Friday, October 30, 2009

Is a Book on Kindle still a book?

Well, I am a near Luddite, so I do have to wonder about these new fangled thingies. A couple times I nearly bought one and got as far as fingering them in a book store, but they were attached with those anti-theft devices and ther store was so tuned to another (louder) generation that I beat a hasty retreat.

On this last trip back to the States--I sat next to a guy reading one, and it looked much friendlier in that environment, so I was beginning to warm to the idea.

But today the scales were tipped irrevocably in the direction of Kindle for the simple reason that my daughter (under a pseudonym) has published a picaresque novella on Kindle, La Belle Cossaque.

I am going to a play tonight at least in part because the playwright is a friend of mine. I have several volumes of poetry inscribed by the author and have sat through several plays that were, well, not quite entertaining because a friend was in the play or wrote it or some such. If someone had tried to convince me that I could actually enjoy a book with a drunken, mercenary cossack as the hero, I would have smiled politely and wondered what made them think I would like such a thing.

I like La Belle Cossaque --both the character and the novella. It is an ironic look at the strange times in which we are living. It is a nod to the long term effects that accidents of history have on individuals with a fond rendering of Kurosawa's broken samurai charcters in an entirely different mold.

It is easy to admire warriors with their unambiguous approach to honour, but it can be very difficult to figure out how to live with them. La Belle Cossaque offers a little look at that. As a picaresque, each of the chapters is a standalone adventure. My favourite is democracy on the moon. In a few words, the madness of the Bush era is laid bare.

And so for the sheer pleasure of re-reading La Belle Cossaque, I'm going to buy a Kindle.

Here is the link to my daughter's book if you'd like to see for yourself:

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Becoming Mr. Rogers

It came to me in one of those quirky flashes of insights as I carefully hung my favourite old cardigan in the front closet that I am becoming Mr. Rogers.


Mr. Rogers was a television presenter for a children's program called, I think, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, or something like that. I am sorry to say that even after I had overcome my aversion to television I was reluctant to let me daughter watch him.

I could not believe that someone as nice as he was could be real. I was sure that any day they would discover that he had more bodies in his closet than Bluebeard or that he was having an affair with Mr. McFeely or something dreadful. OK, in fairness to my cynical perspective, PeeWee Herman was discovered to be, well, not suitable for prime time and certainly not suitable for a children's program.

Much to my chagrin but ultimate relief, however, Mr. Rogers was as nice as he appeared to be. So I guess it is not a bad thing to have him as a role model for my new neighborhood. After all, it is nice to be nice.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

After a Boisterous Wind

For three days the wind has been boisterous, which is bad enough. For most of that time it also hurled rain about on a whim. It was at least relatively mild temperature-wise. You learn to count your blessings with the weather up here especially as it goes into winter which is noted both for the long dark and bad tempered winds.

It was the first chance to make the acquaintance of the winter winds in this new house. The settleing or resettling of wood and floors compounded by the fact that we are sitting fairly exposed meant that doors would open and close with the gusts. Not desperate banging of doors just quietly opening and bouncing a bit as it settled back into equilibrium. Our joiner has been working away at the doors to get them settled into alignment, so it should be a relatively easy and quick fix.

The previous owner, by her own admission, was not a gardener so there is little to break the window and this is not the season for putting too much into the ground. Hedges and trees and bushes will help in time but just now I find myself watching the willow trees dancing a tarantella in the boisterous wind. The previous owner no doubt planted them with great hopefulness for their rapid growth and sturdy habit, even in our blustery climate and they have done their best to accommodate, but they need a little help. I am reluctant to trim them because I like watching their wild dance and prefer even that little buffer to the winds. Without bidding, the image of my little acer planted in the shelter of the walled garden comes to mind. It went from one leaf to three and last year it even changed colours with its few leaves looking for all the world to me like a Canadian flag. I hope the new owners will recognize the virtue in a little tree and encourage it as I will work with these willows here.

We planted two rowans--gifts from dear friends--in the tradition that rowans keep witches away, or, perhaps of more immediate use the fact that they are sturdy, beautiful, and offer shelter and food for birds. Right now those two are riding out the winds like the masthead on a sailing ship. I need to get some protection for them if I expect them to return the favour.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Avatars and Doppelgangers

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In the re-purposed part of the train station in Indianapolis, which has become a hotel, an artist captured traces of people left behind in a series of sculptures based on real people recalled from their letters and post cards, such as the sailor above.

Old boxes in a new house reveal some oddly appropriate things like tall black stools from the US that fit perfectly under the breakfast nook in the new kitchen or my great grandmother's walnut shelves that are just right in a corner of the sun room. Mostly, however, the boxes display shadows or single data points in a life somewhere-when ago. Avatars. Previous selves.

I have this idea that we leave behind us traces of where we have been. And these cancelled checks such as the one from 1998 made out to Ordinance Violations Bureau --no doubt a parking ticket--are clues to those traces. If I tried hard enough I could find the parking meter and there would be some hint of my previous self hurrying to the meter only to see at a distance the telltale envelope tucked beneath the windshield wipers.

Other checks remind me of my earnest, career-focused self: a check to the Society for Technical Communication, a receipt for workshops at Sigdoc 98 in Quebec when I was a member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

A November rent check for $525 reminds me of my bargain apartment downtown. As the crime from the centre of town moved further north, I watched a drug dealer in action from my 6th floor window and knew it was time to move. The operation was complex. No one person had both drugs and money at the same time and young men on bicycles were used to carry either the drugs or the money. They were expendable. If they survived, they could aspire to becoming the man in the dark glasses in the Cadillac SUV. They lived in a neighbourhood only a few blocks away from my bargain apartment where survival was iffy enough that the chance of making it big looked better and more certain than a job at McDonalds.

I recall now that this was also the apartment where one of those opportunistic young men tried to rip my bicycle right out of my hands as I prepared to set out for a Sunday bike ride. The casual way with which he approached me with his hand out and acted as if I knew him in order to get my hand off my bike or the way in which I appraised whether or not he had any weapons are parts of a previous self that I would not like to find again.

Among the boxes, however, like hope from Pandora's box, is one of the first checks to Galilee Baptist Church. If I were to tell that self that I would still be affiliated with that church long after my "research" was done and that the pastor whose sermons I was studying would become a trusted advisor and friend who would marry me to a Scotsman and usher me into a whole new world, I would not believe it. "Oh, no," that self would smile, "I am only here to do my thesis."

Doppelgangers are second selves--meeting one's doppelganger is like a collision of matter and anti-matter, disastrous. Afficionados of old American TV programs may recall episodes on Twilight Zone where a person is taken over by their doppelganger. In a 30-minute program they don't have to bother with the physics or psychology of it, so I was left puzzling over such questions as how or why a clone of oneself would be created and by whom (or what) and why it would want to take over your life. Perhaps I wanted answers to those questions because I have such a strong sense of the traces of our selves we leave behind. So both for tidiness and to ensure that these clues to any traces of my old self are erased, these bits of checks and receipts have been shredded.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Around a Real Table: Notes from a Virtual World

I had the pleasure of good company this afternoon. One of my most favourite things is to sit in the company of other women knitting and stitching and talking about knitting and stitching and all the rest of the conversational balls that come up and get bounced around a table full of women.

More and less important things all in a medley: like why you don't want the squares cut on the bias to be on the edge where the fabric might stretch or whether the sleep apnea machine is working as it should and airfares to the US and how a cowl might be better against the Caithness wind than a scarf and just the kindness of shared interests in the people and the projects. A time set gently apart in a warm kitchen to knit and stitch ourselves together.

And one of those women around the table told me she liked my blog so as we left the warm kitchen to hunker down under the grey damp sky I promised I would write a post just for her and her far away friend so that they too can be part of the same fabric.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Heather Watching

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With a little bit of careful watching, the colours of the heather can make as dramatic a show as the leaves on the trees. I have been too scattered to write but began to feel more settled today. The house is beginning to feel like home--the other day in town, though, I headed the wrong way when I started for home. Ooops. Took me 6 months to learn my way from farm to Thurso. I have a little more to work with now.

Screwed up my courage and sent two articles to The Sun magazine ( today. Walked down the main street of Castletown to the post office and the post mistress gave the envelope a lucky kiss. How can I miss? I just wonder if an American audience can relate to a visit to a neolithic site in the Highlands?

Tomorrow I need to get cracking on the house. It has reached the point where the easy things have been put away and now it is down to the hard work of fine grained stuff decision making.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

First Gale in the New House

The shipping forecast at 5am this morning alerted me to gales all around this little emerald isle and added, "including south Iceland." So I knew there would be no reprieve from wind and probably rain--both horizontal and vertical as the day wore on.

Unlike the unfortunate bunch working on an archaeological dig, I was inside with hot coffee and snacks and friends all doing crafts at Castlehill. I could ignore the rain and the wind until I had to make the trek from there to home.

The wind nearly bowled me over on the way to my car, but at least there was no serious rain--a timid Scottish mist until I was safely home and tucked up with a cat on my lap. The wind was howling, but in this new house, I need to learn the sounds of a gale--what is normal for an upstart house. The howl of the wind in the sun room gets into the realm of the pitch of a fluorescent light going bad or a dentist's drill in the bad old days before ultrasonics. It is loud enough that the music on the radio loses the contest for my attention.

The cats look to me for reassurance. Even in their days on the farm before they were house trained, they did not like wind. Solomon, when still a bundle of fluff, curled quaking into my arms on the night of the first big storm of his life. Sheba probably sheltered in the barn because there is special baffling there because cattle like lots of fresh air but they don't like the noise of the wind either.

The sun room is not the place to be when there is no sun, so the cats and I move into the kitchen, comparatively snug, but the door from the kitchen to the garage is almost impossible to open with the wind coming through the chinks in the garage overhead doors.

The good news is that nothing appears to be linking as the wind drives rain into the corners of the house. In my old house I would have to be watching the drain in the back close to make sure that the water did not come into the house and the leak in the roof that never did get fixed despite repeated attempts is probably leaking now.

Even without leaks or chills running through the house, the wind-driven rain is too loud to be ignored. It makes concentrating more difficult. I am going to retreat to bed with my knitting needles and teh radio and hope that by tomorrow the wind will have blown itself out.