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Pickle Me This

July 7, 2021

Grinding Sharpening

For years, the knife sharpening van has existed on the margins of my experience, an uncanny ringing in the distance, slowly moving up and down the streets of our neighbourhood, slightly sinister. The idea of waving him down with a handful of knives always seemed awkward to me, and so I never have, and so all of our knives are dull dull dull.

The knife sharpening van makes a cameo appearance in my first novel, Mitzi Bytes, underlining the danger inherent in ordinary lives.

We were having a conversation about the knife sharpening van, its elusiveness, and our dull kitchen knives as recently as yesterday.

And then tonight we heard the tell tale clang clang clang, and ran out the door, knife wielding maniacs. “Stop, stop!” And he did!!

WE CAUGHT THE KNIFE SHARPENING VAN.

And it did not even open up a portal to another dimension.

It did, however, generate considerable sparks.

And someone is likely to slice open their hand in our kitchen within the next few days.

It was really and truly magic.

March 17, 2021

Taking Stock

Making: A new novel that’s inspired by Barbara Pym’s books, and I just hit 10,000 words. It might not be good, it might never be published, but my goodness, am I having a good time.
Getting: ready for summer! If all goes well, we will going on all the holidays, and even if things don’t go all THAT well, which is good planning.
Baking: I just baked a loaf of banana bread but didn’t have enough bananas (which I only realized after I’d melted the butter), so grated a giant honeycrisp apple into the batter and I think it was a very good decision. (Update: it was.)
Sipping: My 800th cup of tea of the day, an Earl Grey loose leaf that we got when we after takeout afternoon tea from the Windsor Arms Hotel.
Reading: Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym; Satellite Love, by Genki Ferguson; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Last Interview
Waiting: to go pick up the kids from school
Looking: At crocuses and other buds poking up through the soil. Every year, it’s never less a miracle.
Listening: The Moon and the Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, a new album by Valerie June, which is so good, and inspired Stuart to order a new stereo because it was so great but the quality of our phone speakers was so rubbish, and this music deserves to be heard properly
Wishing: for not much, actually! I’ve been feeling extraordinarily good these days. I made a pledge that my March 2021 would be more enjoyable than March 2020, and I’ve been surpassing that low bar in glorious leaps and bounds.
Enjoying: How light the sky still is at 6pm since the clocks went forward
Appreciating: The amazing work of my kids’ teachers to give them a more than half-decent school year
Eating: I had a tandoori chicken wrap from Elchi Chai Shop for lunch, and it was absolutely delicious
Liking: The experience of tuning out a lot of what is happening on social media, getting my news from a few trusted sources and not forcing myself to pay attention to every single gosh darn thing, because it’s a big, big world
Loving: my apartment. We’ve lived here for 13 years in April, which is the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, and this year in particular has made me grateful for a comfortable place to call home.
Buying: Grin Toothbrushes
Managing: my household. I am so good at this, and it’s an underappreciated skill—although not in my household because I make sure everyone knows how excellent it is that we never run out of toilet paper, cinnamon, coffee filters, fresh baked banana bread, etc.
Watching: We just finished watching the Fran Lebowitz Netflix series, “Pretend It’s a City.” I loved it. A fantastic escape from our current moment

Hoping: For some good news coming soon about my next book
Wearing: A ratty old cardigan. Yesterday my husband ordered me a brand new cardigan because I think he’s fed up with this one, because he is the one who has to look at it. I am also wearing my new slippers I bought at the beginning of February, and maybe it’s a coincidence that I’ve been happier ever since they came into my life. Though of course, I am looking forward to warmer days and being finished with cardigans and slippers altogether
Following: the path of the light as the sun moves across the sky. I know it’s going to be a nice day when the sunrise hit the windows of the high school west of my house bedroom window.
Noticing: That almost every parent I hear from about parenting in the pandemic claims that fortunately their kids are at an easier age to be dealing with “all this” than kids who are babies/toddlers/tweens/teens. I know this is contrary to the whole “the pandemic has been brutal for parents” narrative that seems to be in play, but the world is complicated and interesting.
Sorting: I am sort of between sorts (which is much preferable to being out of them). We’ve gone through our apartment this year and done things to make these spaces more pleasant and livable—it’s all organized. Except for the upstairs storage closest which is a disaster, because we’re long overdue for a trip to Value Village to make a donation of all the stuff we’ve been sorting.
Getting: used to new variants, second and third waves, to not panicking. It’s all very boring, actually. I think a lot of this represents a failure of storytelling. Pandemics are more banal than you would have thought.
Bookmarking: Well, I read it already, but I think YOU should bookmark Saleema Nawaz’s latest column in the Montreal Gazette.
Coveting: So I got a flyer from Pizza Pizza in my mailbox, which is a regular occurrence and I don’t ever buy Pizza Pizza pizza because I am an insufferable takeout snob, so just throw the flyers in the bin usually, but this flyer was about Pizza Pizza partnering with the card game UNO to celebrate the game’s 50th birthday with a commemorative deck, and now I am totally obsessed with this, even though I already have an UNO deck, but I don’t have THIS UNO deck.

Coveting also: A new novel by Katherine Heiny! She was part of an online event I attended in February celebrated Laurie Colwin, and it made me borrow her first novel Standard Deviation from the library and I love it so much. I laughed and laughed and laughed, but it was also so beautiful and poignant, which is a tricky balance to strike.
Feeling: good! Which is great, because, Little Darling, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter.
Hearing: Abundant birdsong out my kitchen door, especially cardinals. I love it.

I stole this from Pip Lincolne and I am really glad I did!

February 11, 2021

Slippers

I bought slippers on Monday, and they have improved my life exponentially, except that my feet are now so perpetually warm that when opportunity arises to leave the house (not that it comes up often) I almost want to pass it up, because then I’d have to take off my slippers, and whoever would want to go through that?

Not that we go anywhere anyway, except on walks around our neighbourhood before and after virtual school, and we’ve really exhausted every single alley way, running out of diversions.

Thankfully, the children are heading back to school on Tuesday after six weeks of learning from home, which has been great, actually, because their teachers have created an excellent program and they’re both at the right age and have the appropriate learning style to engage with it properly and without me having to be very involved at all. But I’m beginning to see the toll it’s taking on them, being home all the time, the stimulation they’re missing.

I’m finding mid-week difficult, was the thing I kept saying last week when it was Wednesday and I could not bear to cook, so we got take-out instead, and I was strung out on sadness and anxiety, and why do I keep falling apart on Wednesdays? It was curious. It’s happened every single Wednesday this year, except the day of my Toronto Library event (which is a good thing, really!) and I’d supposed that maybe that fun and exciting thing to do was a distraction from the curse of what Wednesday had become to me, the toll of a pandemic in winter heavy to carry through an entire week without me collapsing into a wreck.

But no. What if Wednesdays keep being hard because hard things keep happening on Wednesdays? Or even good things (Inauguration Day) so packed with feelings and the weight of the nightmare we’ve been living through that celebrations become a mix of emotions. Last Wednesday it was the announcement of school reopenings, which took me by surprise. Schools had been scheduled to reopen on February 10, but for some reason I’d decided that was a far-off date in the future that I’d never actually have to grapple with, and so the news it was imminent spiked my anxiety, and of course that so very little (nothing?) was being done to ensure that these reopenings were something parents and teachers could have confidence in.

Yesterday, however, was okay. I ventured into the day very carefully, but sailing ended up being fairly smooth. I realized the problem was not with Wednesdays in general, but possibly particular ones.

One thing that is definitely making my life better in general is another session of my blogging course, the second February in which I’ve run an intensive version with a fabulous group of writers. I love it so much, which I say mostly because this fact continues to surprise me—I started an online course because teaching in person made me uncomfortable and I wasn’t craving the engagement, really, but then a guided course proved more popular than a self-directed one, so I made it happen…and it turned out to be one of the most delightful projects that I’ve ever undertaken? I feel very lucky that this gets to be my work, and grateful that my ideas resonate with so many smart and wonderful people, and happy to be contributing in my own little way to smart and thoughtful people taking up space online.

I also like the framework and momentum that it adds to February, a season that sometimes seems to stretch on forever.

Every post, every day, every step (in my cozy) bringing us a little bit closer to springtime, to crocuses in bloom.

September 14, 2020

An Epiphany

I had an epiphany back in the summer when I watched in a man sitting on an ATV on the side of a rural road taking a moment to smoke a cigarette, and it was that he is allowed to like the things he likes as much as I am allowed to like the things I like, even if I think the things he likes are really stupid. Things like ATVs, and cigarettes, and ugly shirts, which sounds harmless enough, but, I guess, what if he also likes guns and conspiracy theories and racist stand-up comedians, and even in drawing these inferences, I’m revealing that I am kind of an asshole who deals in stereotypes? Possible the guy on the ATV was a pansexual vegan who’d just spent last week on Twitter railing against gender reveal parties and forest fires? And oh my goodness, as much as I hate gender reveal parties (with all my heart, I promise), I must confess that people hating on gender reveal parties is just as annoying. Possibly I am a bit sensitive about this because I once got a bit miffed at someone on social media who claimed that parents who referred to their children as sons or daughters were being abusive, and I guess I just feel like the whole problem is that imposing your own notions of gender onto other people is totally annoying (oh, HELLO, that lady who wrote those books about the boy wizard) even if you know you’re right, but everybody knows they’re right, which is the problem, and maybe what we all need to be interrogating right now, even though all these ideas might cause my poor brain to explode, but we need to figure out how to live together amidst all that tension—and also solve climate change.

August 24, 2020

20 K

There are people who get off on pushing limits, on the intensity of winning, overcoming. I am not one of those people, which is part of the reason my children could not ride bicycles for years. The other part of the reason why my children could not ride bicycles for years was that they were really bad at it, and we were even worse at trying to teach them. We tried everything, but once one knew how to do it, the other one was struggling, and finally what it took in the end was a pandemic, for the world to be brought to a halt and my husband to be so frustrated by our situation that he taught our youngest to ride in an afternoon and had everyone’s bikes tuned up and ready to go in a space of a week.

And so we ride bikes now, out for ice cream, to the Korean grocery store, to Dufferin Grove Park. So when my cousin called me out of the blue yesterday and suggested we meet at Humber Bay Shores, way out in the west end, I decided we would ride bikes to get there. According to Google Maps, it was fifteen minutes quicker than transit.

But, dear reader, Google Maps LIED. As we made our way down Shaw Street to King, it occurred to me that a return trip in the other direction was going to be hard work (the problem when your entire city is built on a subtle slope). And then when we got to King and realized that not only were there no bike lanes, but that idiots roared along in their stupid cars like the street was a racetrack, we joined our children on the sidewalk. And as Liberty Village turned into Parkdale, the sun grew hotter, and it was around Dufferin Avenue that somebody started to cry.

But by then it was too late to turn back, and there was still so far to go. Why is there no shade in Parkdale? Why had we decided to make this journey on the hottest day of the year? Would our children ever forgive us as they furiously pedalled on their tiny single speed bikes that they’ve both outgrown already? How were we ever going to get home again, I wondered, as we persisted, the lake getting closer. We pointed it out at our first glimpse of it, but the children were too tired to care.

There is a ramp on the other side of the Roncesvalles Pedestrian Bridge, and Iris sailed down it on her bike and ran right into a wall. I chased after her, flinging my own bike to the ground impeding traffic, and feeling like I was going to throw up once I had reached her, because I was already tired, and it was so very hot. (Cheers to the kind man at the Palais Royale who offered to refill our water bottles…)

On the other side of the bridge, we at least got to ride on the waterfront trail, and the Lakeshore was closed to traffic, so there was relief in that. But even from Sunnyside to Humber Bay Shores was so far, and as we approached the slope of the Humber Foot Bridge, we all felt ready to fall to pieces. Maybe we were just going to live at Humber Bay Shores forever, I decided, collapsed in a heap on the concrete.

Fortunately, we had come to Humber Bay Shores to see my cousin and her family, a cousin who has been one of my dearest friends forever, and once we’d recovered our breath and stopped sweating, we spent a delightful two hours with them, and no one ever would have suggested that the journey wasn’t worth it.

But how to get home?

I decided we would cycle home along the Martin Goodman Trail on the lakefront, taking our time (it took 3 hours), stopping often to stick our feet in wading pools, to collapse under shady trees, and eventually even to order takeout from a sushi place which we ate in the Toronto Music Garden. I bought my children orange crush, a staple of my childhood but a curious artifact in theirs, and they were so excited. They definitely earned it. And then after sushi, we cycled just a little bit further, to the streetcar stop that would take us and our bikes right up Spadina Avenue, depositing us at the end of our street.

Which was kind of cheating, but even still, we cycled 20 kilometres, and it was terrible and awful and fun and amazing, and we were so proud of ourselves, and we never, ever want to do it again.

February 21, 2020

Calm

2016 was the year in which I spent a lot of time waking up and not recognizing the world I lived in anymore, which was certainly a privileged position to be in (or emerge from), but that didn’t make it fun. “If somebody’s not safe, then none of us are safe,” was a phrase I heard that stuck with me, as violence and tyranny in faraway places crept closer and closer, as we stumbled through 2017 and I started getting massacre fatigue. I kept thinking about Syria, and all those people who’d been living regular lives up until just a few years ago, and how what separated me from those people’s experiences was mostly nothing.

To be anxious at this moment in time is certainly not to have one’s feelings be unfounded, of course. And while it’s in my nature to compare right now to other difficult periods in history (in the 1960s, everyone supposed they’d all die in a nuclear war, for example, which is the thing I remind my daughter of when she wonders if she’ll have a future because of climate change), that is not the same as saying we don’t have to do anything about what’s going on. And I’ve become especially resistant to people insisting that everything is fine, and that, moreover “there are good people on both sides” in order to justify such a position. Anyone who starts in on The Militant Left, as white nerds in stupid khaki pants take up their tiki torches and parade through the streets of major cities. Certainly, everything is not okay, and the oceans are riddled with plastic and the forests are burning.

But it somehow got to the point where every time a plane flew over my house, I supposed we were all going to die (and guys, we live under a major flight path). I got emergency weather alerts on my phone, and would have heart palpitations. Every time there was a wind gust, I’d be thinking about cyclones, and patio furniture flying off condo balconies and that poor person in the west end who was killed by a flying STAPLES sign during a storm in September 2012. It all became more than a little overwhelming.

And then it stopped, with the end of November. Like that. I wish I could tell you how it happened, but I really don’t know. (This shift did correspond with positive results from one of my various annual cancer-screening medical appointments [#Thisis40], but surely that’s not the reason I’m not afraid of the sound of airplanes anymore?) And there have been a few times since where I’ve sensed the anxiety creeping back, which has itself made me anxious, because I don’t seem to have much control over this thing, but each time the anxiety over the anxiety has proved worse than the anxiety itself, which quickly retreated and was never as enveloping as it had seemed before.

But it’s not gone. It’s there, but at a remove. I can note it, acknowledge it, and choose not to indulge it, as I lie under my covers in bed at night and hear a howling wind outside. I can make a choice to hear the wind and stay calm instead, which did not seem to be an option before.

The night of January 3, I opened my laptop and checked Twitter (I don’t have Twitter on my phone, as a kind of self-preservation) and saw that #WorldWarThree was trending after the US’s targeted killing of an Iranian military official, and instead of scrolling and scrolling in a futile search for reassurance and understanding, I closed my laptop again. In contrast, when the Russian ambassador to Turkey was assassinated in December 2016, similarly leading to hysterical tweets about Franz Ferdinand, World War, and ominous phrases like, “Here we go…,” I couldn’t close my laptop for days. But this time I had enough to perspective to consider that all of us could probably benefit from calming right down.

Similarly a week after the targeted killing, when we received the devastating news that a passenger airplane had been shot down “by accident” outside of Tehran, killing everyone on board. It was news that hit particularly close to home, as 57 Canadians were on board and many more were also en-route to Toronto, and grief hung low just like a fug, but. “I am working at channelling calm as I head into today,” I posted on Instagram that morning. It seemed particularly important for my own mental health, but also on a broader level, because it had been escalating military attacks (the opposite of calm) that had led to the tragedy in the first place.

During the past couple of weeks, our country has been (I’m not going to say GRIPPED BY, because gripped isn’t a calm word, and I also don’t think it’s particularly accurate) following the protests set up along rail lines in solidarity with people fighting against the construction of a pipeline in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Northern British Columbia. These rail line protests have blocked the transport of goods and also passenger trains, and yes, its all very complicated, because the Wet’suwet’en people (consistent from what I understand of all groups of people ever) have divided opinions on what exactly should be done about the protests, not to mention the pipeline itself. I really do not have a comprehensive understanding of the matters at stake—though such a lack has not stopped other people from opining—but have appreciated the government response, which some might term as measured. Or calm. Even though Twitter partisans are raging that the Prime Minister doesn’t know anything about power, and the rail companies with record profits are following through with layoffs they were already planning but blaming the blockades so they don’t have to take the heat for their actions, and it’s reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of last month’s plane crash when the very same blowhards were calling on the Prime Minister to declare Revolutionary Guard in Iran a terrorist organization. It’s all just so incredibly stupid, because none of these people know what the answer is anymore than I do. None of it’s simple, and the only way toward an answer is work, which is what’s happening now all around us, and we need to be patient. And calm.

Calm is a superpower. This is a line from Ann Douglas’s latest book which is ostensibly about parenting, but which is really more about community, and connection, building a village, and learning to be better understand and support each other. And while Douglas is indeed speaking about parenting directly when she talks about calm being a superpower (and oh my gosh, is it ever), this advice is just applicable when it spills over into everything.

Perhaps it’s the closest thing we’ve got to an answer to anything right now.

July 23, 2019

My Favourite Podcasts

Honestly, it seems a bit perfect that a week after the New York Times publishes their “Have We Hit Peak Podcast?” article, I’d write a post about my favourite pods. After all, I’m publishing my post on a blog (from the article, “Like the blogs of yore, podcasts — with their combination of sleek high tech and cozy, retro low — are today’s de rigueur medium, seemingly adopted by every entrepreneur, freelancer, self-proclaimed marketing guru and even corporation”), a form that’s been pronounced dead so often on a regular basis for at least a decade that I kind of feel like an internet zombie as I type this.

Being timely is not my forte. Last week I joined the Patreon of one of my very favourite podcasts…just as the last episode of the season wrapped and they all went on hiatus. So maybe if Kerry Clare is rounding up a list of her favourite podcasts, we’ve hit peak podcast definitively. But on the off chance I’m not the only one who’s late to the party, I wanted to share links to the ones that I’ve been loving.

Even better, most are on a summer hiatus, so here’s your chance to get caught up!

The Mom Rage Podcast

I was referred to the Mom Rage Podcast by my pal Lindsay Zeir-Vogel (notably: a frequent caller to their Labia Hotline) and knew nothing about the podcast before I listened—I think it was the episode where they interviewed a mother who had an abortion. It was good BUT I will admit that I’d underestimated what the podcast was all about. Two blonde white ladies who live in California, I was thinking, shallow and light. But then: NO! I started listening more and realized the hosts (blonde hair notwithstanding) were both writers (Edan Lepucki and Amelia Morris), that they interrogate issue like race, sexuality, public schools and climate change, they’re both absolutely charming, funny and real, and suddenly I wanted to be their best friends. Notably, I’ve been reading books recommended on their podcast all spring—it’s all so good and interesting.

David Tennant Does a Podcast With…

Someone shared a link to this one on Twitter, and it was the episode where Tennant was interviewing Jon Hamm, which was totally weird for me because here were the two men from TV I’ve most fancied (Broadchurch and Mad Men) and they’re talking to each other. And then I listened to previous guests, including his Broadchurch co-stars Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker, and every instalment was just interesting and delightful, even the conversations with people I hadn’t supposed I cared about.

Can’t Lit

I think Can’t Lit was the first podcast I started listening to, and it’s been a fun and refreshing antidote to the fraughtness of so many literary conversations about community these days. Co-hosts Dina Del Buchhia and Jen Sookfong Lee deliver a generous and bullshit free approach to being readers, writers, and community members, and their conversations with Canadian writers are always genuinely interesting.

World of Stories

To listen to World of Stories, co-hosted by Margrit Talpalaru and Hudson Lin, is eavesdrop on two friends tackling that age-old question, “Whatcha been reading lately?” with a focus on diversity and representation. It’s a pleasure.

The Heavy Flow Podcast

Another LZV recommendation (that woman’s one hell of an influencer, at least when it comes to me!), I’ve been listening avidly to Amanda Laird’s Heavy Flow podcast since the beginning of the year, and it’s taught me so much about feminism, periods, and the no-longer-mysteries of my own body. (I also reviewed Amanda’s book of the same name back in March.)

Secret Feminist Agenda

Can a podcast be an academic project? This one can, and it’s even peer reviewed, which is fascinating. And it also means that not everything on Hannah McGregor’s podcast is RIGHT up my street, but so much of it is, and her ideas about academia are applicable to other parts of life. I’ve learned a lot from this one, and really admire McGregor’s persistence and desire to learn and grown through her work.

Call Your Girlfriend and Going Through it

And…the podcasts that I am definitely so late to the party in recommending. I really like Call Your Girlfriend, co-hosted by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (“We believe that friendship—particularly among women and femme-identified people—is a defining, important, and powerful relationship, and that conversations among friends can be the source of incredible social and political power”) and also the mini-podcast Going Through It, which Friedman made with Mailchimp. Good storytelling all around.

January 28, 2019

Can You Tell I’m Turning 40?

I bought a Brené Brown book a couple of weeks ago, in case it wasn’t totally obvious that I’m turning forty in the next six months and am currently experiencing a mild case of the kind of existential crisis that necessitates some reinvention. Although I must confess that I am not finding the book (Daring Greatly) to be such a revelation. As anyone who has read my blog for five minutes can attest, I don’t have a problem with being vulnerable, and perfectionism has never been a force that I’ve had to go to battle with in any part of my life. Instead, it’s with “imperfectionism” that I’ve found my strength as a creative person during the last decade, as a blogger in particular. Which is mostly the art of being a human—and I excel at that. (We all do.)

But what has prompted my mild crisis is the dawning awareness (which I alluded to in my ambivalent post about your stupid bullet journal) that imperfectionism has its limits too, and that it’s possible to be using it as a kind of a cover, a retreat. An excuse to not to bother to be any more ambitious, because that’s just not my brand, man. Because brands are not my brand, man, which is fine, but what if part of the reason I’m so comfortable being merely good-enough/imperfect and not having to make the effort is not so much because effort is distasteful, but because I’m afraid of trying and failing and having everybody see? Because I’m scared of trying to figure out a new path forward, of stumbling and making mistakes in public view. All those things that I’ve been able to counsel writers through with blogging—I’m comfortable showing my process here—but I’ve been hesitant to apply the same lessons in other areas of my life. Now I’m turning forty, however, and I think it’s finally time.

In the last ten years, without deliberateness and mostly due to persistence, luck and a passion for books that is as organic as gut bacteria, I’ve been able to create a unique place for myself as a writer, as a reader, as a reviewer, and a literary critic. It’s a place that I’m amazed by now, by the opportunities and connections I’ve been able to experience, and I’m grateful for all of it. But this place is also a tricky kind of place as well, because I’m not just a reader, I’m not just a writer, I’m not really an editor, I’m not just a blogger, I’m not simply an impartial critic, and I’m not a proper journalist either. And my failure to fit properly into these pigeonholes (in a newspaper/magazine/publishing industry that has fewer and fewer opportunities to offer all the time) has bothered me, and made me feel like I was doing everything wrong sometimes, made me feel like the space I’ve come to inhabit as a writer and a reader is the problem after all.

But it’s only a problem if I’m sitting around waiting for other people to deliver me opportunities, you see? Which is why I’ve decided on a new approach for a new year and a new decade, why I’ve decided to finally begin work on projects I’ve been wanting to do for years, why I am going to start being more deliberate and entrepreneurial in my professional life—because the unique place I’m in also offers opportunities. And my blog will be the centre of that—it’s been the centre of everything. Part of my distance from my blog last fall was because it felt like undervaluing my thoughts and ideas to be publishing them here rather than on a more legitimate publishing outlet. But then why wasn’t I feeling that way about the thoughts and ideas I was posting to Twitter and Facebook? This question clarified so much to me. What if, instead of composing Twitter threads and having Facebook arguments with your weird cousin, I was posting here instead? The back-to-the-blog movement, as I wrote the other week. It all coalesces here. I still love writing for magazines and newspapers, and the opportunity to work with editors, but what if I stopped looking at blogging as a kind of defeat. What if I worked to build my audience here, to build my newsletter, perhaps to have non-annoying advertising and make some revenue there? To build on something that is mine.

I am so excited about blogging right now. Yesterday I said that to my husband, about how on Sunday I look out at the week ahead and all the things I plan to write about—I wasn’t feeling so inspired a few months ago. But I really am now, with a renewed appreciation for the kind of space a blog can be, and a certainty that we need blogs more than we ever have—which makes it advantageous that I’m finally planning to launch an online blogging course in September. The Pickle Me This Blog School is in the works and I look forward to applying what I’ve learned from nearly twenty years of blogging and eight years of teaching blogging to show people how to create a blog that fits their lives and even makes life richer.

I’m also going to be working to engage people to connect with writing and storytelling in other ways, to inspire them to find and make time/space in their lives for books and reading. Partly through what I’ve always done via my blog and other platforms, but with other projects and initiatives as well, plans I’m hatching now. And I hope that you’ll be excited (and inspired!) too as it all starts to come together.

April 30, 2018

What Goes Around: Remembering Bill 160

I was a special kind of stupid in 1997, the kind you can really only be when you’re 18-years-old and you think things are simple. I think that was the year in which a more worldly classmate drew me a diagram to explain the political spectrum, because the only thing I knew was that once there were Nazis and that there hadn’t been communists since history ended a few years before. None of it seemed relevant. We weren’t political people. I knew that my grandparents voted NDP, because they always had a lawn sign, but we regarded that as an eccentric quirk, like a hat with cherries on a little old lady. I didn’t know the stakes of anything. I was in my final year of high school, and then our teachers went on strike, and for two weeks we had sleepovers every night, and it was also the first time I got drunk.

When the strike was over, I recall a couple of teachers expressing vague disappointment that more students hadn’t joined them on the picket lines, and I found this comment outrageous. We were students, I remember thinking, and we had no business choosing a side. A side in a conflict that, from where I stood, seemed abstract and complicated. I didn’t read the fine print. I don’t think I read any print. It was easier to be neutral. Politics is not my problem, I remember thinking. What’s my problem is that my school year is being disrupted, and all I care about is that the grown-ups work it out so that everything could get back to normal.

Somewhere out there exists a photo of a group of protesters in my town and I’m in the group holding up the placard that says, “We Are The Future: Listen to Us!”  I don’t remember why I went to this event when I was so firmly committed to my neutrality (and also sleepovers and getting drunk) but I think it was some sort of student-organized thing at a union office and it was very exciting and romantic to be part of it. I’d never held a placard before. And now when I think about what was written on my placard, I definitely want to die, because for all my imploring of “Listen to Me/Us” I had absolutely nothing to say. A day in the life of a human vacuum.

The protests in 1997 were against the government’s Bill 160, which was to redefine how education was funded in Ontario. And while it’s doubtful I would have been swayed from my determined, “Don’t put me in the middle of this, bros!” stance, I wonder if something might have been different if I’d been tapped on the shoulder and respectfully told, “In twenty years, your children will be going to schools where the bathrooms are falling apart, where there aren’t custodians to sweep the floors, or education assistants to support a growing segment of the population with complex needs, the office is partly staffed by parent volunteers, and there will be a $15 billion backlog in school repairs.”

I joined the School Council at my children’s school in September, which has given me a window into what teachers and administrators are dealing with right now, and even just being in the school more often (like every day two weeks ago when I was doing admin work for a fundraising program) has informed my perspective. I’m thinking about John Snobelen, who was Minister of Education in 1997, and his comments about “manufacturing a crisis in education.” And, well, here we are, two decades later. As our Parent Council works harder and harder to fundraise and fill in gaps, as teachers exercise amazing feats of ingenuity to keep children learning in buildings that are crumbling and where resources are spare. The education funding formula does not serve anybody. The system, as it is, is not sustainable. And that Ontarians at this moment in time would be considering electing another Conservative government parading promises of spending cuts is such an absolute nightmare. It would be a disaster.

I’ve been thinking a lot about public schooling since September, about how it’s not a sexy cause, about how all the philanthropists who seem to be the only ones able to fund anything these days send their children to private school anyway so it’s not on their radar. How it’s abhorrent that the state of our education system is such a low priority for so many Ontarians. Just imagine the repercussions of the province not having made a serious investment in education for decades—or maybe we don’t have to imagine. I wonder about the cuts to educational assistants and how history might have been different if the perpetrator of the van attack in Toronto had received exemplary support during his school years. I’m thinking about the children who are growing up now and who will become our nurses, computer programmers, lawyers, surgeons, police officers, foresters, novelists, social workers, and engineers. I’m wondering about the effects of our children growing up in an inferior system where they’re made to understand that nobody with power thinks they deserve any better.

We were warned—that’s the worst part. There I was with my stupid neutral placard, and I wasn’t listening to anybody. Did I really think the teachers enjoyed their labour action? Full disclosure: there are always people who are never happier than when they’re taking labour action because it’s exciting and romantic, the way I felt when I was holding a placard, and those are the people who put a bad taste in my mouth regarding politics anyway, those who see politics themselves as an end rather than a means to the end…but I digress. It’s a preoccupation with these people that made me think that neutrality was a noble stance, when our teachers were so clearly right. They saw it coming.

I am absolutely ashamed now when I look back and realize I did nothing, and now my children (and your children!) are paying the price.

January 29, 2013

Welcome to our new arrival!

IMG_0250Life has changed forever in our home since the delivery of our newest household member on Saturday morning. Labour was a breeze, performed by two strong men who apparently carry appliances up rickety staircases and install them in attics all the time. And thereafter we fell upon gazing at it, unable to get over the beauty, the shine, the rocket-ship-ness. It plays music when its cycle is completed. Our previous washing machine was so old that when we asked our landlord to replace it, she reminisced that she’d used it to wash her kids’ diapers, and her kids are now in high school. Our old washer was Shirley Jackson eccentric, and it had a dial, but the label had worn off so we could never tell what the setting was, and there only seemed to be one setting anyway which mainly involved the washing machine dancing across the floor, and leaving the clothes inside not only not clean, but usually ripped. And don’t get me wrong–it was better than nothing. And certainly better, being close at hand, than the washing machines at the laundromat on Harbord Street which I’d frequented before we moved here, having to queue, and then remove other people’s manky underpants before using the machine for myself. But now this is a brand new washing machine, and it’s never known any manky pants but my own. When the clothes come out, they’re so clean you can feel it, and they’re nearly dry from the spin. And only a few months down the line, when I’m up to my ears in cloth diapers, will my love for this machine fully blossom. I’m almost excited about it. Almost.

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