Scrapbook #17: The desert.

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Andrew and I made our first trip to the desert early into our California vacation. We spent our first days in Laguna Beach and Encinitas, and while there was something intoxicating about the ocean, the amazing and cheap Mexican food and the surfers walking barefoot around town (actually that last detail weirded me out), we wanted to see something we hadn’t seen before. Andrew had recently heard of the Salton Sea, so with that destination in mind we drove inland.

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It’s strange how quickly the landscape and the climate changes within the span of an hour or two – from ocean breezes and lush plants to unescapable sunlight and pale green and yellow, low-lying shrubs.


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The desert didn’t look the way I imagined. I pictured vast, empty stretches of whitish, bleached out sand and the occasional cactus, but when we pulled the car over to explore, the dirt was hard beneath our feet. Dusty and dry. There was more vegetation than I expected, but not many cacti.

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I liked the feeling of being in the desert. It’s kind of scary, prickly – you feel so small. There is so much open land, hardly any other cars on the road, and the heat is astounding, a huge, thudding presence, but dry so that you don’t really start to sweat until you’re back in your car with the air conditioning cranked up. We liked to press our hands against the insides of the car windows to feel the warmth.

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Face to face

Since returning from California, I haven’t had much time to breathe. A combination of work deadlines plus more traveling has left me sleepy, but all for good cause. Some fun stuff happened; I have pictures.

I’ve mentioned the ladies I keep in touch with from the Humber program I took a few years ago, and last week I was lucky enough to meet a handful of them. Lisa McGonigle, author of “Snowdrift”, happened to be in Montreal for an Irish Studies conference at Concordia. She arrived while I was out of town and even though we had never met, I had no qualms about letting her stay at our place (and catsit our surly cat, Archer.) When I returned, the two of us met up for a drink here in the city and finally met in person. We laughed a lot.

photoGiggly after some wine

Then I took a train down to Toronto. I had been invited, along with a number of other alumni, to speak to the participants of the Humber School for Writers summer workshop. There were 13 of us in total, and it was illuminating hearing the various paths one can take towards getting a book out there into the world. Everyone advocated persistence, but there were also little blips of good luck, bad luck, strange detours and rejection woes along the way. I talked a lot about the importance of querying a publisher suited to your writing and how important it is to have a supportive group of people around you. I also quoted Lorrie Moore’s story “How to Become a Writer”, which has the best piece of writing advice: First try to be something, anything else. Ha.

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But let’s talk more about that supportive group thing. My pal Darcie Friesen Hossack was also invited to the talk, and she took a plane all the way from BC to attend. I was overjoyed when I found out that we would finally get a chance to hang out, and like my meeting with Lisa earlier on that week, I was instantly comfortable around Darcie. Her talk at Humber was exactly what you would imagine from Darcie if you’re familiar with her writing: eloquent, wryly funny, ultra professional.

DSC06796Darcie at Humber

It was an absolutely gorgeous day in Toronto, and after strolling around the Humber campus, we headed downtown to meet even more members from our little mailing list. Five us crowded around a table in the patio of Terroni, ate incredible Italian food and spent almost 3 hours gabbing about writing and life. (And near death – Lynda, who is a pilot, had an impressive arsenal of terrifying/exhilarating stories about situations she’s encountered in the air). It was the perfect way to spend a summer night, and I hope to repeat it again soon.

DSC06818Lynda, moi, Darcie, Keri and Amy at dinner

DSC06799A cute photo of Keri and Amy

DSC06810We took photos of the food. Is that tentacle calling to you? It called to me.

Thank you, ladies. Truly.

Scrapbook #16: Ooh, Las Vegas


On Monday morning Andrew, Chris, Soraya and I left San Diego and pointed our car towards the Mojave Desert. After a few hours of driving through arid, prehistoric looking landscapes we ended up in a place that is possibly even more surreal than the desert: Las Vegas, Nevada. We stayed at the Luxor, the Egyptian themed hotel complete with gigantic shiny pyramid and a fake sphinx.

Vegas is one of those cities I’ve always been interested in visiting simply for the spectacle of it, and it lived up to my expectations, but in a slightly different way. I knew the city had been cleaned up, but I was still surprised by the amusement park-ness of it all, and how little remained of its seedy underbelly. Maybe it’s strange that we wanted to see evidence of its seediness, but I couldn’t help but feel like there was something even more repellant about its shininess, the cartoonish replicas of famous monuments, all those excuses for pure consumption. Of course there were the people standing on the streets shoving pictures of naked women into men’s hands and there was the zombie looks of people staring into the slot machines, but it was strangely well managed, creepily well organized. In less eloquent terms, it was icky.

That being said, it was still so much fun. Considering that we were a group of non-gamblers with no interest in going to any shows or clubs, and on top of that, are also cheap, the odds were high that we wouldn’t enjoy the city. But we weren’t worried – it’s not hard to have a good time when you’re curious about your surroundings and quick to laugh. So, we walked up and down the strip and explored the casinos while Soraya pointed out which ones were used in what movie, we broke even at the slots, we had a stupidly indulgent buffet at the Bellagio and then gawked at its fountains, we went swimming at the pool at the Luxor. I tried my hand at the 20 dollar trick. We spent one dinner eating bad food court Chinese at the Excalabur and people watched. We took lots of photos. We went off strip and had diner breakfasts (red velvet pancakes – no joke) and we visited the Hoover Dam in sweltering heat and then had slushees to cool down.

The drive through the desert was also worth the trip alone, but I’ll save that for another post. So, Las Vegas – a place I’m happy to have experienced, but I think I got it out of my system for a long time.