Category: Writing

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.

A minor breakdown

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So much on my mind today. I couldn’t shut it down, not even in yoga class this morning. The word I used to meditate as I held poses was “strength.” I want to be strong. I think I am strong. But sometimes I wonder, at what point does “strength” become “unwillingness to appear weak”? Is it better to grit through a difficult pose, or to give in to the desire to rest? Maybe sometimes it’s one, sometimes the other. I heavily favour the former, of course.

I do believe, however, that our greatest strengths are also our points of greatest frailty. So I have to be careful.

Let me tell you about yesterday. It was a pretty crappy day, if I may be frank. Writing time vanished as I had to take one daughter to a doctor’s appointment. Vanished some more due to errands and piano lessons. And then the truck slowly but surely started breaking down. Right in the middle of the fairly complicated back-and-forthing between school, piano lessons, school, birthday party. Three kids were directly counting on me to be in specific locations at specific times.

The truck refused to shift into reverse.

I was lucky. I realized what was happening. I’d parked on an incline and was able to roll out of the parking lot. I was able to call Kevin right away. He was able to book a carshare car right away. I was able to park at the next location in such a way that would prevent me from needing to reverse. And the next. And the next. And we were able to make it to the repair shop before the entire transmission shut down.

I never realized how frequently I use reverse, when driving. Maybe this is a life metaphor. We’re not meant to be stuck going forward at all times. We need to be able to back up, too.

The situation was stressful. I was worried the whole time and couldn’t find my “happy place,” shall we say. But I recognized, too, that the day was not nearly so crappy as it could have been. Kevin and I worked together as a team. We were only about ten minutes late for the second piano lesson. The truck did not need to be towed. The children adapted to the changing plans. We belong to a carshare!

Home at last, I felt so tired — not physically, but mentally. Fooey wanted to play an imagination game while I was hanging laundry. It was all I could do to manage the most banal responses.

It also happened that I was due to Skype in to a book club in Toronto at 9pm. Well. I made a pot of peppermint tea, brushed my hair, and sat down in my office. We made contact. But we couldn’t work the video. In the end, we decided just to chat. I looked at my own video smiling back at me (not sure whether they did the same), and we spoke for about forty-five minutes. My tiredness evaporated. Their questions were thoughtful, respectful, insightful. We talked about how daughters view their mothers. We talked about being mothers. We wondered, will mothers ever get cut some slack?

I hung up feeling so much better.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the truck. The two eldest kids wonder: would this be a good time to become a car-free family? “I’ve been thinking about it, Mom, and it would make us be more eco-friendly and more organized….” I’m proud of the values we’ve instilled in them, but, oh, I like having that truck waiting for me on freezing dark mornings when I’m headed for a spin class.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the book. The editing is so slow. One foot in front of the other. One small step and another and another. Many, if not most, of my writing days are shortened by other necessities that take priority.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with my applications for writing grants and midwifery and The Amazing Race (thanks for watching the video: we’ve had tons of excellent feedback already!).

I feel as if so much of my life is up in the air right now. Strength. I’m calling on strength as I hold this pose.

Mugging for the camera

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I hope you recognized the tongue-in-cheek nature of yesterday’s “I finished my book!” post. There is a never-really-done-ness to book-writing, and that’s what I wanted to get at. So I’m done, yes, in that this book now has a lovely completed first draft with all parts in place. But I’m not done, no, in that the book is not even at the show-it-to-my-agent stage. If there’s one thing book-writing does not equal it’s instant gratification. It’s a slow burn form of exertion. It’s made for the marathoning spirit.

I’ve got big goals for this year.

Hugely ambitious goals. Probably far too ambitious. But I’m pleased with progress so far.

*

Goal for today: open Mama’s Salon.

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hair cut in progress

I’ve been trying to convince her to keep her hair long. So pretty in braids! Pony-tails! But no. She wanted it cut to just below her ears. I didn’t quite go that short. We don’t have adequate after-pictures yet because the hair is still wet from her post-cut shower. It’s still long enough for a tiny, stubby pony-tail.

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before

It was this fellow who really needed a hair cut.

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also before

He wanted to be sure I recorded his true feelings on the subject: grumpy. But I don’t think he minded all that much. The after photos were pure ham. I don’t know what this kid is going to do with his talent for physical humour, but it’s going to be good.

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“Get my ‘cool guy’ pose, Mama!” (above)
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(I also realize it’s time to clean my camera’s lens.)

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