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.
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.
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.
I’m suspicious of leisure, but why? If it’s too easy, if I’m enjoying myself too much, if there is too much time in the day for sitting and sipping coffee, I feel uncomfortable. What should I be doing? (There is always more to do, and perhaps my anxiety arises from the fact that often the reason I’m relaxing and sitting is because a) I’ve forgotten about something I’m supposed to be doing or b) am ignoring things that need doing.)
I could fight this character trait, or I could give in to it. Generally, I give in because I feel better about myself. Somehow, all of this doing gives me a sense of purpose and progress, or even just basic maintenance. Which could be utterly false, even self-deluding, and I get that. I get it, but, still, I crave the sense of purpose and progress.
Today I am thinking about photography. On the weekend I read Ian Brown’s essay on being a judge for a photography contest in which no prize was awarded — none could be, because none of the hundreds of photo essays submitted met the criteria of not just being aesthetically appealing, but also narratively significant. In other words, none of the photo essays needed to be, in the judges estimation; their beauty was superficial because it did not matter, as nothing was at stake.
Brown wondered whether with our excessive photo-taking and recording of our lunches and pets and children’s every move, we’re losing the ability to recognize, tell, and maybe even to look for the deeper stories, the essential and underlying and specific stories that make us look and think and stop, rather than entertain us. I feel myself guilty of exactly this: pulling out my camera to capture “a moment.” Am I looking for a story? Or have I already decided what the story is simply by pulling out my camera to snap the photo? What’s the difference? In the latter scenario, I’m thinking of my photos as illustrations. X marks the spot. We were here. I was here. I’ll admit that I find poignance in snapshot, but I’m kind of nostalgic, I guess. I’m hyper-aware of the passage of time, and of change.
The former scenario, is, however, more interesting and more challenging and more difficult. Looking for the story means admitting from the get-go that I don’t know the story. That the story might only become apparent through work and time and effort, that it isn’t immediately available, even if the technology is instant.
When I took the pool photos on Saturday afternoon, I pulled out my camera because I noticed the way the light was hitting the water. That was what I wanted to capture, as much as the event itself, and then I saw through the zoom my daughter waiting for her race, drawn into herself, looking solitary and private even while surrounded by crowds of others. There was a story waiting to be told. The picnic photos, on the other hand, are merely decorative, illustrative: I wanted to note what we were up to. The noting was almost as important as the doing, maybe. I carried my camera out along with the dishes and food. I sense that there is a difference between motivations.
The year that I spent taking a self-portrait every day, I began to get bored of my own face and of our house and yard. Toward the end of that year, I found myself experimenting with composition, trying to tell stories that weren’t my own, that were projections (see above). The limitations forced me to become more creative. Every day, I struggled to choose just one photo. But the whole project was stronger because of it. I believe in limitations, in art and in life. Boundaries, strictures, rules, natural or artificial, make us work, make us choose, make us care.
This week, Brown’s article has me stopping myself from automatically picking up the camera. Asking, is this necessary? Or does it just add to the noise? (Hence, the recycled photos in this post …)
Maybe I photograph the moment because I’m caught up in wanting to do, do, do. Or maybe, sometimes, if I am to be honest, to distract me from what I’m stuck doing. Maybe it makes me feel less anxious about all I don’t understand. Maybe I photograph the moment because I am terminally nostalgic. Maybe because a photograph seems to make living itself more real, by committing it to images that give the illusion of permanence. And maybe, too, I’m looking for the larger narrative. I’m hopeful. I think I’ll find the story here, and that it will make sense. Maybe that’s what we’re all doing as we snap away with our digital cameras, creating too much, not knowing what to do with what we’ve made, nor how to keep it once we’ve got it.
Maybe the story comes in the curation afterward. The cull. The work. And also the pause, the stop, the stillness. That could make all the difference. I suppose it does.
One more thing: the photos I like best are the ones that are a bit askew, the mouth open or the eyes closed — something is not quite right, not quite perfect, and that makes it interesting.
This morning I got on my bike and went to the “county” track meet (ie. a bunch of schools competing, including both of my two older children’s).
The 800 metre start, girls, ages 9-12.
She ran most of the race in lane two. Oops. “Did you know it’s shorter if you run on the inside lane?” “What? Really?!” A real-life math problem.
A hard-run race. I think she was a little disappointed with her end result, but every race is a learning experience. And she ran her heart out! Proud mama.
Tug-of-war. Not so many photos of this child. I was picking up a please-don’t-embarrass-me-mom vibe. Which I get. I’m so sympathetic and can totally feel it, too. Of course I’m going to say something dorky in front of his friends! I remember this age so clearly myself and instinctively want to give him space. Then I wonder: am I giving him too much space and he won’t know that I care? You know?
Then I got on my bike and went to the kindergarten picnic.
We shared our sandwiches (his idea).
The kids performed songs. When it was time to say goodbye, I got so many kisses, so many hugs; it was hard parting. Such a different stage.
And I got on my bike and went back to the track. (My ankle doesn’t hurt on my bike. Yay! Plus I’d forgotten how fun it is to cycle around the city.) Kevin had arrived in my absence, live-texting me results of events I was missing. We both got to watch the relays.
Then I got on my bike and went home.
Found, yesterday, amongst the masses of work brought home from school.
“Who? Carrie Snyder: Author of the GG nominated Juliet Stories and, my mom.
“What? I can learn alot from mom including work hard and you can acheive anything, follow your dreams, or whims depending on which you have. Nothing is really that impossible if you really want it. And are willing to pour your life into it.
“Where/when? At the book launch in 2012, when the story became a book.
“Why? Writing a book with four kids is not easy. The Juliet Stories took seven years to write. It takes an amazing woman with great patience to do that. She sets goals and acheives them. Aside from that she is a very happy person with a big family and a big heart. She is also a runner and marathonist and triathlete. If you don’t think she is successful, I would like to hear what is.”
I don’t know what life is all about, except that it’s for living. Yesterday was a down day. The puffy ankle wasn’t helping. I was feeling pessimistic. I was remembering that the nature of being a writer is being dissatisfied. That’s what gives you the push to keep creating. It’s a sense of needing to do more. I was remembering that I write out of a painful mixture of confidence and doubt, and that it never seems to become easy (not the writing itself, which is frequently joyful, but everything surrounding it). And then I found this. My child was mirroring back to me things I couldn’t see or appreciate for myself. I hope to mirror to my children the same: love and belief and admiration.
We’ve entered end-of-school-year madness. I added to the madness by turning my ankle in Sunday evening’s soccer game, which we won short-handed, and so it was worth it. Right? Priorities, Carrie, priorities. I actually heard my ankle make a snapping sound as I landed on the grass, and so did the woman with whom I’d collided, and she looked at me, lying in the grass, and said, “Um, are you okay?” and I said, “Yeah, I don’t know.” In fact, it didn’t hurt, and still doesn’t, just feels stiff and is swollen. I’m taking a few days off to see how it heals, but so far my body seems to know what it’s doing. I’m icing it, resting it, and I promise not to play on it until it’s healed. Promise. Okay? Because I’d like to play all summer, please.
Yesterday morning, bum ankle and all, I headed off to Toronto to meet with a new editor. We got to work in a pleasant coffee shop and ran all the way through my new novel. I’ve now got tentative deadlines toward which to work on both of my new book projects. Woot, woot! The first of the picture book revisions are due at the end of this week (this will go back and forth a few more times: a couple hundred words is harder to perfect than you might think), and I’ll be revising the novel over the summer. My older kids have been officially hired to babysit their younger siblings, for a fair whack of cash, and both are treating the project with respect. Hopes are high, all around.
Now I’m between appointments: allergist this morning with my asthmatic athlete, and grade six graduation ceremony in a few minutes, for which I volunteered to stay afterward and clean up (why???). And then I’m praying for a few hours in which to work. Please.
I love to sit and work. And be quiet.
I must add a P.S.
No one told me to bring tissues to the graduation ceremony. I mean, it’s just grade six, right? Sure, he’s going to a new school next year, and he’s been here for EIGHT YEARS, and oh, wait, this is a big deal. One of the teachers put together a video that had me wiping away tears from the get-go. The grade six graduates were shown in side by side photos, as kindergartners, and as they are now, young people on the cusp of teenage-hood. Something about witnessing their changes turned me wobbly inside, and it wasn’t even about looking at my own kid, or at kids I’ve known all these years — it was all of them, all of these precious lives blooming in what seems like fast-forward. We don’t get to stay the same. We don’t get to keep these kids, either. How caught we are in time.
We’ve been off this weekend. Both kids played in soccer tournaments. I’ve still got my own game to come this evening. I’m a bit soccered out, truth be told, so let’s see if my enthusiasm holds over for a few more hours, in what looks like it might be rain.
I was thinking today that soccer tournaments had become part of my interior landscape: the jam-packed parking, the noise, the music, the sight of game upon game, the whistles, the cheers and cries, and the bright team colours. I saw my kids come out to play. They didn’t come to watch, they came to engage, and that was a joy to witness.
Unfortunately, I forgot to pull out the little camera after the opening moments of the first game. And my real camera’s memory card is broken, so I lost the other photos from the past week (some fun ones of the kids making boats for a bathtub race, and of CJ showing me his new tricks on the parallel bars: all gone.)
This coming week is so jam-packed that you may suspect I’ve decided never to blog again, again. It’s the last week for nursery school, I’m heading to Toronto to meet with an editor, we’ve got soccer games galore, swimming, there’s a county track meet, a kindergarten picnic, several appointments at the allergist, and that only takes us to Thursday. So …
Here is Fooey’s photo of her giant Duplo tower, right before I made her take it down. You’ll note that I was on a mission to clear the living-room and vacuum up the dog hair — someone is shedding right now. The mission was sparked by another mission to find a lost library book. I turned the house upside down searching, finally admitted defeat and stopped in at the library on my way between running children to picnics and soccer games and back again that evening. I spent about fifteen minutes searching the library’s shelves — and lo and behold, there was the lost book! That was my entire Thursday in a nutshell: minor complications solved with some effort and irritation on my part.
It’s nice to have something every day to look forward to, amidst the busyness. I often find many somethings, the moments when I’m relaxed into the scene at hand (say, lunch!), aware that more needs to be done, but not going there yet. I try not to go anywhere until I need to, literally or figuratively. I think that’s why all of this busyness never feels like too much.
the house next door
“Mom, you have to come and take a picture!”
“No, really, Carrie, you should come right now!”
“Maybe you can write a blog post that says ‘Look, we have new neighbours!'”
look, we have new neighbours
The house next door. What can I say? If you live in our neighbourhood, you have probably expressed curiosity about it at one time or another. If your curiosity got the better of you, you might even have called to ask me if the house next door is for sale (this happens), or knocked on my door sheepishly, as if you might be the first person ever to think of doing it: “Sorry, I know this is weird, but I walk by here every day and I’m just wondering ….”
It has been exactly a decade since we bought our house and moved in. The mysterious house next door has been unoccupied for at least that long. It is a beautiful structure — good bones — and the property is maintained, but it is empty. Except for the wildlife. Living next door to a beautiful empty house is a worry, of course, for a number of reasons, and I keep a sharp eye on the place.
To lighten the worry, a few years back, I began riffing with the kids about the animal families who live next door. We didn’t make up whole stories, but it was funny to think about the characters who might populate stories in the house next door. Our neighbours, so to speak.
This is the first I’ve actually gotten photos.
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