Got up for yoga class, early early. Almost skipped. Didn’t. And it turned out to be a special class for one my favourite instructors — her last here in Waterloo. I’ve been going to this studio long enough to remember being in one of her first classes, and have seen her grow in confidence over the years, and it felt like a lucky break to be there to say goodbye.
She wanted to reflect on impermanence. She asked us to focus on something we needed to change, or some change we were struggling to accept, and as we knelt on our mats these words popped into my head: Goodbye, Obscure CanLit Mama.
Wow. I can hardly bear to type them out. But I think I might be on to something. It might be time to say goodbye. I’m not clear what it is I’m saying goodbye to. Is it blogging, wholesale? Is it to the persona? Am I recognizing that this blog has become, in some ways, a heaviness, an obligation rather than a joyful expression?
As I reflect on what this blog has been for me over the nearly five years it’s existed, I am so grateful. It’s been a place to test out ideas, to meet other “Obscure CanLit Mamas,” to record my children’s quickly passing stages and my own attempts to manage and frame my role as their mother. It’s been a public journal, in many ways. It’s allowed me to claim my writing self. I learned how to take photos because of this blog. I’ve connected with old friends, and new. I’ve felt, at times, too opaque, at others, too raw. I’ve written about books that I’ve loved. It’s also been a forum for publicity for The Juliet Stories.
And I guess I don’t really know what this blog is for anymore. I still love the writing of the posts. But I’ve been having panic attacks when I press “publish.” I’m worrying far too much about offending readers, about tone, about perception, about being liked (or worse, not liked). The spirit of the enterprise feels off-kilter somehow. I’m worried, also, that blogging may jeopardize future employment opportunities. (Kevin thinks that’s a ridiculous fear, but I wonder: would you trust your midwife if she had a blog?)
I am still an Obscure CanLit Mama. But I’m not quite the same Obscure CanLit Mama who pressed “publish” on that first post all those years ago. I have more confidence in my writing. That may be it, pure and simple. I can think of myself as a writer now without feeling like an imposter.
I am a writer.
It is my instinct to continue to write, to blog, to post, to tell, to record, to celebrate, to reach out with words. But what am I offering, and what am I asking for in return? I’m not at all clear, anymore. I should be. It’s time to take a break, for now.
Thank you for sharing my practice with me. I’m quite sure, I am, that this isn’t goodbye.
Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time helping two little guys launch a squeaking balloon down the staircase, with the happy effect that it squealed overhead and repeatedly smacked its little balloon head against the wall or ceiling before deflating and twisting earthward.
It would be pleasant to turn this into a metaphor, but I’m struggling.
There, no metaphor needed. I’m struggling. That’s it, plain and simple. I hesitate to spit it into word form, especially on a public forum, but there it is. A blog is a troublesome creation: it’s very much in the moment, and therefore can magnify the smallest ups and downs in a person’s life, and this here is a down. Right now I’m happy when I’m running, and that’s about it. But get that right now really is right now.
Suffice it to say that I’m tired after a second night up with a sick child. I’m irritable after another day home with my children, who are on holiday, but who can’t leave the house or have play dates due to the aforementioned sickness. It occurred to me today that the only thing a person can really accomplish while home with four children is cooking and housework — plus the vacuuming covered the noise of the periodic tantrums and steady stream of complaints. So the house is pretty clean. Which is something. But it’s not enough.
I would like to reflect on my impatient response to International Women’s Day, a day I usually respond to with honour and interest, solemnity, even pride. But this year, on this International Women’s day, all that welled in me was intense frustration. And I think my response is the key to unlocking exactly where I’m at right now, and why I’m struggling.
My expectations do not seem to be in line with reality.
I expect that girls and women will be treated as individuals, with the same opportunities as boys and men to pursue lives that are interesting and fulfilling. Every time I read another story about a horror perpetrated on a woman — because she’s a woman — my response is THIS CANNOT BE! Every time I read another statistic coldly demonstrating women’s under-representation in, well, you-name-it, most anything that has to do with power or cultural critique or leadership my response is HOW CAN THIS STILL BE? Every time I read some trumped up story on “The Mommy Wars,” or “Stay-at-Home Mothers v. Working Mothers,” or even hear myself referred to as “a full-time mother,” (what, exactly, is a part-time mother?), I want to shrug it off as mere noise, but instead I feel something akin to disbelief: WHY?
A few more WHYs.
WHY would any family rationally choose to have more than one or two children, understanding that childcare, particularly during the early years, will either cost one parent his or her career, or two working parents the better part of a decent salary? Let’s ask the politicians who a) have no interest in funding childcare and b) want Canadian families to produce more children FOR THE ECONOMY. (Surprise! They tend to be the same ones.)
WHY is Canada’s major news magazine running a photo, this week, of a woman shaving her face under the headline “Man Up,” suggesting that women should be more like men if they want to succeed in the workplace? WHY are we always being told to be someone we’re not? Which reminds me: WHY is success in the workplace our main measure of success? Further to that, WHY are good and moral choices so often couched in economic terms, as if that’s the only language that matters, the only real currency? I heard a news report, happened to be on International Women’s Day, in which an economist (who was a woman) explained that educating girls and women is a sure-fire way to increase the economic well-being of communities and nations. So let’s do it, people. Let’s do it FOR THE ECONOMY.
It’s International Women’s Day. As a long-term forever feminist, I appreciate there being a day to shine light on the distressing and mind-boggling inequities suffered by girls and women world-wide. But I noticed a curious tone to some of the posts coming through on my Facebook feed on the subject: irony, impatience, humor mingled with rage. Oh, a whole day for women? How can we thank you enough? (As an aside, I was also intrigued by a post on a cookbook devoted to vulva-shaped cakes.)
I don’t know if it’s something in the air, but I’m feeling a bit impatient too.
What’s so radical about the idea of men looking after their children with the same intensity and care and aptitude that women do? None of us know what the hell we’re doing when we start off parenting and I refuse to believe I’m somehow instinctively better at it than my husband. Just like I refuse to believe that I’m better at housework. Hey, we can all learn how to clean a toilet. Just like I refuse to believe that it might be damaging to claim for myself the words “competitive,” “driven,” “confident,” and “leader” (because it’s unwomanly? it wouldn’t look good? because I shouldn’t naturally feel or be those things?). Just like I refuse to believe that it might be damaging for my husband to claim for himself the words “nurturing,” “collaborative,” “gentle.” Those words aren’t in conflict with each other; we could both claim them all, and wouldn’t that be fabulous!
Finally, I’ve observed that neither my husband nor I is necessarily better at being the stay-at-home parent than the go-to-work parent. The stay-at-home parent is inevitably more harried and flustered and irritable by the end of the day when compared to the parent who has been out of the house. So it’s nice to mix it up and share. We’re all happier.
Our most contented days combine elements of just about everything. Alone time. Parenting time. Play time. Work time. A bit of cooking, but not all of it. A bit of dish washing, but not all of it. You know?
My greatest goal, in our family’s life, is to share everything and get along.
Maybe that’s what is grating on me when I think about the concept of International Women’s Day. A day where women are told we’re different. We’re singled out into a category that is, still, somehow, seen as inferior, or whose inferior status must be overcome. We’re a plight. We’re a cause. We’re not like men.
None of us should carry a heavier burden, in any one area, merely because she is female, or because he is male. Are we different? Sure, we’re different. But we’re not that damn different, people. We’re just not.
“Hope is the thing with feathers …”
Can you see the crows perched in the branches of the trees, above, so thick they almost look like black leaves? Less hopeful, perhaps, than ominous, but extremely compelling. We stood and watched them for ages last night. (Click on the photo to see in full.)
Two things I needed, this morning:
1. I needed sleep. And sleep was received, sound and deep, all through the night. I chose not to set my alarm and wake early.
2. I also needed this (though I didn’t know it): a hand-delivered card from the book club I visited on Monday evening. “Fortune befriends the bold” – Emily Dickinson, is printed on the front of the card. I opened it and read the handwritten message inside and sat on the floor and almost cried. It’s the little things, isn’t it. The small gestures that go such a long way toward giving a person that necessary spark. I needed a little spark this morning, as I slog through the manuscript one last time, and hope for the best.
“We were grateful for the opportunity to hear you read; to hear how stories are born in the writer’s imagination; and then, the hard work needed to share that creation with the reader.
“We joked about becoming your fan club, but, in fact, a book club is a fan club of sorts. We celebrate words on the page and we appreciate the courageous few who choose writing as their life work.
“How fortunate we are for your willingness to share your gift with us.”
Thanks to all the book clubs who have bravely and warmly welcomed this writer in. You may not know it, but I consider it a gift, too, to be able to share what I’ve got.
in my office
Picture me here. That’s my eldest daughter, working on a project this weekend, with the dogs in attendance. The dogs are generally in attendance when I’m in my office. If the kids are around, too, I often discover that the greater population of the house is lounging in my office while I’m trying to work. The floor is warm. It’s cozy. It’s a great place to nap, and to read.
And to write.
Which is what I’m doing today, on a shortened work day, after a sick weekend (I’ve returned to health!), and so I will say little else, even though multiple blog topics are bubbling in my head. I’m afroth with things I’d like to opine about! But work calls. I’m tightening the draft. It’s tedious.
I’m glad the dogs are here too.
So much on my mind today. I couldn’t shut it down, not even in yoga class this morning. The word I used to meditate as I held poses was “strength.” I want to be strong. I think I am strong. But sometimes I wonder, at what point does “strength” become “unwillingness to appear weak”? Is it better to grit through a difficult pose, or to give in to the desire to rest? Maybe sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other. I heavily favour the former, of course.
I do believe, however, that our greatest strengths are also our points of greatest frailty. So I have to be careful.
Let me tell you about yesterday. It was a pretty crappy day, if I may be frank. Writing time vanished as I had to take one daughter to a doctor’s appointment. Vanished some more due to errands and piano lessons. And then the truck slowly but surely started breaking down. Right in the middle of the fairly complicated back-and-forthing between school, piano lessons, school, birthday party. Three kids were directly counting on me to be in specific locations at specific times.
The truck refused to shift into reverse.
I was lucky. I realized what was happening. I’d parked on an incline and was able to roll out of the parking lot. I was able to call Kevin right away. He was able to book a carshare car right away. I was able to park at the next location in such a way that would prevent me from needing to reverse. And the next. And the next. And we were able to make it to the repair shop before the entire transmission shut down.
I never realized how frequently I use reverse, when driving. Maybe this is a life metaphor. We’re not meant to be stuck going forward at all times. We need to be able to back up, too.
The situation was stressful. I was worried the whole time and couldn’t find my “happy place,” shall we say. But I recognized, too, that the day was not nearly so crappy as it could have been. Kevin and I worked together as a team. We were only about ten minutes late for the second piano lesson. The truck did not need to be towed. The children adapted to the changing plans. We belong to a carshare!
Home at last, I felt so tired — not physically, but mentally. Fooey wanted to play an imagination game while I was hanging laundry. It was all I could do to manage the most banal responses.
It also happened that I was due to Skype in to a book club in Toronto at 9pm. Well. I made a pot of peppermint tea, brushed my hair, and sat down in my office. We made contact. But we couldn’t work the video. In the end, we decided just to chat. I looked at my own video smiling back at me (not sure whether they did the same), and we spoke for about forty-five minutes. My tiredness evaporated. Their questions were thoughtful, respectful, insightful. We talked about how daughters view their mothers. We talked about being mothers. We wondered, will mothers ever get cut some slack?
I hung up feeling so much better.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the truck. The two eldest kids wonder: would this be a good time to become a car-free family? “I’ve been thinking about it, Mom, and it would make us be more eco-friendly and more organized….” I’m proud of the values we’ve instilled in them, but, oh, I like having that truck waiting for me on freezing dark mornings when I’m headed for a spin class.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the book. The editing is so slow. One foot in front of the other. One small step and another and another. Many, if not most, of my writing days are shortened by other necessities that take priority.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with my applications for writing grants and midwifery and The Amazing Race (thanks for watching the video: we’ve had tons of excellent feedback already!).
I feel as if so much of my life is up in the air right now. Strength. I’m calling on strength as I hold this pose.