Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ottawa Update #2 (Or: My Most Creative Title To Date)

I've been in Ottawa for nearly two full months now. I've gained and lost a roommate, had two paycheques, assisted in cooking a moderately-successful Thanksgiving dinner, and made and deleted an online dating profile, so I think it's time to check in.

These upcoming two weeks are the busiest on my academic calendar. Between being a TA and marking assignments, writing and editing and re-editing grant proposals, reading endless complicated articles, and preparing essays and presentations, I legitimately don't know how I'm going to finish everything I need to get done. And here I am, writing a blog post at 11:37pm. As you do.

I am frequently asked how I'm liking Ottawa, or how Ottawa is treating me, so I will tell you: I love it here. I like the weather; I have made new, wonderful friends; I like my room mates; I like the shopping and the food. In part because of Steve's connections and friends here, and in part because the sort of zeitgeist of Ottawa is suited to me, I am happy here. I feel at home.

All that said, I'm at a point now where I'd like to go back to Newfoundland. Not forever; just for a weekend trip. I was homesick, sort of, on Thanksgiving weekend, but I had a lot of wonderful people around me for two amazing turkey dinners, so it was impossible to feel lonely or sad. I remember being away for Thanksgiving in BC and, while I had two lovely Thanksgiving celebrations with two very kind and warm families, I was completely miserable. I was homesick in the worst way and all I wanted to do was leave Vancouver ASAP. I didn't feel that way at all this year, which makes me think I've either a) grown up, or b) found a place that suits me well.

School is also often a topic of conversation, so I will tell you: I love Carleton. I love my program. Every day I legitimately learn something new and interesting and makes me feel less and less intelligent, which is how I know I'm learning some quality stuff. Two weeks ago, my prof outlined the end of mass media and the rise of many smaller more intense groups, which are essentially fandoms, and I was like: THIS IS WHO I AM! THIS IS WHY I AM THE WAY I AM! And I stared at the board and quietly told him how I had just had "my moment."

I also need to talk about how great my cohort is. Like, seriously. Everyone is smart and interesting and we all have entirely different backgrounds and research interests, and it makes our classes interesting and full of lively discussion. Everyone is friendly and kind and I am so thankful for such supportive, creative, and intelligent classmates. I was sitting in class the other day, day dreaming a little bit, and I thought: "I can't wait to graduate with these people; to walk across the stage and get a picture of all of us in our robes with our diplomas."

(Is all of this a re-hash from a previous post? I am too tired to go and check. If it is, I am only plagiarizing myself, so that's totally legal, etc.)

In other news: I've been reading a lot. I've finished three autobiographies (Jian Ghomeshi's 1982, James Corden's May I Have Your Attention, Please?, and Michael McIntyre's Life & Laughing: My Story). I will probably review a few of them soon, as part of my autobiography series. Here's a sneak preview: I need to stop reading autobiographies, because they just make me hate the authors. I'm also soon going to be a book reviewer and critic on the website, so when my account goes live I'll be sure to post and let you all know!

Well, as it's 12:09am and the images on my screen are starting to move (and they aren't gifs), I'm going to bed now. I might not even brush my teeth, I'm that tired.

(omg j/k that is gross of course I will I am afraid of halitosis)

Number of books read in 2012: 20
Current TV series: The West Wing season 4
Current nail colour: nail's inc.'s "hampstead gardens"

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Guys: she's back!

More than five years after the release of the seventh and final Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, if you've been living without access to cable / the internet / a newspaper), Rowling has finally released another book: The Casual Vacancy! And this one's definitely not for children.

I purposely didn't read any reviews or even a plot summary of The Casual Vacancy before reading it. I didn't want to know anything about it, anything that might taint or distort my reading before I had even turned the title page. I wanted to have as pure of an experience as possible with the text. I wasn't sure if I should post a review so soon after its release (a week ago yesterday), in case others had the same feeling about it. So if you do: read no further! Stop here and go get The Casual Vacancy and read it and then come back and finish reading this post (because I do want you to read this post, I'll be honest with you.)
So, let's get to it, shall we?

The Casual Vacancy begins with the death of the middle-aged Barry Fairbrother, a pillar of the small fictional community of Pagford. Barry's death is unexpected and, as the news spreads in a ripple-effect, causes a great deal of uncertainty and sorrow to several townspeople. 

As a member of the parish council, his seat is now empty and must be filled as soon as possible. Barry was the leader of the fight to allow the Fields, a low-income housing project built on Pagford land and home to a methadone clinic and drug treatment centre, to still have access to the schools and amenities of the town. The committee remained split on the issue, but with Barry gone, Howard Mollison - the enormously overweight and overbearing committee chair - is poised to end the battle and do away with the treatment centre once and for all.

However, the election for a new member of the council is not the focus of this book; rather, it acts as the vehicle through which the reader is given a free pass to see the private inner workings of the people of Pagford. We are able to act as the voyeur to the thoughts of teens struggling with love and sex, abusive parents, rape, and acts of self-injury. We see marriages desperately held together by delusion, mutual political interests, and religious obedience. Everyone in Pagford, it seems, is miserable, but afflicted with too much pride or fear to admit it.

It bears repeating: This is not a book written for young adults, nor would they perhaps even enjoy it. It's a heavy text - both literally (it's 500+ pages) and figuratively - there were moments when the subject matter made me cringe with its painful realism. 

But I really loved it. 

In true Rowling form, the book is dripping with description. But not the mundane description of something like Lord of the Rings (pages and pages detailing the colour of the trees)*; the sort of information that makes you feel as though you are sitting at the dinner table with the Mollisons, fully aware of the tension between every single person at the table, and there's nothing you can do about it. That, my friends, is good writing.

I also love stories where every character is connected in some way, and I love how Rowling has written the text. She seamlessly transitions between one character's thoughts into another's, so perfectly that several times I didn't realize it had happened. I've never read an omniscient 3rd person narrative like this before, and I think it's impeccably done. I became so wrapped up in a certain characters and storylines that I couldn't put the book down, for need to see how it was going to end for them.

I've read a few criticisms that Rowling writes the children superbly but falls short on the adults. I disagree with the latter half. I think the adults are realistic and relatable. I felt a particular affection for Tessa, a guidance counsellor with a neurotic husband, insufferable know-it-all son "Fats", and she is a recently diagnosed diabetic whose life is too stressful to worry about the affect of the chips on her midsection.

Perhaps my main criticism of The Casual Vacancy is that none of the characters are particularly likeable. In fact, I found myself disparing halfway through about the poor Pagfordians and their misery of living in a town where everyone has ulterior motives. It's not my reality, but maybe it's the reality for someone, and maybe that's the awful truth Rowling is trying to tell us.

I absolutely can't deny that my adoration of J.K. Rowling influenced my opinion of this book a bit. But I still think it's an interesting story and, for me, the style alone is enough to read it cover to cover. Either way, it's great to have her back.

Have you read it yet? What did you think? Are you going to read it? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it!


* This is not an attack on LOTR. I promise. I like the movies! I think Tolkien was a cool dude!
Number of books read in 2012: 17
Current TV series: American Horror Story
Current nail colour: Butter London's "Marrow"

Thursday, October 4, 2012

On Birthdays: An Ode to Wheels on Her 24th Day Of Birth

Today is my best friend's birthday!

I am very grateful that Wheels was born 24 years ago on this day. Since I can't be there to celebrate in person, I thought I'd dedicate a whole blog post to her on her birthday, listing some facts about the mystical and magical Melissa Wheeler.

1. She loves my cats, even though she is allergic. My cats love her. She communes with all animals and is, in fact, the squirrel whisperer (not pictured, but she is. Trust me.)

Hanging out with Millie, watching Lord Of The Rings

Felix, Kayla's cat, adores her as well.

Wheels even gets along with stick bugs.

Robyn's dogs flock to her.
2. She is a hipster of epic proportions. This hipster-ness, while slightly affected, results in fun things sometimes, like playing trivia or bringing a ukelele along for a road trip or shopping at Urban Outfitters.

Playing "I'm Yours" at 1:30am at SASF is definitely not annoying.

Hipster women are encouraged to wear (fake) moustaches.

3. There is no one in the world who knows more about music trivia (except maybe Chuck Klosterman) than Wheels. Her knowledge spans decades and countries and she corrects my lyrics 98% of the time, and the 2% that she isn't she is holding back because she does it too much. She is useful to have on a trivia team.
Winning music trivia (19/20 on a technicality) at SASF retreat

4. She is adventurous. Often when an event or outing is suggested, Wheels won't even ask questions: "Ok, I'll go." As such, we laugh a lot and have a grand time exploring. Sometimes it's not great (such as the insectarium in Deer Lake because EW) but sometimes it's awesome (such as the Beothuk centre in Boyd's Cove).
Climbing The Moose in Deer Lake, after which the antler broke. #bygones

Looking like a serial killer at the incredible museum in Twillingate.

5. She is a pop culture fiend, like myself, and so we can talk and laugh about the internet and actors and movies and TV shows for hours and not get bored. Also, we can buy matching novelty T-Shirts and think it's hilarious.

We are family at Corps Retreat, 2011

Wheels a great friend to have just a text message away. She makes me LOL, and she makes me feel important and wise, and she listens to me talk about things she doesn't care about (like nail polish and makeup and boy problems) because she is a great friend and I am blessed to have her in my life!

Happy birthday, Wheels! Can't wait til your quarter-century crisis next year!