I’m in Vancouver.
The Weather Network tells me it’s 14 degrees, feels like 13, with 20-30 mm of rain expected to begin at 5:50PM, which coincidentally is around the time I’ll be taxiing to tonight’s event, a fundraiser at Vancouver House with Joseph Boyden.
Today may go down in my memory as one of the more surreal; if, that is, I can remember any of it. I’ve been having trouble sleeping on this trip. It was well after 1AM when my body finally shut down, and my alarm went off at 4:15AM. I roused myself, finished stuffing things into my bag (didn’t think it was all going to fit for a moment there), and caught a shuttle from the Banff Centre to the Calgary airport. It was too dark to say a proper goodbye to the mountains.
I slept on the shuttle, like someone who had been drugged rather than like a normal dozing human being. Off the shuttle, I felt delusional from exhaustion, wandering the airport, trying to behave like a responsible adult who understood self-check-in machines and how to attach luggage stickers and where to stand in line. I was randomly selected for the full-body pat-down, which, frankly, bothered me not at all. On the plane I slept that drugged sleep again, surfacing to see on the TV screen in the seat-back next to mine, live footage from Ottawa, where shots had been fired inside the Parliament buildings. A reservist killed at the war memorial for the unknown soldier. A gunman killed too. Baffled Canadians taking cellphone footage. Streets shut down.
There is nothing to be said about this that I feel qualified to say.
I can’t really connect with my emotions on the subject. It sounds trite to express sadness. But I am sad.
When we landed in Vancouver, I realized it was only 9AM here. The hotel generously found me a room. I slept the drugged sleep, roused myself, ate a burger for lunch and watched soccer in a sports bar. I texted with my family while eating, which made me feel less lonely. And then I went for a run on the seawall. Running is hard, it’s always hard, but it works. I feel better.
Kevin is sending me texts and photos from home: right now, my kids are playing music together in our living-room. My brother Karl is recording them. CJ is singing into a mic. The girls are playing ukuleles. And Albus is tapping out chords on the piano. It’s like my dream family come to life. Only I wish I were there to see it.
But I have seen Karl Ove Knausgaard–twice. First when checking in, and then when getting off the elevator in my running gear. Neither time did I fangirl him. It took some restraint.
I feel like I’ve been awake for days.
I need a short nap before putting my Little Black Dress and heading out to a party. Nothing about this day feels concrete, feels like I can dig my fingers into it and find the pulse. I’m oddly removed. I was running on the seawall an hour ago. I flew over the mountains this morning. I’m here now. I’m here, now.
PS This is the photo Kevin sent me of the kids, playing music together. Sorry. It’s very very tiny. It seems fitting: this is as close as I can get. Home feels far away, right now.
After this morning’s run (-24 with the windchill, again!), I felt inspired to post photos comparing the weather today, March 6th, 2014, to the March 6ths of previous years. Easier said than done. I’ve just been scanning through the past few Marches, as recorded on my blog, and it would appear that in those years when it was simply grey and dreary and melty, I didn’t take a lot of seasonal outdoor photos.
March 4, 2012
Here’s one. Looks like there was still some snow two years ago at the same time, though not nearly in our current volume. Photos from later that month show the lilacs starting to bud, and lettuce and chives coming up in the back garden beds, but that hasn’t been the March-norm, according to my blog. It was odd enough to remark on.
not all photos are flattering
This is me, this morning. I have a moustache! And a beard, kind of. This photo was taken around 6:45AM. The light was beautiful. The cold was not. My toes were frozen.
I have a sick child home again today. Not the same sick child, either. We’ve cycled through sick children this past week, with the three eldest taking their turn. March break begins tomorrow. I shake my head. This winter.
AppleApple finished Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story before I did. It was a very readable book, we agreed, although odd to be reading in book-form such recent news events; and of course the story remains unfinished.
I’ve been thinking about tyrants and celebrities. Larger than life. That seems to be how we want our leaders. That’s why the most impossible-seeming characters wind up in power, despite being bumbling fools or ruthless autocrats or outright sociopaths. The gods and goddesses had outsized appetites and were obviously flawed, too, but we never said we wanted perfection, we the people. We are awed by enormity, by behaviour on a scale we can’t imagine of ourselves, whether it be idiocy or tyranny.
Vladimir Putin is larger than life. He may appear bizarre to the Western eye, posing shirtless while conquering a variety of wildlife, but he knows what he’s doing: he’s creating a potent myth of himself. What an oddly self-inflated little man, we might think, while he smiles like the Mona Lisa and crushes his opposition. And on a scale of far less global importance, Rob Ford is also larger than life. His appetites are renowned, his body enormous, his inability to speak the truth unstoppable, his buffoonery legendary. When we laugh at him, we forget that he still has power. In some ways, it’s an odd trick common to many a corrupt leader: their pretensions are so absurd, we can’t believe anyone’s taking them seriously.
We should. We take them as seriously as they take themselves, or else we’re the fools.
Cold rain run this morning. Yoga stretching to kundalini playlist before that. Soon after, a quick shower. Picking up two swim kids from the pool, eating bananas. Eating eggs on toast. Braiding the hair of two red-headed girls. Laundry. One minor meltdown (mine) on the subject of the constant stream of demands directed at MOM, when Dad is clearly standing right there, too. (Why? How is it possible that I am the recipient of all grievances, from the much-loathed raincoat that has yet to be replaced, to the injured knee, to the pangs of hunger, to the lack of desirable snacks? I suppose I should counter that by noting that I am also the recipient of news, ideas, stories, and proud dictee results. Where was I?) Driving costumed children to school to avoid the rain. Stopping to get a coffee and croissant at our local French bakery. Falling into a coma of a nap. Wondering why I’m so tired.
Rain on Halloween, for trick-or-treating. Plus high winds, apparently, yet to come.
But we’re ready. The pumpkins have been carved. Kevin even got out the drill, which all the kids heard from their beds last night. “Oh, that’s what you were doing!” I saw the trick somewhere online. It does result in a really pretty lantern-like effect. I affect an effect. That’s what I say every time I try to remember whether it’s affect or effect.
Yeah, I’m tired.
I raced to my office last night to finish prepping for today’s class. I still haven’t found any scary stories to share. The problem is, mainly, that I don’t read scary stories. I hate being scared! So does CJ. When I returned home from campus last night, the pumpkins were being carved and he was watching a “Halloween playlist” on YouTube. Guess what happened the instant I walked in the door. He hopped off his stool and came running to me, his eyes popping out of his head: “There are dead people coming out of the ground!”
See what I mean: I’d only just got home. How long had the dead people been coming out of the ground, exactly? “What the hell is he watching?” Yes, this will be a little exercise in dialogue, just like I’m going to have my students do tonight.
“Dead people coming out of the ground!”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! You’re letting him watch this?”
How to convey silence within dialogue: The pumpkin continued to be carved.
“At first it was funny, it was my favourite song from Just Dance! But then dead people came out of the ground!” “You need to stop thinking about it.” Clutching my leg: “Dead people coming out of the ground.” “Think about something happy! Like Daddy getting to sleep in your bed tonight!” Actually, I didn’t say that. But I thought it.
And CJ slept fine, so he must have not been permanently scarred.
But he was back at my elbow when I was repairing his clown costume a little while later, so that he could go to school today as a line from his current favourite song, not featuring anyone coming out of the ground: Baby, be the class clown, I’ll be the beauty queen. “Mommy,” he whispered, pulling my arm as I stitched impatiently. “Dead people. Coming out of the ground.” “It is time to think about something else. Hey, Grandma’s coming over! She’s here!” “Can we play?” “You can play until I finish this. It should take about ten minutes.”
It took about half an hour. I’m bad at sewing. And apparently also at estimates.
Meanwhile, we put that half hour to further use and discovered a costume for our eldest, who was hesitating about even going trick-or-treating. I think twelve is too young to quit the candy game. You’ll be forced out in a few years anyway. Enjoy it while you can! You’re only young once! Etc. “But I can’t think of anything. And it’s going to rain anyway.” (He was right about the latter, as it turns out, if not the former.) We brainstormed possibilities. He’d just been given a hand-me-down dress shirt and tie. Stuff it with a pillow? Rob Ford? But AppleApple had a slicker, higher-concept idea: “Nigel Wright!”
She even fashioned her brother a special prop, of her own design. I won’t get into it if you’re not a fan of obscure Canadian politics, but I think a few parents might appreciate the costume when he arrives on their doorstep, with Monopoly money spilling out of his pockets, and the over-sized cheque. Kevin and I have a new inside joke; when discovering ourselves in trouble of any kind, we just ask: “What Would Duffy Do?”
But better to ask, at this point in the sluggish grey day, larded with high-level obscure Canadian political gossip, for which I seem to have a boundless appetite: What Would Carrie Do?
Carrie had better turn off the internet, finish her class prep, make an early supper, and keep working on the intro for the panel discussion at next Saturday’s Wild Writers Festival, which deserves a more comprehensive plug, don’t you think? Here’s my attempt:
Writers and readers in Waterloo, the Wild Writers Festival is coming to town next weekend (Nov. 8-10), and promises to be a rollicking and inspiring event. Many events are free, and intensive workshops with amazing writers are $20/each. The festival is in its second year, and if its first was anything to go by, this one will be warm, welcoming, thought-provoking, and unique. I’ll be there, soaking it all up (and leading a panel discussion (free!) that includes the fabulous Elisabeth de Mariaffi, coming all the way from Newfoundland!). Please pass on the word, and come if you can.
Tickets here, and registration for the free events, too.
1. Children washing dishes. This will look like bragging, but trust me, it happens far too rarely for the parents to claim superior parenting skills. Basically, the dish-washing child was inspired by the promise of a “reward” after all the evening chores were done — watching old family movies together. I had laundry to fold, Kevin was making school lunches, so Fooey decided, all on her own, to speed up the chore process by doing the dishes. Actually, neither Kevin nor I thought she could do them quite so thoroughly, but she did. She washed all the dishes. And her brother was inspired to “towel,” as he put it. We should put this knowledge to use, and we may, if the schedule becomes as insanely busy as it promises to be next fall, but for now, I prefer just to enjoy the moment for what it was: kids working together toward a common cause, helpfully.
2. Spring! It’s coming. I know it. Evidence surrounded us yesterday evening as the little kids and I took the dogs for a walk to our tiny neighbourhood park. Along the way we met friends, and more friends, and even more friends, everyone feeling the call of the after-supper sunshine, despite the bitter wind and necessity for hats and mitts and coats. We spent an hour out and about, visiting, playing, and remembering what it feels like to emerge from hibernation and be in the beautiful melting world again. Yes, snow is forecast for today, but I can feel the spring. I can feel it!
3. Dogs. Dogs are awesome. Our dogs are especially awesome, because, well, they’re ours, I suppose. They’ve been part of our family for a little over six months, now, and we have watched them settle in to our lives and claim our house and yard as their own (we’ve got a winter’s worth of clean-up work to do out back, but that’s another story). Without the dogs to walk, I never would have left supper on the table and spent an hour outside yesterday evening — instead, I would have been cleaning up and prepping for tomorrow and herding children toward bed. But because the dogs needed walking, I set aside all of my perceived efficiencies and off we went on a discovery of spring and neighbours and fresh air. And you know what? The dishes still got done, the piano got practiced, snacktime was had, chapters were read before bed, and kids fell asleep. So it all worked out, with the added bonus that I was a happier woman for having gotten outside and socialized. So thank you, dogs.
4. Letter writing. An edited version of my letter, which I posted on the blog yesterday, appears in today’s Globe and Mail “letters to the editor” section. So it touched a nerve, and got through. I’m pleased. Now, when do I get my own column? After my (embarrassingly brief) retirement from blogging, two blog readers emailed suggesting I pitch myself as a columnist to a magazine or other news outlet. I can think of lots of obstacles in the way, one being that I would need a unique angle. Another obstacle is in my own head: it’s one thing to hold an opinion and quite another to state it out loud and take responsibility for the noise it creates. Disagreement, conflict, tension, debate. Would that be something I’d be open to? Am I less open to it because I am a woman? That bothers me, and I wonder. And now I’m off-topic.
5. Coffee in the morning. Tea in the afternoon. It’s the little things.
the view from my keyboard
Life is unsteady. It doesn’t hold still.
That’s why I get up early and hold to a practice.
I will have to find a way to do this no matter what comes, no matter how busy and disrupted my days. I need to run. Or swing weights. Or cycle. Or push myself physically in some way. My joy and my productivity is directly connected to my body. I can’t think myself content, but I sure as hell can feel it.
My thought today as I ran on the indoor track was that I was running myself into submission. But wait, I thought, I’m running myself free, not into submission. Because even on the indoor track, I could feel wind in my hair, and my heart beating, and my breath coming deep and fast and sure. And then I realized that it was my mind that needed to submit to my body, so that my body could experience freedom. The further I run, the faster I run. This is probably backward to most people’s experience of running (or maybe it’s not!?). I think it’s because it takes time for my mind to empty and hush and stop doubting or worrying. And then comes focus and clarity of effort.
Do you remember the REM song, “Losing My Religion”? A tiny snippet from that song is stuck in my head.
“Life is bigger …”
I keep hearing it. I pay attention when a song lyric is stuck in my head, because it often tells me where I’m at. (Except for when it’s telling me that in spin class this morning the instructor played “Hangover” by Taio Cruz and, no, I don’t have a hangover, and if I did, I wouldn’t have been in spin class, Taio!)
Life is bigger. It fits where I’m at. It means, for me, this constant effort to make space for more. More emotion, more spirit, more connections, more newness, while also opening myself and my imagination to the possibilities of what I can learn and make and do. It can feel disorienting to ask others to give you the chance to try the things you want to try, and to step toward the things you want to do, but aren’t yet expert in. It’s like being asked to play a new position on the soccer field. It’s like learning how to swim as an adult. If you believe you can, you will trust your ability to build on everything you’ve experienced that’s brought you to this point, and you will simply and willingly do your best.
You won’t be the best goalie. And you won’t be the best swimmer. At least not immediately. But you’ll be on the field, or in the water, and that is the only way to learn.
Life is bigger.
Finally, this. I’m an inveterate writer of letters (not unlike Juliet, who writes to Ronald Reagan in one of my favourite stories in The Juliet Stories). Here is the letter I felt inspired to write and send today, to the editors of The Globe and Mail newspaper, who somehow managed not to highlight on the front page the most inspiring news story I’ve heard in a long time (note: they did print a story and photo several pages into the front page section.)
To the editors,
The Globe and Mail newspaper’s front page editors would like to show me that Tiger Woods, who cheated famously and serially on his former wife, and who is not a Canadian citizen at least to my knowledge, is back on top again. Oh, and that the Prime Minister of Canada met with what looks like a Fed Ex-ed panda yesterday.
Meanwhile, a group of young people from Northern Quebec completed an epic 1,500 km walk during which they hiked and snowshoed and camped through weather more extreme than most Canadians have ever experienced, ending their journey yesterday in Ottawa, at Parliament Hill, in hopes that their efforts might bring attention to the needs of their communities.
But, you know, I can totally see how Tiger Woods and pandas would make a better illustration to sum up yesterday’s news. Especially when Canadians are so bombarded with positive images and stories of native youth. And besides, such a photo on the front page of a national newspaper might remind us of our collective agreements and responsibilities toward all the people who live in Canada, including those who were here first, and put us off at breakfast, and make us feel guilty. And that would be sad for Globe and Mail readers.
Or maybe we would have felt inspired, who knows. Maybe you should try a whole lot harder, dig a whole lot deeper, and show us what really matters to Canadians.
Yours, Carrie Snyder
Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time helping two little guys launch a squeaking balloon down the staircase, with the happy effect that it squealed overhead and repeatedly smacked its little balloon head against the wall or ceiling before deflating and twisting earthward.
It would be pleasant to turn this into a metaphor, but I’m struggling.
There, no metaphor needed. I’m struggling. That’s it, plain and simple. I hesitate to spit it into word form, especially on a public forum, but there it is. A blog is a troublesome creation: it’s very much in the moment, and therefore can magnify the smallest ups and downs in a person’s life, and this here is a down. Right now I’m happy when I’m running, and that’s about it. But get that right now really is right now.
Suffice it to say that I’m tired after a second night up with a sick child. I’m irritable after another day home with my children, who are on holiday, but who can’t leave the house or have play dates due to the aforementioned sickness. It occurred to me today that the only thing a person can really accomplish while home with four children is cooking and housework — plus the vacuuming covered the noise of the periodic tantrums and steady stream of complaints. So the house is pretty clean. Which is something. But it’s not enough.
I would like to reflect on my impatient response to International Women’s Day, a day I usually respond to with honour and interest, solemnity, even pride. But this year, on this International Women’s day, all that welled in me was intense frustration. And I think my response is the key to unlocking exactly where I’m at right now, and why I’m struggling.
My expectations do not seem to be in line with reality.
I expect that girls and women will be treated as individuals, with the same opportunities as boys and men to pursue lives that are interesting and fulfilling. Every time I read another story about a horror perpetrated on a woman — because she’s a woman — my response is THIS CANNOT BE! Every time I read another statistic coldly demonstrating women’s under-representation in, well, you-name-it, most anything that has to do with power or cultural critique or leadership my response is HOW CAN THIS STILL BE? Every time I read some trumped up story on “The Mommy Wars,” or “Stay-at-Home Mothers v. Working Mothers,” or even hear myself referred to as “a full-time mother,” (what, exactly, is a part-time mother?), I want to shrug it off as mere noise, but instead I feel something akin to disbelief: WHY?
A few more WHYs.
WHY would any family rationally choose to have more than one or two children, understanding that childcare, particularly during the early years, will either cost one parent his or her career, or two working parents the better part of a decent salary? Let’s ask the politicians who a) have no interest in funding childcare and b) want Canadian families to produce more children FOR THE ECONOMY. (Surprise! They tend to be the same ones.)
WHY is Canada’s major news magazine running a photo, this week, of a woman shaving her face under the headline “Man Up,” suggesting that women should be more like men if they want to succeed in the workplace? WHY are we always being told to be someone we’re not? Which reminds me: WHY is success in the workplace our main measure of success? Further to that, WHY are good and moral choices so often couched in economic terms, as if that’s the only language that matters, the only real currency? I heard a news report, happened to be on International Women’s Day, in which an economist (who was a woman) explained that educating girls and women is a sure-fire way to increase the economic well-being of communities and nations. So let’s do it, people. Let’s do it FOR THE ECONOMY.
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