Sunday, 17 July 2016

fantasy - guy and gal

I love the 'Wee Libraries' in my neighborhood.  I always check on them when I walk by, often drop off a book or two.  This past week I picked up a recent thriller by Lee Child.  (Not that one over there, but that's the one I could find a picture of.)

I have read several of these.  I love the king of the road fantasy  Child sells: observant hyper-physical superman working for justice, with no ties, no fears, and new girl every adventure.  James Bond and Travis McGee come close to this fantasy but Jack Reacher is freer from the world than they are. No boss, no best friend, not even a change of clothes. He is an ideal, really, the purest example I know -- almost an abstract extension of 'guy'.  It's easy to laugh at him, and perhaps he should lay off the head butting before he ends up with CTE, but I think there is a small yearning towards Reacher in most of us Y-chromosome types.

Know who he reminds me of?  Bella, from Twilight.  Yup.  Now, here I am talking without a lot of knowledge (I've been unable to get through one of the books) but ignorance has never slowed me up before. And I am aware of Bella as an icon.  She seems to embody a certain aspect of femininity -- pliant and submissive, seeming to exist only for relationship, succeeding through manipulation.  And what a success she is! Not one but two sexy powerful guys will do anything -- anything -- for her.  Like Reacher, her girl fantasy is almost perfect. She doesn't even have to walk by herself if there is a guy to carry her.   Again, it's easy to laugh.  But pay attention to the bit inside that is somehow satisfied by Bella -- or what's her name from 50 Shades, who is virtually the same character.

I am not judging here. I am interested.  The Twilight and 50 Shades books have sold umpty million copies despite being fairly badly written. There's something there.  Don't let's hate ourselves for liking them.  What's the appeal?  I mean, I didn't race through Thunderball because of the prose style.

Bella is a heroine who gets what she wants using her best girl powers.  Is that it?  Maybe.  When Reacher takes 4 big bullies down at once using elbows, feet and head, we go, Huzzah.  Guy power.  When Bella puckers up, is it the same thing?  (And she's not risking CTE.)  One of my favorite heroines is Eliza Bennett, who uses charm, humour and belief in herself to succeed.  But what she succeeds in doing is asking Darcy to marry her. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

deus ex machina

When last we spoke, I was buying a place.  Now let me tell you about moving day.  Last week.  It was - fun is the wrong word for any moving day, but even judged by moving day standards this one was - kinda awful.  And yet a valuable experience too.  For I found God.

No, not that guy. A younger looking deity.  And yet there were some similar elements.

What happened was this. I had been phoning my new building management company for days and days trying to arrange to put an elevator on service. Nobody returned my calls. I began to feel like what's his name from the movie, Office Space:  Uh, hiiii.  It's me again.  Yeah. We seem to be missing each other...

So my moving guys showed up at the old place, loaded the truck, and we took off.  Arrived at the new place, we found that the super was not on site, and only one elevator was working. First gulp. It was 8:00 am and folks were doing things.  Elevator things.  We moved my stuff around them, working slowly, raising a few eyebrows, causing some sighs, realizing that the job was going to take longer than normal. The ground floor hallway filled with my stuff.  And then a dude in a striped shirt showed up, looking official.

"What are you doing?" he demanded.  Seriously.  Biting back some pretty darn witty things, I told him I was moving in.
"You can't do that today!" he said. "The elevators are being tested. It'll take hours! Hours!"
Second gulp.
I pointed out that my stuff was here, the truck was outside, and in fact I could indeed do that today.  I said that maybe management could have answered my messages, telling me that the elevators were being tested today, and saved a lot of grief.
"When did you leave the message?" he demanded.
"Yesterday," I said.
"Well that doesn't leave a lot of --"
"And the day before yesterday.  And the day before that. And the day before that. You guys really should check your messages now and then."
"Well," he said. "Well.  I'll have to get back to you.  Let me get a card and leave it with you."
Striped-shirt dude stalked off down the hall.  I never saw him again.

All this time we had been hearing moans and screeches from the elevator on the left - the one not in service. The call light over its door was dark.  The other elevator moved slowly from the penthouse down.  And then ... and then ... its light went out too.
No elevators were working.  Third gulp.
We pressed the call button. Nothing. No movement. No light.
My moving crew chief -- Joe, an older stoic guy -- sighed audibly.
"You live on the 6th floor, right?" he said to me.
I nodded.
He looked at my pile of stuff, thinking, no doubt, of having to carry it up 6 flights of stairs.  I thought about how long it would take - I was paying by the hour.  The other 2 movers showed up with more of my stuff, took in the situation, and sat down.
"Oh oh," said the young cool guy.
We waited.  As moments go, it was a long one.  Yes, 1st-world problem. No, nobody in danger.  Still, it was pretty stressy.  Did I say a prayer?  And then ....

The elevator on the left opened.  A golden light inside it shone down on 5 weights, 500 lbs each, with the logo of the elevator company.  This was a full load.  Standing in the middle of the elevator, in a boiler suit with the light shining full on him, arms folded, was ...
"Are you the super?" I asked.

"Super?  Well, some people say so."
He was my height but about twice my breadth, packed hard with muscle. His beard was Old Testamental. His arms, hands, neck - just about all of him you could see - was tattooed.  His teeth shone when he smiled.
He was the elevator inspector, doing the load test. I explained my problem. He got it right away. "Management in this building is a joke," he said. "I don't care about them - I care about the people moving in and out, using the elevators. Now listen, I have to take my guys on break now - you understand that?"
"Totally," I said.
"But I am on your side. I will clear this elevator for you.  I will do it soon."
I swallowed. "Thank you."
He strode down the hall. The light seemed to follow him. 

In twenty minutes the elevator was working.  My stuff was in my new place lickety split. I overtipped Joe and the guys out of exuberance. It was a kind of offering to the real saviour of the day.  The elevator inspector. God from the machine.

Monday, 14 March 2016

I did it for you

You know the scene in old war movies where one guy falls on a grenade to save the rest?  It's always a dramatic moment.  The whole unit is in a foxhole and this guy -  usually a comic or conflicted character -- maybe the whiner, or the guy with the Italian or Polish accent, or the guy who doesn't get it -- he sees the grenade first, and jumps on it just as it goes off.  And all his faults are redeemed in that one moment of self-sacrifice.

That's who I'm feeling like right now.  I am taking one for the team. 

This is about rising real estate prices.  We're all in this war together, like our movie unit.  We're asking the same questions.  If we're renters, when will we afford a place of our own?  If we're homeowners, should we upgrade now, or sell and rent for a while? Will our kids ever be able to buy a place?  The market is overdue for a correction, but when is it going to happen? How long can we hold off?  It's a grenade, I tell you, a housing grenade.  And it's landed right in our foxhole.

Good news!  You can let out the deep breath you've been holding.  I just bought a place.  I did it for you.  Now, thanks to my decision, you know when the market correction is due to hit -- within six months at most.  That's how long it took the last time I made a real estate decision.  And the time before that.

I do not have a chequered past in real estate.  I have a uniformly grim past, a sad past, a past full of wrong decisions.  Over a number of decades during which housing prices have risen umpty-ump percent, I have lost, well, umpty umps of money.  Not possible?  Oh yes it is.  I buy high.  I sell low.  I do it consistently.  You could say I have bad luck. Or bad advice. Or you could say I'm just bad at real estate.

My expression as I signed the Agreement Of Purchase And Sale this morning was the same expression as that Italian-Polish whiny smart ass in the movie, when he jumps on the grenade.  Think Sidney Carton, only without the lost love. Tis a far far better thing I do ....

Monday, 11 January 2016

joker's regret

I am not a regular overeater but it happens.  I do, on occasion, have a What was I thinking? moment halfway through a second helping of ribs or fifth shortbread cookie.  I have regretted menu choices even before they arrived at the table, even as the words leave my mouth.  Tower of onions rings?  Duck confit poutine?  What am I thinking?

But you can regret other bad habits.  More than once in my life -- more than twice, hell, more than a hundred times -- I have regretted the easy joke.  It's there in front of me, a quick laugh, and I find myself unable to resist.  I speak without thinking (actually, this is my regular style, even when not telling jokes) and then - after I have cast the words out and cannot reel them back in -- only then do I realize that I might have stepped on some toes.  Maybe, just maybe, someone could feel bad about my gag.  And I feel bad.  Joker's regret.

I remember  a few years ago standing on stage in front of a couple of hundred high-school kids. I choked on my coffee and, without thinking (enough), blurted, Well that certainly did not go down in a fun way.  There was a pause, then one sputter, then a few more.  Then a general laugh.  I tried to save the situation by looking puzzled and segueing to the Titanic (which certainly went down in a not-fun way) but I don't think the teachers were fooled.  It wasn't the anger I minded -- it was the sighing.

If I had the moment to live over, I probably wouldn't have made the joke.

Anyway, I may have hit another iceberg tonight.  Facebook notified me that a friend had commented positively on a book club featuring indigenous Canadian writers. I jumped in without thinking - a quick and easy joke, not even particularly funny -- something about this was all very well but where were the book clubs that featured aging straight white guys?  A gag along those lines.  As I say, not brilliant, but political correctness is a big fat target, hard to resist.  That's not the point.  I have joker's regret because I might have made a friend feel bad.

Now, it would be hilarious if the community collectively kicked me.  A hundred thumbs down on my post.  De-Friended all over the place.  Expressions like the girl in the picture up there.  Again, though, it wouldn't be the objective anger that got to me. I'm used to disapproval. Anyone who feels that there is only one way to approach a topic - any topic - is just wrong.  But if my friends feel bad, I will too.

Probably there will be no Facebook-shaming.  My friends will roll their eyes.  The community will ignore me, or sigh and pat me on the head.  I'm used to that too.

Will the moment of joker's regret stop me from speaking without thinking ever again?  I'd like to believe that. I'd also like to believe I'll never again order duck confit poutine.  But, you know, I just might...

Saturday, 19 December 2015


The coolest cities, to my mind, are the ones that care least about the little rules, that bend convention to so everyone can get along. That's what cities are, after all -- vital experiments in mutual tolerance. 

Take traffic lights. This picture is of Manhattan, where the idea is to pretty much ignore lights along with all other signs, which suits the pace of the place and is strangely sensible, given pedestrian volume.  The idea of 50 people waiting on a corner for a single light to change so they can cross a near-empty street makes no sense, given that 50 more people are going to arrive every few seconds.

In Vancouver, on the other hand, the idea seems to be that rules are rules.  Lights are there FOR A REASON and you cross against them AT YOUR PERIL.  Not that you'll get run down -- drivers are mostly polite and attentive -- but you will be JUDGED by fellow pedestrians.  I have received dozens of outraged sniffs and head tosses from Vancouverites who stood next to empty streets waiting for the light the tell them to cross, while I walked towards them against the light. There'd be a large red J on my forehead if they had their way.

Maybe I'm doing them a disservice.  Maybe they want to jaywalk but lack courage -- like Chuchundra the muskrat in "Rikki Tikki Tavi," who longs to run out into the center of the room but can't bring himself to do it.  But they don't look scared.  Mostly they look accusatory.

Like the blonde lady with the baby carriage.  This was last week.  She stood opposite the Dufferin Mall, frowning at me as I ran towards her.

"The light's red!" she hissed. 
Dufferin can be busy so I'd waited for a break in traffic before hustling across the four lanes.
"Sure is," I said.
Then I got it. She was judging me for jaywalking.  This is not a usual attitude here. Toronto is mostly full of folks trying to get from A to B as fast as possible.
She looked into the stroller in front of her, then back to me.  Big dark eyes in a well made-up pretty face.  One of those zippy moms.
"But -- the children!" she said. As if this invoking of our most precious resource would make me break down and promise to sin no more. "If they see you crossing illegally, they'll get the wrong idea.  I don't want my --"  she said her baby's name here but I confess I've forgotten it "-- to cross against a light someday and get run over."
I should have laughed and moved on.  But I had a fast reply, and the words were on my tongue before I thought them through (and if I had a nickel for every time that's happened...).

"What do you think is more likely to hurt your baby in the long run?" I said. "Me jaywalking or you smoking cigarettes?"

Yeah.  I know.  I walked off, feeling not at all like a hero.  Now I was a judge too.  And, you know, I didn't like it. 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

rare day in the life

So it's official.  For the first time in I don't know how long my in basket is empty.  After an eternity of struggle, catching up to demand of editors, students, teacher librarians, I am looking at a blank screen.

I am reminded of the moments when my young children were all in good places.  There was usually someone in some kind of need.  But not always.  Every now and then I would look up in the middle of my day, run through the list, and realize that all four of them were okay. Healthy and happy, up-to-date in terms of shots, cavities, homework, haircuts, clothes, and birthday presents. (Yes, I know.  No one was starving or drowning, abused or at war.  No one had cancer.  These are healthy first-worlder concerns. I was and am aware of the little-league aspect of my worry life.) 

I remember feeling - for those few hours - off the parental hook. As I do now, workwise. 

How long will this state last?  Not very.  There's manuscripts due back any day now, students to ment, and Christmas is coming.  So I must make a point of enjoying it.


Saturday, 12 September 2015

Lucky Jonah

Blogging is like exercise. I know I should get to it -- but there's always something more pressing, or fun, or ... anyway, here we are again.  Puff puff, pant.

Summer was long - amn't I right?  Long and hot, least it seemed so to me in my un-airconditioned apartment.  I had a couple of mss hovering over my desk for most of it.  The one I'll talk about now was a substantive edit that was really more of a re-write. 

I decided to tweak the hero's issue.  In this draft, Jonah (that's his name) would have a growing awareness of his gayness.  I'm always keen to write from a point of view I know and don't know.  I like to surprise myself when I write.

Being gay has never been a big deal to me.  My best friend at uni was gay.  I've spent my adult life in the restaurant business and in publishing. I am totally used to gay company.  But I wonder how I'd feel if I was gay myself?  That's what I wanted to write about -- the growing realization that there was this fundamental area of yourself that was, well, different.

I didn't have much trouble with the rewrite.  You have to find a piece of yourself to put into a character and give it conviction.  Jonah is a loser with a sense of humour, and things happen to him in the course of the story that are, well, hilarious. Jonah spends a fair amount of time thinking, Holy crap, now what do I do?  This is very much like me. 

But was gay Jonah credible? That was my fear.  I've shared time and space and intimacy with gay men and women, but I'm straight. And I grew up a generation ago.  My best gay friends are old or dead.  Being gay is still a struggle but it's easier now -- at least in the urban secular 1st world.  I needed someone young and gay to vet the story.

So I did what any parent would do.  I asked my kids for help.  Thea put me in touch with one of her best friends (whom I remember as a cute 6 year old).  Mack is still pretty cute but he's now 20-something, towering over me, formidably well read. He let me buy him a beer and said he'd read the ms and offer comment.

Good news!  He likes Jonah and the story.  Bad news! A couple scenes are really wrong. 

I just don't see why you've got him running away from the best friend, Mack told me, over the phone.  He's got a thing for the guy, he's got a chance to kiss him, and he runs away.

But Jonah's a girl now, I said.  (Lucky Jonah is nothing like the Bible.  I don't know why uploaded the picture except it made me smile.  In my story there's a magic camera that turns you into people, and Jonah has become the best friend's girlfriend.)

Girl, boy, so what? said Mack.  You get a chance to smooch your hottie best friend, you go for it.

Would you? I asked.

In a heartbeat.

So I got a chance to write my first sort-of gay sex scene.  It looks hetero, but the girl is really a guy.  (Wow, maybe I am venturing into transgender territory.)  Anyway it is a middle-school novel. The sex is pretty tame.  The only toys involved are from Mattel and Lego.

That was last month.  Now summer is over and the book is off at the publisher's, ready for the line edit and copy edit and ARC and second ARC and - finally -  maybe - with luck - the Indigo / Amazon warehouses, and the indie bookstores, and classrooms.  Keep your eyes open for Lucky Jonah.

Hey, anyone going to be at the Telling Tales Festival?  I'll be there, tagging along with a stellar line up.  It's in Westfield heritage Village, Rockton Ontario on the 20th - a cool time guaranteed.  Heres the website:

 Ok, I feel fitter now. See you next time I feel the need to exercise.