Category: Work

This is my brain on Snow Day

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Tuesday morning, 9:30AM

Well that was short-lived. I am very definitely, completely, assuredly, hopelessly not alone in the house this morning. The day Albus has been praying for has arrived: Snow Day! School’s cancelled. Although I think it should more accurately be called Really Cold Day, because that seems to be why they cancelled it.

And it is really cold. I can’t deny it.

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Behind me comes the persistent wail of the five-year-old: Mom, no one will play with me! Mom, no one will play with me! Mom, no one will play with me!

His sister suggests: If you had an imaginary friend, you’d always have someone to play with.

But imaginary friends can’t win!

Yes, says his sister, it can be arranged that imaginary friends can win. You just have to know how to do it.

Random parenting tip: I find that if you answer in soothingly vague understanding tones, yet don’t follow up with any action, children will go off and find something to do. Case in point: five-year-old has retired to exploding little go-go figures in the living-room. Happily.

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Does our living room look really empty? It is. It’s the perfect play area for indoor soccer matches and floor puzzles and exploding go-go guys that you’ve arranged across the barren floor. It’s ugly as all get-out, of course, but that doesn’t diminish its value as a play area.

Kevin and I are currently brainstorming. This is sometimes a good thing and sometimes not. For example, we do have two dogs (unrepentant early morning whiners and poopers on porches in cold weather) due to impulsive brainstorming. But we all know how hard it is to change one’s habits. And Kevin and I maintain a perverse fondness for impulsively brainstormed decisions. Right now what we’re impulsively brainstorming is getting a gas fireplace. Maybe where the sofa is (see above). We can only do this if we don’t get a new stove and range hood. But, we brainstorm impulsively, maybe the stove will prove fixable. (This has not been adequately determined, nor do we know how much it will cost, to keep fixing a stove that has frequently gone on the fritz ever since its costly purchase six years ago. It’s like that car you keep repairing because you own it and you’ve committed so much to it already. “Throwing good money after bad.” That’s the phrase. But then again, there must be a handy counter-phrase, such as “Waste not, want not,” and “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”)

I’ve lost my train of thought. So have you. This is my brain on Snow Day.

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I am currently reading Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, an entertaining guide to punctuation, which I fully intend to inflict on future creative writing students, should I ever teach again. Yesterday I haggled over a comma. Today, I’m writing dreadfully long parenthetical asides while my children lie about the house. Tomorrow they will be back in school. Won’t they? Are swim lessons cancelled, too? And soccer practice? Is the entire day a clean slate? If I hide out in my office drinking coffee will they notice? Can I keep them from the siren’s call of ‘lectronics, as my youngest puts it? Should a question mark have been placed at the end of that last sentence?

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It’s beautiful out there. And frozen. I’m leaving the office to go for groceries now, actually, because we’re low on everything and this is the kind of weather that screams: STOCK UP OR PERISH!

Although apparently we can expect a light rain by Saturday. (Really, weather?) Sometimes I suspect we’re just lobsters in a pot, happily swimming around without a clue to our fates. Except it’s worse than that. That analogy only works if the lobsters have filled the pot, lit the gas flame, and jumped in voluntarily, while their leaders systematically burn and bury all the scientific evidence that jumping into pots on stoves is certain to cause cooking in lobsters. And strains in analogies. Perhaps I’ve taken this too far.

It’s 2014. I wonder why I thought it would be different from 2013.

Forget perfection

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chance of freezing rain

More portable office sessions have followed Wednesday’s. I’m loving it. All these years of working amidst the chaos of a busy home have inured me to noise and interruption. I pop in those ear plugs, my cue to check out of wherever I happen to be, physically.

I like that my book is set in the past, and in imaginary places. I like the sense of escape I feel upon  entering that other world. The work feels light or playful, maybe. When describing my schedule to someone at a party last night — working with a new editor, tight deadline over the holidays, hosting family, no oven, two sick kids — he observed, “That’s a lot of pressure on you right now.” Is it? Oh, yeah, I guess so. Funny how it feels so easy compared to the pressure that I had to manufacture all on my own last winter, when finishing an acceptable draft of this same book. It’s infinitely easier to work with a deadline, with the support of editors, with a wanted manuscript. I can’t even describe the difference. The pressure seems like a celebration, like a party to which I’m thrilled to have been invited. I feel like an actor who’s been waiting and waiting to get onstage to perform, and finally my cue has come. Let me out there! Let me at it! Let me do what I’ve come here to do.

That’s what it feels like.

And the sick kids are on meds and appear to be mending, and the lack of an oven gives me an excellent excuse (not that I should need one) to forget about whisking up the perfect Christmas from scratch. Family is here. Everyone’s helping out. I’m letting them (I have control issues in the kitchen, I’ll be the first to confess).

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accidental tree decoration

Maybe I’ll look back on this holiday as the one when I let things go and came out peacefully, blissfully, perfectly fine on the other side.

At home anywhere

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So there’s a lot going on that isn’t fantabulous*, but I’m still flying high after yesterday’s successful plot to turn any-damn-where into my office.

Look at this. I’m editing my book while at my daughter’s swim lessons, laptop on knees, bathed in the ambient glow of the Coca-Cola machine, with students slumping by in their squeaking wet boots, lost, opening the doors to the squash courts, lost, squeaking past again. The one guy went by four times. I know because he was on crutches, so he emitted a special thumping dragging sound in addition to the wet squeak of his boots.

At the next location, I used ear plugs. These are bright orange and not the least attractive, but made me feel even more at home.

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Here, I’m editing my book while at my daughter’s soccer practice (same daughter, same evening), leaning on her giant backpack for support, in a high-traffic zone, peopled with buff sweaty basketball players and exhausted-looking parents dragging young daughters who were dragging enormous hockey bags. We’ve never entered the Canadian world of ice hockey, but its equipment looks more cumbersome and expensive than that required by soccer or swimming.

The other soccer parents greeted me and graciously left me alone. I worked for the entire evening, conquering one problematic scene, and hurtling partway through another, interrupted only when I looked up to see AppleApple coming toward me, holding her soccer ball. “What’s happening?” I said. “Is practice over already?”

“Already!”

She’d been running around a gym for an hour and a half, so fair enough. It was hardly already to her. But it was to me. And that’s a wonderful thing. Best Christmas present ever!

* list of unfatabulous things: sick CJ (strep throat); oven can’t be fixed; therefore, need to buy new stove; therefore, may need to reno kitchen to add range hood; therefore, it’s doubtful we’ll have a working oven before the new year; therefore, holiday menus need revamping; also, house is a disaster and we’re hosting Kevin’s family Christmas with everyone arriving tonight; and tomorrow is a PD day

Actually, this doesn’t sound so bad, now that I’ve written it out. I’ll run the vacuum, make the beds, scale down the elaborate cooking and baking plans, and use the extra time (not cooking and baking) to write — which can happen anywhere, beside any child’s athletic or musical activity! Because my office is now portable!

“You’re doing something else in the normal world”

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I’m in a pre-holiday panic, characterized by a sense of paralysis as the lists in my head get jumbled and I can’t remember who needs what and when and where and why, and how it will all get done I do not know. At least I slept well last night. I woke looking like I’d swallowed a giant salt tablet, which I kind of did, given my new love of all things brined and fermented. Have you tried a real brined pickle, tangy from fermentation rather than vinegar? I’m now attempting to brine a rutabaga because it was the only brine-able vegetable I could find in the fridge last night. You might not think brining random root vegetables at 10:30PM the wisest use of my time, given the panic mode, but that is the truth of panic-mode. We’re not the wisest at 10:30PM.

Yesterday. Oh boy. Kettlebells and spin, and forgot my running shoes, so had to borrow a pair, which didn’t really fit, so I ended up going barefoot. Brief nap interrupted by dogs howling. Sleepy daughter needed a late breakfast, had to be forced to do her homework, had to be driven to school around lunchtime. I grudgingly ate lunch (it wastes so much time!). Before I knew it, it was meet-the-bus time. Walk home together time. Make an early supper time. Try to force sleepy swim daughter to do more homework time. Then we were off to swim lessons. Last one of the season for CJ, who didn’t pass, as I knew he would not, having observed his progress in the pool. He’s improved enormously, but he can’t figure out his kick, and lies there floating atop the water, legs churning with energetic futility, propelling him literally not an inch.

As we stood in the change room, me trying to towel off his wet legs, him howling that I was torturing him with the towelling of the wet legs, I thought, yup, this is torture alright. I’m crouched in a germ-ridden change room with a melodramatic five-year-old and my book is at home not getting written!

At home, we ate the soup I’d made earlier. Too many veggies, according to one child. Too spicy, according to another.

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soccer boy

Then the soccer lad and I walked to the library to pick up the carshare car, and headed to his last house league game of the season. They won! And he scored! It was a fun game. I enjoyed the conversation that accompanied our outing, too. I was so grumpy as we walked to library, growling at every little thing that wasn’t just perfect in the world around me (lousy drivers nearly running us over in the crosswalk, lousy fellow sidewalk walkers cruising two abreast as if expecting us to jump into the snowbank in deference to their passage, etc.) I suddenly heard myself, bitching about everything, and wondered out loud whether really good people (like Nelson Mandela, I said) did this. Were they grumpy out loud? Did they complain about other people in such a petty terms? Surely not. Albus figured that really good people kept it to themselves. Maybe they let off steam in private. But they didn’t say mean things in public.

How do you let off steam, I wondered? Albus figured it was different for everyone. He wasn’t sure how he let off steam. Come to think of it, neither was I, only that on certain days, due to certain circumstances, I was more likely to be grumpy and intolerant and judgemental. Like yesterday. Stretched too thin, to pull my word of the year into the conversation.

After soccer, we parked the carshare car at the library and walked, shivering in the Arctic breeze, to the grocery store to check the last to-do of the day off the list (brining rutabagas wasn’t actually on the list, in fact). We had fun dashing down the aisles, as we always seem to, and were the second-to-last customers in the whole store. Albus has discovered my weak spot, which is anything with a bargain sticker on it: therefore, he talked me into getting him a tray of sushi for a bedtime snack, half-price. I texted Kev, who drove over to pick us up. What did we do before texting? Psychic means weren’t nearly so reliable. And then I ate the last pickle and brined the rutabaga and ate two more bowls of soup, plus a grapefruit, plus had a cup of tea with Kev, then tried to read in bed, until I discovered myself reading with my eyes closed, which never works. I try it every night, and it never ever works.

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And now I’m sitting here wondering about presents un-bought, and when to schedule in time to go seek them out, and food-ordering, and how it will all fit together, and how I can leave the book behind for a few days, so as not to torment myself with the fact that I’m not working on it, and instead enjoy the holidays, and family, because the holidays don’t come often, and occasions for togetherness don’t come often either.

How can I set aside this unfinished work? I’m breathing its air.

Alice Munro was recently quoted in an interview saying this: When you’re a writer, you’re never quite like other people — you’re doing a job that other people don’t know you’re doing and you can’t talk about it, really, and you’re just always finding your way in the secret world and then you’re doing something else in the “normal” world.

It’s true. You can’t talk about it. It’s not that people aren’t willing to listen, it’s that it’s impossible to talk about. The secret world is paper-thin, full of holes, peopled with shadows and questions and puzzles and blazing pictures. It doesn’t all fit together, and this is impossible to explain too. That the work carries from project to project, never finished, never solved. It’s the never-ending-ness that causes enormous anxiety, which in turn fuels the work. You’re always trying to pull it together, as a writer, and failing, and it’s the failure that keeps you at it. To fail is to recognize what yet could be. How to talk about that?

Welcome, Monday

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She’s back! (Arrived home on the bus at 2AM this morning; Kev picked her up since I was getting up at 5AM for spin and kettlebells. But of course I ran down to give her a hug as soon as I heard them come in.) And one of her roommates on the trip had brushed through the gigantic knots in her hair, which we’d been putting off for rather awhile. (I’d suggested this might be a possibility, remembering what it was like to be an 11-year-old girl, and sent along a spray bottle of detangler and a fat-toothed comb, just in case. Apparently, she simply asked her roommates if either of them liked brushing hair, and one did and volunteered for the job, bless her.)

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I’ve got an early Christmas present. I’m typing this on my new laptop. My work is now officially portable. Kevin tells me I can work at his office over the holidays if it gets too noisy here at home (and good grief, my children are loud).

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I spent all weekend working on revisions. I’m a bit like a woman possessed right now.

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Our oven isn’t working (it’s been that kind of a year), but that should be fixed on Wednesday, just in time for hosting. My mom had the younger kids over to bake and decorate cookies yesterday afternoon. Outsourcing Christmas activities. That seems to be my solution to the holidays versus revisions show-down currently on play.

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That said, I took time off for a few activities on the weekend. There was snow shovelling to attend to, and happy was I to burn off steam while in the great outdoors, my energetic daughter helping for the entire project. Most fun was that a few people stopped to say hello as they were driving by. It felt very neighbourly. Speaking of neighbourly, when I mentioned our stove woes on FB, three neighbours offered their ovens for Christmas day. Three! In a matter of minutes!

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So I may be huddled up in my office, bent over my keyboard, caught up in my imaginary world, but when I take a moment to look up and around, there are lovely people who don’t seem to mind that I’m fuzzy-headed and needy and mildly dazed. Or even wild-eyed and mildly frantic (that happens sometimes too, around here, believe it or not).

Home delivery

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No more home delivery. No more mail person clomping up my porch steps. No more familiar ting of the metal lid being lifted and dropped. I don’t receive a lot of hand-written letters these days, but I get a lot of mail, and not the junk kind, either. I’m self-employed, and most cheques for my speaking and writing work arrive in my mailbox, often unexpectedly. Gazing out my office window, it always cheers me to see the mail person marching along the sidewalk, with our stack of letters in her hand. So. So? Maybe it’s just a luxury to expect my mail to be delivered at the door. Maybe it is. But it makes me sad to know that this delivery system for communication is vanishing.

I’m facing off against Girl Runner today; that’s not a good way to frame it, but truth is, doubt is plaguing me. The only way to make this anxiety go away is to do the work. I know that. Why is it so hard to begin?

Reassuring words from Kevin, to get me going this morning: Once you get started you will find your pace, just like running. Your personality is that you get better and faster the longer you go.

True. I gain confidence over the long haul. I gain resistance to pain. I shed fear, or it shuts down, somehow, and doesn’t matter. I’m talking about my experience as a runner, but I’m also talking about writing. About anything, really. About being a mother. About being a friend.

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Was I ever grumpy this morning. Broken zipper on snow pants discovered at the last minute, digging through the attic for another pair, bitter cold pouring through the opened front door as the impatient child waited for her little brother. But I’m not grumpy because of that. I’m grumpy because my mind is elsewhere, edging toward questions and solutions, big questions, elusive solutions.

I’m grumpy, maybe at least a little, because I went out with my siblings last night, stayed out rather late, did not object to another pitcher being ordered, and then set my alarm and went for an early run this morning (with a friend; if I hadn’t been meeting her, I would have stayed in bed).

I’m grumpy because I know what I need to do, and I’m afraid of failing.

I’m grumpy because I’m afraid of failing.

Shouldn’t I know better? It’s not failing I should fear. It’s inertia.

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