Category: Big Thoughts
on the prow of an imaginary ship, hair whipping in the wind
|fake album cover|
I knew it would be tough to get to my desk these past few days. And it has been. And I probably should be napping instead of posting right now (I’m feeling crummy and am actually on antibiotics, as a matter of fact). But dammit, I need to write!
Friday was a good news day. I finished marking on Thursday night, as planned, if a little later than hoped, spent Friday morning double-checking my math, and then delivered the graded portfolios to campus for pick-up, my writing hand still cramped up from all the unfamiliar work. In future, were I to teach again, I might abstain from making detailed comments and suggestions unless such feedback were directly requested by a student. But it’s what I had to offer, this time around, and it’s done now.
Almost as soon as I’d finished that fairly enormous task, which has occupied a large part of my fall, all of the suppressed anxiety about final revisions for Girl Runner kicked in. I kid you not. The anxiety must have been sitting there just waiting to pop. I literally finished packaging up the portfolios and alphabetizing them (because I am nothing if not needlessly organized), and then texted Kevin with a “Help! What’s happening to me?”-style of message.
|ooh, pretty colours|
He requested that I check CJ’s “feelings” handout, which we’ve all been referring to with a certain amount of seriousness since he brought it home from school. (A funny after-dinner activity last week involved CJ directing me to act out, with facial expressions, a variety of feelings. Bored. Sad. Worried. Frustrated. (“Not angry! I said ‘frustrated’!” “But this is my frustrated face!”
|Pensive; also, Cold (note red nose)|
|Tired, yet Prepared for a Challenge?|
Oh, and Happy, Excited, and Proud. I counted three positive feelings and a whole lot of not so positive ones, but fair enough. Maybe we humans have a better understanding of the gradations between unhappy emotions, and the happy ones are more mysterious, kind of lumped together into one weird and wonderful and slightly scary experiential glob. I’m noticing as I’m considering this that my happy feelings seem somehow less trustworthy than my unhappy ones. Their transitory nature seems more fragile, more vulnerable to chance (that’s what makes them scary, I think). I wonder if by thinking this way (completely unconsciously) I prevent myself from experiencing Happy as fully as I could.
Anyway. So I went to CJ’s feelings sheet, studied it for a moment, and texted Kevin back: Uh oh. It appears that I’m feeling Anxious.
|I will slay you with my sombreness|
Less than an hour passed before the phone rang. And my feelings went from Anxious to, well, Relieved, but that’s not on the feelings sheet. (As AppleApple said, “I don’t think all of the things I’m feeling are on there.”) The person on the other end of the phone was my US editor, calling with warm and believe-you-me very welcome praise for the newest draft of Girl Runner. Yes, I’ve still got the final revisions to complete, but I can’t wait to get to them, and oh man, was I ever Relieved — and no, that’s not exactly the same as Happy — to get that call. “But aren’t you ‘Excited?'” Fooey asked me when she got home from school and I’d reported the good news. And then she said, “Or maybe ‘Proud.'” Well, maybe the latter, yes — why not!
|Serious writer face, with a hint of scorn?|
Hauling my feelings with me from afternoon into evening, I decided to run a little further than planned while at my daughter’s soccer practice. With geeky headlamp in place, I proudly (if slowly) conquered 12km: the furthest I’ve gone since the concussion. But I woke up Saturday morning feeling a bit queasy and headachy, which could indicate a bit of a regression. Consult feelings sheet: Sad. But by evening, I felt well enough to get dressed up for a party. And take photos! And at the party, I felt well enough to stay out past our (purely self-imposed) curfew (given the early morning soccer game we had to get to). I was having too much fun to be Entirely Responsible. In short, I was Happy.
|Proud. Take that, reading public|
My creative project for the weekend involved trying to take a self-portrait that could work as an author photo. It was entertaining, but I’m afraid I did not succeed. I’m including here some of the many out-takes.
“That one’s pretty,” said Kevin, looking through my efforts last night (see photo at bottom of post). “It could work as an author photo.”
|Calm; and possibly already had a drink?|
“But could it work as my author photo?” By which I meant, is this the facial expression I wish to present to the reading public? What feelings am I hoping to conjure up and send out into the world? I’m vain, I’ll admit that up front. I’d like to look pretty in my author photo, and preferably not tired and weary. But I’d also like to look not overly serious or somber. Instead, I’d like to look like someone who you’d want to meet for tea, someone you’d trust with your story — with your feelings. Friendly, approachable, calm, but with spirit and humour. And while I’ll admit to being vain, vanity is the last thing I’d like to project.
And on this abrupt note, I must declare: End of post. I’m late to meet the school bus!
It’s a pattern. Every Friday morning this fall, I sleep in (ie. not up at 5AM), yet can barely drag myself out of bed. I eat breakfast, start the laundry, see the children out the door, and struggle to be otherwise productive at anything. The cup of coffee doesn’t seem to help.
Thursday evenings I teach. Friday mornings I’m drained. I think it might be as simple as that. But frustrating, too, because there is so much about teaching that I’ve enjoyed this fall. It’s gone how I’d hoped it would go. I’m accomplishing what I’d hoped to accomplish. So how to explain my body’s reponse to the job?
I’m going to go out on a limb and self-diagnose as introvert.
A long day of writing leaves me pop-eyed and twitching. Manic, you might say. Or, energized. Three hours of teaching leaves me jelly-noodled, spine sunken like a comma. Bloodless, you might say. Glazed. Is this how other teachers feel?
This sounds like an extended complaint. I’m not meaning to complain, only to observe.
I don’t think teaching naturally drains everyone. I’m sure of it. Kevin comes home from teaching buzzing with good energy. I wish that were me. My students are terrific, interesting, thoughtful, hard-working, open-minded, and a pleasure to share ideas with.
So, yes. I do feel frustrated by myself. It’s not that I’m shy. It’s not hard for me to talk to people. But it may be that I’m introverted, and draw my energy from being alone. Any thoughts on this, from introverts or extroverts alike?
Two more things. Okay, could be more than two, but I’ll keep it to two in this section of the post. We’ll call this the newsy section.
1. I did an interview about style for BLUEPRINT, a student-run magazine at Wilfrid Laurier. I liked the questions, and I liked thinking of myself as actually having and even cultivating style. (Long-time friends, please don’t laugh.) You can read the interview here.
2. I’m hearing rumour that the latest QUILL & QUIRE magazine has a blurb about the success of Girl Runner at the Frankfurt Book Fair. Kevin’s promised to pick me up a copy on the way home. (Quill & Quire is Canada’s publishing industry magazine.) Couldn’t find a link.
Final section of Friday’s blog post. This will be the philosophical section wherein I write about an idea that is only half-formed, as bloggers are wont to do. The idea is about work.
Work is a word that I’m beginning to realize has enormous value in my mind. But I define it in very narrow terms. Work is writing. Period. Everything else gets filed under other categories, somehow. This happens unconsciously, and I’ve only just realized that I do it.
Here are some of my (unconciously formed) categories, which all go into the big filing cabinet of LIFE.
Parenting/pleasure. Family. Marriage. Hobbies. Recreation. Obligation. Chores. Cooking and baking. Reading. Friends. And, of course, Work.
Parenting/pleasure encompasses all the things I do for and with my kids. Of course these things have to be done, but they don’t feel like obligations. That’s why I add the word pleasure to the file.
Family is a broader category and includes my wider family systems.
Hobbies. I think that’s exercise, for me. It seems to occupy the space that a hobby would. It’s quite time-consuming, and I’m devoted to it for no reason other than I love doing it. Photography fits in here. Blogging, too.
Recreation is anything done in the spirit of pure play.
Obligation is job-jobs. Things I do to earn money. There’s a bit of cross-over here between other categories, and it includes promotional work for my writing life. It isn’t all a grind, and I don’t mind doing it, but nevertheless these are jobs that must be done rather than jobs I would choose to do. These jobs don’t seem to count in my mind as work, no matter the financial value attached to them.
Chores. Also obvious. That overflowing laundry basket on the table behind me right now, for instance.
Cooking and baking. I enjoy doing this too much to call it a chore, and yet it isn’t a hobby either, seeing as feeding everyone is a daily necessity.
Reading. This gets a category all to itself. It comes close to work, in my mind, obviously in a good way.
Friends. Maintaining relationships, trying to keep them fed and nurtured, far and near, in-person and via social media.
And finally, work. As I type out this half-formed idea, I realize that work is a constant, even if I’m not at my desk. I’m feeding my working life, and my writing, by being in the world, by parenting, by playing, by running and reading, by all of it. So work is both a precious and guarded particular part of my life (writing), and work is all of it, all the time, always.
End of idea.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. I woke with those words in my head, but immediately thought about how it’s today that pulls me. Today that I wake to. All those tomorrows aren’t promises. They’re overwhelming if I consider the repetition of their demands, and even more overwhelming if I consider the speed of their passage. No matter how much I do, time will turn these words to dust.
Yet how much I wanted to run downstairs and write down my thoughts. And so I have. Today pulls me.
It was my second waking of the morning. The first was much earlier, when AppleApple and I woke for her swimming. Being up already, I went for a run. It was very dark when I set out, but as I made my rounds, the sky shifted, pale light between ominous clouds, and at last a pink and blue sky that looked right out of a fluorescent painting. Shadowy crowds of crows called from the treetops, then took off flying in a seemingly endless stream. I liked this somewhat less when they flew directly overhead.
I came home to warm up, shower, and scarf a plate of scrambled eggs and bagel, then returned to fetch my swimming daughter. Tonight my siblings are coming over and we’re making paella. That’s to celebrate the sale to Spain. I haven’t properly celebrated France (the coffee and croissant were lovely, but the kids want in on it, too), nor Italy (which I kind of want to splash out on, if someone can recommend a good Italian restaurant), nor Holland, though a friend, who is Dutch, recommends kale and potatoes with sausages, or “tiny meatball soup,” both of which sound delicious (I will need the recipes).There may be yet one more country to announce shortly (!!), but I’ll leave you waiting for now. It is quite astonishing to consider the variety of languages spoken on this Earth.
We’ve named our new truck “Aggie,” which is short for Aganetha Smart, fictional girl runner. Yesterday, I christened Aggie with a billion (more or less) errands around town to prep for paella night, and Halloween, and winter, and to replace items my swim child has lost or broken recently. Last week, for example, she lost her asthma puffer and aero-chamber. These things do not grow on trees. Recognizing her own ability to shed personal items at an alarming rate, she opted for dollar store gloves rather than those from Adventure Guide, which are, quite frankly, a shocking investment.
Elsewhere, Fooey found a dress fit for a vampire, with a hoop skirt to boot, but AppleApple rejected my suggestions and insisted on searching for something I fear exists only in her imagination: an old-fashioned formal dress (also with a hoop skirt) that would be both appropriate for trick-or-treating AND she could wear on social occasions. Yeah. Tips? She wants to go as Anne of Green Gables, and I’m not sure Anne wore hoop skirts, and that we may be confusing her with Laura Ingalls in her courting days, as we are reading These Happy Golden Years right now. In other costume news, CJ will be a clown in a suit we found in the dress-up box, and Albus is still debating. I will miss seeing them in full costumed flight, as I teach that evening. I bought some extra treats to take for the students, and I’m hunting for spooky-themed stories to read (suggestions??). Who knows, I may even throw on a costume. Would my students take me seriously as a rhinstone cowgirl? With braids? That’s all I’ve got (and it’s borrowed). I wore it to a party on Friday night, and looked cute and appropriately clad, but felt like I had dragged with me the equivalent of a wilted personality. I’m tired, it seems. Too tired to stay up late, too tired to carouse, though not too tired to spend the evening within arm’s reach of the cheese platter.
It does seem like a happy life makes room for a wide variety of activities, solo and in company, professionally and personally. Leave aside work and play, which are linked, in my mind. The bulk of my efforts goes into relationships, which are like gardens and need tending: there’s marriage and children, wider family, friends and neighbours, colleagues and students and coaches and other parents and acquaintances. When I’m down, I castigate myself for a lack of diplomacy, or a willingness to enter into conflict, and sometimes for exhaustion itself, for feeling spent. This may indicate that I’m an introvert, and yet it’s the relationships that interest me most, that feed me and that I live for. What’s left out of the equation, what gets squashed to the margins? Housework and chores, and often cooking and food. I try to leave room for meditation and stretching. Ultimately, I find, it’s dancing that falls by the wayside.
I’ll end where I began this rambling post. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. But really, today.
“Mom, do you know how to do small talk?”
“How do you do it?”
“Look for something you have in common. Like the weather.”
I had several occasions to practice my small talking skills this weekend. Soccer tryouts, both mornings, early. A reading yesterday. I sat in the car for part of both tryouts, the weather being inauspicious both days: pissing rain yesterday, a chilly breeze today under an ominous sky (see photo above; see in photo swirling cloud; see in swirling cloud whatever your imagination would like to invent). So I sipped my coffee and scribbled in my journal for awhile.
Coffee gone, done with deep thoughts, I wandered out to watch the girls on the field, and to chat with other parents. I used to dread the casual interaction. I was painfully shy, my mind a blank against which I would scrabble for useful tidbits of talk. It’s curious to recognize that this is no longer the case. I can’t pinpoint when it changed. I suppose I’m still a quiet-ish person, not all that fundamentally different. Except I like small talk. I like meeting people, making those mini-connections, even if we’re just talking about the weather.
I suspect I used to think the exercise was a waste of time, a bit. We all know it’s raining, right? I didn’t really get its purpose. I was tone-deaf. Closed to the possibilities. But I’ve come to suspect that small talk isn’t so small, that it’s the stuff that keeps us civil, and more than that, too. Convention forces us to express interest, to look just a little outside of the self, and consider another person, a stranger, and by doing so to become just that much less strange to each other. Somewhere along the line, I got a taste for exactly this kind of interaction, and I’m never going back. I will know odd facts about the woman who is bagging my groceries, because I’ve asked, and I’m happy to know. (She’s doing a PhD in biochemistry!)
“I just can’t think of anything to say.”
I know! I totally relate to that panicky feeling, and remember it well. It hit particularly hard in high school.
Just ask questions, is what I suggested, assuming she would be talking to another kid, who might think it was kind of weird to be discussing the weather (I’m not 100 percent certain to whom she’s planning on directing this hypothetical small talk).
One more piece of (happily) not unsolicited advice: Remember, no one can hear what you’re thinking. You do have to say it out loud.
I sent this pair off to buy something for lunch, for the second time this week. They went to Vincenzo’s and got sushi and soda pop. CJ ate a blue frosted cupcake before they were even home. “We tried the free samples!” (On Monday, I let them go to the grocery store to get something for lunch and they returned with: Corn Pops, Cap’n Crunch, mini chocolate chip cookies, and three cheese buns. I think I see improvement?)
Fooey is doing tennis camp this week, which is why she’s not been involved. (Side note: she’s been working on filling in a journal all about herself, and had this to say on the page with prompts about her parents. “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my mom is the way she … HAS NO STYLE.” And: “The one thing I hope I never inherit from my dad is the way he … HAS NO HAIR.” My attempts to defend myself were met with scorn. Well, justified perhaps, because that kid has style.)
It feels like a day for black and white.
Here is my desk, right now. On the left, see the syllabus I’m working on. In the middle, my BlackBerry, which flashes whenever I get a message (very distracting, but I must like being distracted; text me, please!). On the right, this week’s calendar full of to-do lists and daily events not to be forgotten. And on the computer screen, a message to my editor with the revised version of Girl Runner attached. Yup! She’s gone off. I’ve sent her on her way.
Kevin, who has been my first reader for as long as I’ve had a writing career, stayed up past midnight reading the new draft, and told me this morning that he couldn’t put it down. He offers the following blurbs: “I felt like I was running in Aggie’s shoes over a 100-year race.” And “The book had the perfect combination of pace and depth, just like the 800 metres.” And: “Normally I can read only a few pages at a time. I read half the book in one sitting.” As he’s obliged only to say good things, for the sake of our marriage, you might think this input is highly suspect, but I’m going with it. It’s been a summer of intense and sometimes crazy-making labour, and I can’t do more without a serious break from the material. And my editor is pleased to have it back on her desk again.
And now I give myself the respite of a week or so, before the madness of the fall schedule begins, to be quiet, peaceful, breathing, playing, and not working. Tall order.
One last thing. My next post is going to be about everything I’m excited for this fall. It really and truly is. Because there is so much coming in and now that I’ve sent the manuscript I can breathe and sit back and look at it all. And rest my head. And say thank you.
Wild. What a word.
I’ve been thinking about how thin the veneer is between us and the wild, how porous the borders, how I simultaneously crave the peace and calm of a contained and civilized existence, even while sensing my need to be out in the wild.
I’ve been thinking about how much of my life involves containment, grooming, and cleaning — there is so much effort involved in keeping our domestic environment, and ourselves, free from dirt and bugs, safe from weather, our food at a remove from the earth, our bodies in a socially acceptable state.
Sometimes it seems like nothing more than illusion.
squirrel in window-nest
Recently, a squirrel tore a giant and strategic hole in the screen outside the younger kids’ room. It then dragged in a bunch of ivy, and set up house. Clearly, it was pregnant, and nesting, and had no intention of leaving. Briefly, I considered letting it stay, since the window would have provided a terrarium-like observational environment for homeschool-style education, but then I thought of everything that could go wrong. (Infant rodents perched two stories above a paved driveway, smushed up against the kids’ bedroom window???) So instead, we scared off the squirrel, and removed her ingenious screen nest.
On Monday morning, we discovered that the “hives” I’ve been experiencing for months are caused by bed bugs, which are not just for nursery rhymes. I’ve decided to write about it because life is not neat and tidy and perfect, even in Blogland. Unpleasant things happen sometimes. Apparently some people are non-reactive to the bites (like Kevin), while others experience allergic reactions in the form of hives (like me), which is why it took us so long to figure the situation out. Nobody wants bed bugs. But they’re better than an auto-immune disorder, I say; plus we’ll finally get around to painting our bedroom after a decade of procrastination. And we’ve got rid of the bed, which I never liked. We’re having the house steamed today, and I sense that after that, life will go on. As it does. Messy and disordered. (Our house is currently turned upside-down, and yet, look, life keeps marching forward. We cook, we eat, we work, we play, we go to swim lessons. Some of us even blog.)
Happy Birthday, DJ and Suzi!
Our dogs seem like the least wild of creatures, but it fascinates me that so many of us humans choose to live with other species. It’s been a year, as of August 6th, since we’ve shared our home with these two little doggie-wogs, aka the poggles, aka the pogs, as they’re called, among many other odd nicknames (where do nicknames come from?!). All of the kids made them birthday cards and fashioned these little hats for them, too, though the dogs were tolerant of (ie. not keen on) the hats, and only “listened” to the cards being read to them because the card-readers were offering treats in return. I’m pretty sure we’ll always have animals — I can’t imagine life without them, somehow.
I’m not at peace with the torment of bugs, or the inevitable march of dust upon every surface, or the grease in the stove’s mesh trap, or the relentlessness of change and accumulation that demands vigilance and attention. I’m not at peace with it, because part of me wants to live with less and less and less stuff. The less stuff we have, the less there is to protect from the insinuation of the wild. I’m not at peace with it, also, because I can’t really prevent these invasions from happening. I have other things to do. There will be dust on the bookshelves, and dog hair under the couch. Not all the time, but it’s coming back, no matter how much effort I expend on keeping it at bay.
Which is maybe my way of saying that I’m not at peace with it, but I accept it. I keep it out, and I let it in, in balance, as much as is possible, all the while understanding that I’m part of it, too. It’s not separate from me — the wild.