this is not a review: ‘mitzi bytes’, by kerry clare

 
Whether reading her blog Pickle Me This, her essays or short fiction, The M Word  or trash writing... I’m never disappointed with Kerry Clare’s style… that kind of literary voice that feels conversational, as if what you’re reading is something you could also be hearing over lunch with a friend.

Mitzi Bytes  is no exception. You lean forward into the pages, waiting for the next thing, the next laugh (Oh my god, the No Angle tatoo!), the yes yes, I get that!,  or the next bit of outrage and when it comes you lean back, take a breath and wonder how you’ll figure it out, this problem, this mess of a situation, whatever it happens to be, because by this point you are totally signed on.

Pass the bread.

Order some wine.

Keep talking.

Clare excels at writing about the ordinary, which happens to be one of my favourite subjects. She draws the reader in with wide open, honest emotions and isn’t afraid to say this is the truth as I see it  in exactly the way you hope the best of your friends will always say things.

In Mitzi Bytes  she writes about blogging, which is really about noticing.

Sarah Lundy is someone who notices. She’s the person behind a popular blog called Mitzi Bytes. She’s also the author of some very successful books, compilations of her “domestic tales”. But it’s the blog where her notoriety lives, along with her candid, often bitchy posts, which she writes anonymously and which mostly centre around the people in her life, none of whom, including her husband, have any idea that Sarah and Mitzi are one and the same.

Until a comment comes through the site saying she’s been found out.

This is where we meet Sarah, on the verge of her world imploding. She has no idea who would want to do such a vile thing… no idea mainly because the options are many. After all, she’s made a career, literally, of mocking and judging others. (But to be fair, she has also mocked and judged herself in the process.) The *who* of this threat is only one part of the mystery the book sets out to solve. The other is how Sarah’s world became this vulnerable to attack in the first place… not to mention what, exactly, she’s hiding, protecting, and afraid of losing.

But, really, it’s about so much more. It’s about living online, the need to share every thought through a keyboard, the way of virtual friendship and the reality of remaining angry, afraid and alone IRL.

It’s about children and marriage and the effort of not losing oneself (or one’s melon baller). It’s about the history of blogging and the way history is recorded.

“She was thinking of the mother of the baby in the bathtub… Of all the men in towers supposing they were conducting the business of the world, imagining themselves to be the foundation civilization was resting upon–financial markets, circuit boards, and machine guns. Systems to which libraries of multi-volume encyclopedias had been devoted…. while women’s real lives, the stuff of life itself–blood, milk, sweat, tears, and the burn of fevered foreheads–was deemed inconsequential, or even worse, these stories weren’t acknowledged, weren’t even written down, let alone read, reviewed, history continuing on as it had ever been, delivered by the pens of men.”

And it’s about the kind of insecurity society breeds and the way the internet is a place to pretend we’re someone other than we are. Sarah Lundy represents all of us in a way, the part of us that’s just trying to clunk its way through life. What Clare does so well is show us this process in a way that we see Sarah and also see ourselves in  Sarah. We recognize the insecurity in her railing, know that it’s the frustration of powerlessness. The question then becomes: why do we give our power away?

A lovely read. And so discussable. Book club or lunch, you choose.

Mitzi Bytes is available online

at Blue Heron Books and at Hunter Street Books.

Two of my favourites. (Support indies!)

 

 

 

 

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this is not a review: ‘the m word’, edited by kerry clare

 
Warning: today’s ‘Not a Review’ includes internal organs. But not until nearly the very end.

I’m not normally drawn to mothering books but I like Kerry Clare’s work, so it was impossible not to be drawn to her anthology, The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood. I knew I’d be in the hands of good taste and good writing, even if, as a Childless Woman, I couldn’t actually relate. Well, what happened was this: I found myself not only enjoying the read, but relating. In a major way. Because, as it turns out, the essays are both about mothering and not mothering, about the exultant and the reluctant, the non-mothers by choice, the stepmothers by circumstance, women who will do anything to be come a mother and those who will do anything to not. And in every scenario, the difficulties, joys, fears, the way life is changed for the better and sometimes for the not entirely better. There are celebrations, regrets, and such honesty that it’s really quite impossible not to relate.

In other words, there’s something for everyone. Even me. Because if you’re a woman, you fall into some category where motherhood is concerned. This, whether you like it or not. You have the parts. And if you don’t, that may be the problem, or the celebration, depending on your outlook, your personal goals.

And that it is so personal is what I most enjoyed about the book. The writing, yes, but I wasn’t merely reading, you see, I was being drawn into this conversation, being reminded that yes, I also have a story, some history on this subject. And let’s hear it, the conversation seemed to say, because as you can see, no woman is excluded from this club, for here is a truth: if you’re a woman it’s pretty hard not to have a few thoughts on the motherhood thing.m-word-cover

The book is arranged alphabetically, which happens to fit nicely with its ‘lettery’ title, but more importantly it allows for accidental juxtapositions rather than any kind of predictable narrative.
I read it backwards.

Michele Landsberg in the Afterword, on the surprising role of grandmother: “Even though I haven’t had to consider the effect of a child on my lifestyle, the negative or the positive, less is said about that—guilt? It’s interest/improving to help understand friends who’ve been through it because still decades later they talk about it.”

And on over-thinking, a beautifully rendered piece by Julia Zarankin. “If I have a baby in March, when should my husband begin taking driving lessons?”

Sara Yi-Mei Tsian considers the implications on her work: “Motherhood is a study in conflicts, which is why it attracts me as a writer.” and this… I just love this: “…there is a certain nugget of truth… that all writers would like to avoid. We cannot give voice to a character based on someone real without silencing, at least in part, the person who inspired us.”

Patricia Storms presents a graphic essay about the joy of “working for” kids and living without them. And how that’s not something a lot of people seem to understand.

Kerry Ryan on ambivalence about motherhood: “Do you have to have a maternal instinct from the get-go, or does it kick in with your breast milk? And if not, can you wing it, or is your child destined to become a serial killer?”

Heidi Reimer begins with ambivalence, then an adopted daughter, then gets to the “bone of my bone”, “the flesh of my fleshness” when she gives birth and experiences a different kind of love. “I had made a person! I would never do or become anything more important than this.” (Actually, that statement made me wonder about generations past. Did they feel this rush of omnipotence? Now there’s a conversation.)

To her credit, Reimer is painfully honest when writing about these differences.

“I am in love with Aphra, a feeling as effortless and unstoppable as breathing. My relationship with Maia is more akin to an arranged marriage: I made a choice I believed was right, and through that choice, over time a bond solid and close and beautiful as grown. A connection inextricable. If I am sometimes aware that this love was a choice, if that choice is sometimes taxed, so, too, are my relationships with almost everyone I love. Of the several people integral to my existence, Aphra is the only one who came from my body.”

On single motherhood: Fiona Tinwei Lam writes, “Not wanting to be married didn’t mean I didn’t want to have a child.”

And from Ariel Gordon, the need to protect her writing time and space and the choice to have only one child. “When it came right down to it I didn’t think I could be a working writer with more than one child. And I was unwilling to take a break when my writing and my writing life—the time I spent in the company of other writers at readings and conferences and retreats—were finally starting to gel.”

I admire her conviction, the wisdom to know her limits insofar as achieving her goals and how she sees there is more to give her child than a brother or sister to grow up with… but it’s interesting that the ‘maternal’ concern is still there.  “And so, even though the girl won’t have siblings to lean on… I’m hoping that she can lean on the texts I’ve left behind.”

Nicole Dixon chose to not have kids for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is an over-populated planet and consumerism run amok. More diapers and toys don’t help the situation. She justifies her position with a desire to allow herself to be a good citizen in so many other ways. that parents may not always put first.

“People often think that saying no to having kids means saying no to life. My choice not to have kids, however, is a choice made from love. I’ve realized that the legacy I want to leave on the earth after I’m gone is as small a mark, as tiny a footprint, as possible… My choice not to have kids does not close me off from my community or my planet. Instead, it allows me to nurture my own life and to mother everyone’s mother, Earth.”

Most are young or youngish mothers. Myrl Coulter is perhaps the single entry from a very different generation, and this is nice to see. Her piece on unwed mothers in the 60’s is especially moving. She was eighteen and in love with a seemingly nice guy. But marriage didn’t make sense. She became a ‘girl in trouble’ and was whisked away to one of the maternity homes that existed from the 1940’s through the 80’s.

“To call these places maternity homes is highly ironic: maternity homes were not homes nor did they function to promote maternity. They were institutions to house and hide those deemed maternally inappropriate. Also known as homes for unwed mothers, they were busy places in those days. Winnipeg, a small city, had three.”

These girls were not just thought to have made a bad decision one night in the rumble seat, but their whole character was judged and they were vilified. They were also thought to be without maternal instincts yet, curiously, they were denied contact with the babies they delivered, which only proves that everyone, even judgmental pricks, realizes the connection between mother and child.

**

So yes. I read, I enjoyed, I related, I remembered, and the remembering led me to a few other words. The N-D word for instance, as in Near-Death, because it seems fallopian tubes are not a welcoming environment for growing children and near death follows for the host but, before that, after much mysterious pain, internal bleeding, a severe drop in blood pressure and eventually, in the Emergency Department through an increasing haze as one slowly drifts away, the words: you’re pregnant. The only time I would ever hear that sentence where the ‘you’ was me. I remember it was oddly euphoric, even as I lay nearly dying.

The S word is also in my repertoire. Stepmother. I keep forgetting. Easy enough to do in a society that likes its consumers clearly defined as demographics and that doesn’t apologize for the twisted version of things that results when we slap a narrow label on something as big as ‘mother’.

The bottom line is this: The M-Word does what the best conversations do… it shares the stories of others while reminding you of your own.

**

Small note: If forced to offer a quibble it would only be with the choice of colours for the cover. In an effort to leave the pink and blue behind as we move forward, I’d have preferred anything but.

passing the cake…

 

I’m swanning about the place in a tiara today. Also a sash. Just missing a mitre—and, what, an ermine robe is asking too much??  All this thanks to Allyson Latta  who bestowed on me the most wonderful surprise of naming Matilda one of her picks for the (brace yourself) Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award—whose logo is a strawberry shortcake, which makes it probably the best award I’ve ever heard of.

The protocol, I’ve been advised, on receiving the ISBA, is to a) thank the person who nominated you, b) share seven things about yourself, and c) pass along the award to other irresistibly sweet bloggers.

Well, first things first then: thank you so very much, Ms. Allyson, for thinking of my little corner of cyberspace and for the kind things you said about it—the phrase “sometimes wacky” notwithstanding; surely a typo… :D  (me, wacky??)

As for sharing seven things about myself—this should be relatively simple given that there happen to be exactly seven things about myself.

They are these:

1.   My backyard is home to several giant ant hills (by which I mean three or four), none of which I intend to do anything about. One of them has been there fifteen years. We call it the Ant Hotel. When visiting kids were small we had a sign for it. Very reasonable rates and efficient, speedy room service (albeit small portions) were its hallmarks.

2.   I’ve been toying with the idea of trying to like coffee but I keep buying tea.

3.   Corn makes my stomach ache. Annoying because I like polenta and Mexican food and Fritos, not to mention buttery cobs on summer days, which when I was a kid I used to eat like a typewriter. (Link provided for those who just said a what??)

4.   My heroes tend to be animals, children and very old people.

5.   I’m happiest when the fridge is on the empty side. I find this inspires creativity in my cooking. Some wonderful things have been invented under the most spartan conditions. Or maybe I’m happiest when I’m outside, up to my wrists in dirt (pardon me, soil), or on a lounge chair in the company of words. On the other hand, swimming, plunging my nose into laundry fresh from a sunny line, a morning spent walking or writing at the beach…all leave me smiling pretty solidly too. As does rain and snow and the kind of breeze you could fall asleep in and then you do and that feeling when you wake up and the world is just there, waiting for you, making no demands. And you remember there’s just enough ice cream left for a small bowl and because there’s only a bit, it tastes that much better. And then you find a jar of cherries.

6.   I saw Leonard Cohen in concert in 2009. I still haven’t completely recovered.

7.   I would like to learn Spanish and Sign Language. Spanish, so that I can go back to Chile and discuss bread and wine and life. Sign Language for its beauty and elegance.

Finally, a few bloggers to whom I’d like to pass along the shortcake. Not for sweetness but for enhancing the interweb with their wise words, gentle spirits and contagious sense of joy.

Alone on a Boreal Stage—Home of poet and visual artist Brenda Schmidt’s photo/video poems and other bird/nature/book related pleasures.

We Drank Cachaca and Smoked the Green Cheroot—I’ve become addicted to this site because of stolen rhubarb, orange knickers, lady bikes, Jean Talon Market and sentences like this:

“I was not expecting the skies of England to be all painterly, to perform for me as they have apparently done since William and Dorothy Wordsworth pottered about the countryside with their pockets full of mutton pies, but the skies did perform, and I am still thinking about them, because they billowed alive over the built-up bricks and statuary and pomp and palaces that caused the subtitle BYGONE DAYS to float across my mind the whole time I was there.” (From the post: Whence and Whilst and Those Constable Skies, 6/14/11)

Pickle Me This—I’m always happily surprised whenever I check into this site. Kerry Clare has exactly the right mix of book smart and life whimsy.

Carol Bruneau’s Blog—This is where I go to remind myself how to think about writing.

Four Rooms—Exploring the power of words in various forms.

Island Editions—Publishing, books, beachy vistas and occasionally food.