Thought Trafficking

Never put off until you are pregnant and working what you can do when you are 16.
July 18, 2013, 4:28 am
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That is, in my case, an upper-level piano exam with the RCM. My poetic brain has been replaced by a tactile one. Not that they aren’t part of the same larger organ, though I’m not sure which one. The liver? 

At a time when I feel like maybe I should have more to say than ever, I’m mostly wordless. Toronto is no place for human beings in the summer; I rhapsodized the hot summer evenings of Victoria. Now I just hide. This baby must be a baby of the West, destiny manifest, wanting nothing more than an absurdly long drive through the mountains in either direction, or a compelling flatland. Already at 5 months, it scoffs at the ubiquitous Eastern metal silo, prefers the grain elevator as linchpin of the landscape. Already the first kicks are like the needle of a compass drawn by a magnet: will it insist on being born facing toward the Pacific?

A scant three years ago I learned to fast for Ramadan, now I am learning how to not fast during Ramadan. Tonight I tried to make koofteh for dinner. Then, while they were cooking, I googled what I will rightly call real koofteh. Mine was the right colour, but other than that… Real koofteh can be a giant meatball with a cooked egg on the inside, or, in some cases apparently, a whole chicken. Mine was the right colour, but the consistency was inconsistent. Then I checked and there were no chickens inside my meatballs. Where did I go wrong?

So at this time of night I lie on the couch, wanting to go to bed, wearing old starched cotton pajamas in an attempt to mitigate the heat, wondering whether I should go downstairs and water the tomatoes, resenting the night air or what I imagine the night air to be. Later, I’ll try to sleep, hugging a water bottle that I’ve had in the freezer all day and setting my prayers on the kind of thunderstorm that breaks the heat. 


May 13, 2013, 12:28 am
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It’s all the cha-Rage! (apologies)

We recently invented a new kind of party game with our landlords’ children, modeled on Charades. The rules are very much the same, except that the scenes/professions/feelings acted out have to be extremely conceptual, and/or so complicated as to be almost unguessable. For example, to act out “tree” is unacceptable. Suggestions for scenes include “Mermaid gazing at a kingdom,”  “Almighty God,” “Bactrian camel,” “Man on a rock looking at a lion.” Many of the suggestions of that particular game were inspired by religious imagery, but we suggest no particular theme.

I think it’s probable that most of us played a game of charades something like this as children, but why not make it official and try it again as adults? You get the fun of guessing without the pressure to be correct and, more than that, you get to witness the intense concentration it takes for one person to briefly inhabit these personas or situations. 

Party time!

November 7, 2012, 7:58 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

After spending the last 10 days mostly sleeping, everything in my waking life is fresh. Do epidemiologists conduct studies in piano studios? They ought to. Germy little keys. 

Since finishing a shrug before moving, I’ve lying fallow, craft-wise. Piano stood in as a substitute: Beethoven Sonata Op 2 No 1 in f minor, Chopin Nocturne Op 9 No 1 (b flat minor), and Debussy’s Doctor Gradus Ad Parnassum. Working on breathing and relaxing my shoulders.

Today I keep trying to get things done but every time I leave one room (one of only two), I get distracted by something else in the room I just entered. Still, making muffins, mailing cards, and returning library books (on time; I am turning over a new leaf) made me feel productive enough for one morning. 

I have been very interested in this blog lately, for the author’s description of her life in Belgium, of taking Dutch lessons, an experience that now sits 6 years in my past. Not something I miss, necessarily (though I do miss trying to speak Dutch), but something still worth recalling.

In writing this post, I forgot that I was frying some eggs for lunch. Focus.


Nook and cranny
October 9, 2012, 12:09 am
Filed under: music, Toronto | Tags: , , ,

The summer winds down, reels in. I’ve probably written before about how much I love fall in Eastern/Central/Upper Canada (designation depends on your point of view).

This fall, I invite strangers into my (now tiny) living room two days a week to teach them piano. I am delighted and puzzled by my own choices: delighted by the schedule, by the things I must now read, by taking regular lessons again, and puzzled because since I was a teenager I figured that this was the easy way out, that if nothing else, this was the back-up plan, not the success. So is this the joy and enlightenment that comes with giving up, or is this a reversion to some kind of basic programming that includes regular trips to buy puffy stickers?

If nothing else, I will remember the last few months as a period in which I read a lot of books on child rearing and discipline. In a 1/2 hour piano lesson, I find that there are generally three levels to which a student corresponds: slacker, steady progress, or overachiever. Each of these has its own challenges and rewards, and I can structure my lesson plans around these personalities. What no one, ever, anywhere prepared me for was surly, hormonal teenage girls. Forget pedagogy; the only thing I think about during that half hour is the virtue of staying calm and not giving in to how much a want to scream. They have two primary powers in a lesson setting: first, to contradict everything I say, no matter if that contradiction contradicts one of their previous statements. Second, to sincerely believe that everyone in the world is actively working against their happiness. Too many scales? I hate them. Too few scales? I think that they are stupid. Too much to practice? Everyone gives them too much work, they have no free time. Too little to practice? I’m making them sit on the bench with nothing to do. And the advice that I’m getting from my favourite teachers is only this: be extra, extra nice to these kids. Do everything in my power to forge a bond. Come up with a way to do it before I wear down my molars grating my teeth. I practice this for half an hour with each, per week.

I prefer this direct, one-on-one, approach better than the larger university classes I’ve been a TA for. It’s harder to justify piano lessons as a savvy life choice, as piano is not yet considered a pre-requisite for a decent job. Your lesson time and office hours are the same thing. I can ask parents flat-out if they think it is worthwhile to keep paying for lessons for a student who is uninterested or mailing it in. My job is fostering a relationship to the instrument, in simplest terms. Maybe I can relate more easily to this curriculum.

In more personal news, I seem to be catching up on all of the reading I should have done between 2001 and 2005. Wasted youth?

If you are reading this, please suggest books to read as the days get shorter.

Happy Election Day, Alberta
April 23, 2012, 3:07 pm
Filed under: Canadian politics, observations, Reading | Tags: , , , ,

On the subject of Canadian politics, a Didionesque collocation in this article on the CBC:

The bill for three nights at the Savoy last June set back taxpayers $1,995, or $665 a night. The government still had to pay for a night at the hotel she rejected, costing an additional $287.

An orange juice Ms. Oda expensed from the Savoy cost $16.

In last month’s budget, the Canadian International Development Agency suffered cuts that rang in this year at $380 million.

In other news, we had fresh rhubarb from the garden for dessert last night, and today there is snow in the forecast. I can see a blooming magnolia tree from my office window.

April, naked and otherwise.
April 13, 2012, 3:08 pm
Filed under: observations, poetry, Reading | Tags: , , ,

In keeping with my citation-heavy blog posts of late, and since April is National Poetry Month (whatever that means in the grad scheme of things), I wanted to post a few selections from Phyllis Webb’s Naked Poems, a group of poems that is hard to find outside of anthologies and special collections.

From Suite I

to establish distance
between our houses. 
It seems
I welcome you in. 
Your mouth blesses me
all over.
There is room.
From Non-Linear
I am listening for
the turn of the tide
I imagine it will sound
an appalled sigh
the sigh of Sisyphus
who was not happy
From Some Final Questions
What do you really want?
Want the apple on the bough in
the hand in the mouth seed
planted in the brain want
to think “apple”
I don’t get it. Are you talking about
process and individualtion. Or absolutes 
whole numbers that sort of thing?
But why don’t you do something?
I am trying to write a poem.
Listen. If I have known beauty
let’s say I came to it

And just because, some wisdom (?) from my father, that someone–either my mother or myself–scribbled in a cookbook after her said it a few years ago:

Nothing wrong with poetry as long as you wash your hands afterwards.

In other news, the sun is bright in the mornings and the nights are chilly. This summer I will try to re-learn Spanish, and I would love suggestions for movies or radio stations or books that I should use. Today, my first free Friday in what seems like a long time, I will try to go to Jumah in a new place, and I am full of hope and good feelings for that. Lots of simple future in my language.


Just Deserts [sic]
April 12, 2012, 2:50 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Removed from its geo-ecological referent, the terrain became a trope, a cipher signifying deficiency, lack, absence. ‘Desert’ henceforth became ‘any place lacking in something’.

-Catrin Gersdorf, The Poetics and Politics of the Desert: Landscape and the Construction of America