A Writer’s Life, in passing

Last month, a writer I knew passed away. It was a sadly familiar tale of misdiagnosis, radical and aggressive treatment, apparent respite, then recurrence, treatment, recurrence, and so on. Each treatment seemed more debilitating. Each respite less certain. Throughout this lengthy ordeal, Tracie kept writing.

I didn’t know her well. Or rather, I only knew her well as a writer. We met for the first time in late 2010. I was joining an already established writing group, a group of which she was a member. They had been together for a few years, meeting each month, sharing and critiquing each other’s work. I was fortunate they took me on. Eight years later, we still submit a short portion of what we have been writing recently to the others for comment.
I’ve been going back over the pieces I submitted to the group through the years in order to recall Tracie’s typical comment. She was naturally good-humoured herself and loved writing that raised a chuckle. “Funny!” she would write in the margin. “Too much!” But she also, perhaps due to her career as a family therapist, knew when you were getting to the truth of an experience.

Back when I first joined the group, Tracie was mostly submitting poetry. But once she submitted something entitled, “A Short Story.” That short story grew. And grew. And grew. A novelist was emerging. Later there was another novel, still being written furiously over this last year. And there was also Pecky.

Some time in 2016 we read the first of the Pecky books. Pecky is a talking duck who lives with a family in the suburbs but who has another life as a Hollywood star. “Funny!” It turned out that Pecky was a perfect vehicle for Tracie. She poured her time into the Pecky books, found a wonderful illustrator in Shirley Fowley, and managed the process of production, publication, publicity and distribution. Tracie’s readings at local bookstores were special events, complete with a real life Pecky who accompanied Tracie. Later Pecky would travel to Yellowstone, the Everglades, even Ottawa. “Too much!”

Tracie’s enthusiasm for writing, her generous critiques, her busy full life even through the worst of these past two years — I’ll always remember. She wrote for the love of it. And though I know she did many other things well — therapist, musician, mother — it was as a writer that I knew her. She will be missed.

Tracie Klaehn’s homepage.

 

Reading – a year in review, 2017

2017 was a good year for reading. I discovered new authors whose work I enjoyed: Jenny Erpenbeck, Álvaro Enrique, Zoey Leigh Peterson, Hiromi Kawakami and Lori McNulty. I continued my affection for authors with whom I had already been acquainted: Rachel Cusk, Ben Lerner, George Saunders, Patrick Modiano, Adam Gopnik and Robert Hughes. I also wrote short reviews of each book I read this past year and posted them on LibraryThing, a few of which I re-posted here on this blog. I’m already looking forward to another great year of reading ahead.

Stats from my 2017 reading list:

  •  32 were borrowed from our public library
  •  10 have Canadian authors
  •  10 were chosen due to personal recommendations from friends
  •  2 are by authors who appear more than once on the 2017 list
  •  1 was being reread
  •  0 was read aloud by my wife and me
  •  18 are non-fiction
  •  0 are ebooks

Books read in 2017 (60):

  • Chabon, Michael. Moonglow

  • Erpenbeck, Jenny. Visitation
  • Carter, Angela. Artificial Fire
  • Cusk, Rachel. Transit

  • Thien, Madeleine. Do Not Say We Have Nothing

  • Levy, Deborah. Hot Milk

  • Constantine, David. The Life-Writer
  • Babbitt, Natalie. Tuck Everlasting

  • Lerner, Ben. The Hatred of Poetry
  • Gretzky, Wayne with McLellan Day, Kirstie. 99 Stories of the Game
  • Groff, Lauren. Arcadia

  • Smith, Ali. Autumn

  • Nguyen, Viet Thanh. The Refugees

  • Grayling, A.C. The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century & the Birth of the Modern Mind

  • Paley, Grace. Just As I Thought

  • Galchen, Rivka. Little Labors
  • Enrigue, Álvaro. Sudden Death
  • Henighan, Stephen. The Path of the Jaguar

  • Li, Yiyun. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

  • Peterson, Zoey Leigh. Next Year, For Sure
  • Joyce, James. Dubliners

  • Saunders, George. Lincoln in the Bardo
  • Fournel, Paul. Dear Reader
  • Wecker, Helene. The Golem and the Jinni
  • McGregor, Jon. Reservoir 13

  • Tóibín, Colm. House of Names
  • Ford, Richard. Between Them: Remembering My Parents

  • Sutherland, John. How to Read a Novel

  • McEwan, Ian. Nutshell

  • Martin, Manjula (editor). Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living

  • McCann, Colum. Letters to a Young Writer

  • Martin, George R.R. Game of Thrones

  • Tyson, Neil de Grasse. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

  • Tallis, Raymond. The Black Mirror: Fragments of an Obituary for Life

  • Modiano, Patrick. In the Café of Lost Youth
  • 
Grossman, David. A Horse Walks into a Bar
  • Martin, George R.R. A Clash of Kings
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. The Nakano Thrift Shop
  • Rovelli, Carlo. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
  • Kawakami, Hiromi. manazuru: a novel

  • Barwin, Gary. Yiddish for Pirates
  • Rosoff, Meg. Jonathan Unleashed

  • Meloy, Maile. Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It

  • Grady, Wayne. Emancipation Day

  • Hardcastle, Kevin. In The Cage

  • Johnson, Trevor and Neill, Hugh. Mathematics: A complete introduction
  • Acheson, David. 1089 and all that: a journey into mathematics
  • Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

  • Gopnik, Adam. At the Stranger’s Gate: Arrivals in New York
  • Baldwin, James. Giovanni’s Room
  • Smythe, Karen. This Side of Sad
  • St. Aubyn, Edward. Dunbar
  • Cline, Emma. The Girls: a novel

  • Wolitzer, Meg (ed.). The Best American Short Stories 2017

  • Sterne, Laurence. A Sentimental Journey and other writings

  • Erpenbeck, Jenny. The End of Days
  • Weir, Andy. Artemis
  • McNulty, Lori. Life on Mars: stories

  • Hughes, Robert. Goya

 

Running – a new era

I haven’t blogged about my running since the end of 2012. So this is a bit of a departure. Back then I was giving my year end running review and was rather proud of myself for breaking my yearly record. Ever since I started running in earnest I have been recording how long I run each time out. 2012 marked a significant highpoint for me. Indeed, I managed 30% more running that year than any previous year I had on record. But that highpoint was followed by, first, a lessening, and then a substantial drop-off as life (and death) distracted me from my regular routine. This year, I’ve regained my form and gone to a whole new level. Earlier this month, on 11 June, I surpassed my 2012 yearly total. With more than six months left in the year, every time I go for a run now I’m breaking new ground.

How did I manage this?

Mostly I just wasn’t thinking about it. In the late autumn of 2016, I took up running on the track at the Waterloo Recreation Complex a few times a week. By December I had increased my usual outing from 30 minutes to 50 minutes. Then I started adding stairs. I was seeing a fair number of people running the stairs and thought I’d give it a try as well. It’s not as easy as it looks! But it’s not as hard as you might imagine as well.

For Christmas, my wife gave me a FitBit Charge 2. It is one of the ones that tracks your heart rate. I was very curious about whether my heart rate was in a healthy range during my runs. It turns out that it was just fine. The FitBit had a secondary effect, however. One of the things it facilitates is very simple logging of one’s weight and diet. So I started recording my weight each day and being a bit more conscientious about not over-snacking. Modest reductions in my food intake almost immediately had a dramatic impact on my weight. Combine this with the fact that I’d also increased my standard run and one thing led to another.

Over four months I shed 30 lbs. As the weather improved, I moved my running outdoors. Again Fitbit added an incentive. The Charge 2 interacts with my smartphone so that, if I have the phone with me on a run, I am provided with a Google map of my route at the end and an accurate record of the distance and split times for each kilometre.

The last time I had run 10 km was during the Oxford Town and Gown fun run in 2006. According to my log book, I ran that 10 km in 61 minutes and 22 seconds with rain falling throughout and a temperature of 11c. And that was my best 10 km time to date.

This year, with my FitBit Charge 2 on my wrist and my smartphone strapped around my waist, I mapped out a few 10 km routes and decided to attempt to make this my new basic training run. I convinced myself that this would be much easier now that I was 30 lbs lighter. I ran my first 10 km on 29 March while visiting Providence Bay on Manitoulin Island. Needless to say it was rather cold up there at that time of year. But much to my surprise the time for the run was 60 minutes. Wow! 11 years after my last attempt at 10 km, I was able to run it more than a minute faster.

As the weather warmed up so did my times. Today my standard run is about 10.3 km. I usually complete that in 58 minutes. So I’m probably managing the 10 km in about 56 minutes. And I’ve done that 20 times already.

It’s a whole new era. I wonder where I’ll go from here.

Grand Porch Party 2017

Grand Porch Party 2017

Sunday, 11 June, is going to be a sunny, warm, musical day. It’s time for the annual Grand Porch Party. And this year our porch is playing host to three of the musical acts.

Between 2 and 5 pm, everyone is invited to stroll about our neighbourhood and enjoy the acts at 12 different venues (i.e. porches). You can plan your visit with this 2017 Performance Map.

The three acts performing on our porch are:

Check out all of the acts performing at this year’s Grand Porch Party.

I’ve trimmed the hedges (so that the performers will actually be able to be seen). I’ve cut the grass. We planted some flowers. And K. is undertaking the much more labour intensive task of painting the porch. All should be in readiness for the 11th.

Looking forward to a day of sun and music. I hope you will join us.

 

Cutting the hard line

We no longer have a landline. This past week our household made the shift. By no means the first to do so. And certainly not the last. It just made sense at this time.

I needed a new phone. My venerable Nexus 5 was on its last legs. In truth it was probably beyond its last legs. Its battery no longer held a charge for more than a few hours. And there were some other issues all age-related. Plus I was due a new phone for entirely extraneous reasons, which I might mention in a future post.

I’ve had my eye on the Google Pixel ever since it arrived on the scene. And yes, I know there is a new version coming some time in the late autumn. But I needed a new phone now. It seemed like a good opportunity to simply transfer our landline number to a new mobile. But there was a catch.

Without a landline, there would be no way for K. to reach me (or anyone else) when I’m out and about. K. has never had a mobile phone. She says she never needed one. Still, it would be hard to convince her that if she also got a mobile then the only apparent challenge to getting rid of the landline would be obviated. She’d need a stronger reason. But then disaster struck.

A minor disaster. K. lost her beautiful iPod Touch while we were on vacation in Spain. It was a brilliant little device and she was heartbroken. (I’m exaggerating a bit because it had been a gift from me.) So we were faced with the choice of either replacing the iPod Touch with another iPod Touch or move to an iPhone with 128GB of space so that it could also carry all of our music and podcasts. In then end it was not such a hard decision. K. now has an iPhone SE. It’s a little bulkier than her beloved iPod Touch, but still very small by mobile phone standards these days. And she’s already loving it (I think).

The only challenge now is remembering where my phone is at all times (since it now has the old landline number that most people used to reach us) and remembering to turn on its ringer.

I’ll adjust.