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.
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?”
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.)
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).
I spent all weekend working on revisions. I’m a bit like a woman possessed right now.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
We had to bake Christmas cookies. So said this lass, and she would do the mixing and measuring herself to make it happen. So while I whipped the butter and sugar, she sifted the dry ingredients. When it came time to combine the two, there seemed not nearly enough dry to sufficiently turn the wet into cookie dough.
“It looked like too much flour,” Fooey explained.
And then I explained that baking is like a chemistry experiment, and doesn’t respond well to measurement by whim. So we re-measured the dry, added it in, then added even more, and voila, cookies. We ate them plain as we didn’t have time to frost them, but it was a double batch, so we’ve got three trays’ worth of dough waiting in the fridge, wrapped in wax paper, ready to be rolled out and baked as an after-school snack. So far, we haven’t quite managed to follow through on that plan.
Today we’re getting the water softener replaced. We figured out something was wrong when we turned on the tap the other morning and nothing came out. Kevin was able to bypass the softener, so we do have water. Really, it could have been worse. But then the stove’s front panel stopped working. So it’s been that kind of a week.
Yesterday evening, while I was out at a soccer practice, Kevin received delivery of my manuscript, marked up with comments. I resisted the urge to read through it for about, oh, thirty seconds, and then gave in, and skimmed and scanned over a bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. A short while later, I opened a message about the possibility of teaching again. At which point, I slid these two separate Big Things to the back of my mind and ordered them to stop yammering at me. And then I sliced up apples and pears for snack and wrangled the little kids into bed, read them the death scene from The Lion, The Witch, and Wardrobe, which required reading them the resurrection scene, too, which meant the lights went out later than planned. By then, Kevin and Albus were home from their soccer practice, and AppleApple was delivering a school presentation to the dogs (for want of a better audience), and we made tea and hot chocolate, and Albus and I texted while standing side by side in the kitchen, cracking each other up. (Butt jokes never really go out of style, I find.) And then Kevin went to hockey. The laundry never got folded. I set my alarm for an early morning boot camp. I climbed into bed.
Guess what was waiting for me — yup. My thoughts. All night, a mash-up of Girl Runner and teaching anxiety dreams played in my head. I spent an hour, around 3AM, wide awake, thinking thinking thinking. Begging my thoughts to turn off, please. Knowing everything would be clearer come morning. (Or at least less dire; I find middle-of-the-night rumination very unhelpful in this regard.)
Early this morning, I dragged myself out to boot camp. The theme appeared to be: train like a volleyball player! I have never done so many jumps — onto platforms and balls and just generally into the air, arms up — in my life. Now I’m at my desk with a where-do-I begin sensation. So I begin with the blog, naturally.
little Albus, kindergarten era, pre-texting
And I’ll end the blog by circling back to Christmas, the preparations for which seem especially scattered and ill-thought-out this year. Children do not have gifts. We will be scrambling at the last-minute, I fear. I seem to be waiting for someone else to take the initiative, to organize the outing to the toy shop, or the baking of the cookies (thanks, Fooey!), while I sit at my desk and wander through my imaginary world, trying to fit all the pieces together that still need fitting. Trying to make it all work.
I heard myself say to myself, around 3AM this morning, “Carrie, you can’t do everything.” Don’t tell me that! I told myself. Truth is, I long for multiple lives, for the ability to step from one identity to another, from one kind of work to another, with singular devotion to each. I would be so many things, if only there were little rooms in life that one could exist in simultaneously. Here’s my wish list of multiple lives: writer, devoted mother, teacher, long-distance runner, midwife, singer-songwriter, stage actress. Oh, and I’d have horses, too.
Anyone else have the multiple lives fantasy?
Here’s where I’m spending this week. My favourite part of the photo, above, is CJ’s tiger overseeing the situation (ironically, it’s the part that gets cut out of the photo when this blog is posted online; I’m sure that’s a metaphor for something). I’m marking. That’s what I’m doing. By the end of this evening, I expect to be more than halfway done. (That’s the sound of me knocking on wood.) If all goes as planned, I will finish on Friday. (The knocking is getting louder.)
Maybe then I can fold that basket of clean laundry at the end of the table, which will no doubt have expanded into two wildly overflowing baskets of clean laundry if left until then.
Anyway, if you don’t hear from me between now and the weekend, you’ll know what I’m up to. And why my posture is deteriorating by the hour. And why I suddenly have the urge to write. In broken. Oddly, punctuated, sentences. Grumpy oldster comment ahead, but I don’t think anyone’s teaching kids grammar anymore (did anyone, ever, come to think of it?). It’s like they’re on their own, trying to negotiate a sea of inexplicable commas. I want to help them!
Here’s an awkward transition. I’ll just throw it in like this.
Can you spot the common theme in the following two photos?
new art area
I’m signing off. Pencil in hand, freshly sharpened, back to the table, back to the tiger. I can see it, even if you can’t.