Category: Work

What I’ve been up to …

photographing the photographer
What a weird and wonderful week it’s been. I am positively bubbling with creative energy. And, right about now, caffeine. Which might explain the rapid-fire typing you’re hearing.

Yesterday had a stinker of a start. Well, not the very early start, which was spin class, and which, though I never quite got into it, still kicked off the day with a rush of happy endorphins. But then I got home. And discovered that CJ was refusing to go to nursery school, again. And you know, he’s been sick, so I wasn’t sure. Maybe he was still a bit off? Okay, kid. I’ll give you another day. Even though that means cancelling my morning plan to go record a song at my brother’s studio. Fine. Except it wasn’t fine, and I wasn’t fine, and I had to go to the basement and throw laundry into the washer and yell things and slam the door and perform other unpleasant and completely immature venting activities. It put a pall on the general everyone-heading-off-to-school-and-work part of the morning. I have a rotten temper.

It’s all about the expectations. I’d expected and planned to do one thing, and when plans suddenly shifted, I was disappointed. And frustrated. And facing another housebound day with a less than willing spirit.

But I came around, in a moping sort of way, to acceptance, and went on with the changed plans. When suddenly the phone rang–it was Kevin. His morning appointment had to be rescheduled. “I’ll come home and look after CJ, and you can go and record.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.” Well, off I went, let me tell you.

Proof that a stinker of a start doesn’t mean the whole is ruined. Remember this. Remember, and leap for the unexpected opportunities that parachute into your hours.

Why didn’t I take my camera? My brother’s new studio is filled with light. It’s an old Mennonite schoolhouse, one big room, and I sat right down at the piano to get loosened up. And then we recorded. Just one simple song, a lullaby. I wrote it for a character in Juliet. In fact, I’m pretty sure I wrote it as my character. Because my brother Karl is such an amazing and talented producer, as well as a musician, I know we’re going to have a beautiful song at the end of the process. It’s exciting. And I found myself up late last night perfecting more songs as my character. It’s weird, but I can write songs as her better than as me. Maybe it gives me the distance necessary to be vulnerable, to allow myself to tap uncritically into emotions and even a particular style that I can ascribe to her. Maybe it’s like writing a poem in a persona. I won’t question it. It’s working.

This morning, I surfed the creative wave toward a different shore. It helped that CJ trotted merrily off to nursery school–unquestionably healthy again. PRAISE BE. This morning, my friend Nancy arrived with coffee to share, and her camera. She is working on a new project that she calls “ipowr,” or “Intriguing People of Waterloo Region,” and she chose me as her first subject to interview and to photograph. I couldn’t resist photographing her too, plus it put me at ease to stand behind the lens. A nice way to warm up, perhaps for both of us. Less pressure. The photo above makes me think of a villa, a place both stark and soft, and somehow old-fashioned. The crop doesn’t quite do it justice. You can see the original here.

And so that is my yesterday and my today. I am basking in creative activities that would seem outside of my comfort zone. But neither feel like a stretch. Instead, both are extensions of what I’m already doing. And I’m brimming with appreciation for this quiet time between major projects, when I can do and try anything.

The world is full of beauty and light.
I am teetering on the brink of over-caffeination.
It’s all good.

The creative life: dig in

Yesterday, a reader commented on my Green Dreams post, which was written about a year and a half ago. This morning, I read that post again and found these words, which feel like a wise reminder from my (slightly) younger self:

I would like to offer my time–because I have it, and I’m grateful for that gift–to living creatively. Anyone who’s ever made anything knows that there is a great deal of invisible work behind what’s created. There is the original vision, changed and altered and made deeper by reflection and time, there is work, there is error and recognition of error, and incorporation of error, too, and there is luck, happenstance, improvisation. There are bursts of production and activity, and lulls of wondering, daydreaming, even doubt. There is sacrifice. You have to figure out if it’s worth it to you–figure out what you’re sacrificing, and why you want to.

Mostly, though, you just do it: you do the work you’ve chosen to do.

Living creatively, improvising, digging in, committing, taking risks, messing up, pausing to reflect, continuing, trying new things and rediscovering the tried and true: that pretty much sums up my life at present–or at least, the life I’m aiming for, every day. Yours, too?

::::

On that note, I’d like to tell you about a few projects I’m currently digging into.

* increasing subscribers to my blog: If you look on the right-hand side of the blog, I’ve got links to a variety of extras, including a new feature that allows you to type in your email address and receive blog posts in your inbox. We’re still tinkering with this (and by “we” I mean my techie friend Nath is troubleshooting for me), but I’d be happy if you signed up. And then please let me know if it’s working for you.

* Storywell: My friend Susan has launched a business aimed at helping people tell their stories: “Whether you are writing for your own family and community, aiming at publication, or needing help in telling your company or organization’s tale, we can help you tell your story well. We offer you a team of professional writers, editors and proofreaders whose goal is to help you develop as a writer.” And guess what? I’m one of the professional writers on her team. Interested, or know someone who might be? Get in touch.

* a new challenge: “Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” Okay it’s a crazy challenge over which I have no real sway. Even publishers don’t know how books make it onto bestseller lists, the compilers of which seem to collect data from a variety of unpredictable sources. But I think it will be fun. Kevin is the brains behind the idea. He created and hosts a flexible web site for his business that can be used by personal trainers as a forum to run challenges. We’re using that forum to create a challenge called: “Help Make Carrie’s Book a Bestseller.” The site is still under construction, but I plan to have it ready to launch in the new year, and you will be invited to join. I only have one hope for my book, and that’s that it will get read. Then it can speak for itself.

* early to rise: This isn’t really a project, it’s just something I want to continue whether or not I’m working toward a particular race (my next one is in March, which still seems too far off to be highly motivating). I like the ethic involved in getting up early. I like that it’s not easy. It’s not easy, but it’s ALWAYS rewarding. This morning, my internal alarm woke me up for yoga. I’d planned to sleep instead, but when my eyes saw 5:48 on the clock, I recognized that it was a little gift, and I accepted it. Few of my evenings are free. My only guaranteed alone time is in the early morning hours. I’ve never been a morning person and even now do not consider myself one; but that doesn’t mean I can’t rise early and move my body and stride confidently into the day.

(Just realized that this looks like an early New Year’s resolution list. It’s not meant to be. I’m very ho-hum on resolutions. I prefer big picture overviews of the past year combined with swooping excitement and energy beamed at the year ahead. Every year on the eve of my birthday–which is Dec. 29th–I write just such an overview in my journal, by hand. Very old-school. Very satisfying.)

Right now I am …

… still buzzing after meeting all of the Anansi staff at their sales rep party in Toronto last night. I was so nervous. So nervous! I put on mascara while Fooey writhed on the floor and screamed in her bossiest voice, “You will not be going to this meeting tonight! They can do the meeting tomorrow! You are not going!” It brought me closer to the reality that, for my little kids at least, this Mommy’s publishing a book thing is a major inconvenience; they really can’t understand what it means to me. Mommy’s publishing a book and she’s not tucking me in tonight! Not: Mommy’s publishing a book, yay for Mommy! I set supper on the table, set the table, and as soon as Kevin walked through the door, peeled two desperately clingy children off my legs and made a run for it.

Then I had a pleasant (not) leisurely (not) drive down the 401. The traffic! Plus, the closer I got to my destination, the more nervous I got. I got so nervous I was having to remind myself to breathe. It’s been awhile since I’ve schmoozed. Thankfully, as soon as I walked through the door, I was in good hands. My former boss from, oh, a decade or more ago, is married to Anansi’s publisher. I think he knew I was nervous. I kind of had the same expression on my face that I had at the beginning of the marathon (but with better hair and a nicer outfit). He got me a glass of wine and took me outside to meet his dogs, and I was soon feeling much better. Just like reaching the 10km mark. Before I knew it, I was cruising.

And I got to meet everybody! I mean, all of these people who have been working with me from afar (not so very afar, but far enough that we’ve never met in person). I got to meet them! I met my editor! It was like meeting an old friend, except I had imagined her looking just a little bit different. I’d imagined everyone differently, come to think of it. Everyone looks different over email and the telephone. It was like meeting the people behind your favourite radio voices. Without even knowing it, you construct these imaginary faces.

Anyway, by 34km or so, I was one happy writer. I’d been fed a lovely dinner. My sister’s red shoes looked great (thanks again, Edna!). Best of all, I wasn’t schmoozing, I was just getting to know people. Hey, I like people! And come to think of it, I like talking too! Not so nerve-wracking after all.

At the end of the evening, I mentioned that I was kicking around for a new challenge this coming year–thinking of a running challenge or something like the 365-day photo challenge–and Sarah, Anansi’s publisher, said (and I paraphrase): “How about publishing your book!? Forget the other challenges. This will be plenty. This year, you’ll launch a book!”

I like that. I might have to go with that.

(Oh, and I got up early for spin class this morning and I was still buzzing … still am … floating on an evening out of the every day.)

(And, no, that photo does not relate. It’s just a purty picture of some berries in the snow in front of our house.)

How much do you care about a question mark (?)

Ah, the best laid plans. I am sitting at my desk and working, and sat and worked most of yesterday too, but I’m not writing reams of words into a new book; instead I’m going over the final copy edits for The Juliet Stories, which arrived on Wednesday afternoon. I was almost afraid to open the file. When Hair Hat was being published, lo these many years ago, I enjoyed every stage of the editing process … right up until we got to the copy editing. Suddenly, I disagreed with the editor, and strongly. You’ll remember that my one real job was at a newspaper where I worked my way up to being a copy editor. So I was feeling pretty confident that I’d turned in a clean manuscript to my publisher.

But the copy editor didn’t think so.

And, listen, she was right and I was right. We were both right. The copy editor’s job is to use a fine-toothed comb and to insist on grammatical correctness and stylistic consistency, by which I mean adherence to the style guide used by the publisher, and not style as in stylish. And that was where we disagreed. I wrote Hair Hat in a deliberately flat and uninflected (stylish) style. I didn’t even use question marks. I wanted the reader to arrive at conclusions without being dragged there by me, the author. The copy editor wanted all questions to end with a question mark.

I just couldn’t do it. It sounds ridiculous to get upset over punctuation, but by God, I just could not compromise. And it pained me. I like to make people happy (even more so at the time than I do now.)

So when the copy edits landed on Wednesday afternoon accompanied by a long message from my editor explaining the process, I went all fear and trembling. It’s been a fabulous editing process up until now. Would the copy edits do me in? Well, I’m only about halfway through them now, but the answer so far has been a gentle, no. These copy edits will not do me in. Am I a more relaxed person, now, than I was before? Is my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories more compatible with traditional grammar? Or have I just accepted that some disagreement will be part of the process, and conflict doesn’t upset my stomach in the same way that it once did?

I have to go with door number three. I’m still a pretty finicky person. I can get very excited over a semi-colon, let me tell you. And my (stylish) style in The Juliet Stories, though different from Hair Hat, is unique, and sometimes idiomatic rather than grammatically correct. I don’t always agree with what the copy editor has suggested, but I’m okay with that; we don’t have to agree about everything, and I get that this time around. She’s done a bang-up job on this book. The fact checking is amazing. And I’m taking notes on her highly effective use of italics.

I’m back at it again today. Thankfully without dread.

Where does that leave my ambitions for a November writing month? I’m sticking with the original plan, just pushing the start date back by a few days. The copy edits are due back at the publisher on Tuesday morning. The amazing thing is that the builders say my new office will be DONE by Wednesday. In some strange confluence of otherwise unconnected endings and beginnings, that means that I will start my new book in my new office, having dotted all i’s and crossed all t’s on this one.

It’s too much to think about. So I’m off to think about italics instead.

On the work of the cricket (file under: morning-nap thoughts)

[Your eyes do not deceive you. This is not a photo of a cricket.]

**Morning-nap thoughts (yes, I take a 20-minute nap on the mornings I get up early to exercise; if perfectly timed, I lie down as soon as the kids have left for school, and I’m up before 9am) …

My poetry book club meets tonight. Spoiler alert, book club friends: I’m going to write about Mary Oliver in today’s post. Specifically, the poem that lay gently in my mind this morning while I drifted toward rest, which is titled “Song of the Builders,” and comes from her collection (fittingly, I see): Why I Wake Early. It is a poem, like most of her poems, set outdoors. In it, the poet sits in the grass and thinks about God while nearby a cricket moves grains of earth: “How great was its energy, / how humble its effort.” Of course, she is talking about herself, too. They are both at work, “building the universe.”

This poem came gentle to me this morning as I thought about work. Which you know I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In my conversations with Kevin, we’ve come to some pretty comfortable conclusions, by which I mean we’ve settled, together, on things we can live with, happily. One is that there is work, and then there is a paycheque, and the two are easily confused but largely unrelated (but you wise people already knew that, didn’t you!) Kevin loves his work. He doesn’t feel burdened by it, and would do it, in one form or another, whether or not our family depended on the paycheque that comes with it. And that makes a difference. I have the desire to work; but it’s gotten muddled with a desire for a paycheque.

Money is such a complicated and powerful concept. I don’t have the time or brain power to address its many uses and seductions here. But suffice it to say, I am setting it aside in my considerations.

What is clear to me is that the work I long to do is available in many forms. It already exists, and I am already doing it. If a new opportunity calls me, and calls to my interests and abilities, I would leap to do it. But I respect and cherish the work I’m already doing.

What I love about Mary Oliver is her utter lack of interest in hierarchy. The work of the natural world is as fascinating, as valuable, as universe-building as any work that you or I could do. It’s really quite an anti-capitalist view, if you get right down to it. She has no interest in capital. I admire the poets who do not apologize for being poets. Who is to say that sitting quietly on the grass and thinking about God is not work? Such humility. Such stillness. Such grace and goodness. She’s not saying everyone should be a poet. She’s saying be who you are. If you are a cricket, you work like a cricket without worrying whether your work is valuable or necessary or useful.

I would like to work like a cricket. Or a poet. Or, more precisely, like myself.

And that is my drifting nap-time thought for the day.

Climbing hills and trees: more thoughts on motherhood and work

How to pare down today’s thoughts into a blog-worthy parcel? First, I want to say thank you to the many who added their comments and experiences to the working-mom meets stay-at-home-mom post. So much food for thought. And I’ve been hungry. Here’s where your thoughts led me:

1. Six-and-a-half years ago, I read an essay by Carol Shields that both comforted me and rung true. In it, she offered the idea that there is enough time. She was writing the essay while dying of breast cancer, but even for dying, she wrote, there is enough time. When she was younger, she worried about fitting everything in, but in each stage of life, she discovered time enough. It wasn’t that she could do everything all at once, it was that she honoured and lived out each stage.

I loved that idea (still do). That I could enter fully into intense hands-on motherhood and take my time. And when the stage passed, I could enter fully into whatever came next. And in my untested theory, somehow those years of intense motherhood would be an asset to whatever came next: all the juggling of multiple demands and scheduling and coping with crises and being nurse / healer / calm-amidst-the-storm / psychiatrist / chef / chauffeur / event planner / and on and on as the moment required would be valued, and would add value to whatever I chose to do next.

A couple of big assumptions in my theory. a) That employers would value experience that couldn’t be validated or quantified. b) That careers could be built overnight or slipped into like a pair of shoes. c) That I would get to choose my career like an item picked off a menu. d) That I would have a clear idea of whatever came next. e) That the intense hands-on motherhood stage would pass.

Reading your thoughts, it struck me: my theory is entirely unproven. I’ve spent six years quietly and confidently assuming everything would fall into place at the right time. (And who knows, stranger things have happened.) But let’s just say things don’t. Let’s observe that intense motherhood doesn’t pass, exactly, things just calm down somewhat. Even a decade on, it’s still pretty intense (with children ages 10, 8, 6 and 3). Meeting their needs continues to occupy a large portion of my mind and my time. The stages of life, therefore, aren’t so clear-cut and tidy.

2. Beyond that, I’m feeling a deeper appreciation for the work that career-building takes. Success in a chosen field isn’t something you can step into. It’s a slow build, a steady climb; you have to be there in order to make connections and to stumble into the right place at the right moment. It takes hard work and commitment. And time. Time and commitment that I’ve chosen to put into my home life and my children. Not into a career.

3. But: At the expense of a career? I still refuse to believe that. Especially because I have been (slowly) building a career as a fiction writer, and, yes, it’s taken time and commitment. But as most writers of fiction will tell you, this ain’t a career known for wild profiting; or even, in all honesty, breaking even. Which brings me to …

4. How much do I prioritize financial independence? I am in a marriage with a supportive partner who has shouldered the burden of our expenses ever since we started having children (you could say, conversely, that I’ve shouldered the burden of caring for our children during that time; and that perhaps we both have made sacrifices–and gains–in this arrangement.) I realize that I’m fortunate even to be able to ask this question, but, if I had to choose between nurturing my creative life and becoming financially independent, which would it would be? Because, let’s be realistic, it may be that there isn’t time to be a mother, and a writer, AND a [fill in the blank] money-earner. At least not all at once.

5. Feminism. One reader commented that her mother strongly prioritized financial independence, for herself and by extension for her daughters; and I know my own mom was troubled by her lack of financial independence, and hoped for better for her daughters. I haven’t done much better, not yet. Why does this weigh on me? (Because it does.)

And, finally …

6. Experimenting freely. Does all of this worry and analysis leave out the most important part, the most exciting part, about where I stand, right this second? (Okay, I’m actually sitting.) Because there is so much possibility in the unknown. My imagination runs wild. Sometimes I’m afraid; but mostly, here’s how I want to frame this nebulous whatever comes next stage that no longer seems so well-defined and particular …

**Like I’m marching joyfully up a giant rock in my rubber boots to survey the fields all around.

**Like I’m climbing an old apple tree, not necessarily expecting to find edible fruit, but for the heart-pounding excitement of being up so high; and to test the branches, and my own bravery.

(Now, if you please … tell me what you think.)

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