Category: Word of the Year

Wearing my writer hat/hair: Eden Mills, part two

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So I’ve had my writer hat on for the past two days. Luckily it’s invisible because I don’t look good in hats, having been blessed with a teeny-tiny head. Maybe I should say I’ve had my writer hair on for the past two days.

In any case, on Sunday, I read at Eden Mills; and we brought the kids along. There was much complaining about being forced to spend the day doing something other than lounging in pajamas in front of a screen. I’m obviously parenting badly. I assured them that Writers Festivals were Fun, but they weren’t buying what I was selling. We proceeded to spend approximately 85% of the car ride being tormented by one child who kept repeating, “I’m bored! I’m bored! I’m boooooored!” I wish I were exaggerating. This monotonous soundtrack was occasionally interrupted by a) the same child hollering, “And no one’s even listening to me!”; b) other children screeching at said child; c) parents trying not to lose it. Fun times.

Luckily, the day was sunny, the townlet of Eden Mills was most welcoming (we were directed to our parking spot by no fewer than seven boy scouts/cadets), and we caught a ride up the main street on a golf cart, which the kids thought was pretty nifty.

Three of four children had never been to one of my readings. This seemed like the perfect setting to introduce them to this part of my job. But for the most part, the younger two didn’t really get that I was working. Eventually, I gave up and removed myself from their company for a few minutes of peace before the reading began — the new soundtrack at that point had become, “Why can’t I just have some ice cream!”(Yes, there was ice cream — see, told you, kids. Writers Festivals are Fun.)

I was reading with Dani Couture and Tanis Rideout, and we strolled together to the site — someone’s beautiful backyard overlooking a little river — which was set up almost like a Greek amphitheatre (minus the stones, and on a smaller scale), with stage down below and audience on the hill above. Upon arrival, I observed that my children and husband were arranged handsomely upon our picnic blanket. But perhaps they were a little too close to where the writers were seated. I could hear that the soundtrack was still going on, although sotto voce. “I want ice cream!”

I was reading last.

And so I sat and watched the slow motion hour-long crumbling of my handsome family. They were pretty well-behaved, all things considered. But I was cursing our parental lack of foresight — really, we should have gotten them the damn ice cream. After all, it was lunchtime, and then it was past lunchtime.
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By the time it was my turn to get up and read, Kevin had retreated far away up the hill with CJ, who was quite far gone in ice-cream-starvation-mode. But my other three children stayed to listen.

Afterward, Albus whispered, “That was really good, Mom!” And Fooey wondered whether Ronald Reagan was a real person. And they all said that Writers Festivals really weren’t so bad after all.

So it was worth it.

And then we got ice cream. And hot dogs. And soda pop. “This is full of vitamin C,” one of my brilliant offspring proclaimed. We checked the label. And I regret to report that Orange Crush offers not a jot of vitamin C. It is, in fact, 0% vitamin C.

We were a much jollier bunch driving home, all except for Kevin. The solo-parenting-while-Mom-was-in-work-mode had taken a toll on his ordinarily equable personality. And I, too, had to confess my exhaustion at the end of the day, saying, “I don’t really understand why, because I felt pretty calm all day.” Kevin said, “It takes a lot of energy to look that calm.”

And that’s the truth.
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:::

This is turning into a long long tale, and I haven’t even reached day two of Carrie aka Writer. But I shall go on (whether you go on with me, I leave to your discretion.)

Yesterday, I led writing workshops at a camp near Eden Mills. It felt like a real “working mother” day, which is still a bit novel to me. I left the house before the kids had woken. Kevin kept me posted by texts. Four of us — me, Evan Munday, Tanis Rideout, and Angie Abdou — led small groups of high school students in hour-long writing sessions on different subjects. (I did the short story.) The kids were willing to write and share their work, and I found the sessions very pleasant. I also appreciated being amongst other writers, since I spend most of my working hours alone in this office, wearing crocs at one end, earplugs at the other. When we first met, Angie said, “Oh, you wrote that blog on not being on the Giller list!” which kind of made me cringe (this could be what I’m remembered for?), although she was very nice about it. Sometimes, in order to keep blogging, I forget (or ignore) the fact that blogs get read, and that the CanLit scene is pretty small.

Because here’s the thing. I do feel, when I make appearances in my writer hat/hair, like I’m dressing up to play a part. I know I’m not a writer with a capital W. It’s not that I don’t take my work seriously, because I do. But as much as I hope for worldly success, I appreciate the obscurity of my existence.

By the time I trudged, over-loaded and over-caffeinated, through the front door late yesterday afternoon, all of my children had miraculously gotten themselves home from school (this had been arranged with great forethought, but nevertheless seemed miraculous), and they were playing wii. Frankly, only the dogs were excited to greet me. I whipped up supper, hung laundry, supervised piano practice, checked email, we ate together as a family. And then I took the kids to the library and the grocery store — because it turned out that despite their lacklustre after-school greeting they had been missing me, enough to want to run errands in order to spend time together.

We had so much fun grocery shopping, I can’t even describe it. Everyone was feeling silly.

It was the best part of my day.

So here’s the sappy conclusion at the end of this long long post: Nothing makes me feel more accomplished as a human being than being happy with my kids who are happy being with me. Nothing.

(Although I suspect we appreciated each other all the more because we’d worked hard on our own, and we’d missed each other; do other working parents stumble into these puddles of mundane bliss, too?)

For the love of it

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Last Wednesday evening, our backyard was transformed into a mini-studio: the lights you see above, plus one of those big umbrella-looking things (also a light), and a heavy-duty insanely expensive camera that, honestly, I couldn’t even covet after I heard how much it cost. That’ll never be mine. It would have been fun to take a self-portrait of the portrait being taken, but in all honesty, I was a little embarrassed by my rinky-dink setup. Besides, I was supposed to be posing, looking contemplative and intelligent in my black sweater, not running around trying to take photos.

I’d been invited to be a subject for Jonathan Bielaski, a local photographer who works for Maple Leaf Entertainment, among other clients — yes, he photographs sports stars. But he started a side project this past year called “For the Love of It,” where he takes portraits of people who love what they do.

I hope you’ll browse around his blog. He’s found some very interesting people. Maybe you do what you love and love what you do, too? Let me know, and I’ll let him know. He’s always interested in finding new subjects.

(Come to think of it, this project fits well with my words of the year: work/play. This summer, it’s felt like I’m getting closer to achieving a sense of both in my daily life.)

Work + Play = Summer Holidays

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We spent Canada Day weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s farm. This tradition stretches back to before CJ. When we remarked on this, CJ gaped at us in horror and disbelief: “WHAT?!” I know, kid. It’s hard to believe there was a time when you didn’t yet exist.

This is our first week of summer holidays, and the first summer I’ve attempted to work approximately as many hours as during the school year. Babysitting has been arranged; we’re on day two, and so far, so good, thanks to my trusty ear plugs. But … will it be hard to work from 9-3 while the children play? Will I regret not taking time off? Will the kids feel like they’ve had a real summer?

Here are a few of my compensatory plans:
* biking to swim lessons at the outdoor pool (shifting work hours to accomodate)
* post-3pm outings to library, Herrles, park, air conditioned mall, etc.
* looking after the neighbours’ chickens (all this week! nearly a dozen eggs collected this morning!)
* dogsitting (first go, this weekend; and we’d be open to dogsitting more often, if you have a dog you’d like sat)
* one promised day-trip to the local outdoor water park (Albus got a free pass for volunteering as a crossing guard at school; very clever, local outdoor water park, very clever)
* summer movie matinee
* one week away at a cottage
* visiting brand new cousin, when born (due August 8th!)
* ?? TBA
* please share your plans and ideas

And a few more compensatory plans, for myself:
* swimming during the little kids’ swim lessons
* more exercise in the evenings, fewer early mornings (I’m down to two/week, and barely managing it; no naptime, and late nights)
* stretching after soccer
* taking time to hang the laundry outside, even during work hours
* saying yes to social invitations

On being a freelancer, in earnest

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I’ve been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week’s assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.

A new and exciting development is that I’ve also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.

Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.

I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes — food for an imaginary Canada Day party. “I love my job,” I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a “party,” arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).

“Even fake smiles look real in photos,” I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.

It was a crazy fun afternoon.

I’ve made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women’s magazines has finally paid off. “Service-oriented copy,” as it’s known, simply flows from my fingertips.

Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I’d photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can’t do my long run this weekend — too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital — which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).

Crashed.

Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.

On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I’m keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?

As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family’s income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?

It’s raining, it’s pouring

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how does your garden grow?

It never rains but it pours.

Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: “I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor.”

“You captured me very accurately,” I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)

“But I don’t really have chores to do,” said AppleApple.

Well, we all make things up. If you’d like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I’ve not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What’s true? What’s invented?

It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I’m pleased. Some of the work I’ve been doing is essentially invisible. I’ve even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I’m getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It’s brought me here. I accept it.

Not to get too far off topic, but I’d like to share my theory about work. I figure I’m about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I’m not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I’m willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I’m choosing.

As a proud writer, I’m also thrilled to share the news that I’ve been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:

I’ll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.

Meantime, back to work. I’ve got some interviews to do.

What matters

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:: Practicing matters. And you can practice anywhere. (She’s practicing, on her lap, the song she’s memorized and is about to perform.)

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:: Being willing to try matters. Signing up for an extra recital, in preparation for a more intense competition next week. Wearing a new dress (and running shoes; just in case). Brushing your hair.

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:: Being supportive matters. Even when the recital is long. Even when there are no snacks. Even when you have to do everything imaginable to keep quiet. (Toward the end, CJ was making silent faces to entertain himself; by the last performance he was literally whacking himself on the head repeatedly, but kind of quietly. So he made it through.)

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:: Performing matters. Getting up in front of an audience. Doing your best. Sharing what you’ve learned. (At this point in any recital in which any of my children have ever played, I start to cry. It’s involuntary, and happy, but I do try to rein myself in, lest I embarrass the performer.)

:::

On this third day of writing week, I am reminded of a few more things that matter, a great deal, to me.

:: Exercise matters. Note to self: no matter how you may want to, do not sit for two days straight without taking time to go outside and move. And breathe.

:: Perspective matters. It’s hard to get perspective inside a room with a closed door. See above, plus add in kids and friends and husband.

:: Kindness and gratitude matter. I can’t write what I want to write by force.

:: Preparation matters. I am at the beginning of a project, not the middle, not the end. Here are some metaphors. You can’t go into labour if you’re not even pregnant. And, the work I need to do now is like composting. Layering information, layering ideas. It looks like waste at this stage. It won’t look so good, either, when it starts to rot. But given time, and turning, it will become rich soil. And then I can plant a new garden.

:::

Read between the lines, and you’ll guess. This is/will be a tough week. But I’d like to note two lovely and unexpected things that have happened so far.

:: On this third day of my writing week, I wrote a new song.

:: Yesterday, the power went out, and I wrote for several hours with pen and paper. I liked it a lot. No distractions.

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