A friend said to me this morning, as we were running together in the damp, dark pre-dawn, This book is not your whole identity, you know. You are much more than this book.
I needed to hear that. Thanks, friend.
I hadn’t recognized, quite, how Girl Runner has subsumed not just my hours, my focus, my working life right now, but also my identity. I am wearing, almost as a costume, almost full-time, the cloak of person-who-wrote-Girl-Runner. It’s not an invisibility cloak; it might be the opposite, a visibility cloak. But what’s visible is author-of-Girl-Runner, and invisible is everything else. Which is why completing that race felt so very good, perhaps.
My professional life is caught up in this identity: I would not be a teacher or a guest speaker if I were not, first and foremost, the author of Girl Runner. If I shrugged off that visibility cloak, an enormous section of my money-earning life would vanish in a poof of dust.
So it’s scary, I guess, to imagine not pouring my all into inhabiting my writer self. Carrie who writes books earns a living, whether by writing books or by spinning off the writing of books into related enterprises. Earning a living has long been my goal. It’s a worthy goal, I believe.
But maybe that goal feels a little one-dimensional as I pursue it with greater success and therefore greater effort, greater demands on my time. And on my identity.
If the writer cloak were balled up and chucked into a dusty corner, or even just hung up in a closet for awhile, what identity would emerge? Would I be fearful and lost? Free-roaming? Empty? Or would I find friend, mother, baker, caregiver rising up to fill the space? Or something else I can’t guess or imagine? But I can’t imagine it, because in truth being a writer isn’t a cloak, it’s more like tough thread woven right through the skin.
Yet I sense that other parts of me are being shadowed, right now. It’s like I planted a seed that’s grown, quite suddenly, to become a tall leafy tree, shading out all else. It’s like I’ve become that tree. But I’m not. The tree is of me, but separate from me. Can I climb its branches and catch some light? Should I wait patiently for the season to change, the leaves to fall, to crunch around in them, to see them turn to compost, wait for other seeds to grow, a forested tangle of identity, creeping on the ground and digging in roots and reaching for the sky? Can I be many different parts all at once, or can I only do/be one thing at a time fruitfully, fully, well?
* Family; cousins; new cousin: hosting (I love to host!)
* Being fed ham & scalloped potatoes for our first Thanksgiving dinner, and relaxing into the weekend
* Playing soccer in mid-October warmth with Kev, kids, and brother-in-law, and not getting concussion symptoms afterward (just aching muscles)
* Celebrating the UK deal with really good fish & chips
* Long morning dog walks, visiting with sister-in-law
* Listening to Alice Munro being interviewed on Writers and Company, Sunday afternoon, while peeling potatoes and grating beets for our Thanksgiving supper
* Feeding my family a feast: a roasted 20-pound turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, grated sweet-and-sour beets, fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and baked apples
* Inviting the new parents to join us — and the new parents coming over!
Yesterday evening I remembered that someone from The Cord (the WLU newspaper) had emailed with a few questions a couple of weeks ago. I kind of forgot about it, what with everything I’m forgetting about these days, but when I was answering some other interview questions last night for a CBC site on blogging, it must have twigged my memory. Hey, I thought, I wonder what that other interview was about. A quick search, and I found the paper’s “Best of Waterloo Region” poll, clicked on “Best Local Author,” and there was my own half-smiling face. What the? I had to call my kids in to check it out. The ones who were still awake and should have been in bed. I’d been helping with homework, which has been a nagging theme for these past couple of evenings.
“Mom, could you just proofread this for me?”
I like to help, but less so at 9:30 at night, and even less so when a project is not truly at the proofreading stage, but rather at the “I’ve made up a few facts that I think sound cool” stage. I am currently conducting late-night mini-tutorials on proper research and use of a bibliography, in between lectures on capitalization, the differences between there, their, and they’re, and have you ever heard of a comma? I’m a really patient teacher.
No, I’m really not.
Here’s what I wanted to show you. I’ve got essays in two new anthologies out this fall, plus in the summer issue of The New Quarterly. I’ll be reading from The New Quarterly piece on Saturday at Word on the Street. Find me at the Walper, 4pm. The Waterloo launch for How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting is on Oct. 3 at the Clay and Glass Gallery, 7:30pm (get in touch if you’d like to attend that one, please!). If I had the energy or wherewithal, I’d also organize a local launch for Have Milk, Will Travel, an anthology of comic stories about breastfeeding, but right now I’m overwhelmed by the every day stuff. Like vacuuming the bedroom, cleaning paint off a dog, supervising piano practice, and picking up my swim girl who is home now and eating supper, which I left on the table for her and therefore still needs to be cleared when she’s done. (Supper = fish tacos! Fish tacos = zero complaints!) I’m just pleased to be squeezing in a little necessary, happy-making blogging and book-styling before bedtime.
You all really liked that other colour of green, didn’t you? It’s okay, you can tell me. I can take it. I really like it, too. But it didn’t fit with my vision for the room! To use a metaphor, as I’m wont to do, it’s like editing one’s own writing: kill your darlings, is how Stephen King puts it. The point being, just because you love something doesn’t mean it fits. Sometimes you have to paint over a colour you really love, or remove a plot point that charms you, or exise your favourite sentences (actually, in writing, that is almost the rule rather than the exception. Your favourite sentences will inevitably be the ones you have to sacrifice in honour of the whole.)
Stick with your vision. This will make you happier in the end.
Yesterday, the Giller longlist was announced. I didn’t hear about it until rather late in the day, which put in perspective the difference between this year and last. Last year, I was on tenterhooks the morning of the announcement, which kicks off prize-season here in CanLitLand. And then I wasn’t on the list. It felt crushing, but I coped, and pretty soon I felt better. But it was kind of a relief, this year, not to have that pressure of waiting and wondering and then coping and forging onward. A year from now, I’ll be going through this all over again. I can’t even ask the question: should literary prizes matter so much? One hopes a deserving book finds its readers no matter what, but the prizes do help focus attention, especially on books that might go otherwise overlooked.
I want to congratulate everyone on the list — and also hug everyone not on the list, especially those who it seemed might find their way there. One small observation: there are 13 writers on the list, and 4 are women. I wonder about that. And then I observe that the jury is made up of two Canadian women (Esi Edugyan and Margaret Atwood) and one American man (Jonathan Lethem). So, who knows. I realize that’s not a profound conclusion, but I haven’t got one.
One more thing: looking over this list of authors, I notice how many are of my own generation, or just a little older than me. Makes me realize that “the establishment” is fluid. The list also reinforces my sense that CanLitLand is about the size of a neighbourhood, and that I’ve found it a lovely place to dwell. Despite the pressure and anxiety around prize lists, I’m looking forward to having a new book out next fall, because it’s a reason to travel and meet other writers, and that’s my favourite part of living in CanLitLand.
I woke up without a headache this morning. I’ve been sitting at my desk for over an hour, and I still have no headache. This feels worth celebrating! Perhaps with a sunshiny walk: I saw the physio yesterday, and he said I could try a half hour walk once or twice a day. He also did acupuncture, and I swear it helped. As yesterday afternoon turned to evening, it felt like the fog was lifting.
I cut this lad’s hair yesterday outside in the backyard. I’m trying to remember when I became an “expert” haircutter, and I think it was as a teen, when I simply insisted that I knew what I was doing, and my mother let me experiment on my younger siblings, who suffered some occasionally unflattering cuts as a result. (Edna, please forgive me that bowl cut?) But some of the cuts actually turned out, cementing my “expert” status! (Or, more accurately, my delusions of expertise.) I remember giving my mother a brilliant haircut right before her high school reunion. In turn, this anecdote should give you a succinct understanding of who my mother is: a woman who would let her teenaged daughter give her a haircut right before her own high school reunion!!! She trusted it would work out, you see. That’s pretty awesome mothering, in my opinion.
Stripes! We should have done stripes just like these! This girl had her second gymnastics class yesterday evening. Flushed and happy afterward, she wondered whether she could take more than one class a week. “I might have found my special thing, Mom!” (She’s been terribly worried because her siblings all have their “special things” that they love to do, soccer, mainly, while she’s dabbled in, but never loved, quite a few activities including dance and tennis.)
I tried to ease her anxiety by explaining that we may discover many special things that interest us deeply at different times in our life, and that experimenting is a good thing, but I’m to blame for putting the anxiety in her head in the first place, by suggesting that we all have “special things.” I meant to encourage her to explore her interests, but instead I planted a seed of worry. Parenting. Try, fail, try again, fail better.
One of this girl’s “special things” started yesterday evening, and we were both really excited to get the season underway. Swim team! Last fall, she was a novice who couldn’t do a flip turn or a start dive, and now she seems like a veteran. Here’s a thought. A sign that something may be our “special thing” is that we return to it with excitement, enthusiasm, and commitment, even when it’s no longer new. Even when we already have a sense of what to expect from ourselves. Even when we’re acquainted with our limits, and know our own strengths and weaknesses. If, even then, we want to participate and keep learning and stretching and growing, then we’ve landed on something special.
ALBUS Started yesterday. Grade seven. Junior high. New school, starts earlier, ends earlier. Walking with friends. Returned home excited, likes the idea of moving around from classroom to classroom, subject to subject, having a variety of teachers. Likes his locker’s colour and location. Did not jump on my idea of decorating it. His main worry: that he might be late for class and get detention due to being unable to open his lock. Not reassured by parents telling him this is not, generally speaking, a leading reason students get detention. Practiced piano as soon as he got home. Had no homework.
APPLE-APPLE Started yesterday. Grade six. Same school as last year, same classroom, same teacher, same classmates her age. There are new grade five classmates added to the mix, so that’s the only real difference. One of the new students is a soccer-loving girl! So that’s different too. They played soccer together during recess, and today she took her own ball to school, as the school’s ball is flat. Did her homework as soon as she got home. Also, I brushed her hair in the morning while she was practicing piano. She didn’t object in the least. (But I didn’t have time to brush it again this morning.)
FOOEY Started yesterday. Grade three. Same school, same wake time (7:25!), same exit time. Walking with friends and brother. Returned home satisfied with first day, reporting that she’s in her former kindergarten classroom (there is a new wing of brand-new classrooms for the all-day, every-day kindergartners). Went directly to a friend’s house after school to play. I did not, therefore, get a full and immediate report. But she did play the piano after supper: she didn’t want to practice, just noodle on a particular song that we could play together. That was nice. (And I just had to show her carefully chosen outfit in full!)
CJ Look at this guy! He started this morning. Senior kindergarten. Will get to school using a combination of bus and walking. Gave me lots of hugs and kisses and waves as we waited outside the new kindergarten wing. There were six kindergarten classes going in, a huge crowd. His best friend is with him. He said he was excited. I came home and cried my eyes out. Can I admit that?
Now, here are some out-takes from this morning’s shoot.
I am making them hold hands. Ha!
We’re holding hands, we’re smiling. Are we done yet?
Seriously, Mom. Are we done?
Wait! How did that one look? Let me see, let me see!
And the school year begins again. And here I sit alone (save for my doggie companions, who think this office actually belongs to them), in quiet, if not at peace. Too much happening, too much to prep for, too much I can’t prep for, can only plunge into. The good news is, I’ve been able to get up early-ish to run these past two mornings, and my head doesn’t hurt. The bad news is, even during these happy running moments my mind is turning over and over in restless sifting of must-dos and worries. I think of running as a curative for my restless mind, but sometimes the mind doesn’t want its rest, or refuses to take it. I’m not fighting it because there must some purpose to it, some need it is meeting. I’m not fighting it because life has its rhythm of cycles, of tides, of pull, and rest will come again, I know.
ALBUS Grade seven, new school, French immersion, with lots of clubs and teams to join (looking forward to seeing what he’ll gravitate toward). Rep soccer: tryouts for next season start Sept. 21, with a commitment of 1-2 practices a week, plus skills (Kevin likely to coach). Piano: weekly lessons plus practice time. Passed Rookie Patrol this summer, so he’s free from swim lessons til next summer (that was our deal).
APPLE-APPLE Grade six, enrichment program (lots of homework). Rep soccer: tryouts for next season start Sept. 21, with a commitment of 2-3 practices a week, plus skills, plus games. Swim team: six practices a week, including at 5:30 AM, Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus monthly meets (good thing I’m already comfortable rising early; too bad she’s not!). Piano: weekly lessons plus practice time. Horse riding lessons: what she wants to spend her summer babysitting money on, if she can find the time to squeeze one more thing in!
FOOEY Grade three, French immersion. Will walk to and from school, and be in charge of her brother one way. Beginner gymnastics (her choice). Weekly piano lessons plus practice time (my choice). Swim lessons (maybe). Indoor house league soccer (probably, especially if Kevin coaches). Oodles of time with friends (my prediction).
CJ Senior kindergarten: full days, every day. Plans to walk to school with Fooey and ride the bus home. Early childhood music, weekly. Swim lessons (probably). Indoor soccer (definitely, and Kevin will coach).
COACH KEVIN Soccer, soccer, soccer, and more soccer. Well, what did you expect? Plus work, all day, every day, with occasional weekend training sessions. Oh, and late-night hockey (almost forgot about that!). Making school lunches (bless him) and breakfast smoothies.
CARRIE Teaching Thursday evenings, 6-9. Writing daily, 9-3ish. Early morning exercise: weights, spin, running, swimming, yoga. Napping (often). Cooking supper (in harried fashion). Laundry. Driving children to activities and making carpool and carshare arrangements. Preparing weekly schedules to maintain all-family sanity. Readings (here and there). Indoor soccer (maybe). Poetry book club, monthly.
SUZI AND DJ Walks (twice daily). Naps (in office). Food (twice daily, plus treats).
ALL FAMILY (Couldn’t find a photo that included me, too.) Family skating/hockey, weekly, organized by Kevin. Bedtime reading (chapter books, out loud), as often as possible. Also considering: church (occasionally), supper invitations to friends and family (must make time for this!), and planning a trip together.