Tag Archives: books

Something to Lean On, A Book to Read

I’ve taken the train an hour later a few mornings this week and boy howdy do I not like it. Ugh. It feels okay and normal until the stop before downtown and then everyone gets on and then, two stops later, I try to get off and it’s like swimming against a tide of spawning salmon. I legitimately did not think I was going to get off the train today. I was behind a big guy who was also getting off and I’d put my faith in him when I saw him move towards the doors but he was blocked by several people and a cluster of doorflies and I couldn’t help myself, when I finally cleared the door and was on the platform and that much closer to work, I said in a conversational tone, just like here is some information for you people, “there is a lot of room in the middle of the train.” Walked away. Yes, if people move to the middle of the train, THEY will maybe have trouble getting off at the next stop but guess what, you guys are already downtown and everything is a ten minute walk away so suck it. You don’t even NEED to be on the train anymore, jerks. Get some fresh motherfucking air in your lungs.

And deep breath in. And climb the stairs, greet the paper guy, cross on the green light and walk for seven minutes. Breathe the clean, damp air and look at the tall, shiny buildings reflecting the sunrise or glistening with new rain. Move fast past everyone, nod at the bicyclists. Put down my things for a few hours at the office, where people are kind and happy to see me.

The reason I’ve taken the train an hour later is because SA is away so I am taking the children to daycare and rather than dropping them there as soon as the doors open at 7, I am kind and allow them to keep to their routine, instead adjusting my own. I AM A HERO, YES. They have been remarkably sane and good this week, even with all the routine changes (no Dad, more grandparents, no time for a big bowl of ice cream BEFORE dinner tonight so had to wait until AFTER dinner — that last one did lead Arlo to a ten minute sulk up in his room; life is very disappointing sometimes) and other than getting cranky at times for reasons like: I dropped my phone and it broke, and my hair is annoyingly huge, and the people on the train are oblivious to the world around them, and baseball parents are shouty and bossy, I have also been mostly sane and good.

I picked out a few wonderful books last week at the library, having returned a selection of duds. I haven’t had so many duds in a while. Every book had something wrong with it, something that made me make a sneery, bad-smell face; one looked like a fluffy romance but was actually a Christian morality tale featuring estranged sisters, another looked like a readable dysfunctional family joint but was really a deeply depressing account of a fifty-something man and his relationship with his father, who in the story is deteriorating from Parkinson’s. Yikes! Too many boxes on the bingo card! I got to page thirty or so in each of the five books before throwing them back to the library pool and then I picked out several wonderful books; Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, which I’m reading before bed and is engaging and easy-readable with a few poignant and elegant turns of phrase thrown in, and We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo , a raw account of a girl’s childhood in Zimbabwe and adolescence in Michigan, which I’m reading on transit and has completely consumed me for days. After those are done, there is A Buzz in the Meadow by Dave Goulson, a man who buys a farm in France and creates a bumblebee habitat. And Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. And How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran. And Transatlantic by Colum McCann.

If I can find a corner on the train to nestle into, and I can tune out the conversations, the time, and the place, I am given thirty minutes to spend reading a wonderful book. This is what makes commuting by transit great.

Well, and looking at peoples’ shoes.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

This week has been brought to you by:

— Moisturizer. Because my cuticles and nails are incredibly dry and jagged and horrible.

— Halls cough drops, without which I would not have slept on Monday and Tuesday nights. Damned throat tickle. ALTHOUGH I could do without the inspiration printed on the cough drop wrappers, in English and French. ALLEZ Y yourself, cough drop.

— The drugs called “montelukast sodium” and “albuterol” which help Eli go from coughing all the time to not coughing all the time, instead of to bronchitis/pneumonia/whoknowswhat. I love these drugs.

— Zadie Smith’s book N-W.

— Outkast’s song “Hey Ya” which I remembered and listened to several times this week.

— Seriously, Zadie Smith forever. Interesting, to me, that I brought this book home from the library last year and stared blankly at it for three weeks and then returned it. As though one’s emotional life, if taxing, can sap the ability to understand and appreciate good literature. Here is a bit I read on the train this morning that made me memorize the page number so I could find it again later:

“Felix spotted a wayward shiver in her eyelid, a struggle between the pretence of lightness and the reality of weight. He knew all about that struggle.”

There are some books you read to escape into, and you barely read the words on the page, just skim for the gist, like shoving chips in your mouth so the salt will take hold of you faster. Books you read to pass the time. Books you read to lull you to sleep. There are some books you read because they are good for you, the kale of the book world, and when finished you say, well, that was HEARTY. And then there are books where the flavours meld perfectly with one another, where the nutritional value is balanced with the combination of sweet/salty/spicy in your mouth, where you slowly open them to read — carefully — each word because each word is worth it. This is one of those books.

— The prospect of the four day weekend (easters Friday and Monday the glorious, sleeping-in brackets to this normal weekend.)

— Various pale ales.

Onward, Easter-ocity!

At Any Time

Oh it is so hard to sit down here with nothing to say, no point to make, but it’s the ritual or, more accurately, routine of it I’m after. Not the content (obviously, she said, self-deprecatingly) but the being here. Morning is too crowded already, evenings are a slow slide to sweet sleep, the skytrain/bus, as entertaining and beautiful as it can be, is no place to type on a laptop. I do write in my notebook, though, yes, now I have made it so anyone can recognize me on transit because I haven’t seen another human writing in a notebook. Yet. I could draft posts on my phone but I don’t want to draft posts on my phone. Ah, I don’t want to draft anything at all. I want to be creative and I want to write and I want to stop talking about it just do it so that’s what this is. This is just doing it.

Let’s take blogging back and make it back into a boring hobby that no one pays attention to, a place to practice turning over buckets of sand. PERFECT.

I am in the middle of cooking dinner; a mixture of wild and brown and japonica rice, stir fried steak strips, and vegetables. The meat is marinating. The rice is cooking. My lips burn a little with the dust of habanero and lime-flavoured tortilla chips. The happy birthday banner we hung up yesterday is dangling from the ceiling like this: Happy Bi
It was my father’s birthday on Saturday. There are a lot of birthdays at this time of year. A lot of fathers. Well, two. Plus several aunts, a few friends. My co-worker’s niece and then her mother. Happy birthday, all you March babies. Happy blossoms and tiny green buds on trees and allergies, to those who celebrate allergies.

In a month it will be Eli’s birthday and he would like a Pokemon themed party. Can someone make that happen, please? Thaaank you.

I just finished a great book called California by Edan Lepucki. I recognized the writer’s name, possibly from The Millions or somewhere else on the Internet, otherwise I wouldn’t have picked it up, as this book was not my kind of book. It is a future-story, set in the wilds of a de-urbanized California/America. But it is a character-driven future story, which IS my kind of book. Once I dug into it, I enjoyed it a great deal. Although the end felt a little rushed, but to be fair, I was rushing through the last chapter, trying to finish the book before we had to return it to the library. I was keeping Eli company in the dentist’s waiting room while he waited for his turn, my nose buried in this book, but he kept talking to me. I offered to read it aloud. Four pages was all he needed, then he politely told me I didn’t have to read it aloud anymore.

At my job I get to talk to people using a microphone several times a week. I have to constantly remind myself not to hum when I am paused between sentences. You don’t realize how much you hum until you have a microphone under your face. I’ve developed quite a humming habit in the past few years as solitary child-minder. Time to curb it.

Unconscious-tic’ly yours, ’til tomorrow.

Five Things I Learned Today

1. The place I have always referred to as “Langley” (a suburb I dunno, 40 minutes East of Vancouver on the highway? On a Sunday?) is plural. I saw a sign today on the Skytrain that said something about funding transit to “Surrey and The Langleys.” This is one of those municipal things that no one really needed to consult me about, being as I live not in Langley, but I still somehow feel unsettled. How did I not know there are mutiple Langleys? So I looked it up and it sounds like there is a Township of Langley (formerly Fort Langley) and the City of Langely (much bigger). Well let’s support them both, I say! Because everyone should have access to public transit. Significant access. Not just a bus now and then.

2. My co-worker, the hummingbird one, informed me there is an amusement park in Pennsylvania called Hershey Park. She and her husband are going there for a week. Because of the chocolate. And the roller coasters.

3. I bought a nice little (relative term) pair of black flats the other day. Finally, some black flats to wear to the office. How happy I was. Today I wore them and it turns out my feet are spoiled for shoes with support. My legs, hips, all the etceteras, sore. I am adding them to the drawer of shoes I have at work that I only wear in the office and couldn’t possibly wear during my commute, because of all the standing and walking.

Yes, I have a desk drawer that contains five pairs of shoes. Another drawer full of crackers. My overhead shelf is full of scarves and gummy candy. I would say I have achieved office worker status.

4. These three dudes, in old jeans and work boots on the train home today told each other — and the rest of us! — in increasingly boisterous and loutish language and at very high volume how much money they were making, how much EI they were collecting, and what they were getting from [some guy] under the table. One man’s insistence that he still had to pay his $1,000 a month in child support so he wasn’t exactly rolling in dough fell on deaf ears as the other two bragged louder and louder about their amazing cashflow. Then they decided to get off the train for a smoke and called two friends who lived near the station (Morgan the Whoregan and another guy who was referred to as “you scar-faced fuck”, quite affectionately) to meet them on the street for a smoke. Then they went away.

5. I am reading a book that at first reminded me of my own fiction writing, in a good way. This was pleasing. Then the book started to annoy me and I realized it also reminded me of my own fiction writing in a bad way. Not so pleasing. So I have learned that while reading great books is bad for your self-esteem but good for your writing skills because you want to up your game, reading not-great books is good for your self-esteem and also good for your writing skills because you want to write better than that and also correct the obvious errors your alternate-universe-writer-self has been making.


Every night, a take-home-reading book comes home from school with Eli. He is meant to read aloud to us, in the grand tradition of grade one classes everywhere, possibly? Arlo’s class did it too (although we had to log the books, which I did not enjoy as a concept because paperwork).

Arlo didn’t like reading aloud to us; he muttered and read really fast. It’s a good thing we knew he could read because it certainly was not proven in his grade one year. Eli can also read, and while he *claims* he doesn’t like reading to us, he actually does; after protesting, he is an expressive reader who sometimes uses funny voices and accents. This evening he sang a page of the book to me and then asked if I liked his opera.

Anyway, the books are not that great. They’ve progressed since Dick and Jane but not much. The series we see a lot is about a magic key and a bunch of multicultural British children who have adventures. Now and again there is a mystery or a one-off story about a kid named Pippa who wants a blue balloon but her father only has green balloons.

But tonight’s book was called SKUNKS. It was full of (semi-) interesting facts about skunks; they are black and white, they have three warning stages before they spray you, they are immune to bee stings and often attack bee hives for the honey. Seriously, I learned a great deal. But the best part was the page entitled Skunk Dancing. READ ON AND ENJOY:


Now, do you think that’s true? I know there are a couple nature-knowledgable people who read here from time to time. I have no reason to doubt the take-home-reading-book-about-skunks but I also enjoy imagining the person who wrote the book throwing in a page of total bullshit just because it was his last day on the job, or he wanted to delight a bored family somewhere. Either way. Skunk dancing, you guys.

OK. Duck dancing. Good enough.


Have I written this post before? Probably. If you’ve read it before, go look at the calming manatee. Come back tomorrow.

Maybe I’ll put that disclaimer everywhere.

Things are afoot. Arlo is turning 8. I am stopping working earlier than planned, on July 11th. Saint Aardvark is switching to a new job, around July 11th. School might already be out for summer, or it might not, because of ongoing strife between our government and our teachers.

Arlo hopes it is not; Eli hopes it is. I am hoping it is not because I wouldn’t mind a day off before September.

I signed up to participate in a study that trains women between 18-60 to run half marathons and does a biomechanical analysis of them before and after the training. I bought two pairs of running shoes. First, I bought two pairs of running shoes for $180 and then I went across the road and found a running shoe sale and bought two pairs of running shoes for $80 and took the other ones back across the road for a full refund.

I’ve decided I will not work full time at a government job. I need a career I believe in and want to do. I plan to use my unexpected two months of not-working to figure out what kind of work I ought to do. I still write every day. I plan to keep doing this.

I planted things this year and they are sort of growing. The lavender plant has one flower. My neighbour’s lavender plant has many flowers. The spinach is wee, but the bean plants are hardy. The rosebush had eight flowers. Spinach is supposed to be easy and roses are supposed to be hard and I exert the same amount of effort for everything.

Tomorrow I am getting a root canal.

My digestive system is behaving like a tornado during an apocalypse. (This is unrelated to the root canal. I’ve had one before, it was fine.)

Arlo has recently discovered bicycles and how great they are. He had no interest, only wanted to scooter, then my parents gave him a big bike two weeks ago and now he’s bike-mad. Driving home from their house today he said “I’m going to count all the bikes on the road!” There weren’t any. He was very disappointed.

I read a book of essays called The Empathy Exams and I can’t recommend it enough. The title essay is here and I Loved It So Much I looked the book up at the library, then placed a hold on it (the book had been ordered but was not yet at the library) and then rabidly ran up to get and read it and then renewed it and was a mixture of happy and sad feelings when it turned out I *could* renew it because no one else had requested it. People should request it.

Today was Father’s Day and holidays like this on social media make me tired. So much congratulating, so many people who are sad, so many hurt feelings vibrating through the world like soundwaves. Happy X Day becomes Happy X Day to those who celebrate and to those who don’t, you are loved, and to those who have only XY please know we consider you and to those with Y instead of X we acknowledge you and

Can we just say, whenever we feel like it: dear world full of people, you are doing great things? Yes. We can. Dear world full of people, I appreciate you and your feet that walk every day even when they are tired. I appreciate the brains of people who invent things and those that market those invented things. I love the hearts of the compassionate and the hearts of the bereft. Group hug, world. Goodnight, world.

Ninety-Eight — Free Association

Let’s do this, post number ninety-eight!

If I was ninety-eight years old right now, it would be the year 2072 and exactly three months until my ninety-ninth birthday! I might have grandchildren, or great grandchildren.

A girl I used to be friends with in grade two started having her children while she was just out of high school and is now going to be a grandmother. She is forty-one. I’m not sure if this makes me feel old or young. Mostly just grateful to be me.

There is a woman in our neighbourhood — she is somewhere between forty-one and one hundred years old — who stands at the pedestrian-controlled crossing by the Safeway, pressing the button. She sometimes crosses when the light changes, but then she stands on the other side and presses the button to change the light again. She also chats with people while they wait for the light to change. I’ve never seen her anywhere but standing next to the pole with the button, anxiously watching traffic. She’s really concerned about traffic.

In the past few months the cycle on the lights has grown longer. It used to be one of those corners where as soon as you pressed the button, the light would change, but now it can take five minutes. If you’re driving, sometimes longer. You have to back up and go forward, trying to trigger the sensor that changes the light. Or maybe there’s no sensor and it’s just the entertainment for the people who live in the new apartment building across the street.

The new apartment building promised us street-level shops but so far all I see is a paper sign declaring DENTAL OFFICE OPENING SOON and a People’s Drug Mart. The Drug Mart used to be in the location where the apartments now are (it used to be a strip mall) and when the apartments were being built, the Drug Mart moved a couple of blocks away, to a terrible location on the other side of a very busy road. Now they are moving back. The last iteration of the Drug Mart didn’t have much except drugs. I am hoping the new iteration will have something good like lip gloss.

For the other street-level shops I am hoping for a coffee shop that is not Starbucks (there are already two of those just a block away) and a book store. If you’re going to hope, hope; that’s what I say.

There should be more book stores open near drug stores. After all, where are you going to go while you wait for your prescription to be filled? What else would be nice? A taco place. A tattoo parlour. A consignment clothing store that has the perfect jacket.

I may, this Fall/Winter, cave and buy a puffy down jacket with a fur collar. Why fight against the current?

Yesterday we drove very far to Harrison Mills, or near it, to see spawning salmon and feasting eagles. We saw a lot of both. There is an annual Eagle Festival based around the time when all the salmon come to spawn and die and the eagles arrive to eat their faces off. The festival is next week but we’re busy next week and this past weekend was a long weekend because of Remembrance Day. We were all in various stages of various sicknesses, it being mid-November, so a long car ride to a giant outdoor observatory with very few other people was exactly what the doctor ordered.

I’m not sure what the kids thought of the concept of swimming for miles and miles and miles and miles to lay your eggs and then die and then be eaten by eagles. Arlo did say, “It’s too bad they have to die,” and I said, “well, if they didn’t, the eagles wouldn’t have as much to eat,” and then we sang the circle of life together and drove home.

Actually if the salmon never showed up, the eagles would still have plenty to eat in the way of little dogs that live in the fancy gated housing development that’s built right on the river front / observatory. Why you would spend a bunch of money to build your dream country-woods house and then have a purse dog / eagle bait that you have to walk every day is way beyond me but maybe it will make sense when I’m retired.

I hope not.

In terms of my own life cycle, I am glad that after spawning I have a few years to carry on living before I am consumed by death. Hooray for being human, not fish. It’s the way to go.

Ninety-Three — Grateful

Yesterday I took the boys to a Rock And Gem Show in nearby Port Moody. They went bananas for all the pretty rocks and gems. Eli scored a teeeny tiny emerald and Arlo convinced me to lend him enough money to buy a very hardcore necklace with a sword and skull pendant.

“What kind of gem is this?” he asked the woman whose booth it was.
“Oh that’s just glass, honey,” she said, “but the sword is real pewter.”

We came home with cloth “grab bags” full of polished and unpolished stones for two dollars each and the joy of the grab bag came back to me with a whoomp, like a strong gust of wind. I used to buy grab bags for two dollars at Shopper’s Drug Mart when I was a kid. They were paper bags with random cosmetics in them and it was so exciting to pull the staples out of the top of the bag, unfold it, and see the surprise.

This morning, Arlo informed me he wanted to go to the beach with a hammer and safety glasses so he could look for gold. What could I say — the sun was shining and it was a warm day. We grabbed our hammer and an old pair of sunglasses of mine and drove across the bridge to the beach at Port Royal in Queensborough. I had never been there but had heard it was a Best Kept Secret of the City so a quick google found me all the information I needed.

The kids smashed rocks and splashed around in the Fraser River. A big dog — husky, malamute? — came down to the beach and dug himself a hole almost his own size. He smelled something good down there. Every time his minder tried to fill in the hole with sand, he gave her a dirty look and recommenced digging. His fat, white paws were a flurry.

He never did find what he was looking for. #sadbono

Clusters of ducks swam by, using the river current to their advantage, looking like they were swimming on fast forward.

A flock of geese flew overhead. It was blindingly sunny and warm. My sinuses felt clear. I felt rested, finally, after days of feeling tired.

Today I’m grateful for space and time. Time to make space: ridding our house of bags of old clothes, overdue library books, overflowing compost. Time to make food that is delicious and time to wash up after myself so there is more space on the kitchen counter and I don’t feel like I’m drowning in pots and pans. Time to make space on my bookshelf for five new library books, to dig out all the many blue spiral bound notebooks I’ve been collecting and take them upstairs so that when I look at the shelf, I only see the story revisions I’m working on right now. Space to find time to work. Time to stretch and put the spaces back between my vertebrae so I feel long and loose, not hunched and achy.

Time and space, sunshine and clear sinuses. I don’t ask for much.

Ninety — Library Books Are Not Wikis, Actually

I took a book to work today, a library book, that I might read while eating my lunch. Don’t worry, I was going to be meticulous and not get food on the book. I’ve been reading and eating a long time. I only smear chip grease in books I own. Anyway, I grabbed one of the many library books I have in a pile on my shelf right now: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. Last year I heard him read at the Writers Festival from this book and I have been meaning to read it for an entire year so here we are, possibly to the day one year later, and I’m opening the book.

One page in, I see some words neatly printed in pencil in the book’s margin. The printed, book text reads (about our hero, who is a little boy on a big ship sailing across the ocean):

He ate several sandwiches, and after that he made his way down to his cabin, undressed, and slipped into the narrow bunk.

and next to it, there is an arrow drawn in pencil and a question:

Without steward guidance?

On the next page, our amateur editor adds a question mark to the phrase “two-stroke” (referring to an engine) and a page later, there is a tiny Boys’ written next to the typewritten phrase ..a small Boy’s Own Adventure.

I was only at page seven and in full bemused/rant mode.

I saw reference today to a study or article that said reading even six minutes a day is relaxing. WELL I’LL TELL YOU WHEN IT’S NOT. WHEN SOMEBODY TAKES IT UPON HIMSELF TO EDIT A LIBRARY BOOK.

Seriously, neat pencil printer, what is your problem? You can’t edit this book. It’s done. Also, who the hell do you think you are, editing Michael Ondaatje? Also, to whom are you addressing the questions? (and to whom am I addressing my questions? And how futile is all of this?) The other readers? Because you know, the library doesn’t send copies of books back to the authors when queries are pencilled in the margins. Those books just go back on the shelves for OTHER PATRONS to read and enjoy. Michael Ondaatje will NEVER HEAR your questions unless you send him an e-mail or a paper letter. THERE’S an idea! Write the man a letter with NOTES for his NOVEL. I bet he doesn’t have a critique group he can really trust to be honest with him. Dear Michael: Re: The Cat’s Table. See attached.

For fuck’s sake. Fucks’ sake? NO I KNOW WHAT I MEAN MOTHERFUCKER.

I think the best part is that on one page, there is a pencilled-in sentence that’s been rubbed out. Maybe another library patron erased it, but I like to think the Mad Editor did it him/herself. “Oh, sorry Michael Ondaatje. That note was off-side. I’ve removed it.”

People. Seriously.

Seventy-Two — Please Don’t Make This Blog Into a Film

This summer has had a couple of themes. Swimming was one theme. You might have noticed it? Let us not talk about swimming again until next year. Amen.

Another theme has been Diary of a Wimpy Kid. These books, which are written in diary style and comic font and have lots of pictures, have completely consumed my kids for months. Arlo was bringing them home from the school library last year, but not really reading them, but this summer he started really reading them. Like, fast. Like, we were at the public library every few days picking up another one in the series. Then he started over again with the first one.

Of course if one child has [anything] the other child has to have one too, which is why we’ve had two library copies of every Wimpy Kid book in the series kicking around the house all summer long. Ask me about my fines!

We still read to the kids, of course, even though they can read to themselves just fine, so bedtime or chilling out time means I get to hear Diary read out loud, or read it myself. It’s not my favourite book, but it makes Saint Aardvark laugh for real sometimes so he gets to read it, if at all possible.*

And then the kids re-discovered that there are three Wimpy Kid movies on Netflix so one of those movies has been in constant play during screen time for a week now and I’m getting to that saturation point I remember so fondly from their toddler days, when I would find myself analyzing the motivation of the blue Wiggle or the psychological makeup of Caillou.

To that end, the things I have observed this summer about the Wimpy Kid and the reason I will not be sad when we move on to a new obsession:

1. Greg Heffley (the Wimpy Kid whose diary we are reading) is a self-centred jerk and it’s amazing he has even one friend.
2. Everyone is EITHER mean OR gets made fun of.
3. Older brother (Roderick) is mean AND rude AND stupid (but I do love him in the films, he is adorable)
4. Adults are ALWAYS idiots.
5. Girls are EITHER horrible or unattainable goddesses.

Now, yes, I know, it’s not written for me any more than Pokemon and Beyblades were written for me. Broad brushes painting tired stereotypes are not the worst thing to find splashing around on your face, right? The series begins with Greg starting middle school — grade six — so I get that it’s reflecting a reality, that of the self-absorbed, insecure, cut-throat pre-teens and teens that populate such places. But is it really that bad? Or are we making it worse by creating this fictional reality for kids to find their reflections in?

You see what I mean about the analysis. Clearly it is time for summer vacation to end and for the real world of school to start up again. After repeated viewings of Diary I have to remind myself that my kids are only going into grade two and kindergarten, not middle school, and that they are not, overall, big jerks. And… breathe.

* He is, however, increasingly irritated by Eli making him start reading at the same place every night. Eli seems to love the first forty pages of the first book and SA just can’t seem to get past it. Poor guy. I’d offer to help, but I’m not going to.**

** THAT right there is Wimpy Kid behavior. Oh god. I’m going down with the ship.