fake front page from December 8, 2000
All this week, I am guest editing the Afterword, which is the National Post newspaper’s absolutely terrific book blog. Since my first real job was at the National Post in their books section (oh, more than a decade ago now; pre-children and post-grad school), the current books editor, Mark Medley, suggested I write about my time there. Which got me all nostalgic, I must confess. And that is the subject of today’s post on the Afterword. More of my posts, on other subjects, will follow throughout the week.
A word on the photo above. When I left the National Post, colleagues in the section surprised me by putting together a fake front page with stories written by them especially to mark the occasion. It was one of the sweetest gifts I’ve ever received, and of course I framed it to keep forever. Below, a close-up. This photo was taken at a Post party, and it’s what I looked like in the fall of 2000. I was in fact pregnant with my first baby, though you can’t tell (and yes that is a non-alcoholic beverage in my hand). I just look at this photo and think: so young. (Also: why the turtleneck, young sexy Carrie? Why?)
I look at this photo and it makes me happy.
this morning’s paper
Kevin and I slept in this morning. Indoor soccer season *at 8am for six-year-olds! is finally over. We must have been tired.
When we finally dragged ourselves out of bed, I picked up my phone to check messages. Here is the first one I saw: “Congratulations on your Globe review, Carrie. You’re probably going to want to read this one.”
Without saying a word, I beelined for the porch, retrieved today’s Globe & Mail, flipped through to the Arts section, and to Books. And found my own self-portrait, which my brother tells me has a Zoolander flavour to it (nooooo!). I also found a really solid review of The Juliet Stories. Exhale.
And then Fooey came to see. “I found your name, Mommy!” She tried to sound out the headline: “sp, sp, sp …” And then Albus asked if he could have the section. It has the funnies in it.
At dinner the other night one of the other writers with whom I was reading said a good review is like a sugar rush. This feels like a caffeine high. I’m not sure it’s quite healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing in favour of bad reviews, not at all. It’s that attention of any kind has an unpredictable effect on the human spirit. It’s a dangerous flirtation. This may be my Mennonite roots showing. Guarding against vanity; humility of spirit.
But this is a good and happy and out-of-the-ordinary moment in my life.
So on behalf of all Obscure CanLit Mamas out there, I embrace this unsettling rush, with deep appreciation for a continuing dream. My feet are off the ground — one flash-frozen stride in a long journey.
I quietly declared yesterday a mental health day. And so I did not blog. Not that blogging negatively affects my mental health. It’s just that it’s one of the many things I try to do every day. And yesterday, it felt like there were perhaps already too many things on the must-do list and that I should therefore ease back, breathe, take a long nap.
And then the power went out. For hours and hours.
CJ ran around the house trying every light switch and reporting back. “Not even the cold cellar, Mommy!” “Not even in my room!” Meanwhile, I cooked supper in an eerily quiet kitchen over the blue gas flame. Partially cooked, would be more accurate. I’d started preparing it rather late, and planned to warm ingredients in the crockpot, leave everything simmering on the counter, and race back home to eat in between piano lessons and “Performing Arts Night” at the kids’ school (see: already enough things to do). I was sauteeing onions when everything but the stove stopped. This is one of those situations when it is extremely handy to work from home. Dump still-frozen ingredients from crockpot to stove. Thaw. Beats arriving home to a chilly house and an unfinished supper waiting on the counter.
Mental health day really only lasted an hour. But it was a good hour. I napped peacefully while CJ watched a movie. He had minor surgery yesterday morning (and it was very minor, no worries), so I kept him home from nursery school. Sleep is good. So good. And it is something I’ve found lacking post-launch-party. Something about coming down off the mountain. Too much oxygen down here. The clutter of the every day. The feeble human mind whirling as it tries to absorb all the good stuff and keep it–and exhausting itself in the process.
After a truly restorative nap, it was back to work. More movies for CJ. Plus some playtime on my office floor. I find myself fearing that what my children will remember of this time in our lives is their mother saying in a voice tinged with the frantic: “Just a minute, please, I’m trying to finish some work!” Or: “Wait, wait, wait, I just have to get this work done!” Or: “Mommy’s working, can’t you get a glass of water yourself?”
You know, that’s not the worst thing ever, come to think of it. A little water-fetching independence never hurt anybody.
This morning the girls were wondering when I might start baking again. It’s true. I bake bread on the weekends, but my cookie and treat-baking has fallen right off the map. Fooey was browsing longingly through a kids’ cookbook from which we used to like to bake banana muffins — together. And I looked at the girls, sitting side by side at the breakfast counter, and I said, “Hey, you’re big enough to try baking together!” “Really? Can we?” “Of course!” (If they’re big enough, I should be big enough, too: to let them learn by trial and error; ie. make a mess, and possibly bake something inedible.)
I’m not going to declare today a mental health day. Nap: check. Power: check. Blog: check. Kids safely to school: check. Supper planned: check. Early morning exercise: check. Discovery of a new blog (by me!) up at the amazing Canadian literary hub The 49th Shelf. The house is quiet. It’s not even 10am. And I’ve got messages like this waiting for me in my inbox:
“I finished reading The Juliet Stories this afternoon. That ending!!!—I’ve read it over and over.”
and this: “My 90 year old mom finished your book. She said something to the effect that you “have an absolutely incredible way with words”.”
and this: “Just wanted to tell you how much I’m enjoying Juliet. In fact, it’s hard to put down! It’s a gorgeous book.”
(If any of you are moved to write such kind words to me, please also consider taking time to let Amazon and Chapters know how you feel too. You don’t have to buy the book from them, but as Tuesday’s post explains, personal reviews and good ratings move the book higher in the rankings.)
Okay, now it is 10am. What am I going to do with my one precious life today? And you, what are you going to do?
Yesterday, I pretended to be a commuter: so this is what it would be like, dressing appropriately, brushing one’s hair, and slogging down the highway to the big city. Yesterday, I met with my publisher, the House of Anansi, one of the last free-standing Canadian independent publishing houses. Their office is large and bright and the hallways are lined with–you guessed it–bookshelves. I enjoyed imagining Juliet occupying space beside other Anansi authors like Rawi Hage and Lynn Coady.
Anansi publisher Sarah MacLachlan and publicist Kate McQuaid (yes, I took my camera along too)
The meeting was to discuss publicity plans for The Juliet Stories. Ah, the many stages of making a book. So I wrote a book, so I found a publisher, so it’s going to print. What now? Indeed. What now is publicizing the book’s existence and asking people to read it, and the next few months will find me absorbed in that pursuit. It’s a real change of pace, that’s for sure. And one hopes it will be a positive change of pace, as my book and I head out into the (largely indifferent) world to make connections. The glass-half-empty part of me made me add the paranthetical aside. Yes, that parenthetical voice hangs out in my head, mostly around 3 o’clock in the morning, but I’m working on suppressing her. Except part of me thinks a hairline of cynicism can be useful too; keeps me honest.
My publicist, Kate, says she hopes this stage will be a happy time, a celebration of all the work that’s gone into making the book what it is; the glass-half-full part of me agrees. Here’s the thing: Writers are not generally outgoing extroverts. That’s why we’re good at sitting for many longs hours with only our thoughts for company. Once upon a time, the mere idea of meeting new people overwhelmed me with conversational paralysis. But I’ve got a decade of motherhood under my belt, a decade of meeting a whole lot of new people–and learning how to ask for things on behalf of my kids, how to demand space and attention when needed, how to listen, how to assess situations quickly, how to problem solve on the fly, how to communicate clearly, how to pinpoint the crux of an issue, how to juggle different needs at the same time, how to be okay with not pleasing everyone. It’s been eight years since my first book came out. Eight years. I’m ready to meet and greet and talk and throw a party or two. Thank you parenthood. I think I can handle this.
Out of our meeting emerged a few things I can share with you right away.
News, news, news
**Goodreads is giving away 10 advance reading copies of The Juliet Stories. All you have to do is visit here, and click on “enter to win”; (you probably need to be a Goodreads member too). Please spread the word.
**Also spread the word about the new Facebook page dedicated to all things Juliet. If you are a Facebook user, you can “like” the page and let your friends know about it too. (I always put Facebook “like”s into quotation marks, which basically gives it the opposite meaning, but you know, you’re welcome to actually like the page too).
**If you’re in Toronto, I will be reading at the Harbourfront reading series on March 7.
**News on the local launch party coming soon.
**Oh, yes, another reminder about Thursday night’s launch of Storywell at Whole Lotta Gelata in uptown Waterloo, 7-9. This is a free event for writers, interested writers, editors, etc. I will be there. Being all extroverted and talking to my cup of gelato. Or possibly to you, if you come too.
I couldn’t get the poster to upload, but wanted to let you know that I’m reading tonight in downtown Kitchener at The Museum (formerly known as the Children’s Museum). Doors open at 7pm, but the readings don’t start till 7:30. It’s a free event. I don’t know whether or not there will be drinks available. Should have asked.
Back from my early morning swim, feeling buoyant. Seems to be the feeling I get after my early morning swims. Could also be due to a piece of good news received in the mail yesterday. I opened the non-descript envelope hurriedly, on my way into the house to turn down the crockpot, with CJ waiting in the truck outside in the driveway (yes, I’m that kind of mother; but the truck wasn’t running). I was running late for an appointment, and didn’t want the lentils in the crockpot to scorch. Then I saw the envelope. It was from the Ontario Arts Council, and I knew what that might mean–grant application denied. Or, the opposite. Ripped it open, read the first line, saw the cheque, and began bouncing and screaming. Remembered to turn down the crockpot. Raced outside to tell CJ. Wondered whether I had indeed remembered to turn off the crockpot. Raced back inside to check. Yes, crockpot turned down. Raced back to truck. CJ mildly interested. Should I really be driving under the circumstances? I asked. It was a brief spell of intense joy, and I’ve learned to embrace those spells full-on when they come, because they don’t last, they can’t, and the intensity quickly dissipates. That’s okay. But the huge smile and feeling of goodwill toward all humankind–that was nice. I will try to keep the feeling of goodwill going.