Category: Word of the Year
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.
Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn’t.) She wasn’t going to do it. No one could make her.
I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation’s ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children’s every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it’s a new feeling, of course we don’t know how to cope.
So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).
And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I’d ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It’s fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we’re called on. My heart was pounding with pride.
She was not amused by our April Fool’s joke this morning, however. I told her that she’d been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.
An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I’d posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She’d had a fall and was rattled, confused. She’d walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.
Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I’d had the time to stop and help. When I’m rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she’d been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don’t know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.
There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.
How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it — should it — go deeper?
“there was such a moon”
I cheated. This year, I’ve claimed two words. My word-of-the-year friends were skeptical at first, but I swear I saw this online somewhere and it’s allowed. (Are there actual formal rules and guidelines for word-of-the-year? I suppose it is right there in the title, singular, not plural).
My word of the year is work/play.
It was going to be work. Work grabbed me and shook me and said, hey you, this year, you’re going to focus on me. And I replied, sounds good, I’d like that. So I walked around with Work for a week or more, quietly testing it out and accepting it as my word. Except it didn’t seem complete all by its rigorous demanding lonesome. That’s when Play jumped into the mix. Hi there, remember me?
Here’s the thing: in my world, in my being, Work comes naturally. Work is Play. I am easily obsessed by the completion of goals. I like to do things. I throw myself in really deep and sometimes get lost inside of Work. Yes, I want this year to be about Work–about Working, to be precise. But I need to strive for some balance. I need to seek out Play, too, accept it when it comes knocking at my door.
For me, Play is sometimes more like Work. Not always, not precisely, but let me put it this way: I will beeline for my office at the mere suggestion that there’s work to be done; it takes more effort, more convincing, to call me outside to play. Sad but true. It is also true that I could not create what I do without going outside to play. So my work stands to suffer and stagnate without making room, taking time, clearing space, to leap into the spontaneous, the adventuresome, the just plain fun.
One of my word-of-the-year friends told me I should make a “Playlist” (nice!). On the spot, I couldn’t come up with much. Ask me for a Worklist and I’ll get down to business. But what’s on my Playlist? Truthfully, I don’t know yet. Surprise me, Playlist. (For some reason, horseback riding was the one thing that leapt immediately to mind).
I also aim to combine Work and Play this year. They don’t have to stand in opposition to one another. Where do these words align, in my life and yours?
Yesterday held a satisfying mix of work/play. I ran with a friend before dawn; served breakfast, plus made supper in the crockpot; got everyone out the door; napped for 20 minutes; worked on a new song at the piano for half the morning and worked at my desk for the other half; picked up my youngest from nursery school; ran errands; ate lunch; squeezed in a little more writing time while he watched a movie (and no, I won’t apologize for the tactic); picked up the girls early from school for their piano lessons; visited with a friend who works at the same place the girls have their lessons; arrived home to finish making supper and hang laundry; parented some bad meal-time behavior; headed out for supper with my siblings, within walking distance; picked up Albus and walked him (almost all the way) home from his piano lesson; walked to meet with friends over tea to talk about word-of-the-year; and finally, at the end of the day, spent time with Kevin.
I was going to try to categorize each item above as either work or play or work/play, but realized I’m not sure where everything falls. Serving breakfast to my kids can be really fun when we’re all talking together; or it can be a real chore when I’m hungry too and everyone’s grumpy and wants something different and we discover homework that still needs doing, etc. I also realized that there isn’t really room for the critical element of “rest” within work/play. I’m not going to add a third word. But it’s there, lurking behind the scenes. The lack of it gets in the way of both work and play. I don’t care to focus on it, but hope to get enough of it, both mental and physical, this year. (Play seems like mental rest, though, doesn’t it?).
Today I feel overwhelmed. Not by emotion, but by the sheer volume of tasks and appointments and activities, and by trying to keep on top of it all. My google calendar and desktop calendar and beside-the-phone calendar are all working overtime. I keep emailing my husband with more info, more FYIs. At spin class, to which I dragged my aching legs this morning, one of the instructor’s favourite calls of encouragement is: Get on top of it! But as soon as you’re on top, you’re spinning back down and around again. Faster and faster.
I’ve already decided to drop my daily food photo. With early exercise and school and work and making supper before eating breakfast, there is no time to style a plate of leftovers in order to catch the best morning light (see above: waffles, so pretty on Sunday morning). And it can still be a weekend project, aiming for two photos/week.
Back to spin class. I used to hate the fast spins: light and quick. I preferred the seated climbs, digging down, adding resistance, slowing the legs, basically pushing weight with my muscles. But the faster my legs spun around, the more out of control I felt. Here’s what I’ve figured out: the more engaged my core, the faster I can spin. With that central stability to hold me steady, my legs can whirl faster and faster while staying in control. I’m learning to like light and quick.
So what is holding me steady as my life begins to spin again, faster and faster? What’s at the core? What brings me joy and energy and determination–and stability? A bunch of thoughts jump to mind.
* time alone in a quiet house
* little adventures
None of these are going to be my word of the year (to be revealed later this week, after I’ve shared it with my word-of-the-year partners). But there has to be room within the crazy for all of these things. It might mean finding space in the midst of the hurry. It might mean turning inconveniences into opportunities. For example, this afternoon we go from swimming to a soccer practice. Swimming’s for all the kids, but soccer practice is just for one girl; in other words, the little kids have to be dragged along. This could go badly. Bored kids, tired mom. Or it could turn into quiet time spent together, doing things we don’t always have time for: snuggling and reading while we wait. That’s my plan. I can hope for the best, as Albus would say.
News! On the work-related front!
**I’ve seen the full cover for Juliet, and the book is being sent to print later today(!!).
**Next week I’ll head into Toronto to plan publicity with Anansi.
**This week I’m working on a web site to promote the book.
**Last night I sat in my office and listened to the first mix of the song I wrote and recorded for one of my characters in Juliet–my brother, who is a professional musician and producer, did the recording and production. I’m hoping to find some way to connect the two mediums.
**And today I am going to spend my writing time with The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm.
**Also, as some of you may already know, I’ve signed on as an editor/writer for Storywell, a new local business that launches on January 19th. If you live locally, and you are interested in writing, please mark your calendars (desktop, google, beside-the-phone) and come out. Info below. Spread the word.
It’s almost time to talk about my word of the year for this year to come.
But first I want to reflect on the word I chose last year. It was HEART. Not a word you want to come across too often in a collection of poetry lest you begin to suspect the poet of being a) in need of a thesaurus; or b) someone who missed her calling as a composer of greeting cards. Yup. It’s a word with the potential to be shallow, sentimental, Valentine-shaped. And yet it’s also a word with muscle, quite literally. And that is how I used the word (or how it chose to be used by me) this past year.
When I chose HEART, I was thinking of yoga’s chest-opening exercises, of being more open and more loving and kind. But instead I found myself, over and over again, thinking of the noun, of my actual pumping heart. This past year I made my heart work harder than it ever has before. I asked it to power me through training and races at distances I’d never imagined enduring. And my heart adapted. I don’t know the mechanics of long-term training, but somehow over many months my body became more efficient at moving and using oxygen. When I began training, I didn’t know what endurance really meant; all I knew was that I didn’t have it. Over the course of the past year, I learned that endurance is mostly about the ability to recover quickly. In fact, as I’ve experienced it, endurance means many quick recoveries amidst ongoing hard effort. This is best understood in the context of a race, but if you’re a naturally competitive person, like I am, you’ll get a taste for it during every run, every swim, every bike ride. It means feeling spent, and discovering another layer of strength.
All of which also means that my word of the year was taken awfully literally. And that wasn’t what I’d intended.
Surely there’s a cliche in here somewhere, something we could put on a poster, perhaps? Yes, if I dig just a little deeper, I think there is. Because it came to me this morning that while strengthening my literal HEART, I learned about courage. I learned to see myself as courageous (on a small scale), capable of enduring despite momentary doubt or pain; and that in turn gave me courage–to dream bigger, push harder, attempt more, and above all, to trust myself. I may feel spent–speaking metaphorically–but if instead of giving up or giving in to the feeling I let myself breathe for a moment, I will find another layer of strength. How often do I feel discouraged? Tired? Doubtful? Uncertain? These are every day emotions. They aren’t necessarily enormous or overwhelming, but even on a small scale, anxiety or doubt can nibble away at resolve. To live a full life, I want to take chances, to push the pace, to try things I’ve never tried before. I want to answer that voice in my head that is whispering “Can I do this??” with “I don’t know, but I’m going to try.”
I might fail. I might run out of steam and stagger across the finish line. It might not work out this time. But if I’ve tried, I’ve learned more than if I hadn’t.
That’s where HEART took me this year. So I suppose it has been an opening exercise.
Found this German saying in the newspaper this morning: “Who begins too much accomplishes little.”
Uh oh. Is that me? As I woke at 5am, churned away at spin class, got home, ate breakfast, threw laundry in washer, thought about working on the writing project I’m developing, checked email instead, received message on how to use my camera better, spent next hour and a half playing with camera settings and taking random photos around the house, finally sat down at desk to work and started a new blog post. This one.
All the while, this is my morning to work while Kev hangs out with the kids. ie. my time is limited! And what have I done? Is it my habit to dart from project to project, from activity to activity, never fully developing the potential of any?
Maybe my word of the year should be focus. Or choose. Or limits.
Ugh. I don’t want a word like that. I want to do too many things. Not just do them, but master them, become expert at them. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
(Yes it is, at least all at once, if experience is any guide.)
But everything in me wants to deny it. Wants to embrace the opportunities, chase all interests, learn with a hungry and curious mind.
Look at it this way:
**This morning I challenged my body and put in time and effort toward racing goals this summer.
**This morning I ate breakfast with my kids.
**This morning I learned something new and useful: how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed settings on my camera manually, and what effect these previously mysterious numbers have on the outcome of the photos I take every day.
**This morning I recorded, briefly, where my mind is at.
**This morning I connected with friends in person and via email.
And now I am going to open a word processing file and spend an hour, **this morning, working on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Yup. My project in development is a story for children. I read the first chapter to my kids last night, and I think they’d like to hear another one. What could be more motivating?
Sorry, German saying. You’re probably right, but I’m going with my manic energy this morning.
On a completely different note, this blog post titled “Read and Loved in 2011” by The Keepin’ It Real Book Club reached out of the blue and touched me **this morning. Read it and see for yourself.
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