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September 30, 2019

Gleanings

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September 26, 2019

On Beauty

If there is one mistake of mine that it’s really important to me that my children could learn from, it is this: leave your eyebrows alone. More important than not smoking or getting ill-advised tattoos, because there is no coming back from eyebrow ruin. During the early years of my life, I had perfectly acceptable, unremarkable eyebrows, and I could have stayed that way, were it not for a teenaged need to perform womanhood with stupid grooming rituals.

So I went and got my eyebrows waxed, and waxed, and waxed and waxed, and there was a point in 2001 where they were tiny little lines, skinnier than I’ve ever been, and there was also the women who did my brows the day before my wedding who nicked me with the tweezers and made me bleed, so I gave her an extra big tip so she would feel less bad about the whole thing, and being a woman is so idiotic.

And then one day a couple of years ago, I decided I didn’t want to wax my eyebrows anymore. I didn’t even want to tweeze them anymore, standing before the bathroom mirror, hair-by-hair, each pluck making me sneeze. I don’t have time for that, because it always grows back. The same reason I’ve sworn off dieting, and colouring my hair, and running on treadmills—the whole thing is Sisyphean, and I refuse to be pushing a boulder for the rest of my life. These are losing battles, and I will not engage.

But the result now is that I have terrible eyebrows, sprawling and patchy. Would be that after all the waxing, my eyebrows would have thinned out altogether, but instead they’ve grown back in wide but with bald spots, a shape that is so far from a shape, and I just don’t care. And also I do, because I’m already on my fourth paragraph writing about it. But I just can’t go in for the incessant demands of grooming, and most of the time I don’t, which is one great benefit of being in a romantic partnership with someone who is terrifically far-sighted.

I was listening to a podcast today (which is the way that I start most of my sentences lately) when the host came on with an ad for some kind of skin care product I wasn’t paying proper attention to, and she talked about how much she loved her nightly skin care regimen, how it was just so fantastic that it gave her “me-time,” and I almost died of despair right then. The saddest thing I’ve ever heard, though perhaps I’m reading more into this than I should be. It is possible that no podcast host is quite as enthusiastic about the product she’s endorsing as she sounds like she is, and I actually really hope she isn’t, because that’s the saddest excuse for “me-time” I’ve ever heard.

It is also possible that she has nicer skin than I do. Most people do. Earlier this year, I turned down a prescription for rosacea from my dermatologist, so I’m hardly an expert on any of this. I’m just kind of lazy when it comes to grooming, and also would prefer to squander all my money on books instead.

Which is not to pass any judgement on those people who heavily invest in their aesthetic appearance—they’re are a million ways to be a woman after all, and who am I to tell another person what to do with her body, but this is kind of just my point, that the whole world is actually telling us what to do with our bodies, and I wonder sometimes if the whole thing is a conspiracy to keep us from doing anything more useful.

All those boulders we’re pushing, even once we’ve refused to push the boulders. I have no idea what liberation might look like.

September 25, 2019

Love, Heather, by Laurie Petrou

“Why would anyone read a book instead of watching big people move on a screen? Because a book can be literature.” —Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

I thought I knew what I was getting with Laurie Petrou’s new novel Love, Heather, a book so informed by movie tropes—from Heathers to Mean Girls—that it seemed instantly familiar, like something I had read before. A high school setting, a relationship under strain—Stevie and Lottie have been friends since childhood, but they’ve started high school, and everything’s changing. Plus Lottie’s parents are splitting up, which means that Stevie is losing the stability she’d counted on from her friend’s family since her own parents divorced. And Lottie seems distant, intent on new friendships with a clique of girls in their grade, and this tension only magnifies Stevie’s social awkwardness, so that Lottie pushes her further and further away.

And then suddenly Stevie is all alone, cast out of the cool girls’ group, her missteps in navigating a new social order that she still doesn’t understand bringing her bullying and ridicule. She finds some solace in her love of old movies, and on her Youtube channel where she talks about film, but it isn’t enough, and eventually the bullies find her there as well. It seems there is no escaping them.

But then justice arrives in the form of a new friend, Dee, whose brazenness and daring makes Stevie nervous, but also invites her admiration. With Dee by her side, Stevie begins to make new friends, connecting with other misfits who don’t conform to the status quo. And under the influence of the charismatic Dee, and all the movies they’ve seen, the group begin to seek revenge against everyone who has wronged them, the cliquey girls, the entitled jocks. An exhilarating kind of justice, each act marked with a signature, “Love, Heather,” in homage to the Winona Ryder flick. But then things begin to spiral out of control, and there are questions about whether Dee is taking things too far, but do Stevie and her friends have the power to stop her now that the wheels of vengeance are in motion? When does a victim become a perpetrator? The hero the anti-hero? Where do you draw the line?

And then there was a twist, in this conventional-seeming story. A novel that’s billed as YA, and which underlines that such distinctions are kind of irrelevant, or at least uninteresting. Underlining too the message of the book, which is that adults have no idea what’s going in teenagers’ lives, no matter how well-intentioned they are. The twist in this book: I never saw it coming, and it cast the entire story in a new light, and demonstrated that Laurie Petrou is a master of her craft. Funny how this is a novel that’s so informed by film but which is precisely so powerful because it’s a book and does what only a book can do.

Not a novel for the faint of heart, Love, Heather, is dark and troubling, pulls absolutely no punches, but the reader will be rewarded for her bravery. By how the novel itself is a testament to the powers of literature, but also by how Petrou complicates so many contemporary conversations, which is what our discourse needs right now—writers who dare to stare down the darkness and emerge with important questions, instead of the simple answers we’ve been hearing for so long.

September 24, 2019

Preoccupations

In my blogging life, I’ve made a point of trying not to apologize for the focus of my posts. I think that a sustainable blog should be about what one’s life is about, or even that it has to be about that in order to be sustainable. So we shouldn’t worry about our blogs being all about our new babies, or our illnesses, or vacations, at least not if these are what our lives are all about. Whatever our preoccupations: we get to blog them. And for me, lately, those preoccupations have been all the things that I’m making—Blog School, Briny Books, and working on revising my novel, which is due partway through October. The novel in particular, which I’m focussing on for 90 minutes every weekday by blocking social media apps on my phone and my laptop and getting down to business. I spent most of last week making notes on my manuscript, adding my editor’s with them, asking questions, and suggesting possibilities. Kind of like marking out the space in a field where the work must be done, where to get digging, and this week that work has begun in earnest, and I love it. This might be my favourite part of the entire novel writing process (but then I think I say that about every part of the novel writing process). Still discovery, just as the first draft is, but instead of discovering plot points and twists, I’m discovering patterns and connections that I might not have seen the first time around. Adding depth and texture to the story I’m telling, and so much it seems like it’s beyond my control. As though I’m merely a conduit. Such as the part I figured out yesterday, the familiar and yet archaic word that my character ponders the meaning of. I don’t actually know the meaning either, so I looked it up, and the definition of the word turned out to be precisely one of the central images of the entire book, as revealed in the final third. I had no idea, but the book knew. And my job at the this point is just to let all these connection happen and allow the light to come through.

September 23, 2019

Gleanings

Do you like WRITING good things to read online? Then check out Blog School, and find out how your own small corner of the world can make the world a better place.

September 17, 2019

Waffles, Waffles, Waffles

A baking pan heaped with waffles. Photograph.

One of the things I am most proud of and amazed at having accomplished in my life is a Baby Book for my second-born child. I was never going to be a perfect mother, and being a second child definitely would inevitably suck in all kinds of ways (secondhand snowsuits, no one appreciating the miraculousness of things like you knowing how to roll over, and basically not being bathed for two years) but at least she was going to have a Baby Book, a record of those precious blurry days. Though it was less of a burden for me to assemble than it might have been for other mothers of two—her elder sister was all the way to four by then, and I also spent the first three months of her life on co-parenting duty instead of struggling alone because my husband had taken parental leave, which meant time for naps, and books, and writing down all the things that we’d never remember.

When Iris was two, I added a whole page of notes to the Baby Book, though she was not a baby anymore. But it seemed like there were more things worth remembering then, once she was able to speak, and her remarkable personality had formed. “Things Iris Says,” was how I’d titled this page, along with the date, and I turned to this page just the other day when Iris had brought her Baby Book down from the shelf (and how glad I am that she has a Baby Book, that I bothered to put the effort in. Both my children are so fascinated with their baby selves, and will look at all records of their early periods in a way that’s inexhaustible).

“Things Iris Says,” I read aloud, excited to see what forgotten treasures might emerge from this time capsule, but then. Oh. Almost everything that Iris said when she was two had basically found its way into our family vernacular, and it’s how we all talk all the time now. (Perhaps when I say “we all,” I just mean me.) “Atcheam,” for ice-cream, and “fuff-eye” instead of “butterfly.” And “ra-see-see-wah” for rice krispie square. But then Iris is a little bit like this, in our family as well as in her own peer group. Totally weird, completely absurd, and at first, we’re like, “What are you doing?” And then it doesn’t take long before we’re doing it too.

But really, I want to talk about Teen Titans and waffles. Not that I have actually ever watched Teen Titans Go, but it’s Iris’s favourite show, and somehow without me ever having actually watched it, it’s seeped into my DNA, and I think it’s also the inspiration behind what became our family’s new year’s resolution for 2019, which was Get a Waffle Maker. Part of our pattern of Keep the Stakes Low to Avoid Disappointment. If you package up all your dreaming in the hopes of picking up a secondhand waffle maker from Value Village for $6, things are probably going to work out fine.

Get a Waffle Maker became our family dream because there is a song from Teen Titans Go about waffles—like most things about Teen Titans Go, it’s catchy and also extremely annoying. I am also very impressionable, particularly when it comes to glutinous goods, and so eventually, I had waffles on the brain, perpetually. We got our waffle maker sometime in January, which means our annual goal was achieved, and as a family we could just sit back and relax and be delighted by having accomplished what we set out to do. And make waffles every Sunday.

The waffle maker has been a game changer. I used to make pancakes every Sunday, and they were good, but lots of work, and also results would vary. But now the waffle maker does all the work for me, in way less time, and all I need to do is pour the batter in and then read the newspaper and drink my tea while waiting for the light to turn green—so simple. I am partial to Smitten Kitchen’s Buttermilk Waffle recipe. I am also partial to adding poppyseeds and millet to everything. Waffles, waffles, waffles, indeed. I love them, their taste, and neat geometry, and how leftovers could be turned into cream cheese jam sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunches, and all the places where our children’s preoccupations take us.

Even if just to the appliance section at the secondhand store. Hooray for being goal-oriented.

September 16, 2019

Gleanings: The BLOG SCHOOL LAUNCH DAY EDITION!

Blog School launches today! Creating it has been my big summer writing project this year, and I’m very excited to finally share what I’ve made. Go here to learn more…

September 12, 2019

What Kind of Blogger Are You?

I made a quiz: What Kind of Blogger Are You?

And okay, to say there are but five kinds of bloggers is definitely reductive, but I give you these five different kinds of bloggers just to demonstrate how divergent people’s different approaches to blogging can be. And to emphasize that these five categories aren’t meant to be the end of the question of “how should I blog?” but instead the beginning of a process of the blogger gaining a broader understanding of their approach to and vision for their blog and then daring to venture forth to make/design/shape a blog that suits one’s own creative purposes and even makes one’s experiences richer.

Project-Adjacent Blogger: Your ideal blog is part of another project that you’re working on—this is great for artists, writers, or entrepreneurs. You use your blog to keep track of your progress, to share interesting ideas and revelations about your work, and to incite interest in your project. (You can also do this kind of blogging on your social media platforms.) Your blog can be easy to maintain because—ideally—your central project delivers you content all the time and it can fit nicely into your schedule. Your blog can also help you maintain your passion, connect with a like-minded audience, and think through problems with whatever it is you’re working on.

A Long-Form Blogger: Brevity is not for you, and Twitter is stupid and exhausting. No, your blog is all about depth and connections and who says that a blog can’t have footnotes! You’re driven to write your posts by genuine passion and curiosity, though you must be careful to pace yourself and not become too overwhelmed by the labour of your blog. You love that the work you’re doing on your blog (deep and thoughtful) runs counter to everything that’s so terrible about the internet. You do remember to break up your posts with images, however, with makes them much more reader-friendly. You might want to think about offering readers the alternative of receiving your posts via email as well, so check out some newsletter platforms.

A News-and-Updates Blogger: Truth: you’re just not that keen on blogging. And that’s okay! But it’s great to have an easily-updatable part of your website and having a blog helps your website’s search engine rankings too. You update your blog when you have news to share or an event to publicize. For you, the blog is a very practical tool.

A Dispatches Bloggers: Your blog is where you report back from the front, whether that front is an exotic locale (maybe you’re a travel blogger!) or from amidst a pile of dirty laundry (maybe you’re a mommy blogger!). Your blog is a way for you to stay connected with people in other places, and deliver the news of how it is where you are. Your posts are usually brief but frequent, and some readers might find them mundane, but those readers are not your readers then. One day you will look back and be very grateful for the record you’ve kept of this time in your life (instead of just posting your story as a Facebook update and sending it out into the ether…).

A Kitchen Sink Blogger: And by “kitchen sink,” of course, we mean “everything but the…” Your blog is an array of your fascinations and your preoccupations—it’s all a bit random, but YOU are the through-line. It’s a bit self-indulgent, but shouldn’t any unpaid labour be just that? This kind of blog is especially interesting (and radical) in a moment where online identifies are supposed to be tidy and streamlined. But not you—you’re keeping the internet interesting. And what an excellent public service that is!

Okay, LESS than one week away now—but there is still time to register for BLOG SCHOOL before the official launch and receive a 15% discount with code *earlybird*.

September 11, 2019

An Acceptable Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

When one day I’m asked the inevitable question: “What was the best thing that you did in 2019, Kerry?”, the answer is going to be: I resolved to read a whole pile of books by Madeleine L’Engle. I owe so much to whomever designed the nice looking recentish paperback editions of L’Engle’s Austin series, and to the librarian who decided to purchase them for the library where I was searching out middle grade titles for my daughter. And there they were—Meet the Austins, The Moon By Night, and The Young Unicorns. I’d dabbled in L’Engle’s Austin series years ago, although her Wrinkle in Time series was more foremost in my mind and I still even have the first three novels in my collection. Without those spiffy library paperbacks, I probably wouldn’t have partaken, but they were good looking, so I signed out all three, and imagined that Harriet and I would read them together.

I passed on to her Meet the Austins, but then I read the next book in the series and decided that Harriet probably wouldn’t appreciate the rest. When she’s a little bit older, and a bit less prone to being spooked about the possibility of nuclear annihilation. It turned out these were novels for me after all, and I loved them. As L’Engle’s A Swiftly Titling Planet has long done (I read that book eighteen years ago today) they brought me strength and solace. It was a long, hard winter and I remember reading The Young Unicorns with head lice, and the books made me feel so much better. I read all the Austins, and then began the Polly O’Keefe books, and read A Severed Wasp because Suzy Austin features—and read A Small Rain too, because it’s about the protagonist of A Severed Wasp. And then finally the last book I had to read was An Acceptable Time, which is about Polly O’Keefe, but which is not technically a “Polly O’Keefe” book, because it’s set in L’Engle’s “kairos” time and is the fifth book in the Wrinkle in Time series. Which I was less compelled by, because it was the realism of the Austin series that drew me more than the sci-fi fantasy elements of Wrinkle. (I am really boring. I am the type of reader who only likes the parts of the Harry Potter books where he’s with the Dursleys.)

But because I am nothing if not a completist (and because I was feeling out of sorts on the weekend, and reading Madeleine L’Engle is a wonderful way to deal with that), I finally tackled An Acceptable Time. Which takes place the year after A House Like a Lotus, and Polly has moved to live with her grandparents at the property we all know from Wrinkle. And guess who she finds outside in the bushes, but actual Zachary Grey, the most unappealing character in all of literature, who never seems to have anything better to do than traverse the globe in pursuit of women who are too young/good for him and them place them in perilous situations.

At first, I thought maybe this time would be different. After all, this book was written 25 years after Zachary Grey first turned up—maybe he’d finally learned to know better. He seems less rude and more interesting at the beginning of the book for sure, and is interested in the ancient civilization whose artifacts are appearing on Polly’s grandparents’ property. Maybe Zachary’s trajectory would be different this time? But this was not to be.

There is a whole storyline when Polly and Zachary become trapped in a tesseract and are taken 3000 years into the past, and everyone wore animal skin tunics and to be honest I just didn’t care in the slightest and skimmed this part. Although I loved this idea that Polly grandparents had built their pool on top of an underground spring that was an ancient holy place, where a lake had been before, and the waters are a portal (and Polly is good at swimming, having been raised on islands, because her father is a marine biologist). Anyway, Zachary wants to go into the past because he has this idea that it will heal his ailing heart, and then it turns out that Polly’s going to be made a blood sacrifice (naturally) and this doesn’t bother Zach in the slightest. He eventually has Polly kidnapped, put in danger, and when she gives him a hard time about this, he storms off: “Polly, I wanted to talk to you, but I can see there’s not point when you’re being unreasonable.” I was all for L’Engle being willing to kill Zachary off, but tragically this does not happen….

Anyway, now that I’ve finished reading these books, I really want to read L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals, and possibly reread her Camilla, which I loved when I was younger, and then her later book about the same character, published in 1990s, which is not meant to be good, but I think having come to a wider understanding of L’Engle’s work, I might just find it interesting.

September 11, 2019

Turning the Page on Cancer

Did you ever have a dream of devoting AN ENTIRE DAY to reading? Did you ever dream of helping to wipe out metastatic cancers? Ever thought of you doing both with one fell swoop? I sure did, which is why I signed up for the Turning the Page on Cancer Read-a-Thon, which takes place October 20, with proceeds going to research for metastatic cancers. I heard about this fundraiser from my friend Melanie, who I met online more than a decade ago through Canada Reads and who was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer in 2015—so a place where books meet raising funds for metastatic cancers in a non-tacky way seems like an incredible way do something to support my friend. She is also taking part in the Read-A-Thon and you can donate to her here if you’d like to. Both of us have surpassed our initial goals (AMAZING!!), but please donate if you are able, or join the team yourself if you’re in the mood for some marathon reading (ALWAYS).

In the meantime, I’m in heavy training, building up my arm strength and stamina. I’ve promised to buy my children whistles and hope they’ll spend the day in tracksuits bringing me water bottles and cheering me on as I read from 8am until midnight. I’d love to break $1000 by the Read-A-Thon day, and really appreciate everybody’s support.

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