Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Book #1: Marbles by Ellen Forney

As I said in yesterday's post, I'm going to keep track here of the books that I read in 2013, and see if I can make it to 25. (For all I know, I've already been making it to that number, but I just don't keep track!)

I said in that post that I would count graphic novels as proper books, and lo and behold, I'm starting the year with one. Marbles by Ellen Forney is an extraordinary look at bipolar disorder (also called manic depression), told by someone who has it. This is a memoir that moves from Forney's diagnosis in the mid-90s, and takes you through the following 15 years of her life, the ups and downs, the confusion and regret, and the constant battle with medications.

At first she delights in her manic episodes, thinking it helps her reach new creative peaks. Like a constant bolt of adrenalin, her manic behaviour pushes her to do more and more, and be wilder and wilder with her goals. Throughout it all she has a wonderful psychiatrist working with her, urging her to take medication. But she has one deep fear: as an artist, wouldn't taking medication stifle her creativity? I mean, if Michelangelo and Van Gogh and hundreds of artists throughout history are now widely assumed to have been bipolar — and were unmedicated — shouldn't she join their ranks? Shouldn't she embrace the manic side of her life and learn to live with it, unmedicated?

Her psychiatrist gently explains to her that yes, those people were unmedicated, and most of them committed suicide, too.

Unfortunately, when you're up, there's only one direction to go next, and when she hits bottom, she hits rock bottom. Over several pages you can feel the darkness descend over her life. Frame after frame of the book shows her as nothing but a ball, curled up under a blanket on the couch, unable to move or do anything. Her paranoia begins building, and eventually she gives in and tries the meds. We watch her swing from one extreme to the other as her body adjusts, rejects, adjusts, and rejects one med after another, until finally, after a decade, she finds the perfect combo. AND finds a place where she can be as creative as she wants to be, and doesn't feel like her mind is a fog.

This book is amazing. If you are lucky enough not to suffer from bipolar disorder, you probably know someone who does, and this is an excellent book not just for readers in general, who will delight in her story and gorgeous illustrations, but for anyone who is worried about a loved one, or, most importantly, those suffering from the disease. There is hope, and Forney's is the only book I've ever read on bipolar disorder that unequivocally lays that out for readers. Highly recommended.

OK, your turn. In the comments below, tell me about the first book you read this year!

Monday, January 28, 2013

25 Books in 2013

So. Every year a friend of mine begins a new group on Facebook encouraging people to read 25 books in [whatever year this happens to be]. And every year I enthusiastically begin by including my first four or five books that I've read. And then I wonder, what about manuscripts I'm working on but won't be published until next year? Can't mention them yet, because obviously that doesn't help people look them up if they're interested. So I don't post them. And then I forget to post them when the books are out.

At some point around March or so, I forget to add in a few, and then I can't remember what book #6 or #7 was, and I just give up. I try to add a few of them to Goodreads, where I keep a dusty and not-very-well-used account, and then... well, you know. In the meantime I watch friends piling up the books they're reading, and watch the 25 Books in [whatever year this happens to be] building and building as people reach the lofty #25 goal and then move on to #26, #27, and beyond. (I shake my fist at those crazy kids, remembering a time long ago when I was able to read so much!)

When we moved in August, I put books on my bookshelves that I'd put on my bookshelves in the last move, and some in the move previous to that 12 years ago... and they hadn't been read then and they haven't been read now. What. The hell. I sit surrounded by these shelves every day (they're surrounding me right now), and think if I could do anything, it would be sitting down to read those books. NOT watching TV, not going to the movies, not going outside to do anything, just finding a day with an empty house and sitting and reading.

But then I remember I really need to clean that living room. And the kitchen. And I did the laundry, but it's still sitting in the dryer. And I'm never alone in the house. And I can set the Saturday morning alarm for 6:30 to try to curl up on the couch and read, but my daughter is up at 6 on Saturdays to hit the Family channel before anyone else is up (Monday to Friday, you're pushing her out of bed at 7:30, but come weekends...). And, well, I REALLY need to clear off some of the stuff on the PVR. And I've watched some of that season of that show, but not all of it, and I need to return the DVDs to the library. And while I already watched that other show, a bunch of people have asked me to blog on it. And I haven't blogged in a while, so I really should. And I've been editing all day and my eyes are kind of sore and tired. Or I didn't edit enough today and so I should work for a couple of hours before going to bed (the joys of working at home). And while I took grad school English lit, and I'm a writer, and an editor, for god's sakes, I am such a slow reader. No, really. Molasses slow. I've always loved words — the look of them on the page, the details — and since I was a teenager I've read very slowly and carefully, committing every detail to memory. So, it takes me a while.

Oh, and did I mention the kids walking into the room every three seconds? See, a mom sitting on the couch with a book signals a mom who isn't doing anything. Dad can disappear, but not Mom.

The other night a friend of mine was over, someone I hadn't seen in close to 20 years (yowza) and when my husband and I started bombarding him with TV shows he should be watching, he said, "You know, I'm really trying to read more." And I said, sarcastically, "Read?! Pfft. Who does that anymore??" Of course, it's what I've been trying to do more of for years.

But this year, I'm going to make a serious effort. In fact, I already have. I just finished Books #4 AND #5 today (yes, I tend to read more than one at the same time; always have...) And then I'm going to post here when I finish. It might be super short, it might be very long. But I'll say something. And maybe some of you can join in. When I post my #1 (tomorrow, since I have five books to catch you up on!), you can post your #1s in the comments. Then you can post your #2 book of the year under mine. Don't worry... it's doubtful I'll get ahead of you. Far more likely that you'll be stockpiling books waiting for me to get the hell to #10 since you're almost at #17. We can switch off books — give me some of your best suggestions, and I can promise my reading is eclectic (a friend of mine started suggesting books for my best friend instead of for me because, as she put it, "I can't quite figure out your taste anymore!").

I include graphic novels as legit reading materials, by the way. I know some people say you can breeze through them in one sitting and therefore they shouldn't count, but that's not how I read graphic novels. I tend to get so caught up in the details of the pictures that I can sit and stare at the visuals on the pages longer than I would have if the pages had been filled with text. And graphic novels have contained some of the most heart-wrenching and funny stories I've ever read. (See Y: The Last Man, for starters.) SO... they count.

I'm sure to many of you, 25 is nothing. So I'm aiming for higher. But for now, I'm going to say 25 because that's about one every two weeks, and, well, life is crazy and wonderful, and I'm not going to add one more stress to it. Since moving to London, Ontario, I've joined three book clubs, so if nothing else motivates me, that certainly will. But you guys have always been amazing motivators, too.

And by the way, I have been watching 1970s Doctor Who, have seen a ton of films, and just finished season 2 of Sons of Anarchy, and have watched THE MOST AMAZING documentary I've ever seen and I MUST tell you about all of it!!! But... let's hit the books first. I'll get around to that other stuff eventually. Maybe even talk about the end of Fringe just around the time everyone's forgotten what it was about.

So who's with me?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Fringe Finale

From "White Tulip," season 2, episode 18:

WALTER: I, too, attempted the unimaginable, and I succeeded. I crossed into another universe, and took a son that wasn't mine. And since then, not a day has passed without me feeling the burden of that act. I'm going to tell you something that I have never told another soul. Until I took my son from the other side, I had never believed in God. But it occurred to me... that my actions had betrayed him and that everything that had happened to me since was God punishing me. So now I'm looking for a sign of forgiveness. I've asked God for a sign of forgiveness. A specific one, a white tulip.
ALISTAIR PECK: Tulips don't bloom this time of year -- white or otherwise.
WALTER: But he's God. And if God can forgive me for my acts then maybe... it's in the realm of possibility that my son, possibly, may be able to forgive me too.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fringe: A Love Story

Tonight Fringe comes to an end. For five seasons, this show has entertained its tiny, loyal audience, and somehow achieved the impossible: surviving on FOX without being cancelled. Clearly someone high up loves this show as much as we do.

Why do so few people watch it? I think they're afraid of the fact it's a "sci-fi show." And why do the rest of us love it as much as we do? Well, because it's so much more than a sci-fi show (as almost all sci-fi shows are).

Fringe, as I've said here many times, is a story about love. It's a show, like Lost and so many other shows of the 21st century, about the connections we have with others. But while Lost was content to show us that everyone is connected, Fringe explores what those connections mean and more importantly, what we are willing to do for those we love.

Season 1 began with a typical fringe-science-freakshow-of-the-week premise, where they found a problem, dealt with it, and moved on. But even then there was a sense that it was moving to something bigger. Like many people, I watched the first episode or two and then gave up. Too much science, not enough emotion. Boy, was I wrong. Thank goodness I came back.

Now, five years later, it's clear what Fringe is. It's a show about love: parental, romantic, filial, platonic. It's a show where a father loves his son so much he creates a catastrophic bridge between two universes to find him. Where he hates himself so much for what he's done that he literally has a piece of himself removed. It's a show where a race of superhumans can travel through time like the aliens in Slaughterhouse-Five to observe how their ancestors acted. Where one of these superhumans defies his own unemotional nature to become attached to the Bishop family, saving Peter's life as his father crosses him from one universe to the next, thereby driving a hole through time that would destroy one universe while another one slowly disintegrated.

It's a show where that son would grow up and love a woman so deeply that he would cross over through the ether to show her he loved her, where he could tell the difference between her and her alt-universe copy and love only one. It's a show where these two people would find each other in a world beyond our world, beyond death, beyond any understanding, and come together once again. Where they would create a daughter who would bring them together and then explode them apart when she is taken during the Earth's invasion of the Observers (circa 2015), and where they would freeze themselves in time just to find her 20 years later, and help her overthrow the superhumans. Where their love is not only just for each other anymore: it's for all of humanity.

And I have this terrible feeling that they're not all going to make it. There is nothing in the world that Walter Bishop loves more than his son, Peter. And nothing Peter loves more than his wife, Olivia. And nothing she loves more than her daugher, Etta. They've already lost one, leaving Olivia a shred of her former self. And if they can follow the path that will lead them to the salvation of all humanity — moving to a point in time where they can make it so the Observers never existed — then does that mean that the history of humanity will play itself out without the interference of the Observers? Will Walter still create a bridge to steal a son... but lose him in the ice?

Fringe began as a show about a group of scientists and agents who were intent on helping save the world from nasty things. And they grew into a group of people who were intent on finding each other and saving their relationships. Now, they must try to save the world without losing each other in the process.

If you have not watched Fringe, I urge you to go to season 1, make it through those first episodes (don't worry, they will add up to something by the end of the season), and watch the most exquisite love story unfold before your eyes. There is nothing these people won't do to save each other. And that's what makes their fate so terrifying... and yet so beautiful.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Doctor... Who?

I told a story on my Facebook page at the beginning of December that I'd had a phone call with my mother, who subscribes to magazines full of British merchandise. She wanted to know if my brother would like a cookie jar with The Who on it.

"The Who? As in, the band?" I asked.
"I think so? It's a blue... police box, it says."
"Wait, Doctor Who?"
"Oh yes, that's it."
"No, he wouldn't be interested, but I would!"

Well, did this ever make HER happy. She had a whole magazine full of stuff related to this show, and as usual, was ready to buy me every single item in there. (My husband spent the next few weeks talking her out of most of it.) I told her in the same phone call that actually, I didn't want a cookie jar, but the salt and pepper shakers. She flipped through the magazine and said, "Oh, the... turdis and... day-lick?" "YES, the turdis and daylick!" I said.

So on Christmas Day, here's what I got from her:

Mom's comment on the shirt: "I have no idea
what that means, but I was told if you watch Doctor
Who, you'll get it." 
Very exciting! I got my salt and pepper shakers, which made me very happy (especially the packaging; check out what's on the box):

The Epic Struggle for the Balance of Taste! (HA!)

And there was a teapot, too!

I checked, and it was difficult to say if it's bigger on the inside:

I'll have to make some tea to find out.

The calendar has the first 11 Doctors in order, which is very cool because I'm watching Classic episodes now and am on the Fourth Doctor, so I hope I can keep ahead of the month where the new Doctor appears (Hartnell is on my wall now). All of them appear in December.

But let's just say, I have a new reason to look forward to October:

Next year, maybe I'll get a sonic screwdriver!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Unhappiest Man on Earth

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I'm in Florida with my family and today we hit the Magic Kingdom! The happiest place on Earth! The place where dreams come true! Where everyone is a kid again!!

That is... everyone but Sir Grumpy McCrank. Also known as, MY HUSBAND.

Ah yes, see, everyone's been saying for weeks now, "Have fun! You'll have a great time!" And I smile and say, "Oh yes... I'm sure we, um, will..." but they don't realize that I tend to go to theme parks with my brother, or friends, or anyone but my husband because he hates this sort of thing. My daughter is 8, and he has never taken her to see fireworks, because he hates the crowds and the noise and fireworks are stupid and do you know how long it will take to get out of the parking lot??!! She's been to Canada's Wonderland once, and that was with me and my brother. We could drive for an hour to a restaurant, and we walk in and if the host says it's a 15-minute wait, my husband storms back to the car and starts the engine. We'd better be in the car with him or he's leaving us there. His idea of fun is sitting in a basement by himself playing with the levels on a song he's been recording for THREE YEARS. (It's good, Rob, it's good, just release the damn thing and stop going all Kevin Shields on it for god's sakes...) But make him stand in a line, or even in the vicinity of people, and he comes off as a claustrophobic with Tourettes.

So... see, you have to understand... I was going to Disney World with the Old Man from A Christmas Story. And when you spend the day with him, I'm afraid dreams just don't come true.

So, to lift my spirits after a very long, tiring day where I went on a total of two rides because there was no goddamn way he was waiting in line for... does that thing say three hours?! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE F&$@ING KIDDING ME... I'll relay some of the things we all had to listen to all day:

"Well, the one thing I've learned about Disney immediately is that dreams might not come true, but they DO come with a side of fries."

[After a kid sounds like he's coughed up a lung beside us]: "If the Bubonic Plague ever comes back, its origins will be HERE."

Me: I can't believe you haven't made some comment about how this is the perfect place for terrorists to hit.
Him: Nah. If terrorists bombed Disney World, by the looks of the people here, it wouldn't affect the U.S. economy one bit.

He constantly sang Elvis Costello's "This Is Hell" while we were standing in line for "It's a Small World."

Him: What the hell is this ride anyway?
Me: It's a bunch of little animatronic dolls singing "It's a Small World After All." I saw it when I was 7 and thought it was amazing. I went back on it when I was 15 and thought it was crap. But I think the kids will like it.
Him: Oh my GOD why are we lining up for this?!
Me: It's the inspiration for The Simpsons episode where Lisa drinks the water and goes nuts. You know, "I AM THE LIZARD QUEEN!!"
Him: Really? Well, in that case, let's go line up. I want to see this.

Standing in line: "This is hell... this is hell..."

Me: You can say what you want about this place, but it's in impeccable shape. Look at the castle. That thing's got to be like 50 years old or older... and it looks brand new.
Him: Are you kidding? It's got NETTING holding it together, just look at those spires! That thing is coming down.
Me: [sigh] Those are CHRISTMAS LIGHTS. They are nets of Christmas lights.
Him: Oh.

"Can you tell me why so many middle-aged women are wearing mouse-ear hats? Where the hell else are they going to wear the damn things after they leave this park?" [I must admit, I'd been thinking the same thing.]

Him: What in GOD'S NAME is that person eating over there?!
Me: That's a turkey leg! Can you believe it?? That's what I was telling you about two years ago when Sue and I went to Universal Studios. They sell them in little carts with popcorn and stuff. Isn't it disgusting?
Him: Good Christ, I bet it's got more bacteria on it than the street does right now.

Him: Did we park in the Heroes or Villains lot?
Me: We were in Peter Pan.
Him: That doesn't answer my question!
Me: I'm sorry, do you remember Peter Pan hunting down Captain Hook to kill him? What do YOU think he was??
Him: Oh, who the hell watches these stupid movies.

There were so many more, but I'd tuned him out after a while. My daughter and I broke away at one point to go to Ariel's Grotto (insert hubby's Hugh Hefner joke here) and had a lovely time waiting in line for 85 minutes, laughing and looking at the things on the walls on the way in. For that brief moment, we had a blast. And then it was back to Crank Central again. We found him standing outside the Winnie the Pooh ride, complaining that it was the worst 3 minutes of his life while my son sat next to him happily eating a "grossly overpriced" ice cream cone.

So... I want to come back some time. If any of you are Disney fans, let me know and I'll go with you instead. Tomorrow: my husband will ruin Animal Kingdom.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

How to Make a Mom's Day...

Happy new year, everyone!

So, we're in Florida for a whirlwind Disney trip with the kids. Not staying AT Disney (long story as to why) but we'll be there for a couple of days.

My kids are 8 and 5. They're at that age where they go from having fun together (which is typically loud and goofy) to pulling hair and hitting in a split-second. I think they're great kids — they're polite, they're smart, and yes, they can be loud, but it's usually in a good, spirited way, and rarely in a bad, angry way (when they are the latter, they get pulled aside and spoken to).

Before I had kids, like pretty much every childless person on the planet, I would see "spirited" kids in the grocery stores or restaurants pulling hair and being loud and disruptive, laughing and cackling together, and it would be distracting and at some point, inevitably, my husband would look at me and say, "My kids will never act like that." We've all done it, said it, thought it. And then — you know the story — you HAVE kids and realize wow, no matter what I do, they'll pretty much act like that, and when you see other kids acting like that in grocery stores and restaurants, you simply tune them out. They don't bother me, and you watch the poor harried parents shushing them and trying their best to keep them under control, and your heart goes out to them. For, it's likely that before you had kids, the parents of the kids you were shaking your head at in public were ALSO shushing and trying to keep those kids under control, but you simply didn't notice and tsk-tsked their lack of parental control.

Now I'm the mom trying to keep them under control, seeing the sympathetic looks on the faces of other parents, or the disapproval on the faces of those with no kids (or who have kids and have tricked themselves into thinking their children are perfect). I'm trying to load groceries onto the conveyer belt, and my kids are giggling and trying to tickle each other, or ducking around the grocery cart to see if they can tag the other kid. Just having fun, not fighting... but just awful to the many people who think kids should be seen and not heard. (I don't mean to say they're like this all the time, but when they are, it sometimes seems like it.)

So. Today. We drove last night to Detroit because we were flying out from there this morning. The kids didn't get anything to eat until about 7:30 at night because we were later than we expected packing everything, and crossing the border, and they were pretty punchy by the time we got to the restaurant. They sat kicking each other under the table, giggling and laughing loudly, and then we got them to the hotel and they jumped on the beds and ran around the room and we shushed them and told them to sit on the beds because people underneath could hear them running. This morning, up at 5 a.m., shushing them and telling them they couldn't wake other people in the hotel. They quietly came down to the lobby, my husband ran out to get the car, and I ran them over to the continental breakfast buffet, stuffing a bagel in each of their pockets and giving them little bowls of Fruit Loops. At the airport, they stood quietly in line, but every time one would look at the other and start giggling, we'd become uber-aware of the looks we were getting from people because our children were loud.

On the plane, my husband always books three seats together, and one on its own, and then acts surprised when we get there (I'm onto you, dude...). And so, I was with them. They were fine when I was between them, but near the end of the 2.5-hour flight, they were sitting together while my daughter played her DS and my son watched her (he loves watching people play games) and then they began giggling and wrestling and squirming and were definitely starting to get a little crazy, and I'm leaning over and telling them over and over to PLEASE BE QUIET. (Of course, babies were screaming two rows back, and the girl in the seat in front of us didn't stop yelling the entire flight.) Then into the airport, where they chased each other up the ramps... then to the car rental place, where they had put their backpacks on their fronts and were ramming into each other with their "big bellies" (it seems funny to me now, but at the time I saw other kids quietly sitting on a bench and so I was mortified). In the car they moved from giggling to smacking each other, then at the restaurant for lunch my son laid down on the bench and said he wanted to sleep, so I kept dragging him to a sitting position and got him to eat, and then in the car back to smacking before my son quieted down, complained he was "super tired" and fell asleep. At the hotel they ran around in the room, we shushed them (natch), then they tore down the hall to the elevator to go to the pool. They swam for over 2 hours, and then walked back to the room, got changed, and we went out to an Italian restaurant that had good reviews.

We walked in, and it was really nice decor, tiny, and quiet. All senior citizens or couples (they'd said on the site it was a family restaurant). We sat down, kids across from each other, and my daughter quietly started colouring on a piece of paper, while my son just sat there quietly for a bit, then asked if he could play a game on my phone. Food came, they both ate wonderfully, quietly, my husband and I had a conversation about Boardwalk Empire, and then my daughter went back to colouring while my son talked to me for a bit afterwards. Halfway through the meal, I thought to myself, I know these kids are completely knackered, but I wonder if the other people in the restaurant are thinking these are the most wonderfully behaved children they've ever seen?

And then, just as we were finishing up, a couple who'd been eating in the corner stood up and were about to leave when the woman came over to our table and said, "I don't mean to interrupt, but I wanted to tell you that your children are absolutely lovely and SO well behaved! Their teachers must LOVE them!" My daughter looked up from her colouring and said yes, her teacher loved her (ha!) and my son was too tired to even respond. I thanked her profusely, beaming with pride, and she said it was a joy to be in a restaurant with such quiet kids.

And my day was made.

The next time I see a couple with quiet kids, I'm going to tell them that. Because, there's a 99% chance those kids aren't always that quiet, but they're just having a good night. And those parents have shushed and begged and gotten the dirty looks all the time from other people, and are sighing with internal relief that their kids are giving them a quiet night, for whatever reason. And rather than the angry looks, to get someone to tell them their kids are great? An AMAZING feeling.

Just for that, I'm going to let my kids tear Disney apart over the next two days. ;)

Have a happy New Year, everyone!