Thursday, May 30, 2013

here's why i use an e-reader

I read books. Here are a few I grabbed off my to-read stack to show you. I've already read the Kate Taylor, when it was published in 2003, but something else I read recently made me decide to read it again.

A lot of writers and readers I've spoken to tell me they will only ever read print books. They love the feel of the paper, the book as object, the cover, the layout. I love all those things too.
However. Fat books are heavy and I often read in transit. E-readers are light. They come with dictionaries for those of us who read other languages. Or even those of us who don't happen to know every word in English. You can adjust the size of font.
I got myself a Kobo a couple of years ago. It's light, practical and you get used to reading the screen. Believe me, you do. I got a leather cover which has sleeves where I keep paper for jotting notes, which, on a print book, I do on the flyleaf. Since the book I'm reading now is German, I especially appreciate the dictionary. You can't flip through the pages, the way you can in a print book, but guess what? There's a search option if you can't recall who a character is or when you last read a detail which suddenly reveals itself to be significant.

When I'm reading at night in bed, I don't always find it comfortable to read a print book. I have progressive lenses and when I'm slid low on my pillows, my book is propped too high for the reading part of my lenses. I have to keep rucking myself up to read the top of a page or angle my head back to see out the bottom of my glasses. An e-reader is smaller. I can slouch, which might not be good for my back but makes reading more comfortable.
In my opinion, ease of reading tops the feel of paper--since the experience of reading is ultimately more imaginative than sensual. (Sensual too, yes, depending on what you're reading, but that happens in the imagination, not to your body. Though it's neurologically interesting how your body is affected. But still: always via the imagination.)

I was also given a Sony e-reader. The cover Sony sells is ugly, so I made myself one. I use a cover because I don't want my reader to get knocked about and maybe scratched when it's in my messy knapsack. I used upholstery fabric for the outside and a combination cotton/silk for the inside. I know, the corners and edges aren't straight--it's my first attempt. I was aiming for some of the textural aspects that I'm not getting because I'm not reading a print book.

I still do old-fashioned things like use a fountain pen, weave, make bread, knit.
Re: print versus e-books, the essential is to keep reading. Always.

Friday, May 24, 2013

May is short story month

And I am writing short stories!
Happy to discover this close reading of a story from Ruins & Relics, which was published by NeWest Press in 2009.
Wonderful to see my name in the same sentence as Virginia Woolf and Marcel Proust!
Simply to be included on this list of powerhouse writers... Marquez, Dahl, Oates, Borges, Tillman, as well as exciting new writers like Nancy Jo Cullan.

I can think of so many other writers who should be included here. We need more than a month. We need a year of short stories.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

smoke damage and other old jacket stories

I have always wanted a pink leather jacket and last fall found one for only $10 in a secondhand clothing store. It's well-made and it fit me, and I was happy until I pulled it from the bag at home and discovered that it STUNK of cigarettes.
I hung the jacket outside in the sun for weeks. No change. I put the jacket in a bag with coffee beans for a few weeks, baking soda for another few weeks, sheets of fabric softener for more weeks. Nothing worked. I decided the jacket was a lost cause and in January pinned it to the clothes' line and forgot it. Snow, ice, snow, -30C winds, freezing nights, snow.
In March I brought the jacket indoors. It smelled scoured. I don't know if it was the wind or the snow or the freezing temps, but the cigarette stink was gone. I'd recommend this method--assuming you have access to a Canadian winter.

This next jacket is a hand-me-down from my father-in-law, who got it as a hand-me-down from his son-in-law, who had grown too chubby for it. (Both my ex-brother-in-law and my father-in-law were short. They had to be for the jacket to fit me.) With the decades, the suede has tried to revert to its original animal shape--except the seams won't let it. That's the only way I can account for its curled edges and stretches that now make it hang sorta shapeless. I don't care. It's comfortable. I wore it on at least two trips to Europe. I have a photo of myself wearing it in Paris. I also recall coming home from Prague in 1991 and needing to take it to the dry cleaner's to get the accumulated soot--from the air; coal stoves still in use then--off the collar. The jacket had already been cleaned once by my mother-in-law before she let me have it. She'd taken a wire brush, soap and water to it.
I'm guessing the coat was first bought in the 60s. The lining gave out once and I had it replaced--with the original label, "Victoria Leather Sportswear of Canada Winnipeg", sewn back onto the new lining. More recently, the current lining had a tear in the back and I patched it with embroidered satin. I like the colour of the jacket because it used to match my hair. The jacket hasn't changed colour. My hair has.

Another old jacket is R's Lee jean jacket he wore in high school. He thinks he got it in '69 or '70. After I badgered him long enough, he finally let me have it. Or wear it. He still calls it his. The collar is yellowed from use but the denim is still strong. I had the jacket on one day when I was talking to the president and CEO of Diesel Canada. (How, where and why is another story.) She said I was crazy to be wearing it on a casual daily basis. I should put it in a safe and wait another couple of decades when it would be worth lots. But I'd sooner wear the jacket.

I do occasionally buy a new, not previously worn jacket.

Monday, May 20, 2013

is there room for humour in death?

When someone dies, we get solemn and sad. Of course.
But humour, even black, helps keep us sane. 
Make no mistake, R was devastated when we got the call from the hospital in the night that his sister Jo had had a massive cerebral bleed and was brain dead--effectively dead.
The hospital kept her on a respirator until he and his brother arrived. When they got there, R said they kissed her and talked to her, even though they'd been told she was brain dead. 
He finally leaned close and said in her ear, Jo! Des frîtes et un Coke? Fries and a Coke?  
No response. He looked at his brother and said, She's dead.

Here's a picture of her waiting for just that to arrive: fries, Coke and a club sandwich. Get a load of that diner with frosted glass dividers. She's wearing one of her many hats. We've already spent the day with her and I was getting tired.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

a morning's walk / rilke and mansfield

I have a writer friend who shuddered when I told her I sat down to my writing every morning as soon as I'd woken and made a cup of tea. She said she has to get into the streets, go for a walk, move her limbs, have a coffee, feel the presence of people. Like me, she's a solitary-seeking person, but this is her routine. After her morning outing, she comes home and gets to work at about the same time that I'm feeling tired, decide to shower and call it quits at my desk for the day.
This morning I had the opportunity to give her method a try. Another friend had spent the night en route between longish bus trips. From tulips in full bloom to a forest that still has patches of snow where her  dog loves to roll. Over breakfast we talked about the why's and wherefore's of writing fiction. The use of Latinate versus Anglo-Saxon vocab. Working within a point of view. I paraphrased my favourite lines from Rilke. Don't tell the angel about your grand emotions and schemes. You can't impress him. He lives in the cosmos. Describe a yellow flower, a jug, an olive tree. She paraphrased Katherine Mansfield. Write about the squeak of the laundry basket. (In both cases, as I said, a paraphrase, and I've now paraphrased what I recall her saying.)

After I walked her to the subway, I decided to keep walking to the market where I had a decaf espresso and a chausson aux pommes. Buttery flake pastry filled with tart apples. 

The wind was cool, but I sat outside in the sun against a brick wall. No one else sat outside. Sillies. Though perhaps they didn't grow up with a European mother who sunbathed on a lawn chair in her underwear in the winter. Find a sheltered spot in the sun and you can be warm even surrounded by snow.
I walked the long way home along the canal. Dandelions and poplars. The stretched elastic band call of the Redwing Blackbirds. Cyclists. Joggers. A group of moms with newborns in strollers being marshalled by a manic exercise sergeant shouting, Knee bends! Un-deux-trois-quatre-cinq! Arms over your head! Twist to the right! To the left!
The morning felt happy. Talking about writing at 8 am. Getting out for a good walk. I may have to try this again... though probably not with a chausson every day or I'll have to seek the services of the manic exercise woman.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

apogee magazine

Very happy to have a story appear in this spring-happy magazine, which was so green and yellow that I had to throw it in the grass in the sunshine to take a picture. Apogee is published by High Point University in North Carolina. It's handsomely produced on glossy paper with high-quality reproductions of art work. Interesting to look at and read. An honour to be in such excellent company... though, since it's a US mag, I suppose it's an honor.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

no more funny hats

I've been reading some articles on the life expectancy of people with Down Syndrome, a couple of which claim that people with Down Syndrome can live as long as anyone else.
Every doctor or social worker, who ever talked with R about his sister, emphasized that by her early 50s she was already very old. A year ago she had a cerebral hemorrhage. Increasingly she had difficulty walking and used a cane. She wanted a walker and complained of arthritis. She was starting to forget dates--which felt serious because she'd always been the keeper of family birthdays. She was the one who called to let you know when an anniversary or birthday was coming up.

I'm finding it hard to write a post about Jo, whom I called Sue in my blog. We're still looking at the answering machine when we walk in the door because there was always a message. They invariably began, "J'ai quelque chose je veux dire." I have something I want to say. And even though we called her Jo, she always signed off as JoAnn, including her family name. As if anyone else could have stammered that incomprehensible blend of French and Down Syndrome logic. The way she made short work of words she thought too long. Her "diabetes" was "dibète". Not even R, who oversaw her affairs, understood her messages. He always had to call her back to ask what she wanted.

This picture was taken last winter, 2012, when R took Jo to see their mother in her nursing home. Jo is explaining that they're eating a box of chocolates which her mother claims she can't see. (Though she saw well enough to pick up the chocolates without fumbling.) Do you see Jo's concern and affection for her mother?

Look again. Four months later they both died on the same day. Jo was 55, her mother 96. Their urns were buried together. R.I.P.