Creative non-fiction is my genre. If I were to take up writing for a living – I know that sounds odd, but the type of writing I do is mostly reports these days – this is the genre I would prefer. Wikipedia defines creative non-fiction as writing that “uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.”
Back in 1990, I flew to Vancouver for the very first time, to attend a women’s writing intensive, held at the School of Theology on the UBC campus. I was part of the creative non-fiction group, and for the first time, was encouraged to write in this genre for two full weeks. It gave me an appreciation of how one could turn otherwise dry facts and present them in a compelling way.
Creative non-fiction is what makes science writing interesting (Woman: An Intimate Geography), what makes discussion of social issues lively (Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods – My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine), of political issues compelling (A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solider), what brings life to recipe books (Gluten Free Girl and the Chef). So it’s hard for me to choose which writer would be my favourite. I love them all! But if I look at my bookshelf, I have multiple books by one particular writer: Bill Bryson.
Bryson’s book topics span travel, language, science, history, and biography. He writes with a type of unassuming authority that draws you into his world and makes you want to soak it all in.
The first book I read was In a Sunburned Country, about Australia. I don’t know if it made me want to experience the outback the same way he did, but it did up my resolve to go visit while I could still enjoy the visit in an unstructured way.
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way was next. As a lover of language and the type of person who goes around looking up the etymology of interesting words, I found this work fascinating.
Though I’m not a big reader of science books, I found A Short History of Nearly Everything quite readable. When I read the first few pages, I thought I might get bored, but I got drawn in relatively quickly.
The last book, which I started but haven’t finished yet, is At Home: A Short History of Private Life. It’s not that I don’t find the book interesting, it’s that my available time has shrunk to a minimum.
If you haven’t looking into the creative non-fiction genre, do make a point of picking up a book or two. You might just get hooked on it.
Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors who has been solidly prolific for over thirty years. She’s written over 50 books in 40 years, and each one a gem. She has so many awards and accolades that I can’t begin to enumerate them all here or it would take the entire post. (You can read about Oates on the No Other Appetite site.)
In 1974, I was living in Montreal North, which is the equivalent of living in Coquitlam in relation to Vancouver. It was rather small-town back then, and very Francophone. It had a tiny library, and an even tinier English section. I think it was one wall in the library with one topic area per shelf. It was there I discovered Joyce Carol Oates, a few years into her writing career. I picked up Do with Me What You Will, and I was hooked on the book and the character. I became the character. It didn’t help that at the time, I was living in a relationship with a hot-tempered Sicilian who later became abusive. At the time, he was still a hot-head wanna-be Mafioso with a gambling problem who thought that I acted odd whenever I spent time reading that book. The liberation and self-realization of the protagonist became my own.
After that, I wanted to read everything written by Oates, but I had to figure out a way to keep a bit of distance. Otherwise, I would have become a member of a girl gang (Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang), a boxer (On Boxing), an overweight teenage boy (Expensive People), a newlywed whose husband commits suicide (The Falls), and a raft of other characters who Oates makes completely believable.
Stop to think about it. Here’s a middle-class woman who can get her head inside of such a range of people to be able to write their stories believably, and give them enough of an interesting twist to create a substantial sized novel. And she has done so, at the rate of about a book a year, year in and year out, for over 40 years. Impressive.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of hearing Oates read at the Vancouver Public Library, and asked her how she stayed so discipline. She attributed her prolific writing to running, where she got a lot of her ideas. She’d run in the morning and then write all day. She says she’s not as prolific since her husband died, and thus A Widow’s Story: A Memoir was the first book after what for any other author would be a brief lull. But I see Oates is back full-tilt, with Mudwoman.
No matter which book you choose of Oates, you’re sure to be pleased.
I must confess that I really don’t like the genre of science fiction. Maybe the science fiction I’ve read has been out of the ordinary, but it seems that the extraordinary aspects are contrived to fit the plot. Something happens and then some superpower just “happens” to kick in and the plot carries on.
The closest I come to science fiction is what I just discovered is called the cyberpunk and steampunk subgenres of speculative fiction. And the writer who got me to appreciate it is William Gibson.
I bought Neuromancer on a sale rack, and it sat on my bookshelf for a long time – I’d only glanced through it. I thought a friend would like it, and I bought him a copy for his birthday. His enthusiastic reaction made me go back and pick up where I’d left off. I was hooked. I read the entire book in a day or two and then looked at what else Gibson had written. I was in luck.
Pattern Recognition had been published and it didn’t take long for me to pick up a copy from the bookstore. It was hard to put down, and even harder to stop thinking about. Maybe it’s because I work in technology, or maybe because it’s because I share certain traits with the protagonist (Cayce Pollard). After I finished the book, I found myself wondering what she was up to now, and had to remind myself that she wasn’t real, she was just a character in a novel.
There are no sudden superpowers, no unbelievable plot twists. That’s not to say that the storyline is predictable; there are a lot of twists and turns that made it a compelling read. However, they are all believable. The technology he describes is or could be. That’s what kept me reading. Gibson’s understanding of technology is solid, but what’s more impressive is how he taps into the human psyche, human curiosity and drive, and the need to know. Perhaps that is the strongest reason that compelled me to read. It’s that I could see myself in the position of exploiting technology in my quest to get to the bottom of something. I’m just a punter – a little bit of amateur sleuthing to track down a piece of information I need for work, or looking up a person from my past who has changed her name after marriage; Gibson’s characters are pros.
A few novels later, and I’m still a fan. Gibson spoke at the Vancouver Public Library earlier this year, and it was a treat to listen to his views. He was a good balance of enthusiastic and cynical, engaged and dismissive, social and loner. Evidently, Neuromancer is now being made into a movie, and some concept art has just surfaced for it. If you’re not a fan of books, this may be another way to experience the complexities of William Gibson’s imagination.
This week, my theme is books. It’s next to impossible to choose a single favourite author, but I am trying to narrow it down by genre. The first category is murder mysteries. It’s a tried-and-true genre, and for a while, when I had time to read, I quite enjoyed a good murder mystery. The operative word here is “good”. I’ve found authors who wrote clever ones, and authors who wrote gruesome ones, authors who have odd subplots going on, and authors whose plots defy logic.
The novelist whose books are the most compelling, to me, is Elizabeth George. I discovered her quite by accident a few years back and have adopted her as my murder mystery novelist of choice. It was a few books in before I realized that her books were, in effect, serialized. The protagonist evolves throughout the series, and I’ve come to recognize the relationship between the characters. Just recently, I discovered that her novels had been made into a British series called The Inspector Lynley Mysteries. It was during a trip to the UK that I was watching something on the television in my hotel room and thought: this story seems very familiar.
George’s writing still is quite compelling. There are very few books that I read where I get to the end of a chapter and can’t bring myself to put the book down. Her books are like that. I think I finished the first book of hers that I had been given in two days flat. I stayed up quite late because I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. I had to know. The stories are complex and layered, and there are no obvious clues to tell the reader “ah, that’s what will happen”. Or perhaps there are too many clues that are so artfully woven into the story that you don’t realize that the narrative becomes a series of clues. And I do look for clues. But in this case, it’s easy to get lost in the story, in the characters.
If I had to choose a favourite, I’d say it is Missing Joseph, which isn’t really written in the classic murder mystery genre. You know from the beginning who did what, and to whom, but George eases the layers away like peeling an onion. It’s an apt metaphor because the picture she paints of the protagonist becomes a study of urban London society, complete with the complexities of immigration, stratification, and collusion.
Speaking of Elizabeth George, I have a half-finished Careless in Red to complete. Now, if I could only find some time to read …
Women will recognize this scenario right away. You go into a restaurant and try to hang your purse over the back of your chair, but the shape of the chair is wrong or your handbag handle slides off or maybe you don’t feel safe leaving your purse out of your sight on the back of the chair. You don’t want to leave your bag on the floor because the bottom will get dirty. You don’t want to hold your bag in your lap during the entire meal. You certainly don’t want to plop your bag onto the table.
This is where purse hooks come in – Amazon calls them handbag hangers. These little things are a feat of engineering. I don’t have a particular brand in mind – I bought mine in a chi-chi store in an airport while I was killing time between flights – but they all work on the same principle. You place the purse strap(s) on the hook part, and then slide the disc onto the table. Somehow the balancing act works and the purse hook stays on the table, and the purse stays neatly tucked under the table where you can keep it handily within sight.
When the purse hook is folded up, the hook portion curves around the disk to make a compact, flat circle. You can carry it in your purse, usually in a little pouch. It’s a light and portable solution to a persistent problem.
I suspect that these have become low-cost items, as a search gives me over a million hits. There are some that are more angular, which may work better but would be a bit of a pain to carry in one’s bag. I like the idea of a pocket-sized product that provides a handy solution. The one problem I’ve encountered is that sometimes table thicknesses exceed the reach of the hook. Then it becomes an exercise in frustration as I’m bound to the struggle between me and the table.
Actually, I often wonder why these handy devices hadn’t been invented long ago. During Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee, the CBC ran a documentary that included a segment on what Queen Elizabeth always carried in her purse. One of the items is an S-hook for this very purpose: to hang her bag in a handy place. The fact that someone thought of an S-hook as the only solution for the Queen of England is a statement about the thought that designers (used to) put into solutions for women. I suppose it makes sense – they don’t carry purses – but you’d think someone would have mentioned it at least a couple of decades ago?
I imagine there are other uses for this, though I can’t think of any offhand other than holding up power cords while in a hotel room. It may be a single-purpose item, but boy it’s a handy single-purpose item!
A number of years ago, I discovered the Radius toothbrush at one of the local health food stores. I don’t remember if the store was Choices or Whole Foods, but I do know that the toothbrush seemed to be just the ticket.
- First of all, its design is very comfortable to hold. That’s an important aspect of product design for someone with a bit of arthritis on their hands.
- Secondly, it has an extra-wide head. It seems to do a better job than other toothbrushes.
- Third, it lasts way longer. You don’t replace it, you just throw it in the dishwasher, top shelf, and then you’re good for another couple of months. About nine months, to be sure.
Believe it or not, I’ve been told that I have a mouth the size of a 10-year-old. Very narrow jaw and a very high palate. In other words, being told to press my tongue against the roof of my mouth, it’s next to impossible for me. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I was told this, and that my dentist suggested that I use a smaller-sized toothbrush so that I could reach my back teeth better. No wonder I’d had trouble with my teeth – the toothbrush didn’t fit properly!
So not only was this toothbrush helpful in covering a larger brushing area, but there’s a smaller size that I keep in my travel bag. It fits better in my toiletry bag and it does a better job of cleaning my teeth.
The reason that toothbrushes came to mind is that I finally managed to ruin my Radius toothbrush. I discovered the hard way that trying to sterilize it by putting it into a pot of boiled water. The toothbrush bent into an odd shape, and the bristles came out in little clumps. It would have been more pleasant had this not happened while the toothbrush was in my mouth. Needless to say, I had too retire the toothbrush and retreat to the supply cupboard where I chose a new toothbrush from a large package of generic toothbrushes.
I don’t see these toothbrushes that often in stores, so I suspect it will be a while before I find a replacement brush. I suppose I could order one online, but shipping anything to Canada means that the shipping price will probably cost as much as the toothbrush itself. And that’s if they ship to Canada. But if I do see one in my travels, a new one will take a place of honour in the extra-wide toothbrush holder that I got just to house the thing.
Seeing as it’s finally getting sunny in Vancouver, I’m profiling what is definitely the best sunscreen ever for faces. What’s special about Colorescience Sunforgettable is that it’s a powder. I don’t know about other people, but I know that sunscreen lotions are awful to use. As the lotion warms up on the skin, I find it getting into the corners of my eyes. I end up rubbing my eyes and then all day long, I have this icky feeling in my eyes and I end up dabbing at my eyes with tissues all day long. With the powder, it’s retract the protective slider, tap some powder into the brush, and brush it on. It lasts at least four hours, and the container is small enough to easily fit into a pocket or purse.
I first discovered this at the dermatologist’s office. The powder deflects sun’s rays instead of doing it through chemicals. Evidently, the product is endorsed by the Skin Cancer Foundation as a supplemental protection to wear over top of sunscreen. That’s because most people wear too little powder. Instead of using sunscreen on the face, wearing a moisturizer with some SPF protection combined with powdered sunscreen is a winning combination. It doesn’t run into your eyes and offers a good layer of protection.
The other nice thing is that it’s gentle on the skin. I don’t know if it’s technically hypoallergenic, but take it from someone who has problems using the mot benign of products – I can have a reaction to scent, to certain ingredients, to who knows what – this product passes the very-sensitive-skin test.
Sunforgettable comes in a range of tones, so there’s a tone for everyone. That’s the upside. It’s available in places like dermatology offices and spas. (I’ve never seen it in retail stores but, then again, I don’t really frequent high-end cosmetic stores so can’t vouch for it’s availability.) The downside to this sunscreen is that it’s horrendously expensive. It lasts quite a while, so that is a consolation. But dishing out $40 or $50 is one of those cringe-worthy acts. It’s for the frugal shopper, that’s for sure.
However, given the alternatives, I hold my nose and shell out for this product. The alternative is, of course, often not wearing sunscreen when I should because I dread the feeling of burning and teary eyes all day. And given that I have that kind of skin that immediately goes bright red with the least exposure to heat and sun, I figure that in the long run, it’s a good deal.
What do you call a fan that doesn’t have blades? Dyson calls it an air multiplier because there’s a whole lot of clever engineering behind the product. I call it luxurious comfort because that’s exactly what it gives me.
I’ve never had air conditioning in my living spaces. Sometimes I wish I had, but really, air conditions are expensive to run and noisy and unattractive, with their back ends hanging out of the window. And they’re probably a security hazard – couldn’t someone push the air conditioner in/out of the window and then break in?
But fans are equally problematic for me. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to noise and touch, but having a noisy fan blowing air on me all night doesn’t make for a restful sleep. The alternative is to let the fan oscillate, but then the back-and-forth keeps waking me up and the unevenness of the sound doesn’t help.
The first time I read about the bladeless Dyson fan in Fast Company magazine, I waited anxiously for it to be available. No blades, no buffetting, a nice quiet user experience? Count me in! I swear, I was the first sale at the Best Buy in Richmond. I had to go get someone to look at what it was and then get one out of the back. The sales person marvelled: who would pay that much for some odd-looking contraption? What I heard: why wouldn’t someone pay that little for a good night’s sleep for the rest of the summer – and the summer after that, and the summer after that!
The fan – sorry, to me it’s still a fan, even if there are no blades – is whisper quiet. There’s just enough white noise to be comforting, but not enough to be irritating. The lack of blades means a steady noise, not the buffeting that we normally associate with fans. The dog isn’t even afraid of it, and he’s afraid of everything. I can stand the fan on the floor at the end of the bed, and adjust the intensity of the air flow to the lowest level, and a gentle breeze wafts through the room all night. If I’m cold during the night, I can use the remote control to turn it off – and save electricity, too.
The remote control, not shown in the picture, is a brilliant design. The remote control is slightly curved so it fits securely on top of the unit. It stays on top of the unit because it’s magnetized. I never lose the remote control because of that.
The Dyson Air Multiplier may seem like a luxury purchase, and I don’t deny that. But it’s not a frivolous luxury; it’s a luxury that is a good investment. When I go into work in the morning feeling rested and refreshed, I remind myself that it’s worth every penny.
Many years ago – it’s got to be more than 20 years now because this happened while I still lived in Montreal – my dentist recommended a new type of electric toothbrush that was purported to clean teeth and remove plaque much better than regular electric toothbrushes.
Back then, my ADD made it nearly impossible for me to brush my teeth for the recommended two minutes. Two seconds seemed like forever. I’d set a timer and look at it every few second, thinking that two minutes must have passed by then. So hearing about this toothbrush gave me hope. I desperately wanted to go to the dentist at least once without needing to have work done: a cavity filled or work on my gums.
The claim to fame of the Interplak was that there were multiple bristle groups that turned in opposite directions. It made my teeth feel incredibly clean. Two complete minutes still seems like for-e-v-e-r while I’m brushing my teeth but if I cheat a little on the time, I don’t feel too guilty about it.
Back then, the toothbrush was about $100. A friend of mine commented on the cost, saying that it seemed very expensive. My reply was that if it averaged out to $10/year, it was a bargain, if it kept me from getting cavities and gum disease. And I never had a cavity again, so it was a bargain. That toothbrush lasted for years.
The website says it’s an oscillating brush head, which has certain advantages. The difference between a rotary and oscillating brush is the speed – oscillating brushes make more rotations per minute. As well, rotary brushes move only in one direction, relying on the person to reach in between teeth. Oscillating toothbrushes mimic the back-and-forth of brushing, and work better when you clean tooth-by-tooth.
I’ve had two replacements since my first Interplak purchase, and while I didn’t particularly like the last one, I have greater hopes for this one. (Instead of a recharging base, the last one had a removable base that plugged into an outlet for recharging. A real pain to remove, it was, though I can understand that it was made with travel in mind – no buzzing in the carry-on from an accidentally activated switch. )
Today I ordered my next replacement. As with many things that I fine useful, I can’t get this in a retail store anymore. Interplak has been bought by Conair, and I have to order the toothbrush online from the US. The price is a fraction of what I paid back then – it’s now around the $25 mark. They don’t seem to make my preferred model any more but I still prefer this toothbrush to the cheaper ones you can get in the stores.
Eyes are a precious commodity, and using eyeliner is one of those things I’m very careful with. One slip, and you could easily take your eye out. That’s why I don’t like eyeliner pencils. They’re hard and sharp, and you have to press hard to transfer any colour to your eyelids. It would be too easy for a clumsy person like me to slip and do some serious damage.
For a while, I thought I wouldn’t be able to find an eyeliner I liked, and then I discovered an eyeliner “marker” that is to eyeliner pencils what gel pens are to ballpoints. A variety of companies make them. L’Oreal has an Infalliable Never Fail Eyeliner, Ulta has an Automatic Eyeliner, and Maybelline has Define-a-Line (shown).
No matter which company makes these, they’re an easy-to-apply eyeliner. One light pass, and there’s a clear line along the edge of the eyelid. Maybelline even has an “eraser” at the other end, to clean up any mishaps without having to wash it all off and start over.
I haven’t found an eyeliner yet that is smudge-proof, not matter what they all claim. When my eyes are tired, I forget that I’m wearing make-up – no matter that I put it on every day – and I rub my eyes. Inevitably, I end up with smudged fingers where the eyeliner has come off. One friend laughs at me and says I have raccoon eyes.
One thing I haven’t figured out is how other women manage not to give in to rubbing their eyes. I’ve watched women on television tear up over something and then carefully place their fingers underneath their eyes, presumably to keep the tears from ruining their make-up. What’s up with that? It would drive me crazy to do that. Then again, I’ve always been about comfort. I’ve never been the type of person who could up-sniff rather than use a tissue; I’ve got to go get a tissue and blow my nose. Same thing with the eyes. If I’m going to get weepy, then it’s going to show.
Back to eyeliner. When I was growing up, the rage was to have “dramatic eyes” and pale lips. What I discovered is called “winged tips” (think Amy Winehouse) was de rigeur for any teenager. You can see some 1960s fashion looks - check out the eyeliner there! The 70s weren’t much better. Look at this photo of Barbra Streisand during that decade. White eyeliner came and went, too. At the time, it was a cool look. In retrospect, it just looked creepy – though doing a search turned up a photo of Kim Kardashian with white eyeliner, proving that yet again bad fashion never dies, it just gets recycled every 40 years.
Meanwhile, I’m sticking with my eyeliner gel or markers or whatever they’re called, and will probably still be getting raccoon eyes when I’m 80.