My editor has returned my book, with the line edits. The treatment is fairly light, except for two stories, one brand-new, which is admittedly underwritten, and the other, which has been a nemesis for years now; both need more work, and quiet thought. Every time I look at her message, a faint wave of fear washes over me. Because it’s summertime. Because my babysitter has extended her stay in Germany through mid-August. Because I may need to spend our week of family holiday, when Kevin has time off, holed up and working, rather than hanging out with my family. There may be — must be — alternatives, but my brain has yet to plot these out. Basically, I need to schedule time away from the children. Quite a lot of time.
July is coming to a close. In my mind, August magically turns into a month of productivity. But what are the children doing, exactly, while I’m confined at my desk, deep in concentration? Imagine us stepping into a parallel universe, one I believed existed pre-motherhood. The children play quietly at my feet; the older ones fetch snacks for the younger ones; no one poops; no one makes up songs with lyrics offensive to anyone else, and sure to draw ire; birds chirp and soft breezes soothe through open windows; words flow from my fingertips; we all wear crisply ironed linens — why not?; their hair is brushed and their nails are clipped and supper will be a picnic already prepared and waiting for us in a basket. As soon as I’ve solved this tricky handling of plot and character — no, it won’t take long — we will dance merrily outside to the bug-free, itch-free grass to eat it.
Alternatively, I need to find some childcare options, and mark out on the calendar a bank of whole days and weeks, and get this done. Yikes. Here comes August.
My friend Rebecca wrote this thought-provoking post on ‘thin spaces’, the Celtic concept of places (or moments) where the spirit world comes very near to our world. We can reach through and touch it; or it brushes us. She asked where we find our thin spaces. It might be a physical place, or it might be an experience. It might be something we can seek out, or it might be something that we can’t, that just comes upon us.
Here is my short list, the things that jumped immediately into my mind:
– being with someone during labour and birth
– sometimes while writing, when the words seem to come from beyond me
– when someone reads a poem out loud
– when my body is working very hard and my mind becomes very quiet
I was out with my siblings last night (and Kevin!), and I was thinking about how all five of us Snyder kids are both creative and impractical (thank heavens Kevin is practical). I don’t mean we’re disorganized or incapable of functioning in the world, but I do think we look at some practical things, such as work and earning a living, differently. Somehow, we must have been raised to value the making of things more than the buying of things. I think within that is some quiet value, never spoken of, of thin spaces. And our thin spaces maybe aren’t that profitable, but we were raised to choose unprofitable over practical if unprofitable feeds us in other ways.
I think many people choose the work they choose because it brings them closer to those thin spaces. What’s your work? Does it take you to unexpected moments or places of peace / calm / meditation / joy / insight / grace / giving / acceptance / fill-in-the-blank-with-your-word-for-a-thin-space?
My girl takes after me. I like to write my ideas down. I have to write my ideas down, more precisely. It’s my version of “thinking out loud,” and I recommend it to my older children when they are having trouble with anything: mean siblings, unfair situations, anger management, you name it.
Yesterday, I took my own advice. The big kids are at overnight camp, and the little kids are at a dance camp during the mornings, just for this week; and I have no projects on the go. I’ve completed the triathlon, and the related Chatelaine.com blog. I am waiting for line edits on The Juliet Stories. I seem unwilling to commit to a new character and a new story, just yet. I am at the crux of something. Restless. Curious. So I spent the morning talking to myself in terrible printing (barely legible, even to me) inside the pages of a handy notebook.
Did anything come of it? But of course! If not exactly peace of mind, then peace of purpose.
My mother has a phrase she uses often: She likes to “stay open to the possibilities.” And while there’s plenty to recommend the idea, I’ve decided that rather than staying open to the possibilities, I prefer to pursue, invite, and seek out possibilities–and when the time is right, to choose and to commit, which is kind of the opposite of staying open to more and more and more. Commitment means closing off possibilities–at least, some of them. But it also means believing in the possibilities before you and available to you, and not forever hoping that something better may be waiting around the corner. It’s kind of like getting married. When I commit, I like to get it right. That comes with a certain amount (okay, a giant unreasonable amount) of agonizing and analyzing.
But I’m seeing that commitment can be lighter than that, too. I have before me a flexible year. Certain elements are inflexible: my youngest is still a preschooler for whom I am the primary caregiver. But depending on my income generation, there are childcare options to supplement my responsibilities. And I am at home. I can juggle. I’m not tied to the structured hours of a 9-5 job.
One thing became very clear during yesterday’s brainstorming: I am finding more satisfaction from expanding my working life–my public life, essentially. To connect, to be engaged with the world–it’s what I want.
Something clear to me at this exact moment, as my littlest leans his face onto my leg and says, “I’m bored!” is that I’m not a great mother when I’m typing on the computer or trying to think. The balance … is so imperfect.
Ever feel like you’re just not into the domestic necessities? I can usually find some smidgen to enjoy in some portion of the daily chores that Must Be Done. But not right now.
Right now, due to soccer-all-the-time, I am washing dishes in a grumpy stupor after 9pm. “Remember when I got to wash dishes right after supper while listening to ‘As It Happens’?” I said to Kevin last night, who was also in the kitchen, putting together lunches for school. “Who knew that was such a treat?”
And hanging laundry–an often peaceful activity, a moment of quiet in a noisy day–right now, feels like a relentless intrusion on my time. There’s so much of it and so many stages to the doing of it: gathering, washing, carrying the basket up and down stairs, hanging inside or outside, gathering, folding. The only thing I refuse to do is to put away the stacks of clothes neatly piled and arranged from youngest to oldest, on my bed. C’mon. It’s the least they can do.
Even cooking is not drawing me these days. I haven’t baked bread in over a week. I’ve been stocking up at the half-off shelf at our nearest grocery store (and because our grocery store is frequented by a lot of students, the half-off bread is usually the best they sell: multi-grain or spelt or Red Fife wheat).
I haven’t baked a cookie, square, or cake in ages. I offered my two youngest a half-bag of cheesies to snack on while we sat waiting in the hallway for AppleApple to be done her final piano lesson. I’d assumed we’d be alone, because the music school is pretty much shut down, but of course there was a mother across from us, watching my offspring coat themselves in sticky orange powder. I pretended no shame.
Maybe I wasn’t even pretending, come to think of it.
I am consumed, right now, by two major projects. One is the triathlon, which will happen next weekend (not this one). I am training heavily, and it is eating a great deal of my time, mentally and physically. What I’ll do after it is over, I just cannot fathom. I can’t really think that far. I love the early mornings, but they take a toll. I would like to get together with friends and enjoy a drink of an evening, again, for example. But meantime, I am aimed like an arrow at a target, with a focus I just can’t turn off.
My other major target, on which I feel just as significantly and undistractedly aimed, is my Juliet Stories, several of which I am reworking in quite radical ways. I am rolling with ideas, especially after a conversation this morning with my editor, and trying to be patient and to work within the limits of the time that is put aside for writing work. I am grateful to Kevin, who is taking over everything this weekend, so that I can write.
And so the kids are eating cheesies, and I am resenting the laundry, and we are doing a lot of last-minute barbequeing.
I just realized something. It’s not pretending. There’s no shame. I’ve lost whatever guilt I once had, as a mother, about pursuing interests that don’t revolve around my children and my household. Right now, I am wired tight as can be, focused, excited, energized, exhausted, stretched, and it’s all good.
It’s almost June. It doesn’t seem possible that May is nearly over. I have only hung my laundry outside once or twice so far this entire spring; it’s been too rainy and unpredictable. Thankfully, I have a system for hanging laundry inside instead, but it’s not the same.
This coming month will be crowded. I’ve neglected my Week in Suppers installment, as it takes more time than I currently can spare. I would like to find some way to keep that journaling of our daily lives going, but in a more efficient way. I’ve been enjoying Kathleen Winter’s blog wherein she attempts to do one new thing every day. In order to make it manageable, she’s often creative, and the new thing is not necessarily unusual or out of the ordinary, but might be a new way of looking at something, or even just acknowledging that every new day brings new experiences and surprises. Life is interesting.
I will be writing a lot this coming month, as often as I possibly can, in order to rework some critical sections of The Juliet Stories, and because July and August are summer months with unpredictable childcare available. More importantly, I want to be able to enjoy my kids when they’re home, so my goal is to work crazy hard, and then “take life easy.”
Wish me luck. (With both the hard work and the taking life easy).
That title is grammatically incorrect. Forgive me. It sounds perfect to my ears.
Here it is: good news, arriving in my inbox and waiting for me to get home from running errands on bicycle yesterday, with kids shouting in the stroller behind. I was so busy that I only had time to skim the message once before jumping back into the other projects in my life, namely, cooking, laundry, and children. (Laundry: how can there be so much of you? you never give up).
This was news from my other life, the one where I’m a writer. It was a long message from my editor, who had finished reading the draft of The Juliet Stories I sent awhile back. I’d written many new stories for the revision, and was praying she would like where I’d taken the book.
First, the “bad” news, which is easy to swallow: I will need to rework two stories from the opening section, possibly combining them into one. I like her suggestion to combine the two and will put on my thinking cap. I’m pretty much always up to a good challenge. I will have a month or so to do this. I estimate it will take me three full long days of work, assuming the ideas flow. If they don’t; well, I won’t go there. Why assume the worst?
Because the best is the rest of my editor’s message, of which I’ll share my favourite part here. The hard work, the isolated hours, the years of doubt, all add up to: “My heart was in my throat as I read these new stories.” Emotional connection: it’s what I crave for my writing. I also appreciated, and read with much relief, the line: “The book is cohering so beautifully now …”
I like to think this “Obscure Canlit Mama” blog, now in its third year, had something to do with the creation of The Juliet Stories. It’s brought me connections with other writers; allowed me to be vulnerable; and it’s given me permission to embrace myself as a writer. Sometimes just saying something out loud is enough to make it real.
And now to spend a weekend celebrating by eating cheese, swimming in a lake (I hope–in my borrowed wetsuit), and communing with friends who’ve been with me since I was way more mama than writer. (I’m still way more mama than writer, but I’m not intensive-pregnant-nursing-mama anymore; and somehow that’s changed how I imagine my life and explore other parts of the whole. They’re out of the cocoon, in a way, and so am I).
One last thing. My editor also described The Juliet Stories as “deeply feminist,” which surprised me. It’s not that I don’t see myself as feminist (I do! I am!), but I never imagined writing with the intention of expressing a political viewpoint. I hope she means that the book explores the emotional and physical potential in women’s lives. I do think of my characters, especially the women, as free, somehow; or as free as any human being can be, to claim their own lives and essential selves, and to make choices beyond the boundaries of gender, while still understanding and partaking in the potential of their bodies. “My soul felt decidedly less shrunken when I’d finished reading it,” my editor wrote.
Next up: a complicated rewrite for two thematically linked stories. Followed by the line edit. Followed by … book cover design? Copy editing? And the big intake of breath before the finished book exists and hits stores, and makes its attempt to kick out a place for itself in the tough and largely indifferent world. If I learned anything from the first time around, it’s to enjoy the moments when they come, and not try to put them away and save them for later. Enjoy in a big way. Laugh, cry, shout. Forget muted gestures. There is no way to store the rush of immediacy. Which is why I let myself bask in the feeling of relief yesterday afternoon, in the midst of busyness. Ahhhh.