How to use the restless minutes and hours between activities scheduled and unavoidable:
– finish / write new story
– write 15 mins / day on any subject that comes to mind [project title: The Woman Formerly Known As]
– blog but keep it short: limit time spent writing to ten mins, see what you can produce
– read and don’t feel guilty
– research popular print culture and mysticism
– limit FB visits to time when out and about (entertainment)
– start tapping into new characters, era, and place, testing the waters
[the above is an actual note actually sent to self, as typed into phone on Wednesday, January 29th, while sitting in the car in a parking lot with a few minutes to spare between a stop at the library and picking up daughter for piano lessons]
A few notes on where I’m at, today, on this last day of January.
– I’m waiting for comments on final revisions to Girl Runner. Next steps will include copy editing, cover design, and publicity planning. Not there yet.
– My author photo has been taken (by the wonderful Nancy Forde, my friend and neighbour!).
– I’m prepping to drive to Windsor with my swim girl for a weekend meet, hoping to get there ahead of the snow that’s on its way.
– Yes, our swim girl has cut back on swimming, but only marginally; I’m just happy she’s so happy to be swimming again. Yes, we’ve cut back on the number of meets we’re attending. This is a big one, and we both wanted to go. We’ll continue to assess her overall schedule on a weekly or even daily basis, making changes as needed.
– I’ve renewed my access card to the local university libraries, and have been through the stacks to find books on popular print culture (16th century, specifically).
– I went to boot camp this morning, and my body felt perfectly normal. (Hurray!) My mind, I’ll confess, remains foggy, but that could be all the quiet thinking it seems to want to do right now. My mind is stuck in winter-mode: hibernation.
– I’m still on antibiotics.
– Our oven still doesn’t work, but the part has been ordered, and the manufacturer is paying for it, not us.
– I’m reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, and wondering why it’s taken me so long to discover her.
– I’m sitting down as I write this. Need to work my way back onto the treadmill desk.
– I’m meeting with my word-of-the-year friends on Monday. Until then, the word remains under wraps, as I’m suffering from my usual last-minute change of heart.
– Kevin and I spent most of yesterday together, and checked out wood stoves … and came around to thinking that what we’re really looking for is a gas stove, as originally planned. It’s about half the cost, and a whole lot less fuss once installed. I’ve decided that I may be someone who admires people who have chickens and wood stoves, rather than someone who aspires to have chickens and a wood stove, if you know what I mean. It pains me to type that last sentence out.
– This post has taken me exactly
ten eleven fourteen seventeen TWENTY-TWO (uh oh!) minutes.
I’m writing this post in my office! The dogs are sleeping in their beds! I have a cup of coffee at my elbow, nearly gone, and I’m feeling almost well enough to consider, seriously, going to boot camp tomorrow morning. Yes! Restlessness is returning to me!
(I’m relieved. The past few days have been a bit of a dangerous interlude, as I discovered how easy it is to work in bed on my laptop; and tempting as it sounds, that is not a habit I’d consider good for my morale, long-term.)
Today is Kevin’s birthday.
We still have no oven, so I can’t bake him a cake.
But we’re going to go out for lunch and look at wood stoves, and talk and dream, so maybe that’s enough.
I’ve found a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela that struck me this morning: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” That’s almost been the basis of our marriage, right there. We haven’t stayed the same, and we haven’t expected the other to stay the same. We’re quite different, in many ways, but we sure enjoy basking in each other’s light.
I can’t bake Kevin a cake.
But I can sing his praises here. He’s improvisational of character, willing to change, forever finding ways to make something out of nothing — or out of the materials at hand. He’s the kindest coach you’ll ever hope to meet, who seems blessed with infinite patience, who sees potential in every kid, and never tires of finding new ways to motivate (which makes him a great teacher, too). And now I’m afraid of winding myself into deeply sappy territory by saying what a terrific dad he is (but of course!) and partner, too. I most appreciate his willingness to be swayed, to consider alternative perspectives, and to listen without comment.
Happy birthday, dear Kevin, and many more.
Kevin barbecues Carrie a birthday cake.
Meanwhile, CJ gets a hit in the eye by Albus while the two are playing soccer in the living room. CJ not sure he will survive.
Cake arrives at table, CJ inconsolable, candle burns down. [Note: Carrie is not turning a number that ends in either 3 or 0, though the 3 is applicable at the beginning of the number.] “You’d better blow that out before it goes out.” Nobody remembers to sing Happy Birthday. Candle sputters, flame dies. Carrie announces that this is a bad omen. Children go silent. Then AppleApple says, “You’re so superstitious, Mom.” Carrie admits this is true. Children cheer up.
Kevin replaces candle. Carrie protests. “This is not a better omen!”
Fooey captures the moment.
Carrie captures the Fooey.
Fooey pretends to look all serious. Meantime, CJ has stomped upstairs in a fit of pique. He wants to play Pit. “It’s Mom’s birthday. We can play Pit on your birthday.”
CJ reappears at Carrie’s elbow, looking injured and attention-deprived. Family consults the “Feelings” chart, which Fooey has enhanced with a few extra feelings not covered on the original, including “Guilty” and “Sacred,” which may be a misspelling. “Is ‘weird’ a feeling?” Fooey wonders.
Albus demonstrates “Angry.” CJ agrees. He feels angry. Albus wonders if perhaps CJ also feels “Bloated.” Carrie points out that “Bloated” is a physical rather than an emotional feeling. Albus argues that feeling bloated should count.
CJ cheers up. Kevin serves cake and ice cream. CJ takes first bite. Fooey announces that this is another bad omen: birthday girl should have gone first. Carrie reminds family to sing Happy Birthday to her. Family decides to practice small talk for AppleApple’s benefit (AppleApple is paralyzed by social situations in which small talk is required). “Are we doing mini-talk?” says CJ. It takes everyone a moment to compute. In CJ world, mini-talk = small talk.
Family does mini-talk. Amusement is had. Kevin does dishes. Carrie does bedtime reading. Birthday is tucked into bed.
I dreamed my Canadian editor sent me a message with the subject line: Reminder: Girl Runner edits due!
I dreamed of heart failure.
I dreamed a house with a big back yard into which we could not enter.
I dreamed mounds of dirty snow.
I dreamed that we needed a key to get in — or out. We just needed a key.
I’m back at the pool. My Girl Runner file sits open. I’m ready to polish. I’m ready? I’m ready.
I just want to paint the scene for you. I’m at the pool, again. The swim kids are doing warmups on deck. I’ve got my laptop and a cup of tea.
I think every birthday should be the best birthday ever, and this one is no exception.
I got up early, and started with poached eggs on toast with the dogs. Fooey came down especially to wish me a happy birthday before going back upstairs to sleep some more. I opened my birthday card from my family with a personalized note from each kid (weep, weep). I drove AppleApple to the pool and stayed for an hour, then, inspired by the hard-working kids, went to a hot yoga class at Moksha, which was free because it was my birthday (the instructor even wished me a very happy birthday, by name, at the end of class).
I was so glad I’d decided to go rather than flake out and skip.
I don’t know why I need to be reminded repeatedly that it’s better to go than flake out, but I do. I seem to forget regularly. The hardest step is the first. It always is. All the steps after that will take effort, but the mental hurdle of that first step is the greatest challenge.
I’d been humming and hawing, wondering: what’s a birthday for, anyway? Is it for relaxing and doing nothing, or should it set the tone for the coming year? Also, am I happier relaxing or happier doing a bunch of stuff? Yes, you already know the answer to that one, but apparently I’d temporarily forgotten. Lucky for me, I remembered in time to really enjoy the whole day.
I was home from yoga, glowing and damp, in time to meet a friend for lunch. We went out for an all-butter all-cream lunch (at Sabletine).
I had arranged for an afternoon matinee date, so Kevin and I left the kids at home, babysitting each other, and headed out together, only to discover a huge line-up at the theatre. Sold out. No way! So we retired to Beertown instead. I think we were meant to do that, so we could talk out the year that was and dream about the year to come, all while basking in the loveliness of having children old enough and responsible enough to look after each other.
The house was still standing when we came home.
Now I’m back at the pool, enjoying the warmth, watching the swimmers about to jump in and start their laps. For the next two hours, I’m going to continue reading through Girl Runner and probably crying a bit because I have to admit it’s a bit of a weeper (in a good way). At this very moment, Kevin’s attempting to bake me a cake on the BBQ (this is so very Kevin), and he’s ordering me take-out tofu with kim chi from the Owl of Minerva for when we get home. I will feast and blow out candles with the kids and read to them before bed.
See? Best day, hey. Just like I like ’em. Somewhat tightly scheduled, but lots of room for fun and relaxation within the busyness. Expansive and crammed. And filled with thanks.
It’s the day before my birthday. I get all contemplative at this time of year, and on this date, specifically. I’ve got journal entries from Dec. 28th (hand-written) going back a decade or more, reflecting on the year past and hopes for the future. Something about reading over these entries fills me with melancholy, though I can’t quantify why, exactly. It’s not because I wish things had gone differently. Maybe it’s the passage of time, generally. Maybe I recognize that I wasn’t always so confident or certain. That shouldn’t make me sad, though. I had to be who I was to become who I am. Today I read the entry from 2005. So much of what I’ve accomplished since then seems improbable. So much could not have been predicted. I had no inkling that I would devote a year to triathlon and marathon training, nor could I have imagined the confidence and determination gained by training and racing. My parents were still together at that point. My father-in-law was still alive, as were both of my mother’s parents. I suspect those losses, yet to come, shaped me, too, and that grief and struggle made me into someone slightly different, someone more open to challenge and conflict and error.
The truth about becoming a better writer is that it’s a long-term process. You start with a flair for language, a love of story and words, as a young writer; you may have a gift for innovation or for structural sense, enormously important building blocks to work with. But it’s patience, only, that will make you a better writer, as you practice the craft faithfully and with hope, while you wait for life to tell you what matters to you, and what it is you want to say, what you want to put into the world. I think about that now. I didn’t used to, so much.
I’m okay with getting older. I’m so much more at ease being me, living in this body, aware of my own limitations and flaws, and comfortable pushing against them, when I feel inspired, or settling right into them, when I’m just plain tired of trying to be better. Sometimes good enough is plenty.
I’ve embraced my own high expectations. I haven’t been crushed by them.
This past year has been an odd one. This is the year that gave me Girl Runner. Wow. This was also the year of employment uncertainty and the stress of financial strain, of unexpected expenses and hits. This was the year I got turned down for virtually every grant and job I applied for. Yet somehow this was also the year of out-of-the-blue serendipity: job offers and book deals. This was the year my writing earned me a good living. Wow, again. This was the year I did not get a hair cut. Yikes! This was the year I applied for midwifery school, got in, and decided not to pursue that career route. This was the year of the concussion. This was the year I taught my first course. This was the year I didn’t can anything. The year we got a dishwasher. The year I drove more kilometres in support of my kids’ activities than I’d ever dreamed possible. The year my green dreams faded to a paler shade.
Here’s what I wrote in 2005 about parenting, and it rings so very true all these years later: “Basically what I want for my kids is the world to be open for them, and them to feel comfortable within it, never excluded or discouraged.”
Maybe I wanted that for myself, too. Maybe that’s exactly what I’ve found and what I continue to try to nurture, for all of us: to be participants in the world around us.
We do a lot of asking for things, searching and applying and imagining ourselves elsewhere, making our requests. It’s part of participating in the world. Maybe getting turned down and turned away is part of participating too. So often what comes to us, when we’re open, is not what we’d asked for or anticipated. We just can’t know. Maybe that’s what makes me sad, on this day of looking back and looking ahead: I really can’t know. There is no way to prepare for what’s ahead. How to let go? How to be open to what the world has to offer, to be determined and ambitious and demanding of ourselves, and also at peace with what we’re given?
I’m a little bit terrified of looking ahead at the year to come. If all goes well, here is what will happen. I will finish Girl Runner and see it published here in Canada. I will get a good head shot (and that long-neglected hair cut). I will research toward a new book, and start writing it. I will consider teaching again. I will play soccer again, come spring. I will return to running longer distances. I will practice yoga blissfully in my peaceful office. I will get a standing desk or even a treadmill desk. I will see my children do wonderful things: play soccer, swim, play piano, do gymnastics, play with friends. I will enjoy their company. I will continue to be blessed in my marriage.
If I write it all down, I fear it won’t come true. I want to knock on wood. Conversely, I want to write it all down and not fear at all what may come, because it’s only by hoping and dreaming for the best that the best can come to pass. That’s what I’ve learned. Forget superstition. The fear of dreaming and possibility is really the fear of disappointment. And tough though it is to accept, disappointment can be overcome. Much more difficult to overcome is the refusal to imagine, period.
So, here I am. December 28th, 2013. Dreaming big, as always.