Category: Big Thoughts

A wild autumn wind

DJ
When I woke up from my nap this morning, the word that came to mind was “replenish.” But now the same word sounds a little bit suspicious, like the advertising copy for a facial cream or something. Nevertheless, replenishment is on my mind. Or maybe just napping. That was my second nap of the morning, truth be told. I went right back to bed after my early morning run and slept until the kids had be dragged up, too; and after walking CJ to the bus stop, I came home and crawled back into bed again, and let myself sleep for as long as I wanted. Which would seem to suggest I have no deadlines pressing.

In fact, I’ve just met a couple of deadlines, so I am feeling the relief of that; and giving myself permission to take some extra rest.

My inbox is quiet.

This week is a quiet interlude sandwiched between several very busy ones.

One of the questions asked yesterday evening at the book club I visited was: what changes now that your book is a GG finalist? And I had to say: well, nothing very obvious, really. Like any opportunity, you make of it what you can. I think (though I’m open to argument) that this nod is meant to acknowledge work done, not to fix my feet in any literary firmament, nor to launch me in some way. What really matters is the work I’ll continue to do. Maybe this will make that work more possible to continue, but then again, maybe not. Whatever I try to publish next will have to stand on its own merit, not on what came before.

I’ve been wondering: why are we drawn to books with stickers, or movies that have won awards? I’m as guilty of it as the next person. I know it’s not a guarantee of excellence, and yet I’m still willing to take a chance on something that has some kind of communal stamp of approval on it. I may not even mind if I don’t ultimately like the book or movie–it won’t feel like time wasted–because at least I’ve participated in a cultural conversation, just by showing up. And so, it occurs to me that perhaps the most tangible benefit of having one’s book stickered is that it gives the book (briefly, at least) the opportunity to enter into a wider conversation.

Wow, that’s some autumn wind today. It’s wild out there.

Sometimes I think what I’m hoping for, and maybe waiting for, maybe in perpetuity, is not replenishment, but a strong wind to blow clean the mind.

(But replenishment sounds so much easier.)

Take your chances when they come

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I’ve put away the canning kettle for the season. And while this wasn’t a banner canning year for me, I was reminded, as every year, that it’s not that hard to do. It’s time-consuming, finicky, hot, and has to be done when the fruit is ripe, that’s all. Listen to the radio. Accept help. Try not to whimper because you’ve got one more canner full of jars to boil and it’s nearly midnight on a weeknight.

For some reason, it’s worth it to me. Maybe it’s the colourful jars in the cupboards. Maybe it’s looking forward to a winter of sauces and chilis and soups in the crockpot.

Speaking of seasonal, I had a little thought in church on Sunday (I take the family occasionally, to touch base with the Mennonite in us — Kevin excepted, though he still has to go). The thought was this: Sometimes I’m open to soaking in experiences, observing, learning, participating, doing. And sometimes I just want to reflect. And these two states of being don’t really overlap, much, for me. Or maybe they do, in ways I just can’t see. Maybe what I’m trying to talk about is that sometimes I feel like I’m skimming along on the surface of things, and other times I’m very still and quiet, and I can sense the sacredness in everything. When I’m skimming along, I don’t even really like the word sacred. It sounds too serious, too self-conscious, too heavy, too inward-looking. I appreciate and respect it, but I don’t like it.

I don’t get to decide what kind of mood or state I’m in. I’m just there. It’s like being in the mood to play the piano, or write a poem. I have to accept where I’m at.

It’s hard to accept where I’m at when it’s somewhere I don’t want to be.

I’m skimming along right now. I’m frustrated by my inability to be still and quiet.

But here’s another tiny thought: sometimes — really, most of the time — it doesn’t matter what I’m in the mood for. I have to take my chances when they come. I have to can the tomatoes while they’re ripe. I have to run during soccer practice, and read stories at bedtime, and cook supper when everyone’s hungry for supper. And right now I have to get revved up for readings and for meeting new people and a bit of travelling — and even a bit of travelling is a lot, for me.

One of the places I’m travelling to is Winnipeg. I’ll be there a week from this coming Monday (!!), reading at the Thin Air Writers Festival. I found this lovely blog post on their site, written by Rosemary Nixon who appeared at the festival last fall. I’ll admit to some gnawing apprehension about leaving the kids and dogs and Kevin, with all the scheduling excitement to manage on their own, but Rosemary’s post reminded me of the potential that is waiting in this new experience — exciting.

A lot of life is about getting it done. And that’s fine, that’s probably even good, and necessary, and right. I’m privileged enough without getting to do what I’m in the mood for all the time. So the tricky part is appreciating what’s going on, floating on random flotsam and jetsom amidst the current that is carrying me along, and, maybe, glimpsing something mysterious in the trees that is there to be seen.

Maybe even while skimming along, I’m catching and keeping the things that will sustain me when I’m ready to be still and quiet again.

To everything turn

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This summer, I have yet to can a thing. I’ve frozen a few odds and ends here and there in small batches, usually leftovers from a meal (ie. too much corn on the cob).

I haven’t found the energy for it, and I’m not sure why.

This morning, Fooey and I looked at Soule Mama’s blog together. She loved the photos of children feeding chickens, playing with pigs and sheep, and picking veggies in the garden. “The children have to do a lot of chores,” she observed. I said they were homeschooled, and she said, “Well, of course! Because they have so many chores, they don’t have time for school.” Let me add that she said this with a very positive tone. Not “chores” as in drudgery, but “chores” as interesting activities.

I felt a pang for the seasonally lived life. “It’s lot of work,” I said. “It’s their whole life.”

I know that’s why I read Soule Mama’s blog: to live vicariously, just a tiny bit. To imagine pulling off muffins baked before kids come downstairs and weeding with baby riding on my back and preserving food and painting rooms pretty colours and renovating an old farmhouse and being a homesteader. When I was a young teen, I spent many happy hours imagining life as a homesteader, out in the middle of nowhere, building a self-sustaining life from scratch. I don’t know why it appealed to me, but I know it was a fantasy that hasn’t had much impact on my actual day-to-day life, even though remnants of the fantasy remain, fondly.

Maybe I’m too lazy.

Today, I am thinking with admiration about all those hard-working people who live seasonally. Right now, in Canada, if I were living truly seasonally, I would be canning like crazy. Now is the time! Grab the moment! Preserve summer. Instead, I’m lost in thought before a computer. I’m at a soccer field until dusk. I’m going for a run. I’m vacuuming dog hair.

But I have some angst over not canning. I feel like I should be. And I feel tired too, worn out, a bit, by the continuous nature of living, the daily demands, being unable to catch up or keep up. Laundry, meals, basic family hygiene, household demands. We attempted to get the kids doing regular chores earlier this summer, and we didn’t stick to it. (We should try again, for their sake and for ours.)

Maybe that’s what impresses me most about those people who are growing our food for us, and those people who are living off the land: they stick to it. Nature won’t let them stop, and they don’t. I’m sure they’d like to, sometimes. I’m sure weariness sets in.

I need something similar to attend to, a project larger than myself, more meaningful. (Or is this just August talking–a wistful month, I always find, during which I feel nostalgic for what’s passing even though it’s still right here all around me?)

Catching happiness

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lettuce flowers (yes, really, that’s what they are)

I was in Waterloo Park yesterday evening, finishing off a hard run. When running, I find that I disappear a bit, and my focus changes. In some ways, the tiniest details sharpen, in other ways, much sensory information blurs. But I often catch some small moment in passing, and it seems to flare more brightly than it could if I were walking or standing still.

Yesterday evening, as I ran up a big hill, trying to push the pace and push myself, I saw a family gathered below, sitting in four lawn chairs in the middle of a wide open grassy space. I wondered what they were doing, sitting all in a row, looking up the hill. And then I saw a mother and daughter walking down the hill. My trajectory would take me directly in between the two small groups of people.

Then the people in the lawn chairs saw the mother and daughter too. Someone called something out, which I didn’t catch. The daughter, who looked to be a younger teenager, waved and cried, “Happy birthday!” and I saw that another younger teenaged girl was running up the hill from the row of lawn chairs. The other girl started running downhill, and the two friends met giddily in the middle of the field, and hugged and jumped around with obvious delight to be together on what was clearly a special day — a birthday — for one of them.

I ran past the mother, and we exchanged broad smiles. I kept running and didn’t look back.

The whole scene occupied no more than ten to twenty seconds.

What struck me, instantly, was the joy it had given me to be witness to such a happy moment. How often do we see other people in their moments of unguarded, totally free happiness? Usually we see people when they are occupied with something else, distracted, on their way somewhere, busy, or idle; moments of spontaneous joy, well, they’re rare.

I’m going to keep looking for them.

Just one small thing

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She’s at camp. And I miss her.

All the way home, after dropping her off, I felt a vague uneasiness, an undercurrent of anxiety. When I expressed it to Kevin, he understood. We were both feeling it. The feeling of not being near one of our children, which is a luxury we completely take for granted in every day life.

It came to me: this is parenthood. Our children are going to grow up and away from us, but we may not exactly grow up and away from them. In some fundamental way, we will always feel that they belong to us; even when they are quite certain they don’t.

I’m not talking about this little one, of course. She still makes her claims on me as strongly as I claim her. But in ten years? Twenty? Thirty?

Will it feel then, as it does right now, that a small piece of me has been mislaid?

A miscellany for your reading pleasure: balloon animals, soccer tips, anecdotes, and beyond

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balloon-dog, by AppleApple*

*Yes, she made her own balloon-dog. She looked up instructions on the internet. When she explained the twisting technique to me, my brain malfunctioned. That is because, when it comes to engineering of any practical sort, I am the opposite of gifted. She’s thinking she could sell balloon animals this summer at street parties; we weren’t convinced the yard sale approach would work for such a specific product. 

:::

Here’s what I’ve learned at soccer, so far. This is purely skills-related. Skip over this section if you’re not remotely interested in playing the game of soccer.

First game: I learned to touch the ball.

Second game: I learned that I was fast. And that this is handy, if you like touching the ball.

Third game: I learned that a pass into the net is as good as a hard shot; likely better. Perhaps not coincidentally, I also learned how to kick the ball without injuring myself.

Fourth game: I learned to run with the ball by kicking it in front of me rather than trying to dribble it at my foot. I also learned how to do a throw-in. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way–during game play, by doing it wrong the first time.

Fifth game: I learned that when heading for the net, I need to turn in toward the middle a lot sooner. Unfortunately, in this lesson I’ve only gotten as far as realizing that I must be doing something wrong. I get the ball, start running up the wing, and then (mostly) lose it because I come up against a defender. Kevin tells me I shouldn’t really be coming up against a defender, but should be making my decision earlier either to turn or to pass.

Maybe in the sixth game I will learn to keep my head up?

:::

While speaking of learning things, here’s an anecdote to make you feel better about yourself.

Yesterday I was at the bank to make a simple deposit, and found myself waiting for ten minutes in a line-up of one (me), while one teller served one client, and several other teller-types walked briskly around in the background avoiding catching my eye, as if to say, I’m much too busy to open up another window here. Is a ten minute wait long enough to start getting truly impatient? Because I was truly getting impatient. In fact, steam was coming out of my ears.

When finally I handed over my cheques for deposit, a transaction that look less than a minute to complete, the teller thanked me for my patience. It felt farcical, like I was part of a reverse psychology experiment. I almost replied, “It would be much more accurate to thank me for my impatience because it’s clear I’ve got none of that other stuff, and you know it as well as I do!”

Oh my goodness, I am not a patient person. It’s the main reason I swear so much while driving. All that time wasted, endless inefficiencies, and being at the mercy of systems not of my own creation.

My goal is to find something good in every situation, to waste nothing, by which I mean to find in any situation something redeeming: educational or funny or comforting or amusingly distracting or morally relevant; but I sure enough wasted those ten minutes at the bank, seething with irritation. What do you think I should have done to salvage the situation?

:::

One more miscellaneous item, relevant today-only, and only if you live in the greater Toronto area. If you pick up today’s Toronto Star, you’ll find a special section on Canada Day, with a bunch of stories and a few photos by me! I’m especially pleased about the photos, though this job has spurred me to make a few minor (and thankfully inexpensive) improvements to my current photo-processing and -storing capacity. I would like to add Photographer to my toolkit of marketable skills, and this is an excellent start.

I see myself as a workmanlike photographer rather than an artistically-skilled one. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and that there’s a place for it.

It fits in with my philosophy that there’s a place for all kinds of writing, too; I aspire to be able to work across the genres. I think anyone who writes serious literary fiction should damn well be able to write light-hearted party-planning pieces, and snappy headlines, and generally entertaining well-constructed articles on most any topic imaginable, assuming there’s time to do proper research. These take technical skill, as much as anything else. I also believe that writing across the genres will make me a better literary writer. (My only caution would be: don’t get stuck in a rut, and don’t write the same thing over and over; write widely, if possible.)

And that concludes my On Being a Writer 101 lecture for today.

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