Agonistes

There are days this isn’t fun, the whole writing business. Days I say to myself, “You know what would be fun? ACCOUNTING. Numbers don’t break your heart. Nobody imbues them with an emotional significance above and beyond their face value. They are predictable and constant and simple. Awwww, numbers, my dearest friends!”

Then I begin to notice that I’m already imbuing them with emotional significance, and I haven’t even added a single digit yet. Apparently putting an emotional charge upon the world is what I DO.

There is nothing so simple I can’t make it complicated.

My mother once gave her French friend a can of Easy Cheese as a joke. “This is what passes for cheese in America,” she said, spraying it onto a cracker. Her French friend politely tried it, struggling not to gag, and then said in a tiny voice, “I believe I prefer… Difficult Cheese.”

That story really resonates with me. I, too, prefer Difficult Cheese, where “cheese” stands for just about anything you care to name. I am drawn to complexity; I consider it worth the struggle. I like the agon; I go looking for walls to kick down and challenges I can punch in the face. I’m a pugilist, by nature and by choice.

The life of the mind results in a shocking number of bruises, but they heal.


In the beginning is the future

All right, I think I’ve refined my YES post so that it’s no longer full of crazy ranting (eg. “Cans and Brahms” – why did you do it, Rick Wakeman? WHYYY?) and is now more pertinent to where music intersects with my writing process.

Because that’s really why we’re here, right? For the writing process goodness? Sure we are.

(OMG, this ended up long and nerdy ANYWAY, despite all my best efforts. Proceed only if you really think you can handle it.)

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Cold fish

Hello, all! I had a very nice Canadian Thanksgiving, right up until the part where I came down with an ugly cold. I’m still getting over it – and getting over travelling, which is its own special kind of headache.

I’m not up for much of anything today, which made for a frustrating writing day. I’ve been listening to Talk while I write, which is what got me obsessing about YES in the first place. Over the weekend I listened to Time and a Word, which Els’s comment reminded me existed. It had never been one of my favourites, frankly. It always struck me as kind of loopy, but this time I found it delightfully, exuberantly loopy and I don’t think it was the cold meds.

While I’m convalescing, here’s an exuberantly loopy Chris Squire concert solo called “Whitefish”, illustrating why he’s one of my favourite bass players.

Oh, all right, I always have a soft spot for bass; I was a cellist back in the day. But that’s one reason Squire stands out to me: his travelling, almost melodic bass lines remind me of Baroque music. It’s almost a basso ostinato; in some of his solo work, it absolutely is.

And now that I’ve been THAT NERDY, maybe it’s time to sign off.


And a very merry Canadian Thanksgiving to you!

It’s Thanksgiving this weekend, darlings. I know a number of my readers may have been unaware of this fact. I hope I’ve told you in enough time that you can still do something festive.

Here in Vancouver, it is traditional to drink coffee and pretend it isn’t raining. Some days that’s harder than others.

I’d meant to have a more interesting post up this week. I’ve been working on it in bits and pieces for days, and it is gruesomely nerdy. It’s about the band YES, which isn’t even my favourite band. It’s just the band that has the most trivia lodged in my head, along with a outrageous opinions about which album is their best (Drama), whether Tales from Topographic Oceans is even remotely listenable (it is), and who would win a Jon Anderson vs Chris Squire cage match to the death (Squire, no question).

Every time I was about to hit publish, one of two things would stop me. Either 1) I thought of something else I really needed to say about YES (Talk is my second favourite album! Take that, soulless minions of orthodoxy!), or 2) I remembered that most people have only ever heard “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, think it’s kind of stupid, and really won’t give a crap about the rest of it.

Which makes me sad, I admit, because “Owner of a Lonely Heart” really is kind of stupid.

I was going to just delete the whole damn thing, but then I was at White Spot with my son (note to non-Canadians: White Spot is like an upscale Denny’s [minus the all-day breakfast] where you can get wine with your chicken Caesar salad), and I suddenly noticed the background Muzak wasn’t Muzak at all. It was “Siberian Khatru” — not a bowdlerized version, no, but the real thing. And I said to myself: Look at all these old people grooving out over chicken pot pie and yam fries! YES is still relevant. Even Siberia goes through the motions!

I realize only the very meanest teachers give homework over Thanksgiving, so here’s an extra credit project, if you care to undertake it. Go listen to a Yes song that isn’t “Owner of a Lonely Heart”. If you are conversant in Classic Rock Radio and already know “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People”, then challenge yourself to find something more obscure. “Starship Trooper” or “Onward” or “Don’t Kill the Whale*” (stop laughing!) or “Gates of Delirium”. Then I’ll come back next week and you’ll understand the lecture.

Or, y’know, you can sleep through class next week and borrow somebody’s notes. The midterm isn’t until the end of the month.

* “Don’t Kill the Whale” is also kinda stupid, but it has the distinction of also being kinda hilarious. It’s got this insane shrieking electronic hornpipe thing going on in the middle, I swear, bookended by ridiculously earnest lyrics and Chris Squire just about as loony as he’s ever been on bass. Funny, funny stuff. I think I’ll go listen to it right now!

(Catch you all next week! Happy Thanksgiving!)


Ooh, look! Construction!

Forgive the mess, darlings, while we move things around! It is always so tedious deciding where the sofa is going to go, to say nothing of the boxes and boxes of books. It may look weird for a while.

Pft. Who am I kidding. It may look weird FOREVER. It’s my place, after all. You must remember who you’re dealing with.

(And a million thanks to Arwen for being disinclined to freak out when the going gets tough!)


In my brain this morning

Everybody’s hopak dancing!

I had to add a scene at the beginning of the book-in-progress – don’t make me explain – and it turns out they dance something very like the hopak in Ninys. WHO KNEW.


Review: Imaginary Girls, by Nova Ren Suma

(Reposted from Goodreads)

Imaginary GirlsImaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

OK, I think I’m finally ready to review this properly. Deep breath…

I didn’t like this book.

I know, I know, it has four stars and may even deserve five, but I didn’t LIKE it. It hit too close to home, and I’m having trouble working out a way to discuss that without laying my own crap out all over the internet in gruesome and excessive detail.

I’m going to have to approach this obliquely, I fear.

Long ago, when I first became a parent, I read a lot of parenting books. One idea in particular hit me hard — so hard that I can’t even figure out where I first read about it, the source got knocked right out of my brain. That idea was “differentiation”.

Differentiation is the process by which children learn that they are different people from their parents. I realize that sounds both trivial and obvious, but it’s not. It usually happens in stages; a child begins to realize things like “Oh, I like olives and mom doesn’t, and that’s ok because we’re different people!” or “Sometimes Daddy is WRONG!” It’s basic boundaries-building. This is mine, THAT is yours, we are not identical and that is as must be.

For some people, believe it or not, this process doesn’t quite manage to happen. Sometimes a parent is so self-centered, needy, and/or charismatic that the children can’t (or won’t) pull away. that’s what I see, laid out starkly and grimly, in this novel. Ruby has been Chloe’s default parent. Chloe can’t tell where she ends and her sister begins. Ruby is such a narcissist she encourages this. They’re a cult of two, and Chloe never manages to break free.

The magic-realism, or surrealism, or however the nightmarish imagery should be categorized, serves to amplify this dynamic. It’s the psychological made literal, the mind turned inside-out. And it’s not like Chloe doesn’t see the discrepancies between Ruby’s domain and naked reality. She absolutely sees them, and they bother her a little bit.

But not enough to break free. Even with Ruby “dead” (and I mean, is she? Certainly if you gauge by Chloe’s psyche, the answer has to be no), there is no escape for poor Chloe.

And that, I think, is the crux of my dislike. The book was well-written and compelling and creepy, and you should absolutely read it, but the ending made me want to punch holes in the wall. I want to howl and burn things. And yes, there is personal history wrapped up in my reaction, and no, I’m not explaining it in any more detail than that.

It’s a hard book. A bullying book, compelling you to read even when you hate it. Worth the time, and worth the heartache, but I have to keep reminding myself that escape is possible, even if Chloe didn’t want it.

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