28 June 2007

21 June 2007

The Absorbing Adventures of Ron Scollon, Linguist

Chapter One. In Which He Converses about Shoes.

Chapter Two. In Which He Watches a Family Move House.

Chapter Three. In Which He Discourses upon Apples.

Chapter Four. In Which He Finds That Looking Downward at People Makes Him Feel Powerful.

Chapter Five. In Which He Revenges Himself upon a Banana Thief.

Chapter Six. In Which He Reads the Newspaper.

Chapter Seven. In Which He Buys Coffee.

Chapter Eight. In Which He Gazes out the Window.

Chapter Nine. In Which He Transmits Messages.

Chapter Ten. In Which He Is Encouraged to Hold His Peace.

Chapter Eleven. In Which He Uses the Toilet.


I like to think of myself as literate, but just now I was trying to write to Rose, "Do you ever use your email?" but it came out, "Do you ever youse your email?"

Lord almighty.

20 June 2007


While consulting my Merriam-Webster's this morning (the person I'm editing seems to be addicted to using hyphens in the middle of what ought to be closed compounds), I ran across the word cachinnate, "to laugh loudly or immoderately," which I really do think I ought to try to find a way to use sometime soon.

14 June 2007

One Good Turn. Kate Atkinson.

The problem with Kate Atkinson is that after you finish one of her books you wander around for two weeks feeling like your best friend has moved away. Of course, you might see her again next year, but then you might not. It's all most disheartening.

11 June 2007

Just Lipstick

I went to see my grandma and her crew in a motel near the airport where they were waiting to board a cruise boat to Alaska. They had two rooms, and we kept standing in between them and blocking the hall. Before I got there, a joke had grown up with the people in the opposite room, about "breaking up the fight."

"Look, is that blood on her mouth?" the guy said, pointing at me, on one of his passes through. "Oh, it's all right, it's just lipstick."

I've only worn lipstick once in my life, for several of the last few hours of 1993, and the one time I actually purchased a lipstick it was a deep brown in color. But apparently it's possible to inhabit a state of mind in which the merest hint of femininity (I'm more often addressed as "ma'am" than as "sir" or "brother," but the latter two do occasionally crop up) is enough to call forth a presumption of redness about the mouth.


I had no idea what the Crawlie was that I saw on my walk on Friday, but some kind person at Yelp asked these people for me and found out that it's the larva of a multicolored Asian lady beetle. Evidently they didn't used to live here, but only moved over here in the last decade or two. (Were it not a newcomer, I would of course have been able to identify it at a glance. I knew what the Duckie was, after all, didn't I? See?)


10 June 2007

06 June 2007


He was a teller, and this is what he told me: "I'm a trainee teller. I can deposit checks."

"Well, that's what I want to do, deposit checks." I handed them to him, and he looked at them as carefully as he had adjusted his tie. He laid the two checks and the deposit slip out on the desk in front of him, side by side. He moved his calculator forward, and tried some numbers out on it.

"Can't do cash yet, just checks," he said, looking bemusedly at his computer screen.

He did some more things.

"The weather's better today," he said. "Yesterday it was raining too hard at lunchtime to go out."

"I didn't go out at lunchtime yesterday, either," I related. I ate a banana and some dried apples, read the Economist, and snuck back to my desk to work an extra ten minutes unreported and unpaid, for lack of desire to be in the lunch room.

The teller told the calculator some more numbers, and then he told the computer them too, and asked me if I wanted my account balance printed on my receipt. I did.

"Do you have any ID?"

"I should." I found it. He glanced at more swiftly than I think anyone ever has before, certainly too swiftly to see anything, at the pace he was seeing things these days. "So when did you start?" I asked him.

"Monday! I started on Monday morning."

"It seems like a good place to work. Everyone always seems nice here," I said, contributing my mite to the illusion he seemed to be trying to build.

"Yes, they're very nice."

I got my receipt at last. "Thank you very much!" I chirped.

"Have a nice day!" he told me.

"You too!"

I wonder if he went somewhere for a good weep on his lunch break, the weather being better and all.

03 June 2007

Ruth. Elizabeth Gaskell.

Checking a book out from the library goes like this.

Each checkout station has a monitor, a scanner, and a pad about two feet by a foot and a half that you lay out your books upon to be recognized and desensitized. You scan your library bar code; the screen tells you if there are things you put on hold which are now ready to be picked up, if you owe any fines, and which books you've set down on the pad. After you assent to the list, it prints out a receipt for you with the names of the books and their due date, and then you can pick them up and take them out the door without setting off the alarm.

After my visit to the G section of the fiction stacks, I set four books down on the sensor pad, scanned my library card, and was presented with the following list:

Turning Thirty
Pushing Thirty
Dinner for Two
Uncategorized Adult Book

This last, though it may sound like a degenerate artifact of sin and depravity, was merely Ruth. It was degenerating, true. The copy was 101 years old and you had to turn the pages very, very carefully, sometimes squint at them to get letters missing from cracked parts near the spine to regrow in the imagination so you could reconstruct what the words were, and sometimes (sighing) patch them with cellophane tape. But it was quite explicitly a chronicle not of sin and depravity, but of undepraved sin: lapse, repentance, and the regrowth of moral character.

Unlike the library machine, I had no trouble categorizing this book: Victorian Moral Anxiety. But I, too, had some trouble assimilating it to my technology. As it happens, the book's third paragraph, if chronologically reversed, very clearly explains why I tend to grow exasperated with a book-length illustration of the possibility of a good woman bearing a child out of wedlock:

The traditions of those bygone times, even to the smallest social particular, enable one to understand more clearly the circumstances which contributed to the formation of character. The daily life into which people are born, and into which they are absorbed before they are well aware, forms chains which only one in a hundred has moral strength enough to despise, and to break when the right time comes--when an inward necessity for independent individual action arises, which is superior to all outward conventionalities. Therefore, it is well to know what were the chains of daily domestic habit, which were the natural leading strings of our forefathers before they learnt to go alone.

The traditions of my times have formed a character that requires no talking into sympathy with the fallen woman. But this theory of novelizing also explains how a book can make a good read even if the central character is wearisomely pure and godly, for while God does not much concern me, I'm a big fan of the chains of daily domestic habit, and Gaskell's really good at those.

02 June 2007

Jack, the Giant Killer and Drink Down the Moon, Charles de Lint.

I read these two books bound together in one volume (the one being a sequel to the other), and was puzzled by the apparent contrast between them. I could not tell if it was the circumstances of their consumption that made the difference. I read the first on a comfortable evening at home, and the second on various buses and planes and what might possibly be the metaphorical equivalent of dirigibles if one could only locate the right metaphor

oops sorry, my sentence construction led me to desire a third means of transportation, but as far as I can recall I only really read the book in two kinds of vehicles, though also on a spare-room bed while preparing for a nap, so maybe I should be listing kinds of furniture

let us start this sentence over

I read Jack, the Giant Killer on a comfortable evening at home, and Drink Down the Moon jouncing on bus benches or strapped into airplane seats or lolling on a spare-room bed while temporarily failing to take a nap, which contrast might in itself be enough to explain why the plot of the first seemed to rush compellingly on from one calamity to the next in a series of increasing consequence until it all fell out to not be calamitous by a very clever trick at the end, while the incidents of the second held no great significance or interest.

Or possibly the novelty of a fairy tale in an urban setting just wore off--one will say "but of course" to a fairy who plays in a rock band when one already knows about the nine riders of the Hunt roaring about on Harleys.

I think, though, the first book is just better. The quester learns right at the beginning exactly what she is looking for, she just doesn't know where to find it and people (or rather giants and bogans and things) keep trying to keep her from getting it, whereas the person who is (less firmly) at the center of the second book is lost and confused throughout, and things just keep happening to him without setting him on any clear course. The forces of evil are also smaller and less well organized, while the forces of good are more diffuse, so that defeating the evil seems more a matter of repeated trial and error than of a single all-out effort. Also, the first book takes much more care to depict the contrast between the overlapping mortal and faerie worlds, whereas the second plunges straight into a routinely admixed environment (everyone passing easily back and forth between the two geographies) and pretty much stays there, which rather throws away the advantage of setting the story in Ottawa.

I suppose there's always motivation for an author to write a mediocre sequel to a good book, but a reader who bothers to read all the way through it when she has another book in her carry-on bag just displays a thoroughgoing lack of good sense.

01 June 2007

Dinner for Two. Mike Gayle.

While reading this book I felt a great sense of accomplishment, for I wasted my time in a forthright and healthful manner, reading all day, rather than reading all night and sleeping all day in my usual slatternly fashion. There was, besides, a duck diffusing its sweaty-head smell through the dwelling, supporting the spirits and sapping the will.

Book was mildly amusing in that it contained a music journalist forced through the folding of his magazine to write an advice column for an teen girl magazine, through which activity he unexpectedly acquired a daughter, so as not to have to dine alone with his wife anymore. But only very mildly amusing.