Once upon a time, I completed grade 1 and learned, to my horror, that I would have to go on to complete grade 2. Why? I asked my mother, utterly perplexed. I’m perfectly happy in grade 1, why do I need to go into grade 2? This went on for a few years until I got the gist of school and realized there was no way around it: every year I would have to finish one grade, where I was content to remain in the comfortable and familiar surroundings of classroom and classmates, and go on to the next. I eventually stopped asking the question as to why I needed to go on, but the feeling of not wanting to never quite left me.
That is until I reached university where I was thoroughly happy to go on to each year and was thrilled at the prospect of all the new stuff I would learn, all the amazing writing I would get to read and all of the research papers I would get to write. In short, I looooooooooooooooooved school and was not afraid to sing it from the rooftops (much to the dismay of my friends who pretended they didn’t know me when I made such declarations). I embraced graduation after completing my degree, proud at what I had accomplished, but was also sad at the prospect of no more school. No more intellectual debates on the hidden meanings in Chaucer or the double entendres of Restoration literature; no more endless attempts at deciphering just what exactly Michael Ondaatje was talking about, or pretending to understand Middle English verse. I went on to complete my post-grad certificate in Ryerson’s Publishing Program but it was more of a mercenary effort to ensure a place in the workforce and didn’t quite feel the same.
Since then I’ve taken a writing course here and there but have not been compelled to go on to a Master’s degree, though I couldn’t tell you why, considering I love school and think it a sensible endeavour for someone who actually wants to make a life of this writing thing. Something people always say: Everything happens for a reason. I think it’s true, this thing that people say, and to highlight that point, I will tell you why I now know I was not yet compelled to do a Master’s degree: The other day while reading a Facebook friend’s post about a friend who just won the Star Short Story Writing Contest for 2012, I also came across the fact that he had won a scholarship to the prestigious Humber School for Writing Correspondence Program. Say what?! What was this prestigious school for writers and why had I never heard about it. Since then it’s been on my To-Do list to look into and after a morning spent perusing the site, I think I’m down. 30 weeks spent writing 10 pages a week that you have to send in to a much more established and experienced writing mentor who will then proceed to rip it to shreds and tell you why it sucks and how you can make it better if you ever want to get the damn thing published, all over email. At the end of the program, you’ll have 300 pages, for better or worse, and a wealth of knowledge gleaned from your mentor all for the low-low price of $2900. Faster, more efficient and more direct than any MFA in writing I’ve ever heard of. If this was not designed specifically with people like me in mind, then I don’t know what.
Initially I was thrilled at the idea of having someone not from my loving and obliging family and friends to critique my writing, help me to get the length issue sorted out (i.e., get me to write more than 5 pages a month so that I can actually have a book and not bits and pieces scattered all over the place) and teach me in a relatively short time all that they know of this craft. It seemed the perfect in-between solution to my desire for more writing work but lack of enthusiasm to do an MFA. But the questions started to pop up in little bubbles, hovering over my head, and are still floating there as I write this.
They are as follows, in no particular order:
1) What if I don’t even get accepted? If that happens, I think I will crawl under my desk and never come out, which would likely make my soon-to-be husband a little uncomfortable;
2) What if my mentor hates me and/or my writing? He/she will probably be very mean and I will cry, but I think it will be worth it…maybe…I hope;
3) Do I really need to go to school to get this thing done, or is this just another attempt to delay myself from JUST WRITING IT? Likely, it’s a bit of both. And will I feel like a cheater if I get help to do it? I’m pretty sure Margaret Mitchell didn’t enlist anyone to get Gone with the Wind done, but then again, it took her 12 years to do it.
4) When am I going to fit in everything else that I need to do, between work and taking care of the two male creatures I live with? Can I hire a personal assistant?! I’m too old for school.
5) What if I don’t do it and then I always wonder if I could have gotten it done better, sooner or at all?
So you see, I really am like that Hamlet guy, sitting on the top of his castle wondering whether he should kill himself or whatever. Finding myself in only a slightly less dire situation, I’m asking the audience: To school or not to school? I don’t know whether it’s better to risk the time and money and months of harsh criticism in order to have a viable manuscript at the end (along with the benefit of a professional mentor and the obvious upside that I get to go back to school!!!!! yay!!!!), or whether I should just do the thing myself (which thus far has been sooooo successful) even though deadlines and work and walking my dog always seem to get in the way, because in the end it will be more rewarding.
Another thing people always say: Don’t put the cart before the horse.
So, I guess I need to apply first.
Once upon a time, I was nine years old and my parents took me on a trip to Germany to visit friends of theirs. By day 2, I had caught the travel bug and have yet to be rid of it. Since then I have had the good fortune to travel to a few choice destinations. My sense of prioritization has led me to Europe many times over, as well as a few fun stops across Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean; I have yet to gather up enough money for a mortgage down-payment, but, as I said, priorities…
I used to think that travelling by a guidebook was the equivalent of travelling on an organized tour bus: unimaginative, canned, and lacking in anything resembling an authentic cultural experience (no offense to those who prefer the bus). But I’ve learned that to be a snob is to almost guarantee that at one point or another you will also be a hypocrite. Case in point: I will never again travel to any European destination without my trusty Rick Steves’ guidebook in hand.
As Ace and I began to plan our upcoming honeymoon in Scotland and Italy, I knew that Rick Steves was the only one who could help me find good food to eat in Scotland that went beyond pub food and haggis (the traditional dish consisting of sheep’s organs and oats), and the only one to help me decipher between the wealth of options in Tuscany and Rome, as the country boasts as many tourist traps as not. After our trip to Provence a few years ago, I trust his taste in food implicitly. Every meal we had was unforgettable, reasonable, and as non-touristy as possible; I expect we will find the same on our travels this go ’round.
In terms of accomodation, just by comparing his recommendations to those on Trip Advisor will show you that he only selects the best in quality and value for his books. What’s more is that he’s honest and while he will recommend a hotel for it’s reasonable price and location, he is not above also mentioning that the owners are jerks and that you are not to expect warm, Best Western-y smiles. Advice that is, in my opinion, priceless.
And if having a faultless guide for where to sleep and what to eat is not enough, he also provides self-guided walking tours for every major European city so that you don’t get stuck with an annoying drone of a guide and can avoid walking around with headphones stuck in your ears that mute the intrinsic sounds of the city you’re actually trying to get to know.
So, my friends, seeing as we are on the cusp of travel season I thought I would provide my two cents on the most honest and reliable guidebooks (for Europe) around. If you’re looking to be a tourist but want to have the cultural experience of a local, look no further. The philosophy and value to be found within the pages of Rick Steves’ guidebooks is best relayed by the man himself:
“Travel is intensified living–maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.” -From Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door
The bell has rung–start packing!
Once upon a time, many years ago, I was working at a pediatric office to pay my way through university. One of my colleagues said to me, knowing my love of reading, “Hey, have you heard of this book called Twilight? You should read it, it’s amazing.” She told me it was about vampires and my thoughts immediately went to Anne Rice’s stories of Lestat and all that really scary stuff that you can only read in the daylight. So I said noooooo waaaaay, I’m not reading about vampires. Eff that s%#t. But she promised me it wasn’t scary and that I should pick it up. So I did.
Jump ahead circa now and this is my feeling about vampires: I want to be one, or rather, I want Eugene to be one so that I can have one of those really impossible romances that eventually leads to me also becoming a beautiful and invincible vampire that fends off evil to protect everyone she loves. Yes, that’s right. Furthermore, I’m a big fan of Young Adult fiction and unabashedly so. When it’s good, it’s really good. And even when it’s not good (i.e., the writing in The Hunger Games is not the best quality) it’s still good! But by now I have read all of the Twilight books, seen all of the movies, and there has yet to be another book to come my way to get me drooling like an obsessive fanatic over every page.
Given this very important lead-up of background information, you can understand my excitement while walking Charlie through Ramsden Park one day when I came across an advertisement on a bus shelter for a book called A Discovery of Witches whose tagline read “Twilight for adults”. Now give me some credit, I was of course a bit skeptical. Anybody who has read and loved Twilight knows that is a redundant catchphrase because Twilight is for adult readers…and young readers, and everything in between. But I knew the point they were trying to get across and I wondered, could this be my next great read, that elusive thing that comes only every 3 books or so to engross me and make me turn off my phone and avoid the TV? I could only hope. With great excitement and anticipation I purchased my copy and headed home to curl up with my new find. I noticed the wealth of praise for the book listed on the back cover and inside cover, glowing by any comparison: “One of the most exciting books I’ve ready in years” and “delightfully well-crafted and enchantingly imaginative”.
I am 136 pages in. My opinion? I’ve been hosed. All of those marketing and PR people over at Penguin have done their company proud, because I really did think that at the very least, this would be an engrossing read, if not the best book in years that is also delightfully well-crafted. Sadly, it is neither. I had an inkling this might be the case only a few pages in, so I’ve used a bookmark as while plodding through it rather than dog-earing my pages. (I realize most of you think it’s a terrible crime to bend the pages of your book but to me, it is the sign of a well-read and well-loved book, as witnessed by the treasures lining my shelf with yellowed, bent and crumpled pages–evidence of my voracious appetite that I could, unfortunately, not muster for this strange book.)
It seems that Harkness is writing for an even younger audience than the Twilight series is aimed for, with a bashful 30-something witch and vampire, nervous as school children around each other, and such chaste, 1950′s-esque dialogue and scenes that made my skin crawl. Every few pages I found myself going back to figure out what had just happened because some new terrible thought or creature would be introduced and then without any closure or understanding, the story would trail off to another terrible thought or creature alighting on the page. Disjointed, I believe they call it. And what’s worse, there’s not much in the way of fresh and new ideas (imaginative? I think not) some being recycled from other similar stories, or from traditions of witches and vampires that are fairly commonplace, resulting in a hodge-podge of Twilight-y things, like vampires being overprotective (been there…) that don’t seem to work. In fact, the only “new” thing I came across in this book was the idea of “daemons”, creatures invented by Harkness with ADHD tendencies that are not the devil or even devil-like, do not really do anything bad as far as I’ve seen, just can’t concentrate and are really creative and look like humans. Wha?????
So I brought down my expectations and thought, hey, at best it’s reading to help you fall asleep at night. I was doing okay with that premise for a few days until yesterday on the subway, I landed upon this exchange (scene: witch inviting vampire over for dinner and discussing how she can take care of herself and doesn’t need his minions to protect her…sound familiar?):
“What do you eat?” I whispered, my face flushing.
“I’m omnivorous,” Matthew said, his face brightening further into a smile that made my heart skip a beat. …
“Oh, one more thing,” I said, turning my back. “Let Miriam do her own work. I really can take care of myself.” …
“I’m not leaving until you’re out of my sight,” he said, looking at me in disapproval.
“Vampires,” I muttered, shaking my head at his old-fashioned ways.
Really?! Lame-o. I pictured this as if it were played out on a screen in front of me and almost gagged. Cheesy, without any redeeming qualities, especially keeping in mind that at this point we don’t even know why he’s so protective over her. In fact, I’m not even sure he knows himself.
It was at this point that I gave up, took out the book mark, and located the Indigo receipt in order to attempt a return purchase where I will most certainly have to lie and do battle with the skeptical cashier when they ask me if the book is used. Perhaps it’s not fair to judge a book without finishing it, but I’ll take my chances.
So, my friends, for those of you in the market for your next great, guilty-pleasure read, this unfortunately is not it.
The hunt continues!