Kevin and I are constantly fiddling with rules and limits around electronic devices. It’s a subject for a whole separate blog post, and after fighting with the kids all day yesterday about this very topic, I don’t want to rehash it today. Let’s just say, that creative movie-making moment, which I chronicled here yesterday morning, ended at 11AM on the dot, when the kids felt entitled to turn their attention to their glowing screens.
My biggest wish for my kids is that they’re capable of entertaining themselves, setting personal goals, and working on projects — I don’t care whether the projects are practical or just for fun, whether they’re done alone or collectively, I just want my kids to look for ways to entertain themselves rather than be entertained. (Knit! Craft! Run around the block! Jump on the trampoline! Play the recorder! Invite a friend over! Learn how to code! Etc.)
Here’s what I came up with yesterday: a list! (You know how I love lists!) Kevin is encouraging the kids to write down a daily plan with daily goals, large or small, and I’ve devised these questions to frame that planning. Also, I’m using this myself. And it’s a good tool for reflection and conversation, at the end of a day.
Today, what am I going to …
〉 Think about
Who am I going to spend time with?
What am I doing for …
And that’s it! Of course, categories can overlap, and you needn’t necessarily fill in goals for each category every day. Anything you notice missing or would add yourself? Let me know, please.
PS The women at 4Mothers asked me to reflect on my 2014 word of the year, and the blog post is up today. (My word was “success.” And no, I haven’t picked a new word yet. Have you?)
in Alice Munro country
This has been a good weekend, and so I must write about it, especially after my tired post last night. And I am tired, there’s no doubt, but this is also the season of gratitude and harvest, and I want to tell you that, on occasion, the “glamorous writer’s life” can actually feel, well, kinda glamorous.
On Friday evening, Kevin and I drove northwest out of the city in separate vehicles, heading for Huron County, otherwise known as Alice Munro country. The kind organizers of the Alice Munro writers and readers festival had invited me to speak at their event, and offered to put us up overnight in an Inn called The Benmiller. We drove through rolling hills, down huge valleys, taking a circuitous route recommended by Google maps that must have been recommended for the views. Yellow cornfields, stands of trees with changing leaves, wending rivers. (Is that the right word? I want it to be.)
We arrived in time for dinner. When we clinked glasses, I said, in tones utterly heartfelt: “Here’s to the perks of being a writer!” We haven’t been away overnight, just the two of us together, since mumble mumble mumble. A really long time. Yeah. I was pregnant with our now-nine-year-old on our last overnight getaway. So this was a real treat. It was a treat I wasn’t sure we’d manage to pull off, given our busyness (Kevin drove back early the next morning to soccer tryouts, while I went to Blythe on my own for the presentation.) Accept all treats! That is going to be an addendum to my motto: I don’t procrastinate. Actually, those fit together well. It’s a reminder that it’s just as important not to procrastinate when it comes to the good, pleasurable, sweet things that life has to offer. My naturally ascetic personality needs to be reminded.
So, thank you to the organizers of the Alice Munro festival, in beautiful Huron County. (Mark your calendars for next year’s festival.) And thank you to my mom for staying overnight with the kids.
I haven’t been reading reviews of Girl Runner closely, mostly because I’m a wimp. No, mostly because the book feels too newborn and my feelings about it too raw to read anything that in any way could be taken as critique. I avoid Goodreads, for example (although I encourage you to go there and enter: they’re drawing for a giveaway of Girl Runner tomorrow). My publicist is sending notification of reviews to Kevin, who summarizes them for me. The reviews he’s told me about have been good, even great, but I still know that, early on, even the smallest critique feels like a stabbing, so I steer clear. (And I have to add that as time goes by, I will be able and willing to engage with a variety of opinions in a reasoned and thoughtful way; it doesn’t hurt me to read reviews of any kind of The Juliet Stories now, because I know what I love about it, and trust its value and worth. I also fully accept and understand that readers have very different opinions, takes, likes and dislikes—and I also accept and understand that I’m not ready to confront those quite yet, with Girl Runner.) That was a long lead-in. The point being, Kevin insisted I read in full, for myself, the review that came out in this weekend’s National Post. So I did. It left me breathless. The reviewer read the book just exactly like I hoped it would be read. Click here for the link. (They used the running photo again.)
Perhaps what I appreciated most about the review is that it was written by someone who doesn’t love running; yet she got it.
“I don’t understand Aganetha Smart’s relationship to running in particular, but I do connect with her deep love, her profound physicality. And her desire to pursue the thing she is meant to do above all other things, in the face of resistance that borders on impossibility. This is where I connected with her: there is no better way to raise a demon in her brain than to tell her a thing cannot be done. There is no wrench in the gears, no threat or heartbreak that succeeds in turning her away from the thing she loves, nor can it be taken from her.”
Goosebumps, I tell you.
This morning, I received notice of another review, on the 4Mothers blog, which Kevin also insisted I read. Click here for the link. Again, the reviewer connected with Aganetha’s competitive spirit:
“What I most loved about the book is the description of Aganetha’s ambition. I don’t think there are enough stories about female ambition. Snyder describes ambition not as something hard or calculating, but as if it is something organic, born and not made by the goal-setting cheers of the chorus of life coaches that seem so loud in the 21st century.”
I want to pour us all a cup of coffee and sit down for a long chat on this subject.
So, thank you reviewers for your generous reviews.
(And thank you to all reviewers, even if I haven’t had the courage to read you all the way through, yet. I will, I promise! When the newborn gets to the toddler stage and starts climbing the stairs by herself in 10 seconds flat, I’ll teach her how to come back down safely, and then we’ll both be ready to engage with a range of opinions, takes, likes and dislikes.)
There are so many moments in a week.
On Thursday, I felt like an adventurous mother, pulling off the feat of getting the kids organized and out the door by 9AM, with picnic lunch, full gas tank, sweaters, and gear for the beach. We drove two hours to a park I’d never been to, my hope for a fun day only dimming slightly when a) we had to stop by the side of the road for a bathroom emergency and b) when the sky went dark and rain spattered our windshield. The GPS, with its insistent female voice, kept sending us on a route contradictory to the directions I’d decided on independently, so with Fooey’s strident encouragement — “Trust your instincts, Mom!” — I turned it off. We found our friends’ campsite, ate lunch together, and tramped up enormous dunes to find Lake Huron in a wild state, more ocean than lake. The sun came out. The kids swam. I reclined in the sand with the wind whipping my hair. And I was able to get us organized and back home in time for soccer practice.
Then Friday. I met Kevin for lunch so we could discuss finances. We ate at a Korean place. Toward the end of the meal, I saw a woman standing and staring into the restaurant through the glass for a long time. “I think a character is coming in,” I said. She was elderly, squat and stooped and clothed in many layers, and seemed a rather unlikely patron. “What should I try here?” she asked us, shuffling directly to our table. “What do you like?” I said. “Oh, vegetables. As long as they’re cooked so I can get ’em down.” “Ummm….the food’s quite spicy,” I hedged. “Oh, I like the Chinese food.” “Well, this is Korean, it’s not really the same.” “How about that one with the egg?” [pointing to the colourful menu items posted on the wall] “Yes, the bi bim bap is very good,” said Kevin. “But does it have VEGETABLES?” “Umm…”
We got the story from the server, a young man with dyed pale orange hair who told us that the woman comes frequently, asks patrons for recommendations, sits at a table, but never orders. He hates to ask her to leave.
Then Friday, arriving home from lunch. I caught a strong rather strange sweet smell when I opened the front door. No one appeared. A large bath towel was on the kitchen floor in front of the fridge. DJ was licking the floor. It was definitely a what the hell? moment. Evidence was everywhere. A mostly empty container of tamarind sauce open on the counter. Brown spatters. Clean-up had clearly been attempted. I impressed myself (if no one else) by muttering and speaking firmly rather than yelling. Maybe I’ve grown. The next forty minutes were spent on hands and knees discovering new patches of stickiness, and then opening the fridge and discovering the accident had occurred inside there. Well, the fridge needed to be cleaned, I reasoned. I called the culprit in, but I did not yell. Instead I concluded this session by sending several bitter texts to Kevin, as if he were somehow to blame. “Just spent last 45 minutes cleaning tamarind sauce off floor and inside fridge. Lid loose!” “These are the perks of working from home, of which you are spared.” “I don’t think I will meet for lunch again anytime soon.”
He did not text back. I think this was wise of him.
Finally, this morning. Chilly, rainy, windy. I am running. I’d left the house saying I would go 15-20 kilometres, tops. I’d left the house not in the mood for a long run, not at all. Around 15 kilometres, I’m flying through a favourite wooded path quite far from home. I’m thinking, this is why I resist going on long runs — because once I’m out here, I’m all in. Distance breaks down resistance, changes my brain, changes my understanding of pain and suffering, I think. 15-20 kilometres tops?! Ha! I’m feeling way too good. I cover 25 instead, and maintain pace. I think this is how my brain works on writing too, that the challenge is jumping in, because I know it will be hard, it will take me far away, it will hurt, but I know too that once I’m in, I’ll be gone. I’ll only want to go further. And, like running, good writing breaks down resistance, breaks down the self-conscious mind and pulls me into its flow. And I’m away.
I can’t always be away. Maybe I have to come back and clean up the tamarind sauce and be surrounded by shouting voices of children and get filled up with energy and anxiety and stories, so that I can go out again. And go long.
This is how it feels to win the cup final.
And also this.
This is how it feels to be brought along on a Saturday morning to cheer for your sister.
And also this.
This is how it feels before the medal ceremony following a hard-fought 1-0 game.
This is how it feels to coach your daughter and get to give her a trophy (and a hug).
“Our team is WHAT? DYNAMITE! Our team is WHAT? DYNAMITE! Our team is tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick BOOM! DYNAMITE!
“Their team is WHAT? Down the drain. Their is WHAT? Down the drain. Their team is glug-glug-glug-glug-glug down the drain.”
Hm. I hadn’t heard that second verse till just now when I asked Fooey to tell me their team cheer, so that I could record it here for posterity. Any comments, Coach Kevin? (In fact, for the record, the whole team was very courteous and sweetly pleased in victory, and they did say that part of the cheer really quietly.)
“Now I have two trophies!”
“The other one is for Highland Dance!”
[The other one is really more of a plaque. And I am a terrible mother. I have a strange haunted feeling that I chucked said plaque in a fit of purging several months ago. Oh, how I hope that I am wrong, now that I know its value.]
My Fooey: brave defender, who played like she was twice her size.
How to use the restless minutes and hours between activities scheduled and unavoidable:
– finish / write new story
– write 15 mins / day on any subject that comes to mind [project title: The Woman Formerly Known As]
– blog but keep it short: limit time spent writing to ten mins, see what you can produce
– read and don’t feel guilty
– research popular print culture and mysticism
– limit FB visits to time when out and about (entertainment)
– start tapping into new characters, era, and place, testing the waters
[the above is an actual note actually sent to self, as typed into phone on Wednesday, January 29th, while sitting in the car in a parking lot with a few minutes to spare between a stop at the library and picking up daughter for piano lessons]
A few notes on where I’m at, today, on this last day of January.
– I’m waiting for comments on final revisions to Girl Runner. Next steps will include copy editing, cover design, and publicity planning. Not there yet.
– My author photo has been taken (by the wonderful Nancy Forde, my friend and neighbour!).
– I’m prepping to drive to Windsor with my swim girl for a weekend meet, hoping to get there ahead of the snow that’s on its way.
– Yes, our swim girl has cut back on swimming, but only marginally; I’m just happy she’s so happy to be swimming again. Yes, we’ve cut back on the number of meets we’re attending. This is a big one, and we both wanted to go. We’ll continue to assess her overall schedule on a weekly or even daily basis, making changes as needed.
– I’ve renewed my access card to the local university libraries, and have been through the stacks to find books on popular print culture (16th century, specifically).
– I went to boot camp this morning, and my body felt perfectly normal. (Hurray!) My mind, I’ll confess, remains foggy, but that could be all the quiet thinking it seems to want to do right now. My mind is stuck in winter-mode: hibernation.
– I’m still on antibiotics.
– Our oven still doesn’t work, but the part has been ordered, and the manufacturer is paying for it, not us.
– I’m reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman, and wondering why it’s taken me so long to discover her.
– I’m sitting down as I write this. Need to work my way back onto the treadmill desk.
– I’m meeting with my word-of-the-year friends on Monday. Until then, the word remains under wraps, as I’m suffering from my usual last-minute change of heart.
– Kevin and I spent most of yesterday together, and checked out wood stoves … and came around to thinking that what we’re really looking for is a gas stove, as originally planned. It’s about half the cost, and a whole lot less fuss once installed. I’ve decided that I may be someone who admires people who have chickens and wood stoves, rather than someone who aspires to have chickens and a wood stove, if you know what I mean. It pains me to type that last sentence out.
– This post has taken me exactly
ten eleven fourteen seventeen TWENTY-TWO (uh oh!) minutes.
dogs sharing bed with random soccer ball
I’m writing this post in my office! The dogs are sleeping in their beds! I have a cup of coffee at my elbow, nearly gone, and I’m feeling almost well enough to consider, seriously, going to boot camp tomorrow morning. Yes! Restlessness is returning to me!
(I’m relieved. The past few days have been a bit of a dangerous interlude, as I discovered how easy it is to work in bed on my laptop; and tempting as it sounds, that is not a habit I’d consider good for my morale, long-term.)
Today is Kevin’s birthday.
We still have no oven, so I can’t bake him a cake.
But we’re going to go out for lunch and look at wood stoves, and talk and dream, so maybe that’s enough.
I’ve found a quote attributed to Nelson Mandela that struck me this morning: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” That’s almost been the basis of our marriage, right there. We haven’t stayed the same, and we haven’t expected the other to stay the same. We’re quite different, in many ways, but we sure enjoy basking in each other’s light.
I can’t bake Kevin a cake.
But I can sing his praises here. He’s improvisational of character, willing to change, forever finding ways to make something out of nothing — or out of the materials at hand. He’s the kindest coach you’ll ever hope to meet, who seems blessed with infinite patience, who sees potential in every kid, and never tires of finding new ways to motivate (which makes him a great teacher, too). And now I’m afraid of winding myself into deeply sappy territory by saying what a terrific dad he is (but of course!) and partner, too. I most appreciate his willingness to be swayed, to consider alternative perspectives, and to listen without comment.
Happy birthday, dear Kevin, and many more.
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