Today’s post is an unusual one, for me. While this is a literary blog, of sorts, I write it as a writer going about her daily life, not as a reviewer or critic. This means I don’t review books on my blog, don’t take part in blog tours, nor do I accept review copies. Which makes today’s post an odd fit — I was asked to be part of a blog tour for Michelle Berry’s brand new novel, Interference, and I said yes.
I said yes because I really loved Michelle’s book. In fact, I blurbed for it. That’s my endorsement, or part of it, on the book cover above. Here’s what I wrote, in full: “Michelle Berry’s Interference is an immaculately constructed page-turner that is also, miraculously, a redemptive meditation on loneliness and community. Read it for the beautiful writing, the cast of unique characters, and for a certain tender brutality that infuses the telling — by turns moving, darkly funny, and ultimately warm and illuminating.”
So I said yes to Michelle’s blog tour … then wondered how to make this subject not feel shoehorned in to the larger purpose of the blog. And that’s when it came to me: soccer. (There’s no soccer in the book, I hasten to add; but my life contains up to 60% soccer some days, so it was a natural leap. Stay with me.)
Interference is a book with many threads pulled together around an unusual focal point: adult women, who don’t necessarily know each other very well, gathering weekly to compete in a team sport together — in this case recreational hockey. Until last summer’s concussion, this was me: an adult woman joining other women to compete in a team sport (see: soccer!). I miss playing soccer. This book made me miss it even more. So I decided to ask Michelle (whom I haven’t yet met in person) about her connection to sport. Here follows our somewhat abbreviated conversation, for the record.
〉 Me: What’s unique about the team experience that made you want to write about it? Were you part of sports teams when you were younger, or is it something you came to as an adult?
Michelle: Four years ago my friend signed me up for hockey. Our daughters had signed up together and, as my friend said, “If they can do it, we can too.” Neither of us had played before. I knew nothing. The hardest part was putting on the equipment. I really had to concentrate on the order in the first season — what goes on first. Several times I had my skates on before my pants and had to take them off again. But when I was finally bundled up in my equipment, when I had figured out my hockey skates, and when I went out onto the ice, it was life-altering. To be a woman covered in equipment (no jewelry, no makeup, no worry about clothing or hair — I was a giant, hulking body draped in ugly, smelly second-hand pads) was freeing. To be a woman in a competitive sport working together with other women as a team was freeing.
〉 Me: In my case, as an adult and a beginner, I came to a soccer team wanting to play soccer, without giving much consideration to the social aspects of being on a team — and quickly discovered that social dynamics play into how well a team works together. But it was also completely different from being part of a neighbourhood playgroup or book club, in terms of building relationships and friendships around a shared interest. I feel like your book captures the way that being on a team is a bonding experience that leaves a lot of room for privacy.
Michelle: Yes, being on a team works better than playdates and book clubs because it’s a group of people who probably have nothing else in common sharing one same goal. We are there to win (although my team never does and we don’t really care…. not really). And we aren’t there to form friendships and bonds and to make sure our kids play together nicely. We aren’t competing intellectually or emotionally. We are there to do a job. Play a sport. Although friendships and bonds do get formed in the change room, we tend to leave those friendships there. Book clubs, playgroups, those kinds of things, are more about trying to make connections intellectually and emotionally. Hockey is all physical — play well, even play not-well but try, and you belong.
〉 For more information about Michelle, or to purchase the book, click here to visit her publisher’s web site.
So, what do you think? Do you play a team sport, or did you once upon a time? Maybe someday, I keep telling myself. Maybe someday, I’ll play on a team again. Because as much as I love running and spinning and yoga and kettle bells, I’ve yet to find anything that replaces it.
Saturday. Early rising. Long drive. Poolside. Laptop open.
“Are you writing your next novel right here?”
“Erm. Kind of. Well, yes, actually. I’m trying.”
Saturday evening. Barely awake. Stroll uptown. The whole family.
Burger Badanga at the Chainsaw. (Fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity)
Also, burgers, beer, pop with unlimited refills.
But really it’s all about the football.
England v. Italy.
Not the hoped-for outcome.
“I always feel sad for whoever loses.”
“Wow, Mom. Someone always loses.”
Sunday. Early rising. Ritual stop at best early-morning coffee & breakfast joint in town, City Cafe, aka “the bagel place.” Long drive. Poolside. Laptop.
The kid is fast and strong. The mother is plain worn out.
Stop for falafel and chicken shwarma. Eat under tree. Long drive home.
Followed by deep nap.
Followed by must get up and do days’ worth of laundry, run errands, and think up Father’s Day supper.
Meet “Vanna,” above, our new front yard dwarf cherry tree. “Stella” is in the back yard. Two apple trees, as yet unnamed, await planting.
Neighbour we’ve never met stops to tell Kevin: “I’ve been walking by your front yard for the past ten years, and I just want to tell you how much I enjoy watching what you’re doing here.”
I think: Kevin’s dad, enthusiastic gardener, would have been so proud.
I call my dad.
Supper: hot dogs, bacon, fixings, roasted asparagus, kale slaw (“You shouldn’t call it that! Nobody’s going to want to eat it!”).
After supper: playing in the back yard. Kevin: Gardening and soccer-ball juggling. Albus: Trampoline and soccer. Fooey: Trampoline and soccer-ball juggling. CJ: Soccer, soccer, soccer. Me and AppleApple: catch, with tennis ball and baseball gloves.
The long late light. The best part of summer.
“Should we be responsible parents and tell everyone to go bed?”
“Do we have to?”
That thing woven into her hair is a dandelion. Yesterday, at recess, she and her friends celebrated a completely invented ritual called The Commencement of the Dandelion Festival.
She tells me this, and then she heads off to play a soccer game.
On his 13th birthday, Kevin and I take him out for lunch. (Fries with gravy, a milkshake, and a banquet burger.)
Also on his 13th birthday, his soccer team wins their game, and AppleApple and I pick up a cake from DQ on our way home from her game. He mentions that it’s been a great birthday.
It’s around 9:30 PM when we gather to blow out the candles. For some of us, DQ cake is supper.
Some of us don’t seem to mind.
Friday evening. Tuna melt supper for him, leftovers for me. He’s played soccer in the living alone for too long. He’s bored. It’s only the two of us, alone in the house. And so, of course, we sit at the dining-room table and colour together. We make it into a game. It’s the kind of “fun” activity I cajole my children into doing, when we “play” together. We haven’t done this for a few years. I sign my name to my picture, age 39. He signs his name to his picture, age 6.
If you notice I’m writing here a little less frequently, it’s due to writing elsewhere a little more frequently. On balance it all equals out, although the other things I’m writing don’t receive instant publication.
It feels really really good to be writing, especially new fiction. It’s so deeply satisfying to my brain. Like scratching a hard to reach itchy spot, or discovering a stretch that eases a tensed muscle.
I’ve been reflecting more deliberately this month on my word-of-the-year, which is SUCCESS. Such a daunting word to take on, yet it keeps calling out to be wrestled with. Any change in identity causes disturbances within the self, even positive change, even success. Even the meaning of success changes depending on the kind of day I’m having. It’s really personal. I also find myself rolling over the idea of how much a person can change, fundamentally, throughout a lifetime. Do the same insecurities that arose in childhood continue to affect my behaviour and choices now, or am I wise enough to stand counter to the pettier of the emotions and weigh my reactions rationally? I don’t have the answer to that.
On instinct, I continue to do the things that ground me. I set the alarm early. I run. I read. I spend time with friends. This weekend I also baked. In fact, I went on a baking tear yesterday afternoon. Kevin was out most of the day with the older kids at two separate soccer events, and therefore I was home alone with the younger ones, who still need supervision. For a fruitless hour around noon, I kept trying to arrange their happiness so that I could go into my office and work. Best-case scenario involved being interrupted every few minutes with reports from CJ’s latest invented back-yard soccer match, while Fooey and friends played tea party with soapy water in her bedroom.
So I capitulated. I picked up the cards I’d been dealt. I wandered into the kitchen and remembered baking. Remember baking? I used to bake all the time. Then the oven broke right before Christmas and by the time it got repaired, two months later, I’d kind of forgotten all about it. But yesterday I remembered. I now know why I used to bake so often — because it gave me the satisfaction of being productive while looking after young children. I tuned in to CBC Radio, tied on my apron, and went to town. First, Fooey and friend and I baked brownies from a box. Then they went outside to play, and I carried on, sans boxes. I baked granola bars, I baked granola, I baked mac & cheese, and I baked bread. The afternoon turned to evening, Kevin texted me updates from the soccer sidelines, the radio kept me company, and it didn’t feel like an intrusion when CJ ran in and out of the kitchen to report on The Crushers vs The Avalanches of Doom, both teams of ducks, he said, whom he was training up to play soccer.
All of this was made easier by two things: one, that I have some really heavy work to do this week, going through two sets of page proofs for Girl Runner, and I probably needed the mental break, and two, that I had gone for a long run the day before, so I figured a day of rest wouldn’t hurt.
I’m not playing soccer this summer.
I miss it already and find myself mourning for my soccer-playing self. But I can’t take the risk of getting hurt again and being unable to work or think, especially in the lead-up to this fall’s challenging workload. So to comfort myself, I’m doing more distance running. Soccer tended to beat me up at the best of times, making distance training a challenge, so I’m looking at its absence as an opportunity to run long.
I announced this intention at a family meal last Monday and my little sister literally rolled her eyes at me. I know, I know. This is my idea of fun? And comfort? But it makes me feel good. Grounded. Strong. Present.
It’s what I need. I’m going on instinct here.
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.
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.)
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.
DJ is posing for the camera, which we’re all finding hysterical
Somehow, last week’s brief thaw fooled me, despite knowing better, into thinking that spring-like conditions were in the offing. I keep stepping outside and registering the cold as a shock — as a personal affront — as if it weren’t absolutely to be expected at the end of February. The windchill registered at -21C on my run this morning, for heaven’s sake! AppleApple has told me that on April 1st, she is wearing a sweater to school no matter how cold it is. I was just glad she didn’t set that particular deadline for March 1st.
To further gather my thoughts regarding yesterday’s post on fear and unwinding, I would like to observe that there’s a fine line between acknowledging and reflecting on one’s fears, and becoming mired and stuck in an introspective feedback loop of one’s fears. I feel like I’m atop a small hill that I’ve been climbing for awhile, and this is a good place to pause and acknowledge that it was hard to trust my brain post-concussion. It was hard, and it was scary, but I don’t want it to colour my life. I’ve got other hills to climb.
That’s why I played soccer a few weekends ago. That’s why I write every day. That’s why I meet friends. That’s why I want to go out dancing and do kundalini yoga again and get a decent pair of snow pants and maybe some cross country skiis so I can play outside whatever the weather — take that, February! I’m a huge believer in imagining your way to success. You have to know where you want to go or you’ll never get there.
Writing and meditation and reflection are expressions I’m naturally drawn to as an introspective person. It’s why I’m a writer, I am sure. But life is lived concretely. It’s hands in bread dough. It’s running as the sky grows light. It’s vacuuming the dog hair (or teaching the five-year-old how to vacuum the dog hair).
Here’s what I’m visualizing. And doing.
My big (overarching) goals for the year:
* write the first draft of a new novel
* promote Girl Runner
* create a solid curriculum for my creative writing class
My small (everyday) goals for the year:
* write daily meditations
* run, weight lift, yoga, spin, bike, dance, play soccer
* help and support my family
* give the kids more responsibilities around the house
* offer and accept invitations to spend time with friends
* play the piano and sing
I could go on. But that’s a good start.
two Saturdays ago: this was taken after we all pitched in to clean the house together; I hope to blog more about this new plan, if all goes well
A total side note that spoke to the fitness guru in me: I read in yesterday’s newspaper that sprinting is more beneficial to the aging body than distance running (the caution being that you need to be a strong runner, and probably a distance runner, before attempting sprints, because non-fit sprinting an excellent way to injure yourself.) No wonder I love soccer so much — it’s basically sprinting, except you get to chase a ball.
I also read that going for a walk has an almost medicinal effect on the mind and body. Why don’t we build our cities and communities around that simple concept? Imagine the health benefits. Imagine how we’d all be walking off the edges of our worries. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing?