27 January 2013

Writers are a bit like Anna

"Armeda seemed to sense this resemblance herself, but, rather than chafing against it, as I would have done, she embraced it. Dolly, after all, loved children, and showed a Christian spirit of forgiveness; Kitty, meanwhile, gave Levin the practical ballast he required to pursue his iconoclastic dreams. These, she said, should be a woman's aims.

At sixteen, service to a man or one's children did not strike me as significant goals. I wanted to do something more. I wanted to write; I was learning that then, from my passion for books we were reading. Of course, I had no idea what this meant. In real life, I'd never met a writer. I knew only what the culture taught me: Writers aren't conventional. Writers are exciting and special. Writers are a bit like Anna.

In the years since, I've come to recognize that 'exciting' doesn't always mean 'good.' Sometimes it just means 'self-absorbed.' Once, I had dreamed of becoming Anna; now I feared I really had. On the evidence of those journals, I stood convicted."

from "In Anna Karenina Furs" by Susan Olding in the Winter 2012 issue of Maisonneuve

24 January 2013

Mad Hope

I finished reading Heather Birrell's Mad Hope earlier this week and loved it. As I was reading it, I'd come across passages and think, oh, that'd be a good one to excerpt and then I'd continue on without making note of these. The truth is, there are too many good parts to excerpt, that I'm doing what I rarely do on this blog and write about the book itself.

Mad Hope was a slow burn for me. I don't know if it's because life got in the way of finishing the opening story in a timely matter and therefore coloured those first stories, or it's because the later stories sung to me in a way that those first few didn't, but I am so glad that I kept reading.

In October, I saw Heather Birrell read at the Vancouver International Writers Fest. I was there to see my friend John Vigna, but was pleasantly surprised to hear her read. When I reached the section that she read from, I was excited. Despite the many praises her book has rightly acquired, it was hearing her read that made me want to buy the book. She's a fine, wry reader. A true pleasure. At the reading, I didn't realize how complex that section was in the book and I loved it even more reading it. It did make wish she had a novel I could read next, though.

When I read "No One Else Really Wants to Listen" I had to put the book down beside me every page or so. I didn't want to walk away from it, I needed to read it in one sitting, but I also knew I needed to savour it. That I was only going to have the experience of reading it first the one time and I wanted to enjoy it, take it in as much as possible. I don't do that often with fiction. This story was a discovery, a beautifully uncomfortable mirror held to my life. I know I'm going to carry some of those characters with me for a long, long time.

There is so much in Mad Hope that is great, how deftly Birrell navigates relationships--the comfortable and uncomfortable; the fleeting and the life-long; the ugly and the beautiful. I especially loved how she writes about children and parenthood. This may sound strange, but I feel like I trust her completely.

If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. If you want to read more about Birrell, I recommend this interview with Kerry Clare over at Pickle Me This.

23 January 2013

Never a MILF

Despite the increased silence in my house, I did have the radio on today just in time to listen to the Q conversation about the term MILF. I hate the term and unlike one of the bloggers being interviewed, I don't think it's one to be "embraced" or "taken back". It's a term about being attractive enough for a younger man to enjoy and then to be disposed. No thanks.

For me, the part that drives me the most crazy is when people say that thanks to MILF we now have a term that describes an older attractive woman. Really? How about just using the term "attractive"? Why does age or reproductive status have to play into it? We don't need qualifiers and we definitely don't need the filter of an adolescent boy sexual desires to define beauty, or worse, worthiness.

18 January 2013

What She Said: Anne Enright

"My children dictate my schedule--I have done vast amounts since they were born because they keep me from my desk and make me impatient to get back to it. I don't count words so much anymore, or note beginnings and endings. I work on several things at once, so there is always a file open and no such thing as a blank page. I like working. What discipline I have comes from the fact that I don't do any of the other things I am supposed to. Housework, personal administration--everything goes to hell. My husband cooks. We don't starve."

Anne Enright in The Secret Miracle: The Novelist's Handbook.

11 January 2013

a bit of silence

I'm a CBC gal. I love the institution. In our home, CBC Radio One is on from the moment I stumble to the kitchen until I hit a program that annoys me. There used to be some days that it wasn't turned off until they'd rebroadcast Q in the evening. But since moving to Victoria, I've found that it gets turned off earlier and earlier. I don't know why, but it rarely is on during lunch and never in the evenings.

When the Newtown tragedy happened, I turned off the radio and hid the newspaper. This was something I did not want to try to talk about with the kids, and I left if off until this week. I feel guilty saying this, but I liked the quiet. That said, I was disconnecting myself even more from the world, so I turned it on Tuesday morning. My older two were at school. And what was the first thing I heard? A conversation about researchers studying the DNA of the Newtown shooter. I almost turned it off straight away.

I've had the radio on for four days now, each morning it lasts a little bit longer, but I don't know. I feel like the CBC phase has passed for me. I know, I can't believe it either, really. Or maybe it's just a lull. It feels both strange and good. I guess we'll see where this goes.