Page Fright: Writers do it everywhere

I’m left-handed and writing with a pen almost always ends up being a messy affair. In the West, we write left to right, making my left hand drag the ink along and smudge the page. Even with a pencil, my hand tends to cramp as a left-handed person must write inward across the page. I’ve often envied right-handed people who can gracefully write outward across the page like a violinist with his bow extended to caress the sweet high and low notes.

The computer is an equal-opportunity instrument, though I imagine if I researched the origins of the QWERTY keyboard, I’d find it was designed not only for the slowness of mechanical typewriters, but also for the prominent right-handed population. Even though I prefer writing my first draft in longhand, I often start on the computer.

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Tea according to Christopher Hitchens

Do I really need Christopher Hitchens to tell me how to make tea? Yes, it turns out I do.

After buying some high-end French Theodor tea that I squished into one of those spoon-type loose tea holders, I mused that something was not quite right with my method. The very next day, I hear the Hitch has written about the proper way to make tea.

I followed Hitch’s directions, which were really George Orwell’s, published in 1946, and sipped on my early afternoon brew. The tea was preceded by a salad of mango, avocado, and orange with bits of walnuts.

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Women writers who whine too much

In women writers continue to whine over male writers getting more attention in best lists and awards.

Some have been whining about this for years. Here’s a 1998 article, Are men better writers than women? reviewing the Harper’s piece, Scent of a woman’s ink: are women writers really inferior? The editors who write the titles could do with a little writing face lift.

And here’s a story about a woman writer who had a hard time making it until she wrote with a male alias. Why James Chartrand Wears Women’s Underpants? But, hey a real male writer would never say, “women’s underpants.” Panties. Babes wear panties. Even my 90-year-old mother wears panties.

Murakami’s perfect reader

Writers’ body parts don’t usually get media attention. The profile of Haruki Murakami in the Globe & Mail described a man with toned biceps and quadriceps.  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir of Murakami’s running and sitting life. Murakami, a former jazz club owner and successful novelist prone to reclusiveness, took up marathon running to combat the sedentary life of writing. This resonated with me. As a production artist working at a computer for hours, my extra pounds stay on an upward trajectory along with my age.

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Steve Martin: Man of many hyphens

Gee, I thought Steve Martin’s memoir Born Standing Up would be funny. What it lacks in humour, though, it makes up in tenderness. Subtitled, A comic’s life, the book focuses on Martin’s life and career as a television comedy writer and stand-up comedian. As the book jacket says, by 1978 Martin was the biggest concert draw in the history of stand-up. Three later, the rock-star comedian quit stand-up.

Martin’s story is a portrait of discipline and hard work, punctuated by long-time difficulties with family relations, particularly with his father. On the comedy-circuit road, Martin was often alone and lonely. He eventually manages reconciliation with family and lovingly describes his last meeting with his 91-year-old mother.

I cried more than I laughed while reading Born Standing Up.

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Man who loves film too much

In his role as a television film critic, David Gilmour always struck me as a cranky opinionated guy who thought the world revolved around him. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t drawn to his memoir about a three-year period he hung out with his high-school dropout son watching films that Gilmour chose.

One evening, at one of Vancouver’s best Indian buffet diners, I unwrapped a birthday present revealing the cover of The Film Club. At first glance, I was relieved the book wasn’t a self-help title, the type one or two friends are compelled to give. I thought, yeah, I’ll read this sometime.

For several months, my copy of The Film Club sat on a shelf in my living room with its cover facing up. One night, tired of watching re-runs of Law & Order re-runs I picked up the book to accompany me into the tub. As I settled in the warm water with the book, I quickly concluded that the role of writer was a better fit for Gilmour than film critic. Maybe that’s what was wrong with him—a writer locked inside the body of an art critic.

The book’s bio indicated that not only had Gilmour written a few novels, but one novel had won a Governor’s Award. And his TV show, Gilmour on the Arts, won some kind of award. Too bad, I thought, I had tuned him out for the crime of being opinionated, when ironically, that’s what he was being paid to do.

While reading The Film Club, I started to skim the references to movies as I found the delivery of so many—some known to me and some unknown—difficult to absorb. As I continued reading, I skimmed more, thinking the book would be a handy reference later if I ever wanted to watch old films (and it’s nice that the book includes an index of the movies discussed).

Sometimes it felt as if Gilmour was dropping names a bit too much—particularly David Cronenberg’s—relying on those former film critic connections to up his credibility. And sometimes the telling of the son’s romantic and sexual explorations ran a little on the creepy side, reminding me of Gilmour, the former notorious womanizer.

Perhaps it was a little too intimate. Perhaps at times a bit too tender. The story portrayed a man running against time and wanting to help his son grow up, but also perhaps fearing the loss of an important role. Was fatherhood slipping away? Not likely. Gilmour’s unusual educational model—the films—was a brave approach, something some readers (bloggers and critics) found offensive. The Film Club turned out to be a good thing for both father and son.

My accidental reading of this Gilmour book put his name on my reading list.


• CBC’s Evan Solomon positions David Gilmour as provocateur. And Gilmour announces his has given up writing novels—because he has found happiness.
• Brian Fawcett’s review of The Film Club
• A blogger who really didn’t like The Film Club backed with good reasons
• A blogger who, unlike me, wanted more film stuff
• A review with photos of father and son and links to interview with David Gilmour

A biketopian vision

In the June 2008 issue of Walrus, there’s a great article on cycling titled, Geared Up: On the road to two-wheeled transcendence. Reading the first sentence or two, trying to remember the streets of Toronto that were mentioned, I wondered how the writer got away with such a terrible lead. Another sentence or two and I was hooked. My smug criticism melted to wonderment as Bill Reynolds’ slow hook mirrored the subject he writes about—cycling to commute. Reynolds also describes leisure cycling and a bit about racing. Walrus calls the article a rider’s biketopian vision.

Reynolds takes the reader around some parts of Toronto, past a deadly accident, onto country cycling and a bicycle group crashup with another death. He includes a history of the bicycle, a discourse on urban commuting cycling and a brief look at European cycling systems.

In Vancouver on June 15, John Pucher from Rutgers University’s gives a talk on cycling in the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. For information on Cycling for Everyone, check out SFU’s free public lectures.

Here’s a group of women cyclists called the B:C:Clettes having fun.

Other cycling sources:
The Bike Guy’s blog
Momentum Magazine’s blog