Category: Work

Attention: Minor profound thought ahead

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This is a perfect writing day.

Rainy, grey, dark, gloomy. No pull to go outside or run errands in the sunshine (not that the pull is very strong for me anyway, when I’m on a writing roll). I woke from my post-spin-class cat-nap to the sound of heavy rain on the roof. That sound makes me feel content, dreamy, and ever so slightly guilty for sending my children off to school without umbrellas or rain jackets. I’m their weather girl. And apparently I’m good at maintaining the long-standing weather-person tradition of totally wrong forecasts. I should get a green screen and a pointer, and do my hair and makeup.

Attention: Minor profound thought of the day coming right up.

Writing fiction is not a responsive job. In a responsive job, you show up with your talents and skills, and respond to the needs presented to you. Your schedule, also, responds to other people’s needs. I imagine this could be very satisfying: here is a need being treated by my specific skills. I sometimes fantasize about having the skills to do work like that.

I don’t, really. (Although I could, perhaps, find a job as a copy editor or a creative writing teacher, given my current skill set.)

Writing fiction is quite different. I’m going to call it an originating job. In an originating job, you set your talents and skills to projects of your own devising, and hope to heck that others will connect with what you’re doing, and see value in it. The work (and the schedule) is self-directed. If I want anything exciting to happen, I must make it happen. I must see what could be, believe in it, and bring it about. I must pursue my goal against inevitable headwinds of creative dissonances and deeply uncomfortable emotions: doubt and uncertainty caused by a lack of exterior motivation. No one needs a book. (If I break my arm, I need a doctor; but a book of fiction answers no such direct need.) Being a fiction writer can feel excruciatingly meaningless. Completely unnecessary. It’s quite easy to go from wondering, can I do this, to why am I doing this?

That is why Wild Optimism is a huge part of my every day existence. The belief that I have something to say. The desire to express it. The sheer chugging energy that fires me toward an end. That is also why sometimes I am tired and weary, and I fantasize about people calling me up and begging to pay me pots of money to write books for them! That is why I fantasize, too, about doing other work, where I could walk into a room and respond to a need, immediately. I long for a different skill set, sometimes, or an enhanced and deeper skill set.

But I love the freedom and seemingly endless possibilities that come from doing an originating job.

Attention: No conclusions shall be drawn today.

I’m meeting Kevin for lunch tomorrow, to brainstorm and discuss our future plans, big and small. I’m sure we’ll have all the answers by tomorrow afternoon. Well … at least we’ll have a lunch date together.

One good thing about not having a dishwasher

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this morning, convalescing kid with companions

Recently I sat down and wrote out a schedule. My goal was to identify any spare pockets of time into which I could slot one of the following activities: exercise, writing, social time, Kevin time, and cleaning. (My standards are low, but even basic maintenance for a family of six without a dishwasher requires a little effort every day.) I discovered a few extra spots for running or yoga, plus worked out my strategy for maximizing my writing hours (hint: it involves scheduling separate time for email). Social time seems to be the hardest to come by.

But I did find an extra fifteen minutes here and there to throw at vacuuming and cleaning out cupboards and filing the stacks of paper that fly into the house and somehow multiply and spread to every available surface. To which I say, Whoo-hoo, without much enthusiasm.

But now I’ve got a kid home sick, and the schedule’s gone out the window. This is temporary, right? Right??

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Last night, I visited another book club, my fifth this fall. I’ll admit that I was exhausted and drained after spending the previous night at the hospital, but I had a feeling that I needed not to cancel last-minute. I needed to go. And didn’t I! I was hosted by a group of mothers and daughters whose comforting warmth and welcome restored my energies. You just never know when these unexpected gifts are going to arrive. I returned home feeling repaired and strengthened by the evening.

I also got to show the book club the reprinted version of The Juliet Stories, which arrived yesterday. Oh my goodness! It looks quite different: GG finalist sticker embedded in the cover design, and new quotes from reviews on the back and front.

Kevin has made me a little gift: he put together a video with photos from this past month’s GG adventure, set over top of the clip on The Juliet Stories that was played on Monday evening on CBC radio’s As It Happens. Small story about that clip: I got to listen to it twice. First, I heard it live. I was washing the dishes, and I always listen to the CBC while washing the dishes (perhaps this is reason enough to remain dishwasher-free). Kevin was at a soccer game with AppleApple and the other kids were playing soccer in the rainy dark backyard, and suddenly there was my name and then my voice. I didn’t call the kids in. I listened alone, appreciating the quiet. What a sweet life moment. An hour later, the whole family got to hear it together: we streamed it from the Winnipeg station online. AppleApple was beaming from ear to ear: her Halloween costume is mentioned in the intro. (Several of her siblings were slightly jealous.) When my reading came on, CJ said, “Who is that?!” “Who do you think?” And he was suddenly too shy to say, but he knew.

Click here to see the video. Thanks, Kevin. It’s quite the keepsake.

Cosmic activity in the friendship area …

I just had to share with you the horoscope I read yesterday at supper. Yeah, I read those things. (Oh, and yeah, sometimes I read the newspaper at supper.) The horoscopes aren’t always quite so spot on, but this one really was:

“Cosmic activity in the friendship area of your chart means you will be offered at least one helping hand over the next 14 hours. Wherever you go and whatever you do, people will go out of their way to assist you.”

Skip over that 14-hour thing (too much precision for the stars, in my humble opinion), substitute “one” helping hand for “many,” and it’s just ridiculously accurate. In fact, I’m quite certain that given a little distance I will look back on yesterday as a good day in my life. A really good day. Ultimately, some very fine things have come from writing this book, and from writing this blog, and from writing, period. So it’s back to the writing. It’s been a whirlwind.

Thanks, friends, for all of the helping hands.

Here’s what it feels like, right now

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squirrel on our back fence, yesterday, sheltering itself from the rain

I’ve been quiet.

There’s a time to be quiet and a time to make noise, and it’s time to be quiet. I’ve made a lot of noise this fall, that’s what it feels like. I’ve done my best. And because I chose to write about every stage of this journey, it seems only fair to close up the chapter begun on October 2nd, when my book was named a finalist for one of Canada’s biggest literary prizes.

A quirk about the GGs is that there is no instant reveal ceremony. Instead, all the finalists are informed of the results in advance, and then asked to keep their knowledge secret until the day of the announcement. I’ve tried to play by the rules, but you can read me like a book. I carry my happiness and my sadness in my body. I’ve been through a massive range of emotions since Oct. 2nd, and I’ve tried to accept every shift, every climb, every jitter, every fall. I’ve tried not to resent what I’m feeling. Just feel it. Just be there with it.

I’ve known for over a week, now, that The Juliet Stories was not chosen by the jury as the last book standing.

I’ve felt quite alone in that knowledge. It’s a lonely place to be, accepting good wishes for a result that you already know will disappoint. I suppose that’s been my rawest emotion: the sense that I am disappointing friends and family with this result.

I told my two big kids on Sunday, after I’d had a difficult day, struggling with how I would get through one more day until the announcement. I was so weary, so distracted, so short-tempered, it wasn’t fair to them. So I told them, to give them context; I make a habit of naming my emotions (and encouraging them to name theirs) so we all know what we’re working with. This was late on Sunday evening. They were sad to hear the news, yes, but mostly they were purely compassionate, empathetic. They forgave me my snapping.

I said, “I’m really sorry to be disappointing you.”

And my daughter came across the room like a heat-seeking missile to hug me, hard. She said, “You’re not disappointing me, Mom. I’m just disappointed in the jury’s choice.”

I needed to hear it, and I’m blessed to have heard it from my own thoughtful child.

It’s not like I ever felt that my book deserved to win over anyone else’s. I still believe it was luck that landed me on the list. But if luck got me that far, it meant I might get luckier still. And I got pretty close to that light. I’ve lived a simple life, propelling myself toward this possibility from a young age. Writing books was the one thing I consistently wanted to do and so I figured out how to write books with a singular focus: reading, studying, practicing, and working toward this goal — which is an amorphous goal, and I’m not sure one that should rely so heavily, in my own judgement, on prizes or sales, but I’m also not sure how else to measure my success in meeting it. Essentially, it’s been the goal of signing my name amidst the names I’ve read and studied and admired.

It’s been the goal of writing a beautiful book. Or two. Or more.

I’m not sure, now that I’m here, what I imagined it would be like. What if this is as good as it gets? The festivals, the readings, meeting other writers — all things I’ve truly enjoyed this fall, but also things that are new and strange and exciting because they are out of the ordinary. Would I enjoy them so much if they became ordinary? The prize part has surprised me most of all. It’s left me drained. I’d say humbled, but it’s more a sense of helplessness, a lack of control. I ask: wouldn’t I do this all over again? And yes, I would. Without question. Crazy, huh.

I’m still feeling quiet. November is a good time for quiet, and I’m craving winter’s hibernation. But I’m going to try not to hide out completely, not to avoid people. Now you know how I’m feeling. Now we know where we are. Right?

On the balanced life (aka “balanced”)

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File this post under balance. Sort of. I’m not convinced I’m actually someone who cares to live a “balanced” life. In fact, I’m fairly certain I’m someone who wants to live at full throttle, whether I’m sleeping, socializing, parenting, cooking, writing, or whatevering. I’m all in. That doesn’t mean I want to live at a manic breakneck pace, just that I want to be present wherever I am, fully appreciating that speck of time, that particular activity. That’s my version of balance.

Anyway, I want to reflect on how our crazy schedule is working this fall — because against all odds it does seem to be working.

Most of the kids’ extra-curricular activities occur after school. Piano is a constant, with the three eldest taking weekly lessons and practicing quite regularly (sticker charts work for two of them, and one doesn’t need the encouragement). We’ve skipped swim lessons for the fall. But AppleApple swims three times a week with a competitive swim team. I was remembering how she used to be kind of rotten when she was bored, and how rarely we see that behavior from her anymore. Maybe she’s matured. Or maybe she just doesn’t have time to be bored.

Kevin organizes a weekly neighbourhood hockey/skate hour at the rink, which all the kids do.

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And the rest of our lives revolve around soccer. Every single family member now plays soccer. We’ve got soccer every day of the week except for Wednesdays (and even Wednesday is looking to go to soccer very soon). Further, Kevin coaches all of the kids, except for Fooey who chose to do soccer skills rather than play on an indoor team (her time slot would have been 8am on Saturday mornings, so we did not object to her choice). You wouldn’t think of soccer as a year-round sport in Canada, but with indoor fields all over the place, it’s just as year-round as hockey can be. AppleApple plays four times a week (once on an indoor house league team that her dad coaches; he doesn’t coach her rep team for which I am truly grateful). Albus plays twice, but will soon be adding an extra evening. The rest of us only play once a week. But with six people in the family, even once a week would add up.

We are using the carshare car all the time. Still, it’s more economical than purchasing a second vehicle, at this point.

Most of my exercise occurs early in the morning, and occasionally overlaps with a soccer practice or swim. It’s very regimented, actually. I don’t mention it because I just keep doing it: running, spinning, weights. In fact, the whole schedule is very regimented, and I think that’s why it works. We all know what to expect, day by day.

What I hadn’t anticipated, with all this soccering, was that I would have many evenings alone with the kids — the three that aren’t playing on any given night. Kevin is getting more one-on-one time with them, but I’m getting the calm and really very lovely bedtime routine. (All except for the toothbrushing, which is never calm and lovely, and which I loathe, having a bit of a tooth complex.) I have the after supper cleanup, piano practice, homework, playtime, sometimes dog walking, snacktime, pajamas, and then reading before bed.

With CJ now old enough to enjoy chapter books, we’ve been revisiting the classics: Charlotte’s Web, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing. I’m thinking of suggesting the Little House on the Prairie series next. I’ll never get tired of re-reading these books! It’s the perfect end to the day.

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So that’s been our fall. Without the chalkboard wall, I couldn’t possibly keep it all together. Every Sunday I write down each day’s special activities. This week I have a section just for teacher interviews. Kids scrawl phone messages on there. I write down ingredients in the fridge to remind myself what to cook for supper. We’ve got a monthly soccer chart with all the dates and times of practices for each family member. It keeps us all together.

It takes a lot of energy to keep us all together. But I’m all in.

Catching a glimpse of the wild writer

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how the dogs spend their days

Tomorrow I’ll be at Waterloo’s brand-new Wild Writers Literary Festival. Click here to see the program. Appropriately, I’ve buried myself in writing today, although I regret to report that glimpsing the wild writer in her natural habitat would make for very dull viewing indeed. I’m fully dressed, have not imbibed anything stronger than coffee, and have no apparent signs of insanity, mania, or spontaneous outpourings of poetry. More wilderness may be just what this writer needs.

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