Writing a book can be a funny thing. Occasionally it feels like control has been unintentionally ceded to some other power: the original vision just doesn’t fit on the page. The character refuses to do what the writer has planned. This doesn’t happen all that often, but it can.
How are you?
I always reply, as expected, I am fine. Most of us do, right? It’s a polite greeting, back and forth, not meant as a deeply searching opening.
But, how are you? No, really, you can tell me.
And then I’ll tell you.
I’ll tell you, in truth, that I am struggling. Fold down the corner on this page. It’s only one page in a whole book. Mark it off. This too shall slip into the past. There is nothing specific to attach my struggle to, and perhaps that is why I am struggling. There is no news. I wait for news, knowing I can’t control when it arrives, nor what message it will bring. If I could learn how to live within this, what a gift it would be. I could learn real peace of mind. But so far, I am struggling.
In my dreams last night I signed a book contract only to discover that there was no editor to help me edit the book, and I would need to go it alone based on a few scribbled notes that included instructions to write “a wedding scene.” My book has no wedding scene, nor any obvious place to include a wedding scene, given that the main character never marries. Also, I wouldn’t get paid until the edits were complete. On the plus side, assuming I could complete the edits, I would earn a healthy sum. On the minus side, my personality in the dream could be summed up as: socially awkward. It’s my second socially awkward dream this week.
What can it mean?
This dream melded with another in which my entire family was riding in a helicopter while I ran in a field underneath them, watching the helicopter tilt and crash-land. But everyone was okay. We went into a nearby house and I realized we’d forgotten to bring the piano books. Crisis in dreamland! How would the children practice the piano?
So, how are you?
Me, I’m flat as day-old soda pop.
But this morning is clear and sun-filled. All of my kids still love to be hugged tight. Tonight is poetry book club. There is the possibility, always, that peace of mind is within, waiting for me to alight upon it. So, just now, I’m going outside, friends. I’m leaving this desk for a little while. I’m going outside.
But I was tired in yoga class. As I lay, half-awake, in the final shavasana, I thought to myself, nothing had better get in the way of my morning nap, or I’m not going to make it through today.
Must have been a premonition. I drove home through the rain, thinking, the kids aren’t going to enjoy their walk to school today. And I opened my email to discover: SCHOOL CANCELLED! Apparently a massive ice storm was in the offing, though I can’t say it’s materialized as promised (which is not a bad thing, I realize). Frankly, all I was thinking was: with school cancelled, how am I going to get my nap???
I was desperate. I told the kids they could play electronics while I went back to bed. Worked like a charm, although those dreams were even more bizarre. I was on a train in Syria doing an aerobics class led by a Serbian instructor whose moves were comically complex. I couldn’t follow. I sobbed into my seat cushion (being on a train, remember), a feeling of fear and despair permeating the dream, which I understood was a dream, and I worried in the dream about having a dream that would make me sob.
I stopped cleaning at lunchtime, in a really grumpy mood. I made a delicious homemade chicken noodle soup. I went outside and grabbed some ice photos. The photos aren’t terribly impressive, there not being much ice. As far as I can see, the cars keep whipping along our street without any trouble at all. But not to worry, the kids are safe, playing soccer in the living room and creating a Lego bomb in the upstairs hallway. It is now around the time I’d expect them home from school. I’ve hooked them back up to their electronics again, which gives me the luxury of writing this post. I’ll admit no feelings of guilt.
I’m still kind of grumpy, though. Can you tell? I’m not hiding it very well.
Yeah, well. We’re all a little grumpy. We’re all accustomed to activity and go, go, go, and even if it’s not a really bad storm, the weather is still yucky and cold and wet and not conducive to outdoor play, and everything’s closed, and we haven’t gotten up to anything more exciting than electronics and housecleaning.
Total side note before I sign off and unhook the children: Have you seen The Mindy Project yet? It’s a sitcom, so if you hate sitcoms, don’t bother, but we find it hysterically funny at our house. We’ve been letting the older kids stay up to watch (be warned, there is some adult content). I found myself fighting not to giggle out loud while lying on my yoga mat this morning, waiting for class to begin, because I was remembering scenes from the episode we watched last night.
I have a theory about anxiety dreams: I think they don’t count for restful sleep. I woke this morning feeling utterly exhausted by the dreams I’d just been through. I’d lost my phone. I’d appeared late for an event at a festival due to taking a shortcut and sliding down a steep hill of mud and having to climb back up again. I realized we’d scheduled that over-achieving daughter of ours to take ballet at the same time that she had soccer and swimming. Worst of all I went on an angry rant at a stranger, which proved completely unjustified: I accused him of stealing some cards from me, and it turned out that he’d found the cards and kindly mailed them on my behalf.
Dream rage is very disturbing. Does anyone else do that? Rant and rave in their dreams? Maybe I’m repressing something.
In any case, I awoke with residual dream-emotions of guilt, worry, stress, and whatever one wrestles with while trying to scrabble up a steep muddy incline.
A hurricane is coming, apparently, or at least its outer skirts are expected to brush our part of the world. On the bright side, soccer tryouts are cancelled tonight, so we can look forward to a leisurely family supper. I’m making fish and potatoes. A grainy mustard sauce for the fish, and potatoes fried in leftover bacon fat with onions. Yum.
I realize that this blog has recently come to be dominated by the writer part of me. And the writer part of me is admittedly anxious. I don’t feel that close to the industry, here in the wilds of Waterloo, but there is much in the news about publishing to be anxious about. But how anxious to be? In the print media, newspapers are putting up paywalls online in an effort to earn back dollars lost in advertising revenue, which has collapsed. A midsized independent Canadian publisher declared bankruptcy last week. And two huge multinationals, Random House and Penguin, just announced a merger agreement this morning. I’ve been reading the news, and the commentary, and some excellent blogs on the subjects, but I can’t wrap my head around what it means. Are people willing to pay for well-written words? Is traditional book publishing dying out? Does it mean no one can make money publishing books, or print? Does it mean we’ll all be turning virtual pages very soon? Or writing “books” in new formats: serially, like blogs, or quippily, like tweets? I don’t even know why I’m speculating on the subject because I have no good ideas or insights. None.
At our house, we still like books. The old-fashioned kind that carry evidence of their history around with them in physical clue-like ways.
At our house, we still get the daily newspaper delivered; I read it at breakfast and lunch and in the evening, usually while eating.
But then, once upon a time, not so long ago, I loved writing letters. I’ve converted happily to a mixture of email, texts, and social media, none of which I can store in my hope chest in shoeboxes up in the attic.
Once upon a time, not so long ago, I wrote regularly in a journal. Now I write here, unless I’m having a day too dark for here.
I don’t seem to miss the letters or the journals, except abstractly. Maybe I won’t miss books. I almost can’t type that sentence, because I just can’t believe it could ever be true.
Today is brag-about-my-brother day. My brother Karl is the youngest of my three brothers (I also have a sister who is the youngest of us five siblings). I was seven-and-a-half when he was born, and there’s a fabulous photo floating around somewhere of me on my red bicycle with baby Karl plopped in the basket on the handlebars, with my mom, another brother, and my best friend Katie all posed around us, every last one of us grinning with delight; ah, the freedom of the early 1980s. Karl also spent a lot of time being swaddled and stuffed into my toy baby carriage — for a big sister, what could be better than a real live baby to play with?
As he grew, Karl demonstrated tenacity and an outsized will. He was always a tiny child, but absolutely fierce.
He wasn’t interested in school or academics. But he was talented at many things, including playing the drums, among many other instruments. Somewhere along the line, he and my brother Clifford acquired equipment for recording and producing music at home. There was the studio in my parents’ basement, lined with egg cartons; and a portable studio that he could set up anywhere.
And now he has his own studio, out in the country, with a wall of windows overlooking fields.
What makes me most proud of my brother Karl is that he knew he wanted to make music. He knew it was what he wanted to do with his life. And so he set about becoming a musician, no matter that others might have wished for him a career that would promise greater financial stability and security. He’s worked incredibly hard. Fame has never been a motivator for him — what he loves to do is to make music. And as anyone who chooses the creative arts as a career knows, there are years of invisible, unseen labour and practice underlying any visible success.
Well, Karl’s had some success recently. His song, which is titled, simply, “Song,” is the music for Apple’s new MacBook Pro commercial, on television and online, worldwide. Click here to listen to the entire song. And if you like it, you can get the entire Kidstreet album on iTunes. (Kidstreet is made up of my brothers Karl and Cliff, and my sister Edna; all of them talented musicians.)
To see Karl’s work and talent appreciated on this level makes me just ridiculously proud. I will try to restrain myself from running up and down the streets whooping with delight.
Instead, I’d like to make a toast to everyone who chooses to a pursue a dream, against the odds, and despite the heartbreaking challenges along the way. Join me? All I’ve got this morning is a cup of coffee.
Karl, you’ve made something beautiful.
Have I been writing quite often about my dreams? Maybe it’s because I’m woken on so many mornings by my alarm, pulled out of dreamland, bringing the dreams with me. My kids are not going to remember the 2.0 version of their mother, the one who for thirty-five years or so was the very opposite of early riser. The 2.0 version thought 7 o’clock in the morning was quite viciously early enough, thank you very much. But the 2.0 version has been obsolete for over a year now. She may already have been forgotten. My kids are going to remember version 2.1, up before dawn, coming in from outside in running gear, or freshly showered after spin class. “Where were you this morning?” they ask sometimes, greeting me from their perch at the breakfast bar.
I’ll admit: it wasn’t easy to recalibrate my instincts. But I’ll admit, too: change has brought about all sorts of good things. I’m friendlier, for one thing. Less prone to the growlies. Less resentful, somehow, of the necessary morning duties, more light-hearted regarding the inevitable complaints. (“This toast is too cold!” “This porridge is too hot!”)
This morning, I woke with dreams of my friend’s father still in my mind. We attended the memorial service last night. Let me tell you about one small and extraordinary moment. After the more formal proceedings, we all went to the church basement to eat sweets, visit, and share memories. Among the people who got up to say something was a woman I’d never met. She wasn’t a family member or someone from the neighbourhood. She said she knew my friend’s father from work. She said that she worked as a teller in a bank. My friend’s father had been a customer. She spoke about his friendliness, his stories, his interest in her life, about how, as she came to know him, she would wave him over to her line. She regretted that she hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye. She was glad to be able to come to his memorial service. She came to his memorial service. Isn’t that amazing?
This is what it says to me: The potential for meaningful relationships is all around us.
Meaningful relationships don’t have to be conventional. They don’t necessarily require tons of time. They can be as simple as asking your bank teller a question. Being interested. Being curious. Being, most of all, present.
Today was a day rife with potential challenges. I got up early. I did not nap. I was interviewed on live radio right after the kids left for school. And then I headed off to lead writing workshops for teens. Several fairly major things remain to be checked off my to-do list. But it hasn’t been a hard day, not at all. I feel a little foot-weary from standing. I feel a little wired from more than my usual dose of caffeine. But I feel, also, the worth of every interaction, no matter how small. Pay attention. Whatever is happening in your day, look it full in the face. Ask questions. Wonder. Give it your best.
I thought, today, about how new experiences are always around us. How people, if pushed in the friendliest of ways, will embrace something new. How even the most grownup of us crave to feel those moments so common in childhood — the ones that delight and surprise us. How maybe all of us are waiting to be delighted and surprised. And then I thought, I can do that.
It’s as easy — and as crazy hard — as stepping outside of my comfort zone.