this is where I went this morning
this is why
Bus ride, hee-hawing donkey, straw bale maze, wagon ride, corn maze, pumpkin patch. I’ve been on field trips with all of the other kids — fire station, nature hike, a different pumpkin patch — but never with this last one; so he gets his due. This might mark the end of the line for me, the last of the field trips. Six hours a day of work-time (ie. school hours) are already too slender for my requirements. I’m going into my office on campus on Wednesday evenings for teaching prep. I’m out of the house on Thursday evenings too (for class), and may maintain the habit even if I’m not teaching this winter. I need the extra hours wherever I can find them. And everyone’s getting along just fine without me.
“If I’m going to be more of a house-husband, you might have to give up some control over the laundry,” Kevin told me, as he chauffered me to campus yesterday.
The laundry remains my only real area of total domestic domination; why am I holding on? I used to maintain exclusive management of the following: kitchen, dishes, lunches, meals, food gathering, bedding, bathrooms, vacuuming, and laundry. I let Kevin handle the basement, garbage, pets, and yard (such a classic gender split, I know). I’m down to just laundry, having acceded control over everything else. I can’t remember why I used to be so possessive of those spheres, so certain of my own superior expertise.
Where was I going with this post?
Oh, yes. Such a jam-packed evening yesterday. After being dropped on campus, I holed up in my office to work. Then we had class, cut short due to a reading planned months ago. I walked through Waterloo Park with several students brave enough to tag along, to the Clay and Glass Gallery, where a double-launch was already underway for the Wild Writers Festival (coming to Waterloo Nov. 8-10), and for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting, a new anthology of personal essays, to which I’m a contributor. I was the last to read, and had time to down a glass of white wine and fix my hair (sort of) before going on. It felt quite magical, actually. I’d slashed my essay to a reasonable reading length, and the words seemed to fall into a hushed and welcoming space.
I love reading. I want to say more about it, but everything I try to type sounds presumptuous and vain. I love the opportunity reading affords: to share a moment that has the potential to be profound. Yup, that sounds lofty. All I know is that when I’m reading, it feels exactly like what I’m meant to be doing. And that’s a good feeling.
Afterward, I went out for drinks with friends to celebrate, well, all of this.
Which is another reason I was not so extremely filled with happiness to find myself on a crowded school bus this morning.
More news, to end on: Girl Runner has found herself a German publisher! Yes, it’s true, we’ll be going out for schnitzel. And beer. The book will be published in translation, which is kind of mind-blowingly awesome, isn’t it? We were trying to figure out last night what the translation of the title might be: Madchen Lauferin, according to Google (sure to be spot on).
And, last but not least, here’s a link to a piece in today’s The Bookseller, on the UK deal.
More projects on the go! Kevin’s on a painting kick. This weekend he’s tackling the stripes Fooey requested for her bedroom. The kid is onto something. Her instinct for style is uncanny. Kevin’s only finished the blue stripes (there may be green and yellow ones yet to come, depending on his patience for what has turned out to be a time-consuming job), but it seems to have added something dimensional to the walls. I swear the room looks cleaner. Stripes as mess-camouflage?
I can tell my head is better not only because it doesn’t hurt, but because I was operating at high efficiency yesterday. I tackled a series of projects of the sort you never intend to tackle, but simply find yourself head-shakingly in the middle of. It was all precipitated by an order of a half-bushel of roma tomatoes, which I knew I would both regret and appreciate. I never intended to can them, there being ample room in our freezers due to lacklustre enthusiasm (from me) on the food preservation front this summer. I’ll freeze them, thought I! Nothing simpler! (Really, there isn’t; I just toss them cored but whole into freezer bags). Then I scouted out the freezers. Two half-full small chest freezers desperately in need of defrosting. Perfect! No time like the present! I’ll just defrost these, one by one, switching the frozen items between each, clean out the interiors, oh, and wash behind and underneath while I’m at it, discovering enough fur-like dust to make a pile that looked (disturbingly) mouse-like (it wasn’t). And then I froze the tomatoes. The defrost project dragged on all day, but freezing the tomatoes took less than half an hour; I’ve ordered another half-bushel to process next weekend.
I also made a run to the grocery store for boring bulk essentials that we were totally out of like TP and rice and dog food.
on the landing
I declared Saturday to be cleaning day (that made me popular), and ordered the kids to strip their beds. There were mountains of laundry. I attacked hard water stains in the upstairs bathroom with vinegar and elbow grease.
A million friends came over to play, with children rotating between houses on scooters. One child did nothing but Rubiks cube all day (“cubing” is all the rage in her class, which probably tells you something about her class). Kevin and I, at the eleventh hour, left a houseful of kids playing the card game “Pit” at the highest imaginable volume, in order to go shopping for a new bed. We’re sticking with our living-like-grad-students theme and made the purchase at a futon store uptown. Kev’s picking up the new frame and mattress this afternoon. Photos forthcoming.
the colours in Albus’s newly painted room (I told you Kevin is on a roll!)
And then we fed the kids pancakes for supper, and took ourselves out for dinner to celebrate: our first opportunity since Monday’s news. Truth be told, we were both really tired. We drank, we ate, we tried to talk about it. We don’t know what’s ahead, can only sit in the strange calm of right now, shaking our heads and laughing at the ridiculous year we’ve had so far, a year of extremes and unforeseens, of injury, bed bugs, concussions, fresh paint, career turns, difficult choices, and, at times, seemingly no choice at all but to keep on keeping on. So we’ve kept on. Thankfully. And here we are. Thankfully, and with thanks.
Above, our house, captured, in reflection, in its natural state. We’ve got son plus friend, plus clean laundry unfolded in basket on dining-room table, plus piano (not being practiced), plus basket of mail (unopened), plus family photos more than a decade old (which I long to update), plus book on table from Friday night’s poetry book club meeting (The Griffin Poetry Prize Anthology 2013), plus covered chalkboard wall, plus broken bridle on living-room floor (remnant from my childhood, used recently as a prop in a child’s school presentation on horses). I also spy art supplies on the dining-room table, because art supplies are like weeds. You think you’ve got them coralled and under control, and bam, they’ve sprouted everywhere again.
I’m feeling at peace with the messiness, with the constant state of disorder. I don’t like dirt. Or dog hair. But I love this evidence of flourishing life, creative, shared, blessed, untidy, in the midst. I love being in the midst. Keep me here.
You all really liked that other colour of green, didn’t you? It’s okay, you can tell me. I can take it. I really like it, too. But it didn’t fit with my vision for the room! To use a metaphor, as I’m wont to do, it’s like editing one’s own writing: kill your darlings, is how Stephen King puts it. The point being, just because you love something doesn’t mean it fits. Sometimes you have to paint over a colour you really love, or remove a plot point that charms you, or exise your favourite sentences (actually, in writing, that is almost the rule rather than the exception. Your favourite sentences will inevitably be the ones you have to sacrifice in honour of the whole.)
Stick with your vision. This will make you happier in the end.
Yesterday, the Giller longlist was announced. I didn’t hear about it until rather late in the day, which put in perspective the difference between this year and last. Last year, I was on tenterhooks the morning of the announcement, which kicks off prize-season here in CanLitLand. And then I wasn’t on the list. It felt crushing, but I coped, and pretty soon I felt better. But it was kind of a relief, this year, not to have that pressure of waiting and wondering and then coping and forging onward. A year from now, I’ll be going through this all over again. I can’t even ask the question: should literary prizes matter so much? One hopes a deserving book finds its readers no matter what, but the prizes do help focus attention, especially on books that might go otherwise overlooked.
I want to congratulate everyone on the list — and also hug everyone not on the list, especially those who it seemed might find their way there. One small observation: there are 13 writers on the list, and 4 are women. I wonder about that. And then I observe that the jury is made up of two Canadian women (Esi Edugyan and Margaret Atwood) and one American man (Jonathan Lethem). So, who knows. I realize that’s not a profound conclusion, but I haven’t got one.
One more thing: looking over this list of authors, I notice how many are of my own generation, or just a little older than me. Makes me realize that “the establishment” is fluid. The list also reinforces my sense that CanLitLand is about the size of a neighbourhood, and that I’ve found it a lovely place to dwell. Despite the pressure and anxiety around prize lists, I’m looking forward to having a new book out next fall, because it’s a reason to travel and meet other writers, and that’s my favourite part of living in CanLitLand.
I woke up without a headache this morning. I’ve been sitting at my desk for over an hour, and I still have no headache. This feels worth celebrating! Perhaps with a sunshiny walk: I saw the physio yesterday, and he said I could try a half hour walk once or twice a day. He also did acupuncture, and I swear it helped. As yesterday afternoon turned to evening, it felt like the fog was lifting.
I cut this lad’s hair yesterday outside in the backyard. I’m trying to remember when I became an “expert” haircutter, and I think it was as a teen, when I simply insisted that I knew what I was doing, and my mother let me experiment on my younger siblings, who suffered some occasionally unflattering cuts as a result. (Edna, please forgive me that bowl cut?) But some of the cuts actually turned out, cementing my “expert” status! (Or, more accurately, my delusions of expertise.) I remember giving my mother a brilliant haircut right before her high school reunion. In turn, this anecdote should give you a succinct understanding of who my mother is: a woman who would let her teenaged daughter give her a haircut right before her own high school reunion!!! She trusted it would work out, you see. That’s pretty awesome mothering, in my opinion.
Stripes! We should have done stripes just like these! This girl had her second gymnastics class yesterday evening. Flushed and happy afterward, she wondered whether she could take more than one class a week. “I might have found my special thing, Mom!” (She’s been terribly worried because her siblings all have their “special things” that they love to do, soccer, mainly, while she’s dabbled in, but never loved, quite a few activities including dance and tennis.)
I tried to ease her anxiety by explaining that we may discover many special things that interest us deeply at different times in our life, and that experimenting is a good thing, but I’m to blame for putting the anxiety in her head in the first place, by suggesting that we all have “special things.” I meant to encourage her to explore her interests, but instead I planted a seed of worry. Parenting. Try, fail, try again, fail better.
One of this girl’s “special things” started yesterday evening, and we were both really excited to get the season underway. Swim team! Last fall, she was a novice who couldn’t do a flip turn or a start dive, and now she seems like a veteran. Here’s a thought. A sign that something may be our “special thing” is that we return to it with excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment, even when it’s no longer new. Even when we already have a sense of what to expect from ourselves. Even when we’re acquainted with our limits, and know our own strengths and weaknesses. If, even then, we want to participate and keep learning and stretching and growing, then we’ve landed on something special.
So, the living-room. We were going to paint three walls a lighter shade of green, and one wall darker, but the darker tone turned out to be not drastically different from the lighter, as you can see (above).
Here’s how the conversation went after all four walls had been painted, yesterday afternoon:
Me: It’s a good colour, but it’s not what we planned.
Albus: I like it.
Me: I’m not sure.
Apple-Apple: You could paint the wall that colour I wanted [note: that colour she wanted was a violently brilliant eye-popping apple green].
Me and Kevin: No.
Albus: Well, it’s your house so you get to choose.
Me: But what do you think?
Fooey: I think you should do stripes!
AppleApple: I know! You could paint the ceiling that colour I wanted!
Me and Kevin: No!
Fooey: Like a stripe of purple and a stripe of blue and then green and yellow and …
Me: I mean, I like the colour, it’s just not what we planned.
Kevin: I have to know by noon tomorrow because I won’t have time to paint after that.
Fooey: Can you paint stripes in my room?
Me, [messaging Kevin, 10:07 AM, today]: I went and looked again and decided you should paint it.
Kevin: Ok I will come asap.
This is the bonus of having non-traditional jobs: so we can pop home and paint whenever the mood strikes! From the sounds of it, he’s got a soccer game going in there, too. Pretty nice way to spend a Monday afternoon.
[Note: if you really really love that shade of green over which Kevin is painting (above), please don’t tell us, because he’s covering it up right now, as I type, and we’re not going to repaint this room three times in as many days. But, who knows, we might use it for stripes in Fooey’s room. Why not?]
I present to you the chaos in which we are currently living. We are having the house re-treated for bed bugs this coming week, which means moving all of the furniture away from the walls, so Kevin decided to finish the painting project in the living-room. Praise be! I’d resigned myself to the likelihood that we’d be looking at empty walls blotted with holes pretty much indefinitely. And now we’ll enjoy a freshly brightened space instead.
As it is, it feels like we’re living with uncertainty pretty much indefinitely.
this morning, in process, two walls done
I keep getting messages from friends concerned about my ability to take it easy and rest. I would like to assure you that this is not actually a problem. In fact, I’m finding it alarmingly easy to rest, for the simple reason that my head hurts when I don’t. I can see why you’d think it hard for me, given the pace at which I prefer to live my life, but what’s perhaps more distressing is how easy it is for me to shut down, lie down, close my eyes, and not do anything at all. The only problem, I suppose, is of identity. I prefer the Carrie who operates at high efficiency and can be relied on to squeeze the marrow out of her days and hours. The-meditational-Carrie-on-the-couch-whose-head-hurts-when-faced-with-effortful-tasks seems a foreigner, a stranger, from whom I may learn something, someday, but whose presence is, it must be said, a bit of a drag. It reminds me of the six weeks, or so, post-partum when everything would feel off-kilter and I would long for life to return to normal; and eventually, it did, or rather to a new normal. I imagine, at some small distance from now, writing an essay reflecting on this slightly bizarre time in my life.
A friend on FB recently posted a status that went roughly like this: “I’m thinking of all those times when I thought ‘I’m barely holding on.’ Perhaps it’s those moments that are conspiring to help me let go.”
I like that. The positives of this experience seem to relate to letting go. Maybe that’s why I’ve been playing the piano more often, and singing: my head likes it, and I feel very free as my fingers and voice improvise and play with rhythm and melody. I’m shifting plans to make life easier, too. On Friday, I realized that there was no way I could drive myself to and from Toronto for a reading; so Kevin drove me, and we got to spend an unexpected evening together. Hardest of all is not limiting physical activities, but cognitive ones, as I’m healing. This includes limiting writing time, reading time, and time conversing with friends, all of which I find surprisingly taxing. I trust that my friendships and books will wait for my return; my anxiety circles instead around a fear that I won’t be able to write with clarity and depth, given this injury seems to affect most strongly my ability to focus for long periods of time: that’s why I’m continuing to blog. It gives me hope.
Here’s how Kevin and I are living right now: like grad students. It’s like we’re camping inside of our ordinary lives. It changes the perspective. There is comfort in simplicity, in a bed on the floor and not much more, the entire family crowding in on a Saturday morning to laugh and talk and snuggle.
What happens when we’re shaken up? What happens when we can’t be our best selves? What happens when we’re asked to live in flux? What happens when we let go of all that we can’t control?
I sent this pair off to buy something for lunch, for the second time this week. They went to Vincenzo’s and got sushi and soda pop. CJ ate a blue frosted cupcake before they were even home. “We tried the free samples!” (On Monday, I let them go to the grocery store to get something for lunch and they returned with: Corn Pops, Cap’n Crunch, mini chocolate chip cookies, and three cheese buns. I think I see improvement?)
Fooey is doing tennis camp this week, which is why she’s not been involved. (Side note: she’s been working on filling in a journal all about herself, and had this to say on the page with prompts about her parents. “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my mom is the way she … HAS NO STYLE.” And: “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my dad is the way he … HAS NO HAIR.” My attempts to defend myself were met with scorn. Well, justified perhaps, because that kid has style.)
It feels like a day for black and white.
Here is my desk, right now. On the left, see the syllabus I’m working on. In the middle, my BlackBerry, which flashes whenever I get a message (very distracting, but I must like being distracted; text me, please!). On the right, this week’s calendar full of to-do lists and daily events not to be forgotten. And on the computer screen, a message to my editor with the revised version of Girl Runner attached. Yup! She’s gone off. I’ve sent her on her way.
Kevin, who has been my first reader for as long as I’ve had a writing career, stayed up past midnight reading the new draft, and told me this morning that he couldn’t put it down. He offers the following blurbs: “I felt like I was running in Aggie’s shoes over a 100-year race.” And “The book had the perfect combination of pace and depth, just like the 800 metres.” And: “Normally I can read only a few pages at a time. I read half the book in one sitting.” As he’s obliged only to say good things, for the sake of our marriage, you might think this input is highly suspect, but I’m going with it. It’s been a summer of intense and sometimes crazy-making labour, and I can’t do more without a serious break from the material. And my editor is pleased to have it back on her desk again.
And now I give myself the respite of a week or so, before the madness of the fall schedule begins, to be quiet, peaceful, breathing, playing, and not working. Tall order.
One last thing. My next post is going to be about everything I’m excited for this fall. It really and truly is. Because there is so much coming in and now that I’ve sent the manuscript I can breathe and sit back and look at it all. And rest my head. And say thank you.
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