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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.

May 1, 2012

The new bunting is here.

I know you’ve been waiting on tenterhooks, but no longer: the new bunting is here! The bad news about this is that no longer are we awaiting bunting in the post, which is a glorious state of being, but at least we get to have our bunting and hang it too. The new bunting was purchased to replace the old bunting, which I’d handmade from origami paper, scotch-tape and a piece of yarn, and was in a rather sorry state. For the new bunting, we went upscale and outsourced it from one with my craft skills than have I. And I’m totally in love with it, just as expected. No longer do we have shabby bunting to be ashamed of, and the best part of the bunting life, of course, is that each day is a celebration.

January 30, 2011

Found Clock

Behold, the clock we found on the curb today and it’s new home on my kitchen wall of interesting and colourful things. Beside, in particular, the souvenir tray from mid-‘sixties Toronto (skyline sans CN tower!) that we found on another curb about six years ago. Below that is a series of photos I took in a British supermarket cereal aisle. Mustn’t neglect the Blackpool tea towel either, or the bunting, the watering can and bucket mobile (which was the only thing of interest I could find at the worst bookshop ever), and you even get a glimpse of my gorgeous Tessa Kiros cookbooks on the right. Anyway, I like the clock. We didn’t have an analog clock before (and yes, they’re really called that. Which I find a bit strange) and I was concerned that Harriet would grow up to be analog clock illiterate. No more. I foresee many conversations about big hands and little hands ahead of us over cereal bowls and teacups.

December 13, 2010

Ode to the coffee table

The addition of a Christmas tree to our living room decor means that we once again have a coffee table. Previous to the tree’s arrival, our coffee table (which is an old steamer trunk we found five years ago on Shaw Street) had been pushed against the small book shelf, in order to give us some open space, but more importantly to keep small people from hurling the books to the floor. Now the Christmas tree is performing the latter task, and the coffee table has returned to its rightful home. And it’s so useful! For putting pyramids of books on, and feet on, and coffee cups, and beer bottles, and teapots etc. I think I’d always taken coffee tables for granted before, but I will do such a thing no longer.

June 14, 2010

I am having an affair

…with this yardsale-purchased breadbox. We have decided to move in together.

January 6, 2010

On my newfound trekker, newfound confidence, and the mystery of defensive mothering

Oh, if I could go back seven months, what a lot of things I’d have to say to the me I was then. I would urge that shattered, messed up girl to, “Get thee to a lactation consultant” a week sooner than I actually did, and advocate better for myself and baby whilst in the hospital, and promise myself that life as we knew it was not gone, gone, gone forever more.

I would also tell myself to run out and buy a Baby Trekker. I know why we didn’t in the first place– I thought Baby Bjorn was the end in baby carriage, but that $150 was too pricey. Since then, I’ve learned that you get your money’s worth, and that Bjorn’s not where it’s at anyway. We’ve had the Trekker for about three weeks now, and I’ve used it every day (it’s snowsuit friendly!), whether to haul Harriet around the neighbourhood, or to cook dinner with her happily strapped to my back (and this has improved our quality of life more than I can ever describe).

If I could go back about six months, I’d tell myself to START PUTTING THE BABY TO BED EARLY. That she doesn’t have “a fussy period between 7:00 and bedtime”, but that she’s screaming for us to put her to bed then. Of course, I wouldn’t have believed myself then, and even once we’d figured it out, it took another six weeks to learn how to actually get it done. This, like everything, was knowledge we had to come to on our own. And most of motherhood is like that, I’ve found, and it seems to be for my friends as well, which is why all my well-meaning, hard-earned advice is really quite useless to them. But even knowing that we have it in us to do so, to figure it out, I mean, is certainly something worth pointing out.

Even more useful than my Trekker, I think, the best piece of baby equipment I’ve acquired lately is confidence. I had reservations with Naomi Stadlen’s book, but she was right about this: “If [the new mother] feels disoriented, this is not a problem requiring bookshelves of literature to put right. No, it is exactly the right state of mind for the teach-yourself process that lies ahead of her.” Though it actually was the bookshelves of literature that showed me I could go my own way, mostly due to the contradictory advice by “authorities” in each and every volume. (Oh, and I also read Dreambabies, which made it glaringly obvious that baby expertise is bunk.)

Solid food was the turning point though. I have three baby food cookbooks and they’re all reputable, and each is good in its own way, but they agree on nothing. When to start solids, what solids to start on, and when/how to introduce other foods, and on and on. It was good, actually, because I found that whenever I wanted to feed the baby something, at least one of the books would give me permission to do so. So I decided to throw all the rules out the window, and as teaching Harriet to enjoy food as much as I have the power to do so is important to me, I decided we would make up our own rules. As we’ve no history of food allergies in our families, and Harriet is healthy, we opted not to systematize her eating. We’ve fed her whatever we’ve taken a fancy to feeding her, without rhyme or reason, including blueberries, strawberries, fish, chicken, toast, cheese, beans, chickpeas, smoothies, squash, broccoli, spinach, spaghetti, and cadbury’s chocolate, and she’s devoured it all.

Okay, I lied about the chocolate. But the point is that my instincts told me that this was the best way to feed our baby, what made the most sense, and so I tried it and we’re all still alive. And it was liberating to know that the baby experts could be defied– I really had no idea that was even allowed. That as a mother, there could be something I knew about my child and our family that an entire panel of baby experts didn’t. And we can go onward from there.

What has surprised me, however, is that confidence hasn’t done much to reduce my defensive-mothering. You know, feeling the need to reassert oneself whenever someone makes different choices that you do. How not going back to work, for example, makes me feel like a knob, and moms going back to work feel threatened that I’m not, and we keep having to explain ourselves to the other, in fitful circles that take us nowhere.

It’s not just working vs. not working, of course. It’s everything, and this past while I figured it was my own lack of confidence that was making me so defensive. The best advice I’ve received lately is, “Never be too smug or too despairing, because someone else is doing better and worse than you are.” And it was good to keep in mind that any residual smugness was due to probably due to feelings of inadequacy anyway.

Anyway, it’s not just inadequacy, inferiority. Even the decisions I feel confident about prompt defensiveness when other mothers do differently, and now not because I’m unsure of myself, but because I’m so damn sure of myself that I’m baffled when you don’t see it the way I do. And there’s this line we’re meant to spout in these sorts of situations, to imply a lack of judgement. We’re meant to say, about our choices: “It’s what’s best for our family”, but that’s the most sanctimonious load of crap I’ve ever heard. Some things, yes, like me not going back to work, are best for our family, but other things, the other “choices” we’ve made: I’d prescribe them to everyone, and that not everyone is lining up for my prescriptions drives me absolutely mad.

Mom-on-mom action continues to fascinate, nonetheless. There are politics like nothing else, like nothing in the world of men, I think. It brings out the best and the worst in me, and I don’t think I’m the only one. And I doubt the action is going to be letting up anytime soon.

August 17, 2008

Haiku Baby

My favourite thing of late is Haiku Baby by Betsy Snyder, the board book I recently gave to my expectant friend (who informed me she’d read it to her belly just as soon as the fetus had ears). The illustrations are gorgeous, suggesting all variety of textiles and collage, and the haiku are lovely, and as true to the haiku tradition as ones in English can be. “Rain: Splish splash, puddle bath!/ raindrops march in spring parade–/ wake up sleepy earth.”

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