52 weeks – 4 May, 2013

Book

Lean-InI was horrified to hear that one of my book clubs had chosen to read Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, currently the chief operating officer of Facebook. I assumed that it would be a book telling women how to make it in the corporate world—and since that world is not one that attracts me at all, I didn’t think I would get anything out of reading a how-to manual.

Fortunately, the book offers more than that. It does give women readers tips for making it in the corporate world but it places this in a larger context, demonstrating that there are still systemic obstacles in the way of ambitious women—and it comes up with practical suggestions for change.

Sandberg is, refreshingly, willing to describe herself as a feminist (I get tired of people who believe that feminism is all about hating men or demanding more than half the pie—there are many varieties and degrees of feminism but the value embraced by most is equality of opportunity), though initially she thought, like many people, that feminism was no longer relevant to her:

I headed into college believing that the feminists of the sixties and seventies had done all the hard work of achieving equality for my generation. And yet, if anyone had called me a feminist, I would have quickly corrected that notion. This reaction is prevalent even today, according to sociologist Marianne Cooper … In her 2011 article, “The New F-Word,” Marianne wrote about college English professor Michele Elam, who observed something strange in her Introduction to Feminist Studies course. Even though her students were interested enough in gender equality to take an entire class on the subject, “very few felt comfortable using the word ‘feminism.'”

Sandberg believes that women need to take leadership roles in all walks of life before we can have a fairer world. “Women are not making it to the top of any profession anywhere in the world … Of 190 heads of state, nine are women.” To create a world where women who want to do so can make it to the top, she recommends three ways to move forward: sit at the table; make your partner a real partner; and don’t leave before you leave. To hear the thinking behind these pieces of advice, listen to her TED talk.

Music/Spoken Word

Shane KoyczanShane Koyczan and the Short Story Long performing at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. Shane Koyczan is a slam poet. You may well have heard his definition of what it means to be Canadian at the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games (“We Are More”). Or you might have heard or seen his “To This Day” anti-bullying video.

Koyczan’s band, Short Story Long, is stellar. I particularly loved the harmonies singer and pianist Olivia Mennell provided behind many of the poems. Maiya Robbie, Jordie Robinson, and Jesse Lee round out an accomplished quartet.

Here is the To This Day video:

Food

Crabbie's Ginger BeerCrabbie’s ginger beer, the perfect warm weather accompaniment to crackers and cheese on the patio.

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Pathetic weather

I learned from my favourite high school teacher, Miss Collins, that the pathetic fallacy is the personification of inanimate objects. The example I still remember is in William Collins’ (no relation, as far as I know) Ode to The Passions:

Pale Melancholy sat retired;
And from her wild sequestered seat,
In notes, by distance made more sweet,
Poured through the mellow horn her pensive soul.

I found this luscious and transporting and it sealed my love of language.

In works from the last century, I’ve noticed weather and landscape becoming increasingly important in setting the tone of a novel: in fact, the landscape is sometimes more real than the characters.

In film, of course, cinematography is hugely powerful in creating mood. The director’s choice of setting and collaboration with the camera operator create effects varying from subtle to knock-you-on-the-head. I don’t think I can count the number of graveside scenes I’ve watched where the weather is grey and wet, or flashbacks to scenes of a happy childhood where the sun was shining. But I can think of scenes where I felt exhilarated or sentimental or frightened at the time but only afterwards thought about a detail of the setting that might account for that feeling.

This winter, the weather has set the tone for our lives. A white Christmas, now: how could you not behave appropriately? This required healthy, old-fashioned, family-style living — walks in the snow, romping with the dog, and afterwards reading and playing board games rather than relying on electronic devices. People were nicer to each other and more likely to interact.

Then came the weeks of rain alternating with more snow. We stayed stoic, laughing about slipping around on icy sidewalks as we pursued our social lives closer to home. We all had our stories about delayed flights, closed highways, or how it took three hours to dig out the car and then someone else took the spot. These were shared over and over, as everyone seemed endlessly fascinated by the weather’s effect on their existence.

Next: the claustrophobic, deadening fog. Pale Melancholy was out there at sea, pouring through the mellow horn her pensive soul, or perhaps it was the foghorns. People don’t have much tolerance for fog. It shuts you in and you can’t see the horizon. Conversation started to revolve around how long this winter was and how many people we knew were in Mexico. Moods plummeted.

This week, when I opened the front door early on Wednesday morning to pick up the paper, the world felt different. In the distance a bird sang. The sky was clear and seemed unnaturally high. It was not cold. The air smelled fresher, as though the wind were blowing from a different direction.

It was just a hint of spring. And my whole life seems to be on the upswing as a result.

snow coldevening fog1 snowdrops

A closet New Yorker

Sheri-DThat’s one of the ways Sheri-D Wilson describes herself. I first heard her perform back in the eighties at a women’s bookstore in Kitsilano. She was eye-opening, both in her appearance and in her work. Here I was, just emerging from the first intensive wave of feminism and still feeling a bit of a traitor to the cause when wearing makeup. There she was, unapologetic in leopard-print leggings and push-up bra. She launched into her first performance piece, which was about a woman who plugged her vibrator into the mains, creating a power outage all over Vancouver. I immediately became a fan.

I’ve seen Sheri-D (“Wilson” sounds way too formal, given her personal style) perform many times since, whenever she’s in Vancouver. Currently she lives in Calgary, where she’s the founder and artistic director of the Calgary International Spoken Word Festival. The CV on her website runs about ten screens long.

The San Francisco Examiner says

Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen . . . genetically tinker with these Canadians and add a chromosome of Patti Smith and a double-helix strand from Jim Carroll. . . you have Sheri-D Wilson.

It’s a pretty good description, but of course you have to see her perform to really get it. Her lyrics are sharply funny, often outrageous, and seem to be put together afresh every time in an inspired stream-of-consciousness way. Then you get her personal presence, the rhythm of her works, and the way she puts her whole body into every word.

The last time I heard Sheri-D perform, she did my new favourite piece: Panty portal. It begins (and yes, the first half of it is typeset in upper case in my book):

IN PARIS I GO
DIRECTLY TO THE GRAVE
MY TRUE LOVE
APOLLINAIRE

I’VE BEEN DYING
TO SEE HIM
ALL MY LIFE

I TAKE HIM A BOTTLE
OF RED WINE
AND BREAK IT
OVER HIS HEAD,
PLACE TWELVE ROSES
AT HIS FEET
AND SCATTER
ALMONDS ALL AROUND …

IT OCCURS TO ME
THAT HE
IS MORE ATTENTIVE
THAN MOST OF
THE MEN I’VE DATED,
WHO CLAIM TO BE ALIVE …

It becomes rapidly even more surreal when the panty portal kicks in.

So back to I am a closet New Yorker. This morning, I heard someone in the cluster around the coffee maker say it would be faster to inject the caffeine intravenously. (We like to talk tough about our coffee addiction.) And of course, I remembered Sheri-D’s jolt of a poem and my two favourite lines:

I am a closet New Yorker
I shoot pure caffeine to stay calm

If you already have Re-Zoom, Between Lovers, The Sweet Taste of Lightning, Girl’s Guide to Giving Head, and Swerve, you’ll be looking forward to the upcoming Heart of a Poet.