Smile/Grimace

Microblog_MondaysI went to the dentist today.

After months and months of back and forth, and endless submissions of requests for approval to our insurance company (which was completely unnecessary- it is covered by Q.’s benefits, so I don’t know why it was so difficult), I finally got the authorization for a night guard.

The night guard that I need because I now clench my jaw so badly that it’s sore most of the time.

I’ve bottled so much tension up inside I need help to keep from causing long-term physical damage to myself.

The aftershocks of infertility just keep reverberating.This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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Books Read: February 2015

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

For January, see here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

* A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness)

* Shadow of Night (Deborah Harkness)

The Tiger. A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (John Vaillant)

So, Anyway… (John Cleese)

Striking a Chord (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Never Wink at a Worried Woman (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

She’s Turning Into One of Them! (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Teaching…Is a Learning Experience (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

The Book of Life (Deborah Harkness)

The Fiery Cross (Outlander, Book Five- Diana Gabaldon)

The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)

Seniors’ Discount (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Home Sweat Home (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Just a Simple Wedding (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

***

I started out the month by reading two books I’d already read once before- books one and two of Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy. My hold on the third book had just come in, and I knew I didn’t want to finish the series without starting again from the beginning. I really enjoyed these books. I have a great fondness for Oxford, and for rowing, and for historians who work on manuscripts in libraries. Plus, I do love a good fantastical twist to our everyday world (even if it had to involve vampires). Harkness matured significantly as a writer between the first book and the second, and the third was an excellent read. I’m not a scientist, so I can make no judgments about the research findings presented in the books. I will say I did get annoyed by her passing over certain fundamental issues of biology, namely if you are a nursing mother, and you leave your offspring for a number of days, it’s not enough to leave milk for said offspring (which she did make a point of mentioning). You also have to find a way to express your milk while you’re away both to protect your milk supply and to keep yourself comfortable. The mother in question had travelled in order to attend a meeting, the outcome of which had the potential to destroy her world. I find it hard to believe she’d be able to concentrate on the issues at stake with her breasts about to explode out of her chest. It’s a minor point, but it irked me. Why bother bringing up nursing at all if you’re not going to follow through with the ramifications?

This probably bothered me as much as it did because the next book I read was the fifth in the Outlander series. If Harkness passes over many of the grittier details of life, Gabaldon embraces them. There’s a nursing mother in The Fiery Cross as well, and the state of her breasts and her need to express milk is frequently mentioned. Outlander is still holding my attention, and I’m looking forward to reading the next volume (out from the library and on my shelves as I write).

I finished the FBOFW collections this month, and cried when I reached the end.

I blogged about The Rosie Project here. I know it made me grumpy, but it really is a very good read. Not very long either, and the sort of book that will suck you in and get you to finish it in one sitting (be warned!).

John Cleese’s autobiography was an odd one, in that he devoted almost the entire book (90%+) to his life before Monty Python. When I was getting close to the end, I went and read a bunch of online reviews to try to get to the bottom of whether or not this was meant to be just the first volume. An awful lot of people who have read the book think this is the case, but I’m not so sure. He made reference to elements from his later life (Python, Fawlty Towers, Fish Called Wanda, etc.) throughout. There’s also some obvious bad blood between him and some of the other members of Python (also obvious if you’ve read Michael Palin’s diaries). So I think it’s quite possible he’s done this just to thumb his nose at Python fans who bought the book hoping to get his perspective on the series (ahem). The last chapter certainly felt final to me. But I guess only time will tell.

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Fascinating.

I have a cardboard cut out of Mr. Spock in my study.

It is important you know this. It explains a lot about why I feel the way I do right now. Why I have cried as much as I have in the last day and a half.

Spock first moved in during high school.

I don’t actually remember now where he came from. I think a friend convinced a video shop to give her the cut out, and then she gave it to me.

It seems like he’s always been there.

When I left home for university, Spock came with me.

He lived in my dorm room in my first year, where he gazed upon my inevitable antics with that cool, inscrutable stare. Sometimes I thought I caught a glimpse of a raised eyebrow, but most of the time his face remained smooth, unbothered. During Frosh Week I was given a school tam. I put it on his head.

It stayed there for years.

When I moved out in my second year to a shared house with five roommates, he came with me.

He was there when I fell in love.

He was there when I sat at my desk and wrote out all my assignments and taped them to the wall and then put my head down on my desk and cried because I couldn’t see any possible way I would get them all done on time.

He was there when I got them all done on time.

He was there in the darkness when I couldn’t fall asleep unless I played Loreena McKennitt’s The Visit. I played it every night for months. I always fell asleep before the end of The Lady of Shalott.

He was there the night two of my roommates and I got so high on marijuana that we ordered a pizza, ate the entire thing, and then forgot it had arrived. We remained in a state of righteous indignation about the absence of our pizza and the (increasingly ridiculous) wait time for its arrival until one of our other roommates (not high) brought out the empty pizza box.

All right, he wasn’t actually there, in the kitchen, since he rarely left my room, but I’m sure he heard all about it, and I’m equally sure he wasn’t particularly impressed.

In my third year, when I came to my senses and left the house with five roommates in favour of an apartment with two roommates, both good friends from high school, Spock came too.

He watched me fall out of love (messily) and flounder around breaking other hearts.

He looked over my shoulder when I opened the letter that informed me I had won a scholarship to go across the pond for my Master’s degree.

He was, I think, proud when I graduated with first class honours and a medal to boot, even though he didn’t come to the ceremony (not being one for leaving my room).

I think he was hoping I’d take the tam off then.

After graduation my best friend from high school and I packed up our worldly possessions into a van. The back doors had two small windows.

We packed Spock last, folded him in half where he had once been made to fit into his original packaging (you could still see the crease), and placed him so that he was looking out one of the windows.

The drive home was three hours.

We lost count of how many cars honked their horns at us, how many drivers and passengers waved, or rolled down their windows and gave us the thumbs up.

Spock remained calm, unruffled by all the attention.

When I moved overseas for my Master’s I put away childish things and so Spock and all the rest of my worldly possessions that couldn’t be made to fit into two suitcases were packed away into the basement of my mother’s house.

He wasn’t there to watch me fall in love (this time for life).

His gaze didn’t rest on me when I fell into a crippling depression and lay in my room crying every week until I had to stop and get up and write my essay.

He  would have approved (I think) of me getting out of bed before the sun for months on end, so I could sprint down to the river and glide across its surface in silence except for the sweep of oars, the roll of the seats, and the run of the boat.

He missed another graduation, this one a victory more hard-fought than the last.

Spock wasn’t there when I moved again, this time down under. He was still in the basement.

He wasn’t there to watch Q. and I learn to live together.

He didn’t see me grow into my confidence as a teacher.

He didn’t cast his eye over the kittens we brought home to fill our apartment.

He probably would have liked the heat, being half Vulcan. The kittens, not so much.

When Q. and I moved back to Canada (with the kittens, now cats), we emptied my mother’s house of what I had left behind.

Things I could never have parted with five years earlier I now tossed aside without a second thought. I took the view that if I’d forgotten I owned it, it was time for it to go.

I kept some things, of course.

Most of my books.

An entire Rubbermaid storage tub of journals and papers and model horses and stuffed animals.

And Spock. Folded and dusty, but otherwise unchanged.

When we bought our house, I set him up in my study where he could overlook my desk, as he used to.

I think he smiled.

Right up until I put my university tam back on his head.

Spock was there while I wrote my dissertation.

He was there when we weren’t getting pregnant, when we did get pregnant, when E. was born.

He remained an amusing point of conversation.

I’d set him up in just such a way that you’d catch sight of him out of the corner of your eye as you went up our stairs.

As a species, we are not so far removed from our ancestors. It is easy to imagine ourselves as the hunted rather than the hunters.

All that to say, Spock scared the living daylights out of most visitors to our home. Even Q. took months to get used to him.

When we moved E. into his new room, and his old room became my study, I thought it was time to say goodbye.

I couldn’t see where I was going to put Spock. I didn’t have a corner where he could rest.

E., unexpectedly, became very very upset at the news. With a quavering voice, and tear-filled eyes, he pleaded with me, “No! Don’t get rid of him. Please keep him.”

I agreed to keep Spock.

“Good,” said E.  “You keep him until you’re dead. When you’re dead, we won’t need to keep him anymore.”

Shaking my head, I slid Spock in behind the bookshelf tucked next to my desk.

I couldn’t see his legs anymore, but he did fit.

I had to take the tam off, though. It made him fold over.

I know he smiled that time.

***

I am what you might call a serious Trekker.

Not one who goes to conventions or dresses up, I hasten to add. I’m not that serious.

But I should not be classified as a casual fan.

I can recognize any episode of ST: TNG before the opening credits start.

I have three shelves in my study filled with Star Trek books: biographies and autobiographies of the cast members; novels; screenplays; compendiums; parodies; the collections of all the inaccuracies and errors in the episodes of ST: TOS. A couple of the novels are books I reread almost every year. I never get tired of them.

I have most of the first six movies memorized (except for I and V, which I never warmed to). I’ve seen The Wrath of Khan more times than I can count and I still, STILL, start crying as soon as Spock leaves the bridge and heads down to the engine room.

Captain Picard is my favourite starship captain.

DS9 is my favourite series.

I have a real soft spot for Miles Edward O’Brien.

But Spock is special to me.

He’s seen so much of my life.

He’s remained constant, unchanging.

It was a real shock to learn again on Friday that he, too, was only mortal.

Now I will carry him in my heart.

And Spock will always have a place in my study.

Live long and prosper, Mr. Nimoy, and thank you.

 

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Books Read: January 2015

You can read about why I decided to start doing this here.

* denotes a book that I had already read at least once before

A Buzz in the Meadow (Dave Goulson)

“So What Are You Going to Do With That?” Finding Careers Outside Academia (Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius)

Growing Like a Weed (A For Better or For Worse Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Middle Age Spread (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire (Michelle Goodman)

*Sunshine and Shadow (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

The Big 5-0  (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage (Tara Parker-Pope)

Some Luck (Last Hundred Year Trilogy, Book One, Jane Smiley)

Resume Magic (Susan Whitcomb)

Caleb’s Crossing (Geraldine Brooks)

Getting Things Done (David Allen)

Graduation: A Time for Change (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

*Family Business (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

With This Ring (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Reality Check (A FBOFW Collection- Lynn Johnston)

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Susan Cain)

Drums of Autumn (Outlander, Book Four, Diana Gabaldon)

***

When I was home over Christmas, I found myself rereading some of the For Better Or For Worse comic books that my mother has collected. She has a fair number of them, but her collection cuts off about halfway through the strip (with the occasional later addition). I decided to track down (through the library) the volumes I hadn’t read. I wasn’t able to get them all- the collections that include Elly’s pregnancy, the birth of April and her toddler/preschool years weren’t in the library’s holdings, but in the end I only missed a few.

I grew up reading FBOFW. I’m a couple of years younger than the Pattersons’ eldest child, Michael, and about the same age as their daughter, Elizabeth, so as they aged in real-time, so did I. I could identify with their trials and tribulations, although depending on the situation I sometimes felt a stronger connection with Michael, sometimes with Elizabeth.

I loved this strip. It held (and still holds) a very dear place in my heart, and it was a delight to start revisiting it.

Lots of books this month trying to help me with my career angst. Some more helpful than others. Reading Quiet was a real game changer. I’d still like to write a post about it.

Drums of Autumn got me back into the Outlander series. I came to it very late- started reading the books last fall- and I found Voyager in particular to be a real slog. But this one, even clocking in at almost 900 pages, hooked me but good and rekindled my willingness to see the series through to the end.

Really liked A Buzz in the Meadow. I love books written by naturalists who can actually write. This one was delightful- lots of fascinating information about various arthropod species coupled with descriptions of his property in France and how it changes over the years. Immediately put his earlier book (A Sting in the Tale- about bees) on hold at the library.

Much preferred Some Luck to Caleb’s Crossing, although both were worth the read. Put some more of Jane Smiley’s work on hold too (although I’ve left them inactive for now- I’ll come back to them later).

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Books Read (2015)

Trying something new here.

About halfway through last year, I started wanting to keep track of what I had been reading. At first I tried to record the titles in the five year journal I started keeping in May (I have this one), but I very quickly found that too frustrating. The five year journal is great for noting down a couple of observations about each day, but it’s not designed for a lengthy entry, and I never felt I had enough room left over to record the finished book.

I read a lot.

I have a whole slew of books I reread pretty much every year, and another bunch I reread every few years. They are my ultimate comfort reads. Some of them, like Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Fionavar Tapestry, I almost know by heart.

I reread almost everything on my shelves last winter, after we lost the baby. I wanted books that were safe. When I ventured out and tried something new, I kept stumbling across pregnancy, birth, loss. I needed my friends.

I have always been a big reader.

When I was seven, I participated in a summer book club. I still have (somewhere) the certificate that proclaimed that I had read “many” books over the summer. They lost count of my total.

I got in trouble when I was eight (almost nine) and we’d just moved to a new house (again) and there was a girl my age who lived down the street who came over to say hello and I wouldn’t get out the car because I was too busy reading my book (about dinosaurs).

I read on the bus and in the library at lunch time for years at school. Books were my friends when I didn’t have any real ones.

I read all through my undergraduate degree. Even when I didn’t have time to read for fun (I had hundreds, if not thousands, of pages to read for my courses every week since I was a double major in two humanities subjects), I still read.

One of the first things I did when I moved overseas for my Master’s degree was go and get a library card. Not for the university libraries (although I did that too), but for the municipal public library. It turned out one of my flatmates had done the same thing the year before and hadn’t yet met anyone else who’d bothered to join. It’s one reason we became (and still are) good friends.

I read books for fun during my Master’s degree, even (especially) when I didn’t have time to do so. I measured the strength of the depression I fought during those two years by the genre of the books I was reading. When I started reading something other than ‘chick lit’, I knew I was getting better.

I read books for fun when I was teaching down under, even though I was a teacher of English Literature and my job required me to read and talk about books all day, every day.

I read books for fun during my PhD. During periods of intense pressure I would let the library holds pile up next to my bed, a promise of the reward that would be mine when that latest deadline was met.

I read books when E. was a baby, pacing around my living room with him asleep in the carrier. I read both Guy Gavriel Kay’s Under Heaven and George R. R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons that spring. I read books when he was a toddler, even when I knew he’d be waking me up at night. And I read books now, while he is watching his daily allotment of Mighty Machines or The Berenstain Bears, and after he’s gone to bed (when I know he’s very unlikely to wake me up in the night).

I have sacrificed many, many hours of sleep in order to read. I try hard not to get too close to the end of a very engrossing book when it’s approaching bedtime, as otherwise I’ll be up to all hours finishing it.

I fail at this more often than I succeed. Q. is very good at sleeping next to me while I race breathlessly through the last few (dozen, ok, sometimes hundred) pages.

So in January I started keeping track of what I had been reading. I made a note of each title and author in a blue Moleskine notebook kept beside my bed.

I thought I’d start posting my monthly reads on here too, where I’ll have room to write a little bit about them. Maybe I’ll provide some inspiration to someone who’s looking for a new book. Maybe I’ll get inspiration from someone who reads the list of what I’ve read and has a suggestion to make. Maybe I’ll just enjoy looking back over my list in the months/years ahead. Or maybe it will prove to be a short-lived experiment. I’ll give it a go and see what happens.

January and February 2015 to follow shortly.

 

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The Importance of Place

Semi-spoiler alert: in this post, I discuss the setting of The Rosie Project by Gaeme Simsion. I don’t think anything I say here would be classified as a plot spoiler, but if you don’t want to know anything about the book, maybe skip this.

I read The Rosie Project a week or so ago.

I quite liked it. The narrator is a hoot. Some parts of the book are very funny.

But something kept bothering me while I was reading it, and it took me more than halfway through before I tweaked to what it was.

The book doesn’t feel Australian.

Ostensibly, The Rosie Project is set in Melbourne.

I kept forgetting this.

I forgot it so often that every time the narrator said or thought the word Melbourne, or anything else demonstrably Australian, it would jolt me out of my entranced state.

Oh yes, I would remind myself. It’s set in Melbourne.

And back I would go, and the story would reach out and draw me in again (because it is really a very good story), and I would nod along and laugh and think and lose myself until the next time it happened.

It got so bad that before I finished the book I looked up the author because I was CONVINCED he couldn’t possibly be Australian.

He is.

All right, he was born in New Zealand, but he’s lived in Melbourne for a long time, and, in my view, that means he ought to have known better. His book shouldn’t sound like it was written by an American, but it does.

Partly this is because the narrator refers to himself (and others) throughout the book as “tenured” professors.

Australian universities don’t have tenure. They offer full-time, continuing appointments, but those positions are not equivalent to North American tenured posts in terms of job security. Full-time, continuing professors can, and do, lose their jobs if a university restructures.

I don’t know why Simsion made this error (repeatedly through the book), one that could have been so easily avoided (seriously: one mouse click on Google will show you the absence of tenure).

I’m probably hypersensitive to it, because I work in academia and I’ve lived in Australia and I’m married to an Australian who has been an academic in Australia and is now a tenured academic in Canada.

But to me this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back because nothing, nothing about this book felt Australian.

The characters didn’t sound Australian.

The landscape and the weather played absolutely no role in the novel. I think once there was mention of a beach. But otherwise, without the occasional reminders that hey! We’re in Melbourne! there was nothing to prevent the reader from assuming the novel was set in some American city (except,  obviously for the part where characters go to the U.S. and that’s a big deal, but until then, nada).

If you have been to Australia, if you have lived in Australia, you know how powerful a presence the landscape and the weather can be. The light there is like nowhere else on earth. The heat can be extraordinary. If you live on the coast (as most Australians do), the ocean and the beach are always just around the corner.

I like reading Australian literature because the relationship to the land is very similar to that found in Canadian literature. We’re both big, young countries with colonial histories, (relatively) thinly populated, with most of our population clustered in a narrow region (the coast for Australia, the U.S. border for Canada). Much of our land mass is harsh and inhospitable. The land is a constant in our literature, sometimes warm, sometimes brooding, sometimes ferocious, but always, always present.

Canadians and Australians, I’ve always felt, have a similar relationship with the land on/in which they live.

There is nothing of this in The Rosie Project.

And I get that the narrator is not the type of person who would notice or care about the weather, or the landscape.

But the people around him would.

And they would sound Australian, in their choice of vocabulary, their turns of phrase, their conversations, even if he didn’t.

They don’t.

And so, no matter how much I liked the story, the execution of it left me feeling vaguely empty, as though I had almost read a great book, but not quite.

Have you read it too? Did you have the same reaction, or am I the only one sitting in my living room grumbling?

 

 

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Cleaning house

Microblog_MondaysSince becoming a SAHM, even if only temporarily, I’ve taken on more of the household chores.

Q. fought me on this, because he felt that he should still be doing his share, but I won in the end, because I didn’t want him to spend his miniscule amounts of free time on the weekends cleaning. Lately he’s been spending much of his free time trying out recipes from his make-ahead cookbook, so I have less cooking to do during the week, but given he loves to cook, and I don’t get much pleasure out of it, that suits me fine.

So Q. cooks on the weekends, and I cook during the week (mostly) and the rest of the day-to-day cleaning is my responsibility.

I am surely not the only mother to admit that sometimes having to vacuum is a nice break. E. can entertain himself for an hour if I am cleaning or cooking, but apparently can’t manage it for five minutes if I’m trying to do something just for myself (hence the importance of his daily ‘quiet time’- it’s for me, not him). And so I enjoy being left alone to my thoughts, even if I’m pushing a vacuum while I do it.

I am, I will freely admit, not a great housekeeper. I manage to vacuum weekly, and clean the bathrooms weekly, but I had to write “mop floors” into my monthly to-do lists to make sure I would actually mop them 12 times this year. Dusting is done sporadically. Our windows are a mess.

But boy am I good at laundry.

I am a machine when it comes to laundry. I do all of it- my clothes, E.’s clothes, Q.’s clothes, sheets, towels- on Saturday mornings (plus one load on Friday nights if E. has swimming and I have to clean his swimmers and his towel right away). Usually by the time lunch is over the last load is in the dryer and everything that needs to be hung up to dry is hanging and all the other loads are folded and clean sheets are back on the beds and clean towels are back in the bathrooms.

I just chip away at it around our usual Saturday morning routine- breakfast, going to the farmer’s market, hanging out, getting lunch ready.

And I LOVE doing it. I love taking piles and piles of dirty clothes and linens and turning them into baskets of neatly folded clean clothes ready to be put away.

I take enormous satisfaction from doing this job, and I doubt I will ever relinquish it to Q. once I’m working again and we return to a more balanced division of household labour. (He used to do his own laundry, but it’s much more efficient if I do it all at once.)

But I don’t really enjoy vacuuming, and I hate hate hate cleaning bathrooms.

What about you? What household chores (if any) do you take pride in and enjoy doing well? Which ones are necessary evils?

This post is part of #MicroblogMondays. To read the inaugural post and find out how you can participate, click here.

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