Writing a Review

I wrote reviews for a youth magazine in high school. This means I was on an email list where every day (sometimes twice a day) for two years or more I got emails asking if anyone on the email list would like to receive a free CD or go to a free concert in exchange for a review. I was always too nervous. Only once did I accept. I wrote an awful review of Mat Kearney‘s album “Nothing Left to Lose.”

Cover of "Nothing Left to Lose (Reis)"
Cover of Nothing Left to Lose (Reis)

By awful review, I don’t mean a poorly written review – which I also do – but a very mean review. I said that Mat Kearney was your typical male singer (he’s not). I said he sounded like Dave Matthews (he doesn’t). I remember sitting on the edge of my bed with my discman, sketching out notes after only having listened to the second song. I remember cringing, knowing what I was doing was not truthful. I just felt that writing a mean review made me more of a journalist.

Let me say I had never listened to Dave Matthews before. Let me say that I was nervous because I was sure I had nothing substantial to say about music. Let me say that I knew what I was doing was not right. I still did it. It never got published. Everything always got published.

I had some amazing experiences with writing for this magazine in high school. I interviewed Jason Mraz in his hotel room. I sat front row at a fashion show. I twice got a $200 shopping spree for writing short fiction.

I until recently thought I couldn’t write a review. I didn’t have enough knowledge or scope about the arts, whether it be books, music or movies, to make an informed opinion about something. I rarely leave a movie and feel one way about it, let alone be able to defend any way I feel about it. I can’t hear the difference between songs or singers.

I know more about books, so I suppose this was my way in to realizing that I am allowed to have opinions about things. In Literature classes and book clubs and through this blog I have practiced speaking my mind about literature and the writing process. Still, it was only recently that I realized the key to writing a review.

It is the opposite of what I was doing before. One does not need to have sweeping opinions or strong ones to write a review; one simply needs to have noticed things. The more specific of thing you might have noticed, or the more specifically you can say how that thing made you feel, the better. Never say a song is “one-dimensional.” Say that the song made you feel you were in an enclosed room. Don’t try and claim you heard the same beat in a different song. Say that the beat felt like it had come out of somewhere deep within the graveyard of music hell. Don’t say you love the song. Say that the song was yours to begin with. Say whatever you please, as long as it is detailed and you mean it. If you mean it, you’ve written a review.

I didn’t know who Mat Kearney was. I didn’t listen to his whole album. I had decided before I started writing that I would write a bad review because I thought that’s what you did two thirds of your time as a journalist. It wasn’t long after this experience that I decided I didn’t want to be a journalist, whether the two moments were connected or not. I realized that what I really liked was another type of writing, one where you’re creating the art instead of commenting on it. Fortunately for the narrow-mindedness of that future, I’ve come to the realization that all writing is the same: write something true, and write it well.

I went looking for a car wash

After writing a post yesterday where I complained about not doing enough things manually, I went out today in search of an automatic car wash. I hadn’t ever been in one before. My mouth hung open. I felt like I was on an amusement park ride. In case you have been in a car wash before, I won’t describe it in detail.

Despite having been given a receipt that allowed me to wash my car infinitely for the next forty-eight hours, I drove straight out of the car wash on to the street. I parked at the shopping mall and only then did I examine my car. It was still dirty.

Now I am someone who doesn’t return things. I don’t find it fits with other pieces of my personality, but that’s just the way I am. I may never have returned a single thing. Actually, once at Boston Pizza there was a wet, empty sugar packet under my last slice of pizza. I only mentioned anything so I could get something free in return.

The fact that I had forty-eight hours in which to make a u-turn and redo the car wash made it too easy. And besides, I am frightened of amusement park rides. Instead I drove home and washed my car.

I windexed the windows, inside and out. I vacuumed. But mostly I used a sponge and warm water on all the spots that the manic car wash missed. I spent four minutes in a car wash, one hour washing the car myself. I was far happier this afternoon than I’ve been the past three weeks, every day thinking about how I should wash my car.


from agapecentre.ca

I even feel that the $13.49 I paid to get my car washed was worth it. I have the strange feeling I paid myself to wash my car.

Now I don’t know how this relates to writing, but I know that hard work makes me feel good. I know this about other people too. I sometimes forget it because I mostly hate exercising. I love spending too long on a sentence. I love writing out character descriptions I’m never going to use. I love spell checking manually and I love writing things out by hand. I love the idea of taking precious time to do something important, even if its importance is only judged by the amount of satisfaction I get from it. I write a novel because I want to spend the most time ever writing something.

I went looking for a pencil sharpener

There’s a trend, now that the world is getting more complex, to want the world to be simpler. I want to live in a cabin without electricity. I want to read by candlelight. I want to write a novel. It’s a spoiled thing, really, but maybe it’s a nice thing too. My heart isn’t connected to the internet.

I spent fifteen minutes today looking for a pencil sharpener. It was probably five minutes, but felt like fifteen. There were five minutes before I got out of my seat spent deciding whether it was efficient go look for the pencil sharpener. There were five minutes after admonishing myself for going looking for a pencil sharpener I hadn’t found.

The thing is I really wanted to go looking for it. I wanted to look for something as simple as a pencil sharpener, something once so integral but which I hadn’t used for years. I use mechanical pencils. I write with my finger on the screen of an iPad.

I held up an exacto knife instead of a pencil sharpener at one point, wondering if I was that Romantic. I wasn’t. I just used another pencil.


(from officemuseum.com)

I received the wonderful gift of an iPad mini for my birthday. It is such an incredible device, yet I’ve found myself doing such silly things on it. Mostly I’ve played a Boggle game called Scramble with Friends. It’s just Boggle.

Do I deserve all this technology, all this painstaking advancement in human capacity, when I find myself wishing for something simpler? I keep reading books about people who have decided to live like hermits (Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and now We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich), and wishing I had that kind of courage. Really, I’m wishing that I had that kind of skill. I couldn’t build a house in the woods. It would become immediately evident, if in the woods, that I didn’t know how to do anything.

I’m reading about art education, and how educators can either decide to turn a blind eye to popular culture and technology or incorporate it in their teaching. The author seemed to think it was evident that a blind eye was not the way to go. But how much technology can we incorporate into our education, into our lives and our bodies until we become consumed by it? Maybe a blind eye would help us out sometimes. Maybe instead of doing an app where you build a cabin, you might gain something out of building your own. Something that is not efficiency. Something that is closer to the heart than efficiency.

I know I don’t want to give it all up, but sometimes I just need to make myself spend the day looking for pencil sharpeners, in order to remind myself that my body is manual and that I need to take the time to remember how things used to be, even though I grew up in a time when you threw out pencils and I’m only dreaming of a time when knives were used to sharpen the lead.

Grew Into It

When I look at my face in the mirror I am usually content: I still look like me. One day I know I will be an old woman, and one day not long ago I was a young child. But right now, I look like myself.

When I look at pictures of other people I see them at concrete stages in their lives. They seem vividly aware they are a teenager or deeply aware they are middle-aged. Even when I see myself in old pictures I see myself at a certain age. Here is me at 4. Here is me at 21. But when I look at a photo of me from yesterday, or my face in the mirror today, I only see myself.

There is a quote by e. e. cummings in the office where I work, where students come in to complete their university applications and make decisions for their future. The quote is,

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

I guess it says something about living in the moment, my inability to disassociate myself from myself long enough to see that I look like 24-year-old me. Or is this the age I’m supposed to be? At 30 will I feel too far gone? Will I think I’ve changed, that I don’t quite look like myself anymore?


It’s a strange moment when you stop growing. For eighteen years or so you’ve been expected to be moving up in the world. Any changes are natural and wanted. Every day you assess yourself in the mirror for changes. You cheer when your boobs grow. Then there comes a time where things should not grow anymore, where growths become abnormal. But you’re in your twenties and people keep telling you you’re young and you try to live carelessly in your body.

I can’t really imagine what happens after this, because this is where I am. But from what I hear, besides my ability to run better marathons, I’m going to start losing things. The ability to have children. The colour of my hair. The sharpness of my mind. The smoothness of my skin. Have I reached some kind of plateau? What age is the tipping point?

I still think of my spiritual self – my non-physical self – as evolving. I try my hardest to work to improve myself. Does that ever reach a plateau too? Is there ever a moment where I have grown so fully into my being that I can only stop growing?

I hope that I look at myself as an old woman and feel like an old woman. That’s the only way to do it – grow fully enough into my physical and spiritual self that I feel like I’ve arrived.

Stop and Start Again

I have two categories of things in my life: those that I am able to stop and start again, and those that I am not.

I am able to stop and start again when I go for a run. I forgive myself for this. I am not that big a runner. Once my sister and I ran a marathon. I stopped and started again. It took us a full five hours, which I think is harder than running a fast marathon. I usually start running again when I get new running shoes. I usually start and stop running again on Mondays.

from 123rf.com
from 123rf.com

I am not able to stop and start again when I am feeling upset. I don’t forgive myself for this. I am moved by my emotions. I don’t know how to make them start or stop, but they’re on or off and they stay that way. I am always starting to work on this, until my emotions make me stop.

I used to be able to start and stop dreams. I could tell monsters to stop chasing me; I would tell them I knew how to wake up. I think I still can start dreams – I am writing a book, and all that takes is dreaming.

I am unable to start and stop speaking. I’m always saying something I shouldn’t have started to say. I’m always interrupting. I talk during movies and I talk to pets and myself. But when I stop speaking I find it really hard to start again. The more I practice my French, the more I fall out with my native tongue, unfamiliar with the polite way to start a rude sentence, with how it is you’re supposed to say something simple to a stranger. I speak like a child: unaware I can control my own voice.

I am able to start and stop writing. Other people write things the night before, and I edit one book for years. Editing is relishing in the starting and the stopping. It’s an obsession, useful but too much. I made a childhood career of starting and stopping first pages of what I imagined to be stories. They were always just first pages, nuggets of character introductions to what ended up being really just the same character. I remember thinking I was bad at plot, only good at starting and then stopping stories before they became anything like real life.