Woke up early to run this morning, and woke up my eldest girl too. She wasn’t going for a run. Nope: science project due today, with a few finishing touches to complete: framing text and photos and placing them on her backboard. “Herbal Medicine.” She even prepared her own Garlic Tincture for the project. She left for school looking proud and happy and DONE! That is a good feeling.
She didn’t get a nap, but I did. Thankfully. Doing dishes at 10 o’clock at night is not conducive to early morning exercise.
I drifted down into sleep thinking about this article that’s going around called “Creative People Say No.” According to the piece, a signficant proportion of creative people say no to things they consider distractions in order to get their work done. The article irritated me. Why? Do I disagree? Do I just dislike saying no?
I don’t disagree, in fact. I know the time it takes to complete a project. The quality of that time matters, too. If you’re going deep, you need to sink down slowly, stay under, and not be presumptively yanked out. (Being presumptively yanked out seems the very definition of parenting, frankly.) I fight for my time, and resent when it’s taken away. In fact, I probably do say no quite often. When I’m deep inside a project I believe it wise and wholesome and productive to say no to the following major distractions: Facebook, Twitter, email.
But there are many things I cannot say no to.
I can’t say no to the dishes, no to the science fair project, no to the sick child, no to the solo parenting weekend due to Kevin’s work, no to providing meals and clean clothes, no to walking the dogs, at least not all the time. And there are many things I don’t want to say no to, too. I want to see my kids play soccer and swim. I want to help them practice piano. I want to meet friends for lunch and early morning runs. I want to connect and be connected, and therefore I say yes.
Reading that article gave me a sense of panic, I suspect. Given all these things I can’t say no to, how can I possibly create? But I do! I do create. There is more than a smack of privilege to this whole “saying no” thing, an assumption that a creative person owes to his or her art an aloof and introverted life.
That actually doesn’t work very well for me.
That said … how different would my life look if I worked in a traditional full-time job, if my office were not in my home? What would I have the privilege of saying no to, under those circumstances? We might have a dishwasher that the kids could load and unload. Kevin might share sick kid duties. Our meals might be less from scratch, or more from the crockpot. Then again, I might not be able to meet friends for lunch quite so easily.
Kevin and I are thinking about these details quite a lot right now, imagining sharing the roles at home and at work more evenly, imagining our lives shifted slightly, again, to accommodate me stepping even more fully into work, and him stepping even more fully into home. I say yes a lot, but I’ll tell you, I would happily say no to the dishes.
woman watches spring
Writing a book can be a funny thing. Occasionally it feels like control has been unintentionally ceded to some other power: the original vision just doesn’t fit on the page. The character refuses to do what the writer has planned. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it can.
Writing a life, well, do we get to that? Do we get to write our own plotlines, choose who we will become? To some degree I strongly believe that the answer is yes. Right up until it seems to be out of our hands.
I’ve had a strange week. It’s been wild, it’s been wonderful.
What can I say? Well, not everything. Okay, frankly, not much. Hardly anything at all, in fact. And I apologize for being mysterious, and will let you know that the news that I cannot tell is good, and that it is writing-related.
You know that saying, It never rains but it pours?
soccer coach, in reflection
Throw into the mix: Kevin away in Winnipeg, a mysterious allergic reaction that sent me to the doctor, solo parenting on the weekend, having to coach our youngest’s soccer team, and several more soccer games including my own on Sunday evening, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s been … overwhelming.
Imagine me walking uptown on Saturday with my brood of children, running errands in the brilliant sunshine. I say, “Kids, I feel ten feet tall.” “But you’re short, Mom. We’re short people.” “I know. But I feel like I’m much taller than I actually am. I feel like I’m floating.”
I have spent more than twenty years aiming myself toward this moment. More than twenty years working to accumulate the knowledge and skill to write books that people will want to read. More than twenty years of tenacity and, let’s admit it, almost obsessive effort, even against self-doubt and the rejection that comes to every creative person who opens herself to the world. And here I am, more than twenty years on, dropped into the perfect moment in which the universe says: What you wanted? Here it is.
patterns of play
Last night I played with the boys. Not these boys, above, but with Kevin’s men’s soccer team. I scrimmaged with his team two weeks ago, and came home feeling too down on myself to try the following week. It wasn’t that I’d played badly. It was that I wasn’t comfortable with the dynamic of being the only girl. I felt like I had to prove myself. I’m a small woman. I’ve played soccer for less than a year. None of my shots on net went in. That’s what I kept telling myself, remembering all of the errors.
Kevin, being the awesome coach that he is, focused instead on all the things I’d done right. He was disappointed when I skipped.
So I came back to play again. I came back despite playing a game of unfulfilled potential on Sunday afternoon with my women’s team. I’ve learned how to get myself into good space, into the clear. I get lots of chances to run onto the net with the ball. And the damn ball just doesn’t go in. Albus tagged along to my Sunday afternoon game, and had a few tips afterward: “You need to learn how to shoot, Mom. You’re not doing it right. It sounds like you’re kicking it with your toe.” I also need to learn how to receive the ball in the air, and how to head the ball, and, oh, a few other things too. I was proud of my kid for being so knowledgeable — he’s playing rep soccer for the first time this season and he’s worked very hard to improve his skills, and I love that he knows what he’s talking about. But …
Me: “I’m going to need some positive feedback, too, lest my spirit be crushed.” Him: “Oh … yeah … um …” Long pause. Me: “Seriously? Nothing good?” Him: “I’m thinking. It’s hard! Oh, yeah, there was that time you ran really fast and kept the ball in. I thought it was going out.” Long pause. “Me: “That’s it?” Him: “Um … ”
My spirit was a wee bit crushed, my initial reaction being, Oh, God, I’m too old to improve. But then I thought, hey these are technical skills I’m lacking, and I’ve got the other stuff that belies my age, the speed, the strength, the grit. And there’s only one way to improve my technical skills, and that’s to keep practicing. Plus, it’s fun. I love playing.
So I laced up again last night, and went back to scrimmage with the boys. When I heard my inner voice saying, I’m not good enough to be here, I countered with, it’s up to me to decide whether or not I belong, whether or not I’m good enough. So I played like I belonged — or tried to. And I felt a subtle difference by the end of the game. Yes, I made lots of mistakes. But I also set up plays, used space well, challenged for the ball and won sometimes. I even used a couple of turns I’ve never tried before. The boys were passing me the ball. They knew my name. I got some high fives.
I grew up with three younger brothers. As a child, I always played with the boys, though it was usually baseball. My brother Christian taught me how to throw. Then, as now, I was quick and strong, small but wiry. I’ll admit that I often felt more comfortable playing with boys than girls, and it was hard, during my teen years, to understand that boys were no longer looking at me as being one of them, but as being different. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a girl: I just wanted to be a girl who knew a lot about sports (I learned by osmosis), who could play as hard as the boys. But somehow my sex got mixed up in it. My prettiness became a power I didn’t know how to manage. It made me feel vulnerable. Subject rather than participant. I stopped talking sports sometime in my early teens, stopped trying to perfect my overhand throw, stopped playing with the boys.
I haven’t played with them since. Until now. It makes me realize that I’ve kind of missed doing that. I think it’s a desire to transcend the assumptions that go along with my female body. It’s a desire to play, pure and simple, no matter who’s on the field.
all of these photos look even better viewed in full: click on them to see
I ran on Tuesday evening: 10 kilometres. I ran again on Wednesday morning with a friend: 8.8 kilometres. I ran again on Thursday evening, in a light rain: 10.5 kilometres. I ran again on Friday evening, in a wind that took the breath away, cursing with fury the weather: 7 kilometres. On that run, fist at sky, a grin broke across my face somewhere in the second kilometre. Running makes me happy, no matter how irritable my mood, no matter the weather. That’s when it came to me. I had run every day since the explosions at the Boston marathon. I hadn’t chosen to do it consciously.
I have six more kilometres to run, and then I will have completed the marathon distance, spread over six days rather than an afternoon.
It is Sunday afternoon. I have one more indoor soccer game today. I’d like to shut the computer down and run those last six kilometres, but I also want to take time to process photos and to write. I am trying to train myself to be disciplined with my time. On Friday, for example, I had an hour alone in my office, the kids being home on a PD day. I forced myself to turn the hour toward my new manuscript, a children’s novel.
Kevin is playing top forty dance music while he does the dishes.
I took my camera with me this morning when I drove to pick up AppleApple from her swim practice. It was my third trip out already this morning, and I thought, let’s document where I spend so much of my time: inside a vehicle, driving these familiar roads. Seen through the lens, the landscape looks bleak, somehow, empty, under construction. I like the resulting photos. Processing them, with Kevin’s music in the background, has given me a curiously crushing happiness this noon, a demolished happiness, like the happiness I associate with being young, with being alive to a potential and possibility not quite defined but present, a streak of light, a flare of anticipation, excitement mingled with melancholy, premature nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment already happening.
This is the mood I’m in when I want to play the piano and sing.
This is the mood I’m in when I want to write a new story.
Or create photographs. It’s a happy mood. It’s a split-the-world-open mood. It doesn’t happen every day. I am thankful.
P.S. Just ran those last six kilometres. With love to all the long distance runners out there.
This photo illustrates my feelings about our weekend. Life’s a whirl. The weekend was extended by the fake ice storm on Thursday (deemed a snow day, kids home), followed by the real ice storm on Friday (no electricity til bedtime, camping out our friends’ house). By that point, the laundry was already crawling up the basement stairs.
See, I took a picture.
The ice storm made the trees quite beautiful, but dangerous. A limb crashed down in our yard, and narrowly missed crushing the trampoline.
Despite an odd and dislocated day on Friday, I tried to stay focused on Saturday morning’s task. When I arrived home, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I was drained. The laundry was still crawling up the stairs. Kevin was working in Toronto. The sense of dislocation and uncertainty remained. I went out with friends after the kids were in bed, feeling like a shadow of myself. Also, I was wearing dog-hair-infested yoga pants and a hoodie because it took every ounce of energy just to get out the door, and I couldn’t work myself up into changing first. I knew I had before me another early morning, and long day.
But it would be a day spent with these people, so, really, I have no complaints. I took this photo on Thursday evening, pretty much convinced I was living my dream. Book-reading children on the couch snuggling with dogs, while the piano is being practiced. Plus the house looks really clean here. Oh, that’s right — I spent Thursday cleaning. Let’s just say it doesn’t look that clean anymore.
Kevin was working in Toronto again on Sunday. CJ had a swim lesson, bright and early. I felt comfortable leaving the older children on their own for the hour we were gone. I put on my running gear, and dashed around the park for 21 minutes, exactly, arriving back at the pool one minute late to pick up CJ. Almost perfect timing. Back home, had time to shower and gather up supplies, and we were off again. AppleApple had an afternoon swim meet in Etobicoke. The “little ones” were dropped at Grandma’s house, while the “big ones” came with me.
It was her first long-course meet. This is the warm-up session. Points for locating the blur in a green suit on the left-hand side of the photo. By the time she swam her first race, I’d been waiting in the stands for three hours. Along with this guy.
Oh boy, he’s really feeling that smile. He was briefly happy when I gave him some change and sent him off to find a vending machine. Kevin finished work early, and drove over to join us: the first meet he’s been able to attend. But neither of my companions showed great stamina for the proceedings, and left after watching her second race. Two more to go! It was sauna-sweaty in there. I tried to read my poetry book club’s next choice: Seal up the thunder, by Erin Noteboom. I tried to be patient, and to sit up straight on the backless benches. I tried to be supportive and encouraging when the races, with the exception of one, did not go as she’d hoped.
It was nearly 7:30 by the time we made it home. Kevin had supper waiting for us on the table: fresh take-out Middle Eastern fare.
The laundry was still crawling up the basement stairs. I set my alarm for my early Monday morning exercise class. And this morning, when the alarm went off, and I figured out what that terrible noise was and why it just wouldn’t stop, I got up and got on with the brand-new week.
I’ll admit that I’m feeling off-balance, a bit overwhelmed, out of sorts. In between. Waiting. Struggling to be patient on a variety of fronts. I hope to have news to share, by early May, perhaps, and I hope it will be good. (And here’s an update I should have done ages ago: the bad news always less pleasing to pass along than the good. For those still wondering, no, my friend Tricia and I will not be contestants on The Amazing Race Canada. We did, however, go out for a drink to celebrate our effort. Efforts should always be marked, no matter the outcome!)
Meantime, there is no way to plan toward a particular direction without knowing what that direction will be. Betwixt and between. Betwixt and between.
Party planning, by Kevin. We never got to the “tats or stickers.”
We asked everyone to draw a picture of CJ.
Fooey drew a mermaid instead.
Worms in mud. Our nod to holding the party on April Fool’s Day.
Deconstructing worms in mud.
CJ’s theme was “Indoor/Outdoor,” which he never fully explained, although we did end the party outside, in the cold, with children jumping on the trampoline. We decided to riff on a number of seasonal themes, including the one that we’re all waiting to have arrive: spring! Kevin collected and painted rocks white, so the kids could decorate them. We then had the kids choose flower bulbs from a paper bag to take home and plant — that counted for both April Fool’s (onions?!) and spring. The painted rock can mark the planting spot. And we held an Easter egg hunt, because it was Easter Monday, and because we find, at parties, that kids love looking for things. We also squeezed everyone into my office and I read them stories, a low-key entertainment method we’ve used at many a party.
Birthday parties are very hands-on and structured for this age, but this passes quickly. So we’re enjoying it while it lasts.
This kid, whose birthday comes next, and who is seen here recording the birthday proceedings, is at a different stage now: basically we could order pizza, stock up on junk food, and let him stay up late with friends, with as little supervision as we could stand, and that would pretty much cover it.
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