This morning I felt like disappearing into music. I searched around for Lindi Ortega’s version of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” and for some reason also felt like hearing Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” and I landed for awhile on Danny Michel’s beautiful and joyful new album “Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me.”
Category: The Juliet Stories
I took our old digital camera on my trip to Winnipeg, and figured out pretty quickly why we’d stopped using it: the battery runs dead after approximately a minute of use. But nevertheless it allowed me to capture fuzzy moments of my whirlwind adventure. The first photo, above, shows the Museum of Human Rights, still under construction, which was my view out the window when I ran on the treadmill in the empty fitness room (I never saw anyone else there). I stayed at the hotel for less than 24 hours, but still managed to run twice, and nap once.
On Monday, I had dinner with Sheree Fitch and took no photos. I knew her instantly though we’d never met in person, and I mean knew her knew her, not just recognized her. Maybe it seemed so natural to be with her that I assumed we’d have lots of time to pose for photos together, forgetting for the moment that she lives in Nova Scotia, and I’m here in Waterloo, and that mere fortune had allowed us to overlap in Winnipeg. Now I’m plotting to bring her to Waterloo to read in some schools — especially in my kids’ schools. How do such things get arranged?
At the table behind us were Bill Richardson and Karen Levine. Sheree knew them both. I’d met Karen eleven years ago when I recorded a story for a CBC radio program — I was just striking out on my own as a writer, and I was also massively pregnant with Albus, and for some reason had chosen to wear gigantic maternity overalls that day. (Why???)
For my mainstage reading on Monday night, I chose to wear my pretty red high heeled shoes that get compliments every time (which my sister Edna has now given to me to keep), and the cute/countryish/suedish jacket that makes jeans look dressy. (I hope.)
That’s me (and my poufy prairie hair) with the the festival’s director, Charlene Diehl, whom I first met when I was 20 and I walked into her CanLit class at the University of Waterloo. What a festival she’s made in Winnipeg. I’m so proud of her. The venues are terrific, the audiences come out (at our book chat on Tuesday afternoon, someone counted 95 people!), and the writers are treated, oh, so well. The hotel was a haven, and I loved every peaceful minute I spent there. What a gift.
I slept soundly. I woke refreshed. I sat and wrote. I read. I ran on the treadmill. There was space to retreat to — I appreciated having that space, as well as having opportunities to connect. As something of an introvert, I need alone time to balance out the meeting and greeting.
Tiny side anecdote: One of the writers on Monday evening was Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), who was very funny — and thankfully last to read. He told a story about his dad, who just couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of a reading. “What — you wrote the book, now you gotta read it to them too?” Ha!
On Tuesday morning, I did not sleep in, but I got a nice cup of coffee, I wrote, and ran, and at 12:30 on the dot, with great regret, I checked out of my room and went for lunch. I decided to order a glass of wine with my meal. I sat alone at the table, and read. It was a strange luxury, not one I could imagine getting used to — not one I particularly would like to get used to, when it comes right down to it. But it was good because it was so unusual.
Then I went up to the hospitality suite and discovered a small frenzy, lots of people. Being a bit thick, I didn’t figure it out right away, plopped down on the couch, checked my phone, gazed around, and went, duh! That’s Richard Ford, Pulizter Prize winner, he of the steely blue eyes. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. The general atmosphere was of people excitedly dropping things and attempting not to sound ridiculously giddy or silly.
I missed his reading that evening. I was on a plane back to Toronto, which sounded disconcertingly like its muffler had fallen off.
When I walked through our front door, after midnight, I snuck around to every room and squeezed and kissed and hugged every child. In the morning, in the whirl and bustle of getting us all ready for school and work, nobody even asked: hey, Mom, how was Winnipeg? I though that was funny. It was a short trip, and I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m glad that it was so easy to slide back into home life, so easy that no one seemed to notice much that I’d come and gone. Or maybe they just accepted me back, as if I’d never left.
There’s a bit of that to travelling too. Being present in the moment. And then it’s gone, and it reverts to being almost dream-like in memory, vivid snippets, densely packed. I wonder which vivid snippets from Winnipeg will stick with me most strongly? There’s no telling.
I’m back to napping! And I’m remembering why I love it. All the best thoughts arrive upon waking from a good (short) nap. During the summer, I got by with no naps, partly by lowering my weekly early morning workouts to twice/week, but mostly by nipping back to bed upon arriving home. With no one rushing off to school, our family got in the habit sleeping in. But it didn’t feel like napping, it felt like going back to bed. Like the work-out had been another dream-state.
We’re back to the school routine, and we’re suffering just a little bit, collectively. Trying to adjust bedtimes and wake times. Accepting that there will be after-school meltdowns. Everyone’s tired. Evenings are squeezed. Kevin and I were still doing lunches and dishes last night at 9pm.
There was no moment for a nap yesterday to balance out my early morning run.
So I’ll admit that rising at 5am this morning, in order to go exert myself whilst clad in spandex, was not exactly what I wanted to do. I’m making spin/weights sound way less fun than it is. By the end of the work-out, it felt completely worth it (as it always does), and after breakfast and the getting-ready whirl, everyone departed, and the house was quiet by 8:30. Quiet by 8:30!!! Empty! Just me and the dogs.
So I napped.
I drifted off. And woke with a clear mind, feeling at peace, filled with ideas, thoughts, answers, calm. Call me crazy (or lazy), but I consider napping to be an important spiritual process. Somehow, while gently drifting toward sleep, my mind becomes more open, more at ease. To be creative, one needs to be at ease, not panicking. Many a time, a nap has set me right simply by allowing my body and mind to relax.
This is a long preamble. What I want to write about is the announcement of the Giller longlist earlier this week; should I write about it? Still not sure. But I’m an obscure CanLit mama who had an eligible book out this year (among 226 others), and this brief moment in time is wound into the rest of my life. I knew it would be a long shot to find Juliet on the list, but hope springs eternal, and every Canadian writer understands what a career boost it is to have any association with the Giller attached to one’s book.
In the days and hours leading up to the announcement, I couldn’t get away from thinking about it. It dogged me, no matter how I tried to redirect my thoughts. Such is the power of a prize. So here’s the strange thing: notwithstanding my immediate gut response of plain old crushing disappointment not to see Juliet on the list, I’ve been experiencing an unexpected lightness of heart since the announcement came and went.
I’m grateful to everyone who told me they were sure it would be there, especially those wonderful booksellers who’ve had Juliet’s back all along.
But I didn’t know how heavy the weight of expectation/hope had been pressing on me until after my nap this morning. I got up, voted, hung laundry, planned my attack on today’s scheduling adventures, and realized that I was feeling … really good.
I’m not waiting for anything. The worst outcome has happened. The sadness is over. And in its place is a feeling of gratitude for the sweet minutiae that I’m often too cluttered and harried and anxious to see. Maybe it’s an after-the-storm effect. (And it rained torrentially here on Tuesday.) It sounds trite to say it: gratitude for my kids, for our house, for our neighbourhood, for health, for friends, for kindness, for running errands with two four-year-old boys in tow. For everything, I guess.
I wonder how other obscure CanLit writers are feeling this week.
And I wonder, I’ll admit, how those who made the list are feeling (with special shout-outs to not-so-obscure CanLit mamas, Annabel Lyon, who kindly helped my daughter with her project on ancient Greece this past year, and Katrina Onstad, with whom I shared a seminar table while we were both doing our Master’s at U of Toronto.)
If I could change one thing about myself, it would be the anxiety I feel when outcomes are out of my control. What was I worrying about, all along? What was I hoping for, really? Was it external affirmation, some kind of proof? And if so, why?
Okay, another thing I would change: I would live, always, without fear of failure.
Yesterday evening, I did something I’ve never done before. I went to a local big-box-bookstore and sat at a table just inside the front doors, behind neatly stacked piles of The Juliet Stories and a little poster that said, “Meet the Author!” All of this had been arranged in advance, of course, but I hadn’t really known what to expect.
Hot, quiet, humid. That’s our Sunday. Looked like rain. Did not rain. One soccer game still on the menu (mine). Though need bread, have not baked bread; see hot, humid. Can’t bear the thought of turning on the oven.
Today, I’ve spent several hours getting to know my new photo editing software. View experiments above.
Also wrote a new short story this weekend — fiction!!! My first attempt since writing the last of The Juliet Stories (which, a very few of you may be interested in knowing, was “She Will Leave a Mark” from the first section.) It felt like breathing or something. Essential, natural.
Oh, and I have to post a link to this truly amazing review, by a book blogger called Buried in Print. Quite enough to swell the head, methinks, so I’ll only read it once.
This morning I blogged that one of the awesome things about doing interviews this week is meeting people in their air conditioned office spaces. And, okay, admittedly, that is pretty sweet, as I sit here at my own desk in a room that is pushing 90 degrees F.
But that’s not actually the best part.
The best part is meeting people — and the conversations themselves.
Here is the benefit of being an observer: the world is endlessly fascinating. There is always more to learn. There are different approaches to problems, different enthusiasms, different values, different organizational systems, different social approaches, and I could go on and on. I must say I had no inkling of how absorbingly interesting it would be to conduct interviews — the research part of my job. I was thinking of it as a necessity, I guess, a means to an end, the end being the writing itself. And truth be told, I was ever so slightly intimidated by the thought of asking strangers personal questions.
But the more work I’ve done, the more I appreciate the privilege of getting to ask questions. To focus my energy entirely on someone else’s interest or cause or life’s work or story or niche area of expertise. It’s a real gift to get to listen. And it’s proving to be a bigger piece of the writing-for-money puzzle than I initially bargained on. Yes, communicating the end story is hugely important, but the end story can’t exist without first going through the process of trying to understand a subject in-depth.
I know. This all sounds very obvious.
Perhaps what has me most happy, on this extraordinarily warm Friday afternoon, is the discovery that I’m really enjoying the work I’ve chosen to do — the work for money, I mean. There is such variety in it. I love variety! I’m a serial enthusiast by nature; this is kind of the perfect outlet for those instincts.
One more unexpected and happy discovery: The work itself feels very genuine, even though the situation is by its nature contrived — by which I mean, I’m writing stories that have been assigned to me, about people I wouldn’t ordinarily get to sit down and talk to. But the conversations don’t feel contrived or artificial. (My hope is that the people I’m interviewing feel the same way too.)
It’s been a good first week of the summer holidays. And I capped it off by dropping in at my local Chapters, in my other guise as fiction writer, and signing their stock of Juliet Stories. The girl was so super-friendly, it made my day.
Next up: soccer sidelines, and a picnic supper.