There hasn’t been much of anything these days. Nothing but sick people hanging out at hoping waiting to feel better. Needless to say, there has been no swimming and not much skating. There has been more Netflixing than usual, due to the surprising fact that Supergirl is a really fun show that we all enjoy watching. It’s been our dark horse. We are now mostly back to work and school, having deciding to ignore how crummy we still feel, especially after the doctor told us it was nothing rest and fluids couldn’t fix, and time. She said it could take a few weeks to be rid of this thing that’s going around. You know things are bad when your kid comes home and says his teacher greeted him that morning with ‘Hey Stranger!’ But there’s been books and mini eggs so one can’t complain too much. Books like “Home Fire” by Kamila Shamsie that took my breath away. Oh, that ending! It’s all about family and love and I’ll be writing more about it for our local newspaper next month. I read “The Music Shop” by Rachael Joyce and I’ll admit I was pleasantly surprised after being snobbish about it and not expecting to enjoy it. If a Richard Curtis movie was ever a book, this would be the one. And I’ve just begun to read “Fates and Furies” by Lauren Groff which I already love after only twenty pages. It’s given me what I need to doft the blanket of sick and get back to writing which is perfect because my next UofT course, “Intro to Novel Writing” with the wonderful Michelle Berry started this week and I couldn’t be more excited. So onward, onward, onward – with help from Supergirl (although I will so badly miss Calista Flockhart because I know she isn’t going to be in many episodes next season and her charcter is my favourite with perfect timing and lines like: “Tell Harrison Ford I’m flattered but I don’t date older men.” She also gives excellent pep talks.
We had a good break. I’m not going to say I’m tired, or so busy, or that it went by to quickly. It was just good. We hid under blankets and made forts and read and played games and ate really good food. The kids skated for the first time in years and loved it. We let them stay up this year for New Years and they were disappointed in how boring their parents can be. The two weeks were good to us and we were happy to be reminded that we are able to have those great times. They aren’t always easy to come by for us, I’m not complaining, just a fact. But it’s so good to know they’re out there, waiting for us.
I read Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro and I loved it! It was the perfect book to end the year with about a strong female narrator, albeit unreliable, who must jump between time lines to keep the world from being destroyed. I love unreliable narrators and she was one of the best. I finished another Louise Penny, Dead Cold. The more familiar I get with these characters the more I understand the world’s fascination with everything Gamache. I started the holiday with the second one and it got me in the mood to just be. Be happy and content with twinkly lights and food and my people. It was good. My youngest son Rory gave me Angie Thomas’ The Hate You Give and I devoured it in two days. I’ve been thinking so much about how I would review this book and I just feel like I can’t without sounding over privileged and naive. The book is amazing, as everyone knows or has heard, and heartbreaking and all those things but I want to say more. Saying how hard it was for me the read it doesn’t help the people who live it. But reading is to create empathy and make goodness. And this book did all those things. William, my oldest, gave me a pillow. The best pillow. Me snuggling with it all holiday made him happy to let me read – win, win. I ended the week by getting halfway through Jennifer Egan’s newest novel Manhattan Beach and I’m loving it.
My head is full today and excuse the following ramblings. It’s my first day home without kids or work, with time to write. But I’m full of worries we have that are particular to our kids but that are very much their own stories to tell. They don’t have it easy though and that’s why I can’t let myself slump today (although, it’s oh so tempting) with my pillow. I will write – get back to this blog and work on a non-fiction piece I am thinking of submitting. Oh! And swimming!
So. My class got cancelled because no one else signed up but I got the best bathing cap for Christmas that can’t go to waste. So my husband is wonderful and came up with the idea to meet me at the same time my class would have been to swim together once a week. This to me is even better, time with him and exercise for us both. It’s a pretty great deal he’s come up with especially when it’s possible that the next few months could be tough. So yes, writing and swimming and sometimes slumping if that builds me up to give my boys what they need when they come home. That, and writing and swimming and hanging our with Scott are also just a lot of fun.
My favourites of the year. I would love to write about each one more but for tonight here is the list. It has been a long, lovely day of breakfast with a dear friend, wrapping presents, searching for last minute gifts, finding the perfect one and making cookies. Oh, the cookies for class parties.
A Gentlemen in Moscow – Amor Towles (loved so much, protagonist I will never forget)
A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (can’t say how brilliant this is enough)
Roost – Ali Bryan – (loved reading this on a train alone early one morning and laughing so much – my sleeper hit of the year)
Son of a trickster – Eden Robinson (my favourite protagonist of the year)
The Lonely Hearts Hotel – Heather O’Neill (probably my #1 of the year)
So much love – Rebecca Rosenblum (absolutely gorgeous and haunting)
In the woods – Tana French (what an amazing find, this series!)
The mothers -Brit Bennett (started the year with this incredible story)
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley – Hannah Tinti (couldn’t put it down, the ending!)
I loved so many books this year, but these are the ones that blew me away.
I bought myself a new bathing suit today. It’s a nice Speedo, blue with a v-neck. I like it. I’ve signed up to take swimming lessons for adults in January but I’m worried they may be cancelled. I think I’m the only one who has signed up so far so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I even asked for a fun bathing cap for Christmas. I’ve never been a strong swimmer. I had trouble learning as a kid, my arms were skinny and shaky and never strong enough. Same goes with skating, but with my legs. We’re making plans to remedy that this winter as well.
I’m starting to think about 2018 and I want to do things that I’ve pushed off, things that have scared me. Swimming, skating, driving far distances (other than the easy around town ones I know) and finishing a writing project. I am taking Introduction to Novel Writing with Michelle Berry in about a month through UofT and I can’t wait. I am signed up for the Creative Writing Certificate which gives me five years to complete seven courses. My Intro to Writing course finished a few weeks ago with a writer I’ve admired for awhile – Grace O’Connell – and it went better than expected. I finished with two pieces. A non-fiction one that Grace told me I should be able to get published and the other was a start to the novel I want to write. Very, very early days, but suddenly real.
I want 2018 to be the year I get smarter and more brave. I want to be a kinder person and not afraid to say what I believe is right. I want to write this draft, and learn to swim and maybe stand up in skates for more than two minutes while my children skate around me. I will keep working at the library because I know I need the interaction and it gives structure to my days. I want these things in order to be stronger for myself and the voice I will need to write this book and for my family that needs me. But first I’m going to settle deep in these upcoming days, quiet and cozy and fun. I will rest up and get from them and my loved ones what I need in order to start and make happen the 2018 that I want. If we’ve learned nothing from these past ridiculous and often horrendous months is that we do have a choice, and we want to make the right ones and not necessarily be quiet about it.
We have been to Toronto so many times in the past few weeks. One weekend was for no reason other than to escape, and we did. It landed us on top of the Grand Hotel in a hot tub after dark and to the Science Centre. The next time was on a Sunday to pick me up from visiting my aunt. We had a perfect day visiting my Nana in Whitby and then went back to Toronto to eat, watch Lady Bird (which was amazing!) go book shopping and eat some more. The kids and Scott came to get me Sunday morning and we didn’t go home before revisiting our beloved Aquarium where the boys have names for the rays and recognize them when we visit. The third time to Toronto was last week for a doctor’s appointment and if we hadn’t all taken the day off and gone we wouldn’t have been together when I got the news that Rory’s story had won first prize in his division for the Write Across Ontario 2017 contest. We were in Tim Hortons after seeing the Christmas windows and it was packed and we went crazy – no one could tell if tragedy had struck or we’d won a lottery. It was a moment that could have been so different and not nearly as perfect it we hadn’t been in Toronto.
I loved living in the city and miss it very much. Walking in the Annex is one of my favourite things to do, although it’s never fun for the person I’m walking with who has usually heard my stories, “That’s where Scott and I…” a million times. So have the boys.
I don’t care if we never get to Disneyland, our city getaways are the loveliest because we are able to show our kids where we began dreaming of them and tell stories while walking through places like the Eaton Centre: “This used to be our mall! Our regular mall, like where we’d buy underwear and stuff!”
It’s still a bit early to list my favourite books of the year but I have a pretty strong hunch what will be topping the list. Last night I finished reading Heather O’Neill’s The Lonely Hearts Hotel. It was 11pm and I just sat there looking around the house for someone to talk to about it. Then I remembered that it was my lovely UofT instructor who pushed me to finally read it (it had been sitting in one of my piles for months) so I emailed her. There were probably too many exclamation points for that late at night but I didn’t care. It was the most amazing book.
It tells the story of Rose and Pierrot, brought to an orphanage run by crazy nuns in Montreal in the winter of 1914. Rose had been left in the snow: “the two bright spots on her cheeks had turned from blue to red then took two more weeks to disappear.” I don’t even have to same anything more, but I will. The two children are performers. Rose dances with an imaginary bear and Pierrot plays the piano, they perform for children before being sent out by the nuns to entertain the rich. They makes everyone happy as if by magic. Nothing I say can do this story justice. The narrative moves through their lives, they finally escape the orphanage and are separated. What they go through before being reunited is heartbreaking, but beautiful which is a major theme – beautiful sadness. O’Neill is the master of metaphor. I don’t remember the last book I’ve read where I’ve needed to underline so many sentences. Her images slow everything right down, silencing the story in the way snow blocks out sound, the only thing you hear is the pressing down of boots proving forward motion. It’s no surprise snow is a major image.
It reads like a fairy tale, magical without being fantasy. The greatest surprise is that it is one of the most feminist stories I’ve read this year. Nothing stands in Rose’s way, not men and not sex (of which there is a lot). She loves the conversation of women: “Rose adored the brilliant repartee of the girls. It was like the train itself, traversing in all domains – trivial and profound subjects, both at once.” She doesn’t bring them down on her way to freedom, she values and pulls them up alongside her.
As the years go on, Rose bursts through walls and ceilings with the ferocity of Eleven from Stranger Things – a weird comparison but one I couldn’t keep out of my head. I also was reminded of “La La Land” many times because of the haunting tune Pierrot writes for Rose that plays throughout the novel.
O’Neill is brilliant, bursting through her own walls and ceilings with this latest book. I’m not surprised, Lullabies for Little Criminals blew me away when I read it years ago. I’ve missed her short stories and second novel in between and will definitely be catching up. This novel is more powerful than Wonder Woman walking into No Man’s Land but is beautifully quieted by snow and sad clowns and heroin addiction and gangsters and prostitution and love. It is about endurance and the beauty of sadness.
So this is when I feel like a dork for the things I wrote and posted yesterday. I’m home with Bingo and I notice she isn’t making eye contact. I’ve perhaps embarrassed us both. But posting yesterday was at least a step forward rather than another day of staying still.
At work there is an older man who is there most days. He reads the paper and wears a ball cap. He has a little, scrunched up face and never smiles. My first introduction to him was when he asked me what else I did besides sit behind a desk and look good. He asked if I cooked and why wasn’t I at home doing that now. He hoped I didn’t make my husband do any other of that work, and when I told him he enjoyed cooking, the man told me there must be ‘something wrong’ (his air quotes, not mine). He later told me he was joking. But it keeps going and he is horrible but older and some others laugh him off. And because I am behind a desk and I am working, there is an expectation to be professional. But I am supported.
It is easy to imagine one day wearing my ‘nasty woman’ tshirt and telling him where to go. And I will, I will tell him he`s inappropriate and needs to stop. No, I will tell him he will stop. The last encounter was the other day and he asked me if I was going to attend a children’s pj storytime, if I’d be dressed up and looking good, maybe with a bottle of wine. I told him `of course not`and he walked away. Why didn`t I say more? We think nothing can shock us anymore, but it does every time and turns us into babbling dorks.
So when I think of this and what we have to deal with, I guess I’m not a dork for sharing my goals and things that are important to me. I have a community of family and friends who support me unconditionally. I need to stand up for everything that is important to me. No, I will stand up for everything that makes up my world.