Category: Organizing

Experience points, or life as a video game

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Monday: returned the copyedits to my editor in New York. Big day. That means the book is nearly done, and very little will change from here on in, but I need to take a deep breath when I say that because I’m a tinkerer and tweaker, and it always seems that just a little more effort and a little more time will make the book just a little bit better, so how can I let ever let it go? But I let it go.

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Yesterday: felt at loose ends. I wondered, as I sat before the fire holding this computer: am I getting enough done today? I decided to tally it up, even while wondering what’s enough, exactly? I didn’t write the opening sentences to a brilliant new novel yesterday. I didn’t cross everything — or even more than three things — off of my massive to-do list. But I gained a few experience points here and there. (To explain: my brother Christian has an amusing habit of giving himself “experience points” for all of the little odds-and-ends of must-dos in his daily life; life as video game. Oddly satisfying to do, actually.)
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Yesterday, tallied up

Up at 5:40 to meet Nina for a run. Floss, take vitamins. Run 8 km. Conversation. 3 friendship points.
Shower. Deodorize. Brush hair. 3 points for good hygiene.
Dress. Eat eggs on toast. Drink cranberry juice. Hug and kiss children and check backpacks. 3 points for smooth start to morning.
Take nap (half an hour). 2 points for renewal.
Drink water and surf Facebook. Waste half an hour. Lose 2 points. Also make arrangements via email re book club visit tomorrow evening. Gain back 1/2 point.
Blog about two books. Stop tallying points.
Call allergist and change Apple’s appointment to next week. Leave message at horse farm about camp this summer. Cross several items off to-do list. Points! Lose steam, fail to return other calls.
Transfer files from dying iMac to laptop. Gather all essays written in last number of years into single folder (think: non-fiction book???). Get distracted reading old poems. Win points, lose some.
Begin writing dedication and acknowledgements for GIRL RUNNER.
Eat leftovers for lunch. Read newspaper.
Try to fix iMac with help from brother Karl. Sit in front of fire. Email Hilary (agent). Finish writing dedication and acknowledgements, email file to Kevin for his opinion. Begin writing this list.
Greet Albus, home from school. Fail to think of acceptable snack.
Walk to meet CJ at bus. Also meet Fooey. Walk home with CJ and Fooey, chatting to both simultaneously about school day. Carry Fooey’s bag. Meet Apple walking home too.
Host playdate with CJ’s friend, steer them away from electronics. Help very grumpy Fooey make her own snack. Negotiate trade with Albus: read for half an hour = play Minecraft for half an hour. 
Horse farm calls back, brief conversation about summer camp.
Chop potatoes, onions, garlic, parsnips and squash and make curried coconut soup for supper. Turn on radio. Turn off radio. Receive but do not reply to several work-related emails.
Make Apple eat snack and remind her to get ready for soccer practice. Text Kevin to pick up milk, bread on way home. Instruct Kevin on last-minute supper prep. Yell at Apple to get ready for soccer practice already! Lose points for losing cool; gain points because child now ready for soccer practice.
Drive Apple to soccer practice. Chat with other moms and watch soccer practice. Discuss practice with Apple on way home. Fill up truck with $100 worth of gas (!!!!!). Definitely lose green dream points.
Exchange parenting duties with Kevin, who leaves with Albus as soon as we arrive for their team’s soccer practice.
Eat (cold) supper with Apple. Plan CJ’s birthday party with Fooey and Calvin, add to guest list. Clean up supper, put away food, fill and start dishwasher. 10 points just because.
Supervise Fooey’s piano practice. 2 points.
Feed children snacks. Supervise tooth brushing. Read Farmer Boy in front of fire. Put CJ and Fooey to bed. Bonus snuggling points.
Fold laundry. Try to think of acceptable snack for Albus, now home; no acceptable snacks. Albus retreats upstairs unhappily. Lose a few points. Kevin leaves for hockey. 
Eat grapefruit in front of fire, read first chapter in book that happens to be on coffee table nearby: IMAGINING LONDON, by Anna Quindlen. 1 point for self-comfort.
Convince Apple to brush teeth and take asthma meds before letting her finish her book in front of fire, whilst snuggling with dogs. Apple finishes book, briefly discuss, send to bed.
Albus back downstairs, still seeking snack. Helps crate dogs in basement. Cheers up. 3 points for mysteriously good mothering moment. Albus drinks chocolate milk and eats peeled orange. Brushes teeth. Goes to bed.
All children now hugged and in bed! A million points!
Surf Facebook lamely for forty minutes whilst castigating self for not being in bed. Read article on lost Malaysian plane, for example. “Like” photos and statuses of friends. Do not reply to work-related emails. Am reminded of the old days when I would slump in front of the TV and watch just because I was too tired to do anything else. Mildly depressing; maybe necessary? No points gained, but decide no points lost either.
Brush teeth, take probiotics and fish oil. Lock house. Turn out lights downstairs. Carry folded laundry in basket upstairs. Read LADY ORACLE by Margaret Atwood for approximately fifteen minutes. It’s not even 11pm! Turn out light. Goodnight.

Newsflash!

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AppleApple’s last major school project before March break: an original handwritten folk tale

March break started yesterday. The kids celebrated with Minecraft in their pyjamas, a game that they play collaboratively, and that includes everyone, and which therefore I don’t find myself objecting to as stridently as I do to other video games. I also make no comment when Kevin sneaks off to play FIFA14 (a soccer video game) with one kid or another, calling it “soccer practice.” I actually think that “pwning” his opposition in FIFA14 may be helping Albus with his “mad dekes” on the field, in real life. It’s the power of envisioning results. If you can’t imagine it — in specific, calculated detail — it’s never going to happen.

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the couch in its new location + airborn son; we call that beanbag chair “the cow”

On our first family outing of March break, we walked uptown to get passport photos taken. Because — newsflash! — I’m flying to London, England next month! (My passport is actually fine, but in digging up everyone’s, I discovered that most of the kids’ had expired.) This trip fulfills a dream to research early print culture, specifically popular culture (i.e. the precursor to the tabloid), in Elizabethan England. Long ago, I wanted to write a doctoral thesis on the subject, but I have the feeling that fiction will be much more fun, and ultimately more in line with my talents and abilities. I studied English Lit through grad school, but have never seen the places imprinted in my imagination by all that reading of English Lit; just like I wanted to see Nicaragua again before trying to write about, I want to see England before trying to write about it (I’ll save the time-travelling for my imagination). There is no guarantee that I’ll find my story, of course, but I know for sure I won’t find it unless I go (see above re power of envisioning.)

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different airborn son

I’m going before the spring soccer season starts, and Kevin claims not to be worried at all about managing the house and kids and scheduling madness in my absence, now that he’s home so much more often (and he really is home so much more often, a fact I don’t mention enough, but which has greatly benefitted and altered all of our lives). The timing couldn’t be better: I have friends on sabbatical in London this year, who have offered to feed and shelter me. In fact, Nath has been acting as my unofficial guide, looking up directions to places I want to see, and providing advance tips on using the British Library and getting an Oyster pass so I can use the trains, etc.; plus she says she’ll come with me on my outings and provide me with an umbrella. I keep emailing her questions like: what kind of shoes should I bring? (Don’t we all need someone to whom we can email questions like that? It’s funny how it eases the mind just to have someone to ask.)

I also hope to see another friend, whose family is also in the UK on sabbatical, and meet my UK publisher, Lisa Highton of Two Roads, in person.

And maybe have a jacket potato and some beer.

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Fooey playing with matchbox cars, last weekend

Our second stop on yesterday’s family outing was Words Worth, where I bought a pile of bargain books, and AppleApple ordered Black Beauty, and Fooey picked out a guide to making bracelets on her Rainbow Loom (she has been doing nothing else since), and CJ chose a Pokemon guidebook. (Albus was at the library with a friend, as he didn’t need a passport photo). CJ is starting to read, for real. Pokemon guidebooks wouldn’t be my first choice for his reading material, but if he’s the one reading them to himself, I have no objection.

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jam cupboard in its new location

We have a list of things we want to do this week, including:
– matinee movie at the Princess
– family party night (tonight!) [note: definition of party supplied entirely by the children]
– make-up piano lesson
– possibly move children’s rooms around
– clean basement / house
– trip to mall
– plan CJ’s birthday party
– family cross-country ski trip
– lamps for living-room
– uke night
– supper at Grandpa’s
– play with friends
– early morning swim with AppleApple
– trip to the Museum to see this exhibit (over strong protest from the very family member we wish to take)
– hot yoga in the living-room
– fix iMac (the computer on which I process photos, which has been crashing with alarming regularity: which is why this blog doesn’t always have up-to-date pics at present)
– transfer all important files to laptop
– exhibition soccer games
– plan Carrie’s trip
– library

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new bookshelf

We’ve already added a new bookshelf to the living-room and shifted the location of the piano and the couch, and moved the jam cupboard up to our bedroom where it looks so beautiful it almost causes me grief — I think because it seems like hoarding to keep such a beautiful object in such a private space.

“Does it seem like we’re in a constant state of change?” Kevin asked this morning, as AppleApple offered to do a room switch with Albus, who is not enjoying sharing with CJ. To which I could only reply, Yes. We are.

Note to self

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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.

The days are packed

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good morning

Alert: rambling post ahead. My thoughts are failing to cohere around a single theme, and so I shall offer a messy multitude.

Above, my desk. Coffee cup, cellphone, book I’m currently reading, computer-now-used-mainly-for-processing-photos-as-it’s-dying-a-painful-death, and calendar. Good morning, this desk seems to greet me. I didn’t run because the roads are super-icy, so I didn’t set my alarm, so I overslept, so the getting-everyone-out-the-door portion of the morning was hairy, so I decided to walk the little kids partway to school, so Fooey forgot her glasses, so I had to run back home to fetch them, so I had to drive anyway to get them to her, so I drove her big sister as well, so I stopped for coffee and a croissant at Sabletine on my way home. Ergo, I’m over-caffeinated.

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the days are packed, and so is this office

I’m not sure my office could accommodate much more than it already does. It’s a small space. And yet it feels almost miraculously expansive. At times I think that could be a metaphor for life itself. Look at what’s going on here: we’ve got a reader and exerciser walking on the treadmill (she read for TWO MILES on Monday evening!); we’ve got another child, legs and arms just visible in the bottom of the photo, lying on the warm tile floor soaking up some doggie affection; we’ve got books, light, art, work, family, all tucked into this small space.

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Some days feel like they have themes or threads tying them together.

Saturday was “free stuff” day, as mentioned in my previous post. By early afternoon, we’d received a free treadmill and a free foosball table. That evening, Kevin and I went to the Princess theatre for dinner-and-a-movie, using a gift certificate given to us over a year ago. (We saw Philomena, which I recommend, although we were a good twenty years younger than anyone else in the theatre). We also scored “free” babysitting from Albus, who agreed to be in charge during our absence in exchange for pizza. On the walk to the theatre, I found a pair of i-pod headphones lying in a puddle, which I decided to rescue rather than leave to ruination in the puddle. I feel slightly guilty about that free find.

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Yesterday’s theme was good news on the professional front, with hairy/heart-rending complications on the domestic front.

The professional news is nothing to share, particularly; more to do with ongoing conversations and future plans. But it was lovely to receive pleasant messages in my inbox sprinkled throughout the day.

Not much else went smoothly. I’d planned to pick the younger kids up from school to take them to swim lessons. I sent a note to CJ’s teachers to tell them “no bus,” please. I arrived just as the bell rang to discover the note had been missed, and CJ had been sent to the bus line. I tore through the school to retrieve him (thankfully, in time), but by the time we got back to our original meeting spot, Fooey had come and gone, all in a panic at not seeing us there, so we waited and waited and waited not knowing what was happening while Fooey ran around the school (it’s become very sprawling since they built on an addition). By the time we found each other, she was breathless and in tears, and we were late.

Meantime, Albus texted to say he was at a friend’s house, which left me worried about AppleApple, home alone — did she even have a key to get in? Did she know about her soccer practice, starting early? I texted Kev to call home, and added, “You will have to do supper.”

I’d planned to run at the track during swim lessons. By the time people had changed and gone to the bathroom and made it into the water, I had about twenty minutes total to run. So I ran as fast as I could, round and round and round, blowing off steam. As I helped CJ shower and change, I realized I was pouring with sweat … and that my best-laid plan did not include time for me to change (let alone shower!) between dropping the kids at home and racing with AppleApple to the early soccer practice. Suffice it to say that we arrived slightly late at the indoor field, my face lightly splashed with water from Fooey’s shower, wearing decent clothes.

The heart-rending bit went like this. I met a friend for lunch. We had a lovely time together. On the walk home, the weather warmer and sunnier than expected, we passed the social services building, and a young mother exited behind us. She was berating her child, who was no more than two, and who made not a peep. Her tone was loud and angry and caught our attention. My friend and I both kind of froze, went silent. We kept glancing over our shoulders as we walked, keeping the young woman and child in view. Should we intervene in some way? We asked each other. We didn’t know. I think it haunted us both — not knowing whether to speak up, and haunted even in the moment by the fate of this child, and by extension the fate of every child made to feel unwanted or unloved. (I must add that at no time did the child appear to be in any physical danger.)

I’m currently reading a book sent to me by my UK publisher (Two Roads): The end of your life book club, a memoir by Will Schwalbe. Read it. It’s a meditation on the shared reading experience, and the mother/son relationship, and all the while it illuminates and reflects on the particular life of the author’s mother, who is described as a woman always open to the world around her. She’s a natural leader and visionary who believes in action. She meets everyone’s eye. She asks questions of everyone she meets. She listens and responds. She never feels she knows too many people or has friends enough or worries about having too many relationships to sustain — she faces the world (and its pains and problems) with genuine welcome. I’m a bit in awe of her. I want to learn from her.

I wonder whether she would have found some entrance into the young woman’s life. I wonder, thinking it over later, whether it would have been helpful to approach and offer to watch the child or carry him to the bus stop, so the young woman would have had a moment to collect herself and burn off steam. (I didn’t think of this in the moment.)

I felt that my posture and response to the situation was fearful. I was afraid of appearing judgemental and intrusive rather than helpful. I was afraid of getting in over my head. I was afraid of having the young woman’s anger turned on me. I was thinking of the invisible enormity of the problems, hidden like the tendrils of mushrooms, underneath, and I was overwhelmed and paralyzed.

In the end, we walked on (after observing the young woman reach the bus stop with her child), unable to speak of anything other than what we’d seen, weighed-down and saddened and heart-broken, a bit. Truthfully, I don’t know whether we should have done anything differently. But I haven’t been able to let it leave my mind either.

I have the house to myself this morning!

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oh wait, the dogs are here too

I jot down my activities in a very messy calendar every day, including exercise. So in keeping with the seasonal tallying and summing up of things, it occurred to me this morning that it would be fun to add up the kilometres covered over the past year, among other activities.

Last year, despite the concussion and the twisted ankle, I ran 1,009 kilometres.
I walked an additional 80 kilometres during my concussion recovery.
I swam 28 kilometres, not including lake swims. (That’s only about 14 visits to the pool, which is peanuts compared to what my swim kid does, but I mostly swam outdoors this summer.)
I went to 34 kettle bell classes, 9 boot camps, and 9 spin classes (we went a bit broke in the winter and spin class fell to the new budget). I did hot yoga 14 times, and practiced at home 18 times (starting this fall, in my home office). Apparently, I meditated a grand total of 4 times.
Now here’s the stat that makes me sad. I played 15 outdoor soccer games, and 21 indoor games. That’s a lot of soccer! I haven’t played a game since the concussion, which according to my records happened on August 18th.

Today, I’m working out of my new 2014 calendar. This year, I’ve already recorded a kettle bell class, yoga at home, and 16 kilometres’ worth of running. I’m desperate to return to that hard-core spin class, but it doesn’t seem to fit into my schedule, even if my budget is a little more expansive this winter than last. There’s no soccer in my foreseeable future.

I can’t believe I have the house to myself this morning. There are mountains of snow outside and the temperature is dropping, but the kids were herded off to school despite the blizzard warnings in effect for our area. I started the morning with a kettle bell class, but Kevin started it with shovelling our sidewalk and driveway, and I’m thinking he may have gotten the more strenuous work-out.

This morning, I’m grateful (not a big enough word, but it will have to do) for power, for heat, for quiet, for routine.

I’m thinking about my word for this coming year.

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Every word that occurs to me seems to whisper its shadow, its opposite, which I do find sometimes happens with words of the year — one ends up exploring the dark side of, say, stretch, my word for the past year. At times I cursed the choice, feeling stretched way beyond comfort (twisted ankle, head injury) or stretched too thin. But then I reminded myself to stretch, literally, and that felt good. And I did stretch, grabbing onto goals that once seemed out of reach. I wonder how that’s changed me. That’s what I’ve been wondering about most as I think about a new word: how have I changed, and how do I want to change? What do I fear and why? What do I want to give and why? What do I hope to accomplish and why? (The “and why” seems as important as the “what,” even if the answer is very simple, like it was with last year’s word. In order to keep running long distances, I need to stretch, I reasoned. Seemed practical at the time. Still does, I suppose.)

Let me think on this and get back to you.

“You’re doing something else in the normal world”

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I’m in a pre-holiday panic, characterized by a sense of paralysis as the lists in my head get jumbled and I can’t remember who needs what and when and where and why, and how it will all get done I do not know. At least I slept well last night. I woke looking like I’d swallowed a giant salt tablet, which I kind of did, given my new love of all things brined and fermented. Have you tried a real brined pickle, tangy from fermentation rather than vinegar? I’m now attempting to brine a rutabaga because it was the only brine-able vegetable I could find in the fridge last night. You might not think brining random root vegetables at 10:30PM the wisest use of my time, given the panic mode, but that is the truth of panic-mode. We’re not the wisest at 10:30PM.

Yesterday. Oh boy. Kettlebells and spin, and forgot my running shoes, so had to borrow a pair, which didn’t really fit, so I ended up going barefoot. Brief nap interrupted by dogs howling. Sleepy daughter needed a late breakfast, had to be forced to do her homework, had to be driven to school around lunchtime. I grudgingly ate lunch (it wastes so much time!). Before I knew it, it was meet-the-bus time. Walk home together time. Make an early supper time. Try to force sleepy swim daughter to do more homework time. Then we were off to swim lessons. Last one of the season for CJ, who didn’t pass, as I knew he would not, having observed his progress in the pool. He’s improved enormously, but he can’t figure out his kick, and lies there floating atop the water, legs churning with energetic futility, propelling him literally not an inch.

As we stood in the change room, me trying to towel off his wet legs, him howling that I was torturing him with the towelling of the wet legs, I thought, yup, this is torture alright. I’m crouched in a germ-ridden change room with a melodramatic five-year-old and my book is at home not getting written!

At home, we ate the soup I’d made earlier. Too many veggies, according to one child. Too spicy, according to another.

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soccer boy

Then the soccer lad and I walked to the library to pick up the carshare car, and headed to his last house league game of the season. They won! And he scored! It was a fun game. I enjoyed the conversation that accompanied our outing, too. I was so grumpy as we walked to library, growling at every little thing that wasn’t just perfect in the world around me (lousy drivers nearly running us over in the crosswalk, lousy fellow sidewalk walkers cruising two abreast as if expecting us to jump into the snowbank in deference to their passage, etc.) I suddenly heard myself, bitching about everything, and wondered out loud whether really good people (like Nelson Mandela, I said) did this. Were they grumpy out loud? Did they complain about other people in such a petty terms? Surely not. Albus figured that really good people kept it to themselves. Maybe they let off steam in private. But they didn’t say mean things in public.

How do you let off steam, I wondered? Albus figured it was different for everyone. He wasn’t sure how he let off steam. Come to think of it, neither was I, only that on certain days, due to certain circumstances, I was more likely to be grumpy and intolerant and judgemental. Like yesterday. Stretched too thin, to pull my word of the year into the conversation.

After soccer, we parked the carshare car at the library and walked, shivering in the Arctic breeze, to the grocery store to check the last to-do of the day off the list (brining rutabagas wasn’t actually on the list, in fact). We had fun dashing down the aisles, as we always seem to, and were the second-to-last customers in the whole store. Albus has discovered my weak spot, which is anything with a bargain sticker on it: therefore, he talked me into getting him a tray of sushi for a bedtime snack, half-price. I texted Kev, who drove over to pick us up. What did we do before texting? Psychic means weren’t nearly so reliable. And then I ate the last pickle and brined the rutabaga and ate two more bowls of soup, plus a grapefruit, plus had a cup of tea with Kev, then tried to read in bed, until I discovered myself reading with my eyes closed, which never works. I try it every night, and it never ever works.

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And now I’m sitting here wondering about presents un-bought, and when to schedule in time to go seek them out, and food-ordering, and how it will all fit together, and how I can leave the book behind for a few days, so as not to torment myself with the fact that I’m not working on it, and instead enjoy the holidays, and family, because the holidays don’t come often, and occasions for togetherness don’t come often either.

How can I set aside this unfinished work? I’m breathing its air.

Alice Munro was recently quoted in an interview saying this: When you’re a writer, you’re never quite like other people — you’re doing a job that other people don’t know you’re doing and you can’t talk about it, really, and you’re just always finding your way in the secret world and then you’re doing something else in the “normal” world.

It’s true. You can’t talk about it. It’s not that people aren’t willing to listen, it’s that it’s impossible to talk about. The secret world is paper-thin, full of holes, peopled with shadows and questions and puzzles and blazing pictures. It doesn’t all fit together, and this is impossible to explain too. That the work carries from project to project, never finished, never solved. It’s the never-ending-ness that causes enormous anxiety, which in turn fuels the work. You’re always trying to pull it together, as a writer, and failing, and it’s the failure that keeps you at it. To fail is to recognize what yet could be. How to talk about that?

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