It went and got cold.
AppleApple had an outdoor practice in a snowstorm on Saturday morning, at which I could have chosen to go for a run in solidarity. Instead, I stayed in the car letting the sunshine warm me while starting Hell Going, by Lynn Coady, which I’d purchased on my Kobo awhile back. We passed three car accidents on the way to the soccer field, all fender-benders caused by drivers who had forgotten how to drive in winter conditions. As in: slow the heck down, people! It was a white-knuckle trip, and we were most terrified that someone, travelling too fast, would simply slide into us.
Other activities this weekend included a date night out with friends (no children) on Friday evening, three soccer games and two more practices, one gigantic homework project (still unfinished), and a birthday dinner at a sushi restaurant that was appallingly, and ultimately comically, dreadful. “The only logical way this can end is in food poisoning,” observed one of my brothers. He was hungry — we all were, as wait staff appeared to “lose” our orders in a potted plant near the cash register — but was hesitating to eat what looked like leftover stir-fry rice fashioned into a maki roll, battered, and deep-fried.
I squeezed in a run yesterday afternoon, double-layered, and relished the wind and snow flashing into my face. All was well and good.
But then I crashed. I left Kevin with the supper dishes and crawled into bed early. This turned out to be the perfect medicine. Three of the kids (including my very biggest) snuggled with me and I read them several chapters in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, which is the book we’ve chosen post-Little-House. They’re loving it. CJ almost couldn’t get to bed he was so caught up in wondering when the Lion would come in to the story, and would it be a real lion?
Then I read for pure pleasure for another hour, and then two, and then, finally, slept. Up early for kettlebell class. Dithered a bit, considered skipping, but couldn’t sleep anyway. I’ve trained my body to wake like clockwork around 5AM. I knew class would be hard, but worth it, and it was, and it was. I so appreciate having a comforting, familiar place to go to in the early morning, and a friend to go with.
Fooey’s Christmas wish list, my copy; also on desk right now: inspirational “go!” artwork, also by Fooey; and a much-scribbled-in calendar
I can’t believe it’s almost advent.
Will I put up the advent activity calendar that so disappointed my children last year? Can I slow down even the slightest in order to prepare for the season? So many things I would like to do: bake cookies, put up a tree, take a family photo for Christmas cards, buy something special for each of the kids, dream up delicious menus for dinners …
Yesterday, while grabbing a book to bring along to a soccer field I mentally composed a perfect blog post. Maybe I’ll blog on my phone beside the soccer field, I thought. But the post vanished, and instead, beside the soccer field, I chatted with other parents (whom I see far more often than I do my closest friends) and watched, mesmerized, our daughters pass the ball with great skill and determination. The book stayed unopened in my hand.
The perfect imaginary blog post is not unlike the perfect imaginary book, I suspect, a subject Ann Patchett addresses in her very funny and quite serious essay on writing, “The Getaway Car,” in her new book of essays, THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE.
Logic dictates that writing should be a natural act, a function of a well-operating human body, along the lines of speaking and walking and breathing. We should be able to tap into the constant narrative flow our minds provide, the roaring river of words filling up our heads, and direct it into a neat stream of organized thought so that other people can read it … But it’s right about there, right about when we sit down to write that story, that things fall apart.
Two things in that passage. One, the obvious point that writing is not a natural act; and two, that we narrate our lives, and it’s the second I’ve been thinking about most.
Yesterday, I imagined writing from inside the new car. I would tell you about the sudden shock of snow, the windshield wipers working, the warm hum from the vents. I might add in a snippet of caught conversation between me and a child. I might even admit to a burst of irritation at the stupidity of another driver. There would be the hush of tires turning. The flash of lights and the smear of their colour across the wet windshield in the early dark.
It’s fitting that I put my book advance toward a new vehicle, as the new vehicle has become my second home in a way that seems almost outrageous when I add up the hours. I’ve undone every green dream I ever had, whilst supporting my children in their extra-curricular interests. On Monday, between 5:05pm and 9:15pm, I spent a total of two and a half hours in our new vehicle, including an hour and a half venture, around town, that had me climbing out at home with a numb posterior. During that particular round, “Aggie” and I visited a far-flung indoor soccer field, a gymnastics club on the opposite side of town, and a pool, before returning home. And it snowed the whole time. The best part was when the eldest voluntarily joined me for the final trip of the evening. “What should we talk about?” he asked cheerily, and, as we’d already covered the intricacies of the PS4 gaming system he’s hoping for, we moved on to music, and soccer, and the mall, and fantasizing about food we’d like to eat.
That’s the one good thing about all this time in the car. It’s time with the kids, and we talk, a lot.
But later, home again, kids in bed, I said to Kevin, “When I’m all done driving these kids around, I’m going to be old. That’s what’s going to happen. I’ll be done driving them, and I’ll be old.”
photos in this post taken by child in passenger seat
Meanwhile — and this may save me — I’ll be “narrativizing” my life.
Yesterday afternoon, I listened to a Writers and Company podcast: Aleksandar Hemon interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel. Hemon uses his own experiences in his fiction, without qualms or apology: “The way I write fiction most often is that I imagine a different outcome of a situation.” Hemon observes something unfolding and ending, a snippet, a glimpse, or a straightforward hike from A to B, and he wonders: what if X had happened instead? A character might appear to be based on himself, yet he seems to harbour no worries about being mistaken for a character. In short, the line between fiction and non-fiction does not seem to trouble him. He’s writing stories, not history, whether they are “true stories” (non-fiction) or fiction. “We go toward the things we do not know in literature. To go in the opposite direction is to write only about the easy things.” (I’m paraphrasing; I took notes while listening, as non-fiction versus fiction has become a bit of an obsession while I try to teach it to my students, and while I reflect on what writing/publishing The Juliet Stories has both given me and cost me.)
I feel myself urgently wanting to use what I’ve got at hand, and to spin it into something different; “to arrive at something,” as Hemon puts it. There is life. There is the rendering of life into story. I’m missing quite a few pieces in my life, right now. Apparently I can’t squeeze everything in to satisfaction, not while driving for hours a day. What gets lost? Wouldn’t I love to host more suppers? Yes. My social life is pinched. I’m tired far too early in the evening. The laundry overwhelms. But there’s something about writing that can set life into balance, for me. I arrive at something there that I can’t here.
our Canadian celebration: fast food at Harvey’s, Sunday evening, 6:15
Sometimes it looks, from the blog, like I’m hyper-productive. And sometimes that’s true. But not always. Today, for example. Today I got up at 5am, yet I’ve done nothing more productive than a load of laundry. I just heard the washing-machine buzzer go, so if I get up off of this twirly stool (formerly part of a drum kit) and toss that load into the drier, that will be two loads of laundry, making me twice as productive.
I exaggerate only slightly.
office, with dogs, Monday, around noon
I took photos of most of the places I’ve been over the past two days. Maybe I need a day like today to do nothing and not be productive, who knows. A body can get tired, and so can a mind, worn down and flattened to dullness by the necessity of production. My energy and drive are renewable resources, but maybe to renew them, I need to sit fallow now and again.
Here’s where I’ve been, since leaving the wild Wild Writers Festival on Saturday afternoon, flying home filled to brimming with words and names and ideas and emotion.
That same evening, Kevin and I went out together to a dinner hosted by the festival, and then to a reading afterward. It really is a treat to be surrounded by writers, to hear about their struggles, and their secrets to survival. I rely on this blog, frankly, to keep me connected to other writers, because I really don’t move in literary circles. My actual physical circle is basically my neighbourhood, and includes friends I’ve known for years, and friends I’ve made since having children. In some ways, I think I’ve been protected by this, and allowed to make my own mistakes and explore my own interests, but in other ways, I miss the camraderie of running into people who do what I do. It’s why I love the Wild Writers Festival, and feel blessed by its existence, and thankful to those who put their energy into bringing it into being.
Kevin and I did not stay late. That is the theme of our lives at present. We do not stay late. Ergo, our social lives are somewhat shrunken. I wilt around 9 o’clock. That’s my glass slipper hour.
Wayne Gretzky Sports Complex, Brantford, Sunday afternoon, 1:15
Sunday saw me and swim girl driving rainy country roads to a swim meet. It was her second day, and she’d already won a bronze medal in the 200m breaststroke (looked after by her coach, as neither Kevin nor I could be there). I failed to appreciate the significance of this accomplishment until arriving at the meet: it was a big meet! Teams from all across southern Ontario, from Toronto to Windsor, and there was my kid in her purple suit swimming to another medal — silver, this time — in the 100m breaststroke. I got to hug her immediately afterward. I spent much of the meet crouched on a stair-step on the jammed pool deck, reading Ann Patchett’s THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE, and wishing myself more tolerant of violations of personal space. I’m so Canadian that way.
Home from the swim meet, we went out for a family meal at Harvey’s. We had a gift certificate, that’s why. It was ridiculously fun. Hey, maybe we can count it as our Canadian celebration.
Up early yesterday for kettlebell class. I’m back! And symptom-free! And my muscles ache! So yesterday was kettlebells, followed by nap, followed by getting kids to school, followed by office time. Blissful peaceful office time, with dogs snoring underfoot. I’m sifting through my HAIR HAT stories. Not much happened for many hours, and I enjoyed it. Because by 3pm it was kids home, and snacktime, and laundry folding. So much laundry! Three days of laundry! Despite a full half hour invested in folding, I had to abandon the still-overflowing basket because it was time for the hellish Monday swim commute. From our house to UW’s pool (where AppleApple swims) to the Rec Centre is probably less than 4km, all told, if we could go by bike or on foot through the park. But we can’t (aka don’t want to) because it’s dark and snowing. This trip via car, is beset by road closures and heavy traffic, and takes us a full half an hour. We arrive at CJ’s swim lesson just in time, every time.
swim lessons at 5:30 on a November afternoon
I sit in the stands, and breathe. I watch him kick, kick, kick, and move less than an inch, yet he doesn’t seem discouraged. His googles (as he calls them) are too tight and leave marks around his eyes, yet he doesn’t me to loosen them. He talks non-stop in the shower, by the locker, in the parking lot, all the way home. This is a good stop along the way.
At home, there are 15 minutes in which to devour a tofu stir-fry that Kevin’s whipped up in my absence. My mom has arrived too, to babysit and let us borrow her car for the next portion of the evening’s adventures, as Kevin and I will be going in two different directions.
soccer field at RIM park, 7pm
I get to go to Albus’s indoor soccer game! I don’t do enough with his boy, and he notices, so I’m making a conscious effort to do more. I believe showing up is a big part of parenting, and matters more than anything I could try to say with words. And it’s doable: it just means shifting things around a little bit, here and there. Kevin will take the gymnastics run (Fooey and her friend) and pick up AppleApple from swimming, instead. It’s companionable with my boy, and I manage not to embarrass him with my (inevitable) running commentary and encouragement from the sidelines, if only because he claims afterward not to have heard me (phew!).
gymnastics club, 8:50pm
We’re home again. I help load the dishwasher. I dress CJ in pajamas and leave the bedtime tucking to Kevin, because we’re off again, me and Albus, to stop at a convenience store for milk and bananas on our way to pick up the gymnasts. “I forgot my camera!” I say, and Albus reminds me that phones have cameras these days. I finish off the mini-this-is-where-I’ve-been session with a few terrible shots from the gym.
blurry gymnast daughter: damn you camera phone
And that’s where I’ve been.
Friday night, full moon. I went for a walk/run while AppleApple had soccer, and my ratio was down to 1:1. One minute of walking to one minute of running. Yesterday afternoon, I ran again, again while AppleApple had soccer, and it actually felt like running, as I upped the ratio to 1:2. One minute of walking to two minutes of running. Boy did I fly on those two-minute stretches of bliss.
This morning I woke up early to stretch. On Saturday, we moved the dog crate out of my office and installed it in the living-room, where it takes the place of an end table beside the sofa. Classy, I know. But it means I can unroll my yoga mat on the office floor, turn on some kundalini music on YouTube, and stretch. I didn’t want it to end. The only irritatant was that YouTube played ten-second mini-commercials between songs, which sort of broke the vibe. Drink milk! Soothing spiritual music. Special K breakfast shakes! Chanting and flutes. More milk!
It’s a packed week. I needed to start it off with chanting and flutes. And apparently a breakfast shake (I went with egg on toast instead).
she’s in the purple suit: 100-metre IM
Saturday evening saw me standing for four hours in the steamy warmth of a pool observation deck, watching AppleApple’s first meet. I still don’t quite get swimming as a spectator sport, but I completely get it as an individual challenge. It’s so different from soccer in that way. As a swimmer, AppleApple chooses for herself how much effort to pour into her practices, and how much pain she can tolerate in races. As a soccer player, so much depends on your team, on your coaches, on ephemeral unquantifiables like chemistry, and equally ephemeral quantifiables like politics. You can pour enormous effort into practices, work and compete fiercely in games, but your fate is ultimately at the mercy of other people’s opinions. I suppose it’s a bit like a writer’s career, now that I think of it. The work is an enormous part of the challenge, but not everyone is going to like your style, no matter your technical skills or intensity of focus; in a strange way, success is not up to you, as the writer. And it’s not up to the soccer player, either. You do your best, and hope it pays off. But as a swimmer, the responsibility is all yours. Assuming you have access to quality coaching and the financial support needed to train hard (a big assumption, I recognize!), the only barrier (and this is huge) is your own body, and your own mind. You earn the time you’re able to earn. Period.
Amazing news yesterday: two Canadian women have broken the Canadian women’s marathon record, which had stood for an astonishing 28 years.
Ok. I just got totally side-tracked reading Lanni Marchant’s blog. She doesn’t post often, but had written a play-by-play from her marathon at the World Championships this summer, which didn’t go well for her. I’d like to read her play-by-play of what worked in her record-breaking race yesterday. Fascinating stuff (to me), even though I can’t call it research anymore, the book having been already written. My next area of research, I think, is going to take me to the U.K. Someday. Optionally, I may start in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, that being easier to access while still getting home for supper. If it’s still possible to get back and forth to Toronto, an open question given Toronto’s major traffic woes: I’ve got two possible trips to Toronto planned in the next week and I can’t figure out how to get there and back in a reasonable amount of time. Tips, anyone? I’d love to see Aleksandar Hemon’s interview at IFOA on Saturday afternoon, and am this close to buying a ticket, if only I can figure out how the heck to get there and back. (I’ve got my class reading an essay from The Book of My Lives.)
“Mom, do you know how to do small talk?”
“How do you do it?”
“Look for something you have in common. Like the weather.”
I had several occasions to practice my small talking skills this weekend. Soccer tryouts, both mornings, early. A reading yesterday. I sat in the car for part of both tryouts, the weather being inauspicious both days: pissing rain yesterday, a chilly breeze today under an ominous sky (see photo above; see in photo swirling cloud; see in swirling cloud whatever your imagination would like to invent). So I sipped my coffee and scribbled in my journal for awhile.
Coffee gone, done with deep thoughts, I wandered out to watch the girls on the field, and to chat with other parents. I used to dread the casual interaction. I was painfully shy, my mind a blank against which I would scrabble for useful tidbits of talk. It’s curious to recognize that this is no longer the case. I can’t pinpoint when it changed. I suppose I’m still a quiet-ish person, not all that fundamentally different. Except I like small talk. I like meeting people, making those mini-connections, even if we’re just talking about the weather.
I suspect I used to think the exercise was a waste of time, a bit. We all know it’s raining, right? I didn’t really get its purpose. I was tone-deaf. Closed to the possibilities. But I’ve come to suspect that small talk isn’t so small, that it’s the stuff that keeps us civil, and more than that, too. Convention forces us to express interest, to look just a little outside of the self, and consider another person, a stranger, and by doing so to become just that much less strange to each other. Somewhere along the line, I got a taste for exactly this kind of interaction, and I’m never going back. I will know odd facts about the woman who is bagging my groceries, because I’ve asked, and I’m happy to know. (She’s doing a PhD in biochemistry!)
“I just can’t think of anything to say.”
I know! I totally relate to that panicky feeling, and remember it well. It hit particularly hard in high school.
Just ask questions, is what I suggested, assuming she would be talking to another kid, who might think it was kind of weird to be discussing the weather (I’m not 100 percent certain to whom she’s planning on directing this hypothetical small talk).
One more piece of (happily) not unsolicited advice: Remember, no one can hear what you’re thinking. You do have to say it out loud.
“Do you plan on waking up tomorrow morning?” Kevin asked me last night, as we were reading in bed.
“Um, yes, waking up in the morning would be my plan,” I said.
He meant, should he set his alarm or did I plan to wake up early, but the phrasing seemed ominous under the circumstances. My bad news is that it appears my concussion symptoms have not gone away, as I’d hoped, despite a restful week at the cottage. I tested things out last week with three short easy runs that caused me no ill side effects. So I thought it was safe to do a longish run yesterday in preparation for the 25-km trail race, just a few weeks from now: off I went, enjoying a speedy comfortable 13km run in beautiful weather, returned home feeling terrific, and gradually became aware as the afternoon turned to evening that I wasn’t feeling so terrific anymore. Headache, nausea.
In fact, I was feeling so off that I realized I couldn’t play in my soccer game. You know me. That’s huge! It was our last game of the season, and we were playing in the cup final. It was painful to stand on the sidelines, but my team played an awesome game under the lights (with a sliver of a moon overhead), and I was so glad I’d come out to cheer. We won! So my team went undefeated all year, won the regular season, and the cup final, and as you can see from the photo, we were all pretty happy. Look, shiny medals!
Come to think of it, this is my first experience being on a winning team, mainly because I only recently started playing team sports — this is just my second season. And here’s my observation: it was really fun to win, but it was more fun simply being part of a team that enjoyed playing together (which is probably a good recipe for a winning team). We were well-matched in effort and skill, the talk on and off the field was positive, supportive, and helpful, we put together some awesome plays, and I learned a lot playing with these women. The coach was pretty awesome too. So bottom line: winning is fun, but playing for a happy team is more fun.
I feel fuzzy-headed, today, though. Is my writing fuzzy-headed too?
I’ve made an appointment with a sports medicine doctor who specializes in concussions. Maybe should have done this weeks ago? But there’s no point beating myself up with should’ves and could’ves. I will keep you posted on progress, and meantime, I’m going to do NOTHING exercise-related. I’m also going for a nap as soon as the guy punching a hole in our basement wall is done (yes, we hired him to do it; something boiler-related).
We’re having a nice gradual entry into extra-curriculars this fall. This week Fooey’s gymnastics starts. Piano lessons continue. We have two meet-the-teacher nights, one of which I have to miss due to teaching myself — my class starts this week. I also have a reading on Friday in Toronto, and I encourage and invite you to come: click on the link for details. I’ll be speaking with three other panelists, including the delightful Kerry Clare of Pickle Me This, in support of a new anthology (in which I have an essay) called Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding. These are light-hearted, funny reflections on breastfeeding, and I’m looking forward to sharing stories (and in my case reminiscining, since that time has passed for me, now).
So that’s my week. I also have more revisions to get to following an excellent editorial meeting on Friday re Girl Runner. I keep meaning to make an official announcement with links, but I can’t find any links, so I’ll just go ahead and tell you, in my semi-addled state, that if all goes according to plan Girl Runner will be the lead novel on House of Anansi’s list next fall! Gimme a woot-woot!
This is a Twitter pic of me reading at the Starlight in Waterloo on Thursday night. Fooey and AppleApple watched with great interest as I applied my “going-out” makeup in the dining-room mirror, with Fooey offering plenty of style advice (AppleApple agreed that Fooey was the expert, and shared her own method for choosing her outfits: “I reach into my drawer in the dark and pull out whatever’s on top.” Then she pairs whatever she finds with soccer shorts). My friend Zoe came along to the reading and promised me that I didn’t look old and haggard. I forgot to ask her about looking “witch-like,” which I think the photo evidence suggests may be the case. In any case, Zoe and I are already excited about planning a launch party for Girl Runner. It’ll be epic!
But, oh right, there’s still work to be done before then.
And I must rest my head, too. Good morning.
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