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Wednesday, September 16, 2020

it's not time yet, go lie down

One morning back in June, the day I started writing this post, I was sitting at the kitchen counter, eating peanut butter toast and working on a killer sudoku, enjoying the cool summer breeze wafting in through the screened patio door, listening to the birdsong outside, trying not to cry.
The novelty of having the patio door open in June was not lost on me on this not-exactly-tropical island where summer usually only deigns to occur on the occasional weekday in July. Plus I haven't had a patio screen door in about 15 years. 

The problem with having rampaging labs is that they are really hard on screens, especially if one of those labs is in fact a 100-pound Newfoundland and Labrador with ginormous paws who is not afraid to use them, and when you are taking too long to find the pause button on the remote so you can go let him inside.

Hearts ©2016 no plot

If you were able to resist that sweet face (I certainly couldn't), you would not be able to resist the power of that tremendous paw, shredding metal screens like they were tissue paper or simply demanding the pats that you were legally obligated to provide him under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Hearts amendment, 2007).*

Pwning this couch since 2007.** ©2020 no plot

Hearts came into our lives by stealth.  We would never have taken on a dog of his size at that point in time*** given that we were in canine recovery, having endured an entire year of crazy in the form of Shadow, the lab-husky mix who made us understand why some people abandon their children on doorsteps. 

Shadow contemplates his prey, an evil gleam in his eye. The shoe was never seen again.
©2005 Mike who probably didn't know what he was getting us into.**** 

Shadow was approximately four months old when we got him, having spent most of that time living on the parish up in Natuashish. One day, he decided to run into Mike's house and used his powers of cuteness to enthrall Mike who in turn convinced us that all this adorable pup needed was a good home (to trash) and some unsuspecting people to love (traumatize).  He was a sweet dog but he had no off-switch, which was problematic in a family that is constantly misplacing its on-switch. He tore a terrible path of mastication through our lives, shredding dog toys, child's toys, slippers, shoes, boots, window screens, screen doors, coffee tables, etc. He dug under every fence, slipped every backyard tie. He was a very difficult dog to live with until one day, he got very, very sick, very, very fast, and then he up and died. We were devastated (but also relieved).

It was a while before we could muster up any enthusiasm for getting another dog. But after 5 months of not knowing when he was well off, Her Father started visiting the SPCA websites again, convinced that if he avoided puppies, he could find an older dog whose personality and behaviour would be more readily apparent, easier to assess; a calm dog who would fit into our lives with less disruption and decidedly less carnage.

Which is why we decided to adopt Sylvie, a stray who had been found wandering the streets of Mount Pearl.

Sylvie, aka the Trojan Horse. ©2007ish no plot

She was quiet, she was calm, she was approximately one year old. She was everything we were looking for.

She was also not spayed but they didn't think she was pregnant...

.... ©2007 no plot

HF came back from the vet's in early May to announce that Sylvie was about to become an unwed mother at any minute - any minute turned out to be 9 p.m. that night. I desperately googled birth plans for dogs and was horrified to see that it involved a lot more than hot water and towels.

I looked at Sylvie and wondered how dogs managed to give birth before they could read about it on the internet. I decided to let her get on with it, since she probably knew more about it than I did, but I left the webpage open just in case. She gave birth in this very room not five feet away from the computer. I expect she checked it once or twice when we weren't looking.

The first pup to arrive was named Special by SWDNO who, at 5-almost-6 years old, was given leave to stay up past her bedtime to see the puppies being born. She named the second pup Hearts.  We have no idea if the first two pups were in fact the ones who ended up with those names because it was at least two weeks before we were able to tell them apart. They were all ninja black, or so it appeared at first.

The third puppy arrived after we had convinced SWDNO to go to bed, informing her that Sylvie was done having babies when clearly she wasn't. Four and five arrived sometime in the night after HF used the same ruse on me.

The next morning I woke up at 6 a.m. and jumped out of bed like it was Christmas morning and Santa had finally brought me exactly what I wanted.  Up to this point, I hadn't really felt that connected to Sylvie, particularly since she made it clear from the start that HF was her one true love, but we finally proceeded to bond over our joint love of adorable puppies; all was finally forgiven regarding the birthday lamb chop stolen off my plate one month before.*****

My mother was amazed that I was willing to take on the hassle of caring for puppies, but it wasn't really any more surprising than my willingness to care for SWDNO. It was a bit overwhelming at times but at least Sylvie was more helpful in cleaning up poop than certain other co-parents I could name, even if her method was unexpected and rather disturbing.******

Even though we couldn't tell them apart or even determine their sex (we checked - it seriously could have gone either way), we decided on names for the other three pups; I called one Third of Five. HF named one Jasper and Drama Queen named one Princess.

Puppy pinwheel, ©2007 no plot

As the days passed, it became clear that a) they were all boys but Hearts, Special, and Princess were totally man enough to deal, and b) the pup who we were constantly finding several feet from the puppy pen in the dining room had brown leggings. We decided that this was Third of Five. 

Then one morning we came down to discover The Great Escape in progress.

Great escaping is exhausting, ©2007 no plot.

It then became clear that Third of Five was in reality the reincarnation of Steve McQueen, tasked with reconnoitring the mysterious world outside the prison camp puppy pen to prepare the way for his brothers' ill-fated escape attempt.

Eventually, we noticed that two pups had white toes on their hind feet. They became Hearts and Special. You could only tell them apart by picking them up because Special had two white hearts on his chest and Hearts had only one.*******

The SPCA said they would help us find homes for the pups when they were old enough - they would have taken the whole family back if we wanted but I just laughed in their faces, or I would have if I had been speaking to them, because MY PUPPIES!

HF said we should find homes for all the pups but he was clearly delusional, because MY PUPPIES! I knew we couldn't keep them all, especially when we noticed the size of their paws and realized they were going to be Big Boys!, but giving all of them up was unthinkable. I ended up having to bribe HF by finally agreeing to buy a gas-guzzling SUV, global warming be damned, so we could transport twice as many dogs as we had originally intended.********

I thought choosing which one to keep was going to be hard, but in the end I didn't have to make the choice.  Hearts and SWDNO made the choice for me.

Every time SWDNO entered the puppy pen, she would sit down on a low stool and there would be a mad puppy rush towards her. She would then pick up the one who got to her first; nine times out of ten, that puppy was Hearts. 

Then SWDNO told us we were keeping Hearts so we just agreed.

It broke my heart to give up the others but I have never regretted our choice.

Having two labs seemed to have saved us no end of trouble with inappropriate chewing. Steve McQueen's adoptive mother regaled me with a long list of the things he destroyed, including a cell phone, but Hearts and Sylvie were mostly happy to chew on each other, only occasionally doing the naughty by chewing pencils, pens, tissues, but not much else.

Little girls make excellent chew toys, ©2007 no plot

Also we had to keep the kitchen doors closed or Hearts, aka Jean Valjean, would steal some bread from the-not-so-safe-after-all furthest corner of the counter or raid the garbage can. Then he would sneakily hide around the corner by the patio door to snack on his booty out of sight of the casual passerby. He would never steal anything off the table or counter while you were watching but if you were foolish enough to leave him alone, all bets were off.

Hearts was also a chocoholic, starting with his first Christmas when he found and demolished an entire bag of Laura Secord chocolate balls that had been buried in a bag of Christmas presents. Then there was the time he found the Easy Bake Oven cake mixes that had been stashed in a bedroom closet and he decided to test them out. And the two children I still owe new hoodies after he gnawed a hole in their pockets to get at the tasty sweets inside.  If chocolate had been a controlled substance, Hearts would have had a great career as a sniffer dog at the airport.

For the first year or so, the dogs would stalk us in the mornings, waiting for the first sign of life to start pestering us to give them breakfast. Hearts would stick his big, old nose in your face if you merely cracked an eyelid at him. Because we are expert dog trainers, we eventually cured them of that habit with the simple command "It's not time yet, go lie down!" (patent pending). Rolling over became permissable once more until a more reasonable hour, but once your feet hit the floor, it was "no time to pee, give me my Dentastix!"

We had to walk them every day or there would be wrassling, wrassling that would rearrange the furniture.  Sylvie revealed that she was not exactly as calm as we thought, turning into a psycho-killer every time we ran into another dog when we had her on leash.  All other dogs must die! she'd snarl, also, pickups, vans, and SUVs (irony) because she's a committed environmentalist.

Hearts, on the other hand, loved every dog he ever met. So much so that several times he pulled me off my feet in his eagerness to get to them. He was always so disappointed whenever the other dog refused to be BFFs.  Although why anyone would get nervous about 100 lbs of muscle heading straight for them dragging a middle-aged woman in his wake, I'll never know. 

Once we switched to a Gentle Leader, a leash which went around his nose instead of his thickly impervious neck, I was able to walk him without incurring further road rash.

It was also highly inadvisable to let him know that you had any notion of taking him for a Chinese cooking pot (wok) or an opposite of cow (woc), or make any sudden moves towards the stairs or breathe in his general direction after supper, or it was Hammer Time. Navigating down the multitudinous stairs in a split-level is no easy chore with a wooly mammoth dancing at your heels like he's trying out for Soul Train.

When Hearts felt joy, the very ground trembled.

Fortunately for us, if it wasn't breakfast or walk time, Hearts was the chillest dog I have ever met.  He loved to just hang with the fam; weekend mornings usually found the no plot family gathered in the living room, both dogs sprawled on the floor, Hearts soaking up all the available rays.

A furry sundial, ©2020 no plot

His favourite position was horizontal but this did not mean he would not bestir himself to demand the attention that was his due. Sylvie might lie idly by, waiting for someone to notice her, but Hearts would accost you for love as you lay hove off on the love seat, obediently sitting beside you and smiting you with his mighty paw until you complied. But before too long he would slump to the floor, all the while expecting you to contort yourself to continue with the pats (op cit. Charter of Rights and Freedom).

I'm not sure when SWDNO got the brilliant idea that Hearts would make a good Therapy Dog with St. John Ambulance but when she did, I agreed wholeheartedly. A little halfheartedly, when I realized she was too young to do it and I would have to be his handler. I was all for her working on her social anxiety by talking to absolute strangers but not quite as keen on working on my own.

I like people a whole lot better when I don't have to rack my brains for words and...sentences and...stuff... Whatever. The point is, Hearts was always up for meeting other dogs and being worshipped by humans. In fact he insisted on it.

I decided that since I was always willing to talk to anyone who was willing to admire my dog, I could somehow manage. 

Hearts passed the Therapy Dog test with flying colours. He had no problem with walking into a roomful of dogs and letting them live (unlike Sylvie). He accepted that he couldn't be their BFF, for now, and allowed me to keep him from sniffing their butts (but secretly plotted to do so at his first opportunity). 

Tremendous bangs and crashes from dropped metal objects fazed him not a bit. When the examiner put a blanket over his head and made weird noises at him to simulate unexpected behaviour a dog might encounter, Hearts just stuck his head under the blanket and licked him on the nose.

I love a man in uniform, ©2018 no plot

We started off visiting a nursing home but I quickly learned that parallel parking an enormous canine next to a hospital bed was not easy to do, especially when the dog in question was more keen to give into the lure of gravity when the pats were light and tentative. We started visiting a dementia ward because the women there were ambulatory and more likely to pat hard enough to keep him happy. Even those who weren't interested in patting him would smile delightedly and ask questions, usually the same ones, over and over.

SWDNO's high school and university were a little more to his liking, teenagers and young adults being more likely to worship him on their knees, sometimes 5 and 6 at a time. There was plenty of dog to go around. 

No matter where we ended up, Hearts always got excited when he saw me wearing the St. John's Ambulance t-shirt that meant we were about to go get some pats.

But even when the pats were not up to scratch, I think he still liked to go and just be with people. He had a knack for showing up when I needed him, in any case. Whenever I begrudgingly got around to doing the melon-farming dishes, he was usually there lying on the kitchen floor behind me, giving me moral support.

Helping with dishes and mopping the floor with his tongue which was too big for his mouth anyway, ©2018 no plot

When Hearts turned 13 back in May and Sylvie probably turned 14, I worried he wouldn't be with us much longer. Thirteen has been an unlucky age for too many of my dogs, Jason, Mugsy, Becky, probably Snuffy.

Birthday boy and girl in hand crafted hats by SWDNO. ©2020 no plot

It still didn't make it easier when HF came home from the vet's with the news. Hearts had started to slow down on our walks again - we thought his arthritis was paining him but it was cancer. There wasn't anything to be done that wouldn't put him through needless pain that wasn't likely to do much good anyway.

We hoped for more time but less than a week later, I was standing with him at the end of the driveway, waiting for the mobile vet to come. I had shown him his leash each day since we got the diagnosis; he got excited every time, but each day our walk was a little bit shorter. Today, the driveway was as far as he would go.

Two little blonde girls from two doors over were riding their bikes past us, as they had done many times before, but suddenly, one of them stopped in front of us and hopped off her bike.

"Can I pat your dog?" she asked for the first time ever.

He lay down at my feet and soon there were two blonde heads leaning over him, giving him pats. I don't know why they felt the urge to pat him that day and not any other day they had seen us walking him. It may have been because they had lost their own dog not long before.

Whatever it was, it was some kind of therapy for me to stand there in the warm sun, watching him do the job he was born for one last time. It made us all feel a little better.

He must have pats. All the pats. © no plot, HF, SWDNO

*To tell the truth, the old screen door was shredded by Shadow, the dog we owned before Hearts came into our lives. But since Hearts's favourite way of summoning his staff was to whack the window or door he saw you through with enough force that you feared the glass would shatter, it didn't seem prudent to install the new screen when we got a new patio door
**Note the paws which are almost as big as the head
***absolute lie, see sweet face op cit., photos above, also we are idiots
****or did he? Hmmmmmmmm
*****since she never repeated the offence, she was able to plead her belly and the charges were dropped
******mama dogs eat puppy poop, gross but also extremely efficient
*******Princess had a white "V" on his chest and Jasper was completely black. Since Hearts had two hearts (one inside, one out), that makes him a Time Lord
********Three-times as much dog as it turned out since Hearts fully grown was almost twice as heavy as Sylvie. The vet thought the pups were part Newf, confirmed by a DNA test later on. Sylvie is mostly Labrador; Hearts was a genuine Newfoundland and Labrador.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

love in the time of covid-19

I have a confession to make and it's not that my only personal online comment about the coronavirus so far is about underwear.

I don't know how judgmental you will get on this; maybe you will judge me for judging you by thinking you are judging me. 

It's not a crime. I'm not about to declare that I shot JFK (or J.R.) or kidnapped the Lindbergh baby.*

It's a thing that a lot of people do that I have only just gotten around to doing after years of turning my nose up in disdain, declaring I would never stoop so low.

My name is noplot and I read romance novels.

It started innocently enough with a recommendation from a blogger named Julia from Here Be Hippogriffs, a writer who I love and admire but who has sadly disappeared from the blogosphere. She brazenly admitted liking kilt-rippers but in particular sang the praises of Georgette Heyer. Having dabbled before and found the genre wanting, I was skeptical but trusted Julia enough to try again.

My library happened to have one e-book by Heyer; Faro's Daughter turned out to be the literary equivalent of a Cary Grant screwball comedy set in Regency England. Delightful and witty and romantic and fun. And no sex, not even of the train-enters-the-tunnel-metaphorically kind.

One free book turned into a collection of 23 volumes and counting, not a dud amongst the lot.** I would own more but all her romances are in trade paperback that cost $25 Canadian or more - pretty pricey for an author who's been dead for 46 years. In some ways this is a good thing since I have been forced to purchase them slowly, taking my time, making it last. 

This did not prevent me from racing my friend who didn't know what a meme was to get to the romance section of a huge used book sale last year. When she managed to get one I didn't have yet, I refrained from snatching the precious volume from her hands...but just barely and only because it might harm the book.

It all gets a bit hazy after my first hit of Heyer. Perhaps there were other hidden gems out there? Perhaps not all romance writers were "witless with wanting." Perhaps I could hide my shame by sampling some other works in the privacy of my own e-library stacks. Libraries make excellent hiding places.

Somewhere along the way, I also stumbled upon an excellent website Smart Bitches, Trashy Books that continued to support my habit by providing recommendations and also linking to free books and great sales. 

If you are my friend on Goodreads, you may have noted an uptick on the number of romance novels I will admit to have read. Technically, that is only a tip of the iceberg but the ones you find there are the ones I have actually read from cover to cover. It's a rule I have - read all the words, you have to own it.***

There are many that I have just read for the good bits which may or may not include: the blurb, enough of the set up to know what the set up is but could you please just get on with it, the meet cute, the meet stupid, the meet wildly improbable, some of the hero's angst but not all because he should just get over himself, some of the heroine's angst ditto, the first kiss, the first time his heartstrings/penis went zing (sometimes on the first page), the first time she realized she should have worn pantyliners, first base, second base, what even is third base, the household chores being done by paid subordinates, the sex, the set up for the sex but then sadly not the sex, the wedding, the epilogue baby. 

My personal preference is usually for historical romance, hence the Heyer. It's easier to make the sexual tension climb slowly when the woman can't just decide to jump the man as soon as she notices how he fills out his cream-coloured breeches.  Modern romances have a hard time coming up with reasons why the story isn't over as soon as somebody's maidenhead is no longer in peril.

One modern series I read consisted of a different-yet-strangely-the-same Alpha Male in each book explaining to His Woman that she is beautiful and awesome and perfect just the way she is even if she thinks she's fat (which she clearly isn't) because he says she is (or isn't) and could she please stop putting herself down because she is really Pissing Him Off. It was this series that made me understand why some people stay with bad boyfriends because the sex is good.

Then there's the shapeshifter series where the guy turns into a wolf or a tiger or bear and the sex is animalistic and hot but nobody ever has sex when in animal form because that would just be weird. But it's okay to just kidnap women and take them off to your lair to have mind-blowing sex because you can just tell by her scent that she's your mate. No need to find out if your Netflix wishlist has any overlaps.

Then there's all the wish fulfilment from landing a rich boyfriend: 
  • The closet full of clothes (including jeans!) that all fits perfectly, all purchased by a personal shopper who has never met the heroine or by the billionaire's chief henchman, who is charmingly gruff and whose psychic power is guessing women's measurements just by looking at her.  Jesus, I can't even figure out what fits me by looking at sizes in the store and I live in this body. 
  • The housekeeper  who cooks all the meals, washes all the dishes, does all the shopping, and never walks in to dust when everybody's got their knickers off, thereby turning hot and sexy into a scene more cringey than a full season of The Office.
  • The trips on private planes that are really bad for the environment. Plus I would never take off my seatbelt during the flight because of unexpected turbulence, thereby limiting things in terms of sexual positions or contact and really I was just going to read my book.****
I've tried a little bit of BDSM (which is something I'd never imagined saying out loud on the internet so thank God my mother doesn't remember to read these posts) but after a couple dozen books or so, I found it mostly left me cold. 

First of all, it sounds really exhausting for the guy especially when he spends all night thinking up inventive ways to cause multiple orgasms for her, while only getting the one for himself, and then has to get up before dawn to be an extremely successful capitalist in some vague manner which is totally not environmentally unfriendly or oppressive to third world countries or obscene in any way shape or form because, let's face it, great wealth in the hands of the few is the greatest plague upon humanity, unless, of course, you are using it to cause earth-shattering orgasms.

Plus afterwards you have to wipe down all the equipment.

And also, I am a middle child so, as Her Father will attest, the first order that comes out the guy's mouth, I'd be like, "Fuck off, Christian, you're not the boss of me!"

The thing is that I have loved romance all my life. I love romantic comedy movies, I love romantic scenes is other movies. I shipped Mulder and Scully, I shipped Remington Steele and Laura, I shipped Maddie and David from Moonlighting, Sam and Diane, Ross and Rachel.

But I also learned early that I shouldn't like "girly" things like romance novels. Girly things are not cool. They are silly and frivolous and not important topics of conversations such as sports and cars and penis size and whatever else it is that men talk about? Boats? Hunting and gathering? Phlegm?

Everyone agrees that Love is the most important thing but writing about the search for love is seriously uncool.

I grew up in the '60s and '70s when the war between the sexes was raging. It's not like sexism has vanished since then, but it's hard for anyone born in this century to know how sickening it was. You didn't even realize half of it because you were so used to it, it didn't even occur to you to be annoyed.

Star Trek was one of my favourite shows and there were plenty of women in it, but Captain Kirk called his female crew "girls". One show centred on a woman who went mad because she could never be a starship captain so she took over Kirk's body. The crew noticed something was up because Girl-Krik was so histrionic - considering Shatner's acting choices, I wonder how they noticed the difference.

But, why the fuck was it so unbelievable that in 300 years a woman could be a starship captain?

When I read books, I was always drawn to the tomboy character, a girl who could be just as boy as the next boy, like Jo in Little Women, like Nancy's friend George in Nancy Drew. I actually preferred The Hardy Boys to Nancy Drew because I thought Nancy was too girly. Nancy kept getting saved by her boyfriend. The Hardy Boys got themselves out of scrapes.

I was not really a tomboy; I sucked at sports; I didn't want to learn karate; I didn't particularly want to climb trees, unless maybe it was a nice treehouse with a ladder and place to sit and read my book about girls who were tomboys.

I didn't want to be a boy; I love being a girl.  But in my mind, girly girls were less than; the girls I admired could do "boy" things and do them well. The thought that "girly" things were not inferior but were just rated that way is a concept that has taken decades to sink in.

As for books, there was a pecking order that had come down through the ages and modern romance novels were definitely on the bottom, probably lower than instruction manuals since the romance writing style was reputed to be so abysmal.

The fact is that many great works of literature are out and out romances. All of Shakespeare's comedies and a good deal of his tragedies. All of Jane Austen's work. Jane Eyre. Lots of Dickens, Tolstoy, George Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Hemingway, Fitzgerald. Many great works include romance even when the main plot is something else. But the minute you call them a "romance" it's like you insulted them.

Meanwhile, romance novelists are working in their billion dollar girly ghetto because they know what sells - there are plenty of women who want to hear what they have to say. There are good writers and bad writers. There are writers who get a lot of stuff right even when they get a lot of stuff wrong. 

We all need a bit of romance in our lives. Some men will claim they add women to their testosterone-fuelled action flicks because a) it makes the women in the audience happy and b) boobs, but I suspect they also ship Hulk and Black Widow just like the rest of us.

Romance isn't just hearts and flowers and wish fulfillment; it's about finding real love, a love that will last through your life, a love that will sustain and support you.

It's possible to have a good life without ever finding that one person who loves you, someone who picked you out of the crowd and said this is the person I need to stay in my life, the one I'd most like to be quarantined with. Someone under no obligation to care about how you like your bacon or your eggs or to tolerate you or the rest of your family at Thanksgiving dinner. Someone who will go to two different supermarkets to buy the bread you like. Someone who will nag you to get your snow tires on because otherwise they'll worry until you get home during the first snowstorm.

It's possible to live without romance, but I doubt anyone starts out rejecting the idea out of hand.

Writing about romance is hard. It's the stuff of everyday life. No explosions, no bullets flying, and no car crashes, although my mother told me she nearly killed my father by getting out of the car when he was in the middle of changing the tire on their first date. If falling off a jack counts as a car crash...

The typical romance is more like Girl has birthday and gets Boy's name from a friend in lieu of present.***** Boy meets Girl for coffee even though Girl doesn't drink coffee (Boy probably should have taken that as a sign that he will have to go to multiple supermarkets looking for bread some day). Boy takes Girl to a Johnny Depp movie that is supposed to be a romance but is just awkward and strange. Boy kisses Girl anyway. Girl likes Boy but realizes she's in the middle of a major depression and puts Boy on hold until the drugs kick in. Girl remembers how to feel again and stalks Boy at the Regatta. Boy takes Girl to the Folk Festival. Girl kisses Boy. Boy goes on three week vacation without Girl and sends her only one freaking email. Girl tries to surprise Boy by picking him up at the airport but Boy has unromantically left his car in longterm parking. Girl awkwardly trails Boy home. Boy ignores Girl at the door because Rat has been using his house as an Air BNB while he was gone. Girl stands there awkwardly watching shovel-wielding Boy chase Rat, wondering why this reunion is so awkward and strange and not like a romance novel at all. Boy drives Rat out from behind the couch causing Girl to leap posthaste aside as Rat leaves posthaste through the back door. Boy is mortified. Girl can't wait to start a blog so she can tell the world about it in three part harmony, with photographs with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back of each one and asterisks on the bottom explaining her references.****** Boy asks Girl to marry him even though Girl uses way too many words and asterisks to tell a story. Girl marries Boy despite his lack of appreciation for a good run-on sentence.

Finding the right romance novel(s) for me have been a lot like the process of finding the right man. There's a wide range of them, lots of duds, lots of maybes with weird bits that just don't work, lots with good bits that don't make up for the bad bits. Other people will try to set me up with someone, saying "this one is great" but I figure out pretty quick that they're just not my type. Some are nice but just not right. 

Some will blow my socks off and not just euphemistically. I will read them again and again and never get tired of them because they capture those moments of connection, the times when two people look at each other and just know they are meant to be together through pandemics and every other disaster and every good thing too.

*For those who were born in this century, the answer key (allegedly): Lee Harvey Oswald, (Kristin), Bruno Richard Hauptmann, i.e. not me 
**Apparently the same can't be said for her contemporary mystery novels so I've avoided them and can therefore neither confirm nor deny
***Fortunately for me, it is literally impossible to read all the words in Fifty Shades of Grey so no one will ever know that embarrassing fact about me
****I read this one book where the guy bought them first class tickets instead because it left less of a carbon footprint and I practically swooned
*****Total fabrication, I got the name and a present!

Monday, February 24, 2020

once in love with amy (and jo)

Warning! Spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't read Little Women or seen the 2019 movie version which is a delight; you should watch it first before you read this unless you like having things ruined for you.


It is a truth universally acknowledged by anyone who has ever read Little Women that Amy is the Absolute Worst and that Jo should have married Laurie.

And, not only should Jo have married Laurie (who is a boy and extremely hot), she should NOT have married an old man who is not hot in any way, was prone to mansplaining, and was probably some kind of bear shapeshifter.*

Baby sister Amy spends the first half of the book being the most annoying brat to inflict herself on a long-suffering big sister, which is bad enough when you are a long-suffering big sister yourself and can relate. But then she commits the unforgivable sin of burning Jo's writing in a fit of pique.

The only copy of the words that Jo wrote. Burnt.

Words that flowed out of her like a deep river gliding effortlessly down to the sea. Words that wouldn't let her sleep at night, jangling in her head so loud she had to get out of bed, light a candle, and desperately scribble them down just so she could get them to shut up. Words she wrestled out of her brain and pinned to the paper. Words that would embarrass her later in life but for now seem like a work of staggering genius. Words that were good and worth saving. Words that she struggled to find and slaved over and could never reproduce no matter how hard she tried. Words she totally forgot to back up in the Cloud.

I couldn't have been more horrified if Amy had set fire to the family house and then put Marmee on a spit to roast over the coals.

Jo may have forgiven her but I have not.

Then Friggin' Amy who is the Absolute Worst gets to go on a trip to Europe instead of Jo just because Aunt March wants to actually enjoy herself by taking someone she actually gets along with.

And then, Friggin' Amy, the Destroyer of Words, actually MARRIES LAURIE despite the fact that everyone is still shipping him with Jo and will to the end of time.

Image result for i lime amy
Via Relevant Obscurity See also Tomato Nation.

Essentially, LMA has been on my shit-list for the past 40 years or so.

But other than that teeny, tiny, whopping great grudge which I was intending to take to my grave, I actually love Little Women.

I am Jo. Or I wanted to be. All she ever wanted to be was a writer. She was a tomboy whose best friend was a boy (I had no idea how to talk to boys) and a maverick who runs off to New York to actually be a writer in the great big world despite the patriarchal system that said there was no way she would make it. That was how I wanted my life to go.

I could even imagine that my sisters were Meg, Beth, and Amy, mostly because I have three sisters and I'm the second oldest, just like Jo, and mostly because I was best sister-friends with my next younger sister, my "Beth", and my baby sister, my "Amy" used to bug the shit out of me.**

I read the book several times back in the day and have seen most, if not all of the movie adaptations. The Katharine Hepburn one, the June Allyson one, the Winona Ryder one. The tv mini-series where Captain Kirk was Professor Bear Bhaer.***

I know the plot forwards and backwards and upside down. I almost didn't go to see the latest version because I know the plot forwards and backwards and upside down. But then I read that the director was Greta Gerwig and that she had done something to make it new.

Basically, she solves the problem of Amy. For that matter, she solves the problem of Jo.

Instead of following the timeline of the novel, starting with their childhood adventures/sins and working up to the happily ever after that is marriage and career fulfilment (for some), the movie starts with Jo arriving in New York, carrying her portfolio, pursuing the true romance she has always dreamed of - her love of words.

Meanwhile, Amy is in Paris, working on a painting, dreaming of being a great artist, when she meets up with Laurie. He is mourning the loss of the love of his life with the traditional European bacchanal of wine, women, and Eurail passes.  She calls him on his shit and helps him get past it all while being remarkably sensible about the realities of a poor woman's life in the 19th century, marriage being practically the only career that a woman without sufficient artistic talent can aspire to, marriage to a rich man the only way out of genteel poverty.

The grown-up, admirable Amy is there in the book too, but it's a lot easier to forgive the unforgiveable when you meet Good Amy first and the Book Burning is shown in flashback. You can't get too attached to LaurJo when the narrative gives you LaurAm first. Timing is everything.

Jo also meets a handsome young man (who is not old and not a bear) but the romance takes a backstage to her writing. Sure she dances with him at a hot New York dance club and takes his literary criticism to heart, but those scenes take up far less screen time than the scenes of her scratching out words with her pen, arranging her pages on the floor, talking to her sisters about whether a book about the domestic lives of young women is "important" or not (spoiler alert: it is!), and negotiating a copyright contract with her publisher.

A copyright contract. Someone was negotiating a copyright contract on a big screen right in front of me.

I got so excited, I almost shouted at the screen, "Don't sell him your copyright outright! Make sure you retain merchandising rights! Negotiate a clause about sharing it in a scholarly repository!"

I know it is not a normal response to get excited about a copyright negotiation but I did.****

The publisher actually has to negotiate Jo's romance/marriage into the climax of her book because apparently maintaining control of your work and ensuring that you make a living wage from it isn't sexy enough for some people.  Personally, I needed a cigarette after that scene and I don't even smoke.

In the LMA book, Jo's ursine boyfriend organizes the publication of Jo's work (I mean, he didn't even have the right to authorize publication because that is the exclusive right of the author!!!) and presents the printed book to her as a fait accompli.

How much more satisfying it is to see Jo in charge, brave enough to bring her book to the publisher herself, inexperienced enough to not know what copyright is but not afraid to ask, smart enough to know it's worth more than she's being offered.

This was also the Jo I always wanted to be and I didn't even know it.

*There is actually a sub-species of romance novel about women falling in love with bear shapeshifters and apparently they are quite good in bed (I mean, I've heard rumours about books like that) but I was unaware of said genre at the time I read LW, probably because LMA probably invented shapeshifting bear romance, and also because I hadn't gotten around to wondering how good anyone was in bed yet.
**But not now. Love you, D-Squared! Also I have an older brother who is technically the second oldest but he is temporarily omitted for the purposes of inserting myself into this particular fictional world.
***and Laurie Partridge was Jo!
****You can retire the girl out of the copyright office but you can't get the copyright officer out of the girl

Monday, January 27, 2020

i'd rather eat johnson, sir

If you live in St. John's, you may have noticed there is a bit of snow around. If you live anywhere in the world you may have just discovered there is a place called St. John's, or rather used to be because it's currently buried under enough snow to prompt Ozymandias to send us a message from beyond saying "welcome to the club."

The irony that Snowmageddon occurred only two weeks into my retirement is not lost on me. I could have had six whole days of fully paid leave without using a single vacation day and without once having to set the alarm just in case, my pyjamas on inside out and backwards, an ice cube flushed down the toilet, spoon under my pillow. If the university ever opens up again, I think I'll put in for the time. 

It's the least they could do - I minds a time when they used to make us show up for work even when classes were cancelled, stay open just long enough for the snowstorm to get itself really organized, and then send us out into the blasting wind without benefit of dogsled or a clear view of the other buildings on campus.

But that was back in the days when blizzards were less motivated; there were plenty of days they'd give up after a few hours, content with giving us a measly hour or two to shovel out before it turned to rain and the snow got too jeezly heavy so forget about that nice little lie in you had banked on the night before, the three worse words to hear the morning after a snowstorm being "update at 11."

A whole week off without once having to play Snowstorm Roulette. Luxury!

Of course this type of snowcation comes at a cost.

It took us three hours, two cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, and one tank of oxygen just to get the snowblower out of the garage...

It took us two days and one case of carbon monoxide poisoning to determine that we couldn't just clear the front tires and drive my car out of this...

Then the snowblower and two shovels broke, leaving us with three hobbit-sized shovels and a snow scoop that was only useful for pushing the snow from one side of the driveway to the other.

Clearly it was time to draw straws to see who we would eat first.

And then it snowed again because God hates us.

We snowblew* and shovelled again, i.e. Her Father fixed the snowblower and then snowblew* and SWDNO shovelled while I, a veritable Sisyphus in snowpants, flailed despairingly at the towering peaks about me as half of each teaspoon of snow I managed to get onto Frodo's spade came sliding back down the precipitous slopes.

The army showed up and dug out an elderly couple who lived across the street.  I somehow restrained myself from mentioning I was recently retired and my arms were tired.

Finally after much labour (them), some labour and needless sooking (me), the driveway was clear to the one cut in the road. Our cars were finally free to not go anywhere at all because the State of Emergency was still on and there was nowhere to go.

Our world shrank down to our house and our neighbourhood. The day after we shovelled out, we walked the dogs around the block in the late afternoon, all the snowblowers and shovellers having retreated inside for the day. The quiet embraced us, no distant traffic sounds, no sirens, no planes overhead. We were where we were. We needed to be nowhere else.

The sun shone in through our front windows, gently warming us but not fooling us into venturing outside where the wind would cut you in two. We read books in the living room, glancing up from time to time to watch the dogs basking in the heat, moving as the patches of window-shaped light crept across the floor. We read more books, we binge watched Netflix, we played boardgames and I trounced all comers because I am the Queen of Sorry, bitches!

This is not really all that different from a normal day in the no plot home, really, except we all got to do it all day, everyday, and not just the retiree. It was like a week of Sundays but before Sundays became like every other day in the week.

It's kind of strange (and just a bit guilt inducing) to keep hearing about a State of Emergency when the power is on, your income doesn't rely on hours logged, the cable and internet work, there's peanut butter in the cupboard, and stacks of unread books as far as the eye can see. It was more like a State of No Plot Nirvana.

But all good things must come to an end, including the world, so before the next storm hits, I'll be stocking up on dragonglass, Valyrian steel, and storm chips.

*that's probably a dirty word but I'm afraid to look it up in the Urban Dictionary. Speaking of dirty words, the title of this post is from Monty Python and I didn't realize it was so dirty until I put it up there all on its own. So thanks to Terry Jones (RIP) et al, here's another post I can't tell my mother about.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

500 GBP and a room of my own

Some time during the last century, possibly while I was doing my masters degree in 1988, I read Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.  Shortly thereafter, I started rereading Jane Eyre (the good bits) because I was trying to write my final paper for the Bloomsbury Group course I was taking (Virginia Woolf was part of the group) and I had no idea what the hell I was going to write my paper on so why not read Jane Eyre instead is generally my motto when faced with something I don't particularly want to do.

Anyway, in 1928, Woolf wrote that in order to be a writer a woman needed to have money (she reckoned about £500 per annum) and a room of her own.  This struck me so forcefully at the time that I have taken it at gospel ever since.

Her book was an answer to all those idiots who kept wondering why there was no female Shakespeare and so few women writers in the canon at all.  Back in her day and mine, the university bookstore shelves were stuffed full with the novels, plays, and poetry of dead white men, with a few above-the-sod white men thrown in for variety and the occasional bone tossed to Jane Austen or one of the Bronte sisters (but not Anne*). 

When I had started my masters, I had to drop a course on early women writers because none of the books were in print and I was faced with having to compete with 15 other students for the one or two copies to be found in one of the multitude of libraries scattered around the University of Toronto campus. This was back when the library's computerized catalogue could tell you where the book was but not that the book was already checked out until you had trudged all the way over there.

Of course, I didn't really need Virginia to tell me I needed money to support my writing habit.  Having reached the tender age of 26 with no clear career goals other than "be a writer" in my head and having rejected a journalism career after a stressful six months of learning that being a journalist meant you had no time to write anything other than news stories, I was casting about myself to see what else I could do to keep myself in lined paper. This was before personal computers and the internet could provide the opportunity for you to blog your guts out to the world for (mostly) free.

My year in Toronto made it clear to me that being an English professor was not for me either.

So I went back home to Newfoundland, working at the university library for a few years until sheer boredom led me on to working as a copyright officer for a lot of years until sheer boredom led me to retire as soon as the countdown on my days-to-retirement clock had reached zero plus a few extra weeks thrown in to get things in order for the winter semester.

Things weren't actually in quite the order I had hoped for but it's hard to concentrate on the daily grind when "why not read Jane Eyre or the internet or that e-book that I had on hold but is now on my phone" is generally my motto.**

Did you know that if you put an e-book on hold at the NL provincial library, it automatically downloads to your account the minute it becomes available?  Did the productivity of all former English majors in the province dramatically decrease when that became a thing?***

Getting back to Virginia's book, her thesis was that a writer needs financial security, space, and time to get any writing done but getting the money you need to get the space you need and to maintain the space you need and to feed and clothes the kids you end up having if you marry the money you need or you keep working but have to be a superwoman-who-has-it-all eats away at the time you need to actually do anything except work, eat, raise kid(s), drive kid(s) to all their activities, watch TV, read books (hah!), and sleep. 

And maybe Anthony Trollope could get up at 5:30 a.m. and write for three hours before going off to work and produce 47 novels in 35 years but I bet bloody Anthony Trollope never changed a diaper or had to deal with a half-day kindergarten schedule that changed every two weeks or lived during the Golden Age of Television. Given the reality of most women's lives especially before there were many ways for them to earn money outside of marriage, it's amazing that any of them got into print at all.

Despite what I said above, my career in copyright wasn't always boring.  It could be a real roller coaster ride sometimes, with periods of intense activity followed by great lulls while you wait for the next semester to ramp up.

I got to create presentations about copyright and stand up in front of people telling them things they didn't know about stuff I knew backwards and forwards because I'd been doing it for so long, which is quite cool if you are a bit of a show off.

So many interesting things to read came across my desk all needing copyright clearance.  I was supposed to be concerning myself with just the copyright but how can you not read something called "How to Display Data Badly" or a scholarly article on the awesomeness that is Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Did you know that the berries Newfoundlanders call Bake Apples got that name because the French who came here back in the early days called them "baie qu'appelle" meaning "I don't know what to call this berry but my god it's some tart" and the English who came here back in the day misheard.

On the other hand, books and articles about copyright law are usually a surefire cure for insomnia (except for my copyright article in the Gazette, of course).  It is amazing how thinking about the rules which protect the art works that inspire our imaginations can stamp out all signs of life in the prose concerning those rules.

Of course, copyright protects boring stuff too or I would never have gotten any work done.**

It was while I was writing my not-at-all-boring article (that I got loads of compliments on so you should read it, too, right after this post) that it suddenly hit me that in a few short years I could be doing this full time.  I could create copyright stuff just as boring and maybe just as entertaining as other people. I already had the room; I would soon have the £500.

And so here I am today in front of a computer writing this word. And this one, too. Hoping that someone will read them. Dreaming that someday someone might pay me for them. But mostly just hoping someone will read them.

Either way, this is my new job and so far I'm loving it.  

I am a woman, I am a writer, and I am in print.

*Anne Bronte is brilliant by the way and you should finally get around to reading her very soon and not leave her sitting on your shelf in your complete Bronte sisters collection like an idiot (aka me) for years on end

**Can you get fired retroactively after you retire?

***Could they dock your pension or something?  Asking for a friend...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

piss and vinegar

I woke up this morning with a strong desire to write. Not my own pet project but this blog post, which is a review of a musical I saw last night for the first and hopefully not the last time.

The musical is called Impresario and I need to own the cast recording that doesn't exist of it yet. It's the true story of a young man from Newfoundland, John Murray Anderson, who dreamed of being a showman when he was running around St. John's without his rubber boots on, even though his mom said not to, and how he made those dreams come true on Broadway, and in Hollywood, back in the first half of the 20th century. You've never heard of him but he knew people like Bette Davis and Lucille Ball. He was kind of a big deal.

I'm not a very good reviewer so what I should say next is unclear to me. One thing I could say is that I judge most music based on whether I want to sing it or not.

I want to sing almost everything I heard last night and I'm not sure if I remember enough of the tunes yet, hence the need for a cast album. I had a similar experience last month after I left the Broadway performance of a new musical called Groundhog Day which has been nominated for a Tony for best musical.

I could add that last night I jumped to my feet and started the standing ovation in my section rather than rising to my feet only after the other people got up and blocked my view.

I am not the only reviewer of Impresario who thought that way.  The Telegram thought so too and, like Mikey, they don't like anything at least when it comes to musicals. The reviewer practically says that out right.

This may be all you really need to know but I can't ever leave well enough alone so here's the long version of what I just said.

Full disclosure, my niece, Erika Squires was in this show. I have been to many shows she has been in through the years and I confess I have often preferred to watch her rather than anyone else on stage. That is why if you want my attention focused on centre stage, it's probably just best to cast her as the lead. Quite a few people already have.

In this show, she was a supporting player and she provided excellent support. She played several different characters and they were in fact different characters and not just Erika wearing a different funny hat (she wore quite a few funny hats). I particularly liked the hat she wore while she was doing a pretty nifty accent (sorry, Erika, I forget who you were even though I won't forget the performance).

As tempting as it was to just watch Erika, I must admit that I kept getting distracted by all the other people wearing funny hats and beards and shower caps and plumage, too.

I kind of know most of the people who were wearing all this outlandish gear because I have had the privilege to work with them. I have been in the chorus of several shows where they have been the leads or filled the character roles so I knew going in they were talented. I recommend being in the chorus of a musical if ever you can manage it because you get to watch the show over and over again without paying a dime. You also get to see how the sausage gets made and it is worth every minute of your "real" life that you give up to be at all those rehearsals where you have to "wait" until it's your turn to sing. I am not a big fan of waiting and I hardly ever feel like I am waiting for anything when I am watching these people perform.

For this particular show, I could tell you about Jeff Simms who found his inner parrot as well as his hilarious old Newfoundland codger, while also finding time to dance and sing as a dog.

I could tell you about Emily Follett who became Hermione Gingold as she sang about testicles - I actually remember who Hermione Gingold is so I was pretty sure I was looking at her in that moment.

I could tell you about Dan Lasby who played Flatulent Frederick, The Felicitous Philatelist, a character and a song that are just as funny as they sound.

I could tell you about Andrew Preston who was a hopeful young man dreaming of being a showman and also an annoying paperboy, a hilarious thorn in a tetchy Florenz Ziegfeld's side. Philip Goodridge's Ziegfeld and his John Anderson Sr. are also worth mentioning in greater detail than I am giving him.

I could tell you about Kiersten Noel whose long hobble dragging a chair across stage was never not funny. She also made me cry real tears as Genevieve Lyon, a woman who died too soon, for her husband and the rest of us as well.

I absolutely should tell you about John Williams who played John Murray Anderson, the Impresario himself, who made me watch him despite all the amazingly talented people beside and behind him, who made me listen to him when there was so much else I could have been listening and looking at.

I could go on and on about everyone in the show but my husband thinks I should get to the point more often.

None of this would have been possible without the guys who wrote and staged the play, director/dramaturg Tim Matson and music director/orchestrator Kyle McDavid. Kyle is also given credit for graphic and set design as well as playing the impresario's brother and playing piano in the band, who performed onstage and were often an active part of the set.  I guess that made him the conductor too. I am tempted to add chief cook and bottle washer to Kyle's credits.

It would be pointless to single either of them out so I guess I will just have to mention that the staging was inventive and fun, the story moved along and was moving, the music was hilarious and sad and memorable.

I particularly want to mention Piss & Vinegar, In Colorado, If I Don't Get a Drink in the Next Five Minutes, and Anderson's Time.  I am tempted just to list all the songs.

I should also give a shout out to the choreography and the costuming and maybe even to my sister, Jane, who loaded the prop crates back into her truck at the end of the evening.

There are no small roles only small actors and small reviewers who can't take the time to thank all the people who are responsible for the success of a show.

All of the people I mentioned above, and all of those I didn't, are deserving of my thanks for giving me and everyone else in the audience a really good time on a Saturday night.

Monday, May 15, 2017

it only happens when i dance with you

Last Thursday, I was having a tough day at work for reasons. I was frustrated and needed a day off because as I near retirement, I have finally realized that I have a new job waiting for me as soon as I can get to it.  I am so impatient for it, I have already started to do the work, fitting it in whenever I have a spare moment.

I chose today because it meant I could manage to get through Thursday and Friday without pulling all my hair out.

I was supposed to be getting a whole day off to myself to do nothing except what I wanted, all by myself.

But before I could get to this wonderful day off all to myself, I did not realize that I had to jump through a few extra hoops that I had forgotten about:
  1. I had to take my car to get the snow tires off, the oil changed, and see about a thing that may need to hammered back into place.
  2. I had to take my husband to work because otherwise I wouldn't have a car while the above was being removed, replaced, changed, and hammered
  3. I had to take my daughter to her job shadowing thing because she has a PD day and she didn't need to go to school and may in fact be back before I am ready for her to be back.
  4. I had to do two loads of laundry for her because I am mindful of the fact that her life gets overwhelming from time to time and when she gets overwhelmed, I get overwhelmed and I need to help her learn to be mindful enough to not let her laundry get out of hand. She helped me put on the first load.
  5. I had to do the laundry today because it is a beautiful day for drying laundry outside and she has a lot of stuff that needs to be hung to dry.
  6. I had to pick up a lot of dog shit in and around the laundry rack in the backyard because it was a minefield out there and I wouldn't have been able to safely hang out the laundry otherwise. Judge me if you must but two dogs make a whole shit ton of crap and it's hard to find the time to get out there and clean it up.
  7. I had to rescue the small plastic patio table from the shed and dump out the water that had gathered in it because it had been stored upside down under a lot of crap but there is no door on the shed.
  8. I had to put the laundry basket on the small plastic table because my back isn't what it used to be and I hate to bend.
  9. I had to figure out how to fit two loads of laundry onto one drying rack that is really only big enough for 1.5 loads.
  10. I had to throw all the socks and underwear and everything else that wouldn't fit on the drying rack into the dryer and then remember to set the dryer going.
  11. I had to scrub something with soap because stains don't come out in the wash if you don't scrub them.
  12. I had to scrub some mystery substance off the deck because I was afraid if I walked past it one more time I was going to a) step in it and then I'd have to clean my shoe, or b) scream if I had to look at it one more time.
  13. Then, I had to write this all down on my blog because writing is my new job, but writing this blog is only the beginning.
Thank God I have Fred Astaire on my iPhone to help me get through it.

I have been up for 5 hours and now I am finally ready to begin my day. *

*Still have to pick up the husband, the car, and the kid.