Category: Writing

Projects and tangents

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Ten years ago, in late June, we moved into our house, two little babies in tow: Albus had just turned two and AppleApple was seven months. The house seemed enormous, and almost unfillable, but we seem to have solved that problem. Our bedroom is perhaps the one room in the house that remained untouched over the past decade. We added drapes. We moved bassinets in and out and in again. For awhile, my writing desk and computer were crammed in a corner (I wrote virtually nothing publishable during that stretch; weird, huh). But the walls remained the unpainted dull white plaster through which the lathe could be seen. Yes, that’s how unpainted our bedroom has been for the last decade.

So it took an invasion of bed bugs to move everything out and paint. Well, at least it happened.

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Kevin stayed up late last night to finish it. We decided to go with a darker colour field on one wall against creamy-white ceiling and other walls. We chose a soothing deep blue with hints of purple.

“Your room looks beautiful!” Fooey told us this morning.

We’re debating whether there’s time to paint the living-room, too, which came freshly painted when we moved in, which was, as noted, ten years ago, and is now, not surprisingly, full of holes and scrapes. We are, however, also hosting a party for our eight-year-old tomorrow evening. Can we do it all?

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birthday cake for birthday girl, with scrounged candles from junk drawer

Meantime, I actually (unbelievably!) turned over the last page of my manuscript yesterday evening, the version that holds my editor’s revisions. That doesn’t mean the book is ready to send back to her, but it does mean I’ve now worked through every single page and addressed every comment. Today it’s back to the beginning to see whether my many many many changes hold together. Good grief. I’m in a state of anxiety, let me tell you. I also note that we’ve got less than three weeks left of summer holidays. That’s me you hear crying out from the heart: nooooo!

:::

Here’s my tangent, which I post at risk of sounding ancient, crusty, and out of touch with young people these days (say that last bit in a quavery old woman voice for full effect).

I’ve been listening to top forty radio this summer. Sometimes all I want is a singable song while I drive home from a soccer game. Unfortunately, the songs with the good hooks seem to be highly inappropriate, not to mention misogynist in tone. (Blurred Lines, I’m frowning at you, with your fun sound and sticky bass line, which I would like to enjoy listening to, but can’t without censorship: there are kids in the car! And I’m a feminist!) So it was an odd relief to get snagged on Lorde’s Royals while stuck in traffic with CJ the other day. We both liked it. I think my ears were craving that clean choral sound, and a subject unrelated to booty, booty-calls, getting booty, shaking one’s booty, and anything else booty-related. It’s the female body as material object mixed up with materialism itself, and I hate the juxtaposition, and the shallowness and amorality underpinning it. There aren’t even any interesting metaphors in these songs. You know you want it. Um, no, I don’t, not all the freaking time! You’re boring me! C’mon top-forty songwriters! And then I came across Macklemore’s Same Love, and felt relief, too, to hear a straightforward political song with a lovely singable hook, on a top forty station. But I miss K’naan. Where’s he gone? Any other pop fans out there? Who are you listening to this summer?

The curator is in

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on the Cataraqui trail

A legitimate concern about blogging, one I take seriously, is whether or not it turns a person into a curator of her own life rather than a participant. I have no answer for this, just instinctive response: if it feels off or forced, don’t do it. Maybe that’s why I’ve been taking less photos this summer, and also leaving my phone at home sometimes, shutting off, disconnecting.

But then I look back over this blog’s history and feel so appreciative of the scrapbook-like nature of its collection of years. Obscure CanLit Mama is almost exactly five years old. I was truly Obscure on the CanLit scene when I began blogging, and I’m only slightly less Obscure now, though much appreciative of the path forged. I wonder what the opposite of Obscure would be? Secure? Established? I’m uncomfortable with the thought of attaching those words to myself. My identity is tied up with being on the margins; but maybe that’s short-sighted and snobbish and needlessly, well, obscure.

My fears: One never wants to get too big for one’s britches. Pride goeth before a fall. Be careful what you wish for.

This is not the post I set out to write. It’s been almost two weeks since I had a chance to settle into my novel revisions, and I’ve missed it like homesickness. I’ve missed it like friendship, like comfort, like a good night’s sleep. Sitting at my desk and writing all day has become essential to my well-being, seems like. Maybe it always was, like running, and I didn’t know it. But I know it. Honestly, I could hug these words for being here right now, for letting me sit amongst them, for letting me think things through via some magical collaboration of mind and hands and eyes. Tap-tap-tap on the keyboard.

This is the post I set out to write.

The one about being a curator of my own life. Still, I would argue that I’m infinitely more participant than curator, that I’m only marginally curator, and that curation is a bit of a calling for me, being reflective by nature, wanting to gather and observe and make orderly. This blog represents only the smallest slice of experience. It’s my hand wrapped around a moment and then opening to let it go.

Here is yesterday:

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We’d planned to do back-to-school shopping with my mother-in-law, who loves to shop. Instead, AppleApple sought me out (I was doing laundry in the basement) holding her arm at an odd angle, teary-eyed, to say she’d landed “funny” on the trampoline.

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So, instead of shopping, I left my sister- and mother-in-law home with the other kids (Kev was golfing with his brother, lucky man), and we went to emerg. Many hours and several detailed x-rays later it was determined to be a bad sprain and not a fracture, which opened her summer back up again. We’d been sitting there together, bored, chatting, waiting, unable to stop ourselves from imagining the possible cast and all it would affect: camp, cottage, swim team, soccer team, piano. This was definitely a best-case scenario result.

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DJ at DQ

We were home in time for supper. Kev and Albus were off to another soccer game, so after supper, the rest of us decided to walk the dogs to Dairy Queen. Spontaneity, family, scooter, stroller, bike, dogs, baby, sling, and a beautiful cool evening. Oh, and sweet treats for all. Pretty much vacation perfection. We took the long way home.

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Then it was bathtime. Kev and Albus came home with another tied game under their belts, against the same team they played twice on the weekend — every game weirdly identical, with our boys going down by two goals, and coming back to tie it up in the second half. This third game, and the bizarrely harmonious result, lightened the mood between the two teams, which had been tense over the weekend.

I read from Little Town on the Prairie, with everyone listening. Little kids tucked and lights out.

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Kevin is the blur in red and white

And then more spontaneity: the big kids and I went to watch Kev play soccer. My brother also plays keeper on the same team. It happened that a friend was there to watch her husband play, too, so we sat together under the lights on a picnic table and cheered, and made silly commentary, and generally had a blast, despite the mosquitos. Apparently the four of us made a bigger fan club than the team has had in ages, and our shouts were appreciated. We even made friends with a linesman who loaned us his bug spray. The game ended 0-0. We didn’t see the Perseids for the lights, but there was something about it all that brought me great comfort and joy. Being alive … how many moments do we get like this? As many as we want? As many as we leap into?

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the trees behind the field looked like a painting (that’s my bro in net)

So I took out my phone and stole a few photos. Maybe it’s curation rather than participation, but I want to remember. I want to remind myself, when I’m busy and harried and it’s not summer anymore, that the best times are easy to come by, in a way. They’re there for the taking. You sit with your kids and shoot the shit. It’s so basic.

And then you come home and enjoy a beer with your sister-in-law and talk about things that want talking about, and you sleep, and you wake, and you work, and you pray, and you write it all out, if that’s what you’re made for.

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running through beauty, in it and of it

Gone writing

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A few things, on this very Monday morning …

1. The vacuum cleaner did not get used this weekend.

2. Instead, I drifted to my office to work hour after huddled hour on intensely challenging revisions, which I simply could not leave alone. I expect to be doing the same all week. It will look like I’m here, but I’m not here.

3. I ran 20km on Saturday morning. I was grateful.

4. While running, I had a Big Thought: I don’t run because I’m strong, I run because I’m not. I run for courage. I run for nerve.

5. With courage in my heart, I return to my imaginary worlds, and write.

6. The only trouble with this formula is that I don’t, it seems, so much care whether I return to the real world, with courage in my heart, and vacuum.

Morning of cognitive disinhibition

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Well, we got one home from camp. Albus has returned: freckled, dirty-footed, exhausted, and craving his screened devices. It’s been an odd two weeks without him, and a portent of life to come. He’s already twelve years old, and given that I left home when I was seventeen, my sense is of us entering a different stage of parenting, of trying to figure out how hard to hold on, and how much to let go. I intend to do a lot of both. For example, our ten-year-old, who is quite enormously tall, asked to snuggle with us the other night. She just needed to be hugged and held, despite her long legs and muscular shoulders and ability to make me hot lunches.

I’m serious about the hot lunches. She’s made me several this week, thinking up a menu, preparing it, presenting it on a plate, and knocking on my office door. I could get used to this.

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The fourth week of our summer holidays is coming to a close. This week has been cool, and marred by ridiculously noisy street-work going on directly outside my window, occasionally causing my entire office to vibrate in such a way that ear plugs become quite useless. It’s also been a tough writing week due to the work that I’m doing. I will come through this and look back on this time fondly, I’m sure, as I always seem to do, but it’s a grind. Instead of entering directly into the book this morning, I skimmed my FB feed, making all kinds of connections and discoveries (or so it felt; nice when procrastination takes on a purposeful aura).

* First I read an article on success by a young tenured professor who believes in giving, doing favours, taking time to do one thing and go deep, and making strong connections. I also appreciated his point that the most highly successful people, whatever their fields, were rarely the most outstanding performers as children, and that in fact it was their motivation and grit that set them apart.

* Which leads me to a blurb I read next explaining why creative people are often eccentric. This is science, folks! Apparently, creative people (and eccentrics) experience cognitive disinhibition, which means their brains fail to filter out extraneous information — I assume this includes sensual and aural information, in addition to the collection of random facts about celebrities while standing in line at the grocery checkout. It’s the ability to process this excess of information without becoming overwhelmed that leads to fascinating breakthroughs. But it can also inspire peculiar behavioral traits. Like Bjork wearing the swan dress at the Oscars, according to the blurb — which was awesomely cool, I thought.

Okay, so stay open and make connections and get gritty.

Next?

* I took an online assessment to determine my “Decision Pulse.” It’s quick and easy, and I usually avoid these things like that plague, which shows you how determined I am to be distracted this morning — to open myself to vats of cognitive disinhibition! I make my decisions, according to this quick and easy quiz, based on 1. Humanity 2. Relationships 3. Achievement. Apparently, I don’t care about safety or security at all. (Sorry, family!) I think by “Humanity” the test means humanitarian impulses and the desire to serve a greater good. Which sounds lofty, and may or may not be accurate, though I do spend time each day praying that the work I do will help in some way. That it will heal and nourish rather than hurt.

* Finally, I guffawed with enormous appreciation as I read Anakana Schofield’s brilliant and hilariously written take-down of the shallow, missing-the-point-entirely publicity machine that one steps into when one publishes a book. Anakana is the author of Malarky, which I’ve given to my husband to read right now, and she’s damn funny, and doesn’t seem to care who she’s offending (which is a trait I would dearly like to grow into, but haven’t yet). She’s out in Vancouver and we’ve never met in person, but have enjoyed some back and forth via email regarding exercise habits and, yes, readings and publicity and such. She’s put her finger on something really critical here, too: that it seems everyone wants to be a writer, but no one wants to be a reader. (Consider the proliferation of blogs!) What book publishers should be doing is nurturing readers; and what every writer knows it that public appearances inevitably turn into mini-sessions on “how to be a writer.” But it’s readers writers need, isn’t it. People who love books. People who find solace in words. People who soak up a story, who think about the characters afterward and worry for them. People like me, actually. I love reading. Books are like old friends, companions, sparring partners, comforters, moral compasses, inspirations, teachers.

With that in mind, I’ll turn off my distractions and step into the book I’m making, hoping it will ultimately offer both escape and comfort to a reader like me, sometime, somewhere, somehow.

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Wild

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click on photos to see in full

I haven’t been getting enough sleep and it may be due to my late-night reading material. I just finished Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, which should not be dismissed merely because it has an Oprah book club sticker on it. I really loved this memoir. It was everything I hope for in a book: I was entertained, I was moved, I learned new things, I met fascinating characters, it touched me, it felt relevant to my own experience without being preachy, it expressed a deeper human truth while remaining particular and individual, and it had a compassionate moral outlook. And it was written by a woman. Hurray! I’ve been mildly troubled by my male-author-heavy recent reading trend. Not that there’s anything wrong with reading books by both men and women, but I kept waiting for the female-authored book that would speak to me with authority. And Wild did.

I won’t give a detailed plot synopsis, because you’ve probably already heard about the book or even read it yourself, but the narrator is hiking 1100 miles of wilderness trail, by herself, age 26, several years after the death of her mother, as a way to recover her life from a seriously scary downward spiral. Because I read it as an ebook, I can’t easily thumb through to find favourite bits, but I loved when this troubled spirit recognized that her efforts to get out of herself, to escape, had been not actually what she longed for. What she longed for was to get in. It was such a simple and profound way of expressing the paradox of the human mind and spirit: how the easy way out is always a trap, because it prevents us from finding what we really crave, which is a way into ourselves — and the way in is hard. And yet, it’s also not hard because it’s so right, because it lines up who we want to be with who we are, I think. Peace. Grace. Stillness.

So, two things I loved about the book. One, it was about hard physical effort. I related to that as a path to entering into one’s life and self. Two, the acknowledgements. I read the whole book with pleasure and ease, and it almost came as a shock to see the author thanking mentors, grant-giving institutions, writers’ festivals, and writing retreat centres. Right! I thought. This effortless-seeming book was written by a writer. Obvious, I know. But it gave me a feeling of kinship to recognize the work behind the scenes, to remember that every wonderful piece of writing began as an idea, and was supported by an invisible web, and brought to being by the same hard yet right process of steady work. That it didn’t just emerge whole. Cheryl Strayed wrote this book the same way she walked the trail: with help, alone, in doubt, and in hope. Sure, there are some ecstatic moments along the way, but writing a polished and complete book is kind of like walking 1100 miles of wilderness trail (or so I imagine): it’s a grind. You’re going to hate that you’re doing it some days, and think you might actually be crazy. You’ll be afraid and have to tell yourself that you’re not. You’ll be humbled by all you’re not, and also by all you are.

It’s the grind that yields.

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In other news …

Most of the fallen tree is now piled in our front yard.

I spent yesterday afternoon deliberating with other members of The New Quarterly’s story jury, as we picked out a winner and runners-up for their emerging writer story contest. I learned a few things that I hope to apply in my creative writing class this fall. One is a total ban on sex scenes — I mean in their stories, not in the classroom; well, actually, I mean both, but the latter does not generally require mentioning. Only well into one’s writing career should one should attempt to write a sex scene, and even then … which reminds me, Cheryl Strayed wrote a really good sex scene. So it’s not that it can’t be done well, it’s just not a promising place to begin. Everything I type right now seems to be loaded with double-entendres. Which is probably part of the problem.

Anyway, that was yesterday, and I also zoomed all over town on my bike. My muscles are aching from lifting weights yesterday morning, and they’re still aching from a push-up extravaganza on Friday morning, not to mention the general battered and bruised feeling I carry following my evening soccer games (now on Thursdays and Sundays), and Saturday’s long run. I’m taking today off except for yoga stretches.

I scored a replay-worthy goal in Sunday’s game. It’s the goal I’ve been envisioning for months. I believing in envisioning, by the way. I believe if you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it in real life. The goal came off of a beautiful cross on a strong run up the left wing. I was on right forward, and running hard. The ball crossed ahead of our centre forward and I caught it on my right foot at the top of the box, controlled it like I knew what I was doing. The centre forward, behind me, told me I had time, take my time, and I did, somehow calmly positioning the ball and as the defender rushed me, I shot it over the goalie’s fingertips, skimming an inch under the bar, and swishing the back of the net.

I get to describe it in detail because it may never happen again. But it happened once. I could not stop grinning for about ten minutes. It was one of those magical sporting moments that keep a person coming back to a game–when it feels like the moment is unfolding separate from thought, purely on instinct, and you know in advance you’re going to do exactly the right thing. You have utter confidence in yourself, and it seems like it’s suddenly so easy. (Of course, it’s not). Everyone who’s played a sport knows what I’m talking about it. Come to think of it, it’s another example of grace.

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AppleApple got a goal of her own in last night’s game. CJ and Kevin and I all came along to watch.

And now it’s back to work. The younger kids are at daycamp. Albus will be home from camp in two more sleeps. AppleApple is watching the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, which she read this spring. And I’m writing scenes that are kind of like candy. They are so fun to read, and to write, it’s weirding me out.

Texting with my husband, Thursday, noonish

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Me to him – Do you ever think: hey, maybe Carrie will be happy being a writer? I get flashes of that sometimes. I’ve been pretty happy these past few weeks working on Girl Runner, running, being with the kids.

Him – It sounds like a good life. Not sure you can cure the restless feeling.

Me – I’m oddly buoyed by this stranger writing me this kind letter urging me to keep my focus.

Him – You have to think about the amount of effort that letter took.

:::

To the stranger who wrote me a letter: thank you.

To all readers who have read a book they love: consider writing the author a letter. We read alone, and we write alone, which is a paradox, because we read and we write to experience connection. Who knows, your letter may be a sweet spark.

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