Blogging: Or, How I got into This Craziness

I have always been an avid journaller. Since the time I could hold a pen and form words, I kept a journal – well, mostly, but we’ll get to that. I remember in elementary school, grade 2 or 3 having to keep a daily journal and I loved it. Looooooooooved it beyond words. Not just the act of writing, or of recording my day, but the feel of pen to paper, and especially the fresh, new, first page of a blank notebook. It was my childish ecstasy. So much so that in grade 2 – or was it grade 1? – I became a little thief and started stealing blank notebooks out of the supply cupboard at the back of the classroom.

I feel like journalling was a large part of the elementary school curriculum back in the day, now that I think about it. Like they couldn’t figure out how else to get us to write, lol. That certainly wasn’t an issue for me, of course. I wrote like someone might take it away from me. Especially when we started to get into the age of 12-13-14 where things started getting slightly more personal and we started responding to the things that we read and encountered around us. I think our teacher called it a “Response Journal”, and man, I had a lot of things I wanted to respond to!

This particular teacher gave me my first journal. It was really hideous and not me, now that I think of it. Puffy and pink with teddy bears on it. But man, did I love that notebook. I had never even considered the fact that something like that could exist, let alone that anyone would *buy me one*. And that’s really, truly where the journalling thing started for me. I think I still have that notebook somewhere. It’s pretty damn cringe-worthy, as you I’m sure you can imagine. The weird shit that I was obsessed with at the time would have been enough fodder for several psychologists.

It certainly was apparently concerning enough that my mother read this first, fledgeling journal. And even though she’s gone I can hear her voice in my head protesting, but yes, she very much did read it. Years later she would tell me it was because she was “worried” that I’d snap and destroy the school like one of the Columbine killers. Yes, this is what she said to me at the time of that particular tragedy. Thanks ever so, Mom!

Not that her reading the journal totally stopped me. I persisted for a while but in code. I made up an entire alphabet and proceeded to write in only that alphabet. But you can imagine how tiring that got, and for the most part, I stopped journalling altogether, concentrating my teen angst on poetry (Oh, the angsty poetry my friends!). At least until I got to university. Then I filled notebooks upon notebooks upon notebooks with the story of my Coming Out and Falling In Love. Yep. SO MANY NOTEBOOKS.

All that to say, I kept all sorts of journals over the years. And then I found the world of online journaling. First, through the esteemed folks at Diaryland. I opened an account with them in the summer of 2001 (!!) By December 2001 I had started to build some journalling over at Livejournal, where, believe it or not, I have 10 years of writing still. I quit updating LiveJournal in December of 2011, almost 10 years to the day I started.

Over time I’ve also had my own domain names, most of which are thankfully banished to the farther depths of my memory. I think this one is here to stay, though. Do you journal? How so? Tell me about it in the comments and be entered to win a $50 Chapters gift card. Only one more day to go! Winner will be chosen soon!

To Learn

I don’t have a lot of real life skills. No, no, that’s not a cry for pity, or for anyone to comment that I do have skills. I simply mean that most of my skillset is only applicable to my career. There’s only so much one can do with briefing notes and strategic plans, you know? And yes, of course there is writing, something I do consider myself skilled at, but there are other things I want to learn to do.
I want to learn to paint with watercolours. Now, I’ve been working on this for some time, practicing, getting used to the colours and how they look together. So learning this skill is not out of the question. It will just take more time and more practice. What I really need to do is get into the habit of practicing every day, as much as possible. I do love just playing around with paint.

This makes me realize that I also want to learn to paint with acrylics. Acrylics are much less forgiving than watercolours that much I know. I haven’t practiced with acrylics nearly as often as I have with watercolours, that’s for sure. I need to do more of that. Perhaps make it part of my daily art practice.

I also want to learn to sketch. I know, more art stuff. I’m definitely establishing a theme here. What can I say? I’m rediscovering my artsy side. Sketching I’ve done almost none of. I desperately need to practice this particular skill if I’m going to get anywhere with it. I bought myself a set of sketching pencils not too long ago, but I haven’t really used them yet. I should, who knows what the
future brings. There’s not always the time you think there is to get things done.

I would like to learn to sew. At least enough that I can hem my own pants. Apparently, sewing tools for the visually impaired have improved since my grade 8 Home Ec class so there may be hope yet.

I’d like to learn to code. Not so I can do anything with it, just so that I have a better understanding. I used to be able to do HTML, but then CSS came along and everything got too complicated. I even tried downloading a coding game for kids on my iphone. I gave up on it too quickly I think. Maybe I’ll try again sometime soon. I’m sure there’s something on skillshare I can watch more of.

I want to learn photography. I’m decent enough at it for an amateur, and of course, that’s all I ever plan to be, an amateur. But I’d really like to improve my skills so I can take better photos. I have a lot (A LOT) of classes saved on skillshare that should help me really learn the fundamentals. I just have to sit my ass down and take them and then practice.

Apparently, I have to practice a lot of things.

What do you want to learn? Tell me in the comments and qualify to win a $50 Chapters gift card!

Who I Follow on Twitter

So I’ve had a twitter account since…..July 2008 apparently.  Huh. I had no idea I’d been on twitter for nine years. Crazy.  Anyway, in that time I have accumulated quite the list of accounts that I follow. 417, or so my profile says.  Here are some of the ones I’d like to highlight.

 

  • Chuck Wendig: Wendig is the author of several books, and he blogs about writing over at terrible minds. I like his wit and what he has to say both about writing and about the world.
  • Margaret Atwood: because she’s Margaret Atwood.
  • Christopher Jackson: former George Washington in Broadway’s Hamilton, I follow him because I have a giant crush on the man.
  • Women in Canada: Because I am one of them.
  • Bitch Media: Who doesn’t love “a feminist response to pop culture”?
  • 2017Ottawa: Because 2017 is Canada’s 150th birthday and Ottawa is the place to be.
  • Lowertown Ottawa: It’s where I live!
  • National Gallery of Canada: I have a membership to the Gallery and it’s always inspiring to go there.
  • Amanda Jette Knox: An Ottawa local, mom, and trans activist.
  • Barley’s Angels Ottawa: Women in Ottawa who love beer.  I would be one of those
  • Can*Con: A fabulous speculative fiction convention here in town.
  • Ottawa Senators: My favourite hockey team.
  • 49th shelf: Helping you find your next Canadian read.

Who do you follow on twitter? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

So back in October, I was taking a writing course at the University of Ottawa.  As part of that course, we had the opportunity to meet with the university’s writer-in-residence, Madeleine Thien.  If you don’t recognize that name, you clearly don’t pay too close attention to the Canadian fiction scene, because Thien won both the Governor General’s Award and the Giller Prize for her book Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Given the chance to meet her, hear her read and ask her questions, I immediately went to pick up the book (well, but the ebook on my kobo) after class.

It took me until last week to read, which, at 500 pages I give myself a break on.  Do Not Say We Have Nothing (DNSWHN for short) “takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations–those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-twentieth century; and the children of the survivors, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, in one of the most important political moments of the past century” [Goodreads description].

Thien is a breathtaking writer, I will say that first.  Her way with prose is almost poetic, and there are music and poetry as a major theme throughout the book. I will admit that it took me some time to get into the characters that go through the Cultural Revolution portion of the story.  As a reader, it took me around the first 100 pages or so to really start caring about the characters.  This seems to be a common refrain in the reviews I’ve read on Goodreads, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone in that.

But eventually I came to love Ai-ming, Sparrow, Zhuli, Marie, Kai and the others. I read every page eagerly, wanting to know what became of everyone.  Thien masterfully crafts the characters and twines the stories together in such a subtle way that I didn’t even clue in to the identity of Marie’s father until the middle of the book.  That definitely made him more interesting.

This is not always, or even generally, a very happy book.  But it is an amazing feat of storytelling and one that I gave 5 out of 5 stars to, something that I rarely do. Highly recommend it.

February

So today is the first day of February, thankfully the shortest month of the year. For most of my life I’ve hated February. It’s cold, dark, there are no long weekends (I don’t get Family Day off – thanks federal government!), and I just want to hibernate. But recently I’ve started taking my own advice and have really been looking around me at all my awesome city has to offer, and this is what I’m looking forward to in February.

First there is Winterlude. A festival that takes place over three weekends in February, Winterlude is a celebration of – you guessed it! – all things winter. Some of the things I plan on doing there are:

  • Checking out the ice sculptures – these are always gorgeous, and carvers from all over the world come to take part in the competitions.
  • The Winterlude kick-off party in Confederation Park
  • Epic. Arctic. Torngat Mountains – A photo exhibit of the Torngat Mountains
  • Unikkaaqtuarniq: Stories from the North – A series of short films about the Arctic and the Inuit
  • Creative Weekends at city hall
  • Winterlude’s Sub-Zero Concert Series – David Usher

So that’s Winterlude! There’s also FeBREWary, put on by Beau’s Brewery – “A five-week midwinter celebration of all things craft-brewed and tasty features a brand-new Beau’s beer released every week” is totally up my alley. I’ll be trying to get to as many Barley’s Angels events as possible and I will be heading out to the brewery itself on the 18th to do a tour, have some food and drink some beer!

Also beer related is Dominion City’s tap takeover at Local Landsdowne on February 19th.

On the 22nd is Yorkie night at WAG café, and I’m hoping to take Bug so she can socialize with other Yorkies! I am sadly really looking forward to this.

And finally on Sunday the 26th I have my book club, which is always fun and something to look forward to!

What are you doing this month? Comment and let me know and you’ll be entered to win a $50 Chapters gift card!

Art

So I jokingly like to say that people should only have one talent each. Mostly because I feel like I only have one myself. And even then it can be questionable, lol. But ultimately I consider myself to be talented in writing. This is the one thing I can do. It’s more of a hobby than a vocation, but that’s ok. Maybe someday that will change, maybe not. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about art in other forms.

Somewhat recently I took up watercolours and sketching. I am total rubbish at it, but I love, love, love doing it. It’s been spurred on by my friend Jasmine and a lot of small short courses on skillshare. I have an art book that I use for painting and drawing and I’m really quite proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish with a little bit of work. I’ve even started expanding my selection of art tools by investing in water brush pens. They look amazing and I can’t wait to get my hands on them.

I love art and creativity in general. It really makes me feel good, even if I’m not particularly skilled at it. I even let it spread into my journal, where I try to make entries more artsy, rather than just plan ink and paper. Watercolour is also very forgiving, which is nice. And sketching I can do ok enough with if I have a model picture to work from. Painting or sketching from my own imagination is pretty crap though, I must admit.

But regardless, I love doing it, and I really can’t wait till I get my next chance. Who knows, maybe tomorrow!

Dear 58 year old Me

Dear future April:

This is a weird letter to write because we don’t know what happens to you – us – in the next 20 years or so. But we have a bunch of wishes that we’re hoping come true, so maybe we’ll just talk about that.

You should be retired by now, or at least I hope you are.  Last I checked we’d be 56 when we could go, and man are we ever looking forward to that! We’re the type that works to live, not lives to work, that’s for sure. And we’ve been looking forward to getting out of the government game for some time. So what will you do now? Hopefully you’ll go work in a bookstore like you always wanted to.

I hope you have a partner by now.  I don’t like to think about us being retired and lonely.  By this point your pets will be long gone (just thinking about saying goodbye to Bug is making my chest hurt) and while you may have new ones, they are no replacement for human affection. I really hope we’ve found someone who will love us and treat us well. We’ve been waiting a long time, after all.

I hope you are still writing, even if we’ve never published anything writing has always been a part of us.  It’s who we are at our very core. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope we’ve published though.  It doesn’t have to be a huge thing, maybe just some short stories in magazines or whathaveyou. It would be nice to have that, but in order to do so you have to actually write, so please keep going.

I hope you are still making art in other ways, too.  I hope you’re still drawing and painting, even though we really suck at it. Art is always a good thing, and practice never hurts. Maybe by the time you read this we’ll have gotten better – stranger things could happen.

I hope we’re healthy.  I hope we’ve lost the weight we wanted to lose, and that we haven’t become a victim of our own body.  Cerebral Palsy isn’t an easy thing to cope with now at 38.  I can only hope it’s not worse in twenty years.  I hope we’ve done what we could to prevent getting any worse.

Generally I just hope we’re happy.  I really hope we’re not lonely. I worry about our future and where the years will take us, and I hope that something changes. There are lots of things we’re not so happy about right now, and I can only hope that things get better.

Keep fighting the good fight.

You

Dear 12 Year Old Me

Dear April,

You’re going to hate this letter.  You’re going to hate this because it’s not necessarily going to help you in the situation you’re in now.  But it is meant to give you hope for the future, and I sincerely hope it does that.

Because it does get better, I promise you that.  It doesn’t get *perfect* but it does get better.  Right now you feel like you have no friends, like your home life is a mess and that maybe there’s no point to anything.  But there is.  There really is.

In high school you’ll make more friends.  People will stop bullying you altogether like someone flipped a switch at the beginning of grade 9 and they all suddenly became human.  It helps that you don’t go to the same high school as most people you grew up with. You’ll meet Amanda, Kate and Darla, and while those friendships will have their ups and downs, they will become the foundation of some of your best teenage memories. You’ll join the arts council in grade 12 and that will bring you out of your shell somewhat. By the time you get to university you’re almost unrecognizable from the shy, insecure girl you are right now.

And, oh university! Those will be some of the momentous years of your life.  If you hang on for anything, hang on for university. You’ll move to Ottawa (but don’t get too attached to the idea of Peter being there – he isn’t for very long) and on the first day of Frosh week you’ll meet some of the best friends you’ll have during those four years, especially Laura and Cristina.  Over time you’ll meet Matt and Olga and Natalie and Loranne and so many others on your floor of residence and on the 12th  floor as well.

Living in residence first year is the best decision you’ll ever make.  It allows you to meet the people I just listed. You go on to live with Laura and Cristina for second and third year, and while that’s a mixed bag, it will still be more good than bad. You’ll fall in love for the first time in first year. With that will come a lot of questions and a lot of angst.  Try not to freak out, and follow your heart.  You will get hurt, but you will heal and the self-discovery will be so very worth it.

You will spend most of your 20s in a relationship with someone and it will also have its ups and downs. Ultimately it won’t work out in the end, but it will teach you what it’s like to have a real, adult relationship that is between equals.  That lesson will be worth more than I can describe.  You will know what it can be like and even though it ends, it will ultimately give you a blueprint for what you want out of a long term relationship.

Speaking of which, J in Newfoundland is NOT IT. RUN AWAY AND RUN AWAY FAST.  All this relationship will bring you is 9 months of lies and emotional manipulation. Sure, you get to visit St. John’s three times, but dear gods it’s not worth it.  You get out of this will some dignity still left, but it wrecks you for quite some time, so if you don’t want to go through that stay away.  Don’t text, don’t comment on livejournal.  Just don’t have anything to do with them. Trust me.

As I write this you are in your late 30s.  You’ll be 39 in a few short months, can you believe it? Things are ok. There are some tough years in your late 30s. I won’t lie to you about that. You’ll do therapy, you’ll need some meds, but that’s ok.  Everyone needs some help sometimes.  And it will help.

I’ll leave you here, to think about what I’ve said. You’re twelve years old and the world is horrible to you right now, I get it, I really do. But keep going, because who you become and the life you lead will be worth it.

Oh, and hang out with Mom more. Just sayin’.

Love, 38 year old you.

Book Club!

I am a member of a book club, which I’m sure just shocks all of you. But seriously, I’ve been a member of this same book club for 17 or so years, believe it or not. That’s quite the long haul for a book club, if I do say so myself.

I love going to my book club.It’s a great way to catch up with friends and chat about a book while eating at a great restaurant. This past weekend we chose our next round of books, and I wanted to share them with you, my readers.

1. The 100-year-old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

Exactly what it says in the title, 100 year old Allan climbs out the window of the old folks home and goes on a walkabout. The reader takes part in this adventure and learns about Allan’s monumental past.

This one sounds cute and quirky and I expect that I’ll enjoy it quite a bit.

2. The Escape by David Baldacci
Following Baldacci’s popular character John Puller, a combat veteran and pecial agent with the US Army, the Escape is about a military prison and an escapee who is now the most wanted criminal in the U.S. And also Puller’s brother.

Not normally the type of book we read for book club, this will be an interesting change of venue, so to speak. I’m not sure whether I’ll enjoy this book or not, but I do tend to enjoy books about family relations and no doubt this should have some of that.

3. Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
This was my pick. It explores the life and loves of Lev Termin, creator of the musical instrument the theremin. It also won the Giller Prize in 2015. Us Conductors takes us from the glamour of Jazz Age New York to the gulags and science prisons of the Soviet Union.

I’ve already read this and was lucky enough to interview the author here.

4. A Number of Things by Jane Urquhart
The subtitle of this book is “Stories about Canada told through 50 objects”, which really tells you everything you need to know about the book, as that is exactly what it is. What’s important to note that it’s not full of the generic items like moose, beavers and trees etc, but of objects meaningful to Urquhart herself.

I got lucky enough to see Jane speak about this book at the last Writers fest here in Ottawa. I’m really looking forward to this one.

5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
A book about books and bookstores! A.J. Fikry owns a bookstore that he feels is going under, and even his prized collection of poems by Poe has been stolen. When a package arrives on his doorstep Fikry takes it as an opportunity for change.

I won’t lie, I’m pretty excited about this one. I love books about books and the story here sounds wonderful and touching.

6. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
A book that brought us a film! Hidden FIgures tells the story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race. “Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes.”

This looks like it could go really well, or really wrong, but the fact that a movie has been made from it makes me optimistic that I will really like this one.

7. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
This is the story of Ruth, a black nurse removed from serving a white supremecist couple who are in the hospital giving birth. When tragedy strikes, Ruth finds herself on trial.

I’m not normally a fan of Picoult. I think it might be jealousy at the sheer number of books she’s able to write. Regardless, this story looks very intersting and I’m really looking forward to reading it.

So those are the books on tap for this next year or more. I still have to get back to finishing Do Not Say We Have Nothing!

What books are you planning on reading on 2017? Tell me in the comments and be entered to win a $50 Chapters gift card!

Life with Cerebral Palsy

So here’s the thing. I have a disability called Cerebral Palsy and I’d like to take a moment here to talk about it.  I think there are a lot of misconceptions about this condition that I’d like to try to address.  But first, what is Cerebral Palsy (CP)?

CP is, at its most, basic a neurological condition caused by a brain injury.  In my case, this “injury” happened at birth. I was three months premature and as a result, I needed oxygen in order to survive.  The trick here is that no one really knows how much oxygen to give and too much or too little can be harmful to the brain. I’m not sure if I got too much or too little, but regardless it caused my CP as well as visual impairment, retinopathy of prematurity and most recently, cataracts.  Good times!

I am one of the “lucky ones” if you must put a label on it.  I’m not that keen on being called lucky, despite the fact that my CP could be much, much worse.  The fact is, I am affected rather mildly in comparison to what many people face when diagnosed with cerebral palsy. I walk with a limp and experience pain and stiffness.  I fall a lot because my balance is also affected. I am here to tell you that CP still affects me to a large extent, regardless of the degree of my condition. Mild or not, I am disabled.

And no, that’s not “differently abled.” While I appreciate the attempt to reframe the idea of disability into something more positive, I also resent it, actually.  It’s a little too cheesy, a little too saccharine for my taste. No there’s nothing wrong with me as a person, but there is something wrong with how my body functions, and I am ok with saying that out loud.

So what is it like? It’s like walking through quicksand with ankle weights on. Ok, that’s supposition, because I don’t really know what wearing ankle weights in quicksand is like, but it’s the best I could come up with. I feel weighted down, it’s often hard to move at the speed I would like.  The stiffness doesn’t help.  Too long sitting and it’s hard to get up.  But too long standing and I am in a lot of pain because of the tightness in my body.  A few years ago I went to Disney World with my niece and after two days of walking I needed a wheelchair because I just couldn’t walk anymore.

Those of us with CP often lack in muscle tone, and the stiffness and tightness make it hard to do everyday things.  I have trouble with buttons, some zippers, holding anything in my left hand, I’ll never ice skate or move very gracefully. Just walking to work in the winter is a challenge – one small snow bank is like a mountain range for me. And let me tell you, not all sidewalks are as clear as I need them to be to make my way in.  Even a few feet of ice on an otherwise clear sidewalk is enough to give me anxiety. Crippling anxiety.  I have had too many falls that were close calls to getting hit by cars to not be freaked out by ice and snow.

It’s tough, I’m not gonna lie. I don’t know what the future is going to bring for me.  It could mean a walker or a wheelchair if my movement gets worse.  But I’m gonna do my utmost to keep my body moving, to keep active so I don’t become a stiff shell of a person. If you’re waiting for some sort of inspirational ending, I don’t have one for you.  Would I change it if I could? Absolutely I would. In a minute.

And that, my dear readers, is your post for today.  Have any questions about CP, leave them in the comments and I’ll get back to you.