My brother Los at his studio
It’s only been a day, but I’ve missed tapping away at my blog. Yesterday, I had a sick kid home and was operating on interrupted sleep. In the afternoon, I looked after an extra child. There were piano lessons. Supper was prepped and eaten somewhere in there. I can’t recall having lunch.
This week at Tuesday evening gym-time soccer (remember that?) I only had one extra child, so I took along my notebook and desk calendar and got busy. Topic: TIME ALLOTMENT. A friend had sent me a useful article earlier in the day (skimmed on my BB during swim lessons) that made me ask: How am I choosing to spend my hours? What if this crazy squeezed schedule is not a blip, but the new norm? If that happens to be the case, I need to set some boundaries and get some organizational strategies in order. Case in point: zero time this week for The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Which I happen to think is an exciting project on which I should be spending some significant proportion of my writing time.
Do I still have writing time? Or is it all getting lumped into “work,” with writing getting lost amidst the jumble.
So I sat in the noisy gym and made a list. Partly, I attempted to understand how much time I’m spending on Facebook, Twitter and email, and how much these are interrupting my work versus being useful tools. I also attempted to get a grasp on my projects currently underway, and which are one-offs versus those that are ongoing. I consider my blog ongoing. I don’t write it because I have to write it. I write it because I want to write it, and it’s now part of my writing life. Ergo, time for blogging/photos-related-to-blogging ideally happens every day.
Same with the long-term book projects, like The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Every day work. If not every day, then two full days a week set aside to work on it.
That’s a lot of time. Yesterday slipped away without doing either of the above long-term projects. Instead, I played and sang in preparation for this morning’s studio session, and I ticked items off my to-do list. One-off items, you might say. Useful, but there was no time for anything else.
Today feels much the same, if for different reasons. Necessary errands. And studio time. And now school is almost out and children will be coming home, and supper needs to be made, plus several phone calls, and there’s soccer tonight, and I’ve got an event to attend this evening at which I will attempt to look professional and not in the least bit scrambled. Good luck, Mama. Or, more like it: breathe, Mama. Breathe. Breathe.
This week has not been the easiest. We’re halfway through January and already I’m seeing cracks in my new year’s plans. My hip creaks (literally) and I need a training plan that will accomodate returning me to injury-free status (no long runs for a little while? I’m ever so slightly panicked at the thought). I haven’t taken a Sunday photo today. The weekends are proving more packed than anticipated. I sense the dropping of many balls. I’m probably dropping several right now as I sit and type in my dark office instead of heading for the dinner table.
And I’m back. Decided to head for the dinner table when the cries for Mommy grew too strident. They need me at the dinner table. I need to be there too, catching what’s falling, in touch with the many moods.
And there are many moods. Disappointments to walk alongside. Hopes. Plots and plans. Energy that might be silly and outrageous or emptied out and low. Sadness. Grumpiness. Sibling unkindness. Siblings racing around and egging each other into greater and greater goofiness.
Tonight my mind is occupied, too, by tomorrow’s publicity meeting tomorrow with Anansi. I hope to return with good news to share, and good energy to share, too. I’m entering into a new stage of this book’s life, and I have very little control over what happens next: how the book is received. It’s a tough stage for me. How to let go? How to be graciously accepting, no matter what? How not to dwell or muddle or worry or fret? There may not be an easy answer. Sometimes just gutting through is the only answer I’ve got.
I’ve been reading Charles Foran’s biography of Mordecai Richler. It’s a fat book and I’m not even halfway through, but already lines are jumping off the page. I’m deeply intrigued by the portrait of the formative writer–the kid, no more than twenty, who set off to Europe cadging money from any willing family member or friend, working as if possessed, carousing, ambitious. That’s what strikes me most about his formative years, when he was writing frantically and receiving nothing but rejection letters–the sheer volume of his ambition. Of course, in part what he displays is youth. And he had talent even if it was awfully raw at that point in his life. He had luck too. Just before he left Europe to return to Montreal, broke, just twenty-one, he found an agent who admired his potential, and helped him see his way into this life he was demanding for himself.
Charles Foran writes about what might have happened, had Richler not been found and professionally validated; he had a lead on a job at the CBC and in fact worked there briefly writing news copy; but not for long. “By 1952, CBC radio and the new television network were already the destination of choice for those with talent and culture who dared not risk seeing if they could really make a go of it as artists…” [my emphasis]
Guess what Mordecai Richler dared to do?
What elements make up the personality of someone willing, as Foran writes, “to hustle, do what was required. … Henceforth, he would be freelance, his own master and servant. Without security. Without nets.” Brash? Egocentric? Bold? Calculating? Intensely focused? In many ways, it’s not the nicest personality, is it? It can’t really be. You can’t worry about pleasing others, or meeting conventional expectations. It helps not to be apologetic in your approach. Why apologize for being who you are?
(Side question: Does this apply mainly to male artists? Personally, I don’t think so, though traditionally it’s been less acceptable for women to be unapologetic in their ambitions. Now where the heck does motherhood fit into the bold/brash/intensely focused rubric?).
One more thing. Around this same time, Richler wrote to his editor Diana Athill: “Often I think I don’t like or dislike writing, it’s just something I’ve got to do.”
I read those words and felt like something in me had been struck. Yes.
This week has been a flurry. There’s a lot of hustling going on. At various moments during any given day it feels like I’m keeping up; not keeping up; almost keeping up; hanging on by sheer will; taking a tumble; staying with it; losing track; back in the game; organized; overwhelmed. But mostly, okay.
I’m okay because I keep landing on this thought that completely amazes me: I’m doing what I want to do. No, you know, it’s even more amazing than that: I’m doing what I’ve got to do.
“there was such a moon”
I cheated. This year, I’ve claimed two words. My word-of-the-year friends were skeptical at first, but I swear I saw this online somewhere and it’s allowed. (Are there actual formal rules and guidelines for word-of-the-year? I suppose it is right there in the title, singular, not plural).
My word of the year is work/play.
It was going to be work. Work grabbed me and shook me and said, hey you, this year, you’re going to focus on me. And I replied, sounds good, I’d like that. So I walked around with Work for a week or more, quietly testing it out and accepting it as my word. Except it didn’t seem complete all by its rigorous demanding lonesome. That’s when Play jumped into the mix. Hi there, remember me?
Here’s the thing: in my world, in my being, Work comes naturally. Work is Play. I am easily obsessed by the completion of goals. I like to do things. I throw myself in really deep and sometimes get lost inside of Work. Yes, I want this year to be about Work–about Working, to be precise. But I need to strive for some balance. I need to seek out Play, too, accept it when it comes knocking at my door.
For me, Play is sometimes more like Work. Not always, not precisely, but let me put it this way: I will beeline for my office at the mere suggestion that there’s work to be done; it takes more effort, more convincing, to call me outside to play. Sad but true. It is also true that I could not create what I do without going outside to play. So my work stands to suffer and stagnate without making room, taking time, clearing space, to leap into the spontaneous, the adventuresome, the just plain fun.
One of my word-of-the-year friends told me I should make a “Playlist” (nice!). On the spot, I couldn’t come up with much. Ask me for a Worklist and I’ll get down to business. But what’s on my Playlist? Truthfully, I don’t know yet. Surprise me, Playlist. (For some reason, horseback riding was the one thing that leapt immediately to mind).
I also aim to combine Work and Play this year. They don’t have to stand in opposition to one another. Where do these words align, in my life and yours?
Yesterday held a satisfying mix of work/play. I ran with a friend before dawn; served breakfast, plus made supper in the crockpot; got everyone out the door; napped for 20 minutes; worked on a new song at the piano for half the morning and worked at my desk for the other half; picked up my youngest from nursery school; ran errands; ate lunch; squeezed in a little more writing time while he watched a movie (and no, I won’t apologize for the tactic); picked up the girls early from school for their piano lessons; visited with a friend who works at the same place the girls have their lessons; arrived home to finish making supper and hang laundry; parented some bad meal-time behavior; headed out for supper with my siblings, within walking distance; picked up Albus and walked him (almost all the way) home from his piano lesson; walked to meet with friends over tea to talk about word-of-the-year; and finally, at the end of the day, spent time with Kevin.
I was going to try to categorize each item above as either work or play or work/play, but realized I’m not sure where everything falls. Serving breakfast to my kids can be really fun when we’re all talking together; or it can be a real chore when I’m hungry too and everyone’s grumpy and wants something different and we discover homework that still needs doing, etc. I also realized that there isn’t really room for the critical element of “rest” within work/play. I’m not going to add a third word. But it’s there, lurking behind the scenes. The lack of it gets in the way of both work and play. I don’t care to focus on it, but hope to get enough of it, both mental and physical, this year. (Play seems like mental rest, though, doesn’t it?).
Today I feel overwhelmed. Not by emotion, but by the sheer volume of tasks and appointments and activities, and by trying to keep on top of it all. My google calendar and desktop calendar and beside-the-phone calendar are all working overtime. I keep emailing my husband with more info, more FYIs. At spin class, to which I dragged my aching legs this morning, one of the instructor’s favourite calls of encouragement is: Get on top of it! But as soon as you’re on top, you’re spinning back down and around again. Faster and faster.
I’ve already decided to drop my daily food photo. With early exercise and school and work and making supper before eating breakfast, there is no time to style a plate of leftovers in order to catch the best morning light (see above: waffles, so pretty on Sunday morning). And it can still be a weekend project, aiming for two photos/week.
Back to spin class. I used to hate the fast spins: light and quick. I preferred the seated climbs, digging down, adding resistance, slowing the legs, basically pushing weight with my muscles. But the faster my legs spun around, the more out of control I felt. Here’s what I’ve figured out: the more engaged my core, the faster I can spin. With that central stability to hold me steady, my legs can whirl faster and faster while staying in control. I’m learning to like light and quick.
So what is holding me steady as my life begins to spin again, faster and faster? What’s at the core? What brings me joy and energy and determination–and stability? A bunch of thoughts jump to mind.
* time alone in a quiet house
* little adventures
None of these are going to be my word of the year (to be revealed later this week, after I’ve shared it with my word-of-the-year partners). But there has to be room within the crazy for all of these things. It might mean finding space in the midst of the hurry. It might mean turning inconveniences into opportunities. For example, this afternoon we go from swimming to a soccer practice. Swimming’s for all the kids, but soccer practice is just for one girl; in other words, the little kids have to be dragged along. This could go badly. Bored kids, tired mom. Or it could turn into quiet time spent together, doing things we don’t always have time for: snuggling and reading while we wait. That’s my plan. I can hope for the best, as Albus would say.
News! On the work-related front!
**I’ve seen the full cover for Juliet, and the book is being sent to print later today(!!).
**Next week I’ll head into Toronto to plan publicity with Anansi.
**This week I’m working on a web site to promote the book.
**Last night I sat in my office and listened to the first mix of the song I wrote and recorded for one of my characters in Juliet–my brother, who is a professional musician and producer, did the recording and production. I’m hoping to find some way to connect the two mediums.
**And today I am going to spend my writing time with The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm.
**Also, as some of you may already know, I’ve signed on as an editor/writer for Storywell, a new local business that launches on January 19th. If you live locally, and you are interested in writing, please mark your calendars (desktop, google, beside-the-phone) and come out. Info below. Spread the word.
Found this German saying in the newspaper this morning: “Who begins too much accomplishes little.”
Uh oh. Is that me? As I woke at 5am, churned away at spin class, got home, ate breakfast, threw laundry in washer, thought about working on the writing project I’m developing, checked email instead, received message on how to use my camera better, spent next hour and a half playing with camera settings and taking random photos around the house, finally sat down at desk to work and started a new blog post. This one.
All the while, this is my morning to work while Kev hangs out with the kids. ie. my time is limited! And what have I done? Is it my habit to dart from project to project, from activity to activity, never fully developing the potential of any?
Maybe my word of the year should be focus. Or choose. Or limits.
Ugh. I don’t want a word like that. I want to do too many things. Not just do them, but master them, become expert at them. IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?
(Yes it is, at least all at once, if experience is any guide.)
But everything in me wants to deny it. Wants to embrace the opportunities, chase all interests, learn with a hungry and curious mind.
Look at it this way:
**This morning I challenged my body and put in time and effort toward racing goals this summer.
**This morning I ate breakfast with my kids.
**This morning I learned something new and useful: how to adjust the aperture and shutter speed settings on my camera manually, and what effect these previously mysterious numbers have on the outcome of the photos I take every day.
**This morning I recorded, briefly, where my mind is at.
**This morning I connected with friends in person and via email.
And now I am going to open a word processing file and spend an hour, **this morning, working on The Big Fat Juicy Belly Worm. Yup. My project in development is a story for children. I read the first chapter to my kids last night, and I think they’d like to hear another one. What could be more motivating?
Sorry, German saying. You’re probably right, but I’m going with my manic energy this morning.
On a completely different note, this blog post titled “Read and Loved in 2011” by The Keepin’ It Real Book Club reached out of the blue and touched me **this morning. Read it and see for yourself.