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You’re On Holiday

23 September 2019 | Diary

You’re on holiday in California, admiring the view at Big Sur, when you approach a local to ask for directions.

The man panics. “It’s no good!” he shrieks, looking around helplessly, “I can’t do it!” and then he leaps into the canyon.

Only the canyon’s not a canyon. The Californian passes through it with a sickening tear and runs on and on into an impossible white distance.

And that’s how you discover YOU’RE IN THE TRUMAN SHOW. It is Season 3 and the ratings are in the toilet.

After the Storm

22 September 2019 | Diary

It’s been an atypically social week, something friendly lined for every single night and three of the days.

So many pint glasses and ticket stubs has meant putting my Street Fighter health bar into the red and storming the treasury in a way not strictly compatible with the lifestyle of a twenty-first-century person of letters.

My idle self feels happy to have blown a week off so decadently, but as I look at the week’s spoils, it’s hard not to feel a pinch of dismay. Was fun had? Yes. Was your heart or mind opened even a crack? Oh yes. How’s your manuscript coming along? Quiet, you.

Vasculum

21 September 2019 | Diary

To the Botanical Gardens to volunteer as a guide for Doors Open Day.

I show thirty lusty octogenarians (and my pal Graeme) around the botanical library, a place I know well having catalogued the entire collection as a side-project. Hypocrite idler, I know.

The visitors are fresh from a tour of the fern house, so there are books about ferns on display as well as a vasculum (collecting box) of the sort used during the Victorian fern Craze.

I show a few other highlights including an encyclopedia of exotics, an 1860 book about agricultural pests in which all of the critters are drawn to scale, and, my favourite, an 1853 volume of pressed seaweeds.

No your hobby is boring.

Towards the end, Graeme picks up a book about mushrooms. Apparently it “just fell open” on a chapter about magic ones.

Climate Change Does Not Spark Joy

20 September 2019 | Diary

To the Glasgow contingent of the International Climate Strike where I march with thousands of truant schoolchildren, shouting “Fuck You, Boris Johnson!”

Look, they started it.

Among their midget ranks I loom like a benevolent periscope, admiring the sights from high above their heads and providing a convenient landmark for other marchers to orientate themselves. “Yes, Mum, I’m between the green flag and the geek.”

There are loads of great placards including “Earth is More Important Than Homework” and “Too Cool for School? Not In This Climate.”

The best one though (or at least the cutest) is a placard that shows Marie Kondo saying “Climate Change Does Not Spark Joy.”

This One’s Fine

19 September 2019 | Diary

I am afraid of spiders but delighted by ants. I always want to know more about ants–about their culture, the ways they communicate, what sort of music they’re into–but I don’t want to know anything about spiders. Even a picture of a spider lifts my intestines up into my chest as if I am in free-fall.

One day, in Montreal, Samara comes with me to the Bibliothèque Nationales, so that she can vet a big photographic book of ants for me in case there are any pictures of spiders.

I hide behind my hands and listen to her turning the pages one by one.

“That one’s fine,” she says, “that one’s fine, this one’s fine, oh this one’s adorable.

“Thank you for doing this, honey,” I say, still hiding, and I wonder if she finds this charming or if it’s finally dawning on her what she’s got herself into.

“This one’s fine,” she says, “this one’s fine, this one’s… oh my GOD.”

“A spider?” I ask.

“Yuh-huh.”

“Are they eating it?”

“They’re eating parts of it,” she says, “And parts of it are eating them.”

“I don’t want to see it!,” I say, tightening the gaps in my fingers, “And I don’t want to hear any more about it!”

“Shh!” someone says, “Tabarwet…

I listen to Samara close the book and put it back on the shelf. I hear it slide tightly and firmly, safe between the other entomological quartos.

Sometimes, at night, I think of that book and the horror I know it contains, on the other side of the ocean, existing.