Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Weekend Away

The weekend's wedding festivities were lovely, and the trip to Sudbury was exactly what I needed. In addition to getting to see my husband in his kilt (and with his new muttonchops), I got to have dinner with my in-laws, to share drinks with good friends, and to dance to some awesome music. (The DJ played the B52s' "Rock Lobster" without us requesting it. Awesome.)

I had managed to forget that the Sudbury International Film Festival (which goes by Cinefest and not by SIFF, which is probably good) was happening, despite the fact that I have friends on the festival circuit. Once Mat discovered that it was happening, we decided to take in a film the next day. The only one that really worked for our timeline was Billy Bishop Goes to War, a film version of the play, written by Eric Peterson and John Gray. Eric is probably most famous for his roll as Oscar Leroy on Corner Gas.

Billy Bishop Goes to War is one of the most performed plays in North America, but neither Mat nor I had seen it before. The film version is very interesting; it clearly emphasizes the staged-ness of its own performance (it's performed on a very small stage surrounded by a sea of empty seats) at the same time that it uses huge, sweeping shots to emphasized its filmed-ness. Both actors are incredible; Peterson plays 18 different characters, shifting from person to person with only the use of a hat or an accent.

The best part is that Peterson was actually at the screening to do a Q & A session afterwards. It was very interesting to hear him talk about his experiences with the play. He and Gray wrote Billy Bishop when they were in their early 30s; Peterson will turn 65 later this week. He played Bishop extensively in his 30s, revisited him in his 50s, and has now made this film in his 60s, when he is older than Billy Bishop lived to be. What an interesting and unusual experience for an actor to have. The film is profoundly affective and effective--well worth watching.

It was a lovely weekend away with my husband. It's so easy to fall into the same old traps here of always doing the same things, and it's sad to have to go away in order to spend that time with one another, free from the distractions of our lives.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the back burner

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately.

Mostly about my future.

When I finished my M.A. year, I was burnt out. Personal and academic stress wore me out that summer. I earned my B.Ed. to please my parents and because I didn't know what else to do with myself. I taught high school after that because I needed a job and I didn't know what else to do with myself. I was then both burnt out and miserable. Somehow, through a series of coincidences and some incredible luck, I came to apply for the job that I have now. This is my fifth year at this job.

Over the years, I've had a lot of questions about my plans for school and when I would be going back to do my Ph.D. For a long time, I couldn't face the idea of returning to school, but eventually I began to soften as I realized that I miss my intellectual pursuits. When I got this job, I thought to myself, "This is the universe speaking. You are meant to go back to school." Some of my friends and colleagues put forth compelling arguments about the experience of graduate school. It all seems so exciting.

But I can't do it.

I love the idea of pursuing a PhD, but I can't commit to the reality of it.

A PhD gets me nothing but the glory of the intellectual pursuit. In my current job, where I am hired at the Instructor level, I don't need a PhD. If I got one, it would make no difference to my employment situation: no raise, no change in responsibilities. If I wanted to pursue a job with a higher status, I would have to give up what I have now--and what I have now is pretty good. I make more than most adjuncts do, with pension and benefits to boot, and I have a decent amount of job security. I've gotten used to making money, to paying back my student loans, to eating decent food, to owning a house. I also have other things to think about: the possibility of having children, for one; travelling, for another.

I would love to do it some day, for its own sake. In the meantime, I have a life to live.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


We went to see Steven Soderbergh's Contagion on Monday night. In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit up front that I was fully prepared to enjoy this movie: the genre of virus films is something that I find eminently satisfying, and this one has a director and cast superior to most.

I like Soderbergh's visual style a lot, and he puts it to good use in this film, conveying both the germ-fueled claustrophobia of the individual characters as well as the vastness of the epidemic itself, particularly as society goes in to decline. The acting is not quite as impressive as you would imagine, given the cast, but those limitations are the result of an unclear plot and lazy storytelling rather than the actors themselves.

The biggest problem with Contagion is that it wants to be several different movies; there are very distinct narrative threads that (I think) are intended to wind together to create a cohesive whole, but the whole falls short of the mark. Characters are dropped from the narrative without explanation as the story progresses; obviously, some have to die from the virus, but others are simply gone. It makes me wonder if some of the story has been lost in editing, particularly with the final scene with Matt Damon's character and his daughter: I understand that it's meant to have an emotional impact, but I don't get why it's supposed to--why does this particular thing matter to his daughter? (I also don't understand why Damon's narrative unfolds the way it does; there is simply no way that the only guy in the world who has demonstrated an immunity to the virus is allowed to go on his merry way by the government.)

I would gladly watch any of the separate narratives as movies: Jude Law's conspiracy theorist blogger, Laurence Fishburne's CDC doctor, Marion Cotillard's WHO doctor, even Matt Damon's heartbroken-but-immune father, but together they don't quite add up.

Bottom Line: Contagion is well worth seeing, just don't expect everything to add up entirely at the end.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

School Is In Session

I am currently on the hunt for a new knitting project.

I spent most of last week working on three shawls. Mat's childhood best friend1 is getting married next weekend, and I had offered to make his fiancée a wedding shawl. She was so excited about the idea she asked me to make two more shawls for her flower girls.2 After a false start on a Swallowtail Shawl, which has gone into the gift basket, I figured out that Annis was a much better choice for this task: it was faster, since it has both short rows and stockingette, and it also has a mini-size, which is perfect for tiny toddler flower girls. Thanks to this flash of knitting genius (with thanks to paperbirch and grrly), I was able to crank out 1 full sized shawl and 2 mini shawlettes in 7 days. Huzzah. Special thanks to Dorian for his help and supervision.



The little one is quite sweet, actually, and might be just the thing for that skein of cashmere silk I've got hanging around...in several months, anyway, when I'm not completely sick of the pattern.

Since finishing the shawls, I've started a test knit of a pair of intricately cabled socks. This pattern is probably one of the hardest things I've ever tried to knit. (Not in a bad, frustrating way, more in a challenging, read-closely-and-pay-attention-to-detail way.) The frequent cables, thin yarn, and tiny needles are also giving my left wrist fits, so I need to find something more relaxing to knit. Big yarn and big needles, and maybe a project that will work up quickly. I'd hoped to start on the first of my fall sweaters, but after careful perusal of both the pattern and my substantially increased waistline, I've come to realize that I will need to go up a size from where I thought I was when I bought the yarn eighteen months ago. Naturally, it's a yarn I purchased at the Knitters' Frolic, so getting more involves finding somewhere to order it from...

The new school year starts today for me, since I don't teach on Mondays this year, and I definitely want to have a project on the go at work.

1 James used to work in the restaurant at THSWSNBN, so I have actually known him longer than I've known Mat.
2 Yes, this conversation happened about a year ago, so obviously I waited until six weeks before the wedding to start working on the shawls. Sigh.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

A Pair of Ragged Claws

When I was about 11, I was at a Toronto Blue Jays game with my dad and my grandmother, and noticed a weird set of bubbles under the skin of my hands. Over the next few days, I noticed that the tiny blisters would swell whenever I washed my hands with warm water, and that when I showered, they would often burst, leaving me with scaly hands afterwards.

When I showed them to my mother, she promised to ask around at work for me.1 One of the doctors told her that it was an eczema commonly caused by too-frequent hand washing of dishes. "Don't worry, though," she told me sarcastically. "I told him that wasn't possible for you." Our family doctor proscribed a cortisone cream for me, which never made a difference to the eczema, which would appear, burst open, and slowly heal off and on.

Many years later, the internet was kind enough to give me a real name for it: Dyshidrotic Eczema, so called because it was once thought to be associated with excess sweat. I learned that cortisone treatments were largely useless for this, and that not much could be done for it other than to care for the scaly skin after. I learned that mine is atypical, because mine is worse in the winter2 than in the summer, and I also learned that mine is relatively mild compared to what some other people have.3

Over the last month, I have had two or three large flare ups of my dyshidrosis,4 which is unusual for me because it's usually much calmer in the summer. Today I woke up with blisters across the tips of a few of my fingers, as the blisters had spread up from the sides of my fingers. A few rounds of dishes and the cracks began to show.

Since becoming a knitter, I've become extra aware of my hands and how I treat them. Rough, cracked skin can snag delicate yarn as it slips through my fingers. Conversely, minimally treated yarns often retain their own lanolin, which gives moisture back to my hands. I've been knitting primarily with fine yarns (fingering/sock weight) for the last few months, and I'm yearning to move up to a worsted or aran yarn now that the weather is cooling off.

How do you take care of your hands?

1 One side effect of having a mother who was a nurse in one of Ontario's vastly overused hospital emergency rooms during the 1990s is that you are totally paranoid about seeking medical attention because you continually suspect that you are "not sick enough" to warrant taking up time and space at the ER.
2 Likely because it's so flippin' dry up here in NBRC.
3 Seriously. Check out the pics at the link above--knowing how painful mine can be for how minor it is, I can only imagine how these people feel.
4 Yep, mine is stress-related.