Today, I am experimenting. Can I compartmentalize and work on two projects at the same time? I am going to attempt to develop my new character (ie. creative, not-yet-for-profit work), even while keeping several irons in the fire for a freelance piece I’m writing (ie. less creative work-for-pay). The new book, of course, has no due date, no deadline. The freelance piece does. I am obsessive about meeting deadlines (not necessarily a bad thing); except I’m so obsessive that I frequently meet deadlines well ahead of schedule. And honestly, I’m not concerned about meeting this one. I know I can do it. Things are moving along nicely. I know this. Still, my instinct is to worry it until it’s done. Thing is, I can’t finish this morning. There are interviews yet to do and other people’s schedules to take into account. More to the point, I don’t need to finish this morning. The deadline isn’t until next week.
So. Can I step back, set it aside, not worry about it, and work productively on something completely different?
As I say, it’s an experiment. It had better work, because, frankly, this could be my life for a long long time. It already is my life, you say? What with the children, and the cooking, and the triathlon training, and the book-writing? It’s funny, but those things all fit together in a long-term way that doesn’t trouble me. They’re all part of a steady routine, an ebb and flow that isn’t exactly predictable, and yet seems symbiotic somehow. More of this, less of that; more of that, less of this.
If I don’t write a blog post today, I’ll write one tomorrow. If supper is on the table late, well, eat some crackers and cheese, kids. If I have to drop a writing day to take a kid to the doctor, my book doesn’t know it. In all of these circumstances, I’m flexible. But give me a deadline and I focus to the point of compulsion. Hm. Maybe this goes back to childhood: feeling a sense of responsibility as the eldest of five, wanting to please, anxious over any perceived failure, stomach in knots if we were late for school. I was “high-strung.” Maybe, maybe, in some circumstances I still am.
My goal for today: Trust myself. I will get the job done. All in good time. And meantime, there is other work to be done, and it’s just as valuable, even if invisible.
Yesterday, a client of Kevin’s brought him a ripped-out page from the latest issue of Elle Canada. “Tracking the best in movies, books, music and art,” says the page. “This month, we’re inspired by free spirits.” And there is The Juliet Stories! I love that Juliet is being identified as a free spirit. (Wasn’t “spirit” my word of the year when I was writing Juliet?) There’s a dark side to being a free spirit, of course, and I suppose that’s partly what the book is about; but sometimes I wish I were more free of spirit — colourful, creative, adventurous, alive. Writing is my window into all those things I couldn’t actually be.
Finally, two exciting reading discoveries.
1. CJ is “reading” to us. I’m pretty sure he’s essentially repeating memorized text, but he links the words on the page with the words he’s saying. Out and about, he notices and reads signs (STOP is a good one), and he notices words and points out letters and letter sounds that he knows. Exciting!
2. Fooey read bedtime stories to CJ last night. For the record, I still love reading bedtime stories to the kids, but I’m not always available — last night I was walking Albus home from piano lessons. I got home in time to hear the tail-end of the last story, and give goodnight kisses. Sweet.
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.
Remember yesterday? When I was feeling drained? Well sometimes things happen out of the blue that can’t be seen as anything but a sweet little gift, an answer. Today I was given the gift of replenishment — time. Time that is emptied of requests and must-dos and any expectations whatsoever. Completely unanticipated. Truly blissful. Not sure what I’ve done to deserve this, but THANK YOU UNIVERSE.
What a weird and wonderful week it’s been. I am positively bubbling with creative energy. And, right about now, caffeine. Which might explain the rapid-fire typing you’re hearing.
Yesterday had a stinker of a start. Well, not the very early start, which was spin class, and which, though I never quite got into it, still kicked off the day with a rush of happy endorphins. But then I got home. And discovered that CJ was refusing to go to nursery school, again. And you know, he’s been sick, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe he was still a bit off? Okay, kid. I’ll give you another day. Even though that means cancelling my morning plan to go record a song at my brother’s studio. Fine. Except it wasn’t fine, and I wasn’t fine, and I had to go to the basement and throw laundry into the washer and yell things and slam the door and perform other unpleasant and completely immature venting activities. It put a pall on the general everyone-heading-off-to-school-and-work part of the morning. I have a rotten temper.
It’s all about the expectations. I’d expected and planned to do one thing, and when plans suddenly shifted, I was disappointed. And frustrated. And facing another housebound day with a less than willing spirit.
But I came around, in a moping sort of way, to acceptance, and went on with the changed plans. When suddenly the phone rang–it was Kevin. His morning appointment had to be rescheduled. “I’ll come home and look after CJ, and you can go and record.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” Well, off I went, let me tell you.
Proof that a stinker of a start doesn’t mean the whole is ruined. Remember this. Remember, and leap for the unexpected opportunities that parachute into your hours.
Why didn’t I take my camera? My brother’s new studio is filled with light. It’s an old Mennonite schoolhouse, one big room, and I sat right down at the piano to get loosened up. And then we recorded. Just one simple song, a lullaby. I wrote it for a character in Juliet. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote it as my character. Because my brother Karl is such an amazing and talented producer, as well as a musician, I know we’re going to have a beautiful song at the end of the process. It’s exciting. And I found myself up late last night perfecting more songs as my character. It’s weird, but I can write songs as her better than as me. Maybe it gives me the distance necessary to be vulnerable, to allow myself to tap uncritically into emotions and even a particular style that I can ascribe to her. Maybe it’s like writing a poem in a persona. I won’t question it. It’s working.
This morning, I surfed the creative wave toward a different shore. It helped that CJ trotted merrily off to nursery school–unquestionably healthy again. PRAISE BE. This morning, my friend Nancy arrived with coffee to share, and her camera. She is working on a new project that she calls “ipowr,” or “Intriguing People of Waterloo Region,” and she chose me as her first subject to interview and to photograph. I couldn’t resist photographing her too, plus it put me at ease to stand behind the lens. A nice way to warm up, perhaps for both of us. Less pressure. The photo above makes me think of a villa, a place both stark and soft, and somehow old-fashioned. The crop doesn’t quite do it justice. You can see the original here.
And so that is my yesterday and my today. I am basking in creative activities that would seem outside of my comfort zone. But neither feel like a stretch. Instead, both are extensions of what I’m already doing. And I’m brimming with appreciation for this quiet time between major projects, when I can do and try anything.
The world is full of beauty and light.
I am teetering on the brink of over-caffeination.
It’s all good.
There’s a post I wrote awhile ago, a year and a half ago, to be precise, to which I keep returning. (Read it yourself, here, if you’d like).
The question I was asking then (and which I continue to ask) boils down to what kind of life I’m seeking to live: is it a life with unexpected twists and turns and seemingly disconnected variety, or a life of intense and singular highly focussed work; or is there perhaps a third way, a way in between those two extremes?
A year and a half after articulating that question, I can’t say an answer has appeared. Has life, as it’s been lived since then, spoken? Not in any expected way. Not loudly. Not directly. But also, have I been listening to the universe in the same way? Expecting it to reply? I have not. And I’m not sure why.
Instead, I’ve been running.
Is that a metaphor? Have I been running away? Or toward? Or is running a question and answer contained in itself? This morning, I woke up a bit later than usual, but realized that without a run, my day would be consumed by negative energy, and that I needed to run as far and as fast as I could in the time available, in order to burn that energy off.
Where is this negative energy coming from? It manifests itself in a general grumpiness, irritability, sometimes in a muddled mind, or I get lost in thought. Not practical, useful thought, but distant drifting foggy thought in which I cannot find my way. There is something about running (or biking or swimming or any exercise that gets me working physically) that burns off the fog, that releases me, even if only briefly, into a happy state. Afterward, I feel productive. Alive. It’s like an energy exchange: bad for good.
What will you do with your life?
My youngest starts school in a year. A year, therefore, is my self-imposed deadline. Deadline for what? For direction. For the universe to point me wherever I’m meant to be going, or for me to point myself, to step off, to launch, to turn around, to choose. I type that as if it were absolute, as if I might choose the wrong path, as if there is a right path and a wrong path; and there’s not. I believe many paths could be right. Success (happiness? contentment?) is dependent on how I walk the one(s) I choose. Nevertheless. My youngest entering school carries the pressure of a deadline. I’m at an age when it feels like, to paraphrase a character in The Juliet Stories, I’m holding in my hands a diminishing collection of possibilities.
So. I have a year to figure this out. I don’t know about you, but a year doesn’t feel as long as it once did. Turn your head, laugh, and it’s vanished.
This week has been a long and fuzzy one. And yet it’s actually been quite short. We got home on Monday, late afternoon. I spent the evening in a state of intense irritation roasting and freezing a bushel of red peppers. (“Stay out of the kitchen. I’m sorry. I’m just really irritable right now.” “Yeah, I already know that, Mom.”)
The following morning, I took the kids to Vacation Bible School. Total flop. One day was more than enough and I did not send them back again. Albus’s first question, when I picked them up: “Mom, what are sins?” Warning bells ringing loudly. Apparently, the language was heavily weighted toward sin and enemies and the devil and death angels (no joke). I have a fairly high tolerance for religious language, but no. Just, no. I can’t abide the belief that we are born full of sin, fallen. I believe we’re born human, and we will all make mistakes, and we won’t always be right. But we’re not stained by our mistakes; what a terrible and debilitating concept. What a staggering lack of compassion, to see our errors and the errors of others as sinful. Mistakes are inevitable, and come with great potential. We learn by them. We learn pain. We learn to forgive. We learn compassion. We learn critical thinking. We learn to say sorry (and to feel it). We are strengthened by discovery, and discovery comes through trial and error.
So, long story short, no “free” babysitting this week.
I spent all of Tuesday canning a bushel of tomatoes. The kids had to entertain themselves for the afternoon. Albus was helpful, AppleApple, too. Summer has had the effect of bringing the siblings closer together. That’s a beautiful thing.
Wednesday was a scheduling day. My babysitter is back from Germany and we reunited that afternoon, but I hardly got any writing work done. It was all about the fall schedule, an intricate piecing together of interests and activities. I should have gone for a run afterward.
By yesterday, I felt fuzzy-headed and exhausted. But blueberry season is almost over, and there is an organic patch that friends have been raving about all month. We had to go. It looked like rain, and then it did rain, and then it cleared again. And the blueberry bushes did not disappoint, absolutely laden with fruit. We picked 14 pounds without really trying. More fruit to add to the freezer, and AppleApple and I made blueberry “hand-pies,” which ended up being too sticky to eat by hand.
But despite this positive and happy activity, I had a moment of panic late yesterday afternoon. I’m having a breakdown, I thought. Why? Because I was paralyzed by the thought of supper. Something had to be made, and quickly, because AppleApple had soccer practice; and my brain stuttered to a halt. Pasta plus rice plus potatoes? Is that really what I had on hand? Thankfully, I recovered, retrieved hamburger from the freezer, made a rice/hamburger/zucchini mash-up, boiled potatoes and grilled them along with eggplant, and boiled a pot of sweet corn. All’s well that ends well.
While standing in the kitchen paralyzed, it came to me: I need to exercise. I need to run. I need to stretch. I need alone time. Daily. This week, I’ve been so busy preparing for winter (canning and freezing), and planning for fall, that I forgot about today. It’s not about training for a triathlon; it’s about a daily practice of restoring and maintaining sanity, and peace.