Sunday, 20 April 2014

since last we spoke

Once again it has been a while since I posted.  Maybe we should realize that this is the norm, so in fact it has NOT been a while, it has been the regular length of time between posts. 


What have I been up to?  Well, yesterday we had my daughter Imo's birthday party, and I made the worst cookie cake ever.  I am a pretty terrible baker but this was bad even by my standards.  We ended up dumping the dessicated sweet crumbs (yup, that's what the cake turned into -- I do NOT know why, I swear I followed the recipe) onto some ice cream, and eating that.  With vast amounts of coffee and forbearance it was a plausible dessert. 

It was my third night back from Ottawa, where I had been hanging out with young authors and old airplanes.  The event was the MASC young authors' conference (I would tell you what MASC stands for but I have forgot and am too lazy to check).  Kids were charming and (God bless them!) eager to buy books, festival ran well, and the other authors were old friends I don't get to see often enough (that's us in the picture -- note the dazed expression on Marthe's face.  She knows me best, even to the extent of working on a book with me.  More on that in a later post.)

The event was held at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, a hangar full of jets, bombers, space suits, biplanes, and super cool aeronautical stuff.  The 9-year-old boy in me was dazzled, especially since I got to hold my workshops near the ejector seat display.  That's right, I actually sat (don't tell anyone) in a working ejector seat.


That one there.  Fun? Oh yeah, especially since the MASC people put us up in a hotel near a lot of bars, and at least one of the other authors (note the way Lesley is leaning in the picture) doesn't mind going out for a drink or three.   

Saturday, 8 March 2014

a true

Well here I am in warm sunny palm-tree rum-punch country.  Kingston, not the one in Ontario.  I am here on behalf of an NGO called CODE.  Yes, I am doing good for a change.  Caribbean kids need more good books by local authors, and I am here to help.  I know.  I'm blushing too.   But it's a cause I have no trouble getting behind.  I love kids and stories, and am happy to bring them together.  So far I have had a wonderful (can not stress this too much) time with people from various literacy organizations -- CaribLit, Bocas LitFest, and others I can not now remember or find in my emails.  The two days of workshops were fun-filled and funny.  There are some really good authors here, with wonderful story ideas.  I have made jokes and friends, elicited a few snorts and spit-takes -- and more than a few startled shrieks.

For all the ganja-reggae-irie stereotype, Jamaica is a fairly conservative place.  Family (especially Mom) and politeness and the 10 Commandments are all big deals, not to be made fun of.  Oops.  Midway through the first day, the workshop organizer (she was one of the spit-takers, bless her) tweeted that I had made 4 nude references and dropped 6 f-bombs (including a mother-f-bomb that made a well-dressed older lady raise her hands and say, Lord have mercy! aloud). She warned everyone to hang onto their hats. 

Despite all the fun I've had, and despite the lovely weather, my overall response to the city of Kingston is, well, disappointed.  It's so darn unfriendly.  Driving to and from festivals and bookstores, walking the couple dozen blocks around my upscale hotel (more blushing - that's it in the picture up there), I can not help noticing that residential streets are all lined with high walls, many with razor wire on top.  Like this

All right, that's an extreme example, but the walls are everywhere.  This shot was taken not a million miles from my hotel.  In sober fact you walk on a narrow sidewalk, street on one side and 10-foot wall on the other.  And these defences are not to protect the American Embassy or the Anthrax Animal Testing Corp -- behind the walls sit regular middle-class two-deckers and bungalows.  You see them through the gates. Jane Jacobs would sigh.  This is a scared city. 

Tomorrow, I head for Guyana, where I am told the mosquitoes are bigger than I am.  Speaking of scared....

Thursday, 6 February 2014

time tide and hair

It takes years for a day to go by, and then three months pass in the twinkling of a toe. In my experience the difference lies in who needs you and how seriously.  So, when I am meandering through my pages, reading what I like or writing something that has no deadline, adding a line here and taking out a line there, beholden to no one and nothing, time is as it were suspended.  It is an infinitely stretched summer day.  BUT when the obligations pile up, when editors and students and children are clamouring for pages, comments, suggestions, advice, decisions, school fees, when my boat of life is being heaved towards the leeward shore of ruin by an implacable setting tide of deadlines, THEN, then time passes at an Olympic bobsled pace, and every time I look up I have fallen another several hundredths of a second behind the leaders. 

The crisis passes, the work is delivered more or less complete, appointments filled, decisions taken or postponed, school fees paid, and time resumes its more leisured aspect.  Until the next crisis.

This ebb and flow, wax and wane, give and take, relativity of time is old news, of course -- Professor Einstein is not the first to comment.  My case is probably not as extreme as I think it is.  What I now realize (being in a relatively slow period, and therefore with leisure to ponder in) is that the idea of time passing NORMALLY has no meaning.  It's like asking the ocean, When is the tide NORMAL?   Since it is always making or setting, all tides are normal.  See? 
(I must have learned all this in elementary school but I can't recall any of it)

So when I was juggling copy edits on three books at once, sleeping little and drinking too much coffee, when fall passed in a blur and Christmas came in what I would have thought was October, that was normal.  As is now, with the books off my desk, finishing a term of teaching, waiting for a contract, starting the next project. I've been in stasis for what seems like months, even though it's only been about a week.

 The only constants are reading and coffee.  Oh, and needing a haircut -- that'll be for next time

Thursday, 2 January 2014

how should a nanny be?

It's moral dilemma time. Not that I am going to actually do anything, but I don't know how to feel.  No that's not right either -- I know how I feel, I just don't know if I am right to feel this way.

Here's the situation.  I was walking through my totally nice if slightly smug Toronto neighborhood (dogs with hankies for collars, hybrid cars, anti-pipeline signs) on my way to the subway when I met a three-or-so-year-old kid out in his stroller with his nanny pushing.  No, that's not the dilemma.  I have no problem with nannies.  Kids need care, parent or parents are busy, and rich enough to afford help, nannies like kids and want a gig -- everybody can win.  Wait, though -- could this lady have been the kid's mom?  Sure.  She had the air of a nanny but I guess you never know.  That's not the dilemma either.  Wait for it. 

She was talking excitedly, reminding me of the way I used to talk to my kids on our way to the park or the store or the after-hours clinic.  The language was not English, and the kid did not look like he understood, but my first thought was:  Cool.  The more cultures we are exposed to, the better.  If an Anglo kid learns a few words in Finnish or Portuguese or Mandarin, great.  But this was not the case.  When they passed me I realized the truth of the situation.  She was on a hands-free phone, in the middle of what seemed to be an extended conversation. And I thought:  Hmmm.

 Now if this lady is the kid's mom, ignoring him to chat with her boss or partner or sister, then, well, that is totally normal behaviour.  I've done it myself a million times, more or less like the mom in the picture.  My dilemma here is  hypothetical, but let's say the lady I saw was a nanny.  My question is:  How cool is her behaviour?  

Not a safety issue.  Not a no-personal-calls-ever issue.  Not a language issue.  But if you take them all together, the picture just looks wrong, doesn't it?  The kid is so ignored, so left out of things. It's almost as if he was alone in his stroller.  I guess it would be the same if the nanny took her charge to visit a friend and the grownups ignored the kid but this virtual isolation seems stronger.  No?  Am I wrong? 

Friday, 6 December 2013

1st world problems - but not 1st class - problem

On my way out of Vancouver now, and the late airplane lights are winking at me.  I can't wait to get back to Toronto where it is the kind of cold I am used to.  Not cold like Tuktoyaktuk of course, or Montreal or Winnipeg, but not like Vancouver where cold is windy and wet and sort of warm except to natives who dress with, uh, lots of care.

They may be too warm but I walk all day in a fall coat and no gloves and then feel positively frost-bitten.  Back in Toronto in this weather I would have worn a toque and gloves and a sweater under my coat and felt fine. I didn't pack well enough for Vancouver because of its reputation for warmth and wet.  (I didn't know about its tendency towards earthquakes until I got there.  I don't know how you'd pack for them.  Bring your megaphone to scream better?  A pocket fire extinguisher?  Small pick axe to dig your way out of rubble?)

Oh no.  Oh no. The man sitting next to me on the plane (and its like that Yo Mama joke -- when he sits right beside me this guy is right beside me.  I can't actually tell where I stop and he starts) has pulled out a tube of Pringles potato chips.  This is going to be a long flight. 

I wonder what the1st-class equivalent to Pringle Guy would be?  I am flying super economy, where you share the seat with your neighbour in alternate minutes.  (No complaints -- as a children's writer I'm happy not to go in a cage with the other pets.)  In the larger seats at the front of the plane your thighs are your own, so you won't have sour cream and onion dust flaking over you for hours, but there must be something that'll wreck your trip.  The sleep mask that leaks light?  The guy across the aisle who goes ka-ching every time one of his stocks splits?  The attendant who wont leave you alone?  The scotch and coke drinker?   

You know, I feel kind of mean, complaining like this when I am flying thousands of kms in routine safety using somebody else's money.  This is indeed a 1st world problem.  The air, though a bit fragrant, is warm.  I wonder if I'll be able to get a few minutes of sleep before it's Pringle Guy's turn.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

good luck in an earthquake

Most cities have cliches associated with them.  Toronto has a big ego and a big chip on its shoulder, a bunch of bad sports teams and a hilariously awful mayor.  Vancouver, where I am hanging my hat this week, has a few things that Toronto lacks -- mountains, ocean, mild temperatures (I have never heard so much griping over +5 in late November.  Get over it, people!) rain mixed with more rain, and earthquakes. 

Yup, earthquakes.  The sign beside the elevator call button in my hotel is a graphic representation of what to do in the event of an earthquake.  There it is over there.

I am old enough to remember the STOP, DROP, AND ROLL drills -- government plans designed to help us Scarborough Ontario elementary schoolers survive an atomic blast.   Would stopping, dropping and rolling have saved us?  We never had a nuclear explosion to deal with so I don't know for sure.  Maybe we would have stopped dropped and rolled ourselves to safety while the fireball somehow passed us by and vaporized everyone else.   Maybe not.

I want to know what to do in the event of an earthquake so I studied the sign carefully.  Seems that my instinct -- to run around screaming -- is wrong.  In an earthquake -- at least as far as I can judge from the graphic  -- you are supposed to find yourself a table and cling to one of its legs.   Does this sound silly?  Well, yes.  Maybe not as silly as stopping and dropping and rolling to avoid an atomic blast, but pretty silly.

The only table in my suite is a teeny thing I put my book and wine glass on.  I could practically wear it like a hat.  If I feel a rumble from the fault line while I am working or reading, will I lie on the floor and pull this table over me?  Probably not.  I may find myself stopping, dropping and rolling out of instinct.  But I am more likely to run around screaming.  Maybe I will take my wine glass with me.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

don't panic -- it's not winter yet

Summer is over and work --  well it never stops does it.  But it's a little more comfy weather-wise while I am working. 

News?  I have no roommates.  My flat seems strangely empty and quiet and tidy now that Ed and his girl have moved to Montreal where they will go to school.   I was much impressed by their neighborhood -- fun part of the city, pedestrian mall in the next block, lots of charming stores and bars and restaurants.  I strolled around and said, aloud, I could live here.  My ex who was walking with me (we had driven with Ed and his clothes and drum kit) leaned over to whisper, Winter is coming.

Very Game of Thrones-y. Oh yeah, I said.  Montreal is a great place in the summer, maybe not so great under yards of snow. 

Ed is not the only departure.  Thea is gone too.  She and her guy have gone to the states, maybe for a long time. They will do fine.  They are both hardy adventurers as long as there are no bugs.   And -- more news -- they have taken my car. Yup, for the first time in a quarter century I have no vehicle to repair and fill up with gas and pay insurance on.  I am okay with this.  In fact I am delighted -- for now.  I try not to look too smug as I scoot past standing traffic on my bike.  Of course time is passing.  In a couple of months I will feel the cold more without a car.  Moving around will involve more planning and more warm clothes.  After all, winter is coming here too.