I have a theory about anxiety dreams: I think they don’t count for restful sleep. I woke this morning feeling utterly exhausted by the dreams I’d just been through. I’d lost my phone. I’d appeared late for an event at a festival due to taking a shortcut and sliding down a steep hill of mud and having to climb back up again. I realized we’d scheduled that over-achieving daughter of ours to take ballet at the same time that she had soccer and swimming. Worst of all I went on an angry rant at a stranger, which proved completely unjustified: I accused him of stealing some cards from me, and it turned out that he’d found the cards and kindly mailed them on my behalf.
Dream rage is very disturbing. Does anyone else do that? Rant and rave in their dreams? Maybe I’m repressing something.
In any case, I awoke with residual dream-emotions of guilt, worry, stress, and whatever one wrestles with while trying to scrabble up a steep muddy incline.
A hurricane is coming, apparently, or at least its outer skirts are expected to brush our part of the world. On the bright side, soccer tryouts are cancelled tonight, so we can look forward to a leisurely family supper. I’m making fish and potatoes. A grainy mustard sauce for the fish, and potatoes fried in leftover bacon fat with onions. Yum.
I realize that this blog has recently come to be dominated by the writer part of me. And the writer part of me is admittedly anxious. I don’t feel that close to the industry, here in the wilds of Waterloo, but there is much in the news about publishing to be anxious about. But how anxious to be? In the print media, newspapers are putting up paywalls online in an effort to earn back dollars lost in advertising revenue, which has collapsed. A midsized independent Canadian publisher declared bankruptcy last week. And two huge multinationals, Random House and Penguin, just announced a merger agreement this morning. I’ve been reading the news, and the commentary, and some excellent blogs on the subjects, but I can’t wrap my head around what it means. Are people willing to pay for well-written words? Is traditional book publishing dying out? Does it mean no one can make money publishing books, or print? Does it mean we’ll all be turning virtual pages very soon? Or writing “books” in new formats: serially, like blogs, or quippily, like tweets? I don’t even know why I’m speculating on the subject because I have no good ideas or insights. None.
At our house, we still like books. The old-fashioned kind that carry evidence of their history around with them in physical clue-like ways.
At our house, we still get the daily newspaper delivered; I read it at breakfast and lunch and in the evening, usually while eating.
But then, once upon a time, not so long ago, I loved writing letters. I’ve converted happily to a mixture of email, texts, and social media, none of which I can store in my hope chest in shoeboxes up in the attic.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I wrote regularly in a journal. Now I write here, unless I’m having a day too dark for here.
I don’t seem to miss the letters or the journals, except abstractly. Maybe I won’t miss books. I almost can’t type that sentence, because I just can’t believe it could ever be true.
Today is brag-about-my-brother day. My brother Karl is the youngest of my three brothers (I also have a sister who is the youngest of us five siblings). I was seven-and-a-half when he was born, and there’s a fabulous photo floating around somewhere of me on my red bicycle with baby Karl plopped in the basket on the handlebars, with my mom, another brother, and my best friend Katie all posed around us, every last one of us grinning with delight; ah, the freedom of the early 1980s. Karl also spent a lot of time being swaddled and stuffed into my toy baby carriage — for a big sister, what could be better than a real live baby to play with?
As he grew, Karl demonstrated tenacity and an outsized will. He was always a tiny child, but absolutely fierce.
He wasn’t interested in school or academics. But he was talented at many things, including playing the drums, among many other instruments. Somewhere along the line, he and my brother Clifford acquired equipment for recording and producing music at home. There was the studio in my parents’ basement, lined with egg cartons; and a portable studio that he could set up anywhere.
And now he has his own studio, out in the country, with a wall of windows overlooking fields.
What makes me most proud of my brother Karl is that he knew he wanted to make music. He knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set about becoming a musician, no matter that others might have wished for him a career that would promise greater financial stability and security. He’s worked incredibly hard. Fame has never been a motivator for him — what he loves to do is to make music. And as anyone who chooses the creative arts as a career knows, there are years of invisible, unseen labour and practice underlying any visible success.
Well, Karl’s had some success recently. His song, which is titled, simply, “Song,” is the music for Apple’s new MacBook Pro commercial, on television and online, worldwide. Click here to listen to the entire song. And if you like it, you can get the entire Kidstreet album on iTunes. (Kidstreet is made up of my brothers Karl and Cliff, and my sister Edna; all of them talented musicians.)
To see Karl’s work and talent appreciated on this level makes me just ridiculously proud. I will try to restrain myself from running up and down the streets whooping with delight.
Instead, I’d like to make a toast to everyone who chooses to a pursue a dream, against the odds, and despite the heartbreaking challenges along the way. Join me? All I’ve got this morning is a cup of coffee.
Karl, you’ve made something beautiful.
Have I been writing quite often about my dreams? Maybe it’s because I’m woken on so many mornings by my alarm, pulled out of dreamland, bringing the dreams with me. My kids are not going to remember the 2.0 version of their mother, the one who for thirty-five years or so was the very opposite of early riser. The 2.0 version thought 7 o’clock in the morning was quite viciously early enough, thank you very much. But the 2.0 version has been obsolete for over a year now. She may already have been forgotten. My kids are going to remember version 2.1, up before dawn, coming in from outside in running gear, or freshly showered after spin class. “Where were you this morning?” they ask sometimes, greeting me from their perch at the breakfast bar.
I’ll admit: it wasn’t easy to recalibrate my instincts. But I’ll admit, too: change has brought about all sorts of good things. I’m friendlier, for one thing. Less prone to the growlies. Less resentful, somehow, of the necessary morning duties, more light-hearted regarding the inevitable complaints. (“This toast is too cold!” “This porridge is too hot!”)
This morning, I woke with dreams of my friend’s father still in my mind. We attended the memorial service last night. Let me tell you about one small and extraordinary moment. After the more formal proceedings, we all went to the church basement to eat sweets, visit, and share memories. Among the people who got up to say something was a woman I’d never met. She wasn’t a family member or someone from the neighbourhood. She said she knew my friend’s father from work. She said that she worked as a teller in a bank. My friend’s father had been a customer. She spoke about his friendliness, his stories, his interest in her life, about how, as she came to know him, she would wave him over to her line. She regretted that she hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye. She was glad to be able to come to his memorial service. She came to his memorial service. Isn’t that amazing?
This is what it says to me: The potential for meaningful relationships is all around us.
Meaningful relationships don’t have to be conventional. They don’t necessarily require tons of time. They can be as simple as asking your bank teller a question. Being interested. Being curious. Being, most of all, present.
Today was a day rife with potential challenges. I got up early. I did not nap. I was interviewed on live radio right after the kids left for school. And then I headed off to lead writing workshops for teens. Several fairly major things remain to be checked off my to-do list. But it hasn’t been a hard day, not at all. I feel a little foot-weary from standing. I feel a little wired from more than my usual dose of caffeine. But I feel, also, the worth of every interaction, no matter how small. Pay attention. Whatever is happening in your day, look it full in the face. Ask questions. Wonder. Give it your best.
I thought, today, about how new experiences are always around us. How people, if pushed in the friendliest of ways, will embrace something new. How even the most grownup of us crave to feel those moments so common in childhood — the ones that delight and surprise us. How maybe all of us are waiting to be delighted and surprised. And then I thought, I can do that.
It’s as easy — and as crazy hard — as stepping outside of my comfort zone.
sending happy vibes
When I woke up this morning, I remembered my dream. It seemed ominous. I’d been dreaming about sleeping. As in, I was sleeping inside my dream. I think that might define tired.
We’ve entered May, which is a month more packed with events than usual. So let me begin this post by telling you about some of them, in case you’re interested in attending/listening in/sending happy vibes. (I was going to say “send advice,” but it strikes me that advice is not at all what I want. I want happy vibes. Please.)
May 3 (tomorrow): If you’re in Guelph, listen in to a live (gulp) interview I’ll be doing with Dan and Peter who host a show called “Books for Breakfast” on CFRU radio. You can stream it live, or listen to the podcast later. You can. I won’t. I cringe when I hear my own voice. It sounds so different inside my head. My instructions are to pour myself a cup of tea, have my book handy, and pick up the phone when it rings at 8:30am tomorrow. I’ve arranged for the kids to be out of the house a wee bit earlier than usual.
Also tomorrow, immediately after the interview, I’m off to represent the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. I’ll be leading writing workshops for teens at an enrichment conference here in town. I’m going to call this day: The Day of New Experiences. Which is much better than its alternative and less motivational title: The Day of No Napping.
May 7 (Monday): Guelph, the ebar, 7-9pm! I’ll be reading with Andrew Hood, and doing a little Q&A afterward with Dan from The Bookshelf. Look for me at around 7:20, according to the schedule I’ve got. Any friends from Waterloo interested in coming? I’d love to carpool with someone.
May 15 (Tuesday): Indie Night at the Starlight in Waterloo! Doors open at 7. There will be nine authors, brisk and entertaining readings, and books for sale. Heather Birrell will be there with her new book Mad Hope, and fellow Anansi author, Robert Hough with his new book Dr. Brinkley’s Tower. And many more. Should be awesome.
May 16 (Wednesday): Short Story Shindig at Type Books in Toronto! 7-9pm. I’m reading with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and our host for the evening is the most awesome Kerry Clare (who writes the best book blog on the block, Pickle Me This).
May 27 (Sunday): reading at Wilfrid Laurier University. Details to come. Apparently Congress 2012, a gathering of some 7,000 academics, is coming to Waterloo, and WLU is putting on a literary salon to entertain those so inclined.
May 29 (Tuesday): Books and Brunch at A Different Drummer bookstore in Burlington. Starts at 9:30am. I’ll be reading with Jay Ingram and Dennis Lee.
Note to self: find a more efficient method of posting this information on blog.
Meanwhile, onward. I started today with a good run with a dear friend in early morning light that was nothing short of beautiful. Pink sky, fresh light, new day. That’s the good thing about not sleeping. Being awake in today.
light beyond dark
I love seeing all the runners go by my window, more and more as the days get sunnier. There is one young woman who zooms past virtually every day at a kickass pace. (I kind of want to be her.) My office looks onto the street, and our street seems to be a popular route, though I can’t imagine why; traffic is heavy and there’s nowhere to run but the sidewalk. Personally I prefer running away to the park, and dashing around the grass and trails.
I’ve had a few excellent runs this week. Dare I say it? I’ll whisper it. My hip feels back to normal.
Today is another sunny day. And my mind is sunny to match. It’s been an up and down week. I made the mistake of trying to write intensively far too early into the book-visioning process. The funny thing was, I knew the problem before I began, knew that it couldn’t possibly work, and yet … I had to go through the experience to get it. I’m dumb like that. But I’m not sorry. Yesterday, I wrote for eight hours straight. It wasn’t what I’d intended to write. But it was such a happy day. It reminded me why I write. I don’t do this because I have to. I do this because I love to. Writing is my version of singing. It’s my version of dancing. (Though I like singing and dancing too). It is, quite simply, the thing that I do best.
Yup, I’m going to keep doing it.
I’ve got ideas, though. Notions, plans, intentions, dreams. Maybe even a vision.
This month, I’ve slowed down on the Juliet publicity front. Next month it gets all busy again. I’m enjoying the break, though I’m looking forward to crawling out of my cave and interacting with real people again. *Note to self: Remember to re-attach mouth to brain before exiting cave. Also, reacquaint self with basics of small-talk.
Here’s what’s coming up …
:: May 15. 7pm. Indie Night at the Starlight in Waterloo! Heather Birrell, Robert Hough, my brother’s press, plus a bunch of other writers, and me!
:: May 16. Type Books in Toronto! With Heather Birrell! (It’s almost like we’re going on tour together.) I’ve got the time roughed in as 6-9pm, but that sounds long. I’ll get back to you.
:: May 27. 7pm. Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo. More info to come on this event, which sounds pretty wild.
:: May 29. 9am. A Different Drummer Bookstore in Burlington. This event is called Books and Brunch, and I’ll be reading with Dennis Lee (!!) *note to self: Do not start reciting Jelly Belly poems. That probably gets really irritating.
My other brand-new-activity-in-May is helping to facilitate several 45-minute writing workshops for teens. Anyone done this before? Tips? Advice? Games? Ice-breakers? Can you tell I’ve never done this before?
We’ve got flocks of crows in the neighbourhood. Occasionally, they choose the trees in our yard and gather in the bare branches. Even when they are silent, their wings rustle heavily, a sensation of suspended watchfulness. It’s hard not to think of them as being a sign. Though of what? I often hear them calling loudly in the early morning. On a less poetical note, their poop is everywhere.
This early morning my alarm went off, and I thought, no, I don’t feel like swimming. I’m fighting a cold that has claimed part of my voice, and I’m on the mend, and somehow submerging my head in cold water for an hour didn’t seem terribly wise. So, as my friend Nath would say, I “logicked” myself out of getting up, turned off the alarm and napped restlessly for another twenty minutes. But I couldn’t return to peaceful sleep. Apparently I’ve now trained myself to be AWAKE at 5am, alarm or no alarm. Exercise every day was the mantra that shoved me out of bed. I didn’t feel like going to hot yoga, but went anyway. I wanted to be doing something that amped up the lungs and the heart, rather than strengthening and stretching and being all zen and calm and whatnot.
This will be good for you, I told myself.
And I won’t deny that it was.
Sometime in the future, however, I can imagine rising early to write. Yes, it’s early, but I feel so AWAKE. The house is so PEACEFUL. I could write for four hours and it would only be 9:30 or so. Then I could nap. Then I could meet someone for lunch. Then I could exercise. Then I could write some more. Then someone would make me supper. And do the laundry and the dishes. (The children would be able to care for themselves.) Wait, this is turning into full-fledged fantasy.
Clearly something at which I excel.
Here is the crow just landing, or just taking off, from the larger photo above. The wings are a blur. There is something about the colour and tone and the scratchiness of the branches that looks like brush-strokes on mottled paper. The density of the silhouette.
This morning I’ve been taking pencil to page and crossing out words here, pointing arrows there, timing myself reading passages out loud and noting the times down. I’m turning this copy of Juliet into my reading copy. I’m not sure whether I’m just landing, or just taking off.