I start a short vacation today. Just a week, and I have no particularly exotic plans – some days’ worth of taking care of miscellaneous household activities but otherwise not doing very much, followed by a short trip to a cottage with some friends.

No grand aspirations there, either; I shall take my just-started embroidery project (my first ever), the needful devices to try and keep up with my writing initiative, some books downloaded from the library, perhaps along with a proper print book or two. I will attempt not to make too great a botch job of the former, and socialize a bit, and probably let myself get roped into playing a board game or two.

In the meantime, some cooking plans, and some quiet, and that is about all.

The sensation of simultaneously not particularly feeling like doing anything (distressingly common the last few months) and of being completely overwhelmed with choice paralysis when the moment comes to try doing something anyway (which of the, oh, twenty-five or so different games out now, all tempting-looking, do we want to play? I have a backlog of books approximately a mile high; what shall I read first?) is an extremely first world problem, I know, but it’s very acute right now. And very annoying; now, finally, for a little while, I will have time to do things!

…and so what shall I do?

While catching up on my podcast backlog (because of course I am behind on that too) I listened to an episode of Cautionary Tales which ponders the possibility that it is not only raw talent that leads to brilliance, but also…well, having time to muck about doing whatever, basically. The idea that these unstructured periods of doing nothing may in fact be essential to the creative process; that busy-ness and focus may be quietly undermining us.

I wonder about that.

Building a habit is hard.

Yes, I know, tell us something less obvious; but it’s on my mind today. I’ve been trying to build several habits at the same time.

Most days, write a little. A minimum of 200 words.

Most days, take a walk for at least 20 minutes. 30 is ideal but 20 will do, especially if it’s brisk walking.

Something about the way these things are timed makes it weirdly hard to get both in. Or perhaps it’s not timing, perhaps it’s exhaustion from work, where I am currently trying to manage Rather A Lot.

There is a lot of grindy samey-ness going on, and it seems to be squelching those more lively energies and curiosities that I can tell are just kind of lurking back there, restless and bored, glowering broodily out a window. My mind keeps reverting to old, uncomfortable places that it hasn’t spent much time in for years, despite my efforts to work toward well-being.

Outside, some of the plants continue to just…give up the ghost, it seems. Some are tenacious and tough but some just seem to have decided this particular level of sticky summer swelter is Enough, Thank You, and they droop over their containers. As I drag myself in from walking, sweat dripping through my shirt, I kind of feel where they’re coming from.

I think I really, really need that vacation.

Reservations at the Overlook

Pile of Shame time: I have never watched The Shining all the way through.

(I’ll wait a moment so those of you who know me can gasp dramatically. Perhaps faint a little for good measure.)

Oh, I’ve seen clips. I’ve seen parodies of it. I’m well aware of the basic outlines of its plot and of its most famous scenes. I’ve more or less watched it without really watching it…

But I’ve never sat down to actually watch it from beginning to end.

Eventually I expect I will remedy that, just so I can cross it off the list. But for some reason, the other day I was browsing my library app and it recommended the original novel to me.

Why not? I thought. What the hell.

And so last night I started reading.

I’ve always had sort of mixed results with Stephen King; I respect his position in the horror canon, but he’s never really clicked for me in long-form writing. I’m not sure what it is that puts me off, exactly. Perhaps it’s passages like the one in the first few chapters where the caretaker, showing Jack around the Basement Of Ominous Pipes And Conspicuously Mouldering Paperwork (with possibly Chekhov’s Furnace; we’ll see), delivers a spectacularly misogynistic little anecdote about an older woman who came to the Overlook Hotel. She brought a boy-toy, you see. And drank a lot. And it didn’t end well for anyone, from the sound of it.

I am not certain whether King wants me to feel visceral disgust toward the woman, the caretaker delivering the speech, or both; for now, I grimace and continue reading.

It is remarkable how very 70s the book is, immediately. Just a few pages in there’s a reference to English Leather, which I only have the dimmest memory of vaguely seeing an ad for somewhere once upon a time. (That specific ad pre-dates me, as does the book. But I am gratified not to be the only person who looked up that commercial because they saw it flit through Jack’s mind and wanted to make sure they weren’t imagining this was a cologne brand or something.) There’s a reference to Uncle Wiggily, which I think my grandparents had an extremely antique copy of, and which seriously makes me wonder why Jack’s mind went to that game rather than, I don’t know, Battleship.

And then of course there’s the obvious things: A radio with a list of frequencies to tune to instead of cell phones (but oh the glorious lack of need to justify why someone’s phone isn’t working, am I right, writers?) The…paper-ness of everything; filing cabinets and inboxes and outboxes that were actual boxes and little personalized notepads you kept in your pocket, with an actual pen.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about it yet. I guess we’ll see.

TIL what a “Doberge” cake is.

So we’ve been watching Crime Scene Kitchen recently when in need of a “something to switch my brain off and have going in the background” sort of show. It’s reality TV; Art it is not, intellectual content, it is not.

But it is rather dumb fun.

Here’s the conceit: Several teams of bakers are turned loose in a kitchen where something has been recently prepared. From the items left scattered around that kitchen, they must deduce what it was and then reproduce it; the team either farthest from the dessert or with the poorest execution gets sent home, and the rounds proceed in this manner until eventually only one team remains.

Thus far it’s largely consisted of us watching the teams look at what’s in the kitchen, guess, and then proceed to create various goodies while the two of us look on and say things like guys what the hell there was obviously carrot in the kitchen it has to be a carrot cake okay?

The jokes are rather silly, the presentation is over the top, and the whole thing just seems a little…hokey? Or something? And yet it’s sort of weirdly enjoyable anyway.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just that I really like cake.

Oh, and for the record, a Doberge cake is a New Orleanian descendant of the Dobos torte that folds lemon into the dainty-little-chocolate layers mix. I’d never heard of it before, but I’m certainly curious now.

An unsuitable contemplation for a Friday

There is, literally, always some damn thing, isn’t there?

If there is not some drama in one’s personal life, there will be something at the office; if it is not that the underwire in one’s favorite bra has snapped it is that that one pair of jeans has at last worn through from long use.

It will be the furnace going out, or the oven element giving up the ghost, or the refrigerator leaking. Or it will be a leak in the bathroom. Or it will be an incursion of carpenter ants.

Or a dying plant in the garden. Or raccoons getting into the garbage cans.

Or a collapsed piece of furniture. Or a missed deadline.

Or a laptop that will not turn on.

Or a blog post that dies in the editor, without a single instant of warning.

Some damn thing.

I suppose you can tell things have gotten really stressful when there stops being space between the little catastrophes of living.

Some of these things are happening now, and some have happened to me before, and some of them have never happened but always seem to be just within range of happening.

And some of them I haven’t thought of yet, but are probably coming anyway.

It’s Friday. These thoughts are too grim for a Friday.

Echoes

Today I was listening to Revisionist History talk about The Little Mermaid – from the look of things they’ll be discussing it for quite a while, but even this first episode made a couple of interesting points, I think.

I’d never really thought about how odd the Disney version’s portrayal of contracts IS – Ariel’s is rather Faustian, with the whole of the narrative sort of tacitly assuming that such a contract, once signed, is inviolable and unbreakable, never mind whether it was made on misleading or false premises, or whether all parties to the contract were of legal age (though now I really wonder just what the mermaid age of majority is, exactly.)

Younger me was pretty pleased with Disney’s happier ending for the story – Andersen’s original is pretty depressing, though if what Malcolm there says about him writing it in a kind of paroxysm of romantic rejection is true it…would actually make a fair bit of sense. The whole story is just searing longing, all the way down, and although Disney’s iteration has many fine points it doesn’t quite…burn like that.

Later, on Aria Code, La Traviata surprised me by echoing that same fierce yearning – “Addio del passato,” an equally searing representation of almost and not-enough and too-late, of the acknowledgment that to pass now, like this, will mean to lie forgotten in a pauper’s grave, forgotten too quickly. Not having gained that immortal soul the Little Mermaid craved so deeply.

Because it is that the original Little Mermaid wanted; the chance at more, at after, at a spiritual profundity that her long undersea life could not give her. The love of the prince was certainly nice, as means to an end go, but that Higher Thing…that more. Something worth losing your voice and your identity for; something worth walking on knives for always.

And in the same way Violetta – or the Lady of the Camellias on whom she is based, or perhaps even the real-world woman who inspired her – had a lovely life, of beautiful people and glamorous parties and witty partners, but love was something else, and to be remembered when she passed something else again.

To dance at the wedding that means your doom; to bear a public shaming from the man you love most in the world, for reasons you cannot explain. To cast away the knife that could have saved you; to yield up your own love for the chance at happiness of another.

The Little Mermaid flung herself into the ocean, fully expecting to become nothing more than sea-foam. Violetta sings of the existential terror of a pit without even a cross to bear her name. Marie Duplessis was buried in a pauper’s grave at first, her worldly goods quickly yielded up to creditors.

But then, the Daughters of the Air, and a chance at something greater after all.

And then, a kindness, and a tomb in Montmartre where to this day some still leave camellias.

A little hope in the end after all. If only things didn’t have to be so very dire first to get there.

Movie night: No boating accident

Yesterday I did two things for the first time in a while: I made popcorn on the stove, and I watched Jaws.

I’d read in several places around the internets that the trick to not-soggy stovetop popcorn is to clarify your butter first (and/or use ghee); although my attempt at clarification seems to have been more of a thisclosetobrowning situation, I think I can mostly report a success here. Things sizzled and crackled and eventually settled into a lovely little golden-y pool with a toasted bit or two clinging to the bottom of the pan and just a fine layer of milk solids waiting to be scooped off the top.

Popped some corn in coconut oil, dumped it into a large bowl, ran a drizzle of clarified butter around the edge, toss, add salt, toss again, et voila. More popcorn than a sensible human or maybe even two sensible humans should probably be eating in a sitting, though as is the way of all popcorn it was disturbingly easy to scoop up and devour in great, salty fistfuls.

It made sense, then, with such a movie snack on hand, to settle in for one of – debatably the – original summer blockbusters. This movie is older than I am, older than my husband is; it takes place in a particular flavor of small-town New England that may not really even exist any more, one where the only way to really be of a place is to be born there. (One of the film’s many background conversations is about this very phenomenon: “When do I become an islander?” “Never; you weren’t born here!” I chuckled to myself, but I can relate to that a little. I wonder if I am properly of Toronto yet?)

Anyway. I’m not sure why I’m a little surprised to find that it holds up, but it really does. Oh, sure, by today’s special-effects standards the “practical” shark is a little creaky (though I do appreciate the sense of weight to it), but it’s also barely in the movie. Most of the film goes by without more than a fin, some ominous, groaning strings and the occasional panic-stricken swimmer.

The main draw here is the performances, really. All of them are great, from the Mayor (You guys. That. anchor. suit.) to Roy Scheider’s beleaguered Chief Brody to Richard Dreyfus’s Exasperated Smart Guy Hooper to…well. Quint. (And yes, that monologue about the sinking of the Indianapolis is still a hell of a thing.)

Is there anything I can really say about this movie that has not been said ten thousand different ways by…everybody who has ever written anything about movies? Probably not.

Jaws isn’t a horror movie, not exactly, though it borrows some of the horror movie’s trappings. We know straightaway what the terror out there in the deep is – it’s right there on the damn poster. There is no real evidence for malice as humans know it or even particular intelligence here. We’re not gazing into the void of the cosmic unknown – we know exactly what that bigass shark is going to do. Hooper tells us what it will do explicitly. A Great White shark is a finely-tuned eating machine that does nothing but swim and eat and make more sharks.

And that is what it does, or tries to do, and it is only through being more of a tenacious #@%& than the flawless eating machine that anyone manages to paddle their way back to shore in the end.

So…horror? No, not really. A thriller, perhaps, or one of those man-vs-nature adventure films, borrowing a bit of that horror vibe for effect.

I will say, though – to a pair of eyes watching it in 2021 there sure do seem to be some parallels between the anchor-suit-wearing mayor’s reluctance to do the right thing and close the damn beaches in favor of The Economy and…well.

(gestures vaguely in the direction of Outside)

I wonder what proportion of Amity Island would believe the shark was a hoax if the film were made today. Would some of them refuse to get out of the water? To close up shop? To stop running tours or whatever else it is they do?

Would even blood in the water convince them?

Anyway. The movie may predate me, but it’s still a worthwhile watch.

Bring some popcorn.

Fried

I have come to the end of a day and, as I suspect will be quite common for the next while, find myself feeling too exhausted to be good for very much. Between a full day of trying to juggle various office concerns, making dinner, preparing for and delivering the final presentation for a class I’m in, and discovering that someone close to me has injured themselves, and oh yes also there’s maybe a leak in our upstairs bathroom somewhere?…

Yeah, I feel pretty done.

The air outside is sticky and strangely-colored, the afternoon sunlight today casting sunset-orange pools of light onto the carpet rather than bright white. Some of the plants in our backyard boxes have keeled over – from the heat? from something else? – and don’t seem inclined to perk up, and I’m not sure why.

Then again maybe I know how they feel.

Oof. I shall try to be more chipper tomorrow, internet. Things are just rough at the moment.

In which I tackle a long-standing Situation

I am not the most organized person.

Actually that’s not quite true. In some ways I can be tremendously organized. Planning a trip? I’m ok there. Making sure I have ticked all the boxes on projects at work and following up on a pile of emails? Also okay. Herding the necessary cats to schedule a get-together? Can do.

Where I run into trouble seems to be the organization of physical objects in space. It is weirdly easy to put something down and forget about it, or to come up with a scheme for arranging something that seems like genius at the time, only I forget what exactly the plan was between then and when I next need it, so it turns out not to be all that useful.

Oh, my books end up on bookshelves and my clothes live in the closet and I can usually…more or less…make a space vaguely presentable. But fucking hell my pantry is a goddamn nightmare.

Partly this is because the shelves are very, very deep, and so there is a tendency for things to get shoved to the back if they’re not used very often; I can only JUST reach to the very back myself, and I am relatively tall.

I have long since resigned myself to never being one of those people whose real-world house looks like something from Instagram, but the Pantry Situation has been vaguely irritating me for months and months. This is especially true when I think I am out of something, buy it, and then discover oh wait we had some all along but it had got to the back of the damn shelves…

But somehow this irritation has never really turned into action, at least not yet.

Last week I spotted a moth fluttering about in the ground floor space of my house, and even though I know we’ve had something of a gypsy moth epidemic here in Toronto of late, and I am pretty sure that particular moth just fluttered in from outside…I had a sudden horrible vision of something lurking back there.

And suddenly enough was enough, and I immediately went forth to search the internet for its favorite pantry-storage containers for dry goods, and within the space of a few hours I had placed an order.

Yesterday the containers came. This morning I washed all of them out with soapy water, and they are patiently air-drying on my counter, and I have attacked the first of the terrifying shelves and purged it of its contents, fairly ruthlessly discarding anything unidentifiable, of a terrifyingly-distant age, or that otherwise seemed to be unsuitable for consumption.

And even just from trying to empty this one shelf, my kitchen is a mess, you guys.

And for some reason I started this the day AFTER garbage day.

Sigh.

Oh well. It needs to be done, so let it be done.

I’m probably not going to restore any kind of harmony to my kitchen any OTHER way.

Well, that was odd, but I learned something.

So, today I was walking down to the local fishmonger to buy some salmon. (One of the luxuries of working from home, I suppose.)

As I emerged into the steamy Toronto afternoon with my prize in hand, I vaguely noticed an unusually-pink car parked a little further down the street. Didn’t think anything of it in particular, but when I got close enough for a better look I noticed that whoever owns it has gone for an extremely distinctive paint job:

As far as I can tell, all the Germanic-looking words there are…cuts of meat. Kotlett. Schinken. Schulter. Lende. Not sure about “Ripple.”

So, someone out there had bought a relatively pricey-looking convertible (a Porsche?), added a “28” as though they intend to race with it, and then painted it to resemble a hog-butchering diagram. For some reason.

Did they intend to race with it?

For some time I could not decide if I wanted more to find out what the story was, or if I would rather never know, and preserve the glorious mystery of why on earth someone would do up a car this way.

In the end, as it often does with me, curiosity won out, and I discovered that in fact what this means is that the mystery driver is likely a fan of classic race cars: Behold the “pink pig.”

…And now I cannot decide if I am more amused, gratified that there IS an answer, or a little disappointed that it’s not just that some iconoclast decided it would be amazing to have a car painted like a butchery diagram.

Ah well. At least it’s not white like seemingly every other car in the world.