Sunday, December 30, 2012

Canadian novelist

My writing teacher was not especially enamoured of my writing.  Sacrificing clarity through muddy stylistic choices, was, I think, what she said.  She could not imagine that the lack of clarity was intentional, that a writer would want anything but a wide open Saskatchewan skyline that revealed everything with complete clarity.  I wanted to tell her that God hates Saskatchewan, but it's only a theory and I have no concrete evidence (of God or of God's geographic preferences).  It was a wobbly fog that obscured her skyline first, because she could not unravel what this meant.  Fog could be grey, fog could be cold, fog could be heavy.  But it simply would not wobble for her, no matter how long she looked at it.  It wobbled for me, I told her, and she let it go.

But we were back in deadlock the next day when I wrote that I was trying to understand the lipstick that had bled into the lines of the Husky House waitress' mouth.  Understand was the wrong word, she said.  It wasn't even a stylistic choice, it was just simply an error.  I wanted to tell her about the funeral that morning, how Jesse had whispered to me during the service that Ghost River was alive, I wanted to tell her how it felt to ride the C-train in funeral clothes, so she could see why the day ended with me staring at the waitress' lipstick-stained teeth and trying to understand the way the lipstick bled into the lines around her smoker's mouth.  But all those pieces would only make things less clear, not more clear.  I crossed out the offending sentence and wished Joyce Carol Oates was my teacher instead.

I told her, once, conspiratorialy, about the reams of writing with which I do nothing.  Oh, she said.  I have published everything I have ever written. 


Saturday, December 29, 2012

don't stop giving me things

It would have made more sense for me to say yes, and go meet Rob somewhere for a drink tonight.  But I felt no inclination to do what made sense when he asked -- and now I have committed, instead, to meet him downtown tomorrow morning for breakfast before his flight.  I do not especially want to do that either but I feel more comfortable with meetings that have externally imposed endings and in this case I feel more comfortable with meetings that do not involve ingesting alcohol.  (And for the sake of thematic coherence, I also find spontaneity less charming than I used to.)


This afternoon after running in the cold rain, I accidentally tested the colour therapy option in the infrared sauna.  I knew it was there but never felt drawn to it, but somehow today while fumbling for the interior light I inadvertently clicked the colour therapy button and was immediately mesmerized by the flicking lights.  I couldn't decide which colour I wanted, so I picked the tacky Christmas lights option that includes all three, and spent the next hour with red, blue, and green lights gamboling across my hot skin.  I do not know what colour therapy is meant to do, not really, but having just been running in the cold, and then overcome with warmth and silence, my reaction was to want to fall asleep with coloured lights dancing across my eyelids.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Crazy, Crazier, Craziest

Well.  Crazy Sue and I had a fight today.  Not a physical fight, not even yelling, really, though I was screaming inside my head.  But words, very direct and very unfriendly words.

Conflict makes me feel yukky.  Arguing and aggression make me really uncomfortable.  Really really uncomfortable, especially at work.  In fact, I have never had an argument with anyone at work before, never.  When I disagree with people at work, I usually just let them do their thing and give them a wide berth.  I like minding my own business.  It is less anxiety-provoking, and it is who I am.  Or rather, I mean, it is who I am not.  Not the kind of person to get wrapped up in work disputes.  I think of work as work, not as my life, and I try to keep a certain amount of internal distance between myself and my co-workers.  And their decisions and behaviours.

But Crazy Sue is so so so aggressive.  She attacks on a regular basis.  And I have been cowering and hiding from her for such a long time.  Today when she came to tell me that she was kicking my students out of a shared workspace, I dug in.  I told her no, I told her to stop telling me what to do, I told her I knew that she had been talking about me to the Department Head behind my back, I told her that I was tired of walking on eggshells because she rages so often, I told her to stop harrassing me and my students, and I told her that I am fed up with her.

It was very strange to say these things in a professional environment.  I never have, never, said anything like that to anyone at work.  To Crazy Sue's credit, she actually stopped yapping at me and listened.  I think she was startled.  She actually apologized, and said she wants to support my program more and to be more cooperative.  This was more than I hoped for, more than I actually want.  (I have no wish for her support, or her presence in my life.  But it would be nice if she would quit lying in my path and being a speed bump every time I am trying to accomplish something.)

Perhaps this is a turning point in my life, the point at which I start saying whatever I want to say to everyone who gets on my nerves a little.  Maybe I'll start picking fights in the photocopy line.  Or maybe I'll start throwing elbows whenever I'm irritated.  Might as well.  Being civilized hasn't been working out for me.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lots of snow.  All the private schools, Catholic schools, and post secondary institutions are closed for the day.  Public school never closes, though.  Because the public sector, workers and customers, are just serfs.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I hit an orange cat today driving home from J's riding stables.  I saw it on the side of the road and slowed down because I was nervous about it being nearby.  And then it darted right into my wheels.  I stopped the car and got out to see if I could see the cat.  A woman with a dog was standing on the side of the road, and I was afraid it was her cat.  I asked her if I hit the cat because I hadn't actually heard or felt any impact.  She said, Yaaa in this kind of lazy way like it was no big deal, and I think I said, Oh my god, or maybe I apologized, or something equally clever.

I started looking for it on the side of the road but it was nowhere to be found.  The woman blew smoke at me and said, Well that's whatcha git fer speedin', like a dead cat was exactly what I deserved.  My just desserts.  Not what the cat deserved, of course, but what I deserved for speeding.  Except I wasn't speeding, I really wasn't.  I never speed on that road because it's a country road full of cats and rabbits and birds and stupid women walking their dogs.  I told her I wasn't speeding, though I don't know why I really bothered with that because it didn't matter.  I mean she clearly didn't care about the cat so there wasn't any need for me to defend myself.  But she said, Yeah ya were, and blew more smoke at me and then told her dog to go find the cat.  The dog did not respond in any way whatsoever.

I said, Was that your cat?  Or is there someone else I need to go talk to?  And she said, Naw it's jist some feral cat bin hangin' 'round my place.  I'll keep watch fer it.  Like maybe it was alive after all.  Like maybe I hadn't really hit it (I hope) or like maybe it wasn't killed and was just hiding somewhere while it got over its surprise.  I don't know.  I stared at her, feeling like I wanted to cry, and she said, It's at least the twentieth one this week.

I wonder if that was true or if she was just being mean.  I hated her.  I wanted to crawl down into the ditch and find the cat and take it to the vet and make it be okay.  I didn't do that.  I got back in my car and drove home, tried to pay attention to the road and not be upset, tried not to run over any other living things.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

the opposite of people

Last night I took J to see a play.  One (of many) wonderful qualities about J is that she likes theatre, and after many years of having no one in my immediate family with whom to attend plays, I once again have a theatre partner.

Shawn and I do not attend theatre together.  We aren't, to be honest, the type of couple that indulges one another's destestable habits, no matter how closely they are held dear.  Shawn, in addition to refusing to attend plays with me, will not eat sushi and will not go to the farmers' market.  It does not matter how I love these things, he will not indulge me.  (By the same token, I felt no hint of guilt when Shawn announced a budding interest in growing a pot plant in our house and I encouraged him to take his half of our amassed fortune and find a new home in which to test his gardening skills.)  This arrangement works, and I rarely catch Shawn dreaming of the life he didn't get to live as a drug baron.  And likewise, I do not resent his aversion to plays.  (And to be fair, I did once trick him - back when he still trusted me - into attending a Brad Fraser play which contained far more male nudity than even I anticipated.  It's like throwing your children into a lake to teach them how to swim.  Ineffective, and scarring.  And you remember those intimate types of abuse so much more vividly.)

But having J to attend plays with me is a nice change, and last night we saw a show in which her former singing teacher was performing.  J's former singing coach is a leathery old jazz singer, and in fact their relationship looks suspiciously like the plot of a Disney movie:  Sweet blue-eyed white girl and world-weary old black man make beautiful music together and forge a friendship that changes them both forever.  Something completely unpalatable like that.  All that keeps it from being nauseating is the fact that it's real, though I do not blame you in the least if you think I've become too lazy to be creative and am stealing plot lines from the Family Channel.  His performance was outstanding, and we spent a little time with him afterward catching up.  At the end of the show there was a raffle draw for a free turkey and J won it.  She wasn't terribly impressed, and neither was I when I got to carry it home on my lap on the train.  Dead carcasses aside, however, it was a very pleasant night.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Something really ridiculous about our new heat pump is that if it gets too warm in the house and we decide to turn down the heat, the air conditioner kicks on instead of allowing the heat to drop naturally. (There are a number of times that belonging to the "first world" makes me feel guilty.  This is one of them.)


Thursday, December 13, 2012

i wish i was a little bit taller, i wish i was a baller

Working so many days in the Counselling Department this school year has permitted me to draw the following character sketches of its employees.

Counsellor #1 - M.  M has been counselling in the same school more than ten years.  She says she plans to retire from this school.  When I once repeated that to a colleague he told me rather sharply that someone should tell her that if she wants to retire she should start working first.  I wondered, at first, if staff perception of her lack of productivity was unfair.  After all, who really knows how much someone else is working?  But working with her more closely reveals that she is chronically late for work, and has trouble completing tasks she finds unpleasant.  She does, however, always have pretty nailpolish and nice clothes.  She is also friendly and likeable, apart from the simmering frustration with her lack of ability to finish anything.  When she is overwhelmed, she calls in sick for work, usually three days at a time.

Counsellor #2 - E.  E has been at the school only four years.  Her path to burnout has been sharp and steep.  She does not walk, she speedwalks down the halls of the building, because she is always in a mad panic and always late for something.  If you try to talk to her about kids you have concerns about, she sometimes snaps that she is too busy to see anyone who is not going to die today.  I'm not kidding; that's a direct quote.  E has moments of being a very effective counsellor, but unfortunately these moments are too easy to forget because she sometimes frightens the kids - and staff - by being so snappish.  When she is overwhelmed, she calls in sick for work.  Sometimes for up to two weeks at a time.

Counsellor #3 - N.  N is the newest of the Counsellors, and is the Department Head.  He is from Lebanon, and though he has been in Canada since his teens, he still makes some peculiar mistakes with English.  When he is trying to be nice, he sometimes sounds condescending instead.  I think this is unintentional, but it still rankles people.  N is witty but yet somehow has a way of missing the point quite frequently.  He likes things to be sequential and orderly and gets lost very easily if things do not unfold in a linear manner.  N likes to give the illusion of being supportive, and sometimes speaks in irritating platitudes.  Again, I think this is a language barrier.  I hope it is.  When he is overwhelmed, he goes to Very Important workshops that take him away from the Counselling office for a day or two.  Or three.

These three people support each other's terrible habits.  They take very long lunch breaks, much longer than the rest of the staff, under the pretense of "meeting".  And worse, this year they have developed a new terrible habit of leaving the main door to the Counselling Office closed and locked during the school day.  This, I assume, is to prevent them from having to talk to any students.  Because really, Counselling is a pretty awesome job if there's no one around demanding to talk to you.

These are the people I aspire to work with?  This is the career I've decided is where I really ought to go next.  I wonder if, once safely installed in my tiny little office, I will immediately become a self-important asshole too, too busy to help people, too busy to talk to people, too busy to come to work on time, too busy to unlock the goddamn door for chrissakes.  I wonder if I will notice that I am turning into the opposite of what I meant to be when I said I wanted to help.  Or if I will just be aggravated when people show up at the Counselling office wanting counselling, wondering impatiently how they dare.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Banana Co. (One Hundred Years of Solitude)

Last night I finished reading Robert Hare's book about his diagnostic tool, The Psychopathy Checklist. The book was called Without Conscience and it was not a light read in terms of content, but the writing was accessible which I found refreshing after reading so many densely written scholarly journal articles.  It all confirmed that psychopathy isn't especially treatable and that the course of action following diagnosis really needs to be about safety for the people who surround the psychopath rather than about trying to implement a cure, or even, really, much of a treatment.  To paraphrase Hare (who works at the University near me) and who is one of the world's foremost experts on psychopathology, the best way to treat a psychopath is to convince him that it is in his own best and self-serving interest to learn to operate within the rules of society to avoid punishment and other unpleasant consequences.  Because a psychopath has no conscience, attempts at empathy training are futile.

I finished that book (with some disappointment that it was over so quickly) and started reading a new book (fiction) called NW, by Zadie Smith.  NW, I deduce, refers to northwest London where the story takes place.  I've only just begun reading it, but already feel captivated so far by the writing style, which is odd and jumpy.  I like the stops and starts, I like the flashing blurry images that move in and out of my peripherial view before their edges can be felt.  The Kindle provides access to book reviews, and Smith's book wasn't especially well-liked by the customers of Amazon.  However, these are the same people that give fabulous reviews to a piece of plastic tupperware shaped like a banana and buy this stupid item by the boatload.  So the reviewers are obviously wankers, too busy with their bananas to appreciate literature.  I bought the book anyway.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Heart whispers

Heart whispers was a phrase, I suspect, used by Oprah Winfrey to describe that thing when a voice inside yourself tries to talk to you.  I cannot swear it was Oprah, but there was a television show I once watched in which a woman described driving home from Christmas shopping at the mall and accidentally striking a bicyclist, killing her and taking her away from her family just days before Christmas.  An inner voice had spoken to her softly, she claimed, before she reached that intersection.  It had asked her not to take the usual way home.  Go a different way, it said.  She ignored it, brushed it aside, and then regretted not listening to that inner voice forever.  Heart whispers, said the host of the show confidently, (probably Oprah; it sounds like her, does it not?).  I always try to listen when my heart whispers.  I tried not to gag over that awhile.

The show was about how we can learn to listen to our instincts better, learn to trust those inner voices and let them lead us.  Because allegedly these inner voices, these heart whispers, can guide us away from car accidents and muggings and all manner of tragedy.

I was thinking about that show when I drove to the barn this afternoon to pick up J from her riding lesson.  My inner voice had encouraged me to take a different route, my heart had whispered if you will, and I had listened, and therefore I was lost.  I was lost in a field of cranberries and although I could see the barn in the distance, there was no discernable path that would take me there.  Listening to my inner voice is not the problem for me.  

The idea of needing to work on listening better to the impulsive voice inside me that shouts (not whispers) out suggestions is absurd.  My inner voice talks incessently, offering me all sorts of ridiculous advice.  Today it got me lost in field of cranberries, and it has, in the past, been responsible for getting me lost in many different cities.  When my inner voice says, Hey let's go this way instead, I go without hestitation.  The helpful inner voice also encouraged me once to do an inappropriate impersonation during a job interview, and frequently asks me to put things in my mouth that do not belong there.  It tells me to jump off bridges and cliffs, it tells me to jump out of boats into the sea, and it tells me yes yes yes.  I have never known it to keep me safe from car accidents (though how would I know?) ; rather it seems to propel me toward self-destruction.  My task is not to listen more closely to my heart, but to ignore it when it gets too rowdy.


Tuesday, December 04, 2012

high occupancy vehicles

Uh oh.  One of the things I have liked most about my Drama rats for the past three seasons is that they have been pretty much drama-free as far as personal dramas go.  They don't date each other, they don't fight with each other, they don't play diva.

But yesterday we started reading through the potential choice for the spring play, and suddenly I sense danger.  One of the stage managers came after the readthrough to tell me that several students have mentioned they do not want to work with a specific student director.  Shortly after that, that student director came to tell me that he is upset because he knows that someone else is going to audition for the part he wants and he feels that other student has already had too many lead roles.  On my way out the door after that, two girls told me what parts they want and mentioned that no one else had better audition for those parts, as though they intend to intidate anyone who might consider it.  And then in the evening I got two emails from a crazy mom who first wanted to offer me advice on how to run my program (it involved combining the choir with the theatre program so that I could teach sixty kids instead of thirty-five.... bloody brilliant) and then wanted to tell me how her daughter deserves a big part in this play because it's her senior year (though it's senior year for about 3/4 of them).

Suddenly the pressure is high and I have no idea why.  I'm scared!  This is my least favourite part of working in theatre, the part where I have to disappoint people and assign parts.  The personal drama part.  It may all still be fine, but my spider senses are definitely a-tingle.


I finished The Year of the Flood last night and was unable to start a new book because Shawn had done something strange to the wireless internet and was out playing hockey and therefore could not be called upon to fix it.  I think I have become dependent on this Kindle, which means I may need to learn how to do things to fix the router.  I might even have to learn what this router thing actually is, and where it is located.  Being bookless for the evening was strange.  I used my phone to look at book lists and dream of the book I would select if I could.  (This is very nerdlike, I know.)  I think normal people would have used this time to watch tv or pornography, but normal isn't my best strength.


On Sunday when we went grocery shopping, we stopped at the coffee shop for a pound of coffee, and somehow when we unloaded the groceries we left the coffee behind in the car.  This morning we ran out of coffee, prompting Shawn to go searching for the coffee we bought on the weekend.  And he found it in my car under my seat.  How on earth could I have been driving around with a pound of coffee under my car seat and not have smelled it?  I think my senses are fading.  For awhile now I've been convinced I'm going deaf, and now I think I'm losing my olfactory senses too.


Saturday, December 01, 2012

a STARS band aid

This afternoon I went to the dentist for a cleaning and check up.  The dental hygienist told me I have superteeth because I remain unstained by my coffee, tea, and red wine habits.  I might as well take up smoking since my teeth have decided they are up to the challenge.  I was relieved to hear my teeth were doing well because I have bad dreams about my teeth falling out of my head on a regular basis.  In my dreams they always start out okay and then start to crumble like a sugar cube when it gets wet, slowly dissolving, crumbling, melting into nothingness, and I spit out the pieces.  And dreams and reality have such fine gossamer between.  How could I know what to expect?  I expected problems, but for the next six months I can find something else to wonder.

After the dentist, I took J shopping for new boots, because teenagers need new boots every winter you know, especially when they share their boot room with a cat that likes to pee on things.  I also took her for dinner to celebrate her report card and just to spend time with her because I like her.  I really do like her.  (I wonder about that kind of thing, the liking; because I have a dark place inside me like an oil spill or an ink stain, because the most beautiful things need an ugly frame to set them off.  Because I rarely see myself in any picture, but often in the frame.)  But I examine my relationship with her carefully and it passes every test.  I love her in ways I do not recognize being loved.