photo credit: Claire Cameron
I’ve been on and off this weekend. It’s harder to be on than off, and I wish sometimes to have been born an extrovert, feeding off the energy of being out there in the world, but the truth is that I’m the one wearing the ear plugs, drinking the cold coffee, in the comfy sweatshirt and crocs, hair in a messy bun, smelly dogs snoring nearby, cozy, informal, lost in her own head. And when I’m asked to be a woman with a measure of formal poise and polish, it takes some inner cinching, like I have to put on a corset and sniff smelling salts and throw my shoulders back in an effort to practice posture taught in some long-ago comportment class.
Yet that is part of what I do, as a writer. It’s part of the job. I don’t just stay at home in my comfy pants. When requested, I go out and address an audience, I attempt a performance. While trying to be myself.
I do my best, I guess, is what I’m saying, in a situation that takes me out of my comfort zone.
I don’t know why I feel compelled to be ever-improving, but my approach is that being taken out of one’s comfort zone is a good exercise for the spirit. It can be humbling. It can be enlightening. It can be neither of those things, and still be a good and decent practice to attempt.
Eden Mills Writers Festival, Sept. 14, 2014
At my launch party, I was one writer among friends, family, neighbours. It was so easy to be on. At Eden Mills Writers Festival yesterday, I was one writer among many writers, none of them old friends, family or neighbours. It was much more challenging to be on. There was a moment when I plunked down in the one free chair in the cottage which functioned as the “artists’ room” while Eleanor Catton, fresh off a plane from New Zealand, sat on the floor nearby. I couldn’t think of a thing to say to her. (Should I have offered her the chair?) I was ridiculously tired and it was only 4PM. I’d done my reading, signed books, talked to people, circulated, listening to other readings, found myself in tears listening to Miriam Toews’s, talked to more people, finally looking for a place to rest for a bit — but the rest I craved was for my mind, not my body. So many good writers, all in one crowded cottage room! It felt like ideas were everywhere and I could not properly absorb any of them. I grabbed the empty chair and sat like a stone. I felt, I guess, overwhelmed by the circumstances. (It probably didn’t help that I was wearing red rubber boots.) What to say to Heather O’Neill? Lynn Coady? Miriam Toews? David Bezmozgis? (I don’t know!)
Maybe I’ll think of something next time. This is just the beginning of the fall touring season here in literary Canada, and many of these same writers will be popping up at festivals elsewhere. Maybe what I’m feeling is a touch of impostor syndrome. Maybe it’s basic shyness. Maybe it’s an excess of stimulus. Maybe it’s cognitive dissonance. Maybe it’s nothing I need to overcome, just accept–that I will be tired after reading and speaking to people, that I will need to sit still like a stone for a bit to recover. I did recover. The afternoon went on. I made a new friend, a poet from Winnipeg named Katherena Vermette, who won the Governor-General’s Award for poetry last fall. I ate pie sitting beside Leon Rooke, across from Thomas King. (Though I didn’t know what to say to them either, truth be told.)
Perhaps it’s telling that my most cherished moment of the weekend was an “off” moment. What I mean is that I wasn’t “on,” I wasn’t performing, I wasn’t trying to connect in any way. I was running a race. It’s been nearly two years since I ran a race. On a last-minute whim, I signed up for a half-marathon that covered country roads not far from here. I went alone and ran alone. My watch didn’t even work, so I just ran. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t taxing, if you know what I mean. I knew what I needed to do. I waited for all the things I expected to happen to happen, and they did. I pushed harder and faster as the race went on. My mind lost the capacity to do anything but propel me forward. It hurt and I knew it wouldn’t hurt me. For motivation during the last couple of kilometres, I imagined my 11-year-old daughter telling me not to give up–You’re almost done! I imagined her saying in a slightly exasperated tone. Don’t slow down now! So I didn’t. I crossed the finish line alone. I drove home alone. I went on with my ordinary every day, practically bursting with pride at the speed I’d managed, the pace I’d kept.
But it isn’t quite fair to compare these two things. The race was undertaken for the joy of it. The readings are undertaken to bring my book out into the world. I may know what to expect from the former, but I don’t know what to expect from the latter. I don’t know how hard to push myself, how hard to push, even. It might hurt, and maybe I’m afraid it will hurt me, too. I don’t know if there’s a finish line, or whether I’ll recognize it if there is one. I don’t know or entirely trust my stamina, my energy, my own desire. I don’t know the parameters. There is no script. Most of all, I don’t want to be alone while I do it.
I need some “home again” pictures, but forgot to bring a camera to any of this weekend’s events. I’m forgetting a lot, just now. I am kinda zonked. I packed my days as full as I could while in London, and arrived home to the reality that these days are also packed, and that’s not humble-bragging. That’s it-won’t-stop-and-I-can’t-get-off-starey-eyed-exhaustion talking.
Yesterday, I was up at 6AM to take the soccer child to her last indoor game of the season. In Mississauga. I think all the parents were in high-five mode — we made it through all those Sunday morning winter drives! After the game, the child and I continued on to London (not that London), where she had a long-course practice in a 50 metre pool, and I sat for two and a half hours and worked, with a small interlude for a nap when I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open. Eleven hours after rising, we were home again. I felt like the walking dead, but the kid was feeling manic. She wanted to go for a run. So after a supper of baked potatoes served with a ridiculously ample selection of toppings (thanks, Kevin!) we put on our running shoes and ran to the park, enjoying the light and the warmth. But the quick 5-kilometre run she’d envisioned was hampered by a) a nagging hamstring issue (me) b) too many baked potatoes (both of us) and c) the beginnings of an asthma attack (she’d forgotten her puffer). So we walked, then jogged, then ran, then walked, then jogged, then ran. And then she still couldn’t sleep, and stayed up later than me, reading Harry Potter. (I am now officially at the stage where my children stay up later than me sometimes; also, when shoe shopping on Saturday we discovered that her feet are a full size larger than mine.)
I worry about this kid. She does so much. And she doesn’t have much time for fun. Yesterday, she dragged along a huge organic chemistry textbook in order to work on her upcoming science project, and as she sat on the turf holding the book she didn’t seem embarrassed by her soccer teammates’ “why are you reading that??!” questions.
Because I spent so much time with the one kid, I was missing the others. Before supper, I had time to supervise practice for our resident reticent pianist by literally plying her with candy. Great parenting. And on Saturday evening we did hair cuts and hair brushing for all. It took hours!
I’m trying to return to routine, finding it more challenging than anticipated. I wasn’t expecting to still be so tired. I will need a shot of caffeine to fire me through this evening’s reading. Please come! It’s at the Starlight in Waterloo, doors open at 7:30, readings at 8. I’ve got a poster around here somewhere. But I forget where. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page.
I’ll be reading from The M Word. The title of my essay is “How to Fall.” This could be my motto, today, and on most days, as I attempt to balance atop a shifting pile of responsibilities and desires, arms out wide, knowing I’ll fall, and trying to do so with grace and humour, at the very least.
What were we planning to accomplish together? Do you recall? Because I seem to be lost in a bit of a haze. It could be all the yoga. Or the early morning spin and weights class, at which I felt fantastic, only to crash upon returning home, following a breakfast of poached eggs on toast.
I don’t blame you for the weather; it could happen to the best of days at this time of year. If it wants to be -20 with the windchill, what can anyone say about it? “Whoever is in charge of the weather needs to know that it’s SPRING!” hollered Fooey, but she was cheered by the long-term forecast, which promises a balmy +7 with rain for Friday.
I didn’t take many photos this weekend, and they’re still on my cellphone. Maybe this is a good day to use one’s imagination. Imagine sunshine startling me just now through my office window, clouds moving across a sky that is actually blue.
On Friday night I meant to get a photo of me and Kevin playing uke and guitar (respectively) in front of the fire, with the two oldest children sitting on the couch behind us, side by side, playing Minecraft and making the occasional clever comment on the song choices. It was as close as we’ve come to a family-music evening, and I thought, optimistically, that at least the kids were getting to hear some favourite old tunes and see what fun we were having. Except Kevin got very grumpy because he couldn’t see the music (we were playing off of single printed sheets, some of them crumpled, and all with very small print); not long after that got resolved, I rapped the whole of “Rapture” by Blondie. Awkward pause, no applause. “Is that a song about eating cars?” “Why, yes, children, it’s a very serious song about eating cars, bars, and guitars. Anything that ends in -ars, really.” “Deep.” “At least it’s not about sex, like all songs nowadays.” (Note: do not say things like this to your adolescent children unless you welcome mockery.) (Also note: I say things like this all the time. Because I welcome mockery.)
Then I sang “True Colours” by Cyndi Lauper about a billion times, trying to get the chord changes right. It’s such a beautiful song, Monday. I really wanted my children to love it. Maybe I played it too many times. “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles received similar treatment, but even I started to question the lyrics after a few times through: “This used to be my favourite song!” “Really??” “When I was 13. I thought it was so romantic!” “It sounds kind of, like, creepy. ‘I watch you when you’re sleeping’? Creepy.” So, yeah, kids these days. I’m not sure I converted anyone to my favourite 80s songs, but there you have it: family music night at our house, regretfully not photographed for posterity.
I’ll end it here, Monday. You’re a busy day and I shouldn’t keep you, rambling away here like this. Things to do! Places to go! Etc.
Signing off (or is that singing off?), Carrie
This is a terrific book: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larson, by Susin Nielsen. I brought it along for AppleApple to read on the sidelines at one of her brother’s exhibition soccer games this week, and she couldn’t put it down. She read it all in one big gulp, and it was obviously emotionally affecting, so I said, hey, do you think I would like it too? And she said yes. I started it that same night, and it had the same effect on me: I could not put it down! And I cried so much that I looked pretty terrible all the next day, but it was worth it. I like books that make me feel and think, and after we’d both read it, AppleApple and I couldn’t stop talking about the characters, almost as if they were real people. We were caught up in imagining the best possible lives for them after the book’s end.
Albus and Kev’s soccer team before a game this past week
The book’s subject matter is dark, and there is some violence. But the author’s touch is light. I would highly highly highly recommend this book for children ages 11-12 and up (it depends on your kid’s maturity level, honestly). It’s a book about bullying, and about the worst possible outcome of bullying, but it doesn’t do the book justice to say that, because it makes it sound like it would be preachy, and it’s not. It’s funny and it’s heartbreaking. Best combo ever, in my opinion. That said, I would urge you to read the book too, so you can talk to your child about it — like a book club for parents and kids. (I’m still working on Albus, and may have oversold how awesome the book is, creating the opposite effect I meant to — now that he knows I want him to read this, he’s suspects ulterior motives; and maybe he’s right, come to think of it. I really want to know his take on the subject and characters. I want to know how he reads it. I want him in my book club!)
practicing piano, dog in sunshine, sister reading on couch
March break. It was a pretty fun week here. The kids did a lot of socializing with friends, and a lot of playing on electronic devices. They went to the movies. They had a few sleepovers. We moved AppleApple out of her room, and Albus in: she’s now sharing with CJ. He seems to be able to fall asleep with the light on, so she can stay up and read. And she has more room for her collection of clutter, aka school projects, craft material, books, and, okay, clutter. I don’t what the heck she’s keeping, but there were boxes and boxes to be moved down. Albus literally had, like, three things, including his bed. How she’d been fitting it all into that tiny room, we do not know. We did take the opportunity to purge and recycle, plus I tidied the attic (not sure why, but it made sense at the time).
location of slightly less fun ski adventure
On Wednesday, my copyedits arrived from HarperCollins. So that occupied the rest of my week, though we did take time to go skiing again on Saturday, with somewhat less success. It was colder, for one thing, and the trails were icy, which made the skiing technically trickier (different conservation area). One child, who shall remain nameless, spent quite a lot of time lying on the ground declaring that he would be staying here forever (okay, it was CJ, but you already guessed that). It may not have helped that early in our venture, I literally knocked him down, just after he’d gotten up again, at the bottom of the icy hill pictured above, the hill being all icy, and me realizing too late that I wasn’t skilled enough to manoeuvre around him. Instead one of my skis went right between his skis and down we both tumbled. Nice one, Mom. Ironically, I’d waited to go last to make sure everyone made it down “safely.” So I would have to call that adventure more funnish than fun.
On Friday, my Canadian publisher sent me their mockups for potential covers. This is a screen-grab that doesn’t quite show the full cover, but gives you a good idea of the concept. I love how it represents the era of the book (yes, it’s historical fiction). I also love how strong the runner looks.
Now, I’m off to finish the copyedits and ignore the fact that it’s Saint Patrick’s Day. I live in a university town. This is not my favourite of the drunken stupidity holidays. This morning I saw four young women at the grocery store wearing green t-shirts with the slogan: “Kiss me, I’m drunk.” (They looked relatively un-drunk, for the record.) It was 11AM. How old am I? Too old for that version of Saint Patrick’s Day, apparently. But not too old (and grumpy) to make something green for supper, because you don’t have to be drunk to enjoy pasta with pesto, and the kids will appreciate the effort.
Yesterday, we went cross-country skiing.
We drove to a conservation area on the nearby escarpment, and rented skis. We spent two and a half hours on the trails, with everyone skiing the entire time.
It was warm and AppleApple took her coat off and left it at a marker, and of course it wasn’t there when we went looking for it, hours later, after the visitor’s centre was closed. But I called this morning and apparently it was returned to the centre by a kindly passerby, so we will just have to go back and ski again this week (and get the coat: the temperature is dropping, blowing snow forecast for tomorrow).
* being outside
* being in the woods
* playing in snow
* doing something everyone enjoyed
* being active together
Of course, let’s admit that we had a few rough moments. Losing the coat was a (temporary) annoyance. We also split up about midway through the adventure, with CJ and Kevin heading back toward the visitor’s centre together, and the rest of us continuing on a longer looping trail. Except the older two skied much faster than Fooey could manage (she was hampered not only by being small and recovering from a stomach bug, but also because she had to wear boots and skis that were my size, nor hers). While she grew more and more exhausted, I grew more and more frantic, unable to catch up to or communicate with the older two, to tell them we needed to turn around now. (There was no way I could have carried Fooey and skis out of the woods — we were many kilometres in at that point, and I needed her to make it on her own steam.)
Finally, I decided to turn around without the older two, hoping they would have the sense to come back looking for us (they had agreed to stop and wait for us at a point we’d seen on the map, aka “the mythical G”; it never materialized). About forty minutes into this scenario, the big kids turned up behind us, glowing and unaware of the angst they’d caused us. I did not let them leave our sight after that. So, in future I might make a few amendments in planning. Ten-minute check-ins? Travelling with a backpack and a cellphone?
It was, all said, a real adventure. And really really really fun.
We finished with pie at Marj’s Diner in Alma, on the way home. Pie that was almost as large as this very tired child’s head. That’s banana cream, if you’re wondering.
I’m collecting all these photos to illustrate blog posts that have gone unwritten.
For example, these photos are from last Thursday, when I got up early with AppleApple who was swimming, went for a lovely run (first I checked the temperature and actually said to myself, hey, -24 with the windchill, that’s not bad!, mainly because I’d been expecting -30 and you’d have to admit, by comparison, -24 sounds positively balmy). I started my run around 5:30AM and discovered that the sky was growing pink by 6:20AM. It was a beautiful morning in Canada! (Today, I was running in nearly broad daylight by 6:45AM, although it was still -24 for some reason. I run on Tuesdays with my friend Nina, and we swear that this winter’s trend has been: Tuesday will be the coldest morning of any given week.)
So last Thursday, post-run, post-shower, post-poached-eggs-for-breakfast I fetched AppleApple from swimming, and tapped out a blissfully happy status update on FB: A beautiful morning in Canada! Then I took a nap. Kevin got the little kids up to their friends’ house before walking to his office. The older two were both home, one sick, and the other taking a “mental health” day (which we all need, on occasion). I was woken from my nap by the sound of wind striking the house. It was that loud, that dramatic. I opened my eyes to a scene of winter obliteration outside the window, and saw the time: 8:57AM. Exactly when my two little kids would be walking to school with their friends. So much for the beautiful winter morning in Canada! My initial instinct was to hop in the truck to try to “rescue” the children, but after I’d texted Kevin and the parents of the walking friends, I downgraded my response to “anxious pacing.” It was clear that driving in such conditions would help no one. (In fact, the shockingly sudden snow squalls caused enormous pile-ups during the morning’s commute.) The squall blew itself out in less than 15 minutes.
less than an hour and a half separate these photos from those above
That afternoon, Fooey reported that they were nearly at school when the snow blast arrived — “I couldn’t even see J, who was right in front of me!”
“Was it kind of exciting? Like an adventure?” I asked, hopefully.
“No. It was cold. It wasn’t fun.”
Right. Hello, realism. Well, at least no one was scared or lost or sad, from the sounds of it. Tough little Canadian kids we’ve got.
On Friday, I met Kevin for lunch and I splurged, which is not a word that I usually associate with my purchasing actions (I hate shopping, as a rule). I bought x-country skis, boots, bindings, poles, plus vastly reduced snow pants (everything was on sale, which helped me to justify the decadence). And then on Saturday I went skiing while Kev took the kids sledding. I went out again yesterday morning with a friend. It was -27 for some reason. It was also stunningly beautiful.
I used to hibernate during winter and get pretty blue. A few years ago, I discovered that running was an all-season activity, given the right clothing. Winter improved immensely when I started getting outside in it. But there are times, as when slogging up a slushy street struggling to find footing, when one thinks to oneself: I’m trying my best, but let’s be frank — this sucks. When will this damn stuff melt so I can really run again? Truth is, I’ve never embraced winter sports; I’ve never, up until last Friday, invested in any equipment that would deliberately draw me out into the snow, that would induce me to think, even faintly, hey, I hope this snow lasts awhile longer because I’d really love to go out skiing again soon! That is a whole new level of winter acceptance right there.
The fireplace in the living-room doesn’t hurt either.
I’m 39 years old and I’ve spent the better part of my life in this country. I think I’m finally starting to feel like a real Canadian.
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