photos of the day: ice crystals

17 02 2009

I went out walking this morning at a local nature trail.  I didn’t have high hopes, but I wanted to go somewhere different with my camera.  What I found, though, was quite extraordinary.  By the shore and on trees that had fallen over the river, these were these large ice crystals.  They looked like crystals you’d find hanging on a chandelier.  It was just magical.


review: the crimson portrait

17 02 2009

When I posted before about The Crimson Portrait, I had high hopes for the book.  I was intrigued by the scenario Shields came up with, though I was having trouble with how abruptly the scenes shifted.  That only continued to nag at me as I continued my reading.

The novel is set during WWI.  Catherine has lost her husband in the fighting and their home is turned into a hospital for men with facial wounds.  A surgeon and a dentist figure prominently in the story, as does Anna, an artist, who sketches the men’s faces as a way of documenting their surgeries and she also undertakes the making of masks to hide the men’s disfigurement.  One of the patients, Julian, reminds Catherine of her husband and she works to have his mask take on the appearance of her husband rather than Julian’s pre-injury face.

All of the characters in the novel are broken.  Catherine is made delusional by her grief, but all of the other central characters are also haunted by the war and their role in it.  There was beautiful language and imagery throughout, but as the story continued I found many scenes and relationships underdeveloped, with the most strongly sketched one being between Catherine and Anna, with the bitterness between them seeming to spring from Anna’s resentment of the way in which Catherine and Julian’s form a relationship, while she herself denies her love for Kassavian, a dentist working on healing the men.  The ending too I found lacking in detail, and while I was drawn to the characters, I became frustrated with the abruptness of the scenes as a whole and that made it a much less enjoyable reading experience for me.

photo of the day: puddle reflection

10 02 2009

I was walking back to the train station and as I looked down, I just happened to see the CN tower reflected in a puddle in the sidewalk.  I quickly snapped and picture and moved on, not paying much attention, but when I loaded the picture on the computer, I found that I loved the crystal clear image of the puddle contrasted with the dirty snow and cigarette butts all around it.

reading notes + some theatre for good measure

10 02 2009

I’ve got two books on the go right now.  I’m still working through Sacred Games and I really like it so far, and I’m really enjoying how the story keeps branching off into little side alleys and reminisces of the past.  I’m actually enjoy those sections more than the central detective story.  I’d been making good progress with it, but then I took a trip into Toronto and I didn’t want to lug it on the train with me so I selected The Crimson Portrait, one of the books I received for Christmas.  Between the trip into the city and back again on the train, I’ve made it halfway through the book.  Its set during WWI at a hospital for men who facial wounds and I’m finding it a fascinating read though I find the end of each section distracting, almost as if there is this tension being ending too abruptly and with too many revelations.

My trip to the big, bad city was theatre-inspired.  I was lucky enough to see East of Berlin at Tarragon on the weekend.  I missed it last year, waiting about a day too long to buy my tickets so I was glad they remounted it this year.  The play focuses on Rudi, the son of a SS doctor who performed medical experiments on Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz.  He tells his story to the audience, how he discovered the truth about his father’s past and how he has tried to deal with that knowledge, and though there are some scenes with two other key characters, much of the play is direct address by Rudi to the audience, and I was really impressed with the playwright’s ability to sustain monologue and the central character’s connection with the audience so effectively throughout the play.  There’s a lot of humour in the play, which you could tell some people were unsure of how to react to, given the subject matter of the play.  There was an intimacy about the space that worked really well for this play, and Brendan Gall who played Rudi was able to create such a strong connection to the audience, which is important if the play and its implication of the audience witnessing Rudi’s story are going to work.  There was kind of a funny moment at the performance I was at.  A woman in the front row kept coughing because of the cigarette smoke on stage (there was quite a bit of smoking).  At one point she was struggling with unwrapping a candy and the crinkling noise just went on and on and on and it was the second time she’d done that, so Gall – who was right by her at that moment – offered to help her unwrap it.  He handled it really well, and the audience just broke out into spontaneous applause and then the show continued.  I told the Artsy Mama about it and she said she would have walked out if that had happened to her, and I can see how it would be embarrassing, but I also pointed out that she wouldn’t have been crinkling a candy wrapper anyway.  I think she would have been clapping right along with the rest of us.

photo of the day: i spy

7 02 2009

Continuing the theme from a couple of posts ago, I was out walking in one of the local parks and something caught my eye way up at the top of a tree.  I couldn’t really get as close as I wanted, even after wadding through snow that was over my knees, but it was a neat thing to see on a very cold February afternoon.

review: what now?

6 02 2009

Ann Patchett’s What Now? is based on a commencement address the she gave at Sarah Lawrence College, and it is probably a book I should start carrying with me at most times, so that when panic and uncertainty about the future strikes – which it does far too often – I can whip it out and read a passage and feel once again able to embrace the promise and opportunities that lie in the unknown.  This is not something that I’m particularly good at, this embracing of the unknown.  Looking back on crossroads, on key decisions in my life, I do believe that things have always turned out for the best, that I’ve got where I’ve needed to go, but it’s hard to remember that at the time.  Most of my uncertainty has had to do with career moves.  It seems a constant area of stress in my life.  I’ve found it very hard to settle into any job.  I’m panicked when I don’t have a job, but then just after getting one, I seem to start feeling trapped, and I still am unsure whether this is because it’s the wrong job or because I just have a very bad understanding of what a job should be.

I’ve always felt so unsure of the right thing do job-wise.  The question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” terrified me for years because I never had a proper answer.  There’s only one thing I ever said I wanted to be: a writer.  That was when I wasn’t very old and I was discouraged from that at the time because I was told you can’t make a living doing that and I was too young to know otherwise – and I think that story probably deserves a posting all on its own.  Since that time, I’ve gone from career field to career field, always thinking it might be something I’d like to do, but never saying again, with such conviction, “I want to be this.”  Because of this, I’ve come to many career-crises and many crossroads, each decision seeming like the two (or three or four) unknown paths I stood before would set my future course forever, no U-Turns allowed.  I realize now that that isn’t the case.  There are some decisions I can make that have a “no-turning-back-stamp” on them, but they are very few and far-between and have nothing whatsoever to do with a career.

What I liked so much about Patchett’s book was how she stressed that all these small, seemingly insignificant moments had lead her where she needed to be, and more specifically to what she needed for herself as a writer.  Patchett does a fantastic job of connecting key personal experiences to major life lessons, such as a story about a Hare Krishna man that she encounters at the airport and who helps her find her gate and then who she ends up listening to for two hours.  Her encounter with him teaches her that most people need to talk and that “often a willingness to sit and listen is the greatest kindness one person can offer to another” (35).

Patchett’s central point is that “what now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed out into a dark unknown.  What now can also be our joy.  it is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance.”  I think I’m getting better at embracing that philosophy, though it is still very much a work in progress for me.  Watching, staring, being very still – also key ideas Patchett raises in the book – these are all things I keep working on.  And yes, I’m back at writing as I said in an earlier post and that, to borrow from Frost, has made all the difference.  It is in that area where I can quiet the fear and look on “what now?” with such a sense of possibility.  As Patchett says towards the end of her essay, “Identify your heart’s truest desire and don’t change that for anything” (78).

photo of the day: cradling leaf

5 02 2009

A non-hdr shot for a change.  Walking around the park, I’m amazed at how many leaves are still clinging onto the trees.  I took a few shots of them, but this one was by far my favourite, particularly the way the curl of the leaf cradled the snow.