The Soul of an Octopus

Right before my library branch closed for renovations, I grabbed The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery, partly because I’ve read some of her other stuff but mostly becasue Octopus! (I’ll miss you serendipity. I have to request all my books online now.)

Octopuses are always fun. Apparently octopi isn’t the correct plural if you’re an etymology nerd. Which I’m not and I kind of like how it combines octopus and pi – a cursory Google Image search turned up surprisingly few memes around this. Get on it Internet! Nevertheless, it just seems like good manners to stick with the book’s convention.

Grammar settled, Montgomery heads off the the New England Aquarium and befriends various octopus inhabitants. I saw an octopus at the New England Aquarium a few years ago and found myself wondering if it was one of the ones in the book. Octopuses are clever and will turn their ingenuity to escaping if not distracted by visitors, games and predicting word cup winners. When you hang out with an octopus, you stick your arms in the water and it grabs you, and sometimes your friends since those eight arms are great for multitasking. Like a hug, but with more tentacles and suckers.

The sad side is that octopuses don’t live that long. Fair warning: octopuses die in this book. In a way I realize this is all about one’s point of view – like an octopus might feel like 5 years is a long, full life. But at some point you have to start wondering if it’s worthwhile being born at all.

On a more cheerful note, it reminded me how I was going to knit Octopus Mittens ages ago but never did. I’ve got the pattern and yarn and it’s supposed to rain this weekend….

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Station Eleven

Happy 2017 y’all! Maybe in the spirit of the New Year and New Starts I’ll turn this page into a place that dispenses wisdom and helpful tips. Because I have a tip for you: When you are on a night train to Toronto, don’t start reading a book where the end of the world as we know it starts in Toronto. It’s kind of creepy.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is the kind of science fiction that is also literature (my edition had those ragged deckle edges – fancy!) It starts in Toronto when an actor dies on stage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan, a paramedic-in-training who happens to be in the audience comes to his aid but too late. Then he walks home through the streets of Toronto and it gives me this absurd thrill of recognition – Yonge St, Carlton St, Allan Gardens, I’ve been there! But also it’s creepy because meanwhile he gets a call from his doctor friend at the hospital that it seems a disastrously bad flu has come to town. Pandemically bad, even.

Then everybody dies. (Well, nearly everybody.) The lights go out. No phones, no planes, no antibiotics. We flip back and forth through time. The actor before the apocalypse, his ex-wives, the paparazzi, Hollywood. And after, The Travelling Symphony travels around the Great Lakes (hey! I’ve been there too!) performing Shakespeare and symphonies for the towns of survivors. Because, as we have apparently learned from Star Trek, survival is insufficient.

And if you are on a train hurtling through Southern Ontario you might find yourself staring out into the dark, wondering if out there the world has ended already and you just don’t know yet. (Spoiler: It hadn’t.)

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On the Bright Blue Side

This fall has seemed hard what with one thing and another. Stuff at the day job, construction outside my window, renovations at the library, Donald Trump winning an election that was not for Most Obnoxious Jackass.

It’s about time for things to turn around. Instead of being annoyed by the annual Absurdly Early Mall Christmas, I’ve embraced it as a sign of good things to come. I love Christmas! Trees are pretty. Why not bake some gingerbread?

And another entry on the good side of the ledger, new socks:


Pattern is Katniss. These were perfect bus knitting – simple but not plain.

In these Mad Max/Hunger Games days, surely we all need to be prepared with good socks. (And probably hard liquor. Um, I might need to go to the store.)

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In Which It Is Too Damn Hot

It is stupid hot here and it seems my life has been on hold for the past several weeks while I eat ice cream and wait for it to cool down. I’ve been knitting a sweater but that seems an exercise in futility since obviously I will never need such a thing again.

But I did read The Brass Giant by Brooke Johnson and I can’t quite decide if I didn’t much care for it or if it’s just that it’s hot and I hate everything. I wanted it to be about clockwork automatons and schemes, which it is, a bit. But there is way too much romance for my liking. Possibly because it is too hot to hear about warm embraces – just standing next to people on the bus is gross. (Is there a genre about hooking up with snowmen? I think that could do well.) But even so, it just seemed too much. I mean, surely when you are escaping from prison you should focus on the task at hand rather than daydreaming about making out. (Disclaimer: I have never escaped from prison. Perhaps that is actually the secret to success.)

Know any good books about polar exploration? I might need to take a field trip soon.

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Belle Epoque

I finished reading Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross the other day and I still can’t really make up my mind what I thought of it. It’s about Maude, who runs away to Paris and takes a job as a repoussoir, which is a professional ugly friend – your wealthy client hires you to stand around and make her look good by comparison.

There’s some fun stuff, like running away to Paris, old-timey photography, the Eiffel tower in progress, fancy clothes and balls. (I like the idea of a ball but would hate to actually be called upon to wear a corset and dance in public. Good thing I can read about them in my pajamas.)

But the premise got on my nerves, like when people talk about brides who deliberately pick hideous bridesmaids dresses so they can look good at their friends’ expense. Because, y’know, women are vain and secretly hate each other. Isn’t it cute? Blech. (Although there are bridesmaids dresses out there that seem to defy any other explanation, I think there’s just something about weddings that causes epic lapses in judgement. Not, alas, limited to dresses.)

On the other hand, when beauty has high stakes – like if you are a Parisian socialite and marriage is your best/only career option – surely it isn’t shallow and petty to go for it. Is hiring a professional ugly friend and hoping for an aristocratic marriage all that different from paying tuition and hoping for your dream job?

Oh, socialites, I can’t stop with the side-eye, but I do see your predicament. What can you do when the only way to win is to be effortlessly gorgeous in a way that no one actually is?

“Overthrow the patriarchy” is probably a better answer than “Hire a professional ugly friend.” But I do see how the latter is simpler.

Anyway, of course Maude meets a boy who thinks she’s beautiful. And on the one hand, good for her! She’s had a rough time and who am I to begrudge her a little lovin’? It’s Paris after all. But on the other hand, can’t we have a story about an ugly woman who is actually ugly? I know, I know, eye of the beholder and all that. But it irks me that so often the message is that of course we’re all beautiful! Body image! Self esteem! I would so much rather it was that beauty is not a requirement.

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B Is A Pretty Good Grade

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t quite manage to finish that sweater before the end of the Dauphiné. I realized there was no way I was going to make it, lost my motivation a bit (also, I had to go to my job and stuff) and finished almost a week late. Which, in keeping with the theme, is probably what would happen if I actually participated in a bike race. Good thing knitting has lower stakes.

It’s blocking now:

IMG_2662 (2)

Points off for lateness, but overall seems like a success.

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Cables du Dauphiné

I don’t spin and have no plans to take it up but in July I suffer from fleeting sadness that I can’t do the Tour de Fleece. I actually do follow cycling. (Well, sort of. I got into it because it’s the perfect insomniac TV – hours of footage of people riding bikes, minimal concentration required, often aired at weird hours of the night.) And I do love a crazy knitting challenge. So this year I thought to myself, how about I do my own thing in honour of the Criterium du Dauphiné  – y’know, similar but different.

I thought of this plan while I was casting on a new sweater during the prologue, so it was not especially well thought out and has a couple of obvious problems:

1 – The connection with wheels and spinning isn’t there. As it happens I’m knitting a cabled sweater (Telluride Aran) so I’ve decided the cables represent winding roads. Best I can do at short notice.


If that doesn’t remind you of biking through France I don’t know what will.

2 – The Dauphiné is way shorter than the tour (1 week vs 3) and there’s no way I’m going to finish. Today’s the last day and I have the front, back and part of a sleeve. (This is only possible because the back and sleeves are plain.) Maybe I can pull of some kind of unlikely come from behind win this afternoon? You never know if you don’t try.

How about Vest du Dauphiné  next year?

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