Hello from San Diego, where I am a few shades darker and more well rested than I was a week ago in Montreal. I’ve popped in to post a few photos – some trips to the beach, a foray into the desert, hikes in strange Californian foliage. Not pictured, however, are the many tacos I’ve consumed since arriving. I will leave that to your imagination.
It’s summer vacation time and I’m heading to California – San Diego specifically – for 2 heavenly weeks. Well, I’m assuming it will be heavenly, and given the concentration of beaches, taco stands and crab shacks in the area plus rumours of roadtrips to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, all of this spent with some of my favourite people? The odds are high.
I won’t be updating this site until I return, but in the meantime here are some things for you to enjoy:
- Have you read all of my uninterviews?
- Greece is going through another round of tough times and it’s easy, from abroad, to write off the country as being too unstable to visit. If you need a reminder of how lovely it can be, here are all the entries I wrote about it last year.
- The Wire! I’m probably the last person in the world to say this about the show, but oh god, it’s so good. I can only vouch for the first 2 seasons, but I have no doubt the rest will be just as fulfilling (maybe not Season 5?). But, since you’ve probably watched The Wire twice already and spent too long discussing it with your friends, what about Peep Show, my other recent favourite TV show? It’s a British comedy about Mark and Jeremy, a pair of awkward/sarcastic/selfish best friends/flatmates/nemeses. Here, get started. It’s addictive.
- Wait, it’s too nice to sit inside and watch television. Take a walk to the park and read instead. Some books I’ve recently enjoyed include Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton, Distillery Songs by Mike Spry and True Story by Mike Holmes.
- Or just bring a bottle of cold white wine to the park. It’s summer.
- I discovered Beth Wawerna of Bird of Youth while looking for performances of this song on YouTube, and was instantly smitten with her voice. Then her album came out in May (produced by Will Sheff of Okkervil River), and I’ve been listening to it non-stop for the past few weeks (Andrew can vouch for me on that one – sorry, dude.) Her songs are ultra-wordy and worth listening to closely, and there’s something about her lower timbre, almost flippant voice that absolutely bewitches me.
See you in July, friends!
I started reading Jessica Westhead‘s collection of short stories, And Also Sharks, around the same time as David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. They accompanied each other nicely, and both dealt with different aspects of Office Life – DFW’s massive tome is about boredom and the IRS, while Jessica’s stories are often about the petty, but real dramas that arise when you’re forced to spend 8 hours a day with people you wouldn’t normally choose to be friends with. It’s funny, work, how most of us spend significant chunks of our lives doing it, and yet it’s so rarely written about in fiction. I wanted to talk to Jessica about this. (Incidentally: while I devoured AAS in a week, I’m still 200 pages short on The Pale King. I’m getting there, I’m getting there.)
Actually, I just wanted to talk to her, period. If you aren’t familiar with Jessica Westhead, she’s as sweet and down-to-earth as they come. And funny! And Also Sharks is hilarious – dark, and sometimes crushingly sad – but mixed in with all of that, funny. On top of all of that, she’s also one of the founders behind the Year of the Short Story initiative, which we talk about below. There’s also some talk about a llama, but I’ll let you read that one yourself. There are a lot of links in this interview too – why don’t you kill a little time at your day job and check them all out, yeah?
Often when we get the urge to take a little day trip, we turn our gaze towards America. There’s something about going to a different country, even if it’s only an hour away, that feels more… exotic. This is silly considering how many interesting things there are in Quebec itself, and on Saturday, when the sky in Montreal looked overcast and the city was overrun with Grand Prix mania, we decided to get out of town, but stay within the province.
We ended up in Victoriaville, Quebec, about 2 hours outside of Montreal. There was this festival des fromages, see. It sounded so promising.
Soooo, let’s see. Before going to Greece last year, I had a vague idea of a novel I wanted to write, and I had a rough draft of the first section. While I was in Greece, I sat down (almost) every day and worked on it, and figured out where I wanted it to go and who the characters were and what format it would take. There was a lot of trial and error and trashed pages, but when I flew back to Canada in September, I felt okay about the whole thing. Still, I didn’t want to show it to anyone. The thought of even my most trusted first readers reading it embarrassed me and I kept it to myself. Anyway, back at home Bats or Swallows came out, and I started working full time again, and there was just general life getting in the way of things. I also knew the book needed some breathing room, so I let it go for awhile. Then, I started the QWF mentorship, and it gave me a push to pick over the draft again. Between January and May, I worked on the entire thing slowly and steadily, lots of weekend afternoons at my kitchen table, some lunch hours at the food court with print outs of chapters,evenings in bed with the laptop. I would meet up with my mentor every two weeks or so and hand over clumps of pages and the first time I did this I had to sheepishly have a drink before I could stand talking or hearing anything about it. And basically he told me: keep going. So I did. Last week I did a reading as part of the program, stood up on a stage in a dark room and read the very first chapter to a group of people. It felt nice. (The fact that my mentor quotes Greil Marcus in that linked post shows that I was paired up with someone on the same wavelength too.) I’ve also slowly started sending sections to my writer friends. After this weekend when I type up my final adjustments to the third part, I can’t think of anything else to do except let it sit again so that I can get some distance, gain some perspective.
What do I want to talk about. A lot of things, actually, but I’ll just talk about this.
It’s been that kind of weekend, a sweet one. It started on Friday with a quick trip to Atwater Market. We bought two red snappers, whole, and some new potatoes, some thick stalks of Quebec asparagus, a bunch of rhubarb and this unassuming fat white onion. A bottle of wine. Battled the traffic back down to our corner of Montreal, and then Andrew got the barbecue started and I stuffed some lemon slices into the fish, cut up a few potatoes and some of that onion and wrapped it in foil, and he cooked everything out on the balcony. The fish got charred to a frightening mess, but it tasted good, and that onion shined through surprisingly sweet and perfect. Around 10:30 after finishing the wine I got the idea that rhubarb pie would be good for desert. I rubbed the flour and the butter with my fingertips because I couldn’t find the pastry cutter and then realized it was late, I was tipsy and sleepy, and not really in the mood to make a pie. So the dough got patted into disks and put in the fridge.
Montreal winters are unforgiving, long. Dark and snowy. But they’re not so bad while you’re living them, until you get a weekend like this one and marvel at human beings’ ability to deal with shit.