Writing

New blogs

Dear friends,

I’ve been thinking lately about the way that I blog and the way that I want to blog. I haven’t really been writing much lately and I want that to change. I also want my photography to be more associated with my failing attempt to get photography work. So I am moving over to two new blogs that I have started for that purpose. Please mosey on over to the writing and/or photography blogs if you want to follow them. Thanks to everyone who has supported this blog since I started it. You’re all wonderful people.

February 2015: My month in books

I’m sorry this post is so late in the month. Things have been busy. It’s better late than never. So here is a rambling list of every book I read during February.

Richard Stark’s Parker: Slayground by Darwyn Cooke

Richard Stark’s Parker: The Score by Darwyn Cooke

Walls: Travels Along the Barricades by Marcello Di Cintio

The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire

Paul Has a Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

Facing History: Portraits from Vancouver by Karen Love

Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Push Man and Other Stories by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

The Walking Dead, Vol. 01: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman

The Walking Dead, Vol. 02: Miles Behind Us by Robert Kirkman

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

Nemesis (Harry Hole #4) by Jo Nesbø

I feel about the same on the Parker front as I did in January. The books were decent enough, I read them and that was that. Noir, male lead, guns, crime, revenge, sex.

I’ve wanted to read Walls for a while. Marcello Di Cintio is a Calgary writer and I think it’s important to read local writers. Unfortunately the Calgary Public Library book club also thought so and there was a monstrous volume of holds on Walls. Here the book is readily available so I decided to go for it. I liked his style and observations. The topic is a clear winner. It was a quality read.

There are a lot of great Canadian graphic novel writers. It’s an art and Drawn & Quarterly gets a lot of good work out there. The Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire is up there in those rankings. It’s about a family on a farm in Ontario. There are touches of hockey and tragedy. It’s a beautiful and moving story. All you Canadians out there should go read it.

Paul Has a Summer Job by Michel Rabagliati is a second graphic novel about summer camp. Unlike the boy scouts one it was not sad or miserable. It reminded me of being a kid at camp. Of the woods and the boats. We admired and loved out counsellors. We also knew that they dated and hung out (and when we got older that they got drunk and high at the lake on weekends when we weren’t there). Paul had fun at his summer job and I had fun reading about it.

Anyone who has been to Paris has heard of Shakespeare & Co. I remember wandering past while visiting one of my friends in the spring and deciding to come back later because Zadie Smith was doing a reading and the place was crazier than usual. It is a great place with lots of nooks and I suppose there is that urge to move in there. Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co.by Jeremy Mercer is the story of a crime writer who does just that. It has all the magic and fantasy of being poor and living in a communal place. It’s not something I think I could handle but it’s fun to read about the adventures of the people who lived there.

Since moving to Vancouver I’ve been trying to learn more about the city and find photo books from here. Facing History: Portraits from Vancouver by Karen Love was one of those books you find when randomly searching city names on library websites. It was interesting but not quite what I’d wanted. Part of an exhibit at some point in time it pulled together a bunch of different portraits done by Vancouver photographers. There were also essays. Some were good. Some were weird.

I suppose I read Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire as a followup to Essex County. It was also good and kind of weird in the way that graphic novels often are. I don’t remember what it was about.

Now before we get started on this one I’m going to do a poll: if you’ve actually read Eat, Pray, Love raise your hand. Not having read it will not stop you from judging me or saying snarky things about chick lit and how trashy it is it will just mean that you have no idea what you are talking about. If you have read it and hate it then good for you. Of my friends I told I was reading it only one said something positive. Even my friend who goes on cleanses said something snippy. I held my tongue and shrugged instead of saying, “You go on cleanses now that’s for silly crazy people.”

It’s sad really. I guess that’s what happens when a book blows up is everyone decides it has to be shit. I’d read Eat, Pray, Love before and also read Committed. I’ve been meaning to read more of Elizabeth Gilbert’s books but ended up back at the beginning. I got my first copy of Eat, Pray, Love off the fireplace at Higher Ground. Of all the books piled there it spoke to me and said, “I’m a friend, you need to read me.” And I replied, “Sure.”

There are copies of Eat, Pray, Love at every book exchange ever. That’s how I ended up reading it again. I kept seeing it and thought well I guess I should reread it. The world wants me to. I’m glad I did. Gilbert is an awesome writer. I love travel writing and memoir. After spending my adolescence reading the work of men I have recently developed a collection of female memoirists I adore and Gilbert is one of them.

Drawn and Quarterly has taken on the task of publishing Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work year by year. He’s a famous Japanese cartoonist and vol 1 The Push Man and Other Stories is supposed to be good. The stories are simple and short. They give you a brief glimpse of life and then end. They remind me of Will Eisner in the simple way they tell the story of one person in one place at one point in time. This is what this person was doing here.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford was one of the first books I added when I got Goodreads. I’ve since added too many books many of which I will never get around to. I do want to try to read some of them though. I took Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World out of the library a few years ago but didn’t make it far. It was returned unread and I though one day I’ll return. Now after visiting Mongolia seemed like the time. It was a very interesting book and only renewed my sense of awe at what the Mongol hordes accomplished.

I’ve been meaning to read The Walking Dead so that I can watch the show. There are about twenty volumes so it’s going to take a while before I get through it. Vol. 1 and 2 were really good. They set an interesting premise and give us the characters. Doing it through how one character responds to this crisis is a good choice by Robert Kirkman. I’m excited to see where it goes next.

When I first saw My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff on bookstore shelves last year it felt like the kind of book I wanted to read. It’s cover was beautiful and I wondered what a Salinger year was. Was it a year during which she read Salinger or embodied Salinger or called everyone phonies? Was it going to be like The Year of Magical Thinking, which wasn’t very magical at all? Well it turns out that it was about a year Rakoff spent working at the agency that represented Salinger. Simple. It also turns out that is it a memoir by a gifted female writer about being a young writer, struggling through your first job and the painfulness of figuring out how to be an adult. It was like it was handed to me on a silver plater. These types of books always comfort me and reaffirm truths I know I can’t share with my friends because it would just confuse them.

My Salinger Year is a beautiful book. I finished it with a high and a glow. I wouldn’t describe that feeling as joy because it’s so much more complicated. It’s deeply life affirming and is the best high you can possibly get.

I also got lucky with Nemesis (Harry Hole #4) by Jo Nesbø. I have a troubled relationship with Nesbo. Few can craft sentences quite as well as he can but he has a tendency to kill off characters you love. It’s not easy to love him but you just have to keep turning the pages and hope that people survive until the next novel. Maybe him and George R.R. Martin have been hanging out drinking terribly expensive coffee in Oslo. Who knows. Nemesis also left me feeling happy and glowing. My roommate asked me if I’d slept with someone. When I said no he refuted by saying I couldn’t stop smiling. I really couldn’t. It wasn’t a bad way to end a month.

December 2014: My month in books

I’ve been thinking of doing a Nick Hornby style review of what I’ve been reading for a while. I started one for all of 2014 then realized it was just a long tedious list and that I’d forgotten about lots of the books along the way. Instead, I’m going to do a monthly one. That’s one of my New Year’s resolutions.

Read

Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women by Elizabeth Wurtzel

The Redbreast (Harry Hole, #3) by Jo Nesbo

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Last Day in Vietnam by Will Eisner

Dogs and Water by Anders Nilsen

Nobrow 9: It’s Oh So Quiet by Alex Spiro

Minor Miracles by Will Eisner

Alice Munro’s Best: A Selection of Stories by Alice Munro

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki

Unfinished

Cool Gray City of Love: 49 Views of San Francisco by Gary Kamiya

Lost in Mongolia: Rafting the World’s Last Unchallenged River by Colin Angus

The Sea Wolf by Jack London

Ulysses by James Joyce

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I have once again failed to read Ulysses. It was my New Year’s resolution last year and I’m making it a resolution for 2015 too. Six years running. Maybe next year is the year. I started War and Peace while I was in Russia. The guidebook joked about it so I started it. I’m about three per cent of the way through. I remain optimistic that it won’t take me six years to read.

The other three unfinished books I just ran out of time for but I think they’ll be done by February. Fingers crossed. I like all of them though I try not to read The Sea Wolf on the Seabus.

My thoughts on Bitch in all it’s tremendous Ritalin addled horribleness have already been expressed at length. I will repeat that I hated this book and only finished it because I had to. Read one of her other books if you feel like trying Wurtzel out.

Jo Nesbo is an amazing writer whom I adore. I named my bike after one of his characters. I’m not going to tell you which. The Redbreast (Harry Hole, #3) finally came up as a hold from the library so I read my way through it. Even though he killed off a character I liked he was still up to his usual cleverness that keeps me coming back even though he is rude and kills off characters I like.

I bought The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman because I was dumb and left my ereader at home on a day off I was planning on ploughing through the horribleness that is Bitch. Instead, I had to go out and buy a book. After chatting with an employee at a local bookstore about how annoying it is that Neil Gaiman is constantly publishing brilliant work that one can never keep up with I decided to buy The Dovekeepers. One should read at least one Alice Hoffman book a year. It was the type of book that leaves you looking like you’re going to cry or beg someone for a hug in public places.

There are a few Will Eisner books I still haven’t read and I’m trying to work on that. That’s how I ended up with Last Day in Vietnam and Minor Miracles. They were good. Eisner was up to his old tricks in both. I should try harder to be more like Will Eisner and to push #wwwed.

I’ve previously read Rage of Poseidon by Anders Nilsen and it was really good. In one of my lacking self-control moments at the graphic novel section of the Burnaby Public Library I grabbed Dogs and Water. It was weird at times but good. If you’re into graphic novels he’s worth looking for.

I also picked up Nobrow 9: It’s Oh So Quiet by Alex Spiro because it looked cool. It was not cool. It was weird and horrible and a waste of paper. Live and learn.

After Alice Munro won the Nobel Price (all Canadians feel a warm glow and pride) I decided it was time to read her. I placed a hold on Alice Munro’s Best: A Selection of Stories at the library and since everyone else had come to the same conclusion as me I waited a long time before receiving a long and somewhat depressing volume that I had three weeks to read. I did not succeed. Fortunately my parents owned Alice Munro’s Best so I didn’t have to repeat the treacherous cycle. Her stories are good but not the type of thing you want to read more than one or two of at a time. It didn’t make it out to Vancouver with me so I made sure to finish it while home for the holidays.

Since The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner is a Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge Book Club selection I’ll write a separate post dedicated to it after discussing it with my sister.

I read the first edition of Showa back when I was living in Calgary and loved it. It’s taking them an annoyingly long time to translate them preventing me from just sitting down and reading them all in a row — I’m looking at you Drawn & Quarterly. Instead I had to wait and track it down at the friendly neighbourhood library in Metrotown. I actually spotted it back in October and never got around to reading it until now. Vol. 3 is out so I’ll have to track that down.

book-dec-2014.jpg

Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge: Bitch

I thought I would like this book and I didn’t. It seemed promising. With a title like that how could you possibly go wrong? I knew Elizabeth Wurtzel’s reputation going into this. She had written a memoir about depression that became a massive hit. When that didn’t make her happy she became addicted to various substances and then wrote a book about it. Both books are supposed to be very good and well written.

Wurtzel also has a reputation for being enormously self-absorbed to the point that her publisher included a review describing her as an extremely talented but self-absorbed writer in the first few pages of Bitch. Being self-absorbed often makes for good memoir. When you’re the subject you get to be a little bit into yourself and get away with it.That’s not where Wurtzel went wrong. In fact my favourite part of the book outside of when she makes fun of OJ’s — as in OJ Simpson — bad spelling were the bits told from her perspective about her choices and her life.

The latest stunt she’s allegedly pulled is to think about writing a book with Thought Catalog targeted at millenials even though in the past she’s said that Thought Catalog is stupid and she would never write something targeted at millenials. Wurtzel just doesn’t know where she stands and struggles with logic and reasoning at times. That is the crux of why Bitch is a horrible book. It’s not memoir and it’s not about her. Bitch is meant to present an argument of some kind, probably feminist in nature.

It flat out fails to do so. After reading the entire thing I am still not sure what Wurtzel stands for. I don’t know what she means by difficult women or bitch. There are large sections where she lists celebrities from the ’90s and claims things about them. She rambles on endlessly without saying much of anything. After reading the 50 page introduction I felt that about two paragraphs worth or argument had been made and they weren’t even that compelling.

When she does take a position she often contradicts herself. Sometimes in the same paragraph. Sometimes later in the section. This is part of what makes it so confusing. Every time it seems she’s saying something she contradicts it. The most grievous offence is that she spends far too much time defending things that no one should defend, even back in 1999 when the book was published.

The introduction talks about nothing in various clever ways and includes lots of names of ’90s celebrities. The biggest questionable thing from this section is her argument that it’s good to be badly behaved. She uses the example of Shanon Doherty who was difficult and self-absorbed to the point of getting herself kicked off of Charmed because nobody could take it anymore. Because of Doherty’s behaviour problems we all had to endure the half-sister plot that was as bad as the Buffy coming back to life the second time plot line. If Doherty was a passably nice person she would have just stayed on the show. Not being able to work with other people is not a good thing. Wurtzel’s definition of bitch is a far cry from what Tina Fey means when she uses the word. Being difficult here doesn’t mean leaning in or standing up for yourself. It means alienating everyone you know and getting yourself fired.

You know what? Bitches get stuff done.
— Tina Fey

Amy Poehler extolls the virtue of working with other people. She talks about how collaborations have been the best parts of her career. Poehler hasn’t gotten to where she is by being selfish and horrible but by being agreeable and hardworking.

Be nice. Work hard.
— Amy Poehler

I am glad that 15 years after Bitch was published we have better heroes who don’t think it’s glamorous to be crazy and selfish. We have Fey, Poehler, Mindy Kaling and for the rough and tumble millenials Lena Dunham. To these women bitch means standing up for yourself, breaking new ground and creating things regardless of what obstacles are in your way. These are heroes I can look up to. Wurtzel’s heroes are train wrecks and disasters.

Bitch strikes me as a book written by a beautiful woman — Wurtzel is undeniably gorgeous and knows it — who has had some behaviour problems in the past. She is not writing a book for your average woman. Her ideal woman is someone who is charismatic, tragic, badly behaved and undeniably gorgeous. There is nothing here for average women. They don’t get to be difficult. They are not pretty enough. It’s difficult to relate to and rather pointless.

The second section takes on the merits of using sex as a weapon. Or so I think. There is a long discussion of underage sexual abuse that is questionable. I fail to see what this has to do with defending difficult women other than to carry on the theme of if you’re beautiful use it. Moving right along.

The third section concerns depression and suicidal behaviour. She uses the example of Sylvia Plath and other suicidal poets for the sake of treading new ground. At times she talks about how Plath was well really very well behaved and dull. Except when she was depressed because then she was unbearably selfish. But she was charismatic. Then she killed herself so now she’s tragic. Then Wurtzel embarks on a long and confusing section that glamorizes suicide with brief interludes about how we shouldn’t glamorize suicide. As someone who wrote the book on mental illness Wurtzel should know better than this. Mental health awareness has come a long way in the last fifteen years but Wurtzel has no business writing like this about depression and suicide after being depressed herself. And then writing a popular and ground breaking book about depression. Shame on Wurtzel for doing this. Shame on her publisher for printing it. This is what big red markers are for.

Speaking of which I wonder how this tome of horrible contradictory and questionable garbage got printed. Sure it was the ’90s and publishing was a different beast. Did they just want something with Wurtzel’s name on the cover so it would sell while her stock was still high from the last two releases? Was the editor too busy to realize that this book makes no sense and not cut all of this stuff out? Or to just send a quick email/fax/page saying this is horrible write something else?

The next section involves a long analysis of the OJ Simpson trial, which for the record I am too young to remember. I didn’t really get much out of it. She says some really outrageous things involving battered wife syndrome and rape fantasies so that was fun. Sometimes I thought she was playing devils advocate but there is no way it could be so serious and go on for so long if she was. Where is that red pen when you need it?

The conclusion was the high point of this book not just because it marked the end of my protracted struggle to read it. Here Wurtzel almost abandons the pretense that she in fact wishes to argue for something instead of saying ridiculous and borderline offensive things or describing out of date celebrities. She talks about herself and where she was at the time. She does a good job of it. She says some ridiculous things along the way but that is to be expected.

Some people have said Bitch is just the uninformed ramblings of another silly 20-something — which as a 20-something is rude, my ramblings are much more informed or at least less offensive than this and I am the first to admit that so far I’ve learned that groceries are really expensive, that I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING and not much else — but Wurtzel was 30 when she wrote Bitch. It’s not about being in her 20s and messing around. She has another book for that. It’s about what happens when you’re a pretty, self-absorbed and badly behaved girl who is getting to that age when everyone seems to be getting married and your clock starts ticking. You start to wonder if a man will ever want to marry you and what you’ll be worth if they don’t. You start to worry that your looks will go. You start to think about how old is too old to have kids. She is worrying about this stuff, not partying and having fun. It’s where her feminism mixes with her confusion and doubts instead of just whatever weird offensive rambling was spewed onto the page.

And then it ended and there was much rejoicing.

It would be my recommendation to never read this book. It’s not worth its weight in paper or e-reader memory. It was terrible and offensive and a hollow nothingness of pretty sentences. I don’t know what the nature of the reference to Bitch on Gilmore Girls was but I hope it was disparaging.

Update: I forgot about the section where Wurtzel discusses women in the Bibleearlier. I went on Goodreads to look at people’s reviews of Bitch and someone brought it up. I quite enjoyed it for the most part. I forgot about it but I enjoyed it. As someone who was a religious studies minor and wrote a paper comparing the two creation narratives in genesis from a feminist perspective she made some good points and brought up some good information. Ten points for Hufflepuff.

642 things to write about: Your first time in a foreign country

I don’t know if the States really count as a foreign country. They’re right there. The older sibling just a few hours away. I grew up watching their tv and movies. I could pick out their cities without blinking like they were as real as my own city that I barely knew.

There are two cool places to grow up: the ocean and the mountains. We grew up by the mountains. They linger on the edge of our minds just an hour drive away. We can see them if we look to the east. Our parents took us hiking, which I have a love hate relationship with.

Best of all we went camping. We went camping a lot. Sometimes up in the mountains where my mother would fret about bears and the temperature drops below zero at night. Best of all was when we decide to head to the border. We’d drive through Southern Alberta staring out the windows as the foothills melted into prairies.

Small prairie towns would fly past the window. I’d want to stop in all of them to explore. My parents would usually say no. Stopping that often is fun but inefficient. We’d stop for food and gas when needed.

Eventually we’d hit Medicine Hat, a span of older looking buildings on either side of the highway. Nothing was as tall as in Calgary. We could glimpse the giant Easter egg.

Soon we’d be at the border. Billboards promoting duty free stores popped up. My mom told us that duty free is really cool when you fly but pointless on a trip like this. At the border we slowed down and border guards in booths looked at our passports. They never stamped them. We were always disappointed not to have them stamped.

As we pulled out of the border crossing, an area filled with tiny buildings and people in impressive looking shirts with Dockers, we were in a whole new land. This was the United States of America, a big place that based on this crossing was pretty much exactly like where we were leaving.

This was Montana, a wonderful land that was home to the greatest campground known to mankind. This may seem like an exaggeration but this was the truth to my young mind. It had lots of trees, fire pits, a nice gift shop and a waterpark. By waterpark I mean a shallow pool with a few slides. As a kid it was paradise. I insisted on stopping there each and every time we passed through here. It was a standard KOA campground but that was only to the untrained eye. To me it was worth driving all the way to another country to visit.

The best sentences I read this week: Downward facing monkey

“A key question being discussed once again as a result of the storm is why electrical service in Canada is so vulnerable to weather disruptions. For years, officials of Toronto Hydro, Ontario Hydro and Quebec Hydro have rebuffed arguments in favour of moving overhead electrical service cables and wires in urban areas underground. This was one of the recommendations of the Quebec government commission of inquiry following the January 1998 ice storm that knocked out electricity and threatened transportation and water supply in Montreal for many days during very harsh winter weather conditions. “Too expensive” say the officials.”

An inconvenient ice storm hits Canada and northern U.S. amidst the whirlwind of climate science denial

“There’s only so much discussion of whaling techniques and classifications that most readers can take. To those who sail through these chapters, the rest of the reading world salutes you.”

50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers

“‘Do you think Ocean would wear this?’ she asked one day, modeling a purple hoodie and a pair of purple-and-white stretch pants in the break room. ‘Who’s Ocean?’ I asked, and she sighed. ‘Who trained you? Ocean is our ideal customer. She does yoga every day, makes $100,000 a year, and dates a triathlete named Mountain.’ I stared at her, nonplussed. Pityingly, she added: ‘Mary, we all want to be Ocean. That’s why we work here.'”

Yoga, spinning and a murder: My strange months at Lululemon

“Six-month-old Angus Smith is a devout churchgoer. He doesn’t know it yet, but as a young, male, Protestant in 2013, he is in the minority.”

Churches keep the faith as congregations steadily shrink

“The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was the novelist Joseph Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.”

How to Write with Style: Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Keys to the Power of the Written Word

Flat out

On the way to my new apartment the cab driver got lost. Due to construction on the building next door he was forced to take a detour from what was programed into his GPS. I am worried that I will miss my move in appointment, although much like my concern about missing flights this is almost entirely unjustified. The worst that will happen is I will arrive at 10:10 a.m. and be there way before the noon close of move in. I also think I am terrified because for the first time I am moving into a place of my own. I have never lived outside of my parents house before, and I don’t know what to expect. I don’t even know what part of town we are in.

The building is sleek and modern. Ten story apartment buildings make up the neighbourhood and the courtyard is filled with bikes.

I drag my suitcases behind me and find the right room. I do not have all the paperwork I should. The gruff man who sits in the maintenance office twice a week shuffles through file folders until he finds what he needs. It shouldn’t be a problem, they have a copy.

I move into the common room and imagine a place where we will party or come to relax. These hopes will be dashed quickly. The common room is always locked, except when someone has booked it (a fee is charged on Fridays and Saturdays).

It will become the place where every week we gather to watch Game of Thrones. Through this I will get to know the people in this isolated and closed-off building. It is organized by a law student from Brazil. He is always behind on his readings and struggling desperately to catch up on them. He usually sits in the back corner eyes fixed on an e-reader. The rest of us gather on the couches. Some of us are die hards and have seen all the episodes already, or even read the books. Others are new experiencing the shocks for the first time. We bring Carlsberg, tea and discount chips. It is here we befriend a set of twins from the States. Later we cook together.

It becomes a ritual I grow fond of. We descend on the exceedingly slow elevator to the common room. We push the couches into position and watch two episodes.

On the tour we are shown our rooms and I am introduced to one of my roommates. He is an Aussie and becomes one of my closest friends. At the time I fail to appreciate how valuable it is to have roommates that you like and get along with.

Our apartment is nicer and much bigger than I had expected. It is modern and open, and filled with Ikea furniture. In our living room posters left by previous tennants hang on the wall. There are two Madonna posters, two Rolling Stone posters and a meerkat poster. I post a photo of the meerkat poster on Facebook and it receives rave reviews. In the end it comes home with me. There are also strings of postcards hanging from the back of the kitchen cupboards. We love the idea and add some of our own. It is nice to show up and find a pre-decorated apartment.

My room is large, once again filled with Ikea furniture. It has large windows over looking the neighbourhood attached to a communal balcony. My blinds are transparent. I hope for the best every time I get changed.

Our apartment is filled with things left by previous tenants. There are clothes, three sleeping bags, a PC monitor, some bins. We have about 40 plates of different shapes and sizes, and after we start washing out empty jars and using them as cups we have a similar number of cups. Unlike many of our friends we have a big kitchen a living room so we become a party house. I fail to appreciate how nice it is to have so many dishes.

The pile of junk grows to annoy me the longer I live there. There is so much stuff, and most anything of use has already been poached. One couch is broken and the other is breaking. I begin to mentally rearrange everything in my head. All the different shapes of dishes drive me crazy. We only have three mugs between four of us.

Our apartment is in Orestad, which was once considered a model suburb. That was before the recession hit and people stopped finding expensive real estate on the edge of town quite as appealing. It is a nice place to live but after a while it begins to feel like the edge of the earth. When biking home at three in the morning I could feel the extra 20 minutes it took to get home because of where we lived. Or the extra 20 minutes on either side of going to class.

One of the best things about our apartment that it is within a five-minute walk of three groceries stores. Popping out to get some milk is easy.

We also live across the street from a mall, which is unfailingly convenient. I know that I can buy anything I need and it will only take 10 minutes.

There are days when I hate this place. The clutter and commute get to me. On these days I remind myself of how much I’ll miss it—and I do miss it immensely now. Others days I am thrilled by how lucky I got, and how at home I feel in this place.

Small Japanese objects

Over the winter holidays my mother bought a book called The Hare with the Amber Eyes. The cover didn’t look particularly striking — it is good but not buy me good — so I didn’t really take note of it until she insisted that I read it, and after her good recommendation/pushiness on reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night I thought why not. Why not indeed.

At first the book appears to be about some small Japanese objects that de Waal inherits from his uncle. Then it becomes about so much more. The inheritance is traced back to the roots of de Waal’s family, a group of wealthy Russian Jewish bankers that spread throughout Europe. They enjoy their hay day, then they decline a little, then they are caught in the tragedy of Nazism.

de Waal is a potter by training and clearly has a high appreciation for objects. This is not just about the objects, otherwise it would be about art history, but about his family, and why these particular objects are so important. It is about his ancestors and why people cherish objects.

Reading it reminds me of the feeling I had while in the Scottish highlands, and learning about the clearings and conditions of every day people. Many of them left for the new world because of that and that is my inheritance. I live where I do because events long (or not so long) ago took place. de Waal is keenly aware of how his ancestors have shaped his family history and how different events led them to where they are today.

More so than that the book is a fascinating story, first of nineteenth century Paris, then the first world war and the great depression, then the overwhelming sadness of lives ripped apart by the Nazi genocide and the family members who didn’t manage to make it out, the ones who just barely did, then a move to Japan and a beloved ancestor and his collection of objects, which are really a collection of memories and the heritage of a once great Jewish banking family.

de Waal is gifted with words, and could easily give up pottery if he wanted to. This is the best non-fiction I’ve read since Maya Angelou. de Waal makes things simple but yet so meaningful. He carefully chooses words and adjectives. It is objective, but also personal. How could it be any other way?

Tokyo can be very quiet. I once sat waiting for them to come home, sitting on the low green railing opposite, and in an hour only two old ladies came past and a hopeful yellow taxi.

It works because the taxi is hopeful. What a perfectly chosen word. He leaves you with a feeling of the simplicity of everyday life, of details, of objects but also with a greater thread of how complex the world can be. There is more than meets the eye. There are broader questions at hand.

This book is sheer magic. I read it in about two days. I was left with no choice but to keep reading.

The university sleeps alone tonight

The university is asleep right now, dormant. It is dark outside, al least one hour after sunset. All you can hear is the hum of radiators, pop vending machines and flickering fluorescent light bulbs. The classrooms are empty. Two hundred  person lecture theatres are dead silent. It is weird that the campus lives and breathes during the day and that’s it. No more. It slumbers dreaming of sweet rest, perfect lectures delivered by the best profs, regular cleaning.

This is a place where students live, breathe, study, and hang out for four or five or even six years of their life and then leave. We are but visitors here, a short fling, never something long term. Some students aren’t even monogamous transferring and going on exchanges. They break hearts.

Penny for your thoughts

Thought Catalog is like the Girls of the Internet. It is edgy, trendy and fun. It makes you feel hip and your friends post links to it on Facebook. Occasionally there is a really good article that makes you glad you went on it. You find something you would never have discovered otherwise.

But then it is also a crazy place where articles like “7 Signs You Can’t Party As Much As You Used To” or “Absurd Questions You Get Asked Being An Identical Twin With Lesbian Moms” don’t seem out of place. Where you say to yourself why yes that is perfectly normal and completely expected. Obviously. This is the realm where youth culture makes this totally acceptable and perfectly normal. Just like Girls. Some of the things that happen are downright crazy but you love it. You relate to it. It makes you feel cool and trendy and just a little bit less adrift in the sea of sorting out your life.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Easy As Pie

I arrived at the train station and felt like I was a part of something truly exciting. This was Europe, I was backpacking, I was gaining a valuable life experience, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, I was like a first-year student fumbling to get my bearings straight and utterly lost.

There was only one option for me: ask for help. I was not a North American male in a car, asking for help was a perfectly acceptable option and was far more acceptable than missing my train or getting on the wrong one. Like a child flying alone for the first time I felt a need to be escorted or given an infographic explaining the process to me. I knew how to get on a plane like the back of my hand, it was easy and straightforward, and I’d done it a million times. Somewhere in all the romanticism of backpacking across Europe no one had actually mentioned how the train system worked. It was like having an excellent hostel recommended for you and then finding out it was haunted. Not exactly what I had been expecting.

Luckily, I was in France and spoke French fluently. I was not scrambling completely, and was at least as capable of treading water. I found an information booth and asked a series of questions that were like asking how to tie one’s shoe laces. I left with a vague idea of how to get on the right train, and where to catch it. I then hauled my bag — I gave up on the backpacking aspect of backpacking when I hoisted my immense backpack on at the Paris airport, in that moment I decided that lugging fifty pounds on my back was not for me — across the station and was finally feeling a minor sense of accomplishment. This was easy as pie. I was close to taking my first train ride, but there was some information that eluded me. For example trains often arrive at the station only a couple of minutes before departing. This was news to airport accustomed me.

I naively boarded a train that was parked at the right platform — only after asking a station employee if it was in fact the right train — fifteen minutes before my train was set to depart. Big mistake. I knew I was in trouble when the train left ten minutes before my scheduled time of departure. When the conductor came around to ask for tickets I asked, “Where is this train going?” — this served as a valid explanation for not having a ticket. I was back in kindergarten fumbling with my shoelaces and wanting desperately to just go back to velcro. He kindly helped me find trains that would take me to my intended destination and I gratefully got off at the next station — a small town in the middle of nowhere.

I made my way back to Paris and this time like a pro I went straight to my platform, and waited until five minutes before it was set to leave. I figured I was in the clear. Wrong. I had once again managed to get on the wrong train. A sense of frustration overtook me like a grey cloud hanging over me. The conductor was once again understanding and helpful, but I had already managed to re-plan my trip and was hoping that I would make it to my destination before nightfall. I was giving up hope and devising a backup plan. If things got truly screwed up I would simply check in at a hotel after the last train had left for the day. Not a good situation. My cloud grew darker.

As we pulled into Paris once again, it was like seeing an old friend, I was growing far too familiar with the inner workings of this train station. I knew exactly the platform I was supposed to be at, and miraculously we pulled in right across from it. I had two minutes before my train left. I had two thoughts in my head. First, please please let me make it. Second, please let me get on the right train. Both worked like a charm. After asking four passengers — one can never be too sure — I found a seat and breathed a sigh of relief. The clouds were slowly lifting and I had made it through the first test of my backpacking adventure, with only a minor amount of despair.

Tumbling

I like to do my laundry in the morning, that way I know there will be no competition from others. I hate that feeling when you come back to the washing machines and dryers, and your clothes are no longer there.

In the house I grew up in there was one way to guarantee that you would get in a fight with somebody: move their laundry. The only exception to this was that if they were out of the house you could text them, ask permission, and then follow specific instructions as to what was to be done with the laundry. Outside of this a booming roar and the inevitable tension would arise.

Nobody touches my clothes. Nobody except sometimes my mother. Unfortunately she is the monster that eats your socks. Once she moves your clothes your favourite t-shirt will take a three month vacation to the Bahamas, and it will not be kind enough to send a post card.

I started doing my own laundry in grade six. I had this phase where I really wanted to wear the same t-shirt everyday (it was my favourite colour, and I later painted my room the same colour) but it had to be clean. After four nights of asking my dad to wash it for me he took me to the basement and showed me how to wash it myself. After that I did my own laundry.

I fear that one day a boy I am dating will ask me to wash something for him and I will flat out say no — and add please never wash my clothes, ever. It is a respect thing. I like you too much to move your clothes. Perhaps those boundaries will fade in a relationship but I will not have to deal with that for a few years yet.

The same applies even now that I live in student housing. Laundry continues to be a source of fun even though I no longer live with my family. For me it is not that bad. You just have to be strategic about what time of day you do laundry. Sundays are bad and early evenings are too. Mornings and after midnight are ideal. If your load finishes before you come to collect it it ends up in one of the bins. This has never happened to me, but I am afraid that it might. I am always too awkward to move somebody else’s clothes into the bin and will either wait or come back later. I struggle to turn the dryers on — mostly because the instructions are in Danish.

Some friends of mine live in housing that does not have as nice of a laundry set up. They have to book a time slot a week or two ahead of time. The only non-booked times seem to be on Friday and Saturday nights. Their laundry room is rumoured to be quite dodgy and is said to become home to uninvited guests hiding from the cold during the winter months. I count myself lucky that the only thing I have to wrestle with is the buttons on the dryer — one day I will win, one day.

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Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the occupiers

I am not an American, and I feel that the occupy movement has a lot more meaning there than it did in Canada. When the first protests appeared I was impressed, and thought to myself if I was an American I would join in, I would grab a tent, and camp out. Since junior high I had watched American politics (the Bush years were bad for this) and felt frustrated by the way decisions are made, by the process of decision making, by the lobbying, by the four year billion dollar election cycles, by the enormous wealth gap, but I am not an American so I stayed inside. It was not my battle to fight, or my wall street to occupy.

Occupy sprung up in Canada, and at two separate locations in my home town — they were disparate and often seemed to be at odds with one another. They seemed to be as much about internal politics as about local, provincial, or national politics. I wasn’t sure what we were actually trying to occupy — what was the point here in Canada, what exactly were we protesting. I did not want to protest simply for the sake of protesting, and actually feel pretty good about my political system — it is not perfect but it is responsive and accountable — so I watched from afar and heard occasional rumblings.

The municipal government was annoyed by the occupiers and eventually kicked them out of their main location but I don’t know about the other. They waited until the winter, hoping that the cold would break the spirit of the movement but it didn’t. People stayed in their tents even when it snowed and I admired their hardiness.

Overtime the movements everywhere stopped being new and exciting, they became something constant, and predictable. They camped out, occasionally governments (especially the Americans) got upset and cracked down on it. The most noteworthy incident was when the library at the occupy camp in New York was dismantled by the police. The Internet lashed out. Bloomberg had overstep a sacred boundary: books. The book lovers of the Internet were outraged, and rightly so. I was impressed that the movement had managed to accumulate a library in the first place and by their efforts to rebound.

I am impressed that the movement has continued for so long. I think many Americans are frustrated by their government process and need an outlet. The economy is in chaos, there is an enormous deficit, and the influence of individuals in being progressively eroded by special interest groups and the sheer cost of politics in the U.S. There is an enormous wealth gap and high levels of poverty. I don’t know if occupy has achieved any of its goals, if it really has any, but good for the American movement. Hopefully they continue to stand up and say we will not be ignored.

Hey, can you watch my stuff

I am at the library and I know that moment is coming. The person sitting two tables down from me that I have never met before in my life and will never speak to again is about to do one of the most annoying things in the world. They come over and say, “Hey, I’m gonna go grab a coffee, can you watch my stuff?”

I mentally shudder and think to myself you want me, a complete and total stranger, to protect your notes, textbooks, iPod and two thousand dollar laptop while you galavant off to another building for sustenance or whatever else you may have planned.

I feel that this is a lot of responsibility. What if something actually happens to your stuff? Am I accountable for that? Am I actually expected to duel someone or chase down a thief on your behalf? Or even worse while I am on Twitter, I mean working on my paper, and I am not actually looking at your stuff, which happens to be just on the edge of my peripheral vision somebody grabs it. If your stuff is not there when you get back what happens?

I go with the opposite approach. You leave something invaluable like a hoodie or textbook (no one would steal one of those) to save your spot, which can be as valuable as an iPod depending on the time of day, and pack up anything you are not willing to part with — i.e. your Macbook, and that delicious roast beef, cheddar and avocado sandwich you’re saving for later.

I’ve been told I have trust issues when it comes to expensive electronics, but I don’t think this is a bad thing. I will trudge my laptop to the bathroom with me if I am working at a coffee shop or studying at the library. The time required to pack it up is nothing compared to the pain of replacing it. I will not let friends touch my DSLR (I occasionally make exceptions for people who actually know how to use DSLRs). My rule of thumb is if I can’t afford to replace it then I need to protect it. This is why I do not ask strangers to guard my laptop, because it is my most expensive and most useful possession.

This was inspired by 9 Unfortunate Situations to Find Yourself In by Christopher Hudspeth on Thought Catalog: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/9-unfortunate-situations-to-find-yourself-in/

So maybe I’m a little addicted to Instagram

Okay, so maybe the number of photos I have been taking on Instagram lately is a little excessive but you see I just bought a smart phone for the first time in my life, actually I just bought a phone for the first time in my life. I paid for it. Every penny that it is worth I paid up front. Previously I have taken the bait of a free phone with a contract, which was great until my Blackberry died in a tragic gravity related accident (I feel on it while riding my bike and it stopped accepting incoming calls). I had eight months left on my contract and decided to go with an old phone my dad had lying around — which despite three years of use by him looked spotless before I got my grubby little hands on it.

Phones in my mind were a bad deal. They are expensive and I will inevitably break them — or perhaps if I cared more about them then I would be more gentle. The worst phones, usually old school flip phones, can take anything you put them through and I love them for that.

Smart phones are also big and bulky, and don’t fit in girl sized pockets — boys do not have this problem but if I doesn’t fit in my pocket it is not worth using.

But then smart phones are amazing. They can do so much. As the end of my contract approached I started to consider getting a smart phone and then I found out about Instagram. That settled it.

Angry Birds I could do without, but Instagram. That I had to have. Ever since I was a kid if someone handed me a camera I would go crazy snapping pictures and loved every minute of it. Instagram plays on the same instinct and combines it with social media — although I keep my Instagram posts to Twitter because that is the platform for people who really want to know all of the little mundane parts of my life, oh and get cool links.

And the photos turn out awesome. Instagram takes an average photo, with a cellphone camera of varying quality (I am finding mine to be a bit more of a wide angle than I would like), puts a cool filter on it (guaranteeing that it will look cool), and makes it square. Photos look fantastic square. I think that is the true magic. If you take an average photo and use a square crop on it it suddenly improves in quality — kind of like accents on boys, or the teen girl movie makeover effect.