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.
The week has gone by in a blur. I’ve had less energy, yet have stuck to the basic routines. And here we are, arrived at a holiday. Kevin is home from work. So I am working. Yes, I am upstairs in the playroom/office typing away on a new project that I plan to reveal next week when it goes live. Stayed tuned.
This week has seen its ups and downs. And downs and ups.
One item that started up, then plummeted down, (thankfully not literally), was our porch, which we hope to rebuild this summer. It’s been steadily decaying due to water damage, and might make it one more year before falling off the front of our house–might. So we’ve been saving our pennies and gathering quotes from contractors and builders. And in the midst of this planning, my friend N offered an exciting suggestion: while we’re rebuilding the porch, could a tiny home office be built, too? There is a perfect place for it: we have a door that leads off the dining-room onto the side porch, and both door and side-porch are currently underused; wasted access, and wasted space. Would it be possible to create an insulated room right there? I have to confess that I was/am hugely excited, giddy almost, to be entertaining the idea of having a home office — a real writing space, a room of my own. I could imagine it in perfect detail: spare and functional, with white painted wood, tall windows, a wall of bookshelves, and a desk. Simple. Perfect.
My feelings were/are almost covetous. Drooling. Dreaming.
Well, here’s the down. We got our first quote for the job and it was double our budget. And we thought our budget was pretty generous. Did I mention that the quote was just for rebuilding the porch? Nothing to do with adding on said fantasy writing room? We’re not quite back to square one, because quotes can vary wildly; but my home office bubble is suffering serious deflation. And you know, maybe it isn’t my time, yet. I need to earn entry into the perfect writing space. I need to sell more books, more words. (Words for sale! Words for sale!).
Speaking of words for sale, I had a pleasant chat with my agent yesterday. And I have news! My second book, THE JULIET STORIES, will be published earlier than originally anticipated: look for it in stores this coming March (in Canada, that is). Which means that there is exciting work ahead, also sooner than anticipated: editing the manuscript on a micro rather than a macro level; discussing cover design; meeting the kind people at House of Anansi; and planning publicity for the book. Yikes! Yowza! Woot!
But enough of ups into downs and downs into ups. Time to stop typing, stop working, and let this space revert back to a playroom for most of the rest of the weekend. It is a holiday, after all.
Because my heart, speaking literally, powers my body as I work toward the goal of completing a triathlon and/or half-marathon this year.
Because I live in my head. Because I want to allow myself to respond spontaneously, without checking in with my head. If the heart says do this, I want to. At least, most of the time. Okay, even some of the time. (I’m a little bit afraid of giving myself over to my heart; I sense that mistakes will be made; I sense also that mistakes must be made).
Because of love, compassion, empathy. Because in my efficiency, I am sometimes deficient in these most important gifts.
Because it’s a challenging word, filled with challenging ideas, for me.
Because I want to explore other aspects of myself, even if it means just pushing ever so slightly against the seeming-solidity of who I am, right now.
But I’m keeping spirit, last year’s word. I nominate it to be word of the decade, an umbrella under which I will develop different aspects of the spirit. What does spirit mean, to me? It means the life unseen, not of this world, and yet expressed within this world, through words and deeds. It means: there’s more to life than what can be seen. It means mystery. It means being moved. Being open. Being emptied out to make room for God, for the divine.
My poetry book club met for the third time on Saturday evening. We were unable to get copies of the book we’d planned on reading, a collection by Giller-winner Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau Press, we suspect, is even now hand-sewing the binding in readiment for shipment by ox-cart); so instead, we all brought favourite poems to share. We were giddy. It was ridiculously fun. We are getting to know each other that much better. And best of all, there’s poetry. I was deeply moved by a number of the poems, unexpectedly moved, caught off guard: ah, there’s my heart, opening.
Being moved by a poem. It feels of enormous significance to me, right now, as I struggle to balance my ambitions and my sense of self, to figure out what matters, and why.
To create something that moves someone else, it’s a strange talent. It might not even be a talent, but a gift, given and taken away on a whim. It’s also a strange thing to want to do: to express the mysterious, to give it shape and form, and to share the beauty, joy, grief, loneliness, ache with others. It’s not a profitable enterprise. It’s not of this world.
My new year’s anomie seems to be somewhat late-flowering; 2010 was a fine, fine year, and it seemed, at its end, that perhaps nothing needed changing, not a whit. Four weeks in, and it suddenly seems everything needs changing.
I’m conscious of my underlying desire to be independent, financially; not because my survival depends on it, but because, as Fran Lebowitz says in an interview in Bust magazine: “Here is the key to independence: earn your own money … This is true of life–people who are paying you, whether they are paying for you like parents who pay for children or paying like a boss pays an employee, they’re in charge of you. You don’t want someone to be in charge of you? Don’t take their money.”
Now, I am in a marriage I consider happy, in a partnership I consider equal; nevertheless, the fact that I earn next to nothing, that I rely on Kevin to support our family financially, bothers me, and it has for a long time. I read that Fran L. interview on Saturday and it went click in my brain: the key to independence. (I read it out to Kevin, too, and he understood). I wish I could say that writing were my key to independence; but it’s not. If my family relied on my earnings, I would have to do something else, use my current skill-set in a different way; and I can’t think of any job I’d want to do that would use my current skill-set. And so, I continue to return to the question: do I want to retrain? Do I want to gain a new skill-set? Do I want to equip myself for an entirely different job?
It’s not that I imagine myself never writing, were I to earn my money differently. It’s that I imagine myself writing the way most writers write: look around–most writers, even successful writers, have day-jobs. The most successful writers, those earning a reasonable living from their writing, work their tails off pitching stories, writing grant requests, and working freelance from job to job until they become Mordecai Richler and editors come to them with story-requests (and I happen to know that Mordecai Richler was an extremely hard-working and not at all precious writer).
I’m not much good at pitching stories. I work pretty slowly. My overall interest, when I write, is to make something lovely, not to earn money.
And that is why I come back to the idea of retraining and earning my living in another way. Earning my living, period. I’ve given myself the imaginary deadline of CJ entering school, which is in a year and a half, when he starts kindergarten. I will be thirty-seven, not too old, I think, to start something new.
I’m not sure that heart relates remotely to this dilemma. Or, maybe it does and I haven’t puzzled out how, yet.