24 February 2012

#fridayflash: she is, she really is

"Thomas! Good to see you again. Have you decided to sell the house at last?"

Thomas shook the old real estate lawyer's hand. "Not yet, Mr. Sachen. But there is a legal document I was hoping you could help me with."

Sachen raised his eyebrows.

"I need an eviction notice. A proper one, one that would be hard to contest."

Sachen frowned. "I hadn't realised you'd become a landlord."

"I rented out a room in my parent's house. After they.... passed away last summer, I thought I could live there and just find a room-mate, use the rent to cover the utilities while I finished my MA, and save a bit besides."

"And it isn't working out."

"No." Thomas took a deep breath. "Anne came with great references, passed the credit check with flying colours. And she's pleasant enough to live with, personality-wise. But...."

"Yes?"

"When she moved in, she asked if she could repaint her room. I said all right, so long as it was a light colour that could be painted over if need be when I finally sold the house. She painted the entire room, I mean not just the walls, but the ceiling and all the furniture as well. Everything in this beige colour. Then a week later she went over everything again and did it all in a pale blue-green."

Sachen grimaced. "You might be able to claim damages for the furniture when she finally moves out, but unless you had a very watertight landlord-tenant agreement, you're going to need more than that to evict her. What's this Anne's last name?"

"Tropy, like 'trophy' but without the H in it. She has this odd little joke about how it used to be trophy but degenerated."

Sachen pulled over a legal pad from one edge of his desk and started making notes. "And is this Anne a student as well?"

"No... at first I thought she was a grad student or professor since I did meet her at the university, but she says she 'is given losses', whatever that means, whenever an event involving the Second Law of Thermodynamics takes place. I've seen her mail — she gets cheques from all over the world. What is the Second Law of Thermodynamics, anyhow?"

"Not up on patent law myself," said Sachen. "All right, so you want to evict this woman because she repainted more of her room than was reasonably expected when she received your permission..."

"It's more than that!" said Thomas. "Way more! Mr. Sachen, every single appliance in the house has broken since she moved in! And the furnace, and the water heater, and the hardwood floor has warped in the dining room, and last night I came home and the porch awning had half fallen away from its anchors.... The whole place is falling apart, and it was in perfect condition before she moved in!"

Sachen made some more notes. "I helped your parents close the deal on that house thirty years ago. Sometimes new home owners feel like their property is falling down around their ears because they're not used to being responsible for repairs."

"But it's her, I know it is! She always acts so contrite when she tells me something else is broken, but it always feels like she's secretly laughing at me. It's hard to explain, but she really is a bitch. Everything else is just a veneer."

Sachen sighed and put down his pen. "I can't just write 'Anne Tropy's a bitch' in the Description field on an eviction notice, Thomas."

Thomas clenched his fists and started to say something, but caught himself and took several deep breaths. "I know," he said at last. "I just don't know what else to do. I charged her market rent and budgeted for some repairs, but it's gotten way out of control. And..."

"Yes?"

"She says that even if I sell the house and use the proceeds to pay rent on an apartment, she'll always be with me."

"Interesting. Any other signs of stalking?"

"No."

"Pity, we could have had something there, but you need to show it's a pattern for it to stick legally. Would you take some advice, Thomas?"

"That's why I'm here, if you think an eviction notice is out of the question."

"I suggest," said Mr. Sachen, "that instead of fighting this Anne Tropy, you work with her. Encourage her to let you know when something is starting to break, rather than waiting until it's broken."

"I have to work with a destructive tenant?"

"A destructive tenant, or a tenant whose rent was seriously in arrears, that you could do something about. but you can't fight Anne Tropy."

17 February 2012

#fridayflash: how i like to read

The literary buffet is packed today; must be the recent reminder in the media that public lending libraries are, in fact, free to the public. Gaggles of kids are reaching for multicoloured confections as fast as their little hands can stuff them into their mouths. Parents hover just behind, chanting, "now now, let the little girl try that story too" and wistfully looking at the more grown-up offerings on the tables closer to the window.

I dodge around three boys chasing after each other in a circle and pass through the teen section. The bubblegum-with-everything flavours of my own youth are thankfully gone. They've been replaced with stuff made from  ripe cherries and black plums, all covered in thick layers of very dark chocolate.

A dark-haired, pale-skinned girl holds a truffle up to an Asian boy's mouth. "Try this," I hear her say. "It's so sweet and strong, and just so about what's wrong with the world now."

He pulls away and rolls his eyes. "Not into the romantic sugary stuff," he says. "The fantasy section here sucks. The one where I used to live, they had a roast pig and drinking horns."

The girl glares at him and pops the chocolate into her own mouth, letting cherry syrup run down her chin.

Blancmange, macarons, and almost entirely women — I must have got to the romance section. Right, there's the non-fiction tables just beside it, piled with trail mix, jerky, and samples of "astronaut" freeze-dried ice cream. Some of the trail mix has bright specks of candy-covered chocolates in it. That would never have been allowed back in the day. Creative non-fiction has really changed things.

It's as loud as it was in the children's section in this part of the buffet, but it's not the happy squeals of young brains discovering new worlds. There are only grown-ups here, with the odd teen or tween trying and failing to get a word in edgewise.

The only ones who look like they're having any fun are the science fiction and horror fans, who have started a food fight. The people on the SF side of the table are pelting the opposing side with super-frozen spheres of ice cream, while the horror side squirts grenadine syrup all over everything. Many of those involved change sides whenever it takes their fancy, and the whole group flings verbal abuse as cheerfully as they toss the bits of the buffet.

"Trope!"

"Derivative!"

"Purist!"

"Stereotype!"

Someone on the buffet organisation committee has a sense of humour, because the experimental fiction comes next. There, readers munch thoughtfully on canapes that look like Oreo cookies, but are made from scallops and black caviar, or sample "sushi" composed of rice cereal marshmallow mix wrapped around Swedish fish. Some grenadine syrup has landed on one of the seafood cookies, and the man holding it only hesitates a little before licking it off, catching a few caviar on his tongue.

"It's not bad," he says to the person standing beside him. "Definitely wins for novelty."

The next table over is for spy and mystery story fans. Not much going on there — everyone's looking at a smooth black dome that is sitting on a tray in the middle. They're all debating whether it's edible, edible but poisonous, or a bomb.

Apple cider, Three Kings cake, tea-time favourites very old and very new... finally, I get to the literary section. It's a bit of a hodge-podge here, as some of the offerings from the genre tables find their way onto this table after a time. I help myself to a maids-of-honour cake and wander around, eavesdropping.

"All this lighter-than-air stuff," says a young man wearing a tweed jacket and John Lennon spectacles. "Real literature has meat to it, substance. It's nutrition for the mind and the soul."

"You realise that's a pecan roll you're gesturing with, right?" says a bored-looking woman who might be his girlfriend.

"And that the brain needs carbohydrates to work properly?" adds another young man, in a t-shirt and Elvis Costello horn rims.

It's noisy here, and there's a lot of sentences that start, "You can't be a feminist if -" or "Unless you come from that culture you can't -", or "The unique experience of Generation Y is that -".

"I was having a discourse about Doritos versus the traditional place of tortillas in Central American society the other day, you know, with Cheryl, and it made me realise about magic realism, the thing is..."

I find a quiet corner and nibble on my cake. Closing time is in fifteen minutes.

At five minutes to closing, the librarians start gently kicking everyone out, and as the crowds thin at the buffet tables, I take out a bandanna I've lined with waxed paper and start to sample from the trays. Vanilla cake with a curl of chocolate icing, a slice of juniper-poached pear, and one of my favourites, a small blue marzipan egg that has a drop of grenadine syrup on it. A couple of things I can't recognise but that look interesting.

There's a back door out, with a garden and benches to sit on. Time to settle in and savour every texture and flavour.

12 February 2012

citizens of the dream, unite

Cary Tennis re-launched his web site last fall. As part of the re-launch, his book Citizens of the Dream was offered in electronic versions (yes, plural), and since he was smart enough to use non-proprietary formats, I bought it. (It's available in paper form too at the Cary Tennis site and in the Kindle format at Amazon.)

The book is a collection of Tennis's advice columns from Salon which deal specifically with how to be a better creative person. I read it quickly just after I bought it last November, but lately I feel like I need  to read it over again, more slowly, noting the parts that would be of particular help to me. Your own mileage may vary, but one thing I found interesting is that the most  personally useful advice often came from responses where the letter-writer's concerns didn't mirror my own at all. It was the concepts and scenarios considered in the response that got me thinking.

Tennis has a quiet, almost dreamy style of writing, much in contrast to the typical agony aunt who leads with quips and frames responses to jolt the reader (and supposedly the letter-writer). Having said that, there are a number of passages here that made me laugh out loud — like when Tennis advises someone to make themselves at home at the crossroads instead of worrying they don't know which way to turn once they get there.

There's also responses which are poignant, even sad. The passage about what it was like being a nine-year-old boy living in Florida during the Cuban missile crisis almost had me in tears.

My favourite piece of advice in the book: the suggestion that writers should have someone who checks up on them and makes sure they meet their deadlines and other writing goals. It has always seemed to me that there are too many well-intentioned people out there who are too quick to say, "There there, it's okay if you didn't work on your craft today, you're still a good person" when what the artist needs to hear is, "okay, so how can you get some work in tomorrow?".

There are loads of books out there about how to market your work and yourself, how to make pitches, how to get practical and turn your art into a business. There are also loads of books that take a self-help approach and give you tasks and methods to transform yourself and your art-making.

In my reading experience, there are far fewer books that acknowledge that there is more than one way to make art, and that a lot of the struggle with making art is trying to do so in a society that doesn't appreciate or give space to its artists as much as it should. Citizens of the Dream helps with that.