Tag Archives: literature

Waiting For Spring, Or, The Moon Is In Free Fall

21 Jan

It’s almost four thirty in the afternoon, a month after the winter solstice, and the sky is still that bright, brittle cold-weather blue.

I can hear birds chirping outside my bedroom window. The noises they’re making are quiet, contented. Like me, they are settled in for the long wait until spring.

These days, spring seems like a dreamy idea I read about once a long time ago. It doesn’t just seem unreal, it seems like a childhood myth that I never quite gave up believing in. I keep clinging to this idea that things will be better, soon, soon, any day now. Waiting for spring is like my own personal religion, with all its accompanying rites and rituals. Except these days I’m dabbling in atheism; I’m not sure if I quite trust in this god anymore.

I’m not sad. I’m just in that funny suspended animation that happens this time every year, when everything goes cold and hard and very, very still.

I remember being very drunk at a party once when I was in my early twenties. The party was at my house, and at some point I found myself sitting in front of the book shelf, staring in awe at all of my books. One of my roommates asked what I was doing, and I turned and said to her,

“Look at this – look at how many words I own. Every single one of these books is filled with thousands and thousands of words, and they all belong to me. I bought them, with my own money. I bought the whole language!”

It seemed very profound to me at the time, even if my roommate just laughed and rolled her eyes and said, “Oh my god you are wasted.”

I do own those words, though. I own another person’s thoughts, the deepest parts of themselves that have spilled out through the tips of their fingers in the middle of their darkest nights. I might not own the things themselves that the words and passages describe, but I own their shadow, their printed idea on a page. And somehow that’s nearly as good. In the currency of thoughts and language, I am rich.

I know that this is true because when I think about it my skin prickles and my throat gets tight.

I want to think more beautiful thoughts this winter. I want better things to dream on until the spring wakes me up. I want to sit with a terrible stillness and find the right fancies to dive into. I don’t want things to move quickly anymore – action and then reaction over and over again, each shot fired in a split second – instead, I want things to move at a glacial pace, each approaching concept swallowing me whole, giving me time to learn it from the inside out. I want each new wonder to suffuse me, to drip out of my pores.

I think I want to be reborn, though I’m not sure as what.

One of the nicest ideas that I’ve ever read comes from the Wikipedia entry for free fall:

An object in the technical sense of free fall may not necessarily be falling down in the usual sense of the term. An object moving upwards would not normally be considered to be falling but if it is subject to the force of gravity only, it is said to be in free fall. The moon thus is in free fall.

I wish that I could explain to you exactly how and why I love this so much. The moon – the stolid old moon, making its endless circles around the earth – is in free fall. The words don’t change what the moon does or how it functions, but they change how I see it. It’s no longer tethered by some imaginary thread to the earth, but instead it’s falling, always falling, caught at the last minute by gravity. Over and over again the moon falls; over and over the moon is saved. Every day. Every night.

It’s a thought that could make you fall in love with the universe all over again.

So here’s to those dreams that we might dabble in during these longest nights and coldest days. Here’s to the bits of beauty that find their way into our lives and maybe lodge themselves in our hearts. Here’s to slowness, to stillness, to the time we take in our suspended animation thinking those longer thoughts.

Here’s to all the deep, quiet thrills that we might find before spring rushes in to wake us up.

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Intersectionality and Art

10 Sep

My friend Audra asked the following question on her Facebook a little over a week ago:

“Which do you think is worse: intentionally only ever buying art* made by women, or accidentally only ever buying art made by men?”

Now, just to clarify, I don’t think that either is worse, because I don’t think that either of those things are bad or wrong, necessarily. But I do think that it’s super important to look at how and why we consume media. I also think it’s necessary every once in a while to take a long hard look at the media choices we’re making, and ask ourselves whether or not we are making conscious decisions about the type of artists that we are supporting and promoting.

This point was driven home today as I took a short break from the enormous tome that is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (because what better time to tackle this beast than on a 60-hour train trip across Canada?) to read Dave Egger’s introduction to the book. In this brief five-page preface, Eggers manages to name-check the fourteen following artists:

Thomas Pynchon

Elmore Leonard

Jonathan Franzen

William Gaddis

Saul Bellow

William S. Burroughs

Fred Exley

Marcel Proust

Stephin Merritt

Howard Finster

Sufjan Stevens

Jack Kerouac

William T. Vollmann

Michael Apted

You’ll note two uniting features about everyone mentioned this list – they are all white, and they are all men.

Now, I don’t think that Dave Eggers only reads books by white dudes. In fact, I happen to know that Eggers both reads and promotes books by all kinds of non-white-dude writers. But I can’t help noticing that when he’s talking about the crème de la crème, when he’s mentioning the artists to whom he’s comparing a book that he claims will, ultimately, leave you a better person, they are all. white. men. Every single last one of them.

And I don’t think that the exclusivity of this list is intentional; I don’t think that Eggers really thinks that men are better writers than women, or that white folks are better writers than people of colour. But what I do think is that it’s really, really easy to fall into the trap of only consuming art made by white men. I mean, it’s the status quo, right? You go into a bookstore and almost all the featured books are by men (although, being in Canada, I have to admit that they pretty much always include at least one Atwood because it’s the law or whatever). Only four women have ever been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director; only one has ever won. If you’ve ever been in a comic book store, you know how hard you often have to dig to find something by a woman, let alone a woman of colour.

And it’s like, sometimes I just feel invisible, you know? I mean, I’m really just starting out and I haven’t even published my first book and in spite of that I have a fairly decent online following and I am super grateful for that and I’m luckier than a whole lot of people, but. BUT. I feel like I’m always going to be excluded when it comes to these types of lists. I’m never going to be allowed into the Old Boys’ Club (because then it wouldn’t be a boys’ club, duh), or if I am permitted to join in every once in a blue moon, I’ll be treated as a pet, a sweet little thing, a curiosity, and never, ever as a serious writer. And this exclusion won’t be malicious, and it won’t be intentional; it’ll just be because my name (or any other woman’s name) will never be the first (or even fourteenth) to spring to mind when a man is coming up with a list of his all-time favourite, greatest, most influential writers.

And that sucks.

So let’s take a moment to share our favourite not-white-dude artists, and maybe (hopefully) we’ll all come away with some new and exciting books, movies, paintings, sculptures, songs, television shows, etc, to check out.

Here’s my list:

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

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Haim:

Margaux Williamson, Teenager Hamlet

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The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham

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Ginger & Rosa, written and directed by Sally Potter

* Any form of art or media, be it literature, visual art, film, music, television, etc.

21 Quotes from Sylvia Plath

31 Jul

1. “Can you understand? Someone, somewhere, can you understand me a little, love me a little? For all my despair, for all my ideals, for all that – I love life. But it is hard, and I have so much – so very much to learn.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Young Sylvia Plath

Young Sylvia Plath

2. “God, but life is loneliness, despite all the opiates, despite the shrill tinsel gaiety of ‘parties’ with no purpose, despite the false grinning faces we all wear. And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long. Yes, there is joy, fulfillment and companionship – but the loneliness of the soul in its appalling self-consciousness is horrible and overpowering.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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3. “If neurotic is wanting two mutually exclusive things at one and the same time, then I’m neurotic as hell. I’ll be flying back and forth between one mutually exclusive thing and another for the rest of my days.”

The Bell Jar

With Ted Hughes

With Ted Hughes

4. “Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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5. “The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence. I knew perfectly well the cars were making a noise, and the people in them and behind the lit windows of the buildings were making a noise, and the river was making a noise, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The city hung in my window, flat as a poster, glittering and blinking, but it might just as well not have been there at all, for the good it did me.”

The Bell Jar

Syvia Plath

6. “Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are dangerously near to wanting nothing.”

Draft of letter to Richard Sassoon

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7. “If you expect nothing from somebody you are never disappointed.”

The Bell Jar

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8. “With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can’t start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It’s like quicksand… hopeless from the start.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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9. “I like people too much or not at all. I’ve got to go down deep, to fall into people, to really know them.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

As a child, with her brother Warren

As a child, with her brother Warren

10. “I thought it sounded just like the sort of drug a man would invent. Here was a woman in terrible pain, obviously feeling every bit of it or she wouldn’t groan like that, and she would go straight home and start another baby, because the drug would make her forget how bad the pain had been, when all the time, in some secret part of her, that long, blind, doorless and windowless corridor of pain was waiting to open up and shut her in again.”

The Bell Jar

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11. “We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.”

Lesbos

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12. “Yes, my consuming desire is to mingle with road crews, sailors and soldiers, barroom regulars—to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording—all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery. My consuming interest in men and their lives is often misconstrued as a desire to seduce them, or as an invitation to intimacy. Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Sylvia with her mother, Aurelia, and her children, Frieda and Nicholas

Sylvia with her mother, Aurelia, and her children, Frieda and Nicholas

13. ” I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.”

Elm

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14. “I felt very still and empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo.”

The Bell Jar

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15. “I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.”

Letters Home: Correspondence, 1950 – 1963

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16. “If they substituted the word ‘Lust’ for ‘Love’ in the popular songs it would come nearer the truth.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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17. “There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

The Bell Jar

With Frieda and Nicholas

With Frieda and Nicholas

18. “To annihilate the world by annihilation of oneself is the deluded height of desperate egoism. The simple way out of all the little brick dead ends we scratch our nails against.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

Self- portrait

Self- portrait

19. “What horrifies me most is the idea of being useless: well-educated, brilliantly promising, and fading out into an indifferent middle age.”

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

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20. “I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

The Bell Jar

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21. “But everybody has exactly the same smiling frightened face, with the look that says: ‘I’m important. If you only get to know me you will see how important I am. Look into my eyes. Kiss me, and you will see how important I am.’”

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Desert Island Books

5 Apr

The funny thing is that you’re very rarely enough of anything for anyone.

When I write about radical-lady-type-stuff, I’m always too feminist for some people, and not feminist enough for others.

When I get worked about something, I’m always too outspoken for some, and not outspoken enough for others.

When I wrote that post about Easter, I was, according to commenters, either too Christian or else too atheist.

A few commenters even wondered if I was a pantheist, the thought of which sent me scrambling to my bookcase, scanning the shelves until I finally found Ann-Marie McDonald’s Fall On Your Knees.

I flipped to the end of the book, the section that’s an excerpt of Kathleen’s diary, and, after re-reading all of her love scenes with Rose, found the passage I was looking for:

O Diary. My loyal friend. There is love, there is music, there is no limit, there is work, there is the precious sense that this is the hour of grace when all things gather and distil to create the rest of my life. I don’t believe in God, I believe in everything. And I am amazed at how blessed I am.

That’s the kind of paragraph that makes me want to take a long drag on a cigarette, exhale the smoke oh-so-slowly , and mutter, Yes, yes, exactly, yes.

 Fall On Your Knees was my favourite book when I was a teenager. I mean, Jesus, what’s not to love about it? It’s a huge, generation-spanning Canadian epic that takes place in early 20th century Cape Breton (NOVA SCOTIA REPRESENT) and jazz-age New York. The writing is teeth-achingly beautiful, not to mention clever, funny and smart as hell. The characters are brilliant, multi-faceted and all that other good stuff that actual literary-type people say in actual book reviews; in fact, I think that my first ever girl-crush was on Frances Piper.

When I was in university, I had the chance to go see Ann-Marie McDonald give a reading from her latest, The Way The Crow Flies. She was gorgeous and articulate and funny (naturally), and I was totally smitten. Afterwards, I got the chance to meet her and have her sign my copy of Fall On Your Knees. I felt like I was meeting a movie star; my palms were sweaty, my mouth was dry, my chest felt tight. I felt light-headed, and kept having to remind myself to breathe.

When I made it to the head of the line and she asked me my name, I somehow managed to squeak out that her book had really been important to me. I knew that it was going to sound stupid and trite before I even said it, but I didn’t know what else I could say. Here was this person who had strung together the loveliest, smartest, best words possible to create an absolutely perfect story, one that I could disappear into any time that I needed a break from the real world. I wanted to tell her everything that I loved about her book, from why Frances was my favourite character all the way to how her brief mention of Nova Scotia’s Africville had spawned an hour-long conversation with my grandmother about Halifax’s racial landscape.

But how was I supposed to do that with the auditorium lights shining in my face as if I were being questioned for a crime I hadn’t committed? How was I supposed to tell her all this with my clumsy tongue and my woefully inadequate vocabulary?

So I told her that it was important. And she smiled and thanked me and scrawled For Anne, From Ann-Marie McDonald inside the front cover of my book. Afraid that I might embarrass myself, I hurried away, stumbled down the steps, and, while walking home, thought up a million brilliantly witty remarks that I could have made to McDonald if only I’d had the wherewithal.

(Hint: I very rarely have any wherewithal whatsoever)

All of which is to say – oh my dear sweet Jesus I love books so fucking much.

I love reading books, I love buying books, I love writing about books and I love talking about books.

So with that in mind, I asked you guys what your all-time favourite, desert-island books were.

Here’s what you had to say:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

In The Time Of The Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

The Long Walk by Richard Bachmann/Stephen King

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Oz series by Frank L. Baum

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino

Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Claudine series by Colette

Little, Big by John Crowley

The Alchemist by Paulo Cuelho

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

The Devil’s Teardrop by Jeffery Deaver

Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

Wyrm by Mark Fabi

The Refugee Summer by Edward Fenton

Headhunter by Timothy Findley

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Neuromancer by William Gibson

China Court: The Hours Of A Country House by Rumer Godden

Memoirs Of A Geisha by Arthur Golden

Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov

The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky by Patrick Hamilton

The Hottest State by Ethan Hawke

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Red Planet by Robert A. Heinlein

Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

Dune series by Frank Herbert

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving

Winter Of Fire by Sherryl Jordan

The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac

It by Stephen King

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Operating Instructions: A Journal Of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott

Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

One Hundred Years Of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Swan Song by Robert R. McCammon

Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie McDonald

If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Fool by Christopher Moore

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Apathy And Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

Popular Music From Vittula by Mikael Niemi

1984 by George Orwell

Down And Out In Paris And London by George Orwell

Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk

A Catskill Eagle by Robert B. Parker

Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman

The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds

Skinny Legs And All by Tom Robbins

Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Harry Potter series, specifically The Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

Franny And Zooey by J.D. Salinger

The Cat In The Hat by Dr. Seuss

Love Is A Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

There’s A Girl In My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

To A God Unknown by John Steinbeck

The Log From The Sea Of Cortez by John Steinbeck

The Eagle Of The Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Queen Elizabeth Story by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

Fear And Loathing On The Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Mary Poppins series by P.L. Travers

The Making Of A Psychiatrist by David Viscott

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

A Room Of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Please feel free to add your suggestions in the comments, and I will add them to the list!

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