Finished it.

Since I wrote about my novel last June: I’ve substantially reworked its structure; A writer/copyeditor edited the manuscript (thank you, Vicky!); I’ve renamed the book (what was once tentatively The Grey is now tentatively Escape Plans. While I was fond of my original title, no one else seemed to be, and associated my title with horses or football or that Liam Neeson movie that came out over the winter about Alaska, none of which have anything to do with my story); I went through a depressing phase of hating my novel; I entered into another phase of hating it less and sometimes liking it; I went through weeks where I didn’t open the Word file, despite guilty notes I would write for myself saying “Finish it!”. Those notes eventually paid off because, as of last night, I did. Finish it. By “finished” I mean that I’ve gotten another step closer to actually finishing it because books have trajectories of their own and will morph and expand and shrink over time. But I’m done with it for now, will take it off my to do lists for awhile, and I would like to record this personal milestone here.

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I finished typing in the final changes at the kitchen table, which as you can see is a bit of mess these days. The book about home renovation is Andrew’s, not mine, as he bears the brunt of that stuff more than I do. We’re not renovating so much as getting our place ready for sale because, after 6 years here in Montreal, we’re moving back to Toronto, probably in June. Predictably, I have feelings about this, a mix of excitement about going back to a city I love that has changed so much while I’ve been away and sadness for leaving another city I love, where I’ve changed while living here.

I’ll keep you posted on both fronts.

Scrapbook #6: The Philippines, part 3: Outside Manila

As much as I was fascinated by Manila, it was a relief to get out of the city for a few days and breathe some fresh air, and my family made sure to organize some trips for us. My first glimpse of a non-urban setting was when we spent a day south of Manila in Tagaytay, a popular town for city dwellers wanting a little break. It’s on the edge of Lake Taal, and we had lunch at a restaurant that overlooked a volcano jutting out in the middle of that lake. From a distance it looked too hazy and gentle to be something as destructive as a volcano.

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After eating too much (i.e. just enough), we strolled around the grounds of a church looking out onto the most incredible landscapes. The countryside is a muddy yellow-green; I’ve never seen anything precisely that shade.

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Scrapbook #5: The Philippines, part 2: Manila

DSC07078(View from the 39th floor)

I landed in Manila at the break of dawn on a Tuesday morning and was that weird combination of delirious and adrenaline charged, too much so to really process where I’d landed and what I was seeing, and in many ways felt the same when I left less than two weeks later. I find it hard to pin down my thoughts on Manila itself. It’s a strange city. Huge, messy. What I call “Manila” is really Metro Manila, a series of cities connected by roads and highways, with no clear cut centre or downtown. The apartment I lived in for two weeks was in a glossier, Americanized part of Quezon City. We were on the 39th floor where my view was a jagged blend of various sizes of skyscrapers, multicoloured houses, slums, roads and the Pasig river, skinny and murky green.

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(Street scene)

That first morning, in the car on the way to the apartment, we hit my first traffic jam of the city, and I wasn’t awake enough to realize that it would be the first in many, many traffic jams. The traffic in Manila is a sprawling, lazy beast, an entity unto itself. It’s hard to ignore if you spend any time within the borders of the city.The traffic is indicative, I guess, of how busy and chaotic the city is. Chaotic, but seamless too – cars straddle two lanes at a time and dart in front of other vehicles whenever there’s an opening. Buses and jeepneys barrel down the streets, and then screech to a stop to let passengers off. I didn’t witness any accidents, though, just many close calls.

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(In Eastwood)

Mostly what you’ll find in Manila are extremes: extreme wealth, extreme poverty (although more weighted towards poverty) and all points in between. The area I stayed in, for instance, was as North American as could be. Eastwood is essentially a gigantic mall complex with stores like Marks & Spencer and The Body Shop, restaurants like McDonalds or TGI Friday’s. I will admit to having a really great burger at Johnny Rocket’s, an American diner replica, complete with jukebox and, mystifyingly, waiters and waitresses who broke into a dance routine every hour or so. The area was clean, safe, pretty, and I felt more like I was in California than the Philippines when I was there. It’s the kind of place where thoughtful relatives will make sure a North American will stay when they’re on their first trip to the Philippines to minimize the culture shock. Continue reading