Wednesday, 30 January 2008

I've been "memed"! (7 weird things about me)

I'm a virgin blogger no longer! P., author of What Possessed Me (a blog that takes a minute or so to load, but is well worth the wait), has tagged me for a "meme". I'm a little vague on the rules for these things, but I'm going to answer the meme challenge "Seven Weird Things About Me", then tag other bloggers and pray they don't curse me so I'll have to stay in Hades forever:

1. I can cross one eye. If I really want to flip someone out, I cross one eye, then both, or the other way around.

2. This has been the subject of another post on prosopagnosia, but I don't remember people's faces on a pretty regular basis, yet I ace the tests meant to identify people with face blindness. I'm either a really good guesser in test situations, or am more socially inept (or lazy) than I thought. Possibly both.

3. I've haven't set foot in a McDonald's since --- well, never you mind how long, but it's been a fine stretch of years. I worked there for five hellish months when I was seventeen going on eighteen and vowed I would never return. Ottawa may be Hades, but McDonald's truly is the Den of Despair. I count this as weirdness-in-other-people's-eyes, because they don't believe I mean it until I refuse to go in with them. Wouldn't even take my girls there; the Resident Fan Boy had to do it. Elder daughter now owns a DVD of Super Size Me, and refuses to go as well.

4. I don't own or operate a cell phone, nor do I drive. This is another weirdness-in-others'-eyes item. I don't find my life untenable without either device; the only difficulty is the assumption by others that everyone has a car or mobile: "It's not far; it's only about 15 minutes. Take the Queensway..." "I don't have a car." "Oh."

5. I am incapable of getting stoned more than three times per year. Mind you, the last time I got stoned was when I was 24, so I haven't tested this in a while. I found, in my misspent youth, that I couldn't get stoned for several weeks after a nice session with grass or hash. (Just as well. Couldn't afford it anyway.) This may also be why I never became addicted to cigarettes, despite smoking regularly between the ages of 13 and 20.

6. I'm related by marriage to Len Cariou. Not weird per se, but you have to understand, that he's married to my fifth cousin. Yes, I'm a family historian, and when I try to explain my hobby to most people, their eyes glaze over, even if they're in my family... I think, for sheer dottiness, genealogists rank somewhere between train-spotters and bird-watchers.

7. When I was a little girl, I used to purposely scare myself silly by lying awake at night and imagining how real I was. I don't know how I did this; I can't do it anymore.

There. Now to alienate a couple of fellow-bloggers: I tag Marie, author of the witty and touching novel Gods Behaving Badly (go buy it, it's great!) and the highly engaging blog The Woman Who Talked Too Much, and Jonas the US Poet Laureate Presumptive (who also appears to be channeling Vladimir Nabokov [as in Pale Fire]), author of the new blog Poetry in Motion. I notice he hasn't written in it in over a week. I do hope his poetic duties haven't forced him to give it up...

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The Golden "Complass"

You can always tell if younger daughter is excited about something if she writes it up herself on the large calendar in her bedroom. We use the calendar to ease her in to the events of the week, and in the case of a movie, we play the clips posted at Yahoo Movies, which takes the edge of the unfamiliarity of a new experience. Yesterday, we took her to see The Golden Compass and a particularly enticing aspect of this was that we were going with a friend from school and her mum.

I was a little anxious myself because of the scary possibilities of the movie. I found parts of the book enormously upsetting, particularly the bits when children are excised from their "daemons", animal spirits which in this parallel world are the souls that live outside the body. So I watched younger daughter from the corner of my eye as the movie rolled on. She seemed entranced, but her left hand reached up as if to shield her left eye, her forefinger resting on her temple. On her right hand was Jasmine the Mouse, one of her beloved hand puppets who often accompanies her to school and church. It occurred to me that younger daughter has her "daemons" too, and that after the movie she would process and act out what had stayed with her with Jasmine and her other "friends".

When we got out of the cinema, younger daughter was anxious to go home, despite the attentive ministrations of her "guardian angel", a flesh-and-blood friend who has been the subject of a previous post. Once back, she disappeared upstairs, and after a bit of play alone in her bedroom, emerged to "watch something" (her very favourite thing). Her choice? Godspell, which is, in a number of ways, the antithesis of the movie we'd just seen. (Although I hasten to add that all the fuss about atheism and anti-Catholicism that some people have detected in The Golden Compass is a bit overblown. The Resident Fan Boy, giving a quick review to my mum in her weekly phone call from Victoria, said: "The only Catholics I can see being upset by this movie are those with guilty consciences." He's a devout Anglican, for the record and the son of an Anglo-Catholic himself.)

That evening, younger daughter nodded off in the tub like Ophelia (without the drowning bit), clearly exhausted.

Friday, 25 January 2008

IDWIWAL, but I love this song!

I have a new favourite song! I giggle uncontrollably when I hear it! It's IWIWAL by Loudon Wainwright the Third. ("I wish I was a lesbian and not a hetero....") The song is about 12 years old, but I just heard it the other day on my LAUNCHcast station. I think it's reduced to initials for the sake of political correctness, being, after all, a straight guy's interpretation of a straight gal's motivations for being lesbian, but I'm straight too, so I think it's funny. Maybe some of the gay and lesbian community giggle at this too?

I was introduced to LAUNCHcast by the library tech at elder daughter's school about 5 years ago. The idea is, you gradually design your own radio station, first by choosing favourite artists, albums, and songs, then by rating the songs your player sends to you. You rate something high, it goes into a kind of high rotation. You can also block songs, albums, artists and genres. I like to hear different kinds of music so I try to use the ban button sparingly. (Rap and hip-hop are exceptions to this rule.) I love the idea that music I hate gets played occasionally; it reminds me why I love the music I do. (I think this applies to all kinds of art: exposure to rotten stuff is necessary for perspective.) Over the past five years, I've grown to love Warren Zevon, Dar Williams, Great Big Sea, and appreciate many other artists and groups. I even get a dose of classical from time to time. Every time I hear a song I like on the radio, TV, or in a waiting room, I look it up on LAUNCHcast when I get home and rate. LAUNCHcast doesn't play songs on demand, but if you like surprises and hearing different and new (to you) music, this is the way to go, I think. Doesn't work with some browsers, like Mozilla, though.

Anyway, I went looking for a video of Loudon singing this gem on YouTube, but although there are scores of his songs up there, the only versions of IWIWAL are those set to various anime. I'm not sure why anime aficionados would take to this song; this is due, no doubt, to my lack of knowledge about the anime form. I think this song is far funnier without visuals, but let's see if I can link to the cleverest of the anime tributes:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLnicHqPh4A

Thursday, 24 January 2008

How I met my husband

How I Met My Husband is one of Alice Munro's bitter-sweet short stories (more bitter than sweet, after all, it is Alice Munro...) When I was 10, Alice Munro taught us creative writing in Sunday School. This was just before she became famous (if you're not Canadian, let me assure you, she's one of our best-known Canadian writers), and it was heavenly.

But I digress. I've just checked my perpetual calendar which isn't so perpetual because it only goes up to the year 2000, and January 24th was a Tuesday the year I met my husband. It was a rainy afternoon, and I was doing what I habitually did when I had tons of assignments to complete. I was roaming the four floors of the library at the University of Victoria, looking for someone to talk to. My friend Guinevere was in her usual spot, one of the huge leathery couches set up like booths in the basement, the only place where smoking was allowed. Guinevere didn't smoke, so I guess the leather was the attraction. That, and being able to put her feet up. Sitting with her this day was a bespectacled young man with a nervous manner, a classmate from one of Guinevere's history classes.

Years later, we had an anniversary cake inscribed with "Indifference at First Sight". I thought he was neurotic; he thought I was "a typical English student". (I was in Education at the time, but switched to an English major the following year when I discovered I despised most of my fellow Secondary Education majors.) Things weren't helped the next day when, so he claims, he greeted me and I sailed past without responding. (See prosopagnosia, three posts back --- but we only have his word to go on that this actually happened.)

Today is the anniversary of that rainy January afternoon, one of those big round ones with an 0 at the end. Bitter? Some. Sweet? Some. You don't live with one person for so many years without wanting to belt them at least once. But we don't. Not yet, anyway. We may not know everything about each other, but we know the worst, and that, I think, is what keeps either of us from bailing out. There was an air of inevitability (a word I couldn't pronounce then) throughout the weeks of our courtship, and years on, we still can't avoid each other. And that, my friends, is bitter-sweet.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Experiments in photo-dating, and some revealing thoughts on disclosure


I'm not sure who this gentleman is. According to Uncovering Your Ancestry through Family Photographs by Maureen A. Taylor, this is likely an ambrotype, because of the flaking, which puts it between 1854 and 1864. (It could be a tintype, but that was an American invention, and I don't think it would have reached England this early.) The frame is ornate, which puts it, once again, in the 1850s or slightly later, as does the velvet case. The gentleman's costume? Well, the coat and vest puts him in the 1850's, but the tie and collar looks late 1840's, likewise the hair and beard. Early 1950's? Now, if this fella is my husband's great-great-grandfather from Prussia, who was born in 1824... Hmmmn. Perhaps my husband's great-great-grandfather through his father's father's mother? He was born in Lincolnshire in 1814, which would put him in his mid-to-late forties at the time of this picture. Or, what if he's from my husband's paternal grandmother's side, the lady with the three maiden names that nobody seems to want to discuss? My brain hurts... Update: On September 20, 2009, I found out who it was.
This morning, I was striding contently down the sunny snowy hill from younger daughter's school. We were on time this morning; at least we got to class mere seconds before O Canada. A lovely young woman with a hoodie and a fetching nose stud (I'm not being sarcastic), greeted me warmly, in a light francophone accent. I assumed we'd met (see two posts ago) and we fell into step. Apparently she judges how late she is by how far down the hill I am when she overtakes me in the morning. I learned she was in the process of a miscarriage (closed cervix or something), had a four-year-old son, was a waitress and school crossing guard (she'd just been in to see the school secretary, because she can't work due to the miscarriage in process), and was largely estranged from her birth family. Oh yes, and her mother is a registered message therapist. Rather a lot of disclosure for a five-block walk, but it was very congenial. I told her all about Working by Studs Terkel and the resulting musical which features a very buoyant song about a waitress. Her name is Melanie, and I wonder if she'll speak to me again, or if the amount of disclosure will haunt her.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Phototherapy for the phrazzled

TVO, which for those of you living outside of Ontario is the provincial arts and education channel (funny how I'm behaving as if someone other than myself is actually reading this), is transmitting a rather lovely series on photography. In the opening episode last week, some academic chappie was saying something very pithy about how photography is the art requiring the least technical competence, but requiring the most vision. Or something like that. I kept dozing off, not because the programme was boring, but because the show is on at 10 pm, and I'd used up my attention span for the evening on John Simm's and Keely Hawes' performances in a modern retelling of "The Knight's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales at 9 pm.

This morning, though, I was meditating on photographic competence versus vision. Well, actually, I'd just left younger daughter in a bit of a snit at school. (We were really late -- if I try to hurry her, she snaps at me --- if I try to explain that we're late, she raises her voice, then furiously denies that she was yelling...) So I was stomping back through the park below her school, really riled and bitterly sorry for myself, when I remembered that I had taken my camera along to see if I could get something anywhere near an artistic vision.

I've been aiming for mostly competence this year. In April, my family (that is, my mum, my sister and her family, and the Resident Fan Boy) banded together to get me a terrifyingly expensive digital SLR camera for my birthday, to replace my on-its-last-legs-if-it-had-any-legs aperture-priority SLR. Lovely, of course, but I sat there on that threadbare but sunny late April afternoon (April isn't a terrific month in Ottawa), fighting back the panic. I loved my Nikon EM; I know how it works. This new contraption is a thing of beauty, but so many bells and whistles... Finally, I threw on my jacket and tramped down to the river, reasoning that the only way to get over the fear was to shoot and shoot and shoot. And I rediscovered something I'd been missing for some time: the joy of taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures. Gradually, I got the courage to take the camera off auto-shoot. In the fall, a friend and a cousin introduced me to Flckr, which in effect forces me to take at least 60 pictures per month so that I have enough for my posting quota. Along with this came a sort of therapy: instead of sinking into the misery of what wasn't and isn't, I'm taking pictures of what is.

So, fighting my way partly out of the resentment and self-pity of the morning, I looked for a vision. An example is above. I don't know about its artistic merits, and I don't pretend it's visionary, but I think it's pretty damn competent. Sometimes competence is all we have to cling to.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Who on earth was that?

I'm trying to resist turning the heat up. It was a -27 (Celsius) wind chill last time I checked, but I have an LL Bean fleecy button-up. The only trouble is my right hand keeps freezing up when I work on the computer mouse for any length of time. There must be a heck of a cold spot on the right side of the house.

When I left grade school and entered community college to do my first year of university, I began to notice a strange phenomenon. People would approach me on a street corner and strike up a conversation (a very common occurrence in Victoria, which is a relatively small city), and I couldn't tell who they were. They evidently knew me, but I didn't recognize them. Concealing my embarrassment, I would insert friendly little inquiries into the conversation, in the desperate hope that these would yield clues: "So, how's ..... school...? Oh, really? How about work?" This only got worse as the years went by, and I would try to place these garrulous friendly strangers. Were they classmates? Students? Workmates? Someone from church? Which church? Mine or my husband's? Of course, then we moved to Ottawa and it was game over. My life was filled with superficial acquaintances. (Ottawans don't have relationships; they network.) I couldn't seem to recognize anybody.

The year after younger daughter was identified as having severe learning/developmental challenges, I haunted Yahoo forums for leads, and found one that seemed to apply to myself: prosopagnosia, also known as face-blindness. People with severe prosopagnosia can't even recognise family members, but a milder form might be my problem. Things began to fall in place. The fact I didn't notice this difficulty until I left grade school where I saw the same people every day. The fact that I had a thing for photography, and coped with social situations by being the self-appointed recorder of events. I took copious pictures of my ESL students and kept photos in their files. (If I have a photo of someone, I can usually remember who they are.) Even back in elementary school, I have a memory of standing with my bike at the top of the hill that stood between my school and my home, looking back into the valley that led to the Trans-Canada Highway. I saw a figure at the bottom of the hill and thought to myself: "There's Robbie Wilson." Then I stopped myself: "How do I know that?" I realized that I'd identified him by his walk, and it dawned on me that I recognized the boys at my school by their walks, and the girls by their clothes. (I also made the odd discovery that boys with dramatically different personalities often had similar walks. I have no idea of the significance of this, if any.)

Prosopagnosia. It explained everything. So, this past week The Globe and Mail had an article on it with a link to http://www.faceblind.org/, which features three quizzes. I think I took the quiz on famous faces when I first learned about face-blindness, and of course, did really well. No surprises there. Photo-graphs. Pic-tures. Snap-snap, click-click, say no more. (That's a Monty Python reference, for you innocents out there.) But the other two quizzes feature just strangers' faces, so I eagerly signed up, saying I believed I have "quite a bit" of difficulty with identifying faces. My percentile rank on identifying upright adult faces was 55 (I got 87% correct; the average is 85%). My percentile rank on identifying upright children's faces was 80. (93%; average is 83% - a particular shock as I cannot identify either older or younger daughter's schoolmates, particularly the boys.) I got a 45 percentile on inverted children's faces, but apparently everyone has difficulty with that. The final blow: I got 85% on the Cambridge Face Recognition Test.

So what is my problem? Am I just antisocial and rude? It's true that I found the tests rather stressful, and did a lot of guessing, but that's pretty well me in any social situation. Dammit, I'm still claiming prosopagnosia as my shield and salvation. Besides, it's a mighty impressive word. Gotta love those Greek roots...

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Keeping afloat through Art and Science

Went for my first coffee of the new year (not my "first coffee" of the new year) with my gal-pal-with-whom-I-go-for-coffees. While our session was mostly amusing (she's had some family Christmas disasters which are nearly beyond belief -- not recently, thank goodness), it went on for a bit too long and got a tad depressing. We're both suffering from January, I guess, and the inevitable post-holiday letdown combined with trying to readjust to disestablished routines. I'm coping in my usual fashion: clinging to art and family history research like life buoys.

Last Saturday, for example, I took younger daughter to the first of this year's Concerts for Young People at the National Arts Centre. Actually, I think they've retitled them "Family Adventures" or "Family Fun" in a bid to seem more, I dunno, accessible. Anyway, this featured a couple of performance artists portraying a magician trying to help a large bird (a little like Big Bird, but the puppet was strapped to the artist's black-body-stockinged body) find his/her song, by travelling back in time to sample various kinds of classical music. In the end, the bird transforms his/herself into a loon, and creates her/his own song. It was presented in both Official Languages, but had that francophone sensibility that teeters between charming and precious (this performance hit both notes). There was a moment of unqualified enchantment: when the magician takes the bird to the Middle Ages, a Gregorian Chant starts up. It was haunting and it took a moment for me to realize that the male members of the National Arts Centre Orchestra were doing the singing. I only worked this out by focusing my attention on the huge TV screen at the back of the stage. After the concert, younger daughter did a marvelous impression of a loon's call at the bus stop. (My mum has one of those stuffed toy loons at her house which makes the sound when you press it in the right spot.)

Elder daughter is scrambling to complete what her school calls "summatives", the final big projects of the semester. However, word came from My Friend of the Right Hand in Victoria that we have succeeded in addicting her entire family to Doctor Who. She sent us the link to one of those video-sharing sites that keep getting shut down by overzealous copyright-protectors (such as the BBC). Here, to my joy, we discovered uncut copies of all the Doctor Who Confidentials including the one for the last Christmas special. We needed a fifteen-year-old to navigate the technology, so elder daughter spent precious homework time downloading said Confidentials and transferring them to a DVD (which, alas, will only play on our computer). My shamelessness doesn't end there. It turns out that the 2003 BBC TV drama State of Play (not The State Within which has aired in Canada) is at the site, so I watched all six hours of it over three days. (John Simm, David Morrisey, Bill Nighy, James MacAvoy, Marc Warren, Philip Glenister, just a parade of wonderful actors...sigh...) the Resident Fan Boy had to ask me not to watch it on earphones because I kept getting too involved and swearing at the screen. I don't remember a show having quite the same effect on me since Poldark where I swore in front of my future in-laws, the Archdeacon and his Good Wife. (Blush.)

Friday, 11 January 2008

The end of the innocence

Apparently, I can "blog" photos from my "flickr" account, but only if they're public. I've been switching photos of elder daughter and younger daughter from the public to private setting and back since last night due an unsettling experience. See, on "flickr", you can check on the "popularity" (ranking) of your photos, according to four criteria: "interestingness" (their term), views (the number of times people other than yourself have looked at a photo), favourites (the number of times "flickr" members have favourited a given photo), and comments (the number of times...well, you get the idea...). So yesterday evening, I noticed a photo I'd taken of younger daughter at a wave pool birthday party in November had zoomed from 44th place (or whatever) to 1st place on the "interestingness" scale. The reason for this was that it had been viewed 83 times since November and suddenly someone had favourited it. This someone went by the handle of "stormtracker2001", so I clicked on the hotlink to find out more. First, I saw his-or-her photos which were unremarkable. Remarkably unremarkable. They were rather blurred photos of some marine park and there were only half-a-dozen of them. This is an unusually low number for a "flckr" account, so first odd thing. I checked stormtracker2001's profile. No information about him or her but about two dozen contacts, all seeming to be middle-aged women. A *long* list of groups below. (These are interest groups, according to what you like to photograph.) All of these seemed to be about children: "Our beautiful children" is one I remembered. "Nudists and naturists" was another . Uh-oh. Then I looked at stormtracker2001's favourites list. All the photos were of young girls, I mean girls about six-to-twelve-years-old. Many in swimsuits. Nothing pornographic, although a couple were girls at odd angles, but when I clicked on the photos, it was clear that these were photos posted by proud parents. Two were of younger daughter; the other was one I'd taken last summer of her swinging into the pool on a rope at a rec centre in Victoria.

I began to feel a wee bit queasy. Let me just say my views on pedophilia. I don't think pedophiles are lurking everywhere; I think, like plane crashes, they're rare but they get a lot of press. Hence, every time a child is abducted or molested by a stranger, I get emails from friends with forwarded online petitions, even though the vast majority of children who are abused seem to be victims of family members or family friends. I think my children are at greater risk of being hurt or killed in an accident or fire. However. As my husband pointed out (calmly), there was that "uh-oh" feeling in my gut. So I put both photos of younger daughter on the private setting and watched them vanish from "stormtracker2001's" favourites. Maybe he's a relatively harmless fella (and I do think it's a fella) who, like Lewis Carroll, has a romantic fixation on little girls. But not my girls. I feel a little heartbroken, because I was rather proud of those photographs, and enjoyed sharing them. This photo of younger daughter isn't anymore erotic than the swimming pool ones, but at least she's well covered up....

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Another cheerful January entry...

The still-beautiful corpse of our Christmas tree remains outside awaiting her date with the chipper. This morning's high winds have brought indignity: sometimes I look out to see the tree lolling on the sidewalk, or in the gutter, or in the street, or on the front walk... My hands are sticky with sap. I've brought out my dead; where are the City lads that should have done the pickup three days ago?

At least the wind may dry the pavements before the next cold snap. The past 3 days have been almost balmy. I actually walked down to the coffee shop this morning in street shoes and a fleece jacket. A couple of evenings ago, I sniffed the night air and smelled the unmistakable aroma of a Victoria winter, all dampness and decay. (No sea breezes, though. Sigh.) However, the expedition up the hill to younger daughter's school requires my waterproof winter boots. And double socks, because walking your socks off is no fun. You cling to the inner edge of the sidewalk as you venture into SUV and minivan territory, apparently necessary for Upper Suburbia. Some drivers do slow down and try to avoid the gutter pools of filthy water, but others sail through, leaving an ice-water curtain and a wake. After a splattering yesterday, I glared at the retreating tank-like vehicle and saw the woman (why is she always blond?) gazing into the rear view mirror. She fluffed out her mane with her doubtless manicured fingertips and vanished into the mist.

Elder daughter called from school this morning to say she'd be late coming home. I hung up and realized with a start that she'd been speaking in my sister's voice. A family tragedy has cast its shadow over elder daughter's high school and younger daughter's elementary school. A few years back, one of the local families lost its father, leaving 3 children under twelve. I had assumed at the time, not knowing the family, that this had been a stroke or heart attack. It turns out that the cause is a disease affecting the male members, and yesterday the eldest son, age 17, was buried. The youngest son is a grade ahead of younger daughter, and yesterday the Grade Six teacher, who team-teaches with younger daughter's Grade Five teacher, was absent while attending the funeral. What can be said (that isn't trite, inadequate, pietistic, or presumptuous) to address the heartache and loss, of the mum, middle child (a daughter), and this younger son who is seeing two possible visions of his future?
True, none of us have guarantees, whenever we say goodbye to one another, that this is not the last time. But to have this....certainty? almost-certainty? hanging over you. Dear God...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Not all epiphanies are jubilant

Our tree is lying on a rapidly melting snowbank outside, like Juliet on her bier, a trail of dull green needles at her feet. This morning, I escorted younger daughter to school, lamenting inwardly that due to our habitual lateness I had opted for my dainty blue slip-on snow boots instead of the massive and broad waterproof Sorels (with dainty ice-pink laces). It's unseasonably warm; the temperature is a balmy six degrees Celsius, and in response, there was a mist clinging to the top of the hill we must ascend from our mixed neighbourhood of New Edinburgh, which social-climbs its way through the "wanna-be" neighbourhood of Lindenlea to truly ritzy Rockcliffe Park. In this rarefied atmosphere at the top, the fog skimmed over the snow-enveloped benches and picnic tables, and I squinted to see if any kids were gathered in the schoolyard.

Younger daughter and I slipped in with some primary graders, thus avoiding the long trek around the building to the front door (where, due to the fact the PM's kids go here, one must be buzzed in), and found everyone still gathered around their lockers. I don't think we walk quite that fast; even on my own I can't make the just-under-one-kilometre trudge in under ten minutes, so I think the bell might have been delayed as a mercy to those of us struggling back into the quotidian.

Last night, for the first time in a few years, we invited friends over to have dinner and help us dismantle the tree for Epiphany. We started this custom early in our marriage to take the sting out of sweeping Christmas from the house, but in Ottawa, it's been hard finding people willing to come to dinner at any time, let alone in early January. I'm not sure whether we're unspeakably dreary company (possible), or whether Ottawans simply have a terror of reciprocation. Any acceptors of dinner invitations from us tend to have ties with other cities. Anyhow, this evening's guests were one of younger daughter's "guardian angels" and her mum, so younger daughter was unusually relaxed with the company. We put on some of our favourite Christmas CD's (Vincent Guaraldi's music for A Charlie Brown Christmas, and Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band), and showed off the decorations from past Christmases, telling the stories of the hand-made ones and the purchased ones and the ones with photos of the girls, while younger daughter danced in the living room. All the same, I went to bed sadly. It becomes more and more evident that one of the reasons this particular little guardian angel looks out for younger daughter is that she feels shut out by her classmates. I suspect she shields herself from the rejection by protecting younger daughter as well. I have been so grateful for this friendship opportunity for younger daughter who has been getting so much better in her social skills as a result, but am a bit heart-broken at the lonely price.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

The whirligig of time


And the grey afternoon slips away to Twelfth Night. This evening will be the last full evening that the lights glow outside our porch and the Christmas tree shimmers in the study. My mental view of the year is a physically impossible oval: The months I like the least, January to June, make a straight line east, through the summer months of July and August, with a hairpin turn back into September which leads west to the gently curving haven of Christmas. No matter how good or bad a Christmas is (this one leaned toward being one of the better ones, although a Christmas spent in Ottawa will always be far from perfect), it's still a sort of brightly lit harbour where the demands of the school year are kept at bay temporarily. Now it's time to pack a lunch, prepare the spelling lists, set up an evaluation with the developmental psychologist. Elder daughter has already been typing up school assignments due mid-week. I stick stickers and write notes in younger daughter's bedroom calendar to help her slip out of Christmas and back into the perils and struggles of her school day, a bit like she slipped down a snowy hill yesterday, sometimes on a red plastic saucer with yellow edges, sometimes just her own body along a grey chute prepared by other children: steep, slippery and a specially-created bump at the end to send one flying. She dragged her mittens in the snow to control the inevitable descent. I can't cushion her fall.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Paints quite a picture, doesn't it?

I love the headlines at the BBC news web site. Two favourites from November 1st: "Excrement curry wife admonished" (a woman put doggy-doo in her husband's curry -- the marriage is now over); and (this isn't exact, but I'm remembering the gist) "Council concern over illegal deaths on roadway". As opposed to the perfectly legal deaths on the roadway? Today, a brand new favourite: "Wards closed by vomiting bug". Sounds worthy of a Doctor Who episode...

Thursday, 3 January 2008

In which the newbie blogger rationalizes why she is weighting down cyberspace with her stuff

Blogging is one of those twenty-first century things that up to now has eluded and bewildered me. Come to think of it, up to this year, so did Facebook and photo-sharing which I also began in the last few months. Maybe I'm going straight to hell...or Hades...



I remember reading an newspaper article about 10 years ago about journalling and diaries. It was some kind of New Year series and journals were wedged between weight loss and meditation, I think. One of the journallers remarked that he kept a journal so the passing years wouldn't recede into long blank spaces, which is basically my excuse. I've kept a diary of some kind since I was ten. I was inspired by Anne Frank and named my diary "Aurora" because Anne addressed her entries to "Kitty" and when I was ten, I thought Aurora was the most beautiful name in the world. I wanted to be just like Anne Frank (preferably without dying in Bergen-Belsen). One thing I did learn from her was that you didn't have to write in your diary every day. So I wrote, sometimes daily, sometimes not for months at a time.

About fifteen or so years ago, I read the books by Ira Progoff on his journal workshops, and although I never attended the workshops, I got in the habit of trying to use my journals to step back and see blocks of time. Sometimes I try to look at a day, or a decade. Every year, I do a "run-down" of the year, for easy examination. Now, theoretically, this should take at most, 12 days if I do a month each day. It never works out that way. What usually happens is that I nip through the first months quite quickly and then spend days, even weeks, trying to get the summer into a brief narrative. (Summer is when Persephone returns home; in my case, I return to Victoria, British Columbia to visit my mother and because the thought of spending 12 solid weeks in the sticky grip of Ottawan humidity is more than I can bear.) There are two problems that arise from this activity: 1) I get to agonize each year about the fact that I only seem to be truly alive for two months or less a year; 2) while I'm trying to capsulize, I don't get any other journalling done and spend each January wondering what I did for the first quarter of the previous year. I thought an online blog might fill in the blank, and reassure me that I have some sort of life beyond instinctive breathing from January to April.



Today, the Resident Fan Boy and I took younger daughter to see The Water Horse, a pleasant little movie -- sort of "ET lands in Scotland and Frees Willy with the Whale Rider". This was made in (mostly) New Zealand by an American production team with (mostly) English actors (yay, David Morrisey!) with some Scots and New Zealanders thrown in, so I got the impression that somebody was a little confused about the differences between Scots and Irish. The characters kept exclaiming stuff like "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" and "Holy Mackerel" which seemed a bit odd for Presbyterians (presumably) in 1942 to say, and the end titles rolled with Sinead O'Connor crooning away prettily, followed by a very Chieftain-esque instrumental. Maybe I missed something. Still, younger daughter was entranced, and the Resident Fan Boy didn't nod off, the highest praise of all. (I still haven't forgiven him for sleeping through The Seventh Seal.)

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

In which the newbie blogger comes across as an anorak-wearer -- she isn't, although she owns a very cozy Mountain Equipment Co-op winter coat...

Elder daughter has been at computer all day with high school buddy creating a CD representative of life and issues in Canada post-WW2. I surrender the computer automatically for school purposes, so spent the afternoon reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, since we found an inexpensive copy while using up younger daughter's gift certificate --- on things for younger daughter, I hasten to add.

The book, as is usually the case, is clearer than the movie, which makes me wonder once more about the disparities in the dates in the film. (As I mentioned yesterday, the story begins in the summer of 1935, but events described as four years later are obviously meant to be at the time of the British Expeditionary Force's retreat from France, that is, late May of 1940.) Anachronisms in movies irritate me enormously, because they shatter my willing suspension of disbelief and catapult me back into the here-and-now which is what I go to movies to escape. It seems like a very expensive movie for such an error; could this be deliberate and why? And surely I have better things to gnaw my knuckles over?

Last night when I did have computer access, I started finding out more about this blog business, by editing, labelling, and trying to make my profile alluring (or at least witty). I learned in the process that there appear to be at least half-a-dozen "Persephones" posting out there in cyberspace, including one on "Blogger". Apparently, she's been blogging since 2002, at first with every aspect about her fertility treatments, then after the birth of twin boys, every detail of their breast-feeding. However, as this particular "Persephone" reasonably points out (possibly after repeated complaints from readers?), I don't have to read her blog. So I won't. I've also discovered that one of the Persephones is a regular participant in a Doctor Who online discussion group. Now, I don't participate in any online discussion groups, but I have been known, on occasion, to respond to other bloggers on the topic of Doctor Who. The coincidence is a bit unnerving though...

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

I'm gonna wash that man right out of my basket

"As the first day of the year goes, so goes the year," intoned my husband, as we trudged down through horizontal snowfall to the bus stop. I got really worried about this ten minutes later, as I stood blinking back tears, gazing into the window of one of the neighbourhood's recently bankrupted coffee shops, wondering why I persist in leaving the travel planning to him. A bus eventually showed up and we made it to Atonement on time, our choice for this year's New Year film. Therefore, I am refraining from doing the Resident Fan Boy's laundry today, as he has just told me that there is a superstition which holds that washing someone's clothes on New Year's Day will wash that person out of your life. Which means, I guess, that you should offer to do laundry for your bĂȘtes noirs today.


This has been the sort of Christmas that Ottawans like to imagine is typical of their Christmas. Less than half of our eight (oh gawd, 8?) Christmases here have been white; the rest have been grey, kind of khaki, and usually icy. The Resident Fan Boy and I made our way through the streets from the movie, there being little bus service on this eighth day of Christmas. I cursed myself for failing to bring my camera as we waded down a deserted Sparks Street where a quartet of naked black statues gamboled in the swirling flakes, past the nearly whited-out tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by Laura Secord standing forlornly like the little match girl, only far better clad in her empire-line coat and bonnet. Story-book flakes continued to dance down on tobogganers at McDonald Gardens Park ("If we were half-decent parents," I remarked, "we'd be taking our children tobogganing instead of pissing off to movies.") and people with the countenances of pilgrims parading down Charlotte and over the St Patrick's bridge, shouldering snowshoes, cross-country-skiing paraphernalia, or snowboards.

Atonement, all in all, seems a splendid way to start the new year. I think the Resident Fan Boy found it a tad depressing, but I'm with Stephan Moffat who has Sally Sparrow in his Doctor Who episode Blink declare: "Sad is happy for deep people." Moffat may be full of it, for all I know, but sad good art doesn't depress me, while bad art invariably does, no matter how upbeat.

Anyway, Atonement: splendid cinematography; Keira Knightly acting like Helena Bonham Carter for the first half, and Winona Ryder for the second; five glorious minutes of Vanessa Redgrave; and a plot which, despite zigzagging back and forth (which would drive my mother wild), is enthralling and plausible --- except for one bit and by the end of the movie, you know why this is so. Oh yes, and I'm not sure what James McAvoy's character would be doing deep in the war and ready to be evacuated from Dunkirk four years after the initial events which are supposed to have occurred in 1935. Not-so-upbeat artistic license, perhaps?