Category: Writing

Just another merry Monday

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shovelling with dogs, Monday morning, early

Slow start. Hi there, Monday. Why you be so Mondayish week after week?

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I’m thinking of starting a regular lost-and-found feature. The latest on the list:

* one Playbook, lost and then miraculously found at the bottom of my sports bag where it had rested patiently since last Sunday’s soccer game, going to and from exercise studios

* one black Celtic hat and pair of pink mittens: CJ’s, last seen Friday, or maybe yesterday, who can remember? This lost hat & mitt combo represented this morning’s final crisis before leaving the house, late, to catch the bus.

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It felt like a weekend of non-stop-ness. Maybe that’s why I’m having such a hard time getting going this morning. Even the fun parts were relentlessly timed. For example, coffee date with son. (These coffee dates/errand running, with each child getting a turn, have become regular Saturday morning events.) Thankfully he did not complain about having to eat his onion bagel with garlic & herb cream cheese in eight minutes flat.

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The turn-around time was terribly tight: I was off to a swim meet in Brantford with the swim girl. There is something very similar about all of these pools, and the meets too. Noisy music; insanely tight seating (this time on deck); a dad seated directly behind you with a bullhorn of a voice hollering at his kid in the pool who clearly will never be able to hear or follow the directions being given; technical glitches with the scoreboards; expensive race sheets that you have to buy or you won’t know when your kid is racing; searching endlessly trying to locate your child’s cap, goggles, and suit amidst the multitudes of other similarly clad children; sitting for butt-numbing hours on end; child races, heart rate accelerates, sitting again; boggled by the limited supply of bathrooms in these facilities; wishing you’d brought a better snack; trying to read/work while keeping an eye on the race progression; chatting with neighbouring parents; waiting endlessly for swim kid to locate lost items at the end of the day (this meet it was a GIGANTIC copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that took us half an hour to find in the littered stands, no exaggeration.)

Watching your kid swim two fantastic personal bests in races that amount to a total of just over 2 minutes. Seeing her take deep pleasure in the reward of her hard work. Marvelling at her race-intensity. Being proud. Figuring it’s all kind of worth it.

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Also this weekend: babysitting exchange at our house. Eight kids plus two dogs overnight. Kevin was in charge of food, and he really outdid himself. Two casseroles of homemade mac-and-cheese, a graham cracker-chocolate-cookie-cake that had everyone rushing for seconds, and a triple batch of pancakes and sausages for breakfast. “I love having kids around to cook for,” he sighed with satisfaction, to which I said, “Wha???? Don’t we always have kids around to cook for?” Apparently cooking for other people’s kids is more fun than cooking for one’s own brood.

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Add in two giggling girls awake at 5:50am, a swim practice, a sledding miscommunication, two soccer games (no subs and a tie for me, two goals and a win for her), a carshare car, and a Super Bowl supper, and we were done. We were toast. We were ready for bed early. And the alarm sounded early. And it was Monday. It is Monday.

Deadline to meet tomorrow. Must. Get. Writing. Not. Blogging.

Hello, universe

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Sometimes I wonder what the universe is up to. Also, and relatedly, sometimes I spend way too much time reading clues that may or may not be there. I wonder: what does it all mean, when quite possibly it only means that I’m paying attention to certain things and ignoring others. When quite possibly, the evidence is evidence only of my own perspective.

Remember how I wasn’t going to write freelance this year? Yesterday, I received news that not one but two separate freelancing contacts were no longer in the business of commissioning work. To put it plainly, that means less freelance work for me. So it fits with my plan, right? Except in the past week, I’ve also gotten two out-of-the-blue commissions for other (small) writing jobs. Well, which is it, universe?

A horoscope recently informed me that I was doing too much and would need to scale back. What? No! Argh!

While composing this post, the phone rang. Exciting, right! The phone almost never rings! It was a woman at a call centre who said, “Hello, my name is Jennifer, and I’m calling about your computer, okay?”

Thanks, universe. You just interrupted my train of thought.

This is my 1,000th post as Obscure CanLit Mama. Random, but true.

The question is, says my very patient husband who has to listen to this stuff even more often than you do: Is the universe a good source of advice?

Fighting through the January blues

Tricia and I make a flying leap
So far, we can’t think of a team nickname. Suggestions?

(Photos by Stephen Edgar)

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Driving children to and from activities last night, I realized that I’m in a sweet spot in my book. I know what’s happening and what needs, yet, to happen. Two crucial characters have solidified in my mind. I have some exciting scenes to lay out. I could sit and write non-stop if someone would bring me emergency supplies (and if I didn’t have children to feed, snuggle, tuck in, clean up after, and drive to and from activities). I don’t know how long this sweet spot will hold, but I hope it’s right up until the very last page of the book.
I can’t believe I ever tried to write a novel without Scrivener. It’s the most useful structural tool I’ve ever encountered, for writing. Now to see whether I can write a novel with the help of Scrivener. If I can’t, I might as well stop trying, honestly. (The wonderful thing about Scrivener is that it would be useful for any complex book-length project, so if I fail at novel-writing, I’ll turn my hand to some other literary challenge instead.)

Artistic discipline and athletic discipline

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“Artistic discipline and athletic discipline are kissing cousins, they require the same thing, an unspecial practice: tedious and pitch-black invisible, private as guts, but always sacred.”
– from “Practice” in Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton

I loved this book. I bought it for my new Kobo, which my two eldest got me for Christmas — their own idea, their own money, their own surprise. I hope to use it to buy more of the books that I might not quite make the leap for in the bookstore. But I’ve now learned that it might inspire me to buy certain books twice, because having read Swimming Studies as an ebook, I long for the actual physical artifact of this particular book, so that I can share it, and so that I can leaf through its pages.

I was sad to reach the end of Swimming Studies. It is a memoir written in a style that I found both affecting and aesthetically serene. Shapton shares a series of moments, linked by their connection to her own life, and to swimming. She resists the impulse to analyze (I admire this, being compulsively analytical myself). She draws scenes that are coloured with very specific detail, that open the possibility of a story the way clues do. It gave me the sensation of looking at old photographs, and wondering about the people captured there. It gave me the sensation of disturbing a private scene, almost, and not fully grasping the significance of everything going on.

I find myself wondering over certain small scenes, like one early on: Why did the women behind the counter at the coffee shop rebuff her mother’s friendliness, in the early dark of morning, and why did her mother keep trying to be friendly? Or even just resonating with a familiar sound I have never paid attention to: the clanging of a frozen rope against a flag pole.

I like that the book seemed to belong to no established genre, nor to care. It didn’t need to fit easily into a category. I did not find myself becoming impatient with some parts that I imagine others might find indulgent: the minute descriptions of pools she remembers swimming in, or her collection of swim suits. I kind of just loved the whole thing.

I can’t imagine growing up with an athletic discipline and routine underpinning my daily life. But I know all about artistic discipline. I find it fascinating to glimpse the mind and experience of someone who has lived both. And I wonder if I could find some lesson, some inspiration here, some ease with the small; the ordinary transformed by attention; the possibility for forward motion within a scene that looks set and still. If ever I were to write a book based on my blog, I think this is where I would begin.

New space, new year

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transforming my office

This is my birthday gift from my dad. It’s still a work in progress, as you can see, but already I sense how it will alter and expand my space in this lovely little room.

When I first moved into my office, just over a year ago, I loved the blankness of the space, the empty walls, the echoing newness. I wanted to spend time in the room before building anything permanent into it — to see where the light fell, to see what was really missing or necessary.

I set up my wheelie computer desk, which I’ve been writing on since grad school, c. 1997; my chair; a plastic office organizer with drawers, formerly Kevin’s; my great-aunt Alice’s tiny rocking chair (she was a tiny woman); and a cast-off cupboard with doors, inside which I hid my piles of paper. After we got dogs this summer, the dog beds somehow migrated here too. The dogs love the heated floor and finding retreat from the constant attention of the children. (The children know to knock.)

It didn’t take long, really, for the blankness to be replaced by clutter.

And darned if I could no longer blame the clutter on other people — for the first time since about 1999, I had a space that was all mine. Which meant the mess was all mine too. The room began to seem small. Piles of books teetered atop stacks of paper. Soccer cleats took up residence on a windowsill. Framed artwork was stacked in the corner, facing the wall. Behind the doors of the cast-off cupboard, items became so crowded and sprawled as to be basically unfindable.

I couldn’t afford built-in shelves and desk, but thought maybe I could put my GG finalist earnings ($1000) toward Ikea shelves and a desk. And then my dad got wind of my plan. Before he became a professor of Anabaptist history, he seriously considered apprenticing as a carpenter instead. He used to make our Christmas gifts out of wood when we were kids. Now he’s retired. He’s got a wood-working studio in his garage. So he volunteered to take on the job of Carrie’s office.

I’ve been working in here for the first few days of this new year, still using the old wheelie desk, c. 1997, but with the architecture of the shelves in front of me, giving my eye some relief from the blank wall. I’ve been writing steadily. For my birthday, I bought myself Scrivener — no longer a trial version. This promises to be a big book. I’m not sure how big, but it seems quite big already and it’s not done yet. Oh, and it’s a novel. I’ve also started believing my character is a real historical figure, which is weird. I’m making her up but I feel like she really lived.

I’m imagining a hibernating winter with these shelves warm with books and pictures, the dogs in their beds, the clutter temporarily wrangled and contained. I imagine a filled space, and the comfortable march of words. I’ll be writing.

On endings

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I’ve been re-reading old blog posts. The photos are fun, but it’s the changes that are most remarkable to see in fast-forward (or fast-rewind).

Consider the post from Monday, May 18, 2009, titled “On Endings,” which seems rather appropriate for this last day of 2012. In this post, I’m writing about trying to finish a story, one that would become, in one way another, part of The Juliet Stories. I am amazed by my own resolve under circumstances that look, from this vantage point, very difficult indeed. My youngest was not-quite-fourteen-months. My eldest was not-quite-eight. I was home with the littlest children full-time, and I was finding it trying.  Kevin was recovering from a broken knee. Friends had been bringing us meals (bless you, friends!). We’d had “the barfing thing” four times in four months. I was sleeping sporadically, still nursing at night. I must have been utterly exhausted. No time for exercise, no time even to imagine exercise — who could get up early after being woken half the night?

And yet, I was writing.

There was no guarantee that what I was writing would become anything anyone would ever want to read, let alone publish, let alone nominate for a major prize. I was writing because I had to write this particular story, in this particular way. I was doing what I had to do, and if there is a lesson in here, it is simply do what you have to do. Don’t look for reasons not to do the things you have to do. Come alive. Do! I think that even if that story I was writing had not turned into The Juliet Stories, it would have been worth writing, because it brought me hope, because it gave me space and allowed me to dream.

In the blog post “On Endings” from May, 2009, I reflected on a documentary I’d just seen on the photographer Sally Mann, an artist who was suffering from doubt and set-back — and yet her art seemed without question worthy and beautiful. How could she doubt?

Here’s what I wrote in response:

“There’s no telling whether these years of work will this time add up to something of beauty and merit, but I felt a kinship watching her [Sally Mann] struggle, mourn, reflect, create. It’s a blessing and curse to want to translate experience into art — not just to want to, but to do it. The work involved. Working toward an end you can’t see until you find it. Will it be whole, or still-born? All the infinitessimal choices along the way that shape the final artifact, that leave you wondering — why this and not that? So much room for criticism, self and other. There’s the artifact created, and the one intended, and the multiple ones that might have been.”

Weirdly, I see that her art show was titled “What Remains.” I say weirdly because that very nearly became the last line in the epilogue to my book, but we decided to cut it. I’m still not sure about that cut. It’s the only one I question and wonder about. This is the ending that almost was: “Tell me, for I need to know. What remains?”

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I have a million other things I’d like to blog about, here, as we stand on the threshold of a new year. These are all on my mind: Chief Theresa Spence’s ongoing hunger strike; the need to protect and cherish the land we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink; the nihilism of a sub-group of young men, worldwide, who commit acts of terror, from the random-seeming shootings in the United States, to suicide bombers elsewhere, to the violent rape that is moving protestors in India to rise up against a casually misogynist culture. There is more, I know. I wonder, will this be a year in which protest brings about hope and healing? What is my (small) part in creating a more hopeful world? We all long for peaceful communities, whole relationships, happy families. We are imperfect.

We work toward ends we cannot see.

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