Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Feeling a bit flummoxed by my current story. I have a ton of notes and eight pages typed up, but it still doesn't feel like it's coming together plot-wise. I tried re-reading Aristotle's Poetics. It didn't help. The problem is that I have too much material; it's clouding the narrative arc I had originally. My stories of late are all meandering, meditative. They're not page turners. I would like this story to be one where the reader wants to know what happens next. Plot plot plot. Off to fix my outline.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

I posted an ad on kijiji looking for people to play badminton with and three people responded within 24 hours. I was kind of amazed. Also, each person suggested a different location where we could play. So now I have badminton plans for tomorrow. My hope is that the other person and I are evenly matched, so that we can play for hours and hours without the birdie ever hitting the ground. The last time I played was at Hopkins, probably in 2008 or 2009. It was free to play there. At Dal you have to pay for a membership even if you are faculty, and they don't have the fitness classes I like (eg. spin and BodyAttack) so Goodlife makes more sense for me. This is a shame because my apartment is right behind the Dalplex. Guest passes are $13 for a visit. $13! I could buy a fancy restaurant sandwich for that much money. Feel obligated to stay all day to get my thirteen dollars' worth.

Simon and I saw the Muppets movie tonight. There was Muppet hilarity - frog limbs waving around, old guys named after hotels cracking wise, etc. Lots of cultural stereotype-type jokes, like when the French secret agent and the American secret agent are sitting next to each other and the French agent is drinking a very tiny cup of coffee and the American is drinking a very massive cup of coffee. It's true! Americans drink big coffees! The evil frog who tries to steal Kermit's identity is, of course, Russian. And Tina Fey plays a prison guard in Siberia. Americans play all the characters in foreign countries. Is that funny or is it egocentric and kind of awful? Simon thought the movie was awesome, but for me it was missing something. This review says it's magic and nostalgia, and I agree, those were lacking. And something about Kermit's facial expressions - the smushing wasn't quite as endearing as in the last movie. But dear Sweetums, my favourite Muppet, was as lovely and monstrous as always. They should have slipped him into Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are back in '09.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I've been obsessed with stenciling lately. I like almost everything about it: choosing images or patterns, slicing and splicing them in Photoshop to suit my purposes, cutting them out with a super sharp Xacto-knife, sponge painting over them. The only parts I don't like are the measuring and taping.

This is the Valentine's Day gift I made for Simon:

He despises Valentine's Day because of the commercialism, because it's just a Hallmark holiday...I usually stop listening at that point because I am fantasizing about foil-wrapped chocolate hearts and pink and white variegated roses. But anyway, this gift is not Valentines-y at all and it's a craft for which the only thing I had to buy was the foam board and some makeup sponges. Oh, and it's not just a map, it's a pinboard, so he can mark all the places he's been (he has travelled to 49 countries).

Here's what I did:

1. Found a world map and scaled it in Photoshop. Saved it as a pdf and used the Adobe Acrobat poster print to print it spread out over three sheets of paper. Taped together the pages and cut them with scissors and an Xacto knife.

2. Placed it and taped it on the foam board. Used make-up sponges to paint a layer of white acrylic first and then over it I sponge painted several colours. I'm not perfectly happy with the colours I chose and how they mesh together, but it was my first try and I have no painting skills so I think it's okay. Then I removed the stencils, let it dry, and hand-painted a quote from Simon's favourite Robert Service poem. If I did this again I would use stencils for the letters, too, because it looked more professional before my wobbly lettering.

3. Bought a bunch of straight pins and put them in a cute little jar to include with the map pinboard.


Then last night I started thinking that the corkboard I've had for years is actually rather boring. So I took it down and removed all the stuff from it to ponder its possibilities. Here it is next to my cat. That poster above it is an awesome original Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster I got in a flea market in Paris that I felt like showing off in this photo:

I searched pinterest and the general internet for some ideas and then decided to stencil it with a flower design. My steps were:

1. Found a pattern I liked, edit it in Photoshop to the right size and so on, tile printed it and taped it together. Pinned it down on the corkboard. Sorry the lighting in these photos is terrible. I couldn't sleep so was doing this at 6am when it was still dark out. Also I am a terrible photographer despite years of being a yearbook editor.

 2. Painted with my trusty makeup sponges (which, by the way, I bought at Target for $2 a bag and I cut them in half or thirds so it's super cheap and saves me having to clean brushes cause I can just throw these out).

3. Inspired by one of the examples I saw online, I decided to add one blue flower. Used the cut-out parts of the stencil for this step.

Here's the finished version. Due to my poor photography skills, this looks better in real life than here. I'm pretty happy with it because it looks less industrial and less like I got it ten years ago at Value Village.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

On Thursday I went to hear Michael Christie read at SMU. SMU brings the best readers. I adored Christie's short story collection and made two of my classes read his story "The Extra" this year. Was pleased to discover that he seems like a wonderful person. Reading his stories you suspect he might be, but then when he was talking about his characters and about how he found inspiration working in a Vancouver homeless shelter, you know he is one of those rare, really empathetic people. When he spoke I felt like crying. I'm a little jealous that he can write characters so different from him, so authentically. "The Extra" is written in first person, from the POV of a character who might be autistic or suffer from a mental illness. I haven't dared to do that since I was 12 and far less aware of the risks of stereotyping or just of sounding self-conscious. That's how I would describe that Mark Haddon book that everyone seems to love. Michael Christie does it so well, though. It was also a pleasure to hear him, and the other fiction reader, Bill Gaston, and Alex MacLeod who organized the event and introduced the speakers, talk about fiction, the short story in particular. I love the short story so much it makes my heart hurt. I wish I could remember exactly how MacLeod described it in his introduction, but basically he referred to the short story as its own entity, its own genre of art. I feel a little sad when my students rush into writing novels. I can't tell them what to write and I don't want to, but I worry that they will miss the incredible satisfaction of feeling that a story you've written is complete, that all its notes have had their crescendos and diminuendos and its ending has found the right cadence. Ah, music metaphors are perfect for fiction, though perhaps trite.

I forgot the best part! Michael Christie knew who I was. I went up after to introduce myself and mentioned I had assigned his stories to my fiction workshops and he asked if I write and I told him I had a book and he asked my name and I told him and he said, "You wrote 'Why I Read Beowulf.' We loved that story." You see, he was a judge on The Journey Prize the year I made it into the anthology. Then he said he would read my book. This is when I became all gushing and fangirl-like, which is very embarrassing but I don't care. It's funny because during the Q&A one of my students in the audience had asked him about MFA programs and he was saying when he first started his he thought of writers not as actual people you could meet and talk to but as higher powers that threw books down to us once in a while, which is how I used to feel about writers but now don't except for those precious ones who write things that really resonate with me. Another music metaphor!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I have the flu. Have been sleeping for a day and a half. Unfortunately there is a blizzard so I have no way of obtaining gingerale and apple juice and crackers and my usual sick go-tos. I may end up opening the can of pears in my cupboard and heating it up and making pear sauce to eat. That's the only thing in my apartment that's remotely appetizing.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Therapy in real life is not as vicious as therapy on HBO. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sometimes when I'm walking around here or sitting in coffee shops I get pangs of love for Halifax. I'm at Uncommon Grounds right now and they are selling hoodies that they print right in front of you on a big metal press. You select a logo from a big stack of designs, things like I  Local, vintage Halifax beer logos, and labels from lobster crates. I am going to buy one. But which colour?

I didn't wash my mascara off last night after the show, and this morning I splashed water on my face and was shocked when I looked like a zombie in the mirror.

Our performance last night was in a gallery in Truro, so the four of us (me and the band) packed in R and A's car with all their equipment and whatnot (this included a keyboard, a trombone, several galvanized steel buckets, and a birdcage, among other things) and then we drove through blizzardy snow along the 102, where cars were sliding like shuffleboard pieces off the road. One of the stories I read is called The Library Giant, and we did it as program music, where the band mimicked the narrative through sound. So, for example, there's a spot where the giant's whispering so he doesn't disturb folks in the library and we had pre-recorded me whispering and played that in the background at that point of the story. In the story, the giant gets stuck in the elevator and eventually starts yelling for help and he yells so loudly that stuff around that shelves in the building start to topple and wall clocks fall and shatter and so on, so at that point the band got loud and dissonant and surreal sounding and I read louder and louder and then suddenly it's silent and we just end with me reading "...breathing loudly and sweating in the dark." After that you could feel the audience gasp - it was incredible. We played in a dark room, which made it more effective, I think. This is probably the coolest thing I have done all year.