The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 October 2011

The Fiction class : a book review

Arabella Hicks is named for the heroine of a Georgette Heyer novel, her mother’s favourite book. She has been working on a novel for the last seven years but so far has never published any of her work, so she proofreads annual reports to make ends meet... and teaches a weekly fiction class.

I enjoyed – and took comfort from – the insight into a writer’s life.  I thought I was undisciplined and terribly lax in my daily writing routine until I read this passage, which reassured me that I'm right on track:
“On Thursday morning, Arabella wakes up and goes directly to her computer. This is her regular routine: Sit down at the computer, stare at her bookshelves, look at the computer screen, play three rounds of Spider Solitaire, stare out the window at the Hudson River, open up the document she is working on, read the last chapter she wrote, and change some of the punctuation. Pick one of the books on her bookshelf, look at the ending of it, and try to figure out why that ending works. Look at the framed picture of her mother that she keeps on her desk, and eight-by-ten glossy from an old church directory. Play Spider Solitaire. Delete the changes she just made to the punctuation. Stare bleakly at the last chapter of her novel.”
The story begins with the very first class of a new session, allowing the reader to get to know the students as Arabella does.  We also get to participate in her classes along with the students, learning about character, description, point of view, voice, theme, dialogue, and so on. Each chapter about the class ends with a writing assignment. Many favourite books and authors make an appearance, which brings great delight to this old librarian's heart.

I would have read the book for these mini writing tutorials alone, but Susan Breen has crafted a story compelling – though simple – enough to drive the reader forward between each Wednesday night in the classroom.  Over the 10 weeks of the course we get to know Arabella’s diverse students, among them: the suave older gentleman who doesn’t do his homework, a hopeful but as yet undiscovered great American novelist, the pretty collegiate with a secret, the letch with a one-track mind, and a struggling housewife.

After each class, Arabella visits her mother in a nursing home and there the plot, it thickens.  Mothers and daughters seldom have straightforward relationships, and these two are no exception. Their family history is complex, with circumstances very different from my own experience, which gave me a lot to think about.

Though the story itself is simple, its pace and authenticity made for a brisk read. I borrowed this book from the wonderful Sohoe Public Library, but I hope to find my own copy because I know I’ll want to reread it often.  I’m looking forward to more stories like this from Susan Breen.

~ The Fiction Class by Susan Breen.  New York: Plume, 2008

PS - if you haven't given Georgette Heyer a try, do yourself a favour and track down one of her books right away.  'Arabella' is a good one to begin with.  Though Heyer wrote (mostly) romances, she was from an era before romances were all about heaving bosoms and olympic bed-play.  Her novels take place in Edwardian and Georgian England, and because they are full of well-researched period detail they're like history class, only fun.  She had a great talent for sparkling dialogue and wonderful humour.  What could possibly be better than that?

29 October 2011

Done and dusted

Well dear Reader, the deed has been done.  The Big Interview was conducted Friday morning, after a week of hair raising events (ha ha... hair raising!)  (For that to be funny, you have to read an earlier post about how I prepared for the interview) There seemed to be no end of distractions, from sick Peanuts, injured Peanuts, uncooperative household appliances, vehicles at near breakdown status, one of us lost in the maze of country roads, and electrical meltdown, to the utter failure of our wireless network, which resulted in a mad but hopeful dash to the helpful office supply store to have the notes for my 40 minute presentation printed in quadruplicate and in colour. Every day seemed to being a new foible of fate for us to grapple with, causing us to cast our eyes skyward and say to You Know Who, "There must be someone who can use this" - with me hoping that some of it would be put toward the Interview Which Loomed Large.  I was really struggling with what to do for the assigned presentation, and generally not looking forward to the interview process itself.  Does anybody really enjoy being grilled about themselves by perfect strangers who use the enticement of possible employment to get you to lay all your stuff bare?  Gak!

I think God did generously share some of the merit of that crazy week with me, because I felt not one twinge of the usual nervousness. I was able to be detached, and actually (unbelievably) enjoy the process. That's clear evidence redemptive suffering, or 'offering it up' really does work.  My thank to you out there who prayed for me on Friday.  May the blessing return to you a hundred fold!

PS.  I wore my hair straight (translation: application of a blow drier for half an hour, after judicious amounts of mousse; flat iron the morning of with hairspray.  Two small sections of the front were pulled back in bobby pins).  No sensible - or even trendy - librarian's updo.  I had visions of dropping pins all throughout the interview, hair falling in straggly bits, and them chasing me down the hallway after to give handfulls of pins back to me.  No thank you!

26 October 2011

Stronger : a musical review

A good album has one or all of the following qualities:

  1. A talented vocalist (perfect technique is not what we're going for here; we're talkin' soul-stirring singing from the toes... or at least from some connection to the song)
  2. Good writing - melodically and lyrically
  3. Enough energy to power a person through cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, sorting socks, attaching Batman's cape yet again
  4. Can't-help-but-belt-it-out-ness (being in  key doesn't matter, it's volume and enthusiasm that counts)
  5. A haunting/emotional/intriguing/addictive something or other that entices you to turn out the lights, put on the headphones, lay on the floor, and listen to it over and over again.

There have been entire albums throughout my musical career (as dedicated listener, not, sadly, as brilliant and successful performer) that met each of those five criteria: Def Leppard's Hysteria was played on average four times a day for an entire year (though more commercial than the albums that came before, this was the first of theirs I owned, and it rocked my world at the time.  I've since come to think that Pyromania is by far the better album); nearly every Depeche Mode release from Construction Time Again to Sounds of the Universe has become a soundtrack to my life; Sarah McLachlan's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy was belted out from behind the wheel of my car on many a long road trip; Blue Rodeo’s What is this love, and Dire Strait’s Brothers in arms were played endlessly while I absorbed every detail of melody and harmony through a very large pair of headphones... there are heaps more, of course, but you get the idea.  

Yesterday I came home with Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger, her fifth album since winning the first season of American Idol.  It almost isn’t fair to bring up the Idol business, because this girl can really sing (not all of the participants  - or even the winners can. Does anyone remember Lee DeWyze?  Not exactly memorable, poor fellow) Miss Kelly, however, has got the chops, the drive, and an interest in a variety music; she’s a natural talent.  Check out her AI ‘Stuff like that there’ and ‘I surrender all’ clips on Youtube; her performances are stunning considering how young and untutored she was at the time.

Stronger may or may not have staying power - I don’t know yet if I will be listening to it every day in a month’s time. Most of the songs are thoroughly pop flavoured, while some have overtones of country, including the duet with Jason Aldean, Don’t you wanna stay, which is a definite belter (I sound exactly like Kelly when I sing it... alone, in a confined space).  There are a few songs that stand out, including one about the mathematics of love (Einstein), another about loving the good and bad about a person even if it isn’t picture perfect (Dark side), a haunting plea for truth (Honestly) – this one might turn out to be my favourite of the 17 songs.

I’ve heard her cover Guns~n~Roses, Cheap Trick, and Aerosmith; she’s performed country songs with Reba; she’s tackled old style country spirituals (treat yourself to Up to the Mountain with Beck on Idol gives back); and she sang Ave Maria for the Pope. I hope that this broad range of musical styles will make it on to her albums in the future.

Kelly's Stronger is a fun album.  It definitely has “enough energy to power a person through cleaning bathrooms, mopping floors, sorting socks, attaching Batman's cape yet again,”  and if you’ve ever imagined yourself to be a superstar, wailing along with the divas, this disc is good for that too.

24 October 2011

Of preparation and buns

Friday morning, I will be in a conference room, being interviewed for a potential library job.  I have been given an assignment: to prepare a 40 minute presentation, and a 10 minute summary of the presentation with visual aids.

There is a lot of work ahead of me this week, but don't worry, dear reader.  I have begun with the most important thing, which is, of course,  figuring out how to wear my hair on the day. I have been test-driving variations of the librarian's do: the bun. If I apply myself diligently, I should have the matter settled and have the presentation ready by Friday.

What do you think: chignon or twist?

22 October 2011

How to have an awesome day

1.  Begin the day in a easygoing fashion.  Have a lie-in; be mellow.  When you think you should get up, fluff your pillows a little, adjust the covers, and snuggle in for five more minutes.

2. Have your favourite thing for breakfast, especially if it's cold pizza.  Never mind the omega-3 enriched anti-oxidant packed, fibre heavy bricks of dried grass in a bowl you so conscientiously consume Monday to Friday.  Bon appetit!

3.  Bake peanut butter cookies with two Peanuts aged three and five.

4.  Repot geraniums and basil to bring indoors over the winter months.  Ticking something practical off your to do list brings an enormous sense of well being.

5.  Take pictures of the Great Leaf Pile Games taking place in the back yard.

6.  Enjoy steps three through five to the accompanying soundtrack of Michael Buble.

7.  Read an engrossing mystery novel while simultaneously basking in the warmth of a wood fire.

8.  Have a family dance party with the music of Guns ~n~ Roses, Def Leppard, Michael Jackson, and Andy Gibb.

9. Realize there are still leaves in the trees and no snow on the ground.

10. Give thanks for 8 happy and healthy souls surviving another day.

17 October 2011

Au naturel

You know those women who have it all together?  They have the perfect handbag for every occasion, and wear actual outfits pulled from well-organized closets, instead of random separates that may or may not have mustard stains on them scrounged from the laundry basket full of clothes that you somehow never manage to put away. The put-together woman never wears yoga pants unless at an actual yoga class (which she conscientiously schedules in her planner for every Tuesday and Thursday morning at seven). Don’t you love her?

I used to have an acetate blouse.  Imagine: clothing made out of acetate.  Acetate is used to project things onto a wall or a screen by laying it over a very bright light.  The idea of being projected onto a screen is horrifying, and yet I wore a blouse made of acetate. Put-together women, I have found, wear natural fibres.  Hippy types do too, of course, but they tend to look like they last shopped in the mid-sixties, while our PTW shopped the Prada sale on the weekend.

Not long ago I found myself at a function which called for care being taken with wardrobe selection. I had left home several days before, knowing there was a chance I would be at that function, but as there were other activities on my agenda, there was little space in my luggage for a ‘what if’  so I tossed in my go-to outfit of black slacks and top with an assortment of bling to ramp up the impact.

I was feeling pretty good about myself, sitting there in my seat (no matter what I’m actually wearing, I always picture myself in an impeccable Chanel suit with an elegant strand of pearls.... and maybe a pillbox hat depending on the occasion)  when a friend joined me.  She was one of those – a PTW. Ladies, I’m sure you all have a friend like that, don’t you?  She looks like a grown up in her wool suit and shiny high heeled boots. Her clothes have names like Donna, Calvin, Christian, Valentino. Mine have names like Joe. I felt like I was playing dress-up with clothes rifled from the tickle-trunk, but my closet was six hours away so there was no time to run home and change.  I had to brave it out.

Not realizing (though, really, I should have expected it) my top was stuck to the back of the wooden seat, I leaned forward to greet her.  Doing so caused the fabric to pull away from the seat with a very loud rrriiipppp rather like the sound of a large sheet of paper being slowly torn in two.  It echoed in the vast space and I could feel every eye on me – the men in confusion and the women in knowing sympathy.  I had given myself away, the cat was out of the bag. That horrible noise proclaimed for all to hear I was wearing synthetic. 

I should have gone au naturel – fabric-wise that is. 

13 October 2011

Of legs and border guards

After 25 hours of driving over the past few days, it sure feels good to be home again and stationary - though the stationary thing might be a figment of my imagination since my body feels like it is still in motion. 

The last seven and a half hour stretch was particularly rough as it took place at night in the rain.  Something in the way my eyes work turns wet road surface into fun house mirror - moody, indistinct, and misleading. My body was tense with the effort to hold the steering wheel tight, braced to brake or swerve at any moment. I didn't realize how tense I was until I finally reached my exit and tried to take my foot off the gas in order to slow for the curve.  I barely persuaded my leg to respond.  I had brief visions of having to continue on and on and on along the highway until I finally reached a barrier - likely the border crossing where burly US officials would blow out my tires, circle my car with guns drawn and yelling into walkie talkies for backup.

Imagine the headlines the next day:  Canadian female held at US border crossing for failure to stop.  Sources say driver blames road construction as surface was too dark in the rain. Doctor consulted for this article denies colour of road material has any impact on ability of drivers to use legs in order to brake. Meanwhile, in true Canadian fashion, the driver in question is demanding the government take action. We have consulted a government official who claims a committee will be struck to discuss conducting a study.

01 October 2011

Prayer buddy reveal

The summer edition of the great prayer buddy project has come to an end.  It is a great privilege to carry one person and their intentions in prayer over a period of time. I have been spending time at  getting to know a little about C.C.  and her life.

I will continue to pray for you, and your family, C.C.  It was a pleasure to spend time with you over these summer months.

My thanks to JoAnna at  who took me on as her prayer project. It's a pleasure to have you here at the Lighthouse, JoAnna.

Isn't it good to be part of one big family?