Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What's in front of my face when I sit at my desk in the morning

A memoir-writer's words to live by.

"All you can do is tell it again, patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few things to get at the real truth."
- Tim O'Brien

Monday, January 30, 2012

Friday, January 27, 2012


I found this on Brain Pickings, a "human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are."  

Doesn't that sound like a slice of pie?

In 1964, Jim Henson wrote, produced, directed and starred in this short film.  (You can tell when you hear him yell and you think it's Kermit.)  It's really beautiful.  I can't download it on iTunes because I'm in Canada, but maybe some of you Yankees can. 


To counter balance that, dogs doing Star Wars.  


Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dr. Evil

"So what are you whining about?"

That's how my gynecologist greeted me on Tuesday, when I went in due to some weird uterus pains.  And he didn't say it in a sweet, affectionate way.  He said it in a cynical, harsh way, but I had to laugh, because my feet were already in the stirrups.

Then he asked what I did for a living.

"Professional kickboxer," I wish I'd thought to say, but instead I said, "Writer," and he said, "Oh yeah.  Sensitive, overly dramatic type."

You do not say this to a woman when you have your hand up her hooha.


He told me there probably wasn't anything wrong with me, but said if I wanted to be sure, I could do an ultrasound. 

"But I'll tell you right now, you'll have to wait six to eight months," he said.  "Unless you want to pay."

"I want to pay," I said.  So kill me.  I totally support Medicare, but I also only have one uterus, and was just thinking of getting around to actually using it.

"Call this number," he said, handing me a piece of paper.  "That's my private clinic."  The address was in a very upscale shopping mall.  Like, very upscale.

But did I say no?  Did I tell him I'd rather pay anyone else to stick a wand into my best bits?  No.  I went behind the curtain, put my pants back on, and tried not to cry.

I've told myself so many times before to just suck it up when it comes to this guy.  To just deal with it, it's only 5 minutes, and you're lucky to have a gynecologist at all, in a city where 4 in 10 people can't even get a family doctor.  But later that day, no matter how many times I tried to, I couldn't call that number.  I couldn't bring myself to lay down cash at a medical clinic that probably pays more in rent than most sub-Saharan countries owe in debt.

Then I looked at this book, which was on my bedside table, after I read the entire thing in one sitting last weekend.

Today, I phoned his office and told them I wanted the ultrasound requisition sent to another clinic.  Then I made an appointment with a new gyno, who came highly recommended from a friend. 

I wish so badly that I could have done more. That I had told this guy where he could shove his speculum.  But I didn't. There's a scene in the film Amelie*, where the narrator explains that all shy people wish there was prompter waiting in every cellar window, whispering the comebacks they can't come up with themselves.  This is one of the truest things I've ever heard.  But there is no such prompter.

Or maybe there is in Paris.  But they probably have nicer gynecologists, too.

* top-10-possibly-5 favourite films of all time

** photo via OwningPink.com - hopefully they won't mind

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Monday, January 23, 2012

Blog Love

Today, two blogs I had the fortunate to come across last week.  One hooked me because of this post.  Remember how I was talking about imperfect relationships?  This woman is definitely part of the club, even though she doesn't know it.  She's also a recovering addict.  Favourite lines include:

If you are thin and smile a lot, people tend to believe that you have the universe’s secrets in your pocket and also that a raindrop has never fallen upon your head. If you also happen to be wearing trendy jeans…

At the playground that day Tess decided she wanted help and love more than she wanted me to think she was perfect.

'As a formality, I just have to ask if you’ve ever been arrested.' She never called me back. It’s hard to explain it away as only five times.

She inspires the hell out of me, and a lot of other people.

A closer-to-home discovery is Beaubiquitous, a blog whose writer, Erica Ruth Kelly, posts about one positive/beautiful thing every day.  Her posts are sweet and some are really goddamn funny.  Examples:

Would I make it? Would my frostbitten body be found in a snowbank somewhere because I'd accepted an invitation to tea? What if the bus was hijacked and now dozens of people had been taken hostage like in "Speed" but the bus driver couldn't stay at 50 mph because s/he got stuck behind a snow plow? Did I have to be such an alarmist about everything? Why did I need to worry so much? Why can't my movie references be topical?


I don't have a smartphone. I have a moderately-intelligent-but-doesn't-realize-its-inner-strength-because-it-feels-like-it'll-never-be-good-enough phone (I'm assuming its low self-esteem is why it often chooses to cut off text messages that are over 140 characters; it can't handle the pressure).

Go.  Read.  Enjoy.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Circle Time

Two of my favourite people, who happen to be married to each other, live in Stockholm, Sweden, with their two amazing little boys.

One of those boys - we'll call him Nils - has just started daycare, and his mom wrote today to tell me about something called Circle Time. Apparently, Circle Time is a time when all the kids come into the middle of the room and sing songs or talk about colours or shapes.

Nils, who is the calmest, quietest little dude you'll ever meet, has not taken much of a shine to Circle Time, and chooses instead to play on his own. Apparently, the daycare leaders have a problem with this. According to them, Samuel's mom should be "concerned if things don't improve."

Nils is one and a half years old.

I'm wondering what she's supposed to be concerned about. That her son is comfortable enough with himself to do his own thing? That he can enjoy his own company, in world where most people can't sit still long enough to go to the toilet?

In a few years, Nils is going to walk down the main street of any city in the world, and notice how everyone is dressed almost exactly the same. He will watch TV shows and read magazines that tell him and the women he knows how to be "beautiful." He'll find himself at parties where people are blabbing about such boring, surface topics that he'll want to stab himself in the eye with a fork, but will probably feel awkward if he doesn't contribute.

As his mother wrote:
Why is it only when we are well into adulthood that we realize it's okay not to join fucking Circle Time?

I think I still struggle with Circle Time sometimes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why I heart Marc Tetro


(Marc Tetro: marctetro.com. Breeds other than schnauzers also available.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Let's Panic About Marriage

I don't have kids, but I read "Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay" in 2 days.  

Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions," about her son's first year of life, is one of my favourite books.  I RSS feed "Aiming Low," am in the middle of "Let's Panic About Babies,"  and subscribe to Julie Matlin's blog, "Mommy Said What?"  

I'd like to say all this reading is for research purposes, and partially, it is.  But it's also about my love for voices and stories that remind me: it's okay not to be perfect.
That, in fact, not being perfect makes you a hell of a lot more interesting, and is something that should be celebrated.

Lately, all this research has got me thinking.  According to the bookstore and the blogosphere, it's okay to be an imperfect parent, and that's great.  But what about those of us who aren't parents?  Or who are, but who also have (gasp!) an imperfect relationship?

There are shelf-loads of self help books and billions of websites on how to improve your relationship, but very few memoirs or blogs or columns where real people come out and admit that they're in couples therapy, or that they're wondering what they were thinking when they agreed to sleep with only one person for the rest of their life, or that they fantasize about running away to a cabin in the woods which they would decorate exactly the way they want and where they would NEVER MAKE THE BED.

(read about this place here)

Why are people writing about their babies but not their partners?

Is it because babies can't read what we blog about them and we feel more justified in admitting our mishaps?  Is it that our entire society, not to mention the model of Hollywood films, is built upon the idea of monogamous, Happily Ever After marriage?  Or maybe there are blogs and books like these, and I just don't know about them.  If you do, please point me to them. 

In the meantime, I'm going to start a club, for people who are in a committed relationship and who want to talk about the imperfect bits, and the difficult parts, and the nights they locked themselves in the bathroom and swore they were leaving tomorrow.  No judgements.  No "well, that wouldn't happened if you'd picked the right person."  And no washed-up ideas about sex.  

I'm lucky: I'm imperfectly married to a guy who documented our imperfect relationship, and used it in part of a film.  He doesn't mind me talking about this stuff.

I invite you to join my club.  Virtually, of course - no names needed, no stories required.  (Although if you have some you want to share, please, feel free.)  It needs a name, too, and I'm too tired to think of one right now, but if you have any suggestions, please share those too.  

Single people are welcome.

You can say it's for research purposes.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Bother?

My blog this week for 60 million Girls, re-posted with their permission, features this excellent video by the ONE Campaign, about the questions we ask ourselves about helping people in developing nations.

You can read the whole blog here.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is it snowing where you are?

Even if not, I have a feeling this might fit.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

You know when you find something so funny that you keep it on your desktop, and whenever you open it you know you still laugh?

That's how I feel about this:

It came to via my friend Jill Murray, but I don't know who the original artist is - do you?  It is one of my the Top-10-Possibly-5 funniest things ever.  Incidentally, Jill is a great YA writer and you should read her books, even if you're not a YA or even an A.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Conversation with my Mother

Me: I have a new favourite British comedy called Miranda. It's so amazing, it's about this woman whose mother -

Mom: But I thought you didn't have TV.

Me:  I don't. I download it.  Although I'm so obsessed with this show that I actually bought both seasons on DVD.  Anyway -

Mom: How do you download it? Don't you need a special thingie for the computer?

Me: No, I just watch it on my laptop. Or sometimes I plug it into the TV to watch.

Mom: Is it easy to download something?

Me: It depends.

Mom: Oh.

Me:  Anyway, in the show, her mother is always -

Mom: Oh, I know that special plug thingie!  I think your brother told me about that.

Me: Yes, he probably did.  Can I tell you about the show now?

Mom: Did you see this coat?  Very nicely made.  Beautiful fabric.

This one's for you, Mom.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Club

I put out a Facebook request for reading recommendations of the funny, uplifting, enthralling, magical variety - or, in the best case, all of the above. Thought I'd share the list, as it turned out to be a pretty good one. Some of these I've read, many I haven't. Do you have any to add? B ooks you didn't want to end, but you couldn't put down?  Books that made you feel young (or younger?)  Books whose worlds you wished you lived in?

Here's the list, and its accompanying reviews:

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson ("A hell of a read.)

Bossypants by Tina Fey  ("Don't wait, go buy it. You'll want to have your own copy.")

Anything by Siri Hustvedt

Birdsong by Sebastien Faulks

The Help


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (note: Everything is Illuminated, also by Jonathan Safran Foer, at the top of my [Natalie's] top 10-possibly-5-books-of-all-time list)

A Prayer for Owen Meany ("If you haven't read it, run.)

The Power of One (note: another top-10-poss-top-5)

Barney's Version

Good Omens

Terry Pratchett's Disc World series

Lamb: The book of Biff by Christopher Moore. ("Awesomeness.")

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morgen ("All of the above.")

Crucial Conversations

Fear and Loathing ("Does it for me.")

  (cannot resist temptation to post Johnny Depp image whenever possible)

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson ("You're welcome.")

One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd

Another note: if you're in the mood to bookshop, go out and support your local bookstore if possible!  If you have patience, save trees and money and support literary charities by buying your books at Betterworld.com!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Lebanon - January 14th

My father was born and raised in Beirut.  Lebanon is a part of me, and is a place that in equal parts fascinates and angers me. It's a forward-thinking country where life is celebated to the max.  It's also backwards in so many ways.

Marital rape is not considered a crime in Lebanon. Politician Imad Hout recently stated, "There's nothing called rape between a husband and wife."

Next Saturday, January 14th, at 12pm in Beirut, a women's organization called Nasawiya is holding a protest against this law.  It takes place outside of the Ministry of Interior in the neighbourhood of Sanayeh. If you can, please show your support.  If you're not in Beirut, please spread the word on Twitter (tag @nasawiya,) on your blog, or on Facebook.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


My mom bought me a copy of "Everything On It" by Shel Silverstein for Christmas.  (She also bought me "Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening", but no one's perfect.)  Since I first heard "Where the Sidewalk Ends" on vinyl, Shel has been one of my favourite storytellers.

Today, walking through the skating rink that is the park near my house, one of his poems - possibly my favourite - came to mind.  I think we should all have a copy on the doors of our houses. If you ever get the chance to hear a recording of the man himself recite it, listen hard and listen well.

If you are a dreamer, come in. 

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

(Thanks to Susan Kaiser Greenland for posting!)


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Things I learned in 2011

1.   In times of crisis, treat yourself like a toddler who has a terrible flu. Be as kind to yourself as humanly possible.

2.    If you secretly believe someone everyone “loves” is really an asshole, you’re probably not alone.

3.    Whether it’s your church or your bathtub, spend time, regularly, in a place where you are accepted exactly as you are, and are reminded that there is something bigger at work. 

4.   Do not spend time in a dysfunctional environment, even if you are getting paid for it.

5.   Don’t let anyone treat you with disrespect, NO MATTER WHO THEY ARE.

6.    If your partner loses a parent, imagine, as often as possible, how you would feel if you lost one of yours.  

7.    It is almost impossible to support someone during a difficult time if you yourself don’t have support.  It’s like a single column trying to hold up an entire building.

8.     It’s almost impossible to get support if you don’t ask for it. 

9.    It IS impossible to get support from people who aren’t supportive.  (Seems easier to figure out than it is.)

10. Letting go of the people who can’t support you may result in the mysterious appearance of people who can.

11. No matter how terrifying it seems, say goodbye to someone who is dying.  For the rest of your life, you’ll be glad you did.

12. If possible, spend a few days a year somewhere where there is no phone, no internet, no TV reception, no cell phone reception and no other people.   Try not to recall horror movie plots while this is happening. 

13. It is possible to lead a happy life without cheese.

14. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t thank you for homemade cookies.

15. If someone really rubs you the wrong way, chances are it’s because of a really old part of you you’re not paying attention to.

16. Just like muscles don’t happen if you don’t exercise, positive thinking doesn’t happen if you don’t practice it.  It takes effort, and concentration.  It takes recognizing that negative thoughts are no more “real” than a positive ones.  When in doubt, find the company of someone who’s been doing it for a long time.

17. Stop being afraid all the fucking time!  But be nice to yourself when you are. (See #1.)

Let's hear it for 2012.