The Literary Lollipop

Guilt-free adventures in reading, writing, and original fiction

Making Stuff in 2016 – The Scarf — February 2, 2016

Making Stuff in 2016 – The Scarf

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If there was one project (besides my manuscript) looming over my head for most of 2015, it was the unfinished scarf sitting on my dresser. Started last January with the Icelandic wool I purchased in Reykjavik, this green, yellow and purple scarf was originally slated for completion that same winter. As you can see, the projected timeline crumbled into a million little pieces.

So, the majority of my Christmas holidays were spent knitting. And knitting, and knitting, and knitting. Every time I settled down to watch some television, which was fairly often, I was determined to simultaneously work through a few dozen rows. If I was going to sit on my ass for four hours of Orphan Black, surely I could knit at the same time, right? Of course.

Then one day, it happened. Quite suddenly, I realized The Scarf was finished. With the help of a (child’s) how-to book, I managed to castoff by myself. Can you hear those angels singing in the background? It was miraculous, really. OMG, it’s done. It’s finally done!

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With a smile of triumph, I wrapped the luxuriously long scarf around my neck and burrowed my face in the warmth. Ah! So this is what accomplishment feels like. The moment was incredibly satisfying. I held it out to family and friends as if it were an offering to the gods and said: “Look! Look at what I made! I finally finished the scarf! Isn’t it pretty?” Even the little bits of wool hanging from each stripe of colour change could not take away from the grandiosity of crossing the finishing line, after months of distraction and procrastination.

Melodramatic? Yes. So sue me. I’m happy.

The curious joy of random selection — January 29, 2016

The curious joy of random selection

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While roaming the shelves of my local (box) bookstore, I came across the Anthologies & Essays section with mild consideration of its content. I like to wander through the aisles of every genre, and wait for something to jump out at me, to demand my attention. It doesn’t always work out this way. Most of the time, I leave the bookstore empty-handed, as I should. On rare occasions, I’ll find something compelling enough to purchase, and immediately start reading.

This happened just before Christmas, when my eye was drawn to an orange spine with an interesting title… Out of Sheer Rage. It’s captivating right? Rage is a volatile and thought provoking word. Written by Geoff Dyer, an unknown-to-me writer, Out of Sheer Rage also boasted a flattering blurb from Steve Martin: “The funniest book I have ever read.” Coming from Mr. Martin, I was fairly confident I’d likely feel the same way.

As expected, I read the first three pages in the store, laughed out loud, and resigned myself to the $24 expense. Not only was it funny, Dyer proved himself an absolutely genius writer. He practically read my mind, took the words right from my subconscious, and articulated everything I ever experienced in the process of writing a book – or, to be more precise, the procrastination involved with writing a book, the over-thinking and the absolute neuroses one develops during the supposed research stage. Staggeringly hilarious observations.

I took a chance on a “new” kid and was thoroughly rewarded for my risk.

Have you taken any reading risks lately?

Making Stuff in 2016 – Jade & Jasper Necklace — January 18, 2016

Making Stuff in 2016 – Jade & Jasper Necklace

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As promised, here is the fruit of my very first crafty moment of the year. While perusing the bead isle at Michael’s, I spotted these pink, spiky, jasper pendants. The wheels in my head started to whirl, wondering what I could make with such awkwardly shaped stones.

I consulted my stash of supplies and found some dark teal seed beads, a few turquoise beads, the appropriate fishing wire, and fastenings. Still, I didn’t have a design, so I hit another store and found a string of light green jade beads, and dark purple fossil beads. After a couple days of indecision, I finally chose a layout that felt right.

Although it might not look like it, this is a multi-strand necklace. I split the string approximately every inch to enhance the colour and presence of the teal seed beads. It also helped to add some length to the design, as I didn’t have quite enough to ensure symmetry otherwise.

At first, I wasn’t super happy with the aesthetics of the pendant’s placing, dangling as it did, appearing off kilter to my overly critical eye, but then it grew on me. Eventually, I tried it on and enjoyed the pop of colour, the bigness of it all, the weight. A handmade statement piece. Overall, I’m pleased with the final product!

Doughnuts & Sunday afternoon inspiration — January 16, 2016

Doughnuts & Sunday afternoon inspiration

You know that feeling your body gets when you attempt to work out after a long time away from the gym? The first five minutes are spent warming up, the muscles remembering how to move, regaining their rhythm. It’s awkward, uncomfortable and, if you don’t have any music to fire up your motivation, potentially boring.

That was me on Sunday. Only, replace the gym with my computer screen, my imagination utterly crippled from lack of use, unable to write a word. Throw in some miserable weather – depressingly cold, non-stop rain for the entire effing day – and we’ve got a party. Unfortunately, it has been at least one month since I last worked on my current project.

Some back story to help with the context is in order. I received an agenda for Christmas. It’s pretty, with lovely quotations throughout. To regain my creative focus in the new year, I determinedly wrote in the rectangle for January 10: Writing day. No explanation required. It was my cue to pack up my laptop and schlep to Starbucks to work on my new manuscript.

So, dutifully that is what I did. That is, until I actually got to Starbucks with my ancient laptop in tow. That is when my plan fell apart. My brain simply checked out. Nothing came to mind. Absolutely nothing. I sat there sipping on a chai latte, looking out the window at the sheets of rain falling from the sky, waiting for the words to come. Apparently, even the writing muscle can atrophy when it goes unused for too long.

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January can be a tricky and troublesome month. It has a flavour, one of freshness, but also one of self-imposed pressure. Just as December is a time of twinkle lights and excessive sugar consumption, January is a time of strategizing, negotiating the business of nutrition and wellness, and generally shaping our goals for the new year ahead. It’s when I have a tendency to get neurotic about getting stuff done. Productivity is the name of the game. In other words: actual pages of text, the golden factor that moves me closer to completed novel number two.

But, on Sunday afternoon, that was clearly not going to happen, no matter how hard I pressed the issue. My mind felt flat, without texture. It’s the only way I can describe the absolute lack of ideas.

Defeated, I packed up my stuff, finished the chai latte, and braced myself for the horrible gust of cold, which promptly blew my umbrella inside out the minute I left Starbucks. Next stop? The library, where I set up camp with a book on found-object crafting and Icelandic knitting, and quickly realized, with heartfelt relief, that inspiration was still alive, it was just hiding, in need of coaxing.

An hour later, I had written a thousand words. Miracle of miracles. What made the difference? A recipe for Icelandic doughnuts, of all things. It triggered a thought, and I started to type.

The Art of Wynwood Walls & Beyond — January 11, 2016

The Art of Wynwood Walls & Beyond

Miami beach has become a tradition, a safe bet for guaranteed fun and tropical weather. Over the years,  we (me and the friend with whom I always travel to Miami) have become familiar with the neighbourhoods, the restaurants, the main drags, and where to catch the best sunsets.

In November, right after an especially stressful work season, I visited South Beach, for the third time, to decompress and enjoy some much-craved sunshine. Bring on the heat!

We wanted to explore some uncharted territory, so when it was recommended that we venture beyond the island and go to Wynwood, a graffiti/tattoo/art district with a really funky vibe, it was only a matter of figuring out how to get there. Easier said than done. Neither of us drive, so renting a car was (obviously) out of the question. Determined to see this through, we pooled our funds and caught a cab on Washington.

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An expensive, harrowing, forty-five minute slog through highway traffic later, we were dropped off at the entrance to Wynwood Walls, a public art gallery of sorts. Once we disembarked, and digested the insane price tag of making the trip, our eyes were immediately drawn to the uniquely colourful banners of graffiti. I recognized the yellow, black, and red renderings of David Bowie and the Dalai Lamai.

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The sun beat down on us as we wandered from wall to wall, each one a stunning panorama of colour and talent. It was like we had wandered from real life into the pages of a comic book, or a digital art program. The detail in some of these masterpieces was out-of-this world impressive. I can only imagine the level of concentration required to complete a square foot of the whole mural.

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Once we reached the end of Wynwood Walls, half of which were closed for refurbishment, we strolled through the back streets, where it seemed every inch of available façade and alleyway was filled with incredible panels of graffiti. I morphed into uber-tourist, and snapped countless photos.

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The neighbourhood was peppered with cute, but high-priced boutiques and funky cafés. At first glance, it seemed hipster-ish, but those first impressions quickly melted away the more we explored the area. Wynwood clearly has a vibe all its own – a distinctly harder edge – one that cannot be described with a single, trendy label.

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Although part of my brain was still wondering how we were going to pay for our trip back to South Beach without any cash, we were also hungry, so we made an executive decision: order some tapas at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar. Several platters of delicious food later, the problem resolved itself. We found a cab that accepted plastic, and enjoyed a leisurely, traffic-free drive back to the thumping tourist Mecca of Lincoln Road.

“The world is a rainbow, the mind is a prism, and the being is the white ray.” — January 8, 2016

“The world is a rainbow, the mind is a prism, and the being is the white ray.”

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Friday morning wisdom arrives in the most unusual places. While on the bus ride to work, in my puffy down coat, feeling like a clumsy bag lady and squeezed between other frazzled commuters struggling to find a square foot of space to stand in relative peace, I read the above quote. Even without context, it’s rather startling in its beauty, don’t you think? You may wonder what it means, but in general the phrase flows. It’s smooth. The sentence has weight. Despite any skepticism, or what you may think of spiritual and philosophical texts, it evokes.

Eventually the bus lurched forward. Everyone reached for something to steady their balance, and so I had to put away the book in question, which happens to be Intuition by Osho. Anyway, the bus was full and more people were desperately trying to squeeze themselves on so they wouldn’t have to wait for the next one. Hints of claustrophobic panic tickled the back of my throat. Eye-rolling ensued. Winter is my least favourite season: more layers, and big boots, and extra shoes, below freezing temperatures. Generally, everything is more complicated in my life when winter arrives – and it certainly did arrive, snow and all. Not fun.

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Once I got to my desk, the quote popped back into my head once more. I pictured the prism splitting the ray into seven colours. It was a pretty enough thought to distract me from my stifling trip to work, to perk me up a bit. Then I chewed on the idea, unconsciously, in the back of my mind, throughout the morning, sort of like a Rubik’s Cube for the brain. Without realizing, I turned the cube/phrase around and around, twisted the ‘red block’ here, and the ‘yellow block’ there. For me, the fascination was in the contemplation. It coloured my day with unexpected intrigue. Unusual, I know. Dare I accuse myself of being too “alternative,” or New Agey? (For the record, I don’t mind either label. I am who I am.)

Of course, this doesn’t always work. Sometimes life is a drag, and no amount of contemplation will lift us out of the fog or frustration, as was the case with me last night. The moment I lost my rhythm, my balance was distinctly off and I was horribly distracted for the rest of the evening. But when a light bulb sparks to life right under my nose, it’s always a pleasant experience, no matter when and where it happens.

My top 5 books of 2015 — January 7, 2016

My top 5 books of 2015

2015 was an odd year for reading. My interests were fleeting and constantly fluctuating, which made it difficult to stick to a single genre, and, as you may have noticed, my blogging fell by the wayside. As such, my book selections were unusual. When I re-visited some of my posts from the past year, I realized just how little fiction I read, especially when compared to previous years. Not to mention, it was a relatively bookless Christmas holiday, a time when I usually curl up with a moody mystery. Instead, I spent the majority of my time-off doing hot yoga, watching House of Cards, Orphan Black, and knitting a super long (but cozy) scarf. Without any manipulation on my part, my list appears to be heavily sprinkled with celebrities. Colour me sheepish.

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Never Broken by Jewel
I found this book by complete and total accident. I was browsing on Amazon, and saw the thumbnail picture in the recommendation window stream. Singer Jewel’s autobiography was my absolutely favourite book of the year. Her prose is fluid, honest, and a lovely portrait of the Alaskan landscape. The book reignited my interest in her music. Her new record is just as beautiful. Two thumbs way up.

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Consumed by David Cronenberg
Love, love, love! Did I say love? Totally weird and gross, but worth every moment of confusion and disgust. It is so impossible to describe this novel, I can’t even begin to explain. None of it makes an ounce of sense, and yet it does, somehow, weave together a compelling and thought provoking story. I hope Cronenberg writes more fiction. Bring on the body horror!

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My Fight Your Fight by Ronda Rousey
I don’t care if she lost her last fight. Ronda still rocks, and this is still a good book. Required reading for anyone who wants to know what it takes to be an elite athlete, or anyone who wants a motivational kick in the pants. You don’t have to be into MMA to appreciate the autobiographical and inspirational elements.

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The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin
It seems that the best books are often surprise books, books you had no intention of ever reading. I’ve had mild luck with Seth Godin in the past. He can be preachy and trendy at times, but The Icarus Deception revived me. It helped me see possibility where there was none. The only message that matters: stop waiting for permission. You (we) have more resources than we think. Use them, and make stuff happen.

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Only As Good As Your Word by Susan Shapiro
Purchased at the Writer’s Digest Conference and signed by the author, this book is a wonderful analysis of how difficult it is to carve a place for one’s self in the literary industry – especially in New York City. I felt like I was having a conversation with a really funny friend, someone I came to think I’d known for ages. When I think back to the reading experience, it’s the absolute enthusiasm that I remember, the joy of pursuing a creative career at full throttle. Ms. Shapiro slowly transforms from fledgling poet to published author, earning a living off her words.

Making Stuff in 2016 — January 4, 2016

Making Stuff in 2016

As is my habit since I got my hands on a copy of Danielle Laporte’s The Desire Map, I assess the future with feelings in mind. How do I want to feel, and what do I need to do to feel that way? The concept is remarkably simple, and yet complicated, mainly because my expectations and fears will always get in the way, creating mental roadblocks. Monkey mind, as they say.

Regardless, one of the realizations that repeatedly arose throughout my brainstorming over the holidays was my absolute lack of hands-on creativity time, when I can produce something tangible and real. For some reason, my mind seems to categorize writing as more of a theoretical/psychological act of creativity than one of real world practicality, which is what I’ve been craving. In other words, until I can actually see the final book and hold it in my hands (if or when it ever gets published), the satisfaction itself is in a weird form of limbo, held hostage by semantics. My working life operates on a very theoretical level as well, so I never really get to see and touch something I’ve made after a long day at the office.

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When I was younger, I used to spend hours crafting and making things, drawing and painting, producing something I could eventually hang on the wall, or wear. I used to sew outfits and make jewellery, just for the sake of creating something pretty. So I searched beneath my bed, where my craft supply hibernates most of the time, and I vowed to make more stuff in 2016. I am determined to use, at the very least, some of my watercolours, beads, and art paper, which have been sitting in this bin for years. There is also a perfectly good, brand new screen-printing kit in my closet somewhere. It’s absolutely ridiculous to have so many fun materials lying around unused. Shame on me.

With my newfound resolve, I’ve decided to establish a series on The Literary Lollipop, aptly titled Making Stuff in 2016. However often I have the opportunity to craft – monthly, hopefully – I’ll blog the results, no matter how successful or pathetic the project. At this point, the early stages of what I hesitate to call a New Year’s resolution (but, let’s face it; that’s what this is!) have already yielded some funky bits of knitwear and stationery. It’s incredibly satisfying to see progress, even in small amounts. One row of knit stitches quickly turns to two, then four, then six. Before long, it’s an actual scarf.

The biggest changes I’ve noticed already are that my imagination is starting to shed its rust, oiling its hinges and slowly coming alive again. Even the process of choosing bead colour combinations, eyeballing the design of a necklace as I went along, was stupendously fun. Yes, just when you thought no one used that word anymore… stupendously. Despite not being entirely sure of myself, which happened more than once as I went back and forth between ideas, it was peacefully meditative to hunch over a plate of seed beads, picking those tiny things up one-by-one, and sliding them onto the waiting wire.

Mild Festivities & Thoughts on Year-End Zen — December 18, 2015

Mild Festivities & Thoughts on Year-End Zen

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Well, apparently it’s Christmas, although I’d be hard pressed to find proof of its presence. December has been astonishingly mild. It’s rather startling to see some people walking around without coats, especially in Canada. As much as I dislike the (usually) long winters, I’ve always experienced Christmas with snow. Sure, I quickly lose patience with the cold come January first, but generally it’s nice to see a few flakes fall from the sky, glimmering in the lights, at some point before the Big Day. You know, to set the mood. I’m not going to turn up my nose at the charm of ambiance or the meditative calm of a snowy evening.

As a result of our odd weather, it’s been especially difficult this year to get into the holiday swing. If I didn’t know any better, it could be September or October. And yet, despite my lack of seasonal spirit, I’m thrilled that I haven’t been required to break out the heavy boots and arctic-proof coat. In addition to a light coat, so long as I’ve packed an umbrella, a hat and scarf, I’m fairly prepared for whatever the winds blow at me. (Heck, I can still take the dog out in socks and sandals! Bonus. It may not be fashionable, but it sure beats battling with big, cumbersome boots.)

However, whenever Christmas rolls around, I get anxious, like I’m running out of time to do all the things I’ve envisioned. My to-do list is forever fluctuating and multiplying, therefore remaining forever incomplete. I usually experience a moment of panic, wondering what, if anything, was accomplished in the year that just whipped by.

Thankfully, over time, these moments of panic have gotten shorter and less intense. Slowly, I’ve come to learn that not everything is about ROI – “rate on investment.” Not everything is measurable. Some experiences are intangible. They transform us from the inside out, not the other way around. We can’t plan how and when we’ll be changed. It will happen when it happens, without any orchestration on our part.

Every day, I attempt to braid the various threads of my life together. The better I get at organizing these threads, the more comfortable I become with stillness. This may sound like a counter intuitive platitude, but it is definitely not. I promise. It is genuinely difficult for me to be okay within that important but rarely inhabited place of inactivity – easier to accomplish with the body, but not so often in the mind. And so I will do my best to approach the coming year with calm and peace, and wish the same for others.

“Body Horror” and all that esoteric jazz — December 15, 2015

“Body Horror” and all that esoteric jazz

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Honestly, the only Cronenberg film I’ve seen is Eastern Promises, mainly because I adore Viggo Mortensen. I have very little experience with Cronenberg, though I am familiar with his general thematic shtick. On a whim, a friend and I chose to read Consumed for our mini, sort-of-but-not-really book club. Both of us were speechless but thoroughly entertained by this pathologically unique story of photojournalist couple, Naomi and Nathan.

If I had to describe the reading experience of Consumed in a word or two, I’d probably throw around a few f-bombs because the story is so gloriously messed up, you can’t help but use one (or more) expletives. First of all, I must warn you, readers absolutely must have an iron stomach to turn the pages without… well, gagging. You may pull a face or two at the descriptions of “viscous” bodily fluids and biological goings on throughout this tale of STDs and international intrigue. Yes, that’s right. STDs and international intrigue.

What exactly is Consumed about? Well, I can’t answer that question, because I don’t know. Let me try to explain. First of all, the novel opens in Paris. Naomi, a tech obsessed photojournalist is investigating the discovery of a cannibalized body, a high profile French philosopher, supposedly eaten by her equally high profile philosopher husband, also French. Out of the gate, comparisons are made to Beauvoir and Sartre (literal and satirical). She learns that he’s hiding in Tokyo, and she stops at nothing to hunt him down.

Meanwhile, somewhere in Hungary, Nathan (Naomi’s frisky and also tech obsessed “boyfriend”) is working on a story of his own: a cancer patient who is being operated on by a sketchy surgeon without a proper license. Eventually, Nathan succumbs to the tragic beauty of the cancer patient, and falls into bed with the woman, an existentialist depressive who can’t stop talking about death and disease, for obvious reasons.The dialogue is truly marvelous and hilarious.

Unfortunately, this mysterious cancer patient, a Slovenian named Dunja, passes along a rare sexually transmitted disease to Nathan, who quickly passes it to Naomi, without realizing. My first thoughts were of Contagion, of course – that weird spider’s web of infection that spreads fast and furious. However, what I initially thought this book was about turned into an effectively constructed red herring.

This is where Consumed takes an unusual, promising left turn. Just when you think Cronenberg might be composing a Hannibal-esque biological/medical thriller, halfway through we switch gears and change focus. Although some writers might lose their readers, this freakish change of direction only made me turn the pages faster.

To delve further into the plot would be to completely ruin the pace and odd mystery of Consumed, which somehow manages to be totally gross and utterly fascinating all at the same time. I had a blast reading between the lines of this awesome book.

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