Sunday, August 31, 2008

Who needs freud?

the school term starts tomorrow, and i'm not even close to ready. in fact, i've developed some awful neck injury over the last few days. i can't look over my shoulder, which doesn't bode well for going back to the faculty of arts. i have no idea what i've done, but the neck is the mind/body connection, and it only hurts when i try to relax.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Morbid affection

for the last few days, while i've been missing kim, i've realized how gorgeous grief can be. i don't mean the deranging immediacy of loss. but grief, years later, has texture and substance. it's like salt licorice: acrid and sour and sweet, chewy. you want to gorge on it. grief is as besotting as desire. it is desire. it gives you a place to go that is exactly the place you want to be, and so very much better than the place you are. during a conference session yesterday i put an attentive look on my face and then wandered off to printers inc bookstore, the san francisco docks, highway 280 under the stars. yesterday afternoon, i could hardly wait to get to the gym so i could be alone with my memories.

grief's syntax is beautifully labile. remember this ... and this ... and that other time. but also: oh, he would have loved conor oberst's new album, and the DNC, and blogging. no matter that it's not true; kim's taste in music was actually terrible, he would never take to bright eyes, he would have despaired of the democrats (he did despair of the democrats). the coordinates, the conjunction -- i like conor and i like kim -- offers a new way to work the old, a shred of licorice caught in a molar, something more to chew. in this way grief is different from nostalgia, which just sentimentalizes the past. grief wants everything: the past, the present, the futures that might have been. and you want it too, want it all, can't get enough. you want sight and smell and taste and touch. you want the past in the present, life for the dead, death in life.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

August again

i'm looking at a picture that was taken during my first semester at stanford, 20 years ago. it's a picture of a "typical graduate class" and it was published in the stanford newspaper, presumably alongside a story about "typical graduate classes" at stanford. i'm not sure how i got a copy; it must have been several years later, when i worked part-time for the stanford development office while trying to write my thesis.

the picture show regenia gagnier's nose and the back of marjorie perloff's head. facing them are my dead. eric shocket is sitting right up at the table with his arms crossed easily, fit and confident, laughing. back against the windows, looking skeptical and tough and a bit soft around the middle, is kim gillespie.

i'm sitting back along the wall, too, hiding from the camera as usual. at this moment, the moment the picture is taken, we know nothing. as i look at the picture now, i am struck by that particularly: how little we know. there are notebooks and pens on the table, but nobody is taking notes. since majorie perloff is there, the topic was undoubtedly modernism, maybe gertrude stein, maybe ezra pound. we know nothing about this. we don't know pound was a fascist. we don't know how hard graduate school is going to be. romy kozak is in this picture; she doesn't know she's a lesbian. rob latham is there, wearing his miami-drug-dealer freak. we don't know that he's going to turn out to be the star. we don't even, at this point, know each other's names.

which means that, even in such a pool of ignorance, i know less than nothing. i don't know that eric and i will take to meeting in the mission district, late at night after our work is done, at a bar called las palmas. i haven't touched his buttery lambskin yet, or the stucco wall behind it. i don't know that he will keep the photograph i took for him, keep it for years and years after our affair so that there it is on the wall, shocking me, as he forever takes a pie out of the oven in his obituary shot.

of kim i know one thing, knew it the second i heard him talk. but i don't yet know drinking newcastle or driving around LA or losing days or breaking into the neighbours' or teaching courses together or running on the beach or running into his wife or reading the first volume of capital or worrying about the heroin. i don't know what will happen at the british bankers' pub on the first night of the gulf war. i don't know about despair or the twisting weight of hope or how to be sardonic. or grief. i don't know grief, then.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Aggressively happy

writing to a dear friend the other night prompted me to tell the story of riding home from the gym the other day, on my excellent bicycle, when i caught myself thinking: so this is happy. i panicked for a second -- maybe it's manic? -- but, no, i know what manic is and this was just happy. happy. so strange.

i was so happy, in fact, that when i saw a miserable-looking couple walking toward me pushing a baby carriage, i gave them a big smile and said, "look at the hawk, cruising over victoria park." (actually, i yelled it, since i had my ipod on.) the woman in particular was nonplussed: she continued to look on the brink of infanticide. the man in the couple gazed half-heartedly about him, and i rode on, thinking what a shame.

afterwards i was thinking about this, and it made me realize that happiness has an aggression to it that you'd never imagine from, say, reading tolstoy. happiness is such a bitch of a high that you're not really happy, not high enough, until everybody else is happy too. it's like outdoorsiness. if you've ever curled up with a good book on a chill winter day only to be interrupted by a hikingrunningskiingskating keener, you know the feeling. rebecca solnit tells a story about the sierra club taking inner city new yorkers out to tuolomne's bracing fresh air. they were completely baffled by it. "you want us to what? walk? up the mountain? but why? why on earth would a person do that?"

apparently, not everybody wants to get high.

Monday, August 25, 2008


i am totally unready for the week to begin. the trouble with the good life is that there's not enough of it. seriously. i had a great weekend: a kicked-back friday night, good friends over on saturday, waffles piled under mounds of fresh fruit on sunday, woodworking project complete, the market, sunshine, bike riding -- but somehow in there i didn't find any time to read, or run, or make muffins, and now the week is coming at me like a proctologist's finger, and i'm just sayin' can't i have a bit more lube?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Working wood

i like to say it started around the time mo and i bought this house. i had to save myself from ebay: enamoured of the cedar ceilings and eager to fill an imaginary space with pure objects, i started jonesing for arts and crafts furniture. turns out all the genuine stickley pieces sold for far more than their reserve, and even cheap ebay purchases add up, so eventually i hit on the bright idea that i should make the furniture i crave.

(an alternative beginning: a few years before his retirement, my father visited a financial planner who asked, among other things, how important it was for him to save money for the next generation. "your mother and i thought you should know, heather, that our answer was 'not very.'" this morphed into a conversation about wills in which it emerged that my father was planning to leave his workshop to my cousin bevan. "bevan!" i said. "bevan? i always sort of thought i'd want it. you know, given my interest in woodworking." "uh," said my father, legitimately, "what interest?")

at first i thought i might build a dining room table and chairs for the new house. subtly and with kindness, my dad talked me down to a side table. you do the arithmetic: if a side table took me three years, can you just imagine if i'd done a dining room suite? we'd be eating on TV trays well into our dotage.

i've always liked the look of arts and crafts furniture, and i love its philosophy. the arts and crafts movement emphasized honesty in materials and methods. its furniture is balanced and unembellished, unpretentious. finishes are minimal and lines are clean. the designs let wood be wood, emphasize its strength and the beauty of the grain. arts and crafts furniture is how the tradition of william morris and john ruskin found its way to north america. their emphasis on everyday beauty and the democratization of style has always resonated with me (i swooned the first time i saw a real william morris peacock design at liberty in london).

no point taking shortcuts, so i found myself a pattern in one of my dad's old fine woodworking issues and set about to get the materials. as i recall, windsor plywood had just enough quartersawn white oak, which is relatively stable. here is a useful little discussion of quartersawn vs plainsawn (vs riftsawn) lumber. oak tends to be porous and hard; it can be chippy and unforgiving; but it takes to fuming and staining and oiling and waxing with equal ardour. it's a relatively predictable wood and less dear than, say, cherry, mahogany, or walnut. for this reason, and because it was plentiful in the northeastern US in the late nineteenth century, when gustav stickley set up shop with a view to making good furniture accessible for everyone, it tends to be the most commonly used wood in arts and crafts furniture. and did i mention the medullary rays? here's another discussion of quartersawn wood, this one with more philosophy.

anyway, i built this little table. i learned how to plane and split wood. incidentally, chez papa you split wood by taking it to your friend keith's place, since dad owns a big jointer/planer and keith owns ... shoot, i forget: the machine that splits wood (but not a wood splitter, which is something else entirely). i learned how to make mortise and tenon joints, one of the staples of arts and crafts furniture. although in my imagination i had always thought i'd do it the old-fashioned meditative way, by hand with a chisel, i had done just enough woodworking not to demur when dad introduced me to the mortiser. there is no hardware in my little table save little biscuit joints holding the three pieces of the top together and a few little l-fasteners to secure the top. structurally, it's arts and crafts all the way.

that was all two or three years ago. we got the house, i learned how to refinish the floors, i scraped wallpaper, scraped stipple, scraped by. what with one thing and another, i let the table sit. also, i was undecided as to how i wanted to finish it. part of me wanted to fume it: you put it in a tent with aqueous ammonia and the oak darkens immediately. there's a famous story about a bank, behind schedule, that was finished overnight by fuming the entire building. part of me wanted to test the rust treatment: you put an iron nail in a tub of water overnight (or longer). when you rub the rusty water onto oak, it blackens. part of me felt that you just couldn't go wrong with tung oil, which hardens and protects the wood while bringing out the grain.

in the end, i went with tung oil, and am i ever glad i did. the first swabs on the legs brought tears to my eyes, the wood was so pretty. i worked in the tung oil on the top with 240 and 320 silicon sandpaper, so it feels like glass. there's an aliveness to the look of this table, especially its base, that i think pays homage to the oak tree itself. it's just an everyday object, but every time i set a coffee cup on it i'll know it, heart to finish.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rules of work

a kind friend loaned me a book called the rules of work: the unspoken truth about getting ahead in business. it's so easy to make fun of it's almost not worth the trouble; it's one of those books that more or less makes fun of itself, with advice from pithy (don't wear hawaiian shirts to the office) to pious ("the right attitude is head up, never moaning, always positive and upbeat, constantly looking for the advantage and the edge"). some of it is downright creepy, like how to practice your smile (videotape!) and mimic the boss (if he takes his jacket off in a meeting, you take your jacket off in a meeting; if he rolls up his sleeves, you roll up your sleeves). if you're looking for stalk tips, here's one: know where the bosses socialize and be there first. some of the advice might have been better left "unspoken" like the subtitle promises, such as the section on having your warts removed and checking your facial hair for crumbs. some of the advice is startling; i underlined the bit about never dressing up for halloween if you're looking to get promoted. and there's bad news for ambitious vegetarians: your avant-garde lifestyle will amost certainly stand in the way of advancement -- unless, presumably, you're looking to advance within greenpeace, since conformity is all. some of the book just goes to prove, yet again, that the english are weird.

but underneath the egregiously facile bits is some useful stuff. for instance, it's probably a smart idea to cultivate diplomacy, think one step ahead, and have a game plan. i've never been very good at sussing out other people's motivations; being reminded that some folks are motivated by power, money and self-glorification is helpful. (well, okay, i'm in the academy, i know all about glory.) and i did love reading the bit about leaving on time: resist presenteeim, "wave boldly and [say] that whoever leaves last shuts off the lights!"

the real problem with a book like this is that we professors in the humanities don't really think of ourselves as workers with jobs. we know too much, we're smarter than the average bear, and we really do believe, like the rubes mocked in the rules, that our opinion "counts for something, has an audience, is important, will make a difference." idealism matters to us. frustrating as i find it to listen to some colleague offer a principled objection to, say, signing a conflict of interest form (rule #18: be cool, be cool...), i am ultimately on the side of the thoughtful, idealistic and dismayingly fuddyduddy.

as i contemplate the year ahead of me (and believe me, i'm quaking) i realize that the main challenge is going to be to save me from myself. it's not just that i'm stuck at rule #32, "don't bitch" (bitching, says the rules, identifies you as petty, idle and trivial, and makes you a magnet for moaners); it's that i think of teaching, learning and serving as noble callings and i believe the role of university administration is to foster these things. it follows that i want my job to provide things like a sense of purpose, a sense of worth, and a sense of possibility for progressive change in the world. it's not the only area in my life where i seek these things, but it's the one that takes the largest number of waking hours.

so the grim truth is that checking-out isn't going to work for me and neither, probably, will the rules. still, i'm going to learn how to "volunteer carefully" (rule #3) and, just in case, you won't see me wearing green on st patrick's day.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A career parable

in the dream, i start out partying. all sorts of people are there, including the beautiful tim kulak, a former student of mine. suddenly i look around and realize everyone else has gone home. the party has ended when i haven't been paying attention. i'm still a little drunk, but i have to deal with an overflowing toilet: ugly. the place i am is nice stylistically -- it's all white plaster and oiled beech, a good design concept when it was put together but a little bit shabby now. the wood is not quite rotten but spoiling and the whitewash is grubby. dirty california.

not quite sober, i have to drop something off to a rich patron of the arts whose condo is way up on the fifth floor, and to get there, i have to take the tiniest elevator in the world. even before the doors close i feel myself panicking with claustrophobia. i calm myself down: relax, you can do this, you have to do this, it's only four floors up (only it's actually five floors up because, i realize, there's an extra floor stuck in there, a ground floor and a first floor). the doors close and the elevator starts to rise. my eyes are glued on the numbers. i can do this... then we stop at 2 and a janitor gets on with a big cart of stuff. i'm now shoved into the back corner, sweat trickling down my spine. i can't see anything where i am, just the back of the janitor. the doors close again. i panic, i wonder if i can push myself out the walls of this elevator, this dream -- and then the doors open again on the next floor, where a lawyer pushes himself in, holding sheafs of important-looking legal-sized paper out in front of him. i'm really angry at him; can't he see there's no room? can't he wait for the next ride up? is he really so oblivious to everyone but himself? i honestly don't think i can make it, i've got to get out of the elevator, there's no air here. but then we arrive at the fifth floor, the others disappear and i walk gratefully out of the elevator, only to find myself standing on a platform the size of a diving tower, a full storey above my destination. i can look down and see the condo i'm supposed to be at. around me there is nothing, not even a roof, just me all alone, dizzy and scared, on this tiny swaying platform in a terrifying wind.

it's back to the awful elevator to get down, and now i'm worried i'm late, have let too much time go by, won't be accepted where i'm going.

by the time i knock on the condo's door, i am stone sober. and here's the thing: it's gorgeous. totally worth it. the condo is made of wood and glass; it's decorated in mid-century modern teak (remember teak? back when we still grew hardwoods on this planet?) and everything is lit beautifully. through the floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows you can see city hills dotted with other beautiful houses. it looks a bit like sydney. there are a lot of people standing around in the condo having elegant conversations and drinking wine. the patron is generous and kind, funny and deft. she plies me with canapes, even though i'm more or less just a messenger, and she offers me a tour of the premises. the most beautiful room of all is what should, structurally, be the kitchen, but she's turned it into an artists' studio. this is where her artists come and work on extended contracts. here even the ceiling is glass. the view isn't quite as stunning as the view from the main room in the condo, and for some reason the entire place is covered with faux-leaf chandeliers, green, some strewn on antlers and some shaped like grape clusters and all of them, to my eye, ugly. i can see immediately that you'd want to remove all those light fixtures to let the room be itself. it's as big and as lush as a muttart conservatory greenhouse. the patron smiles and says, "you should come back sometime, for real," and then she gestures to the gift bag that all of the artists in residence receive. it's wrapped in yellow paper.


i have had three conversations with three trusted friends in the last three days on the topic 'what will become of heather.' and here, delightfully, is my unconscious with a droll little complicated narrative in answer. i won't decode this here entirely (though anyone who reads it is welcome to offer observations). i am left with a few key questions, though -- like when, exactly, did the party end? why can't i go to law school? and, finally, what is in the gift bag, wrapped so tellingly in UofA colors, and why am i so tragically curiosity-bound that i still, still want to know?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Project zen

"really, heather, when you think about it, there's very little you can control in life. almost nothing, in fact."

i don't know whether it was was the particular way rosa put it or whether i was just ready to hear it, but this truth hit me forcefully. four decades and more i've spent trying to manage things in life -- my body, my family, my department, my career, my reputation. on a more minor level, i try hard (i really do) to be punctual, to make time for working out, to think ahead about what we can have for dinner, to get my grading done tonight because i know i have a meeting tomorrow night. yet, when you think about it, it's all for nothing. you really never know what will happen between the plan and the execution of the plan. i have a migraine and can't manage grading, my family does something wonderful, my department does something ... unexpected ... mo has finished the snap peas, or it snows, and suddenly everything i've planned turns to dust. it's true, i thought, nothing is in my control.

for a full week or more i walked around blissful and contented. i felt free and light. i laughed more. i worried less. i slept deeply -- well, okay, i'm actually a great sleeper, so let's say i relaxed more fully. i was generous to others and i was compassionate with myself. life was a thrill to the refrain "it just doesn't matter."

i don't know exactly when the acid glow began to fade, but eventually the colors weren't as bright, ordinary objects were less enchanting, shapes stopped shifting. i felt the edges return. "quick," i thought, "how can i cast the spell anew and make it last?" and thus was born PROJECT ZEN.

the main goal of project zen is to be happier by worrying less. but that's a bit too much to bite off at once, so i've decided to start by being less angry. even that is a daunting plan. see, i spend inordinate amounts of time furious. this week alone i have been outraged at the following:
  • the faculty of arts, university of alberta: for undercutting the CLC. here's the story: making good use of a small space in HUB mall, the fledgling canadian literature centre developed a popular series of public brown bag readings over the first two years of its existence. we also lured a marvelous new director away from UNB. the faculty of arts has not only halved (or, depending how you count, quartered) the new director's budget, but has also taken away the visible, useful, public space the centre occupied. worst of all, when i suggested we talk about it, the associate dean (research), whose name is jerry varsava, conveyed that he is unwilling to meet with anyone from the CLC outside the official governing council. translation: faculty members are the enemy of the faculty of arts.
  • stephen harper, prime minister of canada: for canceling the PromArt program and various other forms of support for art in this wealthy country. as i wrote in my letter to my MP and to the edmonton journal, "bullying the ballet is a low blow even for harper." i went on to accuse the conservative party of being stalinist ideologues with a deep anti-democratic streak. and they still didn't print it?
  • the globe and mail: for not delivering. we got a call a while back asking if we wanted to buy the sunday new york times. "depends," i said. "can you deliver it on sundays?" "oh yes." "for real?" "oh yes." "we've been down this road before," i said, "so answer carefully." "okay, let me double check ... yes, delivery in edmonton is guaranteed on sundays before noon or you don't pay." the guy on the phone actually said that. i didn't have the foresight to tape the conversation or ask for his name or to doublecheck with his supervisor. i just said, wow, that's great, i'm glad to hear it, sign us up. guess what? they in fact do not guarantee delivery on sundays in edmonton after all, so they are not going to give me back the seven bucks i spend to get the sunday paper delivered on monday, or tuesday or, last week, wednesday. they're not sure why i was told they did off such a guarantee. "well," i said, "i have a theory about that. my theory is that you will say anything to sell more newspapers." "i'm sorry you feel you were misled, ma'am." "it's not that i 'feel' i was 'misled'. i was actively and deliberately lied to by a member of your organization. apologize for that!" finally the poor guy on the other end of the phone says, "i'm sorry you were lied to," but in truth the whole thing was a little less satisfying than you'd like.
  • the chair of english, university of alberta: deliberations on promotion take place in november. we are required to indicate by the previous may whether we're going forward. in april i told my chair that, yes, this was the year. he wrote back and said that his june holiday plans would prevent him from preparing a promotion package. maybe next year? he threw in a scolding for free, suggesting that i really should have started this process back in january. (apparently there is some supersecret timeline to these matters.)
  • interlock, the roofing company: for billing us before the job is done, in contrast to their stated policies. as many of you stalwart readers know, the roof saga has been epic. we have put up with rodney and ron and chris and joe and now jamie. the roof is on but the roofers drove screws right through our ceiling. they will come and fix it "any day now," we have been told for weeks. and ron will be back "next week" to install a mechanism for opening and closing the skylights. in the meantime, we are using a cement mixer with a hexagonal head, which as interim solutions go is brilliant, but is a bit less than you might expect on a $60,000 job.
the thing is, even as i write these things down, i still believe they are outrageous. in fact, i'm angry all over again. businesses should not lie to you to sell more newspapers. we should not be using a mortar mixer to open and close our skylights. the chair should do his job. associate deans should solve problems, not create them. governments should foster art, not destroy it.

is it satisfying to name names? sure. for all the the agonies of the 16-month roofing job, i have deliberately kept the company's name out of my blog so far, in order to maintain my end of a good faith relationship. on the work front, i try to hold myself to the same collegial standards i expect others to observe. but after revisiting these events again this week i am struck again by the infantilizing short-sightedness of institutional mismanagement. is it unprofessional to air dirty laundry this way? maybe -- but they started it.

and that's really the problem, isn't it. anger is its own form of bondage. it backs you into a corner, turns you into a six-year-old and consumes every ounce of energy. before you know it, i'm the crazy lady yelling in traffic (worryingly, i do yell at drivers almost daily) -- or the checked-out cynic who hates all her colleagues -- or the self-consuming alcoholic -- or that ludwig von hohenbalken guy who had a letter to the editor in the edmonton journal every week until, presumably, he died of a stroke.

the trick is to recognize these events as outrageous, and yet not to be outraged. to know that what people do is profoundly out of your control, yet not to stop hoping for the best. to manage your energies -- without controlling them -- so that even after writing a poison pen letter or a pointed blog entry you still have energy left to, say, pull together a coursepack.

project zen.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

40 Fracas

last night we celebrated mo's 40th birthday at the senior zwickers' place, with the usual chaos. laura (10) had invited herself over to nana and papa's on thursday and stayed, in order to sew outfits for an entire webkins wedding she has planned. she's not much for working on other people's projects, that kid, but there's nothing she won't tackle on her own. she made suit jackets and top hats for the groomsmen and gowns for the bride and her "bridesmates," goldie and cammy-rose (a pink webkins procured in camrose). laura's got copy for the ceremony all worked out and will be stamping invitations next week. when we asked for a sneak preview she looked at us doubtfully and said, "it's kind of long..." naturally the wedding thing gives me the heebie jeebies, but mo pointed out that laura's in the unusual position of having attended both her mother's and her father's weddings, so i guess they carry a different resonance for her.

laura's ambitiousness is a blessing and a curse for my parents. she's the only one so far who shows an interest in their crafts, but only on her own terms. my parents raised my sister and me along fair-market capitalist principles. we could always supplement our allowances by doing odd jobs: 25 cents for every pair of my dad's shoes we shined, 50 cents for ironing a shirt. laura charged my dad for a full half hour of sanding even though she gave up in boredom after ten minutes; when he pointed this out laura shrugged and said, "i rounded up."

darien is starting junior high in the fall. she spent the evening behind or in front of the camera, and frequently both: whereas my generation mooned in the mirror, hers has digital cameras. she pouted and snapped, flung her newly-straightened hair around and snapped, moued and snapped. "i got one, i got one!," she said, and posed with her left side (snap!), then tried the right side (snap!), then held the camera closer (snap!). "auntie mo, auntie mo, wait!," she shrieked. "i want to get a picture of you holding up that present before you unwrap it!!" she took another one of herself for good measure, then made her way to the kitchen to sneak a little white wine.

morgan, the four-year-old princessa, was doing laps. she leaned into me and said, "i like your necklace, auntie heather. and i like your earrings too. and your shoes!" "thank you, morgan," i said. "you know, i saw some boots last week that reminded me of you." "did you buy them?" "no, sweetheart, i didn't." she widened her big blue eyes: "why not?" d and, to a lesser extent, laura went through a pretty-dresses-and-shoes phase, but morgan's appears to be sticking. when she got lost at harrods, she was found stroking the christian louboutins. my parents take each of their grandchildren on a trip when they turn 10, and they are already unsure whether they'll be able to afford morgan's haute couture adventure.

everett, meanwhile, was locating every dangerous object he could. admittedly this isn't hard; my parents' place is not particularly child-proof. still, none of his sisters uncoverd the dangers he did. everett tried to play with each of the following: a drill, a set of drill bits, a pincushion full of pins, a japanese pruning saw, a concrete slab no one believed a toddler could heft, a broken cup, a hot melt glue gun, a second drill, a christmas cactus, a propane tank, a rosebush, a bottle of round-up, a quartzite coaster with sharp rocky edges, a can of insect repellent, and a pair of scissors. when all of these were taken away from him, he put a cracker between two lens caps to make a sandwich. when what was genius to the eyes proved betrayal to the mouth, he pulled his penis up out of his diaper and peed all over his belly and down his shorts.

here's what the flies heard:
"auntie mo, do you want to watch a movie with me? it wasn't working but now it is and it's my favorite movie and nana says you like it too. it's called the wizard of paws." "i got one, i got one!" snap! "carol, have you seen my barbeque tongs?" "wait, where's my drink? i lost my drink." "everett, give papa back his tongs." "nana?" "i got one!" snap! "i don't think i've seen that movie, morgan." "nana?" "carol! my tongs?" "dad, i think everett has them." "so, did you make an offer on that house?" "where's everett? has anybody seen everett?" "it was right here a second ago. i had my eyes right on it until morgan climbed into my lap." "nana? nana, i can't find my fabric." "everett, can you give papa back his tongs, please? thank you!" "there's a wizard in it and a little girl who has a dog and she has red ruby slippers! and they're magic." "everett, no, you cannot play with the scanner. or with the plastic bag it came in!" "does anybody need a drink?" "i do -- i lost mine!" snap! "poopy! poopy!"

eventually i found my drink again -- apparently i carried it with me into the bathroom -- which was a good thing, because it's hard to keep up until the second gin & tonic. mo cleaned up present-wise, including rock band for the wii from shannon and josh. "no way," she said, "oh wow! did we just become the most popular aunties or what?" me, to josh: "you're not trying to unload your kids onto us, are you?" josh: "now, why would we do that?"

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Market value

i always mean to go to the farmers' market on saturdays, but the truth is saturday mornings seduce me into other things, like reading the globe and mail on the front porch, or catching up on wordscraper, or sitting on the deck feeding peanuts to the bluejays. the thought of navigating a crowd of smug edmontonian locavores is always enough to send me straight back to bed with a second cup of coffee.

come sunday morning, of course, i'm full of regret and find myself schlepping to safeway, which is always, always more depressing than anything i might have run into on saturday. i kick myself, resolving anew that next saturday really will be the day. cue weekly cycle.

but this saturday actually was the day, and and i set myself up for it by getting the right equipment: a new bike.

actually, it's not really new. i finally relieved my mother of her 1974 peugeot girl's bike and took it to redbike. "pimp my ride!" i said. (actually, testimony to the fact that i have truly become an old fart, i said "pimp my bike!." one of the guys corrected me.) they tuned it up, replaced the brake cables, and put on new wheels; when i picked it up i had them throw on a little black bike basket and a bell -- and then they charged me $122.85. just so you know i'm a moral person, i did argue with them about it at the till. i mean, the basket alone was twenty bucks. did i bring this bike in on free cable day or what? they insisted that was the right price, so for what i normally spend on coffee in a month, i had a whole new way to get around.

and boy is it great. it's heavy and black and substantial. it's cool. and it's fast. i've had mountain bikes for the last few years, and skinny tires make a huge difference. i love sitting more upright, too. it's what you want in the city, to be able to look about you a little. this is the first "girl's bike" i've ever had, having disdained them my entire life to date on the basis that -- well, that they're for girls. but i find the retro dropped bar actually quite charming. i can never find the gear shift -- it's down on the upright, not within thumb's reach at all -- and in any event there are only ten gears, not the 27 i have on my mountain bike, which is kind of a relief. i mean, seriously, what casual biker uses 27 gears?

best of all, it comes with an unexpected whallop of self-satisfaction. every time my heart thrills to my new commuter bike, i think, "it cost a hundred dollars! and it's recycled!!"

today was the big test: the downtown farmers' market. i dug out the ancient canvas panniers my mom offered me a few years ago, the ones i accepted mostly because of their ebay resale potential. they're heavy and black and perfect for the ole peugeot. i set off, feeling very cosmopolitan right from the start. but once i filled those puppies up with organic produce? shit. i was downright annoying. i mean, think of it. is there anything more virtuous than the lesbian loading duck eggs (less alkaline! more sustainable!) and heritage greens into 1970s saddlebags fixed to a recycled bike?

i can hardly stand myself.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Secret happiness club

the early part of this week has been crazybusy, so having a day when i could stay home and actually get some work done felt like a gift. i worked well til about 2, kept at it until 4 and then thought, this is ridiculous. it's beautiful outside, i can't concentrate, i'm tired of working and i'm getting nothing done. what i really want to do is sit on the front porch and read.

then i thought, scandalously, why don't i? if i sit on the front porch and read a novel, nothing bad will happen. it was revolutionary, marvelous, scandalous.

i felt like i was part of a secret happiness club, a group of people who'd cracked the hard nut of joy for the sweetmeat inside.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Pelicans and prickly pears

alberta to many is, ecologically, prairie, mountains and boreal forest. but my favorite parts of this province is its deserts.

we spent the weekend camping at big knife provincial park, down on the battle river between donalda and forestburg, and not too far from stettler. we watched american white pelicans soaring in formation overhead. we heard a night-heron. we ran into prickly pear on yesterday's sun-soaked walk. and we were up all night friday -- the entire campground was -- with the most astonishing electrical storm i've ever lived through. did you know that thunder isn't a single sound but actually about four in succession? there's the pistol shot that starts it off, then the proverbial furniture-dragging rumble, and then it trails off into a hollow movie sound effect. some of the lightning on friday night struck less than 500 m from where we were camped. thankfully it wasn't until morning that i remembered to be afraid of tornadoes.

now that i'm home, i realize the real tornadoes, the ones to worry about, are the ones in your day job.