Monday, May 30, 2011

Bookmobiles: on the road, off the road

Not in Ottawa ... although sometimes we are off the road for mechanical issues.

I meant on/off in a more permanent sense. You may not have been following the recent bookmobile-related news in Halifax and Guelph (but I have!)

Halifax announced they were cancelling their bookmobile, then announced a day later that they were re-instating it (and weeks later, someone still thinks it should be pulled off the road for good).

Meanwhile, a Guelph councillor put forward a motion to cancel Bookmobile service; the motion was defeated by a close margin. Councillors later endorsed another motion from a different councillor to fund the service for 6 months while undertaking a review of the service. An interesting letter to the editor in the local Guelph newspaper later questioned the use of "cost effectiveness" as a measure of the bookmobile's "success" (making some valid points; other criteria must be considered, too... We rely far too heavily on circulation statistics overall in libraries, although, at the end of the day, people coming in the door are certainly crucial!)

We've had a few inquires about our service, and, at the moment, our service will stay. Barb recently spoke about this to the Sun.

Interesting times! But then, they were never dull: check out the variety of vehicles we have used over the years here.

Alex: 1; Bone bruise: 0!

I survived my second half-marathon!

I came in at 2:10:26, four minutes faster than last year, despite my struggles with that bone bruise on my knee.

I am really pleased!

It was humid, and my face felt really hot for the first 10K, but the rain that started along the Ottawa River Parkway helped cool everyone down. It was still so humid and foggy, though, that I could see the steam rising off the runners beside me, and crossing the Alexandra Bridge, the top of the Peace Tower was completely obscured.

Lots of people out cheering, which really does make a difference to those of us running. I always find it especially amazing that people take the time to read your name on your bib and shout out "Go, Alexandra!"

I ran the last 2K with one of my students, which was a lot of fun. The husband, of course, followed me around taking pictures and cheering me on, and is credited with the photo above, not to mention training with me for the past few months. He's way faster than me; it keeps me pushing myself. If you ever see us along the canal, you'll be able to tell it's us because he circles back in a loop for me when I'm slow.

He also helped me hobble home (my hip flexors were killing me), let me wear his jacket on top of mine, and made me scrambled eggs. I then collapsed with a children's book for the afternoon, but soon found I was too tired even to concentrate on that.

Thank you all for your support by donating to Medic to Medic; I will continue to accept donations for one more month. It means a lot to me, personally, to know that I have such amazing friends and colleagues (not that I didn't know already).

I think I'll take a few days off running, 'k?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Montreal's sacred stacks

This article was originally written in early 2009 but never published.

As history professor Gary Evans remarks at the beginning of his book, Landmark of learning: a chronicle of the Dawson College building and site, Montreal has always had a tradition of love of, and dedication to, education. This commitment was largely established by religious orders in the New World during the early days of European exploration. Montreal’s first school, established in 1658, was housed in a converted stable on the site of the current Montreal City Hall, and was formally organized from some classes taught by a young Roman Catholic nun named Marguerite Bourgeoys. The school was operated by the nuns of Marguerite Bourgeoys’ religious order, which, within a year, became known as the Congrégation de Notre Dame (CND). Over the centuries, the commitment of the CND’s sisters to education expanded, and includes, in the present day, a private, pre-university college (termed CEGEP in Quebec) known as Marianopolis College.

Marianopolis is nestled on a hill in Westmount, on the island of Montreal, and holds classes for its 1800 students in the former Mother House of the Congrégation de Notre Dame. On the other side of Westmount, also located in a former CND Mother House and co-existing peacefully with its neighbour to the north, is Dawson College, the largest public CEGEP in the province serving over 10,000 students. In the interests of full disclosure, and for those of you who don't know this, I am a Marianopolis alumnus. My two years there, living with two CND nuns, Sister Morrissey and Sister Boisvert (and my beloved rezlings!), and attending the Liberal Arts program, are among the happiest and most creatively rich years of my life (so far).

More interestingly, on either edge of the Montreal Island city of Westmount, a unique situation now exists: two college libraries, at Marianopolis and Dawson Colleges, are now housed in former CND chapels.

"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library," Jorge Luis Borges mused in his "Poem of the gifts." Many certainly would consider a library a kind of earthly paradise: a place of learning, a home for all transcribed knowledge, an eternal, sacred space for the wisdom of all ages. Nancy Kalikow Maxwell observed much the same thing in her May 2006 article for American Libraries, underlining that "libraries evoke a feeling of goodness, power, and lasting importance that resembles that experienced in an old-fashioned church. An ineffable force seems present within the walls." Libraries "fulfill purposes that no amount of automation will ever accomplish. Libraries control the chaos of information, bestow immortality, transmit culture through stories, promote community, and provide secular, sacred space. In filling these eternal roles, librarians hold a sacred profession. Though we work in a secular setting, librarianship is a spiritual vocation."

In the cases of the Marianopolis and Dawson College libraries, these statements are perhaps more true than ever.

There is certainly an "ineffable force" present within the walls of the Marianopolis College Library, at left. The current site of this English-language college, at 4873 Westmount Ave., was built in 1926 to house the Collège Marguerite-Bourgeoys/Marguerite Bourgeoys College. Former Coordinator of Library Services at Marianopolis, Judith Stonehewer, explains that the chapel where the library is now located was built in 1950—ironically, as a library for the students of the then-French side of the College. In 1985, Stonehewer adds, the building became the Mother House for the sisters of the CND, and the library was converted into a chapel for them (the former altar is where you can see periodicals in the above image). The space above the circulation desk, which is currently a study loft for students, then housed one of the famed Casavant organs, Stonehewer reports, and "the lofts above the former altar area were rooms that the sisters used for tending their plants."

In August 2007, Marianopolis College moved into the CND Mother House in upper Westmount, and the library moved into the chapel space. Extensive preparations were needed to accommodate the collections in this new space. Current Coordinator of Library Services, Amy MacLean, led a massive weeding project in 2006, involving four student employees as well as library staff. The library is now settled into its new space, which includes the chapel (housing circulation, reference, and periodicals, with the walls lined by study carrels), the lofts, and the floor below the chapel where many of the library's print collections are situated. On the main floor, in the chapel, casement windows let light stream into the space, and long rows of low periodical and reference stacks allow visitors' eyes to roam far down what was once the chapel's nave up to the altar. On either side of the altar are small study nooks, closed off from the altar by decorated iron gates. Gleaming marble stairs lead students from the main chapel floor downstairs into row upon row of stacks, each framing a narrow window looking out onto the College grounds and an interior courtyard.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the Westmount hill, Dawson College's majestic chapel is still "the centre point of the interior" of the college complex, as described by Gary Evans in Landmark of learning, and as was intended when it was completed in 1908. The chapel, where the mortal remains of Marguerite Bourgeoys once lay, was also home to another magnificent Casavant organ (at right). In 1982, Dawson College bid to purchase the complex from the sisters of the CND, whose population was dwindling. Extensive renovations and repairs were planned, complicated by the historic nature of the building. A discussion soon ensued regarding what new role the chapel could play in the College. As Evans pondered, should it be "a theatre, a cafeteria, a student meeting place, or a library?" Until then, the College library had collections located at three different Dawson campuses. Once it was determined that the chapel would house the College library, a large moving project was undertaken, which required the integration of three different call number ranges! When I met with Carolyn Gilmore, the library's coordinator, she showed me pictures of the various boxes, labelled according to the originating campus and the row number, as well as her many pages of notes regarding each section of the new library. The movers, and the library staff of 26, moved and unpacked the boxes in the new library, and shelved the materials (integrating the three collections) during a heat wave in August 1988.

There were, of course, several "quirks" to the Dawson chapel space. Numerous alterations had to be made to ensure that the chapel complied with the fire codes, and a staircase was built linking the main floor with the mezzanine. One set of stacks on the 6th floor ended up being too tall for the new ceiling that had been lowered 6 inches, and had to be cut down to fit. The altar rail had to be cut, and was apparently quite the puzzle to put back together. On the eve of Dawson's official opening, Gilmore realized that, with no security system or locks for the 13 doors leading into and out of the library on both floors, the library couldn’t open its doors! The college opened as scheduled, but it was a month before the Director General was able to station security guards at each door until proper locks could be installed.

Less than a year after opening, a pipe that was accidentally not closed when the engineers started up the air-conditioning system in the spring leaked, causing a flood that damaged the library’s holdings (the pipe was located above the library’s reference collection) and left Gilmore wading in ankle-deep water. Unfazed, she recalled an article she had seen regarding a flood at one of the Dalhousie University libraries, and she contacted a librarian there who explained the process to follow to save as many books as possible. She contacted and engaged a company in Montreal that freeze-dried damaged library books. Gilmore remembers that the workers “jammed (the damaged books) into the study carrels” and ran de-humidifiers for nearly a week. Luckily some duplicate copies of the damaged books that were located at other campuses could also be called in to replace unsalvageable items.

Despite this rocky beginning, the Dawson library is now a peaceful sanctuary within the college. With the exception of two OPACs, the computers are mainly housed one floor above the chapel, on the 6th floor (originally the infirmary). The space feels muted, airy and full, again, of that "ineffable force." Seven works of art by Quebec artists grace the spaces on the walls in the chapel where religious works of art once hung. Since Gilmore was informed by a sound engineer that there is a 7-second echo in the chapel, there is no metal (except for chair legs) in the chapel space. Study carrels were custom-made from wood, with extra sound panels added to muffle any noise. There are additional sound panels (in blue, in keeping with the original mock-up for the chapel discovered during renovations - they can be seen in the photo at left) on the lower walls of the chapel, as well as extra thick under carpeting. I asked Gilmore whether any of the sisters have re-visited the space since its transformation, and what they thought of it. She told me that groups of CND nuns re-visit the College every autumn, and they love that it is once again an educational institution.

In some ways, the story of Marguerite Bourgeoys’s attempts to educate the children of the New World has come full circle. Two buildings that once housed the religious order she founded are now significant educational institutions, and one of these—Marianopolis—is still directed by a member of her order. Librarians continue to support the educational goals of those 17th century nuns who fulfilled their own vocations in spaces designed for a different, but not so different, purpose.


Evans, Gary. Landmark of learning: a chronicle of the Dawson College building and site. Westmount, Quebec: Dawson College, 1992.

Gilmore, Carolyn. Interview with Alexandra Yarrow. 16 February 2009.

Lanthier, Helen. "A page from our history." Alma Matters Fall/Winter 2007: 12.

MacLean, Amy. "News from the Library." Alma Matters Fall/Winter 2006: 1.

Maxwell, Nancy Kalikow. "Sacred Stacks." American Libraries 3.5 (May 2006): 36-37.

"Montreal's first school celebrates 350 years." Westmount Examiner. 24 October 2008. 18 February 2009.

Stonehewer, Judith. "RE: Marianopolis library history." E-mail to Alexandra Yarrow. 17 February 2009.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Project Bookmark plaque in Ottawa

I almost forgot to post these pics I took of Ottawa's first (one hopes, of many!) Project Bookmark plaque. It is located on the north-east side of Bronson Bridge, or more accurately, on the grassy knoll between the bridge and the off-ramp. I snapped these pics on a recent run down to Dow's Lake.

Here is a shot of both the French and English plaques (hadn't thought about the bilingual nature of our plaques here until I saw them!)...

And here's a mostly legible (click to make it bigger) close up of the English one:

Now, seriously, not to be a jerk, and I know Garbo Laughs is set in Ottawa South, but it struck me as a bit funny that the quote is about Laurier Bridge, when the plaque is located near Bronson Bridge. Potentially confusing for the literary tourist!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Voices from the past, at OPL

I finally finished the epic office purge of 2011 (did you know that was happening? see photographic evidence of one of the two offices, pre- and post-purge).

I spent some time yesterday reading through old Bookmobile reports, dating back to the 1960s. There were many gems, including stories about inclement weather, a parade of staff changes, and a hilarious incident report from 1976 involving a woman angrily declaring, "I don't want any more of your books!"Ah, some things never change.

I found this quote from the 1966 annual report especially evocative of the times, and the final words are quite lovely, although the sentiment about the youth is pretty deplorable! Plus ça change....

"So now, armed and equipped as we are, we hope we will acquit ourselves well in the Mobile Service in 1967 - our Centennial Year, remembering we are an integral part, however small, of service to Canada and Canadians. Having in mind especially the young people of this country and their present disinterest and "nothing to do" problem, I should like to quote from the Globe and Mail, one of R. J. Needham's quotes - "Youth centres won't solve the "nothing to do" problem. People whose heads are furnished are never stuck for something to do; people whose heads are empty wouldn't know what to do with whatever was given them. There is only one way I know to fill heads and that is with books." This is our fuction and our privilege."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Medic to Medic fact of the day 6

In early 2010, Medic to Medic was able to purchase laptops for several students. Here, from the April 2010 Medic to Medic newsletter, are the words of Lyson Gwesel, a student who received a laptop through the project: “You may underestimate how these provisions have impacted upon my life here at school, but let me tell you that Medic to Medic has really changed my life. What interests me most is the realization that there is somebody thousands of kilometers away who cares about what I am doing here in Malawi and that alone is a great force behind me that keeps me working harder and harder.”

Read about other Medic to Medic sponsored medical students and doctors.

Donate to Medic to Medic in support of my half-marathon run on May 29, 2011 here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Captives with Mellissa Fung and James Loney @ The Ottawa International Writers Festival

I finally dragged my sorry behind out to a Writers Fest event last night; I was terribly sad to miss much of this spring's programme (bad timing with new job, training, and generalised exhaustion).

The Citizen's Kate Heartfield moderated readings by and discussion with Mellissa Fung (CBC reporter kidnapped in Afghanistan, author of Under an Afghan Sky) and James Loney (peace activist, writer and member of Christian Peacemaker Teams kidnapped in Iraq, author of Captivity). The readings were gripping, and the discussion was really interesting. I was saying to The Husband that it was nice to have two different perspectives on some of the issues that came up relating to Canada's role in combat and peacekeeping in both countries.

Here are some quotes I really enjoyed:
  • James, speaking about working on his memoir, Captivity: "It felt like every day I was getting up to go to work at the kidnapping."
  • Mellissa, speaking about religion versus education: "War is not so much about knowledge as ideology."
  • James, speaking about the Canadian government's role in Afghanistan and the importance of peacekeeping efforts: "Taking those F-35 planes and using them for something else!"
  • Mellissa, speaking abouther evening rituals: She found herself and her captor "praying to different gods on opposite sides of the room." She said she still wasn't sure how to reconcile that.
  • James, speaking about Canada's combat role: "We cannot build democratic societies through the barrel of a gun. We need to move away from this and work together so that soldiers don't have to do what they do."
  • Mellissa, speaking about her assaut, recovery, and return to Canada: "I'm here; I'm OK. It's something that is happening every day to women who don't have the freedoms I do."
James, also, especially talked about his struggle with the paradox of his being in Iraq "for peace and being rescued through violence." While his time in captivity confirmed his belief in non-violence, he was rescued by combat soldiers, and owes his life to them. Speaking briefly about the sacrifice that his American co-captive, Tom Fox, made (Fox was killed two weeks prior to James' release), James said simply, "I wasn't asked to do that."

Kate also encouraged an interesting discussion about two kinds of faith: the spiritual beliefs that got Mellissa and James through their captivity, and the faith in their convictions that were the reasons they were in Afghanistan and Iraq in the first place.

On a complete side note, my derrière was utterly, completely numb after sitting on a pew for 2 hours straight. Guess I have lost my talent for that.

Also, I am sort of embarrassed to say that I think it's totally adorable that Mellissa Fung and Paul Workman are a couple.

Medic to Medic fact of the day 5

A donation of ₤3 gets a pen torch for a student.

A donation of ₤30 covers stationary costs for a student.

A donation of ₤300 gets a laptop for a student.

A donation of ₤500 sponsors a doctor through medical school.

Donate to Medic to Medic in support of my half-marathon run on May 29, 2011 here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Medic to Medic fact of the day 4

Malawi is often know as 'the warm heart of Africa' because of the friendly nature of its citizens.

Malawi has a population of around 15 million, and average life expectancy is 53.8 years. Gross national income per capita is $780.

The College of Medicine, whose students are supported by Medic to Medic scholarships, was established in 1991 as part of the University of Malawi. It "offers degrees in medicine, pharmacy, medical laboratory technology, and a master’s programme in public health. From just a handful of students in the beginning, the College now enrols 60 medical students per year and has produced over 250 qualified doctors."

Donate to Medic to Medic in support of my half-marathon run on May 29, 2011 here.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Husband's reading list

My husband has graciously allowed me to post, for a little variety, his reading list (instead of mine). I was especially drawn to it this week because it's colourful (and he has really amassed quite the tower). This includes some works currently being read, some already read, and many to-reads.

Boys and their non-fiction. Sigh. Although I did convince him to read Little Bee last year, and he is a diehard Rumpole fan.

For those without 20/2o vision, the titles are below.

From the top:
  • Freedom: a collection of short fiction celebrating the universal declaration of human rights
  • The boy in the moon by Ian Brown
  • Kristallnacht by Martin Gilbert
  • The drug trial: Nancy Olivieri and the science scandal that rocked The Hospital for Sick Children by Miriam Shuchman
  • The geography of hope: a tour of the world we need by Chris Turner (Dewey Divas pick)
  • Science and religion, 1450-1900 by Richard Olson
  • An imperfect offering by James Orbinski
  • The art and politics of science by Harold Varmus
  • Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens
  • The moral landcape by Sam Harris
  • The best American essays 2010, edited by Hitchens
  • The book of general ignorance by John Lloyd and John Michinson
  • Opening gambits: essays on art and philosophy by Mark Kingwell
  • Quantum leaps: 100 scientists who changed the world by Jon Balchin
  • Philosophy: 100 essential thinkers by Philip Stokes
  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (I am so stealing this from him)
  • The Oxford book of modern science writing, edited by Richard Dawkins
  • Thomas Paine's Rights of man by Christopher Hitchens
  • Luka and the fire of life by Salman Rushdie (ARC - thanks again, Divas!)
  • Nomad by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • The emperor of all maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Earth: the book by John Stewart

Medic to Medic fact of the day 3

Medic to Medic's three aims (source):

To support trainee healthcare workers "throughout their education, so that they are at less risk of dropping out of their course and can concentrate on their studies. We want to add to the absolute numbers of healthcare workers in training, in order that there are more graduates in countries with critical shortages."

To improve equity and access by increasing "the numbers of doctors working in rural areas, so that everyone has equal access to healthcare. We want to increase the number of women training as health workers, in order that more women have entry to better paid, stable employment."

To raise awareness "through mentorship, teaching and exchange programmes, [...] of the different conditions facing colleagues worldwide and an appreciation of the global health community."

Donate to Medic to Medic in support of my half-marathon run on May 29, 2011 here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Volunteers: Hearts full of grace @ OPL

On Friday, I attended two volunteer appreciation teas at OPL, first at Beaverbrook Branch, and then at Hazeldean.

I would have been ashamed to tell you that I keep a running list (in Excel, natch) of OPL locations I have visited, had I not discovered that several of my colleagues also aspire to visit all the locations (one even has a plan to do it all on one day - tip: can only be achieved on a Thursday). As of Friday noon, I was at 25 out of 34 (if you count 33 branches + 1 Bookmobile, except there are 2 Bookmobiles, technically, and yes, I've been on both...).

I had been to Hazeldean before, but I had only ever been in Beaverbrook's parking lot (don't ask!) Above, you can see the public computer area at the branch, looking out to a patch of grass that some Beaverbrook Branch volunteers, working with the library settlement worker, are turning into a garden (hard at work in the picture, even! On the day of their own celebratory tea!). Below are some other photos, first of Beaverbrook's teen zone (designed by teens from Earl of March Secondary School), and then of the lcoal history room, the Kanata Room. I was very lucky to receive a tour of Beaverbrook from my colleague and fellow readers' advisory expert, Pat, and a tour of the Kanata Room (including framed sheet music, which you can sort of see in the dead centre of my -sadly- blurry pic) from the volunteer who lovingly maintains, arranges and promotes the collections therein. In addition to gardening and local history, volunteers at Beaverbrook sort book donations, do minor book repairs, run book sales at the branch (for which there are line-ups outside the doors!), and animate book chat groups. A mix of dedicated volunteers (some having given more than 30 years' service!) and newcomers to Canada mixed with local high school students (who also volunteer), staff and managers at the Beavrbook tea; my speech was translated into Chinese (hey, try translating "Acting Coordinator of Diversity and Accessibility! No small feat!).

At Hazeldean, I was introduced to many more passionate volunteers, including some who work with the Friends of the Library. I was also treated to a very funny reading of Lane Smith's It's a Book, in celebration of the day's events, and I was served with real teacups. It was such a pleasure to meet some of the people who so kindly give of their time for the library (and it's always a bonus to spend some time with colleagues who I don't often see, including the lovely Pat, who picked me up at the bus stop and gave me a tour of Beaverbrook, the amazing Karen, fellow coordinator, with whom I always have thought-provoking conversations about management, Annie, storyteller extraordinaire, and Linda, who drove me from Point A to Point B and then back to Point C - Main Library!)

Below are some excerpts from my speech.

Almost half of the Canadian population volunteers, and in 2007 alone, volunteers contributed 2.1 billion hours of their time to organisations around the country (source). Here at OPL, we have about 350 volunteers at a variety of branches.

You donate your time, your wealth of experience and knowledge, and sometimes a little muscle, to the library, and it’s a contribution that I know is greatly appreciated. Volunteers enhance our services and inject fresh energy into the library. You are relied upon for your friendly faces, your willingness to pitch in, and, in many cases, your ongoing years of involvement in the life of our library communities. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.... You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace [and a] soul generated by love.”

There is a saying in volunteer circles that “a few contribute the most” – so, for instance, the top 25% of volunteers contributed 78% of all volunteer hours in 2007 (source). That’s a simply exceptional achievement! Beyond numbers, you may not think of some of the other ways in which you positively influence your communities as volunteers: for instance, those who have seen a parent or someone they admire perform volunteer work in the community are more likely than other Canadians to volunteer (source). I was, and still am, a volunteer in part because I watched my grandfather enjoy contributing almost 30 years of volunteer service, from practically the day he retired until weeks before his death. Volunteering is intensely personal: the contribution of one outstanding volunteer can change an organisation, and, as I am sure you know, the volunteer.

Thank you, on behalf of OPL, for giving a part of yourselves to the library.

Medic to Medic fact of the day 2

There is a worldwide shortage of healthcare workers, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa bears 24% of the global disease burden, but has only 3% of the world’s health workforce (source).

In Malawi, there were only 266 doctors working in the public sector 2004. This works out to less than 2 doctors per 100 000 people (source).

Donate to Medic to Medic in support of my half-marathon run on May 29, 2011 here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Clip from We need to talk about Kevin movie


We Need to Talk About Kevin clip 3 by Flixgr

Canadian comics and graphica award

The 7th Doug Wright Awards (for Canadian comics and graphic novels) were recently given out in Toronto. Congratulations to Pascal Girard, who won Best Book for Bigfoot!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Medic to Medic fact of the day 1

Medic to Medic was founded in 2007 by Kate Mandeville.

Kate was born in Malawi, where her father was working as an engineer at the time. When Kate visited the village, and the mission hospital where she was born, as an adult, she was struck by the scarcity of doctors.

Kate also visited Malawi's one national medical school, where she met with the Dean of Students, who related how "many students spent their spare time trying to find extra funding rather than focusing on their studies. Some students were dropping out of the course, even in their final years, due to lack of finances."

Donate to Medic to Medic in support of my half-marathon run on May 29, 2011 here.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Half-marathon update

I haven't been talking too much about training so far, in part because I have been following my physiotherapist's advice to under-train, due to January's knee injury (the clearest diagnosis I have is that I received a bone bruise.)

I've been averaging about 22ish kms a week, when last year at this time I was running double that. I'm a bit nervous about the half-marathon, but I think overall it was a good decision not to over-train on a still-swollen knee. Yesterday, I ran about 13k, down to Bronson Bridge and back (I cursed the fact that I had not brought my camera, because the spring flowers were amazing, and I passed Ottawa's only Project Bookmark marker!)

In the coming weeks leading up to the half-marathon, I will be posting some fun facts about Medic to Medic, the U.K.-based charity for which I am raising money with my run. I would encourage you to donate online if you can; Medic to Medic does some amazing work supporting trainee doctors in the third world.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fun read

I must recommend The Top 100 Unusual Things To See In Ontario, if only for lines like this:

"The dune that ate a town: Although it didn't exactly 'eat' a town, a giant wall of sand did move across Prince Edward County between 1890 and 1920 to consume a sizeable settlement before finally being halted. And it was all due to beer."

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

I can't read short stories. I just finished a book of short stories.

I haven't forgotten you, dear readers! I am just running around in circles: literally. Most of this blog post was (oh, brave new world!) written on my iPhone, with a side order of a study carrel at Algonquin's library. Monday, I was at Bookmobile then Main Library, Tuesday, I was at Bookmobile, Nepean Centrepointe Branch (and quick stop at Algonquin College), and then Rideau Branch (briefly). Today, Bookmobile, Main Library, and now Algonquin again for OALT's opening reception. This learning curve on the new job is one wild ride these days, let me tell you. I am tired and hungry all the time, from getting up earlier, absorbing information, and dealing with new challenges. On the bright side, spring has sprung, as you can see from one of the trees in my front yard.

So, into this scattered existence, enter the short story.

Short stories and I have just never really been friends. It's not that I hate them (ok, I sort of do), it's not that I am too simple-minded to appreciate them (although sometimes I fear that may be the case), it's more a combination of fear and dissatisfaction.

I know, you're thinking how could I be afraid of a short story?

Aside from Lives of Girls and Women, and some Atwood, I have to say I somewhat avoided the short story for years. Here's the thing, I think: I throw myself into a world, and I have always found the short story somewhat jarring because just when I get myself settled, just when I get my loyalties sorted out and immerse myself in the narrative, it's over. I appreciate the art form, but my heart just can't take being wrenched away from the characters so quickly. Alternatively, I feel so alienated from the story that I never settle in properly.

Then, a few years ago, a book of short stories pushed me over the edge into a long-term bout of insomnia, during the brief period I lived alone in a 14th floor, 800 sq. ft. apartment looking out over McGill campus. The book in question was The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, lent to me by my library school friend, Mary. Within the two previous years, I had ended a long-term relationship with someone who was of a different religion, just days before 9/11, and finished my Honours thesis about connections across class, race, and other social boundaries. The nights alone in a new place, figuring out what I was going to do with my life, entering a new relationship, were coloured by Lahiri's brilliant, but devastating, stories about missed connections, couples who say the same thing but don't understand one another, people reaching across boundaries and not finding anyone on the other end. It was too heartbreaking.

I swore off the stuff.

Short stories were the thing I decided, maturely, to allow myself to give up. I'm an adult, I thought; it's time for me to just own it already. I don't like them; no point in apologising for it.

Then two short story collections made the Giller shortlist, and I heard Alexander MacLeod speak at Writer's Fest, and I was utterly charmed. Am I brave enough to give this another shot, I wondered? In a fit of optimism, I placed my requests at work.

Yesterday, I invited Sarah Selecky into this liminal world I curently inhabit, a world of bus rides and meetings, terrible evening TV and dining "al desko." She fit in just fine; in fact, she might be the perfect thing for me right now. Her stories are perfectly crafted, and seem to exude for me this sense of reverence for the characters to which I really respond. The story "Where Are You Coming From, Sweetheart?," moved me to open tears on the bus, causing me to close the book entirely for several minutes.

Maybe I am just more able to embrace the random right now. In fact, I might have embraced the random so much recently, I might have caught something from it.

So are short stories and I friends again? Maybe, but in that tentative way you make up with a friend who has hurt you before.

In the meantime, Sarah Selecky has kind of saved my life a few times this week.

So thanks, Sarah, and thanks, Jack Rabinovitch.