“You’re doing something else in the normal world”

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I’m in a pre-holiday panic, characterized by a sense of paralysis as the lists in my head get jumbled and I can’t remember who needs what and when and where and why, and how it will all get done I do not know. At least I slept well last night. I woke looking like I’d swallowed a giant salt tablet, which I kind of did, given my new love of all things brined and fermented. Have you tried a real brined pickle, tangy from fermentation rather than vinegar? I’m now attempting to brine a rutabaga because it was the only brine-able vegetable I could find in the fridge last night. You might not think brining random root vegetables at 10:30PM the wisest use of my time, given the panic mode, but that is the truth of panic-mode. We’re not the wisest at 10:30PM.

Yesterday. Oh boy. Kettlebells and spin, and forgot my running shoes, so had to borrow a pair, which didn’t really fit, so I ended up going barefoot. Brief nap interrupted by dogs howling. Sleepy daughter needed a late breakfast, had to be forced to do her homework, had to be driven to school around lunchtime. I grudgingly ate lunch (it wastes so much time!). Before I knew it, it was meet-the-bus time. Walk home together time. Make an early supper time. Try to force sleepy swim daughter to do more homework time. Then we were off to swim lessons. Last one of the season for CJ, who didn’t pass, as I knew he would not, having observed his progress in the pool. He’s improved enormously, but he can’t figure out his kick, and lies there floating atop the water, legs churning with energetic futility, propelling him literally not an inch.

As we stood in the change room, me trying to towel off his wet legs, him howling that I was torturing him with the towelling of the wet legs, I thought, yup, this is torture alright. I’m crouched in a germ-ridden change room with a melodramatic five-year-old and my book is at home not getting written!

At home, we ate the soup I’d made earlier. Too many veggies, according to one child. Too spicy, according to another.

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soccer boy

Then the soccer lad and I walked to the library to pick up the carshare car, and headed to his last house league game of the season. They won! And he scored! It was a fun game. I enjoyed the conversation that accompanied our outing, too. I was so grumpy as we walked to library, growling at every little thing that wasn’t just perfect in the world around me (lousy drivers nearly running us over in the crosswalk, lousy fellow sidewalk walkers cruising two abreast as if expecting us to jump into the snowbank in deference to their passage, etc.) I suddenly heard myself, bitching about everything, and wondered out loud whether really good people (like Nelson Mandela, I said) did this. Were they grumpy out loud? Did they complain about other people in such a petty terms? Surely not. Albus figured that really good people kept it to themselves. Maybe they let off steam in private. But they didn’t say mean things in public.

How do you let off steam, I wondered? Albus figured it was different for everyone. He wasn’t sure how he let off steam. Come to think of it, neither was I, only that on certain days, due to certain circumstances, I was more likely to be grumpy and intolerant and judgemental. Like yesterday. Stretched too thin, to pull my word of the year into the conversation.

After soccer, we parked the carshare car at the library and walked, shivering in the Arctic breeze, to the grocery store to check the last to-do of the day off the list (brining rutabagas wasn’t actually on the list, in fact). We had fun dashing down the aisles, as we always seem to, and were the second-to-last customers in the whole store. Albus has discovered my weak spot, which is anything with a bargain sticker on it: therefore, he talked me into getting him a tray of sushi for a bedtime snack, half-price. I texted Kev, who drove over to pick us up. What did we do before texting? Psychic means weren’t nearly so reliable. And then I ate the last pickle and brined the rutabaga and ate two more bowls of soup, plus a grapefruit, plus had a cup of tea with Kev, then tried to read in bed, until I discovered myself reading with my eyes closed, which never works. I try it every night, and it never ever works.

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And now I’m sitting here wondering about presents un-bought, and when to schedule in time to go seek them out, and food-ordering, and how it will all fit together, and how I can leave the book behind for a few days, so as not to torment myself with the fact that I’m not working on it, and instead enjoy the holidays, and family, because the holidays don’t come often, and occasions for togetherness don’t come often either.

How can I set aside this unfinished work? I’m breathing its air.

Alice Munro was recently quoted in an interview saying this: When you’re a writer, you’re never quite like other people — you’re doing a job that other people don’t know you’re doing and you can’t talk about it, really, and you’re just always finding your way in the secret world and then you’re doing something else in the “normal” world.

It’s true. You can’t talk about it. It’s not that people aren’t willing to listen, it’s that it’s impossible to talk about. The secret world is paper-thin, full of holes, peopled with shadows and questions and puzzles and blazing pictures. It doesn’t all fit together, and this is impossible to explain too. That the work carries from project to project, never finished, never solved. It’s the never-ending-ness that causes enormous anxiety, which in turn fuels the work. You’re always trying to pull it together, as a writer, and failing, and it’s the failure that keeps you at it. To fail is to recognize what yet could be. How to talk about that?

Welcome, Monday
At home anywhere

8 Comments

  1. Phrased beautifully as always Carrie. “The world is too much with us…” Well, yes. And yet the world is what we live in, and what we write about. Paradox, but a wonderful one. Now to find that lost receipt so I can exchange the present I bought by mistake…

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    • I’m in, I’m out, I’m in, I’m out. “You work very quickly,” my new editor emailed me to say, and I thought to myself, you have no idea how obsessive compulsive I am when on task.

      Reply
  2. Comment from Nath (which I just erased by accident on the tiny BB screen with my giant finger):

    The bit on fermenting turnips is so topical for me! I just finished reading Cooked, by Michael Pollan, and he has a whole section on fermentation, and it made me want to try making sauerkraut (despite his description of how stinky and gross it got about half way through) and kimchi. It’s a good read, if you haven’t read it, if only for the section about the nun who got a PhD in microbiology to prove to the FDA that her cheesemaking method was, in fact, more sanitary than the FDA-approved ones.

    I catch myself reading with my eyes closed almost daily – and every time, the story gets all surreal, and when I open my eyes, I can’t find the weird sentence I just read in my subconscious. It’s kind of trippy.

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    • And another book to read! Does he have recipes, too?

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  3. I like the grumpy you. A pickle in its natural brine is a very appropriate food to eat when you’re grumpy. Strub’s makes a not-bad fermented dill pickle in natural brine. The Gmach family at Kitchener market also makes a good fermented sour dill pickle. But for me the best pickle experience is the half-sours, or new pickles (just kept in the brine for a day or so), that you can get from a real traditional pickle-making outfit (are there any in ON?). You can still get new pickles at a few places in NY: worth the trip. And you can be grumpy there, and just blend right in: http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2013/03/market-tours-clinton-hill-pickles.html

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  4. YES, fermented pickles are the BEST! I have Sandor Katz’ huge book and it’s so fascinating and I always have a ferment or two or three going on.

    Love the Munro quote. I don’t consider myself a writer, per se, but I can see a little bit of that quote in my life.

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    • I should put this book on my wish list.

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  5. Ha! I’m glad you like the grumpy me. I’m not sure the people who have to live with me like the grumpy me quite so much. Also, I would love to go on a pickle tour of NYC. I’ve never been (on a pickle tour … or to New York.)

    Reply

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