Double takes

This is what happens when I travel in the U.S. I skip along, feeling right at home. Everything seems familiar. People are friendly, even when they have no idea what I want when I ask for the “washroom”; the streets seem just like those of any North American town; my daughter’s pop stations play the same music. Then, just as I’ve been lulled into complacency, something entirely “other” appears.

This, for example, at the grocery store:

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Or, at the county fair:

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The U.S. is such a fun place to visit. But there are disconcerting signs that say, “you are not at home.”

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Gone coastal

I’m just back from a 10-day family road trip down the Oregon Coast. It was fun. Really fun. But I’ve brought unintentional souvenirs home with me. There was a LOT of blowing sand, and I swear I have particles embedded in all sorts of places where sand is not supposed to be.

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On the beaches where it belongs, all that sand is rather gorgeous. We did an amazing hike through the forest to a place called Secret Beach, where off-shore rock formations calmed the waves and a crazy-perfect waterfall bordered the… sand. Did I mention there was a lot of sand?

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We took a day off the beach to visit the redwoods, which I’d never seen before. They were everything redwoods are supposed to be. Plus orcs.

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Our other non-beach day was spend on a jet boat, cruising up the Rogue River. More on that once I shake the particles from my brain!

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My Lynn Coady kick

I read Hellgoing last week and fell in love with Lynn Coady.

I’d been procrastinating about reading it because (a) short stories aren’t my favourite and (b) it’s called Hellgoing, and I wasn’t in a going-to-hell frame of mind. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. There’s nothing hellish about the book, except in an anxiety-ridden, “why am I in this handbasket?” sort of way.

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People keep telling me I’ll like gardening better as I get older, which has proven completely untrue. However, maybe I am liking short stories more. I certainly loved these ones. Especially the one that coincidentally mentions Creston.

Most of all, I love Lynn Coady’s ability to focus a page on what seems like a mundane moment, and reveal it as hilarious or heart-crushing. Or both.

I’m reading her novel The Antagonist now, and the entire book is already worth it because of one paragraph about drunk guys and outdoor sofas.

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The better generation

A couple weeks ago, my daughter printed some brochures advertising her availability to do odd jobs, then she passed them out around the neighbourhood.

“Should you fold them?” I asked, as she headed out the door. “So they fit in the mailboxes?”

“I don’t want to put them in mailboxes. I have to talk to people,” she said.

I would have stuffed them in the mailboxes and run, so obviously my 10-year-old is a better entrepreneur than I will ever be.

She’s since booked herself two jobs, one as a “mother’s helper” playing with two little boys while their mom makes dinner, and the other watering a vegetable garden. And now she’s created a business book.

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I may be better at spelling, but her book is more organized than any of my work or financial systems.

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Can you see where all of this is headed? Because I can. When she’s 16, my kid is going to self-publish her first book, and it’s still going to outsell all of my combined works.

Which is going to be a little hard on my ego. So I’m thinking we won’t teach her how to spell. Agreed?

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Boys with sticks

I was sorting through a few of my daughter’s old chapter books yesterday, when I realized something. They’re all about the daily dramas in the lives of girls. Friendship issues and birthday parties and small school embarrassments. Even the ones featuring spies or detectives are set firmly in the day-to-day.

They’re not so different from the play narratives my daughter and her friends were enacting at that age. “You be the mean girl, and I’ll be the nice girl, and you be the teacher getting us in trouble.”

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Contrast this with the books my son is reading — most recently the Zac Power series — and there is no day-to-day. Zac spends about two paragraphs getting ready to do something normal before he’s whipped away to another top-secret mission on a glacier or in dense jungle. And all my son’s books are like this. Characters zip away to outer space, or get sucked into video games, or find themselves transformed into ninjas.

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This has made me wonder if writers must turn to otherworldly scenarios because boys have no actual narratives in their day-to-day lives. Maybe when my son and his friend are throwing sticks, they’re just throwing sticks. Maybe when they’re digging, they’re only digging.

I outlined this theory for Min, and he said: “Right into adulthood, baby.”

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Summer achievements

We had a teenaged guest staying with us last week, so we spent our days shuttling from beach to mountaintop and back again. I got very little writing done, but I did manage a few other important summer achievements:

1. Lake swimming (Despite lack of photographic evidence, I was fully submerged in this freezing cold water.)

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2. Blueberries (Okay, these sort of achieved themselves in the garden while I was away.)

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3. Alpine (Totally cheated, via chairlifts and gondola. But it was still gorgeous.)

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Now… back to work!

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Officially summer

My kids have been loving their first summer camp this week, and I have been loving the time to revise a fiction draft.

When I signed the monkeys up for this particular camp, it seemed like bad timing. It was the only week available for the one they wanted, but I thought… first week out of school? They’re not going to like getting up early and heading out the door.

As it turned out: third week off of school! A perfect time for a morning camp. We’ve spent the rest of the week at the Squamish gondola (where we managed a 12-km hike on Canada Day — ouch), and the Granville Island water park, which was much more relaxing.

As for school, it’s looking more and more over for a while.

It’s hard to know what to make of the conflicting news reports and ridiculous press conferences, but having spent significant time in a public school over the last few years, I find one thing clear: teachers are the glue that’s (barely) holding the place together. The school operating budget doesn’t even cover enough notebooks to last the year, and the PAC raises more money than the official budget provides. If the government is going to chronically underfund public education, they have to expect some crises along the way.

As for a few extra weeks off school in September? Well, I’m in a summer mood now. May it last forever. Plus, my kids will enjoy peeing in our home bathroom rather than the one at school:

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There’s a lot to be said for having a decent place to pee.

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The reading check-in

I hit 50 titles over at The 50 Book Pledge, just in time for my mid-year check in. So far, the stats are looking thus:

Middle Grade
Good Night, Maman, by Norma Fox Mazer
Love that Dog, By Sharon Creech
Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech
End of the Line, by Sharon E. McKay
Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry
Count Me In, by Sara Leach
Because of Winn-Dixie, by Kate DiCamillo
Better Nate than Ever, by Tim Federle
I’ll Be Home Soon, by Luanne Armstrong
Tinfoil Sky, by Cyndi Sand-Eveland
One Year in Coal Harbor, by Polly Horvath
Mimi Powers and the I-Don’t-Know-What, by Victoria Miles
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library, by Chris Grabenstein
Son, by Lois Lowry
Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery, by Anna Brandord

Young Adult
Boy 21, by Matthew Quick
Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card
Year of Mistaken Discoveries, by Eileen Cook
Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets, by Evan Roskos
The Diviners, by Libba Bray
Pirate Cinema, by Cory Doctorow
Homeland, by Cory Doctorow
Take Me There, by Carolee Dean

Classics
An Old-Fashioned Girl, by Louisa May Alcott
Gritli’s Children, by Johanna Spyri

Fiction
The Woefield Poultry Collective, by Susan Juby
Half-Blood Blues, by Esi Edugyan
The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
The Disappeared, by Kim Echlin
Irma Both, by Miriam Toews
All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
The Shadow Queen, by Sandra Gulland
Blindness, by José Saramago
When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Open Secret, by Deryn Collier
And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
Story House, by Timothy Taylor
Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Good Luck of Right Now, by Matthew Quick
The Wind is Not a River, by Brian Payton
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton

Non-Fiction
War, by Sebastian Junger
What Now?, by Ann Patchett
Manage Your Day-to-Day, ed. by Jocelyn K. Glei
Still Writing, by Dani Shapiro
The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
The Sports Gene, by David Epstein
Why We Write, ed. by Meredith Maran

I’ve always loved the essay called “A Rake at Reading” in The Merry Heart, by Robertson Davies. He says:

So — I confess I have been a rake at reading. I have read those things which I ought not to have read, and I have not read those things which I ought to have read, and there is no health in me — if by health you mean an inclusive and coherent knowledge of any body of great literature. I can only protest, like all rakes in their shameful senescence, that I have had a good time.

Exactly.

Of the books on this list, 12 were passed along to me (with insistence) by my daughter and two by my son. Six were given by friends, two were written by friends, and another two were recommended by friends, including my fiction pick of the year thus far: The Goldfinch. (Thank you, Rachel, for that suggestion.)

My non-fiction pick so far is Still Writing, a lovely collection of meditations. If you’re a writer, I highly recommend it.

Onwards to the second half of the reading year!

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Boy talk

Someone asked me recently why I chose a male protagonist for Anywhere But Here, and how I managed a male voice. Both questions have the same answer: I chose a guy because I didn’t want my main character to be too reasonable, and guys’ brains work in strange and alien ways. For example…

Guys use nicknames. I don’t spot my friend Shanda and yell, “Hey, Shandski” or “Shandmeister” or “The Shand.” I don’t call her by her last name. I don’t call her “bro” or “man” or “bud.” Guys do all of these things. ALL the time. (I have no idea why. I’m not here to explain the male brain. Just to report my observations.)

According to a parenting book I read about communicating with boys, males think best while moving. And from experience, I know that they can’t think at all when confronted by an angry woman. So, if my male protagonist is going to have a major realization, he’s unlikely to have it during an intense conversation. He’s more likely to have it in the car on the way home.

Guys are more likely to show sadness as anger. So while a heartbroken girl protagonist can cry in the bathroom, my heartbroken male protagonist is going to pick a fight instead.

Anyone else have deep thoughts to offer on this alien species?

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