Category: Big Thoughts
I’m beginning to understand what “labour of love” really means, when referring to an artistic endeavour. This collection over which I’ve been labouring for several years is beginning to qualify, methinks: it matters deeply to me that I get it right, that the end product feels real and true and good, and until then it’s like being caught up in compulsive behavior. This need to push on and try to finish the book to satisfaction, no matter what. That’s the love part: it doesn’t matter any more to me whether the book will ever be published, whether anyone else on earth will read it, just that I get it right.
Labour of love = hopeful futility?
Every once in awhile a labour of love gets published to great acclaim, and it seems so obvious, such a perfect ending, well, of course, this was bound to happen when he/she slaved over it obsessively for sixteen years, naturally, the end point is worldly reward. But it’s ever so much more likely that’s the exception, not the rule. It’s ever so much more likely the labour of love lives in a shoebox in the attic instead.
I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. Just that the other version makes for a better story. And I like a good story.
Random thoughts kicking around …
1. My friend Katie’s Facebook status recently read (to paraphrase): “Katie is grateful for all of the reasons she is tired.” I’d like to borrow and adopt that as my own default tagline. There’s nothing wrong with complaining and worrying sometimes, but I’m a big believer in attitude making a genuine difference in how our lives proceed. Not that daily gratitude will prevent disaster and sadness, but that disaster and sadness will be made easier to bear. I am thankful not to have to test this theory, except in small ways, at present.
2. Experience = wisdom. Right? Somehow I’ve always accepted as fact that layers of experience, age, will gradually result in wisdom gained. Except I’ve had the revelation that it’s possible to keep discovering the same things over and over again, in slightly mutated form, such that it would seem all that marvelous experience hasn’t been exceptionally integrated into a grand interior mural of cohesive wisdom, but is hanging about in separate clumsy segments waiting for me to trip over it again. Partly, this is to do with age itself, and the feeling that time continues to speed up, and the fact that my brain is actually about two seasons behind, right now. It’s so hard to maintain a focus, to remember the resolutions, to stick with the plan (while trying to remain flexible) and ultimately better oneself. The previous sentence would be a terrible mantra.
3. Speaking of mantras, my siblings, when confronted with the above rambling non-mantra, suggested I should keep a “Life’s Little Lessons” kind of diary. A list somewhere with those nuggets of wisdom recorded.
4. Just had another thought: maybe it’s not that important to remember these lessons. Maybe experience simply kicks in during a regular day as situations arise, everything from walking to the library in the rain pushings a stroller and pulling a three-year-old on her bicycle (and enjoying it, as experience tells me such moments are fleeting), to rewriting a story a million times over, because there is always something more to learn.
5. Little Life Lessons have a tendency to sound bland, trite, and obvious written down.
6. Still, it might be nice to return to thoughts like: I like baking bread! Or, I’m glad for everything that makes me tired! Or, three-year-olds need to feel like they’re independent sometimes! Or, you can always say your sorry, even if it was an accident! Et cetera. Yup, that could become addictive. (Why each life lesson cries out for an exclamation point, I cannot say. But it does!)
7. Writing. I want to blog about the writing, but nothing coheres into firm thought, just the usual angst-ridden blether. I’m finishing a poetry collection right now, mostly on young motherhood, and memory. And I’m continually writing and rewriting these stories in the Nicaragua book, and wondering how many more years will be wasted/usefully applied in pursuit of that book, and whether perhaps the subject is just too loaded and therefore doomed. Perhaps I will understand more clearly when this draft is done, but if experience has taught me anything … no, I won’t.
8. What was that about daily gratitude? Here’s a little life lesson: it is infinitely easier to be grateful for and to love my children than to be grateful for and to love my other creative outlet of writing. I have such a simple relationship with my children, despite the minute complexities. I just love them. I trust my instincts about them, and have never questioned this journey we’re on together. But the writing … I love it and crave it and need it; and hate it and resent it and agonize over it. I haven’t yet discovered the antidote.
This week’s theme: Indian spices; curries.
Goal: To use some of those less-popular legumes and pulses now languishing in our pantry. These strange small hard dark chickpeas that never seem to soften, no matter how long I boil them, for example. Kevin purchased several pounds awhile back on the advice of a taxi driver in Thunder Bay (no kidding). And that bag of black-eyed beans.
Meat to be thawed: 2 lbs pork sausage; 4 lbs turkey parts.
To kick off the week, I’m planning red-lentil dahl and rice with peas for supper tonight. Admittedly, that will not diminish our supply of peculiar chickpeas and black-eyed beans … but it’s all about inspiration. I’ve discovered in my Indian Cookbook, by Madhur Jaffrey, some recipes that should fit the bill.
Pork with Chickpeas. Chicken (Turkey) with Tomatoes and Garam Masala. Black-Eyed Beans with Mushrooms. All recipes also call for fresh or canned tomatoes, with which our shelves are laden. In Extending the Table there’s also a cabbage (local) with lentils recipes I’m keen to try. Further recipes making me drool this afternoon are Kusherie, an Egyptian meal of lentils and rice cooked together, served with a cumin-spiced tomato sauce, macaroni, and fried onions. But we’ve run plum out of onions, and must replenish next market trip, so that will have to wait. Another nice plain meal whetting my appetite is Khichri, rice and lentils cooked together with potatoes and some milder spices: cinnamon, cloves.
One final (promise!) Big Thought arising out of last night’s walk: There’s something about being in motion that frees the mind to think reflectively; and, if the motion is shared, to connect. Maybe that’s why road trips on highways seem to have a mythical quality, everyone in the vehicle sharing that forward motion, that journey. Same with walking. Not so with city driving, in which forward motion is constantly thwarted by street lights, stop signs, other cars, pedestrians, et cetera. Being stuck inside a motionless vehicle is frustrating precisely because it feels like we should be moving. It doesn’t matter if we’re wasting mere precious seconds of time; the sensation is of a much larger waste, that sensation of being stalled in perpetuity, in the midst of the journey. Walking somewhere might take more actual time, but because we rarely have to pause for long, and aren’t moving that fast in the first place, we don’t have the same deeply irritating feeling of interruption.
Apparently CJ did wake and squawk briefly several times last night; Kevin said these episodes lasted mere moments, but because he was in another room, and we’re running two humidifiers now (so much for cutting down on energy consumption), I didn’t hear the babe and instantly leap to grab him up and feed him back to sleep. He is now 20 pounds, 6 ounces. Weighed today. I’m noting that here because I seem incapable of noting it anywhere else.
I’m only a tiny bit torn about moving him out of our room. Mostly I’m looking forward to reading before bed (while lying in bed), and to resting more consistently, ie. more than an hour or so consecutively. And I’ll still get to bring him into bed for snuggly night feedings, just fewer and further between. It always seems to come to “it’s time.” This may be the case for every transition. Something just tells me when it’s time.
To speak of a more fundamental transition, I’m finding myself in this New Year thinking often about life beyond primarily childcare. Researching possibilities. Feeling excitement, even impatience.
Kevin stayed home Monday morning so I could write, and he reflected afterward how these moments will never come again. You either decide to spend this time with your growing children, or you don’t, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t spend this same time with them later. They will be grown. You can’t sit on the kitchen floor while CJ practices standing and taking a step, and Fooey gobbles handfuls of peanuts perched on a stool, talking utterly non-stop. Sometimes it feels too slow, too boring, too quiet. Sometimes it feels like you need some positive feedback, some notice, some worldly recognition. That feels vain to admit, but there must be something in human nature that craves recognition, recompense, for work done. But this isn’t regular work. You might even argue that it’s not work. It’s living, life. It’s experience. It’s definitive.
And I’m trusting that I’ll know when it’s time to shift my focus, that I’ll know when my time has come to get up off the floor. Maybe it will be when CJ can run away from me, or when Fooey has her nose buried in a book, or when Apple-Apple can cook supper, or Albus can walk to school by himself. I’m just guessing. I never know it’s time … till I know.
Thinking New Year. Thinking about how, when I’m doing something that I really love, I’m almost out of body, there’s a feeling of transcendence. Yet that out of body thing seems to take me away, too, from the conscious reality of Life. Played piano for an hour yesterday while CJ napped and the other kids played road hockey. It took me far far away, into music’s private space, feeling the meaning of the notes take character and shape, speaking emotion with my fingers on the keys. But then, I wasn’t with my kids and that made me feel vaguely guilty. What does it mean, to be “with” people? That is something I’m struggling with as I try to live life as presently as possible–with presence, with gratitude. The paradox is that often when I’m most present within an activity, deeply focussed, I’m taken away from the everyday-ness, away from the chaos going on around me. Away from them.
We did something funny yesterday morning (pre-road-hockey). The kids were going wild with boredom and CJ was extremely fussy, so I popped him in the sling and paced the living-room while narrating our lives operatically. Everyone found this hugely entertaining (“Get off your sister!” sung in slightly out-of-range soprano with serious vibrato beats plain old “Get off your sister,” any day). The best part was that they joined in. That’s the kind of transcendence I crave–collective transcendence.
There was a program on collective joy, recently, on CBC Radio’s Tapestry. It’s a concept I’d never considered, but instantly understood–that amazing experience of feeling connected to and part of something larger than oneself. It’s even more amazing when the experience is being collectively invented, when everyone is a participant. Think: sports. Think: camp. Think: orchestra, theatre, choir. (Think other things I haven’t thought of or mentioned; and tell me about them, please!). Speaking of which, last night I watched the finale of a deeply moving documentary called “The Choir: Boys Don’t Sing.” It’s a BBC production and may actually be a series, in which a young British choirmaster goes into hard-knock schools and starts a choral program. In this case, Gareth went to an all-boys school and in nine months built an amazing 150-voice choir that included a group of beat-boxers. To watch their performance at the Royal Albert Hall was truly to witness an experience of collective joy. Look up this series if you have even the slightest interest in choral music (and even if you think you don’t).
On that note, I must continue preparing for our low-key New Year’s celebration this evening. These are my New Year’s hopes (forget resolutions): great creative energy, imaginative problem solving, vats of patience, presence, gratitude, calm, reflection, and bursts of collective joy.
So Stephane Dion is on his way out. A CBC commentator had a great line about his political career. She said that cats have nine lives, but Dion seems to have nine deaths–political deaths. I’d heard his address to the nation via radio, and it sounded a bit stumbling, but okay; only seeing a clip the next day on the television did I realize how truly awful it was. Poor man. What an ignominious image to have define your political career: his face was out of focus. It was like he’d already been condemned to political purgatory, ghost-like, blurry, trying desperately to communicate his good message.
I feel a bit that way myself. Not the good message part; the out of focus part. Exhaustion’s blur. There are entire days when I feel too interior, like I need to be shaken, woken from this dream. But, then, it’s a pretty sweet dream. Yesterday’s reveries: Rolling out cookie dough, flour-covered children, Fooey piling pink icing on top of a tree-shaped cookie, slowly devouring it, licking icing off the counter; snow falling, fat flakes; pushing the stroller through uncharted sidewalk snow; pretzels in the church basement; Kevin home by naptime; rolling out stretchy pizza dough; utter chaos just before supper’s served, hungry children weeping, fighting, and pretending to explode various inanimate objects; Fooey eating two bananas instead of pizza; washing dishes in hot water; nursing a baby to sleep in front of the television; So You Think You Can Dance, Canada; tea with honey. If I weren’t writing this down right away, the whole of yesterday would disappear utterly. That’s the blurry bit. That’s the part I can’t reconcile myself to. How fast it’s passing.