Category: Work

On being a freelancer, in earnest

cupcake smile
photo shoot out-take

I’ve been writing non-stop, for pay, for the past week and a half. This week’s assignments have focused on Canada Day. Several stories involved interviewing new and relatively new Canadians, which was a wonderful experience. Everyone has a story, and everyone’s story has some kernal that is poignant or humbling or moving; and I love listening.

A new and exciting development is that I’ve also been assigned to take some of the photographs to accompany the stories.

Let me tell you about yesterday, which was particularly manic and fun.

I started the morning with spin/weight class. Took a quick nap after seeing kids off to school. Biked to an interview. Raced home in order to prepare and test a variety of recipes — food for an imaginary Canada Day party. “I love my job,” I thought, dashing around my kitchen in the middle of the afternoon, delicious smells wafting. With help from Zoe, party-planning friend extraordinaire, we decorated and styled a small area of the back porch as if for a “party,” arranged the food, and I took photos. We worked at a crazy pace. I was trying to get everything done before children arrived home from school. And food is tricky to photograph, as anyone who follows my blog knows. I was thankful for great natural lighting, borrowed glassware and linens, and for the daughter who arrived home early and agreed to be photographed eating a cupcake while smiling non-stop (as directed!).

“Even fake smiles look real in photos,” I assured her. And, as you can see from the evidence above, they do.

It was a crazy fun afternoon.

I’ve made a discovery: all those shameful wasted years of reading cheesy women’s magazines has finally paid off. “Service-oriented copy,” as it’s known, simply flows from my fingertips.

Meanwhile, pleasurable discoveries and cupcakes aside, yesterday rolled on at its manic pace. For supper, we ate the food I’d photographed (bonus!). I processed and sent photos to my editor. I biked with soccer girl to the park. I ran 12km in just over an hour (I can’t do my long run this weekend — too busy with soccer tournament and dance recital — which is why I added mileage). We biked home. Put children to bed. Folded laundry. Worked on stories some more. Briefly spent time talking to husband on couch. Dropped plan to meet up with sibs to celebrate birthdays (something had to give).

Crashed.

Slept like a rock. I love sleeping like a rock.

On another note, let me share with you a pang. Sometimes I look at my children and wonder whether I’m keeping close enough track of their individual needs. In my busyness, in this great whirl, am I overlooking something important? Will each feel cherished and treasured by their mother? When problems arise, and heartache, as inevitably happens, do I spare enough time and attention to help them?

As my working life expands, as I prioritize earning a greater share of our family’s income, what falls through the cracks? What gets minimized or ignored or even lost?

On giving it all up to pursue the creative life

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Today is brag-about-my-brother day. My brother Karl is the youngest of my three brothers (I also have a sister who is the youngest of us five siblings). I was seven-and-a-half when he was born, and there’s a fabulous photo floating around somewhere of me on my red bicycle with baby Karl plopped in the basket on the handlebars, with my mom, another brother, and my best friend Katie all posed around us, every last one of us grinning with delight; ah, the freedom of the early 1980s. Karl also spent a lot of time being swaddled and stuffed into my toy baby carriage — for a big sister, what could be better than a real live baby to play with?

As he grew, Karl demonstrated tenacity and an outsized will. He was always a tiny child, but absolutely fierce.

He wasn’t interested in school or academics. But he was talented at many things, including playing the drums, among many other instruments. Somewhere along the line, he and my brother Clifford acquired equipment for recording and producing music at home. There was the studio in my parents’ basement, lined with egg cartons; and a portable studio that he could set up anywhere.

And now he has his own studio, out in the country, with a wall of windows overlooking fields.

What makes me most proud of my brother Karl is that he knew he wanted to make music. He knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set about becoming a musician, no matter that others might have wished for him a career that would promise greater financial stability and security. He’s worked incredibly hard. Fame has never been a motivator for him — what he loves to do is to make music. And as anyone who chooses the creative arts as a career knows, there are years of invisible, unseen labour and practice underlying any visible success.

Well, Karl’s had some success recently. His song, which is titled, simply, “Song,” is the music for Apple’s new MacBook Pro commercial, on television and online, worldwide. Click here to listen to the entire song. And if you like it, you can get the entire Kidstreet album on iTunes. (Kidstreet is made up of my brothers Karl and Cliff, and my sister Edna; all of them talented musicians.)

To see Karl’s work and talent appreciated on this level makes me just ridiculously proud. I will try to restrain myself from running up and down the streets whooping with delight.

Instead, I’d like to make a toast to everyone who chooses to a pursue a dream, against the odds, and despite the heartbreaking challenges along the way. Join me? All I’ve got this morning is a cup of coffee.

Cheers!

Karl, you’ve made something beautiful.

A meandering kind of post

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hail storm

Just before my reading yesterday (Wednesday) evening, the skies opened up. Talk about raining and pouring. And hailing. It was dramatic. Perhaps it purged my anxious mood, because by the time I got to the event at the library, everything felt magically relaxed. Or maybe that’s experience coming into play. After all, I have been reading and speaking in public on a fairly regular basis for the past few months.

A friend commented yesterday that she hoped I would find hidden value in my decade of at-home-with-children work; and there is no doubt it’s made me who I am.

I’m less self-conscious, for example. Any public outing involving infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and yes, even 11-year-olds, toughens the hide considerably. And my children have taught me how to ask for what I want — on many levels. If your child has ever been in need, you will discover within yourself reserves of grit and determination, you will knock on doors, you will be persistant and annoying and you won’t give a damn about being judged. On a different level, asking a child to do a task requires simple, straightforward communication. Forget fancy, forget dancing around a subject — state what needs doing in three words or less. So these are hidden assets I’ve gained over the years.

But other skills are rusty …

Alright, I started this post many hours ago, this is how far I got, and I’d like to finish it before bedtime. What has this crazy day held? I worked all day on a story on dinosaurs that is still not quite done. I set up an interview for tomorrow morning. I discovered we have a meeting at our eldest daughter’s new school early tomorrow morning; and that Kevin can’t attend due to work. I managed to make supper from scratch in about twenty minutes flat. Instead of eating it, I worked on the dinosaur story. Soccer girl and I biked to her soccer practice. The weather was gorgeous! I went for a run, and discovered speed — for the first three kilometres. And I hacked it out for the next two, and ran 5km in 23:38, my fastest time yet; and then I hacked out another kilometre and a bit, making it 6km in 28:52. (This is not record breaking time for anyone but me; but it felt good.) After soccer practice, the two of us stayed and practiced penalty shots — AppleApple in net, and me kicking. Addictively fun! Then we biked home. Dishes awaited. Laundry still on the line. Supper still on the table. Exhausted children to put to bed.

Man. I’m tired. I should not be typing, I should be reading in bed right now. I’m currently reading about the life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I spend a lot of time turning to my husband to report on the crazy things she’s getting up to. Did you know she was one of the most famous women in America in the 1930s? A poet! She sold 68,000 copies of a book of poems in eight weeks in the middle of the Depression.

More on Vincent to come, methinks.

For now, to sleep, perchance to dream.

It’s raining, it’s pouring

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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.

Ominous horoscopes

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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.

Hm.

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.

The morning is fleeing!

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stop and drink the nectar

The morning is fleeing! I’m running out of time. Stop, Carrie, breathe for a moment. Drink the nectar.

Ahhh.

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.)

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