Notes from a scattered mind

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Everything is winding down, summer holidays are nearly upon us, and the truth is that I’m feeling a little bit flat. A little bit weary. I sense that I’m jealously guarding my reserves of creative energy as if in fear they might run out, which is perhaps not the best strategy; after all, creativity feeds on its own bubbling forth. And I don’t actually believe it can be spent, entirely.

But my instincts feel protective, somehow. Cautious. Inward-looking.

I spent yesterday writing. My working title is The Girl Runner; but that might not last. All I will say of what I’ve written is that it’s unexpected in tone and content, and the writing itself feels like disappearing into a daydream. From which it can be hard to emerge. It’s like getting lost. But I’m often not aware I’m lost until I realize how much I’m struggling to connect with what the kids are saying to me, or to respond with coherence to their requests.

It’s possible that their mother memories will include them prompting me to finish sentences, reminding me of what we were just talking about. It’s convenient to blame the writing; but it’s not always even that. Sometimes I’m distracted by a scheduling conflict, or by some errand I’ve just remembered needs doing, or by a voice on the radio, or a newspaper article, or a conversation or dream freshly recalled. I don’t know why it is sometimes so difficult for me to ground myself in the present moment. There are times when I must deliberately force myself to follow a spoken response through to its conclusion, force myself to pay attention to the reply, force myself to hold the thread rather than to drift.

Scattered. I wonder, and worry: How can such a scattered woman manage a functional daily life, manage to keep her children fed, manage deadlines, and plotlines?

Perhaps this explains why I wrote The Juliet Stories as a fragmented narrative: why I ask the reader to piece together clues, and take leaps. I was honoured to read an extremely sympathetic review in The Winnipeg Review posted earlier this week; the reviewer understood and was not frustrated by the leaps in the book. Read her review here.

And if you’re interested in listening to me (try to) talk about the connections between the book and my own experience, earlier this week the CBC ran my “riff” on Shelagh Rogers’ book show, The Next Chapter. Click here, and find me at 37:13 (with thanks to the friend who figured that out).

At the very end of the interview, I mention that I haven’t asked my siblings how they feel about the book, and I say something air-headed like, “I hope that’s not a bad thing! [Giggle]” *(Aside: I should probably make it policy never to listen to interviews of myself.) Anyway, my brother Christian heard the interview, so he dropped by the other evening to let me know that he really liked the book. We ended up having a funny conversation about the real events he recognized, and how they were dropped into such different contexts, all mixed up; and I was relieved to hear that he didn’t read himself as the brother Keith. In fact, I think he might be the perfect degree of closeness to recognize exactly how fictional the Friesen family is. He said his wife, on the other hand, is exactly the wrong degree of closeness, knowing just enough about our family to imagine that the book is somehow veiled history. If you know just a few things about our family’s past, I can imagine it would be easy to make the leap. But if you were there for it too, there is no leap, because it isn’t what happened, and we’re not the characters.

If I ever write a book about my family, it will be a very different book, about a very different family; and, frankly, I can’t imagine attempting it. But there’s no doubt families are enormously compelling, and if I ever storm up the nerve to try, it would make for an interesting exploration.

If asked, I will tell you that I pray none of my children become writers. Personally, I think it would be a bit of a curse to have a writer for a child. We’re dangerous. And probably maddening. *(Another aside: I read a tweet recently in which a writer noted that writers of fiction are constantly being asked “what’s real?”, while writers of non-fiction are constantly being asked “what did you make up?” Obviously, audiences have a compulsion to understand the links between fact/fiction, life/imagination, memory/invention. Etc.)

Which brings me round-aboutly to The Glass Castle, which I’ve been reading all week. In fact, I went to bed extra-early last night in order to finish it. It’s a memoir about a family of such incredible dysfunction that it staggers the mind. What amazed me most profoundly was the love expressed throughout — love of child for parent, and parent for child — despite the author’s childhood of parent-induced agony and chaos and hunger and violence. Love is so complicated. It isn’t reasonable. It guarantees nothing. It can be the source of terrible wrongs. And yet even the most disastrously-expressed love seems to answer something in us; seems to be something we need and crave, and could not survive without.

I’m not bringing this post around to any kind of coherence. Other than this: writing can be an act of love. But it is sometimes — often? — an act that feels more like dire necessity, or selfish need; it takes me away from my children, it removes me from the present moment, it deposits me in imaginary spaces. I don’t know where it comes from, or why I need to do it. I just hope it does ultimately create artifacts of coherence, and patterning, and some kind of connection and truth. Because that’s what love is, isn’t it? Love is connection, no matter how tangled.

On an evening with nothing to do: summer solstice
Lazy Sunday reflections on having it all


  1. I read The Glass Castle for book club and was astounded. Google her for interviews. Some are with her mother, and it’s comforting to see their story coming up to date.

  2. I wondered whether the mother remained homeless. And what happened to the youngest sister, who seemed most fragile. I also spent most of the book utterly despising the parents; I was incapable of viewing them with the same kind of compassion that the author does. And yet — they obviously produced resilient, resourceful, and creative children!!

  3. I remember a creative writing class I took some years back, and everyone submitted stuff that involved their own childhood and family in some way. write what you know, they tell you.
    of course all of them also said they could never, would never attempt to publish anything that they’d written in that class either 🙂
    Anne Lamott addresses this in one of her books, can’t remember which.. but about how you own your own childhood. you own your own past, no matter who was involved or what they did.
    of course, she did not have anything quite idyllic in her childhood to draw upon, so I think she was addressing those who felt that they had some hard truths to express through their writing.

    The Glass Castle. that book was so devastating. so rich and deep. I could not put it down. I don’t know if I’ll ever pick it up again, but it stays with me, and that’s all I can say about it. It wasn’t enjoyable, as such, but it was deeply rewarding. (and speaks to the point up above, I suppose)

  4. I have been troubled by my lack of focus on my children recently – exactly what you were describing. And it makes me crazy because I picture myself a very loving, attentive mother. . .

    Not sure I could handle The Glass Castle.

  5. First, I just found your blog and can’t wait to come back for more posts! You’re so right about love being the connection…we may fall short from time to time, but a heart focused on love can transcend any tangled web we may have created (: May you have a lovely weekend!!


  6. Thank you for all of your comments.

    Yes, Victoria, I think there’s a big leap between writing what you know, and publishing it …

    The Glass Castle will make you feel like a wonderful mother, Margo!! (At least, it had that effect on me.)

    And thanks for stopping by and for commenting, Michele. Welcome here!


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