Marie-Pierre Arthur

Okay, okay, I know a large-ish part of my music collection consists of 'women with little voices'. Emiliana Torrini. Lykke Li. Camera Obscura. Ariana Moffatt. Basia Bulat. The Be Good Tanyas. Etc.

But 'women with little voices' often provide a very nice background noise for writing.

Thanks to my good buddy Porkchop (not his real name), I recently discovered Marie-Pierre Arthur, an emerging Quebecois songstress who just released her first (self-titled) album.

The folk-inspired songs are thoughtfully written, earnestly played and easy on the ears. A lovely addition to my collection of talented ladies.


On the reading pile

I'm actually reading three books at the same time. I don't do this very often, but the three selections are so varied, it feels alright.

Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

Written while I was still happily gestating in my mother's belly, this classical philosophical text remains relevant despite the 30+ intervening years. It's been an enjoyable read for two reasons: (1) it hearkens back to my university days when philosophy became a sudden new passion, and (2) I feel particularly smart when I understand some complex idea.

Favourite quotes so far:
Stuckness shouldn't be avoided. It's the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.

You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it's going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it's always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

I admit it - at one point, I was India-ed-out. I had just read a series of novels set in India, and I couldn't do it anymore. Poverty, unrelenting suffering, violence. I picked up this novel on the very strong recommendation of my friend Bram, and I am quite taken with it. Shantaram offers an alternate view of India - from the eyes of a white man living in the slums. The suffering is still there, but it's underpinned with such a broad stroke of hope and survival, that I feel as if I'm finally understanding more about life in India.

Favourite quote so far:
Lovers find their way by such insights and confidences: they're the stars we use to navigate the ocean of desire. And the brightest of those stars are the heartbreaks and sorrows. The most precious gift you can bring to your lover is suffering. So I took each sadness she confessed to me, and pinned it to the sky.

Á ciel ouvert by Nelly Arcan

This book has been laying around my house for quite some time. When the news of Nelly Arcan's death broke, I decided that it was time to read the writings of this much-lauded Quebecois writer. I am only two chapters in, but I have found reason to continue reading. The subject is compelling and the writing style is very rich and textured, with many well-worded philosophical abstractions. As French is my third language, the reading process is sometimes sludgy (where's my dictionary?), but I'm going to stick it out.

Favourite quote so far:
Les seins se remarquaient davantage parce que c'était une partie de Rose qui n'avait pas été effacée, qui avait au contraire été emplie, sans démesure, d'une rondeur ferme, haut accrochée et qui donnait l'impression que ses seins étaient un sexe bandé.


Tips for increasing creativity

As the transition at work has just begun, I'm still in the office on Mondays and Fridays but I'm technically working on my own projects.

It's nice for the rest of the team because if they need something quickly, I'm here. So far, I've been busy in the mornings with mandates for our clients, but I spend a few hours every afternoon on creative brainstorming.

I thought the situation might be too forced for productivity - that ideas wouldn't come. But they did. What helped?

Doodling. Reading. Listening to music. Doing puzzles. Chatting.

It may sound like glorified "goofing off", but when you goof off with mindfulness, it's an entirely different state of mind that prevails. Let me explain.

Instead of doing a word association game or stream of consciousness exercise, I merely took half an hour to just absorb the perceptions flowing in. I drew in the words and images with my eyes. I let the music pour into my ears. I felt the cool plastic of the pen pressing into my fingers.

The non-attachment to getting results. The release of control. The blissful surrender.

My senses were wide, wide open. Shortly after, the ideas began flooding in.


What does it mean to play?

While reading a pranayama book by Richard Rosen, I found this most interesting passage:

...to be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as if nothing of consequence will happen.

On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to to surprise; everything that happens is of consequence, for seriousness is a dread of the unpredictable outcome of open possibility.

To be serious is to press for a specified conclusion. To be playful is to allow for possibility whatever the cost to oneself.

To keep it short and sweet, What role does play have in your life? What's your favourite way to play?

And if you don't have an answer to these questions, think about it. It's important.


Changes, changes, changes...

The waters, I am glad to report, are starting to clear.

After a heartfelt conversation with my boss and a mini-brainstorm with our production director, it has been decided that I will soon begin working a 3-day week at the agency.

The arrangement that we're testing will force my project managers to do a little more advance planning, but it's flexible enough to keep projects on schedule. The bonus is that I have the structure of office work, all the while having the freedom to work on the projects nearest and dearest to my heart.

It will also ensure that I earn a fixed amount of $$$ each week. (A girl's still gotta eat, apparently.)

So what will I do with all this valuable time I've been gifted with?
  • Finish revising the novel and start shopping it around.
  • Get working on a few short story ideas I have banging about.
  • Refine my yoga practice.
  • Teach yoga.
How else will my life be changing?
  • Expenses must be cut! cut! cut!
  • This means less eating out in restos. The silver lining? More entertaining at home. I've already had two luscious group of ladies come over for eats this weekend and it was dreamy. Can't wait to see your face at the door sometime soon :)
Oh, and if you see this man on the street, please let him know that he is a wonderful boss indeed. Goodness knows, I can't thank him enough.

*Pic of Valencia, Spain borrowed from http://snipurl.com/pic-dkbooks


Palanca's mock shepherd's pie

In trying to find a suitable substitute for meat-based shepherd's pie, I found a few recipes for a lentil-based version.

I played around with some of the flavours and came up with the following. Let me know if it works out for you - or if you have any further suggestions for making it even better.

PREP TIME: Little more than an hour.

1) In a medium-sized pot, pour two cups of green lentils into four cups of water. Add a veggie bouillon cube. Let the lentils boil for approx. 40 minutes, or until they get soft. You will probably have to add more water.

You might want to start preparing the potatoes right now as well. See #4.

2) In a frying pan: one medium-sized onion (diced) and two cloves garlic (crushed). You can even toss in a few sliced mushrooms for added flavour. Saute the onion and garlic with fresh thyme, as well as cumin and coriander. When the onions are soft, add the lentils. Mix the lentils and onion mixture with salsa or tinned tomatoes.

3) Lay the lentils on the bottom of a casserole dish. Open one can of corn and toss the kernels on top.

4) Peel and cube one large sweet potato and four medium-sized potatoes (yellow is best). Boil the cubes for approx. 30 minutes. Mash up the taters with butter and brown sugar. Layer the potatoes on top of the corn and lentils.

5) Place casserole dish in preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Then broil for 5-7 minutes for extra crunchiness on top. Like a nice brown crust? Add some curls of butter before the broil.

Serve hot, hot, hot!

*Snap borrowed from Made-in-China.com.


My favourite writings

In 2002, I was given a photocopied page from Irish Times Magazine with the following article. It left me breathless - and jealous. I tried to find an electronic copy, but alas, I had to type it out instead. Enjoy.

Carefully Chosen Words by Molly McCloskey
The Irish Times Magazine, June 15, 2002

Picture this. We’re standing in a word shop, somewhere outside the city. It’s a Sunday, most likely, a day for such indulgences. We’re picking up words and putting them down again, feeling the weight of them, the heft, whispering them to one another. Sometimes we raise our eyebrows, tilt our heads to one side, admiringly. For these are words we don’t use lightly, or on any old occasion. Words like incantata, oblique, billow, woe, susurration, svelte, mote, mink, ilk. Geography, topography, taxonomy. Antediluvian. Prelapsarian. Halcyon. Some people in here are really buying, others only murmuring.

On our way home, we pull outside a convenience store, one of those orange plastic jobs attached to a petrol station. On the outside of the shop, the sign says: Words are cheap! And here, they are. I wait in the car while you go in — and come out with a short list, just a few staples to get us through our respective weeks: greetings, white lies, a bit of phone manner.

As we turn onto Baggot Street, you say unhappily: “Tomorrow, I must go to the retract shop and return those words.” You had a row with your mother the other day and there are things you wish you hadn’t said. (I think you should bring the words to slaughter instead, take them to where they’ll carve them into syllables and letters, mince them to mere dots and strokes. The motto hanging over the door: Better Dead than Said.)

The retract shop is called Give Me Your Word. (Word shop proprietors, like the owners of hair salons, are prone to terrible punning.) A subliminal shame, an apathetic discretion hangs over the place, as in an early house or a porn shop, anything that caters to the more reluctant needs. You’ll join then Said in Anger queue, rather than the Said While Drunk, Dead Wrong, or That of Which You are Simply Ashamed. (They don’t handle words uttered out of excessive or injudicious affection. “They’re like coppers,” they say. “People seem to want to hoard them.”)

You won’t get a refund on your words: it doesn’t work that way. They’re donated, in a sense. Someone else will use them. And so it goes. But they’ll give you a docket entitling you to a discount at the House of Meaning. They’re good like that, those in the reparations business, the way they’ve streamlined operations.

At the House of Meaning, you will head for the Classics Section, searching for words age-old and tested by time, to mend the breach. The staff there drift about like angels and are as wise. You’ll tell them you need something clear and true and good to say, and they will help you to find it.

But the HOM is like no other place in the city. Sometimes there’s practically nothing for sale, and the otherworldly employees just smile enigmatically when we ask. It’s the nearest thing we’ve got to a Zen master, and it’s difficult to know some days whether we’re leaving enlightened or bewildered.

People wonder how the HOM doesn’t go bankrupt. Some say it has and is now a front for something else entirely. Black market word processors, perhaps. But we still shop there, you and I, despite its arbitrary hours – 2 to 4 a.m., sometimes – and the way we never come out with what we went in for. Its reticence strikes us as an invitation to the long haul.

The following weekend, we’re messing in the aisles of Wordplay, the joke shop. This one specializes in malapropisms, which you love. And there are piles of curios: acronyms, homonyms, palindromes, things onomatopoeic. (“Ricochet!” you say, delighted. “Ooze…”) We could spend out lives here – victims of a Saturday, waylaid by agreeable distractions – and never get a thing said.

But it’s time to expand our vocabulary. We need to do some shopping, though we aren’t sure where. We just know we feel limited by the words at our disposal. (Storage space is not an issue here; this is purely a matter of time.)

You say, “Remember that little place we went one Sunday? Incantata? Susurration?”

“What about Truth?” I say.

You shake your head, thinking. “I don’t know where you can get Truth now. Even the shop way out in Swords has closed.”

You’re right, of course. Used to be loads of places that sold Truth but, one by one, they’ve been shutting up shop, and everyone is secretly relieved. You can still find it, but you have to know where to look, and it’s never in the places you’d think.

There is a shop actually called Truth, for instance, but it’s staffed entirely by aspiring MTV presenters and all they sell is irony. What Truth outlets have survived have retreated from their original mission and reinvented themselves. The Word has re-opened as In Other Words, and its proprietor looks perpetually undermined. He sells knick-knacks now, cold comfort and fool’s gold and backhanded compliments.

“No,” I say. “Forget the Truth.”

Instead, we go to the flea market. Much of what we find there is damaged, threadbare, easily overlooked and underestimated. (I plunge my hand into a tub of spare parts: loose Scrabble letters.) But this is where it all began for us, in a benign disorder we didn’t know the value of.

Long before the days of mass production and choosing from a catalogue at Argot. We came here years ago and used these words. We still can.


To OM or not to OM?

I begin teaching at the NDG YMCA on Sunday. What is my number one concern?

Whether to OM at the beginning and end of the class.

Students can have fairly strong reactions to the OM. Many people "feel like an idiot" when they OM. Others feel as if chanting is too trendy or "granola". Or that if they OM, I'll be brainwashing them next.

Since I'll be dealing with a drop-in, multi-level class, I want to make sure that I respect their (varying, unknowable) attitudes as much as I can.

Needless to say, launching into the ol' vande gurunam is probably not a good idea.

Having gotten some good advice from MBD, I've decided to keep it simple:
  • Three nice deeps OMs at the beginning and end. Shantis might be asking too much, but a namaste is almost expected.
  • Welcome students to join me or sit quietly if they wish.
  • No chanting to bring them out of savasana - yet.
In a few weeks, if I wish to incorporate the chanting during savasana, MDB suggests letting them know beforehand so that they don't mistake it for a cue to start moving around.

Does anyone have any other stories or suggestions they'd like to throw into the mix? I'd love to hear about your experiences.


Facebook status lines for your ex

If my Google Analytics are correct, many of my fellow Web-denizens are looking for snappy Facebook status lines that they can throw in an ex's avatar face.

Although I like Lily Allen's breakup style, I will try to keep this clean. Mostly.

So here are some for the ladies:
  • Lily says, "Next, suivant!..."
  • Lily is amazed! This one runs on batteries but it does the job better! Twice even!
  • Lily would miss you, but I have to wash my hair tonight.
  • Lily: Man washed out my hair? Check! New lingerie for new boyfriend? CHECK!
  • Lily: "Hey [name], now that we've broken up, do you want your balls back?"
And some for the gents:
  • Allen says: "Hey [name], your fat butt makes your butt look big!"
  • Allen looks forward to filling the hole you left in my heart with beer, rock'n'roll and sexy girls.
  • Allen used to love [name] like crazy - until I discovered she was crazy.
  • Allen knows two ways to heal a broken heart: Beer and girls.
  • Allen would just like [name] to know that he was lying. About everything. Yes, everry-thing.
Any other suggestions?


What I miss about tango

Good news - my tango adventures begin anew on October 21! Until then, I have some new music to keep me happy.

What I miss about tango: The way some partners will sway you from side to side when the music starts. Almost as if they were weighing your contents to better understand how to move you on the floor.

If you missed my previous adventures, get a taste here, here and here.


Is Google getting snarky with me?

As I am often looking for the English equivalent of a French term, I will conduct searches on both the English and French Googles to cast the widest possible net.

This morning, I noticed that the "helpful" message on the English results page differs from the message on the French page.

You've all seen this:

But have you seen this?

Did you mean? vs. Try this spelling:

Is it just me or does the English version sound a little snarky? Not that it matters to me really - since I love having my spelling corrected - but how did that lacuna happen, d'ya think?


Emotional snowballing

Ladies – does this sound familiar?

* A project/situation/person at work is frustrating you.
* It drags on. You begin to doubt your abilities.
* You start eating
a little sugar in the afternoon. Maybe add (more) coffee.
* You live alone so you don’t get a chance to vent in the evenings.
* You’re suffering from
man confusion.
* As you mull over the absurdity of it all, your calorie count gets upped in the evenings too (how many calories in a gin/tonic?).
* You’re so busy going in circles, you
miss a workout or two. Or six.
* You survive weekend. However, frustration/man-fusion resumes on Monday.
* Repeat everything.
* You start feeling fat.
* You start dressing down a little, so you can lie in bed and mull more.
* The girls on So You Think You Can Dance Canada have exquisite thighs. Sigh.
* You start feeling *really* fat.
* Everyone else seems to be dating the nicest, most attentive, most sexually ravenous man ever.
* Your friend gets a promotion. Much rolling in money ensues.
* You start
feeling like an ogre. And a teensy bit of a failure.
* A little more sugar. A little less exercise.
* D-e-s-p-a-i-r

Emotional snowballing has been the downfall of many a fine, strong woman. Over the years – on more than one occasion - I’ve suddenly snapped to attention, dazed to find myself rolled up in a snowball of my own making. The factors, having accumulated so gradually and without pomp, overwhelmed me before I even recognized what was happening.

I also used to think that – at some point in my life – I would achieve such a comfortable state of being – that I would stop getting caught in the emotional snowball.

The emotional snowball happened to the weak, no?


The best thing that yoga has taught me is that the snowballing will probably never stop, so you had better learn how to roll and come out with a flourish.

I’m halfway through an emotional snowball right now, but I’m trying not to let it become too much of a distraction.

The trick is, now I see it coming.

So I’m eating with a little more mindfulness.

I returned to my yoga practice after a too-long hiatus.

I’m taking time for myself when I need it.

I’m thinking more before I speak.

Any other suggestions? What do you do to escape your emotional snowball?

Waupoos Estates Winery, Prince Edward County, Ontario


Enough with the new technology, already!

Sometimes I get so weary of the Web and its never-ending traffic of words and images. There are too many must-see videos to watch. Too many new technologies to learn. Too many passwords to remember. And I'm still not quite convinced that Twitter is useful for me right now.

It was only recently, while reading a blog post about social media, that I finally realised why I get to feeling this way:

You're tired of new technology: Seriously, you just want things to slow down a little and perhaps get really good at using some of the great technologies that are out there before you have to jump on another without even knowing why you're jumping.

Yes! Yes! That's it! Exactly!

I have strong knowledge of social media networks and blogging, as well as a firm grasp of SEO writing and how Google works. But there is still so much that's vague to me.

I understand that in order to build your brand online, you have to participate on many different platforms and be constantly promoting yourself. Thing is - I would rather excel in a few select domains, than have a sketchy-basic knowledge of most technologies and trends.

See, I still believe in having expertise. I don't buy into the actor-celeb-singer-perfumer-designer-write(choke) Paris Hilton model. I don't want to be good at everything. I just want to be really good at my things.

So I'm not going to try and be the big Web expert of everything any longer. I'm just going to focus on those technologies that best bring out my expertise.