Skip to main content


Quiet Infinity

By Blog, Uncategorized

One of my best friends, Nancy Friedland, is a brilliant artist and among the many amazing images she has created is this one showing a woman asleep on a lawnchair. It is not the sleep of someone sun-dozing. It is the Sleep of Oblivion. I happen to know that the woman pictured is Nancy’s mother. I also know that at the time the photograph was taken she had three young children and was studying for a graduate degree in Occupational Therapy, every minute accounted for.

There is something subversive about the sight of a woman who is always on call, always in a heightened state of watchfulness and awareness momentarily checking out—zoning into her own internal infinity. We all deserve moments of quiet eternity.

There is so much finitude in the lives of the mother artists I know. We are so often counting (time, money, errands, coffee.) We are too often irritable and impatient with our children, counting the hours until bedtime, and this makes us uneasy and sometimes ashamed.

I want for every overextended artist in my life long stretches of unclaimed time and solitude, vast space to get bored and lost, waking dreams that take us beyond the calculative surface of things.

I love these lawnchairs (also by Nancy Friedland.) I look at them and think: here you go. Here is your way back to infinity, back to the woods and that deep creative and contemplative mind. Deep in the sod, in the infinite sub-terre, that’s where work happens.

(p.s. Support working artists and artisans. Buy art! Your heart and walls will thank you.)

Three Things About Penguins

By Blog, Uncategorized

#1. A few books.

As a teenager, I was infatuated with those early Penguin paperbacks. They were well priced and came in a spectrum of colours: orange, green, dark blue, purple, yellow. Often I’d go to the old bookshops on Queen West in Toronto and pick up a George Bernard Shaw or Graham Greene for $1.00.

(Vintage Penguin and Pelican Paperbacks, The Monkey’s Paw, Toronto.)

#2. A film.

“There was a boy and there was penguin, strangers from the opposite sides of the ocean…” This animated version of the lovely and gentle children’s book by Oliver Jeffers is one of the nicest adaptations I’ve seen (Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing is another.) The former is quite different to the picturebook—arguably less saccharine, the boy slightly more complicated, which I prefer.

#3. A protest.

For more info on the campaign to free Tarek Loubani and John Greyson, who have been unjustly detained in a Cairo prison since August 16th, please see:

(The penguin costumes were my eldest son’s idea. He has a small role in JG’s next film, playing “Tango,” a chick raised by two penguin papas, Roy and Silo—AKA the famous couple of Central Park Zoo.)

Write Every Day

By Blog, Uncategorized

It’s over. The big time-sucking gig that kept me so busy (not writing) these past few months has ended. I should be celebrating. I can finally get back to my desk. I can’t remember the last time I spent so long from it, so long not working on my own projects. So why this damp ambivalence. Could it be nervousness?

When I took the big gig (a good gig—brain-fueling) I thought: “Perfect. A fallow period. Time to retune and replenish.” I saw a sparkly clear mind at the end of it.

It wasn’t a bad notion. My mind was feeling a bit cloudy.

But something happened when I was away from my desk. All those writing muscles I take for granted grew flaccid. I could feel the pressure building up but also a waning of confidence. Too many ideas and too little nerve = bad alchemy.

I’ve never thought or spoken of myself as a writer who must be writing all the time. I’ve always bristled at books that exhort writers to Write Every Day. “Macho dogma,” I thought. “Pathological ambition.” What did these exhorters know of life’s interruptions and contingencies? But now I am hearing Ray Bradbury: “You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads…” I am hearing Stephen King: “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words…” And Haruki Murakami: “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”

I am thinking about the difference between lulls and ruts in a practice. At what point does the former turn into the latter? What is the right amount of fallow time? I am starting to believe you have to write everyday. That spurt writing is not enough. That consistency and discipline are all.

Maybe I’ll become an exhorter. But somehow I doubt it. I’m too interrupted, too interested in many other things.

The Wind and the Water

By Blog

“I am always looking outside, trying to say something that is true. But maybe nothing is really true. Except what’s out there. And what’s out there is constantly changing.” —Robert Frank

(Image: Robert Frank via bartleby-company)

Always Onwards

By Blog

The sparkling Giulietta Masina: actress of the heart and mind; as funny, grave, and profound as Chaplin. This final scene from Fellini’s masterpiece Nights of Cabiria (1957) captures her singular genius and never ceases to inspire me. The unsinkable heroine—brave, brave, always onwards—roams the streets dreaming of a wonderful life but consistently finding heartbreak. Still she continues, a part of her rallying beyond limits, beyond herself, finally smiling through her tears.

For artists and writers, I nominate Cabiria as Patron Saint of Pluck and Obstinate Resilience. But life continues…


By Blog

Many of us have a book we re-read every few years which becomes a benchmark. As we age and change, so does our experience of the book. I wrote about one of my favorite rereads in the paperback edition of Stray Love

The Lover by Marguerite Duras
As a teenager, I was drawn to boys with more than average melancholy. There were boys who drank tequila and listened to the blues and boys who engaged in petty crime and wept about their fathers. There were boys who made me mixed tapes of polyrhythmic African music but otherwise wallowed in almost catatonic sadness. The hale and effervescent did not attract me. If I happened to find myself with someone happy and obviously together, I would attempt to induct them into the cult of sad love by lending them my copy of “The Lover”. Beyond titillation, I don’t know what a cheerful high-school football player is to make of an adolescent girl in French Indochina embarking on an affair with a wealthy Chinese man. But what I learned from Duras and her fallen world was that there was grandeur and satisfaction to unhappiness. Looking back, I find the melancholy of my teenage years easy to satirize (all those pensively smoked Gitanes!). Depression often teeters on the edge of absurdity. But now when I reread “The Lover”, I know in some ways I haven’t grown up at all. This mournful and languidly obsessive book still makes me feel elated.

I realize that the idea of endlessly revisiting a book is foreign to many people. It certainly runs against the grain of our acquisitive, accumulative, time-strapped culture. I mean, really, who has time to re-read? I barely have enough time for a first-run. In fact, lately I seem to have developed a Sisyphean relationship to my night-table. The more I read, the more the list of books I haven’t read and want to read keep growing. And never mind the night-table, beyond that there is an endless mountain chain, infinite towering stacks of great books I will never scale, and not for any lack of desire.

Should I pull out my copy of Austerlitz and enter its hypnotic spiral once again and more deeply, or should I sink into As I Lay Dying and finally try to figure out how it really works, or should I just move on?

I should probably move on…and yet I can’t completely. So I re-read. I re-read books to my children and I re-read books for myself (John Berger’s And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being, and Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost…) My children also re-read on their own—constantly going back, poring over Lemony Snicket, Osamu Tezuka, or Charles Schultz.

There is a small part of me that thinks the greatest enjoyment would be to read a handful of books over and over again. I think it would satisfy me the way it satisfies me to indulge my same-song listening needs and the way it gratifies me to stare and stare at Agnes Martin’s work.

“You know when you hear a piece of music once, you haven’t heard it properly, you want to hear it again. A well-made book will reward you in exactly the same way as music does, in that you will understand and love a piece. You’ll feel the cadence and depth of it and hear things in it all the time. If you pay it a little more attention, it will reward you, like all art. Like everything, actually.”—Ali Smith

Sometimes a repeat reading is for understanding more and sometimes it is just for letting the words or lines wash over you. I believe in re-reading as a gesture of self-willed mesmerism. I turn to certain books again and again because I know they will act on me. My chemistry will combine with the words or images and create a distinctive mood. My best beloved books whisk me away from the denotative into the connotative realm.

There are endless great books but only a few consistently offer me a reliably charged field in which to wander and dream.

(Written while repeatedly listening to “Cyrk” by Cate Le Bon. Images of Marguerite Duras and Agnes Martin.)

The Real Ethereal

By Blog

“The books which we read in childhood don’t exist anywhere; they fluttered away—bare skeletons remain. Whoever would still have in himself the marrow of childhood—ought to write them anew as they were then.” —Bruno Schulz

(Image of an imaginary friend: “Two Girls With Shadow” by Hans-Peter Feldmann.)

“Polka dots can’t stay alone.”

By Blog

A few spotty memories: my mother’s Mary Quant stockings, the constellations at sleepover camp, the bikini I once stole from my friend Nancy, my Marimekko bag, the mysterious infestation of ladybugs at our old house, art by Yayoi Kusama (Queen of All Dots who once observed that: “Polka dots can’t stay alone”), two favorite books (“The Dot and the Line” by Norton Juster and “Little Blue and Little Yellow” by Leo Lionni”)…and, of course, the ellipsis (favorite punctuation mark, said to sometimes “inspire a feeling of melancholy or longing.”)

Image: “Bleeds-Dot-Print” by Luli Sanchez.

The Midway

By Blog

Sometimes this happens. Sometimes change arrives unannounced. One moment, your life is a predictable place, and the next moment, everything is a wild carnival ride of flux. The midway is a sweet and melancholy place. You’re probably thinking that you’ll never come here, that your child will stay in the kiddie park, riding that adorable merry-go-round, forever. But you know that’s not true.

Our family arrived at the midway a few months ago. I watched my 11-year-old son get loaded into a behemoth called the Instant Rocket of Change. A switch somewhere was thrown, and when he returned, he was a gangly 12-year-old…

Before we arrived at the midway, I had a knack. I knew how to outmanoeuvre night terrors and food aversions, how to arrange playdates and make time for homework, how to kiss the bruise at the moment the bruise happened. Most of all, I knew how to read his mind. Now what? He wasn’t the same son. What was he thinking? Was he experiencing existential emptiness, a yen for anarchism? A sudden love of surrealist painting? What tools would serve me now?

(Excerpted from a short piece I wrote on the flux of parenting for Today’s Parent magazine.)

Bravo Isabelle!

By Blog, Uncategorized

Congratulations to Isabelle Arsenault on winning the 2012 IBBY Canada Cleaver Picture Book Award for Virginia Wolf!

The jury’s comments on Virginia Wolf:

“An un-precious treatment of depression that never diminishes its poignancy. Isabelle Arsenault’s illustrations illuminate the story. She begins with a touch of red and blue here and there. Then the sadness, embodied in blacks and greys that encroach on the page in a messy cloud, surrounds and engulfs Virginia as she becomes a dark shadow of herself. When Virginia starts painting and as the spirit changes, more colours begin to subtly appear as the darkness recedes. Arsenault reminds Virginia and the readers that the world is full of beauty.”