how does your garden grow?
It never rains but it pours.
Those old tried and true phrases sure are tried and true. My kids love them, especially AppleApple, who is a word-fascinated child, and a writer in the making. Here is a funny poem she wrote recently: “I dropped a glass upon the floor / My mom came charging like a boar / Now I have an extra chore / To pick that glass up off the floor.”
“You captured me very accurately,” I said. (I hate messes; I probably do charge exactly like a boar when I hear the sound of a giant mess being made.)
“But I don’t really have chores to do,” said AppleApple.
Well, we all make things up. If you’d like to hear about the things that I make up, you can come to the Waterloo Public Library this evening at 7pm. I plan to read a story I’ve not read before, and will also be answering questions like, Did that really happen? What’s true? What’s invented?
It is raining and pouring very nice things these past few days. It is raining writing work, frankly, and I’m pleased. Some of the work I’ve been doing is essentially invisible. I’ve even taken on work minus a byline because the pay is good. Perhaps as a proud writer, I should not confess such things. I work just as hard on every single task, whether or not I’m getting credit, due to my obsesssive-compulsive character. But then, I work just as hard on learning how to kick a soccer ball, truth be told. It would be nice to be able to regulate this dial, to turn down the inner perfectionist, but hey. It’s brought me here. I accept it.
Not to get too far off topic, but I’d like to share my theory about work. I figure I’m about a decade behind where I would have been, had I stayed at my job at the National Post. And I’m not fussy about it, or regretful in the least, because those were years well-spent with my children, and yes, I did continue to write fiction throughout. But I also accept that I have catch-up work to do, and experiences to gain, and therefore I’m willing to take jobs that are not particularly glamourous. Experience is experience. I would like to be an excellent interviewer, and I would like to write stories that dig deep into subjects that call out to be explored, to have light shone upon. Those are my goals. This is the path I’m choosing.
As a proud writer, I’m also thrilled to share the news that I’ve been invited to the Vancouver International Writers Festival in October. Insert large paragraph of exclamation marks, here:
I’ll also be at the Winnipeg Writers Festival in September, and Eden Mills Writers Fest also in September. And Word on the Street here in Kitchener. It will be a busy fall.
Meantime, back to work. I’ve got some interviews to do.
My horoscope has been full of ominous warnings lately. Do you read your horoscope? I don’t read mine regularly, and I don’t take it seriously. But every once in awhile I take a glance and something rings true. Lately, my horoscope keeps warning me to slow down, to take time, to rest, lest I risk burn-out.
As I contemplate the full evenings, tumbling one after another, and the early mornings, and everything sandwiched in between, it can feel not just relentless but insurmountable. An impossible pace. The readings! The soccer! The writing! The meals! The exercise! I am longing for a week away, come August, when we will go to a cottage and do nothing but eat, drink, and swim. And read! (Remember reading? I do it now at bedtime, and it’s a battle between my practical self reminding me to put the book down and go to sleep, and my word-fed self refusing and fighting the lowering eyelids until they literally drop, and the book too.)
Still. Full is good, I tell my horoscope. And there’s room, in full, for relaxed stretches of simple play. For instance, I spent nearly three hours outdoors at a park on Tuesday evening. Sure, it was a poorly planned outing and supper was rushed beyond all reason (this is due to being a one-car family, and forgetting, on occasion, that we are). But when we got to the park, super-early for soccer girl’s game, the two of us had time to walk together, talk together, and practice soccer together. As her teammates trickled in for the game, they joined in our completely informal practice — a practice I wouldn’t have had the confidence to lead without joining that soccer team myself. It was so much fun. We had so much time, and it was so luxurious. When the real practice started, I went for a short run in the cool woods nearby. Then I watched her game; the boys wandered over after Albus’s game to join me. Then we walked over to a nearby field and caught the end of Fooey’s game.
We arrived home to supper still on the table, lunches to be made, laundry to be hung, and tired children to put to bed. And it was already well past bedtime. But would I trade that evening outdoors with my children for a different version? I can’t imagine anything better.
Or more exhausting.
You may be right, horoscope. But I’m hanging on. I’m hanging on for dear life.
stop and drink the nectar
The morning is fleeing! I’m running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.
This afternoon, I’m hosting my literary friend Heather Birrell, with whom I will be reading tonight at The Starlight here in Waterloo. She’s been forewarned about the fact that somehow we’ve neglected to vacuum for, like, weeks, and that there are toys and papers and dishes and stuff on pretty much every horizontal surface, floors included, and she assures me that she’ll feel right at home amidst the chaos. Well, she’s got two young daughters. And a brand-new book. I think we’re good.
I want to tell you about her book. It’s called Mad Hope, and the title comes from a line in a pitch-perfect story, “Geraldine and Jerome,” which is set in the waiting room of a medical clinic and links up two unlikely-to-otherwise-meet-and-interact-characters. I happened to read it in the waiting room of a medical clinic (don’t worry, I’m fine). Be warned, if you’re planning to pick up this book and read it in public places: these stories will make you cry. Or maybe it’s just me.
I’m thrilled to say that Heather invited me to be an early reader of these stories, so I know exactly how damn good they are. And the book has been getting rave reviews all over the place. I’m going to get Heather to sign my copy today. You can too, if you happen to be in Waterloo and come out to the Starlight tonight; or in Toronto tomorrow, where we’ll be reading together again at Type Books.
And to add book news upon book news, my many-moons-ago boss, Noah Richler, has a new book out this spring too. It’s called What we talk about when we talk about war, and it’s about how our current government has been steadily distancing our country from its tradition of peacekeeping, preferring the warring nation metaphors instead. Noah will be in Waterloo on May 30th at the Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies. That just happens to be a free evening for me (!!), and I’m looking forward to hearing Noah speak. Join me? I’ll post more details closer to the date.
One last thing. Noah’s written a really lovely mini-review of The Juliet Stories, published on the 49th Shelf. In it, he talks about hiring me as an intern at the National Post, and his description of who I was then gave me a really lovely “how others see us” moment. Because who knows how others see us? (What I perpetually fear is that maybe I’d rather not know … it’s a personal hang-up. I need to get over that.)
My thoughts are all over the place on this Monday morning. I’m wondering: should I blog our week in suppers? Skip over that and write about my weekend of solo parenting? Share news about upcoming events and unexpected Juliet feedback?
Last night, I set my alarm for swimming. I woke at 2am. I’d been dreaming about sleeping (again!). I decided to turn off the alarm and really sleep. I have three early mornings planned this week; given that I also have two evening readings, self-preservation starts to come into play. It was a little easier to turn off the alarm given that yesterday, late afternoon, I ran 12 pain-free kilometres, keeping up a good pace and plotting my return to distance running. That counts as my first real distance run since my injury in January. It’s short, as far as distance runs go, but it was a blast. Next week … 14 km??
Uh. Where was I? Oh yes, self-preserving.
Tonight, I’m ferrying children from dance to soccer practice while Kevin has an early soccer game. Tomorrow, I’m at the Starlight in Waterloo (come, too!), from 7pm onward. Readings start at 7:45. And on Wednesday I’m headed to Toronto for an event at Type Books called the “Short Story Shindig” with Heather Birrell and Daniel Griffin, and hosted by Kerry Clare; 7pm (come, too!). This is all very exciting, but doesn’t go terrifically well with excessive early morning exercise.
As I said to Kevin this morning, “This isn’t the year of the triathlon. This is the year of The Juliet Stories.” (Which may be the first time I’ve admitted that, even to myself. I really really liked the year of the triathlon. I felt so hard-core. Sharing my book feels less focused, less goal-oriented. Maybe I need to start thinking of readings as races. They definitely affect me in similar ways — I’m nervous before, wired and happy during, and it takes me a little while to come down afterward.)
So. Slightly less focus on exercise, slightly more focus on evening events.
Now. Let me tell you all about my weekend with my kids. We had so much fun! Why can’t we have this much fun all the time? Is it because I’m usually trying to get too many other things accomplished? That can’t be entirely it, because we seemed to accomplish quite a lot, even while finding time to relax. Our weekend included …
:: watching Modern Family on Friday night while sharing an entire bag of Cheetos (which were utterly disgusting, may I just add)
:: trampoline ninja jumping (everyone!)
:: a bike trip to the grocery store for picnic and party supplies, followed by a picnic in the park
:: reading outside while two girls rode giggling past me on scooters and bikes too small for them
:: hanging laundry on the line, baking bread
:: playing on electronic devices; taking lots of photos
personal pizzas for party night (the one with the olives, asparagus, and eggplant? yes, that’s mine)
:: “Party Night,” wherein we had homemade personal pizzas and punch with ginger ale while watching a movie, then gorged on episodes of Modern Family while simultaneously gorging on boxed cereal and utterly disgusting candy; the rules for Party Night go like this: everyone gets to choose one treat from the grocery store (under $4), and we stay up as late as we want; oddly, three of four children chose boxed cereal (Corn Pops, Frosted Flakes, and Froot Loops, for the record). We have never felt so collectively gross. I blame the milk. Maybe the sugar too. It was surprisingly easy to herd the children off to bed at a not entirely unreasonable hour (9:30ish) …
:: … though AppleApple and I got distracted searching for my old Grade One piano book in the basement, which we never found, but we did find one of my old and relatively simple classical piano books, and ended up staying up for another hour playing songs. The Wild Horseman. The Happy Farmer. One of Muzio Clemente’s simple Sonatinas (she’s learning it!). Minuets from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook). Bliss!
:: sleeping in
:: making and delivering, on bicycle, invitations for an 11th birthday party (a week from today!)
:: more bike riding and trampolining and laundry hanging; hey, whatever makes us happy
Mother’s day was capped off by the return of Dad, and supper out at all-you-can-eat sushi with my mom, too.
And that is plenty for one blog post. Never got to the unexpected and lovely Juliet feedback. Well. More tomorrow.
Have I been writing quite often about my dreams? Maybe it’s because I’m woken on so many mornings by my alarm, pulled out of dreamland, bringing the dreams with me. My kids are not going to remember the 2.0 version of their mother, the one who for thirty-five years or so was the very opposite of early riser. The 2.0 version thought 7 o’clock in the morning was quite viciously early enough, thank you very much. But the 2.0 version has been obsolete for over a year now. She may already have been forgotten. My kids are going to remember version 2.1, up before dawn, coming in from outside in running gear, or freshly showered after spin class. “Where were you this morning?” they ask sometimes, greeting me from their perch at the breakfast bar.
I’ll admit: it wasn’t easy to recalibrate my instincts. But I’ll admit, too: change has brought about all sorts of good things. I’m friendlier, for one thing. Less prone to the growlies. Less resentful, somehow, of the necessary morning duties, more light-hearted regarding the inevitable complaints. (“This toast is too cold!” “This porridge is too hot!”)
This morning, I woke with dreams of my friend’s father still in my mind. We attended the memorial service last night. Let me tell you about one small and extraordinary moment. After the more formal proceedings, we all went to the church basement to eat sweets, visit, and share memories. Among the people who got up to say something was a woman I’d never met. She wasn’t a family member or someone from the neighbourhood. She said she knew my friend’s father from work. She said that she worked as a teller in a bank. My friend’s father had been a customer. She spoke about his friendliness, his stories, his interest in her life, about how, as she came to know him, she would wave him over to her line. She regretted that she hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye. She was glad to be able to come to his memorial service. She came to his memorial service. Isn’t that amazing?
This is what it says to me: The potential for meaningful relationships is all around us.
Meaningful relationships don’t have to be conventional. They don’t necessarily require tons of time. They can be as simple as asking your bank teller a question. Being interested. Being curious. Being, most of all, present.
Today was a day rife with potential challenges. I got up early. I did not nap. I was interviewed on live radio right after the kids left for school. And then I headed off to lead writing workshops for teens. Several fairly major things remain to be checked off my to-do list. But it hasn’t been a hard day, not at all. I feel a little foot-weary from standing. I feel a little wired from more than my usual dose of caffeine. But I feel, also, the worth of every interaction, no matter how small. Pay attention. Whatever is happening in your day, look it full in the face. Ask questions. Wonder. Give it your best.
I thought, today, about how new experiences are always around us. How people, if pushed in the friendliest of ways, will embrace something new. How even the most grownup of us crave to feel those moments so common in childhood — the ones that delight and surprise us. How maybe all of us are waiting to be delighted and surprised. And then I thought, I can do that.
It’s as easy — and as crazy hard — as stepping outside of my comfort zone.
“My days are full, yet I keep asking: how can I fill them just a little bit more …”
That’s my tagline, which you can read in full to the right of this post. In practice, it means integrating work with life. Work isn’t over here, and life over there; ideas are everywhere, experiences intermingle. It means conversations about deep things grabbed in passing. It means discussing story ideas over supper. It means writing about things that matter to me; or finding ways to make the things I’m writing about matter more.
I think it can be a confusing way to live. It’s next to impossible to keep things in balance. But maybe that’s coming at it from the wrong angle. Maybe balance is not so important; maybe what matters is throwing yourself in to whatever you’re doing, at any given moment, and being there.
It’s not about ticking boxes, or trying to fill the columns evenly.
Into what column would I file running? And how would I categorize photographing the kids on a sunny afternoon? Watching a soccer game? Baking bread? Cleaning the bathroom? Writing a new song? Doing an interview? Leading a workshop?
Today’s experiences include: spin class; preparing supper in the crockpot before breakfast; research; spending the afternoon with my four-year-old; conversations with friends; organizing my kids’ running club; taking my daughter to soccer practice and going for a run; and stopping in at a city meeting about a parking garage planned for our neighbourhood that will block a bike trail.
I’m leaving a few things out. Deliberately. I’d like to blog about my current writing plans and projects, but the truth is that freelancing is a tricky business, not just in its feast or famine nature, but also because not everything comes to pass; or happens when, or as, you think it’s going to happen.
But it’s a solid day, in a week that looks to be packed as full as ever.
A funny thing that happened on Saturday afternoon. I walked uptown to buy food, and stopped in at Words Worth Books. There at the front counter was The Juliet Stories. My first thought was, oh, that’s nice, it’s displayed right at the front. But then I realized it was stacked on a pile of unrelated books — not part of a display, but about to be purchased. It was a “Wow! You’re buying my book!” moment. When the customer discovered I was the author, a pen was found and I signed the book for her, right then and there. She was shopping with friends, and one of them ran to get a copy so I could sign it for her too. It was a little burst of excitement, all around.
And, see — it fits in no particular column. Household chores? Check. Being a writer? Check. Wandering into a new, unplanned, and unusual experience? Check, check, and check.