Category: Writing

On impermanence

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Got up for yoga class, early early. Almost skipped. Didn’t. And it turned out to be a special class for one my favourite instructors — her last here in Waterloo. I’ve been going to this studio long enough to remember being in one of her first classes, and have seen her grow in confidence over the years, and it felt like a lucky break to be there to say goodbye.

She wanted to reflect on impermanence. She asked us to focus on something we needed to change, or some change we were struggling to accept, and as we knelt on our mats these words popped into my head: Goodbye, Obscure CanLit Mama.

Wow. I can hardly bear to type them out. But I think I might be on to something. It might be time to say goodbye. I’m not clear what it is I’m saying goodbye to. Is it blogging, wholesale? Is it to the persona? Am I recognizing that this blog has become, in some ways, a heaviness, an obligation rather than a joyful expression?

As I reflect on what this blog has been for me over the nearly five years it’s existed, I am so grateful. It’s been a place to test out ideas, to meet other “Obscure CanLit Mamas,” to record my children’s quickly passing stages and my own attempts to manage and frame my role as their mother. It’s been a public journal, in many ways. It’s allowed me to claim my writing self. I learned how to take photos because of this blog. I’ve connected with old friends, and new. I’ve felt, at times, too opaque, at others, too raw. I’ve written about books that I’ve loved. It’s also been a forum for publicity for The Juliet Stories.

And I guess I don’t really know what this blog is for anymore. I still love the writing of the posts. But I’ve been having panic attacks when I press “publish.” I’m worrying far too much about offending readers, about tone, about perception, about being liked (or worse, not liked). The spirit of the enterprise feels off-kilter somehow. I’m worried, also, that blogging may jeopardize future employment opportunities. (Kevin thinks that’s a ridiculous fear, but I wonder: would you trust your midwife if she had a blog?)

I am still an Obscure CanLit Mama. But I’m not quite the same Obscure CanLit Mama who pressed “publish” on that first post all those years ago. I have more confidence in my writing. That may be it, pure and simple. I can think of myself as a writer now without feeling like an imposter.

I am a writer.

It is my instinct to continue to write, to blog, to post, to tell, to record, to celebrate, to reach out with words. But what am I offering, and what am I asking for in return? I’m not at all clear, anymore. I should be. It’s time to take a break, for now.

Thank you for sharing my practice with me. I’m quite sure, I am, that this isn’t goodbye.

What I really really want

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I ran with a friend this morning. Therefore, I started my day feeling happy. Kevin says I should start every morning with exercise, and I agree, although I’m down to one early morning class due to cost and it’s a challenge to find free exercise that I feel safe doing, by myself, in the pre-dawn hours. I’ve been going to the nearby indoor track once a week, and I’ve got a yoga mat by the bed so I can start the morning with wake-up stretches. But the truth is that it’s so much easier to get up for exercise when a) I’m meeting someone or b) I’m signed up for something.

Find the fortitude, woman! (She says to herself.)

I am thinking about yesterday’s rant, and asking myself: what are the products/services that I, as a consumer, would have a hard time doing without. Because if I am honest with myself, I am a consumer, and lead a lifestyle that is by world-wide standards wasteful and decadent, even if I think (sometimes) that my family really does need the things we treat ourselves to. It’s hard to shake my fist at capitalism when I’m a willing participant.

These items make my list of really really really want ’em wants, for my family and for me:
* books, daily newspaper
* sports: team fees, shoes, clothes (thrifty or secondhand fine), exercise classes, swim lessons, swim suits, goggles, skates, helmets
* bicycles
* nice shampoo and conditioner
* eating out with my husband once a month
* eating out as a family once every two months
* our truck + gas; carshare fees
* vitamins and fish oil (expensive!)
* local food
* internet and cellphone
* our house and the cost of maintenance
* dogs and cost of keeping them
* prescription medication and dentist visits (we are both self-employed and pay out of pocket)
* piano lessons
* nursery school fees (until full-day kindergarten starts this fall, please dear God, if Tim Hudak isn’t elected in the meantime)

Do you have a list, too?

::

I woke up this morning remembering how last winter I couldn’t run for a whole month due to a hip injury. I remembered that not being able to run inspired me to find alternate ways to stay fit, including swinging kettlebells. I’m still swinging those bells once a week, for which my core is truly thankful. Look how straight I’m sitting at this desk! If I had been able to keep running, I never would have discovered this. Point being: what may look like a lost opportunity might actually be a gentle nudge in a direction yet untested. Point also being: in the past week, I learned that I failed to earn both grants applied for last fall; having earned both in the past, I know they’re within reach and I’m questioning why I applied proposing a secondary project that has sat idle since then, but, past results and hindsight aside, the fact remains that grants as a way of supporting my writing/list above are off the table for this fiscal year.

To quote a writer friend on Facebook: “The part of being a writer that requires the most creativity is figuring out how to pay the bills.”

Expectations: Meet Reality

balloon launch
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Yesterday afternoon, I spent some time helping two little guys launch a squeaking balloon down the staircase, with the happy effect that it squealed overhead and repeatedly smacked its little balloon head against the wall or ceiling before deflating and twisting earthward.

It would be pleasant to turn this into a metaphor, but I’m struggling.

There, no metaphor needed. I’m struggling. That’s it, plain and simple. I hesitate to spit it into word form, especially on a public forum, but there it is. A blog is a troublesome creation: it’s very much in the moment, and therefore can magnify the smallest ups and downs in a person’s life, and this here is a down. Right now I’m happy when I’m running, and that’s about it. But get that right now really is right now.

Suffice it to say that I’m tired after a second night up with a sick child. I’m irritable after another day home with my children, who are on holiday, but who can’t leave the house or have play dates due to the aforementioned sickness. It occurred to me today that the only thing a person can really accomplish while home with four children is cooking and housework — plus the vacuuming covered the noise of the periodic tantrums and steady stream of complaints. So the house is pretty clean. Which is something. But it’s not enough.

I would like to reflect on my impatient response to International Women’s Day, a day I usually respond to with honour and interest, solemnity, even pride. But this year, on this International Women’s day, all that welled in me was intense frustration. And I think my response is the key to unlocking exactly where I’m at right now, and why I’m struggling.

My expectations do not seem to be in line with reality.

I expect that girls and women will be treated as individuals, with the same opportunities as boys and men to pursue lives that are interesting and fulfilling. Every time I read another story about a horror perpetrated on a woman — because she’s a woman — my response is THIS CANNOT BE! Every time I read another statistic coldly demonstrating women’s under-representation in, well, you-name-it, most anything that has to do with power or cultural critique or leadership my response is HOW CAN THIS STILL BE? Every time I read some trumped up story on “The Mommy Wars,” or “Stay-at-Home Mothers v. Working Mothers,” or even hear myself referred to as “a full-time mother,” (what, exactly, is a part-time mother?), I want to shrug it off as mere noise, but instead I feel something akin to disbelief: WHY?

A few more WHYs.

WHY would any family rationally choose to have more than one or two children, understanding that childcare, particularly during the early years, will either cost one parent his or her career, or two working parents the better part of a decent salary? Let’s ask the politicians who a) have no interest in funding childcare and b) want Canadian families to produce more children FOR THE ECONOMY. (Surprise! They tend to be the same ones.)

WHY is Canada’s major news magazine running a photo, this week, of a woman shaving her face under the headline “Man Up,” suggesting that women should be more like men if they want to succeed in the workplace? WHY are we always being told to be someone we’re not? Which reminds me: WHY is success in the workplace our main measure of success? Further to that, WHY are good and moral choices so often couched in economic terms, as if that’s the only language that matters, the only real currency? I heard a news report, happened to be on International Women’s Day, in which an economist (who was a woman) explained that educating girls and women is a sure-fire way to increase the economic well-being of communities and nations. So let’s do it, people. Let’s do it FOR THE ECONOMY.

Love letter project

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Recently, I wrote and delivered an anonymous love letter to a neighbourhood friend; I also received an anonymous love letter from a neighbourhood friend.

Trust me, this was not a project I would have undertaken on my own. And the truth is that I felt a certain amount of resentment over the assignment. And it was an assignment — given to a group of friends by one amongst us who was inspired to have us each pick a name out of a hat and write a love letter, anonymously, to the chosen friend. (She was inspired by the site “The World Needs More Love Letters.”)

It took me a month or more to work up the nerve to try. I just didn’t know where to begin. I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually written a love letter, and I was feeling the pressure, being a writer and all, to perform. I was finally inspired/shamed into attempting it by a friend with whom I’d shared my trepidation and resentment.

Here’s the funny thing. I started writing with these very mixed emotions, but as I shaped out the letter, I began to feel this deep welling of emotion. Let’s just admit it and call it love. The very act of thinking about the person who would receive this letter, and attempting to honour her in some small way, made me feel very deeply. It was almost as if I was briefly possessed of an all-enveloping spirit that seemed to go beyond the recipient, as if through my words I could reach out and embrace the whole muddled and unknowable and beautiful world.

Sounds cheesy. Is cheesy. I know, I know.

When I received my own letter, it really hit the spot, too.

And so I have to say thank you to the friend who instigated this experiment. If you’re feeling particularly grumpy, this might be something to try. Or maybe you know someone who could use a little lift in his or her life. This may seem like an odd undertaking, but trust me, it will feel amazing — for you, the writer, and for the one who receives your offering.

Two things I needed, today

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“Hope is the thing with feathers …” 

Can you see the crows perched in the branches of the trees, above, so thick they almost look like black leaves? Less hopeful, perhaps, than ominous, but extremely compelling. We stood and watched them for ages last night. (Click on the photo to see in full.)

*

Two things I needed, this morning:

1. I needed sleep. And sleep was received, sound and deep, all through the night. I chose not to set my alarm and wake early.

2. I also needed this (though I didn’t know it): a hand-delivered card from the book club I visited on Monday evening. “Fortune befriends the bold” – Emily Dickinson, is printed on the front of the card. I opened it and read the handwritten message inside and sat on the floor and almost cried. It’s the little things, isn’t it. The small gestures that go such a long way toward giving a person that necessary spark. I needed a little spark this morning, as I slog through the manuscript one last time, and hope for the best.

“We were grateful for the opportunity to hear you read; to hear how stories are born in the writer’s imagination; and then, the hard work needed to share that creation with the reader.

“We joked about becoming your fan club, but, in fact, a book club is a fan club of sorts. We celebrate words on the page and we appreciate the courageous few who choose writing as their life work.

“How fortunate we are for your willingness to share your gift with us.”

Thanks to all the book clubs who have bravely and warmly welcomed this writer in. You may not know it, but I consider it a gift, too, to be able to share what I’ve got.

My office, with dogs

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in my office

Picture me here. That’s my eldest daughter, working on a project this weekend, with the dogs in attendance. The dogs are generally in attendance when I’m in my office. If the kids are around, too, I often discover that the greater population of the house is lounging in my office while I’m trying to work. The floor is warm. It’s cozy. It’s a great place to nap, and to read.

And to write.

Which is what I’m doing today, on a shortened work day, after a sick weekend (I’ve returned to health!), and so I will say little else, even though multiple blog topics are bubbling in my head. I’m afroth with things I’d like to opine about! But work calls. I’m tightening the draft. It’s tedious.

I’m glad the dogs are here too.

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