balloon-dog, by AppleApple*
*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product.
Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.
First game: I learned to touch the ball.
Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.
Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.
Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.
Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.
Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?
While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.
Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.
When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”
Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.
My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?
One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.
I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.
It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)
And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.
photo shoot out-take
I’ve been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week’s assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.
A new and exciting development is that I’ve also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.
Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.
I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes — food for an imaginary Canada Day party. “I love my job,” I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a “party,” arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).
“Even fake smiles look real in photos,” I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.
It was a crazy fun afternoon.
I’ve made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women’s magazines has finally paid off. “Service-oriented copy,” as it’s known, simply flows from my fingertips.
Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I’d photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can’t do my long run this weekend — too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital — which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).
Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.
On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I’m keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?
As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family’s income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?
stop and drink the nectar
The morning is fleeing! I’m running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.
This afternoon, I’m hosting my literary friend Heather Birrell, with whom I will be reading tonight at The Starlight here in Waterloo. She’s been forewarned about the fact that somehow we’ve neglected to vacuum for, like, weeks, and that there are toys and papers and dishes and stuff on pretty much every horizontal surface, floors included, and she assures me that she’ll feel right at home amidst the chaos. Well, she’s got two young daughters. And a brand-new book. I think we’re good.
I want to tell you about her book. It’s called Mad Hope, and the title comes from a line in a pitch-perfect story, “Geraldine and Jerome,” which is set in the waiting room of a medical clinic and links up two unlikely-to-otherwise-meet-and-interact-characters. I happened to read it in the waiting room of a medical clinic (don’t worry, I’m fine). Be warned, if you’re planning to pick up this book and read it in public places: these stories will make you cry. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’m thrilled to say that Heather invited me to be an early reader of these stories, so I know exactly how damn good they are. And the book has been getting rave reviews all over the place. I’m going to get Heather to sign my copy today. You can too, if you happen to be in Waterloo and come out to the Starlight tonight; or in Toronto tomorrow, where we’ll be reading together again at Type Books.
And to add book news upon book news, my many-moons-ago boss, Noah Richler, has a new book out this spring too. It’s called What we talk about when we talk about war, and it’s about how our current government has been steadily distancing our country from its tradition of peacekeeping, preferring the warring nation metaphors instead. Noah will be in Waterloo on May 30th at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. That just happens to be a free evening for me (!!), and I’m looking forward to hearing Noah speak. Join me? I’ll post more details closer to the date.
One last thing. Noah’s written a really lovely mini-review of The Juliet Stories, published on the 49th Shelf. In it, he talks about hiring me as an intern at the National Post, and his description of who I was then gave me a really lovely “how others see us” moment. Because who knows how others see us? (What I perpetually fear is that maybe I’d rather not know … it’s a personal hang-up. I need to get over that.)
The girls made cupcakes.
We used my Grandma’s mixmaster.
This was the hardest part …
… filling the cupcake papers as evenly as possible.
Waiting for the buzzer.
No photos of the decorating and sprinkle and icing-sugar frenzy that followed. And actually, I lied. The hardest part was getting the two girls to agree on a baking project they could do together. I did not chronicle the frustration, the multiple cookbooks consulted, the wishing we had special ingredients, the frustration, the accusations, the tears, or the way we’d almost given up on the idea when suddenly I came across a cake mix in the cupboard. Yes, these are cupcakes made from a mix. But who cares. We did it. They did it. And that made my heart glad.
Playing wii at Grandma’s.
My heart got even gladder when I dropped the kids off at Grandma’s house for an overnight extravaganza. Unexpectedly, plans shifted, and I suddenly had 21 consecutive hours completely to myself with nothing particular to do. Nowhere particular to be. No one else’s interests or needs to consider. Can you imagine? What would you do?
Here’s what I did.
I went to yoga and laid in shavasana for as long as I wanted. I took food to some sick friends. I ran in the park. I played the piano and sang. I went out for sushi and to a silly movie with a friend. I invited my siblings over for a drink on a whim (an after-midnight whim, no less). I slept in. And then I got up and behaved responsibly and cleaned up the sprinkle/icing-sugar frenzy, vacuumed, washed dishes, and listened to the radio without interruption, enjoying particularly the conversation on The Sunday Edition about the Canadian publishing industry. And then time was up. And that was just fine. Because I felt so much better.
On Wednesday I took the train to Toronto. Not this train, mind you. This one just happened to be particularly photogenic.
Riding the train is genuinely more glamourous than riding the bus (not that the bus sets the bar very high). I didn’t even get sick (which usually happens to me on the bus). I read through the story I planned to read that evening. Tweaked my intro. Took some photos. Wondered where that road might lead. Napped.
My first destination was lunch with blogging friends, two of whom I’d never met in person (though it seemed like we already knew each other), and one who was a friend from grad school — we hadn’t seen each other in a decade. It amazed me how very much she was the same. And I remembered all the reasons I admired her — and that she was so much fun to be around. (Click on the photo above to get the full picture on Flickr; my importing system crops part of the right side out. And it’s such an awesome capture.)
Parenting tip: always bring a children’s illustrator along when you’re entertaining a child at a lunch that is mostly for adults. (Admittedly not usually an option. Not unless your group of friends happens to include a children’s illustrator.) Oh, and these women also all belong to the same book club, which sounds like it might rival my own poetry club for intense conversation (they’re called the Vicious Circle, which makes the writer in me quiver with fear and the reader in me quiver with excitement). I could have stayed at this lunch for many hours more. The fries weren’t half-bad either. I’m already plotting to go back to Toronto next month, whether or not any offical events get organized. Can I invite myself back? Please?
After lunch I walked south toward my publisher’s office, and met a friend at a park nearby. Also from grad school, whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. Her youngest played in the sand while we caught up. No photos. I was slightly cursing the weight of the camera at this point in the adventure.
But I was glad I’d brought it when I met my sister in a coffee shop nearby. The light was beautiful. And isn’t she too? It had been years since we’d spent a leisurely afternoon together like that. See, I’ve got to come back!
At this point, I let the wind blow me to the Anansi offices where I freshened up, and signed books. I saw Sheila Heti coming in, and should have introduced myself (celebrity sighting number one). Kevin texted to say he was nearly there. I left in a hurry and we drove down to Harbourfront together. I changed in the back of the truck in the parking garage. Told you, nothing but glamour. And I applied makeup in a mall bathroom. And then we went to dinner.
There are no photos for awhile. Which I truly regret, because the setting for dinner was nothing if not a photographic opportunity. We sat around a circular table with a mirrored wall on one side and a window on the other, overlooking the water. The sun set while we dined. The sky changed colour. It had been a weirdly warm and windy day, singing of spring. I wish I’d had the audacity to request a photo, though it would have interrupted dinner. I couldn’t quite do it. I’m not a photographer, after all, not really.
After supper, we read. I must say that the view from behind the podium at Harbourfront is soothing and quite beautiful. The room is set up with tables, each with a little candle flickering on it, and that is all the reader can see — these dots of floating light in the darkness. The audience, on the other hand, is looking at a very well-lit reader. And the podium is see-through. So I was glad I’d worn my red shoes, though I did rather wish I could have waved a wand when the show was over and turned them into my comfy old boots.
After reading, we signed books and chatted. And then it all cleared out and got very quiet, and Kevin and I left with an old friend from university (I met her even before grad school). We went for a drink at a fake British pub. Relaxing, still floating on a few bubbles of glamour, laughing, rolling over the day, talking about babies (she has a four-month-old). It was a grand end to the evening. (Again, click on the photo for the full effect.)
And then a funny thing happened. An entire pipe band set up outside the front door of the pub. In full regalia. With drums and everything. And then another funny thing happened. We were berated by a passing gentleman (was he wearing a kilt? I think so) who told us we should be ashamed of ourselves not to be out there listening to the pipes. Apparently he was none other than Glenn Healey, former goaltender and now sports commentator. Celebrity sighting number two. Mr. Healey didn’t realize he’d just had his own celebrity sighting. OMG is that Obscure CanLit Mama? Drinking a pint? In her red shoes? Heh. I’m joking. No seriously, I am joking.
We took in the pipes. And then we went home.
Thanks to Nancy, my official photographer, for capturing the many-layered evening with her lens. Read all about the party, here.