Category: Good News

Catalogue of comfort

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morning at the pool

It’s funny how being up before dawn becomes comforting habit, signalling that all is right in my world. Yesterday, while my swim girl swam before the sun was up, I swam too, covering 2.4 km in an hour, which is exceptional for me. (Though not even close to exceptional for her — plus she swam for an hour and a half, and did drills like 25 yard dolphin kicks underwater, and other things I could only dream of being able to do, as I crawl back and forth, slow and steady, in my lane.)

I’ve been thinking about what comforts me, how there are particular places I visit, stored in my memory, that bring me happiness and calm. I mean actual places that no longer exist. There are specific things that I associate with happiness, with peace and safety, like shag carpet, and barn beams, and a double bathroom sink, that belong only to my own private catalogue of good associations. I wonder what associations my children are absorbing, and where their happy places are.

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new bed

I was thinking about stuff on this morning’s dog walk. How comforted I am by the things that surround me. And yet how frivolous so much of our stuff is. How so much of what we think we need, we don’t, and paradoxically how a certain perfectly placed object can set the mind at ease.

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no good photos were taken on this outing, either

Yesterday, I took the family out to celebrate the German deal. We went to Beertown. Kevin and I drank German beer, and the kids drank root beer. The food wasn’t especially German, though I did order schnitzel, just because. Afterward, stuffed and dozy, we decided that we’re going to have to start cooking some of these celebratory meals at home. I’m not quite ready to make official announcements, but the news from the Frankfurt Book Fair has been exciting, and I can tell you that more internationally-themed meals are forthcoming. To celebrate the UK deal, we’ll do fish and chips out with Kevin’s family this weekend (it seems apt, as his parents arrived in Canada, by boat, from Scotland, just before he was born), and then I’ll get creative in our own kitchen. And then I’ll take pictures and share them with you, no matter the quality of the photography.

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girl runner

Good news comes

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“squirrel-ducks” by Barry Lorne, newly hung in living-room

Good morning.

I’ve got news. I’ve got really big news. I’ve been sitting on this news for a few days because it’s the kind of news you have to share with family and close friends in person, and because, too, I needed time to process it, and because, honestly, it didn’t seem real.

It’s real.

Here is a milestone. X marks the spot. I stood in my living-room on Monday afternoon with the phone pressed to my ear, and it seems it was sunny, as I struggled to absorb what my agent was telling me: that we’d had a pre-emptive bid for my new novel, Girl Runner, from HarperCollins in the United States. The terrific editor to whom I’d spoken earlier that afternoon wanted to buy the book. Now.

Yeah. My agent had told me I’d want to be sitting down. I told her, no way, I’m too jittery, but she was right. I had to sit down. Then I had to tell Kevin before anyone else. I texted him to come home right now. The kids, who’d been listening in with interest in the background, had to wait, but Kevin hurried. Maybe he actually ran. (As there’d been a fair bit of whirlwind build-up over the previous week, he guessed what my news might be.) Albus was so excited he hugged me spontaneously. AppleApple wanted to take photos to mark the occasion.

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it was really sunny

I felt weirdly calm.

And then there was supper to make, and swim team practice, and gymnastics, and by the time all of that was done, and the kids were tucked into bed, it was after 9, and Kevin, buzzing with excitement, was off to a soccer game. I was glad to see that he and the kids were excited, because I felt … well, I suppose it was shock.

It was the shock of a long-held dream becoming reality. In an instant. I couldn’t take it in.

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I slept surprisingly soundly that night, and woke early to meditate. (Side note: so far, I’m really bad at meditating. My brain seems to think this is useful planning and organizing time, and it’s damn near impossible to get it to alight for more than an instant on my chosen mantra. But I won’t be discouraged!)

After a night of processing the news, and after my agent convinced me afresh that this was really happening, I was able to come around to two overwhelming emotions.

Relief. Gratitude.

I’m helping to support my family. I can see the burden lifted off of Kevin. It’s almost like something visible has been lifted from his shoulders. Most critically, and here is where relief and gratitude mingle most strongly: I’m getting to do what I love. That’s what all of this means. I’m going to sit here and write books. That’s all I want to do. I’m not even very good at much else.

I loved writing Girl Runner. My mind is already teeming with another book idea, although there are more edits and revisions to tackle first. I probably can’t quite comprehend what it will be like to be part of the publicity push to bring Girl Runner to an audience, especially in a new market. I’ve never even been to New York! I sound like a little country mouse. Maybe I am. But I’m ready. I’m more than ready. I’ve been working my whole life for this, and whatever comes, however it tips me sideways, lifts me up, knocks me down, challenges and changes me, my arms are wide open. My eyes are wide open. My mind is wide open.

You’ve been part of this, too, you know. All who’ve read and commented and emailed encouragement, support, worry, kindness. You’re here, too. Thank you.

Be here now

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on Birthday Eve, still eleven years old
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on Birthday Morn, twelve times ’round the sun

I’m feeling compelled to sum up this month, even though it’s not quite over. It’s been such a month, and I’ve been unable to share some of the crucial details of its ups and downs and whirling arounds, which has forced me into awkward positions on this blog, made me into something of a contortionist. My ambiguity has caused a few friends to contact me with concern, wondering if all is well.

Well, all is well. And I don’t mean that in a Rob Ford way, whistling past the suddenly emptied offices of his communications team.

It’s been a good month.

It’s been a good month, but I won’t pretend it’s been easy. Decision-making is never easy, even when one is making decisions about excessively positive things, opportunities one has called out for, and hoped for, and pursued with determination. As I wrote in an earlier post, the doors are open. An open door is a blessing, and I feel blessed to be welcomed to enter.

But I have come to recognize, also, this month, that I can’t walk through every open door, not at the same time. I may contain multiplicities, but I am only one. I can only be in one place at a time. (I know you already knew that, but it’s taken me some convincing.) I am mother to four children. I am a writer. I would like to become a midwife. All those doors are open for me, right now. And I feel blessed. You, however, have probably already jumped ahead to the very obvious question that I somehow managed to avoid throughout this whole process: You are probably asking, okay, Carrie, that’s wonderful and all, but how, exactly, do you plan to go to school full-time, remain involved in your children’s busy lives, and continue to write?

Somehow, I thought I could do it all. I wasn’t going to not do some of it, oh no, I was going to do it all.

Magical thinking, perhaps. I am the sort of person who thrives on juggling responsibilities. Quietly, I told myself I could set aside the writing for the summer months. I did not need to attend so many soccer games and swim meets. We could get a dishwasher. The kids could learn to cook. Quietly, I thought, bring on the challenge.

But then the doors opened, all at once.

And suddenly I had to confront my own limitations — of time and of energy. I had to ask myself: what am I prepared to sacrifice? And I had to accept that now is not the right time to become a midwife. That is a hard sentence to write, and it’s taken me all month to carry myself toward accepting what I’m realistically capable of, right now.

For a good part of the month, I thought that this was an existential question about midwifery versus writing. Do I want to be a midwife or a writer? Well, the fact is, I’d like to be both, and I still believe it’s possible. I am already a writer, married to it for better or for worse and enjoying a happy stretch of career momentum right now. And I’m grateful to midwifery for being a career that does not discriminate against age: expect me to apply again sometime in the next decade, as my children grow up and get their driver’s licences and learn how to cook. No, what I’ve come around to recognizing is that this is not a question about midwifery versus writing. It’s not even, really, a question. It’s about being where I’m at, right now. And right now I have four children in the thick of their young and developing lives, and I want to be at the soccer games and swim meets. The shortened work day might drive me crazy sometimes, but I want to be here after school to gather them in, to follow up and dig around and take care of their lives in this very hands-on way. Juggle and spin it however I like, I can’t commute to another city for school and be here for this now that won’t always be.

How fortunate that I have an office, here, that I have quiet space to work, solitary time that is sandwiched on either side by frenetic activity and demands. I even have time to run and play soccer myself, to cook from scratch, see friends, and go on the occasional field trip. I go to bed done, and I sleep well at night.

I’d still love to doula at friends’ births.

I’d still like the kids to learn how to cook.

And we’re getting that dishwasher anyway — on Thursday, in fact.

When the time is right, I still hope to become a midwife.

But for now, my heart is full with the life that is all around me, right here, right now.

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Here’s a poem that wrapped itself around me a few days ago, coming from a book of essays I’m reading by Anne Lamott, called Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.

“Late Fragment,” by Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

The Juicy Jelly Worm

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And, suddenly, the world is green again.

I’ve got news: I haven’t signed on the dotted line, but my agent tells me the deal is done, and promises that I won’t be jinxing myself by making an announcement.

Deep breath, here goes: I’m going to be a children’s author!

I’ve read a few children’s books over the years. In fact, I’ve done the math and figure that I’ve read at least 7,665 picture books since embarking on motherhood nearly twelve years ago, although I have to wonder how many of those constituted multiple reads. You know, the favourites that got “lost” because the loving parent couldn’t bear even one more read? I also wonder whether there are even that many pictures books at the library? Numbers are not my forte.

Anyway, it’s been an education. And I know what I like. So I wrote a book for children.

The title is The Juicy Jelly Worm.

I was helped along the way by brainstorming with my kids (but of course!). I riffed on plot ideas. I wanted to make them laugh. And in the end, I wrote text that has no moral to the story (gasp!). None. The book is purely for fun. It’s approximately 700 words in length. The publisher, OwlKids, will find an illustrator to bring the story to life, and really, as a neophyte children’s author, I don’t know how the process will unfold, other than it appears to be underway.

A few more details: OwlKids is known here in Canada for publishing the popular kids’ magazines Chirp, Chickadee, and Owl (our household subscribes to all three). And the tentative pub date is 2015.

So there you have it: The Juicy Jelly Worm, coming to a library/bookstore near you, a few years from now.

Meanwhile, I present to you Spring. Appearing right here, right now!
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{this captioned moment}

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{This photo hints at how difficult it is to capture my emotions, to see myself clearly, in a week that has included: a challenging 25km trail race; an early Thanksgiving dinner with family; witnessing The Juliet Stories becoming a GG finalist; many interviews during which it was not me holding the recorder and taking notes; a celebratory reading; lunch out with Kevin (rare); a dear friend’s birthday party and morning coffee with more friends; an inbox full of greetings from friends near and far; prepping to host family for Thanksgiving; and the every day domestic work of cooking, dishes, laundry, groceries, school schedules, bedtime reading, hugs and kisses and soccer and swimming and ordinary life.

I’m here, in the midst of this wonderfulness. Feeling at once stronger and more centred than I’d imagined; and unexpectedly vulnerable, open to tears and laughter and big emotions. Open to putting my foot in my mouth. Open to stumbling (or, more accurately, stumbling no matter how much I want not to).

I am failing to caption this moment. Am I supposed to admit this? That life is too sprawling and complex and amazing and heartbreaking and mundane and fabulous to be captured in the words I spell out, with hope that I’ll transcend my limitations? Knowing I can’t? Knowing I’m going to keep trying, imperfectly, for as long as I can find words?}

A miscellany for your reading pleasure: balloon animals, soccer tips, anecdotes, and beyond

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balloon-dog, by AppleApple*

*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product. 

:::

Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.

First game: I learned to touch the ball.

Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.

Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.

Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.

Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.

Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?

:::

While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.

Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.

When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”

Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.

My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?

:::

One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.

I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.

It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)

And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.

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