Quit it already, will ya?

All this talk of the death of the publishing industry and the rise of stupid Kindle whatevers is driving me crazy.

I’m going to die with a book in my hand, (hopefully at least 60 years from now) no ifs ands or buts about it.

Read this.


My farewell ode to St. Henri


A Truncated Essay on Anxiety

I’d interview someone about the history of this neighborhood, but I’m scared of speaking French. Scared of speaking to anyone around here in general.

If I get up and move my dog will steal my spot on the couch, so I won’t bother asking anyone, not today.

The dog is snoring.

And if I’m not going to ask anyone, I might as well do some dishes.


Looking out my kitchen window in St. Henri I see a monument – it’s a statue of Louis Cyr, a St. Henri resident who for 28 years held the title of Strongest Man in the World. Cyr stands frowning, his arms crossed over his massive chest.

Across the street, facing off with Louis, is a statue of Jesus Christ, his arms outstretched. Normally, one assumes that gesture to be one of benevolence, but in this context, it looks like he’s taunting Cyr. His outstretched arms just say, “You think you’re strong, old man? Bring it on, bee-otch.”

I expect one day to be doing the dishes and look down to see the Savior and the Strong Man brawling noisily en francais in my back alley. When we’re drunk we place bets on who’d win.


And apparently Gabrielle Roy wrote a really famous book about this neighborhood. Can’t be that famous though, because I’ve only just heard about it, right now, on Wikipedia, no less. They’re not much for teaching Canadian literature. In Canada.


Meanwhile that French textbook I bought to brush up languishes on my dresser. I still can’t string much of a sentence together, so interviewing the neighbors is way out of the question. So I think I’ll just sit, sandwiched between the train tracks and the Ville-Marie, listening to them both, and do research on the internet.


I get up and look into the mirror above my dresser and I try to pronounce French words.



“Est-ce-que je peux vous aidez?”

I can’t pronounce any of it. I sound more Newfie than Quebecois.


I finally leave the apartment. I walk down Rue Notre Dame to a coffee shop that is super mod. I take a seat in the big front window so I can have a perfect view of the whole street.

Right outside two tattooed hipsters with short hair flirt shyly. I can’t tell which one is the boy and which one is the girl. Maybe they’re both boys. Maybe they’re both girls.

A little boy is running around behind my stool, yelling something en francais. My coffee tastes good but it needs more sugar.

I start reading The Tin Flute, in translation, of course.


Berthelot Brunet reviewed The Tin Flute shortly after it was published and he said, “the author has taken a trip to where her characters live rather than lived with them: she loves them of course, but they don’t belong to her world”.


No, Gabrielle Roy didn’t live here, in St. Henri, but I do. I’m still sitting in the café and I come across this interesting little nugget of information: Gabrielle Roy got the inspiration for her main character Florentine, by catching a glimpse of her in a café on Rue Notre Dame. The writer sips her coffee and in walks a sad French girl. This brief glimpse is enough for Roy to imagine her entire life, her life in a poor Montreal neighborhood.


I’m still in the café, but now I’m paranoid. A sad French girl walks in, and I’m scared that I will want to write about her.

I take a sip of coffee and wait for the urge to pass. I think about what her life might be like for a second, and then feel foolish. It’s not like she’s some exotic creature, it’s not like she’s the one who puts the bomb in the mailbox, or whatever. What the hell is wrong with me?


I don’t think I’m embarrassed enough that I’ve lived in Quebec on and off for almost five years and can barely speak French.

I must be some kind of impostor, in this neighborhood, in this language, in this tense, even.

The nerve.


I’m inert in the coffee shop: the waitress has asked me something en francais and I have no idea what she said. I understand French, but not this mumbled barely-squeezed out French.

So I smile and nod.

She looks at me funny, but pours me more coffee, so I think I assumed properly.


Am I more or less self-indulgent than Gabrielle Roy?


I’m only on page 24 of the book, but I don’t want to go any further. Not today.


I walk home up Rue de Courcelle. On the way I wave hello to Louis Cyr, and I see that he hasn’t taken Jesus up on the offer yet. He still looks stoic; but a man, even if he’s a statue, can only take so much.

It’s gonna be soon, I can feel it.

Guilty as charged…

I read an op-ed in the New York Times today about The Daily Me. Nicholas Negroponte, a professor at M.I.T’s media lab coined the term to refer to the fact that most of the news we now receive is online, and as a result, we are our own gatekeepers.

In his op-ed, Kristof points out that

there’s pretty good evidence that we generally don’t truly want good information, but rather information that confirms our prejudices… The decline of traditional news media will accelerate the rise of the Daily Me, and we’ll be irritated less by what we read and find our wisdom confirmed more often. The danger is that this self-selected ‘news’ acts like a narcotic, lulling us into a self-confident stupor through which we perceive in blacks and whites a world that typically unfolds in grays.

Maybe so. But, in my own defense, I do read foxnews.com every morning just to add a nice little bit of outrage to my usual toast and peanut butter breakfast. Really, though, let’s be honest, none of us read/watch Fox to get a second opinion – we watch it to feel disgusted/outraged/smug — and usually, it is pretty funny. Although if you ever want to scare yourself, read the comments after the articles. I don’t even know where they dig these people up. Hateful doesn’t even begin to describe it. They make Rush Limbaugh look like Paul McCartney. These people are already so deeply into that “self-confident stupor” there’s no digging them out, black man in the White House or not.

Am I any better, just because I can read Stuff White People Like and laugh at myself?