photo credit: Nancy Forde
So, this fall is shaping up to be very writerly and literary, with plenty of events and launches to look forward to, in addition to which I’m excited about a few other things too and I’ve decided to tell you about the whole kit and kaboodle.
Thursday, Sept. 5: Mark your calendars and come if you can. I’ll be reading at the Starlight in Waterloo for the Eden Mills Writers Festival, and here’s the lineup, musical and otherwise: Jim Guthrie, Bidiniband, and I Am Robot And Proud, with readings by Dave Bidini and me. Tickets $14, doors open at 8pm.
Thursday, Sept. 12: Think me good thoughts from 6-9pm! I’ll be teaching my first official creative writing class.
Friday, Sept. 13: It’s the launch of Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding, at 323 Richmond St. E., Toronto. I’ve got an essay in this anthology, and will be presenting my comical/tragical breastfeeding stories along with Sarah Campbell, Rachel Epp Buller, and Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This. Tickets $20, 8-11pm, with book included, plus wine and munchies.
Satuday, Sept. 21: I’m tentatively booked to read at Word on the Street in Kitchener from my essay published in this summer’s New Quarterly (and also in the brand-new anthology How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, which will be hot off the presses). 4-5pm at the Walper Hotel. Free.
Sometime in late September/early October: I’ve been invited to doula (offer labour support) for my brother and sister-in-law, who are expecting their first baby. I’m so excited. Anyone else giving birth and wanting support? Consider me. For real. I also take excellent birth photos.
Thursday, Oct. 3: It’s the launch party for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenting, and Loss. I’ll be reading from my essay in the collection, but you can also get a sneak preview of it in this summer’s edition of The New Quarterly. The launch is being held in conjunction with The New Quarterly, at their own launch of this year’s Wild Writers Festival. Clay and Glass Gallery, Waterloo. Free! Doors open at 7:30pm.
Saturday, Oct. 5: Run for the Toad! This will be my third year racing the 25km trail run. I’ve nursed several soccer injuries this summer, first the ankle, now the head injury, which have cut into training time, so I think this time around I’ll simply celebrate being there and doing my best to complete the course.
Saturday, Nov. 9: Wild Writers Festival! Do mark your calendars for this event, held right here in Waterloo, and now in its seccond year. Last year’s festival was wonderful, and this year I’ve been asked to lead a panel of amazing fiction writers. Visit the website for more details (the festival runs from Nov. 8-10).
And that’s all for now, folks.
File this post under balance. Sort of. I’m not convinced I’m actually someone who cares to live a “balanced” life. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’m someone who wants to live at full throttle, whether I’m sleeping, socializing, parenting, cooking, writing, or whatevering. I’m all in. That doesn’t mean I want to live at a manic breakneck pace, just that I want to be present wherever I am, fully appreciating that speck of time, that particular activity. That’s my version of balance.
Anyway, I want to reflect on how our crazy schedule is working this fall — because against all odds it does seem to be working.
Most of the kids’ extra-curricular activities occur after school. Piano is a constant, with the three eldest taking weekly lessons and practicing quite regularly (sticker charts work for two of them, and one doesn’t need the encouragement). We’ve skipped swim lessons for the fall. But AppleApple swims three times a week with a competitive swim team. I was remembering how she used to be kind of rotten when she was bored, and how rarely we see that behavior from her anymore. Maybe she’s matured. Or maybe she just doesn’t have time to be bored.
Kevin organizes a weekly neighbourhood hockey/skate hour at the rink, which all the kids do.
And the rest of our lives revolve around soccer. Every single family member now plays soccer. We’ve got soccer every day of the week except for Wednesdays (and even Wednesday is looking to go to soccer very soon). Further, Kevin coaches all of the kids, except for Fooey who chose to do soccer skills rather than play on an indoor team (her time slot would have been 8am on Saturday mornings, so we did not object to her choice). You wouldn’t think of soccer as a year-round sport in Canada, but with indoor fields all over the place, it’s just as year-round as hockey can be. AppleApple plays four times a week (once on an indoor house league team that her dad coaches; he doesn’t coach her rep team for which I am truly grateful). Albus plays twice, but will soon be adding an extra evening. The rest of us only play once a week. But with six people in the family, even once a week would add up.
We are using the carshare car all the time. Still, it’s more economical than purchasing a second vehicle, at this point.
Most of my exercise occurs early in the morning, and occasionally overlaps with a soccer practice or swim. It’s very regimented, actually. I don’t mention it because I just keep doing it: running, spinning, weights. In fact, the whole schedule is very regimented, and I think that’s why it works. We all know what to expect, day by day.
What I hadn’t anticipated, with all this soccering, was that I would have many evenings alone with the kids — the three that aren’t playing on any given night. Kevin is getting more one-on-one time with them, but I’m getting the calm and really very lovely bedtime routine. (All except for the toothbrushing, which is never calm and lovely, and which I loathe, having a bit of a tooth complex.) I have the after supper cleanup, piano practice, homework, playtime, sometimes dog walking, snacktime, pajamas, and then reading before bed.
With CJ now old enough to enjoy chapter books, we’ve been revisiting the classics: Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. I’m thinking of suggesting the Little House on the Prairie series next. I’ll never get tired of re-reading these books! It’s the perfect end to the day.
So that’s been our fall. Without the chalkboard wall, I couldn’t possibly keep it all together. Every Sunday I write down each day’s special activities. This week I have a section just for teacher interviews. Kids scrawl phone messages on there. I write down ingredients in the fridge to remind myself what to cook for supper. We’ve got a monthly soccer chart with all the dates and times of practices for each family member. It keeps us all together.
It takes a lot of energy to keep us all together. But I’m all in.
For about 48 hours after the GG announcement, I found it very amusing to narrate my life by captioning all activities with “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder …”, as in “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is going to finish these supper dishes before anyone gets a bedtime snack,” or, “GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, would like a cup of tea and a back rub.” I’m not sure anyone else found it quite so amusing.
But it amused me this morning too, as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, stood on a stool in the downstairs bathroom attempting to remove spiderwebs with a wad of toilet paper, and a giant nest fell down her sweater sleeve. (“I told you that bathroom is infested, Mom!” “Yeah, there’s definitely a weird looking nest above the sink.” “That’s an orb spider.” “A what?!” “Don’t worry, it’s not poisonous.”) It continued to amuse me as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, trudged upstairs to clean the bathroom floor. (“Someone peed on the floor!” “There’s pee in the upstairs bathroom!” “Somebody missed the toilet!”) And the fun kept on rolling as GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, sorted a dark load of laundry while repeatedly shouting up the steps, “I’m in the basement, come down if you want me to zip you up!” Apparently, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, had misheard the request. “He said that he wants you to pick him up from nursery school.” “Oh.” Sorry kid, but GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is leading a writing workshop for high school students this afternoon, and can’t. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, also has a vague toothache in the very same spot where the dentist put in a filling last winter (remember that?), which seems like ominous timing given she’s flying to Vancouver in two days. GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is also panicking slightly about what to pack for her trip (how many shoes can she fit into a carry-on bag?). GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, got up in the middle of the night to turn off her alarm and did not go to yoga this morning. Despite getting extra sleep, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, did not look fabulous in the mirror this morning; she really should have gone to yoga.
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, is putting the hammer down. Stop this now, GG finalist, Carrie Snyder.
This feels like a miscellany day. I’ve been having some random and more serious thoughts on a related subject.
It’s the subject of being paid for one’s writing. The Globe and Mail (a newspaper in Canada) is going to attempt a “paywall,” by asking subscribers to pay for content; apparently, readers are not pleased. The New York Times does this as well, and the truth is, ever since it did, I’ve stopped reading NYTimes articles online. And I’m a writer! I get that writers and editors need to be paid for the work they do, and I respect the work that they do; so why not pay for quality online content? I think the answer is three-fold: one, I’m lazy and it seems like too much work to set up an account and try to remember passwords, etc.; two, I still get most of my news from the daily paper and from CBC radio; and three, there’s a ton of free content online.
Let’s address that final issue. I write a blog. I provide free content, practically every day! I understand why professional writers dislike bloggers — professional writers would like to make a living doing what they do, thanks very much. Most bloggers, like me, do this in our spare time. I have no desire to monetize my blog, nor to figure out how to make money off of it, mainly because I do it for fun. It would change everything to try to blog for a living.
That said, here I am, trying to write for a living. It’s dismal to report, but freelance rates, per word, have actually gone down since I first started freelancing, over a decade ago. I’m not sure freelance writing (for magazines and newspapers) was ever an excellent money-making occupation, but in today’s climate it’s an excellent way to sponge off your spouse. So, is being a writer a sustainable occupation?
GG finalist, Carrie Snyder, has yet to figure out how to make it so.
And it isn’t for lack of trying. I’m beginning to wonder whether being a writer, a serious writer of fiction with hopeful freelancing on the side, is in actual fact a hobby, or an act of volunteerism, or of love, or of obsession, rather than being what one could legitimately call an occupation. A job.
This isn’t meant to be a pity-me rant. I don’t feel pitiable, not at all; I’ve been doing exactly what I want to do; and I do make (some) money at it. Nevertheless, I feel prepared to look at coolly at my options and draw some fairly harsh conclusions. Our four kids need more than I can offer them as a writer; and I don’t believe the burden should be carried unequally by Kevin. The question is: what, then? Well, I’ve got some ideas, to be revealed in good time. For the immediate present, I’m sticking with the status quo, doing the freelance jobs that come in, working on a new book, applying for grants, hustling, and jumping up and down for The Juliet Stories. And blogging.
I love writing. I never started writing fiction thinking that it would earn me a living; and that wasn’t why I started blogging either. With my writing, every step along the way has felt like a gift: the first time I had a poem accepted for publication; the first time an editor at a magazine wrote back to tell me she liked my story (even though she was turning it down); the first time I earned a grant for an unfinished manuscript; the first time an editor called to tell me that she loved my book and wanted to publish it; and on and on. In between all of these steps were innumerable impersonal rejection letters, fat self-addressed envelopes stuffed with rejected stories, and, once I’d acquired an agent (another exciting step), calls of reassurance that also brought news of “no, thanks.” None of this could have been undertaken if it weren’t answering an extreme personal call — a deep probably irrational desire — to keep writing, keep learning, keep practicing the craft. None of this would have been undertaken if I hadn’t loved doing it.
Certainly, none of it was undertaken with an idea of dollar signs dancing in my head, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I’m a highly impractical person, and I encourage my kids to dream impractically too. To pursue doing what they love, no matter what it pays in monetary terms.
But the thing is, we also have to figure out how to pay the bills. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m doing what I love, and I’ll keep doing it forever; but I’m going to have to do something else, too. My word of the year, this year, was actually two words: work and play. An interesting, difficult, troublesome choice, I think, and prescient.
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.)
These photos were taken on Tuesday, just after the kids arrived home from school.
I think a person can sustain a high of excitement for about 24 hours, tops. So, yes, I’m right here on the good old ground today, and it’s a fine place to be. I sense that Tuesday’s news has genuinely begun to sink in. That’s almost a little bit sad. I never want it to feel commonplace; when I think about The Juliet Stories, I always want to feel as shocked and astonished and flooded with joy as I did on Tuesday morning.
But then again, those emotions are unsettling and burn a lot of energy. I’ve gotten up early the past two mornings to exercise, and my energy level is feeling on the wane. Wax and wane.
There are stickers. Did you know that? My publisher is going to send me some “GG Finalist” stickers that I can take around to bookshops and stick onto my book. I promise not to let my children stick them onto our sticker table, or their clothing, or their faces, even though that would make for a funny photo.
This morning, I did an interview with a local paper. We met at Words Worth Books in uptown Waterloo, which gave me the opportunity to buy the other four GG finalist’s books. Don’t they all look lovely?
|The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam, The Purchase by Linda Spalding, Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy, and Dr. Brinkley’s Tower by Robert Hough|
But ’tis time to return to regularly scheduled activities. I have deadlines to meet, and this weekend I’ve also got a turkey to bake and family to host. (I’ll be sure to host the family and bake the turkey, not the other way round.)
And now, a few links, if you’re not saturated already.
* Please go on and listen to a few songs from Danny Michel’s new album, Black Birds are Dancing Over Me, which is so very joyful. “Go on and let someone love you,” has been the line running through my head these past few days.
* CBC Hamilton’s piece on me (I was born in Hamilton, Ontario, and I’m happy to be claimed by any place I’ve lived that would like to claim me!).
* Me and the kids on local TV (Kevin walks into the background of the opening shot, too).
This green tomato relish came from …
this early-fall urban garden patch.
Strictly speaking, most of the tomatoes came from the front yard, but lots of peppers and herbs were gathered from the back yard too. When I sent AppleApple out to pick whatever she could find, before the first frost, I never imagined she’d come in with pounds of produce — but she did! Now, what to do with pounds and pounds of green tomatoes? Sure hope our family likes green tomato relish, because we made a ton. I can’t say that another late-night canning session was how Kevin and I envisioned spending our Sunday night, but it seems that canning always happens late at night — or is still going on late at night, no matter how early one begins.
Kevin is also experimenting with dehydrating hot peppers.
Our house smelled fabulous yesterday.
Some other exciting* things happened this weekend. (*applicable to item # 1 only if “exciting” = “organizing”)
1. The kids and I went through all their drawers, plus the bins in the attic, resulting in three bags of purged too-small clothing, and a whole new wardrobe for the younger ones (hand-me-downs, but new to them.) Such a lot of work! Any six-year-old girls in the ‘hood looking for clothes? I’m passing CJ’s outgrown clothing on to his cousins, but Fooey’s will simply be donated.
2. Our family accepted some big challenges this weekend. I ran a tough race on Saturday morning. And both of my eldest kids went to rep soccer tryouts, Saturday and Sunday. This is not big news for our soccer girl, who loves these situations, but it is big news for our eldest boy, who tends to shy away from challenges. And I’ll admit we pushed him a bit to get him out there. But once he was out there, I think he realized that he belonged as much as anyone, that his skills were solid, and that he knew what he was doing. He tried to hide his smile of pride afterward, but he couldn’t, quite.
3. On the parenting front, Kevin and I both felt like we’d added a piece to the puzzle, just observing our son’s confidence after we’d pushed him to try something at which we did know he could fail. That’s a scary thing to ask of a kid. It was rewarding to see him working hard — but I think it was even more rewarding for him to see himself differently, as someone who is willing to take a risk and try his best, no matter the results. I don’t really like pushing my kids, as a general rule — I want them to explore and discover their own passions, and support them as they develop and grow as individuals. But what about a kid who doesn’t seem to know his own passions? How passive/active should a parent be? All I can observe is that our eldest has thrived with a push now and again — he would have given up the piano very early on, if I hadn’t believed in his musicality and insisted he continue, and found a piano teacher who was a good fit; he was recently overheard advising his youngest sister, who is a beginner, that playing the piano is really fun, you just have to learn the basics. I know there are no guarantees of success, and parenting experiments can and do back-fire, but I’m proud of our boy for accepting this new challenge and running with it. I’m curious to see where it leads.
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