Dream of the Dolphin
Confessions of a Post-Graduate Pity Whore

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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Facing the Music

Jaquandor of Byzantium's Shores linked yesterday to a fairly disturbing metafilter post on arts programs that left me gaping. Jaquandor cites some of the ridiculous reasoning in his post, but this thread disturbs me on more levels than that. Leaving aside Faze's flawed logic, the number of people who consider the arts "non-essential" are alarming.

Yes, I know it's nothing new that the arts have been in trouble for years (hell, it was evident when I was in elementary school), but I've recently had it brought home to me in a rather obvious sort of way.

Arts, particularly in schools, are essential. There have been a ton of studies that demonstrate that students in arts programs do better in other fields. But even without studies like this, it's been obvious to me for a while, thanks to a former roommate of mine.

I'm a creative type who did really well in sciences, and did enjoy them. I did well enough that I went to university for them, but even then, I'd pad out my schedule with as many arts electives as I could to keep myself from going nuts. I got along fairly well.

That particular roommate of mine went, I believe, to a high school that focused on the sciences. I don't know whether or not she took any arts classes, but her university course schedule seemed to be primarily math and science. She was really gifted at math. But she couldn't intuit things to save her life.

See, arts programs aren't just about learning to draw or how to play an instrument. A lot of doing well in an arts class is learning to "feel" things. There is no formula to work out what notes go well together, or how to write an action scene, or how to paint a landscape. You have to learn the basics, learn the rules, and then learn how to tell when what you've done "feels" right. Once you learn this, you start applying it to other things. Half of my home plumbing solutions come from creative leaps of logic that don't seem like they'd work, but somehow manage to do the job anyway. They come not from my training in physics, but from the creative part of me that was fostered by all the arts classes I took.

I didn't think much of them until I lived with this girl. She did well enough on day-to-day things, but as soon as she encountered a situation that required her to think laterally, to do something intuitive, she was completely and utterly lost.

She couldn't cook, save for pasta and sauce from a jar. She couldn't handle instructions like "bake until brown" or "season to taste" or even "fry until egg is done" (her parents sent all her meals to her in tupperware). Likewise, she never put away the dishes in the year I lived with her because nobody ever sat her down to tell her where everything went. Never mind that it was a constantly evolving process that I and my other roommate worked out as we used the dishes and figured out what went best where. We never discussed it, we'd just look in cupboards and put like dishes with like. But this roommate could not handle that kind of instruction, and woe betide the rest of us if we moved anything she'd put somewhere.

Likewise, she never cleaned the house because she a) needed a schedule (clean it when it's dirty wasn't enough) and b) a checklist of things to do (look under the sink, figure out what cleaning products we have, and use them wasn't enough either). Nobody ever taught me to do any of it, it's stuff I just figured it out as I went, but she was incapable of thinking that way. She needed instructions. "Could you finish the kitchen for me?" had to become "sweep up all the dirt, then swiffer to get the stuff the broom doesn't get, then run hot water into a bucket, add Murphy's oil soap until the water turns cloudy, and use the sponge mop to wash the wood part of the floor."

The conflict that essentially ended her tenancy was the one that nearly got the rest of us evicted, too -- the landlord's instruction to "clean her room." She had all her stuff in piles on the floor and her clothes in tupperware, which wasn't good enough for the landlord, who had a condition in the lease that we had to keep the house tidy. He said that she had to make her room neat. She couldn't do it. Every time we'd tell her that all she had to do was look at our rooms and tidy hers to match, she'd descend into hysterics because those instructions were "too nebulous and vague". She actually required a checklist -- put this here, move that there, get the piles of paper off the floor and into something, get shelves and put this, this, and that on them -- before she could even attempt to comply. And in the meantime, because he had to go through us to instruct her, we were the ones who got the brunt of the landlord's irritation.

I still believe that her refusal to comply with the landlord's ultimatum wasn't stubbornness or obstinacy on her part, but because she simply could not understand intuitive reasoning. She had a math brain -- completely linear. She needed a formula to follow or she was lost.

Now, fast forward to a world in which arts programs have been cut from schools and we end up with a generation of children like my roommate who never learned to think creatively. A generation of children who need checklists and formulas and instructions to get things done and cannot figure things out on their own.

Pretty scary, isn't it?

Besides which, how boring is it if all we do is come home, watch TV, and go to bed. Oh, wait.... that's rather the norm these days, isn't it? Maybe this is why I go back home, where I know the school arts programs have been slashed, and find a generation of upper-middle-class white kids (who think they're low-income black kids) with nothing better to do than hang out at the mall all day.

That's why I was so excited about being part of Tales from the Wonder Zone. It's a step toward re-integrating the arts with science -- something that is sorely needed in a world where first- and second-year university science students are required to take mandatory courses in basic English.

Faze argues that "I can confidently report that one episode of "King of Queens" (which I think sucks) has more laughs than the entire lifetime output of Moliere, Shakespeare and Shaw combined. This is not to say that those three guys don't have a lot to offer... but their comedies are just not funny."

Ignoring for a moment the fact that he must never have seen a half-decent production of Twelfth-Night, half the problem with people thinking that Shakespeare just isn't funny is that they're no longer being taught how to understand it. Nobody gets to go out to see the plays performed anymore -- something that started for me in grade 6 -- which is how they are meant to be presented. You're not supposed to read Shakespeare. You're supposed to experience it.

Kids aren't getting that opportunity anymore because the budgets for things like field trips and English classes are being cut. They lack a basic vocabulary, and without it, the only way to get them to laugh is with crude physical comedy and fart jokes (and hey, Shakespeare has those too, it's just not the extent and entirety of his work, unlike 90% of the movies and sitcoms being produced today).

It's not that Shakespeare isn't funny. It's that people just aren't getting the joke anymore.

( 1:22 PM ) Sarah Jane ~

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Dem Bones

I'm very slowly rejoining the land of the living, and as a result, I'm becoming reacquainted with the unfortunate end-result that always comes after a prolonged convalescence.

My feet hurt.

I have wretched feet. Shoe shopping was always a nightmare -- there's a half-size difference between them, they're wide, they're high, and my toes have an annoying tendency to overlap.

I've also got clinically hyperkinetic feet. See, normal people's feet consist of bones held in rigid allignment by tendons and ligaments, happily encased in a coating of skin. The bones in my feet are connected by tendons and ligaments that don't do much at all. As my orthopedist described it, "they're like little bags of bones that flop around willy-nilly."

With the aid of physiotherapy exercises, ridiculously expensive $500 orthodics, and regular exercise (i.e. walking everywhere), I can strengthen the muscles enough to get them to behave like normal feet. But every time I get sick for more than a couple days, so that I spend a lot of time in bed, the muscles weaken and I'm back to bags of bones again. And if I push it too fast (i.e. do an 8-hour shift at the ROM after an entire day in bed), the muscles can't hold the feet in place and the bones collapse through the arch. And what happens then is the same thing that happened in first year university that crippled me for a couple of months.

The tendons and ligaments begin to tear away from the bone.

This is a very bad thing. It actually, literally feels like trying to walk over knives (which has always made me suspect that Hans Christian Andersen had hyperkinetic feet). In first year, before I first saw a podiatrist, I had no idea what was happening and walked around like that for a month until I'd done serious damage. I was limping to class for months. Fortunately, now that I've got the orthodics, it only really hurts for a day or three.

But man, does that day or three ever suck.

( 11:15 PM ) Sarah Jane ~

Monday, December 29, 2003

Trailer Trash

Saw the Spider Man 2 trailer -- looks promising. Saw another one recently that doesn't.

Ella Enchanted is one of my favourite books -- children's or otherwise. It's sitting on the comfort shelf next to my bed at this very moment. It's a beautiful, charming little book that was good enough to become a Newberry Honour book, for pity's sake, so I was absolutely gleeful when I found out they were making it into a movie.

I was somewhat less gleeful when I heard that they'd cast Cary Elwes as the evil Prince Regent Edgar. Not because I have anything against Cary Elwes, but because in Ella Enchanted, there is no evil Prince Regent Edgar. Prince Char's parents are alive and well, thank you, and happily musing on the colour of coaches in Bast.

So eventually I figured it out. In the book, the main climax occurs when Ella realizes that if she doesn't make a certain major sacrifice, there will inevitably come a day when someone realizes her weakness and will use it to destroy the man she loves. Okay. It's a huge, dramatic moment, but it's entirely internal. I surmised that a big internal conflict, while moving in the book, wouldn't translate too well to screen, so they created a tangible threat. Instead of Ella realizing someone might use her, they put in someone who actually will (or does). Fine. And I like Cary Elwes. They might still pull it off.

The thing that appears to be a big floating CGI snake sitting on his shoulder does little to instill me with confidence.

Yup, they finally put up the trailer. And it's somewhat less than promising.

I'm not saying that the book was perfect, but Levine put a lot of work into creating a self-contained little world with its own rules and a certain refreshing sweetness. So the "elf with attitude" who instructs Ella to "kick his butt" (referring to an ogre), Char's string of groupies, and Ella's Matrix-karate moves (you heard me) are almost painful to watch.

Still, I'm holding on to blind hope. Maybe they stuck all the cringe-worthy bits into the trailer to draw in the jaded tweens and the rest of the movie is still the charming little story that's on my comfort shelf.

I can hope. Right?

( 10:04 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Friday, December 26, 2003

Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas (or whatever you choose to celebrate). I have mixed feelings toward mine. While everyone was absolutely wonderful, both in Nathaniel's family and in mine, and both were outstanding celebrations of holiday cheer, it's somewhat overcast by the fact that I've spent the last four days so sick I can hardly stand. Be that as it may, I wouldn't have traded this Christmas for the world. Okay, maybe for some drugs that would instantaneously fix whatever it is I have...

The Kesh story is up on the freebies page, a day late, but there all the same. There's no cover -- I was too busy being sick and... well, busy to do one. But as always, if you or someone you know would like to illustrate, please let me know!

Cheers, everyone. I'll be back when I'm conscious again.

( 7:07 PM ) Sarah Jane ~

Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Still don't feel up to writing something new, but at Tami's request, I'm reposting something from last year.

Happy Festive Seasonal Winter Non-Denominational Holiday

Okay, the PC stuff is starting to annoy me. It's getting ridiculous. I mean, here in Toronto, City Hall was calling the tree in Nathan Phillips Square a Holiday Tree until Mel Lastman shook his head and said "this is ridiculous, for crying out loud, it's a Christmas tree!" A Christmas tree by any other name is still covered with lights and glittery crap.

There were not one, but two articles in the Metro today that really summed up how I feel on the issue. The first was a Ted Woloshyn article titled "Politically Correct? Bah, humbug!" He talked about how the Gap has forbidden their employees to wish customers a Merry Christmas because they want to be more "inclusive". He cited the "holiday tree" and mentioned that everyone knows it's a Christmas tree no matter what you call it, and he has yet to meet anyone of non-Christian beliefs who is offended by said tree. A listener e-mailed him a greeting: "Ted, have a perfectly safe, hermetically sealed, mildly agreeable, secular, generic, inoffensive government-mandated federal holiday at this time of the winter solstice." He ends the article, "Merry Christmas, or whatever it is you choose to celebrate."

My family is marginally Christian, but my mother is agnostic, my Dad became an atheist when my Mom had her brain aneurysm (he was agnostic before), and I don't know what the hell my sibling believes. I myself believe in a mixture of things from various cultures that make me classify myself as quasi-pagan, even though I don't go prancing around in robes and vine leaves at Beltaine (my godmother Peggy, however, does. They kidnapped a bride once -- everyone involved in the kidnapping had a great time). But my family celebrates Christmas, with all the trimmings and elf-explosion decorating. A "friend" in high school accused me of heresy or something stupid like that for celebrating Christmas without actually celebrating the birth of Christ or going to church, but I think she kind of missed the point. My family celebrates more the spirit of the holiday than the actual event itself, but isn't that the point of the whole thing? Celebrating peace on earth, goodwill toward man, and all that jazz? Because that part of the holiday we embrace wholeheartedly.

The other article in the Metro was absolutely wonderful, and I wish it was online so I could link it. It was a letter written by Ilona Toth of Markham, discussing holiday greetings (her standard is "Happy Holidays". She writes:

A greeting is not meant to threaten you or make you change religions. At what point in history did wishing peace and happiness on someone become threatening?

Specifically, I remember a man pulling his son towards him as if to protect him from my words as he responded "we do not believe that," leaving me stunned and confused. I respect that, but please understand that when I say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays, these words are not threats, but rather meant to wish you well.

...the person wishing you well or sending this blessing is doing so in kindness and in the only way they know how (based on their upbringing and background). If someone were to wish me a Happy Hannukah, I would thank them. Same for Kwanzaa or Ramadan.

A greeting from a different religion just makes me stop and think or wonder and appreciate the differences. How many places in the world can you walk down the street and get season's greetings in at least 15 different languages, or wishes for happiness or blessing from so many different cultural influences?

Embrace it and see it as an opportunity to learn something new.

Thank you, Ilona Toth. She very succinctly articulated much about the way I regard these holidays. It's a very Canadian statement, and very Torontonian, at that. I love my city. I love all the lights on Bloor Street and the Peruvian Christmas llamas at the Aztec craft store. I love that I'm walking past the church on Bloor listening to Christmas carols from within, and down the street comes the Chanukah van playing Chanukah songs. I love listening to the Jamaican guy playing carols on his steel drums at Bloor/Yonge subway station. I love watching peoples' faces as they look at the Holt Renfrew Christmas Displays (always worth seeing) and seeing identical expressions of joy and wonder on features of every possible ethnic background.

And that's all I have to say about that.

( 8:30 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Monday, December 22, 2003

Happy Birthday to (cough) Me...

The weekend started out pretty darned good. Christmas in Keswick was an insane amount of fun (despite the one breakage of the "do not make Sarah cry" rule) and I'll probably talk about it more later. Unfortunately, I woke up yesterday sick as a dog.

I haven't been sick on my birthday for a while, and it sucked. Basically, what the doctor said is that the flonase is doing what it's supposed to do in stopping me from getting sick, but as a result of that, the draininge is... well, making me sick. My throat is unbearably sore and I'm phenomenally weak (typing is actually an effort). So I took the day off today to try to recuperate. I'll try to post something better later, after I've had a considerably long nap.

I also have to go to Shopper's at some point -- there is no juice anywhere in the house. I'm going in my pyjamas again, though. Getting dressed is NOT worth the effort today.

( 10:10 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Friday, December 19, 2003

Shun the Outcast!

Karina's Return of the King report is up, and she reacted pretty much the same way I did.


See, this is the thing that tends to make the people in the SF circles I travel react with varying degress of horror and desire to stone me to death. I adored the movies without any nitpicks because I'd read the books for school, promptly forgot them, and so had no cause for comparison. I don't really like the books that much at all.

::pauses for gasps of horror and calls for large rocks::

I'm a character reader/writer. I cannot, cannot become engaged in a book unless the characters are real enough to reach out, grab me, and drag me back in (not sure how much of that these days is due to the fact that, if they don't, Variel will grab me right back, plunk me in front of the computer, and say "here you, you're much better off writing about me"). Tolkien doesn't do that for me. Yes, I acknowledge that I owe my entire genre to him. Yes, I admire his incredible worldbuilding and epic scale. I just can't read the text.

Fortunately, the movies fixed everything that prevented me from getting involved with the books, to the point at which I can sit through a 3 hour and 40 minute movie without needing to go to the bathroom. Anyone who's ever gone to a movie with me knows what a miracle that is.

I'm just really interested to know what'll happen if I try to read the books again with this new appreciation for the characters.

( 8:23 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Visions of Sugarplums

Have you ever seen that National Ballet commercial? The one that lovingly films the face of a little girl as she stares at something in awe, and then pans out until you see the father sitting next to her, watching her? It's a commercial for The Nutcracker, and plays up the "the best thing about going to see The Nutcracker is watching her" angle.

Well, that was me and my dad.

I can't even remember what year it was. I do remember the night rather vividly. We had dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory (I even remember that I had spaghetti with a garlic-butter-parmesan sauce) and then headed off to the theatre for my birthday present -- a National Ballet of Canada performance of The Nutcracker.

It was the old Celia Franca version -- the one that ran for 31 years before they replaced it with the Kudelka version in 1995. I absolutely adored it. We were so close that we could hear the thumping of the dancers' feet as they hit the stage after a leap (which made me and Dad giggle) and I'm fairly sure it was that evening (combined with the Black Swan halloween costume fiasco of Grade 4) that really defined my love of ballet.

Going to pick up my tickets to Return of the King, I discovered to my surprise and delight that the St. Clair shopping centre was decorated with large cutouts of the Sendak Nutcracker illustrations. I made a point of reading my Dad's copy of the Sendak Nutcracker (in between searches for a performance of the ballet on Bravo or PBS) every year since going to see the ballet, and coming up to be presented with the enormous illustrations reminded me how wonderful it was to see it on stage.

Unfortunately, it's never going to happen again. Dad really did go to watch me watching it, and now that I've grown up, there's no way in hell he's going to sit through it again (he dislikes ballet in general, and over the years of my playing the soundtrack to decorate the tree every Christmas, has come to loathe the music). But every year, when the posters start going up for the Kudelka ballet (which I have never seen, and greatly want to), I keep feeling these wistful stirrings of nostalgia.

Ah well. Someday I'll get the chance to go again. And until then, there's always the book.

( 1:54 PM ) Sarah Jane ~



Now I can safely say that Return of the King still rocks the second time through. The company made it even better. I swung through the ROM Christmas party last night and on to my birthday dinner/movie with my sibling, Nathaniel, Karina, Alice, Amanda, Peter, and Nancy, and it was wonderful.

Feeling a little dejected this morning though -- the staff went out for the staff Christmas lunch yesterday and left me behind. I went the first year, but last year there wasn't anyone to watch the desk, so my boss asked me to do it and took me to my own special lunch afterward. This year, I just found out, I don't get a lunch. I get the leftovers from yesterday. Most of which I can't eat because it's too spicy, but at least there's a huge thing of pad thai.

Ah well. Truth be told, I'm just looking forward to getting home tonight and sleeping. WAY too many late nights this week.

( 10:41 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

A Little Oddity


And now that you've watched that, go watch this.

( 11:41 AM ) Sarah Jane ~


Confessions of a Racist Discriminatory Pity Whore?

All right. My job is admin stuff. I type letters, make sure all the client files are intact, and keep the computer system functional. I do not deal with the residents. I'm not trained for it, it's not part of my job, and I've actually been instructed to minimize contact with them to avoid possible complaints from the case workers that I'm interfering with their jobs.

That said, I smile and say hello when somebody lets me into the house in the mornings, and though I tend to be rather shy and awkward when running into someone in the kitchen (usually on my way to do something urgent and get back to the phones), I don't think I'm rude or anything.

So imagine my surprise when I find out that the residents have been complaining that I don't smile and say hello and chat with them enough, and that one of the staff basically threw me to the wolves, turned it into a witch hunt, and now I'm racist and discriminatory.

Okay, granted, I may be a trifle asocial with the residents at times, but at no time has it ever had anything to do with race. I'm shy with everybody dammit! This would upset me more if it were being taken seriously, but thankfully, my boss is well aware that it's a pile of crap.

The thing that does get me is that the staff member who threw me to the wolves was the same one who once told me she was going to come to my wedding to tell everyone how wonderful I was when I typed up a letter for her (a personal correspondence, I might add, that had nothing to do with work and I did as a favour).

I also found out that she leaped to the defense of the Trinidadian staff member the residents were complaining about (she's from Jamaica), but me and the German staff member on the block were abandoned there. So basically what it boils down to, at least when it comes to this staff member, is that I'm racist because I'm white. Or I'm white, so I'm racist. Or something along those lines, anyway.

See why I really want to get out of this job?

( 11:40 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Say What?

Jaquandor posted a fun challenge on Byzantium's Shores. Here are my answers (whited out, so you can try first). Highlight the list to see them. I'm having trouble with #3, #7, and #11.

1. "Smile, you son-of-a-bitch!" -- Jaws

2. "You're fired." -- True Lies

3. "Open wide…say AHHHH!"

4. "Phenomenal cosmic powers….itty-bitty living space!" -- Aladdin

5. "Give my regards to King Tut, asshole!" -- Stargate

6. "Howdy, boys! I'm back!" -- Independence Day

7. "He's been 'decaffeinated'."

8. "Now, what were the odds that trapdoor would lead out here!" -- Emperor's New Groove

9. "You were right. Salvation lay within." [A written note] -- Shawshank Redemption

10. "He chose…poorly." -- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

11. "Red light – green light!" -- Mission Impossible

( 5:46 PM ) Sarah Jane ~


"What's the Eskimo Word for Pimp?"

Yesterday, as it turns out, was a bit of a disappointment. It was the only weekend I had free in December, and I'd planned to use it to get some work done, relax, and go to Alexandra's Christmas party, since it would be the last chance I'd have to see her until January. But it was also my uncle's birthday party, and my family had been guilting me into going. I kept saying no, but my mom finally said, "Oh, I'll just tell you. Jenny wants to celebrate your birthday, too." So I agreed, because after all, I couldn't refuse my own surprise party.

Well, that would have been sound logic had they been planning to celebrate my birthday, too. Which, as it turns out, they hadn't. The moral of the story: never trust your family.

So now I'm sick and I have about 4 hours in which to finish this story. But hey, I got a nice paperweight. And some good Jewish chicken soup.

But Jen cheered me up immensely this morning in the form of an e-mail she sent, directing me to this site of "TV spots advocating that Canadians start taking control of the airwaves and shoot our own shows rather than letting the USA dominate our television airtime", which are absolutely hilarious. Go watch them now.

"Your country is about more than hiding in trees and hunting elk. You've got that game where the guys sweep things off the floor, just off the top of my head."

( 1:57 PM ) Sarah Jane ~

Friday, December 12, 2003

Overworked and Underpaid

Jaquandor has some things to say about tardy responses to resumes, which got me thinking.

See, on the one hand, I can totally understand (says she, still waiting to hear back from Weird Tales). On the other hand, well...

Where I work, I'm the only admin person, and because of budgetary constraints, I can only work 25 hours a week (it's supposed to be 17.5, but we're fudging it or nothing would ever get done).

In that time, I have to write thank yous to everyone who donates things, answer phones, write letters to Immigration for the residents, do resumes for the residents, make sure every case file on every resident (we have a 26-member capacity) is updated in the computer each week, maintain the client database, chase after staff so that they'll give me the information I need to maintain the client database, maintain timesheet logs for the staff, collect, analyse, and report annual stats, personal correspondences some of the staff try to slip past me, staff duties that they can't or won't do, and any other projects that happen to come up in the meantime.

Depending on the company (ours is a an under-funded United Way homeless shelter), sometimes only one staff member is available to do these things. In my case, it's me. And when I'm swamped under a pile of work (which is all the time, especially once the Christmas stuff starts in October), I have to do some serious prioritization. Even thank-you letters, which are important (we DO want people to donate again), sometimes don't get sent until two months after the donation, just because there hasn't been time to do them.

It sucks, but since the functioning of the hostel doesn't depend on it, sending one of those resume acknowledgement letters would be pretty far down on my list of stuff that has to get done, somewhere below collecting the landlord information from housing worker a and but above housing worker b (housing worker b treats me like an indentured servant. I'm petty.) As it is, it's not even something I do.

And you wonder why that's the job I hate.

Of course, if it's a huge multi-million dollar corporation, they can afford to hire relief for their overworked admin person and maintain a timely correspondence.

( 8:58 PM ) Sarah Jane ~

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Ups and Downs -- or -- The Non-Domestic Goddess

So the Bowie concert has been postponed because David has the flu. Ah well. At least I can get some writing done tomorrow night -- I hit a good spot last night but had to stop myself or I would have been up until 3.

Last weekend I decided it was high time I made my annual Christmas shortbread, so I hiked over to the Chinese grocery/hardware store next door to pick up flour, butter, and sugar, and set at it.

I was covered in flour and up to my elbows in cookie dough when I realized, after a fruitless rummage through the drawers, that I didn't have a rolling pin. Desperate, I glanced around the kitchen until I found myself staring at Megan's booze shelf.

Yup. I used a wine bottle. Cleaned it off and put it back, none the worse for wear. Really. Okay, maybe there's some slight label discolouration, but that's about it.

So I was sitting in the office working, when MIX 99.9 D.J. Kelly Cutrara came on and started talking about baking cookies last weekend and using a wine bottle because she couldn't find a rolling pin. I laughed and e-mailed her my story. She wrote back: "Being a non domestic goddess is so tough sometimes, don't you agree?" I wrote back my agreement.

So I was typing away, when she came back on to do a song intro and said "this is for all my fellow non-domestic goddesses out there using wine bottles for rolling pins."

It made me laugh.

( 2:59 PM ) Sarah Jane ~


Return of the Christmas Nazi

Around our house, I have managed to acquire the title of Christmas Nazi. See, I like decorating. A lot. Especially trees. Trees are my art form. Some people work in oils, some in clay. I work in tree. Perhaps a little too vehemently, as witnessed by my Christmas nickname.

So I got to work this morning, and Barbara has put up the Christmas tree. Which looks beautiful, but for the fact that the string of lights at the top of the tree is burned out. Half of the tree is lit beautifully, but at the top, it's dark. And God help me, I had to fight to stop myself from checking every damned light on the tree to get that second string lit.

And in completely unrelated news, apparently some Americans are offended by Canadians wearing the flag on their backpacks. One individual cites "What bugs me about Canadians, if I may, is that they wear that damn patch on their bags, the Canadian flag patch. That way, they differentiate themselves from us."

Now, I don't get this. We are different. We're not American. We're Canadian. The backpack patch is a tradition. It's almost as much of a Canadianism as moose, or touques, or the McKenzie brothers. Hell, it was in the beer ad. It's what we do. Possibly because, as a scene in "Hunter's Moon" by O.R. Meilling so eloquently demonstrates, people tend to assume you're American when travelling abroad unless you indicate otherwise. My mom had a patch when she was travelling around Europe with Peggy after university, so it's not like this is a new phenomenon. Hell, look at the Canadarm. It's practically a big giant orbiting flag patch. (As a side note: my uncle James's company made the wrist on the Canadarm. Woo!)

It's like getting my name right -- I'll correct people when the spell it 'Elliot' or 'Eliot' or call me 'Sarah Jane' rather than 'Sarah'. It happens enough that having nametags at cons is a profound relief. And I'll correct people if they assume I'm American rather than Canadian, because one is what I am, and the other isn't. The patch is just a pre-emptive correction, because it happens an awful lot. So much so, that wearing a flag patch on your backpack has pretty much become an element of Canadian culture.

Most Canadians I know like being Canadian. We don't wander around other countries going "hey, I'm Canadian", we just stick a little flag on our backpacks because we're proud of who we are.

So what's wrong with that?

( 11:13 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Return of the King

Okay, without spoilers, I can safely say that Return of the King was the single most intense moviegoing experience I've ever had. That movie was so emotionally exhausting that I'm practically falling over, and I can't wait to see it again.

First off, be warned -- bring kleenex. The first time I cried was about half-an-hour into the movie, and the last forty-five minutes were pretty much a steady stream of tears and trying (with varying levels of success) to stifle sobs. And that's not because everything's sad. It's just that emotions in this movie run so high that when anything big happens it can push you straight off the edge if you're tear-inclined (and yes, there were many happy tears in there, too).

But my god, it was phenomenal. Andy Serkis deserves some kind of award, but everyone in this movie is phenomenal (and Billy Boyd has an amazing singing voice). Peter Jackson is a very clever man. It's amazing -- each movie on its own was great, but getting the final piece, seeing it all fit together, hit me like a punch in the gut. I was talking to an elf in the bathroom who said she couldn't even cry, she was so overwhelmed by what was happening. They have made something truly incredible with this trilogy. It's the closest anyone's ever come to magic.

This is what movies are supposed to be.

( 12:35 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Monday, December 08, 2003

Utterly Frelled Up


Things were going so great. My first day at the ROM was phenomenal. We had the greatest crowd -- SO much more enthusiastic than Friday night. I had this awesome 7-year-old who wanted to be a Zoologist. He spent some time at the touch tables asking questions and nailing everything. Then he asked me if there was anything else he could guess (this is hugely rare -- most of the kids I got on Mondays hated working for answers and just wanted you to tell them) sending me skipping gleefully to the back to get stuff out of the sample cupboards for him. His mom rolled her eyes and told me about the skull collection he has. He wants to be a paleontologist or a marine biologist.

There were some regulars asking questions at the bee station when I was working it, and when they were about to leave, they told me it was "the best bee visit ever".

There were two other kids asking a bunch of questions about snakes and things, who I ended up talking to for half an hour or so, explaining the jaw functions of snakes and how they can swallow things three times their size. Apparently they're regulars too, which makes me deliriously happy.

If you'll permit a geek moment (more so than the others), I got to talk about turtle respiration THREE TIMES to people who were actually interested.

My favourite profs agreed to come in to the gallery to talk with the staff about classification and things, which is so unbelievably awesome I can't even put it into words.

The bookstore job is phenomenal.

The writing is going through interesting progressive developments.

Nathaniel and I are going to see Return of the King tonight. He brought over the Extended Two Towers last night so we could get into it.

But then I went and utterly frelled up.

See, a while ago, I won David Bowie tickets from MIX 99.9. I didn't really want to go, so at my Grandfather's birthday dinner, I mentioned it, and my Dad said he wanted to go. Since it was my dad and brother, and Dad had taken me to a concert I really wanted to go to when I was in university, I said yes rather than trying to find a friend who wanted to go instead. But my aunt (who I haven't really talked to in years, aside from brief encounters at Christmas) said she wanted to go, so my Dad eventually gave in and said she could go in his place. I wasn't all that thrilled about that, but since I couldn't think of anyone offhand who wanted to go, I didn't really object, not entirely sure that anything would come of it anyway.

So along comes my best friend. She'd just been through a breakup that turned violent and obsessive, her self-esteem was shot, and she needed something really big to pick her spirits back up. I asked her if she wanted the tickets for Christmas (she's a bigger fan than my aunt). She freaked, and said yes. She really needed them. There was a huge difference in her emotional health by the end of that weekend. I knew my aunt would be disappointed, but thought she would understand.

Well, I was wrong. She was livid. She told me there was no excuse for what I did, that the tickets weren't mine to give, that it was extremely uncool. I was pretty upset, but a frank conversation with Charity last night snapped me out of it. Despite everything, I thought it'd all be okay.

But that was before I talked to my sibling this morning and found out that not only is my aunt really pissed, my parents are too. They're not at all impressed with what I did. I've frelled up utterly and completely mucked things over with my family.

And it's not that I really have much of a relationship at all with that particular aunt to ruin, but I feel like dirt right now. I hate it when people are mad at me. I just wanted to do something really nice for someone who really needed it, and it's blown up in my face.

I know I did the right thing, because despite all this, when I ask myself if I would have done it all again, the answer is yes (with some longing to go back to that dinner and say "no, the tickets are mine"). But god dammit, do I feel awful right now.

I'm hoping Middle Earth with my awesome boyfriend will be enough to snap me out of this funk.

Update: I just got off the phone with my Mom. Not only is she not mad at me, she understands and told me not to worry, because my aunt is always mad at somebody in the family. Dad's peeved, but what else is new?

( 10:55 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Speaking of Fish Walloping...

I'm going to have to hand off the fish to the people who posted this really poisonous page on why you shouldn't trust SF writers when they tell you that you should submit your book to publishers who pay you, rather than Print on Demand.

To really get the full scope of what this publisher is about, read Teresa Neilsen Hayden's post on the subject, and the subsequent comments. It's long, but really informative.

Basically, these "publishers" do things like make their authors pay for copyright, take all rights for 7 years, publish poor quality books at exorbitant prices, and won't take returns from bookstores. And yet they've brainwashed or duped their authors into believing that they're superior because they don't edit the works (yes, you heard me), and will publish things that the big houses won't (read: I couldn't sell my book. It couldn't possibly be because it's not very good. It must be that they don't understand my art. Charlattans).

Okay. I'm an unknown. I've sold one short story that hasn't even been published yet. And yet I know the basic rule that you never pay to see your book in print.

If you can't get your book published right away, it may not be very good. And if you know you're never going to be published by a big house and all you want is a copy of your book for yourself and your sainted mother, that's one thing (and even then, the Making Light thread indicates there are ways to get a better quality product cheaper). But if you're serious about wanting to write, and make a living off of it, the pro publishers are the way to go. And your book may not be very good. But that doesn't mean you can't get better with practice.

Writing is all about practice. There's a certain amount of natural talent involved, but there's loads more just pounding away on the keys until you figure out what you're doing.

I started writing to be published in Grade 11. I thought I was really on to something. It was great. My friends loved it. My writing teacher gave me a 97 in the class. It was an epic fantasy called GRIFFIN. Which happened to contain a naive young healer, a megalomaniacal renegade wizard/psychiatrist, a shapeshifting wolf, and a talking dinosaur.

You heard me.

It had potential, but point blank, it sucked. I wish I still had a file so I could give you a sample of how paint-peelingly bad it was.

If I'd tried to get it published, I would have had no chance. Not because the editor would try to get me to "conform to their stylized standards" (i.e. comprehensible English, with a decent plot and characters). Because there was no helping this book. Editing is not "making you change the story until it's not your story anymore". Editors help improve the story. If they're generous enough to take a chance on you, chances are you'll learn a thing or two. But only if you're open to criticism.

I did get better though. Not necessarily because I got older, but because I spent hours every day writing, and asked professionals who were much farther along with their writing for advice and criticism. It's like learning to play a violin. You can pick one up and make noise, and either admit you suck or maintain that no one wants to pay for you to play for them because they don't understand your artistic statement. Or you can spend years practicing and get better.

And as for the assertations that it's easy to publish SF&F (started trying in 1998 and finally made it last year), Ha. Everything in SF&F is ripped off from somebody else? Tell me, (and I know from being on the poetry journal editorial board), HOW many angsty anorexia, unrequited love, or suicide poems are there? How many "I shoulda known Momma was gonna take the pills. But I was mighty busy at the time, what with Daddy rapin' me an' all. Too bad about Momma though. If she'd'a lived, she might'a rescued my baby sister Cessy before she drowned. But I had a lotta time to think about that what with all the abusive foster homes I went through on my quest for self discovery" books?

The real problem with SF&F writers is there's a strong sense of community, and SF&F writers are often active and vocal when it comes to helping new writers get published and keeping them from getting scammed. So this page exists to convince the newbie writers to ignore the advice of people who are only trying to help.

Bookstores, too, are not evil for refusing to order books from publishers with a "no returns" policy. And if you're trying to be a published author, deluging them with complaints, attacks, and threats until they stock you is neither professional nor likely to endear you to anyone or help your chances in the industry. Everybody talks to everyone else. I've been working at Bakka three weeks, and I've already picked up enough to know that they'd be out of business in a matter of months if they couldn't return their unsold stock. It's a matter of keeping themselves in business, which you can't do if you can't return books that cost three times what the mass markets do (and no, they don't cost more because they're better quality, they cost more so the PoD publisher can make a profit).

Okay. Enough with the fish. It's time to get back to my own writing. I've got a story to sell.

Addendum: E.L. Chen weighs in with some wise words.

( 11:03 PM ) Sarah Jane ~

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

And now...

The latest edition of "people who need to be soundly beaten with a large fish".

Via Neil's Blog, the staff of a Louisiana school punished a 7-year-old boy, making him attend a "behavoural clinic" and write lines about "saying bad words" because he told a classmate that his mother was gay.

What is the matter with people?

( 12:18 PM ) Sarah Jane ~


Fine Actually

Don't get me wrong, I'm not really that upset by the article below. I think it was more a shock thing. Lord knows I already knew things were bad enough in publishing. And I'm pissed mightily, yes, but not to the point at which it's upsetting my life.

I went to see Love Actually with Karina last night, before returning to my house to watch Inuyasha and vent to her about how much Variel is pissing me off in this story I'm working on. And I have to say, I really enjoyed the movie. Despite the annoying whispering girls sitting next to us. I was this close to pelting them with Fuzzy Peaches.

( 12:18 PM ) Sarah Jane ~


Well, Crap

Via E.L. Chen's blog, I found this bit of news from Peter Watts on Jena Snyder's blog.

Basically, as if the big chain stores weren't already doing enough to screw the midlist writer, now B&N are refusing to stock any midlist-authored book that retails above $US24.95 or about 110,000 words.

I have no idea if this is accurate or not -- some authors are witholding comment, since it seems too much to be true. But if it is true, it sucks. Big time. I tend to write long. Kichani was 120,000 words and Elysium: OUAT was 150,000. Kichani will probably end up being longer when I rewrite it. Gah.

You really have to want to write in order to put up with the crap going on in the publication industry these days. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, when looking at my career prospects), I want it real bad. So this doesn't do much to deter me.

But damn, does it ever suck. That's it, I'm off to gaze happily at my RotK passes again.

( 10:39 AM ) Sarah Jane ~

Sarah Jane Elliott
The often frustrating progress of my life and writing...

(Once known as "The Mystic's Dream", now known as "Dream of the Dolphin", but inclined to change title depending on what's stuck in my head)

Okay, I liked "Confessions of a Post Graduate Pity Whore" a lot more than I thought I would. That line is still hilarious. But I've started writing again, so it's time to go back to before. :o)

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Posts of note:

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A Thousand Words for Stranger


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Memory of Fire


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