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October 29, 2018

More Fun Things

Last weekend, I had the great pleasure of returning to the Stratford Writers Festival, where I moderated a panel about women’s experiences with Sarah Selecky, Andrea Bain, and Emily Anglin, and it was wonderful. I still remember the first time I was asked to moderate anything, years ago, and how I accepted the job because I thought it was the kind of thing I’d really like to do, although I wasn’t sure I’d be very good at it—and I wasn’t. But over the years, I’ve become comfortable with public speaking and confident about my own skills as a reader, to the point where I’m a kickass moderator and I know it, and I love it. It was a real pleasure to be part of this event.

That same weekend, I had the joyful experience of my review of Iona Whishaw’s A Sorrowful Sanctuary appearing in The Toronto Star’s venerable books section. So nice too that Whishaw’s all too timely historical novel gave me an excuse to be calling our shady nationalist politicians and Nazis in the media. ‘“I suppose I’m simply naïve,” [Lane] explains. “I want all my Nazis parceled up and put on the shelf of history after all our hard work in the war. I didn’t expect to find them here.”’

And this weekend, I’m off to Sudbury for the Wordstock Sudbury Festival. On Saturday morning, I’ll be appearing on a book industry panel with Hazel Millar and Holly Kent, and later that afternoon representing Mitzi Bytes with Margaret Christakos and Diane Schoemperlen, and I’m really looking forward to it.

October 1, 2018

The Journey Prize Stories 30

Seasons aside, a year is kind of an arbitrary span of time, but I love that my 2018 has been defined by the gestation of The Journey Prize Stories 30 and the experience of being a juror for the prize. It was January and the dead of winter when I received an email from McClelland and Stewart Editor Anita Chong with this amazing opportunity, and it was February and March as I read the stories, 100 of them, usually while my children were at Brownies or swimming lessons, and I was the woman with the giant bundle of papers. April and May were my conversations with co-jurors Sharon Bala and Zoey Leigh Peterson, which were so rewarding and inspiring and we learned a lot from each other (and then Sharon and I spent a day together at The FOLD in May, and my admiration for her was set in stone). Through May and June, we wrote our introduction together, and set the stories’ order, which was also terrifically interesting. And then our jury was announced in late July, the finalists not long after. And last week the book become available in stores, that giant bundle of papers rendered into something readable and magnificent. I’m reading it now, a story per night, revisiting these stories in a very different context from where I found them in the first place. What a journey, to be more than a bit corny. But I am really excited about this book. (And about the presentation of the winner at the Writers’ Trust Awards in November. The Journey Prize year goes on and on…)

Anyway, I now implore you all to go out and buy The Journey Prize Stories 30, because it’s such a rich and wonderful collection of stories. But I’ve got a second copy going that I want to give away to someone in the meantime. If you’d like a chance to win it (and have a Canadian address), please leave a comment on my blog or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram telling me what your favourite Canadian story, or story writer, or story collection is. Winner will be chosen Monday October 8.

September 14, 2018

In the woods, on the radio, and online!

We had an amazing time at the Dunedin Literary Festival “Words in the Woods!” last weekend, where I had the privilege of moderating a panel with Karma Brown, Tish Cohen, and Uzma Jalalludin. It was a very good day and left me excited for my next event, which takes place on September 23 in Huntsville as part of Huntsville Public Library’s Books and Brunch series. I’ll be there with Hannah Mary McKinnon and K.A. Tucker, and all of us appeared on the most recent episode of the library’s very own radio show (how cool!) Keeping Up the Librariansyou can listen to it here. And I was also happy to take part in the “Behind the Scenes With Book Reviewers” series at the Hamilton Review of Books, which was published this week—go here to learn all my book reviewing secrets.

July 31, 2018

The Journey to the Journey Prize

I’m so pleased to share the news that I’m a juror for the The Journey Prize this year, along with Sharon Bala and Zoey Leigh Peterson. And I’m pleased not just because it’s such an honour to be part of this project, a prize that has played a part in the careers of so many superstar Canadian writers. A prize that I always had secret dreams of being a finalist for—the closest I ever came was having a story of mine nominated way back when, and even that was something I was a little bit proud of. I’ve written before about how exciting it was to buy a copy of the anthology in 2008 when my friend Rebecca Rosenblum was a finalist—my friend was in an actual book! And so to be a juror—what a huge and incredible thing. But the honour is just the beginning—I want also write about how it’s been an absolute delight and that I’ve learned so much from the experience as a reader. It’s been so interesting.

This opportunity arrived in my inbox early this year, and I did not hesitate to say yes, because if there is any evidence that I’ve succeeded in making a name for myself as a reader, this would be it. It felt great to be in the esteemed company of Sharon and Zoey as well—I’d just read Sharon’s novel, The Boat People, and loved it, and I’d been hearing people raving about Zoey’s Next Year, For Sure since it was published. And then it would not be long before a giant envelope was delivered to my house, and I began the process of reading 100 short stories that had been published in journals and magazines across the country, which meant there was so much goodness, and it would be my job to help figure out the best of the best. I began a big knitting project as I started reading the stack, and I knit as I began reading, and also lugged the stack of stories over to the pool and read it on the bleachers while my children did their swimming lessons. When I think of that stack of stories, I think of sunny Sundays with pages spread out on  my bed and also chlorine.

And then I sent in my shortlist of 15 or so stories, and I thought that it was pretty cut and dried. Several stories it seemed obvious to me were excellent, and others were pretty easy to reject, because some things are simple, right? And then I received our collective longlist, which was 30-some stories, and some of the picks were baffling—really? Maybe this was going to be harder than I thought…but I started reading again, and something amazing happened. Reading these stories in a new context was so illuminating, and understanding that my colleagues supported some of these stories made me read them differently. I also reread some of my own favourites, and wondered if my enthusiasms had perhaps been ill-placed. A few stories continued to stick out as extraordinary, and the rest of them were the same stories they’d always been, but my mind had changed. What a thing! To adjust and correct as a reader, to learn from my colleagues, to benefit from their broadening of my perspective.

And this only kept happening as we got to know each other through conference calls, as we debated and enthused, asked questions and posed answers. There was such generosity in the spirit of the work we were doing, a willingness to listen to each other and learn. I’d previously had an experience on a jury with someone who simply dug in his heels and refused to listen to anyone, and he’d ruined the entire experience for me—and I’m still so angry that we let him get his way, but in the end I just wanted to get home for lunch. With Zoey and Sharon though, every bit of our conversation was about listening and building, and at those moments when one of us dug in our heels, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

The list we settled on could not have been more perfect, and all of us were so satisfied with it, and excited as we took on the task of arranging story order and writing our introduction. That giant stack of stories had been whittled down to something that was an actual book, rich with cohesion and connections, both obvious ones and others that were surprising. And I’m so excited now, for the shortlist to be revealed on August 7, for the book to find its way into readers’ hands, for these stories to be read—I don’t know that I’ve ever felt so personally connected to a book I didn’t write. But I can tell you with assuredness that it’s such a good book, and I’m excited for the next stage of its journey into the world.

Update: In all my rhapsodizing for my co-jurors, I forgot to give credit to McClelland & Stewart and the incredible Anita Chong, who is the whole reason this experience has been such a pleasure. Anita is so incredibly good at what she does, and I’ve been so grateful to get to know her and work with her on this book.

May 17, 2018

Three Things!

March 22, 2018

“But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean the explanation doesn’t exist.”

I wrote about abortion again. Boring, I know, but every time I write about abortion, it seems to more and more politically imperative to do so. And this piece is one of the best essays I’ve ever written, I think. I’m really proud of it and feel good having those words, this story, out in the world. It’s such a common story, but for so many reasons, it’s not one we read about or hear about very often. Though I’m writing it not just for myself and so many women like me whose uncomplicated, ordinary, straightforward stories of abortion are that it was a good thing, a blessing, and simultaneously not a big deal but also such an important part of our lives. I’m writing it also with the hope of reaching someone who sees abortion as killing a baby, and cannot fathom how it could ever be ordinary, let alone a blessing. Not even to change their mind, but to have them entertain the notion of considering a different point of view. “I understand where you’re coming from,” I want to tell them, because I do, “but for a moment just consider my story.”

Which makes me think of a idea that keeps recurring in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, which I’m reading aloud to my family at the moment. Uttered first in a line by Meg Murry’s mother, who tells her, “But you see, Meg, just because we don’t understand doesn’t mean the explanation doesn’t exist.” Just because someone doesn’t understand my story doesn’t mean my story isn’t true. My story is, no matter how much that complicates your worldview. I’ve written before about being grateful for my abortion, for what it’s taught me about in-betweenness and grey areas, and about the value of listening to people and believing them when they tell you about their experiences. Even if you can’t identify, even if you can’t understand. Because it’s possible that the limits of your understanding are also the limits of your point of view, and I want my ideas to be able to travel further than that. And I hope that other people might see the benefits of such open-mindedness as well.

September 27, 2017

Niceness, kindness and goodness

I loved writing my essay, “Why we need to stop teaching girls to be nice” for Todays Parent because it was such an exercise in figuring out what I was thinking about. (If only all life’s dilemmas came with built in editors to underline parts of your understanding that are vague or ill-formed.) I got to think about goodness and kindness, and my discomfort with too much of an emphasis on empathy and that my daughters should feel that their responsibility is other people’s comfort. But also my puzzling out that teaching my daughters to care for themselves and take care of others is not necessarily incongruous. Even better, I get to reference So I Married an Ax Murderer, AND Joan Didion. I hope you will appreciate what I came up with. Thanks for reading! 

September 19, 2017

You can’t synthesize this

I’m of two minds. I usually am. I don’t know that’s such a bad thing, and the thing my brain gets up to when I’m swimming lengths or walking down the street is looking for synthesis. You can change the world and be the change to wish to see in it at once, I mean; I can “find ways to fight all of the systems that uphold my privilege while simultaneously standing up for myself when I am pushed down”; I’ve always thought that gender is a construct and mine doesn’t define me, but transgender people exist and so they should; I abhor violence, but want to punch everyone I see on a Segway; I love my children and I’m so grateful for my abortion. Etc. Etc. Yes, but, Yes, and. And in my head I’m always trying to put all the pieces together, to demonstrate that really we’re all on the same page. A grand unification theory, as it were. But a thing I’m learning as I get older is that while everything is complicated, everything is so complicated that we’re never to agree on just how. The tension is inherent to the project. It’s even often useful. And it’s never going to go away.

I wrote a piece for CBC online last week about our family’s choice to rent a home instead of buy one, and I was nervous about this project. I kept thinking about the furor surrounding the Toronto Life “We Bought a Crackhouse” family, all that entitlement. And here I am, a privileged person writing about our choices and our freedoms as a result of where and how we live, when for many people affordable housing is rare to the point where it’s a crisis. But that turned out not to be the problem at all. And for a day or so there was no problem, until the piece was featured on the CBC’s main page and got a lot of attention, inciting comments  on social media and on the piece itself—and they were ridiculous. Not about my failure to address income inequality and poverty (although that might have called for a longer article) but for the very point my piece addressed—that not buying into the cult of real estate makes other people go berserk. Not since the days when my peers debated sleep-training strategies on Facebook have I ever waded into anything so controversial—though naturally, I was of two minds about the sleep issue. I’m even of two minds about real estate, really—if buying a house were remotely in our means and didn’t require huge compromises in our lifestyle, I’d be all for it. I would love to have a house that was my own—although I wouldn’t be able to buy any furniture for it.

There is something about saying, “I’m going to have it all the ways,” that makes other people really angry. I notice this when I argue about abortion online—someone will always accuse a woman who has an abortion of being selfish. There is this needlessly puritanical fixation on sacrifice and selflessness, the idea that making a decision with one’s own happiness in mind is somehow suspect. When really, it just seems sensible to me. If you are lucky, you get to make the choice to do the thing you want to do—and how could you ever fault someone for doing so? But a lot of people do. And not just for something as controversial as abortion either, an argument whose “other side” I have some sympathy for (never mind the fact that you have to railroad over the lives of actual living breathing women to make it, and if you have no discomfort with this then you just might be a misogynist). But also for something as seemingly innocuous as real estate. Seriously, does anything ever provoke ire like a woman who declares to say in public, “I made a choice that makes me happy and I am satisfied”?

You can’t synthesize this. There is no thesis. There is only hysterical emotion and anger. People read my piece on renting and they really really cared what I said, and they really really thought I was wrong, so much so that they logged onto public forums to say so. None of this is a surprise to anybody who’s ever said anything online, but it’s the most read I’ve ever been as a writer, I think. It’s also the first time I’ve ever written anything that was of any interest in general to men. And this was interesting, although women were represented among the outraged. Fortunately, conversation was pretty cordial, and no one called me fat, or threatened to rape me, which means it was a good day on the internet. (Obviously, those two kinds of comments are barely comparable, except that they are the standard go-tos for people online who have feelings about something a woman has said on the internet.) Fortunately, also, the outrage in reposes to my piece was pretty darn funny and I got a lot of amusement out of it, and (shockingly) none of the financial arguments managed to convince me that our choice is the wrong one. The choice we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and built our lives around. It’s just fascinating, that anybody cared so much. And very sad about that one man whose comment was, “I’m never going to buy your book.” Oh no! How will I make it through?

Some things are not worth synthesizing. “The cult of real estate in Canada is so pervasive that I’d never before questioned whether buying a house would be our next step in adulthood,” I wrote in my piece, and the cult of real estate keeps trying to pervade. Which makes pieces like mine necessary, I think, not in spite of the way they provoke stupid outrage, but because they do. That’s my thesis, and I’m sticking to it.

Update: Check out Carin Makuz’s wonderful post about Shirley and lawnmowers, and life’s complicatedness, and how there really is no one right way to be. 

May 30, 2017

Big As Life

I fell in love with Sara O’Leary’s picture books back when I wasn’t even into picture books, before I had children. I discovered her via the blog Crooked House, when Stephany Aulenback published an interview with her in 2007. (Stephany Aulenback delivered me to all the best things, and I miss her blog: she is also the reason I read Harriet the Spy.) I loved O’Leary’s first picture book, When You Were Small, and it’s where my love of Julie Morstad’s work began—we’ve now got a print of hers hanging in our hallway. All of which is to say that Sara O’Leary’s work has been a part of my life in an essential way for a long time now.

And so I was particularly delighted by the opportunity to write about her books for The Walrus, an adventure that had me revisiting microscopic books at Toronto Public Library’s Osborne Collection and calling them up to clarify just how many miniature books they had—amusingly, all online references noted the collection of miniatures was “sizeable.” I got to revisit The Borrowers, and read Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House and T.H. White’s Mistress Mashem’s Repose. I was also recommended Jerry Griswold’s fascinating book, Feeling Like a Kid: Childhood and Children’s Literature—the chapter on “snugness” was my favourite.

So much stuff I came up with didn’t make it into the final piece (1800 words is not so long…) but it was all so fascinating. Everyone was sick in my house on Christmas Eve, which was annoying but left me free to read the entirety of O’Leary’s collection of short stories for adults, Comfort Me With Apples. (Note: she also has a novel for grown up children forthcoming next year, a ghost story which, unsurprisingly, features a dollhouse…) I was particularly struck by O’Leary’s preoccupation in these stories with so many of the ideas that would surface in her work for children a decade or more later—children with indeterminable origins, the fundamental unknowability of mothers, families that weren’t the way they were supposed to be, subtle allusions to nursery rhymes, and particularly ideas about size and scale.

I found O’Leary’s novella in the collection, “Big As Life,” made for the most fascinating companion to her Henry books. It begins with a woman sharing her first childhood memory, which her mother informs her is not a true memory but more likely something she dreamed once. This mother too who wishes to foster a more equal relationship with her daughter, to be like roommates who where the same clothes, which reminds me of the mother in When I Was Small who tells stories so she and her son “can be small together.” Lost photographs, so the woman is unable to corroborate anything she remembers from when she was small. The mother talking about her pregnancy, explaining, “Even though I was getting bigger all the time it felt like I was disappearing.”

This one extraordinary part where the women recalls the stories she used to tell her baby brother about when he was small: “I tried to tell him about who we were, what we’d been doing before he came along…I never prayed when I was a child, but somehow, telling my baby brother all I knew about life so far, I came close.”

And then this one incredible paragraph, from the perspective of a child watching her mother:

“The expression on her face—it was like she was aloft in a hot air balloon and we were all rapidly diminishing to the size and importance of ants on the ground below. It was as though soon we would grow too small to be seen, disappear, never to have existed at all. This, at least, is what I imagine, years later, trying to remember why I had grown suddenly enraged at the sight of my mother reading a book and smoking a cigarette.”

I am not sure at the connections one could make between the two works, what they mean. From reading the picture books we know that ants are actually pretty important after all and there is reverence for smallness—but perhaps you have to grow up in order to fully understand this. I think you also have to be grown-up to appreciate a mother’s desire to sometimes float away.

Parent/child relationships are complicated and fraught, it is true, but as I write in my Walrus piece, O’Leary’s picture books offer the suggestion of connection—just one of the many possibilities of small things.

I hope you’ll read it here.

April 30, 2017

A Remarkable Week for Mitzi and Me

As excellent weeks in the life of Mitzi Bytes go, I don’t know if any other will top this one. On Monday, I had the great pleasure of listening to my interview with Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter. On Tuesday, in preparation for the 1000 Islands Writers Festival (next weekend!!), I published a post on Mitzi Bytes and ambivalence on the festival blog. On Wednesday, I drove to Waterloo to partake in the Appetite for Reading Book Club event, which was so much fun, totally delicious, and dear friends were there, part of a room packed with avid readers—you can see some of their smiling faces above.

Thursday evening was the thoroughly bonkers and wholly enjoyable Toronto Library Bibliobash, which took place at the Toronto Reference Library, which is one of my favourite places on earth. It was hilarious fun and also a privilege to be able to support the library in such a wonderful way. It was very exciting to see Mitzi Bytes in such a setting…

And the next day I would discover it somewhere just as lovely—in Shawna Lemay’s beautiful response to the book at her blog, Transactions With Beauty.

Saturday was the third Authors for Indies day and I had the pleasure of a road trip with CanLit superstars Kate Hilton, Jennifer Robson, and Karma Brown, who were so much fun and (unsurprisingly) delightfully bookish. We went to Curiosity House Books in Creemore and Forsters Book Garden in Bolton, which was so wonderful because there is nothing I ever love more than a destination bookshop. It was terrific to meet the booksellers and the readers…and of course I bought a few books on my own. There was much raucousness and the snacks were great…

…and I arrived back home in time to listen to the rebroadcast of The Next Chapter with my family! (Happy to see Mitzi Bytes included on “15 books you heard about on CBC Radio this week”!).

One more thing—the new issue of The Hamilton Review of Books is up and it’s really great. And it also includes my review of Marianne Apostolides’ memoir, Deep Salt Water, which was such a joy to puzzle out and write about. I’m very pleased to be included in this issue. And I’m closing out here with a photo of Marissa Stapley and I from my Toronto Library Eh List Event on April 13. Marissa was wonderful and it was such a good night—one of many I’ve been experiencing lately.

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