Category: Big Thoughts
Well, that’s me. On my original birthday. It’s been awhile since I looked like that. Soon after this photo was taken I developed a wicked red rash and all photos for the next few months (and there were plenty; I was the first child) show the homeliest infant you can imagine, though I did exude a lot of personality. I was not an easy baby: a screamer with stamina. In one of my favourite baby photos, I’m standing stiff-legged in the palm of my dad’s hand, probably about six months old. Strong and determined. And grinning ear-to-ear.
I haven’t had the chance to blog over the holidays, which is a good indication of an excellent holiday, and a busy one. The photos posted yesterday equal the sum total of decent photos I took this Christmas season. (With the exception of some adorable captures of my beautiful nephew, but I didn’t want to confuse you by including him in my wordless album post–Hey, Carrie’s got an extra kid, when did that happen?) I didn’t take many photos, truth to be told. This year, I felt pulled to participate in the moments rather than record them.
My birthday falls at the perfect time for annual summations and dreaming ahead. On the night before my birthday, for the past number of years, I’ve stayed awake until midnight, and written something in my journal about the year past and my hopes for the one to come. Since I rarely write anything by hand anymore (and thank heavens for that–my printing is virtually illegible, even to me), the journal contains a series of snapshots, which I re-read every December 28th with a mixture of sadness and appreciation. It gives me a sense of movement and change. I catch glimpses of the groundwork being laid that allowed for major life shifts in attitude. Change is slow. And you never know what will actually change when you choose to do something different, or try something new, or leave something behind. Change is rarely predictable. We go where we’re going, not necessarily where we point ourselves.
But it’s helpful to point ourselves too–beyond helpful, actually. It’s critical to be alert and reflective and not to avoid recognizing the things that hurt. I would never speak against plotting and planning and organizing and trying your best. Just leave plenty of room for free-form leaps in your carefully laid plains. Leave space for rest and enjoyment. Be kind–to yourself and to everyone around you. That’s perhaps the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years. And the best advice of all is To thy own self be true.
There is no snow. This is a photo from last week, when ever so briefly snow fell and stayed. Now it has rained for days. The wishful thinker in me imagines the piles of snow that would have accumulated between then and now had the temperature been lower, the possiblities for snow forts and snowmen and seasonal festiveness. The practical thinker in me says: Remember shovelling? And scraping the windshield? Remember bad drivers?
Ah, but remember the sound of the snow, the muffling effect, the crunch underfoot, remember crispy eyelashes after a long run.
This morning was one of those mornings when I spent about ten chaotic minutes wishing things could go more smoothly. The obvious every day things like: getting all of the children out the door, along with all of their possessions, and their homework completed. But maybe that last-minute flurry is just the way that it is and ever will be. Maybe I should apprciate all that we managed to accomplish this morning, despite the last-minute scramble.
– I swam 2.5km
– Kevin and Albus swam for half an hour (AppleApple was too exhausted from her multifaceted weekend to get up early)
– supper was started in the crockpot
– six people ate a healthy breakfast
– a load of laundry went into the machine
– Albus completed homework that was due last Wednesday and only discovered at 9pm last night (well, at least he did it; I hope there’s a lesson in there somewhere)
– Fooey practiced piano
– the after-school walk home was arranged
– everyone took their vitamins
– Fooey took her medicine (she’s on antibiotics for strep)
– I talked to FedEx to arrange couriering the page proofs to my publisher
– everyone except Fooey got out the door; most were even wearing appropriate footwear
– I remembered to call the school re Fooey’s absence today
– no one was late
And it wasn’t even 9am.
Is there a better way? It’s so tempting to think that there must be, that life can always be improved upon (and I’m not advocating staying in a rut of obviously wrong behavior). But maybe sometimes there actually isn’t a better way. Maybe sometimes I need to take a deep breath and gut through those ten minutes of chaos, and appreciate everything that is working.
Yes, this photo is blurred. But within the blur, the colours seem brighter, and the body positions more expressive. I should make something of that. Observe that it mimics our perception of time when mothering small children, the way the days disappear into a blur, and some small detail remains in memory, a flash of colour, a story that gets passed down and requested at bedtime.
Today, I am thinking about motivation. I am thinking about sitting down at my desk and writing into a story that may or may not become a novel that may or may not succeed. What keeps me sitting back down and writing more, not knowing what may come of it? I think it must be hope. I’ve read that people with depression have an inability to imagine the future; instead, they see an unchanging blank. I’ve got whatever is the opposite, though it’s got its downsides, too. Let’s call it an over-active imagination. I get excited about the future based on the slimmest of evidence. My happiest daydreams fling me far and wide through adventure and thrill and accomplishment. “What was I just thinking about?” I’ll wonder, returning to earth with a glowing feeling, and then I’ll remember, oh yes, I was thinking about being interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel. Or about training as a midwife and travelling to Central America to practice. Or about recording myself playing an original song on the piano and becoming a star on YouTube. Heh.
Is it healthy to daydream such big, such ridiculous, such clearly out-of-reach dreams? I’m not sure. But some of the things I’ve dreamed have come true. I dreamed of becoming a published writer, long before anyone else would have dreamed it of me. I dreamed of motherhood. I dreamed of completing a triathlon before I could even swim. Of course, the original dream was that I could become an Olympic triathlete, and reality whittled that fantasy back down to size. But that’s okay. Even if the original dream was wildly over-ambitious, it sent me on a path toward actual achievement.
Almost always (or is that always always?) the daydream is realized in watered-down and compromised form. Reality has mosquitos and critics and temper tantrums. It has limitations. Daydreams don’t.
Lately, I’ve been daydreaming about writing this story. I would like to sit down and just do it, but I seem to need the daydreams to carry me over the fear of failure, the doubt that it will add up to anything special. I also need tangible goals. So I’m going to do something I’ve never tried before. I’m going to write in volume. I’m going to participate in November’s National Novel-Writing Month, even though I’ve disdained it for years (who can force the muse to show her face?) It’s abbreviated as Na-No-Wri-Mo for the hashtag on Twitter, and I’m going to tweet my progress. My goal is 30,000 words by the end of the month.
Because daydreams are shiny happy places in which to linger, but you have to get to work if you’re going to leave a flash of colour in the blur of reality.
Here’s where the house was on Friday. If you’re thinking, that window looks too small, well, you’re right. On Monday, I took no pictures, though a lot of progres was made throughout the day, including board on the outside and drywall on the inside. The windows also went in, and the more I looked, the more I knew in my gut that the size was wrong, and that we had to figure out how to fix it. I was pretty upset.
Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. The builders did not hesitate even a moment. They worked all the next day to fix the problem. They were cheerful and positive and stayed until after dark, until the new new windows were in. I have nothing but good things to say about the way they solved the problem.
And just look at the results of their efforts. The board and batten is on. The windows let in lots of light. When I stood in the room, quietly, by myself, on Tuesday night, I felt at peace, calm, grateful. What I appreciated most was the builders’ professionalism. They transformed what seemed overwhelming (to me, in the moment), into something relatively minor and entirely fixable.
(It would have been major had we done nothing about it, of course; but that’s a good reminder: even problems that seem overwhelming can be faced head-on and tackled with goodwill and expertise. Yes. That’s me, adding a moral to the story. Can’t help myself, folks.)
There’s a post I wrote awhile ago, a year and a half ago, to be precise, to which I keep returning. (Read it yourself, here, if you’d like).
The question I was asking then (and which I continue to ask) boils down to what kind of life I’m seeking to live: is it a life with unexpected twists and turns and seemingly disconnected variety, or a life of intense and singular highly focussed work; or is there perhaps a third way, a way in between those two extremes?
A year and a half after articulating that question, I can’t say an answer has appeared. Has life, as it’s been lived since then, spoken? Not in any expected way. Not loudly. Not directly. But also, have I been listening to the universe in the same way? Expecting it to reply? I have not. And I’m not sure why.
Instead, I’ve been running.
Is that a metaphor? Have I been running away? Or toward? Or is running a question and answer contained in itself? This morning, I woke up a bit later than usual, but realized that without a run, my day would be consumed by negative energy, and that I needed to run as far and as fast as I could in the time available, in order to burn that energy off.
Where is this negative energy coming from? It manifests itself in a general grumpiness, irritability, sometimes in a muddled mind, or I get lost in thought. Not practical, useful thought, but distant drifting foggy thought in which I cannot find my way. There is something about running (or biking or swimming or any exercise that gets me working physically) that burns off the fog, that releases me, even if only briefly, into a happy state. Afterward, I feel productive. Alive. It’s like an energy exchange: bad for good.
What will you do with your life?
My youngest starts school in a year. A year, therefore, is my self-imposed deadline. Deadline for what? For direction. For the universe to point me wherever I’m meant to be going, or for me to point myself, to step off, to launch, to turn around, to choose. I type that as if it were absolute, as if I might choose the wrong path, as if there is a right path and a wrong path; and there’s not. I believe many paths could be right. Success (happiness? contentment?) is dependent on how I walk the one(s) I choose. Nevertheless. My youngest entering school carries the pressure of a deadline. I’m at an age when it feels like, to paraphrase a character in The Juliet Stories, I’m holding in my hands a diminishing collection of possibilities.
So. I have a year to figure this out. I don’t know about you, but a year doesn’t feel as long as it once did. Turn your head, laugh, and it’s vanished.
Wait. I have something to add to my previous post. Just went out for a (luxurious) late lunch with my husband, as our evenings have been consumed by soccer soccer soccer. Got a chance to bounce my guilt/greed/gratitude thoughts off of him, which is always helpful: processing out loud.
And I realized that I feel something very strongly: neither sport, nor art, is a luxury. Both are human necessities, and if not expressed in positive ways, will find other ways out. Sport is a way for human beings to live fully in their bodies, and to compete, without doing violence to one another. At its best, sport can be clean competition, without conflict; a pure expression of physical exertion and skill. Every human should have the opportunity to experience the joy of his or her body, and of physical expression.
Sport over war.
And art is so essential to human life. Without it, there is darkness and depression and silence and disconnection. How could we live in a world without creativity, without lasting expression, without some way to translate the pieces of human experience that would otherwise be beyond us? It is so essential that you might not even recognize it around you. Buildings, graffiti, a photograph album, a blog post, the design of a garden, the words of a song that get stuck in your head, dancing.
So maybe my gratitude should go like this: I am grateful that I get to participate in sports, and that I get to create and enjoy art. These are gifts that should be available to everyone on earth. How can I share the wealth?