Monthly Archives: January 2012

Stories of Monkeys in Hats in the Square

Fez Monkeys

9 / 11

They sit in a room that is half soaked in gin
How did they get here; how did it begin?
She’s stretched out in front of him, feet on the floor
Cigarettes in their hands, now someone’s closed the door.

Looking at postcards from her on the wall
While people lean drunkenly out in the hall
Quick, to the bar! We mustn’t be long.
Or they’ll get ideas, some of which won’t be wrong.

What if he notices? What if he hears?
Or worse – nothing happens – is that what she fears?
Her hair smells like sugar, and maple, and sweet
It surely won’t seem all that strange if they meet.

Pages from magazines sent via air,
And stories of monkeys in hats in the square.
You should have seen it, you should have been there
But you wouldn’t love it and you wouldn’t care.

The day I first met you, you cut off your hair.
And now it means nothing, it doesn’t, I swear…
I knew at the time that it wasn’t for me
But how can we give up what we can’t yet see?


The Bloor Street Viaduct

bloor viaduct

I’ve mentioned that I occasionally suffer from panic attacks. The most recent ones I’ve experienced have occurred when I’ve been travelling. I have taken literally hundreds of flights in my life (my family moved around a lot when I was a kid), but for some reason about 3 years ago I developed a fear of flying. Go figure. Now any time I get on a plane I have to take lots of drugs (legal ones!) so that I don’t start freaking out as soon as we take off. I have also had random panic attacks on the subway. I think it has something to do with being in an enclosed space underground. Makes sense, I suppose, and I’m sure it’s not uncommon. Anyway, when I moved to my neighborhood a few years ago I started taking a new route to work which involves crossing the Bloor Street Viaduct every morning. It’s a beautiful bridge, and you get a pretty cool view of the city, but the first few times I was on the subway crossing over it I started to get those very bad panicky feelings. I also have a fear of heights which undoubtedly played into it. I felt disconnected from my body, like I was floating away – and when that happens I honestly feel like I’m about to die. Sounds totally melodramatic, I know, but seriously — it seems so real.

Anyway, I realized pretty quickly that I was going to be in big trouble if I couldn’t handle taking the subway across this fucking bridge every morning. There are alternate routes to work, of course, but I didn’t want to give in to those kinds of avoidance behaviors. That would only strengthen the power of the panic attacks. I knew I had to take charge and be decisive! No time for cowardice.

The next few times that I crossed the bridge, I forced myself to stand right up next to the glass, looking down at the river and trails below. I was shaking at first, scared, because I could feel the panic rising. But after about a week, a funny thing happened. I started to like the sense of vertigo that I got from staring out over the bridge. Now, it is the thing that I enjoy the most on my way to work. I always move to the window when we get to the crossing, and allow the feeling of disorientation to take a hold of me. I’m not scared of it at all any more — in fact, it’s kind of a thrill.

It’s Official: Best New Read of 2012

John Green

John Green: killing me softly with his words

Okay, now, I know what you are thinking. We are a scant 29 days into the new year, and I am already declaring The Fault in Our Stars as Best New Read? Well, my friends, it is just that good.

Oh, this book…this book! On Friday night I went to see a movie by myself (more on seeing movies alone another day, as it’s one of the things on my list) and although it was good, the whole time I was there I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to be reading this book. So when I got home, I continued, even though it was late, and by the stroke of 1:00 am I was lying in bed sobbing my eyes out. I don’t want to spoiler it too much for you in case you read it (and you should!) but suffice to say that this book destroyed me.

When we left off, of course, Hazel and Augustus were about to start out on their journey to Amsterdam to meet the elusive Peter Van Houten and finally learn more about the ending of An Imperial Affliction. All I will say is that the trip does not go exactly as planned, but that it is nevertheless an amazing experience for both of them. The second half of the book is less focused on the bloom of first love, because there is some pretty heavy shizz that goes down, but there are still plenty of swoony moments. There is one passage about love that I would like to share with you:

“I’m in love with you,” he said quietly.

“Augustus,” I said.

“I am,” he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”

“Augustus,” I said again, not knowing what else to say. It felt like everything was rising up in me, like I was drowning in this weirdly painful joy, but I couldn’t say it back. I couldn’t say anything back. I just looked at him and let him look at me until he nodded, lips pursed, and turned away, placing the side of his head against the window.

You guys, I think John Green really nailed it here. I have tried a few times, unsuccessfully, to explain what it feels like to fall in love. Everyone (i.e. TV shows, Hollywood movies, Harlequin romance novels) seems to treat it as this magical experience that is filled with joy and ecstasy and doves being released to the heavens — but in my view, more often that not, falling in love is actually a kind of painful experience. Not exactly painful in a bad way — it’s amazing, and thrilling, of course — but essentially you spend a few months walking around feeling like you’re going to throw up most of the time. Love is basically the most pleasurable illness in the world. Few would choose not to have it, but it is an affliction nonetheless. So when I read the line “It felt like everything was rising up in me, like I was drowning in this weirdly painful joy” I think I actually jumped up and exclaimed “Yes!! John Green, you are a genius!” Because that was exactly how I felt the first time a boy ever told me that he loved me. I was sixteen, and his name was Ben, and it was simultaneously one of the best and most terrifying experiences of my life up to that point. I felt vulnerable, and exposed, like my skin had literally been turned inside out. Which sounds super gross, but it was also amazing…and terrible, and great, all at the same time. Love is weird.

Anyway, it is very difficult to write about love without sounding cheesy or resorting to lame clichés, but John Green navigates the subject skillfully, treating it with a perfect balance of humour and gravitas. Even though the relationship between Augustus and Hazel intensifies quickly, it really rings true. Another thing that struck me about the book is that Green is able to write convincingly from the point of view of a 16-year old girl, which is rare for a male author. This is his first novel featuring a female protagonist, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked this character even more than the (male) main characters in his other books.

Before I wrap this up, I must mention Hazel’s parents, especially her dad who is possibly the awesomest book dad ever. I would imagine that having a terminally ill kid would be one of the most difficult, heartbreaking experiences that anyone ever has to go through, and Hazel’s parents are bastions of strength and good humour. I really like this little passage in which the three of them are watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon (Hazel is addicted to bad reality TV):

Finally, we watched ANTM. Dad tried really hard not to die of boredom, and he kept messing up which girl was which, saying, “We like her?”

“No, no. We revile Anastasia. We like Antonia, the other blonde,” Mom explained.

“They’re all tall and horrible,” Dad responded. “Forgive me for failing to tell the difference.”

In conclusion: although this book made me cry quite uncontrollably, and was very sad in parts, I do not for one second regret having read it. I feel fortunate that it came into my life, unexpectedly, when it did. I grew quite attached to it in a short period of time, which surprised me because that is not usually my style with books. And even though it may have ended, I suspect that I will be thinking about it for a long time to come.

I Want My Hat Back

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green is not only one of my favorite YA authors, he is simply one of my favorite authors, full stop. The first book of his that I read was Looking for Alaska (the Colonel is hands down one of the best characters of all time) and I loved An Abundance of Katherines. Don’t even get me started on Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the book that Green co-wrote with David Levithan (there are really no words for the complete joy that Tiny Cooper brings to my life).

So when I was at my local bookstore yesterday evening and noticed that his new novel, The Fault in Our Stars, had come out, of course I purchased it immediately and began reading it on the subway ride home. It is now 14 hours later, I am on Chapter 9 (having stayed up until 2 am reading), and I am officially, completely, and totally obsessed.

There are just SO MANY AMAZING THINGS about this book. First of all, it’s the story of Hazel Lancaster, a sixteen year old girl living with cancer. That sounds like a total downer of a premise but it’s totally not, I swear, because even though Hazel has been through some tough times and has problems breathing and stuff (a side effect of the illness, which ravaged her lungs), she’s pretty awesome about it all. Anyway, she goes to a support group every week for kids with cancer, which is where she meets Augustus Waters, a super hot boy who also happens to have had cancer (osteosarcoma) and has a prosthetic leg and may be the most swoon-worthy character I have ever encountered in a YA book. Or any book. Seriously. He is just that awesome. He’s smart, and funny, and sarcastic, and he reads Hazel’s favorite book the night after he meets her, and gives her one of his favorite books which is the first in this ridiculous series of novels based on a video game, with a protagonist called ‘Max Mayhem’. The developing romance between Hazel and Augustus is actually, literally, killing my life right now with its amazingness. They transition pretty quickly from being complete strangers to becoming majorly important in one another’s lives, but it doesn’t feel rushed. It makes sense. And here’s the thing – I’m on page 129 and they’ve barely even held hands yet, let alone kissed. There’s hardly been any physical contact between them but it doesn’t matter, I am still dying from the hotness of their relationship – that’s how swoony this book is. Check out this passage:

After that, we turned on the TV for a little while, but we couldn’t find anything to watch, so I grabbed An Imperial Affliction off the bedside table and brought it back into the living room and Augustus Waters read to me while Mom, making lunch, listened in.

“’Mother’s glass eye turned inward,’” Augustus began. As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

Another excellent thing about The Fault in Our Stars is that there’s a whole book-within-a-book situation going on, which I always love. Hazel is a huge fan of this reclusive author named Peter Van Houten, who wrote only one novel (An Imperial Affliction, the aforementioned favorite book, which ended literally in the middle of a sentence) and then disappeared to the Netherlands, never to be heard from again. Hazel is obsessed with finding out what happened to the characters in the story after the book ended, so Augustus tracks down Peter Van Houten’s assistant, Lidewij Vliegenthart, and they end up arranging a trip to Amsterdam to go and meet the author.

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I will leave you with the last words that I read, as I walked into work this morning:

I texted Augustus because I knew he was in school:

Still free May three? :-)

He texted back immediately.

Everything’s coming up Waters.*

If I could just stay alive for a week, I’d know the unwritten secrets of Anna’s mom and the Dutch Tulip Guy. I looked down my blouse at my chest.

“Keep your shit together,” I whispered to my lungs.

*Of course John Green is a Simpsons fan.

Stay tuned for an update as to whether the second half cements this book’s status as Best New Read of 2012. So far, it’s looking good!

The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Gashlycrumb Tinies

I don’t know if you are familiar with the Gashlycrumb Tinies. They are a series of rhyming couplets written by Edward Gorey, published in 1963, detailing the deaths of 26 children (one for each letter of the alphabet). You can read them all here. As someone who is terrified of death and obsesses daily over the various ways in which I might perish in a freak accident (or just a normal one, for that matter*), you would think that I wouldn’t like them. But I find these macabre little vignettes highly amusing.

*Professor Plum: “What are you afraid of, a fate worse than death?”
Mrs. Peacock: “No, just death. Isn’t that enough?”

A few years ago my friend Adam and I were bored at work so we started e-mailing our own rhyming couplets back and forth to one another, inspired by the Gashlycrumb Tinies. I was reading through the list this morning and I started laughing so hard that I literally had tears in my eyes. The other people on the bus were giving me some odd looks, that’s for sure. Anyway, if I can find this much merriment in the prospect of my own demise, my friends, then I suppose you could consider it another example of some positive reframing.

Here’s our version:

S is for Sam who can’t breathe underwater
A is for Adam, bitten hard by an otter

A is for Adam, murdered by a whore
S is for Sam who walked into a door

A is for Adam, unaware his trial’s rigged
S is for Sam – zagged where she should have zigged

A is for Adam, taken out by a rocket
S is for Sam who unplugged her eye-sockets

A is for Adam who was plain over-ripe
S is for Sam, too much crack in her pipe

A is for Adam, convinced he could fly
S is for Sam, at the zoo, drunk on rye

A is for Adam, all thumbs with a saw
S is for Sam, squished to death by her bra

A is for Alex, who despised Adam’s smirk
S is for Sue, who thought Sam was a jerk

B is for Blape, who floated away
A is for Adam who called it a day

S is for Sam, beaten up by her friends
A is for Adam who suffered the bends

A is for Adam, impaled by a chair
S is for Sam – ate a poisonous pear

A is for Adam, who’s ego erupted
S is for Sam, slain by crows she corrupted

A is for Adam, who jumped, but too soon
S is for Sam, out of air on the moon

A is for Adam, punched out by a clown
S is for Sam who tripped on her gown

A is for Adam who’s head did explode
S is for Sam gobbled up by a toad

Stickers, Stars, and Bon Points


Last night, I was at my weekly guitar lesson when I noticed a few sheets of stickers sitting on the piano in our music room, shaped like hearts and stars with things like “Excellent” and “Great job!” written on them.

“Dude!” I said excitedly to my guitar teacher, Kurt. “You guys have stickers?! How come I’ve never gotten one before?”

“Um…those are for the little kids,” Kurt explained. “But you can have one too, if you want”.

You guys, stickers and gold stars were made for people like me – i.e. total keeners who respond extremely well to positive reinforcement. I went to kindergarten at a French school in Nairobi. Our teacher was super strict and made us learn to write calligraphy using fountain pens (keep in mind we were 5 years old). If our ink ran through the paper she would hit us across the hands with her ruler, but if we completed the task perfectly we were awarded something called a ‘Bon Point’ (translated from French this basically means ‘Good Point’). If you managed to collect something like 100 ‘Bon Points’ you were then rewarded with a gold star. I mean, the whole thing was such a scam – they were just little pieces of paper with the words ‘Bon Point’ written on them – but I bought into it hook, line and sinker. I worked so hard to get those Bon Points, practicing for hours at shaping my letters perfectly and making sure that I didn’t press too hard with my pen.

It is, of course, important to remember that we shouldn’t get too caught up in points systems and meaningless prizes. Learning should be enough of a reward in and of itself. Having said that, getting a sticker thrown your way every now and again is a pretty sweet deal.…


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