Friday!

Just a short post today... I have the day off work and have been running on fumes all week, so I'm just taking today to lie low and do some writing. Sometimes two days just isn't enough of a weekend!


This week, I found the blog The Wardens Today and fell in love. Such gorgeous and grounded words and images. It reminded me in some ways of Jessica's blog and Siubhan's too. And all these blogs remind me more of paper journals with handwritten notes and snapshots, stuffed with ticket stubs and bits of fabric and every beautiful memory a reflection.

I've also been reading the current The Stinging Fly and, of course, was particularly interested in Kevin Breathnach's review of Winter Journal by Paul Auster and A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Beside the particulars of both books, I'm a fan of tandem reviews because it beautifully acknowledges how works and writers lean against each other, mostly unintentionally. I'm especially fond of where that process is internalized in a reader and becomes very idiosyncratic and individual.

Okay, I'm off to take it easy. I have comments to respond to in the last post (thank you!) and promise to get to that. And I'm Christmas tree shopping tomorrow! Pretty excited!!

Have a great weekend!

Reading and writing

Recently, I've been reading more literary journals and zines and wanted to share some of them with you. I guess, since Hila and I wrote that post, I've been side-winding away from the design and style-driven community and looking for something with a little more meat. I’ve also been writing more and I wanted to find stuff that would spark and challenge me with that. 


So, I’ve exposed myself to a whole bunch of writers, small presses, journals, e-zines and so forth and they're shared throughout this post and listed below. I have to say that it’s a happier place for me. But I also have noted in moving towards these places that so much of the talk is industry rather than craft. And I’ve come to understand that I don’t (and can’t) care less about industries.

The thing is this: When I think of myself as part of something large, full of flaws and doubt, I become unreasonably distracted and hopeless. This happens with the design blogosphere too: When I think of my design posts in the context of the endless churning of the sellout blog scene, I feel it’s pointless, materialistic, hollow. But when I focus on what I love and that those posts come from a sincere stance, one I believe in as an everyday art, it feels happy and natural to do them.


Likewise, making myself a slave to daily news about what publishing house has closed or merged, who won what awards, the struggles of writers, the struggles of booksellers... it all leaves me hopeless. It leaves me hopeless that I might be published. But also that I’d even want to be, that I’d have to go on some crusade of ego to make it all successful and would only become more and more indignant about not writing some Fifty Shades of Jane.

But when I sit alone in my apartment and look at my screen, focus on my words, I want to write. I have to write. So, I write, I get up, I come back and change things. I sleep on it overnight and change it more. I read it out loud and change it again. It's such a micro process, nothing to do with industry. Without judging myself to be good in a larger sense of literature, I work on my small and subjective craft, making things better in my own eyes, going over and over until I’m as close as I can get to capturing that thing I’m trying to capture.


And though I feel a need, a necessity, to tap into what the writing community is fired up about, especially as I want to be part of it, I know that those goings-on only serve to distract me. And I realize what a loner I am in my approach to most things and how a larger feeling of community can corrode my sense of usefulness.

When I was younger, I used to work in a darkroom. I would savour those afternoons and evenings of solitude. A darkroom has a church-like, ritualistic feeling. I didn’t go there to be Ansel. I didn’t go there to make photographs to be hung in galleries. I didn’t go to make photographs to be hung at all. I spent time exposing, dodging and burning, dipping fingers into chemicals, feeling the texture of paper weave in water as it was rinsed and weighing it down on racks to dry. I never stopped loving the moment a paper exposed to light is dropped into a bath of developer and an image begins to emerge, a ghost at first and then finally my imperfect image. And I’d make notes to cut a second here, to dodge the tree and burn the sky. I’d do it all again. And again. And again.


And that’s what being a writer is for me. It’s a process to retreat and settle down into, a craft to hone at its own pace. And the industry, and all industries, will swirl and tumble if you pay them any heed. And it’s always the death of something, the keening for times past, the over-analysis of how the greats got to be so great and what their over-and-over looked like. But I don’t really have deep feelings about it.

And I suppose being supremely unambitious about my writing helps with this. Not that I don’t want to be published. I do. Not that I don’t want people to read my work. I do. But that’s not what motivates me. When I see writers win awards, I don’t wish to be them. When I see a bestseller, I don’t think, by God some day. No. But even less than ambitious, I’ve never felt entitled. It’s a big deal for somebody to read something I’ve written. Just one person. For them to take time, or spend money. For them to give thought and sometimes even give voice to thoughts. It seems like a wonderful and intimate thing.


And the rest of it, the swirl of the industry, the idea of fans (heavens forbid) or a sense of time wasted working for my living. I’ve never felt that. I’ve worked a straight-job since I was 16 and have a hard time relating to people who think their creativity should be supported, just so. I don’t feel entitled to not having a job. I come home from work and go over what I wrote yesterday. I do it every night for weeks until I feel ready to send it into the world. And it doesn’t matter how, whether it’s in this blog or a journal, in an e-mail to a friend or a self-published book. And I don’t feel a sense of loss or shame or indignation about it, because I've had my time with the words.

But in a few small places I've found the kind of inspiration and sublime talent that serves to encourage and challenge rather than distract. And I find myself lingering with these at night, seeing this craft exemplified by these amazing writers and publishers:
Underscore
THE SHOp a Magazine of Poetry
The Stinging Fly
Brick
The South Circular

A poem for Tuesday

If you were to say I have themes, fragmented identity, I suppose, would be one of them. And it's one I fully expect to live with forever and that I know I've done to myself. And I also know it's the source of magic as well as fraughtness, so it's not something I seek a cure to but rather like to look at and wonder about and feel myself and my way around in.

And Philip Larkin's Home is Sad always seemed to capture some of it. But I've been warned many times about my affinity for Larkin. On Sunday night, this poem swooped down on me. And it was everything to me, foreshadowing as well as reflecting. I read, waiting for it to break away from me and spiral in its own direction, but it didn't and I felt it was there just for me. And I talked on Friday about certain books as horoscopes and this poem might be one too.

I found it over on the SHOp Poetry Magazine website and it's by John F. Deane.

The Swallow
You grow—like flowers from their soil—
from the name and notion of your heart-place:
Bunnacurry, Achill, Mayo; you are listening

—at the fleshly distance—to the music
of the teeming hours, the prophecies;
you dissipate, though slowly, what has been your essence

until you turn again, prodigal after years, on your journey
back towards truth: the escallonia hedge, the baby-wail
of the out-of-the-vertical back gate,

and to father, decades dead, watching. Now you stand
at the harvesting of what has been
the wild acres, terrified at the suddenness

of the years' passing, your quick tock-tick
out of uncountable millennia, here at this damp meadow-edge
to marvel at the swallow that has swooped across you

low over the meadow, that flash
of red-rust feathers on the throat, and it is gone
in a fling of its wings off up beyond the ash-tree hedge;

you write it down, then, in wonder, in words
that are nets of air that cannot hold
the mystery. You are working now towards silence,

admitting the absence of your father though he is still
present in phlox and oxeye daisy, how you are—
in this one moment—clothed again in home, become

the breeze beneath the swallow's wings, become
the sky, the murdered insect, the swallow,
become the prophecy and become, almost, the music.

Doreen Kilfeather and Mark Grehan

I've blogged before about Henrietta Street and excerpts from books that feature some of the grand Georgian homes around Dublin and Ireland. It's a funny thing about Ireland that we feel a sense of ownership of those homes most of us never lived in, though of course many of those grand Georgian homes were later tenements too and so their history traverses class and ownership to the extreme.


And it's only since living in Canada that I've recognized how unusual that is, that I identify readily with such grandeur as well as such squalor. Stripped of all those polarizing class connotations there's only the beauty of these spaces to admire. The layers and patina, the ruinedness as well as the enduring beauty to feel inspired by. And - most of all - the sense of time and timelessness these places hold, whispering in their intimate but indifferent ways to the people who pass through them.


When Mark Grehan and Doreen Kilfeather worked together on this photoshoot in a house on North Great George's Street, I followed their progress on Instagram, delighting in the fact they knew each other (Dublin is such a small tribe!) not knowing that Doreen had summoned courage to introduce herself and ask Mark to collaborate. How glad I am she did!


And when Doreen shared the photos with me and told me she thought of me during the days shooting, I was moved beyond words. Because there's so much imbued in these images that I love about Dublin and Dubliners, the layers, the dirge of damp decay and half-light. And yet the delight, the wonder that doesn't exert control but lovingly assumes a fleeting place in beauty uncontrolled.


Images by Doreen Kilfeather, see more on her blog. Flowers by Mark Grehan.

Sunday best: First snow

The snow didn't come on Friday, though I had scuttled home to be in for it, to stand by my window looking out and down at it with a mug toasting my hands. And I slept late the next day as if there was snow on the ground though there wasn't.


I still don't understand that snow coma that makes sleep expand but I remember the first time I felt it, when I slept in an attic in Calgary and one morning slept inexplicably late and woke bleary to find a foot of snow had fallen. And it was then I understood that I had moved to extremities, where my body had reactions I had never experienced and I felt wolf-eyed in it, so far from and high above my salty shores.

That first real winter was delicious. Every frozen nostril hair, my breath suspended in crystals before my eyes, the shape of snowflakes visible to the naked eye. I fell in love with the mountains and we drove once up into them in the dead of winter and saw a real wolf walking on the highway. And it took many people to tell me how rare a sight that was for me to embroider it into the fabric of my Canadian winters.

But the snow didn't come on Friday. And I wrote instead. All day Saturday too. And the temperature dropped and I walked and looked skywards. But today I woke up and it had started and I felt cozy with quiet ideas. This is my tenth winter in Toronto. My tenth first Toronto snowfall. I wish I could say I remember each one, that each year was steady progress, that love was easy and met and even-keeled. But that would be a rare sight too, I suppose.

So today I'll be cozy with my quiet ideas, watching the first snow fall.

Products: Slim leg jean from Toast | Wide cut wool jumper from COS | L Frank Black Diamond Earrings from Twist | Crème Smooth Lip Colour from Laura Mercier | Corgi Fair Isle Wool-Blend Socks from Mr Porter | Black Toast Cocoa Mug from Emma Bridgewater | Doppler by Erlend Loe

Friday!

The weather says snow this weekend. It will be our first snow of the year, not counting some flurries that could have been optical illusions. And I'm looking forward to the quiet slow-fallingness.

I read this earlier in the week week and thought I have a similar relationship with certain books. They become flagposts in my life, hooking up to my real world experiences and even seeming prophetic, at times.

"Novels, for me, are horoscopes. I don't know if they're true before I read them or after; if they predict my thoughts or direct them; if I make fiction fit my life or if my life takes the foggy shape of it. Or it's more interesting not to know." Sarah Nicole Prickett


... I immediately and especially think of Unbearable Lightness of Being. I read it in my first undergraduate year. It wasn't a book gifted to me or recommended, or that I fudged my way through a conversation about and later scrambled to read. I walked into Waterstones and simply bought it. I finished it in the smoke-filled break room of my university job and still remember feeling like I couldn't work afterwards. I reread it every few years and it still is that horoscope for me.

These synchronicities between art and our individual lives intrigue me. The magic of timing. And the randomness of it (yes, I'm still thinking of randomness). How we lean our identities against things both internal and external and build relationships with objects and places, books, music, art. And I suppose as a writer I hope that something I pen might become part of somebody's life in that way, though I don't really expect that.

I also liked this interview because it was a mark of that same kind of synchronicity. I'm not much a believer in meant-to-be school of thought in anything. So understanding and acknowledging these synchronicities without elevating that idea to a sense of determined paths is important to me. And I think it's all the more beautiful without that fatefulness because it does seem more like arbitrary, unguessable magic.

Yes, I'm still thinking about thunderbolts... And happy weekend, friends.

Randomness

I've been thinking about thunderbolts. And the truth that seems to be transmitted through the most random things, events, and people, despite our striving to control and corral and top-down plan.

And I've been feeling this idea in certain images. I like prolonging ideas in this phase, delaying the need to make it all sayable and just feeling them, accepting their ineffability. All the while knowing I'll eventually parse those ideas into words, compelled to give them more concrete utterance that still strives to hold onto all this.


Image credits:
1. Lacroix from Nomenus Quarterly
2. The Point of the Deliverance | Pointe a’ Tárrthaidh by Alex Boyd
3. Julie Cohn Design
4. The Point of the Deliverance | Pointe a’ Tárrthaidh by Alex Boyd
5. Toast catalogue

Reform Lane

Thanks to an enabling friend who sent me a link saying these were just my kind of "muted luxury, seashoreish" style (I die!), a scarf from Reform Lane jumped right to the top of my must-have list and I splurged on the Sands of Sound circle silk scarf.


Tonight I got home and my order was propped against my door. I'm wearing the scarf right now, like a turban and pretending I'm Zadie Smith. Oh dear. I really shouldn't admit half of what I do here.


Okay, without getting all weirdly meta about myself, let me say that my friend was right... Reform Lane really is 100% my style. If you find me dabbling in colour, you can bet on the hues of churned sea and rock and lichen and moss. And now that I have one in my hands (or, on my head), I can tell you that it's so soft and beautifully, perfectly sized and draped. Sarah's blog is beauty too.

I so rarely do single product posts these days, I also want to make clear that I NEVER accept products, gifts or payment from companies in exchange for blog post. I know it's quaint of me, but I really believe in putting my money where my mouth is. My blog content is, and always will be, 100% editorial.

Sunday best: Muddy trails

Yesterday, I did all the usual things, making my way down the hill in the morning armed with all the usual accoutrements for a writing day. I lucked out with my favourite spot in my favourite coffee shop and settled down for what I thought would be a grand few hours.

All week, ideas were bubbling in me and I had been thinking this was just what I needed; an hour or two, three even, stretching in front of me and then my words would be like a dog running across the prairie and you could watch them going for days.


But I just sat there and it all just seemed pointless. And I went back and read a story I've been working on, and it seemed utterly dull to me. The blasted stillness of it. So, I decided to read instead of write. And of course everything I read looked a little too good, a little too inspired. And I wound up mentally quitting and razing everything I've ever written.

I know everybody has creative days like this. I've had enough of them too. But it still sucks. I felt so bored with myself. I started to think about who I am if I didn't bother writing at all any more and wondering if that would be enough. And I felt lonely, suddenly, at the coffee shop.

Today, I'm going to get out of my head and back into my body. I've been neglecting my body. And I know that at this time last year I had a better balance with everything and I can feel that I've been sliding steadily backwards, losing all my good habits. And I'll notice that those steps I used to run up in the ravine look daunting all of a sudden.

I live so much in my head I tend to think of it as disassociated from my body. Of course, it's not. The truth is I write better when I move more. Even when I sit with my body actively engaged, rather than slumped, my brain engages too. So today I'll take to muddy trails and remake those new old commitments.

Products: Merino Easy Sweater from Toast | Writer Talisman Necklace from Pyrrha | MiH Jeans Paris cropped mid-rise jeans from Net-a-Porter | Quin Waxed Cotton Charcoal from Bridge & Burn | Waxed canvas lined hunting shoe from L.L.Bean

Friday!

Yesterday, I read this dialogue between poet Brian Blanchfield and the writer Maggie Nelson. It's warm and fiercely intelligent, as anything involving Maggie Nelson is wont to be. But it was generous principle of charity between them that warmed me as I read.

"Whenever I consider the sort of friend I relish being, I think of you: a deeply understanding, permissive, even fiery advocate with advanced capacity to listen, whose intellect is a joy, who can surrender happily to the absurd, and who can share the playground of language." - Brian Blanchfield


In philosophy, the a Principle of Charity is an important methodological presumption. It's a concept I studied when reading Quine and Donald Davidson, basically this: That when we listen to another speak we should seek to understand what is said in a manner that affords the other sense. (An illustration would be the charitable way a human translator converts text from one language into another, compared to the uncharitable way Google Translator does it). It's related to a Principle of Humanity too.

"In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation.In its narrowest sense, the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others' statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available." - Wikipedia

That principle is common in conversation between friends and it comes across in dialogue between Maggie Nelson and Brian Blanchfield. When we listen to friends talk we build bridges, help fill in blanks, work hard to attribute an understanding that is kind, allowing each other the space to build and back-track, clarify and reconsider. It's only when we exhaust all these things that disagreements set in, but even disagreement can be a patient and respectful process.

I think one of the reasons many people are nervous to confront sensitive topics on their blogs is because the internet is rife with people who abandon a principle of charity when reading or listening to one another. Such people precisely don't seek to understand the other, but to lynch and troll and snipe. It's a justified fear of the blogger that they'll be willfully misunderstood, and I braced for it when I published this week's post, as I often do when I write an emotional or argumentative post.

Of course, a principle of charity does not guarantee that we all agree on the same conclusion. I'm sure we don't all agree, even those of us who reason similarly and openly. And if you're dealing with somebody who is not coherent or rational, the principle of charity will not make them so.

But it warmed me this week when you started commenting on my post. And I could immediately see you were seeking to understand what I wrote and to comfort me and to engage in a constructive dialogue. In that way, I felt that I was really talking with friends... not that we all necessarily agree, but friends who weren't just seeking to find a loose thread and pull at it for the sake of that, but to thoughtfully and charitably read and respond. And I think that's a beautiful thing to experience here, on the internet, where we could just as easily not bother.

So, difficult as those events and topics were and are to consider and blog about, I felt your kindness and understanding and want to thank you for that. Now, if only our politicians could talk to us and each other with the same principles. Sigh...

Have a lovely weekend!

Shame

I don't count on everybody who reads my blog to share and invest in the stories that I'm finding upsetting and heart-wrenching, that make me obsessively trawl news and commentary sites and, sometimes, just sit with my head in my hands, at a loss.

And I know I see things often, fluttering past and think, I just can't go there today. Because to introduce those feelings into your day is a huge emotional commitment, a drain, a tax, a commitment to a state-of-mind and of-heart that's never satisfying or cathartic and will only lead to you coming home, feeling like you've been bled dry, a shell of yourself.

So, I appreciate people who are regularly willing to go there giving voice to difficult topics. And I'm happy to count them among my blog friends; people who blog and tweet things that aren't easy to blog and tweet. Genuine and justified, constructive anger really isn't an easy thing to embody; and it's not a state we crave in some hepped-up and shit-disturbing way. We go there because to leave something unsaid, to not go there, would feel all kinds of wrong.

There are often days I'm indignant about the number of people in my online world who never seem to give voice to a thing that really matters. And I find it hard to fathom that I can be so fraught while others only talk about flowers and gingham tablecloths and Peter Pan collars. But I also know that's just the way of it and there are bound to be times when those roles are reversed.

But today I can't just blog about some pretty thing when I've spent the entire day angry and upset, coming home to watch RTE news and simply cry. On my blog, I give voice to a lot of the beauty of Ireland, the language and landscape, the culture and the sea. Ireland is beautiful and I love it. But that's not the complete story.

For the sake of my own soul and sense of place and for the friends I have in both places, I let my mind linger on the more beautiful and bathetic sides of my island. But, of course, it's not all bucolic landscape and literature and craic. It's also a country corrupt and bloated with politics and with religion, and - worst of all - politics informed by religion.

I could go on about the church scandals, the abuse cases, the punch-drunk Celtic Tiger economy, Northern Ireland, the corruption tribunals over land and banks and various leaders. But right now, the one that's front of mind is abortion. We just emerged from a US election where the threat to women's rights was a key issue. The threatened outcome in the US, the outcome so many reacted against, is today's reality in Ireland. The story of Savita Halappanavar:

"Savita Halappanavar should still be alive. Her husband should not be a widower. When she was admitted to hospital on 21 October suffering a miscarriage, and it was found that there was no chance of the baby surviving, the staff of University Hospital Galway should have acted at once to protect her life by performing an abortion. Instead, her husband says that her requests for a termination were refused on the grounds that a foetal heartbeat was present. “The consultant said it was the law, that this is a Catholic country,” Praveen Halappanavar told the Irish Times." - Sarah Ditum / New Statesman

For brevity's sake, I'll assume most of you have read one or more of these stories. But, if you haven't:
Una Mullally has compiled a comprehensive list
of all the coverage of Savita Halappanavar.

As Alex Massie writes, "Seven governments have had the chance to legislate; seven governments have ducked the issue." We simply have to stop ducking this issue. And not because we're afraid right now of looking bad in the eyes of the world (though we do) and not because of some malignant form of shame (which we might well feel). But because there's a deeper ethical obligation to do better than this. And to stop lying to ourselves, about our piousness and shame and the hypocrisy of exporting abortions to the UK. To buck up and have an honest adult conversation about those things we and our politicians find so awkward; topics like abuse and sex and rape and our bodies. It's time to grow up.

You might think these kinds of events make me feel glad to be in Canada. You'd be wrong. It's at times like this that I feel almost amputated. Sure, part of me is happy to be removed from something so wrong. But a bigger part of me really wants to be outside Leinster House and to lobby my TD to legislate for X. I feel pretty powerless when things like this happen and I'm so removed from Ireland. Being in Canada doesn't mean I can just switch off my nationality and be smug about where I am. Too many people I love live there. And I myself care deeply about my country... even though on days like this, that love is tainted with shame.

A poem for Monday

It's raining outside. I just had a shower to warm up and I'm wearing three layers and drinking whiskey. My hair is wet and beginning to curl, but it doesn't matter. And I'm wondering what I've got to give you today, trying to find something to summon up and share.

I can hear my neighbour in his kitchen, running water, doing washing up. Higher up in the building I can hear a piano. It seems there's always a piano playing here and I think often of Gould's ghost, restless and roaming.

There's something about a night like this, the swoosh of cars in the rain outside that makes me reach for Yeats, that lyrical bastard. But on nights like this with whiskey warming my throat, I can't resist giving voice to "the loud chaunting of the unquiet leaves".

And I think of his grave and how I've known his epitaph since I was very young and stood there under Ben Bulben half grasping who he was but forming a connection because of the word "horseman"... feeling then, as you do when you're very young, that it was a singular connection. I remember too what I was wearing that day, but maybe because there's a photo of it somewhere, my sister and I standing either side of his limestone headstone.

The Sorrow of Love
The quarrel of the sparrows in the eaves,
The full round moon and the star-laden sky,
And the loud song of the ever-singing leaves,
Had hid away earth's old and weary cry.

And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And with you came the whole of the world's tears,
And all the sorrows of her labouring ships,
And all the burden of her myriad years.

And now the sparrows warring in the eaves,
The curd-pale moon, the white stars in the sky,
And the loud chaunting of the unquiet leaves
Are shaken with earth's old and weary cry.

Friday!

My bus stop near work looks down into a wild kind of ditch. I'm not sure if it's part of a ravine system, or the outer edge of a golf course. But since I started instagramming, I sometimes snap that ditch on certain days. These three photos are its evolution in recent weeks.


One of my favourite things I read this week was this piece by Mark O'Connell, not only because it started with a Front Square encounter and my Dublin days are so often oriented around Front Square, but because it contained a Auster-like fiction-meets-reality moments of sublime coincidence.

You'll have to read the whole story (and it's worth it) for context, but here's the hook:
"By transfiguring him into a fiction – by fleshing him out, as it were, into a character – Banville somehow makes MacArthur seem more real, more believable; and yet to actually see him, to walk past him and make fleeting eye contact with him, was an unsettling experience, as though I had encountered the manifestation of a fiction. It was strange enough to chance upon this fabled murderer in a tweed jacket, who had once hidden from the law in the home of the country’s most senior legal officer, separated from my grandparents by a few inches of interior wall. But the simultaneous experience of seeing, and being seen by, a character from a novel I had spent so much time reading and thinking and writing about was somehow stranger still." - Mark O'Connell


I love permitting such moments to be as strange, surreal as they are without conflating them or without rationalizing them away. When I saw Paul Auster read a few weeks ago, he told a similar anecdote when a part of the New York Trilogy came to life for him and he felt his book living on outside him. He wasn't being mystical. He seemed to simply say that the world is full of these moments and we neither need to reduce them or hype them up. They can just be there so.

I like all of this tremendously.

And thinking about this brings me back again to this Colm Tóibín piece I so often find myself coming back to

"The world that fiction comes from is fragile. It melts into insignificance against the universe of what is clear and visible and known. It persists because it is based on the power of cadence and rhythm in language and these are mysterious and hard to defeat and keep in their place. The difference between fact and fiction is like the difference between land and water." - Colm Tóibín


But it's not just writers who blur the lines between fiction and reality, for whom legends and stories manifest. We're all projecting ideas and stories, insinuating meanings and internal dialogues we can't possibly have access to, calling up our individual histories and forming connections and mad coincidences between people and places and turns of phrases and gestures. We're all stroking the world immediately around us into a smoother narrative, because it's what we need to get by. Like a child who sits on the beach and draws circles with her hands in the sand around her.

And I like my bus stop because it's often a place at the end of a day when I cut loose and read something, or think about something I read, or just look down at the ditch and think to myself, even up here it can sometimes pretty. And I find a way to smooth it out, so I can move on to something else when I get off the bus at the other end.

Book report: The China Factory

I haven't blogged a book report in a long while, which should not be taken to mean that I haven't been reading. But I've been mostly rereading old favourites and literary journals. And I'm doing a lot more writing myself - committing to the act of it - and that means a certain amount of care must be taken when deciding what to pick up and devote oneself to.


But a signed copy of Mary Costello's short story collection The China Factory cut through all that, an impulse purchase from The Stinging Fly on a day when I was in a 'something new' mood — remarkable for me as new writers fill my bookshelves by way of slowly expanding orbits. Costello's book was also included on the longlist for the Guardian First Book Award and I was curious to see what got her there. I'm glad I was.

It was nice happenstance that I jumped from Maeve Brennan's stories to Costello's. Both peel back layers on the kinds of households I'm familiar with and grew up not seeing a lot of depth and interest in; banal kinds of Irish marriages contained in semi-detached and row houses. Or farmers with their land and coarse hands. And, more generally, the kinds of grown-ups who we all find so easy, especially when young, to see as lacking the complex inner world, and outer world, that we inhabit.

But the book is full of their secrets, their covert actions and knotted introspection. In those tightly wound inner worlds, small details become magnified, held up as tokens and talismans by those who bear them witness. And, perhaps most tragically, in all their secretiveness, there's an inability to communicate. Relationships that were once so close have fallen into a distant sort of everyday familiarity, not without love, but perhaps without understanding and connection.

All this I found moving and beautifully rendered in Costello's lovely cadence, one that is familiar and confiding. Two stories in particular took the wind from me immediately and others had a slower brew, creeping up on me in following days and in dreams too.

To praise something as an amazing "first" always pins it in a certain context, carries a sort of parental connotation that there's room to grow and improve. Mary Costello may well improve, as we all might. But The China Factory is an finely-wrought and moving collection of stories in any context.

Photograph of Mary Costello via The Stinging Fly

Pomegranate, copper and ivy

My place felt like a dark all last week and I realized just how used I am to Toronto's normally clear skies. The lemon plant that sits in my window usually casting a green filtered glow around my room suddenly felt oppressive, like ivy growing over windows. And all of this I thought of and felt myself drawn to glowing things.


On the weekend, I brought home two pomegranates from the grocery store. I cracked into them and turned them over in my hand, tapping on the skin and collecting jewels on my plate. And I thought of glowing metals and fires, of beeswax candles and all that's burnished.


Image credits 1: Pomegranates via | John Derian cake pedestal | Copper coffee pot | Interior by Brian Ferry for Remodelista | Books from 1stDibs | Cathy Waterman ring from Twist | A.P.C. boots form La Garconne
Image credits 2: Still life by Amy Merrick | Boston lamp from Circa | Assouline candle from Net-a-Porter | Burberry coat from Net-a-Porter | Paul Costello image via 1stDibs

Sunday best: Sudden cold

In the middle of last night I got up and climbed up on a chair and in a sort of waking dream, pulling down an extra blanket. The cold season is upon us so suddenly.


Today, I won't go far, but I'll stay wrapped up and warm and drink hot drinks. And I'll read my November horoscope, because there's always time for horoscopes on Sundays. I saw the Estee Lauder compacts in a magazine over the weekend and immediately wanted one, so I may just go looking and decide on a treat.

And what else for days like these but books and words, woollen things and socked feet?

Products: MiH Jeans Paris cropped mid-rise jeans from Net-a-Porter | Vince Honeycomb Knit Jacket from Shopbop | Cancer Zodiac from Estee Lauder | Cathy Waterman Green Tourmaline Oak Leaf Basket Ring from Twist | Velvet Gloss Lip Pencil in Baroque form NARS | Vera Wang Kelsey Knee High Boots from Shopbop

Friday!

A weather-filled week, much less for us Torontonians than east-coasters, but I found myself hiding indoors and looking skyward a lot even though it didn't reach us as expected. I hope all of you found safe shelter and are well on the way to recovering.


I loved stumbling upon something new from Maggie Nelson this week: "Writing With, From, and For Others". I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of her internal process, how she "sees" her writing; it's something I relate to.

"I don’t really think I have much of an imagination at all, at least not in the traditional sense of making stuff up or feeling compelled by things that aren’t there. Whatever imagination I have, I think it’s a formal one: I have an intuition for form, for how form and content depend upon each other. I also have a strong sense of how ideas are things, things that can be arranged, synthesized, associated, and felt, à la Keats’s great phrase “Axioms are not axioms until they are proved upon our pulses.” In my mind, I don’t hear characters talking; I see book shapes; I hear tonal juxtapositions; I hear music shepherded around the page; I imagine what kind of sentence or shape could or should house a particular idea."

Nelson was also one of my inspiring women.

I've been thinking a lot about writing and community this week. And about myself. How I favour the solitary and being part of a community always seems to serve me best in small doses. It always feels like a kind of selfish (or protective?) apartness that I struggle so to let other people relate to me.

But I also see how quickly I become discouraged when I consider myself in a larger context, and this is more from a sense of smallness and insignificance. Without a doubt, there's a dance to be done here (perhaps especially in online worlds).

As I'm typing here, there are some first flurries of snow outside my window. I feel quite unready for it, not just winter, but another cycle of the seasons, how all the winters meld into each other and the autumns and springs too. This is my tenth winter in Toronto, and yet I so often feel like I barely belong here. And, yet, with this solitary nature of mine, maybe belonging is something that comes in small moments rather than seasons.

Happy weekend, friends!