There are times when the world is too much with us, and a gut response is not sufficient, what’s needed is time and reflection and perspective. I’m not ignoring what’s happening in the larger world. I’m interested, I’m engaged, I’m paying attention, but I don’t have anything useful to say about it, here.
As of today, I’ve got two teenagers under this roof, and I think their growing independence and autonomy is stoking my growing impulse to step back into the shade of obscurity. I don’t know what the purpose of this blog is anymore, which is why I post here more and more rarely.
I still want to keep this space open, for when I do have something to say. But I don’t want to say something just because this space exists.
Today, I want to tell you about the wonderful books I’ve been reading.
I finished My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante, and immediately dove into the second book in the four-book series, translated from the Italian. I’ve heard this series compared to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, but to my mind, they are unrelated. Ferrante has a wider world view than Knausgaard, even if she is examining in detail a very particular time and place: she is depicting the assertion of power itself through the generations. It is the story of a friendship, and of two girls (now young women, in the second book), and it is told from the perspective of one of the women, but it is not about the rigidity of an individual point of view (which Knausgaard’s series seems to be explore), but about the flow of power and knowledge and ritual that shape an individual in ways that are beyond her control, even if she is aware of them. Ferrante observes patterns, large and small. The patterns of place. The patterns of family, of neighbourhood, of wealth and poverty, of knowledge, of culture. This is extremely rich and immersive writing, but it is also propulsive in its pacing. I won’t be reading another book until I’m finished the whole series, but at the same time, I don’t want it to end. It will be like saying goodbye to a friend.
I am thinking of My Struggle in relation to this book because I recently finished reading the third book in that series, Boyhood Island. I can’t read this series quickly. It’s like being trapped inside someone’s mind, someone who has a limited understanding of how he is being received in the world around him, and the effect is claustrophobic, and sometimes even alarming. But I remain interested. I will continue reading through this series, but at a much slower pace. I have no sense of urgency in my quest. It’s more of a commitment to see a thing through.
Another recommendation: Outline by Rachel Cusk. She is the British writer who was born in Canada and whose book was a finalist for two major Canadian prizes this season; there were complaints about how Cusk scarcely qualifies as a Canadian, and that may be true, but I’m glad she made the lists or I wouldn’t have discovered her. I devoured this book. I loved it unreservedly. It is highly stylized, enormously intelligent, and although told in the first person almost erases that person entirely, so that everyone around her leaps into the world fully fleshed, but she never becomes more than an outline on the page. It is the strangest feat, an accomplishment of great discipline. It made me question the purpose of the first person narrator, and the purpose of the writer, too.
Meanwhile, I’ve been reading out loud to the kids in the evenings: especially the two youngest (ages 7 and 10). So far we’ve read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume, and we’re nearly through From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L. Konigsburg, both set in New York City, both stories about siblings.
All for now.
While I’m blogging lots this week, and because I won’t be blogging much (I suspect) in the week or two ahead, I’ll take this moment to highlight another tab, above, on my web site: Upcoming Events. It’s not new. But it’s handy. It’s where I keep track of readings, speaking engagements, festivals, launches — everything book-related.
For starters, next week I’m heading to the Sunshine Coast Festival in Sechelt, B.C. This is my first time at the festival, which I hear is amazing, and my first time on the Sunshine Coast, and my first time bringing the whole family along to an event like this (they likely won’t come to the reading itself, but the organizers have kindly invited our family to several other events and found us a family-friendly cottage by the ocean to stay in, while we’re there — see, amazing!). This is also our first major summer family holiday ever. The last time we flew somewhere together, we spent Christmas in Nicaragua — and we only had three kids. That’s a long time ago. (Note to self: must find a way to return to Nica again; I’ve visited once a decade since childhood.)
Then, in September, I’m going to Spain! I’ve been invited to the Hay Festival in Segovia, with the Spanish-language version of Girl Runner: La corredora. This trip will be a whirlwind, hosted by my Spanish publisher, Alfaguara, which is launching the book this fall. (The family is staying home; sorry, guys.)
I return home in time to visit the Halton Hills library, which has chosen Girl Runner for its One Book: One Community program (very exciting!), and then just a few weeks later, in October, I’m flying out to Victoria (solo) where I’m a guest speaker at the Victoria marathon. Sadly, there’s no way I’ll be in shape to run the marathon, but in my dreams I somehow manage to conquer the half. This hasn’t been a high-mileage summer. I’ve been averaging three runs a week, rarely more than 10km, often less. One change is that I rarely run alone anymore. Almost all of my exercise is social, right now: meeting a friend is motivating, and it’s fun. But if I’m going to add more miles, I will have to do some longer solo runs.
Kevin is recommending that I start listening to podcasts while running. He’s become a convert to the short story form by listening to The New Yorker fiction podcast while running around the neighbourhood with the dogs. I listened to one just this morning, while making poached eggs for Fooey (it’s her Birthday Eve!): a story called “Love” by Grace Paley, as read by George Saunders. If you think you don’t like short stories, try out this podcast. It combines the reading of a story with a conversation afterward between a well-known writer and the New Yorker story editor: it’s like listening in on a really informed book club discussion.
Love is poaching eggs for your almost-ten-year-old; love is kicking a soccer ball for two hours with your seven-year-old; love is watching a leader’s debate (Canadian version) with your twelve-year-old; love is driving back to camp to fetch your fourteen-year-old; love is sharing earphones and stories with your husband.
Hm. That was really cheesy. I feel compelled to apologize a) for writing it and b) for not erasing it. But hey, maybe you’ll want to make your own list? Enjoy your weekend.
This is what we’ve all been reading for over a month now. And I include myself among the readers. We’ve been getting them out from the library, and I wish we could find some way to buy them, new or used, because the kids pore over them and read them over and over. Lynn Johnston didn’t develop her characters within a typical cartoon style using a static time frame; instead, her characters grow and age, and they feel really whole and interesting and the effect is novel-like, if the novel were written over years and years, and in small panels with punchlines. I love that her punchlines are often poignant. I’ve sat there crying over a storyline, and I’ve laughed out loud, but most often I just read with the same enjoyment I would find from a novel. I find it hard to pick up one of her collections and not devour it from beginning to end.
I have managed to read a few other books, recently. I worked my way slowly, steadily, sleepily through My Struggle, book two (A Man in Love, I believe it’s called). At certain points I found myself wondering if this would be my quest, whether I would slowly, steadily, sleepily work my way through the entire seven books, as a kind of bizarre long-term project of being inside someone else’s mind. I might. I’ve already bought book three. But meanwhile, I’m going to cleanse my palate.
Over the long weekend, I read, with enormous pleasure, Landing Gear, by Kate Pullinger, who I met on tour last fall. Kevin read it first, and was laughing out loud, and told me I had to read it right away, as soon as he was done. So I did. I also found it very very funny, and I admired its structure and shape. I loved the portrayal of the 14-year-old boy … as I now have one of my own.
Here are some scenes from his birthday.
He worked on building a shed with his grandpa in the morning. He played hooky from school and his parents took him out for lunch. He played a game of soccer in the evening. And then he blew out a candle and opened gifts from his siblings and parents. And now he’s having a party with some friends that appears to mainly involve junk food, video games, and hanging around. I’ve already popped up once to be the annoying snooping friendly mother. Can’t help myself.
Happy Friday, happy weekend!
Yesterday on birthday eve: still 6 years old. Count ’em.
A big day here at our house: the baby of our family is seven years old! He requested a “soccer party,” so we’ve accommodated with indoor field time and friends invited this evening. It was one of his few requests. Last week, he tried to compile a birthday wish list. He carefully numbered a lined piece of paper with 1. 2. 3. 4. and so on all the way to about 20., then started to fill in the blanks. Sometime thereafter I discovered him moaning and groaning in the kitchen, staring at his wish list, stabbing at it with a pencil, tearing his hair out. “What’s happening here?” I asked. “I can’t think of anything else that I want!” he cried. He had written down one item at the top of the list. Soccer stickers. “Don’t worry about it,” I suggested. So he didn’t. And this morning he opened his very few, very modest, almost exclusively soccer-related gifts this morning (including stickers), and he appeared to be thrilled.
Also on birthday eve: CJ inexplicably poses with mini-stick and Suzi-dog, while balancing on one leg.
We’ve been reminiscing about the morning of his birth. He was born at home, but only Kevin and I were here. The other kids were away overnight with Grandma Linda and Grandma Alice. We called them to share the news. They had three questions: boy or girl? name? and does he have red hair? We said, yes, he has red hair. Ha! We continued to look for evidence of red hair for the next several months, until we finally realized that no, this one was different.
Fooey looks through photo albums: these were taken that summer when she and CJ went to dance camp together, and CJ was the only boy.
This morning I observed that if I’d only had one child, I would have thought I was very good at training children to fall asleep. Albus was a champion napper and sleeper. Then AppleApple turned up and wrecked those illusions. And if I’d only had two children, I would have thought I was very good at giving birth on my due date. Both A & A were born exactly on time. But then Fooey arrived 15 days early (and CJ further blew the illusion of control and showed up 10 days late). And if I’d only had three children, I would have thought we could only produce red haired offspring. But then CJ arrived and proved that, basically, there can be no assumptions in parenthood.
They are who they are. And he really is who he is. Wonderfully so.
On birthday morning. Seven years old.
We all love him, just as he is. Seven years old. Isn’t that a great age!
PS He’s going to let me cut his hair on May 3rd. Why May 3rd, you may ask? Because, he will tell you, his outdoor soccer season starts on May 4th.
Yesterday, on Birthday Eve.
And with a few of her siblings, also on Birthday Eve. To give you a little window into Every Day Life Around Here.
Today, on her birthday.
“Did you have a good day?”
“Can I take your photo?”
“Um. I have to do a little homework first.”
“Homework on your birthday? You shouldn’t have to do homework on your birthday.”
[Ignores mother. Opens computer.]
Kevin, last night: “Wow, your last day as a twelve-year-old. It’s hard to believe you’re going to be a teenager tomorrow.”
“Dad, I’m turning twelve tomorrow.”
I’m remembering it was a cold and snowy day on which she arrived, eleven or twelve or thirteen years ago, give or take; whatever, we’re getting old. We were younger then. For a few months after she was born I took to wearing my hair in pigtails. In photos I look like a baby holding a baby (I wasn’t, quite), with another baby standing bewildered nearby (her brother was a mere 17 months older).
One more memory: on the day of her birth, I’d received the contract for my first book, Hair Hat, and my agent had called to go over it in detail. Mid-conversation, I broke in to say, apologetically, “I think I’m actually in labour, can I call you back … um … maybe tomorrow …?” Honestly, why had I answered the phone during active labour? It was my first book contract. It seemed awfully important. This would be my first daughter. But labour seemed so normal at the time. It was what I’d been expecting, after all, it was the natural arc of the story. After she was born, it seemed like those sleepy, snowed-in, baby days would never cease, somehow. After she was born, there was a forever sensation to the passage of time. I wanted so badly to have time to write, and my hands were full, literally. I wasn’t resentful, but my hands were full.
Anyway. The good old days. Nostalgia. Etc.
It’s another cold and snowy day today, and the youngest two are fighting in the living-room. It sounds like soccer versus musical instruments, literally.
Signing off. Next up: Birthday celebration.
Be warned: this is a photo-heavy post, and a little behind the times in terms of news items. Apparently summer has decided to kick into fast-forward and honestly, I can’t keep up. I don’t even want to. This morning, driving with a friend to our spin & kettle bell class, we saw that it was dark. It was also early, and for most of the year, darkness is to be expected at this hour, but we’ve been spoiled by summer’s long light, and it didn’t seem like it should already be contracting. August is a melancholy month. Always is. I fight against the melancholy because after all, it’s still summer. But even the youngest of our crew is noticing: “Is it fall?” CJ asked yesterday, as we sat out in the back yard watching Kevin dismantle our rotting picnic table. “No! It’s still summer!” I said. “Why did you think it might be fall already?” “The leaves are falling,” he said. And so they were, some of them, enough to dot the grass, into which a path has been worn by the soccer ball being played back and forth, back and forth, obsessively this summer.
We haven’t gotten to all of the tasks we’d meant to. Our to-do list seems as long as ever. But we’ve also had afternoons like yesterday, mild, breezy, sunny, when I sat reading out loud to the kids from a book of old English folk tales. And weekends like the one before, when cousins came to stay. And two visits to the Stratford Festival in just over a week: first, with Kevin to see King Lear (and celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary), and then on Saturday with the girls to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream. As we walked uptown to the carshare, we realized how unusual this grouping was: me and my girls, just the three of us. We really had fun. We got dressed up. We had a picnic by the river and named the swan and seagull who tried (unsuccessfully) to befriend us (Swanda and Seagram). We chose a feathery mask in the gift shop that we all could share. And we got a treat at DQ afterward, tapping into a gift card Fooey had gotten for her birthday. “This day feels like an adventure,” one of them observed as we drove home past fields of corn and turning wheat.
Party cake, number one.
And Fooey has had her birthday, celebrated now many times over. I’m weak, speaking parentally. We allowed her, as her birthday gift, to purchase her own iPod Touch. Our three eldest now have this electronic device, and I don’t love it, but I don’t hate it, either. Here she is on birthday eve.
Selfie, with brother.
And here she is on her actual birthday.
Party cake, number two.
She planned her friend party months ago, with an ever-shifting menu and lists of crafts and games and activities. We ended up serving Kraft Dinner and potato chips for the main course, which I supplemented with bowls of raw veggies and fruit, met with a chorus of, “Mom! It’s not a veggie party!” Moms know how to have fun! (In my defence, the veggies and fruit were devoured.) The whole party was easy, and I was glad to see that Fooey’s friends didn’t mind her stern organizational tone, as she herded them out to go “bowling” with a basketball and a bunch of plastic honey containers, or instructed them to “design your own book cover,” as the opening craft. Be still my beating heart. I was smitten all over again with this kid of mine, now nine.
And I think that catches us up on the news front, minus a soccer tournament on the weekend, to which I brought my camera but then forgot to pull it out of my purse to take photos. Guess I was engrossed in the match. Sorry, Albus. (He doesn’t want his photo posted on the blog these days anyway; or at the very least, wants to curate the photos of himself that do appear. We’re all growing up. More evidence of the time, and its passing.)
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