Friday, 25 September 2009

weird email

Most of my email comes from friends or relatives saying hi let's get together. Of the email that comes from strangers, probably half is about my winning a lottery in Spain, or marrying a beautiful East European, or otherwise improving my financial or sexual life. (My favorites are the ones who ask if I haven't always wanted a magnificent bust. Oh yes, I want to say. And a beehive hairdo to go with it.) The remaining half of my stranger email has to do in some way with my professional life. Editors and publishers, conference organizers, teachers, students, media types. Much of this is positive (sixth grade students who sign themselves, Your biggest fan! Parent council members who beg me to come to their school). Some of it is disappointing (reviewers who comment on Scrimger's obscure plot line or clunky dialogue). And then there's the fragment of email I got the other day. Here it is in its entirety.
Scrimger yore book is disgusting. Why don't you
That's it. Weird, eh? I stared at the message in surprise. Which turned to dismay real fast. Then to puzzlement.
By now some time has passed. The surprise is going and the dismay is pretty much gone. It's no fun to be reviled, but I can certainly accept the fact that not everyone likes me. The man with no enemies is a coward, says the proverb (I guess because he is too frightened of offending people to put forth an original thought). So I am okay with the critique -- but I am still puzzled. Why don't you ... what? What does my anonymous critic want me to do?
Dear sir or madam, or kid. If you are reading this, please take a moment and finish your thought. I can't decide how much weight to give your opinion until I know more about it. I'm sorry that you find my work disgusting. If you tell me what your issue is, maybe my next book will be better.
So far, today's email seems normal. A couple of friends saying hi. A reader commenting on an earlier blog entry. A student submitting a chapter for review. And an offer to Wow her in the bedroom with your magnificent specimen.
I still think a beehive hairdo would be more effective.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

playing horsie

A memorable moment this morning. For the first time in my life I rode a horse. Well, when I say rode I mean sat on and let him follow another horse around the paddock. Pretty scary, since horses are (follow me closely here) big. Getting a knee up I seemed to rise and rise. It took me forever to get to the top. Once there I flopped around a lot before settling into my natural riding posture which my host, whose farm it was, described as, Saturday night special. Mostly I tried to keep one leg on each side of the animal.

From atop my steed, the world looked different. In front of me was the dark mane and bobbing head. Around me the glorious sunshiny morning, green and golden. And below me - far below, it seemed - were the people, smiling up at me, laughing, shaking their heads. This five minute ride (and it was no more than five minutes, though I was concentrating so hard that it seemed both longer and much shorter) gave me a sudden visceral insight into the class system. As I remember my European history, the upper classes rode horses and the lower ones didn't. The difference, I now saw clearly, was as much physical as economic. The upper class was in fact six feet or so farther up. Those people don't matter, I thought to myself, smiling down at my friends and fellow guests. They are below me.

It was a disturbing and unnatural thought. And when my oh so gentle horse bent forward suddenly, and I slid forward and fell, landing luckily on the soft grass, rolling over and standing up again, I felt -- well, I felt foolish, of course, but also in a way relieved. I was back where I belonged.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

bad art

I am writing from Mir's place in western Toronto this morning. Not much of a morning, weatherwise. The sun is hiding and the birds are coughing and clearing their throats. And Patrick Swayze is dead. I don't really have much to say about him, but his face popped up on my computer screen and I thought, Oh. Kind of the way I felt about Edward Kennedy. Oh. Patrick Swayze is not the heart and soul of the Democratic Party, but then Edward Kennedy is not the ghost lover of Demi Moore. I have to say, I know whom I envy here. Where was I? I never said, did I. Sorry. My topic today is art. Specifically, two bad paintings. (Didn't Beatrix Potter write a story called Two Bad Mice? I think so.) Anyway, I am staring at one of the paintings now. Mir's editor gave it to her as a housewarming present, calling it a piece of "found" art. It was found all right -- at a garage sale with a FREE, PLEASE TAKE! sticker on it. In the painting a smiling Irish Setter gambols around a landscape. That's it. The colours are muted, the action is limited, the dog is semi-realistic. There is nothing about this picture that stands out. It's bad art all right (maybe not as bad as the dog picture here, but pretty darned bad. ) And yet it makes me smile, probably because of the FREE, PLEASE TAKE! sticker, which is still on the top corner. When Thea saw the picture the other day she smiled and said, That's great!
The other piece of bad art is leaning against a corner of the living room, and I am trying hard to avoid looking at it. It's a piece of fantasy, heads and bodies floating over a void. The artist has more talent than the dog drawer, but the picture has less appeal. A lot less. In fact, looking at it makes me feel queasy (not as queasy as the piece here, but well on the way). Mir offered it to Thea, who has a student apartment to decorate. Thea shook her head. Too gross, she said.

Which leads me to the question: what is bad art? What makes it bad? If art is a dialogue between artist and viewer, and one picture makes me smile and another makes me ill, then the smiling picture should be good art, no? No? It's a version of Hemingway's morality. And yet I know that they are both pretty awful.
Personally, my favorite art is kid art. I have it all over my place, and it makes me smile every time I look at it. Not just because the kids are mine, either. Other people's kids' drawing makes me smile every bit as wide. Here's some to take the taste of the other two paintings out of your mouth. Enjoy.

Monday, 7 September 2009

and she's gone ...

Imo and I drove to Antigonish Nova Scotia yesterday, where she will be attending St Francis Xavier University. Seemed as if everyone in town was painted, shouting, cheering, clapping. (Kind of like the picture here, except that it was daytime and FX colours are blue and gold.) We drove through a gauntlet of enthusiastic greeters. A guy in a big hat and a bathing suit stepped out of the crowd to block our rental car. He held up a sign that said HONK. So I honked. The guy turned a somersault, everyone laughed, and we drove on. Before we got out of the car we were high-fived and given hand-outs and pointed where to go. The word AWESOME was used thirty-eight thousand times.
I found it all simple and charming -- what first year should be. But Imo is a pretty cool kid, and some of this over-the-top enthusiasm nonplussed her.
If anyone else tells me how FANTASTIC everything is, she muttered, I am going to brain them.
Come on, don't be too cool for school, I said. Join in and you will find yourself having fun. Why, I am tempted to hoot and holler myself.
We were in her dorm hallway, laden like donkeys. A guy in a headband and face paint, a few doors down from us, threw his head back and screamed something unintelligeable at the top of his lungs. Very tribal, it seemed to me. Somewhere between Survivor and Lord of the Flies, with a touch of Manchester United thrown in.
Come on, Imo! I said. A big Wa-hoo! With me now. One, two, three ...
She pulled me into her room and began to unpack.

I don't know what I was expecting to come out of her knapsack. Symbols of all the little girls she had been over the years, I guess. Stuffed animals, plasticene, a notebook with her name written all over it, a poster of Dora or Miley Cyrus or the Jonas Brothers...
Nope. First things she put on her desk were a can of Red Bull and a bottle of Tylenol.
I swallowed a big lump in my throat. My little girl is all grown up.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

turn around and she's 2, turn around and she's 4 ...

The week between Christmas and New Year is a time-out for the Western world. Kids are between terms, adults are between deadlines. Hiatus-land. No one does much. The French even have a phrase for it (can't remember it, but I am pretty sure it's cool).
Maybe you have had a similar sense of this past week, between the end of summer and a later-than-usual Labour Day. Not me. Since returning from vacation I have been bee-busy, while time has disappeared faster than a burning fuse. Kid stuff mostly. Course sign-ups, fees, laundry overload, computer repair -- DEALT WITH. New boots/coats/ printers -- BOUGHT. New tattoo -- PUT ON HOLD (not without discussion). Yesterday I drove Sam to Kingston for a new school year with his charming and wacky housemates. (There are, apparently, kitchen issues which are -- UNRESOLVED. My boy claims to be under-fridged - something no father likes to hear.)
Today I am off to Nova Scotia, where Imo is beginning her university career. Suitcases -- PACKED (mine is full of her stuff). Flight, car rental and hotel -- BOOKED. Sentimental feelings at my baby girl going so far away, worry about her being ready for the crazy world of college (see picture), and tears -- WELLING UP.
That's a lot of activity jammed into a few days. I'm due for a time out, but I don't know when the next one is due. Maybe not until after Christmas.

... and we're back

In the words of the National Geographic documentary: And so as the sun sinks slowly in the west we bid farewell to beautiful Pago Pago ... That is, we got the hell out of Dodge. Pouring rain, darkness, and the smell of ocean salt lingering on our clothes and skins and souls. Did I say Dodge? I meant Maine. Did I say souls? I meant sneakers.

My favorite memory might be the four of them climbing out of the surf on the first day's high tide, shaking their heads to clear them, smiling wide. Did anyone else notice, said Ed, that that was awesome!
My favorite memory might be the start of our day trip to Boston, getting stuck in the E-Z pass toll lane without an E-Z pass. The barrier wouldn't go up for me, and the traffic piled up behind me, and everyone knew how to use their horns. The uniformed woman who finally rescued me from two lanes over was not sympathetic character. I had had time to practice my Oops-sorry look, but it was not going over.
See what you've done!
she said to me, a vinegary old lobster of a toll guard. See what you've done here!
(Great local accent she had. Here came out like heah.)
I know! I said. Isn't it amazing!?
She shook her head darkly and called me a couple of names. I was hoping for chowderhead, but had to settle for asshole. Close enough.
My favorite memory might have been later that same day, working our way through the maze that is downtown Boston to get to Fenway Park. We started at the John Hancock building. Sam was riding shotgun, and kept telling me to turn right. Onto what street? I 'd say. And he'd shrug. Doesn't matter, he'd say. I'm on Charles' Gate, I'd say. (Or Huntington, Boylston, Storrow.) And he'd frown at the map and say, I can't find any of them. Better turn right. After a half hour of U-turns, wrong-way one-ways, and slow honk-filled circling (as the picture shows, there's a lot of rerouting, and no one seems too happy about it) we achieved the on-ramp of an eastbound expressway, and I caught a glimpse of the storied ballyard in my rearview mirror. I craned around. The expressway would take us directly away from Fenway. Found it! I pointed wildly, sounding like that page boy in the Walter Scott poem. There! Of course it was too late to get off the ramp, but we took the first exit off the expressway, and a block later found ourselves staring up at ... the John Hancock building. I burst out laughing. Imo, who is good at maps, took over the shotgun position.
Favorite memory doesn't matter. Four kids in their late teens who want to hang out together and with Dad -- that's the real point.

Crossing the border into Canada the customs lady stared at my passport.
Who's this?
she asked.
I said. My hair was short last year.
You look older
, she said.
How do you reply to that? Gee thanks? Shut up you fascist cow? The key at customs is simplicity. And no humour.
Uh huh, I said.
Thea leaned over from the shotgun seat. It's been a long week for Dad, she said to the customs lady. Who broke into a surprising warm smile. Totally transformed her face.
I bet it has, she said. And raised the barrier, letting us back into Canada.