Spring/Summer 2022 Favourite Reads

Read my Spring/Summer 2022 Favourite Sounds here.

Alfabet/Alphabet: A Memoir of a First Language by Sadiqa de Meijer

Winner of the 2021 Governor General Literary Award for Non-fiction.

Finding this book about the adjustment from Dutch language and culture to Canadian was somewhat serendipitous, since my father made the same journey a few years before I was born. De Meijer’s story offered me rich images and sounds of the culture I almost knew.

Aside from the personal connection, I loved de Meijer’s blending of the academic and the poetic. Some may find her explanations of Dutch linguistics too dry, but they seem brief enough to me. Alfabet/Alphabet is the kind of book that can be savoured a bit at a time, not necessarily in order, and returned to years later to be enjoyed again.

Follow Sadiqa de Meijer on Twitter.

Listen to de Meijer read from Alfabet/Alphabet in this Kingston book launch recording.

Being Seen: One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism by Elsa Sjunneson

Superb. This memoir reveals every aspect of ableism: erasure, reproductive injustice, systemic barriers, limited representation, and more. Sjunneson’s sardonic anecdotes and whip-smart media analyses would be an excellent addition to high school reading lists. If a teen in your life shows an interest in disability justice, slip this into their gift bag next birthday or holiday.

Check out Sjunneson’s website, snarkbat.com.

Read The Disibility Visibility Project’s interview with Elsa Sjunneson about her book.

White Feminism by Koa Beck

Mainstream feminism has ignored and oppressed marginalized communities since the early days of the suffrage movement. With White Feminism, Beck fills the gaps in the history textbook and explores the impact of systemic oppressions from both personal and national standpoints. She also does something I’ve never seen before in a book on socio-political theory: she describes realistic steps that readers can take to improve the system for everyone, not just middle-class white women with corporate careers. Read it, and then act on it.

Visit Koa Beck’s website.

Honourable mention: Sufferance by Thomas King

I actually read this last year, but it’s too good not to add to this list. Unpretentious but profound, Sufferance touches on a number of issues currently at play in Canada (Truth and Reconciliation, unaffordable housing, corporate corruption). The actions of the narrator, who refuses to speak, begins a sequence of changes that draws the whole community into the same current.

Spring/Summer 2022 Favourite Sounds

You know how some people define different stages of their lives by the TV shows or clothes that they loved? For me, it’s music – I could create an autobiography based on the changes to my soundtrack over the years. Fred Penner cheered us through many car rides (my mother never wants to hear “The Cat Came Back” again). Listening to Howard Shore’s soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings was a favourite stim from age ten onward. Loreena Mckennitt will always have a place in my heart: her music inspired my stories and exploration of history, spirituality, and culture.

So it’s odd that I’ve never written about music before. Luckily, while searching for blogging topics, I recalled my new interest in podcasts (yes, I’m admitting I didn’t listen to podcasts before 2022. Don’t judge me) and decided to combine the old and new passions for a spring favourites post.

Spring became summer; my ESL teacher classes ended, and my brain demanded a vacation. Then August was suddenly “last month” instead of “this month”… you get the idea. I have therefore decided to present all of the best music and podcasts I discovered between the beginning and middle of this year, because what really matters, in the end, is that I share them. My favourite reads will also be posted shortly.


Favourite Podcasts

1800 Seconds on Autism

By and for autistic folks (hooray!) with many funny moments. The hosts explore auti-gender, the intersections of autism and race, and more.

Test Tubes and Cauldrons

The three hosts discuss being scientifically-minded people with spiritual beliefs and practices. I especially enjoy listening to them debunk the false claims made by dubious spiritual movements and crystal shops.

Honourable mention: Roma Unraveled

I haven’t listened to many of their episodes, but given what I’ve learned from them, this podcast is a vital part of the movement for Roma rights and visibility. Highly recommended.

Favourite Songs

“The Lotus Eaters” Emily D’Angelo

From D’Angelo’s sensuous new album energaia. Originally from composer Sarah Kirkland Snider’s song cycle Penelope.

“Salad of Doom” SJ Tucker

Because everyone needs a goofy song about vegetables in their life.

“Tornami a Vagheggiar” Amanda Forsythe & Apollo’s Fire

A Handel masterpiece. If you enjoy Baroque music with a twist, Apollo’s Fire could become your new favourite orchestra.

Favourite Videos

VOCES8: ∞ Infinite Relaxation in Space to Calm and Destress” VOCES8

This is their Infinity album on a 3-hour loop. It’s soothed many restless nights.

“How to improve your health (as an autistic person)” Yo Samdy Sam

Advice from a neurodivergent person, tailored to neurodivergent needs. I wish I’d had access to this 15 years ago.

Divergent Voices series

Hosted by awesome autistic YouTuber Purple Ella, these videos give an inside perspective on everyday challenges for autistic people. Helpful for anyone trying to learn more about ASD.

All Writers Need to Believe in Stories

“We have to believe in our work; the only thing that lightens the burden of it, sometimes, is the sense that it matters, and that we’ve committed ourselves to something valuable.”

– from “Writing Fantasy Realistically” by Philip Pullman

New writers are encouraged to read, and so read I did – about the evils of misrepresentation, the cleverness of subverted tropes, the laughable Mary Sue phenomenon, fantasy clichés, fantasy subgenres, new books, classic books, books that I could have written better, books that put my prose to shame, books that irritated me for reasons I could not identify…

I didn’t want to write an irritating book. No, my book had to be aligned with values like acceptance, justice, and interdependence. Crafting a story to meet these standards has not been easy work. But the thing that stopped me from writing the NIP (novel in progress) altogether came in late 2021: I lost my belief in stories.

The publishing industry is a business first and foremost. It wants books that can be marketed to a wide audience. My interests usually stray away from the mainstream, and I’ve always worried that my NIP will be a hard sell as a result. Are my neurodivergent characters relatable? Have I omitted too many fantasy tropes? I’m a very analytical person, which also means I’m good at worrying. In case you couldn’t tell.

Along with fussing over the NIP, I have plenty of other things to worry about. Any day of the week, I can scan the news and read about war crimes, forced sterilization, hunger, rising costs of living, wildfires…

I do not have the money or influence to mobilise change. The most effective thing I can do is hit the retweet and share buttons. Aid is needed now, systemic change needs to begin now, but novels cannot be written and published in a weekend. Fiction does not feed anyone.

But I do have a book, borrowed from the library, whose author has been writing fiction much longer than I have.

I read Philip Pullman’s books when I was a teenager, but his tone always felt a little didactic and his style too separate from mine to enchant me like some other writers did. Still, I admired his intellect, so last month I dipped into his nonfiction volume Daemon Voices.

The essay titled “Writing Fantasy Realistically” drew my eye despite the fact that I’d avoided my own fantasy novel for seven months. Perhaps I wanted a reminder of what being a writer felt like, or a jumpstart for my work. I got both: Pullman describes the embarrassment and confusion he felt when his mind began insisting that he write the fantasy story that would become His Dark Materials.

The series is now considered a classic of the genre, but in its early stages, Pullman resisted it because he associated fantasy with the sort of story that prized adventure over moral nuance and subtlety of character. At the same time, however, he harboured another belief that allowed him to set his doubts aside.

Pullman writes,

“…if I know anything about writing stories, it’s this: that you have to do what your imagination wants, not what your fastidious literary taste is inclined towards, not what your finely honed judgement feels comfortable with, not what your desire for the esteem of critics advises you to. Good intentions never wrote a story worth reading: only the imagination can do that.”

I myself have been so tangled in intentions for the NIP that my imagination dwindled, and with it my enthusiasm for writing. After reading Pullman’s essay, I could finally allow myself to be a writer again and approach the NIP. I reread the last two chapters I had written in 2021, and somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed them. The prose carried me through the rising suspense of the narrative while simultaneously filling me with the deep satisfaction of discovery and innovation I had felt when I wrote it.

I had delighted in creating this part of the story. Now I had the delight of reading it too – and a desire to read more. It looks like I’ll have to finish it after all.

However, while imagination remains the driving force behind my decision to keep writing, I’m not sure how to sustain my determination to finish the NIP. I’d like to open the discussion now and ask you, my readers, why you value fiction. Any tips you have on staying committed to a long, arduous project would be helpful too.

What are your thoughts?

Quotations from “Writing Fantasy Realistically,” featured in Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman. 2017, David Fickling Books.

Leaving the Novel in Progress (Part 2)

A follow up to my last post.

Yes, it’s been a while. Forgive the delay – I had a strange work schedule and several class projects to juggle.

Anyhow, back to the matter at hand, which can be summed up like this: “I’m writing a book, but I don’t know what it’s about.”

I can tell you the neurotypes of my protagonists (autistic and ADHD), the genre (fantasy), and the quest my heroes are pursuing (saving the source of magic from destruction). But I can’t articulate how it all happens, because the scenes in my mind are disconnected, devitalized. After fourteen years, I’ve finally accepted that the NIP isn’t worth all the trouble it gives me. All the stress, the research, the irritation of uncertainty. Why should I assume that years of hard work will be awarded with publication and good reviews?

I want good reviews very badly – more than I want publication. I want to know that my characters are diverse enough, and my worldbuilding original enough. I want people to reassure me that my protagonist is a worthy contribution to the cannon of realistic autistic characters (because there are far too many that aren’t).

And as soon as I realise this about myself, I see a pattern: my NIP and my self-knowledge growing side by side. They’re so tangled together that I’ve lost the feeling of adventure and empowerment that writing used to bring me. Now, my fiction feels like a way to prove myself, and that isn’t healthy. The relationship must either change or end.

For now, I’ve chosen to let it end.

Earlier this year I also realised that I was stuck in a depressive episode (a recurring problem since my teens). It has taken me five months for thoughts of continuing the NIP to bring me any pleasure. But the panic and resentment are still there too, so I’m not eager to try my luck. Maybe I’ll glance at my manuscript next week, just to read it, and maybe I won’t. My health is more important than scrambling after an old dream.

Now in my late twenties, I’ve finally grown up enough that my sense of self isn’t defined by this one passion project. My job as an tour guide has given me friendships, an understanding of the natural world, and a sense of responsibility for the place I live and the people I share it with. I have more than one passion now, and I feel balanced this way.

The NIP is still in my future, out in the distance. In the foreground are my studies: becoming an ESL teacher and a better, healthier person in general. I want to help destigmatize autism, and to do right by other marginalized communities as well. Cut adrift from the NIP, I’ve rooted my new concerns in this non-fictional world.

So although I can’t commit to posting regularly, I would like to expand the focus of this website. I’ve listed some of my ideas below – let me know what interests you, and I’ll do my best to write about it over the next few months.

Leaving the Novel in Progress (Part 1)

I did consider it, once or twice, but the idea terrified me. Wasn’t the NIP (novel-in-progress) my anchor? Wasn’t it the reason I studied literature and creative writing, and read widely, and started this website – and wasn’t it my lifelong dream to be the Author of a Book?

There was no other job I wanted to do. There was nothing else I was this good at. What else could I do with my life?

If you’ve just read the above and thought “what pitiful adolescent stuff,” I won’t argue with you. I cringe at my past self too. I’m also impressed by her boldness: She started writing a novel at fourteen, and was still determined to finish it more than a decade later. She committed to years of study so that she could write the most detailed, authentic work possible. Her passion always sat in a corner of her mind, glowing with promise even when she was depressed.

I’m proud of this girl’s dedication. But I realize now that the beautiful promise of a published novel narrowed her focus too much.

I enrolled in university to learn how to be a professional writer, and graduated without much understanding of how to apply my excellent grades or find work that would accommodate my physical disability. Somehow, I had a job within months – but it had nothing to do with writing. My new career revolved around culture, history, and the natural world, things that had always interested me but never claimed as much attention as the NIP. I learned that my autism did not prevent me from being a decent teacher after all.

The idea of a career that was not centered around writing gained more appeal as the years went on. I considered going back to university, but the NIP always said, “How will you ever finish me if you go to graduate school?”

I started to resent the NIP, but I didn’t dare abandon it. I’d worked so hard to make something worthy, something that proved my skill as an artist and my dedication to social justice.

And then about three months ago, I stopped writing. I couldn’t find the motivation. In late January, I decided to set aside my childhood dream indefinitely. Not once have I felt any regret.

What changed?

It’s taken me several months to figure out what soured my relationship with the NIP. I’ll share more about this process in my next post.

3 Crafts to Make with Paper: Stars, Bunting, and More

Fun fact: stores selling paint and other décor throw away their wallpaper sample books at the end of each season – but if you ask nicely, they might give the sample book to you instead. Apparently teachers have been using them for years as free art supplies. Now that you’re in on the secret, you can too.

Spiral paper roses – tutorial below!

Like my previous post, 3 Crafts to Make with Vines, I’ve got some ideas for decorations made with repurposed materials, in this case types of paper. If anything paper is even more versatile than vines because of the variety of textures and colours available. Most of these projects are kid-friendly, and they can be adapted to any kind of holiday (or everyday) theme you like.

Tip: I recommend practising different shapes and decorating ideas with scrap paper first to get a feel for how the different materials behave.

The first tutorial shows you how to make simple traced shapes that can be used as ornaments, window decals, or to decorate cards and table settings. Second are instructions to make bunting, a type of banner that I often saw in cafés when I was in England. Finally, I’ve added a tutorial for the classic paper chain and some bonus how-to links from other creatives.

First, gather some supplies:
  • The basics: pencil and eraser, ruler, scissors, craft glue, stapler.
  • Scrap paper for practising on and making templates.
  • Sticky tack (always test to make sure it doesn’t stain surfaces!), fine thread, or fine wire for displaying your ornaments.
  • Card stock and construction paper might be lying around your house already, or you can re-purpose old folders, posters, and cards.
  • Visit your local paint shop (or a friendly teacher) to ask if they have wallpaper sample books they aren’t using.
Continue reading “3 Crafts to Make with Paper: Stars, Bunting, and More”

3 Crafts to Make with Vines

I’ve always loved art. In my pre-NIP years it was my life plan to become an artist (or composer or dog breeder). I learned some tricks from my grandfather, a professional painter and designer, and took art classes all through high school despite the warning that it wouldn’t look as attractive to universities as, say, business class (I still got offers of acceptance from all three unis I applied to).

Making tangible, beautiful things remains one of my passions. Since I’ve become more invested in sustainable living in recent years, I’ve learned to make my crafts more eco-friendly by using repurposed or biodegradable materials. Wild vines are resources that literally renew themselves each spring. In this post, I’ll show you how to turn them into wreaths, globes, and birds’ nests.

Continue reading “3 Crafts to Make with Vines”

November Plans

As always, the Halloween season has been great fun. At work as a tour guide, I introduced people to the wonders of autumn, told semi-spooky stories, and gave out countless candies. It rained, and it was chilly, but the kids wore raincoats under their capes and wings and still had a good time.

Now I’m eyeing the row of books that have accumulated on my shelf over the past few weeks – Ada Hoffman’s The Outside, Perpetual Astonishment by Tomson Highway, and Esi Edugyan’s Out of the Sun. I’ve got some catching up to do, as well as some planning.

When I graduated from university four years ago I had a vague assumption that my professional writing courses would somehow land me a writing job. Instead, I was hired for my internship experience at a museum and became an educator-tour guide. The fault in my original assumption was a lack of understanding: I hadn’t known that writing skills alone were not enough. Most likely a teacher (or two) in university mentioned the need to specialise and build a targeted portfolio, but for some reason I didn’t absorb this. I didn’t plan, in part, because I didn’t know how to work with my physical disability. I had to learn how to budget my spoons, how to adapt my posture and hand position, how to leave a project when it hurt too much to continue. Now that I’m more familiar with my disability, and with what I want, I can make better choices. In the new year I’ll start training to be an English language (ESL) teacher, which looks like good match for my skills and aspirations.

For November, my plans for this website have two areas of focus:

  1. Add a Resources page with links to information about neurodiversity, disability, and writing. This will put all my favourite books, channels, articles and more in one place instead of spreading them across many ‘Links & Pursuits’ posts.
  2. Write a series of short ‘how-to’ posts with holiday themes: budget-friendly eating and decorating, minimising waste, enjoying winter after the New Year’s parties have ended…

As an example for #2, here are a few decorations I whipped up out of repurposed materials:

For now, I’ll schedule myself some quiet time to enjoy the seasons as they turn.

Links & Pursuits, October 2021

October isn’t just turkey and pumpkins month.

Several weeks ago, I learned that it’s also National Disability Employment month, and this guided some of my reading and thinking, as you’ll see below.

…I read:

Accessibility and the Lack Thereof in the Film Industry by Carolyn Hinds asks us to reconsider our focus on cinemas as the “best” place to watch movies. In fact, streaming services and virtual film festivals have allowed many disabled folks to enjoy films more easily than they could pre-pandemic. Like Hinds, I hope that people in the film industry can recognise the value of accessibility and will maintain their virtual and at-home options for everyone.

Dr. Johnathan Flowers’s article Supercrips, Solidarity, and Crip Families in The Bad Batch is a brilliant analysis of portrayals of disability in the Star Wars universe. It’s given me a framework with which I can determine how disability is perceived and portrayed within my own fiction work.

Lauren Groff’s novel Matrix has all the grime and passion and artistry of the best historical fiction (think Wolf Hall or Rivka Galchan’s Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch). This story of poet-visionary Marie de France kept me entranced all the way through.

I also indulged in the audiobook of Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett for the second time in three months. Resisting my special interests is exhausting, so after a few days’ thought I decided to plunge back into the Discworld and its marvellous satire. On this second listening, it was easier to appreciate the poignancy woven into the humour and the expert plotting that makes the commentary on gender, religion, and nationalism so powerful.

Continue reading “Links & Pursuits, October 2021”

Review: Everyone Knows your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbours for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It’s enough to make anyone jealous, and Katharina has done herself no favours by being out and about and in everyone’s business.”

– HarperCollins.ca

It’s difficult to guess the genre of Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch based on its premise. The first few pages aren’t written with the aim of clarifying this, and I read the opening scenes with a feeling of uncertainty, half worried and half amused. When a widow named Katharina Kepler is first accused of witchcraft, she doesn’t seem sure of how to react to the news either. Despite her family’s alarm, she seems inclined at first to laugh it off.

So you wonder: Will this be a courtroom drama? Social commentary? Comedy or tragedy?

I had no idea what to expect, and that was fine with me. The unconventional approach to describing the legal battle, the juxtaposition of satirical characters against the cutting realism of the setting – marvellous. I think I would have enjoyed it no matter how it ended. Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch will definitely be a favourite book of 2021.

A glance at the GoodReads reviews shows that a few people were let down by what they felt was a discrepancy between the premise and the actual plot, but I think Galchen’s varying of narrators and pace works brilliantly .

With a dexterity that reminds me of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, Galchen incorporates the 17th century’s new vogue for silver forks and the heartbreak of its high child mortality rate into a crisply modern narrative about jealousy and suspicion. Nothing feels anachronistic – and yet nothing feels alien either.

Continue reading “Review: Everyone Knows your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen”