Warning: This May Cause Side Effects

A couple of morning thoughts.

1. Writing week appears to have had an unexpected effect: it’s crippled my ability to do small-talk. This is a serious problem. I like small-talk. It’s comfortable and puts others at ease. Living so deep inside my head means I’m surfacing slowly, and find myself blankly waiting for a nice ordinary response to float through my brain in answer to questions like: how are you?
It kinda sucks; not kinda, totally. I’d forgotten about that side effect, or never connected it to the writing portion of myself. And honestly, I miss my small-talking self. I like trusting that I’ll know what to say, which is really about being present and listening and having fewer filters–and, frankly, bothering with much much much less reflection.
It’s possible, though I haven’t thought deeply about it (ha!), that my brain operates in an either/or fashion: either verbal, or written. If I’m operating in writing mode, my brain can’t access the words, at least not efficiently, in verbal form. And apparently I can’t turn off writing mode with the flick of a switch. Friends, forgive me in the meantime.
2. I continue to long for a practical profession. The friends I met up with last night are women close to me in age, whose children are now off to school, and who have chosen such interesting and practical directions for their post-intense-mothering lives. Midwife. Nurse. Youth counsellor. Hands on, directly affecting the lives of others in need, being physically and emotionally present, interacting, connecting, empathizing. With real people. In real time. In my work, I do an enormous amount of emotional empathizing, but with makebelieve characters. Gah! I am laughing and shaking my head as I write that. It seems like such a bizarre way to connect with other humans.
Kevin’s response to my morning whine of “I should be doing something practical!” was “strongly disagree.” He suggested I should take my attitude and join Stephen Harper’s conservatives and stop funding the arts and go live in a world where everyone wears grey overalls and does nothing but work work work. You can see why I married him.
3. This Globe and Mail article on David Mitchell helped me finish writing a story earlier this week. I have not yet read him, but must; it’s on the post-Wolf Hall list, which is growing ever longer as I joyfully wade through the gorgeously written Tudor underworld.
Notes on David Mitchell: a) There is such a thing as literary stardom: he’s there. b) His fascination with, and commitment to, obscure and self-imposed rigorous structural limitations really resonated with my writing/creative mind. c) He advocates a strict, disciplined lifestyle: no tv, no distractions, work. “Living this life, ‘you acquire the pleasure and the discipline of geekdom,’ he says, launching into an animated account of the way ‘perhaps’ and ‘maybe’ strike the eye ever so slightly differently, and confessing that ‘Oooh, I spend long, luscious, sweaty nights thinking about this kind of stuff.’ ” Brilliant! I get it. And I love how happy he sounds. d) He lives in a tiny village in Ireland and he sees his wife, two children, and “about three friends.” e) I wonder how he does small-talk.
4. Funny how a couple of posts back, I said I wasn’t going to write about writing. Have I written about anything but, since?
On the Soccer Sidelines
Climbing Out


  1. Susan Fish

    I think your first point is related to your second. You are inhabiting a makebelieve world, so it’s hard to bridge the connection back to your other real world to make small talk. Is it really so different being absorbed in a fictional world as a writer and reading a great book or being absorbed in the world of a great movie? To me, it’s the same sort of thing – only even better as the writer.

    I also would say that the work you do with your kids is infinitely practical and grounding. And, although you have some older kids, you also have some little peanuts still. When they are older, you may find a different way of balancing it all out.

  2. Kerry

    I bet your friends with the practical jobs sometimes wish they had the job that you do…

  3. m

    I’m currently in the middle of a solo writing retreat at the Wallace Stegner House. My husband and the boys were with me at the start but left almost a week ago. I’m in a tiny, tiny town where I don’t know anyone and am forced to do small talk with neighbours. I’m not good with small talk as it is, but I’m finding that living so much in my head (and not having the family to balance me out) is making me completely socially inept. Which only makes me want to be more reclusive. So, yes, I completely get your small talk woes!

    re: David Mitchell. I’ve only read Cloud Atlas, but it’s possibly my favourite book of all time. He’s brilliant. And I bet he’s terrible at small talk, too!

  4. Carrie Snyder

    m — how long is your retreat? A week (and five days at that) was enough for me. I’m still coming out of it.
    Wishing you much good luck with your uninterrupted time!

  5. m

    My retreat was supposed to be from the 8-31st, but we left as a family to go to BC in the middle for a few days for a funeral. We got back on the 17th and I’ve been alone since the 19th. I realized that I really don’t like being alone and living like this–in a community without friends, children or peers–must be like for some people when the get old and their spouse dies and children have moved far away. I don’t like it and I won’t being doing this again, for this length of time anyway, for a long time.

    I realized today when talking to my husband (also a Kevin!) that we hadn’t communicated properly about it. I had hoped the family would be here and he had thought I didn’t want anyone around!

    A long response to say my family returns this Thursday. I am getting a lot done, though I’m not sure if it would be any more than if I was just working from an office at home.


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