The New Kid

Schools I have attended:

Nursery school

Montessori preschool

Komoka PS

Montessori grade school

East Elementary

St Nicholas Catholic (lies, lies, I’m not even baptised)

St Matthews Anglican (more lies, mom?  ok…)

Riverside PS

Oakridge HS

some defunct Niagara District school for the arts for a single semester that felt like an episode of Degrassi Junior High, complete with cliques, fake IDs, sororities, achingly cool transfer students, and dating a boy who was testing if he was gay (spoiler: he was)

Oakridge HS again

flunked out

Beal HS

dropped out again

That one summer school English credit I needed to finally graduate

The funny thing is…I went to my high school graduation (Oakridge #2.)  I don’t know if the system is it’s the same now, but grad was held before exams.  So it was totally possible to go to the ceremony, get your fake diploma on stage, then go to the prom (if that was your thing,) and then fail.

The funny thing is…of all my classes, I hated English the most.  Taking six weeks to read a book?  Uggggghhhhh.  “Academic” level classes were even more plodding.  As a child I was such a reader I devised a way to read while getting dressed for school that involved holding the book open with my toes.  In high school, my highest mark in English was a 72.

In a perfect world* this should have been when someone asked if I had ADHD.  But this was (oh god I’m old) 30 years ago, when it was still called ADD, and all it meant was a boy who couldn’t sit still. 

I was merely inattentive, a dreamer, not applying myself.  Unable to focus on the tasks at hand because the tasks were cripplingly dull.  So I just didn’t do them, or did them lazily at the last minute, then shrugged when the teacher asked why. 

Oh, the shrug.  The blankness.  The weaponized indifference of a clever teen with a revolutionary’s heart.  The number of times I met my mother’s concern, her anger even, with a shrug.

Dissociation’s a hell of a drug.

Like this post: I started with the list of schools but I don’t remember what I wanted to say.  Maybe nothing, other than remind myself that my path has never been smooth.  There are no straight lines in my landscape, only curves and slopes and tunnels, backways and side-ways and unexpected turns.  I’d like to end on an optimistic note, but maybe the hope is simply in knowing this, knowing that I can’t get there from here without going this way and that and a few other places.  In this game, the side-quests are mandatory.

*Assuming your perfect world includes compulsory education.  Mine includes dragons.  What, you said perfect, didn’t you?

What I read on vacation

against the backdrop of a bright blue ocean, someone lays on the pale sandy beach reading a paperback bookbeach

I went on a trip the end of April with the serious intent of reading some light fiction. I write it, so keeping up with what other writers are doing is kind of a job requirement, but I sometimes just don’t read at all.   Unfortunate but you know how it goes, *insert modern life* and all your plans are suddenly negotiable.  Regardless, I did do a fair bit of reading while away.  I’m not including buy links, just look ‘em up yourself. You got the internet on that thing, right?

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

A nice book about how to die well.  I contemplate own mortality with more frequency than most people (don’t applaud, it’s maybe a bad thing) so nothing in here stunned me, but its gentle solace is a perfect fit for these grieving times.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Did Not Finish at 40%.  I might have finished it if it was the only book at a beach cottage when the weather was bad.  I’m not big on murder mysteries and we’ll leave it at that, because I have Many Feelings about this book, its plot, its characters, and other books like it which I don’t want to voice. Inevitably, there’s a movie now.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

A brave little novel that tries really hard to not be a Cancer Story by being a book about books, yet is still inescapably a Cancer Story. But good, though I found the dialogue a bit forced. Yes, the characters are well-read for their age, but my own 19th Century aristocrats barely talk that high falutin’.  The author character was a nice touch, but again, another book I only read because it was on the shelf at the vacation rental.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall

I have no logical response to Alexis Hall ‘s romance novels. They’re all amazing IF you like his style, which is exuberant and passionate and unapologetically queer and very “head-space” with lots of ruminations by the main character. I will resist the urge to discourse on the historical antecedents of this sort of novel, but rest assured Hall does it on purpose.

What we end up with is a scorching POV of a man with serious mental illness and his star-crossed lover from Essex which is evidently the UK equivalent of the Jersey Shore. I told Hall himself that I hadn’t read a finer regional accent in prose since Irvine Welsh, and I now call everyone a ‘donut’ when they mess up but adorably. Ten million stars. It’s about to get reissued with (ahhh!!!!) bonus content and for the first time ever I am going to buy a book I already own.

His Lordship’s Secret by Samantha SoRelle

Born in poverty, ascended to wealth, Alfie hires his long lost friend Domenic to protect him from whomever is trying to kill him.  Events Ensue in a twisty and quite macabre Regency-era plot with interesting class commentary and solid period detail. I love a “dress you up” trope, which I didn’t expect to encounter but which aligned perfectly with our historical fashion-themed vacation. All in all, a nifty self-published novel in the growing canon of Queer Historical Romance

The Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish

Barely news (there’s a pun in there) to anyone who reads MM Contemporary Romance, but I am a decade behind thanks to an extended reading drought. Aaaaaaaanyway, I don’t typically like present tense in novels, but I grit my teeth and kept on with this one, because what else do you do on the plane? I was rewarded with good, gritty characters and a strong love story that hits a lot of comforting tropes without being too stereotypical. And the sex scenes are lit.

Ten Thousand Stitches by Olivia Atwater

An author who is finally getting the acclaim she deserves. Like her prior Regency fairy tale Half A Soul, this was a joy to read, with wonderful, complex female leads and a heart-breaking yet ultimately redeeming love story driven by genuine personal growth on everyone’s part. I adore her rendering of the realm of Faerie, 10/10 would visit but very cautiously. This story also aligned with our fashion-themed vacation, being mainly to do with magical embroidery e.g. the ten thousand stitches of the title.  Bravo Ms Atwater!

WHAT RUINED ME Episode 5: A copy of Fetish Times

closeup of a woman's back, tied with hemp shibari ropes

There was that time I was coming down after a semi-licit rave at a downtown ballet studio.  I’d only just met the woman whose apartment we were in, though she knew some of my friends. It must have been spring, for the room was full of sunlight.

The woman was a dominatrix. Messily beautiful, twice my age. I am quite sure that if she tried to fuck me I would have said yes. Instead I read the magazine Fetish Times.

It was 1994. The internet was barely a word. No smartphones, no cameras, no 3.5 million search results and nothing to Google it from (sorry Netscape, you did your best.) We still called it cyberpunk, for fuck’s sake.  Then adolescent me picked up one of western culture’s strangest artefacts and the bottom dropped out of the world. Thanks to the imprinting effects of psychedelics, there was no coming back.

I was appalled. I read it cover to cover. No one noticed. They talked about San Francisco in the 1980s, about tweakers on roller-skates and failed revolutions. I read about…stuff.

Why do we want it so weird? Who told me to ask my first lover to pour hot wax on me, the third time I ever had sex?  That was before I’d seen the magazine. He asked what I wanted and that’s what I wanted.  We were barely dating. I just went to his house to fuck. To smoke hash. To read his mind-bendingly seditious books and fantasise about changing the world.

Am I ready?

Are you?

Bach Door Shenanigans

A metal door in an alley decorated with uplifting graffiti including a rainbow, MLKJr and an avocado

In March of 2020 I started reading this book.

a paperback edition of the book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid  by Douglas R. Hofstadter
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas R. Hofstadter.
(Heck, try and say that five times fast.)

At 777 sizeable pages, it took what felt like all pandemic (ha hahahhhahha, but anyway) to finish.  A good eight or nine months at least, in which time I became absolutely convinced that what we call cognition is merely sophistication.

Stack enough layers of iterative analysis on top of one another and the system behaves as if it were intelligent.  That’s what our brains are.  The cerebral cortex is literally the icing on a cake whose foundation is cellular away/towards membrane awareness.  Maybe it’s my own of confirmation bias, but it made some damn sense. 

While reading this tome (if ever a book deserved the word) I also wrote some 350,000 words of fiction, most of which I’ve published. My own afflictions and ideas like the preceding have made it very easy to feel the characters are real people who exist independent of my imagination. This is obviously false. However…

Even though there isn’t a thinking mind, stack enough data in a single system, connect the points, allow for feedback, and one begins to observe something like intelligence.  Fictional characters do not have minds, but as they say, if it quacks like a duck…

Many writers find a strong character will “come alive” and present them with ideas they might not have come up with before the character was given form.  One “gets to know” the characters, even though it is the author who adds the information layer by layer, getting closer to the point where that concretion of one’s own thoughts begins to resemble something that thinks.

This is when characters can “take over” and tell the writer how to change their stories to suit. Who the fuck is doing this?  You, but also The-You-That-Is-Not-You.  It’s the old witnessing-the-witness epiphenomenon.  Which part of you is aware of your awareness?  This has yet to be satisfactorily determined by science, and may be, like the sight of the back of one’s own head, not possible for us to fully know.

A fictional character certainly does not have consciousness as we know it.  It is, in a sense, an AI script being run by the computer of your brain.  However this makes it able to manifest behaviour which seems so much like consciousness that we pragmatically can treat it as such.

Let your characters tell you what to do.  It’s just you telling yourself, but these backdoor shenanigans are where the interesting things happen.

WHAT RUINED ME Episode 3: ‘The Dinosaurs’ by William Stout

Before Chuck Tingle…

Before the bodice rippers…

There were these two dinosaurs.

No one means for their child to get their first lesson about the birds and the bees from an artful illustration of two Parasaurolophods in rut. It really is a very pretty picture, and the text casts animal behaviour in such a romantic light, as “(t)he pulse of their dark dissonance throbs in the air like a heartbeat.”

But it’s still two dinosaurs fucking.

The Dinosaurs is a spectacular book, a somewhat fanciful but wholly believable dive into the behaviour of this class of extinct animals: the births, lives, and deaths of dinosaurs. Service writes with the meticulously descriptive voice of an Attenborough documentary, and Stout’s art fairly leaps off the page, employing a wealth of media to show dinosaurs as they may have lived.

And on one page, dinosaurs fuck.

Do animals fuck? Or do we reserve that word for only one species i.e. ours?  It’s said that dolphins are the only species besides ours that has sex solely for pleasure, and not as a seasonally triggered biological imperative. Perhaps Mr. Service went overboard in attributing such tenderness to mating dinosaurs, but come on…those lizards are in love.

WHAT RUINED ME Episode 1: ‘Orlando’ by Virginia Woolf

I was perhaps nine when I read Orlando. My mother was a literature major, and our house was chockers with Penguin Classics with their orange and black and pale green spines. I’m confident that in letting me read whatever books I liked, she did not intend to implant in me the idea that one could just…become another gender.

Becoming ‘other’ was already a given in my mythology. Animals become heroes.  Ordinary children become mighty kings and queens. Wardrobes become portals, and the very best parties turn into treasure hunts.  As long as you know where your towel is, the rest will work itself out, more or less. I was thus very comfortable with the idea of waking up one day as someone else and it all being perfectly manageable and not at all like hell (Kafka aside).

The matter-of-factness in Orlando is one of its strengths. Though the book is about gender, it is not really about trans identity, which at the time of its writing was certainly extant but not under such terms as we know it today. Orlando doesn’t consciously surrender their gender. It is instead taken away by unspecified means, which are beside the point as Orlando goes on to navigate their new gender while retaining the perceptual filters of their first.

Can I confess to remembering very little otherwise? Adult attempts at reading Woolf have been troublesome. Her style of writing is an effort to read, and I am generally disinterested in domestic dramas, so there go most of her plots. This book is however iconoclastic, and is up there with Voltaire’s Candide and Orwell’s Animal Farm as a literary classic worth trying to get people to read when they’re far too young.

Can’t be arsed reading? There’s a film…

Verdict: Did Not Finish

photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Carrying on from the last post, here’s a short list of reasons I haven’t finished books recently.

An aristocrat so incompetent she can’t cut a piece of fruit (this seemed false, as she’d have had knife skills for eating complicated state dinners) and a master thief who habitually targets mansions of the rich, but didn’t know about the servants’ passages behind the walls. And was told about it by the same girl who can’t cut fruit.

The FMC “humorously” tricking the MMC into humiliating himself in public, knowing that’s his worst nightmare.  Relationship red flag, yo.

The Dead Hooker trope, in which the MMC’s heroic motivation is seeing his mother and other sex workers get violently assaulted. I’m not saying this isn’t motivating, but did you need to make me imagine a dozen women getting raped just so I’ll believe this guy’s do-good motivation?  Growing up in a London brothel in the 1860s would have been motivation enough, thanks.

Same book: anachronistic use of the word ‘pussy.’  Kids, the Internet is RIGHT THERE.  Google that shit.  I know I do.

When the characters keep noticing how hot the other person is, even while in mortal peril or the midst of the worst argument ever. This is everywhere and I hate it.

Christ, I’m a snob.

“I want you to throw me against the wall and make me regret all my life choices. Now would be fine.”

What makes me finish a book? In the main, intelligent characters with genuine agency, and if there’s sex, consent is explicitly stated in the text. Even the enemies-to-lovers, ass-slapping, fight-while-we-fuck stories need to have consent baked into the plot.

Actively agreeing to ridiculous sex is damn sexy. “I want you to throw me against the wall and make me regret all my life choices. Now would be fine.” Having had sex I regret, that I didn’t entirely plan on having, I know what I prefer.