Tuesday, 28 June 2011

notice much?

Imo stared at me from across the living room yesterday evening. Notice anything different? she asked. Anything?
I shrugged, shook my head. She raised her hands in a wordless gesture of frustration.
Sorry, I said. What is it now?

She was not talking about her hair. Imo and I do not have that relationship. She doesn't need me to comment on her appearance.
Our father-daughter dynamic is dysfunctional in a different way. Imo is a committed practical joker and I am a natural non-noticer. Or maybe non-carer is the word. You know those little things that make all the difference to life -- the favorite mug, the way the light falls on a certain ornament or corner of the room, even the daily newspaper. Somehow they don't register with me. Or rather they register, but do not matter. Their absence does not alarm or even puzzle me for a moment. So that when Imo hides a coffee mug I like (as she did once) or my alarm clock (as she has done several times) or the morning paper (yes, she did that too) I notice the absence and move casually to the adjustment phase. I take another mug, glance at a wall clock (or if that too is gone, my watch) and find a section I missed from another paper.
It drives Imo crazy. I remember finding the kitchen clock in a junk drawer and assuming that my son Sam -- a light sleeper -- had put it there because the ticking was driving him crazy. I told Imo about it over the phone and she went berserk.
It was me ! she cried.
I didn't know you were a light sleeper.
I'm not! I hid that clock ... a month ago! How can you only notice it now?
, I said.

The living room looked a little different yesterday evening, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Imo shook her head sadly and pointed at the white board on the wall.
What? I said. Oh, yeah. That should be in the kitchen, right?
While I was at the beer store earlier, Imo had changed all the downstairs pictures around. The movie poster was in the bathroom now, the little print was over the mantel, the kid drawing of a carrot was in the kitchen, etc. A dozen things shuffled at careful random. Then she'd sat and waited for me to notice. And I hadn't.
No wonder she was upset.
When I think of it, I'm kind of upset too. All that effort and I didn't care enough to pay attention. Imo is working on a kind of performance art and I am yawning through it. Would you yawn through your kid's standup comedy? No you wouldn't. This is not good parenting. I must do better.
By the way, that is the original Prince Albert in a can up there. Better let him out.

Thursday, 16 June 2011


I spent a lot of yesterday ransacking the dilapidated mansion of my memory, hunting through room after undusted room, turning over bits and pieces, bric and brac, flotsam and jetsam, mental lumber from early childhood all the way to late breaking news -- but I could not come up with the object of my search, the name on the tip of my tongue.

Elvis Costello.

Sure it's easy now. He's right there where I can see him. Elvis Costello. You're probably wondering how I could forget him for a minute, let alone all day. I dunno, but I did. I simply could not come up with the name. I could remember the glasses and the knock-kneed stance and the voice and a bunch of other things but not the name. The closest I came was Mickey Rooney and -- you know -- that's not very close. Come on, I said. You know the guy. Whatshisname.

I did other stuff yesterday too. I do have a life. It wasn't all whatshisname all the time. But I kept coming back to him. In the middle of answering email I'd think: whathisname again? Frowning over a manuscript. Reading. Washing dishes. Driving kids. Whatshisname?

No google. That'd be like looking at your neighbor's test paper when you know the answer yourself. Because I did know the answer. Whatshisname.

A much more interesting question is why? Not why the passing obsession but why Elvis Costello? He's a cool guy all right, but not a giant headliner and not important to me. Maybe that's the answer. If he mattered more I'd remember his name. But there are a whole lot of unimportant (to me) mid-grade newsmakers I can call up at the drop of a fork. Condalisa Rice for instance. There she is, anytime I want her. Tommy Douglas. Pia Zadora. Mark Messier. Hey, there's Mickey Rooney again. I got millions of them. Why not Elvis?

I dunno. Some names get lost. They just do. A while ago I spent the longest time trying to remember Keith Jarrett. I mean, the guy's on my i-pod but I couldn't think of his name. Grrr. When I finally did turn him up (he was behind the couch in my memory's living room) I wanted to make sure I didn't forget him again, and came up with a mnemonic based on a public school with his initials backwards (Jesse Ketchum in Toronto, on whose baseball diamond I cost my team a city championship -- a story for another day). Every now and then I'll think of Keith and nod in satisfaction. Still got it.

You're shaking your head, aren't you? I don't blame you. I really should let this stuff go. After all, I may lose Elvis, but I'll always have Condalisa.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

open secret

There's something about an elementary school in June -- an air of barely suppressed excitement that pervades halls and classes, playgrounds and staffrooms. Lot of giggles and yells, hardly any discipline. I visited a junior school the other day and tried to come up with a word for the way everyone looked. The word was HAPPY. Simple as that. Even the teacher bent over her desk with a stack of report cards was happy.

Not happy like they're getting married or having a baby. Not happy like winning the lottery or getting the promotion. They are happy because they are sharing a wonderful secret. And the secret is -- wait for it -- that school will soon be out for the summer. Two long hot beautiful months with no work. Wonderful all right!

Everyone in the school is aware of the secret, but no one seems to be talking about it. And when you think about it, some of the biggest secrets are quite well known. Death is scary. Games matter more to us than world hunger. We don't love our children equally. We cheat -- a lot. Everyone knows these things but we don't talk about them very often. They are (for lack of a better word) unhappy secrets. So isn't it great to share a secret that makes everyone smile.

School's out soon.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

poor colin firth

One popular author (and I would tell you who, only I can not for the life of me remember his name. I am pretty sure it was a him and not a her) claims that the secret of his success is always to have two books on the go at once. The idea being that when one of his stories starts to sag he can switch over to the other one. A change is as good as a rest, or something. Sounds like a great plan, doesn't it? I wonder if the guy has two houses to live in, so that when one gets dirty he can move. Two partners (one per house), so that if one gets tiresome he can switch...

I don't know. I have enough trouble hanging onto one plot line at a time. Imagine trying to keep two sets of characters and motivations straight. I'm sure I'd always be getting them mixed up, even if they were two totally different genres. I'd have Piglet (say) showing up in the middle of Gone With The Wind, worrying about Heffalumps. Scarlett would make sure she didn't go hungry that evening, but Pooh and Christopher Robin would be so disappointed. And what a mess the Union army would make of the 100 Acre Wood! Nope, I don't think I could write those two stories at once. (Not that I could write them separately either, but you know what I mean.) Can you imagine juggling Beowolf and Bridget Jones? Me neither. I'd end up with what's his name's arm coming off.

So why -- getting back to the real world -- do I myself have two new projects on the go right now? Why am I adopting the routine of an unremembered popular writer instead of following my own past practice and predilection? I don't know. Except that I am not writing both books, only thinking about them. I have two ideas floating around in the back of my mind, plot points jotted on scraps of paper and the backs of envelopes. If both ideas turn into books, they will be dealt with -- but not together. I don't want to risk looking up from my computer to find Little Orphan Annie struggling up Mount Doom with the Nazgul after her. Leapin' Lizards indeed.