“You did a good job of keeping everyone busy this week, so you could write your book, Mom.” — AppleApple
I’m a bit of a beast when it comes to getting things done. I should modify that claim: it applies only to things that matter quite a lot to me. But when I set myself a goal, I figure out how to get there. No procrastinating. No excuses. Obsessive? Single-minded? Something of a perfectionist? And yet I’m extremely lackadaisical in other regards. You should see the living-room floor right now, for example. Apparently, clean house is not one of my goals.
Getting through the line edits for The Juliet Stories was.
Here’s how it was accomplished. 1. A blog-friend put me in touch with her babysitter, who was able to entertain four children for several hours on short notice, so I could go over my editor’s notes in detail. 2. Another friend took all four children for a morning of play at her house, and fed them lunch, so I could have a phone conversation with my editor before beginning the edits. 3. Kevin took Friday off, and spent the entire weekend with the kids, on his own, while I holed up in the playroom to work. 4. The two older kids agreed to go to soccer camp this week. 5. A friend babysat the little kids on Tuesday and Thursday, and another friend did the same on Wednesday: lunches, snacks, outings. 6. I sat in front of the computer and forced myself to concentrate on the minutiae.
The only part of the book that remains unwritten is the acknowledgments. I’m saving the writing of them for a rainy day, as a treat. Sometimes I find myself drafting all the thank-yous in my head, with a kind of dreamy gratitude. Because the above paragraph represents only a fraction of all the help this book has received from friends, and family, and babysitters who have come to feel like family. It’s been a group effort.
And, lest I dare to compare, it’s been different from the first time around, when I wrote Hair Hat almost secretively, and with a deep unwillingness to identify myself as a writer, almost as if I couldn’t believe it myself. (Impostor syndrome, perhaps). This time around has been messier. The process has taken longer. It’s involved way more people. I’ve had to ask for more help. And, thanks in large part to this blog, I’ve gone public with all the mess and agonizing and stops and starts and work and luck and gratitude; and that’s made it all easier, actually.
Maybe it’s gauche to go so public with the ups and downs, airing my dirty laundry; or maybe it’s like opening the front door and inviting the neighbours in. I hope it’s the latter. But it’s a fine line.
Thanks to all who’ve accepted the invitation and walked in to my untidy house.
The camera never got past the campsite (which was located very near the basketball net).
That means there are no photos of the pond where we swam, of the campfire where we sang, of the field where exciting boy versus girl soccer games broke out every evening (girls won both times, if I do say so myself, as a member of the team).
No photos of the stars, or of the friendly and entertaining staff.
No photos of the beach where I got to run early in the morning with my friend Nina.
Hey. We’ve got the memories. Here’s hoping we’ll go back next year to make more.
Yesterday: five boys in the back yard, already semi-bored from summer holidaying, looking for fun, finding it spontaneously. Four ten-year-olds welcoming the three-year-old into the group. After the splashing and the snacking, they retreat to the basement. The three-year-old emerges, flushed and sweaty, requesting his shirt off, and races back down again, shouting, “I’m a bad guy now, too!” “Um, what are you doing down there?” “Playing a battling game.” “Okaaaaay …” (As long as no one gets hurt.) (No one gets hurt.) From basement battling to board game in the living-room: Mama eavesdropping on the goofy, happy conversation. Finally, Mama needs to leave to pick up the girls, one at a play date and the other at horse camp. “We can stay home alone.” “Yah, I’ve stayed home alone a lot.” “Me, too.” “It’s okay.” “Right, well. No. Not gonna happen. You’ll have to find another plan.” So, five boys walk down the sidewalk and around the corner — even the three-year-old, who refuses to be left behind — to someone else’s house, to keep on playing. (Mama retrieves the pleased-as-punch three-year-old once they’ve reached their destination; and drives off to horse camp thinking of boys at a not-quite-in-between-age in damp swim suits on a front porch, playing Apples to Apples; and one of those boys is hers).
I keep starting this post, then erasing the words and trying again. I’ve been wondering how best to express my feeling of gratitude for the support and luck that make possible the arc of my days.
I am grateful to be able to send my children to school and nursery school where they are nurtured by caring teachers. I am grateful that I have a babysitter who picks my youngest up from nursery school three days a week, walks patiently home with him, feeds him lunch, plays with him, and loves him, so that I can write (that she happens to be a qualified teacher in her country of origin, who speaks five languages, is our fortune, too, though I’m rooting for her to get her Canadian qualifications so many more children can benefit from her gifts).
I am grateful to have a grant, and an advance, that allows me to focus on my fiction writing (and pay for said nursery school and babysitting time). I am grateful my husband has a job that covers our household expenses, so that my grant/advance can go toward writing time.
I am grateful for my family’s willingness to make room for my crazy triathlon project, and the countless hours of training it’s required (hours from which they are excluded).
I am grateful to live in a country with universal health care.
I am grateful for clean water from our taps, for fresh ingredients from which to prepare healthy meals, for the shelter and space of our home and yard, for safe sidewalks, and a community-oriented neighbourhood.
I am grateful for all of these things, while knowing that my fortune is neither deserved nor earned, and that the individual pursuits of art and athleticism are gifts. They are not mine for the taking. They could not exist without the offerings of many others, and of even larger, structural offerings that are pure luck: where I was born and to whom. I wonder sometimes how the relative few of us can bear to live with such wealth, when so many live with less than a little. How can I?
What I’m saying is that my gratitude is mixed with guilt, and questioning. What luxury–to train my body to complete an arbitrary task that has nothing to do with real survival. What luxury–to sit and to think and to create in repose, without anxiety or fear or threat. Are my luxuries just for me? Is that how I’m using them, and if so, does that not express greed rather than gratitude?
I’ve noticed an uptick in visitors reading this blog, and it would be a pleasure to hear your voices (thanks, Rebecca, for the inspiration: your post on engagement made me want to invite more engagement and conversation, here, too). So, what are your thoughts on being grateful/guilty? How do you take the luxury of your individual gifts and use them to satisfy something greater than your own comforts and desires?
Finishing the first leg, heading for the transition area. Both feet off the ground. Looking and feeling strong. Plus, the sun is shining!
Getting out on my bike. Right at the start. My form isn’t great here and I haven’t settled in (and down), but I look so darn happy. I like that. Let’s get this baby moving, uphill preferably!
Heading out for the final leg, post-bike ride. Discovering my leg muscles no longer know how to function. Fittingly, it had started to rain. Thinking: I can do this. Right? Well, I’m gonna.
The homestretch. The finish line is before me. I did have a moment of emotion here, realizing I was going to make it. That final leg was one of the harder things I’ve done in my life. It was like running on legs of water. I tried and tried, but throughout the four km, I just couldn’t pick up the pace.
Me and my friend Tricia! I am so glad she was with me. All of the planning and logistics, plus the ride there, set-up, the wait: I needed someone with me. It would have been awfully lonely and intimidating on my own. She went out of the first transition ahead of me and I never caught up, but it made me glad to see her jersey in front of me. She is an Ironwoman! This picture makes me teary. We’ve trained together over the winter, shared some early mornings, and today, we worked so hard and we made it across the finish line! (And thanks also to her husband who took these fantastic photos. My family didn’t quite make it to see me finish, though we all got to eat pork on a bun together afterward).
I’ll write more in-depth about the experience on my Swim/Bike/Run Mama blog. And now I can offically call myself Bike/Run Mama. That’s something.
That title is grammatically incorrect. Forgive me. It sounds perfect to my ears.
Here it is: good news, arriving in my inbox and waiting for me to get home from running errands on bicycle yesterday, with kids shouting in the stroller behind. I was so busy that I only had time to skim the message once before jumping back into the other projects in my life, namely, cooking, laundry, and children. (Laundry: how can there be so much of you? you never give up).
This was news from my other life, the one where I’m a writer. It was a long message from my editor, who had finished reading the draft of The Juliet Stories I sent awhile back. I’d written many new stories for the revision, and was praying she would like where I’d taken the book.
First, the “bad” news, which is easy to swallow: I will need to rework two stories from the opening section, possibly combining them into one. I like her suggestion to combine the two and will put on my thinking cap. I’m pretty much always up to a good challenge. I will have a month or so to do this. I estimate it will take me three full long days of work, assuming the ideas flow. If they don’t; well, I won’t go there. Why assume the worst?
Because the best is the rest of my editor’s message, of which I’ll share my favourite part here. The hard work, the isolated hours, the years of doubt, all add up to: “My heart was in my throat as I read these new stories.” Emotional connection: it’s what I crave for my writing. I also appreciated, and read with much relief, the line: “The book is cohering so beautifully now …”
I like to think this “Obscure Canlit Mama” blog, now in its third year, had something to do with the creation of The Juliet Stories. It’s brought me connections with other writers; allowed me to be vulnerable; and it’s given me permission to embrace myself as a writer. Sometimes just saying something out loud is enough to make it real.
And now to spend a weekend celebrating by eating cheese, swimming in a lake (I hope–in my borrowed wetsuit), and communing with friends who’ve been with me since I was way more mama than writer. (I’m still way more mama than writer, but I’m not intensive-pregnant-nursing-mama anymore; and somehow that’s changed how I imagine my life and explore other parts of the whole. They’re out of the cocoon, in a way, and so am I).
One last thing. My editor also described The Juliet Stories as “deeply feminist,” which surprised me. It’s not that I don’t see myself as feminist (I do! I am!), but I never imagined writing with the intention of expressing a political viewpoint. I hope she means that the book explores the emotional and physical potential in women’s lives. I do think of my characters, especially the women, as free, somehow; or as free as any human being can be, to claim their own lives and essential selves, and to make choices beyond the boundaries of gender, while still understanding and partaking in the potential of their bodies. “My soul felt decidedly less shrunken when I’d finished reading it,” my editor wrote.
Next up: a complicated rewrite for two thematically linked stories. Followed by the line edit. Followed by … book cover design? Copy editing? And the big intake of breath before the finished book exists and hits stores, and makes its attempt to kick out a place for itself in the tough and largely indifferent world. If I learned anything from the first time around, it’s to enjoy the moments when they come, and not try to put them away and save them for later. Enjoy in a big way. Laugh, cry, shout. Forget muted gestures. There is no way to store the rush of immediacy. Which is why I let myself bask in the feeling of relief yesterday afternoon, in the midst of busyness. Ahhhh.
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