Monday, May 31, 2010

Ten thousand hours

"… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is the equivalent to roughly three hours per day, or twenty hours per week, of practice over ten years. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people don’t seem to get anywhere when they practice, and why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others. But no one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It sees that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."

- Daniel Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music

It’s hard to defend yourself
against critical relatives, high-achieving friends
when your mouth is always full to bursting
with many-flavoured side projects, film clippings
and music notes dribbling down your chin.
Life’s too short not to order the works, even if
the resulting burger dislocates your jaw.

It’s hard to live with the heat
of peers so strong and focused like magnifying glasses.
I long to be consumed, devoured, to wake suddenly
like Robert Louis Stevenson and write feverishly
for three days, burn it up, and write it all again.

There is fever here too; I am a ravenous bee
suckling a world of flowers. These fragmented
pieces scattered haphazardly, taking over my
living room are not failures -- they are seeds
waiting ten thousand hours to bloom.

Sorry if this poem sounds kind of "boo-hoo, poor me." I'm just a little frustrated because I spent all yesterday working on one particular side project that I'm pretty focused on right now, and it's going really slowly because there are a bunch of technical setbacks. You know the feeling, I'm sure.

Photo by Alvesgaspar

        Can you think of a time when you went crazy with a project and just worked obsessively on it for a period of time (even if it wasn't a particularly long period)? Alternatively, can you think of a time when you worked steadily on a project, taking small, regular bites at it over a long period of time (if you're the kind of person who works like this, I bow down to you)?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Feast or famine

Spring is a rush-hour subway train
and I’m standing in it like a perched hawk hunting
for an empty seat            for a square foot of personal space
or half an hour of perfect solitude.

Reminds me of nature documentaries: of eight-foot tall grass
of monkeys splashing playfully in a spring flood
of elephants drinking and feasting            filling
the emptiness of the winter drought
in their wrinkled grey bellies.

I’m filling up too, on shared pitchers of beer
on conversation            on scribbles in calendar squares
and I too am revisiting            redefining winter.
Bloated, I’m idealizing hibernation
and forgetting the echo
of its emptiness.

Photo by Hanay

        Would you rather spend the next six months in complete solitude or surrounded by other people (it can be people you like) to the point where the only time you spent alone was bathroom breaks?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


Every lazy-ass fibre of my being rebels
against writing a poem today, so
here is an anti-poem.

Here are clichés, roses red and violets blue.
Here is my love, a blue river rushing
into a sea of overused metaphors.
Here is blatant prose chopped up
into stanzas: an undercover essay.
Here are all the ingredients in the recipe
for bad-poem soup.

Here’s a trite little ditty about Jesus
we can stamp onto tacky, plastic wall-hangings
and sell with all the other mass-produced
trinkets some people call art.

Lucy in the Field with Flowers
from the Museum of Bad Art

        Do you believe there's such a thing as bad art? What distinguishes it from good art?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

At St. Clair's

the cookies n’ cream
tastes like real cookies and
the strawberry cheesecake
tastes like real cheesecake and
sweaty children push through
the heavy glass doors with the force
of over thirty magnetic flavours
pulling at iron tongues.

Fifteen minutes before closing,
there are two fire trucks parked
at the corner, and inside the parlour
the fire men line the counter
like a row of shiny medals.
The server says It’s on the house
so the men feed their change to the tip jar
and call hearty thank-yous on their way out.
The fire men stand on the corner, holding their
sugar cones with muscled forearms,
and we smile sweetly at them

wishing life were always
as pleasant and simple as
firemen and ice cream.

I believe the official name of the parlour is Maple Leaf Dairy, but it's "St. Clair's" to most people. It's on the Danforth, two streets east of Dawes on the south side, and I highly recommend it.

        I was discussing yesterday how girls almost unanimously love firemen, but don’t always agree on their attraction to other members of the public protection service like police officers. Why do you think that might be? I hint at my own theory in the last lines of the poem.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Johnny G’s, 4 p.m. on Victoria Day

Over the doors, an elaborate stained-glass window
and behind the glass: pots of plastic flowers
shawled in delicate cobwebs. This is
the essence of Cabbagetown.

The place is cramped with too many small wooden tables,
but quiet now, only old men nursing coffees and folded
newspapers, a few bedheaded twenty-somethings.
I squint at the daily specials: a neon rainbow
printed so tightly on the black marker board
even my glasses can’t loosen them.

The walls are rolled back, paint-chipped windowed doors
folded up like sweaty five-dollar bills in a change purse.
The waitress brings me a scoop of vanilla ice cream,
a glass of water with three crackling ice cubes,
$2.23 for immunity against the hot breath
that pants in from Parliament Street.

Taped to the window, a laminated menu glows
like a yellow leaf.

Johnny G's @ 478 Parliament Street

        What kind of atmosphere do you like in a restaurant or bar (trendy, casual, homey, quirky, etc.)? What are your haunts around your city?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Dream analysis

Katie dreams of zombie attacks, while I
dream of not being able to fall asleep, of waking
up in the morning and not getting ready fast enough.

Katie dreams of hamster-crabs, unnatural
spawn born of her caged pets, while I dream of
scooping crabs out of crevices in my upper thigh.

The tiny psychoanalyst on my shoulder
strokes the whiskers of his roundish beard.
Mmm, yes, das veery eenteresting.

Photo from Toronto Zombie Walk 2007 by Sam Javanrouh

        Do you believe in dream analysis?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Therefore I am

Back in January of ‘06, stumbling blindly
through my worst blizzard of anxiety on record,
I took shelter in self-help books, library checkouts
lying open, face down on my nightstand:
a paperback tent city.

The books called to me from sidewalk corners,
some peddlers, some preachers, some teachers.
One said, Your are not your mind. You
are not all these frantic, rambling voices.
You are not neutral networks, not a database
of stored memories & information.
You are not your mind.

That one didn’t jive, so I tossed it
back in the river like a bad catch.
Because I am my mind.

I am party streamers of DNA sequences
strung by generations of humping relatives.
I am hormones & fragmented song lyrics.
I am my chronically overactive imagination,
my obsessive analyzing, my swollen ego,
my good memory & bad sense of direction,
my annoying habitual response to criticism
        (“You know, flip-flops aren’t really in season yet.”
        “YOU’RE not in season yet.”)

I am a huge, disjointed novel compiled
of one page from every book I ever read.

Photo by Gaetan Lee

        Do you believe we are our minds? If not, then what?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

shayla.css (my 400th post!)

.ego {
        padding: 100px;
        zoom: 200%;
        text-decoration: blink;

.family {
        font-family: inherit;
        position: absolute;
        overflow: visible;

#andrew {
        position: absolute;
        background-color: red;
        speech-rate: faster;
        font-size: large;
        text-overflow: ellipsis;

.career { cursor: wait; }

#job {
        background-color: grey;
        position: relative;
        width: 830am;
        height: 5pm;
        overflow: hidden;
        border: thick solid black;

.friends {
        cue: url(laugh.wav);
        volume: 100%;
        overflow: auto;

This is my 400th post!! Sorry to the [majority of my] readers who don't know how to read CSS, but to my two most loyal readers who do know how:

#inside_joke { font family: comic sans }

Remember when websites used to look like this?

        I've been using CSS since high school, but until my night school teacher explained it yesterday, I never fully understood what I was doing with it (I'd just change something and think, "Oh, I guess that's what that does!"). Is there something you like to dabble in (ie. music, cooking) even though much of the time you're not really sure what you're doing?

        Hmm... This is a strange thing to admit on my 400th post, but I think poetry might be one of mine.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Philosophy of a Monday morning

This poem has been taken down for submission to a publication. Apologies for the inconvenience.

There, is that depressing enough for a Monday? I’m actually in a pretty good mood today; this poem is just kind of a manifestation of the more cynical thoughts that have been kicking around my brain lately. At least it was longer than two stanzas!

Russian [leaders] nesting dolls

        Our society tends to define people by their job title, which leads me to ask: if you could choose one aspect of your efforts or being to define you to others or within society, what would it be?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rusty tools

  1. Hammer

    So much potential inevitably gets stowed
    like rusty tools, heaped in a cardboard box
    on the top shelf of my to-do list. Sometimes
    I take them out and look at them all.

    Then, overwhelmed by
    their many cryptic functions,
    their multitude, I put them
    all back, one by one.

  2. Screw driver

    In other dimensions
    there are version of me:
    They have cello string lines
    for fingerprints, names stamped
    on business cards and dust jackets.
    Paint obeys them.

    They call me up on rainy Saturdays
    to chat, but I don’t answer
    so they call up my mother
    who does.

  3. Tape measure

    at dinner        he eats
    one bite of rice
    one bite of chicken
    one bite of carrot

    one bite of rice
    one bite of chicken
    one bite of carrot

    one bite of rice
    one bite of chicken
    one bite of carrot

    and if fullness comes too soon
    he will leave unfinished        on his plate

    one bite of rice
    one bite of chicken
    one bite of carrot

    and it won’t matter because
    at dinner        he eats
    for experience        not accomplishment

I've fallen into the habit of writing short, two-stanza poems lately, and I'm really trying to break out of it. So I wrote a short, two-stanza poem, and this was the only thing I could think to do. Next week, I have a goal: new format!!

Photo by Per Erik Strandberg

        What are some of your "rusty tools"? Can you think of any skills or interests you were really involved with at one point, but sort of let fall away in favour of pursuing other things?

Thursday, May 13, 2010


This poem has been taken down for submission to a publication. Apologies for the inconvenience.

NO, I am not pregnant, nor do I intend to be for many years. It's just that Mother's Day just passed and I've been thinking about mothers lately.

Charity by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

        Okay, I said motherhood doesn't worry me, but what I really mean is it doesn't worry me any more than it should. What aspect of parenthood worries you? Do you think you will/would/do make a good parent?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lunch hour hangouts

  1. The Royal York

    I’m forever seduced by the romance
    of empty wooden desks in this lobby
    old and glamorous as a diamond.

    Someday I will sit here and write
    lines of trash in laborious penmanship.
    Alas, my muse is a rawboned rover
    who cannot bear the weight
    of ambiance; I'm doomed
    to scrap paper scribbles on
    crowded subway seats.

  2. St. Andrew’s Church

    Reverent silence, broken
    by the stray coughs of mortals
    and the surreptitious turning
    of comic book pages.

    In Toronto, religion
    is handed out on street corners;
    you need to know where to look
    for good Romanesque Revivals
    and quiet reading rooms.

  3. Urban Affairs Library

    Reference only. I keep coming back
    like a foolish girl waiting for love
    from a one hundred night stand.

    You're everything I ever wanted, but
    you'll never come home with me
    to meet my parents.

        Where do you go or what do you do on your lunch hour?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Eaton Centre food court, 6 p.m.

Half empty. Only territorial teenagers,
student nomads carrying laptops on their backs
like turtle shells, and lonely people
shopping for company.

An old man sleeps: head down,
the white of his hair snowing
on a table grey and greasy as
restaurant back stairs.
He might be homeless,
or just tired and waiting
like the rest of us.

Photo by Liliana Amundaraín

        How do locations affect your mood? Are there places you visit just because they make you feel happy? Are there places you avoid just because they depress you?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Old movies

You love like a black-and-white classic, and I
like a thorny sixties flick: the last scene, one subtle
gesture or a flicker of a deeper emotion across
the protagonist’s face after the victory sunset
leaves the audience wondering, yearning
for some spelled out resolution, bullet point
meaning scratched on a chalkboard.

I will never be able to explain
and you will never have to.

The Graduate, 1967

        How much explaining do you think a film should do? Some films dumb things down so much it's insulting to the audience, while some make things so cryptic they go over everyone's head. What's the right balance?

Friday, May 7, 2010

General anxiety vs. The flying trapezes

Spotlight, hot as panic.
Ground, unyielding as death.
Crowd, captious as God.

My fear is disguised with smiles and sequins,
limbs moving in muscle memory, powdered hands
dry as my lips.

On the platform, I grasp the bar
firmly as a choice; it is always a choice
between brief terror and relentless worry,
truth or dare, goldfish bowl
or shark-infested freedom.
Safety is a net that catches you
and never lets go.

I step off the platform,
acknowledge the distinction
between life and non-death,
make my choice.

This poem was written in response to MONDAY PROMPT/ May 3 on Big Tent Poetry.

Circus poster, 1890.

        Do you think it's important to face your fears, or is it okay to live with certain fears as long as they don't disrupt your life? Have you done anything recently that scared you?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kensington Market, after hours

On a rainy Wednesday evening, the only patrons
are drunks and locals; we are
the former.

The shops are bicycles chained to iron railings,
burnt-out carousal lights, closed eyes
on a tattooed face.

Rain bathes the streets, but it can’t wash away
history, fish shop stink, curious
graffiti murals.

Kensington Market, 1922 - Photo by John Boyd

        How would you describe the character of your own neighbourhood? What qualities do you like in a neighbourhood (to live in)?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

White wine makes painting fine

White wine makes painting fine!
Painting rooms is such a snooze,
unless you have a little booze.
White wine will pass the time!

White wine on the decline!
Oh no! The bottle's getting low
and we still have two walls to go.
Red wine will soon be mine!

Red wine is just divine!
We may have drank too many cups
– we’ll have to do a few touch-ups.
Red wine makes sloppy lines!

Photo by Jon Sullivan

        What do you do to make boring or unpleasant chores more fun (ie. play music, have company, etc.)?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


in kindergarten, you
would hide beneath your desk
nuclear fallout style
to let your brain cool down
prevent overload
your teacher said, “don’t worry,
he’ll grow out of it”
now you hide in familiar
spaces, insulate yourself
within a cast of friends
like curled fingers

you keep a bicycle pump
folded up in your wallet
to re-inflate my ego,
pull over at the side of the road
emergency repair job
I speak for you in public,
give your lunch order
to over-friendly waitresses,
your personal liaison

though even I
go all deer-in-the-headlights
when the telephone
becomes an endlessly crying baby,
when my e-mail inbox fills
like a sinking ship

        Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? Here's a good way to tell: do you "recharge" yourself by seeking the company of friends or by seeking time alone? Despite popular belief, shyness and introversion are two completely different things.

Monday, May 3, 2010

A rare and wakeful morning

I slept in a blink
and woke in a blink
like an hourglass flip,
like returning to the moment
from a daydream
when you call my name.

The dawn sky
made up its face
like a shady afternoon;
when it leaned to kiss
my eyelids, I could smell
its perfume: fresh
as a breeze
along the lake shore,
sweet as sun
on the boardwalk.

Photo by James Thornett

        Are you a night person or a morning person? I have a theory that people become night or day people partially in response to the routines of people around them. For example, if you really like being around people, you might stay up later because your friends tend to stay up later. Or maybe you crave some alone time and stay up late to get it while everyone else is asleep. What do you think?