There is a middle-aged woman in the building behind mine who I relate to. She has a big comfy chair by the window, and she likes to sit in that chair with her computer or a book or a crossword. There’s a lamp right next to the chair and a desk across the room, but she forsakes the desk for her comfort zone. I like her style.
In the apartment above her, a cat often sits in the window and it hasn’t waved back at me quite yet.
Two apartments above the cat, a man doesn’t know that his low-placed light casts his silhouette against the blinds.
The boy crosses the street towards the School for Bad Children. It is cold but his jacket is unzipped and hangs from his shoulders. He calls cheerfully to his waiting teacher, “I just saw some of my old friends but I walked right by them!” And I think of all the worlds of meaning in this scene and that sentence.
I am going to recycle the following:
Some kids from the elementary school near my workplace have been installed as crossing guards. They stand at each side of the road in their bright yellow reflective vests, blow a whistle and hold out stop signs. They’re so serious, their arms straight and strong, looking directly ahead, sternly. I say thank you to each one and smile, and they just flicked their eyes toward me and away again. They are little Buckingham Palace guards.
So. Things have been quiet here lately! After 20 years, it feels weird not keeping up a blog on a regular basis, not thinking about it. I wonder these days if blogs are fading in favour of other channels. Or maybe that’s just how it’s been with me.
I’m not saying I’m going away forever – this blog is a great place for me to share things I’m thinking, or little bits of creative writing that don’t really make sense on Instagram or Twitter. But I wanted to share some of the other places where I’ve been more active lately:
The Quiet is Loud – My TinyLetter I’ve been writing here about once a month, sharing longer thoughts on writing and life stuff. Many of my letters are made public, but some aren’t – so please subscribe if you’re interested!
YouTube I started a little channel to talk about writing things, and sometimes books. I’ve also been doing a fun YouTube Book Club with my friend Suzen – Slam Book Fever – reviewing the first 12 Sweet Valley High books from a distance of ~30 years.
Pinterest – Novel research Now that the first draft of my novel is finished, I thought it would be fun to share the Pinterest research board I’d been adding to periodically as I wrote. It’s interesting to see the earliest pins, the things I thought would be part of my novel over a year ago. It’s changed, but it’s also gratifying to see how close it remained to that initial vision!
Recently I went down a Sisters of Mercy-induced nostalgia spiral, and this particular nostalgia spiral was of a different sort than usual, because it led me to a time period I’m not used to feeling nostalgic for.
In high school I used to listen to Sisters of Mercy, but I also listened to all kinds of things. I used to look forward to ’80s “Retro Night” on the radio each Sunday, but I also dove headfirst into the short-lived swing revival of the ’90s, and my favourite band in the whole world was Moist. I wore a trenchcoat from the army surplus store, polyester “old-man pants,” and a KMFDM patch on my backpack. I was kind of all over the place. I didn’t know how to be one kind of way. I didn’t look down on it, as a concept – it just didn’t cross my mind as something I should do. And you can tell, when you look at old photos of me from high school and my early twenties.
(There’s also a photo of me dressed all in black and wearing a Nine Inch Nails t-shirt, but I also look like I’m about to burst into tears – unrelated to the shirt – and my ego won’t allow that to go on the internet, even 21 years later.)
My late high school and post high school life was similarly all over the place. My big dream was to study poetry at a certain university in San Francisco, work in publishing, and have my first novel out by 23. Instead, I didn’t go to university at all anywhere. I created a play in Toronto with my friends. I made lino prints and zines on my bedroom floor. I used to drive home from my restaurant closing shift, listening to Sisters of Mercy and New Order to stay awake. I got on a Greyhound bus to move to Calgary at age 21.
I used to feel irritated about certain things I did with that time of my life, even though the play and the zines were among the most wonderful things I’ve ever worked on. However, lately I have been spending the past few days remembering how nice that entire time was – all of it. I did good, fun, useful, growing-up things. It was better that they weren’t the things I thought I should be doing. It was the time in my life that led to this online journal entry, from 2001:
It’s been six days since last I updated. It feels like two. Or ten, I haven’t decided yet. Working sixteen-hour days on a play has completely messed with my sense of linear time. If I didn’t have the date strapped to my wrist I’d be lost. But I’m fine. I don’t have to be anywhere until 3 today, which is something new and exciting for me, and I’m actually eating something that’s not Futures coffee or sushi takeaway (much as I love sushi). Tonight I don’t have to build any tables or trawl thrift shops for costumes or drive all over creation picking up set pieces. My hands are covered in theatre filth. I spent the night in a beanbag chair.
Last night was our opening and overall it went well. It just doesn’t feel like anything happened. I wasn’t nervous, I wasn’t excited. I was hovering somewhere in between. I was concentrating so much on making everything Work that I forgot to relax.
Relax. Wow. I still remember that word.
I’m going to go now and make a sacrifice to some god so that my cellphone will just stop ringing.
Every single part of that feels so removed from my life now. And where I used to feel annoyed at that, now I think it’s great. I think she’s great. And for the first time I want to write about that weird, messy, hopeful sort of person I was. That strange turn-of-the-century world that seems longer ago than I realize. Perhaps the distance, the loss of the prickliness I used to feel about everything, will help.
Recently, it struck me that 2017 marks 20 years I’ve been blogging. I’ve written about those olden times here before. I started my first website in 1997. I used a pseudonym. There were rotating ankh gifs on it. I was obsessed with it. One day, my boyfriend at the time wanted us to go out somewhere, and I looked at him and whined, “But I want to stay here and work on my website!” Thankfully for my relationship, I realized that Angelfire was maybe not the best companion for me at that time. But I’ve never really stopped being obsessed. Not with that website, but other websites and blogs that came after, all of them. Even this one you’re reading now, that I barely write in.
It’s funny how the long-ago days of hand-coding everything in Notepad sparked a love of something that’s still with me to this day. I used to take my blogs so seriously. Before there were platforms like Blogger, I would create a different-looking page for every entry and it was so much fun. This site you’re looking at now isn’t quite as involved as those early creations (pictured above), but I’ve spent hours here fiddling around in the CSS and deconstructing a block of something, taking it apart to see how it works, putting it back together in the way I want. They were hours happily spent.
There are parts of my early internet days I miss: the permission to be creative for its own sake, true anonymity if you wanted it, the nascent thrill of connecting with another person, a whole other life, anywhere in the world. I do admit that I’ve had difficulty with the way blogging is now, compared to the days when we called them “online journals” and were at once so earnest and guarded because we could be, we could be anyone at all, write anything at all, and nobody knew our names. While I enjoy the sort of legitimacy blogs now have, I do sometimes miss that feeling of throwing your line out into the dark and waiting to see what happened, never certain anything would happen.
If you’d asked me in high school if I would be 36 and still in love with creating websites and writing things that only a handful of people would read, I would have said no. But I am! I just can’t believe it’s been 20 years!
As I wrote about last year when I read Ethan Frome, descriptions of meals in books are one of the things that really catch my attention when I’m reading. I like to imagine how all the elements of the meal work together.
I read this description recently in Margaret Drabble’s The Ice Age:
Sadie brought her a tray full of chicken soup and chopped liver and cold chicken and cold salmon and salad and fruit and gherkins and water biscuits…
What I love about this is that it’s so much. Almost too much food, it seems at first. When I first read it I imagined plates groaning under the weight of meat and gherkins. But really it’s probably small amounts of cold meat, leftover from the day before, and just a few gherkins, and then it seems okay. Good. In the book, the character describes the meal as, “infinitely reassuring,” and I tend to agree.
I have a friend who has a knack for assembling delicious, cohesive meals out of varied ingredients, particularly for picnics or otherwise leisurely summer eating. Recently she brought small slices of quiche to a picnic, and I thought, “Of course!” It made so much sense, but I never would have thought of it myself.
In The Ice Age, the character arrives at a friend’s home after a long day of traveling. She isn’t expected, she just shows up, but her friend (well, her friend’s relative), pulls together an “infinitely reassuring” dinner for her, the kind she needs at that moment. I like to imagine my friend is the same way, and that if I got off a plane and went directly to her house, she’d rummage in fridge and cupboards and the result would be infinitely reassuring.
I’d like to strengthen my weak skill for last-minute meal assembly. Mine always seem to lack some vital component, or overdo it on one thing, and the end result is wobbly, unfinished. I suppose this is another reason I’m drawn to food descriptions in books.