Category: Work

All the doors thrown open

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woman watches spring

Writing a book can be a funny thing. Occasionally it feels like control has been unintentionally ceded to some other power: the original vision just doesn’t fit on the page. The character refuses to do what the writer has planned. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it can.

Writing a life, well, do we get to that? Do we get to write our own plotlines, choose who we will become? To some degree I strongly believe that the answer is yes. Right up until it seems to be out of our hands.
I’ve had a strange week. It’s been wild, it’s been wonderful.
What can I say? Well, not everything. Okay, frankly, not much. Hardly anything at all, in fact. And I apologize for being mysterious, and will let you know that the news that I cannot tell is good, and that it is writing-related.
You know that saying, It never rains but it pours?
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soccer coach, in reflection
Throw into the mix: Kevin away in Winnipeg, a mysterious allergic reaction that sent me to the doctor, solo parenting on the weekend, having to coach our youngest’s soccer team, and several more soccer games including my own on Sunday evening, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s been … overwhelming. 
Imagine me walking uptown on Saturday with my brood of children, running errands in the brilliant sunshine. I say, “Kids, I feel ten feet tall.” “But you’re short, Mom. We’re short people.” “I know. But I feel like I’m much taller than I actually am. I feel like I’m floating.”
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I have spent more than twenty years aiming myself toward this moment. More than twenty years working to accumulate the knowledge and skill to write books that people will want to read. More than twenty years of tenacity and, let’s admit it, almost obsessive effort, even against self-doubt and the rejection that comes to every creative person who opens herself to the world. And here I am, more than twenty years on, dropped into the perfect moment in which the universe says: What you wanted? Here it is.
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I am thankful

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all of these photos look even better viewed in full: click on them to see

I ran on Tuesday evening: 10 kilometres. I ran again on Wednesday morning with a friend: 8.8 kilometres. I ran again on Thursday evening, in a light rain: 10.5 kilometres. I ran again on Friday evening, in a wind that took the breath away, cursing with fury the weather: 7 kilometres. On that run, fist at sky, a grin broke across my face somewhere in the second kilometre. Running makes me happy, no matter how irritable my mood, no matter the weather. That’s when it came to me. I had run every day since the explosions at the Boston marathon. I hadn’t chosen to do it consciously.

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I have six more kilometres to run, and then I will have completed the marathon distance, spread over  six days rather than an afternoon.

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It is Sunday afternoon. I have one more indoor soccer game today. I’d like to shut the computer down and run those last six kilometres, but I also want to take time to process photos and to write. I am trying to train myself to be disciplined with my time. On Friday, for example, I had an hour alone in my office, the kids being home on a PD day. I forced myself to turn the hour toward my new manuscript, a children’s novel.

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Kevin is playing top forty dance music while he does the dishes.

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I took my camera with me this morning when I drove to pick up AppleApple from her swim practice. It was my third trip out already this morning, and I thought, let’s document where I spend so much of my time: inside a vehicle, driving these familiar roads. Seen through the lens, the landscape looks bleak, somehow, empty, under construction. I like the resulting photos. Processing them, with Kevin’s music in the background, has given me a curiously crushing happiness this noon, a demolished happiness, like the happiness I associate with being young, with being alive to a potential and possibility not quite defined but present, a streak of light, a flare of anticipation, excitement mingled with melancholy, premature nostalgia. Nostalgia for a moment already happening.

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This is the mood I’m in when I want to play the piano and sing.

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This is the mood I’m in when I want to write a new story.

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Or create photographs. It’s a happy mood. It’s a split-the-world-open mood. It doesn’t happen every day. I am thankful.

P.S. Just ran those last six kilometres. With love to all the long distance runners out there.

Betwixt and between

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This photo illustrates my feelings about our weekend. Life’s a whirl. The weekend was extended by the fake ice storm on Thursday (deemed a snow day, kids home), followed by the real ice storm on Friday (no electricity til bedtime, camping out our friends’ house). By that point, the laundry was already crawling up the basement stairs.

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See, I took a picture.

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The ice storm made the trees quite beautiful, but dangerous. A limb crashed down in our yard, and narrowly missed crushing the trampoline.

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Despite an odd and dislocated day on Friday, I tried to stay focused on Saturday morning’s task. When I arrived home, around 1:30 in the afternoon, I was drained. The laundry was still crawling up the stairs. Kevin was working in Toronto. The sense of dislocation and uncertainty remained. I went out with friends after the kids were in bed, feeling like a shadow of myself. Also, I was wearing dog-hair-infested yoga pants and a hoodie because it took every ounce of energy just to get out the door, and I couldn’t work myself up into changing first. I knew I had before me another early morning, and long day.

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But it would be a day spent with these people, so, really, I have no complaints. I took this photo on Thursday evening, pretty much convinced I was living my dream. Book-reading children on the couch snuggling with dogs, while the piano is being practiced. Plus the house looks really clean here. Oh, that’s right — I spent Thursday cleaning. Let’s just say it doesn’t look that clean anymore.

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Kevin was working in Toronto again on Sunday. CJ had a swim lesson, bright and early. I felt comfortable leaving the older children on their own for the hour we were gone. I put on my running gear, and dashed around the park for 21 minutes, exactly, arriving back at the pool one minute late to pick up CJ. Almost perfect timing. Back home, had time to shower and gather up supplies, and we were off again. AppleApple had an afternoon swim meet in Etobicoke. The “little ones” were dropped at Grandma’s house, while the “big ones” came with me.

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It was her first long-course meet. This is the warm-up session. Points for locating the blur in a green suit on the left-hand side of the photo. By the time she swam her first race, I’d been waiting in the stands for three hours. Along with this guy.

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Oh boy, he’s really feeling that smile. He was briefly happy when I gave him some change and sent him off to find a vending machine. Kevin finished work early, and drove over to join us: the first meet he’s been able to attend. But neither of my companions showed great stamina for the proceedings, and left after watching her second race. Two more to go! It was sauna-sweaty in there. I tried to read my poetry book club’s next choice: Seal up the thunder, by Erin Noteboom. I tried to be patient, and to sit up straight on the backless benches. I tried to be supportive and encouraging when the races, with the exception of one, did not go as she’d hoped.

It was nearly 7:30 by the time we made it home. Kevin had supper waiting for us on the table: fresh take-out Middle Eastern fare.

The laundry was still crawling up the basement stairs. I set my alarm for my early Monday morning exercise class. And this morning, when the alarm went off, and I figured out what that terrible noise was and why it just wouldn’t stop, I got up and got on with the brand-new week.

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I’ll admit that I’m feeling off-balance, a bit overwhelmed, out of sorts. In between. Waiting. Struggling to be patient on a variety of fronts. I hope to have news to share, by early May, perhaps, and I hope it will be good. (And here’s an update I should have done ages ago: the bad news always less pleasing to pass along than the good. For those still wondering, no, my friend Tricia and I will not be contestants on The Amazing Race Canada. We did, however, go out for a drink to celebrate our effort. Efforts should always be marked, no matter the outcome!)

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Meantime, there is no way to plan toward a particular direction without knowing what that direction will be. Betwixt and between. Betwixt and between.

A good day to learn how to swim

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photo of unrelated cuteness

I’m dying to process my interview experience, but was required to sign a confidentiality agreement about the questions therein, so instead, I will sift through the memorable bits that surrounded my interview experience.

I woke up at 5:30 AM, in part because it’s comforting, now, to wake up early, and in part because I wanted to get to my destination early without stressing over parking or directions. Kevin was also away, so my mom came over to stay with the kids. On the highway, rehearsing for the millionth time “why I want to be a midwife,” I was suddenly overcome with emotion. Yes, I was verklempt. All I kept thinking and saying, from the moment I woke up, was: Wow, this is really happening. I can’t believe I’ve come this far! It felt surreal to be driving to an interview in another city, in hopes of starting a midwifery degree. And I realized how many years I’ve been weighing the possibility, how long I’ve been trying to imagine myself into this possibility, which is, let’s be honest, so very different from the educational and career path I originally chose. So, I got that out of my system. I did not want to burst into tears if asked the question: “Why do you want to be a midwife?”

Then, again, who knows, bursting into tears isn’t the worst thing to happen to a person.

I was so early. I was so in need of a good hard run (hadn’t figured that into my schedule.)

The building seemed like a labyrinth. The only other person waiting at the location was a young man. He’d been sent ahead by a friend to find the location, and was not, more’s the pity, a prospective male midwife (why not have male midwives, I say!). When all of the morning’s candidates were gathered together, we were indeed all women, and I was glad to see I wasn’t the only older prospective student. Nerves were tight. It terrified me slightly to learn that at least four or five of the women were coming back for the second time — they’d applied last year, had interviewed, had not gotten in, and were applying again. (Which is what I imagine I would do, too.) Someone blithely commented, “Oh, that will make it easier for you this time around!” to which one of the women replied, jaws somewhat clenched, “There’s nothing easy about this.”

She was right.

I won’t give you details, but I can assure you that coming two years in a row would offer you very little in the way of advantage. The pace is gruelling. The questions are surprising. It’s like speed-dating, with assessors. There’s hardly time to ask oneself, What the hell was I going on about in there and did it sound as inane as I suspect it may have? Was I actively babbling? So that’s nice. No time to worry, really, just on to the next little room.

My energies flagged about five rooms in, but recovered for the last three or so. There was a palpable sense of relief and celebration as we finished our circuit, and dispersed, walking past the next group of candidates, who were beginning to gather, looking as nervous as we had just a few hours before.

Afterward, feeling drained of all personality, I had coffee with a fellow candidate, who is my age, also a mother of four, and who was a medical doctor in Mexico. I’d give her a spot. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet up again in the fall. And it really does feel like “who knows?” I wish I could say I came out of the process feeling confident that I would gain admission … but in truth, I came out of the process feeling completely unable to assess my own performance. It’s a blur. I did my best, I do know that. I felt, a bit, like a fish out of water, like a novice, I guess. It’s like learning to swim all over again. I’ll admit it was a hard process to go through — trusting myself, and yet recognizing my own limitations. Like the woman said, It doesn’t get easier. Starting something new, being the opposite of expert — well, there’s nothing easy about it, is there? There’s no template you can follow to make the hard things life feel easy.

But it’s like learning how to swim. You have to get wet. You probably flail a bit. You get instruction. You practice and practice and practice. And that’s the only way that someday, you’ll get to the place you imagined you might.

Why I want to be a midwife


This morning, at the very moment this blog publishes (9:30 AM), I will be in Hamilton, Ontario at McMaster University starting an interview process known as MMI (multiple-mini-interview) in the hopes of earning a place in their midwifery program this fall. (Unless my carshare car has broken down by the side of the road en route, or I’ve developed a violent stomach flu, or any number of other worst-case scenarios occur that have been plaguing my dreams all week.)

The MMI is an interviewing process that involves, as I understand it, the applicant visiting ten different rooms in rapid succession, and being asked in each room to respond to a new question or scenario. Each room has a different assessor present, and the conversation/scenario ends after ten minutes. And then it’s on to the next room. I wonder whether I’ll agree with this statement afterward, but I’m actually looking forward to the process — to getting in there, digging in, presenting myself, being myself, experiencing something new and different.

I’ve done some groundwork, as best I can. I’ve grilled my friend who graduated from the program two years ago. I’ve read a book of essays on midwifery in Ontario that she recommended. And I’ve written down my thoughts and wandered around the house answering imaginary questions in long rambling mutters.

So here’s what I’m planning to say if asked: “Why do you want to be a midwife?” Which seems like a question I ought to expect and know the answer to.

I want to be a midwife because I want to do work that is practical, hands-on, and meaningful.

I want to work with women, and their families, during moments of profound transition and change, and assist in the process. I want to learn and practice new skills. I want to empower women to make choices about their bodies that bring them health, confidence, and strength.

I would be privileged to become a midwife. I think birth is a life-altering physical experience that has the power to be spiritually meaningful, too.

I have been drawn to midwifery since witnessing (and helping, a bit!) my mother labour and give birth, at home, to my sister, with amazing midwives in attendance. I was twelve-and-a-half and have been fascinated by birth and midwifery ever since. In my early teens I pored over Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin. Two of my favourite subjects in high school were biology and chemistry. At nineteen, while a university arts major, I picked up a flier for the then-brand-new midwifery education program in Ontario, but didn’t work up the courage to apply (wisely, I think, as it wouldn’t have been the right moment in my life). I chose midwifery care for my own pregnancies, and was fortunate to give birth at home three out of four times (the hospital birth being due to complications). In the past four years, I’ve been invited to support friends and family through labour and birth, both at home and in hospital.

[Note: my daughter advises me to edit the above paragraph heavily, and not mention why I didn’t become a midwife before — “You’re never going to fit all of this into ten minutes, Mom! And you just have to tell them why you want to be a midwife now.” Excellent point. Glad I rehearsed it with her.]

I want to be a midwife because I believe it combines physical and spiritual work. I want to work directly with people in a way that seems to me quite unique: midwifery care, as I’ve experienced it, is intimate, personal, compassionate, supportive, celebratory, active, at times requiring intense involvement and attention, and at other times requiring deep listening and attention. I see it as a job that is in service to the health and well-being of others. In that way, it’s very much like my writing work, but with an outward pull rather than an inward pull. I see the two being quite connected. Both work requires intuition grounded in knowledge, trust, and a good ear.

I also want to be a midwife because it is my goal, eventually, when my children are grown, to volunteer and serve in areas of the world, or here in Canada, where health care is less accessible, and there is a need for perinatal care.

Why midwifery rather than another health care profession? It could be due to my formative and positive experiences with midwives. It could be because midwifery’s long history and tradition is of women helping women, and I would love to join that tradition. It could be because I’ve got a bit of the counter-cultural in me, as well as an interest in being a medical professional. A midwife, to me, is someone who believes in the fundamental power of a woman’s body, and that ties in to my interest in overall health, fitness, and strength.

I would bring to my practice a belief that we can all live inside our bodies with respect and care. I would also bring the understanding that not everything can be planned. I would bring the ability to be flexible, to be open to what may be rapidly-changing situations, and to be responsive to shifting choices and needs. I know myself to be calm, focused, and decisive when that is called for, but I also have a light touch in weighty matters. I try to read the situation and respond as needed.

Am I totally off-topic? What was the question? [Insert anxiety dream scenario here …]

Please … wish me luck!

Ice storm, aka “the day they should have cancelled school”

So, this has not been a productive couple of days. That photo, above, was taken this morning around 11am. It is dark, it is raining, the rain has frozen on all the branches, the sidewalks are treacherous, and, oh! School’s on! Except not for AppleApple (power outage), or CJ (power outage). Albus and Fooey were feeling very cheesed indeed when I dropped them at their very-much-open school.

We woke to no power and a rapidly cooling house. The kitchen was dark. AppleApple lit candles. I lit the gas stove (thank goodness for gas stoves!). But we couldn’t make coffee because we grind the beans every morning in an electric grinder. Hey, remember those old-fashioned coffee grinders with the handle and the little wooden drawer? We needed one of those.

I also may need to trade in my large non-portable computer for a laptop, I realize, on a day such as this. My programs and files are all locked up in iMac silence. But you know, all I can think about is the interview tomorrow, so my brain is basically distracted and inaccessible anyway. I am typing this at Kevin’s office, on a borrowed computer, with AppleApple by my side. There is power and heat here. AppleApple is whispering the many many many stanzas of Poe’s The Raven, which she’s decided to memorize for poetry month. As far as I can gather, this is only loosely a school assignment, and she could have chosen to memorize, say, a sonnet, but, no, she’s gone for an 18-stanza marathon. She has til the end of the month. She’s on stanza 11. The raven has made several appearances, and, she reports, has already spoken his famous line several times. “Nevermore.”

All I can hear is the whispering. I can’t concentrate. I’ve got nothing more, just now.

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