Yup. It’s a real snow day, school cancelled, library cancelled, extra-curricular activities cancelled, children playing in snow drifts, people walking by in the street because the sidewalks are too messy, snow, snow, snow coming down, down, down.
I’m happy for the kids, who were praying for a snow day, but oh how I really wanted to keep on writing in my new book. Yesterday’s hair-pulling session netted me 1800 new words, bringing the book to 78,000 words, and three new scenes. (Scrivener has handy “project targets” and “project statistics” features to which I am utterly addicted. I do realize that stats mean nothing if those 78,000 words do not work together to move the reader. But it’s comforting to quantify my efforts.) I have about four new scenes to write, plus another six or seven to revise before this draft is complete. I’m not looking for new material, I just need the time/space to write what has already been plotted out in my head. Unfortunately, my current situation is not conducive to scene-writing: two children and two dogs crowded into my office, dogs to sleep, and children to chew gum, sit in dog beds, listen to songs, and generally disrupt the quiet every two seconds with requests, wonderings, and commentary. The smallest is at this very moment stamping his feet for some perceived wrong I’m not entirely clear about. Maybe it’s the typing I’m doing on this here computer.
So … here’s what I plan to do with the rest of our snow day.
* bake cookies
* make yogurt
* make dough for homemade pizza
* shovel the sidewalk since I won’t be running tonight (no soccer skills means that my regularly scheduled Friday run, which I do no matter the weather, is also cancelled)
* pull smallest on sled while we walk second smallest to play date
* put in movie for part of the afternoon and sneak in some writing
For the purposes of reality checking, here’s what I’ve actually accomplished so far.
* chatted with sister-in-law on the phone
* almost finished one cup of coffee (gone cold ages ago)
* fed everyone breakfast, and a few people lunch
* tried to talk husband out of leaving for his boys’ cottage weekend in the middle of this storm (doesn’t seem to be working)
* put in load of laundry
* cleaned up dog poop in upstairs bedroom (c’mon, DJ, if Suzi can go outside, you can go outside!)
* read front section of newspaper
* answered a few work-related emails
* took photographs of snow
* puttered. Really, mostly I’ve puttered.
I do almost all of my exercise in the dark these days.
Spin and weights on Mondays, now, and spin again on Tuesdays, both with the same friend. We catch up on the drives to and from class.
On Wednesdays, I run with another friend. This has been our ritual for several years now, and we go no matter the weather, though we did consider heading for the track yesterday. It was -27C on her outdoor thermometer, so we layered up, and ran a loop around the ‘hood rather than running out to the “country” to see the sunrise. We felt like heroes. But I was so cold by the end that I honestly thought I might perish on my own front porch while my stiff fingers failed to operate the house key — brain apparently had frozen too.
This morning I went to yoga. It was light by the time I got home.
On Friday evenings I run while the kids are at soccer. It’s dark, dark, dark. The photo above was taken on one of those runs. I wear a headlamp and go no matter the weather. I tell myself: if I can do this now, I can do this forever.
On Sundays I play soccer; it’s not dark, but it’s also indoors.
I love watching the light return. But there is something exhilerating about being awake while the world is still sleeping. In my early twenties, I loved being awake and writing at 3 o’clock in the morning. In my late thirties, I love being awake and moving just a few hours later.
Yesterday, my friend Tricia and I taped an interview for our Amazing Race audition video. We are getting help from a friend who is a professional videographer. He brought stuff, including a cameraman and lights. We were in Tricia’s living-room but it felt like being on a set. (She blogged about it too.)
It was nerve-wracking because one’s strengths and weaknesses felt instantly apparent. I have too much nervous energy! I can’t sit still! It also challenges me to get out of my head, where I’m living rather intensely these days, working on this historical feminist sports romance I seem to be writing.
But it was also really fun. Really fun. I won’t post any photos from yesterday’s shoot (they’re not really mine to post), but here’s one I took last week while our kids were playing. Tricia is trying to teach me how to “frown-smile.” Apparently, I can’t frown-smile. This is more like sad-clown-smile.
pretending to sleep
This Monday morning is not brought to you by an efficient or clear-headed start. It begins with a sore throat, an unwillingness to rise early, and a sense of being behind on each and every task of the day. Honestly, I could happily go back to bed right now, and it’s not even noon. I have only my own work to do, and must locate some inner will power and just do it. While washing the dishes last night, I thought, if it were only me, I would be leaving these dishes on the counter and collapsing on the couch in front of bad tv. So many of the things that I do every day, I do only because I have to. I have to lest the larger collective project of family fall apart. I can’t veg on the couch when there’s laundry, dishes, kids need baths and grooming, piano practice and homework wrangling, and the week ahead is waiting to be discussed with Kevin and scheduled out on the chalkboard.
So I just do it, though not with the enthusiasm or fervor of a slogan. Nope. I just do it. Trudge.
Maybe that’s why I get a lot done. I’ve got these dependents, expecting and needing structure. If it were just me, what would I be doing? Maybe every day would look a lot like this morning has: sleepy, dull-eyed, slow-moving, and oddly unconcerned. I would read the paper and drink coffee.
Or would I?
After all, I do have a big sense of adventure to satisfy, and, often, an inner whirlwind of energy. Today just doesn’t happen to be whirling with energy. I’m a bit sick. I’m tired. I spent a multi-faceted weekend in happy activity, bouncing from place to place. I ran 14km through the fog on Friday night; coffee date with my elder son on Saturday morning; baked bread; met with Tricia and our friend Steve to discuss filming for our Amazing Race audition video; library with elder daughter; dinner date with Kev; up at 6am Sunday morning to drive soccer girl to a game in Mississauga (through blinding rain and dark); home in time to grab a banana, change, and head out to film scenes for audition video in a nearby park (splashing through cold puddles and weeds, trying to get muddy, and look tough / photogenic / captivating / ourselves); home to change for a really fun soccer game; and, well, that just about catches us up to those supper dishes. It was kind of non-stop.
Until about 10pm last night, when I just stopped and haven’t really started up again in full indomitable Carrie mode. Feeling a touch domitable. (Domitable? Nope, just checked: not a word.)
I know how to be when I’m rolling and up and moving and full of enthusiasm. It’s when I’m tired and sick(ish) and worn out that I don’t know how to be — I don’t know what to do with myself, or how to rest. Know what I mean? (Stretch, Carrie, stretch.)
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!
transforming my office
This is my birthday gift from my dad. It’s still a work in progress, as you can see, but already I sense how it will alter and expand my space in this lovely little room.
When I first moved into my office, just over a year ago, I loved the blankness of the space, the empty walls, the echoing newness. I wanted to spend time in the room before building anything permanent into it — to see where the light fell, to see what was really missing or necessary.
I set up my wheelie computer desk, which I’ve been writing on since grad school, c. 1997; my chair; a plastic office organizer with drawers, formerly Kevin’s; my great-aunt Alice’s tiny rocking chair (she was a tiny woman); and a cast-off cupboard with doors, inside which I hid my piles of paper. After we got dogs this summer, the dog beds somehow migrated here too. The dogs love the heated floor and finding retreat from the constant attention of the children. (The children know to knock.)
It didn’t take long, really, for the blankness to be replaced by clutter.
And darned if I could no longer blame the clutter on other people — for the first time since about 1999, I had a space that was all mine. Which meant the mess was all mine too. The room began to seem small. Piles of books teetered atop stacks of paper. Soccer cleats took up residence on a windowsill. Framed artwork was stacked in the corner, facing the wall. Behind the doors of the cast-off cupboard, items became so crowded and sprawled as to be basically unfindable.
I couldn’t afford built-in shelves and desk, but thought maybe I could put my GG finalist earnings ($1000) toward Ikea shelves and a desk. And then my dad got wind of my plan. Before he became a professor of Anabaptist history, he seriously considered apprenticing as a carpenter instead. He used to make our Christmas gifts out of wood when we were kids. Now he’s retired. He’s got a wood-working studio in his garage. So he volunteered to take on the job of Carrie’s office.
I’ve been working in here for the first few days of this new year, still using the old wheelie desk, c. 1997, but with the architecture of the shelves in front of me, giving my eye some relief from the blank wall. I’ve been writing steadily. For my birthday, I bought myself Scrivener — no longer a trial version. This promises to be a big book. I’m not sure how big, but it seems quite big already and it’s not done yet. Oh, and it’s a novel. I’ve also started believing my character is a real historical figure, which is weird. I’m making her up but I feel like she really lived.
I’m imagining a hibernating winter with these shelves warm with books and pictures, the dogs in their beds, the clutter temporarily wrangled and contained. I imagine a filled space, and the comfortable march of words. I’ll be writing.
I’ve been re-reading old blog posts. The photos are fun, but it’s the changes that are most remarkable to see in fast-forward (or fast-rewind).
Consider the post from Monday, May 18, 2009, titled “On Endings,” which seems rather appropriate for this last day of 2012. In this post, I’m writing about trying to finish a story, one that would become, in one way another, part of The Juliet Stories. I am amazed by my own resolve under circumstances that look, from this vantage point, very difficult indeed. My youngest was not-quite-fourteen-months. My eldest was not-quite-eight. I was home with the littlest children full-time, and I was finding it trying. Kevin was recovering from a broken knee. Friends had been bringing us meals (bless you, friends!). We’d had “the barfing thing” four times in four months. I was sleeping sporadically, still nursing at night. I must have been utterly exhausted. No time for exercise, no time even to imagine exercise — who could get up early after being woken half the night?
And yet, I was writing.
There was no guarantee that what I was writing would become anything anyone would ever want to read, let alone publish, let alone nominate for a major prize. I was writing because I had to write this particular story, in this particular way. I was doing what I had to do, and if there is a lesson in here, it is simply do what you have to do. Don’t look for reasons not to do the things you have to do. Come alive. Do! I think that even if that story I was writing had not turned into The Juliet Stories, it would have been worth writing, because it brought me hope, because it gave me space and allowed me to dream.
In the blog post “On Endings” from May, 2009, I reflected on a documentary I’d just seen on the photographer Sally Mann, an artist who was suffering from doubt and set-back — and yet her art seemed without question worthy and beautiful. How could she doubt?
Here’s what I wrote in response:
“There’s no telling whether these years of work will this time add up to something of beauty and merit, but I felt a kinship watching her [Sally Mann] struggle, mourn, reflect, create. It’s a blessing and curse to want to translate experience into art — not just to want to, but to do it. The work involved. Working toward an end you can’t see until you find it. Will it be whole, or still-born? All the infinitessimal choices along the way that shape the final artifact, that leave you wondering — why this and not that? So much room for criticism, self and other. There’s the artifact created, and the one intended, and the multiple ones that might have been.”
Weirdly, I see that her art show was titled “What Remains.” I say weirdly because that very nearly became the last line in the epilogue to my book, but we decided to cut it. I’m still not sure about that cut. It’s the only one I question and wonder about. This is the ending that almost was: “Tell me, for I need to know. What remains?”
I have a million other things I’d like to blog about, here, as we stand on the threshold of a new year. These are all on my mind: Chief Theresa Spence’s ongoing hunger strike; the need to protect and cherish the land we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink; the nihilism of a sub-group of young men, worldwide, who commit acts of terror, from the random-seeming shootings in the United States, to suicide bombers elsewhere, to the violent rape that is moving protestors in India to rise up against a casually misogynist culture. There is more, I know. I wonder, will this be a year in which protest brings about hope and healing? What is my (small) part in creating a more hopeful world? We all long for peaceful communities, whole relationships, happy families. We are imperfect.
We work toward ends we cannot see.