The long haul

Working(Scene from a desk. This was last summer in Athens.)

2011 felt kind of formless at the beginning of the year, but with January coming to a close it’s starting to take shape. There are travel plans on the horizon, some within Canada (mostly of the East Coast variety) and some much more far flung. I even have birthday plans in April – tickets to the Pixies, who are coincidentally playing in Montreal on my actual birthday. Writing-wise I’ve been steadily working on the novel, but was starting to feel like I was maybe too deep into the project to see it clearly. There’s something so daunting about large amounts of words. Often when I’m feeling stuck on a story, I’ll send it to a friend for an outside opinion, but with a book I feel like it’s too much of an imposition. Also, I’m just shy about it, how unpolished it is, and clunky and unclever. So, I’ve been working in my own little bubble and crossing my fingers. I was pleased, then, when I found out that I’d been selected to participate in a mentorship program I applied for back in the fall. For the next few months I’ll be working with a writer who will help me whip my work-in-progress into shape and I won’t feel guilty bugging him with my drafty draft sentences and plot lines because that’s the whole point of the program. Some people, when I’ve told them about the mentorship, think that I’m taking the mentor role, which is funny to me. I know I just published a book, and while I feel relatively comfortable with short stories, a novel is still nebulous, uncharted land. I’m grateful for a guide.

When Andrew and I went to Greece last year, we rented our apartment in Montreal to the sweetest couple. We trusted them with all of our possessions, just emptied out the closets and drawers so they would have somewhere to store their clothes. In a moment of self-consciousness I also packed up my collection of journals and notebooks and stored them at my parents’ house. There’s nothing especially damning or even interesting in these books, mostly to do lists, cryptic paragraphs and miscellaneous notes. Maybe that’s why they’re embarrassing – if someone opened them up expecting to find something juicy, they’d be disappointed. Anyway, when I returned to Canada I didn’t bother lugging the notebooks back to Montreal, but this past weekend when I visited Toronto, I flipped through a few out of curiosity. I found one from early 2009 that was mostly wedding planning details and musings, but also had a fairly lengthy series of notes about the novel I’m still working on. I don’t remember thinking about it so seriously back then, and at first I was disappointed to realize how long I’ve been working on it. Eventually the sting dissipated – 2 years is nothing in the novel-writing world, right? I’ve had other distractions along the way too, and anyway, I’ve simply needed all that time to get to the point I’m at now. Maybe one day I’ll figure out some novel writing shortcuts, but for now I just need time and patience to write and rewrite and make missteps or the occasional breakthrough. Maybe it’s apt that my first novel notes were in the same journal as my wedding details: I guess I’m in it for the long haul.

Scrapbook #2: Ottawa

Ottawa - Biennale

Montreal is cold and sunny these days, the kind of cold that makes the snow squeaky and your face hurt. We briefly considered outdoor, wintery activities and then decided against it, headed to the car instead, filled up the tank, stopped at Tim Hortons for bad coffee and bagels and then drove down to Ottawa, where it was similarly cold, but at least different. There’s nothing like a last minute roadtrip to combat winter blues. The highway was empty and we passed many groups of people ice fishing out on the water in the distance, their trucks or snowmobiles nearby, their huts probably stocked well with alcohol. We went to the National Gallery to check out the 2010 Canadian Biennial. There’s me, above, walking in one of the sculptures/installations. I don’t remember the artist, but we were kindly asked to remove our shoes before entering. There are my boots, and then beyond that, Andrew studying some photography on the wall.

Ottawa - Murray St

Afterwards it was the in-between time of the day, not lunch, not dinner, so we went to Murray Street for charcuterie, wine and beer. Some elk terrine (much chewier than expected), some Niagara prosciutto, a trio of cheeses from small villages in Quebec. We ate it all. The restaurant isn’t busy at this time of day, just the workers getting ready for the dinner rush and cleaning up after brunch, and we sat in the quiet room and made plans for the rest of the day, for the next day, the future.

Scrapbook #1

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A Diana photo. New Year’s Day 2011, on a small road in Vermont. Those are sheep.

On Saturday I saw Lynda Barry speak in Montreal, and she gave one of her inspiring, funny and completely unpretentious talks about creativity and images, about the importance of art as a way to reimagine and edit life. She also talked a lot about the concept of “deep play”. Here’s an explanation of what she means from an article in the Gazette: “[Deep play is] a state most often seen in children and which she says “has nothing to do with fun. … The play I’m talking about is the kind where the toy or the object you’re messing around with seems to be playing back. There is a reciprocity in the interaction that is a lot like a very good conversation. Neither party seems to be guiding it exactly, yet something really interesting is happening.”

Vintage Balenciaga scarves at Porte de Vanves

A wrinkled pile of gorgeous Balenciaga silk scarves taken on a greyish Saturday morning at the Porte de Vanves flea market in Paris. July 2010. I chose the scarf I wanted and was then told it cost 75 euros. I put it back down and took a photo, and I’ve probably looked at this photo more than I would’ve ever worn the scarf. The one I did get, a cheaper YSL, is in a drawer in the bedroom.

What about that scene in Blue Valentine where Ryan Gosling’s character is playing the ukulele and singing a little song, and Michelle Williams’ character – skinny, all long blonde hair and so young – is tap dancing? It’s practically too precious, too eye roll-y, but then… it isn’t. It’s pretty perfect, actually, and you remember yourself doing the same kind of thing and how hilarious and lovely it was.

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New York City, Lower East Side, late November 2010. A photo taken with the Diana just after brunch, and, surprisingly, the only Diana photo I took in NYC. As soon as I came back to Canada in September I was burnt out on recording events photographically. The hundreds of images I’d taken abroad were overwhelming me – they had to be uploaded and filed and organized back into meaning, so I took a break for awhile.

Journal

A page from an old journal, maybe 2001? I used to make collages in my journals, some more elaborate than others, and the pages would get stiff from glue. Sometimes I can’t believe I used to just make these things. Not only that, but make them without any intention of sharing them with the world. Huh.

Montreal Gazette review

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FYI, on this snowy Saturday, there’s a nice review of Bats or Swallows in the Montreal Gazette. Also, check out the recent good reviews/articles about Invisible. Visionaries!

(The above is a Diana photo taken on the day of my Toronto book launch back in November. It was gloriously fall and I was in the park behind OCAD right before I shared a bowl of pho with Andrew. I got around to developing a few rolls this past week, and I’ll share some of them with you shortly.)

Things I've Made

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In this first week of 2011 I’ve been cooking a lot. I forget that cooking, like so many other activities, is a habit. Once you get the ball rolling, it doesn’t feel like so much of a momentous task. I spent a lot of time in the kitchen when I was in Toronto over Christmas, and it’s carried over into the new year. (There was a lot of cooking in our household in Greece as well, but it was different – more assembling than cooking, not as much time spent by the stove because it was 35 degrees out already.) I’ve been trying to make new things, and have recently started cooking some of the Filipino recipes my mom made while I was growing up, things that were so every day that it never occurred to me to learn to make myself, like chicken adobo, which is chicken simmered in vinegar, soy sauce, oyster sauce and broth with some bay leaves, ginger, whole peppercorns and garlic cloves tossed in for good measure. My mom told me to add a bit of sugar too, and I did. It cuts down on the saltiness.

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I made a loaf of magic no-knead bread at the beginning of the week, which was enough for most of my breakfasts when I went back to work (all whole wheat flour because I’m trying to be a bit more virtuous with my baking, at least for the first week of 2011, anyway.) It’s always a good way to start the day by eating something you’ve made with a little flour and water. Finally, this morning, after forgetting how potent a few garlic scapes can be when stirred with scrambled eggs, tried to counteract the lingering pungent smell with a lemon yogurt cake. As you can guess, our little home has been very, um, fragrant recently.

Speaking of things I’ve made, another review of Bats or Swallows was published recently, this time in the magazine Women’s Post. Have a look; it’s a nice review. Another reminder that I should get back to work on things that aren’t necessarily edible.

A Resolution & A Review

I am totally the kind of person who not only makes New Year’s Resolutions, but looooves making New Year’s Resolutions. In the past few years I’ve tried to keep them simple, to do that thing where you set “intentions” rather than specific resolutions. It sounds hokier, but at the end of the year when you review your list, you don’t feel like as much of a failure.

Here’s one of my main resolutions for 2011:

Reminder.

This, of course, comes from the best writing advice of 2010, Dear Sugar’s August 19, 2010 advice column. I posted this photo on Facebook (and frankly, every other online social network I’m on), and my friend Nel replied with the following comment, “Yeah! Read and explore and live like a Mother F! Yes Yes Yes!” Nel is one of the most enthusiastic, supportive, live like a motherfucker people I know, and yes, she’s right. Let’s apply this motto to everything.

I was buoyed to really stick to this resolution by a review of Bats or Swallows that appeared in the latest issue of Quill & Quire. I’ll be honest: reviews freak me out. I wanna be cool about them, but they’re scary and I usually read them with my eyes half closed, first to myself without telling anyone I’m reading the review, and then after I’ve processed it a little, I’ll casually say, “Oh hey, yeah, there’s like, this review. It’s cool.”  I’m really pleased with the review, and happy that it’s reviewed in Q&Q, period. Robbie sent me a jpg of it – click to read.

Anyway, it’s my last evening of Christmas holidays and I have some writing/living like a motherfucker to do. See you in a few days.

Welcome, 2011

Finished productOne recipe turned out better than the other.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope you had relaxing holidays, that you ate and drank well, that you spent an entire day in your pj’s at least once. I was in Toronto over Christmas, and did exactly that, which meant that I didn’t see much more than my parents’ house and some close friends. I came down with a cold, but luckily (or not?) it was the kind that didn’t affect my appetite, so there was lots of baking too. Lesley gave me a copy of the Gourmet Cookie Book, and it’s full of interesting recipes – not one single chocolate chip cookie! – and I would like to bake my way through it. It’s an interesting read, too, since it picks one cookie recipe per year, so you can see the progression of cookies in America from 1941 onwards. Continue reading