Category: Big Thoughts

An idle restlessness

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One of the questions I’m asked most often is: how do you get everything done? The funny thing is that from my perspective, I actually have quite a lot of time to sit around and stare out the window. It does seem to be true that I get a lot of different things done, but I’m not going crazy; often I don’t feel busy enough. I had no explanation for this until my friend Zoe informed me last week that she’d figured it out.

She said: You don’t procrastinate.

And dammit, if that isn’t the truth.

Oddly, this can cause problems.

It’s true. Getting stuff done too promptly can cause all sorts of unforeseen hassles. “Jumping the gun” is the phrase that comes to mind. Then I have to undo what’s been done.

But it’s also true that the habit of not “putting off til tomorrow what could be done today” is a useful personality trait when one is aiming for maximum efficiency. (And I do realize that maximum efficiency is not what everyone is aiming for.)

Over the years I’ve come to recognize the drawbacks of not procrastinating, and now force myself to slow down on certain major decisions. Because I know that once decided, I will throw myself in whole-heartedly. When I’m in, I’m all in. Knowing this has caused me to sit on the fence for longer than comfortable when making big (and sometimes even small) decisions. However, once a decision is made, I don’t wait around, I get to it.

This applies to basically everything. I don’t say I’ll run tomorrow instead when it isn’t raining or cold; if I’ve planned to run, I just run. If I see that the floor needs to be vacuumed, I just vacuum it. If a kid is expressing a particular need, I try to address it immediately. (I mean the less tangible, emotional needs that I know they can’t meet themselves; sorry kids, if you’re really thirsty you can get that glass of water all by yourself.) Sometimes this means dropping other less pressing tasks. Sometimes it means staying up late at night, or blocking off time on the weekend. Often, very often, it means doing something I don’t feel like doing.

But as soon as I start doing it, I’m good.

Maybe that’s because I tend to be almost obsessive when on task. Doesn’t matter what the task is.

But here’s the thing: If I’ve finished up everything I’m working on, and have not decided what to throw myself at next, I find myself in a restless idle state that does not suit me. Do I need to find more things to do? Or do I just need to learn how to enjoy the idle moments when they arrive? Because there’s always something more to be done. Always — should I choose to take it on. I could be going for a walk this afternoon with my camera in hand, snapping fall photos. I could be writing a poem about chickens for my poetry book club this evening. I could be stretching. I could be reading. I could be writing.

Or I could be sipping a cup of tea and staring out the window, and, frankly, that possibility seems the most likely.

(But part of me wants to be doing more! So much more! … But what?)

[p.s. Update on afternoon activities: I wrote the damn chicken poem for poetry book club, feeling the pressure now that I am a GG finalist, even if not for poetry. And I read out loud to the (largely unresponsive) dogs from Lorna Crozier’s new book of prose poems, The Book of Marvels (what do dogs know about prose poems? These things are marvelous). And I drank a cup of cooling coffee that has sent me into serious over-caffeination. Should have stuck with tea. Otherwise, I’m altogether happy with this afternoon’s not-quite-staring-out-the-window activities.]

A wild autumn wind

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When I woke up from my nap this morning, the word that came to mind was “replenish.” But now the same word sounds a little bit suspicious, like the advertising copy for a facial cream or something. Nevertheless, replenishment is on my mind. Or maybe just napping. That was my second nap of the morning, truth be told. I went right back to bed after my early morning run and slept until the kids had be dragged up, too; and after walking CJ to the bus stop, I came home and crawled back into bed again, and let myself sleep for as long as I wanted. Which would seem to suggest I have no deadlines pressing.

In fact, I’ve just met a couple of deadlines, so I am feeling the relief of that; and giving myself permission to take some extra rest.

My inbox is quiet.

This week is a quiet interlude sandwiched between several very busy ones.

One of the questions asked yesterday evening at the book club I visited was: what changes now that your book is a GG finalist? And I had to say: well, nothing very obvious, really. Like any opportunity, you make of it what you can. I think (though I’m open to argument) that this nod is meant to acknowledge work done, not to fix my feet in any literary firmament, nor to launch me in some way. What really matters is the work I’ll continue to do. Maybe this will make that work more possible to continue, but then again, maybe not. Whatever I try to publish next will have to stand on its own merit, not on what came before.

I’ve been wondering: why are we drawn to books with stickers, or movies that have won awards? I’m as guilty of it as the next person. I know it’s not a guarantee of excellence, and yet I’m still willing to take a chance on something that has some kind of communal stamp of approval on it. I may not even mind if I don’t ultimately like the book or movie–it won’t feel like time wasted–because at least I’ve participated in a cultural conversation, just by showing up. And so, it occurs to me that perhaps the most tangible benefit of having one’s book stickered is that it gives the book (briefly, at least) the opportunity to enter into a wider conversation.

Wow, that’s some autumn wind today. It’s wild out there.

Sometimes I think what I’m hoping for, and maybe waiting for, maybe in perpetuity, is not replenishment, but a strong wind to blow clean the mind.

(But replenishment sounds so much easier.)

Take your chances when they come

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I’ve put away the canning kettle for the season. And while this wasn’t a banner canning year for me, I was reminded, as every year, that it’s not that hard to do. It’s time-consuming, finicky, hot, and has to be done when the fruit is ripe, that’s all. Listen to the radio. Accept help. Try not to whimper because you’ve got one more canner full of jars to boil and it’s nearly midnight on a weeknight.

For some reason, it’s worth it to me. Maybe it’s the colourful jars in the cupboards. Maybe it’s looking forward to a winter of sauces and chilis and soups in the crockpot.

Speaking of seasonal, I had a little thought in church on Sunday (I take the family occasionally, to touch base with the Mennonite in us — Kevin excepted, though he still has to go). The thought was this: Sometimes I’m open to soaking in experiences, observing, learning, participating, doing. And sometimes I just want to reflect. And these two states of being don’t really overlap, much, for me. Or maybe they do, in ways I just can’t see. Maybe what I’m trying to talk about is that sometimes I feel like I’m skimming along on the surface of things, and other times I’m very still and quiet, and I can sense the sacredness in everything. When I’m skimming along, I don’t even really like the word sacred. It sounds too serious, too self-conscious, too heavy, too inward-looking. I appreciate and respect it, but I don’t like it.

I don’t get to decide what kind of mood or state I’m in. I’m just there. It’s like being in the mood to play the piano, or write a poem. I have to accept where I’m at.

It’s hard to accept where I’m at when it’s somewhere I don’t want to be.

I’m skimming along right now. I’m frustrated by my inability to be still and quiet.

But here’s another tiny thought: sometimes — really, most of the time — it doesn’t matter what I’m in the mood for. I have to take my chances when they come. I have to can the tomatoes while they’re ripe. I have to run during soccer practice, and read stories at bedtime, and cook supper when everyone’s hungry for supper. And right now I have to get revved up for readings and for meeting new people and a bit of travelling — and even a bit of travelling is a lot, for me.

One of the places I’m travelling to is Winnipeg. I’ll be there a week from this coming Monday (!!), reading at the Thin Air Writers Festival. I found this lovely blog post on their site, written by Rosemary Nixon who appeared at the festival last fall. I’ll admit to some gnawing apprehension about leaving the kids and dogs and Kevin, with all the scheduling excitement to manage on their own, but Rosemary’s post reminded me of the potential that is waiting in this new experience — exciting.

A lot of life is about getting it done. And that’s fine, that’s probably even good, and necessary, and right. I’m privileged enough without getting to do what I’m in the mood for all the time. So the tricky part is appreciating what’s going on, floating on random flotsam and jetsom amidst the current that is carrying me along, and, maybe, glimpsing something mysterious in the trees that is there to be seen.

Maybe even while skimming along, I’m catching and keeping the things that will sustain me when I’m ready to be still and quiet again.

To everything turn

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This summer, I have yet to can a thing. I’ve frozen a few odds and ends here and there in small batches, usually leftovers from a meal (ie. too much corn on the cob).

I haven’t found the energy for it, and I’m not sure why.

This morning, Fooey and I looked at Soule Mama’s blog together. She loved the photos of children feeding chickens, playing with pigs and sheep, and picking veggies in the garden. “The children have to do a lot of chores,” she observed. I said they were homeschooled, and she said, “Well, of course! Because they have so many chores, they don’t have time for school.” Let me add that she said this with a very positive tone. Not “chores” as in drudgery, but “chores” as interesting activities.

I felt a pang for the seasonally lived life. “It’s lot of work,” I said. “It’s their whole life.”

I know that’s why I read Soule Mama’s blog: to live vicariously, just a tiny bit. To imagine pulling off muffins baked before kids come downstairs and weeding with baby riding on my back and preserving food and painting rooms pretty colours and renovating an old farmhouse and being a homesteader. When I was a young teen, I spent many happy hours imagining life as a homesteader, out in the middle of nowhere, building a self-sustaining life from scratch. I don’t know why it appealed to me, but I know it was a fantasy that hasn’t had much impact on my actual day-to-day life, even though remnants of the fantasy remain, fondly.

Maybe I’m too lazy.

Today, I am thinking with admiration about all those hard-working people who live seasonally. Right now, in Canada, if I were living truly seasonally, I would be canning like crazy. Now is the time! Grab the moment! Preserve summer. Instead, I’m lost in thought before a computer. I’m at a soccer field until dusk. I’m going for a run. I’m vacuuming dog hair.

But I have some angst over not canning. I feel like I should be. And I feel tired too, worn out, a bit, by the continuous nature of living, the daily demands, being unable to catch up or keep up. Laundry, meals, basic family hygiene, household demands. We attempted to get the kids doing regular chores earlier this summer, and we didn’t stick to it. (We should try again, for their sake and for ours.)

Maybe that’s what impresses me most about those people who are growing our food for us, and those people who are living off the land: they stick to it. Nature won’t let them stop, and they don’t. I’m sure they’d like to, sometimes. I’m sure weariness sets in.

I need something similar to attend to, a project larger than myself, more meaningful. (Or is this just August talking–a wistful month, I always find, during which I feel nostalgic for what’s passing even though it’s still right here all around me?)

Catching happiness

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lettuce flowers (yes, really, that’s what they are)

I was in Waterloo Park yesterday evening, finishing off a hard run. When running, I find that I disappear a bit, and my focus changes. In some ways, the tiniest details sharpen, in other ways, much sensory information blurs. But I often catch some small moment in passing, and it seems to flare more brightly than it could if I were walking or standing still.

Yesterday evening, as I ran up a big hill, trying to push the pace and push myself, I saw a family gathered below, sitting in four lawn chairs in the middle of a wide open grassy space. I wondered what they were doing, sitting all in a row, looking up the hill. And then I saw a mother and daughter walking down the hill. My trajectory would take me directly in between the two small groups of people.

Then the people in the lawn chairs saw the mother and daughter too. Someone called something out, which I didn’t catch. The daughter, who looked to be a younger teenager, waved and cried, “Happy birthday!” and I saw that another younger teenaged girl was running up the hill from the row of lawn chairs. The other girl started running downhill, and the two friends met giddily in the middle of the field, and hugged and jumped around with obvious delight to be together on what was clearly a special day — a birthday — for one of them.

I ran past the mother, and we exchanged broad smiles. I kept running and didn’t look back.

The whole scene occupied no more than ten to twenty seconds.

What struck me, instantly, was the joy it had given me to be witness to such a happy moment. How often do we see other people in their moments of unguarded, totally free happiness? Usually we see people when they are occupied with something else, distracted, on their way somewhere, busy, or idle; moments of spontaneous joy, well, they’re rare.

I’m going to keep looking for them.

Just one small thing

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She’s at camp. And I miss her.

All the way home, after dropping her off, I felt a vague uneasiness, an undercurrent of anxiety. When I expressed it to Kevin, he understood. We were both feeling it. The feeling of not being near one of our children, which is a luxury we completely take for granted in every day life.

It came to me: this is parenthood. Our children are going to grow up and away from us, but we may not exactly grow up and away from them. In some fundamental way, we will always feel that they belong to us; even when they are quite certain they don’t.

I’m not talking about this little one, of course. She still makes her claims on me as strongly as I claim her. But in ten years? Twenty? Thirty?

Will it feel then, as it does right now, that a small piece of me has been mislaid?

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