On Wednesday I took the train to Toronto. Not this train, mind you. This one just happened to be particularly photogenic.
Riding the train is genuinely more glamourous than riding the bus (not that the bus sets the bar very high). I didn’t even get sick (which usually happens to me on the bus). I read through the story I planned to read that evening. Tweaked my intro. Took some photos. Wondered where that road might lead. Napped.
My first destination was lunch with blogging friends, two of whom I’d never met in person (though it seemed like we already knew each other), and one who was a friend from grad school — we hadn’t seen each other in a decade. It amazed me how very much she was the same. And I remembered all the reasons I admired her — and that she was so much fun to be around. (Click on the photo above to get the full picture on Flickr; my importing system crops part of the right side out. And it’s such an awesome capture.)
Parenting tip: always bring a children’s illustrator along when you’re entertaining a child at a lunch that is mostly for adults. (Admittedly not usually an option. Not unless your group of friends happens to include a children’s illustrator.) Oh, and these women also all belong to the same book club, which sounds like it might rival my own poetry club for intense conversation (they’re called the Vicious Circle, which makes the writer in me quiver with fear and the reader in me quiver with excitement). I could have stayed at this lunch for many hours more. The fries weren’t half-bad either. I’m already plotting to go back to Toronto next month, whether or not any offical events get organized. Can I invite myself back? Please?
After lunch I walked south toward my publisher’s office, and met a friend at a park nearby. Also from grad school, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Her youngest played in the sand while we caught up. No photos. I was slightly cursing the weight of the camera at this point in the adventure.
But I was glad I’d brought it when I met my sister in a coffee shop nearby. The light was beautiful. And isn’t she too? It had been years since we’d spent a leisurely afternoon together like that. See, I’ve got to come back!
At this point, I let the wind blow me to the Anansi offices where I freshened up, and signed books. I saw Sheila Heti coming in, and should have introduced myself (celebrity sighting number one). Kevin texted to say he was nearly there. I left in a hurry and we drove down to Harbourfront together. I changed in the back of the truck in the parking garage. Told you, nothing but glamour. And I applied makeup in a mall bathroom. And then we went to dinner.
There are no photos for awhile. Which I truly regret, because the setting for dinner was nothing if not a photographic opportunity. We sat around a circular table with a mirrored wall on one side and a window on the other, overlooking the water. The sun set while we dined. The sky changed colour. It had been a weirdly warm and windy day, singing of spring. I wish I’d had the audacity to request a photo, though it would have interrupted dinner. I couldn’t quite do it. I’m not a photographer, after all, not really.
After supper, we read. I must say that the view from behind the podium at Harbourfront is soothing and quite beautiful. The room is set up with tables, each with a little candle flickering on it, and that is all the reader can see — these dots of floating light in the darkness. The audience, on the other hand, is looking at a very well-lit reader. And the podium is see-through. So I was glad I’d worn my red shoes, though I did rather wish I could have waved a wand when the show was over and turned them into my comfy old boots.
After reading, we signed books and chatted. And then it all cleared out and got very quiet, and Kevin and I left with an old friend from university (I met her even before grad school). We went for a drink at a fake British pub. Relaxing, still floating on a few bubbles of glamour, laughing, rolling over the day, talking about babies (she has a four-month-old). It was a grand end to the evening. (Again, click on the photo for the full effect.)
And then a funny thing happened. An entire pipe band set up outside the front door of the pub. In full regalia. With drums and everything. And then another funny thing happened. We were berated by a passing gentleman (was he wearing a kilt? I think so) who told us we should be ashamed of ourselves not to be out there listening to the pipes. Apparently he was none other than Glenn Healey, former goaltender and now sports commentator. Celebrity sighting number two. Mr. Healey didn’t realize he’d just had his own celebrity sighting. OMG is that Obscure CanLit Mama? Drinking a pint? In her red shoes? Heh. I’m joking. No seriously, I am joking.
We took in the pipes. And then we went home.
… and she’s off!
Here’s where I’ll be tomorrow (or today, if you’re reading this on Wednesday, March 7th): at the Harbourfront reading series in Toronto, 7:30pm.
Which is exactly where I was a little over two years ago, except then I was in the audience, listening with such pleasure and joy to a conversation between two literary lionesses, Alice Munro and Diana Athill. At the time, I jotted down the moments that stuck out for me, including Alice Munro’s confession (and I’m quoting my own post here) that “she doesn’t consider herself a very brave person, and though she might be a brave writer, it was very difficult to come back from that writing world and have to deal with the consequences of what she’d written. She admitted that she’d caused pain, not purposely, of course; and one could infer that it pained her greatly to have caused pain.” Kevin tells me that both with Hair Hat and now with The Juliet Stories, coping with being published has been much harder for me than doing the writing work itself. And so I appreciated re-discovering Munro’s insight. Maybe I, too, am a braver writer than I am a person.
But I’m trying.
And on that note, here’s also where I’ll also be tomorrow: lunching with a few of my very favourite Canadian book bloggers, one of whom, Deanna, was a friend in grad school. It will be the first time I’ve had the chance to meet Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This or Patricia Storms, who is best known as a children’s author and illustrator (if you subscribe to Chirp magazine, you see her work monthly). Kerry and I spent last week emailing back and forth, questions and responses, and you can see the results of our interview here. Kerry proved both a sympathetic reader and a sharp interviewer, and she’s not afraid to go in-depth even on the blog medium. I must confess that I’m a little nervous about meeting these three. Blogging creates these strange relationships, mediated through the very specific information we choose to share. Sitting down to lunch at the same table — What will we talk about? What won’t we talk about? As much as I love blogging, there’s nothing like meeting in person and diving into the shared space of a moment. I might be nervous, but, oh, it’s going to be a treat.
And be warned, I’m bringing my camera. Toronto, here I come!
People are starting to read The Juliet Stories. I know this because of the odd unexpected message appearing in my inbox, arriving in out-of-the-blue moments, an old friend saying, Hello! with excitement. Part of me wants to share the messages with you. Part of me feels awkward and reticent. Is this what Alice Munro would do? (She is the height of writerly grace, in my opinion.) Um, no, is the obvious answer. But then, publishing is such an altered world, altered even since Hair Hat came out eight years ago. Eight years ago, who had heard of “social media”? I’m a writer who works in an old-fashioned medium: the Book. But I’m also a blog-writer. Occasionally I’ve wondered whether blog-writing itself is my accidental calling — this brisk, confessional, and immediate form of communication.
The writing of a book requires such different mental mechanisms than the writing of a blog. It requires patience to somehow co-exist with impatience. There are intricate pieces to be held inside the mind, waiting for a chance to be written out, puzzled out, put together. Blog-writing, for me, is freeing. It’s like opening a window. Book-writing is exhausting. It’s like mining underground with a trowel.
However, the reading of either book or blog should not be exhausting. It should be compelling, thought-provoking. Perhaps in different ways, and on different levels. A blog is more like a snapshot. A book is more like a movie.
And this writer is awful fond of ye ole simile.
In conclusion (she pontificates), I’m glad both mediums are available. I love blogging. And I think, yes I do, that the book is nevertheless my form, too. And I hope you will read The Juliet Stories and agree. Therefore, I will do as Obscure CanLit Mama would do, and share some of this out-of-the-blue love with you. It’s too sweet not to.
It was approximately 5:30am this morning, and I was wearing bike shorts and eating peanut butter on toast in preparation for a spin/weight class, when I opened this message from a friend, sent at midnight:
I’ve just finished [Juliet] and my head is reeling. It’s marvellous. I could not put it down. It’s the best book I’ve read in a very long time. I read 150 books last year, and this stands out above all of them.
You know what the best thing is? I feel like it was written just for me, like it’s bespoke fiction. It’s all the things I love, Munro’s Del and Gallant’s Linnet among them.
Glorious, Carrie. Just glorious. I can’t wait to tell people about this book.
And I was in the whirl of supper prep, taking a quick breather in my office, when I discovered this message yesterday evening:
Good lord, Carrie. I know I should wait until I’m done, but I’ve just finished the first part of the book, and am exploding to tell you how splendid it is! I guess when I start a book by someone I know & care about I am always a bit nervous. What if I don’t like it, what if I think it could be better. But THIS book is a revelation. Carrie, it is just so damn good. Each story is vivid and gripping, and filled with tension and wonderfully flawed and alive characters. The prose is smart and crafty and clear and evocative …
And I was sitting down at the computer with my cherished morning coffee, today, when I read this tweet from Sheree Fitch, an accomplished writer for children and adults, about whom I blogged not long ago:
Finished #TheJulietStories. Rhapsodic,original,heart-piercing,luminous #novel. #brotherlylove in allways #Thankyou.
How does this make me feel? I don’t even know, honestly. Relieved. On the verge of tears. That feeling of it was worth it. I’ve got to confess, I was feeling nervous about the launch party on Saturday, but with these messages fluttering in my mind, I’m feeling the excitement. I’m feeling it!
Oh! And at the party, we may even debut the new song!*
*not live; my voice is not up to that
One more thing before I sign off today. The New Quarterly has a lovely post today about The Juliet Stories. As you may know, four Juliet stories debuted in TNQ, in somewhat altered earlier forms, and the magazine has packaged them together in digital format. It’s like Juliet memorabilia. (!)
They also have three writing contests on right now, one for Occasional Verse (ie. a poem written for an occasion, like a birthday, or a book launch …), one for Personal Essay, and one for the Short Story (hm, maybe I should enter?). Each prize will bestow upon the winner $1000. Details here. Spread the word.
I’ve been reading other people’s blogs. I’ve been reading and wondering and wandering. My mind is impatient this morning, and more than a bit weary. Up early for a swim. Second swim in three days. I am fit, but I don’t feel strong, not running. Which makes me wonder: what am I seeking in my quest to stay fit, if it isn’t to be fit? My routine is fairly grinding, but I hardly missing a planned work-out. Why? I don’t have an answer. I wonder if I will find one, and whether I will like it, or not.
Here’s what I’m doing tonight. I tried to post the poster, but it didn’t work: my siblings’ band Kidstreet is playing in town. I am staying up late to go dancing!
More napping needed.
I’m trying not to think about the dentist appointment booked for tomorrow morning at 7:30 (who does that to herself?). Or the dr’s appointment the next day. Or plans to go out Friday night, and to throw a scotch party here on Saturday night. Which will mean cleaning this whole disastrous kid-friendly house. Which means I’m trying not to think about the living-room, either, strewn end to end with the tiniest toys the children could find to strew about. I’m not thinking about the missing library book, due Friday, already renewed to the allowable limit of times, and nowhere to be blinking found. While I’m at, I’ll try not to think about the half hour I already spent on my hands and knees this morning looking under things for this book while cursing the tiny toys strewn about everywhere.
Instead, I will think about lunch. And coffee. And napping. And blogging. I found some great posts out there this morning. My friend Rebecca blogs about taking a week off from blogging due to feelings of inadequacy. She ends with a quote from Marianne Williamson, which coincidentally my yoga teacher read out to our class on Saturday evening, and which I meant to share here, but it slipped away in my shavasana daydream: “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” And yet. My virtual friend Kerry blogs about Gabrielle Giffords, and how the miracle of her very survival is yet somehow not enough for the narrative of redemption that has been foisted upon it. How we crave the light of redemption and recovery, we want that story. “The narrative of her ‘recovery’ has been so remarkable for its falseness, for its abject denial of the realities of brain injury,” writes Kerry; the piece is worth reading in full.
I have to tell you. My darkness frightens me. But maybe it’s true that my light does too. Marianne Williamson’s quote goes on: “We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.”
Can we play big, be our better selves, and be truthful about the darkness in each of us, the inadequacies, the mysteries, the wondering and wandering, the good luck and the bad? Well, yes. I think so. I think that might be why I blog.
Look what we have! Steps. Yup. Walk right up and knock on the door. C’mon in.
We’ve had some funny/awkward moments since we lost the porch a few months ago. My mother AND one of my brothers (on separate occasions) climbed over stacks of wood and balanced on sawhorses to knock on the front door. My brother’s comment? “This isn’t the friendliest way to greet guests.” Most others figured out that our back doors were somewhat more accesible, though admittedly at nighttime not well-lit. But if one really wants to complain about unfriendly design, the back staircase, which we’ve had to use as our temporary entryway, is seriously lethal. It’s unfixable, cramped, a mess of different levels, and the stairs have no railing. Stuff it with wet boots, piles of coats, and several backpacks and it’s a recipe for disaster. Basically, I’ve been on high alert for potential accidents every time that door opens and closes.
So, welcome, again. To the front door.
PS I’m hesitating to post this light-and-fluffy entry, because it means my previous more serious post on working-moms and at-home-moms won’t be the first post seen here when you visit … and I’m still hoping for a few more comments and thoughts. Are you a working mom? Plan to be a working mom? A working dad? Or maybe you’re an at-home mom or dad in love with your life? Or otherwise? I don’t usually do a shout-out for comments, but I’m craving conversation on the balance, on the longing, on the wish to be several things all at the same time, or perhaps it’s a wish to do several jobs at the same time, or to participate in life in ways that seem to conflict with each other. Thanks in advance for joining in the conversation.
(Note: since I never posted photos from our summer holiday, I’ve been using the artsy sunset ones to illustrate orphan posts).
There was such a warm, heartfelt response to yesterday’s post about homework/studying/piano practice that I feel inspired to reply with a thank-you post. How I appreciated hearing your different perspectives: from someone who teaches to someone who remembers being the student who had to work extra hard to succeed.
What surprises me every time I sit down to write a new post is how my ideas change as I write them down. I can plan to write a post on, say, canning tomatoes, but the writing happens, and in following unexpected and twisting lines of thought, the post turns out to be about feminism. Or something. You know what I mean.
It’s the mystery of the process that makes me want to be a writer: because the writing itself is the key to discovery. You can’t plan it out in advance, not entirely. You have to see what develops between you and the word, the written word.
When I started this post, I planned to write more about Albus and how we are hoping to address his struggles, but the words came hard, and I sensed my growing discomfort. He’s ten. When I was ten, I sure wouldn’t have wanted my mom telling everyone about my struggles–or more precisely, about her interpretation of my struggles. So, while I’m glad that I choose to write yesterday’s post, I’m going to choose not to delve further into the subject today. What I want to say is thank you for your thoughtful responses. They give me hope, and ideas.
(One of which is to clean up this office/playroom space to make a proper study space for all the people in the house who need a quiet room in which to work. I include myself. Put it on the weekend-project list. Because, though the digging starts on Friday, that new porch/office is still a few months off.)
This is also a rather long-winded way of saying, I love hearing from the people who are reading my blog! I love when it feels like a conversation. I love the connections this blog continues to bring, some of them quite random, some to people I would never have gotten to know otherwise.
Ah, yes. One big sappy thank you note of a post. If I were writing this in pen, I’d be doodling all around the edges in vines and flowers and stick-ray suns. Maybe even hearts.
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