29 May 2013


 "The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. 
Oppositional energy only creates more of the same."

Richard Rohr (Falling Upward, appendix)


22 May 2013

On Jane Austen Film Adaptations, Take 2

completely random pretty flower
I've been really busy waffling on about Austen over at quill and qwerty. Latest installation: a post on the Sense and Sensibility movies, which I watched the last couple of evenings. So I've kind of been too occupied to pop in over here and let loose with some of my usual ramblings.

But then it suddenly occurred to me: some time ago, I promised a post on Jane Austen heroines and the actresses who play them, one of them being the girlfriend of Blake Ritson (he who plays such an excellent Edmund Bertram in the 2007 Mansfield Park), so this would be a great time to redeem that promise. And when I looked up that old post, I found that it was written exactly a year and a day ago, May 21 of last year. What is it about May? Must be the season for watching Jane Austen movies. In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to love... (except I ain't all that young. And most definitely not a man.).

So, Blake's girlfriend. Yup. She's my favourite. Hattie Morahan, her name is, and she plays Elinor in the 2007 Sense and Sensibility. Fabulous casting, she's exactly my idea of the sensible Dashwood sister. Oh, but - in the 1995 version of the movie, Elinor is played by Emma Thompson. She's my favourite. Fabulous casting, exactly my idea of... Oh dear. You see my problem. They're all my favourites.

The two Sense and Sensibility movies are especially bad for that; I honestly can't make up my mind which I like better. The older version has a fantastic cast of seasoned actors, and that utterly amazing score by Patrick Doyle (the soundtrack for that movie is still on my wish list. Hard to get a hold of nowadays, though. I've never yet watched a movie with a Paddy Doyle soundtrack I didn't like. The "Non Nobis Domine" from Henry V, oh my goodness...). And there's the wit in Emma Thompson's screenplay and her acting, and Hugh Grant's typical bumbly-but-cute manner, and Kate Winslet just being Marianne and Greg Wise such an attractive Willoughby - I so enjoy that movie.

And then I pop in the disc of the new version, and there's that wonderful cast of actors who are, for the most part, actually about the age the characters are in the book (as opposed to the other movie where they're all ten to fifteen years older than their parts, except for Kate Winslet who is the right age and makes everyone else look old by contrast). They're so fresh, so real - so believable. And they've kept in some of the characters that are cut from the older version, Anne Steele and Lady Middleton, for example, and they act out some of the scenes that the other movie doesn't even mention (like the duel. And the oh-so-awkward dinner party at Mrs Ferrar's.). Such a wonderful movie.

And of course, there's Jennifer Ehle's Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, and Keira Knightley in the same ten years later. I do prefer the older movie, all told, but I like Keira's Elizabeth. She's got that spunky wit that Lizzie has in the book.

And then there's Anne Elliot, who is next to Elinor Dashwood my favourite Austen heroine, and so convincingly played by Amanda Root in the 1995 version of Persuasion (with Ciaran Hinds as Captain Wentworth - ahh...).

You see what I mean? Too many favourites. But that's okay, I can just keep watching these movies over and over. One after the other. And enjoy them, every time.

Life, the Universe, and Austen Heroines. It is a truth universally acknowledged that movies don't get any better.

17 May 2013


Driving the kids to school, I got caught behind a slowpoke this morning. Twice, coming and going. It's a narrow highway, just the two lanes between a rock wall and a lake; passing is not only illegal, it's suicidal. So if there's a slowpoke at the head of the line, you're stuck. You can't do anything but slowpoke along behind them, drumming your fingers on the steering wheel, grumbling to yourself under your breath, wishing you had passed them back in town on the four-laned part of the highway. You keep checking your speedometer - we're going 75kmh, c'mon, grandma, this is an 80-zone! If you're too unsure of your driving to go the legal speed limit, maybe you should stay at home, or better yet, hand in your driver's license! This road isn't so scary as all that, c'mon, you're holding up traffic! Sheesh, now we're down to 70! Give me a break!

But then, today, on the way back, I decided to quit those compulsive glances at the speedometer. It sure wasn't making the slow driver two cars ahead of me speed up any. And really, it's a gorgeous day for a drive today. To my right, out of the corner of my eye, I see the lake glittering in the sun with all its might. The bushes on shore are shrouded in their best spring green, the sunshine makes the rocks gleam rosy-pink, setting off the dark green of the Ponderosa Pines which hold so precariously onto the cracks and crevices they've sprung from. I take the time to actually listen to the radio show I've got playing: Tom Power is witty as always, and I sure enjoy the songs he's choosing today. Lovely guitar intro to that one!

Oh, and what do you know, here we are at the turn-off. The highway widens to four lanes again, slowpoke gets into the right, I veer left because I need to drive up the hill to get to my house. They've probably cost me all of thirty seconds with their slowpokishness. Thirty seconds of increased enjoyment in my drive, and a pleasant feeling of smugness brought on by my having conquered the impatience monster.

I'll tell you about tailgaters some other time - you know, those annoying drivers that sit on your bumper, their impatience practically boring into the back of your neck. Pushy idiots.

Life, the Universe, and Slowpokes. It really is a lovely day today.

09 May 2013


All right, I can't any longer not talk about this. I had it once again shoved in my face this morning, in double-dosage. You see, what happened was that a friend posted on Facebook a really cool article, written by a lady who was homeschooled, entered college at age 13 (yes, true story), proceeded to take every ceramics class they had available four times over, aced them all, and went on to a job with the Laguna clay company (the potters among you will know what that means).

Great. Love the story. So wonderful for this young lady; I'm so pleased she had that opportunity and that it worked out so well for her. It's a beautiful success story. And it's by no means the only one of the kind I've ever heard.

But you see, that's precisely the problem. I've heard these stories over and over. There are people who write whole books about them, glowing success stories of what happens when you homeschool your children. And I believed those stories. I believed them deeply, fervently, whole-heartedly. I invested my life in that belief.

And then I experienced failure. Because what I really believed when I clung to those stories was not that homeschooling worked out great for the Colfaxes and the David Alberts, but that it would work out great for me. Because that's the message that's behind all those stories, unspoken in some cases, loudly articulated in others: if only you do things this way, this is the success you will experience.

So I tried doing things that way. I tried my darndest. And tried, and tried, and tried. And failed. From almost the first year of our homeschooling, things did not work the way I was told they would. And I felt, not to put too fine a point on it, like shit. Because if you do things right, then you will be successful - isn't that so? So if you're not successful, you've obviously doing something wrong. You've failed. You have failed.

And this issue does not just pertain to homeschooling (even though, I think, homeschoolers can take the attitude to unusual heights). No, it crops up in every walk of life. Anne Lamott, this morning on Facebook (and that was today's second instance of having my face rubbed in this topic), posted an article she wrote on why she hates Mother's Day. That's right, it's Mother's Day coming up in just a few days. And Lamott hates it because, as she says, "it celebrates the great lie about women: that those with children are more important that those without". The failure of not having children - either by choice, or by circumstance. And we drive home the shaft deeper each time we perpetuate the story that motherhood somehow equates to a form of success.

And marriage - there's another one. Having a "successful" marriage. And if you don't - if things break down between you and your spouse, or (perhaps even worse) if you never found a spouse in the first place, you've failed. You're a failure. Because a happy marriage is what makes you a worthy, successful person. Or so we tell each other.

Of course, it equally applies to school, and work, and health, and possessions, and pretty much anything else our life it made up of.

It all comes down to the stories we tell each other. If we do such-and-such, then so-and-so will result, and that will be success. But more often than not, things don't pan out that way. We look at the right side of the equation, at the result, and see "not-success", we see failure. And we conclude that obviously, we suck at math and might as well give up and go eat worms. But it never occurs to us that maybe we need to look at the left side of the equation, at the premise we started from. We need to look at the stories we're telling ourselves.

While we keep telling each other the stories of what constitutes success, of how we, or someone else, did this-and-that and look how well it turned out, without admitting to the times we fell on our faces, we will be forever stuck in the prison of our own making. We lock each other up in a jail of shame.

If you've never listened to Brené Brown's TED talk on Shame, I suggest you do so at the earliest opportunity. Her conclusion is that the most effective weapon against shame is sharing - the simple words "Me, too." Yes, me, too; I, too, have failed. No, I was not successful at what I set out to do. I landed on my face, and damn it, it hurt.

Because when we do that, we undercut the lies that are built into the stories of what constitutes success - and even better, we re-define what it means to be successful. We shine the light on the fact that the premise is faulty, that A+B does not, in fact, necessarily equal C, because perhaps there's a few Arabic and Greek letters in the alphabet soup to the left of the equal sign which do not lend themselves to neat Roman-cyphered answers. We change the story. And with that, we change the outcome.

I don't know about you, but I, for one, badly need a different outcome. I badly need to change the story that I tell myself, that I tell everyone else.

And so just to let you know: I've failed. I've blown it. I did not succeed the way I was sure I would when I started on this journey. There, that's my story - my new story. My new premise. And it's a little bit of a scary one. It's an uncertainty, it's messy. I can no longer point to a neat and clean premise, to an equation that says "IF - THEN". I don't know what's right any more, don't know how things ought to be done correctly for the best possible outcome. And you know what's the awesome thing about that? I'm okay with that idea.

Life, the Universe, and Failure. Changing the story is a powerful thing.

06 May 2013

Farewell Fishies

My aquarium just moved out, complete with inhabitants. I've had fish tanks of various sizes for more than a decade. And then a while ago I was saying to my daughter that I'm kind of done with aquaria - I'm tired of cleaning the tank, or, rather, not cleaning the tank and then feeling guilty about it. I'm tired of chores, and the fish tank had become just another chore. Then a few weeks ago, some of my daughter's friends moved into a basement suite together, and they were over here admiring our fish tank (in spite of its not being terribly clean at the time). So, guess what? The fishies moved house today.

It all started more than thirteen years ago with a ten-by-ten-by-ten-centimetre plastic cube which contained some gravel, a small aquatic plant, a snail and two pretty little common guppies. The whole setup called itself an "Aquababy" or some such thing; it should have been more accurately named a fish killing device. However, in my ignorance, I bought one of those things from the stall in the mall (it was Christmas time; I suppose that's considered an adequate time to murder innocent little fishies by the dozens), brought it home, and put it on the shelf by the computer. It had a fairly tight lid with a 3mm hole in it, through which one was meant to insert a toothpick dipped in fish food to give the darlings their required nourishment. Oxygen, it seemed, was not necessary for their survival - or rather, the vendors said the fish would get enough of that from the small piece of hornwort stuck in there with them. You know, it's a plant, so it makes oxygen. Right.

Well, let's draw a veil over the whole sorry episode. In my excuse I can only plead ignorance of the finer points of fish keeping - well, to be honest, of any points at all, fine or coarse. Suffice to say, the ignorance lasted no longer than those first little fish. They had become martyrs to the cause of my education - I thoroughly caught the aquarium-keeping bug. I researched, researched and researched some more, got books and found websites, and finally treated myself to my first real aquarium, a small 1-gallon thing with an undergravel filter. Then the neighbour gave us an old 5-gallon tank (with chrome edging, no less!) which was quite large for our really small house, and finally I got a 10-gallon and then a 20-gallon tank (and a larger house to set them up in). I've had guppies (common and fancy), goldfish (ditto), some zebra danios, red-eyed tetras (very boring, those. All they did was hide behind the plants), and I think even some neon tetras at one point. Oh, and a few Siamese Fighting Fish (one at a time), those were fun.

Most of them were fairly short-lived. I don't know if there's an equivalent of a green thumb when it comes to fish keeping - a scaly forefinger, perhaps? Well, whatever it is, I haven't got it. I finally decided I was only ever going to keep simple fish any more - common goldfish or guppies. So that's what I did. Some time ago, probably five or six years, I bought three pairs of fancy guppies - one blue, one red, and one yellow male, and their corresponding plain-grey girlfriends. Into the ten-gallon tank they went, and they've been merrily reproducing ever since. In the current generation the colours and patterns of their ancestors are thoroughly mixed up - there are some multi-coloured iridescent fellows with long black tails, some yellows with leopard spots, some with lots of red and some with mostly blue.

And now they've moved out, those fishy friends. I have a lovely empty spot on my kitchen counter now, and no more responsibilities for monthly algae scrapings and water changes.

They were lots of fun while I had them, those fish. And now I'm glad that someone else will get to have the pleasure of watching them undulate through the water, greedily swarming to the top when you turn on the light and open the lid, and chase each flake of food as if it were the last they will ever see. I hope they enjoy each other, the fish and their new people.

Life, the Universe, and Piscine People. Farewell, dear fishies, and thank you for the enjoyment of having you around.

03 May 2013

Something Old, Something New...

Something Borrowed, Something Blue. Don't worry, I'm not getting married. Nor is anyone else in my immediate family, immediately. No, the Something New I'm talking about is this: http://quillandqwerty.wordpress.com/. It's my new blog, for school. The Something Old is the dip pen I'm using for the cover illustration (which also has Something New, namely my netbook keyboard). And of course the subject of the course I'm in (more on that later). Something Borrowed, or, more accurately, swiped (with permission) is the title. A friend posted a picture on Facebook of her keyboard and a pen, with the caption "The quill and the qwerty", and I thought it was so catchy I promptly went and reserved a blog address under that name. I just parked it for a while - had no idea what to put on it, until my new prof suggested keeping a blog for my research. Bingo!

You see, it's so perfect because the course I'm taking is on Jane Austen (gasps of surprise from the audience - none of you knew I'm an Austen fan, of course. Yes, I hid it well.). She wrote all her books with a quill, as steel nibs weren't invented until 1822 (she died in 1817). And of course, now I, along with countless real scholars, ramble on about her works via QWERTY. Grad school - the excuse to re-read Austen, go rabbit trailing off in all kinds of directions on the topic, and then write big long papers and (hopefully) shorter blog posts on it. What's not to like?

Oh, what's the Something Blue? Me, sometimes. Unfortunately. But we'll deal with that when it arises. And the Caps Lock button on the left of the picture, that's blue too.

I'll still be here on amo vitam, rambling my ramblings, but if you feel like it, come on over to quill and qwerty and take a look. You don't have to stay if you don't want to.

Life, the Universe, the Quill and Qwerty. See you over there!