a small baby sucks like nothing else in the world? I’d rather work in a glass chewing factory or lick a garbage truck. Staying home with a one-year-old, however, is pretty brilliant and gets better all the time. It’s also a great excuse to spend sunny afternoons outside in the park. Even though her naps are often fleeting, I get to curl up on the couch with a book and a cup of tea. When Harriet is awake, we hang out together. She is beginning to show her understanding of language in ways that fascinate me, we can share jokes, she is a pretty happy kid and very affectionate, and I really do like her company. So I feel lucky that we get to continue our days together, that spring is here and summer is coming, and I look forward to exercising feats of financial acrobatics so that our little family can get away with having our income cut in half. (There may have to be less afternoon tea. This is sad).

Anyway, all of this is to say that I am grateful for my good fortune (especially the asparagus) and that I’m very happy that I’m a mother today.

February 17, 2010

Getting Settled

Oh, I do love my new website. I love the colours, and I love the doors (which I photographed in Elora last summer), and I love my cool twitter feed in the sidebar, and my “Features” buttons. In the wider world, I love that celebrating Valentines, Family Day and Mardi Gras, and though tomorrow is the first day in three days that isn’t a holiday, my husband’s got the week off work so the fun continues– tomorrow we’re going to the AGO. Though we’re completely exhausted already, and not just because of pancakes. I now see the advantages to preparing your baby’s nursery before the baby’s birth, as opposed to, say, when the baby is eight and a half months old, because it’s an all-consuming process, and then the baby gets so mad when you’re ignoring it to screw crescent-moon light covers into the wall. The one good thing about it though is that the baby gets an awesome room completely devoid of pastels, and perhaps a bit overstimulating, but something tells me our baby would have had that anyway.

Anyway, all this to say that we’ve had nary a spare moment, but I’m almost through Nicholas Ruddock’s The Parabolist and will be posting a review very soon. And next up for me is Patrick Swayze’s autobiography, if I actually decide to go through with it. Which seems like not the best idea in a world with so many books and so little time, but if I don’t, what might I be missing??

February 14, 2010

Valentines Day Recommendation: A different kind of love story

Old Friends, Rare Books is doubly a love story. About first, an incredible lifelong relationship. One which, the authors note, has been inferred to be sexual, but they say otherwise. That there had been men in their lives, and plenty of other friends, but in no one else did these women begin to find the sense of being so perfectly matched that they’d encountered in each other. Truly– as their joint autobiography attests to– Madeleine Stern and Leona Rostenberg speak in the very same voice, and mostly they’ve been talking about books since their meeting in New York at the beginning of the 1930s. And in recounting their adventures ever since then, the peculiarities of their relationship actually become quite unremarkable, or perhaps only as unremarkable as any extraordinary, enduring absolute partnership could be.

Stern’s work as a biographer brought much acclaim throughout her career– in particularly, her groundbreaking work on Louisa May Alcott. (And with a book on bookish connections, it’s worth noting that I only read Old Books, Rare Friends after seeing it referenced in Harriet Reisman’s new Alcott biography, which I only read because I’d read Little Women in the Fall, and I only did that because I’d found a battered copy in a curbside box two years ago and it had been sitting on my shelf forlorn ever since then). Rostenberg had completed a PhD dissertation on early printers and publishing, but it was unfairly rejected– a wrong that thirty years ago was  righted with the granting her degree in 1972. In the meantime, she’d opened up her own business as a rare book dealer, Stern joining her a few years later, and their book recounts their adventures exploring bookshops throughout the world in search of precious volumes, which did have a knack of turning up rather serendipitously. Their sleuthing/detection skills were also put to use in their discovery of Louisa May Alcott’s vast body of salacious short fiction, published in 19th century periodicals under a pseudonym. This find would cast Alcott’s reputation as a kindly writer of children’s fiction into a new light.

All of which are part of this book’s other compelling love story– Stern and Rostenberg’s lifelong affair with books. An enthusiasm made contagious through such vivid and engaging prose. Truthfully, sixteenth century ephemera isn’t my cuppa tea, but I started to wish it was. Their adventures in literary sleuthing were like Possession but in real life! Their extraordinary lives were such a grand adventure, the stuff of a book lover’s dream.

I am so grateful for the literary luck that put me in touch with this marvelous volume. Love love love.

Happy Valentines Day.

November 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Stuart!

Every year around this day, or to be more specific, on this day, I get to say aloud what I think all the time, which is, “What a terrific man is this Stuart character I’ve somehow got myself hooked up with.” Because he really is fantastic, and in seven years I’ve not even begun to get enough of his marvelous company, and I’m so proud of the thirty-year old man who’s made a life for himself that that twenty-three-year old I met years ago would be in awe of. So grateful also that he’s so unfailingly good to me, and for the life we’ve made together.

In short, he’s fantastic, and during the past six months he’s been put to the test, with his patience, caring nature, hilarious sense of humour, much relied-upon ingenuity, and his understanding rarely waning. And that they rarely waned rather than never did only shows he’s human, but what an extraordinary one. Harriet and I are so very lucky, because he’s an excellent husband and a wonderful dad. I love him very much.

Happy Birthday!

November 1, 2009

Halloween the First

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