6.24.2018

rip philip roth

I was literally reading this article in The New York Times about Philip Roth when I heard he had died. It's a wonderful story: an 85-year-old celebrated author who has come to the end of his career with no regrets, is grateful to wake up every morning, and is now bingeing on nonfiction to learn more and more about the world. I was so happy for him, experiencing an old age we all deserve, but so many never find.

I've read many of Philip Roth's novels, and have many more still to go. He can be a challenging read, sometimes deceptively simple, sometimes confounding, almost always thought-provoking and worthwhile. If you haven't read The Plot Against America, I recommend it highly.

To me Roth is best remembered as the author who taught me about the bright line between fiction and autobiography, and that readers would do well to stop conflating the two (although they never will). Critics and readers were obsessed with this question, and seemingly could not see Roth's novels through any other lens. The Guardian quotes him:
I write fiction, and I’m told it’s autobiography. I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide.
Roth grew so tired of responding to questions and accusations about which bits of his work were autobiographical and which were fiction, that he declared a moratorium on the subject. He wrote more than one novel that purposely obfuscated the distinction in weird twists worth of M.C. Escher. The narrator of Operation Shylock, for example, is a character named Philip Roth, who is being impersonated by another character, who stole Roth’s identity.

I haven't read any of Roth's work for a long time, and his death reminds me to keep his last body of work on my list: Everyman (2006), Exit Ghost (2007), Indignation (2008), The Humbling (2009), and Nemesis (2010).

Philip Roth obituaries: The New York Times and The Guardian.

still catching up

venn diagram courtesy of Lucidchart

I just wanted to create a Venn diagram.

6.23.2018

welcome to the allan and laura new york city history reading club

The theme of this year's TD Summer Reading Club -- a national program (developed by Toronto Public Library) that more than 2,000 Canadian libraries participate in -- is Feed Your Passions, or as some are calling it, geeking out. Allan and I are going to join the fun with our own tremendously geeky reading, although it will take us considerably more than one summer.

For eons, we have had on our bookshelf Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, a massive 1,424 pages in very small print.


I've always wanted to read it, but it's a bit intimidating! And it's not like you can throw it in your backpack to read on the bus.

Then for my birthday this year, included among Allan's gifts and cards and general Celebration of Laura, was Wallace's follow-up: Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919.


This volume -- all 1200 pages of it -- has got to be fascinating, but we can't read the second book without reading the first! And, geez, that's a lot to read!

I suggested a solution, following in the footsteps of Phil Gyford, to whom literature and history geeks the world over are indebted. Phil is the genius who put The Diary of Samuel Pepys online, one daily post at a time. (I read the entire thing, usually in weekly installments. It took 10 years.)

To tackle this Big Read, Allan and I are going to read one chapter each week -- with the understanding that sometimes we may have to take a week off. We'll still also read whatever else we're reading. That's the plan at least. Starting... now!

Bonus points if you know without Google why the year 1898 is an important marker in New York City history.

6.21.2018

congratulations to the people of ireland! #repealedthe8th

While this blog was offline, an amazing and incredibly important thing happened: the people of the Republic of Ireland affirmed the human right to control our own bodies.

In a referendum to "Repeal the 8th" -- so-called for the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution of Ireland, which gave equal legal status to women and embryos or fetuses -- the overwhelming majority of Irish people voted yes to repeal the total ban on abortion.

For me, the way this happened was almost as important as the result: it was a true grassroots organizing campaign. Person to person, street by street, town by town, Irish people talked and discussed and declaimed and debated. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of repeal: 66.4% voted to repeal. With this, Ireland has at last "stepped into the light".


One of the most touching details of the #RepealThe8th campaign was #HomeToVote, which saw Irish citizens living all over the world traveling to Ireland to cast their vote to repeal. Reading #HomeToVote posts on Twitter had me weeping with pride and joy.

Can I tell you how proud I am to know someone who was part of this historic moment? I lived some of the excitement and tension vicariously through my friend and former Haven conspirator.

The good folks at Abortion Support Network caution that it will be a while before abortion services are actually available in Ireland. Laws must be written and enacted, services must be set up. Travel to England will still be necessary, so donations and assistance for the journey are still very much called for.

The other caveat: Northern Ireland. Although Northern Ireland is part of the UK, abortion services have been banned there throughout, and repealing the 8th Amendment didn't change that. But it's coming. It's definitely coming. Freedom to Northern Ireland: you're next.

Ni saoirse go saoirse na mban: there is no freedom until the freedom of women.

how to get your website removed from the wayback machine

During my recent attack by wingnut trolls, I learned something new: how to request that the Internet Archive remove your site from the Wayback Machine.

* * * *

Before I was nominated as an NDP candidate in the recent provincial election, of course my online presence had to be vetted. All potential candidates were asked to deactivate their personal profiles from social media, and in addition I was asked to delete a few random tweets from several years ago. None of this was a big deal to me. The only big deal was wmtc.

Early on, I was asked if I'd consider taking down the site. My first reaction was completely negative. Wmtc is so much a part of my life. Take it down? No way!

It was only weeks before the election would be called -- and I've been blogging for 14 years. That's a lot of words! There was really no way to vet everything. While the NDP was considering the situation from their end, I was also thinking more about being a candidate, and increasingly feeling like it was something I wanted to do. The next time we spoke, I said I was amenable to taking the blog offline for the duration of the campaign. They were happy; I was happy; things proceeded.

This is where someone made a mistake. The NDP research team should have given me instructions for getting wmtc excluded from the Wayback Machine -- but they did not.

The troll that emailed wmtc links to the Toronto Sun columnist might have done it anyway -- that person may have been saving those links for a long time, or may have found them on a message board -- but the columnist would have had no way to verify it.

But that isn't what happened. Only after the columnist got in touch with me, a research person gave me these instructions:

1. Use the email account associated with your blog.

2. Email info@archive.org, identify yourself as the site owner, and request removal of the site from the archives.

Then, supposedly, you will quickly receive an acknowledgement of your email, and in 2-3 days, your site will be excluded from the Wayback Machine.

I sent the email.

I received no reply.

A week went by -- a very stressful and difficult week -- and still I heard nothing. Meanwhile, the trolls and the columnist had dredged up more material to take out of context, selectively quote, and use against the NDP.

The Party's research department got in touch again -- the sight of her number on Caller ID made my stomach turn over -- and we agreed that I'd email them again.

Eight days after my first email, I received this form letter.
Hello,

The Internet Archive can exclude web pages from the Wayback Machine (web.archive.org), but we first respectfully request that you help us verify that you are the site owner or content author by doing any one of the following:

- post your request on the current version of the site (and send us a link).

- send your request from the main email contact listed on the site.

- send a request from the registrant's email (if publicly viewable on WhoIs Lookup) or webmaster’s email listed on the site.

- point us to where your personal information (name, personal contact info, image of self) appears on the site in a way that identifies you as the site owner or author of the content you wish to have excluded - in this instance, we ask to verify your identity via a scan of a valid photo id (sensitive info such as birth date, address, or phone can be blacked out).

- forward to us communication from a hosting company or registrar addressed to you as owner of the domain.

If none of these options are available to you, please let us know in a reply to this email.

We would be grateful if you would help us preserve as much of the archive as possible. Therefore, please let us know if there are only specific URLs or directories about which you are concerned so that we may leave the rest of the archives available.

As you may know, Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library, seeking to maintain via the Wayback Machine a freely accessible historical record of the Internet. The material in the archives are not exploited by Internet Archive for commercial profit.
This was very discouraging. I had waited more than a week, and still I was only at the form-letter stage! I already was emailing from the account associated with the site! Most of the other methods of verification were not available to me. I was a bit panicked and not thinking entirely clearly.

But finally, I logged into the DNS company that hosts my URL, and took a screenshot of the account profile page. I also scanned my driver's license, and sent both DNS screenshot and license pic to the archives' email address.

Three days later, I received the same form-letter reply to my second request.

Two days after that, I received this notice.
Hello,

The sites/URLs referenced in your email below have now been submitted for exclusion from the Wayback Machine at http://www.archive.org.

Please allow up to a day for the automated portions of the process to run their course and for the changes to take effect. If you have any other questions or concerns, please let us know.
By this time, of course, it was way too late.

6.17.2018

vancouver island day eight: nanaimo, qualicum beach, parksville

Our final full day on the island, we did a little of everything. We drove through different areas of Nanaimo, went into more bookstores, went food shopping to make a simple dinner at the house, and drove a little further north to the towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Parksville has a beautiful library ("has a beautiful library" drinking game?). In a bakery there, I made a random compliment about the very nice place and the nice town, and the person behind the counter raved about living there. Parksville and Qualicum Beach both have beaches, with waterfront motels and condos. I would have thought these towns were too upscale to have affordable rentals, but I saw several places online.

We've been talking a lot about, if I was a librarian in one of these towns, where Allan might work, and where we could live, and I've been looking at rental sites and job openings. It seems that while we were out here, Vancouver Island has moved from idea to intention.

We drove to the ferry, to see where it was, and how much time we would need the following morning. On the way back, M spotted a bald eagle; we got out to watch and take pics. Such a thrill to see those magnificent birds. Also we didn't wake up at in the middle of the night to do it. (Same people, two years earlier.)

* * * *

Tomorrow we take the ferry, a bus, and the SkyTrain to the Vancouver airport. M&M will head back to Victoria, see Butchart Gardens, stay one more night, then take a different ferry, and go to Olympic National Park. We've all had an amazing time together!

Sometime not that long ago, I wrote about how, when you're young, you don't know -- and can't imagine -- the shape your life will take. This trip is the perfect example.

First, when we lived in NYC, I never would have taken a vacation with another couple. We never had enough time off. Time out of the City was super-valuable, and we wouldn't have spent it with anyone else. Now we actually have enough time off -- paid time off -- that we can do this and still have a family vacation with a dog later in the year. This isn't accidental -- more time and money to travel was a factor in my career change -- but still, I didn't see it coming.

Second, my relationship with my brother has changed radically (although I think gradually, over time). (He's reading this... but he knows it's true.) This is awesome and amazing, and not something I could have predicted. An earlier version of me and him would not have done this, and certainly not done it so well.

Third, when we first moved to Canada, we didn't consider the west coast, as my mother lived in New Jersey. Now my mother lives in Oregon! Talk about not being able to predict your life! Even two years ago, on our first trip to Vancouver and Oregon, we weren't dreaming of moving west.

* * * *

Our photos from this trip are here. I haven't broken them up into smaller sets, as the number of photos seems more manageable than usual.

PS: Insect warning on page two of above Flickr set. Stop at parrots.

PPS: I was concerned that the trip from Nanaimo to the Vancouver airport would be grueling. It was super easy. It sounds like a big deal -- boat, bus, train -- but it's actually quite humane, even with luggage.

6.16.2018

vancouver island day seven: chemainus, ladysmith, nanaimo

Poor Allan, the only non-morning person in our little group, being faced with three high-octane coffee drinkers every morning! In Chemainus I let him sleep in a bit as we had breakfast in the hotel.

I've been emailing frequently with both the NDP search committee and the riding association, as the nomination meeting is being set -- and also discussing with Allan and M&M when to tell members and management.

After breakfast we drove around Chemainus for a bit. We saw a lot of beautiful homes with view of both water and mountains; saw a funny gingerbread house with crazy topiary; and saw one small library in a poor location. This was the only disappointing library on the whole trip -- although it was closed (Sunday), so perhaps during the week it's more vibrant? But the location was terrible, a well-kept secret.

A bit further on, we visted the town of Ladysmith, whose claim to fame is that the 49th parallel runs through the town. There's a monument and some history markers, but more importantly, there's a beautiful library, a playground and park right on the water, and several buildings that appear to be rentals. Ladysmith is a definite possibility.

After Ladysmith we reached Nanaimo. I can’t decide if Nanaimo feels like a small city or a giant sprawl. We found the central library, the Harbourfront Branch, but it opened late (Sunday), so we had brunch at a nearby place in the little downtown. The library was beautiful and in a great central location. There was a beautiful quote from Dr. Seuss on a wall near the entrance.

I spoke to staff here. Everyone seems so genuinely happy. In the Greater Victoria Public Library, the staff is all CUPE. In the Vancouver Island Regional system, the front-line staff is CUPE, but the librarians belong to a separate union, which is province-wide, and represents a hugely diverse group of workers, with 550 collective agreements! That is some serious bargaining power.

We immediately saw that there are many rental possibilities in Nanaimo, but I'm not sure if it's a place we'd want to live. Maybe a place to work, and live near?

With some difficulty, we found the AirBnb, a sweet ground-floor apartment in private home. After a rest, we drove into the old city quarter for dinner, an amazing authentic Greek restaurant. Have I mentioned that people are insanely friendly here?

6.15.2018

vancouver island day six: mill bay, duncan, chemainus

After breakfast, we packed up and said a reluctant goodbye to this cozy spot -- mostly the deck with the view -- and headed north on the Trans-Canada Highway, towards Nanaimo. Allan and I drove on the Trans-Canada Highway in Newfoundland, so we've been on the easternmost and westernmost points. To a lover of road-trips, that sounds like a challenge...

On the way north, we stopped at a scenic lookout with a totem and some interesting information about it. In the town of Mill Bay, we popped into small library branch tucked away in a shopping plaza. It's about the size of one of our small branches in Mississauga; the Vancouver Island Regional Library considers it a medium branch, meaning six permanent staff. (There are some very tiny branches on the north island.) I was very taken with this lovely library in Mill Bay. I can totally see myself working there.

Further down the road, we found the town of Duncan. It was Saturday, a busy market day. We hunted down a vegetarian restaurant Allan found in the guidebook, which turned out to be housed in a converted garage, along with a bookstore and some other shops. There was a huge lineup to order organic, vegetarian food -- and it was worth it.

Duncan is a totem city: there are 80 totems scattered throughout the little downtown, often in groups of three, with information about the carvers and the totem's meaning. Painted yellow footprints lead you on a self-guided walking tour of them all. This was a nice way to see more of the town.

There was also an outdoor market with all home/handmade local goods -- wine, honey, mushrooms, woodworking, weaving, jewelry, and so on, and a historic train station that's been converted into a regional historical museum.

Slightly outside of the old, walkable part of town, you're back on the Trans-Canada, with all the big-box stores you could need. We stopped in to see the world's biggest hockey stick (currently with a memorial for the hockey team that died in the bus crash). I thought that might have been our first "Canada's World Largest..." site, but we've stopped at the big apple in Colborne several times, on our way to Vermont -- not for the apple, but to pick up a pie to bring to relatives. I believe in September we'll see the Sudbury Nickel. (By the way, I have no real interest in purposely trying to see any of these things. More UNESCO world heritage sites, please.)

The hockey stick, however, is attached to the Cowichan Valley Community Centre, which is beautiful, and includes a library.

I am kind of in love with Duncan. I recently learned that a friend's mother lived there for many years. Upon hearing we were there, my friend practically swooned: "Oh, Duncan! I love Duncan..."

A bit further down the road, we found the town of Chemainus, where we are staying. This road-trip has our full range of accommodations: cutesy B&B, cozy lakeside cottage, AirBnb house, and chain hotel. In Chemainus we headed straight to the Best Western Plus. At the entrance, there was a water bowl for dogs, dog treats, and pick-up bags! Swoon!

Our $140/night rooms turned out to be suites. The rooms were across the hall from each other, each with sitting areas and full kitchens. We found this absolutely hilarious and wonderful.

Although this area is (supposedly) known for restaurants, wineries, and cheesemaking, we didn't find many good choices for dinner. (This is not the first time I've written that in this short travel diary.) We went to a brewpub with lots of local beers and a few local wines. I think everyone in Chemainus was there.

After dinner -- you guessed it -- we drank wine and talked in M&M's suite, mostly figuring out what to do next. I looked up librarian salaries in collective agreements.