a love letter.

I think about Ireland like I would an ex-lover; it changed me, taught me, got to know me, and then, at the precise moment when it became irreversibly part of me, we both realized that we had to leave each other. In the way that a whirlwind romance can alter everything you ever thought you wanted, Ireland took me, tore me up, and pieced me back together in a better, more concrete version of myself. On my last afternoon in Dublin I sat on the steps of a building at Trinity College and cried. It wasn’t dramatic or attention-seeking, they were simple tears running down my cheeks. I was grateful, saddened yet still a sort of happy, and completely in love with my life. And, knowing we were going to part, I thanked that country for giving me all of itself in exchange for no promises of the same from me.

I have spoken about Ireland many times since I have come home. But what I have never dared to mention were the moments when I sat completely alone and completely absorbed myself in everything I had been running from for what felt like forever. Those moments where I stared down at my itty bitty tattoo and felt the meaning catch in my throat, remembering everything it signified. Those moments where I felt like I was standing on top of the world, staring at rolling green hills that seemed infinite despite being in a country so small, and ultimately surrendering to the loneliness I had been feeling for so long. Those moments where the shuffled songs forced me to recognize how I felt, from “Transatlanticism” during my first fight with homesickness, and then, on my last weekend as I sat on a beach staring at the ocean, “Broken Open”.

Ireland made me realize that I wish life had dealt better cards for my uncle so that I could have known him better before he died and so that my mom could have had her brother the way she remembered him as children. It made me accept that my grandparents were gone and no matter how many times I said I was fine or moved on like it was over, it was definitely not over. It showed me that I was worth adventure, and love, and mystery, and pushing past my limits.

In all of this, it made itself the pinnacle of love, the benchmark for all future relationships.

So much has changed since I flew back home. I moved out, cut my hair, made new friends, and started forging ahead.

Then I met him.

And everything changed again.

In the last year I have had the greatest man by my side and he has changed me, taught me, got to know me, and pushed me. He has shown me my true worth and has given me more than I ever thought I deserved. He has been there for so many dreams coming true and, for many of them, was the reason behind them happening.

I have changed friendships and jobs and read better books and finally tried to learn the difference between lay, lie, and laid. I have come back to what I am truly meant to do. I have discovered that love can be the easiest thing in the world and then, suddenly, become so terribly hard.

I have realized that I can make myself really difficult to love, but that the right person will love you anyways and still make you feel that it is because, not despite.

I do not credit him for everything that has changed within me but I do know that, without him, I would be a different person right now and that is upsetting – I really like who I have become.

What I never knew then, when I was on that final plane into Toronto, was that there is a big difference between arriving and coming home. I never knew that sometimes you will come back to where you’re from and feel like you’re not quite done yet. I never knew that travel could break your heart as much as it could heal you.

I never knew until someone came along and proved it to me that I could truly love another person as much as I loved Ireland, and he could love me just as much.

And now, after everything that has happened, I am finally home.

“how to build a girl” and everything wonderful about Caitlin Moran.

I just finished Caitlin Moran’s new book, How to Build a Girl. Just finished as in I turned the last page less than two minutes ago and I’m still trying to clear the tears and mucus from my face. I haven’t done a book review in a very long time. Yes, it’s true, I haven’t even written here for a very long time, and I’m not going to do a review this time, either. There is a moment in this book where Johanna Morrigan is told that she is a critic, not a fan, and to write like one. There is no way that a review of How to Build a Girl would be anything but an overly lauding piece of work, full of insanely supportive adjectives and professions of love.

Instead I want to share here a chapter in the book that I read twice so far and will likely go back to again and again. It is the cause of the tears and mucus and is something I wish I had five, ten, fifteen years ago. It is a short chapter that contains so much wisdom, one that should be shared with every daughter, mother, aunt and grandmother.

“So what do you do when you build yourself – only to realize you built yourself with the wrong things?

You rip it up and start again. That is the work of your teenage years – to build up and tear down and build up again, over and over, endlessly, like speeded-up film of cities during boom times and wars. To be fearless, and endless, in your reinventions – to keep twisting on nineteen, going bust, and dealing in again, and again. Invent, invent, invent.

They do not tell you this when you are fourteen, because the people who would tell you – your parents – are the very ones who built the thing you’re so dissatisfied with. They made you how they want you. They made you how they need you. They built you with all they know, and love – and so they can’t see what you’re not: all the gaps you feel leave you vulnerable. All the new possibilities only imagined by your generation, and nonexistent to theirs. They have done their best, with the technology they had to hand at the time – but now it’s up to you, small, brave future, to do your best with what you have. As Rabindranath Tagore advised parents, “Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”

And so you go out into your world, and try to find the things that will be useful to you. Your weapons. Your tools. Your charms. You find a record, or a poem, or a picture of a girl that you pin to the wall and go, “Her. I’ll try and be her. I’ll try and be her – but here.” You observe the way others walk, and talk, and you steal little bits of them – you collage yourself out of whatever you can get your hands on. You are like the robot Johnny 5 in Short Circuit, crying, “More input! More input for Johnny 5!” as you rifle through books and watch films and sit in front of the television, trying to guess which of these things that you are watching – Alexis Carrington Colby walking down a marble staircase; Anne of Green Gables holding her shoddy suitcase; Cathy wailing on the moors; Courtney Love wailing in her petticoat; Dorothy Parker gunning people down; Grace Jones singing “Slave to the Rhythm” – you will need when you get out there. What will be useful. What will be, eventually, you?

And you will be quite on your own when you do all this. There is no academy where you can learn to be yourself; there is no line manager slowly urging you toward the correct answer. You are midwife to yourself, and will give birth to yourself, over and over, in dark rooms, alone.

And some versions of you will end in dismal failure – many prototypes won’t even get out of the front door, as you suddenly realize that no, you can’t style-out an all-in-one gold bodysuit and a massive attitude problem in Wolverhampton. Others will achieve temporary success – hitting new land-speed records, and amazing all around you, and then suddenly, unexpectedly exploding, like the Bluebird on Coniston Water.

But one day you’ll find a version of you that will get you kissed, or befriended, or inspired, and you will make your notes accordingly, staying up all night to hone and improvise upon a tiny snatch of melody that worked.

Until – slowly, slowly – you make a viable version of you, one you can hum every day. You’ll find the tiny, right piece of grit you can pearl around, until nature kicks in, and your shell will just quietly fill with magic, even while you’re busy doing other things. What your nurture began, nature will take over, and start completing, until you stop having to think about who you’ll be entirely – as you’re too busy doing, now. And ten years will pass without you even noticing.

And later, over a glass of wine – because you drink wine now, because you are grown – you will marvel over what you did. Marvel that, at the time, you kept so many secrets. Tried to keep the secret of yourself. Tried to metamorphose in the dark. The loud, drunken, fucking, eyeliner-smeared, laughing, cutting, panicking, unbearably present secret of yourself. When really you were about as secret as the moon. And as luminous, under all those clothes.”

I suppose that what I’m trying to say is a huge, warm, and absolutely heartfelt thank you to Caitlin Moran. Thank you for writing what you do, how you do, and without shying away from what needs to be said. Thank you for making girls and women everywhere see worth, beauty, and independence in every single one of us. And thank you for making me love you too much to properly review anything you write.

“the notebook” has destroyed real love.

I am about to say something that could very well get me killed. It could cause intense displays of anger, complete and utter withdrawal of support towards me, and, quite frankly, ruin my reputation. I have learned, however, that if you want to share your opinion you have to be ready for the backlash and this one is important enough to reap what I sow and then some:

I hate The Notebook.

I hate it. I hate the idea of it, I hate the execution of it, I hate it. I’ve been taught in my life that hate is a very strong word, reserved only for those people or things that truly deserve it, and oh, does The Notebook ever deserve it.

Before you go shutting your laptop in fury or yelling obscenities, I ask that you hear me out on this one. I also ask that you understand that The Notebook is a really great example of something that exists in many other works, as well, so unfortunately in this case it has become a bit of a martyr for the cause.

The thing about it, and any other Nicholas Sparks novel-to-movie adaptation, is how confidently and unabashedly it manipulates those viewing it. If Sparks could have feasibly added a few more disease-riddled characters and a dying animal or two, I’m sure he would have. It is like it is trying to take those tender heartstrings and not just play with them but shred them to pieces.

I have a problem with that. I have a problem with it in that my emotions are not someone else’s to manipulate. I am okay with being made to feel all the feelings – rarely do I read a book and not feel something – but I don’t want it to be obvious. I certainly don’t want it to be a ploy. And I definitely do not want it to be done through a completely unhealthy, unrealistic, and abusive relationship that everyone now holds up as the pinnacle of true love.

Has anyone ever stopped and taken a good hard look at the never-ending love of Noah and Allie? Do you understand how fucked up their example of true romance really is?

They fight all the time. Oh, but they always make up so it’s okay if it’s yelling, screaming, tearing their faces off sort of fighting – in the end, love wins everything! They break up, go on to live separate lives for awhile. But, no, wait! There he is, Noah the hero, buying the house and fixing it up and ensuring that Allie sees it. Then they fight in the rain, they make love, and basically everything is set in stone. Throw in some snooty parents who will just never understand and a few more tense moments of near-abusive arguments and you’ve got yourself a love story. Oh, and don’t forget the Alzheimer’s and the patient daily storytelling of Noah to the woman he’s always loved.

I want to vomit in my mouth.

There is nothing healthy or normal about this relationship. There is nothing to be coveted except, possibly, the determination and resilience they display despite their unhealthy displays of affection. If Allie or Norah were a friend of mine I’d definitely be all, “Look, I know it’s love, but you gotta get out of this one, man – it’s no good at the core.”

As I said, The Notebook is just an overarching symbol of something that has become prevalent throughout novels and movies in the last fifteen years or so. We heard it first when Renee felt completed by Tom and it’s spiraled down from there. Mr. Sparks has made a name for himself in the novel/movie realm of this emotionally manipulative, strangely unhealthy love story (A Walk to Remember, The Last Song, The Lucky One) but he’s not alone in it. Now we’re adding BDSM-based love stories to the mix and getting ourselves all worked up thinking that non-consensual, unhealthy sexual relationships CAN end in true love!

Great.

I’m not knocking arguing with your partner. I’m not knocking the couple that breaks up and gets back together. And I’m not knocking the two people who decide to saunter in to their local sex shop to see about a ball gag. There is nothing inherently wrong with these things and every couple has their own way of making it through the ups and downs of love. What I’m knocking, what I have a serious problem with, are the examples being set by these books and films for women (and men) that show completely off-the-rails displays of misguided affection and we are made to believe that’s what love looks like. And suddenly you are hearing your friend tell you there was just no “passion”, in or out of the bedroom, because he never yelled at her. Or there wasn’t a “spark” because she never raised a hand to him. Or there just wasn’t “chemistry” because she refused to progress beyond what you think is vanilla even though you agreed to use a safe word.

There is a time and a place for overwrought, emotional love stories. To some, they are an escape into a world they have never been a part of. But they are becoming beacons of light, hopeful symbols of what awaits us when we finally fall in love. This has to stop. It will be a hard, lonely lesson to learn when you see that Noah and Allie aren’t real and if you love like they love it will hurt more than you ever wanted. It won’t feel great when you realize that falling in love is hard work, even when finding the person is easy, and every day you learn more about yourself than you ever thought possible. And it will be gravely disappointing when it dawns on you that acting like you are the subject of the next, not-so-great Sparks novel will result in many a destructive break up.

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux

Title: Strange Bodies
Author: Marcel Theroux
Originally published: 2013
This is a bottom shelf book.

strange-bodiesPicked up based on a vast number of glowing reviews, Strange Bodies was a whim purchase done with trust in others. It sounded unique and strange, both of which I highly enjoy in novels. I’m strange, the world is strange – strange is very good. Sometimes, however, it does not get executed greatly and strange quickly becomes quite awful. You sit, reading page after page, hoping you’re wrong, hoping the storyline will right itself, and upon every flip of the paper you find yourself disappointed.

Marcel Theroux tried, I suppose. There was an attempt to link science fiction, literature, and thrilling plotline, one that almost succeeded but in the end fell short. Questions of consciousness, identity, and death arise with promise of deeper conversations being had but they never seem to reach the desired level of seriousness. It felt forced, contrived, and absolutely ridiculous.

I had high hopes for a book that promised a “literary thriller” that were dashed quite quickly. I could never get into it and was never all too interested in what Theroux had to say. The characters were overwrought and boring. The use of the device of a story within a story plus the addition of excerpts from the psychiatrist’s notes made for muddled, messy storytelling. I found it all so unappealing that it felt physically difficult to get through each page.

If you decide to look up the book and check out reviews you will find them all to be extremely positive. Perhaps I missed something, perhaps they did. Or perhaps Strange Bodies is just not my type of book. What it comes down to is that I could not stand this novel, would not recommend it, and would never lend it out in fear of the angry diatribe that would be coming my way once the receiver had finished the book.

a restrospect of my writing career.

I have documented my life in journals for as long as I can remember. Whenever I come across one of these gems from years ago I end up sitting and reading it through, cover to cover, having an extremely good laugh. I’ll never forget finding my kindergarten journal which contained such interesting tidbits as, “Today I used a magnet” and “Once I had a horse”. I never had a horse but I’m sure I had used a magnet by that point in my life.

Today while organizing the bookshelf I found a journal I was keeping from what looks like grade two until grade five. I did not religiously write in this, since there are maybe forty entries for three years of my life but the contents of these entries are brilliant. Ten year old me had no idea what she was creating but if I could go back I would tell her that while she thinks she is writing very serious, heartfelt entries she is actually constructing comedic gold.

Here I will share with you some of my favourites (complete with any spelling and grammar mistakes) and will attempt to give back-story when possible. I hope you see the wonder in these that I do.

March 30, 1997

“I like Easter. Easter came early this year usally it comes in April but this year it came at the end of March. We always get to go on an Easter egg hunt in our house and we always have tons of chocolate left over. I guess that’s all I have to say about Easter.”

If you were ever wondering about the history, importance, and wonderful family time that is Easter.

April 24, 1997

“After the grade three testing and Mrs. Pahwa told us we would be starting insects again the girls moaned. I felt like saying “Hey girls! Insects aren’t gross, boring or anything like that. You have to sort of get into the subject before you can say like they’re boring or somthing!”

If only I had looked back through my notebooks when deciding what to do with my life, clearly I was meant to be an entymologist.

April 27, 1997

“On Friday we got the tape Bacstreet boys. Heres a part of It: You’re the one for me you’re by extisy.”

This was extremely important to document, so important that I couldn’t even take the time to look up the spelling of ecstasy.

October 20, 1997

“I wrote a note to Holly asking if she had a Boyfriend. She wrote me back saying she didn’t. We were where Holly wrote her notes and Danielle read the note and started to laugh and said that’s practilly what she wrote. They wouldn’t let me read what she wrote, so when I was packing up Holly’s letter, I was looking for the letter Danielle wrote, then I found it. It said: Dear Holly, Are you going to tell Jeff you like him? Write back! From Danielle

Holly lied to me!”

This shows a few very important things:
1. I have always been a snoop and think everything is my business. This is shameful but also highly convenient.
2. I have no idea what I’m talking about here. Where were we writing these letters? Why did we have particular places where we wrote them? Who is Jeff?
3. I had no clue what it meant to have a boyfriend.

January 27, 1998

“Even is such a whiner! I can’t believe I even liked him! Once he started crying because he got beaten by a grade three in times tables around the world. Isn’t that pathetic! … But now a girl in my class named Stacee-Ann likes Evan. I know this because Stacee told Jessica, who told Evan, who told Scott, who told me and Neel. Boys can be really dum sometimes!”

Young Caitlin had no time for whiny bitches, okay? Also she really paid attention to the gossip mill. I totally am a Nosy Nancy. Also, young Caitlin: learn to spell “dumb” before you call people “dumb”… Glass houses and all.

February 12, 1998

“I like doing art. So far, my favourite type of art is Post impressonism and pop art. I think Pop art is the best though.”

Some things never change.

“I dream I’m part of my favourite band HANSON. Other times, I dream I volunteer at an Animal Rescue Station, and have LOTS of pets. It is fun to dream to me, for others, it’s wimpy.”

What?

September 27, 1998

This one you just have to see to understand:

IMAG0576

May 28, 1999

Graeme, a boy in my class likes me soooooo much! It is a bit flattering for someone to hug you everyday and tell you you’re beautiful. The thing is, I like him back. I know that that is not a bad thing, but, the bad thing is, he knows! Actually, everybody knows. They are always asking stupid questions like “has Graeme ‘screwed’ you yet? I hate that!”

Exemplifying my lack of desire for others to know my true feelings and also that at some point that year I learned how to put quotation marks within a quotation.

June 3, 1999

“Graeme proposed to me today. It was actually pretty sweet. He got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I said … YES!! I can’t believe I actually said yes!”

As Billy Joel once said, “Everyone said they were crazy, Brenda you know that you’re much too lazy and Eddy can never afford to live that kind of life.’

June 9, 1999

“I’m going to tell the people I know that have internet to go on it. Then we can talk over the internet instead. Maybe I’ll tell Graeme to go on it. Then I don’t have to spend an hour holding the phone to my ear.”

This is regarding a Hanson chatroom my friend showed me. If only I knew then how the internet can destroy perfectly good relationships.

December 12, 2000

“As you can tell from the last couple of pages*, I now hate Oddy. He asks me too many personal things and it gets really annoying sometimes. He doesn’t understand.

But after someone new now! His name is Nathaniel Underhill, and he is SO hot! He’s a bit taller than me, has blonde hair and either blue or brown eyes**. He is really funny and nice, too. He sat beside me in typing and stood beside me in the class photo. Oh how hot he is!”

*The last couple of pages had “I hate Oddy scrawled across them in maniacal writing

**True love means not even noticing eye colour, you see.

To finish this post off, I will leave you with some beautiful drawings also contained in the journal. They are symbols of my clearly budding “Pop art” career.

IMAG0574

IMAG0575

IMAG0578

Books v. Cigarettes by George Orwell

Title: Books v. Cigarettes
Author: George Orwell
Originally published: 1946
This is a top shelf book.

4064936I find George Orwell’s works fantastic for a variety of reasons from his simple yet intelligent prose to his dominating yet calming voice. What I usually find most fascinating about him, however, is how much his pieces still resonate today. I’m not only talking about 1984 (although that clearly relates to the world we live in today) but his other stories and essays, as well. Books v. Cigarettes is a collection of six essays ranging in topics from his early schooling days to censorship to the book reviewer to a comparison of how much more expensive reading is than other hobbies.

In a world where the bookstore is becoming out of date and people seem unwilling to spend the money on literature anymore, or even read at all, the title essay is something that particularly resonated with me. It is likely that his findings that most people spend much less on books than they do on other items such as cigarettes or alcohol would still be true today yet, just as it were seventy years ago, people still balk at the cost of a book. Anyone who has an interest in reading and the book industry would find this piece of great interest as well.

Beyond his ability to seemingly see into the future, it is worth reading this volume for his masterful writing. He writes so succinctly and beautifully, never misusing a word or creating a clumsy sentence. It feels so perfectly revised and fluid, with each piece possessing its own personality and emotion without being out of place alongside the others. He is intelligent and well-researched, unafraid to show it, but does so without being condescending towards the reader. While Orwell assumes you will know what he is talking about he also provides enough background knowledge that you can understand his point without having to take up your own research project if you don’t wish to.

Simply as an example of perfected writing style, this collection of essays is worth picking up. If you ever need to see how a great author crafts a sentence, then a paragraph, then brings it all together into one coherent piece, pick up anything by Orwell. I highly recommend these works, though, for their thought-provoking subject matter, humour, insight, emotion, and honesty.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Title: Ethan Frome
Author: Edith Wharton
Originally published: 1911
This is a top shelf book.

ethan_fromeI love a good unhappy ending. It takes guts for someone to write a story that builds you up with all the hope in the world over one hundred pages then tear it away from you in only a few. An author who is conscious of the fact that she is going to make you believe in love, in destiny, in the power of attraction over reality and then slap you in the face with it anyways is impressive in her resolve. Edith Wharton did for me in Ethan Frome what she could not do in The House of Mirth which was make me feel deeply and somehow feel content with the horrible unhappiness of everything I just bore witness to.

A story of a fictional New England town called Starkfield where title character Ethan Frome calls home with his sickly wife, Zeena, it captures the struggle of small town life with little money to spare quite beautifully. She writes her characters so beautifully that you are aware of how old the Fromes appear due to the harshness of their cold life together, both due to the winters and a lack of love, despite the fact that they are actually quite young. When Zeena’s cousin Mattie Silver comes to live at the home as a hired girl and changes Ethan completely when she is around, you feel as if you are reading about an entirely different man during those exchanges. It is this change Mattie creates in Ethan that is the catalyst for all subsequent events.

We have all read and seen the story of the ill-fated lovers. We have been depressed by them and haunted by them. There is something about two people in love who never quite get to be that can be aching. But what is special about Ethan Frome is that there is never a line crossed. All encounters and desire is transmitted through a slight blush, a batted eyelash, or a one-second-too-long touch. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that almost never are you led to actually believe anything good will come of it but somehow you think it anyway.

Wharton weaves a tale of suspicion, jealousy, lies, and betrayal that is not melodramatic or sickeningly sweet. It is surprising and heartbreaking, but simply so. The characters are true to themselves and each other, never faltering in their resolve and always understanding what must happen despite any desires they might have. There is something refreshing in reading a story that had the opportunity to spin out of control but the author chose not to. Instead, she decided to let the reader imagine what could have happened instead.

Do not delve into this one looking for happiness or excitement. Do not go looking for a love story or a sweet tale of people who wanted each other but were simply not destined to be. It is not happy and it does not leave you feeling uplifted but it is brilliant, well-written, and creative in the way the characters’ lives play out. The only criticism I have is the unnecessary device used by Wharton of the visitor to Starkfield being the narrator of the story of Ethan based on accounts he was given by other neighbours. The only reason this was needed was to give us an idea of what Ethan looks like now, years later than the rest of the novel, but still feels slightly contrived. The rest of the book, however, is so fantastic it is an easy thing to look over.