Category: 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?”

*

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.

A taste of the holidays

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does it ruin the scene to know that this cookie recipe came from the back of a Chipits bag?

My nap-dream this morning: I found a beautiful overnight bag in a child’s closet. It had so many zippered pockets, and every pocket that I opened was full of small items we’d lost over the years. I didn’t want to wake up. It was so satisfying to keep unzipping pockets, reaching in and finding small lost treasures.

In other news, AppleApple has lost her third pair of swim goggles since September.

In other other news, Kevin brushed her hair out this weekend.
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It hadn’t been brushed for ages and was looking a wee bit knotted. Turned out the volume and curls and length had been hiding the severity of the situation. It took Kevin two rounds, adding up to about two hours of careful combing.

*

I feel wrong posting about cheerful everyday things. I just need to confess that.

I am heartened by the news that share prices for gun manufacturers have dropped steeply, and that investors, individual and collective, are investigating what they’ve been supporting, perhaps without the conscious knowledge that they were. We should all do that, you know.

*

Today is the last day to order The Juliet Stories online and receive it before Christmas. But local bookstores, like Waterloo’s own Words Worth, will be open all weekend and on Christmas eve. If you’re in the neighbourhood and want me to sign a copy especially for somebody, give me a shout. Happy to.

*

The house is quiet. Yesterday we had the first taste of Christmas holidays, with the teachers’ one-day-protest keeping the kids home from school. We took in a few extra kids too. Lots of cookies got baked and decorated and eaten. I put the hammer down: no ‘lectronics, period. And look what happened:

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little boys watching big boys play Risk (photo better seen in full on Flickr: just click)

Of course, the house was also rendered a complete disaster zone, the full extent of which was only discovered when I was about to put the kids to bed last night. “I know why you won’t have time to read to us,” said CJ. “Because there are toys all over my bed!” Note to self: organize group cleanup effort before sending friends home. There were bowls of water of one room. Bowls of water, spilling everywhere! This is where creative children will lead you. And I embrace it, if not quite so whole-heartedly at bedtime.

Kevin worked from home yesterday, to help out, but even so, I only managed an hour and a half in front of the computer. But with Scrivener, that hour and a half got used very productively. Why? Because I could pull out an individual scene and work on it. Then I could cross-reference it with another, with ease. I worked on five scenes and finished one. It helps that I have a complete draft in place–not sure how it would feel to start from nothing with this program. Thus endeth today’s Scrivener report.

*

Reflecting on my grouchy mood by day’s end yesterday, must find strategies, over the real holidays, to counteract and mitigate. Here are some initial thoughts on the subject: a) find alone time, b) exercise and get outside, and c) can’t think of a c right now. Listen to beautiful music? Play the piano? Relax with the doggies and Kevin in front of the TV? Bake sticky buns? Hot yoga? Read books?

I found it hard to put CJ on the bus this morning. I was struck with sudden terror as he walked up those steps, his little backpack on his back. But then I made myself step away from the fear.

Love, keep pouring out.

Dark days

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I took a holiday from electronics over the weekend. The word “electronics,” aka ‘lectronics, is heard often in our house, and is often a source of conflict, as I, responsible mother, repeatedly refuse my children time on their ‘lectronic devices.

Yesterday, driving home from a soccer game, the whole family in the car, the youngest in tears because we weren’t watching a movie or letting him play on his brother’s Playbook — during the relatively short car ride — I had one of my ranting moments, this with the theme “Addicted to Electronics.” It’s kind of like a Ted talk, only unedited, and interactive.

“But what about all the time you spend on Facebook, and doing your blog, and writing?” my eldest pointed out. “What about email? And you have your Blackberry that you’re always checking.”

So we drew some lines. Games and Facebook are kind of the same thing: entertainment. Email/texts are, for me, and for better or for worse, like the telephone; they connect me to friends and family. Writing and blogging can be useful and creative. “If you want to write a story on the computer, I will make sure you have a computer to use,” I said. “But an hour of wii-time on Saturday and Sunday seems like enough.”

I don’t want to ban ‘lectronics from our lives. I want us to use them in ways that are positive, that don’t cause conflict, and that don’t prevent us from exercising our brains and collective selves in non-‘lectronic creative ways.

This is what passes for family meetings these days. I actually think it was a fairly effective conversation, by the end. I had my rant, the kids got to counter with their arguments, and we all finally agreed that Facebook and computer games needed to be limited, but that there are occasions when ‘lectronics are useful tools.

*

I’ve spent the weekend in a kind of hibernation. I’m sick, but functioning, up all night coughing, slogging through during the day. “How can I feel so yucky, and still rock a 10 kilometre run?” I asked Kevin on Friday night. I took two extra-strength Tylenol and ran for fifty minutes at soccer yesterday — our team had no subs. I felt terrific during the game; chilled and feverish afterward. I’m a believer that exercise is curative. But I still feel sick.

I don’t think my electronic hibernation this weekend was about feeling sick, though. I think it was about the latest shooting in the United States. I didn’t hear about it until late Friday afternoon. I’d spent all day setting up my new book in Scrivener, cut off from the world, marvelling at this brand-new-insanely-useful tool, feeling like I could have happily chained myself to my desk for the next three months and just lived in my imaginary world. Which isn’t practical. So at around 4pm, I turned it off to get ready for our complicated Friday evening ritual, which involves a carshare car, a picnic, soccer equipment, and me in running gear.

But first I checked Facebook.

And then I saw the news. And then the news was all I could see or think about or handle, except I couldn’t handle it. Fury and rage. That was my gut response. The thought that these weapons are legally obtainable. The thought, maybe, that these weapons even exist. Tell me why we need them. Why does anyone on earth need a gun that can rapid-fire hundreds of rounds of deadly ammunition? And if you think you need something like that, I’m pretty sure that should disqualify you from getting access to it. As I ran, sick and sad and furious, on Friday night, I thought, this could be my hill. This could be where I take my stand. But I drove home, alone, weeping so hard that I had trouble seeing the road ahead.

How to pick one hill? I feel a familiar sinking. The injustices and wrongs and evils are too numerous to list, let alone to comprehend. Child soldiers, dictatorships, unsafe factories where people work like slaves so we can buy our clothes for cheap, repression, rape, self-interest, tar sands, money and the lack of it and the greedy excess of it, drones, refugees in Canada denied health care, hunger even right here in our very own wealthy country. Is evil ordinary or extraordinary? Can it ever be contained? What is the meaning of safety and security? What is the meaning of prosperity? How can I do no harm? Or even just do less harm? How can I help.

This is the darkest time of the year. The holidays at this time of year celebrate the coming of light, and all that that means.

I don’t know that I know what it means.

These are the words that come to me: Pour out your love, you won’t run out.

The six-minute post that took ten minutes

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terrible phone photo of a beautiful child, on our Saturday morning date

Uh oh. Only six minutes to post today. Must have taken a longer nap after spin & kettlebells.

I have lots of little things to comment on. Don’t know why I need to comment on them in public, on the blog, but if there’s one rule about blogging it’s don’t question why you’re blogging. Or else you probably wouldn’t. So, on the off chance that someone else out there is interested too, here’s what’s on my mind.

* My friend Tricia and I are plotting how to become contestants on Canada’s The Amazing Race. We’re dead serious and both of us are FAIRLY COMPETITIVE, to put it mildly. And we both love racing — we’ve raced together twice, and once I beat her, and once she beat me, and both times, both of us were convinced the other made us run/bike way faster than we could have gone on our own. I’d give us good odds. If only we can crack the audition challenge.

* Shoot, that puts me at two minutes. Six minutes is not enough time for a quick post.

* Advent calendar activity today: “It’s in your writing, Mom, so I can’t read it.”
“It says ‘Eat supper by candlelight.'”
“Oh.”
“We could breakfast by candlelight, maybe.”
“But I like the lights.”
“Hey, I brought home a cake from the book club I visited last night — how about we’ll change it to ‘Eat cake by candlelight.'”
“Cake for supper! This is the best!”

And that’s my time. I’m sure there were more thoughts, but I’m going to pour them into the house I’m building out of words, which is getting pretty solid. I had hopes of completing the draft before Christmas, and then giving myself Scrivener as a birthday gift, and learning how to use it over the holidays before digging into the second draft. Wait. Why did I put that in the past tense? I still have hopes!

* Kevin is attending CJ’s nursery school Christmas concert this morning specifically so that I don’t have to and can write the book instead, AND I turned down a freelance gig this week specifically so that I could keep working on the book, and so I am signing off to enjoy the luxury of a writing day. Waste not, want not.

Agh. That’s nine minutes. Maybe a ten-minute post is all I can realistically pare myself down to. Good to know.

The ten-minute post

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Haircut, Monday evening, while waiting for the hot chocolate to cool, because, as always, “This hot chocolate is too hot!”

I wasn’t going to blog this morning, but I’m operating so efficiently that I genuinely believe I can write and post this in ten minutes (which is the time I’m allotting towards it). I have already been for a run (with a friend, in the dark, and oh it’s dark these mornings, which is why you’ll see me wearing a headlamp, even though I discovered it left a funny mark on my forehead this morning). I have a soup simmering in the crockpot. I got the kids up, dressed, fed, and off to school by myself, as Kevin headed off early to Toronto (thankfully he walked the dogs before he left, that might have been the straw for my this morning). I’ve had a nap. I’ve eaten breakfast! I just made a fresh pot of coffee.

I’m going to spend the day writing.

But I did want to report back re sad neglected advent calendar. Monday ended on a high: I put slips of paper into each empty pocket. I was so excited to tell the kids when they got home from school: check the calendar!

Monday’s activity? “Look at photo albums.”

“Oh! I just did that!” said Fooey. (Yes, that’s what gave me the idea, thought I. The photo albums were still out.)

Yesterday’s activity: “Write our family Christmas letter.”

Which AppleApple and I accomplished in an hour of manic productiveness after swimming, while the little kids got their own snacks and brushed their own teeth (Kevin and Albus were at soccer). Now comes the hard part: printing and sending. If you think you’re not on our list and you’d like to be added to our list (where is our list? note to self: find!), you are welcome to send me your address via email.

Today’s activity: “Wear red and green.” (Because today is “green” day in CJ’s “big school” classroom and I didn’t want to forget.)

I can’t remember what tomorrow’s is. But trust me, all of the activities are extremely low-key, or things I’d already planned to do. For those more ambitious, a friend sent me a link to this Pinterest page with advent activities that are, admittedly, quite do-able, but kind of overwhelm me with their impossible enthusiasm nevertheless.

Time’s up. Enjoy your Wednesday, whatever it is you’re doing today. (Just noticed that I’m not wearing red or green …)

Carrie v. Monday

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This is what I feel like doing today.

Instead, I am having one of those exquisitely Mondayish days. And Monday is winning. Damn you, Monday! The hours are cruising past while I blither away at apparently endless and infinitely finicky odds and ends that must be done somehow by someone and soon. I’m telling you, spreadsheets are involved.

“This is the most disappointing advent we’ve ever had,” said one of the children this morning.

And I’ll admit, I have not found a good way to fill those little slots with daily seasonal activities, despite having an envelope full of ideas in my office. We had the “candy cane meltdown” last week, wherein a slip of paper promised candy canes we proved not to have. We’ve had way too much hot chocolate for breakfast. The Christmas decorations never got made. The snowflakes for the front window did, but remain as clutter on the dining-room table. And for the past two mornings, the children have found nothing in their advent calendar. Nothing. Serious seasonal fail.

I should at least write on a slip of paper, “Make toast!” or “Pet the dogs!” I think the kids would prefer that over nothing. They might even prefer to imagine that we’re going to do activities that I know in advance we won’t have time for, such as “Bake cookies!” or “Go skating!”

All of which is to say that this Monday finds me quite entirely overwhelmed by the details of the season. Who has bought gifts for whom? What’s our budget? What’s happening when? Can we split childcare over the holidays? Is everyone happy? Will everyone be happy? I know, I do, that it will all come together, and that the time I’ve spent today will help make it so, but oh, this is tedious.

Meanwhile, the novel waits patiently (or maybe not so patiently; I’m pretty sure the novel has the bit in its 210-pages-of-teeth and is begging me to gallop for the finish line. But listen, novel, we’ll just have to go back to the beginning and start the race all over again, so, really, what’s your hurry?). I hear, from a novelist much more experienced than I am, that I should look into Scrivener, a program that helps keep track of all the book’s bits and pieces. Unlike Word, which makes me feel like I’m composing one insanely long drawn-out thought that may have completely gone off the rails way back when and is missing several dozen terribly important pieces but I can’t stop now and must simply forge ahead til I reach the end. Writers out there — thoughts? (Also, it occurs to me that I could really use a Scrivener-like-program to organize my entire life. Talk about bits and pieces.)

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