this is not a review: ‘the book of marvels’, by lorna crozier

 
I have a fondness for the overlooked and easily abandoned, things that seemingly have no use or appear to be limited in their use or have the misfortune of being in the company of people with no imagination. I suspect Lorna Crozier shares this fondness because The Book of Marvels  is dedicated to exactly that… the easily overlooked, the rarely if ever thought about, things that are right there, like air and eggs, ironing boards, crowbars, darkness and the brain… “The brain thinking about itself is thinking about the brain thinking. The brain not thinking about itself is thinking about the brain not thinking.”

I could just stop right there and mull that over for half a day.

But I’m compelled to read on, to savour the next bite-sized morsel, one more beautifully presented, poetic prosey observation about something I’ve never thought of in quite the way I’m reading it here. I make my way through the book like it’s a bar of 85% chocolate.

About the sky… “The sky is a blouse snatched from the back of a woman. No. The sky is a muddle of clouds that won’t sit still in the lecture hall. No…”

And then I look up at the sky and ask is it a blouse?  Yes of course! And no.

About a clothes hanger, Crozier points out the “cryptic punctuation mark”, the “?” atop the ‘shoulders’ of the wire or plastic or wooden frame, shoulders that are hidden by clothes but the “?” is always visible,  creating within our closets a row of “?????????????”…  that “bring to your attention …the multitude of questions whose answers you don’t know.”

She refers to feet as our “nethermost telluric twins” and I’ve learned a new word. And then she goes on to reflect on the moment of their first walking out of prehistoric waters “… our spines straightening, our gills slamming shut, the salt on our skin crusting in the dry air, our hands astonished into being hands and not another pair of feet.”

The hinges of a bird’s wings, the way one word hinges on another… how this is where poetry begins.

The pointlessness of an ear lobe.

The way a stone is “… a clock whose face you can’t read.”

The book is small. The marvels take up no more than a page each, a short paragraph or two. They are listed alphabetically. The only item under ‘O’ is ‘Objects’ in which Crozier quotes William Matthews who said “… if an object fails to interest us, it’s not its fault but our own.”

Couldn’t agree more. The Book of Marvels  is rich with the fruit of paying attention to connections, to the minutia that surrounds us, the frippery that has nothing yet everything to do with how we live. It’s a book that changes how you look at a flashlight, an eraser or a doorknob.

And isn’t that just so refreshing?

__

 

The Book of Marvels  is available online at Blue Heron Books
and Hunter Street Books.

Support indies! (These are two of my faves.)

 

 

 

menstrual memories anyone?

 
A new anthology, called GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos For Our Times, is making some people uncomfortable… why must these things be spoken of??

And making others relieved… thank god we can finally speak.

Because I have a short piece in the book (about the perils of attending a pool party in the 1970’s), and because I believe in saying the word menstruation out loud,
I recently sat outside Blue Heron Books with a little sign that said Menstrual Memories?  —  And waited to see what would happen.

Young children were rushed past.

Men looked uncomfortable. Women too. One woman actually sneered.

But after a while, I noticed people coming back, and some of them stopped. Then many more stopped. It was as if they’d been initially blindsided by the question… but… now that you mention it, yeah, I do have some memories I’d like to share.

And so they shared.

Menstrual memories.

And why not?

A man asked if he could take a picture of the table. I asked if he had any menstrual memories. He said no. We laughed and I liked that the word was spoken between genders. It’s hard enough sometimes just between women.

And that of course IS the whole point of the book, i.e.Why are women made to feel awkward and embarrassed about a basic function of biology?

The first to stop was an 83 year old woman from Cape Breton who whispered about shame and flannel cloths worn like diapers, about the horror of washing them and hanging them to dry. After a few minutes she stopped whispering as one memory twigged another and her friends got into it, all of them swapping stories, and I could tell they’d never had this conversation or anything like it before. As she began to leave, she stopped, smiled and said thank you, this has been fun. She seemed slightly surprised that it turned out that way. And I have no doubt that part of the fun was the relief of speaking the words… at last.

Following are memories so many women shared with me… on a sidewalk, outside a bookstore, on a beautiful summer night… in their own words:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My aunt was on holiday in Austria and her ankles got so swollen she went to see a doctor and discovered she was eight months pregnant. She’d gained some weight but still had her period and so it was a complete shock. My cousin was born the next month and my aunt and uncle quickly got married and moved in together.

When I got my cycle at age thirteen my mum told me I had to carry a purse for “my stuff”. The way she said it was like it was the worst thing on earth.

My dad worked in a factory that made menstrual products and got an employee discount but was too embarrassed to bring them home in the company box, which ‘advertised’ what was inside and so made a whole production out of wrapping the box in brown paper so that neighbours wouldn’t be any the wiser as he brought it into the house from the car. It was treated like contraband.

I was an immigrant and there was a questionnaire at school. One of the questions had the word “menstrual” in it and I didn’t understand, exactly. But I didn’t ask what it meant. It was like I had an idea it shouldn’t be said out loud.

My mom left a booklet about “being a woman” on my dresser one day. In my closet, that same day, on the top shelf, was a box that had a lovely picture on it of a lovely woman in a long white gown. I was very excited about my new dress (which I assumed was inside!!).

My period started on the way home from school on the #28 Davisville bus. Me in my school uniform: white blouse, kilt, knee socks, blazer. I felt the ‘gush’ and when I stood up I was mortified. I tied the blazer around myself as I exited the bus.

I can’t remember what I said, nothing big, I’d simply mentioned my period in conversation to my boyfriend, who became (immediately) enraged. The details are a blur. All I remember is how angry he was that I said whatever I said out loud, like blasphemy or something. I have never, not once, spoken a word about my period to any guy since. Including my husband.

Boys made jokes about girls who were on their periods. (On the rag & worse.)

Try using an outhouse when you have your period.

When I got my period my mother took me aside and said I was to avoid boys now. She didn’t clarify why or which boys so I avoided them all, including my brothers, to the point that I was afraid if our elbows touched as we passed on the stairs. It completely changed our relationship.

Got my period at eleven. I was on a toboggan with two boys.

My favourite menstrual thought:  I look forward to menopause!

A menstrual memory for me is when I was in my twenties and playing softball. I was either pitching or shortstop, and I felt something. Uh oh…

My periods were heavy and I didn’t carry a purse. I worked as an auctioneer.
I used to keep extra pads down the sides of my cowboy boots.

I remember watching TV with my dad and my brothers and running from the room in embarrassment when Kotex ads came on.

My periods stopped the day my mother died. I could feel it starting as I sat with her in the hospital. She died that night, and my period proceeded normally for the rest of week. And that was it. I never had another. I was only in my forties.

We didn’t have products. We used flannel cloths, like diapers, and they had to be washed and dried and re-used. It was an embarrassment when it was your time because people would see the bulge of the pin through your skirt.

My periods were so bad I had to take three days off school most months.

I lived near the ocean and it was a real concern, people would tell you not to swim, to be careful of sharks, and they weren’t kidding.

 

GUSH: Menstrual Manifestos For Our Times available from Blue Heron Books

Support indies!

 

 

wordless wednesday: summer postcards

Postcard greetings of the market kind where a good time is being had by all. Not the least for having discovered the new shiitake vendor… AND scoring seed potatoes, ‘eating’ potatoes, BLACK CURRANTS!!, yellow plums, and a few more things in other and various hues.

p.s. Am slightly addicted to the greenhouse tomatoes Meredith sells (I wanted to wait for the vine-ripened, I swear I did, and I thought I could just taste ONE of the greenhouse beauties, I thought I could handle it, that they’d have no power over me.) I had it sliced on toast with mayo. Do not send help.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

see?

 

‘Second Chances’ is the name of the donation centre at a local women’s shelter where items are arranged ‘shop style’ so residents can help themselves to whatever they need… especially when moving on to new housing, and for a year afterwards. Someone I met there this morning, a former resident, told me how much the ‘free shopping’ meant to her (I got a kettle! a bath mat! shower curtains!), how much the whole shelter experience meant to her… how terrified she was when she arrived, how much the staff did to help her at a time when she felt like she was losing her mind, but even more, how they helped her move on, to find peace and beauty again, to give her kids a safe home, and how she loves to come back occasionally to say hello or sign up for a program.

I watch as she and a staff member hug with genuine affection, you look great!  and I can’t help thinking what I know of her life, the utter awfulness of her past and the extraordinary changes she’s made in the years since.

I can’t help being in awe that she’s standing here so relaxed, wide open, all kind soul and grateful heart.

As we pass the stairs leading to the basement ‘store’ she stops, points to a wooden sign on a bare plaster wall and her face lights up like an epiphany.

See?  she says. That’s what this place is…

 

 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
For further information and assistance, including a list of shelters in Ontario, and across Canada:

OAITH

Public Health Agency of Canada

 

wordless wednesday: summer postcards

Greetings from Lake Scugog!  (Where I have no idea if the fish are biting because I’ve never fished here nor do I intend to.)

Tho’ I can recommend the halibut at the fish place on hwy 7A near Reid’s, the chip truck on Island Road and the curried mussels at Marwan’s Global Bistro.

(If you’re not feeling fishy, have the pizza at Pickles and Olives.)

(And I have it on good authority that the pasta is divine at Jester’s Court.
Sit on the patio.)

Or…

— drop by Scugog Arts Council or the Kent Farndale Gallery or rent a ship and do some paddling or drive over to the island and sit on Goreski’s patio and watch the paddling (and other) ships come and go, or stop by the perfectly sized Pioneer Village, or if it’s Saturday bring your canvas bag to the farmers’ market or visit Caviar and Cobwebs for treasures or Meta4 for, for… well, you’ll see, or say hi to Bill at Books Galore, and whoever’s at Willow books, or go to the chocolate place for chocolate, fudge and/or gelato or take a walk along Cochrane Street or the waterfront or over to Reid’s via the waterfront walkway or just hang out in the waterfront park with that gelato or that book and catch a few summery zzzzz’s while the seagulls serenade you and never once poop on your head.

It’s that kind of town.

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

this is not a review: summer reading

 

A Celibate Season,  by Blanche Howard and Carol Shields

A Vancouver woman leaves her family for a ten month assignment in Ottawa where she works on the National Commission for Women and Poverty. This is the 1980’s and she and her husband communicate by letter and occasional phone calls (when the phone bill has been paid and the line functioning). There are a few meet-ups during the ten months but they increasingly parallel the changes that each partner is experiencing as they discover themselves and each other through ‘abstinence’. Beautifully written, in alternating voices by Blanche Howard and Carol Shields in a kind of nifty repartee that just doesn’t exist anymore. Pity. (Also a gorgeous through line involving lentils… brilliant, actually.)

 

Excellent Women,  by Barbara Pym

How not to love a book that uses the word slut in reference to a woman who doesn’t keep an especially tidy kitchen.

“You’d hate sharing a kitchen with me. I’m such a slut,” she said, almost proudly.”

Or one who has no tea cups.

“I hope you don’t mind tea in mugs,” she said, coming in with a tray. “I told you I was a slut.”

(Set in the sluttish 1950’s.)

 

A Killer in King’s Cove,   by Iona Whishaw

A woman leaves England for a quiet life in the interior of B.C. where everyone seems on the elderly side and is suspected (or suspects) that most of the residents are running from something. The question is: who is, who isn’t?

I’m not a big mystery fan insofar as caring who dunnit, but I love a good story and this is one. Also, the fact that it’s set in the 1940’s and includes details such as a picnic where sandwiches are wrapped in brown paper (never mind the body that’s discovered in the creek at the same picnic)… and, well, you have my attention.

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from what’s left of holiday cottages, a dance pavilion, and refreshment booths that once graced the traditional lands of the people of Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation, a branch of the greater Anishinaabeg Nation, land that’s part of the Williams Treaties, aka, the Whitby shoreline of Lake Ontario!

The holiday resort existed from about 1900 to the 1960s, with steamboats bringing travellers from Toronto for weeks-long holidays, and locals coming by horse and buggy.

I interviewed an elderly man many years ago, who told me he lived near the lake (the old wooden houses of ‘Port Whitby’ are still there) and how as a boy he would be sent to the pier when the fishing boats came in. He’d bring a bucket and a few coins and the fishermen would toss in a couple fish, enough for supper. He said the horses and buggies from town would be lined up and down the street to do the same.

I would love to hear stories also of when the Mississaugas lived on the land, and how it was they (were) ‘moved along’. No dance pavilion for them…

**

A friend of mine has lived here much longer than I have and remembers things being quite wild and woody. Much building since I arrived, but I also remember fields and woodlands running either side of main streets. Many of those fields are gone, but loads are still intact. For now. We’re lucky in that the countryside is still just a spit away, that the town is built around parks and ravines and has a river called Lynde Creek that runs through it, complete with salmon. I feel lucky to be surrounded by farms and (honest to goodness) farmers’ markets and that the lake shore remains mostly unsullied and the downtown, all leafy streets of Victorian era homes and shops, is walkable from where I live and takes me backwards through a century of neighbourhoods, from the 1970s to the 1870s. If you pay attention you can see how the town was layered, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.

It’s funny that we complain about the layering that continues. It’s nothing new, it’s been going on since we built towns and cities. It happens in cities too. It’s called condos. Still, it feels annoying, and whether here or there, the problem is the same, when there’s an imbalance of ‘building’, when too many houses/condos are built without thought to building neighbourhoods.

I have a thing about neighbourhoods.

I’m fascinated by how people live in them, how they make them home, how they adapt, how they’re different, and the same.

I have a thing about small and middle-sized towns, factory towns a lot of them, and those that appear, on the surface ‘to be not much’. Nothing against cities. I had to be dragged away from one. But even in cities, it’s always the less travelled side of the tracks, not the shabby chic side, but the authentically, downright seemingly dull side, the places where crowds don’t go, that I always discover the sweetest surprises.

I’m rambling.

But isn’t that what lazy summer days and postcards… and the sight of old concrete stairs at the beach… are for…

It’s too hot to overthink a postcard. Mostly just writing to say hello.

And happy summer.  (happy rambling too!)

#LoveWhereYouLive

#AndRememberWhoLivedThereFirst

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman