Category: Word of the Year
It feels odd to check in here and offer no news. But it’s true. I have no news. I have instead the general happenings of an ordinary couple of days.
I finished my second round of revisions on Tuesday evening by completely neglecting my two youngest offspring (the two eldest were at soccer tryouts with their dad). I knew I was close, and couldn’t stop myself. Here’s how our after-supper conversation went.
CJ: I’m bored!
Me: I’m sorry.
CJ: Can Grandma come play?
Me: Let’s text her and find out.
[a round of texting ensues]
Me: I’m sorry, but Grandma can’t come. She’s visiting your new baby cousin right now.
CJ: [flings self on floor in attitude of despair] Grandma is ALWAYS with the new baby now!
Me: The new baby is four days old. I think you’re exaggerating. [thought bubble: wow, new baby as potential rival, that didn’t take long]
CJ: But I’m bored! We don’t even have Netflix!
Me: How about a video on YouTube? Like Little Bear.
CJ: I hate Little Bear.
Me: What do you want to watch?
Me: Seriously? Pokemon? It isn’t too scary? [thought bubble: or utterly nonsensical?]
Me: Pokemon it is. I’ll just be in my office … [an hour later: revisions done!]
On Wednesday, I went out for coffee and croissant with a friend to catch up and celebrate the France deal (she speaks French; I do not).
On Thursday, I presented my students with way too much information on the elements of short story writing.
Unrelatedly, I also made a list of things I want. It’s a bit extravagant, and includes a treadmill desk and a laptop. Also running tights and a haircut.
Must have been in list-making mode, because I then made another list of potential words of the year for next year. This year’s word is STRETCH. I think about it from time to time and wonder how it fits in with everything that’s happening. And I remind myself to do yoga and actually physically stretch.
It’s a full moon tonight. The sun is shining. This morning, I went out to the back yard and took these photos.
on Birthday Eve, still eleven years old
on Birthday Morn, twelve times ’round the sun
I’m feeling compelled to sum up this month, even though it’s not quite over. It’s been such a month, and I’ve been unable to share some of the crucial details of its ups and downs and whirling arounds, which has forced me into awkward positions on this blog, made me into something of a contortionist. My ambiguity has caused a few friends to contact me with concern, wondering if all is well.
Well, all is well. And I don’t mean that in a Rob Ford way, whistling past the suddenly emptied offices of his communications team.
It’s been a good month.
It’s been a good month, but I won’t pretend it’s been easy. Decision-making is never easy, even when one is making decisions about excessively positive things, opportunities one has called out for, and hoped for, and pursued with determination. As I wrote in an earlier post, the doors are open. An open door is a blessing, and I feel blessed to be welcomed to enter.
But I have come to recognize, also, this month, that I can’t walk through every open door, not at the same time. I may contain multiplicities, but I am only one. I can only be in one place at a time. (I know you already knew that, but it’s taken me some convincing.) I am mother to four children. I am a writer. I would like to become a midwife. All those doors are open for me, right now. And I feel blessed. You, however, have probably already jumped ahead to the very obvious question that I somehow managed to avoid throughout this whole process: You are probably asking, okay, Carrie, that’s wonderful and all, but how, exactly, do you plan to go to school full-time, remain involved in your children’s busy lives, and continue to write?
Somehow, I thought I could do it all. I wasn’t going to not do some of it, oh no, I was going to do it all.
Magical thinking, perhaps. I am the sort of person who thrives on juggling responsibilities. Quietly, I told myself I could set aside the writing for the summer months. I did not need to attend so many soccer games and swim meets. We could get a dishwasher. The kids could learn to cook. Quietly, I thought, bring on the challenge.
But then the doors opened, all at once.
And suddenly I had to confront my own limitations — of time and of energy. I had to ask myself: what am I prepared to sacrifice? And I had to accept that now is not the right time to become a midwife. That is a hard sentence to write, and it’s taken me all month to carry myself toward accepting what I’m realistically capable of, right now.
For a good part of the month, I thought that this was an existential question about midwifery versus writing. Do I want to be a midwife or a writer? Well, the fact is, I’d like to be both, and I still believe it’s possible. I am already a writer, married to it for better or for worse and enjoying a happy stretch of career momentum right now. And I’m grateful to midwifery for being a career that does not discriminate against age: expect me to apply again sometime in the next decade, as my children grow up and get their driver’s licences and learn how to cook. No, what I’ve come around to recognizing is that this is not a question about midwifery versus writing. It’s not even, really, a question. It’s about being where I’m at, right now. And right now I have four children in the thick of their young and developing lives, and I want to be at the soccer games and swim meets. The shortened work day might drive me crazy sometimes, but I want to be here after school to gather them in, to follow up and dig around and take care of their lives in this very hands-on way. Juggle and spin it however I like, I can’t commute to another city for school and be here for this now that won’t always be.
How fortunate that I have an office, here, that I have quiet space to work, solitary time that is sandwiched on either side by frenetic activity and demands. I even have time to run and play soccer myself, to cook from scratch, see friends, and go on the occasional field trip. I go to bed done, and I sleep well at night.
I’d still love to doula at friends’ births.
I’d still like the kids to learn how to cook.
And we’re getting that dishwasher anyway — on Thursday, in fact.
When the time is right, I still hope to become a midwife.
But for now, my heart is full with the life that is all around me, right here, right now.
Here’s a poem that wrapped itself around me a few days ago, coming from a book of essays I’m reading by Anne Lamott, called Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith.
“Late Fragment,” by Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
What is practice?
It is daily. It is intentional. It can change. It needs to meet you where you are.
Practice is work. You do it even when you don’t feel like it.
Practice is patient, even if you are not.
Pratice adds up, it builds on its own forceful persistence. It cannot but change you, for doing it, so be sure that you are practicing what you wish to practice.
February, out our window
Update on eating down the cupboards: Made hummus! Used up two mostly empty jars of tahini! Now we only have two jars of tahini left! (This emptying the cupboard project is revealing certain inefficiencies in our shopping/storage system.)
Also, and basically unrelated, I made yogurt on the weekend. It had been awhile. I got discouraged after making a batch that scorched and stopped for a year or so. But it’s easy! And we’re eating lots of yogurt again, due to my renewed breakfast mandate: no cold cereal. Somehow, somewhere along the line this fall, we got into the habit of having boxed cereal around for snacks, and from there we slipped into kids eating boxed cereal for breakfast, too. (In our family, cold cereal has traditionally been considered a junk-food-type treat, bought only on occasion.)
The complaints regarding this change were loud, but brief.
February’s Every Day Breakfast Menu:
* yogurt with pearsauce and bananas (chia seeds optional)
* eggs made to order with toast (homemade bread)
* toast with peanut butter and jam
* porridge (not instant)
I met with my word-of-the-year friends last night. We are planning to meet more often throughout this year for reflection. I came away from our conversation with the renewed intention to be in the world without judgement. To quiet my critical inner voice, whether the criticism be negative or positive, and simply to be present.
This is not necessarily the easiest task for a writer. But I do think there are ways to be attentive to the world without setting myself apart from it, or above it, or wishing I could alter it.
On “stretch,” my word of the year, I realized last night that I’d already lost track of my intended usage of the word, which was to take time to stretch — to become more flexible by slowing down. Taken literally, I am indeed doing yoga once a week and stretching after running and spin; it’s the metaphorical stretching that confounds me. Instead of stretching, I find myself stretched, a bit, and wondering: do I say yes more often than I should? I love yes. I love exploring possibilities. I love remaining open to experiences.
Therefore, I stretch myself to be many things all at once. Question asked by friend: Will you stretch until you break?
Answer: I hope I won’t break. And yes.
Lost-and-found, the neverending story:
* one red mitten: lost
Child climbs off of school bus. “Where is your mitten?” “Can’t find it!” “When did you lose it? Could it be on the bus?” “No, not on the bus.” “Did you lose it at school?” “Yeah.” “Did you have to go all day without a mitten?” “Yeah.” “Was your hand cold at recess?” [Shrug] “You can wear my mitten.” [Tries mitten, takes it off] “Too big. I can go like this!” [Covers exposed hand with mittened hand, chats cheerfully all the way home]
* one black Celtic hat: found!
In Kevin’s hat bin. Pink mittens still missing.
* one grey hat with ear flaps: found!
Found before we even realized it was missing (well, AppleApple knew, she just didn’t want to mention it, considering how many of her personal belongings go missing; I don’t blame her, really). Hat was left at soccer field, and kind observant parent (not me or Kev) recognized it. Now we just have to pick it up.
I’m liking the ten-minute post. 1. It keeps me from rambling. 2. It keeps from obsessively over-editing every precious word. 3. I’m writing a book, and I need to do that more than I need to blog … but I can spend ten minutes blogging without harming my book writing.
Okay, the above took me two whole minutes!
Which leaves me eight to write about my word of the year. Drumroll, please.
Word of The Year, 2013!
No, don’t get up. I’m not giving you advice or suggesting that you do, although perhaps you should. That’s my word. Yes, that’s it. Stretch.
Let me explain. Let me explain first that my best words have come very suddenly, seemingly out of the blue. I found this word during my long run on Saturday afternoon. It has several different meanings, and I intend to explore them throughout the year, but its most basic meaning is where I’ll begin.
Stretching. I need to do more of it, quite literally. If I am to keep doing my long runs and not get injured, I must stretch. I don’t know why it’s so hard to add that simple extra step into my routine, but it is. Therefore, word of the year will remind me to stretch.
On a metaphorical level, I see it like this: There are things that I want to do. Big, exciting, challenging, adventurous things! If I’m to do them, I will need to stretch. I will need to do the simple little things that keep me flexible (metaphorically speaking). My focus tends to go right to the big part of any challenge, the grinding, tough, overtly demanding, adrenalin-fuelled, energy-burning part. And I skip over the milder-seeming, gentler, supportive part that requires stillness and patience. I find my joy in motion.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
It’s just that if I want to stay in motion, I need to learn to stand still and stretch. Know what I mean? The one supports the ability to do the other. You can’t soar if your wings are stiff. Does that sound like it belongs on a really bad motivational poster, perhaps involving a pastel sunset and bubble letters? Hm. Well, something like that.
And that’s my ten minutes. Plus three. Or four.
I stretched it a little.
random unrelated photo from our holidays
I’ve got ten minutes to write this post. It’s 5:47 AM and I’m up because a) I’m planning to go to a yoga class and b) I couldn’t sleep because c) my mind was racing with everything that needs to get done today — the first day back to regular routine.
There won’t be time to blog today. So, why not get up early and blog, thought I, and eat an egg on toast, and write a note to a kid’s teacher re mixed up black Bog boots, and send an email to my husband, still sleeping, about tonight’s difficult-to-coordinate after-school soccer/supper/local food pick-up plan. Why not?
So I’m up. Egg eaten, note written, email plan sent, yoga bag packed.
Now to blog. It’s word-of-the-year time. Tonight I am meeting with two friends to talk about our words of last year, and words of the coming year. So I’d like to reflect (oh so briefly!) on my word of this year past. I cheated, slightly, and chose two: work and play. As the year unspooled, it seemed that work was the dominant word. I struggled to figure out where play fit, and I’m still not sure. I played soccer, which was new. And I tried to enjoy my work and find the joy/play in it. But maybe one word would have been enough.
I worked to repair an injury last winter.
I worked to promote The Juliet Stories.
I worked as a freelance writer.
I applied to midwifery school — hoping to do work of a different kind.
Working to repair an injury is not as much fun as working toward completing a triathlon. But it was necessary, and I am repaired, for now, and looking forward to more goals and races this coming year.
Working to promote my book was good. It really was. It was work, without a doubt, and it took energy, but by the end of the season I felt comfortable on stage, and had benefitted from connections made at the different festivals, and I think I was able to see myself as a writer in a tangible and public way. It was a good year for my work as a fiction writer.
Working as a freelance writer was, well, I’ll be frank, it was hard. I don’t have time to elaborate, but suffice it to say, that experiment encouraged me to make the leap to apply to midwifery school, after many years of considering the possibility. (That, and the fact that my youngest child will be in school full-time next fall.)
Writing fiction continues to be both work and play, for me. I am blessed to have found something that brings both elements together. I’m looking forward to working/playing today … after yoga, breakfast, kids off to school, and my quick morning nap. Can’t wait!